5 Things To Do to Outsmart the Unexpected

Sep 23
2017

Carefully plan and you’ll avoid the unexpected, right? But, life doesn’t work that way. Don’t underestimate life’s ability to surprise you, the unexpected happens every day.

You can’t possibly know what unknowns tomorrow will bring. Increasing your ability to cope demands that you make decisions quickly and with limited information.

Here are 5 things you need to do each day to outsmart the unexpected.

1. Practice Purposeful Distraction

Physical and mental exercise alter your body’s responses to heightened stress. Spend 5 to 10 minutes a day practicing things like deep breathing, acupressure and “purposeful” distraction techniques like doodling or thinking of words that start with the letter “a”. Practiced daily these become habits that you intuitively call upon in a crisis to calm you enough to decide, act, focus and survive.

2. Go Toward Problems

Think counterintuitively – don’t retreat, go directly toward solving problems. Break things down – solve smaller problems within the larger ones first. Savor the small wins and use them to formulate your plan B.

3. Add Humor to the Mix

Give yourself the fuel and tenacity you need to get back in the zone of optimal performance – find humor in the situation. Levity lessens the tension and anxiety so you can reframe the situation and win the contest of determination over fear.

4. Don’t Be a Risk Denier

Don’t be blindly in denial about the risk of failure – it guarantees you’ll take unnecessary risks and make failure a certainty. Create solutions that you can test against what is real versus what you feel is real in the moment. Even if these experiments aren’t successful you’ll learn what you need to keep moving forward. 

5. Get Out of the Tunnel

Get out of the tunnel where you’re susceptible to being blindsided by the biases that won’t serve you in an unexpected situation. Find, outside your sphere of interests, people who are trusted advisors, mentors, and resources willing to share their knowledge and expertise with you. Reaching outside your inner circle increases the resources you have to draw upon outside of your own knowledge base when unfamiliar situations arise.

Avoid the all-consuming anxiety that comes from the unexpected and see opportunity in the world of the unforeseen by being ready for the unexpected before it comes.

My Summer Short List: 5 Books That Will Change How You Think

Jul 25
2017

 

 

Amazon offers over a million books — so I thought I’d help make choosing one a tad bit easier. Here’s my summer reading shortlist, five books that will change how you think:

  1. Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely reveals intriguing new insights into motivation – showing that the subject is far more complex than we ever imagined.

  1. Invisible Influence by Josh Berger

Josh Berger explores the subtle, secret influences that affect the decisions we make—from what we buy, to the careers we choose, to what we eat—in this fascinating and groundbreaking work.

  1. Listful Thinking: Using Lists To Be More Productive, Successful and Less Stressed by Paula Rizzo

Listful Thinking is the book that will give readers their lives back with indispensable tips on saving time, getting organized, improving productivity, saving money, and reducing stress.

  1. Whoever Tells The Best Story Wins by Annette Simmons

Stories have tremendous power. They can persuade, promote empathy, and provoke action. Better than any other communication tool, stories explain who you are, what you want…and why it matters. In presentations, department meetings, over lunch–any place you make a case for new customers, more business, or your next big idea–you’ll have greater impact if you have a compelling story to relate.

  1. The Little Things: Why You Should Really Sweat The Small Stuff by Andy Andrews

Andy shows how people succeed by actually going against the modern adage, “don’t sweat the small stuff”. By contrast, Andy proves that it is in concentrating on the smaller things that we add value and margin.

 

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

 

3 Simple Steps to Squash Vacation Guilt

Jul 11
2017

As a kid, you longed for summer vacation, counting the days until it arrived and making plans for every precious week.  But now, summer’s arrival sneaks up on you. You fail to carve out any downtime and watch your vacation days vanish unused. You curse the overbooked calendar, the full inbox, and all those work emergencies that forced you to miss out on a much-needed break.

Don’t shoot me for saying this, but your workload isn’t to blame here.  The real culprit is you! Guilt and fear lie at the heart of the matter. You worry that work will pile up, and dread the thought of colleagues seeing you as a slacker.

Not taking a break may seem like the “right thing to do,” but it isn’t. Your body and your mind need to escape the bombardment you experience each day. A recharge makes you more productive in the long term. So, if you haven’t yet carved out some time off from work this summer, do it. And before you pack your bags, take some precautions to keep the fear and guilt at bay.

  1. Turn Things Down to a Simmer

Reschedule deadlines and critical decision points so that they won’t occur while you are away. Then, choose a person who is intimately familiar with the work to act in your stead in case an emergency comes up.  Share your high-level musts and concerns, and trust that person to make decisions. A stand-in who has your full confidence will keep the work on an even keel, and won’t disturb you.

  1. Email Rules Are Magical

Don’t answer any emails while you are away—it only confuses your correspondents. Set up your email program to send important items to those covering for you, and all others to a folder labeled “upon my return.” That way you won’t be faced with 800-plus emails in your inbox on your first day back, and will avoid a panic attack that destroys your post-vacation serenity. Once you’re back in the groove, scan the collected email at your own pace. In all likelihood, you’ll find that most of it can be deleted wholesale—either because it’s been handled or because it’s no longer relevant.

  1. Go Cold Turkey

When you reach your vacation destination, leave your phone and other devices in airplane mode, turn off all notifications, and disconnect from technology. If this causes major withdrawal symptoms, then wean yourself slowly. Try checking your email just once a day, and only for 30 minutes. Schedule an activity for the end of that timeframe. And do your email peeking in the late afternoon, not in the morning—that’s too much like the way you start your workday. The familiarity will trigger your existing patterns of behavior and rope you into work mode.

Enjoy your break from the daily grind.

Take An Artist’s Approach And Redraw Your Life With Passion

May 16
2017

My very first and only work of art, loosely speaking, was created in Mrs. Levine’s 5th grade class: a vase filled with springs flowers. I clearly remember sitting down at my desk, with the art book opened to the page with the picture, sharpened pencil in my hand, drawing what I saw in the book. I had no idea what I was doing, nor what I was supposed to do — after all, I was only 10 years old. I just looked at the vase filled with flowers and tried my best to draw what I saw in the book on the paper. If a line went astray I didn’t panic. I just made it into something that worked — a leaf maybe, or I just erased and started again. I just kept going, and when I was done no one was more shocked than I to see a vase and flowers on the page. Perhaps the flowers weren’t perfect bluebells or roses, and I wasn’t going to be the next Monet, but I was thrilled with what I’d done, and for the next few days that picture infused me with a passion to draw things and be an artist — at least until something new caught my eye.

As kids, we find passion and inspiration in so many things, and we don’t tie ourselves down to believing there is one and only one plan for how things are supposed to work out in our lives. Yet I watch so many adults struggle each day to discover passion in a life that doesn’t look like the one they planned. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone get ensnared in the world of “what should have been,” “could have,” and “was supposed to have been.” Gloomily, for many people, that struggle is something that dominates their adult life.

Why is it that as adults we find it so difficult to infuse our lives with passion when it doesn’t look like the life we originally planned?

For a lot of us it’s because as adults we believe that we know precisely how best to execute the strategy that will assure our happiness, success, and aspirations. In the end, it’s a simple exchange: we swap experimentation and learning for comfort and control. We falsely believe that if we don’t deviate from the strategy, then the conclusion is a certainty. And that all we have to do is play it safe, follow the strategy, and problem solve our way back to certainty when something goes awry and therein lies the trap.

Playing it safe is really like throwing an adult version of a temper tantrum, and trying to problem solve your way back to what you want by blaming outside forces — for not attaining what you wanted, other people for screwing it up, or even forces beyond your control for interceding — does no good for anyone. Whatever the justification, it keeps you trapped in guilt and uncertainty, never being able to let go of the past to see your way to the future. Playing the superhero and riding the adrenaline high of being the expert-problem-solver only leaves you temporarily feeling like you’re making forward progress. Problem solving and looking at what should have and could have been and what went wide of the mark will exhaust you and leave you chasing a false reality — that you can have what that strategy was supposed to deliver. The hard truth is that it doesn’t matter, it won’t ever matter again, and maybe it really never mattered at all in the first place.

Our plans were never meant to be a pledge of a certain ending — only the artist’s first drawing or a first pass at what we thought the picture might be. Infusing your life with zeal and passion, especially when it doesn’t look like the life you planned starts when you embrace the deviations and follow the lines that go awry with a sense of improvisation and openness. Seeing where the future takes you opens doors to prospects and passions that you never contemplated before. There is power and freedom in knowing you can always erase the sketch and dream grander. Or a sense of newfound excitement when what you see on the page inspires you to explore something, which at first might seem a bit abstract but ultimately ignites a new passion in you. As you do this, you should only care what could be because it is the only thing you have, and perhaps is what was intended for you all along.

Are you ready to take out your sketchbook and begin drawing a new plan for what comes next? You might be wondering what happened to the picture I drew. It still hangs framed in my home as a reminder that sometimes not knowing what you’re “supposed” to do in life may surprise you.

Happy Drawing!

These Habits Can Help You Squeeze The Most From Your Day

Apr 18
2017

Even the most industrious among us have only 24 hours in each day, and only 10 or so hours available to us to do everything we want to get done. If you’re like most people, you start each day with the best intentions and a long, prioritized list of things that you want to get done. Having a list is a noble and a solid first step, but as with most things in life, it isn’t in the planning stage where things go awry—it’s in the execution.

Life’s distractions can easily derail even the most skilled task achiever and leave them feeling drained, frustrated, and with an even longer list tomorrow. Squeezing the most out of every day doesn’t mean burning the midnight oil or burning the candle at both ends. It means figuring out the habits that work best for you and developing a ritual around it.

Creating habits and rituals is exceptionally powerful because it helps our brains create the neurological cravings that lead us to anticipate a reward for engaging in a certain routine or set of behaviors. The habits and rituals that eventually become the plan to make the most of the time you have each day are based on what you’ve learned that make the most sense and work best for your lifestyle and the reward you give yourself for getting things done. This is critical to your being able to follow through on your plan without fail and deliberately—no matter what comes your way to distract you.

Ritualizing some of the routine things you do each day is what helps your brain to go on autopilot so that things that you do habitually become automatic and don’t require your focus, energy, and advanced decision making skills. Reacting automatically to routine tasks can help you really squeeze the most out of your day.

Here’s an example of a simple habit that you can experiment with and perhaps turn into a ritual that works for you.

Multi-Task In Bursts And Only With Certain Tasks

Choose tasks that can be done with little thought and work well together. For example, perhaps experiment with your morning routine and give something like this a try: while you make coffee and your breakfast, scan your emails and prioritize them, leaving only the most important ones, those requiring immediate action when you sit down at your desk, in the inbox. Move others to folders and delete the junk. While driving to work, listen to a book that you’ve been dying to read or even record key notes for a meeting and play them back so that you’re listening to them while you commute. Don’t forget to reward yourself with something for doing this each and every day: perhaps getting in a quick exercise session before you start work at the office, or spending a few minutes chatting with a friend before starting your day.

The key is to figure out what routines, tasks, and rituals work best for you, and then practice them until they become automatic and you can do them with speed and dexterity. Once you have your routines in place, you’ll also want to keep the following strategies in mind so that when your actively thinking about what comes next, you can continue to make wise decisions:

  • Focus is key: make sure that you keep it throughout the day and have in your bag of tricks some ways that you can bring it back if you lose it.
  • Learn the power of “No” and “I’ll get back to you,” and use them often.
  • Only get involved at the solutions level: don’t waste time focused on rehashing the problem.
  • Spend part of each day pausing and reflecting on what you’ve accomplished so far, and decide what is most significant remaining on the list to do with the time you have. Remember that what is most significant isn’t always the highest priority item in an objective sense – it is the highest priority item given the time you have remaining to accomplish something in your day.
  • Know that nothing that happens is really the end of the world.
  • Make sure that whatever you do is worthwhile and will make a positive difference.

Our habits and rituals guide how we live our lives and shape our priorities. If we create powerful habits that act as the underpinnings for what we set out to do each day, over time they will become the starting point for how we shape our lives. What habits and rituals will you put in place to squeeze the most from your day?

Let me know in the comments field below.

 

Simple Strategies To Fine-Tune Your Pitch And Change People’s Minds

Apr 04
2017

Whether you’re pitching your new business idea to the CEO or pitching buying a new car to your spouse, crafting a winning argument, once you’ve passed the feasibility hurdle, is highly dependent on the tactics and strategies you use to sway the decision maker. We’ve all been on both sides of the equation—delivering and receiving successful and unsuccessful pitches. I’d be willing to bet that when you’ve been the person on the receiving end of an awful pitch you know exactly why the pitch failed. Awful pitches are horrible for many different reasons: sometimes the person is unprepared, sometimes they’re condescending, and sometimes the person believes that all it takes to win the day is including all the relevant information in the pitch, and letting the collective weight of the data convince the person to decide in his or her favor.

However, I’d also be willing to bet that when you’re on the delivery end of an awful or unsuccessful pitch you rarely know the exact reason why the pitch didn’t sway or persuade. And the truth is, we’re rarely given the opportunity to query the decision maker once we’ve pitched and failed to zero in on why exactly they weren’t convinced to decide in our favor. Often this leads people to go down a rabbit hole of wrong explanations, wondering if they weren’t specific enough or left out a critical piece of information, when in truth the answer is far more clear-cut. Setting aside being unprepared or condescending as reasons for a pitch not succeeding, most pitches fail simply because the person making the pitch shares everything they know about the matter at hand, rather than everything the decision maker needs to know to make their decision.

It’s no wonder the pitch was an epic failure—it was crafted from the perspective of the pitcher and not from the vantage point of the decision maker. An exceptionally subtle yet influential distinction that spells the difference between winning over a decision maker and a failing pitch. Avoiding your next disastrous pitch starts with making some smart and meaningful changes in the process that you use to craft your pitch that make a meaningful difference in how the pitch will be perceived by the person you need to make the decision.

These simple yet powerful tweaks will help pare down your pitch, focus it on the decision maker, and therefore substantially increase your ability to successfully win over any decision maker you face.

Be Sure That You’re Presenting To The Ultimate Decision Maker

It might seem a bit simplistic to say this, but be sure that when you’re pitching someone on an idea that you’ve targeted the presentation to the decision maker with the authority to ultimately make the choice. This is critical especially when pitching to a group where multiple players may hear the pitch but not have the authority to make the decision, or be the person you want to work with on a deal. Failing to target the pitch to your audience, even if it is only to one person in the room, can sometimes alienate the true decision maker you want to sway. Persuasion, no matter how effectively done, directed to a person who has no authority to make the decision is never going to yield the desired effect.

Know Your Decision Maker

Learn as much as you possibly can in advance about the person making the decision. The most important information to understand concerns their patterns around what motivates them to make decisions and draw conclusions. How are they motivated to do something or not do something? Is it to avoid problems or achieve goals? Are they convinced to take action when they know within themselves that something is right? Or do they use facts and figures to help them decide? And lastly, are they proactive or reactive: do they like to initiate change or wait until a situation is right to act?

The best place to get answers to these questions is directly from this person. Observe how this person has made decisions in the past, note how they present information, listen to their words, and notice their body language in certain situations. You could even sit in when someone else is pitching them and watch what happens, what they ask, and what works and what doesn’t. Look for little peculiarities that you might want to take advantage of: think “royalty deal” and Shark Tank’s Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary.

Know The Question And Know The Recommended Action You Want Them To Take

Have you ever tried making a decision when you didn’t really have a clear idea about what you were really being asked to decide and/or the person doing the asking didn’t know a hill of beans about what they were asking you for? You can’t expect someone to give you a decision when they can’t clearly identify the question they’re being asked to decide, or the action they’re being asked to take. Your first and foremost responsibility is to know the question that needs to be answered and to define what action you think would best works to solve/answer it. Without this level of clarity, you can’t ever hope to make a successful pitch. At this stage you’re really working to figure out your best guesstimate of what would work best and why the decision maker would want to take the action you’re proposing. Write both your question and answer down, keep clarifying it to make sure that there is no ambiguity and that your recommended action is the only action that will bring about the desired resolution to the question, and perhaps most importantly, that you can state why convincingly.

Carefully Lay Out And Select Your Best Points: Concentrate Your Ideas

Your very next step is to begin laying out the facts, information, and arguments that are central to your pitch and form the basis for your core action/recommendation. Laying out and structuring the information and arguments in a logical manner will help you spot gaps in your knowledge of the facts, understand where challenges to your recommendation might come from, and help you counter potential objections with real counter points. Pay careful attention as you go through this process to keep the information tight and concise, making sure to only include only the most compelling and salient points in your outline so that your ideas are concentrated and therefore have the most influence and impact on the decision maker. Select your best and strongest reasons why this action should take place—preferably no more than 3 or 4—and develop them fully. This is not to say that each of the 3 or 4 cannot have a few smaller points within them. However, loading up a pitch with everything but the kitchen sink and taking a scattershot approach is ineffective. It gives the impression that you don’t come from a position of strength and that you don’t have strong points that can stand on their own. Your criteria for including a point should be:

  • That it is essential to the core of your pitch
  • It is scrupulously accurate
  • It is presented from the vantage point of the decision maker

If it doesn’t fit these criteria, it isn’t going to help, and will most likely become a straw man that can sidetrack your pitch.

Create A Story

Now that you’ve worked long and hard on your outline and you believe that you’ve created a compelling pitch for the recommended action you want the decision maker to take, you’re ready to translate your outline into the story that will take the person(s) step by step through your pitch to its conclusion. Make sure that the story proceeds methodically through the information, starting with a statement of the question you want answered or solved so that the decision maker knows from the start the very decision they are being asked to make. Once the decision maker knows what they’ll be deciding, they’ll be more attune to the evidence needed to support the decision you want them to make, as you spotlight the most important merits for your core action or recommendation being adopted. This step guarantees that they’ll be better able to tie the facts back to the core action or recommendation and understand how the facts either support or disprove the course of action being sought. Make sure that part of your appeal is to the person’s common sense and not only the facts and evidence. Sometimes decision makers will make decisions on what their gut sense tells them and then look for facts to support it, so it is wise to appeal to both in your story. Avoid hyperbole and phrases that contain absolute negatives like “There will never be another…” or “No one has ever seen…” since these can result in a loss of credibility in your presentation, as negatives are always difficult to prove. Always make sure to begin the story with your strongest points because as they say: first impressions are enduring. Make sure that the story starts out in a positive vein, and if you have to address or refute something that you do it in the middle and not at the beginning or end. Close powerfully and explicitly tell the decision maker what it is you need them to do. Your closing should move the decider to action with a recap of the principal reasons they should take the action and why your recommendation is the only response.

Give Your Story A Test Drive

Practice makes perfect, and sharing your story with others before the actual pitch can help you hone your pitch and give you the needed practice so that you’re comfortable with giving the pitch seamlessly. Choose a group of people to practice your pitch with and ask to track your story against your outline and to give you feedback on areas that you might have missed or might be overkill. Then incorporate their suggestions and refine the pitch until you think you have it in its final form. Choose one person whose decision-making style mirrors that of the person you’re pitching and pitch for them as if you were doing it for the intended decision maker. Debrief them on what worked and what didn’t, and if they’d have made the decision in your favor. Hone your presentation again until you’ve got it where you think it needs to be. You might even want to video this session so that you can watch not only your presentation but also their reactions to what you were saying at certain points in the pitch.

Decide What Final Form The Presentation Will Take

At this point you already know a lot about the person you’re pitching and you’ve spent a great deal of time honing your pitch to match their style. You’re at the point where all that’s left to do is help them understand what you need them to do, and the key to doing that effectively is selecting the right format the final presentation will take. Deciding what the final form is may not always be under your control and that could go either way. It might be that the decision maker has preset the format to be what he/she prefers, and so understanding the best way to utilize the features of that format to showcase your pitch means making sure that you know and understand how best to showcase your information in a variety of ways. If you get to select the final form, be sure to choose one that you know makes it easiest for the decision maker to best understand and be presented with the information. Knowing in advance if they prefer reports, executive summaries, slides, or even an email with key decision and data points, followed by a face-to-face meeting or an in-person pitch, will go a long way to helping you showcase your idea in the most favorable light. No matter the presentation method—or if you’ve chosen it or not—as long as you’ve structured and crafted the pitch with the strategies above and ensure that you’ve placed what they are being asked to decide on early in the presentation, the presentation is pared down to include only the most salient points, your closing moves them to action, and you’ve told them everything that they need to know to make a decision, then you’ll be better positioned to be successful.

Remember that no matter what, you have to know your stuff, stand your ground, and do so as equals. When you step before the audience next time you pitch, have this clearly in your mind and know that you are there to help the decision maker understand what the circumstances demand of them, what they need to know to make the decision, and in doing this effectively, you’ll show them that you knew what you needed to know about the matter at hand too.

Let me know how your next pitch goes in the comments below.

 

Out With The Old And In With The New: Getting Unstuck

Mar 14
2017

You’ve invested a great deal of time and determination in pursuing the plan you, or perhaps someone else, wrote for your life. Though you don’t totally despise what you’ve been doing, you wake up each morning with the nagging feeling that you’re not moving in the right direction either. As the days tick by, the nagging turns to unease, and unease into discontent. The pressure mounts, and you’re unable to find the connection between who you are, what you’re certain of, and what you’re doing with your life. Simply said: you’re stuck.

You probably took a stab at trying to get unstuck by doing what most people in that circumstance do—you decried that you weren’t stuck, and to prove it you began taking action. You set out to either add things to the plan or subtract things from the plan: trying everything and anything to make it work. But the more you focused on making it work, the more the sense of discontent grew. Today turned into tomorrow, and tomorrow into next month, and you still didn’t know what would work and what wouldn’t. You were more disheartened and even more stuck.

But getting unstuck isn’t about continuing to do what you’ve always done plus or minus a few things. After all, where’s it written that you have to stay on the path you’re currently on? And yes, I know it isn’t easy to think about giving up on a plan that you’ve dedicated years to pursuing—yet you have to accept that being stuck is your first and best signal that you’re ready for an important realignment in your life.

Being stuck is a great puzzle to solve, and it isn’t as difficult as you think once you accept that being stuck can lead to that start of something new. Digging out of the hole starts when stuck becomes the springboard for understanding what might be within your grasp. Knowing what we want starts with knowing what we might want and then figuring out what we what we need to pull it off.

There are many paths to living an incredible life, and many chances in our lifetime to reinvent ourselves—you won’t be stuck for long if you accept where you are, get over being stuck quickly, and start getting about the business of discovering what you might want to do next.

Expanding your possibilities gets simpler when you follow these four steps:

1. Realign Your Compass

Feeling stuck often leaves you questioning everything: your past, your present, and your future. Before you can even begin to find out where you want to go, you have to take a moment and figure out where you are in relation to your true north. Spend the time you need getting back in touch with the things that honor your values, interests, and core beliefs. Take the time to really ask yourself questions that shed light on what you really want to do with the work you do each day, and then ask yourself questions about what you want your life to be about. There are many great tools and exercises to help you do this (shameless plug: many of them you can find posts about on the Leadership Compound blog—check some out and give them a try). Find and ask the questions that most resonate with you, or the tools that work best for you, and if you don’t see any you can create your own. There really are no rules other than to write things down—it really does help you bring them into reality. The key is to begin.

2. You Have To Generate Ideas And Quantity Is King

Once you’ve realigned your compass and know your true north, you can begin to explore new ideas, preferences, and capabilities. In certain things quality does matter more than quantity, except when you’re trying to dig yourself out of the roadblock known as being stuck. Getting on with your life starts when you consciously engage in activities that spike your creativity and idea generation to the levels where ideas, options, and possibilities begin to flow freely and without judgment. The key is to begin free-associating, imagining, and coming up with lots of outrageous, enticing, and electrifying probable and improbable ideas that spark your interest or intrigue you. Zeroing in too quickly and/or attempting to think up a handful of high quality ideas in the early stages of idea formation is totally counterproductive to becoming unstuck. It only serves to intensify the pressure and indecision, stymie your creativity, and block any forward progress. Options—and lots of them—are what eventually lead to better quality ideas. They magnify our thinking, and energize and help us give thought to things we might have previously dismissed as impractical or outlandish. Quantity then leads to more choices, which result in better options and eventually a few quality ideas, which are optimal to implement. Some of my favorite tips for doing this are creating mind maps, journaling, word association, vision boards, and writing ideas on post it notes—find something that is creative and works best for you.

3. Choose What Fits—And First Isn’t Always Best

Despite our best intentions, our biases can often work against our best interests, especially when we lose sight that they exist. Failing to recognize and take into account their impact on our decision-making can prove disastrous. In highly charged emotional situations, like overcoming being stuck, we can sometimes forget that biology outmaneuvers rationality. The high and rush that we get from generating new ideas and seeing possibilities again can cause us to view more favorably our first idea and consider it “the one,” even though we’ve given it little scrutiny. Our desire to do this is more related to the chemical response of the brain’s positive hormones than a rational validation of the solution. Getting moored to a solution just because it seems good enough might right the ship, but it also closes down the exploration of many other really good and often beneficial options. Many times, what we first come up with is the safe or familiar choice. In the long term, choosing what is safe or comfortable could lead to being anchored in another sandbar: stuck again with some familiar issues. Learning how to keep working beyond the first quality idea and coming up with several other options helps us overcome the natural inclination to settle for the first thing we arrive at. Once we’ve uncovered, walked around in, and reviewed in depth several really solid options, we have the information we need to begin to draw the contrasts and weigh the advantages of each choice. The process of learning in depth about several high quality choices by asking questions and getting additional data and facts reduces the fear of uncertainty and increases our clarity about our choice and the outcome.

4. Don’t Critique, Sabotage, Or Stifle Your Forward Progress

The more ideas we have, the more choices that are open to us. If we are to imagine things in ways that we haven’t before, and think about things more broadly than ever before, we can’t sabotage ourselves along the way. Our brains are designed to be critical, find problems to solve, and make spur-of-the-moment judgments—nothing could be more detrimental to free-associating for creativity and inside-out thinking. Knowing this is how our minds work is the first step toward quieting the inner voice that, if left unattended, can impede our ability to do the two steps outlined above. You have to be mindful as you embark on this journey. Prepare yourself by first spending some time becoming aware of your own destructive self-talk: the messages you give yourself that say you can’t do something. Keep a journal as you start this process and make note of every time you think, “You can’t do that,” or “This idea is too crazy.” Put a plan in place to stop yourself from making that judgment and reward yourself for banishing the inner voice that says no and choosing to do things differently. Enjoy the benefits and the stress relief from knowing that this isn’t about getting it right the first time—it is about experimenting, learning, and small steps. With practice, you’ll see the fog will lift and you’ll be less stuck and more willing to push the door open to consider what once seemed unimaginable.

If you’re feeling stuck today, I encourage you to embrace it, accept it as the great puzzle it is to solve, and figure out what path will lead you back to your true north. If you’ve solved the puzzle before, I’d love to hear about your journey and what worked best for you.

 

Don’t Settle For Mediocrity, Instead, Stay Hungry

Mar 01
2017

Don’t Settle For Mediocrity Instead Stay HungryThrough an incredible feat of will and an ability to stay hungry, you’ve kept your edge, kept the naysayers at bay, overcome the competition, and attained all you’ve ever imagined possible. You’re now sitting where you always wanted to be: revered and sought after for your knowledge and expertise, getting all you’ve driven yourself so hard for, and sitting atop the pinnacle of your career. Fulfillment is certainly worthy of celebration and reflection, but it can also be a perilous time if you linger too long while riding the wave of success.

Living on your pedigree, reputation, adulation, and preserving the status quo only gets you so far, and it certainly won’t keep you atop the field forever. Riding the wave of your success is a surefire formula for being lulled into a sense of complacency that dulls your edge, makes you risk averse, and means you’re playing a prevent defense strategy. You stop pushing the envelope, fail to shake up the status quo, and won’t risk doing anything that might reflect poorly on your standing, image, or advance in the game if it means you might not triumph.

Preventing your fall from grace isn’t an effective strategy to keep those hungry up-and-comers from nipping at your heels. In fact, it’s just the opposite—it means that you’ve positioned yourself to be quickly overtaken. You have only one choice to keep your edge and stay atop the crowd: don’t settle for mediocrity – you have got to stay hungry!

Reigniting your hunger and staying that way is within your control. All it takes is watching for opportunities to learn more, do more, and step beyond what you know that’s safe and expected. You have to behave as if you have everything to gain and nothing to lose, stay persistent, not slack off, and without a doubt, not settle for the success you’ve already attained.

Here are some surefire ideas to keep you hungry and set yourself apart from your competition.

Embrace Hunger By Always Challenging The Status Quo

Never think or behave as if you have something to lose. You need to embody the idea of going above and beyond no matter how much success you have already realized. Have enough conviction in yourself that you don’t let the fear of losing your status or others silence your inner voice. Have the same willingness that you did before you were successful, revered and sought after to push the boundaries of what was comfortable, ask why with humility, and use your people smarts to uncover previously unaddressed concerns. Embrace the idea of experimenting and learning through unpredictable failures. Seek to learn from those who are nipping at your heels, and challenge yourself to put yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable or force you to learn something that you wouldn’t ordinarily have done before. Remember that you’re always a work in progress, and you have to change with the world and those around you.

Find New Ways To Connect What You’re Fanatical About To New Tasks

As you introduce new tasks, technologies, and ideas, you need to find ways to connect them to the things that you’re fanatical about or your motivation for doing what you do. Solicit different perspectives on what you’re doing and what might be outdated. Seek out a mentor who is younger and has a skill set that you don’t have—be open to learning from people who don’t share your frame of reference or experiences. Review the things your passionate about—notice if they still inspire you to go above and beyond to pursue them, and if not, let them go. Try new things and see what resonates with you. Do something that you’ve always aspired to try but were afraid to do or thought others might think wasn’t in line with your character.

Set Straightforward Expectations

Commit to taking a balanced approach to looking around corners and pushing forward to achieve what you want by balancing doing a job well with not plowing over others to accomplish something. Make sure your goals are straightforward and clearly articulated. Make them easy to measure with points along the way that you can measure, while noting your progress. Hold yourself accountable and ask others to do that as well by sharing your objectives. Reward yourself for your diligence, keeping focus on what is just around the corner, and keeping your eye on the future. Act with clarity when choosing where to focus your attention, whether it is on near-term or longer-term goals.

Our past success doesn’t entitle nor guarantee future success. We advance based on what we do moment by moment, opportunity by opportunity, and based on how we deliver and how hungry we stay. The key to separating ourselves from the crowd over the long term and keeping our edge means being intentional about taking risks, being bold, and staying hungry.

Are you willing to stay hungry? If so, let me know what you do to keep yourself striving for the things that give you the edge.

 

Is “Why?” Really Just A Crooked Letter?

Feb 14
2017

It was a chilly fall day and a familiar scene was playing at the town soccer fields. A dad and his young son were walking back to the car after the match. The son was peppering his dad with question after question. Every well-crafted answer the dad gave was met with a single question: Why? At one point it was clear that the dad reached the limit of his patience, and in one last attempt to end the series of why questions he said, “Because ‘Y’ is a crooked letter.”

With a puzzled look on his face, his son smiled and replied: “Why?”

The point in sharing this story is to emphasize that as adults we’ve become so jaded, self-focused, and frustrated with those who ask us “Why?”— even when it comes from our children.

When did inquisitiveness, curiosity, and asking Why become defiance, or a challenge to our thinking, ideas, and who we are?

Is it that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing the Why as extraneous — a waste of time when just doing seems more imperative and expedient? Is it that as adults we don’t believe that why leads to something better and only serves to drag us down a rabbit hole of excuses?

I don’t think our world is not a better place because we don’t ask “Why?”. A life without knowing why keeps us focused in the moment and doing things by rote. It disconnects us from our own sense of purpose and that of those around us. Without knowing why, we fail to see context, solve problems, and fall prey to our natural biases and assumptions. As each day passes, we lose the capacity to dream, to sway others to act without bias and to ask, “Why not?”.

But it isn’t too late for us all to reconnect to our personal Why? — that wonder and curiosity that leads us to better understand the context of the world around us, the potential of what could be and why we are an integral part of all of it. Embodying curiosity in action generates the energy, enthusiasm, and connection to our internal guidance systems that infuses our passion with a purpose, spurs novel thinking, disruption of what is, and sends us in new directions. Isn’t it time to start bringing asking “Why?” back into favor?

Here’s what you need to know to discover your Why and start asking others about theirs:

Embrace A New Paradigm: Knowing Your Why Is A Requisite

We all have a personal brand—that spider’s web of beliefs, principles, values, and knowledge that is the glue that makes us uniquely us. Knowing your Why starts with focusing on a few key things:

Writing A Statement Of Your Why – A phrase that captures the crux of the commitment, principles, values, and set of beliefs that lead you to do what you do.

  • Start by writing the story of how you arrived where you are and how you plan to get where you’re going.
  • Look for the common values, themes, and strengths in the story of your life: why you were empowered to take action, why they influenced your thoughts and behaviors, which experiences did you impact and which experiences impacted you, and how are you different and unique? What created your map of the world? How did your beliefs translate into the action that came to be the way of your life? Ask yourself “Why?” if you didn’t do something you know wanted to.
  • Identify the core values that you want others to connect with you, and write a personal credo that expresses that in a clear and concise way.
  • Be inquisitive and reach out to key stakeholders—those who know you best and are impacted by your actions. Ask them to define what they think your Why is? This is a good check to see if you need to do more alignment.

Focus On Living Your Why – Let your Why infuse everything you do. It should become the source of your purpose and passion—after all, it is the authentic you. Rely on it as a powerbase to spur thinking, cut through extraneous details, and rouse you to action. The Why of your life forms the internal guidance system that supports your decision-making and goal attainment.

Share Your Why, Ask Others Why, Answer Why Questions At Every Opening

Make it your unwritten rule to share your Why, ask others theirs, and ask and answer Why questions at every opening. Here’s how this fosters the transparency that others need to have so they can know you on an authentic level:

Sharing Your Why – Gives others the information that they need to understand and gives witness to your consistent adherence to your core values and principles. This dovetails with their ability to trust and find you to be authentic. Sharing your Why at every opening is at the heart of the loyalty people bestow on you. It is through that loyalty and trust that you can influence, lead, and align varied Whys to impact the larger world.

Ask Others Why – Asking someone else their Why is the first step in knowing the crux of what lies at the heart of their personal brand. Understanding the purpose, principles, values, and set of beliefs that lead them to do what they do helps you tap into what stirs their passions, rouses them to act, and helps you sway them to act with you. Asking someone about their why supports you as you test what you believe about them to be true, discard assumptions, take the emotional temperature of the other person, and build genuine rapport and trust.

Answer Why Questions – A willingness to answer why questions shows your innate sense of curiosity, that you embrace listening, that you don’t respond reflexively, that there is no judgment, and you’re open to testing your thoughts and assumptions. Being open to explaining why means that you are willing to share the Why you believe the way you do, and encourages others to do likewise. Why in action spurs the creative thinking that leads to novel ideas, new directions, and keeps things rooted and connected to more than just what serves the immediate need.

Why is the crux of what guides our lives, and it delineates who we are from each other. It shapes the clarity of our mindset and is the powerbase from which we build the impact and inspiration needed to call others to action and live to the utmost of their potential. Why may just be three letters, but its power to unite people on a common journey or to do the unimaginable for the mutual benefit of all is not to be underestimated.

My Why is to help others (including myself) make a difference, no matter how minor it might seem, and to fill their heart and mind with a sense of gratitude and their life with an enduring purpose.

I’d love to know your Why. Please share it with me in the comments below.

 

The Year’s End: Life Changing Connection For 2017

Dec 20
2016

The Year's End - New BeginningOver the past few weeks I’ve been trying—without much success, I’ll admit—to come up with a novel way to start my end of year post. After numerous false starts, piles of crumpled sheets of paper filling the wastebasket—yes I still do handwrite my first draft—I decided to take a well-needed break and bolster my spirits by reading through my quote journal. And there to my surprise was the solution to my writer’s block. On one of the well-worn pages I’d written the following quote, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” –Seneca.

As the quote reverberated in my mind, I realized that a shift in my thinking was also taking place. Traditionally, I’d always viewed the end of the year as a concrete ending point and the start of a new year as a beginning. The more I thought about the quote, however, the more I realized that how I saw this was based on how I chose to define and describe it, and by extension I realized that much of the way in which we describe, define, and assign meaning to things in our lives is based solely on our perspective, beliefs about ourselves, and our choices at the time we decide what something means. In essence, the things in our lives only have the meaning and power they do because we impart it to them. It was then that it dawned on me there was a better way for all of us to begin 2017, and it certainly didn’t involve making another set of the same old tired resolutions that we all know will never work.

Every new beginning doesn’t have to start with a complete overhaul of the past—it just has to start with some other beginning’s end. Overcoming the inertia of what has become comfortable for us in 2016, and replacing it with what is less so in 2017, is a great place to start. Knowing where endings have to begin in order for new beginnings to emerge starts when you rethink what you have the capability to do, and contest the habits, rationalizations, and meanings that you’ve assigned to things that are keeping you stuck and not seeing the potential in yourself and in others.

I hope that you’re willing to begin to end something so that you find your new beginning in 2017. The beginning that sees you connect to your passions in new ways, build connections with others more deeply, and accept that all is possible—if you know how to connect what you’re capable of with what you pursue.

With perseverance, intention, and commitment, 2017 will be a great new beginning!