Meaningful Contribution

You are probably pretty good at your job. You do it at least well enough to keep it. I bet you are actually pretty good at it when you decide to focus on it, when you give it 100%.

But…  Do you enjoy what you do?

Being good at something is not a good reason to keep doing it

Just because you do something well, is not good enough reason to keep doing it.

Photo: Mariposa de Amor

If you love it, and are great at it – fantastic.

If you hate it, and are great at it – stop.

If you are a bit bored by it, and are great at it – you have a decision to make: Can you commit to increase the aspects that you enjoy, dedicate yourself to mastery and say no to the parts that you don’t enjoy?

If you are doing something you hate in order to save money that will then allow you to do something you love – when will the process of changeover begin?  How long are you planning to live?

Life’s Activities in Venn Diagram

Here’s a Venn diagram expressing the idea.  For each activity I can ask myself 3 questions:

  1. “Do I do this well?”
  2. “Does this serve others?” (in something they value)
  3. “Do I love doing it?”

We have 4 combinations of intersections between these questions:

  1. “Job” – I do it well and it serves others
  2. Hobby – I do it well and I love doing it
  3. Charity – I love doing it and it serves others
  4. Meaningful Contribution – It serves others, I do it well and I love doing it.

The universe is not designed so that everybody’s passion can make them lots of money.  There is a small model train ride in the children’s park next to my house.  Every day I can walk through the park and see a group of men (not sexist, I have never seen a woman) in blue overalls maintaining miniature steam trains.  Each Sunday kids come to ride on the trains.  The men clearly love the trains, love being part of the mission of keeping the steam trains in working order.  However, there is not a fortune to be made.  But, fortune should not be the ultimate determinant.  Many of these men are probably retired and are choosing to work at something that they may well have to pay to be part of.

At the other end of the scale, we have someone like Warren Buffett.  Warren Buffett lucked out: what he loves to do, what he does extraordinarily well and what serves others (his investors) combine to create a massive fortune.  However, he is the first to admit that if he was born in Pakistan that would not be the case.  He needed the right environment to let him flourish.  He was incredibly lucky to be born in a world that places a high value on the skill of efficiently allocating capital.

The good news…

It takes 40 years or so…

I am coming up towards my 40th birthday.

In my 20s I had a lot of spare energy to dedicate to being good at things that I didn’t particularly enjoy.  I got a good job with a great company and worked many hours.  I met great people and travelled the world.  I got promoted several times.

In my 30s I had a lot less energy to spare to be good at things that I didn’t enjoy.  I stopped working in a big corporate and sought my riches as an entrepreneur.  I was going to “be my own boss”.  My aim was to get rich.  I worked hard to build an empire.  I set up 4 businesses.  I started to show up in the newspapers and get invited to speak as a “successful entrepreneur”.  And then 2008 Lehman collapsed…  the banking system seized to a halt… and my business changed overnight.  Growth turned to Decay.  I did all that I could to fight the reality (the environment had changed).  I fought to get back to how business had been before.  But eventually it fell apart.  And it fell apart in a much more painful way because I had spent so much time trying to pretend that it wasn’t going to fall apart, not accepting that the business model didn’t work in the new economic reality.

What will my 40s hold?  I think the biggest thing is that I now stay in that central intersection of the Venn Diagram.  I may fall back and forget once in a while, but my aim is to do work that I love, become ever better at this work and serve those that I can.

Jim Rohn always used to say that you can’t “make money” you can only become the type of person that money is attracted to.  You can’t find success, you can only let success find you when you become the type of person that success is attracted to.

Good luck in the search for Meaningful Contribution.  How’s your journey going?

Related posts:


Eliminate the Unnecessary

“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” Pablo Picasso

Teaching in IESE Madrid

I finished a wonderful 3 day seminar this week in Madrid with 30 directors ranging from industries as diverse as agriculture, to mobile handset makers, to pharmaceuticals to drinks. The course began on Tuesday morning at 9am as the participants introduced themselves, their challenges and their objectives for the course.

I listened and what struck me is how they were able to say so little in so many words. The spanish do have a tendency to start their mouth talking, and then engage their brain. They are not alone in this tendency. The world over, un-practiced communicators speak a lot of noise before they find the meaning.

Eliminate the Unnecessary

It is not only art that benefits from the elimination of the unnecessary. Those that speak powerfully say what they need to say and no more. Their is little filler in their communication. Their voices use no ehem, ahh, hmm, uhh noises.

Great poets cram massive meaning in few words. It takes more work to say it well in 10 seconds than in 30, more work to say it well in 3 minutes than in 10 minutes, more work to say it well in 10 minutes than in 3 hours. I don’t want to be lazy in my meaning. If I can say it in 30 seconds then I want to say it in 30 seconds. I have been working on videos in my youtube channel – working to squeeze 20 minute sections of my course into 2 minute videos. If I can say it well in 2 minutes, I know that I can say it powerfully in 20.

At the end of the course, the participants again shared their experiences with the group. It was a great source of pride to me as I saw the efficiency with which they used words. They spoke powerfully, they spoke with emotion, they spoke using silence when silence was more powerful than any word, and they spoke from the heart.

It takes a lot of complex thinking to achieve simple speaking. It takes many hours of reflection alone with oneself to understand our emotions, and the stories that generate our meaning in relation to what happens to us. Great communication is a mirror of the inner state. If my inner state is confused, my confusion will shine through my speech. If my inner state is self-doubt, my self-doubt will shine through my speech. If my inner state is tired, apathetic and unloved, my apathy will shine through.

Learning to communicate well can not be achieve merely through an outward journey, a learning of tools. There is a need for an inner journey, to understand myself. Few achieve success as actors. The rest of us need to real feel passion inside to project passion to an audience. We can’t fake it for very long.

TED Education: What Aristotle and Joshua Bell can teach us about persuasion

I wrote “Give a TED talk” on my bucket list 4 years ago, today I feel happy to see the idea come to fruition. It is not a TED Talk per-se, i.e. it is not up there on a stage, but in my mind almost better – a lesson from my class, and a concept that is very important today. We are increasingly overloaded with information, but need to be more and more careful how we trust this information. We want to connect to the meaning behind the information. As the lesson says “Ethos and Pathos are missing”…

What Aristotle and Joshua Bell can teach us about Persuasion

Imagine you are one of the world’s greatest violin players, and you decide to conduct an experiment: play inside a subway station and see if anyone stops to appreciate when you are stripped of a concert hall and name recognition. Joshua Bell did this, and Conor Neill channels Aristotle to understand why the context mattered.

Lesson by Conor Neill, animation by Animationhaus.

View the full lesson, additional resources and the quick quiz on the TED Education website: here

Joshua Bell, “Poet of the Violin”

Often referred to as the “poet of the violin,” Joshua Bell is one of the world’s most celebrated violinists. He continues to enchant audiences with his breathtaking virtuosity, tone of sheer beauty, and charismatic stage presence.


Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher ofAlexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics,government, ethics, biology, and zoology. Together with Plato and Socrates (Plato’s teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy. Aristotle’s writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality, aesthetics,logic, science, politics, and metaphysics.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric is an ancient Greek treatise on the art of persuasion, dating from the 4th century BC. The English title varies: typically it is titled Rhetoric, the Art of Rhetoric, or a Treatise on Rhetoric.

Video: Dealing with Objections

You finish your pitch and the customer says: “Your product is too expensive!”.  You arrive home, you’re a few minutes late: your partner says “You are always late!”.  At a dirty plate left on the table: “you never wash the dishes!”

What do you say in this moment?

How do you handle objections?  It is possible to take proactive control of your emotional state.  You can practice a habit of not reacting like a viper snake or a cornered bear.  It will improve how you sell, it will improve how you manage… and it will improve the quality of your relationships.

Aikido Conversation


I posted a short video yesterday to my YouTube Channel explaining a concept that I teach in my class on persuasion: “Aikido Conversation”.

From: “What I want to say”

The most important step in persuasion is being able to leave behind “what I want to say” and move to what “they need to hear”.  It requires emotional control that we don’t have as standard.

To: “They need to hear”

When someone gives you an objection, or accuses you of something – the real issue is underneath, not at the surface.  If you react with what “I want to say” you will have a fight, you will lose the opportunity to understand what is really at issue.

How to deal with Objections

Transcript of the Video:

You finish your pitch and the customer says: “It’s quite expensive”… “Your product is too expensive!”

You arrive home, you’re a few minutes late: your partner says “You are always late”

At a dirty plate left on the table: “you never wash the dishes”

What do you say in this moment?

Most of you, and myself included, went through 14 years of school where we were taught one way to respond to questions:

Teacher asks questions “how do you spell cat?”
Student: “C A T”

Teacher: “what is the biological process called osmosis?”
Student puts hand up explains in detail the process through which cell membranes allow water to go from one side to the other.

So for 14 years you’ve been taught that you provided an answer to a question. If you went to university you probably had another 3,4 years where you gave answers to questions…  but in real life, in persuasion in getting to what the other person is really about, what their needs really are the worst thing you can do is give an answer to question. If someone says “your product is too expensive” and you said “no it’s not! it’s only €1000” you’ve lost every chance to understand what else is behind their reasoning.

If you get home and your partner says “you’re always late!”

“No no no! Tuesday I definitely was here on time”… you’re gonna have a crap weekend

You’ve had 14, if not 18 years of training that you answer questions and it’s going to cause fights in your home life, it’s going to cause problems at work, it means you’re not selling anything.

Because when someone says your product is too expensive, that’s not what their real issue is.  When someone says “I will have to speak to my boss” that’s not what their real issue is.

If we had lots of time here I would create a little role-play thing because what happens here in our model of the human brain: the stem, emotion

When your partner says “you’re always late” emotion goes up and what happens is this part disconnects. The way to make someone stupider is insult them, object to them tell them they are wrong. When asked a question there’s an emotional reaction.

Emotion up, Intelligence down

and the higher emotion goes
the lower thinking goes

so if you don’t practice this response you’re not going be able to do it in the moment.  if you don’t practice repeatedly how you’ll respond to

  • “you’re always late!”,
  • “you never wash the dishes!”,
  • “you never do your part of the share!”
  • “your product is too expensive!”,
  • “your competitor is better!”,
  • “you failed us 3 years ago!”
  • “I don’t trust your company!”

if you don’t practice this habit of not giving an answer. You’re not going to be able to do it in the heat of the moment.

So i would say this: when you are asked a question or given an objection what I want you to do is say “I understand”, and repeat in your words what they’re saying:

Them: “your product is too expensive!”

You: “I understand that money is an important factor for you, What other criteria will be used in taking this decision?”

You understand… and you give an open question back. I call this “Conversation Aikido”

Martial Arts

Martial Arts are about using the energy, the force of the opponent against them. In Judo, if someone punches you pull their arm and you allow the energy to keep flowing.  In Karate… don’t be where the energy is arriving.  In Aikido the concept is you go towards the punch, go towards the energy

If someone punches you, if someone asks you a question, if someone objects or says you’re wrong: The Aikido method is go towards and see the world from their view.

In Aikido you learn to go towards the punch, dodge it, and look and you are seeing the world in the same direction as the person who’s attacking you.

“I understand”

It takes some habit to start to be able to give “I understand” and fill in good words so practicing

  • “you’re always late!”…
  • “I understand you feel frustrated”
  • “I understand you feel let down”
  • “I understand…”

You will have to work on this quite a few times over the next 10 years to find the set of words that captures what the other person feels, what’s behind it

  • “What can we do now?”
  • “What happened during the day?”,
  • “What would you like to talk about?”,
  • “What can we do this weekend?”

so that is the way that instead of when you get punched, walking straight into the punch, having a very bad weekend;  when a client says “you’re too expensive!” and you say “No we are not!”: You learn nothing:

  • about who else they are considering
  • what other criteria are important
  • what process they have gone through
  • who else is involved in the decision

I hope that, and this takes 14 years of it being drummed into you… 4 more, 18 if you went to university.  It’s gonna take you at least 18 years to get out of the habit of responding to questions with answers

We live in an uncertain world and we don’t have the answers but by giving the answer we shut down the possibility of hearing what’s really going on in the other person’s mind, in the other person’s business, what other things are going on; so if someone says:

“your product is too expensive” -> “I understand that money is an important criteria for you what other things are important in this decision?”

“I’ll have to talk to my boss in this” -> “Hey, this is an important decision I understand you want to get everyone involved”  “When can I come and meet with you and your boss together?”

…that’s a bit of a closed question…

but the habit here is being good at “I understand” and accepting the energy that is coming from the other person and then giving back an open question

and I guarantee that if you do it 4 times: the answer to your 4th open question begins to be what’s the real underlying need issue, interest of the person that you’re listening to.

Photo Credit: Aikido Photo by RODNAE Productions on

How to video yourself speaking

How to make a video of yourself speaking:

The simplest way on any Operating System (Mac, PC, Linux)
Youtube has a tool that allows you to record yourself: My Webcam

This works on any platform.  It is simple interface that allows you to record, review the recording and publish to youtube.  Publishing to youtube is optional.

Other video options on a Mac
Use Photobooth.

Other video options on a PC
Windows Vista has no application that allows you to video yourself using the webcam.  I recommend Debut Video Capture (link to Softonic download).  It is a simple interface, that also allows you to create simple videos of your screen – good for product demonstrations.

What speech will you practice today?
Record 3 minutes today.  I recommend you start with “The Ice-Breaker” – This is the first speech that each new member of Toastmasters Organisation prepares.  Andrew Dlugan describes how to prepare a good ice-breaker speech on his blog SixMinutes.

Great speaking: How much should I practice?

Continuing on my series of short videos lessons on becoming a great speaker, I address the question “How much should you practice your speech?

Do you set aside time to practice the delivery of your speech?  It can make a big difference.  Please, use your webcam.  (How to record yourself speaking on a Mac)

My Video post Series Speaking as A Leader:

Are there any questions you would like to see addressed in a future video post?  It is your questions that give me ideas for posts – thanks to all who have sent emails, tweets and comments on the blog.

How to video yourself speaking on a Mac

How to make a video of yourself speaking on a Mac

1) Open Photobooth.  The simplest way to find it on any mac is to go to the spotlight search bar in the top right of your screen and type “photo booth” and click on the Photo Booth listed under Applications.

2) Smile (optional, but helpful step)

3) Select video and record – Video is the third option, just below the bottom left of the video screen; Record is the red button in the middle that I am indicating here:

4) Start speaking (please not “testing, testing, 1, 2, 3…” please)
5) Hit stop

Well done.  You have created a video.  I am sure that you can figure out with a few clicks how to replay your video.  You might even have the desire to change some things and make another video…

I need some help
Does anyone have a Windows machine and would be willing to write a how to for windows?  and for Linux?

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