On Reflection and Self Analysis

A little while ago I celebrated my birthday, and it got me thinking.

We’re getting older all the time, but birthdays just make it more official- they help us to keep score of our lives in a sense. I think that birthdays are a perfect time to take stock of one’s life and ruminate on the year gone by and ponder the year to come. To me, this exercise helps me to refocus, repurpose, and redefine who I’d like to be at this new milestone. After all, life is a process of continual evolution, isn’t it?

Here is an outline the exercise that I planned and went through this weekend. 

Section 1: Key Area Checks

Begin by asking: “On a scale of 1 to 3, how did I do in each of these areas over the last year?”

1.1. Mental stimulation and general mindset?
1.2. Health and body?
1.3. Career progress?
1.4. Social (relationships, friends, family)?
1.5. Personal finances?

(I use a short scale of 1 to 3 meaning poor/decent/great as it’s a lot simpler to get an accurate estimate of how one really feels).

Once each area is rated, go on to review each area and ask:

- Was this an improvement over the previous year?
- What one thing can I do to improve this area moving forward? (Oftentimes, just one thing can make a significant difference).

Next up, it’s time to see where I went wrong.

Section 2: Negative Experiences

Here are the questions I asked:

2.1. What was my biggest mistake this year?
2.2. What was my biggest setback? What caused it?
2.3. What new negative habits did I form, if any?

Once those things are actually identified and written down, it becomes so much easier to learn from mistakes and take steps to avoid (or lower the risk of) those situations in future.

Finally, it’s always best to end things on a positive note.

Section 3: Positive Experiences

And the questions are:

3.1. What achievement made me happiest in the last year?
3.2. What is my fondest memory of the last year?
3.3. What new positive habits did I form?
3.4. What am I most grateful for?

Although very simple, this little exercise provides useful closure on a year past and paves the way for a frank internal conversation on deciding how to spend the next twelve months. 

This post was focused on self-reflection, so I will save my thoughts on planning ahead for another day. 

If you’re into this sort of thing, I strongly recommend that you check out Michael Hyatt’s fantastic blog post, Seven Questions to Ask About Last Year.

When Effectiveness Trumps Efficiency

In my last blog post, I discussed a system for eliminating bottlenecks and making startups more efficient (i.e. doing more faster) across every area of the organization. I did not at all delve into the concept of “effectiveness”, as contrasted with that of “efficiency”.

To me, efficiency is all about how you go about getting things done, whereas effectiveness deals with a entirely different subject: what it is that you choose to do.

When I was in high school, I had an exceptional Physics tutor who would constantly tell his students to “work smart, not hard” and “be effective” with our learning methods. He showed us alternative methods of studying and problem solving that were dramatically faster than the popular methods being taught in most schools, as a result his students consistently outperformed others.

This simple truth applies to just about any endeavour- from learning a language, to losing weight, to running a startup. 

With resources usually being scarce in a fast growing startup company, one of the greatest risks that they face is doing the wrong things very well, without knowing that those activities are adding little value to the company.

Becoming effective requires a combination of trial and error, learning from others’ experiences, and most of all critical, often stomach wrenching thinking on the part of the individual or team involved.

Once a month, it would be useful for the founders and team to go through this Q&A exercise aimed at seeking greater effectiveness:

A. Elimination

  1. What activities can we stop doing immediately that will have little impact on our company goals?
  2. Do we need to change expectations of any customers, or fire any customers that are taking advantage of us?
  3. Is everybody working on something critical? If not, why not?
  4. Are we paying for any services that we don’t need?

B. Initiation

  1. Do we need to invest in any new software to help our business?
  2. Should we hire a new team member to fulfill a specific role?
  3. Are we missing a value-adding activity that our peers are doing? What?
  4. Does anybody need to go for training to learn a new skill that will be beneficial?

Every time, try to table a set of action items, starting with at least one, with a definitive deadline to implementation. Performing this exercise would be like taking a consultant’s view of your own organization. And who better to improve a company than those most familiar with it?

Often, improvement stems from reexamining our basic assumptions and turning them inside out to see what we end up with. It’s a well known fact that effective people (and teams) are highly capable of achieving greater results with fewer resources.

As I mentioned earlier on, this way of thinking applies as much to one’s personal life as it does to business. Periodically, we all need to stop and ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?”.

Martial arts legend Bruce Lee epitomized a person seeking to be effective in everything he did. (His entire martial arts philosophy of Jeet Kun Do was premised on a fluid style that borrowed whatever worked from other disciplines and discarded the rest). Here are two of my favourite quote of his to drive the point home:

"It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential."

And:

"Defeat is a state of mind. No one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as reality. To me, defeat in anything is merely temporary, and its punishment is but an urge for me to greater effort to achieve my goal. Defeat simply tells me that something is wrong in my doing; it is a path leading to success and truth."

On “The Art of Exceptional Living” by Jim Rohn

Jim-rohn
As the first quarter of 2012 draws to a close I find myself reflecting on the months already past, and envisioning what is to come for the rest of the year.

How am I doing? Where am I going? How will I get there? These are some of the questions swirling through my head right now.
When searching for motivation and focus, I believe in following the fundamentals. For me, nobody says it better and more clearly than Jim Rohn. He is the grandfather of the “motivational speaker and author” movement that swept the world, and for good reason. (Actually it’s possible that the original motivational author was Seneca, but I digress). To put his credibility into perspective, Jim Rohn was the first mentor of the considerably more famous Tony Robbins.

Today I took the time to re-listen to Jim Rohn’s excellent audio book, “The Art of Exceptional Living”. It’s under two hours and it will change your life. Rohn’s simple concepts and pointed logic are as powerful and razor sharp as anything I’ve ever come across. If I could only have one audio book, this would be it.
Here are some of my special notes from the reading below.

- Personal philosophy is the cornerstone of your achievement.
- Read, read, read! Build a library with a wide variety of interests and topics. Focus on the best stuff. Avoid the junk. Books allow you to access the wisdom of the world. Read books over again, and extract information carefully. “You don’t hear a song that you like and only listen to it once, do you?”
- Act on your knowledge! Don’t live a life that is 90% under-utilized. Keep pouring out the ideas and actions… more will come in. Rest is a necessity, not an objective. Keep acting. Act with intent, while the energy and emotion are highest. (And avoid diminishing intent).
- Create greater value. The market- i.e. reality- will only reward greater value.
- Share. Sharing (e.g. books, knowledge, ideas, talks) doesn’t only help others, it helps you- especially via repetition.

In addition to my notes, I also took down a few quotes that stood out to me: - “Don’t wish that it were easier, wish that you were better. Don’t wish for fewer challenges- wish for greater wisdom”.
- “Work harder on your self than on your job”.
- “I’ll look after me… for you- if you’ll look after you… for me”.
- “If you wish to be successful, study success. If you wish to be happy, study happiness. If you wish to be wealthy, study wealth.”
- “You may not be able to do all you find out, but make sure you find out all you can do.”
- “It’s not what happens that determines your future, it’s what you do about it.”
- “Everybody has to be good at either of two things: Planting in the spring or begging in the fall.”
- ”Motivation alone isn’t enough. Take an idiot and motivate him and you have a motivated idiot.”

Lastly, here is Jim Rohn’s famous definition of failure and success:”Failure: A few errors in judgement, repeated every day.”
"Success: A few simple disciplines, repeated every day."

Living in Turbulent Times

Rollercoaster

A few days ago I had coffee with a friend of mine who works for a large, successful corporation. 

He mentioned to me that in the challenging business climate, things had gotten tougher and many of his colleagues were no longer as happy with their positions as they used to be. This is a common theme that I’ve noticed all over the place recently. But in the case of my friend, he also mentioned that his dissatisfied colleagues were waiting for “things to calm down” and become more stable before they did anything risky. Then he made a fantastic counterpoint, which I want to share.

The world economy is going through some serious changes right now. Bubbles are forming, currencies are failing, and power is shifting in major ways. Those people who try to shelter themselves from any and all risks are probably going to (a) be waiting a lot longer than they bargained for and (b) miss out on lots of opportunities. Those who are more comfortable coping with risk and forging ahead with their ambitions regardless of this, are more likely to succeed and lead happier lives.
So, perhaps now is a good time to re-examine our tolerance for risk. And buckle up for the next few years—it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Success Is Never A Straight Line

Success_graph

When observing successful people, it’s all too easy to think that their progress went in a straight, continuous upward line, with no hiccups along the way.

That is almost never the case. Everybody goes through setbacks, course changes and meanderings. That’s why most entrepreneurs refer to startups as a “rollercoaster”- one day you’re up, and the next day, down. A trait I have noticed of many successful people is their ability to persist and keep pushing forward, staying on course with their long term vision regardless of their immediate, temporary conditions. 
It’s easier to join the dots and make sense of it all looking backwards, with the big picture in mind.

Life Lessons from “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch

All achievement in life begins with the spark of inspiration. If motivation keeps the internal fire burning while pursuing a goal, inspiration is the matchstick. And as the old saying goes, “You can’t light a fire with a wet match”.
Last night while doing a little reflecting, I remembered the incredibly moving talk by Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon University in September 2007 titled “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. The lecture was part of a tradition at Carnegie Mellon for retiring professors who were to give a lecture on whatever they wished to share with students as the last lecture they gave before they died—metaphorically speaking of course. The cosmic irony in this case is that Prof. Pausch had terminal pancreatic cancer at the time of his lecture (he passed away several months later).

The cancer did not stop him that day. His lecture was so profound that it ended up being watched by millions, converted into a book, and for a two hour presentation—it changed the world. 
Here’s the video which I highly recommend:


To me, some of the most memorable life lessons that he shared were (my favourites in bold):
  • Always have something to bring to the table- it helps (i.e. be good at something).
  • Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.
  • Leadership is a highly valuable skill. In Star Trek, Captain Kirk was far from the smartest officer- but he had the skill of leadership.
  • When you want something from someone, try to ask them at a time when they can’t say no.
  • If you wait long enough, people will surprise you (i.e. if you’re pissed with someone now, eventually they will show you their good side).
  • When people give you feedback, cherish it and use it.
  • Don’t complain. Just work harder.
  • When you do the right thing, good stuff has a way of happening.
  • Be prepared, because luck is where preparation meets opportunity.
  • Brick walls are there for a reason. They help us to prove how badly we want something. They are there to separate us from the people who don’t really want to achieve their goal badly enough.
Randy Pausch’s last lecture will always be special to me, as a source of valuable lessons, and a personal inspiration. 

Wisdom From The Ages - Cicero

History is an excellent teacher. It’s remarkable how many of society’s current problems are destined to be relived over and over again. Yet the cycle could be broken by sound memory, consideration and judgement.
 
A great way to instruct ourselves out of making old mistakes is to be heavily familiar with history, modern and ancient, in the relevant areas of our lives. This applies to business, politics, and everything else right down to personal happiness. To be fair, very few people can do much more than scratch the surface of historical knowledge (and I’m one of them) due to the commitment to learning that it takes, but in this department even a little can go a very long way. Rule number one for the learning process is: read more books
 
One thing I enjoy doing is sharing good quotes. Here’s an ancient one that I really like:
 
"The national budget must be balanced. The public debt must be reduced; the arrogance of the authorities must be moderated and controlled. Payments to foreign governments must be reduced, if the nation doesn’t want to go bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."
- Marcus Cicero, 55 BC - Roman author, orator, philosopher & politician (106 BC - 43 BC)
 
Many thanks to my friend Benoit Brookens for sharing it with me first.