Ignore All Advice

December 13, 2012

I decided to get with the 21st century.  Starting today, in addition to my regular writing, I will be recording videos for this blog.  Today’s video is a rant about a topic that has been on my mind lately.  Although, this covers content from earlier blog entries, I am going into a bit more detail here.

Today’s video provides my single best piece of advice: ignore all advice!

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Not Wanting What You Want

December 12, 2012

Some will claim that a component to happiness and success involves detachment.  That is, not worrying about how things turn out.

But this is easier said than done!

People want what they want.  And the more you try to not want something, the more you focus on it.

How do you break this cycle?

While working on Goal-Free-Living, I discovered a useful way to become detached: Attach yourself to something of higher value.

That is, replace the “unhealthy” attachment with a “healthy” one.

For example, if you are in sales and really want to close the deal, you might come off as desperate or pushy.  This usually prevents you from getting what you want: the sale.  The solution? Attach yourself to serving customers rather than focusing on the sale.

Or, if you want to stop a bad habit, replace it with a healthier habit.  Every time I tried to kick my Diet Coke habit many years back (I drank as much as 5 liters a day back in the late 90′s), all I could think about was the vending machine near my desk.  When I chose to drink two liters of water a day (a healthy attachment), without worrying about how many cola’s I drank, my habit was immediately kicked.  Yes, I still had a can from time to time. But the obsession ended and I could focus on work rather than soda.

In the workplace, this can have profound results.

Doug Busch, former Chief Information Officer at Intel once told me, “The best things I have ever done in my career came shortly after I decided that the best thing that could happen to me is that they fire me.”

This is detachment in action. Detachment is not indifference. It is about acting with a commitment to the future while focusing on the present.  When not worried about “keeping his job” he could do his best work.  He no longer played it safe.

If you are in a job interview, remaining detached would mean listening carefully and answering honestly, without concern about the outcome. You will come across as more confident and authentic.  And then you can truly determine if they are right for you, rather than worrying if you are perfect for them.

If you are going to attach yourself to something else, make sure it is healthy.  Some people, to avoid conflict, will avoid it altogether creating more problems in the long run. For example, some people will “attach” themselves to work so that they don’t have to deal with domestic issues. This isn’t a healthy attachments; it is a distraction.

How can you tell if your attachments are healthy? Healthy attachments should:

  • be present moment focused and not about achieving a future objective
  • have you engage and interact with others
  • (potentially) be in service of, or contributing to others
  • increase the level of honesty in your interaction with others

In the book I quoted David Wood the (then) Vice Present of Sales for the Americas for the Bose Corporation. He said, “I’m personally satisfied at the end of the day if I made a difference for someone personally; if someone’s efforts were furthered along with my help. I have this intense desire to feel like I have made an investment in someone else and the company. I am not driven by money or status. I’m not even comfortable partaking in privileged company benefits. Rather, I am driven by contribution, what I do, and the value I add.” This is a very healthy attachment.  And it helped him be a successful leader.

How can you improve your life through the concept of detachment?

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Best Practices Are Stupid Infographic

December 11, 2012

Sacha Chua, a “sketchnote artist and experimenter-at-large” from Toronto, developed this very cool infographic of my Best Practices Are Stupid book. And she was kind enough to allow us to share it under the Creative Commons Attribution License.  So spread the love, and visit Sacha’s site to show your appreciation.  (click on the picture to get the full size image).  Thank you Sacha!


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Study Failures, Not Successes

December 10, 2012

I recently attended a meeting where we were going to be taught the secrets of becoming a “7-figure” professional speaker.  That is, we would learn how to make $1,000,000 a year.  The presenter is part of an elite group of speakers who earn at least this much every year.  His presentation was based on the lessons extracted from this successful group.

In the audience, listening to him, were about 60 professional speakers, ranging in experience from novices to highly accomplished individuals.

He shared ideas like, “Be controversial; say things that others are not saying or are afraid to say,” or “Don’t just speak; have a process.”

Listening to these words of wisdom, I have to say what others were not saying or were afraid to say: “His premise on how to be successful is flawed.”

The truth is, he has no idea how he really got to where he is. He only thinks he does. And no, he was not intentionally being deceitful. Not at all. He was just not applying critical thinking to the process.

Here’s the mistaken logic of so many people…

If we study a lot of successful people (companies) we will know what to do in order to replicate their success.

This is faulty logic for so many reasons.

One reason is “the undersampling of failure.”

When trying to learn what to do, we study those who are successful. But we rarely study those who tried the same things yet were not successful in achieving the same outcome.

I bet if we studied the speakers who make more than a million dollars a year, we will find that all of them shower every day. We could potentially therefore conclude that showering is the key to making a lot of money. Although I suspect that if you never shower, it will indeed impact your success, I do not believe that showering will make you successful. Why? Because there are many people who also shower yet are not as successful.  This is the undersampling of failure.

For every million dollar speaker who “is controversial and says what others are afraid to say,” there are 100 who have done exactly that yet were not successful. But we never study the people who never made it, because we don’t know who they are (unless they were colossal failures).  Their “failures” were not sampled, and therefore we wrongly conclude that this attribute leads to success.

My latest book is called “Best Practices Are Stupid.”   The undersampling of failure is one of three reasons why it is dangerous to blindly follow what others do.

Any time you receive advice, be skeptical.  Any time you read a book, don’t follow blindly.  Any time you study a best practice, carefully consider if it is right for you and if it truly will give you the results you want.

P.S. My hypothesis of why he was really success will be shared in a later blog entry (and he confirmed it without coming out and directly saying it). It has to do with how to “manufacture serendipity” as a means of creating non-linear success. And to be fair, listening to the speaker, I did gather some nice tactics for improving my business that I will be implementing. I only questioned his premise on how to be successful.

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Podcast: Interview with Author of “The Antidote”

December 7, 2012

Today I am thrilled to share with you a 45 minute conversation between me and Oliver Burkeman, the author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

I met Oliver several years ago. We got connected through a book review he did back in 2007 for the Guardian newspaper in England.

He opened his review by saying, “One of the most stress inducing books I’ve ever read is called GOALS!, by the management expert Brian Tracy.”  Reading this, given my contrarian perspective on goals-setting, I knew I was going to like this guy.

Oliver concluded his article by saying…

“Contrast that with the insight of Stephen Shapiro, whose book Goal-Free Living makes the case that you can have some kind of sense of direction to your life without obsessing about the specific destination. ‘Opportunity knocks often, but sometimes softly,’ he says. ‘While blindly pursuing our goals, we often miss unexpected and wonderful opportunities.’ That sounds a lot more smart to me.”  (For those in the goal-setting world, you will appreciate his last point as being a poke at the SMART goals, advocated by many)

After reading this, I immediately wrote Oliver, and soon after we met up in a pub in London. I quickly discovered that he has a contrarian perspective on so many aspects of personal development. And he has a great (dry) sense of humor.  I knew we would get along great.

Fast forward 5 years (after several meetings in pubs on both sides of the “pond”), Oliver wrote The Antidote. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to read a book. And I was not disappointed.  After devouring it on my Kindle, I asked Oliver if he would do a podcast with me.  Fortunately he kindly agreed. We did not discuss anything in advance. He did not give me questions to ask and I didn’t prepare any.  It was a totally goal-free, in the moment interview. I think you will agree, he has some pretty incredible perspectives.

You have three ways to enjoy this interview:

  • Listen to the audio (streaming): 

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  • Download the audio (mp3) (right click to save to your computer)
  • Read the transcription

Please share this with your friends.  I am sure that after listening to this, you will agree that this interview can have a profound impact on anyone who is addicted to positive thinking.

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Reframe Tedious Experiences

December 5, 2012

Slipper and InnovationI have now spoken in 43 countries (#44 coming soon).  As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time in airports and going through security.  TSA Pre is amazing, and has sped up how quickly I get through the lines.

One of the (many) nice things about TSA Pre is that you don’t have to take off your shoes.  For many, disrobing at the airport is a tedious experience.

But sometimes, something that seems like an inconvenience can be made into a pleasant experience.

I remember a few years ago I traveled to Korea. Like everywhere else we needed to take off our shoes.

But unlike other airports, in Seoul, there was an attentive woman who, after I took off my shoes, put slippers on my feet.  I then walked through the scanner to be greeted by another woman who, after I retrieved my shoes, removed the slippers .

It was like a ritual.  I actually liked taking off my shoes.  It made the whole experience of security lines so much more peaceful and relaxing.  I even recall soothing music playing in the background.

In every business, there are unpleasant things that customers, employees or vendors need to do.  And sometimes eliminating those activities is not possible.

In those situations, how can you “reframe” the experience?  How can you turn it into something enjoyable?

Disney World does a brilliant job of making a boring task – waiting in line for a ride – a pleasurable and educational experience.

Look at how you can do this for the less exciting aspects of your business.

Now, if they could combine the speed of TSA Pre with the slipper ritual, I might actually look forward to airport security.

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Focus on Usefulness, Not Validity

December 4, 2012

About 10 years ago, I developed the Personality Poker® system.

Since then, I gathered a mountain of anecdotal evidence supporting its value.  But one question remained in my mind: Is Personality Poker truly valid? That is, do the words actually measure what they are supposed to measure? Or is it just a fun game?

To help assess the situation, several years ago I decided to hire an expert on psychological testing. The perfect person for the job was Michael Wiederman, professor of psychology at Columbia College in South Carolina.

I mentioned to Michael that people found Personality Poker to be extremely simple and valuable. It provided deep insights in a short period of time, while being very easy and intuitive to play.

The question I had was, “Could something so simple also be scientifically valid?”

Michael response: “Simple is good, as long as it’s useful.” And just because somethings is valid, does not mean it is useful.

He went on to recall a study published several years ago in which a battery of widely used depression tests and methods were administered to a group of people, along with some simple questions. Although the tests administered were complex and supposedly scientifically validated, the most accurate predictor of depression was the single question: “Are you depressed?”

So much for scientific validity!

Complexity does not equate to value.  And scientific validation does not imply usefulness.

The real world is only what matters.  And sometimes the simplest solutions are the most useful.

Innovators need to stop relying on spreadsheet, statistics, lab tests, focus groups, surveys, and other attempts to “validate” a solution.

What works in the “laboratory” may not be the best solution for the real world.

Sometimes you need to get out and see what really works.  See what solves a customer’s pain.  Discover latent and hidden needs. And keep it simple.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, once said, “Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away.”

Our left-brained society seems to value things that are complex and “proven.”

But never confuse “validity” with usefulness. And never think that a complex solution is better than a simple one.


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