Good work requires taking the path of visibility


“The path to good work is the path of making our selves visible…

How many times have we kept a hope or dream in abeyance because even thinking about the possibilities of failure were too much to contemplate? If we failed at that central, precious thing that we have always had in reserve for an alternative life, then who would we be? Would there be any one we like left at all? Far better then, not to risk at all, to choose something smaller, to undertake some logistical task we don’t mind getting wrong, something we could recover from, something where we are, in effect, still invisible, to ourselves and to the world. Better to choose a world where things don’t matter. Better not to appear fully on life’s radar screen.

But in taking the path of visibility we arrange for a different kind of disappearance – into the work, the task, the audience, the one who will receive what we have conceived, the life that opens up …making ourselves visible allows us to be found and even invited in by the world we both fear and desire….”

Photo: Freddie Phillips
Quote: David Whyte

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Filed under: Business

Noon is the test of our fortitude at work


“Noon is always a little difficult: We suddenly feel a gnawing in the stomach, a slight irritability if the gnawing is not addressed. We look to the door or the view outside the window, ready to move away from the small view of our desk. At noon the light flattens, giving little shadow. In hot climates, the birds go silent and everything looks for shelter; but even in the busy northern latitudes, bereft of the siesta, we can feel a form of ennui at the center of the day, assessing already if anything really new has come from our morning. We need that glimmer of light to help us through the afternoon. Noon is the test of our fortitude and our dedication to the overall path we have made for ourselves. When we stop doing at lunch, we have to make some sense of all the doing.”

Quote: David Whyte from Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

Photo: Jonathan Quarre

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Filed under: Business

Laughter in business: it paves the way for many things


“Laughter paves the way for many things. It’s one way to build intimacy between people, something every healthy team needs. Humor has always been a primary part of how I lead. If I can get someone to laugh, they’re at ease. If they see me laugh at things, they’re at ease. It creates emotional space, a kind of trust, to use in a relationship. Sharing laughter also creates a bank account of positive energy you can withdraw from, or borrow against, when dealing with tough issues at work. It’s a relationship cushion. […] Laughter leads to running jokes, and running jokes lead to a shared, history, and a shared history is culture.”

– Scott Berkun, The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work

Photo: Mike Gifford

Filed under: Business

How to start a fire in your business


“To understand who people really are, start a fire. When everything is going fine, you see only the safest parts of people’s character. It’s only when something is burning that you find out who people really are. Of course, it’s wrong to set a fire on purpose, but if you have a small fire already burning, let it burn and see who, if anyone, complains, runs away, or comes to help. Similar truths are discovered by breaking rules: you need to break some to learn which are just for show and which ones matter.”

Quote fromThe Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun

Photo: Tim Hamilton


Filed under: Business

Don’t follow your passion – let it follow you

“Don’t follow your passion, rather let it follow you in your quest to become ‘so good they can’t ignore you.’


Working right trumps finding the right work – it’s a simple idea, but its also incredibly subversive, as it overturns decades of folk career advice all focused on the mystical value of passion. It wrenches us away from our daydreams of an overnight transformation into instant job bliss and provides instead a more sober way toward fulfillment.”

– Cal Newport, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

Photo by Painted Works by KB

See also Mark Cuban’s blog post Don’t Follow Your Passion, Follow Your Effort

Filed under: Books

Breaking Bad in your marketing

I have yet to watch an episode of Breaking Bad, largely because I heard it was violent, so I was too squeamish about it.

I changed my tune after reading a profile of the actor Bryan Cranston in the New Yorker. For the first several years he didn’t have any significant roles. Then he started to shift his approach to auditions:

It incrementally came to me that when I audition I’m not trying to get a job, but to give them something, my acting. The victory is not ”Did I beat that other guy out?’ but ‘Did I present that character as believable as I could?’ That was the turning point.

This is applicable to marketing, of course. And I have an anecdote from my own experience to illustrate this.

A day or two after I read the Bryan Cranston profile a prospective client contacted me. He was referred to me by a client of mine. What helped convince him to hire me was a comment I left on John Carlton’s blog more than three years ago that he had recently stumbled across.

My comment is #73 out of more than 100. It’s a story about when I took three of my daughters in for a blood draw and, let’s face it, it’s out of place on a blog that is mostly testosterone-laden. I knew that but didn’t care and posted the story anyway, never once thinking it would promote my copywriting services or anything. Yet three plus years later a prospective client read it and said it was by far the most interesting story in the thread, and he hired me.

Go figure. But that’s what happens when you focus on giving instead of getting.

Filed under: Stories/Storytelling

Getting over certainty in your business

In my 5+years of working with entrepreneurs it has become increasingly clear that getting over certainty is central to running a business. Uncertainty is where the real action happens.

In the book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking author Oliver Burkeman cites a study of 45 entrepreneurs who had at least 15 years experience in starting businesses and had taken at least one company public.

The recommendations of these entrepreneurs  run counter to many business maxims out there:

Almost none of them suggested creating a detailed business plan or doing comprehensive market research to hone the details of the product they were aiming to release. (‘I don’t believe in market research,’ one anonymous participant told Sarasvanthy. ‘Somebody once told me the only thing you need is a customer. Instead of asking all the questions, I’d try to make some sales.’)

The entrepreneurs didn’t think like high-end chefs, concocting a vision of a dish and then hunting for the perfect ingredients. They behaved more like ordinary, time-pressed home cooks, checking what was in the fridge and the cupboards, then figuring out, n the fly, what they could make and how.

‘I always live by the motto of, “Ready, fire, aim” said one. ‘I think that if you spend too much time doing, “ready, aim, aim, aim,” you’re never going to see all the good things that would happen if you actually started doing it. I think business plans are interesting, but they have no real meaning, because you can’t put in all the positive things that will occur.’

The most valuable skill of a successful entrepreneur, Chris Kayes is convinced, isn’t ‘vision’ or ‘passion’ or a steadfast insistence on destroying every barrier between yourself and some prize you’re obsessed with. Rather, it’s the ability to adopt an unconventional objective, but also a willingness to change the destination itself. This is a flexibility that might be squelched by rigid focus on any one goal.

This anti-goal approach is also referred to as being “effectually” minded instead of “causally minded” (i.e. taking steps to achieve a goal). The two principles of effectuation are as follows:

1. Start with your means – Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Start taking action based on what you have readily available: what you are, what you know, and who you know.

2. Affordable loss – Don’t be guided by thoughts of how wonderful the rewards might be if you were spectacularly successful at any given next step. Instead ask how big the loss would be if you failed. So long as the loss would be tolerable, that’s all you need to know. Take that next step, and see what happens.

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Filed under: BooksProductivity

Talk less and sell more

Well, what do you know. There’s an excellent sales and marketing  lesson tucked inside Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Among many other interesting things, this book tells the story of Jon Berghoff.

When Jon was a socially awkward teenager who would hide in the library during lunch he was also a standout salesman of kitchen knives. He earned $135,000 in commissions during his senior year. Two years later he increased his sales territory by 500 percent and trained 90 other sales reps.

How did he do it even though he doesn’t have the stereotypical sales personality?

This is what he says:

I discovered early on that people don’t buy from me because they understand what I’m selling. They buy because they feel understood.

I got to the point where I could walk into someone’s house and instead of trying to sell them some knives, I’d ask a hundred questions in a row. I could manage the entire conversation just by asking the right questions.

A lot of people believe that selling requires being a fast talker, or knowing how to use charisma to persuade. Those things do require an extroverted way of communicating. But in sales there’s a truism that ‘we have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionately.’ I believe that’s what makes someone really good at selling or consulting – the number one thing is they’ve got to really listen well. When I look at the top salespeople in my organization, none of those extroverted qualities are the key to their success.

It’s all about listening. A skill that makes you a better human being as well.

By the way, if you or someone you love is an introvert, I can’t recommend Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking enough. It examines introversion from a cultural and historical perspective, with plenty of stories as well. So it’s unlike any other book out there on this topic.

Filed under: Listening

The one thing you can control

“The one thing you can control in your life is your effort. Others may have more, but they don’t have more time than you. It’s always up to you whether or not you can outwork them.” – Mark Cuban

On Thanksgiving Day here in Wisconsin the temps were in the 60s and then plummeted to the 30s the next day. It was also terribly windy on Friday, adding to the cold.

Over the weekend I noticed a pair of squirrels busily stuffing leaves into their mouths and then making the long climb to the top of the tree to their nest and putting the leaves in their nest, no doubt because of the sudden cold weather, and perhaps because the wind had disrupted their nest.

Time and again, first thing in the morning and late in the afternoon, they carried leaves to their nest. They were all about effort.

Also, because of my lack of effort – we are “leave the leaves” kind of people and don’t rake and dispose of our leaves – there were leaves readily available to the squirrels at the base of the tree.

It was a reminder that not only is effort important, but your lack of effort can make your competitors’ efforts even easier.

Filed under: Productivity

Beware of the popularity trap

It turns out Martha Stewart is an inspiration for a lot of the tattooed 20-something hipster crowd who are entrepreneurs. Who knew?

Apparently she has street cred among them because of the time she served in prison. It adds some edge to the Suzy Homemaker image that would normally be a put off.

Traffic to her website among the 18-34 set has skyrocketed and this age group frequently hosts Meet Ups about crafting the Martha way and blog about her books and some even have tattoos of her. Everything an online marketer would want, right?

Yet even though she is popular, her company is in financial trouble.

As the analyst in the article puts it, “Who cares if she’s popular if you can’t monetize it?”

Somewhat ironically, Oprah’s popularity has dropped since she left her TV talk show and she’s trying to boost her popularity by seeking a younger audience for her magazine, which currently only attracts older readers.  But such a tactic hasn’t worked for Martha.

It’s easy for non-celebrity types to fall into the popularity trap too in this social media age, but beware and remember: who cares if you’re popular if you can’t monetize it?

Filed under: Email Marketing

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