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.

Manage Oneself

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That one can truly manage other people is by no means adequately proven. But one can always manage oneself. Indeed, executives who do not manage themselves for effectiveness cannot possibly expect to manage their associates and subordinates. Management is largely by example. Executives who do not know how to make themselves effective in their own job and work set the wrong example. ~ Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive

I side with Drucker. I do not think that managing other people is adequately proven. Most of the conversation I have experienced about work is complaining about employees and managers.

The one thing I can control is my own effectiveness. I work hard to improve my habits and get output from my labor. A lot of this is keeping to rituals, pushing to learn something new every day and staying humble.

Last week my lists of projects were getting out of hand. It was one of those cycles where the pile was keeping me from seeing the important things to get done. So I do what I always do:

  1. Cut out things that don’t matter
  2. Completed and shipped low hanging fruit
  3. Simplified my lists
  4. Identified the big things that did matter

I can’t control the chaos, but working through my own management processes over the years has been cathartic and effective. It’s extremely satisfying to manage my own effectiveness and see where that might spill over and move the needle elsewhere.

Collecting and Testing Mental Models

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Principles prevail in a world of chaos. Much of life is indeed chaos. I think the importance of collecting and testing your mental models – how you problem solve and approach the world – is critical to drive success.

The 80/20 rule can help you focus on what has the best payoffs.

Eliminating drain people can help you be free from drama and the downside of dysfunctional relationships.

The law of diminishing returns can keep you from wasting energy and time where marginal returns are the leftover.

These are tested tools that create results when practiced intensely and regularly.

Have a place to collect your mental models. Test them in the course of doing business. When they work, that positive reinforcement along with learning the nuances of each principle, can embed themselves as habits in your psyche and routines.

I like to write down thought processes and mental models I learn from books and people. I like to write blog articles of my learnings. I like to share what works to help others. These practices get me results.

Everyone operates from mental models. May are not intentional and miss out on magnifying the effects of focused outcome thinking. Some mental models have downside. Total hedonism, for example, has plenty of upside, but can also ruin ambition.

Perhaps your results are elusive because some of the things you know are not regularly practiced. Or if you are scattered and not getting the outcomes you want, a few focused practices could be the game changer.

Keep a notebook or use Keep to start tracking the mental models you learn and apply. It’s a simple practice that can quickly yield desirable outcomes.

The Strategy of Going with the Winner

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There is an irony about free markets that the collective participates in. On the one hand, we have massive choice in many categories. On the other hand, over time, we have a winner-take-all outcome. Over time, people consolidate and choose the best.

We don’t have all these phones. We have iPhones.

We have Starbucks, Netflix and Salesforce.com.

Early on, there can be many software options and platforms to choose from. Later on, there is an actual, or perceived, best in class.

If you are building services, you may want to opt for the efficient path and go with the winner. Winners enjoy the support of customers and their funding. They have larger ecosystems with partners, plugins, apps, marketing agreements and all the pieces for standardization.

Furthermore, it’s easier to move information, find talent and get things done around the winner’s platform.

On the one hand, “best” is not always necessarily functional or technical. It’s often a business case of inertia. You can push for merit on features of a runner-up technology or offering. However, there’s a lot of waste trying to metaphorically boil the ocean and convince others what product line should be the standard bearer.

There’s also a simplicity to choosing the winner. You don’t have to spend energy on choice. You can simply execute and give people what they want.

If you take a quick audit, there’s likely opportunity and efficiency you can gain by picking the winners so you can use those products, services and platforms to simply get your business done making money and interfacing with customers.

Updating My Daily Routine

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“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” – Darren Hardy

Our habits define us. I like to tweak how I approach days and I experiment with my habits continually. These days, I have a few things that get me mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually engaged with the bigger goals I am pursuing:

  • 30 push-ups
  • 30 sit-ups
  • Prayer
  • Brain dumps
  • Checking and managing lists
  • Long walks
  • Researching and sharing
  • Writing
  • Reading

I didn’t get there abruptly with my daily routines. I started with just one thing first and focused on keeping consistent. I’ve also weeded out things that don’t give me high return on my energy or revenue.

This is largely my unseen life and what goes on when I am alone. And it has been foundational to helping me grow personally and help others grow as well.

If you are stuck, perhaps it’s time to add to your daily routines or subtract time and energy wasters.

You have to be intentional. Everything is changing and working against you. And your collective value comes from your daily routines.

What results do you want? What are some small daily habits that can get you there emotionally, mentally and physically?

Always Monitor Relevance

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I went through a lot of old digital files recently in my Google Drive as part of a pruning day. I had everything from client projects from years ago to books I was working on to consulting and coaching tools for strategy.

The vast majority of information was irrelevant to what I am doing today. I would never use those files or information again, though they may have been building blocks to where I am now. What was highly relevant ten years ago had context. Furthermore, innovation has created an immense amount of new tools and ideas that make sense for me and doing business now versus before.

Relevance has to always be questioned. Otherwise, we are stale and holding on to what doesn’t matter anymore. The habit of relentlessly getting rid of the old to make room for the new keeps you in the game.

I want to focus on now and the future. And the last thing I need to clutter that pursuit is entertaining irrelevance.