Tag Archives: Planning

Balancing Boredom

A few months back I had an interesting conversation with a friend that has been weighing on my mind. It was about how we are constantly surrounded by stimuli like no other time in history. While this can definitely be a good thing, there are also likely some repercussions.

Thinking about it from my own perspective, there is virtually no time where I am not consuming content, creating my own (writing or having a conversation), and am often times doing both at the same time. A typical day I start listening to a podcast on the way into work, work throughout the day, often listening to music or podcasts depending on the task, head home to work, watch tv, read or visit with friends. There are other activities like sports or running errands that I guess are a little bit different, but the brain is occupied regardless. Especially when I’m ‘that guy’ in the grocery store with headphones in.

All of this to say that I don’t live a life where I often experience true boredom and I don’t think that I’m alone. The modern-day equivalent to being bored is hitting up Netflix or scrolling aimlessly through Instagram on your phone, which isn’t the same as it’s been throughout history and I think there are some things we may want to consider.

Consider being bored in the year 1900. If you got home and no one was there to talk to, the neighbours weren’t around and you didn’t have a book or newspaper to read, you basically were out of options. Note: According to my quick Google search radio wasn’t invented until 1895, so I’m assuming 5 years later not too many people owned on in their homes. Even if they did, if you didn’t like what was being played on the one available channel you were SOL.

What is a person to do? I’m sure some just kept working, increasing productivity. Some went for a walk, perhaps meeting new people or seeing new things. Some went to bed and got full night of sleep. Some had their minds wander and thought up great ideas, then filled their ‘bored time’ with making those ideas a reality.

Fast-forward to today and if there is ever a moment where you feel less than 100% entertained and engaged, all of the information available in the world can be accessed by the machine in your pocket. We have defeated boredom!

What if defeating boredom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, though? What if by not giving our brains a rest from the constant consumption / creation demands we put on it, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice.

This is interesting to me because one of the reasons that I stopped blogging a while back is that I found it hard to come up with topics. I thought that maybe there was nothing that interested me that I hadn’t already written about and quickly filled up my time with other things. After speaking to this friend, however, I realized that quiet time to myself was vital to formulating thoughts.

My typical process is hearing about a topic that seems interesting and reading more about it. Then I talk to some friends about it. Then I forget about it for a while. Then it pops back into my head and I write it down. Without the quiet that comes from being unplugged, that last ‘pop’ back into my head doesn’t happen, therefore my productivity grinds to a halt.

I’m sure that this applies to many more aspects in life and I’m going to make an effort to enjoy the silence a bit more. At the very least I’ll stop wearing earbuds at Safeway.

Missing the Most Important “Why”

Simon Sinek’s golden circle and starting with “why” has been a popular framework for a few years now. I enjoy the TED Talk and have try to apply it as much as I can, in a broad sense. Though recent discussions, however, I’ve come to start thinking that while it is a very inspiring talk, and I’m sure his blog gets many more hits than mine, Mr. Sinek may be falling into the trap of reverse-engineering.

It’s easy to cherry-pick great leaders and success stories and point out that they spoke about “why” and not “what” or “how”. His evidence is very hard to refute. All I’m saying is that it’s easy to start at the end and know that those stories are worth telling. The true test is, however, how accurate this theory can be at predicting success.

I would suggest that it’s lacking.

Starting with why is great and all, but when push comes to shove if no one can relate to your why, then it’s worthless. In other words, if you let your freak-flag-fly and no one is saluting, how could you truly be a great leader or a great company? You won’t have anyone selling or buying.

Nope, the first why isn’t why you do things, but rather why those who believe in you (customers, subordinates, on-looking well-wishers) are attracted to you in the first place. That is the single most important message you can broadcast.

Not only this, but a company or leader who is aware of what draws customers / followers in is one of the best predictors of success that I can think of. I’m all about self-awareness and understanding motivations of others, but you have to be prepared for what you find out.

You may have one idea as to why people choose your business over the competitions and hearing something else can be tough. Especially when you own the business. That’s the one think that Mad Men really go right in my eyes; the scenes where clients were told something that is true, but they can’t get past their emotions and egos to use the knowledge to their advantage.

If you can embrace why your loyal fans have chosen you, however, you have the power to keep them and grow. So rather than starting with the “why” from within, it’s likely better to understand the “why” according to others.

Kill Business Plans?

Maybe it’s just my feed and the websites I frequent, but there seems to be a growing movement to encourage new businesses to scrap a business plan. While I’ve actually written about how a “business plan” with the structure that the bank wants to see or we learn about in school may not be the answer, I think it’s a disservice to be advocating forgoing the plan entirely.

The major reason that I say this is that typically those who are advocating leaving the plan in the mind of the entrepreneur and barrel forward are those who have seen a level of success in their business. So while it’s good for them that they’ve made it and maybe they never had any sort of plan down on paper (which I would contest in many cases is likely a romantic lie), run-away success stories unfortunately don’t make up the majority of businesses.

I would be more interested to hear from failed business owners who never did any business planning. I wonder what they would say in hindsight. Whether they thought that a bit more planning would have given them a better chance at success or maybe prevented them from taking the leap in the first place.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about business ideas and a large number of them end with a quick Google search and the realization that there are a huge number of companies doing the exact same thing already. Either that or after trying to write down a rough plan for the business (even a one-pager in bullet points) you realize that the idea looks pretty weak at second glance.

Whenever I see an article, Tweet or whatever about how business plans are worthless, I tend to think that the author means in their current form. I couldn’t agree more that a business which doesn’t yet exist trying to forecast five years of sales is a pointless, but the backing information that gives some legitimacy to your assumption that people will buy what you’re planning to sell is never a bad thing. At the very least it can be a thought exercise for you to explore as many aspects of your idea as possible.

So don’t dismiss creating some form of business plan in order to chase the image of being some sort of renegade entrepreneur who doesn’t play by the rules and makes all the right calls from their gut. While planning should never get in the way of action, taking some time to determine the right action to take will go a long way.

Should Businesses Begin at the End?

Beginning with the end in mind is a best practice that we hear about all the time. When I took my project management course it was pretty much the first thing that we were taught in it. While this likely is a good idea for short-term endeavors, is this really how we want people thinking when they start a business?

In the entrepreneurship classes I took, as well as books I’ve read and speakers I’ve gone to see, the “exit strategy” is a major focus. Essentially when you start a business you should have a timeframe to cashing out, most typically in the form of a sale.

While putting a timeline and dollar value on the sale of the company may be good for investors to see, is that really what is best for our companies or economy in general?

If your thought from the outset is that you are not going to be running the company for more than a few years, how will decision making be impacted? All decisions will be made with the short term in mind, which is never good for any company.

The idea of running a business for a few years then cashing out is nice and clean, especially academically when trying to teach about ownership, it doesn’t translate well into the real world.

I have a hard time believing that the entrepreneurs that I admire thought to themselves, “I have this great business idea that I can run for 5 years then retire.” I don’t remember ever reading the “Starting the Business with an Exit Strategy” chapter in any of their (auto)biographies.

If you want some more concrete examples, just look around. Bill Gates recently announced that he is taking more of a day-to-day role in Microsoft. Warren Buffett is in his 80s and still running the company. Steve Jobs came back to Apple (his baby), leaving behind another successful company. Richard Branson is still running around doing his thing.

All the above listed are rich enough to do pretty much anything they want. So what do they want to do? Stay involved in their companies!

Thinking in the longer term is also better for investors. It keeps the imagination going and the company focused on limitless growth, rather than hitting a number for sale. As a VC, would you prefer to have been an early funder of Facebook (a company that only when public when it had to) or Groupon (who rushed to IPO and is now tanking)?

One of the companies is focused on being around for a long time, while the other was focused on making a quick buck. And the results speak for themselves.

Planning, Not Luck

So when re-reading my last post I think I came up much too well adjusted, which is definitely not an accurate picture. There were some things that happened while I wasn’t working that definitely pissed me off and still do to this day. I haven’t made peace with the world yet.

One such frustration was a common reaction I got to the fact that I wasn’t out scrambling to take a job and could afford to take some time to find the right opportunity. Upon hearing this, the common refrain was along the lines, “It’s lucky that you can afford to take your time.” Even typing it now makes my blood boil a bit.

Guess what, luck didn’t have much to do with it. I guess in the broader sense I’m lucky I was born in Canada to a good family, and have been lucky for the support and privilege I have received as a result of that. I don’t think that’s what people meant, though, because in that sense virtually all of them were on the same footing as me.

It could also be that they have misspoken. A commentary on the further degradation of the English language, where native speakers can’t discern between the words “lucky” and “beneficial” which has culminated with my insult.

Maybe.

However, I believe that most of the speakers thought of it as actual luck. As in, “Wow how lucky is it that Kevin accidently has some money in the bank when this happened?” This interpretation is where my frustration comes from.

This situation has nothing to do with luck. It comes from planning and execution. Don’t understand the difference? Perhaps an example would help:

Two people find themselves out of work at the same time. Both are able to spend a few months not looking while continuing to live their life and make ends meet. Person one has saved a portion of every pay cheque and resisted the temptation to spend. Person two wins the lottery. One of these people is lucky, can you determine which one?

Obviously real world situations aren’t laid out quite like this, but I hope you get where I’m coming from. Dismissing a tough, annoying and frustrating action that someone takes (saving) and dismissing any benefit they get from it as luck completely diminishes the accomplishment. I try not to be “braggy” on the blog, but in this case I’m going to go for it.

This is something I’m going to watch for. In all seriousness, it likely has something to do with speech patterns. Still is a little frustrating, though. So when it has nothing to do with luck, don’t call it that!

Learning From Unemployment

As I’m sure most of you reading this know, for pretty much what would be considered the fall months of 2013, I was unemployed. While I would never recommend an extended period of not having a job to anyone, per say, in a lot of ways I was very fortunate to go through it when I did.

Looking back on it now it was almost like going through the five stages of grief, but professionally. While there is no real comparison between the loss of a loved one and being out of work, I think the principles are applicable on this smaller scale.

I’m not going to bore you with the first four stages, which can basically be summarized with one word: Netflix. Instead I’m going to focus on what I came to accept, and have carried forward with me.

You can only control yourself.

While job searching it is easy to worry about what went wrong throughout the process. Not getting interviews, not getting called back and other let downs are the norm.

At first I spent a lot of energy trying to analyze exactly why these things happened, but then came to realize that I can never fully understand the other side of things. What’s more trying to change the outcome is likely not even in my best interest.

I have wasted far too much energy worry about, and trying to change, the actions of others. The few times that it has worked, it is never worth the cost. It’s not revolutionary, but what I’m now focusing on is my own actions and reactions.

If someone in my life isn’t treating me how I would like to be treated, there are two possibilities. That they are taking cues based on my past behavior and it’s my fault, in which case the only thing I can change is my actions and if they are reasonable they will come around. The other option is that they are not a reasonable person, in which they are predictable and there’s nothing I can do about it.

So at the end of the day it’s only worth putting effort into my actions, reactions and effort level. After that things are beyond my control.

It’s the thought that counts, so treat actions accordingly.

When I wasn’t working everyone had advice. It was usually the same as everyone else’s and somewhat lousy in my opinion, but there was advice none-the-less. At first I would get pissed and a “how dare you” attitude, but eventually I realized that I was getting pissed at people who cared about me and were trying to help.

So from now on I’m going to treat advice like gifts: Likely not what I would have given myself, and I may not ever use it, but it’s nice to know that someone is thinking of me. (I should say that I have received both good gifts and advice. It’s just a really good analogy.)

Asking for help is a good thing.

Lots of people were surprised when they found out I hadn’t been working for a month or two. I chalk it up to not really wanting to broadcast it and not being that gossip-worthy for those who did know.

Another aspect of this is that throughout my life I have found it very difficult to ask for help. Don’t know why, but that’s the way it is.

I am fortunate enough to have amazing friends, though. Throughout my unemployment more than one of them sat me down and essentially said, “You’re a f***ing moron, we want to help you, but you have to ask for it first. We’re not mind-readers.” Touching/mean/fair statement.

The best way it was put to me is that people like helping people. When you ask someone for help, they’re typically getting a lot more out of it than you realize. Thinking back to my personal experiences, the few times that I’ve been able to help out a friend in need I’ve genuinely enjoyed it. Lesson learned.

Nothing lasts (and my imagination is far worse than reality).

This one is simple, but something that I need a constant reminder of. I’m a perpetual worrier, despite the fact I’ve been told that I seem fairly easy-going. I’m going to steal my way of describing it from an old coworker: I’m like a duck swimming. From above the water it seems like they’re gliding through life, but if you look below their feet are kicking frantically.

In all seriousness, if given the time to think about any given situation I can concoct the worst case scenario with minimal effort. Nothing ever really ends up being that bad, though. Life moves forward and people constantly surprise me.

I think that this can all be summed up in a quote that I read recently:

Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.
― Dale Carnegie

And it didn’t last. I’m now working a job that I’m thoroughly enjoying and would likely not be here without that period of unemployment.

So while I’m in no rush to get back to it, there were definitely some positives that came out of being away from work for a number of months. Again, while I don’t wish it on anyone, in hindsight it was a good experience for me to go through when I did. More good came out of it than anything else.

What Could Be Done Better

So like anyone who wrote something that received any higher-than-usual level of attention, I’m going to be riding on the coat-tails of last week’s post.

There were some comments on Facebook, which usually means it’s something that is top of mind for a lot of people. When it comes to winters, weather, driving conditions and government in Winnipeg, top of mind may be the largest understatement ever. Asking for an opinion on those is like shooting apples in a barrel (who would want to shoot fish?).

Being the narcissist that I am, I was thinking about my post over the weekend and got to thinking what could be done to better calm people down. Like it or not, even our mighty municipal government can’t control the weather and unfortunately that means it will likely snow again. And then the streets likely won’t be instantly cleared. And then citizens will get upset. And, more importantly, I’ll be reduced to yelling at my radio on the drive in again.

What it comes down to, as far as I can see, is nothing novel. In fact, I’ve been told this in essentially every job that I’ve held: Be proactive in communications, rather than reactive.

It’s simple. Imagine this scenario…

Mayor Katz calls a press conference. He says that the forecast is calling for extremely cold temperatures and a lot of snow. City crews are going to be out day and night clearing streets, but they can’t be all places at all times, so he and the rest of the City would appreciate citizen’s patience. In the mean-time, keep warm, stay safe and if you need to get somewhere give yourself a little extra time if possible.

How reasonable is all of that? Doesn’t happen, though.

What actually happens, as far as I can tell, City Hall gets the news that there’s going to be lots of snow and cold and then starts praying. Praying that the weather is wrong. That the snow clearing does happen instantly, regardless of what resources they have. That, and this is my favourite one, the people of Winnipeg will be reasonable, patient and forgiving.

Doesn’t happen though. The City instead sits on their hands waiting until Winnipeg has worked itself into a blind rage and then goes on the defensive. It’s plain to see at this point they have already lost.

So be a little more proactive next time. Worst case scenario is that things do work out perfectly and there was a little worrying about nothing. In that case, the City would be seen as the hero. Peoples’ expectations would have been brought down, only to be exceeded. Score one for the mayor’s popularity.

Coaching vs Consulting

I don’t know why, but for some reason it seems to me that lately the line between a consultant and a coach has been blurred. I don’t know if it’s because one seems more promotable than the other, if those in a coaching / consulting role fancy themselves as both or people don’t hold the same definitions as I do, but I think it’s a difference worth talking about.

It’s an important distinction, because when hiring one or the other an individual or business should know what it is getting. Also, if you are either a coach or a consultant, by promoting yourself incorrectly it may lead to a number of waste-of-time inquirers, or worse, frustrating engagements that can fall apart and even damage your reputation.

It’s also easy to realize why there may be some confusion. From a contractor standpoint, they are both usually engaged to work on a specific project and there is an agreed upon desired outcome. Typically what they are working on would not be considered the “day-to-day” business of the firm. The word “change” would come to mind.

While there are some general similarities, the specific differences are what make the distinction between the two very important.

Consultants are typically hired to help a business make a decision or implement some sort of specified change. That is to say the provide recommendations based on their expertise and even go as far as to manage the change. How I would summarize it as they take the information available to them, make a decision and then work with the company to make it a reality.

The information and communications typically come from them, with the company listening to the expertise of the consultant and effecting operations as necessary. The change comes from the outside.

Coaching is a different process. Rather than having expertise in a specific field, coaches provide a different framework in which the companies or individuals within the company grow and change. Rather than hiring someone to come in and give an answer, when companies hire coaches they should expect to work with them in order to create success from within.

If that doesn’t seem to make sense, think of a coach in high level sports. It is up to the players to have the level of skills necessary to compete at that level. The coach’s job is to organize the team and structure the type of play in order to achieve the best results possible with the available players.

There’s never a time where the coach jumps in the game because they are able to play better than the athlete in question. Such is the same with coaching; they don’t necessarily have necessary skills in order to complete the specific tasks of those they are working with. They do, however, understand what is needed in order to work together with them to maximize performance. In other words, coaches listen.

So next time someone throws around the title “Coach” as it relates to a business function, challenge them and see if they’re actually just a consultant in disguise.

My End Goal

If there was ever a blog post my parents would be interested in reading, I think this would be the one. Like good parents they care about my ongoing well-being and true to my personality I don’t give them any sort of reassurance that I’m not just drifting through life. I’m a terrible son.

In all honesty, though, I don’t have a clear picture of how I want my life to turn out, “at the end of it all.” I really don’t have a 100% idea of what it will look like six months from now, and I’m not going to worry about it. In job interviews I hate the question, “Where do you see yourself in ___ years?” My knee-jerk reaction is to quote Mitch Hedberg and tell them, “Celebrating the anniversary of this job interview,” but so far I have caught myself and tell them the truth: I really don’t know.

While this may seem flaky to some, I think that I don’t know for the right reasons. I have certain goals that I want to meet in both the short and long term, but these are usually specific and don’t include a full 360° view of all aspects of my life. Maybe it’s because I’m lazy, but I honestly don’t see the point in going through the exercise.

The reason that I don’t firmly plan every aspect of my life is that I have had too many friends waste their time, and often money, trying to accomplish what they think they want, but never quite making it. What’s worse is the few that do make it, but then realize they aren’t happy. I never want to be in either of those situations.

So I stay as flexible as possible. By keeping an open mind and not worrying too much about the specifics, I try to make sure no opportunity passes me by. What’s more, I don’t get too stressed if things aren’t perfect in the near term. I know that whatever I’m doing now isn’t necessarily related to my long-term happiness, so with that perspective I can weather most situations better than if I was constantly thinking my entire future rode on the decisions of today.

This is what works for me, but won’t work for everyone. The one thing I would say is if there is anyone you admire, try and see the times that they pivoted in their careers or personal life. It seems to me when someone attains success their biography is re-written to reflect how they were always destined to accomplish what they had. I don’t think this is the case.

Even the famous Steve Jobs commencement speech. You can’t tell me he always knew he was going to lead the world’s largest tech company when he was attending liberal arts school, dropping out of university, working on an apple orchard, taking pilgrimages to India, etc. Fact is, he kept his future open and didn’t worry too much how things were going to play out and look where it got him. I’m not saying he didn’t care, he especially did later in his career, but it’s not accurate to say he always knew where he was going to end up.

So why should you or I?

Brand Basics

In my job we’re fortunate enough to speak with a good number of people starting businesses. I actually can’t think of an extended period of time where we haven’t been speaking to a new entrepreneur.

It’s a very exciting time for them and there are a million and one things to worry about. Knowing that I’m completely ignoring everything logistic, there is one piece of marketing that should not be overlook, which is taking some time to think about the brand.

While branding can mean a hundred different things to one hundred different people, there are a few fundamentals that you should think about when starting a business that will save you time, heartache and money down the line

Name is number one.

Take time developing your company’s name. Understand what it means if it’s descriptive (Dan’s Hot Dog Stand) or not (Cerebral Inc.). If you’re going to use a real word or make one up. How the name translates (i.e. is if offensive in another language). Make sure it’s not complicated for people to say and if there is some awesome, deep meaning, assume people won’t know or care.

After considering these things RESERVE THE URL. Even if you’re not going to build a website just yet, do it. It’s like$15 for most addresses.

Get a pro to develop a visual look and feel. 

Don’t do it yourself, don’t go on Kijiji and find the cheapest rate possible. Just do it. I’m not saying that because I work in the industry, I’m saying that as a consumer. If I see a crappy logo / font treatment / colour scheme I assume the company sucks.

Think of a tone and personality for your communications.

Every company should have it’s own personality, and the tone that comes from that. If you’re starting a one-person consulting shop, this will likely come pretty easy. If you’re starting a baby food company, you likely don’t want to be communicating on “your” voice, the company needs it’s own.

Guard your brand carefully.

You don’t need to go through an extensive exercise, but make sure to keep a one-pager of brand attributes. Ensure that all your communications are in line with this document, and therefore the image of your company. Make sure to share this with all employees and anyone working on your marketing, to ensure that you are not the only keeper of the brand.

Also, make sure to revisit the brand as the company grows. If there are products or services that don’t fit with the initial structure, it may be time to reconsider the framework, or even split off into a new product line / company.