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One Step Away from Fired: Mediocre

Mediocrity kills greatness. A job that is “good enough” is not good enough. Working “hard enough” is not hard enough. Mediocre is one step away from fired.

I know people who were good at their jobs who got fired. They weren’t great, but they certainly weren’t bad. They spent years getting “good enough” at what they did, but not enough time focusing on how good they could be.

In Paul Arden’s It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be, he says that your goals have to be outrageous. Don’t make your goal merely getting the promotion you want, or about the success of your next product or idea; make your goals crazy.


Would You Cry If They Left?

Would you want to cry if they left your team? Would it make your life miserable? Would your team suffer if that person started working on my team? If so, then I probably want to hire them.

I don’t want the employee that another manager will easily part with. I want the person they think they can’t live without.

Ask yourself: Could you hire someone to do your job, tomorrow? If the answer is yes, then you need to rethink the way you do your job. You need to change your job description. Figure out what your unique skill set is and then do that. After that, find your calling and pursue that.

I want to work on a team of people that challenge me.

I want to go to work everyday thinking, “I’m not good enough to be this team’s leader.” Because if I don’t feel that way, then my team is not making me better—they’re not making us better.

Incredible teams produce incredible projects, and incredible projects can change the world.

If I want to change the world, I need an incredible team who will turn me into an incredible leader.

I don’t feel good enough today, so today we’re on track. I hope I don’t feel good enough tomorrow. How do you feel?

Experience is Not Good Enough

The adage, “Some things you just learn with time” is true, but the person with the most experience is not always the best candidate for the next project. I care more about a diverse skill set and creativity than I do about experience. Here are five reasons why.

  1. Experience can be used as a crutch. You’ve heard people say, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Or, “It must be right; it’s worked before.” If you want to do something creative, the old way of doing things is likely not the answer.
  2. The best candidate is the one who has spent the most time diversifying their skill set and asking the most questions. Chance has it that the person who has been a copy editor their whole life is probably an incredible copy editor. I’m sure they can take me to task on The Chicago Manual of Style trivia. I will likely contract them for my next copy editing job, but I’m not going to ask them to lead the next project. Why? They’re likely to treat it like everything they’ve done before. (more…)

Why Paying Attention Matters

I pay attention to emails like this—most people delete them. You’re about to understand why I ask “What can I learn from this?” before clicking delete:

Sent: Wed 2/9/2011 12:05 PM

To: John Barry, Joe Media, Cindy Publicist, Christina Marketer

Cc: Jack Editor, Sally Publisher, Jill CEO, Fran VP, Lloyd Author, Mike Agent

Subject: My Book is Incredible, You Should Review It

I just published my new book. I would love to send you a review copy. What’s your address?

–Neil Writer

P.S. I only want publicity, but knowing you would be cool. (Ghost writer exaggeration minimal.)

I could see the (often bad) query emails I receive as a nuasince, but I view them as an opportunity. In addition to being an opportunity to be kind and helpful, sometimes they’re an opportunity to meet new people.

Three lessons from Neil Writer’s email:

  1. Don’t bulk email your friends, or people you want to be friends with. This seems like common sense, yet people still do it. Building relationships is different than marketing a product.
  2. Don’t share someone’s contact info with the world. I don’t mind—my contact info is on this site—but other people do. (If you shared my cell phone number, though, I may feel differently.)
  3. Always see who is on the Cc line. You could make a new friend.


Business is about Friendships

In business, we tend to spend most of our energy making deals, but in the rest of life our priorities are different. We buy things for our family members, we have friends over for dinner, and we give our time freely to those in need. The idea of treating business relationships differently perplexes me.

When I first started negotiating I thought it was all about the deal. It’s true that closing is all that matters when negotiating—just like shipping is all that matters when creating a product—but you rarely close because you spoke the right words. Closing is about trust.

Fast, smooth talking people are on their way out; soon they won’t have a place in the business world. The era of people willing to invest in relationships has begun, again. Many people predicted that social media would isolate us, but it’s done the opposite in business: It’s made it easier to get to know someone. Social media has done something else as well, that I don’t think many people have noticed. Social media has made it easier to find out if someone is telling the truth. It’s made it easier for me to trust some people, and it’s also made it easier for me to prove that someone is untrustworthy. (You heard that last line right—I’m verifying what you tell me.)


Here’s the Truth

“Here’s the truth that you have to wrestle with: the reason that art (writing, engaging, leading, all of it) is valuable is precisely why I can’t tell you how to do it. If there were a map, there’d be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map. Don’t you hate that? I love that there’s no map.” —Seth Godin, Linchpin, pg. 188

Where’s the fun in having a map? We have too many people who live their lives in compliance—without questioning, or thinking for themselves. I’ve often said,May God keep us from being like thinkers.” That phrase holds true in business as well.

We need more people who are willing to risk everything for the sake of making something beautiful. Why do you do what you do? Be honest with yourself. Are rebels really that bad? No. Rebels against bad systems are great leaders, fantastic CEOs—they’re Michelangelos and William Blakes.

You may want a bunch of compliant lemmings working for you—I don’t. I want people who will challenge me. I want people who think all of my ideas are bad, and all of my writing stinks. Because if they don’t, my ideas and writing will never get better. I want people who will convince me that I can be better than I am. And I want people who are convinced that they can be better than they are. I want people who want to change the world. If they don’t want that, I don’t want to work with them.

But wanting something isn’t enough. You have to be willing to hire those kind of people, and then listen when they do what you hired them for: rabble rousing. If we really want free thinking, then we need to help other people be free.


Anything Can Be Leading

“The truth is sir, you never really play at 100%—no matter what,” says Francous, the Rugby captain, in Invictus the film.

“Ah, in sports as in life.” … responds Nelson Mandela, the President of South Africa. … “What is your philosphy on leadership? How do you inspire your team to do their best?”

“By example,” says Francous. …

“That is exactly right,” says Mandela. “But how to get them to be better than they think they can be? That is very difficult I find. … Inspiration, perhaps. How do we inspire ourselves to greatness, when nothing else will do? How do we inspire everyone else around us? I sometimes think it is by using the work of others. On Robin Island [where I was imprisoned], when things got very bad, I found inspiration in a poem. … Just words, but they helped me to stand when all I wanted to do was lie down. … [Later, at the Barcelona Olympics, a song everyone sang] inspired me to come home and do better. … We need inspiration. Because in order to build our nation, we must all exceed our own expectations.”

Greatness is a concept that we often discuss, but something very few achieve. That fact is troubling. If most of us aren’t achieving greatness, or in the process of achieving greatness, then we must be doing something wrong.

Maybe if we led a little more by example, things would change. Perhaps accepting that none of us are really playing at 100% would make a difference. At one point, I wrote about my (then) new friend, vulnerability. Being willing to be vulnerable with my colleagues and friends has helped us all achieve greater things. I realized then, and now, that none of us ever play at 100%, and that our best moments are when we admit that we can improve, and then do so. We are better for doing so.


3 Rules for Business

I have three rules for business. Well, I actually have a lot more, but living by these three will help:

1. Never drop the ball. Want to make people happy? Make your number one priority not dropping the ball. Manage your tasks, your schedule, your life. Don’t let someone else do it for you. Follow up. And then follow up again. Not dropping the ball doesn’t mean passing it. If it involves you, it’s your responsibility.

2. Be serious about managing your contacts. This means remembering things about your contacts, backing up your database, and being ready for random questions at any given moment. I use Business Contact Manager for this, and highly recommend this.

3. Be on time for appointments and focus on your appointment. There are many things that require our attention during the day, and these things can make us appear not present. We have to decide to make the person in our office our focus. I find that mentally adjusting for a meeting 15–30 seconds before  really helps. (Of course, this is in addition to planning for the meeting.) I think I will always have to work at this rule–it’s a constant battle.

What are your three rules for business?

(Note: The link for Microsoft Business Contact Manager is an affiliate link.)

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