Bigger and Better (#103)

When people say, “you can accomplish anything you put your mind to,” many of us laugh it off as rainbow and unicorn talk. Canadian blogger, Kyle MacDonald, however, fully embraced this mentality. His story was brought to my attention by my son who heard about it in school and said, “Daddy you will love this! It will make a great Friday Forward!”

In 2005, Kyle posted a picture of a red paperclip on his blog and in the barter section of Craigslist. He then asked if anyone wanted to make a trade for this red paperclip. His goal was to see if he could eventually trade the paperclip for a house.

Over the course of the year, Kyle made many successive trades, including a fish-shaped pen, an electric generator, a snowmobile and a trip to the Canadian Rockies.

Around this time, his trading progress had garnered some media attention. When he appeared on one TV interview, he wore a shirt with Cintas’ logo (the uniform company). The head of Cintas happened to see Kyle on TV wearing the shirt. They met up and the guy offered Kyle a trade. For the trip to the Canadian Rockies, he’d give Kyle one of Cintas’ vans.

At this point, Kyle stepped up his game as his goal had become more real.

He traded the Cintas van for a recording contract which, after a half dozen or so more trades, led him to getting a house in Kipling, Saskatchewan a year and a day after making his first trade.
So, what can we learn about our own goals for 2018 from Kyle’s red paper clip project?

  • Have a BHAG and share it: We all need at least one Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). When you share it with the world, you never know what might happen or who will help get you there. This is a main reason why I started visualizing each of my goals and sharing them.
  • Find the win-win:  Even though Kyle was the ultimate beneficiary, his project helped a lot of people get what they wanted. This was one of the reasons that he got on the press’ radar and why people around the globe were rooting for him. He focused on the win-win.
  • Community and connection: Kyle created a community around one red paperclip and developed genuine relationships with those he met along the way. This contributed to his project becoming a movement.
  • Be humble: Despite his rise to fame and success, Kyle is a humble, authentic guy – another likely reason why so many wanted to help him on his journey.
  • Marketing matters: Make no mistake, Kyle is a savvy marketer. He found smart ways to engage the media in his efforts, which was a big part of his success

Two years later, Kyle has a website, a new book and an entertaining, inspiring TED Talk describing his journey. By being curious, taking a risk and engaging those around him, he has changed his life in ways he never could have imagined. Kyle also combined his inspiration with perspiration, doing the hard work to turn his crazy idea into a reality. The difference between a dreamer and a visionary is execution and follow-though.

For 2018, how big and bold are you thinking?

Speaking of BHAG’s, my own is to publish my second book based on Friday Forwards in 2018 and have it be a NYT Bestseller. The first draft is done and is going to publishers in January.

I need two key things to help my odds. The first is to triple the distribution list to 100,000 subscribers in 2018. Sharing Friday Forward with others is what will make that happen.

I also need to attract a thought leader in the performance space such as Tim Ferriss, Brené Brown or Kim Scott to write the forward. If you can help make that happen, please let me know!

Quote of the Week

 “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

Albert Einstein

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Time Span (#100)

Today is the 100th post of Friday Forward. As we head into December, I’m reflecting on past posts. I’m also thinking about the future of Friday Forward and what the next 100 weeks might look like. It’s a good time of the year to be both reflective and prospective.

This future view of time ties in to an interesting, and even somewhat controversial, concept developed by Dr. Elliott Jaques, a multi-disciplinarian in Psychology, Sociology, Economics, Philosophy and Linguistics. Jacques concluded that we all have a natural time horizon we are comfortable with, a concept he coined “Time span of discretion.”

The idea is that each person’s ability to grow, lead and make good decisions in their job is limited by their capacity to think about certain time spans, or when these decisions “come due.” In other words, we each have an absolute upper limit on our capacity to handle time.

Here are some examples:

  • Some jobs involve routine tasks with a time horizon of up to three months. E.g. shift workers, customer service representatives, mechanics, etc.
  • Some jobs require people to make decisions over several years. E.g. various managerial positions with time horizons between one to five years.
  • Some positions require a multi-year (5-10) view of work and outcomes. E.g. small company CEOs and large company executive vice presidents.
  • And some positions require that time be spent regularly thinking decades – even centuries — into the future. e.g. visionaries like Einstein, Mother Theresa and Naveen Jain.

The implications of Jaques theory on our professional lives is profound as it suggests we are most effective working within our natural time span of discretion. When a job/role is beyond this time span, we are more likely to fail. Similarly, if work decisions fall below our time span of discretion, we may not feel challenged and will be equally dissatisfied.

It is not that simple however, as there is also a chicken and egg angle with this theory. It follows the same principal of comfort zones in that we need to break out of a routine in order to learn and grow. For example, if we operate in one time span at work 90 percent of the time, then we are likely to carry the same thinking into our personal lives and vice versa. I am guilty of this as I often think more about what my family needs from me in the long run rather than in the present moment.

Whether your natural time span of discretion is shorter or longer, it’s important to step back from time to time to evaluate both the short- and long-term. This is one reason why our leadership team gathers for an off-site every quarter to plan out our goals for 2018 and beyond. Quarterly and annual off-sites are a great way for everyone to work “on the business” and not “in the business.”

The opposite is also true. Visionaries often benefit from shortening their time horizon and taking stock of how their long-term planning is materializing in the present. Elon Musk, for example, has a vision of revolutionizing the automotive industry, but his company’s most pressing need is to figure out how to produce the cars it has presold before it runs out of money.

As we head into December, it’s a great time to begin thinking about where your natural time span of discretion lies; how you can both leverage that innate strength while simultaneously operating outside your comfort zone to gain perspective.

Quote of the Week

“Long-range planning does not deal with the future decisions, but with the future of present decisions.”

Peter Drucker

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Having Doubt (#74)

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend time with one of my favorite people, the scholar and public speaking guru, Conor Neill. Conor has helped many people drastically improve their public speaking abilities by teaching them how to develop a confident, compelling message, leaving their listener with no doubt that they are an expert on their subject.

Our discussion quickly turned to the growing entrenchment in rigid ideology around the world. Conor connected this to the concept of faith and shared a story about a devoutly religious friend of his who was open to all questions and criticism about his beliefs.

This friend spoke with Conor about the importance of having faith in the face of doubt. His premise is that, if you have only doubt, you’re cynical. On the flip side, if you do not doubt, then your beliefs begin to border on fanaticism, even fascism in the most extreme cases.

This is a powerful concept and, in many ways, explains the dynamics undermining the very divided political environment in the U.S. and around the world. Today, people seem less open to dialog and respectful debate, or even trying to understand an alternate perspective. Instead, they’re defaulting to rigid ideology or even anger when their core positions are challenged.

Exacerbating this situation is the fact that many of us get a majority of our news from social media; platforms that curate the information we receive based on our past behavior, stated preferences, and our peer set. This creates a strong propensity for “confirmation bias” as we are exposed to stories and opinions that support the views we already have—some of which are unsubstantiated rumors or outright lies (e.g. fake news). This is a very dangerous phenomenon that we all need to be more aware of.

While we need vision, conviction, and confidence to be successful, we also need to balance that with doubt, healthy skepticism, and humility.

Here are a few more benefits of having doubt and openly contemplating it with others:

  • It keeps us open to new ideas and perspectives
  • It keeps us humble and motivated (overconfidence is often often a precursor to failure)
  • It causes us to question more and to test our own assumptions more carefully

Quote of the Week

“We should be unafraid to doubt. There is no believing without some doubting, and believing is all the more robust for having experienced its doubts.”

Justin Holcomb

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I am Going to… (#71)

Writing a book had always been a dream of mine, but it often seemed out of reach and too big to tackle. I also questioned my ability to write something people would want to read. A year ago, after my first year at a leadership development program called EMP, I made one simple change that led to writing my first book, Performance Partnerships, which went on sale this week.

I decided that I would never again say, “I want to write a book”  and instead began to say “I am going to write a book.” I combined this with a deadline set for before the group met again this May for our second year.

Suddenly, all my energy went into figuring out how to do it, settling on my topic, finding a publisher, scheduling interviews, etc. It wasn’t easy by any stretch, but once I decided it was going to happen, there was no more wavering, doubt or regret. Changing my vocabulary changed everything else.

There were four key lessons I learned in the process of writing Performance Partnerships, which I believe have broader implications.

  • Share your Plan/Goal: Once I began telling people I was writing a book, there was no going back. I sounded confident, even when I really had no clue what I was doing. That public accountability became a powerful source of intrinsic motivation.
  • Chunk It: A book is not written in a weekend and this same logic applies to any lofty task. If you put the pressure on yourself to accomplish it all at once, you will likely become overwhelmed and quit. Big goals need to be “chunked” piece-by-piece and tackled, bit-by-bit, on a daily and quarterly basis. Performance Partnerships was written and edited over nine months. It’s much easier to write a page each day than to try and take on a chapter a day.
  • It Takes a Village: From the beginning, I never tried to do this alone. From the amazing team at Lioncrest, to colleagues and friends who spent hours reading multiple drafts and provided critical comments and suggestions, my book was completed through collaboration. I also benefited from the generosity of other authors who took the time to share both their successes and failures with me. I am very grateful for all the help I received.
  • Field of Dreams is a Movie, Not a Marketing Strategy. The famous line from this classic movie was “if you build it they will come.” My experience talking to other authors and entrepreneurs is that nothing could be further from the truth. When you create something new, that’s only part of the process. You also have to sell it and get it out in the world and you need to be your #1 advocate. Don’t assume things will come to you, go get them.

If you have a similar desire to write a book or achieve a lofty goal, I hope that by sharing this experience, you’ll try changing your vocabulary and see what happens.

And if you are interested in learning more about my vision for the future of performance marketing and performance-based partnerships, I’d love it if you read the book and share your feedback.

Quote of The Week

“Your words control your life, your progress, your results, even your mental and physical health. You cannot talk like a failure and expect to be successful.”

Germany Kent

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Stressed Out (#68)

Every day, people all over the world wake up stressed. Some will be worrying about how they’ll find food or shelter for the day; others will be thinking about a presentation they are giving for the first time; and there are even those who will be legitimately stressed about coordinating the management logistics of their multiple multi-million dollar homes. Regardless of the reason, they’re stressed out.

At his speaking engagements, one of my mentors and coaches, Warren Rustand, often offers a $10,000 reward to anyone who can leave the room and return with a can of stress. His rationale behind this compelling offer is that “stress is an internal response to an external force.” It’s something we bring onto ourselves in reaction to what’s going on outside of us.

Stress emanates from pre-historic times. By boosting our adrenaline and fueling short-term improvements in attention and memory, it’s a biological purpose is to temporarily trigger our flight or fight response. The operative word being “temporary.” The problem is that most of us are functioning in stress mode far longer than our bodies are designed for, and its making us increasingly sick and unhealthy.

According to my good friend Dr. Heidi Hanna, a leading expert on stress, the biggest issue with our current stress epidemic is that most people don’t fully understand what exactly is stressing them out. She explains that “In today’s hyper-connected society, we have access to more stimulation and information in one day than we are wired to process in a lifetime.  Because the brain is hard-wired to constantly crave more, most people struggle to disconnect and recharge even when they have time to do so.”

To reduce stress, she suggests building in time to regularly recharge throughout the day by meditating, breathing deeply, and taking the time to reflect on things you are grateful for.

Recently, Warren and Heidi teamed up for a fascinating video discussion on stress. Warren’s belief is that a main source of stress stems from uncertainty in our lives and that we can improve our stress levels considerably by focusing in on three seemingly unrelated areas to stress:

  1. Clarity of Vision (Why). Understanding what we are here to do; our purpose.
  2. Certainty of Intent (How): Clarity about our actions and goals in service of our purpose.
  3. Power of Values (Who): Understanding what our core values are; our core values relate to number one and number two, and allow us to make key decisions more easily.

At the end of the day, the way to prevent or alleviate stress is to be more aligned in our lives, have greater clarity about our actions, and believe that we have control over each and every situation. That feeling of not having or being in control is frequently the greatest cause of stress. While not a quick fix, taking these steps will help to reduce the pressure from external sources of stress and make us happier and more productive.

Quote of the Week

“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.”

George Burns

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Man With a Plan (#64)

“Dad, can I buy Ed Sheeran’s latest album?” This was the question my 13-year-old daughter asked me, to which I replied, “Who buys albums anymore?” However, after listening to the full sixteen song album that night, I realized how incredibly talented Sheeran is; his songs have an incredible range of styles and tempos. Talent alone, however, is rarely enough to guarantee success.

If you have read my Friday Forwards, you know that one of my favorite endeavors is to debunk the myth of the overnight success — Sheeran fits this mold to a T.

At 14-years old, Sheeran began performing in London and convinced his parents to let him move there at just 17 to continue writing and singing. He apparently played in 300 live shows over four years and sold self-published CDs from a rucksack without any real success. Along the way, he lost his apartment and resorted to “sofa surfing” at friend’s homes and even resorted to sleeping on the Tube (London’s underground public rapid transit system), and by a heating duct outside Buckingham Palace. He recounted on those times in a recent interview, saying:

“There were moments I wanted to give up. The nights that you don’t have a couch to sleep on or you don’t have money in your pocket, or food in your stomach, or a charged phone, those become the nights where you reassess your situation.”

But he didn’t give up. In fact, he forged ahead. In April 2010, he bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles with one contact and no money, just the hope and will that he’d get discovered. He continued his couch-surfing and played open mic nights all over the city. But eventually, he got his big break.

At the end of 2010, Sheeran was spotted by Jamie Foxx’s manager, which led to him being invited to perform on Jamie’s SiriusXM channel. After Jamie heard Ed’s music, he invited him to crash at his place and record at his home studio. In addition to this good fortune and his incredible talent, he continued to use YouTube and social media to market his music, which eventually resulted in a record deal.

From there, his career started to take off. His first album, “+” was followed by his second album, “X”.  His new album is titled “÷” (Divide). In an interview, Sheeran disclosed that this was the naming plan for his albums all along, leaving little doubt for me that his next album will be called, “–“, thus continuing his mathematical album naming sequence and his commitment to live out the plan he envisioned for himself.

In 2013, Sheeran sold out three shows in a row at Madison Square Garden, an unprecedented feat for a new artist. He then took a huge risk, contracting out Wembley Stadium, which seats 90,000 people. He was openly questioned for his decision to play such a large venue as an emerging solo artist — with just a guitar and some pedals.  However, playing at Wembley had been a life-long dream of his and he was determined to prove the doubters wrong. In the end, he had the last laugh. Not only did he sell out his show, he had to add two additional nights due to demand, both of which also sold out.

Despite his rising stardom, Sheeran failed to win a Grammy award the first 13 times he was nominated, which only motivated him more. Finally, in 2016, he took home his first Song of the Year Grammy for, “Thinking Out Loud.” His recent album “÷” (Divide) is the culmination of these experiences and may ultimately go down as one of the top-selling records of all time, but Sheeran is far from an overnight success.

There is no doubt Ed Sheeran has tremendous talent, but so do many other artists – all of whom have similar aspirations to make it big. So, in addition to his talent, what’s led to his stratospheric success? Some familiar themes emerge.  He had a clear vision and a plan; he had an incredible work ethic; he had dogged determination and persistence to see his dream through, despite failures, fatigue, disappointments, and setbacks. He was willing to take risks and bet on himself; and he’s remained humble throughout it all.

Last, but not least, Sheeran did not give himself a safety net to fall back on. Plan A (success as a musician) was his only option. Maybe he was just following the advice of his father, who once told him “If you really want to do it, don’t have a fallback plan. Because you eventually will do it if there’s no other option.”

Either way, the man had a plan.

Quote of the Week

 “Success is the best revenge for anything.”

Ed Sheeran

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