The Competency vs. Likability Conundrum

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Try doing business without being likable. Getting connections and deals become hard quickly. We live with immense choices in who we want to deal with, and unpleasantness can simply be ignored for the next great option.

Of course, there are a lot of charmers out there as well. They can be completely likable and know how to create that aura of likability through warmth, flattery, smiles, encouragement and so many other gestures we appreciate in friendship.

When given a choice we do business with people that we like. Ideally, the likable people are competent as well. Likability is fantastic when we are talking short-term, but long-term still comes down to competence. We have deliverables, customers to please and dreams to achieve. A likable, incompetent person is not going to help us if the goals are real.

We know to avoid incompetent, unlikable people. I think people will tolerate unlikable, competent people. But those relationships tend to dissolve over time when the right crisis or opportunity come along.

The tricky decisions come into play with likable, incompetent people. Do you have a blind spot, or a soft spot, for such souls? If you find yourself making excuses, rationalizing or defending such people, perhaps your sympathies have taken you too far from center.

The carrying costs for the likable, incompetent person builds up over time. And if times are fat or life is good, fine. Enjoy the company and friendship.

If you are building an organization, the competent folks can grow resentful when they see the deference and overlooking eyes you may have for incompetence. You may not call it that, but it’s there for everyone to observe.

A lot of trying to get where you want to go has to do with your decision making on talent, opportunities and risk. When you look at your results and what you want for yourself, consider this one area and get honest with yourself. Do you reward incompetence? Does likability simply disarm you? You might need a way of getting clear and avoid the traps you create for yourself.

Forget Being Well-Rounded

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I see people every day in business lost on what they should or can do. The old rules where you were a good boy or girl and advanced up a ladder doesn’t play out much today. You can’t simply rest on your laurels and hope someone notices enough to develop a career path for you.

In addition, we have this amazing world of access. You can find out what opportunities exist, and get transparency into jobs far away with ventures of all sizes and shapes. And if you research, investigate and talk to people, you see less of a correlation between formal education and credentials to the jobs that they take on. People are continually reinventing themselves because of necessity.

One strategy for talent has been to be well-rounded. Learning and doing a lot without focusing too much in one area was a conventional approach.

The problem is that you are competing against the world now. Someone looking for talent can find that person who is sharp, not well- rounded.  Sharp skills in areas are desirable because we have the options to keep finding what we are looking for out there readily and we want execution.

We pay disproportionately for top golfers vs. mediocre talent. Same goes for executives that have a special skill or all that cream we see rising to the top.

I think in a flatter world that moves extremely fast, you should forget about being well-rounded. Its better to be sharp and be extremely good at those chosen areas where your competition can’t touch you. It’s a way of standing out and letting your beacon of talent distinguish you when people are looking for solutions that get results fast.

If you find the carpet pulled out from under your feet, or if you can anticipate your comfortable position changing in the next year or so, then how about getting sharper in an area?

  1. Take an inventory of all the things you like to do.
  2. Pick one to move your skills, knowledge and ability to the next level.
  3. Find projects and customers that will pay for this one talent now. Do the research where to find them and put your shingle out.
  4. Execute.
  5. Promote your work.

Get that reputation that you stand out and are sharp in an area.

I’m not sure people have much choice otherwise in a hypercompetitive, accessible world of options. It beats obscurity.

Steve Martin Taught Me to Think 9 Lives

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I grew up watching Steve Martin as The Jerk, a Dirty Rotten Scoundrel, Roxanne, Father of the Bride and a traveler in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. He has that brilliant wit and timing that has made us roll over in laughter for decades and I couldn’t believe he was still performing at 71.

That’s a night pic at the Starlight Theater in Kansas City and Steve Martin has been ripping bluegrass on the banjo. He played with Steep Canyon Rangers in several sets and then spun off on a combination of humor and solo picking.

At 71 he shared all his accumulated talents as an entertainer and we were simply enthralled. The reflections on life and career with his friend, Martin Short, made for laughs and delights as we watched them use sarcasm and underhanded humor to shine a light on each other’s accomplishments.

I kept thinking how lucky I was to sit and behold a life’s worth of mastery in so many areas. He truly kept reinventing himself. Sometimes, there were roles to fill. Other times, there was simply curiosity and passion leading Steve Martin to the next thing.

Not a lot of people want to change or explore as much, but with how the world is continually moving on a blistering pace, we don’t have much choice. The things we are doing today matter little in the future that is relentlessly put on us.

But, I do think there are more than inspiring lessons that Steve Martin shares. I think you can find his upcoming shows at stevemartin.com. Here are some thoughts I took away:

  1. Keep expanding your core. Humor and wit were Steve Martin’s core talent. He started there young and went to stand-up, movies, and any other outlet to express his art. He practiced and refined his core talent relentlessly and made that his springboard to opportunities.
  2. Package and repackage. Movies require a certain approach. So do stand-up comedy routines, partnering, music and juggling displays. Ultimately, storytelling within the context of the medium makes for new artistic expressions. There’s always new ways to present your talent.
  3. Live out your 9 lives. If you try a lot of things there are going to be flops. That’s expected and ok. What you are doing today will not necessarily be the same thing you do in a year. Keep exploring and expanding.
  4. Stay tuned in. Though Steve Martin is old, he uses Twitter and other social media. He creates and distributes. He teams up with Martin Short and puts together a baseline theme that reflects on the past rather than is contemporary in content. He’s tuned into himself and where he is at and the world around him and what is available to use.
  5. Remember where you came from. Your baseline are the hard times, struggles and lessons that got you down the road. Go back to them to remain humble and keep thinking bigger by knowing you can always do it again.

If you get a chance to see his show, I would highly recommend it. He’s a treat to the world. I’m glad I got to see a history of work in the flesh and learn some great lessons about 9 lives.

I Want to Grow Opportunities with Apps

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I saw this recent statistic to date for number of apps for my Apple devices at 2.2 million and 2.8 million for Google Play! It blows my mind how much technology is available for every average person out there with a thought and a click. We got here fast.

When you look at these numbers, do you think creating one more app will be much value? How would you get through all the noise to even be noticed? You might find a micro niche that has been undiscovered. Or you could try and unseat a current app leader in a category. Tough game either way to bet on, especially when the proposition of free or $0.99 apps are expected. We’re app snobs these days and want extreme power with no cost.

But you could take a look at the bigger picture. Much like electricity is a commodity that we don’t give much thought towards, apps have come to be a sort of utility. We use them for travel, productivity, banking, entertainment and many other uses.

How do you grow opportunities with all these apps, however? What if you want to produce rather than consume? The use case for this supercomputer in your pocket can surely go far beyond checking out or checking in.

If you want to grow opportunities with apps, here are some ideas and strategies that gets you thinking about the game of increase:

  1. Networking. If you extend your inbox to include participating in forums or Quora, you can play a game every day. Give a great idea or connection every day. See if you can be a matchmaker and make new friends by giving substantive value. Push your mind and creativity. See if that translates to deal making.
  2. Build teams. Start a project that has a money-making goal. Keep it small. Use an app to add people to the conversation and actions. Move the ball forward with leadership and project management. See if you can set the next steps forward using distributed talent around the globe. You’ll have picked up the skill of managing virtual teams. You might consider Basecamp, Slack or Upwork to drive this initiative and make an ROI the goal.
  3. Curate. If you keep tabs on trends, products, food, technology or other natural interests, find a way to make a daily post on a platform. See if you can turn that into a transaction. Work with those vendors you respect. Become a trusted, curated resource. Build relationships with your audience and your product vendors to find where the deal making lies.
  4. Encourage. Life is tough and most people are carrying around a lot of worries, concerns and problems. Use an app that would facilitate the process of encouragement. Find inspirations, apt quotes, solutions and answers that would help people. Make it easy for yourself to connect the encouragement with the person that needs it.

You are not going to have a million apps on your device. But you can think about what you are doing with your time and attention and think a bit bigger than mere consumption. What if you could turn that powerful middleware someone created and get resourceful to turn the tech into opportunity building? It starts with a purpose.

Do What You Are

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When I find people unhappy in their work and listen to what’s dissatisfying them, the usual issue is that they are not doing what they are. It’s no secret most people hate their work. But why persist in misery when there is all this choice out there? You have one option. And then there are a ridiculous amount of options at your fingertips to move to.

But it does take strategy and intentionality. You have to be cognizant and articulate of who you are, how your brain works vs. those around you. There are things that you will excel at and things that will totally stress you out.

When you work within your makeup and groove, life and work gets easier and enjoyable. I know this because I have seen it firsthand so many times over many years working with so many clients and teams. It’s about alignment. And if you are not aligned, you simply struggle to bring your best. It’s stressful. And stress kills.

You can keep going the way you are, but something inside you tells you that things are not right. That’s your gut. Listening to your gut is good business. There’s a reason that voice is there.

What can you do?

  1. Get honest about whether you are happy or not doing what you do.
  2. Get clear and precise about who you are with a strengths test.
  3. Identify opportunities on LinkedIn and all the job sites out there to find what does fit your strengths.
  4. Take action and change towards what brings out your best.

Happiness is an indicator. It’s part of your gut, which again, is a valuable business barometer.

There are just too many good opportunities out there and you have so much freedom to go after it. Why waste time doing anything less than who you are?

Creativity Not Productivity

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We had this age of efficiency and continuous improvement for a long time. When the Japanese were destroying us in the auto industry with better quality cars we buckled down and hyper focused on quality. It worked. ISO standards, Deming Cycles and Six Sigma drove quality to new standards, and we produced a generation of managers that ensured statistical quality for the masses.

There’s money to be made in efficiency for sure. I enjoyed conversations recently with an executive friend at UPS who shared the relentless focus UPS has on logistics and using unmanned vehicles and drones in their R&D. They are in the efficiency business, and both workforce productivity and the market demand for immediacy are driving their initiatives. We, as consumers, get to partake in what will be a surreal future of fulfillment based on our whimsical desires. The speed, precision and customization are being worked on while we consume from our mobile on-demand lives anytime, anywhere.

I think the business of productivity and efficiency fit well for enterprises that can move the needle in our lives from a mass perspective. They are productivity behemoths and get rewarded for consolidating around this value proposition.

However, there are many more slots to fill for customers that go beyond productivity. As humans, we still want to consume creativity. That boutique hotel experience or the out of the box retreat attracts us in a way that relieves our tired minds from consumerism, efficiency and boring.

If you are in the productivity business, keep pushing the bounds of faster, cheaper and efficient. That’s the value the market expects.

For all other endeavors, your creativity, not necessarily your productivity, will have a larger impact on selling and being relevant. The ideas you are able to generate and implement will be the differentiator in such a ridiculously competitive world.

I had a friend recently say, “Stay in the mess.” He was talking about the complexities of IT problems he is involved with that AI has not touched yet. We were talking about how that will likely change with deep learning technology that is continuously pushing the envelope.

Today’s mess is not necessarily going to remain hard or obscure.

And the challenge becomes looking for new messes using the efficiencies, tools and platforms that productivity has solved for our creative benefit.

I am not sure what the future beholds in business. But I do see, from the front lines, how those who are creative stand out. Getting in the mess where strategy, forward thinking and the ability to connect the dots tends to gain trust, respect and relationship gets rewarded.

Simply trying to make efficient things more efficient has marginal value.

If you are not productive at this point, you may be fighting an uphill battle. Give it up and do what you can. There’s already consolidated and large leverage players that accomplish productivity far better than you. Partner with them.

It’s a far better strategy to invest in creativity. Find a new angle. Straddle multiple industries and blend those ideas into a new approach. Take some time to get above the fray and see the forest from the trees. You’ll add a lot more value in today’s world being a creative resource that can make ideas happen quickly. Oh, and you don’t have to be frenetic. You just have to commit to being insightful, strategic and creative.

The Amateur vs. Expert Chasm

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There are too many things I am simply an amateur at in life. If I pick up a sport or study a new topic, it’s hard and clumsy at first. Actually, it’s difficult for a while until I can get my brain and my body the reps and familiarity to be competent.

These days, I want to get better at a few select things that are important to me. I’m spending a lot of time with tennis, for example, and enjoy the cadence and fun of the game. I have experts that teach me and show me how to hit and move efficiently. It’s awkward at times to learn a new stroke. But the reps help me become more comfortable.

I could expend a ton of energy and rely simply on effort and athleticism. However, I am needlessly working harder, much harder than the experts I see and play with. They are getting the ball back and are relaxed about it.

The newbies are frenetic. They run and swing at everything with determination and hacking.

Without humility, amateurs can think they are working hard, being effective and even on the same level as those that are further down the path of competency. They may even wonder why they are not seeing the same result as those that are experts. The problem is that the delusion misses the reality that there is a wide chasm between how amateurs and experts see the game, whatever game they are in.

All talent is not the same.

Yes, we can all use the same tools now. They are cheap and accessible. It doesn’t mean that we are all experts.

Heck, if you ask people to go find an answer, they even search completely differently on Google. How do you measure the efficiency of each person’s brain?

Maybe it’s about how fast a task or project can get done. Perhaps it’s the least number of lines of code required to get a solution. Or the brevity of words to get an impact could be the clincher.

Amateurs with pride miss the differences.

Can you really do SEO because you learned a small bit about alt tags?

Are you now a writer because you figured out how to blog?

Are you truly an entrepreneur because you started a website and opened a business checking account?

Yes, we can all play now. That doesn’t mean we have arrived. There’s still a long journey to expertise. And that takes consistency and sustainability. When you know things because you paid the price to make complex things simple, you are more relaxed. You know what works and what does not work. You know the trade-offs.

There are going to be people that understand the chasm between your expertise and their amateur hour abilities. And they will value it accordingly with partnerships, ventures and friendship.

And then there are those that are simply oblivious to the amateur/expert chasm. Smile. Move on. Let them try their hand at the game. You know the real price to competency.

Use This Leadership To Get Things Done

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There are all these productivity systems out there, and I find this one thing is often underestimated. Speed.

We don’t live in a world where what comes in is controlled and steady. If you are like the typical knowledge worker, it is absolute chaos on a given business workday with calls, emails, meetings and requests.

That’s because it is so easy to move information around. When it was slow and awkward, we could react with a steadiness to our work.

Furthermore, large industrial companies had all these managers, specialists and workers silo’d in their limited roles and functions. That model was inspired by the assembly line and we could afford the daisy chain flow of work. It looks silly today from this vantage point because our tools and technology are ridiculously efficient and connected.

The average person carries a supercomputer in their pockets and can get what they want wherever and whenever.

That also means that a request becomes work for another person. It’s why workdays can feel overwhelming. You have to react to all these unknown and unanticipated requests.

It’s why I believe the key skill today is making meaning and moving to action. It is personal leadership. The faster and clearer you are then the more the chains move towards your goals. That is assuming you have your goals clear as well.

And here are a few strategies to make speed and clarity work for you in the daily trenches and get things done:

  1. Master email. Most knowledge work gets done by email. Your vendors, prospects, clients and teammates understand email. Keep it simple. It hasn’t died. It is rarely used well, however. Learn shortcuts, drive speed and move communications quickly.
  2. Make people react. Start your mornings with rituals. One of these is to get your requests out there. Again, send twenty emails out there. You typically need other people to get your tasks done. Simply get things out of your head and email the people you need. The hot potato is in their court and they have to react. It’s an easy way to drive tasks. I would encourage using this instead of task lists as well. Simply use emails to start the processes you need to get done with other people.
  3. Say No. When you are unclear or don’t have enthusiasm behind something, simply say, “No.” It’s the fastest way to get things off your plate and complete projects. In fact, start your task review this way. If you really miss an opportunity, or it’s that valuable, the request will come up again. Most things simply don’t matter.

Your goal each day is to clear your workload and push it onto others to react. You can lead from your world in this giant information ecosystem by staying simple, focused and decisive.

Then, use that freed up time and mind space to be creative. That’s what allows for further leadership and working on the things that matter to you. You may need training to make this happen. I would highly encourage the investment. You deal with this chaos every day and it makes an immense impact on your overall results.

Eliminate All Those Failure Points and Get Results

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It’s hard enough to get results when the world is set up against you with adversity, obstacles and high hurdles. Furthermore, it is so easy to let in a thousand distractions, commitments and assets that contribute little or nothing to your goals.

I can remember getting offered so many credit card deals back in college. It was new and I never had a credit card. I ended up signing up for too many and learning the hard way what easy money could do to my peace of mind. I let a failure point enter into my life and I had to put in a disproportionate amount of time, energy and attention to get the debt out of my life.

These days, it’s so easy to let in failure points that pull us away from getting results. Some examples that easily sneak in:

  • Business applications. So easy to sign up, start a trial and forget about it. What’s happened to all those logins and what did you sign up for?
  • Bank accounts. How many do you need? Each one has to be watched and cared for. And we know bankers are salespeople with a title. They get incentives for opening up a new, meaningless checking or savings account for you. Good for them. Meaningless for you.
  • Credit cards. Again, how many do you need? It’s debt. It’s temptation. What’s in your wallet owns your peace of mind.
  • Bad deals. Working with people you don’t like or on projects that are outside your sweet spot don’t tend to turn out well. It’s a force fit. Your lack of enthusiasm clouded simply by a desire for money ends up frustrating you and your client. It’s not worth it.
  • Drain people. The world is filled with irrational players. Letting them have a place in your life and mind because you don’t discern what a good relationship looks like leaves a failure point open.
  • Unhealthy habits. Sleeping, eating and exercise are critical for our well-being and performance. Can you actually see what is happening inside your body over time? Unhealthy habits become a ticking time bomb that can wreak havoc in your life if you are indiscriminate about how you manage your choices.
  • Complexity. When you have a choice between a simple setup or life and then choose complexity in all its forms, you are creating stress. Why be stressed? This thing you built called your life can be designed in so many ways. But you do have to be intentional.

Frankly, I could go on for a while. There are myriad ways to complicate your life and create a new front to manage every day. Each of those commitments, which I bet are largely from passivity, become failure points.

Your unchecked accounts can suffer from fraud or hacking. Your relational commitments can become toxic, and you now have giant knots you have to untangle. Your business can be mired with so many steps and processes just to get service to your customers.

It’s not worth it. Drama people may like the thrill of dealing with things that don’t matter or add little to winning in their lives. However, it’s simply wasteful and stressful.

Failure points are lurking under the surface of your life and create pent up catastrophes. And it’s hard for our human nature to celebrate what didn’t happen. The heroics of overcoming something that did happen always shines as the heralded story in contrast.

But if you have a little motivation and see the wisdom in eliminating and preventing failure points in your life and business then two things to integrate into your approach:

  1. Audit your commitments
  2. Develop the habit of discretion

Take a look across all your accounts, commitments, assets, etc. What contributes to your goals? What are your goals? Get clear. Get a list going and start getting rid of those things that don’t matter to your results you desire.

You can do this in bite-size approaches. Simply get rid of one failure point a day.

Then, when new opportunities, offers, products, etc. present themselves, notice your response. Are you tempted? Do you have high emotion and eagerness?

Learn to say, “No.” Keep your life simple and avoid anything new for a few months. You may have withdrawal pains, but that is your psyche transitioning to a new mindset and approach to work and living.

There are so many traps out there that can snag your peace of mind. Think of yourself as a manager of your affairs that looks out for your own well-being. You are giving yourself a gift by avoiding failure points that can backfire towards your well-being and goals. The point of life is to live, not be encumbered by the snares of life.

I See This Common Struggle After Success

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CNN covered an interview recently on Andre Agassi returning to tennis to coach Novak Djokovic in his next chapter of his career. Such a great read as well as an insightful interview of Brad Gilbert, commentator extraordinaire and former coach of Andre Agassi.

He talked about how Agassi played his best tennis after 29, the latter chapters of the legend’s career.

He was further asked about the player-coach relationship and how that dynamic works. We forget sometimes that these superstars we see on screen are also human beings traveling the journey of life with its ups and downs, whether for glory or strife.

I love tennis and try to play as much as I can. The mental part of the game is ridiculously intense. I can only imagine what these talented and dedicated pros go through at the highest levels of the game.

Djokovic has had his downs lately, despite being on top of the world for a long stint. And he was looking for an answer to his crisis. He read Agassi’s bestseller, Open. I love that book for the same reason as many did. He was shockingly transparent and human about his failures. It took a lot of courage for Agassi to put his thoughts, memories and confessions out there.

I think we all get stuck at times. And it’s hard to figure out how to get out of the rut. When we have had success, it’s not necessarily a guarantee that the streak will continue. Then what do we do? Do we pretend we are always successful? Or do we get real?

The CNN interview Brad Gilbert had struck me as something real. He understood the human part as well as the technical trade of the game. And he was seeking to describe the parts of our humanity that unlock our potential. Concepts such as wisdom, insight and connection matter. If we are disconnected from our hearts or other people, it’s hard to perform or make sense of how the relentless spinning world around us can make sense.

I’ve been up and down in my life, much like many of the successful people I know. Heck, we can’t evade the law of averages. There are too many other forces at work to dictate our circumstances.

So what do you do when you may have had success and can’t seem to find that groove again? Perhaps Djokovic has found hope and an answer by connecting with what he is perceiving as real in Agassi’s journey. He has all the physical skills to dominate. He has already done what so many other people envy and dream about.

Getting congruent and finding that emotional connection to make ourselves whole is critical to lining up the pieces whether for the first taste of success or for renewal.

I have seen this journey. It can feel like a reboot. It’s not necessarily about success. It’s about alignment. Successful people already have experienced the achievement of their desires and will. But to mature and stay consistent in a place that is so intense demands a depth in our pursuits, perhaps a discipline and graduation from mere determination.

Getting and losing something can be confusing. And hard work and effort don’t necessarily overcome the elusive nature of achieving success again.

Maybe it’s about growing up. Or there’s a secret to less effort and more reward from the fact that experience allows us to move with more ease. Experienced pros aren’t trying harder and working harder. They know what matters and live into that space.

There’s great drama watching the celebrities. It draws us in and enthralls us. It’s entertainment.

But, the narrative of our own lives are what we have to deal with day in and day out. And I think there are things we learn when we can see the human parts of those top .1% of people that hyper focus on success.

How can we do things that are substantive and long-term? How can we gain what feels lost?

There’s a human part to it all that really matters and the great ones seem to understand this.

There are things that work. There are things that hurt. And there are things that don’t matter.

We can feel like we arrived when we achieved something in life. But if it’s so hard to hold on, or we lose what we worked so hard for, is it really success?

Maybe that’s the time to think, seek wisdom and find out what creates sustainability.

I like achievements. But the staying power, and maturity that comes with such rare form, is a next chapter in the story which is natural to the success journey. Don’t despair when you lose something. Build on those lessons to create that next chapter of staying.