Apr 152013

Here are three more tips for email. (The first three are here: Three Tips on Managing Email.) As before, your mileage may vary.

(1) Don’t assume that you should respond to an email with another email. A phone call or in-person chat might be more efficient and effective. In some cases, the precision of writing is worthwhile, but in many cases, you’re consuming too much time in writing — and asking others to consume too much time in reading. Or, in the case of conflicts, you can seriously worsen the conflict by miscommunication, particularly in tone.

(2) Be ruthelessly purposeful about your email communications. Identify the purpose of every email you write before you begin writing — and then write the email according to that purpose. Don’t just write a reply in order to get another message out of your inbox. (Yes, I’m guilty of that on occasion!)

(3) If an email requires some action of you that you can’t completely in two minutes or less, create a task for it in your task list. Don’t let it languish in your inbox as a reminder; it’s too likely to be missed, and it just clutters up your inbox in the meantime.

Now, I’m off to go plow through my inbox… hopefully with all due care and purpose!

Note: I published a version of the above commentary in Philosophy in Action’s Newsletter a while back. Subscribe today!

Onward and Upward in 2013

 Posted by on 1 January 2013 at 11:00 am  Personal, Productiveness, Purpose
Jan 012013

When I was in graduate school and for a few years thereafter, I was unsatisfied with my work in various ways. I wasn’t clear about what the core focus of my work should be. I felt like I was pulled in too many different directions, particularly with my various Objectivist activist projects.

As a result, every time I’d travel or otherwise break from my routine, I’d brainstorm about the dozens of different projects that I might do. I never felt like I was doing enough; I always felt like I should be doing something more or something else.

That lack of focus was frustrating and unsettling. I always felt like some projects were terribly neglected. I never felt like I was able to make much progress on any given project. Also, I felt like I should be more clear about what I most wanted to do, given my age. That was worrisome, even alarming.

2012 was different for me: I’ve hit my stride. I have lots to accomplish in the years ahead, and I’ll be making plenty of changes along the way. But I’m intensely happy with what I’m doing. I don’t see any sharp turns in my future, just minor course corrections.

What’s happened, I think, is that I’ve become almost exclusively focused on Philosophy in Action. Everything that I do is centered around that, so I don’t feel pulled in 35 different directions by various activist projects. (Hey, it’s almost as if I have a clear central purpose! Fancy that!)

I feel like I’m just moving onward and upward at this point. It’s a great place to be… and I’m really looking forward to 2013!


Here’s an interesting little story from Campaign Doctor Newsletter:

The famous New York diamond dealer Harry Winston heard about a wealthy Dutch merchant who was looking for a certain kind of diamond to add to his collection. Winston called the merchant, told him that he thought he had the perfect stone, and invited the collector to come to New York and examine it.

The collector flew to New York and Winston assigned a salesman to meet him and show the diamond. When the salesman presented the diamond to the merchant he described the expensive stone by pointing out all its fine technical features. The merchant listened and praised the stone but turned away and said, “It’s a wonderful stone but not exactly what I wanted.”

Winston, who had been watching the presentation from a distance stopped the merchant and asked, “Do you mind if I show you that diamond once again?” The merchant agreed and Winston presented the same stone. But instead of talking about the technical features of the stone, Winston spoke spontaneously about his own genuine admiration of the diamond and what a rare thing of beauty it was. Abruptly, the customer changed his mind and bought the diamond.

While he was waiting for the diamond to be packaged and brought to him, the merchant turned to Winston and asked, “Why did I buy it from you when I had no difficulty saying no to your salesman?”

Winston replied, “The salesman is one of the best men in the business and he knows more about diamonds than I do. I pay him a good salary for what he knows. But I would gladly pay him twice as much if I could put into him something that I have and he lacks. You see, he knows diamonds, but I love them.”

Few people are moved by mere recitations of technical facts. On the DiSC Personality Model, High Cs can be, but most others are left cold by that.  (Recall that in DiSC, D = Dominance, I = Influence, S = Steadiness, and C = Conscientiousness.  If that doesn’t ring a loud bell for you, review this post or this podcast interview before reading further.)

However, that doesn’t imply that the other DiSC types — meaning, the High Ds, Is, and Ss of the world — are indifferent to facts or blindly driven by their emotions. Rather, I suspect that for them (or rather, us), motivation involves stronger emotions, different emotions, and perhaps more emotional expression.

All motivation requires emotion, I think. (That’s major part of Aristotle “action theory”, and I agree with it.) For C’s, the requisite emotional motivation seems to be tightly bound to the facts: they want to be right, most of all. (Hence, if you’re in a conflict with a High C over who is right… watch out! I’ve seen some scary-strong emotions from High Cs when challenged.)

Ds can seem unemotional — particularly unconcerned with the emotions of other people.  In fact, they’re highly motivated by feelings of power and capacity associated with achievement.  It’s their (er, my) drug.

Among the two people-oriented types, Is and Ss, the motivating emotions will be quite different. For High Is the emotions of excitement associated with new ideas, people, experiences, and challenges will have the most motivational force. High Ss find that daunting, but they’ll be motivated by feelings of sympathy and care.

Importantly, such personality differences never override a person’s free will choice to think or not. Whatever the strength, content, and source of a person’s motivating emotions, he can choose to recognize the facts for what they are and think them through rationally.  If he wants to be happy and successful, he’d better do that!

As for practical advice, I’d like to limit myself to two quick points:

First, just because someone seems less emotional than you doesn’t mean that they’re indifferent, that they don’t care, or that they’re some kind of robot in human form.

Second, just because someone seems more emotional than you doesn’t mean that they’re unthinking, that they’re indifferent to facts, or that they’re some kind of wild-eyed emotionalist.

Other people’s personalities differ in a million ways from yours.  Some of those differences are ginormous, while others are minor.  If you attempt to read everyone through the lens of your own personality, the only result is that you’ll find most people quite baffling, if not seriously frustrating.  This issue of emotion in motivation in just one example.

That’s why the DiSC Personality Model is so helpful, I think.  It focuses on two major axes of difference — assertive versus reserved and thing-oriented versus people-oriented.  Those axes are of particular importance for communication and collaboration with other people.  By learning DiSC, you can understand yourself better, including your strengths and weaknesses.  You can understand and appreciate the ways in which others differ from you too. It’s a gold mine!

The Spark of Motivation

 Posted by on 25 April 2012 at 8:00 am  Ethics, Motivation, Productiveness, Productivity
Apr 252012

In Sunday’s Webcast, I answered the question, “How can I encourage my friends to be more purposeful and passionate?”

I posted the question in advance to OProducers, and Rose W. posted the following reply. It took a different direction than the bulk of my own answer, but I really liked it. Happily, Rose gave me permission to repost it here:

I’ve noticed when interacting with people they can be divided into two distinct groups, those who have “the spark” and those who do not. People with the spark don’t need someone to motivate them. They know what they want, what is needed and go for it. They might need a friend to talk to about specifics but what ever their current focus they attack with a drive. They always have initiative.

On the other hand those without the spark are the opposite. They can be excellent at following directions but will never do anything on their own. They do the bare minimum and have no direction without someone to provide it. For example contrast my favorite babysitter with one I tested in the past. My favorite taught my girls some French and sang opera to them. If kids were in bed the dishes would get washed and toy messes would magically vanish. She was passionate about the job and did it to her best ability. She does everything like that. On the other hand the teenager I tested had no spark. We had an agreement she would do certain household tasks. She washed the dishes I specifically asked her to wash and then left the plates the girls cleared while she was here on the counter untouched. It was like there was no motive power beyond my instructions. The quality of her work was also very low.

The thing is I think the spark is something everyone might be born with… but too often it’s put out before it has a chance to grow. I have no idea how to restart it once it’s been killed. You can’t talk someone through finding their passion. Then you are providing the substitute spark and it will be gone when ever you are. You can’t hold someone else up. I could have told the second sitter “Wash those. And wash this way. And remember to dry.” But she’d be running off my instruction and not herself.

I’d say the best you can do is look for the spark where and when it exists and help fan the flame. Don’t push someone to do something but do provide support and good words to encourage them when they are using their own judgment. Don’t tell someone what to do. Ask them to think about their judgement and what they think they should do. Help them remember what the world thinks doesn’t matter.

That’s why I like positive discipline and teach my kids at home. It’s preventive medicine against what ever in the world is killing people’s spark. Encourage kids to be their own person and grow their own ideas and deal with their own consequences.

Thank you, Rose!

Apr 202012

Earlier this week, someone posted this article — $5 million in revenues, 3 years in business, 4 lessons learned: Tips from a successful startup CEO — to OProducers. Santiago Valenzuela quickly responded with the following really useful comments. (I’m reposting them with his permission.)

I really dislike super-generalized “tips” like that. I often find it’s either uselessly general (“Be flexible”) or simply not really useful (“It’s possible to succeed in a recession” — this isn’t news, as evidenced by this 4 year old article.)

I’m nowhere near as successful as that guy, but here’s what I’m learning in my office furniture business. Different observations are, obviously, quite welcome:

1. Focus on what’s important: profits.

Being a small biz guy, everything is held together by bubble gum and shoe string. It’s easy to get lost improving little things and not focusing on the big picture, which is the next action that will move a customer to a sale. For me, that means keeping my name out there on online sites like craigslist and responding promptly to sales calls and emails. For you it might mean something else, but if you’re rearranging chairs instead of doing that, stop. You can literally spend 24 hours a day improving your business, but you need to focus on what’s important — which is making profit, not looking pretty.

I suspect that the thing that is both most important and most likely to get set aside for make-work is sales. Unless you start with significant seed money, you’ll be a salesman, at least at first. If you suck at sales, grab a book (How to Win Friends and Influence People is a great place to start) and learn.

2. Keep your network up.

Approximately 25% of the work I get comes from referrals or returning customers. This is setting up cubicles for offices. It always, always, always requires at least one follow-up phone call. A lot more of your work can come from these, I would bet. Get cards, call people every so often and ask them how they are doing and if they have any additional needs or people they think you would be a good fit with. If you did a good job for them, they like you, and a real person saying “This guy is great” — that is golden advertising that you can’t easily get otherwise.

3. Keep in mind why people buy your product.

Often the pricing for your product is based on your perception of its value — which is based on things like the materials you purchase and the time you put into it. This is the wrong way to go about selling stuff. While it is pretty obvious, I’ve seen others do this too, at surprisingly high levels. Instead, focus on why the customer would want to buy what you’ve got. For me, I emphasize a quick turn-around time and a free consultation where I suggest ways to arrange cubicles/desks to minimize expenses while still covering their needs. To emphasize this, I am starting to experiment with a pricing scheme that’s based on a per-person basis rather than per workstation / cubicle.

I focus on sales-y stuff like that because I have found it’s really rare for people to suck at what their business does. Programmers generally program well, for example. But it’s very easy to try and stick to your core competency and not branch out to where you need to go to succeed, and are probably currently pretty weak. If I could do one thing differently it would be to have gotten on top of sales and networking and spent less time obsessing about my inventory and the pricing. The former is far less important than the latter; if you master the former, you can be much more flexible with the latter.

Anyway, I hope this is useful and actionable, which I think all management advice should be.

I have a strong tendency to fail on Point #1, probably mostly due to some fear of trying the unknown (and perhaps failing) plus some perfectionism. Basically, my brain says: “Oh, that looks big and hard, and you might fail! Let’s tinker with the little stuff instead! You need to get that just right!” I hate being in that mode, but I find it hard to break out of absent some clear big goals to consume my attention. However, merely reminding myself to “stop rearranging the chairs” will be helpful, I know. That will force me to look at my bigger goals, and start working on them.

Where do you struggle?

Feb 162012

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed liking but not loving your career. The question was:

What should I do if I have a good job but not burning professional ambition? I have a good job that pays well. I perform my job well to the best of my ability. But I don’t feel about it the same way that Howard Roark felt about the field of architecture in The Fountainhead or that Dagny felt about the railroad business in Atlas Shrugged. I don’t hate my job – I do enjoy the work and the people I work with. But it’s not my burning passion. On a scale of 1-to-10, my paying job (and the overall field) is a 7, but I also have various non-paying outside hobbies and activities that are more of a 8 or 9 for me. Should I try to cultivate a strong passion for my paying job? Or look for a different line of work? Or ramp up my pursuit of various hobbies and outside activities that give me greater satisfaction on the side?

My answer, in brief:

A person’s work should serve his life, and sometimes that means choosing the one career that you’re wildly passionate about, and sometimes that means choosing a career that you enjoy, but that enables you to pursue other values.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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