having the idea is easy

This quote is from an excerpt of a discussion about the craftsmanship and process that is required to take an idea to a remarkable product. Its the reason two people can have an almost identical idea and only one of them turns it into something successful:

… one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen …

-Steve Jobs-

The rest of the quote is here on the Signal vs. Noise blog.

weekly review week ending april 6, 2013

Blog Posts

weekly review – week ending march 30, 2013
think of your business card as a doorway instead of a signpost

Quotes

the myth of waiting for inspiration

Platforms

Most of the platform work this week was on my own blog. I installed stats tracking and started paying attention to where my traffic is coming from and what is causing reactions to my content. I have a couple of tests running currently to see how I can more effectively reach people and provide them with meaningful content.

I also did some tweaking to the design to make headings within posts more prominent in blue.

Hard Edges

I finally declared ‘bankruptcy’ on my Evernote inbox and moved everything to a >>PROCESS notebook so I can chip at it gradually. I want my INBOX notebook to be meaningful and only contain notes for things I am actually working on, so that’s part of the clean up of hard edges this week.

Auto-transfers for the Quicken plan are all scheduled. Now to monitor the test and start tweaking where things don’t go as planned – in other words – “now the fun begins”.

Reflection

I did a lot of thinking about identity and what types of symbols we identify with in different areas of our lives. I was especially interested in flags and the kinds of emotions they evoke. Some good writing fodder here.

I am not reading enough long form non-fiction so this coming week, its back to books and less blogs.

This week is also my 11th wedding anniversary – lots to reminisce about and dream for the future about.

Mentorship

I had a good coffee meeting with a young man who is doing an internship this summer in the same industry as I’m in. I was very impressed by how proactive he has been to this point in his junior year. Most of the opportunities he has gotten have come from making himself ‘visible’ to leaders at companies or startups that he is interested in. His internship last summer came from him attending an event and talking to the heads of the company – and then following up and keeping the relationship going.

I recommended ‘The Start-up of You’ to him because I think he is exactly the kind of person that would take the advice in that book and use it very effectively.

Lean Methods

I could have done a better job using lean methods for my analysis at work last week but I allowed some temporary roadblocks to slow me down instead of attacking the problem from a different angle. This week, I will be more aggressive about getting to results.

think of your business card as a doorway instead of a signpost

Your online reputation is becoming increasingly more important than your business card and ignoring this trend will not make it go away.

But it may impact you in ways you don’t intend.

Business cards are clutter

Traditionally, business cards have served two main functions:

  1. provide a snapshot of how to reach you
  2. enhance the credibility of your role, function or business

I used to have a large collection of business cards because every time I met a new person, that was the best way to retain a quick snapshot of who they were and how to get in touch with them.

I also printed up business cards whenever I started up a new venture to give myself ‘credibility’ and make sure people could reach me. At one point, I carried around three business cards because I was working on three unrelated ventures at the same time.

Between carrying my own cards to give out and holding onto business cards from others, I often had a George Costanza wallet.

Today, this kind of wallet clutter is unnecessary. Instead, when I meet someone new, I ask them for an email address and/or cell phone number and enter them straight into my smartphone where the information automatically syncs up to all my communication devices. If somebody asks how to reach me, I give them my email address which is a more reliable way to reach me than my phone number.

With the ubiquity of digital ways to exchange contact information, the first function of the business card is becoming obsolete.

Your online presence is a competitive advantage

The second function of a business card, credibility, is easily trumped by your online presence.

Consider the following scenario:

You are trying to settle on a contractor to finish your basement. Your budget is $20,000 and the two remaining candidates both have great ideas – their quotes are a only few hundred dollars apart.

Because this is a significant investment, you meet with each of the contractors separately and tell them you need a few days to make your decision.

On departure, the first contractor hands you a business card and tells you to call him or email anytime if you have questions. He has an attractive, glossy business card with his cell phone number and an AOL email address. There is no url for a website but he gives you a few names of references to call.

The second contractor also hands you a business card and tells you to call or email. The business card is less attractive but still professional. It has his cell phone number, a website url and an email address that matches the website. He doesn’t volunteer any references but tells you to ‘check out his website’.

When you visit the second contractor’s website, you find a gallery page with ‘before and after’ pictures of several other basements he has completed. You also find a page of testimonials from satisfied customers.

But the place you spend the most time is the YouTube channel you get to from a link on his website; it contains short videos of him demonstrating several home improvement tips and tricks. One of the videos helps you fix a small problem in your house that has been bugging you for a few weeks.

You call him up and ask if its okay for you to speak to some of the past customers that left testimonials on the website. He gives you some names which you call and they all talk about what a great job he did and how much they learned from him and his videos.

Because you don’t have a url for the first contractor, you google his name and his company name to see what comes up. You find a few yellow pages entries that contain the same contact information on the business card.

You call the references he gave you and they all say he did a great job.

At this point, are you still conflicted about which contractor to choose?

Despite the similarity of their ideas and quotes, the second contractor would have significantly more credibility with me than the first even if the first one had the better business card and just as many references.

The first contractor’s approach to credibility is through the attractiveness of his business card and the list of references he provides. The business card is a signpost of his services.

But the second contractor uses his business card as a doorway to enchanting you even before you pay him a single dollar. His approach to credibility is through the engagement and generosity that is enabled by his online presence – he not only tells you about his services, he ‘gives away’ his expertise to you for free.

I believe the second approach will win in the majority of situations because it goes beyond a transaction and focuses on building a relationship. The second contractor is leveraging the power of a platform to differentiate himself and build a tribe of followers that will act as an extension of his marketing.

Market by connecting and engaging

I’ve used the example of a business card but this concept applies to any of the traditional pieces of collateral that we use for credibility and marketing.

It applies to brochures, postcards, billboards, posters, giveaways.

It applies to your resume.

All this collateral is not an end in itself – it should be used as a doorway to invite your prospects into a connection and relationship with you.

It is this connection that will yield the most fulfilling and impactful results in your career and business.

weekly review – week ending march 30, 2013

Blog Posts

doing teaches you a lot more than planning
how passion works in guiding your path

Quotes

the fear of missing out
studying without doing

Platforms

This week was primarily web design work and updating my WordPress CMS skills. Updated my sister’s fashion website homepage using CSS grid and div styling. Updated another platform website for LV and learned how to convert posts to post excerpts on the homepage as well as creating a gallery for displaying pictures.

Hard Edges

I finally updated Quicken to the point that I am comfortable setting up automated system for finances. This week’s focus is calculating amounts and scheduling all the auto-transfers.

Reflection

Easter weekend is always a time of reflection for me about my faith. The most powerful thought that I need to process more and blog about this week was the idea that God is both in the Light and the Darkness in our lives. We tend to attribute too much to the Enemy without seeing what the Lord is working through us with adversity.

I’ve also started reading Decisive by one of my favorite writing teams, The Heath Brothers. Plenty to chew on here about how we make decisions and the flaws in most of our approaches to deciding.

Mentorship

I’m still working with my brother and his job search. I have to think through some additional strategies and contacts in my network that could help him get more traction. I need to be a better coach to him too. I’m thinking about the importance of balancing strategy, coaching and cheerleading as a general approach to mentorship.

I’m also helping another mentee with career/job search related issues that led to this post.

Lean Methods

Not much update here this week but this upcoming week, I have to use this approach to some analysis at work.

the fear of missing out

This is a great post by Seth Godin about a problem that is getting worse now that we are so connected with media – you help The Resistance to trick you by spending too much time trying to be ‘in the know’.

Quote from the post:

Somewhere, right this very moment, someone is having more fun than you.

Making more money than you.

Doing something more important, with better friends, and a happier ending, than you. Or possibly just better at Words with Friends than you are.

You’re missing out.

The lizard brain can’t rest until it knows that everyone likes us, that no one is offended, that all graphs are ticking up and to the right and the future is assured. But of course, the future (and the present) isn’t perfect. It can’t be.

The full post can be found here

how passion works in guiding your path

“Follow your passion”
“Your gifts will make room for you”
“Do what you love and the resources will follow”

A few days ago I had an interesting conversation with a junior in college who called me because she was distraught about how many rejections she was receiving for her applications to internships. She was baffled by what was going on and was seeking advice on how she could generate more success in the process.

On the surface, she was doing all the right things. She submitted her resume to all the right companies. She had an internship the prior summer that told a good story about how she was a good fit. And her academic major was in the right lane for the jobs she was seeking in Financial Services.

Something wasn’t quite adding up.

So I decided to ask her a few questions, starting with the easy ones like ‘what is your GPA?’ and ‘what do you do for extracurriculars?’. This helped me to identify some reasons why she may have not been seeing the success she expected.

But the question which really helped me to diagnose the problem was when I asked her:

“What are you passionate about?… what do you really want to do?”

She started off by answering about how passionate she was about ‘Sales and Trading’ and how she felt her skills and background really made her a good fit for this… but I wasn’t buying it.

So I rephrased the question:

“What do you geek out about?… what is the area in which you get consumed to a point that is almost weird to other people?”

“Well, I would say development.” Because of prior conversations I’ve had with her I knew she was talking about economic development – specifically in Africa.

“Tell me a little more about that.”

“I don’t believe microfinance is the answer…”

“Really, why?”

For the next few minutes we had an engaging back and forth dialog that culminated in me commenting:

“I bet I could get you into a heated argument about microfinance and you would enthusiastically take me on.”

This was nothing like the discussion we had about Sales and Trading. With this topic it was clear that she truly cared

… and I was buying it.

So I asked her another (somewhat leading) question:

“Do you think you are on the path you are on because its what you see everybody else doing and not necessarily what you are here to do?”

“Probably…”

“And, do you fear that if you followed the Development path, you wouldn’t make any money?”

“Yes”

I could now fully relate to her dilemma because of my own journey.

‘Inspirational’ phrases like the three quotes at the beginning of this post have been a source of continuous anxiety and stress for me for years. I have never been able to fit my skills, experiences and interests into a neat box. This is especially stressful coming from a traditional African family where only certain academic pursuits are considered acceptable to pay attention to, while other things that are more artistic or unconventional are seen as impractical and a waste of time.

My situation was compounded by my strong interest and aptitude in Math and Science because I was just as strong in the ‘hard subjects’ as I was artistically. So it was not a simple choice where I should focus. I was not like my older brother who knew from his early teens that he wanted to be a doctor.

In fact for several years I wished that I was horrible at every subject but Art or Drama so that it was more obvious what I should spend my life doing.

But there were no such easy answers because when you have interests and passions that don’t naturally line up to an existing ‘career box’ you always feel like you are fumbling around in a dark room trying to find an ever elusive light switch.

For years I searched for this light switch using different approaches:

  • pursuing architecture because I thought it would be a natural blend of my art and science skills until an internship after my freshman year where I realized it was the wrong path
  • diving head first into Film Animation as a major in college because I had never experienced the validation of an artistic pursuit being my main focus
  • applying to (and landing) a job as a management consultant because I wanted to ‘keep my options open’ in terms of career paths and a career in animation was not viable for somebody who needed a work visa to stay in the country
  • operating a freelance writing business when my management consulting career ended abruptly until I realized that I did not enjoy the stress of ‘cranking out’ writing projects on spec
  • a failed career as a mortgage broker at the height of the real estate boom in which I realized I was no good at commissioned sales

I could list several more examples of my journey, but the main point is that somewhere along the way I realized that I was trying to find a light switch that did not exist – I was trying to solve the wrong equation. I thought that I needed to figure out what career path my passions translated into and then I would catch my stride.

One of my current favorite bloggers, Sacha Chua, calls this “the myths of a sudden calling.”. In a recent article, she articulates my ‘light switch’ odyssey very well:

“When people wish for passion, I think what they’re really wishing for is certainty: the knowledge that this, here, is exactly what you are meant to do, that intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world values. The certainty that this is the best way to spend this moment in time, and the ease of not having to make yourself do something or fight distractions.”

“Passion doesn’t strike out of the blue.”

Reading this article was a confirmation of a change in my approach over the last few years that I have found to be much more successful. Rather than trying to predetermine what ‘box’ my passions are indicating, I have surrendered to the understanding that passions are more like a flash light than a light switch. They illuminate just enough of the path ahead for you to move forward without giving you the full picture. But as you move that flashlight around, you discover more about your purpose and it becomes easier to determine whether you are veering off course, or whether you are operating closer to your ‘sweet spot’.

Passions on their own are useless though if you don’t do the work of focusing, creating and shipping.

You have to deliberate less than you act.

You have to experiment more than you plan.

And you have to see failure as a source of educational data, rather than an embarrassment to be avoided.

My final piece of advice for my college junior friend was that she has to pause whatever path she has followed to this point and take a detailed inventory of where her passions really lie. And then taking those passions as a starting point, she has to face her fears and take actions that will give her useful feedback about her path. Over time, these series of steps will start to form a clearer picture of her purpose and she will be able to use each experience to inform the next successfully.

I find writing is an excellent way to do this kind of inventory – so I suggested she do a “stream of consciousness” piece of writing and see where it takes her.

I am sure she will surprise herself with what she finds out.

doing teaches you a lot more than planning

I am a planner by nature. Give me a new project or venture and I get excited just by the prospect of thinking through the strategy and coming up with a robust plan to move it forward. Those early brainstorming sessions when ‘anything is possible’ are like a narcotic to me and if I am not careful, I can stay in that mode too long.

The problem with staying in the planning phase is that you are dealing with too much theory. Creating contingency plan after contingency plan is really just a smokescreen for giving in to The Resistance and until you take some sort of action to put you in front of your customers or the recipients of your ideas, you really have no feedback that is useful.

This weekend my wife and I experienced a perfect illustration of the power of doing. We have been talking about helping my sister expand her Ugandan fashion business in the US for close to two years but we have not really taken any steps to move things forward. About a month ago, my wife signed up for an event through our church that showcases different vendors in a ‘bazaar’ format and we decided to set up a table with my sister’s fashions to drum up some business.

The event was this weekend and we only made one sale.

But, man did we learn a lot about how we can be more successful next time. Not only did we interact with real life prospects and hear the kinds of things that interested or did not interest them, having the deadline of the event forced us to put together the beginning infrastructure for us to truly move this venture forward.

Instead of taking weeks to come up with a full-fledged e-commerce site for the business, I spent a few hours updating her existing website and the shopping cart I was able to create was quiet useful – a true MVP that I can now use as starting point to get to the right solution over time. Because I had a deadline, I had to ship.

Another outcome of the deadline is that it forced us to work through the issues of pricing, shipping costs, profitability and time-to-market with my sister and again, although we still have a lot of issues to resolve, there is forward momentum.

Finally, the one sale could be seen as a failure, but it is actually an excellent motivator to do a whole transaction from start to finish and ensure the client has as enchanting an experience as possible. The feedback we get from serving this one customer will be worth multiples over any spreadsheet we could have put together of projected sales and expected customer responses to marketing.

When it comes to launching a platform (in this case, my sister’s US presence for her business), I believe doing will always trump planning.

weekly review – week ending march 21, 2013

With my newfound resolve to defeat the resistance and get more meaningful things done, I think a little public accountability couldn’t hurt.

My goal is to write a weekly post about how I am progressing with the 5 themes I laid out for myself earlier this year.

By focusing on those themes, I have definitely improved my understanding of of myself over the last 2 months and am becoming more realistic about how I truly behave – my hope is that writing my progress down will help me solve problems where I’m stuck and make connections that I would not have otherwise seen.

Platforms

I have two very exciting platform building projects in flight. One is for a couple who have been doing public speaking for years and now realize that the urgency of their message means that it has to scale. I am part of a working group of volunteers that are helping them to design and deploy the various aspects of their platform. So far I have helped by building their website, helping with the design of their logo, and set up the ‘containers’ for their social media strategy. I will write about this project more as it develops.

The second project is for a young business where the owner wants to differentiate herself and build something special. More on this to come too.

Hard Edges

I am in the process of tightening up our home budgeting systems so that more of it can be automated. The clearer edges around what goes where and is used for what is an experiment I am hoping will free me up from some of the detailed reconciling I do every other week.

Reflection

I read an excellent book by the founder of LinkedIn called The Start-up of You. Because of this a lot of my reflection recently has been about how I need to practice more “leading with generosity” in my networks.

The book also helped me make the decision to join the board of directors of a non-profit that was started by a friend. I am honored that he even asked me to serve and after attending my first meeting this week, I am truly enchanted with the work they do and ready to share my time and talent to help them.

Mentorship

One of my younger brothers recently lost his job and I am helping him navigate the process I had to go through when I lost my first job out of college. I am really proud of him for how resilient he has been and we are praying that one of his leads will yield some fruit very soon.

Lean Methods

I am working on a website project for a client who has provided very little direction in terms of content or branding. In the past, I would have insisted on getting these full details before touching any HTML or CSS, but I realized in this case that I had enough information to do an MVP. So I put it together over a weekend using a WordPress theme as a base and sent it to him for review. It felt good to ship and now he has promised to provide me content because he can see the finish line.