Do They Want to Solve the Problem?

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It can be hard to decipher whether people want to truly solve the problem you are thinking. But that first question can save a lot of trouble in projects, relationships and business if you can get what people want.

Solving the problem you are thinking matters may not be the priority. In your work with others, they may want something else instead:

  • To look good in front of their boss
  • Documentation to cover for their ____
  • A feeling of importance
  • Feeling secure just in case
  • Their gain your pain
  • Ideas and strategies they can claim as their own
  • Appearing busy

Listen carefully and observe your customer or the team you are working with. The clues in behaviors, inaction, focus and interchange can reveal what really matters and whether solving the problem is really what matters.

Then it’s up to you to figure out if you want to give them what they really want or bow out.

If you are not making progress in your work with someone, think about that simple, question, “Do they really want to solve the problem?” It can save you a lot of wasted energy and grief.

Be Dangerous But Disciplined

This interview with a navy seal breaking down a part of human nature with a renowned clinical psychologist is fascinating. This podcast interview between Jocko Willink and Jordan Peterson takes a look at how civility occurs. We want dangerous people that are disciplined. It’s a temperament and a part of keeping the peace in society and the world.

Being undisciplined can wreak havoc.

We need good guys that apply discipline. And the discussion has humility with assertiveness from both gentlemen.

Some things I find helpful:

  1. Your context, where you choose to play, will cast a value on your nature. Pick a valid game to be within.
  2. Warriors with discipline can direct and apply their immense strength. It’s worth being disciplined to handle the evil and adversity in the world, if not for yourself, for others.
  3. Don’t mess with Navy Seals:)

What would happen if you apply more discipline to your nature? 

How to Be a Resource Maven

Today, we have too much information and technology, not too little. And information and tools are cheap and accessible.

You can create value for others by curating information and sharing it specifically and personally. Sure, people share on social media, but it gets drowned out and is hard to consider in the scrolling sea of noise.

Here is what I like to do to provide value to the people I seek to help:

1. Save Helpful Content Using the Google Keep Chrome Extension

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I am a heavy user of Google Keep. It’s part of your Gmail or G Suite setup. It’s searchable and can easily hold lists, notes, links and research in a virtual sticky pad environment. It’s also now in your sidebar of Gmail to search as well.

The Google Keep Chrome Extension installs on your Google Chrome browser. When you are reading anything on a website, simply click the extension to save the link so you have it to recall anytime. You can also add notes on the fly and label those notes for categorizing. It’s fast, convenient and you are able to keep moving through information quickly.

When you want to find old information, simply search for what you are looking for. You can do this in your browser or your mobile app. All your knowledge, research and gathering ready to be found.

When you are seeking to be helpful to a prospect, client or friend, review content in your Google Keep to share. Be sure to share personally. If by email, add your insight, opinion or advice.

2. Read Blogs on Feedly

Feedly became the go to RSS feed reader after Google shut theirs down. It’s convenient in your web browser and mobile app. I like Seth Godin’s exhortation to Read more blogs and what the value is for you personally.

Blogs are deliberate, thoughtful and keep you current on your interests in your industry and in the world. Save articles. Share them with people you care to connect with and help. It’s easy to do with the social sharing or email controls in Feedly.

Organize your Feedly by topics and carve out a few minutes each day to gain insights and read powerful articles. You can add my blog from my RSS feed.

3. Keep a List of Article Ideas

When I am in conversations, engaging the world or reading, new article ideas pop up all the time. I keep a list on my Gmail Tasks called “Articles” and add to it regularly. It keeps me attentive to what is going on around me. I am a writer and I love finding insights and creating content around those insights.

I like Anne Lamott’s thoughts on being a writer, thus an observer in the world:

If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days – listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you’ve taken in, all that you’ve overheard, and you turn it into gold.

You notice more by keeping thoughts in a convenient, accessible place. Letting your eyes observe and your mind wander and make connections happen when you are out in the world. Having a system where you keep ideas for content is powerful for keeping a pipeline of worthy content going. You can write an article or an email to someone elaborating on your thoughts.

Being Valuable to Others

There are a few ways to create value, but having resources that you can share in personal ways does require a process that is easy to manage. I keep my resources continually building and try to match those in timely ways for my clients and friends. I try to add a bit more than might be reasonable to each interaction with people.

You can share resources in one-to-one emails, newsletters, blog articles and on social. In a crowded world, it is valuable to bring solutions, insights and focus to people’s problems. Be that resource and you become valuable. You become that person people know help them and not waste their time and attention.

Be a Ruthless Pruner

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We are always working on yesterday’s commitments. And when we have committed, it’s so easy to make those decisions sacred. Such reverence for our past commitments builds up continual clutter, drag and mediocrity in our work and lives. Without knowing it, we are managing many subpar projects, possessions and relationships at the cost of what could be the best. We don’t have room to invite, entertain or adopt the best.

Pruning cuts out what is less than optimal so the main part of what matters can grow stronger. It’s a habit that has to be practiced daily in order to make room for the best.

If you find yourself in a slump, prune. You will gain energy from getting lighter.

If you need new creative direction, you don’t simply get inspired with more creativity. I don’t think there’s even a lack of creativity. In fact, creativity shows up when you make more time or free up resources.

Ruthlessly prune projects that simply don’t have a payoff anymore. Your brain wants to fill that time and space with new options. The brain can’t help it.

Nature hates a vacuum and when you prune, you create a vacuum to be filled.

In the process of pruning, you might also discover the things that really matter. Double up on those commitments, projects and relationships. The pruning revealed what is gold and truly matters. Frittering away your life, energy and resources on things that don’t matter or create high value simply spreads you thin at the cost of what is best.

It’s a hyper-competitive world with millions of people. You likely have a few things that you can go big on and add real value to carve out a place for yourself or stand out. How can you get there managing, struggling and emotionally attaching yourself to commitments that don’t have any potential of big payoffs?

What’s one thing that doesn’t matter right now you can ruthlessly prune? 

The Weekly Checklist

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I like to keep two checklists that I execute to keep my business moving:

  1. Weekly Checklist – Actions that have to get done each week for operations
  2. Daily Checklist – What is foundational to my personal and business goals

Business tends to run on a weekly cadence. The ritual of keeping a weekly checklist ensures that you have attention on items that keep your cash flow, project delivery, relationships and key metrics met consistently. It is an opt-out approach for things that are important. You want to pay attention to these items and choose to ignore them intentionally, if that is what makes sense in your priorities.

Here are a few items I have in my Gmail Tasks for a weekly checklist:

  • Accounts Receivables
  • Blog article writing
  • Proposal Follow-ups
  • Team Skills Training
  • LinkedIn article writing
  • Client Project Updates

After I check off each item, which I like to get done on Mondays, I uncheck the items the following week to start the cycle over again.

This ensures I keep what is important moving along in a habit and don’t miss both the mundane and important details.

In my daily list, I do the same and focus on critical daily activities such as:

  • Exercise
  • Share value with target prospects
  • Read
  • Write

Those are items that keep me locked in on effectiveness.

Again, I check them off and uncheck them with a new cycle.

Winging it is hard. If it’s important, you should make it an opt-out.

What kind of weekly checklist and daily checklist would make you more effective?

Be a Lateral Thinker

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When we are buried in the details of our work, it’s hard to look around and see connections to worlds outside ourselves. We can be talking to the same people within our crowd, read the same blogs, and look at the world through a myopic lens.

Some of the big ideas of today such as taking software platforms, connectivity, mobile and cars can produce inventions like Lyft.

A company like Stripe took their expertise in coding and made connections into financial tech and banking. It was daunting, but rewarding as they brought their lateral thinking to the problem of making online payments easier.

If you straddle different worlds, know the culture and nuances of different segments, you can powerfully introduce solutions that connect the dots that might escape a specialist’s trained mind. Lateral thinking is value add in this increasingly complex and polarized world. There’s extreme efficiency and speed occurring on one end of the spectrum. On the other end, there’s high complexity which requires creative, consultative solutions.

Bringing outside, fresh perspectives can change the way a problem is solved.  If you are a lateral thinker, you can open up the conversation to new possibilities.

You can notice and exercise a few approaches in your work and interactions:

  • Be sure to play in different worlds deeply rather than invest fully into one area of work day in and day out.
  • Meet new and interesting people that think about their fields intensely. Ask great questions and learn.
  • Keep great notes and think of how new perspectives create new solutions for your problems. Test them out and see what comes of trying different approaches. Then share them to help others.

If you can connect the dots you become valuable to others that are conventional in their practice. Your contribution increases.

Think about your domains you invest in. How can they merge or collide in a way to create even more value?

The world is getting more efficient on the whole. But, the creativity and lateral thinking opportunity is there to be applied to multiply those efficiencies.

Loving The Main Thing

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“The main thing Is to keep the main thing the main thing.” ~ Stephen Covey

Keeping on the rails is so hard when our brain loves to pull us to distractions. It’s not only the distractions, but we are barraged by other people’s demands and priorities continually.

The main thing  to do can easily get buried or rationalized away.

I keep checklists to stay focused. Those things will get done. The timing and energy are part of what makes the main thing the main thing. If I’m low on mental bandwidth, I take care of physical actions to move around. If I feel energized, I will tackle that big hard task which requires long mental focus.

Part of the challenge is to pay attention and decide on what the right thing is to do at any given time in context.

What is your highest contribution?

How can you get things off your plate that get in the way of contributing?

What are things you can do to make executing easier?

Sometimes knowing what matters most comes from getting away and seeing things from afar. Other times, you have to work a bit and get in the details to appreciate what you are not seeing.

It’s wasteful to be working on the wrong things. A bunch of busyness with no impact, result or contribution kills opportunity. You can’t get those hours back.

We have this luxury of choice that starts with the right thought, translated into the right action, at the right time. Make your work count.

Too Many Moving Parts

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You may have to build a business with 100 employees. Maybe a 1,000. That’s the manpower tax to help get your product into the hands of your customer.

Instagram had 13 employees serving 30 million users at a $500M valuation at one point. That’s leverage. Compare that to the 145,000 people Kodak employed in the industrial age in 1988.

We are lucky today. Technology allows us to do a lot more with less. I am not sure, even with that leverage, why human nature, when given a choice between the complex and the simple, tends to choose complexity. It’s one of those boggling mysteries to me.

When you build a business with too many moving parts, you have a lot of cost and management. It’s common and easy to do. Adding takes much less mental and emotional focus than subtraction.

There’s likely a simpler business to be in than the one you have designed. You may have to be more thoughtful about what you are doing, but that may be what is holding back your ability to grow.

Can you work with a vendor and get rid of a lot of headaches in your business instead?

Are you moving irrelevant information around?

Do you have systems that you have outgrown?

Are you living in the past?

Constant pruning is a necessary business skill. It allows for the new. You can get rid of dead weight and functions that simply don’t add value any more.

What moving parts are you currently managing that doesn’t make sense to have around anymore?

Set Important Decisions to Opt-out

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There is such a thing as decision fatigue. Your willpower and ability to make effective decisions changes over the course of a day from mental weariness. When it comes to trying to respond and keep up with the demands of knowledge work, it’s hard to stay sharp and it’s easy to push out things that are important in exchange for the urgent.

There are important things I want to happen regardless of the tsunami of inputs. I want to spend time with my wife and kids. I want to fit into my pants and be able to climb a mountain without problems. I want to enjoy good friendships and fun. I want my responsibilities as a business owner, family man and consultant to be done well and on time.

Thus, I put the important things in my Gmail task list and my Google Calendar. They are recurring and for me to skip an appointment or task becomes a decision to opt-out. I think important things should be opt-out. Otherwise, the decision has to keep being evaluated, and depending on circumstances, I may bypass what I already decided was important.

It’s better to see that date, my workout or my weekly list of deliverables in my calendar and task list. I show up and get it done. The decision was already made and it’s one less item I have to think about.

What do you want to get done every week or month? How about making a list and getting those things into your calendar. Book that room, pay for that membership, send the invitation or develop a weekly list you have to opt-out of each week. You have effectively saved yourself some decision making fatigue in this crazy world that can easily topple you off your game.

Don’t Do Grand Openings

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I don’t do grand openings. If you have an idea, skills and the hard work to persist, simply get your first customers and start serving them.

This idea that we are anything special out in the marketplace of hundreds of thousands of options is absurd. You have to earn that over time from learning, iterating and contributing.

Whether you actually contribute is yet to be determined and a celebration before it happens is bad manners.

Instead, when you are ready to be useful, how about:

  1. Developing a path for your customer to be successful. Get buy-in.
  2. Executing towards the plan.
  3. Communicating when things happen or when things change.

Then do it again and refine as you go.

I think you’ll use your energy and everyone’s attention in a much more productive way.