Paid to Think has 2 Good Ideas Wrapped in a Stack of Turtles

So much of what we do in work is thinking. Yes, developers type code onto the “page” and that code is what clients think they’re paying for. The truth is that they’re paying for you to make smart decisions.

Learning to make those smart decisions, with proper information, is what Paid to Think, by David Goldsmith, is all about.

So the big question is, what should you be thinking about? I promise that by the time you reach the end of this book, you’ll have a definitive (and possibly surprising) answer to that question, and you’ll also possess an abundance of tools that will enable you to convert your thoughts to realities. Paid to Think has been written so that you will know more precisely where to focus your energies and how to put your new found knowledge to immediate and practical use.

It’s Buried in Turtles

There is a great Dr Suess book called Yertle The Turtle. In this story, King Yertle is the ruler of all that he can see. Realizing that if he gets his subjects to form a tower he can see further, he gets them all to stand on each other’s backs with him at the top. Then it comes crashing down when one lowly turtle realizes he doesn’t have to stand for it.

Dr Suess is teaching us a lesson in greed, and while Paid to Think isn’t venturing into that realm, I kept thinking of Yertle.

The core issue with the book is that it’s got five steps for everything. Or 8 steps. Or 2 steps. Then inside each step, there is five sub-steps with three rules and four ways that you can adapt each rule based on a change in sub-step three.

I kept thinking all the rules and lists and steps and …. pages to print were a big pile of turtles. The deeper you went, the more turtles you found with more steps going on and on.

More than once, I’d be three pages of notes into step three to realize that I had no idea what step three was about and what it was all leading back to. So I’d read again, only to get lost on step three sub-step 2.

It got bad enough that it was all I could do to finish the book without skimming everything. Like that high school student reading with a fan pointing at the pages flipping them faster.

Further, I don’t think that a freelance business could do anything close to the “ideal” put forward in the book. In fact, I don’t think that most businesses that aren’t operating on a multi-national scale, could do it. I’d have to hire five people to do my work, and fill out all the sheets and stuff in the book to even be able to attempt most of it to the depth that Goldsmith describes.

With that out of the way, let’s look at some of the good that can be found in Paid to Think.

Enterprise Thinking

The main idea that Goldsmith is telling us about is Enterprise Thinking. This is simply his term for the thinking tools that he has. I never found a clear explanation of why Enterprise except maybe that you can’t do it unless you are in fact an enterprise.

He also talks a bunch about “cyclonic” thinking. This is simply his term to tell us that we jump around between the tools.

Many times he seems to use these terms mainly as a way to have his own intellectual property that he can sell to others. In fact, many of the thinking tools follow this model. He uses an established process and adds Enterprise to the front of it or “cyclonic” to it, and then calls it his own tool.

The idea that did resonate with me, being a Ready Fire Aim type, is:

You can never underestimate the value of thinking before taking action, especially when you’re about to invest labor, capital, time, and your reputation.

The Structure of Paid To Think

Paid to Think is broken up into four main groups of topics. Chapter 1 is laying the ground work of terms and ideas so that you can venture into the rest of the book and get less lost. Chapter two is all about getting you to question your assumptions and beliefs so you can see what might be holding you back.

The meat of the book is found in chapters three through fourteen. These are where you’ll find the thinking tools of Enterprise Thinking.

The final chapter, 15, is mostly inspirational. It’s telling you stories of how others have taken the thinking tools into their work and started to kick ass. It’s getting you to leave on a high note, so you’ll be more likely to put the tools into practice.

The Four Categories of Enterprise Thinking

According to Goldsmith, there are four categories that solid Enterprise Thinking makes up.

1. Strategizing

In the Strategizing category, you will learn the processes and tools you need to effectively develop targeted strategies that drive your organization forward.

2. Learning

Within the Learning category, you will gain an understanding of how to acquire new knowledge (more than simply awareness), enhance your global awareness, and watch your competition in ways that give your organization the edge it needs to survive and thrive now and well into the future.

3. Performing

…the Performing category addresses action itself: how you take action, how you engage in internal dialog to determine your next best steps, and how you reach organizational goals through other people.

4. Forecasting

The Forecasting category shows you how to gain a future-oriented mindset necessary to forecast tomorrow’s trends, opportunities, and challenges to better ensure a strong and healthy future for your organization, your career, and your life.

Goldsmith says that all four categories are connected. You’ll jump through them and around in them with “cyclonic” thinking.

Then he introduces us to the 7 Crosses of Enterprise Thinking.1

7 Crosses of ET
1. Cross functional – works in every department
2. Cross level – works senior to junior
3. Cross Industry
4. Cross Sector – private/public/IPO
5. Cross Cultural
6. Cross Time – historical or present day
7. Cross Life – work and home

This is another fault starting to show in the book, or at least showing again. The forward to the book makes such huge bold claims about how it will transform everything in your business and life, that I have no idea how any author could ever live up to them.

The 7 Crosses feel the same way. Goldsmith is saying that his system is the best for…everything all the time. That’s a huge claim to make, and one that’s contrary to the mental model theory2.

With a mental models approach, you’d ensure that you have tools from Paid to Think, and many others. Then you’d apply the best tool for the job. In fact, you’d make sure that you can apply at least two mental frameworks to it. If you can’t, you either don’t have the mental tools to dig in, or you don’t understand the problem with enough depth.

Our Limiting Beliefs

The beliefs we have limit us. They limit us in subtle ways. We start to see success, and then sabotage ourselves without thinking about it3.

One of the core contentions around what limits us as managers is that we’re managers, not leaders. Leaders lead from the field. Managers sit back in a cozy room sending people out to do their bidding.

When managers entered the scene, leaders moved from their on-the-field command positions to the seclusion of the executive office, rendering many (though certainly not all) decision makers out of touch with the realities that challenged their organizations.

This is faulty because so many managers are then out of touch with the realities of the work. In a recent Freakonomics episode4 they discussed this idea in as it pertains to CEO’s. Does an outside CEO or an internal one that came up through the ranks perform better.?

The data says that the internal one does, and at a cheaper cost. There isn’t even a contest between the two models in fact. Internal people who understand the culture and the goals of departments, win hands down.

These external CEO’s also often put way too much faith in a revolutionary idea instead of constant improvement.

Many decision makers put a lot of pressure on themselves to come up with the next killer idea, believing that they have to wow customers, prospective employees, or other stakeholders in order to win sales, key talent or other advantages for their organizations. But you don’t always have to reel in the ”big fish” to enjoy great rewards. In fact, more often than people realize, great rewards don’t necessarily come from earth shattering factors. Instead, they are oftentimes the result of minor factors that cause us to win or lose “by a nose.”

While this section does an okay job at getting us to question some of the beliefs we have, there are much better books out there. Like, The Big Leap. If you’re looking to question your assumptions that may hold you back from success, read that instead.

Now, we’re on to the third section of the book and what should be the meat of it. The thinking tools of Enterprise Thinking.

Category 1: Strategizing

Goldsmith says that the order of the thinking tools doesn’t matter, but this is a book, and thus it’s consumed linearly and you have to pick one to start with. So, we start with strategizing.

This is also where we start bogging down in the steps and sub-steps and rules and three ways that you might make an exception to rule 5a.

I’m only going to highlight the few parts that I found useful. The rest is so buried in a stack of turtles that I can’t make sense of most of it.

What is Your Challenge?

An excellent strategy executed poorly is still better than a poor strategy executed well.

One of the keys to thinking, in general, is not trying to rush it. When I start my new notebook, I take a few hours to think back through where I’m at and where I want to be.

During the strategizing process, any time you feel the urgently to push forward quickly, slow down and harness those urges instead.

Rushing will result in a weaker strategy. A weaker strategy will harm your success. The part that I’ve come back to a number of times, and helped me reframe my problems in my business, is his method for finding your challenges and seeing if they are the most important single thing you can be working on.

It starts by writing down a single statement for your challenge. Note the word challenge, because it can be a problem or an opportunity. Using challenge helps make it more agnostic.

Then you walk through a number of questions to help you figure out if this is really the challenge or a symptom of the challenge.

Things like:

  • Is this only one challenge (no ‘and’ in it because that’s two challenges)
  • Is it a problem now, or am I dwelling on something that already happened?
  • Did I write down what I think is the solution?

There are a few others, but it was the third one that I keyed on. My problem right now is lack of sales. But when I started the work I wrote down that it was “not enough people know me”. My thinking was that if more people knew me, I’d make more sales.

But, that’s not true. Lack of sales could be because of a few things. I could have terrible products. I could have poor on page marketing. It could be that not enough people are familiar enough with my content.

Going through the work to define my challenge had me start surveying my readers about content. Next, I’ll dig into my on page marketing, and learn about how to do that best for products. Then, with those two items solved to the extent I can perfect them, I can dig into what I thought my original problem was.

The final great step of this was the “what-would-it-take” question. I asked myself “What would it take to know that my products fit my market.” Then I started to develop a survey. I’ve started to introduce early versions of my products to members so I can test and refine them.

Decision makers find that asking what-would-it-take questions gives them more, better, and different macro tactics from which to choose. As a result, they put themselves and their organizations in stronger positions to achieve their Desired Outcome and they avoid costly preventable mistakes

This question is similar to one I’ve heard Tim Ferris talk about. He asks himself “What would this look like if it was easy?” Then he uses his leverage to make sure that even if things crash, he’s got a fairly easy ride or at least options to get the work out where and how he wants to get it out.

This single idea and work on reframing was the best concept in the whole book. If you’re going to read Paid to Think, find this section and then you can stop.

The Rule of Two

In Star Wars mythology, there is the Sith Rule of Two. There can only ever be a master and an apprentice. This stopped the fighting amongst themselves until at some point the apprentice was strong enough to kill the master and become the master.

We see a similar, bad, dynamic with so many projects. We see 9000 things on our plates and no way to handle them all. This is where Goldsmith puts forward his second great idea, the Rule of 2.

You can only ever work on two projects at a time. That’s two major projects. You’ll still have emails to return and meetings to go to, but only ever two major projects. If you violate this, you’ll be overloaded.

Too many projects overload people with too many thoughts, details, and activities, which ultimately leads to decreased performance levels, like an instance where an individual is working on a spreadsheet, becomes interrupted, loses his or her train of thought, and makes a small error in calculation that could snowball into disastrous results later.

This has changed how I build out my quarterly plans. No more trying to push forward three books. I pick one and if it goes fast enough, I move onto the next one.

On top of that, I can have one client project. That’s it. Two main projects at a time the rest I need to say no to because they’ll only harm my overall output. If I need the income, time to start charging more because I can only handle one at a time.

Alongside this idea of only ever working on two projects is the idea of only ever scheduling part of your day.

A good rule of thumb is to schedule no more than 60% of your day, because planning is not an exact science, and you never know what interruptions, unforeseen opportunities, problems, and other unexpected activities can encroach on your schedule

This flies a bit in the face of people like Cal Newport, who schedules every minute of his day. According to Goldsmith, you should only ever be scheduling 60% of your day. The rest is for dealing with the things that will throw you off track.

You see a similar idea in The 12 Week Year5. In that book, they recommend you put a few buffer blocks into each day. The buffer blocks are around so that you have space for life/work to happen without feeling like you’re getting behind.

There is more under the turtles

In the rest of the book, Goldsmith talks about his method for developing new products which has three steps.

  1. Ideation – get the ideas
  2. Elimination – filter them
  3. Development – get them going

Yes, each step has many sub-items and exceptions to the rules. No, you can’t keep track of what they are.

He wrote a whole chapter on establishing alliances in business and differentiating between what an alliance is and is not. In general, if the people you’re working with don’t benefit from the upsides they have a hand in, they’re not partners they’re vendors.

Goldsmith dives into technology but uses so much jargon as to make the starting almost impossible to understand. He also falls into what Cal Newport would call Any-Benefit thinking. This is the idea that if there is some benefit, we should be pursuing the idea. We don’t weigh the negatives that make come with the new ideas and techniques.

The internet allows customers, patients, clients, patrons, and other stakeholders to tap into your organization’s products and services at times and locations that are convenient to them. Newer phone technologies give people the flexibility to do their work ta just about any place in the world with an Internet connection, as if they were sitting in offices.

He does come back around with a one-off sentence to evaluate the real benefit of new technology, but it’s passing in the midst of a whole lot of rah-rah for new technology.

One great idea in the midst of his discussion on technology, is making sure that your staff have the right tools in place to do their work.

Give your staff the necessary resources and guidance to learn how to use a new technology and to integrate it into their daily work life: time, training, new tools, etc.

It brought to mind one job where I had a computer that would take 15 minutes to start. Then 5 to start Photoshop and each tool action took a 15 – 20 seconds to do anything. It was impossible to meet any realistic expectation of producing work in a timely fashion and my boss was mad at my lack of productivity.

You could lament the time it took, but make sure that you have given your people the tools they need and the training to use those tools. Far too many problems aren’t with the people. The tools aren’t allowing them to do the work they are trying to do.

Category 2: Learning

The second category of thinking tools deals with learning. What to learn when and how to learn it effectively.

We are overloaded with daily opportunities to learn. It starts early, from the time we read our morning newspapers, it ends late, after we’ve watched the late night news before bedtime, and we’re hit all day in between with digital feeds and streaming news reports. Then there are the magazines, books, people, seminars, and training sessions that we seek out as a way of concentrating our focus on specific topics of information. But at the end of our continuous daily cycles of learning, do we really have that much useful and valuable information at our disposal?

Yes, all the tools provided mention “cyclonic” thinking. We’re developing intellectual property here people.

Goldsmith does provide a great differentiation between knowledge of something and awareness of it. You might be aware of a new technology, but have little to no knowledge of it. He uses the idea that you don’t let someone aware of heart surgery perform the surgery. You want someone with first-hand knowledge.

As you’re looking to gather knowledge, make sure that you’re giving more weight to those sources with first-hand knowledge that’s current. People that have less knowledge or experience that’s long old, get less weight.

Paid to Think also exhorts a business to have a learning mentality throughout the positions.

When everyone on staff adopts a learning mentality and seeks out awareness and knowledge from a variety of sources, their increased awareness and knowledge banks multiply the potential of your organization.

Unfortunately, telling us that we need to have a culture of learning is where Goldsmith stops. There is little concrete advice on how to build that environment in your workplace.

When it comes to global awareness, Goldsmith has a few tools that amount to being aware of how global events can affect your business. I worked for a canoe shop that saw the war effort in the US ramping up in the early 2000’s and rightly deduced that carbon and kevlar would be in demand for military applications.

They purchased a decade’s long supply of it at lower prices and then spent the next number of years using the tried and true materials no one else could get at a formerly reasonable price. They invested in finding and trying new materials because they had a long runway to perfect things before the shipped them to customers.

This is the type of global thinking and learning Goldsmith wants us to be making.

There is much more content before the end. Notice I didn’t even talk about some parts of the Enterprise Thinking model from the beginning. Specifically, I’m not mentioning performing and forecasting.

These sections mostly repeated tools you learned about already in the book but added another three tweaks to the already existing five steps, three sub-steps, with four adjustments.

It was so bogged down; I couldn’t pull much out of it despite trying to read parts two or three times.

Should You Read Paid To Think

There are a few core great ideas in Paid To Think. The reframing work is great. The rule of two is awesome. When you encounter issues with staff, making sure that they have the right tools to do the job is great.

But…oh my goodness is so much of it bogged down in lists and steps and sub-steps.

Read the first bit, then when you’re done just be done. Don’t bother reading the book. It strikes me as more a quest for pushing intellectual property of the author than a way to effectively give tools to the size of business I run.

Get Paid to Think on Amazon

  1. Yes you can already see the turtles stacking up as we go deeper and deeper. 
  2. I wrote about decision making and mental models, and you can find 113 of them at Farnam Street
  3. A great book about your limiting beliefs is The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. I reviewed it here
  4. Becoming a CEO, Freakonomics Podcast 
  5. Here is my review of The 12 Week Year 
Paid To Think: A Leader's Toolkit for Redefining Your Future Book Cover Paid To Think: A Leader's Toolkit for Redefining Your Future
David Goldsmith
BenBella Books
October 23 2012

In theory this book is supposed to give you thinking tools. What it gives you instead is 6 steps with three sub-steps and 2 modifications that mostly amount to the author building intellectual property.

Mark Manson Tells us To Stop Caring about So Much

We’ll start this review with a disclaimer there is swearing in the quotes. That’s just the style of the author of the book. In the first chapter, it felt like he was using profanity just for shock factor, with some sentences so overloaded that it was almost comical. After that initial bit, it went way down and was used in conjunction with the main point of the book…

The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about what is true and immediate and important.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, by Mark Manson, is a bit memoir as it explores when he used to care way too much about things that don’t matter. It’s also part self-help, as he admonishes us to embrace anxiety and hardship. Embrace them not as bad parts of life, but parts of life that we all experience and are entirely normal.

Now here’s a problem: Our society today, through the wonders of consumer culture and hey-look-at-my-life-is-cooler-than-yours social media, has bred a whole generation of people who believe that having these negative experiences — anxiety, fear, guilt, etc. — is totally not okay.

It’s also part manifesto as it rails against the focus on being positive which pervades everything around us.

Ironically, this fixation on the positive — on what’s better, what’s superior — only serves to remind us over and over again of what we are not, of what we lack, of what we should have been but failed to be. After all no, truly happy person feels the need to stand in front of a mirror and recite that she’s happy. She just is.

Manson isn’t preaching that we shouldn’t care about anything though. He’s saying that we should care about what truly matters only and put effort into those things.

He modifies his bold statement about not caring with three subtleties.

Subtlety #1: Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent: ; it means being comfortable with being different

The question, then, is, What do we give a fuck about? What are we choosing to give a fuck about? And how can we not give a fuck about what ultimately does not matter?

This matches up with High Performance Habit 1 out of High Performance Habits by Brendan Bouchard1. We need to seek clarity if we want to perform well.

Subtlety #2: To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity.

This also ties into having clarity or a WHY to use Simon Sinek’s term. Without a purpose to your work, you’ll abandon it as soon as something hard gets in your way. You’ll care less about the work than about avoiding the hardship.

Subtlety #3: Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about.

The final subtle tweak is that you’re always choosing. Just like the idea that not choosing is choosing. You are choosing. When you say, you want to read, but watch TV all night instead. You’re choosing TV and choosing not to read.

With the introduction to the ideas that Manson will be writing about done, the rest of the book is designed to question you on what you care about so that you can think more clearly about it and start caring more about the things that matter to you. This means you’ll quite possibly stop caring about the things that matter in everyone else’s minds.

Manson uses each of the following chapters to explore an idea that we should be rethinking.

Happiness is a Problem

There is a premise that underlies a lot of our assumptions and beliefs. The premise is that happiness is algorithmic, that it can be worked for and earned and achieved as if it were getting accepted to law school or building a really complicate Lego set.

How many books a year are being written to help people achieve happiness? How many people get to happy by reading these works? One of the ideas Manson gets behind has already been stated in one of the quotes you’ve read. It’s the idea that a happy person doesn’t just stand in front of the mirror quoting happy things at themselves. They just are happy.

He contends that the premise of happiness as a solvable equation is where we break down and harm ourselves.

This premise, though, is the problem. Happiness is not a solvable equation. Dissatisfaction and unease are inherent parts of human nature and, as we’ll see, necessary components to creating consistent happiness.

By figuring that we can “solve” our happiness, we negate all the emotions that have been labelled as negative. Like dissatisfaction or yearning or anxiety. By avoiding these emotions, so often labelled as problems, we avoid getting to any semblance of happiness.

Happiness comes from solving problems. The keyword here is “solving.” If you’re avoiding your problems or feeling like you don’t have any problems, then you’re going to make yourself miserable.

Finally, the focus on achieving happiness gives us the subtle indication that we get happiness and then have it. That happiness is not something which ebbs and flows and changes as we move through life

But it is. What makes you happy today, may not bring happiness in the future. It may bring you pain in fact.

Happiness is a constant work-in-progress, because solving problems is a constant work-in-progress — the solution to today’s problems will lay the foundation for tomorrow’s problems, and so on. True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and solving.

You are not special

Get ready for this; you are not a special snowflake worthy of all the good juju in the universe. I know your parents may have told you differently. They meant well, and they still loved you. But they lied to you.

In the process, they may have even set you back because when the truth of life comes to knock you upside the head, you’ll be left without a base to stand on.

The truth is, you’re good at some stuff and bad at some stuff. You need to take the good and the bad in turn and deal with it.

A person who actually has a high self-worth is able to look at the negative parts of his characters frankly — “Yes sometimes I’m irresponsible with money,” “Yes, I rely too much on others to support me and should be more self-reliant” — and then acts to improve upon them. But entitled people, because they are incapable of acknowledging their own problems open and honestly, are incapable of improving their lives in any lasting or meaningful way. They are left chasing high after high and accumulate greater and greater levels of denial.

Acknowledging the things you suck at, will allow you grow in them or find a way to compensate for them.

Acknowledging this will help you gain resilience. You’ll be tougher for it. You’ll be able to stand in the face of things that you don’t like and weigh them then decide if it’s worth fighting them.

You’ll develop grit.

Numerous professors and educators have noted a lack of emotional resilience and an excess of selfish demands in today’s young people. It’s not uncommon now for books to be removed from a class’s curriculum for no other reason than that they made someone feel sad.

The Value of Suffering

This chapter opens with a crazy story of a Japanese Military officer that was dropped off in the South Pacific near the end of World War II and told not to surrender. Well despite many efforts to get him to come in, it was 1974 before he finally gave up his guerrilla war.

Decades after the war was over. More than half of his life spent fighting a war alone. He still felt that all his suffering was worth the effort. He was evaluating himself against his final order: “Never surrender.”

The question is not whether we evaluate ourselves against others; rather, the question is by what standard do we measure ourselves?

While he did stop the fight, he never did surrender. In Perennial Seller2, Ryan Holiday, talks about what we measure ourselves against in our creative endeavours.

People claim to want to do something that matters, yet they measure themselves against things that don’t, and track their progress not in years but in microseconds. – Perennial Seller

They’re both talking about the same ideas. How we measure ourselves matters. What mark are we trying to hit?

Are we measuring the gap or the progress? Measuring the gap means we look at someone we long to be and measure how far we are from them. Measuring progress means we still have that far off goal, but we measure the progress we’ve made on the road.

Changing how we measure our efforts changes the happiness we have in our work.

The rest of the book takes a similar format, but he classes the chapters as Counterintuitive Values, that we must adopt if we want to live a life that feels worth living.

You Are Always Choosing

The recognition that you’re always choosing is Counterintuitive Value 1. You need to take responsibility for what’s happening to you.

There is a simple realization from which all personal improvement and growth emerges. This is the realization that we individually, are responsible for everything in our lives, no matter the external circumstances.

One of the key ideas here is that fault and responsibility are not tied together.

Fault is past tense. Responsibility is present tense. Fault results from choices that have already been made. Responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making, every second of every day.

You can take responsibility for solving a problem, without accepting the fault for that problem. You can also opt out of both. Push the fault for the problem on someone else, and then the responsibility for fixing it on someone else.

You won’t get very far with that though. You’ll always have some reason that someone else is causing your issues, and you’ll abdicate your ability to make any changes in the situation and to work towards something better.

Of course, success and happiness are something different.

We all love to take responsibility for success and happiness. Hell, we often fight over who gets to be responsible for success and happiness. But taking responsibility for problems is far more important, because that’s where real learning comes from. That’s where the real-life improvement comes from. To simply blame others is only to hurt yourself.

You either need to take responsibility for all of it, and thereby seize control, or acknowledge you’re letting others dictate how far you’re going to go. How much joy you’re going to experience in your life.

You’re wrong about everything (but so am I)

The second Counterintuitive Value is the uncertainty value. According to Manson, we’re all way to concerned about being right. Instead of worrying about being right, aim for just a bit less wrong than before.

Then test and refine and aim for just a bit less wrong.

We shouldn’t seek to find the ultimate “right” answer for ourselves, but rather, we should seek to chip away at the ways that we’re wrong today so that we can be a little less wrong tomorrow.

This process requires that we admit we don’t know everything. We must not be so cemented in our beliefs that we view other ideas as stupid3. Being uncertain about our values doesn’t make them wrong. It should make us strive to test them and face up to where we might be ignorant.

Before we can look at our values and prioritizations and change them into better, healthier ones, we must first become uncertain of our current values. We must intellectually strip them away, see their faults and biases, see how they don’t fit in with much of the rest of the world, to stare our own ignorance in the face and concede, because our own ignorance is greater than us all.

You don’t have to know it all.

Failure is The Way Forward

Counterintuitive Value 3 is about embracing failure and makes me think very much of The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday4. If we want to improve, then failure will happen.

Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the measure of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something. If someone is better than you at anything, then it’s likely because she has failed at it more than you have. If someone is worse than you, it’s likely because he hasn’t been through all of the painful learning experiences you have.

This idea also harkens back to Manson’s earlier idea that we need to change our measure. Instead of measuring successes, should we measure failures? One hard point to reckon here is, failure doesn’t pay, and we all have bills to pay.

It can be easy to espouse failure as a better measure, when we need success to eat.

I can’t stress this enough, but pain is part of the process. It’s important to feel it. Because if you just chase after highs to cover up the pain, if you continue to indulge in entitlement and delusional positive thinking, if you continue to overindulge in various substances or activities, then you’ll never generate the requisite motivation to actually change.

Ryan Holiday, and Seth Godin both talk about pain being something you’ll experience on the way to creative success5. If there is no struggle to build something worthwhile, are you on the path to something that provides value? Are you building something that’s worth the time of anyone else?

The Importance of Saying No

Rejection is the focus of Counterintuitive Value 4. This is the idea that we need to say no to something. That something has to be more desirable than the rest of the stuff that’s on our plate.

But we need to reject something. Otherwise, we stand for nothing. If nothing is better or more desirable than anything else, then we are empty and our life is meaningless. We are without values and therefore live our life without any purpose.

Without a goal, a desire, we have no direction to go. We will wander from one marginal thing to another wondering why we feel so empty.

He takes it a step further though and brings in conflict. Specifically, conflict with relationships. Not just romantic ones, but with any relationship we have.

Without conflict, there can be no trust. Conflict exists to show us who is there for us unconditionally and who is just there for the benefits. No one trusts yes-men.

Thinking back over my 15-year marriage, we have grown the most in the days, weeks, sometimes months, where we didn’t like hanging out with each other much. The times when we argued daily about the same topic over and over.

It was in the midst of this partial rejection that we both got to express our deeper love for each other, by still showing up to keep working through the issues together. We adopted the phrase, “I’ll still be here” as a way to continue going through the struggle together.

…And Then You Die

Counterintuitive Value 5 is mortality. The recognition that we’ll die someday and in the face of that, why are we wasting our time on so much crap that we don’t care about.

Confronting the reality of our own mortality is important because that obliterates all the crappy, fragile, superficial values in life. While most people whittle their days chasing another buck, or a little bit more fame and attention, or a little bit more assurance that they’re right or loved, death confronts all of us with a far more painful and important question: What is your legacy?

I find the problem here to be, how do we do that. Yes, imagine your eulogy…or any number of other imaginary scenarios can be played out in your head. They do have some benefit in helping you think about the man you want to be.

But in none of them do you encounter your mortality in a profound way. It seems to me that the only way to do that is to have a near-death experience or have someone close to you die.

Neither of which will I wish on you.

The goal here is to dig deep into your core and know what you value. To realize that in the grand scheme of things, we’re not that big. There is so much immensity around us.

If we can do that, we won’t feel so entitled.

The gravity of entitlement sucks all attention inward, toward ourselves, causing us to feel as though we are at the center of all the problems in the universe, that we are the one suffering all of the injustices, that we are the one who deserves greatness over all others.

We’ll start to focus on that which brings us joy and brings joy to the ones we love.

Losing that entitlement and gaining that focus is what Mark Manson is trying to achieve in the readers of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.

Recommendation for The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

First, take my starting caveat on the use of “fuck” in the book. If that’s going to cause you to discount the content or not finish the book, then just don’t get it.

If you can read past it and dig into the message Manson is sending you, then this is a great book. I love Manson’s style in that he tells us to suck it up buttercup. He’s a straight shooter and isn’t interested in our excuses.

Now, this is what I’m like6, so maybe that why I resonates with me so much.

If you’re looking for a kick in the ass so you can stop caring about things that don’t matter, then The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck is worth your time.

Get The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck on Amazon

Photo by: cdharrison

  1. My review of this will be coming out in a few weeks. Just finishing the book up as I write. 
  2. You can read my review of Perennial Seller
  3. Read The “Other Side” is Not Dumb for a great look at this idea. 
  4. I reviewed The Obstacle is The Way
  5. Holiday in Perennial Seller and Godin in The Dip
  6. This is what people tell me they value in my coaching and talking to me. That I hold their feet to the fire and I’m not interested in the excuses and don’t let them go. 
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life Book Cover The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
Mark Manson

Mark Manson calls us to care about so much less that doesn't matter and to focus on the few things that truly do.

Resolve Conflicts by Playing Nice in Your Sandbox

Nothing ever goes as smoothly as we’d like. There is always conflict at home and work, and we have to deal with it. Few of us have effective strategies to deal with the conflict though.

That’s where Play Nice in Your Sandbox by Ron Price, comes into play. Price is going to give readers a short look at effective conflict resolution and negotiation.

Dealing with conflict in a productive way is the greatest challenge we have as a society and as individuals.

Price starts this by reframing how we think about conflict. It doesn’t have to be thought of as bad because it often isn’t. Conflict can be handled in a way that is beneficial to both parties and their relationship, personal or professional, can take on a new level of thriving after a conflict well handled.

Disputes and conflict can actually be healthy experiences when handled well. If everyone on a team thinks identically then some members are likely not necessary. Occasional disagreements can bring about new ways to get things done, spur efficiency, and create better products.

There are two truths that Price walks readers through. First, he tells us that most conflicts should be avoided and uses chapters 1 – 4 to detail how and why to avoid conflict. The second truth is that when conflict is handled well, it can be very productive. He uses chapters 5 – 8 to tell us how to handle conflict well.

Let’s look at each of these truths.

Truth One: Turn from Conflict When you Can and Should

Price starts of truth one by giving us three questions to ask ourselves when we’re thinking about engaging in conflict. The answers to these questions should lead us to either head into the conflict or realize that it’s not worth it.

  1. “Can I truly put this out of my mind and not let it influence my relationship with this person?”
    2.” Is the pain the other caused so slight that I have no desire to hurt them back?”
  2. “Can I refrain from talking to others about what he or she did to me?”

According to Price, if you answer no to any of these, then conflict is worth the effort. Otherwise, we need to look to our conflict avoidance tools.

Conflict Avoidance Tool One: The Pause Button

In avoiding conflict, the first tool that Price provides us is the pause button. This is where you increase the time between stimulus and reaction which is a key goal of most meditation practices.

You cannot control how others treat you, but by pushing the pause button, by taking time to choose your response to situations, you can be far more in control and far more likely to make appropriate decisions.

This recognizes that you are in charge of how you feel and that you must make a choice to respond appropriately. I get reminded of this when my children argue about the name of some character on TV. They hear it one way, and I’m reading it on IMDB in the way it should be pronounced. Ultimately it doesn’t matter in any fashion, and when I take a second, I just agree with them instead of trying to correct them.

No one cares, and if they do, they’re wasting their time.

A second great tool is provided in the form of a story by Price. The story goes that an older person in the company is always viewed as always so gracious and thus is asked how he does it.

He says that he has a list of the top 10 faults of people and when something comes up in the list, he just applies grace to it and doesn’t worry any further. Then another employee asks to “trade” lists, and it’s revealed that there is no list. The staff member just applied it to every time he got annoyed at how someone treated him.

He decided to give grace in all situations. This leading with grace thought leads nicely into the second tool.

Conflict Avoidance Tool 2: Assume Good Intent

We always judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. That means when my kid is constantly going on with “suggestions” on some home project, and I can’t think, I get annoyed. I’m judging the actions she’s using, not stopping talking1 so I can think for a second.

But see, she’s doing it to be helpful, and that’s how she perceives her actions. When I get annoyed at the non-stop talking, she’s mad because I am stomping on her help.

Price describes it with these few quotes from the book.

Everyone you are close to will, from time to time, do or say things you do not appreciate.


You can choose to give the other the benefit of the doubt that he or she didn’t mean to upset you. And if they did, it’s likely they were having a bad day and wrongly took out their frustrations on you.

Finally, remember it doesn’t matter WHY they did anything or why you were treated in a certain way. It happened, and now you have to deal with it. Assume grace and move on if at all possible.

Conflict Avoidance Tool 3: Yield

So much of conflict doesn’t matter at all. When my wife and I disagree on the movie to watch on Friday, does it matter at all? No, the content of the magic wall box makes no difference in life.

Usually one of us tells the other to pick, and we spend time on the couch together with each other anyway.

There is a bit more to yielding than that though. According to Price, we need to take time to understand where the other person is coming from. We must listen well.

To listen well to another human being you must choose to make listening a priority. You must choose to make listening a priority. You must prevent your thoughts or distractions from getting in the way.

This matches up very well with 7 Habits of Highly Effective People where Covey talks about first seeking to understand someone before you work to be understood.

Far too often, in fact maybe most of the time, we are waiting for our turn to inject something “smart” into the conversation instead of trying to deeply understand what is being said. Even when we understand the words, do we take the time needed to understand the deep-seated fears and emotions behind what is being said?

Empathy is listening not only with the ears, but with the heart. It involves deeply listening not just to what another is saying with their mouth, but what message is coming from their core.

Once you understand the core of someone’s issues, it’s very easy to come to a quick resolution that both of you think suits. Once someone feels understood, they’re very likely to dig in with you to understand where you’re coming from.

The essence of this tool from Ron Price is to be the first person to take the time to listen deeply. Yield your position and understand the other person’s side in the conflict.

With that, we’re on to section two and dealing with the conflicts that can’t be avoided.

Truth Two: Some Conflict Can’t be Avoided, but it Can be Productive

Truth two is all about how to deal with conflict effectively. Price again provides us with some tools to use in conflict resolution.

Conflict Resolution Tool 1: Negotiate with, not against the other person

Too often, when engaged in a dispute, we tend to demonize the other and think all sorts of negative things about their character, their personality, their intelligence and so on. We strive to make them into such a terrible person to justify our being in dispute with them. That may be enjoyable in some perverse way, but it will do nothing to help resolve the issues which underlie the conflict.

The “other side” in a dispute is not dumb. They have very valid concerns that they want addressed. In fact, you’re in conflict now because those issues haven’t been resolved with other available methods.

Second, this is not gladiator combat. No one will die at the end. Good conflict resolution shouldn’t leave one party feeling like they got a terrible deal but they had to take it because it was the best they could get.

Both parties should feel like the deal is as mutually beneficial as possible.

Choose to separate the person from the problem, focusing on what really has come between you. When you do so, you will typically discover your “adversary” is in fact someone who is very much like you in many regards and certainly not worthy of your hostility and contempt.

Conflict resolution shouldn’t be rushed either. You’ll be better off long-term if a resolution takes a few extra weeks or months instead of doing it quick and dirty in a few days to get the pain over with. That’s like putting a bandaid on cancer.

It will cover the problem, but solve nothing. You’ll be back dealing with the conflict again eventually.

Conflict Resolution Tool 2: Identify Key Underlying Issues and Interests

The second tool provided by Price is very similar to the third tool in Conflict Avoidance, you need to understand what the other person wants.

When in a dispute with someone, always ask “why do you want that?” or “if I were to grant your request, what would that do for you?”

Don’t dwell on the specific item asked for. The item itself likely represents the feeling behind it. You must dig deep to find out why it’s important and often you can find an alternative that suites both parties.

Where are the other tools??

Now there starts to be more repeat in the content of the book. Tool three is about working with someone to a mutually beneficial result. Which is a nuance on understanding them and not treating them as an adversary.

It does add one key point outlined below.

By the time they come to mediation, each person has likely spent dozens, if not hundreds, of hours contemplating their side of the issue and what they think should be the eventual outcome. Rarely have they spent much time thinking about what might motivate the other to be willing and able to move on.

This is formally called perspective taking and is a great way to realize that you’re probably worked up over something that’s not as big a deal as you thought. At the very least, you didn’t understand how important it was to the other side, and it’s not important to you so just yield.

The final tool is around exploring options. If you go in with the mindset that you won’t be able to solve the problem, you’re right.

…if you approach a problem/dispute/situation believing there is simply no way to resolve it you are very likely to be correct. The reason you will be proven correct, however, is that if you genuinely believe no solution is possible you are not going to invest the time, effort or resources that would be necessary to bring about a resolution

This harkens back to the quote saying “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” You’ll let your internal thinking turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Don’t do that. Go in with an open mind, thinking that you can resolve the issue.

Oh Crap … Bring in the experts

The final short section is all about mediation and arbitration so that you have an overview of what the processes look like usually. This will help you choose which process may be right for your situation.

Recommendation for Play Nice In Your Sandbox

If you’re looking for a quick read on negotiation to get your working knowledge primed, this is a great book.

If you’re looking to go deep into negotiation get Never Split the Difference. It will give you much more on the psychology of negotiation and more tools to use in the midst of conflict.

Get Play Nice In Your Sandbox on Amazon

Photo by: jose_antonio_hidalgo_jimenez 

  1. And I’m also a bit amazed at her lung capacity because I swear she doesn’t breath for 30 minutes as she has suggestions. 
Play Nice In Your Sandbox Book Cover Play Nice In Your Sandbox
Ron Price

A short book that is a decent primer on negotiation.

How You can Become a Linchpin in your Field

While not all of us aspire to being some famous person that holds the keys to success in an industry, we all dream of being indispensable. Of being someone that is a leader in a small field. Even if that niche is obscure, being the person that is the “go to” in that obscure field is a desirable position.

This small scale genius is available to all of us according to Seth Godin in Linchpin. We don’t have to be amazing at everything. We’re not striving to be a _polymath_1, just to have a small piece of genius for ourselves.

No one is a genius all the time. Einstein had trouble finding his house when he walked home from work every day. But all of us are geniuses sometimes.

Okay, maybe not all of us have that dream. Some of us may have had it drummed out of us by circumstance. Maybe we had crappy parents like Gru in Despicable Me. Parents who always showed little to no interest in our fledgling genius.

Again, this is where Linchpin comes in with Godin trying to persuade us that we have an opportunity to have a niche of genius.

My goal is to persuade you that there is an opportunity available to you, a chance to significantly change your life for the better. Not by doing something that’s easy or that you’ve been trained to do, but fundamentally changed and by taking advantage of this moment to become someone the world believes is indispensable.

Godin feels that the world we live in requires this niche genius. People who are willing to step out and make a difference.

We need original thinkers, provocateurs and people who care. We need marketers who can lead, salespeople able to risk making a human connection, passionate change makers willing to be shunned if it is necessary for them to make a point. Every organization needs a linchpin, the one person who can bring it together and make a difference.

We need this because the old story of being average at an average job is no longer a viable way to any type of stability. Long gone are the heyday’s of factory work, where you could show up and push that lever reliably and get paid an awesome wage and expect that you’d be better off than your parents.

Factory work offered average people with small dreams a chance to make a significant change in their standard of living. As a bonus, this new wealth came with a pension, job security, and even health insurance.

Now we are in a world where the ability to show up and crank widgets is no longer tied with earning a wage to support a family on.

What does it mean to make a difference?
Some jobs are likely to remain poorly paid, low in respect, and high in turnover. These are jobs where attendance (showing up) is all that really matters.

We may try to cling to this as we aim for a “living wage” in jobs where showing up is 98% of the skill required, but it’s simply no something that is sustainable. If you’re at a job where showing up and not being drunk are two of the main keys to your employment, then that’s something anyone can do and thus has little value creation.

Godin tells us that we need to divorce ourselves from the notion that we have a right to a job that pays well. Maybe we’ve been brought up to think that, but we’ve been lied to. Showing up and sticking it out, does not mean we will earn well or that we provide more than passable value to the economy.

You have no right to that job or that career. After years of being taught you have to be an average worker for an average organization, that society would support you for sticking it out, you discover that the rules have changed.

Much of the world is grappling with this transition, and not in ways that are attempting to grow with the change. They’re trying to prop up the old dream of showing up being a kill value skill. Many people feel that showing up should mean that society owes us.

Society owes you little outside of rewarding you for the value you create. Being a barista is not of high value. The key skill for 99% of barista’s is showing up smiling and not smelling terrible. With some training anyone can make coffee.

This shouldn’t be depressing though because the means to create huge value in the world is so much more accessible than it was before. There are more niches to occupy and the means of occupying them is so much easier than it was before.

Today, the means of production equals a laptop computer with Internet connectivity. Three thousand dollars buys a worker an entire factory.

I’m sitting here in Starbucks drinking the cheapest coffee on the menu writing. While I have an iPad and a portable keyboard and numerous other things that make the experience easier for me, none of them are required. A $200 computer gives you the same access to the market that I have. That $200 is all the means of production that you need.

What it Takes to Become a Linchpin

If the means of production are similarly accessible to most of us, what does it take to become a Linchpin. It takes the acknowledgement that the rules of work have changed and instead of whining about it, diving in to learn the new ways that we can create value for our employers and for the market at large.

In every case, the linchpins among us are no the ones born with a magical talent. No, they are the people who have decided that a new kind of work is important, and trained themselves to do it.

For most fields this means that we also need to eschew the standard ‘multitasking’ that is a requirement and single task. We need to sit and focus on our field and value creation and by doing so we’ll outpace those around us. The sad part is that in the midst of this being a required skill, focus is one of the resources we have that is fast being trained out of us.

The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive. – Deep Work2

While many people rail against the change and strive to bring about rules to govern wages which attempt to bring back the old equations, they forget that if they’re in a job that competes on price they’re an expense on the books.

If you want a job where you don’t need to be creative because the company’s cost structure is so aggressive that customers just materialize, don’t be surprised if the low cost structure costs you your job.

Instead of asking ourselves “How can society take care of me” we should be asking ourselves how we can get better.

If your organization wanted to replace you with someone far better at your job than you, what would they look for?

What would it take to be that person that is so much more valuable? Wolud it take a dedication to reading? Would you need to spend some of your own money on courses? Do you need to step out of the safe cocoon of coddling and take a risk?

Yes this risk means that you may fail. You may need to get up again and see if it works the second time, or the third time, or the 568th time. But, are you willing to take a risk and provide more value?

Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare. – Grit3

Linchpins are Average a Lot of the Time

While we may agree that being a Linchpin is worth huge value, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that Linchpin’s are brilliant all the time. In fact, Godin says that the more value we create the less time we spend doing that activity.

The law of linchpin leverage: The more value you create in your job, the fewer clock minutes of labor you actually spend creating that value. In other words, most of the time, you’re not being brilliant. Most of the time, you do stuff that ordinary people could do.

Mark Manson echoes this in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F-ck but brings in the additional ideas that the mundane seems so much less desirable because of the polarities we see in the media today.

Our lives today are filled with information from the extremes of the bell curve of human experience, because in the media business that’s what gets eyeballs, and eyeballs bring dollars. That’s the bottom line. Yet the vast majority of life resides in the humdrum middle. The vast majority of life is _un_extraordinary, indeed quite average. – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F-ck

While we must recognize that much of our life is average and that almost everything we see on the news and social media is a highlight reel, we need to ensure that we don’t organize our businesses around average.

Organizing around the average means that the organization has exchanged the high productivity of exceptional performance for the ease and security of an endless parade of average performers.

Average is safe and secure but it holds back those among us that can be exceptional. The exceptional will chafe against the inane rules that are brought about. They’ll be exhausted by the rules bringing about mediocrity and leave to be amazing somewhere that’s nowhere near your average.

Finding security in mediocrity is an exhausting process. You can only work so many hours, fret only so much. Being a slightly better typist or a slightly faster coder is insufficient. You’re always looking over your shoulder, always trying to be a little less mediocre than the guy next to you. It wears you out.

Seriously, who woke up this morning and wished to be average. While it may not have been work success that you wanted to excel at, it may have been being an amazing parent, or to have the best lawn in the city.

There is also a fallacy in thinking that once we have a job that suited to being amazing, we’ll rise to the challenge.

If he waits for a job to be good enough to deserve his best shot, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever have that job.

Your fabled job that is ready for your awesomeness, is looking for awesome people. While you wait to be awesome you’re teaching yourself that it’s okay to be average. To show up and quarter-ass something. You’re not in a position where your ideal job would even consider you.

If you want a job where you can full-ass something, you need to be full-assing it now. You need to be reaching out and creating value somewhere, even if it’s in the evenings and weekends on the side with your crazy project idea.

It’s that crazy idea that will build you into the person that gets work that is totally on board with your full-assing.

Being just a bit faster or better than the competition is not a key to being a Linchpin either. Cranking out 2 extra widgets a day will not significantly increase your value.

Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can.

Someone is always willing to put in another hour and do just a bit more. They’re willing to do it for just a bit less. They’re willing to race you to the bottom and in the global economy we have online, many of them have a huge advantage in their economic leverage. They live somewhere that the cost of living is so much lower that working for 10% of your wages means they are fabulously wealthy relative to their peers.

More faster is rarely the answer to success.

The Resistance

So, where does that leave us? How do we find a space where we can be a Linchpin? A space where we can carve out value and enjoy doing it?

It’s not way out in the middle of a new niche. Then you have to train all your potential customers that there is value in what you do. It’s along the edges of what is currently seen as value.

Artists think along the edges of the box, because that’s where the audience is, that’s where the means of production are available, and that’s where you can make an impact.

Many people do some reading, but few people dig deep and write about the books. I’m pushing against the edges of the box as I look at books. I turn that into some value by producing reading lists for topics so that you don’t have to wade through the wealth of material out there. I’ve done it for you and that’s valuable.

Simply reading isn’t valuable though. Shipping material based on that reading is valuable.

I think the discipline of shipping is essential in the long-term path to becoming indispensable. While some artists manage to work for years or decades and actually ship something important, far more often we find the dreams of art shattered by the resistance.

The biggest hurdle to shipping is friction. You need to remove obstacles to promote output. The Resistance is friction. It’s the idea that we’ll find any reason at all to not put ourselves out there.

Instead of writing we’ll organize our sock drawer according to ISO standards. We’ll publish all kinds of images on social media to show our productivity. We’ll walk the halls and talk to people and furiously return email instead of getting down to creative work4.

Looking busy is not the same as fighting the resistance. Being productive at someone else’s task list is not the same as making your own map.

Looking busy is so bad because it tricks us into thinking that we’re making forward progress when we’re really shuffling deck chairs on the sinking ship of our productivity.

Another fear in shipping our work is that it won’t get the traction we hope. By not shipping we can keep fooling ourselves into thinking that if we shipped we’d be successful5.

You become a winner because you’re good at loosing. The hard part about losing is that you might permit it to give strength to the resistance, that you might believe that you don’t deserve to win, that you might, in some dark corner of your soul, give up.

Winner ship and fail. Then ship and fail. Then ship and get a bit of traction. Then more failure and more small traction. At some point it all comes together and they have a winning combination. The key is they shipped instead of sitting back on and staying successful in their head.

There is no Map for Becoming a Linchpin

I know you may have been hoping that by reading Linchpin, or this look at it, you’d come out with a clear map of how to become a linchpin. How to win at work and gain the success you want.

Well, you won’t find it here or in Linchpin by Seth Godin. Godin says that maps are for cogs in the wheel. You don’t become a Linchpin by being a cog and following the well trodden path of others.

That’s how you become average, one among many.

Your road to becoming a Linchpin will be lined with ideas you’ve tried and failed at6. You trial your ideas, evaluate them in light of their traction with others and their traction in your work. Then you adjust and pilot again.

You must make the choice to try new things, to show your ideas, if you want to be seen as a linchpin in your field. You can’t hide behind the tried and true processes that others have followed.
more of the status quo.

What will make someone a linchpin is not a shortcut. It’s the understanding of which hard work is worth doing. The only thing that separates great artists from mediocre ones is their ability to push through the dip.

While Godin doesn’t provide us with a great way to evaluate which ideas are worth pursuing and which aren’t he has written a whole book about when to push forward on ideas and when to drop them. In The Dip, Godin gives us three criteria for deciding what to move forward with.

  1. Am I panicking
  2. Who Am I Trying to Influence
  3. What Sort of Measurable Progress am I Making?

Using these three questions, which I explored deeper in my look at The Dip, we can get a decent idea of the worth of our ideas.

But I Can’t sell my Ideas and Others Are

I’ve been in the position where I see phrases I use get much more traction in the mouths of others. It’s infuriating and for a time I let the success of others with “my ideas” harm me. What I realized eventually was that though I came up with the idea first, I didn’t have the career capital7 to gain traction yet.

The core idea of this book is simple: To construct work you love, you must first build career capital by mastering rare and valuable skills, and then cash in this capital for the type of traits that define compelling careers – So Good They Can’t Ignore You

At work your ‘crazy’ idea is not valuable in the eyes of your boss because you have never taken the time to establish that you have anything valuable to say. Many people have been convinced their whole life that by virtue of existing they have valuable ideas that everyone should listen to.

Too often, heretical ideas in organizations are shot down. They’re not refused because they’re wrong; they’re refused because the person doing the selling doesn’t have the stature or track record to sell it.

Your idea may be great, but if you want people to listen to it you need to spend time showing them that you have the track record to back up the crazy. A wall of participation ribbons is not how you do this.

Focus on making changes that work down, not up. Interacting with customers and employees is often easier than influencing bosses and investors. Over time, as you create an environment where your insight and generosity pay off, the people above you will notice, and you’ll get more freedom and authority.

I have a coaching client who wanted to change the language at work around ‘preventable accidents’. This implies that the person could and maybe should have, avoided the circumstance. That extends to one of their work trucks getting hit while parked. This language placed blame on the person in the eyes of my client.

But he was new at the job and thus didn’t have the capital to get his boss to make a change. He did however have the career capital to make a comment about the language to colleagues in the safety department, who almost always agreed with him.

Then his thoughts started to invade their conversations as a team and the boss heard about it. They are now in discussions about changing the language officially on their forms.

Taking the longer term approach allowed my client to make a change and increase his career capital because everyone acknowledges that he originated the idea.

Should you Read Linchpin by Seth Godin?

Before I give you my verdict, let’s look at one final quote.

When you meet someone, you need to have a superpower. If you don’t, you’re just another handshake. It’s not about touting yourself or coming on too strong. It’s about making the introduction meaningful. If I don’t know your superpower, then I don’t know how you can help me (or I can help you).

If you want to be a Linchpin, you need a superpower. If you want to develop a superpower, then you need to read this book. If you’re not sure that you need a superpower and feel like showing up should be worth huge value, you should read Linchpin. You won’t like reading it because you’ll realize showing up is of almost no value, which is why you’re getting paid so little, but you need to read it anyway.

So, yup you need to read Linchpin by Seth Godin.

Get Linchpin on Amazon

Photo by: minifigphoto

  1. I hate this buzzword which has been used so much as to become entirely without meaning. 
  2. I took a long look at Deep Work by Cal Newport as well. One of my top books in 2016 and I’ve read it a few times since. 
  3. You can dig deeper into Grit by Angela Duckworth here
  4. Stopping this ‘looking productive’ is much of what Deep Work is about. 
  5. This is one of the key avoidance strategies discussed in Reach, which of course I wrote about
  6. This idea of piloting is about the only good idea in the otherwise hippy dippy dismal book Pivot. You can read about Pivot here but don’t bother with the book. 
  7. I explore So Good They Can’t Ignore you here, which is a whole book an building Career Capital. 
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? Book Cover Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Seth Godin
Career Guide
January 19 2010

Seth Godin's look at what it takes for a person to become crucial in their organization so they always have a place.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is NOT an Effectively Written Book

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is one of the business books that everyone says you must read.

Well, I’m not everyone. There are some worthwhile bits, but so much terrible padding that I’m going to tell you not to read the book. So, don’t read the book look here and get some of the key points and save yourself the eye pain from rolling them so hard and so often.

Seven Habits Has Terrible Padding

One of the things that gets more and more on your nerves as you read the book will be the stories Stephen Covey uses as illustrations of the habits. They’re almost always so contrived as to be laughable.

He talks to his kids about internalizing the habits, and they willingly say okay? No fighting and he never has to talk to them about it again?

I’ve got kids, that’s just not how it works. Kids argue and fight, and you have to have the same discussion with them over and over.

The second thing that gets progressively worse in the book is buzzword bingo. The last short chapter is so bad that after three reads my only note from it is “I don’t know.”

Yes after a single read, then a second read more carefully, then a third read, I have no idea what point he was trying to get across in the final chapter. But man can Covey use buzzwords.

So, don’t read the book, but there are some great ideas in the book. I can see why this was a revolutionary book when it came out; it just doesn’t hold up well against so many other padded business books. So let’s dig into what Covey says, with fewer buzzwords and no stupid stories.

Before he dives into the foundation of the book, Covey talks about the importance of habits.

Habits are powerful factors in our lives. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character and produce our effectiveness…or ineffectiveness.

If you’ve ever tried to break a habit, you know the power it can have over you. We need to be very careful about the habits that we let get into our lives. In fact, more than just trying to “be productive” I rely on habits and routine to all but guarantee that my day will be an effective one. I shape my path to ensure that the day goes well1.

Key Concept of P/PC Balance

P/PC Balance is one of the key concepts that Covey will come back to in an effort to show that we need to follow his seven habits to be effective.

Effectiveness lies in the balance – what I call the P/PC balance. P stands for production of desired results, the golden eggs. PC stands for production capability, the ability or asset that produces the golden eggs.

So P would be all the work you get done. If you pull a bunch of all-night work sessions, you’ve got a bunch done, but you’re going to pay the price for it because your PC is gone.

You’ll need days to rest and get back to effective production capacity. Did you get all that much more productive work done in the long run? Quite probably not.

There are organizations that talk a lot about the customer and then completely neglect the people that deal with the customer — the employees. The PC principle is to always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customer.

The seven habits, focus right on developing PC knowing that production will follow from having taken care of production capacity.

The Seven Habits

Clearly, since the book is called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, there are 7 habits that Covey feels you must develop. They are:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win/Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

Let’s look at each one.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

While the word proactively is now fairly common in management literature, it is a word you won’t find in most dictionaries. It means more than merely taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and responsibility to make things happen.

Being proactive is you planning your tasks the night before and focusing on the items that you know have the highest potential to move your business forward. It’s asking yourself: “What is the single thing I can do that will make the rest of my work easier or irrelevant.”

If you want to get more work done, plan ahead so that you don’t get derailed by the “important” things that want to jump up and steal your attention. Tim Urban would often refer to these interruptions as the instant gratification monkey. We get a reward from jumping on an email. That dump of happy brain chemicals rewards us for not planning ahead and working on email.

It’s only at the end of the day that we sit back and feel a general lack of progress and disappointment in our day that we realize our day was crap. Future you, has very little influence on you currently. Future you just has to deal with the crap you left for them.

Many people wait for something to happen or someone to take care of them. But people who end up with the good jobs are the proactive ones who are solutions to problems, not problems themselves, who seize the initiative to do whatever is necessary, consistent with correct principles to get the job done.

If you want something awesome to happen to you, then get in the driver’s seat and start making sure that you’re focused on the right work where you bring the most value.

There is no one to blame for your crappy day of tasks but yourself. If you’re blaming someone or something else, stop being a child, adults take responsibility.

It is so much easier to blame other people, conditioning, or conditions for our own stagnant situation. But we are responsible — “response-able” — to control our lives and to powerfully influence our circumstances by working on be, on what we are.

Being proactive means, you take responsibility for your actions or your lack of actions. You know the results rest squarely on the activity you took and that if you want different results, only different action on your part can make that happen.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Insert the old, and getting lamer, story about yourself at a funeral and what people will say about you. Somehow, Covey takes this story to a new level of eye rolling. Not sure how because I generally like the analogy.


To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.

In my 8 Week Business BootCamp we walk through a few different exercises to get at this idea because when you know where you want to go, you can filter all your current decisions through that lens. You can look at a business activity and see if it will help you get to your goal or not. If not, drop it.

Again, one of the keys in this chapter is that you must take responsibility for your actions if you want to get to your desired result. Covey seems to be focusing your proactivity in this chapter.

He wants you to write a multipage mission statement, not just a sentence, and then spend a day or so every year evaluating it and rewriting it over a number of hours.

I do this when I start my new notebook for a year, but somehow the way Covey explained the process made it seem like a terrible endeavour. Not sure how he did that because I have always enjoyed the two or three hours I spend working on my plan.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

But as we examine the endowment in the context of effective self-management, we realize it’s usually not the dramatic, the visible, the once-in-a-lifetime, up-by-the-bootstraps effort that brings enduring success empowerment come from learning how to use this great endowment in the decisions we make every day.

This section lines up very, very well with The ONE Thing2, which I loved. While much of the media glorifies the flash in the pan and popular people, that is almost never the case for work that lasts. In fact, much of what we view as amazing work decades later was a result of long, arduous work day in day out3.

Covey also spends a bunch of this habit talking about how always going for ‘more’ work means we break relationships. We can deal with people and emotions faster and expect to do an effective job.

The efficiency focus creates expectations that clash with the opportunities to develop rich relationships, to meet human needs, and to enjoy spontaneous moments on a daily basis.

Scheduling every minute of the day leaves no room for relationships, and I firmly believe that business success with relational failure still means you’ve failed. A broken marriage as the price of business wins is way to high a price to pay.

Many people seem to think that success in one area can compensate for failure in other areas of life. But can it really? Perhaps it can for a limited time in some areas. But can success in your profession compensate for a broken marriage, ruined health, or weakness in personal character? True effectiveness requires balance, and your tool needs to help you create and maintain it.

You must spend your time on the right things, those that are not urgent but are essential. It’s not critical for me to finish my next book. I have no deadline, but these books do more than just create some sales for me. They help frame my thinking and force me to dig even deeper into my thoughts so that I can wrestle them out in a coherent way.

I’m a better thinker and business owner for writing. That’s why they often fall into the single thing I can do to make the rest of my business easy or irrelevant.

With that covered, we jump into Covey’s Public Victory Habits.

Public Victory

You can’t be successful with other people if you haven’t paid the price of success with yourself.

There is a tendency to want the outward results of success without putting in the work first. I was talking a friend a few weeks ago, and he wants a great job with an awesome company. What he has is a mediocre job with an okay company. The thing is that is all he’s currently ready for.

He has a mediocre attitude, so he’s going to get average work.

You need to be in the right spot for those opportunities you long for, or you’ll squander them.

You’re reading this, so I can fairly confidently say that you’re working on yourself. Which means you might be ready to move on to the next habits.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

This is where Covey really goes off the deep end regarding buzzwords and things that just don’t seem to mean anything. Specifically in his explanations of his Six Paradigms of Human Interaction.

Six Paradigms of Human Interaction

  1. Win/Win
  2. Win/Lose
  3. Lose/Win
  4. Lose/Lose
  5. Win
  6. Win/Win or No Deal

This was the first section I read through once, then twice and just gave up on. The reasoning between the different options is so convoluted that I felt I understood them better from just the list above than from the explanations of the list.

Now I’m firmly with Covey in the last category, Win/Win or No Deal. That’s what all consulting is. You find something you can do that provides value to the client, and they pay you for that value. You both win, and if you can’t figure out a way that you both win, you don’t do the work.

Covey uses way too many contrived stories and buzzwords to say that one paragraph though.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

We have such a tendency to rush in, to fix things up with good advice. But we often fail to take the time to diagnose, to really, deeply understand the problem first.

Many freelancer’s start here. They say “yes” to everything. They can fix any problem under the sun and don’t even bother to figure out if it’s really the problem that will change the prospects business. The see some complaint from a prospect and they say “yes” they can solve it.

But just like a doctor that prescribed a medication before doing any diagnosis would be considered malpractice, I believe that not diagnosing the problems your clients have before offering options is malpractice. It also makes you worth so little that you get to race to the bottom on pricing.

Deeper than that though, listening is one of the best ways to build up relationships. Listening and empathizing is one of the key ideas in No Drama Discipline4, which not only changed the interactions in my house but changed how I speak to clients5.

Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak.

I’ve tried to stop waiting for my turn to speak, and this is not my first time with a kick at the can. In fact the first time I started to try this was when watching Fight Club years ago.

As a freelancer, clients can tell when you’re just saying yes to everything that you probably don’t have the chops for the work.

If you don’t have confidence in the diagnosis, you won’t have confidence in the prescription.

When you jump straight to pricing work without digging in, you’re telling them you’re worth very little. One of the reasons that I have really high rates is that my conversations focus 90% on diagnosing to the extent that a number of prospects that come to me for a membership site do some business coaching first to make sure they’re even on the right track.

Habit 6: Synergize

What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part.

Yeah, I have no idea what is up here. That sentence above is the best I’ve got, and I’m not convinced it says..anything.

I guess Covey is trying to say that if you perform the other habits they’ll continue to compound on themselves and you’ll “synergize” into exponential success.

But I’m totally grasping here.

Habit 7: Sharpening The Saw

This is the final habit, but I’d argue that it’s the most important. It’s the one that tells you to take care of yourself and talks about some ways to do it because if you don’t, you’ll burn out and do crappy work.

According to Covey, there are four areas you need to care for.

1. Physical

This is sleeping right, eating right and getting exercise.

2. Spiritual

This is meditation or prayer and sticking with values that are matched to who you are or your whole being will rebel.

3. Mental

Most of our mental development and study discipline comes through formal education. But as soon as we leave the external discipline of school, many of us let our minds atrophy. We don’t do any more serious reading, we don’t write — at least not critically or in a way that tests our ability to express ourselves in distilled, clear, and concise language. Instead we spend our time watching TV.

So start reading books and doing courses. Make sure that your brain is getting exercised just like any other muscle.

One of the benefits of joining BootCamp is the book club. You can join us in a year of reading dangerously.

4. Social/Emotional

You must build up the relationships that are around you if you want to thrive. You see this in The Happiness Advantage6 as well. Those that have strong social support get through crappy times.

Taking care of yourself is crucial to being around for the long-term. No one should be impressed you pulled an all-nighter. Keep yourself in tip-top shape to make sure that you can do good work over the long haul.

Inside-Out Again

This is the chapter that really brought home the buzzword bingo in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I read it three times and still can’t tell you what it’s about.

Should You Read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People?

Nope, you shouldn’t. It’s got some great ideas, but they’re so wrapped up in buzzwords and totally improbable examples that it devalues the entire book. I had to force myself to stop skimming the book and to truly focus on it so I could write this review.

Don’t get The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People on Amazon

Photo by: activars

  1. Shaping the path is from Switch, which I reviewed a while ago. Get Switch on Amazon
  2. Get The ONE Thing on Amazon 
  3. Ryan Holiday does a great job talking you out of flash in the pan success in Perennial Seller. I looked at it here
  4. Here is my look at No Drama Discipline 
  5. Clearly I don’t hug clients or rub their backs like I do with my clients, but the first thing I try to do is show them that I have their best interests at heart when we have a disagreement. 
  6. Here is my look at The Happiness Advantage. Get The Happiness Advantage on Amazon
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change Book Cover The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
Stephen R. Covey
Rosetta Books

Good habits, wrapped in buzzword bingo and stories so contrived as to be laughable.

How is Eating an Ugly Frog the same as getting your work done?

So, who wants to eat a big ugly frog? Not me, and probably not you. That’s why you should be eating it first thing every morning. Wait, really you should be doing your biggest ugliest task every morning first off because if you don’t it’s probably not going to get done.

Well if you need help with this, then Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy, has 21 things you can do to make sure that you eat your big ugly frog first every day.

An average person who develops the habit of setting clear priorities and getting important tasks completed quickly will run circles around a genius who talks a lot and makes wonderful plans but who gets very little done.

Because, you will aways have more to do in a week than you can possibly do. Even reading around 80 books a year, my reading list only ever grows. I know if I read 200 books a year my list would still grow.

No matter how many personal productivity techniques you master, there will always be more to do than you can ever accomplish in the time you have available to you, no matter how much time it is.

Knowing this rule happens all over, you have to decide that some things just won’t get done. You have to decide what is the most important work to do and then make sure you execute on that day in day out1.

You must focus on those key things, and let other things slide because you can’t do everything. In fact, many of the tasks that steal your time most, aren’t worth doing at all. Don’t even bother doing them poorly, just forget about them.

Focus only on the key tasks that bring the most value in your business.

Throughout my career, I have discovered and rediscovered a simple truth. The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, to do it well and to finish it completely, is the key to great success, achievement, respect, status, and happiness in life. This is the key insight and the heart and soul of this book.

What is a Big Ugly Frog and How Do you Decide which One I Ugliest?

Your ‘frog is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. It is also the one task that can have the greatest impact on your life and results at the moment.

While I agree in principle with Tracy, that you must do your most important task, I don’t think that it’s the one that you will procrastinate one. My most important tasks are writing blog posts, writing books, reading, and getting more content out.

I almost never feel like avoiding that work. I think that procrastination serves as a great weather vein for the things you think are of value. If you say a task is worthwhile but don’t do it for months, you’re saying that it’s not worth your time.

Tracy seems to feel that if you have a big task, you’ll procrastinate on it. He also feels that if you have two tasks, one will be uglier and that one is the one you should do first.

The first rule of frog eating is this: If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.

Where I’m 101% on board is that you should plan your tasks out and then focus exclusively on them until you’ve executed. If you can do that day in day out, then the odd day where you just don’t feel like it is fine.

Successful, effective people are those who launch directly into their major tasks and then discipline themselves to work steadily and single-mindedly until those tasks are complete.

The 21 Ways in Eat That Frog

The goal of Eat That Frog is to help you stop procrastinating and eat your big ugly frog every day. While Tracy has 21 of them, they break down into five categories.

Deal with Technology as a Tool to Get More Done

First up is item 15, 16, and 17 which all deal with how one addresses technology. Not all technology is good, in fact some of it is terrible2.

Technology can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Technology becomes the enemy when we give in to an obsessive need to communicate continually. This compulsion to stay plugged in leaves us all psychologically breathless. We have no time.

Technology is our enemy because so much of it is designed exclusively to steal our focus, to steal us away from the good work we should be doing. If you’re not focusing, you won’t eat your frog. You won’t do the great creative work you know you should be doing. The work that has a chance to change the world.

The “attraction of distraction,” the lure of electronic and other interruptions, leads to diffused attention, a wandering mind, a lack of focus, and, ultimately under-achievement and failure.

But it’s no all doom and gloom on technology, it just has it’s place in our workflow and that place is as a tool. To make our work easier.

The purpose of technology is to make your life smoother and easier, not to create complexity, confusion, and stress.

This harkens back to Cal Newport’s “Any Benefit” idea. The idea that we shouldn’t adopt something new just because it has some benefit. We should only adopt it if the benefits out weigh the costs.

Don’t blindly accept something new because it’s shiny.

Be Proactive to Accomplish More Work

@todo add link in footnote below

One of the best ways I know to get more done is to plan ahead. Plan your tasks the night before and plan the next week on friday. Be proactive3. If you’re suffering from a bunch of waffling around and wasted time, it’s likely because you’re not sure what you should work on.

A major reason for procrastination and lack of motivation is vagueness, confusion, and fuzzy-mindedness about what you are trying to do and in what order and for what reason.

You should know exactly what the single task is that you can work on in a day that will bring the most benefit to your life and business4.

On top of planning ahead you need to know where you should be working. It’s no good for the president of the company to be cleaning all the bathrooms. It’s even worse if they are spending hours doing an amazing job at it.

One of the very worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not be done at all.

Not that cleaning the bathrooms is a poor job, but the president has other items that produce much more value for the business. She should be focusing on those items and let the bathrooms take care of themselves.

Only Do The Tasks That Bring The Most Value

All time is not the same. You need to manage your tasks based on the energy you have. I know that if I start my day dealing with email, the rest of my day is shot. I focus my effort in the mornings on the tasks that are the most involved and the most solitary.

Recently, I decided to suck at every other part of my job for a week while I worked on a video course for Asian Efficiency5. I spent 3 days only working on it because when I asked myself what was the only task I needed to do to make the rest of my job easier or irrelevant, it always came back to this task.

Often, a single task can be worth more than all other nine items put together. This task is invariably the frog that you should eat first.

It was by far the task that had the highest possibility of bringing value to my business.

I created large chunks of time to focus only on one task so that I could do it well. I did it so well, that they didn’t even have edits for my videos.

Most of the really important work you do requires large chunks of unbroken time to complete. Your ability to carve out and use these blocks of high-value, highly productive time is central to your ability to make a significant contribution to your work and to your life.

If you want to get awesome stuff done, you need to live be willing to say no to many things. So you have long hours of focus so that you can get awesome work done.

Think About Tasks and Their Consequences Fully

Along with planning your day, you need to think fully about your tasks not just in light of what happens when their done, but what are you giving up when you focus on them.

The mark of a superior thinker is his or her ability to accurately predict the consequences of doing or not doing something.

Like I said earlier, I decided not to do email and client work for a week. I figured I might annoy a client because I didn’t respond and I decided that it was worth it.

Turns out, no one noticed. No one said a thing. But I still took into account the possible negatives from my focus.

You also need to think out the tasks over the long term. In fact, if your daily work doesn’t have long term consequences, you’re likely doing little of value. Does your task list consist of work that will address and mitigate your key constraints? Will it help ensure that those constraints will stop being constraints?

If you don’t have enough people that follow your content, which items on your list are only about expanding your audience? If there are none, then you’re not addressing your key constraints.

Now that you have a task that addresses a key constraint, how do you break it down so that it’s manageable? “More readers” is not something you can do. “Make a list of sites to guest post on” is something you can do. You must slice your tasks down in to little components that are actions.

If you’re suffering from procrastination, it’s likely that you don’t have a clear focus for your work. You’re not sure what the next step is.

Then it’s all about getting things done.

Perhaps the most outwardly identifiable quality of high-performing men and women is action orientation. They are in a hurry to get their key tasks completed.

It doesn’t matter how awesome your lists are if you never sit down to do the work at hand. Successful people get up and get to work. They write their 1000 words every day. They get down to code, and don’t bother with social media until that frog has been eaten.

Now, I don’t love everything Tracy has to say about tasks in Eat That Frog because after talking a bunch about focus and single handling tasks, he starts talking about priorities.

Tracy wants you to create A, B, C priorities. Then inside that you might have A-1, A-2…This is not what you should be doing. Always ask yourself “What is the ONE thing I can do with my available resources to make the rest of my job easier or irrelevant?”

That task is your priority. When it’s done, ask the question again and do the next task that is the best answer to that question.

Everyone has admin tasks, so block out an hour or two a week do to those tasks, and don’t think about them until they’re scheduled.

How Do You Motivate Yourself to Get Your Tasks Done?

The final category we’ll address is motivating yourself to get your stuff done, or procrastination.

A major reason for procrastination is a feeling of inadequacy, a lack of confidence, or an inability in a key area of a task feeling weak or deficient in a single area is enough to discourage you from starting the job at all.

One big reason that you might procrastinate is imposter syndrome, that feeling that at any moment someone will discover that you’re a fraud. The solution to this is to continue to upgrade your skills6.

A second key to getting work done is the realization that there is no one to bail you out on your personal productivity journey. You have tasks to do, and you have to do them. Adults aren’t waiting for someone to come along and kick their ass, they do the work.

The world is full of people who are waiting for someone to come along and motivate them to be the kind of people they wish they could be. The problem is that no one is coming to the rescue.

Finally, watch how you talk to yourself. Your language is one of the big factors in how much work you get done.

Most of your emotions, positive or negative, are determined by how you talk to yourself on a minute-by-minute basis. It is not what happens to you but the way you interpret the things that are happening to you that determine how you feel.

You can choose how you react to what life throws your way. Stop blaming something outside yourself, start making better decisions.


This is a fairly quick read and if you haven’t done much reading around productivity and focus, you need to read this book. It’s going to give you the best primer around on getting focused, and staying focused in the midst of distraction.

It’s going to give you a good look at how to choose the most important task.

If you’ve read books like The ONE Thing, Deep Work, 12 Week Year then you may feel like this book barely scratches the surface of the topics.

In that case, head to the library and read the Conclusion of the book. It summarizes every point for you. Then you can decide if you need to invest the time to read the whole book.

Get Eat That Frog on Amazon

PS: I’ve got a course that’s currently on sale so you can join me and build these habits. It’s called The 8 Week Business BootCamp. Eat more frogs with me.

photo credit: legozilla cc

  1. This is also what The ONE Thing is about, and I think it’s better. Here is where I looked at The ONE Thing
  2. Deep Work is all about making better choices about your time and the technology you use. I wrote about it here, buy Deep Work Here
  3. Despite NOT liking The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People this is Habit 1 and Covey gets it right. He just buries so much of the book under buzzwords and stories that aren’t even plausible. See my look at 7 Habits, but don’t buy it. 
  4. The ONE Thing is a whole book about this idea. I looked at The ONE Thing here
  5. You’ll find this course on Analogue Productivity in their membership community
  6. Yes that means you need to read people. Read and read and read and not Twitter or Facebook. In fact, not even blogs for most of your reading. Read books that go deep into a topic. 
Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time Book Cover Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
Brian Tracy
Berrett-Koehler Publishers
3rd Edition April 17 2017

There just isn't enough time for everything on our to-do list—and there never will be. Successful people don't try to do everything. They learn to focus on the most important tasks and make sure those get done. They eat their frogs.

There's an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you're done with the worst thing you'll have to do all day. For Tracy, eating a frog is a metaphor for tackling your most challenging task—but also the one that can have the greatest positive impact on your life. Eat That Frog! shows you how to organize each day so you can zero in on these critical tasks and accomplish them efficiently and effectively.

Are You Coaching the Person or the Problem?

There are three different parties in coaching

  1. Coach
  2. Person
  3. Problem

According to Chad W. Hall, there are also three levels of coaching which he describes in Coach The Person Not The Problem.

  1. Beginner: Coach the Problem
  2. Better: Coach the Problem through the Person
  3. Transformational: Coach the Person for Internal Change

Hall contends in this short guide that most coaches focus on the first level. They assume that they have more experience than their clients and offer solutions to problems. This is more consulting than coaching.

Hall wants coaches to operate at Level 2, and use Level 3 when appropriate. This book is about getting you to focus on the person which is the essence of being at Level 3.

The purpose of this book is to encourage you to focus your attention on the the client.

He also has a caveat up front, if you’re just starting coaching then the book isn’t for you. He feels that you need some time having coaching conversations to understand what he’s saying and even have the option of operating at Level 2 or 3.

Beginner: Coach The Problem

This is where coaches start and focuses on the problem. The client describes the issue to the coach. The coach has a bunch more experience and maybe reading, thus has a solution.

The problem here according to Hall is that the client has little ownership over the solution because they didn’t invest. They’re implementing the solution provided by the coach.

Many coaches get stuck here because it feels so good to be useful and solve problems. It never brings about real personal change for clients though.

Better: Coach the Problem through the Person

Level two means to get the client to talk deeply about what the problem means to them. They dig in, and you facilitate developing their problem-solving skills.

This level is better because it builds the clients problem-solving capacity and this is not consulting, but according to Hall it doesn’t bring about transformation in the client.

It only brings incremental change.

Transformation: Coach the Person for Intentional Change

When you coach at this level you are sensitive to the fact that sometimes the goal of coaching isn’t just to solve a problem but to help the client grow, develop, and even transform.

Now we have our third level, the one that brings transformation to a client. This is the level where you probe deeply, and a mindset changes or an old poor habit gets kicked.

This is not asking rapid-fire questions, but being comfortable with silence. Letting a client brew on the ideas floating around. This is one of the reasons transformation is hard. We want to solve problems and wait for our turn to speak.

One trap with transformation is that you can’t always operate here. If you keep going for transformation with a client, they’ll never get anything done. You do have to do Level 2 coaching and help clients solve the new problems inside the transformation.

Hall leaves us with two final ideas.

First, you need to be creative as you coach. Firing down a list of questions and examples to use with everyone won’t work.

Second, thinking that emotions don’t mean anything is wrong. Avoid labelling the emotions of the people you coach. Let them do it or remain without comment.

Recommendation for Coach the Person Not the Problem

I do like the levels of coaching, and this book did have me thinking that I sit too much in Level 1 currently. So there are some valid takeaways, but you get it all in my even shorter look at the book.

The book was only a 15-minute read, which means it’s not much longer than this. To make it better, more examples of the levels and better instructions on how to move up them as a coach would be great.

Get Coach the Person Not the Problem on Amazon

photo credit: clement127 cc

Coach the Person Not The Problem: A Simple Guide to Coaching for Transformation Book Cover Coach the Person Not The Problem: A Simple Guide to Coaching for Transformation
Chad Hall
Coach Approach Ministries
September 27 2016

What separates a beginner coach from a coach who invites client transformation? It's all about where the coach focuses: on the client's problem or on the client as a person.

In this short eBook, master coach and trainer Chad Hall walks you through three levels of coaching: beginner, better and transformational. For each level, he provides a sense of where the coach focuses, the types of question the coach asks and what kind of results you can expect. He also offers guidance on two elements essential to coaching for transformation: how to add creativity to your coaching and what to do when the client expresses emotion

Ryan Holiday’s Advice on What it Takes to Build Something that Sells Forever

The dream of every creative is to do some work that lives on forever. Work that is referred to in the annals of their industry as a defining work. Something that continues to sell, more and more as the years go on.

To build a perennial seller. That’s exactly what Ryan Holiday’s book, Perennial Seller, is attempting to teach you to do.

Is that not the kind of lasting success that every creative person strives for? To produce something that is consumed (and sells) for years and years, that enters the “canon” of our industry or field, that becomes seminal, that makes money (and has impact) while we sleep, even after we’ve moved on to other projects?

The book is split up into two broad sections. The first half of the book is telling us what a Perennial Seller looks like and what it’s going to take to build a product worthy of the mantle. The second half of the book is all about what it takes to tell people about that product so that what you’ve built can become something that sells regularly. If you’re not marketing a product, then no one is doing it for you.

Inside the two broad sections, there are two smaller divisions which give us four ideas around which the book is centred.

It will teach you:
– How to make something that can stand the test of time
– How to perfect, position, and package that idea into a compelling offering that stands the test of time
– How to develop marketing channels that stand the test of time
– How to capture an audience and build a platform that stands the test of time

The beginning of the book sets the stage with a bunch of talk about where you need to focus in broad strokes if you want to build a product that lasts.

People claim to want to do something that matters, yet they measure themselves against things that don’t, and track their progress not in years but in microseconds.

And how we sabotage ourselves in the midst of making some attempt to build something that lasts.

And how to avoid falling for the seduction of short-term notability to focus on the real brass ring: Long-term success and renown.

And finally how almost every incentive that is lauded as something worthwhile is the exact opposite thing from what we should be aiming for if we want to build a creative work that lasts.

The truth is that they never give themselves a real shot at it. They fail because, strategically, they never had a chance. Not when almost every incentive, every example, every how-to guide they look to, even the cues they take from well-meaning fans and critics, leads Thom in the wrong direction.

Before you move further in this review, take a step back and write down how you measure success. Do you measure it against short-term things? Are you watching all those ‘stars’ around you for queue on what you should be doing?

Maybe don’t.

Part I: The Creative Process

Ryan Holiday started his writing career with Trust Me I’m Lying, which was an expose on how the media worked. His main gig is Brass Check which is a marketing firm. When he says that we prioritize marketing and sales over building a great product he knows of what he speaks.

While there are many different types of success in this world, and prioritizing marketing and sales over the product may lead to some of them, that is not how perennial success is created.

His job at Brass Check is to take a great product and help turn it into something that sells. In this book, he talks about working with James Altucher on a book and sending him back over many revisions to build something that was awesome instead of mediocre.

To be great, one must make great work, and making great work is incredibly hard. It must be our primary focus. We must set out, from the beginning, with complete and total commitment to the idea that our best chance of success starts during the creative process.

No marketing can save mediocre work. Mediocre work will have mediocre sales that will peter out. If that’s not what you want, and I’m assuming it’s not, then this first section is all about what it takes to build a creative product that blows people’s minds.

Building something that is awesome isn’t just having the idea for something awesome. It takes hard work. You will not build it, and they will not come.

The difference between a great work and an idea for a great work is all the sweat, time, effort, and agony that go into engaging that idea and turning it into something real. The difference is not trivial. If great work were easy to produce, a lot more people would do it.

It will take hard work to build that business you want. The coaching clients that I work with that don’t see change are the ones that come back week after week and say they didn’t do the work we agreed they’d be doing.

They’re also the ones that I fire because I hate wasting my time. Are you willing to do the hard work it will take to build something that’s worth keeping around for the long term?

Remember that hard work is…hard. It requires giving something up.

In the course of creating your work, you are going to be forced to ask yourself: What am I willing to sacrifice in order to do it? Will I give up X, Y, Z? A willingness to trade off something — time, comfort, easy money, recognition — lies at the heart of every great work. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always a significant sacrifice that needs to happen. If it didn’t everyone would do it.

Around my house, I give up TV almost every night of the week. Last night I read and then had an idea for a blog post I sketched out while I talked to my wife and she sewed. Netflix was put forward as an option, but turned down because we couldn’t sit together and watch something.

We didn’t say this, but we both decided to sacrifice easy entertainment in the face of something that was far more valuable for the long term. She made a beautiful dress for herself, and I learned more about running an awesome business.

Another great thought in this section is the idea of divorcing ourselves from the ‘easy and instant’ culture out there. While some awesome creative works can be built in a flash of inspiration and a few hours, most of them will take more time than you figured they would.

In the way that a good wine must be aged, or that we let meat marinate for hours in spices and sauce, an idea must be given space to develop. Rushing into things eliminates the space.

They’ll require testing. That may mean testing your book ideas in blog posts to better understand how you think about the ideas at the same time as gauging which ones resonate with your audience.

One of the ideas that I tested recently was my thoughts on saying NO to prospects that want to become clients when I spoke at WooConf 2017.

But when Rubin says that the best art divides the audience, he means that it divides the audience between people who don’t like it and people who really like it.

When I got my ratings, I either had full marks for being awesome or was called an ass. More people thought it was a great talk, but knowing that the idea was polarizing is perfect1.

The final great idea is the one that you must be scared of doing justice to your idea if it’s an idea that’s worth doing.

The more nervous and scared you are — the more you feel compelled to go back and improve and tweak because you’re just not ready the better it bodes for the project. Because your goal is one that should make any rational person tremble a bit.

The next book I read was Finish by Jon Acuff2. That book is all about not chronically starting new projects but finishing. It’s funny to read the advice in Finish about not worrying so much about perfection and instead get things shipped.

The two books are for different audiences. Where Perennial Seller is for Ready, Fire, Aim types3 Finish is for Ready, Ready, Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim some more types.

Which book resonates best with you depends on what you suffer from most. I’m more in the camp that needs to read Perennial Seller.

As you leave this section, remember that great creative work is not the product of a lightning strike. It’s hard-won hard work that requires focus and sacrifice.

Part II: Positioning

What’s the dream of the creative? I spoke about it recently at a local event. We dream that we will do work and that the masses will love it. The publisher will publish it without any revisions.

That’s a fantasy land.

Deep down, we all harbor a fantasy: We do creative work, throw it in the mail — someone else sends us a contract and doesn’t bother us again. No one gets to tell us what do to; our art remains pure and untouched.

Well, it’s time to abandon that desire and focus on what it’s going to take the amazing creative work you did and market it.

The first wake-up call for every aspiring perennial seller must be that there is no publisher or angel investor or producer who can magically handle all the stuff you don’t want to handle. Sending in your proverbial manuscript is not the end of the hard work on a project — it’s not even the end of the beginning of the amount of work required.

In this section, Holiday says that we should at least be taking the same amount of time we took to build the product, to market it. You’re not done when you launch; you’re just barely starting.

If something isn’t selling, then remember it’s your fault.

Adults create perennial sellers — and adults take responsibility for themselves. Children expect opportunities to be handed to them; maturity is understanding you have to go out and make them.

But this task of showing your work to the outside world starts before you launch your product. It starts in the first section as you were testing your ideas in the mainstream.

The fact is, most people are so terrified of what an outside voice might say that they forgo opportunities to improve what they are making. Remember: Getting feedback requires humility. It demands that you subordinate your thoughts about your project and your love for it and entertain the idea that someone might have a valuable thing or two to add.

I was recently talking with a friend that sold his company for a few million, and we both were in firm agreement that almost no one is going to steal your idea. First, they have their own ideas already and aren’t executing on them. Second, only you can do your idea your way.

That means, share your ideas. No one is going to steal them. If you can only find people that love your idea, work to find people that hate your idea. Find people to give you criticism so that you can take that and use it to refine your work.

Holiday is also a proponent of building around a niche at least at first4. Start with what makes you unique. Once you have an audience, you can branch out, but at first, you need that niche so that you can market effectively.

For creators, it is typically easier to reach the smaller, better-defined group. If you reach the smaller group and wow them, there will be many opportunities to spread outward and upward.

The final big idea from this section is an echo of what he talked about in the beginning. Don’t follow in-the-moment success if you want to achieve something that sticks for a long time.

I’ll leave you with these three quotes from the book. Stop and ask yourself again, what instant recognition are you looking for? How is it holding you back?

If your goal is to make a masterpiece, a perennial seller for a specific audience, it follows that you can’t also hope it’s a trendy of-the-moment side hustle.

Likewise, if you’ve fallen into the sway of tracking your fellow creators on social media or you check the charts every week to see what other people are doing, you’re going to sap yourself of the discipline required to do what you are trying to do.

Too many creators are distracted by critics, by prizes, by buzz or media attention or impressing their friends, and they forget this. They forget their audience, customers, fans.

Part III: Marketing

This section is all about getting your work out to the people that will be interested in it and starts with a sobering reminder about your competition.

We are fighting not just against our contemporaries for recognition, but against centuries of great art for an audience. Each new work competes for customers with everything that came before it and everything that will come after.

Stop and think about that as you look at your offerings. What makes you stand out from all the others? A great question to ask yourself is: “If my company or customers wanted someone much better than I am, what would that person look like?”

Then become that person. Put those practices into your business so that you are the business your customers are looking for.

One of the fundamental concepts of this section is that you need to build word of mouth marketing if you want your product to keep selling because you can’t always be ‘on’.

No one has the steam or the resources to actively market something for more than a short period of time. So if a product is going to sell forever, it must have strong word of mouth. It must drive its own adoption. Over the long haul, this is the only thing that lasts.

That should start with finding a niche and marketing to it5.

When my company works with musicians, we start by finding the most obscure and specific outlets you can think of.

The point to finding more and more obscure niches is that you can find one that you match with perfectly. Other influencers will follow deep niche sites, and you’ll get on their radar. Then you can expand out to a wider audience.

But just like Dash says in the Incredibles when his mom says that “everyone is special”, “That’s the same as saying no one is.” When you’re focusing on everyone or people like me, you’re focused on no one.

Once you’ve found that niche, you need to make sure that your product is easy to get into the hands of people. Holiday suggests that pricing very inexpensive at first is a great way to get your product into the hands of many people.

You can’t do this always, but remember with books particularly, you’re not going to become a millionaire. The books are almost always an introduction to some other offering.

Even after giving a lot of books away to drive discovery, at some point I would have to begin to charge, or that discovery wouldn’t be worth much. It’s quite rare where “free” is a strategy that works indefinitely. This is business, after all.

Another strategy is to get on the radar of an influencer and then stay on it.

When you find an influencer who likes your product, hold on for dear life. (Send them more stuff than they know what to do with — chances are they have influencer friends!)

When this influencer loves your work, they’ll share it, and you’ll build a wider audience. Remember, this influencer is gold so treat them like that. Send them thank you cards or something. Continually impress them.

Near the end, Holiday revisits the idea of taking a stand again and getting your work out there. You may have the next great novel in you, but if it stays inside, it doesn’t matter because no one will ever see it.

…no one gets coverage for thinking about doing something. You get coverage for taking a stand, for risking something, for going out there and creating news where there wasn’t any before. You don’t get coverage for what you feel or what you believe. Only what you do with those beliefs or feelings.

If you want attention, then you need to get your work out there. You need to take a stand in your niche and likely offend some people. If no one is telling you that you’re wrong, you may not have anything worthwhile to say.

Part IV: Platform

The final section is about the platform you have, or for some the platform you don’t have and never spent the time building.

Everyone wants a platform when they need one. People want to have a big list — they just don’t want to lay the groundwork for one beforehand.

If you want to launch a product next year, you need to start building a platform now. When I talk to clients about blogging, we keep it simple. A 2 line about page and then start writing. The only thing we add to that is a basic email list that emails the blog posts that get published.

You’re always trying to get the most direct connection with the people that like your ideas. That connection is your platform.

Becoming a perennial seller requires more than just releasing a project into the world. It requires the development of a career. It means building a fan base both before and after a project, and it means thinking differently than most people out there selling something.

Having a platform means that after you write that book, you have more stuff to say. You continue to have points for your followers to engage with you.

The best marketing you can do for your book is to start writing the next one.

While you spend time marketing the work you’ve just finished, you keep thinking about ideas for the next book and then when you’re finishing out the marketing for your current work, you start the next one.

The people that bought your first work will have some overlap with your second item and your third. Your second and third will reach different people, and some of them will look back at the other stuff you’ve done and get that as well.

The final thing that Holiday addresses in his conclusion is luck and the admission that luck plays a part in creating something worth the time of others.

It would be dishonest to talk about creating a classic, perennial seller and pretend that luck has nothing to do with it because luck matters a lot.

Luck is more than just random happenings though. It’s hard work and watching for the right opportunity to push the buttons hard. Like that right influencer finding you and then continuing to nurture that relationship.


The more you do, the harder you work, the luckier you seem to get.

Recommendation for Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday

As I said earlier, I’m a Ready, Fire, Aim type so this book was right up my alley. It made me rethink the current quarter goals and not worry so much about getting three books out in a quarter.

I got the video course out and did an awesome job on it. I learned some stuff about running it that would have been much harder to learn if it sold all the copies I originally wanted to. The other two books are going, but only one of them is likely to happen this year. The other will happen in 2018.

If you’re someone who starts a bunch of stuff but rarely finishes, then you should read Finish by Jon Acuff instead. It’s more about not getting stuck by perfectionism.

Then once you’ve got over some of your perfectionist hurdles, read Perennial Seller to get a great set of insights into what it takes to build something that’s worth purchasing decades from now.

Get Perennial Seller on Amazon
If you want to dive deeper into marketing check out my further reading on content marketing

  1. Members of my site will be getting a version of the talk in 2018 as bonus content as well. 
  2. I reviewed Finish already if you’re interested
  3. Yes that’s me 100%. I also burn bridges before I should. 
  4. He talked more about this on a recent Blinkist episode you should listen to
  5. Yes I wrote a book just about this call…Finding and Marketing To Your Niche
Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts Book Cover Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts
Ryan Holiday
July 18 2017

Bestselling author and marketer Ryan Holiday calls such works and artists perennial sellers. How do they endure and thrive while most books, movies, songs, video games, and pieces of art disappear quickly after initial success? How can we create and market creative works that achieve longevity?

If You Want a Great Team, First Break All The Rules

What are the unspoken rules of management? The ones you follow because you feel you should, even when you may have an inkling that they no longer apply?

Stuff like, treat everyone the same, even when you know some of your people are amazing and can be trusted and others are terrible and likely shouldn’t even be in the organization.

Well, First Break All the Rules, is here to help. Through extensive research, the Gallup Group looked at what makes amazing employees. What makes them perform well, and stick with an organization. Then they put this research into the book First Break All The Rules.

A Note on First Break All the Rules

Coming from a psychology background, there were a few annoyances with the beginning of this book. They do a bunch of back-patting. As if they’re so amazing that they discovered ways to parse this information that no one else is privy too.

Take this sentence for instance:

…we had discovered a solution: meta-analysis

This is a solution to all the data across many studies that needed to be sorted. They “discovered” a regular process to analyze lots of data from different studies. It’s psych 101 stuff, at least learning what a meta-analysis is and how you do one in broad terms.

They didn’t discover it; they just used it. It’s like a carpenter going on about having these things called nails and boards, and she discovers a hammer and uses it to put the pieces together.

No, she just used the tools available, as anyone else would that had the same raw materials at hand.

This is just one example and one that would slip by many people that didn’t have a background in statistics and psychology. There are a few others in the first bit of the book which are used to build up the credibility of their methods, but they’re all regular things that any organization would do.

That doesn’t degrade the book, it’s just super annoying and in my mind does degrade their credibility because they’re essentially trying to fool the layman that may be reading this book.

Now, on with looking at what it means to break the rules of business so that you can be a better manager.

The first and most often cited rule of management that is likely controversial is that great managers:

They do not believe that a person can achieve anything he sets his mind to. They do not try to help a person overcome his weaknesses.

As we read further, we’ll find that what they’re saying is that as a manager you can’t force someone to change. They have to want to change themselves so don’t waste your energy on trying to force change.

Where I took exception to this at the beginning, with the deeper understanding provided reading later in the book, I can get on board with this statement. I’ve worked with a number of people who wanted to talk lots about change but never wanted to put the work in. Change never happened, and they’re still in the same stuck spot they were in.

Now, let’s get on to the meat of First Break All The Rules.

Chapter 1: The Measuring Stick

To start being a great manager, you need to know what makes your people happy and perform well. According to Gallup, there are twelve items that attract and retain talent.

  1. I know what is expected of me at work
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count
  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work
  10. I have a best friend at work
  11. In the last six months, someone at work as talked to me about my progress
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow

They divide these twelve items up into four different groups.

Basecamp: What do I get?
Basecamp covers questions 1 and 2 and is about making sure someone has the things to do their job.

Camp 1: What do I give?
Camp 1, is about questions three through six. These cover the contribution to your work. Do you get to do the things that you’re good at?

Camp 2: Do I belong here?
Camp 2 covers questions seven through ten. In the grand scheme of the organization, do I fit in with my colleagues? Are we on the same page?

Camp 3: How can we all grow?
Camp 3 involves the final two questions, 11 and 12. They only matter if you have all the other items dealt with. They are about how the company values you and helps you improve your work.

If you’ve read The Happiness Advantage1, you’ll see some similarities between some of the elements above and Principle Seven: Social Investment.

…the heart of Principle 7 — that when we encounter an unexpected challenge or threat, the only way to save ourselves is to hold on tight to the people around us and not let go – The Happiness Advantage

We’re looking for a place where we can have people to hang on to when things get tough. This idea is supported by the research done in both books.

It’s funny to read these things and then look at job ads for companies today. They’re talking about ping-pong tables and company video game nights. Neither of which register in the 12 questions. Sure these things might lead to someone that’s a good friend at work, but they don’t guarantee it.

Companies push these things that don’t matter as if they’re the perks that people are looking for.

It’s not. The key to attracting and retaining great talent is the manager they work for.

We had discovered that the manager — not pay, benefits, perks or a charismatic corporate leader — was the critical player in building a strong workplace. The manager was the key.

In fact, they found that you’re more likely to stick with an ‘old-school’ company that didn’t allow flexible schedules, remote work, and video game tournaments if you had a good manager.

Another key they found with the twelve items is that you need to start your focus at the bottom. Sure you can start with number 5, and that might attract some talent, but the lack of 1-4 will mean that you don’t retain talent.

With this foundational idea established, First Break All The Rules, spends the rest of the book helping you learn to build a workplace that supports the 12 items.

Chapter 2: The Wisdom of Great Managers

The big insight managers have

People don’t change that much.
Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out.
Try to draw out what was left in.
That is hard enough.

That’s a hard one to read for many managers. They hire someone with skills and then try to build up the weaknesses they have. Sam isn’t very organized, so they send him to some training to help him be organized. He’s a great salesperson though, and his meetings with clients are always amazing, so we don’t send him on further training to refine and enhance that skill.

We let it ride and work on the worst thing about him.

In their book The ONE Thing2, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, spend the whole time talking to us about how we should stick with the things we do amazing because doing one thing with superhuman abilities will yield much better results than being average all around.

The manager role is to reach inside each employee and release his unique talents into performance.

The role of the manager isn’t to shore up the weaknesses. It’s not to follow some rote path dictated by the company. It’s to help people become the amazing people the can be.

To use their unique talents to provide value to the business.

Where companies fail, managers is when they try to force them all to act the same way.

A company should not force every manager to manage his people exactly the same way. Each manager will, and should, employ his own style. What a company can and should do is keep every manager focused on the four core activities of the catalyst role: select a person, set expectations, motivate the person and develop the person.

In forcing this homogenization of management companies lose sight of the fact that each manager is different. Each team is different, and all of these differences mean that they need to be dealt with differently.

In fact, in Linchpin3, Seth Godin, talks about this mindset coming out of factory work.

Organizing around the average means that the organization has exchanged the high productivity of exceptional performance for the ease and security of an endless parade of average performers – Linchpin

We need to stop going to the easily managed and measure and instead empower our people to do the work they are best suited to.

Chapter 3: The First Key: Select for Talent

I believe that everyone has some talent that they can use. There is something they do way better than I can. Talent is not rare, what is rare is being given the opportunity to use the talents we have to their maximum.

For most of us, talent seems like a rare and precious thing, bestowed on special, faraway people. They are different, these people with talent. They are “not us.”

According to Gallup, there are three groupings of talent.

Striving talents explain the why of a person. They explain why he gets out of bed every day and why he is motivated to push and push just a little bit harder.

Thinking talents explain the how of a person. They explain how she thinks, how she weighs alternatives and how she comes to her decisions.

Relating talents explain the who of a person. They explain whom he trusts, whom he builds relationships with, whom he confronts and whom he ignores.

Looking at these talents, they encourage us to stop trying to tell people to get a better attitude. We need to help them find a job where the attitude and talents they have are key elements to their success.

The best way to help an employee cultivate his talents is to find him a role that plays to those talents.

If someone is failing at their job, and is clearly talented, then you’ve got them in the wrong position in the organization.

As a manager, your job is not to teach people talent. Your job is to help them earn the accolade “talented” by matching their talent to the role. To do this well, like all great managers, you have to pay close attention to the subtle but significant differences between roles.

I encountered this when I worked at 10up. I’m a good developer, and they’re a company that needs good developers. I only lasted three months and was a poor employee. I didn’t like working there.

Am I a bad developer? No, looking back years later, I was sitting in a seat that didn’t fit with my strengths. They didn’t have a seat at the time that did fit my strengths so I really shouldn’t have been there4.

If you’ve done your hiring right, you’ve got a good person. If they’re not performing and you can’t figure out why it’s likely that you’ve got them in a role that doesn’t suit their strengths. Move them to a spot where the strengths they do have are the keys to success.

Chapter 4: The Second Key: Define the Right Outcomes

Are you familiar with what a ROWE business is? It’s a Results Only Work Environment. A place where the only thing that matters is that things get done.

They don’t care when you show up or if you show up at all5. Focusing on outcomes and nothing else is another key that Gallup found in businesses that were highly profitable and retained top talent.

Define the right outcomes and then let each person find his own route toward those outcomes.

Top talent doesn’t want to conform to a bunch of rules. They want to be able to do their job well. They see rules without purpose as silly so don’t be surprised if they get broken. In fact, a good way to look at it is, if your top people keep breaking a rule it’s likely the rule is not needed at all and inhibits them from doing their job effectively.

Unless it’s some sort of regulatory requirement, cut it.

Again, back to Linchpin, it’s easier to measure when we give people a set of rules to follow. But don’t expect any breakthroughs. Expect average people, because they’re the ones that want a list of rules to follow so that they can just show up.

When faced with the challenge of turning talent into performance, why do so many managers choose, instead, to dictate how work should be done? Every manager has his own reasons, but in the end, it is probably because the allure of control is just too tempting.

Great managers realize that great talent will want to focus on outcomes and that they need to help define them, no matter how hard it is.

Just because some outcomes are difficult to define does not mean that they defy definition. It simply means that the outcomes aren’t obvious. Some thinking is required.

In fact, the stronger an employee is, the harder it will likely be to define the best outcomes they need to hit.

When I worked at Western Canoeing and Kayaking , the main outcome was that whoever bought a boat was in the right boat for them.

We had no expectations of hours spent with clients or a number of clients to see in a day. We were empowered to help people find the right product for them. I remember having someone come in that wanted to try out a number of canoes. I didn’t think twice about loading one on their car and one on a work truck and taking them out to a local lake to try out the two boats.

Gallup’s research confirms what great managers know instinctively. Forcing your employees to follow required steps only prevents customer dissatisfaction. If your goal is truly to satisfy, to create advocates, then the step-by-step approach alone cannot get you there. Instead, you must select employees who have the talent to listen and to teach, and then you must focus them toward simple emotional outcomes like partnership and advice.

The only concession that my boss wanted was to make sure that one of the other employees was off lunch so that they could watch the floor. I spent the afternoon on the lake with a client teaching them about solo paddling a canoe. On the face of it spending 3 hours doing that may not seem like a great business proposition. Certainly, that single sale was much less profitable than if I had pushed them into a boat in the store.

But by focusing on the outcome, getting someone into the right boat for them, we sold a boat. Then we sold a boat with much less investment to their father, brother, sister, and cousin.

We saw over and over again that giving this type of amazing service and focusing on the result, yielded customers that became our raving fans. Driving 12 hours to purchase a boat from us instead of the other five stores they passed on the way.

What are the results that matter in your organization? How can you focus only on those, and let your amazing employees fill in the details?

Chapter 5: The Third Key: Focus on Strengths

Chapter five is where First Break All The Rules, starts to get a bit repetitive. We’ve already been told that we need to focus on employee strengths and not weaknesses. But this is an entire chapter with more specific examples.

So you have selected for talent, and you have defined the right outcomes. You have your people, and they have their goals. What should you do now? What should you do to speed each person’s progress toward performance?
Great managers would offer you this advice: Focus on each person’s strengths, and manage around his weaknesses. Don’t try to fix the weaknesses. Don’t try to perfect each person. Instead, do everything you can to help each person cultivate his talents. Help each person become more of who he already is.

Some of the great additions are that you should have the ability to describe the unique talents of your people.

One of the signs of a great manager is the ability to describe, in detail, the unique talents of each of his or her people — what drives each one, how each one thinks and how each one builds relationships.

If you can’t do this off the top of your head, then stop right now and work through the people you’re in charge of. What are their unique talents and are you using them to their maximum?

It does add a bit in that it starts to discuss non-talents and the fact that you shouldn’t be focusing on them. It takes it from the point of view of the employee as well, encouraging them not to worry so much about their non-talents and to work to excel at the things they’re amazing at. But remember, we already talked about that in an earlier chapter when we discussed attitude and being in the right spot so that your weaknesses are strengths.

Persistence is useful if you are trying to learn a new skill or acquire particular knowledge. Persistence can even be appropriate if you are trying to cut a thin path through some of your mental wastelands so that, for example, your nontalent for empathy doesn’t permanently undermine your talents in other areas. But persistence directed primarily toward your nontalents is self-destructive. No amount of determination or good intentions will ever enable you to carve out a brand-new set of four-lane mental highways. You will reprimand yourself, berate yourself and put yourself through all manner of contortions in an attempt to achieve the impossible.

It also tells managers not to spend too much time on stragglers.

Investing in stragglers appears shrewd. Yet the most effective managers do the opposite. When they join the names, their lines are horizontal. They spend the most time with their most productive employees. They invest in their best.

Where doubling the productivity of a “1” means you have a “2”, doubling the productivity of an “8” means you have a “16”. You get much more bang for your buck by focusing on those that are already performing well.

If a manager is preoccupied with the burden of transforming strugglers into survivors by helping them squeak above average, he will have little time left for the truly difficult work of guiding the good toward great.

Finally, it reminds us not to define what’s possible by what average people do. This is similar to it’s earlier exhortation that we should focus on outcomes and let the ‘rules’ go so that we can let our exceptional people be exceptional.

Don’t use average to estimate the limits of excellence. You will drastically underestimate what is possible. Focus on your best performers, and keep pushing them toward the right edge of the bell curve.

As I said, much of this chapter has been covered earlier in the book. It gets more specific with Chapter 5, which means you have more examples to draw on, but it is still mostly repeated information.

Chapter 6: The Fourth Key: Find the Right Fit

Regardless of what employees want, the manager’s responsibility is to steer employees toward roles where they have the greatest chance of success.

Again, chapter six starts to feel like a repeat of earlier information, but with more specifics and more guidance.

We still think that the most creative way to reward excellence in a role is to promote the person out of it. We still tie pay, perks and titles to a rung on the ladder. The higher the rung, the greater the pay, the better the perks and the grander the title.

The biggest difference here is that they start talking about the Peter Principle. This is the principle that people get promoted until they’re incompetent. The amazing software developer becomes the lead developer and then a manager. They were great developers and terrible managers.

They got promoted out of a job they were amazing at, into a job that they were incompetent at.

Often this happens because the person is looking for more money and the only way to get more money is being promoted. To combat this issue with promotions, they introduce the idea of broadbanded pay rates.

A programmer might be paid 60k – 250k, but a technical lead would be 80 – 500k. That means to move from a top programmer to a technical lead would mean a drop in wages. In theory, you only have the people that are the best fit moving up because they have to take a significant drop in wages to take the next position.

Even with things like broadband pay in place, people will get into the wrong job for themselves at some points. Fixing this starts by giving someone great feedback on how they’re doing.

That’s more than a yearly review. It’s constant feedback. It’s a review of past performance, and most importantly it’s a look towards the future goals. Finally, good employee feedback is intended to help not berate, so it should be given in private where a frank discussion can happen.

Despite lots of feedback and work, someone may just not measure up to the job requirements.

But great managers don’t have to hide their true feelings. They understand that a person’s talents and nontalents constitute an enduring pattern. They know that if, after pulling out all the stops to manage around his nontalents, an employee still underperforms, the most likely explanation is that his talents do not match his role. In the minds of great managers, consistent poor performance is not primarily a matter of weakness, stupidity, disobedience or disrespect. It is a matter of miscasting.

Not everyone can be made to fit into the job they’re currently sitting in. Sometimes you’ll have to remove a person from the organization or return them to their previous position, where they thrived.

Chapter 7: Turning the Keys: A practical guide

A person’s unaided response to an open-ended question is powerfully predictive. Trust it, no matter how hunch you might want to hear something else.

The final section is all about giving a manager some tools to open up the performance that is inside the people they manage. Specifically, it’s giving you tools to conduct those employee reviews so that you can get employees to operate at their maximum productive setting.

No manager can make an employee productive. Managers are catalysts. They can speed up the reaction between the talent of the employee and the needs of the customer and company. They can help the employee find his path of least resistance toward his goals.

Recommendation for First Break All The Rules

Putting aside the self-congratulations found at the beginning, this is a good book. It’s going to help you be a better manager, especially if you can overlay their 12 questions on your organization and make sure that you are hitting them out of the park for your team.

Get First Break All the Rules on Amazon

photo credit: wiredforsound cc

  1. You can see my look at The Happiness Advantage here
  2. Here is my look at The ONE Thing
  3. My look at Linchpin is forthcoming. 
  4. I can only realize this many years later with many books read and much learning about myself done. 
  5. A great example of this can be seen in the crazy things that they do with business in The Seven Day Weekend. It’s a book all about SEMCO, a business that throws off pretty much every standard business pratice, and thrives. 
First Break All The Rules Book Cover First Break All The Rules
Gallup Press; Har/Psc edition
May 3 2016

Gallup presents the remarkable findings of its revolutionary study of more than 80,000 managers in First, Break All the Rules, revealing what the world’s greatest managers do differently. With vital performance and career lessons and ideas for how to apply them, it is a must-read for managers at every level.

Stop Being a Chronic Starter and Finish with the help of Jon Acuff

How many projects have you started and never finished? Little bits of leftover code sitting around. Half written drafts of stories.

That shelf you were supposed to build and still sits like a lurking troll in the garage.

Yup we’ve all got some projects started and not finished around, but what if all you have is stuff you’ve started and never finished? What if you’re a “chronic starter” to use Jon Acuff’s term from Finish?

Well, that’s what Finish is going to try and help you with, finishing some of the projects you start.

Perfectionism is at the heart of not finishing

The entire book is a discussion of perfectionism and how it stops us from finishing the projects we start.

This isn’t the first lie that perfectionism tells you about goals: Quit if it isn’t perfect.

It examines the lies that perfectionism tells us. The ways it gets us to start something and then abandon it.

The ways it tricks us into never starting because we won’t hit perfect anyway.

That’s why a lot of people won’t start a new goal. They’d rather get a zero than a fifty. They believe perfect is the only standard and if they can’t hit it they won’t even take the first step. A dreary sense of “What’s the use?” settles about them like a thick fog. I can’t fail if I don’t try.

Acuff runs an online course called 30 Days of Hustle, and when he had someone look at his numbers, he found that most people quit on Day 2 of the course. That’s the first day that life hits them. The day they can’t be perfect.

Which leads him to this conclusion about chronic starters.

Chronic starters quit the day after perfect.

I know that a few years ago I tried to start a Github streak. I was going to commit code to something every day on Github. I got maybe two weeks, and then life got in the way. Did I pick back up and get a long series of mini-streaks? Nope, I quit, and if you looked at my Github profile you’d see long swaths of time where I did nothing for public consumption with a few days here and there that have a bunch of activity.

I’ve quit the day after perfect.

Perfectionism as Excellence

Unfortunately, perfection dies slowly. It’s persistent and particularly dangerous because it masquerades as excellence.

In his 30 Days of Hustle program, Acuff tells us that he asks participants to either cut their goal in half or give themselves twice as long to finish it. He does this because perfectionism masquerades as excellence.

We don’t just want to lose 5 pounds; we shoot for 40 pounds.

We don’t say we’ll keep it to two pieces of pizza on a Friday; we say we’re eating kale every meal all week.

We think we’re just setting a great goal, but we’re building one that is much too big to complete. We’re subconsciously setting ourselves up for failure.

Perfectionism Tells Us It Should Be Hard

Perfectionism believes that the harder something is, the more miserable something is, the better it is.

Yes, there are parts of any goal that aren’t fun, but the whole thing shouldn’t be one long hard slog from terrible task to terrible task. You should enjoy the goals that you’re aiming towards.

You should get some enjoyment out of the actions you have to take to reach your goals. If you’re not getting enjoyment, then something is wrong. You need to start building rewards in so that you get positive feedback from the tasks you’re working on.

The second part of being uncomfortable with a goal is that it’s hard to know if we’re making good progress or if we’re just doing something that’s wrong for us.

The middle of any goal is difficult and uncomfortable. How do you know if what you’re experiencing is genuine displeasure because you picked the wrong goal, or just the normal frustration that comes with the middle part of a goal?

While Finish doesn’t dive deeply into how to figure this out, The Dip by Seth Godin does1 dive into this question deeply and provides a great set of three questions for us to use to determine if we’re doing the right thing.

  1. Am I just panicking?
  2. Who am I trying to impress?
  3. What measurable progress am I making? If any?

By looking at these three questions, we can get a clearer picture of how our idea is doing and if we should quit or keep going.

Perfectionism Builds Secret Rules Around Our Lives

At the core, perfectionism is a desperate attempt to live up to impossible standards. We wouldn’t play if we knew the whole game was impossible, so perfectionism promises us that we just need to follow some secret rules. As long as we do that, perfect is possible. So over the years, as you chase goals, perfectionism quietly adds some secret rules to your life.

The last part I looked at, that our goals should be hard, is one of the lies that perfectionism tells us. It can also tell us stuff like; executives have nice luggage they carry around. They can’t have wheels on their luggage, or it’s not ‘fancy’ enough.

The thing about these rules is that they’re hard to catch and they are cumulative. We keep building more of them around ourselves until we’re walled in doing little and serving perfectionism.

Perfectionism Protects Our Dream Self

This is a classic benefit of not finishing. You get to hold on to the illusion that you could finish if you really wanted to. Rather than try to find out you might not be good, you hide in the myth of maybe.

I talked to a guy earlier this year who swore he had a great story. It involved a gun to the face2 and a great story of recovery. He went on a bunch about how it’s going to be a great book, and he’s writing it.

What he really meant is that about a year prior to our meeting he had written one chapter of it. Since then he’s written nothing. Not even blog posts talking about the journey he’s still on.

The deeper I dug, the more it became apparent to me that he was so convinced that it was a great story that he didn’t want to hear otherwise.

I do believe that he’s got a great story, but he’s stuck. He’s not doing the practice needed to turn it into something excellent, and he’s very hesitant to hear any feedback that might change the things he thinks are awesome.

He’s firmly stuck in the benefits of not finishing his work because it’s still perfect in his mind.

Acuff has actions

One thing I haven’t mentioned is that the end of each chapter has a number of actions and questions you can use to kick perfectionism’s ass.

If you’re going to read the book, take the time to answer the questions.

Do I Recommend Finish by Jon Acuff

If you’re a chronic starter, then yes Finish by Jon Acuff is a great book to get you off your butt and ship something for the world to see. I think you need to add accountability to it though.

You’ll need someone to help you stick to shipping work instead of falling back into your old patterns of striving for the elusive perfect. One other book to read, with my review coming, is Perennial Seller. It looks at the struggle that does need to happen to make something stand out from the masses. It pushes you to struggle just a bit more and expose your work to others so that it can get refined.

Perennial Seller isn’t quite the opposite of Finish, but it’s a bit more for those that are the Ready, Fire, Aim type. Finish is for the Ready, Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim…type.

Get Finish by Jon Acuff on Amazon

photo credit: clement127 cc

  1. I read The Dip and you can read more about it here. In short, it’s great. 
  2. Yes he has the scars to prove it on his face still. 
Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done Book Cover Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done
Jon Acuff
Motivation & Self-Improvement
September 12 2017

Year after year, readers pulled me aside at events and said, “I’ve never had a problem starting. I’ve started a million things, but I never finish them. Why can’t I finish?

According to studies, 92 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. You’ve practically got a better shot at getting into Juilliard to become a ballerina than you do at finishing your goals.

For years, I thought my problem was that I didn’t try hard enough. So I started getting up earlier. I drank enough energy drinks to kill a horse. I hired a life coach and ate more superfoods. Nothing worked, although I did develop a pretty nice eyelid tremor from all the caffeine. It was like my eye was waving at you, very, very quickly.