Pursuing Work That Has No End

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I heard a fantastic interview of an entrepreneur that adopted this motto in his ventures by Avot de Rabbi Natan,

“Do not be afraid of work that has no end”

I like closure and results. The kind of thinking that creates big movements, such as ensuring every human being has clean water, is daunting, to say the least. It’s the kind of commitment that stirs the soul to action, if we can find such a cause.

The hard part is to get above the noise of all the demands we have already committed to. I do think it’s good to periodically look up from our work and ask what direction we are headed.

We may find that we have emotionally shifted and that our priorities are misaligned.

Do I still care about this work?

Is there a new reality and opportunity to pursue?

Am I making an impact?

I think modern work moves at a dizzying pace, and it’s hard to get above the fray. Purpose, meaning and vision take deep thought, and that can be challenging, especially in the grind. However, I do often sense I am likely off course most of the time when it comes to work I have committed to. It’s that hunch I feel in the back of my mind while I maintain productivity around my commitments.

So, I try to keep some simple disciplines to keep thinking broader:

  • Morning routines. With coffee in hand, I like to be silent and let my mind and heart think and align on what is going on and where I am headed.
  • Constant questioning. I always ask myself and use conversations with others to evaluate my choices. Is there something better? I’m looking for better.
  • Perspective. I ask myself frequently, “Knowing what I know now further down the journey, would I have started this project?”

I think at a core level, we are deeply inspired with work that has no end and provides impact and meaning. It beats year after year of subsistence thinking.

Is there bigger work you should consider?

Build Dealmaking Empires

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The willingness to fail is important, because no matter how good you become at the nuances of dealmaking, your bottom-line results are tied to the law of averages. ~ Robert Ringer, essay on Dealmaking Empire Builders

I bet there is a way to leverage, scale or parlay the skills or assets you have in business now into something broader. If you read the article above from Ringer, you can see the backstories of commodity businesses or early software projects. Those assets, transformed through dealmaking, turned coffee into Starbucks, software into Microsoft and bricks and mortar into real estate empires.

However, you can’t simply be working hard without imagining. Creativity and vision help you see something beyond what you are doing, arguably at a lower level of return.

What if you could turn your team into a larger profit center?

What if partnering with your competitors could lead to a bigger stage?

What if selling your product in an entirely different manner or market changes the profit equation?

What if you took your years of specific industry knowledge and shared it in podcasts and books?

It takes dealmaking prowess to see and push the idea into a new venue. Instead of earning a paycheck, you can create a distribution system or revenue stream.

Can you think about what you have going and what you know in a completely different light? Who would you need to talk with to get a different kind of deal going?

I tend to be an optimist and I can see different types of deals. I find it’s less about some novelty and more about curiosity and creativity. I want to make use of assets in the most profitable ways. That often takes understanding upside opportunities and who to talk to in order to make the deal a reality.

Yes, the law of averages is at play. So you have to do a lot of deals and keep that mindset of pushing on your ideas with others. That’s why practicing with frequency is the key to building dealmaking empires.

One Bad Deal Equals Ten Good Deals

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Have you ever noticed that drama people, those that welcome a life of continual crisis, can’t seem to ever escape their problems? It’s sad to watch a life full of crisis.

I think it can happen to all of us if we don’t protect our downside. Getting involved with crummy people and bad deals is hard to dig out of. Take a simple subscription for cable. It’s easy to sign up for. It’s a lot of hassle and steps to get out of. There’s a disproportionate aspect between enrollment and dissolution.

The same goes for relationships. They are easy to get into, but it is often an ulcer trying to unhinge from shady characters.

I often tell friends, “One bad deal is worth ten good deals.”

That’s a simple rule of thumb from business observations I have had over many years. If you work hard to avoid problems, build a boring business and be a little wiser to protect your downside, the upside tends to take care of itself.

So what about risk taking and entrepreneurship? I think that doing a bit of thinking to protect your downside is part of pushing against uncertainty. Throwing caution to the wind can be costly. Taking on what looks like a sweet upside deal without considering the costs can get you entangled in something like quicksand. The struggle to get out of a contract or undo the work you have put out into the world takes an immense amount of energy.

Furthermore, when we get vested in projects and commitments, we develop a sunk-cost bias that blinds our decision-making.

If I’m the cable company, I want you vested and emotionally committed. I want you paying your bill every month.

If I’m your business advisor, I want you to be smart and stay free so you can keep growing without friction.

Simply protect your downside vigorously. It will take ten good deals to overcome a bad decision, otherwise.

Getting Caught Doing the Right Things

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How do you know if you had a solid day or week of output? We can easily get deluded into thinking we were highly productive, but we may have simply stringed together fleeting days of busy activity. Sometimes, simply maintaining that appearance of effort can make us feel justified.

Productivity makes you a reliable person who gets things done that need to be done. There are things we have to keep doing in order to keep tasks and projects moving along because of the commitments we made to ourselves.

However, what about moving the needle on a much larger level? You have to have space to think about such context.

What makes an impact?

Are the projects and people I am involved with helping me get to where I want to go?

Does this project even matter?

It’s that pull between doing things right vs. doing the right things.

When I find myself unenthusiastic or lax in my work and interactions, it’s likely because something does not make sense anymore in the context of what is important. I have to disengage and do a gut check on what I am giving myself to.

With the world moving so quickly and the ease of others pulling on you with requests, I think it’s a trap anyone can find themselves in.

So, if you feel that kind of misalignment, take a breather and pull back rather than push in. Think about where you are headed and cut things that don’t make sense even though they might have been a good idea before.

We are always needing to be dynamic because we are living in a fast changing world.

Maybe it’s less about hard work and much more about hard thinking.

Don’t Get Fooled By Heroics

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We humans tend to live by emotion more than logic. It’s why politicians, business leaders and religious authorities can sway the masses too often.

You may have heard that famous saying, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” It’s an opportunity for heroics to come into play. And those affected by a crisis are vulnerable.

Never mind asking, “How did we get here in the first place?” or “Could we have avoided this crisis?”

It’s the blind spot we are prey to. We like heroics. Those that fix things can get praise without much scrutiny.

Maybe we accept that there are inefficiencies, waste and bubbles as part of the natural cycle of life. After all, we tend to accept mediocrity in people’s actions and work. It’s easier to overlook the fault of others because of compassion or to avoid the pain of dealing truthfully. We don’t want to appear as a bad person.

So, we get buildups of problems and crises and enjoy praising heroics. After all, who actually says, “Look what I prevented,” and gets praised for this? Better to say, “Look what I did.”

If you can see ahead, it can create internal conflicts. Do you take the job, money or relationship on because you have the opportunity to perform heroics when your incentive is to shine and be a savior after a crisis? Building robust and preventive strategies, processes and systems doesn’t pay off as well. It’s too abstract.

Security companies, IT managed services and insurance firms get paid for prevention and just-in-case. It’s an inverted emotional incentive because the threat is large and can be imagined readily.

It gets tricky trying to be preventive, wise and prudent in environments that reward heroics. You can show up envious coworkers or burn a lot of energy trying to get a decision maker to value what hasn’t impacted the immediate.

There are certainly no shortage of problems to solve and bring your value towards. How we package and ensure the value we bring is recognized is often determined by context, timing and mindsets.

I would rather avoid disasters than spend all my time and energy playing savior, regardless of the arguable misplaced perceptions others may have.

What do you do when you see something coming?

Give Them What They Want

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If you spend most of your time trying to convince people of what they need, you may be in for a highly expensive and wasteful lesson from the marketplace. I get it. When you have an idea that you love, you think others should love it as well. But, we have to take heed of what William Faulkner said, “you must kill all your darlings.”

Your darlings may be the idea of special native plants in your ingredients or how you believe people should socialize. In your mind, this may be the most beautiful, reality-changing screenplay to yet become a part of our everyday lives. But going broke pursuing it is not smart business.

Giving people what they want takes observing, listening and detachment. You observe how people react to your offering and integrate the feedback to refine it further.

You listen when they tell you they like something or dislike something. You read the Google Reviews or Yelp. The painful ones have insight.

You detach from your own idea of what is good for everyone, and simply serve people where they are at.

Even if you are right, you may be creating psychic pain by insisting on something people don’t want or are not ready for.

I think people forget there are another 300M+ people in this country. We get in our own heads wanting to be special or stand out. That’s not likely with that many people and with the ridiculous amount of options. And guess what? We are all connected. A hit quickly gains a ripple effect.

There may be a few people brilliant enough to get people to understand something they did not know they needed and now want. But that stardom, though highly celebrated, is what movies are made of, not necessarily what entrepreneurship and business rewards.

It’s a jungle out there. One of your best senses to develop is paying close attention to what people’s emotions, feelings and expressions are saying about what they want and like. Your job is to give it to them in the easiest or most exquisite way.

Valuable Skills in the Automation Economy

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I have shared about the need to unlearn and reinvent continually because of market forces all around you and the pace of change. Once you see something that was once hard become convenient, commoditized and automated, you have to unlearn and relearn.

I think that the Harvard Business Review has it right with the kind of jobs that will thrive in the midst of automation:

“the only way to create value in a more differentiated and rapidly changing product world will be to redefine work at a fundamental level to focus on distinctly human capabilities like curiosity, imagination, creativity, and emotional and social intelligence.”

Being human stands out. Think about how you react to a simple email that is mass vs. personal. You can tell the difference, regardless of how crafted the mass email was designed. Spamming gets blocked. Personal and authentic creates engagement.

Thus, as HBR references, the creators, composers and coaches will make use of automation, routine tasks and efficiencies to create value.

Creators make highly customized products and services based on tastes and interests of people. They have to anticipate and connect the dots. Depth and personalized products are what they are dialing into.

Composers design experiences from the resources that are available. Themes, tours, and parties, for example, will be designed and guided for participants. It’s an imaginative type of area which can transform otherwise mundane offerings into visceral experiences.

Coaches help people achieve more with knowledge, insight and encouragement within chosen domains. They bring clarity, focus and a path for getting dreams and results.

It’s a practical and focused framework for thinking about where you might move towards. These are valuable professions making use of what is already available, abundant and efficient around you in systems, resources and products.

We already know how to make things in mass, sell it to millions and create sameness. That’s not much of a game. It’s a bygone era of value when we learned to be industrial and industrious. And the price keeps dropping towards the bottom.

Think about your industry or background and ask, “How do I create more value by connecting deeply with meaning for my clients and others?”

It’s a bit of repackaging to start moving in this direction, but more importantly, it’s getting in tune with the times where efficiency is becoming a given.

Truly Focus

On the front lines, that frenetic swarm of activity posting on social media has gotten worn and tired. Most people doing worthwhile work are inattentive to the streams and heads down delivering their value. They don’t have time to keep up with all the platform noise.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, had a nice summary of the social media reform taking place on his blog. It’s worth the read to see how privacy, fatigue and social norms are shaping our use or unplugging of social media.

Everyone’s business is different so your mix of tools, platforms and go-to-market approaches are going to be a part of how your industry norms work. Periodically, it is worth looking up and asking a few questions so you are not simply doing things nonsensically.

  1. Have I made a sale using the social media platforms I keep posting on? What sales specifically?
  2. Can I skinny down and go big on one or two platforms?
  3. When I look at all the streams, what’s really helpful? Is it all noise? Am I simply adding to the noise?
  4. If I unplug for 60 days, does anyone really miss me?

Your attention is scarce and every seller out there is competing for it. Why simply hand over the best parts of you indiscriminately or without an assessment of return on your attention.

As the weekend is coming, perhaps getting skinnier and more focused can make some of the things you are hoping for come into vision more clearly.

What are you finding truly works and what are you finding is simply busywork?

Learn to Unlearn

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“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ” ~ Alvin Toffler

I often think about that phrase, “What got you here won’t get you there.” It’s a powerful reminder that you can’t rest on your accomplishments for long. Someone out there wants to eat your lunch, or the world around you at large is relentlessly making your achievement meaningless every day.

One strategy if you don’t want to have to keep innovating is to find a commoditized required industry and camp out. Society needs trash removal, utilities, cleaning, bookkeeping and bandages. Cash flows continuously in and out of those boring businesses and the entrenched players don’t have to pivot too much. That is as long as there is not someone reimagining how to lower costs and increase conveniences for customers.

There are things I was an expert in previously that are simply foregone memories now. There’s too many areas where the world has become more efficient that has forced me to have to “learn, unlearn, and relearn.” And that’s fair. Everyone is subject to the requirement to being relevant and valuable. You have to keep proving your place and worth in this world of endless options.

One way to measure ongoing staying power is to think about how much you are personally growing.

How many books per month have you read?

How many people have you met in the last week?

What new ideas are you sharing?

You have to keep learning, testing and sharing. In this mode, you have to think of value as something to apply and discard when the game has changed.

The last thing you want to be is illiterate among so many that are taking initiative every day to become better and offer something timely and powerful. That’s the game today for value creators.

Hell Yeah! or No Works

I read Derek Sivers’ mantra years ago, “Either ‘Hell Yeah!’ or ‘no.” It’s a fantastic way to live and do business. Most things don’t work out. And a lot of time, money and relational equity can be wasted when taking on what appears to be good projects or endeavors, but they are not necessarily the best things for you.

I say, “No,” all the time to projects that have more downside than upside, invitations that feel more dutiful than fun and opportunities that I can tell have a low probability of working out.

Hell Yeah! has a fantastic filter on all the temptations and shiny allures.

It’s a boundary that helps you go big on what really matters. And we need all our energy, focus and attention on things that matter. It’s hard enough trying to make things work when everything is working against you. Why add the drag of mediocre commitments that will likely die on the vine?

Great motto to live into and see if you can get more out of the good stuff and keep all the compromises at bay.