I believe it was French author André Gide who wrote:
“There are many things that seem impossible only so long as one does not attempt them.”
Coming from a Nobel Prize winner, I have to say that his statement leaves me somewhat underwhelmed. Sure, if I never tried to tie my shoes or blow my own nose I might think these were impossible tasks, but I’ve been on this rock for a few decades now and have a good feel for what I can do. Or do I?
Am I falling into a trap here?
By admitting I have carnal knowledge of my own Force, am I limiting my potential accomplishments?
(I’m taking a moment to smirk, as I was just about to ridicule those who don’t aim high, making the irony a 12 on the Alanis Morissette scale.)
So let’s think about this – is there really any difference between blowing my nose and hitting my sales goal? I’ve done both, so I know each is possible. Maybe a more relevant question would be about something I’ve never tried, like can I bench press 500 pounds? Just to be sure, I will try it right now (ouch – no way.) So it is clearly not possible for me to bench press 500 pounds. Today.
What about next week, or next year? Yes, no, or maybe so?
In life, almost everything can be reduced to a math problem. Work done equals force times distance. Obviously, to lift 500 pounds as I’ve described, I’ll need to move the weight a couple of feet. But I’ll also need to apply considerable force, and I’ve already discovered that I’m not yet strong enough to generate that force. Like Captain Kirk said more than once on Star Trek, more power will be needed.
And what is the definition of power? Power = work done/time taken
After consulting my trusted personal trainer, I learned that in order to build enough muscle to create enough force to lift 500 pounds, I’ll have to spend three hours every day for two years lifting increasingly heavier weights. Only then will I be able to reach my goal. It will be very difficult, require unyielding discipline and personal sacrifice, but it’s not impossible. What about lifting 750 pounds? How about 1,000? It’s still a math problem, just with different inputs.
So what is possible? If you can turn it into an equation, everything is possible.
Let’s revisit the sales goal example. For 2016, my target is 50% higher than the previous year. How can I possibly increase my sales that much? Again, it’s a math problem.
If “work done” is my total sales, then distance is the number of business days in one year, and force is the sales per day needed to reach my new goal. Obviously, the number of business days can’t be changed, but sales per day is variable. How do I increase sales per day to reach my new goal?
You guessed it – more power.
In reviewing the math, the secret here is to squeeze more sales out of each business day, thus increasing power and the ability to generate the necessary force to hit my goal. There are about 240 business days every year, and I’ve got to make every minute count.
This is how I do it.
Decide What I Want – This is an essential component to anyone’s success. In this case, the goal is to hit my new sales target. Not try my best, not get close, not work hard and we’ll see – hit it.
Make a List – Every night after work, prepare a list for the next morning. Include everything you need to do, even if you don’t think you’ll get to all of it. There is nothing like the satisfaction of completing a task and crossing it off a list with a flourish.
It takes lots of small victories to win the war.
Don’t Waste Time – When I sit at my desk (home or office), I am ready to engage and work. I have my coffee, my phone is charged, laptop is running, non-essential material is put away, etc. If those little duties are not done they are not distractions – they are excuses.
Organize your desk, clear your mind, and focus.
Create Time – If the number of business days can’t be increased, the only mathematical way to pump up your sales is to be more productive. One way is to create new work time. If you need to walk to your car, take your phone along and make a call. Driving somewhere at lunch? Use the time in transit to firm up a couple of appointments. If you find yourself waiting in a lobby for a meeting, fire off a few emails. Standing in the kitchen waiting for ice? Ask your colleague that question you keep forgetting about – you’ll probably avoid the time-suck of a meeting later.
When you increase sales using the same amount of business days, you increase power, and so forth and so on.
Create Your Own Luck – I blogged about this a while back. According to research, people who are lucky share four traits:
An awareness of their environment
The ability to listen and trust their intuition
A generally positive life outlook
Resilience and the ability to learn from hard knocks
As I pointed out last April, luck can be learned. And in sales, an edge is sometimes all you need.
Be the Man (or the Woman) – I will apologize in advance for this paragraph, but it will be full of catchy phrases and buzzwords. Great salespeople are always on stage. Even if you’re not talking to anyone, someone might be deciding whether to come talk to you.
If you’re great, you’re confident.
If you don’t project confidence in yourself and in your products, what message are you sending into the universe? And for this last nugget, I turn to Mike Damone, last seen back in 1982 at Ridgemont High School. He said, and I quote, “Act like wherever you are, that’s the place to be.” People will drive out of their way to do business with knowledgeable, confident extroverts – they are everyone’s ice breakers, lemonade makers, and favorite neighbors.
It’s near the end of Q1 and I’ve successfully generated enough power to crank up my average sales per day to hit my target. I’m feeling pretty good, and with two weeks left in the quarter, I ain’t done yet.
So in addition to bitching and smoking, it turns out the French are also very profound.
If you’re at all like me, I’m sure that your journey through life creates many opportunities for distraction.
Over here, Brian – talk to me!
Please Brian – what’s your sign?
Hi Brian, didn’t we meet last year?
Brian, you will love this.
Click here if you enjoy Brazilian food, Brian!
Now, don’t get me wrong – distractions can be refreshing and productive. Weirdness or chance can become brilliance with a glance and the cooperation of a synapse or three. Some of the greatest discoveries in our world were total accidents. Percy Spencer melted a chocolate bar in his trousers and discovered microwaves. George de Mestral’s dog provided the inspiration for Velcro. Constantin Fahlburg forgot to wash his hands one day and discovered saccharin, the first artificial sweetener (he was also scolded by his mother). And my personal favorite – Leo Baekeland created plastic while getting frisky with small Asian insects.
This is my favorite because in addition to creating a substance that changed the world, he also gave all men an alternative to watching Sunday football (as long as Amazon still ships bugs overnight).
But I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that distractions can be earth-shatteringly, mind-blowingly great. The problem with distractions is …. they are, by their very nature, distracting. And this is not productive.
So how do I use random experiences to enrich my life, rather than slow it down or derail it? Easy – I filter them, and my filtering technique is probably the same as yours. Think of it as the Texas Two-Step Method of Time Management:
1. Consider the source
2. Consider the topic
Now I may flip the order from time to time, but the steps remain the same. Let’s say I’m looking at one of the billion emails I get every day, and the subject line is:
“A Message from Davey Crockett, President & CEO”
My filter kicks into overdrive and asks (among other things) why, if I’m so important, didn’t Davey send this email himself? A message from “Me” would have been preferable to getting a message from Davey’s assistant. Second, I know neither Davey nor his assistant. Third, I’m already bored. This email so far is the equivalent of getting a phone call and having the caller announce with great pageantry that he is calling you. Duh. The first rule of Brian at work is don’t waste my time.
OK, so maybe I’m feeling benevolent. I decide to read the first line of the email, which invites me to attend a conference in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, I don’t work with the industry this conference is touting, so I hit delete.
What happened? Two strikes and you’re out. I don’t know the sender, and the topic is not applicable to me. Filter processing complete.
Now that you know what fires me up, it’s only fair that I show you what would make me pause and seriously consider a message on its merits.
That same week I received another email, this one from Jebbit, a marketing technology company based in Boston. The subject line was “Extra #awesomesauce?” Good one Jebbit – that’s a topic near and dear to my heart. The sender obviously creeped my pages before writing – I appreciate the effort. So I read on.
“Noticed that you’re following Jebbit on Twitter – hope you’ve found it useful!
In fact I have, and the sender goes on to say he researched my employer and believes our companies could work together on several, plausible fronts. I see the possibilities, and direct my marketing people to give them a test drive and report back.
So what was different this time? I don’t know the sender, but he made the effort to know me. It didn’t look like a bulk email, so I flipped the filter and considered the topic. Jebbit nailed this – I follow them because I see applications in my business for their technology. They did some research and saw them too, then pointed them out to me. Well done – I have engaged my staff based on your email. Because of the extra effort, that email slithered through my filter and presented me with an opportunity – one that I am now researching. We did a blog about personalized marketing recently – this email is a great example of well-crafted, personalized marketing. It’s great because it worked.
Hopefully I didn’t just let the cat out of the bag. Crap, what if every marketing grad now starts Googling me to determine how to pierce my finely-honed defenses? I’ll help – my name is Brian, I’m a Libra, and I like zydeco music, playing cornhole, and I smoke Macanudo Cru Royale Poco Gordos.
PS for you clever marketers out there. I actually hate Macanudos. Unless I don’t. If you’re good you’ll figure it out.
So what do the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints have in common?
The funny thing about blogging is that 99.9% of the time, I know more or less exactly what I am going to say when I sit down to type. Oh sure, I don’t have the precise meter and syntax worked out, but I know my message and how I’m going to deliver it to you. This time, not so much.
Until last week, when this struck me – it’s October!
For 2015, we are in the 4th quarter of whatever race you are running, whatever game you are playing, whatever life you are living. So I asked myself a question. I’ve got three more months to make my indelible mark on this year – what am I going to do? I could…
Go on a cruise. After nine months of toil, there is nothing like kicking back with a tropical punch and a good book while drunken tourists split their pants attempting limbo for the first time. Seriously. There is a time to work and a time to recharge, and standing on the prow of a one thousand foot long floating city of steel with the wind in your hair, toothpick jutting jauntily from the corner of your mouth, and a seething cauldron of E. coli just beneath your feet, you can’t help but do your best Leo DiCaprio.
On the other hand, why not…
Engage the autopilot. Look, let’s say you’ve killed it all year to this point, and if you continued to slay everything in sight it would actually look bad. Your comps for 2016 would be tougher, and your less talented, less fortunate, less endowed co-workers would be resentful. This dynamic would quickly spin into a maelstrom of corporate crankiness that would sap the spirits of everyone, including the good workers. You’re taking one for the team so the team can remain a cohesive whole, and this is very unselfish of you. In the eloquent words of 21st century poet and board aficionado Lupe Fiasco, “Kick, push, kick, push, coast.”
I know you’re just waiting for the punch line to all this, so here it comes.
It’s the 4th quarter of the game we call life, and I’ve made my plans. I know who I’ll be calling, what I’ll be studying, where I’ll be traveling, and who I’ll be visiting. I know who I want to do business with, who I’d like to meet, whose brains I’d like to pick, and who I plan to avoid like the plague. And you know why? It’s like the day after Thanksgiving and no one is in the office. Don’t you think that’s a great time to get things done? Yep. The whole 4th quarter is like that – some folks check out, but that makes it easier for the rest of us.
But Brian, what about all that talk about recharging? Me, I’ll do a reverse vampire and recharge at night like God intended. But I encourage everyone else to take it easy. After all, what can you get done at the very end of the game?
Almost forgot! I owe you an explanation about the five NFL teams I mentioned about 550 words ago. Every one of those teams scored enough points in the 4th quarter of last week’s games to either win or push the game into overtime. And the three teams that went into overtime all won. Momentum, my friends.
Always finish strong. Who’s the boss, dammit?
One of my favorite things in the whole wide world is listening to uninformed people talk about themselves.
(I also enjoy gas station cigars, binge-watching reality TV, and sorting rusty razor blades with my butt cheeks.)
So I lied – I don’t really want to listen to uninformed people talk about anything. But why? After all, it can be kinda fun watching someone first put one foot into his/her mouth, then the other, and then wind up swallowing them so deeply that they come out the other side. It’s like the wreck by the side of the highway – you just have to check it out. But it’s not for me.
So I’ll ask again, why not? I think it’s because the whole idea of someone spouting nonsense seems so embarrassing, so self-defeating, and so damned unproductive that I can’t imagine why it would ever happen. But it does – we’ve all seen it.
Help me work through a couple of ideas….
Could it be that these people just like to hear themselves talk? Nope – if that were true they could lock themselves in a room alone, sparing the rest of us from their autonomous aural assault.
Do you think this group just has some delusional fantasy of their own brilliance? Maybe they think they know everything about everything, and their life’s work is to be sure everyone knows they are always right?
Hhhhmmmm – I think we’re getting warmer.
Or perhaps this crew holds their own opinions in such high regard that other opinions are inconsequential and can be interrupted, dismissed, and belittled? Hhhhmmmm indeed.
There’s so much wrong with this whole thing that I just KNOW there must be a medical explanation. And there is. Metacognition is the process by which humanoids evaluate and regulate their own expertise, and it has been studied quite a bit because, well, for the lab-coated pointy heads, it’s a fun time, like the wreck on the highway. It’s fun because we are surprisingly bad at metacognition – a phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Simply put, people that suck don’t realize they suck. On the contrary, they actually believe they’re quite talented. You can see how this combination might create pure comedic poetry in motion. As an example, I offer you patient zero of the Dunning-Kruger effect, McArthur Wheeler.
Back in 1995, Mr. Wheeler decided that robbing banks was a good idea. He had a foolproof plan – he would smear his face with lemon juice before entering the banks. Because lemon juice can be used as invisible ink (which can be seen only after exposure to heat), his face would not be visible to the security cameras. Of course he was caught within hours, but the craziest part was that he was quite stunned his nutball plan didn’t work!
Funny story Brian, but what’s this have to do with uninformed people wasting my time?
There’s an interesting wrinkle to the Dunning-Kruger effect. While those afflicted with DK are spectacularly ignorant of their own shortcomings, those people actually possessing intellect and judgement tend to downplay their relative superiority. So the DKs (“don’t know-it-alls”) boast while intelligent people hold back.
Are there any lessons here for business? Why, yes there are.
• Be suspicious of the loudest person in the room, especially if you’ve never met.
Anyone who feels the need to broadcast without a microphone is displaying poor judgement, a clear sign that they overestimate their own importance and skills. Would you want to deal with this person on either side of the negotiating table?
• If you hear someone regaling a group with tales of their business acumen and you recognize errors or half-truths in their statements, make a mental note.
This person is not competent. First, because he/she is presenting erroneous statements as fact, and second, because if you recognize boasts and lies others will too. Would you do business with this person? No, and you wouldn’t be the only one steering clear.
• Consider the damage that person is causing, and has likely caused in the past.
In business one must have credibility, but someone who boasts, presents facts that are suspect, and has to always be the smartest person in the room won’t have any. Credibility, like respect, is easy to lose and tough to get back.
• Don’t forget – you are judged by the company you keep.
If you are seen associating with people displaying these characteristics, you will be tarred with the same brush.
• But, be interested in the quietest people in the room – they probably have the most to offer.
Research shows that smart, savvy people generally do not misrepresent or inflate themselves, their skills or accomplishments. So you can believe what they say and what they promise.
Here’s an analogy for what I’m seeing. People who are actually intelligent, competent and productive don’t have to beat you with their hammer of credentials – the credentials speak for themselves. They do more listening than talking, become more adept at everything they touch, and are sought out by others (whom they listen to and learn from). Rinse and repeat – these folks are living.
Those who believe they already know everything there is to know feel the need to tell the world. Over and over. They boast of their accomplishments to whoever is within earshot, and also to those who aren’t. They talk too much, make things up, and rarely listen so they don’t learn and ultimately, they push people away. Whatever skills used to exist wither and die.
When you are going under you don’t care who grabs your hand. Neither do the DKs – they are drowning socially and professionally. No amount of boasting and bleating will save them. Just stand back and don’t get wet.