How to Change Your Results by Changing Your Language

August 7, 2007

Which magazine do you think men are more likely to buy:

  • a men’s health magazine with the cover, “Lose Your Gut Fast” or
  • a similar magazine with the cover, “Get Six Pack Abs”?

One study showed that over 80% of men chose the first cover – “Lose Your Gut Fast.” Why?

People are more interested in avoiding (or reducing) pain than they are in increasing pleasure.

The Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, once said that three requirements must be present for an individual to change:

  1. The individual must be dissatisfied with the current state of affairs.
  2. They must see a better state.
  3. They must believe that they can reach that better state.

That last point is critical as it relates to the “gut” issue. When someone is 20 pounds overweight, as many Americans are, six pack abs may be desirable but seem inconceivable. I sometimes joke that I would be happy with a “two-pack.” Only when your gut is gone will the idea of six pack abs seem like a possibility.

Tversky and Kahneman demonstrated how people change their perceptions when the same problem is stated in different ways. The classic example is the “Asian disease” problem (1981) where a group of individuals were asked the following question:

Imagine that the US is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed.

  • Program A, which will save 200 people
  • Program B, where there is 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved, and 2/3 probability that no one will be saved

Which of the two programs would you choose?

Tversky and Kahneman found that 72% of those asked chose the “risk averse” position – Program A. The prospect of saving 200 lives with certainty was more promising than the probability of a one-in-three chance of saving 600 lives.

A second group of respondents were given the same story of the Asian disease problem, but were provided with different options.

  • Program C, where 400 people will die.
  • Program D, where there is 1/3 probability that nobody will die, and 2/3 probability that all 600 people will die.

Which of the two programs would you choose?

A whopping 78% of respondents in the second problem chose the “risk taking” position – Program D. The certain death of 400 people is less acceptable than the two-in-three chance that 600 people will die.

Of course, options A and options C are identical, as are options B and options D. Yet the different phrasing stimulated completely different responses.

This study again shows that people will take greater risks to minimize (or reduce) their pain, yet they will play it safe when the option is to increase their pleasure.

Barry Schwartz provides some other excellent examples in his Scientific American Mind magazine article (August/September). One example he sites: “Appeals to women to do breast self-exams that emphasize the benefits of early cancer detection (gains) are less effective than those that emphasize the costs of late detection (losses).”

In my article, “How to Tell If Your Intuition Is Good,” I discuss how we get attached to what we have. When taking a test, we remember (painfully) situations where we had an answer correct, changed it, and therefore got it wrong. Surprisingly, we rarely notice the reverse. We are more aware of our losses than our gains.

Many years back I did work for a client. Although I would have been happy to do it for $9,000 (not actual figures) they agreed to pay me $10,000 for my efforts. Unfortunately, due to shoddy work by a subcontractor, I volunteered to refund $1,000 (out of my own pocket) to the client, netting me $9,000. Interestingly, I would have been happy getting paid $9,000 for the job, yet getting $10,000 and losing $1,000 still irks me to this day.

The loss of $1,000 hurts worse than a gain of $1,000 feels good.

When you are trying to get someone to change (or buy your product/service/ideas), do you focus on their gained pleasure or eliminated pain? From my experience, the latter is much more effective.

What are your examples of where you changed your language and got different results?

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How to Get More Done…By Being Lazy

June 23, 2007

Back in 1985, I worked for Unisys (then Burroughs) as part of an engineering co-op program while in college. This gave me hands-on experience working in the production control department for this large computer manufacturer. As I was leaving the company, the department head called me the laziest person he ever met. He meant it as a compliment. Let me explain.

When I started this job I worked 50 hours a week. My direct supervisor worked 60 hours a week. Life was good, until my supervisor was laid off and I inherited all of her work. Faced with having to work 110 hours a week, I decided to take a hard look at what we were doing.

Over the course of a weekend, I analyzed all of the activities I now needed to perform. I hoped to get my work from 110 hours to 50 hours (or less). Here’s what I found:

  • Only 20% of my work was high value add “knowledge work.” These were the items I still needed to perform.
  • Many activities we performed were non-value add. We had done them in the past, but they were no longer necessary, so I stopped doing them altogether.
  • Several activities were really the responsibility of another department or individual. Therefore, I worked to get these activities assigned to the correct parties. Not only did this reduce my workload, but it also reduced the overall time required by the company as a whole.
  • A large number of “transactional” activities were done manually and were candidates for automation (we used punch cards back then). None of these activities were very complicated, so I was able to write some simple programs in a matter of hours.

After only two days of analysis and work, I managed to get my workload from 110 hours to 20 hours. Given that I had free time on my hands, I looked for other activities in the company that could be made more productive.

I discovered a large computer program that was run once a week. It helped balance workloads across the entire company (don’t worry about the details). The software was exceptionally intricate and the data requirements were massive. It often took days to input the data. Due to the complexity of the program, it had to be run overnight. I analyzed the overall process and quickly developed a “rough cut” version of the software that took only minutes to input data and seconds to run. After using my program for a year, they found that its results were within 5% accuracy of the larger program that took over 100 times the effort to run.

Most people do whatever it takes to get the job done. I was “too lazy” to do it the traditional way. I don’t mind working hard, but I don’t want to work any harder than I need to. If I can get everything done in 20 hours rather than 110 hours, I can then choose how I spend my free time. I can spend my time being creative and develop new ideas, I can perform high value work, or I can take a break and relax. It’s my choice. And it is your choice too.

  • What work do you do that is non-value add? Stop doing it!
  • What work do you do that others can/should do? Delegate or outsource these activities. Get a “virtual assistant” to do your routine activities. Partner with someone who might be better skilled to do this activity.
  • What work can be automated? Buy off the shelf software to help speed things up. Or use eLance.com to find someone who can build you a custom computer program.

Focus your energies on the items that are truly value add AND differentiate you from the competition. Eliminate, automate, or delegate the rest.

What other strategies have you used to get more done with less effort?

P.S. If the concept of getting more done with less effort appeals to you, be sure to read my article on “compass-driven strategic planning

P.P.S. The picture to the right is the image on the cover of the Russian translation of Goal-Free Living. Looks more like “goal-less living” to me.

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How to Perform at Optimal Levels

May 6, 2007

In the early 1900s, Robert Yerkes and J. D. Dodson developed the aptly named Yerkes-Dodson Law. The premise is that performance increases relative to motivation (they call it “arousal”) only to a point, after which performance drops. It is typically drawn as an inverted U-shaped curve.

You will notice that I superimposed three “goal” concepts on this graph to give you a sense of how they (roughly) relate.

If you are goal-less, you have no sense of direction and no motivation. Therefore, your performance is low. This is not surprising.

As your motivation increases, your performance increases. Being goal-free – having a sense of direction and purpose, without specific deadlines and limitations – can increase performance…to a point.

Then, as you become goal-driven, performance paradoxically decreases. Goals increase stress and focus you on the future rather than the present.

This phenomenon has been documented in numerous places throughout this blog. Race-car pit crews who increase performance when they are not worried about the stop watch. Students who perform better on exams when they are not as focused on grades. Sales people who sell more when they are not driven by sales targets.

Yerkes and Dodson suggest that different types of tasks require different levels of arousal (to use their word). To improve concentration, intellectually challenging tasks require lower levels of arousal for optimal performance while physically demanding tasks require higher levels. This may explains why professional athletes tend to be more goal-driven. However, even then, goals can limit performance. Listen to my interview with Dr. Doug Gardner, former sports psychology consultant to the Boston Red Sox.

Goal-Free Living is NOT about eliminating your goals. You can have goals and still perform at optimal levels. They key is to have the RIGHT goals (ones that “pull” you forward and don’t create stress) and be PRESENT to what you are doing (being detached from the desired outcomes).

Do you have examples of where you performed at optimal levels by freeing yourself from the stranglehold of rigid goals?

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Never Trust an Expert

April 16, 2007

A couple of nights ago, I gave a presentation to a group of eager individuals who are either launching or advancing their speaking careers. During our 90 minute discussion, I gave dozens of tips and techniques for growing their business.

At the end of the evening, one attendee asked, “What is the MOST important tip?” I thought about this for a minute and replied, “I don’t know.”

Although this answer may seem like a cop out, it is in fact the truth. No one REALLY knows what made them successful. More importantly, they have no idea how others can replicate their success. They may be able to look at a series of events that led to a particular outcome. But most likely the “most important tip” is something completely different than what is seen on the surface.

Last year I attended a “book marketing” conference led by a well known author who has sold millions (and millions) of books. His promise was to provide steps and tools that made him successful so that others can also reap the rewards. Thousands of people have tried his formula over the years and as far as I can tell, none have come even close to his level of success. Those that achieved some level of success did so by riding on the coat-tails of this author, leveraging his name and network.

I am not implying that these experts are misleading or malicious. Not at all. The issue lies in our inability to find the correct correlations between cause and effect. Too many hidden factors play a major role – ones that we might never consider or notice. Most experts use anecdotal evidence to support their conclusions. “It worked for me and a few of my buddies, so it should work for you.” This is faulty reasoning. Maybe the expert’s “10 Steps to Financial Wealth” were not the true causes of their success.

There are many, harder to measure factors that often play a substantial role. Your attitude plays a larger part than you might think. Your Rolodex of contacts can be a huge part of the equation. Being in the right place at the right time has launched many businesses, including Microsoft. Or sometimes plain old dumb luck is the real cause. Fortunately, in the case of luck, people can create their own luck. Studies show that those who are less goal-oriented are luckier than “goalaholics” because they are open to possibilities outside of their narrow goal-focus.

So the next time someone makes a suggestion – or someone tries to sell you their 5 steps to success – be skeptical. Although it may be great advice, it may also be (unintentionally) misinformed counsel. They may not know the REAL cause of their success. Then again, this blog entry is my advice to you – so it too should be taken with a grain of salt.

P.S. Notice this entry is entitled, “Never TRUST an Expert” and not ‘Never LISTEN to an Expert.”

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How To Always Be On Time

April 3, 2007

StopwatchRight now I am sitting in the Las Vegas airport. With an hour to kill, I decided to write this blog entry with the harmonious sound of slot machines ringing in my ears.

I know so many road warriors who pride themselves in being able to get to the gate just as the doors are closing. Not me. I appreciate having extra time at the airport to relax and work before my flight. In fact, I tend to get to most places early. And there is a good reason.

My background is process design where there is a concept called “the theory of constraints.” The general idea is that “success” is limited by at least one constraining process (i.e., a bottleneck). In the business world, this means that if you want to make more money, the best way to do that is to increase the throughput at the bottleneck so that overall throughput is increased. You can think of this as strengthening the “weakest link in the chain.”

I use the theory of constraints in my personal life. With nearly 1 million miles of flying under my belt, I have never missed a flight. How is this possible? Because I allow plenty of time to get to the airport. I live a mere 15 minutes from Logan International in Boston, yet I typically leave for the airport two hours before a flight. Why?

We are all at the mercy of various bottlenecks: traffic on the way to the airport and long lines at the check in counter, baggage drop-off, and security. Any one of these could prevent me from getting to my plane on time…and I can’t predict when it will happen.

Therefore, instead of sitting in my office working until the last minute and then scrambling to get to the plane on time, I get to the airport early and work there. My philosophy is to put as many of the potential bottlenecks behind me before I settle down. When I get to the airport, I always check in first and drop off my luggage (I know I can print my boarding card from my computer before going to the airport, but I find this saves me very little time as I still need to check my luggage). Although I could then sit down at Dunkin’ Donuts and relax, I still have another bottleneck – security – ahead of me. Therefore, if possible, I go through security before getting my bagel and diet Coke. Besides, we can’t bring liquids through security anymore.

With technology these days, I can be as productive at the airport as I would be in my own office. I have a BlackBerry which delivers my email. I use my BlackBerry as a modem to connect my computer to the internet. The airport is an effective remote office. And doing it this way allows me to be totally stress free. I “put bottlenecks behind me” nearly every day.

If I am heading to a meeting, but haven’t eaten, I may drive through the known traffic spots before getting some food. I always leave plenty of extra time. The worst that happens is I arrive at my destination ahead of schedule. And since I assume that I will be early, I plan activities (work or pleasure) for me to do during this spare time. The good news is, I never have to have a contingency plan for if I am late.

It costs $2 to ride the T (Boston’s subway/train system), and you must have a ticket to go through the turnstile. When finishing one trip, I always purchase tickets for my next trips. This way I do not need to buy tickets when I am in a hurry to catch a train. There is nothing worse than shoving dollars into a ticket machine (and having the machine spit out your crumpled bills) when you hear the train pulling into the station. I know if I miss a train, I will have to wait at least another 15 minutes.

With potential bottlenecks behind you, you save yourself time and frustration. You will almost always be on time. And you can still be highly productive when you arrive at your destination early. OK, you won’t get that wonderful adrenaline rush this way. But in the long run, this approach keeps my blood pressure in check. Besides, numerous studies show that people who are not under severe time constraints operate at higher levels of performance. Goal-Free Living is stress-free living which is highly-effective living.

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Why It’s So Hard to Be Happy

March 19, 2007

Have you noticed more and more literature supporting the goal-free concept? I have. And nearly every day, someone writes to tell me about an article they read that touts the benefits of “not focusing on your goals.”

One such article entitled,”Why It’s So Hard to Be Happy” by Michael Wiederman, appeared in the Feb/Mar 2007 issue of “Scientific American Mind.”

In the article, Wiederman discusses 5 tips for being happier. Numbers 1 and 5 may seem familiar:

#1 – Do Not Focus on Goals. …you must be vigilant against that internal voice that whispers, “But I would be a bit happier if only…” (He goes on to explain why achieving a goal does not necessarily bring happiness. I am reminded of my goal-free statistics: 58% of people admit to willingly sacrificing their happiness today in the belief that when they achieve their goals they will be happier. Unfortunately, 41% of Americans say that achieving their goals has not made them happier and has only left them disillusioned.)

#5 – Practice Living in the Moment. Start small by focusing on your sensory experience while engaging in a routine task. Over time, spend less energy thinking about the past or the future. (Being present is key to being goal-free)

The other 3? #2 – Make Time to Volunteer, #3 – Practice Moderation, #4 – Strive for Contentment

There is also a section in the article labeled: “Goals + Achievement = Happiness?” The question mark at the end is critical. As you might suspect, the equation is not true. Wiederman provides more evidence that money can not buy happiness. He quotes one study done by Michael R. Hagerty of the Graduate School of Management at U Cal Davis. Hagerty discovered that “the greater the income disparity within a community, the less its residents were satisfied with their lives.” Wiederman concludes, “When we are aware that others are better off than we are, our own satisfaction suffers.” (This conclusion is supported by other studies from my blog)

The article also cites psychologists Williams D. McIntosh of Georgia Southern University and Leonard L. Martin of the University of Georgia who theorize that “people who repeatedly focus on attaining goals are less likely to be happy.” Wiederman concludes, “Psychologists have found that we humans are good at deceiving ourselves about the future. We tend to believe that our prospects for increased happiness are better than our current circumstances.” Of course, this is not true.

The most interesting study was by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at U Cal Riverside, who looked at the correlation between happiness and success. She observed that, “Happy people were not necessarily happier after their success than they were before, but they tended to be happier than others who were less successful.” Her conclusion? “Success is related to happiness – but as a consequence, not a cause, of mood…happy people have other personality traits that facilitate success.”

It’s a good article, so I recommend you buy this issue of Scientific American Mind. Better yet, subscribe to the magazine.

P.S. Michael Wiederman just agreed to do a podcast for goalfree.com. Stay tuned.

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How to Tell If Your Intuition Is Good

January 11, 2007

My friend Susanne and I were recently playing a trivia game. She’s pretty good with the trivia. However, at one point, she got a couple wrong answers in row. “Urgh,” she blurted out, “every time I have a gut answer and change it, it was actually correct.”

This made me curious. Malcolm Gladwell, in the book Blink, said that we make our best decisions in a blink of an eye. Was this true in Susanne’s case? Or was her mind playing tricks on her? To test this out, we did a little – admittedly unscientific – experiment.

We turned to a set of trivia questions where you had to guess the year that different events took place. For example, the year President Ford survived two assassination attempts (1975), or the year Pete Rose set a National League consecutive game hitting streak record of 44 (1978).

For our experiment, we took 10 questions. I would read her the name of an event (like the signing of the SALT II treaty) and Susanne would instantaneously give me her “gut” answer. I marked down her answer as she proceeded to use analysis and a bit of time to come up with a final “logical” answer. In this case, the correct answer is 1979.

The results?

Out of 10 questions:

  • One of her “gut” answers was closer than her “logical” answer – but only by one year.
  • Four responses were unchanged after applying further reasoning. This means that 40% of the time, her “gut” answer and “logical” answer were the same.
  • Five times, when she changed her “gut” response, her “logical” answer proved to be closer to the real date, often significantly closer.

What does this mean? Well, given that our study was not statistically valid, not much. However, it does point out an interesting phenomenon. Humans get attached to things such as our gut responses. When we change a gut answer that was correct and give a final answer that is wrong, we kick ourselves. However, we are much less likely to remember the situations where our gut answer was wrong and our final answer was correct.

I have seen this concept in action in other places too, such as gambling.

I like blackjack because it is a game of probability – and only probability. I find it interesting that so many people are superstitious and have illogical beliefs. One time I was at the blackjack table with my friend, Gary. In total, there were five of us at the table. One of the other players was quite a beginner. In fact, he stunk! We nicknamed him “Stinkie.” He would take cards (a hit) when he clearly should not. And he would stand when almost any other player would hit. As expected, he lost a lot of hands, and a lot of money. That is expected and not very interesting.

The interesting part is that Gary became quite agitated. He was convinced that Stinkie was negatively affecting HIS hands. For example, on one hand, Stinkie took a card when he should certainly have stayed. The card he got was the one Gary wanted, and as a result Gary lost. During another hand, the beginner stayed when he should have taken a card. The card that would have helped the beginner in fact helped the dealer, and everyone at the table lost.

Tempers were flaring. The other players would like to have switched tables, but the casino was crowded and there were no other seats available. Instead, everyone wanted to lynch the beginner – or at least convince him to leave. I was amused by these violent reactions. From my perspective the beginner had NO impact on my winnings – probabilistically speaking. Everyone noticed the times when the beginner’s actions caused them to lose. But they NEVER noticed the times when his actions helped them win. NEVER.

That evening, Gary was still convinced he lost money because of Stinkie. I tried to convince him that this bad player – purely from a probabilistic perspective – had no impact on him or the other players. He was not convinced. So I decided to put together a little experiment. I created a game that accurately simulated hundreds of hands of blackjack. For every hand, we kept track of whether the bad player’s actions impacted the other player. After 200 hands, approximately 50% of the time, the bad player had no impact on the other player. 25% of the time the bad player hurt the other player. And 25% of the time, the bad player actually helped the other player – they won when they otherwise would have lost.

It is interesting how human nature compels us to fixate on what we lose rather than what we gain.

I remember hearing about a study done with college students who were given a multiple choice exam. The test administrators developed it in such a way that they could track when a student changed an answer.

After the students received their results, the examiner asked if, when the student changed a particular answer, whether they believed that their first answer was correct more often or not. Nearly all of the students believed that their first answers, or “gut” answers, were in fact correct, and that when they changed their response they more often got it wrong. This was similar to Susanne’s initial belief.

However, the study showed that the students’ final answers were more often correct than their gut answers – by a wide margin.

Why is this so?

One of the reasons is attachment. When we have something and lose it, we notice it more than if we gain something we never had. Studies show that investors who own a particular stock are likely to hold on to it. However, if they did not already own the stock, it is unlikely they would purchase it.

What does this mean for you?

Take a look at what you have in your life. Are you holding on to it just because you already have it? Do you operate from a fear of losing what you already have? Do you play small because you prefer “the devil you know than the devil you don’t?” If so, be aware that this attitude prevents you from taking risks and living the life you want. It stifles creativity, passion, and true success.

Take an inventory of your life: your belongings, your job, your friends, and your relationships.

If you were to design your life from scratch, would you seek out these things and people? Or, would you make different choices?

Go through your house and eliminate as much as you can. If you read Goal-Free Living, you know that I once fit everything I owned into a few boxes and moved apartments in the back of a taxi with just 2 trips. Have a garage sale. Sell everything on eBay (my friend Lynn Dralle is an eBay expert). Or give everything to Goodwill and receive a tax write-off. This will generate some cash. More importantly, you will find this house cleaning frees you up immensely. Fewer possessions means fewer things to worry about losing or breaking, and ultimately, fewer attachments.

Take a look at your job. Do you love your job? Or are you there mainly because it is easier to stay put than explore new options? One friend once told me, “I would do something different if only I could figure out what I wanted to do.” That was his problem. He was intellectualizing his interests, rather than experiencing them. My suggestion? Join various organizations. Go to networking meetings with the idea of learning about what others do. Meet knew people. Doing these things, he found his new career, and you can do the same. Treat the process of exploration as a game.

Finally, take a brutally honest look at your relationships. Are people still in your life because they truly nurture you? Or have they just been there all along? If a relationship or friendship is not working, do something about it. Either improve the relationship, or (as Susanne would say) give the person to Goodwill. Sorry, no tax write-offs for donating a dud relationship.

Consider this for a moment: What if losing your current existence – everything that you own and have – turned out to be the greatest thing that could happen to you? Ponder it. Play with it. With this blank sheet of paper in mind, now add back in the pieces that you really want – not just because they have always been there, but because you really want them. What would your new life look like?

Yes, you want to appreciate the life you currently have (aka “want what you have”). But don’t use this as an excuse for staying where you are. Goal-Free Living is about moving in new directions and experiencing new opportunities – without attachment to particular outcomes. Break free from the shackles of your past – your attachment to what has been – and create a “new you.”

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My Psychic Powers

January 3, 2007

I have a confession.

I have psychic powers.

Don’t believe me? Let me prove it with a little experiment.

Get out a blank sheet of paper. On it, list a series of random “X”s and “O”s so that it looks something like this: XOXOXOOXOXXOXXXOXOOXXOXOO

Be sure to remember that this is your “random” list.

Ok, now get out another sheet of paper. This time, flip a coin 25 times. Each time it is heads, write an “X.” Each time it is tails, write an “O.” This will give you another string of 25 “X”s and “O”s.

Be sure to remember that this is your “coin flip” list.

Take the two pieces of paper and mix them up so that I can not tell which list is which. Study the two pieces of paper. Concentrate. Tell me telepathically which list is the random one, and which was from the coin flip. Ready?

Ok, I will turn on my psychic powers. Give me a few seconds – your thoughts may have a long way to travel. It’s getting clear. Yes, I see it. I know which list is which.

Click here to see my answer.

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GFL on Between the Lines TV

November 2, 2006

Goal-Free Living has been featured on the PBS TV show “Between the Lines” for quite some time now. It has been slowly making its way around the country. Recently the show aired in Philadelphia. Barry Kibrick, the show’s host, noted in a recent newsletter, “And a special note to all you Philly viewers who wrote about Stephen Shapiro’s Goal-Free Living, you’re not alone. That episode inspired many.”

Want to see the show? Click here to watch the entire 30 minutes in streaming video.

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How to Develop a Compass-Driven Strategic Plan

October 4, 2006

Last week I gave a presentation on “goal-free” Strategic Planning to a group of professional speakers, all of whom are sole practitioners. Over the course of 90 minutes, I discussed many concepts, including the one I write about here: Compass-Driven Strategic Planning.

Fundamental Business Activities

All businesses, no matter what size or industry, have four fundamental sets of activities (also known as “processes” or “capabilities”):
- Develop Products and Services: Research & development, intellectual property creation, product design and development, etc
- Generate Demand: Marketing, sales, customer acquisition, customer service, etc
- Fulfill Demand: Manufacturing, distribution, inventory management, service delivery, etc
- Plan and Manage the Business: Strategy, finance, technology, etc

As a starting point for your business, generate a list of all activities that fall within these four fundamental processes. Click here to view a sample one page list for a professional speaker.

In order to create a sustainable business, proficiency in all four areas is necessary. Sole practitioners tend to focus their attention on only one or two of these processes, exposing their company to great risk. Here are some of the most common pitfalls:

- Excessive focus on the delivery of product or services (fulfilling demand) leaving limited time to create and maintain a pipeline of work (generate demand).
- Mismanagement and neglect of finances due to a lack of immediate priority.
- Reliance on one product or service with insufficient time for the development of new products. One sure way to end up out of business is to rely on one product indefinitely.

Why are sole practitioners so susceptible to these pitfalls? As with most companies, but more notably with small organizations, resources are at a premium; time being one of the most precious commodities. The challenge is that there is never enough time to directly manage every piece of the business. One solution is to focus on differentiators and outsource the rest. However, the real solution, especially for a small business, is a bit more complex.

Targeting

In the Goal-Free Living secret, “Use a Compass, Not a Map,” I discuss the concept of finding your compass: This is the intersecting point between passion (what you love to do), skills (what you are good at), and value (what creates value – for you and others). These three attributes should drive your planning strategies.

We will start with the two dimensions that are more personal in nature, passion and skills, then overlay the value dimension later.

Create a 2 x 2 matrix. One axis is passion—from high to low. High passion implies this is an activity you love to do; low passion is something you would rather not do. The other axis is skills—from high to low. High skills are the activities where you have the necessary skills; low skills are those where you do not.
Now, that you have this 2 x 2, plot your previously listed fundamental activities onto the matrix.

Then, let’s look at the resultant quadrants.

Targeting Matrix

Low passion/low skill: Outsource: If you don’t like doing something and you don’t do it well, then the best solution is to “outsource” this work. Find someone else who enjoys this task and has the skill set to execute it at a higher degree. This can be done through bartering, hiring employees, using contractors (I use elance.com), summonsing friends and family, revenue sharing, or any other creative collaborative strategy. In short, get someone else to do these low passion, low skill activities.

Low passion/high skills: Minimize. If you don’t want your job to become work, you probably want to outsource these capabilities as well. However, if you are starting out and finances are an issue, you may want to continue doing these activities for now. To keep yourself motivated, try to find a way of getting yourself excited about these activities. One way may be to turn them into a game. In general, you want to “minimize” the amount of time you spend on these tasks.

Low skills/high passion: Learn. If you love doing these activities, then you may wish to acquire the necessary skills. This can be done through a variety of means including training, mentoring, or researching. If you anticipate a steep learning curve, you may wish to find a partner during the learning process who possesses these talents. This will help to ensure that your business keeps moving forward while you gain the necessary skills.

High skills/high passion: Target: This is the sweet spot of your business. “Target” these areas. If you love the work, are good at it, AND it adds value to your market, put most of your energies here. If this is your core business, then you have chosen wisely. If not, maybe it is time to re-evaluate the business you are in.

These last two quadrants should reflect your business priorities, with an emphasis on the high skills/high passion work. By combining passion with skills, you are likely to be more effective, efficient, and satisfied in your work.

Value

Once we are clear where our skills and passion lie, to ensure success, we must now overlay one additional dimension: value.

The final test is to validate your priorities against the “value” equation. Just because you love to do something, does not mean it is vital to your business. Conversely, some less than desirable activities may be critical to your business success.

Although there are many dimensions of value (e.g., value you create for customers, revenue you generate for your business, etc), for our purposes here, we will focus on “strategic” importance. Strategic activities are those that define the organization’s special nature, differentiate them from the competition and are fundamental to the direction of the business. We will define activities that are not strategic as being “tactical.” Tactical activities support the business, but are not THE business.

Unfortunately, determining whether an activity is strategic or tactical is not necessarily black or white as there is a range of “strategicness”. For example, if you are Apple Computers, financial work would most likely be tactical. It adds value, but it is not strategic. Although Apple’s ability to manufacture high quality iPods is of great importance, their ability to design innovative products is most important. Therefore, design is clearly strategic and manufacturing falls somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum.

If we add in “value” to our matrix and plot our tactical activities, we end up with some new strategies that look something like this:

tactical matrix

high passion/high skill: Extend. If you are passionate and skilled in a particular area and it is not currently strategic, consider how you might “extend” that capability. Ask yourself, “How can I make this a strategic part of my business? How can I create extraordinary value for customers by leveraging this expertise?” Perhaps one way is to offer this service to others who are in a similar business. For example, professional speaking is my core business. However something that I am both skilled and passionate about is securing business with large corporations. Therefore, I could potentially offer this as a service to other professional speakers as a source of additional revenue.

high passion/low skill: Apprentice. If you are passionate, but not skilled in a tactical area, these activities will become a distraction to the business if you invest too much energy in learning. One alternative is to use the apprentice model, whereby you hire someone to perform this activity, while you learn from them. In the future, you may choose to do this activity yourself.

If we add in “value” to our matrix and plot our strategic activities, we end up with some new strategies that look something like this:

strategic targeting matrix

For strategic activities with low passion: Rethink or Partner. If you find that the predominance of your strategic activities involves work that is not of interest to you, you may need to “rethink” the business you are in – especially if you lack the necessary skills. Although it is difficult to be successful in business where you are neither skilled nor passionate, this does not mean you are fated for failure. Maybe you hate sales, yet the sales function is critical to the success of your business. In this case you may wish to “partner” with someone who enjoys this work and excels in this area. In this sense, we are moving beyond the traditional outsourcing model where activities are transactional in nature, such as: hiring someone to build your website, do your taxes, or create marketing materials. Here, the partnerships are more extensive and deeper in that your collaborator becomes part of your business. Their role is strategic. Bottom line: build a strong relationship with a compatible business partner, and your business – and your partner’s business – will thrive.

[NOTE: I discuss targeting and levels of value in depth in Chapter 7 of my book, 24/7 Innovation.]

Conclusion

By focusing your energies on those areas that matter most, you create a greater opportunity for success. When you leverage your personal skills and interests, you not only become more productive, motivated, and creative, your work becomes less stressful. This, in turn, will give you more energy and perhaps boost your desire to “work” longer hours. When you are focused on what you love, work is miraculously transformed into fun. By surrounding yourself with capable people who are committed to your success, you end up with a repertoire of skills and talents to compliment your own. In doing this, you create a more flexible business with the ability to respond quicker to changing market conditions and evolving personal needs. This means that you need fewer plans and can operate from a more “experiential” perspective. You become more successful with less effort. Isn’t this what everyone wants? This is Goal-Free Living.

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