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Karma Cycle (#116)

Amanda Needham was pissed and she wanted it to be known.

A thief had stone her bike from outside her house in Brooklyn, leaving behind only a tire and the lock. Her bike was her only transportation to work.

In her anger, Amanda created an 8-x-3-foot cardboard sign and hung it outside her house. It read:

“To the person who stole my bicycle, I hope you need it more than I do. It was $200 used and I need it to get to work. I can’t afford another one. Next time steal a hipster’s Peugeot. Or not steal. PS Bring it back.”

Three days later, two young men rang her doorbell. With them was a blue mountain bike sized for a teenager. One of them, Michael, had his bike stolen as well and was moved by her sign. Since he was not using this bike anymore, he offered it to her for free. Even though it was too small for her, she graciously accepted because she saw that they really wanted to help.

A few days after that, her bell rang again and it was a woman at the door. She asked Amanda if there was any way she could help or anything she could do for her.  Amanda explained that she had recently signed up for Citi Bike (bike share) so she now had transportation, but they shared a laugh about the Peugeot comment and hugged before saying goodbye.

At this point, Amanda’s husband wanted her to take down the sign, but to Amanda, it was no longer about the bike.

Soon, her buzzer rang again. This time she was greeted by a man who explained that he was an art dealer and had heard of her situation from an Instagram conversation about it. He liked her sign and offered to buy it for $200 dollars. She accepted.

Touched by all the gestures, Amanda took the bike that Michael had given her to a local bike shop to get serviced so she could donate it to someone in need. In exchange for doing the repair work, Amanda got the bike shop set up on Instagram and Twitter so they could share the story.

The one thing that Amanda wanted most from this whole experience was acknowledgement. She wanted people to recognize, reach out and support each other, something she felt humanity is lacking these days.

Not only was she heard, her story and message really inspired the best in others. Here are a few lessons we can all learn from Amanda’s story:

  • She did not play the victim. Instead, she used her energy proactively and creatively to do something about the situation.
  • As cliché as it may be, she brought to light how there is always an opportunity to make lemonade from lemons.
  • Ingenuity is a good outlet for anger, especially when your back is against the wall.
    This is the same formula Kyle McDonald used to eventually trade his red paperclip for a free house, fundamentally changing his life along the way.

You can read the full story about #KarmaCycle in Amanda’s own words.

In the meantime … let’s remember to acknowledge each other, even if it’s just to provide an encouraging word, give a hug or listen when someone is going through a rough time. At the very least, it’s good karma.

Quote of The Week

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”

Scott Adams

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Stop Doing List (#107)

For many of us, the first few weeks of 2018 are focused on goal creation and to-do lists for the developing year. While those are certainly important, I’d encourage you to add one more thing to your agenda that will likely contribute the most to your success in 2018: a “stop doing” list.

The most successful people and businesses know how to focus on what needs to get done and what they need to stop doing in order to make that happen.

If you want to make room for new initiatives this year, then some old things need to go, including using “being busy” as an excuse for not getting the right things done.

Here are three areas that companies and individuals should consider when determining what to stop doing this year.

For businesses:

  • Projects/Products/Offerings: In our process of evaluating which products and strategies we want to focus on at Acceleration Partners (AP) this year, we are simultaneously planning to eliminate a few current offerings. These are the sectors that just aren’t performing as expected or that are taking us away from focusing on higher growth opportunities. We know we can’t do everything and are getting better at making the tough choices.
  • People: Most companies make tough people decisions 6-12 months too late. Now is the time to face these challenges head-on. This may mean finding new roles for people who are underperforming or helping them transition out of the company to one that is a better fit. Honest conversations lead to better outcomes for everyone involved. At AP, we’ve implemented a process we call Mindful Transition with the goal of making inevitable job changes less taboo and more productive.
  • Clients: Every company deals with clients/customers who are energy drains, unprofitable or toxic. These traits pose a risk to your employees and overall organization. Last year, we discussed which clients we would want to move away from if we could not take on any more work. In this process, we realized that we’d be better off moving on from these clients sooner rather than later; this strategy has paid off in terms of profitability, productivity and overall happiness levels of our team members.

For individuals:

The goal here is to focus on the activities that drain your energy or take you away from reaching long-term goals and objectives.

  • Tasks & Time Wasters: Take a hard look at specific tasks and activities you regularly engage in. The ones that exhaust you or feel like a chore should go. This may mean finding a grocery delivery service, removing Facebook from your phone or, in my case, finding a service that can take over paying 90% of my bills. You need to be honest with yourself about where your time is going and how it could be better spent so you can use your time and energy in ways that have more value and support your higher goals.
  • Commitments: Commitments are a level above tasks. They are the recurring investments of your time. They might include a committee you volunteer on, a class or a regular get-together. Whatever they are, some may have run their course. Moving on from them can refocus and reenergize you, which allows you to allocate time, energy and resources towards something new. For example, once I realized how valuable my morning routine is to my day and life, I stopped doing breakfast meetings altogether.
  • People: To quote Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I can’t think of a more powerful statement. One of the most important things you can do in this life is to move away from relationships and people who no longer align with your values and direction. If you feel worse after spending time with someone, chances are they’re an energy vampire. Albeit difficult, it’s likely time to pull away from them, even if they are family. This doesn’t mean burning bridges, it just means that you stop engaging, making plans or giving that relationships as much of your precious time and energy.

This week, as you add to your 2018 list, take time to think about what you or your business needs to stop doing this year to be successful.

Quote of the Week

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”

Peter F. Drucker

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Breaking Bad (#102)

To be great, organizations and individuals alike need to be embrace their bad side.

I don’t mean bad in the behavioral sense. I mean being clear about what you’re not going to be good at.

This was a key message Francis (Fran) Frei gave in her presentation to an audience of business leaders last year. Fran, a bestselling author and speaker on leadership and customer service, shared a few examples of this:

  • Southwest Airlines built its business on low fares, excellent customer service and punctuality. The airline intentionally decided to be bad at convenience, on-board amenities and an extensive route network. The result? Southwest Airlines made more money over a twenty-year period than every other US airline combined.
  • Ikea created a new market for furniture by deciding to be bad at assembly, quality and convenience of store locations. Instead, they focused on being great on price, systems, and creating stylish furniture for small spaces. By targeting buyers who wanted all of the later and cared less about the former, they’ve built revenues estimated at $37B this year.

What’s interesting is that there are smart business consultants who might come in to these organizations and suggest that they work on improving in the areas they’ve chosen to be bad at.

What they’d be missing is that the areas these companies are “bad” in aren’t important to their potential customers. What’s more is that trying to be great at everything is more likely to dilute or even damage the value proposition that got them to be market leaders in the first place.

Both Southwest Airlines and Ikea made very conscious and strategic choices about where they wanted to be bad.

We each face similar decisions in our personal and professional lives. More often than not, we try to do many things well rather than figuring out the handful of things we’re good at that are most important.  Once we’ve figured out what those select things are, we should be unapologetic about being bad at things that fall outside of that.

Trying to be good at everything just doesn’t work.

In her talk, Fran shared another example of working parents she had studied and the differences in their happiness levels. The ones who were unhappy and stressed were trying to be good at everything in their lives simultaneously. The ones who were happier were clearer about the things they had the bandwidth to be good at (e.g. their jobs, their family relationships, etc.). They were also more willing to let other things fall by the wayside, either permanently or temporarily. In other words, they had unapologetically embraced being bad at them.

One of the first steps on this path is giving up the guilt about what you are bad at. Even though I have written a lot about the important of excellence, breaking the habit of feeling guilt about things I’m bad at is something I’ve been working on these past few years. By playing to my strengths, I’ve been able to have a bigger impact on my employees, my friends and my family.

So, how do we know when we need to be good or bad?

We need to be excellent at what matters most, whether that’s ourselves, our team or our customers. And we need to give ourselves permission to be bad at the things that these same parties don’t care about.

It never feels natural to be bad. What’s important to remember is that it’s in the service of being great at things that matter more. Remember, if you try to be everything to everyone, you will just end be being nothing to no one.

Quote of the Week

“Choosing bad is your only shot at achieving greatness. And resisting it is a recipe for mediocrity.”

Frances Frei

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BS of Busy (#101)

There’s a response to a commonly asked question that’s become a conversational crutch:

“How’s it going?” “Good! Just busy.”

This exchange is ubiquitous in both our personal and professional lives. It’s as if busyness carries a certain status symbol. Yet, being” busy” doesn’t make us happier; and it doesn’t make us more productive. It just means we are filling all of our available time.

Years ago, in one of our quarterly offsite meetings, a leadership team member told our facilitator, “I just don’t have enough time!” The facilitator’s looked at her, then at all of us, and said, “As a leader, ‘not enough time’ is an excuse you all must take out of your vocabulary. If you are waiting for all this free time to come, it’s never going to happen. It’s about what you prioritize and how you use your time. Effective leaders know how to prioritize what’s most important.”

His words have stuck with me. Even though I still find the phrasing “I’ve been busy!” on the tip of my tongue when someone asks me how I’ve been, I make a conscious effort not to say it. I try and remind my team to do the same.

Instead of hopelessly waiting to be given the gift of more free time, consider what high-achievers do to stay focused and accomplish large, long-term goals. They:

  1. Accept that time is a precious and fixed resource
  2. Know how to separate Urgent from Important
  3. Align their top priorities with their core purpose and or core values
  4. Don’t book 100% of their time; they value rest and relaxation
  5. Constantly look for things that they should stop doing
  6. Are selective about the people they give their energy to

Management guru Peter Drucker has said that effective leaders record, manage and consolidate their time. If we were more accountable and honest with ourselves about our time and how we spend it, I think we’d all be far more effective and happier. Turns out, most people aren’t very accurate in recollecting how they spent their time in a given day or week.

When an important task isn’t getting done, it’s important to acknowledge and admit that you have chosen to spend your time on less important tasks (i.e. posting on Facebook and Instagram). Instead of saying “I didn’t have enough time,” try saying “I chose to do X today instead of Y” or “I’m getting distracted” or “I’m focusing on the wrong things.”

This honesty and accountability will help you use your time more wisely, accomplish more and be less “busy.”

Quote of the Week

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

Henry David Thoreau

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Hell Yeah or No (#55)

I’ve heard “You have to listen to the Derek Sivers/Tim Ferriss Podcast” from so many friends and colleagues that I’ve lost count. And they were right. I finally found the time to do so and I was not disappointed.

Derek Sivers founded CD Baby in 1998 to solve the problem of distributing his own CD’s to independent musicians. After friends asked if he could sell theirs, too, CD Baby grew into an established online CD store without any investors. By 2008, CD Baby was making about $250K a month net profit.

Derek is incredibly well-spoken, insightful and thoughtful and is a treasure trove of life and business wisdom. One of my main takeaways from listening to Tim’s podcast interview of Derek is his “Hell Yeah or No” approach to life.

This ideology was solidified some years ago when he said “no” to a trip to Asia that he didn’t want to go on.  He realized that, by saying “yes” to things in his life that he really didn’t want to do, it took away from what he truly enjoyed doing and distracted him from his goals and objectives. So, he decided then and there that if something wasn’t a “Hell Yeah” from his perspective, then it was a “no.” Today, he says no to most requests and thus has time for the things that he loves and really wants to do.

I can really relate to this struggle and have tried to become more aware that every time I says yes to something that I’m not genuinely excited about, it’s a drain on my energy and a distraction from my long-term goals and happiness.

The “hell yeah” principal is also something that has improved our recruiting process at AP. We realized that, while we eventually hired the right person, we’d often let the wrong people get too far along in the interview process. Although interviewers saw red flags along the way, they’d wait for others to validate them. After taking a close look at our recruiting process, we decided that if a candidate is not a potential “hell yeah” from the beginning, then they are a “no” and it’s made a significant improvement in our hiring efficiency.

For the next few weeks, when you are asked to do something, ask yourself, is it a “hell yeah” or a “no”? I think you will find this filter to be liberating, I know I have.

For more of Derek’s wisdom, I too recommend that you listen to his podcast interview with Tim Ferriss or watch his Ted Talk on “How to Start a Movement.”

Quotes of the Week

“Whatever excites you, go do it. Whatever drains you, stop doing it.”

Derek Sivers

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