Blog

How to find a needle in a haystack

lucas-gallone-108793-unsplash.jpg

We all have them. Needles we need to find. Haystacks to sort through.

For some of us, those needles are relationships, innovations, breakthroughs.

For others, those needles are goals, quotas, or projects. Whatever your needle is, there will come a time when you will need to find it in the most unfortunate circumstances, improbable scenarios, and unlikely obstacles.

Some will find their needles, others will not. The difference between finding what you are looking for, accomplishing what you set out to do and not, comes down to one word—persistence.

There is no such thing as an overnight success. The men, women, and organizations that have gone on to accomplish great things didn’t get there because they just happened upon ‘their needles’ in the thick of a ‘haystack,’ they got there because they were more persistent than everyone else.

Genius is often just persistence in disguise

Nikola Tesla spent a year in Thomas Edison’s lab during the invention of the lightbulb. He once grumbled that “if Edison needed to find a needle in a haystack, he would proceed at once to simply examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.”

Sometimes, that’s exactly what it takes. That job you are looking for, that book you are writing, that deal you are closing, that mission are you embarking on, that person you are influencing, that thing you are learning—persist.

Work works—it’s simple, but not easy.

The thing that will set you apart from everyone else will be your ability to tolerate the difficulty and mundaneness that will certainly arise as you continue toward solving the problem in front of you.

Here’s something that helps me. I keep telling myself that ‘it’s supposed to be hard.’ So, settle in, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and double down your efforts on finding your needle in a haystack.

Blinded by features

carlos-muza-84523-unsplash.jpg

Simplicity is making a comeback. Then again, the perfectly simple things never went away. We were just blinded by the flashy new features we thought we couldn’t live without.

Organizations do this all the time. Especially when it comes to buying software. They only see what the reps want them to see. They look past what the business really needs to run more efficiently. They disregard ‘minimum requirements’ and ‘deal-breakers’ in lieu of something ‘shiny’ or ‘innovative.’

Individuals do this, too. Especially when it comes to planning our careers. We take jobs we aren’t qualified for and pursue opportunities that promise more money in our bank accounts over choosing something that fulfills us or helps us feel alive.

Instead of focusing on features, first determine what core functions you can’t live without. Set boundaries and have requirements. Plan accordingly, then make a decision.

Liked? Or respected?

mari-lezhava-265675-unsplash.jpg

When it comes to seeing real change, too often, we let the need to be liked get in the way.

Our ego wants us to be liked. It begs us to seek validation, to put things off, to double down on bad decisions, to avoid asking the questions we don’t want to hear the answers to.

Being respected is the long game. It takes time. It’s something you earn as opposed to something that’s given.

Failure is going to happen. You’re going to do things that don’t work, be places that aren’t a good fit, make decisions that have poor repercussions, have unfortunate circumstances befall you. It might be your fault, it might not be, but at this point, it doesn’t matter. It’s what you do now that matters.

Will your next decision be based on what others will think of it? Or will you dig deep, reflect, and take ownership?

When ambition backfires

ian-schneider-66374-unsplash.jpg

We talk a lot about passion. How passion should be the driving force for everything we do. But plenty of people have fallen without getting up in the name of passion.

Passion will get you kicked out, force you to surrender, coerce you to make irrational, inaccurate decisions.

What you need is not passion, it’s purpose. For purpose is passion with principles, boundaries, if you will. Purpose will allow you to detach, work toward something bigger than yourself, gain the proper perspective.

Ambition is an incredible trait to have. Give me someone ambitious over someone who doesn’t care any day. But with unbridled ambition comes vulnerability. So watch your back, because if you are too aggressive, you leave yourself defenseless to a counterattack.

Shiny new toy

rod-long-1052613-unsplash.jpg

The new opportunity presented to you before you get the chance to show what you can do.

The young up-and-comer taking on the veteran champion.

The impulsive purchase on an Instagram ad.

We've all been there. How quickly do we forget why we are doing what we are doing, why we have what we do, and how great things actually are.

There's a difference between contentment and complacency. Being content simply means being grateful for what we have and putting things in perspective. Being complacent, on the other hand, means not bothering about trying to make things better. It's the difference between improving your circumstances verses merely trying to get out of every difficult situation that comes your way. It's the difference between investing in things that work versus constantly searching for the next best thing.

The intangibles

hunters-race-408744-unsplash.jpg

It's the 'nice touch' during an interview like bringing hand-written notes to the people you're speaking to. It's going into a client meeting with cookies and data. It's showing that you are actively listening by asking engaging questions.

These are the reasons why you'll get that job, or not. These are the reasons why you'll land that account, or not.

The simple change to change

nicole-honeywill-730102-unsplash.jpg

I’m reading more now than I ever have before. Not because I’m exerting more willpower, but because I have 1) made the decision, and 2) made a few modifications to my environment.

And by environment, I not only mean my workplace and the city I live in, but also my phone. I simply deleted most of my social media apps and the Netflix app, and replaced them with a Kindle app and another app I use called Scribd.

They’re simple tweaks, not easy ones. But I’ve realized that’s the quickest and easiest way to building new habits and changing your life - one tweak at a time. The sooner you can replace your weak habits with strong habits, the quicker you can start seeing the change in yourself you’ve always wanted to see.

And—change your environment, change your life.

References

rawpixel-711102-unsplash.jpg

When a prospective employer asks for references, they aren’t looking for more information, they’re seeking validation. They have a feeling they’ve made the right decision, but (usually out of formality) they want someone else to tell them that as well.

Every day, we’re forced to make decisions with very little information. And certainly after 3 conversations, you’re not going to know everything about your candidate. Checking references, therefore, acts as a smokescreen. It gives you more time and more information. However, the new information you receive is random (some people exaggerate, some people lie), and the time it takes you to check those references is wasted (when you could be spending that time with your candidate).

More information isn’t the answer—certainly not from people who skew the data (aka, references).

Winning a conversation

juri-gianfrancesco-655957-unsplash.jpg

But missing the point.

After all, what is it you’re trying to accomplish? Sharing something important? Asking for help? Passing time? Teaching something? Learning something? Earning trust? Winning a friend?

If you really want to ‘win’ the conversation, employ the same tactics you would to win a friend or catch a fly.

A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall. So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey which catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the high road to his reason
— Abraham Lincoln

Intent matters. Intent is always what is communicated, no matter which words are or aren’t used. It opens new doors and shuts possible ones.

So pay attention, it might feel like you are winning the conversation, but is that what really matters?

It's time for a promotion

rawpixel-620232-unsplash.jpg

First, do the thing others have asked you to do. Then, figure out how to do it faster and more efficient. Finally, find better things to work on. 

Wondering why you haven't received that promotion? It's probably because you haven't given yourself one, yet. 

Working on things that others have assigned you to work on is good. It's how you learn. It's how you gain experience and make yourself valuable. But there comes a time when you must choose yourself. Give yourself a promotion by learning new skills, trying different things, innovating, and creating a more useful contribution. 

The kind of promotion you are really looking for won't come from others. And it certainly won't come tomorrow unless you invest in the proper things today.

Why?

reuben-hustler-783995-unsplash.jpg

If you look back at your life, there is a pattern. Seemingly random, interconnected dots that have created a portrait of you who are today. There are things you have really enjoyed doing and things you have not. You have been “drawn” to learn important things, acquire certain skills, and meet specific people. Through experience and time, you have developed into a person influenced by the things you have done, seen, heard, and thought. The accumulation of these thoughts and experiences have translated into your “why.” 

Why do you get up in the morning? What causes you to do what you do? Why do you like or dislike certain things? What motivates you to push harder, improve, or stand up for something? 

Taking some time to reflect on your “why” is one of the most important things you can do. Sunday’s are great days to do this. If you know your “why” you can lead, teach, inspire, mentor, innovate, disrupt, learn, create, save.

You may already know your “why” but what does that look like in terms of your goals? Articulating your “why” can help guide you to set proper goals and design your life. Try going to some quiet place today instead of turning on Netflix to write down why you do what you do. Take even more time to set some goals for yourself. Then put those goals somewhere you can see them every day. You will be rewarded for your efforts. 

A case for micromanagement

rawpixel-659501-unsplash.jpg

I like micromanagement. I think it gets a bad rap. To me, it shows my boss cares. Because, here's the thing, when it comes down to it, everyone micromanages to a certain extent. 

Here it goes: what does it even mean to 'micromanage?' Getting involved in too many projects? Not delegating things because you think you can do it better? Worrying too much about the tiny details instead of seeing the big picture? Wanting every decision and every action ran by you first? Yes, I would agree that this is what micromanagement looks like. But I would also argue that even the managers you love, the ones who let you be autonomous, the bosses who aren't jerks about things, still micromanage—they just do it more tastefully. 

It's the inadequate managers out there—who like hearing the sound of their own voices and just like to say stuff for the sake of sounding right—who give micromanagement a bad name. Because when they micromanage, it's noticeable. It becomes the scapegoat. 

"But my manager doesn't micromanage." Of course, it doesn't seem like it. That's what good leaders do. They know how to not only make you be successful but also feel successful. They don't take credit for your successes even though they deserve way more than they receive! Make no mistake about it, they are still tracking your progress. They, no doubt, know your numbers, understand your goals, are involved in the day-to-day activities of your work, take over when there is something you don't know how to do yet, and help you with the major decisions that need to be made. In other words, they are caring...and managing...at the micro level.

Every manager I've had has micromanaged me. Some, I've appreciated it, and others, I've thought it was annoying and condescending—but the difference had nothing to do with how much or how little they were involved in my work—it all had to do with how they approached it (which usually stemmed from their motivations). 

Don't confuse engagement for micromanagement. Maybe you do know everything. Maybe your way of doing things is better. Maybe if people would leave you alone you could make it happen. And, maybe, there's a job out there for you...maybe.

The difference of a day

matt-lamers-261639-unsplash.jpg

Sometimes, that's all it takes.

Having a bad attitude about things? Give it a day. 

Not seeing the kind of success you'd like to see? Recalibrate. Set some goals. See how you feel about it tomorrow. 

Unsure on a particular decision you have to make? Do some writing. Call a mentor. Read or listen to something that moves you. You'll know what to do tomorrow. 

What a difference a day makes. 

Deciding where to live

samuel-zeller-358870-unsplash.jpg

The number one thing I hear people who don't live in New York say to me is: "it's a nice place to visit, but I couldn't live there." And of course that's the response. Most places I visit for a few days, I feel the same way. It wasn't until I lived here for a couple of months that I knew I could (and should) live here. 

The same goes for finding your dream job. There are the lucky ones who land their dream job without knowing it, they stick it out and they get really good at it. Then there are those who aren't so lucky—those who need to find something that aligns more with their aptitudes and interests. In that case, instead of just going onsite once and having a few calls, try interning with them for a week. Answer support calls. Get as close to the real thing as possible. That's the best way to know if it is going to be a great fit for you or not. 

Getting nowhere, fast

aaron-burden-251007-unsplash.jpg
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
— Lao Tzu

As opposed to most of society and industry which keeps going faster and faster without getting anything done. 

Good things happen in their own time. Don't try to force it. And, most of the time, the things that matter most are usually right in front of us. 

In the hopes of reaching the moon men fail to see the flowers that blossom at their feet.
— Albert Schweitzer

So slow things down. Take a look around. If it seems like people are going faster than you, doing more, or are further ahead, consider how much they are missing along the way. It's not just about patience. It's about determining the difference between the things that can be accelerated and the things that shouldn't, then acting accordingly. 

Change changes things

cedric-dhaenens-674712-unsplash.jpg

There is something we don’t really talk about when it comes to transformation. And it’s how it influences our relationships. 

When we experience a change, we begin a new journey and, sometimes, make a new identity for ourselves. When that happens we make a new circle of friends, increase our network of influence in other areas and industries. But what also happens is our old circles want things to be the same. There is a resistance there. It’s tempting to go back to the way things were. The temptation gets stronger when previous relationships get weaker.

But you know why you changed. You know it’s for the best. You can never go back. And if there are still toxic relationships in your life, it might be time to move on. Sounds harsh, but, if you are an average of the five people with whom you spend the most time, then find the five people you want to be most like and spend more time with them and less time with people who make you doubt and bring you down. 

Getting creative

bryan-goff-511613-unsplash.jpg

The great thing about creativity is that it’s a skill. It’s something you can learn and work on. 

The enemy of creativity is fear. Not fear of your inability to be creative, but rather, fear of executing your creative thought. 

You see, everyone has creative ideas. Everyone has thought of things that are so creative, so unique, so original, that, if carried out, would literally change their world. Everyone. 

But we have been taught to believe otherwise. We tell ourselves we aren’t creative because we have never come up with something no one has ever thought about. But of course, this isn’t true. Just because people don’t care enough to do anything about their creativity, doesn’t mean they aren’t creative. 

So instead of worrying about whether or not we’re creative, let’s assume that we are...because we are. Now that we have established that, let’s acknowledge that our fear of doing something about our creativity is a good thing. It means we’re onto something. 

Now let’s focus on starting. And let’s start executing. 

Looking but not looking

nine-kopfer-284781-unsplash.jpg

Usually, that means you're looking. You're open to opportunities. Because the opportunity you have right now isn't checking all of the boxes. If it were, you wouldn't be looking. 

But what you're really saying is that you don't want something to pass you by. Something you couldn't turn down if it were presented to you. You're avoiding opportunity cost.

Maybe that's why millennials get such a rap for job hopping. Because another way they (we) look at avoiding opportunity cost is through something we call FOMO. We hear things and see things and feel like we are missing out on something. The truth of the matter is that we just might be missing out...

Employers are starting to do something about 'hoppiness.' They've realized that doing nothing is really, really expensive...Have you? 

How valuable are you?

rawpixel-594848-unsplash.jpg

When someone hires you to do a job, are you getting paid more or less than the value you provide?

It ultimately comes down to a cost-benefit analysis. Is your value to your organization equal or greater than your cost, and does the organization believe your value will increase or decrease over time?

What is the organization’s return on investing in you? What about the people that hire you?

For sales representatives, the first part of calculating how much value they bring is to evaluate booking numbers. Are they meeting or exceeding quota? In many organizations, this is the only yardstick. But there may be other things to consider: skill-set for other roles, leadership capabilities, and work ethic (to name a few).

But when organizations evaluate other roles like software engineers, graphic designers, marketing managers, HR specialists, and customer support representatives, calculating their value becomes a little trickier.

Here are some key points to consider when beginning to figure out how much value you actually bring to the table:

  1. Have a clear understanding of what you company’s goals are, as well as what your managers consider important.
  2. Be an expert on what job you are hired to do.
  3. Are your efforts focused on the right thing? If your organization is looking for more bottom-up innovation, ideas and solutions, but you spend your time working on ways to increase company morale, you might be missing the mark.
  4. Think in terms of metrics. How much revenue are you bringing in? How much money did you save the company by implementing some lean approaches? Did your campaign produce better results than expected?
  5. Speak up. Clearly communicating your value is more than half the battle. Yes, this means you’ll have to show some salesmanship. “To sell is human” - Daniel Pink. The fact is, the higher-ups or whomever hired you won’t know unless you tell them. Not to be a brown-noser, but in appropriate settings, it’s important to make a case for why your efforts mattered. You’ll then need to tie back your efforts into how they are in sync with the organization’s values. You are more than the sum of your job description. And your work can only speak for itself if people notice.

Bill Gates once said that “a great writer of software code is worth 10,000 times the price of an average software writer.” Constantly and continually improving your skills will certainly help separate you from the average. But you’ll also need to bear in mind what the market says. It’s important to know what people in your field, with your experience, and skill level are being paid.

When all is said and done, calculating your value begins with you. Take an in-depth look at your skills. Evaluate your abilities. Then improve them. Make a list of reasons why someone should hire you. What are your strengths and weaknesses? How are your endeavors bringing in more revenue or saving the organization money? What are the key objectives for the company? Does the work you do line up?

Now tell them. Then continue to show them.

Build as if you'll be there forever

ng-15320-unsplash.jpg

I think too many of us get into the mindset that "this is only temporary." That's the kind of short-term mindset that limits our growth and prohibits us from learning the necessary lessons we need to learn.

When the pioneers trekked across America, they knew the places they were settling were only temporary places of refuge, but they still built as if they were going to be there the rest of their lives. 

We have no idea how long we are going to live, but if you plan on living forever, how would that change things? You have no idea how long you are going to be at your current job or be living where you are, or be around the people you are right now, but why not pretend (at least for right now) that it's for the rest of your life? 

Wouldn't that change how you approach your day-to-day? 

Wouldn't you be better off because of it?