Saturday, July 30, 2011

...from Rocky Balboa

We all have a shot at the greatest title in the world, just like Rocky Balboa, the classic story of the underdog fighter who had the will and heart to win. After all, if a fictional character can be named 7th greatest movie hero of all times and get inducted into a real-life hall of fame, why couldn’t we?
The Oscar winning franchise, written and stared by Sylvester Stallone, began in 1975 and has raised a generation with lessons on life and winning. Over the last week, I watched the entire Rocky marathon to see what we could learn from The Italian Stallion on business.

Get a feel for the original movie with this quick recap on the MGM might also want to hear the soundtrack while reading through this blog...

The Ten Things I Learned…from Rocky Balboa

1. Give others an opportunity
Rocky didn’t fight his way to fame, he was chosen first. The movie franchise begins with the current boxing champion, Apollo Creed stating he’d like to give “a local Philadelphia boy a shot at the greatest title in the world…” Sadly, Rocky was chosen from a list by the sound of his nickname “The Italian Stallion” and not his skills. Nonetheless, he put on a great fight. Give people a chance to succeed in your business, but choose them on demonstrated skills not on the appeal of their nickname.

2. Define what it is to win
In boxing, you’d think winning means knocking down your opponent. For Rocky, in his first movie, it was about “going the distance”, which meant lasting all 15 rounds with Apollo Creed, the world champion. Winning shouldn’t be what others define it to be, it’s a goal you set for yourself. Define what will make you a winner and ignore preconceived definitions of it.

3. Learn to work with limited resources
Rocky didn’t have it all growing up in the troubled Philadelphia neighborhood. He trained in the streets and the local meat packing industry. Who could forget the classic scenes of Rocky training in the meat freezer? By Rocky IV, he trains in the Siberian outdoors, while his Russian opponent trains with the finest technology and steroids. Essentially, you can’t expect to always have the best tools at work, learn to work with –and appreciate - what you have and let determination do the rest.

4. Size doesn’t matter
The classic tale of David and Goliath was retold in Rocky IV when the champ had to fight Russian Ivan Drago who was half a foot taller and 60lbs heavier. Movie Spoiler: Rocky kicks his butt despite his size. Many of us are employed at smaller companies constantly battling the larger competitor, but when there is a will to win, there is a chance. Boxing is 90% in the skull, according to his trainer Mickey.  You need to learn to outsmart them with skills, speed, and determination.

5. Turn a weakness into a strength
Early in the franchise, we learn that Rocky is a “southpaw” a boxing term that means he was a left-handed boxer. By Rocky II, Mickey’s strategy was to develop his right hand to throw off Apollo in their rematch. Overcoming his weakness made him the heavyweight champion of the world, a title he kept against 10 more challengers. Develop your weaknesses into strengths to win at work. Like Apollo, your coworkers and bosses won’t know what hit them.

6. Do what you do best
When Adrian asks Rocky why he fights, he innocently answers “I fight because I can’t sing or dance” Throughout the story line, he tries different jobs – staring in commercials, cleaning the local meat industry – but recognizes fighting is all he knows, it’s what his best at. Ask yourself if you are doing what you do best. Never lose sight that you too are a fighter, and you pick the ring.

7. Motivate someone
The first couple of movies follow a similar story line, Rocky trains unfocused with some fear, anxiety, and disbelief until someone -mostly his wife Adrian but his trainer Mickey too – motivates him to win with some touching deep speech. At this point, “Eye of the Tiger” kicks in and real training begins. Even the strongest champs need someone by their side to motivate them. As a coach, boss, husband or wife, include motivating others in your everyday tasks, give others the confidence and skills they need to succeed.

8. Don’t leave important things & people unattended
By Rocky V, the champ retires and takes on a Tommy Gunn as a protégé. While he trains “The Machine Gun”, Rocky losses sight of his family, but more importantly his son. He gets so wrapped up in winning through Tommy’s fights, that he fails to realize what Adrian later confessed “you’re losing us, you’re losing your family” We are all guilty of working extra hours at the expense of leaving our loved ones unattended. Winning is really about finding the right balance between your corporate battle and being a champion at home.

9. Don’t point fingers
Thirty years after the first movie, the story ends with Rocky Balboa – the 6th and final film. In it, the retired 50+ year old fighter reconsiders going back to the ring. His son Robert is struggling in the corporate world and blames Rocky for being a shadow over him. Rocky comes back with the most memorable speed of the series, and one lesson that captures it all “go on and get what you’re worth, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him or her…” To me and you, it means taking accountability of our corporate lives and not blaming others for our misfortunes at work.

10. Overcome difficult obstacles – life’s toughest lessons are outside the ring.
Throughout all six movies, Rocky faces difficult times in and outside the ring - losing his trainer Mickey to heart failure, his friend Apollo to a steroid-enhanced opponent, and his wife Adrian to cancer. Add to that list getting punched for endless rounds from Apollo, Clubber, Ivan, Tommy, and more. But the wisest lessons learned in the 6th film was his memorable speed “It's not about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward…that’s how winning is done” You can’t avoid obstacles at work, but you can overcome them to end every scene in your life being a winner.  Don’t take it from me. See the moving lesson on Youtube

I'd like to end with a line from Rocky III when they revealed his bronze statue at the Philadelphia’s Art Museum, “every once in a while a person comes along who defies the odds, who defies logic, and fulfills an incredible dream.” Be that person.

I can’t believe how many lessons I learned from a fictional boxer, and how difficult it was to narrow it to just ten, but that’s the name of my site. Nothing stops my followers from sharing their 11th below. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

...playing Texas Hold'em

Sport analogies are common in the business world, from the lessons in team sports to strategic thinking in chess. This blog looks at a more unconventional one: Texas Hold'em.

This version of Poker has gained some popularity since the 2000s as it’s been more and more televised. Today, it’s become the most popular casino game.

Finding business lessons in cards is a move away from my more traditional blogs on places and personalities; in short, it's a gamble.

The Ten Things I learned…playing Texas Hold’em

1. Set a spending budget
Before starting any gambling, make sure to set a budget and stick to it, otherwise you’ll find yourself broke pretty quickly. Like in business, for any new risky investment, set a spending budget and track against it. If you’re getting a positive return keep playing! If you’ve reached bottom, step out. 

2. Practice in a safe environment
These days, online Poker allows everyone to become familiar with the game and practice their strategies in a risk-free and affordable environment – not to mention the fun. Before starting a new business or launching a risky new product, test your ideas out in smaller markets to become comfortable with how the business game is played -you might want to walk before you run.

3. Be ready to go "all in"
In Texas Hold'em you have four opportunities to place your bets, but at any point - and depending on your chances - be ready to go "all in", an expression and move that requires you to bet everything you have on the table. At work, if you have the pair of aces, you might want to take the risk to go all in, but even with the best cards, there's always a chance you can lose. 

4. Reconsider your moves
As the game progresses, new cards are dealt on the table, from the first three ("the flop") to the next two ("the turn" and the "river") you are given the option to reconsider your move and bets. As in Poker, in every business decision you get a new chance to bet, raise, check, or fold.

5. Understand the probabilities of success
Every combination of cards has a different chance of winning, beginning with the first two in your hand, to the subsequent five dealt on the table. In the end, you’re looking to collect the strongest 5 cards from a particular Poker ranking. At work, we are given new information constantly, like cards dealt on a table, consider your decisions carefully and the probabilities of a successful outcome.

6. Study your competition's moves
Competitors go a long way to put on a "poker face" in professional games. The most interesting ones are the over-the-top glasses, hats, and earphones seen on live TV championships. Winning comes down to outsmarting your competition; like in chess, outsmarting them rests on understanding their moves.

7. Know when to walk away
Poker gives you the option to "fold" at any point and turn in your cards. Unfortunately your bets so far go with them. Sometimes at work we aren’t dealt the most favorable cards, be wise on how to play them or whether to play them at all. 

8. Avoid distractions
The most fun I've had playing the game has been with good friends, good food, and good drinks, but my seriousness increases proportionately with the budget and the risk of the game. Concentrating becomes particularly difficult when you’re having a good time – especially in Vegas with the never ending slot machines sounding in the background. Find room to concentrate on what you're doing, it's probably important.

9. Don’t be afraid to play with the big guys
When you are ready, take some risks at professional tables. I did it in my last visit to Vegas and more than doubled my starting budget. We've all heard before if you want to win big you have to play big. Bring that principle to work each day. 

10. Change if it’s not your thing
Lastly, Texas Hold'em isn’t for everyone. If it’s not your game go ahead and change tables. Similarly, ask yourself if your job is your game. If it is, go all in...If not, consider folding and changing the game.

Each day we go to work we place a new bet. Like in any tournament only a few win the big prize, those who have a strategy, take the risks, and play big. So place some chips on the table, play the right hands, and have no-limits.

Monday, July 11, 2011

...from Professional Photography

Everyone takes pictures but only a select few make it to the list of top photographers and land their dream job on National Geographic. Like in our jobs, those professionals also compete to get recognized and rewarded. Although for some it’s a lucky shot, for most it’s a studied and practiced profession. I’ve taken an interest in photography and, most recently, made it a hobby to become better. I’ve come a long way, from almost returning my new DSLR after a disappointing photo shoot in Paris to testing the waters in a National Geographic online contest.

This is the practical guide of lessons learned while taking pictures - uncropped and unedited.

The Ten Things I Learned…from Professional Photography

1. Planning and patience gets you the perfect moment
The best photographers sit patiently for the perfect sunset, the unexpected animal sprint, or for that annoying tourist to move. The perfect shots you and I see weren’t just lucky, for the most part, they were planned and required patience. In your career, plan for that perfect spot and word hard - be patient getting there, the sunrise will be worth the wait.

2. Practice to get perfect
I’ve read professional photographers take thousands of pictures to get that perfect one we see. In sports, hundreds go unpublished waiting for the exact moment in which a baseball touches the bat. The days of 12, 24, and 36 count films are gone, and digital cameras let you practice. Like anything in life, to be good at what you do at work, you need to practice.

3. Perfect only your best work
When photographers get that perfect picture – out of a thousand – they fine tune it using Photoshop or some other editing software. Alterations can range from cropping and color balance to complicated techniques I wouldn’t even know how to describe. Interestingly, they don’t have this level of involvement with every picture, only their best. Put your finest effort in your best work to make it perfect; for everything else, cropping and color-balancing will do. 

4. See things through a different lens
I stood in chilling silence watching the sun rise over Ayers Rock in the Australian outback, thinking what I had in my view was picture-perfect until a gentleman asked me to take his picture with his fancier camera. The wide angle provided a completely different perspective; it captured an entire different scene just steps away from mine, and my hobby was born. When it comes to your job, see things through other people’s eyes, more commonly expressed as “walk in other people’s shoes”.

5. Focus
An obvious analogy to business lessons, a simple action that unfortunately isn’t put into practice enough in today’s business world. Today’s more sophisticated cameras let you chose what to focus on, and it’s amazing how in seconds you can shift from a bouquet to a single foreground rose. Depending on your business circumstance, change your focus to get a crystal clear image of what it is you want to see and click forward.

6. Be curious
Hobbies let you explore your creative side; in music, painting, and reading everyone can add their unique touch. Photography, and your job, is no different. Like a photographer playing with lighting, speed, angles, and moments, to capture that one-of-a-kind image, you too should explore your creative side and kindle your curiosity at work.

7. Observe others
So maybe you’re not be that creative, no problem, copy others who are. We’re all guilty of taking pictures of scenes we’ve seen before and although we don’t get the credit, it helps us practice the skill and understand our limitations. In today’s world, learn new skills by observing them in others.

8. Smile
No portrait is complete without a cheerful photographer saying “smile”. It’s another simple instruction that goes unused in many business situations. Your most important moments in life were captured with a smile: your birthdays, your graduation, your wedding. Turn your business meetings, although difficult sometimes, into important moments and smile, it’s contagious.

9. Use the right technique for the right moment
Ever wondered what all those buttons on your DSLR camera do? How is AV different than TV? And when do I use P? Trust me they all have a purpose and different results - whether it takes pictures faster, wider, clearer, sharper, or more. Put into practice different leadership styles to match the right situation. Like a dial on a camera, you too can switch from coaching to motivating to providing constructive criticism.

10. Take some chances
I’m realistic with my photographic skills but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming – only that dreaming doesn’t get me anywhere. Actions do. I submitted some pictures to a National Geographic Online Contest pretty certain that I wouldn’t win…but what if I did? I cautiously paid a fee to take a chance, but it’s a personal win nonetheless. You win with every chance you take.

There’s a camera terminology called depth-of-field which describes how much of the scene appears sharp. Hopefully this blog expanded your depth-of-field of business and you now have a much broader & clearer picture of some skills needed for your perfect shot.

Check out some of my favorite pictures on The Ten Things I Learned Facebook Site and become a fan.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

...Following The News

News channels can be a great source of information. On them, you’ll learn anything from global changes to your local daily weather. With so many channels, you are given the option to choose what you want to see, and with that, what you want to learn each day. Today’s blog bulletin comes from newscasters, programing, and its technology. These are the lessons that happen behind the scenes and are brought to you live each day.  
This just in: there are business lessons for you and me in news channels too.

The Ten Things I Learned…Following The News

1. Keep broad news topline
Great communication comes down to a simple rule, keeping it simple. Unfortunately, some news channels overwhelm us with useless information instead of focusing on meaningful reports.  Unless we are the jurors on the trial, we don’t need the information overload, just what happened and the outcome. Keep your broader messages topline and let the details get their timeslot in another show.

2. When presenting, know the subject and the upcoming slides
Weather men could teach us a lesson or two on presentation skills. It’s like standing in front of a large slideshow on the hour, every hour.  For starters, they are proficient in the subject, knowing everything there is on meteorology. Second, they’re always prepared to transition smoothly to that next slide. When presenting, know your subject well by practicing your slides and memorize what’s coming next. 

3. Multitasking without losing control
When Marty McFly, turned on six channels in his version of the future on Back To The Future 2, I thought that would be cool but impossible to follow, but I was just a kid. These days, thanks to DirecTV, I can do the same and switch audio back-and-forth to the channels I care to follow all at the touch of a control. At work, multitask while staying in control. Take a break from Excel to make a call, send an email, and go get water, and then come back to finish that painful spreadsheet.
4. Keep a global perspective
News channels let us see how the world is becoming more and more interconnected each day, how events in one country kick start movements in others. Like the wave in a football stadium, we have synchronized movements that come to a stop when a whole section isn’t watching. No matter your business size, leave a positive global impact around the world, from the brands you sell, the communities you help, to the donations you should be making.

5. Share relevant information
Here’s where blogging allows me to be personal:  I honestly don’t care about Lindsey or Charlie, especially when it comes at the expense of learning what’s happening in my area, my town, or even the world.  In a business environment, keep your topics to what’s relevant to your people. Change the conversation from unimportant issues to the ones that truly affect your employee’s lives

6. Use charismatic speakers that don’t alienate.
Frankly, I’m not a huge fan of guys yelling which stocks to buy, nor sarcastic interviewers looking to embarrass their guests, nor presenters that remind me of Droopy, Eeyore, or Sleepy Smurf delivering the job loss reports. In your business, if you have something important to say, get your strongest and most charismatic speaker to say it, otherwise you’re losing ratings.

7. Be relevant to your target and remain inclusive with secondary targets.
As I surf news channels for that perfect balance of information, I’ll sometimes switch to Univision. Being Hispanic, it lets me learn what’s happening in that community too. I value how they stay true to a mainly Mexican-American target, but wonder how many other cultures go unrepresented.  In marketing to your customers stay true to your target, but remain relevant and include others who share similar interests.

8. Let people decide what they want to hear
Where newspapers have an advantage over 24hr news channels is that they let us flip back and forth between pages to find what’s relevant to each one. Similarly, Goggle News provides a quick snapshot and lets us click on what we want to read, better yet, it allows us to switch between countries and languages. At work, consider a communication vehicle that allows people to choose what they’d want to learn. Consider a website or email with customizable company communications.   

9. Provide a 24 hour service.
Not finding that perfect channel is no excuse to remain uninformed. News is available 24hours online on websites, twitter, facebook, and smartphone apps. The challenge now is learning those means and finding the time to read them. Be accessible to your customers 24-7, in many cases information can’t wait till your next day’s office hours.

10. Balance information and entertainment - there is a place for both. 
Not every news has to be so serious, and that’s where comedy comes in - for those who like it. There’s a place for formal news reporting, and another for making fun of it. TV found a way to bring comic relief through late night shows like Letterman and Leno, and in a more news-like format like Comedy Central’s Daily Show and Colbert Report.  Balance your more serious messages with some respectful comedic relief, but be considerate of the place and time to do so.

Spread the news: there are business lessons every place we look, including the news, reporting live from The Ten Things I, this is Ricardo Aranda saying tune in next time for more business tips taken from the real world.