Recipes versus frameworks

P ã e s * B r e a d s
Bill was a truck driver for thirty-seven years. He enjoyed his job, but he was grateful when he retired and suddenly had the time to do all the things he’d meant to get done but never had the time for.

Thus we find Bill at the bookshop, looking for books on making bread.

He found two possibilities. Each of them has its own path.

15 Easy Bread Recipes

“Excellent,” says Bill. “I want bread, I want it to be easy.”

He bought the book, took it home, and immediately started baking. He followed the colour instructions assiduously and within a few hours he’d created a loaf of excellent bread.

The bread was delicious. Bill was elated.

Bill, always a diligent soul, tried the recipes one by one until he settled on his four favourites. He confidently expected to keep baking one of the four every day.

For a month things went deliciously well.

Then one day the plumbing – always unreliable – delivered hot water instead of lukewarm when Bill was measuring, and he said, “Ah, what’ll it matter? I’m off to play soccer with the grandkids, I can’t be arsed playing around with the hot taps all day.” So he used hot water, and was perplexed and angry when the bread was a flat-out disaster (literally).

Then a few weeks later the bread didn’t rise as much as usual, and Bill had no idea why. He rechecked his ingredients, threw out the yeast and bought more, but it kept happening. He muttered around in the kitchen until his wife Claire got alarmed.

Also, he wished there had been a reciple for cheese loaf in the book. And he and Claire loved sourbread dinner rolls, but he didn’t know how to make them.

There are three possible endings to this path.

  1. Bill puts up with the myriad small problems and lack of cheese bread recipes. It’s never perfectly right, but he makes do.
  2. Bill gets frustrated and stops baking.
  3. Bill goes back to the bookshop and buys the other book he’d been considering.

How To Make Bread

“Excellent,” says Bill. “I love knowing how things work, and I want to make bread.”

He bought the book, took it home, and sat down to read for the rest of the day. He wrote some notes and told Claire about yeast. The next day, he used the four basic ingredients to make a standard loaf.

The bread was delicious. Bill was elated.

Bill, always a diligent soul, experimented each day with adding new ingredients, altering the proportions, tweaking the temperature and the time. Soon he had ten amazing recipes and he confidently expected to keep baking one of them every day.

Then one day the plumbing – always unreliable – delivered hot water instead of lukewarm when Bill was measuring, and he said, “Ah dammit. The grandkids are coming over to play soccer, but I have to fiddle with these fucking hot taps in order to get the water lukewarm so it won’t kill the yeast. Stupid plumbing.” But at least the loaf was as good as it always was.

Then a few weeks later the bread didn’t rise as much as usual, and Bill was perplexed for five minutes. He checked the expiration date on the yeast and the flour, wrinkled his brows… and then he realised there had been a cold snap that morning. He put the dough on the windowsill for an extra half hour and when he came back it had risen perfectly.

A few weeks later he started the Great Cheese Bread Experiment. It took thirty-two attempts and the realisation that you can grill the top of the loaf so the cheese melts perfectly to get it quite right, but it was definitely worth it. Then the Great Sourdough Dinner Roll Experiment began.

Bill became known as Baker Bill. Claire joked it was because he was crusty but warm.

The moral of the story

You can teach recipes, or you can teach frameworks.


Recipes are step-by-step instructions: first do this, then do that. (Blueprints, step-by-step guides, how-to courses, plans – these are all recipes.)

On the upside, they are great at delivering a quick win. You don’t deliberate, you just get it done.

On the downside, recipes are very inflexible and don’t tend to grow with your skills.

Recipes are often used for a while then abandoned as the downsides overwhelm the upsides.


Frameworks teach the principles underneath a process: you’ll need one of these, and it must do this in some manner. (Guidelines, How This Works, strategic resources – mostly, although some are just higher-level recipes – and metaphor-driven explorations are all frameworks.)

On the upside, they provide the foundations for mastery. You understand the process, so you can adapt and troubleshoot and improve.

On the downside, frameworks often take longer to deliver external results and require more commitment.

Frameworks endure. Once you know the foundations, your understanding grows more complex over time. You may end up with a much more nuanced framework.

This isn’t about beginner versus advanced.

In this online space, there’s a tendency to create recipes for the beginners. The beginners use the recipes, develop a bit of confidence and skill, then move on to the frameworks when the recipes become constrictive.

But that doesn’t need to be how it goes.

You can teach a step-by-step course on how to meditate (a recipe) or teach the conditions for successful meditation (a framework). Same result, but the second is much more flexible and applicable: if I have lower back problems and can’t get comfortable in lotus position, I can’t follow the recipe. But the framework tells me that I need to sit comfortably with my back lengthened, so I’ll grab some cushions and find a way.

My point: you can teach anything as a recipe or as a framework. CPR is a very complicated set of medical interventions delivered as a recipe. Lego is a framework, which is why it endures far longer than most other toys.

Recipes are so much more common.

Especially in the aspirational market.

It’s easy to sell a “Ten Steps To Exciting Outcome”. Possibly it’s easier than “Learn How You Can Achieve Exciting Outcome”.

So why do I sell frameworks instead of recipes?

Because frameworks are transformational, and I am all about transformation. People can buy DIY Magnificence and use it on their first day of a new business, three years in, or a HUNDRED and three years in, and it will be of service to them. That makes me feel fantastic.

Oh, and because frameworks don’t change much. If you create recipe resources you have to expect they’ll need regular updating – I give it three weeks before there’s a “Google+ Blueprint”, and I am writing this while Google+ is still in beta. Will it last? If it doesn’t that recipe becomes useless. (But a framework on how to create great connections is never going out of style.)

You get to choose.

You get to choose whether to create information resources as a framework or as a recipe.

You get to choose whether you BUY information resources as a framework or as a recipe.

And that is a glorious opportunity for us all.

Which do you make? Which do you use? Is there another combatant in the “recipes versus frameworks” battle I haven’t included? We want to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Renata Diem

Getting Shit Done: Momentum Edition

Suburban Construction

You have a seven pallets of bricks that need to be moved from the driveway into the backyard. Your resources are your arms (flex!) and a wheelbarrow.

There are a few ways this can go.

The very stupid way

You stack sixty-three bricks on the wheelbarrow, making a tottering ziggurat of baked clay. The wheelbarrow is now so heavy that you must use all of your strength to get it off the ground, and you don’t push the handles as much as you shove them wildly in the direction of the backyard. You get two metres before your wrists give way and the wheelbarrow clunks to the ground.

You pant and wrench the handles up again and shove, to hit a hidden rock which creates a death-wobble and dumps the entire load on the ground. Your back aches once you’ve gotten all the bricks into the barrow, and your hands feel raw and sulky. It continues: lift/grunt, shoveshove, drop, rub hands, sigh deeply, lift/grunt, repeat. You get to the destination and unload the sixty-three bricks. The strangely light wheelbarrow is shoved back to the driveway where you do some math.

You’ve moved 63 bricks, leaving 469 on that pallet. With another six untouched pallets, you still have 3661 bricks to move. That’s another 58 loads of back-sproinging misery.

You burst into tears, rub your much-abuséd hands, and quit for the day.

The very smart way

You load twelve bricks, pick up the handles, wriggle experimentally, and put it down. You remove four bricks, leaving eight. Now the wheelbarrow feels like it has no weight in it at all. You walk at a jaunty pace toward the backyard. You hit a small rock and the wheel bounces, making the bricks clatter. You stop, remove the rock, and merrily push the rest of the way.

You jog back – healthy! – and load up with another eight bricks. The weight is completely negligible, and you know you can walk all day if you need to.

After you stop for a glass of lemonade, you try ten bricks in the barrow. It feels pretty much the same as eight. (Are you getting stronger? It appears so!) By now, you have the path smoothed out, and the effort required to get started on each load is almost unnoticeable.

By the end of the day, you’ve moved eight hundred-odd bricks, and you’re ready to do it again tomorrow. Your hands are a bit chafed, but they’ll be okay. And you think you might be able to start on fourteen bricks soon!

The moral of the story

If you want to build anything big, you’re going to need momentum.

When moving things, the most effective way to build momentum is to push them downhill. Objects want to go that way; gravity is on your side instead of working against you.

When moving ourselves, the most effective way to build momentum is to start with something much less challenging than our capabilities. We want to succeed; our mind is on our side instead of working against us.

Start insultingly small and simple. If you need to tidy the house, put away the shoes near the front door. If you’re creating a magnificent website, start with the contact page. If you’re starting a business, buy a box to put the money in. Make your first task something you can’t possibly fail at.

When you start with the easiest possible work, there’s almost no friction. Confidence is sky-high – I can’t possibly fail at this, tra la la la! – and your energy seems limitless. So you expend your energy with no strain, no tiredness, and no injury. Strike that off the to-do list!

Everything is so easy that you keep on working. (More easy success! your brain says. Gimme gimme!)  Without even noticing you build your muscles, and your definition of this-is-easy-peasy work grows without announcing itself.

Eventually, when you have to start really pushing, you have the muscles, the experience, the confidence and the momentum to push a thousand times harder than you could on your first day.

It’s always easier to move something that’s already in motion. And when you’re starting, the easiest things to move are the tiny ones.

Go take care of a teensy thing and report back!

Want to make a tiny change that will get some momentum happening in your business? How about signing up for Rise and Shine, the weekly newsletter? It’s pretty awesome.

Creative Commons License photo credit: TheGiantVermin

Vital numbers: the Real Bare Minimum Price

All that's left !

This is another story about Jonah, the man haunted by mailboxes, and his quest to be magnificent. Go read it first if you don’t know that story. Also, “sparky” is Aussie/New Zealand slang for an electrician. Many of you have quietly told me that you missed my lessons in Aussie slang, so this is just for you.

Jonah was ludicrously happy for the first three months when he quit his job as a sparky and started building mailboxes full time. He built the one like a Kodiak bear, and one like a reverse Jack-in-the-box. (He heard the postman giggling on the day he tested that one.) He danced around the house with the boys, and packed loving lunches for Marie-Claire as she went off to work at the law firm.

He and Marie-Claire had prepared as thoroughly as they could for Jonah’s career change. All of the profit from the sales of his earlier mailboxes had gone into savings, with her end-of-year bonuses and any left over from the monthly budget. They could live for a year off the savings (but they really didn’t want to).

So when Jonah sat down with Marie-Claire to complete their three-month review, he did so with a light heart and a plate of scones.

The smile disappeared as they put the numbers into the spreadsheet.

The scones were absent-mindedly scoffed while checking the receipts.

It must be admitted that Jonah looked very sulky by the end.

It was left to Marie-Claire to say the words.

“The business is running at a loss, and we’re only getting by because we’re dipping into the savings. At this rate, they’ll be gone in fifteen months. Awww, crap.”

“What do we do, sweetheart?”

“I don’t know. We could get some advice from Jim?”

Jim was an accountant and the dad of Harry’s best friend; he’d become a good mate after he got divorced and kept the kids. For the price of roast lamb and two slices of pavlova – never to be sniffed at by a man who couldn’t cook – he agreed to have a look at the numbers.

He thoughtfully sucked a bit of rogue lamb out of his teeth and said, “Okay, I see the problem. Your model is stuffed.”

He elaborated: “So Jonah, you take roughly how long to make a mailbox? About six weeks?”

“Yeah. I thought it’d be less, but with getting the kids from school and things, it’s never going to get down below five even when everything is going well.”

“And you need to make how much every month?”

Marie-Claire jumped in. “Well, it’s $5,000 for his share of the bills because we want to pay off the mortgage as soon as possible. And another $2,000 for the workshop he has to rent because we don’t have enough space here.”

“And how much do you pay in materials for every piece?”

“Jeez, I let me check. Right now I’m building a lot of the stocks from scratch, I’d be surprised if it was less than a grand for each.”

“And how much have you sold the mailboxes for before now?”

“Well, I wanted $10,000, but one guy talked me down to eight.”

“How did you reach that number?”

“I… guessed? There’s not a lot of call for artisan mailboxes.”

Jim grabbed a pen and wrote in big numbers. “You need to make $7,000 a month, right?” They nodded. “And it takes six weeks at least to build a mailbox, plus $1,000 of materials.” Nod again. “And you’re charging $8-10,000 per mailbox.” Marie-Claire looked pale and bit her lip. “You see the problem?” She nodded ruefully.

Jonah said, “I don’t get it.”

Jim showed him the notepad. “For neatness, I’m saying it takes two months to build a mailbox. Because you get sick sometimes, and you probably take at least a week off between mailboxes to think about the new one and you’re not including that.”

“Oh shit, I do too…”

“Okay. So if it takes two months to make a mailbox, then each mailbox needs to be sold for the cost of materials AND two months’ worth of the money you need to make AND a third again for taxes AND any extra money to buy more equipment.”

“But… that’s like… $25,000 or something!”

“Yeah, pretty close.”

“I can’t imagine that ANYONE would pay $25,000 for a mailbox!”

“Look, there are probably some, but not many, yeah.”

Oh, bugger.

Jonah looked like he’d been kicked in the unmentionables. Marie-Claire looked very alone.

Jim hastily said, “But there are things you can do! It could work out!”

As they stared at him intently, he kept going. “You could change your business model.”


“Right now, you’re working one-to-one, but what if you made prototypes for mailboxes that could be mass-produced?”

I won’t make crap!

“Yeah, okay, not crap – defensive artists, sheesh – but licenced to someone who could make thirty instead of one, and you get paid $500 for each. And you could make sure that standards of quality were in the agreement.”

“But I really like making one-of-a-kind ones…”

“And if there’s someone who values that as much as you do and happens to have $25,000 laying around, then they should have it. But you have to start with the amount you want to make each month and do the math from there.”

Both Marie-Claire and Jonah were silent for a long moment.

“You’re right, damn your eyes. Have some more pavlova.”

It worked out, eventually, although at one stage Jonah and Marie-Claire were down to two months worth of savings and were talking about selling the car. A year after, they were making so much money that Marie-Claire could quit her job if she wanted to (she didn’t, but she appreciated the option when it came to salary review time).

And Jim claimed his share: lamb roast and three slices of pavlova, at least once a month. He said it was the least he deserved for saving them from bankruptcy.

The moral of the story

This is a marketing story, really.

You need to choose a market that can afford to pay you AND values your work enough to want to.

The market of “people who have $25,000 to spend on mailboxes, and want to” is pretty small.

The market of “people who have $2,500 to spend on mailboxes, and want to” is much much bigger.

This doesn’t mean you always have to go for the cheaper solution – it’s easier to sell two copies of a $1,000 artwork than to sell a thousand copies of a $2 artwork, or a hundred copies of a $20 artwork.

But to start choosing the right market, you need to know your real bare minimum price.

If you’re selling something with hard limits, like your time or your handiwork (which essentially comes down to time, anyway) – then you have to sanity-check this math:

Amount I want to make each month ÷ average number I can produce + (average number x production cost per item) + other costs like taxes and admin and business development + 10% for all the stuff you’ve forgotten = the absolute bare minimum price.

Here’s a pretty version!

bare minimum price

If the bare minimum price is very high (I love woollen bobble hats, but it had better be a damn special one if it costs $300… at that price it should make me look like Eliza Dushku and quietly tidy up the house when I’m away), then you must either change your business model dramatically, or have an audience to whom your price looks completely reasonable.

Doing this math the other way around leads to insanity and bankruptcy, as you realise that charging $50 for a hat but needing to make $5,000 a month Does Not Work.

What’s your bare minimum?

P.S. If you want to start making profitable magnificence of your own, I created the world’s awesomest resource to help you get all the tangles (like this one) unknotted. It’s called DIY Magnificence.

Creative Commons License photo credit: pfala

Magnificence and mailboxes

Wheatsheaf - There's a Whale

This is the story of Jonah. Not the reluctant prophet who took a time-out in a whale, but a man named after him by a mother who should have known better.

Like his Biblical namesake, Jonah had a calling. Not to preach, but to create something. If you asked him about it, at twenty-three the conversation would have gone something like this:

“What are you making, Jonah?”
“Oh, I’m working on mumblemublemutter.”
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
“You know, just a rhubarbrhubarbrhubarb.”
“Alright, it’s a decorative mailbox! Okay!?!”

Young and self-conscious, Jonah gave in to embarassment and stopped making his mailboxes. He became an electrician instead, which is a job that’s much easier to explain at parties. He married Marie-Claire, joined the local football team, and was content most of the time.

But Jonah was haunted by mailboxes. In his dreams he invented mailboxes shaped like Kodiac bears, mailboxes that brought the mail to the front door in a model train, mailboxes that played carillons when parcels arrived.

Through his twenties, Jonah tried with some success to suppress the dreams and live his unconscious life in as ordinary and normal a way as his conscious life. It was easier when the kids arrived; the never-ending activity kept him busy.

On his thirtieth birthday, Jonah surprised everyone…

…including himself, by getting a tattoo. It wasn’t the idea that was shocking – tattoos not being terribly rare amongst electricians – but what it said.

When asked to explain why he’d gotten this quote by James Lowell on his arm, Jonah could only say, “I dunno. I just liked it.”

The quote?

Not failure, but low aim, is crime.

But still, Jonah was an average bloke with an average life… if you didn’t count the dreams of mailboxes.

Everything was ordinary for a long time, but Jonah got pretty damn twitchy in his late thirties. He started sleeping badly and drinking one too many beers on the couch at night. He fought with Marie-Claire and yelled at the kids. One day the younger, Harry, said: “I don’t want to be around you, Dad. You’re mean.”

Jonah started crying and couldn’t stop for a very long time.

He started going to a therapist, on the quiet for fear that the other guys would find out. She was nice enough but didn’t help, so he tried another one.

Three sessions in, Brian asked, “Do you remember your dreams? And why did you look so ashamed when I asked you that?”

Soon the therapy sessions stopped being about feeling his feelings, and started being about mailboxes.

Brian asked, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if you followed this dream and started making mailboxes again?”
“And what’s the worst thing that could happen if you don’t follow that dream?”
“Which is scarier?”
“The nothing.”
“Yeah, I thought so.”

Jonah quit the footy team and started locking himself in the garage.

Six weekends later, he sheepishly asked his family to come out and have a look at something.

It was a tree, three foot high and strangely familiar, with a treehouse at the top where mail went in. Marie-Claire’s forehead creased and then she shouted, “It’s one of the trees of Lothlórien! From Lord of the Rings! Oh Jonah, it’s beautiful!”

His grin went from embarassed to excited. “You like it? I mean, I made it for you.”

Marie-Claire and the kids looked shocked, from Jonah to the tree and back. “You made this, darling? Really? I know you said you used to make a few mailboxes when you were younger. But this is… amazing! You made it from scratch?”

“Yeah. I was thinking I’d make a few more, if that’s cool.”

Three years later, Jonah quit his job to make mailboxes full time. For reasons he never consciously understood, his first professional design was a whale.

The moral of the story

Magnificence is fucking scary.

I don’t think it’s rare because few people have the talent to create it, I believe it’s rare because so few people have the guts to go for it.

It’s up to you to decide whether the persistent discomfort of selling yourself short is more or less uncomfortable than the soul vertigo of reaching for greatness.

Which do you choose?


If you’ve chosen to strive for magnificence (and you’d prefer not to take as long about it as Jonah), then Goddamn Radiant is for you.

Creative Commons License photo credit: artwork_rebel