From Leadership

Ship your work

I spent a month this winter in Seth Godin’s altMBA. One intense month with some amazing cohorts. Produced more writing and work in that time than ever thought possible. It was all about shipping. Putting your work out there for others to see and comment on. And for you to reflect upon. I can’t recommend the experience highly enough. Just do it and don’t look back.

The lesson is that each of us is capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. We discount what’s possible. We don’t believe in ourselves enough to ship our best work. And by best, that doesn’t mean perfect. Best means being vulnerable. It means having empathy for others as well as yourself.

It’s hard work. We must choose to do it. And yes, we’ll face resistance in the process.

When you can ship your work every day, it feeds the engine that helps you ship the next day. Inertia will stop you in your tracks. Momentum does the opposite.

So ship something today. And then do it again tomorrow. In a few weeks, a few months, you’ll be amazed at what you can do.

Onward, Systematically.

Many of us are glad to close the door on this year. Doesn’t mean 2018 is suddenly transformative and all will be rainbows and unicorns. Really, tomorrow is just another day. Somehow we make the transition into so much more.

I already outlined my three guiding words for this year. Our success with resolutions hinges on our success at learning new habits and breaking old ones that don’t serve us. Scott Adams encouraged us to think not about goals but systems as a mindset that helps us achieve our goals by using knowledge and process. Systems don’t allow us to talk ourself out of something like we can with goals and resolutions. “Thanks for the Feedback” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen talks about systems in relationships. Peter Senge talks about Systems Thinking. It’s a mindset.

Systems help us build new habits. They require less cognitive thought and willpower freeing us up to accomplish more. To focus more.

We can lament the passing of time or make the most of it. Either way it passes. Here’s to a year ahead filled with building good systems that fuel your success whatever that looks like for you. For me, it’s a mix of financial, emotional, physical and relational. It’s about moving forward purposefully.

What’s your mindset right now and what systems will you put into place next? Bring it on 2018. Let’s go.

My three new words for 2018

It’s time to take stock of how I did living my words for 2017 and introduce three new words for 2018. Not that this year’s or prior years really go away. It gives emphasis on what I should pay attention to as I navigate the year ahead. I said I’d reinvent myself this year and in some ways I have. Others not so much yet. It was a year of much newness I’ve embraced with gusto. Explore: I continued to wander around cities I go for business and ventured a bit beyond to others and into the French countryside for a decadently magical experience. Much remains to be explored. There is still room to be more exceptional and I focused much on communication this year – written and verbal. Always room to improve.

Intentional

We live in the age of distraction and I find myself often distracted. Hey look, squirrel! We check our phones too much, spending too much time consuming sound bites rather than engaging in the kind of thinking that contributes to growth and creativity and richer experiences. I commit to being more intentional in my actions and the activities in which I engage including time with others where I am more fully present. I think this year will be one where more of us engage in a digital detox and take back our time. Life in analog is rich and the digital doesn’t always live up to the promise of more productivity and more time for what matters. Here’s to a year of living intentionally.

Simple

We often make things harder than they need to be because we don’t take time to connect the dots whether that’s in how we communicate and connect with others to how we work. And what we say. There’s an art to simplicity. Simple is simply hard. And it takes time. It takes more time to write succinctly. More time to edit for clarity and in the photo world, to select the absolute best work that says exactly what you want it to say. In marketing, simple is pure magic. It’s where engagement happens effortlessly because you took the time to demonstrate how you solve real problems better than anyone else. No matter how complex your product, you can distill it down to the crux of what you do. But it takes work. And I plan to engage in the elegant art of simplicity. It builds on being exceptional in all I do.

Focus

Connected with being distracted by all of the digital inputs and interruptions is a loss of focus. This is a reminder to get clear about priorities in all areas of life – work, ambition, parenting, friendships and fun. It’s deciding what really matters and pursuing it with gusto and grace. It’s about making a difference after a year that arguably left many of us so distracted and disillusioned. Let’s focus and make good things happen.

Meet me in the middle?

What ever happened to civil discourse? Where it was okay to disagree and argue in search of common ground? What ever happened to meeting in the middle?

Everything has become politicized and polarized. Facts are considered irrelevant. Science is stupid. Thinking is bad. Wealth is increasingly concentrated in the .1%.

Joseph Stieglitz talked about the dangers of the growing inequality. At some point – if not now – our systems are going to snap.

With our crumbling infrastructure – roads, healthcare, environment, education – we’re losing our edge as a great society. We’re at risk of losing our ability to innovate as country as we slide backwards with protectionism. Making it harder for talent to immigrate to the U.S. makes it harder for you to invent the next big thing if you can’t find what you need locally. And if we’re making this harder along with reducing investment in science and education, we’re hurting our ability to compete as a country going forward.

Just like in business when you lose your way, get complacent and take your eye off the proverbial ball, opportunities open for upstarts to win against you.

Also as a business, these dynamics contribute to potential instability in the markets and society that make it tough to forge a  stable, competitive path forward. At the very least you need to be vigilant about your strategy and nimble in order to change course quickly when necessary. That means plans need to be more malleable and long range planning shorter.

This isn’t a political blog but I would be naive to suggest that the current climate won’t impact your business, our jobs and how we all work. That along with technology changes most everything.

How is this impacting you now? What do you see on your near term horizon? Opportunities or challenges? For some, I believe this opens up opportunities to build new businesses to address this type of climate. It’s a matter of how you look at it. I advocate though for balance in society. Stability creates the space to innovate and test and thrive.

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

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.

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.