A review and summary: Inbox Freedom by Mike Ghaffary & Charles Hudson

Inbox Freedom Book CoverThe Review

I get a lot of email. I’m sure you do too. Work emails. Personal emails. Newsletters. “Helpful” notification emails. Even more “helpful” marketing emails for more stuff you don’t want or need.

Like most people, I struggle with the tension between staying on top of the information flow and staying away from email long enough to get real work done or enjoy downtime with friends and family.

When I heard about Inbox Freedom (ironically, I was surfing Twitter while procrastinating from tackling my overflowing inbox), the promise – tackling email like a zen-master, freedom from the tyranny of the inbox – was too alluring to ignore.

I immediately downloaded it and dove right in. A few hours later, the easy part was done (reading the book). The tough part now lies ahead – changing habits and letting go of the addiction of checking for new updates in my inbox.

Mike Ghaffary & Charles Hudson are incredibly accomplished, busy guys. Mike’s currently VP of Biz Dev at Yelp, and Charles is a repeat entrepreneur and venture partner at SoftTech VC. They get a LOT done with their time, even holding down multiple jobs at times. I’m confident that I’m nowhere near as busy as them, so if this system works for them, then it should work for most of us. It’s been field tested.

It’s also inspired by principles behind two classic productivity frameworks: Getting Things Done and the classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Mike and Charles have adapted those principles for the email-rich, instant-messaging, always-on/always-connected, constant-interrupt professional world we live in today.

Over the years, I’ve seen (and tried) a lot of attempts at taming the inbox. Most of them were variants of the “just don’t open your inbox for the day and it will all go away” strategy. That’s wonderful if you have that luxury. But for those of us who have customer or external facing roles (CEOs, lawyers, accountants, VCs, and others), where responsiveness is critical to your effectiveness & reputation, Mike & Charles demonstrate principles and tactics for thriving in this reality.

I strongly recommend buying this book, implementing their recommendations (and adapting it to your reality), and then making a bucket-list of all the things you’re going to do with your new-found freedom!

The Summary

Steps to Get to Inbox Freedom

  1. Do an Inbox Audit: How do you use email? How important is it to your work? How do you email “up” (to your boss or bosses)?
  2. Go Mobile: Setup your systems so you can do everything on your smartphone (not tablet) – respond & archive emails, create & edit docs, sign docs, find & send docs, etc.
  3. Go Proactive: Separate your inbox from your task lists & wish lists; Write actionable, achievable, unambiguous tasks with honest due dates.
  4. Setting you your Calendar for success: Don’t schedule back to back meetings; Use the morning commute or post-wakeup time to quickly clear up emails; use the first minutes of your time in the office to knock off 1-2 priority tasks (not email); use the end of your day to get to Inbox Freedom daily by 6:00pm (or whenever the rush of the day ends); learn to say no to meetings, default to 30 min meetings, schedule time for long tasks.
  5. Setting up Notes & Docs: Put your docs in the cloud; take good meeting notes (3-5 points + action items); use lots of different types of wish lists (but keep them separate from your meeting notes).
  6. Customize it to fit your life!

Before & After

To help me easily remember what pre- & post-Inbox Freedom looks like, I summarized the key parts of the book into this before/after table. Enjoy!

Before Freedom After Freedom
Reactive to what’s coming in on the stream (doing what others say you need to do) Proactive in deciding what to tackle and how to spend time (doing what you think you should do)
Touching emails/vmails multiple times with no forward motion Only touch it once: Do (<30s), Defer (to task list), Archive
Inbox as task list Inbox is not a task list.Task list is separate. Wishlists are separate from task lists.
Can’t do everything when mobile You can do everything you need to when mobile (reply, archive, edit/sign/attach docs).
No system or framework to deciding what to do Customized system or framework that works for you
Recent = important Recent != most important
Turning everything into a task If something can be done in 30s or less (quick response, add to pocket, intro, one word/sentence responses) just do it. Pro Tip: Construct your life in ways that more things can be done in 30s or less (Amazon Prime, Auto-bill pay, TaskRabbit, delegate)
Day ends with a long pile of emails Get to Inbox Freedom EVERYDAY by 6pm. During your Hour of Power (5-6 or 6-7), you make the push to get to Inbox Freedom.
Using email for everything Using email when appropriate, and using other tools in other times (IM, face-to-face conversation, txt message request for a call.)Tailoring comms to your higher-ups’ styles
First thing you do in the office, email First thing you do in the office, top two priorities
Asking for approval over email Emails with declarative statement with opportunity to object (we’ve decided this is best course, we going to do this, silence = approval, object now if you want)
Bad action verbs, vague tasks Good action verbs (unambiguous, literal, narrowly defined, something a robot would get), actionable, achievable tasks (first next step)
No due dates or too aspirational Honest due dates
Tasks pile up Actively, constantly pruning tasks that no longer need to be done
Tasks & Wishes mixed up Task list is limited to just what you need to do to not get fired or divorced. Separate wish list (someday/maybe) for things you’d like to do one day. You can have hundreds of these lists in Evernote – books, movies, places, bucket lists, weekend getaways, gifts, etc.
Back to back meetings Meetings spaced out so you have 10 minutes after each to do the quick follow-up necessary
No or overly verbose meeting notes Write down 3-5 most salient points of the meeting (in Evernote)Jot down next actions.
Rush to wrap up meetings Start ending the meetings 5-10 mins before scheduled end to handle last-min questions, agree on next actions, etc.
Default to 1h meetings with too many people & vague agenda Default to 30 min meetings; Only whoever is necessary to make a decision; Clear on what’s actionable, tangible objective of the meeting?
Using the mouse Using keyboard shortcuts
Sorting emails into folders Archiving and learning how to use search

A geek dad’s guide to toys for girls (and boys)

My daughter Maya is four now, and since she was born, I’ve been looking for ways to share my love of tech with her. Not consuming it, through iPads & Netflix, but making stuff using tech. Like an Animated Holiday Hat:

Flying Santa Hat


Maya + Littlebits

My first a-ha moment came after watching Ayah Bdeir’s fabulous TED Talk on Building blocks that blink, beep and teach. I ordered a kit as soon as I could. When the littlebits kit arrived (I ignored the label on the side saying it was for kids 8+…Maya was 3 at the time!) I put the pieces together. Maya looked on, very confused. Until she pressed a switch and heard a buzzer go off, a fan spin, and two lights light up…Then her eyes lit up! We were both hooked.

The second a-ha moment came when Goldieblox launched their viral video with three girls hacking their house in Rube Goldberg-esque revolt against the pink aisle. After Maya watched it, the gears started spinning in her mind…how can I make that!

The third a-ha moment (or was it an oh-$*** moment?) came after a visit to Singularity University’s IPP Program to learn about the impact of exponential technologies, and reading Tyler Cowen’s excellent book, Average is Over, an exploration of the future of jobs in an era of robotics, machine learning, AI and so on. tl;dr — tech will eliminate many of today’s white collar (and blue collar jobs), and the gains will accrue to those who can leverage tech to amplify their ability to analyze, discover, and make. One of my hunches is, down the road, knowing how to code is going to become as commonplace as knowing how to use Excel/Word is today.

As a result, I’ve been hunting for cool toys that are fun and let her make cool things herself (okay, fine, with some help from Mom & Dad). Here’s what I’ve found so far (I’ll update this list with new stuff I find.)

The New Kids on the Block

Thanks to crowdfunding and the leadership of some incredible women, there’s a whole new, uber-fun way to teach kids electronics, mechanical engineering, robotics, and so much more:

  • littlebits color coded, magnetic snap together electrical circuits with fun crafts projects you can work on together.
  • Goldieblox mechanical systems with fun girl characters and a story to illustrate the systems. Plus fun projects from the community.
  • Bo & Yana, fun programmable robots for kids of all ages (waiting for mine to arrive)
  • MOSS, another fun magnetic snap-together robot set. It says its for 8+, so not sure if Maya will get into it (waiting for mine to arrive.)
  • Roominate, a wired dollhouse building kit!!! Check out some of the cool dollhouse (and bridge) creations girls put together.
  • Kano, a little computer that anyone can make! It can teach kids how to build a computer, program it, and much much more. Waiting for mine to arrive, and can’t wait to play with it (oh yeah, with Maya)!
  • Primo is the latest entrant…a really really cool way to teach kids 4-7 programming logic through a physical board (like a wooden puzzle piece), Cubetto, a friendly robot, and a set of wooden “code” blocks.

On the iPad

  • Toca Boca has a bunch of fun kids apps teaching different things. One of Maya’s favourites is Toca Builders, which we use to build little landscapes with cute little characters. It’s Minecraft (the incredibly popular virtual world building game) for kids.
  • Move the Turtle is a fun app that teaches programming logic by walking kids through moving a turtle around (Maya didn’t really get into this too much…so maybe too early). There’s also a strangely similar real-life board game, Robot Turtles!

The Classics

  • Lots of Lego, including sets from the Lego Friends series. And some Pirates & X-Wing fighters. We mix them up with the littlebits sometimes.
  •  Erector sets when she’s old enough to put them together.

Did I go a bit overboard? Yeah, probably :) But we now have lots of little toys and projects we can play with together and explore making stuff in a fun way.

Think of all the stories we could have told

One day baby we’ll be old, oh baby we’ll be old,

think of all the stories that we could have told.

These lyrics are stuck in my head.

Perhaps because of choices made (classic, work v family+friends).

Perhaps because I’m realizing why Storytelling makes us Human.

Or perhaps, its just a catchy tune?

Juice Project: Aftermath of a five day juice cleanse

IMG_4258This is nuts I’ll never do it. Sure, why not. Why the f#$@ did I sign up for this. Wow, I did it!

That was my juicing journey. From astonishment that sane minded people would willingly subject themselves to it, to joy and experienced enlightenment having completed it.

For the uninitiated, the Juice Cleanse is one of the more recent dietary fads. For several days, you drink a variety of fruit/vegetable juices and abstain from food & toxins (caffeine, alcohol, nicotine). Basically, all the wonderful things in life. Yeah, sounds fruity. The upside, you get detoxed, energized, and so on. Does it work? The scientific jury is definitely out…a quick Google search turns up an overwhelmingly negative sentiment. HuffPo does a good job summarizing the current thinking on it. Nonetheless, it was an awesome experience. I tried something new, experientially learnt a few things about my interactions with food, and (mostly) felt great for a week. 

IMG_4274 First, it was way easier than I expected. Despite having several work meetings at restaura nts. The Wrapp team in San Francisco did it as a group and I didn’t want to cheat and get called out…good ole peer pressure. The juices tasted awesome, so I always looked forward to them. And what’s not to love about having all your meals pre-planned and ready to consume atpre-determined times…no work involved! Finally, having juice everycouple  of hours meant I never felt really hungry (hence, so cravings for junky or comfort food).

Second, other than one morning feeling like crap, I mostly felt on top of the world, my best self, all week. My head & body felt 100% since it was clear of all the side effects of over-eating (poor self-control), caffeine & insulin spikes & crashes, and adverse reactions to gluten (I’m intolerant). This was also the result of sleeping the full 7.5h my body needs since I couldn’t have caffeine to keep me up during the day.

Third, I had so much more time on my hands! It’s truly amazing how much of every day and week is spent thinking about, preparing food, finding somewhere to eat, going there, eating. Yes, there’s definitely a social, uplifting, positive element to some meals (say family/friend dinners, client meetings, etc.), but most meals are rushed, single-person, hardly soul-uplifting events.

My takeaways from this:

First, I’m sold on juicing. Homemade juices are a delicious way to supplement your diet. And possibly as a replacement for some meals or as snacks in between meals. If you’re in a crunch – especially while travelling – likely better to grab a juice than whatever other junk is in the aisles. However, still conflicted over juicing v. smoothies. Time to experiment.

Second, I’m now intrigued by and plan to explore the raw food movement. Can’t hurt to at least have a few raw meals a week. And try to eat as close to raw as is feasible.

Third, I really need to avoid certain toxins (gluten & dairy) and reduce others (caffeine & alcohol).

Finally, I’ve realized I can get by (and still feel great) on way fewer calories than I currently consume. Big plates, big portion sizes at restaurants, habits, all lead to way too much going in. I’m going to try one less serving, one smaller cut each meal.

Plutocrats: A review

I just wrapped up Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else by Chrystia Freeland (a fellow Canadian). A phenomenal new book that looks at the global forces & trends leading to not one, but Two Gilded Ages occurring in parallel (America’s second, and the developing world’s first).

Most books on the wealthy seem to be glorified tabloids peeling apart the curtains to voyeuristically gaze upon the enviable lives of the super-rich (since it’s not enough to just be rich anymore). Thankfully, Plutocrats was nothing like this.

The core idea is that there are two macro trends, globalization & technology, that are creating  disruptions much greater than those triggered by the industrial revolution. The resulting benefits aren’t equally distributed. Nothing new so far. What’s interesting with Plutocrats is the immense wealth of data & research brought to bear on why the benefits haven’t been equally distributed, what the impacts have been (good & bad,) and where this is all going. But before it gets into that, the book dives into the who….Who are the Plutocrats?

Who are the Plutocrats? Call them the 1%, the 0.1% or even the 0.01%. They’re globally minded, travel extensively, have more in common with each other than with their countrymen. They’re the working rich. Anxious, over-worked. They’re on the circuits – Davos, Aspen, Zeitgeist. Most are educated, intellectual, info-junkies, data-driven “empiricists” (data over ideology), leverage/adapt to shifts they spot in the landscape. Since most are self-made, they tend to be ambivalent to those that haven’t made it.

Why has inequality taken a U-shaped turn for the worse? Factories have eliminated blue-collar jobs. Computers have (and are) eliminating white-collar jobs. As a result, while American businesses (and their owners) are doing great, average American workers aren’t. But for skilled people at the top of their game, the Superstar Effect has lead to astronomical incomes for those who’s skills are in demand (CEOs, sports stars, celebrity chefs, designers…programmers). In many countries, the political/economic changes brought about by liberalization, de-regulation, global-trade resulted in those in the right place with the right connections walking away with out-sized gains relative to those of their countrymen.

What are the effects of all this? Those we see all around us. Crumbling public institutions, rumblings of social unrest (#occupy), rising chorus of calls for more redistribution clashing against lobbying for less. Millions in developing countries being pulled out of poverty, while many in developed countries joining the ranks of the working poor. Confusing times to be sure.

What next? As Chrystia Freeland said in a 2011 piece in The Atlantic:

The lesson of history is that, in the long run, super-elites have two ways to survive: by suppressing dissent or by sharing their wealth. It is obvious which of these would be the better outcome for America, and the world. Let us hope the plutocrats aren’t already too isolated to recognize this. Because, in the end, there can never be a place like Galt’s Gulch.

On Failure: Lessons learnt at FailCon 2012

I spent the day at FailCon 2012 and learnt a ton about startup failures.

My takeaways are below, and in my next post, I’ll add some of the key points made by each of the speakers.

Lesson #1: When exiting FailCon, try to not back into people and knock their beers all over them!! (True Story…#EpicFail)

Lesson #2: Talking about your failures with total strangers is incredibly cathartic!

Lesson #3: You can have the best pedigree (founder, team, investors), do everything by the book, tackle big & obvious problems with a killer solution, launch to great fanfare…and still fail. Like Battleship, each “miss” gives you one more clue to what might work next time around, but success will always be a moving target. Hence…

Lesson #4: …Fail small. Fail often. Fail fast. Fail early. 

Lesson #5: A surprising number of people (mostly men) contemplate suicide post business/startup failure. But we have a choice in our response to a failure. By finding meaning in that failure, we can get up and keep on truckin’.

Lesson #6: Ignore all the chatter about who’s getting what Social Proof. Customers don’t care about what the tech rags or your investors think about you. They only care about whether you solve their problem. So focus on that.

Conversations, the lifeblood of a company

Consider the daily conversations in your company. How are they?

Are they free flowing or constrained? Are they riddled with political considerations or are they frank? Are they engaging or draining? Are they respectful or snide and sarcastic? Do you learn from them? Uncover problems or discover solutions?

It seems to me that the simple Conversation is immensely powerful, yet often ignored. We “communicate value”, “communicate positions”, massage our messages, strip them of any real emotion or meaning, render them one dimensional. We abstract them into “Internal Communications” and look for complex tools to help us solve the problems we know exists.

“Communication” seems very one sided to me. A conversation is by definition two sided.
Communications sounds abstract and formal. A conversation is tangible, personal, casual.

I think it’s a mistake to focus on “Communications”. Sure, communications problems are endemic. But at its core, communications occur through the myriad Conversations we have everyday. On email. In person. Over IM. We don’t have a “Communications” problem. We have a problem with our Conversations.

It seems hard to fix a company’s communications problems (sounds like I need a management consultant, or another new Internal Communications Tool). But surely, one can figure out how to have better Conversations with the people you work with, irrespective of the channel.

Focus on having better conversations everyday, and we can get so much more done (without fancy management consultants…but I like cool new tools).

Startup Finance

Sharing some lessons learnt on finance in a startup. I’d like to say that this is the beginning of many many posts on lessons learnt from my time as a co-founder & VP Finance/Ops at Rypple…but actions speak louder than words!

Key lessons learnt

  1. SaaS businesses live and die by the numbers. The successful startups have this all figured out. Heavy upfront investment in customer acquisition and revenue that’s spread out over time means that you need as much insight as early as possible into how every corporate activity either reduces your CAC or increases your CLTV.
  2. You can’t get this level of real-time insight without investing in business analytics (real-time dashboards, logging everything possible, educating the team on incorporating data into decisions). It really doesn’t matter that you’ve saved dev time by not working on analytics if you’re working on the wrong things.
  3. Aggregate metrics can be misleading in a growing startup (since the monthly growth of new users and initial activity can hide problems with older cohort’s of users). Cohort numbers should be used for all core metrics. Especially for engagement metrics.


Core SaaS Financial Metrics: The SaaS Metrics series from Bessemer Ventures (scroll to the Whitepapers section) was my startup finance bible. Many VC’s and startup finance folk (including me) swear by this metrics framework. When we were fundraising, in pitch after pitch, we kept getting asked about (and evaluated on) these metrics. Start here, and customize to your own situation.

Operational Metrics Framework: The operating metrics you need to measure is really dependent on your customer acquisition model & product. A popular framework is Dave McClure’s (500Startups) AAARR! framework for measuring the health of your conversion funnel(s). It’s a reasonable first order approximation of your customer acquisition effectiveness. However, its limitation is that it becomes complex for anything other than a linear acquisition flow. A better framework is Joel York’s “fuzzy funnel” model which accounts for the reality that people don’t follow a linear path directly through your funnel (especially in B2B SaaS).

Benchmarking: OPEXEngine’s software benchmark report is amazing. Since many people in the Valley  follow similar metrics, VCs would compare our metrics to those of their other portfolio companies when deciding whether we were worth pursuing. We’d keep hearing things like “Well, Box.net has X% engagement, and you guys have Y%. Why is yours so different?”, etc. OPEXEngine’s benchmarks helped us understand where we sucked and would have to explain ourselves, or where we could hang up our hat.

Helpful financial metrics oriented blogs

Mark Macleod at StartupCFO

Joel York at Chaotic-flow.com

David Skok at Forentrepreneurs.com

Analytics Tools

I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, tools like mixpanel and ToTango promise to help you not reinvent the wheel. On the other hand, your own needs keeps changing in unpredictable ways. Mark Macleod suggests just building it all in-house. My experience with building analytics in-house was not great (devs get busy so can’t make changes that are needed). Fortunately, I’m pretty technical, so I could build a lot of my own basic analytics. Ideally, you have one dev that’s responsible for data-warehousing & analytics, and they work in concert with you and possibly use a tool like Mixpanel to outsource some of the analytics work for metrics that don’t change as often.

Sheryl Sandberg & Soft Power

Photograph by Robyn Twomey, in BusinessWeek

BusinessWeek ran an article last week titled “Why Facebook Need Sheryl  Sandberg” which painted a great picture about the life and methods of the famous Facebook COO. It’s an immensely enjoyable read, and I highly recommend reading it.

What I particularly enjoyed reading about was how she leads the 2,500+ people that now work at Facebook. Her soft-power leadership style was developed during her time as chief-of-staff to Lawrence Summers when he was the Treasury Secretary. This stands in stark contrast to the hard-power styles of leaders like Cameron (of Avatar/Titanic/etc.), Jobs, Ellison, Balmer, Gates, and Grove.

Her Washington influenced methods includes publicly praising subordinates, but keeping reprimands private. She’s “super direct”, saying ‘I’m going to be the one to tell you, this is what people are expecting from you and here’s what you need to do to improve.’ She also leverages her sociability and authentic relationship building skills as Facebook’s top recruiter, drawing away top talent form other companies. Finally, none of this soft-power stuff implies that she toes the “party line”, as she points out that disagreements between her and Zuckerberg are common…and healthy.

For me, this adds one great datapoint to the question of whether you need to be Jobsian hard ass and dictator to build a successful company.

The management research these days tends to paint a picture that leadership styles have to be softened a bit for today’s workforce, that the old command-and-control post-industrial org structures are no longer appropriate, that meaning is the new money, that employees are “partners” not subordinates, and so on.

Yet, the most successful tech companies of our time (for me, Apple, Microsoft, Oracle) all are run by fiendishly brutal leaders with a style that’s anything but soft. More sticks than carrots. And in Jeff Pfeffer’s new book, Power, he points to an interesting study in which people expected their senior leaders to be dictatorial and “hard”, while expecting middle managers to be consensus-builders and “soft”.

I’m still on the fence about what the best style is. I’ve seen first hand the benefits and costs of both. Hard-power is easier and faster. No need to waste time getting buy-in or building consensus. Long-term effects could include greater employee dissatisfaction (seriously, who enjoys being told what to do??) and ultimately higher churn if that hard-power isn’t accompanied by success of some sort (see for instance, HBR’s analysis of James Cameron’s leadership style). Soft-power is more time-consuming since you have to build consensus and persuade people to do something, rather than just demanding action. And my own natural leadership style veers towards soft-power. Perhaps you use what’s appropriate in the situation, but then, people don’t like surprises, and react in unpredictable ways to Jekyll/Hyde style changes in style.

But this is why I like Sandberg’s style. It’s soft-power, but sees disagreements as healthy and doesn’t shy away from them. It sets very high expectations, but coaches, recognizes and encourages the best performance. It takes a shit ton of work, patience, and self-control, but the end results seem to be worth it.

End of Computers As We Know It

Don’t forget to play R.E.M.’s End Of The World

End of Computers
Via: OnlineComputerScienceDegree.com

Canadian Pride

I snagged an invitation to Seymour Schulich’s induction into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame (courtesy of the alway generous Seymour). A grand affair. They awarded Seymour, Galen Weston, Guy Laliberté, and Aldo Bensadoun. Yes. Seymour, Galen & Guy. And Aldo. Go ahead, say it. Holy crap!

Scanning the list of attendees, and looking around, there were tons of familiar faces (from the papers). Peter Mansbridge. Rex Murphy. The Bloombergs. The Pezims. The who’s who of the Canadian business elite. And us. A bunch of startup vagabonds.

What blew me away was the chance to hear these people speak. Galen Weston was elegant and entertaining. Schulich was self-deprecating, didn’t pull punches, and had us bursting with laughter. Guy was, the guy next door. The dreamer who’s life you wanted to live. Aldo was the conservative guy who worked with Mom to put together the perfect high school speech. They were a varied bunch and the life lessons and observations overflowed. The sheer variety of their personalities and their paths to success was a testament that there’s no one way!

Variety aside, the lessons & observations overflowed (some remembered, the memory of the rest hindered by the overflowing open bar.)

From Galen’s speech: Get out and talk to all the people that drive your business. Your vendors, your shop managers, your customers. Have fun. Know your business partners and your adversaries. Bakery to Groceries to Luxury. What a great story.

From Seymour’s speech: Never be too smart, never be too tough. Leave that last nickle on the table. Give back. It doesn’t matter what house you live in, what car you drove. What matters is how you impact the lives of today’s youth (and tomorrow’s youth). He was very lucky. But you have to be smart enough to be able to take advantage of the “right thing” when faced with lucky options. Smart enough to know what to go with, and what to leave behind.

From Guy’s speech: For Cirque, their success stemmed from their relationship with the audience. Leaving all their cares behind and performing for the audience. No compromises when you have to deliver for the audience. Remember that you were once a child. Allow that naivette to allow you to imagine the future and not be tied to the way things are. You have to be able to adapt to the future.

From Aldo: He wanted to build a people business in which everyone was at their full potential. Never got angry or lost his temper. Wanted to be a great Canadian. Believes that our mosaic of a culture is uniquely suited to succeeding in this new hyper-globalized economy since we can actually recognize and maybe even understand different perspectives.

Watching their speaking styles, I admired Galen’s elegant casualness. It was like having a fireside chat with an old friend. Seymour’s speech pulled no punches, spared no one (not even himself). It amazed me that he has such a solid reputation that he can call it as it is. What others think, he has the guts to say publicly. He thanked his long time partners. And that included his assistant of 30+ years (Ann Brown, a phenomenally caring person), and Ron Binns, his CFO of 20+ years (smart, and just fun to talk to). Guy was disarmingly casual. No pretensions. An inspiring presence.

I’m inspired, and proud. Of Canada, and of my fellow Canadians.

Canadian Business Hall of Fame

Seth Godin on the post-industrial opportunity

The promise that you can get paid really well to do precisely what your boss instructs you to do is now a dream, no longer a reality.

Interesting series of posts by Seth Godin on the post-industrial world we live in today. Checkout Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

More from Seth:

Right before your eyes, a fundamentally different economy, with different players and different ways to add value is being built. What used to be an essential asset (for a person or for a company) is worth far less, while new attributes are both scarce and valuable.

Are there dislocations? There’s no doubt about it. Pain and uncertainty and risk, for sure.

The opportunity, though, is the biggest of our generation (or the last one, for that matter). The opportunity is there for anyone (with or without a job) smart enough to take it–to develop a best in class skill, to tell a story, to spread the word, to be in demand, to satisfy real needs, to run from the mediocre middle and to change everything.

¡Note! Like all revolutions, this is an opportunity, not a solution, not a guarantee. It’s an opportunity to poke and experiment and fail and discover dead ends on the way to making a difference. The old economy offered a guarantee–time plus education plus obedience = stability.

The new one, not so much. The new one offers a chance for you to take a chance and make an impact.

“You make your own luck. Every single minute of every day”

Hiten Shah, co-founder, KISSmetrics

You can’t fire me, I’m firing you!

I coach & mentor a few people from time to time. People that work with me or for me. Students from the various faculties I graduated from. People who just have questions about this and that. Sometimes, they talk about their fears about getting fired (whether its layoff, a moody manager, change of strategy, etc.) And my response is: Never, ever worry about getting fired. Instead, just be Awesome. So much so that they’re begging you to stay! (Can you tell I’ve been watching a bit too much of “How I met your mother“?)

For a (thankfully) short period in my life, I worried about getting fired. I’m not entirely sure why. It was a part-time job while I was in school. It was a “paying-your-dues” style internship so the pay wasn’t great (by that I mean it was non-existent). And it wasn’t part of my Master Career Plan anyway. But for some irrational reason, I worried. Fear of rejection? Fear of shame? Probably.

In any case, I worked sub-optimally. I made decisions that didn’t “rock-the-boat.” I agreed with everything said (even bad ideas that, in retrospect, might even have been some sort of test!). I played it safe. Mediocrity. Yay. How forgettable.

Then, a few thoughts crystallized in my mind and events unfolded simultaneously that kicked me in the ass. The events? A few people close to me (different companies) got fired for fabricated reasons that later proved untrue or even illegal. The Thoughts? Thought #1: business is business. Nothing personal. Sometimes, you just weren’t meant to be together (“It’s not you baby, its me”). Thought #2: the workforce now operates on a free agency model in which employees are free agents, in charge of shaping their own careers, choosing their employers, crafting their own work stories. In this new paradigm, one says, “F*@# the Gold Watch & the Pension, I want a meaningful career” (however you define meaning).

This was incredibly liberating. If I’m a free agent, then why worry about getting fired? Why not focus on being so Awesome (damn, that show’s stuck in my mind) that I can fire my company when they don’t work out! The wonderful thing is: I don’t waste time worrying about being fired or playing it safe or not rocking the boat; I’m not at the whim of some bully manager who thinks that threatening to fire me will motivate me to do their bidding (sadly, a very common yet wholly ineffective strategy, the subject of a soon-to-be-published post); and most of all, I’m not tied down wasting my time doing crap that has no meaning to me!

With benefits like this, I just couldn’t go back to worrying about being fired. And this is why I advise everyone to just stop. Stop worrying. Stop playing it safe. Stop selling yourself short. Heck, if you don’t have confidence in your own skills, then why should someone else place their confidence in you? But wait, there’s more. Being a slave to your boss’s whims sucks. Being a Free Agent in charge of your own career, and constantly evaluating whether to fire your boss? Awesome.

Now, it ain’t easy. Not worrying about being fired doesn’t mean don’t be prepared. Quite the contrary. You should be prepared because that backs up your stance. The mind hates inconsistencies, and telling yourself you don’t care about being fired, while not being prepared is just a recipe for relapse into bad old habits.

Be financially prepared (transition funds and all). Be prepared at work. Keep your network alive. ABC (Always Be Checking, and why not, 78% of people do!). Maybe even do a mock “fire” drill from time to time!

What about the voice in the back of your head saying “but…but..loyalty”? At the end of the day, the old quid pro quo (lifelong employment in exchange for life long loyalty to The Company) is dead. Today, business is business. Cut-backs, bully firings, layoffs, restructurings are commonplace and a critical part of business operations. Company leaders are regularly expected to evaluate their workforce’s performance and make the appropriate changes. Its not you baby, its me. In this constantly “restructuring” world, why be loyal?

Cognitive Disinhibition

There seems to be a epidemic sweeping through my little corner of the world. Everywhere I turn, people are being stricken by Simplicititis. Those afflicted with this try to convince themselves and others that the world, and everything in it, really is very simple. And that people themselves are simplistic and can only handle simple information stripped of all its nuances.

You see this in politics (“If you’re not with us, you’re against us”), in engineering (“K.I.S.S.”), in web app design, in business, in the fast food world (In/Out burger). Perhaps its a knee jerk reaction to the information overload that people face today. Everywhere you turn, there’s a firehose of information. From your Nike+ app, your brain wave monitor, your smartphone, your RSS, your twitter feeds, email, social streams, 24h and 500+ channels of TV. So I can understand why people might want to take refuge in a simplified world.

But this has always made me very uncomfortable. I like complexity. I like nuance. I like long articles. I worry when things are simplified. What if I’m missing key information? Why should I trust the person filtering my information for me?

An interesting article in Scientific American Mind provided some wonderful support for my love of complexity. It pointed to research digging into why creative people were the way they were. Critical to creativity is the lack of a cognitive filter on the firehose of information people are always subject to today. That coupled with the mental horsepower to make sense of that and a large working memory, turned out to be common traits of creative people.

Another proponent of complexity is Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman Business School and my old professor. An essential early step in his mental framework for thinking is to embrace and wade into complexity before attempting to make sense of it.

Why is simplicity so alluring? It’s easier on the brains. No need to contend with uncomfortable data. No need to think hard and sort out inconsistencies. It’s also easier to sell to the masses and to manipulate them when you pose important decisions in a simple “for us or against us” frame.

I’m not anti-simplicity. After all, Einstein famously said, “Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

(Actually, what he really said was “It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.”  And this was then paraphrased.)

Starting an interesting new book – Game Change

Anyone who knows me knows that I love books. To say I love books may be an understatement. My collection now spans over 400 books. My bookshelves are all full, and piles have started to form on the floor of my study!

Yet, the obsession continues. The latest addition to my collection – Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime. The title says it all. It reads like a political thriller, but based on hundreds of interviews with the various players on the red and blue sides of the campaigns. I’m only 30 pages in, but it’s already been one heck of an interesting ride.

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