Innovating Masterminds (transcript)

February 19, 2013

Here is a transcript of yesterday’s Monday Morning Movie

When I started my business 12 years ago, one of the first things I did was join a mastermind group. Basically “mastermind” is just a fancy word for a group of people who come together that work on each other’s business.  So we learn from each other.  I’ve learned a number of things over the years in terms of what makes a good mastermind group. If you’re in a business and you want to learn from others, this is an awesome way.

For most of my career, I decided to mastermind with other professional speakers.  In the early days of my career this was great because I learned some of the basics and I learned some of the things that would have taken me much longer to learn. I was able to learn from people who’ve already done what I wanted to do.

But then I recognized something.  There is a point in every business where only hanging out with people who are in the same business is actually going to hold you back, because you start breathing the same oxygen.  You start thinking the same way.

Sometimes you want to breathe fresh ideas into your business; to think differently.

Just last weekend I got together with four other people in Las Vegas.  We had this great two-day mastermind.  We spent about an hour and a half on each person’s business and we dug really deep.

What was particularly cool about this mastermind is that instead of being composed of a bunch of speakers, we had a diverse group: someone who is in real estate, someone who works in multilevel marketing, someone who is in the printing business, and someone who had his own creativity space. And then there was me, the speaker. We also invited someone in who was an executive at Zappos for a while.  So we got a very interesting mix of people.  I learned a lot about business, and what would be valuable to my business, from this group of people.

Although I was shocked at how useful the input was, it really shouldn’t surprise me since my message around innovation is that we need to hang out with people who aren’t like us. But I have to say, I was still amazed to see the real power of getting a divergent group of people together that have a deep trust for one another and can share their open and honest opinions.  It was fantastic.

The other thing that we learned, which is an extremely important part of not just masterminding but innovation in general, is you have to know what question to ask.  Anybody who’s seen my work knows that I love to quote Einstein who reputedly said, “If had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.”  This is really important.  Even in a mastermind it is critical to make sure we’re asking the right question.  Sometimes even a small change in language can have a huge impact.

For example, one person might be thinking about starting a restaurant.  Now, that question – “What do I need to do to start a successful restaurant?” – implies the individual needs to worry about everything associated with starting a new business.  If we change the language slightly and ask – “What do I need to do to buy a successful restaurant? I don’t want all of the hassle of starting one from scratch.” – very different suggestions and ideas will pop up with that.  Or if the question is – “Instead of buying a restaurant, what if I became an advisor to other restaurants?  I want to be involved in restaurants but I don’t necessarily want all of the day to day work.” – well, that’s again a fundamentally different question.

What we found over and over in the course of the weekend is that if you’re asking the wrong question, all the advice you might get from someone is irrelevant.  So you want to make sure that you’re taking the time to really think about what matters.  What’s important?  What do you value?  Make sure your questions are framed accordingly.

The other thing that we learned is that sometimes, when you want to improve your business, you don’t want to hang out with people who are even in the world of business.

We spent a fair amount of time talking about personal development: things that have nothing to do with the success of our company but are about our own internal success.  How do we become better people? Live better lives? Be happier? Be more compassionate?

It is amazing how these types of things, these non-business activities, can have a huge impact on your business.  That’s why it’s really important for you – whatever your business, whatever your role is in business – to recognize that you don’t want to spend all of your time hanging out with people who think like you.

Don’t just go to industry conferences.  Don’t just go to conferences with people who have the same role or function as you.  Instead, find people who have fundamentally different types of businesses.  Find people who are in different parts of your business.  If you’re in HR, hang out with people who are in sales.  Learn from people who think differently.

And again, don’t just spend all of your time thinking about business.  Think about your life and what you want out of your life.  This will make you more powerful in everything you do.  This will then help you create a more successful business because you will be able to define success on your terms.

This is Stephen Shapiro, and I hope that you find a group of people who together will change your business and change your life through divergent points of view together.

P.S. I still mastermind with other speakers, and get incredible value. The point isn’t to stop spending time with people from your industry. I am suggesting that you need to balance that with individuals/groups from different industries, different functions, and different disciplines.

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Innovating Masterminds

February 18, 2013

Today’s Monday Morning Movie

Masterminds are extremely useful for helping get new ideas for your business. But some mastermind models are better than others. Today’s video shares some perspectives on how to create a more useful group interaction by embracing divergent points of view and starting with better questions.

Read the transcription of this video

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The Cost of Being Disorganized

February 15, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

In my Monday Morning Movie, I explained that there is tremendous freedom gained through simplifying and de-cluttering your life. While this freedom is a natural catalyst for creative thinking, the benefits of a clutter-free environment are much further reaching.

Simply Productive, an “Organizational Design” firm, compiled an extensive list of statistics related to clutter. Here’s just a small sample:  (View the entire list)

  • Typical US worker is interrupted by communications technology every 10 minutes (Institute for Future and Gallup)
  • 80% of papers and information that we keep, we never use (Agency Sales Magazine)
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that the average U.S. executive wastes six weeks per year retrieving misplaced information from messy desks and files.
  • The National Association of Professional Organizers says we spend one year of our lives looking for lost items
  • Office workers waste an average of 40% of their workday, because they were never taught organizing skills to cope with the increasing workloads and demands (Wall Street Journal)
  • The average manager is interrupted every three minutes
  • People who multitask decrease their productivity by 20-40% and are less efficient than those who focus on one project at a time. Time lost switching among tasks increases the complexity of the tasks (University of Michigan)
  • Executives waste 7.8 hours each week (Accountemps Survey)

While I wasn’t overly surprised by any of these, they certainly gave me pause for thought.

In my blog post from Wednesday, I challenged you to consider what you would do if you could only work one hour per day. I suspect that many of you scoffed at the feasibility of the idea. I’m sure others tossed the notion aside immediately because it was so far outside of your realm of possibility. But if clutter alone, which is something that can be rectified, could account for bloating your schedule as much as 1-2 hours a day, perhaps you can begin to justify the notion that the one hour workday may not be so crazy.

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Avoid the 100% Mentality

February 14, 2013

In yesterday’s blog entry, I suggested that (if you are an entrepreneur) putting less effort into your business would yield greater results in the long-run.

By focusing on the 20% of your business that generates 80% of the revenue, you can then invest your freed up 80% on new business models that have greater long-term potential. (please read this last sentence again…this philosophy is not about taking a pay cut in order to lounge around; it is about freeing yourself to create even greater income potential while having a more enjoyable life)

Many people (as expected) pushed back.

Their response, “That’s easier said than done.”

Well of course, everything is easier said than done! It is easier for me to say, “I’m going to tie my shoes,” than it is to actually tie them. But I still do it.

We look for excuses as to why we can’t do something. We blame our parents. We blame our circumstances. We blame the government. We blame our family. We blame our employer or boss.

Instead of finding reasons why something won’t work, get creative about how to make it work. Ask yourself, “How can I apply the underlying principles to my specific situation?” Even if you can’t apply the concept in its entirety, look for the nuggets that you can use.

Don’t put the NO in inNOvation!

The point of yesterday’s blog was to get you thinking about your business and where you invest your time, money, and energy.

According to Jeff Olson, author of The Agile Manager’s Guide to Getting Organized, “Perfectionism costs 50% or more of the total effort to squeeze out the last 10% or so of quality.” Never strive for perfection. Avoid the 100% mentality.

Ditch your worst customers - Look at your customers. Instead of trying to get more customers, ask, “Which customers should I get rid of?” Admit it, there are customers that generate less income than others, yet take up most of your time. I find that the customers that are most price sensitive are also the most difficult. I spend more time with them than I do with my best customers. The solution? Ditch the 20% that are sucking up your time. This not only frees up some hours in your day, it frees up your mental energy. Stress is created by your worst customers, not your best. Ok, I realize that when money is tight, this can seem like a risky proposition. Well, it is! But admit it, you intuitively know that attempting to keep 100% of your customers 100% happy will keep you working 100 hours a week and ultimately limit your true growth potential.

Ditch your lowest return activities - Look at the work you do. Look at your to do list. You will never get 100% of the work done, even if you had 200 hours in a week. Regardless, we still strive to get 100% done. Again, this mentality limits your growth potential. Instead of asking, “How can I get as much done as possible?” ask, “What should I stop doing?” or “What are the things I must do?” Or better yet, ask, “What is the one thing that will unlock the greatest growth potential for my business? What gives me leverage?” Be honest. What would happen if you got one less thing done off your to do list? Two less things? Find the sweet spot of where you can get the optimal return. And as mentioned in yesterday’s article, delegate, automate, or eliminate. Only do what you need to do, and get the rest off of your plate. And no, you are not the only one who can do most of your activities. It might feel that way, but it is not true. And believing it will kill you.

Ditch unnecessary clutter and belongings – Worried about money? Look at your life. Instead of keeping 100% of what you have, ask “What can I get rid of? What do I really need?” My Monday Morning Movie provided some great tips for this. And tomorrow’s blog entry will share some interesting statistics on how clutter can be sucking up a lot of your time. Freeing up your personal life frees you up professionally, which in turn further frees up your personal life.

Freedom is the name of the game. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of a good life and a successful business.

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The 20/80/80 Principle

February 13, 2013

Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom is conceptual and lays the groundwork for future blog entries where I will provide specific tactics and strategies. In my Monday Morning Movie, I discussed how simplifying your life allows you to worry less about money, freeing you up to be more creative.

As an entrepreneur, there are an unlimited number of things I could do in order to grow or improve my business.  I could easily keep busy 100 hours per week, and have done so countless times throughout my career.

Unfortunately, we often convince ourselves that we MUST work those kinds of hours in order to be successful.

The reality is that there is a point of diminishing returns.  Although more work might produce more results, the return on the additional effort decreases significantly.

Regardless, we keep plugging along because we are programmed to do so.  I personally feel like I’m slacking off if I’m not on my computer, on the phone making calls, or meeting with people.

For some individuals, they wouldn’t know what to do with their time if their profession did not keep them occupied.  There are others who become workaholics in order to avoid dealing with difficult issues in their life.

So we keep on working.

But what if you were only allowed to work one hour a day?  What would you do?

I have been experimenting with this concept since the beginning of the year.  During the month of January, with the exception of delivering speeches, I have worked a total of 10 hours and have been continuing along that trend into February.

Why am I doing this?   There are two main reasons:

#1: It Forces Focus

Each morning I ask myself, what is the one thing I need to do today? What is the one thing that will create the most value? What is the one thing that only I can do? And that is the activity that I engage in for the day. Eliminate or delegate everything else.

Instead of keeping myself busy and climbing to the top of the “S” curve, I stop at the inflection point; the point of diminishing returns (the star). Pareto would say that 20% of the effort provides 80% of the results. Whether it is 20% or 40% is not important. The key is to find the point where more effort starts producing fewer results, and only you can decide that.

Will you achieve 100% of the potential value?  Probably not.  But is squeezing out an extra 20% of value really worth 4 or 5 times the effort?

The key is to focus on activities that will create leverage and will maximize results.

#2: Create a New S Curve

What will you do with your free time?

You could of course take a vacation or spend more time with family. You could engage in work that is more meaningful.  You could volunteer and give back to society.

Or you could create a new S-curve.

Instead of squeezing out those few extra drops from your current business model where there are diminishing returns, start building a new business or business model that leverages your past success and creates entirely new revenue opportunities.

With the extra time created, I’ve been working on a new book that targets a completely different market for me.  This will take upfront effort. But when it is done, and I have built up momentum, I will spend less time on that business model, freeing me to create a new set of revenue streams.

I am also developing new relationships that leverage my existing content. For example, my content has been licensed to a training company that is now delivering my material to their clients. It doesn’t take any of my time, yet I get residual income. And these relationships free me up even more, allowing me to focus again.  Clearly this strategy requires extraordinary partnerships.  And as they do more, I can do less.

To be clear, I am not suggesting you do a half-assed job. This will kill your business in the long run.

And this strategy works best for a business that has momentum; where you are already successful. Once you are successful, you can then reap the rewards. You can implement processes that others can execute. You can delegate, automate, or eliminate the things that are not critical.

If you only spent 20% of your time extracting 80% of the value from your business, this gives you 80% of your time to do something different – something more fulfilling, something more enjoyable, or something that can provide even greater long-term value.

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Disconnect to Reconnect

January 21, 2013

I am now just returning from a month sabbatical. This allowed me to reflect and spend time with friends and family.

As part of that month off, I did a two week intensive retreat where they sequestered my phone.  No email, phone, books, music, or videos for a fortnight!

Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy at first. In the beginning I was jonesing for my iPhone. But after about 4 or 5 days, I forgot about it completely.

In fact, I liked being disconnected so much, I am attempting to stay less connected all of the time.

Try this for yourself.  Can you go two weeks without ANY electronic communications? None. Nada. Zippo. No FaceBook. No text messages. No email. No twitter. No phone calls. No  TV, radio, videos, or even newspapers. Basically cut off from the outside world, unless you can see someone in person.

How would you have to design your life in order to do this? Maybe going cold turkey would be too difficult.  How could you reduce your dependence on your phone and computer?

Trust me, there is a freedom in disconnecting. It allowed me to really be connected to those around me. More importantly, it allowed me to reconnect with me. It is truly an awesome experience.

To keep the general idea alive, I am having critical emails and phone calls forwarded to someone who is connected all of the time. I am only checking my emails 2 or 3 times a day (morning, midday, and later afternoon).

I am trying to be present to my surroundings rather than having my head buried in my phone. In doing so I feel lighter, more aware, more creative, and freer. It quiets the mind, after you get over the initial withdrawal symptoms.

Give it a try. Try disconnecting and enjoy being truly connected.

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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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Beyond the 4-Hour Workweek

October 11, 2012

The 4-Hour Workweek (by Tim Ferris) is the ultimate book title.  Who doesn’t want to work only 4 hours a week?*

I was hooked by the title, but disappointed by the premise.

In a nutshell, the book suggests that if you work 50 hours a week, you should outsource 46 hours, leaving only 4 hours of work for you.  He suggests that you should find people in India or the Philippines who can do your dirty work for very little money.  (I am admittedly oversimplifying, but this is not far off)

To me this is the wrong strategy.

This approach assumes that the 50 hours you are working are all worth doing.  This is rarely the case.  Why would you get someone to do the tasks that you should not be doing in the first place?

Don’t just do what you are doing today better, faster and cheaper.  Instead, question everything.

Find the 4-hours of work that will unleash massive value.  The key is leverage.  Where can you invest your time that will have the greatest impact?

When working on anything in your business, ask yourself how much value is being created.  It will typically fall into 3 categories (I know I discussed this in a previous blog entry, but some things are worth repeating):

  1. Adding no value (or even detracting from what you need to do).
  2. Adds a linear amount of value – one hour of work generates one hour of value
  3. Adds exponential value – one hour of work generates 100 hours of value

Whenever I am doing something, I ask myself, “Is this creating exponential value?”

Interestingly, in most cases, there is little that I can do on my own that will create exponential value.  Leverage (or scale) typically happens through partnerships and relationships.

I have created several partnerships with organizations who have massive distribution, and large development/deliver capabilities.  I invest a significant amount of time and money researching potential partners and exploring those relationships.  By tapping into their reach and resources, I can generate exponential impact on my business.

Here are some simple questions/actions that will help you focus your energies:

  • Who has access to the markets I want to tap into?  Partner with them.
  • Where are the people in my target market gathering? Go to them.
  • What is it that these individuals and organizations want/need most? Deliver this instead of what I have to offer.
  • Who needs something similar  to what I offer?  See if I can modify my product/service to meet this untapped need.

Generate your own questions.  Anything to shift your thinking.

The more leverage I get from a particular activity, the more time (and emotional energy) I want to invest. Because I know that the more I invest in activities with leverage, the less time I will have to invest in the long-run.

How much value does your current 50 hours of workweek generate? 50 hours?  40? 4?  Outsourcing tasks that create linear value is fine.  But what if you partnered with people on tasks that generate exponential value.  And what if the 4 hours you choose to work only focused on activities that creates exponential value?  50 hours of work could generate 5,000 hours of value.

No more linear thinking!

*  I don’t really think that I want to work only 4 hours a week.  I love the intellectual stimulation of work and the contribution I get to make.  So working that little is not really a goal for me.

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How Goals Kill Luck

August 17, 2012

Richard Wiseman is the author of many great books, including The Luck Factor.  I’ve spoken with Richard on several occasions, and we share a similar perspective: a myopic focus on goals can reduce how lucky someone is.

Dan Pink (an endorser of my Goal-Free Living book, and author of A Whole New Mind and Drive), interviewed Richard for Fast Company magazine. Here is a small excerpt…

What are some of the ways that lucky people think differently from unlucky people?
One way is to be open to new experiences. Unlucky people are stuck in routines. When they see something new, they want no part of it. Lucky people always want something new. They’re prepared to take risks and relaxed enough to see the opportunities in the first place.

But the business culture typically worships drive — setting a goal, single-mindedly pursuing it, and plowing past obstacles. Are you arguing that, to be more lucky, we need to be less focused?
This is one of the most counterintuitive ideas. We are traditionally taught to be really focused, to be really driven, to try really hard at tasks. But in the real world, you’ve got opportunities all around you. And if you’re driven in one direction, you’re not going to spot the others. It’s about getting people to have various game plans running in their heads. Unlucky people, if they go to a party wanting to meet the love of their life, end up not meeting people who might become close friends or people who might help them in their careers. Being relaxed and open allows lucky people to see what’s around them and to maximize what’s around them.

Much of business is also about rational analysis: pulling up the spreadsheet, running the numbers, looking at the serious facts. Yet you found that lucky people rely heavily on their gut instincts.
Yes. You don’t want to broadly say that whenever you get an intuitive feeling, it’s right and you should go with it. But you could be missing out on a massive font of knowledge that you’ve built up over the years. We are amazingly good at detecting patterns. That’s what our brains are set up to do.

Read the entire article

Be sure to read my article from yesterday which provides mathematical “proof” for why a focus on specific goals can reduce luck.

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How to Increase the Probability of Your Success

August 16, 2012

My next article in the series on success

You can mathematically increase the likelihood of your success when you are not obsessed with specific goals or approaches to achieving those goals.

Let me illustrate this with the famous “birthday game.”  Here’s the extremely short version…

If you have a room of people…

  • for there to be a 50% chance that two people have the same birthday – any birthday, you need only 23 people in the room (matching day and month)
  • for there to be a 50% chance that two people have a specific (e.g., April 25) birthday, you need over 600 people in the room

These probabilities show that the likelihood of ANY event happening is quite high (e.g., any birthday), while the likelihood of a PARTICULAR event (e.g, a specific birthday) happening is quite low.  This gives us insight into how to improve our odds of success.

If you are wed to things working out in a particular way, it requires a large number of events coming together in a specific way—just like looking for a particular birthday. Keeping an open mind and “increasing your peripheral vision” will improve your chances.  What particular outcomes are you seeking that may be probabilistically limiting? Do you have a particular view of how your business should look? Do you believe that a particular business partner is the key to your success? Are there specific clients that you feel you must land? Are there particular milestones you must hit? Are there technologies you must develop?

The more specific you are, mathematically speaking, the less likely you are to find hidden opportunities that may look different than your expectations.

If you want more details on the birthday mathematics or on how to better leverage the concept, read my American Express article on the topic.

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