Wednesday, March 30, 2011

There is no scale

We draw distinctions between the quality of time we spend at work versus away from work. We sometimes refer to the latter as "free" time which raises interesting questions about how we might regard the former.
Blog13 NoScale f2
Regardless, the difference in perceived quality between time spent in and away from work is significant enough to give rise to a need for balance. This is commonly referred to as the "work / life balance". But can you successfully balance the two? I mean, on one side of the scales you have everything (aka Life) and on the other side you have ... work? This odd pairing gives rise to some interesting questions:
  1. Is it really life and work on the scales?
  2. What forces are at play in the lives of those who seem to have this balance?
  3. What's the payoff?
The way I see it, people who achieve this balance love every aspect of their life, including the significant portion the rest of us call "work". How they develop this perspective is a separate question, it's something I'm trying to work towards. So far, I don't think it necessarily involves changing job, I sense it has more to do with adopting a different outlook (more on this in future posts ;-). The payoff is that for these people there is no scale.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Getting Started Pt II: Staying Focused

A couple of weeks ago. I came up with an idea for a great project. Early last year I would have probably dismissed the idea fairly quickly, but this time around I was ready for all the But How!? questions and made sure I didn't kill the idea prematurely. I decided to start sketching out aspects of the idea in the hope of making it a reality someday.

I Initially started by focusing on aspects of the idea that originally inspired me and found that relatively easy. My thoughts flowed and I found it easy to put them down on paper. Then I hit a part of the idea that wasn't as intuitive to me and my focus started to evaporate fast. A couple of minutes later I felt like I needed a break, but I'd only been going 20minutes!? I ignored the break impulse, at which point I started to get hungry, then thirsty followed by sleepy. I decided to take a break ... 3 hours and several episode of Modern Family later it was time for Dinner and a few hours after that, it was time for bed. The day was over, I'd lost so much time and I felt extremely guilty. Why couldn't I stay focused?

Blog12 SmallMovePt1

Here's what I know:

  • When I'm working on something I enjoy or am experienced in I can "get into a zone" and can go for hours without taking a break
  • If I'm working on something where there are lots of unknowns, no right answer, many choices, my focus can get derailed
  • While I'm getting derailed I usually end up getting hungry, thirsty, sleepy etc ...

Theory: It's the lizard brain!

Blog12 SmallMovePt1 Slide2

I made a small reference to the Lizard Brain (aka The Amygdala - see Seth Godin's Linchpin for more details) in an earlier post. It turns out the Amygdala can also make you think you need to take a break, eat or drink something when in fact you don't. The lizard brain might do this in order to avoid the effort necessary to do anything outside of your comfort zone, e.g. things that may cause you to lose time, money, reputation, or that may bring you ridicule. So is it possible my Amygdala was trying to get me to stop thinking about the already challenging details of a potentially risky project? If so, I need to figure out a plan to combat this!

"It's go time!"
As it turns out my plan is fairly simple. I'm going to power through my procrastination symptoms one small step at a time. By this I mean, the next time I feel like I need to take a break, I'll force myself to go an extra minute or ten. Over time I'll steadily increase those minutes into hours. I've already started executing this plan tonight (this post was surprisingly challenging to write - lizard wasn't happy about this instalment and has been fighting me for days to delay publishing). Tonight I've managed to keep going. I was getting insanely sleepy up till a moment ago (after eating a big bowl of Bi Bim Bop  at my local Korean it would be weird if I was hungry so I guess the lizard skipped right on to sleepy :-)

So there it is, the post is finished, the amygdala can have it's sleep, but before I go here's a message for Lizard Brain to sleep on: (consider yourself on notice!)



Saturday, March 19, 2011

Core Values Pt II: Coming up with the list

I recently published the first cut of my Core Values. It's pretty amazing what an effect they're already having. I wouldn't say I'm immediately reformed or transformed, but my awareness has definitely increased. Below I've outlined the steps I followed to come up with the list.

The Plan

Blog11 Slide1

Develop a set of core values that will help me achieve my long term objective/s. i.e.Build things that will make myself and others happy within 20-30 years.

a. List out as many core values as I can based on:

  • Experiences
  • Biographies (Benjamin Franklin, Richard Branson, Tony Hsieh, etc)
  • Core values from others (e.g. Zappos, Seth Godin, Virgin, etc)

b. Describe what each core value means to me.
Note: When dealing with other people's core values stick to my interpretation of the value.

Here's a sample of what I came up with at the end of the brainstorming session:

  • Value:
    • Deliver WOW through Service (Source: Zappos)

    • Interpretation:
      - Go the extra mile in all interactions. Don't settle for the norm.  Always be on the look out to see If there's a way to improve the quality of what you're doing for yourself or others.
  • Value: (I grouped some that I thought were related)
    • Embrace and Drive Change (Source: Zappos)
    • Be Adventurous, Creative and Open Minded (Source: Zappos)
    • Go from Good to Great then Ship It! (Source: Good to Great + Seth Godin)

      - Don't be afraid to seek out and try something different. It's easy to get into a routine and feel safe. But most things that stay dormant atrophy over time. Water that doesn't move becomes stagnant. Muscles that aren't used get weaker. I think most of us have an inclination towards finding stability but it often comes at a price.

      - Don't get snared by the trap of perfection. Recognize when something's ready to ship and ship it. At the same time make sure what you ship is Great! Embrace feedback rather than fearing it. A product that's constantly perfected but never shared is worth little.
  • etc
  • etc
  • etc


  • Reality Check
    I found that my goal wasn't helping me focus as much as I wanted to. A lot of the core values I brainstormed sounded cool, but I didn't want to adopt them all. My goal (I want to build something) was too vague to help me refine the list. How do I know if my core values are going to align with stuff I haven't thought of yet? Instead of focusing on specific things I want to build, I decided to start with figuring out what I enjoy doing. My rationale is that figuring out what I enjoy doing is something I can do now and I know I'd ultimately like build things I enjoy:

    In his free online course (called Lateral Action) Mark McGuiness describes a technique where you try to notice what you like and dislike over a period of time (days/weeks/months). This is where being able to "switch it on" can be very handy. For example, someone might say they don't like grocery shopping, but notice that every time they go shopping they enjoy the coffee aisle. I think most of the time we'd miss a detail like that but perhaps it's a clue! Perhaps your love for coffee goes beyond your average Jo's addiction ;-) Or perhaps not. It's just a clue.

    I've used Mark's technique and added an explanation of why I enjoy the things on my list.

    - In some cases explaining Why? was both tough and revealing.
    - As I was refining the brainstormed values into my first draft I kept referring back to this section to see if my chosen values would support these areas

    • Photography (incl. fashion, documentary and creative portraiture)
      I want to create artwork that evokes an emotional response. Something that makes a difference even if it's just for a moment.

    • IT Architecture (Application Design and Solution Architecture)
      I see software as something that's as necessary as furniture. Figuratively speaking, some people "live" in a piece of software for a significant part of their day. I think investing the effort to design and build software that will help a group of people is worthwhile.
    • Visual Communication
      Presenting ideas more effectively by using more images and less words. Communication is what we do everyday. Why not make it beautiful and highly effective?

    • African Drumming
      It's one of the first times I experience an art that combines both the logical and creative sides of my brain! I also love the idea of being part of a band.

    • Entrepreneurship
      I'd like to run my own business some day where I get to deliver some of the experiences I've enjoyed to others who may share my passions

    • Yoga
      The more I go to Yoga classes the more I'm realizing the importance of "being present" (i.e. mind is focused on where I am rather than "checking out" and being somewhere else). Keeping present when you're struggling through all the various poses is a challenge I enjoy.
  • Consolidate duplicates
  • Personalize
  • Sanity check core values with things you enjoy (Still haven't done enough of this!)



Thursday, March 17, 2011

Core Values Pt I

Last week I wrote about the relationship between brands and core values, since then I've been wondering what my core values are / what I'd like them to be. I invested a lot of time this week into putting together a working draft. I'll explain the steps I took in a follow up post and also plan to talk about the impact that adopting the core values has had.

My Core Values

CoreValues Style 1. Know Your Style
Know your likes, dislikes and understand where they come from. Use your imagination to figure out how you can make things even better. Creatively apply your style in everything you do.
CoreValues SIO 2. Switch it on (Be Present)
Set aside time to be in the moment rather than being lost in your head. Cultivate the skill of noticing what's interesting about the things you see everyday. Your home, street, food, everyday experiences, and especially the people you know. Pay attention to all of your senses.
CoreValues DriveChange 3. Embrace and Drive Change
Aim to try something different, break out of your routine, look for opportunities to change and challenge conventional thinking in the face of change. Make friends with that nervous feeling you get when you're about to take the road less traveled. Don't be reckless, but don't succumb to irrational fear either.
CoreValues MAD 4. Make A Difference
Put people ahead of money. Be generous. When you're building something new or evaluating an idea, put people first. Who will the idea benefit? How will they use it? What might they want? How can you take the solution beyond normal expectations. Changing someone's perspective, even for a moment can make a difference.
CoreValues Communicate 5. Exquisite Communication
Listen more than you speak, ask engaging questions and when you present, put in the effort necessary to engage the audience and increase their level of understanding.
CoreValues Learning 6. Pursue Growth and Learning
Be open to the idea that you should never stop learning. Set aside daily time specifically to increase knowledge. Actively seek out ways to apply and share what you've learned.
CoreValues ShipIt 7. Ship It
Know in advance what needs to be in place to deliver your product and be clear on the delivery date. Plan your work in a way that ensures you can ship. e.g. Brainstorm early (rather than late). Aim to ship great products and know that great is not the same as perfect.
CoreValues MoveForward 8. Move Forward Now
Always be in the state of progressing. Ask yourself what you're able to achieve with what you already have. Recognize procrastination, and avoid it. Favour moving forward and filling deficiencies as you go rather than stalling based on gaps you assume must be filled first
CoreValues DeliverBeyond 9. Deliver "Beyond"
Exercise your capability, go far beyond what's expected. 

    Wednesday, March 09, 2011

    I switched it on

    The title of this blogpost is inspired by my 2 year old nephew who has a number of hobbies, one of which is to tell you whether a light is switched on or off. Only at the time he was calling them "ights" (pronounced eye-ts), and when he says "I switch it off", he might really mean "you switched it off", "you should switch it off" or he switched it off...
    Have you ever been in one of these situations where you suddenly realize you've been making a mistake. All of the clues were there that something wasn't quite right but somehow you were blind to them. This happened to me today. It wasn't a disastrous mistake but I found it funny how long I'd been going down the wrong road when all the signs were there telling me to do a u-turn! How come I missed the signs!?
    Blog9 Slide2
    I think, perhaps it's because we're designed to adapt to our environment, at least to some extent. So if something isn't quite right, many of us adapt and block the problem out. My rationale is based on the fact that after a relatively short period of time our brain gets used to what it sees, smells, feels, hears and tastes until we don't notice anymore. A lot of the time not noticing is handy as it keeps us sane when faced with sensory overload (the fish market, noisy work environment, furnace breaks down in winter ...).
    Blog9 Slide1
    But the flip side to this is we can easily get into the habit of tuning out, at which point it's easy to miss important clues that might otherwise tell us we're making a bad assumption. Taken a step further, tuning out can hinder creativity. This can happen when not seeing what's right in front of us makes it difficult to generate new ideas. So what can we do to jumpstart our powers of perception? Here are a few ideas that might help:
    • Why do I like ...?
      Ask yourself why you like something. It might start out to be something simple like your favourite dish, a song, or a reclining La-Z-Boy couch and get progressively more complex (a hobby or past time, a room, a world leader, a branch of psychology, etc)

    • Manual Pilot
      Choose one thing you do everyday where your mind would normally go on autopilot and resolve to be present instead. Try focusing on your 5 senses. This is a great way to rediscover food!

    • New Shoes
      Ask yourself how someone else might see the same thing or situation. i.e. Put yourself in someone else's shoes. We often get this advice for dealing with tense situations, but I find it's a lot easier to adopt this mindset if you're practising it in less stressful situations on a daily basis.

    • Journal
      Consider writing about your experiences after completing a task. This is handy if things don't go your way, but can also be very interesting when you feel things went really well. I've often just put pen to paper to see what I'd end up saying and sometimes I unravel some insights that surprise me.

    • Unfold the Napkin
      I touched on this technique in an earlier blogpost. Try drawing what's in front of you. It doesn't have to be a time consuming labour of love. It can just be simple sketches involving stick men. Again I've got surprising results using this technique!

    • Mouths of babes
      Spend some time hanging out with kids. It's crazy just how perceptive they are (*I switch it off!*) and remember that we were like that once as well :-)

    Monday, March 07, 2011

    Destination X to Montreal?

    A friend of mine is coming to Canada and wants to go on a scenic drive that ultimately gets him to Montreal (from where he'll be flying back to London, UK). I managed to come up with a few options, but would love to hear from anyone who might be able to add to the list - suggestions welcomed!


    • Drive should be scenic
    • Drive can start anywhere in Canada though should be less than 24hrs of driving
    • Drive must conclude in Montreal
    • Would be during the Summer months

    Option 1: Gaspe to Montreal
    I've done this once, and I thought parts of the trip were breathtaking. Especially when you're driving along the North Coast of Gaspe on Hwy 132. The Gulf of St. Lawrence is totally exposed and the waves come crashing in! It's like scenes you normally only see in movies; The lone car driving along a winding highway right next to the ocean - beautiful! You also get to drive along the St Lawrence through Quebec City and on to Montreal. Lots of opportunities to stop and soak up local culture.

    Air Canada operates flights from Montreal to Gaspe. Alternatively you can drive there and back. I don't think there are direct flights from UK to Gaspe.

    Blog8 Slide1

    Option 2: New Brunswick to Montreal
    Not sure how scenic the entire length of the route is, but I'd imagine it's pretty good. There's a long stretch driving along the St Lawrence through Quebec CIty and onto Montreal. Have done that stretch several times and there are lots of interesting places to stop at see:

    Blog8 Slide2

    Option 3: Vancouver to Calgary and on to Montreal (The Cheating Option)
    I had to bend the rules a little for this one. I've done the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler several times. The views of the Mountains are spectacular as you wind your way towards Whistler. I figure you could fly into Vancouver, drive to Whistler and then drive back through Vancouver and on to Calgary taking in various sights as you go. You could then fly from Calgary to Montreal.

    Blog8 Slide3

    Please leave a comment if you have other suggestions / details to add!

    Saturday, March 05, 2011

    Building a Personal Brand

    There's a proverb that talks about how millions of tiny raindrops eventually create a magnificent lake. What has this got to do with building a successful brand? Not a lot, at least not on the surface.

    Sometime last year I came across the idea that individuals could leverage the brand concept in the same way companies do. I mean imagine walking around with a metaphorical Nike sign floating over your head. Your participation is synonymous with: success, a great team experience, things going to plan, excellent quality, creative thinking, fun, etc etc. That would be pretty cool. But I found the concept difficult to implement. The advice seemed like common sense and there wasn't much detail on how to build the brand. I also sensed it was quite easy to fall into the trap of trying too hard at the cost of being genuine. So I left the outcome to the hands of fate and moved on. Then a couple of weeks ago I started reading "Delivering Happiness" by Tony Hsieh and a lightbulb went off.

    Blog7 Slide1

    Tony is the CEO of Zappos - an online retailer focused on footwear. In his book, Tony talks about the role "core values" have played in making Zappos the company it is today (USD$1.2 billion company with a reputation for providing extraordinary customer experience). What's interesting is that Tony suggests that he never focused directly on developing the Zappos brand. Instead he obsessed about their core values; If you focus on the core values, culture and brand naturally follow. And that's about the time the light bulb went off in my head.

    Blog7 Slide2

    I suddenly understood that trying to ensure that the 1000's of decisions that I make everyday are somehow consistent with a brand image is difficult. Especially when compared to defining a set of core values I'd like to live by. That's incidentally where the analogy of the raindrops and the lake come into this. The raindrops are analogous to the decisions we need to make everyday. If the decisions are aligned the results can be amazing. But how do you align all these decisions, especially when there are so many of them and they're potentially about vastly different topics? (e.g. Do I wake up early or late? Eat fruit or cake? Change job or stay?) I think having a set of core values can help focus the decisions.

    Blog7 Slide3In the lake example, each raindrop shares the same values, they're all aligned as are the forces that make them fall and govern their impact. That's what creates the lake. Imagine what would happen if each drop needed to be dealt with individually? Or if the rules that govern each drop depend on how each individual drop might be feeling at a given moment in time?

    It also seems more geunine to go this route. Rather than focusing on how the brand will help you sell yourself, you're focusing on what you'd like to be or what you'd like to achieve (the lake you want to build). Often good core values have a  selfless component to them. i.e. Make things better for yourself AND the people around you. If that's the case being highly sought after should be natural consequence rather than a forced goal you may have set for yourself.

    Ultimately I think we're more likely to get to our goals if the decisions we make are based on a higher set of principles.