Collecting and Testing Mental Models

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Principles prevail in a world of chaos. Much of life is indeed chaos. I think the importance of collecting and testing your mental models – how you problem solve and approach the world – is critical to drive success.

The 80/20 rule can help you focus on what has the best payoffs.

Eliminating drain people can help you be free from drama and the downside of dysfunctional relationships.

The law of diminishing returns can keep you from wasting energy and time where marginal returns are the leftover.

These are tested tools that create results when practiced intensely and regularly.

Have a place to collect your mental models. Test them in the course of doing business. When they work, that positive reinforcement along with learning the nuances of each principle, can embed themselves as habits in your psyche and routines.

I like to write down thought processes and mental models I learn from books and people. I like to write blog articles of my learnings. I like to share what works to help others. These practices get me results.

Everyone operates from mental models. May are not intentional and miss out on magnifying the effects of focused outcome thinking. Some mental models have downside. Total hedonism, for example, has plenty of upside, but can also ruin ambition.

Perhaps your results are elusive because some of the things you know are not regularly practiced. Or if you are scattered and not getting the outcomes you want, a few focused practices could be the game changer.

Keep a notebook or use Keep to start tracking the mental models you learn and apply. It’s a simple practice that can quickly yield desirable outcomes.

The Purpose of an Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs are heroes in our society. They fail for the rest of us. ~ Nassim Taleb

Yes, entrepreneurs are indeed heroes. Ultimately, entrepreneurs are about initiative and responsibility for risk.

However, at a fundamental level, entrepreneurs are problem solvers. They own the difficult problems others are reluctant to carry. There are a sea of ambiguous problems that entrepreneurs solve:

  • Raising money
  • Making payroll
  • Securing property deals
  • Making deals
  • Collecting
  • Creating
  • Driving awareness
  • Protecting assets
  • Managing difficult people
  • Upholding a reputation

When you decide to start or grow a business, the challenges will be endless. Your plans will meet adversity. People won’t play along. Things can get difficult quick.

Ultimately, your ability to solve problems is what creates progress in the midst of chaos.

Here’s what is important for the journey:

  1. Lead yourself first. Establish health routines. Take care of your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual self. Every day without skipping. You need to be dialed in and ready for problems with creativity and stamina.
  2. Always be growing. You need a varied amount of skills that are largely dynamic, perhaps non-descript. Learn to be adept with people. Take care of details. Manage sales and projects.
  3. Be a master recruiter. A bad hire will send your business completely sideways. Hire slowly and fire quickly. Don’t rationalize.
  4. Always be clear. Your clarity matters more than everyone else’s. It also keeps you going towards a goal with perseverance and energy. This is a continuous process.
  5. Create systems. Systems keep your output consistent. They are not flippant or inconsistent. You need people systems, sales systems, personal systems and financial systems.

In the end, an entrepreneur knows they are in the business of problem solving. If you’re not welcoming or anticipating problems, then you won’t make it as an entrepreneur.

It’s a heroic, and many times, thankless journey. But the rewards are immense.

Troy Carter of Lady Gaga and Atom Factory Kept Learning and Unlearning

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I like spending the weekends thinking, learning and relaxing. The weeks are such a grind and intensive with deal making and doing business. Today, I was having some reflections on the NPR podcast, How I Build This: Lady Gaga & Atom Factory: Troy Carter. I embedded it above and you can find the transcript here.

Troy Carter managed hip-hop and pop superstars as well as built a venture fund. He is remarkably honest, humble and sober. I respect him as a businessman and how he kept integrating what he learned and unlearned. He kept parlaying his skills and exploring avenues to create opportunities from hip-hop to pop music to social media to investing in startups. Even with his heartaches and successes, as many an entrepreneur goes through, he self-actualized, as he shared,

And just to be honest with you, the thing was I just said I want to wake up every day and do cool [expletive]. That was the mantra for me personally.

I can relate. We have to keep true to our inner compass and find fresh, relevant ways that we fit, apply our value and create opportunities in this fast-changing world.

In sharing this podcast, my friend Joseph over at InDev Capital and I were having some takes on Troy Carter’s podcast. I like what he said based on his work with emerging market real estate and the inherent skill and push it takes in his business,

Most everyone goes through “The Dip” and that is where the learnings are.

Well stated, for sure. Entrepreneurs understand this too well. They do pay the price for everyone else. Those learnings become cash flow, empires and job creation.

If you get a chance, listen to the podcast while driving or hanging out. Share some of your insights in the comments below. I would enjoy hearing your take. Enjoy and keep growing.

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.

Doing What You Want to Do

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There’s a big consequence for winging it. If you allow your days to be dictated by the demands of others or the urgencies that days tend to push on us, it is difficult, if not impossible, to do the things that you want or matter to you.

Furthermore, your own energy levels and resistance to work on the important parts of your life take a backseat.

Living intentionally with conviction takes focus because everything is working against you. Your brain and emotions are looking for the path of least resistance. And days can bleed into weeks, then into months and then into years without much being accomplished towards your goals.

If you want to do what you want to do, then you must gain conviction. You know what you want. You want it badly.

This can come from setting up a few strategies for yourself:

  • Routines. I have a morning routine. It’s been said, “Routines set you free.” It sets the stage for me to focus on the day ahead and align myself mentally, physically emotionally and spiritually. This is critical to win the day.
  • Ritual. You may know things because you heard them or discussed them. You may know that it’s important to read every day or show gratitude. But the ritual of reviewing why you think this is true pushes it deeper into your convictions. I use Google Keep to collect quotes, articles, rules and important thoughts. Your brain can’t remember everything. But if you have it, keep a list of notes that you review every day. This ritual will help the thoughts you collect become a part of you.
  • Reflection. Think often and regularly about what has been happening around you. Is it what you want? What are the obstacles? What are the opportunities? Taking long walks, sitting quietly in the dark and writing in a journal are different ways I like to reflect. Your brain is a problem solving machine and having time and space to connect the dots furthers your clarity and convictions on what you want and what you are doing in contrast.

Routines, rituals and reflection are powerful tools that work with our natures. If we want to change ourselves and how we approach the craziness of life and the world, these become our anchors for doing what we want to do despite all the forces working against us in a day, externally and internally. It’s how conviction is built.

Leveling Up

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

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

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

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

What are some ways to do this?

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

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

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

An Important Thought to Have

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

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

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

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

Caring.

Listening.

Thinking.

Connecting.

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

Simple thought,

“How can I add more value?

Big impact.

These Are Never a Waste of Time

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My days, like many of yours, are jammed with demands that relentlessly pull at me. It’s not hard to simply jump into the chaos and push forward on every front. It can feel productive, but often times it is simply reactive. And, if I’m not careful, I’m simply treading water. I have a lot of activity without results. No fun. Wasteful.

I try to keep a short list of important things that feed me and add to my well-being. I always tell people, “You cannot give what you do not possess.” If you want to be a person of value, then you have to increase your own value consistently. That’s why I don’t carry guilt, and I try to make time for these priorities when the world is swirling. They are never a waste of time:

  • Books. I read as much as I can during the days. It’s a way to rest and stretch the mind beyond tasks and projects. I get insights that others have explored in their fields of expertise without having to live an entirely different life. It is always worth it to read, think and grow.
  • Sleep. My emotions can get pretty raw on little sleep. I’m no good to the people that need me – my family, friends and customers – if I’m sick or tired. It’s never a waste to get extra shuteye. Getting to bed early, taking naps and even sleeping in help me be valuable to others and move through days with clarity and calm. Check out Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution to see how important it is to be fully rested.
  • A kind word. Everyone has problems. It’s a tough world we all live in. It’s never a waste of time to pause, be thoughtful and care. I like sharing a favorite proverb with my kids, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” It’s such a beautiful picture of what an exquisite gift and setting it is to provide the right word in the right moment to the right person. It takes thought, care and everything inside you working together well to be a person that can give a kind word. Making someone’s day is so fun.
  • Gaining wisdom. Taking time to think about life’s lessons or listening carefully to the wisdom from others saves a lot of grief. I like to stop and examine what has happened to me and how to avoid temptations, scenarios and people that get me into circumstances I don’t like. Why repeat negative experiences? A little thought and thoughtfulness is never a waste of time. Repeating foolish mistakes takes far more time and energy.
  • Family. My wife and kids refresh me. We laugh, play, support each other, banter, and love each other. Our times together help all of us to take on the world. We are there for each other. We entertain each other. We grow together. It’s always time well spent to be together as a family.

I don’t like wasting time. And as life and work keep moving along like a treadmill, I indulge in these things to keep me going and keep me growing. Perhaps you can keep a short list or take a few of these ideas to default to regularly to keep your own personal growth a priority.

It’s a Matter of Priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can always take a look at your:

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

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

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

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?