How much mess do you embrace in business? Should you be embracing a more Messy business?

Is it possible to take the ideas in books like Deep Work (my review) too far? Can you lock yourself away to focus on the work at hand and miss out on your best creativity?

This is the central thesis of Messy by Tim Harford.

The argument of this book is that we often succumb to the temptation of a tidy-minded approach when we would be better served by embracing a degree of mess.

He contends that we stop digging in to things, we stop being creative, when things line up ‘just so’. If we embraced a bit more mess in our work and lives, we’d generate better ideas. If we addressed the messy issues in our life instead of letting them lie fallow, we’d have stronger relationships. Just not neater ones.

We prioritize neat over effective.

I’m sure that’s not what you intend. It’s certainly not what I intend as I embrace focus in my life, but do we fall in to that trap?

Lets dig in to Messy to find out.

Harford addresses a different aspect of how messiness can help us in each chapter. Starting by addressing how embracing a bit more unknown can help our creativity and carrying it through collaboration, our workplaces, and ending with automation.

Chapter 1: Creativity

If you rely on transit to get places stop and think about what a strike would do to your commute? I bet that thought stresses you out. Back in 2014 there was a strike by the workers of the British underground. While it threw much in to chaos, a number of commuters actually got benefit from it. As they looked for new routes to their work about 1 in 20 stuck with the route after the strike.

Would they have started to look for a new route if there wasn’t a strike? Likely not, we love to stick with whatever we are currently doing because it’s easy and working. Presumably the new route they stuck with has some benefit and they only found it because of the mess of the strike.

What about in your work. Do disruptions help you? When things go wrong does it help you find a better option?

Messy disruptions will be the most powerful when combined with creative skill. The disruption puts and artist, scientist, or engineer in unpromising territory – a deep valley rather than a familiar hilltop. But then expertise kicks in and finds a way to move upward again: The climb finishes at a new peak, perhaps lower than the old one, but perhaps unexpectedly higher.

One fault in this first chapter is that it seems to make the assumption that it’s talking to masters not apprentices. When your starting out and ‘mess’ gets tossed up in your face you have no basis to even come up with a new idea or way around the mess. It’s a problem and you don’t have the information yet to evaluate the possible great options that come out of it.

Only as someone with experience do you have that experience. I fear that many the apprentice will read the book and assume that they should embrace the mess on their way to mastery when really what they need to do is put their head down and get the experience they need.

Distractable brains can also be seen as brains that have an innate tendency to make those useful random leaps.

Harford cites Brian Eno who takes an interview to his music room. He does this because there is a hugely distracting conversation happening outside during the interview. His room is a jumble of instruments and inspiration. What’s missed in the book is that all the mess is tied to making music. There isn’t a phone constantly sending social media notifications and lots of other things that distract from the creative task. In fact, he went there because it was a place of focus. He pulled himself out of the distraction of the street.

Eno’s music room is all geared towards a master getting the most focus in his music.

Don’t be one that confuses the ‘mess’ of creativity with the distraction of not doing the work you need to do.

Chapter 2: Collaboration

Is the best way to collaborate to interact far and wide, spread you ideas as it were. Or should you be ‘locked away’ with a few team members intensely focused on producing something of value.?

Turns out, it’s a bit of both.

Most tasks require a combination of bonding and bridging: flashes of inspiration to identify the right approach, and long effort characterized by selfless teamwork. To put it in to practice

Getting the diverse ideas of a large group is a great way to get a project going in a creative way, but then you need to sit down and do the work.

Harford cites a great study to show you us the importance of bridging. Given a jury of white and black people judging cases of black or white people in crime you get a much more ‘just’ verdict if the jury is mixed race. If it’s all white people the sentencing is harsh but with black people on the jury it’s a much more moderate decision. The presence of black people on the jury causes the white people to evaluate their ideas of justice harder and make a different decision.

There are a number of other examples that lead us to the conclusion that when our ideal get challenged by those ‘outside’ our group we come up with much better ideas.

This goes counter to the great HR push to make sure that people ‘fit our culture’. We know that this is often code for ‘people like me’ and given the research presented in Messy, we know that if you’re going for a solid culture mesh all the time, you’re going to be giving up on many great ideas that would come if you embraced challenge.

Chapter 3: Workplaces

Ugh cubicles suck. Who wants to have their work environment dictated all the time. In Messy, Harford talks about one company that even dictated if you were allowed to have a pen on the top of your desk. In theory this ‘tidy’ work place meant that you could work free of distraction.

Instead it turns out we like to build our own productive environment.

People flourish when they control their own space.

As you build a team or office that means you need to empower people to decorate the office. They should be able to put the transformers they collect on their desk. In this control, you’ll get the happiest most effective workers.

No it may not look as pretty as the renderings you were provided with, but your goal isn’t pretty. Your goal is to get work done well.

Chapter 4 Improvisation & Chapter 5 Winning

I’ll tackle these chapters together because I think they were the weakest. Chapter 4 told us not to stick to a script. Be willing to roll with the punches like Martin Luther King who’s famous “I have a dream” speech was not really what was prepared.

Then Harford tells us to be careful and cites many of the recent US political gaffes. Unfortunately that’s about where he ends. There is little guidance about when to choose the script or to wing it.

We just have to guess.

Chapter 5 used lots of war examples. German generals who went off script and over extended their troops to take some advantage over the British in Word War 2. Donald Trump always being random and forcing the other candidates to respond to him.

Again, there is little direction on when to do this or how to do it effectively. Hardford cites a bunch of people that did it successfully but doesn’t really answer the counter point of all the others that tried it and failed spectacularly.

With a bit more direction on how to decide between messy and random and planning, these chapters would be much stronger.

Chapter 6 Incentives

We all want to reward good behaviour so that we get more of it. The question is, are we rewarding for the right behaviour? What other consequences can come from the standard we set.

Think back to the recent Volkswagon emissions issue. They performed well in the automated test done at the predictable locations but if you strapped the emission testing equipment to the car and drove around you got a different result.

Because the tests were predictable they were gamed, and this wasn’t the first time. Major truck manufacturers were caught doing the same thing years ago.

There are many other examples provided and one main guidance. We need to make sure that the metrics we put in place don’t have the bad result of people only performing well on the metric to the detriment of everything else.

You should have many metrics and then choose one randomly to test. The lack of standardization ensures that you will get the best overall result.

Chapter 7 Automation

Automation oh how I love thee. By making my call calendar run by Calendly and using Zapier to connect to Zoom I can send a single link to someone that wants to talk with me and I end up with a single link to click to connect for a phone call.

This is a great thing for me, but automation can have dire consequences.

Harford tells us the story of an ill-fated flight that 99.9% of the time ran on autopilot. This meant that when things went bad and the auto-pilot needed human intervention the humans weren’t used to flying without help and crashed the plane.

Because they had almost no practice flying in the basic situations they made bad decision after bad decision and killed hundreds.

The rarer the exception gets, as with fly-by-wire, the less gracefully we are likely to deal with it. We will assume that the computer is always right, and when someone says the computer made a mistake, we will assume they are wrong.

It also extends to things as mundane as the phone numbers we can no longer remember because we store them in our phones.

This problem has a name: the paradox of automation. It applies to a wide variety of contexts, from the operators of a nuclear power station to the crew of a cruise ship to the simple fact that we can’t remember phone numbers anymore because we have them all stored in our cell phones and that we struggle with mental arithmetic because we’re surrounded by electronic calculators. The better the automatic systems, the more out-of-practice human operators will be, and the more unusual will be the situations they face.

For us it means we need to introduce times of challenge. I do this with my kids on canoe trips where we practice flipping the canoe, we take a short paddle from camp with no gear in the boat. Then we intentionally flip the canoe and practice getting everyone back in. Sometimes we do this when there is a bit of rain and wind coming in so that we are used to these less than ideal circumstances. We practice when the conditions are less than optimal so that when we are forced to be out in the bad weather we are ready to deal with it.

Chapter 8: Resilience

While we’re past the days of segregated neighbourhoods by law (or because you just didn’t sell a house to ‘those’ people) we still are in a world with a surprising lack of diversity.

We all feel more comfortable when the people around us are ‘like us’. This goes is very similar to the research cited in chapter 2 with the trials. When we have all of our neighbours share our views, we are never challenged. We sit safely in our confirmation bias.

Far from a more secure safe neighbourhood, we will have a more robust neigbourhood culture if we embrace diversity. That means apartments beside houses beside townhouses. That means no clustering of similarly priced homes and apartments on the same streets. We need to break them up so that people of many incomes can live in close proximity.

This will help us be more resilient. It will help the community feeling in our neighbourhood. It will help our children be more resilient when they encounter struggles.

Chapter 9 Life

How many times does this conversation play at a networking event?

You: Hey how are you?
Them: Busy, and you?
You: Busy.
Them: great
Both: awkward silence

Do you really get to build a deeper relationship with that person you wanted to connect with? Not in any fashion at all, but in theory that’s the goal of a networking event. To build the trust with a possible client so that they feel safe purchasing from you. Yet we repeat this terrible conversation over and over and wonder why no one purchases from us.

Instead ask questions they don’t expect. Maybe:

Where was your last vacation?
Did you miss any business goals this year?
What was the hardest thing this year?
What’s the big dream you’re working on currently?

Here we may actually get real questions answered and build some real trust with the person across from us. Both of those things are the point so instead of valuing comfort, value effectiveness and change the script you use at a networking event.

Recommendation

Overall, Messy is a good read. I think that a few chapters are weak, specifically 4 and 5, but they weren’t terrible.

The big takeaway from the book is that you need to embrace lots of diverse stimuli if you want to be resilient and creative. The danger is that you embrace this fully and always go for diverse stimuli instead of taking some and then going back to the place where you can focus and actually do the creative work all these stimuli are supposed to spark.

If you were interested in Deep Work, then Messy provides a decent counterpoint. It provides the diverse thinking to help you balance your deep work with the creativity you hope to have.

Get Messy on Amazon.

photo by: kalexanderson

Don’t let email overwhelm you, Unsubscribe

Oh email how we hate it. We can spend an entire day in the office pushing email and feel like we did nothing of value. For most of us that sentiment is true. We did almost nothing of value with our email time.

This state is a place we all exist in at some point. Some try to solve it by subscribing to ‘inbox zero’. Many swear inbox zero changed their life. Others wonder how on earth inbox zero did anything but increase email stress.

This is where Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K. Glei comes in.

The true source of our love-hate relationship with email is that we treat it like a task when it’s actually a tool. We cede control of our workday – and our to-do lists – to the dictates of others in pursuit of a mirage called “inbox zero”

Glei’s goal is to help you master email but not in the way that others have tried to help you with some plan to sort it all. She wants to flip your email script so that you think of it like the tool it is and not the life management software we’ve let it become.

By the time you finish Unsubscribe you will have mastered how to think about, manage, and write email with less anxiety and more grace, freeing you up to focus on the work that really matters – the stuff of building a legacy, not just keeping busy.

She breaks the book up in to 4 main sections. First she looks at the neuroscience behind how we deal with email. Second she talks us through the development of a new strategy with our email which puts our meaningful work back at top priority. Finally, she provides us with a series of tips to deal with email and templates of great emails we can use with our interactions.

Part 1: Psychology

After you complete this little therapy session, you will have the proper foundation to begin building an effective email strategy and style as well as a wealth of ammunition for defending yourself against email’s many psychological evils.

The thing about email is that it makes it so easy to feel productive. It’s a way to be very visibly productive because others are getting your emails.

If you send and answer e-mails at all hours, if you schedule and attend meetings constantly, if you weigh in on instant message systems like Hall within seconds when someone poses a new question, or if you roam your open office bouncing ideas off all whom you encounter — all of these behaviors make you seem busy in a public manner. – Deep Work

Add to this visible productivity the fact that sending an email is a completed task. Our brain rewards us for the completed task with dopamine. Jumping in to email and ‘dealing with it’ reinforces the behaviour that we likely shouldn’t be doing.

When you recognize a task as complete, your brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes you feel good and makes you want to repeat the behavior again to feel more pleasure.

This reward is the allure of inbox 0. By processing each email we’ve ‘done’ something and we get our happy reward. Nevermind that if you wait 3 seconds you’ll have an inbox with more email in it again.

Instead of starting your day with email, Glei, tells us to decide our most important tasks the night before. Then get in to the office and do those tasks before you open email.

Instead of tracking inbox zero, start tracking the number of words you’ve written for your site or the number of books you’ve read this year or the number of prospects you’ve reached out to this week.

Your inbox will always have something more for you. Just let it be there and do the good work you should be doing.

Part Two: Strategy

With a new understanding of email and it’s pervasive rewards for simply pushing it around, Glei now walks us through a better strategy for dealing with the beast that is email. She does this is two main parts. First, we zoom out and look at our goals. Second, with our goals in mind we get tactical and craft a daily email routine that allows us to accomplish our goals.

Starting with the first point, Glei says that we should be writing down our goals and keeping them in front of us all the time. With them staring us in the face it’s much harder to excuse our lack of progress towards the goals as we tackle email and ‘be productive’.

Another key point that Glei makes is how we decide to respond to email. It’s a faulty assumption that every email needs to be responded to within 24 hours. Some can way a few days. Some a few weeks. Some never need to be answered at all.

Your relationship to the person emailing you should govern its importance-or lack thereof.

I use this strategy in my responses (or lack of) to people that randomly email me to add content to my site. Most of these requests are some script I’ve seen many times. They ask me to tell them I’m not interested, but that puts the burden on me. Choosing not to reply tells them I’m not interested just as well as saying no and means I do nothing but delete the email.

Glei provides us with 5 categories of people.

  1. VIP: Boss, main client and these people need attention right away as in a few hours at most.
  2. Key Collaborators: like main colleagues who may need something from you. 1 – 3 days response
  3. Fun people: they are more fun to talk to than ‘needed’ in work. Friends, family, colleagues. If you’re busy then 2 weeks is fine for a response
  4. Potentials: possible clients or people that have been introduced to you. They may be important in the future and can wait for a few days to get responses. If it’s an introduction then it’s from a trusted contact
  5. Random: Everyone else. and you may not even respond to them

She also reminds us that we need to keep these groups as small as possible until we get to the last group. I’d add here that none of the groups should be set in stone. Even those ‘fun people’ that you want to communicate may fall in to Random if you’re really busy.

Be wary of letting random emails chip away at your productivity – life is too short to let strangers dictate what you do with your day.

She finishes off with a number of other tips to help you handle email like:

  • don’t check email more than 2x a day
  • set a time limit and put it on the calendar and stick to that time (mine is 25 minutes)
  • also put your meaningful work time on the calendar and do it first

Not everything is urgent. This is the mantra you must internalize to take control of your email. Of course, the challenge is that most everyone who sends you a message tends to be convinced that their correspondence truly is urgent.

Part 3 Style :How to write emails that provoke reaction

In this section on style, I’ll outline how to write effective emails in a world where everyone is busy and attention is scarce.

Assuming that you follow many of her ideas, how on earth do you get your email read? What if the person on the other end you desperately want to talk to puts you in their ‘random’ bucket?

Here is where Glei goes further than many people that write about managing email. She provides you with a bunch of tips and then templates for emails that have a higher likelihood of getting attention.

When everyone is busy, a key part of getting people to pay attention is being respectful of their time. In the context of composing email this means being clear, concise, and actionable.

Some of her tips include:

  • lead with the ask so they know the time investment up front
  • make the next action clear, like a link to your meeting schedule
  • don’t just ask questions, propose solutions to the problem at hand
  • use bullets so your email is scannable
  • add a deadline
  • don’t reply all
  • don’t email when hungry, angry or tired

I use many of these. Recently I got an email that attacked my integrity. While my first response was to fire back full force, I took a few minutes and played with my smiling 10 month old. With her smiles changing my mood I wrote a short email and left it at that.

Glei’s tips also bring to mind one I’ve used for a while which is often called “unless I hear otherwise”. In this you propose a solution and then say “unless I hear otherwise I’m going to go ahead with this tomorrow.” Clearly the date you’re moving forward can change based on the circumstances but this means there is a clear action and deadline right in the email.

Part 4: Superpowers – How to use your new arsenal of email skills to conquer social media, technology and other distractions

The rise of smartphones, text messaging, and social media have each had an equally seismic impact on how we live and how we work: smartphones made location obsolete, text messages made talking obsolete, and social media made privacy obsolete.

The final section of the book is much like another great book called Deep Work (my review) and Cal Newport’s ‘any benefit mindset’. This is the idea that if there is ‘any benefit at all’ we must adopt a new thing.

There is benefit to getting email on our phone when we need to have a mobile office, but that doesn’t mean we should take the next step and check our email regularly from our phone.

In essence every new technology acts like a pop quiz for our priorities, offering new delights and distractions that compete for our attention. The upside is that we are never at a loss for something to entertain or absorb our minds. The downside is a corrosive, minute-to-minute brand of choice anxiety that requires us to constantly make decisions about when, where, and how much attention we give an item, app, or task. We must decide, over and over again, which activities are worthy of our concerted focus and which are unproductive distractions.

In my house we’ve decided that I put my phone in do not disturb mode almost all the time. That means my wife can vent about a bad day with the kids and I don’t see it until I pick up my phone. I don’t get interrupted and since 99% of the time she doesn’t really need a reply she gets to vent. If there is a proper emergency she calls which always rings through for her, my only VIP that gets to ring through all the time.

This means I get to focus fully on the task at hand without distractions. I get to apply my focus fully instead of in fits and spurts between things that are not relevant to getting my best work done.

Success has always gone to those who could apply their talents in a single-minded manner over an extended period of time to achieve a given outcome.

Finally, Glei provides us with a bunch of email templates we can use. Many of them are great, but I hate a few as well. Particularly her advice on negotiating rates for your work are terrible. It entirely ignores the value you bring and puts you in a discount race to the bottom.

As with any email templates (even mine), make sure you don’t use them without rewriting them to suit your business needs.

Recommendation

If you’re struggling with email then yes Unsubscribe by Jocelyn Glei is a great book. It’s a short read with lots of great advice you can put in to practice today to make your email stop sucking up so much time.

Get Unsubscribe on Amazon

photo by: stavos52093

When work is hard, should you quit or keep going?

I’ve been at this coaching thing for about one full year. Yes I’ve written books before. Yes I’ve sort of said that I can help people run an awesome business in years past. But at no point did I sit down and do the hard work it would take to make mentoring and coaching my full-time income.

That is until just over a year ago.

Where I’m wildly more successful as a coach with one year under my belt than I was as a developer with one year under my belt, it still feels like a struggle. Some days the leads don’t come in as I’d like. People say no when I hope they’d say yes.

It feels like a long slog in deep mud sometimes. Sitting here it’s been great to read The Dip.

The Dip is by Seth Godin who is a well known marketer and writer. The Dip is a short read that’s going to help you figure out when it’s time to quit and when it’s time to push forward.

This is a very short book about a very important topic: quitting. Believe it or not, quitting is often a great strategy, a smart way to manage your life and your career. Sometimes, though, quitting is exactly the wrong thing to do. It turns out that there’s a pretty simple way to tell the difference.

The thing is that when you’re in ‘the dip’ every day feels hard. You’re working and not seeing the recognition that you want to see. Most of your work feels like so much effort for little reward.

Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you should quit.

In a competitive world, adversity is your ally. The harder it gets, the better chance you have of insulating yourself from the competition. If that adversity also causes you to quit, though, it’s all for nothing.

As Godin says, the fact that it’s hard is what makes it valuable. If you’re pursuing something anyone can do with little work, then it’s no very valuable.

3 Questions to ask before you quit

Most of the book is all about why you should be quitting. Why you should quit if you can’t be the best. Why it’s not worth your time to continue. Godin ends with the 3 key questions you need to ask yourself to see if it’s time to quit or if you should keep going.

1. Am I panicking

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is a wonderfully weird book and contains some amazing advice. Particularly the admonition “DON’T PANIC”. This phrase is found on the Hitchhikers guide. Every time you use the book you are told not to panic.

When faced with a bad client or a deal that didn’t go as you had dreamed it’s easy to panic and run back to the job you knew. It feels safe over there. This new thing you’re trying is hard. If you’re scared, don’t quit, wait.

We have a similar rule when it comes to major purchases. We have a 48 hour ‘cooling’ period when we purchase things like cars. We’ll go talk with the dealer about it, but don’t make a purchase on the lot that day. Once we have a deal that we think is good we wait 48 hour before anything will be signed. On our last purchase it saved us because we decided to compute the gas cost differences between the two vehicles. It turned out that the more ‘expensive’ car was only more expensive for 4 months, then the gas expense caught up and it was a better purchase to spend more to get the more fuel efficient car.

Quitting when you’re panicked is dangerous and expensive. The best quitters, as we’ve seen, are the ones who decide in advance when they’re going to quit. You can always quit later — so wait until you’re done panicking to decide.

When you’re thinking of quitting, go take a walk. Wait for 48 hours or wait for a week. Decide before you start your business when it will be time to quit. Then stick with it until you hit that predefined point.

Don’t quit on a whim.

2. Who am I trying to influence?

If you’re considering quitting, it’s almost certainly because you’re not being successful at your current attempt at influence.

Let’s say you’ve decided you want to become a programmer. You’ve put in some months of training and you can work your way around a code editor now. With your knowledge you’ve decided that Google is the place to work. Despite your months of experience and your quick fingers, they don’t even bother to return your call.

You’re not getting the influence you want.

The problem isn’t that you have nothing to offer, it’s that the fish you set your sights on is a whale. You’re currently fishing with an entry level rod, not a whaling boat.

It’s likely that if you broaden your search you’ll find many companies that need what you have to offer. If you’re not getting the traction you want, broaden your reach.

Sure, some of the people in a market have considered you (and even rejected you). But most of the people in the market have never even heard of you. The market doesn’t have just one mind. Different people in the market are seeking different things.

3. What sort of measurable progress am I making?

The third and final question is about progress. While you’re in ‘the dip’ you may not be seeing the amazing progress you want but you may still be seeing progress.

If you’re trying to succeed in a job or a relationship or at a task, you’re either moving forward, falling behind, or standing still.

While I haven’t filled all the coaching spots I want to, I have more calls and hear the word ‘yes’ more often every month. That’s measurable progress towards my goal. Even in the midst of the struggle, I shouldn’t be quitting.

Recommendation

Have you struggled to get your ideas launched? Have you struggled in your career? Has your business struggled? If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these things then you should read The Dip.

With a short investment you’re going to have a much better handle on when it’s time to quit and move to a new idea and when it’s time to keep going despite the setbacks you’re facing.

Get The Dip on Amazon.

photo by: legofenris

Do you have the capacity for life and work?

I feel compelled to make this disclaimer for some of my readers, if you’re not someone that is comfortable with lots of talk about faith. In particular a Christian God, then this is not a book for you. Please read on to see my highlights on the content of the book, but don’t get it for yourself.

Both Carey Nieuwohof and Reggie Joiner are pastors of churches. Thus their book on parenting looks back to scripture many times for parenting principles. As a Christian, I’m cool with this, but you may not be.

In Parenting Beyond Your Capacity, Reggie and Carey, make the compelling argument than you can’t do this parenting thing alone. You need others around you to breath life in to your family.

My three big takeaways are as follows.

1. You can’t do it alone

…one of the greatest ways you can impact the life of your child is to become intentional about partnering with others who can also have influence with your child. If you try to parent alone, you will just become increasingly aware of your built-in flaws and risk becoming discouraged and disillusioned with parenthood.

You may think you’re alone as a parent but you’re not. There are people around you that can and will come alongside you and your family to help input in to their lives. Even as I have 3 children under the age of 7 I still take time to input in to my friends kids that range in age from 9 – 20.

I invite them to join me on hikes and join my family as we do life together.

Knowing that there is another adult around that shares similar views and can talk to their kids about things that you’d never mention to mom and dad is awesome. I know, they’ve told me so.

Here is a sobering thought: Your present family will never be enough for your children. Even the best parenting in the best family will never alone be enough to develop relationally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy chidlren.

2. You need to put aside time

It’s not enough to spend time together as a family if a family’s time together is never meaningful or strategic. It’s not just about quantity, and families can’t make up for frequently missed opportunities by going on a long vacation once a year or by spending several days together during the holidays. And it’s not just about quality — families have to be both intentional about how they spend time together and consistent about how often they spend time together.

There is a myth out there that quantity of time doesn’t matter, it’s all about quality. This myth tells us the lie that we can jump directly from little time to quality in 2 seconds flat. Forget being home for dinner every night, just take them skiing once a year for a week and that’s true quality time.

Quality time is built on a strong relationship. That relationship is only built when you have a quantity of time.

3. Put an emphasis on self-care

On that back road, all of that faded away, and I was overwhelemed with loneliness and emptiness. The collapse happened subtly. I found out in counseling over the next few months that what Mrs. Culbreth had tried to tell me. We all enter in to adulthood with a certain amount of reserve. If we expend too much without making deposits, we find ourselves at an emotional deficit.

After talking about quantity of time, it’s important to note that sometimes the best thing you can do for your family is to take a walk on your own. Sometimes the best thing is to head away for a weekend and fish or relax and read books. If you’re not emotionally healthy, then you have nothing to give to your family.

It is not a badge of honour to say that you pulled an all-nighter at work and can still talk to the kids. If this is a regular thing it’s a sign that you’re slowly failing.

Each week put aside time to care for yourself so that you have the energy to care for others.

But you normally write about business

Yes I do normally write about business, but as I’ve said a number of times if business succeeds and family fails I think you’ve failed. Also, if you’re having a rough time at home, business can’t help but suffer.

All of these points draw a direct correlation to business as well. When you’re having trouble in business, ask for help. You will never have enough knowledge, experience and perspective to have all the answers for your business. Join a mastermind group to find people that will care about your success as much as you do. Let them breath life in to your business.

Second, if you want to have an awesome business you need to put in the time. You can’t start a business on a Tuesday and then wonder on Wednesday why it’s not successful. The only way to be successful is to put in the time especially when it’s hard. You need to keep working hard if you want success.

Third, start focusing on self-care. That means you may work less. You’re going to need to read and rest from work. Thinking that you can endlessly work for 12 hours a day 5 days a week (or 7 like many of you think you can) is stupid. The maximum I can push hard with extra hours is 4 weeks and even then I’m irritable. My wife has to buy in to the extra time. By the end she’s ready to put a hard stop to my extra hours and force me to head out in to the mountains.

Recommendation

Yup this is a good book with my few caveats around faith noted above. Carey and Reggie do a great job explaining why you need to get others around you to help your family go further.

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How do you become so good you can’t be ignored?

Commonly heard advice for anyone looking for success is “Follow your passion”. The theory goes that if you’re passionate about it, there should be enough others that will come alongside you and give you money for that passion.

The siren song of living your passion is so strong. You’re passionate about rock climbing, so you build a business all around rock climbing. You’re living the dream…right?

In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport, throws the ‘follow your passion’ argument on it’s head. He does this right away as he expresses the core thought of the book.

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.

Newport breaks the book up in to 4 rules. So Good They Can’t Ignore You puts forth that if you can follow these 4 rules, you’ll build the career you’ve been dreaming of. Building that thing you love, doesn’t start with passion though.

Rule 1 Don’t follow your passion

Rule 1 starts by stating The Passion Hypothesis which states:

The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this position.

But Newport doesn’t believe this is true at all. Even Apple computer didn’t start with passion for Steve Jobs, unless it was the passion of earning a living. It took off when his small time idea for selling complete computer circuit boards brought a request for building complete computers. Jobs wasn’t going around pitching complete computers with a passion. He was trying to make some money on circuit boards.

Apple Computer was decidedly not born out of passion, but instead was the result of a lucky break – a “small-time” scheme that unexpectedly took off.

When the Byte Shop said no to the boards but said they’d buy complete computers Jobs jumped at the chance. No one would dare say that Jobs wasn’t passionate about building amazing technology. But he didn’t start there.

A second fallacy built on working your passion is that once you find it you just go there.

Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.

As I look at my career I’ve built houses, installed decks, sold kayaks, built websites, guided canoe trips, ran a live performance theatre. Now I’m building a business around helping others build their business. If you had asked me 5 years ago if I’d be coaching people I would have told you it would never happen.

At that point I was too close to my finished counseling degree. I didn’t want to sit around and listen to people’s problems. Looking back what I was tired of was people that only wanted to talk. I wanted to work with action takers.

It took years of doing other things in diverse fields to figure that out though.

Don’t follow your passion. Don’t expect you can come up with some amazing plan and then get to walk a straight path to that ideal life. If both of those things are true, how do you get a career that you’re happy with?

In Wrzesniewski’s research, the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do.

In his excellent book, Mastery (my review), Robert Greene talks about the fact that while we want to master our work, we rarely want to put the time in to build the skills required of a master.

Looking at my coaching practice now I know that 10 years ago I didn’t have the experience to help business owners with their problems. While I had tried many things on the side, I had never run a successful business.

With 10 years under my belt of running a business I only now have assistance to give to other business owners. Those 10 years are my career capital (we’ll define that term in a bit). I can now trade in that capital for a bit less scheduled work and thus more freedom to pursue those things I love.

The more I studied the issue, the more I noticed that the passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do. The problem of course is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt.

If you’re not supposed to follow your passion in to the job of your dreams, what on earth are you supposed to do?

Rule 2 Be so good they can’t ignore you

Rule 2 is the dream. If you can achieve this it means that people come to you for that which you are amazing at and enjoy. You’re so good that people are willing to wait weeks to work with you.

…there’s something liberating about the craftsman mindset: It asks you to leave behind self-entered concerns about whether your job is “just right,” and instead put your head down and plug away at getting really damn good. No one owes you a great career, it argues; you need to earn it — and the process won’t be easy.

This craftsman view isn’t glamorous. It’s hard work. The great thing is that it’s work which many people aren’t willing to do. They’re willing to put in the time in a quest for the mythical 10,000 hours that signifies mastery. They’re not willing to put in the emotionally draining work of putting their work out there and asking for critique.

They’ll run to ‘train’ but never hire the coach to break down their form so it can be built back up stronger than it was when they started.

If you take time to talk to web developers that no longer write code you’ll find that they stopped because they were no longer willing to do the hard work of learning the latest technology. They felt comfortable where they were and wanted to stop stretching their ability.

The central idea of this chapter is that the difference in strategy that separates average guitar players like me from stars like Tice and Casstevens is not confined to music. This focus on stretching your ability and receiving immediate feedback provides the core of a more universal principle — one that I increasingly came to believe provides the key to successfully acquiring career capital in almost any field.

Those that stick with it are as passionate about some part of programming as they were about it on their first day. Maybe they’ve moved to something more complex than where they started, but they keep diving in again to whatever is new.

It’s this relentless pushing of your own limits that will help you be so good that you can’t be ignored.

Another core thought in Mastery is that as you move from being an Apprentice in to the Creative-Active phase of work you must put your work out for others to critique.

Pushing past what’s comfortable, however, is only one part of the deliberate — practice story; the other part is embracing honest feedback — even if it destroys what you thought was good.

You need to be willing to have your work judged. You have to be ready to hear that your work is sub-par. Then with that information you need to be to dive back in to the work and try again, but better.

If that’s not you, then maybe you’ve fallen for the lure that your work, your passion, should always be pleasurable. If it’s not, then it’s not your passion and it’s time to move on to the next thing as you pursue the career that is meaningful and fulfilling.

Rule 3 Turn down a promotion

The Peter Principle states that you get promoted through a business until you reach your level of incompetence. So the great coder becomes the project lead and just barely hangs on to the job.

Career capital is the idea that as you do your work you build up ‘good will’ or ‘capital’ which you get to cash in. If you cash it in for a promotion, you’re likely heading on the road to the Peter Principle.

People are happiest at their jobs when they have autonomy. Instead of cashing in your career capital for a promotion, cash it in for control. Unfortunately many jobs won’t love this bid for autonomy.

The point at which you have acquired enough career capital to get meaningful control over your working life is exactly the point when you’ve become valuable enough to your current employer that they will try to prevent you from making the change.

Cashing in your career capital for autonomy is how you get to only work 4 days a week. This capital is how one of my coaching clients gets paid a full salary for 8 hours of work. He built up so much capital and is still so valuable in his work that they find his 8 hours a steal. A steal for a salary that is usually attached to 40 hours of work.

If you’re wondering how to build up career capital my friend Jonathan sums it up well.

If you jump around from job to job looking for your passion you’re building yourself in to a generalist. If you take the time to build a specialty, you’re on the road to building career capital.

Rule 4 Think Small Act Big

The goal of the fourth rule is to convince you that money isn’t enough of a driver for your work. You need a mission.

To have a mission is to have a unifying focus for your career. It’s more general than a specific job and can span multiple positions. It provides an answer to the question, what should I do with my life?

Simon Sinek calls this your WHY. Jeff Goins calls this your purpose. Both of them, and Newport, tell us that finding this purpose greater than ourselves is what will help us have a career that we can love.

For years my WHY has been: “To help business owners build the business they dreamed of”. I want to help people stop working all the time and have clients they love and do work they enjoy.

My WHY has been sitting on a note above my desk for years and while I get to do that now, it didn’t happen because I wrote it down.

…missions are a powerful trait to introduce into your working life, but they’re also fickle, requiring careful coaxing to make them a reality.

Contrary to what happens to Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, you will not build it and they will not come. You have to have a solid plan and keep working the plan. The best part of working a plan, and working hard, is that it means you’re going to be doing it on your own.

Hardness scares off the daydreamers and the timid, leaving more opportunity for those like use who are willing to take the time to carefully work out the best path forward and then confidently take action.

If you want the career you’ve dreamed of get ready to work hard. There are only 2 choices for most things in life. You can either work to change your life, or learn to live with it. If you’re not ready for the hard work of building work based on your mission, I guess you’re going to have to settle for the even harder less fulfilling job of learning to live with a mediocre life.

Conclusion

If you love the idea that following your passion is the path to success, don’t read this book. It’s going to show you your folly, and you’re not ready to have your heart broken.

If you’re ready to dive deep and put in the hard work to find a bigger calling with your work. If you’re ready to do the hard work it’s going to take to become a master in your field? If you want to be So Good They Can’t Ignore You, then it’s time to read the book.

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Learn how to reach past the things that are hard and master them

We all have things that are easy for us. Maybe you are built to be a runner and it’s always felt easy. Maybe you love to get up in front of people as a speaker.

The flip side to the ease with which some tasks come to us is that other things are very difficult. Maybe you get up in front of a crowd and freeze. Maybe even the thought of speaking makes you freeze. Maybe you run like a bear just awake from a winter of sleeping. Every step feels like effort and looks like a slow motion crash.

These things that stretch us is where Reach by Andy Molinsky comes into play. Reach is there to help you overcome that which you find hard. It’s meant to help you stretch your comfort zone so you can be more effective with your work.

The goal of this book is to give you the tips and tools – not to mention the courage – to take the leap, reach outside your comfort zone, and do it in a way that is both effective and authentic, meeting the expectations you need to achieve and without losing yourself in the process.

Reach has four main sections. Part I focuses on the challenges we face as we try to get out of our comfort zone. Part II helps us develop solutions to these challenges we saw in the first part. Part III is built to help us build behaviours that will stick in the face of life. Part IV is a huge set of resources to help us work through the things we find difficult.

Allow me to offer one key thought before you read Reach.

Without unlocking your own personal source of conviction it’s unlikely you will be truly motivated to make behavior change work.

Perhaps you keep getting told that you should network to build your business. The thing is, you hate it and are only doing it because someone told you to. With this attitude it is unlikely you will succeed. To succeed at anything we find difficult, we need to have a true desire to change. Without this desire we’re only setting ourselves up for more failure. Out of failure…more discouragement.

If you are ready to start making some changes in your behaviours, then let’s dig into the parts of the book.

Part I: The Challenge of Reaching Outside Your Comfort Zone

There are two main goals of the first part of the book. First, Molinsky wants to identify the five core psychological barriers we encounter when doing things that are hard. Second, Molinsky will address how avoidance shows itself in our work.

According to Molinsky the 5 Core Psychological Barriers to stretching out of our comfort zones are:

The Authenticity Challenge: This is when we feel the behaviour we’re partaking in is not like us at all.

The Likeability Challenge: Here we worry that if we push boundaries people won’t like us anymore.

Competence Challenge: This is often called imposter syndrome. We feel that at any moment someone will discover that we are not actually qualified for our work.

Resentment Challenge: This is when we believe we’re so awesome that people should see the awesome in us without extra effort. We resent that we have to do extra work to build a network of people that can refer work to us.

The Morality Challenge: Here we feel like our actions are not something that “I should be doing.” The example in the book deals with someone whose job is to call the families of crash victims and book them to speak on the news. In the midst of unspeakable tragedy, calling someone to talk on the news would feel to many like something that’s morally wrong.

Knowing what these challenges are, Molinsky takes us on a tour of avoidance. Avoidance is a key to making sure we never push our boundaries and do hard work. We come up with excuses we call reasons to explain why we don’t have to try and speak in front of people at a conference.

Insidiously, the more success we have the easier it becomes to avoid the hard parts of our job.

Oftentimes, the more power you have in an organization, the better equipped you are to structure your work life to avoid stressful tasks because you’re less accountable to, say, a manager or supervisor looking over your shoulder.

Molinsky’s tactics of avoidance are:

Full-on Avoidance: Here we never do the work. If you think about speaking at a conference, you never look up any conferences to speak at and never craft a pitch.

Do the task, but only part way and not so well. This method of avoidance means we go to a networking event and only talk to the people we already know. We sit comfortable in the corner. Sure we went to the event, but because we didn’t make it a point to reach out to anyone new, we never build our network. Then we justify the fact we don’t go to more events with the results of the last event.

Procrastination is the third avoidance tactic addressed in Reach.

Although almost all of us procrastinate, few of us admit that we do. Instead, we create excuses for our behavior – stories we tell ourselves about why we’re doing something that is really procrastination in disguise.

Here we write down a task and then we don’t quite get to it so we kick the can down the road. We convince ourselves that it will get done. But not now. We’ll do it next week.

Finally Molinsky brings up passing the buck. When we’re faced with firing an employee we assign the job to a subordinate who can’t say no to us. Instead of facing this tough task as we should, we let someone else do it. We fool ourselves into thinking it was good job of delegation.

All of these techniques of avoidance are about abdicating responsibility for the tasks in our life. This is particularly evident in the last one as we move the responsibility to someone else. Still, they all amount to the same thing. We justify the lack of progress by doing a bad job. We abdicate our role in doing a bad job and make it someone else’s fault.

To combat these false beliefs we need to have some form of accountability around us. For you it’s possible a group at work will do. Maybe it’s a mastermind group of peers that can speak into your life as you try to run a better business.

You can’t do it on your own. Without someone willing to tell you hard truths, you’ll struggle for much longer than if you had that trusted advisor.

With the tactics of avoidance addressed, Reach moves on to Part II. Helping us move outside of our comfort zone.

Part II: How to Successfully Reach Outside Your Comfort Zone

Once you’ve identified the behaviours you want to add to your life, it’s time to start flexing your current behaviours. Molinsky provides us with a set of three resources we need to change our behaviour for the better.

1. Conviction

Having a deep sense of the purpose of your actions – of being able to improve your own lot in life or the circumstances for someone else – enabled professionals in the settings we studied to perform tasks such as painful medical procedures, layoffs, and evictions that, were it not for this underlying purpose, would be extremely difficult to perform.

Lots of books out there stress the importance of purpose in your work. Simon Sinek calls it your WHY. In Mastery, Robert Greene, calls it your Life’s Task and Jeff Goins calls it your purpose in The Art of Work.

The point is that without some deeper drive to accomplish the hard task, you are likely to get stopped when things get tough. With a deep sense of conviction that this hard work is great for you, you will be much more likely to dig deep when the going gets tough. You’ll be much more likely to push hard to improve yourself.

2. Customization: Finding your own personal way of performing the task

You can make alterations to these situations, often very slight ones and, as is the case with clothing, alterations that others might be completely oblivious to, but that make you feel more comfortable, competent, and capable.

I feel that this second method speaks very directly to the authenticity challenge Molinsky introduced in Chapter 1. If the behaviour we’re striving for doesn’t feel like us at all then it’s going to be very hard to do it.

With customization, we build an environment or response that does feel like us. We bring a friend to laugh at our jokes as we speak. When we go to a meeting, we grab the chair that is the focal point of the meeting. Being the focal point helps us feel stronger as we try to be more assertive.

You don’t have to do the task like everyone else does. Change it to be authentic to who you are.

3. Clarity: The power of honest perspective

Clarity is the third and final behaviour-flexing technique that Molinsky presents. I think it’s actually the toughest, and yet most powerful, one. Clarity means that we are honest with ourselves in the fact that we are avoiding something. We’re clear about the ways we’re avoiding and we’re honest about the avoidance tactics we’re using.

Think of clarity as an antidote to the defenses that we put up to protect us from tasks outside our comfort zones. It’s honest, self-reflective psychological accounting: an attempt to be as true as possible with ourselves about the situations we’re currently working on, taking a careful inventory of our true feelings – even if we’re embarrassed by them – as well as an inventory of our avoidance strategies.

The reason this is the hardest is because it’s the tactic that asks us to own up to our part in the barriers we’re struggling with. It forces us to be honest about how we’re failing and then build a plan to stop the avoidance of responsibility.

It’s the strongest because once we have that honesty with ourselves we’re a stronger person. We know ourselves better and we will be more likely to circumvent the trap of avoidance in the future.

Once you’ve started to push outside your comfort zone you are not done. It’s very easy to do a bit of pushing and then revert to your old behaviour. You may not even realize that you’re taking a step back. This is where Part III comes into play.

Part III: How to Make Your Behavior Stick

To help stop us from reverting to our same old avoidance behaviour, Molinksy provides us with three tools to help us make our new behaviour stick.

1. A thoughtful and effective practice routine

If you want to run a marathon, you don’t walk out your door and run a marathon. You start by getting off the couch and running around the block. Then you take the next step and run around it twice or do it twice in a week. You build an effective training regime that pushes you a bit harder all the time.

If you want to feel comfortable speaking at conferences or going to networking events, you need this same approach. You don’t jump into the deep end, you start small and practice.

For a speaker that may mean you give your talk first in the family room. Then you do it at a local business group where you know everyone. Then with that practice under your belt you look at taking your talk to the center stage.

Trying to jump in the deep end only to find that you can’t actually swim is a way to do the job poorly, which is an avoidance tactic.

Be smart about how you build up to the behaviour that you want to achieve.

2. A mindset that supports learning and experimentation

Can you learn? With practice can you become better at a task? I’m not talking world class, but better. If your instant answer is ‘yes’ then you have a growth mindset. If you think ‘no’ then you have a fixed mindset.

In the end, if you see failure as evidence of your innate limitations, it becomes self-fulfilling. You end up feeling bad about yourself, and avoid doing the task – or at least putting in only as much effort as before, since, of course, you’re limited in the first place. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is completely different: You make a mistake and see it as part of an overall learning process, which can be quite an advantage when trying to make a new pattern of behavior stick.

As we started skiing this year, I fell a bunch. In fact I figured that if I wasn’t taking a fall at least a few times on a weekend I wasn’t pushing myself. As someone new to skiing I know that falls happen and that I need to get up again. I need keep pushing myself hard to get better at the sport.

Contrast that with my six-year-old who sees every fall as a personal failure. While this may be a standard view for a child, it’s still an example of a fixed mindset.

If you want to achieve success as you try to stretch yourself, you need to adopt a growth mindset. Every setback is an opportunity to learn from so that you can keep getting better.

3. Healthy support system

You can’t go it alone. Everyone that you think is out there winning the world under their own power with their own work, is not. They all have a support system of some kind.

They have a coach or they have a mentoring group. They have friends around them that give advice and call them on bad behaviour. They have family and friends that believe in them and support them when things are not going well.

To have some of these things, you need to ask for help.

Some people have a hard time asking for help – especially people who feel that they’re imposters to begin with and that by asking for help, they’ll somehow be “found out” and the truth will be told. If this is you, do your best to realize that asking for help and feedback is a strength, not a weakness.

The big thing about asking for help is that it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength because showing that you are struggling is hard. It’s a time that relationships are strengthened as you show vulnerability.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you want to be successful, it’s a requirement.

Part IV: Practical Tools: Applying Reach to Your Own Life

The last section of the book is the most practical. It’s a series of worksheets you can use to help you stop avoiding the hard parts of your life. These worksheets are going to help you identify the items that are blocking you on your path to achieve your goals. They’ll help you build great tactics to push past the blocks into the tasks you want to achieve.

Now don’t think you can use the sheets and forgo reading the book. Yes, you’ll get some utility from the worksheets if you haven’t read the book, but you’re still going to be selling yourself short. Read the book and then use the worksheets.

Recommendation

Reach started by stating the goal below.

The goal of this book is to give you the tips and tools – not to mention the courage – to take the leap, reach outside your comfort zone, and do it in a way that is both effective and authentic, meeting the expectations you need to achieve and without losing yourself in the process.

Now the question is, did it achieve this goal? On the whole, I say yes. After reading this book you’re going to be better equipped to break out of your comfort zone. The only thing that’s still up in the air is whether you’re actually going to do the hard work of pushing yourself to a new task.

Get Reach on Amazon

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Will You Become The Master You Aspire To Be

Remember when you started driving and everything felt like it was happening so fast? Remember that first time you got on the highway and went 100 km an hour? It felt like so much was going on at once. You tried to watch the speed of the car and make sure that you didn’t run into any of the other cars changing lanes.

Plus you had an exit to make.

When you started driving you were an apprentice. You were barely grasping the fundamentals of driving. Now with years of experience, you can comfortably carry on a conversation and safely navigate the roads.

Our careers have a similar progression. I remember one of my first months programming. I was sitting in tears in front of my monitor because I had spent hours trying to solve a problem. Despite those hours I still wasn’t sure what questions I should be asking to get to the answer.

Now, 10 years in, my Google-fu is strong and I can usually narrow down the answer I need in a few hours max.

This progression from apprentice to master is what Mastery by Robert Greene is going to address.

Consider Mastery as an invaluable tool in guiding you through this transformative process. The book is designed to lead you from the lowest levels to the highest.

According to Greene there are three phases in the move from apprenticeship to mastery.

1. Apprenticeship

…we stand on the outside of our field, learning as much as we can about the basic elements and rules.

Here is where we all start. We don’t know what we don’t know yet. We’re questing to get enough knowledge to start to explore the topic well.

Greene spends most of the time in the book here using chapters 2, 3, and 4 to deal with what apprenticeship means.

2. Creative Active

…through much practice and immersion, we see into the inside of the machinery. How things connect with one another, and thus gain a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.

This second stage is where we start to stretch our wings a bit. We have enough knowledge to work in our field well and not follow the rules that others put in place.

The crucial part of the Creative Active phase is that we need to put our ideas and work out in the world so that others can see them. We need to test our ideas against the world and reality to see if they are correct.

Greene uses Chapter 5 to cover the Creative Active phase of our push towards mastery.

3. Mastery

…our degree of knowledge, experience, and focus is so deep that we can now see the whole picture with complete clarity.

This is where we all want to get one day. We want to put in our 10,000 hours and become masters. Master writers. Master programmers. Master business owners.

Here we know our chosen field so well that we can ignore the rules of others. We can break them knowing that we’re breaking them and we’ll have a reason why we’re breaking them.

Greene devotes Chapter 6 to exploring what mastery looks like.

If all of us are born with an essentially similar brain, with more or less the same configuration and potential for mastery, why is it then that in history only a limited number of people seem to excel and realize this potential power.

Before Apprenticeship

Before we look at apprenticeship though, we need to make sure that we’re pointing our life in the right direction. Simon Sinek calls this your WHY. Jeff Goins calls it your Purpose and in Mastery, Greene calls it your Life’s Task.

Chapter 1 helps you find that Life’s Task. This means that you can work on your apprenticeship knowing that you’re heading in the right direction.

This feels like much of the ‘find your passion’ writing out there and I’m not sure I agree with that argument. In an upcoming post we’ll look at Greene’s ideas against Cal Newport’s ideas (in So Good They Can’t Ignore You) around passion in your career. In short, it may not be passion that wins the argument.

Nor do I think that Greene does the best job with helping you find your ‘passion’. Jeff Goins does a better job in The Art of Work (my review) at helping you find your calling.

Putting that aside for now, according to Greene there are three stages to recognizing your Life’s Task.

First you most connect or reconnect with your inclinations, that sense of uniqueness.

Here is specifically where Goins does a better job of giving you tools to explore your past to find what you were always drawn towards.

Second, with this connection established, you must look at the career path you are already on or are about to begin.

In the second stage of recognizing your Life’s Task you must ask yourself if the current career trajectory you’re on does in fact match up with what you were always meant to do.

Finally, you must see your career or vocational path more as a journey with twists and turns rather than a straight line.

Here Newport and Greene match up in their ideas. Both of them say that despite our wish, and what many blogs or Hollywood may say, the path to a fulfilling career and Mastery is not some arrow-straight line. You will not read any book and then see your whole path laid out before you. With that vision of the future you will not walk the straight path to success.

Now that we are familiar with Greene’s three phases of recognizing your Life’s Task we can move on to his five strategies you can try and use to find out what your Life’s Task is.

1. Return to your origin story.

In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it. Your interest must transcend the field itself and border on the religious.

This is the stuff that you ‘got’ as a kid. Maybe you always wrote or loved to draw. Look to those things to see what your Life’s Task may be.

2. Occupy the perfect niche (the Darwinian strategy).

In Greene’s second strategy you keep pursuing work that you’re best at and only you can do. By continual refinement of what you do, you become the only player in the field and find that thing that brings you immense joy.

Keep specializing.

3. Avoid the false path (the rebellion strategy).

A false path in life is generally something we are attracted to for the wrong reasons — money, fame, attention, and so on.

Parents are awesome, and not so awesome. They can be the pushers of a false path, like wanting their children to become doctors when the kids really want to be artists or social workers. Sure, doctors can make a bunch of money, but that may not be a job that’s not lined up with a child’s Life’s Task.

In this strategy we make sure we make decisions for the right reasons. Not to chase money, attention or fame and by avoiding those traps we are honing in on our Life’s Task.

4. Let go of the past (the adaptation strategy).

In dealing with your career and its inevitable changes, you must think in the following way: You are not tied to a particular position; your loyalty is not to a career or a company. You are committed to your Life’s Task, to giving it full expression.

If your job doesn’t seem to match up with what you are called to do, then what about your job is awesome? Maybe you hate programming, but you love helping clients speak to their customers and you happen to write code as well.

Then it’s possibly time to pursue less code and more marketing focus with your job as you head towards your Life’s Task.

5. Finding your way back (the life-or-death strategy).

No good can ever come from deviating from the path that you were destined to follow. You will be assailed by varieties of hidden pain. Most often you deviate because of the lure of money, of more immediate prosperity.

This last one is a position I don’t wish on anyone. Here you’re looking at that fridge box as a viable home because you can’t afford what you’ve got now. You’re dead emotionally and physically.

Something has to change because you’re at rock bottom. In many ways this gives us the courage to pursue some wild idea, but it’s so hard on us and those around us.

Do not envy those who seem to be naturally gifted; it is often a curse, as such types rarely learn the value of diligence and focus and they pay for it later in life.

With the topic of finding our Life’s Task out of the way, Greene can now dive into the core of the book. How do we move from being an Apprentice to a Master in our field?

Apprenticeship phase

Apprenticeship is the starting point of anything. You start running and you don’t even know what you don’t know yet. What’s a 0 drop shoe or what does it mean if you have a 12 mm drop shoe?

It’s the phase where most people finish as well. It’s a lot of work to be an apprentice. You have to follow all the rules. You have little freedom as the bottom person on the totem pole. It’s unlikely your ideas are going to carry any weight. You get all the grunt work.

Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life, which makes them constantly search for distractions and short-circuits the learning process. The pain is a kind of challenge your mind presents – will you learn how to focus and move past the boredom, or like a child will you succumb to the need for immediate pleasure and distraction?

If you want to master a field, then you need to put in the work and start working through being that apprentice.

Greene sees that there are three steps of apprenticeship — Deep Observation, Skills Acquisition, and Experimentation. To successfully complete an apprenticeship and get to move on to the next level, you must spend time in each of these steps.

1. Deep Observation (passive mode)

The greatest mistake you can make in the initial months of your apprenticeship is to imagine that you have to get attention, impress people, and prove yourself.

To me this idea sounds counter-intuitive. We want to live that Hollywood story of starting something and on day one, with a single insight, we rocket from the bottom to the top of our field. We find some hidden talent that we have and we become the genius everyone seeks.

Nope that’s not where we start, it’s all Hollywood fooling us.

You are not there to change that culture; you will only end up being killed, or in the case of work, fired.

When you’re getting started, put your head down and learn all those questions you don’t even know you should ask. Put your ego to the side and realize you know nothing. Put the time in to learn about your field.

If you want to read more about how ego can hurt you read Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday (my review)

2. Skills acquisition (practice mode)

The second step you must take in mastering a subject is to acquire the actual skill. You don’t become a better runner by reading about running. You get faster by putting in the hard work on the trail or the road.

You get out there and do the work.

That means for many of the digital ‘natives’ out there, you need to get out from behind your safe monitor. Less consuming information and more doing some work that others will see.

According to Greene, the place to start is with one skill you can master. Don’t go hog wild on 10 things and sort of learn them all, dive into one thing and fully grasp it.

First, it is essential that you begin with one skill that you can master, and that serves as a foundation for acquiring others. You must avoid at all cost the idea that you can manage learning several skills at a time. You need to develop your powers of concentration, and understand that trying to multitask will be the death of the process.

How many give up before you even get to that one skill which is mastered? The frustration of the mundane tasks you must perform to master a task is at odds with the brilliance you’ve built up for yourself in your head.

Second, the initial stages of learning a skill invariably involve tedium. Yet rather than avoiding this inevitable tedium, you must accept and embrace it.

You don’t get that instant success and you feel you’re better than those mundane tasks.

You’re not and I’m not. We have to do the damn work if we want to gain mastery.

That means doing the work in a focused way. Not flitting around between a bunch of stuff, but putting total focus on the task we’re trying to master.

It is better to dedicate two or three hours of intense focus to a skill than to spend eight hours of diffused concentration on it. You want to be as immediately present to what you are doing as possible.

Cal Newport wrote a whole book about focus and how by being focused we can accomplish so much more than those around us in less time. You can do this because you don’t let yourself get distracted, you do the Deep Work (my review) that you need to do.

3. Experimentation (active mode)

Finally there is the experimentation mode in your apprenticeship. This is where you show your work to others and invite critique.

You are observing yourself in action and seeing how you respond to the judgments of others. Can you take criticism and use it constructively?

The problem with critique for so many is that with the impossible perfection they’ve built in their heads, any critique is a personal attack.

We need to disabuse ourselves of the notion of our perfection. Embrace the quest to get better with our work via the feedback. Especially the sometimes harsh feedback, of others. It is only through this feedback that we can find our weaknesses and refine the skills we’re trying to master.

After covering his three steps Greene spends the rest of the time he devotes to apprenticeship trying to get us to invest in the process. To get us to do the hard work, especially when it gets really hard and frustrating.

What separates masters from others is often something surprisingly simple. Whenever we learn a skill, we frequently reach a point of frustration – what we are learning seems beyond our capabilities. Giving into these feelings, we unconsciously quit on ourselves before we actually give up.

He tell us that masters dig in again and again and when things get really hard, they dig in more.

He encourages us not to become lopsided in our practice. Don’t drift towards those aspects of our work that come the easiest and thus mastered with ease.

By nature, we humans shrink from anything that seems possibly painful or overtly difficult. We bring this natural tendency to our practice of any skill. Once we grow adept at some aspect of this skill, generally one that comes more easily to us, we prefer to practice this element over and over. Our skill becomes lopsided as we avoid our weaknesses.

He encourages us not to take the easy way, but to invest fully in the apprenticeship phase of our career. This despite the fact that we don’t want to hear it’s going to take years before we master a field.

There are no shortcuts or ways to bypass the apprenticeship phase. It is the nature of the human brain to require such lengthy exposure to a field, which allows for complex skill to become deeply embedded and frees the mind up for real creative activity. The very desire to find shortcuts makes you eminently unsuited for any kind of mastery

As you work to master anything, take pride in doing the hard work. Don’t let yourself jump out of the apprenticeship phase just as things get hard because you’ll never become a master that way. You’ll be an apprentice at 20 things and master of none.

Developing discipline through challenging situations and perhaps suffering along the way are no longer values that are promoted in our culture.

True masters push themselves through the hard work. They relish the pain that comes with it. They wrestle with their ideas for decades as the come to terms with their field.

Now with the bulk of the book out of the way Greene can turn his attention to the second phase in Mastery, The Creative-Active Phase.

Awaken your Dimensional Mind: The Creative-Active

As you move out of the apprenticeship phase of your work you are starting to have real benefit to offer. Now the biggest setback for most is that they got beat down during their apprenticeship. Because of this beating they stick to the standard practices of their work.

Feeling anxious and insecure, you will tend to turn conservative with your knowledge, preferring to fit into the group and sticking to the procedures you have learned.

This is exactly the opposite of what is required of you in the Creative-Active phase of your journey. Here you must continue to dive in and keep learning, but feel free to put your own twist on it.

Another pitfall you can encounter on your journey towards Mastery, is that you think you’ve mastered your field and thus start putting in less effort.

If you go at your work with half a heart, it will show in the lacklustre results and in the laggard way in which you reach the end. If you are doing something primarily for money and without a real emotional commitment, it will translate into something that lacks a soul and that has no connection to you. You may not see this, but you can be sure that the public will feel it and that they will receive your work in the same lacklustre spirit that it was created in.

As you see above Greene alludes to your Life’s Task again in the Creative-Active phase of your journey. He contends that without this Life’s Task in clear focus you will fall into this laggard trap. You won’t produce the quality work you seek to produce.

Instead of this life sucking blandness to our actions, we need to stick to the creativity that first interested us in our field.

Creativity by its very nature is an act of boldness and rebellion. You are not accepting the status quo or conventional wisdom. You are playing with the very rules you have learned, experimenting and testing the boundaries.

We need to be bold. Put our ideas out there in the world and have them tested. We need to ignore comfort and complacency and forge forward towards mastering our field.

Understand: the greatest impediment to creativity is your impotence, the almost inevitable desire to hurry up the process, express something, and make a splash. What happens in such a case is that you do not master the basics; you have no real vocabulary at your disposal.

Mastery

This is where we long to be. Coming to our work with effortlessness so that we can turn our real brain power towards the harder questions.

We want to make intuitive leaps that leave others astonished. We want to pull ideas from various fields together to the amazement of those around us.

The hard part is that it takes decades to get here. Decades of hard work, of training our brain. Decades of mundane work that puts off most of those that try.

But since we found our Life’s Task and that purpose is tied up in our work we pushed through. We became the Masters we wanted to be.

Through intense absorption in a particular field over a long period of time, Masters come to understand all of the parts involved in what they are studying.

One clear idea threaded throughout Mastery is that of focus. Cal Newport would call it Deep Work (my review) though Greene doesn’t name it any further than to say that the Master uses intense focus. Greene sees a problem with accomplishing that focus today though. A problem which is preventing those amongst us that crave mastery, from accomplishing it.

The problem that technology presents us is that it increases the amount of information at our disposal, but slowly degrades the power of our memory to retain it. Tasks that used to exercise the brain – remembering phone numbers, doing simple calculations, navigating and remembering streets in a city – are now performed for us, and like any muscle the brain can grow flabby from disuse.

If you want to be a master, you need to be careful with how you leverage those digital tools at your fingertips. If you want to develop the focus it’s going to take to truly master your field, you’ll need to close down social media and other distractions. You’ll need to clear out your calendar so you have the time to focus on what’s important to you.

So my final question to you is…are you ready to put in the hard work it’s going to take to get to mastery? Are you going to deal with the less-than-fun work that needs to get done when you’re an apprentice?

Are you going to put your work out there as you’re in the middle Creative-Active phase? Are you willing to have your work judged and critiqued by those around you?

In the final phase, are you willing to only use tools that provide true benefit. Will you have the will power to not jump on whatever is most popular currently?

If you can do those things, then maybe you can be come the master you want to be.

Recommendation

Greene started his book by saying:

Consider Mastery as an invaluable tool in guiding you through this transformative process. The book is designed to lead you from the lowest levels to the highest.

That begs the question, did Robert Greene teach us how to move from being an Apprentice to a Master when he wrote Mastery?

While the pinnacle of your field may still feel elusive after reading Mastery, I’m not sure it could be any other way. Greene does give readers lots of direction as they forge their way towards becoming the Masters they aspire to be.

Yes, I do recommend that you read Mastery. Add it to your toolkit of career success.

Get Mastery on Amazon

photo credit: pasukaru76 cc

Tips to find that elusive Margin in our lives

We’ve had a winter here with rare amounts of snow in Chilliwack, BC. In an area that might see one snow day in a year, we’ve had three this week and at least three around Christmas time.

That’s meant I’ve pushed people out of the roads that aren’t plowed. I’ve shoveled for neighbours that aren’t physically up to the task. I’ve been stuck working at home rather than my office because my road bicycle doesn’t operate in the snow.

Lucky for me all these distractions from ‘work’ haven’t really been that big a deal, because I’ve created a business and life with Margin.

Today we’re going to look at the book Margin, and how it teaches you how to build that space into your life.

Margin by Richard Swenson begins by defining the problem it’s supposed to solve right in the first few pages.

Marginless is being thirty minutes late to the doctors office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the bank because you were ten minutes late dropping the kids off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from the gas station and you forgot your wallet.

Margin, on the other hand is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence.

How many of us are living in the realm of a marginless life? How many of you want to have that second life, one of margin as your default state?

To help us achieve that life of Margin, Swenson has divided his book up into three main sections. He starts by defining the problem (pain) of no margin in life. The second section covers the prescription, margin, and the third part is all about the prognosis, health. Yes, just from the section titles you can tell the author is a physician.

Inside each of these sections the author presents many axioms and prescriptions for you to take away. In many ways this is one of the big weaknesses of the book. So many of his axioms start with a general topic and he then presents five additional axioms and prescriptions, saying the same thing but applying it to a specific situation.

The second big hurdle for many readers in the book will be the faith of the author. I’m a church goer and I’d guess that my beliefs around faith would line up fairly closely with Swenson, but even with that common experience I continually found myself sighing as he brought faith into the mix. Where he was attempting to use faith to add weight to his argument, I felt it continually weakened the argument, especially for those that are turned off by faith.

Despite these two weaknesses, there is much to pull out of the book. Let’s look at some of the great takeaways in each section.

Part One: The Problem Pain

Swenson uses Part One to define the source of the lack of margin in our lives. He places the blame squarely on progress, and like many writers today, spends much time telling us how we’re in an unprecedented time of accelerated progress and prosperity–and that this is simultaneously the source of greatness and our lack of margin.

Margin has been stolen away, and progress was the thief. If we want margin back we will first have to do something about progress.

If we agree with the general hypothesis that progress has been the thief of our margin then wouldn’t we need to know how, exactly, progress has stolen that space we need in our lives?

According to Swenson, progress always wants more from us faster and faster. Progress is continually putting us out in the world more and reducing our privacy and margin.

The manner in which progress evolves, therefore ALWAYS results in more and more of everything faster and faster. It is impossible for progress to give is less and less slower and slower.

Take our smartphones for instance. Progress has allowed me to sit anywhere with an Internet connection and get some work done. The insidious thing about it at the same time is that I never have an excuse to not be working. While my phone can help me get more done, it does little to help me use it in an effective way that lets me keep margin in my life.

While we could hope the companies that make our technological marvels will help us limit their use, the truth is that it isn’t in Facebook’s interest to encourage our offline friendships. It’s in Facebook’s best interest to keep us scrolling through our feed.

While there are some people that feel Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Apple, and the other tech companies that provide us with progress have a responsibility to build services that don’t continually draw us back in, I don’t believe that Swenson would put any stock in that actually happening.

It’s up to us to build the boundaries in our life so that we can participate with those around us, and not get sucked into the devices that give us a pale warm glow year round.

As we subjugate progress, we first make it subservient to our greater goals and needs, especially relationships.

For you it’s about building a DON’T DO list. Populate it with things like, “I won’t play any games that want me to spend real money for fake in game currency” or “The only place my phone goes in the house is inside the drawer we use to charge devices.”

Implementing these things in your life will build the Margin that we need, which means we’ll have space to be with our loved ones. The DON’T DO list will specifically help us deal with the continual addition of choices and detail in our life.

The spontaneous tendency of our culture is to inexorably add detail to our lives. One more option, one more commitment, one more expectation, one more purchase, one more debt, one more change, one more job, one more decision

The hard part about NO is that we’re trained to almost never say it. We continually add one more thing to our list of responsibilities and then brag about how busy we are or how little sleep we get.

We hear that everyone else is ‘busy’ and they wear it like some silly badge of pride, and we let that social pressure push us into being just as ‘busy’. As if having no margin is a thing we can win at, and that we should want to win at.

Instead, as Swenson says, we need to…

Each of us needs to seek his or her own level of involvement and not let the standard be mandated by the often exorbitant expectations of others.

With the problem well defined in such a way that every reader will see part of themselves in the problem, Swenson moves on to the solution/prescription to the problem.

Part 2: The Prescription Margin

A few weeks ago, in the midst of one of our big snow events, I took the time to shovel out my walk and my neighbour’s walk, and clean both our cars. I then let my wife sleep an extra ninety minutes so I didn’t get to my ‘regular job’ until around 10 a.m. I didn’t stay till 8 p.m., but was home by 4 p.m. to hang out with my kids and help with dinner.

I can do that because I have space between my load and my limits.

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.

This space isn’t just in time, either. Our car broke down this winter just before Christmas and while it was not in the plan to spend $700 on the car, our large emergency fund allowed us to cover it.

We also had a death in the family two weeks before Christmas and had to fly my wife back across the country. We didn’t even have to think about the expense because of that same emergency fund.

To have that margin, I also rent an 1100 square foot townhouse and have three kids in it, plus the dog. Where many of our friends have much larger homes they also have much smaller margin, so every little bump in the road is actually a huge pothole that can barely be navigated, with teeth gritted.

Stop right now and look at your schedule. How full it is? How many events are you running between? Even if you want to go to them, are they really providing benefit to your life?

Swenson’s prescription is for margin in four areas: emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances. It may seem like a tall order to have margin in all of these areas at the same time, but without that margin we’re in for needlessly increased stress in our lives.

If that is too tall an order for you to start with Swenson says start with emotional energy.

Of the four margins — emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances — margin in emotional energy is paramount. When we are emotionally resilient, we can confront our problems with a sense of hope and power.

Clearing out the people we have to carry emotionally will mean we can then put energy towards the other areas of our life that need conscious effort to build space in them.

I know on my end there are family members I avoid talking with because of the emotional energy required to even spend ten minutes with them. When the phone rings and they are on the other end I only pick up if I feel I have the required energy–energy I don’t need to apply in other areas.

To achieve margin in these four areas Swenson provides us with many, many prescriptions (Rx in doctorese), which as I said in the beginning, are often redundant.

Some of the highlights are:

Rx: Cultivate Social Support

Whether family and friends or community and church, the existence of intact, functioning, healthy, nurturing systems of social support are as good a resource for replenishing depleted energy reserves as can be found.

In The Happiness Advantage (my review) we see this same need for social support being a key factor in success at work. Achor’s Principle 7 is summarized in this quote from the book:

…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

So we need to put away all the busyness around us if we want to be really successful through the trials that come our way. By putting away all that busyness and investing in the relationships that matter, we’re setting ourselves up to have the support we’ll need when things are going south in life.

Now that doesn’t mean we always spend time with people though.

Rx: Rest

Be with people and serve them. But be sure to get away and rest occasionally. Escape. Relax. Sleep in. Take a nap. Unplug the phone and turn off the beeper.

For me this is putting my phone away in that charging drawer, or when we visit a friend’s house as a family, just leaving it in the car because the only people that would need to reach me in an emergency are already with me. That means I can remove any temptation towards distraction.

Rx: Take Personal Responsibility (for health)

Until we accept personal responsibility for our own health, the road to the future will remain paved with aches and adipose.

As we look at our health, this is not what anyone wants to hear. In fact, almost no one wants to hear in any realm of their life that their problems are in part their own fault, and they should be taking responsibility for working the solution to the problem.

If you want to be healthy, make better choices about food. Take a walk or run or work out. Don’t jump on some magic diet, put together great processes to help you make better decisions. This could be your don’t do list that says you won’t order anything sweet when you’re eating out.

Decide that it’s time to value sleep instead of priding yourself on how little sleep you can survive on.

Rx: Value sleep

Don’t get caught in a web of shame spun by other people. A good night’s sleep is not an embarrassment.

When it comes to our finances Swenson says:

Despite our bounty, our list of economic woes is a long one. The ever-expanding invoice of problems requires an ever-expanding ocean of money, yet our government – along with a huge percentage of its citizens – is broke.

Dave Ramsey often says something along the lines of “You buy stuff you don’t need to impress people you don’t like with money you don’t have.”

Instead we should be putting the fourth Financial Prescription into practice.

Rx: Live Within Your Harvest

As the proverb suggests, make do with what you have

That means no credit cards because it’s much too easy to spend more than you figured. Spend cash instead.

Just because you get off the train of purchasing things doesn’t mean the world will come to an end.

The world does not stop nor the family fall apart when we unplug from the treadmill of consumerism.

With the prescription covered, in many ways redundantly covered, we can move on to the prognosis for our life moving forward with margin.

Part Three: The Prognosis–Health

Simplicity does not guarantee margin. But it is at least a step in the right direction.

It’s in this third section that I feel faith has it’s biggest diluting influence on Swenson’s work. Every third sentence seems to call in faith and distracts from the strong message of a striving towards simplicity.

Putting that aside, there are some great concepts in this section we should be putting into practice. Like partitioning our time.

Partitioning our time is probably the most important practical issue in achieving balanced living. Yet rationing it wisely presents a dilemma for each of us. How do we do it? First and most important, balance cannot be achieved unless we are willing to say No.

I’ve told you before to define your ideal week which is all about partitioning your time. I only take calls on Tuesdays which means I’m sitting here on a Wednesday with an entire day to read and write as I’m between client projects.

And really that’s it. Having margin in your life is all about consciously setting up those things that are good for you to do and saying no to those things that distract from your purpose.

Margin is about jumping off the bandwagon of purchasing more and more and deciding that your five-year-old computer still works just fine so you’ll keep using it.

It’s about only saying HELL YES to those things you can’t imagine not doing, and not getting caught up in keeping up with everything that those around you are doing.

Recommendation

While there is much good in Margin by Richard Swenson, there is a great deal of repetition in the content. He continually repeats axioms and prescriptions, with merely a slight tweak for nuance. Now that does mean you can do much more skimming of the book so it’s shorter than it initially appears.

It also suffers, especially in the third section, from a much too huge push for faith. If reading about how someone’s faith (Christianity in particular) is intertwined in a book will put you off, then don’t bother.

If you’re looking for a reminder and some good tips to bring margin back in to your life then you should get Margin.

Get Margin on Amazon

photo credit: pasukaru76 cc

Why being naked with your clients is exactly what you want to do

Let me begin by issuing a warning before I dive into my latest book review. Don’t just go to Amazon and search “Getting Naked”. Oh sure, you’re going to get the right book, but you’ll also get a bunch of other stuff you didn’t expect or want to see.

Outside of that, I give Getting Naked an unreserved recommendation for being awesome. This is one of the few books I’ve given a five-star review because it’s one of the few books I think you must read if you’re a consultant. If you don’t read it and take its principles to heart, you’re going to run a poor business.

Getting Naked is written by Patrick Lencioni and is all about why you need to be vulnerable if you want to be a great consultant.

But even if we come to understand this on an intellectual level, most of us will still struggle with vulnerability because we are human beings who don’t like to be weak, which means we are subject to the completely natural but irrational fears that make us uncomfortable being naked. This book is about overcoming those fears, which is not easy.

The brilliance of this book is that it’s a story with a short bit at the end which summarizes the business principles shown throughout the book.

Before you wonder if the fictional Lighthouse consulting firm exists, I’ll tell you it doesn’t, but the author has modeled the fictional firm on his own firm which he’s run for years. Lighthouse is firmly based in the reality of what it takes to run an awesome consulting form.

This was maybe my fifth reading of Getting Naked and it’s in this reading where I realized how much it has informed my consulting practice from the beginning. Here are a few areas it’s informed me and I think that you can benefit from.

On Client Fit

I’ve written entire post series on why you need to have an ideal client and how to build out that profile. I’ve put out a book all about how you can use email to vet your prospects before you even get on the phone with them.

The thing that so many blog posts and books miss is the way to make a point real, at an emotional level. It’s in this reality that Lencioni shines with his story and dialogue, like this:

“And we need to make sure that they’d be the right kind of client. We’ll have a better sense of that next week.”

“What do you mean?” I was confused. “What would make them the wrong kind of client?”

Dick didn’t hesitate. “Well, for all I know the real problem is the CEO. If that’s the case, and he’s not willing to deal with that, then we don’t want to be in there wasting our time and energy, and their money, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”

I laughed. “I’d be glad to waste their money rearranging the deck chairs as long as they paid me enough.”

Dick laughed too. “We’ve learned over the years that having a bad client is worse than having none.”

“How could that be if they’re paying you?”

Dick didn’t have to think about it. “Well for one, it prevents you from finding other good clients. And you’re unlikely to get a good reference. In fact, they’re likely to tell everyone they know how you weren’t able to help them, because they certainly aren’t going to admit it was their fault.”

With this exchange, you can see fictional character Dick talk through why it’s crucial to only take on ideal clients and not just deal with anyone with money.

Lighthouse is unlike anything that our main character (Jack) has seen before in that they turn away business. For many of you, that’s a foreign thought as well. But if you want to run an amazing consulting practice you need to continually refine exactly what your ideal client will look like, and say no to those prospects and projects that don’t fit in with your ideal profile.

Just start consulting

I regularly offer a free coaching call open to anyone who wants to take it. I offer a free initial consultation to pretty much anyone that will fill out a short questionnaire which I use to get to know their goals better.

Many of these calls don’t turn into clients. A number of them even take the advice I’ve provided and put it to use. When I follow up a few weeks later they’re seeing benefits, and then I never hear from them again unless I reach out first. They don’t become customers.

Despite this, I still take free consults and in that short window try to provide as much value as possible, without worrying about what the prospect may do with the information or if they’re going to become a customer.

“Do you ever worry that you’re going to do too much during your sales call, and that the client will take it and use it and not hire you?”

Dick smiled. “That’s exactly what Matt said after his first few sales calls. And no, I don’t worry about it. Very few people are going to do something like that. If they need help, they need help. Even if what I show them makes perfect sense, they usually know they need help implementing it and getting the rest of their team on board.”

Outside of the reasons Dick uses above I’ve found that those who take my advice and run with it and never pay me for coaching end up being the type of person I don’t want to work with. I’ll hear a few months later about how they’ve treated some client or sub-contractor and wipe my brow in relief.

I don’t want to chase payments from people. I don’t want to have to badger my clients to do the work they need to do to see success. I want to work with people that are going to be motivated and value my coaching.

Those that use the free consult and then continue working with me stay for a long time and we get to know each other really well. I get to help people move from middle five-figure incomes to six figures, all built around a life that allows for margin.

When you’re talking to new prospects, cut a bunch of the sales talk and just start offering value out of the gate. If they take off with the information, they were going to be a bad client anyway so count your blessings that you found out before you accepted money from them.

Just ask the question

One part of this book that has stuck with me since my first reading is that if there is a term I don’t know, I ask about it. Even if I think I’ve asked about it before, I ask. One of the characters (Amy) does this, even with terms that she could have gotten off a hospital TV show. Just like Amy and Jack in Getting Naked, I find that if we’re sitting in a group of people there is usually at least one other person that has no idea, but feels like they can’t ask because they’ve been there too long.

Here’s Jack speaking for most of us as he watches Amy ask questions and express confusion.

As simple as this was, I couldn’t help but think I would have been mortified to ask a client those questions. Though I would have been terrified of being caught, I would simply have pretended to know what they were talking about and then looked up the terms during a break, or, if I was feeling particularly bold, ask someone quietly, one on one.

Amy is demonstrating her comfort with vulnerability here and Jack is seeing it work. As I said, this has stuck with me for years in both my client work and my personal life. If I don’t know something or understand it, I just ask for clarification. There has never been a time when I wasn’t better served by simply asking and having a better handle on the conversation.

Admit Mistakes

Finally, one of the best ways to be vulnerable with your clients is to admit when you made a mistake. Jack does this when he uses the wrong model to advise a hospital and spends two hours telling them incorrect information based off his incorrect assumption.

I’ve done this when I’ve crashed a client web server. I did this last year when I migrated content on a site and the whole process went down the garbage chute. I owned up that I made a mistake and gave some clear steps I was taking currently to correct it, and the client was totally fine with it.

I didn’t wait for them to ask why things were broken either. I called them on the phone right away and told them what was happening and what I was doing. Yes it was three days of long hours but the client ended the project loving me, in large part because I owned up to my mistake and then fixed it.

Those are some of the big takeaways that stuck with me the first time I read Getting Naked. They’ve served me well for the 10 years I’ve been consulting clients and they’re going to serve you well as you run your business.

Purchase Getting Naked on Amazon

photo credit: kwl cc

Keep the negative away by Broadcasting Happiness

Ugh. Who watches the news anymore? If you do, you’re going to get a solid dose of everything that’s wrong with the world. News thrives on eyeballs and tragedy draws the eyeballs.

Yet in the midst of all of this gloom and doom, we encounter Broadcasting Happiness by Michelle Gielan, a former top newscaster turned happiness researcher.

I didn’t stop being a broadcaster when I left CBS. I learned that we are all broadcasters, and by changing the stories we transmit, we can create positive change.
We do it by broadcasting happiness.

Broadcasting Happiness opens with Gielan’s story of seeing the negative portrayed in the news and her realization that it was pulling her down. This book is here to show us that we can change what we broadcast from negative to positive. We can be happiness broadcasters, and by the end of this book we’ll have the tools we need to help turn that corner to Broadcasting Happiness.

It is about you. it is about the power we all have to ignite and create positive change. By changing the way we all communicate, we can make the people around us at work, at home, and in our communities believe that their behavior matters and therefore see a path forward. This book is about how you can be the person who consciously influences others for the better.

In the midst of the recession in 2008 she says:

Our choice to continually broadcast stories of unhappiness is why viewers stopped watching—or at least many of them did. When I ask in my talks at companies and schools how many people have decreased the amount of news they watch because of the negative effect it has on mood—theirs or their family’s—often more than 50 percent of the audience members raise their hands.

This broadcasting of unhappiness is exactly why I rarely follow the news, and if you listen to the 48Days podcast for more than a week you’ll be sure to hear Dan Miller espouse the same sentiment. Stay away from the negative pull and work to build a happier, more successful life.

Broadcasting Happiness is structured around three core principles.

  1. Work Optimism
  2. Positive Engagement
  3. Support Provision

Inside these three core sections are the seven practical strategies you can put into action to become the happiness broadcaster that Gielan wants you to become.

Part I will teach you how to build and use a positive mindset in yourself so you can have success. Part II is about overcoming stress and negativity. Having these things under control will mean that you can boost positive engagement with others. Part III is about creating a positive ripple effect, which means you’ll be able to build an environment infused with high levels of support from everyone. That allows positive behaviours and habits to spread like wildfire throughout your organization.

If you’re looking to save time then each chapter has a round-up of the main idea in a series of bullet points. This will get you the summary of the chapter, but you’ll miss so many good stories that are going to pull you in and help you remember how effective happiness can be.

Gielman also ends each chapter with an experiment for you to put into action–training to become a happiness broadcaster. If you’re looking for a place to start and put these principles into practice, then do the experiment.

Thoughts on Broadcasting Happiness

Before we dive into the content of the book in more detail I’ve got a few thoughts for you to consider as you read this book.

First, within the first few chapters I was getting a feeling of deja vu and I wasn’t sure why. Then I noticed a mention that Shawn Achor was the researcher she works with, and he also happens to be her husband. This let me know why the studies sounded so familiar. I’ve read Achor’s The Happiness Advantage (read my review) and there is overlap in the studies used.

Second, if you’re going to read this then you’re going to have to take some serious responsibility for your actions.

While we may complain about news—its negativity and story selection—in truth we are all broadcasters, and our family, friends, coworkers, and even the strangers we meet are our viewers. We have the same power as journalists. Our brains are constantly selecting stories and transmitting them to others. The things we choose to talk about during the course of our day to our colleagues, friends, and family have a direct influence not only on their mood but also on how they respond to stress, change, and challenges. Everything about our broadcast can paralyze or activate another person’s ability to create and sustain positive change.

Are you speaking of the positive events in your life or the negative? I’ve got a daughter who always focused on the negative and it was driving my wife and me bonkers. Instead of complaining about her attitude, we started a daily ‘thankful’ practice. Every night at dinner we all say what we’re thankful for from the day.

Within a short window of a few weeks we had a great attitude change, because we decided to take responsibility for the broadcasting that goes on in our house.

Are you ready to take that responsibility?

Finally, the Success Scale Survey in the book sounded amazing so I took it and I found that…you get results. The problem is that it’s hard to have any real idea of what the results mean.

I was left wondering what it all meant, and when I went to click through the provided link for more information, it was the same information that wasn’t clear in the first place. Skip the survey.

With those thoughts out of the way, let’s dig into the meat of Broadcasting Happiness.

Part I: Capitalize on Positivity

This section starts off with a bold claim which goes like this:

Positivity is the world’s most underutilized, naturally occurring resource available to fuel success and forward progress.

The goal of Section One is to teach us the first steps we need to be able to unlock this powerful natural resource. Gielan is going to show us the three things we need to do to frame our interactions and life in a positive light.

It starts by telling us about Power Leads. A Power Lead is a way to begin a conversation in a positive way so that we set the expectations of the conversation moving forward. An example would be saying, “It’s a great day, how are you?” We started by saying that the day is awesome and thus started the conversation on a positive note. That’s going to mean the person we’re talking to is more likely to be positive instead of negative.

Being a positive broadcaster starts with refocusing people’s attention on the positive before the social script is written.

The second tool to use is our Flash Memories.

A flash memory is the first thought you have in response to a particular stimulus in your environment, and changing it from negative or neutral to positive can dramatically increase motivation and achievement.

A negative flash memory would be walking through a neighbourhood, and thinking of it as ‘run down’ will cause you to instantly ramp up your concern, and thus your stress. Maybe frame the neighbourhood as ‘classic’ instead. You’re going to decrease your stress with that simple change.

Flash memories directly influence the way we process the world and operate within it. When our flash memories of a person or thing are negative, we steer clear of it. We might feel rushes of panic or anxiety or disgust. Or we might simply feel frozen in place and very pessimistic about someone’s or something’s potential.

Years ago I went kayaking in Mexico, and we had tostados, which is really just a taco with a different shape. After that meal I got super sick. The type of sick where you think a toilet facing a toilet is a great idea. Needless to say, for the next two years, the thought of a tostado made me feel sick.

I had developed a flash memory where tostados meant getting sick.

During retrieval, the brain revisits the same pattern of neural activity that originally occurred in response to an event. When we review that retrieved information, we experience an echo of our brain’s perception of the original event. In fact, according to neuroscientists, there is no real distinction between the act of remembering and the act of thinking. Both acts retrieve what was previously stored inside the mind.

The way to combat these negative flash memories is to start training your brain that the thing you think is bad, really isn’t that bad.

Exposure to new information can modify an original memory. In the realm of potential, this means we can rewrite what the people around us think of their own potential by showing them new information regarding why there is more possibility for them than they currently think.

Luckily, Gielan doesn’t leave us without the tools we’ll likely need to rewrite our flash memories. In fact she provides us with three strategies to use in our work to take negative flash memories and turn them into positive ones.

Rewriting Flash Memories to the positive

If your aim is to motivate your team, spotlighting current successes puts them in the right mindset for future achievement.

So don’t just go around giving ‘constructive’ feedback to your team. Far too often that feedback is not constructive. It’s destructive, yet we simply call it ‘constructive’ to try and make it sound nice. You’re not fooling anyone though, you’re just making your team associate you with negative flash memories.

The meaning behind the work we do drives our motivation to do more of it and do it well, and hearing from those impacted by our work is an ideal way to share stories of success. Figure out the best way to get someone else involved in sharing success stories with the people you are trying to influence.

In my upcoming book Finding and Marketing to Your Niche, I talk about how important a case study can be to your marketing efforts. One of the key questions I tell you to ask is “How did the project help your business?” This question is what connects me to my clients and creates a positive flash memory with doing great work for my clients.

If you’re on a larger team and your people don’t get a regular check-in with clients to see the awesome work they do, then show them how they make a difference.

Repetition is important to make it part of a culture, so even if you have told others your positive message, the message here is to tell them again…and again. Oversaturation is rarely the problem. Too often we say something once, maybe twice, and we think the job is done.

It’s often said that if you hear one negative thing you need 10 positive things to forget about the negative. That means if you’re trying to create a new positive flash memory you need to repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat the positive message. Telling someone they did a good job once isn’t enough — tell them over and over. Tell them in front of people. Send them a card and an email and tell them in person.

The final tool to capitalize on positivity is to ask leading questions. Just like we can use a power lead to frame the conversation, we can use our questions to lead someone towards a more joyous outlook.

The best salespeople, reporters, therapists, repairpersons (sic), nearly every other type of profession, and even stay-at-home parents benefit from asking questions.

If you want to make more sales then you need to ask questions, but not just any questions. You need to start asking the right questions. Having the right set of questions to ask is just as crucial when we want to lead our team towards positivity.

According to Gielan there are four crucial questions you need to ask to improve the happiness of your team.

1. Digging for Gold

So often parents ask the wrong questions as they “interview” their children about their day: What did you get on your spelling test? Did you get your homework done? What time do you have to be at practice? They often miss out on goals with their children. Think about the incredible value you could gain by asking: Why did you get an A on that spelling test? Why did you get your homework done early?

My daughter’s teacher has done this well. On a recent project she wasn’t concerned about the end result so much as how my daughter arrived at the information on San Francisco. So often, when we see a mistake in our organization we don’t have all the information. Once we know why the decisions were made, it’s no longer a mistake, it was the right decision given the information at hand.

Don’t judge the outcome until you know why the project ended that way.

2. Shifting the Focus

Another of the most powerful types of questions you can use is what I call “shifting the focus.” The concept is simple: By crafting a question the right way, you ensure the answer goes in the direction you want.

These types of questions are the bread and butter of marketing. When I work to sell a book and ask you “Would you like to get more leads with less work?” the clear answer is yes. I’ve shifted the focus from the cost of the book to the pain I’m solving for you.

In a struggling company you should use questions like “What’s working now that we should do more of?” Now you’re not focusing on the struggles of the company, but what is going right that we can capitalize on? Your team is now focused on that right thing.

3. Next Best

In Broadcasting Happiness, Gielan references Dr. Chris Feudtner who takes care of terminally ill children. Gielan writes:

When it’s time to speak to the patient, Dr. Feudtner would ask the child and the parents a very specific question: “Given what your family is up against, what are you hoping for?” Since a cure is unfortunately not an option, this question forces families to look beyond that, to stop wasting mental resources lamenting the lack of a cure, and to begin formulating how to make the best of a bad situation.

In The Coaching Habit (see my review), question 4 is all about finding out what your team member wants in a given situation. Just like in Broadcasting Happiness, the answer does not always have to be yes. It can be no, but how about your second option.

If you want to be out of client work and selling plugins for WordPress but you’re not there, then what is your second best? Would having a day a week to focus on building a new plugin to sell be okay? Remember not to dwell just on the ideal which may not happen, figure out other options that will work.

4. What Else?

The question “What did I miss?” is perfect because it helps you learn more about things you didn’t even know to look for or may not have asked about.

This is another key question in The Coaching Habit. In fact it almost seems as if the authors are writing out of the same playbook. The ‘what else’ question is all about digging even deeper. Often the first problem presented is not the real problem, it’s just what they feel comfortable talking about to start.

Once you’ve shown you can listen to the first problem, people can start to open up more.

To ask what else can give your colleagues or kids an open forum to talk about something important to them that you might have missed and can give you surprising information that helps you become more successful.

Make sure you ask “What else is on your mind?” regularly if you really want to get to the root of issues with your prospects and team.

Part 2: Overcome Stress and Negativity

Our second section is all about acknowledging that stress happens, negative things happen. We have to accept that and work through them.

To ignore the negative is irrational. To face it head-on — and help others do the same — with an activated and rationally optimistic mindset creates growth and progress.

In The Obstacle is the Way (see my review), Ryan Holiday has a similar sentiment.

No one is saying you can’t take a minute to think, Dammit, this sucks. By all means, vent. Exhale. Take stock. Just don’t take too long. Because you have to get back to work. Because each obstacle we overcome makes us stronger for the next one. But … No. No excuses. No exceptions. No way around it: It’s on you. – The Obstacle is the Way

Part II is about the fact that we all can see negative and have negative times and deal with negative people. This is going to show us how to deal with the negative times better.

Fact Check: Move from Paralysis to Activation

If you are working from the wrong set of facts, most times your outcomes will be undesirable.

Have you ever worried that at any moment someone will find out that you’re a fraud? Your next client will tell everyone in the world to stay away from working with you? If that’s you (and it has been me) then you’re working from an incorrect set of facts. The way to remember that you are Gandalf is to check those erroneous beliefs against reality with these three fact-checking steps.

Fact Checking Step 1: Isolate the stressful thought

The key is to identify the simplest thought that is causing problems.

Start by breaking down the worry to the smallest bit you can identify. If it’s that your next client will realize you’re a fraud then maybe the real issue is that you don’t feel you deserve the success you have.

Fact Checking Step 2: List the facts you know

Find the facts from your environment that support the worrisome thought.

Now it’s time to list the facts you know about the worry. Don’t list the emotions–just the facts. This is your chance to get it all out on paper. You’re not done until you’ve sat in silence for a bit writing nothing because you can’t think of anything else to write.

Fact Checking Step 3: List Fueling Facts that illuminate a new story

This part of the exercise is harder because you are scanning your environment for fueling facts that support a completely different story.

One of the facts you should have written down was that you’ve done 10 successful projects. You’ve been in business for 5 years (or 10 or…). Neither of those facts is compatible with the belief that you’re a fraud.

Another fact may be that your family always chalked success at anything up to luck, never hard work. So you’ve been left feeling that at any moment your luck will run out and you’ll no longer be successful.

Remember fact-checking is not about proving yourself wrong; it is about consciously looking for facts that help change or deepen your perspective and move you forward.

Strategic Retreats: Deal with Negative People

It’s sad to say, but one of the big reasons I don’t talk to some of my family members more is because they fall directly into the negative people stereo type. Someone always owes them something and the world is often out to get them. Since I want to cultivate a positive life, I use the strategic retreat strategy and simply limit my time with them drastically.

This chapter is one of the most important in this entire book. It is about how you can momentarily shield or separate yourself from negative people without isolating yourself, without cutting negative people off from the world, and without harming your ability to work.

While I may use the strategic retreat often to stay away from some of the negative people in my life, it doesn’t have to be a mostly permanent solution. In fact, if you’re retreating from your boss, it can’t be an all-the-time thing.

In that case the strategic retreat is all about backing away in the moment and coming back to the situation with more resources for happiness at your disposal.

In this chapter you’ll learn how to identify when to make a strategic retreat from a negative person or conversation, how to regroup and refortify your resources, and how to best plan a reentry that fuels positive communication and deeper connection (or at least doesn’t have you wishing you could hurl yourself off of a building).

Gielan reminds us that retreating is not a sign of weakness–not that I think we should be really worried about what appears weak, but it’s a move used well to make sure that we can have the advantage we need later.

A retreat is a powerful move, even though the word is often thought of negatively in relation to battles. If you back down from the enemy you could be considered weak or uncommitted. History, though, tells another story. Wars have been won thanks to the use of strategic retreats. George Washington commanded his army to strategically retreat a number of times during the American Revolutionary War, which helped to guarantee the survival of the Continental Army.

A great example of this is when you’re on the phone with technical support and you’re simply getting nowhere at all. The person on the other end doesn’t seem to have any idea what you’re talking about. Clearly they’ve barely been trained to use the phone system. Instead of continuing to hammer away with this person, call back. Use the hang up as a strategic retreat and it’s likely that the next person you get will be helpful.

Broadcasting Happiness gives us three criteria to run a conversation through. If any of these are met, then pull out your strategic retreat card and come back with better resources.

  1. Your defenses are down
    • you’re stressed, tired, foggy brain…
    • hampers your ability to respond well to a negative person
    • you can easily get sucked in
  2. They are deeply entrenched
    • they’re ‘hot’ emotionally–you’re never going to have a good conversation then
  3. You’re outnumbered or surrounded
    • like giving a negative employee their review at the end of the day so they can go home and infect their negativity there, not in the office
    • they have other negative people that will just agree with them so it’s an all against you scene

Once you’ve identified any of those three items it’s time to move to the regroup and reenter strategy. Regrouping means you get yourself into the positive mindset you need to have the conversation. Re-enter is when you give that negative person in your business a poor review at the end of the day so they can take the negativity home instead of pumping it into your business.

By using those two strategies you can help limit the exposure of negative things to yourself and your business.

The Four Cs: Deliver Bad News Better

Bad news has to happen sometimes. Maybe you’re starting in a new management position and clearly there are 3 out of the 10 staff you have under you that need to go. How do you let them go without crushing the team morale?

You start by creating social capital.

Create Social Capital

Social capital refers to the resources that are available to us based upon the trust and willingness of our social networks to support our actions. Social capital built during good times is invaluable during challenges. The reason is that when hard times strike, the people you have built social capital with do not have to first ask themselves if they trust you or if you’re a good person. To them, it is a given. Therefore their brains can focus on what is most important – processing the challenge, brainstorming solutions, and taking positive action to move forward.

If you’re that new manager, you tell the team about the vision you have for them. The dream they can aspire to. You tell them that some changes are going to happen and that not everyone will like them right away. You’re always open to respectful suggestions and what you want is for them to be in love with the work they do.

With that meeting in hand, letting those three people go will still have an impact on the team, but they won’t figure you’re simply out to get them.

Social capital is all about creating connection with those around you. Stop in the hall and have a five-minute conversation about Lego with someone. Listen to their stories about kids (even if you hate kids) and then later ask them about their kids.

Taking these actions will build your social capital.

Give Context

Knowing why actions take place is one of the keys to having empathy for them. Do you have one person that never shares in a team brainstorming meeting? Maybe the first two times they shared, their ideas were tossed aside right away so they shut down. Once you know the context, you can start to understand the behaviour and help mold it to the place you want.

Provide details that indicate understanding of a situation from the perspective of the recipient of the bad news. Provide full rationale for how the negative news came about and why it’s occurring. Clearly provide proof through specifics that you understand the ramifications of the negative news. And, finally, set up a context in which the current status quo context can be recast more positively.

I heard a story once about a man and his three kids on the subway. These three kids were going crazy. Like seriously jumping off the walls, annoying other passengers and being crazy loud. Dad is sitting sort of slumped in the chair clearly not noticing at all that the kids are being a menace.

Finally the man next to him mentions to the father that maybe the kids are getting a bit crazy.

Like being triggered out of a daze the man says: “Oh yeah, you’re probably right. I’m sorry I’m just totally dazed right now. Their mom just died from cancer and we’re on the way home.”

While you started thinking the parent was bad, you ended wondering if there was anything you could do to help. That’s the power of context.

Express Compassion

The best and most important thing you can express to someone in the wake of bad news is compassion. Compassion is feeling concern for another person’s stress, suffering, or misfortune.

Did you know that the best predicting factor in regards to a doctor being sued is their bedside manner? People simply don’t want to sue a doctor they like, even if that doctor is at fault. Doctors could cut their legal dealings if they simply said “I’m sorry” in the face of an error.

If they took an extra 10 minutes to answer any extra questions at the end of an appointment, they’d see fewer lawyers.

When someone feels listened to and understood, they feel you have compassion for them. Having that compassion goes a long way to building your social capital.

Stay Committed

When you deliver bad news, you spend some of your social capital in order to keep the effect positive, just like how you spend money from your bank account. In order to make that capital back, commit to doing the right thing. When you express commitment to someone’s well-being and to the continued success of a team or family, and you follow through, you may get a HUGE social-capital bonus check. Words are great, but actions build social capital ten times faster.

I once worked a job where they said that they valued people spending time with their family. They didn’t want you to work all the time. I loved that they felt so strongly about this, and then one month in, the shoe dropped.

They totally loved us hanging out with family as long as we still billed 40 hours a week to clients, outside of any non-billable work we did. As is said often in Game of Thrones, “words are wind”. When you don’t back up what you say with action, you spend huge amounts of social capital.

Part 3: Create a Positive Ripple Effect

No matter how positive your messages may be, without people in your network to rebroadcast them, your reach is limited. Transformational positive broadcasters cultivate and leverage their network so that when they wish to share a positive idea or behavior, they have an engaged network to help spread the word.

I recently read Master Content Marketing. In that the author says:

Great content — well-planned, masterfully written, easy-to-read content — always rises to the top. – Master Content Marketing

I don’t think that this is true. Lots of mediocre content that has great marketing behind it will rise to the top. If you want your ideas to rise to the top then you need a great set of people that love you who will share your ideas, just like Gielan says in Broadcasting Happiness.

So how do you create that network that will help you spread happiness?

Go Viral: Generate Contagious Optimism

A bond is created when we open up about our greatest struggles, but to stop sharing there is to cheat ourselves and others out of the even deeper connection that can be formed — one that is built on the fueling part of our reality. It is imperative we also share stories of how we triumphed over those challenges and experienced personal growth as a result.

The key to a great case study for your business is to talk about the issues that came up during the project. Problems happen, and your prospects know it, so own up to it. By owning up to it and then telling prospects how you dealt with it, you build more…social capital.

What feels like an aside, or maybe a 7th point to the 6 we’re about to talk about, we dive into the 6 things you can do to build that contagious optimism.

1. Activate your 31.

The most important step in building an army of positive broadcasters is finding out who is in your personal “31” and activating them.

Have you heard of your 1,000 true fans? The idea is that really you only need 1,000 people that love everything you do and will buy it and then you’ll have a solid business. That’s really what activating your 31 is about–finding those people that are your fans but aren’t currently shouting about you from the rooftops. Help them shout.

Here I wish Gielan gave us a formula or process so we know how to find these people and turn them into the shouters. That’s the hard part, and it was totally skipped as far as I can tell.

2. Raise the broadcasters status.

It’s a natural human disposition to want to be “in the know.” As you learned earlier in this book, the more intelligent, knowledgeable, or socially connected someone is perceived to be, often the more valuable the person is within his or her network.

One of my coaching clients recently was having issues with his boss. His boss was not quite up to par and my client felt like that was holding him back in his job. Instead of complaining about that boss I asked a simply question: “What would you do tomorrow if you were trying to make your boss look awesome?”

Taking that to heart my client went in to work and tried to make their boss look awesome. Within two weeks they were saying that their boss did have their stuff together, and that their boss was putting them up for a raise because of how much he had covered and helped out.

[Tweet “What if you asked, how can I make others look awesome today?”]

If you want to improve your broadcaster status then always ask: “How can I make people look awesome?”

3. Communicate high emotion.

…if we want our stories to go viral, we should choose ones that evoke high and positive emotion.

We’re drawn to stories, a fact click-baity sites know. They tell us some outrageous story that starts out terrible and then gets super sweet and of course has a cat with super cute eyes in it at the end to really pull on the heart strings.

No, you shouldn’t be going for click bait, but you should be taking a queue from them. Tell stories as you try to rally people.

One of my recent stories is helping a client who was offered a $150k/year job and ‘no contracting’ and turning it into a $10k/month contract where the client knows that he’s doing other work. My client figured that the business opportunity would be gone right away if they said no to it. He was scared, but with some coaching he more than doubled his income.

No, I guess my story doesn’t include cute cats, but it starts out with a client that figured the job was lost who then signed a great long-term contract and was off to the races as they started their new business.

4. Make it practical.

Stories are more likely to be shared if they are solutions-focused and create a change in your behavior.

Funny enough I think that Gielan suffers from not doing this in her section on Activating Your 31. She tells us what we need to do and then fails to take it to the practical level so we know how to do it.

Many business gurus tell you to talk about the why and then sell the how, but if you don’t make it practical out of the gate then you’re not showing that you can achieve results and thus you’re not building social capital.

5. Lower the activation energy.

When it comes to spreading your positive story around, making it easier for other people to share the information with their networks, both online and offline, helps increase how viral your story ultimately becomes.

[Tweet “We’re so lazy we need a clickable tweet or we won’t do it.]

By nature we’re pretty lazy. One of the best things I’ve done to create more social engagement with people is to add these clickable tweets in my blog posts. Instantly people started sharing content more, because I lowered the barrier to entry.

If you want people to engage in more positive behaviours, make it the easiest thing to do. If the barrier to entry is high then don’t be surprised when the behaviour doesn’t happen.

6. Operationalize the message.

Effective positive stories don’t come along every day, so once you find one, use it for all it’s worth. If you’re just telling it once or twice, you’ll never realize the full potential it has to help ignite and sustain positive behavior.

When you have a great story of someone you’ve helped, tell the story. Then tell it again. Then reword it a bit and tell it again. Adjust the context slightly and use it in a book, then a video. Make that story of the people you helped part of your brand.

By doing this you’re going to pull that story throughout your organization and your team is going to know the story of the people they’ve helped like the back of their hand.

Recommendation

By far my favourite section of Broadcasting Happiness was Part 2 as we talked about overcoming stress and negativity. If you can simply learn to accept that stress happens and have a better set of tools to deal with it, you’re going to go so much further in life.

Based on that section alone, I say that Broadcasting Happiness is worth your time.

Get Broadcasting Happiness on Amazon

photo credit: martym cc