Work Backwards: The Key to Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

Like many (semi) accomplished individuals, I experience Impostor Syndrome almost daily. It recently accelerated because I was asked to do an AMA and put on a page among some amazing people who have done amazing things, and I… I’ve just done things.

But then I thought about what my friend Nikki always says:

If I’m not in over my head, I’m not having fun.

While this is a healthy attitude to have, many people will react in the opposite way when forced to face things they don’t know about. And the thing is, even the most accomplished people experience this.

I have heard famous people admit they have it, watched my heroes explain how they wake up every day, not believing their “luck” and worrying if they’ll be able to meet their fans’ bloated expectations.

I used to get paralyzed from expectations myself. Whether I expected too much of myself or others did of me, my reaction was always the same: I would refuse to do anything that could get me in that position, ever.

And yet, I said a big YES to the AMA. Why?

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Because fear is the worst driver. And it never goes away. The only way to vanquish it is not to feed it. Even though most of us feed our inner fears and doubts daily, it doesn’t mean we have to be “stuck” in this mentality. It simply means that we need to dig deep, find the source, and face it.

Before We Start

Let’s find the best definition of I.S. and go from there.

(I’ve put numbers next to the points I’ll discuss in reverse order.)

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments(4). Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve(3) the success they have achieved. Proof of success(2) is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Notably, impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women(1). 

It’s from Wikipedia. Forgive my sources, but you’ll find no better definition of this syndrome anywhere, and so detailed. Now, in order to get to the bottom of it, we have to work backwards, point by point.

1. The Gender Gap

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Before we can tackle this on an individual level, we have to look at the global implications. The fact is that more women tend to feel this way than men, which says a lot about our society.

In a world where men are generally paid more and are encouraged to be more confident and successful, women fall slightly behind. Except we don’t. We only perceive ourselves as standing on a lower level because of these unfair conditions we’re fighting to change.

And, as we all know, perception is reality.

I’m not suggesting that men are intentionally making women feel that way, but they’re not helping themselves either – attitudes in the tech world have been toxic and a lot of men have been making asses of themselves lately (like Google executive Eric Schmidt at SXSW and T.J. Miller at the Crunchies). All this media attention reflects the reality we live and work in, so it’s natural for women to feel bullied and under-appreciated in such a hostile environment.

If we want to turn this around, we have to start with a better appreciation system (not to mention fair wages), especially in the work place where male ego reigns (and frankly, needs to be deflated).

2. The Locus of Control

There are two types of people: those with internal locus of control and the ones with external locus of control. Internal locus of control means that you see yourself as the driver of your life — everything you do happens as a direct result of your actions and decisions. External locus of control just means you tend to blame external factors for your failures and successes.

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So if you tell your boss you’re late on that report because your colleague hasn’t given you all the information you needed, you’re viewing the situation externally. You must know there are things you can do to speed up the process, but you either see yourself as helpless or you’re lazy.

I generally disagree with this type of thinking. If you see things this way, you’ll never be able to take responsibility for your life. The sooner you do it, the better you’ll be at: solving problems, overcoming fears, getting results, advancing your career, forming relationships, etc.

And by doing so, you won’t have the need to prove you deserve your success. You’ll just know you do.

3. The Confidence Problem

A person with high self-esteem will not be experiencing the Impostor Syndrome, at least not frequently and/or deeply. A person with high self-esteem knows what they’re capable of, where their weaknesses lie, and thus sees no reason to feel inferior to anyone.

If this is you, great! The other 70% of the population, however, doesn’t feel the same way. Most of us go from day to day slightly terrified of being exposed or laughed at. (This is especially true if you work in a high risk/high reward environment, like entrepreneurship for example.)

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But this is low confidence speaking. Don’t listen to it.

You’ve reached this level because you worked hard and you took the right opportunities. In fact, if you learn how to apply the “internal locus of control mindset”, you’ll be more likely to recognize your success as your doing, as it should be.

(And of course, refrain from focusing on failure too much.)

Whatever you can do to raise your confidence, do it. Ask friends, colleagues, etc. what positive traits you possess. Look into the mirror and tell yourself what you love about your personality. Just anything that can help.

As a side note, I also think it’s important to encourage women to be more confident and not to punish them if they already are — because in today’s business world there’s a tendency to view “bossy women” as “bitches”, which is yet another gender lapse on society’s part.

4. The Accomplishment Book

Once you have the right gender attitudes, locus of control, and confidence, all you need to do is internalize your accomplishments.

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This is easily done with the help of an “accomplishment book”.

After a tough spell of burnout/depression, I had to find a way to crawl back to my most productive self again, so I applied this hack. I bought a small notebook and started writing down small accomplishments I had made every day. At first they were things like “went for a walk” and “sent an email”, but they started growing bigger, and soon enough there was plenty to be proud of. And I’ve continued this ritual to this day.

It also helps raise your confidence and acknowledge the steps you’ve taken to be where you are. It’s the proof you need to see in order to believe that where you are is very much deserved.

In fact, you can read about Fast Company’s experiment with that same concept, where the team kept a daily journal of their accomplishments for a week and found out that it was beneficial to their night’s sleep and daily productivity.

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If you followed the steps in that order, you may feel much better about your accomplishments. The key here is to remember and apply this process (or at least certain parts of it) every time that the unwelcomed feeling surfaces.

And know, you’re not alone. We’re all fighting the same demons.

Our Startup Journey: Finding a Co-Founder and 2 Rockets

March 17th 2015

Today we hit 5000 signups and downloads of the Meeting Facilitators Canvas.

5000
MailChimp List of 5000

These are 5000 individuals who filled a short form, got an email, clicked the link contained in the email and downloaded the PDF, Word template or sample word document – even all three.  I think this is the perfect time to share this jaw-dropping milestone and our beautiful journey.

The story so far

I created the Meeting Facilitators Canvas in November 2014 as part of a workshop to help my clients experience better conversations. My intention was to offer a simple, open sourced tactile tool that people could use to design better meetings.

My offering was a simple PDF that meeting organizers can download, print and work through to create a one page meeting plan and shared record that all meeting participants could collaborate on.

Throughout December, I tweeted and tried to create some awareness on LinkedIn about the presence of the the Canvas. My friends and professional network were great in spreading the word and downloading the Canvas – which gave a small morale and growth boost.

I had tried to build multiple startups – all by myself and self funded. I knew the pains of such a approach well. This time I was determined to get help earlier.

Enter The Social Media Maven

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Photo by WikiImages

Violeta Nedkova is a force of nature – her enthusiasm and seemingly endless curiosity is infectious. I initially came across her blog from a retweet a couple of years ago and was really impressed with her style.

We had tried to launch something together early in 2014. So when I needed help with hustling on Amazemeet – Violeta was my first thought. I approached her initially with some freelance work and I’m glad that she agreed!

We got to work – creating content, exploring the market segments and tuning our strategy. We collaborated so well and with such ease that it wasn’t long before I was convinced that Violeta was the right person to become my co-founder. I asked, she said yes and the party was about to get funky!

Prepared for slow growth

By the middle of February , downloads of the Canvas had doubled but still only about 200 but growing. Our Twitter following had grown from zero to over 1200 followers – and not the dodgy kind either.

Overall though, interest was still pretty low. We used this time to put in place a delivery mechanism using Sendgrid and MailChimp to automate the registration and downloading of the Canvas. Coupled with Google Analytics, we had a great setup to get info-rich data about where the signups were coming from and when.

Rockets

Week by Week Analytics
Week by Week Analytics

From March 2nd, the automation we had in place was going nuts.

Hundreds of people everyday were signing up.

  • Google was showing how many were signing up and getting the ‘Thank you ‘ page.
  • MailChimp was showing that similar numbers were getting the welcome email and clicking the download links.
  • Finally the download tracking on our WordPress site were confirming that similar numbers were actually downloading the Canvas.

Rocket #1: We got Product Hunted

We got Product Hunted
We got Product Hunted

Violeta: OMG!!! We got listed on Product Hunt

Me: Huh? Product Hunt – it’s not connected with our customer segment [LinkedIn]?

Violeta: Well it isn’t, but it is an awesome community of passionate people I’m in that shares cool products.

This is just one of many times that I’m grateful that Violeta is my co-founder. Her conviction that Product Hunt was a community we needed to be part of was absolutely spot on.

Violeta does what she does best – she engaged openly, sincerely and with curious wonder. The support and comradeship that the Product Hunt community showed us was spectacular.

Rocket #2: The Next Web Facebooked us

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The traffic we noticed from the time the Product Hunt listing happened was phenomenal – we were experiencing about 20-30 sign ups a minute. People from everywhere were downloading the Canvas.

We believed Product Hunt alone was the reason for such traffic – until I took a look at the analytics we were getting from Google.

Sure, there was significant traffic from Product Hunt referrals but almost double that was from Facebook. Yes – FACEBOOK!!!

I was puzzled – Facebook wasn’t even in our customer segment and frankly we didn’t really want it to be. But the data was the data. We thought someone from Product Hunt had cross posted on to Facebook. But with over 4000 visits so far from Facebook  – that was some cross post!

So we looked and there it was. The Next Web – one of the internet’s most influential technology publications had posted a simple post on their Facebook page. They hadn’t written about us – simply posted and the flood began.

It is still going on – in 2 weeks since all this started we have gone from 248 signups (from December 16th 2014) to 5000 today. And climbing.

A Real Platform for Engagement

So now we have 5000 sign ups. But what does this really mean?

It means we have a great platform to start to talk with the people who signed up and really understand what their experiences of organising, attending and surviving meetings are.

It means we can begin to learn how to be useful and valuable to our users. This is exciting beyond words and it has already started.

Special Thanks

Product Hunt –  We are deeply grateful to this amazing community for their openness and support. Please go check them out, you will discover and support many startups and meet some really amazing people.

The Next Web – we are still in awe at the power of a simple post by the influential press. We are so grateful that we somehow earned their blessing.

What Next?

We think we have something that genuinely helps people, so over the coming days we will be releasing an online app to help the people who signed up to use the Canvas faster and more conveniently. We will also be sharing our journey of building this start up.

Stay tuned!

How to Approach the Problem of Anonymous Feedback

Two movie scenes come to mind when I think about anonymous feedback:

  1. From Life Partners, 2014
  2. From Legally Blonde 2, 2003

Excuse my poor examples, but bear with me, it’ll make sense.

In Life Partners, Sasha has just received a bunch of anonymous notes from colleagues. She’s devastated because they’re all negative.

In Legally Blonde, Elle introduces “The Snap Cup” where you’re supposed to come up with compliments for your colleagues and share them anonymously.

Which one of those methods do you think renders better results?

According to science,

People are more productive when they are happy.

They find solutions more easily, enjoy their job more, and overall feel more connected and engaged with their teams and the company in general.

This is a gold mine for managers because it gives you an easy solution to solve your “engagement problem” and also attract more millennials to your teams. When you offer something that makes people happy, they will fight to work for you and bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to your projects.

So, whenever possible, start off on a positive note.

Just look at buffer. Far from a large enterprise, their record of 1000 candidates per job offer is unheard of in the startup world. If you look at what they offer their employees, you’ll see why the demand is so high.

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Wouldn’t you be happy with this arrangement? (By the way, this is for Happiness Hero. There are other formulas for the different positions.)

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Not only do they offer a LOT, but they also provide great customer service because they make sure they make you, the customer, happy. (See image on the left.)

So that’s one way to achieve great results: Strategize for happiness on every level of your business.

And I mean, every level.

When it comes to feedback,

Even though there are different types of people and as such, every one of them requires different kind of feedback, there’s a universal fact that:

Positive reinforcement works better than its negative counterpart.

In the first film I mentioned, Sasha wasn’t motivated to improve her service or even stay with the company. She simply wanted a new job.

In the second film Elle inspired her colleagues to be nicer to one another and to take time to share the small joys in the snap cup as well. (The cup even moved to Congress, but that was more satirical than realistic.)

So when you’re thinking about positive feedback, you have to consider the way it’s presented. As a leader, you can encourage certain types of feedback more than others, or straight out make a rule “no badmouthing”.

I recently talked to a girl who used to work at Achievers, who had daily scrum meetings where they shared happy news about their lives. Usually, at a scrum meeting you share your goals and achievements, but these guys just wanted to wake everyone up and make them engage with one another on a more meaningful level. I was told it made everybody smile.

As for constructive feedback,

It is very much useful and desired. However, when it’s presented in an anonymous context, it forces you to start thinking things like, ‘who could have said that’ and ‘am I in trouble’, etc.

You must always think of the value something brings to people’s lives.

Most companies complain about anonymous feedback and it’s probably because the feedback itself is not presented in the right context. If you think about it, would you rather meet face-to-face with your boss and hear what they have to say about your performance — honestly — along with the criticism and praise, or would you rather get it anonymously?

In the app market a lot of people like anonymous apps because they can speak their minds without being judged publicly, which I think is a cop-out and if more people were brave enough to speak their mind, we would live (and work) in better conditions. If you can’t say something constructive to somebody’s face, you’re giving into your own fear of being confrontational. And most of the time this fear is ungrounded — people often appreciate straightforward feedback.

After all, it’s not personal, it’s business.

I understand about fearing your boss and fearing what your colleagues think about you, but those concerns do not make your life easier or better — they just increase your daily stress. (And let’s remember that the best managers are the ones with a “no bullshit” approach, so if you want to go higher up the ranks, you need to start practicing being direct and honest right now.)

In the name of a stress-free existence,

Let’s be honest in the office and only be anonymous when we have positive things to share. When you share negative feedback anonymously, it’s like you’re admitting that you’re afraid of giving this feedback to the person’s face, and that helps nobody. Fear is the worst driver. (Even worse than the drunk ones.)

So if you insist on anonymous feedback…

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Finally, the most important thing you can do for your team is to foster an environment of encouragement and positive company culture. The rest will follow in the form of grateful employees and personal fulfillment.

Once that happens, your own job satisfaction will increase and the company at large will prosper without any additional incentives.

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Question: What are you doing to foster a positive culture at work?

Introducing New Habits in the Meeting Room

When I was in primary school the principal decided that it would be wise to play the Bulgarian Hymn before classes every single day, so they did. Pretty soon it got so annoying we staged a rebellion and they dropped it.

I realize other schools around the world may be doing it and you might think we were strange to revolt, but it’s hard to rope us in — Bulgarians I mean — if you try, you need to have a pretty fancy rope there, so when you try, we’re so preoccupied with how fancy it is that we forget what it’s there for. You know what I mean?

I have a theory about why this attempt didn’t pan out. Let’s examine the new habit they were trying to introduce to us:

  • it’s always the same, no alterations
  • it’s supposed to inspire us
  • it’s a show of respect

I see various problems with this method. First of all, we’re a bunch of kids, so we really don’t want to be showing respect to anybody instead of happily shuffling in our seats and passing notes. Secondly, after a couple of days it feels like you’re being forced into the same mind-numbing ritual every single day… like being force-fed pancakes every morning of your life.

You get bored. You want out. End of story.

Finally, the fact that it’s always the same suggests that the system works. When something works, you repeat it, over and over.

Okay… but do modern meetings work? I’ll let you answer that one.

If something does not work, don’t try to repeat it over and over, or else you’ll have a revolt at your hands.

Judging by the first two problems, I’ll conclude that the system was broken before it was introduced, thus rendering it completely useless.

In fact, I’ve seen many employees complain about daily scrum meetings for the following reason: instead of increasing productivity and morale, they’re viewed as “just another distraction”. Truth is, some people will see them as such and others won’t — it also depends on character. Ultimately you want to see which companies make it work and which couldn’t, so you can manage an informed opinion before you apply them yourself.

Which leads us back to the question… what is it exactly that makes new habits stick? Is it repetition? Judging by the story I gave you, repetition won’t fix something that’s broken. Is it authority? If the CEO says “we’ll have three-hour meetings every day from now till the end of days”, will people adhere to his command? Probably, but out of fear of losing their jobs. They won’t be looking forward to these meetings, that’s for sure.

So what is it?

In his TED talk about motivation, Dan Pink clearly states that intrinsic motivation works better than external stimuli. Bonuses are not enough when you dread the task or when it’s too hard to complete. This is why there are so many entrepreneurs nowadays — because by being their own bosses, they get to do the things they love. 

Tech giants like Google and Atlassian know that autonomy’s important, so they have created things like “do whatever you want” days and “ShipIt days”. They KNOW their employees, their values, and they respect their needs by meeting them, not just acknowledging them.

It shouldn’t be about someone telling you to do something. The idea should come from you, not from “them”.

Them being managers, CEO’s, and basically anyone in charge.

After I though about this for a while, I remembered Simon Sinek saying:

They don’t show up for us, they show up for themselves.

That’s it! People pick up new habits when they want to pick them up. It’s so obvious and yet so overlooked. Granted, you do your job and everything that’s required of you, but when you don’t like it, productivity saps.

So how can you introduce new habits that people will want to pick up?

Ask them. By learning to ask powerful questions, you are connecting to your team in a powerful way. You’re engaging them.

So ask them what they think would fix the “constant interruptions” problem (in some offices they use headphones). Ask them — individually — how they handle the flood of emails in their inbox (maybe it’s “inbox zero” or a template system). Ask them what hours they’re most productive in (which depends on whether they’re early birds or night owls) and whether they would like the option to take work home or leave it at the office (Volkswagen employees are not allowed to access email after work hours). Ask them whether they would like to try walking meetings. Ask them how the ideal meeting should go.

Percolate has the following rules:

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Your team should easily come up with an even better one if you care enough to ask them and listen to their answers. You don’t have to be the disengaged, arrogant boss, micromanaging everyone. You can be the humble leader your team needs to evolve. You can be better than those before you. Let this be your competitive advantage, not trying to copy someone famous.

I will let you mull this over, but consider the alternative —judging by every meeting you’ve ever had, meetings continue to be unproductive and boring. Nothing changes, nobody does anything about it, you waste money, time, and stress over results while employee engagement declines.

To overcome the same old problems, you must introduce new solutions.

And when you figure it out, tell us! We’d love to hear about it. 🙂

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P.S. And keep your meetings organized with the Meeting Canvas. Hah-yah!

5 Brilliant TED Ideas for Leaders

I bet you’ve watched some TED talks, haven’t you? You closed the door, hoping the kids or the partner wouldn’t hear you, or maybe you were slacking off at work, looking for some inspiration. I’ve been there.

TED.com is not only a wonderful source of ideas and inspiration, it is also an amazing collection of hacks and potential strategies for the businesses of the future — or in your case, your business in the present.

Why wait for change when we can kick-start it right now?

As a leader, you are probably always looking for great ideas to incorporate in your business. These days not only small businesses have to innovate to grow, but big companies as well, if they want to stay on top. So consider the ideas I’ve outlined for you below. Don’t be a dead fish like some of your colleagues who keep saying they’ll “make changes” but never do.

Of course, I’m referring to the famous quote by Malcolm Muggeridge:

Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.

Are you ready to enter the 21st century? Here we go…

How to Make Employees Happy

That’s the easy part, even though you don’t know it yet. Maybe you think that happiness depends on many things, but science says a different story. Basically, whatever happens to you affects only 25% of your mood and the rest is in the way your brain processes the world.

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There are several exercises that — if done for 21 days — will drastically change the happiness level of your employees (and your own if you choose to partake), which will then increase their engagement and productivity.

My favorite exercise is “three good things” (or 3 gratitudes) — every day you write down or tell somebody three good things that happened to you that day. Eventually your brain starts to notice the good more than the bad, and when you habitually start fixating on good things, your happiness level shoots up. If you incorporate one or more of these exercises during a team-building seminar or the daily scrum meeting, your team will thank you for it.

There are more cool insights in Shawn Achor’s talk if you’ve the time:

[ted id=1344]

How to Keep Employees Motivated

There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

This sentence is the most memorable part of Dan Pink’s talk about motivation. First of all there are two types of motivation— external and internal. You can probably guess which one is more important even though the other is woefully overrated at work. All those bonuses, awards, etc., they are all incentives for a job well done, but not only that. The system of giving rewards to “the best” means “we’ll give it to you if you get there”.

Science shows  that whenever a task involves actual cognitive effort, incentives don’t work. Instead of motivating people, they actually lower their chances of completing the task successfully. If the task is manual and easy, this problem doesn’t exist, but Pink posits that nowadays there is no such thing as a “simple task”. Everything depends on creativity and our creativity saps when we have to compete for rewards. Instead of incentives, Pink suggests 3 crucial internal motivators:

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Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. And how can you apply these? Pink offers examples of autonomy at work in Atlassian, where there are designated days for “doing whatever you want”, i.e. personal projects outside of work, and the results are always —  boosted productivity and amazing new products coming out. (It’s called Fedex Days. Google it.)

So try and give your employees some autonomy. They do it at Google, too. As for Mastery and Purpose, you can fill in the blanks.

[ted id=618]

How to Inspire People to take Action

Simon Sinek’s famous “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” talk is brilliant, and it has been praised time and again for its ingenuity. He gives a simple model, explains how you can apply the “golden circle”, and at the end of it you feel as though you can convince anyone to do anything.

simonsinekcircle

All you need to do is start from Why. Look at the circle on the left. It has three rings in it — why is the innermost, then there’s how, and finally — what. The outermost circle is the surface — your product, what your company is selling/offering to the world. Is it cars? Stocks? Whatever it is, it’s your what and the how, naturally, is how it works and what it offers.

So you usually explain, “we make this and it does this and it’s amazing!” That’s pretty much the gist of your marketing. You skip the why, but it’s the most important element. The why is your purpose, it’s WHY you’re selling cars and why you’re working at the company.

If you don’t believe in your product, who will?! 

A great leader would start from the why and end with the what. They’ll say “We believe in diversity, innovation. If you’re the sort of person who likes to try new things, this model is revolutionary. It does [this and that]. Now people want the product and people want to buy it from you because:

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Next time you’re selling an idea to someone — be it a job candidate, a potential partner, or a client, start with the why and hook them.

[ted id=848]

How to Keep Everyone’s Accounts Safe

Now for a more practical idea, Lorrie Faith Cranor has studied thousands of passwords, and the pointers she gives can make you and your team feel a bit safer in the recent threats on cyber security.

First of all, you probably know that you’re not supposed to write your passwords down or re-use them (oops), so I’ll skip to the juicy stuff.

There are several ways to come up with memorable AND safe passwords. For example, she discovered that you don’t have to include all kinds of confusing symbols in your password. Instead you can make it: longer (a phrase or sentence) or a combination of random words (something like cat window tree fall). Even a shorter pseudo-word works (as long as it’s pronounceable).

Also, she advises to let a computer generate it for you because you apparently suck at it. And whatever you do, DO NOT use: iloveyou, monkey, and names of pets. Apparently, everybody thinks monkeys are cute.

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Take a closer look at the image above. It contains the most commonly used words and combinations in passwords, which you’re not supposed to use yourself because the hackers will immediately sniff you down. And set some guidelines for your employees, too. All this time they’ve been walking around with (possibly) very shitty passwords.

[ted id=2030]

How to Avoid Unnecessary Meetings

And we end with David Grady’s classic “How to Save the World (or at least yourself) from Bad Meetings”, which is very topical seeing as Amazemeet is a tool for better meetings (which you can find here).

In his talk, Grady announces that there is a global epidemic called MAS: Mindless Accept Syndrome, which has gripped every worker, everywhere. It makes you accept invitations to meetings and suffer endless hours of frustration because you didn’t take the time to investigate.

nomaslol

The solution: say NO MAS and click the tentative button on your invitation, and talk to the person to check if your presence is really necessary. Are you doing that? If not, it’s time to start…

[ted id=2135]

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Stop wasting your time and other people’s and start valuing it. Lock your team in a room with padded walls and play them all of the above talks if you have to, just don’t underestimate the most valuable thing you have at your possession — it’s not your money, it’s your time.

The Number One Meeting Rule: If You Are In, Be In.

I really don’t want to be here!

How often have you sat in a meeting and wished you were somewhere else, or seen others who are clearly miles away – in some other work, some other place or time.
The signs are always there – staring into the distance, fiddling with a gadget or being engrossed in the laptop.

When I convene any meeting of more than 3 people – I stress my number rule of group collaboration:

It’s ok to be out, but if you are in – be in!

What does it mean to be ‘In’?

Being ‘In’ means being 100% engaged in the conversation – you don’t have to talk all the time or do anything spectacular, you just need to be mentally and emotionally present.
When you are in – you are focused on the conversation. You are listening, questioning, participating with others to reach the purpose of the conversation.

It is a specific kind of mindfulness – being in the moment, listening without judgement and being open to what is emerging – with the added aspect of doing it towards the purpose of the conversation.  Being ‘in’ is pretty hard to sustain for long periods.  Clearly, how long anyone can sustain it at a stretch is relative and personal – for me, I struggle to be ‘in’ for more than 45 minutes at a time.

Why is it important to be ‘In’?

important , Be in photo


Image by Valerie Everett

There are few reasons why being present and accounted for in any conversation is important, here are some that I think are particularly important:

You get more from your conversation
Your senses are open to more that is being said – you really hear what is being discussed. You notice more, you question more and you likely get better answers.

You give more to your conversation.
When you are engaged and present, your collaborators feel that you are engaged and so you are more likely to have your input respected and heard. With your senses in the conversation, it is more likely that your collaborators feel they are being heard – one of our fundamental human needs.

Your conversations become more productive.
Imagine if everyone was ‘in’ – there would be fewer distractions and fewer distractions tolerated. You and your group could focus all your resources on the purpose at hand. With this kind of collective focus, your group will

You can count on your co-collaborators and they can count on you.
There is nothing worse than not being able to count on the participation of people who show up at a meeting. You are there for a purpose and there are people who don’t really want to be there – they are less likely to help tease and idea into some wonderful. If they contribute at all, it is usually because they are prodded to respond and even then, it is the barest minimum engagement.

When you are ‘in’ , your collaborators learn to count on you being present and you can count on them for the same.

5 Tips for being ‘In’.

laptops , Be in photo

  1. Have more interesting meetings
    You are more likely to be ‘in’ if something that is being discussed interests you  –  either that you can contribute to or learn from. So learn to say ‘No’ to meetings that do not interest you.
  2. Have shorter meetings
    It is a safe bet that anything over 1 hour without breaks will burn out the ability to be ‘in’ of most people. Encourage people who invite you to meetings to keep them shorter to help you give your undivided presence.
  3. Ban laptops in meetings, discourage phone fiddling
    Meetings where everyone is armed with their laptops are awful – everyone has their head down doing who-knows-what. Declare a general amnesty and ask attendees to check their ‘weapons’ at the door – this could actually be another way to get shorter meetings. Few people in this ‘always on’ world can bear to be away from email or IM for more than an hour!
    Also – ask that people not check their phones – put them on silent or vibrate – instead build breaks every 15 minutes or so to help them get their notification fix.
  4. Be Explicit.
    Be explicit about being ‘in’ , but make it ok to be ‘out’ and people don’t have to attend if they are ‘out’.
  5. Explicitly Check In
    For longer meetings – do a check in at the start and after every break. Also make it ok for attendees to ‘check out’ at any time – by raising their hand or simply notifying the group with as little disruption as possible.

I hope these tips help you be more present in your meetings and to recognise when others are. I’d love to hear what other ways you find to help you and your group be ‘in’.


Image by David Blackwell.

Mindfulness for #Success: It Takes Three Simple Steps and No Meditation

Did you hear about executives taking up mindfulness for success?

I learned about mindfulness at University. From day one I was hooked and proceeded to spend all of my time into pouring over journal articles on the topic. The more I did, the more value I saw in it — it bolsters up your immune system, improves concentration and productivity, and relieves stress. It could even be one of the keys to longevity.

However, there is a problem when it comes to pitching mindfulness to modern people. The modern person is more data-driven than heart-driven. So what’s the first thing you imagine when you hear mindfulness?

meditation

You’re also thinking there’s no way that could help your day-to-day routine, right? Don’t worry, that’s what I’m here for: to break the association. 

There has been a misconception about mindfulness — that it is a spiritual thing, which is not entirely true. While you can make it whatever you want it to be, data-driven people tend to steer clear from heart-driven practices.

If you have heard of the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, you probably know that he’s been consulting a bunch of high-profile tech companies in Silicon Valley. CEO’s have spent a lot of time and money on “turning towards their inner selves and realizing the truth of our inner-connectedness”.

That’s a beautiful concept but… it’s definitely a good way to lose a skeptic. Not to mention, there are wildly inaccurate definitions like:

Mindfulness is a form of meditation rooted in spiritual teaching in which people focus their full attention on the present moment.

This is why you might think mindfulness is bullshit — because it sounds so far removed from your modern values. But let’s see…

What mindfulness really is

The best working definition is:

the ability to cultivate a focused, non-judgmental awareness on the present moment

It’s not about connecting to your inner self or your spirit animal or God. It doesn’t even require you to meditate! It’s about being present. Simply, mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness. Examples of mindlessness:

  • Rushing through activities without being attentive to them.
  • Breaking or spilling things because of carelessness, inattention, or thinking of something else.
  • Failing to notice subtle feelings of physical tension or discomfort.
  • Forgetting a person’s name almost as soon as we’ve heard it.
  • Finding ourselves preoccupied with the future or the past.
  • Snacking without being aware of eating.

How often do you experience those? Yeah, me too.

When it feels like everything is vying for your attention — the media, the family, the boss, the past, the future — you split yourself in so many ways that you don’t even realize what the consequences are — lower productivity, shorter attention span, inability to enjoy a pleasant moment, etc.

This is why you need mindfulness to anchor you to the present moment.

undivided attention

Wouldn’t that be something? Anything you’re doing right now could be enhanced into something magnificent.

If you recall, there’s a powerful read called Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who talks about this wonderful state of consciousness where you’re immersed in the moment, completely satisfied by what you’re doing. And while that usually happens when you create things, it could be achieved in other contexts, too. Mindfulness can take you there because it makes you an active participant in the process, as opposed to a distracted one that only does a half-ass job.

Not to mention… when you make decisions and assign tasks, you’re always hung up on all the details and people involved. It’s a good break for the brain to simply look at something as it is, as opposed to how you see it — sometimes creativity and innovation depend on it.

How can you become more mindful?

Now we’re getting to it. I’m not really a fan of meditation, so it’s good news that I don’t have to do it to achieve mindfulness. Sure, there are mindfulness meditation (Vipassana) and loving kindness meditation, but you and me can learn to be present by following three simple steps:

  1. Noticing
  2. Accepting and —
  3. Practicing

What are you doing right now? Stop. Look around you. Smell the air. Is it fresh? How does it feel against your skin? How does breathing feel?

Focus on those questions and the answers that come naturally. Don’t get distracted. The moment your mind starts veering off into its previous routine of round-and-round thinking, pinch yourself and go back to feeling the air and seeing your surroundings. Right now, you’re aware of everything — you’re noticing things without the interruptions of your mind, and noticing is the difference between looking and seeing.

Whatever you’re seeing or feeling right now, I want you to accept it.

This is the tricky part because we are all a bit of control freaks. But when you accept things, you feel like a huge weight has been lifted. This is because you’ve been carrying the weight of judgment. When you remove judgment from seeing, it’s just experiencing. Nothing more. And it feels light because your mind is unencumbered by something it wasn’t built for.

programming

Finally, if you want to be able to be mindful at will, you have to habitualize the process. They say it takes 10,000 kicks and 30 days to internalize a process, but that’s a number’s game. Instead, try with a trigger and routine. (Borrowed from The Power of Habit and Hooked.)

The trigger might be a yawn during the day or a headache at the end of it. It could a time of day or someone saying a particular word. The trigger will act as an alarm to wake you up from your default autopilot program.

For example, it could be blue buttons you stick around you, and you have to pause and be mindful when you see them. (But that could be quite often.)

Whatever trigger you chose, you have to always follow up with your routine — which can be anything involving noticing things and suspending judgment. If you can be mindful for one minute every day, you’ll get the hang of it, and the results will last you a lifetime. The rest is just practice.

Personally, I have benefited from mindfulness in two instances:

  1. When I have to wait in line and —
  2. When I’m enjoying good time with friends

In the first instance, my trigger is queuing up on a line. While I’d usually get worked up and impatient about it, not I’m just quiet and calm.

In the second instance, it’s helped me to stop and connect to a happy moment. I mean, there’s all this wonderful energy around me and I’m reminded of work or checking my phone or thinking about what I’m going to say next. Now I have to stop and look around —marvel at how perfect my life is at this moment in time. It’s a much-needed treat.

Do you have your trigger and routine in mind? You can wing it, but it would be even better if you took the time to write them down now. I’d be super-happy to see them in the comments below. 🙂

When to Listen to Your Gut and When to Tell It to Shut Up

Many a business has been conceived, born, and grown on a hunch. Consider the typical story of the young rebellious founder who invested all of their time and effort into a risky idea and won out big. Or the precarious businessman who has somehow developed an intuition for the “ways of the business”. Or even the person who dreams of something and it happens.

Most of it is just residual from the time we needed instinct and intuition to navigate the dangerous lands and avoid animals that could kill us. But ever since we became intelligent and reasonable beings, the need for this “sixth sense” has been less pronounced. Nevertheless, it has stuck with us. Just look at the successful people who swear by it. Steve Jobs called intuition “more powerful than intellect”. Another intellectual who valued it was Einstein:

There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.

So there is something there, something that invites a deeper look. In my own personal experience — which is not that much — I have found that not everything I consider a hunch is one. On the other hand, almost every time I’ve had a hunch and not acted on it, I’ve lost ground.

So should you listen to your gut? The answer: it depends. So what I’ll do is list five instances and go with either yes or no or both.

Ready? Go.

When It’s a Big Deal – Yes

So you have to buy a house. Or a car. Or there’s a big merger on the horizon. In other words you have to make a big choice, so you start weighing all the pros and cons. You ask your partner, your friends, your boss. And the more you think about it, the hardest the choice becomes. Stop.

What you have to do in this instance is trust your first instinct.

Science tells us that you’ll be happier if you decide quickly and intuitively. So when a bunch of car-buyers were choosing, the ones who took their time were on average less happy than the ones who chose quickly.

overthinking-gif

It has something to do with over-thinking — the more information piles up, the more confused you get, and your decision-making ability becomes stunted. It’s important to be able to decide quickly and firmly. Otherwise you’ll be like me — spending two hours on a birthday card.

When You Have a “Bad Feeling” – No

So you’re working at home, you’re tired and stressed, and you’re on the brink of a major deal… except suddenly you get the “feeling” that it’s not going to happen. It’s going to slip through your fingers.

Relax. This is a classic case of fear-induced inference. What your brain does is start worrying on a rational level, which then spirals into irrational fast. It’s because of the emotional feedback you’re sending to your brain when you worry continuously. Consider the jealous boyfriend who becomes convinced that his girlfriend is cheating on him, and the more he suspects, the more he thinks he “knows” that it’s happening.

Furthermore, when it comes to emotions (and stress), the brain can get easily confused — we all know it’s true when we’re in love. I mean, of course your brain will get confused — you feel the same in the gut when you feel scared and when you feel excited. Have you thought about that?

So next time you have a “bad feeling”, make sure it’s grounded in logic, not in your gut. The gut can be a deceiving devil.

When Something Could Harm You – Yes

Evolutionary speaking, we’re animals, and animals process cues from their environment to look out for dangerous elements, like bigger animals. When all signs lead to CODE RED, we crank up the biological alarm. Sometimes it’s not as bad as “fight or flight”, but just a tiny alert saying “something’s not right here”. Then you look around and everything seems fine.

My advice? Get to safety fast. Your brain is a complex machine. It’s able to process cues at a very fast speed, which sometimes get stuck in the unconscious part, but manage to manifest into a gut feeling.

One such example is the case of a Formula One driver, who braked just on time to save his life — without any initial warning, just a sense that something was wrong. What happened was that his brain processed the cue — the crowd not cheering — and “sensed” that something must be off.

Indeed, this very ability of ours to sense danger and act on it in a split second is what keeps us alive sometimes. So listen to your gut when it warns you about danger. They say, better safe than sorry, for a good reason.

When You Jump to Conclusions – Both

So you have just met a candidate for a job and something about the way they talk makes you “feel” uncomfortable. It’s a hunch.

If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s incredible book Blink, you’d know that you’re actually amazingly good at thin-slicing — which means judging something without having any information about it. So, for example, you see a person and you can instantly judge what their personality is.

But there’s another side to this — stereotypes. Some preconceived ideas that we hold about certain groups can harm us or those around us. Even though these ideas are not true, we have the feeling that they are. So when you meet someone for the first time, give them a chance to show you what they’re like. Especially if you’re aware of any prejudice that you might have.

Also, Gladwell specifically stresses the danger of thin-slicing when you don’t have enough experience. For example, an experienced trader can immediately predict what’s going to happen before it does, and while some may call this a hunch, it’s just their mind thin-slicing — processing the information they have in a very fast, practiced way.

So the more experience you have, the more you can trust your gut. 🙂

When Someone Might Be Lying – Both

Sometimes you know in your gut something’s wrong with someone, but there’s absolutely no evidence. They act nice, they smile at you, and they’re nice to your friends. But your gut just won’t let go of this feeling.

Then it turns out that person is a psychological liar. Ouch.

It happened to me a few years back. One of my so-called friends was lying about literally everything, but instead of disappointment, I felt relief, because my gut had known it all along.

social_psychopath-vs-sociopath

If your gut tells you there’s something wrong with someone, you should listen. (Especially if this feeling lasts a long time.) Even if you can’t see any evidence to support your case, your brain is picking up cues — body language, visual discrepancies, mistakes — which it then processes and makes its conclusions on a subconscious level.

Research suggests that we’re bad at spotting liars, but we’re better when we take away information. So if you know this person, you’re less likely to figure that they’re lying than if you’ve just seen their photo.

Moral of the story? Whether someone’s really lying to you or not, you should always listen to your gut when it nags you.

In conclusion,

A great rule of thumb: Trust your gut when you have no reason to believe it is deceiving you. And I’ve only shared a few scenarios here, but there are many more out there. What are your experiences of trusting or ignoring your gut?

Fearless Searching – manage your fears to get more of what you want.

Full Disclosure: I’m not one for all the commercial hippy dippy positivity stuff. When I have read many of the self improvement style books in the past, it has felt unreal and disconnected. And don’t get me started on the tapes – the schmoltz is enough to make you wretch.

Life is all about searching

search ,  photoOne of the most transformative discoveries I made was from Steve Blank – the tireless mentor of generations of entrepreneurs. It was about how Steve defined a startup as being:

.. a temporary organization used to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.

This idea of a search – and consequently a search space – was very profound for me. It means I could be systematic in getting more of the things I want.

Steve was pivotal for me in a couple of ways. Firstly by framing the entrepreneurial work as a search and, secondly, for naming what the startup founder is searching for.

Think of everything you have done in your life – what was it for? Why go to school and university or dates? Why travel and explore?

There are a number of ways to frame these experiences  – I prefer to frame them as a search.

I went dating because I was searching for companionship. I went to university in search of knowledge and a basis for a profession. I go to the cinema in search of some entertainment.

How do you find a needle in a haystack?

Haystack ,  photoImagine you lost a golden needle in a haystack.  How might you find it?

Imagine also that you have an irrational fear of hay or extreme hay allergies – how might this help or hinder your search for the needle?

Or perhaps you fear looking silly sifting through hay for a needle?

Any of the above would probably stop you finding your needle.

Now imagine if you had a fear of flying that would limit – pretty severely – how far you might travel to search for new cultural experiences.

Or if you had a fear of conflict, you might never have your ideas challenged and improved through healthy debate.

Name your Search, name your fears

list ,  photoDo this little experiment – you’ll need a pen and some paper.

First,  write down what you are searching for by going to work. For example: I go to work because I’m searching for financial security.

Next, write down 3 things that you are afraid of that apply to that search. For example: I’m afraid of appearing ‘unprofessional’ by arriving late for meetings

Finally, for each 3 things you are afraid of, come up with 3 things you are almost uncomfortable with to try and make it a little better. You might need to ask a friend for suggestions or do some research about how you might manage the fear. try and keep the actions mostly dependent on things you will do i.e not waiting on someone else.
For example: I’ll set an alarm so that I can arrive at meetings 5 minutes early.

How was that? Don’t worry if you didn’t get  absolutely 3 things per fear – the goal is to think through this and find the smallest steps you can take towards managing your fear so that you can minimize their ability to affect your search. Remember – you do not have to conquer your fears entirely in order to prevent them from affecting your search.

3 things you can do now to make fearless searching a habit

brush teeth ,  photoThe above was a simple exercise, but for it to work, you have to do it for real and review regularly. To get the benefits of fearless searching, you have to get habitual. It can be pretty hard at the beginning , however you can use a little bit of will-power now to avoid using much more in the future.

Here are 3 things you can do right now to help you build the habit to help you get good at fearless searching.

  1. Keep your output from the previous exercise – this is as good a place to start. Pick one thing you will do and by when you will do it.
  2. Make an appointment in your calendar to review your list and the action you took. A week away usually works best.
  3. Send the appointment to a friend and ask them to call you on the day as though you were meeting. If you don’t have someone to do this with – I’m happy to help – add me to your calendar

Go forth and be fearless in your search. I’d love to hear how you get on with this.

Fearless Searching – manage your fears to get more of what you want.

Full Disclosure: I’m not one for all the commercial hippy dippy positivity stuff. When I have read many of the self improvement style books in the past, it has felt unreal and disconnected. And don’t get me started on the tapes – the schmoltz is enough to make you wretch.

Life is all about searching

search ,  photoOne of the most transformative discoveries I made was from Steve Blank – the tireless mentor of generations of entrepreneurs. It was about how Steve defined a startup as being:

.. a temporary organization used to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.

This idea of a search – and consequently a search space – was very profound for me. It means I could be systematic in getting more of the things I want.

Steve was pivotal for me in a couple of ways. Firstly by framing the entrepreneurial work as a search and, secondly, for naming what the startup founder is searching for.

Think of everything you have done in your life – what was it for? Why go to school and university or dates? Why travel and explore?

There are a number of ways to frame these experiences  – I prefer to frame them as a search.

I went dating because I was searching for companionship. I went to university in search of knowledge and a basis for a profession. I go to the cinema in search of some entertainment.

How do you find a needle in a haystack?

Haystack ,  photoImagine you lost a golden needle in a haystack.  How might you find it?

Imagine also that you have an irrational fear of hay or extreme hay allergies – how might this help or hinder your search for the needle?

Or perhaps you fear looking silly sifting through hay for a needle?

Any of the above would probably stop you finding your needle.

Now imagine if you had a fear of flying that would limit – pretty severely – how far you might travel to search for new cultural experiences.

Or if you had a fear of conflict, you might never have your ideas challenged and improved through healthy debate.

Name your Search, name your fears

list ,  photoDo this little experiment – you’ll need a pen and some paper.

First,  write down what you are searching for by going to work. For example: I go to work because I’m searching for financial security.

Next, write down 3 things that you are afraid of that apply to that search. For example: I’m afraid of appearing ‘unprofessional’ by arriving late for meetings

Finally, for each 3 things you are afraid of, come up with 3 things you are almost uncomfortable with to try and make it a little better. You might need to ask a friend for suggestions or do some research about how you might manage the fear. try and keep the actions mostly dependent on things you will do i.e not waiting on someone else.
For example: I’ll set an alarm so that I can arrive at meetings 5 minutes early.

How was that? Don’t worry if you didn’t get  absolutely 3 things per fear – the goal is to think through this and find the smallest steps you can take towards managing your fear so that you can minimize their ability to affect your search. Remember – you do not have to conquer your fears entirely in order to prevent them from affecting your search.

3 things you can do now to make fearless searching a habit

brush teeth ,  photoThe above was a simple exercise, but for it to work, you have to do it for real and review regularly. To get the benefits of fearless searching, you have to get habitual. It can be pretty hard at the beginning , however you can use a little bit of will-power now to avoid using much more in the future.

Here are 3 things you can do right now to help you build the habit to help you get good at fearless searching.

  1. Keep your output from the previous exercise – this is as good a place to start. Pick one thing you will do and by when you will do it.
  2. Make an appointment in your calendar to review your list and the action you took. A week away usually works best.
  3. Send the appointment to a friend and ask them to call you on the day as though you were meeting. If you don’t have someone to do this with – I’m happy to help – add me to your calendar

Go forth and be fearless in your search. I’d love to hear how you get on with this.