Blog : Ideas

The weight of endless possibilities

the courage to use your wings.

Some call them nerves, but I prefer butterflies. The fluttering, panicking, terror of potential. The sparkle of destiny hidden from our eyes behind the looming shadow of defeat.

Maybe fate is predetermined.

Maybe your future is random.

All you can control is your perception.

That feeling you have might be anxiety imbued by impending failure, ridicule or near-certain doom.

Perhaps it’s nothing more than pent up energy from wings you’ve never had the courage to use.

Photo credit: Jabiz Raisdana

When it all goes wrong

It’s been said before that failing to plan is planning to fail. But, what do you do when it all goes wrong? We’ve all been there. You can plan and prepare as much as possible, and yet sometimes, in crunch time, everything falls apart. It sucks, its normal, it happens.

Some things are impossible to plan for.

Use failure to plan

There’s a lot of talk about failure being a backhanded gift; a learning opportunity in disguise. This is true, but only if you take advantage of it. Want to maximize the learning? Use failure to plan.

Exercise physiologists have proven that there is an optimal window for refuelling your body after an intense workout. After about 2 hours, you can still get the nutrition into your body – but the effects won’t be as good. Failure’s kind of like that.

Imagine you’ve just taken the stage to give a presentation, and something goes wrong. Think about the rush of emotion, adrenaline, and chaos that starts to play out in your body. As you walk off the stage, the adrenaline gives way to a blur of thoughts. Sentences resembling why didn’t I…., I can’t believe I…., and If only I had… own the moment.

This is your window. This is the magic hour for doing better next time. This is where you grow.

Your mind will protect you from dangerous things

If you’ve ever experienced a traumatic event, if enough time has passed, you will recognize the mind’s ability to make things go away. Ironically, it’s not the actual event that goes away, it’s often the tiny details. As time passes, we protect ourselves from the anguish, emotions and corrective self-talk. We build walls so that we don’t feel the adrenaline anymore.

Failure is a traumatic event. So, once the post-failure window passes – damage control sets in. We unconsciously start to forget.

It wasn’t so bad. I survived. Whatever. .

Build your action plan now

Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. There’s always room for improvement; so for a minute, let’s be pessimistic and say that everything we do contains some element of failure. Optimistically, this means everything we do contains some potential for learning. Take advantage of it.

Here are some things that have helped me:

  • Build and rehearse a procedure now (before you’re full of adrenaline and emotions), that you will use every time you have a post-event learning moment. Whether its a notebook, a voice recorder or a trusted friend that you talk to – make sure you know where you’re going to catch those corrective thoughts when they start to fly.
  • Schedule it – Book the time now, so you won’t run away and hide from the moment. I often take 30 minutes to jot down notes about a presentation within an hour of it being over.
  • Structure it. Use a template or a common format to force yourself to put down positives and negatives. This way you don’t gloss over the bad parts, and you force yourself to find good things.
  • Let it go – Once you’ve documented all of the what-if’s, you can park them on paper. Once they’re out of your mind – the danger is gone, things are taken care of, you’ll be able to sleep at night. And when you wake up, you can start taking action.

A perfect example? I was supposed to moderate an important webinar today. The technology completely fell apart. After 15 minutes of struggle, we threw in the towel and rescheduled.

In the moment, it sucked; a lot.

In the aftermath, my mind was flooded with if only we had…. But now after a structured time to reflect, we’ve circled the wagons, made the strategy more bulletproof and we’re ready to go again.

This strategy works well for me – how about you?

Photo Credit: Realworldracingphotog

It’s all been said before

How often do these words rattle around in your skull?
It’s all been said before

Sometimes the words are the building blocks of a good excuse. I use this all the time with blog posts and ideas for books. Some might call it writer’s block, Merlin Mann would call it an excuse: I can’t possibly write anything new… it’s all been said before..”

Sometimes, the sentiment is a reactionary damper on an idea that struck you as revolutionary; a manifestation of deep-seated disbelief in our own abilities. There’s no way I came up with that; I’m sure someone has already done that before.

Sometimes, it’s an opportunity.

You don’t have to dream it up every time

I was recently chatting with some folks who specialize in leadership education. As we went through leadership topics, from Lifehacker to Zen Habits to Gretchen Ruben’s Happiness Project – we encountered a recurring theme. Little of this is new information. It’s all been said before! And It’s true; many of the realizations from The Happiness Project were already summed up by Dale Carnegie – decades before Gretchen ever realized she was sad.

Does that make her book any less valuable to her readers?

Does that make it any less valuable to her as a New York Times best-seller?

Or did she make it new by saying it in her own way?

I’ve often looked at Malcolm Gladwell and wondered if he’s ever had an original thought in his life. But, now I realize I’ve been falling for the trap of it’s all been said before. Does Gladwell simply tells stories, facts, and figures that were already told by other people? Certainly. But does he make it all new by saying it in his own way? The sales of his books seem to indicate he does.

If Seth Godin were to read about the cage of it’s all been said before, he’d likely attribute it to the lizard brain; a vestigial apparatus on our brainstem designed to protect us from taking big risks. And he’d probably be right, after all, he did write a book about it. But guess what – that’s all been said before too. Steve Pressfield wrote about this extensively in The War of Art; and Paul McLean discussed the different parts of the human brain as early as the 1950′s.

So if it’s all been said before, what are we supposed to do?

That’s the secret

Don’t worry about it.

I remember a discussion I had with a singer about a song on his latest record. “It’s one of the best songs I’ve written in years,” he said. “I worked on it for a week, until I had it just right. And then, I realized, parts of the melody sound like something I released 5 years ago”.

You know what he did? He released it anyway. And no one noticed. The new song had new lyrics, new emotions, and new melodies on top of a familiar sound. It was a new experience.

Whether you’re building marketing campaigns, writing a novel or building a website – stop worrying about whether it’s all been said before.

Unless you were given a photocopier instead of a mind – remove the phrase from your vocabulary. Take whatever thoughts come to you, apply it to the context of your world, paint it with your brushes, in your colours, and let it go.

We’re not always blessed with world-changing new ideas, but apply your context and your spin, and your story can make all the difference in the world.

And when you do have one of those rare ideas that no one has ever had before? Maybe, if you’re lucky, someone, someday might give it new colours, new life, and make it resonate differently with an entirely new audience.

When are you invincible?

Originally written in 2006, but realized long before… I stumbled upon this tonight and realized, at least partially, why I love to work late into the night.

I have always thought that 2 am is the perfect time of day. Each night, I go to sleep, hoping to wake up at 2 am. I lie awake and stare at the stars on my ceiling, knowing no matter what happened the day before, or awaited me on days yet to come, 2 am is always invincible.

Nothing can touch you at 2 am; deadlines lose their looming, failures fail to fail. If you lost everything, had nothing left to your name, you would still have 2 am.

When are you invincible?

Image Credit: Renan

Remember your rookie season

Most of you have probably never heard of my favourite hockey player before. He wore #15 for the Montreal Canadiens. He stood 5’8″ and weighed in at a spritely 180lbs. In his NHL career, he tallied 31 goals and 80 points over 192 games, before disappearing into the depths of international leagues.

His name was Paul DiPietro.

Moments of attention, frozen in time

I’ve written before about how autographs are nothing more than souvenirs from moments of individual attention. This is a story about how that single moment can shape a relationship forever. This is a story about remembering the little things, if you’re lucky enough to become a big thing.

Hearing the name Paul DiPietro, will invoke dusty memories of the early 1990′s for hockey fans. The kid blazed into the league and sparked the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup victory in 1993; scoring twice in the championship clinching game.

Kodak Moments

I was probably one of the first fans to send him a letter asking for an autograph.

I know this, because there was no hockey card to send; he hadn’t been around long enough to have one.

I know this, because the response came back in a matter of days; he obviously wasn’t getting a lot of mail.

I know this, because the response I got was real: a hand-written letter folded around a photograph. A 4×6 photograph, signed with ballpoint pen, printed on Kodak photo paper – as if freshly developed from a roll of film (I’m sure it was).

It was so fresh, so real, so exactly what a sports-crazed-kid wanted. As we grew up, my friends went through phases of sports heroes; jumping on bandwagons, following trends. Although he disappeared from the spotlight as soon as he entered it, my favourite hockey player was locked in.

That photo hung on my wall for the next 10 years.

We were all rookies, once upon a time

There’s more here than a romantic tale about boyhood heroes – a lot more.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane; back to your rookie season doing whatever it is you call your job.

Think about your first sale. Think about your first satisfied customer. Think about the first email you received; your first phone call; your first opportunity to make someone’s day.

Think about what it was like when you were hungry; when everything was new, and every single person mattered.

Are you still there? Or has the daily grind transformed you into a grizzled veteran, with shortcuts to get things done faster, content just knowing the cheque is coming at the end of the month?

We desperately need more rookies. Keep your eyes open for the next potential kodak moment. You could gain yourself or your organization a new fan for life.

Say 20% Less

Did you know that Spanish contains 20% more words than English? I didn’t. Not until it was too late. Not until my translators let me know – with a slight hint of frustration in their (out of breath) voices.

I had just completed my first speech with simultaneous translation, at an incredible event in Mexico City. I thought it had gone pretty well (and it had), with the majority of the room giving all of the usual signs of being on board: heads nodding, eyes and mouths smiling, notes scribbling; all happening at the right times.

But for those who weren’t quite able to speak my language, I had presented them with a situation where they could have potentially missed one out of every five words. Lesson learned.

Say 20% Less

Think about how often you communicate with audiences who might not be fully fluent in your language. For marketers, this happens a lot. If you’re trying to teach someone about a new product or service – there’s always going to be elements of your communication that are foreign to them.

By saying 20% less, you give them more time to think about what you’re saying.

  • You give them more time to write things down.
  • You give them space to ask some questions.
  • You give them less information to process and remember before they ask you for more.
  • You give the conversation room to breathe.

I’m taking this into account for all of my future speaking and writing. How can you communicate more by saying less?

Photo Credit: Julius Mourlon

Where’s the manual for always on?

When I started high school, I didn’t know how to touch-type. I hunted and pecked my way around the keyboard in a way that would be embarrassing to see now. In 9th grade, as part of a business curriculum, my fingers were introduced to the home row and with daily assignments, testing and refinement, I was soon able to type “properly”.

It wasn’t until a year later, when I discovered online communication worlds of iCQ and IRC that I put in enough practice to truly become proficient at putting words on a screen – but I was able to do so because the basics were in place. My formal education had provided me with the fundamental skills that I could then burn into memory through real-world practice.

They don’t teach typing anymore

Have a look at the high school curriculum these days, and you won’t find the basic typing requirement that existed 10 years ago. A new generation of young people has grown up with keyboards at their fingertips; we don’t need to teach them what they already know. In fact, I’m certain that many 6th graders can type faster with their thumbs than my teacher could with all ten digits.

Curriculums have been adjusted to meet the new reality of their students. But have they gone far enough?

Swimming in information

Just as they were in 1995, students of 2010 are facing a major technological hurdle. However, I’m not sure this situation is being taken as seriously as it should by our education systems.

I was prepared for a world of word processing and digital literacy; given a boat and a paddle so I could get where I needed to go when bits and bytes are concerned.

That slow stream of bits and bytes, available when necessary, has given way to a raging flow of information, from which it is impossible to escape. Think of the number of channels in which information is constantly entering into your conscience. An email inbox alone is often deep enough to drown in. Add in your web browser, Twitter account, Facebook friends and a glowing iPhone, and you quickly see that if you manage to survive email, your world is quickly flooded again.

Students leaving formal education now must be able to swim in the middle of the ocean while sitting underneath a waterfall.

….But at least they can type.

Learning to swim

There are a lot of ideas floating around about how our education system needs to change to meet the new realities of our society. Seth Godin and CC Chapman have both expressed concerns and suggestions for changing how we teach and what we prepare our young people for.

I propose we start with a single course: Organizing your digital world.

• Teach people how to absorb information once it reaches their personal space
• How to survive in a world of constant interruption
• How to manage your inbox and multiple social networks
• How to take the most important information out of a message and determine appropriate next steps; separating the signal from the noise.
• Basic project management
• How to turn it all off and escape (this could be the most important skill of all)

Education happens everywhere

If this is the single most important skill that someone can learn in order to thrive in our digital world, why should we restrict it to schools?

Here are three ways to start:

  • Business leaders should stop sharing best practices about how to block access to information in the workplace, and instead invest in their employees and include coping strategies as mandatory training. The improved productivity will more than pay for itself.
  • Teachers should propose new courses and push for change (I’ve been there, I know how difficult this is). Host a workshop for colleagues at your next professional development day.
  • You (yes, you) can start right now. Leverage the information that you have access to. Watch Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero. Read Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits or David Allen’s GTD. Find a workshop and invest in yourself.

When you get organized, a funny thing will happen: those around you will notice. As they’re thrashing around trying to stay afloat, they’ll see you meditating under the waterfall. And they’ll ask you how you do it. Teach them.

Here’s your chance to share – what skills/tools/rules have you used to survive in the age of always on information?

Put scary on a sliding scale

You’re allowed to be scared. Being scared means you’re pushing yourself up against the edges, trying new things, and challenging the comfy cozy confines of normal, every day existence.

If you go through life and you’re not scared of anything, you’re probably not trying hard enough.

What are you scared of?

The answers are different for everyone. We’re each wired differently: some of us are outgoing, some are shy, some like corner offices in skyscrapers, others prefer to feel their roots in the soil at all times. But we are the same in that there are triggers for all of us that make us feel like cowering, turning on our heels and running the other way.

Take a few moments to think about where you want to be; whether personally or professionally. Chart your path from here to there, taking note of the hurdles of fear that you have to clear to achieve your goals.

Maybe you want to get promoted in your department, but you’re afraid to speak up and voice your opinions in meetings. Maybe you want to become a writer, but you’re scared of people not liking your work. Maybe you want to run a marathon, but you’re afraid you won’t have what it takes to cover the distance.

Put scary on a sliding scale

While its okay to be scared; it’s not okay to always be scared of the same thing. Growing is all about smashing one fear on your way to the next.

In the movies, the person who faces their fear does it in one heroic moment. If you’re scared of heights, Hollywood instructs you to jump out of a plane. Scared of spiders? Lock yourself in a room with a tarantula. Don’t like the ocean? Find yourself a shark tank.

This is akin to saying “Afraid of your credit card statement? Win the lottery”.

In your day to day life, it is much easier to face your fear in small doses on a regular basis; pushing it along the scale until it no longer matters to you.

Take public speaking for example:

  • Start with talking in front of a mirror or recording yourself on your phone and listening back to get used to your own voice.
  • Find a topic you’re passionate about, and talk to a few friends about it.
  • Arrange an informal gathering of colleagues at lunch to teach them about one of your favourite hobbies.
  • Find a local non-profit who could benefit from your abilities, and volunteer to teach them, without the pressure of being paid.
  • Work your way up to bigger events, with more people, and progressively higher stakes

By taking a measured approach, you’re not only always tackling a problem that feels attainable, but you’re progressively picking up confidence as you go. At each step along the way, you can look back and wonder what it was about what you just did that used to make you so scared. And you’ll wonder why it took you so long to take these important steps.

Once you’ve done it enough times, you’ll learn to appreciate the adrenaline you get from living on the edges of comfort. You’ll learn to realize that when things start to feel a little bit scary, you know you’re on the path to something great.

What are you scared of? What are you doing about it?

Photo credit: GViciano