Not Born to be Average

This week in conversation someone made the comment “no one wants to wake up in the morning to be average”.

This was reminiscent of a conversation I had just a couple of months ago with a different person, whom I greatly admire. He said ‘No one wants to be 2nd best’.

Both of these people echo a sentiment that I generally agree with, not only is competition fun, winning is fun. In yet another recent conversation, a colleague stated that his joy in life comes from tackling the impossible tasks, and knocking them out of the park.

Whether we are competing with other people, or with impossible tasks, it feels good to win.

As I contemplate on that topic a bit further, I wonder about the concept of win-win scenarios. For us to win, does someone else have to lose? I believe the answer to that question is ‘np’.

I’ve told this story before, but I go back to my grandfather giving me a paycheck as a young teenager for helping in his business. He taught me that any employment relationship should be a win-win. The employee is grateful for a fair wage, and the employer is grateful for a job well done. I believe these win-win scenarios are abundant in our life, if we only look for them.

It feels good to win, why not share the feeling?

Begin With the End in Mind.

I just finished reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. While it was a lot of insights to digest, it was a good read.

One of the topics that hit home particularly today was step 2, begin with the end in mind. I was having a conversation with a colleague this morning, and he told me that his favorite part of his job was doing things others believe can’t be done. That feeling of accomplishment is huge for him.

Literally 2 hours later, sitting in a meeting present some of his work, a stakeholder made the comment, “I can’t believe you did this. I assumed you would have gotten half-way in and given up, saying it couldn’t be done!” Unprompted. Unscripted. She said exactly the things he loves to hear.

Whether you prefer to believe in the law of attraction, mental creation, prayer circles, or just good planning, the concept of creating your wants and desires in your mind first, then watching them unfold in real life is incredibly powerful. I have seen this countless times in my career, today just happened to be a fresh example.

There is power in understanding your future state. Our thoughts have this pesky habit of impacting our actions, which have the ability to create exactly the life we want to have.

Have you ever seen a surprising event in your life, created by first creating the event in your mind before watching it unfold If you haven’t I suggest trying it.

 

Know your ‘why’

The year is 2002. I am a sophomore in high school. At the end of another long and boring school day, instead of following the herd of students out to the school bus for the hour ride home, I stay behind at school to keep working for another couple of hours. As the building slowly empties down the stairs and out the back doors of the school, I make my way from the band room on the far west side of the school, across the crowds of students to the far east end of the building to the electronics lab. Zach Threlkeld and I were meeting with Mr. Beaman to plan our school’s first Engineering Day.

Through the process of planning this event, I learned how to do a lot of things. We had to do marketing, logistics, planning, and everything else to organize 15 different events for 150 events to commemorate Engineering Week the next February. One of my responsibilities was all of the fliers for the different events. Mr. Beaman gave me a cd and a license key for Photoshop, and said basically ‘this should help’. It didn’t. Photoshop came with an overwhelming amount of tools that didn’t seem to help me make a flier at all.

While I eventually figured out how to do the things we needed to organize the day, Photoshop is far from the most valuable lesson I learned in that process. Mr. Beaman liked to share little nuggets of wisdom as we worked through the planning process, and a couple of those has stuck with me ever since.

The first was true to his self-deprecating humor, ‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” (He was a teacher after all). As I look back, I wonder if that statement set much of my attitudes towards education for the next 10 years, and not for the better.

However, he normally followed that couplet with another that has had a much more positive impact on my life. “Those who know how will always have jobs. They will always work for those who know why.”

I find that these words still bounce around my mind on at least a weekly basis, now 17 years later. I have built a career in a very how-based field. While I always figured out enough of the ‘how’ to be competent, much of my growth has come from understanding the ‘why’.

I have had several people ask me over the last few months if I would suggest to a new young person entering the workforce to follow a similar career path that I have taken. I would, but I always say that they need to focus on the reasons their work matters, and the people it affects far more than the technology or tools that help deliver that value. Being the best technician n a field is not nearly as rewarding as pointing that technician in the right direction and delivering value.

Do you now why the work you did this week matters? Can you articulate how that work supports to overarching strategy or values of your situation? If not, I highly suggest you go figure it out.

My Thoughts on Work / Life Balance

I have always hated the phrase ‘work/life balance’.

Good post, see you next week.

Seriously though, this phrase has always bugged me. At best, it creates a false dichotomy through lazy language. At worst, it causes us to buy into this false dichotomy and pushes people to believe that their work is somehow separated from actual life. I have seen this create internal strife as people try to keep in balance two competing forces in their world.

I believe that work and life are both part of the same thing, our life. Work is an important aspect in all areas of our life. The ways we chose to allocate our time and efforts are a part of our life. To separate work from, or even the time we spend with an employer from the sum total of our full life is folly. A much better phrase would be a ‘balanced life’, as this recognizes that all aspects of life are part of the whole.

One of the biggest problems I have with ‘work/life balance’ as a phrase is that it often comes from an employer touting work/life balance as a benefit fo working for them. This phrase seems to take the responsibility for building a balanced life off of the individual to whom the life belongs, and tries to put it in the hands of the employer. Not only does this fail to account for differences between individuals and what their balanced life may look like, it shifts the responsibility of boundaries away from the employee to the employer.

Individuals are just that, individual. Every person has different needs, wants, and desires that cause their individual situation to be slightly different. For one, spending 60 hours a week at the office engaged in deeply satisfying work may be healthy and appropriate, where that would be soul crushing for another. It is incumbent on each of us to understand what a balanced life looks like for each of us.

Once we understand what a balanced life means, we also need to take responsibility to live out that balance. Allowing an employer to dictate a concept of work/life balance in my opinion puts too much control in their hands, and is therefore out of balance. It is much better (at least in my view of a balanced life) to take ownership of our own decisions and invest our time accordingly at work.

That doesn’t mean we can say that our concept of balance means we only work 12 hours a week if we have committed to a company 40+ hours in a week. If you want to work 12 hours a week, then I suggest you find a job where that fits with the expectations of the role. Just please take ownership of your own actions in realizing that is what a balanced life looks like for you.

The 7 Habits of Going from Good to Great

The last 2 business books I have read are Good to Great by Jim Collins, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. There are some interesting connections between these two books that have jumped out to me as I read them that I want to share with you. The first digs into a common thread between the books on how effective leaders focus on internal issues. The second talks about the difference between and progression from management to leadership.

An Internal Focus

One of the most striking lessons from Good to Great was the concept of the window and the mirror. One of the key differences between good and great leaders that Collins and team identified came down to where the leaders placed credit and blame for their successes. A less effective leader would point blame out the window, at all of the other people, markets, or circumstances that held them back. When it came time to point the finger at successes in their career, these same leaders would look into the mirror, accepting all of the credit as the maker of their own success.

Good to great leaders however inverted this paradigm. The blame for struggles and difficulty goes into the mirror, becoming an opportunity for self reflection on how to improve. All of the credit and success is directed out through the window, mostly into other people, but also into other circumstances. When asked about their success, these good to great leaders would put all of the credit on a great team, a great market, or luck.

Covey discusses some similar topics in the first half of his book as well. He discusses the importance of developing ourselves into a stable and independent creature as a foundation for increasing our effectiveness. Basically, he wants us to recognize that we have control over our thoughts and actions, so we should figure out who we want to be, then become that person. From this principled approach to life we can unlock the behaviors that lead to true effectiveness.

I couldn’t agree more with both of these authors. In both personal life and in business, the ability to focus on improving one’s self while letting go of everything outside of our control seems to be the key to happiness and effectiveness. One of my biggest complaints of the Agile community is that they seem to lack this understanding. Obviously that paints a big community with a very broad brush, but I can’t count how many conversations I got into that could be summarized as ‘I can’t be agile because they (management, team mates, other departments, etc.) aren’t agile enough’. The most effective agile practicians were those that recognized how to take the principles of the Agile Manifesto to their own interactions with others, and to share those basic ideas with those around them.

Management and Leadership

I  have a feeling I am going to be writing about this topic a lot in the future. For some reason this topic has been coming up in my life repeatedly over the last few months. There’s something here for me to learn. Let me start by looking at the 2 very different approaches these two authors approach the topic.

Before 6 months ago, I had always considered management and leadership on 2 separate ends of a continuum. On the management side of this perceived spectrum, pointless tasks were executed with ruthless efficiency, and delivered on tight deadlines. Nobody wants to do the tasks, or even knows why the tasks are important, but they get done quickly and in order.

On the leadership side of this spectrum, leaders motivate their teams with stories and connection to values. Tasks get done as quickly as possible, because everyone understands the importance of what they are doing, and they would apply their time, talents, and energies as appropriate to complete the task.

Collins turned this model completely on its head. He discussed a pyramid shape where leadership is a higher level activity, built on the foundation of individual performance, team collaboration, effective management, team leadership, capped off with ‘Level 5 Leadership’. While explaining level 5 leadership would be a worthy goal, it is not the purpose of this post. The thing that amazed me in this 5 level pyramid was the fact that management builds a foundation of good leadership. The argument here is effectively that to be a good leader, you need to be able to get results. That ability to deliver results through delegation is captured through the label of management.

This was a challenging concept for me to face. At the time I read it, I considered myself a decent leader and not a manager, which I wore as a badge of courage. The idea that lacking management skills undermined my leadership abilities hit me like a ton of bricks. This perception was confirmed in my annual performance review last week, when my boss called out that I was a much stronger leader than a manager. I have been focussing for the last couple of months on becoming a better manager.

Covey turned this model on its head again as I read a new model this week. Continuing his approach of building from a foundation of principles, he describes good management as the natural outcome of clearly defined goals and values. When we understand why tasks need to be done, building the appropriate structures to accomplish those tasks will occur naturally.

This is a concept that is definitely a little easier for me to hear, as it lines up with my own experience better. That said, the next steps for me are the same, regardless of who I listen to. Working on my own management skills is the next big task that lies ahead of me.

One of the tactical approaches I have taken towards this end includes sending weekly status updates to all of my stakeholders. I have been involved in a critical project at work, and with all of the interest in that project I started sending weekly status updates in the place of my more typical monthly updates. The additional awareness, focus, and pace these emails have given the team has been felt both up and down our organization.

I have also recently started a similar daily recounting of goals and progress. This project however has only been published to myself, and a couple trusted accountability partners.

Both of these approaches seem to be bringing forth fruit, but it is still very early to know. I may report on these in a future post.

For now, I am enjoying the opportunity to look inward to understand how I can become better. I invite you to do the same.

 

Writing Can Be Habit Forming

8 weeks ago I finished a course wherein I was expected to publish a blog post every week for 14 weeks. I am just as likely as anyone to get stuck by a bad case of writer’s block, but the push to write every single week helped me push through a lot of that writer’s block, so much so that writing became an enjoyable part of my week.

From very early in my career I have been invited to write for several different publications. i have some incredible people in my network that write A LOT, and they invite others around them to write. For a long time I assumed I couldn’t, or shouldn’t write with these people as I didn’t feel like I had anything new or exciting to say. However, as I have gone through the last few years in my career, I have come to realize that very rarely does anyone have anything new to say. There is so much knowledge and content in the universe that were I to only share new or unique concepts, I would have very little to share through my life.

That said, I have come to realize that while the concepts I share may not be new or unique, my approach, my experiences, and my voice are unique. No one else in the history of the human existence has exactly my experiences. Therefore even this post on writing about writing, a topic that has been covered ad nauseam, can be unique as it expresses my individual voice and story.

This semester brings a new set of classes and tasks. There is no hard requirement for me to keep writing, but as the title of this post suggests, writing can be habit forming. I want to continue sharing some of my experiences with the broader community, in the hopes that my unique experiences and perspective may be of some benefit to others. In addition to keeping up with more frequent updates to this blog, I will likely explore some other outlets for my writing as well.

We are all Entrepreneurs

If you didn’t make it through my first post in this series, I don’t blame you. What was supposed to be a 300-word post turned into 2000. Long story short, I have an assignment to publish a blog a week for the next 14 weeks based on the readings in my Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at BYU-Idaho. Those assignments are being published on my blog.

This is it. The last post in this series. 14 weeks. 14 posts. This whole writing thing has been kind of fun. Thanks to anyone out there who read any of these posts.

In the likely event that this post remains at the top of my blog for the foreseeable future, I highly suggest reading the first post in this series. That post gives a great overview of my personal journey over the last decade in my career. It is a post that had been simmering for years before it made it onto this blog.

For the purposes of this post however, I have been asked to write about my final advice to anyone considering a role as entrepreneur. The core of my thoughts all come back to this:

We are all entrepreneurs. You’re already doing it. Where are you going to go from here?

What? How can I possibly say that? Obviously not everyone is an entrepreneur you might say. Let me explain.

I currently work as a plain old boring full-time employee at a company. Those who would disagree with me would argue that I am as far as it gets from an entrepreneur. I however know that I am an enterprising entrepreneur.

Headquarters for my enterprise is in my home. My wife and I co-founded our business 12 years ago on our wedding day. We currently have 3 interns on the payroll, but honestly some days it feels like they require more work to keep around than they they bring to the table.

We have a few contract employees as well. One is responsible for mowing the grass at headquarters. She also doubles as an interim manager for the interns when both of us co-founders have to travel for business. I told you, those interns need a lot of close care or I swear they would burn this place down.

Our revenue stream is severely top heavy. Nearly 90-95% from our single largest client (that full-time employer I was telling you about). We have a few other smaller customers, but based on our agreements with our top customer we keep ourselves pretty busy at the moment.

We are currently making large investments however in broadening our customer base. Shy of a couple key loans for real estate, we have bootstrapped all of our funding. With some of the revenues from our primary client we are setting aside funds for a few smaller investments that will hopefully be profitable with less time investment. I am also investing a significant amount of time in education right now which will assist in acquisition of future customers.

Our current business model is a tried and tested one. Full-time employment offers stable revenues for predictable work loads. Understanding the time commitments and risks of such reliance on a single customer, we are working to diversify our business model into a broader portfolio containing real estate, stocks, product creation, and media assets that will allow us to earn revenues in a more passive way.

I am an entrepreneur.

Now, I could have easily told you much of that story with very different language, but this is how I see the world. We are all self-employed. We all make choices on how we allocate our time and resources. Understanding how to allocate those resources, reaching new customers, building new products, and changing the world is all part of an entrepreneurial journey.

To those who think they are just getting started on this journey, the best advice I have is to recognize that you already started this journey a long time ago. The big question for you is how far will your journey take you, and how do you want your story to be told.

We are all entrepreneurs.

 

Do you even care?

If you didn’t make it through my first post in this series, I don’t blame you. What was supposed to be a 300-word post turned into 2000. Long story short, I have an assignment to publish a blog a week for the next 14 weeks based on the readings in my Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at BYU-Idaho. Those assignments are being published on my blog.

This week I heard a bit of feedback that I have heard a handful of times before in my career. This feedback is the most frustrating piece of feedback I have ever received. The fact that it keeps coming up drives me absolutely crazy.

Before I share the feedback, let me start by saying how I tend to handle feedback. I love to learn. I love to learn how I can be better. I rely on the feedback of others to point out the places where I fall short that I can’t see for myself. If anything, I enjoy critical feedback that helps me see how I can improve.

So, what is this feedback? What feedback is it that sends me up a tree every time I hear it? It’s simple. “You care.” Those aren’t exactly the words, but that is the underlying theme. This last week, specifically these were the words:

“It’s always fun to bump into someone who takes this seriously enough to actually think it through! Sadly that is a rare, albeit refreshing experience”

It is a frustratingly low bar that is set by others that I routinely get this feedback. The concept that caring enough about the things I do is sufficient to be noticed by other people absolutely drives me crazy.

I think we all carry a bias with us that assumes everyone else sees the world just like we do. we use phrases like “common sense” and “it should be obvious” to refer to things that are neither obvious nor common to others who don’t share our world view.

This is probably the source of my struggle with this feedback. I always assume that other people care about doing a good job at least as much as I do. Maybe I listened to my grandpa telling me as a kid “A job worth doing is worth doing well.” But didn’t everyone else hear that too?

I always prefer to write posts with some sort of call-to-action for the reader. The CTA for this post is to beg you to care about what you do. If you find yourself doing things that you don’t care about, then don’t do them. Life is too short to waste your time doing a bad job at something you didn’t want to do in the first place. Whatever your ‘why’, find some reason to care about your work and do a good job at it. Your life will be better, and your work will too.

This brings me to one last statement that my grandfather said to me a few years ago. I was already some years into my career of which I have loved nearly every minute. He said, “Wade has never done anything he didn’t want to do.” One could take that to mean I am a difficult to work with unmotivated slouch. He and I both know that isn’t true. My key to being able to say that is that when I choose to do anything, once my mind is made up that it needs doing, I pour my heart and soul into that task until it is done. If I don’t want to do the task, or if I can’t find my ‘why’ that it matters, I merely move on to some other task.

That may not be good career advice for everyone, but with my ability to understand why things need ti happen it has served me very well up to this point.

Please, go out into the world and care about what you do. I never want to hear anyone praise me again for caring about what I do.

A Good Business

If you didn’t make it through my first post in this series, I don’t blame you. What was supposed to be a 300-word post turned into 2000. Long story short, I have an assignment to publish a blog a week for the next 14 weeks based on the readings in my Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at BYU-Idaho. Those assignments are being published on my blog.

I have talked on this blog before about working for my grandfather in his small manufacturing business. I learned a lot of things watching him run that business. Many of those lessons have come years after the time I spent working with him. One such example came just now as I sat down to write this post.

The thought that sparked this learning tonight came from another Harvard Business Review article that we read this week. The comment that stood out to me the most from this article was:

A good business is a community with a purpose.

The first company I thought about when I read this is Salesforce. Mark Benioff is one of my favorite CEOs. I have watched him over the last few years preach his concept of Ohana. He believes that all of his employees, customers, partners, and so on are all part of the big Salesforce family. More than that, being a customer of Salesforce feels like being in a community. With an incredibly deep and rich partner ecosystem, helpful forums of customers, and other tools, Benioff and team have built more than a product, they have built an ecosystem.  Maybe I am just drinking the Kool-Aid, but Salesforce is a great example to me of this.

There are plenty of other examples of this. iOS and Android have built massive communities of developers and businesses around their app stores. WordPress has a thriving community of designers, developers, and agencies around their tools and platforms. Communities are incredibly important, especially to business.

A purpose is just as important. My favorite purpose of all time comes from Steve Jobs, who has been quoted as saying “I wanted to put a ding in the universe.” As I sit here typing on my MacBook Pro, switching back and forth between this and my handheld device that greatly resembles an old iPod touch, I wonder if he felt that he reached his goal.

What does any of that have to do with my grandfather? Quite a bit actually. When I turned 8 years old, my grandparents moved from California to Kentucky. He brought his business with him. For many of us, the first community we are a part of is our family. Their new house in Kentucky was not only the venue for endless family dinners, parties, sleepovers, and events, it also served as the manufacturing plant, shipping facility, and headquarters for his business.

Sam Brown Shields was a major part of my formative years. All of the work was completed by family members. My mom and her sister did some of the more complex tasks, while much of the work was made available for the grandchildren who were interested in helping. I spent countless summer days sitting in their basement, listening to Rush Limbaugh, while my aunts talked, and I worked. This was a very tight knit community.

But what about purpose? Like I said, any of the grandchildren who were interested in helping were allowed and encouraged to do so. In fact, many of the business processes were tailored specifically to be easy to do with as little strain as possible so the grandkids could help. The entire business ran to provide for our family. This is a big difference from the purpose being to create wealth. The purpose was to create a life. To put food on the table. To pay for summer camps. To help us pay for college, go on missions, move across the country. Whatever we needed, our grandfather taught us all how to work for the means to make it happen.

All of the profits from the company have gone into investments to continue a legacy of working for your needs. My grandfather lived the concepts in The Richest Man in Babylon, and I can only assume he never read the book.

My grandfather has been a great example to me. I hope the lessons he taught me are applicable to your life as well.

The Richest Man in Babylon

If you didn’t make it through my first post in this series, I don’t blame you. What was supposed to be a 300-word post turned into 2000. Long story short, I have an assignment to publish a blog a week for the next 14 weeks based on the readings in my Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at BYU-Idaho. Those assignments are being published on my blog.

My attitudes on money have changed a lot over the last 15 years. Growing up, I was taught that people with money were not to be trusted. Either they came by their wealth unscrupulously, chose career over family, or both. This concept was repeatedly reenforced with language such as “good ol’ country folk who are as poor as church mice”. Poor was good. Wealth was bad. The one person with wealth that I really spent any time around was frequently given a pass in the rhetoric because he was born poor, one of 12 children in a 2-room cabin in the hills of Kentucky.

My wife came from a very different background, equally as unhealthy. Money was plentiful but spending often extended well beyond their means.

This week, after having the concepts discussed several times in class, my wife and I decided to read The Richest Man in Babylon together. In 2 days I am more than half-way through, and so far I am very impressed with the content. Much of what I have read so far is very reminiscent of other books we have read together such as The Alchemist and The Jackrabbit Factor.  What is interesting is that at this point in our lives, we seem primed and ready to hear the message of this book in a way we weren’t ready to receive before.

It took us a long time in our marriage to find the will power to live on less than we earned. Now that we have developed that discipline, we are hungry for the next steps in our financial progression.

The key text that jumped out to me from the book so far was this passage:

“A man’s wealth is not in the purse he carries. A fat purse quickly empties if there be no golden stream to refill it.”

I am looking forward to finding ways to build that revenue stream. Wealth is not a bad thing. We watched another video this week from Jim Ritchie, who after retiring at age 35 has spent much of his adult life in full-time service and do-gooding. I’m looking forward to finding wealth in healthy and appropriate ways, to be able to serve and build up those around me.