The Number One Way to Get Unstuck

Problem:

You want to create something meaningful.  Something that will make a difference.  Something that people will find valuable.  But you just can’t seem to produce.  You can’t seem to find the time, you can’t come up with the right concept, you don’t have the right skills, or a myriad of other reasons.  You’re stuck in a rut.

Solution:

Do the work.

‘The work’ in this case is overcoming the ‘Resistance’, a real internal force that keeps you from doing things that matter.

It’s easy to do all kinds of stuff that aren’t of much significance – watch TV, browse twitter or YouTube, play video games, or surf the web.  But as soon as you want to do something worthwhile or that has meaning, the Resistance emerges to make it difficult.  It’s a natural force of opposition that occurs in proportion to the amount of impact your creation can have if it exists.  And sometimes the Resistance is so subtle that you hardly notice it.

That is when it is the most powerful.

You will be able to come up with very valid excuses for why you shouldn’t create that meaningful thing right now.  Oh, you’re going to do it someday, it’s just not the right time right now.  The Resistance doesn’t have to convince you that your idea is ridiculous, it only has to keep you from doing it for one more day.  You see how powerful that is?

Once you are able to name it, and recognize its powerful tactics, you now have a chance to fight it.

So that is what Steven Pressfield has done for us.  As a successful author experiencing all the usual ups and downs of an artist, he discovered this tangible force that would fight against his efforts.  Then, he exposed all of the characteristics and qualities of this beast in his book The War of Art.

This book has motivated many artists to create, including Seth Godin, who said that it had the most significant impact on him than any other book.  And it shows in the way Seth builds on the concept in his latest books, Linchpin and Poke the Box.

You too can get better acquainted with the Resistance, so you can fight it convincingly, by getting a free copy (until May 18th, 2011) of Steven’s latest book called Do The Work.   It’s for the Kindle edition, which anyone can purchase and read on their smart phone or computer – you don’t need a Kindle.

The free-ness is due to Seth’s Domino Project and the sponsorship of GE (General Electric).

Okay, now’s your chance.  Don’t let the Resistance win one more battle.

Soon is not as good as now.

Connect the Peeps

Problem:

People work in silos.  They don’t communicate, except by filling out forms and following the process for transferring information.  Everything takes too long to get done because the processes cause information to get stuck at various stages.

Solution:

Start a connecting or networking effort where everyone knows everyone else by their first name.  Processes are established in large corporations so that things are consistent, repeatable, and with a recognized level of quality.  Yes, they are necessary, but because they work so well for large, complicated systems, we think they’ll work for everything.  But at a more local level, they actually cause communication problems and slow the flow of information.

We all know that relationships of trust help information flow easily and freely and fast (see Stephen M. R. Covey’s Speed of Trust), so why not base the processing of information on those?

I think there is a flawed foundational assumption that fuels most of our desire for forms and processes.  And that is the limit of how many people someone can know.

Think about how many people you know.  I’ll bet it’s a lot over the years.  But now, due to the ease of connecting with people on the internet, everyone ‘knows’ a lot more people.  I’m really curious what kind of numbers the really popular bloggers are pushing, like Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Brogan, or Seth Godin.  Of course there are all kinds of levels of ‘know’, but I’ll bet these guys are pushing in the thousands on a first name basis.

And I’ll bet you could know at least a few hundred or more.

So let’s just do it.  Start organizing lunchtime events where people get together at small tables and meet a few people.  They should also have some kind of task to work on together, like helping someone with a problem, or brainstorming ideas for improvements.  Leave it completely open and unstructured and allow people to connect.

Start having these once a week and people will really get to know each other.  Also make sure that the invitation is extended at a larger level so that people who show up will be from varying organizations.  This causes cross pollination and diverse networking.  Their organizations may or may not be related or coordinate with each other, but you never know when you might need to know someone in ____ organization.

When everyone starts really ‘knowing’ more people and have built relationships of trust, things will start to happen a lot faster and more smoothly.  (And you might not even have to fill out that tedious form.)

10 Ways to Spread Ideas

Problem

There are a lot of exciting new ideas and concepts that you are learning  from books, TED talks, blogs, and a myriad of other sources out there on the internet.  But then you come to work at your corporation and everything seems to be backwards, you feel like you’re in some kind of a bubble, where no one knows what is going on in the outside world.

Solution

Start a book club.  There are actually other people at your corporation who do know about some of the same things you are learning, but you would never know because there is no forum for sharing brave new ideas.  So start one.

Book clubs are an easy, non-threatening way to explore new concepts.  Plus, they hardly take any preparation time.  Schedule a few meetings a couple weeks apart, divide the book into sections, read those sections before each meeting and develop a few discussion questions from that section.  You’ll find that once you get people talking about an interesting subject (to them), you can’t stop them.

Nothing is more powerful than ideas.

So your book clubs can be a breeding ground for innovative ideas to sprout and grow, because they can be nourished and fed by good discussion and refinement.

What do you want?  Change?

Then you’ll have to start a movement.

And to start a movement, you’ll need a compelling idea.

And to have a compelling idea, you’ll need lots of ideas.

And to get lots of ideas you’ll need to read a lot of books.

And to read a lot of books, you’ll either need to go to the library, or the bookstore, or sign up for the free newsletter that is changing the book publishing industry: http://www.thedominoproject.com/ [If you do it this week, Seth will drop the price of Poke the Box $1 for each 5,000 sign-ups.]

So get reading and start a book club.

P.S.  Sorry I didn’t list 10 ways to spread ideas.  I gave you one. You’ll have to come up with the rest yourself.

Organize Your Own “FedEx Day”

Problem:

You have some great ideas for your company, but you really don’t have time or an avenue for making them happen because you’re too busy working your normal day to day grind.

Solution:

You may have heard about Google’s 20% time where people get one day a week to work on whatever projects they want. Some of their best products have come from that effort (gmail, Google News).  There’s also 3M who has a similar policy – ever heard of this thing called a ‘sticky note’?

Another company, Atlassian, decided to try just one day a quarter, where everyone in the company can work on whatever, but they have to complete their project the next day.  It’s a 24 hour period and many people work overnight cranking on something they’re passionate about.  They call it “FedEx” day because you have to ‘ship’ overnight.

“Well, they’re lucky,” you might say.  “They have a company that is radical and forward thinking, but my company would never let us do something like that.”

You may be right.  But your company doesn’t control your entire life does it? (If so, you have bigger issues.)  They may not choose to implement 20% time or a ‘FedEx Day’, but you can choose to organize it yourself.  Here’s how.

First, start small. Instead of trying to organize a whole day or 24 hour period, start by holding just a half day event, 4 hours.  Pick a day and time in the future and start advertising your event.  Tell your co-workers, send emails, put up flyers, whatever works best to get the word out.

“But how do you get the company to support it?” you ask.  You don’t.  You get the people to support it.  You explain the concept, the thrill of autonomy, and the possibility of making a difference for your company, by being able to spend dedicated time working on that great idea you’ve always had but never had any time or support to see it through.  And you tell them that for now, we don’t have company support, so we’re going to have to put in our own time to make this happen.  You ask people to flex their time and work a few extra hours during the week, so that they can take Friday afternoon off and be part of the ‘FedEx Day’.

Management can’t complain because you’ve put in your time and you’re just taking a few hours off for ‘personal reasons.’  And for passionate people who understand the concept, and want to be a part of something different, it will be no problem to donate a few hours to this effort.

It’s just like Homer Simpson, when asked at his class reunion how he had gained the most weight, he explained that he had discovered a new meal between breakfast and lunch.

You have to find a new meal.  (Scott Ginsberg taught me this in his How To Stay Rare blog post.)

During your event, you need to let autonomy reign.  Don’t get too formalized, controlling, or prescriptive on what people should work on, or how they should work.  It just needs to be something that might be valuable to the company.  Have some sort of short kick-off at the beginning where people come together, then let them loose.

And remember that people are donating their own time for this, so thank them profusely for joining your cause and show genuine appreciation.

After the event, have some way people can report on what they accomplished.  It could be a presentation, some kind of write-up, or just a discussion.  Don’t create too many parameters or people will just choose not to do it.  Explain that you’d really like to know what their experience of the event was like, so you can learn from it.

In summary:

  1. Organize the event on your own time. 
  2. Advertise through word of mouth and internal online buzz.
  3. Let autonomy reign. 
  4. Fully appreciate those who join you.
  5. Report on what you accomplished afterward.

You never know.  Some upper level management may find out about it and want an outbrief.  Don’t let them interfere or run the effort, no matter how high up the ladder they are.  But do be willing to share with them your results. 

If you do get some significant results, they just may think this is a good idea, and might want to sponsor the next one (with at least pizza or donuts.)

And make sure that this is advertised as an ‘experiment’.  The purpose of an experiment is to learn something.  If there are no specific expectations for your event, then there can be no failures.  Whatever happens, happens.  The only failure that will occur is if you fail to learn something.

And what you learn can be applied to the next one.

So go ship!  You are FedEx.

What’s stopping you?

Comment by Phone

Hey, do you want to make a comment by phone?

Listen here and let’s experiment with this idea.

Grootship, huh?

Audio Post

Be a Design Thinker

Problem:

There are too many problems, issues, or things that need fixing in your organization, and not enough people are trying to solve them.

Solution:

Anything can be improved if you learn how to become a design thinker.  Being a design thinker means that you notice the ‘design’ of the bigger picture.  If you observe what forces are causing behaviors, and notice the design of the entire system, you can find solutions that are powerful and innovative.  You can ‘design’ a new system that is better for everyone.

I don’t usually do book reviews here (and this isn’t one, really) but I want to reference where this idea of a ‘design thinker’ came from.  It is from Tim Brown’s book, Change By Design, and I recommend you check it out.

Of course, being an engineer, I might be somewhat biased toward the concept of design, but Tim Brown’s book isn’t about the engineering part of design, nor is it about the artsy aspect of design. It is about the general concept that everything – organizations, businesses, processes, interactions, or things – has a design.  So, becoming a ‘design thinker’ means that you begin to become aware of the bigger picture and understand why things happen the way they do.  With this mindset, you have the capacity to design more comprehensive solutions.

Tim Brown describes a few practices that I think can be helpful to everyone if carefully applied.

1) Gain insight through close observation.

Like a keen anthropologist observing human behavior, what people do, and what they don’t do, design thinkers can uncover details hidden in the ordinary.  One way to make critical observations is to personally experience the path or journey of the customer or the product.

2) Develop a culture of experimentation and prototyping.

Learning is best achieved by doing.  And the way to ‘do’ things quickly and easily is to call it an experiment or a prototype.  Constantly applying this practice fosters an environment where it is okay to fail.  Curiosity drives learning when there is no fear of failure. Prototypes can be built for processes or concepts and are the fastest way to clearly communicate ideas.

3) Build on the ideas of others.

All of us are smarter than any of us.  Collaboration and brainstorming must be an integral part of the culture of any organization that wants innovative solutions to their problems.  If even a simple, single event contains multiple angles, then gaining understanding of a complex system will require input from many individuals.

These ideas aren’t new.  They just seem to lack effective implementation in most organizations.  But any change must have a start, some ignition that creates movement.  And it might as well be you.

Where will you start to implement these concepts?

Man a Booth

Problem:

You have knowledge about something that other people should know about.  You want to share this knowledge with others, but don’t really know how to get the word out.

Solution:

When you’re at a conference, or some kind of event, how do people share information on a variety of topics that may be somewhat related to the subject of the conference?  They have booths.  At least that’s what we call them, but they don’t resemble a booth at all, they’re actually just tables with pamphlets and freebies and stuff.

So what does it mean when you’re manning (is that even a word, Peyton?) a booth, or running a booth?  It means you’re the expert.  At least more expert than the people who might come up and ask you about it.  So how do you get chosen to man a booth? 

You choose yourself.

What would happen if you decided to do the following?  Create a booth on some topic you know something about, and host it during lunch in your cafeteria.

I’ll tell you what would happen, you’d be known as the expert on that topic.  You’d meet new people, make connections, and spread an idea.  And when that subject comes up, people will know who to call.

What else do you want?

You could even do a different subject every week.  Then you’d be known as that booth person who knows a lot of stuff.  And you wouldn’t be selling anything, just educating people.

In reality, everyone knows a lot of stuff, but not everyone is willing to put it on display and teach others about it. 

So go do it.   And see what happens.

Get a (new) Job.

Problem:

You’ve mastered your current position and are pretty much the expert in that particular job function, but you’d like more challenge.  You want to get to the next level but there doesn’t seem to be any sign of promotion or juicy project ahead.

Solution:

Go find another position within the company and start over.

It’s hard for anyone to leave a place of knowledge, expertise, respect, connections, or safety, and start over, but within a large corporation it’s about the safest thing to do.

When you become an expert, and you change positions within the same corporation, you never completely leave your expertise.  People will still call you for advice or information, you are still somewhat available.  And because of your experience in that area, you will always be welcomed back into the group if other positions don’t work out.

Sure, starting over in a new position, with a new manager and a whole new group of people can be completely unnerving because it is full of unknowns – you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know who to talk to, you’re the new kid on the block and therefore don’t have the respect that you’re used to.  That’s okay.  It puts you in a perfect position to learn, get away with making mistakes, and inject some new thoughts and ideas into the group because you’re not tainted with all the history and baggage of that department.

Starting over is immensely valuable because in the long run, you are building a broader range of experience and a larger, more diverse network of contacts.  All the things you don’t know now, you’ll learn soon enough, and when you do, you’ll be twice as valuable for the company.  Knowing more parts of the bigger system will definitely help you solve the tough problems and give you more people to call on when you need help.

And usually, you’re not starting completely at zero.  You work for the same company, so you know what’s been happening at a macro level, and you’re probably somewhat aware of what your new group does.  You may have even coordinated with them in the past so you understand the other side of the issues, and that will get you more respect in your new group.

Keep your eye on what’s happening in other areas so you know when they might need some help and how your particular expertise and experience can help them.  Never burn bridges, and stay in touch with past co-workers, you never know what kind of opportunities may arise.

Don’t worry if this new group may not be your ‘dream job’.  Learn to make a difference and put your mark on what ever department you work in.  Over time, as you learn new skills and broaden your experience, you’ll be recognized as someone who can get the job done.  Then, you’ll begin to be wanted, and offered many positions, from which you can choose the best one for you.

Now that’s job security.

It takes some risk to increase your value.