The Goal: No Goals

So my brother (musician, producer, performer) recently gave me some advice. He told me, “Max, whatever you can think of, you can do.” This wasn’t a new concept for me, but hearing someone say it to my face like that, especially someone I look up to and respect, was pretty powerful.

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I was at the gym today, the advice still bouncing around somewhere in my psyche, when after my usual 10 minute warmup run I just didn’t feel tired, and kept running. 20 minutes passed, then 30, 40, 50, and finally an hour was up. I was pretty shocked by my new record and felt like I was walking on a cloud. Okay, I couldn’t feel my legs.

After a quick cooldown stretch I headed over to the sit-up machine. A simple machine that lets you use your arms to assist in doing a crunch. I usually do three sets of 100 crunches. But today, after the first hundred, I just wasn’t that tired and decided to keep going. I told myself I would do 150. I got to 150 and felt fine so I said, “Okay, i’ll go til’ I can’t go anymore.” I got to 300 and stopped. Not because I was out of energy, but simply because I was so surprised by myself.

I think I subconciously applied the advice I had gotten from my brother, and added a twist. Instead of picturing a goal and trying to reach it, I simply didn’t set a goal at all and surpassed my own expectations. We limit ourselves by setting goals that are actually much easier to reach than we think. When we reach them we pat ourselves on the back, but deep down we know we could do so much more. The second set I did 500. Third, back down to 200, to make an even thousand. Yes, I have mild OCD.

It’s true that you can do anything you can think of. And in this case, I thought of nothing at all, which became my new limit: nothing at all. Limitless. Try it and see how it works for you!

5 Tips to get the Most out of Meetings.

We can instantly sense if someone is engaged in a conversation. Showing engagement can make an interaction memorable and special for everyone involved. There are many ways of showing engagement and i’m going to discuss five that I think can raise the value of any meeting.

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1: Give undivided attention.

Put the phone down. Just put it down. Technology is awesome. Live human interaction is better. Hiten Shah of KISSmetrics nails it with this post on ‘The Art of Right Now’. Because in a time where someone could have written an email, they’ve chosen to meet me in person. I treat that as a special occasion. Live human interaction remains a deeply valuable experience worthy of my undivided attention.

2: Be humble

Rather than get defensive when faced with a topic I’m unfamiliar with, I take the opportunity to ask questions and learn something new. To do this I must bring down my walls and accept the vulnerability of not knowing everything. Humility makes conversations much more engaging and rewarding.

3. Use body language

This is obviously a classic and something to be mindful of. Here’s a great post by Buffer‘s Leo Widrich on the ‘Secrets of Body Language’. I make sure my shoulders are squared up to whomever I’m speaking with. I try to look people in the eyes (but I must admit, I often catch myself looking at their mouths.) I like to use my hands to emphasize my words. Getting my body involved in a conversation shows that I’m fully engaged.

4: Give and take

Bouncing thoughts, opinions and ideas back and forth is one of the keys to having an engaging interaction. If I catch myself speaking for longer than a minute I make sure to stop and “pass the mic”. A good conversation has flow. Nurturing that flow will generate the momentum needed to achieve the goal of the meeting.

5: Listen to understand

I catch myself doing this a lot: Someone will be telling me something and I’ll begin thinking about my reply and completely stop listening. It’s much more respectful to listen intently until the person has finished speaking. There’s no rush. I can take a moment to think about my reply and then I can speak. Listening with the intention of understanding makes a huge difference.

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As technology becomes our primary avenue of communication I believe it’s increasingly important to practice the skills involved in having an engaging live conversation. Working on these five skills and trying to make them a habit has been rewarding for me. What works for you?

“We’re All In Sales Now”

Dan Pink’s theory is that the majority of our time is spent convincing, persuading, and influencing other people. Not only for money, goods and services, but more often for things like time, attention and other kinds of resources.

Selling is Human

Dank Pink recently released his book To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. He gave a speech on the topic and I found his ideas to be very fascinating. I don’t know anything about the professional world of sales, but I can fully relate to the act of convincing, persuading and influencing people. When Pink suggests that the majority of people, regardless of whether they work in sales or not, are actually constantly selling, I was intrigued.

But I’m not a salesman! I’m honest and my intentions are good! – Me.

Information Asymmetry: The Seller has more information than the Buyer.

Salespeople are often considered slimy, sleazy and dishonest. Unfortunately, a lot of sales-practices are simply out-of-date. Pink asserts that they stem from an era of ‘information asymmetry: the seller has more information than the buyer.’ In this era, the seller could exert huge pressure on the buyer, who didn’t know the first thing about the product they were interested in purchasing. The salesperson could say pretty much whatever they wanted to get the customer to buy something. How could the customer have known better? Enter: The Internet.

Information Parity: The Buyer knows as much as the Seller.

Nowadays, customers are more informed than ever. The internet has blown the lid off of pretty much everything. If ignorance was ever an excuse, it no longer is. I can figure out exactly what I want, how much it’s worth, and how much it’s being sold for. Pink recognizes this as a paradigm shift, entering a world of ‘information parity: the buyer knows as much as the seller.’

The only thing we have control over is presenting our product as accurately as possible, and letting our prospect make up his/her own mind. – @Bnonn via @KISSmetrics Blog

The rules may have changed, but the game is the same. Convince, persuade and influence. But you can be certain that your customer, friend, spouse, boss, colleague, or employee is potentially as well informed as you (if not more!). With this in mind, be humble and honest. Don’t sell anything you wouldn’t buy yourself and be sure to listen before you speak. You just might find out what they really want.

Take Away

Whether you’re selling a product, service, or simply the notion that I should hang out with you more often, you’re doing something totally natural. Something human. Let’s move away from the trickery and embrace our natural talent with humility and the best intentions.

Further Thinking:

Dan Pink speaking about why to sell is human.

Awesome post by @Bnonn on selling more by not selling at all.

A post I wrote on storytelling as the new marketing.

Humility

Enjoy your humility. It’s likely to be your greatest asset. Stop trying to be the smartest person in the room. Just accept the fact that there is always going to be someone who is smarter, stronger, older, and more experienced than you. Your humility will bring you much farther than your expertise.

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I recently watched an interview with Brian Wong on Foundation and was blown away by his wisdom. When he explained his approach to investor meetings and the appreciation with which he enters those high-pressure situations, I instantly understood why this young entrepreneur was so successful. When your fundamental disposition is one of humility and a willingness to learn, you include the people around you. Regardless if it’s a random person who you’ve never met or a high-powered investor who you are trying to pitch; if you approach every situation with an open attitude and make it clear that you don’t know everything and are appreciative for any and all feedback, it’s possible to learn so much more from people than if you are defensive about your ideas and are trying to let them know that “you’ve already thought of that”. Even if you have already thought of that, you don’t need to protect your ego. By allowing others to formulate their thoughts freely, thoughts you’ve already had may get a fresh, new angle.

Celebrate your lack of knowledge, and it will grow. Project the vastness of your knowledge, and you’ll be left alone on your imaginary island.

What have you learned by being humble?

Show don’t Tell. Share don’t Sell.

Storytelling, or marketing, is the art of telling a story of value. It’s the reason why two identical products don’t have identical value. They each tell different stories. The one that tells a more valuable story will be perceived as more valuable by the customer. And here is the catch: It IS more valuable.


Permission and Trust

Once a story comes alive, it is by far the most potent tool for communicating our ideas, dreams, passions, fears, pains, and desires. But bringing a story to life is an art. An art that has been mastered by musicians, painters, writers, poets, and teachers. They have mastered their respective medium and succeeded in truly connecting with others.

Businesses have always had the potential for truly connecting with their customers and nowadays we are witnessing young startups share their inner-most thoughts directly with the users. Entrepreneurs with vision and passion are allowing their early adopters to become part of a story bigger than themselves. The mutually beneficial relationship between a startup and their community highlights a very simple and beautiful cycle: feedback for features.

So… What’s the story?

The Pivot

The first time I heard the word “pivot” I was playing Basketball at summer camp and the counsellor was showing us the “triple threat” position. He told us always to pivot and avoid getting overpowered by a strong defender. I tried it and it worked; sports always had a way of making sense that I appreciated. I played basketball all through high school, but the novelty of the word had worn off and it was relegated by more complex tactics.

Fast-forward 5 years.

My interest in the startup world is growing. It’s exciting, it’s profitable, and best of all: it aims to find creative solutions to complex problems. Watching a video on Seedcamp, a mentor is addressing a group of hungry, young entrepreneurs, telling them to always be ready to pivot. There it was again. That word. Pivot.

To pivot, as the mentor explained, is the ability (but more importantly, the willingness) to adjust the course of one’s product. Seth Godin very poignantly put it: “Your job is not to find more customers for your product. Your job is to find more products for your customers.” By being flexible and open, you can provide an organic product (or set of products) that is directly influenced by customer feedback. Listening to your customers and allowing them to mold and shape your product in collaboration with you and your team, while always maintaining high standards, is exactly the kind of business I would like to be doing. And this brings me to my final observation:

Backgammon

Backgammon is a game of luck and skill. Two players take turns rolling a pair of dice and try to move their pieces around, and finally off the board, before their opponent manages to do the same. Simple game, complex strategy. I’ve recently been playing alot of backgammon and have been drawing parallels between the strategy of the game, and the entrepreneurial spirit of young startups. As in the startup world, you must be ready to pivot in backgammon. With every roll, the landscape changes and your priorities get shuffled. Each piece is a resource, and you must allocate your resources according to the ever-changing conditions on the board. Your pieces are your business; your customers, your dice. They guide you, and not the other way around.

Who’s Listening

Young startups like Buffer and Blossom do a great job of maintaining a dialogue with their users, offering “Get in Touch” and “Submit an Idea” options on their pages. By integrating a willingness to learn from and grow with your users, you can create a culture of growth. It’s not a hack, it’s an attitude. And in doing so, your pivots will be smaller, more controlled, and you’ll find yourself simply calibrating a well-oiled machine. Lot’s of startups today are following suit and are setting themselves up for real success.

So don’t forget to pivot. Not just when playing basketball and backgammon, and not just in your business, but always.

Have you had experience changing the course of your business? How did it go? What have you learned from listening to your customers?

Kanban: Re-Thinking the Process

Kanban is a way to visualize and manage workflow, and limit work-in-progress, all while monitoring, adapting and improving the process with the intent of creating higher quality output. The entire process is also inherently collaborative. But Kanban, as it seems, isn’t just some process that helps your company or team work more efficiently. It is a fundamental re-thinking of how we get things done. How I do work – the process – directly affects the quality of my output. Though obvious to some, this concept is very alien to someone who generally pushes out his assignments to the last minute and often uses phrases like, “I work best under pressure”.

Personal Challenges

My biggest challenge is beginning a project. I tend to be fixated on the “big picture” and am quickly overwhelmed by all the minutia involved in reaching my goal. They seem to pile up in my mind and all of a sudden I’m backlogged and frustrated. I then begin aimlessly chipping away at a number of different things, making dents in the “surface” of the project, and thereby trying to give it some recognizable features that I can use as points of departure. This, as I am beginning to realize, is a terrible approach. It is how I approach everything in my life. Frontal, forceful, and always with a sprinkle of self-sabotage. It’s what the story of Sisyphus was meant to teach me if my head wasn’t so far up my ass in high school.

Self-Reflection

Now, nearly five years later, I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve always felt that there was something wrong with the approach to my various pursuits. No matter how much passion I brought to the table, I always managed to grind away in the hamster wheel of my mind until I’d used up all my juice and had to recoup for a few months before daring to get out there and try something again. A desire for instant gratification coupled with a huge amount of energy basically left me haphazardly piecing together my projects with no real regard for the process. If I could get it done right away and then never think about it again, I did. Much like a young child making his first structures using glue and popsicle sticks, my structures lacked a solid foundation and thus were never quite as awesome as I had Imagined. Jilted by my abominations, tail between my legs, I managed to always run from myself.

Listening

Sitting at the Hotel am Brillantengrund (a hub for creative minds, curated by Marvin Mangalino) I got a chance to catch up with my buddy Allan Berger. Allan is a co-founder of Blossom, a lean project-management tool designed for software developers. I’d spoken with him about his startup a couple of times, but had never managed to achieve a full understanding of what they (Nik and Tosh are also on board!) were trying to do. I knew that they were into the whole Kanban thing, but had no idea what that meant for them as a team, and how it was shaping their product. Listening to him explain what he does to a couple of people around the table, I was intent to take another stab at it.

Learning

Here’s my take: Blossom is a tool, there is no question about that. But Blossom is also a silent, mutual agreement for any team that wants to get serious about creating amazing products. Any team using this tool, has already taken a fundamental step towards success. They’ve decided to flatten their hierarchy and truly focus on the most relevant tasks at hand. Time is actually secondary. Though the goal is surely to ship, it’s not the number one priority. Instead of having a backlog, Blossom wants to you to think about and reflect why you’re making a feature, and only then do you add it to your board. Forget the concept of a conventional stack, and try to see the process as more of a self-reflecting, self-informing, and self-improving system that is designed to make you and your team incrementally better at what you do. You also have to want it, because the tool isn’t a cure-all. It’s an option that, if accepted, implemented and continuously reflected upon, can and will take you and your team to the next level. Forget deadlines, forget project managers breathing down your neck. Blossom, which is no doubt rooted in some of the principles of Kanban, but a new manifestation in it’s own rite, is shaping the future of how we get things done. The right way.

Looking Forward

Thanks to Allan for getting my gears turning again. I look forward to doing some personal Kanban, getting my life in order, and embarking on a few new startup ideas of my own. The right way.