Tag Archives: life

What Are Your Limits?

What can’t you do? If you’re a child of my children‘s generation, you’ve probably been told since you were born that you can do anything. You have no limits. Does anyone really believe that’s true – that there isn’t anything we can’t do if we try really hard and practice a lot?

As you know if you’ve spent any time in this space, I play golf. I’m not horrible at it although I’m far from really good. I do practice and I might just try too hard. That said, there are shots I just can’t hit and never will be able to despite knowing how to do so and practicing them (you go ahead and hit that 225-yard shot over water and a bunker into a tight pin on a narrow green without landing in trouble).

Knowing your limits is important both in life and in business. We all want to help the team but learning to say “no” when you’re asked to take on more work than you can possibly do well really IS helping. Everyone hits the wall at some point and taking on too many projects or work that you’re not qualified to do well is a great way to hit it bang on.

Many ski areas have signs that remind you to ski within your limits. There is a sign at Bethpage Black, a golf course which has hosted the U.S. Open, that, in essence, asks you to know your limitations as a golfer and respect them.

Many people want to learn and to grow. Most people want to take on a new challenge. While you do need to push your limits to do this, at the same time, you need to be conscious of your abilities and approach any new goals appropriately. In golf or skiing, we can take lessons. How many businesspeople invest in courses to improve their skills?

In skiing and riding, we wear protective gear. The problem is that sometimes we get a false sense of security and push too far. In business, we rely on data from dodgy sources or only those surveys that tell us what we want to hear to give us that same false sense. Instead of recognizing the limits of the information, we believe it.

I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 10. I still can’t play like Clapton or Page despite well over 10,000 hours of practice. It may be some sort of physical ability I don’t have which they do. Then again, I probably have some mental abilities that have let me learn many skills they don’t have. Learning what you can and can’t do even with practice, instruction, and perseverance is key, and accepting those limitations, disheartening as it can be, can help make you better, not worse. Does that make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Well Aren’t You Special

I came across a quote in a report that prompted a thought about one thing I think has gone wrong in many of our businesses. Actually, it’s less about the businesses themselves and more about those of us who operate them. The study was GroupM’s annual “State Of Digital” report which I always find very informative. The quote is this:

In a statement, GroupM global CEO Kelly Clark listed automation and talent as the “big themes in advertising’s current revolution.” “One of the downsides of specialization is the increase in specialists who know more and more about less and less,” Clark said in the statement.

That’s a big problem in my eyes, and it’s not limited to the ad business.  Let me explain why, both from a personal and a professional point of view. First the personal. It’s great if you become the “go to” person on a very narrow subject. You may know a particular operating system inside and out or you may be the country’s leading subject matter expert on something else. That’s fantastic as long as nothing changes. What happens when it does? You just might have to start over if your particular, narrow skill set is no longer in demand. If you do one thing very well but no one needs that one thing, then what?

From a business perspective, having a team of specialists who can’t crossover is equally bad. Their siloed skills make cross-functional conversation difficult if not impossible. You want a team that has flexibility. Putting aside the ability to cover for other team members during vacations or peak demand periods in some area, having people with a broader knowledge base makes for a better product. Having multiple people weigh in who can consider the big picture and not just a slice of things makes for coherent, complete, well thought out solutions.

It’s incumbent on each of us to grow our skill set. In my practice, I’m called upon to provide thinking on everything from strategy to analytics to SEO to sales. Each of those is an area of specialization for some people and I know I might not be as well-versed in each of them as some of those specialists. What I do have, however, is a broad perspective (to go along with my broad experience) that lets me guide my clients. I have very deep knowledge in some areas and shallower in others. Not specializing makes me special!

If you’re not learning, if you’re not widening your range of knowledge beyond your specialty, then you’re probably setting yourself up to be less resilient when the need arises. That’s not good business thinking, is it?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

But You Got To Have Friends

According to Facebook, I have 388 friends. One very social member of my family has over 1,300. I suspect that in her case, and I’m quite sure that in mine, that some of those “friends” couldn’t pick you out of a lineup, so one might speculate as to how real the friendship is.

There is a much easier and yet way harsher method for figuring out the whole friendship thing. First, ask yourself who routinely interacts with you off social media. Then ask yourself of that group who does so when they don’t need anything from you. After that, you can ask yourself who from that much smaller group will return your call when YOU need something and, even more importantly, who will actually help you. We’re now approaching your real friend count.

Here is the good news. You don’t really need all that many friends. This report from AOL.com goes back to 2016:

According to new research, you only need five friends in your life. British psychologist, Robin Dunbarm breaks down our friendships into layers.

The top layer consists of a spouse or best friend that you interact with daily. The next includes up to four people — that you care about and require weekly attention to maintain the relationship. The layers after that are made up of mere acquaintances.

Why the rant about friendship today? Because those few real friends are the key to your business success. They provide two of the parts of Maslow’s Hierarchy that allow you to function productively. They are your sounding board. They can, as they have in my case, help you grow your business by providing contact with potential clients (every client I’ve ever had, save for one, is as a result of a friendship, either directly or indirectly).

The Michael Corleone character in The Godfather says “My father taught me many things here — he taught me in this room. He taught me — keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” I get his meaning – understand those who would do you harm and pay constant attention to them – but I disagree about the closer part. Find your few true friends, both inside and outside of business, and pay them as much attention as you do anything. Your business will benefit and so will you. Make sense?

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You’re Naked

One of the things that can kill you in business is believing your own BS. As a former salesperson (we are really ever NOT salespeople?), that’s hard to admit, but let me explain what I mean. Let’s look at our products and services first and then let’s take a look at ourselves.

I know what I’m good at and what services I can provide. I also know my limitations. When I speak with potential clients, I’m very upfront about both of those things. It’s about setting expectations and not overpromising. If someone needs help, for example, with art, I’m not your guy. If they want help understanding UX, however, I can help. Need basic SEO work? I can do it. Need a lot of backend coding? Not from me, you don’t.

If you sell anything, it has limitations. Failing to acknowledge them leads to underdelivery and that leads to failure. If you can’t recognize and admit where the boundaries are, you’ve got a problem.

The same principle holds for us as managers. The higher up we go, the more we have people around us who are unwilling to criticize or challenge us. While our responsibility gets larger, our circles get smaller. In some cases, a leader makes it a point to eliminate anyone who contradicts their own view of themselves. I always felt this was inversely proportionate to the executive’s strength as a leader. I’ve worked for bosses who welcomed challenges to their opinions and for some who wouldn’t tolerate and dissent. Needless to say, the staff would kill for the former and abandoned the latter as soon as they got a chance.

I read this about former President Obama and his interactions with an unnamed musical artist on the basketball court:

When asked what he could learn about someone from playing basketball with him, Obama talked about self-awareness—singling out “a singer, a musical artist” whom he once played a pick-up game with, someone who was “ballin’” and came “with an entourage,” but utterly sucked on the court. “His shot was broke… he had no self-awareness and thought he was good,” Obama said. “He surrounded himself with people who told him he was good, even though he’s terrible.”

That’s my point exactly. We need people to tell us our shot stinks and that we’re naked, just like the little girl in The Emporer’s New Clothes. It makes us better managers and if we accept the feedback about our products or services, better salespeople. Who doesn’t want that?

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Engineers And Lawyers

Techcrunch published a piece yesterday that caught my attention because I think it hits a proverbial nail right on the head. It dealt with the topic of fake news but I think it has important things to say to any of us in business as well. To quote the piece, “The real problem isn’t fake news; it’s that people have given up on that search for truth.” It’s a topic we’ve touched on here many times but I really like how the author – Jon Evans – explains to two different mentalities under which many of us operate these days.

I still tend to come at the world with what he calls an engineer’s mentality. I look at the information in front of me, seek out as much new information as I can, and adjust my thinking even if what I find contradicts what I believed previously. Whether you think of that as an engineer or a scientist or just being an adult, it seemed as if most of the people I knew operated under a similar paradigm.

He goes on to make the point that most people today operate instead with a lawyer’s mentality. You pick a side (generally based upon who is your client!), and then sort through all the available information, picking and choosing that which supports your side while discarding (at best) or belittling (at worst) that which doesn’t. In other words, many of us approach the world with what can be a fatal case of confirmation bias.

Many of my closest friends in the world are lawyers. In their personal lives, most of them actually tend not to bring their professional mentality to their personal thinking. That said, what’s wrong with the lawyer’s point of view? Simple. That one-sided analysis of the “facts” will be offset in front of a decision-maker – a judge and/or jury – by the other, equally biased set of facts presented by the opposing counsel. In business (and life), we generally have to weigh ALL the information ourselves and do the best we can with respect to sorting out the truth or the best course of action. We need to be our own opposing counsel if you will.

We need to think like scientists. It’s fine to have a point of view or an initial hypothesis, but we really need to apply the scientific method in our business laboratories and validate our thinking. Not all data are meaningful or even truthful. Neither are all the things we hear from coworkers. Do your research, form your own opinions. Given where we are as a country, it might not hurt each of us to think about our thinking and how we go about forming our non-business opinions too, don’t you think?

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Mything The Mark

Our Foodie Friday topic this week is myths. Specifically, I want us to consider a conversation I had with someone about one of my favorite topics: barbecue. There are many misconceptions about barbecue and one of them revolves around the topic of my conversation: the smoke ring. If you’ve ever had great ‘cue you’ve encountered the pink ring that lives on the edge of the meat.

Photo by Aziz Acharki

To the uninitiated, there is a concern that the meat is still somehow raw (why would the outside be raw when the inside is cooked?) but of course it’s actually a chemical reaction caused by some of the components in the smoke interacting with the meat (the myoglobin for you scientists out there). The person with whom I was speaking said it’s a great way to judge quality as well as if it’s “true ‘cue” – smoked over wood since you don’t get a ring when the meat is “smoked” over a propane unit. This, of course, is a myth. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve actually cooked some barbecue that looked beautiful – great bark, fabulous smoke ring – that was dry as a bone. Great Instagram material but lousy supper.

In fact, it’s possible to fake the smoke ring. All you need is some curing salt that contains sodium nitrite. Sprinkle it on the meat, cook it in an oven and there is a “smoke ring”. You can read all about it in this lengthy piece. My point is that it’s a food myth that a smoke ring is an indicator of quality in barbecue.

That’s not the only food myth, obviously. Eggs don’t contribute to high cholesterol, MSG doesn’t cause headaches in most of us, you don’t really sleep better after a nightcap before retiring, spicy foods don’t cause ulcers and drinking milk doesn’t increase mucus production when you have a cold. I’ll bet you’ve heard every one of those myths though. You’ve probably heard a bunch of business myths too.

You don’t have to be first to be successful – look at Amazon or eBay, neither of which was the first of their type. You don’t have to be the cheapest option in a category. Ask Lexus, Apple, Nordstroms or many others. Profit isn’t the most important thing (cash flow is!). And of course, my favorite: failing is bad. I’d argue the opposite – failing is almost mandatory on the path to success and is generally a good thing.

Don’t believe everything you hear or read. Sometimes it’s just one of those myths rearing its ugly head. Do your homework – find the facts. After all, we’re lucky to be living in a time when fact-finding has never been easier. Of course, there’s never been so much fake garbage to cull either!

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Gurus And Ninjas

Happy Valentine’s Day! I know it’s supposed to be a day for love but I want to focus on something I don’t love: gurus. OK, it’s not just gurus. It’s ninjas, wizards, mavens, and other self-proclaimed experts. I’m sick of them and, more importantly, I’m wary of the damage they cause. Let me explain and maybe I can bring you over to the dark side.

First, let me be clear about whom I speak. Generally, these are people who seem to spend a hell of a lot more time explaining how great they are at something rather than actually doing anything worth noting. Their professional profiles use words like ninja. I did a quick search and came up with over 60,000 results for that word on LinkedIn. Do any of them know what a ninja actually is? According to Wikipedia, it’s a

mercenary in feudal Japan. The functions of the ninja included espionagesabotageinfiltrationassassination and guerrilla warfare.[1] Their covert methods of waging irregular warfare were deemed dishonorable and beneath the samurai, who observed strict rules about honor and combat.

I’m not sure any businessperson wants to hire a dishonorable assassin but I could be wrong. Yes, I get that the meaning of words changes over time but if you mean to say you’re an expert, say it. Maybe they can’t because they’re not really experts at anything other than self-promotion.

Speaking of misused, overused job titles, let’s move on to “maven.” A maven is an expert, actually a “trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass timely and relevant knowledge on to others in the respective field.” The key words here are “trust” and “expert.” I’ve checked out a few “mavens” and when well over 75% of their social followers are fake and they’ve been in their field of practice for under 5 years, I think they’re neither trustworthy nor experts.

We all have personal brands. Some of us work very diligently at getting that brand out there and others of us do great work and hope that work speaks for itself. I’ll admit that I probably should have done more self-promotion over the years although in my defense there weren’t the opportunities to do it on one’s own as there are now. I still rely on clients to bring me other clients and on readers of the screed to do the same. I try to connect with people I know and respect, focusing on quality.

Does any of this make me a guru? A maven? A freakin’ ninja? Nope. I’m just a guy who’s been at this for longer than most of the self-promoters have been alive and who has already made most of the mistakes they’re going to make, probably using someone else’s business to do so. Is it self-promotion to say I’ve already learned from the mistakes they’re going to make so they won’t happen in the first place?

If you’re a guru, act like one. Be the one who dispels the darkness and takes towards the light. Be a counselor and an inspiration. A ninja? Not so much.

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