Monthly Archive: September 2011

I may be a hermit, but at least I’m a digital one

I had dinner with two great friends this evening who made the suggestion that I am something of a hermit.

I know this to be true, at least in spirit. I’m not a true hermit because I’m frankly just too lazy to put in the kind of effort those guys commit to and because I do actually enjoy people.

But I’ve perfected the art of working with people without physically interacting with them.

Now, I’m perfectly good at interacting. I’m generally interested in people, in their stuff, their lives, the cool things they’re doing and I’m even quick to jump in when I discover a particularly fixable problem. In particular, I hate it when my people are unhappy. I guess the fact that I have ‘people’ excludes me from true hermitry.

But I may be more of a product of the digital age than I realise, sometimes.

I would estimate that 70% of my human interactions take place either online via email, twitter or facebook or via various chat applications: BBM, MSN, WhatsApp and Skype. Some days, all of them do.

The question isn’t whether it happens, but whether there is something wrong with it. Whether in fact, it really does make me a recluse or just makes me an observant user of the available tools.

I am inner-directed. I always have been. In many ways, I am a classic introvert; almost fully capable of energising from within without the need for reassurance, validation or even commentary from others.

That doesn’t mean however that I eschew the notion of cooperation, of teamwork or that I don’t value input from people whose opinions I regard highly. And there are lots of people who fall into that category for me. I just don’t tend to actively go out of my way to seek it.

Because of that, I guess I do spend less time physically interacting with people than would once have been considered normal. But the flip side of that argument is that I bet I am a perfectly current form of normal. I’d be surprised to find that I am alone in this way of interacting.

Maybe that makes me a recluse. But I would suggest that it helps make me as productive as I am capable of being. And that, I would guess, is more valuable in the long run.

Steven R. Covey is not a quack. It turns out he’s a clever man. You may now all read his book.

If my life had a subtext, it would probably be the sincere hope that the term ‘better late than never’ is actually true.

Often I have come across ideas in complete earnestness, but been so unable to get to grips with them that I have discarded them as total nonsense, only to rediscover them years later and be astounded by their depth.

Perhaps it’s true that ideas come to you when you’re ready to receive them. Though hopefully that’ll be the last time I type out esoteric babble such as that in this blog, I can’t help feeling just this once, that it’s a valid point to make.

This week, as I did when I was 31 years old, I began to read Steven R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Only because someone kindly loaded it onto my Kindle and I couldn’t find anything much that I wanted to get stuck into. It was sort of an ‘oh well, let’s give it another try’ decision.

I appreciate that with the book being 22 years old, I am a little late giving it a review. Please see my opening line and keep your sarcasm to yourself.

It turns out, many of you will be unsurprised to learn, that Covey isn’t just a quack.

I got floored by the passage early on, that went: “Suppose you wanted to arrive at a specific location in central Chicago. A street map of the city would be a great help to you in reaching your destination. But suppose you were given the wrong map … Each of us has many, many maps in our head, which can be divided into two main categories: maps of the way things are, or realities, and maps of the way things should be, or values. We interpret everything we experience through these mental maps. We seldom question their accuracy; we’re usually even unaware that we have them. We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviours grow out of these assumptions.”

Now of course this thinking isn’t brand new. Covey himself wrote this in 1989. But if you’ve ever used your brain for anything useful, you’ll have had situations where what you believed 100% to be true is in fact completely wrong. Or you’ll have had the opportunity to have your logic questioned by someone from a totally different background to yours who makes a perfectly compelling argument for an opposite way of thinking.

I know this now. I guess I knew it less well when I was 31. And I’m glad that I’ve rediscovered this book. If it’ll help to give it a five-star review this late in the day Dr. Covey, I’d like to do so now. Well done, Sir. I am sorry I was late.

Two quick ways to have hours of each day wasted

God it’s easy to piss time up the wall. Distractions, distractions, distractions. Sometimes even a blog post can take hours to complete as I go chasing down an idea for confirmation or an alternative perspective. The truth is, all I’m doing is wasting time. I bet you’re the same.

But I’ve been getting a lot more done lately. Since I moved to London a year ago and went through some pretty significant life-structure changes, many of my patterns have been radically altered. And they’ve resulted in some gains that I wish I had intended, they’re so obvious.

For one, I don’t watch TV anymore and haven’t really for the best part of a year. A show or a news broadcast here and there, and I’ll arrange viewing of something specific if there is something I don’t want to miss. Other than that, it just doesn’t happen. As I sit here, I haven’t switched the thing on for more than two weeks.

It isn’t because I don’t love a lot of what is on it. It’s because I’m finding the three-or-four hours invested in TV every night to be better spent doing almost anything else. Running. Reading. Lying down with my eyes closed sometime before midnight so that I can get up earlier.

For two, because I don’t work in a traditional environment, I’m able to limit meetings with time hogs to almost zero. I read somewhere last week (and I am resisting the urge to go searching for the source so that I can just write this damn post), that work-from-home people can get as much done in six hours as office-based people can get done in eight for the reason that they don’t have the distractions of co-workers, meetings, and ‘oh, by-the-ways’.

I reckon that’s a lie. I reckon it’s more. In fact, I can recall times when I kept tabs on my own productivity in the office and could account for only two or three hours per day of actual work in an average week, what with the constant hour-long bullshit sessions and interruptions and trivial discussions (which I have to admit, I was often guilty of starting; I was surrounded by people I thought were awesome and I often got carried away).

By losing those two things; things that I cannot credit for a single improvement in the quality of my life or my achievements, I’m just getting more stuff done these days. And it includes a lot more stuff that pleases me because I have the time to make it so. I bet there’s stuff you could cut out right now too. I guarantee it’s worth figuring out what that is.

In order for you to win, it isn’t necessary for someone else to lose: A business love story

It being a work night and one when I have a lot on my mind, I spent the whole evening catching up on great stories of business competitions and their triumphs and flameouts.

In particular, I invested a great hour following the various video clips on Fast Company’s excellent How Steve Jobs’s Early Vision For Apple Inspired A Decade Of Innovation which showed the emergence of the new strategy for this landmark company following Jobs’ return in 1997 just as Apple was on the brink of death.

The first part of Apple’s story from the late 1970s to 1997 had been too heavily-focused on its hatred and rivalry, entirely requited, of Microsoft. The two had bashed each other to the point where Apple was in desperate shape, and it left Jobs with a dilemma which he overcame sweetly and easily by making one of his first tasks as returning CEO, a Microsoft-partnership.

In his opening address at MacWorld 1997, he made a statement which was elegant in its simplicity as much as it was breathtaking in its depth … a statement which any modern business should pay heed to:

He said: “If we want to move forward and see Apple healthy and prospering again, we have to let go of a few things here. We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose. We have to embrace the notion that for Apple to win, Apple has to do a really good job. If others are going to help us, that’s great. Because we need all the help we can get.”

Competition is necessary in business because it means that in order to succeed, you have to do your very best. But Jobs understood, and continued to prove until he stepped down earlier this year, that doing the best you can, needn’t have anything to do with making your competitors the enemy. Winning has everything to do with making yourself, your company, and your products and services, outstanding.

That bit of understanding, which was admittedly revisionist for Jobs who had been one of the front runners in the anti-Microsoft charge during his first power trip at Apple until 1985, was the moment of liberation that created the Apple we know and admire today.

In order for you to win it is not necessary that someone else loses. It is necessary only that you are as great as you can be. Focus on improving your own people, products and services. The victory’s yours for the taking if you want it.

Is there really no way to kill hope?

I stood on the West Plaza at Canary Wharf in London’s other financial district yesterday and because I was early for a meeting, I people-watched for a while.

It’s amazing what you notice when you do so.

In particular, there is something eerily Stepfordian about that part of the world where everyone, men and women alike, favour dark pinstripes and really move it, when they decide to move. By daring to stand still while wearing a reckless solid charcoal suit, I must have stood out like a sore thumb.

The thing that I noticed the most however was the look of certainty, of self-assurance, of … arrogance if you wish to be uncharitable, particularly on the youngest faces that passed me by.

Now this being the financial district, you can’t help but notice even if you’re not sartorially-minded, that people wear good footwear. If you’re young and your shoes suck it’s a general indicator that you’re bottom of the food-chain, probably a trainee, earning just enough to scrape by. That’s how it goes when you’re starting out in that world, I am told.

It was crazy to me therefore to witness the sheer optimism painted all over their faces.


Ever wonder why they’re not getting your message?

This past Saturday, I found myself at the Paddington Hilton, attending a seminar on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) which I didn’t know anything about (and still sort of don’t; no fault of those hosting the seminar, it’s too big a topic for a single morning).

Lots of cool ideas and information came out of the talks hosted by David Shephard and Gavin Ingham, but the thing that had me floored was a statement by Shephard that went:

“There are 130 presentations going on in this room right now and none of them have any resemblance to the one I am giving. The experience you’re having is your own personal creation and nobody else is creating it quite like yours.”

Of course there were 130 people, more or less, in the audience which is where he got that number from. But according to some of the principles of NLP, each person’s ability to receive and interpret a message is influenced by their belief system, their values, the mood they’re in, whether they’re generally optimistic or pessimistic and even immediate circumstances.

This is really interesting when it comes to business tasks such as cold calling where chance seems to play a starring role in whether a cold call is received positively or negatively.

Shephard’s concept seems to suggest that at least on one level, the failure of a call may have nothing to do with you. Or at least, a pitch that works perfectly today and fails miserably tomorrow, may not need revising because the pitch isn’t the problem.

You can’t be all things to all people and you can’t win them all. That’s not an excuse not to try to win every single one. But this piece of information, so eloquently put, offers at least a welcome dash of real perspective to the chore, doesn’t it?

Shephard and Ingham were both great speakers by the way and well worth going to hear speak about their subjects if you have the opportunity.

Staying focused on the facts is the stuff of winners


Dave Logan, author of Tribal Leadership, made a point in his blog post:  How to Break Out of a Career Rut yesterday which I thought to be one of the best analogies I have yet heard on the importance of understanding your current strengths, current capabilities and how those enable you to deal with the opportunities before you.

In it, he made the simple point that focusing on what you need that you don’t currently have: an MBA, a track record or a great client list, for example, only damages your ability to move forward right now. You’re far better off working out what you can achieve with the assets you have.

Specifically, he says: “Generals and admirals focus on what they have: troops, technology, morale, and intelligence. Their focus on what they have isn’t based in optimistic thinking, or any other platitudes. If you walked up and encouraged them to think positively, they’d probably order you removed (and rightly so). Their job is to win a battle, and for that, they need to stay focused on the facts, not on their opinion about the facts.”

That means, they’re very clear about what they have, in some detail. They don’t pick battles they can’t successfully fight, but they’re very aware of the ones they can and are able to choose tactics and apply resources to make it so.

So can you. In life, in work … wherever.

Five tips for speaking confidently in public

I get asked often about whether I find it scary speaking in front of audiences. Especially by business people who are starting to get invitations to speak but don’t really have much experience with it. The answer is no. No I really don’t find it all that scary … any more. That isn’t to say I don’t get the jitters before an event. But I find that following some simple steps really helps me to keep any real stage fright at bay. In this video clip I discuss some of those steps.

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