“On many occasions I have seen presenters who thought that displaying a great memory was more important than punching home a well-crafted message.”

Terry Neill
This is a guest post by my father Terry Neill. It is an edited version of 2 emails that I was cc'ed into recently. 
Terry Neill, speaking

Christmas 2019. We were in St Patrick’s cathedral (where Jonathan Swift was Dean) waiting for the start of the service.

A friend of one of our friends stopped by. I was introduced. He said “Oh I remember you for a terrific after dinner speech at the Strollers Club last year” , and then he said – with a laugh – “Even though it was all written out.”

I remembered the occasion. Speaking at the Strollers dinner was an important event for me. They invite excellent speakers. You have to be at your best – and funniest.

In every similar circumstance, I have a script. I know I will be nervous (it’s a source of energy). Opening and closing need the right words with the right cadence. Every punchline must have the words in exactly the right order. As the chair thanked me, he felt the need to tell the audience that “Terry had it all written out”. It was hard to know whether it was compliment or criticism. I suspected the latter.

For me, having the script means I can focus on ‘the theatre’ …. The pauses … the ‘chapter headings’  …… the changes of pace … the key repetitions …. The body language  ..the big points of emphasis ….. the build up to punch lines …..

On many occasions I have seen presenters who thought that displaying a great memory was more important than punching home a well crafted message. They showed little evidence of having thought about the audience and our assumptions… they showed little intention around the impact they wished to have on the audience.

There is a prevailing belief amongst after-dinner speakers that using a script or notes of key points is ‘un-macho’. Often times, the memory failed and key messages got lost or forgotten – or stories fell flat as the punchline got mangled.

We have to get over the embarrassment of being prepared. With some few – irritating – exceptions, ‘winging it’ is always high risk. In my experience, every great speaker or presenter is always superbly prepared – and practised. Notes or full script are a matter of individual choice. I regard them as a measure of professionalism and as evidence of a commitment to excellence.

On Practice

Golfers will know that Gary Player was/is one of the great sand bunker players. When he was asked why he seemed so lucky, he said “It’s amazing. The more I practice, the luckier I get”.

It often happens that the unplanned, informal moments provide the most powerful opportunities to deliver a message or make an impact. I know that a newly appointed CEO is generally not ready to listen – as they, usually over optimistically, take on the challenges of their new role. My role as a consultant required me to be well prepared to communicate, when that CEO was prepared to listen – which could be anytime.

If we are practising our 2/3 minute ‘stump speech’ every day – or nearly every day ….. we will discover that ‘the more we practice, the more impactful we will be when an unexpected opportunity arises.’

In about 1997, I stepped into an elevator on a high floor of the Rhiga Royal hotel in New York. I recognised the one person in the elevator was Marvin Bower – the founder of McKinsey & Co. He said good morning. I said ‘good morning Mr Bower’. He was surprised … and asked me what I did …. ‘Accenture’ (in those days Andersen Consulting). He said tell me about your firm. I had the 3 lines and he said ‘have you time for a coffee’. 

I was late for my meeting, but got to spend nearly an hour with one of the great icons of professional services/consulting. I hope that his opinion of Accenture rose as much as my opinion on him and McKinsey.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also this post inspired by my father My father’s list: Leaders and Non-Leaders (a list of characteristics of great leadership).

Reid Hoffman, founder of Linkedin and first COO of Paypal

I was on a zoom call today with Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn. Here’s my lessons from the call…

How do we learn Entrepreneurship?

The best way of learning entrepreneurship: play boardgames… Settlers of Catan is good – there is trading, there is ambiguity, there are multiple strategies. Chess is good but no ambiguity… we all know all the information all the time. Monopoly is too simple… roll dice, buy everything… not really learning to make strategic decisions. Poker has the aspects of taking decisions under ambiguity that are so important as an entrepreneur.

Sun Tzu on entrepreneurship: no business plan survives contact with the market. Entrepreneur needs a plan, but needs to know what is truly important in order to rapidly and flexibly change the plan based on market response.

Entrepreneur is open minded that if I can’t make it work today, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work… maybe in a year or two things have evolved and you now have an important business.

How do you do so much?

“I choose great CEOs.”

Why can Elon Musk do so much?

Poor competition. Electric cars and Space exploration… very difficult… and there was no serious competition. That allowed Elon to do hard things in parallel.

If there is strong competition… you’ll need to focus.

The Role of Entrepreneurship

Society needs entrepreneurship – creative ideas getting tested, and what works growing. If nothing new can start, society is stagnant. Ask for permission in Europe vs Ask for forgiveness in US and China. Experimenting on the edges of banking is illegal in EU, but allowed Paypal to begin in US.

What was Hard in starting LinkedIn?

On founding Linkedin – “professional” social networking was resisted strongly at the beginning. Initial tagline: “We are friendster, but for business”. Journalists “oh yeah, you are the job seeking application.” It was a real struggle and lots of people thought I was mad.

As a CEO in an early stage company, you are focussed on building the product, extending the product.

As a CEO in a late stage company, your entire focus is on scaling up the business. What will accelerate our growth?

Why has half of the NASDAQ come out of Silicon Valley?

Region of 3 million people… why so much impact?

“There is a learning network. There is an intense local learning of how to build these tech business and scale them up. “

Today Silicon Valley, there is so much money going into the area that so many ideas can be tried and tested… and the entrepreneurs share their experiences. It is like a “Cambian explosion” of tech business.

Reid wrote Blitzscaling to share the best ideas from Silicon Valley out with the rest of the entrepreneurial world. These are the techniques by which the technology companies of the future are being built.

Early Investor in Facebook and AirBnB. Lessons?

Being contrarian and right is a wonderful place to be as an investor and as an entrepreneur.

Facebook – “its for college kids with too much time on their hands…” well, I think there is something important here. Contrarian… and right.

Yahoo offers $1B… should we sell? what is upside, what is the downside? we didn’t have a business at the time… but I believed there was something big and we would be able to find a business. Contrarian… and right.

AirBnB – we are the market for space. Liked the founders. First meeting: lets get down. to business… I know I am going to make an offer to invest, lets work together on the big questions. Contrarian… and right.

Big thing at AirBnB – taking control of the full experience… not just the web design. Dirty windows = bad. Clean windows made such a positive impact on airbnb rental locations. The founders really worked on designing the whole experience.

“Every challenge is a design challenge” AirBnB

The future of work?

“Crisis always begets opportunity.”

Phone calls will become video calls

Remote is a real option. Some companies have gone completely virtual and will never go back.

Co-working will be important.

Travel… for 1 meeting? we can zoom.

Investing Guidance

Look at Entrepreneur, Market, Product

The most important: look at the entrepreneur. A good entrepreneur will find a market and will find a product. A great market and a great product… but doubts about the entrepreneur… we won’t invest.

Whats the most important human capability for the next thirty years?

The Ability to Pay Attention

To hold your attention on what you decide is important. to stay focused as it becomes boring… and to stick with something through boredom to the insights that only emerge on the other side of boredom.

Today I am waiting to receive my first dose of the Covid vaccine. The Barcelona conference center has been turned into an industrial scale vaccine delivery system. It’s well organized and I am impressed.

Line for vaccines. A thousand people. Nine hundred face down to their screens. Fifty reading a book. Fifty looking around and seeing where they are, what’s happening and who else is here.

50 years ago information was scarce. That made it give power to those that had access.

Today information is so abundant that it gives little power. It is so abundant that it has created another scarcity: The scarcity of attention.

I am reading a book gifted to me yesterday by a good friend. “Stand out of our light: Freedom and resistance in the attention economy.” The book is a thoughtful reflection on how mobile phones are impacting our lives… sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse… but often with us being unaware of the price we are paying with our attention.

What is the true cost of an hour scrolling on Instagram or Facebook? The life I could have lived, the deep conversation I could have had, the goals you didn’t pursue, all the actions you didn’t take… all the possible yous you could have been… had you attended to those things.

“Attention is paid in possible futures forgone” James Williams.

The title of this blog comes from a session in a course that Professor Paris de l’Etraz teaches about Life. I met Paris at a dinner in Madrid 4 years ago hosted by another inspiring teacher.

Stand in the Traffic: I love the simplicity of this life strategy.

Whatever you want in life, there are places where opportunities are flowing… and there are places where opportunities are not flowing. Abundant places… and stagnant places.

Stagnant: There are very few opportunities passing the person sitting on their sofa watching Netflix.

Abundant: There are many more opportunities passing the person out there in the world engaged in conversation… on a university campus, in industry conferences, in associations, online via youtube and blogs and writing articles.

If you have any idea what you are looking for…

If you have any idea about the types of things that you want to come into your life, the next step is to ask yourself “Where is the traffic?” Where are relevant people, resources, ideas, activity flowing?

Go stand there.

Put yourself where opportunity will pass you by.

If you are at an industry event and it is coffee break time, where do you stand?

If you stand by the wall with your mobile phone in front of you… you are not “in the traffic”.

If you stand by the coffee machines or the food service area, all the traffic will pass by you.

If you know how to smile and ask a few questions “hey, how are you doing? what brings you here? what has impressed you so far?”… now you can engage with the traffic.

Where should you be putting yourself more often?

PS the traffic is not just a physical location… my blog, my linkedin newsletter and my youtube channel are all ways of “standing in the traffic”

More Lessons from Paris about Life

Check out Paris’ TEDx talk on how Uncertainty affects the Professional Mind.

What matters most in the gym? The hours you spend or the reps on the weights?

In the areas where you must be highly competent to succeed in your role: are you accumulating hours or reps?

Do you just do your job or do you spend time practicing the important skills that make you effective?

By practice, I mean “deliberate practice” – setting an intent, taking action, getting feedback, reflecting on original intent vs actual result, seeking new approaches… and repeat the cycle.

Thinking about writing is not writing. Publishing an article and listening to reader feedback is how to do reps.

Thinking about exercise is not exercise. Lifting the weights, pushing through discomfort, sweating… is exercise.

Thinking about difficult conversations is not having difficult conversations. Having challenging conversations (for you and for the other) and seeking productive conflict is how to do reps.

Thinking generates hours, but does not generate reps.

Be careful of equating hours (or years of experience) as competence.

How do those who are successful go on and make a truly lasting impact?

  1. Focus (no athlete wins 100m and marathon)
  2. Time horizon (Jeff bezos handstand)
  3. Habits (little habits every day > big decisions once a decade)
  4. Love the Process/Plateau (bamboo – it doesn’t always look like progress)
  5. Connected Relationships (communications, trust)

Check out the longer discussion of these 5 elements in the video below…

If you liked this post, you will also like Success Lessons from Kung Fu Panda and The Simplest Definition of Success.

The title sounds a bit “salesy”… but that is what the video is about.

My friend and colleague at Vistage, Harry Marsland, shared with me one of his secrets to build a successful marketing agency in the UK. He has 5 questions that he would ask to his favourite clients each year:

Harry’s 5 Sales Questions to Double your Business:

  1. What do we do that you Like?
  2. What do we do that Not like?
  3. What could we Do more?
  4. What should we Do less?
  5. What will it take for you to double the business you give us?

I first met Dandapani at an Entrepreneurs Organisation event in Istanbul in 2012, I have since met him in Boston and then helped bring him to Barcelona to spend a day with our Entrepreneurs’ Organisation chapter.

Dandapani teaches some simple but highly important lessons about awareness and our mind, and how to be intentional about your life… and in particular your energy.

Video summary from Eugene Wong on LinkedIn

Wisdom from Dandapani

  1. Winning and social approval is not the motivation of the gold medal athlete. They do it to learn more about themselves. Winning or losing is not so important, it is about knowing who you are. Failure is like an enhanced moment to learn who you truly are.
  2. Your life now is a manifestation of where you direct your energy or a sum total of where you have been investing your energy.
  3. There’s people in your life that boost your energy. There are those who are energy neutral. Be kind and detached from your energy vampires. Give the work back to them.

How to Improve your Concentration

Dandapani tells us that there are 3 steps to practice that improve our concentration:

  1. Finish that which you begin
  2. Finish it well, beyond your expectations
  3. Do a little more than you think that you are able to do

Use these 3 steps in every area of your life: from making the bed in the morning, to tidying the kitchen, to reading to your child, to writing emails, to writing blog posts…

Further Resources on Dandapani’s lessons

Check out my previous videos and blog posts that were inspired by Dandapani:

How to be Resourceful

It is more valuable to be resourceful, than full of resources. It is more powerful to think in terms of possibilities, rather than what you could do with what you have now. Our imagination is an incredible gift, if we use it to imagine… not to find excuses.

“Poverty is not about a lack of resources, it is about a lack of dreams”

When times are difficult, it is easy for our mind to shrink back to our limitations. It takes a deliberate effort to shift our patterns of thought back towards possibilities. It is important for our spirits to remember our dreams. As a friend of mine says “If you have a dream and you know exactly how to achieve it, you don’t have a dream… you have a project” (Alden Mills).

In the video below, I share a pattern I have seen repeated in the language used by resourceful people.

Victor Frankl and the Source of Purpose

I often recommend people to read Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Frankl tells us that purpose is not something to be found outside. Purpose is not something written on a tablet for us to find in the environment. Purpose is something we decide to have. 

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognise that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” Viktor Frankl

If you liked this post, you will also like How to find Purpose and Self Belief: The Hero’s Journey and There are no They.

Charlie Munger on uncommon sense…

Competence – you can only be trusted as competent if you clearly understand the limits of your competence. The great danger of experts is they forget the limits of their expertise – “it is better to trust a man of 130 IQ who thinks he is 125 IQ, than to trust a man of 180 IQ who thinks he is 200 IQ” Warren Buffett

Inverting – if you want to make life better, think of what you would do to make life worse. Charlie was an aviation meteorologist during WWII. His task was to give weather briefings to pilots. His role was unclear until he thought of the inverted perspective “if I wanted to kill pilots as a meteorologist, what could I do? Flying with iced wings, flying in conditions they will be unable to land.” This really clarified for him the important aspects of his role in keeping pilots alive. In our own lives, asking “how would I really make my life worse?” can be a valuable perspective on what really matters.

Collector – be a collector. How many collectors do you know who are unhappy? Identify things or experiences that you enjoy collecting and become a curator of your collections.

Integrate ideas between domains – most people focus on details within the idea (especially academics), few people look at the interaction between big ideas. That’s where there’s not much incentive in academics, but it’s very interesting for investing money.

Occam’s razor- go for simple… with a proviso that was initially shared by Einstein “Everything should be made as simple as possible but not more so” Einstein. Anywhere there is a “lollapalooza result” (Charlie’s term for a hugely positive and rapid outcome)… look for a confluence of causes. Academic experts find one cause. To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. There are rarely just single causes for high impact outcomes.

The problems of Social science– all chemists can answer “where do the rules of chemistry not apply?” In the high temperature plasma state. how many social scientists can answer “if you want to sell more should you raise or lower the price?” Where does this rule not apply? 1 in 50 will say “luxury goods!” Many social scientists forget to think of the exceptional cases.

Update… a summary of this post in a #shorts video

More on Charlie Munger’s thinking process

Charlie Munger’s Inverse Thinking Process

Short term Happy vs Long term Fulfilled