In the spirt of focus and building on last year, here are three words I’m using to guide me in the year ahead. Last year’s were so simple, but still hard. I often forgot about them. Yet I smiled when I went back to them late summer and noted the first one, again – Do. Earlier in the summer I attended the Do Lectures. Maybe it’s serendipity or maybe it’s a stretch to connect the two, but I hadn’t thought of this word when I signed up in the Spring. I would like to think putting the word out there contributed to being there in some small way. What words will you use to guide you this year?
It’s no secret we’re facing momentous change given the election results. Like many, I never thought this would come to pass and have had to pick myself up out of depression for what this means for our country. Whereas Obama gave us hope – and delivered on that promise for all intents and purposes – we now face divisiveness and ugliness. My initial desire was to pretend it was a bad dream. That it didn’t really happen. But it did and it’s out of our control. Running away isn’t an option. But focusing on what we can control is. It may not always be easy. Few things worth doing are. As a consummate thinker I process possibility. I visualize the good, the bad and everything in between.
Outside of the election, 2016 has been a year of change for me and will continue to be well into 2017 – that I am certain about. Spending more than a few hours above 30,000 feet during the year affords much time to envision the future. To reconcile what’s working; what’s not working. To think about all of the mistakes I’ve made. And no doubt I’ll continue to make more as long as I navigate this circuitous path called life with more intention and authenticity than perhaps I’ve done in the past. None of us can go back. But we can move forward. You can either let change blow you around willy nilly. Or you can stare it in the face. Grab ahold of it. Throwing a pity party isn’t going to feed your soul. I’ve awoken this year in ways that are tough to articulate. It’s as if I finally got the memo. But then I am a guy and sometimes we’re a little slow on the uptake.
The election aside –I still have to compartmentalize that disaster – I feel more at peace. More alive. And more hopeful than I have. Part of it is through acceptance; letting go. And part of it is a desire to live the best life I can going forward. Why not? The Do was instrumental in this. As is much of the reading I’m drawn to. In fact, it seems books show up at the most serendipitous times. I’m currently working through ‘Designing your Life’ by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans – just out this fall! I recommend you work through it too. It’s about surfacing options rather than accepting the one solution staring at you. It’s about applying design thinking to your life. You don’t need to be a designer to do this and it can help spark positive change.
I often share this article on why most change initiatives fail: it’s because change causes physical pain in the brain and only through focus and repetition can you transfer this new change from one part of the brain to another. Remember how hard you had to think when learning to drive? It’s like that.
Even as I write this and ponder possibility – I am a dreamer at heart, and innately curious – I know there will be bumps on the journey. And it is always a journey. I’d like to call this texture. But I believe it’s how we face such bumps that makes us stronger. Here’s to navigating such with grace and style.
The Do Lectures are hard to describe. Some say it’s like Ted meets Burning Man on farm. Others will say it’s about uniting the Doers of the world and sharing stories. Whatever you do, don’t call it a conference though. Where else can you go sleep in a Tipi with strangers, shower outside and hear the most amazing stories?
Whenever I travel for business I try to explore the city I’m in by taking walks before and after taking care of business. Naturally I take a camera with me. Jay Maisel always said that if you always have a camera with you, you never have to go out to take pictures. Certainly I always have a camera via my phone and I use that extensively, posting those images to Instagram and Mundaily. However, for what I’ll share on in this space, I’m making a rule that none can come from a phone but from a proper camera.
In most any city, you can find interesting places. Last October found me in Vienna, which happens to be visually richer than many and thus I was more prolific. Most are in and around the city, however I had a beautiful fall Sunday to explore the Wachau Valley west of Vienna on bike. It was nothing short of magical.
In this edit, I enjoy assembling juxtapositions of color and subject that add more personality to the images than if they were shown singularly. They’re all about light, color and gesture – three qualities Jay impressed upon me during a workshop long ago in Aspen, Colorado.
Each February for the past four years you’ll find me in Amsterdam. I spend the day I land walking the city with camera in hand, looking at how I can see and discover things I hadn’t in previous trips. There’s a lot you miss when first visiting a new city; particularly one as visually rich as Amsterdam. I love this city’s architecture and saw it differently on this trip, although I’m always drawn to the areas around the canals.
In 2014, inspired by others who do the same, I started thinking about the three words that would guide my work and life in the coming year. Here are the three simple – but potentially hard – words to live by this year.
I spend much time thinking about things and visualizing outcomes, good and bad. I try to consider all possible scenarios in the hopes that I can avoid pitfalls, overcome obstacles and ensure positive results. Planning is good. Avoiding irrational, hasty decisions is also good. But the reality is that you can’t predict the future. No amount of visualization and thinking will account for every possible outcome. Only by doing will you achieve your goals. Thinking begets more thinking. So after I think, this year I must do.
Seth Godin wrote in Linchpin about the importance of shipping. We can always make excuses for why we can’t finish something. There’s always one more thing we can and should do before we let something go. But that’s just our brains making excuses for why we can’t finish. And I’m as guilty of this as others. There are many unfinished personal projects I put off until tomorrow because they’re not ‘finished’. Or I make up reasons for why I can’t finish them today. It’s time to ship or delete the project.
In all the thinking and visualizing about the future I tend to do, I forget to enjoy the moment. In the past, I’ve called this being more present. This one was inspired by “Miracle in the Andes” by Nando Parrado, which I read last week. It’s the story of the 72 days survivors of a 1972 plane crash endured on glacier. In the book, Nando wrote about how every day he could take another breath was another day he was alive. Before this, he took much for granted. In the midst of doing and shipping, I commit to enjoying the process.
I can’t say I’ve been entirely successful the past two years with my three words. They’re a framework for living and something I think about from time to time. The more we do things, the more they become a habit and thus I continue with these three new words for 2016.
Many have researched the elusive pursuit of happiness. A couple of the more notable include Martin Seligman and Gretchen Rubin. Our consumer culture tells us we’ll be happy if we just buy more stuff and more exclusive tonics. Rinse and repeat.
It’s much simpler than that. You can find happiness by focusing on what makes you unhappy. You already know what makes you unhappy. By removing these things you’ll find yourself much happier in short order. It’s a subtractive process.
Before you think I’m a genius for the solution, I must share that this was one of the ‘oh duh’ moments that came from reading Nassim Taleb’s provocative book, Antifragile. He uses the concept of ‘via negativa’ versus ‘via positiva’ to solve our most perplexing problems.
Another key is to avoid toxic people. We know who these types are. Seek those having a positive outlook. Build friendships with those that are happy for your success rather than envious or competitive. It’s less work for you to remain positive and happy when you can be yourself. Immersed in negativity, it’s easy to get sucked in.
At work it’s a little harder. Sometimes we have to interact with toxic colleagues. Especially in workplaces where there’s an absence of the No Asshole Rule. In these cases, you can try to limit exposure and go in ‘feet first’ as one person does in her work place. This refers to being ejected from your kayak in the rapids where you want to stay feet first to avoid bonking your head on the rocks.
Most of us have too much complexity in our lives. And too much stuff. Simplifying through subtraction is relatively easy to do. Finding happiness by focusing on unhappiness is a small piece of Antifragile. It’s one of those books that changes your worldview.
I’ve been a fan of Volkswagen for many years. I embrace their quirks because the cars are fun to drive. Solid, well-built, safe. The Germans know how to engineer and build cars that inspire the driver. Even my lowly VW Golf which I had for 12 years with hardly a problem in that time was inspiring. I never even had to replace the brakes. The VW Bug smiles at you on the road. How can it not make you happy just looking at it?
The dominos are falling. It’s a slippery slope.
So what now? They need dramatic change and fast to restore faith in the company. They need transparency. And they need to buy back every single car or offer to replace it with an equivalent model. Unless they can engineer a fix that retains the promised performance and fuel economy. It’s looking they’re opting for a fix which looks like it will take 10 hours per car and won’t begin until some time next year. But now 480,000 people will have to make time to drop their cars off to do so.
What would you do if you knew you had just 15 minutes left. With just 15 minutes left clarity crystalizes in the mind. Clarity of purpose. Clarity of vision. Clarity of what it means to be alive. Totally alive. The petty things that cloud are vision and occupy our thoughts melt away. There’s no time for minutiae. No time for that next email about scheduling a meeting and putting the PowerPoint slides together. No time for analyzing all the options, getting buy in from all the stakeholders, all the people that might ridicule you for your actions. For taking a risk. For taking a stand.
Heck, there’s no time for worrying about being the fool. About being embarrassed or wondering what anybody thinks. No time for getting your hair right. Shaving. Ironing. No, there’s only time for decisive action. For setting into motion what will live on long after your final 15 minutes. What everyone will ultimately remember you by. Funny how a definitive end kicks you into action. Suddenly, you know absolutely what you must do. The sole reason you were placed on this beautiful planet to accomplish. And so, with 15 minutes to accomplish what you’ve dreamt for a lifetime you wanted to do. To be. You do it.
You know exactly what steps you need to take. What buttons to push. There’s no second guessing or backtracking. It’s all forward motion now. You’re able to bound up hills that moments ago seemed insurmountable. You’re able to push fear aside and act. With total clarity. Damn the pimples. The door dings in your new car. Who cares? They’re not important. You just made them so. You go right for the heart of what you’ve always known mattered but waited for the right time to act. Or waited because you were keeping your options open.
And so because of your clarity the people around you are inspired to act. To rethink their station and cast status quo aside. To banish mediocrity in favor of making that dent in the Universe. A dent that has absolutely nothing in common with a $39,000 Hermes Crocodile skin purse.
You take that risk because in 15 minutes it won’t be risky. You’ll have reached the end of the story. And your final chance to leave your mark. That’s it. There is no second chance now. No rewind or redos. No chance to lament. It’s all or nothing. I vote for all.
And if you fail? You’ll be remembered for your bravery. For your willingness to do what others were afraid of. And if you succeed? You’ll change lives and the world forever. Even if its leaving just one young girl with the gift of confidence in herself. In her ability to make a difference. To stand up to the pressures placed on growing up. The pressures to conform to what society expects. By doing just that, you’ll have changed the world because now she can carry on long after you’re gone and inspire others to do the same based on her actions. Her bravery. Few people even do that!
Now how cool is that?
Apple was the cool, quirky company who could. The one many derided as toys and for those wanting something special. And then they got big.
Starbucks was the cool third place you’d go to connect with friends and associates. Where you’d hang out and write witty prose or dream up your next adventure. And then they got big.
Apple, especially with the notion of marketing a $10,000 watch that’ll be obsolete in a year is reaching the tipping point. They clearly strike me as a greedy company that cares little for the little guy as the largest, most profitable company around. But we still love their products. There isn’t anything better. Yet.
Same with Starbucks. I now brew my own coffee at work using an Aero press. Starbucks has lost that specialness. It’s now just a commoditized transaction. In and out. Sure, they’re nice places to meet someone for a conversation. Especially for business. But it’s not somewhere I care to go in my spare time or when I want a good experience. The coffee is just not that good anymore. I can do better myself.
I’ll confess that it took me a few tries to get the process down so that it was easy, but now that I have it dialed, I love the quality of coffee via Aero Press. Bon Appetit was right when they cited it as one of the best for the road. I want Starbucks to become cool again; they’ve made huge, generally positive impact on the world. I actually think that they have a lot of people who care, but it gets really hard at scale.
When you’re everywhere – and big – and ridiculously profitable, you lose the underachiever status that makes us want to root for you. No longer do we care much about your success. We like the struggle. We like the ones who’ve not be discovered by the masses.
Once big, you’re not so cool any more.
At what point do you reach that? In business, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. You always have to reinvent yourself. Release new products and new things. Because – especially with technology – change happens and people get bored. We always want the new shiny object even when they absolutely don’t need it. We really don’t.
And if you’re not growing in size and profits, someone else will overtake you.. You’ll be replaced. It’s a conundrum. How much processing power do we really need? How many different types of Lattes, Frappucinos and Refreshers can we consume? It becomes noise.
I don’t have an answer here. Just observations. Stay fresh Keep delighting those you serve. Pay attention to the little things even when you’re big. Few companies do and that makes it unexpected. But remember that we generally root for the underdog.