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What it takes

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In any hero's journey, the hero—be it you, me, Luke Skywalker, Moana, Dorothy, or Rocky—first receives a call. A call to be someone better or do something bigger. Although the journey will surely include more challenges along the way, the most difficult obstacle any hero or heroine will face is making the decision to answer the call. 

Deciding that you have what it takes. 

Because after that, nothing remains the same. You leave the world you have grown accustomed to and enter a new reality. One in which you have eliminated distractions.

But you can only embark on your hero's journey one you have stopped welcoming the bright shiny objects into your life. The things that distract you from doing work that matters.

Priorities: the hardest decision is the first one. Choosing the useful things over the things that demand more attention than necessary. 

 

The caring culture

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People may or may not hear what you say, but they always remember what you do. 

You're not the exception, you're the reason. If you care, others will follow. 

Leaders may eat last, but they are the first to apply the rules to themselves. They are the first to show transparency. They are the first to be accountable. They are the first to sacrifice. 

What will you measure?

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Because measuring stuff (following a recipe) is easy. All you have to do is follow the instructions of someone else who's done it before. 

But what if you are making something no one has made? 

What if you are creating something that's never been created? 

Then does what you measure matter? Maybe, but it's exponentially more important to figure out what you want to measure. That's what matters. 

So maybe the better question is, how will you measure? 

Making your presentation better

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1. If you can't finish the sentence "the reason for my presentation is..." then don't bother doing the presentation.

2. Make it shorter. It's like packing for a trip. Pack like you normally would, then reduce it by half. Likewise, prepare your presentation like you normally would, then cut out half of it. 

3. Don't read your slides. Instead, tell a story. Your slides will help us follow along. If there is something REALLY important for us to know. Slack us the details afterward. 

4. If you find yourself singing (or doing an equivalent behavior), you've done something wrong.  

5. Be present. Don't use someone else's presentation template. Make something yourself and make it your own. You are presenting for a reason. We want to hear from you. So let that alone boost your confidence. We are here to see your energy and get a feel for what you have to offer. Show us. 

Another tip: unless you are swamped in presentations, never refuse a chance to present. You have something to share with us—teach us. We need what you have to give. Plus, if you're into learning stuff, there's no better way to learn something and become an expert on it than to prepare a well-thought-out presentation and teach a group of people about it. 

The Coaching Habit: Michael Bungay Stanier

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The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier is one of those gems that isn't just full of platitudes, but rather teaches practical and concise lessons you can apply today. The book is really about a few well-researched questions and the power of silence. 

Q1: What’s on your mind?
Q2: And what else?
Q3: And what else?
Q4: So what’s the real challenge here for you?

Bonus "Learning" question: What was most useful for you?

People occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.
— Winston Churchill

That’s equally true about the conversations you’re having with those around you. There’s wisdom to be found, but only if you hang around for a moment to take a look.

And what else?...

"Start with 'what.' When it comes to focused organizational conversations, asking why can put people on the defense. When you ask why you may be solving the wrong problem before just trying to understand the problem. Reframe the question so it starts with “What.” So, as some examples, instead of “Why did you do that?” ask “What were you hoping for here?” Instead of “Why did you think this was a good idea?” ask “What made you choose this course of action?” Instead of “Why are you bothering with this?” ask “What’s important for you here?”

You’ll be surprised and delighted at just how often these are exactly the right questions to ask. Open with: What’s on your mind? The perfect way to start; the question is open but focused. Check-in: Is there anything else on your mind? Give the person an option to share additional concerns. Then begin to focus: So what’s the real challenge here for you? Already the conversation will deepen. Your job now is to find what’s most useful to look at. Ask: And what else (is the real challenge here for you)? Trust me, the person will have something. And there may be more. Probe again: Is there anything else? You’ll have most of what matters in front of you now. So get to the heart of it and ask: So...what’s the real challenge here for you?"

My final takeaway: bite your tongue. Don’t fill the silence. This may seem incredibly uncomfortable, but it creates space for learning and insight.

Read the Coaching Habit. Say less, ask more, and change the way you lead forever.

Solving the problem before knowing the problem

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We love solving things. 

Our best friend comes to us with a situation, we offer solutions. There is friction in the sales process, we know how to fix it. We feel sick, we take medicine.  

But here's the thing, solving the problem isn't the problem. The problem is knowing the real problem.

Diagnosing before prescribing is hard. It takes silence (something most of us aren't very good at). It takes asking more questions (when most of us would rather give answers). It takes overcoming the fear of uncertainty (aka the fear of saying 'I don't know').

Most of all, it takes practice. We have all been conditioned to immediately try to solve stuff. We are too often judged, ranked, and measured based on the number of solutions we offer rather than the number of real problems we identify. Probably because it's a lot easier to talk about features, hours worked, and time spent reviewing things and a lot more difficult to dive into the real problem.

What's the real problem? 
What's the real challenge here for you? 
What else?
What made you choose this course of action? 
What's important here for you? 
What else? 

A culture of caring

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People may or may not hear what you say, but they always remember what you do. 

You're not the exception, you're the reason. If you care, others will follow. 

Leaders may eat last, but they are the first to apply the rules to themselves. They are the first to show transparency. They are the first to be accountable. They are the first to sacrifice. 

I changed my mind

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I watched this video today on a social experiment some people were conducting. They waited near a booth where you can buy lottery tickets. Then, after people bought their ticket, they would walk up to them and offer to pay them twice as much as they paid for that same lottery ticket. About 9/10 people declined! Most of them were convinced that they had purchased the lucky ticket. When asked why they wouldn't take the deal, many of the 'future lottery winners' included in their response something along the lines of "well, imagine how devastating that would be if I sold YOU the winning ticket!"

How often do we as human beings fall into the trap of convincing ourselves that we are right? That we know what we're doing? Even more, how many times have we seduced ourselves into thinking that our mental efforts can impact external events? We fall in love with an idea. We walk into a meeting with a closed mind. We tell ourselves that no offer is good enough to change our minds.

I have found that the people who are most open to changing their minds are those who are experiencing something new/different. They have either started school, moved to a new town, started a new job, they continually read about new ideas, they recently made a big purchase, or experienced a life-changing event—something that did enough to shake up their world—at least before they start to experience a diminishing return on their current situation. 

I have also found that if you are the first to be vulnerable and either admit that you were wrong or that you changed your mind, others will feel more comfortable doing the same. Start with little things. You read something, believed something was some way, then you experienced something different and decided to change your mind. 

The key here is to not keep going back and forth. Be confident in your decision but humble enough to say that you were wrong. That you learned something that made you rethink the solution. 

You're either right or you're wrong. If you're like most people, you're probably right more than you're wrong. But something incredible starts to happen when leaders admit that they made a mistake—when they tell others that they changed their minds—things start getting accomplished, goals are achieved, and the culture in which this is all happening improves. 

As with most things, if you still think you're right, give it some time. If you can look back after 6 months, or a year and can still confidently state that you were right, kudos to you, learn something from it and understand what it was about that thing that made you choose correctly. But please, take a closer look. If you were wrong, then you were wrong. Don't beat yourself up about it, learn from it.

The person who is wrong, but from it gains important knowledge, has a significant advantage over the person who is 'always right.' Use being wrong to your advantage. It's not a bad thing to change your mind. It's noble. It shows that you love to learn, even if it means from your own mistakes. It means you want to win. It means you're going to be right when it counts. 

 

Managing expectations

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Summers are for barbecuing. Tonight was the perfect kind of night for some roof-top grilling. We brought the vegetables, and our friends provided the tilapia and drinks. 

There were two flavor options for drinks: lemon and cranberry. Without really looking, I cracked open the lemon expecting a sweet, tangy rush of lemon goodness, only to experience the dull, diluted, flavorless wannabe lemonade—lemon-flavored sparkling water! 

It's not that I never had sparkling water before, it's that I was expecting something else than what was delivered. 

And that's the thing about expectations, isn't it? Expectations are usually graded on the curve. You expect water, I give you lemon seltzer, your expectations change, they reset. You eat ramen your whole life, then I introduce you to real ramen, your standard for what good ramen tastes like changes. You then move to Japan—what once blew you away becomes the new standard. 

Low expectations are no good. They make it seem like something is happening when, in reality, nothing has changed. Expectations that are too high also present a challenge. You will always be expected to exceed them. Nothing, therefore, will ever be good enough. You may never be content with anything.

Here's the best way I know how to properly manage expectations: first, understand what expectations are. They need to be internally driven. They need to come from you. It's better to go into something with no expectations than someone else's. Second, good expectations are well-thought-out. They align with our hopes and our dreams. They aren't merely wishes conjured up on the whimsical thought. They represent who we are, where we intend to go, and who we anticipate becoming (given we follow the principles we establish for ourselves). Third, having great expectations is the last thing that is stopping you from turning pro. I can almost promise you that your expectations are too low, not the other way around. Great expectations allow you to explore what you never thought was possible, discover something inside yourself that has been hiding for far too long, and become the person your best-self would expect you to become. 

But those great expectations don't just come. You'll need some help. Help from people who not only understand the purpose of properly managing your expectations but also realize the importance and the value of setting your own expectations. These rare mentors won't set your expectations but will ask the right questions, lead by example, and know how to inspire you so that the expectations you set are truly great. And if you feel like those people who are closest to you now aren't meeting your expectations, maybe it's time you surround yourself with other people who care enough to help you dig deeper. Because there is nothing more valuable than having someone in your life who shares your vision, who helps you open your eyes to the possible, who expects a lot from you because they believe in you. 

Two more ways to look at fear

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1) Fear limits our ability to create something remarkable. And instead seduces us into thinking that it's okay to be average. That being noticed is for the privileged. So we carry on—sloppily. We carelessly go about doing subpar work that we know will be just 'good enough.' We hide behind our typos, our lack of activity, our bad attitude, our emotions, and our justifications:
- "We need more time to prepare."
- "It's the first of the month."
- "It's the end of the month."
- "They're in a meeting."
- "They just got back from a meeting."
- "I'm out of resources."
- "I didn't think to ask."

2) Fear stops us from allowing others to create something remarkable. And instead seduces us into thinking that success is a commodity. A limited resource. That there isn't enough to go around for all of us. So instead of directing our focus toward expanding, we ignorantly belittle, criticize, and diminish. We hide behind obsessively picking apart others' work instead of making ours better.

Fear isn't scary, but it can be damning. 

Fortunately, we have a choice. We can either: 
1) give in to that feeling of fear and let it stop our progress or the progress or others,
or
2) we can eat our fear. We can "use fear against itself." When we feel anxiety before we do something that is hard, let that feeling trigger action. Stop thinking. Stop doing whatever it is you are doing, and just act. In so doing, you will start earning the reputation of being fearless because you take action so quickly. When, in reality, you are acting based on fear just like everyone else. The difference is, now you know how to use it to your advantage.

Letting yourself off the hook

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You are doing yourself a disservice when you say you need more time to prepare. 

You don't need any more ideas, you just need to execute one. 

Stop being jealous of others' 'talents' when they are actually skills. 

Make the call, do the thing you've been talking about, learn the skills. It's more possible and achievable than you think, and it certainly doesn't require MORE experience and MORE time. After all “experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.” — Steven Wright. 

For the moment you might feel better, now that you've let yourself off the hook, but you're also slowly making yourself more and more miserable. 

There are mistakes, and then there are mistakes

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What is a mistake? Mistakes are steps forward. They, more often than not, lead to breakthroughs, to innovations. 

It is our responsibility, therefore, to not avoid mistakes, but to embrace them. Because the man who can confidently own his mistakes is far ahead of him who shies away from the challenge. 

Even if you're wrong, be boldly wrong. It might not work, so what? The next one might. And you'll be better off for trying your best both times. If it's impact you seek; if you desire to make a difference, remember, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes, but learning nothing from those mistakes, is THE mistake. 

What's in it for me?

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That depends, are you an investor? Or a miser? 

The miser hoards. He holds onto all that he has because his time is too valuable to share. His money is in too short of supply to give. And his gifts are too rare to be understood. The miser knows that he has nothing else going for him. This is his final play. He avoids failure at all costs and embraces insufficiency. He calls it a lack of confidence, everyone else sees it as selfishness. 

The investor isn't concerned about "what's in it for me." She knows that the more she gives, the more she gets back. Perhaps not in the way she expected, but certainly in a more satisfying way than originally imagined. The investor is generous and genuine. "What's in it for her?" Nothing. But "what's in it for her" always happens as a result of constantly adding value to people.

Craft

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In the Middle Ages, a craftsman was known as someone who was particularly skilled at certain trade or profession. He gained that knowledge through a process called an apprenticeship. After an apprentice had finished his apprenticeship, he would then enter the journeyman phase of his life. He has learned the necessary skills to become a master but now must search for a place to set up shop and start making a living for himself. Upon successfully setting up shop, he could then call himself a master of his craft. 

In those days it was easy to identify a true master of craft. It might have been a leatherworker, a blacksmith, or a skilled carpenter. You could quickly look at their work and discern quality work from subpar work. 

But what does skilled work look like today? How does one distinguish a true master of craft? And an even more important question to ask is 'how does one become a master of his/her craft in today's world?'

Someone who has mastered their craft might be someone who is particularly skilled at closing a deal, developing an innovative way to navigate a website, or coming up with new techniques to teach and inspire people. Masters in today's work culture come from all backgrounds and can be spotted performing a variety of jobs. From taxi drivers to bankers, from sales ops managers to hotel grounds workers, quality craftsmanship takes many shapes these days. 

You don't have to be an artisan to be a craftsman. To master your craft, all you have to do is care, exceed expectations, make promises, and then keep them. 

Make a second list

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Your first list is good. It highlights your interests and passions. This will help you identify things that present interesting opportunities. It can be useful for connecting the dots. 

But your second list is much more valuable. It's a list of the reasons WHY you love those things on the first list. What is it about those things that make you feel so passionately about them? Is it because you are helping people? Is it because you get to work with your hands? Is it because you get to visit new places? Be specific. 

People too often stop after the first list, the initial question, the original answer. Dig deeper. Find out why. Describe what that looks like. 

Talking so much yet saying so little

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Nobody means to miscommunicate. It's usually a symptom of something else like wanting to be heard or needing to be right.

The challenge of clear communication is not to merely demand and order, it's to instruct and learn. That's why conversations are more effective than speeches and 1:1 interactions are more memorable than presentations. 

The teams that seem to communicate the best are also the ones that have learned to do one thing better than anybody else: ASK.

Because if you don't ask, you don't know. Otherwise, conversations, tasks, todo's, and projects seem to just go in circles. 

We're all selling something. And anybody in sales knows that if you believe enough in what you are selling, you're not going to just 'say your peace' and never follow up again. If it means enough to you, know that clear communication takes time. It takes effort. And it takes dialogue, which leads to connection, which leads to trust, which leads to action.  

Where do you see yourself?

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In a month from now? In three months? In a year? In five years? 

Because things will be different. They'll be more expensive, faster, and potentially obsolete. 

Here's the thing, the difference between where you are today and where you will be in the future will come down to how you spend your time. Spend a little bit of time today learning a language—repeated daily—yields language proficiency. Same goes for that code you are writing, those words you are typing, those phone calls you are making. It may be a small thing today, but small things—multiplied and repeated—become very large things. 

We get what we invest in. And investing in worthwhile work is always worth the investment.

Why most people quit

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- The odds are too stacked against them.
- They see how far they still have to go.
- They look for reasons why they can't do something. 
- They are playing to not lose.

You might remember the story in the book "Think and Grow Rich" about a man who gave up on his quest for gold too soon.

Day after day, month after month the man went prospecting for gold in the hills of California. He was full of confidence and was certain wealth was just on the horizon. He dedicated himself to reaching his goal. He woke up early, used simple tools, and worked tirelessly throughout the day. He found a few pieces of gold here and there, but nothing life-changing. 

But the burden became too great. He lost his enthusiasm and decided to sell all of his tools and give up. The prospector who bought the man's tools then began working on the same mine shaft as the man from whom he had purchased his tools. He hired a surveyor and a geologist to inspect the land. It turned out, the first man was a mere THREE FEET away from a large gold deposit.


I sometimes wonder if we get goal-setting all wrong. Sometimes we focus so much on how far we have to go that we never really take the time to ponder how far we've come. In this story of the man searching for gold, what if the prospector had taken the time each day to reflect on the massive mine he had so meticulously carved away? What if, sometimes, the work itself is the goal?

I think most people quit, not because they feel that they aren't capable, but because they get overwhelmed by how far they still have to go. Most people quit because of the anticipation, not the work. Most people quit because they fear they won't hit the expected results—as established by 'others'—not because they feel they lack confidence or skill. We begin to doubt and lose faith in our abilities only when we focus on the result as opposed to focusing on the journey. 

The fear of missing out

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The unexpected job offer. The side project that may be outside our scope but promises easy cash. An opportunity that offers "great upside," or a "chance to build our portfolio/resume," but isn't something we're passionate about or it won't pay the bills. 

What's your "one thing?" The thing that makes you different? The thing that you are not only passionate about but is also something you can be the best at? Why should anyone choose you over all the other options out there? 

These are the questions you should be asking yourself. 

Don't ask "how can I say no?" Ask "does this 'thing' add value to my 'one' thing?"

Two things:

1) If we say yes now to the easy opportunity just because it offers a quick reward, we run the risk of having to later say no to more meaningful ones. 

2) If it's not a clear yes, then it's a clear no.

 

The process

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I define the process as the long game. It's not a one-and-done thing. It's laying the foundation for something greater. 

And make no mistake about it, getting the process right is far more important and urgent than whatever problem stands in your way right now. 

The process works when everything else fails because it keeps you moving. It's a system for grinding, it's a road map for hustling. 

The process is what's important, not the outcome. Consistently taking the information you have and making the best decisions you can make. The outcome will take care of itself. 

Trust the process.