Most books sell you the romanticized version of a journey towards living the life of your dreams. This is the book that DOESN’T. Instead, it takes you down the darker, less serene route to fulfilment of your ambitions. It awakens you to the negative future you’re creating, resulting in a life unfulfilled. It compels you to confront the undesired consequences of not changing. It highlights the value of pain to motivate you to transformation and reinvention – NOW.
Your identitykeeps you stuck
To change, learn to reframe the stories you tell yourself
There’s power in what follows the phrase “I am” – choose wisely
Learn to think like a scientist
Use dark motivation – feel the weight of the consequences of not changing – to transform yourself.
“True change doesn’t happen until you decide to change. You won’t decide to change unless not changing is worse.”
“Choices have consequences” – past decisions might lead to a regret filled future, but you can choose to change direction at any point.
How? Choose to reinvent yourself.
This is not merely about self-improvement or setting new goals. This is much more fundamental. This is about instigating the death of your former selves, and creating anew.
“One has to kill a few of one’s natural selves to let the rest grow—a very painful slaughter of innocents” (Henry Sidgwick).
It’s not the past we need to let go of – we need to let go of the identity we have created around our past selves.
You have to be willing to discard an identity you’ve spent a long time creating – you have to be willing to lose what you already have, to give you room to grow anew.
It’s not about the change itself – you have to become the type of person who is capable of making the change you want to see.
You need to believe change is possible – change is so much harder when you see yourself as a fixed entity with hard-wired and inescapable characteristics. Instead adopt a growth mindset.
USE DARKER MOTIVATIONS FOR CHANGE
Conventional motivational texts merely encourage you to “follow your dreams” – this doesn’t work. There’s a lack of urgency and drive.
“When the future isn’t here yet, you can always put it off”. The problem with the approach of just “following your dreams” is that your dreams can easily be shelved – you easily get side-tracked by the everyday demands of life – then in years to come you look back and wonder what happened. “How the hell did I end up here?”
Instead, to gather the necessary momentum needed to drive transformative change, focus on the consequences of not following your dreams. Envision the end result of not changing, of continuing on with the status quo.
“One of the reasons we don’t make behavior change in the present is because we don’t feel the weight of the consequences we’ll experience in the future.”
“If you can’t figure out what will help you live a better future, figure out what will make your future worse and avoid it.”
“When you truly see where your future is headed, you’ll be inspired to change”. You need “your situation to hurt bad enough to want to change”. Use thatpain to say yes to anything that will move you in a new direction.
If you don’t take direction you effectively “fall asleep at the wheel” of your life, and the end result is ending up in a ditch.
“Choke the life out of the person who continues to daydream and do nothing.”
POWER OF IDENTITY
“The reality you’re experiencing right now is nothing more than a set of stories you’re telling yourself.”
We humans have a great ability to rationalise our situation, committing to a started course of action even if it leads us down a less than desired path, rather than re-committing to change.
To help you realise what you are committing to – perhaps unwittingly – you need to make your stories conscious.
The “I am” story is a powerful one. “The words you put after “I am” determine the quality of your life.”
E.g. “I am lazy” helps you uncover your story and beliefs. By making a subtle change in the phrase, you can change the way you view and feel about yourself. “I can work on becoming more motivated”- provides a sense of space, agency and power to change.
“Broke is a circumstance and poor is an identity”. The former gives you more agency to change direction.
Reframing your story helps you to reshape the identity that is keeping you stuck.
Treat yourself like the hero in your own story. Use phrases and stories that enable you to move from X to Y.
YOU ARE ENOUGH
Stop believing you are not enough. You do not need to find your passion “like it’s playing a game of hide and seek with you”. You do not need to get “x” to feel “y”. The key to a better life does not exist outside of you.
“The most subtle and insidious idea in existence is that you’re not enough.”
Getting unstuck, moving forward, changing direction is about elimination – unpeeling what’s holding you back rather than needing to add more.
Certainty does not exist. We often settle for being an employee, feeling this gives us security over income and work, but all we are doing is putting our fate into someone else’s hands.
“Stop waiting to be picked” – create your own path, don’t leave it to fate, don’t leave your life outcome in the hands of another. Rely on the person who knows you best – YOU.
If you keep waiting to be found, “you’ll wait for the government to fix the economy, you’ll wait for the perfect moment to write that book … you’ll blink and years will have gone by … you’ll be a different version of yourself… [one with] a hardened heart, resignation, desperation, and repetition to the point of insanity”.
“If you continue to wake up and go to that same mediocre job for the rest of your life while avoiding choosing yourself, you’ll regret it.”
Develop a side hustle, say yes to new opportunities – don’t settle. Expand the breadth of opportunities that will allow you to be in the driving seat of your own life.
THINK LIKE A SCIENTIST
“Passion doesn’t come from introspection. It comes from action.”
Finding your passion does involve uncovering what’s already inside you, but you can’t sit alone in a room and decide – discovering your passion comes from doing, taking, experimenting.
Interests alone are not enough to succeed – “seeds of interests [are] waiting to sprout, but they won’t grow without watering them with action”.
“Reinvention on a grand scale comes with dozens of smaller reinventions, and those reinventions come through experiments.”
Think like a scientist– develop a hypothesis of what you think you might like, then test that theory out. Observe what works and what doesn’t work. Discard what doesn’t feel aligned and capitalise on what does. Test further, pivot, pilot – then decide on a path.
E.g. your hypothesis could be “If I start writing, I’ll enjoy it”. Don’t leave it there – take action – set forth and test that hypothesis out.
Do not quit your test too early – it is challenging to stick with the early period of incompetence in learning something new – keep going unless you are sure this isn’t the right area of work for you. “The goal of your experiment is to see if it’s a path worth pursuing long-term”. Make your decision to stick or quit based on what gives you the best chance of living the way you want to live in the long term.
How do you know if you are on the right path:
1) How do the “little victories” feel? E.g. do you feel an element of success or joy when you publish your first few blog posts? How you feel about the small wins along the way will help give you indicators as to whether you are on the right track.
2) Do you feel “on flow” whilst carrying out activities? “Flow happens when you become so immersed in what you’re doing you lose your sense of self. It’s also known as being ‘in the zone’”.
4) Do you find yourself thinking about doing the work in the longer term or full time?
We sometimes expect too much of passion too early on – you are more likely to feel passion after you get good at something. Building skills involves lots of highs and lows, difficulties and challenges along the way.
“If you give yourself enough time to get good at something, you’ll feel passionate about it and you’ll have the skills you need to make a real impact.”
When you build a valuable skill, you gain “career capital” – this gives you autonomy – you can start to set your own terms, break free and create a business that aligns with your desired lifestyle.
“Success means you did the things you said you were going to do.”
This means tackling the beast known as resistance.
“Resistance is a silent killer, waiting to pounce on your hopes and smother your dreams.”
No matter how much you succeed or how far you go, resistance will be your unwanted companion – the more you face up to this, the easier it will be to plan for its sneaky attacks towards failure. “Know your enemy and know yourself.”
Resistance is especially powerful at the beginning of a new journey.
How to face the enemy of resistance?
1) Remember your rewards – when you encounter setbacks and challenges, think about the rewards you will get from succeeding – passing the finishing line, publishing that book, seeing your children’s faces beam with pride …
2) Protect your mind-space – a significant element of reinventing yourself is changing the way you think – you need to protect the space between your ears – feed it with healthy information and guard it against negativity. Build your filter. When you hear something that doesn’t help you become better, dismiss it as noise – beware of what’s in it for those trying to feed you such information. Ask – “would you trade places with the person giving you the information?” If not, dismiss it.
When you want to change, don’t just focus on the positive actions needed to get there, think about and pre-plan for the obstacles that will get in your way.
Work on removing as many barriers as possible.
E.g. your environment can help enhance your journey or detract from it.
Stop focusing on negative circumstances, wishing for something different, fighting against what is. Accept the situation. This allows you to determine options and enable your power to move forward to your desired reality.
Read the book here and find out more about adopting the approach of a scientist to reinvent yourself.
You can react negatively and try to sabotage those who inspire such feelings within you.
Or you can harness its flow, and use it to delve deeper – into your true wants and needs. In this way, envy reveals its precious value, helping you to discover your deepest desires.
For those of us who struggle to determine what we truly want in life…
Or those overwhelmed by a sheer multiplicity of options…
Or folk seemingly lacking in desire because it’s been buried so deep –
Choose to harness the stirring power of envy, to propel you into your purpose.
Don’t waste the gift of envy. Trap its power, seize its energy, uncover its insight and lessons.
Lesson 1: Envy focuses on lack
It causes us to focus on what someone else has that in comparison to what we lack.
Why not focus on what you do have? And the great experiences you’ve already had? Let envy remind you of your blessings and fortunes, of what has been and continues to be good in your life.
Lesson 2: Challenge yourself more
Perhaps your envy is pointing to the fact that you are not challenging yourself enough, or not in a meaningful way. Perhaps you are not envious of a person’s specific achievement, but are simply envious of the fact that they are achieving, that they are growing and seeing success in their world, that they are feeling fulfilled and on flow.
Perhaps your life is filled with “ok” but not with “wow” – it’s not truly fulfilling. This could indicate that your life has become too comfortable or too narrow – after all your life and experiences are a sign of your exposure. Perhaps you need to add more peak experiences and more defining moments.
Make your life so fulfilling – so awe inspiring – that you have no time to focus on what others are doing.
Lesson 3: Harness the power of envy – delve deep, be specific
Think for a moment. Someone close to you – we’ll call him Fred – announces they are about to do “X”, and you feel deeply envious. What would that “X” be … FOR YOU?
Travel the world for a year?
Set up a bakery?
Found a charity?
Become a New York Times best-selling novelist?
Win an award for top entrepreneur of the year?
Write down your X or Xs. Write down those desires that inspire deep feelings of envy to rise within you.
Pay attention to those feelings – they are trying to stir something inside you – to awaken you to a part of yourself that perhaps you’ve denied, forgotten, or buried. Take the approach that every emotion is trying to reveal something beneficial to you. Use the power of envy to fuel you towards taking action to get what is truly meaningful in life.
It’s now time to delve deeper. It’s time to explore the detail of why those Xs would make you so envious of Fred.
Let’s take Fred the novelist. Why exactly are you so envious of his achievement? Is it because he has published a book, and this has also been a long-term ambition of yours? Is it because he’s been recognised on the world stage for his craft and you want that validation too? Is it because he’s had an impact and delivered value for his audience, and you also want to make a meaningful contribution too?
Writing is a such a wide field – what kind of book has he written? Fiction? Non-fiction? About the threat to Beluga Whales or the downfall of the Ottoman Empire? Would you be more envious if he had released a book on the art of writing crime thrillers – a field much closer to your heart?
What about Fred the baker? Why are you envious of his trade? Is it because he’s been the first to open a gluten-free bakery in your town? Or is cake baking more of your passion – you would love to teach people how to bake instead?
Be specific about what it is you are envious of. Are you envious of Fred because he is travelling to Japan? Or would you be more envious if he was moving to St Lucia? Why?
Are you envious of Fred, simply because he has become an award-winning journalist or is it because he has been awarded for covering stories exposing modern day slavery in the fashion supply chain – because it’s important to you to be part of the movement to end this?
Take the time to write down the exact detail of what makes you truly envious. Let your envy of Fredtake you on a journey to discover what’s really meaningful to you.
Spend time digging deep beneath the veneer of the accomplishment you are envious of. This is because your envy is not about Fred.It’s about you. It’s all about you. Fred is a tool to help you uncover your deep authentic desires, your true passions that have meaning for you.
Lesson 4: A sense of mission
Another way to identify your deepest and most authentic desire is to focus on the bigger picture.
Do you feel a sense of mission around the accomplishment you envy?
For example, you find yourself being envious of your friend who is a local politician. Don’t stop there, take time to look wider than the actual role – which is just a concept, a label – it is instead an avenue that allows a person to express themselves. Do you feel committed to being of service to the public? To represent their needs and influence for change on their behalf? To serve this mission above and beyond and wider than the actual role you play in this? What do you truly believe in? What do you want to progress? What do you want to see continue and thrive?
There’s a difference in being envious of a role because of the attention, reward, or prestige it confers; and being envious because it’s a role you aspire to, as it allows you to bring forth your authentic contribution to the world. It takes discretion and determination to really delve beneath the layers and veneer of the roles society holds in high esteem, to really determine what truly suits you – what will truly satisfy you.
Let the mission beyond the role help you decide.
Lesson 5: Align your interests
No two people are the same. Even if you find yourself envious of a friend or colleague, when you delve deeper, you may find that you want a slightly different version of the goal they are developing. This difference in interests can be a positive ally in fulfilling desires as the realisation of big ambitions requires more than one person.
If your friend is setting up a restaurant and you feel a pang of envy, on investigating further, perhaps you realise your interest lies in being front of house and engaging with customers whereas your friend loves developing recipes and meals to delight guests. You realise you can indeed align your interests and work together instead of in competition or separately. You realise there are so many different avenues and possibilities within each niche and within the overall scope of a desire.
Lesson 6: Think in terms of contribution not competition
We spend so much time squabbling for domination or competing to be the best within the confines of relatively small spaces. Of course, competition exists for certain roles because there are a limited number of opportunities – we can’t all be Prime Minister in our lifetime.
But if we expand our scope beyond our immediate environment, we can see there’s a wealth of opportunities for us to be at our best. Just think – there are over 7 billion people in the world. That’s an immense number of problems to solve, and people needing our help and expertise.
If we think in terms of contribution, we can see that there’s enough space for us all to play our part. If we focus on enabling the best person to undertake a role (within a larger mission as above) given their particular blend of skills and characteristics, then there’s enough space for us all to contribute to the overall mission.
There’s enough space for all of us to enhance other people’s lives through music if we are not all looking to be the world’s top singer. There’s enough opportunities for us all to be leaders if we are not all looking to be the next Prime Minister.
There IS enough of the pie to go around. Competition becomes obsolete if we think in terms of contribution.
Lesson 7: Envy-inspiring desires and trade-offs
After identifying your envy-inspired desire, it’s time to pay attention to the reality of undertaking that goal. Theassociated lifestyle that would accompany achievement of that ambition – the hours, the length of any training or study required, financial implications, time away from home reduced time for socialising, etc. and any other trade-offs.
Delve deep and examine the pros and cons of the accomplishment you are envious of. Remember – there is a trade-off with every choice in life – having one thing means not having something else. It may help relieve the envy you feel once you acknowledge the sacrifices needed to achieve that goal – perhaps you realise they are sacrifices you aren’t in fact willing to make.
It’s about the whole package. Your envy needs to embrace the achievement of the goal as well as the work and trade-offs needed to get there. It’s not just about the external appearance of the package – the prestige, the rewards, the success. Envy loves these. Instead, a spotlight needs to be shone on the often undisclosed and unglamourous grind needed to achieve success.
Is your envy willing to undertake the trade-offs of success?
Lesson 8: Actualise your envy-inspired desire
Once you have identified your goal and are willing to embrace the trade-offs, it’s time to move from the world of ideas to reality. To really experience your envy-inspired desire in reality. It’s time to start implementing.
So, you want to open a bakery? Read a book or blog post by someone who has done the same. Start baking. Come up with a recipe. Research ingredients. Feel yourself becoming more aligned, interested and engaged as you start taking action towards fulfilment of your dream. Watch yourself become more motivated and less envious.
Perhaps you want to move abroad but are restricted in some way. What about travelling to the location for 2 weeks every 6 months? Or living there for 3 months of the year? In the meantime, read books, watch videos, spend time with people from that country – you can still be living the dream whilst on your way to full realisation of that dream. In fact, it’s an essential part of actualising the vision – building incrementally, taking actions no matter how small, and confirming the translation of the original idea into existence.
NO ROOM FOR envy
Embrace the power of envy. Envy isn’t something to run away from, to deny or repress. If harnessed correctly, envy can be our biggest blessing, helping us gain insight into our deepest needs and wants. The pang of envy can wake us up and help shine a light on our buried dreams and potential. It can show us where we have limited ourselves, where we have settled for less.
Our external circumstances can indeed have an impact on the full fulfilment of our desires. However, we can still strive to find small ways to live out our dreams. And in doing so – in honouring an authentic part of ourselves, we become happier – we become truly content.
This is important. Not just for you, but for all of us. Because the more we are at peace with ourselves, the more we are living our true path, the greater the harmony in the world.
So, live your best life – so there’s no room for envy.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. To become trapped by routine, enveloped by monotony – we start to lose our sparkle. Everyday life has a way of establishing a familiar melody, a chorus on repeat.
Don’t get me wrong, consistency is great, after all “success is found in your daily routine”. But sometimes, this cycle can end up stifling us, or keep us coasting along within the limits of our comfort zone.
Sometimes we need to shake things up – to grow, to progress – to truly live.
How do we break free?
Here are 10 quotes to help inspire a shift from stagnation to inspiration.
Just imagine for a moment – waking up tomorrow to the life of your dreams … What would you be doing? How would you feel?
Perhaps right now, particularly with COVID restrictions in place – your current life feels more restrictive or more challenging than you would like. Or perhaps the pandemic has allowed you to live a more meaningful life.
Either way, let this quote reawaken dreams or passions that may have become buried or hidden by the demands of everyday life, or the challenges and restrictions of current times. Let it reinvigorate a sense of enthusiasm for life and allow you to re-assess what is truly meaningful to you.
Are you making the most of each opportunity that comes your way? Are you even spotting opportunities, seeing possibilities that lie before you? Or do you remain stuck in a rut, because you are waiting for some external circumstance to change?
Yes, sometimes life calls on us to be patient.
But, if we are always waiting for the perfect moment to strike, life will pass us by. Sometimes we need to make the most of the circumstances life presents us with, in that moment. The opportunity may not be perfect – but we can use what we have as a channel to move closer to what we truly want. Sometimes it may take a little creativity, a shift in perspective or a slight pivot.
And no matter the situation, we are always given the opportunity to express what is innate to us – ourselves.
Sometimes we feel stuck in a rut because we believe we have tried everything possible and find ourselves at a dead end. Sometimes this is a sign that we need to let go, but at other times we haven’t reached the end of our search. We simply need a slight tweak in direction – a pivot in our perspective – that will open up a new range of possibilities.
DELVE DEEPER: This quote is another way of saying “never give up”. If you are stuck in a rut, check out these stories of persistence to help inspire you to keep going.
5.“You can easily recognize that something is coming from Ego because when you get it, it doesn’t satisfy you.”
Are your goals ones that truly satisfy you? Are you chasing external status and rewards rather than true fulfilment? Perhaps you feel stuck in a life that looks good from the outside but feels stale internally? You have lost motivation and drive because you are pursuing goals that are not truly meaningful to you.
If you find yourself stuck in a rut, perhaps you’re not challenging yourself. We often run away from fear, but not feeling fear can be a sign that our goals are too small. Is there a challenge you can set to help you break free from stagnation, and reinvigorate a sense of possibility and expansion within yourself?
Who in your life holds you accountable? To your standards, to your visions, to your true realisation? Who cuts through your excuses and pushes you much further than you could ever believe possible? Who challenges you to get out of your comfort zone, to stop coasting through life? Are you around people who truly want to see you grow?
DELVE DEEPER: Learn about the 7 types of people you need in your life to propel your growth.
8.“Constantly focusing on the limitations, instead of all the possibilities, is how people become stuck in their lives. It only serves to recreate the same old reality from day to day. And soon the days turn into years, and lifetimes.”
Perhaps it’s your perspective that is getting in your own way, rather than any external circumstance. Perhaps you are stuck in a rut because of limited beliefs – because you cannot see the deep reservoir of potential that exists inside of you. Or you underestimate your ability to adopt new skills and habits required to change and succeed.
DELVE DEEPER: Read more about the benefits of adopting a growth mindset to help break out of a rut.
9.“Are you really happy or just really comfortable?”
It can be easy to convince ourselves that we are happy when in fact we are simply comfortable. Yes, it’s good to be grateful for ease and comfort. But a plant in a pot that’s too small won’t grow to its full potential. It won’t thrive.
Being comfortable can see you settling for less. Comfort can be a killer – leading to a slow cozy death of your dreams and “oomph” for life.
Perhaps a dramatic change isn’t needed to shake things up a little. Maybe a simple effort to give up some of the comfort that is stagnating you is all that is needed to kickstart a new lease of life.
10. “If you can’t do what you long to do, go do something else. Go walk the dog, go pick up every bit of trash on the street outside your home, go walk the dog again, go bake a peach cobbler, go paint some pebbles with brightly colored nail polish and put them in a pile.
You might think it’s procrastination, but – with the right intention – it isn’t; it’s motion. And any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion.”
To find your way out of stagnation, JUST GET MOVING. Find your way out iteratively, experimentally, playfully, creatively, physically. Staying still, remaining inert, looking for the complete solution before starting – keeps you firmly where you’re at – STUCK.
Get out of the trap of defining a successful day by tasks achieved. Looking back on our lives, it’s the meaningful moments that stand out. Those exhilarating times that transcend the norm, that left us in awe, and made us feel alive. Let’s elevate our lives and maximise these experiences – we can’t leave then to chance – we must work to actively create them instead.
Defining moments boost sensory appeal, allow people to connect, deliver insight and/or break the script.
Defining moments are peaks, pits or transitions.
People want to feel more, they want to be surprised and delighted.
Feeling trumps thought – engage the senses.
Purpose trumps passion – purpose connects through a shared goal.
We remember meaningful moments, not tasks achieved.
We age because our lives become routine – we need more peak moments.
We can actively create defining moments – stop leaving them to chance.
Think about the moments over the last year when you felt truly alive? What were you doing? Who were you with? Why do those moments stand out?
Were they rich in emotion? A social event? Something unique? Something fun?
“Our lives are measured in moments, and defining moments are the ones that endure in our memories”. It’s the significant moments that stand out in our lives, rather than the tasks achieved or ticks on an action list.
A defining moment is defined as “a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful”. These are moments that capture our imaginations, moments when we are fully absorbed by the experience.
Such peak moments are vital in our lives. “No one reflecting on their life has ever wished there had been fewer.”
“Spot the occasions that are worthy of investment”, more than the standard birthday or graduation celebration. “Recognise where the prose of life needs punctuation.”
Instead of waiting for them just to happen spontaneously, we can set about actively creating them.
3 TYPES OFDEFINING MOMENTS
There are 3 types of defining moments: 1) PEAKS, 2) PITS, and 3) TRANSITIONS.
1) PEAK MOMENTS
A peak defining moment is one of positivity, awe, and delight.
CREATING MAGICAL MOMENTS EXAMPLE At the time of the book’s publication, Disney’s Magic Castle was considered as one of the top 3 rated hotels in L.A., with over 93% of guests scoring it excellent or very good. It was by the no means the plushest hotel to stay at – its rooms were dated, furnishings were spare, walls bare – it looked like “a respectable budget motel. So how did it achieve such a high positive rating? It excelled in creating simple but unique, unforgettable magical moments that surprised and wowed its guests. Popsicles were delivered on silver trays by waiters wearing white gloves. “Hello, Popsicle Hotline” was the greeting anyone received when ordering these fun treats, using a specially designated phone. Magicians performed tricks at breakfast three times a week. Unlimited laundry could be dropped off for washing, and was delivered back wrapped in butcher paper tied with “twine and a sprig of lavender”. And all of these services and treats were delivered for free. Disney excelled at creating a little drama and magic, a little pomp and ceremony around seemingly mundane and standard tasks. They created surprise and unexpecteddelights.
The key learning from this example is that it isn’t about making every detail perfect – “customers will forgive small swimming pools and underwhelming room décor, as long as some moments are magical”.
Peak moments can be simple and small – it’s about creating one or two unforgettableawe-filled moments.
How can you create some simple but magical moments this week, for your friends, family, colleagues and love ones?
Pits lie at the opposite end of the spectrum to peak moments.
They are defining moments in life, but normally unwanted experiences. They include an element of pain or hardship e.g. the death of a loved one, finding out about a terminal illness or missing out on a promotion.
“Pits need to be filled.”
DISNEYEXAMPLE – Disney “fills the pit” of long lines for rides and attractions by creating interesting distractions e.g. performers entertain and interact with guests whilst they queue.
The best approach to pit experiences is finding appropriate opportunities to transform them into peak experiences.
EXAMPLE MRI SCANS – a designer of MRI machines transformed the negative, fearful and claustrophobic proves experienced by children needing scans, by redesigning the experience into one in which children took part in an adventurous storyline. Hospital rooms were transformed into engaging adventure scenes, such as an adventure jungle where children would hop over stickered rocks on the floor to a hollow canoe that floated through the jungle – a disguised MRI machine. The friendly designs put the children at ease, engaged their imaginations and transformed a pit experience full of anxiety and tears to one of fun and delight that they actually looked forward to.
Tackling pit experiences is important, however, most organisations get trapped in a cycle of filling pits. They get caught up in never-ending complaints management, attempting to fix minor problems and annoyances. But they forget to also create peak moments – to create those extraordinary moments which make people remember them and want to come back.
Customer experience researchers have found that the happiest customers tend to spend more – so it’s more strategic to focus on making the experience of those customers better, rather than on efforts to please the most unsatisfied customers. Moving a customer rating from 4 (mid-range) to a 7 (upper range) leads to more additional spending than moving a customer from a 1 (lowest score) to a 4. The study found that there’s nine times more benefit from elevating the experience of positive customers, than from eliminating negative customer experiences.
The above findings can also be applied to ordinary life issues – we tend to focus on our problems and negative moments more than our more positive moments. We focus on the times we’ve failed more than our successes. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t tackle our most pressing problems – it’s just the amount of focus and bandwidth we dedicate to them versus the opportunity to create positive peaks needs to be shifted to derive greater benefits. “In the short term, we prioritize fixing problems over making moments.”
“In life, we can work so hard to get the kinks out that we forget to put the peaks in.”
Transitions mark dividing points, between Before and After, between Old You and New You – a move from one stage of life to another e.g. getting married, graduating from university, starting a new job, getting a divorce.
Transitions are opportunities to create meaning – they should be marked.
For example, oftentimes, the first day at work is treated like a bureaucratic task-list to get through – what if instead it was celebrated and given the importance of a first date, making the new person feel truly welcomed and important? It’s an opportunity to create a memorable experience and reflect the culture of an organisation rather than being a mere additional task to complete.
WHAT MAKES A DEFINING MOMENT AND HOW DO WE CREATE THEM?
One or more of the following four factors are involved in a defining moment – 1) ELEVATION, 2) INSIGHT, 3) PRIDE, 4) CONNECTION.
Defining moments must transcend the everyday experience and stimulate our senses. They should elevate us above the flat humdrum of life, and boost us above the norm. Perhaps they also have an element of surprise.
How can we create elevated moments?
A. BOOST SENSORY APPEAL
You are looking for those involved – your customers, your employers – to feel something. To engage in their senses. This is about motivating your staff above and beyond lifeless goals, statistics and numbers. What provides meaning for them in their work? What excites them enough to work towards those goals?
CHURCH FIRST-TIME VISITOR EXPERIENCE EXAMPLE – A church reverend wanted to breathe life into monthly meetings with the church board, which had started to feel like an administrative burden. He noted that the first-time visitor experience was a key transition moment in the church experience, and he wanted the board to look for ways to improve this. Instead of sitting around and discussing ideas, he asked the board to roam the church grounds whilst asking them to imagine visiting the church for the first time. He asked them to consider what they noticed. They came back with a number observations – that the church held bilingual services but all signage was in English (which led to an idea to add additional signage in Spanish), that they were not aware of how popular the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was (and this lead to a suggestion to invite other community groups to use the church’s facilities). The “roaming the grounds” exercise was powerful – “People are still talking about the things they saw that day”. Boosting sensory appeal was a key part of creating that defining moment.
B. BREAK THE SCRIPT
To “Break the Script” is to “defy people’s expectations of how an experience will unfold”.
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES EXAMPLE – This airline breaks the script by introducing a sense of fun and spontaneity on some of their flights, where cabin crew deliver funny safety announcements. The impact it has had on customers and business is clearly evidenced – loyal customers on a flight with a funny safety announcement flew 1.5 more times over the next year than customers who hadn’t heard one.
How do you break the script frequently enough to rise above monotony but to avoid setting a consistent expectation that customers adapt to? One solution is to ensure randomness.
PRET A MANGER EXAMPLE – This café chain is known for giving out free drinks and items to customers they like. if this had been a loyalty card it would have become a standard part of the script – an expected perk.
You can also avoid setting an expectation when you “Break The Script” by only doing so every so often e.g. holding a business meeting in a new setting every 5 out of 10 meetings.
“We need to break the script in our own lives – we “feel older” not because we age but because our lives become more routine – we start to reminisce about the past instead of looking forward to the future because we stop creating and experiencing enough peak and meaningful moments.
We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they’re not” (authors of the book “Surprise”).
C. RAISE THE STAKES
We can raise the stakes of an experience by adding an element of atmosphere and pressure to make it more meaningful e.g. a competition, a deadline, a public commitment.
The aim is to stop doing what is reasonable and start adding some flair, drama and excitement.
INTERVIEW EXAMPLE – including a role play as part of an interview process adds some pressure and excitement to the process for both the interviewee and interviewers, moving away from the standard question and answer approach.The role play allows the interviewee to experience what it might be like to work in the role, and makes the experience more memorable.
Defining experiences include moments of insight that change our understanding of ourselves or our perception of the world. Sometimes the insight is delivered in an instant – we experience a revelation. It could be a quote or book that changes you, or a realisation that this the person I am going to marry. Ex-cult members tend to recall a specific moment when their bubble burst and their previous and elevated view of their cult leader could no longer be sustained.
You are more motivated to act on an insight when it is an insight you have realised for yourself, rather than something that is told to you.
CHURCH EXAMPLE ABOVE – the board members, in roaming the church grounds discovered insights for themselves by seeing the church from the perspective of a first-time visitor, but through their own eyes. Had they instead discussed suggestions made by means of a congregational suggestion box, the exercise may not have been as effective or engaging for the board members – they may have been more resistant to ideas that they themselves did not generate.
These moments of insight can be created – by creating situations and experiences that allow for a person’s own self-discovery. Vocation Vacations is a business that allows people to gain insight into a potential new career or vocation by engaging in a “day in the life” experience – by shadowing people who are living that lifestyle. Such experiences help transcend navel gazing and go beyond limited mental visioning to experience what it might actually be like in a tangible way.
Studying our own behaviour in a situation is more fruitful than merely thinking about that situation. It’s better to try something new, to get out of our comfort zone and stretch ourselves – even fail, and gain insight from an actual experience. “Action leads to insight more often than insight leads to action”.
“Defining moments capture us at our best – moments of achievement, moments of courage”.
Often, these are moments of recognition by others – a promotion, an award. Therefore, the simplest way to achieve this is to find more opportunities to recognise the impact and difference others make, to show them that they matter.
Surveys show that one of the top reasons why people leave their jobs is a lack of praise and recognition. This need not be done through a scheduled and standard employee of the month process – it should be spontaneous, meaningful and personal. “Effective recognition is personalised, not programmatic”.
Recognise the progress a person is making towards their goals to instil a sense of pride e.g. you could video record a new basketball player when s/he first starts training and compare it to a recording of their skill 6 months later to show their development and improvement.
“Defining moments are social”. They are special because we share them with others.
Relationships deepen, and bonds are created because of shared meaningful moments or shared experiences of struggle, not mere time spent together.
People experience connection when they are committed to a common purpose. There’s a sense that “We’re in this together”. We have seen evidence of this numerous times during the COVID-19 pandemic – people uniting together to help their neighbours and vulnerable community members.
“If you want to be part of a group that bonds like cement, take on a really demanding task that’s deeply meaningful. All of you will remember it for the rest of your lives.”
“Purpose trumps passion.” Purpose unites us with others around a shared goal, creating something greater than the individual parts involved – there’s a sense of mission. Passion is more individualistic – “it can energize us but also isolate us, because my passion isn’t yours”.
LIFEFGUARDS EXAMPLE – Paid lifeguards were divided into two groups. One group (the Personal Benefit Group) were given four stories to read that that described how other lifeguards had benefited from the skills they acquired through lifeguarding. The second group (the Meaning Group) read four stories detailing the rescue of drowning swimmers by other lifeguards. Afterwards, the Meaning Group voluntarily signed up for 43% more work hours. Additionally, their “helping behaviours” – voluntary actions to benefit others – increased by 21%. There was no increase in hours or helping behaviour from the Personal Benefit Group. Clearly, having a sense of purpose matters.
Why you do what you do matters. Beyond your task list – it’s your ultimate purpose that keeps you carrying out the tasks and actions that contribute to that meaningful outcome.
We all want to do something that matters, and creating peak experiences – meaningful moments to elevate and delight the lives of others – no matter how small – is what we are remembered by.
The book is filled with plenty of examples that reveal the power of defining moments. Click here to get the book and gain inspiration to create more peak experiences in your life – the moments that matter.
We read to find answers to our problems. To experience the satisfaction that comes from finally discovering that elusive solution. That’s change.
We read to gain inspiration. To enable us to move from A to B. That’s change.
We set goals to realise our growth and agency. To surpass our pre-conceived limits. To stretch ourselves beyond what was previously possible. That’s change.
Change is the core element underlying many of our desires. When we want new results, more sleep, increased wealth, a new career, a vacation, a walk around the block … we simply want change.
We want to experience a shift.
We want to experience growth.
We want to feel good.
We want transition.
We want motion.
We want LIFE.
Change IS LIFE.
BEYOND STATUS SYMBOLS
And what about deep change? That change that nourishes us in a fundamental way … that delves beyond the success symbols of the society we find ourselves in, that bestow status, external prestige and respect?
Each age has its own systems, its own symbols of prestige. In ancient times, philosophers, sages, and thinkers were highly esteemed. The Renaissance Age saw the rise and celebration of artists and scientists.
In terms of status symbols, the owning of slaves has been a tragic but accepted symbol of importance in various societies and historical periods. In our Western age today, our status is not only measured in displays of wealth and entrepreneurial achievement, but lies in our work productivity and social media popularity. The number of likes we get can see our self-esteem quotient fluctuate violently on a day-to-day basis.
Even, perhaps absurdly, the now humble pineapple was a status symbol back in the 18th century.
So, who are we beyond all of this? Do we merely yearn to acquire the status symbols conferred by the prevailing paradigms of the day? Of our family, of our culture, of our age? Are we merely reduced to being products of the society and systems we are borne into? Or is there something more?
Outside of the ingrained influences of the systems you live within, what do you truly want? How do you know? What will truly satiate you, and make you feel good from the inside out?
What we are exposed to can limit or expand our vision of what we think is possible in our lives. Exposure to new environments and experiences is what changes us. It’s what transforms us. Exposure presents us with new options, and new possibilities.
Far superior to external symbols of success are PEAK EXPERIENCES – those moments where life flows through us effortlessly, moments that raise us above our normal existence, that stretch us to new possibilities. These are the experiences that can lead to deep transformational change.
“sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, possibly the awareness of an “ultimate truth” and the unity of all things … the experience fills the individual with wonder and awe….he feels at one with the world”.
“feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of ecstasy and wonder and awe, the loss of placement in time and space with, finally, the conviction that something extremely important and valuable had happened, so that the subject was to some extent transformed and strengthened even in his daily life by such experiences”.
“Peak experiences are often described as transcendent moments of pure joy and elation. These are moments that stand out from everyday events.”
They are “a high point in the life of a self-actualizer, during which the person feels ecstatic and more alive and whole than is usual”.
During peak experiences people are“closest to their true identities, their real selves.”
Peak experiences are those that truly nourish us. More than the fleeting success of the realisation of a goal. Or the hollow acquirement of an external status symbol. One that only matters in comparison to others.
The exhilaration, the taste of the infinite, the paranormal, the delight, that ecstasy – these are sensations that cannot be surpassed.
That moment of awe when you lose sense of yourself but feel completely in the wholeness of yourself all at once. You are AT ONE.
The runners high.
That feeling of oneness with a piece of music.
The loss of time and space.
The birth of a child.
An experience of the “higher life”. The intangible, the untouchable.
Peak experiences help to liberate us from our existing stories to create ourselves anew. They transform us.
THE NATURE CONNECTION
Peak experiences often occur in nature. One study published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology outlines how nature provides an ideal setting for peak experiences, leading to profound personal transformations and long-lasting changes.
In the study, one participant details how she was able to overcome lifelong identity issues, a sense of helplessness and a fear of death, when confronting freezing cold temperatures in the Arctic, where she feared for her life. She integrated new-found strengths from that experience leading to some profound life changes:
“The extreme conditions in the Arctic in a boat, placed Lital in a situation in which her regular behavior and perceptual patterns were to no avail and she experienced a terrorizing fear of death until the moment of insight in which she discovered new abilities and potential…”
Lital noted: “That was a moment of very specific understanding that … I can overcome any fear. That insight and situation was so vivid it brought me to know that I can rely on myself . . . I can now say everything will be okay and I know it will all work out… I consciously chose to think challenge instead of fear and I put that formula into everything I knew . . . I asked myself what do you want, without feeling guilty or ashamed or scared to be in touch with my needs and desires. I want to be a writer, to create, not to feel scared and guilty . . . I left my job in the factory, lost 20 pounds and am now working on a play.”
Another participant who shared a peak experience gained from hiking in the desert stated:
“That moment was one of the most liberating moments in my life, I could choose to let go of all my stories, I could be naked, no family, no degree. . . In that moment I knew that I could change my thinking and understanding of myself and my surroundings.From that moment on, I was concerned and connected to my needs more than to others. There is this inner sense of wholeness.”
This experience provided a “profound insight” triggered by nature to a challenging long-term problem for the participant – one of chronic people-pleasing.
It appears that the peak experience in nature, involving some form of hardship or challenge, and being distinct from normal life, provides the space needed to experience our lives anew, to gain awareness of previously unseeable solutions.
How then do we cultivate peak experiences without the need to climb our equivalent of Mount Everest, or drive miles and miles to the nearest nature spot?
Is it possible to enjoy peak experiences in our everyday lives?
By engaging in activities for sheer enjoyment, rather than the end result
We increase our chances of experiencing high elevated moments when we stand in our joy, rather than the ego driven pursuit of undertaking an activity purely for the result or associated gain in status.
“There seems to be a connection to having peak experiences when engaging in an activity for its inherent value to us rather than from another type of motivation—such as a deficiency need, or a need connected to our ego identification. In other words, when we are engaged in activities for the pure pleasure or meaningfulness of them, it’s possible that the peak experience state becomes more accessible.”(Martha Kezemidis)
2. By making the ordinary “extra ordinary”
“Peakers tend more often than nonpeakers to say their lives are very meaningful, that they think about the meaning and purpose of life.”
By intentionally making the ordinary “extra ordinary”, we can transcend our everyday routines. We can flip the script of our lives – the habitual programme that keeps us stuck on the repetitive treadmill that we call life. We need to give our lives meaning and purpose, especially the ordinary moments, to open ourselves up to experience more peak episodes.
IDEAS FOR CULTIVATING EVERYDAY PEAK MOMENTS
“The sacred is in the ordinary…it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s own backyard… To be looking elsewhere for miracles is to me a sure sign of ignorance that everything is miraculous.” (Abraham H. Maslow)
Some ideas for creating peak experiences in everyday life:
Read/watch/listen to new ideas outside the realm of what seems possible today – expand your mind.
Do something new – a new place to walk, explore a new part of your neighbourhood, work in a different spot – expand your sense of self and the world around you. Open up new pathways in your mind.
Make everyday moments more meaningful – choose to embellish and celebrate the previously meaningless and mundane– e.g. the end of the month like the end of a year, a Thursday, your half-year birthday – acknowledge that we are the ones that give life it’s meaning.
Change your routine – see what new insights you gain or new ideas that come to mind when you step outside of your norm.
Maximise the opportunities we have in everyday life to witness glimpses of the transcendent – get up early to watch a sunrise, stargaze at night – stop taking the simple and available pleasures in life for granted.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone, do something that scares you, even a little, each day.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” (George Bernard Shaw)
We have been led to believe that we are the way we are, and that this is immutable. That we must spend time uncovering our true selves – like hunting for nuggets of gold – on an endless hunt for clues as to our underlying innate identity. So we can finally classify our personality and ultimately determine a corresponding life path for us.
We’ve sadly, however, been led on a wild goose chase – we’ve been making life decisions based on an illusion. We are not here to discover some fixed and immutable truth about ourselves. Instead, our personalities are changeable – who we are today has been formed through habitual choices, trained by our environment and expectations. We become who we are through the goals we set and the experiences that shape us. Our purpose determines our personality, not the other way around.
So why not set ambitious goals that will stretch you far beyond your present self, and allow you to forge the person you truly want to be?
You have developed the habit of being your current self
YOU CAN CHANGE
YOU ARE ALLOWED TO CHANGE
Your personality is flexible not fixed
YOUR PRESENT SELF ≠ YOUR FUTURE SELF
To change, focus on your vision of your future self, rather than your past.
It’s your story of the past, NOT THE PAST, that holds you back.
We remain stuck in the past for 4 main reasons
“Purpose trumps personality”
Choose a purpose far greater than your current personality and develop the attributes needed to realise it
Your purpose guides your identity, decisions and actions
Without a deep purpose, your personality will be based on avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure
YOUR PERSONALITY CAN CHANGE
Personality is defined as “the type of person you are, shown by the way you behave, feel, and think”. Personality traits include being helpful, adventurous or confident.
A personality testdoesn’t accurately describe who you are.
Who you are now is likely different to who you were 15 years ago – people’s personalities change.
“There is no such thing as a personality type. Personality types are social or mental constructions, not actual realities.”
We all have different personas – how you act in one context can be different in another – you could be outgoing amongst family and quiet in a work setting.
How can 7.8 billion people in the world be defined and limited by a set of 16 personality types, for example?
“What would happen if you stopped boxing yourself into a category and opened yourself to the possibility of change?”
A 2015 study showed that personality can be intentionally changed through goal-setting and sustained personal effort. Research has also shown that “personality changes accelerate when people are leading meaningful and satisfying lives.”
CHOOSING WHO TO BECOME
“Who you become is a choice – which only you can make.”
“It is our choices … that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (Harry Potter)
“That’s the truth of personality. It’s not innate but trained. It can and does change.”
Your personality and attributes are flexible not fixed. You have been practicing at being who you currently are – and thus, your personality can change with a change in your perspective, with a loosening of attachment to your current identity. Knowing you can change is true freedom. Think of the story of Saul’s conversion to Paul or former criminals who turn their lives around. Becoming psychologically flexible is key to personal transformation – not being over-attached to your current identity or perspectives.
Said another way, we have developed the habit of being who we are today. And habits can change. We can develop a habit of confidence, of assertiveness, of patience, etc.
Our choices are more important that our present-day strengths. We are what we commit to.
The ability to choose is a fundamental freedom of life – the ability to choose so as to determine what happens and the ability to respond to what does happen. “The more you own the power of your own decision-making, the more your life and outcomes will be within your control”.
Choosing for ourselves can be a scary endeavour. Going against the norm or society’s standards involves risk. People often settle for being told what to do or go with the status quo – living a life by default rather than design. It’s an easier life to go with the flow, but perhaps a less fulfilling experience.
“Choosing one’s own way is a primary purpose of our lives. Yet there is a fear in making choices, because choices have consequences. As a result, people avoid making decisions, fail to choose their own way, and limit their capacity for growth, learning, and change.”
Understanding that you can choose yourself at any moment is freeing. You are where you are because of the choices you made in the past. You can be anyone you want to be. You do not need to be limited by the past.
Don’t let your past self call the shots. “What got you here won’t get you there.”
“Anyone who’s ever done something great with their life had to transform themselves from who they were to who they became.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF PURPOSE
Having a goal – a purpose – helps you transform into a new person. It’s not the goal itself but who you become as a result of pursuing that goal – the new experiences you have in pursuit of that goal can see you birthing a more confident, committed person, for example.
Your purpose, not your personality, is the determining factor in what you can achieve.
When you think about setting a goal, focus not so much on the achievement of that goal (which will last a short moment) but who you get to become through the process of realising that goal.
“Your personality should come from your goals. Your goals shouldn’t come from your personality.” Adopting the latter approach means you may limit what you can achieve based on who you are now.
“The idea is simple: You have a purpose so big and inspiring that pursuing it transforms your entire life.” You choose to be extraordinary and then you develop the personality and attributes needed.
“If you’re unwilling to put yourself through emotional experiences, shift your perspective, and make purposeful changes to your behavior and environment, then don’t expect huge changes”.
Every behaviour is driven by a goal, whether that behaviour is unproductive or a healthy – it all seeks to fulfil an aim or goal or identity – the goal could be to gain attention by getting into trouble, to gain love by people pleasing, to stay safe by maintaining the status quo, to be healthy by exercising regularly.
Examine your behaviours to find out why you are exhibiting that behaviour – your why will reveal your overriding goal. Determine whether that goal is a goal you want. For example, why did you do everything you did yesterday? What outcomes were you seeking? Which behaviours, if removed, would free up more space and energy for what you ultimately want? It could be going to bed earlier, limiting procrastination.
To live a life with no regrets, spend your days on activities leading to meaningful goals.
Your job is to be a “Keeper of the Vision” – to be so inspired by that vision it drives you, energises others and causes you to adopt the needed behaviours and skills along the way to fulfilment of that vision.
CHOOSE ONE GOAL
Choose one goal rather than many, to maintain focus and enough momentum to achieve it.
Choose the one goal – your mission – that enables you to become the personthat can achieve all other goals. That allows you to improve all other areas of your life.
Your results are a sign of your commitment, not just what you say you are committed to.
Don’t settle for lower expectations or a lesser future self. “We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” (Robert Brault)
“Goals don’t become realities without constant reminders”. Write your goal down, reverse engineer the actions needed to realise it, and review progress daily or weekly.
WHAT KEEPS YOU TRAPPED IN THE PAST?
There are four main reasons why people stay stuck and trapped in their past.
1) PAST TRAUMA
Past trauma keeps people stuck in the past – the trauma needs to be reframed.
“What currently prevents your dreams from becoming reality is buried trauma keeping you trapped in your past, shutting down your confidence and imagination.”
“Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still going on.”
That trauma can be a life altering event, but can also be in minor incidents and in comments and conversations that have given you a limited view of yourself.
To avoid the pain of the past, we create a pseudo-personality with coping behaviours rather than our desired one.
“When our trauma is unresolved, we stop moving forward in our lives. We become emotionally rigid and shut off, and thus stop learning, evolving, and changing. As such, our past becomes rigid as well, and our memory persists in an unchanging and painful way. By continually avoiding our past traumas and the emotions they create, our life becomes an unhealthy and repetitive pattern.”
“Trauma destroys your confidence. People often have very limited goalsdue to unresolved trauma.”
Like a thorn in the arm, if instead of facing up to the pain to pull it out, you avoid it – you cover it up with a bandage to protect it, you sleep in a particular way to avoid touching it, you avoid sports to stop it from being hurt. You rearrange your life around the thorn – instead of facing up to it, transcending the fear and pain to remove it, which will allow you to create the life you truly want.
“Rather than creating the life we want, we build the life that allows our problems to exist unresolved.”
What goals are you pursuing to avoid dealing with your trauma?
The trauma needs to be faced to be transcended.
Learn to reframe any negative experiences by seeing how they have helped you become who you are today – a stronger person, more compassionate, etc.
An outsider – seeing things from a different perspective – can help you reframe your experience.
Transforming trauma is ultimately about rebuilding trust.
“Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.” Don’t keep your pain inside of you and commit to a lesser future because you are too scared to face it. Because you are trying to be too strong. Find an empathetic witness who can free you by allowing you to express and reframe your experiences. And free you to pursue your desired future self.
It takes courage to be honest and “naked” with others. Your empathetic witnesses can also take the form of accountability partners who hold you to account to make sure you stay on track towards your goals. Don’t underestimate the power of an accountability group to aid you towards your goals, to help you overcome the failures and emotions along the way.
“The bigger the dream, the more important the team.” (Robin Sharma)
“All growth toward big goals and important work is emotionally taxing. Don’t go it alone. Have a team you can huddle around when you’re fried, torn, burned out, scared, or broken.”
2) IDENTITY NARRATIVE
People remain held back because their identity narrative is based on their past selves and not on the future.
“If you’re still angry with your parents for your childhood, for example, this speaks more to who you currently are than what actually happened in your childhood. To continue blaming any person or event from the past makes you the victim, and reflects more on you than whoever or whatever it is you’re blaming… It isn’t the contents of your past that need changing, but how you view them today.”
How would your life be if you never again blamed or limited yourself and your future based on the past?
How would your life be different if your past was something happening for you rather than to you?
If you need help get help. “Many people come to believe the best way to deal with hard experiences is by burying their emotions and fighting a silent battle, alone.” Instead seek help.
“Every time you face your past, you change it. Every time you face your future with honesty and courage, you become more flexible and mature. You build confidence, which enhances your imagination.”
Choose not to remain stuck, trapped by an identity perspective of a past self. Instead choose to expand the meaning of your past that allows you to change and evolve to a more healthy future self.
3) SUBCONSCIOUS PATTERNING
People remain stuck in the past because their subconscious patterning is wired in such a way that it keeps them acting consistently with their former self and emotions.
To become a new person – your future self – your subconscious needs to be transformed.
To do so you must stretch yourself to surpass your current normal, in order to create a new sense of normal for you.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions”.
You must adopt behaviours and engage in peak experiences that dramatically shift your expectations and sense of identity.
Wishful thinking and occasional visualisation won’t cut it.
People remain stuck because their environment supports the continuation of their current self, rather than the formation of a new identity.
Your social environment is either triggering and supporting your former self or it’s promoting your future self. If your goal is to lose weight, removing the junk food that triggers your old unhealthy eating habits is a way of changing your environment to one that helps supports the emergence of your future self.
What kind of environment(s) can help you craft a new identity with new behaviours and motivations to create the future you want?
“You must learn to make your environment match your desired outcomes.” Be strategic about your environment.
EXAMPLE The artist Whistler refused to sell his finest painting – he was strategic in this choice – he wanted to keep it as a reminder of what he could expect from himself. Similarly, you need to create an environment that continually activates your future self. Particularly as life gets busy – it becomes easy to forget your future self.
Fill your environment with transformational triggers.
Look at the environment you have created around you. Think about the spaces you inhabit. What do they trigger or inspire in you? “Are you still hanging on to concert posters from college? … Does your environment push you forward or pull you back?”
Having awareness that you can easily be swayed can help you to pre-commit to your future self. By setting up supportive environments, people and structures that keep you focused on your goal. Rather than relying on willpower in the moment.
Perhaps you need an environment that keeps you shielded away from the social pressures and distractions of the rest of the world. This is strategic ignorance. “It’s your filter for ensuring that only the right … things reach you.”
The author found himself inspired to a new future self in an environment “where no one knew my backstory [nor] kept me trapped in their perceptions of my former self”.
Heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson talks about making the choice to change environments to achieve her dream of winning the World Championship. “I had to move coach. I had to move country, I had to learn a new language and settle in. I tore everything up and started again and it’s worked.” She had to make changes and decisions to create a supportive environment that would allow her to realise her desired results.
A dramatic change in environment isn’t always needed. Sometimes all that is needed is a change in what you focus on in that environment. Particularly when you aren’t able to change your environment or conditions. We will see this more clearly in the next example.
PRISON TO HARVARD EXAMPLE Andre Norman spent 14 years in prison before going on to study at Harvard University and dedicating his life to helping other people. His journey shows the true power of purpose. Initially his purpose was in his trumpet, but he made a choice to give up playing the trumpet in order to fit in with “the cool kids”. His association with these children and the environment he engaged in led to new choices – he dropped out of school (it no longer supported his new chosen identity goal) and began to fully engage in criminal behaviour, matching the persona of his social group. He ended up in prison. Andre realised that his decision to quit playing the trumpet led to some negative consequences. “Bad people don’t go to prison … Quitters do”. In prison, he adopted behaviours in order to survive and soon chose a goal of being the top of the inmate hierarchy, engaging in violent behaviour to become ever more feared and powerful. Until one day, it hit him just how meaningless his life had become – he was investing in violent behaviour to become the top of what exactly? To achieve an utterly meaningless status. From that day onwards, he began to think seriously about his life and realised he needed an entire re-plan. “He needed a new goal.” Merely getting out of prison – being free – would not be enough – would not be a big enough goal for him to truly change. “Seventy-five percent of people who leave prison come right back. Lessons are repeated until they are learned.” So instead he decided to become a successful member of society and asked himself “Where do successful people come from?”. He determined that they go to college, so he reasoned that he needed to go to the best college of all – Harvard. It took him another 8 years to get out of prison – but he achieved his goal – he went to Harvard. His new purpose of attending the best university in the land reshaped his identity, decisions and behaviours – it pulled him forward to a new future self and away from his past self. “When the why is strong enough, you can get yourself through and do any how.” Andre taught himself how to read and write, he taught himself law, and he learned how to manage his anger. He gained a new mentor. “Andre’s new goal created a new lens, allowing him to see himself and his environment differently. He stopped noticing all the negative forces around him and began focusing on the opportunities for progress toward his goal.” In 2015 he became a fellow at Harvard, an international public speaker, and helped others to overcome addictions and transform their lives for the better.
Through Andre’s journey we can see that his goal shaped his identity, his identity shaped his actions, and his actions shaped who he was and was becoming. This is how personality is developed.” His personality developed as a result of his goal – it was not the cause. Just as the systems and structures we build in the world flow from our overarching paradigms, your primary intentions and goals shape your identity, personality and behaviour.
Most people, however, don’t take the time to be intentional – they instead spend their time reacting to life events and social pressures, and develop a personality and behaviours in reaction to external pressures – in a sense, developing a personality as a coping mechanism. Their life “isn’t intentionally designed. It isn’t questioned. It isn’t chosen”.
“When you’re intentional about where you’re going, then you can become who you want to be.”
“You are the product of your culture and context”, unless you intentionally choose not to be. Context shapes your personality – if you had been borne into a different age, country or culture – you’d be a different person with different experiences, beliefs, memories. This is similar to the concept that “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets”. You must realise the power of your environment over you before you can transcend it.
The people you associate with also shape your personality and identity. “You engage in behaviors that match the culture of your group.”
This shows that given the right environment, people can change – IF THEY WANT TO.
What we really want is enough challenge to grow and the right network and environment to support us on our journey.
IS YOUR VIEW OF THE PAST HOLDING YOU BACK?
“If your view of your own past hasn’t changed much over recent months or years, then you haven’t learned from your past experiences and you’re not actively learning now.” You are still stuck due to one of the 4 reasons given above and need to tackle the one that is holding you back.
Similar to the way we collectively view history, our view of our past should change as we develop new perspectives and experiences. “Your past evolves as you evolve.” “History is constantly being altered and revised based on who’s telling the story.”
In the same way our memories of the past shift through the new lens and perspective we see it through – leading us to focus on different aspects of the past and reframe the story we tell ourselves. Our mind is like a filing cabinet, sorting and rearranging parts of our story, and developing new connections to transform the memory we have of the past, hopefully to one that better serves the development of a new healthier future self.
Therefore, “it is more accurate to say the present causes the meaning of the past, than it is to say that the past causes the meaning of the present”. Our memories are subjective and fluid, rather than being stored and objective entities – they are living and breathing – and change as we change.
“It isn’t actually our past that is impacting us, but our present interpretation and emotional attachment to that past.”
“An unchanging past is a sure sign of … an avoidance of facing the truth and moving forward in your life.”
“What would happen if you stopped trying to be “authentic,” and instead faced the truth of why you’re limiting yourself?”
Don’t stay stuck in a story of your limited self.
VISION OF YOUR FUTURE SELF
Becoming more emotionally engaged in your vision of your future self makes it easier to move towards your future and away from your past and current constraints.
People who change, who transform themselves are no different to anyone else – it’s just that they refuse to be defined by their past – they are consumed by their vision of the future and keep fuelling that future.
Elon Musk is a great example of a person who embodies the future. He has been speaking of travelling to Mars for years and yet still, human travel to Mars is not yet a possibility. But this doesn’t stop him telling that story – because that story – that purpose “[shapes] his identity, actions, and decisions”. “Whatever you think of him, Elon Musk is focused on where he is going as a person, and it’s entirely in his future, not his past. His attention, energy, and narrative are based on the future he’s creating. You don’t hear him talking about “the PayPal days.” You don’t see him limited by what he’s previously done or failed at. You don’t even hear him mention the past unless he’s explicitly asked about it.”
“This is how successful people live: They become who they want to be by orienting their life toward their goals, not as a repeat of the past; by acting bravely as their future selves, not by perpetuating who they formerly were.”
If you are driven by a vision of the future, your 2021 should look different to your 2020. What is normal for you in 2021 would make you feel uncomfortable in 2020 – because you have challenged yourself, because you have stretched yourself beyond your perceived limits.
“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed by who they were twelve months ago isn’t learning enough.” (Alain de Botton, British philosopher)
ACT AS YOUR FUTURE SELF
“It’s best to decide and act from the vantage point of your desired circumstances, not your present ones.”
““Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” Human beings have a weird way of thinking that who we are in the present moment is the “arrived,” “finished,” and “evolved” version of ourselves.”
Your future self can become a person who is more limited than your current self – your future depends on the choices you make now. Adopting unhealthy behaviours or bad habits affect who you become in the future. Even seemingly small choices , like going to bed late or having an extra drink, if done regularly and consistently can compound over time and lead you to problems in the future you did not see coming – because the impact seemed so insignificant each time you chose the action.
“Your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have. Without having a goal it’s difficult to score.” It’s like trying to steer a boat with no destination – you remain aimless. Without a purposeful goal your personality will not grow in a healthy direction.
To be continually successful you need to be continually chasing a future self, not defining yourself by the past – whether they be past accomplishments or past failures.
“When your “status” becomes more important than your “growth,” you usually stop growing.” (Dan Sullivan, Strategic Coach). You may end up trying to protect that status by avoiding failure – you stop growing and plateau.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” (Albert Einstein)
Write in your journal as your future self from their perspective, to help you get into the emotion and vision of you in the future.
“What types of freedoms, choices, circumstances, experiences, and daily behaviors does your future self engage in?” What is the day-to-day life of your future self like?
Tell the story of your future self. Then become the author of your story.
IMPORTANCE OF EXPOSURE TO NEW EXPERIENCES
Your expectations of yourself change who you become.
A 1979 study found that a group of men who were told to act as if they were 20 years younger, and were asked to live in an environment reflecting the lifestyle and design of two decades earlier, actually started to act as if they were younger. “They literally got taller. There was noticeable improvement in their hearing, eyesight, memory, dexterity, and appetite.”
It’s not age that determines the personality of a person. It’s that as a person ages they generally stop engaging in new environments and experiences. “People’s personalities become increasingly consistent because they stop putting themselves into new contexts”. Your personality is not fixed – it’s that your environment has become routine and societal expectations have locked you into habitual patterns.
Knowing that developing a vision for your future self is more challenging as you get older can help you overcome frustration or resistance to this activity. “It’s harder to imagine the future we want than to remember the past we’ve lived through. Imagination is a skill to be developed, one that few adults truly master. Instead, adults become less creative and imaginative as they age and increasingly fixed and dogmatic in their narrow viewpoints.”
Thus, your exposure to new experiences and new ways of being can be so much more powerful than your current skillset and attributes because with a growth mindset you can adopt the necessary attributes and leverage those of others in order to realise that future ambition. Your vision and hunger for that vision is vital.
“Your ability to make choices is limited by your context and knowledge.” What you are exposed either expands your awareness of options or limits them. Because it is the goals you set that determine who you become, and having a wide range of experiences and knowledge of different ways of living widens the pool for your goal setting.
Exposure is the source point for setting goals. “You can’t pursue something you don’t know exists”. Our goals therefore may reflect our current limitations, whether internal or external. “Whatever you’re pursuing right now is based on what you’ve been exposed to.”
“Creating better goals—and thus designing a better future—requires learning more, changing your perspective, and opening yourself up to something new.”
“Those who become successful constantly expose themselves to new things. They travel, read books, meet new people. They prize education and learning … They happily shatter their current paradigms for new and better ones—knowing that with better information, they can make more informed decisions. They can set better goals and aims for themselves. “
As you expand and change, your horizons should broaden, and your goals and behaviours should change as a reflection of this paradigm change.
YOU NEED TO INVEST IN YOUR PERSONALITY – NOT DISCOVER IT
You are “more likely to act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action.” (Dr. Jerome Bruner, Harvard psychologist). It’s rare to feel like doing a task even if it’s good for you – like going for a run, or writing, or cleaning – but once you start you develop a motivation for it. You just need to get started.
Put another way, action comes before the reward. Action comes before confidence. “You can’t have it first; it must come as a by-product of chosen and goal-consistent action.”
“Passion and motivation are effects, not causes.”
“Wanting the passion first, before putting in the work, is like wanting to get paid before you begin a job. It’s get-rich-quick thinking and completely lazy… It’s like a spoiled rich kid who wants everything given to them. Passion is the prize, but you have to invest first.”
Similarly, you invest in your personality. Rather than it being innate, fixed in the past and unchangeable and something you discover, it is something created through your behaviours and actions. “Personality—like passion, inspiration, motivation, and confidence—is a by-product of your decisions in life.”
“Do you think Gandhi, Mother Teresa, or anyone else who has made a huge impact made their decisions based on their personality? Or did they make their decisions based on something much bigger, and then became who they were through their commitment to that decision?”
“Confidence comes from making progress toward goals that are far bigger than your present capabilities.”
“Your confidence is something you must protect. You earn your confidence through intentional action toward meaningful goals … your confidence is based on who you’ve recently been.”
Stop looking for your personality. Choose it. Then allow that choice to transform you. Your personality “will adapt to the level of your goals and decisions, rather than your decisions and goals falling to the level of your current personality.” “It is often by taking opportunities or responsibilities above (or seemingly “unnatural” to) your skill level and experience that forces the greatest growth.”
“Purpose trumps personality”. “Without a deep sense of purpose, your personality will be based on avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure.”
YOUR FUTURE SELF AND OTHER PEOPLE
“The path to happiness is about finding someone who you want to make happy, someone whose happiness is worth devoting yourself to.”
“Rather than marrying a person for who they currently are, it takes far more wisdom and discernment to marry for who you can see them becoming – their future self – and how they will enable you to become your desired future self. Will marrying this person enable you to do and be all that you truly want? And will you enable them to be all that they truly want?… Marry for aligned purpose, not personality. That purpose will transform both of you over time.”
“Developing a powerful relationship isn’t about “finding,” but collaboratively creating and becoming new people together, through the relationship. Both parties must adjust and change, becoming a more united whole that transcends the sum of the parts. If one or neither party changes for and through the relationship, then the relationship will be lopsided and will likely fail. High-quality relationships are transformational, not transactional. Often, the transformation is unpredictable and unexpected, as collaboration is a creative act.”
This could be applied to a work or other team – what “3rd entity” are you collectively creating together? Is it a worthy collaboration or unhealthy? Is everyone aligned towards the same goals?
“What would happen if you had hard but necessary conversations with the important people in your life?” In order to determine your joint purpose, and alignment towards creating what you each truly want in life?
“When a man tells you that he got rich through hard work, ask him: “Whose?” (Don Marquis)
The Leverage Equation is the book of working smarter not harder. Like using a lever to generate a larger force through a small amount of effort, learn how to do more with less – through the power of leverage. Going it alone limits your impact – harness other people’s time, wealth, knowledge and networks to catapult you to greater success.
To get bigger results faster, you will need to leverage other people’s resources.
How do you get more than 24 hours in a day? By leveraging other people’s time.
How do you get more customers? By leveraging other people’s audiences.
How do you buy your life back? By leveraging other people’s money, helping you to live your best life earlier by getting you to financial freedom faster.
Leverage is an accelerator. It magnifies the good, it magnifies the bad.
Leverage is more than money, it’s about value.
You leverage every single day, without even realising it.
6 TYPES OF LEVERAGE
TECHNOLOGY & SYSTEMS LEVERAGE
COMMUNICATIONS & MARKETING LEVERAGE
NETWORK & RELATIONSHIP LEVERAGE
KNOWLEDGE & EXPERIENCE LEVERAGE
ALL ABOUT LEVERAGE
“Leverage is the strategic tool that expands your resources beyond your present limitations to produce greater resultsthan you could generate on your own.”
“If you aren’t using leverage, you’re working harder than you should, to earn less than you could”.
The core aim of leveraging – “do more with less of your own resources by expanding the resources at your disposal”.
Leveraging is “responsibly applying other people’s resources to overcome obstacles that limit your success so you can achieve greater results with less personal effort”. So that your success isn’t constrained by your own limited time, money, skills and resources.
There is a lot of overlap between the different leverage types – and they can be used together.
When you leverage, you use resources to generate more than just a reciprocal exchange – e.g. trading time for money, trading money for a product, trading your money for a fixed rate of interest. Unlike with leverage, the result you get from a reciprocal exchange is capped – it’s not scalable.
“Leverage is just an accelerator” for any process you already have in place – it is like a multiplier, so if you leverage an inefficient process, you will multiply your failures.
“Business is about solving problems … people will gladly pay to leverage your solution to their problems.
You are already leveraging everyday of your life when you benefit from using someone else’s resources. E.g. – a credit card (someone else’s money), your smartphone (you may own the phone but not the software used to complete a multitude of tasks), a book (someone else’s knowledge), a savings account (someone else’s system).
The key now is to learn how to consciously, intentionally and strategically leverage the right resources to generate greater resources for yourself that allow you to live the life you truly want.
10xExercise: Think of a goal. Now think of the same goal but with 10x the results. E.g. your first goal could be to open a restaurant, 10x that would be to open a chain of 10 restaurants. What would you need to leverage to get those results? The aim is to stop you from limiting your success and vision simply because you don’t own the resources that would enable you to get there.
LEVERAGE AND WEALTH
Leverage allows you “to break the connection between your income and hours worked”, therefore allowing you to grow your wealth whilst actually working less.
The majority of people who went from zero to multi-millionaire in their 20s and 30s did so through setting up businesses or through real estate – as these provide multiple opportunities for leveraging allowing them to grow their wealth faster.
Leverage provides an alternative and faster process to growing wealth than through frugality and saving (gaining compound interest over time) to gain wealth. It allows you to generate greater wealth earlier in life and therefore enjoy it for longer.
No approach is better than the other – it’s about assessing the trade-offs with each and identifying the path that best suits you. Financial leveraging can deliver greater wealth faster than saving but involves greater risks. But remember, “typically, 80 to 90 percent of your time is used just to get by in life, leaving just 10 to 20 percent to produce something truly extraordinary”. Generating wealth faster through leveraging can give you more time to deliver even greater impact, of real significance to the world.
WHY LEVERAGE IS IMPORTANT
Youdon’t have unlimited time on this earth to achieve everything you want to. If you did, you could choose to save with the smallest savings rate that would “eventually compound to a magnificent fortune”.
This sets a deadline that means accelerating the growth of your financial wealth to gain financial independence – giving you the time and freedom to do all you want to in life – is so vitally important. Leverage is the tool that will get you there.
“Leverage is the tool you use to buy back your life by achieving financial freedom faster.” “The successful application of leverage gives you the freedom to do what’s important to you in life and what aligns with your deepest values … without worrying about money.”
Having “both time and money … opens up possibilities for your life.”
WHAT’S STANDING IN YOUR WAY?
Instead of trying to maximise success, tackle the real problem at hand – identify and eliminate the obstacles in your way. Focus not on your destination, but on the tackling the roadblocks to your destination.
By defining the constraints that prevent you from achieving your goals, you become aware of the opportunities to leverage the resources of others. Leveraging gives you “access to the resources and skills that you lack.”
Don’t have enough money? Can you use someone else’s?
Don’t have enough knowledge? Can you employ an expert?
Don’t have enough time? Can you delegate to someone else?
“Relying on yourself only hinders your success.” “Time and money spent in one place cannot be used elsewhere” – that’s why you need to use the resources of others.
1. FINANCIAL LEVERAGE
“Nobody gets rich without leverage.”
Financial leverage is using other people’s money to increase the capital available to you, with the aim of increasing profits. The cost of the increased capital is typically in the form of interest payments.
Financial leverage is not the same as investing. Investing your own money in stocks, for example, is not financial leverage as you are not incurring debt nor the associated cost of the debt.
With risk comes rewards … assessing the risk of financial leverage is important because leverage will magnify your gains, AND will magnify your losses when things go bad.
Financial Leverage Gain Example:
HOUSE PURCHASE USING OTHER’S MONEY
Mortgage (financial leverage)
Yearly Interest (6%)
TOTAL COST AFTER 1 YEAR
You purchase a property for £200k by paying a £20k deposit with your own funds and leveraging the other £180k by securing a mortgage, at an annual cost of 6%.
You sell the house after a year for £250k, the debt costs you £10.8k and so your profit is £39.2k. (The example is simplified, ignoring any taxes, costs of refurbishment, conveyancing fees etc).
HOUSE PURCHASEUSING YOUR OWN MONEY
Mortgage (financial leverage)
Yearly Interest (6%)
TOTAL COST AFTER 1 YEAR
Now, if instead you had bought the property fully with your own funds, your profit would have been £50k.
Although your profit is higher in the latter case, your return on investment (= net return/cost of investment) is lower. £50k/£200k gives you a ROI of 25%, compared to £39.2k/£20k = ROI of 196%. This shows that using other people’s money can give you a higher rate of return – i.e. for every £1 of your own money invested, you get more back than if you had invested your own money – in this case you got £1.96 for every £1 you invested, compared to £1.25 for every £1 invested when you only used your own money. The rewards are greater using financial leveraging when things go right as you put less of your own money at risk.
Of course, using your own money carries less risk and gives you total greater profit as there is no cost of debt to pay, however it also means your money (£200k in this case) is tied up in this one property, and cannot be used elsewhere, e.g. to fund the purchase of other properties which could generate further wealth, or other goals you want to achieve.
Financial Leverage Loss Example:
HOUSE PURCHASE USING OTHER’S MONEY
Mortgage (financial leverage)
Yearly Interest (6%)
TOTAL COST AFTER 1 YEAR
This is the same as the previous example, but instead of selling the property for £250k, it sells for £150k – you make a loss.
If you had financed the purchase fully yourself, you would have made a loss of £50k on the purchase price of £200k, and a ROI of -25% (=-£50k/£200k).
However, with leveraged finance as above, your loss is £85.8k. This equates to an ROI of -304% (=-£60.8k/£20k). That is, for every pound invested, you lost over 3 times as much.
Therefore, it is clear to see that with financial leveraging, when things go well, you stand to benefit more. But when they go badly, you will suffer greater losses. Leveraging magnifies the loss.
The fact that leveraging amplifies loss does not, however, mean you always need to make a profit on every investment. As highlighted in Thinking in Bets, those who are successful simply win far more than they lose. The aim is to win big and lose small. You can lose as often as you like as long as when you win, it is far greater than the losses sustained. You need to win when it counts.
When you are trying to make a financial decision involving an uncertain future, you are essentially betting on the future and can use the mathematical expectancy equation to help you ascertain the likely financial impact of that decision (read the book to find out more on this): Expected Value = (Probability of Win * Average Win) – (Probability of Loss * Average Loss).
Risk management is therefore key when undertaking financial leverage. Always assess risks and have a contingency plan and exit strategy to remove leverage for the worst case scenario e.g. you can diversify your portfolio of real estate properties by having properties in different areas – if a natural disaster occurs in one area, the others aren’t affected.
In general, avoid high financial leveraging when the income stream derived to pay off any debt is volatile as there is less room to absorb setbacks. E.g. the revenue stream for airlines is seasonally based, and as we have seen recently, the business model is highly sensitive to (unpredictable) environmental changes – natural disasters, pandemics … Any debt must be repaid regardless of any fluctuations in income. Instead, if you are leveraging a lot of debt, you want a consistent reliable income source to cover the interest payments whilst generating profits from that debt.
“Borrowed money should only be used to fund an income producing asset, and never for consumption”. Borrowing to consume rather than produce, just increases your current spending capability, satisfying instant gratification rather than growing your wealth to benefit your future self.
You may not need to leverage as much money as you think to start your business. 25% of the founders of Inc. 500 companies started with less than $5,000 and half with less than $50,000. “Clearly money is not the obstacle to building wealth”.
Get the book and find out about another type of leverage relating to finance – operational leverage.
2. TIME LEVERAGE
Time is more precious than any other resource – you can’t make more of it, you can’t get it back. It’s the most valuable non-renewable resource you have.
Increase your day beyond 24 hours by leveraging other people’s time.
The aim is to “release your income growth from the boundaries of time”.
Traditional employment – by trading time for a salary – puts a cap on your income as there are only so many hours in the day.
For example, as outlined in Sack Your Boss, even self-employment can be limited e.g. working 1-1 as a coach, instead of 1-to-many.
Put another way, our success can become the limiting factor in our system. Greater success can result in us working even harder to maintain that success e.g. we attract so many clients we work harder to keep up with demand.
By having the concept of leverage at the forefront of our minds, we can instead adopt a more strategic approach e.g. creating digital products, webinars, books and courses – created once but accessible to an unlimited number of people. You do less and gain more.
How can we leverage time?
Be truly productive
Increase the amount of time you spend each day being productive (i.e. doing work that achieves results and moves your life forward rather than just being busy or maintaining life (e.g. checking emails, running errands, sleeping, bathing etc). Productive time will look different depending on the nature of the business but involves creating processes that produce more with less and that continue to deliver value beyond its production – e.g. producing a training guide with FAQs for employees that reduces the amount of time you need to spend responding to questions.
Ask yourself “What percentage of your day is spent trading time for money? Now, how much of your day is spent creating leveraged growth?” The aim is to increase the latter percentage – the higher this is the faster the path to financial independence. “If you want to know how long it will take for someone to achieve any goal, just look at how much of their time they dedicate to that goal”.
Your aim is to make yourself unnecessary for tasks that do not maximise your highest value so you have more time to do the things you are best at or have greatest significance for you e.g. spending time with family.
2. Delegate tasks
Use other people’s time to deliver what you want – delegate tasks to release time for you to deliver what you are best at (activities for which you are irreplaceable) and to allow you to work on growing your business. So you can work on your business rather than in it.
You want to “hire up” by finding people who are smarter than you at that particular skill-set as they will get more done in less time than you could.
Delegation is profitable when you can make more money (through using the time saved on tasks to attract more business) than the cost of delegating the tasks to others.
Assume you can delegate everything until you are proved wrong – start tracking every activity you get involved in, every question you are asked and use these as an opportunity to develop a system, Standard Operating Procedure or FAQ list to limit your ongoing input. “Treat every task that crosses your desk as a failure of your business systems”.
Delegation of tasks can be to other people, or to systems (as outlined below). It can also take the form of partnering with someone else.
3. TECHNOLOGY & SYSTEMS LEVERAGE
You can increase the amount of time you have by employing systemsas much as possible.
“You set up your scalable business model once and your systems do the work thousands of times.”
Franchising is an example of a scalable business model.
A quick method for determining how scalable your business is – take note of all the places in the business where your time is required.
If you work in an industry that involves some form of personal service (such as dentistry, teaching, nursing) although your contribution is of significant value to society, your income may be capped by the amount of hours you can work and/or market limits on salaries. To increase your wealth, you may need to expand your remit to employ business models involving leverage e.g. write a book that leverages your expertise, produce educational videos, courses and products, set up a tutoring business or a referral business recommending dental practices.
The aim for the leveraged business owner is to remove themselves from the “production equation” of the business, from the daily operation of the business, so the business can run itself in their absence.
A key area where systems can be used is where you have processes or tasks that are repetitive.
Develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that any individual can follow and that consistently produce required results. If one person leaves, another can deliver as required, because the standard procedure remains the same. This makes your business “system dependent” rather than “individual dependent”. You can transfer responsibility for maintaining SOPs to employees so they become responsible for updating them with improvements and changes over time.
Use technology to automate tasks without requiring your involvement e.g. an automated series of emails to new subscribers, a self-scheduling calendar where clients can book their own appointments.
Add controls and audit checks to ensure your systems are self-correcting. Alike a car dashboard with warning signals that alerts you when the gas needs filling or there is a need for a minor repair.
“Leverage seldom results in instant gratification”. At the outset you may need to invest money and time to set up these systems, so you will need to practice delayed gratification before realisation of results such as greater time, wealth and freedom. You may need to take a job – trading time for money – in order to pay your bills and provide funds in the “lag time” between setting up systems (that will scale in time) and the delivery of wanted results.
The upfront cost does not always have to be monetary – it could be based on sweat equity e.g. many have created profitable internet businesses, taking the time to develop the necessary skills but requiring minimal upfront costs.
In a sense, systems and technology democratise accessibility to the world of business and wealth. Due to the power and affordability of technology, a home-based business owner can now compete with larger businesses. E.g. local musicians can now create quality music with a laptop, editing software and some hardware, eliminating the need for expensive studio time and sound engineers, thus broadening accessibility beyond the reach of the larger recording labels.
Using technology and systems can apply to your everyday life e.g. using “Save the Change” apps to automate savings, or robo-investment apps to invest money without you even realising it.
4. COMMUNICATIONS & MARKETING LEVERAGE
Use other people’s audiences to communicate to and attract new customers to your business.
This could be via podcasts, trade magazines, radio shows, and gaining access to databases.
Leveraging in marketing is particularly effective when focused on employing strategic methods to gain more from existing customers. You derive greater and longer-term results with minimal additional marketing costs. It includes:
cross-selling (purchase of complementary products)
upselling (purchase of a higher-end product)
back-end selling (sales made after the initial purchase)
recurring revenue from each sale e.g. Netflix monthly memberships, a weekly delivery service of bottled water rather than a single bottle sale.
affiliate marketing (gaining revenue by marketing products by other brands of interest to your customer base).
“The easiest sale is a satisfied client who has already bought from you.” You have already gained their attention, and established some trust and affinity for your brand and products.
“Research shows it’s 10 times more expensive to land a new account than to serve an existing account”.
Therefore, consider providing an end-to end service or product line for your customers that provides everything they need and solves all of their problems within your niche. Package holidays are an example of this.
5. NETWORK & RELATIONSHIP LEVERAGE
Benefit from using other people’s connections. “Your success is dramatically impacted by the people you know”, in effect – your success lies in your “social capital”.
This is based on the exchange of value (rather than money).
Value could include – contacts, resources, referrals, support, encouragement, experience, advice, problem solving.
Your network could be based on friendships, professions, education, funding, hobbies, customers, mastermind groups, etc.
This type of leverage is important because “the root of all business is human relationship”. So, knowing how to harness those relationships ethically to deliver value can help you grow your business faster, with less risk and less of your own resources.
Think about how you can deliver value as well as receive value. Are you solving a problem for the person from whom you are leveraging value? What are the mutual goals that can furthered through your relationships rather than resources?
Remember that “people do what is in their best interests” – if a person supports your plans to leverage their time and resources it needs to benefit them in some way.
Building your network of strategic alliances with the right people can take time, perhaps years.
Perhaps you take a job not because you want to exchange your time for money, but because of the network you could potentially build, or the opportunities for further growth it could generate.
The result of network and relationship leverage should be to provide a greater benefit to all involved than by working alone – possibly more than the sum of individual efforts.
6. KNOWLEDGE & EXPERIENCE LEVERAGE
“Knowledge is what converts resources into something with economic value”. E.g. “most of the value of manufactured goods is in the knowledge behind the manufacturing processes that create them”.
Use the knowledge and experience of others who have already taken time to develop expertise in an area, and save yourself time and learning.
When you leverage on the experience of others, you not only gain knowledge, you also potentially gain access to their contacts and resources.
You can’t know everything – if something involves specialist technical knowledge it’s probably best to gain that help than trying to do it yourself. Let other people shine by demonstrating their expertise.
Knowledge is not only gained in-person, it can be gained through books, courses, podcasts, etc.
Note that knowledge is different to and more valuable than information – knowledge is the application of information– gained from real life experience. It is the difference between someone who has read about rock climbing and someone who has actually rock climbed – who would you trust more?
Intellectual capital is often undervalued but is often noticed when it goes away e.g. a staff member who leaves taking away valuable and unrecorded knowledge.
If knowledge is the starting point for generating revenue, sharing knowledge throughout your company is beneficial. You can leverage knowledge through training, producing written guides, SOPs, etc. Ensure that intellectual capital is captured and retained within the company regardless of the departure of employees.
Physical capital depreciates over time – “it gets consumed through use” whereas intellectual capital appreciates – it delivers more when used. A team of waiters having in-depth knowledge of your restaurant’s menu (ingredients, new recipes, food provenance) will return greater revenue through higher customer satisfaction than a team with little knowledge or interest.
To summarise, there are 3 ways to leverage knowledge and experience 1) by hiring others with expertise, 2) by leveraging your own knowledge e.g. writing books, and 3) leveraging the knowledge already inside your organisation.
Read the book to find out more about leverage, including operating leverage, risk management, mathematical expectancy, and other principles that underlie the 6 leverage tools.
I found myself with more writing time, but writing less.
I found myself doing more of the “right things”, but instead achieving less. Running slower, feeling more lethargic, delivering less.
What had gone wrong? I soon realised I had stumbled upon the Law of Diminishing Returns.
WHEN RIGHT GOES WRONG -THE LAW OF DIMINISHING RETURNS
The Law of Diminishing Returns indicates that there is an optimal point at which more effort no longer delivers greater returns, and in fact leads to lessening returns.
It invalidates our inherent assumption of a continuous linear relationship between putting “more good in” and getting “more good out”.
It illustrates that beyond a certain point, the more we have of something, the less satisfaction we derive from it. A study by Princeton University researchers Daniel Kahnerman and Angus Deaton found that happiness increased with earnings up to a limit of $75,000, beyond which it levelled off. Another study in 2018, showed that happiness levels actually decreased when people earned more than $105,000.
Alike travelling somewhere new for the first time, or having a taste of a treat we’ve denied ourselves for a while – the buzz and excitement of doing so, at first, temporarily raises our gratification levels. But it eventually wears off, particularly once we do it for a second, third and fourth time – once it becomes repeated. We sink back to our happiness setpoint, and look for the next best thing to increase our happiness – a bigger salary, bigger house, higher status position…
The law of diminishing returns explains why sleeping more does not lead to feeling more rested, if those additional hours take you over the amount of sleep needed for optimal rejuvenation. It explains why having more time does not lead to greater productivity. It is our focus that needs to be managed. After all, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
Diminishing returns explain why having more choice can lead to less effective decisions – or even no choice due to analysis paralysis.
When did MORE become synonymous with BETTER? What’s the solution?
1. SET LIMITS
To escape the false notion that more always means better, learn to honour and respect the rule of diminished returns, by setting limits. Limit the amount of time available to complete a task to help increase the pressure on you to focus and deliver. Set deadlines and targets e.g. X number of blog posts per month, X number of hours of exercise per week, X number of treats per week. By setting restrictions, you help make it imperative for you to achieve your goals, and avoid the trap of “Easy-to do Easy-not-to-do”.
2. FOCUS ON VALUE
Move away from choosing quantity over quality by focusing on things of value. Being busy does not equate to being productive. What tasks or things do you derive the most value from? Savour and utilise the things that bring you maximum value rather than striving for many things giving you minimal value. Remove those things of lesser priority, that may be distracting you from attending to matters that bring you greater success and fulfilment. As Pareto’s Principle states:
“80% of the results come from 20% of the causes. A few things are important; most are not.” (Richard Koch)
Imagine everything you have right now is enough for you to be happy or successful. How and what would you think or do differently? Are you fully maximising the resources you currently have, or constantly thinking you need something more? Are you thinking you need more resources, rather than being resourceful? What could you leverage?
When reading this article, what one thing sticks out to you? Take that one thing and implement it.
“The smallest of implementations is always worth more than the grandest of intentions” (Robin Sharma)
3. TREAT THE OTHER LIMITING FACTORS
The law of diminishing returns is actually an economic concept which statesthat “if one input in the production of a commodity is increased while all other inputs are held fixed, a point will eventually be reached at which additions of the input yield progressively smaller, or diminishing, increases in output”.
Therefore, from a systems point of view, the question to consider is – if I increase input X, what changes do I need to make to other related inputs to ensure productivity increases as expected? Changing a single factor can actually lead to a lowering of productivity if you haven’t addressed other supporting factors and dependencies. This is about considering the next potential limiting factor in the system, as a result of a change to another factor.
For example, employing more chefs (input) after a certain point does not lead to a linear increase in productivity. During a shift, 1 chef produces 50 meals, 2 chefs produce 100 meals, 4 chefs produce 200 meals, but 5 chefs still only produce 200 meals. Why? Because other factors have not been changed to support the increase of this input – a larger kitchen with more resources is needed to allow the chefs to work effectively and overcome competition between chefs for space to cook (oven space, counter space) and equipment to cook with. These supporting factors have now become the limiting factor in the success of the system, and need to be addressed to allow for an increase in productivity.
Similarly, I found that running more frequently led to diminishing returns. I started to run slower, and found myself unable to complete distances I had previously been more easily able to achieve. I found that running more frequently led to overuse of the same muscle groups, leading to greater fatigue and therefore worsening results. I hadn’t addressed other supporting factors which would lead to a successful change, such as diversifying my exercise to include strength training, stretching after exercising, and eating a diet to provide greater energy for an increased running schedule.
4. SHARE YOUR GAINS
Numerous studies show that we derive greater happiness through giving to others than in receiving. As we have seen above, there is a limit to which we can derive sustained happiness from earning more money or buying bigger and better material objects.
Therefore, when we surpass the optimal level of satisfaction we can gain from these pursuits, we can instead choose to give our additional gains away, to others. Allow others to share in your wealth. Give to others and gain pleasure from seeing others do something – you have done often – for the first time. Become a philanthropist and see your happiness surpass the optimal level of diminishing returns.
There’s no doubt that information helps us to make better decisions. However, life like poker, involves engaging in a world of uncertainty and unpredictability. How then do the best poker players succeed to achieve great heights? The answer : they become the ultimate truthseekers. They adopt beneficial practices that aid them in navigating the darkness of a covert world, like a blindfolded survival expert without a map, relying on their experience and observations of the terrain to make their way out of the jungle to the shore. With a hunger for accuracy, they capitalise on the limited information they possess – avoiding the traps of beliefs and emotions, dispelling fact from fiction, scoping possibilities and probabilities, and embracing the role of Lady Luck – to ultimately find their way out of the poker jungle to the success of a winning hand.
Two factors determine our life outcome – the quality of our decisions and luck
A decision is merely a bet on a possible future
Place a wager – put your money where your mouth is
Improving the quality of your decision-making is about increasing your chances of a good outcome, not guaranteeing it
Beware the danger of resulting – good decisions can lead to bad results
Focus on what you can control when decision-making
Embrace uncertainty – establish your limitations
Leverage the experience and knowledge of others to make better decisions
Conduct a premortem – embrace failure before it happens
Beware of the tilt – limit your reactive decision-making
Hunger for accuracy and objectivity – learn the strategies of poker to become a truthseeker
WHY POKER CAN HELP YOU BECOME A BETTER DECISION MAKER?
Poker players make a multitude of decisions under intense time and financial pressure.
Playing poker involves playing in a world of limited information. Like life, it’s a world “that doesn’t easily reveal the objective truth”. The best players succeed by embracing this uncertainty, and employ ways of thinking, supporting structures and strategies that help them become better truthseekers and get closer to the objective truth, to win.
Poker therefore makes a great subject of study when learning about the art of decision making.
Annie Duke, the author of this book, is one such professional player who was particularly successful, and won over $4 million during the course of her career.
YOUR BEST DECISION
What’s the best decision you made last year? Why?
And what was the worst?
Chances are you will choose the best or worst decision you’ve made based on the outcome of that decision.
We often believe there is a corresponding link between the quality of our decision-making process and the outcome. However, the outcome could simply be due to luck.
Luckis defined as “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions”. It is about good or bad fortune, about results that occur outside of our influence, that we cannot control or predict.
Therefore, the quality of the outcome is not always determined by the quality of the decision process taken before the occurrence of that outcome.
Annie Duke argues that “there are exactly two things that determine how our lives turn out:the quality of our decisions and luck”.
DANGERS OF RESULTING – DRIVING WHILST DRUNK
“Resulting” in poker is the tendency to “equate the quality of a decision with the quality of its outcome”.
A focus on resulting in poker can tempt a player to change their game strategy simply because they had a short run of bad hands.
“Drawing an overly tight relationship between results and decision quality affects our decisions every day, potentially with far-reaching, catastrophic consequences.”
For example, reaching the conclusion that your safe arrival home (result) after choosing to drive whilst drunk (decision) is evidence of a great decision making process would be nonsensical. And then changing your behaviour as a result of this outcome could be further catastrophic.
Hindsight can also spur us into this thinking trap. “Hindsight bias is the tendency, after an outcome is known, to see the outcome as having been inevitable.” That is, that we should have been able to see what would result as a consequence of our decision.
When we work backwards from any results to figure out why an outcome occurred, we can be subject to cognitive bias which can make us assume causation where there is none, and lead us to cherry pick the data that fits this narrative.
American Football Example – In 2015, the New England Patriots defeated the defending Super Bowl champions – the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks, having advanced to their opponent’s one-yard line, were in a potential position to score in the final 26 seconds of the game. The call was made to pass the ball, which was then intercepted by the Patriots and secured their win. Pete Carroll, the Seahawks coach, was heavily criticised for the call to throw the ball as opposed to a handoff to one of the best running backs in the league, being such a short distance from the goal line. However, this criticism was a classic case of resulting – in the previous 15 seasons, the chance of an interception of a pass from an opponent’s one-yard line was only about 2%. That is, it only occurred twice out of every 100 plays – it was highly unlikely to happen. The quality of the decision making was good – Seattle chose a strategy with a high likelihood of a successful outcome but were unlucky on this occasion. They made “a good-quality decision that got a bad result”.
CHESS V POKER – POKER IS THE GAME OF LIFE
Chess is a game of computation – there are no surprise elements – there are a limited number of known possible moves and corresponding reactions. If you lose its because your opponent employed better moves. The only element out of your control are the choices made by your opponent, but the outcomes of their moves and options available to you as a result of those moves can be determined. You can go back and work out where you made mistakes or could have made better decisions. “In chess, outcomes correlate more tightly with decision quality”.
If in the Super Bowl example above, the outcome of the decision to pass from the one-yard line was certain and pre-determined as in chess, the Seahawks would win every time Pete Carroll made that call.
Poker, on the other hand, has more uncertainty built into the remit of the game. “Life is more like poker” than chess.
“You could make the best possible decision at every point and still lose the hand” because there are more factors outside of your control. The outcome is in part down to luck. There is a lack of information – a player cannot determine the new cards to be dealt or the cards of their opponents. You can’t go back and figure out where you could have made a better move because the cards of your other opponents are not revealed. When you win you cannot tell whether you played well or were lucky. “The uncertainty involved – the lack of information – makes it difficult to make a direct link between your decisions and the results that occur. In such situations where other people and other factors can have an impact on or influence the outcome, the result is not an indication of the quality of your decisions up until that point.
Our analogy of poker to life demonstrates that “the quality of our lives is the sum of decision quality plus luck”.
Improving the quality of our decision-making is about “increasing our chances of good outcomes, not guaranteeing them”.
THINK OF DECISIONS AS BETS
As we saw in the Super Bowl example above, just because an event is very unlikely to happen according to probabilities, does not mean it won’t happen. There was only a 2% chance of an interception from a pass play at the one-yard line and it still occurred.
In poker, a player holding a hand with a low chance of winning is not eliminated from winning. A lucky card could be drawn that enables them to win, despite the chances of that happening being low. The key is that the likelihood is low BUT NOT ZERO.
A 30 % chance of rain tomorrow does not mean it will not rain. It is just more likely than not – based on a range of possible outcomes – that it will not rain. “An event predicted to happen 30% to 40% of the time will happen a lot”.
In poker, to place a bet is to make “a decision about an uncertain future”. A bet is defined as “a choice made by thinking about what will probably happen”. We make decisions that are “based on the belief that something will happen or is true”.
“In most of our decisions, we are not betting against another person. Rather, we are betting against all the future versions of ourselves that we are not choosing … We are betting that the future version of us that results from the decisions we make will be better off.” We are looking to make decisions that will allow for the emergence of the best possible version of ourselves, our highest point of self-actualisation.
How can we be sure to choose the option that will bring us the most satisfaction? The truth is that we can’t be sure. There are factors outside of our control that will play a part in this. At the point of making a decision we are only choosing a potential self, not an actual realised self. Therefore, it is a bet, a best guess at the option that will lead to the happiest path for us. Bets involve a risk that things may not turn out as we may expect. “Not placing a bet on something is, itself, a bet”.
“A great poker player … [who makes] significantly better strategic decisions, will still be losing over 40% of the time at the end of eight hours of play. That’s a whole lot of wrong.” “The most successful investors in start-up companies have a majority of bad results.”“Life, like poker, is one long game, and there are going to be a lot of losses, even after making the best possible bets.” This shows that you don’t have to win all of the time to be successful – you are allowed to fail quite a lot of the time. Being successful is to navigate through the uncertainty of life, learning from wins and losses as you go along, and calibrating your choices accordingly as you gain a more accurate and objective view of life.
PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS
“Thinking in bets” goes further than just declaring a particular position.
Being asked to “put your money where your mouth is” and actually placing a wager on your favoured choice, makes you more willing to ascertain the certainty to which you favour that possibility.
When our money is at stake – just as in poker – we may be more willing to investigate our beliefs, conduct research and determine fact from fiction before placing a bet.
EXAMPLE – You are driving and end up getting into an accident at a junction after losing control of your car on an invisible patch of ice. Your first thought was that you were just plain unlucky – i.e. the accident happened as a result of circumstances outside of your control, influence or actions. But would you be willing to put a bet on that? When asked to put money behindthis stance, we may hesitate and instead consider other alternatives more fully first. Could you have paid more attention to the weather forecast and decided not to drive on that day? Or perhaps even whilst driving you could have observed the weather, and anticipated that there would be some ice on the road. Perhaps you were driving too fast for the weather conditions. Or could you have taken a safer route, along a road that had been salted? Perhaps you could have steered differently.
When we have to place a bet, “we consider a greater number of alternative causes more seriously than we otherwise would have.” We are more willing to explore alternative hypotheses. We engage in “truthseeking” – and examine whether luck or skill was the main influence on the outcome of events. This is the value of “thinking in bets”.
BELIEFS AND DECISION-MAKING
“Our pre-existing beliefs influence the way we experience the world. That those beliefs aren’t formed in a particularly orderly way leads to all sorts of mischief in our decision making.”
Our beliefs are often formed not on the basis of facts but on hearsay. Furthermore, they can be become entrenched beliefs that go unchallenged over the years – “we form beliefs without vetting most of them”. This causes an issue for us when making choices as our beliefs inform our decision-making process. Our beliefs provide a filter for the way we look at the world and include biases and assumptions, particularly those we may be blind to, causing us to overlook or dismiss important information, diverse perspectives and recent developments.
Thinking in bets – being willing to place money on a particular outcome – gives us greater motivation to do the necessary work to determine fact from fiction, identifying where our beliefs are limited or harmful along the way.
For example, a misguided belief based on filtered down hearsay that a particular set of cards (known as suited connectors) were profitable starting cards under almost any circumstance was discovered to lead to net losses for student players on verification. When starting out in poker, Annie Duke adopted a misconception that a restricted list of cards were the only ones that players could win from, limiting her learning and earnings.
To think like a successful poker player is to become a truthseeker – with a hunger for accuracy and objectivity in order to win, and keep winning.
HOW UNSURE ARE YOU? EMBRACE UNCERTAINTY
Skilled poker players alike good decision makers become comfortable in a world of uncertainty and unpredictability.
A game of poker involves playing in a world of limited information. You don’t know the new cards to be dealt, or the hands of your opponents. You cannot determine retrospectively whether you won because you played poorly or were lucky.
The difficulty of decision-making when there is a lack of information can be illustrated by the following example. Imagine being a doctor using a weighing scale with only two measurement markers – one at 50 pounds and the other at 500 pounds, and no way to measure in-between. How can the doctor make a good assessment of your weight and health with such poor information?
Engaging in a world of incomplete information necessitates a mature outlook. Make peace with not knowing.Get comfortable with being unsure. As in life, we often have to make decisions without having full knowledge of all the factors involved. Accept this to help you.
A decision – a bet on a particular outcome – is simply a best guess. Thus, your focus is not on being sure because you can’t be, but on just how unsure you are. Recognise the limits of your knowledge to help prevent decision-making based on erroneous assumptions and fooled thinking.
Talk in terms of probabilities not certainties. For example, if someone argues a particular point of view, ask how certain they are of this perspective and the basis of the information on which they are justifying their position.
Accepting the limits of your knowledge can lead you to seek more information or adopt other measures or observations to determine educated guesses. In poker – the most experienced players are better able to guess the chances of winning or losing a hand by being able to narrow down what their opponents’ cards may be based on their behaviour with certain types of hands. An expert trial lawyer will be better at figuring out a strategy that is more likely to be successful, particularly if they have experience with a particular opposition lawyer or judge. Yet still, their choices are still at best a mere guess.
BEFRIEND YOUR EQUIVALENT OF HONEST POKER BUDDIES
As outlined above, playing poker requires engaging in a world of incomplete information. Unlike in chess, a player is unable to work backwards from the end result of a particular game to ascertain whether they played well or not.
Therefore to improve, it is vital that players learn from the strategies and advice of other more experienced players.
Annie Duke reveals that her game would not have improved without the input of her trusted poker buddies, who helped her work on her game strategy and gave her access and insight to their own experience, gaining knowledge she would never have had otherwise.
She was able to leverage on the experience of others to improve her game. Learning simply from our own experience puts a major limit on our growth – studying the experience, strategies, systems and outcomes from others helps minimise the repetition of the same errors. We can more clearly and objectively see the actions of others, examine the results generated and ascertain – did they succeed due to skill or luck?
Her “buddy system” helped reduce the number of errors she made and improved the quality of her decision thinking – she would consult them on game decisions, and they helped her where she felt she may have made a mistake or was confused as to what to do with a particular hand. They helped her with non-game specific decisions e.g. how much money to set aside for poker games (bankroll management) or whether to move up in stakes to a bigger poker game. They helped her understanding of outcomes when something happened in a game, being able to see things she could not.
The input of trusted others can help us make better and more effective decisions, as they can see our biases and blind spots more clearly than we can – they can help us with truth-seeking and get us closer to the elusive land of objectivity. They can help us to see what information we may have missed or minimised, and why others who have another belief may be right.
To ensure your biases aren’t merely amplified, ensure you are surrounded by people with a diversity of opinion, thought and perspective; who are committed to accuracy and objectivity more than confirming your stance in order to make you feel better. You want a support system that truly honours your growth through honesty.
This is similar to creating your own “dissent channel” – actively look for devil’s advocates when making a decision – ask them to tell you why a particular choice may not be best and the reasons for it. If someone argues for a position, ask them to argue against it to help reveal insights you may be missing. The American Foreign Service Association issues annual awards to members, recognising and encouraging constructive dissent within the Foreign Service. The US Department of State established a formal Dissent Channel to allow employees to raise dissenting views and have them addressed without fear of a negative outcome, and this channel has been given credit for a policy change that helped lead to the end of the genocidal war in Bosnia.
“Dissent channels…are a beautiful implementation of Mill’s bedrock principle that we can’t know the truth of a matter without hearing the other side”.
Forming a buddy system is also about being accountable for our decisions, thus improving the quality of our choice making process. “Accountability is a willingness or obligation to answer for our actions or beliefs to others.” Knowing that you will have to account to your buddy group when you make a particular decision may help you make a better choice in the first place. “The group gets into our head – in a good way – reshaping our decision habits.”
ANALYSING THE QUALITY OF OUR DECISION-MAKING
“Decisions are bets on the future … they aren’t “right” or “wrong” based on whether they turn out well on any particular iteration. An unwanted result doesn’t make our decision wrong if we thought about the alternatives and probabilities in advance and allocated our resources accordingly.” It’s simply that a bet – a best guess based on a range of outcomes that could occur – is inherently dependent on unknown information and unpredictable factors.
““Wrong” is a conclusion, not a rationale.” It’s not particularly helpful as it doesn’t explain why we ended up with a particular result, it is more of a judgement.
Decision making isn’t always about choosing between two discrete choices, or right versus wrong. Knowing that making decisions involves a lot of grey helps us to realise that the outcome of our decision cannot be certain, therefore relieving the pressure to get it right, and instead enabling us to focus on putting in place the conditions we can control to make it more likely that a favourable outcome will occur.
“When we thinkprobabilistically, we are less likely to use adverse results alone as proof that we made a decision error.”
For example, we decide to host an outdoor summer charity fundraising event, with friends, family, spectators and passerbys, involving a range of games and sporting activities, and hire a suitable event space. Closer to the date we check the weather forecast – there is a 70% chance of outcome A occurring (extreme heat) – unusually high, 20% chance of B (warm pleasant weather), 6% of C (rain) and 4% chance of D (thunderstorm). This gives a total of 80% chance of adverse weather conditions. We know we can’t control the weather, and so we focus on what we can control to host a good event, maximise fundraising whilst keeping guests safe and comfortable. We analyse the options available – cancel, postpone, change the format or go ahead as planned. Guests have already booked accommodation nearby to attend and are only able to gather together once a year, so we decide not to cancel nor postpone, but instead to change the format of the event, given the high likelihood of bad weather. We cancel the hire booking (losing the deposit) and decide to host an alternative event inside our home, given the short time frame available to find suitable indoor space. Our home is limited in size and so we decide to restrict the event to friends and family. On the day, the weather is nice – Option B occurs – had we have been able to predict this we could have gone ahead with our original plan and potentially raised more funds (from sales of goods and donations from passers-by). This result does not mean our decision-making was “wrong”. Without knowing the result that occurred it’s unlikely that any observers would conclude that the quality of our decision-making was poor. A suggestion for improvement could be to go ahead with the original plan but with contingency plans for bad weather (e.g. booking an outdoor space with an indoor option) should the budget allow for this. Or to set a minimum donation amount per person, to ensure a target amount is achieved.
The example shows that there isn’t always necessarily a fixed “best” outcome – e.g. the best event possible, or the most funds raised possible – firstly these are judgement calls involving a spectrum of grey – what do we even mean by “best” and “most”? We need to define what we mean by success in this case, perhaps defining a “minimum win”. Usain Bolt could win the 100m race, which could be deemed as a minimum win, but breaking the World Record while doing so would be a greater win, and breaking it by more than X seconds an even greater win, and so forth … there is no real limit. There are many factors outside of our control that play a part in the creation of an event and can’t be predetermined e.g. the mood or generosity of guests. All we can do is maximise our efforts and decisions towards creating the conditions – within our control – that will further the chance of a favoured outcome. We cannot however guarantee it.
“Redefining wrong allows us to let go of all the anguish that comes from getting a “bad” result. But it also means we must redefine “right””. Just because we get a beneficial result from making a particular choice, doesn’t make us right in our choice because things turned out well. It could simply have been down to the luck of the draw.
To learn and improve, we therefore need to analyse the quality of our decision-making process separate to the outcome that occurred.
For example, lawyers can evaluate a trial strategy before a verdict comes in. You can ask a trusted group to evaluate your prior decisions without telling them the outcome, just as poker players do when seeking advice about their playing strategies. Going back to the drink driving example above, if you were to tell those with your best interests at heart years later that you drove whilst drunk and without informing them of the outcome, what do you think their advice or judgement of your decision-making would be?
Redefining what we mean by wrong decisions by separating the decision-making process from the results that occur, does not excuse us from undertaking due diligence or doing all we can to aid in the generation of favourable results. There is no excuse for a lack of thorough research, consultation and preparation to avoid making assumptions or overlooking factors that could easily have been foreseen had we done the work necessary.
WHEN ANALYSING A PRIOR DECISION DON’T FORGET THE BRANCHES
Using the analogy of a tree and chainsaw as a comparison to our lives and the choices we make, can help us see more clearly why solely judging our decision-making by the outcome that occurred is limited.
The trunk represents the past path of our lives, composed of the outcomes from choices we have already made, the branches represent future possibilities. The juncture between the branches and the trunk represents the present moment. Once a choice is made, the unrealised options get cut off with a chainsaw, and the chosen branch gets incorporated into the accumulating past of the trunk of our life.
When we are looking back at the past (our trunk), possibly at a negative outcome and analysing how and why it occurred, we may fall into the trap of resulting – of concluding that the unwanted result was inevitable due to the (faulty) choice we made. This is because we are only looking at what is visible – that is, our analysis is limited by looking solely at the trunk – the past – and excludes all of the possible futures that were visible previously – the branches that were cut off.
If we had considered all potential options thoroughly before taking a decision, we can feel certain that we undertook a good quality considered process of decision-making even if the outcome was a negative one. We can conclude that external factors or luck could have played a significant part in the generation of the unwanted result.
TIME-TRAVEL TECHNIQUES FOR BETTER DECISION MAKING
INVEST IN YOUR FUTURE SELF
It can be difficult to analyse our decision-making process looking back, particularly when we are generating unfavourable results. Facing our failures can bring up sensitivities and vulnerabilities within us. Instead, focusing on how we can grow and improve for the future can help us open up to a productive discussion.
“Rehashing outcomes can create defensiveness. The future, on the other hand, can always be better if we … focus on things in [our] control.”
For example, if your child fails an important exam, rather than asking what happened that led to this result, we can shift focus and instead ask “is there anything you could do to improve your test results in the future?” Focusing on what can be changed in the future feels more positive and expansive as it places emphasis on what can be controlled rather than bringing up a past that reminds you of failure that cannot be changed. This is similar to adopting a growth mindset.
Focusing on failures of the past with a lack of self-compassion can lead to self-criticism. Instead choose to invest in a future self, to learn lessons from the past and make better decisions in the future.
You are recruiting a future version of yourself to help you with decision making in the present. In a sense this future self becomes your very own decision-making buddy.
Ask yourself, “Who do I want my ideal future self to be?” Then make decisions based on that self, not the present-day person wanting instant gratification. For example, choose to exercise to further the creation of a future healthy self, rather than relaxing now; choose to invest money that could bring you greater returns in the future, rather than spend it on a more expensive car you don’t really need right now.
It’s easy for us to succumb to the temptations of “temporal discounting”, that is “using the resources that are available to us now as opposed to saving them for a future version of us”. “The best poker players develop practical ways to incorporate their long- term strategic goals into their in-the-moment decisions.”
Don’t sell your future self short – don’t discount your future self to temporarily satisfy your present-day self. When making a decision think about the future consequences of your decision, and whether you are taking away from meaningful gains for your future self in order to give your current self something less meaningful.
Similarly, try to benefit from the lesson of regret before making a decision. Ask yourself, “If I choose this decision will I regret if after?” If so, make another choice.
ESTABLISH A ULYSEES CONTRACT: PRE-COMMIT TO YOUR FUTURE SELF
When we know we want to commit to a particular decision, we can take steps to establish conditions and enhance our environment in advance of carrying out a choice, to make it more likely that we will see through our intention. This is effectively establishing a Ulysses Contract – acknowledging our weaknesses and limitations of our future self and taking present day measures to minimise them, helping us keep to our promises. You employ strategies in the present to create barriers to prevent breaking those intentions (through impulse, desires, or emotional cravings) in the future.
In poker, Annie Duke set a predetermined “loss limit” of $600 at which point she would leave the game, thereby anticipating a future self who might be tempted to play on under the influence of high emotions rather than rationality, and thereby helping her to avoid further losses.
In everyday life, Ulysses Contracts could include helping your future healthy self to evolve by developing supporting factors above and beyond a reliance on your future willpower, by ensuring your environment supports this commitment e.g. getting rid of junk food in your home and not buying or allowing them into your home. You could automate your savings or overpay on a mortgage and in doing so pre-commit to a wealthier self in the future. You could go public with a commitment to run a marathon and thereby create a means of holding yourself accountable. You could also set up a positive impact fine, donating to a charity when you do not fulfil a commitment such as exercising every day.
ON TILT? ZOOM OUT
Whilst shopping, someone cuts in front of you in the queue, you get annoyed and decide to raise the issue with the person who gets defensive and starts to blame you instead. You get engaged in an argument, reacting to the other person’s provocations, and end up dropping your basket of shopping all over the floor, leaving a trail of cracked eggs and spilled milk. Upset, you rush out of the shop and get caught in a downpour of rain, having also left your umbrella in the shop. Once home you realise you haven’t bought the ingredients needed to make your husband’s birthday cake, and panic at signt of the time – the shops will be closing. You start moaning about how unlucky you are and how unfair life is.
By zooming outyou can gain perspective by asking “Is this experience going to matter in a year’s time? Is this event really going to affect my future happiness or life state?” Unlikely … in fact, it will probably be a funny story to tell.
This approach of gaining perspective by considering the wider picture and longer-term significance of a triggering event can lessen our reactivity in the moment to relatively inconsequential matters. It can help get us out of the intensity of our emotions in the moment, and avoid overreactions, so we can instead make more rational decisions.
In poker, emotional reactivity and its impact on decision making is called tilt. If you are triggered and become emotionally unhinged causing you to make drastic choices, you’re “on tilt”. Recognising the signs we are approaching tilt is key to finding our way out. If we can see that we are getting emotional and not in a “decision fit” state, we can choose to take an alternative course of action leading to a better outcome – e.g. choose to walk away, take some deep breaths, sleep on it. It’s always best to avoid decisions while on tilt.
When it comes to our happiness, zooming out to take the longer term perspective can help us to avoid magnifying and overreacting to any small dips or changes in our mood. Viewing our happiness as a long term stock investment that appreciates over the longer term, an help avoid monitoring and reacting to the ups and downs, and ebbs and flows that occur moment to moment, day to day. Having an expectation that there will be relative dips and peaks can help us stay the course towards our longer term ambition.
The perspective of the wider picture is also important in terms of how we view “failure” or “success”. We can win $100 and be sad and lose $100 and be happy – how? Imagine playing poker – in the first 30 mins you win $1000, in the next hour you lose $900, ending up with a $100 winning balance. However, chances are you would feel far happier if you started with a loss of $1000 in the first 30 mins but then go on to a winning streak in the next hour, ending up being down by $100. We tend to feel greater pain at our losses than happiness for our wins. In the first scenario the $1000 was ours to lose and we did (for the most part); whereas in the second scenario we felt we achieved something by gaining most of it back.
Similarly, if you aimed to run 20km but run 15km you would be unhappy. But if you aimed to run 10km and run 12km you would be happy, even though you ran less than in the second scenario. Perhaps your aim was to give up alcohol for a year. You could be unhappy because you did not reach your ultimate goal, or be happy at failing only once over the course of that year, particularly in comparison to the previous year when you drank at least 4 times a week.
This illustrates that how we view results depends on our how we got there, not so much about the outcome. Whether we are sad or happy, whether we feel we have lost of gained something – our view of the outcome based on the process to get there – can have an impact on the quality of the subsequent decisions we make, affecting our motivations. Therefore, it’s important to zoom out and look at the averages of our results objectively over a period of time, rather than reacting to our moment-to-moment subjective feelings about a result.
SCENARIO MAP THE FUTURE
Poker players engage in a world of uncertainty and need to make some sense of incomplete information in order to play well. Although they cannot see their opponents’ cards, they can try to anticipate the likelihood of what may play out and use this to help build their game strategy. The best poker players, are adept at conducting reconnaissance, just as the military do when scoping a terrain to figure out the best strategy for mission success. They observe the reactions of their opponents’ to calculate the likelihood of the cards in hand, and their possible future moves, thinking many hands ahead.
You can employ the same technique to help make decisions and determine the optimal strategy in the uncertain world of life. Map out as many possible scenarios of a future event as you can think of and assign probabilities of each occurring. Accuracy is not important – you can’t be accurate because you don’t know what the future holds. It’s simply a prediction. Then think about what your response would be to each of those scenarios if they were to occur.
For example, you want to get a new job, and have identified five roles you are interested in, with only two days to submit the applications. In that time, you assess that you would likely be able to complete only three applications, and your initial thought is to rank the roles in order of salary and apply for them in that order, completing the highest first. However, thinking about the optimal strategy, a better decision would be to assign probabilities to the likelihood of your success in getting through to interview stage, based on the match of your skill-set and experience to the roles. You multiply the probabilities and salaries to give you a rank of importance or most value. E.g. a role with a 30% chance of success x £50k salary would be more valuable to you and rank higher than a role with the same chance of success but a lower salary. A role with 30% chance of success and £50k salary would rank lower in value than one with a 70% chance of success and a £30k salary. On doing this, you see that the three roles you were initially going to apply for have the lowest value rank – based on likelihood of success x salary – and so you change your strategy accordingly.
You could also go a step further and add the outcome of not being successful in any your applications – what would you do then? Your plan B could be to apply for roles more closely matched to your skill-set or perhaps pursue a course of study to gain the required skills and experience. Even if you are not successful, you can treat your failure as feedback – reality is giving you a message to act upon – and you can decide to act accordingly. For example, you could speak to a recruiter in the field to find out why your applications are unsuccessful – perhaps you have the experience but need help selling yourself more.
You could even use this in technique in conversation with others, mapping their possible reactions and exploring how you would respond.
Conducting scenario mapping makes us better anticipate, prepare for and respond to range of different outcomes that might result from our decision. Surveying the landscape of the future helps us uncover options we may never have and thought of, and minimise regrets from not pursuing an option because it hadn’t been seen as a possibility. Through this exercise we can uncover the unexpected, and anticipate the curve balls that life likes to throw on our path.
BACKCASTING – LOOK BACK TO THE FUTURE
Backcasting is similar in concept to Reverse Engineering outlined in The 1% rule, where you identify a goal and work backwards to figure out the steps needed to achieve it successfully.
However, backcasting goes a stage further – to analyse the probabilities of occurrence of the required steps, milestones and events along the way. It focuses on identifying the “low-probability events that must occur to reach the goal” in order to develop strategies to increase the likelihoodof these happening, or recognise that the goal is indeed too ambitious.
For example, you want to run a marathon in under X hours in two months’ time, and already have some long distance running experience, but haven’t run for some time. Working backwards, you develop a training plan schedule to achieve this. However, you realise that realistically, the likelihood of being able to stick to this exact timescale – with very little slack time to catch up on any missed sessions or for injuries – is presently low. You have recently taken on a new contract which is already making demands of your free time, requiring that you work long evenings regularly. You know you will not be able to continue working, as well as train as per the schedule, but you know you must fulfil the training plan in order to finish the marathon in your target time. So, to increase the likelihood of training successfully, you decide to hire temporary help to relieve time and pressure from work, meaning you can dedicate yourself to the plan. Of course you cannot eliminate the possibility of injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, but you have made it much more likely that you will be successful in meeting the demands of your training plan, and subsequently, achievement of your goal.
As mentioned previously, backcasting helps us to improve our decision-making process by “increasing our chances of good outcomes, [but] not guaranteeing them”.
CONDUCT A PREMORTEM – EMBRACE FAILURE BEFORE IT HAPPENS
Backcasting and premortems complement each other.
Backcasting looks at the positive outcome, premorterms (as opposed to postmortems), look at the worst case scenario before it happens – before the death occurs. Instead of looking at the positive achievement of a goal and working backwards from there, premortems focus on the negative outcome – on failure.
The question to look at is “I didn’t achieve my goal, why was this? In the marathon example above, this could be due to a number of reasons – I didn’t eat a nutritious supportive diet, I became injured, the weather was bad so I couldn’t train, I got lazy and lost motivation and skipped training sessions.
Incorporating negative visualisation into your planning makes it more likely that you will achieve your goals, far more than just visualising the positive outcome. It helps us consider any downsides of our decisions before we make them. By focusing on any potential obstacles on the pathway to success beforehand, you can adopt strategies to tackle them and minimise their occurrence. For example, you could hire a coach to help keep you motivated and to ensure you keep to your target pace, you could sign up to a gym to allow you to continue training despite bad weather.
Of course, some of the issues raised will be revealed in positive visualisation e.g. the need to adopt a schedule made it clear that there was a clash with current work demands, requiring a solution. However focusing on the negative can reveal things we may overlook or assume, like our ability to sustain our motivation without external support. It triggers us into implementing contingency plans. It helps us to see things more objectively, allowing us to address rather than deny negative scenarios, and therefore enhances our ability to be effective in our decision making.
The likelihood of all outcomes must add up to 100%. That is the combined probability sum of both positive and negative possibilities should total 100%. “The positive space of backcasting and the negative space of premortem still have to fit in a finite amount of space. When we see how much negative space there really is, we shrink down the positive space to a size that more accurately reflects reality and less reflects our naturally optimistic nature.”
As above in the discussion of Dissent Channels, organisations that look at possible obstacles to success are much healthier because they include the views of those with a more pessimistic outlook in the planning process. Everyone feels heard, diverse opinions are incorporated, and resentment minimised if things don’t work out as planned.
Have positive goals but think about negative futures. Be your own “productive heckler” as well as enthusiastic cheerleader.
Struggle with making decisions? Glad to know I’m not alone. I find myself in a constant state of flux – my mind and soul – a jumble of limitless options and alternating possibilities. My mind fools me into the illusion of progress, in thinking about, imagining, researching and navigating a rich landscape of thrilling opportunities. This all takes place, however, within the confines of the vibrant mental tapestry of my brain. In reality, I end up in my inevitable resting place – Destination Nowhere. The rollercoaster journey of Analysis Paralysis leads to my default choice – No Choice. I’m left in a pool of exhaustion, a sticky sap of unrealised potential. Stuck. Imprisoned by my own inability to choose.
A rich fruity toast-loving sauce re-inspires me
I realise all is not lost, on stumbling across a blog post promoting the virtue of jam in transcending the allure of Analysis Paralysis. Reading it re-inspires a belief in me that I could try to master the art of decision making, once again, after endless attempts. I am reminded that I have indeed discovered and developed my own tools to help navigate the murky waters of decision making. I’m still on a journey to becoming a proficient and confident decision-maker, but here are 9 tools (plus jam) that have helped me along the way thus far.
1. CATEGORISE JAM 2. KNOW YOUR (CELERY) FILTER 3. THERE’S FREEDOM IN LIMITATION 4. UNRAVEL THE ORANGE 5. THERE IS NO CHOICE A. SACRIFICE FOR WHAT YOU WANT B. THE THIRD WAY C. UNCOVER THE IMPOSTER 6. FETCH YOUR SHOVEL 7.CHUNK IT DOWN 8. SATISFICE MORE THAN MAXIMISE 9. LET IT BREATHE 10. VOW IT DAILY
1. CATEGORISE JAM
Can’t decide between a wide variety of options? The seemingly innocuous task of shopping for jam can present such a dilemma. The famous Jam Studyof 2000 revealed that too much choice leaves people feeling paralysed and overwhelmed – the classic Paradox of Choice. When faced with a multiplicity of options – luxury jams, curds, compotes, marmalades, sugar-free options, seedless options, exotic flavours, traditional recipes, organic options … customers, overwhelmed by the sheer variety of choice, will more often default to making no choice at all. The study found that customers were almost 10 times more likely to make a purchase when presented with a small range of jams to choose from, compared to a much larger selection. It in part explains the rise in popularity of limited choice supermarkets and shops, who in doing so “take the decision making out of the purchase equation”.
Instead of allowing overwhelm to triumph, and subjugating your power to choose, adopt the mindset of a UX designer. Categorise your jam. As Mehek Kapoor suggests, group your jams (or equivalent item) into categories such as sweet, citrus, smooth, sugar-free etc. Now you have created a limit your brain can deal with, you can move onto making a choice between these categories. You could go further and group your favoured category (e.g. sweet) into sub-categories (e.g. by flavour, price) to aid in making a final choice. You can apply this categorisation approach whenever you are trying to select between a multiplicity of options. E.g. if you are building a team and have numerous candidates to choose from, you could categorise by dominant skill-set (e.g. finance, sales) and choose within these classifications.
2. KNOW YOUR (CELERY) FILTER
Knowing your Filter can also prove to be an indispensable aid in your arsenal of decision-making tools. And here again, another food source comes to our rescue – you can blame Simon Sinek for this one! InThe Celery Test– Knowing Your Why before you “go shopping” – before you need to take a decision – can help you choose the option that most aligns with your purpose. If you are given advice from a number of sources trying to help you grow your business, by suggesting you stock it with either Oreos, Celery, Rice Milk or M&Ms, Knowing Your Whyhelps you cut through the advice you are given. Your choice is clear – your business as a health food store is there to promote nutrition – your purchase is Celery or Rice Milk. Knowing your criteria for making decisions saves time, money and mental fatigue – your decision-making process is more efficient and avoids overwhelm generated by information overload.
From a personal perspective, knowing your purpose provides a filter for making decisions. In The Blank State, I expand on this from a systems perspective – promoting the benefits of viewing yourself as Project with a Purpose with guiding paradigms, goals and rules. Taking time to understand your highest priority – your life purpose – can help speed up and ease the process of decision making, and overcome seeming areas of conflict. All decisions, goals and supporting systems should flow from your highest purpose. In The Blank State, we see how Ama is able to generate a creative solution that both satisfies her own values and allows her to partake in an important activity, circumventing the part that lies in conflict with her values. If you are in a partnership, taking time to identify your joint purpose, as well as identifying individual priorities and interests should ease the process of decision-making in the long run.
3. THERE’S FREEDOM IN LIMITATION
Instituting rules and limits in your life can help to reduce decision fatigue, by reducing the number of (trivial) decisions you need to make. For example, whilst working from home during COVID-19 lockdown, I found myself overindulging in tea and eating more unhealthy snacks than I ever used to – mainly as it provided an excuse to have a break. This led to the creation of The Corona Treat Diet – limiting myself to one snack treat and one drink treat a day. This limit has been incredibly effective, in waking me up to the full value of what I have – particularly in seemingly small things. I now savour my full cup of tea, knowing it’s all I can have for the day, and look forward to my choice of treats each new dawn. In fact, this limit feels like the opposite of a restriction – I now feel I have a greater sense of choice, paradoxically. This simple rule continues to be productive, and I realise the value of constraints even more. Limitation, after all, is the birthplace of creativity.
We can tend to go through life thinking we have limitless choice and limitlesstime, which can inadvertently lead us to having less choice and less time.Thinking we can have everything, we become consumed by analysis paralysis and endless deliberation. We can end up making no choice at all, and our lives can start to lack substance. We can end up drifting through life without realising. Taking decisions gives our life meaning. Setting limits can force us into making those meaningful choices.
4. UNRAVEL THE ORANGE
Unravelling the Orange can aid in the process of decision making between two or more parties, helping to identify a solution that truly satisfies all sides. In fact, it is actually the variance between interests that can aid in finding an ideal solution. Getting to Yes uses the example of The Orange Conundrum to illustrate this point. (Sorry if you were hoping to get away from yet another food analogy…) Two parties are squabbling over an orange, each trying to dominate the other to get it – effectively playing a WIN-LOSE, zero-sum game. It’s only when both sides talk further and uncover why indeed each of them wants the orange – one wants the rind to make an orange cake, the other wants the fruit to make juice – that they identify a WIN-WIN solution. Getting beyond positions and uncovering underlying interests allows them both to have the share of the orange they truly need.
Unravelling the Orange can be applied to a wide variety of situations where there is a seeming conflict over making a choice. For example, you want to live in a city, but your partner wants to live in the countryside. Instead of arguing over these positions until one side gets worn down, you get curious and try to uncover why you both have differing positions – because you love the convenience of city life, and a quick commute to work allowing you to spend more time with the family, and your partner loves the peace and quiet of the countryside. This leads to you to finding a solution that truly satisfies you both – a home in a quiet suburb of the city with a 10-minute walk to a natural park and beautiful countryside.
5. THERE IS NO CHOICE
Difficulty often arises when we have an apparent conflict of values and feel we have to choose between them. For example – frugal v healthy – at lunch you want to be frugal but the healthier choice is more expensive (cheap sandwich v the more costly salad). A job you love v a job that pays – you spot a job vacancy that excites you, but it doesn’t pay enough to meet your current lifestyle. You feel pulled in two different directions, like an ongoing tug of war, stuck in a never-ending cycle of analysis paralysis. To transcend this, you could explore the following:
A. SACRIFICE FOR WHAT YOU WANT OTHERWISE WHAT YOU WANT WILL BECOME THE SACRIFICE
Struggling to choose between two competing values could indicate an unwillingness to do what it takes to meet one of those values. There is nothing wrong with wanting a job you love AND one that pays well but perhaps this is not a realistic option currently. Perhaps the conflict reveals that the right salary is of greater importance right now, and that you should instead delay applying for the role you love until you are in a better financial position e.g. with savings that can make up the shortfall. Perhaps you realise that a job that pays, is in fact, more important to you – that you are not indeed willing to experience the sense of loss nor make the sacrifices that would be needed to realise the first option. Sacrifices such as taking less holidays, downsizing, becoming more frugal. Some values and goals necessitate making sacrifices – there is no way they can be achieved without doing so. Competing as an Olympic level athlete, for example, demands trade-offs such as giving up social time, late nights, and eating as you like, in order to focus and maximise time and efforts towards this one single goal. There really is no choice.
“If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want becomes the sacrifice”
B. THE THIRD WAY
Similar to the case of Unravelling the Orange (as above) – where the impetus is on finding a remedy that pleases differing interests – there is no choice to be made between seemingly conflicting values, when focus lies on discovering a creative solution that satisfies both values. For example, you can be both frugal and healthy but it may require more planning. By preparing it yourself, you can have a healthy salad at a frugal price, and ensure you achieve this outcome, rather than leaving your choice of lunch to chance – determined by what’s available in a cafeor shopat that time.
C. UNCOVER THE IMPOSTER
“One of the values in this conflict is Fear pretending to be a value” (Dan Munro)
Values aren’t truly in conflict – instead, one of the values is an imposter, masquerading as a value. Dan Munro raises this point in his blog post 5 Value Conflicts That Freeze Your Decision-Making. Sometimes, we appear to be struggling to make a decision due to competing values, when the true reason is that it’s because we are scared of what will happen if we choose to honour a particular value. For example, perhaps you value justice (true value) but honouring that value by speaking up risks losing social status (fear).
““Why would fear lie to us? Because the truth can be painful. I’d rather believe I have a values conflict than face the truth: That sometimes I need to let go of someone or something in my life, if I want to have integrity.” (Dan Munro)
So, when you think you are experiencing difficulty in making a decision due to an apparent conflict in values, consider the above tools and see whether a decision becomes clear. Sometimes the difficulty in making a choice is actually requiring us to go deeper.
6. FETCH YOUR SHOVEL
A struggle in making a choice, could be a calling for you to dig deeper, and lead to greater understanding of your core needs and beliefs. Perhaps the choice you are going to make is not the one you actually need to make, and is the reason why you are getting stuck. It’s a superficial decision – the real decision point lies at a much deeper level – like the difference between a leaf and the root of a plant. Get your shovel and dig! For example, you could be struggling to take the next step in your relationship and commit because you feel there is yet more of you to discover, and a commitment may limit you in some way. Perhaps you need to uncover a stronger sense of self before making such a commitment. Perhaps instead of trying to narrow down, a struggle in decision making is requiring that you widen your perspective – that the choice need not be limited to X or Y, but could be both X and Y? Or even unconsidered Z?
“If all the air were sucked out of the room you’re in right now, what would happen to your interest in this [blog]? You wouldn’t care about the [blog] ; you wouldn’t care about anything except getting air. Survival would be your only motivation. But now that you have air, it doesn’t motivate you. This is one of the greatest insights in the field of human motivation: Satisfied needs do not motivate. It’s only the unsatisfied need that motivates.” (Stephen R. Covey)
Sometimes you may struggle to make a decision because you are focusing too much on a longer term ambition, and ignoring a more pressing need. You may want to quit a job you hate, in favour of a sector you are more passionate about, but you may be wavering on this decision because you have a more immediate need – to pay off some debt. This could be the underlying reason why you are struggling to make a choice either way – starting in a new sector means a drop in pay, plus more funds to undertake new training. Facing up to and tackling the more immediate issue of your debt and getting it under control first, may then free up your energy and allow greater bandwidth to put a plan in place for a career change. Perhaps you could undertake some volunteering in your chosen sector in the meantime.
What is your deepest need? Right now…? Is the choice you are about to make in alignment with this? What is going to serve that need best? Reading, blogging, and journaling can all help you to uncover needs that may have hidden or buried away whilst engaging in the pursuits and demands of everyday life. Writing forces you to get out of the swirling vortex of your head – and start unweaving the jumbled threads of thoughts cluttering your mind space – it can be a great discovery process. A coach or mentor could also help in achieving this – acting as a mirror to reflect undiscovered parts of yourself back to you.
7. CHUNK IT DOWN
For someone like me who would feel comfortable being categorised as a polymath, scanner, or a multipotentialite, having to choose between options can feel like a painful death. The pressure to try to fulfil many varying interests in one lifetime can lead to a blind panic, especially when faced with cutting off an option before having fully explored it. It’s why I end up feeling paralysed at facing yet another juncture in my career path.
But the other day I was blessed with an insight. Perhaps I do not need to choose, I can simply delay. By chunking down my life into 5 or 10 year chunks, I can dedicate myself to each topic of interest in each chunk, knowing that still leaves me the freedom to pursue a career change or new revenue stream in the next slot of time. I’ve generally been adverse to making 10 year, X year or life-long plans, feeling that they restrict me in some way. As the saying goes, “life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans”, However, I now realise that such a plan actually helps me gain a sense of freedom, just by knowing that I can explore all my interests at some point along my timeline.
“Michelle Obama left her job so her husband could be president. Now it’s her turn to shine.”
The “chunking down” approach can also work when in a partnership. Michelle Obama supported her husband’s “pet project” of merely becoming President of the most powerful country in the world , knowing in time it would be her turn to dominate. The Obamas have what Hanna Rosin terms as a “see-saw marriage”, where each partner takes it in turns to support the other in their chosen career path, allowing space for both partners to succeed.
8. SATISFICE MORE THAN MAXIMISE
Do you tend to be a Satisficer or Maximiser? I first came across these two terms whilst readingSuccessful Women Think Differently, and realised that I tended to be more of a Maximiser, aiming to make the best possible decision for each and every choice. This could mean hours of research and deliberation to choose anything from “the right” vacuum cleaner, to the right shade of magnolia paint for my bedroom wall. When I learnt about the benefits of satisficing – I was freed from the shackles of this perfectionist habit – of drawn out decision-making over relatively trivial matters. I could simply set minimum criteria, that once satisfied, could free up my energy for decisions requiring and deserving of more time – where a Maximiser approach would be more beneficial. For example, when buying a new toothpaste, as long as it’s within my price range, is suitable for sensitive teeth, and has a minty flavour, I can pick the first one I see that satisfies this criteria, and move on, without any further deliberation.
Obama, alike Steve Jobs, adopted the Satisficer approach in setting limits on his wardrobe. In setting simple criteria – only wearing tailored, single breasted grey or blue suits each day – he freed up valuable bandwidth for the not so trivial decisions to be made in his role as President of the United States of America.
9. LET IT BREATHE
Sometimes, all it takes to arrive at an effective decision, is to allow some breathing space. Drop the decision – for now, for a brief moment at least. As they say, “sleep on it”. Give the grey matter of your brain some time to process and digest, without the pressure of having to make an immediate decision. Alike the process of aeration to enhance a wine’s aroma, allow your decision the room to develop its full flavour. Gain some distance, gain some perspective. Zoom out – and consider the wider picture. After some time, zoom back in, to your current decision. How does your potential choice fit into the wider landscape?
10.VOW IT DAILY
Some decisions naturally involve long term consequences, requiring commitment and dedication to the path to realise growth and results e.g. starting a business, a course of study, marriage, having a baby, training for a marathon, learning a language. Before deciding, ask yourself, “Am I willing to commit to this path for long enough?” “Am I willing to commit to this course of action, again and again, day after day?” This last question is significant – The Slight Edge reveals that it’s the compound effect of our everyday small actions that have a profound impact on the results we generate. Our commitment is not about months and years – it’s in what we do each and every day, before we can even begin to visibly see the results of our actions. Often these actions are easy to do… and easy not to do.
Choices involving longer term loyalty, require you to make that same choice with each new dawn. Are you willing to take that vow?Are you willing toVow It Daily? If you find yourself wavering, and the reason is more than fear, perhaps the choice you are about to make needs reviewing. Perhaps the path may not be the right one (for now). To paraphrase Robin Sharma, as a guide to your path, “let your joy be your GPS”.
We are all born into a world, not of our own making. We inherit ways of looking at the world, paradigms and thoughts, from those who have come before us. Even those non-conformists in rejecting the conditioning and indoctrination of the systems and rules they find themselves entangled in, are by default, bound and controlled, in reacting to constructs formed by others. Can we ever, therefore, be truly original or free?
What if instead, we were able to start life with a Blank State? With the power to choose what to keep of the old world, and what to create anew…
“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete. That, in essence, is the higher service to which we are all being called.”(R. Buckminster Fuller)
Reading Thinking in Systemsinspired these types of questions within me … and yes, there are indeed glaring impracticalities and contradictions with The Blank State as a concept. For example, to create a Blank State for each and every person born into the world would be an impossible feat. After all, each person needs to be born into something … nurtured and raised… Perhaps we need to accept a season of initial instruction in existing concepts and ideals (both good and bad), and instead of a Blank State at birth, look to institute a scaled down version, of Grey or Mixed States – allowing for periods of transition and generation of new paradigms. Where, through a process of collective discussion and regular review (every, 5, 10 or 20 years?) across a range of areas – the economy, housing, politics, travel, environment, foreign policy, etc. – systems, policies and laws are checked for alignment and fit to the purpose and attitudes of the new age. Similar to fixed terms of office for government leaders, where voters have a regular opportunity to elect the political representatives reflective of their own current paradigms and values… Like a regular programme of (Swiss-inspired) referendums.
Could this give rise to a world more reflective of our latest beliefs, or lead to greater instability, a world constantly in flux? Would this give rise to too limited a form of The Blank State, only leading to piece-meal reforms and reactions within existing structures, rather than generating new, fundamental and original concepts of thought and life?
Perhaps the actual practicality of The Blank State is not of major concern here …. but instead, the thought process it inspires … revealing just how far we may function unwittingly out of habits and thought structures passed onto us. Without taking the time to re-evaluate our beliefs and values, and question the relevance of existing systems and structures as a match to a world we truly want to live in. Without a carved space to consciously deconstruct and reconstruct. Would we create the homes we have today in the same way? Without the concept of a prison, what would we create in its place? Would we generate a wildly divergent solution for those who circumvent the rules of society? Perhaps the conversations around the toppling of historical statues are part of this re-evaluation process, revealing a wider paradigm shift …
PARADIGMS – OUR VIEW OF THE WORLD
“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” (Mahatma Gandhi)
Paradigms describe the overall mindset of a society – the collective brain from which all systems are created. From a collective understanding of the nature of life and reality flow system goals, and the systems underneath them. The Egyptians built pyramids because of their belief in an afterlife. The differing economic paradigms of capitalism and communism produce contrasting ways of life. Societies prioritising the elderly may ensure a percentage of homes are designed with “granny flats”; communities valuing inclusivity may design pavements truly conducive to wheelchair use.
As Donella H. Meadowshighlights in Thinking in Systems, if the goal of a society is to increase Gross National Product (GNP) as a sign of a thriving economy, the societal system will focus on producing GNP. It will not produce welfare, equity, or justice unless these are defined as goals of the system, and progress is regularly measured and reviewed.
The beliefs and priorities our societies hold most dear translate into the goals, measures, language and constructs of our everyday existence. A nation’s success and status in today’s world is judged by its economic success, translating into productivity and profitability, possibly at the expense of health, fulfilment and family time.
What if we lived in a world where, instead of competing to have the highest per capita GNP, nations would compete to have the lowest infant mortality, the cleanest environment, and the smallest gap between rich and poor? Perhaps the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals are a step towards this However, with a target date of 2030 and limited progress towards their achievement to date, it seems this paradigm shift still requires years – and more likely decades – of discussion and action, to realise significant change.
The battle may be large, but not lost. The humble individual may have more agency than it might appear – despite living within the framework of an existing and possibly outdated paradigm – to drive the conversation forward and enable change in their own spheres of influence.
PARADIGM SHIFTS AT THE INDIVIDUAL SCALE – Project [Insert your name right here]
Thinking in Systems highlights change at the systematic level in order to tackle the world’s biggest problems, but it also got me thinking about the individual as a system. What if we as humans viewed ourselves as systems above and beyond our biological human functions, as Projects with a Purpose? Where we, the individual, have power over the rules in our own little patch of the globe? How would this change our sense of agency in creating change in a world inherently not of our own making?
What is your purpose in life? What problem does your life solve? Does it even have to solve a problem – perhaps your life mission is simply to have fun?
Your own personal paradigm – your beliefs and worldview – will be reflected in your purpose and the subsystems you incorporate into your life – the jobs you seek, the businesses you create, the friendships you establish… If they don’t – your beliefs and purpose are simply rhetoric. You say you believe in a cause, but your actions and behaviour suggest otherwise…
To gain greater insight, let’s walk this through from the perspective of two fictional characters to aid our exploration.
INTRODUCING Project [Ama] – The Zero Waste Catalyst & Project [Luca] – the Maslow Warrior
In Thinking in Systems we explored significant facets of a system (a group of interacting elements with a purpose) that can have a major influence on the success of that system in producing desired results and behaviours. For a more in-depth examination of these factors, read the original book summary here.
1. PARADIGMS – our worldview and beliefs
2. GOALS – the direction setters of life
3. RULES – allowable actions in the system
4. FEEDBACK LOOPS – information is power
5. RESILIENCE – system survival
6. BOUNDARIES – where does your system begin and end?
7. LIMITING FACTORS – what is preventing success?
8. HIERARCHY – a system’s strength is in the sum of its aligned parts
9. DEPENDENCE – treat system failure at its root
10. STANDARDS – view failure as temporary
11. SYSTEM MERITOCRACY – level the playing field
We’ll walk through each of these as they apply to our characters and their projects.
1. PARADIGMS – how we view the world
Ama (our Zero Waste Catalyst) is an environmentalist – she believes that humans are only one of many species sharing the earth and its resources, and consequently they have a moral imperative to live sustainably and protect the earth from harm and pollution.
Luca (our Maslow Warrior), inspired by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, believes that every human being should have their basic needs met to achieve full self-actualisation. He believes in the ideals of meritocracy and equality for all.
What is your guiding personal paradigm? What do you truly believe in, independent of the views inherited from society and the collective brain?
2. GOALS – the direction setter of life
Project Ama’s goal – Viewing her life as a Project with a Purpose, Ama focuses on honouring her paradigm through the achievement of a zero-waste ambition in her personal life. Her long term and ultimate goal is to self-build and create a fully sustainable home and lifestyle.
Project Luca’s goal – Luca has already become a millionaire through his successful business enterprise. He now sets a goal of making sure his business reflects his guiding paradigm by ensuring all of his employees have the financial resourcesnecessary to meet relevant aspectsof the first two rungs of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid – Physiological and Safety – their very basic needs. Ultimately allowing them to move higher up the scale to self-actualisation.
What are your goals and how do they reflect your worldview – your overarching personal paradigm?
3. RULES – allowable actions in the system
Project Ama’s rules – Ama sets the rules in her system, to governand regulatethe direction of her life project towards its goal. They determine and provide guidance for her actions and behaviour. She buys goods with no packaging, cycles everywhere, never flies, composts her food waste, buys second hand and repairs her clothing. Each year she adds on a new challenge to further her efforts towards achieving Project Ama’s ambition. She uses energy from renewable suppliers. She creates her own herb and vegetable garden at home. Anyone visiting or staying with her has to abide by her waste policy (not bringing goods with packaging into her home). Perhaps in the outside world she has little control over the rules and actions of others, but inside her own home she gets to set them – she has power over her system’s rules. She realises Project Ama is far from reaching her perfect ideal – the flat she currently rents doesn’t give her full power over the rules. For example, her toilet is a standard one – a compostable one would far better align with the goal of her system, but her landlord will not allow a change. This is why she has a longer-term ambition of creating her own home, where she can indeed exercise full power over the rules.
Project Luca’s rules – To achieve his ambition – that every employee should be able to meet their fundamental basic needs such as security of property and employment, food and water – Luca conducts some research and determines that $70,000 is the minimum basic wage any person would need to live on securely, and institutes this as new rule for all employees in his company, including himself. To fulfil this aim, he reduces his own salary from $1 million to $70,000, making major lifestyle changes to achieve this. He also institutes a training scheme open to all in the business, allowing any employee the opportunity to re-skill in a new area and move to a different part of the business, providing equality of opportunity, and means to realising true self-fulfilment and one’s full potential – self-actualisation. His system’s rules have had an unexpected knock-on effect on the behaviour of its participants – his employees, faced with the elimination of stresses around paying rent and bills, have been freed to divert their energies to the company’s ambitions – now that their basic needs have been met. Their productivity soars and the business experiences huge growth and success.
What are the rules you live by in your own life – above and beyond those that dominate society at large? Perhaps reverse engineering your goals can help you to identify the rules, actions and behaviours you will need to adopt to realise your ambitions?
Rules guide actions and behaviour
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” (James Clear)
Like a fundraising thermometer that tracks the sum of donations against the target amount, every action you take could be summed and tracked towards the achievement of your personal goals, and against your beliefs and values. It’s your behaviour and actions that actually demonstrate what you believe in above, and beyond what you say. Action trumps rhetoric.
Imagine accounting for your daily actions during waking hours over the course of a month – what would it look like?
Something like this?
Which one best describes your actions currently?
4. FEEDBACK LOOPS – information is power
Project Ama – How does Ama measure progress and success in her world, and of her project in achieving its goals? How does she know when her system is off course and how to course correct?
Ama keeps a tracker of actions and results, particularly those that are unaligned with the goals of her project, where she has circumvented her system’s rules. Project Ama’s aim is to generate zero waste in her personal life, and she makes a note of where this has not been possible. She analyses trends in the types of items where this occurs and takes steps to course correct. For example, she sets up digital billing and statements in place of postal mail where possible, asks friends and family to send her e-cards, and arranges to collect online secondhand purchases in-person to avoid packaging. She institutes a control mechanism to help keep her behaviour in line with her goals, by donating money to an environmental charity each time her actions go against her beliefs – a “positive impact fine” of sorts. Another feedback loop is intangible – her sense of pride, generated by an alignment between her actions and her principles, in private as well as in public.
Project Luca – Luca uses feedback from a quarterly staff survey as one means of an information loop in his system. He tracks the satisfaction of staff across a range of measures including views on salaries and their ability to meet financial needs, and attitudes regarding the ethos of the company. He regularly reviews staff retention rates and tracks trends regarding reasons for staff departures as well as those of prospective employees wanting to join the company. He also welcomes suggestions for new ways to improve equality and access to opportunities within the business. An anonymous suggestion box is in existence and regular forums are held to generate ideas, supported by an accountability group to ensure the best ideas are implemented and reviewed for impact.
What information do you use to assess whether you are on track with the goals you have set and your overall purpose? What do you do to implement this feedback or course-correct? For example, do you take time to analyse your spending to determine whether you are investing in the right areas that will bring you closer to achieving your goals (e.g. healthy pursuits) or whether your spending indicates the opposite (e.g. investment in fast food take-aways and caffeinated drinks)?
5. RESILIENCE – a system’s resistance against its own dissolution
Project Ama – Ama declares her life purpose and goals to her family and friends, who effectively become her accountability board, helping to keep her on track towards her declared ambitions. She writes about her escapades in a blog, with a commitment to transparency, noting times where she has slipped up and areas where she could improve. Her blog readers have become another kind of accountability group. She writes an annual review of Project Ama’s progress and impact over the year and plans for the next, in line with a growing trend towards personalised annual reviews. She also reads environmental books and blogs to keep her motivated when life gets challenging and she is in need of some inspiration, to help fortify her beliefs and values.
Project Luca – Luca’s employees are his resilience structure. He has created a culture of openness and transparency within his business, where employees can call him out openly where they feel any policy or plan goes against the ethos of equality and meritocracy. At each meeting, staff members are reminded of the overriding paradigm, values and commitments of the organisation – and time is designated each year to collectively write out and agree what these actually mean in practice e.g. equality of opportunity in practice means blind recruitment processes, published gender and diversity pay gap analyses, employee share schemes, and training routes for every employee allowing them to learn skills necessary to undertake a range of other positions within the company at all levels.
How resilient is your system? What actions do you take, and what structures have you put in place, to protect and sustain the beliefs, values, and resulting actions and behaviours necessary to reach your goal? Who holds you accountable to your goals and life purpose? A mentor, a coach … perhaps you could even establish your own “Personal Board”– applying the concept of corporate governance boards to form your own person-centred accountability structure made up of people who hold you to account?
6. BOUNDARIES – where does your system begin and end?
Project Ama’s system includes all of the elements of the world she interacts with that have an influence on her behaviour and actions relevant to her life purpose – zero waste in her personal life. All of these subsystems – her home, her friends and family, her work, shops she frequents – lie within the boundaries of her overall system – Project Ama. She needs to consider them and her reactions to them, to ensure her project purpose space is not compromised – as far as is possible. For example, what does she do when her best friend invites her to be maid-of-honour at her wedding to be held abroad? Does she decline in adherence to Project Ama’s guiding principles – to minimise pollution to the Earth – or does she generate a creative solution – opting not to travel by plane with the rest of the wedding guests but instead taking an extended holiday and undertaking a round-trip cycling and wedding adventure?
Ama knows there is no such thing as a perfect boundary, and no system boundary is ever fixed anyway. Ama’s blog is an example of the expanding boundaries of her system and sphere of influence – she leverages her experience and further progresses the ideal of environmentalism and a zero waste culture by spreading awareness and encouraging others to adopt these practices, simply through reading about her experiences. The boundaries of influence of Project Ama could be ever more widening e.g. she could choose to target the air travel industry and campaign for greater sustainability, but for now, she restricts her system boundary to the immediate problem space she wants to work on and influence to her personal life and those in the immediate vicinity of this – her friends, family, colleagues etc.
Project Luca – Luca realises the boundaries of his system broadened beyond the realm of his company, when his radical action in instituting a basic minimum salary of $70k was picked up and became popular in the press, spreading the idea to others. His sphere of influence has become so much larger than he ever expected.
Where does your system begin and end? How do you define the boundaries of your Life’s Project space and your sphere of influence? What subsystems do you interact with and react to, that can impact on progress towards your goal – your friendships, workmates, business partners, family… ? How do you ensure alignment to your purpose in these interactions, particularly where your paradigms may conflict and contrast (think of the Wedding example above)?
7. LIMITING FACTORS – what limits the growth and success of your system?
Project Ama’s current limiting factor in the realisation of her goal is a lack of zero waste and reusable packaging suppliers. Spending time travelling far and wide to particular shops in order to purchase items free from packaging is time consuming; time she would like to spend working extra hours to fund a fully sustainable self-build lifestyle – her ultimate ambition. To try to overcome this challenge, Ama has started researching locations she could potentially move to, where she would be closer to the shops she uses regularly. This would free up more time and enable her to tackle the next limiting factor preventing fulfilment of her longer-term ambition – finance to buy land and pay for its creation. She has already made sacrifices towards achieving this aim – not going on holiday (apart from her best friend’s wedding of course!), taking on extra hours at work, seeking work promotions and salary increases, and skipping social events with her friends to double down on savings.
For Project Luca, the popularity and success of implementing a minimum wage of $70k – that far exceeds market averages – has actually become a limiting factor for the growth of the company. Although staff turnover is now relatively low, each open position attracts huge numbers of candidates and the HR team is overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of applications to sift through, taking focus away from implementing and reviewing meritocratic practices within the company. Additionally, the fact that staff turnover is very low means Luca is not able to employ new talent within the company – new talent that comes brimming with new ideas, brings an outsider perspective, and keeps things fresh and relevant, thus avoiding an entrenched status quo from developing. Although there is an advanced system of meritocracy within the business, his company has actually become a bottleneck for equality of opportunity in the system at large, beyond the boundaries of the organisation. To overcome this, Luca is looking to expand the company – his minimum wage rule has led to an exponential increase in staff productivity, publicity for the company and financial success – he decides to reinvest the profits made into a new arm of the business increasing jobs and opportunities for new candidates.
What currently holds you back from meeting your overarching goals? Try to solve your most pressing needs in order to get your system moving and prevent stalling progress towards realisation of your ambitions e.g. work an additional job or downsize in some way to secure money to fund training for a career change aligned with your purpose; or seek support through a mentor or coach to help motivate you to make changes and overcome any resistance to fulfilling your true aspirations.
8. HIERARCHY – a system’s strength is in the sum of its aligned parts
Project Ama -Ama takes an audit of each of the subsystems that make up her world – her work, her friendships and family, her home, the shops she visits, her modes of transport etc. And also, Ama herself, as master of her hierarchy – controller of the rules of her system. She wants to check if all parts are working towards her overall purpose of creating an environmentally sustainable world, within her personal sphere of influence. After all, a system is only as strong as it’s sub-parts and their aligned interaction, working towards fulfilment of a system’s guiding purpose.
One area that she feels is out of sync with the overarching paradigm of Project Ama is her workplace. Ama works for a technology company and earns a good wage, helping her to save towards her long-term self-build ambition. However, the organisation does not share her environmental views. She enjoys working there but the contrast in values causes her some concern, making it more difficult for her to exercise actions and behaviours in alignment with her beliefs. Pizza night is a particular source of conflict, with the mountain of cardboard boxes generated every Friday evening. Yes, they do recycle, but as a Zero Waste advocate she wants to stop the problem at source – preventing waste before it occurs. Despite not personally purchasing items with packaging, by default, in working there and gaining financially – she benefits from using packaged resources, albeit purchased by others.
She has considered finding another workplace more aligned with her environmental values, but as well as liking the organisation, her above average salary is helping to fund her self-build goal. She doesn’t want to stop attending pizza night – it’s become a space to bond with colleagues, hear about the latest developments and generate new work ideas. So she opts to work on improving the environmental culture of her workplace – she offers to make homemade pizza on the premises (which does not go down well), and suggests a pot luck dinner with home cooked food brought in by colleagues (which attracts further derision) – pizza night is paid for by the company – who is going to decline free food?! She accepts defeat in this area (for now), and instead pivots her efforts to improving other areas of the business e.g. liaising with the Office Manager to institute other office zero waste practices.
Through conducting her audit, Ama realises how far things have changed since she first adopted a zero waste lifestyle, when there were very few packaging-free options apart from fresh produce. And when those first few zero waste shops to appear failed due to lack of popularity – they became unstable subsystemswithin her overall system despite her attempt to strengthen their financial viability by promoting them to all she knew. Now with growing popularity and awareness of the concept, it has been easier to incorporate subsystemswith aligned values, helping to strengthen the viability and impact of Project Ama.
Project Luca -Although there is always room for improvement, Luca is confident that the ideals of meritocracy and equality are being practiced effectively within the working environment of his company, as evidenced by the data generated from his system’s feedback loops e.g. quarterly staff surveys. There is one area, however, that he realises he has never fully considered – the families and loved ones of his employees (or co-workers – his preferred term). After all, any impact on their well-being will have a knock-on effect on his co-workers and their welfare, and therefore his system as a whole. For example – despite being paid an above average living wage salary and compensation for additional hours, a co-worker undertaking overtime may impact on the ability of his partner or other family member to pursue fulfilment of their own goals and potential. So, he suggests more family friendly policies such as remote working and flexible hours, based on achievement of results rather than time spent in the office. He thus widens the boundary of his system to include consideration of the strength of co-worker family subsystems,to fulfil his overall goal of self-actualisation for all within his sphere of influence.
What are the subsystems you interact with to achieve your goals and how stable are they? Are they in alignment with your purpose? Or perhaps they may need re-assessing? How far do you go to introduce the values of your life purpose within these spaces – your workplace, even your own business? For e.g. If you believe in justice, do you stand up for justice at work or do you see it as a (sub)system lying outside the boundaries of your sphere of influence, of your project problem space?
9. STANDARDS – view any under-performance as temporary to avoid a downward spiral
Project Ama – Ama’s bike gets stolen. It causes a dip in her standards as she accepts a daily lift to work from a friend who lives nearby, in her gas guzzling car … Ama’s options for sustainablepublic transport are not yet available along her route to work, and the current public transport option would involve a long walk and take far too long. As she does not drive, hiring an electric car is also out of the question. As she gets picked up from her front door, allowing her an extra hour in bed, she fears a downward spiral in her standards in becoming too comfortable with this luxurious arrangement. To avoid this, she enacts an immediate plan of action – asking for an advance at work to purchase a new secondhand bike with additional security features (all of her savings are locked into a high interest account dedicated to her self-build project), ensuring the dip in her standards remains as short term as possible.
Project Luca – One of the quarterly staff surveys shows a 10% drop in overall staff satisfaction, falling outside the target range for the first time. Viewing this as a temporary dip in performance caused by systemic factors rather than an inevitable occurrence outside of his control, Luca immediately sets out to investigate the reasons behind this, and enacts actions to ensure satisfaction rises up to the original performance standards set, and to avoid a downward spiral towards acceptance of ever lowering expectations.
When you experience a dip in performance, do you lower your expectations to this new level, rather than seeing it as a temporary situation you can rise from? What actions do you employ to “raise your game”?
10. SYSTEM DEPENDENCE – treat system failure at its root
“Every system is perfectly designed to get theresults it gets”(Upstream)
Project Ama -Whilst actively saving towards her self-build financial target, Ama hears about an opportunity to buy a plot of land at a very cheap rate, and on viewing, falls in love with it. It’s at this point that she realises the dependencies of her current system. Her system works because of subsystems that support it – she lives in a small city with incredible variety, with others who have set up constructs that support and align with her purpose – zero waste shops (even if she has to cycle across town to use them), second hand clothing and furniture stores, environmental community groups, places and friends she can cycle to easily… This place however, is in the middle of nowhere – the nearest village is some distance away – even if she was able to find packaging free items there, she would find it hard to carry a full shop on her bike, let alone bulkier items, and she would want to avoid becoming dependent on deliveries by polluting vehicles. If she were to purchase this plot – putting aside the need for further funds of the build itself – she realises her system would need a drastic reconfiguration in the transition period between buying land and completing her self-build, to maintain her current environmental standards. How could she make it work? Perhaps she could purchase or hire an electric car, allowing her to travel further afield to places offering secondhand and zero waste shops – assuming she could find an appropriate place to charge it. Or perhaps instead, she would have to find land in a more suitable (and consequently more expensive) area with infrastructure better serving the needs of Project Ama – thus delaying her dream further in order to raise funds. Ama realises that until she has created a fully sustainable lifestyle, her project’s success is necessarily but heavily dependent on other subsystems and infrastructure to realise its goals.
Project Luca – A security hack leads to a huge loss of customers, with a disastrous impact on the finances of the company. Overtime, the company becomes ever more dependent on loans to fund the shortfall – buying time for the business to recover – in order to meet Luca’s minimum $70k wage rule and avoid or minimise any compulsory redundancies (which would be in opposition to the spirit and ambition of his project). Being able to maintain this salary rule, far above the market average, means the company is significantly dependent on high levels of commercial success, more than most. A downturn in finances in other organisations could in part be recovered by cutting wages. After burying his head in the sand, Luca now realises he needs to treat the core cause of his system failure (system security) rather than merely treating the symptoms of this (loss of revenue), and starts to generate new ideas to shift the system out of its dependency trap on external loans. In order to generate profitability again – to change the behaviour of the system to achieve desirable results – he shifts focus onto revising security policies and infrastructure, re-building customer trust and the company brand, and diversifying the customer base and income streams to avoid dependency on any one source.
Where are the dependencies in “your system”? Should the source of a dependency be removed, could your system still function and produce desired outcomes? What can you do to treat the underlying causes of any system failure (producing unwanted results) and encourage greater independence – to help your system help itself?
11. SYSTEM MERITOCRACY – avoid success to the successful
Project Ama – finally realises its long-term ambition – Ama has found suitable land and created her eco-home and sustainable lifestyle. Ama realises that she has had a significant “leg up” – an advantage over others – in being able to realise her goal while relatively young – it was made possible through an unexpected inheritance she received. She wants to help make this lifestyle change accessible to others, independent of affordability. She has built a second smaller property on the land where she hosts anyone who wants to stay for free, help tend to her vegetable farm and learn about sustainable building and living practices in the process, sharing her valuable asset of her accumulated knowledge in this area and giving her time for free.
Project Luca – Equality of opportunity has been a specific goal of Project Luca, in part achieved by instituting a minimum wage of $70k and creating training pathways within his company allowing anyone to up-skill in another area of the business. He now wants to expand this to the wider community beyond his company, offering free training and scholarships, mentoring and work-shadowing programmes and opportunities to interested students in underserved communities – his way of levelling the playing field.
Where have you “won in life” and how are you using your privileges to help open up equivalent opportunities to others – to help level the playing field? How are you sharing the assets you have developed (e.g. knowledge, time) to help others? Examples could include mentoring, teaching, volunteering, developing courses and training guides, blogging ( :
I hope our consideration of The Blank State, along with our leading characters Ama and Luca, has helped you to see your life from a fresh vantage point. Viewing your life from a systems perspective, as a Project with a Purpose, with its own paradigms and resulting behaviours, can help you realise your capacity for self-determination, your sense of agency and ability to generate change within a world not of your own making. You have more power than you may realise over your chosen sphere of influence, even within a more dominant and possibly conflicting paradigm. Change always starts somewhere…
If you are not getting the results you want in your life, perhaps thinking in a more systematic way could help uncover what needs adjusting – to see the inputs and interactions in “your system” that are generating the results you are getting. What paradigms are you subscribing to in your life? Are they unwitting beliefs inherited from those who came before you or ones consciously chosen by you? Whether it be a commitment to justice or helping the world to relax through jacuzzies, your true paradigms go beyond rhetoric and are demonstrated in your behaviour, and brought to life through your actions, even in the most horrible of circumstances.
If resources were no issue, what would you love to create in the world? What legacy would you be proud to leave behind?
Disclaimer: I’m by no means a systems expert so please forgive my loose and imperfect application of systems thinking to this exploration!
To learn more about Thinking in Systems, read the original book summary here.
Want to create real change in the world? As individuals, we are not as in control as we may think. We live reacting to rules and cultures, whether consciously or not, subject to the forces of inherited systems we find ourselves in, birthed into paradigms not of our own making. To bring about radical change, think in systems – rise above the individual and consider the bigger picture. Learn to redesign the overarching systemic structures in which the individual humbly plays its authorised part – and empower true long-term change for the better.
Buy the book and read about system technicalities and conceptual tools, stocks, oscillations, delays, and boundaries … What follows is a summary focusing on real world problem solving through systemic level shifts.
Blame the system, not the individual
Failure must be SEEN as temporary
Gain power over the rules
Change the paradigm, change the system
Remember – no yeast, no bread
Boundaries are artificial
Action trumps rhetoric
Avoid a Tragedy of the Commons
Avoid Success to the Successful
Information is Power
Learn to dance
WHAT IS A SYSTEM?
A system is a set of things e.g. people, cells – interconnected in such a way as to produce its own pattern of behaviour over time.
A system consists of 3 parts – elements, interconnections and purpose e.g. a football team is made up of players, a coach, a ball (elements); the rules of the game, communication between players (interconnections); with the aim to win, get exercise (purpose).
Elements do not necessarily have to be tangible e.g. team pride and reputation are examples of intangible elements in football.
The purpose of a system is not what is stated through goals, or declared in rhetoric, but is seen in behaviour – e.g. if a government states it wants to protect the environment but allocates little money or effort towards environmental protection, then this is not the true purpose of the system.
What isn’t a system? Sand scattered on the sides of a road is not a system – add sand, take it away and you still just have sand on a road. However, if you take away the football players above, you no longer have (the system of) football.
A system is more than the sum of its parts.
What makes a system different is the influence of its parts on one another. A system with many parts but few connections is detailed but not complex.
Systems happen all at once – like a web of many interconnected parts – a shift in one part affects many if not the whole.
SYSTEM BEHAVIOUR – DON’T BLAME THE INDIVIDUAL
Systems produce their own behaviours and cultures.
Peopleadopt the cultures they find themselves in – to assimilate – to survive – perhaps unconsciously.
The famous Stanford Prison Experiment(although not without criticism) has been seen to demonstrate this point – it found that volunteers put into a simulated prison environment adopted common attitudes and behaviours of real-life prison guards and prisoners.
System behaviour reveals itself as a series of events over time. Long term behaviour (patterns, trends) provides clues as to the underlying system structure (which like the submerged part of an icebergremains hidden out of sight)
EXAMPLE At the Events Level: There is an accident on the road. Patterns and Trends Level: There are many accidents on this stretch of road. Drivers are more stressed during rush hour, more concerned about getting to their destination quickly than avoiding traffic tickets, they are not as observant of their own driving practices. At the Structural Level: At this level, there must be a causal connection – due to many exits on this stretch of road, drivers are changing lanes often, leading to accidents; the road is narrow with poor sight lights, causing more accidents when traffic is heavy.
The world’s wicked problems – hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, economic instability, unemployment, chronic disease – are all undesirable behaviours that are produced by systems. They continue to persist despite numerous brilliant interventions because the problem remains at the systematic level – the system requires restructuring to solve these problems.
“Blaming the individual rarely helps create a more desirable outcome.”
Disciplining, firing, blaming or instituting technological or policy fixes – tinkering at the margins – will not fix structural problems – the same structures will keep producing the same behaviour year after year. Wars on drugs lead to drugs becoming more prevalent than ever.
Solutions lie at the systems level – the overarching rules and interconnections that influence the behaviour of participants within the system.
CREATING SUCCESSFUL SYSTEMS THAT PRODUCE DESIRED RESULTS
So, how do we change a system structure to produce more of what we want and less of the undesirable?
Systems generally remain unchangedby changing its elements e.g. if you substitute all football players on a team, it is still recognisable as a football team. However, if any of the interconnections or purposes change, the system may become unrecognisable e.g. changing the rules from football to basketball or changing the purpose from winning to losing – you have a whole new ball game. Changing a leader in country (element) does not fundamentally change the system unless that leader changes the country’s purpose or rules.
Redesigning the system is what makes the difference – changing goals, improving feedback information, changing incentives and disincentives, stresses and constraints in the system, will impact on the behaviour of actors in the system.
If a behaviour persists over time, it’s likely there is a mechanism within the systemcreating that consistent behaviour. This mechanism is something that can be changed.
Before intervening to make a system better, pay attention to the value of what’s already there e.g. aid agencies arriving in Guatemala came with the intention of creating jobs and increasing entrepreneurship skills through factories and assembly plants funded by outside investment – completely ignoring the already existing and thriving local market full of small scale businesses, and existing job creation. Small scale loans from internal sources and upskilling in accountancy and literacy were found to be the real needs of existing businesses, and potential source for economic expansion.
RESISTANCE TO CHANGE
Social systems are the external manifestations of cultural thinking – our beliefs and views are deeply embedded in our psyches, so much so we may be unaware of our inherent assumptions and biases. Therefore any systems change will naturally attract resistance.
The higher the leverage point, the more the system will resist changing it – it’s why societies often eliminate or exile truly enlightened beings.
LEVERAGE POINTS – STRATEGIC POINTS OF ATTACK TO TRANSFORM SYSTEM BEHAVIOUR
A leverage point is a place in a system where a change can lead to a shift in behaviour. A high leverage point is where a small force change causes a dramatic change in system behaviour.
We can look at the influence of the following factors and leverage points in producing a change in system behaviour:
1. GOALS – the direction setters
2. RULES– who makes them?
3. PARADIGMS – how we look at the world
4. FEEDBACK LOOPS– information is power
5. RESILIENCE– system bouncebackability
6. HIERARCHY– a system is only as strong as the sum of its parts
7. INDEPENDENCE– encourage self-help
8. STANDARDS – raise your game
9. SYSTEM MERITOCRACY – level the playing field
10. BOUNDARIES – where does it begin and end?
11. LIMITING FACTORS – the important ingredient
1.WHAT KIND OF WORLD DO YOU WANT TO LIVE IN? BE AWARE OF THE OVERARCHING GOAL OF A SYSTEM
One of the most powerful ways to influence the behaviour of a system is through its overarching goal. The goal is the direction-setter of the system.
E.g. if the goal of a system is to deliver good education, measuring that goal by the amount of money spent per student will ensure money spent per student, but not necessarily a good education. If the goal of a society is to increase Gross National Product (GNP) as a sign of a thriving economy, the societal system will focus on producing GNP. It will not produce welfare, equity, or justice unless these are defined as goals of the system, and progress is regularly measured and reviewed.
What if we lived in a world where, instead of competing to have the highest per capita GNP, nations would compete to have the lowest infant mortality, the cleanest environment, and the smallest gap between rich and poor?
It is clear that goals are important, but the measures by which progress is assessed are also of vital importance, and if unaligned can lead to the measure becoming the goalor ghost victories.
Additionally, pay attention to what is important, not simply what is quantifiable. Otherwise this can lead to setting goals around what can be easily measured rather than around what is truly important. No-one can define or measure love, justice, freedom, or truth – but all of us have a sense of their fundamental importance in our lives. And if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, they will cease to exist.
People within a system often don’t recognise the goal of the whole system they are serving.
With awareness of the overall goal of a system, you can question your own particular role within it and determine whether your own individual efforts are aligned, or if indeed the goal is one you actually support?
Remember that rhetoric is important for tworeasons: 1) action trumps rhetoric – if a government states it wants to achieve Goal X but does not invest or put any resources towards it, then that is not the true goal of the system, it is purely rhetoric. 2) The language and words used within a system or organisation are not objective – they do not objectively describe an external reality – they fundamentally structure the perceptions and actions of those involved in the system e.g. a society that understands the word ‘blame’ but not ‘accountability’ practices a blame culture, and not accountability from which learning and improvement can result. E.g. Eskimos have different names for different types of snow, providing a broader range of utility and perspective than just one concept of snow.
To change the results of a system, focus on the overarchinggoal to shift the direction of behaviour resulting from the system – the goal must be set in conjunction with alignedactions, measures and language.
2. CHANGE THE RULES, CHANGE THE SYSTEM
Linked to the overarching goals of a system are the rules that govern it. These rules define the systems we live in and how we as participants interact and behave within it.
Therefore, power over the rules is real power. Whomever gets to write the rules defines the systems underneath them. Its why lobbyists congregate when Congress writes laws.
When we imagine restructuring a set of rules, we come to understand the power of rules – they represent significant points for changing a system and therefore resulting behaviours.
E.g. imagine if you received your degree result based on being graded as a group rather than an individual – this would likely lead to greater collaborative behaviour rather than an individualistic culture. Or suppose the final salary of a political leader was based on how far they helped to improve the health outcomes of a country ranked at the lower end of the scale. What results and behaviours would this produce in the world at large?
“If you want to understand the deepest malfunctions of systems, pay attention to the rules and to who has power over them.”
Simply put, to change the system, change the rules.
3. PARADIGMS GIVE BIRTH TO SYSTEMS – CHANGE MINDSETS
Paradigms describe the overall mindset of a society – the collective brain from which all systems flow and are created.
A paradigm is a perspective, a set of ideas, a way of looking at the world. It includes unstated assumptions, our deepest set of beliefs of how the world should work, what is fair and unfair. These philosophies often remain unwritten and unstated because its unnecessary – they are ingrained – everyone inherently knows them.
Paradigms are the original sources of system – from a shared social understanding about the nature of life and reality, system goals come, and the systems underneath them.
“Every nation and every man instantly surround themselves with amaterial apparatus which exactly corresponds to … their state of thought … Observe the ideas of the present day … see how timber, brick, lime and stone have flown into convenient shape, obedient to the master idea reigning in the minds of many persons … It follows of course, that the least enlargement of ideas…would cause the most striking changes of external things” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
The ancient Egyptians built pyramids because they believed in an afterlife.
Therefore, intervening at the level of a paradigm is an effective way of changing (multiple) systems that are producing undesirable results and behaviours – to change the hearts of and minds of nations changes the systems within which they live.
How do you change a paradigm? You keep pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm. You keep speaking and acting loudly and with assurance from the new paradigm. Place people embodying the new paradigm in places of public visibility and power. You work with active change agents and the majority of people in the middle ground who are open minded – don’t waste time trying to convert reactionaries.
4. ENSURE PROMPT FEEDBACK LOOP – INFORMATION IS POWER
In a system, information is power.
E.g. if you are a coffee drinker, when your energy gets low (feedback) you drink coffee – it’s the gap between your actual and desired energy level that drives your decision and behaviour to do something to adjust your caffeine intake – the information channel that informs you is an example of a balancing feedback loop.
A reinforcing feedback loop has an amplification or snowballing effect leading to growth or decay e.g. compound interest – the more money you have in the bank, the more interest you earn, meaning you have more money in the bank and so you earn even more interest.
Systems thinkers see the world as a collection of “feedback processes”.
Think, if A causes B, does B also cause A? e.g. if someone tells you population growth causes poverty, ask does poverty cause population growth? This helps you to see that a system can cause its own behaviour.
Prompt feedback loops lead to changes in behaviour. Information provided by a feedback loop can only affect future behaviour – so receiving feedback quickly allows for learning, course corrections and changes for desirable behaviour. E.g. In Holland, it was discovered that households in the same area were using a third less electricity than other households of similiar family makeup – all were charged the same electricity rate. So, what caused the difference? It was found that the households with lower consumption had their electricity meters in the front hall – family members were passing by regularly and using the information to monitor and adjust their usage daily. The meters for the higher consumption households were found to be located in their basements, out of sight – they had no prompt feedback loop to adjust their behaviour ahead of receiving bills.
The best policies not only contain feedback loops but also design learning into the management process, allowing for course corrections. The 1987 Montreal Protocol not only set targets for decreasing the manufacture of harmful chemicals, but also required ongoing monitoring of damage to the ozone layer, allowing for adaptions to the phase-out schedule depending on actual levels of damage. Just 3 years later, the schedule was brought forward, and further chemicals were added to the list as it was found that the damage to the ozone layer was far greater than had been predicted.
We can often be too distant from the impact of our actions – e.g. what if we had to deal with the non-perishable rubbish we produce by containing it in a room in our home for 3 months before it was collected for disposal? Surely we would make different choices about the items we would buy based on levels of packaging used?
To encourage responsible behaviour, we can design systems to encourage intrinsic responsibility – to include feedback loops that minimise distance between those devising policy and those impacted by it e.g. a great deal of responsibility was lost when rulers who declared war were no longer expected to lead troops into battle. E.g. companies that emit wastewater into a stream could be made to place their intake pipes downstream from the outflow pipe.
Simply delivering information to the right actors in the system can be enough to change behaviour – e.g. the release of previously withheld information led to local newspapers listing “the top ten local polluters”, and a 40% decrease in nationwide chemical emissions without any need for lawsuits, fines, nor mandatory reductions. This shows the power of information alone to shift behaviour.
Therefore, to generate a shift in system behaviour, include prompt feedback loops allowing for ongoing course corrections, deliver information to where it wasn’t going previously,and minimise distance between policies, actions and impact.
Read more on the importance of timely information and feedback loops in our book summary ofUpstream.
5. HELP A SYSTEM RESTORE ITSELF – ENCOURAGE SYSTEM RESILIENCE
Systems that work well often display the characteristic of resilience.
Resilience is the ability of a system to bounce back, to repair itself , to restore itself to the desired state of health or behaviour e.g. the human body is a great example of a resilient system (although not infinitely so – we all eventually die).
Undesired results occur when system resilience is lowered. Many chronic diseases (e.g. cancer) derive from a breakdown of resilience mechanisms within the body. Cows become less resilient – less healthy and more dependent on human management – through growth hormone injections that increase milk production but divert energy away from other vital bodily functions.
Systems therefore need to be managed not only for productivity but also for resilience.
Think about what actions or policies can be enacted to encourage strong resilience mechanisms , to enhance a systems own restorative powers e.g. holistic healthcare does more than try to cure a disease – it aims to build up a body’s own internal resilience and resistance to disease.
The ability of a system to self-organise can be seen as a type of resilience. “A system that can evolve can survive almost any change, by changing itself”. A decentralised or distributed movement can survive through the presence of self-organising chapters, limiting the need for a centralised leader for its survival.
6. WORK AS ONE – ENCOURAGE STRONG HIERARCHIES
Hierarchy is the arrangement of subsystems within a larger system. E.g. a cell in your liver is a subsystem of an organ, which is a subsystem of your body.
Hierarchies evolve from the bottom up – the purpose of the upper layers of the hierarchy is to serve and support the functions of the lower layers. E.g. A life evolves from a single cell, workers come together to form unions to enhance their welfare and common interests.
The fundamental purpose of a hierarchy is to help its originating subsystems do their job better. There needs to be an effective balance between central control by the upper levels of the hierarchy to achieve coordination towards the overall larger system goal, and enough autonomy for lower subsystems to carry out their functions and flourish. Think of teams or departments within an organisation.
If a system is not meeting its goal, a malfunctioning hierarchy could be the reason. E.g. if a body cell breaks free from its hierarchical function and starts multiplying wildly, we call it cancer.
Successful systems ensure harmonybetween the goals of subsystems and those of the overarching system, with a greater focus on the long-term welfareof the entire system rather than the short-term goals of individual parts/subsystems. E.g. too much of emphasis on competition to foster performance within an organisation could lead to teams subverting each other’s efforts and less collaborative working, lowering the overall performance of the organisation.
As well as effective interrelations between parts, there is also a need to ensure that each subsystem is stable and resourcedto carry out its own individual function, to ensure the whole system is strong.
The parable of the two watchmakers– Hora and Tempus made fine watches made of 1000 parts each. Both had eager customers, calling them for orders. Hora prospered, whilst Tempus lost his shop. Why? Each time Tempus stopped mid-assembly to take a customer’s call, his watches would fall apart – he would have to start assembling from scratch. Hora instead built his watches in sub-assemblies of 10 parts each, which could be put down without falling part. His system was composed of a modular design, of stable intermediate parts.
To enable a system to produce desired behaviour and results, ensure each subsystem is stable and can maintain itself to conduct its core function, alignment of the goals of subsystems with the overall goal, and effective relations between parts of the hierarchy balancing sub-system autonomy and central coordination.
7. HELP A SYSTEM HELP ITSELF – AVOIDINTERVENTION DEPENDENCE
A well-meaning party watches the struggle of a system and intervenes to help take some of the load – it appears to work – the intervention brings the system back to the desired state. Then the original problem appears again – as nothing has been done to solve the problem at its root cause. So the intervenor applies more of the solution, again disguising the real state of the system, and this cycle continues on again and again. The intervenor has set up a dependence on the intervention, undermining the original capacity of the system to re-balance itself.
Look to support and enhance a systems self-correcting and self-reliance mechanisms – don’t create long term dependence on an intervention as a way of achieving desired behaviour from a system.
To do this, do not rush in with an intervention – instead ask “Why are the natural correction mechanisms failing? How can obstacles to their success be removed?”
If intervening, make it as short term as possible. The best way to avoid the dependency trap is to avoid intervening in the first place. Beware of symptom relieving that does not resolve the underlying problem. Focus on long term restructuring rather than short term relief.
8. AVOID A RACE TO THE BOTTOM – KEEP STANDARDS ABSOLUTE
At times, a system will produce results below previous success levels – the way this is perceived is vital to the long-term success of the system.
If a slip in performance is viewed as anything other than temporary – this performance now becomes the new expectation – the original goal or standard is allowed to slip. Less corrective action is taken to get it back to its original performance, so the system state becomes lower. If this loop is allowed to run unchecked, this can lead to a downhill spiral and continuous degradation of the system’s performance. It can explain how schools move from excellent to underperforming, and why the quality of hospitals is allowed to degrade. Another name for this system trap is “eroding goals” or the “boiled frogsyndrome”.
Danger lies in small changes over time rather than large quick changes in performance. If a system state’s performance changes dramatically, a corrective process would immediately be put in place, but when it drifts slowly enough to erase memory of the original state, all actors in the system get pulled into lower expectations.
View a dip in performance as temporary so you can focus efforts on rising back up e.g. taking on additional work to pay off a small debt, rather than becoming accustomed to debt and taking on even more debt.
To avoid a downward spiral in performance: 1.Keep standards absolute, regardless of performance; 2. View the worst results as a temporary setback – then the same system structure can focus efforts on pulling the system state back up to better and better performances.
9. LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD – AVOID SUCCESS TO THE SUCCESSFUL
“This system trap is found whenever the winners of a competition, receive, as part of the reward, the means to compete even more effectively in the future.”
Example: A neighbourhood runs a contest with a $100 prize for the best Christmas light display. The winning family goes on to use that additional money to buy more Christmas lights. The competition is eventually suspended, after the same family goes on to win year after year.
“The more the winner wins, the more he, she or it can win in the future.”
This phenomenon has been known to go further – the winning competitor can drive the loser to extinction, by appropriating all the resource, leaving none for the weaker competitor.
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. E.g. the poorest children often receive the worst educations in the worst schools, that is if they can go to school at all. Having gained few marketable skills, they only qualify for low paying jobs, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Poverty can often mean less resources, time and access for effective lobbying and political organising to affect change at governmental level – meaning a disproportionately small part of government expenditure is allocated to their needs.
How to break out of the “success to the successful” system trap to ensure a system can produce benefits for all?
1. Diversification e.g. a small company can create a new product or service that does not directly compete with existing ones owned by more powerful, established and resourced companies.
2. Level the playingfield – diversification does not work as a strategy against poverty – instead, design systems that equalise the impact of advantages and privilege e.g. taxation on inheritance, social welfare, equal access health care and education, taxing the rich at higher rates. “These equalizing mechanisms may derive from simple morality….or they may come from the practical understanding that losers, if they are unable to get out of the game of success to the successful, and if they have no hope of winning, could get frustrated enough to destroy the playing field”.
10 .WHERE DOES THE STORY BEGIN AND END? CONSIDER SYSTEM BOUNDARIES
Any boundaries you may draw around a system are inherently artificial. Systems are always part of ever larger boundaries. The world is a continuum of systems.
E.g. attempting to tackle urban traffic problems by building more motorways attracts the building of new housing developments along them, meaning more cars using these motorways from those households, meaning roads become just as clogged up as before the intervention. E.g. a nation unilaterally trying to tackle ozone depletion must realise that greenhouse gases know nothing of national boundaries.
If you want to encourage more desirable results, consider how wide of a system landscape you are considering, to ensure a workable solution, paradoxically knowing that you will never be able to determine a perfect boundary.
11. NO BREAD WITHOUT YEAST – LOOK OUT FOR LIMITING FACTORS
At any given time, the input or element that is most limited is the most important to the success of a system.
E.g. Bread (the system) will not rise without yeast (input/element), no matter how much flour you add. E.g. “Rich countries transfer capital or technology to poor ones and wonder why the economies of the receiving countries still don’t develop, never thinking that capital or technology may not be the most limiting factors”. Other factors could be lack of clean water, clean air, raw material, energy.
The growth of a system can in fact change the factor that is limiting.
E.g. A company hires more salespeople, who are so good they generate orders faster than the factory can produce them leading to delivery delays and lost customers – the production capacity has become the most limiting factor. The company then invests in its production capacity and hires new people to produce orders, but as they are hired in a hurry they receive little training and so quality suffers, leading to lost customers – labour skill has become the most limiting factor to the success of the system.
To gain real control over the growth process, you need to focus on the next potential limiting factor in the system.
However, in physical systems there are always limits to growth –“the choice is not to grow forever but to decide what limits to live within”. E.g. if a city meets the needs of all its inhabitants better than any other city, people will flock there until some limiting factor brings down the city’s ability to satisfy people’s need e.g. overcrowding/lack of housing.
Tourists flock to the most beautiful undiscovered destinations and then complain that these places have been ruined by all the tourists. Fishermen overfish and destroy their own livelihoods. If people within systems do not enforce their own limits to keep growth within the capacity of the supporting environment, the environment will choose and enforce limits.
People choose to fulfil their short-term best interests but produce aggregate longer-term results that no one likes. If you are a fisherman with a loan on your boat, a family to support and imperfect knowledge of the state of the fish population, you will overfish. Within the bounds of what a person in that part of the system can see and know, their behaviour is reasonable (from that perspective – not excusable but understandable).
If a herdsman profits from the sale of each additional cow, the incentive is to increase their stock of cows. With limited resource – grassland for grazing (the commons), if each herdsman increases their stock of cows, each individually benefits (initially), however the effects of overgrazing are shared by all, and therefore over time, all will lose out.
How do we harmonise subsystem short term goals with longer-term sustainability of the system? To avoid a Tragedy of the Commons?
EDUCATE – help people see the consequence of unrestrained use of the commons. Appeal to their morality.
PRIVATISE THE COMMONS – divide it up so that each person reaps the consequences of their own actions e.g. divide up the land for each herdsman.
REGULATE THE COMMONS – e.g. bans on certain behaviours, quotas, taxes, permits, penalties, limit the number of users of the land, tax use of the land to help maintain it.
Through these examples of limiting factors, we can see it’s not possible to control a system completely – one change leads to another change and to another – a true balancing act. Instead we need to learn to dance with a system as it changes.
LEARNING TO DANCE WITH SYSTEMS
Ultimately no system can be controlled completely.
Systems are dynamic,ever changing. Systems are connected to other systems – they have no real boundary.
We can’t know everything, even collectively, there will always be gaps. A system is like a complex web of interlinked parts, no one part being able to see the whole – even systems thinkers.
Everything that anyone ever knows is only ever a model – just as a map is not reality – so always be aware of your assumptions and challenge them.
We can’t impose our will on a system. We can instead learn to listen to what a systemtells us, watch its behaviour, discover its intrinsic attributes and values, and work together to bring forth something better.
Systems thinking can actually raise more questions than it answers. This in a sense reflects the fundamental awe and wonder of life and its natural order and paradoxes.
The only way through, therefore, is to learn to dance with systems, in all their complexity and glory.
Find out more about systems and learn how to design systems and prevent problems before they start – read our book summary of Upstream here.
Want to negotiate effectively? Winning all of the pie (win-lose) or equally sharing the pie (compromise) has its price. Damaged relations and sacrificial lambs are the cost of a win. Principled negotiation seeks to get us to a “True Yes” by fundamentally understanding that it’s our DIFFERING INTERESTS in the pie that should be exploited for ALL sides to win. While some love the crust, others love the meat – meaning we can all be genuinely satisfied – we can all WIN-WIN.
No communication = no negotiation
Be “soft on the people” but “hard on the problem”
Like it or not, you are a negotiator
Why the world needs more conflict not less
Why the Third Way leads to win-win solutions
Don’t strive to divide the pie – unravel the orange instead!
How an orange can reveal your true interests
Focus on WHY not WHAT
The power of Plan B – your BATNA
WHAT IS NEGOTIATION?
Negotiation is the means of getting what you want from others via back and forth communication to reach an agreement. Communication is key.
Effective negotiation is not about giving in. It is not about compromise.
Effective negotiation is not about insisting on your view in order to win.
Negotiation does not require compromising your principles.
Negotiation power is not a zero-sum game – effective negotiation does not have to mean win/lose.
Effective negotiation involves identifying mutual interests and finding ways to address differences.
THE NEED FOR CONFLICT
Traditionally, decision-making has been based on hierarchical top-down orders. In today’s world this has changed.
“Like it or not, you are a negotiator”. From morning to night, we negotiate with practically everyone we meet whether it be formally or informally. This could be over a date to meet friends, who will carry out certain tasks, salary negotiations, purchases and sales, etc.
Negotiation occurs due to our differences, interests and priorities.
The aim is not to eliminate conflict – it is an inevitable and useful part of life, leading to insights, understanding and change.
“Few injustices are addressed without serious conflict”. And thus, the world needs more conflict, not less.
The challenge is to transform the way we deal with conflict – from destructive and adversarial to side by side problem solving – by striving for “win-win” solutions. By “Getting to Yes”.
THE THIRD WAY
Like a boiled egg, people often employ one of two modes of negotiation – soft or hard.
Soft negotiators make concessions easily to reach agreement to maintain the relationship. They can, however, end up feeling exploited and bitter. By being too nice, too trusting of the other side to do best by them, by yielding too much, they superficially maintain the relationship but sacrifice their own interests in the process.
Hard negotiators tend to favour winning at all odds – the ultimate goal being victory over the other side – at the expense of maintaining good relations between parties in the process. Each side engages in positional bargaining, maintaining their stance and making minimal concessions. A battle of wills can be inefficient process – it encourages tactics such as dragging one’s feet, threatening to walk out, stonewalling, using sheer willpower to force the other to change, to give in. Anger and resentment arise, and relationships can be destroyed in the process. Even in “winning”, a person’s ego may be satisfied by the win, but their true underlying interests may still remain unmet.
There is however a “third way” of negotiating – “Principled Negotiation”.
PRINCIPLED NEGOTIATION – A FOCUS ON INTERESTS
The Orange Conundrum: In a kitchen, there are 2 chefs both wanting the last remaining orange for their recipe. Positional bargaining would see a battle of wills ensue, each chef maintaining their fixed individual stance that its vital that they have the orange, perhaps resulting in ongoing argument but no agreement, or with one chef eventually wearing down the other side into giving it up, or just simply taking it, causing resentment. Or, they may focus on compromise and decide to divide the orange into 2 parts, seemingly fair as both receive an equal share, but neither feeling fully satisfied.
A focus on insisting or compromise can leave both parties feeling that they have lost. Splitting the difference between final positions does not truly bring a solution that meets the real needs of both sides – it can be arbitrary and meaningless.
Principled negotiation finds a solution to The Orange Conundrum, by focusing on the underlying interests of each party involved.
When both chefs talk and find out WHY each one wants the orange, they soon realise they each other differing interests – one chef wants the fruit of the orange to make juice, the other wants the rind to make a cake. The chefs realise that their differing but compatible interests mean they can identify a win-win solution, and both be completely satisfied.
A focus on positions (on WHAT) rather than interests – the WHY under the WHAT – can mask what each side truly wants.
Principled negotiation looks for complimentary interests and mutual gains.
The aim is to strengthen (or not further harm) the relationship even as each side may disagree on a topic.
Where interests conflict, the outcome is determined by an objective standard e.g. market value.
4 MAIN FACETS OF PRINCIPLED NEGOTIATION
1) PEOPLE: SEPARATE THE PEOPLE FROM THE PROBLEM
Participants should see themselves as working on the same side to attack the problem collaboratively, not on opposing sides attacking each other.
Be “soft on the people” but “hard on the problem”.
In a negotiation it can be important to satisfy interests as well build a good relationship for the future. E.g. an antiques dealer wants to make a good profit from a sale AND turn a customer into a regular one.
To disentangle people from a problem, you will need to address: A) perception, B) emotion, and C) communication.
A) PERCEPTION – differences in a conflict are defined by the way each side perceives the problem – conflict often lies not in objective reality but in how each side views reality.
Having curiosity about perception – about how the other side perceives the problem – opens up paths to a solution. The ability to see the situation as the other side sees it, is one of the most important skills a negotiator can possess. Understanding another’s view and empathising with it does not mean having to agree with it.
Make space to discuss each other’s perceptions. Don’t fall into blame which leads to defensiveness. You are trying to uncover the facts of the situation and substantive issues seeking resolution.
B) EMOTIONS It’s important to allow emotions and grievances to be expressed – it can free the conversation from the burden of unexpressed emotions, making it easier to tackle the substance of the problem together.
The relationship can be strengthened even through differences by acknowledging emotions sensitively, treating “the other side” with respect, and allowing understanding on both sides.
However, be wary of allowing the conversation to spiral into a negative cycle.
Be aware that emotions are driven by the following factors and trampling insensitively on any of these tends to generate strong negative emotions. 1) autonomy – desire to make your own choices and control your own fate, 2) appreciation – desire to be recognised and valued, 3) belonging – desire to be accepted as part of a group 4) role – desire to have a meaningful purpose, 5) status – desire to be fairly seen and acknowledged, 6) identity – desire for one’s self-image or self-respect to be maintained.
C) COMMUNICATION –Without communication there is no negotiation.
Negotiation is a back and forth process of communication in order to reach agreement.
Whatever you say, be aware that the other side will almost always hear something different, particularly when caught up in emotion, or may misunderstand.
Active listening helps to overcome this – repeat back what you have understood from the conversation and clarify any areas of misunderstanding.
Speak about yourself, not the other side. Describe a situation and its impact from your own point of view – rather than explaining or condemning the motivations or intentions of the other side. A statement about how you feel is difficult to challenge.
The best time for handling conflicts is before they come – by establishing good ongoing relationships and communication, that will cushion conflicts and differences when they come. A good working relationship is one that can cope with differences.
2) INTERESTS: FOCUS ON INTERESTS NOT POSITIONS
A position is the demand from a party (the WHAT they want) e.g. to sell a home at no less than £X. Interests are the underlying reasons for adopting a position (the WHY) e.g. to pay for their grandmother’s care.
Knowing the WHY is more revealing than the WHAT as it can lead to more creative solutions that truly provide a remedy (e.g. to sell the main house on the property allowing their grandmother to move into the smaller separate annexe, raising enough funds for in-home care without having to move away).
RADIO STATION EXAMPLE – A businessman had submitted several offers for the purchase of a radio station, but all offers were rejected. He was about to give up, but decided to enquire further and in doing so, learned that the real interest of the minority owner was not in selling (money was not her real interest) but was in continuing to manage the radio station and be a part owner. The solution – the businessman bought only the share of the business needed for beneficial tax reasons (saving almost a million dollars) and kept the minority owner as manager. Understanding the seller’s underlying interests greatly enhanced the buyer’s negotiating power.
A focus on interests rather than position directs attention to an integrative approach – to collaboratively creating a solution that satisfies the collective interests of both sides, that is best for all.
We tend to assume that because a party’s position is opposed to ours (e.g. landlord wants higher rent, tenant wants lower rent), their underlying interests must also opposed, which is not necessarily the case. E.g. a landlord and tenant both want stability, both want a well-maintained apartment. By focusing on mutual interests, it may be possible to find a creative solution that satisfies both sides.
Try to understand the other side’s interests. The basic human interests we all tend to have can be a good starting point – the need for security, economic well-being, sense of belonging.
3) OPTIONS: MANY ALTERNATIVES COULD PROVIDE A SATISFACTORY SOLUTION
Allow space for creativity – broaden the scope of the problem space by generating a range of potential options before seeking agreement
Often people go into a negotiation thinking they are looking for the one best answer, which can narrow the focus of discussions, and lead to dead ends and incomplete solutions.
Instead, recognise that interests could be satisfied by many solutions. Allow for creative options to be presented without the need to commit to any, without judgement.
Seeing the other side’s preference for an option without commitment can aid in finding a satisfying solution for all, by helping to further elicit their real interests. This option can be further refined or combined with other options collaboratively in the interests of a comprehensive solution.
4) CRITERIA: ENSURE THE FINAL AGREEMENT IS BASED ON AN OBJECTIVE STANDARD
To ensure good relations going forward, and the durability of a solution limiting the risk of any retractions or lack of follow-through, the aim is to devise a solution that leaves each party feeling truly satisfied. No party should leave feeling cheated.
Objective standards (criteria) can be used to achieve such solutions. For example, a fair price for the sale of a property can be determined by assessing market value for a similar house in the same area.
Objective standard examples include market value, expert opinion, custom, law, replacement cost, depreciated book value, competitive prices, precedent, community practice, tradition, moral standards, scientific judgement, voting, equal treatment, and seeking involvement of a 3rd party e.g. mediation.
Using standard, fair objective criteria, process or principles to reach agreement is particularly important where interests conflict.
E.g. For a dispute in rental price between a landlord (wants a higher rent) and tenant (wants a lower rent) employ market research to decide – what is the average price for a similar flat in the same area?
E.g. where 2 factions of union leadership cannot agree on a certain wage proposal, they can agree to submit the decision to a membership vote.
E.g. If the other side presents an offer e.g. a $2000 dollar pay rise, ask “On what (fair/objective standard) was this calculation made?“
Never yield to pressure to adopt an agreement, only to principle.
THE WISEST SOLUTIONS
The wisest solutions produce maximum gain for you at minimum cost to the other side, and these are often produced only when the interests for both sides are clear.
To reach an agreement that meets your own self-interest, you need to develop a solution that also appeals to the self-interest of the other side.
Therefore, it is vitally important that each side advocate for their interests and not be too conciliatory.
Where a permanent agreement is not possible, consider undertaking a provisional or temporary agreement and period for review. A provisional agreement could break down the problem into smaller more manageable parts.
Check whether the person you are negotiating with has full authority to come to a decision – they may need to go back to their superior or other party for agreement which will have an influence on the scope of your discussions and any agreement that can be made.
Agreement is easier when all sides involved feel ownership of the idea. Get them involved early on. When people feel they have been part of the process of a decision they are more likely to accept the end result. The feeling of participation in the process is one of the most important factors in whether a proposal is accepted – i.e. the process is the result.
DEAL OR NO DEAL: THE BATNA
What do you do when the other side in a negotiation won’t budge from their final offer despite all efforts?Ensure you have identified your BATNA – Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.
Essentially your BATNA is your PLAN B.
Negotiation isn’t really about wealth, political connections, physical strength, resources etc. The real question for each side is “are the consequences of not reaching agreement more disastrous than reaching agreement?”
This depends on having identified your BATNA before negotiating – the option you will pursue should agreement not be possible.You can use your BATNA to assess any proposed agreement to determine whether the offer on hand is better or worse than your BATNA.
Having a BATNA will give you confidence in the negotiating process, to fully present and defend your interests without giving in, in order to be conciliatory.
Examples of BATNAs
Brexit – it can be argued that the UK’s BATNA was preparations for a no-deal Brexit.
Purchases – if you are buying an item, your BATNA could be purchasing your 2nd preference item if you cannot negotiate your preferred price for your first preference item.
Strike – as a union your BATNA could be to organise a strike if you cannot reach agreement through talks.
Legal Process – going to court if you can’t reach a settlement, if you are likely to win and obtain a higher settlement after costs.
Minimum sales price – you can set a minimum limit at which you will sell an item – e.g. at cost or no lower than X amount.
The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, said: “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present … then dies having never really lived.“
So you quit your job. You sack your boss to build your own business, envisaging a life free of the demands of others, a life on YOUR timing, determined by YOUR choices – a life of freedom. “Sacking your boss” does not, however, equate to freedom. If you don’t design a business that truly aligns with what you want you could end up becoming a slave to your creation, working more hours than before, an employee again – you as the boss having become your own jailer. “Sack Your Boss” is a metaphor for change – use it to design a life better suited to you, a life on YOUR terms.
The book outlines a practical 5-stage process for “Sacking Your Boss” and creating your own business aligned to a lifestyle you truly desire. This book summary focuses on the initial phase before taking action – the key questions to consider before making a change, whether that be shifting from employee to self-employed, or pivoting your current business – to ensure you design a lifestyle that provides the freedom you crave. And to avoid unwittingly creating yet another golden cage.
The allure of the golden cage
The 5 freedoms – 1 freedom unlocks the others
Think curiosity rather than passion
Own a system
Think scalability – think 1-to-many
Bigger doesn’t always mean better
Success – a real life game of snakes and ladders
ARE YOU LIVING IN A GOLDEN CAGE?
A frog put into a pot of boiling water will jump out immediately, an instantaneous reaction to a harmful environment. But a frog put into cold water that is gradually heated, lulled by a warm but false sense of security, will find it harder to leave. Having gradually grown accustomed to its environment, it finds it harder to recognise the point at which its surroundings have become harmful to its survival, its internal guidance system masked by a cunning offering of comfort.
Do you find yourself in your own pot of warming water? Are you staying in a situation that is not conducive to the growth of your true potential, one that has gradually eroded your core dreams, replaced by the trappings of external success – a great salary, prestige, other perks of the job – a golden cage?
WHAT IS YOUR LONG-TERM VISION? WHAT WILL YOUR LEGACY BE?
How much do you love your job? If your employer stopped paying, would you still turn up due to a passion for your work?
If you keep continuing on the path you are currently on, will you be happy in the long term?
If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” (Jim Rohn)
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
How will you know you have escaped (the rat race)? Feeling excited to wake up every day? Feeling on flow, feeling that you make a meaningful impact, being surrounded by people who you feel connected with? Feeling on purpose, doing something remarkable? Why are you here?
CHOOSING YOUR PATH
Choosing the path that suits you involves experimenting – you may not find your ideal work or business on your first try. You will likely need to try several strategies to find out what truly works for you.
However, avoid “shiny penny” syndrome. Often when deciding to make a change people can become seminar junkies, attending seminar after seminar, course after course, attracted to the next shiny offering – in endless experimentation, erroneously thinking they are progressing with their business. At some point you will have to take action and choose a path.
To minimise wasting money, think of any training or course purchase as an investment. What will the return on investment be? How will you know? Will it contribute to your long-term goals? What do you expect to get out of it?
If you are contemplating “sacking your boss” to start your own business, but are hesitant, try writing a resignation letter to your boss (without sending it). How do you feel?
Life can be like a game of snakes and ladders – sometimes you have to slide down a snake – the wrong path for you – and begin at the bottom to find the right ladder to truly fulfil your potential – which is true success.
Know your valuesto choose the right path -“It is not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are” (Roy Disney).
“When you live congruently with your highest values, your voice and vision on the inside becomes louder and more profound than people’s voices and opinions on the outside” (Dr John Demartini).
Be curious to choose your path: Trying to find your one elusive “Passion” or “Purpose” can feel overwhelming and weighty, and lead to analysis paralysis. Instead try the Kaizen approach and ask a smaller question – think “What am I curious about?”
DESIGNING YOUR BUSINESS – WHICH FREEDOM DO YOU WANT?
Make sure you design a business that will give you the lifestyle you truly want.
Otherwise you can end up yet again becoming an employee of a business, the only difference being you are employing yourself.
Often people who want to have their own business seek one or more of the following freedoms:
1. Financial Freedom
2. Time Freedom
3. Location Freedom
4. Relationship Freedom
5. Freedom of Choice.
Achieving financial freedom often unlocks the other freedoms.
If time freedom is key, focus on owning a system. Robert Kiyosaki defines a true business owner as someone who owns a system and has other people working within it, so that if they were to take a period of time off, the business would still be operating, if not better than before.
Bigger doesn’t always mean better. The Fisherman and the Businessman tells the story of a fisherman who catches enough fish to feed his family, with the rest of each day to spend with his loved ones. A businessman offers to make him “more successful” by industrialising and expanding his business, spending more time at sea, catching more fish and thereby becoming richer. AFTER which he would be able to retire and spend time with family and friends. The fisherman replied “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”
What does success mean to you? Your path depends on what you truly want from life, not on what is deemed as “success” by society or others.
MORE MONEY OR MORE TIME?
Trading time for money limits your wealth. You are limited by the number of waking hours you have in a day. The only option you have to increase your wealth from time is to increase your hourly rate.
The most valuable asset we have is our time. “You can get more money, but you cannot get more time” (Jim Rohn)
“Working because you want to, not because you have to is financial freedom” (Anthony Robbins).
If time freedom is key for you, think about scalability when designing your business.
A job is not scalable – when you’re not working, you’re not earning.
Furthermore, some self-employed work isn’t scalable – e.g. coaches , trainers, consultants – the 1-to-1 model only allows you to work with a certain number of clients until you run out of hours in the month – you hit a revenue ceiling. Instead, think about designing a business where you work 1-to-many – e.g. train and deliver to groups, create a webinar, course or digital product and earn whilst you sleep.
When you own assets e.g. property, your own business, you have the opportunity to generate income 24/7.
Wealth isn’t how much money you have. Wealth is what you’re left with if you lose all your money” (Roger Hamilton) Your wealth is in your value as a person. A truly wealthy person, on losing money, can make it back again and again through being who they are – they are their own asset.
True wealth begins in the mind, believing you are worthy of what you truly desire.
WHAT PROBLEM ARE YOU CHOOSING TO SOLVE?
Focus on who your customer is and what problem you are solving for them. You only have a business if you have a customer. You don’t have a business if you just have a product.
“Success must be attracted, not pursued” (Jim Rohn). Think about how much value you will deliver for your customer? To earn more you need to become more.
THERE’S NO SUCCESS IN SOLO
Remember you will need others – no one becomes successful without having a team– make sure you have a support network.
Stay in your lane – do what you do best and leverage the skills of others to get you and your business further.
Reach out to people who have done what you want to do and learn from their successes and failures.
YOU WILL NEED TO TAKE ACTION
“The cost of inaction” (Tim Ferris) – consider the cost of not changing, of maintaining the status quo. Most of us focus on fears of what could go wrong from a change rather than the cost of doing nothing, which is still an (expensive) decision.
There’s pain in either direction – in staying in a career – the status quo – or in taking a new path and starting your own business. There are sacrifices on either path so you might as well choose the direction that’s going to be more positive for your life.
Just take action. Your first business idea likely won’t be the one that brings you success. That doesn’t matter – it will open doors to new opportunities. You will either earn or learn.
Remember, it’s easier not to change.
YOU WILL NEED TO KEEP GOING
“Success is a lagging indicator”- you need to keep at it long before you see the results of your labour.
Things always take longer than you think. They just do. If you were to know after quitting your job and starting your business that it might take years before seeing true signs of success, would it deter you from starting?
At some points along your journey you will fail. “I never lose. I either win or learn.” (Nelson Mandela)
It takes discipline to reach your goals. It’s better to suffer the pain of discipline than the pain of regret.
YOU WILL HAVE TO SAY NO
What are you willing to sacrifice in order to make your business a successful one? This could include holidays, socialising with friends and family, a pay cut.
Power of no – “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything” (Warren Buffet).
Power of “no for now”– use this if you are facing a difficult dilemma, buying yourself time and allowing you to take up the opportunity at another point in the future.
“Focus on the opportunity that can make you the most amount of money in the shortest amount of time” (John Keller). Which of your opportunities will generate the most income and grow your business? Focus on this – say “no” to everything else.
Glamour is overrated – there’s success in the mundane. Success is so simple it’s tragically overlooked. This is the book of mastering the drill of the mundane, the small, the insignificant, the “easy-to-do easy-not-to-do”; in order to gain the Slight Edge – and ultimately become successful.
To become a millionaire, do the mundane.
Become 1 in 20.
Be aware of the danger in small seemingly insignificant choices.
Do the “Easy-to-do Easy-not-to-do” action to succeed.
There is no grey – you are either on the path to beach bum or on the path to millionaire.
Soak your subconscious – choose the right little things in every moment, each and every day.
WHAT IS THE SLIGHT EDGE?
Simple productive actions done repeatedly and consistentlyover time.
Examples include exercising a few minutes a day, saving money regularly, reading ten pages of a book daily.
These “success habits” over time compound and lead to fulfilment of our goals.
It’s an incremental process, it’s progressive. “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal”.
The actions within the slight edge process can be tiny – are often so slight – but can be the difference between success and failure. E.g. the difference between a .300 batting average baseball player with a multimillion-dollar contract and a .260 plus player making an average salary works out at less than one additional hit per week over a season.
SUCCESS IS SIMPLER THAN WE THINK
You have it within you to be a beach bum and you have it within you to be a millionaire. What makes the difference is the choices you make. For a different outcome, you need to do something different.
Why do people oscillate between failure and success? It’s simple. They stop undertaking the same actions that made them successful. Once they hit their goal, they relax, stop doing the things that took them to success and eventually end back in failure. A classic example of this pattern is yo-yo dieting.
MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICES
We often have the same everyday choices available to us as other people. People who make lots of money read books. People who are penniless read books – they just CHOOSE different books.
What everyday choices are you making? Are choosing what will get you to your goal? Are you making the right choice each and every day?
Every decision you make is either building your dream or building someone else’s dream.
If you chose to read 10 pages a day of inspiring books, that would equate to approximately 12 life transforming books over the course of a year. “Your mind will be filled with the strategies and know-how necessary to create a startling new level of success. You will have absorbed the thoughts of millionaires”.
The “insignificant” penny – what would it take to deposit the equivalent of a penny in every major area of your life – your health, relationships, finances? Something as seemingly insignificant and small as a penny would add up – equivalent to making a 1% step change beach day, resulting in a 365% shift in a year. Read more about the 1% Rule here.
Every decision you make is a Slight Edge decision – in each moment you have the opportunity to choose, to choose an action that leads you closer to your vision or further away from your goal. Will you choose to read an inspiring novel or gossip magazine? Will you choose to eat a healthy salad or sugar filled doughnut? It’s not about making the right decision aligned with your overall goal once, but making it again and again and again AND again that has impact.
Ask yourself at the outset of a project or goal – am I willing to make the same right choice again and again and again to reach my ultimate goal? If not, perhaps you need to reconsider that goal.
People who feel good about themselves produce good results. Catch yourself and others in the midst of doing something right and celebrate it. Make each successful right choice an opportunity for celebration.
Why? Saving a little every day is easy to do and easy not to do. Similarly, it’s easy to exercise for 5 minutes a day and easy not to do. It’s easy to wake up 10 minutes early to meditate, and easy not to do.
Because the action can appear to be so small, so insignificant – it’s easy to dismiss or delay it as it will have little to no impact TODAY. However, the impact of making that same choice again and again and again IS SIGNIFICANT.
Making the right choices isn’t dramatic, isn’t exciting, isn’t glamourous. Success is in the small, in the slight, in the ordinary, in the mundane, in the seemingly insignificant.
Therefore, master the mundane to become an everyday millionaire.
Unsuccessful people choose the path of least resistancein the moment, not thinking about the longer-term impact.
Greatness is always in the moment of a decision. The danger lies in the small seemingly insignificant decisions we overlook that add up over time. The piece of cake we eat each night, the coffee we buy each day that we could be saving. The decisions you have made have led to where you are today. Where you end up in life isn’t about whether you are good or bad – its dictated by the choices you make – ESPECIALLY the little ones.
In every moment you always faced with a choice. Keep making the choice that gets you closer to what you truly want, what will genuinely fulfil you.
BE 1 IN 20
Only 5% of people achieve the level of success they dream of.
95% quit before waiting for their results to show – they lack patience or trust in the process, in the longer term vision.
Successful people do what unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do. They undertake the mundane, repetitive, simple, “easy-to-do easy-not-to-do” actions again and again and again.
And they do it for long enough for the effects of compounding to kick in.
EMBRACE INVISIBLE RESULTS
Delayed gratification is difficult in today’s instant gratification culture.
We want evidence of our actions too quickly – we want instant results, and when we don’t see them, we give up too soon.
The impact of your everyday small success choices will often remain invisible until long into the future. In fact, the unwanted circumstances in your life may continue for some time despite making the right actions.You have to hang in the process for long enough to give it a chance, whilst the right results are developing underground, hidden from sight.
A metaphorical story – two frogs hopped into a pail of fresh cream and found themselves stuck – the sides too slippery to climb, the bottom too far down to jump from. They began to frantically thrash about, one frog eventually gave up and sank out of sight, the other frog kept paddling in the same small circle, over and over again, hoping for a miracle. After an hour he gave up and let go, but instead of sinking to his death, he was able to get out. Why? His small simple efforts over time had churned the cream into a lump of butter – a solid surface he could leap from. His seemingly insignificant efforts had generated invisible progressive results which eventually led to his success.
STICK IT OUT, GIVE IT TIME
Consistently repeated daily actions + time = inconquerable results.
Time allows your actions to be leveraged through compounding. A small action repeated over time leads to big results.
“Growth compounds”. The sum of our actions over time do not amount to a straight line. It curves due to compounding.
The upward journey of success is available to anyone who is willing to get on the path and STAY ON IT.
Mastery is a state of mind that lies at the very beginning of the path, not some exalted state arising at the end, at the point of success.
The Wall: when Will Smith was 12 years old, his father tore down a wall and told him to rebuild it with his younger brother. At the time, Will Smith remarked that it was impossible, but they did complete it, in 1.5 years. It was a lesson to demonstrate that they should NEVER say there’s something they cannot do. Will surmised that you don’t set out to build a wall – if you set out to lay that very first brick, and you do that every single day, soon you will have a wall.
“Difficult takes a little time; impossible takes just a little longer”.
BEACH BUM OR MILLIONAIRE?
There are two potential selves within us all – the Beach Bum and the Millionaire. Which self are you progressing?
Those on the failure curve (the Beach Bum path) blame – they blame others, circumstances, fate – they give their power away. They tend to focus on the past and this pulls them down.
Those on the success curve (the Millionaire path) focus on the future, and use the past as a learning tool from which to spring forth.
In life you are either on the path to success or the path to failure – there is no in between – constantly monitor where you are. You are either going for your dreams or giving up on them. You are either stretching for what could be or settling for less.
Review the past – but only for the purpose of making a better plan. You can’t change your past, but you can absolutely change your future.
Review your day and monitor where you spent your time. Did you spend your time on activities that will lead to your goals or elsewhere?
A genuinely successful life is successful in all areas – health, happiness, relationships, career, legacy.
Take an honest look at your life. Is the number of true friends in your life with whom you have mutually enlivening experiences growing larger each year? Do you regularly engage in activities that are truly meaningful to you? Where is your life heading right now in each of these areas?
HOW THE ORDINARY BECOME MILLIONAIRES
So simple it’s overlooked.
Ordinary people on ordinary salaries become millionaires by living below their means, not just once in a while, but repeatedly, and save consistently over time.
They undertake a simple daily, weekly, or monthly saving discipline that over time buys their financial freedom.
Buy the book and read more about how the author’s mum surprised him by revealing she had quietly become a millionaire by this simple Slight Edge method.
Do not wait to start saving – there is a cost to waiting – act now – take advantage of the Power of Time and the Impact of Compound Interest. Check out these Millionaire Calculators and see an illustration of this.
It’s better to be worth £1 million than to have £1 million. Invest in yourself – if you have a million dollar mindset it won’t be long before you make a million, but if you only have the money without the habits or understanding, you are likely to find yourself penniless again.
THE “BIG BREAK” FALLACY
Our culture tends to worship the big break, the quantum leap, the dramatic discovery.
However, the truth is that success often involves years of effort, overcoming obstacles and defeats – with thousands of steps along the way,
The seemingly sudden success is actually the pinnacle point of all of these preceding steps.
“No success is immediate or instantaneous, no collapse is sudden or precipitous.”
To succeed, reframe your view of success – seek incremental improvement and stop chasing the illusion of the big breakthrough. Check out our book summary of One Small Step Can Change Your Life and find out more.
BE WILLING TO MAKE THE SACRIFICE
The right choice means sacrificing the wrong choice, the wrong choice may still be very tempting.
“If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want becomes the sacrifice”.
The price of an unfulfilled dream is more costly than the price of the discipline needed to get there.
SOAK YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS
The majority of the choices we make are determined by our subconscious.
This is the place where our habits have become so engrained, we no longer need to do them consciously.
Like brushing your teeth or driving a car –we have practised them so much, our conscious mind has promoted them over to our subconscious. These habits have becomeautomated.
In order to reach your ultimate goals, ensure you are consciously practising the right actions and choices that lead to your success, as repeated actions whether good or bad, will eventually become automated, and therefore difficult not to do.
The actions you carry out are informed by your thoughts. The thoughts you repeatedly think also become engrained in your subconscious. Ensure you are thinking the right thoughts.
The odds are against you – only 5% truly succeed. To give yourself the slight edge, “soak your subconscious” in your vision. Repeatedly think of it so you come to live and breath it before it even happens, so that your mind becomes attuned to whatever may cross your path in support of your goals.
APOLLO ROCKET COURSE CORRECTION
On its way to the moon, the Apollo rocket was only on course 2-3% of the time. At least 97% of the time it was course correcting – veering off and getting back on track. So there is hope for us mere mortals.
It’s important to keep making the right choices to get to your ultimate destination but you don’t have to make the right decision every single time. Go easy on yourself. You are allowed to fail. As long as you do not give up, learn from failures and keep course correcting to get you back on track, you will get there.
YOU CAN START RIGHT NOW
No matter where you are today, you can turn the corner from failure to success – by building positive habits and acting consistently.
You cannot change your past, but at any moment you can start to rebuild a new future– all it takes is that very first step, that very first act in the right direction, and to keep moving in that direction.
Get started – come up with a plan to get you out of the starting block. The plan you start with will not be the plan that gets your there. It does not need to be perfect – there will be a second plan and a third plan …You will have to adjust and auto-correct – embrace failures and pivots along the way.
Great success starts from a tiny beginning.
DREAMS HURT – MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU
Wanting something, desiring something hurts. Why? Because it reminds you of what you currently lack.
Use that pain, that tension as a force to get you from A to B, from where you are to where you want to be. Make it work for you.
What most people describe as a problem is simply a gap, a space between A and B. The uncomfortable tension in the gap will resolve, resulting in either A or B.
Successful people live in the uncomfortable zone – in that tension between A and B. Embrace doing what’s uncomfortable, doing what 95% of people do not do, in order to attain a life in the long run that is genuinely and sustainably comfortable.
The alternative is to quit dreaming, to let go of your dreams, and settle for less – and B will disappear.
Unsuccessful people often appear successful at first – they hang with the masses, their lives are more comfortable during the long early stretch but their habits ensure this becomes unsustainable – later on they find they do not have the finances, health or happiness to sustain their lifestyle and their lives become increasingly more uncomfortable. In contrast, those on the success curve end up more comfortable as their lives progress, as their finances, health, happiness and successes increase through the compounding of their minuscule but right actions that have become engrained habits.
It takes more than desire to achieve your dreams – it takes desire + faith. If you do not believe you can get what you want, if there is an incongruence between what you desire and what you believe you are merely setting yourself up for failure.
The disconnect between faith and desire often happens when you dream big – the dream being so big, so far removed from your present day reality it’s hard for you to believe it could ever come true no matter how much you desire it.
Suggestion – dream big but chunk it down. Focus on a smaller version of that dream, one that you desire and believe can come true. E.g. Perhaps your big dream is to run a marathon, but you haven’t run more than 10 minutes in your life. So, focus on a smaller version of this dream – running a 5k – something you desire and have faith in achieving. Then, when you’ve tasted success in reaching this goal, your belief in your potential will have expanded – you can move onto the next level of your dream – a 10k, then perhaps a half-marathon … and then the ultimate dream – a marathon!
BE AWARE OF YOUR ASSOCIATIONS
“No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible, intangible force which, which may be likened to a third mind”.
Be aware of who you associate with – those around you can help raise you to your dreams (e.g. a mentor, a coach) or bring you down. People can be hurt by your large vision and subconsciously sabotage you to distract from their own perceived failings.
Your relationships, finances, health, attitudes, success, and career will tend to reflect the average level of your five closest associates. You are known by the company you keep.
YOU ARE ALREADY YOUR OWN BOSS – WHAT STORY DO YOU WANT TO CREATE?
If you work for someone else, you may be dreaming of the day when you can give it up and work for yourself.
However, simply living a life IS being an entrepreneur – you are already your own boss.You are solely in charge of the steady unfolding course of your life.
You are the author of YOUR story – what story do you want to create from today?
In each moment of decision, ask yourself why you are making that choice? No matter how small. Become conscious of what you are doing. What do you want your life to mean?
Realise that you are the project you are waiting for – work on yourself – continuously learn and expand.
Focus on building your own dream, otherwise you will be left building dreams for others.
Heroism is revered worldwide, a phenomenon deeply rooted in mythology through to the present day. The need for a “Save The Day” hero, however, is a sign of something gone wrong, a sign of failure not success. It’s high time to evolve our approach – to give greater applause to a “quieter breed of hero” – those invisible heroes who annihilate problems before they even occur.
Given the current impact of Coronavirus, the sentiments of this book are needed now more than ever.
The need for a hero is a sign of system failure.
Focus on changing the system.
Problematise what has become normal, what has become acceptable.
Detect problems before they arise by addressing early warning signs.
Use key leverage points for greatest impact.
Systems are complex –expect unexpected reactions.
Implement ongoing feedback for success.
Upstream work is limitless – you can always go further.
WHAT IS UPSTREAM WORK?
Upstream work detects problems before they occur.
It is preventative. It is proactive.
It focuses on early warning signs, flagging the onset of a larger problem if unheeded.
It involves systems thinking – looking at the systems behind problems and fixing these.
Upstream solutions are broader and slower but when they work, they achieve long lasting results.
Examples of upstream solutions include swimming lessons to prevent drowning, vaccinations to prevent disease, and visible police presence to prevent crime.
Upstream is a direction … you can always go further. Swimming lessons are further upstream than life saving buoys. Police presence is further upstream than burglar alarms.
WHY IS DOWNSTREAM WORK MORE POPULAR?
Downstream work is reacting to problems. It is putting out a fire after it has occurred, it is treating for diabetes after it has developed.
It is favoured because solutions are tangible, easier to measure, and short term.
In solving a problem reactively but successfully – e.g. putting out a fire that saves lives – a saviour hero is created. And heroism is addictive. Everyone wants to be the hero that saves the day. However, the need for heroism is a sign of system failure. True heroes stop the fire occurring in the first place.
Preventing a problem before it occurs is hidden work. Upstream work involves an inherent paradox: how can you measure success for something that did not happen? This defines the Prophet’s Dilemma – a prediction that prevents what it predicts because the prophecy galvanises forces to put in the work to avoid its occurrence. It leads people to erroneously believe that there never really was a problem in the first place.
Upstream work involves invisible heroes saving invisible victims.
There will always be a need for downstream work – we cannot prevent all fires from occurring, we can’t stop hurricanes. However, it is time for a new dawn to emerge – it is time to tip the balance in favour of Upstream work. “The world needs … a quieter breed of hero, one actively fighting for a world in which rescues are no longer required”.
BARRIERS TO UPSTREAM THINKING
How can you solve an issue where no one sees it as a problem because its seen as normal? Where people are blind to the problem in the first place? This describes problem blindness.
Solution: There’s a need to “problematize the normal”–to give a problem a name.
EXAMPLE – SEXUAL HARRASSMENT: In 1975, journalist Lin Foley coined the term “sexual harassment”, giving a name to an issue that had been normalised in the workplace, making it something abnormal and unacceptable, and empowering women by defining a collective experience. This helped to enable a world in which women would no longer need to tolerate or accept such behaviour in order to keep their jobs.
The second aspect of normalisation is the belief that outcomes areout of our control. “This is just the way it is.” That negative outcomes are natural or inevitable.
It highlights our passivity and sense of helplessness. Instead of renouncing our power to make a change, we must believe in our agency to make a difference – to stop minimising problems as normal because we mask our power.
INJURIES EXAMPLE: Sports trainer and doctor, Marcus Elliott, brought a different mindset to the New England Patriots NFL team – one averse to the traditional acceptance of injuries as an inevitable part of sport. Instead, his belief that injuries simply resulted from bad training (something that could be changed), inspired a new individualised approach focused on movement observations, assessments of muscle imbalances and targeted training for those most at risk of injury, leading to a 76% reduction in hamstring injuries following his intervention. His programme is an example of an upstream intervention – by focusing on early risk and warning signs of injuries (problems that had not yet occurred but could), and making interventions (training) he changed the course of direction to a more favourable outcome.
2.LACK OF OWNERSHIP
Problems aren’t solved without someone taking ownership for solving them.
“That’s not mine to fix” – a common approach by parties who are actually capable of fixing a problem. Its often those who suffer most from a problem that are left to find solutions. However, they may not be best placed to fix them.
Taking ownership is particularly important in upstream work, which focuses on preventing a problem that hasn’t yet occurred, where there is little to no attention nor demand for a solution. In these situations, taking ownership is about becoming a visionary, a pioneer, about stepping up to become a leader.
The question should not be “Who suffers most from the problem?” but “Who’s best positioned to fix it, and will they step up?”
Taking responsibility for problems often means stepping outside of your immediate sphere of influence.
CAR SEAT SAFETY EXAMPLE – In the 1970s, Dr Bob Sanders – a paediatrician in Tennessee – stood up and took ownership by answering the call from an article for paediatricians to advocate for child car seat safety. The article called for the widening of the realm of paediatricians beyond diagnosing and treating illness to advocacy and lobbying – undertaking leadership of a problem that wasn’t within their traditional remit. More young children were injured and killed within vehicles than outside, and the authors saw paediatricians – possessing the authority to positively impact outcomes by alerting parents to the dangers of children riding “loose” in vehicles, and advocate for change more widely – as best placed to fix the problem, seeing no difference between restraints and immunisation as weapons in the preventative medicine toolkit. Following intense lobbying efforts, in 1978, Tennessee became the first US state to require car seats for children under four (with a subsequent repeal of a loophole in 1981) and by 1985 all 50 states had passed child restraint laws. Estimates indicate that 11,000+ children’s lives were saved by car seats between 1975 and 2016.
Sometimes we deny our own ownership of a problem, requiring someone else to fix it, something external to us, and thus giving away our power.
MOVE MY CHAIR EXAMPLE We’ve all been in situations when someone sitting in front of us blocks our view, we shift a little, and the person in front mirrors our action, creating an ongoing dance causing huge irritation. But we forget that we hold power in our hands – we can simply get up, move our chair and end our frustration. What other irritating situations can you apply the “move my chair” mindset to, and take control of a situation for a more positive outcome? What if you were to tell a story of a frustrating situation as if you were the only one responsible for the outcome and move from a victim mindset to (co)-owner of a solution? (This does not apply to abusive situations which would lead to victim-blaming”).
Sometimes, “That’s not mine to fix” is an issue of legitimacy. People are motivated to step up to help fix a problem, but do not feel it’s their legitimate place to do so as they haven’t suffered directly e.g. a young man is concerned about the high levels of date rape on campus but feels it may be inappropriate for him to join protests led by women.
Solution: where appropriate, provide a sense of legitimacy by making it clear all groups can play a part in the solution e.g. simply by changing the title of a protest to include references to both men and women.
Juggling multiple problems can lead to tunnel vision – there isn’t enough bandwidth to solve them all.
It results in short term, narrow and reactive thinking – the opposite of systems thinking and preventative solutions which form the basis of upstream work.
When resources are scarce, every problem becomes a source of stress – “life becomes a tightrope walk” -leading to reacting to fire after fire after fire, without the breadth of space – the bandwidth – required to prevent them in the first place. This explains the spiral of poverty. Time can also have this effect.
Tunnelling leads to more tunnelling –if you can’t solve problems by treating the system, you are kept in an endless cycle of reaction.
TUNNELLING NURSES EXAMPLE A study showed that nurses solved unexpected problems every 90 minutes on average – they were professional problem solvers. However, their creativity and efficiency, signs of a “good nurse”, masked the tracking of these problems, creating “a system that never learns”. Problems included having to borrow towels from other departments to cover a shortfall, and repeatedly having to find security tags required for new-borns to be discharged. The nurses were tunnelling, focusing on short term reactions to problems without the formal opportunity to feedback on these issues or space to consider potential preventative solutions.
How to escape the tunnel? Build in guaranteed time and resources for problem solving – a space for upstream work e.g. some hospitals hold early morning forums where staff can flag regular issues and near misses, and discuss complexities for the day ahead. This could have been the ideal forum for the nurses above to raise issues e.g. security tags falling off babies, allowing for preventative fixes at the systems level.
7 QUESTIONS for UPSTREAM LEADERS
1.HOW WILL YOU UNITE THE RIGHT PEOPLE?
Upstream work often involves volunteered efforts, “chosen, not obligated”. People volunteer to take ownership of a problem in order to prevent it, so it’s important to motivate people to undertake this work.
A. Surround the problem with the right people – those close to the problem with the experience, expertise and authority to make a difference. To surround the problem, make sure all of the agencies playing a part in the multi-faceted system are involved. (Similarly, Rebel Ideas calls for diversity of thought to surround a problem.)
B. Align people’s efforts towards a shared vision focused on preventing specific instances of the problem e.g. stopping women from being killed rather than discussing domestic violence policy issues or what’s broken. Make the problem personal and real – focus on cases by people and names.
C. Focus people on the use of the latest data – data for the purpose of learning rather than data for the purpose of inspection. The latter is often target focused, based on penalising those who fall short (which can lead to gaming), rather than learning why and how to improve going forward. When designing a system, ensure data will be useful for those on the frontline, to allow them to learn and adapt, and know in real time whether they are succeeding or failing e.g. such data could be used by teachers to focus more time on areas students are struggling with if they have data that reveals this in real-time. “You can’t solve a dynamic problem with static data.“
DOMESTIC ABUSE EXAMPLE In 2005, Kelly Dunne, a leader in the anti-domestic violence field, saw that the only way to prevent murder in domestic abuse cases was to unite the fragmented groups having a role in them – police officers, parole and probation officers, victim advocates, hospital staff, a representative from the District Attorney’s office. She surrounded the problem by organising the Domestic Violence High Risk Team, bringing together representatives who had previously been working in institutional isolation and focused their efforts to prevent the deaths of women at greatest risk. They used name lists, reviewing cases one by one (specific instances of the larger problem) – making the problem personal and real rather than abstract and distant, using the latest data to inform their work. “Where was Nicole’s abuser?” “What has he been doing?” How can we help her this week?” Where would she go if she needed to escape? Who would pay for a hotel or taxi?” Collectively the team uncovered and addressed gaps within the system that could be exploited by abusers. Not a single woman was killed due to domestic violence related homicide in the 14 years from the formation of the team. “Not one”.
2.HOW WILL YOU CHANGE THE SYSTEM?
The ultimate aim of upstream work is systems change for the better – a well-designed system is the best way to solve problems before they occur.
INVISIBLE SYSTEM EXAMPLE For decades, fluoride has been added to water supplies to prevent tooth decay, a preventative invisible systematic solution that has been named one of the ten best public health achievements of the twentieth century.
DAMAGED GOODS EXAMPLE – to solve the problem of bikes being damaged on delivery, VanMoof added images of flatscreen TVs to their boxes, leading to more careful handling by couriers and a 70%+ reduction in damages.
Upstream work involves fighting against people and organisations who have become used to the system, who tacitly accept its flaws and the status quo, perhaps because in some way they benefit from the system or it’s simply much easier to become resigned to it.
Courage sparks the start of system change by uniting people around a common cause, but there should never be an ongoing reliance on heroism – the objective is to eliminate the need for courage because change has been instilled within the system.
Be in it for the long haul – realise that systems change takes time – it took decades or even centuries for these systems to form in the first place.
Solutions should be systemic, not personal i.e. not reliant or dependent on the judgement of persons within the system e.g. to increase workplace diversity, organisations can systematically remove names from applications, and require recruitment from a wider pool of places.
An important part of systems change is to give actors involved a sense of their own power to create change, a chance to express their agency, which could initially be in small ways leading onto successes in larger campaigns.
LIFE EXPECTANCY EXAMPLE – Anthony Iton on moving to Baltimore in 1985 was shocked at Americans who shrugged their shoulders at urban poverty, who had come to accept it as inevitable. As director of the Alameda County Public Health Department, he and his team used data to analyse life expectancy by neighbourhood, something that hadn’t been done by the department before, revealing a stark gap of 16-23 years in neighbourhoods only miles apart. He found that there wasn’t just one or two or three causes of the lower life expectancy, but that it was literally everything – a multiplicity of systemic forces that created communities that were “incubators of chronic stress” due to a lack of control over their lives – over housing, finding good education, avoiding crime, finding jobs, healthy food etc. Lower income communities were being short-changed in terms of their life spans due to the system they functioned within. People with low incomes are not born being physiologically different from those with higher incomes…they are made that way – they are made by the system. The system had been perfectly designed to produce those results. Chronic stress led to ill health and shorter lives. Of course there are exceptions, examples of people rising above their circumstances and the systems they were born into, to succeed. However, badly designed systems lower the probabilities of this happening – in higher income neighbourhoods, where systems were well designed and life expectancy longer, the probabilities were overwhelmingly in their favour. Why should we be indirectly congratulating a system where individuals have to become heroes and overcome the odds just to succeed? Iton went on to focus on giving citizens a sense of their power through political campaigning, to reshape their environments and the systemic causes of their hardships piece by piece, gradually shifting the odds back in their favour. “Greater power leads to policy victories which leads to a better environment”. Successes in a particularly community – Fresno – included a new skateboard park, and opening up of 16 school playgrounds for public use outside of school hours. Between 2010-2018, 321 policy wins and 451 system changes were achieved across 14 communities. “Power works”.
3.WHERE CAN YOU FIND A POINT OF LEVERAGE?
Systems change is complex and can take decades of effort – so it’s important as early as possible to look for a points of leverage, which can be used to gain and deliver maximum impact towards the outcomes you seek.
Examples of leverage points include: targeting high impact groups – small groups of people having most impact on a problem, risk factors e.g. smoking, and protective factors that could lower the incidence of the problem e.g. youth clubs.
Finding leverage points requires immersing yourself in the problem, to understand the issues that contribute most.
SEPSIS EXAMPLE In aiming to reduce patient deaths, detailed case studies of the last 50 patients that had died at each hospital within the Permanente Medical Group in Northern California, revealed that a third had died due to sepsis. This had been an infection the hospitals had been relatively ignorant to, which consequently led to a focus on patients with sepsis and a 60% reduction in deaths due to this cause.
EDUCATION EXAMPLE Chicago Public Schools (CPS)“was a system designed to fail half its kids”. In 1998, only 52.4% of its students graduated (the symptom). The mindset of those within CPS was an acceptance of the high dropout rate, and belief that the failure of students was either due to their own behaviour or lack of effort, or root causes beyond their control that were impossible for them to impact–poor families, student trauma, lack of nutrition, inadequate prior education. Outcomes were turned around through the use of insightful research, and problem ownership, which shifted focus onto the attainment of high school freshmen – something they could have an impact on, and a change they could make within the educational system at a key leverage point. The research had shown that achievement of students in their first year of high school was critical to their overall success. By 2018, the graduation rate shot up to 78%, an increase of 25%.
4. HOW WILL YOU GET EARLY WARNING OF THE PROBLEM?
The aim is to design a “smoke detector” alarm system forewarning you of a problem to come, so you can take upstream action to prevent the problem occurring.
In some situations, you do not want too many false positives, leading to alarm fatigue where people end up ignoring the alarms. But where the impact of missing a problem would be devasting you may be willing to accept a high rate of false positives.
911 EMERGENCIES EXAMPLE In New York City, Northwell Health used historical data to create their warning system, to strategically locate ambulances in areas of highest need. Data revealed that there was a spike in 911 calls on Fridays & Saturdays, during flu season, on July 4th and New Year’s Eve, and at mealtimes in nursing homes (when caregivers are guaranteed to check on residents and discover something wrong). By pre-deploying ambulances within close reach of key locations at designated times they achieved a response rate of 6.5 minutes in comparison to the national average of 8 minutes.
SCHOOL SHOOTINGS EXAMPLE Following the Sandy Hook School Shooting, the Sandy Hook Promise organisation researched other school shootings to develop an early warning system focusing on the mental health of potential shooters. Extreme feelings of social isolation, a strong fascination with firearms, bragging about access to guns, and acting aggressively for seemingly minor reasons – had all been warning signs that had been overlooked in past shootings. They launched a training program and anonymous reporting system to encourage students to raise any concerns they had with fellow students – effectively employing students as human sensors, as human warning signals. When this system was adopted by public schools in Pennsylvania 615 tips were received in the first week, and there were 46 suicide interventions, 3 major drug busts and warning of a school shooting threat.
5.HOW WILL YOU KNOW YOU’RE SUCCEEDING?
Success is more tangible for downstream interventions. The overall aim is restore the situation to the previous state e.g. put out the fire – so success is easily measurable and evident.
Upstream interventions involve prevention of a problem before it even occurs – so how do you measure their success?
This difficulty can lead to ghost victories – superficial success which cloak failure.
3 types of ghost victories:
1) Assuming success that is not attributable to your work although measures show you are succeeding e.g.your team is hitting more home runs, but it’s not through your interventions but an external factor – a decline in pitching talent. Every other team in the league is also achieving greater success as a result.
2) Short term measure success but not aligned with the longer-term mission.BOSTON SIDEWALKS EXAMPLE – in Boston, measures used to assess success in sidewalk maintenance actually worked against the longer-term ambition. Research revealed that prior “success” in repairing roads, serviced as a result of phone call requests, masked the fact that almost half of these roads were already deemed to be in good condition, and lower income neighbourhoods with roads in the poorest conditions were being neglected as a result. This was because roads were only being repaired on calls received – which in the main came from richer areas – and not on the basis of need or condition. Success was partially measured by the number of closed calls – and in doing so, it appeared the team had unwittingly been providing an inequitable service. The short measures indicated a ghost victory, going against the overall mission of ensuring walkability for all Bostonians, particularly those communities most in need.
3) short term measure becomes the mission undermining the overall aim (leading to cheating or “gaming” measures). HOSPITAL WAITING TIMES EXAMPLE – an investigation revealed that patients had purposely been left in ambulances in order to achieve a maximum 4-hour waiting time target, measured from the point at which they entered the hospital. CRIME DATA EXAMPLE – some police officers found indirect ways to under-report crimes or downgrade them in order to achieve more favourable crime statistics. This included purposely trying to find holes in a victim’s story with the sole intention of downgrading a crime as serious as rape. When career performance and progress is judged on hitting certain targets, people will find ways to tilt the numbers in their favour.
Ways to avoid ghost victories:
Paired measures – pair quantitative and qualitative measures to ensure real success e.g. for cleaning, measure “success” based on the size of the area cleaned during a period of time PLUS quality checks – spot checks for errors, customer satisfaction.
Pre-gaming – devote time to consider how short-term measures might be misused or achieved in such a way that would be deemed misleading.
6.HOW WILL YOU AVOID DOING HARM?
In our quest to do good, to make the world better, how can we ensure we don’t unwittingly do harm?
Remember that upstream interventions involving tinkering with complex systems – you should expect reactions and consequences beyond the immediate scope of your particular area of work, and not all of them may be favourable.
Systems are too complex to be controlled, but they can be designed and redesigned – it’s about learning to dance with them.
1. Look at the system as a whole, not just the particular part you are interested in solving.
2. Ask – are you intervening at the right level of the system? And what are the secondary effects of your interventions? What will fill the void (of removing something e.g. banning plastic bags)?What will receive less attention due to focusing on the intervention? How easy is it to reverse the intervention if we end up unwittingly creating harm?
3. Test small, gain prompt and ongoing feedback, and implement quickly and iteratively – remember that your thoughts and planned intervention is only a theory – experiment and ask others to challenge your assumptions, create feedback mechanisms and measurement systems – and implement the feedback in order to improve. Success does not come by foreseeing the future accurately, it’s impossible to foresee everything – we succeed by ensuring we have the feedback we need to navigate our way through.
4. Check whether there have been other similar interventions and learn from them.
5. On the basis of 1-4, make a decision as to whether to stage a full upstream intervention (similar to moving from pilot to launch) If the answer is no or negative to any of the above, or you haven’t created any feedback mechanisms, think carefully before proceeding.
FALLING BRANCHES EXAMPLE – In New York City, cutting the pruning budget (pruning being an upstream activity) led to a surprising number of settlements due to injuries caused by falling branches. Greater harm was caused by only looking at benefits to part of the system – savings on maintenance – which in fact ended up being paid out in lawsuits.
COBRA EXAMPLE – during the UK’s colonial rule of India, a British administrator decided to use incentives to decrease the numbers of cobras in Delhi. However he unwittingly made the problem worse – cash rewards for dead cobras created a cobra farming industry, increasing rather than decreasing numbers. Furthermore, on abolishment of the scheme, the cobra farmers released them as they were no longer of value.
PLASTIC BAGS EXAMPLE– the banning of plastic bags has led to some unexpected consequences e.g. in San Diego, a deadly outbreak of hepatitis A in 2017 was attributed by some to the lack of plastic bags – people who were homeless had been using them to dispose of their waste, and the void led to use of less sanitary alternatives.
CHARITIES EXAMPLE – Is the solution you are providing really benefiting the peopleit is meant to serve or those employed by it? A foundation aiming to increase the financial security of those on low incomes through financial coaching actually benefited its workers – everyone in the ecosystem got paid except those beneficiaries – “they got coached”. The problem was not that the poor lacked financial know-how – it was because they lacked money due to a lack of adequate opportunities – a system that did not favour them.
7.WHO WILL PAY FOR WHAT DOES NOT HAPPEN?
The cost of downstream work often far outweighs the cost of upstream work, but there is often resistance to pay for the latter despite the popular saying “Prevention is better than cure” e.g. estimates indicate that for every $1 dollar spent adding fluoride to water supplies, society saves $20 in avoided dental costs.
Preventative efforts succeed when the problem is prevented i.e. nothing happens. Who will pay for what does not happen? How do we get people to pay to prevent problems rather than paying for reactionary fixes, often at a much higher cost because the problem is far worse by that point?
Part of the challenge is that many people and organisations do not want to invest in a programme that will provide rewards years in the future – that will pay them back eventually.
Solution 1: Government funding -Seek private/alternative sources of funding initially, implement a study of the intervention to assess its impacts based on measures agreed in advance, if successful the government agrees to fund the intervention permanently. The government benefits from not having to undertake a big financial risk at the outset, and future funding is underpinned by evidence of the intervention’s success.
Solution 2: Create incentives for organisations to adopt preventative measures.
ACO EXAMPLE The Accountable Care Organisation (ACO) model allows primary care doctors to group together and share savings achieved by managing patient’s healthcare better, often achieved through proactive solutions – spending more time with patients, monitoring early warning metrics such as weight and blood pressure, ensuring these head in the right direction – and thus reducing the need for more costly downstream measures such as hospital visits.
CAPITATION EXAMPLE – healthcare providers get paid a flat fee per patient to take care of all of their healthcare needs regardless of the number of interventions required. These payments are risk adjusted e.g. higher payments for an elderly person compared to a 25-year old. The capitation model incentivises upstream approaches such as providing free healthy food for diabetics, thus avoiding more costly downstream interventions. Pairing quantitative and qualitative measures e.g. patient health metrics and patient satisfaction surveys ensures providers do not game the system by providing less services – they receive less money where patients report being unsatisfied or they allow their health to deteriorate.
GOING SOLO, UPSTREAM
How can you personally move upstream? Upstream thinking is not just for organisations, it’s for individuals too.
There are lots of things you could invest in – how do you choose?
What do you care so much about that you are willing to commit to it year after year, through obstacles and defeats?
What problem are you willing to really learn about up close? Macro starts with micro – to help a million people you first need to understand how to help one; if you want to help solve big problems in the world, seek out groups with ambitious visions that have proximate experience of the problem.
Could you change the organisation you currently work for and improve the system from within?
How can you engage in upstream thinking in your personal life, in relationships? Adopt the mindset of upstream thinking, take personal responsibility for issues and believe in your power to solve them – think of the Move my Chair example above.
HOW TO SUCCEED AT UPSTREAM WORK
OVERCOME THE BARRIERS TO UPSTREAM WORK
PROBLEMATISE NORMAL – give a problematic experience a name.
BELIEVE IN YOUR POWER TO POSITIVELY IMPACT OUTCOMES How many problems in our lives and in society are we tolerating simply because we’ve gradually given away our power, accepting apathy and the inevitability of negative outcomes as substitutions? Because we have forgotten that we can fix them?
TAKE OWNERSHIP – you may not be the one to create a problem, but you can be the one to fix it. Become a leader. Move from “Can’t someone (else) fix this problem?” to “How can I/we solve this problem?”
BUILD IN TIME FOR PREVENTATIVE THINKING without guaranteed time for thinking about the wider system and preventative solutions you can get stuck in tunnelling – in a cycle of reactionary band aid fixes.
BE IN IT FOR THE LONG GAME – it takes time and commitment – years and decades rather than days and months to see the fruit of your labour when undertaking upstream work, due to the broadness of the problem landscape and the complexity of various moving parts and actors within the system. Be impatient for action (change is not based on lofty ideals but is delivered through action) but patient for outcomes.
HAVE HUMILITY – the humility to learn, to be wrong, to listen and take on feedback, to take on the hard and complex work and not be discouraged.
CREATE A SENSE OF URGENCY – to start preventing a problem that will result far off in the future unless action is taken now, you need to create a sense of urgency to attract attention and demand for the problem to be to fixed. People and organisations are constantly dealing with urgent short-term problems – planning for speculative future ones by definition is not urgent. To compete with people’s daily concerns, to overcome indifference and the difficulty in convincing people to collaborate when hardship hasn’t forced them to, create an image and use language that captures people’s imaginations, that enables them to understand the world they could avoid through their efforts now. E.g. The term “ozone hole” created visual imagery that helped the public understand the need to take action to prevent further damage to the ozone layer – alike the urgent need to fix a hole in a roof or a boat.
FIX THE SYSTEM, NOT THE SYMPTOMS Upstream work is concerned with creating change at the systematic level – with changing the processes and rules that govern us and the culture that influences us – for better outcomes. Downstream work reacts to problems, treating the symptoms, allowing the root cause to remain – a perpetual cycle. At the heart of the upstream approach, if there is a problem or failure, its root cause is within the system, as “every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets”.
UNITE THE RIGHT PEOPLE – Surround the problem with those with the knowledge, experience and authority to make a positive impact.
HUNT FOR LEVERAGE POINTS IN THE SYSTEM to deliver maximum impact towards the outcomes you want to achieve.
GET UP CLOSE TO A PROBLEM to understand the key issues.
SPOT PROBLEMS EARLY ON – create “smoke alarms” to spot early warning signs of impending problems and intervene.
AVOID HARM –make sure you ask the right questions before pursuing an intervention.
GET STARTED & GAIN FEEDBACK – Don’t obsess about formulating the perfect solution before getting started – ongoing feedback is key. Take ownership of the underlying problem and start slogging forward. You could spend time designing the perfect (untested) intervention and hope for the best, or start with a pretty good solution with numerous built-in feedback loops, that can’t help to get better over time.
DETERMINE HOW TO MEASURE SUCCESS ACCURATELY to avoid ghost victories and unintended consequences.
MAKE USE OF THE LATEST DATA – to solve dynamic and complex problems before they occur.
CONDUCT TESTS AHEAD OF FULL IMPLEMENTATION. The benefits of pre-planning and simulations in emergencies and humanitarian disaster planning include:
1) boosting readiness before the real situation occurs by revealing problems and developing improvements and tweaks to the system (e.g. implementation of learning from logjams in prior hurricane evacuations improved the contraflow process during Hurricane Katrina, saving lives);
2) get stakeholders to know each other before having to work together in a real emergency and to understand the linkages in the system, as “you don’t want to be exchanging business cards in the middle of an emergency”.
This is a book where a variety of examples are given that are key to a nuanced and deep understanding of the nature of upstream work – buy the book here.
In a competitive market, how do you stand out? Reverse your thinking! Stop focusing on the tangible and copyable end deliverable – your product or service. Instead use Uncopyable – the ‘Orange Marketing Guide’ to ‘hunt your moose’ and elevate the intangible elements of your business – your branding, stealing genius innovation, and rockstar customer experience combined – to become unique. To become ultimately… UNCOPYABLE.
Study aliens. Steal Genius.
Learn why and how to hunt a moose.
Why a $0.96 tube of toothpaste could be your marketing gem.
The importance of the next step.
How to create attachment through that rockstar feeling.
WHY BE UNCOPYABLE?
Old model to be competitively different: either a better product, a better price, or a better service.
When a customer can’t differentiate between two products based on performance or quality, they look to a company’s service and if they can’t differentiate on this, they look to the last point of differentiation: price. You don’t want to be competing on price as it’s a losing battle. Undercutting on price may work for a while until you get usurped, e.g. Amazon usurped Walmart.
Instead aim to become Uncopyable not just better, as better can always be bettered by someone else.
Use Uncopyable tools and approach to create a superior exclusive customer attachmentto your business – an experience and relationship so special and valuable it can’t be found anywhere else.
HOW TO BECOME UNCOPYABLE?
The product or service you sell is tangible and therefore easily copyable. The combination of your branding, storytelling, and customer experience are intangible and therefore much easier to make uncopyable.
You not only want to be different from competitors, you also want to create an attachment with your customers.
Build your own box and create attachment through:
UNCOPYABLE INNOVATION: Stealing Genius
Competition doesn’t breed innovation. Competition breeds conformity. If it can be copied, it will be copied.
Don’t compete, use Stealing Genius to innovate (to offer something unique and valuable) and become uncopyable.
Study aliens – study organisations and people outside of your field, that are alien to you, to give you a fresh perspective. And steal their ideas – steal their genius and apply it to your organisation.
You need to develop an ongoing practice of observation and curiosity, stepping outside of what is popular.
Of course, keep an eye on your competition to ensure you offer the minimum standards expected by your customer base in your field– the benchmark– e.g. all hotel guests will expect to have coffee/tea making facilities in their room whichever hotel they stay at.
However, you never get new ideas from your competition – you can only take their improvements and perhaps make them a little better.
Look at what everyone else is doing and don’t do it. Ask“…What’s the thing that’s not in the world that should be…?” (Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton)
EXAMPLE McDonalds Stole Genius– McDonalds created their first fast food drive-through in 1975 by observing bank drive-throughs, as a way to attract business from soldiers who were forbidden to leave their cars whilst wearing army fatigues. Nowadays 50-70% of all sales are from drive-through customers.
Example Southwest Airlines Stole Genius – the airline used the efficiency employed by NASCAR pit crews servicing racing cars and applied it to airplane cleaning and preparation times. This led to an increase in average daily flights to 10.5 compared to the industry average of 5 and thus an increase in revenue (as airlines make money from flights not downtime).
When studying alien organisations, ask yourself:
What is this alien organisation doing to impact a customer’s experience?
To see through a different filter and generate new insights, ask yourself – “What would Disney do?”, “What would Apple do?”.
Develop a habit of active awareness, of mindful observation – wherever you are, always have an enquiring mind looking for ideas.
You need to keep being Uncopyable – it’s not a fixed target but a moving one – what is uncopyable now will not be forever.
EXERCISE Unique Ideas: on the left-hand side (LHS) of a sheet of paper write all the reasons why someone should do business with you. On the right, write why they should do business with your competition. Cross out reasons that are the same on both sides …those left on the LHS are now those that are unique to you – the unique ideas you should now focus on.
UNCOPYABLE MARKETING: How to attract your moose
Recognise the importance of marketing – it is not an afterthought; it is not something you do after you have produced your product or service – it is paramount. You are not in the business of making golf clubs. You are in the business of marketing and selling golf clubs. You are selling the experience of using your golf clubs – if you are unable to sell them, you’ll end up with a big pile of steel. The golf club is incidental – it is the end deliverable of what you are selling.
Marketing is about awareness. It seeks to attract people to your business, to generate interest. It involves understanding your potential customers, promoting your business to them and building a relationship.
Uncopyable Marketing Approach – 1. MARKET > 2. MESSAGE > 3. MEDIA > 4. MOMENT
1.MARKET: Who is Your Market?
Demographic: Who are they? Where are they located? Who is your ideal customer? What is their profile? Create an avatar.
Psychographic: What are their pain points (that you can remove)? What challenges do they face everyday? What are their aspirations? What solutions have they tried that haven’t worked?
2.MESSAGE: What message can you create to get their attention?
Join the conversation that is going on in their head e.g. if your business is related to weight loss, the conversation isn’t about weight loss, it’s about how that will make them feel – turn heads, feel confident etc.
Always enter the conversation that is already taking place in the customers mind and align with it. People are thinking about their own interest, their loved ones, and how to advance – how can you embed yourself within their sphere?
The better you understand what your market is thinking, the easier it is to develop a relationship.
3. MEDIA: What media can you use to deliver your message to your market?
It is backwards to choose the medium first and then hope your market is there.
You don’t need to use all media channels (e.g. trade ad, social media, mailing), just the ones your target market is already on, otherwise it’s a waste of time. E.g. if your market reads a certain magazine, place advert or get an article published.
Think “hunt moose” – your strategy is to hunt moose (your target market) – you aren’t interested in the other animals in the forest – the bears, the birds, the wild cats. Tailor your hunt for moose only – investigate what they eat (what can you use to bait them – your message), what paths do they follow through the forest, what will get your moose’s attention. Your message should be like a dog (or moose in this case) whistle – only dogs (moose) can hear it. That’s the perfect message – you aren’t trying to attract all of the animals in the forest – only those that will be interested.
You want to use your media to uncover your leads among prospects – the ones who are interested in what you have to say and want to stay in touch. A prospect fits the profile of your target market, to become a lead they must show some level of interest.
4. MOMENT:Will your market (moose) think of you when they are ready to buy?
Does your target market think of you first when they need a solution? Although they may not need your solution at the moment they receive your message, when they do, will they think of you first? Or even at all?
Your aim is to be the only source your prospects think about.
What triggers can you create to help them remember youWHEN they are ready to buy (e.g. Steve Miller gives orange moose whistle as gifts, as memory triggers for his business).
Next-step marketing – use this to get your moose to remember you and take that next step along the customer pathway. The essential idea is that there is always a next step – that your customers engage with your business through a series of steps, your focus is to get them to that next step. E.g. you send a mailing to prospects…what is the next step? It isn’t (yet) to buy your product – it is to get them to open the mailing in the first place! Always think of the tools at your disposal to get them to take that very next action.
UNCOPYABLE BRANDING: Create your own box
Branding is your identity – who are you and how do people recognise you? It’s about your promise to the marketplace – why do you exist, what is your offering?
Branding makes you memorable to your moose. It resonates with your moose, establishes your credibility, and differentiates you from the competition.
You are not trying to think outside the box – you are trying to create your own box.
EXAMPLE Motorcycle: think of a motorcycle – what comes to mind? Your brain scans for associations with this word – for some it may be danger, for others it could be noise, freedom, Honda, Suzuki – all of these associations are in the same box called “motorcycle”. So how can you compete? Harley Davidson is a great example of a business that has created its own box. They do not sell motorcycles, they sell fantasy and community. Their box is filled with black leather jackets, belonging, freedom, rebellion, adventure …
Build your own box and fill it with things that resonate with your moose (your target market), things that keep you out of that generic big box.
Your brand could be the founder who has a unique captivating personality – that’s uncopyable.
Branding tools for building your own unique box:
Claim a WORD or PHRASE – e.g. Disney owns the phrase “Happiest Place on Earth” – not happy, nor happier, but happiest. How can you reinforce and symbolise your chosen word or phrase to get it into the minds of customers so they link that word with your business?
Claim a COLOURe.g. Coca Cola owns red. Uncopyable author Steve Miller owns the colour orange – in public he always wears orange, his glasses are orange, his gifts are orange, he uses orange envelopes – when you think of orange you think Uncopyable – it’s a trigger.
Create TRIGGERS – Steve Miller uses a Moose Whistle (an orange dog whistle relabelled) to remind prospects and leads of the need to hunt moose (go for their target market)– it triggers memories of his message and therefore of him.
Create Your Own LANGUAGE – Starbucks has created its own coffee language – the triple venti skinny, half-caf, the black eye – only those words will be associated with your company.
What is your STORY? – Storytelling is an extremely powerful branding tool – people connect with stories and they provide an image of what your company stands for, humanising your company. Stories help build trust in your business, and importantly, people tell stories to others. Stories are unique – uncopyable. What kinds of stories can you tell to connect with your moose? e.g. how and why your company started, a grievance story (every idea starts with a problem), a mission story – your mission to solve a social problem through your business.
UNCOPYABLE EXPERIENCE: Create that rockstar feeling
The aim is to create attachment – personal and emotional, the perception of high value, and a fear of losing that attachment.
Attachment generates loyalty, repeat business and referrals to others.
Create an amazing experience that wants to be REPEATED, REMEMBERED, SHARED.
Create a club – you want people to feel like they want to become part of your exclusive club – to feel like rock stars – special, elevated – the cool kids. People want a sense of belonging, a sense of exclusivity and to feel valued.
A club that delivers this means they won’t want to leave – if they do they will lose that unique high value experience.
EXAMPLE – Airline frequent prisoner (sorry flyer) programmes are examples of successful clubs – you can’t leave otherwise you lose your collected airmiles and will no longer be cool.
EXAMPLE – if you are a MAC person you are in a club – you are part of the cool gang who use aesthetically designed Apple products rather than PCs.
How can you make your customers feel special, like rock stars?
Give your top customers something no one elsehas, that is hard to get – e.g. information for free that others have to buy, or the first to get this information so they gain an advantage.
You could set levels that reward the best customers and provide an incentive for others to work towards e.g. a frequent flyer program that has bronze, silver, gold levels.
Become the master networker of your field – the person your customers come to make contact with others – a powerful resource that is uncopyable.
Do something more than just delivering your service or product.
Example:Southwest Airlines creates wow experiences onboard that cannot be copied, that make their customers feel like rock stars – and it doesn’t have to cost a thing (read the book page 88 to find out more).
Example: The Muse Hotel in Manhattan makes guests feel valuable through creating a wow moment, an unexpected experience, through a small but significant action, through their attention to detail. “Our thinking caps are always on as we imagine ways to keep things fresh and welcoming for you” is their brand promise. This was brought to life when a housekeeper, on noticing an empty tube of toothpaste that had been discarded, went out and replaced it, doing a service for Steve Miller as a guest without even asking, as if they had read his mind. This is an example of an experience to be shared, a story that will be told to others who will want to experience what this hotel has to offer. This is free marketing – all through a small tube of toothpaste worth 96 cents.
The key is to make people feel valued andvaluable – you are not looking for them to recognise your excellence – you are instead focusing on them and recognising their value and excellence. Nobody forgets that feeling. And it’s an experience – a story that will be shared with many others.
Create Shock-and Awe Packages – wow your market. Go above and beyond – provide a wonderful package to new customers to enhance your relationship and to separate you from the competition.
Example: Steve Miller after signing his publishing deal received a package from the publisher containing a handwritten welcome note, three books relevant to becoming a successful author, an infographic poster on book publishing, popcorn and CDS from other published authors.
Example: Steve Miller used shock and awe packages to instil trust in the quality and value of his offering and generate new speaking gigs, sending the following to good prospects – copies of testimonial letters, videos of him speaking, an unusual gift e.g. pair of orange sunglasses, an orange moose whistle (memorable triggers), copies of articles he’d written, copies of his books. He sent them to confirm he was the right person for the job, and it worked.
Creating the experience that leads to personal attachment to your company is the key ingredient of the Uncopyable approach.
EXAMPLES OFUNCOPYABLE BUSINESSES & PEOPLE
Disney World – they don’t sell amusement parks – they sell unique uncopyable experiences.
Hamilton theatre show – creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, used non-traditional means to engage with fans leading to its soaring popularity e.g. $10 daily ticket lottery, impromptu short performances, school studies of the show.
Tiger Woods – he became unbeatable by becoming an athlete – being in peak physical condition had not been a standard part of the golf world previously.
High Point University – provides students with a unique and unforgettable learning experience e.g. on starting students undertake a Life Skills course, they learn through simulations of real-world experiences e.g. a replica of a financial trading floor, they experience weekly gourmet meals where they learn social and dining etiquette. The university has created a club that students absolutely want to be a part of – and don’t want to leave.
Harley Davidson – do not sell motorcycles – they sell the ability for a 43-year old accountant “to dress in black leather, ride through small towns, and have people be afraid for them”. It sells fantasy and community; with such a unique brand it is difficult for other companies to copy them.
Learn about referral marketing and more great examples of Uncopyable businesses to steal genius from – buy the book here!
“Most men lead live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them”. Endless time, complacency and distraction are the Silent Snatchers of our dreams. Wake up! Seize the certainty of death to live – use the 1% Rule to thrive.
THE SILENT DREAM SNATCHERS
Curb Time – Create Urgency
Curb Choice – Choose
End Vanilla – Captivate Yourself
Curb Complacency – Choose Growth
Curb Dreaming – Start Doing
End Sometimes – Do It Daily
End Instant – Delay Gratification
End Solo – Get Support
Curb Distraction – Say No and Focus
Curb How – Adopt the 1% Rule
CURB TIME – CREATE URGENCY
Your time is now. Stop acting like you have all the time in the world.
If you keep waiting to get started, you’ll wake up one day and wonder where your life went.
Manufacture urgency – urgency is not natural – it has to be created and recreated e.g. cut your target completion date in half and start now.
The amateur sits around waiting to be inspired – the pro creates inspiration.
CURB CHOICE – CHOOSE
Indecision is a big dream killer.
Too much choice means you don’t get to focus on what is really valuable, on what is really important.
Kill thinking you can have everything, kill thinking you don’t have to make a choice.
Instead of opting for choice, choose. Instead of allowing yourself options, decide what’s most meaningful to you – CHOOSE.
END VANILLA – CAPTIVATE YOURSELF
A lack of vision and clarity means you end up serving the dreams of others.
Create a vision so big and bold you feel electrified and uneasy. No vanilla allowed! Captivate yourself, captivate your emotions. It should resonate deeply and move you – you should be able to touch it, smell it, live it – it should bring you to tears. You should feel an energetic shift as you think and talk about, like experiencing your dream holiday, like testing your dream car.
How badly do you want it? This passion is ‘your why’. It must pull at your heartstrings – it will keep you going in the face of extraordinary challenges.
Remember – YOU WILL die. Focus your attention on what you really want, stop thinking you have something to lose, follow your heart.
CURB COMPLACENCY – CHOOSE GROWTH
Complacency is a killer.
Growth requires constant challenge, something that stretches you, that pushes you to the edge of your perceived limits.
Without challenge we wither away, we fade. We become complacent, stuck, bored, apathetic. Our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual capacity – no longer being tested – start to suck the life force out of us.
How do you know if you have joined the one-way track to complacency? You no longer feel challenged. Your enthusiasm wanes. The status quo has become your comfort blanket. You lose your spark.
Fear can seduce us into the dangerous comforting arms of complacency. We start to accept less. Resistance wants to keep you small, to keep you imprisoned from your dreams. Learn to love the resistance and the courage it takes to live a life on your own terms.
The greater the fear, the greater its importance to the growth of our soul.
Growth – Becoming Someone Different
Your vision is about achieving something you haven’t done before – you will have to become someone different to achieve it. You will have to change, and change is uncomfortable.
When you truly love who you’re becoming, you will become unstoppable.
In order to grow, you need to be in the game, feeling the pressure, intensity, high stakes, and sleepless nights. Sitting on the side-lines watching the game, analysing, criticising – sees you remain a spectator, merely pretending at the game of life.
Change and growth require different inputs to generate different outputs. Doing the same thing and expecting change is madness.
CURB DREAMING – START DOING
The amateur lives in a world of insights and “aha” moments, stopping there. The pro uses these by executing on them. Don’t allow your potential to be wasted – take action, implement what you read and learn.
Motivational conferences and reading alone won’t make it happen. Move fromKNOWING (the insight, spark, concept – the starting point) to DOING (the endless reps, practice, challenge – this is when it starts to get hard – and where most people quit –) to BEING (where the magic happens – the integration – you become more than just the concept and the practice – it’s who you are).
The greatest way to influence is not directly – it is by becoming a beacon and allowing others the space to do the same.
There’s power in adversity
Expect challenges, adversity and chaos at least once every single day. This knowledge can excite you, and stop you becoming disheartened when obstacles arise.
Reframe challenges as opportunities to grow.
Use negativity as fuel – insults and opposition can be used as motivation to prove others wrong. Positivity is great, but sometimes you need to harness the creative power found in those darker emotions.
Pain is your power – it contains a gift – it can drive you to do exceed your wildest dreams, to move so far away from the circumstances that would bring you to experience that pain again e.g. homelessness to millionaire.
END SOMETIMES –DO IT DAILY
When choosing a goal, realise this is not a one-off choice. You are choosing to make the same choice day after day after day.
In fact, when you choose a goal, you don’t really have a choice. If you want to lose weight you MUST exercise, you MUST eat healthily. There is no choice.
And you must choose it consistently – doing exercise once or as you feel will not see you lose the weight.
You won’t be spirituality on fire after 3 mediation sessions. You won’t have a 6-pack after hitting the gym twice.
If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want will become the sacrifice. Everything costs something. Everything.
Keep heading towards your goal no matter the obstacles and rejections. JK Rowling persisted through numerous rejections.
Persistence kicks in when that initial high of doing something new wears off. People fail because they don’t stick with the process after the good feeling fades, and through the hard times.
It involves choosing the path again, and again, and again, and again, no matter what.
Know that you will face obstacles, sleepless nights, existential crises and moments that bring you to your knees – that’s part of the path.
Behind every overnight success are years of effort, struggle, and rejection and consistent action.
Don’t compare yourself to someone’s end result, go back to their first iteration.
Use comparison to spur you on – you can compare yourself to others and use it to stay stuck, disempowered, excusing yourself from even attempting change OR you can see their success as your own greatness reflected back to you and step up to the plate.
Keep Moving Forward
Always just focus on the next step – right here, right now. This is especially true in moments of pain, resistance and exhaustion.
Ask “What can I doRIGHT NOW that can prove that my vision is not only possible, but is coming true?” This is especially important when you are not seeing any results, or experience chaos.
Even on days, months, years when you feel low in energy or depressed, just do one purposeful activity to start your day – every day. It can be as simple as making your bed – the important thing isn’t what you do, rather that you just keep doing it. Keep it small, almost laughably so. You will notice an upgrade in your energy, even if only slight. This will start to have a snowball effect.
Progress isn’t linear – we go through different seasons e.g. a season of rest and recharge, a season of intense action, a season of rewards reaped from our efforts – and we may spend months or even years in any season.
If we are doing something daily, we are creating a habit. We always revert back to our level of training, not our expectations i.e. our habits are who we are.
Be productive – notice when you are just being busy (e.g. reading a motivational book) versus being productive towards your goals (highlighting and implementing the learning in your life).
Be productive rather than busy – 20% of your actions drive 80% of your results.
Be just as intentional (‘productive’) with your downtime as your work activity. If you are going to rest then really rest – recharge and disconnect e.g. get up and go for a walk to refresh yourself, instead of sitting at your desk idly checking your phone.
END INSTANT – DELAY GRATIFICATION
Fall in love with delayed gratification.
A farmer doesn’t plant seeds and wake up yelling in frustration the next day that the crop hasn’t bloomed. Instead they trust the process – with sunshine, water, and patience the crops will bear fruit.
Why do some people fail to reach their goals? They expect too much too early and give up at the first sign of struggle – overnight success is a decade in the making.
Remember, “the first iteration of your goals is never the end result – the magic is in the pivot e.g. YouTube started as a video dating site, and noticed people wanted to share content rather than look for dates and pivoted. Instagram started as a digital check-in app and discovered people were taking pictures of places they’d checked in at and pivoted.
END SOLO – GET SUPPORT
Maximum Urgency + Maximum Accountability = Maximum Results
The more successful you are, the higher you get, the more accountability and urgency forms part of your experience e.g. a person becoming a CEO becomes accountable to shareholders, employees, executive team etc.
Create systems, structures and people to ensure you follow through – this will ensure consistent productivity over the long term.
Accountability is uncomfortable – it sounds great on paper, until you are being challenged on why you didn’t complete a crucial task on 2 hours sleep.
How to choose an accountability group? 1. Do these people have the results you want? 2. Do they challenge and push you to new levels of execution?
Accountability comes in different forms e.g. coach, mentor, events, mastermind groups – but a core trait is that it involves a healthy dose of being challenged.
We often surround ourselves with enablers, people who don’t respect us enough to challenge our behaviour. If someone truly respects and appreciates you, they will push you past your excuses. That’s a powerful relationship – one to nurture and keep hold of.
CURB DISTRACTION – SAY NO AND FOCUS
Lack of focus is the number 1 obstacle standing between people and their dreams.
Reaching our goals involves self-control, delayed gratification and ignoring distractions and temptations that can divert us from our path.
Emails and social media are dream killers – putting you in the driver’s seat for someone else’s vision.
In a world telling you to choose others, choose yourself. You need to be selfish to achieve success.
If you don’t fill your day with high-priority items, others will fill your day with low-priority items.
Questions to ask yourself daily: Did I really move the needle forward in my life and business (today)? Which activities truly mattered, and which could be deleted? Was I moving myself forward or just other people’s agendas?
“A warrior is an average man with laser like focus” (Bruce Lee).
Double your rate of Saying No
Execute non-negotiable ruthless boundaries e.g. stop checking emails all day – set regular hours for checking e.g. at 10am, at 1pm, at 4pm.
You don’t have to say no to things that are truly important – think WIN-WIN. Instead of thinking you need to give up one part of your life in order to progress another, think about how you can better integrate the different facets of your life and how they can feed each other e.g. you could exercise with your partner and therefore complete 2 goals at once.
Delete what’s not serving you
“Your mental real estate is priceless”. Your mind is like a house – why do you so willingly fill it with junk? We let people and things of little importance take residence within our minds, rent – free. Your mind is not a rundown home in the slums – it’s a spectacular beachfront home of incredible value – everyone wants it! Start recognising that fact – cut back the weeds and delete what doesn’t serve.
To create space in your life to achieve what you want you need to delete anything and everything that doesn’t serve your path.
Every time you grow and expand into a new experience, audit your surroundings. Every time you achieve a breakthrough, audit your circle.
To change who we are, we need to change our environment – our environment reminds us of who we have been and can subconsciously induce the same state of mind we are trying to get away from. To stop this, we need to interrupt our reality: 1. Physical Interrupt – change our physical state e.g. by doing 10 star jumps – anything to get us breathing hard; 2. Spiritual Interrupt – mediate for a minute; 3. Emotional interrupt – a silent 1 minute scream to release built up emotions; 4. Mental Interrupt – e.g. journal, listen to music.
Over 50% of what is in your life is not serving your vision – you allow things to stay in your life out of comfort. Do a life audit. Delete what’s not serving you to create space for the 1% Rule to Work.
CURB HOW – ADOPT THE 1% RULE
‘The How’ is where dreams go to die.
Why do some people fail? They focus on ‘how’ more than their passionate ‘why’. They focus on the big end result which overwhelms and paralyses, instead of inspiring to action.
The gap between that great idea and reality leads to doubt, procrastination, confusion and the crushing of a dream.
The 1% RULE is the solution – allowing you to dream big but start small, through reverse engineering.
At the core of the 1% Rule is the use of reverse engineering to breakdown any large vision into its smallest common denominator, so tiny that it’s impossible for you to fail to make progress each and every day.
Process over end result – when you focus on small daily actions tied to a larger vision – you feel inspired rather than overwhelmed.
Dream big but start small.
Break your vision down into CORE OUTCOME, CORE PROCESS and 1% (DAILY) PROCESS.
Example – BUSINESS:CORE OUTCOME =generate $35,000 within the next 90 days, CORE PROCESS = reach out to 2,500 leads within the next 90 days, 1% PROCESS = generate 27 prospect calls every single day.
Example: SPIRITUALITY: CORE OUTCOME = create more inner peace and reduce stress, CORE PROCESS = wake up 15 minutes earlier to allow the time, 1% PROCESS = minimum of 7 minutes meditation every day.
1% progress – make progress and move forward daily, no matter how small.
Consistency – do the action daily – each and every day – and see your effort compound over time.
Persistence – stick with it beyond the initial high and choose it again and again, despite challenges, obstacles and distractions.
Endurance – stay with the process for long enough to see your dreams come true. Have patience.
The 1% Rule core question: If I moved the needle forward 1% in every area of my life, every single day, what would my life look like in one year?
It would actually be more than 1%+1%+1%…= a 365% upgrade across a year – due to compounding, we have the potential of advancing by 3700% over a year. That’s a huge upgrade in terms of our health, relationships, finances etc, all by enacting a small 1% daily action, and doing it with consistency, persistence and patience.
Design a process you love – you will spend more time carrying out the process than in the achievement of the end result so ensure you enjoy it.
Track your progress – reflection is just as important as action – assess where you are with your goals, and if you are heading in the right direction.
Celebrate small wins – this will keep you inspired and on track – progress no matter how small is motivating.
Harmonious thinking can be dangerous, by clones who are individually intelligent but collectively stupid. Harness the power of diversity and the rebel idea! Bring people together who think differently to advance the collective brain and solve the world’s wicked problems.
Alike the classic story ‘The Blind Men & The Elephant’ – a diversity of perspectives is needed to see the whole elephant – the bigger picture.
Harmony can be blindingly dangerous.
Intelligence can be collectively dumb.
Great minds think unalike.
It’s better to be social than smart.
Become an outsider.
The progress of humanity depends on diversity.
WHY THE NEED FOR DIVERSITY? TO SOLVE COMPLEX PROBLEMS
Everyone wants better. Better ideas. Better performance. Better productivity. Better innovation. Better solutions. For complex tasks, cognitive diversity and rebel ideas lie at the heart of this.
To solve the world’s most challenging problems, hire a team based on diversity of their thinking rather than performance or expertise alone. Experts can be vulnerable to bias that undermine their capacity to make wise judgments, there is a need to work with a range of people who think differently not just accurately.
This is about cognitive diversity (thinking differently) rather than demographic diversity (gender, race, age, religion etc), although there is some overlap.
Problems are too complex for any one person to tackle alone. Groups that contain diverse views have a huge advantage. It is not a case of one person being right and another wrong – looking at a problem through different lenses can jog new insights, metaphors and solutions. Sometimes you need to look at a problem in new ways, with the eyes of an outsider.
Complex problems are often multi-layered and therefore require multiple insights and points of view.
The more diverse the perspectives, the wider the range of potentially viable solutions.
EXAMPLE: An experiment looked at the responses by American and Japanese people to the same video clips of underwater scenes. The Americans recalled high level details of the fish – a focus on objects. The Japanese instead focused on the context – the water, rocks and plants. It was as of the groups were seeing different scenes. The experiment revealed differences in thinking shaped by culture – America – a more individualistic society – revealed by their focus on objects. Japan – a more interdependent culture – revealed by their focus on context. Furthermore, combining these different frames of reference created a more comprehensive insight of the whole scene.
You need wise individuals (with knowledge relevant to the topic of focus) as well as diverse individuals – asking a group of laypeople to estimate the rise in ocean levels over the next decade won’t get you very far. However a diverse range of experts will overcome blind spots that arise in a group of experts with the same frame of reference.
For complex problems you need diversity. For simple performance-based tasks, diversity is a distraction.EXAMPLE for a relay team of 6 runners, you want 6 Usain Bolts– everyone one of them would be faster than anybody in any other team, so you want to hire based on best performance. Conversely, for an accurate economic forecast (a complex task given countless influencing factors – businesses, consumers, banks etc), hiring 6 clones of the most accurate forecaster in the world would not provide the most accurate forecast. A study indicates that a diverse group of 6 forecasters while individually less impressive, would be 15% more accurate. This is because the cloned economists would have the same way of looking at the world, the same frames of reference, the same blind-spots. They would all be looking at the same side of the elephant. No one economist has the whole truth. A group of diverse economists, able to see more of the whole elephant, collectively gets us closer to the truth.
Collective intelligence requires both ABILITY AND DIVERSITY.
WHY DIVERSITY? HOMOGENEITY LEADS TO COLLECTIVE STUPIDITY
A group of wise individuals can become an unwise board. The problem isn’t a single person, the problem emerges from the whole.
How homogeneity of perspective led to dismissing the threat of Osama bin Laden. “They could not believe that this tall Saudi with a beard, squatting around a camp-fire, could be a threat to the United States of America”. “How can a man in a cave out-communicate the world’s leading communications society?” To a homogeneous group of CIA analysts, lacking in cognitive diversity, bin Laden looked primitive and thus of no serious danger to a technological giant like the US. They simply could not see any benefit in allocating resources to pursue intelligence on someone they viewed as the ‘essence of backwardness’. Instead, someone more familiar with Islam could have perceived the same images in a different way. Bin Laden’s simple cloth and postures were not signs of primitiveness in terms of intellect or technology, but symbolic, evoking imagery of the Prophet – they magnified his potency to many Muslims. Warnings of danger were raised by many in the Muslim world but were invisible or dismissed by those unfamiliar with the faith – those CIA agents who had been hired as the brightest and the best (on the basis of performance rather than cognitive diversity). The potency of his messages was visible only to those looking with the right lens. The dots depicted a pattern but required a diverse team to connect them. Different frames of reference, would have created a more comprehensive, nuanced and powerful synthesis. The CIA agents were individually perceptive but COLLECTIVELY BLIND.
Homogeneous groupsshare and reinforce their blind spots, through “mirroring”. Certainty becomes inversely correlated with accuracy – they are far more likely to be wrong but more confident about their (wrong) judgement.
Why harmony can be dangerous – working in homogeneous groups produces the warm glow of homophily – it is more enjoyable to agree, parrot, and confirm– social harmony can delude groups into thinking they are honing in on wise policy when in fact they are compounding each other’s blinds spot. We unconsciously enjoy being surrounded by people who share our perspectives – it is comforting and validating. It makes us feel individually intelligent as we become ever more collectively stupid.
Teams of rebels outperform teams of clones. Teams that are diverse in personal experiences tend to have richer, more nuanced understanding of their fellow human beings, and have a wider array of perspectives and fewer blind spots. Cognitive diversity is set to become a key source of competitive advantage.
Wise groups of rebels are not clone like, they do not parrot the same view, they have perspectives that challenge, augment, diverge and cross-pollinate. The individuals are no smarter than those in homogeneous groups, but the group possesses vastly higher levels of collective intelligence. Collective intelligence emerges from the differences between the individuals. Just as a car only works due to the interaction of its parts, and the intelligence of the brain derives from the interaction of its parts, diverse teams exceed the capability of (albeit smart) individuals through the interaction of its members.
A substantial proportion of the biggest blunders by governments across political persuasions is due to the lack of social diversity in political elites. Government officials project their lifestyles onto the masses and devise policies on this basis. Example: For decades in northern Sweden, snow clearing policy prioritised the clearing of major roads ending with pedestrian walkways. However, statistics previously overlooked, indicated that hospital admissions for injuries caused by slippery icy conditions were three times higher for pedestrians than motorists. This led to a reversal of the previous policy, to prioritise pedestrian routes for snow clearing above roads. The previous policy had been determined by officials who were mainly men; the change came about when fresh analysis revealed a difference in travel patterns between men and women: with men tending to drive, and women more likely to take public transport or walk. The male officials who had originally devised the schedule had designed it around their needs – they hadn’t deliberately set out to exclude women – they just didn’t think about them.
Diversity isn’t just about market research or focus groups, it’s about the questions that are asked in the first place, the data that is used to determine a course of action, policy or problem solution. The deepest problem of homogeneity is the questions they are not even asking, the data they haven’t thought to look for, the opportunities they haven’t realised are out there.
LONG LIVE THE REBEL!
There is a need not only to recruit diversely, but to create structures and processes that sustainthat diversity of thinking, that preserve the survival of the rebel.
E.g. if you run a software company, you do not want to simply recruit graduates from the top ranked university for software – they will all have the same frame of reference, having studied under the same professors, absorbed similar insights, ideas, and models. By selecting graduates in a meritocratic way, based on performance alone, organisations find themselves gravitating towards clone-like teams.
Furthermore, a company can hire great people from all sorts of backgrounds, brimming with diverse ideas, only to see them gradually re-moulded to fit the dominant culture of the organisation, losing their unique insights and voices, echoing the company’s accepted way of thinking.
DEMOGRAPHIC DIVERSITY V COGNITIVE DIVERSITY
Demographic diversity often overlaps with cognitive diversity but is distinct.
Demographic diversity is useful when needing to gain a collective perspective encompassing of broad range of groups. E.g. research indicated that increases in racial diversity offered no efficiency gains for firms producing aircraft parts and machinery because the experience of being from a particular race did not reveal any novel insights into the design of engine parts.
Cognitive diversity instead points to differences in ways of thinking – two people could be demographically diverse in terms of race but if they attended the same university, studied under the same professor, they would still remain clone-like in their thinking. Two racially similar economists would be clone-like demographically, but could be cognitively diverse -one a Monetarist, the other a Keynesian – holding diverse frames of references when thinking about the economy.
THE HOW? PRACTICALITIES OF IMPLEMENTING COGNITIVE DIVERSITY
WHEN SOLVING A PROBLEM, DIVERSITY COMES FIRST
The first step for any group seeking to tackle a tough challenge is not the problem itself but the group’s dimensions – the question to ask is “Where are the gaps in our collective understanding, in our cognitive diversity?”
Filling these gaps produce team deliberations that lead to enlightment rather than mirroring (through cognitive similarity).
ELIMINATE THE (UNCONSCIOUS) NEED TO PLEASE
Prestige hierarchies are the solution. Dominance hierarchies lead to cloning and the failure to speak up.
High status leaders fail more often due to the unconditional support they get – subordinates have a need to please the boss, often unconsciously, parroting their thoughts and behaviours, and thereby eliminating diverse insights. The dominance dynamic leads to the social equivalent of the cloning effect. Diverse perspectives exist but are not expressed. The cognitive capacity of the team effectively collapses to the parameters of one brain (that of the dominant leader). A study found that projects by junior managers were more likely to succeed than those led by more senior managers.
Research found that a significant number of crashes occurred due to co-pilots failing to speak up. At the time, aviation was characterised by a dominance hierarchy – crew members calling pilots “Sir”, deferring to their judgments and simply acting on their commands.
EXAMPLE: The 1996 Mount Everest Disaster is explained by dominance hierarchy, not by the failure of individual actions, despite the finger pointing that followed the disaster. Members of the climbing group failed to speak up to provide critical insights that could have averted disaster, due to the dominance of the head guide, Robert Hall. For the best of reasons, through his deep experience of Mount Everest, and knowledge of the dangers involved, he asserted he would not tolerate any dissension whilst on the mountain, but in doing so, he inadvertently created a dominance dynamic, critically limiting his perspective when taking key decisions. The casting of himself and other guides as the invincible leaders, the dominant figureheads, silenced key input from clients and others on a repeated basis, thus reducing the collective wisdom of the team when life and death decisions were taken, leading to the deaths of 8 climbers. One client – who as a commercial pilot had long experience of interpreting cloud information – noticed a cloud formation indicating a nasty storm brewing but did not speak up. Why? Another client failed to challenge one of the guides who mistakenly concluded there was no oxygen left in a pile of bottles. Why? Clients had been instructed to obey rather than contribute to decisions. It wasn’t that they didn’t care enough – humans are acutely sensitive to hierarchy, even when the stakes are high – self silencing occurs unconsciously. By the time the storm hit, the accumulation of misjudgments compounded to form a chain of tragedy.
A study has shown that teams with more dominant hierarchies are significantly more likely to die in high altitude mountaineering expeditions. Top down decision-making processes mean people are less likely to speak up about changing conditions or impending problems – all conditions calling for a change in plan. It seems people are ingrained to preserve social order at the expense of their own lives.
HOLD MEETINGS THAT GAIN RESULTS – ENCOURAGE HONEST DISSENT
Communication is dysfunctional at most meetings. Group processes by and large conspire to suppress the very diversity of viewpoints that they seek.
Status rather than contributions rule the discourse (the dominance dynamic at play). When one or two people dominate, it suppresses the insights of others in the team, particularly introverts. This is even worse if the dominant person is the leader as people parrot back their opinions. People fail to share crucial information, leaning towards the answers of the dominant person, not wanting to appear rude or disruptive. Rebel ideas that exist in the group are not expressed. Diversity of thought vanishes.
Lack of diverse input leads to disastrous decisions because the team, through the cloning effect, compound each other’s errors and collectively become increasingly confident about objectively terrible judgments.
How to provide a safe space for all voices and reduce the dominance dynamic? Create a meritocracy of ideas! Get everyone to write down their ideas anonymously (which separates ideas from a person’s status), all ideas are shared and voted on by the group. This has been found to generate twice the volume of ideas and higher quality ideas than spoken idea sharing.
Another tool – everyone attending a meeting provides a short written summary of their views, which are randomly distributed to participants and read out, again protecting cognitive diversity from the dangers of dominance.
USE THE RIGHT TYPE OF LEADERSHIP FOR THE RIGHT END
Prestige hierachy v dominance hierarchy – there is a time for both, wise leaders pivot between the two.
Dominance hierachy is effective when decisions need to be made and implemented – for executing a plan. However, when generating and evaluating ideas, seeking innovation, deciding on a new strategy, and forecasting the future, prestige hierarchy is best – you need to hear diverse perspectives.
People need to feel safe to speak up, free from retribution from a leader who interprets rebel and diverse ideas as a threat. Prestige-oriented leaders boost collective intelligence, gaining their influence and respect through qualities like generosity, empathy, listening, cooperation, authentic persuasion and self-deprecation. In contrast, dominance-oriented leaders gain status through intimidation, aggression, manipulation, reward and punishment, narcissism, politicking and internal competition. Prestige-oriented leaders gain respect that is volunteered by those they lead, it is not demanded, their actions intend to liberate rather than intimidate.
Leaders often worry that inviting other views – particularly disagreeing ones – might undermine their authority. They are wrong, people feel more committed when given an opportunity to make a contribution – it strengthens motivation, boosts creativity and increases the potential of the whole organisation.
“The greatest tragedy of mankind comes from the inability of people to have thoughtful disagreement to find out what’s true” (Adam Grant).
The balance of dominance and diversity – organisations do indeed need leaders – when Google installed a flat structure without managers it failed due to lack of hierarchy leading to chaos and confusion. However, leaders need to shift the balance of hierarchy to allow for diversity (for greater perspective and innovation) as well as dominance (for effective implementation).
The dangerous paradox of dominance-oriented leadership and loss of control – people find themselves favouring a dominant leader when there is a collective loss of control and security (e.g. economic insecurity), seeking an authoritarian personality to provide reassurance, with disastrous consequences. When the environment is complex and uncertain, this is precisely the time when a diversity of perspectives is needed to maximise collective intelligence. When the economy is going well, people favour non-hierarchical churches, when jobs are insecure and they lack control over their lives, they convert to hierarchical churches, to compensate for feelings of insecurity. This is a dangerous paradox because the dominance hierarchy which leads to one dominant brain, is not diverse enough to solve a complex problem.
REBELLIOUS INNOVATION REQUIRES DIVERSITY
Innovation can be incremental, through continual modification of existing ideas, or recombinant – fusing together conventional ideas from previously unrelated fields e.g. a wheel and a suitcase = the wheeled suitcase, psychology and economics = behavioural psychology.
Recombinant innovation has become the dominant force of change (e.g. vast majority of patents span traditional boundaries) which requires diversity and rebellion. The rebel combination of diverse fields across the problem space, the cross fertilisation of ideas (“ideas having sex”) and opening up of new possibilities – only flourishes in diversity.
HOW TO BE INNOVATIVE? ADOPT THE OUTSIDER MINDSET
Immigrants feature highly in innovative settings. More than ½ of US Nobel Prize winners over the last few decades were born abroad Studies show they are twice more likely to become entrepreneurs. 57% of the top 35 Fortune 500 companies were founded/co-founded by immigrants/children of immigrants. Immigrants make disproportionate contributions to technology, patent production and academic science.
Why? The outsider mindset is a powerful asset when it comes to innovation – those deeply familiar with the status quo find it psychologically more difficult to deconstruct or disrupt it, their frame of reference so bound up in a fixed worldview, unable to see the new, unable to evolve.
Immigrants on the other hand, having experience of different culture(s), and alternative ways of doing things, have an upper hand in seeing where things could be different, reformed, amended, or re-combined. Having experience of more than one culture, enables them greater scope to bring ideas together – acting as bridges – the recombinant perspective. Their outsider mindset offers them the psychological space to question conventions and assumptions of the status quo and come up with rebel ideas.
A study found that teams with an outsider perform better than homogeneous groups and individuals working alone, indicating an advantage through differing perspectives stimulating widened debates, scope of ideas and solutions.
To become a visionary, take the perspective of an outsider in order to see the things that are taken for granted by insiders. You can only know who you are by seeing your contrast. Stepping outside our own walls provides us with a new way of seeing the same info, a new perspective, generating new possibilities and opportunities.
Charles Darwin alternated between research in zoology, psychology, botany and geology enhancing his creative potential because it gave him the outsider mindset – the chance to see his subject from the outsideand fuse ideas from diverse branches of science.
How do you adopt an outsider mindset and see with new eyes? Use assumption reversal.
EXAMPLE: Suppose you are setting up a new taxi company – your first assumption might be that taxi companies own their own cars. Instead, consider its reversal – taxi companies own no cars. 20 years ago this may have sounded like a radical idea. Today, the largest taxi company that has ever existed doesn’t own cars – Uber.
EXAMPLE – Suppose you are a doctor with a patient with a malignant stomach tumor. A ray exists that can be used to destroy the tumour at a sufficiently high intensity, however the healthy tissue it passes through will also be destroyed. What procedure can be done that destroys the tumour but not healthy tissues? Most people say there is no solution. However, on reading the following seemingly unrelated story most people find a way to save the patient. Many roads led to a fortress situated in the middle of the country, surrounded by farms and villages. A rebel general vowed to capture the fortress but learned that mines had been planted on each road. Small bodies of men could pass over the mines safely, but any large force would detonate them. Do you see the solution now? The general divided his army into small groups down each road, arriving at the fortress at the same time, and captured the fortress. In a similar way, the solution to the tumor problem is solved by setting multiple ray guns around the patient delivering 10% of the radiation with each gun, destroying the tumour without harming the healthy tissue. This is an artificial example but shows how different perspectives may contribute to solving a challenging problem innovatively. When faced with a difficult medical problem, the temptation is to recruit more and more doctors, but these experts have similar backgrounds and training, and consequently similar frames of reference and blind spots. It may be more effective to employ someone with a military background instead, to look at the problem with a new set of eyes, revealing new insights and solutions.
TO BE INNOVATIVE, PARTY HARD!
For innovation, it is better to be social then smart, AND you are smart because you are social.
Geniuses can have originality but without sociality, their ideas die with them.
Innovation is more than about individual creativity – it is about connections. Places and societies that facilitate idea sharing tend to be more productive and innovative – when ideas are shared, they multiply. Innovation is about the fusing of existing ideas to produce something that breaks new ground – recombinant innovation – which only happens in interaction between individuals and the networks they inhabit. Geniuses are smarter than networks, but unsocial geniuses are less likely to be in possession of innovative ideas for this reason.
Furthermore, the creativity of an individual brain is linked to the diversity of the network it is plugged into – the great genius, thinker, inventor is smart because he is social – this person’s brain being the product of the collective brains of which they have been around. In the same way reading across a breadth of books and subjects exposes you to a diversity of perspective and possibility for innovation through the fusing of diverse ideas.
How do you encourage the spreading of ideas? Design it into office spaces, e.g. Steve Jobs in planning the Pixar building, deliberately designed it with one set of toilets in the atrium, forcing the mingling of people from across different functions, niches and silos, leading to a ‘symphony of chance encounters’.
How do you meet people from a different thought perspective than you? Seek a smaller community of people to engage with. For example, a larger university, although having greater diversity due to its size, paradoxically affords greater possibility of finding people much like yourself to socialise with. In a smaller university, diversity is less and with fewer available choices, you are more likely to have to mingle with people from comparatively different backgrounds and perspectives.
FOR COLLECTIVE WISDOM, BE JUST
Justice and the Collective Brain: the success of humanity is dependent on the innovation that emerges from the collective brain, not the individual.
When a group of people are denied access to the network of ideas, the whole world suffers. For centuries, women were barred from higher education and professional training, not only unjust for women, but also dramatically diminishing the creativity of men and the collective brain, by ignoring diverse perspectives, information and discoveries from half of the population.
How to be just and increase diversity? Limit unconscious bias to create a true meritocracy of talent, by using blind selection e.g. blind auditions, blinding CVs (remove names and other demographic info when recruiting). When orchestras, previously dominated by men, held blind auditions, women’s chances of advancing through to the final selection rounds increased by 300%.
Racial and gender diversity: an analsyis of companies found that in Germany, UK and US, return on equity was significantly higher (66% and 100% for US alone) for firms with executives in the top quartile for gender and ethnic diversity compared to those in the bottom quartile. Another study with a focus on legal, health and financial services found that an increase in racial diversity by 1 standard deviation increased productivity by more than 25%.
Note that optimising demographic diversity does not necessarily equate to optimising cognitive diversity. To encourage a greater breadth of perspective and enhance collective wisdom, you can for example, introduce shadow boards, e.g. a shadow board of young people running in parallel who provide a different perspective to those on the main board.
FOR PERFORMANCE, DESIGN FOR PERSONALISATION
Diversity v Standardisation: when an average is used well, it harnesses the insights from multiple (diverse) people. When used badly, it imposes a solution for multiple (diverse) people.
Average used well – taking the average forecast of 6 cognitively diverse economists was found to be significantly more accurate than the forecast of the top economist.
Average used badly – when US Air Force Cockpits were redesigned to embrace the diversity of individuals (e.g. adjustable seat height, distance of joystick) incidents plummeted. Previously, cockpits had been designed around the “standard body size” based on mean averages of different body dimensions. However, the combination of these averages resulted in dimensions for a person who was far from “average”.
Allowing diversity (i.e. personalisation) in the workplace increases productivity. Workers who are able to deviate from the standard to achieve tasks in their own way are much happier and more productive in their jobs. Productivity was found to be 30% higher where people were given the autonomy to design and configure their workspaces to suit their own tastes and personalities.
Standardised dietary advice will always be flawed because it only takes into account the food, not the person eating it. In a study, eating ice cream led to a healthy blood sugar levels for some people, whilst sushi had the opposite effect.
In education, the 2015 PISA tables showed that adaptive instructionwas the second most powerful predictor of high levels of educational outcome, rating above discipline, classroom size and more. An approach embracing diversity of learning style and pace, as opposed to the standardised outlook which treats schools like factories in which children are the raw products to be shaped and fashioned into products that meet the various demands of life.
WHY DIVERSITY? HUMANITY’S PROGRESS IS DEPENDENT ON IT
It’s imperative to place human beings in contact with people dissimilar to themselves, with modes of thought unlike their own. Diversity isn’t some optional add on – it is the basic ingredient of collective intelligence.
Cultures that encourage new ideas, foster dissent and have strong networks spurring the growth of rebel ideas, innovate faster than those held back by cultures of intellectual conformity.
Cognitive diversity is the route to solving the world’s most complex problems, humanity’s re-invention and growth is dependent on it.
Happiness comes before success. Adopt mindsets and practices that increase your true happiness, and success will follow.
Although this book is aimed at women, lessons shared can apply to anyone. The book focuses on 9 habits and this book summary is structured differently, highlighting the essential ideas!
Happiness creates success.
An optimistic mindset develops the traits needed for success e.g. bouncebackability.
Successful people take their happiness seriously.
Successful people seek fulfilment over success.
Successful people are satisficers.
Successful people send their true selves rather than their fear based, approval seeking facade into the world.
Successful people refuse to downsize their dreams, knowing that when you stop hoping you start settling.
Successful people say no to good opportunities in favour of purposeful ones.
WHAT IS SUCCESS?
Success is living your life’s purpose and embracing joy and resilience and as you do it.
WHAT CREATES SUCCESS?
What makes one person succeed while another falls short of similar goals? Essentially – Successful people THINK differently.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
Successful people recognise it’s their thinking style – it’s the mindsets they adopt FIRST – that inspire their success. The right mindsetleads to the right decisions, actions, goals and eventually success.
They adopt the following mindsets for success, with the Happiness Mindset being at the heart of these:
HAPPINESS MINDSET – Successful people are HAPPY FIRST
Research suggests that happiness causes more productivity and higher income. That happiness leads to success, not the other way around. Most people mistakenly think if they had X (mostly something external) they would then finally be happy.
Research shows that positive emotion associated with happiness equips people to handle adversity better, bounce back from setbacks, see the bigger picture, and live longer. On average, the effects of unhappiness cut life expectancy by 6 years.
Successful people take their happiness seriously – they don’t dwell on the negative and fill life with the positive – positive thoughts, words, people and outlook. They see fun and joy as an essential element of success.
Optimists make better leaders, succeed at higher levels and live longer. They explain their failures and successes differently. An optimistic outlook can be learned.
Pessimists tend to believe negative events impact their lives forever and are all their fault – they give up more easily. Negative emotion narrows your scope of thinking.
True happiness v The Hedonic Treadmill – the latter is the continual chasing of short-term thrills or the next big thing (the bigger house, car, income etc) and the temporary thrill of acquiring them. The thrill of victory, no matter how great, eventually wears off. True happiness is derived from an internal mindset, outlook, activities and relationships, focusing on longer term contentment and joy, and sustained despite external circumstances.
Successful people value fulfilment over success. Success is often defined by the external (e.g. money, success, titles, possessions). Fulfilment instead is about living with purpose (being of service to others) using your strengths and tapping into your passions.
Focus on the journey more than the end goal – are you being your best in each and every moment? Are you feeling fulfilled moment to moment rather than just at the endpoint? Are you joyful through your journey?
Is your success making you a better person? E.g. when you face obstacles are you getting bitter of better?
Be content whilst also aiming higher. There is no guilt in wanting more if you are in service to others – you getting more means others get more.
Sonja Lyubomirsky: Happiness is 50% your temperament and outside your control (your happiness setpoint, determined genetically – some people naturally have a more positive disposition than others), 40% what you do daily (intentional activity), and 10% circumstances. That means there is a lot more of happiness that can be controlled than most people think.
Changing your circumstances e.g. getting a new car only accounts for 10% of happiness and explains why the newness becomes the norm and you revert back to your happiness set point. Too often we wait for a change in circumstances to feel happy, however once the newness of “our new toy” wears off we discover our lack of happiness is a deeper issue. You can instead choose to intentionally engage in activities daily (the 40%) that impact your happiness e.g. exercise, social interaction, enjoyable tasks you enjoy, acknowledging your blessings. Focus on what brings you joy.
Further to this, if you change your circumstances (only 10%) think about how it will allow you to act differently – how it will allow you to undertake “happiness generating” intentional activity that makes up 40% of your happiness quotient. E.g. getting a new car – is this to impress and keep up with the Joneses, or will the additional seating allow you to bring your gran on trips with the rest of the family, or transport your neighbour’s children to school (i.e. serving and having positive impact). Changing your boss to a more supportive one, or changing your career may mean on a daily basis you get to do tasks that derive greater happiness to you, as they are aligned with your true purpose. Choose a career that gives you daily activity you look forward to.
Money and happiness: Living below your means increases happiness, not how much you make but whether you can pay your bills. Research shows that people are happier spending money on others (and thus impacting others) than on themselves.
Look for opportunities to use your money to boost positive emotion (in the long term rather than for temporary thrills).
Successful people take the time to measure their success by their own standards, not that of society. Take time to identify your personal definition of happiness.
IMPACT MINDSET – Successful people ask “What is my impact?” and “Who am I serving?”
They have a sense of vision and purpose (making a difference in the lives of others).They say no to good opportunities in favour of purposeful ones.
“How is someone’s life made better because your path crossed theirs?
They are givers, believing in and developing the potential of others on their success journey.
Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.
INSPIRATION MINDSET – Successful people use inspiration to set goals
Happy, successful people set inspired goals, knowing that inspired goals and the achievement of them give you life. A goal is inspired if you feel led by it rather than it feeling like a burden. Inspired goals tap into your strengths and fulfil your purpose. Authentic goals are derived from our deepest needs and desires.
They choose goals that stretch them beyond their comfort zones.
They choose goals that intrigue them – goals that are meaningful.
They use the power of why to motivate and inspire them. Why do you want to achieve the goal? What will it give you?
They focus on a single goal, and put their all into them – understanding that it takes, passion, laser focus and energy to reach a goal and therefore choose the one that matters most.
LEARNING MINDSET – Successful people do not take failure personally
Successful people see failing as learning.
In the face of failure or disappointment, they understand that it is your thinking style that gets you through. Instead of blaming seemingly permanent character flaws, they adopt a mindset that moves them forward – believing that failing this time does not mean failing next time.
Successful people explain their failures differently. Instead of blaming themselves e.g. “I always mess up…it’s me…it’s going to last” they focus on external factors – “It was just circumstances – nobody spends money in a bad economy”.
Akin to a growth mindset, successful people hold the essential belief that any person can change, believing that their natural talents are simply a starting point, and that you can grow substantially through learning and experience.
Due to their acceptance of, and ability to learn from failure, they are successful through their willingness to take risks.
POSSIBILITY MINDSET – Successful people believe their dreams are possible
Successful people believe that through right thoughts, right actions, right relationships – your dreams are possible.
They do not allow belief in their potential to be limited by grades or performance reviews. They decide to expect more. They refuse to downsize their dreams, knowing that when you stop hoping you start settling.
RESOURCEFUL MINDSET – Successful people are resourceful
Successful people are resourceful knowing that creativity is borne from limitation.
They ask, “How can I start now despite (limited) resources? They ask, “How can I do less work and receive a higher pay-out?”
They ask for and seek opportunities, rather than waiting for them to fall into their lap.
CHALLENGE MINDSET – Successful people welcome and are excited by challenge
They choose a mindset that sees problems and challenges as opportunities for growth.
SOLUTION MINDSET – Successful people focus on solutions
They choose to focus on solutions over problems, knowing that where your focus goes, your energy flows.
RESILIENCE MINDSET– Successful people believe in their ability to overcome obstacles
They expect and plan for challenges to arise on setting out to achieve a goal, realising that sometimes you stumble, sometimes you take 3 steps forward and 2 back, but they never give up.
They understand the process is not linear but more of a zig-zag, and that there is more to learn from the failings along the way, and bounce-back from these failures and adversity.
When NASA chooses astronauts, they seek people who have more than a track record of success, but who have had significant failures and bounced back.
Talented people push back – they don’t accept the status quo, but see room for improvement.
DECISIVE MINDSET – Successful people are decisive satisficers
They do not wait for perfect conditions. Once a decision is made they stick with it, this decisiveness frees their energy to focus forward. Decisiveness and follow through conserves energy and creates stability, as opposed to second guessing themselves. Yes, they may have regrets, but they choose to learn from them moving forward.
Seizing on the knowledge that something shifts inside of them after making a decision to go for it, and that a decision indicates a belief that it is possible, they follow adecision with action.
They understand that too much choice can be bad, leading to analysis paralysis and mean you lose sight of which decisions really matter. They understand their priorities and values and understand that some decisions are far weightier than others and therefore deserve more time and attention.
Successful people make conscious decisions. They don’t entertain every option that comes their way. Their values help determine which options although looking good on the surface may not be right for them.
Satisficers v Maximisers (Barry Schwarz) – Successful people are satisficers. They don’t strive for every choice or task to be perfect. They focus on progress not perfection. Having a clear sense of purpose in everything they do makes it easier to know which to prioritise. Maximisers are those whose aim is for the best conceivable option in every life decision e.g. for a new job as well as for their choice of what to eat in a restaurant. This perfectionist habit robs them of energy, satisfaction and effectiveness. Instead, satisficers set minimum standards that will satisfy them when met, allowing them to shift focus onto other decisions. E.g. when buying a sofa, they set minimum standard criteria (under $X dollars, X length, X colour). Once they find a sofa that matches these criteria, they stop looking. There may indeed be a better option out there, but they choose to spend their energy and time on other important matters. They aim for progress and contentment over perfection.
Successful people automate choices for lesser priorities freeing up time, focus and energy for other matters e.g. a fortnightly menu, fortnightly set of work outfits.
They own all of their decisions both good and bad. Owning good decisions builds confidence in your ability to make more of them. Owning bad decisions helps you uncover unhealthy patterns, ones that may be sabotaging your success, ones that go against your true desires, and aids you to make a conscious choice to change them.
Exercise: What are the 5 best decisions you have ever made in your life and why? What are the lessons gleaned from those choices? Similarly, what are the 5 worst decisions you have made and what are the lessons?
STRENGTH MINDSET – Successful people build on strengths rather than weaknesses
They tap into and focus on building and deriving full value from their innate strengths instead of their weaknesses, instead of fixing what’s wrong with them.
Instead they acknowledge their weak points (they do not ignore them) and reach out to others to gap fill. This is strength-based personal improvement. Rather than focusing on everything that is wrong in a situation, they pinpoint the steps that would lead to success.
“The ageless essence of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make a system’s weaknesses irrelevant” (Peter Drucker)
Trying to accomplish goals outside of your purpose and talent drains your energy. Using your strengths, you get results faster and with seemingly less effort. You can do more with less (input). You need to raise your own awareness of your strengths and the conditions under which they flourish. Your strengths are traits you frequently use, are innate to you, you are energised by them and you elevate others when they experience you using them.
It’s important to get feedback as we are often blind to our own strengths asthey come so naturally. Who are your champions? Who are the people who can see your strengths clearly and reflect them back to you?
You don’t have to be strong at everything. Leverage the strengths of others as well as your own.
RELATIONSHIP MINDSET – Successful people nurture relationships that strengthen them.
Successful people authentically collaborate, communicate and celebrate each other. They choose relationships intentionally and nurture them consistently.
Through a collaborative outlook they realise their relationship with their staff is symbiotic – as well as staff being employed to make their dream a reality, they are also there to help them realise their own dreams.
Through communication they share their challenges, realise they are not alone and thus tap into potential solutions they were not aware of alone.
They realise that success rarely happens in isolation. Our sense of purpose is filled in relationship with others and our impact on others.
They realise (sustained) success is intentional – it doesn’t happen by accident – there are conditions, structures, and actions (e.g. mentors, accountability groups) – combining to form a system that empowers their success and resilience.
Successful people have influence:
1) They know what others want. By helping them to get it they are more likely to get help in return to reach their own goals.
2) They choose battles wisely, refusing to waste energy creating enemies and thus diminishing their influence.
3) They focus on solutions over problems, presenting potential solutions to their boss when a problem arises, and thereby presenting themselves as someone who makes a boss’s job easier.
4) They tap into unofficial networks, knowing that influence isn’t just about who has the big title but who people listen to.
5) They build trust by starting small. By getting a decision maker to say yes to small things they make it easier for them to say yes again, building trust and expanding their level of influence along the way.
6) They are strategic – when they want to ask for something they analyse the situation first– e.g. asking if they need to get some others on board first – by planning what they have to do or say to get the other person to feel positive about saying yes.
COURAGE MINDSET – Successful people choose courage over fear
Fear can lead you to shrink from your authentic desires, to rationalise yourself out of a great idea, to pretend you don’t really want something.
Successful people feel fear but learn to move forward in spite of these fears.
AUTHENTICITY MINDSET – Successful people choose to be their true selves
Successful people choose to be authentic – when you fear acceptance you send your “representative” into the world, the one you believe will be approved.
Instead, choose to be the best you possible – no more, no less.
DISCIPLINE MINDSET – Successful people know that at the highest levels, discipline trumps talent
They practice and master the skill of discipline, knowing that discipline favours success more than natural talent to be leader in their field.
They choose consistency – daily action in their vision’s direction.
They choose delayed gratification – e.g. doing homework, learning a challenging new skill, persevering through difficult circumstances – exercising patience before seeing the fruits of their labour.
PREPARATION MINDSET – Successful people are prepared
They choose to put in the practice necessary and choose to be prepared for when opportunity knocks.
360° MINDSET– Successful people use the power of reflection to develop themselves
They choose honest feedback from trusted others to grow. They recognise they have blind-spots and require others to help them see all of themselves (from a 360° view) clearly.
They tap into the power of the pen – writing down your goals takes you much further than sitting and thinking about them.
They know the power of the written word to act as a witness and observer. Most people who are driven to success have had some major pain at some point in their lives and have still pushed through. They use writing as a tool and powerful strategy to validate their experiences and process events and emotions – helping them to see themselves more objectively, learning from their experiences and developing resilience.
Getting things out of your head releases space for more thoughts. It helps you process issues and get unstuck. The words you write become insights, self-coaching, therapy, healing, and possibility.
Exercise – To inspire positive emotion and a healthy mindset write about your best possible future self in the present tense.
Successful people use writing as a success tool, empowering them to reflect on themselves and thus help them with the challenges and opportunities life presents.
Stuck in a career rut? Like a basketball player, remaining firmly rooted whilst scanning for their next option with the ultimate aim of scoring a basket, use a Pivot to make a purposeful and tested shift in direction towards your ultimate life vision.
DEFINING A PIVOT
A change in strategy without a change in overall vision.
Doubling down on what is working to make a purposeful shift in a new, related direction.
PIVOT is plan A, not plan B, it is a normal part of our lives.
WHEN TO PIVOT
You should be looking to pivot before you are really unhappy, burnt out, or forced to make a change…
You can pivot when you are ready for increased challenge and impact.
You should be expecting to pivot, and over time you improve how quickly you plan for and spot your next move.
Expecting to pivot throughout your career means you stop taking your struggles and searching personally or as a failure in your operating system, and start focusing your valuable attention on moving forward despite the challenges.
In basketball, a pivot is when a player keeps one foot firmly planted in place while moving the other foot in any direction, exploring passing options.
In a career, a pivot starts by planting your feet and setting a strong foundation of who you already are and what is already working – your strengths – then scanning for opportunities of interest, staying rooted while exploring options. You start testing ideas, gain feedback and eventually launch into a new direction. Scanning alone (e.g. looking for jobs) will not lead to results/score any goals.
The 4-stage pivot process is a cycle, not a one off process – some pivots can take a few months, some take years.
Successful pivots start from a strong foundation of who you already are and what is already working – from your values, strengths and interests and your vision for the future. It encompasses how you will define success in the next phase of your life and where you ultimately want to end up.
It’s about acknowledging and exploiting your existing assets, rather than starting from scratch.
Do not underestimate what you are capable of – really focus on your strengths, stop looking for the Next Big Thing and assess what is working – what am I already doing now? Start to celebrate these. If you were to dig deeper into each of these assets you could reveal 10 more related areas to pursue.
Here you can assess your knowns and unknowns in terms of your overall vision. What known skills and strengths do you have? What unknowns are they and who could you reach out to help in the next pivot stage?
Example: Brooke wanted to pivot her current successful online photography course business to teach more personal subjects such as work-life balance. Her known strengths were teaching and running online courses. Her unknown variables were how to set up a new business and what to do with her old one. She eventually brought in a partner with complementary skillset and rebranded her website with the tagline “Living and documenting the thriving life”, to suit her new vision.
This is the exploration phase, and involves lookingfor people, skills and new opportunities to get you to your end vision, all whilst staying firmly planted.
While looking for opportunities and gaining feedback you are having a wide variety of conversations and plugging knowledge and skill gaps.
You are collecting ideas and becoming “discoverable” to new and interesting opportunities. You identify your desired direction and make it known to others.
This phase can be as much about picking up new ideas you would like to pursue as well as eliminating projects you do not like the sound of.
Ask not only What can I get? but also, What can I give? Who can I serve? What problems need solving?
If someone were to send you a glowing thank you note a year on from now relating to your pivot project, what would you want it to say?
Start running some small low risks experiments to test your new direction.
These series of pilots are small extensions of the strengths identified in the plant phase, building on these to branch out into new areas and gather real life feedback, allowing for incremental adjustments along the way rather than a blind leap.
Questions include: How can I test my ideas with a small audience? How can I make progress towards my pivot even without my next client or gig lined up?
After each pilot, ask yourself: 1. ENJOYMENT Did I enjoy doing it? 2. EXPERTISE Am I good at it? 3. EXPANSION If not am I excited to increase my skills in this area? Is there more opportunity to expand in this market? Can I earn a living doing so?
This fourth stage is the tipping point. You can repeat the first 3 stages as many times as is necessary to give you a greater chance of success, but eventually it is time to fully launch into the desired area to complete the pivot and set forth to your ultimate end goal.
How to know when to launch? The following criteria can help in making that decision:
Money saved – e.g. you have enough money saved to cover living expenses for X months, giving you enough time to build momentum in your new direction.
Profitability – e.g. when your side hustle earns enough for you to live on, you could choose to quit your main job and fully launch into your new direction.
Set a deadline in advance for the launch.
Reaching a project milestone that is critical before the launch can happen e.g. once the website is up and running.
X new clients onboarded – indicates new direction is income generating and viable.
X new subscribers – indicates the platform has reached a certain size and will lead to more opportunities and connections.
Gut instinct – e.g.I need to focus on this now to get out of a worse situation for my health, it feels like the right time.
Industry approval – you get a contract, funding or other deal.
Other factors to consider:
What is your waiting time: how long are you willing to wait to see results you will deem to be successful?
What (other) pilots can you run whilst waiting that will also move you towards your overall vision?
What is your backup plan? At what point will you “call it a day” and pursue other options?
JUST TAKE THE NEXT STEP
When taking pivot, you won’t know the entire pivot path, that’s part of the adventure – just take the next step.
Connect the dots looking backward to see how you pivoted to where you are today and use it to connect the dots forward to where you want to be (similar to reverse engineering).
Thinking too many steps ahead can lead to panic and anxiety.
If your mission makes your heart sing, but the idea of launching tomorrow gives you major anxiety, build incrementally by planting, scanning, piloting and then ultimately reaching the final launch stage.
THE INTRAPRENEUR – PIVOTING WITHIN YOUR CURRENT COMPANY
You can choose to pivot to a new role whilst continuing to work in the same company, leveraging the company’s resources to carry out projects of interest whilst receiving a consistent salary to boot.
SUCCESS INDICATORS OF A PIVOT
Results are indicators of where you are on a pivot – are you experiencing progress, momentum and fulfilment? If not, analyse the early stages of the pivot to determine what adjustments to make.
Our overall aim is to enter the Zone of Genius. Liberating and expressing our natural genius is the ultimate path to success and life satisfaction. You can identify this by assessing the type of challenges you are attracted to and the unique way you tackle them. You can think about the type of impact you want to have in the world and for whom.
IMPACTERS – LEARNING THE ART OF THE PIVOT IS ESSENTIAL
Impacters are individuals who are more interested in high growth as opposed to high income but often end up wealthy in both. They love learning, tackling new projects and solving problems, are generous and cooperative, with a strong desire to make a difference, and a strong need for exploration and challenge, uncovering their callings along the way.
For impacters, boredom is a symptom of fulfilment deficiency – of not maximising growth and impact rather than a sign of laziness.
Impacters arent asking “What did I earn?” They are asking “What did I learn?” “What did I create?” “What did I contribute?” Their quality of life is measured by challenges, contributions and learning.
Though they may get restless more easily, by seeing career setbacks as learning opportunities, they can use them as fuel for growth e.g. ensuring that each step they take involves enough challenge to keep them stimulated.
Impacters find ways to thrive in uncertainty – instead of reacting to or becoming paralysed by chaos, they look for opportunities to alchemize what is already working into what comes next.
For impacters, pivoting will be a required and ongoing lifelong process, due to their need for adventure, challenge and exploration.
TO PIVOT, KEEP YOUR ENERGY HIGH
One of the keys to being agile in life is knowing how to quickly find your way back to equilibrium. It is difficult, if not impossible, to pivot from a place of anxiety or unhappiness.
Your happiness formula is the unique mix of environmental factors and activities that are most likely to invigorate you and reset your energy batteries when they are running low.
Pay close attention to what elevates your mood, performance, creativity, and physical and emotional resilience, and what kills them.
Peace of mind is the dividend we collect by investing our day with supportive habits.
TO PIVOT, REDUCE DECISION FATIGUE
Give yourself enough energy and time during a pivot period, by automating things you can to allow yourself the space to take bigger decisions e.g. when deciding to leave your job you can automate having the same lunch and breakfast each day.
Drop the Bucket on unanswered questions. Keep asking and digging and go until your brain can’t take anymore, to the edge of frustration then just stop. Drop the Bucket into the well of your brain and take your mind off the problem. In doing so, the brain switches form conscious to subconscious processing and answers will seem to pop out of nowhere.
Meditate to get quiet enough to hear your own inner wisdom.
TO PIVOT, NOTICE WHAT YOU TALK ABOUT
Most people—including our closest family and friends—do not ask us the big questions on a regular basis, if ever. Casual conversations most often hover around stories and daily drama: This is what happened to me this week. This is how I felt about it. This is what is bugging me. Although we sometimes share the most exhilarating moments, we lean toward discussing what troubles us because that’s what is top of mind.
What if instead we pivoted on the questions we ask and start end-of-day debriefs with: What is working best in your life right now? What are you most excited about? What does smashing success look like one year from now?
VISION AND VALUES
If your values are your compass, your vision is your desired destination – you need to pinpoint where you want to end up.
Your values create boundaries and benchmarks for big decisions.
The more captivating your vision, the more it will recharge you during uncertain times. It is the difference between a vague sweeping statement such as, “I value travel and teaching” to an alluring invitation from your future self like, “One year from now I am living in London, working from a coffee shop as I prepare for a class I am teaching on international business law”.
Your career will remain stalled until you examine what positive outcomes will motivate you into action and sustain you through the inevitable and unnerving dips in the Pivot process.
Crafting a vision can start with a sweeping exploration, one as broad as how you want to feel one year from now. If you currently feel stuck, stagnant, or stressed, what is the alternative? If you are an impacter, it is likely that you want to feel more engaged, balanced, and healthy, and to know that you are making a positive difference in the world.
Example: Gillian, graduated from law school and took the bar exam, but quickly realized her one-year vision did not include sitting at a desk every day working on legal briefs. Her one-year vision was to be engaged in a flexible work environment that would keep her physically active, surrounded by like-minded people, and provide stepping-stones toward a career that was conducive to starting a family and running a business with her husband.
WHEN YOUR PIVOT IS A SIDE HUSTLE
The best side hustles have the 4 following elements:
MARKET REACH – it should offer growth potential – there should be a customer base interested in your product. Focus more on your customer’s needs (what is their biggest challenge, what problems do they need solving) rather than how you can scale your business. Saying this, it isn’t always about listening: “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” (Henry Ford).
ENJOYMENT – one that makes you excited to work on it.
SKILL BUILDING – one that allows you to learn skills that may be needed in your field in years to come.
CASH COW – one that provides an income. If not, the side hustle is no more than just a hobby. Test how quickly you can earn revenue before investing lots of money.
Pivots that are not deemed successful are only so if you fail to extract the lessons contained to turn them into seeds of something new. For example – did you run pilots that were well suited to your strengths? What lessons did you learn during the pivot that you can take forward?
You are not a failure as a person – you simply did not hit the mark in terms of your strategy or execution.
COMMON PILOT EXAMPLES
Things to consider when thinking about a pilot: How closely it is aligned to current strengths and overall vision? Is this the most cost/energy/time-effective way of conducting the pivot?
Pivot examples include:
Seeking an advisory board position in companies of interest
Hosting friends for a meal around a topic of interest (to research and gain feedback)
Holding focus groups and creating a prototype solution based on their needs
Volunteering or gaining an internship in area of interest
An additional side project at work
Setting up an interest group e.g. book club
Tweaking the format of your existing services
Writing a blog in the area of interest and seeing which topics inspire interest to take further
Taking on a new type of client within your existing business.
The journey to mastery is a lengthy one, requiring focused daily practice through seasons of hardship and disappointment. Only a few make it. Become an A-Player – wake early at 5am and maximise the power of your Victory Hour before the world arises, to boost your journey towards mastery and legendary status.
TOP 10 TAKEAWAYS + 1!
GIVE YOUR ALL: Why be alive if you’re not going to be totally alive? Live like a hero, be a main character.Mastery demands all of a person.
GROWTH: Pressure is privilege. You get to grow.
MASTERS ARE MADE: Many of the greats were not the most naturally talented – it was their ability to exploit, capitalise, maximise and actualise whatever strengths they had, through their exceptional dedication, commitment and drive.
SELF-LOVE: Invest in a better self rather than a better pair of shoes. Collect miraculous experiences over material things.
HUNGER: Until your mission becomes your obsession, your gifts will never become your glory.
JOY: Your joy is your GPS. Success without a joyful journey is losing.
COURAGE: It takes courage to feel the terror of our true potential and power – it’s the reason why we embrace diversions and distractions.
GRIT: Mastery is not an event – it takes years of painstaking practice and sacrifice. Everyone dreams of being a legend until it comes time to do the work.
TRAIN HARD:Victories are won before warriors enter the battlefield.
CONSISTENCY really is the DNA of mastery. Anyone can be great for a minute – true legends are genius over a lifetime.
FOCUS: Stop managing your time and start managing your focus.
HOW TO BECOME LEGENDARY
The 5 assets of genius: 1) mental focus, 2) physical energy, 3) personal willpower 4) original talent 5) daily time.
Many of the greats were not the most naturally talented – it was their ability to exploit, capitalise, maximise and actualise whatever strengths they had, through their exceptional dedication, commitment and drive.
If you knew how much work went into it, you would not call it genius. Everyone dreams of being a legend until it comes time to do the work that legends do.
There’s a ton of competition at ordinary, but almost none at extraordinary.
It takes courage to feel the terror of our true potential and power, that’s why we embrace diversions and distractions to make us feel better even for a minute. To keep persisting when you are frightened is how true legends are made.
To become a true master you must devote yourself to a cause with your whole strength and soul. Mastery demands all of a person.
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself … all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
Become more valuable to your industry as well as society – we magnetise excellent rewards by raising our value.
Invest in a better self rather than a better pair of shoes.
Anyone can be great for a minute – true legends are genius over a lifetime.
Live like a hero. Be a main character.
LIVE YOUR BRILLIANCE
Why be alive if you’re not going to be totally alive?
Don’t get stuck living the same week a few thousand times and calling it life.
World class begins where your comfort zone ends – don’t let the ordinary, fear and cynicism and apathy betray the magnificence inside of you. Don’t let complacency and an easy life seduce you.
Your focus should be on how much of your creative power you can unlock within yourself no matter the hardship along the way, rather than the ego fuel of popular applause.
Credit belongs to those who enter the arena, their faces marred by sweat and blood striving valiantly, falling short and erring but continuing again and again – there is no effort without error.
Half heartedness does not reach into mastery.
WHEN DID YOU ALLOW YOURSELF TO BECOME ORDINARY?
When you were younger, you understood how to live – with awe, delight, and wonder – feeling alive chasing butterflies and running in the park. As you grew older, and became more concerned with fitting in, having more than others and being popular, you lost your natural enthusiasm and joy, allowed your hope to fade. You allowed ordinary and conformity to become acceptable. You became a numbed-out grownup, overcome by scarcity, apathy and limitation. You allowed yourself to become the master of compromise.
You learned to criticise instead of using your innate power to make things better.
It’s because you do not value yourself, you do not know your true worth – so instead you focus on comparing yourself to others, and to externals like the money you earn or what you own, instead of your character, instead of cultivating your true talent and going beyond what has already been done and believing in the impossible.
Real leaders never negotiate their standards.
When did you stop believing in your true power, stop behaving as a leader, a creative producer, a possibilitarian? When did you start acting as a victim of life, creating excuses, rationalising the betrayal of your dreams and blaming others for why you are where you are?
When did you become satisfied with minimising your impact on the world, instead of evolving into more?
Study someone playing small – they focus on lack instead of plenty, they disrespect the potency of the word by continuous focus on problems and complaints, they classify success, wealth and vast impact on others as out of their reach. Witness their own theft from their best.
If you plan on being anything less that your full potential, you will likely be unhappy all the days of your life.
WHEN DID YOU STOP COMMITTING TO EXCELLENCE?
Do the right things excellently not averagely.
Your good name is branded on every piece of work you release so do it excellently. The grade of work you offer to the world reflects the strength of respect you have for yourself.
The one who sweats most in training bleeds least in war. Victories are won before warriors walk onto the battlefield.
Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.
Those committed to excellence force themselves to stay with the work when they feel bored, scared, alone. They persist in translating their heroic visions into everyday reality when they are misunderstood, ridiculed, even attacked.
Those committed to excellence commit this through to the slightest of details, and demonstrate willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve greatness. The space shuttle Challenger disaster was caused by the failure of a single O-ring seal valued at 70 cents.
WHY ARE YOU SCARED OF CHALLENGING TIMES?
Challenging events happen to unlock the treasures, talents and powers within you – nothing is an accident.
You are not on the wrong path if the road gets tough and obstacles show up – all possibility requires hard work, regular reinvention and deep dedication. The greatest are those who embrace suffering in their devotion to go to the fiery edges of their highest limits.
Walking into your fear is how you reclaim your forgotten power
When you most feel like giving up is when you must find it in you to keep pressing ahead.
Pain is our asset – it burns away fakeness, fear and arrogance of the ego – it gets us to our pure essence if we have the courage to go into source of our wounds.
Obstacles are merely tests designed to show how much you want something. How willing are you to become the kind of person required to hold that level of success?
The closer you get to your genius, the more your fears will arise to sabotage you. You may need to leave the majority, to become different, you may face jealousy from competitors and additional pressure to make your next product better.
There’s no growth inside the comfort zone. Your gifts won’t increase staying inside circles of safety.
Warriors are born from doing that which is hard but important when it feels most uncomfortable.
The best way to build your willpower is to put yourself into conditions of discomfort voluntarily to strengthen you.
Positive change and growth can be uncomfortable a lot of the time. All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, gorgeous at the end.
You are repeatedly provided opportunities to show leadership in any situation. It’s about making a difference wherever you are.
Leadership is more than a formal title or bank balance – its about committing to mastery in whatever you do, and in who you are. It’s about resisting ordinary.
True leaders have a greater sense of self and mission than acquiring titles and trinkets, applause and acclaim, or money and mansions. The substitute power derived from these external things when lost, vanishes in an instant, revealing itself as the illusion it was.
True power is an inside job – being inspirational, masterful and fearless are internal and provide true fulfilment compared to external substitutes.
Being a legend is being of deep service to the world – it isn’t about you. The hard work it takes is to benefit, uplift and inspire others, not for ego gratification.
To lead is to inspire others by the way you live.
POWER OF YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Don’t underestimate the power of your surroundings to shape your perceptions, inspiration and impact your productivity – the spaces you inhabit shape the output you produce.
Be comfortable with letting people go, even though they may have fit at one stage of your life or business. You want people who continue to learn, invest and make everything they touch better than they found it.
Victims love entertainment. Victors adore education. Victims have big TVs. Leaders own libraries. Peak producers are lifetime learners.
Life is too valuable to hang with people who don’t get you – fill your life with exceptional people – enterprising, healthy, positive, ethical, sincerely loving – over time you’ll exemplify those traits.
Even one enemy is an enemy too many –pass through life peacefully and gracefully – taking the high road in conflict.
POWER OF IMPLEMENTATION
The smallest of implementations is always worth more than the grandest of ideas.
Ambition without implementation is the grandest of illusions. Potential unexpressed turns to pain. We start to die.
Your daily habits dictate far more about your success than your inherited genetics. Small daily improvements done consistently lead to stunning results. Elite performers understand that what you do each day matters far more that what you do once in a while.
Don’t wait for perfect conditions – great power is unleashed with a simple start.
Consistency really is the DNA of mastery. The way to annihilate the weakest impulses of your lower self that block your best is through ceaseless repetition of the new behaviour.
Mastery is not a sudden event – it is years of painstaking practice, sacrifice and suffering.
The power of a few small navigational shifts or course corrections done consistently over a long voyage means the difference between ending up in breath-taking Brazil or fantastic Japan.
When you feel you can’t continue, progress a litter longer. You will amplify your self-discipline and self-respect.
True geniuses all started out as ordinary people, but they practiced building up their strength so much and so often that showing up at world class became automated.
Massive productivity in society without an inner sense of joy, abundance or inner peace is not true success, is no different from a hamster on a running wheel.
The greatest remain loyal to their noble ideas beyond the joyous weeks of dreaming up an idea, extending into the seasons of parched deserts of implementation and isolated winters of self-doubt, enduring rejection, exhaustion, scepticism and the diversions of attractive opportunities.
POWER OF SINGLE FOCUS
The greats – away from the external show of success–have committed to astronomical focus on a single pursuit, intensity of sacrifice to one aim, extreme amounts of solid patience, and unusual levels of deep preparation.
Stop managing your time and start managing your focus. Work less time with more focus to get more done.
Strip away distractions and gadgets, become a purist, simplify. Less is more.
Don’t dilute your purpose or gift chasing every shiny diversion and attractive opportunity that comes your way– exercise fierce discipline and focus on only a few things – but at a world class level.
Create one piece of work that expresses true genius and provides value for generations to come, rather than lots of average work.
Until your mission becomes your obsession, your gifts will never become your glory.
MAXIMISE YOUR TIME
Super-producers outsource and then automate all activities except those within their realm of mastery. Delegate tasks that diminish your happiness – restructure life so you are only doing things you are great at and love to do.
Tomorrow is a bonus, not a right.
Balance living like there is no tomorrow with behaving like you’ll live forever, so when the end does come you know you lived your life to the fullest.
Guard your cognitive abilities – stop escaping online for quick pleasure hits of entertainment instead of doing things that matter. Your phone may cost you your fortune.
Do not live as if you have 10,000 years left to live. Most of us on our death beds wish we had more time but squander the time we currently have. Stop wasting time on trivial things. Don’t be timid when it comes to your ambitions.
Guard your time – it is your most precious commodity. The rich invest in time. The poor invest in money.
A person living an average lifetime spends a total of 3+ years commuting. Maximise this time – join the Traffic University and learn on the go – just one idea you discover through reading and online courses could be the source of your fortune.
POWER OF GROWTH
Pressure is privilege. You get to grow.
With every challenge, you get the gorgeous opportunity to rise to your next level as leader, to your next level as a human being.
The soreness of growth is so much better than the devasting cost of regret.
Don’t wish for an easy life – there is no growth in your power there. Wish for a life of challenge that brings out the finest in you,
When faced with a choice, always choose the one that pushes you the most, increases your growth and promotes unfoldment of your gifts.
Just like exercising a muscle through applying stress, you achieve growth through pushing your genius just beyond its usual limit and subsequent period of recovery and regeneration.
Mystics wrote that real change involves a series of little deaths.
POWER OF RENEWAL TIME
Elite performance without time for quiet vacation results in lasting depletion.
Rest and recovery isn’t a luxury for anyone committed to mastery – it’s a necessity.
Inspiration gets fed by time away, by isolation.
Your natural genius appears when you are most joyful – and this often happens when you are relaxed on vacation.
Peak performers don’t work in a linear way – their work cycle is structured, alternating between bursts of deep focus and intense performance and periods of full recovery. Elite accomplishment is like a heartbeat pulse – High Excellence Cycles followed by Deep Refuelling periods.
In every walk in nature, one receives far more than he seeks.
POWER OF GIVING
Legends are givers, not takers.
Do heroic work – stagger your marketplace by the quality, originality and helpfulness of your offer or product. The true reason to be in the game is to be helpful to society.
The teacher learns the most. As you teach, your own understanding of the material will deepen.
Optimising oneself is the best way to improve the state of the world.
LIVE ON YOUR OWN TERMS
Play and succeed in the game of the world but disconnect from it often so you are never owned by it
Use your joy as a GPS. Only perform pursuits that feed your bliss, only be in places that make you feel most alive.
Collect miraculous experiences over material things. Own and enjoy things, but don’t let them own you.
Never sacrifice your quality of life and well-being for a greater income.
Life’s too short not to treat yourself as amazingly as possible.
Take daily voyages into awe and regular adventures into wonder.
THE 5AM MIRACLE!
Own your morning. Elevate your life. Take excellent care of the front end of your day, and the rest of your day will take care of itself.
Victory is made in those early hours of the morning in intense training, when no one is watching, when everyone is sleeping. Your primary assets (mental focus, physical energy, personal willpower, original talent, daily time) are highest early in the morning – that’s why you should maximise them towards your desired pursuit during this period and set up your day.
Intensely visualise all you want to be and the higher order of life you wish to create. Envisage your ideal performance for the day ahead.
Seize this time in your day to live and create a life on your terms rather than blindly following like sheep as you have been trained to become. Concentrate on high-value activities instead of letting your day control you. This time allows you to deliberate and plan, rather than do and react.
It’s not about rising at 5am alone – its what you do with the next 60 minutes that makes the difference, that makes it your Victory Hour.
Apply the 20/20/20 Formula during this hour. Move/Reflect/Grow.
EXERCISE for 20 minutes. Why Exercise? Studies show there is a vital link between physical exercise and cognitive ability. It generates more energy, focus and productivity, and de-stresses.
REFLECT for 20 mins by meditating, praying, journalling, or planning which stimulate greater positivity and creativity, and decreased reactivity.
GROW for 20 mins through reading or listening to motivational texts, books on leadership, business or creativity, reviewing goals or studying. This increases inspiration, personal growth and increased mastery of your pursuit.
Rituals run deepest when performed as a group. Install the morning routine together. Become a member of the 5am Club!
In setting a large goal, we often face inner resistance and overwhelm, and quit or fail to start. Use the Kaizen approach to accomplish great tasks through a series of small acts.
WHAT IS THE KAIZEN APPROACH?
Using very small steps to achieve a larger goal.
6 KAIZEN STRATEGIES
Ask small questions to remove fear and inspire creativity.
Think small thoughts to develop new habits (without even moving a muscle!)
Take small actions towards larger goals so that you cannot fail to start or continue.
Solve small problems even in the midst of an overwhelming crisis.
Grant yourself and others small rewards.
Recognise small moments – they may be small or ordinary but crucial and often ignored by everyone else.
MAKE CHANGE EASY – USE KAIZEN TO ADDRESS FEAR
Take such a small seemingly trivial step so you cannot fail to start or achieve it e.g. if you have a goal to lose weight but feel resistance at the thought of doing an hour’s exercise each day as it feels too much, why not start with just 1 minute a day, marching in front of the television – then see where the success of these small steps leads you.
Attempts to take large, radical change often fails because it heightens fear.
Small seemingly insignificant change helps the human mind circumnavigate the fear that blocks success, creative new ideas and solutions.
An alternative to spending years in counselling trying to understand why you are afraid of a particular thing or resistant to achieving a goal, is to use the Kaizen approach to take small easily achievable steps to go around or under these fears.
When life gets scary and difficult, we tend to look for easy, familiar or avoidance solutions, rather than in the dark discomfort where real solutions may lie e.g. someone who fears intimacy may constantly change jobs and cities to avoid deep or long lasting relationships, someone in an unsatisfying marriage may focus on a new venture such as moving house or having another child to avoid the real issues in the relationship.
Expecting fear to arise and seeing it as a normal part of life and a natural sign of ambition, rather than seeing it as something going wrong in life, helps you to embrace it and continue to achieve your goals rather than resist, self-sabotage, or quit.
The more we care about something, the more fear shows up.
There is a gift in fear – it alerts us to a challenge. And we can rise to challenges by adopting one or more of the 6 Kaizen strategies below, rather than remaining paralysed or overwhelmed by crisis.
KAIZEN STRATEGY 1: ASK SMALL QUESTIONS
“What shapes our lives are the questions we ask…” (Sam Keen).
Your brain loves small questions and won’t reject them – if the question is too big it may trigger fear and eliminate fun, creative, playful solutions.
A small question is not demanding or scary – it’s fun!
Examples of small questions:
If health were my first priority, what would I do differently today?
(Example answer – to avoid overeating and keep on track to lose weight, order regular meals at a restaurant and ask the waiter to put half of the meal in a doggie bag before serving).
What is one way I can remind myself to drink more water?
(Example answer – every time I go to the kitchen I will drink a glass of water, keep a bottle of water in the car – even if it’s empty it will remind me to THINK about drinking water more often).
How can I incorporate a few more minutes of exercise into my daily routine?
(Example answer – I could do 10 press ups on waking and before going to bed).
If you are a writer, you don’t need to start with any grand themes in mind, you can start with a single incident e.g. a plane crash, and ask small questions to get you started e.g. “ Who is the person in the plane? Why are they there? What year is it?”
As you ask yourself small questions repeatedly over days or weeks, your brain (specifically the hippocampus which stores information) will have no choice but to address it – you are programming your brain for creativity and it will begin to give you answers, creative breakthroughs and ideas for improvement. It takes time to develop new mental pathways, hence the need to ask yourself the same small question daily.
Other good small questions:
If you are stuck: Whom could I ask for help or inspiration?
If you are unhappy: What is one aspect of my job that I enjoy? How can I expand on this in a small way?
If you are trying to reach a goal: What is one small step I could take now towards reaching my goal?
Even if things are going well, to avoid complacency in business, health, relationships, career, other area: What one small change I could make to improve X?
If you have a conflict with another person: What’s one thing I like about this person?
If you feel pessimistic or negative: What is one thing that is special about me/my organisation etc.
Asking such small questions changes your focus in the direction of creative ideas, solutions and positive aspects (rather than negative) which you can then capitalise on.
KAIZEN STRATEGY 2: THINK SMALL THOUGHTS
Visualising works – studies show that people who solely imagined practicing a piano exercise repeatedly showed similar increase in brain activity as those who actually practiced on a piano for the same period.
KAIZEN STRATEGY 3: TAKE SMALL ACTIONS
No matter how much you practice small questions and thoughts, at some point you will need to take action. Starting with trivial actions so small you cannot fail will motivate you to begin on your path to success.
Example: to stop overspending, remove just one item from your shopping trolley before heading to the tills, to start learning a foreign language commit to learning one new word a day or week.
The ideal solution is always the smallest effective one. E.g. people experiencing the worst consumer experiences state they could easily be turned around by an apology or demonstration of concern. Clinic staff were asked, “How can you improve patient’s experience of delays for free or that will demand only a few seconds of your time?” This led to suggestions such as explaining reasons for delays to patients, offering rescheduling, doctors apologising on seeing patients and saying thank you for choosing the practice etc. The implementation of such small actions led to doubling of the patient satisfaction rate and 60% less defections from the practice.
Don’t small steps yield slow results? Small steps and the kaizen approach takes patience – it works because it is targeted at overcoming the mind’s resistance to change by getting you started. The compound effect of consistent small steps and lots of small wins adds up … just think of climbing a mountain!
Kaizen as a persuasive technique – studies have shown that asking people to take one initial small action (e.g. wearing a pin for a charity) makes them more likely to take a larger action (e.g. making larger financial donations to the charity).
KAIZEN STRATEGY 4: SOLVE SMALL PROBLEMS
Problems often start small and build up. By training yourself to spot and solve small problems you can avoid dealing with larger more painful problems later on.
Example: BP ignored 356 “small” oil spills between 2001 and 2007 despite concerns from regulators…until 2010 when the worst oil spill in history happened with 200 million gallons of crude oil pumped into the Gulf of Mexico.
Pay attention to subtle warning signs e.g. if you misplaced your car keys, ask yourself if you are juggling too much? Are you so distracted that this could eventually lead to a more serious mistake? Look back at past major mistakes – what were the small warning signs along the way? What small actions could you have done to address them instead of ignoring them?
Example: Due to the high impact of a tiny error and resulting disaster, US navy ship officers in relation to navy aircraft take-offs and landings on deck, are trained to look for the slightest signal that things are going wrong e.g. walking the ship 8 times a day looking for “foreign objects” – anything that could be sucked into a jet’s engine.
Example: People are more willing to break the law in neighbourhoods where small crimes go unnoticed or unpunished.
People often have a predilection for large scale solutions and have a blind spot for solutions to small problems that can have a significant impact. Example: One very small problem leads to diarrhea – dirty hands, and most households where diarrhea is present have soap but only 15-20% use it before handling food or babies. It is easier to teach a person to wash their hands leading to a reduction in cases of more than 40% than it is to supply new plumbing across a region at high costs and complexity, or to supply treatment AFTER the illness has taken hold.
Try to locate the smaller problems within a larger disaster to prevent overwhelm and start moving towards a solution.
“Confront the difficult while it is still easy; accomplish the great task by a series of small acts” (Tao Te Ching).
KAIZEN STRATEGY 5: GRANT SMALL REWARDS
For employees, large rewards encourage focus on big grand ideas, often complex and costly. Small rewards (as simple as a fountain pen) could instead encourage many smaller suggestions that could lead to great results collectively. E.g. at Toyota, of 1.5 million suggestions a year, 95% were implemented.
Often a small expression of gratitude can go a long way – when US sailors decide to re-enter private life, their biggest complaint was feeling underappreciated at work.
KAIZEN STRATEGY 6: RECOGNISE SMALL MOMENTS
Example – British physician, Edward Jenner’s observation that milkmaids immunity from smallpox had derived from their exposure to cowpox in the natural course of their job led on to him perfecting the technique of vaccination by looking at who did not get the disease.
Example – a flight attendant observed that passengers were not eating olives in their salad which were removed leading to a huge saving of 0.5 million dollars a year.
Example – if you hate your job but cannot think of another career, recognise one moment each day when you enjoy it, and notice a pattern building which could lead to you identifying a new career e.g. noticing that you enjoy asking people about, and helping them with their problems could lead you to a career as a counsellor.
Train yourself to focus on the small positive aspects of your partner instead of on the big flaws – what you focus on grows.
You are not your bank balance! Money does not create your value – it’s the result of your connection to your true value – your passion, creativity and contribution to the world.
TOP 5 TAKEAWAYS
Money is an illusion because it does not create your value. It can be the external result of how connected you are to your true value. I am not rich because I have $X dollars, I am rich in my connection to my authentic self, my passion and value to the world, and as a result I attract $X dollars.
Going directly into our deepest fears and accepting all of ourselves, both light and dark – is the gateway to freedom.
You raise your value by making your time more valuable, by only doing things that expand you beyond today.
Being broke is just a mental concept. Yes you may be in debt and need to pay bills, but money is just one part of abundance. The true source of money – our passion, creativity, connection, and contribution – is the real value we offer the world.
People like Oprah are VALUABLE – which is much more than being rich – if they were to lose money they can recreate wealth again and again and again through being who they are.
Money is one of the biggest excuses we use for not following our highest calling.
Life wants you to grow and learn and connect and love and create and play – it doesn’t care about your bank balance.
Your relationship to money is just a mirror of your relationship to yourself. In fact, you don’t really have a relationship to money; you only have a relationship to your concepts about money.
So if you’re feeling fear around money, what you’re actually feeling is a reflection of the fear and insecurity that is living inside of you; you just happen to be noticing it externally through money. Money isn’t causing or creating your fear; it’s just bringing it to surface.
The exact same fear can exist inside of you no matter how much money you have. You can have fear and stress when in debt and can have fear of losing money when having a million pounds.
This is the same reason lottery winners often go broke very quickly—even though the amount of money they have has changed, they still haven’t created an internal sense of abundance and worthiness to match that level of external abundance. So the same internal fear that was keeping them from being able to create money is the same fear that they are trying to cover up by buying private jets once they finally have money in the bank.
We often have a belief that money equals security. Money has nothing to do with security. Yes we may have rent to pay, but seeing money as your only source of security is also what is cutting you off from the infinite, creative, inventive being that you are—which would probably make paying rent a lot easier.
You will never be able to change your feeling of insecurity by having more money. Money is never the cause of the way you feel; it’s an effect. If you’re broke it’s likely because you have a deeply held belief that you are unsafe that may cause you to feel, think, and act in ways that create circumstances which mirror that belief.
Being broke is just an idea, a mental concept. If you’re not okay with the idea of going broke, you’re at war with something inside your body that you’ve created. When you can fully accept the possibility of going broke, money stops owning you and you can start to make decisions based on inspiration rather than fear.
Welcome to the 3 Yous. You all inherit $1 million.
You 1 spends on something to distract yourself from your emotions and gain something external to prove your worth providing a quick but unsustainable high e.g. fast food, alcohol, renting luxury apartments and throwing parties to impress.
You 2 invests in assets that provide monetary return e.g. stock but doesn’t expand you.
You 3 instead invests in long term growth, experiences or things that expand you and take you higher than your current self towards your highest self.
Now which of the Yous would be doing the best if the money system were to collapse and bank accounts were wiped out … You 1 would be screwed, You 2 would be back to square 1, but You 3 would still have something – a new level of confidence, connection and value in yourself – that can continue to generate wealth despite current circumstances.
Don’t look for money – look for 10s – experiences that feel exciting and expansive to you.
Abundance is living from your heart as you know you have an abundant supply of what you need and naturally want to share it with others e.g. an apple tree isn’t afraid of running out of apples, it creates them and lets them go.
Your ability to receive is your ability to give and vice versa but giving just to receive is energetically saying you are in lack and giving should be an answering of a calling that is moving you towards growth.
EXERCISE: Belief ReliefWrite down 20 different beliefs that you’ve had about money in the past. Examples: “Money equals freedom” or “Money equals stress” or “I’m not good with money.” Notice them as they show up throughout the next few days.
Most people have no idea how great they really are – they cannot see beyond their limited perspective.
Every person has the exact same level of unique brilliance in them, we are just accessing it in different amounts depending on how attached we are to our limited stories.
Living within our limited stories we spend our lives stressing about things that would be completely taken care of if we stepped into the greatness of who we really are.
If you stand under a light and close your eyes, that doesn’t mean the light isn’t there. Even if you can’t feel a sense of security inside of yourself right now, that doesn’t mean it’s not there. You can trick yourself into believing it doesn’t exist, but it will never go away. True security is constant—your beliefs are just blocking it.
YOU ARE THE RESULT YOU SEEK
You don’t need results – you are the result – you don’t need to do anything to prove yourself. Your job is to stay connected to the inner source of these results, rather then the results themselves.
What you are looking for is you.
The more you let go of the idea of making money, the faster it comes.
Remove everything from your life that doesn’t support and inspire the highest you.
Listen to the little callings that tell you to quit your job or move elsewhere to move into alignment and work from a higher paradigm that has an easier path for you.
Passively reading the content of this book and making sense intellectually is not enough – you need to put in the work to completely rewire your nervous system and change lifelong habits of chasing external results and instead experience true abundance from within ourselves.
Read in a way that allows you to feel more than you think.
Real change won’t happen without consistency.
INNER ACCEPTANCE V EXTERNAL GOALS
Stop allowing external circumstances determine your inner state – discover who you truly are and bring that into the world.
When we are chasing some thing, we are chasing the feeling of what that thing will give us. Instead, realise we are the real source of those feelings we are looking for externally. Those things are just a way of giving us permission to experience those feelings already inside of us.
Imagining the thing you want happening … how do you feel? e.g. winning the lottery. Without that external thing happening, just through imagining it you experienced excitement, freedom and abundance. Winning the lotto is just your excuse to allow you to access these feelings inside of you all along.
So you can feel abundance now even if you are broke, you can feel love right now even if you are not in a relationship.
When we think of trying to get something external, what we’re looking for is internal expansion – external goals can give us expansion but only if they take us beyond ourselves.
As you understand that you are the source of what you’re looking for – not the external, life will begin to bring the things we used to chase back to us as a by-product. When you move from freedom, you will create a life of freedom. When you move from joy, life becomes joyful.
If you’re not connected to yourself first, you’ll have no foundation and will become attached to the external, temporary thing more than to your internal source of actual abundance. A huge business and income can still show up, but that lack of foundation inside yourself will likely cause the external – your business and finances – to collapse because your business and income will almost always match what you are feeling inside.
We create actual freedom by finally seeing yourself fully and accepting every single part of you first to create the foundation to sustain the external result you want.
Security is inside not outside – the internal feeling of insecurity can still show up regardless of what the circumstances are. For example, there are many extremely rich people on the planet who, deep down, feel very insecure reflected in the need to have bodyguards and crazy security.
Jim Carey once said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” No one’s pain goes away once they reach that external goal. Achieving high levels of external success with the belief that it will heal your internal wounds is false.
Instead of chasing an external goal as a way to create an illusion of safety and ignoring the part of ourselves that is feeling incomplete, let’s stop for a second, take a breath, and learn to give space to the thoughts and beliefs that are telling us that we need something outside of us to feel safe. Allow everything to be there exactly as it is and notice that you are the awareness that it’s all happening in. Become the safe space for yourself to feel everything you are feeling without judgment.
Inner intentions lead to growth more than external goals. e.g. if you have a goal to write a book but don’t have an inner intention (e.g. to express your creativity) for why you are doing it then you may become victim to the need for external results e.g. popularity of the book or X number of sales.
The joy you experience from achieving an external goal may only last a few hours however your inner intention (your purpose) can always be practiced.
In any situation that is challenging, connect to your intention instead of the situation, you’ll experience a new level of strength. You are not your external circumstances or results e.g. you are not your bank balance, relationship, achievements. These are the source of our pain when we believe we are those things and the business falls apart of you lose your job. We instead are the intention/purpose beneath this e.g. discovery, freedom, love, joy, peace, courage, patience….
Use nature to mirror your intention back to you e.g. if your intention is patience, experience the way trees are embodying patience in every moment.
THE GATEWAY TO FREEDOM
True freedom is something that naturally shows up when you stop addictively reaching for things outside of yourself to feel safe.
This is the gateway to your true freedom and creativity and to the true you. Fully meet your fearful emotions, experience the momentary pain of your illusion dissolving. You’re in the process of moving from what you used to be into what you are about to become. You’re going through labor—birthing an entire new you. Could you imagine if a mother giving birth decided that it was too difficult and went to go watch Netflix instead? That’s what we’re doing when we deny what we’re feeling and try to fix it with something external. We’re stifling our growth and choosing to allow the pain of our past to determine our future.
There are so many feelings we have that just need to be seen. Think about all of the ways that you bury your feelings and chase some other type of experience as a distraction. It’s time to let ourselves experience what is really coming up. Getting out of this type of addictive cycle and finding actual security is as simple as sitting and paying attention to what’s going on inside of you. When pain or fear shows up, followed by an impulse to do some addictive or distractive thing, notice that impulse and choose to be with the fear or pain instead. .
By being with yourself fully and becoming a space of acceptance for all your repressed emotions, regrets, fears, and guilt, you prove to yourself that you are bigger than all of it. You stop being owned by it. You stop needing to chase money or achievement or fame or status in order to overcome your internal sense of insecurity. You become secure in your surrender to your insecurity.
Your addictions aren’t you – they are covering up your greatness.
It’s your resistance to something that creates your fear – instead accept all parts of you including the parts of you that you believe are afraid of being broke or that you judge and love them until they are able to leave – your circumstances will begin to mirror you as you step into the perfection that you already are,
It’s this practice of constant acceptance and emotional release that allows us to move into a new vibrational dimension where higher ideas and collaborative creativity allow us to bring more value into the world and create real abundance.
There is a completely different dimension of you that is free of unworthy stories and limitations. There’s a level that your mind might hear this at, but it’s not until you let go of heavy things, release the results, and accept all of yourself that it starts to become real for you. There is literally an experience of seeing a completely different world, where each moment has so many more possibilities than it does problems, where inspired ideas are happening constantly, where abundance is a natural way of being. Money is a part of that abundance, but so is passion, fulfillment, connection, and contribution.
When we’re able to accept and transcend our fears with acceptance and love instead of obsessing over them, we connect to this higher dimension that allows us to access both internal security and external abundance at the same time.
Expand past the fear of going broke and open up to higher-level solutions.
Your expansion can be scary to others because it forces them to look at how they are not living up to their own potential.
Under the deep ocean of difficult emotions of hurt and sadness isloveand all the magic that life has to offer.
Going directly into our deepest fears is the gateway to freedom.
EXERCISE: Think about losing everything you have – your job, savings, home etc. How would you feel? Mentally and emotionally experience it and feel what it would be like to have nothing and be completely homeless with no one to help you? Did you feel intense fear? Panic? Vulnerability? Now,what would it take to feel completely safe in the middle of all of those emotions, and with no external safety? If you were able to have nothing and still experience a feeling of peace and internal security, you would have found what every person is looking for. In that place of freedom and connection you would be able to create on a level never experienced before and receive true inspiration and create external abundance matching your internal state.
This is not saying you need to sabotage your current situation and deliberately make your life fall apart to transcend your attention to money. It’s to get you to a state where you would feel free to go beyond your fears of being broke to answer a true calling that is exciting and expansive.
ACCEPTANCE OF NOW
Acceptance of where you are now is what creates the internal abundance that will allow you to receive external abundance in a sustainable way.
Non-acceptance of now e.g. a concept of not having enough money – creates an internal war which cuts you off from infinite creativity coming through.
The universe doesn’t make mistakes – you have the perfect amount of money right now to help you learn whatever lesson you need to learn. You have the perfect relationships to help you discover exactly what you need to discover about yourself.
If you have beliefs about yourself that you judge and you truly love them and accept them, they cannot exist.
The amount of light you emit is about the amount of darkness you can accept.
Acceptance is a skill – imagine spending as much time practicing acceptance as you do engaging in the external circumstances of your life, every problem you think you have would completely dissolve.
If you’re in a situation where you think you need more money, first accept and surrender to where you are without judgement and become a space for any painful emotions that may arise. This creates space for your judgement to leave and creates room for a new level of possibility to show up.
For anything that is hard for you to accept – say the thing out loud and then say “…and I love that” e.g. “I’m afraid of being broke, and I love that”.
You go from trying to control the external world through manipulation and force into first becoming aware of your reactions to the external world.
YOUR TRUE VALUE
Your true value is based on how much access you have to your infinite creativity – to your true calling, to doing things that feel like a “hell yes”.
Meditation and sitting in silence with whatever emotions arise is one way to connect to your true self.
Money does not create your value – it’s the result of your connection to your true value.
People like Oprah are valuable – which is much more than being rich – if they were to lose everything their true value will be able to generate it again. Oprah’s true value is her ability to talk with people, share their stories, connect with herself and others – these are all assets she has created.
We can raise our value by seeing ourselves as more valuable and feeling this internally, rather than waiting for external validation.
Release yourself from things in your life that lower your internal value, that reinforce your old small vision of a limited self and prevent you from growing – move in a direction that is different and more expansive than yesterday.
You raise your value by making your time more valuable – your time is made more valuable by doing only the things that will expand you beyond what you used to be e.g. you decide you are more valuable than watching 3 hours of YouTube videos that don’t expand you and instead start writing a book or even create your own You Tube channel.
Your value will skyrocket the more you more you work on yourself, more than you work for other people.
Money is not a calling, a job is not a calling. A calling is letting life do the work through you, so what you do becomes effortless and the results show up naturally. You are not what you do or produce, it’s the love of what you do evident through the product that attracts others.
When you are so in love with being you, no amount of money could ever convince you to do anything other than your heart’s calling.
Yes there have been people who have made money by manipulating and hurting others, but in doing so, they are constantly sacrificing their connection to their soul and joy. They will eventually feel less and less happy doing things out of fear and ego and this often makes the money they’ve earned unsustainable.
It’s not about quitting a job or relationship that you feel is lowering you without first examining the fear you are not facing that is causing you to lower your value and stay stuck. Why are you holding on to these things? Quitting without first shining a light on the underlying emotions and limiting beliefs may mean you create a new job with the same circumstances or the fear of not paying bills or finding new income distracts you from the true work of facing and transcending your unworthiness and pain.
Leaping from one heavy thing to another without an internal shift and insight into what is truly blocking you is not true transformation.
In this space of self-connection, people will want to work with you, they will be drawn to your obvious joy and will trust you because you are not trying to get something from them.
Your expansion is your life force – if you are not expanding you are contracting, constricting – you are dying.
Sometimes you need to leap into something bigger then yourself – a leap is something that feels scary to your mind but exciting to your soul.
EXERCISE: Write down 100 possibilities of things that could go exceedingly well in the next 24 hours.
EVERYTHING IS TEMPORARY
You stop holding on to things as much and go for experiences that can expand you and move you into new world, when you realise that everything is temporary. Your car is a tool, your phone is a tool.
When we believe we own things e.g. that we own $2000 in your bank account, we become more vulnerable to believing someone wants to take it from us and we become more protective and enforce the belief that the other trillions of dollars in the world are not theirs. It’s similar to wanting to own all of the sand on a beach rather than just enjoying the sand around you. You start shovelling sand in your backpack until it becomes so heavy you can’t even move. Is this the same way you become attached to owning other things, limiting you from growth because you spend more time protecting it than enjoying it? e.g. are you too afraid of having a relationship because you are too afraid of losing it? Only by owning the fact that you can lose something can you enjoy the real freedom and love within it.
This can apply to feeling unnecessary ownership of others opinions – how many times have you taken an external opinion in and changed your behaviour based on the opinion or judgement of someone else. If you think it’s your responsibility to change someone else’s opinion of you, you are owned by their opinion which cuts us off from our own expression of ourselves.
Yes we may have debt, but debt is not who we are. Yes you need to be responsible for it but you do not have to let the vibration of debt be inside of you – just see it as something temporary passing through you.
Real love doesn’t control, hoard, own, judge, fix or argue, A person who truly loves you wants you to be free and experience the best in life even if not with them. True love expands, frees, releases. You don’t need anybody’s love to be fully you.
“The smallest of implementations is always worth more than the grandest of intentions” (Robin Sharma)
You can read all of the books and blogsites in the world, but what really counts is what sticks.
The ideas that you read AND IMPLEMENT are the ones that move your life forward. The ideas that have nestled their way into a cosy section of your mind – and spring up just at the moment they’re needed. The ones that are easy to remember, and not so easy to forget.
Those ideas that have transformed from words in print, to living breathing entities – they have become you.
Those are the ideas worth their weight in gold.
Those are the ideas you want.
Those are the sentences that transform lives.
Here are 5 top ideas I’ve been implementing from the books I’ve read so far this year…
1. “EASY-TO-DO EASY-NOT-TO-DO”
This nugget is taken from the book “The Slight Edge”. “Easy-to-do Easy-not-to-do” is a key reason why people fail. Success in life is actually straightforward – you put in the work – and that work compounds. The problem is that a lot of the work involved isn’t particularly glamorous.
People focus on the allure and glamour of the successful result, and overlook the gruel and grindbehind it.
The problem is that a lot of the steps on the way to success are simple – they are easy to do. But also easy not to do.
This phrase has been popping into my mind the moment I feel like skipping a task. When I want to delude myself into the false notion that the impact will be minimal.
The day I don’t feel like working out.
The day I don’t feel like writing.
The day I don’t go to bed on time.
And yes of course, one day off over the course of a year will have little effect. The problem is not that one moment. It’s the knock-on effect of that one decision.
Not running today makes it easier not to run tomorrow. And again the next day. Before you know it, that one moment has rolled into a week or two. A habit has been formed, making it harder to get back on track.
So, this little gem often pops into my mind at the moment of a seemingly minor choice. It’s a reminder that failure often results from the cumulative effect of small choices rather than a major decision gone wrong. It’s the impact of the small seemingly inconsequential actions when compounded that matters.
Failure lies in the seemingly insignificant, in the dismissible, in the delayable.
In not doing that which is easy to do … and easy not to do.
2. THE APOLLO ROCKET
“The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson delivers again. The book tells the story of an Apollo rocket only being on course up to 3% of the time on its way to the moon. It was off track and course-correcting 97% of the time.
Although it may be oversimplified, it illustrates that we can stumble, and stumble often, on our journey to success. We are allowed to fail – we are allowed to go off course. As long as when we do fail, we dust ourselves off and get back on track. As long as we keep on course-correcting.
This nugget has helped me when I’ve set out to achieve a target and missed it. It’s kept me progressing towards my goal, rather than wallowing in self-pity or giving up. It’s helped me embrace failure and accept that it’s part of the process.
We often have a linear view of success, but actually those we deem most successful have often failed a lot. The journey to success is more like a squiggle, or a line with peaks and troughs, rather than an upward linear path.
It’s helped me through the dips in life. It’s helped me keep going when I was running more but running less. When I was putting more effort in but getting worse results. It helped me through a month of being unable to complete half the distances I’d been able to complete with less training. When I was less fit. It helped me realise that sometimes only a tweak is needed to get back on course – a pivot – a little course correction.
It’s helped me get knocked off my horse and get back up again.
This one comes from “One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way” by Robert Maurer. Setting a goal can inspire intense resistance in you – fear you never knew you had. You can be stalled by the enormity of a goal – as you currently seem to be so far from the type of person needed to achieve such a goal.
It can feel so overwhelming. So overwhelming that you don’t even start.
Instead, follow the Kaizen way. Think about the smallest step you can take towards that goal – so small you cannot fail – AND START. Then build up incrementally from there.
You may surprise yourself at the momentum you gain from achieving small but consistent wins. You may amaze yourself at where it leads. It’s how I started running from 5 minutes a day – slowly incrementing by a minute – to running half marathon distances.
The Kaizen approach – achieving change through small incremental steps – has become part of my personal philosophy. I’ve seen the impact of taking small daily actions which generate results through the effect of compounding over time.
The smallness of the actions makes it easier to do … the key with this philosophy is consistency.
We often see success as a series of big leaps, but actually – just as how a child learns to walk – it is often achieved through a series of small but repetitive steps.
4. STOP IT BEFORE IT STARTS
Stop a problem before it starts. This is the sentiment of the book “Upstream” by Dan Heath.
Oftentimes, we ignore the small warning signs alerting us to a problem occurring. The little red flags that dot our path. We deny them. We dismiss them. We push through them. They seem so small. So insignificant.
It’s often in hindsight that we look back and spot the signals along the way that could have prevented a crisis, had we taken action on them earlier.
Working “upstream” is being willing to be an invisible hero. After all … who will congratulate you for putting out a fire that never was? That never was because you prevented it in the first place …
I wish I’d acted sooner when I spotted the warning signs of a family member’s illness.
I wish I’d been more alert to the subtle signs displayed by people who did not have my best interests at heart.
I wish … I wish … I wish …
Well, now I’m armed with the knowledge to tackle this going forward. Reading “Upstream” has helped me become more aware of early warning signs. It’s helping me to take greater notice of those niggling thoughts and small inconsistencies earlier on. It’s helping me to look at the results I’m generating as a symptom of the systems I have in place. It’s given me the knowledge that a change in the inputs changes the outputs. That’s it’s possible to create more desirable results.
It’s given me greater awareness. To be alert. To act earlier. When the solution is easier.
Decision-making is an area I’ve traditionally struggled with. I’m a well-known frequent traveller to the land of Analysis Paralysis.
Learning to take a decision from the view of my future self helps expand my perspective beyond my current limited self.
Who do I want to become?
What do I want to achieve?
How will this choice benefit my future self?
The decision to start and keep going with this blog has been an investment in my future self. Reading expands my mind – it helps me to gain insight into new ways of thinking and ideas that will will benefit me. Implementing the ideas that resonate is a way of problem solving for me. Actions and habits flow from thoughts and beliefs, so reading is a way of developing that foundation – of investing in a better mindset.
It’s a way of leveraging the knowledge and experiences of others to weave a richer tapestry, making up the landscape of my mind. To benefit my thought process, my decision making and tools for success. Each implemented idea is like a deposit into the realisation of more fulfilled future.
I share the summaries of the books I’ve read and ideas that come to mind in the hope it also sparks a connection within you and helps you generate a fulfilling future.
Of all the books, blogs, and podcasts you have read and listened to over the year – which ideas stick out?
What golden nuggets have you discovered?
Which ones do you remember?
And most importantly, which ones have you actioned?