Us versus Them

How often does this come up for you? How often do different departments work symbiotically to achieve company goals? Or is it more about silos and protecting one’s turf?

Imagine how much more we could all get done with much less effort and angst if we truly worked together in a spirit of transparent collaboration.

Imagine how much more profitable your company would be if this were true? It’s hard to quantify the waste that political infighting causes both financially and emotionally.

Of course there aren’t many public examples of symbiotic nirvana. It’s rather rare.

What if you made that happen in your company? Imagine what an amazing place to work that would be and how gratifying. The elusive stretch goal? Why not shoot for it? It’s never too late to start. At least you can be one who doesn’t contribute to the problem.

Giving and receiving feedback well is one tool that can help and I’m just diving into this book on the subject.

Some days are better than others

Does that ring true for you? Your customers? Yesterday I stopped by Starbucks for a basic black coffee because I was out of beans at home. I walked out and later discovered it was full of grounds. A terrible cup of Joe. When I mentioned it this morning, they gave me a cup on the house. Fortunately it was fine. A coffee house needs to nail the basics and that’s simple, good coffee. I often wonder if Starbucks has forgotten that. They did good today though.

What do you do when things are not going your way? Do you wallow in self pity or pull yourself together and turn it around? Make some fresh squeezed lemonade? What’s your BATNA?*

While it’s easy to get caught up in the negative vortex, a little perspective shift can stem the downward spiral. You have a choice: let the wrongs of the day rule you or use them as an opportunity to improve. To turn the day towards your favor.

I talked today about neuroplasticity which is the mind’s ability to rewire itself based on changes to your environment, focus, thinking, injury, etc. Previously it was thought the brain developed when young and then was fixed. Taken a step further, you have the ability to direct your brain’s rewiring based on the concept of self-directed neuroplasticity where you change your brain based on where you focus your attention, whether that is your thoughts or time spent honing a skill.

Why wallow in self pity when you can directly influence your sense of happiness by choosing to do so? You can choose not to think of the wrongs of the day as things being done to you but just obstacles to overcome.

I will admit sometimes we want to be a grinch. To be cantankerous to get it out of our system. But make sure you get it out. I know I do this at times. It’s not always easy in the moment to recognize what we’re doing to ourselves and others. Yet the more you practice pulling your act together, the easier it gets. Because your brain will recognize what’s happening sooner and correct course even before you realize it.

As a business, your customers have bad days and may want to take it out on you. Rather than taking that personally, you have the chance to help them turn it around by injecting a little wow and delight into their day. It’s up to them whether to accept it. And a topic for another day but you also need to recognize when some customers are not a good fit for you or your team and actually cause harm in which case you should part ways.

Intentionally working on turning a misstep into opportunity increases your chances for more good days than bad.

*Best alternative to a negotiated agreement

Make time for real work

We live distracted lives. That’s not a secret. And research over the past few years has shown how our brains are getting rewired, we’re facing more anxiety and depression. More FOMO. We’re essentially skimming the surface as several studies have shown it takes 20 – 25 minutes to regain focus after each distraction whether that’s a text message, email or colleague buzzing by your desk.

We’re not creating value in this state of mind. Real value comes from concentrated focus. What author Cal Newport calls Deep Work. This requires finding uninterrupted time to focus. At minimum, 90 minutes. But it’s better if you can find 2 – 4 hour blocks of time.

While Nicholas Carr has shown how our brains are being rewired in the digital age, neuroscience shows that because our brains can be consciously rewired through focus on a subject over time. Called self-directed neuroplasticity, we can choose not to be so distracted.

When algorithms can replace much of the work we already do – and much of the thinking – it’s the value we create through deeper work that will keep us relevant. And that will differentiate you from others. Because it is hard. It takes intention. Vision. Discipline. All things eroded by digital distraction.

Check it out here. Not only will you create more value, you’re apt to live a more satisfying life.

Success in Real Estate

Years ago I had a dream of being a real estate investor. I tried buying and flipping houses looking at home after prospective home, estimating repairs, timelines, financing and net payout. I made numerous offers on viable homes and didn’t secure a single one. Someone always beat me out. Eventually I gave up when it didn’t seem viable.

A few years after that, bought a second home in Sunriver, Oregon, realizing a dream. The most inexpensive home in a great neighborhood. Except it was 2007 right before the crash. 10 years later, sold it for less than purchase price. On the one hand it was a great getaway. On the other, my timing was poor and it clearly was not a good investment. Could have rented really nice homes for less than ‘owning’ this one. Which required maintenance, repairs, oversight. And the opportunity cost was in part lost exotic vacations. Sunriver, though, is still a magical place.

The lesson is that investing is all about timing. Whether the markets or real estate. And no one has a crystal ball. Perhaps I should have seen the signs that we were at the top of the market. I was worried about being priced out completely.

When I hear ads to attend seminars for ‘house flipping systems’ and ‘building teams to make money in your spare time’ I am cynical. Especially in the Portland market which has low inventory and high competition for properties, particularly at the lower end. There is money to be made in selling the system and the dream. Realizing the dream after purchase is harder. Doable, but harder.


Because it takes fortitude, tenacity, grit and time. You need to identify the right product, buy at the right price and sell at the right price in the right time to clear a net profit. It’s that way with any business proposition.


It’s human nature to want overnight success. For it to be easy. But if it were, all of us would be tremendously successful. Each of us has our measure of what success looks like. Not all of it is monetary although that certainly opens up many doors.

Key is defining what it is and going after it with gusto and patience. Real estate is no exception. Looking at properties now, I am assessing the cost for renovation and how long it’ll take to recover the costs even if it’s my primary residence. Most all existing homes need updating in a few years. They need maintenance to stay in top shape. I’ve heard recently that lumber prices have skyrocketed because of new tariffs on Canadian lumber. Labor, too has increased with demand and it’s hard to get remodeling projects done affordably or in a timely manner. At least here in Portland.

The New York Times has a calculator for estimating the cost benefits of renting vs. owning based on many factors which is illuminating if you’ve never done the math. And the math doesn’t account for the psychological benefits of owning your own home. Of being able to make it exactly the space you want.

There are few signs that Portland isn’t going to decline anytime soon like some areas of the country did in 2008, yet we don’t know for certain. And if you’re investing in real estate to achieve a return in the short or long term, the math is important. But timing is even more important. And all of this takes grit and a certain tolerance for risk. There isn’t an easy risk-free path to success.

 

Default response

In the heat of the moment we revert to what we know, how we know to act and respond accordingly. We’re not in a state of mind to think holistically. To bring our best self. Unless we’ve trained our mind and body to be that best self.

That’s why it’s important to practice. To do the personal work to become who you want. To show up how you want to show up when things get tough.

Will you navigate such hurdles with grace and style or flail about attacking everyone in your way? And then regret it later?

This is hard work. You will not always bring your best self to difficult moments. I think, though, if you practice, if you make it your mission to take a little step everyday to get there, you’ll do that much better next time. You’ll be able to respond from a place of strength and experience better outcomes. You’ll recognize the situation and check yourself automatically rather than just reacting. Without practice we go with what we know; what is instinctual.

I often share an article entitled “The neuroscience of leadership” from 2006 that talks about how change causes physical pain in the brain and to make it stick you have to transfer the change from working memory to the basal ganglia where habits are stored. And that takes repetition and focus.

What’s your default response and what steps will you take to strengthen it?

We remember the worst

It’s human nature to think the worst and remember the same. We discount happy moments, take them for granted. We assume when change comes it isn’t generally good news. And when someone pays us a compliment it either comes with strings attached or isn’t sincere.

It’s why we think about the ‘good old days’. The way things were. The golden era. Except in the moment there were other ‘good old days’. It’s a moving target.

I venture to suggest that given the current climate of discord that there were better days. More civil. And there can be better days ahead too. It’s a matter of perspective and who wants to lose hope for a better future? And I still believe there are cycles we go through.

There’s big business in nostalgia. And opportunity in getting people to not always fear the worst in the face of change. Especially your teams and colleagues. How do you react to change? Glass half empty or half full? I suggest starting with the latter.

I’m currently reading ‘How to Think‘ by Alan Jacobs which dives into how we can’t think independently because we’re much influenced by our environment.

What comes up for you when you think about how you think?

 

Navigating ambiguity and uncertainty

We want to know things for certain. When unsure, when there’s doubt, when the answers are not staring us in the face, we get jittery. Who’s going to make the decision for us? Who is going to tell us it’s going to be okay?

Fact is, no one, really. Goes back to the fact each of us are navigating our own journey based on the experiences we’ve had before. Capitalism is ruthlessly efficient at optimizing without regard for feelings. For life. It takes human empathy to reign it in.

Even the CEO doesn’t know things for certain. Sure, she can make decisions based on experience and data. But success comes from making strategic bets for which the outcome isn’t known until it is.

Many people have a hard time navigating what’s ambiguous. With sitting with not knowing what’s certain. There’s magic and art in ambiguity. There’s differentiation and courage there.

Successful navigation requires confidence and options. It requires a foundation that affords you the opportunity to fail strategically. Because you will fail before you succeed.

Overcoming ego in building teams

The best teams are selfless. But each of us has an agenda. A lens though which we view the world. Unless each of us commits to the greater vision of the team, we’ll undermine the team success for our own benefit. Yet conversely if we give ourselves selflessly to the team we’ll get the rewards in the long term.

Our lizard brains though trick us into focusing more on short term gains. Just look at Wall Street for how prominent that approach is. Few are committed to building companies with legacies. The norm is on how fast you scale and exit. Grabbing a nice pot of cash on your way out. I get the logic in this. Who doesn’t want to be rich?

Yet for society to thrive longterm, we need to think more about building selfless teams. The kinds of teams that can win. And win big. If we get out of our own way.

I read recently Scott Adams’ focus on systems over goals as a means towards success. If you can build a system within a team and operate effectively within that system, you should hit your success.

Profit and loss

If you don’t make any money you won’t be long in business. That’s pretty obvious. And starting up, you need a cushion to do your best work and secure the best opportunities or you’ll make poor decisions just to keep the lights on. And that’s not confidence inspiring.

Taking more in than you pay out is a basic recipe for business success.

And then there are the other profits and losses. The people along the way you need to be successful and who you lose when you take advantage of them in a zero sum gain.

Big businesses think too much of squeezing customers and squeezing employees to bolster profits. Loopholes, shortcuts, lies can lead to greater profits. And greater losses when it comes crashing down.

How you earn your profit matters. It can even differentiate you from your competition. What if more companies focused on building long term sustainable businesses. Maybe they grew at measured rates rather than exponential. And maybe they were the types of businesses that lasted decades and gave more back to the earth than they took. Made those that worked for them earn enough to live good lives. Created community in the face of a world lacking today in community.

Maybe if more companies did this, we’d be on our way to mending the great divide in the country. Maybe it would even pave the way to sustainable solutions to climate change.

At the rate we’re going, most businesses are making profits at the expense of the earth. And most of us are consuming at the expense of the earth. At some point the profits enjoyed will become huge losses.

You might feel powerless to act. But what if each of us took micro steps each day in our businesses, jobs, lives to reverse course. Might we make more profits in the end? Live better lives?

Just imagine.

You are here

While you were busy checking Facebook wondering what your friends were up to, posting to Instagram, checking Twitter and YouTube, others were creating. Writing. Drawing. Designing. Thinking. Shipping.

We often regret the time we waste on things that seemed productive in the moment, lamenting where the time went. If we’d achieved our goals and dreams we’d look back with satisfaction. Yet how many of us do that? You can’t go back. Time once expended is gone.

On the flip side, parsing your time into massive productivity slices isn’t the answer either. Being busy organizing, cleaning, responding is just that: keeping you busy with the false illusion you’re doing something productive. True productivity is doing the right things. And only you know what those are. Those nagging goals and dreams currently unfulfilled.

I’m not advocating a slovenly lifestyle. Clean. And stay that way as that frees your mind from the clutter of distraction. And dust bunnies everywhere are just gross. Whether in your head or your home or your office.

There’s also the argument that idle time is also time well spent. Time where you sit quietly with your thoughts. Where the digital is not present. Ideas happen here. Do this.

Don’t go another year and look back with regret on where the time went without anything to show for it. Look back next year and smile at the experiences you enjoyed. The work you did. And the difference you made. And if you achieved your dreams this year, where are you going next?