Continue Buying Those Lattes

January 22, 2014

latteThe way you ask a question will have a profound impact on how you answer it.

This is a fundamentally critical concept in the world of innovation. If you are working on a problem/opportunity, changing just one word can influence the types of solutions you get. I’ve discussed this concept extensively on my blog.

But did you know that the way you frame your New Year’s Resolution (if you set one) will have a huge impact on the actions you take towards the achievement of that goal?

According to a survey I conducted a few years ago, over a third of people set financially related goals each year.

For many this means, “save more money.”

Paradoxically, the goal – “save more money” – can have unintended consequences that might leave your bank account with less money in the long run.

When we want to save, we look at where we currently spend money, and how we can reduce those expenditures. For many, their daily stop at Starbucks is one of their guilty pleasures.

As a result, there are many financial advisors who will tell you to “stop buying lattes.” If a latte costs $4 a day, you could save about $1,500 a year by cutting them out. That’s a lotta lattes!

But cutting out your lattes requires a lot of willpower. And as it turns out, willpower is not an unlimited resource.

Let’s examine some scientific research on this.

Imagine individuals tasked with solving a complex problem. In the room where they are sitting wafts the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. On the table in front of them are two dishes: one with the cookies and another with radishes.

Although the combination of the olfactory and visual stimulation made the cookies irresistible, some individuals somehow managed to use their willpower to stay clear of the gooey chocolate.

Kudos to them. They win. Right?

Well, as it turns out, the people who resisted the cookies performed significantly worse on problem solving and other tasks. The willpower it took to resist the delicacies robbed them of their ability to perform a variety of activities. Researchers call this “ego depletion.”

What this implies is that the energy it takes to save $4 may in fact be robbing you of your skills required to make even more money.

What if, instead of focusing on saving $4 a day, you put your energy into finding ways of making an extra $10, $100, or even $1,000 a day? What if you used your latte as fuel for making more money?

There is of course nothing wrong with saving money. I am certain that all of us could do a better job and would benefit from it. But it is important to recognize there is a hidden cost.

As an entrepreneur, I would rather spend money on the guilty pleasures that energize me, help me stay focused, and in the long run enable me to make even more money.

P.S. Of course there are health implications of too many lattes. At 200 calories each, this may add an extra 30 pounds to your waistline each year. Other than bacon, my guilty pleasures are usually healthier (or at least lower calorie) alternatives.

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Resolutions That Can’t Fail

December 27, 2013

It is that time of year when everyone sets their New Year’s Resolutions.

But only 8% of people are always successful in achieving the desired results. 92% fail!  (if you are interested in some fascinating statistics about resolutions, read this article: Interesting New Year’s Resolution Statistics)

But all is not lost. There is a better way.

Here is an article a wrote a while ago, but is timeless: Making Resolutions That Work

Or, if you prefer, you can read the variant of this article that appeared as a full-page article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago (jpg).

The general premise is that instead of setting resolutions that are specific goals (e.g., lose 10 pounds, stop smoking, exercise 3 times a week), you want to create themes that help guide you and your decision making throughout the year.

These themes get me excited about the New Year.  They also make activities that might have seemed tedious, more enjoyable.

Starting today I am off for a week of reflection and contemplation. Early January I will share my themes for 2014.

What are your themes for the new year?

P.S. If you want to learn more about how to live a more “present moment” life, read Goal-Free Living

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Facts About Happiness That May Surprise You

May 11, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact…

At the end of this month, I will be speaking in Copenhagen at a Happiness at Work Conference.  This got me thinking about what it is that makes people truly joyous.

Business Insider gathered some research on this topic and amassed 36 Scientific Facts about happiness, some that may come as a surprise.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • You have to earn 2.5x as much money to be as happy working for someone else as you would be working for yourself:  Perhaps that is why Forbes reported that approximately 543,000 new U.S. businesses are started every month. This is one of the reasons I work for myself. If I don’t like my boss, I only have me to blame!
  • Greater rewards mean less motivation and poorer performance:  “Researchers have found that people are sometimes happier and more effective when they do a task for no money at all than when they receive a small payment. If someone offers a good Samaritan $5 for helping with a flat tire, then he starts thinking about the actual market rate for tire-changing, so a fiver is now insufficient—when a minute ago, he’d have been perfectly content with $0.” I have written about this extensively in the past. See my article, I Won’t Work for Money.
  • Happy people are lucky:  Lucky people tend to focus on the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse.  For example, an individual arrived to an interview with his leg in a cast and mentioned that he had fallen down a flight of stairs. When asked whether he still felt lucky, he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before as he could have broken his neck. This is absolutely how I live, maybe sometime to a fault. I do operate from the belief that everything happens for a reason – I learned this from my father.
  • Happiness is not a destination:  I will be happy when I’m married, have more money, or move to a new location. This is what we tell ourselves.  But the reality is that while these things can contribute to happiness, it is not as much as you may think.  According to Web MD, achieving these milestones account for only about 10% of your whole happiness picture. “Lasting happiness has more to do with how you behave and think — things you control — than with many of life’s circumstances.” This is the essence of my Goal-Free Living book.

Other studies show that people with more money are happy. But what is intriguing is that the researchers found that money did not cause happiness.  Happiness was the creator of wealth.

What other things make you happy?

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Are Your Goals Negatively Impacting Your Relationships?

April 5, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

Last week I briefly touched upon my perspective on goal setting. While they have been universally considered a magic bullet for success both personally and professionally, goals are not without their downsides.

Interestingly, the way in which you frame your goals can have a significant impact on your relationships.

This, according to the authors of a paper published in the Current Directions in Psychological Science that focused on whether people are open and straightforward when working with others.

The study noted that people who establish goals to improve themselves (“self-improvement goals”), like getting better grades, increasing sales numbers or nailing a perfect “10”, tend to be more cooperative in nature.

Whereas people who set goals that will enable them to perform better than others (“performance goals”) such as becoming Valedictorian or completing a task more quickly than a fellow co-worker, have more of a tendency to be “deceitful and less likely to share information with coworkers. The reason for this is fairly obvious – when you want to outperform others, it doesn’t make sense to be honest about information.”

The study suggests that those with self-improvement goals on the other hand tend to be quite open. “If the ultimate goal is to improve yourself, one way to do it is to be very cooperative with other people…(however) they’re not really altruists, per se. They see the social exchange as a means toward the ends of self-improvement.”

Other research shows that those with self-improvement goals are also more open to hearing different perspectives, while those with performance goals “would rather just say, ‘I’m just right and you are wrong.’”

According to the authors, both types of goal setting can be effective. However, their findings suggest that helping individuals frame their goals to focus on self-improvement instead of performance may foster a better overall team environment.

From my perspective, performance goals can be extremely useful for creating a powerful team when the objective is to be better than external competition.

Regardless, a good balance of goals creates a high-performance environment that also fosters collaboration. The key, as I have discussed before, is to not hyper-focus on the goal to the point where you miss the bigger picture and bigger opportunities.

P.S. For more on my goal-setting perspective, read Goal-Free Living.

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To Set Goals or Not Set Goals, That is the Question

March 29, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

My Monday Morning Movie discussed some concepts from my book, Goal-Free Living.

I have long questioned the practice of goal setting.  My book (published in 2006) challenged traditional thinking about goal setting and discusses how we can not only succeed in business (and life) but to do so while achieving great happiness and satisfaction.

Due to its prevalence in business, this goal-free concept is often met with resistance.  But apparently there are others that have challenged this conventional wisdom as well.

In a Harvard Business School working paper, the authors of Goals Gone Wild reviewed a number of studies that indicate that the ”beneficial effects of goal setting have been overstated and that systematic harm caused by goal setting has been largely ignored.”  They state that the side-effects that goal-setting can have include a “narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation. “

One such study is highlighted in a recent New York Times article:

Three groups of participants were asked to create as many words as possible using random letters – similar to the game, Boggle.  Two groups were given a specific goal to formulate at least 9 words.  One of the two teams was offered a financial incentive for hitting this goal, the other was not.  The third group of participants was simply told to do their best.

At the completion, the participants turned in only the answer sheets stating how many words they had created and had disposed of their worksheets.  “But the academic researchers running the experiment had a code to match the worksheets with the answer sheets and discovered that both groups that had been given a goal of creating a certain number of words — whether or not money was involved — cheated 8 to 13 percent of the time. Those in the third group rarely did.”

To set goals or not to set goals.  The debate continues.

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Meander With Purpose (transcript)

March 26, 2013

Here is the transcription for my Monday Morning Movie

Back in 2003, I took a cross country trip that would forever change my life. On June 5th of that year I hopped into my car, and I drove 11,000 miles over the next 90 days without any plans at all.

It was totally unscripted. I had no idea where I was going, I had no idea where I was going to stay, and I had no idea who I was going to meet. I was doing this to meet some interesting people while working on my next book. I had no idea even what the book was going to be about. I knew it would be a little bit about creativity. But I wasn’t sure what the main theme would be.

After driving across the country and interviewing 150 really interesting, creative people, I determined that the common thread between the people who fascinated me the most, where that they were what I would call, ‘goal-free.’ That is, they didn’t have goals. They didn’t relate to their goals the way most people relate to them.

I want to just talk about a couple of key concepts that I learned that summer, when I met all these people, and how I’ve tried to incorporate them into my life.

One of the key principles I learned, was what I call, “use a compass, not a map.” Essentially what that means is, with most people, what we do is we have a specific destination of where we’re going, and then we set our plans, and we go forth and try to hit that destination. With Goal-Free Living, instead you meander with purpose. Instead of having a specific destination, you have a sense of direction that you want to take things, but then you meander with purpose, allowing things to unfold naturally. The way they’re supposed to unfold. Learn as you explore. Learn as you do.

I found this to be an incredible powerful way to live. And it’s an incredible powerful way to innovate. Because the reality is, we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t know what the world has in store for us when it comes to our personal lives. We don’t know what we’re inspired by, what we’re excited about, what we’re most interested in. Because the reality is we only know a very small percentage of what we could possibly do.

So by meandering with purpose, we allow things to unfold, and allow us to discover in the moment what actually works for us.

In business, this is important, because we know that most innovations fail. The reason why they fail, the number one reason, according to CEO’s, is that they failed to meet customer needs.

If you think that sitting in a back room and thinking about problems and studying things from the laboratory is going to give you any sense of what the real world wants, well, you’re fooling yourself. Meander with purpose. Sense of direction. And then explore. Meander. Learn as you do. This to me is an incredibly powerful concept for being able to live a powerful life and to innovate.

As part of that, one of the things I find very useful is the last tip in my Goal-Free Living book, which is called “remain detached.” And remaining detached doesn’t mean being ambivalent or not caring, but it actually means not being so attached to the outcome. I personally found this to be a really difficult concept. I know some people who might be more enlightened that I am could somehow not want what they want. I couldn’t do this.

I got this great advice from someone. He said, “If you want to detach yourself from the outcome, you have to attach yourself to something of a higher purpose.” Something that is in the moment, the present moment.

Because what we tend to attach ourselves to are things in the future. If I’m trying to sell someone something, I’m attached to a future outcome. The sale. As opposed to listening and serving that customer.

If I’m trying to get a job, instead of trying to convince them I’m the right person for the job, maybe I need to just sit there and listen. Maybe I need to be a better listener. Maybe I need to find out, are they the right company for me? We don’t do a great job of listening. We don’t do a great job of being in the present moment, because we’re so focused on what we want.

These two concepts together: “use a compass not a map,” which is about meandering with purpose; and “remaining detached,” which means you attach yourself to something of a higher purpose in the present moment.

I’ve found for myself and for my business, these are two very simple, yet powerful concepts that can change the way I work. Change my relationship to happiness. And it also changes my level of success. Because I’m better at listening. And better at being in the present moment and understanding what’s needed.

This is Steve Shapiro, I look forward to seeing you soon.

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Meander with Purpose

March 25, 2013

Today’s Monday Morning Movie

Back in 2003 I drove across the country with no plans and no agenda. It turned out to be a life changing experience.

After that trip, I wrote Goal-Free Living.

In this video I discuss two concepts from the book: “Use a Compass, Not a Map” and “Remain Detached.”

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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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My O-The Oprah Magazine Article

March 16, 2012

As readers of this blog know, back in November 2005, I was on the cover of O Magazine.  No, my face was not on the magazine. But an article talking about my Goal-Free Living philosophy was featured on the cover. The picture to the right is the actual cover from back then. You will notice an article titled, “What the Happiest People Know for Sure (page 87).”  That is my article.

And now, after over 6 years, the article is online for everyone to read.

Some of you may remember an article I wrote for the American Express OPEN Forum, the title of which implied being in O “hurt” my business.  Yes, I chose a very provocative title to stimulate interest and discussion, and I succeeded.  For quite some time it was the most commented and viewed article on the entire AMEX site.  It was controversial. And yet I am convinced that many people did not really read the article and immediately jumped to conclusions.  I made it VERY clear that being in O Magazine had nothing (or at least very little) to do with the downturn of my business over a half dozen years ago.

My good friend Jane Atkinson often says, “Pick a lane and stay there.”  That is, choose an area of expertise and stay hyper-focused on that.  At that point in my career, I was operating my business like a drunk driver: changing lanes and confusing my clients and prospects.  I was an innovation expert featured in The New York Times. And at the same time, I was writing about not having goals (my Goal-Free Living book) and was featured in Oprah’s magazine.  My corporate clients began to question my dedication to innovation and big business.  And my prospects were confused by my lack of focus.  As Jane also says, “A confused buyer never buys.”  And so my business suffered at that time – not because of a magazine article, but rather a lack of focus on my part.

I want to make it clear: I am SO proud of being featured in O-The Oprah Magazine.  And I am thrilled that my article, after all of these years, is now available for everyone to read.


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My 2012 Themes Revealed

January 12, 2012

Anyone who follows this blog knows that the New Year is my favorite time for reflecting on the past and creating the future.

If you have not read my article on “Making Resolutions That Work,” please do so.  Or, if you prefer, you can read the variant of this article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal exactly one year ago today by clicking on the image.

The general premise is that instead of setting resolutions that are specific goals (e.g., lose 10 pounds), you want to create themes that help guide you and your decision making throughout the year.

After spending a week of reflection, I have settled upon three themes:

  • More Money, Less Work, Greater Impact – This is my business theme.  In particular, I expect to create passive income revenue streams (i.e., make money in my sleep) through repurposing my content and levering channel partners.  By doing this, I can then focus my energies on activities that will have the greatest impact on business and society.
  • Rituals – I usually joke that I lack discipline, so I considered that as my theme.  But “discipline” sounds so harsh and not something that inspires me.  Then it hit me.  While on vacation recently I had some rituals (e.g., reading an inspirational passage upon waking or drinking tea before going to sleep) that I loved.  I realized I could treat “the things I need to do” as rituals.  If I think of writing, calling clients, managing the books, and other tasks as rituals, maybe they will inspire me more.
  • Perfect – This theme may seem a bit odd.  But when on vacation (reflecting on my theme for the year), I used the word “perfect” at least 100 times to describe the trip.  I realized that perfect is a state of mind.  When you declare things to be perfect, they are perfect.  How you see things gives you the reality.  Therefore, by declaration, 2012 will be “perfect.”

These themes get me excited about the New Year.  They also make activities that might have seemed tedious, more enjoyable (in particular the ritual theme).

What are your themes for 2012?

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