Sunday, December 27, 2009

Live Your Dream

I've seen a few of these positive messages pop up in unsuspecting places and am always glad to have my camera with me when they appear. It's fun to think there's some mystery person is out there, doing graffiti in the middle of the night, encouraging us to live boldly.

Maybe he/she is some high school skater-punk who wants to distinguish themselves with a positive message from the rest of the graffiti crowd, or a disgruntled housewife who started tagging as a form of rebellion because she didn't have the chance to live her dream. Either way, it was a nice little surprise to catch this one in the wild!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Incremental Improvement, Kaizen (Are You Better Than Yesterday?)

Are You Better Than Yesterday? from the blog of Tim Ferris (author of The 4-Hour Work Week):
"When you’re trying to become more respected in your workplace or be healthier, the individual improvements you make each day often won’t lead directly to tangible results. This is, as we saw before, the reason big goals like these become so demotivating. So, for most of the big, difficult goals you’re striving for, it’s important to think not about getting closer each day to the goal, but rather, to think about doing better in your efforts toward that goal than yesterday.

I can’t, for example, guarantee that I’ll be less fat today than yesterday, but I can control whether I do more today to lose weight. And if I do, I have a right to feel good about what I’ve done. This consistent, measurable improvement in my actions frees me from the cycle of guilt and procrastination that most of us are ultimately defeated by when we try to do Big Important Things.

You also need to be happy with small amounts of “better.” Writing one more test than you did yesterday is enough to get you closer to the goal of “being better about unit testing.” If you’re starting at zero, one additional test per day is a sustainable rate, and by the time you can no longer do better than yesterday, you’ll find that you’re now “better about unit testing” and you don’t need to keep making the same improvements. If, on the other hand, you decided to go from zero to fifty tests on the first day of your improvement plan, the first day would be hard, and the second day probably wouldn’t happen. So, make your improvements small and incremental but daily."

This is very similar to the idea of Kaizen - a Japanese philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement throughout all aspects of life.

Kaizen has also been adopted as a business philosophy, with Toyota being the most widely-recognized companies to successfully implement the approach, particularly for manufacturing (Toyota Production System) but across the company as well. Related business concepts include the Deming Cycle (PDCA), Lean Manufacturing, and Six-Sigma.

How can you apply this concept to your own personal development?

"Give it a try:

Make a list of the difficult, complex personal or professional improvements you’d like to make. It’s OK if you have a fairly long list. Now, for each item in the list, think about what you could do today to make yourself or that item better than yesterday. Tomorrow, look at the list again.

Was yesterday better than the day before? How can you make today better? Do it again the next day."

Friday, June 5, 2009

TCB in a Flash

"Taking Care of Business in a Flash"

TCB is a motto that Elvis embraced and you can see it here on his private plane (taken while visiting Graceland a couple of years ago). I'm sure Elvis was quite a driven and focused person to have attained stardom.

I think it's commonly overlooked that famous people have to work hard to achieve their fame; it's not all just luck or timing but a lot of preparation as well. We think their lives are charmed but forget that they probably had to fight their way to the top, struggling to be productive and successful in achieving their goals.

I often think about the acronym TCB when I'm trying to get into a productive mindset. I find it's useful to tell other people you're TCB so you feel mentally more accountable to have something to show for it.

Remember that TCB requires a specific mindset and commitment to Getting Things Done (GTD is another great acronym from productivity guru David Allen).

All the best as you TCB and GTD!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Inspiration: Susan Boyle and Paul Potts

There are beautiful and touching things in this world.

Susan Boyle's recent performance:

(no embedded version available)

Paul Potts' first audition:

Paul Potts' semifinal song:
Time to Say Goodbye - an amazingly moving song to begin with

Dreams can come true.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Stoicism: Personal Development and Entrepreneurship

Here's a great post on Stoicism by way of Tim Ferriss' blog and how it can be a very practical philosophy for personal development and entrepreneurship.

Here are the 3 key practical suggestions put forth by the author (Ryan Holiday, online strategist for American Apparel):

1. Practice Misfortune
“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.” -Seneca

Set aside a certain number of days each month to practice poverty. Take a little food, wear your worst clothes, get away from the comfort of your home and bed. Put yourself face to face with want, he said, you’ll ask yourself “Is this what I used to dread?”
2. Train Perception to Avoid Good and Bad

“Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.” -Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics had an exercise called Turning the Obstacle Upside Down...If you can properly turn a problem upside down, every “bad” becomes a new source of good....Suppose for a second that you are trying to help someone and they respond by being surly or unwilling to cooperate. Instead of making your life more difficult, the exercise says, they’re actually directing you towards new virtues; for example, patience or understanding. Or, the death of someone close to you; a chance to show fortitude.
3. Remember - It's All Ephemeral
“Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both.” -Marcus Aurelius

Alexander the Great conquered the known world and had cities named in his honor. This is common knowledge....Stoics would also point out that, once while drunk, Alexander got into a fight with his dearest friend, Cleitus, and accidentally killed him....Is this the mark of a successful life? From a personal standpoint, it matters little if your name is emblazoned on a map if you lose perspective and hurt those around you.

Remember that achievements can be ephemeral, and that your possession of them is for just an instant. Learn from Alexander’s mistake. Be humble and honest and aware. That is something you can have every single day of your life.

"As an entrepreneur you can see how practicing misfortune makes you stronger in the face of adversity; how flipping an obstacle upside down turns problems into opportunities; and how remembering how small you are keeps your ego manageable and in perspective. Ultimately, that’s what Stoicism is about. It’s not some systematic discussion of why or how the world exists. It is a series of reminders, tips and aids for living a good life."


As I read the article, I thought Stoicism might be too staid and staunch of an approach for me. I believe the pursuit of happiness is a worthwhile goal and that creating joy and fulfillment in everyday life is important, so I was relieved to find that these two ideals are not necessarily in conflict.
"Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason." - (Stoicism, Wikipedia)

A line in the article mentioned above reconciled both views on life and put them on the same side of the coin:
"You can be a Stoic, and joke around and have a happy life surrounded by what’s valuable to you. In fact, that’s the ultimate goal."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cover Letter Suggestion (Make it a Love Letter)

In working with one of my career coaching clients on their cover letter, I made the analogy that a cover letter is like an early-stage love letter (back in the day when I presume they were more common).

The objective of both a cover letter and a love letter is to communicate similar points:
  1. You're interested in them and want them to consider you as a candidate
  2. You have a lot to offer and would be a good match
  3. They should contact you for a date/interview to learn more
While I've never created a cover letter this way before, it would be an interesting and creative approach to the dreaded task of writing a cover letter. Here's the format:

Quick introduction -
  • We met at John's party on Friday night and your bright orange top caught my eye. / I saw your posting on and have heard great things about your company.
Why you're interested -
  • You seemed like a very interesting and fun person to get to know better. / From what I've read about Acme, you're working with some interesting cutting edge technologies.
Your strengths, accomplishments, and your unique value compared to other candidates (emphasis should be on the things that will appeal most to them) -
  • I'm an accomplished road-biker, financially and emotionally stable, loyal, caring, supportive, and have been promoted twice in the last year in a prestigious consulting firm. / I'm exceptionally good at researching complex problems, working in teams, and staying on-task (last year, as Project Manager, my 5 primary projects came in early and under budget).
Flatter them by sharing what you think makes them special -
  • Your smile is like a breath of spring, your voice is soft like summer rain./ Your CEO is a thought-leader, your client list is impressive, and your e-commerce strategy is second to none.
Explain why you'd be a good match -
  • It seems like we share a common interest in athletic activities and would have fun together. / I concentrated in nanotech during undergrad and am a strong proponent in using it in the health sector.
Why you'd make their life better -
  • I will make you laugh every day. / I will make your clients happy through exceptional project management.
Show them you're passionate and serious about them; ask for what you want -
  • I have always been attracted to independent and dynamic women and I would love for you to accompany me to the next cotillion. / Ever since I was young, I've wanted to use technology to help people; I share Acme's vision and would be motivated to be a member of your team.
Remember to steer away from controversial or sensitive information up front and make sure they know how to get in touch with you.

Also, since they're a great prospect (naturally, you treat every one as a great prospect), and you're persistent, you should mention that you look forward to hearing from them and will be following up in a week if you haven't heard from them.

This love letter approach just might work... Oh, New Job, New Job, wherefore art thou, New Job?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Practice and Hard Work

This quote was originally said by Ed Macauley, basketball player from the St. Louis Hawks (now the Atlanta Hawks) and it was what inspired Bill Bradley to practice more than almost anyone else in the league at the time.

"When you're not practicing, someone somewhere is. And when the two of you meet, given roughly equal ability, he will win."

The idea of practicing/working hard is important not just in sports, but in any endeavor in which you want to excel. In the context of work, your career, or your hobby, if you want to succeed you have to be willing to put in the extra effort to beat out your opposition.

Maybe it's skipping happy hour to stay late and catch up on a project, maybe it's going the extra mile for a client or boss, or maybe it's going to a coffeeshop every night to study instead of watching TV. You're putting yourself in the best position to succeed when it counts.

I know that personally, the thought that someone else might win ("And when the two of you meet, given roughly equal ability, he will win") makes me even more determined to do the work needed. I don't want to lose because of lack of effort.

This hard work adds up and pays off down the road when you're the one picked to lead the project, when you get a promotion, when your piece was chosen, when your business takes off, or when you land the coveted job or position everyone else was hoping for. Remember if you don't want to be great, someone else does and is making it happen everyday - edging you out.

When you feel yourself getting lazy, think again about the quote. Now, get out there and put in the hard work.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Your Would-Be Employee...

If you were in charge of building a team, who would you rather hire?
  • A thinker (who lacks follow-through) vs. A hard worker (who lacks intellectual muscle)
  • Someone who produces mediocre, yet consistent, work vs. Someone who is inconsistent but will hit homeruns
  • A high performer who will leave in 1-2 yrs vs. An average employee who will grow within the organization
  • Someone who follows direction (but is quiet and deferential) vs. Someone who challenges everything (strongly opinionated and loud)
  • Will break a few eggs to get ahead vs. Not motivated to grow professionally
  • A risk-taker who tries new things (but makes mistakes) vs. Someone who sits on their hands and is risk-averse
  • Someone who gets things done (but steps on toes) vs. A consensus-based team-builder (but doesn't do any heavy-lifting)
  • A disciplined optimizer vs. A creative inventor
  • Someone who wants to climb the ladder quickly (go-getter) vs. Someone for whom work is not their first priority (9-5'er)
  • A perfectionist, but takes too long to complete a task vs. Someone who does "good-enough" work on-time, but it lacks polish
Take a second to write down your responses.

Go through the list a second time. What kind of worker are you?

Comparing the list of who you'd hire to yourself, do you look for people who are different or similar to you?


While there are no "right" answers for what to look for in a new employee, there are 2 critical factors to consider when determining a match: the work itself, and the team.
1. The work itself
- What characteristics would be important for the job description?
- What traits are valuable to the industry or type of business?
- What is important for the strategy and direction of the organization?

2. The team
- What characteristics will round out the team (in terms of strengths and weaknesses)?
- Can they help bolster your own challenges as a boss?
- Will they fit into your corporate/team culture?

Thoughts? Opinions? Experiences? Leave a comment...