Important, but not urgent

Most of us start the week with a to-do list that we can’t complete, so the natural tendency is to tackle the most time-sensitive tasks first. However, when it comes to achieving your long term goals, the secret is to prioritize by importance instead of urgency.

Audacious goals like making a career change, learning a new skill, or losing weight require a series of mission-critical action steps. Today, rewriting your resume, signing up for a class, or going for a jog are not urgent. If you wait until they become so, it will be too late.

What customers want

Sometimes it can feel like your customers want you to be perfect, but they don’t. They simply want you to keep your promises. While it’s tempting to make any assurance necessary to get the next sale, don’t do it. If you promise them the world, you’re destined to disappoint them.

Instead of telling customers what they want to hear, be clear about what your product or service can and, more importantly, can’t deliver. In the long run, the promises you keep will earn you a tribe of loyal customers that far outweighs the ones that got away.

Are you doing hard work, or just working hard?

A mentor once suggested that I was working too hard, and could be achieving ten times the results all while working less. As my business grew, I came to understand what she meant. Success requires doing hard work, but not necessarily working hard.

The two are often confused; the key distinction being that hard work necessitates courage and skill rather than time and toil. Take, for example, making a difficult decision, having an uncomfortable conversation, or facing your greatest fear: examples of hard work that can be accomplished in an instant.

Persistence or insanity?

When I fail to meet a goal, there are four possible reasons:

I didn’t make a plan. What’s that saying about failing to plan…?

I didn’t follow my plan. I did none of it, or some of it, but basically I didn’t do what I said I would.

My plan didn’t work. I followed it to a T, but the results didn’t match.

I didn’t want it badly enough. This is common, and the hardest to admit.

The difference between persistence and insanity is understanding why you failed, without placing blame, then adjusting accordingly and moving forward.

Means vs. Ends

Great leaders obsess over the end, not the means. Process is important, but you should only care as much as is necessary to get your team moving towards a specific, positive outcome that solves a problem.

To be rigidly fixated on a particular tactic is to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Concern yourself about who will get credit in the end, and get ready for political infighting and bickering.

Everyone on the team must be obsessed with solving the problem. With that foundation, the possibilities are endless, and the overall chances of success are much greater.

The Value of Ignorance

As an entrepreneur, Richard Branson has started an airline, a record label, a cellular provider, a car company, and another that builds rocket ships (among many, many more).

He has never piloted a jumbo jet or spaceship. He doesn’t bust out his toolbox and start building cars and cell towers, and I’d bet he doesn’t know the first thing about sound mixers.

He reportedly chose the Virgin name because, in every industry he enters, Richard Branson revels in being an outsider with a fresh perspective.

Ignorance can be valuable if you know how to use it.

Photo: “Sir Richard Branson – WE Day Vancouver 2011” (c) 2013 Kris Krüg, from Flickr. See License.

Sanity check

When I get a new idea, I take a moment to get excited, giggle, do a happy dance- whatever I need to get over the initial exuberance.

Then it’s time to ask myself whether the idea is truly worthy of consuming some of my precious time here on earth. In our fledgling e-commerce business, we run every new product idea through a series of written sanity checklists to expose it at all angles.

It’s easy to be twitterpated by the excitement. We have a useful (if somewhat crass) mantra that helps: Don’t be afraid to kill your babies.

Leaders and kings

We often erroneously refer to those in charge as leaders, but having authority doesn’t make you a leader, it makes you the king. Let’s not confuse the two.

Leaders have followers, not subjects.

Leadership is earned, not anointed.

Leaders seek cooperation through shared interests instead of force.

They have the self-confidence to accept responsibility when things go wrong.

Leaders exhibit self-control.

A king who’s not a true leader will go down in history as being a toothless tyrant. Leaders leave behind a roadmap for future generations to improve their quality of life by learning from past mistakes.

Four ways to face obstacles

When met with an obstacle, there are four ways to react:

  1. Go around. Find a new path to get you to your ultimate goal.
  2. Plow ahead. Go hard and commit to persevere no matter what happens.
  3. Retreat away. Return from whence you came.
  4. Wait. Maybe things will clear up on their own?

They are sorted in order from hardest to easiest.

…and from least common to most prevalent.

…and from least likely to be regretted to most regrettable.

Obstacles are the gatekeepers of your goal, so see them as evidence that you’re one step closer.

Rocket science

I can see why people use the word “launch” to describe starting a business- it’s complex, risky, and is usually a pretty bumpy ride. However, I liken the experience more to building a rocket ship while in mid-flight.

Launching a rocket (I imagine) demands preparation for every scenario imaginable. No expense is spared since most failures are catastrophic.

Building a business, on the other hand, doesn’t offer the same luxury. It’s a clumsy process of building each piece just in time for when it’s needed. Thankfully, most failures are not catastrophic, and a welcome part of the process.