Learn to Unlearn

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“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ” ~ Alvin Toffler

I often think about that phrase, “What got you here won’t get you there.” It’s a powerful reminder that you can’t rest on your accomplishments for long. Someone out there wants to eat your lunch, or the world around you at large is relentlessly making your achievement meaningless every day.

One strategy if you don’t want to have to keep innovating is to find a commoditized required industry and camp out. Society needs trash removal, utilities, cleaning, bookkeeping and bandages. Cash flows continuously in and out of those boring businesses and the entrenched players don’t have to pivot too much. That is as long as there is not someone reimagining how to lower costs and increase conveniences for customers.

There are things I was an expert in previously that are simply foregone memories now. There’s too many areas where the world has become more efficient that has forced me to have to “learn, unlearn, and relearn.” And that’s fair. Everyone is subject to the requirement to being relevant and valuable. You have to keep proving your place and worth in this world of endless options.

One way to measure ongoing staying power is to think about how much you are personally growing.

How many books per month have you read?

How many people have you met in the last week?

What new ideas are you sharing?

You have to keep learning, testing and sharing. In this mode, you have to think of value as something to apply and discard when the game has changed.

The last thing you want to be is illiterate among so many that are taking initiative every day to become better and offer something timely and powerful. That’s the game today for value creators.

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.

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.

 

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.

The True Entrepreneur is a Doer

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“The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.” ~ Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari Computer

I know true entrepreneurs. I love them. They move to action decisively. That critical ability to generate ideas and act on them quickly is a true separation. It creates energy, momentum and something out of nothing.

It’s creativity in action when you see entrepreneurship.

I like to play things loose and see what happens. I like to generate ideas, lots of them. And I turn those ideas into movement. I like to get the universe to react from some action I create. It is what works for my entrepreneurship by doing something quickly and clearly.

Most of my ideas are not perfect. But action helps perfect the concepts. Here are some ways I start the process of moving from ideas to action in my entrepreneurial approach:

  • Sharing my idea with my audience and looking for reactions
  • Tapping my network and starting conversations
  • Building requirements documents
  • Booking a meeting with a person that can move my idea forward
  • Finding a platform to start posting, positioning and engaging
  • Opening a loop so I get dissatisfied
  • Closing a deal
  • Creating a new service offering and pitching it

I like the challenge of making ideas happen, and the more action that is clear, the more fun it becomes to create value in the world.

There are so many resources, technology and people to make entrepreneurship happen. Leading is the key, and that starts with Nolan Bushnell’s insight that action is a critical habit. Anything short of that is simply dreaming.

Steve Martin Taught Me to Think 9 Lives

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I grew up watching Steve Martin as The Jerk, a Dirty Rotten Scoundrel, Roxanne, Father of the Bride and a traveler in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. He has that brilliant wit and timing that has made us roll over in laughter for decades and I couldn’t believe he was still performing at 71.

That’s a night pic at the Starlight Theater in Kansas City and Steve Martin has been ripping bluegrass on the banjo. He played with Steep Canyon Rangers in several sets and then spun off on a combination of humor and solo picking.

At 71 he shared all his accumulated talents as an entertainer and we were simply enthralled. The reflections on life and career with his friend, Martin Short, made for laughs and delights as we watched them use sarcasm and underhanded humor to shine a light on each other’s accomplishments.

I kept thinking how lucky I was to sit and behold a life’s worth of mastery in so many areas. He truly kept reinventing himself. Sometimes, there were roles to fill. Other times, there was simply curiosity and passion leading Steve Martin to the next thing.

Not a lot of people want to change or explore as much, but with how the world is continually moving on a blistering pace, we don’t have much choice. The things we are doing today matter little in the future that is relentlessly put on us.

But, I do think there are more than inspiring lessons that Steve Martin shares. I think you can find his upcoming shows at stevemartin.com. Here are some thoughts I took away:

  1. Keep expanding your core. Humor and wit were Steve Martin’s core talent. He started there young and went to stand-up, movies, and any other outlet to express his art. He practiced and refined his core talent relentlessly and made that his springboard to opportunities.
  2. Package and repackage. Movies require a certain approach. So do stand-up comedy routines, partnering, music and juggling displays. Ultimately, storytelling within the context of the medium makes for new artistic expressions. There’s always new ways to present your talent.
  3. Live out your 9 lives. If you try a lot of things there are going to be flops. That’s expected and ok. What you are doing today will not necessarily be the same thing you do in a year. Keep exploring and expanding.
  4. Stay tuned in. Though Steve Martin is old, he uses Twitter and other social media. He creates and distributes. He teams up with Martin Short and puts together a baseline theme that reflects on the past rather than is contemporary in content. He’s tuned into himself and where he is at and the world around him and what is available to use.
  5. Remember where you came from. Your baseline are the hard times, struggles and lessons that got you down the road. Go back to them to remain humble and keep thinking bigger by knowing you can always do it again.

If you get a chance to see his show, I would highly recommend it. He’s a treat to the world. I’m glad I got to see a history of work in the flesh and learn some great lessons about 9 lives.

Creativity Not Productivity

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We had this age of efficiency and continuous improvement for a long time. When the Japanese were destroying us in the auto industry with better quality cars we buckled down and hyper focused on quality. It worked. ISO standards, Deming Cycles and Six Sigma drove quality to new standards, and we produced a generation of managers that ensured statistical quality for the masses.

There’s money to be made in efficiency for sure. I enjoyed conversations recently with an executive friend at UPS who shared the relentless focus UPS has on logistics and using unmanned vehicles and drones in their R&D. They are in the efficiency business, and both workforce productivity and the market demand for immediacy are driving their initiatives. We, as consumers, get to partake in what will be a surreal future of fulfillment based on our whimsical desires. The speed, precision and customization are being worked on while we consume from our mobile on-demand lives anytime, anywhere.

I think the business of productivity and efficiency fit well for enterprises that can move the needle in our lives from a mass perspective. They are productivity behemoths and get rewarded for consolidating around this value proposition.

However, there are many more slots to fill for customers that go beyond productivity. As humans, we still want to consume creativity. That boutique hotel experience or the out of the box retreat attracts us in a way that relieves our tired minds from consumerism, efficiency and boring.

If you are in the productivity business, keep pushing the bounds of faster, cheaper and efficient. That’s the value the market expects.

For all other endeavors, your creativity, not necessarily your productivity, will have a larger impact on selling and being relevant. The ideas you are able to generate and implement will be the differentiator in such a ridiculously competitive world.

I had a friend recently say, “Stay in the mess.” He was talking about the complexities of IT problems he is involved with that AI has not touched yet. We were talking about how that will likely change with deep learning technology that is continuously pushing the envelope.

Today’s mess is not necessarily going to remain hard or obscure.

And the challenge becomes looking for new messes using the efficiencies, tools and platforms that productivity has solved for our creative benefit.

I am not sure what the future beholds in business. But I do see, from the front lines, how those who are creative stand out. Getting in the mess where strategy, forward thinking and the ability to connect the dots tends to gain trust, respect and relationship gets rewarded.

Simply trying to make efficient things more efficient has marginal value.

If you are not productive at this point, you may be fighting an uphill battle. Give it up and do what you can. There’s already consolidated and large leverage players that accomplish productivity far better than you. Partner with them.

It’s a far better strategy to invest in creativity. Find a new angle. Straddle multiple industries and blend those ideas into a new approach. Take some time to get above the fray and see the forest from the trees. You’ll add a lot more value in today’s world being a creative resource that can make ideas happen quickly. Oh, and you don’t have to be frenetic. You just have to commit to being insightful, strategic and creative.

Reinvent Yourself Before You’re Forced To

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“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.” ~ Robert Greene

Things work … until they don’t.

We bought stories previously that made sense. Advertising works because people pay attention. A horse and buggy is the way to travel. Everyone should meet for lunch to do business. Conglomerates are responsible for the news.

There were entire industries and armies of workers ready to fulfill what scaled and worked. And there was reward for a time with cash flow and stability that all the participating players enjoyed.

However, we don’t have the luxury of a static world that simply allows us to drink forever from a wellspring of opportunity. Too often, we have to get slapped hard out of our delusion and heed Baltasar Gracian’s words,

“Fortune soon tires of carrying anyone long on her shoulders.”

We did not have a world where everyone carried a supercomputer in their pocket, 24/7 news continually streamed and anyone could put their opinion out in the endless information stream of social platforms. The story people tell themselves continually changes and consumers are able to make choices for themselves on their time, attention and buying based on convenience and innovation.

I can remember too many times where work was hard. Building systems, sales engines and collaboration processes were hard. It’s much easier. We don’t have to code anymore or lay out inflexible, expensive requirements to test our ideas. We don’t even have to be perfect from the start. We can try what we conceive and tear it down and rebuild technologies and platforms to see if they work in reality or not.

Innovation is sweet and relentless.

We don’t even have to sweat the underlying mechanics or even hope for infrastructure.

However, the flip side of innovation is that it threatens the current position you find yourself in. Things will be different. They have to be. The collective is forcing and demanding better, faster, cheaper and entertaining.

Whether you align and reinvent yourself today or are forced to change when the world ignores your value is not something you control.

IT will be different. So will education, medicine, law, marketing, and every other industry out there that has enjoyed some form of stasis.

Sure, there’s a latency for Luddites that can ride the down wave. However, they can’t control the forces at play and the demand side that is creating this ridiculous pace of innovation we are all riding and insisting on.

The strategy for the value provider that wants to get paid has to move towards continual relevance. You have to stay in tune with what works, but you don’t need to get so far ahead that consumer demand lags.

Reinvent yourself by:

  1. Having a parallel path of selling/doing that ramps up while your current cash flow ramps down.
  2. Experimenting with and integrating new technology that makes things more convenient for your customers.
  3. Creating new use cases for your competencies.
  4. Selling something new and test for traction.

The last thing you want to experience as a businessperson is irrelevance. Fear and comfort can blindside you. The great news is that you can always get ahead of the inevitable changes to your position by keeping your own innovation habits in play.

What’s next for you and how can you keep reinvention continuously going?

Building the Boring Business

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I enjoy drama, action and suspense when I watch a movie to relax and let my mind and emotions wander. However, I don’t find heroics and craziness entertaining or useful in business. In fact, my goal with entrepreneurs and business owners is to build a boring business based on systems, processes and execution that produces consistent cash flow.

That sounds reasonable, but often it goes against the programming and nature of the owner operators that believe charisma and heroics has won the day. I get it. We like superheroes and long to be one.

Emergencies pop up and uncertainty continually deals a hand here and there. When I see volatility or repeatable drama, then my conclusion is that something foundational is not working.

If you ever have gone on factory tours of large manufacturers of cars, electronics or packaged goods, you don’t see chaos and frenetic energy. You see systems that drive output. The systems are there to drive towards a singular result. It’s a boring business and it works to get goods into the hands of customers. The goal is making the customer happy and drive revenue.

But well-run businesses do not simply appear overnight. There’s thought around how materials, information and talent flow. Systems work well with focused results by removing the crises, variables and gotcha’s that snare lesser performing operations.

The boring business happens because of strong leadership and a commitment to not repeat insanity from continual failure. This not only includes project management or operations but in how the business cares about and manages client relationships, grows revenue via a continuous pipeline and continually innovates. These are all parts of a business that can be creatively systematized. The energy and creativity for a boring business can be put in the design and execution of processes that stay ahead of chaos.

Sure, you can spend time getting lost in details and putting out daily fires. But when you step back and take a look at anything that repeatedly pops up and slows down the main event – making your customer happy – have you really solved the root problem of poor systems? Is a lack of commitment to process simply leaving the door open for problems later?

Perhaps team members need regular training and testing of their knowledge and skills. Or you may need a knowledge base and repository to keep information so you don’t have to keep reminding people how business should be done.

In many cases, you might simply need to notice the repeatability and frequency of problems. Do you like heroics simply because it appeals to the ego or makes you feel like you are working on something?

I like drama to stay at the box office or in my recreational fun going up or down mountains. When it’s completely possible to keep a business focused on delivering value and driving revenue, no thanks. Give me the boring business instead and leave the adventures for other parts of life where it belongs. #nodrama

Create More Options and Stop Working Harder

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When you are not getting the results you want, is it better to try harder or diversify your options? While there are myriad circumstances, when the law of averages governs the game you are playing, more options, attempts and scenarios can be a strategic move.

Instead of working hard on one relationship build a hundred more with different people.

Instead of trying to make one market or channel work, test others to uncover more opportunities.

Instead of putting everything in one employee’s responsibility, load balance and create redundancies with several team members.

The strategy fits situations where working harder with determination has diminishing returns. And instead of getting locked into less optionality you can open up more channels for opportunity and feedback. You mitigate risk and get to look at what percolates from diversification.

In addition, you can add the hard work and number of attempts into your new options to see what outcomes will produce results.

When I was a kid, I played a lot of sports. Some came easier than others. At some point, I had diminishing returns playing baseball. I put in hours and hours throwing, catching and batting. But I could easily see how teammates had better results for their efforts. It didn’t discourage me, but even as a young kid, I could tell I had an upper limit.

I went on to other sports with some successes and some mediocrity. But trying a lot of them and testing for what I could get out of myself gave me perspective on what would work for me, much like many other youngsters discover.

Eventually, I found that distance running fit. I got results from putting work in. Not my first pick of sports, but I had to go with what worked and I made that my bread and butter sport through high school and college at the expense of other sports. It was worth it to me for the work I was going to put in.

There’s a world of options we can easily get overwhelmed by out there.

A platform that your customers interact on would make for the best use of your time, for example.

A group of friends can be much more fun and rewarding than other social groups with different tastes.

And if you find yourself getting stuck, merely working harder, then how about taking that energy, time and focus to diversify far and wide? Use that strategy to create new momentum and insights that help you get out of the rut. Going wide can create new energy and opportunity in contrast to simply pushing deeper into things you are comfortable doing.

This is especially true for things that used to work in a different era and don’t work as well anymore.  The better strategy is to diversify and open up new channels you may not have considered. Do it at the expense of what you already know or are accustomed to.

Ultimately, you are giving yourself better probabilities of finding higher returns of your time, money and attention.

What do you need to stop working harder at and go wider with instead?