You’re Not Good At It

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Here’s the paradox of a blind spot – you can’t see it. It’s a blind spot.

What if you can’t see that you are simply not good at something? You have put in enormous effort and time, but you are still blind.

Perhaps you can notice when someone else does the very same things you pursue with much less effort. They are good at it. You are not.

It doesn’t mean you are less of a person. You are simply working in your weaknesses. It’s a waste of time.

The goal of business is not to be right. It’s to get results. And if you are struggling to get results because you insist on being good at something you are not, then you are headed for frustration, wasted time and much opportunity cost.

It’s hard to swallow that you are not good at something when you want to think of yourself as good at it. Your ego becomes your enemy for it keeps you from being honest and focused on results.

That American ethos, “You can become anything you want if you work hard at it,” is a lie. You can work hard at something and the best you can become is mediocre.

Unfortunately, in a division of labor economy, mediocrity does not get rewarded, especially when there are plenty of more talented people doing the same things you pursue.

Some things really come easy for me. Speaking, writing, setting goals, creating clarity. These are easy for me. I don’t have to work that hard at it. I have put in plenty of time, but I always found that I got results and I don’t struggle through these things.

Many other things take a lot more stress and work with less results. There’s people I know that are rock stars at these things. There’s better managers, counselors, visual artists, and tacticians. I would much rather partner with them on projects than try to become them. What’s the point if I really care about results?

Are you working on projects that you find are not getting anywhere? We have a society where 70% of employees admit they are not happy in their job. They are simply showing up. Anyone simply tell them they are not good at it? Imagine the liberation that most workers would experience if they were simply honest with themselves.

Then you could take more notice of the things that you are good at naturally. Go there instead. You get better results with less effort. You can start building on something instead of simply trying to make money or satisfy your ego.

I’m not saying that hard work does not have its place. However, if you have been working hard at something and always struggling and not getting results, can you get honest?

What if you admitted to yourself, “I’m not good at this.”

You can stop the madness and start solving the problem by getting out of the way and focusing on results as the main goal. It’s ok not be good at something. And it’s ok to admit it.

Strategies to Hack Uncertainty

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Everything you know right now probably won’t be intact in a few years. There are too many changes and forces that are acting on your present version of reality. And the pace is only picking up.

Simply look at people’s LinkedIn and see how fast they are switching jobs. Or do your research on wages, productivity and market enterprise displacements. What was true a few years ago is changing so fast.

You may feel the effects, and the worst strategy is to simply sit and hope that it won’t affect you. It’s a losing strategy. Hope hardly works.

If you make a key decision in your life and business to tilt the odds in your favor, then there’s not necessarily any guarantees that uncertainty will harm you, but you do increase the probability that you can be positioned for opportunity and avoid downsides.

But you do have to make that decision to be strategic and intentional. Here are some strategies to hack your life and position yourself:

  • Minimize your downside. Take inventory of your overhead, costs and commitments. Examine what is essential and keep those in play. Eliminate everything else. Imagine the worst case scenarios playing out in your business and how you can maintain what is essential. We like to think about the upside so much that we forget that there is a downside. A little attention and care can get you prepared for uncertainty.
  • Open up boring, predictable cash flow. There are many avenues, likely within your own industries, where you can build cash flow models. Set it up, work hard to make the cash flow work and let it run. Passivity is a critical component to freeing up your attention. You may need insights and strategies to find what those flows may be, but it is well worth the work to open up cash flow. You want to get ahead of this before uncertainty overtakes you.
  • Make friends. This is a daily habit that needs to be part of your rituals far before any negative events enter your life. Making friends is about trading. You have to be a person of value that people enjoy engaging. Try to be helpful and always ask, “How can I help someone today?” That focuses your lens. Business is about relationships and trading. Also, don’t burn bridges. Life is short and also has a way of resurfacing old relationships.
  • Cannibalize your position. You may avoid trying something new because it affects your current position. However, you could be a sitting duck if you don’t continually innovate. That’s because someone out there is already competing with you. Better to compete with yourself. This may mean cannibalizing your current position, but you will be better set up to move to the next advancements by setting up a parallel path, a separate project that is designed to innovate. While one position may come down, you have another path that will rise up.
  • Choose the most options. The antidote to uncertainty is to make the choice with the most options. Exercising and retaining optionality allows you to go with what makes sense in the unfolding of uncertain events. Make the habit of always choosing optionality. It’s gold.

These are strategies that focus your efforts in anticipation of what is bound to come in this fast-changing world. Sit still and you become irrelevant in the midst of large market forces changing the game under your feet continually.

Think Smaller

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Everyone is not Elon Musk or Larry Page. In fact, it’s extremely rare to have such a quality of big thinking such as solving “billion-person problems” and sending humans to Mars. You have to have extreme vision and, at minimum, have your stuff together.

If you are stumbling over simple things like getting things done or investing big, you are not even close to big thinking.

Yes, the world is open to everyone with a connection, but that doesn’t mean everyone can make big happen. In fact, it’s a lousy strategy for most people simply because they are in survival mode with health, money, relationships and their own thinking. They can’t get out of their own way.

We are in an ultra-competitive environment and the better strategy for most is to think smaller. Finding niches that match up to what you offer and honing your craft so well that you make people utterly happy and blown away is reachable with smaller thinking and ventures.

Often when I’m dealing with entrepreneurs and owners that are thinking big, they want to scale a good thing they have going. They figure it’s simple arithmetic to add more and grow revenue.

What they really mean when they say they want to grow is that they want more money. They want the rewards, but underestimate the challenge of what bigger means.

Small affords you the opportunity to be intimate, sloppier, and slower. You have more control with less headache.

Bigger means scaling on many fronts. It looks different because growth demands support and efficiency. If you want to grow bigger with scale, it’s entirely different problems that you have to care about:

Are you committed to operational efficiency?

Do you know the ratio of management to line workers that is required?

Are you committed to investing in larger sales pipeline initiatives?

Do you want the stress of overhead?

What’s the end game?

Scale is sexy. But noone lives with the consequences except you when scaling blows up because of mismanagement and underestimation of what is required. The risk/reward makes scaling attractive, but there is a real downside, and if you don’t have the stomach or talent for what is required, then it’s a poor strategy to choose simply for a perceived upside.

Furthermore, scale tends to have much more repercussions when market forces or adversity hits. That’s because the minimal support structure which enables a sales engine to flow has to stay intact.

When you are small, you can move, tact and adjust as you get feedback from reality. The downcycles are not as painful because, if you are creative, your requirements to support the business cycles are not as intensive.

And, if you are truly creative, you can throttle enough to have unlimited upside with small downside.

That’s a worthwhile strategy to consider and pursue. How can you simply get smaller so you can manage less and profit more? It starts with realizing that most things don’t matter and the things that do need to be part of your minimum viable business model.

Simply adding horsepower or size to a venture or idea only means bigger, not necessarily better.

Thought of how to get smaller lately?

I Would Rather Talk to Practitioners

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In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. ~ Yogi Berra

We have never lived in such a time as we do today where there is no end to information being put out into the world. It’s overwhelming and daunting for sure.

One of the strategies to survive is to limit your friends, followers, feeds and focus. You can also trust curators that align with your interests and worldviews.

However, we are still drowning. Anyone with a connection and an opinion can put their view out there for the world and the internet will record and broadcast it. It’s up to us as consumers of content and opinions to decipher the credibility and usefulness of what we take in.

I come from an intellectual background. I have a graduate degree in engineering and have studied, read and thought a lot about a variety of topics.

However, at the end of the day, ideas are worthless if they don’t stand up to the mirror of reality. The brutal immovability of reality gut checks me every day. Sure, I can believe that business deals should be done with a maximum payout to me, perhaps 3x what the market dictates. But reality will remind me that what’s in my head and what comes out of people’s wallets will be mismatched. I can insist, but it doesn’t matter.

Theory is one thing and practice is another indeed. It’s why I like to observe, learn and keep aligning as much as I can towards what the practice of business tells me.

The academic, intellectual and non-practitioner can remain sheltered and push what they think should happen out there all they want. I don’t respect it and I ignore such pontifications if it doesn’t match up to practice. I respect risk-taking. I like seeing someone whose ideas come about because they are empiricists and have tested what they believe against everyday life and experiences.

You can lose your shirt today if you are not careful to be discerning about the viewpoints of people that don’t have skin in the game or are not practitioners. Some simple things:

Has the person talking about business done business?

Does the ranting political analyst live with the consequences of their policies?

Is there a moral arrogance in a political, religious or societal commentary?

The messenger matters a great deal and if they are not a practitioner then shame on us if we buy the theory and don’t look at the practice.

Being a practitioner ensures you stay humble. How can I advise on things I don’t know work or not? Sure, I can rely on intellectualism, but time and experience have a way of shedding light on us all. Our ideas either work or don’t work.

Be sure to check who is putting the message out there. They know something works because they took risk on what they are saying. Trust the practitioner because they have the scars on their back to prove their convictions.

Hustle as Strategy

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Have you seen people that are simply too rich? I actually think we are too rich as a society overall. We have the ability to solve so many problems, much larger than we are attacking, for sure. But we are comfortable, complacent and unmotivated. Simply watch people’s behaviors, especially after some success, and tell me otherwise.

When did that hustle stop for most people? If you see someone that has to make something happen, they are out there hustling and pushing to get the success they seek. They ask for what they want. They are turning over stones to figure out what opportunities exist. They have that advantage of hustling.

Then there’s the danger of getting fat, happy and content. No hustle.

My observation of what happens when we are too rich is that new things happen for two reasons:

  1. A crisis
  2. An opportunity

If there’s a crisis, then you see immediate hustle. Sickness, IT problems, plumbing failures, and many other unforeseen circumstances that need fixing now gets those responsive businesses to respond. It’s reactive work, but you have built-in demand from the probabilities of someone somewhere wanting their pain fixed now.

I am not real fond of crisis businesses. They are definitely needed, but as a businessman, I would rather spend my time building greater value and opportunity for those with vision.

An opportunity tends to come along because someone had an idea and put it in context in front of someone that is not necessarily looking for it. Someone hustled and came up with an upside.

Most people are waiting for something to happen. Opportunities happen because someone is making something happen.

Catalyzing what is possible is exciting to me. You are bringing value by creativity, hustle and determination to make the unseen real.

Hustle is required because you have to move someone from what’s working now and have them evaluate risk. If, for no other reason, the risk is perceived because there are unknowns. The status quo could be miserable, but at least it is known, which is a peculiar comfort to human beings often times.

If you sell opportunity, then your hustle has to be around creating attention, conversations and presentation around your idea. You have to be compelling. You are competing against all the options out there that cloud people’s minds. It’s thrilling to create movement that would not happen without you. And it’s important work. You are making something happen for the world of waiters and dreamers.

Action is contagious. I love creating movement and though I have had much success, I never want to sit around waiting for things to happen. That’s a form of death to me and you can see so many lethargic souls resign themselves to inertia when they used to have more hustle in their lives before success.

But the great news is that with so many people that give into complacency, you can differentiate yourself with a strategy of continuous hustle. Be the one with the ideas and the person who is sharp enough and adept to make those ideas happen.

Build and exchange value. It’s an exciting part of life I can’t imagine simply conceding because of the lure of mundane comfort. See you out there.

Skip the Line and Take Smartcuts

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Shane Snow’s Smartcuts is an excellent read to get you off your mundane thinking tracks and moving laterally towards results. The insights from case studies of those hackers that have skipped the line and percolated up inspire and inform those that want to figure out how to get results fast with creativity and lateral thinking.

In his own pursuits to circumvent the success ladder, he analyzed the contributing pieces to what might otherwise be opaque to a casual observer of successful people. He shares principals and case studies of nine different attributes of smartcut thinking and approaches.

I liked the challenge to be prepared for waves where he shares analogies of big time surfers and how they excel based on timing, instinct and experience. Likewise, there are waves coming and going in our hyper growth world and it requires insightful and well-timed action based on steady preparation. You have to be in the game and know what you are looking for.

This is an important book for those that understand you don’t have to pay your dues. You can find the workaround, think like a hacker and get to your goals in a completely different style of thinking. It saves time, grief and expense when you put your mind towards creative thinking.

How can you take a smartcut in what you are doing?

We Need a Whole Lot of Better Listeners

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“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” ~ Dale Carnegie

It sure would be amusing if we heard people speaking their minds when they tire of someone talking too much. Can you imagine the painful, humorous candor if people were simply blunt and said, “I don’t think you’re that interesting to talk to,” or “I can’t stand listening to your bragging anymore.”

Maybe we would get people to be more considerate and have healthy conversations that go back and forth like a smooth air bearing on rails.

I do think there is immense fatigue from being talked at inconsiderately from advertising, social media and people that lack listening skills. The great thing is that we have more power and choice to shut out the noise.

Noise is so wasteful.

I like learning new things, and a lot of learning happens by simply asking good questions and genuinely listening and being interested in someone else’s story.

Have you worked hard at becoming a better listener? I mean with rigor, intentionality and passion?

If you took Dale Carnegie’s observation to heart, he’s stating a truism. You get more friends by becoming interested in other people. It’s a habit. And I think it means paying attention and caring about something beyond your own agenda by:

  • Learning to completely focus in the moment on someone else
  • Being a continuous learner. Remember everyone can teach you something. “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Growing a heart that cares about others and their problems

Imagine if you stand out because you simply are a better listener than most people. Why wouldn’t people want to spend time with you and lean in on friendships? It’s a natural response because you are trading value. Someone feels heard. It validates their thoughts and identity.

Every day, I think there is something I can learn and there are people that can teach me. The skill of listening is an age-old virtue. But, it’s becoming more valuable simply because so few people listen well or even care to.

It’s not fancy technology. It’s part of being human and connecting that makes a difference to get influence and results in life. All we have is time and connection. And you can choose to harness this wonderful habit to make the time we have with others worthwhile.

Don’t Start if You Are Not Going to be Consistent

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The labor it used to take to simply set something up is lost on this next generation. I can tell my kids don’t relate to the pain I try vainly to communicate when it comes to how hard it was to set up websites, IT systems and even getting your message out. The people that could do the work or hire it out had a strategic advantage previously.

Today, it’s easy to set up a store, a site or any other platform now. That barrier to entry has been shattered.

Everyone feels like they have a voice now. They just have to get attention and become famous or relevant, at least with the people that matter to them.

If you haven’t listened to the Tim Ferriss interview with Derek Sivers and his journey with his CD Baby venture and exit, it’s helpful perspective on how hard it was to even build a platform in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I like how he talks about the pain and joy of building a Buy Now button for a shopping cart. It’s a simple formality today in contrast.

Now that things are easy and everyone can play, what does that mean?

As of the writing of this article, I have over 1,400 articles posted and indexed over ten years. I enjoy sharing out my thoughts and it’s been one platform that has been natural for me to maintain with consistency.

I like writing. I like reading. I like thinking. I like sharing business strategy and helping people win.

I think that’s what has made it easy and fun for me. And, I would tell people that just because there are a lot of shiny platforms out there, don’t start if you can’t even see yourself being consistent over a period of time.

Why? Because showing up is important to the process of building trust and awareness. Getting better at something you can dial into helps you build an asset over time with a connection with your tribe of connections.

Dependability and consistency become harder as you go down the journey. Having something to say becomes more of a differentiator the further you go down the rabbit hole.

We have a lot of choices and options out there. But we are still human and building trust is not so easy to come by regardless of how much content is streaming through our lives. Part of that trust building is knowing there is passion and commitment behind what you are putting into the world. If I know something is not going to be consistent from someone, then my own enthusiasm and commitment will be affected. It’s a natural reaction because I want to invest my attention and focus where there is continuity.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to everything in nature. We don’t care so much about transactional items. But when it comes to tribe building, trust and awareness, competing on consistency can differentiate you from those that are semi-committed.

So, a thought to consider. Before you start some work, can you picture yourself being consistent over time?

Will it be painful to extract yourself later? Why not think a bit about what you might start and picture whether you will be consistent with showing up?

Distractions Cost You

Making lots of tiny choices depletes one’s subsequent self-control. ~ Shane Snow, Smartcuts

I get worn out during a workday simply from death by a thousand cuts. Those thousand cuts take the form of the myriad decisions I am confronted with relentlessly.

What do I eat?

What do I wear?

What do I do today?

Should I call someone?

Email.

Making choices creates a mental fatigue and depletes our self-control. It becomes harder to stay on course with what we want to do and we get pulled by many things that don’t matter.

Choices wear us out.

I battle the onslaught by seeking to continually get rid of things in my life that make me have to deal with choice. The more I have in my life, the more I have to manage. And that kind of distraction has a cost.

We don’t live in a heavy labor society. We have division of labor, delegation, outsourcing, automation and software to help us with most work.

I’m not trying to conserve my physical energy. I’m trying to protect my mental and emotional health so I can maximize my creativity. For I agree with what Robert Ringer states so clearly:

“It is creativity, not hard work, that’s at the heart of success in any field of endeavor. And in order for a person to have the time to engage in creative thinking, he must learn to work efficiently.”

Much of that efficiency comes from not dealing with decisions that add little to no value to your goals.

I, for one, like achieving my goals and focusing only on getting results. Your ability to keep your choices simple and minimal will keep your mental space cleaner for all those inevitable decisions that will present themselves.

It’s why I adhere to a morning routine where I take care of myself first. The routine helps me relax and prepare for a day mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. Reading, push-ups, nutritional food and prayer are part of what helps my creative process.

There’s no cheating. My work is mental and emotional and I can appreciate that willpower, patience and creativity are not in infinite supply. They deplete over the course of a day because of having to make choices.

I also continually purge and minimize. This does wonders for keeping the decks clear and allowing me to get to the heart of what matters in my workflow. I don’t want to be dealing with objects, tools or distractions that pull my attention away from reading, writing and serving clients.

There are so many other traps when it comes to relationships, penny-wise-dollar-foolish matters and outdated projects that have run their course. I try to keep those off of my radar by getting rid of those energy-sapping things that only create stress without results.

Creativity is what matters and that does not come without a vigilance around protecting your life from distractions. It takes laser-focus.

Do you feel worn out and feel like you are lacking progress towards your goals? How could you create the habit of removing distractions?

Fooled by the Law of Diminishing Returns

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At some point, the effort and cost are not worth it anymore. The Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in when building a business or even building a life. More investment of your time, money and attention may initially have high returns, but then at some point, the rewards taper.

Will more efficiency make a large impact on your revenue?

How many more relationships start to become a liability to manage rather than pure enjoyment?

Does more money create more happiness after a certain point? They say $75K is that point of diminishing return from research studies.

Sometimes, I can’t find the motivation to do more. Perhaps, that law of diminishing return is instinctive and I’m only responding. Or experience simply shows me that more does not equal better. In fact, more may mean cost.

I see it with business owners that add more headcount and find more headaches or layers of management to deal with. More cost, not less, for more effort and investment.

I see diminishing returns when we sign up for more activities for the kids. Fun can turn to drudgery when the calendar is packed to the brim. It’s different than getting good and focusing on just a few things done well. Less headache and more results.

I think the key is to ramp up specific parts to that inflection point of diminishing returns and leave it alone. Then move on to other areas and invest time, energy, money and emotion to get that working to a point of producing returns.

Much like the story of The Golden Goose, we can get greedy with seeking more output and choke the goose or cut its head off only to find our hopes shattered from overreaching.

Greed and perfectionism can compel us to push too hard in a direction and lose sight of that reality principal we are all facing in business and life that more stops being better at some point.

So, some things I try to do to fight this tendency:

  1. Ask myself, “Does this matter?” and “How much?” It keeps me from pushing into areas that are not going to have a return.
  2. Test the concept on a small scale. If I have an idea, I like to see it in play and work out the kinks before overinvesting time and resources.
  3. Watch my enthusiasm. If I am losing motivation, that’s a sign that something is not worth it anymore. I try and step back to figure out why I may have lost enthusiasm and get as honest as I can.
  4. Look at the numbers. You can simplify most goals and results by looking at inputs and outputs. How much is going in and what is coming out as a result? Typically, you get a boost initially. Later, it’s not so great.

It’s hard to detach and do a gut check on work and projects we become vested in. My emotions can keep me trapped on a path that may otherwise not make as much sense.

Yes, I like excellence. But it makes sense to a point. Then wisdom and business acumen have to kick in to avoid wasting time and energy.

Where might you be spending too much and not getting a better return?