How to Drive Clarity

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Are you doing what you are supposed to be doing? Is the work you have been doing for many years as relevant today, or are you having to unlearn and reinvent?

I think that effort and working hard are relatively natural for many driven and successful people that I know. The hard part is the paradox of success. Once you have  achieved success, there are new, ambiguous horizons to pursue. It is unending, and in a sense, overwhelming.

What do you do to get clarity?

Well, one thing for sure is to heed Marie Forleo’s insight, “Clarity comes from engagement not thought.”

You can’t get clear by sitting and thinking. You have to engage the world around you. You have to be fully present in the moment, and listen to your intuition and heart about what you desire and align with.

The world provides feedback continually, and when you tune into how you respond – what you like, dislike or are attracted to – you gain clues on where to put your energy towards next endeavors.

Perhaps you have hit a jackpot. Or you may have finished a giant project. The temptation is to rest and enjoy downtime. But, a void comes quickly where inaction, apathy or clouded thinking can lull you into passivity. This is happening while the world is moving swiftly by.

If you can’t find motivation, bide your time by working in new gigs and projects. Explore. Engage. Be with people and keep solving problems. If you don’t like what you are doing, pivot to something else. The key is to keep moving.

Then, pay attention to the feedback you are getting in the world through engagement. If you are continually growing by learning new skills and helping as many people as you can, the clarity comes. You start to see patterns about what you want next.

Then you can rally and put all that passion, energy and time into what you have discovered.

You have to seek clarity continuously as a life process if you want to keep growing, performing and getting results. There is no resting on your laurels. Movement is life.

Trust, But Verify

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If you want to grow your business, you have to have good people to delegate functional work to. Otherwise, you become the bottleneck and risk making customers unhappy.

Many years ago, I remember learning the lesson of delegation early while working an engineering project. I had a designer working on new revisions for drawings of a machine assembly I was engineering. We talked about what changes needed to be made. I repeated and reviewed the specific changes with him.

Well, I thought by talking through those modifications that professionals get their job done because that is inherent. I had not learned to trust, but verify.

A few weeks later, after we went to prototype and fabricate of the parts, the assembly did not fit together. I was perplexed. I frantically measured all the components and to my dismay, I found that we produced parts from old drawings. There was a mix-up in what was communicated to the toolmaker.

I thought the designer had handled the updates, but that was an assumption. It was a very expensive retooling because the revisions were not communicated to our manufacturing partner.

We had many other revisions that were managed fine previously. This happened to be one of those that did not get communicated, though the work was done.

My business education benefitted though the project budget ballooned from my mistake. I learned a very hard lesson to trust, but verify. When you have teams or disinterested parties, the risk is high for a bad handoff or miscommunication.

Trust, but verify is risk management. We need it because, despite good intentions, humans are fallible. We are terrible at executing consistently. When there’s a handoff, I like to:

  1. Explain what I need
  2. Have the person let me know they understand by explaining back
  3. Documenting it with an email
  4. Reviewing if we met the spec/requirements of the handoff
  5. Provide praise and gratitude for a job well done

I think that last point of gratitude is important because it makes working together easier the next time based on trust. Also, I like letting people know what they did well. We all need encouragement and honesty as feedback.

You may have heard the phrase, “Trust, but verify.” Usually, people learn this lesson from pain. Hopefully, you can create your own approach that consistently makes handoffs and delegations a core, robust way you grow your business through delegation.

Eliminate Meaningless Work

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We can laugh at the paper shuffling reference as a bygone era, however, you would not be hard-pressed to see manual processes still being run today. Regardless of the efficiencies, cost-savings and better customer experience of digitization, old habits can die hard, especially in businesses.

Never mind if your livelihood depends on such inefficiencies. Innovating a workflow can easily eliminate the need for headcount.

It’s scary when efficiency keeps rolling back the tide and exposing waste. What may have been necessary or productive once is now either wasteful or meaningless work. This goes for digital processes as well.

There are cheaper, faster coders that can deliver an app from anywhere in the world.

You don’t have to manually enter data from one system to another. Using a tool like Zapier can automatically push data wherever you want. Or just make rules between your apps with IFTTT.

Bench is data mining, commoditizing and automating bookkeeping at scale.

Alibaba gets product entrepreneurs prototyping, testing and domesticating products.

Being a middleman these days can be quite wasteful, especially if you are in a production process. Better to figure out how to be more valuable and use the speed to get better results.

Meaningless work has a rapid half-life, especially when business owners and managers are squeezed to deliver better results and profits. Furthermore, you and I are consumers. We are part of the demand audience. We are snobs. We insist on food being delivered instantly, hotels being seamlessly booked and a car to pick us up when we push a button on our phone. Imagine some paper shuffler processing our requests and bottlenecking the exchange.

In your own work, take a look around and get rid of waste. You may have more time with automation. That’s a good thing. Now you can take the extra bandwidth and put the energy into the main thing that produces results for your customers.

Look across your business. It’s required that you eliminate waste. Consider Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno’s moral stance in growing your business, “It is not an exaggeration that in a low growth period, such waste is a crime against society more than a business loss. Eliminating waste must be a business’ first objective.”

Quick Waste Elimination Tips:

  • Write out the steps you do from attracting a customer all the way to putting money in your bank account. What steps can be removed or modified?
  • Write down all the software and apps you use. Get rid of 20% of them.
  • Find the 10% of best customers you have. Meet with them and do bigger deals.
  • Get rid of paper. Move information into systems.
  • Make it easier for a customer to buy from you or get support. Increase the speed and responsiveness.
  • Design a continuous recruiting process for talent.
  • Define who you like to work with. Only work with those people.

Well Meaning Terrible Advice

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I can see why people often want someone to simply listen rather than give their opinion. The person with the problem knows more than you do about their situation. When you don’t have skin in the game or know the nuances of a predicament, your advice can come off as arrogant and insensitive.

It’s a brutal and hard world, and often we simply need to process or share what’s happening with those we trust to get clear on our convictions.

If we are a friend or trusted advisor, the temptation is to come with answers quickly. Sometimes, it’s well meaning. We want to help.

Other times, it’s irritating. There are often underlying reasons why a decision was made or sins overlooked. And the problem can get enshrouded in friendships, power dynamics, family alliances, owed favors, and many other relational factors hidden to what seems apparent to solving a problem.

It’s hard to unpack those spiderwebs and you can get terrible advice in the process if you share incompletely. “Yes, don’t you think I know that? But how do I keep the relationship?”

These days, I try to practice the following:

  1. If I have problems to share, measure the person. If they can’t help, don’t share. Better to go for a run instead and sort it out emotionally and strategically.
  2. If someone is sharing their problems, listen with care as much as possible. Try to understand what they are not saying.

It saves resentment on both sides when I can stick to these practices. What I find is that most people know how to solve their problems. It may be a hard call they don’t want to make. It may be a relationship they don’t want to compromise. It may be they don’t want to be inconvenienced.

Or, some people even love their problems. It makes them feel important.

I think it’s magical when you can walk with another person, make a difference and really care. But, it takes sensitivity, acumen and love to make good advice work well.

One thing for sure, you can’t go wrong with humility in any situation.

Responsiveness

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I left a message for a company yesterday again. They have still not called me back. I am thinking about moving on. Too bad. There’s a lot of business that could come their way. I tend to be a loyal person to the things I like.

In this instant, 24/7 world, there is this illusion that we can always obtain world-class service. That’s not true. I think we want it. But then we end up with a phone tree, wait times and no follow-through.

Business is still people. And people are hard to move towards responsiveness without leadership.

I still smile when I call my accounting software, FreshBooks, for support. Two rings into the call and I get a live person! It’s impressive. I love their responsiveness, and I tell my clients and friends about them every chance I get. They are part of my team, and I’m a fan.

There are a few other partners that have also set up their business around responsiveness. It keeps me delighted, and I stick with those partners. I trust them.

Maybe it’s my own need for quality. I practice mise en place. I believe in being responsive and love delighting people with a high level of service and care. That’s how I see it. Good business is about truly caring about another person and helping them get what they are looking for fast.

I don’t think that it’s a lot to ask. And I do believe most customers are looking for care and responsiveness. You don’t have to go far to hear the complaints of bad service or sloppy follow-up.

Can you imagine if your brand stood out because of your responsiveness? If you are constantly in a crisis or tripping over your own clutter and disarray, forget it. You won’t make it happen. You don’t care enough.

But, if you want to stand out, I bet opportunities and attraction make their way to your doorstep from a habit and setup of being responsive in all your dealings.

How can you make responsiveness part of your way of doing business?

Maintaining Energy

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Pushing on your work takes an intense amount of energy. And without energy, it’s hard to maintain consistency, perseverance and results. Energy is not a given. You have to foster your routines and habits to keep peak performance going.

I like to hike, play tennis, trail run and snowboard to get me into a bigger world and get the blood flowing. If I miss days, I get crabby and unproductive. The world becomes smaller and my problems become bigger.

Sometimes, when I am thinking about a deal, for example, and how to structure it, I will head out for a long walk. I don’t think about it. I get into freeing up my mind and simply sweating. Somewhere along the line, or when I’m finished, my legs and heart get worn out and that creative kick comes out. This approach tends to work well for me. I may sit down for another four hours and push on creating. I have new energy.

There’s this giant temptation to skip the habits that spend me, relax me or divert my attention. However, those habits are too important to sideline. Managing the ebb and flow of my enthusiasm, energy and focus matter towards getting results and pushing on all the fronts I care about with clarity. That’s why I consider managing energy part of work.

We are not simply brains swiveling on a post. We are whole beings that push our work out from emotion, determination and knowledge. There’s a lot of quality difference in our output from how we feel in the course of a day and how much energy we are bringing to our relationships and problem solving.

I think finding what works to keep the energy high is simply good business.

Schedule Working Meetings

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I am a big fan of working meetings. They cut through the back and forth of getting something done. It actually creates time and space to get real work done in real-time with another person or group.

Too often, we talk about the secondary stuff:

What we are going to do.

When we are going to do something.

Who should be a part of the work.

What resources are required.

In actuality, you can save a lot of time and get things moving by simply working.

So, when I see a thread going back and forth too often, my need for closure kicks in. Open loops drive me nuts after a while.

It’s inefficient to hide behind the chatter. Instead, lead. Make working meetings a part of your execution process. It’s energizing to bring together short, focused meetings to accomplish one thing. Here’s a simple way:

  1. Stop. Move an email and conversation that is going back and forth to a meeting instead. “I’m going to get us together to get this done.”
  2. Schedule. I have an article sharing best practices on putting a meeting together using your Google or Outlook calendar.
  3. Work. Open the call, online meeting or in-face time with one goal and let everyone know. “We are here to get this proposal created and emailed.”

In the meeting, simply facilitate and work. Ultimately, this is a process of leadership. You have to lead. Get the decision. Send out what you promised. Write up the new standard operating procedure.

When you find yourself procrastinating, perhaps the task feels undefined and overwhelming. A working meeting can increase the energy and motivation with other people to get clear and move bottlenecks through your pipeline of tasks.

That ability to move from talking to action is critical in an overly competitive and inattentive world. Cut through it with the determination to work with your team and customers. It’s efficient and fits the times.

The Discipline and Joy of Blogging from Seth Godin

It is truly refreshing to listen to candor in a world full of hype and noise. The connected world today feels like high school. We are inundated by popularity and hype continually because of the internet. And we have the sage advice of someone who has been persistent, humble and substantive on why it is important to blog and read blogs in Seth Godin.

I think it’s worth a listen on his podcast on the topic:

 

blogs, platforms and permissions by seth godin

For a time I had blogged frequently and now seek to share on a weekly basis.

I started my blogging many years ago and my last lookup was 1,500+ articles. It’s been a pure joy.

I think I will take heed to Seth’s encouragement to blog each day to help people and make the connections from what I am experiencing inwardly to an outward, outside platform. Fantastic way to give a gift to the world and myself. It’s true, that I have seen that pattern emerge. Write to help people. It’s pretty simple.

I don’t write for SEO, popularity, likes, clicks, etc. I love hearing that a thought, strategy or idea helped in some way in business and life.

Anyways, I hope you can start the habit as well. When everyone is seeking to game some system, it’s refreshing to hear real thoughts and sincere pursuits. I want to continue to stay on that track. Much like Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true.” aka, blog authentically.

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?

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.