Tag Archives: entrepreneur

Can I ask a bigger question

Too frequently, we get stuck in a small thinking just because that is where our idea started. An entrepreneur may review is P&L and realize he’s spending too much on hotels when he travels, so asks the question, “how can I pay less for my hotel stays?” That is a fair question but is it big enough. Instead the entrepreneur could ask, “how can I reduce my travel expenses?” The difference in the two questions may not seem like much but they can lead to very different answers. In the first case, then entrepreneur may try to negotiate better pricing or travel on cheaper days. In the larger question, the entrepreneur may question is some trips could be replaced with Skype calls or trips could be combined.

On a personal level, someone trying to get into shape may ask, “how can I make my workouts more intense?” A bigger question might be, “how can I adopt an active lifestyle?”

When you discover an obstacle or opportunity, pause for a few minutes and ask yourself, “can I ask a bigger question?”

Change starts with destruction

The process of intentional change is a simple four step process. First, you explore where you are. Second, you decide where you want to go. Third, you determine strategies and habits that lead you to your destination. Fourth, you implement.

It really is that simple. On paper. In real life there are obstacles, habits and fears. There are prices to be paid and sacrifices to be made. In real life, intentional change is not so easy.

There is an additional step, a prequel step, to take before making intentional change that will help make the rest of the steps easier: destruction.

You must first destroy those things that are holding you in place. Our lives are constructed to maintain the status quo; where we are. Our habits, our relationships and our schedules all reinforce maintaining what we currently do. To make intentional change, we need to destroy some of these bonds that hold us.

Discover vs Defend

I’m reading “How to have a good day” by Caroline Webb. It is too early in the book for me to be able to recommend it but I do enjoy her initial philosophy, namely relying on research and science. While the book title makes it seem like it is about making any day a “good day,” it does seem to be focused more on business professionals and how to have a good day at work.

One thing that jumped out at me early on is her discussion of the discover-defend axis. Basically, this is a manifestation of a primitive part of our brains. We are either in discover mode or defend mode. Discover mode is when we our brains are looking for opportunities for reward. Defend mode is the classic fight-flight-freeze response. Generally speaking, when we are afraid, our brains stop looking for opportunities. Instead it looks for safety.

How does this relate to having a good day? When workers are afraid and are in the corporate version of fight-flight-freeze, they become less creative and unwilling to take risks…….even risks as small as speaking up in a meeting. I can see this in my own work. When there is one or two senior people in a meeting who are intimidating or have a tendency to forcefully challenge other workers, many people in the meeting go into fight-flight-free mentality. People are less likely to explore creative ideas. Solutions become “safer” but not better. People are less likely to point out holes in the plan for fear of being singled out.

So how to turn this information into a “good day” and to make your company more creative and efficient? Carefully choose when to challenge people and when to be supportive. The goal for some meetings, especially early in a project, benefit from risk taking and creative output. For these meetings, don’t let the tone become intimidating or challenging.

New plan

How I work with my clients has evolved over the last couple of years. Originally, I only offered weekly hour long sessions with a mix of live and virtual interactions. However, we covered too much in an hour so that many of my clients felt overwhelmed with the homework they had to do.

I started offering a biweekly hour long call, only via phone. That gave my clients more time to do their homework. Unfortunately, that also meant a loss of accountability. To help with that, I added text and email support between calls. Some clients go for the weekly offering, especially in the beginning but most prefer biweekly.

Now, by client request, I’m adding another option. I’m offering a weekly 30 minute call supported by text and emails in between. The thirty minute format will require that we really stay on task and will help prevent my clients from taking on too much in between sessions. The text/email also adds accountability. I’m really excited about this new option.

Reach out if you are stuck and need someone to help push and drive you out of your slump.

Please share this post. You never know who in your life is floundering and needs a hand or a boot on their behind.

I could . . . . .

14785946578_00c7fb956d_zAfter you do your “I should” exercise, it is time for your “I could” exercise.  Finish the sentence, “If I really tried, I could . . . . . ”  Write at least five different endings to that sentence.  Let your sentences sit for a day and then read them over again.  Which of these sentences are really meaningful to you?  Which ones make you excited when you think about actually accomplishing them?

For those sentences that excite you, ask yourself:

1.) Why haven’t I achieved this already?

2.) What obstacles are holding me back?

3.) Are these really obstacles or excuses?  

4.) What can I do right now to move me towards these goals?

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Picture by Craig Sunter by 2.0


The opposite of “conflict” is not “surrender.”

A new client of mine has always been the peacemaker.  She’s been the one at home and on the job who made things happen by avoiding all conflict.  Now she owns the family business and she still avoids conflict.  When the contractors don’t turn in their reports on schedule, my client will still do whatever is needed to make sure they get paid on time on time.  When an employee doesn’t get important tasks done on time, she’ll simply say to do it now and then will put in extra effort to make sure everything is done and monitored going forward.

Conflicts have been avoided but at what cost?  My client is exhausted.  She knows she should be spending more time developing new business but all of the extra work and interruptions has made it impossible for her.  Avoiding conflict may have helped her avoid small periods where period are unhappy but now she is unhappy pretty much all the time.  It is costing her sanity and business.

Our first task was to show her the cost of conflict avoidance.  Next, we developed a series of processes and rules that made some of the conflicts unnecessary.  Finally, we practiced ways to address a situation where instead of having a conflict with the other person, you recruit them to be part of the solution.  It has only been a few weeks but the small changes are adding up.  At our last session, she told me that she was able to bid on a half-million dollar job that she would have had to pass on without our improvements.  This is only after two sessions.  I can’t wait to see what she is going to be able to accomplish after a couple of months.

Training cats, changing people and other pointless exercises

My clients frequently ask me how to change someone else; an employee, a partner or even their boss.  Unfortunately, you can’t change other people.  It simply can’t be done.  People will only change if they want to change.  They have to want it and want to change more than whatever rewards they are currently getting.

We have a hard enough time trying to change ourselves.  Only 8% of people are successful in achieving their own New Year’s resolution.  It takes most people seven or more attempts to change something about themselves like losing weight or stopping smoking.  Those activities are pretty easy to see and, therefore, are easier to change.  Trying to change something that is more subtle, for example being too negative, is even harder.  If we fail so consistently at changing ourselves, imagine how difficult it is to attempt to change other people.

Attempting to change someone is like attempting to train a cat.  Cats don’t train well.  Cats do want they want and why they want it.  My kids do watch a show, My Cat From Hell, on the Animal Planet.  It stars Jackson Galaxy, a self described cat-behaviorist.  Each episode Jackson goes into two households with completely out of control cats and in two or three visits, he completely trains these cats.  When you study what Jackson does though, he doesn’t train the cat.  He modifies the cat’s environment to encourage the cat to want to change.

Let’s examine what Jackson actually does with the cats.  He follows a pretty consistent technique and gets results nearly every time.

1.) De-stress the environment – The first thing Jackson does if find ways to make the cat less stressed.  Stress causes poor decision making in both cats and people.  Jackson de-stresses the environment by adding kitty little boxes, blocking views of neighborhood cats and adding places where the cat feels protected and safe.  Additionally, Jackson will include outlets for the cat.

2.) Improve communication – Then Jackson teaches the owners how to communicate with the cat.  With cats, communication is largely about body language.

3.) Create routines – For example, play with the cat and then feed the cat.  Routines provide a level of predictability.

4.) Change the payoff – Jackson also provide treats and other rewards for positive behavior.  He also removes incentives for negative behaviors.  The change in the reward system helps make the cat want to do positive behaviors.

While you can’t change your employee or partner, you can use a lot of Jackson’s technique to get different outcomes.  You can not change someone.  You can, however, change the environment and reward system to get different outcomes.

A lot of a little or a little of a lot

Many people attack a challenge with massive effort.  Starting from day one, they drop everything else and commit themselves to the challenge one hundred and ten percent.  This can be anything from someone trying to start a business or beginning a new jogging program by starting out with a five mile run.

The problem with this approach, I have found, is that it lacks sustainability.  Yes.  It is true that some people are successful at making this sudden and intense change but most people fail miserably at it.  The first day or even the first week, they are able to put off all other distractions and summon up intense amount of motivation to make ridiculous amounts of positive changes.  Then the second day comes.  Then the third.  The amount of effort they put in starts to fade.  They frequently think this reduction of effort is a failure, which further dampens their motivation.

Alternatively, people who start small but focus on moving forward a little every day won’t see that initial rush of success.  Their little bits of effort are more sustainable and as their start to see success happen, they are more ready to add a little more effort.  This slow and steady increase of effort quickly leads to larger and larger positive changes.  At the same time, the person has had the time to transition the rest of their lives to include these changes.

My experience and the experiences of my clients has taught me that a little of a lot – that is a little extra effort added every day – yields much better and lasting results than a lot of a little – that is a huge but unsustainable amount of effort.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means – Inigo Montoya

I have worked with a lot of executives and entrepreneurs.  Eventually we start talking about their company’s strategy.  Their strategies frequently talk about being the best or the biggest.  Perhaps their strategy is about penetrating more markets or expanding into new demographics – yes, we are talking about you, Millennials.  The problem with these strategies is that they aren’t strategies.  They are worthy goals and objectives.  They something worthy to work toward.  They just are not strategies.

If you think of goals as “where do we want to go,” then strategies are “how are we going to get there.”  Your goal may be being the best candle maker in the world.  Your strategy then needs to be how are you going to be the best and even how are you going convince the consumer that you are the best.

On one side people confuse goals with strategy.  On the other, people frequently confuse tactics with strategy.  Tactics are the short term, yet incredibly important, tasks that are necessary to execute the strategy.  Sticking to our traveling concept, our goal may be getting to New York.  Our strategy is to fly.  Our tactics are researching plane tickets, buying them, getting someone to housesit, etc.  There is a real danger with confusing tactics with strategy and goals.  In one company, we were attempting to reach people who had never used the brand before.  Our strategy was a friend refer friend program and one of our tactics was a free sampler.  After I left, the program had been edited for expediency and giving out the free sampler was written as a goal.  Tactics were designed around giving out the sampler and the company gave out their entire stock of samplers.  They felt it was a raging success because they accomplished their goal of giving out samplers.  Unfortunately, once the data was reviewed, nearly 90% of the samplers were given to existing customers.  They succeeded in the tactic but failed in the goal.

A third damaging misconception is that strategy and culture are two separate independent things.  Ok, to be fair in some failing companies they are.  In healthy companies, strategy and culture are overlapping and mutually supportive concepts.  A strategy of innovation can not exist without a culture supporting risk taking, thoughtful challenging of status quo and imagination.  A strategy involving powerful customer experiences can not exist without a customer first culture.

The brilliance of McDonald’s “Quarter Pounder”

McDonalds has had the Quarter Pounder on its menu for decades.  It sounds impressive.  A full quarter pound of beef!  While clearly not as impressive the Big Mac, the Quarter Pounder certainly must be a respectable burger. . . . . . . as long as you don’t do the math.  A quarter pound of beef is 4 ounces.  I did a little research and found several BBQ themed sites suggesting that 4 ounces is a typical patty size.  Of course, they go on to say that a single patty burger is good for kids and adults with lighter appetites.  Burger joints and steak houses start to highlight the size of their burgers once they hit 6 to 8 ounces.  So the impressive Quarter Pounder is really more of a typical burger . . . . . at least for kids and adults with lighter appetites.

To be clear, I’m not saying that the 4 ounce burger at McDonalds is brilliant.  It is the name, i.e. “Quarter Pounder,” that is brilliant.  Pound don’t do math, especially at lunch.  Fractions aren’t inherent in our normal thought process.  By giving the 4 ounce burger an impressive sounding name, McDonalds has been able to influence its customer’s thought processes.

Don’t get me wrong.  This post isn’t bashing either McDonald’s food or their manipulative tactics.  I’m a champion of continual learning from any and all sources.  In this case, what can we learn from a McDonald’s burger?  Great question.  From a perspective as a Business Coach, this concept of giving something a name can be a powerful tool for my clients.  It can be used in both positively naming a goal and negatively naming an obstacle.

By naming certain things intentionally and purposefully, we can either empower the positive or weaken the negative.  For example, there is a great video of Tony Robbins working with a stutterer.  Tony has the client visualize the powerful self he wants to be and the client named it “The Warrior.”  The client assigned every positive thing he wanted to be into The Warrior.  When the client felt weak, he would remind himself that he was The Warrior.  In a similar way, clients can name their procrastinating tendencies and when they feel they are procrastinating, they can tell themselves to stop being . . . . . whatever they named those tendencies.