On Changing Yourself


The following is a summary of the article by Geoff Colvin found here.

Success is not based on natural talent. It is a choice.

Studies of accomplished individuals show that few of them achieved anything great before the individuals started intense training.

What separates high achievers from everybody else is something researchers call "deliberate practice." Deliberate practice is a set of elements that, when combined, form a powerful system to improve performance.

The elements are:
1) DP is designed to specifically improve performance. The idea is to constantly stretch yourself beyond your current abilities. This requires you to identify those parts of performance that need to be improved, then work on them. For example, Tiger Woods drops golf balls into a sand trap, steps on them, then hits them out.

Great performers isolate very specific aspects of their game and work on just those things until they get better, then they move on to the next thing.

2) DP must be repeated a lot. But you must choose an activity that is just beyond your current capabilities. Then repeat. For example, Ted Williams would hit baseballs until his hands bled.

3) Get regular feedback from somebody who knows what they're talking about.

4) Expect a mental exercise. This is not mindlessly hitting tennis balls against a wall. It is identifying and focusing only on unsatisfactory areas and working to improve them. Famous violin teacher Leopold Auer told his students, "Practice with your fingers, and you need all day. Practice with your mind, and you will do as much in 1-1/2 hours."

5) It's hard. Seeking out what you're not good at puts you in an uncomfortable spot. But overcoming those situations makes the difference. The fact that it's hard will prevent most people from doing this, which will set you apart.

6) Before work: Set goals. Poor performers set no goals. Mediocre performers set general goals that are focused on a good outcome (win an order, finish a proposal). Excellent performers set goals that improve their own process of reaching outcomes.

7) During work: Observe yourself. Novice runners think about anything that gets their mind off of running. Elite runners focus intensely on their bodies by counting breaths and strides to maintain set ratios. At work it's called metacognition, or knowledge about your own knowledge. Top performers do this as part of their routine.

8) After work: Average performers tell themselves they did fine, great or poorly. The best performers judge themselves based on what they're trying to achieve. You must select a metric that is just beyond your current limits.

So where do you start? By asking what you truly want, and what you truly believe. The more you want something, the easier it will be to keep at it when it's difficult. And the more you believe that if you put in the work you will eventually perform at a high level, the better chance you have of making it real.

How To Recession Proof Your Job

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(the following is a summary of the HBR article "How to Protect Your Job in a Recession" by Janet Banks and Diane Coutu)

  • Lighten up. People prefer working with those who are easy to get along with, even over colleagues who are more capable but less friendly.
  • Look forward to a brighter future. Anticipate a state where things will improve.
  • Anticipate customer needs, both internally and externally. Make your contribution indispensable.
  • Become ambidextrous. Volunteer to take on more responsibilities.
  • Offer solutions to corporate leaders. Show why your department matters. Showing empathy for a leader improves your chances of keeping your job.
  • Unite and inspire colleagues. Revive spirits, get people talking to each other, have fun.
  • Become a good corporate citizen. Show up at the informal meetings you're used to skipping. Participate.
  • Get your ducks in a row. Revise your resume now. Make a list of contacts. Think creatively about your future. Make a Plan B that is better than your Plan A.

In tough economic times, INNOVATE!

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In an article by Kellogg School of Management's Professor Andrew J. Razeghi, the author urges people not to cut back on research and innovation during tough financial times, because these are the areas that are most vital to a company's survival. He cites many examples of product inventions that we now take for granted that came about during the Great Depression because smart and creative people discovered and catered to unmet needs. For example, Miracle Whip was invented during the Depression and marketed as a tasty new dressing to make vegetables and sandwiches more appealing during a time when meat was scarce and expensive. It outsold all other brands of dressing and mayonnaise within six months of its initial launch.

Razeghi's six tips for innovating through economic downturns are:

1. Listen to the market. It's quieter when it's less crowded. Unmet needs abound.

There is no better time to invest in user and market research!

2. Invest in your customers. Now they need you most. Loyalty hangs in the balance.
Offer all kinds of services to keep your existing customers loyal to you.

3. Rather than reduce price, offer more value to your customers and demand greater value from vendors.
Reducing prices for the sake of reducing prices only serves to negatively impact the perceived value of your product.

4. Increase communication with your customers.
Don't let up on advertising; studies have shown that it is critical to maintaining sales.

5. Move longer-term projects forward, not back. Now is the time to grab market share.
Improve product quality and invest in new opportunities that will help gain you market share while other companies lost market share by cutting innovation resources.

6. In recession, not all costs are created equal. Maintain or increase investment in "good costs," prune "bad costs," and use judgment on "it depends costs."
"Good costs" are marketing, innovation and customer quality. "Bad costs" are fixed and working capital, manufacturing, and general and administrative expenses.

This article (which you can download here) definitely helps to promote the creative industry as our jobs are to help companies communicate to and develop new products for its customers. Still, part of me wonders if there is data out there that suggests otherwise? Who wants to play Devil's Advocates and do a little more research?
Isn't it nice when you spot the leftovers in the back of the fridge wrapped with a thin spread of saran wrap and you realize, "Oh, it's the spaghetti with the delicious pasta sauce I made yesterday!"

Now imagine if that dish were either covered in a paper towel, aluminum, or better yet, dreadful styrofoam. Your thoughts might change to, "Crap. Must. Explore. Further." And then you rationalize how important it is to you at the time and either move the milk carton and OJ to see what's lurking or just leave it. Let's face it, mystery is fun, but only when its entertaining. Otherwise, it can be a frustrating nuisance.

Well, how about a new (more transparent) way to package some good ole' fashioned politics? Enter an industrial-sized roll of The Internet. I agree with A Huffington in that the web is changing the game of politics in two very distinct ways. One is that it's creating access, thus generating interest, to a generation of people who now head online for current events instead of buying a newspaper or watching TV.

The second, and more to the benefit, is that it's helping to establish a culture of participation and transparency. It's not at all perfect, but this election has employed a 'wiki' approach to fact check or provide a counterpoint to what the campaigns are saying via blogs, emails, and video on the web. The politics of before where lies were too much work (and possibly old news the next day) to chase down and verify by the media are coming to a close.

A Huffington mentions that, "Traditional media like moving on to the next shiny thing. But bloggers love revisiting a story." This has all but truly played out, for example, by the vast amount of user-produced video series on YouTube, highlighting the controversies, misleadings and obvious contradictions of the campaigns. Not to mention access to the syndicated debates and speeches one may have missed the night before.

Onwards towards a culture of transparency.
The only way to build genuine trust is not so much by what people say, but by what they do. And if the people in public office behave in a more transparent way, this will bring back a trust in our government that hasn't been there for a while. Oh, and private companies, you're not out of this either. The same concept applies to you and your responsibilities to investors. The internet is coming for you.

It's a little strange (and doesn't necessarily help our reputation in the business world) that this article chose to share the story about the High-Tech CFO Action Figure to demonstrate what design thinking can do, but hey, the more people that know about us, the better....

Design in a downturn

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What happens to the design industry in a downturn? I am a little young to have much experience in this matter, but I recall having a terrible time trying to find a job after college in 2002 and ex-Sapient designers still grumble about how the creative team there was the first to be cut in the dot-com bust.

Perhaps, then, it is wise to follow the lead of certain design consultancies in opening up new revenue streams in order to decrease the risk of relying solely on in-house talent. Method Ventures is the VC arm of the SF-/NY-/London-based brand experience firm that buys equity in start-up companies in exchange for interesting and cutting-edge work. In a DesignWeek article, Chief Innovation Officer Chris Tacy affirms this business practice:

We realised that we could create a venture practice that provided the sort of design services that create the innovation and differentiation needed for start-ups. And we could do so in a manner that met their needs, would be affordable and which enabled us to find revenue streams not tied directly to head count.

Fahrenheit 212 takes a different approach with a royalties model: it puts

...up to two-thirds of our fees at risk, making them contingent upon the achievement of success. Our success is your success, and our reward is tied directly to very concrete, pre-agreed commercial milestones within the prescribed time horizon. These milestones are client-specific, typically mirroring the dates, gates and metrics of the company’s prevailing innovation best practice. This model…is about creating a seamless alignment of our client partners’ ambitions and our own. It ensures we run the project for success rather than cozy meetings. And it makes us the only innovation company on Earth that doesn’t get paid more the longer it takes to get somewhere.

I have written them to learn more about how this impacts their creative process and what kind of pre-engagement analysis is involved in scoping projects, and am waiting to hear back. (Anyone else know?)

Many other companies publish books, teach courses, and host events and conferences to bring in extra cash. IDEO additionally utilizes the vast body of architectural, anthropological, and sociological knowledge it has gained through research projects over the years to contribute to the tourism industry in its “IDEO Eyes Open” city guide series.