You’re Not Special

The Cuckoos CallingLet me start by saying that you’re definitely important, just not necessarily special. Let’s face it…

If everyone’s special then by definition, no one is.

OK let’s begin…

As a mobile app developer I know that success in the Apple App Store has less to do with the merit of your app and more to do with factors that are out of your control. For example if your app is by chance selected to appear in the New and Noteworthy listing of the App Store – then you have the 15 seconds of fame needed to be successful. While apps selected for this category are usually worthy of the selection, there are hundreds of equally worthy apps that are not selected. Some might call these external factors luck but more accurately speaking – it is chance. The problem is that if by chance you are the recipient of a fortuitous break, you might be inclined to think that you are special. However, my counterintuitive advice is…

Don’t equate success with specialness.

Robert Galbraith’s book, The Cuckoo’s Calling is a perfect example of this dynamic. Even though the book had received positive critical reviews, it had unremarkable sales. However this all changed after news was leaked that this book was in fact written by J.K. Rowling. After this revelation sales increased 150,000 percent!. Same book, hugely different reception. So take heart, even the great J.K. Rowling can experience failure and know that…

Talent and hard work doesn’t guarantee success.

The second, and more important part of my advice is…

Do not be duped by those peddling success formulas

Beware of “how to be rich and successful” scams that are based on the anecdotal experiences of others. As I’ve pointed out, their success probably required the inclusion of a fortuitous random event. So even though you follow their advice to the letter, without the random event, how are you to succeed? In fact by purchasing their product, you’re draping their initial random success in yet more success – further perpetuating the myth. So let me sum up by saying that if you’re talented and hard working – you’ve already succeeded. Now you just need to remember that…

Worshiping those who succeed is just as dangerous as dismissing those who fail because sometimes the only thing separating the two is a random break.

Don’t Believe in Heaven

Pearly-Gates-CloseBefore Daniel professed, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” in Daniel 12:2, this brand of resurrection did not exist in Judaism. In fact the term everlasting life does not appear anywhere else in the Old Testament.

This means that…

Prior to the teachings of the New Testament, the idea of an afterlife or heaven was essentially a nonexistent concept in biblical terms.

So, what was it like, living day-to-day without the notion of an afterlife in heaven? My counterintuitive advice is that in order to gain a better appreciation of our existence and a true self-exploration of our own beliefs regarding the afterlife we must first…

Stop believing in heaven.

Try it. Erase all notions of what you imagine heaven to be. Wipe out everything you’ve read. Clear your mind’s eye of every movie scene, skit and painting. Hit CONTROL ALT DELETE and live a whole day this way. Live as the Hebrews lived, knowing that death is the eternal end. Feel the sun’s warmth, breathe the fresh morning air, stare at the expansive blue sky, fully comprehending that this is the only time you will be able to have these experiences. Be with a friend or loved one with full understanding that this is a finite condition. Know that…

Relatively soon, this will all end, never to happen again. Ever.

How does that change your experience? How does it change your perspective, your wants and goals? Furthermore, how does it change your attitude towards injustice and pain? If Daniel is wrong, and we are not destined to ‘awake’ to everlasting life, should you put up for one more precious second with that insolent boss, or that abusive relationship? If this life is all we have, should we spend another moment in front of the television? Shouldn’t we spend more time being with each other, helping each other? And when you’ve fully absorbed and appreciated this afterlife-less existence, then and only then…

Rebuild your concept of heaven from the ground up.

What do you really believe? What is actually written? Do we really rise again after death or is death the end? Resurrection comes in many flavors. Do we immediately go to heaven or do we wait for a day of judgement? Are we actually judged and sorted or do we all go? Who decides? Is it fair that good people who don’t believe what you believe are eternally damned? Is heaven really a members-only club with angels and saints roaming gold lined streets? Are we reborn in body, or just in spirit? Is heaven a place or condition? Do we rejoin loved ones? Do we miss those we leave behind? Do we actually remember who we were? Do we remember our lives? Do we work? Do we play? Is it joyous or boring?

It is important to fully examine for yourself, the concept of heaven. It matters what you believe because it changes the way you live. What exactly do you believe about Daniel’s notion of an afterlife? What does your religion really say about it? What is put into our heads by movies and books? The specifics matter. You may make different life decisions if you do or don’t believe there is a conscious afterlife where you are able to know yourself and hang out with your friends, your loved ones, your god.

In order to live life fully, and know what you truly believe, you have to first…

Stop believing in heaven.

Get Demoted

circuit-boardIn the business world we are obsessed with moving up the corporate ladder, getting that promotion with the lofty title, corner office, and raise. My counterintuitive advice is to…

Demote yourself.

15 years ago, as a new hire at a Silicon Valley high-tech company, I found myself feeling strangely inadequate, despite my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. And while my fellow engineers were competing to move up in rank – I felt I needed to understand how things really worked – by going in the opposite direction – or down in so-called rank. I requested a transfer to the factory floor with the assemblers and testers.

My peers viewed this change to manufacturing engineering as a demotion – but I didn’t care – I wanted to understand what it was we were building.

So armed with an education, assembly drawings and schematics – I headed out to the front lines. There I was then able to compare theory to reality. I learned the tricks invented by the factory workers to compensate for design shortcomings and part variability. One day – while I was struggling to calibrate a certain assembly – I ran across a large part of the circuitry that I didn’t understand. I took my questions to the senior design engineer, with no regard for how stupid this might make me look.

You may say I had moxie – in actuality I was naive.

The engineer didn’t even look at the schematic. Instead, he assaulted me with a condescending barrage of high-tech speak – none of which I could comprehend. When I asked for further clarification – the engineer’s angry stare made me realize I had probably just committed career suicide. But I really wanted to know what this strange circuit did – so I stood my ground. He finally snatched the schematic from my hand and actually looked at it. His expression slowly transformed from anger to deep thought. He looked bewildered as he explained to me that this part of the circuit should have been removed years ago when the product was redesigned. He didn’t believe that it was still there but a trip out to the assembly line confirmed what I had reported.

In the following weeks, we removed the remnant circuitry which greatly improved system performance. By demoting myself I had inadvertently gained respect in the design lab as well as the factory floor, and…

By admitting my ignorance, I was somehow perceived as being intelligent.

This accidental lesson, originally driven by feelings of incompetence – has served me well ever since. Now, no matter what my job is…

I seek out a hefty demotion, in search of mastery at the bottom before ascending to the top.

Don’t Win

Houston Astros v Philadelphia PhilliesEffort impact. Intent outcome. The difference between these things is that one of them is within your control, the other is not.

  • You gave your best EFFORT but the IMPACT was insufficient to win the campaign.
  • You prepared with full INTENTIONS of meeting the need but the OUTCOME was a loss to a better suited company.

And since winning is not under your control, my counterintuitive advice is…

Don’t make winning the goal.

Instead have goals such as:

  • Doing your best
  • Having fun
  • Challenging yourself
  • Improvement
  • Maintaining your integrity
  • Getting some exercise
  • Meeting new people

These are all actions within your control. And all of these can be achieved in the face of a loss.

  • You did your BEST but the other guy was better
  • You lost the tennis match but you had FUN
  • The other guy cheated but you maintained you sense of fair play and INTEGRITY
  • You had an off day but you got some EXERCISE and met some NEW PEOPLE

When you make winning the goal you jeopardize your dignity and integrity. The root of corruption is the win-at-all-costs mentality. Lance Armstrong and Mark McGwire joined the culture of cheating because winning was their sole purpose.

The source of performance anxiety, A.K.A. choking, is self-imposed pressure to win. If winning is not the goal, then that crucial at-bat, or that final sales presentation is revealed for what it truly is – a routine at-bat or just another presentation. You focus with every at-bat and this one is no different. You prepare for every presentation and this final presentation is no exception.

The physicist Richard Feynman said of winning the Nobel Prize that the discovery was his source of satisfaction, not the award.

Adversity reveals a person’s true character. Bad behavior in reaction to a bad call or a loss is the result of a win-at-all-costs mentality. So…

Dress yourself in loftier goals than winning. You will definitely be happier and guess what – you will probably win more often.

Exercise Less

biggest-loser-screamingThe New Years Resolution ritual makes early January the best time to spot one. I call them over-exercisers.

In the wild you usually see them paired up with an over zealous trainer, duck-walking their way around the gym. So humiliating. My counterintuitive advice for anyone trying to get into the habit of daily exercise is to…

Exercise less.

When it comes to exercise, scientific studies show that a little each day goes a long way. In fact after about 45 minutes, the returns diminish. And perched up on my cardio machine I have observed that…

Most over-exercisers go missing after about two weeks – never to be seen again.

If you do decide to make daily exercise a habit, and you should, then go by way of tortoise, not hare. OK here is the world’s shortest exercise book…

Chapter 1

Get in 45 minutes of cardio 5 to 7 days a week. I watch sports and listen to music at the gym because – rain or shine, at home or on the road (hotel gym) – it’s always available. Choose something you can stick with.

Chapter 2

After you gain success with the cardio routine, add a dab of strength training. Again, my counterintuitive advice is to…

Strength train less.

15 minutes a day, 3 to 5 days a week is all you need. Lift under control, breath, and rotating muscle groups, allowing 3 days rest in between lifts. Remember muscles grow during these rest days.

The End

Short book eh? So jettison those over zealous trainers and join me on the cardio perch, where together we can listen to some tunes and over-exerciser watch, rain or shine. Oh and while you’re at it…

Eat more…

Eat More

organic-produce-from-farmers-marketI have a friend that struggles with his weight as most of us do. He recently told me…

I have given up trying to lose weight. Hopefully science will invent a magic pill. Until then – forget it.

I know he is not alone in this thinking however my counterintuitive advice for anyone trying to lose weight is to…

Eat more and stop trying to change your weight.

There are unfit skinny people as well as unfit fat people. Just focus on getting fit and forget about the fat. [Side Note: This all applies in the opposite direction to you unfit skinny people too – so use it to improve your situation as well]. To get fit – just follow my counterintuitive Exercise Less advice and this Eat More advice. Throw away the scale. Love the person you see in the mirror, fat or skinny. Every human body is an incredible, self-contained, miracle of nature. When I say eat more – I mean…

Eat more healthy foods.

Your brain’s reptilian complex is deaf, dumb and blind and it is the control center for your metabolism. It is very very worried about your ability to stay alive and if it gets a whiff of the fact that you are getting less to eat – it will quickly shut down your metabolism. Think of it this way – what is the best way to get someone to gain weight? A good answer is to make them hungrier. Well isn’t it idiotic that…

The formula for making people hungrier is the same advice we give to people trying to lose weight – eat less and exercise more!

Stop doing this! Just get fit. You do this by simply substituting healthier foods for unhealthy foods – a little at a time – slowly!! Don’t eat less. Don’t change when you eat. Don’t eliminate favorite foods. If you are hungry eat – and …

Do not let your brain’s r-complex think that food sources are getting tight.

So the question is – what is healthier food? Well – it is hard to say. More whole grains or less (carbs). More fruit or less? More meat or less? I recommend that you do your own research and make up your own mind about what is more healthy. Change some things and listen to your body. Do you feel better? Do you have more energy? Is your daily exercise easier? I think we can all agree on what is not healthy – processed foods, fast foods, sugary drinks and sugary foods. So start replacing those. Eat fresh, less processed foods. Forget about counting calories and carbs – it adds stress to your life – which degrades your health. Just…

Stay fed, happy and satisfied – and get fit.

There are a bunch of ways to measure fitness. Pick some measures and use them as a yard stick to success. Just…

Don’t measure fitness by scale or tape.

The more fit you get, the better you will feel and the more motivated you will get to further increase your fitness. Momentum is a powerful force. Now put on a smile, eat more and exercise less!

Stop Dreaming

3620594-mdWe entrepreneurs get this a lot…

What do you think about this idea for a business?

But we rarely get this…

The business I started is having this issue, what should I do?

There seems to be a plethora of dreamers and a paucity of doers. So my counterintuitive advice is to…

Stop dreaming and start doing.

There is a reason why doers are so scarce. It is because doing is messy. A cheetah in full stride hunting a gazelle is a majestic image. The image after the catch? Not so appealing. It’s violent and bloody…

The chase is exhilarating. The catch is messy.

Dreams never seem to include complaining customers, flawed products, inept suppliers or fierce competitors. On the other hand, we business owners are up to our graying coiffures in these. But this untidy reality is what you must face. It is what you must love. Seek out the chaos and cluttered. Relish the higgledy-piggledy, hugger-mugger, jumbled reality of actualized ideas. Because it’s in this muddled, topsy-turvy concoction where the real action can be found. You can’t experience the thrill of a victory without the agony of repeated defeats.

My MBA is not documented in a diploma hanging on my office wall, it is bruised into me.

Another thing you should be aware of is how dreams affect your brain. Imagined victories can satisfy your mental pleasure center in the same way that actual triumphs do. Your brain cannot tell them apart. Fantasizing about success reduces your hunger for the real thing. It is a drug. Stop getting high on dreams and catch your gazelle. Do, fail, reset and do again. It’s a never-ending cycle, like…

waves on the beach, making softener and whiter the sand with each violent and glorious crash.

So do yourself a favor and stop dreaming.

Don’t be Happy

fake-smileI hate happy people – don’t you? Wearing that plastic grin – scotch taping silver linings all over the place. Wipe that smile off of your face and shut up already because we all know…

Life is harsh, so face the facts, and bang on.

My counterintuitive advice is to (a) stop faking happiness and to (b) stop pursuing it. These are two sides of the same coin – so let me start with the first one.

a. Don’t put on a happy face – take it off. Use your real face. Be real. If something makes you feel good – smile and move on because it’s only temporary. If something annoys you – scowl and get past it – life’s too short. If something hurts you – cry, then wipe your tears and press on. Acknowledge reality and wear your true feelings. It’s easier that way and it’s healthy for you. And, if you are able to mix in a dash of fortitude and perspective – well that’s the bees knees. Being real, with perspective sounds like this…

Wow, not getting that raise sucks, but it’s good to have a job – not everyone does.

This leads us to the other side of the coin – stop pursuing happiness.

b. Stop trying to please yourself – it’s selfish and futile. Life is a struggle – so embrace it. And stop with the lottery tickets already. The easy life is not just a pipe dream – it’s dull. Challenges and setbacks make us stronger. Admitting to mistakes and correcting them is the only path to improvement. So instead of pleasing yourself – focus on helping and caring about others. Now I’m not advocating do-gooder-ism. I’m suggesting that we should…

Open our eyes and care about those around us.

Slow the hell down and let that guy into your lane. Do a good deed and shut up about it. Morn with a friend. Stop complaining about the education system, take a vacation day and help out your kid’s teacher. Commiserate.  Encourage. Empathize. Authentic happiness comes from acknowledging our true feelings while simultaneously caring about those around us. So…

Let’s swap the “pursuit of happiness” for the “spread of happiness”.

And for crying out loud – wipe that silly grin off of your face and get back to work. Boy – I hate happy people…

Do Less

multitasker_200-2a656bb26a3aa058114311ee832909cd7b644218-s6-c30This is the era of multitasking. Drive, text, call, and groom. Work, tweet, iChat and eat. We have too much to do in too little time. So, what to do about it? Well, my counterintuitive advice is to Do Less. Yes, that’s right…

In order to get more stuff done – Do Less.

So, how do I put this into practice? At any given time slot, I only allow myself one primary project. For example, I might have one work project, one personal project and one home project. So while I am in the office, during work hours, I primarily focus on getting my work project completed.  Then, in the designated non-work time slots, I focus on either the personal project or the home project. Of course you can slice your time and projects up any way you like – the key is to limit the number of projects you have and…

During a given time slot, focus solely on the task at hand.

Of course, life is more complicated than this – right? Just focusing on three projects? Give me a break – right? Wrong! I have completed my fair share of accomplishments using this strategy – raised two kids, started new businesses, helped start a charter school, lost weight, learned tennis, and more.

So how does this look in real life? At work, during work hours – I select a primary project to accomplish. For example, right now I am working on a new software platform. This project will take about two months to complete and it is my primary goal. Of course I have other things I must get done – but they are all secondary to this primary task. Yes…

Non-primary tasks are filler, only being worked on when I cannot move forward with the primary task.

So, for example, when my software is out being tested by the quality group – I tend to filler tasks. But as soon as I can resume the primary task – I ignore the filler. Then when I leave work, I put away ALL work tasks and either focus on a different primary task in its designated time slot – or focus on the task at hand. So for example, right now my home task is refinishing the kitchen table. I don’t work on my office task, check emails or voice messages while refinishing the table. I focus exclusive on the project at hand and furthermore…

I don’t take on additional projects until the primary project is completed.

The key to not taking on additional projects is mastery of this one word – NO. Can you take on this additional major project at work? No – not until I finish my primary project. Should I build a tool shed? No – not until I finish with the table. The key to doing less and getting more done is to…

Learn to say – No.

In between these designated project time slots I do a lot of things. I might gas up the car, hit the gym, run an errand, pick up or drop off one of the kids – you know – one of the million, never-ending life jobs. But while I am doing one of these jobs – I’m fully engaged. When I’m driving – I’m driving. When I’m with my kid or my wife or a friend – I’m with them. I’m not checking email, texting, or thinking about one of my other projects. So…

Even in the little things – focus on the singular task at hand.

I know life is complicated and messy, but I have found for myself that I get more done when I do less. I also found that I get more satisfaction and recognition when adhering to this mantra. The reputation hit of saying NO to those other projects my boss (when I worked for the man) wanted me to take on was offset by the success of the primary task I completed, on time and on budget. Saying NO to the school project allowed me to finish the volunteer project. Why? Because…

It’s better to say NO to some projects and accomplish one thing than to take on everything and accomplish nothing.

And in between projects it is better to live in the moment and give yourself over 100% to the task at hand and be with the person you are doing it with – fully. I believe that…

Multi-Tasking makes a Multi-mess!

So if you want to do more, then you need to do less.

The Un-Buyer

Used-Car-Salesman

Deck the Halls, 20th Century Fox

A team I had tasked to produce a 90 second product video was struggling with the short format – prompting me to issue this counterintuitive advice…

Most shoppers are shopping for what not to buy. They Un-Buy.

Based on the deafening silence from my product team, I knew I was going to have to elaborate. When we sell, we assume that buyers are mentally checking off items on a product features list. We construct a pitch that checks off as many of these list items as possible in order to ‘win’ the business. This is why my team found it so difficult to fit their pitch into 90 seconds. The problem is that this is not how most buyers shop. The fact is that…

It is much easier to eliminate options than it is to consider them in full.

Humans are a wasteful species when natural resources are involved. However, when it comes to mental energy, we are conservationists. We conserve mental energy. So if it takes less mental energy to look for one flaw than it does to tally up several requirements – we choose the smaller task. So how does this impact the 90 second pitch?

The longer the sales pitch, the higher the odds of getting eliminated.

The more we say, the more likely we are to step into an elimination trap. This is why most corporate websites are so vague. Have you noticed this? You look at a website and ask yourself…

What the heck does this company do?

This vagueness is purposeful. The marketing department fears elimination so they pitch a broad, unintelligible net. Both extremes are problematic. Too much information is unnecessary, increasing the odds of accidental elimination. Too little information is confusing and frustrating. So stick to the sweet spot…

A sales pitch should be concise, because you are really trying to Un-Sell.

What is Un-Selling? Looks like I need another post