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Let's talk

I keep hearing that western countries like the UK and US are hopelessly polarized at this moment, with regular people unable to engage in nuanced discourse and disagree in a healthy way.
Well, I would like to push back on that. I invite people in my social sphere to join me.
Maybe this polarization is evident in comments sections on the internet or in people who make their political views their very moorings in reality and (understandably) therefore can't stand to have them prodded. But I think many of us are perfectly capable of holding a civil conversation, even on messy topics.
I've been thinking about why people like Sam Harris, Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson command such large audiences. Part of it may be they offer long form, nuanced discussion, with no small amount of humor. They respect each other and their audiences. And they don't prostrate themselves before noisy radicals. I regard much of the news cycle (and the newsfeed) as relentless, belligerent noise. They offe…

Avoiding the news cycle

It has been said that if you read yesterday's news you will see it turned out to be nonsense. We might then infer the same about today's news. 

I make a conscious effort to avoid the news cycle. It makes me angry and frightened. Instead, I focus on things within my circle of control (check out Mr Money Mustache's fabulous piece on this concept).

Basic self care, tending to your relationships and the work day are quite enough for me. This may sound banal compared with fevered rhetoric about saving the planet, restructuring our societies and so on. But the more of us that keep what's in our purview in check, the better for our wider community.

To me that seems a good way of bettering our world across time. And in the immediate term you might just be a little less stressed out.

Linchpins in action

Some people can't help but light up their stage, whatever it may be. They are invaluable because they make life wonderful. They prompt passers-by and customers like myself to remember and spread the word, long after the fact.
My library use their 'community corner' to exhibit books on a particular theme each week, such as 'Traveling in Asia' or 'Cooking for Beginners'. On a recent visit I saw they were between exhibits. No display. Only a table with empty book holders. But they put up a sign: 'Next week we will have an exciting new display in place. For now, please enjoy our collection of invisible books'. I passed a pub in Galway, Ireland with a sign for non customers: 'You can use our toilets, but please make a £1 donation to our chosen charity at the bar'.In line at a Pret a Manger. A miffed customer ahead of us turns and pushes past my friend, muttering darkly. The barista gives my friend a coffee on the house. 'I'm sorry about th…

Artistry and being indispensable

I aspire to be an artist in my work. It's a lofty claim, and one that leaves me open to derision. But I mean it.

I mean it, because in my work I endeavor to surprise and delight people - to take projects beyond the baseline expectation and create value. And on a good day this might affect someone. It might change them. It might challenge them. And that is what art does.

I learned this ethos from Seth Godin, perhaps the most influential marketer and business writer in the world. I think his attitude is downright terrific (I get a hit of Seth-ism every day from his blog).

He writes in Linchpin:'people do their art where they find it'. Shakespeare did not create the play, he wrote them because that was the sort of thing available for reinvention at the time. I don't think Elon Musk was born to transform payments systems. He was just born to transform things, period. Folks like that do astounding things across time. They pick up where the previous generation left off.

Shak…

The 'kernel' of good strategy

Strategy can be an elusive thing to define, in part because we are all given to using the word loosely in casual conversation, muddying its precise meaning. But when it comes to crafting good strategy, an imperfect grasp on the concept is problematic.

Online you can find a scrum of jostling definitions which are, if not outright contradictory, certainly wrench the locus of meaning back and forth, like tipsy suitors vying for the attention of a damsel on the dance floor.

Just to cause trouble, I'll toss a further definition into the mix:

Strategy is an articulation of how a business will get to a desired point by way of identifying obstacles, deciding on an approach for dealing with them (in keeping with your strengths and resources), and setting out actions.

It ought not wax philosophical (like a vision or mission statement), nor does it get into the operational weeds (tactics).

A popular read for those seeking to spot strategy on sight (or indeed the absence of a strategy) and cr…

Why do business?

Why do business? It's worth thinking about. We spend a lot of time working.

Sure, as George Bush put it, you need to 'put food on your family'.
But beyond this?

Here's two reasons:
1) business can be an agent of civility, cooperation and trust
2) business can be art

Business as an agent of civility, cooperation and trust...
On a recent visit to Belfast, a city once plagued by sectarian violence, I learned something remarkable. On its darkest days, after a bomb explosion or a riot or abduction had left the high street ashen, small business owners would signal they were open by displaying signs reading 'Business As Usual'.  Business as usual.

It's a hell of a gesture. With shards of glass on the ground, armed soldiers on patrol and civility flagging. Business as usual. It means means something like...we're not having that. Its a community's refusal to be be capsized by frenzied radicals. A resolve to show up and transact. We aspire to civility and trus…

On the 80/20 principle

In any given context, “a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually leads to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards.” 

This is observable everywhere in life. 

Therefore if you pay attention to your efforts and results, you can single out the critical minority of things having the greatest effect, and drop the time consuming, ineffectual majority of efforts giving you little joy. 

Parkinson's Law is also worth bringing up here. Work expands to meet the time you have to do it. That's quite a double whammy. If you show up having decided preemptively to work eight hours or more, and get bogged down in the less effective inputs in whatever you are working on, it is easy to see how you can spend a lifetime doing not that much. 

The inverse of this is powerful. If you constrain how long you have to do something (set ambitious deadlines and work in a focused manner within that timespan) and tend toward the more critical inputs, you'll do a lot in very little time. 

Alan Weiss on getting started in consulting

Weiss is author of Million Dollar Consulting and Getting Started in Consulting, two landmark reads in the consulting space. I sought to distil some of his key advice to inform how I can offer my consulting services, and thought it might be helpful to share.  

Assert yourself as equal
Weiss notes that many people feel like imposters going into firms. As such, they prostrate themselves in some way - they look for approval and start to act like employees. This is not helpful. You need to assert yourself as an equal to management. Because part of your role will be to challenge management. How you comport yourself vital. 

Relationships and handling rejection
Weiss stresses the importance of relationships - the lifeblood of his business. The relationships you need to strike up are with buyers within companies i.e. folks with the cause and budget to hire you. So not HR and so on. You need to come to be able to handle rejection and build a resilience and esteem. Failing does not make you a failur…

Best practice (advice for friends)

What are the practices that have been most helpful for me that I would recommend to my friends?

Abandon social media (makes you feel not good enough)

Stop watching/reading the news (makes your world feel not good enough)

Adopt financial planning, even at its simplest. Budget weekly or monthly. Articulate your financial goals. Be deliberate about where you put your savings

Play a sport - it's important to practice fair play

Simplify your life; inventory your stuff, cull the things you don't value. I own: two capsule wardrobes (business and casual), a guitar, a bike and a laptop. That's it. 

Write for 10 minutes every day about anything at all, simply so you can think about something properly

If unwilling to pray or engage with anything explicitly religious, explore adding at least some element of spirituality into your life...perhaps 10 minutes of reflection and gratitude

Resist the temptation to be a victim and take at least some responsibility for the suffering that comes your wa…

A mantra for life

Here is a mantra I have been developing to guide me in work and life. 

Shun victimhood and cynicism.
Seek out truth and joy. 
Be grateful every day.

Here's why: 

Victimhood is ugly and unhelpful. 
Cynicism is ugly and unhelpful. 
They do not better a situation nor endear you to anyone worth endearing yourself to.
But they are prevalent and easily lapsed into. So it's best to be conscious of this and avoid these states. 

Truth is a tricky one. It is hard to know what is true and by what measure. But some things seem quite certainly to be false. They are the behaviors and convictions that seem to not work in some way in the world. Some grand judiciary of all things deems them...lesser. And if we are to accept this of some things, then we may seek out whatever is opposite to them. And that points to where truth might be. 

Joy is an agent of transcendence. Soul food. Happiness is this, here, for now. It abandons ship the moment clouds gather. Joy is possible whatever your fortunes. 

Practice…