Look Beyond Yourself

Having a bad day, week or month? Look beyond yourself. The answer might just be around you. Your networks are the start of a new level of effectiveness.

Our world is so complex and connected know that nobody has all the answers themselves. You can’t expect to get from beginning to end of any meaningful challenge all on your own. Step out of seeing your challenges as a personal battle and engage with others. Work out loud and discover what your communities and networks have to offer you in your work:

  • Need to make contact with someone who can help? Ask around in your friends and colleagues and use their networks.  The right person is only a few hops away.
  • Want to learn something new? Ask others how they went about learning their way forward. Find a mentor or coach or guide.
  • Need to Solve a problem? Ask your network for help, ideas or experts
  • Want to win support for a change? Go discuss your change with those who can help you.

No challenge is too big for your network. They won’t come to you. Go take your problems out to the world and see what help you can find. At a minimum, you will find new perspectives.

In the process of finding your solutions in the networks of your life, you will discover the passion, generosity, genius and friendship that awaits.

Safety

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere – Martin Luther King Jr

I don’t fear for safety
From the simplicity of evil
or complex works of good.

Beyond the neat edge
of my experience,
security is a privilege.

Fears that I don’t share
are still unendurable,
life-draining, life-ending.

My enclosed experience hints
at other works and wheels,
a shared system of society.

All that produces this world,
the light and dark, actors, victims
and passive accomplices.

We are interconnected –
This condition, this system,
this change is mine too.

The Three Meeting Rule

Meetings are rarely ever doing. Constraining the daily meetings forces choice and improves effectiveness.

When I started as a consultant I carried over practices from corporate life. I wanted to fill my days with meetings. I had a need to network and to build my business. I needed to tell my story and win work. I took a lot of meetings and spent days running around town.

I was soon reminded how unproductive the meeting circuit was. Taking every meeting chewed up lots of time, created lots of activity and spent energy. The commutes between meetings alone took hours. However it delivered few results.

Reflecting on my lack of productivity I implemented a daily rule of no more than 3 meetings. Limiting meetings had an immediate benefit in creating time to think, to do work and to make choices. A limit also made me much more focused on which meetings to take. I also found that many other meetings could be swapped for a quick phone call, a video chat or an exchange of information.

Any arbitrary rule should always be honoured in the breach. I occasionally take another meeting but now I do so reflecting on the value of that meeting and its cost in my time. Overall my productivity has risen as I look for other ways to get work done.

How would a limit on meetings work for you?

Breathe

Last year there were over 200 posts to this blog. I have been blogging almost daily for more than eight years now, first internally for five years at NAB and then for the last three years on this blog. I write on many of the days I don’t publish, leaving some ideas for future research and development. The near daily process of working out loud on ideas has been amazingly productive and a wonderful source of new relationships and opportunities.

Last week I needed to put together two different talks on working out loud, one for the AITD Conference and another for Intranets2016. As I sat down to work through those talks I discovered I was able to draw on a reservoir of ideas that I had thought through, blogged and turned into images. Having a ready source of my thoughts helped me to see new connections and new opportunities:

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Blogging has also become a deeply ingrained habit over time. When I began trying to blog daily I used BJ Fogg’s tiny habit approach to get me started. My blog post each day was the work I did while I drank my first coffee. I would never have forecast when I began that thinking out loud would become the way I work through so many challenges. When I have an idea or a challenge to consider my first thought is to start working through how I would blog it. Now I am much more alert each day to the insights and the opportunities. I am always looking for connections and querying how what I read relates to past and future blogposts. I have learned to be much more concise in my thinking and expression. Most importantly I have learned to let more of myself out in the process. The latter has played a key role in creating and deepening relationships.

Last week I was explaining my blogging process to a friend and I found myself saying ‘It’s just like breathing’. I surprised myself with how casually I referred to the process, but it was true. Persistent practice moved me forward to a different relationship to my working out loud. Because the habits are deeply engrained the stress and anxiety of writing slips away a little more. What is left is the joy of thinking, sharing and making new connections.

Breathe.

The Hustle

Want to do something meaningful? Meaningful is hard. It is going to take hustle.

Meaningful is Hard

There is no truer statement than “if it was easy, someone would have done it by now”. Making change that matters and doing purposeful work takes effort. The obstacles are real. They are the real work.  Do the work.  

The effort begins with understanding what impact you want to have. Then you have to understand how you can fulfil your purpose. Lastly you need to find people to work with and opportunities to tackle. Finally you get to find out whether you can make a living through working on your purpose. Some times purpose is a living but others times purpose turns out to be a hobby or a calling.

To make matters worse, you need to do all that work in the wrong order and in overlapping steps. In many cases the answers are unclear or contradictory. You do the work and you learn a little more about where you are going.  You keep doing the work and you learn even more. The work sustains you and provides momentum & networks that matter. 

The Hustle Required

There is far more hustle required than you expect. Here’s one example of the hustle required to persuade others: 2% of sales are closed in the first meeting. Yes, 98% of the pitches fail when every failed pitch feels like time to call it quits. 80% of sales are closed after more than 5 follow-up calls, when every empty call feels like time to move on. No wonder 44% of sales people give up after only one follow-up. The winners are those who hustle more and hustle longer. Remember these numbers come from enterprise sales, if your change is more unique or more unusual it could require even more hustle to find your market.  The winners in change stay in the game and they hustle.

The hustle is just working intensively on your purpose: making connections, building relationships, identifying problems and offering ways to solve them. You don’t need to use sharp practices. There are no shortcuts. They will only cut you in the end. You need to do more than “build it” and “turn up”. You need to get out into the market and challenge people to listen to your pitch. 

Hustle. Work your purpose hard. Remember to take the odd break to reflect and reset yourself for the next burst of hustle. If you work it continuously, the hustle will become the Grind.

Working out loud on Career Transition

I throw a spear into the darkness. That is intuition. Then I must send an army into the darkness to find the spear. That is intellect. – Ingmar Bergman

Working out loud on your intuitions is critical to success of career transition. So is bringing your network to bear as an army of hunters and collaborators to help make the new role a success.

A bunch of friends, collaborators, and inspirational leaders were made redundant yesterday. At the end of a day of reaching out to offer help, I came across the quote above from Ingmar Bergman and it reminded me of each of my past career transitions. Enforced change is daunting and can be a time of doubts and confusion. We can be deeply unsure of what comes next.

When career change takes us by surprise we usually never quite know what we want next. We are deep in the realm of doubts and hopes. We need to trust our intuition as a signal of personal purpose. We need to throw some experimental spears. Working out loud is a great way to test the waters, refine your hopes and draw opportunities. Throw a few spears and see what happens.

However working out loud is just the beginning. The next challenge is to send out an army to help you find the next role, project or help you start the next business. There’s too much for one individual to do alone. Networks are the most powerful way to search for, find or even create the new role. Combinations of strong and weak ties will make things happen that you could never expect. Working out loud can make the network aware. You will need to work the network ongoing with all your intellect to turn ideas into opportunities to fulfil your purpose.

My friends are well placed for success in this game. They are highly talented and know how to work like a network. They have global networks. They have authority on the difficult challenges in change and adoption in the future of work. They are trusted experts and partners. They are ideally placed to leverage the wirearchy to their next success. The opportunity now is to work out loud and connect, share, solve and innovate with those who admire them.

For all of us who are pondering our next move, how are you leveraging working out loud and calling on the power of your networks? How are you helping others find their next horizon?

Lessons from Presenting

Last week I had a long and challenging presentation to give. Here’s some lessons that I take away from that experience:

Blogging helped: all the ideas in my keynote had been explored out loud before on this blog. It is so much easier to put together a big presentation when you have ideas that you have worked up, shared and discussed with others. Where I saw gaps in the presentation, I even blogged them to make sure I had worked out what I wanted to say.

Networks helped: a fortnight out from the talk I lost confidence that what I had to say was worth saying. I asked my Change Agent Worldwide colleagues for advice. As ever they were wonderful encouraging me to speak to my passions, tell stories and be practical.

A Role Models helps:: Looking for a role model to emulate, I studied Nilofer Merchant’s TED talk. At once, I saw a way to connect quickly with the audience and to advance my presentation.

Structure helped:With days to go I had my content, but a mess of a presentation. I went back to first principles and used Barabara Minto’s pyramid principle to rebuild the presentation. I discovered my issue. I had forgotten to explicitly make & support my main point. It sounds obvious but your point can get lost in all the action & theatrics. Fixing that helped.

Practice helped: All the way along I had been practising and refining the pitch. There was one more glitch. The night before I delivered the talk I felt my stories were like a laundry list and not very practical. As I grappled with this I realised I needed to add a pattern to help the audience follow the stories. I settled on Idea>Story>So What>Extended Story. This pattern forced me to make the ‘so what’ real in another story of the same organisation. That was good discipline and helped the flow.

Preparation Helps:Because of all the changes I need not have time to commit my talk to memory. I created a bullet point list of key points, lines and transitions. This enabled me to iron out kinks and simplify again. I was very nervous when I woke but the preparation gave me confidence it couldn’t be too bad. Thankfully my nerves vanished as I began to speak.

The audience enjoyed the talk. I couldn’t have been more thrilled that the message connected and people had idea to take away and try.

Much Loved Tools: Pyramid Principle

In a summer job during university I was introduced to Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle as a structure for communication. I’ve used the logic ever since. The lessons of that approach dig me out of all sorts of presentation messes.

Here are the big lessons I’ve learned applying the Pyramid Principle approach to fix communication:

– Remember to have one message: it is surprising how often you see a presentation without a message. These presentations forget to make their point succinctly because they are overfilled with ideas and with elaborate introductions, narratives and evidence
– Structure promotes simplicity: Structure clarifies thinking. Structure clarifies for the listener too. Best of all understanding the structure also makes you more adaptable to change. Only got 5 mins for your half hour presentation? Knowing your key points will help you home.
– Support ideas with evidence: Others forget to support their assertions. In those that do use evidence, in many cases the charts usually tell a different story to the text. Make it easy for your audience to see your evidence.
– Pyramids beats chains: Many presentations are long fragile chains of logic. I’ve seen someone fly around the world only to have the presentation fail at the first question. That presentation depended on all of a long chain of premises. The failure of one idea left all the work bereft. Pyramids stand on other support when one element falls.

The Lean Startup of Me

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Image: The Lean Startup Canvas from https://leanstack.com.

Every career choice is a hypothesis. Test yourself on your proposition and be prepared to pivot and adapt.

Starting Myself

When I left my corporate role, my initial plans were a little vague. I knew I wanted better balance in my life. I knew I wanted to have a bigger impact on my personal purpose and I was prepared to make changes. I was deliberately taking time off to reflect but I wasn’t yet sure of whether I wanted another job or to start a business.

Because I had been involved in a startup, I had followed the development of Lean Startup thinking with keen interest. I also had ongoing conversations, with founders using the approach. As I pondered what to do with my career, I realised I had a chance to do the lean startup of me.

Expand Your Hypotheses

I had a few ideas of what I wanted to be involved in as I searched for new work and roles. These were my initial hypotheses. Some of these have proved to be valuable. Many were ruled out quickly because nobody else was interested in my offer or because the circumstances didn’t deliver the returns or impact on purpose that I wanted.

A simple example was that I initially thought I had an opportunity to work with startups or medium sized businesses. Firstly, these proved to be two completely different hypotheses with little overlap. In both cases, I found when there was money to pay mostly they didn’t want advice, they wanted outsourced management, access to my networks or some other proposition.

Also, I quickly discovered my initial hypotheses were too narrow and limited.  People also started to offer me opportunities to do things that I had never considered before. Some of those opportunities, like the chance to join Change Agents Worldwide, to go to Do Lectures Australia, or the opportunity to work on development of a corporate university helped me expand my sense of what was possible.   

Working through the hypotheses and pushing myself to consider the widest possible impact on purpose changed the work I do and the organisations that I chose to target dramatically. Along the journey I stopped looking for a job and became a consultant actively working in the future of work, customer experience and leadership (and starting up the business of me).

Relentlessly Test Hypotheses

You don’t know until you do. The only way to determine whether a proposition you have offers value is if someone is prepared to pay you enough and consistently enough to do it. There’s two points there: 

  • You need to do stuff
  • People need to pay you consistently

When you are starting yourself up, there is a phase of networking and building profile. The danger is that networking and profile can be all consuming. Coffee and conferences can become your job. Growing networks can become your only return. 

Get in and do things. Think like a startup and push yourself to do work every day. If you need to create a project to work on it, then do so. I found the best sales tool was when I was suddenly unavailable due to the volume of work.  People started calling with work because I didn’t have time for coffee.

It surprised me how many people expected me to do work without being paid for it. I have done a few of those activities, not for the much offered ‘exposure’ but to prove to myself & others the value I can bring in an activity. However, once that is proved once it is time to make money or move on. Continued offers to work for free is a failed test of a hypothesis. Some times people will only pay when you’ve said no several times first. 

Be Lean

Invest small and widely. There will be lots of temptations to put all your eggs in one basket, but remember each opportunity is a hypothesis to be tested. You don’t want to over invest in a proposition that won’t continue. I have turned down investment opportunities, jobs and partnership opportunities for this reason. I ended up deciding the best current scale for my business is me supported by amazing networks of the best talent from around the world, Change Agents Worldwide.

When someone asks me to go all in, I work with them to start with a small test instead. That way we both get to work out what is working and how much we want to invest together.

Remember time is the commodity that you have in greatest scarcity. Allocate your time to investments in your future with care. When people are wasting your time or don’t value it, allocate your time elsewhere.  

Build Platforms

The power of a platform, channels or a consistent community is the ability to run many tests at once. Startups use platforms to learn faster. You can do the same.

Your network is a platform. Strengthen it (remembering your network is not your job). Your thought leadership activities are another platform (remembering it rarely pays the bills). Work with people who have platforms to run better and faster tests on your propositions.

International Working Out Loud week was born out of some casual conversations and unmet needs. It was a fun experiment. As we work to develop the idea further, it offers a platform for additional experiments in the potential of working out loud as a proposition to help others.

Pivot or Persevere

Every day as you test your hypotheses you are going to adapt what you do. You will make small and large pivots. When things work you will persevere and work to scale them like mad. 

Recognise also that somethings that work don’t scale. For example, I have put on hold plans to work with a range of startups in favour of working on a few businesses like Sidekicker where we share a view of what it will take to realise a big potential.

I don’t see my pivots as failures. They are just opportunities to wait for better timing, a better understanding of a client segment or a better proposition. I know I will do work with more organisations in healthcare or more medium sized businesses. It is just a matter of finding the right proposition. While I wait I work still, building capabilities that will help in that eventual proposition.

Be Uniquely You

When I started my work, I wanted to be like all the other successful people. Over time, I realised my unfair advantage was being me.

My skills and experiences are relatively unique at least in the markets that I am working in. That is a very good thing. Trying to make myself more like others dilutes my unique value.

Some people won’t like your uniqueness. You also won’t enjoy working for them. If being you is not good enough for some, that is a failed test and it is time to move on and find someone who wants you for you.

The Lean Startup of You

You don’t need to quit your job, start a business or to become an independent consultant to apply lean startup thinking to your career.  Start asking yourself how you create the most value, how you can do more of that and experiment to make it possible.  You might find it requires a change of job over time but a lot can be accomplished right where you are now.

The power of a lean startup mindset is accelerated learning.  Make sure you are putting what you learn into new actions. 

Learning from the shared practice of bread making

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Tonight I started making a new loaf of bread. The one I made this morning is gone. As I began I reflected that what once terrified me as a mysterious challenge has become a practice I can tackle with confidence. Mastery is still a long way off, but the practice has its rewards.

Making bread is a simple practice but one with remarkable options for complexity. The simplicity begins with ingredients. There are only four required – flour, water, yeast and salt. However each of these is a natural product and yeast is a living organism. Variations in flour, temperature and vitality of the yeast interact with the practice of kneading, rising, shaping and baking to introduce complexity. Additional ingredients, processes and time spin bread off in other complex ways.

The complexity means there is a lot to learn and learning from the practice of masters is invaluable. My first loaves were flat and inedible. My own starter was weak, I lacked a grasp for developing the structure of the gluten and I was unaware of what to do when my following of recipes went awry, usually through some minor error of mine.

Here’s a few examples of how I learned from studying the practice of masters:

  • My master sourdough recipe came from the Fabulous Baker Brothers with accretions from all my reading. 
  • A sourdough course at the Brasserie Bakery gave me a better hands on appreciation of kneading and a better starter. 
  • I learned about letter folds to improve the dough from the recommendations of many recipe books. 
  • The Bourke Street Bakery’s Bread and Butter Project cookbook introduced me to a new effective kneading technique for the amateur
  • No knead recipes helped me to understand time and wet dough was my friend and trained me in the ability to plan a loaf ahead.
  • I worked out how best to slash and steam loaves in my home oven from the advice of others and my own experiments. 
  • Reading widely on styles of bread helped hone my confidence to build my own recipes and fix those that drift off track. Particularly useful were The Bread Bible, the Italian Baker, Nordic Bakery and Local Breads 
  • I have become a keen watcher of bakers at work from my lock pizza store to videos online.

If you reflect on the diversity of these influences, you will understand that my loaves aren’t copies of anyone of these sources. They draw from each in different ways, often at different times.

Complexity means each person needs to develop their own unique practice to leverage their opportunities and meet their own needs. There isn’t always a simple to follow recipe when techniques need to be learned. Experimentation is required to make sense of the practice and to make our own changes to make those practices suit.

However, we don’t do that learning and experimentation alone. We stand on ‘the shoulders of giants’ if we connect and learn from those masters around us. However, I can only learn from others if they are prepared to work out loud and share their approach. That working out loud is not all a free gift. I have paid for courses, a library of books and bought a lot of bread in my quest to learn.

The practices of the Responsive Organisation are far more complex than bread making. They involve the purposes, concerns and perspectives of many people in pursuit of common goals with agility and an external focus on customers and community. Sharing and building from our shared practice will help all of us to develop success. Working out loud fuels this learning and connection.