I had the pleasure of attending TEDxIESEBarcelona a couple of months ago. My good friend and fellow EO member Raul Aguirre gave a passionate talk on a special secret that has led to his success.

The hidden secret that led to Raul’s success

This talk reveals new insight about the real reasons of success of famous and not-so-famous people – and how to apply these principles to be much more successful – and happier – in any field.

Raul Aguirre

Raul is the Founder and first CEO of Tango/04 Computing Group, Inc. He does wonderful drawings and has a cool instagram account @osplo. He Graduated in Computer Science (University of Buenos Aires), EO/MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Entrepreneurship Master Program, and the Superior Institute of MorphoPsychology (ISM, Barcelona). Designer of award-winning technologies (such as the APEX Award of Penton Media for VMC, USA, 2004) and products sold in more than 50 countries.

TEDxIESE Barcelona

Check out the full playlist of speeches from the first 2 editions of TEDxIESEBarcelona:

 

Why are Experts so often poor Communicators?

Here is why…  If you are reading this via email, check out the video on the blog: Why are Experts so often poor Communicators?

This is a video about Experts and Fakes, Charlatans and Gurus. I share a 2×2 matrix looking at the 4 types of skill/communication ability.

I also discuss the idea of “craftsmanship” – where one person does all of the parts of a job from idea to execution and the special type of innovation that can come when one single individual understand how all the elements of the work flow together.

There are 2 types of teachers

  • a) the teacher who is great at teaching beginners,
  • b) the teacher who is a guide for advanced students and experts. A great “beginner teacher” is often not a great “advanced teacher”.

Check out Rich Mulholland’s video about “craftsmanship”:

Lots of people are searching for short cuts.

If you are going through something just to get the diploma, then by all means take short cuts. You don’t really care about the journey.

If you are determined to grow a life that becomes more and more fulfilling and you have a sense of growth and contribution – pick an important problem and don’t take any short cuts.

Maybe, we should pick something we really care about and take the long cut. We choose to make the full journey with no short cuts, no skipping sections, no jumping ahead.  (The term “long cut” comes from Seth Godin.  Here is Seth Godin’s interview on the Tim Ferriss’ podcast.)

Don’t spend your whole life picking some thing you don’t really want and then take short cuts to get it finished and get the piece of paper or diploma.

At least once, pick something you really care about and commit to the full journey taking in all the steps, all the hills, all the stops.

Where are you taking the long cut?

One anecdote does not make a proof.

The danger: humans are more easily persuaded by 1 clear and concrete anecdote than by big data and expert statistical analysis.

“My friend’s brother bought a house in downtown Barcelona 2 years ago and is now selling it at twice the price!”

This statement has far more impact on me as a human than: “the real estate market in Barcelona metropolitan area has an undersupply of mid-range housing and this scarcity will result in an acceleration of asset prices”

An anecdote is a one off. It is not data. It is not science. It is dangerous.

In statistics this is called a Type I error.  In slang: “a false positive”.  More simply stated, a type I error is detecting an effect that is not present, while a type II error is failing to detect an effect that is present (Wikipedia on Type I and Type II errors)

Success Literature and Type I Errors

I just read a blog post that reported lessons from the lives of 13 billionaires. It reported that each billionaire had built their empire based on a product that they had wanted as a consumer.

I suspect if you interview 2,000 failed and bankrupt entrepreneurs, the majority would also say that they had build their companies around a product that they had wanted as a consumer.

So often, success is luck and failure is luck. However, those that succeed sell their story as a systematic managed process of step by step success, and those that fail sell their story as a perfectly executed plan blown to bits by a black swan event (I tell people I failed because of the failure of Lehman brothers and the collapse of the financial markets during 2008-2010).

I suspect that the recipe of success is “try something, if it works, do it again… if it doesn’t work, try something else… and keep going until you succeed” The determination to succeed combined with the commitment to really learn from each setback is the root of all success. Luck will adjust whether the success comes at age 25, 25 or 75.

Be careful of anecdotes. One man’s good deal is not a sustainable marketplace.

Success doesn’t come overnight, but neither does failure.

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We plant seeds every day, seeds of success and seeds of failure. Some seeds take years to grow – lack of exercise doesn’t grow into the tree of ill health for many decades; €100 saved per month doesn’t grow into € millions for many decades.

Today a court case finished. It relates to a business I ran years ago. I signed a loan guarantee that I should not have signed… but in the boom years of 2007-2008 it felt rude to say no to this clause in the contract… a bad decision. I had a sense that it was wrong when I was signing the deal back in 2007. Now I feel the fruits of that poorly judged seed of failure. I hope there is only one piece of fruit from that poor seed.

Most seeds require good soil and cultivation to grow. Both seeds of failure and seeds of success don’t grow without our help.

Most of the successes that I enjoy this year are the fruits of seeds that were planted years ago. People that I met years ago and have kept in contact for years, and now they ask me to come and work with their company.

The Most Important Seeds: People We Meet

I think the most important seeds of success are the people we meet. One person can change our whole life.  This idea struck me today when I read Michael’s blog post: Creating the Perfect Elevator Pitch.  His exact words:

"The beauty of life is that one conversation can change your world.  One “yes” can make all the difference.  One conversation, one introduction, one chance encounter is sometimes all it takes.  Life can turn on a dime, but you have to be willing to put yourself out there and be ready for those conversations for this change to occur." Read More...

Dwight Eisenhower was very close to formal discharge from the military when he met and impressed General George C. Marshall. That one meeting transformed his whole life. Instead of piece-work in a factory, he went on to be Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and then a 2 term US President.  (Read the Eisenhower story here).

I wonder whether we can know who we will meet today that could have this big transformational impact on our future life? Can we know? It could be a young student in one of my MBA programs. It could be anyone. I suspect the more that I think I can identify who it will be, the more wrong I will become.

So, I guess the answer is to be open to each person that I meet today. To see them not for who they are today, but to know that in each person lies such enormous potential should they choose to apply themselves.

Who have you met today?  Who did you listen to today?

You don’t find time, you make time.

“Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.” Debbie Millman*

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Anything worthwhile should take a long time.  The myth of overnight success is just that… a myth.  Acorns take time to become great oaks.  Nothing that comes easily will feel worthwhile, but I chase the quick fixes and the rapid results.  There is no other path than committing to the hard labour of the path.  A mountain climber uses his own strength to reach the summit, he knows that a helicopter and a parachute does not count.

I find myself so often searching for a few more facebook likes, rather than writing and rewriting chapters that put my ideas into an improved form.  I need to remind myself that hard work on what matters is both rewarding in and of itself, and the only real path to somewhere worthwhile.

*I found this quote over at Maria Popova’s brainpicking blog.

I came across this TEDx talk by Robert Green – the author of “The 48 Laws of Power“. He shares his life experience.  He was lost, without any clear career direction for many years.  At 36 years old, his parents despaired of him.

In a single conversation with the right person, all of that past experience became the necessary preparation for the book that made him famous.

“The way to transform yourself is through your work” Robert Green

He answers the question: “how do I let this process work in my own life?” How do you allow your intuition and life experience to guide you gently towards what you are here to be and do?

His answer is that it is our work that has the greatest capacity to change ourselves from the inside out. You cannot find yourself on the weekend or in vacations or through drugs or journeys. You find yourself through your work.

Over the last 10 years I have increasingly moved from product businesses towards a services business.

In the world of private jets we had simple rules: if the trip is not paid, the plane doesn’t leave.  It was policy, not decision.

In the world of coaching leaders to build cultures of disciplined high performance, there is often a wide grey area between free discussion and paid consulting.  I find it very difficult to mark that line clearly.  I love talking about psychology and high performance and getting the best out of people.  I am interested.

My landlord only accepts money for rent.  Not good intention.  So I have to do the same myself.

6 Steps to Stop Being “Free”

  1. Be clear on the results you can help them achieve – Can you explain what success looks like in a clear, concise, specific and compelling way?  in language that your target customers can really understand?
  2. Show testimonials, examples, logos of past successes – capture testimonials and make them as specific as possilble
  3. Find common passions or interests (liking) – build relationships that are broader than pure business
  4. Respect yourself – know where you draw your line (Let the prospective client know that you are the most capable, dedicated and solution-oriented consultant they will find and that you normally charge X-amount for your time.)
  5. Blog, write, speak, publish – direct your potential client there rather than give custom answers – thought leadership is free, customising the advice for a specific person and access to you should be expensive
  6. Ask for the sale – Make yourself a product, set clear prices – and ask for the sale.  “Look, I think you value my advice – lets set up a 6 month deal – two meetings per month for €XX”

More on the fine line between free and paid consulting

First, you may ask, what is “Strategic Unavailability” anyway?

What is Strategic Unavailability?

If you say “yes” to every request for your time, money or attention you will have none for the areas that are your own personal priority.  If you want to achieve success, you must retain most of your resources and dedicate them to one to three areas of your choosing.  Thus, you must learn to say “No”.

Saying “No” is hard.  It also has several negative consequences in polite society.

Far better than the use of the word “No” is the use of a series of tactics that come under the general concept “Strategic Unavailability”.

At the very simplest, the idea is to avoid being there when someone might make a request that will take away your time, money or attention.  The key is to retain “plausible deniability” during your use of the tactic.  Some tactics require greater acting capacity than others.  Beginners would be best avoiding these high acting requirement tactics.

The aim is to keep time for the important 1, 2 or 3 priorities that you have decided for yourself in your profession.  It is a total waste if you use the freed-up time to watch CSI Las Vegas or re-runs of Downton Abbey.

Some simple ideas for achieving “strategic unavailability”

  1. Go to the toilet when you know someone is approaching your desk
  2. Work from coffee shops, other people’s offices or meeting rooms during dangerous periods
  3. Return phone calls when you can see that the person is away from their desk (go to voicemail)
  4. Return phone calls after work hours
  5. Delay email responses until tomorrow morning (you can write them today, but don’t let them leave your outbox until tomorrow morning)
  6. Receive an important phone call just as a meeting is reaching the moment where actions will be assigned to people (either phone a friend style, or develop your acting abilities)
  7. Use an old iPhone that regularly runs out of battery (this is a highly plausible tactic, mine is down to about 2 hours of battery)
  8. Always ensure that you are involved in at least 3 projects, and demonstrate massive productivity in the first week of exposure to any new manager or colleague.
  9. “Forget” to switch off the direct to voicemail setting on your phone
  10. Tell your colleagues/team that you have an open-door for them – but that you request that they batch their problems into groups of 10…  they can’t interrupt you unless they have accumulated 10 specific issues that they cannot address without your input (usually #1 gets resolved before they get to #5…)
  11. Regularly ask “what could you do to move this forward that does not require anybody’s approval?”
  12. Work with headphones in (whether you are listening to music or not, this also works on airplanes when your neighbour aims to talk for 14 hours)
  13. Keep a charity box on your desk and ask for donations whenever anybody approaches (if you have kids, then ask visitors to your desk to sponsor your kid in a race or something).  Bonus edition is to have stickers so that when one person donates, you give them a sticker and then they let others know to avoid your desk unless you wish to donate.
  14. Cultivate a freakish interest in Star Wars, or World Wrestling Foundation, or ancient Greek philosophy, or NLP, or furniture upholstery and engage all visitors in a deep discussion about the merits of your hobby.  Freaky hobbies with a plausible connection to your work are ideal.
  15. When asked if you are available to meet, say “yes, I am free this Friday at 6:00am” – puts off all but the most keen time thieves.  You will very rarely have to do it.
  16. Bring a regional speciality food to work – I recommend any Icelanders to use “rotting shark meat in vinegar” – and request that anyone who comes to your desk try it.
  17. Have a large audio recorder device and make a big show of switching it on when anyone comes to interrupt you – tell them that you are on a personal efficiency drive and are making a detailed study of all your interactions and all requests
  18. Cultivate a mysterious illness with unclear symptoms
  19. Remove all other chairs from your office (this made a massive improvement on my meeting time when I was running an airline); another variant is really uncomfortable chairs (especially very low seats)
  20. Eat a rich curry or garlic dish for lunch in your office
  21. Keep saying “that would make a great tweet!” and write down some banal saying from the other person

Advanced Strategic Unavailability

I need your help.  What else works for you?

PS You better be very good at establishing a great reputation before you engage seriously in these tactics.  If you are not viewed as a strong performer, if you are not delivering measurable results and if you are not gaining good exposure to senior influencers – fix that first (check out The PIE Model).  These tactics only work if you are perceived as an “A” player

How do some people remain poised and confident where others are reduced to nervous wrecks?

I have been a student of the human condition for years.  It all started age 17 when I faced the tough life decision of what to do after school finished.

I decided to study psychology at university.  There were three reasons:

  1. I loved maths but could see that the content was distantly remote from anything that dealt with a real life problem.
  2. My school teachers were pressuring me to continue my mathematical studies at university.
  3. I react extremely negatively in the presence of adult pressure.

In reality, it was all number 3.  Given the option to rebel against adult opinions, my history will clearly show a consistent choice.

That is how I ended up at Nottingham University in a large lecture theatre surrounded by 300 first year undergraduate students.  The first lesson began when a slightly over-proud middle-aged woman walked onto the stage down below and said:

“I am Margaret Thatcher:”

Plenty of confused coughs and surprised faces.

After a pause, she said: “How do you know that is not true?  I mean, you do know that it is not true…  but what has happened to tell you that it is not true?  How do you know this?”

The next three years were spent between the bars and sports fields of Nottingham, but in my spare time I pursued the question of how human senses provide us with information that our brain can process into an answer “No, she is not Margaret Thatcher.”

That was 25 years ago.

I have spent the last 25 years seeking to understand people, first as a psychologist, then as a business consultant, then for the last decade as a teacher and sales-focussed entrepreneur.

Do you know how confident people manage to feel confident?

You may not want this answer.  You may be looking for something more mathematical, more abstract and theoretical.  You may be disappointed.

Some of the greatest problems have been solved with a very simple solution.  For 200 years the River Thames in London was horribly polluted and a source of illness.  For 200 years Kings, Dukes and Mayors had tried to clean it up.  No success.  Finally a politician came up with a simple law: “Anybody who uses the river must take water out downstream from where they return it.”  Within 4 years, river clean.

Often, simple fixes are the best.

You’re still with us… so here goes.  The answer to how confident people manage to feel confident:

Photo Credit: Daniele Nicolucci photography via Compfight cc
Confidence. Photo: Daniele Nicolucci

Pretend.

Yes, they pretend.

They don’t listen to the inner voice that is telling them that they are not good enough, that they are the wrong person, that they don’t deserve to be here.  They get up and pretend.

It works because of a psychological concept called “Emotional Contagion”.

Emotional Contagion

Human beings return what they receive.  If you walk down a hallway with a massive smile on your face, you will get smiles back.  If you walk down a hallway with an angry grimace, you’ll get angry grimaces back.

If you pretend to be confident, people will respond to you as if you are the type of person who should be confident.  You will see this reaction of others and it will actually leave you feeling confident.

So, go channel George Clooney, or Madonna, or…  the most confident person you know.