A family lives in the outskirts of a remote village on a small plot of land.  The family own one cow.  Each day they live from the milk of the cow.  If there is little milk, they eat little.  It there is lots of milk, they eat well.  The lives of the mother, the father, the children depend on the cow.

One autumn day, a lone traveller stops in the village.  He is hungry.  The family share their milk.  The traveller is grateful.
The traveller wishes to return the favour and help the family.  He doesn’t know how to help the family.  He hears that there is a wise man in the village.  He walks over to the home of the wise man.
Two Cows
photo credit: Martin Gommel
“I was hungry and the family fed me.  I would like to help them.  How can I help this family?”
The wise man said “Kill the cow.”
“Kill it?  How can that help them?  They depend for their lives on that cow.”
The wise man repeated “Kill the cow.”
The traveller was nervous about following such strange advice,  but the reputation of the wise man was such that he went ahead and killed the cow.
A year later the traveller happened to pass again through the village.  He noticed new shops and a thriving market.  He saw a new hotel that provided beds and food to the travellers who came for the market.  
The traveller entered the hotel.  Behind the bar he found the eldest son of the family of the cow.  The man was standing tall, smiling and happy.  The traveller greeted him and asked “What happened?”.
“We lost our cow.  There was no milk.  We had to go out and do something to eat.  We set up a small market, it grew.  We set up this hotel, it is growing.  Without the milk from our cow, we had to try new things.”
Silently to himself, the traveller reflected on the power of the wise man’s words.  “Kill the cow.”

“Any nation that thinks more of its ease and comfort than its freedom will soon lose its freedom; and the ironical thing about it is that it will lose its ease and comfort too.” W. Somerset Maugham

What is your cow?

Thanks to my entrepreneurial friend Elena H for the wonderful story ūüėČ

There are 4 ways of dealing with Anxiety

  1. Remove the source of anxiety Рavoid the stress.  This is a poor coping strategy.  There is no growth in capability. There will always be a reduction of my performance levels when the stressor is present.
  2. Manage my level of anxiety – learn to auto-adjust down (relaxation techniques, visualisation) or up (“come on, fight this point! never back down!”)
  3. Tolerate anxiety РAccept the existence of the anxiety without it affecting my level of performance.  I learn to co-exist with the anxiety.
  4. Enjoy the anxiety РLean in to the stress!  Accept the emotions and feel it 100%  Some sports stars have learnt to deliver more than 100% in the most extreme situations Рworld cup final penalty, Ryder cup putt on the last green with the whole world watching.

Pep Mari, Psychologist for the Spanish Olympic Team

This comes from work of Pep Mari (check out Pep Mari’s youtube channel, in spanish). ¬†Pep is the head of psychology for the high performance athletics center that is part of the Spanish government’s plan to help create a generation of Olympic gold medal winners.

How do you deal with Anxiety?

How do you deal with anxiety?  Do you manage your stress levels?  Are there any stresses that you have learnt to enjoy?  How did you achieve this?

On 9th August 2010, Ed Stafford arrived at the sea, having walked the length of the Amazon river. Over 860 days of walking, 20,000 mosquito bites, 5,000 leeches, poisonous spiders and snakes. No boss told him to do it. Nobody paid him for it. Why did he do it? How did he keep going for almost 3 years?

My 2nd post in the series “The Origin of Leaders” is now live at ActiveGarage.com.  I welcome your reflections and comments.

Writing is among the greatest inventions in human history, perhaps the greatest invention, since it made history possible. Yet it is a skill most writers take for granted. As adults we seldom stop to think about the mental-cum-physical process that turns our thoughts into symbols on a piece of paper.” Andrew Robinson, The Story of Writing.

I talk regularly about Warren Buffett’s 3 most important criteria for success: Integrity, Energy and Intelligence.

I have blogged about how to have more energy.  This blog post is about improving intelligence.

How to improve your intelligence

If you want to improve your intelligence, write stuff down.  Full stop.  Write stuff down, and 6 months from now you have the accumulated intelligence of 6 months of notes, ideas, quotes.

More valuable perhaps than increased intelligence is the power of writing to reduce my feelings of stress or overwhelm when I confront uncertain or challenging decisions.

Reflective writing gives me three benefits

  1. Writing slows down time (Mindfulness)
  2. Writing orders my thought (practice improves clear thinking)
  3. Writing allows perspective (separation of subject and object, separation of reason and emotion)

Habits and Rituals to keep writing as a habit

In order to develop a habit of reflective writing I would suggest you start with 5 to 10 minute sessions where you dedicate full attention.  Set a timer and remove all sources of interruption.  Close the door, disconnect internet, put mobile on silent.

I use a pen and paper.  Others use computer.  Whatever you do, the key to getting the benefits is to separate the creative and edit processes.  Reflective writing is about capturing the flow of consciousness as you reflect on the decision, on an error, on a problematic relationship, on how to achieve a certain outcome Рand not letting your inner editor get into the process until you have a draft of the ideas down on paper.

There are times when I have to tell my brain “I will keep writing until I have 500 words on this page and if I have to write the word ‘the’ 500 times then that is what I will do”. ¬†Inspiration comes when I tell my procrastination-oriented lizard brain that I am going to go on writing until I reach my goal.

Some starting questions to use for reflection

  1. Tell the whole story from other perspectives – put yourself in someone elses shoes and tell the story the way you imagine they might see it. ¬†Improves your imagination – humanity’s most important gift.
  2. What if? – take a fundamental assumption and imagine how things would change if it was not valid
  3. Rants, then reflect on underlying message – let the anger or frustration out and vent on the paper… then review what the source of the anger or frustration really is
  4. Practice conversations – script a difficult conversation
  5. Keep records – track what has happened today
  6. Reflect on your own performance (honestly)
  7. Note quotes, ideas, connections – write down words that impact you from newspapers, books, articles or that you hear from people that you speak to
  8. List good questions – “what other criteria are important to you in taking this decision?” (old post: How to ask the best questions)
  9. Draw diagrams – visually represent the problem, concept, flows
  10. 2×2 matrix – do what consultants do (I would welcome a post from any reader who is a consultant on 2×2 matrices… ¬†:-)
  11. SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats
  12. Political maps Рdraw a network map, reflect on the true organisation power structure
  13. Write about emotion and what the situation looked like when angry, frustrated, dissapointed
  14. Persuade yourself – make the case to yourself
  15. Devil’s Advocate – be your own skeptic
  16. Clear up objectives (realistic, tangible) Рwhat do you really want achieve?  what will it feel like when you achieve the objective?  why is it important to you?
  17. Identify other’s interests, options, BATNA – how can you help other’s achieve their goals?
  18. Re-frame messages – historically, politically, scale up or down, viewed from 5 years in the future
  19. Capture stories – the best way to begin to remember them (Doorman, Cathedral, Tracks in the Sand, Cemetery of Youth, Geronimo the Apache and Entrepreneurs)
  20. Action plans Рwhat are you going to do?  what series of steps take you closer to your goal?  how to engage the people whose support you need?

And you?
What other tools, questions, methods do you have for using writing as a tool for reflection?  Do you write regularly?  Why?  or Why not?

I will finish with Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living”. ¬†He was wise. ¬†Although I might add that the over-examined life is a poor alternative – best to experience life than to think about experiencing life. ¬†Reflection on experience is not a complete replacement for fully living today.

I am up in the mountains an hour from Barcelona with the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation local chapter.  the sun is shining. Yesterday we spent the day on a horse ranch called Hipica Can Vila working with the horses.  Today, we have had a full day with Jordi Vila-Porta, author of the recently published book: “Success” (“¬°Exito!”).  He shared some fine thoughts:

The 5 proven paths to failure.

  1. I don’t know what I want
  2. I don’t know what to do
  3. I don’t know how to do it
  4. I don’t believe I can do it
  5. I am not willing to pay the full price (in time, work, effort, discipline)
At what point are you bailing out?
Other news…
The first of my 9 part series on “The Origin of Leaders” is now up at the excellent ActiveGarage.com blog.  “Imagination: How to develop your most powerful human talent“. Have a read, would love your comments, reactions, thoughts and general link-love ūüėČ  Have a great weekend

I had a shower this morning and in the moments of pause between shampoo and soap it hit me. Another day gone. Another shower. Another day beginning. Where are they all going so fast?  What am I doing with all this time?

My little late night brainstorm:  Six ways to make sure today is not another indifferent 24 hour step towards the future:

  1. Travel – get out and see something new. A new sight. 
  2. Teach – help another grow and learn
  3. Create – a product. A drawing with my daughter.  A YouTube film.  A Thai curry (with cashews).
  4. Connect – call and really talk to an old friend.
  5. Help – pick someone and really go out of my way to help them achieve something
  6. Write – words.  Might lead to a legacy? or an insane asylum…
This post was inspired by a recent post by Sean Platt at pickthebrain.com.

I wrote about letting go of my iphone and blackberry over the summer, I think that the best way to find energy is to be present here and now and switch off my constant running, sprinting towards the future. Here is Scott Stratten telling this story in a much more powerful and personal way on TEDx (RSS: link to video on blog). This is worth 15 minutes of your time.

I have been writing an article on “the cult of busy-ness” for the last few weeks. I believe most business has replaced productivity and smarts with “busy-ness”. I listen to conversation after conversation that go:

“How was your week?”
“Terrible. Busy. So many emails… got to get urgent proposal out…”
“And you? good week?”
“Really busy. Too much stuff. Meetings… emails… my boss doesn’t understand…”

We need to break this cycle. It is killing us. It is killing intelligence and innovation and it is killing human beings.

I force students in my class to chose no more than 3 benefits when preparing a persuasive speech.  I am always happy to have my views reinforced…

Roger Parker did a great interview with Carmine Gallo, author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs a few days ago.

I loved Carmine’s clarity and he commented that it was a holdover from his journalism training and early professional experience.  He said that journalists learn 3 important things:

  1. Write to deadlines. 
  2. Answer the question: ‚ÄúWhy should my viewers care?‚ÄĚ.
  3. Experts and Writers want to tell everything. A journalist learns to focus on the 3 most important things.
Most books on communication are written by PhDs for PhDs. We need books written by good communicators for real people looking for practical tips.” Carmine Gallo
It takes courage to write simply.  Academics will say: ‚Äúit is too simple.‚ÄĚ