What’s Next?


If you have ever read about training for U.S. Navy SEALs or other elite military units, you are probably familiar with the advice that is given to those entering basic training: “Don’t look ahead: simply focus on the task at hand.” Sounds like process, right? – Matt Dixon; The Well-Built Triathlete, Turning Potential into Performance

At this point in the New Year everyone is still talking about New Year’s Resolutions and making goal setting a priority. But somewhere in the hustle and bustle of everyday life a huge percentage of people are going to fail at their goals and simply give up. You might be doing great so far but once the kids go back to school and life goes back to “normal” those changes you promised to make to your eating and spending habits are going to start getting harder.

According to the Huffington Post only 8% of people keep their New Year’s Resolutions with most falling off the wagon within the first 3 weeks. People who set both short and longer-term goals at other times throughout the year tend not to fair much better.

The problem seems lie in the area of planning and the prevalence of an all or nothing attitude. Personally, I want to try and cut down on the carbohydrates and sugar in my diet, but it was my neighbor’s birthday yesterday and he insisted that I eat a piece of his double chocolate birthday cake. Well, there goes the New Year’s Resolution, I may as well forget it!

A better approach is to take the advice of the Navy SEALs, just focus on the task at hand, or look at the famous 12 step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous and take it one day at a time. Hardly anybody hits a home run in their first at bat, loses 20lbs in a week or wins an Oscar the first time they step in front of a camera. Life is a process and incremental change is far more sustainable than going for the big splash all or nothing game changer.

To say that 2018 was a challenging year for my business would be an understatement. One of my stated goals was to increase sales 20%. Sales decreased, and I missed my goal by a whopping 37%. There were lots of things that went wrong last year that contributed to this huge miss but at the end of the day a lot of it had to do with my inability to hit the smaller, day to day markers that would have led to a better chance of success. I lost focus on the task at hand.

Goal setting is not the problem. Stephen Covey famously told us to begin with the end in mind, that’s goal setting but he also told us to put first things first, break-down each task to a series of simple steps and just keep doing the next thing.

So, before you give up on your New Year’s Resolutions or say that your goals are unrealistic or just too hard, take a breath. Achieving your goals is a process, break it down and ask yourself – what’s next?

Advertisements

What Makes Things Great


It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard … is what makes it great. – Jimmy Dugan; A League of Their Own

Tom Hanks as fictional baseball great Jimmy Dugan in “A League of Their Own”, 1992

I love baseball!

As a kid it was the only sport that I was even remotely good at.  That’s not saying much.  My batting average was well below .250, and I was stuck out in left field, otherwise known as the no man’s land of defensive positions for kid’s baseball. 

My saving grace was the fact that I had a good eye, or maybe I was just too timid to swing the bat and ten-year-old pitchers aren’t exactly known for their control.  As a result, I batted second and walked a lot.  I also scored a lot of runs because I was almost always on base when our best hitters came up.  Defensively I was fairly decent at running down fly balls, but my arm was horrible, so all the opposing players had to us was tag up and they were reasonably assured of advancing at least one base, maybe two if my throw was weak or off line, which it usually was. 

But I still love the game.  Maybe also because as a Canadian kid who could never master the art of ice-skating and hated to be cold, playing hockey was out of the question.  So I stayed inside and waited for spring when all the kids in town turned their attention from skating and black rubber hockey pucks to running and white leather balls.

As I got older, I noticed something else about baseball.  It’s really hard. 

Baseball is deceptively hard because at first glance, with the exception of the pitcher, it might not look like the players are really doing all that much.  But hitting a ball, that’s approximately two and half inches in diameter, coming at you at 80-90 plus miles per hour, with a wooden club, keeping it within a 90 degree area in front of you and sufficiently away from 9 defenders so that you can run 90 feet without getting caught… is hard.  Really, really, hard.

Success in baseball is measured in ratios.  For a batter a ratio of .300 (or 30%) is considered good.  That’s why it’s three strikes and you’re out, giving a hitter any less than three attempts would be unfair, and really boring to watch.  That’s also why hitters are obsessed with their number of at bats.  Most hitters will tell you they need to get up to bat at least 4 times in a game before they can have a reasonable expectation of contributing anything to the success of the team. 

My baseball career ended when I was 14.  My sub .250 batting average and rubber arm made me a liability that the increasingly competitive teams in our area just couldn’t take a chance on, so I retired.  But the lessons I learned on the diamond have served me well in life and as we prepare to move into a New Year I’ve been thinking about a few of them while I’ve worked on my business plan. 

Here are 4 things I learned playing baseball that have applications in business and in life. 

1 – Do Hard Things

You never learn anything if everything you do is easy.  John F. Kennedy, when he announced the United States plan to put a man on the moon in 1962 put it this way. 

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

It took seven years, but the things NASA learned along the way contributed to their success and have served humanity in ways many of us will never fully grasp. 

The term “moon shot” stems from this moment in history.  Pick a goal that is hard, that if you were to try it right know you are practically guaranteed to fail at and put all your energy into learning about it and getting better over a long period of time and you just might succeed.

2 – Success is Failure

Or put another way, every failure leads you one step closer to success.  What happens when a batter strikes out?  They come back the next time even more determined to hit the ball.  I’ve done the math, nearly every success is proceeded by a failure, sometimes many failures.  The key isn’t to try and knock the ball out of the park every time, it’s just to get a little better every day. 

3 – Never Stop Learning

Professionals are always trying to get better at their chosen craft.  Athletes study game tape and pick apart their performance, then they hit the gym or the practice field and work on their mechanics.  They are constantly learning in order to get better. 

Between 1962 and 1969 NASA launched 10 Apollo missions before they ever attempted to land one.  Why?  Because they needed to learn as much as they could first, people’s lives were at stake.

Business people read and test new theories all the time.  We are always learning.

4 – Results Matter More

When I played baseball, I quickly learned that no matter how I did it, getting on base was the real goal.  “A walk’s as good as a hit!”, my coach would call from the dugout as the umpire called out “Ball Four!” and I trotted down to first base.  I soon led my team in walks, hit by pitch and runs scored.  While walking isn’t nearly as fun or flashy as hitting a frozen rope over the head of the short stop, the result is the same. 

Pick a result or set a goal and then do everything you can to achieve it.  It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work.

And remember, just because it’s hard doesn’t make something not worth doing.  The hard… is what makes achieving things great. 

Happy New Year – see you in 2019.

The Most Important Decision You Will Make Today


“Pick your poison.”

That’s the phrase that most comes to mind when I think about the kinds of decisions we all make every day.

But really it should more accurately be phrased – “choose your suffering.”

There is no such thing as a free lunch, everything has a cost.  If you want to be successful, no matter the context, you must choose the suffering you are most willing to endure.  That is the most important decision you will make today, tomorrow and everyday for the rest of your life.

If you stop paying the cost of success you will by default pay the cost of failure.

In my business the cost of success is in the long and relentless hours of reaching out to my clients, cold calling, and pounding the pavement.  It’s hard, unforgiving work, but if I don’t do it I won’t make the crucial contacts that I need to make the sales that pay the bills.  And the cost of failure is far more painful than the work demanded to be a success.

It’s the same in my personal life.  I’m a triathlete in my spare-time. (I don’t really have “spare-time”, I’ve scheduled it all.)  The mental discipline and physical pain of running a triathlon is real.  But before I started I was 43lbs overweight, hypertensive and suffering from sleep apnea.  That pain, and the thought of it’s eventual endgame was far worse than the little bit of muscle fatigue I experience from time to time now.

So yah – the most important decision you will ever make is to choose your suffering because to be successful you will suffer, that’s a given.  But the pain and suffering of failure is far worse.

The Five Whys:  Turning Failure into Success


Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem. – Mark Cook; Former Vice-President, Kodak Gallery

Back about 2010 or so digital photography created a problem.

With consumers rapidly transitioning from traditional film and print based cameras to the new digital world consumers began to demand quick and easy storage of their photographs within the digital environment.  Digital photographs tend to be fairly large files in terms of the amount of memory they consume on a home computer and people tend to want to keep them all, forever.   It wasn’t long after transitioning from the old film and print system to a digital camera that many families began to run out of hard drive space on which to store their precious memories.  Not to mention the fact the PC’s have the nasty habit of crashing from time to time and erasing everything held inside, Little Suzie’s first birthday party included.

Kodak, one of the world’s largest manufactures of both cameras and film saw an opportunity.  They would create a secure, on-line storage hub where customers could upload their photos and store them indefinitely.  Safely removed from the home computer, consumers would never again have to worry about running out of hard drive space or losing everything as a result of a virus or power surge.

The definition of success, above comes from one of the first leaders at Kodak Gallery and it’s a good starting point for what I wish to discuss today.  Sadly, Kodak Gallery no longer exists, it was purchased by Shutterfly in 2012 and all the photographs transferred over to their database.  But that shouldn’t change our perspective on the definition of success.

It’s about solving problems, period.

My bi-line on Twitter (@laurencsheil) says “I solve problems and write books.  Let me show you how to Eliminate Debt, Build Wealth and Leave a Legacy,”

Over the years I’ve found that among the biggest problems many people and small businesses possess is an inability to properly manage debt.  This in turn hampers their ability to effectively build wealth, save for retirement, support a cause or leave any kind of lasting legacy.  Everything I do begins and ends with solving the big problem of debt and all the little problems that feed it.

I just finished reading “The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses” by Eric Ries.  Ries is best known as the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of IMVU, an online gaming metaverse where users create 3D avatars to meet new people, chat, create and play games.  Think of IMVU as a real-time game of Sims.  Since founding IMVU in 2004, Ries has gone on to become a celebrated author and start-up mentor teaching companies of all sizes and industries the rules of his Lean Startup approach.

For me the most compelling section of the book was when Ries described his formula for learning from failure.  We all eventually fail at something, it’s how we pick up the pieces and learn from that failure that separates successful people from perpetual failures.  He calls it the five whys.

The five whys are not a specific set of questions that we need to ask ourselves when assessing failure.  According to Ries, five is simply the number of times you need to ask why in order to get to the root cause of any particular failure.

In my case it could look something like this:

  1. Why didn’t I land the big account? Because the client was worried about committing his funds to this new idea when he might need the money for a capital project within the next year.

  2. Why was the client worried about committing his funds? Because he didn’t understand that my proposal would still leave adequate free cash flow for whatever else he wanted to accomplish?

  3. Why didn’t he understand the free cash flow aspect of what I was proposing? Because I didn’t make that a big part of my proposal to him.

  4. Why didn’t I make that a big part of my proposal to him? Because I felt that once he saw that my product would solve his other problems he would be compelled to ignore some of his less pressing concerns.

  5. Why did I believe that by solving part of his problem the client would ignore his other concerns? Because I was lazy and arrogant and didn’t do all of my homework.

It is possible to get to the root cause of a failure in fewer than five whys but Ries cautions against going too quickly, and I agree.  In a lot of cases five whys might not be enough to get to the root of the problem.  It’s easy to make assumptions, skip over some crucial aspects and miss opportunities for improvement.

The five whys are a great way to get to the root of a problem, but I want to solve problems, not just identify them.   That’s why a properly executed five whys analysis must conclude with at least one (and sometimes multiple) big “So What?”

I was lazy and didn’t do all of my homework.  I will learn to ask more questions and better understand all of my client’s concerns before presenting a partial solution.

Failure is inevitable in life and in business.  Learning from failure and moving on takes a bit of work and a five whys analysis is a great place to start.

 

 

Help! I Just Fell into a Rabbit Hole…


To be harnessed effectively, idealism needs to be grounded in a practical sense of how to get results and a grassroots understanding of the lay of the land. – Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn: A Path Appears; Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

I’m currently writing the first draft of a book on Leadership. The Book is tentatively titled “LeaderSheep; Leading from a Posture of Submission in Business, Ministry and Life”.

The first draft is always the hardest for me, as my thoughts form around a concept I continually fall down rabbit holes that sometimes take me weeks, or even months to find my way out of. The good part about that is that I end up developing a deeper understand of the concepts that go into my writing and find ideas for other books in the process, the bad part is that the book I originally thought I was writing tends to become something completely different and I end up with more ideas for other books in my head than I could possibly write in a life time. The concept of LeaderSheep itself was a rabbit hole I fell down while writing my first book “Meekonomics; How to Inherit the Earth and Live Life to the Fullest in God’s Economy”.

Anyway, it just happened again. This time I started asking questions about how leaders stay grounded in reality and what metrics they must learn to use in order to measure success.

You see, if you’re are going to lead a project with a big goal, and goal here isn’t really the best word, if you’re going to take on a mission, you need to have a strong sense of what success looks like. But what if your mission is so big that you will only see a small part of it succeed in your lifetime or what if your mission is part of a grander ideal that no one project could possibly encompass? That’s the kind of thing I’m thinking about as I write this book. Missions to eradicate human trafficking cure cancer and profoundly change the world we live in.  If your mission comes from a place like that, how do you measure progress, how do you know when you’ve made it and most importantly, how do you know when your time has come and gone and you need to take a step back?

I recently read Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s excellent chronicle of development economics, “A Path Appears.” It contains a lot of stories about how people are working on some of the world’s biggest and most entrenched issues. It didn’t help with the rabbit hole. I only ended up going deeper and further from my original goal, but maybe that’s just what I needed. While I didn’t get a lot of answers I did learn about the questions people are asking and the metrics they are using along the path. As a result there will be a big section in this new book on a new kind of leadership metrics, maybe even a whole other book about it. For now I just have to be content with the process and just enjoy the ride.

So a couple of questions if you’re so inclined to help me find my way through this particular rabbit hole.

  • Are you engaged with a big mission?

  • How do you define your role?

  • How do you measure progress?

  • How do you know when it’s time to step back?

Comments are appreciated or if you prefer a private conversation, write to; themeekonomicproject@gmail.com, use the subject line “LeaderSheep Metrics” so I can easily file the responses for use at a later date.

Thanks – Lauren.

Failure is a Failed Concept


Lately I’ve noticed some of my clients and even some colleagues around me using the phrase “I’m Failing” to describe their lives.  When I look at these people and what they define as failure it just makes me sad thinking about.

For the most part the people who describe themselves in this way are typical hard working, middle class citizens with a few challenges.  Sure they are experiencing stress.  Maybe they aren’t living up to their own expectations but if they were to take the time to you really stop and look at life I doubt they would classify themselves as failures.

Sure, you could always improve, I know I could, but does that make you a failure? I don’t think so.

You see, there is really no end destination in life, once we achieve a milestone there are always more accomplishments waiting just around the corner. There is no top of the mountain, there is always a still higher peak to reach just a little further down the path.

king of the mountain

When you think about your life in terms of pass/fail there is never any room for growth.

It’s time to stop thinking in this way. You’re not failing when you have stress. And you haven’t passed some great test when you achieved something. You’re just learning what does and doesn’t work.  And that’s what life is all about.

A so called successful life is about finding the pathway up the mountain. When you have a setback or experience stress you haven’t failed. You just learned what doesn’t work and you’re that much closure to figuring out what does.

So the next time you think you’ve failed try something new. That’s what all the successful people who came before you did and it’s the only way we learn what works.

 

How to Fail in 2015


The gleaming mountain of success is actually a pile of trash – a pile of mistakes we have made. The difference between the successful and the troubled is not error-free living; it is that by discovering and implementing a life calling the successful stand on their pile of trash while the troubled sit under theirs. – Dave Ramsey; forward to Dan Miller’s 48 Days To The Work You Love

happy new year 2015

Let’s cut to the chase shall we?

It’s the end of another year and everyone is busy planning what they will and won’t do in the coming year. Statistically we know that most so called “New Year’s Resolutions” will be broken within the first week, a few will make it through the first month or so and even fewer will make it about halfway through the year. The actual number of New Year’s Resolutions that survive an entire year however is infinitesimally small. So let’s fast forward to the last quarter of 2015 and pretend we made it.

I want you for a minute to forget about what the actual resolutions or goals are. That’s not the point here. I’m sure you don’t need my help to dream about what you want for the coming year. I want you instead to think about what your plan is to get there. Stephen Covey said in his famous “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to begin with the end in mind so that’s what we’re going to do.

It’s now December of 2015 and you are one of the few people who actually kept your New Year’s Resolution. How did you do it? What was your first step? Then what? And most importantly what did you do when you failed?

Mark my words; you will fail at some point. If your resolution is to run a 5k every day and on day three you get up to a foot of snow and you think, “what’s one day?” you will have failed. The question isn’t if you will fail or even when you will fail but what you will do with that failure.

If your definition of success is 100% perfection you will fail. If your definition of success is continual growth and development then you should welcome failure, it’s the only way you will learn what doesn’t work.

I actually love it when I fail at something. (Okay that’s a lie, nobody likes to fail, it hurts too much but,) Failure is the only way I can learn what doesn’t work. The key is to fail early enough in the process that you can learn from it, adjust course and still achieve the results you were after in the first place.

If you view failure as a learning opportunity and a stepping stone to success did you really fail at all? I don’t think so, you just eliminated one pathway to success.

So get out there and fail. Just don’t make the same mistake twice. That’s how you become a success and, as Dave Ramsey so aptly put it “stand on your pile of trash” in victory.