Made to Stick

Made to stick.JPGI wish I were a better story teller–I tend to get lost in the details.  I get my points across just fine, but without a conscious outline the main ideas become blurred and less memorable.  However, when I think about the raconteurs I’ve met over the years, they do a whole lot more than avoid sharing minutia.  They slip in the right details, yet keep it simple.  The core message is crystal clear, and there is often an element of surprise that vivifies the ending, making the key points easy to recall.  Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath codifies the art of transferring ideas.  The Heath brothers do a brilliant job simplifying the essentials on how to make ideas stick.

What’s the Big Idea?!

Despite the hokiness acronyms inevitably carry, they work.  To help the reader remember the tools to the art of idea stickiness, the authors use the acronym SUCCESs as the backbone of their book:

SUCCES

Don’t worry, they recognize the cheesiness–they don’t take themselves too seriously.

There are a few takeaways I really enjoyed, starting with this video:

Unexpected?  “The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern” (64).  Had this commercial come out and said, “Safety is important.  Statistics show that people are X% more likely to survive a car crash if they are buckled in and . . .” it would stick about as well as teflon.

Anything out of the ordinary immediately enslaves our attention.  It’s a survival mechanism that alerts us to danger, though, the effect extends to jokes, stories, and facts.  Jokes that are the most memorable and funny are the ones whose punchlines are unexpected.  I still remember a story an acquaintance told almost a decade ago because it ended with him accidentally cramming a fist-full of hay into a wild horse’s nostril.

At the same time, the unexpected event has to tie in to the purpose of your idea.  I guarantee that if you paused with a blank face for 30 seconds in the middle of a speech and then yelled, “Burrito!” before continuing that you would be remembered. . . but you would be remembered as the burrito guy.

Emotional

“For people to take action, they have to care” (168).

If you have a credible idea that you explain rationally, you’ll like get people to believe, but believing isn’t enough.  To get others to care, the idea needs to be tied into their relevant domain.  The WIIFY concept get’s at the heart of it:

What’s in it for you?

This sounds like a pessimistic view of humanity, but the point isn’t to simply placate the selfish desires of others.  Providing someone with a service opportunity like being a mentor answers the WIIFY question because the mentorship would allow him or her to help others reach their potential. Often, the most motivating ideas appeal to nobler needs.

When people subconsciously “decide” to care, the underlying question can also be “What does someone like me do?”  We group ourselves into different categories based on political and religious affiliation, ethnicity, gender, class and character traits.  If I view myself as a risk-taker, and an idea  is presented to me as being beneficial because it is a surefire, cautious approach, I am less likely to take action on that idea.  There’s nothing in it for me because it doesn’t mesh with the characteristics I value or how I see myself.

Ultimately, you can be a polished speaker or writer, have all of your facts lined up, and still have your message fall flat.  While “voice” can be a very important element in how people perceive your ideas, it doesn’t always bridge the gap to action.  The guidelines in Made to Stick focus on how the message itself needs to be packaged so people believe, care, AND act.

Investing Gone Wrong

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Investments are about as misunderstood as a grounded teenage girl who stayed out too late with her boyfriend.  “You just pick a few stocks, and wait for them to go up.”  “Buy low, sell high! Am I right?”  “Twitter? I tweet all the time.  I’m in.  What’s an IPO?”  I wish I were kidding.

The more I study the vast world of investments, the more I realize I don’t know.  The more I talk with people about investments, the more I realize how little they know  that it doesn’t matter what they know; they are crippled by their own emotions leading them to fear, greed, irrational moves, and paradoxical motives.

Recently, Meir Statman perfectly articulated some of the points I have long believed are crucial, yet overlooked.   His article in the WSJ entitled, “Our Unconscious Investing Motives–And How They Get Us in Trouble“, explores the decision making process for different investments.  He entreats the psychologist in all of us saying, “Inside all of us are wants we don’t always express or often even are aware of.  When we make decisions about our money we are often looking to satisfy those hidden emotional desires instead of doing what we say we’re doing–seeking out the best return possible.”  Now, nobody intentionally plays to lose, yet sometimes the financial win is not the same thing as an emotional win.

Overconfidence can be a real downer.  Similar to overestimating our own driving abilities, we typically overestimate our investing abilities.  “A survey of amateur traders reveals that 62% expected to beat the market during the following 12 months.”  Say wha?!  I would love to get back with those people in a year and see how they fared.  Often, this is exacerbated by a quick win in the market.  We make one good (and most likely lucky) trade, and we think we can do no wrong.  Oh, the pride before the fall.

Often, these people are in and out, bobbing and weaving to make a quick 5%-10% until they get hammered.  Many studies have shown that this day trader approach will do more harm than good over the long run–especially with amateur investors who don’t have the tools, expertise, and information that the professionals do (though they typically suffer from overconfidence, too.)  Ask yourself, “Do I think I have a better chance then the average investor?”  If your answer is yes, why?  What advantage do you have that others don’t?

Fear of any financial loss is another quick recipe for disaster.  Cost-averaging down has its benefits, but are you simply holding on to investments because you haven’t broke even on it?  Afraid to realize losses and admit defeat?  The real question should be, where can I best deploy my capital?  Avoiding losses at all costs is another type of pride where we intentionally lock up money in poor investments with the hope that it’ll turn around, and our mental ledge will be in the black again.  Don’t let the mental ledger on that one stock keep you from cutting losses to establish positions in better investments.

If you really want to maximize returns, temper your overconfidence and fear by doing your homework.  There are a million different angles to explore when deciding on a company to invest in, and the more you study, practice, and research, the easier it becomes.  There is no substitute for a rational, patient approach and disposition.  Without fail, overconfidence and fear will always precede poor decisions and obfuscate your ability to think rationally leading to financial loss.

Dressed for the Occasion

donut party-I worked as a lifeguard for two years in high school.  I don’t remember what questions I was asked at my interview, but I remember one embarrassing detail that I haven’t forgotten.  I thought that everybody wore suits to interviews.  Look good, feel good, right?

I walked into the pool director’s office, and sat down.  She turned around and said, “Why are you wearing that?!”  I had on a charcoal suit with a white shirt, red tie, and black dress shoes.  I’m sure my 16-year-old face turned red, and I made up something about having a special event right after the interview.

“Oh, ok.  Well, you didn’t have to dress up.”  Truthfully, I essentially had the job before I walked in, and the interview was a formality.  I had taken lifeguard classes on location, and I had gotten to know my interviewer over the past few weeks. Even so, I wanted to show that I was serious about the job, but lifeguards don’t wear suits.

It turns out that I am far from the worst stories out there.  While reading some interviewing tall tales, I came across a few head shakers.  There’s the guy who decided to show up to an interview without a shirt on (maybe that would be ok for an A&F interview…?).  The woman who wore sleeveless denim on denim with white pumps.  Even better, a true blue Star Wars fan who wore Jedi Robes on a video interview.  If anybody reading this says, “What’s wrong with that?”, examine your ways.

For the normal ones who recognize the problems contained in the previous paragraph, let’s go in a different direction.  There are only two guidelines that need to be mentioned regarding dress:

1) Ask your company contact.  Every time I interview, I make sure to ask what the dress code is.  It shows that the interview matters to you, and is informative about the culture.  While, I haven’t had any interviewees dress in an unseemly Jedi manner, I’ve seen a few that have called for a raised eyebrow.  All preventable if they would have simply asked.

2) Don’t worry about being “authentic”.  Leave the “just be yourself” advice on the middle-school playground when it comes to dress.  Especially the “yourself” that might sleep-in on Saturday and then binge watch Game of Thrones until early Sunday morning having eaten nothing but popcorn, Red Vines and Mountain Dew.  Even more-so the “yourself” that wears joggers or yoga pants all day.

Hopefully, you would never show up so underdressed; however, there are other examples that wander into the questionable category.  The slim-fit suit that is a little too tight may not be the best idea even though you are comfortable in it.  Your friends may all say that your knitted tie looks “dope” and it got a lot of likes on Instagram, but it may be best to leave it at home for your interview.  Going back to a previous post, “Your wardrobe is simply theatrics in these situations.  You are on stage, and at times you only get one scene to perform.”

There are always exceptions–what may be perfectly fine in one interview, may be a deal breaker in another.  The Bottom Line: don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t be afraid to dress up.

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

THE HARDEST

If you had a net worth of $1,000,000,000 and lived to be 100, you would have made $19 for every minute that you had been alive.  Now, if you’re Bill Gates, who will be turning 60 this year, the $79.2 billion that he has amassed would give him a lifelong minutely wage of over $2,510 or  about $42 for every second of his life.

When you look at the 1,826 billionaires in the world today, their money has come from a variety of places: real estate, investments, medical devices, fashion, e-commerce, etc.  (My favorite listing on the Forbes list: Emmanuel Besnier–Source of Wealth: Cheese).  Maybe you really want to knock it out of the park like these wealthy wonders.  Perhaps being a multimillionaire could suit you just fine.  You might just want to create a good or service that enthralls you personally and captures the attention of many customers and the money comes as a symptom.  Regardless, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is a classic must-read.

**Caveat: While the title is overt about the pursuit of wealth, there is so much more to this book, and the publisher’s preface beautifully captures a sidebar to his main theme of financial success:        

Riches cannot always be measured in money! . . . there are some who will feel that the greatest of all riches can be evaluated only in terms of lasting friendships, harmonious family relationships, sympathy and understanding between business associates, and introspective harmony which brings one peace of mind measurable only in spiritual values!

What’s the big idea?! / The Big Picture

Think and Grow Rich distills the strategies and mindsets of many of the wealthy from the 19th and early 20th centuries.  In aggregate, it serves as a unique paradigm that glorifies the power of the mind; if you think something long enough it will become action and, in turn, reality.

The Thirteen Steps Toward Riches

The main body of the book are steps toward riches.  Make no mistake…these are not “13 life hacks to get rich quick” or “how to save money in 13 easy ways”.  These are 13 steps that follow the law of the harvest–you reap what you sow.  There are countless actionable items that can educate and shape your worldview to better capture opportunities and enhance your character and drive (if you let it). Below are the 13 steps, but I’m only going to dive into 1 of them.

  1. Desire
  2. Faith
  3. Autosuggestion
  4. Specialized Knowledge
  5. Imagination
  6. Organized Planning
  7. Decision
  8. Persistence
  9. Power of the Master Mind
  10. The Mystery of Sex Transmutation
  11. The Subconscious Mind
  12. The Brain
  13. The Sixth Sense

Autosuggestion is a well-known technique that much has been written about, yet many I know fail to employ it to its fullest.  “Autosuggestion is a term which applies to all suggestions and all self-administered stimuli which reach one’s mind through the five senses” (42).  Examples include self-talk (I think I can, I think I can), and visualization–imagining yourself accomplishing something.  Pro athletes, executives, and most high-achievers utilize some form of autosuggestion.

Sound like a bunch of crap?  Are you finding yourself saying, “How is talking to myself going to do anything?”  It’s so much more than that and–like many worthwhile endeavors–you reap what you sow.  Pro-tip from Napoleon: “Unless you mix emotion, or feeling with your words.  If you repeat a million times the famous Emil Coué formula, ‘Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better,’ without mixing emotion and faith with your words, you will experience no desirable results.  Your subconscious mind recognizes and acts upon only thoughts which have been well-mixed with emotion or feeling.”

I was made a believer of autosuggestion when I was studying for the GMAT some time ago.  At least 2-3 times a day for 6 months leading up to the test I repeated my mantra: “I will not give up.  I will not give in.  I will get a 740 on the GMAT, and I will help all those who follow.”  Does it sound ridiculous? Perhaps, but this desire I had to dominate this test  was transformed from words to belief, from belief to obsession, and my fixation drove my actions until I surpassed my goal.

If you have a goal that seems elusive or extraordinary, you definitely aren’t going to get there on the back of skepticism and negativity.  You won’t make it much past the first sign of struggle if you let the shadow of pessimism creep in.  Autosuggestion creates consistency of effort and is vital on the days that feel like failure, leaving in its wake a renewed drive to achieve.

Last Words . . .

Of all the books I have read, this is the most marked up.  Napoleon’s personal style aside, there are many passages and sections that are worth marking and reading on some frquency.  Specifically, towards the end of the book are a list of questions that I read every month.  Among them are a several that are helping me change for the better:

  • Do you form your own opinions or permit yourself to be influenced by other people?
  • Can you name 3 of your most damaging weaknesses? What are you doing to correct them? 
  • Do you find fault with people at the slight provocation?

And one that just makes me laugh:

  • Would you call yourself a “spineless weakling” if you permitted others to do your thinking for you?

What Your Style Says About You

You know who I’m talking about–the guy whose flat billed hat matches his Jordan’s, which also happens to match the Nike swoosh on his T-shirt, and may even match the color of his basketball shorts that are hanging on for dear life.  Or the sock less guy whose scuffed-up oxfords (from goodwill), twill high-waters, and nondescript button-down done up to his adam’s apple are completed by his thick, tortoise-shell glasses, and mustache.  You have to know who I’m referring to.

These are well-known stereotypes that are easy to make fun of have distinct mannerisms, catch-phrases, and attitudes associated with them.  Whether the dresser purposefully wishes to assume the stereotype is irrelevant; they have a say in items they don, accoutrements they carry, but not how it is perceived.  For example:

photo (1) What does this communicate?  How is this perceived?  When would it be appropriate to wear this?  Frankly, when I dress like this, it’s for me (because I like bright colors), and for all you independent free-thinkers, style does not originate with other people’s opinions.  However, every once in a while your “don’t-care-what-you-think” mentality is going to come up short: on a first date, in the office, at a job interview, meeting her parents for the first time…life is not Coachella.

But going back to Mr. Red&Blue up there, he may fare well with the right kind of woman and the right kind of venue for a first date (undoubtedly getting several stares).  It works well as an Instagram picture, or an advertisement, but I would love to see an interviewer’s face across the table from this getup.

Your wardrobe is simply theatrics in these situations.  You are on stage, and at times you only get one scene to perform.  First impressions can be killer, and while I’ve referred to high-stakes situations where dress matters, on a day-to-day basis there are people you may or may not meet and forge lasting friendships with based on appearance.  *gasp* “How judgemental!” Yet, everyone falls victim to such knee-jerk biases, and the only thing you can do is be aware and open-minded.

And God said unto Moses-

Choose wisely, my friends.  Heed not the scoffs and scorns of the style-less onlookers by the wayside if your MO is peacocking or simply dressing up because it feels good.  Have some moxie and own your style.  Nevertheless, when you are on stage, and your clothes become your costume, be mindful of the character you are trying to play.

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

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When I was 5, I wanted to be a brain surgeon when I grew up.  Not an astronaut, race car driver, fire fighter, or any of the typical childhood answers.  That was that–a brain surgeon and I couldn’t be convinced otherwise.  That is, until I just KNEW I wanted to be a CEO when I was in 5th grade.  It was such a burning desire that I did my big yearlong project on what it is like to be a CEO, and I was even able to interview a local CEO.  Over the years, I have always planned out overly prescriptive courses for my life, and have had a sense of failure when way lead on to way, when detours had to be taken, and when priorities changed.

I met with Professor Christensen, and was able to ask him a few questions.  He is the most kind-hearted and authentic person I have ever met.  Wise, yet humble.
I met with Professor Christensen, and was able to ask him a few questions. He is the most kind-hearted and authentic person I have ever met. Wise, yet humble. (He’s also 6′ 8″).

Clayton Christensen had similar ideals for what his career would be, but other opportunities unfolded in such a way that he never became editor of the Wall Street Journal like he originally intended.  Reflecting on his transitions from consultant to entrepreneur to academic, he writes:

Now at age fifty-nine and after a twenty-year career in academia, I still wonder occasionally whether it is finally time to try to become editor of the Wall Street Journal.  Academia became my deliberate strategy . . . But I have not twisted shut the flow of emergent problems of opportunities.  Just as I never imagined thirty years ago I’d end up here, who knows what might be just around the corner? (p. 52)

The lesson is to remain open to unanticipated possibilities, and though having a well-thought out strategy is vital, remaining stalwart to an original plan can prove to be a hindrance to future unexpected success.

What’s the big idea?!

How Will You Measure Your Life? takes a rational approach to purposeful work and personal life utilizing business theory and applying it to individuals in their journey towards a rewarding and meaningful life.

The Three Sections

The organization of this book deals with happiness with careers, happiness with relationship, and staying out of jail . . . which I suppose has a bit to do with happiness.  In an effort to distill the message of each section, I’ll share the most representative quote along with some thoughts.

I. Finding Happiness In Your Career

If the decisions you make about where you invest your blood, sweat and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person. p. 75

How will you measure your life?  What and who do you want to be?  What’s going to get you there?  Is it jumping at the bait of the highest salary, best benefits or glamour appeal?  While it is beyond cliché to say money isn’t everything, it’s an adage for a reason, but it’s only half of the story .  You won’t hear any idealistic “follow your dreams” sentiments from me–I didn’t study Chemical Engineering because I continually dreamt of thermodynamics, the Schrödinger equation, and McCabe-Thiele diagrams.  Even so, the factors in life that lead to career satisfaction are simple and universal.

The “motivation factors” referred to in this book are (1) challenging work, (2) recognition, (3) responsibility, and (4) personal growth.  You may not have complete autonomy with the level of all of these at your current job, but as you drive your decisions with these four factors in mind, happiness–and typically money–will be sure to follow.

Seek out new opportunities, projects, and responsibilities.  Instead of thinking, “What do I have to do to get a promotion around here?!”, think “What are all the experiences and problems that I have to learn about and master so that what comes out at the other end is somebody who is ready and capable of becoming [Insert whatever you want to be here]?” (p. 149)

II. Finding Happiness in Your Relationships

We find ourselves forgetting to return e-mails and phone calls from our friends and our families; neglecting birthdays and other celebrations that used to be important to us . . . Given that sacrifice deepens our commitment, it’s important to ensure that what we sacrifice for is worthy of that commitment. (p. 91)

Are our family and closest friends not worthy of that commitment? Sometimes it is a sacrifice to make time to connect with friends, and it is easy to assume that family will be there for whenever you have time (in some elusive, improbable, future moment).  However, there are no quick gains to be had with happy relationships.  Often, it takes small investments with the long-term in mind. “This means . . . that the time when it is most important to invest in building strong families and close friendships is when it appears, at the surface, as if it’s not necessary.” (p. 84)

III. Staying Out of Jail

The marginal cost of doing something “just this once” always seems to be negligible, but the full cost will typically be much higher.  Yet unconsciously, we will naturally employ the marginal-cost doctrine in our personal lives. (p. 186)

Choose who you want to be.  Be consistent.  Have some integrity.  ‘Nuff said!