Practicing What I Preach

This is my 192nd post in this blog and I want to thank those of you who have been reading my thoughts on a regular basis. 

Since I try to practice what I preach, I regularly reevaluate what's working and what's not and where I spend my time, and I've realized I have to put this blog on hold for now. 

This is in part since I'm also writing posts for the Women Career Changers blog and it's hard to do two at the same time, but also because I'm in transition myself and much energy and time need to be devoted to finding the next right opportunity. (I'm looking for a COO or VP Operations role in NY or remotely, in case you know of anything.)

You can still read my thoughts at my other blog, although they're slanted towards transition and not "business common sense" or business books, and you can follow my business book ratings on goodreads.

And you can also reach out via this blog or my website if I can help in any way.

I wish you much success and learning, whether via business books or life.

Bye for now,

Entrepreneurism for the Risk-Averse

Have you been unhappy at your day job and fantasized about starting your own business? Or have you actually tried to start your own business to only miss the stability of the paycheck and benefits the day job provided? 

Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side, but Patrick McGinnis in his book The 10% Entrepreneur: Live Your Startup Dream Without Quitting Your Day Job shows us that there's actually a third alternative.

Patrick was a successful corporate VP on Wall Street who never gave being anything else another thought until he lost his job in the 2008 financial meltdown. He then realized that to be safe, he had to diversify his career—much like his investments—and he became what he calls a 10% Entrepreneur. Basically, he spends 10% of his resources on side ventures that build his equity and cushion towards the future. And not only does this give him a Plan B, but it allows him to work on side projects that he's interested in, meet great people, keep learning, and know that he'll never be caught rudderless again.

And you don't necessarily have to have money to become a 10% Entrepreneur. Patrick explains that there are five types of entrepreneurs: angel, adviser, co-founder, aficionado, and 110%. The angel are for those who do have some money to invest whereas the adviser invests his time and knowledge. Co-founder is someone who actually is willing to devote a lot more time/money to something he or she believes in, while an aficionado is someone who pursues a passion on the side. And the 110% is a full-time entrepreneur who has his own 10% so that even all his eggs aren't in one basket.

Patrick takes us through how to find opportunities, vet them, expand our network and "team," and succeed in the long term. And in addition to just being a great read, it's the answer to what I have been looking for. 

After two attempts at starting my own business and two more attempts at working for early stage startups, I've realized that I need the stability of a steady pay check. I love the culture found at startups and am looking for a senior operations role at a funded and/or proven startup where I can have the best of both worlds, but even if I end up working for a larger company, there's no reason I can't satisfy that yen in my 10%. 

And unlike many of the other books out there about entrepreneurism and following one's passions, Patrick's formula is one that we can adjust to our own particular needs and strengths and above all else, is realistic. It's something each and every one of us could—and should—pursue. 

So are you ready to become a 10% Entrepreneur?

A Business Reflects Its Owner

I just finished reading Derek Sivers' Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur in one day. It's a small and short book but packed with much wisdom.

Derek was a musician who created CD Baby, the largest seller of independent music on the web, when he could not find any store to sell his own CD. Friends then asked him to sell theirs, then their friends asked him...and the rest is a history of phenomenal year-over-year growth.

Throughout this amazing journey, Derek did things in a very nontraditional way. From trying to keep his business small, to doing his own programming until the end, to making sure all were focused on making their musicians and customers happy. He didn't care about the "right" way of doing things or what others thought, only that it kept his musicians, customers, and himself happy.

Two of the points that Derek made really resonated with my own experience.

Derek recommends that if an idea requires effort to gain traction, one should improve on the idea until it sells itself. CD Baby required no effort to grow since it truly served a need and did it well. If your idea does that—and he encourages you test it out first—then keep going; if not, iterate and improve.

He also believes that a business reflects the owner and allows the owner to create his own perfect world. Who but the owner decides what will and will not be tolerated, what should be rewarded, who to hire, etc.? Derek worked really hard to maintain this even as the company grew, and chose to leave once he no longer enjoyed what he was doing. 

The main reason I've tried to start my own startup, and the main reason I'm focusing much of my job search in the startup world, is that I'd love to create something worthwhile from the ground up. As an operations person, I want to create smart, efficient, and scalable systems; but as a people operations person and leader, I want to create a culture where all are respected, empowered, engaged, and set-up for success and further growth.

I want to create a world where everyone is excited to come to work, is at their best at work, and happy to contribute their best. This will allow me to be my best as well. 

What's your vision of a "perfect world" at work? 

The Road Taken

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost is one of my favorite poems and has been for a long time. Reading about how Daniel Lubetzky consciously chose to develop the KIND bar and brands in his book Do the KIND Thing reminded me of this.

If you haven't read the poem, you can find it in its entirety here, but below is the last stanza and the one that speaks to this point:
I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
I have written before how everything we do and do not do is a choice. 

Daniel chose not to make the KIND bar the same as any other bar and chose to ignore all naysayers. As he learned firsthand, when you're trying to teach consumers to think differently or to try a new product that is a first of its kind, it's difficult and requires perseverance and faith. But he had no interest in making a bar like any of the others out there and stuck to his purpose until it got traction.

Once they became popular, this same focus was necessary to determine where to invest their limited resources and where to expand to. It required conscious choice on what their brand was and what was in line with its core. Anything that was not, even if it could be a quick win, was ignored.

And ultimately, these choices and focus helped them succeed.

Have you had to make similar choices? Which road did you take?

Success Requires Grounded Leadership

Jeffrey Hayzlett, in his latest book Think Big, Act Bigger: The Rewards of Being Relentless, teaches us to be ourselves and not to be afraid of pushing ourselves, thinking and choosing differently, focusing on what matters, and much more.

Although all his lessons are valuable, the one that really struck a nerve is what he calls "Clean Your Own Bathroom: Stay Grounded and Connected."

In brief, he reminds leaders that they need to remain connected to the work, have done it at some point themselves, and listen to feedback to remain relevant and successful. The reason this resonates is that I've unfortunately worked at companies where senior leadership has lost all grounding, refused to heed the advise of those who knew better, and bullishly continued on the path to disaster. 

And since this has happened both in large and small companies, it's a result of who's on top rather than the size of the company. As Jeffrey explains in another chapter and principle, the company's cadence (aka their flow) totally stems from the leadership, values, culture, and systems chosen. 

So as a leader, if you want to remain relevant and grounded, make sure you occasionally do the work—or at least observe it being done—and be smart enough to ask for feedback from those who do the work and interact with your customers.

One of my earliest blog posts was on feedback being a gift. Nothing in the many months' since I wrote that has changed my mind or made me think otherwise. But to get honest feedback requires a culture of trust and mutual respect, since otherwise staff will be afraid to speak up.

Is the leadership of your company grounded? Do they encourage honest feedback? And if you are a leader, do you? If not, how do you plan on changing this going forward?

How to Make Your Message Contagious

Whether you're a salesperson, marketer, entrepreneur, or freelancer, you have to compete with all the other messages out there to get yours heard. Jonah Berger, in his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, teaches us the six things we can do to make our message heard.

STEPPS is the clever acronym Jonah uses to help us remember his findings:
  • Social currency—we share things that make us look good;
  • Triggers—we share things that are easily remembered;
  • Emotion—we share things when we care;
  • Public—we share things that we can see;
  • Practical value—we share things others can use;
  • Stories—we share things that are housed in a good story.
Jonah shares many interesting examples for each of these and gives us ways to apply them to our message. Although every principle won't be applicable to every message, chances are you can apply one or two. He even gives us a checklist to help apply them, which I've abbreviated below.
  • Social currency: How can talking about your product make people look good and/or feel like insiders? 
  • Triggers: What cues can remind people of your product/message and how can you make that come to mind more?
  • Emotion: Does talking about your product or idea generate emotion, and especially the type that inspires sharing?
  • Public: Does using your product advertise itself and can people see when it's being used?
  • Practical value: Does your product, idea, or message allow others to disseminate useful information, helping them help others?
  • Stories: Have you included your message in a valuable, broader narrative that people will want to share?
There are too many examples to share, but two that come to mind are how Kit Kat brilliantly increased sales by linking their chocolate to coffee, which is a useful trigger given how often we all drink or think of coffee. The other is how Google made search something more personal and memorable by linking it to the story of student falling in love in Paris. (If you're not familiar with this campaign, you can see the video here.) 

The book also explains various tactics retailers use to make us feel we're getting a better deal (e.g., whether a sale should be indicated as a percentage or dollar amount), which is good to know since we're all consumers.

If you think back at the last video, Facebook post, or article you had to share, which of the STEPPS were in play? Which can you apply to your message?

Little Things Add Up

The entire premise behind Darren Hardy's The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, and Your Success is that the little actions and choices we make today add up to huge differences over time.

Darren reminds us that success is not something bought for $39.99 or via magic pill, but something that we all have access to if we are willing to put in the effort and time and keep at it consistently. If we are willing to make one small change today, and keep making that small change forever, that change can be the difference between us being fit or fat, or wealthy or unemployed over time. He demonstrates this with various examples that are hard to ignore.

And since doing anything forever seems daunting, he suggests you start with 3 weeks, by when you're on the way to making it a habit and it is therefore easier to maintain. Darren gives us many other useful tips and tools to help us achieve these small changes and ultimate success.

It's also never too late to start. Even if you've made poor choices up until now, it's never too late to start making better choices. Anyone can start that right now and with patience and perseverance, reap those rewards. 

I enjoyed reading the book and needed the reminder that everything, regardless of how small, adds up. I also enjoyed reading Darren's productivity tips and morning ritual, which included a half hour of reading and then evaluating his most important priorities for the day.

So if there is no excuse not to start now, what small change for the better can you make this second?

What Leaders Are and Are Not

As someone who loves to read about inspiring leaders and aspires to be one herself, reading Jeffrey Pfeffer's Leadership BS was difficult.

His main premise is that despite all the books, courses, and coaches out there, leadership and workplaces are worst off because of all the "BS" that's espoused by the "leadership" industry.

Although I may not agree with everything he says, he did make some good points I'd like to share:
  1. measure what you want to enforce;
  2. the characteristics we want from leaders don't get them to the top;
  3. leaders being humble and authentic needs to be taken and used in context;
  4. leadership is not an all or nothing or an either/or thing;
  5. pay attention to a leader's actions rather than his/her words;
  6. and sometimes leaders have to do bad things to do the most good.
So for example, a humble leader is great but humble people are rarely assertive enough to make it to the top. And yes, being "authentic" is desirable, but what does that really mean? Who you are changes, so which "you" should you be true to? And what if being true to yourself is inappropriate or bad for your company? 

Reading the last example made me mentally snort. Obviously a professional would not do something inappropriate but that does not mean you can't be yourself. To me being authentic is figuring out your own flavor of leadership, which also allows you to be the most fulfilled and best version of yourself.

Which of the six things that I listed above do you think "leaders" need most work on and why?

Sell Yourself First

Grant Cardone, author of Sell or Be Sold: How to Get Your Way in Business and in Life, is what he calls a professional salesperson.

The reason many of us associate selling with slime, as per Grant, is due to the amateurs who have given the field a bad name. He explains that a professional salesperson is in it to help and truly believes it is a disservice to allow a potential customer to walk away unsold.

This of course requires that you be totally sold on your service or product first. If you do not believe it is the absolute best and own or use it yourself, you have little chance of selling others on it. And if it is the best, price is not an issue since it's well worth it.

Although Grant is a bit extreme in his approach to sales (he never eats meals with anyone he cannot sell to), I appreciated his advise about needing to sell yourself first. 

I also appreciated Grant emphasizing the listening and communication aspects of sales and reminding us that we all need to sell—whether a service, product, or our ideas. Therefore being a good salesperson, whether that is your title or not, is key to succeeding in life and work.

Are you a good salesperson? What do you think makes you one?

How to Succeed at Being New

How many times in your life were you new? Whether starting a new job or relationship, moving to a new neighborhood, joining a new organization, or just being new to a gathering, we do this hundreds of times in our lifetime. As per Keith Rollag, author of What to Do When You're New: How to Be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful in New Situations, there are definite steps you can take to succeed at being new.

Keith starts off the book by listing the five skills necessary to do "new" well:
  1. introduce ourselves to strangers;
  2. learn and remember names;
  3. ask questions;
  4. seek out and start new relationships; and
  5. perform new things in front of others.
He then spends a chapter on each of these, giving tips on how to overcome them.

As an introvert, I still have issues introducing myself to strangers in large gatherings but the one I need to work on most is remembering names. I was glad to read that this is quite common and that we all have difficulty with this, since our brains are not wired to remember names easily. We can, however, improve our ability to do so, and below are a few of the many tips Keith shares:
  • use social media to find an image of the person you'll be meeting so you can practice associating their name and "face" before meeting them;
  • actively listen to their name as they say it and then repeat it back to them within the conversation;
  • as soon as you leave their presence, write their name down and then review it later.
And if the above hasn't worked, he provides tips on how to ask for their name again without it being too awkward.

Keith finishes with an entire chapter on how we can help others be new by providing tips for each of the new skills they'll need to learn.

Think back to the last time you were the newbie. Which of the five skills was most challenging for you? How can you help someone else overcome that?

Review: Not Taught: What It Takes to be Successful in the 21st Century that Nobody's Teaching You

Not Taught: What It Takes to be Successful in the 21st Century that Nobody's Teaching You Not Taught: What It Takes to be Successful in the 21st Century that Nobody's Teaching You by Jim Keenan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We all know that there are things in life not taught in school, and if you're lucky, you pick them up in time to succeed at work and life. Well, Jim Keenan—after figuring them out for himself after being let go yet again—decided to help us all discover them sooner.

Many of Jim's "lessons" are not easy. They expect us to expand our network, create content, think, take risks, learn to sell, build expertise instead of experience, keep learning, and many other things that many of us rather not do. But as Jim learned firsthand, in this new and quickly changing land of work, these are the things necessary to stand out and to not only succeed, but to also have control of your future and options to fall back on.

The book is fairly short and a quick read, so I recommend it to anyone and everyone who wants a life with more options and control.

Review: Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World

Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World by Kelly Hoey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As an introvert at heart, "networking" has always been something I struggled with and have had to do more of than I'd ideally like. J. Kelly Hoey, in her book Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World, teaches the smart and targeted way to do this—even if you're an introvert and especially in today's world.

So networking is not about exchanging business cards or asking people to help you get a job. And it definitely should not be done only when you need help but always, to build relationships that last and to benefit both sides. And networking is everything you do, from the social media you participate in to how you respond to your email to which groups you choose to participate in.

Even if you think you're a good networker, Kelly and the many expert networkers she interviewed will share tips to further improve your networking game. And for the rest of us, this is a must read.

What's Your Mental Hangup?

Is there something everyone keeps telling you you're good at and your response has been denial? Well, perhaps you should rethink this.

I just finished reading Laura Berman Fortgang's book Now What? Know Who Your Are and Get What You Want, 90 Days to a New Life Direction yesterday, and she advises using this technique—paying attention to what others attribute to you—as a way to find your purpose. I had read it, but only today while at the gym did the dots connect for me. (So everything they say about exercise getting your brain juices going is true.)

For the last ten plus years, I've been told how great I am at networking and/or what a great network I have. I'd always scoff since I actually hate networking, but I enjoy getting to know people, talking to them, and making connections. This is why I actually enjoyed and succeeded at my first business development job more than I expected.

Despite this, I did not consider myself a salesperson and actually resisted getting another sales job for a long time. I'm an operations person and all about process and people. But the people part means I enjoy interacting and helping others. And if I want to eventually get the C-level opportunity I am working towards, I need to get over my mental hangup and recognize that sales is necessary and not evil. Perhaps I need to reread Daniel Pink's To Sell Is Human.

Ironically, I do have sales experience from my college and post-college days but had forgotten about it until recently. And even more ironically, some of the warmest and most helpful people I know are salespeople. I should not let the ones that give the profession a bad name ruin it for me and the others, nor should I allow my own mental hangup to get in the way of what everyone has recognized comes naturally to me.

Fortunately I got over myself in time for a great new part-time opportunity that will allow me to use all my talents, including the one I didn't admit to until now.

So are you fighting your own mental hangups and yourself? What are you going to do to overcome this?

PS I wrote this blog post last year, and although my situation and focus has changed, the lessons learned at the time I wrote this are still valid (although further evolved) so I have left the post as originally written.

Review: Settle for More

Settle for More Settle for More by Megyn Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit that I picked up Megyn Kelly's book since I remember her recent altercations with our new president, but her story is so much more than that.

Megyn, who was raised in a family where money was always tight, learned to work hard and long from an early age. On sheer will and perseverance, she became a successful attorney but then realized that the long hours and constant acrimony were not for her. She has always chosen to "settle for more" and therefore figured out how to transform her experience as a lawyer, and her related talents of research and storytelling, to become a successful journalist.

Along the way Megyn left a bad marriage, found her soul mate, had children, learned to juggle them all to varying degrees of success and yet stay true to herself and not settle for less.

Regardless of your political leanings or whether you're a Fox fan or not, Megyn's memoir is a fascinating and well-written book on a woman's journey to find her calling and self while settling for more. I highly recommend it.

How to Figure Out What Next When Transitioning

If you're like most people I know, you've found yourself between jobs and wondering "now what?" at least once in your life. Laura Berman Fortgang, author of Now What? Know Who Your Are and Get What You Want, 90 Days to a New Life Direction, takes you through an entire program on how to get unstuck.

Laura, who herself went through a career transition earlier in her life and has since coached many others on how to do so, takes us through the program she does in-person with her clients. The book is meant to take the entire 90 days, with each chapter representing a week's worth of reading, introspection, and contemplation. I admit I didn't do all the exercises nor take 90 days to get through the book, but it was still interesting.

The book and program are meant to help you figure out your "it"—your purpose—so that you can get back on your Life's Blueprint. Laura takes us through an exploration of our past since it is often the clue we need to figure out what our purpose is. Part of this is looking for patterns and activities you enjoyed back then; the other part is getting through the mental hangups and false beliefs that may block your purpose and happiness.

Laura then explains that our purpose is probably right in front of our noses. What do others keep asking your help with? What do friends and family believe you're all about? And what is the essence of your dream without the package that may not be possible?

Each step of the program is depicted with anecdotes from either Laura's own life or from those of her clients. It was very interesting reading how they got clarity and ultimately happiness by asking these questions and figuring out their purpose.

And the book does not recommend giving up your day job to live on purpose alone: it recommends planning for the transition. Laura even has a chapter that helps people learn to track their finances, budget, and cut costs if necessary. 

Have you ever found yourself stuck and unsure what's next? How did you figure out how to go forward?

Your One Word as Your Compass

Although I'm a fan of personality tests as a way to learn more about oneself, when a recent business book suggested figuring out your one "superpower" so you can flaunt it and be successful, I was stumped. There are two or three things I'm fairly good at, so which of them is my one superpower?

That's why when I picked up Evan Carmichael's book Your One Word: The Powerful Secret to Creating a Business and Life That Matter, I was doubtful I could narrow my core values into one word.

Evan breaks his book into three parts: the first to help you figure out your one word, the second to teach you how to build a campaign and movement with it, and the third how to apply it to your business. 

It took me nearly all of part one to actually figure out my one word, and a few days of just thinking about it. I considered quite a few others until I settled on the one that resonated most.

My one word is #Build. 

Evan differentiates between the lowercase, hashtag-less version of your word and the uppercase with hashtag so I am doing the same. And the difference is that your word—capitalized and with hashtag—means more to you than the one obvious meaning. Evan's word (#Believe) has three meanings for him, as does mine.

To me, #Build encompasses the three things that I value most and consider my strengths: I #Build solutions, connections, and opportunity.

Figuring this out was surprisingly liberating and as Evan explains, makes decisions easier since all should be made from the perspective of your one word. This is my compass. If an opportunity or job does not allow me to build—either solutions, connections, or opportunity—it is not right for me and I should walk away. And if a person I am considering working with or befriending is destructive—the opposite of #Build, what I believe in—that person is not one I will be happy associating with long term.

Regardless of where you are in life or in your career, knowing your one word and having its guiding compass is invaluable, so I highly recommend this book and the exercises Evan offers to get to your one word.

And learning more about oneself never gets old. Enjoy the journey.

Grit Your Way to Success

What do you think is the true secret to success? Do you think it's talent, luck, wealth, serendipity, or something else? 

As per Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, authors of Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You From Ordinary to Extraordinary, the answer is grit.

Based on their research and the anecdotes they share, having the drive to keep working through thick and thin, overcoming obstacles as they come along, and just keep going is what it takes. And many of the true successes through the centuries were not the people born with a silver spoon or extra helpings of talent, but those whose unlucky start in life taught them to persevere.

To be successful, one must be like the bamboo. Unlike all other woods, the bamboo is flexible, grows in all types of climates, is ready to be used as is, and is the last standing in a tornado. The bamboo is able to adapt and that is a key aspect of grit: not only to keep going but to be flexible and adapt to lessons learned and hardships experienced.

I can definitely relate to the need for hard work and am encouraged that grit is enough to overcome a late start or other misfortunes. But the question or difficulty comes in knowing what is worth persevering for and when it is better to quit and redirect that focus. 

Sometimes either you, plans, or life changes and the thing you've been working hard for falls short. If that thing is still your passion, your dream, the thing you need to do above all else, or something you still believe in, then yes, keep going. But if you find that you were wrong or for whatever reason you no longer believe, sometimes you need to let go to be able to move on and find your true dream.

Adaptation comes in different flavors as does grit.

Have you overcome with grit? Have you had to let go to and redirect for success?

Review: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember when I first realized that we all needed communication and sales skills on a daily basis. Chris Voss, former expert FBI negotiator and author of Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, made me realize the same thing about negotiating.

Negotiation skills aren't only necessary when you need a raise/promotion or are closing a big deal, nor do they only apply to the hostage situations that Chris shares. They can literally be used every day both at home and at work. Every time you're trying to get someone to back you, provide more information than they're inclined to, or do things your way, you can use negotiation skills to reach your desired outcome without ill will.

And that's the part I like most about Chris's approach: it doesn't require strong arming or any other questionable approaches, just being a good listener and approaching negotiation differently. Part of his approach throws out many of the long held negotiation beliefs; for example, Chris teaches to get to "no" rather than yes and that it's okay to show "weakness" and apologize, just to name two.

So not only is this book a very entertaining read because of Chris's anecdotes, both from his time with the FBI and how his students' have applied what he's taught, but also a very actionable read. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to get more out of their communication and negotiations.