How do you shine a light on the moon?

Chinese-Academy-of-Sciences-Yunnan-Observatory-1.2m-telescope-moon-laser-rangefinder

How do you shine a light on the moon?

Well, it’s actually pretty easy: you use a laser, not a flashlight.

So what is so special about a laser? It’s really just two things: focus and coherence.

I. Focus (Spatial coherence)

A flashlight creates light in one point (the lightbulb) and then lets it travel out in a more or less focused way. There is a lot of energy produced, but it spreads out in multiple angles, with a quickly diminishing impact. A laser bounces light back and forth in one beam between two mirrors before part of it escapes in a single beam and travels outward.

Lasers are focused (spatial coherence). They point in one direction, and one direction only. As a result, their light travels far without losing intensity.

Focus maintains energy and signal, ensuring that it will travel far without being watered down. That is just as true for our strategies, stories, business, and life. All too often people are all over the place. They overload stories (at Amazon we use PR FAQs to develop, crystallize and communicate big new ideas), have unclear and disconnected goals (for example in annual planning, or OP1 in Amazon speak), jump around adjacent problems (e.g. project updates), or are jack-of-all-trades and master of none (often seen in personal priority setting and time management).

We need to constantly push ourselves to gain and maintain focus!

When you write a PR FAQ (or call it strategy proposal), what is the one thing you want to achieve? Make that your story and stick to it. If you had to pick one thing, what would it be? What is most impactful? If you need to land only one thing with me (and I won’t remember more anyway), what’s that one thing? Put everything else in the FAQ (i.e. the appendices for your proposal).

That focus needs to come from you. Don’t collect a bunch of ideas, and present them (regardless of whether it’s just bullet points or a polished narrative) to see what sticks with the audience. ‘Throwing spaghetti on the wall’ only makes a mess that you will need to clean up afterward. You need to do the hard work of figuring out what matters most and go through the painful process of letting go of all the other cool stuff (there will be another PR FAQ for those).

The same thought model applies to all other plans, strategies, and written updates that we produce. Spend the time to really understand what matters. Then figure out all aspects and implications of that one thing, and write it down in a flow that allows others to follow your thinking.

The same is true for your career. You can do many things every day, and our space certainly allows you to be busy and tactical all day long. The problem is that busy and tactical doesn’t get you very far in the long run (nor does it get your team anywhere). The flashlight shines brightly a few feet away, but it won’t travel to the moon.

Take your time, sit back and think where you want to go. Then make a list of the few (!) things that you need to be really good at and deliver, to get there. Focus on them and deliver excellence. I hate to break it, but people rarely get rewarded for the effort. They do get prompted for impact.

If you’re versatile, you will be the go-to person to fix issues and plug holes. If you focus on your core areas, you will be looked upon to lead others.

The hard work is to keep that focus. Make time for constant check-ins and reflections. When tactical escalations distract you, take a pause, reflect, and come back to your priorities.

Don’t compromise strategy work for tactical work. It’s a true temptation, as humans always seek instant gratification. Push back against that desire. A good framework for that thinking is the 4-block model of urgent vs important. Make sure you spend the majority of your time in the top two quadrants. Avoid the bottom two. Spend time on the important things that move you and your goals forward!

 

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II. Coherence (Compounding)

The second important quality of a laser is temporal coherence. The waves are aligned in resonance, with the peak of every wave overlaying and sitting on top of the peaks of other waves. It’s the perfect compounding effect. Without that compounding effect, a laser would be nothing else than a very flimsy flashlight, that won’t even be able to illuminate something a foot away.

You want to use the same compounding effect in your stories, projects, career, and life.

When you tell a story, don’t jump around. Once you have identified the key point that you want to convey, build upon it. Develop it further through your PR FAQ, OP1, or project update. Don’t jump around to other adjacent things. Stay on the topic until you’re done, then stop.

A good way of thinking about this is the inverted journalistic pyramid. Start with your punch line, then as you go further, add additional details. Don’t jump around. The story should not change, if the reader goes further down in your text, it only becomes more detailed and colorful. If someone only reads the first paragraph, they should understand the core. As they read further down, their understanding should deepen, but not change. If their understanding changes, and the story morphs and shape-shifts in their mind, then you didn’t do a good job in understanding, developing and focusing on the key point.

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Likewise, in your career, make sure the activities you’re driving are aligned with your goals. Make sure you are consistent with them! Switching around all the time will not let you gain real momentum anywhere. Focus, deliver, deliver more, build upon it, until you can proclaim victory. Small things add up, and the effect of compounding investments is staggering. It’s doesn’t need to be much that you add every time, but it needs to be consistent.

It’s easy to start a lot of things, and not follow through with them – I only need to look at the list of PR FAQs that we ‘wanted’ to write in our team but never did, or the plethora of action items we decide upon in brainstorming meetings and offsites, but hardly ever followed through with. Once you identified a goal, keep pushing.

Don’t kick off a lot of things, and then abandon them. Start a few that matter, and follow-through to the end. Go a few steps further every week, every day. Layer wave peak on top of wave peak. Gain momentum and build upon it. Make it an (Amazon) flywheel that you are constantly pushing!

Be a laser, not a flashlight. You CAN shine to the moon (and back).

#focus #goals #career #success

 


 

Did you like this article? Want to read more?

If you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

Put on your own oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Confidence Establishes Authority

Most of us are working in an environment and culture in which we (luckily!) cannot just demand someone to follow our orders. We’re not McDonalds. We are all working with highly skilled and experienced professionals who will only follow us, if we earn their trust and gain authority through our actions, not hierarchy. I would not want it any other way!

So, how do you gain authority as a leader in your org and with partners?

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Competency

Step one is to have your act together. You need to know what you know, and what you don’t. Don’t pretend you know something, only to then be called out on your gaps. Don’t make up stuff if you want to be trusted and followed.

Of course, you will want to close the gap on the things that you don’t know as quickly as possible. Ask lots of questions, learn, reflect, understand.

Learning and deeply understanding your space is the 101, so I will not spend any further time on this. I wanted to call it out though since authority without understanding isn’t sustainable in our space.

Be bold, accept the risk to fail

As a leader, you are expected to make tough calls and bold decisions. You cannot do that if you are afraid of risk or scared of failing. In addition, if you don’t make bold calls, people will not follow you because quite frankly you are not leading.

As a leader, you cannot play it safe. Take calculated risks, but take risks. Free your mind by allowing yourself the option to fail.

When I look back at my own different leadership roles, I can see a clear pattern of being most impactful as a leader when I had the least concern about what I could potentially lose. I was bold, took the right risks and set unambiguous direction when I wasn’t scared about failing or losing something. I was lame when I was so concerned about a certain personal outcome or gain, that I tried to avoid anything that could put that outcome at risk.

The good news is that the loss avoidance mindset is a question of your perspective and subsequently you are in control to change it. It is the human default though, which means you need to put in serious energy to change it.

Leadership means making bold decisions and taking calculated risks. As a leader, you need to bring (disruptive) energy into the system to break the inertia of everyone else who is playing it safe. You need to shake the status quo. You must take risks.

You cannot please everyone anyway; be bold where it’s needed. Don’t be fluffy.

Free yourself from being scared. You won’t die. Take (personal) risks and be bold, otherwise you will get nowhere.

Making decisions

The above inspires me to take a little detour on decision-making. Being bold, taking risks and setting direction automatically leads to a reflection on decision making.

There are fundamentally two types of decisions. It’s important to understand what type of decision you are trying to make or drive.

Decisions you feel you should make and own

Get your data, understand the problem, weigh the options, and then make the decision. You are empowered to do so.

However, you cannot hide your decision. Decision authority is not a blank check to do whatever you want.

Communicate your decision out with the reasons why you took it. This is not to ask for permission, but to (1) make sure everyone is aware and (2) to let folks chime in and call out if you should have missed a key piece of data in your decision making (yes, that can happen!).

Decisions that you feel are above your paygrade and you don’t feel comfortable to make them

Same as above, do the research, gather all the data, weigh all the options, prepare to the point where you would feel that you can make a decision.

Then just change your communication style. Instead of communicating a decision, make a proposal and ask for help to decide. Set a clear date by when you need a decision and drive to that date. Don’t ask an open ended question (‘what should we do?’), don’t just present alternatives without proposal and reasoning why.

In both cases of decision-making, explain the reasons for your decision or proposal. Give others the required context to follow along.

Confidence establishes authority

So, you have clarity on your areas of competency (and the blind spots) and work on expanding them. You freed yourself (at least partially) from being scared of mistakes and failures. You got yourself to a point where you make bold decisions and take calculated risks.

Great! Be proactive about it. You achieved a lot, project it outwards. Proactively, not just when called upon. Take the lead!

Bring it all together and you will project competence and confidence.

Competence and confidence establish authority.

And just to be clear: this is NOT the same as ‘fake it until you make it’.

Go lead!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Single Threaded Leadership at Amazon

Single Threaded Leaders (STLs) are core to Amazon’s leadership philosophy. We are all STLs for one thing or another. However, what does that actually mean?

A STL is the one person who owns success or failure of a given initiative, project or goal. They are the decision maker or the one who is responsible to drive decisions. They are the single point of contact and the one who answers for the project. The STL is the one who doesn’t have excuses for not raising an issue, driving a decision and moving the project forward.

Less polite descriptions used in other companies are ‘butt on the line’ or ‘throat to choke’. I do NOT think that’s the right way to think about it though!

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How to be successful as a STL

We all strive to be effective leaders, in Amazon-speak strong STLs. So what makes a strong STL?

It starts with Ownership

Being a STL means that you OWN the projects you were given responsibility for (better even: you took responsibility for). It also means that you feel fully responsible for the success of that project. There is no one else to point a finger to or to blame.

It does not mean that you need to fix or do everything yourself though. Far from that!

Ownership doesn’t mean that you need to do everything yourself. It does mean that you need to make sure the right things are happening and the right people know about status changes early on. Delegate and orchestrate!

Ownership means that you own the progress, understand when things go sideways, and either put the right fixes in place to correct course, or escalate quickly if problems/fixes are beyond your control. You don’t need to be afraid if things don’t always got the way as initially planned. However, you should feel bad if things go sideways and you didn’t try proper actions and escalations.

Come with a solution

When things go sideways and a fix is beyond your scope of control, you need to escalate up quickly. Speed matters. There are few things a manager hates more than being surprised at a time when they are out of options to help you out.

So how do you escalate if you need help? Come with a solution!

Followers come with a problem; leaders come with a solution.

Present the problem, give a short explanation on the root cause that got you there, and then offer a solution proposal. Ideally, also explain the alternatives and why you picked that specific proposal (what were the pros and cons of the alternatives?).

Explain how far you were able to push within your scope of influence, what you tried, and what specific help you now need from your leader. Help them understand the tradeoffs that need to be made. Be clear what specific help you need or what action you are taking for which you need backup from your leader.

Do not only come with a problem or open ended question. Your leader will most likely jump on the opportunity to solve it for you, but that will harm your authority as STL and also deprives you from the sense of control over your project.

A quick glimpse into the mind of your leaders

Leaders like to problems-solve. That’s how they grew up, how they became leaders. However, as a leader, the ultimate goal is to grow their impact by delegating spheres of problem ownership and knowing they will get solved locally as much as possible (and without needing to keep track of progress).

So when presented with an open ended question or problem, a leader will jump into solving it for  you (unless they are a really good leader, in which case they will try really hard to hold themselves back). However, after your meeting they will have that nagging question in their mind: ‘why did I have to solve this, what did I do wrong?’ Help your leader to not wrangle with that question!

Help your leader to scale to the next level by showing them that you own your space at the next level.

What makes a great STL?

Know that you are empowered. Don’t just say it, know it, feel it!

Feel responsible for the end to end! Fully.

Own driving the solution, or if you can’t, own having a solution and asking for proper help.

Escalate when you exhausted your options or ideas or spent too much time trying – understand the point when you need to go up.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Good Reads

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There are countless great books on business and (self-) management. I cannot possibly list all that inspired me over the years. Below is a short list of the ones I read recently and found relevent to the topcis in this book. Enjoy!

Establishing habits

Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results
Stephen Guise
ISBN-10: 1494882272
A quick and simple guide on developing small habits and let them grow to bigger ones over time.

Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results
James Clear
ISBN-10: 1847941834
Lots of good advice on developing habits. It also shares some of the science behind habit forming and how to go further. “Change your self-image instead of chasing goals!”

Focusing on what matters

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
Gary Keller, Jay Papasan
ISBN-10: 1848549253
Stay focused on the one thing you need to achieve. There is always one thing that’s more important than everything else. What’s your one thing today, this week, this year?

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
Roy Baumeister, John Tierney
ISBN-10: 0143122231
Besides time, willpower is your most important resource. Learn what depletes willpower and what you can do to preserve it to get the most out of it.

Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done
Laura Vanderkam
ISBN-10: 0735219818
Lots of good advice. My favorite one is on making experiences a priority. “Plan it in. Do it anyway.”

Living within your values

Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment
Todd Rose, Ogi Ogas
ISBN-10: 0062931547
There are many ways to be successful, find what YOU want to do. Not what others tell you or do.

An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake
Srinivas Rao, Robin Dellabough
ISBN-10: 1101981733
Your pursuit for passion or art is about you, no one else. Don’t try to please others. Don’t chase external confirmation. Do it for yourself.

Conscious Business
Fred Kofman
ISBN-10: 1622032020
A little lengthy but the book presents good principles on how to live and make business in accordance with your values and with integrity. Has a great side story on accountability culture.

Changing your self-perception

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges
Amy Cuddy
ISBN-10: 0316256587
Harvard scientists have proven what martial arts taught for centuries: “Your inside reflects on your outside, your outside reflects on your inside.”

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work
Shawn Achor
ISBN-10: 9780753539477
Success comes from happiness, not the other way around. The stories you tell yourself define your perspective which in turn defines your happiness level. Learn to be happy.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Once You Stop Growing You Start Declining

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Never stop learning and growing!

Once you stop growing you start declining.

Never stop observing, learning, tweaking, optimizing and improving yourself and how you live your life.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s the path we take and the choices we make that count, not any singular goal that we are heading out for.

In the end what matters are not the possessions that your accumulated, but the learnings you had and the person you became. It’s about how you improved yourself and what you left behind.

Never think that you are too old for something new. Never think that you are ‘there’. Once you stop learning, growing and pushing you start declining. You start to crumble and die.

There is not much steady state in life. It’s either up or down. There is also no rule in life or the universe that says you cannot go up and grow until the very end. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what Chinese medicine and Tai Chi try to achieve: live healthy as long as you can and grow until the end. Set your sights high up all the way through.

Back in Germany I all too often saw successful people retire at age 60, stop doing anything and then rapidly falling apart. Don’t do that to yourself – at any age. Keep the learner’s mindset, be a lifelong apprentice.

No matter where you are, what your circumstances are and where you will go next, you can always make yourself just a little bit better. You can always make your life a little more balanced and meaningful. You can always strive to become a even better person.

The path is the reward, not the destination.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Engineer Your Happiness, Count Your Blessings Every Day

How you perceive your world and look at opportunities is much more influenced by your mindset than by your circumstances. External events will influence your happiness in the moment, but after a short time you will bounce back to your ‘natural’ level.

The good news is that we can train our mental frameworks and over time change our perspective on the things we encounter in daily life. We can make ourselves happier and more positive human beings. And by making ourselves more positive we will encounter more encouraging situations and as a result follow more fulfilling opportunities.

Worst day of my life

Every night at the dinner table we do a little round robin where everyone talks about the experiences of the day. It took our kids a while to get there, but now they love it and can’t wait to tell their story.

For a while our 7 year old son had phase where he always started with “worst day of my life”. For some reason he thought it was cool, but we could see how it always dragged him down emotionally.

We can observe the same in us. As grownups we often look back at how hard a day was, all the things that went wrong, all the annoying interactions.

With that we train our brain to pattern match. If we pay attention to something, our brain will look for more of the same and proudly present it to us. When you think about buying a new car, you will all of a sudden see that model everywhere.

Indulging on the things that were bad or went wrong will train your brain to only see things going wrong. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Change your mental frameworks

Instead of thinking back to what went wrong in your day, spend time every day to reflect on what was great, fun or just positively memorable. You can do this throughout the day or in the evening before you go to bed. But do it every day!

Reflect on the positive things that happened every day. Write them down.

Focusing on the positive things will train your brain to pattern match for those. It will help you see the good more easily and more often. It will help you see opportunity to get more of those positive interactions. It will make you happier and more successful.

I bought a little notebook for myself in which I write down 3 positive things that happened to me every day. It’s a great exercise to reflect and boosts your happiness.

We also changed our dinner routine and added the question “What were your 3 most positive things today?” Question before we get into talking about our days. Our kids are fighting for who can share those first and usually end up with more than 3.

I also haven’t heard the “worst day of my life” sentence anymore.

Being happy is in your control. So is being unhappy. You decide.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Deliberate practice

Malcolm Gladwell made the rule to practice 10,000 hours to achieve mastery famous. However this is actually a misleading simplification from research that was conducted by Anders Ericsson and published in his book ‘Peak’ (ISBN-10: 0544947223).

Practicing 10,000 hours will not guarantee mastery or even deeper understanding. Deliberate practice will.

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Practicing deliberately means to isolate certain aspects of our practice and training and focusing on them without distraction by all the other things we should also train and improve. Deliberate practice helps us to concentrate our mind on only one thing and to repeat, improve and assimilate that one thing.

Students in Tai Chi are often overwhelmed by all the things they ‘should’ learn and understand. Especially in the beginning they come to class but feel that they cannot achieve the stage where they remember enough to start practicing on their own without needing to peek at the teacher for the next movement.

Following the principles of deliberate practice and separating out certain aspects of the whole will help a lot in those situations. Instead of trying to learn everything at the same time, try to break your own practice in focus areas. Only focus on that area, ignore all the rest. Then after some good deliberate practice, bring that area back into the larger whole.

Some example for breaking out a complex form into aspects for deliberate practice:

Details of a movement – Only practice one movement. Whatever you struggle with, the bow step, stroking the mane of the horse, diagonal flying. Pick that one technique and practice it in isolation. Maybe repeat the same technique but do not worry about what comes next in the form.

Sequence of the form – Don’t worry about the details of any given movement when you try to memorize a form. Don’t even execute the movements fully, just give a sloppy hint to get your muscle memory engaged. Close your eye for even better focus. The detail of the movement does not matter in this practice, only what technique comes next.

Directions and footwork – As forms get longer, for example the Yang form, it can become challenging to remember the different directions and stances. Practice your footwork separately. Maybe use hinted arm movements to jog your memory, but don’t focus on the arms or the details of any technique at all. Focus on your feet, your stance, the difference between bow step and two sides of a line. Make sure your feet are pointing in the right direction, your knees are slightly bent and you are deliberate about your eight points.

And then after you spent a good amount of time on isolated practice of only one aspect, bring it all together again to practice the form once or twice in its completeness. Separate and re-unite.