You have to prioritize!

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If you want to have the most impact you have to prioritize! But how? Based on what criteria?

Do a little of everything? Pick what’s top of your list and work your way down? Do whatever comes to mind and grabs your interest at the moment? Don’t know, so rather stall and don’t do anything at all?

Well, the above approaches don’t seem like great strategies, so let’s take a more structured approach instead.

At Amazon there are limitless opportunities – always – and as a result, we constantly need to prioritize and make trade-offs. Actually, when candidates ask me in interviews what the hardest part of working at Amazon is, I tell them “it’s to decide what not to do”.

There is often quite some ambiguity on how one should make such decisions. I see this across individuals and organizations, way more often than I would have expected. Most people have a good grasp of how they should prioritize, but then they mix and muddy things as they get into the details.

Prioritization is about discipline – both in thinking, as well as in execution.

The operational discipline is something you need to develop for yourself. The mental model is easier to share though. Here is a prioritization framework that works in most cases.

How to prioritize

  1. P0: Things that HAVE to be done to support a strategic goal or prevent a strategic risk. Those are typically set top-down as company or organizational goals. If things MUST be done to support those organizational priorities, they need to be treated as non-negotiable (P0s). The important thing though is that this only applies to blockers (!) for such goals; it doesn’t include all of the nice-to-have things one could do for that space. Nice to have work must stand on its own cost-benefit analysis. It’s not a P0 if it’s not a blocker without a feasible workaround!
  2. P1-3: Things that provide the highest ROI (return of investment) / best cost-benefit ratio in sorted order. Everything else you do need to be evaluated under the criteria of ‘most bang for the buck’. Don’t spend energy on something that will be useful in the future (hopefully), but not just yet. If it will yield a higher return than what you’re doing right now, stop doing what you do and switch over; if it doesn’t, then double down and finish what you started. Sort the things that you need to do by ROI, nothing else.
  3. Exceptions from the rule. There are some reasons why you might have to invest in some projects with lower ROI. The clearest is if you hit a scaling limit by putting more people on a problem. If adding more people to a project doesn’t scale your delivery pace (close to) linearly, you should deploy them somewhere else. Similarly, if you need to make investments to lower your operational cost or substantially increase future delivery speed (e.g. re-architecture), you need to prioritize those accordingly. However, I might argue that those effects can and should also be quantified and expressed in an ROI decision. The other reason to keep some capacity for work that is not ROI-prioritized is to diversify your opportunities and/or make room for experiments to explore new areas. Be very conscious though, as to how much time and energy you want to devote to such activities.

Pitfalls to avoid

Don’t mix criteria. If you make ROI decisions, make ROI decisions. Don’t mix ROI and opportunity or something else.

If you go to a supermarket and shop for oranges, all other things equal, you will pick the ones at the lowest price. You will not pick a bunch of the lowest priced ones and another bunch of the expensive ones, just because they are there. ROI is your metric, stick to it. Opportunity only tells you that you can buy oranges, it doesn’t tell you that the price is right.

Side note: ROI doesn’t need to mean dollars – it means the impact (return) of your resources (investment) on the metric you care about most (e.g. cost, speed, quality, precision, satisfaction).

Don’t take previous decisions as gospel. Don’t block yourself by perceived constraints or previous decisions. As you get more data and understanding, challenge previous assumptions! For example, a goal is not a value in itself, it might have been set based on an incomplete understanding of the total opportunity. As you understand the opportunity space better, re-examine previous goals – if they no longer express the most important thing to do, make a pitch to change the goal!

Elephants get chained when they are young and too weak to break those chains. They learn that chains define their limits. As they get older, they don’t even try to break those chains anymore, even though they easily could. Don’t be chained by previous assumptions, re-evaluate what you know and question what you believe as you learn more!

Invest the intellectual energy to set strong and data-driven priorities. Exercise the operational discipline to focus on those goals without distraction. Nurture the curiosity, flexibility, and courage to revisit those decisions and underlying data to verify that you are still pursuing the right goals.

 


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.

Throwing Spaghetti on the Wall…

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Have you ever heard someone say: “Don’t just throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.”?

Well, obviously that’s not a good strategy to understand priorities and inform a future course of action. It’s also messy and a little disgusting…

A much better approach is to understand problems and drill down to root causes, identifying cause and effect correlations, and then formulating a set of hypotheses on how to influence those root causes. But let’s start from the beginning…

The spaghetti approach

Here is how I know when a PM interview doesn’t go well:

Me: “Interesting problem. How did you find out how to solve it?
Aspiring PM: “I did A/B testing and looked at the results.
Me: “Sounds cool, how did you know what to test?
Aspiring PM: “Well, we tried out a bunch of things, and then picked the one that showed the best results.

That’s not experimentation, at least not in a scientific sense, that’s classic throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s expensive. With this method, you will find the right solution only by brute force or sheer luck. More often than not, the true solution and needle mover will remain elusive.

If you want to get to the true best global solution through experimentation, you need to have a plan first!

Drop any preconceived notions of ‘the right solutions’. In fact, burn your list. Instead, start from identifying the root causes and focus your experiments on understanding what drives those root causes.

The scientific Method

Experimentation is like throwing pebbles. If you have a plan where to throw them, you will likely hit your targets with a few throws. If you don’t, you will need a LOT of pebbles to hit anything worthwhile.

Here’s how you develop a plan before you start throwing your precious stack of pebbles:

Step 1: Root causes – What is the problem?

Start with identifying the problem. Then ask yourself what causes that problem. List all the drivers that you can identify from the data and observations that you have available.

Check for causations. Are those drivers really causing the root problem, or are they just correlated? Drill all the way down until, based on the data you have available, you cannot draw clear cause-effect relationships anymore.

Step 2: Hypothesis – Enter the unknown!

Up to here, causations were directly supported by existing data and observations. Now they are no longer, and you need to find ways to fill your data and knowledge gaps. You start making a plan for throwing your pebbles.

Start to develop hypotheses for the cause-effect relationships for which you don’t have clear data. Check if there are any drivers that you might have missed. Where do you have hunches (informed guesses), but no data?

Step 3: Experimentation – Closing the data gaps.

You have several brilliant but untested hypotheses. Now is the time to come up with a plan to put those hypotheses to the test. It’s time to develop experiments that can validate your hypotheses and provide you with the missing data.

Be clear as to what data specifically you need to get from an experiment to validate your root cause hypothesis. You can get a lot of data out of experiments, but not all of it will truly correlate to the specific needle that you want to move.

Think creatively and broadly as you get into designing your experiment. Not every experiment needs to be a big engineering project.

There are many ways to get data. Experiments can be product implementations, but they can also be very simple initial and manual tests with small groups of users or user research studies. Of course, the closer your experiment is to a large scale production roll-out, the more precise your data will be. However, you don’t always need that precision for the initial validation of an idea that will inform the next steps in a project.

The faster you can get results, the better. Sometimes you need to build something out in scale to get the right data; more often, you don’t. There are no bonus points for expensive and slow tests.

Step 4: Refinement – What have you learned?

Look at the data. See what hypotheses are validated and which ones are not.

Don’t leave it with that simple checklist though. Reflect on how your cause-effect framework might have changed with the new data and insights. Does the experiment’s data indicate new root causes that you were previously unaware of?

Finally, ask yourself if you have answered enough of your root cause questions to build your MVP, or if you need more experimentation and data to ensure you will head out in the right direction.

Sticking points

  • Experimentation is great!
  • More specifically, targeted experimentation is invaluable to get missing data and understand your space.
  • Just trying out stuff, on the other hand, is wasteful and will likely increase confusion instead of reducing it!

 


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.

What do Lord Kelvin and Peter Drucker have in common?

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Probably the most famous quote from management guru Peter Drucker is:

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. – Peter Drucker (1909-2005)

However, Scientist Lord Kelvin beat him to the punch and called out a similar principle even earlier:

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. – Lord Kelvin (1824–1907)

For one thing, this shows again that Physicists are usually beating everyone else to exciting insights about how the world works. 🙂

Lord Kelvin also found the second law of thermodynamics, which postulates that everything will eventually end in unstructured chaos anyway, but that’s another story, so let’s not get distracted.

While I full-heartedly agree to the above principle about measuring, I would extend it to:

If you don’t know what you want to manage, you’re wasting your time measuring. Likewise, if you’re not committed to do what it takes to improve a metric, you might as well not bother measuring it at all.

All right, after that motivational downer, I want to reflect a little bit on metrics and reporting, what we should measure, and how we should think and talk about those numbers.

How to think about metrics

Why we care about metrics

Impact and outcomes (Output metrics) – In all we do, we prioritize and target our energy on doing a few things that we believe have the most impact on a given customer or business outcome. There are many things we decide not to do to keep that focus. Once we’ve done what we have set out for, we’d better know if our believes and assumptions were right (i.e., if we can build upon them) or wrong (i.e., what we can learn from them). Metrics help us to track whether our actions lead to the anticipated outcomes. They help us identify where we need to course-correct.

Defects and actions (Input metrics) – As hinted above, not all plans work as anticipated. Looking at the right (input) metrics helps us see where things don’t develop according to plan and prediction. Once we are aware of those areas, we can assess impact, and develop strategies to fix the issues. Input metrics are typically leading indicators, and while we care about the effects and outcomes, input metrics are where we can learn why things don’t quite work and take proper actions. Here is a quick read-up on input versus output metrics: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/focus-inputs-alfons-staerk/

Early warning (Health metrics) – Last not least, metrics help us to avoid being blindsided. Like a canary in the coal mine, a good set of ‘early warning’ metrics help us avoid to discover an issue through an escalation, and instead proactively identifying it ourselves. No one wants to get an angry email from a customer or their boss.

When you develop the set of metrics that you want to track for your product and program, you want to make sure to track all three categories. Each of them is equally important and serves a specific purpose. However, you need to think about how you use them strategically and intentionally.

How we track and report metrics

Outcome metrics (impact and outcomes) are the ultimate goal, but they typically lag and move slowly. You want to present them to leadership and stakeholders, but do you want to do it weekly? Do they change fast enough? What’s the right forum for them (quarterly, monthly, or weekly reports)? If you present them weekly for reference, are they the data that you want to draw attention to every week?

Input metrics are critical to managing your product and program. They are leading indicators and most often change weekly. You do want to look at input metrics (defects and opportunities) weekly, but you also want to make sure you look at and focus on the ones where you would consider taking action. If you are not willing to take action or ask for support to take action, it’s just noise and distracts everyone. Make input metrics actionable or think harder what the right actionable input metric would be! Last not least, some input metrics are noisy. If that is the case, think about how you can report them differently to separate noise from a real trend. Metrics are all about learning, not about showing that you have many numbers.

Health metrics are critical, and you should look at those weekly or even daily. They are your insurance that you are not caught on the wrong foot. However, by definition, they should be very dull and not change much. No news is good news! If you have a story to tell about your warning indicators every week, then there is a more fundamental issue at hand. With that, in most cases, those metrics are something you and your team need to look at very frequently; however, you don’t want to report them to a broader group frequently (e.g., through regular reports). Instead, those are the metrics that, while not looked at by a large group regularly, should kick off an immediate heads-up to your leadership when you see things going sideways.

How to talk about metrics

For me, the most frustrating experience in metric reviews is to see a sea of data with no apparent focus or structure. In those cases, it takes me a while to catch on the slide structure, and by the time I have, I have missed the call-outs. The second worst thing is to have the same call-out on the same data, that didn’t change anyway, every week. The third most frustrating thing is to have a call out, that’s not related to the data on the slide – it utterly confuses me every time. Bonus frustration: having a new slide where the structure needs to be explained instead of being self-evident.

Slides are stories. They need to be able to speak for themselves without additional explanation. The stories they tell need to engage and focus on the ‘news.’

Let’s start with the simple thing – the presentation.

Visual presentation – Make it digestible

As we think about how we can turn slides into stories and data into statements, we need to give focus to presentation. A sea of data is not a story; it’s a distraction. One hundred rows don’t convey insight but chaos. Data that are not organized along a logical flow isn’t providing a signal, but increasing noise.

The flow of your data – First of all, think about the right logical flow of your data. What is the correct organizational principle that will guide the viewer along and help them make their findings? Often this is obvious (e.g., funnel steps or input metrics that feed into an output metric), but give it a hard thought. Having the right structure is the difference between a strong slide and story, and a weekly struggle to get through your WBR section.

Help drive focus – Most times, less is more. What data is needed? What data would you take action on? What data is critical, versus supplemental, and how can you visually highlight the critical data? Can you bold specific data, can you visualize a funnel structure in how you present your data? Make it easy for the viewer to see for themselves what you can see in the data. Also, make the hard choices not to show data that doesn’t matter. We’re all proud of all the data we can find; however, focus wins the game in a presentation every day. Metrics meetings are crisp and focused presentations of the state of the union, not word search puzzles.

Be clear what you talk about – When you talk about something that is not on the slide, be clear about it before you get into your story. Try to avoid that situation though – if you launched something new and it doesn’t show in the data yet, then talk about it once it does. When you talk about something on the slide, make sure to refer to where the data is – searching for the needle in the haystack is no fun in a fast-paced meeting.

Data with Intent! – WHY? SO WHAT?

We don’t talk about the data just because we have it. We have an intent! Be sure to talk about that intent. Why should I care? Why does this particular data matter? You know it, but I don’t, so please explain it to me!

Here are some categories that are usually leading to exciting stories about data. Don’t feel you have to tell each of them every week, tell a story if things have progressed or changed in a meaningful way.

Progress – We all want to know if we are making progress against our goals. A key to seeing that on a weekly or even monthly basis is to have a ramp plan. If we want to achieve a particular goal by the end of the year, where should we be this month, next month? How close are we to that ramp goal, and if there is a gap, what can we do to close the gap? An output metric without a ramp plan is useless! We need to know if we can feel good or should be worried. These callouts are typically related to the outcome metrics we committed to.

Learnings – What did we learn from the data. Are there any surprises or positive trends that we didn’t anticipate. This is where input metrics come in. Focus on the differentials, though, don’t repeat the same insight every week (without taking action). This is where we should talk about surprises and experiments and their related learnings and outcomes. Focus on what’s new, don’t tell the same repeating story again and again without changing the game from one meeting to another (if you decide something is not worth managing, remove the metric from the official deck). Most of the learnings come from input metrics that we are tracking.

Attention needed – Sometimes, trends turn in the wrong direction without warning, and without us having done something specific to anticipate that development. Those are the canaries in the coal mine. Be sure to call out when such things happen. Also, be sure to have some insights on what happened, or at least a plan and a timeline on how to get those insights. These alerts are essential data points and not bad. They tell us when we need to focus on something. Take them as an opportunity to fix something early on before it gets bad. However, don’t wait for a pre-scheduled meeting if you notice that health metrics erode – kick off an email thread with your leadership immediately and take action!

A lot of the follow-up questions from leaders usually poke into one of the above areas. By looking at the categories in that framework, thinking through your story along those lines, and presenting it succinctly, you will convey that you are on top of your game. You will show your confidence, ability, and success, instead of being caught off-balance.

Last, not least:

Don’t try to fill the space/time – If you don’t have a story in any of the above areas, don’t make one up. Power usually lies in not giving in to the temptation to fill empty space. Just say that nothing happened to the data that is worthy of a call-out, and make a short statement as to what changes you expect to see shortly and why (if you don’t anticipate any, then your program is dead, and the slide should be removed). Related, there is no rule that you have to have three call-outs. I would much rather hear one strong call-out and finding than three repetitive ones.

Learning from the data can be fun if we let it be! Use metrics, reports, and reviews as an opportunity to learn about your space and tell compelling stories to leadership.

 


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.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: If You Make a Mistake Keep Going

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What’s the difference between a beginner making a mistake and a master making the same mistake?

The beginner will notice the mistake, stop, blame himself for making the stupid mistake and maybe even stop altogether for the day in frustration. He might contemplate for a long while, why this mistake has happened and how embarrassing the situation was.

The master accepts the situation and keeps going without a blink. Later when there is time, she will reflect on what led to the mistake and how she might be able to prevent it in the future. She will practice the situation and be prepared to deal with it the next time it might occur. She will not waste energy to dwell in self-blame or pity.

I once saw this mindset live in perfect demonstration. Tsuguo Sakumoto, a 9th degree black belt and the leader of Ryuei-ryu karate, demonstrated a Kama kata. Kama are Okinawan sickles. They have razor-sharp blades and the kata consists of lightning fast movements swirling two of them through the air at the same time.

Master Sakumoto made a mistake while demonstrating this kata to a crowd of about hundred people, all highly ranked karate-kas. One of the blades came in contact with the handle of the other. it cut right through the wood and made the other blade fly high through the air. Master Sakumoto was lucky that he hadn’t cut off some fingers.

This was a scary moment, a pretty bad mistake and could have been embarrassing. Other athletes might have gone in frustration and maybe thrown their tennis rack on the ground, storming out of the court. Not the karate master. He kept going as if nothing had happened. Not a moment of hesitation, not a blink, not a flinch. He was a hundred percent committed and finished the form. After that he bowed, went, picked up the other blade and was ready for questions from the audience.

Be in the moment. Finish what you have started. Don’t get thrown off by what you didn’t expect. Don’t dwell in analysis and get stuck in something that has already happened and which you can’t influence anymore. Think about it when you have time and then move on.

When you make a mistake in your practice don’t miss a beat. Realize and acknowledge what has happened. Decide if you need to adjust and move on in the same instance. Don’t let it throw you off.

The same is true for life. When you hit a bump in the road you need to keep going. Practice this mindset in martial arts. Make it your second nature and then make sure you apply the same mindset in your daily life.

 


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.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Where My Martial Arts and My Business Self Meets

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I have three big passions in my life: family, martial arts and growning people and teams. While following each of those passions I learned that common principles apply and each of those have cross-pollinated the other areas heavily.

I’ve been doing martial arts for over 25 years now. Here are some of my personal principles that came over from that area into my leadership toolbox. None of the following is breathtakingly net-new (yes, you can stop reading now if you were hoping for that) but it’s a framework that makes it easier for me to remember the key learnings.

Do it or don’t do it but don’t do it half-hearted

Be in the moment

Being in the moment is a key principle in martial arts, Zen and meditation. It’s about focusing on the now and not getting distracted by what has been or what might be in the future.

This is extremely powerful for being effective in business as well. Focus on the task at hand and nothing else. Turn off notifications, put away your phone, and hide your email inbox. And come back to enjoy those distractions once you’ve accomplished your task.

It’s also super important as you interact with people. Listening skills are a high valued skill today mostly because many people cannot focus on what the person sitting in front of them is trying to tell them. Stop playing with your phone or thinking about your smart answer that you will provide in response. Just listen to the person and show her that you do. Your partnership will improve tremendously!

It’s all or nothing

In martial arts if you engage you engage. No matter what the consequences are, you already decided that it is critical to engage. And you will pull it through.

I’ve learned that in business we’re often too afraid of losing to really do what it takes to succeed. I was most successful when we had no kids, two incomes and I really didn’t care whether I would lose my job over bold decisions.

I love my job and want to keep it and I need to feed a family now but I do try to remind myself that you need to be willing to lose (everything) in order to make the bold decisions that are required to be successful.

If you think it is important enough to do it, do it all the way. My teacher used to say “there is no being half pregnant”.

Things change, don’t miss the opportunity

Stay flexible

Be smart though. Things will change as you move along. Your initial plan that you want to badly follow through might not be appropriate anymore. Keep your focus on the goal but don’t get stubborn on your execution plan.

In martial arts your partner seldom tends to react the way you think she should have reacted. Stay flexible, stay on your toes, and shift your execution as your parameters change.

Avoid blind spots

In order to stay flexible you need to first know what’s going on and recognize if situations change. In martial arts we talk a lot about tunnel vision, the effect where you focus so much on one partner that you don’t even see as the other one approaches you from behind.

Maintain 360 degree vision. Obviously you need to stay on top of what’s going on in your industry and area of expertise as well as the broader initiatives in your company.

But you should extend your 360 degree awareness beyond business opportunities to your relationship with people. Are you deeply tuned into how people interact with you and how they react to you? Are you making it a point to reflect on how you appear to people, what your behavior and your style projects? Do you observe how team members perceive your posture and even your dress style when they interact with you (ie do you send the signal that you value them as a partner and thus care about the impression you make on them)? Do you behave in employee 1:1s the way you would in an interview or a board meeting?

Keep it simple

In martial arts the final mastery is to leave out everything that is not necessary. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. If you leave everything out that is not necessary then the remaining is 100% effective (and yes, no one ever gets there).

In your work, simplify to be able to adapt faster. Process and complexity keep creeping up. Entropy will finally win (so much I remember from my physics master) but your job in life is to fight it.

Keep the mindset to constantly improve what’s needed but don’t be afraid to cut the rest. Focus on a few things and do them right (reminder: by definition focus does mean you can’t do everything).

It’s a journey, not a destination

Always remember that you’re in for the long run. You better make sure you make it all the way to the finish line and won’t drop out before. In martial arts if you make an impressive first move but then go down badly you won’t get many cheers (or feel great about it afterwards).

Be balanced

If you’re the world’s greatest jump kicker someday a fellow will come along and wrestle you to the mat. And if you never thought about wrestling before you will feel really miserable down there.

Keep up your motivation by following and nurturing your passions (and by making sure that you have more than one passion). Sometimes things will go awesome in one area but sometimes it might be bumpy – in those situations it’s great to have a second source to pull motivation and energy from. It’s bad if the only thing that defined you goes through a slow patch.

Don’t be a one trick pony, they get burned out quickly. Don’t neglect the things that are important to you. Balance your time across work, relationships and hobbies. Have all three of them!

A healthy mind in a healthy body

There is a Latin proverb for that. But I didn’t take Latin in school and better not pretend to have any such skills.

The concept is easy though: you kind of live in your body. Every day. That makes it your most important tool of all, please don’t break it.

Get the sleep you need (find out how much that is and then be religious about it). Do sports. You don’t have to run a marathon. Find out what works for you and build a habit around it.

And pace yourself! At times you have to outperform everyone else. And it feels great to do so! But then there needs to be time where you turn it down a notch and recharge your batteries. Pace yourself to be ready when ready is required. Don’t burn all your energy before the race actually starts. Take your long and short breaks.

Never stop being a student

In martial arts you never stop being a student. In fact once you stop learning you start losing. It should be just the same in life.

Be humble but aspirational and keep a learning mindset. Keep learning and keep stretching yourself, that’s actually the most fun part of life!

If you draw a short and a long line on the ground there are two ways to make the long line shorter. Most people try to wash some away from the long line, to erase it. That’s hard and messy and generally a lot of work which more often than not fails. A lot of competitive strategies work that way today where one competitor tries to throw rocks in the other ones way. A much easier way is actually to extent the short line. Invest in your abilities and leave the competition behind.

Final thought

In martial arts, once it’s done it’s done. You can learn from the many mistakes you just made but you can’t change any of them anymore – they’re out the door. You also don’t wallow in the past since it’s meaningless.

 


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.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: “Making daisy chains takes my mind off”

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We need to listen more to our kids, they are the true teachers.

I was making daisy chains with our daughter today – actually she taught me how to make daisy chains. Seeing her work quietly, I asked her what was going through her mind.

Her answer was worthy of a Zen master:

I don’t think anything when I make daisy chains. Making daisy chains takes my mind off.

Had I asked the same question to any adult, I would have gotten a long list of unrelated thoughts back.

There’s a lot to learn from our daughter.

  • Be in the moment. Focus on what you’re doing.
  • Don’t worry about other things while you’re doing what you like.
  • Find pleasure and passion in the things you’re doing right now.

Watch your kids closely, there’s a lot we can learn from them!

 


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.