Not Choosing Is A Choice Too

I read once that your gut feeling is the sum total of everything – everything you know, everything you’ve ever been taught and everything you’ve ever experienced – boiled down to a yes/no, right/wrong choice and impetus to act. I absolutely agree.

Recognising:

Recognising there is an issue is a critical skill.

You don’t even need to know what the issue is, you only need to recognise that there is one.

For me it’s a gut feeling of anxiety, butterflies, nerves or even sometimes a physical reaction (sweats, shaking hands, etc) to an interaction or a situation, which says “something isn’t right here”.

It’s a physical indicator of your intuition and is enormously powerful and informative. It varies dramatically in intensity – from “hmmmm – not so sure about that” to “if I don’t do something about this I’m going to explode”.

Recognition can be trained with time and practice.

Questioning:

Once you’ve recognised there is an issue, you can analyse it by questioning:

  • What am I feeling nervous about?
  • Why did that situation make me feel uncomfortable?
  • What is it that didn’t sit well with me?

Choosing:

Based on the intensity of your gut feeling and tempered by the answers to your questioning, you can choose how you act.

This is a critical point.

You can choose how you act.

You can choose to confront, let it slide, do something, do nothing, ask for help, draw a line in the sand, run, fight, hide…

Then you can choose when to act – immediately, in an hour’s time, in a day, if it happens again.

Just remember that not choosing is a choice too.

Finding a resolution:

This is not about problem solving – that’s up to you and how you work best. It’s about the steps that lead up to it.

A genuine resolution might come immediately or it might take hours, days, weeks, months, years.

You’ll know when you find one because that very same feeling in your gut – the anxiety, nerves, butterflies, whatever it is – will vanish. You’ll know you’ve found a resolution.

With choice comes the responsibility for outcomes. Positive or negative.

But at least you got to choose.

You Can’t Eat On Facebook – 3 Timeless Fundamentals from Never Eat Alone

Never Eat AloneYou know it’s a good book when you dog ear the last page. That’s what I did with Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi. I did it for this quote:

…you can’t do it alone. We are all in this together.

It’s a book about the power of relationships.
It’s a book of advice and practical  tips for starting, growing and strengthening relationships.
It’s a book that takes it one step further and holds up your relationships as the single most important ingredient to your success.

While the success part is all in the eye of the beholder, I completely agree with him on the importance of relationships – and it’s a timely warning.

Social Media is something that we advise clients on all the time. Sure it’s great to have lots of Facebook fans, or Twitter followers. But ultimately you’ll need to turn these contacts  or “weak ties” (as Malcolm Gladwell has contended in his article “Why the revolution will not be tweeted”) into people who take action – whether that is downloading your e-book, buying your product, or overthrowing a government.

Never Eat Alone is all about acknowledging the power of your relationships and then helping you to grow and strengthen them.

There are definitely some great tactics in this book, but my top 3 take homes were reminders of timeless fundamentals that just can’t be over looked:

  1. ALWAYS follow up
  2. Build Mentor/Mentee relationships
  3. Have dinner parties with friends – old and new

To paraphrase Verne Harnish:

We are not B2B or B2C, we are all P2P. [People to People]

If you believe that like I do, then read this book.

Reinventing Education (More Opposite Thinking)

Consider your schooling for a minute.

What if you had lectures for home work and exercises for class time? What if you could have spent more one on one time with your teacher to help you really grasp the details of concepts, and help you solve problems rather than sitting in a classroom trying to concentrate on the 5th lesson of the day? What if you could have rewound the teacher to listen again to the part that you didn’t quite understand?

Would it have made a difference? Would you have learnt faster (or at least at your pace), been more engaged, been more interested?

It’s underway.

The Khan Academy, started by Salman Khan, is a fascinating project that is using videos and the web to turn education upside down and is a great example of opposite thinking. Starting off as a series of tutorials for his cousins, explaining algebra and other maths topics, Salman’s videos have now racked up 53 million views on Youtube and have expanded from maths to a huge array of topics (now there are over 2500 videos and growing). The Khan Academy is now being backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation amongst many others, and looking to roll out a full curriculum to schools around the world based on self paced learning, game theory, and everything that the web and technology now have to offer.

There are a couple of things that I really love about this idea:

  1. Salman did this initally to solve a problem for his cousins. The web has meant that his solution has been amplified, taken up and loved, by kids and parents all over the world.
  2. It has the potential to take a traditional education approach of teacher in front of the class with minimum 1 on 1, to maximising teacher 1 on 1 time – a key ingredient to personalising education.

If you’re a believer that education is key to solving the world’s problems (like I am), then the execution of this great idea has enormous potential.

Here is Salman explaining the concept in a TED presentation:

Opposite thinking

Look hard at how your industry works now. Then see what might happen if you do the opposite.

If you were looking at the web design industry, the exercise might start [and I mean start – you could definitely get much more hard core than this…] in a list looking something like this:

  1. No time sheets
  2. Take holidays when you need them because your “Job” is actually your “Calling”
  3. Client work takes place on client premises
  4. Projects are completed on time every time
  5. A person is only ever working on one project at a time
  6. Wear professional attire
  7. Spartan offices
  8. All meetings take place at client premises
  9. All staff pay is tied to company profit
  10. Clients pay only on performance
  11. Help desk would be one of the most important roles in the business
  12. Clients would never feel confused
  13. All meetings have an agenda and a time-frame
  14. All client interactions are paid
  15. All IP is publicly available
  16. Everyone can work from anywhere
  17. No one accrues sick leave – it’s taken when you need it
  18. Financial reports are shared
  19. Board meetings are open
  20. No account managers
  21. No pitching/tenders without proper planning
  22. Always give the best recommendation first, then choices second
  23. Always make recommendations as though it was our money that was being spent

Banker to the Poor (The Story of the Grameen Bank), is written by Muhammad Yunus (twitter) and is the inspiration for this post.

Since 1976 the Grameen Bank, has delivered micro-credit loans to the poorest in Bangladesh. It claims a 98.35% repayment rate – an astonishing figure and incredible achievement!

How did they do it?

  1. No contracts (therefore no police, no lawyers)
  2. No collateral
  3. Loans are given to individuals only if there are groups of 5 that need the loans
  4. 98% of borrowers are women
  5. Bankers go to the people, not people to the bank
  6. All loans have a 12 month maturity
  7. All loans are repaid weekly
  8. 20% interest rate on all loans

These are just the start of what Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen bank have done to turn the banking industry upside down to enable some of the poorest people in the world to access credit, start businesses, and bootstrap themselves out of poverty.

I’d be really interested to hear if anyone else has applied this idea of “opposite thinking” in any other way. Let me know.

Be grateful. Life’s a Black Swan.

One of the things that I’ve enjoyed most about being in business has been the exposure to new ways of thinking and a whole new genre of books. The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, is a book that has definitely challenged my thinking.

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas TalebWhat is a Black Swan?

A Black Swan has 3 attributes:

First it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable. (p xvii)

It’s a humbling book in many ways and Taleb drives home his ideas of the “Impact of the Highly Improbable”. There are some great stories inside, from a turkey being stuffed to financial markets to billiards to melting ice.

Funnily enough, after reading this book, I’ve been left feeling grateful. Enormously grateful. Every now and then it’s good to be reminded of the spectacular odds that we’ve faced to get to where we are in an infinite universe.

Here are a few of my notes:

  1. Beware the bell curve
    We need to be careful of the environment we’re in when we’re dealing with probabilities and outcomes. He talks about the difference between Mediocristan (where the bell curve applies) and Extremistan (where it absolutely does NOT).
  2. Mediocristan vs Extremistan:
    Non-scalable ScalableMild or type 1 randomness vs Wild (even superwild) or type 2 randomness
    The most typical member is mediocre vs  The most “typical” is either a giant or dwarf, ie there is no typical member.
    Winners get a small segment of the total pie vs Winner-take-almost-all effects
    Example: audience of an opera singer before the gramophone vs Today’s audience for an artist
    More likely to be found in our ancestral environment vs More likely to be found in our modern environment
    Impervious to the Black Swan vs Vulnerable to the Black Swan
    Subject to gravity vs There are no physical constraints on what a number can be
    Corresponds (generally) to physical quantities: ie height vs Corresponds to numbers, say, wealth.
    As close to utopian equality as reality can spontaneously deliver vs Dominated by winner-take-all inequality
    Total is not determined by a single instance or observation vs Total will be determined by a small number of extreme events
    When you observe for a while you can get to know what’s going on vs It takes a long time to know what’s going on
    Tyranny of the collective vs Tyranny of the accidental
    Easy to predict from what you see and extend to what you do not see vs Hard to predict from past information
    History crawls vs History jumps
    Events are distributed* according to the “bell curve” (the GIF) or its variations vs The distribution is either mandelbrotian “gray” Swans (tractable scientifically) or totally intractable Black Swans
    *What I call “probability distribution” here is the model used to calculate the odds of different events, how they are distributed. When I say that an event is distributed according to the “bell curve”, I mean that the Gaussian bell curve (after C.F. Gauss) can help provide probabilities of various occurrences.
  3. We are hopeless at predicting
    Did you know that to predict the 56th impact of a billiard ball on a pool table, “…every single elementary particle in the universe needs to be present in your calculations”?
  4. All pieces of information are not equal in importance (p 58)
    The single observation that disproves the theory is far more important than the previous million observations that confirmed it. Example: A million sightings of white swans in Europe led to the belief that all swans were white. Then they found a black swan in Australia.
  5. Be an empirical skeptic
    Formulate a bold conjecture then start looking for the observation that will prove you wrong.
  6. Luck favours the prepared
  7. Focus on the consequences
    In order to make a decision, you need to focus on the consequences (which you can know) rather than the probability (which you can’t know).
  8. Don’t try to predict the precise Black Swan.
  9. Seize any opportunity or anything that looks like an opportunity.
  10. Serendipity
    Finding something that you’re not looking for.
  11. Barbell investment strategy
    Taking maximum exposure to the positive Black Swans while remaining paranoid about the negative ones.(p207)

Humanising – the real value of Real Time

Real Time Marketing and PR“Our people are our greatest asset.”

“Our differentiator is our relationships.”

“Product X is great but it’s our people and our culture that really makes the difference.”

“Our competitors could walk into this place and look around. They can even copy everything we do, but they can’t copy our culture or our people.”

Have you ever heard these statements? I have. Many times.

David Meerman Scott (in Real Time Marketing and PR) has nailed a fundamental shift in communication:

…the web has actually brought communication back full circle to where we were a century ago… communication is once again real, personal and authentic… word of mouth has regained its historic power…

Humanise your company.

If you believe these statements, if you truly believe them, then place your trust in your people and culture, and let them wow the world. Give them the tools – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and whatever else is next – to share that very same culture and grow those same relationships – in real time.

If your people and culture can’t be copied then surely that is the one thing you can fearlessly make public.

88 tips for business – Rework reworked (a reminder list)

Rework book coverRework is a string of 88 short essays by Jason Fried and David Heinmeier Hansson – the founders of 37signals.com (we are big fans of their products Highrise, Basecamp, Campfire and Backpack at Bluewire Media).

It’s a gem, so I thought I’d write a one line summary of the 88 to remind me.

If you don’t want to read the lot, here’s the themes I took out of it:

  1. Never accept the status quo/age old wisdom/rule of thumb without seriously asking “Why?”
  2. Simplify [I really like Jason Fried’s Twitter credo: It’s simple until you make it complicated]
  3. Break BIG into small
  4. Be personal and real

For those who want the details…

Rework reminder list:

First:

  1. The new reality: You don’t have to work 80hr weeks in an office – you can work from anywhere in the world with people from all over the world.

Takedowns:

  1. Ignore the real world: “That would never work in the real world” is an excuse.
  2. Learning from mistakes is overrated: “When something succeeds, you know what worked – and you can do it again.”
  3. Planning is guessing: Contemplate the future, but don’t obsess about it – there are far too many variables to accurately predict it.
  4. Why grow?: Maybe the right size for your company is 5/40/100.
  5. Workaholism: “The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.”
  6. Enough with “entrepreneurs”: “You just need an idea, a touch of confidence, and a push to get started.”

Go:

  1. Make a dent in the universe: Make a difference
  2. Scratch your own itch: Solve your own problem.
  3. Start making something: Ideas are abundant, execution is what counts.
  4. No time is no excuse: If you really want something, you’ll make time.
  5. Draw a line in the sand: Know what you do and know what you don’t do.
  6. Mission statement impossible: Your actions speak much louder than your words.
  7. Outside money  is Plan Z: Spending other people’s money has a noose attached.
  8. You need less than you think: How would you do it with $0 to spend?
  9. Start a business, not a startup: All businesses, sooner or later, have to make a profit.
  10. Building to flip is building to flop: “You need a commitment strategy, not an exit strategy.”
  11. Less mass: Lean business = responsive, quick to change and flexible.

Progress:

  1. Embrace constraints: Constraints force creativity
  2. Build half a product, not a half-assed product: “Getting to great starts by cutting out the stuff that’s merely good”.
  3. Start at the epicenter: Begin with the stuff you have to do.
  4. Ignore the details early on: Get the big picture right first – details will come later.
  5. Making the call is making progress: “Decide and move forward.”
  6. Be a curator: “It’s the stuff you leave out that matters.”
  7. Throw less at the problem: Trim down the problem first.
  8. Focus on what won’t change: Timeless desires, not what’s hot and new.
  9. Tone is in your fingers: Equipment is often a crutch and never a shortcut.
  10. Sell your by products: Spot by-products and see opportunities.
  11. Launch now: Additional features can come later.

Productivity:

  1. Illusions of agreement: Get real with your ideas – draw, build, hum.
  2. Reasons to quit: Keep asking: “Why am I doing this?”, “Is there an easier way?”
  3. Interruption is the enemy of productivity: Switch everything off and get more alone time.
  4. Meetings are toxic: Agenda, set a timer, few people, be specific, have action items.
  5. Good enough is fine: Maximum result with minimum effort.
  6. Quick wins: Smaller tasks + more frequent celebrations!
  7. Don’t be a hero: Ask for help before investing more time.
  8. Go to sleep: It helps.
  9. Your estimates suck: Break big projects into small projects.
  10. Long lists don’t get done: Make smaller ones and prioritise visually.
  11. Make tiny decisions: “Small decisions mean you can afford to change”.

Competitors:

  1. Don’t copy: You can’t lead by copying.
  2. Decommoditise your product: Pour yourself into your product and everything around it.
  3. Pick a fight: Taking a stand always stands out
  4. Underdo your competition: What you don’t do is just as important as what you do.
  5. Who cares what they’re doing?: Set your own parameters.

Evolution:

  1. Say no by default: But don’t be a jerk about it.
  2. Let your customers outgrow you: Stay true to a type of customer rather than an individual customer.
  3. Don’t confuse enthusiasm with priority: Write your idea down, wait a few days, then evaluate priority.
  4. Be at-home good: Your product needs to get better with use.
  5. Don’t write it down: Listen to your customers, they’ll keep reminding you when something really matters.

Promotion:

  1. Welcome obscurity: You can take more risks/test more options when no-one’s watching.
  2. Build an audience: You won’t have to buy their attention, you’ll have earned it, so they’ll give it to you.
  3. Out-teach your competition: Teaching = trust and respect.
  4. Emulate chefs: Share your “cookbook” (your IP).
  5. Go behind the scenes: Show people how your business works
  6. Nobody likes plastic flowers: Don’t be afraid to show your flaws.
  7. Press releases are spam: Be specific and personal with your approach to a journo.
  8. Forget about the Wall Street Journal: Niche media often produces higher levels of direct activity.
  9. Drug dealers get it right: Give a little away up front – they’ll come back for more.
  10. Marketing is not a department: Marketing is something everyone in your company is doing 24/7/365.
  11. The myth of the overnight sensation: “Trade the dream of overnight success for slow, measured growth.”

Hiring:

  1. Do it yourself first: That way you’ll understand the nature of the work.
  2. Hire when it hurts: What happens if you don’t hire to replace?
  3. Pass on great people: It is much worse to have people on staff who aren’t doing anything meanful.
  4. Strangers at a cocktail party: Hire slowly.
  5. Resumes are ridiculous: Use a cover letter and what they’ve actually shipped.
  6. Years of irrelevance: Experience is irrelevant – what matters is how well they do it.
  7. Forget about formal education: Classroom smart doesn’t necessarily give you what you need.
  8. Everybody works: Small team means everyone has to do work, not delegate it.
  9. Hire managers of one: Motivated people set manage themselves.
  10. Hire great writers: Clear writing = clear thinking.
  11. The best are everywhere: Use people from all over the world, then meet in person every now and again.
  12. Test drive employees: You only really get to know someone when you work side by side with them.

Damage control:

  1. Own your bad news: Acknowledge, Apologise, Act.
  2. Speed changes everything: Answer quickly and personally.
  3. How to say you’re sorry: Accept responsibility, use “I”.
  4. Put everyone on the front lines: Don’t protect the people doing the work from customer feedback.
  5. Take a deep breath: Listen to complaints about change then take a breath before you respond/change again.

Culture:

  1. You don’t create a culture: You live and breathe it, then it will happen.
  2. Decisions are temporary: You can change a decision when the circumstances change.
  3. Skip the rockstars: Create a great workplace, and you’ll attract great people.
  4. They’re not thirteen: Treat staff with respect and trust – it will be reciprocated.
  5. Send people home at 5: You don’t need more hours, you need better hours.
  6. Don’t scar on the first cut: Don’t create a policy straight away – communicate first.
  7. Sound like you: Write, talk like you do to a specific person/target.
  8. Four letter words: Easy, Need, Can’t – don’t use ’em.
  9. ASAP is poison: Save your urgency for when you truly need it.

Conclusion:

  1. Inspiration is perishable: Take it and use it when it’s there, because it won’t be forever.