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.

The Lucky Fool and Reality

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Was it you or was it luck? Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

“It manifests itself in the shape of the lucky fool, defined as a person who benefited from a disproportionate share of luck but attributes his success to some other, generally very precise, reason.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness

If you haven’t read Taleb’s book, he does a masterful job of pointing out how our perceptions fool us, especially from the rare, high impact events we experience. We have biases that are hard to overcome. In the case of the lucky fool, we lean towards taking credit for the good luck that happens to us, and we blame outside forces and people for the bad things that happen. Tragically, our human nature distorts our perception of reality.

The Simple Dollar wrote a great essay on tips for increasing your good luck and decreasing your bad luck. It’s practical advice assuming you can overcome your own bias towards the luck that flows through your life. As the essay states, “We are all the lucky fool.”

There are opportunities galore that are there for the taking for those that are ready for luck. You have to be prepared, optimistic, open and competent to see and act on deals that are timely. Here are some weekly and daily practices to make luck bend your way and protect your downside from bad luck:

  • Treat all people with kindness and respect. Noone has to deal with you otherwise. And you need people to deal with you for luck to happen.
  • Be a person of value. Observe needs and work to help people.
  • Increase your value every day by what you know and who you know.
  • Make a daily habit of doing mindful self-care for your mental, spiritual, physical and emotional self. Pick something in each category and do it every day – read, work out, pray, and enjoy good people, for example.
  • Sow and reap. What you want, give more of. It’s the law of attraction you put to work.
  • Be a funnel of good ideas. You have to be learning, capturing and sharing. Connect your ideas or things you find helpful with the people you care about in specific, helpful ways. You need a good system for this.

I try to practice these habits to keep my probabilities of good flow high and reduce the probability of downside things happening in my life. I want luck, but not be the lucky fool as life and opportunities happen each day.

How do you increase your luck?

Reduce the Handoffs to Increase Efficiency

Every handoff in your business is a failure point. When one person is handling information and moving execution to the next step, often you can get things done without many mistakes or delays.

When you have to hand off a lead, support call, requirements, or project task, it’s risk. What if the information is not correct? Is there nuance and clarity that have to be transferred?

Many projects need teams to deliver. But often, when we are growing businesses, we simply get fat and waste can build up. There are often unnecessary handoffs where it can be faster with less errors by cutting out steps, people or information.

With this season of downtime, what if you took inventory and got rid of handoffs that no longer make sense?

Look at when a customer starts their engagement with your company. How much work do they have to do before they get contacted? Can you automate the first touches?

Here are some other ideas to drive throughput by eliminating or reducing handoffs:

  1. Where does a request get bottlenecked? Consolidate the work with one person or automate the task using software.
  2. Set the expected response time for team tasks. Track this for 30 days. If you get a 3 day average response for something that should take 1 day, get the responsible parties involved and set up a new incentive to meet the customer expectation.
  3. Map out your steps. See if you can cut out steps that do not add value.
  4. For work that needs to be highly responsive, hire a support vendor or get a virtual assistant. It will force you to define what has to be done and you can manage accountability.
  5. Cut out any middlemen and replace it with direct service or engagement.

Handoffs usually develop because we hope to get some kind of efficiency, but we don’t revisit whether we have failure in speed or unnecessary mistakes. Take it back to simplicity, and care about your customer by removing the waste that simply happens because of unexamined workflow.

As the New Year is commencing, you can tighten your workflow up by looking at all those handoffs which create problems and bottlenecks.

Where are you finding handoff issues?

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.

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?

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.

I Like the Boring Business

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When it comes to business building, I like boring. I like creating outputs from inputs. I like throughput. Drama, inconsistencies, high stress and heroics are fantastic for movie plots. But they don’t contribute positively to profit and loss in a business. Boring helps cash flow. Cash flow makes customers, vendors, employees, and owners happy.

I am not sure why a certain level of craziness persists for so many operations. Here are my guesses:

A business owner thinks a bit of chaos is normal.

Employees have completely different incentives. Chaos and disorder might reward them with a sense of relevance (and dependency).

Growing so fast with headcount and lacking a solid culture has newcomers confused.

The business owner only cares about money and doesn’t realize the importance of strategy to get money long-term.

There’s not enough drama going on in people’s personal lives.

When I see a boring business that has cash flow working like a machine, someone prioritized making the business work and keeping first things first. They simplified as they grew. New systems, processes and people create complexity. And they were intentional to inject strategies, culture and execution to overcome the complexity. It was more than a money grab.

With the ridiculous amount of competition out there, the last thing you need is chaos and drama when it comes to operations and selling. Making customers happy requires alignment internally on all fronts. Perhaps certain niches can hide for a bit. But, someone is going to eat your lunch that comes along and builds that boring business that reliably executes day in and day out.

Are you operating on systems or charisma?

Do you have consistency or failure points that keep showing up?

Are customers leaving you regularly?

Are employees leaving you disgruntled?

Do you think chaos is normal?

The marketplace is moving so fast and commoditizing every sector. Focus on building the boring business so you can be agile enough to react. It’s hard enough out there.

Don’t Limit Yourself

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Too often we are mired in the circumstance we chose thinking we are limited. This is not necessarily so. You can always choose differently, and that is the opportunity to grow and become bigger than your circumstance.

Perhaps you hate your job, your life or even a bad deal you are currently in. The stress of it has you in a vortex of emotions. It can be overwhelming.

But, one of the best strategies is to start moving. Create more options. Become a person that creates again, rather than resigns to what you have. If you hate your job, move to action and find three more gigs that could be more promising.

If you want a more fun life, start looking at new locations.

Creating more options and continuing to move forward is something that is in your control. You are not limited by anything but your choices. Choose differently and make yourself better.

What Gets Measured Gets Done

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Perfectionism can be the antithesis of good business. That fixation of doing things right, rather than doing the right things, can move us away from the goals that matter.

I think there’s a lot of talk on KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators), but it’s hard for many people to slow down, think, and identify the core things that matter. It’s even harder to quantify what does matter. We tend to talk in qualitative terms:

That’s a nice person.

I like their work.

We are making progress.

How nice?

Did the work produce a return on investment?

What percentage of progress?

If you can step back and think about numbers that matter so you can hit your goals, then there’s an accountability, focus and output that keeps the focus where it needs to be without ambiguity. What gets measured gets done. And those metrics have to be thoughtfully created, tested and transparent so everyone knows whether the right things are being done.

There are many attributes our intuition can take into account, but good measurement focuses the bottom line around what truly matters to you.

Want more revenue? How much? What actions consistently done contribute to that goal?

Want a better reputation in the marketplace? How about setting the goal front and center of getting four star plus ratings on Google and Yelp? Let your customers score you and keep the current score front and center to see how you are doing today. If you’re low, it forces you to make adjustments based on feedback.

Yes, we can bury ourselves in the many things we want to consider. But it’s hard enough to get any goal when everything is working against you. But you can get one or a few that truly matter and put all your energy into closing the gap.

Pick a goal. Design the way to measure progress towards the goal. Then work relentlessly to stay honest with yourself and others that contribute towards that metric.

Value is Perishable

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J. Money’s Work History from BudgetsAreSexy.com

I keep up with a lot of blogs in my reader and I came across this article from a fun, candid article at Budgets Are Sexy. I like reading articles from bloggers that put the raw truth of their journey out there. It’s bold and courageous of them. This article was a reflection and a great reminder that value is perishable.

We are not working in an economy where we will be doing the same thing in five years. Here’s a guy that lists 36 jobs in his journey and how he rounded back to his core, but he was always exploring new options and opportunities.

It’s a strange thing when we run across friends 10 or 20 years later. They are usually doing something totally different.

And often, we have been doing something far from the path we were once on as well.

What you consider value today does tend to have a half-life. Automation, competition and efficiencies change the value equation all the time. You might have charged a premium before, but then the world gets smarter and everyone can do what you are doing. That’s when you have to change course or reinvent yourself.

I think there’s sectors where you can hide out for sure. It’s one strategy to combat innovation. I’m not sure it’s that safe or secure. It’s simply defense and fear.

If you simply operate with the security that today is a snapshot of what you may be doing or offering, you can stay relevant, fresh and engaged. You can keep observing and pushing into new areas where your value can be recognized and compensated for.

I don’t think there’s this job out there that will make you feel secure. Nor is there a product that will be a hit for the next 10 years guaranteed.

I do think you are a living, breathing person that can be continually valuable. You are only perishable if you bank on some kind of false staying power rather than increasing your abilities over time. Keep moving and embrace that journey of doing many other things yet to come.