Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Forget Planning? Plan For Opportunities?

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

“The only thing we know for certain about your plan is that the numbers in it are wrong,” said Peter Zaballos, who was in the venture capital business at the time. But anyone who has ever developed a budget for anything, let alone started a business, knows that all too well. So why bother? Why bother planning or budgeting?

In the book, Reworked, authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson said, “Unless you’re a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy. There are just too many factors that are out of your hands: market conditions, competitors, customers, the economy, etc. Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control… Why don’t we just call plans what they really are: guesses.”

Great! One less thing to do. Eliminate all planning, all budgeting. Yippee! Less work.

While I agree one hundred percent with Peter’s comment about all numbers being wrong, I think the most important part of planning is not the end product – not the plan itself. No, the value comes from the process of planning. It’s the thinking that goes into the planning. It’s identifying the critical metrics, the things that make the biggest differences to your business. Without thinking through the plan, it’s likely you won’t identify them until it’s too late.

Ahhh, but Fried and Hansson do hit on a key point: “Plans are inconsistent with improvisation… And you have to be able to improvise. You have to be able to pick up opportunities that come along.”

Have you seen the Facebook and Twitter page, Sh*t My Dad Says? Just one year ago, the author of this page, Justin Halpern, was nowhere. He had a job, but his girlfriend had just dumped him, he moved in with his parents, and the future didn’t sound too bright. Within a month or so he started tweeting “Sh*t” his dad had and was saying, and within a couple of months of that he had over a million fans of the page. The agents started calling, he’s released a book, and work has begun on a sitcom based on it. To say his life has changed in the past year is an understatement. Oh, and the “Sh*t” Halpern senior says is pretty funny.

Did Halpern have a business plan? I don’t think so! I think he “picked up opportunities that come along.” I’m pretty sure Halpern is the exception to the rule, though. I don’t think this type of experience happens that often.

Something I’ve noticed is that opportunities seem to come to those who do put it out there – they plan for big things, they stretch, they think outside the box. So, planning shouldn’t box you in, it shouldn’t limit your thinking. It should make you think deeply about you want to do, but you then need to be open to opportunities. I think I’m on my seventh or eighth career right now, all because I had a plan, and then have been open to opportunities. Fun stuff – the planning, and the opportunities.

TED, Sir Ken, Creativity & God

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

When was the last time you checked out TED talks? I love them – they trigger thought, they entertain, they inform, and they can make you laugh. Go to if you’ve never seen them, and watch and listen. By the way, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

One of my favorite TED-talks is one from Sir Ken Robinson. It is focused on education, and how it can sometimes limit creativity. It is also very entertaining, as Robinson is a fantastic speaker – he’s also very funny. Check it out at

Robinson makes a great point when he suggests that education, where it limits creativity, is doing society a great dis-service. He believes we need to adjust our thinking about what traditional education focuses on. As Robinson points out, most education is focused on the “serious” subjects like math, language, sciences and history. Instead, he believes more emphasis should be put on creative subjects such as art and music.

Sir Ken does a much better job of presenting his reasons for his recommendations than I do, so I strongly suggest you watch his TED-talk. But because I love one story he tells so much I can’t resist re-telling it here.

There was a young girl in an art class, drawing away, as did everyone in the class. The teacher moved around the room, and then stopped next to the young girl and asked, “What are you drawing?”

The young girl responded, “God.”

“Well, no one knows what God looks like,” the teacher said.

And the girl replied, “They will in a few minutes.”

I love that story!

Robinson suggests that some education sucks the creativity out of us. I think Pablo Picasso would agree with him when he said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

How does this apply to your world? Do you encourage imagination, both in yourself and others? Performance often comes as a result of imagination, creativity. Giving yourself and others an opportunity to stretch the mind is the only way to make big gains. Read The Art of Innovation, by David Kelley for creative approaches to enhancing imagination and creativity in the workplace. More and more companies, like Google, are giving employees time to work on their own projects, encouraging them to think outside the box.

Come to think of it, thinking outside the box is a common saying… but is it something that you practice? Could you draw a picture of God?

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Pink, Motivation, Drive & the Non-Idiots Club

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. That’s the title of Daniel Pink’s new book, and it’s awesome for anyone in business (Interested in learning how to motivate employees?). It’s also great for parents. And anyone who works with others in sports or the arts. Okay, for practically anyone. Anyone interested in learning about what motivates us.

I love this book! Why? Well, partly because it’s typical of Pink’s writing – clear, easy-to-read, well-researched, and entertaining. But also because it supports what I’ve been saying, pushing for, and communicating for a number of years. And, because through the research that Pink writes about, he’s proven to me that I’m not quite the idiot that some people think!

I once worked very hard to promote and implement performance-enhancing systems, processes and management approaches that are in alignment with the research in Drive. But I was up against what Pink refers to as Motivation 2.0 thinking – the old carrot and stick model of motivating employees. After a great deal of effort and banging my head against the wall, even I began to believe that I might be an idiot for the way I was thinking.

My thinking had come from four sources:

  • Reading huge volumes of information from a variety of disciplines, ranging from business school texts to coaching books.
  • Hands-on, in-the-trenches experience.
  • Coach training.
  • A lot of thought, reflection and consideration.

When I read something, I’d think about it and then apply it. If it worked, I’d do more of it, and think about why it worked. If it continued to work, I’d do a lot more of it, and think even more. And if it still continued to work, I’d come to the conclusion that this should be used by more than just me – I tried to synthesize and systemize it, teach the techniques, develop a culture that supported it, and promote the approach in a way that anyone could gain from it.

What was it that I was trying to drive into the organization? What Pink calls Motivation 3.0. If Motivation 1.0 is our basic survival needs (hunger, thirst and sex), and Motivation 2.0 is the carrot and stick approach of getting people to do things, Motivation 3.0 is made up of three things:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

I plan to write more about autonomy, mastery and purpose in future blogs. But, if you have any interest in helping others perform better, whether as a manager, a business owner, a leader, a coach, a teacher, or a parent, I highly recommend you read Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

And, if you’ve ever felt deep down inside that there’s more to motivating others than just dangling a carrot or threatening with a stick, read Drive. You may find out you’re not an idiot after all! You may find that what your gut has been telling you all along is backed up by solid research – research that can help you help others perform even better.

Welcome to the Non-Idiots Club and the future of motivation.

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What Matters in 2010

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Welcome to 2010, and my new website. Time to think about What Matters Now.

Seth Godin, the writer, blogger, marketer and guy-that-makes-people-think-differently is helping us think about what matters now. He started a project where he asked what he calls “big thinkers” to suggest just one word to think about going into the new year. He then had each of them write no more than one page about their word. The result, a free ebook, is fascinating, inspiring, challenging and fun.

Download it here, read it, share it, think about it, share it some more, re-read it, and then share it with even more people.

More than seventy interesting people participated in this project, each submitting one word and their thoughts about why. Some of my favorites are:

  • Meaning. Hugh McLeod, author, provides some simple sentences relating to meaning, such as “Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside,” and, ”You are responsible for your own experience.”
  • Vision. “When times are tough, vision is the first casualty. Before conditions can improve, it is the first thing we must recover,” says Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers.
  • Enrichment. Rajesh Setty says, “Through choosing to enrich other people’s lives, you add meaning to both their life and your own.”
  • Excellence. The management guru and author, Tom Peters provides 19 words beginning with the letter “E” that leads to excellence in one’s life.
  • Ripple. John Wood Founder & Executive Chairman of Room to Read, urges us to help children learn to read, for that child will help others, and they will help others, and…

Oops. I had meant to skim through What Matters Now and pick out just a few of my favorites. The five that I just mentioned were in the first third of the book. Instead, I got caught up in reading the whole thing again. Not that it takes long to read – that’s the cool thing about it. You can read the entire ebook in no time – unless you think about what’s being said. And that’s the fun part.

Download it, read it, think about it, share it. What Matters Now. It’ll impact your performance.

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Where Does Success Come From?

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

SuccessWhat makes some people successful, and others not so? I’m mostly talking about in the business world, although it could be in any activity. What makes some people perform so much better than others? This is a question I’ve spent a lot of time – years, in fact – thinking about, and studying. I get excited just thinking about it, I’m so passionate about human performance. Okay, I may not be “normal,” but that’s just who I am.

So, what makes some people perform better than others?

Is it talent? Not entirely, if you follow the latest research (most of which is written about in the excellent book, Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin). Sure, it’s important, but as I talked about in a previous post (The Myth About Natural Talent) it’s not everything. In fact, it may be much less of the performance equation than many people think.

Is it skills and knowledge? Well, one certainly needs skills and knowledge to do a job well, but is that the key? Have you ever met anyone who is extremely skilled and knowledgeable, but who doesn’t perform very well? Have you ever seen a person with an impressive list of accreditations and accomplishments fail at a new job?

Is it focus? You know, being focused on the right things at the right time? That’s important, isn’t it?

Is it motivation? Sure. But not without the skills and knowledge to do the job. And the focus. Motivated mayhem does not lead to great performance.

Is it fit – you know, fitting into the culture of the company or team? That’s part of it. But again, without the skills and knowledge, and without being aimed in the right direction, fit isn’t everything.

Is it personality? Hey, that’s important. I’m sure you’ve seen very talented, very skilled, very knowledgeable, very motivated people who fit the culture of the company or team who failed. Why? Because their personality sucked. Okay, maybe not that bad, but let’s just say their personality didn’t fit with their co-workers or teammates.

Is it the person’s manager (or sports coach)? Yes, the manager plays a big role in how well someone performs, and that is going to impact how much success they have – I talked about this in a previous post, too (How Important Is Management?). In fact, I’m sure you’ve seen poor performers who were transformed into superstars by a different manager, and vice versa. But is it just a person’s manager?

Is it communication? Without good communication, no one is going to perform very well, right?

Is it the person’s own mission being in alignment with the company’s mission? Very important. But is it the most important factor?

My point here is that performance is not a simple thing. It’s not just one thing. Of course, everyone knows that, right? Then why do so many people look for the silver bullet, that one simple thing that is going to transform themselves or others into superstar performers?

I’m sure I’ve missed many factors here that lead to great performance, and to success. This is one of those posts that provides more questions than it does answers, so I’m waiting to hear your thoughts…

Feedback Sucks!

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Get your attention? Then listen up. Your employees are begging for feedback. They’re craving it. They’re practically screaming for it.

Give it to them.

Just take a look at the numbers in Mark Murphy’s blog, Employees Are Desperate For Feedback. According to a study by Leadership IQ, “Fifty-one percent of employees do not know whether their performance is where it should be.”

That’s half of the employees surveyed in the study (3,611 employees) admitting to not knowing where they stand. Only 21 percent said they knew where they stood, with the balance being in the middle.

Why? Why are managers so determined to not provide feedback? Is it that they think that’s too “touchy-feely”? Too personal? Is it that they think employees should just get on with the job and forget about what others think? Do they think employees can read their mind?

Here’s what I think is a big part of the reason: It’s a generational thing.

If you’re a Baby Boomer, you’re more likely to come from the world of “just get on with,” and “I hate all that personal stuff.” It’s certainly how our parents worked, and the trickle down effect of their parenting lead to many of us being the same. Our parents got little feedback, so they gave us little feedback. You need to be tough, you know.

digital game based learningBut, if you’re a Gen-Xer or Gen-Yer, or as Marc Prensky coined, a “Digital Native” (someone who grew up with computers and playing computer-based games) in his book Digital Game-Based Learning, you’re used to feedback. A lot of it. Immediate. Now. More of it. Feedback. That’s what computer games do. That’s what they’re based on. You do something, and you get immediate feedback. Confirming feedback (that worked, so do more of that), or corrective feedback (that didn’t work, so do something different).

My guess is that there are many Baby Boomers managing Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers. And half the Gen-X/Yers are crying out for feedback. In fact, according to the study, two out of every three employees say they have too little interaction with their computer game… I mean, with their boss. See, they are used to having immediate interaction with their games, with their computer. But with their bosses… well, they don’t get enough interaction, enough feedback.

I once had a boss that I wouldn’t even see for over a week at a time. And when I did see him, I would not get any feedback. No, feedback was reserved for that one meeting each year – the annual performance review. That lasted no more than 20 minutes, and consisted of him telling me, “Keep up the good work.” I didn’t even know what it was that was “good,” so I didn’t know what I should keep doing. So, I just did what I thought was the right thing to do and hoped that was it. Hope. A pretty good strategy, right?

My bet is this: If you talked to the bosses of the employees that said they didn’t get enough interaction and asked them if they interacted enough with their employees, most would say yes. Their perception is they interact enough. Their employees say they don’t. Makes you wonder what your employees think.

If there are any Gen-Xers or Gen-Yers reporting to you, I suggest you think more like a computer game and give plenty of feedback, immediately. That is if you care about how they perform. Because, for some reason, when most people do not get the feedback they want, they assume the worst.

Oh, by the way… I wouldn’t mind some feedback, too. I’ve been thinking about stopping this blog since I get so little feedback. I mean, what’s the point? Based on the lack of feedback, the only conclusion I can come to is that I’m doing a terrible job or no one cares whether I continue or not.

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The Invisible Coach

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

In his book, Sacred Hoops (one of my favorites), Phil Jackson, perhaps that greatest basketball coach of all time, talks about control. He relates the story of Bobby Knight, the college basketball coach who commented about how he could never coach in the NBA “because the coaches don’t have any control over the players.” Jackson’s response to this is, “How much control do you need?”

Jackson talks about a period during the 1991-1992 season where the Chicago Bulls “were in such perfect harmony they rarely lost.” To him, this was exactly what he’d been striving for: to become an “invisible” leader.

In my own coaching, that’s been a goal of mine: To be so effective that the person I’m coaching loses sight that I’m actually doing anything; the person doesn’t realize that I’m contributing in any way and I become an Invisible Coach.

That’s happened a few times, and it’s extremely rewarding. It’s happened with race drivers, and it’s happened with business executives and managers I’ve coached. They only realize the full value of my coaching when faced with a challenging issue, and they come knocking.

While it’s rewarding, it can be a little unnerving from a job security point of view, and even from an ego perspective. Hey, let’s face it – some of the reward of coaching, or managing others is seeing them do what you’ve told or advised them to do, and seeing them be successful because of that. That does feel good. And yet, when you’re invisible, you aren’t able to get that immediate feedback. And you can begin to worry that if you’re not seen as providing great advice or direction, then maybe you won’t be needed.

Great leaders, as Phil Jackson suggests, can be invisible leaders. The challenge for so many is having the discipline not to stick their fingers in where they’re not needed. One of Jackson’s great attributes is his self-discipline, his ability to not do any more than needed.

Coaching, managing others, and leading people can be done in a subtle way, an invisible way. Have you ever experienced a situation where a manager, or leader, or coach helped you in a subtle way – a way that resulted in you figuring out what was needed, a way that resulted in a great result, a way that made you feel good about how it came about, and yet, in a way that the leader/manager/coach barely seemed to be involved? How did you feel? I suspect you felt empowered.

Dwight Eisenhower said, “Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Are you the Bobby Knight-type, or the Phil Jackson-type when it comes to leading, managing or coaching? Do you use control to get things done, or are you more invisible or subtle type?

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Mind Mapping a Book

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Over the past couple of months I’ve been writing my latest book, and there are a few differences to the past eight books that I’ve written (well, published – I’ve written a few others that have not been published yet, but that’s a whole other story).

First, the topic of this book is… get ready… big surprise coming up… here it is… the topic is… performance in the workplace, and specifically how managers can bring out the best performance in their people.

But the second difference between my past books and this one is the process that I’m using to write it. I’m writing it using the mind mapping software, MindManager. If you’ve never used mind mapping to develop ideas and thoughts, you’re really missing something.

In his classic book, The Mind Map Book, Tony Buzan introduces mind mapping by claiming it’s “how to use radiant thinking to maximize your brain’s untapped potential.” Some consider Buzan to be the inventor of the mind map, but somehow I think people have been thinking in images and maps for centuries. I bet that there is a mind map scratched into the wall of a cave somewhere!

I’ve been using MindManager software for mind mapping to collect and organize my thoughts and ideas for years – and now to write a book. And by simply writing text in the notes section of each branch of the mind map, the book is coming together.

In the past, my process for writing a book worked like this: I’d make a list of all the topics I wanted to cover, organize them in sequential order, write all the content, realize that I needed to cut and paste topics around, move them around, re-write, edit, write more, and so on. Like most things, writing a book about any topic is not a sequential thing – rarely does any complex topic happen one-after-another. In reality, one sub-topic relates to another, and another, but the first sub-topic needs to be discussed first to get the basic concept out there, and then the other sub-topics can be talked about in more detail, then… well, the challenge with writing just about anything is explaining and presenting the information in a way that it builds upon itself, and in a way that the reader can truly understand.

With past books, I’ve used mind maps to lay out my basic ideas (like the one to the right which was used for Speed Secrets 5), then I would start writing in Word, and often I’d collect the key topics and sub-topics in a spreadsheet to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. Oh, plus I’d have handwritten notes stuffed into a folder, pulling them out whenever I remembered to check – if I did. Bringing all these ideas together in one place was not easy.

And that’s why I love mind mapping, and particularly MindManager. I can collect, organize, see the connections between various sub-topics, re-organize, integrate, add a quick note, and fine-tune over and over again in a very easy way. It’s a matter of dragging and dropping. And being able to write my content directly into MindManager means I don’t have to jump back and forth between multiple applications.

Partially as a learning process, and partly because I think it will result in a better book, I intend to write the entire book with MindManager. When it’s complete, I will then export it to Word and do my final editing. Now if I could only get MindManager to publish, distribute and sell the book once it’s finished! Hmmm… there’s an idea!

Of course, mind mapping and using MindManager is not just for writing books. I’d love to hear how others use it…

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How Important Is Management?

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Within a one a week period of time I spoke to two different people who had worked as a store manager for Starbucks. Interestingly, one said it was one of the best jobs he had ever had, and the other said it was the worst. What do you think was the difference?

Many of the people who work for Starbucks love it. One wrote a book about it: How Starbucks Saved My Life. Wow, that’s an endorsement for a great place to work, isn’t it?! In his book, Michael Gates Gill talks about how it was the perfect job for where he was in his life. But there was something else that made his time as a barista so rewarding. His manager.

The person I spoke to lately who loved his time at Starbucks talked about how he interacted with his regional manager at least twice a week, with a weekly in-person visit to talk through the details of the business, and a monthly visit from the regional manager’s boss.

And while the regular interaction was important, what really made this a great place for this person was the feedback he got. He knew what he was doing right, and what he needed to better. It wasn’t a case of “No news is good news” – the NNIGN problem. In so many organizations, the only feedback a person gets is when he or she does something wrong; if they don’t hear anything from their manager they can assume things are okay.

Of course, the problem with the NNIGN management approach is that humans often assume the worst. If they don’t hear anything, they begin to think something is wrong, or they are doing things wrong. So, unless they go out of their way to ask for some feedback, they stumble around, hoping they’re doing a good job. That’s not the ideal state for a person to perform well in.

Actually, what often happens is this: “Dianne” does a great job on a project, but gets no feedback from her manager. Her boss has the attitude that she should do her job, and if something needs fixing, he’ll let her know. Since Dianne doesn’t know whether she did a good job or not, the next time she is faced with a similar project, she tries something different. After all, the first approach didn’t get a response, so she might was well try something different. Dianne approaches the project differently, and if she gets lucky, she hears nothing; if she does it wrong, she’ll hear about it, and likely become frustrated by not knowing how to do things right.

In their book, How Did That Happen?, Roger Connors and Tom Smith writes about a job satisfaction survey conducted by the U.S. military, where jet fighter pilots were at the bottom of the list and cooks at the top. Why? Apparently, the fighter pilots rarely received any positive reinforcement; it was only when they got a chance to do what they were trained to do that they received any. Cooks, on the other hand, received immediate positive feedback three times a day. People are more engaged in their work – and more satisfied – when they fully understand what they’re doing right, and receive positive reinforcement.

The person who said that Starbucks was one of the worst working experiences he’d ever had complained about this very situation – a manager that would only communicate with him when he had done something the manager felt was wrong. The only feedback he got was to point out all the things he’d done wrong.

One company, two completely different experiences. The only difference was the manager, and specifically the amount of positive reinforcement or confirming feedback the person got. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

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Blogging About Blogs

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

I don’t know about you, but there are days… no, make that weeks when it seems I can’t keep up with all the reading I want and/or need to do. I suppose “want” is the most accurate word here, as no one is forcing me to do all the reading I do. But, on second thought, “need” really is the word that describes how I feel about what I read. It’s kinda like an addiction, this reading, this thirst for more knowledge that I have.

The other day I was trying to update my reading list on my LinkedIn account – – and realized that I’d probably shut the entire internet down if I listed every book I’d like to recommend! I ended up listing a couple more of my favorites, but I’m about a year behind from when I read them to when I list them on LinkedIn. Oh well…

Then there are blogs.

I have a few favorites that I like to read on a regular basis – that is, if you can call not reading them for a month, then reading every post all in one day regular. That seems to be my pattern: Ignore them all for a couple of weeks, then find some time to sit and read them all in one evening. I wish I could be a bit more regular with my blog-reading pattern. Oh well…

I love Peter Zaballos’ Open Ambition blog ( In addition to his insights from a side of the business world that many don’t get to see – as a venture capitalist – lately Peter has shared some of his experiences about a three-week hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. What I love about his blog is how it gets me thinking about business in different ways, and these latest posts get me thinking about a hiking adventure next summer. Hmmm…

Although much different, I also enjoy time at Zen Habits at How different is it from Open Ambition? Compare the venture capital world to an blogger living on Guam, and you begin to see the difference (although, I’m sure Peter’s hike led to some Zen-like habit-forming thoughts).

As a writer, Write to Done at is another of my favorite blogs. Interestingly, it’s written by the same person who writes Zen Habits (well, most of the time – he does have many guest bloggers).

Which brings me to my blog’s focus, performance and learning, and my favorite blogs that inspire me, that I learn from, that make me think. They are:

And from there I just go surfing through a variety of others, sometimes killing an entire evening just looking for more interesting blogs. But I always come back to the ones above. Sure, some of them have a commercial bent to them, but that’s okay as long as they inspire, teach and make me think.

Have I missed any? If you know of a blog that I should be reading, please let me know – send me a link. And then help me find more time in my day to read it.