I’m going to tell you quite a personal story about how changing one simple thing last year changed my earnings and work life dramatically. It starts with a story I heard from an old 1960’s business coach called Bob Proctor. I was listening to a podcast of his where he described the following situation. A gentleman was the owner of a medium sized, $10 million dollar enterprise. He was the sole owner of the business and employed a large number of staff for the time. It was during the 1980’s. Unfortunately he passed away unexpectedly and all of the staff members and senior management were worried about what his wife (who inherited the business) would do now that the founder and CEO was gone. Some thought they’d lose their jobs, some thought she’d sell the company, some even rubbed their hands together and hoped for a management buyout. What she did do, no one expected. She had never had anything to do with the business before his death, but came in for the first official meeting to tell the staff and board of directors what was going to happen. This is what she did.
She asked all of the Directors to tell her the following 3 things:
- What are you doing in your division at the moment.
- What is working well.
- What is not working well.
She went around the room and let all of them tell those 3 simple stories. After that was done she gave them all a very simple instruction. She said. “I want you to stop doing all of the things that are not working. I don’t care if we lose revenue, or what happens as a result of this. I want you to only do the things that are working. Anyone who doesn’t follow this rule when I come back and ask the same questions in three months, will be dismissed.” She then told them she wasn’t selling the business, and the benefits of any growth will be shared accordingly.
One year after she undertook this strategy the business had grown from a $10 million enterprise to a $30 million enterprise.
It got me thinking at the time I heard this about what I was doing with work. What parts was I doing that were actually working well, and which bits were not working out so well. I came to the conclusion that the things that always worked out best for me were Writing and Speaking. I was doing a portion of that as part of my work at the time. I was working in advertising and in some startups on the side. Whenever I did a keynote speech or did a pitch I smashed it. My writing for journals and blogs was getting good credence. It was probably about 20% of my time on the average week. So I wondered what would happen if I only did those two things. Even for the startups I work with – only write and speak about them to help them grow. I wondered what kind of an income I would earn as a kind of ‘thought freelancer’ on technology, startups and business strategy. So instead of just wondering about it, I decided to do it. My new mantra would be to ‘Think, Write and Speak’ for a living.
Since this decision – which was around a year ago – I’ve published a book and started doing keynote speeches through an agent. And this is the personal bit. After about some months getting organised (pitching the book & getting an agent for speaking), I’ve earned well over what I earned for the entire previous year in just 5 months. What is super cool about this, is that I’m managing to do this in only a small portion of my week. It then forms a kind of underwriting strategy, so that I can invest more time in some killer startup ideas I’ve got, but haven’t had the capacity to get done. I say this not to impress you, but to impress upon you. I’m pretty sure all of us have a muse like this. That small portion of what we do in our company, job or startup which we excel in. A muse we have natural talent for, and naturally put more effort into. I’m pretty sure if we all focused on this, we’d get the same results that I am seeing. Remembering of course that this is not some passion fantasy, but real work we already get paid to do.
Another thing which is really telling with this story is this simple fact: I am no better at these things than I was 1 year ago or even 3 years ago. I am the same person, with the same capacity. I simply sowed my seed in more fertile soil. Which also makes me wonder why we all act like trees, waiting for the environment around us to change and help us flourish. When we can instead choose to change our environment. Unlike trees, we don’t have roots, we have legs, we can use them to go elsewhere and change where we do our work for a more fruitful return. I think the biggest determinant of our income is taking the work we do to a place where that is valued at its highest.
Maybe the thing we need to change, isn’t ourselves, but where we do our work.
I’ve been doing some blogging and work in general for the good people at Pollenizer. My recent focus has been over coming the fear of leaving your job, and things we can do to reduce the risk and make the transition. I’ve written 3 posts in particular which I really think you guys will dig. There’s some links below and a little sound bite for each proving they are worth the 3 minutes each of them take to read. Remember we must first invest in ourselves before anyone will invest in us.
- The fast track, zero risk method to becoming an entrepreneur: This post is the ultimate startup life hack – and with a simple trick gets to you on the path to entrepreneurship in an instant. Serious.
- Startup training in a low risk environment: here I’ve written about ways you can up skill and help your self transition from employee to startup founder without risking anything. A must for those planning to escape their cubicle in corporate land.
- The worst case scenario for failed entrepreneurs: And finally a nice bit of entrepreneurial FEAR debunking, and reasons that taking the leap will not result in anything bad. This one will ease your mind.
Hope you enjoy these mind jams.
I was recently thinking about the various activities I’ve been interested in as I grew up. Not just the passing fads, but the stuff that really inspired me to levels of near obsession for a solid period of time. Things which entered my life and created large chunks of pure happiness and exploration. And now that I look back on them they all have elements which are related. Both from what makes me tick and even my career trajectory.
Kids stuff – When I look at the 3 things I was obsessed with while growing up, in hindsight they are all very similar.
BMX, Break Dancing and Surfing: All sliding across the surface of things, fluid movements which involve an elements of acrobatics. All have their own subculture, community, and even a specific style of dress. All individual sports – but yet often done along side groups of friends who also enjoy it. All of them arrived as a new-ish thing, rather than being activities with long histories.
I feel like this is very telling about me as a person. If consider the work I do today, it is much like this. I like new projects, startups, technology, writing. I work both independently, but along side others. I like exploring new territory and being at the edge of emerging culture – I’ve mostly worked in marketing and advertising.
I think if we look back at our own ‘history of interests’ we’ll be able to find a pattern about what makes us tick. Our kids stuff is probably also what our adult stuff ought be. What we like to do metaphorically might even provide some clues as to whether our next startup project is suited to our true selves.
I can remember a time when it really mattered that you stayed in the same industry. If you wanted a job in consumer goods marketing for example, it really mattered that you had experience in consumer goods marketing. If you wanted to transition industries it was an incremental process. You had to eek your way across to new ground. Small step by small step. They wouldn’t let you play in their playground unless you had played their before, or at least a very similar playground. Sadly, our first job often defined us for much of our career. An potential employee needed a logical straight lined career flow.
I’m glad to say those days are over.
That attitude was one of protection. It’s a guild ethic, where profits are a function of a knowable, existential system. One that must be protected at all costs. But when a system breaks down, the smart players look for a new set of functions. A new attitude and ideas from an unfamiliar realm. If you’re in the middle of career transition, or wanting to break into a self determined entrepreneurial realm then there has never been a better time in history to do it. It’s damn exciting.
The best CV, or should I say personal brand isn’t one with a consistent story line. No, today it needs to be a set of juxtaposed, unusual and significantly differentiated projects, industries and activities. One that shows experimentation and the ability to cope with non-linear complexity. Go ahead and get involved in some, we’re waiting for you.
I’m typing this on a Sunday evening. I’ve had various times in my life when I used to hate Sunday, not due to its own features and benefits, but because it was the pre-amble to Monday. Mondayitus. The dread for Monday was so deep and worrisome that it ruined the day before it which is was a free day. And what is more ironic is that I even liked Thursday more than I liked Friday, because Friday was too close to Monday. It is strange indeed how our minds can work. Sometimes it is worth listening to the strange.
Tonight, I went for a jog and I was genuinely excited about the week ahead and couldn’t even wait for Monday to get some of my projects underway. We are doing another world first for Tomcar Australia which will be global news. I’m attending the FML this Wednesday night to help jumpstart the maker movement in my fair city Melbourne. I’m working on a few Hackathons for some big corporates. I’m doing a new talk on the ‘future of work’, which I will deliver at the co-work in the lane way for the Hub Melbourne. Working on a new technology related property development. Shipping the Super Awesome thing & person from Romania. Working on my new book and might even be launching my new startup by the end of the week. I can’t wait.
I’ve decided that Monday is our best friend. There is nothing more telling in life than how we feel about it. Monday knows all. It is about time we started listening to our internal mental Monday sermon and tried and create a Monday that Monday actually appreciates. I ignored Monday for a while, but now I’m listening to it again and it is helping me smile.
As far as I can tell our Mondays are the ultimate arbiter of happiness.
Over my career I’ve worked for a number of companies, as well as my own startups. And while I invested a good number of years working for others (as an entrepreneur with 1 really big and important customer – which is how I define it any time I am employed, as we all should), I always found that I didn’t quite fit in. I never really fit the bill. Sure, I delivered, I think I even over delivered on many occasions, But I was always a problem child.
I hope for your sake you feel this way too. While it can be uncomfortable at times, it is the muse trying really hard to tell you something, and that something is this:
You are an exotic bird.
Therefore you do not belong in a cage. Therefore your output (egg) is rare. It is possibly a different colour, size, shape and taste. It’s unusual, and so they don’t know how to deal with it. It is not what they expect, and they panic and don’t know how to cook it, or sell it. If they did, they might realise your eggs are worth much more money in the right market. But chances are they’d rather sell the same eggs, to the same people they sold to yesterday. You’ve laid some of these eggs over time, but it turned you inside out…. It wasn’t really you, even though you proved you could do it. When you showed them your natural exotic output, they didn’t want it. Instead they wanted the same eggs being laid by everyone, everyday. They just wanted more of them, and at a cheaper price than yesterday.
If this feels like you, you’re not alone. And if you do manage to escape the coop, and find, or better still, build the right nest, know it will be worth the effort. Exotic birds get paid a lot more for their eggs once they are in the right environment. But in the wrong environment, they are just seen as defects.
There is currently no shortage of people talking about the change of the business environment from a linear model to an omni directional one. What we need to understand is that this isn’t limited to business, it’s a wider eco system change.
Last week I was helping a colleague with his transition into his next revenue phase. He was discussing the need to get his credentials and digital footprint in order before he met up with VC’s / recruiters and the like. He didn’t want to go in and meet people unprepared. And it sparked a thought in mind mind:
Why take a linear approach when lessons from each process can inform the other?
We both agreed it makes sense to do things simultaneously, when they interact with each other, as this case seemed to be. If we do them one by one, then the other there is a very good chance we’ll need to rework our effort once we get real ‘in market’ feedback.
The challenge for all of us is knowing which projects are isolated and which ones live in a feedback loop.
The point was this:
“What we do after 10pm has a bigger impact on our tomorrow than what we do during business hours.”
Admittedly it is a bit confusing. It could even be read as the need to get enough sleep for an energetic tomorrow. But what I was actually talking about was the ‘long term tomorrow’ and what we do late at night… the stuff we can only do once our daily tasks and family commitments are accounted for.
First of all, we must get our job done, earn our way, eat, cook, clean, be with family and friends, and generally live the tasks of life. This takes time, in fact it takes up most of it for most of us. So we know that in reality there may only be a few short hours left. But we also we know that education is a process and and not an event. And this statement is about that process. The only difference being that the most important educational process these days is not studying for an MBA at nights and weekends, it’s experimenting with the ideas, tools and technology which universities don’t have in their curriculum yet. Mind you it’s not their fault, the world just happens to be changing too quickly.
While others settle in for a night of TV, I prefer to get busy on projects. Read about technology, write an article, build a new presentation, help a startup, work on an upcoming lecture at Melbourne University, go to a hackers event… but most recently work on the Super Awesome Micro Project with Raul. We skype chat every night and plan our next steps. Not only is it inspiring, but it is building new skill sets which make me anti-fragile. More valued to the market and most importantly differentiated. The problem with traditional education is that most people have it. The problem with corporate experience is that most people have it. The problem with industry knowledge is that it ties us to a location and is probably going to become irrelevant. Technological disruption means we need to be wide in our skill base, not thin and vertical. And the best way to get a wide base of skills is the become a night time projecteer between the hours of 10pm -1am. (or whichever hours work for you). We need to be pyramids, not sky scrapers.
Not only are broad skilled business people now in greater demand, they are much harder to knock over.
I’ve helped a couple of people who are early in their careers find jobs recently. Well, I hate the word job, so lets say projects or startups where they only have 1 large customer (their employer).
The first thing I asked them is what their digital foot print looks like. While these ‘kids’ are digital natives, you’d be surprised at how many of them haven’t invested their digital knowledge into creating their personal brand on-line. I then remind them of the new amazing automatic CV generator. A lot of people haven’t heard of it, but it’s really cool. Most employers use it these days. If you want to see it in action, just click on this link – and type in your name.
Ok – so you see where I am going with this. And the simple truth is that your CV is what you say it is, not what your past employer or past job title says it is. It’s what you say it is, but if you choose to own your digital footprint. In fact the most important stuff you’ll do in your career these days, is the crazy projects that show you ‘get’ we are living through a revolution and that you want to be part of the revolution. The tools are all here, the tools are all free, all you need to do is allocated some of your daily 24 hours to them and create our own path. The cool part about creating your footprint is that the internet doesn’t care what school you went to, what your SAT score was or what club your are a member of. It only cares about what you create – or better put, co-create. The audience will do the judging, not some gate keeper. Smart employers and investors are more interested in your side projects than how you have earned a living. Your side projects say so much more about you and your capabilities. They do this because there are no barriers or permission requirements to what you can do in this arena. it’s a simple combination of your ideas, desire, work ethic and ability to connect with others who share your type of interest. It is all up to you, and democratized technology means you don’t have to be a genius.
I like to practice what I preach. And so I always make sure I’m doing stuff which differentiates me from the crowd. Stuff which google will like and let bubble to the top, stuff which shows I’m thankful for the resources gifted upon me in this digital revolution, stuff which gives to the community and helps others first. But mostly these are simple tasks which are more about regular effort than unreasonable effort. My homepage, this blog, my startups, my twitter account,my crazy projects, youtube videos, Op-Ed journalism and public speaking engagements are a few such outputs. The sad part is that it’s not that hard to do, but most people don’t bother.
My digital footprint I regard as a financial investment. I see it as a conduit to my current and future earning potential in all realms. And probably a better investment than a post graduate degree in today’s era.
Seth Godin recently advertised on his blog for a new staff member for Squidoo. What he asked applicants to provide was enlightening. Here are some (not all) of the information requests he made when looking for help:
- Point to your personal website
- Show us some of the projects you’ve led that have shipped and made an impact
- Are you restless? What do you make or do in your spare time that leaves a trail and makes an impact?
- Four book covers you think are both effective and beautiful
- Find a particularly lame example of UX on the web and fix it into something better than good
- What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from Steve Krug or Steve McConnell?
- Point to a blog post that changed the way you think about connecting with people online (not by Seth!)
- Show us a Squidoo lens that you’ve built
- Have you created anything worth watching on Vimeo or YouTube?
- In four bullet points, tell us how you’d change the Surface (or some website) to make it spread virally
- Whose picture is this? How did you find out? Why does she matter?
- Where do you work now? What’s great about it?
It’s a pretty clear indication of what matters today and not one mention about formal education. It’s none of the stuff that mattered yesterday, and excitingly it’s stuff we can choose to create with a little effort.