Posts Tagged ‘active garage’

There are moments in our lives that change everything. One of mine occurred in 1997 as I was taking a coffee break and flipping through a newsletter from the UK’s Guild of Health Writers.

One of the articles mentioned that a boutique publisher was looking for professional writers to author some forthcoming books. One was on a topic I knew nothing about, wasn’t sure I believed in, and sounded like a job for a New Age nut rather than a serious journalist.

But I was unable to shake off the strong sense that this was a book I was destined to write. So I picked up the phone and persuaded the acquisitions editor that, with one book already under my belt and a reputation as a talented and reliable alternative health writer, I was the author they were looking for.

The result? The Book of Crystal Healing was published in 1998, went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide and was quickly followed up with a commission to write The Book of Chakra Healing. Some 13 years later, that book is about to be republished as a Gaia Classic. Because of that one moment, I went on to fulfill a number of childhood dreams, not least becoming a full-time writer and consulting co-author whose 14 books continue to generate royalties.

Frans Johansson would call that early experience a “click moment,” which just happens to be the title of his latest book, subtitled Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World. In it, Johansson clarifies something you may have wondered about (because I have): why is it that some activities require long hours of hard, focused effort in order to achieve success, while in some spheres a total novice can come in and enjoy instant fame and fortune?

According to Johansson, the “10,000 hours rule” that Gladwell cites in Outliers is necessary to succeed in rule-bound domains like chess or tennis, but isn’t required for more fluid arenas. Which is why folks can open a business like The Chocolate Room in Brooklyn, New York, having never “had any deep experience making chocolate.” Or first-time novelist Stephenie Meyer can score best-selling status with her Twilight trilogy.

Likewise, business success today is largely serendipitous, the result of greater complexity and chance encounters. But don’t shrug your shoulders and attribute it all to dumb luck. As Johansson discovered and reveals in The Click Moment, there are many ways to increase the odds of coming face to face with unexpected opportunities. Indeed, publishing a commercially and critically successful book seems like it has a lot to do with what Johansson calls “the purposeful bet.”

For example, scientists who publish many high-quality papers and low-quality papers (and aren’t necessarily smarter or more experienced than their peers) are the ones found most likely to write a groundbreaking paper. In Bird by Bird, nonfiction author and novelist Anne Lamott writes about the benefits of crafting “shitty first drafts.” She’s prolific – and her books sell. So do Stephen King’s, with each early success increasing the odds that readers will like the next book, and the next.

According to Johansson, Stephenie Meyer “broke all the rules…because she didn’t consider them.” But here is where I think many aspiring authors of nonfiction, as well as fledgling novelists, are misled. There are some generally accepted rules of storytelling that you must either learn or intuitively understand in order to write a compelling book. They are absorbed best, I believe, by doing a lot of reading — not least in the genre you wish to inhabit.

Johansson’s The Click Moment is a masterful example of great storytelling in action. In the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink and others, he has the ability to grab the reader’s attention right from page one and never let it wander until the end of the final chapter. I don’t believe you can do that without considerable understanding and effort, not least writing plenty of “shitty first drafts” that never see the light of day (or maybe your blog)!

If one of the opportunities you’re looking to court involves writing a commercially and critically successful book, I strongly suggest you read The Click Moment. Not just for guidelines on how to create more defining moments, to place purposeful bets and harness complex forces, but to see how superior nonfiction is crafted.

The last blog focused on pushing through the Peter Principle by building interdependence. The power to move the project forward radiates from this interdependence, which includes power being shared by key stakeholders.

That interdependence has a very short half-life. So, the obvious question is, “How is it kept alive and encouraged to grow?” The answer lies within the story. The story is what binds people together to work as a team and move the project forward. There are a few things to consider when generating and disseminating the story.

  • Honesty. This is foremost. The moment the team senses they are being played the project fragments. Honesty requires being open and vulnerable regarding the consequences associated with the project including big payoffs that some might get. Not that they have to have every detail. They just need to be included as to the consequences. If the team is put on a “need-to-know” basis the members can feel diminished and it puts the interdependent bond at risk.
  • Discipline. Emerging from the Peter Principle typically has a lot of positive energy but there also are few rules present that work. New rules need generated or the old ones need modified.  You must be able to deal with the ambiguities of the situation and rely on core principles in pushing through to create a new gestalt as to how the team will work and the project will move forward.
  • Energy. With the old rules sitting in a jumbled mess the team instinctively will look for leadership as to what to do next. Here is where a big challenge is present. You must substitute yourself for the policies and procedures that fell apart in order to hold the team together. This can be sustained only so long. A plan is needed.
  • Delegate.  You can’t do it alone. Having key people willing to pick of some piece of the power and hammer out new rules/guidelines/etc. will go a long way towards re-establishing order, building the plan, and lowering the demands on your personal energy. It’s impossible to stress too much the need for a critical mass of people who can commit to something bigger than themselves. Falling short of this critical mass by even one person can cause the situation to implode.
  • Clean House. This is a corollary to delegation. Those who are creating difficulties need to either turn around or be removed from the team. This may seem a bit harsh. It simply is the reality of the situation. I’ve worked on projects and organizational changes where inability to get rid of a key gossipmonger torpedoed the changes.
  • Know where you are going. All of the above comes together to support your moving towards the end goal. Know what it is and state it clearly.

By doing the above the story will unfold from within you. You’ll find it spontaneously arises and you will instinctively know when to pause and reflect, talk with others, or push forward. This may sounds crazy but you will become the story. Think of El Cid. The myth, the story overtook him to the extent it was bigger than his own death. (Not that you want to have your career die!) What works best is having the aura of the project’s story radiate from you. This sounds corny but it isn’t. You know it is happening when people take your lead, when they listen to you in meetings and suggest ways to achieve goals, when the team looks forward to the meeting, when the milestones begin to be met.

Who knows? Maybe someone will write an epic poem about you, too!

A while back I was playing “dueling authors” with a guy who claimed to have written 16 books (meaning he won the game!) and said he had two that he wanted to give me as gifts. Initially embarrassed that I couldn’t return the favor, I was stunned to receive a couple of – well, let’s be kind and call them “pamphlets.” This is the same term The New Republic used recently to describe the TED Book Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization, which at least has 77 pages. The ones I was given were closer to 30!

It’s hard to know what constitutes a “book” these days, given that folks like my friend believe anything over a couple of dozen pages fits the description. And I guess it’s wise not to be too snobbish about this issue, since many famous works of fiction have been short and sweet, such as Samuel Johnson’s Rasselus, Prince of Abyssinia (97 pages) or Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (96 pages). In the realm of nonfiction, Deepak Chopra captured The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success in a mere 117 pages. And one of my favorite nonfiction books, Patricia Ryan Madson’s Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up, runs to just 159.

I had cause to think about quantity, not just quality, after completing my latest book #THOUGHT LEADERSHIP tweet: 140 Prompts For Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign with co-author Craig Badings. We ended up with the same page count at Madson’s book (159 pages) for a word count of approximately 7,500 words. Which would take the average person, what – less than an hour to read?

Except that this isn’t a book that’s meant to be read cover to cover in a single sitting. And here’s where the issue of how long a book needs to be needs to take into account how the book is to be used, as well as what content it contains.

What we did with this book was to compile all the questions that aspiring thought leaders should ask themselves before embarking on a thought leadership campaign. Within the seven sections (each containing a short introduction followed by a series of relevant tweet-sized prompts then a couple of pages of examples under the heading ‘Putting Into Practice’), we provoke readers to consider: What it means to be a “thought leader”; What impact they want their campaign to achieve; How to measure its effectiveness; How best to discover their thought leadership point of view…and much more. We then close the book with a short Blueprint to guide readers’ actions and provide additional case studies and examples.

Would this have been a better book if we’d rambled on for page after page giving extensive details about each of these issues? We didn’t think so. In fact, to come up with the right questions to ask in 140 characters or less takes a lot of thought and relentless editing. In this case, less is definitely more – but it’s not necessarily easier!

As former President Woodrow Wilson is reputed to have told a cabinet member who asked him how long he took to prepare a speech: “It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”

When new writers ask me how long their books should be, my answer is always: As long as it needs to be and no more, which I accept isn’t all that helpful until you actually knuckle down and start to write. (Yet it’s amazing to me how many aspiring authors want to know exactly how many words they’ve got to write, as if this were the sole measure of a good book.)

Having experienced writing #THOUGHT LEADERSHIP tweet, I would add a further caveat: Think about how you want the reader to use your book. Is it to be read by a single individual, cover to cover? Will it be of most value if they dip in and out as the need requires? Or, as in the case of our book, is it meant to provoke conversations among a team of people tasked with implementing a specific initiative? In our case, Craig and I considered the comprehensive yet concise nature of our material – not least the highly focused questions – to be what offers the greatest value for readers, not all the fluff we could have wrapped around them.

What are your thoughts about shorter books? Do you think books are often longer than they need to be? To what extent might this be due to the pressure authors and publishers feel to create books that appear (at least in terms of the quantity of paper they use up) worth their cover price? Please contribute your comments below.

Thought Readership #14: Toughening Up On Tighter Writing

by Liz Alexander on October 1, 2012

Call me weird, but I often turn to the last few pages of non-fiction books (although never novels!) before making a decision whether or not to read them; what I find is rarely creative.

Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is one exception. He signs off with a handy chapter-by-chapter summary, and even a discussion guide as they do in the Young Adult novels I’ve begun to devour.

Another is Dr. Jason Selks’s Executive Toughness: The Mental Training Program to Increase Your Leadership Performance. His conclusion is smartly crafted and, for any aspiring nonfiction author struggling with how best to scope and structure their book, could provide some much-needed inspiration.

There are several parts to Dr. Selk’s concluding chapter. The first poses two questions that help illustrate the characteristics of great people:

  1. What is one thing you have done well in the last 24 hours? (Because the greats “give themselves credit where credit is due.”)
  2. What is one thing you want to improve tomorrow? (They also “relentlessly pursue improvement.”)

Devising questions to ask your readers is one way to narrow down the scope of your book. In Selk’s case, his theme is mental toughness and how those of us who desire to be remarkable need to embrace accountability (doing what needs to be done), focus (prioritizing what’s important), and optimism (overcoming all obstacles). The two questions mentioned above speak directly to those key points, and presumably helped Selk keep his book tight and well organized.

The second part of Selk’s conclusion really drew me in. He offers a chart listing each of his ten “mental toughness fundamentals,” along with a brief explanation. It is here that the author intrigued me sufficiently to want to sit down and read his book cover to cover. He poses questions in those charts that are obviously answered and expanded upon throughout the book, as well as mentioning stories previously referred to that I wanted to know more about. Selk’s reference to acronyms and other terms piqued my curiosity sufficiently to want to check out the relevant, earlier sections: IAS (Ideal Arousal State); RSF (Relentless Solution Focus); and Gable discipline.

The third part of Selk’s concluding chapter summarizes three issues that neatly cover all obstacles to success: Apathy (lack of passion); Laziness (lack of motivation); and Fear (lack of confidence). This is a handy mental checklist to go through whenever you find yourself procrastinating.

Finally, Selk does what any good presenter would do: he encourages his audience to engage personally with the material. He gives the link to a free download work sheet – a clever way to include his web address and drive traffic to his site – and further intrigued me by pointing out that readers would have an opportunity to compare their takeaways with his.

How might such an approach help you write a better book? If you are a speaker, trainer or presenter you’ve learned the importance of summarizing your material in order to highlight for your audience the most important material to remember. Why not use that technique to formulate the scope and structure of your book? In that way you can avoid the mistake many new authors make, in publishing poorly organized material that frequently wanders off into the weeds.

Take a leaf out of Jason Selk’s book and know what you want to leave your readers with – the core takeaways – before you start to write or speak.

Do you want to know when you are falling into the Peter Principle and what to do about it?

Here is a brief run down helping to predict when the fall could occur:

Note: All eight shown on the left are needed for a team to be well rounded and maintain success. If any are missing there is the risk of developing a blind spot in that area causing trouble to brew.

 

IF YOU ARE STRONG IN:

YOUR WEAKNESS IS TRIGGERED BY HAVING TO

Jumping into the fray and taking charge. Observe, be still and distill what is going on to a simple, insightful statement
Comparing, in detail, what is happening now to what has occurred in the past. Look at all the possibilities and develop options in the absence of rules.
Compassionately making sure everyone is taken care of. Build an over-arching mental picture that models the situation in detail.
Determining the principles and values needed in the situation. Take charge and command the group as to what to do next.
Observing, being still and distilling what is going on to a simple, insightful statement Jump into the fray and take charge.
Looking at all the possibilities and developing options in the absence of rules. Compare, in detail, what is happening now to what has occurred in the past.
Building an over-arching mental picture that models the situation. Compassionately make sure everyone is taken care of.
Taking charge and commanding the group as to what to do next. Determine the principles and values needed in the situation.

 

A classic example of this is being top-heavy with people who compare everything to the past. When trying to institute change there can be quite a bit of push back voiced in the saying, “We’ve always done it this way and there’s no reason to change.” They have a hard time seeing that change is needed as well as difficulty in determining all the possible ways the situation can be dismantled and improved. Not knowing how things will work in detail drives them nuts.

Something you may notice is that the attributes flip, i.e., when A is strong where B is weak then B is strong where A is weak. You may see an initial knee-jerk reaction between the two that is negative. In moving the team forward an approach that works in such situation is:

Assign both people to the same task. Judge their performance as a group rather than individually.

This creates a tension encouraging them to see that there is benefit in working with the other. It’s a lot like marriage.

As the team spirit develops a key characteristic for success emerges – interdependence!

It is this interdependence that is the basis for success. It means that as each person works to deal with his piece of the project in his minds eye the solution is interwoven with the pieces provided by others on the team. Things begin to click

Time for a Change #25: Improvement through Optimization

by William Reed on September 20, 2012

When you think of the word Optimization, does it call up images of pushing yourself to make efforts to achieve, or of imagining a better situation and pulling yourself toward it? How you think about it determines how you go about it. You can plant your feet in the past and push uphill, or you can picture yourself in the future and pull yourself where you want to be.

The Principle of Optimization is really the Principle of Optimism, the belief in positive outcomes. One reason why successful people make it look easy is because they feel easy. They stay focussed on the goal, and do not get mired down trying to push the rock uphill.

Say farewell to Mr. Murphy

The Principle of Optimization could shed light on the Principle of Pessimism, Murphy’s Law, the peculiar assumption that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Perhaps this should be amended to read, anything that can go wrong will go wrong, if you expect it to.

People joke about having a Plan B, because Plan A never seems to work. Ironically, it often turns out that Plan B is no better than Plan A, and as a battle veteran once said, the only thing left to do is run like hell.

All too many people, frustrated by unfulfilled dreams and difficult circumstances, become exhausted in trying to push the rock uphill, only to find it roll back down again, a story as old as ancient Greece in the Myth of Sisyphus. Pessimists are very good at proving their point, which in the end is pointless.

You may find you have two inner voices, one encouraging your to move on to higher heights, and one telling you to get on with the grunt work. The quality of your life depends on which voice you listen to, and which way you turn.

The real meaning of the Principle of Optimization is that once you have understood where you are, and know where you want to be, you can place a mental hook at your goal and pull yourself toward it with an Optimistic attitude. In this sense, you are on a constant quest to make things better.

Positive Psychology starts with a calm mind

And so does negative psychology. Each one is an application of the same principle, that actions tend to follow intentions, the body follows the mind. Spending hours playing violent video games is not likely to lead to random acts of kindness.

Positive Psychology works because it points you in the right direction. The problem is that the negative inner voice also wants to be heard, and is not easily silenced. The key is to calm your mind through meditation first, and then realize that you have a choice. Even 15 minutes of meditation can change your day for the better. Click here for an excellent introduction to Zazen Meditation, with video and an iPhone App called Undo 雲堂 (literally cloud hall, a place where monks meditate).

Engaging in this simple practice will help clarify for you the meaning in messages and events, and make you more aware that your own attitude and thoughts are either part of the problem, or part of the solution. It will also make you less subject to distraction, and more master of your thoughts.

Optimism gets results

Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, and one of the leading lights in the field of Positive Psychology, conducted a study for Metropolitan Life to follow the performance of new hires after measuring their levels of optimism. Among the new hires were those who actually failed the insurance company’s screening test, but scored as super-optimists on Dr. Seligman’s test. They were hired anyway, and the super-optimists outsold the pessimists in the regular group by 21% in the first year and 57% in the second year. According to HR Magazine, after Met Life began screening job applicants for optimism, in less than two years the company expanded its sales force by 12,000 agents, and increased its share of the personal insurance market by 50%. You can download here a PDF of the MetLife Case Study.

The Optimists achieved Optimal results, because they remained focused on a positive outcome, and did not look for excuses to explain why things weren’t going well. Moreover, optimists appear young even when they are old in years, and pessimists appear old even when they are young in years.

Samuel Ullman (1840~1924) was an American businessman, poet, and humanitarian, best known for his poem on Youth, which was a favorite of General Douglas MacArthur as well as Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic, and still considered to be one of Japan’s greatest philosophers of management. Years before the MetLife Case study, Konosuke Matsushita was hiring people on the basis of one fundamental question, “Do you consider yourself to be an optimist?”

How can you get started?

There are four fundamental things you can do to turn yourself into an optimist, or to become a super-optimist if you already are one.

  • Practice daily Meditation. A calm mind is a clear mind. Self-awareness gives you more freedom to make a choice, and a better vision of where you want to go.
  • Sketch your ideas and experiences. Many of our best ideas fade with the morning dew because we fail to write them down or illustrate them. Make a habit of capturing your thoughts in a notebook, and continue to shape them in a positive direction.
  • Use positive encouraging language. This applies to what you say to others, as well as what you say to yourself. Words have power, so choose positive words to create a positive outcome.
  • Repeat how Lucky you are. A simple mantra recommended by my Aikido teacher Koretoshi Maruyama, is to repeat aloud and often, “I’m Lucky, I’m Lucky, I’m Lucky.” Try it and you will see it works in small and important ways. And you will help others to become Lucky too.

For a summary of the ideas in this article click here to download the OPTIMISM MANDALA

Time for a Change #24: New Ways To Finance Your Future

by William Reed on September 14, 2012

When thinking about financing your future, most people think of savings, investing, insurance, or financial planning. These are the disciplines that make up most what we think of as the world of finances. How we manage our money is the core of financial planning, but sometimes it helps to step back and reflect on how our money manages us. The ways that we think about money affects our behavior towards it, and the Mandala Chart can again provide multiple windows for reflecting on our thought and behavior regarding money. You can download the FINANCES MANDALA and follow it through the topics below.

Melodious Beans

In Japanese the character for abundance is written 豊 (yutaka), which curiously is made up of the radicals for melody 曲 and beans 豆, a happy image that might even please the bean counters in the accounting department. Soy beans are the source of many food products in Japan, one of the most popular being soy bean curd, known as tōfu. What many people do not know is that there are serious tōfu turf wars going on behind the scenes, which I wrote about previously in an article called Tofu Wars: Battle of the Bean Curd. It is a not so melodious story about how supermarkets in Japan sometimes sell tōfu below their cost as a loss leader to attract people into their stores. For the tōfu specialty stores (yes, they exist) this is a disaster, because they cannot possibly compete if they sell their core product below cost. My friend and co-author wrote a poem about this, which you can download as an excerpt from our book, Budo, Blogs, and Poetry.

What to the supermarket might only be a corner display, to the tōfu specialty shop is a move aimed at the heart. Supermarkets could rotate their loss leaders among different products to still attract customers without decimating the specialty shops. The tōfu shops on their part could offer varieties of tōfu not found in the supermarkets, and educate customers about the value that justifies the price difference, as well as how to prepare delicious tōfu dishes. And consumers can think twice about what happens to other businesses when they buy loss leader products. One secret of abundance is to take the Hippocratic Oath in business and do no harm.

The Straw Trader

There are also lessons in abundance from a Japanese folk tale called Lord Straw Stalk, in which a wandering poor and penniless boy was struggling from hand to mouth, doing day labor in exchange for his food. He often stayed at Buddhist temples, and praying to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, he received a promise that he would be blessed with a happy life and great rewards. It all started with a  stalk of straw, the end of which he tied a buzz fly to for entertainment. Seeing this toy, another boy offered him three oranges for it. These in turn he gave to a woman suffering from thirst, who gave him a roll of woven silk cloth in appreciation. He met a Samurai who offered to give him his tired old horse in exchange for the woven silk cloth. The boy nursed the horse back to health, and offered to sell it to a wealthy landowner, who instead gave him a patch of land to work. This he did very well, and thereby impressed the landowner to offer the boy his daughter in marriage, and the large house in which to raise their family. He became know as Warashibe Chōja, Lord Straw Stalk. The blessings of the Goddess did in fact come true, because he traded his way up to greater wealth, offering value to everyone he met.

A similar story can be found in the West, well known as Master Cat, or Puss ‘n Boots. The lesson is that quite humble things can be of great value when offered to others in the right spirit, and at the right time. It is possible to trade you way into abundance.

Move Less, Attract More

This was the title of an article I wrote on the Abundance Mentality for my Art of Flexible Focus column, Move Less, Attract More. It contains a Hasidic story related by Martin Buber about the difference between Heaven and Hell. Both were rooms in which an abundance of food was laid upon a table, and all of the people in the room had long wooden spoons tied to their arms, making it impossible to feed themselves. In the room called Heaven, all of the people fed each other, whereas in the room called Hell, languished and starved trying in vain to feed themselves. Both rooms offered the same conditions of abundance. It was selfishness and greed that created the condition of Hell, generosity and cooperation that created the condition of Heaven.

This is a simple and powerful story if you think about how it applies in your own life. How do you get fed when your hands are tied? Find a way to feed others first, and soon the mentality of abundance will spread to the benefit of all.

Rules of the Game

Know the rules of the game. They are not always spelled out clearly, but the world of finances is set up with certain rules and laws that ensure that somebody gets paid and comes out ahead. Many contracts are set up specifically for that purpose. While the systems may be complex, they are designed to reward the people who set up the rules, whether in real estate or in taxation. These rules do provide stability in society, but they are designed to serve the people who made the rules.

You may not be able to avoid those rules, but you can gain strength by playing in your own court. Find ways to work in your area of strength, where you know the rules and can sometimes have a hand in setting them up. This is one way to leverage your finances to abundance.

The other is through giving. Givers gain, because they play by the rules of a higher power. The universe rewards those who help others.

Conscious Consumption

One way to finance your future is to enhance the present moment. Zen Meditation can help you regain awareness and appreciation of what you have got, as well as help you discern what you really need. The mind is easily led into a path of unconscious and unending consumption. Meditation can help you become more calm and discerning, that will certainly make you more conscious of your consumption, less likely to be wasteful, and more open to real opportunities in your life.

It will also make you more conscious if you keep track of your receipts, separating them into categories so that you are more aware of where your money is actually going. Making purchases by cash rather than credit card can also give you a greater sense for what is going out, and more attention to why. The conscious consumer gets what he or she needs, and spends more wisely.

The Midas Touch

Everyone knows the story from Greek Mythology about King Midas, who in his greed for gold developed a golden touch, so that everything that he touched turned to gold, including his food and even his own daughter. Despite his riches, he died miserable and hungry.

Greed is a sure way to jeopardize your financial future. Gold Diggers are people who marry for money, where the motive force is not Love but Greed. Instead of a Golden Touch, why not develop a healing touch, a Green Thumb which gives life and helps things and people grow? Watch the people around you and help them to thrive, and you will build trust that will finance your future in subtle but certain ways.

Pull Power

If you want to travel far, you should hitch your wagon to the right horse. Associate yourself in a positive and helpful way with people who have the power to pull you forward. When you clearly express the value you have to offer, and your willingness to share it, people will come forward who want to associate with you for mutual benefit. If the relationship is based on trust and transparency, this can be a very positive way for both sides to finance their future.

The secret is to keep it simple and create a combination that makes things easier and better for both sides, a win/win relationship.

Remember and Help Them

No matter how bad you feel your fortunes have fallen, there are masses of people who are much worse off than you, and they need help as much or more. “I felt sorry for myself having no shoes, until I met the man who had no feet.” As you go about thinking of how to finance your own future, give some time, energy, and assistance to those less fortunate.

Study the inspiring work of Muhammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, a micro-finance organization started in Bangladesh, which gives loans to poor entrepreneurs without requiring collateral, helping them to leverage their skills and finance their own futures. The organization and it’s founder were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Whereas most people search for bargains in which you buy one and get one free, there is an organization which takes the opposite approach of connecting buying to giving, Buy1Give1. This innovative approach to micro-giving enables businesses and individuals to choose projects that resonate with themselves and make a real difference in people’s lives. Your daily purchases can literally finance the futures of people around the world. Find out how it works and give it a try.

We left off on a confusing and possibly negative note with the last blog, i.e., what to do when our weaker mental functions are exactly what is needed to remedy situations. Let’s talk about a solution.

First, there is the challenge present. The project/company needs to keep running while changes are being put in place to remedy the situation. The first, most important thing to do is be humble.

Humility sends out a positive message to the organization. It is an admission of being human. It is a very powerful touchstone that can be used to develop connections with team members and stakeholders.

Humility is simply admitting to what one can and cannot do. There is a vulnerability associated with this. Paradoxically, there is a power present inside that vulnerability.

Being honest about your own strengths and weaknesses gives you the power to confront others on theirs. This starts the process of re-formulating the team and generating new rules for operating. The bonds established working this way are what hold the company together while the old rules fall apart and new ones are being defined.

Take the CEO who is strong in Thinking-extroverted but Feeling-extroverted is needed. By admitting to this and asking the staff “What to do?” the door opens for the management team to look at itself and see how paying attention to employees, team members, outside stakeholders, etc., can benefit everyone. This goes way beyond having the Excel spreadsheets in order.

An example of this is Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s. He knew how to make a great hamburger and serve people. He didn’t know how to build and run a large corporation. So, he had the courage to step aside from those functions and let others take charge. He didn’t disappear; he shared power. He ended up coming back in to run the organization when there was a need to get Wendy’s focus back on to the product and serving people.

The short version of all this is:

No one has a corner on all the talents needed to solve complex problems. It takes a team.

There is an added benefit to this approach. We get to work with our weaker functions and strengthen them. So, that Thinking-extroverted executive can learn to become more people-oriented while trusting the team to take care of that function until she gets up to speed with regards to Feeling-extroverted. Will she be as strong in that area as someone who has it as a first function? No. However, she can learn to recognize the signs as to when it is needed, take it as far as she can, and defer to others stronger in this area and take their direction.

This all may sound very touchy-feely and lack any reference to BUSINESS. It is as serious as a heart attack. It is best ways to deal with the Peter Principle when it surfaces and keep the project/company on track for success.

In the days before the Internet and photo-sharing sites like Flickr, Photobucket, and SlickPic, you could rarely escape the post-holiday season without someone inviting you to look at their vacation pictures. If you’re anything like me, I’d rather have root canal work than sit through another presentation documenting the minutiae of a friend’s or family’s fortnight in Venice, or wherever. Call me anti-social, but seeing endless pics of said vacationers with “that great couple we met up with from South Africa” would invariably leave me cold — and wondering why it is that human beings believe that others are as interested in their lives as they are.

That thought occurred to me as I read Gary Wimmer’s A Second in Eternity: The true story about a voyage beyond time and space and into the Infinite (The Lithomancy Institute, 2011), a book I would not normally review here but which highlights an issue of relevance to many aspiring authors – including those planning to write business books.

This memoir relates experiences the author had in 1977 that involved some profound psychic realizations. Not that I have an issue with that, given a spiritual encounter of my own (Sevenoaks, Kent, England; 1999; in the bath. Enough said!). But in reading Gary’s book I reflected back on what Trevor Blake  (whose memoir-type book I reviewed for Thought Readership #12) had written in Three Simple Steps (BenBella Books, 2012): that he had focused on the process, not the person. Hence that author used personal stories to provide a narrative framework for the “three simple steps” he has used to achieve monumental business success. In Gary Wimmer’s case the only take-away was a recounting of his spiritual experience, and I couldn’t help but think that you would have to know and like him to be that interested.

As a rule of thumb, when it comes to your book it’s always about the reader. For novelists the challenge is to “entertain me.” For non-fiction authors, it’s typically to “inform or enlighten me.” Which means that even if your book relies heavily on your life story to “show” rather than “tell,” the needs and interest of your desired reader must remain foremost in your mind.

Why do you think Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love was such a huge commercial success if not for the fact that zillions of women could relate to her relationship issues at the beginning of the book and desired, vicariously at least, to journey to contentment as she did? Similarly, people are more likely to read Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety if either they’ve experienced anxiety themselves or know someone they care about who does, and are looking to better understand and share insights about this condition.

Regardless of the genre or scope of your book, ask yourself why you are writing it, from the reader’s perspective not your own, and specifically what’s in it for them — before you begin.

It’s a fact — even in this so-called age of community, crowdsourcing and the like — that most people care less about you than they do about themselves. Which makes marketing and successfully selling copies of your memoir as a relatively unknown person a mighty challenge. And in Gary Wimmer’s case, writing a well-received spiritual memoir is, as this Daily Beast post points out, extra difficult.

I suggested to Gary that instead of simply writing a chronological account he might have highlighted the link between psychic abilities and mental illness so that readers who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as he had, might regard their situation differently. Or he could have illuminated us on the difference between these spiritual experiences and his former drug use, injecting plenty of humor into the telling.

Many people believe that there’s a book within each one of us. I don’t dispute that. What I do question, however, is whether there is a sizeable market for most of them. If you start out by thinking more deeply about whom you want to read your book and why they would do so, you’re part way to achieving the commercial success most of us are seeking when we write.

Otherwise your book is likely to be as welcome as forcing a complete stranger to review your holiday albums!

WIIFM: What’s in it for Me!

The Soul of a Project #24: The Peter Principle and YOU!

by Gary Monti on September 4, 2012

The Peter Principle states, “Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetency.” From a psychological perspective there is a great deal of truth in that statement. Ever wonder why it occurs? Let’s explore based on depth psychology (Carl Jung) and the concept of temperament. Some background will help.

In depth psychology we have 8 function attitudes. These are ways in which we gather and process information. We all have them. Where we vary is in the preferred order in which we use them.

There are two major ways we can gather information: Sensing and Intuiting. These break down further into “extroverted” and “introverted.” Likewise, there are two major ways we can process information: Feeling and Thinking. These, too, break down further into “extroverted” and “introverted.” Combining this information we end up with the following table:

GATHERING INFORMATION

PROCESSING INFORMATION

Sensing – extroverted Feeling – extroverted
Sensing – introverted Feeling – introverted
Intuiting – extroverted Thinking – extroverted
Intuiting – introverted Thinking – introverted

 

We all have all eight. Where we vary as individuals is in the rank order. Also, for each of us, our number 1 gets the highest amount of brainpower while our number 8 is the most difficult to work use. This leads to an interesting dictum.

“For as strong as you are in one part of life there is a corresponding Achilles heel…and there’s no getting around this.”

For example, someone who has Thinking – extroverted as number one has Feeling – extroverted as number eight. What does this mean?

The Thinking – extroverted part means this is a take-charge type of person. She can give orders and take command. Think of an entrepreneur starting a business. There can be a gruffness present that is somewhat abrasive, but things get done! The business grows. It runs like a clock. In fact, it grows to the point that how it is organized (or should I say “disorganized”) is becoming increasingly important. The number of squabbles between employees is increasing and it is showing in terms of how customers are serviced and outsiders view the business.

This is where Peter Principle comes into play. The very strength that grew the business, Thinking – extroverted, has led to a problem that is the most difficult for the founder to solve. Barking more orders only makes things worse.

Feeling – extroverted has been studiously avoided. People are told to suck it up and get the job done. This may sound macho but the reality is the leader is avoiding it because she is at a loss as to how to deal with the issue. In fact, she’s probably afraid of it. There is an important reason as to why this occurs:

Addressing the weaker functions requires putting the strong one aside.

You can probably hear the entrepreneur saying, “Are you crazy! I built this business based on my commanding attitude and now you want me to listen to their feelings! We don’t have time for that! This is a BUSINESS!” At this moment the Peter Principle surfaces in all its flaming glory and if not addressed trouble occurs. That trouble starts with the leader looking foolish and needing to be “understood” and progresses to a tragedy in which clients aren’t getting served, costs go up due to inefficiencies, and the competition starts eating your lunch.

Don’t despair. In the next blog we’ll go a little deeper and see if anything positive can come of this.