Thursday, June 28, 2012

...from Sports Psychology

Sports competitions are the perfect place to look for business lessons, and none more intriguing than the place that gathers only the top of the top: The 2012 Olympics.

With the event quickly approaching London, I wanted to understand what it takes to become a business Olympian.

Participating at a CCL training in Colorado Springs, home of one of three USA Olympic Training Sites, I met Roberta Kraus, Vice President at the Center for Sports Psychology.

 A quick phone interview with her gave me a glimpse of what it takes, besides muscles and practice, to prepare psychologically to compete in the world’s toughest competition.

The Ten Things I Learned from Sports Psychology

1. Set your own goals
There’s a difference among athletes: there’s those who want to break a record, those who want to get a medal, and those who are content with just making it to the Olympics. Achieving any of those goals is the same thrill for each one of them. Across those groups, there’s people who become satisfied and others who are always raising the bar, repeating to themselves “I’m good, I’m getting better, but I have to be the best.” Set the career goals to get to where you’ll be satisfied, and go after it. Becoming CEO might not be for everyone, making it on the team might be just as rewarding for you.   

2. Recovery is an integral part of training
Athletes who work too hard tend to get over trained and burnt. Constantly pushing beyond the limits risks mental stability and might result in “Staleness Syndrome” the point at which your irritable, angry, exhausted self can’t perform at its best. Top performing competitors know when to say enough and take time off. Like with weight lifting, it’s the rest that creates the muscle. Balance your work with enough breaks, personal time, and vacation days to make sure you come back mentally strong to continue the corporate race.

3. Build your confidence to improve your performance
Confident players make it to the “Flow Zone” a mental place of complete focused motivation, where winners leave all others behind. Every Olympian can have the same strength, skills, and practice levels, but it’s those who focus that win. Build your business confidence by repeating experiences often, looking for training, and keeping your focus. The better you get at your job, the further you’ll get.

4. Have the right performers on the team
In the team events at the Olympics, there’s potentially nothing more important than having the right performers on the team. It’s more than their skills and strength, it includes being on the same page, perfecting their team dynamics, sharing the same goals, and resolving difference upfront – only then will you have a team that is set for success. At work, build the right teams for your company’s projects, help build the dynamics and set shared goals for them.   

5. Mental ability is what differentiates top performers
There’s no denying the benefits of hard work and practice, but mental training is what sets the best from the rest. At the Olympics, participants rarely lack the skills to win, it’s the lack of focus, leadership, concentration that can slow them down to lose only by less than a second. At work, you most probably share the spotlight with other employees of a similar training and skills. Leverage your mental abilities by showing focus, leadership, teamwork, and more to stand out from them. 

6. Eliminate negative thoughts
There are two types of competitors, the ones with a desire for success and the ones with a fear of failure. A negative mindset – “what if I fall? what if I can’t?” – distracts you from wining every time. Those trained in positive self talk build the much needed confidence and repeat the right cue words to keep them moving forward. In the end, a statement as simple as “you go hard, you stick, you reach up high, you stay” is what helped Mary Lou Retton get the gold. In your office, stay away from negative influence and words that can bring you down. Find the inner, and sometimes outer, motivation and coaching to keep you fighting. 

7. Visualize success instead of playing it back 
An important difference between athletes and business people, is that the first group use imagery to feel success prior to the games, a technique called “Mental Rehearsal.” Business people, on the other hand play it back after the fact – like debriefing on how a meeting went. Sports participants focus on the performance, the feelings, rather than the outcome. Interestingly, Roberta starts her sessions by asking the participant every time “Are you here today because you are aspiring to take home the gold medal in the 2012 Olympics?” Practice asking yourself something similarly every day you walk into work and visualize success early instead of playing it back later that night.

8. Focus on your strengths and manage your weaknesses
Athletes perform at their best when they take advantage of their strengths rather than get distracted by their weaknesses – the latter most probably won’t go away. The champions are the ones who using their strengths overcome their weakness. If you run fast but don’t jump high how do you leverage your strong running differently? Unfortunately at work, most development plans are focused on fixing people’s weaknesses rather than building on employee’s strengths. Take the initiative to change that in you, your direct reports, and within your circle have them focus on their strengths and make them stronger.  

9. Love what you do
Roberta shared an interesting story about a book signing event for the Women’s Hockey Team. A young kid looking for an autograph asked “how can you do it?” to which a player replied “I love doing it” Within her advice, and related to the recovery and rest lesson, balance loving your work with a “Just Enough” principle which entails learning when to balance the sport with the burnout. Do what you love at work or else you’ll have to face physical and more importantly mental burn out. 

10. Plan for what happens next
For many participants, they know this is their last Olympics. In an event that occurs only every 4 years, there’s a narrow age and physical window to compete at. So, athletes began planning for what’s next. A technique they use is asking themselves “what will I miss the most?” which helps them get at what they’re passionate about and turning that descriptor into a job search key word. Fortunately, many sponsors are also there to fall back on. In our office, we tend to focus on today, the next quarter, the fiscal year end but not on what comes after all of this. Start planning on what that retirement looks like and the things you’ll miss the most to turn those into the hobbies you’ll enjoy onward.   

The corporate world was made to compete and it’s an untelevised daily event. The skills and training learned in school get you on the team but it’s the mental abilities that get you ahead.

There’s more to life than winning medals. For many its having gone to the games, for others the fame and fortune obtained through sponsors, and for others the feeling of achievement after all the hard work. Find your finish line and let the games begin!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

...Buying a Home

At work, as in life, you’ll have to make some very important decisions. Only none of them will come as close to home as literally buying one.

The anxiety felt with any risky investment is unmatched with the feeling when it’s your name on the check - and not your company’s.

So maybe the next time you’re faced with making high level business decisions, you could look at some Home Buying Tips to help you through them.  

The Ten Things I Learned Buying a Home

1. Define a target and goal
When buying a home each of us place a great deal importance on different things, starting with the location, to the school, to the finishes in every room. Before beginning a home search, you probably take a minute (or twenty) to write down the things you’re looking for - which, ultimately, should help your search. In your office environment, you need to be clear what it is you want before going to get it- simply put, it’s having a clear target and goals.

2. Aligning with others
Buying a home may sometimes bind you into the ultimate partnership. Although many might buy their first home as a “sole proprietor” straight out of college, most probably sign up as a team with their spouse or significant other. Gaining alignment with that other investor will be crucial to keep the partnership strong. At work, maintain your business relationships healthy through alignment, setting those clear goals, and working collaboratively towards them. 

3. Search for advice to broaden your perspective
After you’ve set your goals and aligned with your partner, you might want to run the idea by others who’ve gone through similar situations - like friends and family who’ve bought a home and had to run the same investment exercise. Ask around for their help to broaden your perspective. In work, there are endless options of business support you can count on for advice and perspective – your peer, your mentors, your boss, and theirs. Remember in most cases, they probably have faced similar decisions to those you need to make.   

4. Consider alternatives
Focusing in on a home too quickly can potentially leave out better options. Although you should be focused and selective on what you are pursuing, don’t leave aside alternative options by deciding too soon. By staying single-minded you have pre-chosen the path. Home buying is just one solution to the situation better defined as “needing a place to live”. If you take a step back and consider renting or building your options just grew. Consider broader alternatives when deciding at work. It’s not whether you should do A or B, it’s whether you’re looking at the right alphabet altogether.

5. Be selective
Now, the opposite of considering alternatives is being selective. Many times you’ll be tempted to make decisions that go against your original goal – like buying a home bigger than what you truly need. So after considering your alternatives, narrow down the options to those that best match your goal and lock in on your dream home. At work, you can spend too much time deviating around big ideas that take you down different paths. Always come back to your main goal and check before you decide. But make sure you decide.

6. Ask for help from the experts
Unless you are in the real estate field, buying homes probably isn’t your expertise. For a time, you’ll have to maintain your current job, your personal life, and balance an additional project – an expensive one too. You shouldn’t expect to know it all, so rely on those who do: the realtors whose job it is. In your business environment don’t be shy – or cheap – to ask for help. It can come in many ways, from bosses and peers to some of the fanciest and most expensive business consultants.

7. Revisit your decisions
By now you should be convinced that buying a home is an important – and risky – decision so make sure it’s the right one. Don’t be too quick to decide and take your time visiting over and over again; asking once and another time, until you are certain you are ready to go. At work, ask yourself, and ask others, over and over again until you have all the information you need to make the final decision.

8. Make others work for your business
Unless you have a lot of money sitting around, you’ll need to work with a bank for that large home investment. It’s a great opportunity to shop around for the best terms and rates and have them match and beat each other for a result that benefits you. It’s a simple call away to ask that second bank “can you beat what I got elsewhere?” You probably have multiple suppliers and vendor at work; shop around for better rates and terms that improve your business too. 

9. Practice negotiating strategies
No matter how many courses and trainings you take in negotiations or how many years you work in sales you can never be too good at it – particularly with the inevitable buyer’s remorse that comes with such a large personal investment. Have a clear negotiating plan when you kick off the process in that first purchase offer, and like in chess, anticipate your opponent’s every move. In the office, practice as much as you can negotiating, from the less risk co-worker favors to the bolder managerial requests like salaries and promotions.

10. Takes some risks
And finally, you need to make that final decision - enough of exploring alternatives, gaining alignment, and reconsidering your moves, now it’s time to buy. At this stage, you should be ready to take the risk. Hopefully, you’ve learned in life that nothing is perfect, so you have to make the best of it. Decisions need to be made to keep a successful business running, if you’ve done your proper homework, you should be ready to make it. So go ahead!

Unless you have a personal business, you never truly feel the same level of stress and risk when making business decisions as when making personal ones, particularly when it’s a costly one.

Ironically, I’m writing tips on home buying when I haven’t been that successful myself but that’s not to say that the home-buying process hasn’t taught me some valuable lessons along the way.

The day will come, where I continue these blogs from my home, sweet, home. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

...Watching Movies

For some, February is the month of love, for others the month of the biggest Football game of the year. Meanwhile in Hollywood, it’s the month where the movie industry recognizes its finest films, actors, actresses, and many more at the Oscars.

A recent book I read,
Death by Meeting, points out how meetings should follow the key elements of movies. So on that note, I went back to some classic films to find business inspiration in their most memorable quotes. 

The Ten Things I Learned Watching Movies

1. Set High Expectations
In the summer of 1975, the world quit swimming all because a large shark attacked the coast of New England in Jaws. As Chief Brody comes to his first encounter face-to-face with the beast, he points out to the ship’s captain “you’re gonna need a bigger boat”. At work, set high expectations and plan for bigger things. In general, think big if you’re going for the big fish. 

2. Elevate Issues
Apollo 13 is a movie about the 7th manned mission to the moon, starring Tom Hanks among other fine actors. When they identify an issue with their shuttle, they quickly reported home by saying “Houston, we have a problem” Don’t expect to be able to control everything at work. Something, sometimes, might go wrong. At that point, involve others - like your bosses or peers- to get their help.  

3. Anticipate and prepare for difficult times
The ending scene of The Terminator, has the main character, Sarah Connor, looking to the horizon as a young boy takes her picture and says “There’s a storm coming”. Have the foresight to recognize that tougher times will come and be ready for them. Like the movie character ready yourself and others for the uphill battles to come. Hopefully by course correcting your business won’t end as chaotic as the movie’s futuristic view  

4. Put your full effort into the work you do
One of my favorite quotes comes from the scene where Luke Skywalker is training with Yoda on Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back. As the Jedi apprentice doubts his ability to complete his trainers request, the old green master replies “Do or Do not, there is no try”. Don’t waste unnecessary efforts doubting yourself. Set your mind to do something and you will, but it will require effort and having the force.  

5. Manage your stress
Who would have guessed, you’d learn such valuable lessons on enjoying your job without worries from a Warthog and a Meercat in the Lion King. Their Swahili philosophy “Hakuna Matata” shows us that we shouldn’t worry. In stressful times, look to Timon and Pumbaa for their carefree spirit and reassure yourself that there is “no problem” singing the catchy tune in your head. 

6. Make a profit 
After a Disney lesson on living a worry free life, I thought it would be only fair to follow it with our true business purpose, to make profits. Like Cuba Gooding Junior’s speech in Jerry Maguire, your business priority should be to think “Show me the money.” Businesses, as taught in any business school, are made to make profits. Without them, they won’t sustain very long. Make sure you’re doing the right financial things at work, to keep your business profitable: from cost savings to profitable new items and more. 

7. Focus on consumer needs
In the 1989 film Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner hears a voice that says “If you build it, he will come” which sets the stage for building a baseball field over his cornfield. If you have the right understanding of your consumers, you can build what they want. If you do that, they will come. 

8. Influence others (without them knowing) 
In The Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey explains the particular skills that Keizer Soze, an underground mobster, has in remaining invisible by saying “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Putting the demonic reference aside, having others work with you and buy into your ideas is mostly referred to in your office as “influencing others”. Read up on the subject and learn the trick in many books about it.

9. Follow your career dream
In the life story of Chris Gardner, played by Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happiness, the actor gives advice to his son by saying if “you want something, go get it, period.” It’s that same thinking that got him from homeless to run a multimillion dollar brokerage firm in real life. Like the young man in the movie, don’t let people tell you what you can or cannot be at work. You decide and work hard to get it. 

10. Don’t give importance to smaller things
I had to end with one of America’s most classic movies, particularly the ending quote of the entire film. As you progress in your career, you need to let go of the smaller things. Delegating becomes easier with the right attitude. The best way I’ve found to do it is to say to myself, like Rhett Butler did in Gone with the Wind, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” 

For years, Hollywood has made us cry and laugh. It’s made us think and not. They’ve entertained us by distracting us with other people’s stories. This time, you write your own with a little creative inspiration from some of the most memorable quotes.

To start your professional journey, take (Light, Cameras) Action 

*All quotes, characters, and stories are property of their respective studios, writers, and producers.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

...from Blue Man Group

You’ve seen the iconic three blue men in posters across the largest cities of the US. Now, Blue Man Group is on tour, and they are bringing their show –and business lessons- to a city near you.

Created by a group of friends in Manhattan, this variety show took off to become one of the most famous off Broadway shows. It’s the perfect –yet unexpected- place to look for business lessons.    

This blog is a look at the entertainment industry and the lessons it has to offer in business. 
The Ten Things I Learned from Blue Man Group

1. Be creative
With a mission like this one “Blue Man Group is a creative organization dedicated to creating excitement-generating experiences for our audience and ourselves” it’s a perfect place to learn about creativity. From their iconic image with paint drums to their hypnotic drumbone music, this group of comedians has some real imagination from start to finish. Bring some creativity to your office; expand it to your work and to your thinking too. 

2. Build things (prototyping)
Check out the story of how these three friends came together in their Youtube official site
In it, they explain how they created their own instruments. Without them, it could have been just another drum show. Imagine now, making music out of plumbing pipes and how that holds an entire room’s attention. Build things at work, prototype new ideas, play with different materials to come up with some unexpected new products. It might just bring the color and sound your company needs. 

3. Leverage your skills

In the same video, two original members explain how their inspiration came somewhat from the Vaudevillians, an entertainment idea in the 1880’s and 1930’s. Interestingly, they point out that they didn’t know how to do much with any entertainment value, except catch things with their mouths. Now, a marshmallow throwing sketch forms part of every show. We all weren’t meant to be jugglers, sword-swallowers, or drum percussionists, but we all have our unique skills. Easier said than done, find your best business ones and use them. 

4. Stand out from the rest

The premise of the show – I think – is three blue men having fun, playing music, and learning about technology. And throughout the entire performance, one always tries to stand out from the other two. The most evident scene is when (spoiler alert) one performer lights his drums with Christmas lights leaving the other two with pretty dull black barrels (end spoiler alert) Don’t lose sight that your job is a competition, and to be recognized, you need to stand out from what could be a pretty generic -and in this case blue- group of people. 

5. Appeal to a broad target

Their creators admit the blue men are pretty strange at first sight. If they look funny in posters, wait till you see them in the show. After a while they grow onto you, your partner, the person sitting next to you, and the kid jumping in front of you. The show has found the perfect sweet spot to appeal to all ages – a task not easily accomplished by even the most recognized marketing companies. Challenge yourself to make your company, your product, your business appeal to more people and that’s what gets you sold-out shows. 

6. Engage your audience
If you decide to see a show beware, you might get pulled in, literally. The cast does an outstanding job engaging the crowd in sketches and segments of the show, but I won’t share much so you go see them live. This entertainment, which connects at a whole different level, is something that’s made them so successful. Does your company offer something as engaging? Something that lets the consumer enjoy and makes them part of the show? If not, you’re missing out on a captive audience.  

7. Work together

The show is not called The Blue Man, it’s the Blue Man Group for a reason. Alone, you’d have a strange man banging on colorful pipes. Add two more and you get a pretty unique and musical drum beat. Every combination of hits makes a different sound, ultimately landing the trio CDs, DVDs, and guest appearances on Leno, Ellen, and more. Unless you have your own little business, you probably have to work with other people. Work collaboratively to get your best results. As one of the founder’s said in the Youtube video “unleash the power of collaboration”

8. Follow your consumer

Since not everyone can make it to New York, Vegas, or Orlando, the Blue actors have taken their show on the road again. Don’t settle with the status quo of distribution, if your customers don’t come to you, go after them.

9. Tailor your message to local markets

I happened to catch their latest show in Fayetteville, Arkansas where they kicked off the 2012 national tour. For those who don’t follow College Football, Fayetteville is home to the University of Arkansas’ Razorbacks. Halfway through the show, a Blue Man put on a Razorback Hog Hat and the crowd cheered on, fist pump and all, “calling the hogs”. As you market your business, or even yourself, follow in their blue footsteps and tailor your message to each market. Woooo, Pig Sooie! is what worked here but surely nowhere else.

10. If it’s working don’t change

In July 2011, the group celebrated 20 years of entertaining. Check out some scenes and more on their facebook site hereI’d say the secret to their success is sticking to what they do best, and adjusting just slightly to keep it fresh and fun. I’ve seen their act more than once, and I’d think about 80-90% remains fundamentally the same, yet it doesn’t grow old. Add on top of that the new 10-20% and it keeps me coming back. Do the same with your products or service, stick to what it does best but upgrade it 10-20% every so often to keep customers coming back for more. 

Entertaining is a pretty common practice and some people and/or industries do it better than others. We all have to do it, at home, in meetings, approaching our consumers. The Blue Man group, with its unique spin on it gives you those lessons to become successful at it too. 

So, to end this blog, I’d like to use a pretty simple, yet powerful line from their show:

“Ready. Go!”

Monday, January 2, 2012

...in 2011

With every New Year there’s a new beginning. It’s a time for reflection. Reflections on the things we did or didn’t do, the promises we made or didn’t keep, and more importantly reflections of lessons we learned to make us better.

It’s common to see in television sitcoms an episode that highlights memorable moments and characters, probably to celebrate its first 100 episodes. This blog is my flashback to the 170 lessons I learned in 2011.


The Ten Things I Learned in 2011

1. I learned to start small like Gandhi did.
Gandhi is best known for his nonviolent movement in India against the early British rule. However, his story began in South Africa as he fought for Indian rights before taking on the task of representing his people in his native land – a fight that lasted 30 years. Doing great things takes time and practice. Starting small allows you to master the skills you need before moving on to bigger and more complicated projects.   

2. I learned the importance and value of diversity by watching Sesame Street
From its early start, the popular TV show has been home to many characters beyond your commonly known puppets. Its cast of Hispanics, African Americans, Seniors and more is an example of an inclusive workplace that excels because of the diversity it has. Having a diverse work place will allow you to better connect with the continually changing audience and potentially be in business as long Big Bird and friends have.

3. I learned to turn a weakness into a strength from watching Rocky Balboa’s fights
Rocky is the story of a Philadelphia boxer with a will to win, but beating the champion Apollo Creed wouldn’t be easy for this underdog fighter. The "Italian Stallion", who was known as a left-hand fighter, trained day and night his right arm to throw his opponent off and knock him out in Rocky II. Developing your weaknesses is what sets you aside from other fighters and gets you the championship title.

4. I learned to see things through a different lens while practicing Photography
Get a fancy camera that switches lenses and you’ll see things completely different with every change. Scenes can go from far to close, from narrow to wide, from unfocused to crystal clear. Take a minute to look at things differently and see them from a different perspective, you might get a better view and a more breathtaking result.

5. I learned to reconsider my every move by playing Poker Texas Hold’em
In this form of Poker, you get multiple chances to reconsider your game, the more common ones are three cards dealt referred to as The Flop, The Turn, and The River. With every turn of the card your chances change, so you take a minute to revisit what you want to do next. In business life, it’s hard to take a step back and look at your bets but you could be cutting your losses (or gains) short if you don’t reconsider your every move.

6. I learned to keep things simple like Steve Jobs’s Ipod.
The death of Steve Jobs was felt around the world - the same one he changed multiple times during his life. During an early trip to India, while pursuing spiritual enlightenment, he came up with the principles later found it many of his products: keeping things simple. We tend to believe that adding makes our work stronger which in turn creates a habit to complicate our emails, our presentation, our work loads, and ultimately our life. Take control back by keeping thing simple. You, your family, and your consumers will appreciate it.     

7. I learned to do things differently from Sam Walton and his ideas behind Walmart
The basic idea of doing things differently led an Arkansas entrepreneur to create today’s largest company in the world: Walmart. From putting an ice cream machine outside his first shop to pioneering the lowest prices through distribution efficiencies across America, Sam Walton left this idea behind along with his business principals and memoir. To be different, you need to think and act differently.   

8. I learned to correct my mistakes by watching the Death Star blow up twice on Star Wars
The Star Wars Empire (bad guys) created the most powerful war weapon in the Galaxy called the Death Star. Long story short, the good guys blow it up in the 1975 film and years later, after the Empire rebuilds it, they do it again pretty much because it had the same flaw: a hole (different in size) that gave access to shots that started an explosive chain reaction. Look at your mistakes and fix them before they make you vulnerable to others. 

9. I learned that we can all be Superheroes
Every summer brings a new wave of superheroes to the movie screen. This was the year of Green Lantern and Thor, and next year we’ll be reliving the stories of Spiderman and Batman again. The interesting lesson behind these stories is their different backgrounds -sometimes human and sometines not - and that despite their differences they all became heroes. In your business, in your community, in your home, so can you.

10. I learned the importance of making people feel special from my most Memorable Bosses.  
The bosses that had the most impact on my career were those that genuinely cared and made me feel special. I keep very vivid memories of those people because they went above and beyond their job to show they were committed to developing me professionally. Treat your employees and/or peers with respect and go beyond your daily duties to make everyone feel exceptionally well.

As the year ends, I look back to all the lessons I learned beyond just these ten and I hope that, with more than 3000 page views, someone out there is learning with me.

May the New Year bring everyone the lessons they need to become better employees, betters managers, and ultimately better people.

Happy New Year.