What to Ditch to Improve Your Life and Business

October 7, 2013

You’ve heard it before: To get more done, work smarter, not harder. One business innovator reveals what 3 things you can eliminate to help you do just that…

For the past year, I’ve been experimenting with the concept of working less by telling myself that I only have one hour a day to get things done. This has helped me reduce the number of hours I work from 100 a week to just 20 per month. (If you want more details on how I’ve accomplished this, read my last article, “How To Work One Hour A Day And Have A Thriving Business.”)

If you’re looking for ways to effectively cut back, think about this: Sometimes the key to getting more done is simply to do less. Think about ditching these three things in order to free up more time:

Ditch Your Worst Customers

Admit it: You’ve got customers who generate less income than others, yet take up more of your time than they should. Maybe instead of trying to get more customers, it’s time to ask, “Which customers should I eliminate?”

For me, the customers who are price-sensitive tend to be the most difficult to work with. Oscar Wilde once said, “A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” I no longer work with cynics. Instead, I give time to my value-oriented customers who prefer to focus on results rather than fees.

One strategy to consider: Ditch the 20 percent of your customers who are sucking up your time but not producing commensurate returns. This not only frees up some hours in your day; it also frees up your mental energy. I realize that when money is tight, cutting customers loose can seem like a risky proposition. But you intuitively know that attempting to keep 100 percent of your customers happy 100 percent of the time will keep you working 100 hours a week, limiting your true growth potential.

Ditch Your Lowest Return Activities

Look at the amount of work you do. Look at your to-do list. You will never get 100 percent of the work done, even if you had 200 hours in a week. And we know that, yet we still strive to get 100 percent of the work done….

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum site

My interview on Virgin.com

October 1, 2013

virginI was recently interviewed by Pedro De Abreu for an article on Virgin.com. Here’s a little taste…

Every web site we visit, every book we read, every conference we attend, we are admonished to innovate, to be innovative and to disrupt the market with innovation. Stephen Shapiro, author of the international best-selling business book ‘Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out Innovate the Competition’, makes the case that instead of listening to all the noise, we should ignore all advice (including the ones he gives us in this interview).

What is innovation?

Innovation is an organization’s ability to adapt, evolve, and change repeatedly and rapidly. Although new products, services, and business models all play into this, they are a means to an end: to stay at least one-step ahead of the competition.

How can companies and individuals become innovative in their approaches to life and business?

Too often in life (and business) we have this false belief that we can predict the future. At a personal level, we set goals for many years out, hoping to achieve them using a well thought out plan of attack. But the flaw in this thinking is three-fold. 1) Our past is so limited that we really can never know what is the “best” future for us. 2) We can never predict the best path, as there are too many factors in the real world. 3) The world is changing fast, so a 5-year strategic plan is (in many cases) useless.

Instead, I suggest that you “use a compass, not a map.” Instead of a specific destination, you have a general direction. Then you “meander with purpose.” Learn by doing. Learn by experiencing. Adjust directions frequently, but still move in the same direction. To me, this is the ultimate in innovation living.

What the five rules of innovation that companies and individuals should stick by?

1. Innovate where you differentiate. Most organizations dissipate their energies by not focusing on the opportunities to set yourself apart from the competition. This should trickle down to every department and person. For any activity that is not a differentiator, you should optimize, automate, outsource, replicate or partner with others.

Read the other four rules and the rest of this article on Virgin.com

Do Less, Make More

September 5, 2013

dolessmakemoreIn the September issue of “Speaker Magazine” (published by the National Speakers Association), I have a 3-page article. It is called: Do Less, Make More: Work Only One Hour a Day by Mastering Leverage.

Here’s the beginning…

I’ve been trying an experiment. For the last six months, I’ve been working, on average, only one hour each day on my speaking business.

This wasn’t easy at first given my tendency to sometimes work more than 100 hours a week. However, what I eventually learned was that I could be insanely productive by simply shifting my mindset. Long hours aren’t necessarily required to lead a successful career.

The fact is, although there are an unlimited number of things that speakers can do to grow or improve their businesses, there is a point of diminishing returns. The upside on additional effort decreases significantly beyond this point.

THE L-WORD: LEVERAGE

To successfully work only one hour a day (or at least a greatly reduced amount of time), you need to master the concept of leverage.

Leverage is something that gives the greatest return with the least amount of energy. We typically view our work as linear. An hour of work gives us an hour of results. But what if an hour of work could yield 100 hours (or more) of results? Instead of diminishing returns, you get exponential returns.

This is leverage.

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? That is the activity that I engage in for the day, delegating, deferring or eliminating everything else. The key is to focus on activities that create leverage and maximize results.

The remainder of the article discusses why you should “stop telling people what to do,” how to “multiple your results by first dividing, how to leverage your speech, and how to create new revenue streams.

Read the rest of this article

How To Work One Hour A Day And Have A Thriving Business

September 3, 2013

Do you run a small business? Or does your small business run you?

As entrepreneurs, there are countless things we could do to grow or improve our businesses. It’s easy to keep busy 100 hours a week. I know—I’ve done so countless times throughout my career. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one who has convinced himself that working long, crazy hours is a must if you want to find success.

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

We Work Too Hard

There are many reasons why people work so hard.

Although it’s sometimes because there is simply too much on our plates, more often than not, we work around the clock for other reasons. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • You feel like you’re a slacker if you don’t work all of the time.
  • You worry that if you don’t complete every task, you may lose business opportunities.
  • You work nonstop because it allows you to avoid dealing with difficult issues in your life.

Or maybe there’s some other reason. Regardless of the reason, most business owners work too much.

What if you were only allowed to work one hour a day?

I’ve been experimenting with this concept for nearly a year and have been relatively successful at keeping my time invested in my current business to about 20 hours a month.

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

1. It forces me to focus on what’s really important. Each morning I ask myself, what’s 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 I engage in for the day. I delete, defer or delegate everything else.

Instead of keeping myself busy and climbing to the top of the “S” curve, I stop at the point of diminishing returns (the star on the chart below). The Pareto principle might state that 20 percent of the effort provides 80 percent of the results, but whether it’s 20 percent or 40 percent is not important. The key is that you find the point in your business where more effort starts producing fewer results—that’s your “star” point—and only you can decide that.

Will you extract 100 percent of the potential value? Probably not. But is squeezing out an extra 20 percent of value really worth 4 or 5 times the effort? That’s your choice. I could work 10 times harder and only increase my income 50 percent.

The key is to focus on activities that maximize results.

work-one-hour-shapiro-open-forum-embed

2. It frees up time to create new business. If you spent only 20 percent of your time extracting 80 percent of the revenue from your existing business model, this gives you 80 percent of your time to do something different.

You could, of course, spend your free time taking a vacation or spending more time with family. You could engage in work that you believe 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, build a new business or new 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. I’m working on a TV show concept. And I’m creating new products that leverage my intellectual property.

These items take upfront effort. But when they’re done and have built up momentum, I will spend less time on those businesses, freeing me to create new revenue streams.

Encourage Creativity and Freedom

The purpose of working one hour a day isn’t to encourage laziness. And I’m certainly not suggesting you do a mediocre job, as this will kill your business in the long run. The purpose is actually to encourage creativity. This philosophy creates time/space for you to create—to create new opportunities, to create new revenue streams, and to create a better life.

Even if you don’t believe working only 60 minutes a day is possible, give the thought process a try. Use the “hour a day” mantra as a mental exercise. Determine what you might do if you only had an hour. Even if it ends up taking you four hours, it’s still better than the 10 you were previously investing. Now, what are you going to do with all that extra free time?

This article originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum

Launching a Business? Don’t Leap Before You Leverage

August 14, 2013

jumpI’ve had a recurring conversation with quite a few friends and colleagues lately. They’re unhappy in their current jobs and want to do something different. For many, this means becoming an entrepreneur and launching their own business. Conventional wisdom suggests they will follow one of two distinct paths:

  1. They’ll leave their current jobs and make the leap, the philosophy being that if you stay where you are, you will never make a change.
  2. They’ll stay where they are until they have enough “security.” The reality is, that no one ever feels secure enough to make the change.

However, there is a third option that isn’t often discussed.

The question isn’t when to leap, but rather how to leap. Ask yourself a simple question: How can I leverage the assets of my current employer in a way that will help me with my future endeavor?

Use the Access You Have

If you want to become an entrepreneur, having a great product or service isn’t enough. Small businesses fail not because of a lack of talent or ideas; they fail because the can’t—or don’t—sell. You need contacts and relationships. These are often hard to establish when you are on your own. But if you are working for a major corporation, you can leverage your employer’s brand to help better position your future business for success.

Large companies have access to a lot of people, including some very influential people. Just saying that you work for a major company can open doors that would otherwise remain closed. Even if your new business venture is in an unrelated field, you can still leverage your current situation.

When considering opportunities for leverage, consider the following:

  • What are you doing within your current role?
  • What do you wish to do in the future?
  • How can you leverage the contacts, connections, resources and people within your current company to help you build your future business?

Build Your Future Brand

In addition to leveraging employer opportunites, there’s no time like right now for creating buzz for your future business. Start by building your personal brand. Take, for example, what these three people are doing.

One person I know who wants to launch his own business is looking for opportunities to get his content published on his employer’s website. This is a benefit to him since his employer’s site has significantly more visitors than his current blog.

Another person I know is interested in becoming a consultant. She is leveraging her current employer’s credibility to obtain speaking opportunities at major conferences. This will increase her exposure, and personal brand, exponentially.

Someone else is forming business connections now that would be extremely difficult to establish after leaving his position in a large corporation.

Respect Current Employers

To be clear, all these individuals are interested in adding as much value as possible to their current employers. In fact, the people who look to step out on their own often produce higher levels of results, in part because the result is often mutually beneficial.

I know firsthand what this is like. Back in 1995, I was ready to leave my position at Accenture. I wanted a change. But as it turns out, the change did not have to take place outside the company. With the help of others, we launched a 20,000-person process-and-innovation practice. I not only added more value to the organization, but I was reenergized and significantly more satisfied in my new role.

On the back of that work, I was able to leverage the firm’s connections to get a publishing deal with McGraw-Hill. It was at this point, in 2001, that I left Accenture.

Knowing when to leap is a difficult decision to make, and if you leap too quickly, you may be missing great opportunities for leveraging your current position. Instead of leaping across the chasm, find ways of building a bridge from where you are today to where you want to be in the future. When you do this, the transition is a lot easier and more likely to be successful.

This article originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum

Stretching the Truth

July 9, 2013

Back in 2006, I wrote a book called Goal-Free Living.

Last year I wrote an article for American Express OPEN Forum, How Oprah Nearly Killed my Business.

And recently I wrote a blog entry titled, Do Not Develop Breakthrough Innovation.

For each of these, I stretched the truth.

Goal-Free Living did not advocate a complete abstention from goals; only the avoidance of goalaholism.

How Oprah Nearly Killed my Business had little to do with Oprah and was more about how I didn’t consider my target audience and as a result, alienated my buyers.

And Do Not Develop Breakthrough Innovation did not suggest that companies avoid innovation. However it did suggest that they should consider open innovation as a means of reducing risk and cost.

Someone told me that this “truth stretching” is an “upaya.”

Upaya is a term in Mahayana Buddhism which literally means “expedient,” and reflects a technique designed to help change someone’s perspective. In some circumstances even lies and trickery can be an upaya if they help someone wake up to a realization.

So, even if a stated point of view is not ultimately “true” in the highest sense, it may still be a useful means to change someone’s perspective and help him or her gain enlightenment.

If I said, “Goals aren’t always bad but you have to be careful in how you use them,” people would roll their eyes and not pay attention. Saying, “eliminate all goals” raises eyebrows and then has them be more open to the possibility of something bigger.

make impossible possibleIn my latest book, Best Practices Are Stupid, (which is also an upaya, because I don’t believe they are always stupid) I talk about making the impossible possible. If while innovating we only strive to go from point “A” to point “B,” we often fall short. But if we shoot for point “C” (the impossible or impractical) we have a better chance of hitting “B.”

This explains why my form of an upaya is useful. By stretching the truth, we suggest “C” which allows people to reach “B.”

Our ingrained mental models will always bring us closer back to our old reality. To break free of the old beliefs, sometimes it is useful to have the truth stretched a bit, knowing that you will adjust that truth back a bit closer to what you already believe.

Are my article titles controversial? Yes. But there is a method to my madness.

Attributes of All Successful People

June 17, 2013

During a recent speech in Copenhagen, I tried an experiment.

With the help of 5 individuals, we explored the 5 traits of all successful people.

I think you will agree that we identified some traits that ALL successful people share.

My SUCCESS Magazine Audio Interview

May 13, 2013

Today’s Monday Morning Movie is actually an audio file…

In the October 2012 issue of SUCCESS Magazine, there was a four page article by yours truly. You’ve been able to read the article online since it was published. (It is the cover article; “Innovate of Die!”)

However, unless you subscribe to the magazine, you will not have heard my 22 minute interview with SUCCESS Magazine’s publisher, Darren Hardy. It was on the CD included with the magazine, but not available anywhere else.

Darren was kind enough to give me permission to post the audio file here.

You have two ways to enjoy this interview:

  • Listen to the audio (streaming): 

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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

I will be posting the transcription of this interview sometime soon.

Enjoy!

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?

I Was Humbled by Curious George

April 16, 2013

Back in 2006, my Goal-Free Living book was published by Wiley, and I was feeling quite proud. Later that same year, after giving a speech in Los Angeles, I drove up to Santa Barbara to attend a conference, arriving just in time for lunch.

While standing in the line for the buffet, I turned around and said hi to the guy next to me.

He told me his name was George. He then asked me what I did.

Given my new book and the success of my speech earlier that day, I said with a bit of swagger, “I’m an author and professional speaker.” I was feeling very good about myself.

I asked George, “What do you do?”

He replied nonchalantly, “Oh, I’ve done a bit of television.”

He said it so matter-of-factly, that I assumed he had a small role in television. Maybe he had done a couple of commercials. Or possibly he did some voiceover work; he certainly had the voice for it. Or maybe he once had a “bit” part in a minor show.

He then proceeded to ask me about my book and the work I do, and I gladly shared my life story.

When I sat down at my table to eat, not with George, I looked at the agenda of speakers for the conference.

I was humbled when I realized that the person I was standing next to in the buffet line was speaking later that day. He was none other than George Takei.

At that moment, I realized that truly confident, successful, and impressive individuals do not need to boast. They don’t need to be the center of attention. Instead, they make others feel good about themselves. They ask good questions and are interested in others.

After that embarrassing moment, I have done my best to do what George did with me. Instead of attempting to convince the world of how great I am, I try to bring out the greatness in others. When I am at a conference, I do my best to make others the centers of conversation.

The next time you are with a group, spend more asking questions and listening than talking. Spend more time promoting others than promoting yourself.

As I learned from George, the most powerful people make others feel like a super star.

P.S. I ended up spending about 90 minutes with George. He truly is one of the nicest people I have ever met. He even asked for a copy of my Goal-Free Living book, which I gladly signed and sent. The picture below is what he sent me, to thank me for my book. He is a class act!

George Takei

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