The $5 Challenge – A Stanford Strategy Story…

Back in 2009, Stanford prof Tina Seelig split students in the school of engineering into teams and gave them an envelope containing $5.

Teams had only two hours to generate as much money as possible. Each team would get three minutes to present their project to the entire class.

Here is Tina’s own article explaining the experience: The $5 Challenge

What would be your Strategy?

Check out the video below to hear how the challenge went… and how to use this thinking in your own life and business…

The teams that made the most money didn’t use the five dollars at all.

They realised that focusing on the money actually framed the problem way too tightly. They understood that five dollars is essentially nothing and decided to reinterpret the problem more broadly: What can we do to make money if we start with absolutely nothing?

In our own lives and businesses it is very easy to limit ourselves to “how do I do more of what I am already good at?” or “How do I use my current capacities to maximise return?”.

How do you do strategy for your life and business?

It feels good to share a video again… it has been 6 weeks of procrastination. Thanks to all of you who reached out with encouragements and ideas!

Build Strong Foundations

Build Strong Foundations before you grow higher.

Are you investing in your own Foundations – or are you building the house of your life on sand?

Leadership coach Luis Soares shared the story in the video below a few years ago on a leadership retreat for Vistage Spain.

There are two metaphors in the video:

  • Building a house on solid foundations before you build higher
  • The bamboo grows deep, extensive roots before it grows up

5 Areas where you can deliberately invest in the foundations of your life:

  • Health – get fit, eat well, learn about sleep
  • Wealth – build savings, have emergency fund (you could survive 6 months without income)
  • Network – connect to others, help them, demonstrate trust and competence, find mentors & act as a mentor (connect to 1 new person every week) (Webinar Recording: How Leaders Network)
  • Skills – read, study, practice (dedicate at least 10 days per year to professional development… or you are becoming “talentless” soon)
  • Spirit/Purpose – who are you? what do you stand for? where are you going? what are your values? (Finding Purpose: Step 1)

How are you building the foundations of your house, and of your life?

Be careful of Lazy thinking

We have a wonderful capacity to mess up our lives through lazy or fantasy thinking. We make blanket black and white statements… rather than seeking the shades of grey.

“I hate my job” -> what parts exactly?

Life is richer than black and white. You don’t hate every single part, activity, person in your job… be really specific – what do you like, what do you not like.

Solve the solve-able problems. If you don’t like something find a way to do less of it. Find someone who enjoys it. If you do like something, find a way to do more of it. Spend more time with the people who give you energy.

I love the approach of “Design Thinking”. Stay with your curiosity and take time to get the question correct. How do I improve my job, make a greater impact, feel like I am doing meaningful work, while being paid well, and enjoying my social life and with a family that is supportive of each other… you need messy questions to start to clarify what constraints, what changes, what problems you will stick with.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water

Days vs Years

Our emotional experience of life can depend on the time horizon we choose to look at our lives.

If you look at the progress of your life each day, there are many wild swings.

If you look at the progress of your life over longer time horizons, the wild swings blur into the background and a more steady sense of progress emerges.

Which lens are you using to look at your projects? and your life?

Serendipity

Definition: finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for

Last weekend, I asked my family a question: “what is your favourite word?”

My wife had 3 favourites. One of those words is “serendipity”.

Side note: My 6 year old had one favourite word. “Love”. She is a genius IMHO.

This week several events occurred where I found that the word serendipity was the clearest expression of how the important people and important opportunities have come into my life.

I’m on the train to Madrid this morning, and stopped to reflect on why this word came up and why it is so relevant.

What is the difference between serendipity and luck?

…from the Merriam Webster dictionary

“There is considerable similarity between luck and serendipity, but there are also settings in which one word might be more apt than the other. Serendipity has a fairly narrow meaning, one that is concerned with finding pleasing things that one had not been looking for, while luck has a somewhat broader range (with meanings such as “a force that brings good fortune or adversity,” “success,” and “the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual”). One might easily be said to have luck that is bad, which one would not say of serendipity.”

Serendipitous Opportunities

I didn’t have it on my bucket list to do an MBA, it was someone else’s dream and they brought me along. Teaching was not something I ever imagined doing, and Brian Leggett opened that door for me. IESE now plays a huge part in my life and a huge contribution to my feeling of belonging in Spain, to contributing to society, and to developing my own reputation. Serendipity.

Vistage was not something I was looking for. I had no strategic plan that was looking for Vistage 10 years ago… I had a coffee with a friend, Verne Harnish, and he said “I think I have something for you”… and he gently pushed and encouraged me until I made a concerted effort to look at what the opportunity might mean for me. He did not just say “check this out.” He pushed me. I will always appreciate his encouragement.

EO was not something that I was looking for – I went to a lunch with a VC to get them to invest in my business… and Christopher invited me to a learning event… which led me to a 17 year participation as a member and a leader in EO.

How to Maximize Serendipity

Human relationships are the foundation of serendipity.

The more people that know who you are and what you stand for, the better.

Writing this blog and sharing my weekly youtube videos are my most powerful tools to let the world know what I stand for.

Publish content (blogs, podcasts, videos, articles) regularly. Don’t try to be an expert, publish what you are learning. Let people know what you are building, what is important to you, what sort of future you are looking to create.

People will discover you. They get a sense of what interests you. They become a global radar guidance system for you that raises your Serendipity Quotient.

The Tyranny of Convenience

Convenience makes things easy… but what is easy is not always whats most important, valuable or effective.

We choose between the options we see, not all the options… we’ve got to be increasingly careful that we don’t choose the path that is just easiest to see.

Convenience food… is not health food.

Tech companies work to make things “convenient” – but easy to begin is not the same as fulfilling or important for me.

Here’s the linkedin job post for Vistage Chair that I mention.

Here’s the original “The tyranny of convenience” article over at the NY Times.

Looking under the lamppost

photo credit: sketchplanations

A person out walking at night comes across a man searching down on the floor under a lamppost.

The man on the floor says he lost his keys.

“Did you drop them here?”

“No, I dropped them over there, but the light’s better here.”

Sometimes we can find ourselves working, or searching, or staying in the places where we find it easier rather than the places that are optimal for what is truly important or fulfilling to us.

Hard Choices

Hard choices are unavoidable: it is best to make them consciously.

Don’t let convenience be the deciding factor in what to focus on and what to neglect in your life.

Convenience makes things easy, but easiness is rarely what’s most valuable.

The real measure of your life management technique: does it help you ignore the right things.

Make Convenience work for You

Do not underestimate the power of convenience: Increase the convenience of what’s important to you. If writing more is important, leave a notebook and pen on your table. If watching less TV is important, put the remote control far away from the sofa. If drinking more water is important, have a bottle on your desk.

Freedom is not an Empty Calendar

What is freedom?

What is it to achieve freedom in life?

I spent many years thinking that “an empty calendar is freedom”. Recently a coach had me rethink this perspective… an empty calendar is dangerous… it puts my life in the hands of my “lizard brain” 😉

What are you aiming at? Are you working towards a life of “no obligations” or towards a life of “fulfilling obligations”?

Redefining Failure

“Living Safely is Dangerous”

Nietzsche

What is your relationship to success and failure? I have been reflecting these recent weeks about how I respond to “failure” – when things do not turn out as I hoped or wished.

The video below shares my thinking about a better way of approaching failure in our lives.

How I let failures derail me…

I let small failures easily put me in a state of frustration and stop me making progress (and then checking social media and seeking out other simple distractions).

I take small setbacks incredibly personally.

I’ve been reflecting on why I let these small failure events have such an effect on me.

I realised that I was telling myself that all setbacks are bad.

This is not a great story to tell myself. A new story is that failures are a sign that I am working towards important goals. A lack of setbacks would be a demonstration that I am only working towards easy, unimportant goals that don’t push me to grow as a person.

Essential Meaning of failure: (from Merriam-Webster dictionary)

  1. a lack of success in some effort
  2. a situation or occurrence in which something does not work as it should
  3. an occurrence in which someone does not do something that should be done

Choose to Take Responsibility

Welcome to 2022.

A couple of weeks back I shared something that my father said to me over and over again when I was young. “It might be their fault, but its your problem”. His point was always to take responsibility for what you yourself can actually control in any situation. Robbie van Persie shared a similar conversation with his son recently on the High Performance podcast. This sparked my recent video from Seville…

High Performance interview clip with Robbie van Persie

I came across the High Performance podcast when they interviewed Dan Carter, the great New Zealand rugby fly-half (the equivalent of a quarterback in american football). I have listened to many of their episodes over the last couple of months as I travel or go for walks. I love a couple of things about this podcast – the way the two hosts Jake and Damien play off of each other, are each so curious and passionate about the human side of performance and the guests that join them on the podcast.

I loved this bit of the High Performance Podcast interviewing Robbie van Persie… on taking responsibility for what you do control. Here’s the video clip:

The High Performance Podcast youtube channel.

Reflecting on 2021, Clarifying 2022

It’s the start of 2022. One tool that I would recommend that you download and use is this 3 page pdf that will help you do a review of what happened in 2021 and what is important for you in the coming year: 3 Page pdf Annual Review: Reflect on the Past, Clarify the Future.

It will take you between 20 minutes and an hour to work through the set of questions. It will help you get clarity on what is important and how to dedicate your energy in 2022.

How to Stay Sane in Uncertainty

A month ago it felt like the Covid virus was losing its capacity to disrupt our well made plans… but along comes Omnicron and the maths change again.

We are living in the era of predictable unpredictability. All plans are flexible and adaptable.

It is a state of existence that puts great pressure on our mental well-being.

Predictably unpredictable

For two years we have lived with shifting regulations around masks, tests, travel restrictions, lockdowns and vaccine certificates. As new variants arise (and that process is guaranteed) these regulations come and go… leaving us all living in permanent limbo.

We have canceled our own travel plans at Christmas. It almost feels a relief to have clarity, even as we and our kids accept the loss of the imagined joys of Christmas presents and time playing with cousins.

A decade ago online shopping, distance learning, home office and video conferences were the stuff of sci-fi and a few techie nerds. Today they are our lives. The advances in how we use technology to allow hybrid classes in IESE and hybrid meetings in Vistage have amazed me. I believe that the rapid acceptance of technology to facilitate communication, work, teams, advances in new organisation structures, crypto (as a store of value and with NFTs as a means to distribute equity, ownership, trust or revenues over a large group) is going to open up some massive steps forward for humanity.

Healthy Humans Need Meaning

We get a lot of the meaning in our lives (in the west) from activity, from progress against plans, from the feeling of forward momentum. We can find meaning in other ways. If we are to stay sane in times of unpredictability, we need to find meaning in other ways. A daily gratitude list – “3 things I am grateful for” is a very powerful meaning and mindset shift. Setting 10-20 year goals is another way of keeping a sense of meaning (and progress) even in the face of short and medium term unpredictability.

What are the activities, conversations, focusses that give a sense of meaning to your own life?

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