Leveling Up

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Nothing lasts forever. And today, that’s especially true. It can be unsettling to always be on the move when the temptation is to rest on your laurels.

Noone cares about you more than you. And it’s important to take complete ownership of your own personal growth, development and opportunities. You have to continually be leveling up.

When you look at nature, stasis is not natural. It is highly unnatural. A house left alone will be overgrown by forests, vines and plants. Living and dying is part of the cycle of life.

We want things to be the same and maintain some level of security, sanity and comfort. But, I would say that real security is trusting in yourself. That happens when you do hard things are choose to level up continually.

What are some ways to do this?

  • Pursue and make friends that make you better. In the same vein, shed those that hold you back.
  • Try your hand at a new upswing industry related to what you are doing. Perhaps maintain what you are doing while pushing yourself in what is new.
  • Make yourself do hard things. See if you can overcome the fear and get more comfortable with exposing yourself to new endeavors and audiences.
  • Remove your dependencies and habits that don’t make sense any more. Free yourself up. See what space you create.
  • Forgive and move on. See what space you create.
  • Take action on something you keep talking about and not doing.

You are giving yourself a promotion when you choose to level up your standards, choices and commitments. We are not here forever and you don’t want to get caught without a seat when the music stops in what you are doing.

Yes, things you did used to work. But if that is what you are continually banking on and secretly hoping will continue, well, that story tends to have the same predictable tragic outcome. Better to get a fitting mindset for the times and keep leveling up.

It Used to Work and Now It Doesn’t

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If you haven’t read business biographies like Derek Sivers of CD Baby or Elon Musk of PayPal fame, it’s well worth the time. There’s a bit of nostalgia as I think back to the 90’s and early 2000’s and what life was like just a short time ago. We didn’t have a world of iPhones, apps, Wi-fi, video streaming, or social networks. The ecosystems were being built into what we see today.

Going back in time and hearing the backstories of entrepreneurial success messes with my mind as I get to take advantage of all these wonderful tools without any thought to how I move in and out of workflow, systems, entertainment and transportation. Life is so much easier in a connected world.

And over the years, I remember so many types of projects and work that used to have demand and people paid a lot of money for. Websites were hard and expensive to build and now they’re easy and cheap. Payment systems were custom and expensive also, but now they’re integrated features.

There are so many things that used to work as a business model and now they don’t. And it is always so tempting to sit on a pipeline of demand when things are flowing. What you may miss is that you are enjoying the cash flow from an innovation that has yet to be commoditized. Someone will eventually build a platform and make what is difficult easy. It happens too often that it should be part of the conscience forefront of your business planning.

Expect that disruption will come.

Expect prices will come down and efficiency and automation will prevail.

Expect competition to push on your position.

Expect things will end.

Expect that you will have to reinvent yourself.

You see a lot of entrepreneurs that hit that one success. They built credibility and started leveraging other people’s money with their credentials. However, seeing repeat successes is less common.

A lot of the play is about getting lucky or having an instinct for timing. That’s part of the requirement for good entrepreneurship.

When we look at history, it’s important to heed that lesson we see repeatedly; know you are within a phase. What you are offering is valuable but will decline in value as the world gets more efficient. Know where you are in the lifecycle and think about what you will do when what you enjoyed profitably doesn’t work as well as it used to anymore.

Obsolescence can be painful if you haven’t planned for it.

 

An Important Thought to Have

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I think a lot about how to make someone’s experience world-class. It’s fun. I’ve had a lot of meetings, calls and project work in the last week with clients, team members and partners. It’s important to me that I add a little bit more in my interactions and experiences. I think life and business are too vast for settling for the mundane and simply going through the motions.

Thinking this way does take intentionality and a care for other people. For the people I like, I tend to keep asking a simple question, “How can I be valuable and add more value?”

I like pushing on that question. It could be as simple as sending a note. Or it could be thinking deeply about the problems or issues that I hear in my friends’ worlds and offering a resource, connection or idea. A lot of it is listening and caring.

Most of it is the habit of being uncomfortable. I like thinking about improvement and making things better. I don’t know, perhaps it was always my nature. But the gaps, the opportunities, the connections – these intrigue me. Finding where to make an impact and an improvement for someone is fun and motivating. The helping makes me happy and keeps my creativity fresh. The great thing is that there is no shortage of opportunities to help people.

Caring.

Listening.

Thinking.

Connecting.

I walk through this process daily. And it keeps me growing, rather than fixed in my mindset. The fun of creating value for someone else where an idea or connection did not exist keeps my eyes wide open to do something that creates increase.

Simple thought,

“How can I add more value?

Big impact.

Focus on the Deal First, Then the Details

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I have done many types of deals over the years. I have sold services, created venture opportunities for myself and clients, partnered, started businesses, launched new products and have helped people along the way who needed a little more vision or strategy. I can see deals that others can’t see and can see the myriad of steps and obstacles along the way to make the deal happen. It’s been fun, and I look at the world as a giant playground of opportunities.

It does take great intentionality and vision to make deals happen. Putting deals together is unnatural. Human nature enjoys the status quo too much and rarely chooses to rise above the noise to create more for themselves. Why change anything, even if it is better, when what you are accustomed to has an illusion of safety from its perceived comfort and familiarity? Everything in life and reality is working against you.

That’s why deal making has to center around the ideas first. Focusing on the possibilities and opportunities. Help someone to see what you see. Do they align? Do they trust you and your conviction?

The details are second. Yes, there’s likely a ton of work, cost and failure once you get a deal done. And it’s good to sketch out some of those back-of-napkin style to enhance the communication and experience around the deal. But obsessing about details that may or may not happen can kill a deal. Quickly. To a lesser degree, bringing in the details can overwhelm customers or partners. You are setting up the other party to extend the buying cycle or to simply say no.

I like to focus on the deal first. The ideas, upside opportunity, and possibilities are what catalyze deals. It’s why I insist on “Deals first, then details.” Otherwise, you end up killing deals that don’t get to see the light of day.

Much of this is because the ramp up and overhead are so low today to be able to test an idea. You don’t often have to go and buy brick and mortar real estate or hire a bunch of people first. You can see if your idea has viability with experimentation. You can test the demand or even the business relationship to see if it will even work. That’s the creative part of deal making. Take out the risk and find the essence of whether the idea has legs by prototyping.

Most people are sitting around waiting for something to happen. A few people are out there making things happen. Focus on deal making. Details come second.

Give Up the Hustle

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It’s not that you need to hustle to survive, it’s that you seek the hustle to thrive, and still at the expense of yourself and others. ~ DHH, Basecamp

As we are closing the year, I do want to encourage readers and clients, as I have for many years, to give up the grind. Most things simply don’t matter. They don’t move the needle of your life towards results that make a meaningful impact for you and your business.

So, why not do less things that are more meaningful with more intensity? Your creativity in this age will have more impact than your productivity. And having the awareness to figure out what priorities are going to make a difference for you in the coming year is a wonderful way to get off your own treadmill and improve your life, results and health.

I have trimmed my hobbies over the years and focused more intensely on enjoying and committing to a few these days.

I enjoy the company of a few great friends rather than spread myself thin over lots of social pulls. It’s much more sane and helps me be a better friend to the ones I know are valuable.

There are some fantastic projects and ventures that I have committed deeply to. That has meant saying no to projects or invitations that may be ok, but don’t necessarily have much more impact. I only have so much energy.

Our family has shifted to new seasons in the teen years and I have given myself more to a different role as a husband and dad. I like this new season and I like how we are rolling as a family together through the journey. We are heading towards lifelong friendships.

I think the hustle has become a yellow light for me. It tells me that I am being inefficient with my commitments, time and energy. There are ways to get much more bang for the buck by simply detaching, questioning and prioritizing what matters.

You can save your soul a bit by questioning the madness.

Relationships Are Everything

“I’m confident if I lost everything today and had to start over, I could do it just as well—or better—considering what I know now. I’ve learned that relationships are everything, and my relationships are better than 10 years ago, so it wouldn’t be a problem. When you’ve built relationships from being in service and adding value to others, there will always be opportunities and support available for you.” ~ Lewis Howes

That’s from someone that has lived a bit and knows how the world works in his recent interview on Early to Rise.

I like to ask myself regularly,

“Am I adding value?”

“Am I valuable to others?”

“Do I like the people I work with?”

It’s a barometer of whether I am on track living congruently, freely and with conviction.

Money happens to be a natural benefit when I am being valuable to others and increasing my own value.

And, I think if you are efficient, you tend to avoid working with people you don’t like. Too much cost and grief.

The holidays are upon us and as you get some down time, perhaps you can take an inventory of your relationships. Are they what you want them to be? Can you upgrade your relationships and add value to some solid, worthy and likable people?

When we are in the grind pushing hard, it’s often hard to reflect and see if we are truly doing what we want.

It is about relationships and the great thing is that you can choose who you want to exchange value with.

I want good, solid people in my life. It makes it fun and motivating to give my best and be my best. I hope you can do likewise.

Shopping the Talent Store

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These remarkable times truly do afford anyone with an idea the opportunity to build something quickly and cheaply. The connected economy makes it easy to put together a site, market, drive sales, fulfill promises and ship products and services.

The missing ingredient for success is less about the resources and tools available and much more about courage. If you have the fortitude to start, build and see your idea through, you can get going. It certainly will not be without failures along the way. It will simply be hard. But it will be much easier to start or build something than your parents and grandparents could even conceive.

We have platforms today which allow us to shop  for sellers. And those that have talent from all corners of the globe can simply become a part of your project or idea with simple search on those platforms.

You can put a project such as building a website or programming a new software out on Upwork and you will get immediate engagement from highly talented, low-cost technical resources quickly.

You can put a job on indeed.com and have resumes in your hands fast.

You can search on LinkedIn or post a job and your elaborately connected world of business professionals will approach you for your offerings.

The talent store is abundant, accessible and convenient. Your job is to be:

  • Clear. Know what you want and what results/expectations are required.
  • Cordial. Networking with consideration and professionalism. It’s a small world and you tend to bump into people repeatedly.
  • Compensatory. Pay a competitive, fair price. Overly negotiating can backfire. Do you want someone working for you with a sour taste in their mouth. Make good deals.

Shopping the talent store can move your ideas and projects forward with much leverage. However, though the ease of accessing talent is unprecedented, your leadership and people skills become critical. You have to manage interactions, work and results. Thus, when you bring people into your projects, you have to know what you want, where you are headed and how to measure success along the way. Your skills as a manager become critical to success.

I am a big fan of modularity. I like building teams, finding talent and getting systems, processes and people aligned for different projects. That last part, the people, is always tricky because you can mess up relationships and projects if you are not careful.

When you shop, be wise, insightful and deliberate. I always say, go fast with systems; go slow with people.

Today, more than ever, the approach applies. Build amazing businesses and ventures with the abundant talent out there. Just be sure your approach has some kind of method that sets you up for success and mitigates the risk.

It’s a Matter of Priorities

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Moving the needle becomes quite a challenge for everyone these days. When we are drowning in a sea of information, it’s hard to decipher what work is contributing to the bottom line and what is simply wasteful and busy activity.

I usually have a nagging sense of dissatisfaction when I find myself doing unimportant activities that contribute little or nothing to my goals or my team’s goals. It’s a sixth sense and I tend to take pause when I find myself working hard for no good reason.

A lot of work these days is a thinking person’s game. You have to step back and get clear on what matters and what doesn’t. Sometimes, having dialogue around all the swirling issues and pulls helps to put a spotlight on what is important and what does not matter.

Too often, we suffer from attachment. We get attached to something that may have mattered in previous work or projects and we still put energy and investment into those lingering effects.

William Faulkner famously pointed to the importance or prioritizing in writing, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

I think in knowledge work, you have to do likewise. Our sunk-cost biases and blind spots towards some things we may have been vested in previously can hold us back from truly breaking through. It’s critical to take stock and ruthlessly kill our darlings regularly, those things that are not meaningful contributions towards our goals.

Setting priorities is like getting a cleanse and allowing a reset. You feel lighter, more focused and able to execute. You get rid of the drag that creates cost in your actions and thinking.

You can always take a look at your:

  • Commitments
  • Projects
  • Relationships
  • Apps
  • Material belongings
  • Overhead
  • Recurring costs

Make a decision in these areas and unburden yourself form those things that may have mattered at one time but are simply taking up space in your new reality.

We don’t get to be automatically aligned. We have to make priority setting a natural part of our approach to work to stay focused.

Fooled by Heroics

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We do not tend to give compliments or recognition for, “Look what I prevented from happening.” It’s simply not how our brains work.

Yes, we have heard the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” However, who do you observe living this out consistently?

When crises happens, it’s an opportunity for heroes to shine. This is where heroes can extinguish the threat, problem or failure and get things on track again. It’s a time when such big spirits can shine.

But what if your business or life requires continuous heroics? Is that a good thing? Do you keep applauding when your problems finally get solved? Or do you have a downer?

I am not quite sure why people have neuroses. Some people really love drama. Others get off on the adrenaline of all hands on deck. Many in sales believe month’s end has to be extremely high energy.

Maybe life is too boring without drama. We like entertainment and movies because we can escape into some fantasy of plots, villains, world catastrophes, natural disasters and so many other problems that get solved in a couple hours. Maybe we all secretly want to be divas and actors saving the day.

We like the score to be close. It’s why we tune in at the last minute shot or crunch time in the bottom of the 9th. The pressure and the glory of winning is right there clear as can be.

Perhaps, our businesses become a platform to act out our repressed heroic desires. Who knows. I see it everyday, and I know people like heroics.

But, I’m not impressed. It’s easy to get fooled by heroics. And, don’t get me wrong, we can’t account for every scenario that can happen. However, if there’s a pattern happening, isn’t it worth subduing?

If you keep having missed deadlines for customers, do you simply ratchet up the effort? How is that building a business or culture?

Problem solving can be done far ahead of time, especially with repeatable events. You can ask simple questions:

How many times have I seen this issue play out?

What is the root cause of the problem?

Can I solve it? Do I know someone who can solve it?

Can I test my assumption in reality? What happens?

Heroics are simply not sustainable. It can do a lot for the ego and solicit attaboy’s, but it’s simply a cost at the expense of growth, scaling, and resource allocation. If you spend so much energy in crisis mode, how can you get to the good stuff such as imagining double the business or exploring exotic places or enjoying relationships fully?

Don’t get fooled by heroics. They feel great, but good businesses and people are on to better things.

How You Get Conviction

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Believe nothing. Move with the popular notions of your peers. Play it safe. Fit in.

That’s a good way to blend in without much change. It can work well as a strategy for work that is predictable and factory-oriented. In fact, most people are seeking this kind of stasis.

However, the reality of today doesn’t leave such a convenient existence as much of an option. Technology and people’s behaviors keep pushing the envelope and create new normals. And, if you are not careful, you can become disoriented, marginalized and irrelevant.

You have to have conviction.

It is the awareness, decisiveness and deeply embedded belief in what you do or value that matters most. You have to believe that it works or is true.

You need conviction to survive.

You need conviction to be valuable.

You need conviction to get results.

It’s a rare quality. And the key to getting conviction is struggle. That’s right,

Struggle = Conviction

When you struggle through work or hard problems, you gain insights that bystanders and observers simply cannot appreciate without going through the same journey.

Try doing something like building your own website on a server. You make a lot of mistakes as you learn. You understand how IT works with FTP uploads, server security, blank home pages, and all sorts of tripwires and pieces that make a site work. Albeit, it’s easier today than ever. The information and instructions are readily available. And when you experience the failure along the way, you have to keep choosing to push towards your goal until you eventually launch something.

This is true for anything that is complex. You have to struggle through the work. Along the way you give yourself a gift. You know what is true and why. You gain conviction.

So many opportunities are within reach for anyone with initiative. And getting conviction in leadership, technology, organizational behavior, selling, projects, and everything else we deem as worthy work is critical. You know that you know that you know.