Getting People to Adopt Your Ideas — Book Review: Made to Stick

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (New York: Random House, 2007, 2008).

In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath offer a very practical and well-researched guide to creating ideas that will penetrate the market and produce profit. Chip, a professor of organizational behavior (Stanford) and Dan, a consultant to the Policy Program at the Aspen Institute, are well positioned to offer insights on this subject.

The Heath brothers’ tips can be applied to several areas of business—writing, marketing, strategy and even running effective meetings. The Heath brothers summarize sticky ideas with the acronym SUCCES (the last “S” is intentionally missing): Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotional and Stories. Continue Reading…

Could You Be the Next Cornelius Vanderbilt? Book Review: The First Tycoon

The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T. J. Stiles (Knopf, 2009)

T. J. Stiles has taught at Columbia University and held the Gilder Lehrman Fellowship in American History. He won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Biography for his work on The First Tycoon.

Biographies generally fall into two categories: exciting or boring. The First Tycoon is riveting.

Vanderbilt may be the most-driven, power hungry, greedy, and downright ruthless businessman who has ever lived. And in the process of being so, he destroyed monopolies owned by aristocrats, essentially paved the way for the modern American corporation, and brought progress to not just New York, but America at large. He even helped win the Civil War for the Union, and through guiding military operations ensured that his businesses could operate in Nicaragua (pg. 299, 343). The ironic part: As Vanderbilt toppled monopolies, he gladly became one, several times over. Continue Reading…

Overcoming Obstacles to True Inspiration: Book Review of Creativity, Inc.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace (Random House, 2014)

Creativity, Inc. profoundly articulates how to lead people who are paid to be creative. Author Ed Catmull is co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios. Catmull was at the University of Utah as the internet came into existence. After receiving his PhD, he led a tech company in New York City before going to work for George Lucas. Later, Catmull was integral to Steve Jobs acquiring Pixar from Lucas. Eventually, he worked alongside Jobs to sell Pixar to Disney. Today, he is President of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios.

The message of Creativity, Inc. is simple and it is full of actionable ideas. As part memoir part practical business advice, this book is special. It deploys narrative arc, takes you inside the wonderful world of Pixar and Disney, and is hard to put down. Probably the biggest message in Creativity, Inc. is the need to not just suggest but also facilitate an environment of honesty and candor because “when it comes to creative inspiration, job titles and hierarchy are meaningless. … Unhindered communication [is] key, no matter what your position” (chapter one).

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9 Steps to Overcoming a Major Project Failure

When project failures occur, it’s easy to place blame. But in the process, we often forget a simple fact: “it doesn’t matter, we’re here now.” Here are nine steps for getting past the problem to a solution.

1. Stop drinking coffee. When a major problem occurs, your adrenaline will kick in, if you add caffeine to the mix, you will likely just compound the problem. What you need when a major issue occurs isn’t to think fast, but to think slow. You need to make a good decision despite the tension. (I learned this from a colleague of mine.)

2. Instill trust. People need to feel secure after a failure. They need to know that you don’t plan to fire them, but instead that you just want to solve the problem. If you get angry with someone, you will put them on the defense, and, as a result, make them nervous and difficult to work with. What you need in the moment of failure is everyone, and especially those who failed–they know more than anyone else about the problem. If you make people feel trusted and that you’re trustworthy, your chances of success are much higher.

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The Art of Admitting Mistakes

One of the most difficult things for a strong-willed person to do is to admit that they’re wrong.

If you can admit that you’re wrong, you will gain the respect of others, be able to move quicker through projects, and continue to grow personally. If you can’t, your mistakes will catch up to you.

Small failures are part of innovation. And it may sound cheesy to say, but learning from your small failures is part of innovating yourself.

Ask yourself today: What’s failing? It’s not negative to go to work with that thought in your mind, it’s actually positive. If you can approach things that way today, chance has it that you’re going to fix a relationship along the way to improving a project.

What’s failing? How can you admit defeat, admit your wrong, and then improve your life and the lives of others as a result?

(Many of the ideas in this post stem from Seth Godin’s The Dip and Paul Arden’s Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite.)

3 Reasons to Create Your Own Project Management System

I’m a project manager who can’t stand pre-built project management solutions. Churches use them, businesses use them, but frankly, they’re just not as helpful as we act like they are.

I used Microsoft Project. I’ve seen and used cloud based project management solutions—many of the ones available on the market. All the options frustrate me and waste my time. They each taught me something about my process and I’m certainly a better project manager for it, but they each led me to force projects into molds and ultimately inhibited workflow. Here are three reasons why you should create your own project management solution(s).

1. Smart people don’t need every task written out for them.

Writing out milestones and dependent tasks is essential for every project, but writing out every task isn’t. Many project management technology solutions require that every task be written out. (And even if they don’t require it, they make you feel like you should.) I have found myself spending hours writing out tasks when I could be accomplishing things. If you work with smart people, why do you need to write out every task? I work with smart people, so why would I force people into my style of a task list? Having one task list master also makes others feel small and bossed around. I want to work with others because of who they are, not force them to think like me. In addition, ridiculously detailed lists created by “supervisors” are for people who want to check boxes. And people who check boxes will never lead in a meaningful way.

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Numbers Don’t Lie and 3 More Fiscal Leadership Proverbs

Pithy leadership statements can be annoying, but when forced to make a difficult decision quickly, they can be sage wisdom. This is especially the case when it comes to fiscal decisions. Perhaps this is why much of the biblical proverbs are about money. Here are four modern fiscal proverbs and why they will help you be a better leader.

1. Numbers don’t lie.

Numbers don’t lie when it comes to our bank accounts, yet they’re often ignored when it comes to employee performance. If you can’t measure it, and point to your accomplishment, then why do it? If people aren’t held accountable by data, our coaching is really based on feelings and intuition, not performance. After prayer and relationship building, start with the numbers. If you don’t have the numbers, create an unbiased system. Then, make decisions using it.

2. Intangibles are intangible.

When faced with ugly financial statements, we’ve all heard the appeal to intangibles, but intangibles are just that, intangible—they don’t pay the bills. The garbage collector won’t get the job done on the basis of purely good intentions. The collector can have all the great intentions in the world and the trash can still be sitting in front of my house. Likewise, the collectors won’t keep picking up my trash on the basis of my good intentions—they need to be paid. Why do we let intangibles guide businesses when intangibles will fail us? The numbers should back your intentions: does a pro forma and past financials prove it? If not, then you probably shouldn’t do it.

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Playing Business Like the Oakland A’s

If gross miscalculations of a person’s value could occur on a baseball field, before a live audience of thirty thousand, and a television audience of millions more, what did that say about the measurement of performance in other lines of work? If professional baseball players could be over- or under-valued, who couldn’t? Bad as they may have been, the statistics used to evaluate baseball players were probably far more accurate than anything used to measure the value of people who didn’t play baseball for a living.

—Michael Lewis, Moneyball, pg. 72, in reference to what Bill James’ Baseball Abstracts revealed.

Think for a moment how often you have heard people say, “Because I know it will work,” or “He just seems to work harder than his colleagues,” or “She puts in more hours and thus is more valuable,” or even “I was told this by x person and therefore y must be the case.”

Like baseball, business is full of mystery and assumptions. Because we feel or think something doesn’t make it true. Because it happened that way in the past doesn’t mean it will happen that way in the future. Because a few customers have that perception doesn’t mean the viewpoint is accurate.

Most people who are misplaced in a job are misplaced either because they were the wrong hire to begin with, or because no one took the time to train them properly. (Note the “most” qualifier—there are certainly exceptions.) But how can we properly train someone if we don’t measure their performance accurately, with statistics that matter and contribute to the bottom line?

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Impossible: Ban It from Your Vocabulary

The word “impossible” keeps many people from doing what they’re capable of. Along with many other words, “impossible” should be banned from your vocabulary.

Now, there are certainly things in life that are impossible, but you won’t know what they are until you try them and then try again. A lack of precedence doesn’t necessitate a reality of constraints. Biblical interpretation actually serves as a good example for explaining this point.

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Being My Dog’s Writing Voice

What is it like to be someone else’s writing voice? Fiction authors deal with this question. Editors contemplate this problem. Ghost writers live this dilemma.

Although I’m against the idea of ghost writing, and thus have never ghost written, I imagine that it teaches you a great deal about writing. When you have to be someone else’s voice, you learn to be more authentic to your own voice. You also learn about the art of rewriting.

I recently made one exception to my ghost writing rule—but it’s because the person I made the exception for can’t write (literally). I made the exception for my dog Milton.

Milton the dog recently started a birthday for a cause. If you like his writing voice, donate—he will appreciate you helping people living in extreme poverty.

Have you ever written in the voice of your pet? What did it teach you?

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