learning

Books I’m Reading, Things I’m Learning Lately

Haven’t updated this website in almost 8 months. I’ve been busy as ever preparing for the launch of Real Food Bar this fall. We’re gearing up to launch completely revamped packaging and the roll-out of three flavors. Check it out here.

From a personal standpoint, here’s a quick update.

I’ve made goals at the beginning of the year to do the following:

  • Read 1 book per month – done
  • Exercise at least 4X per week – on track for the most part & signing up for some races in the fall
  • Get better at tennis – in progress, not started
  • Focus on key revenue drivers for RFB each week – in progress

Books I’ve Read this Year (in no particular order):

You can check out my GoodReads account here that I’ll attempt to update periodically.

  • Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived
  • Anna Karenina
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Jane Eyre
  • Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life
  • I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad
  • A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World

Books I’m Currently Reading:

  • Everybody Lies – Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are
  • Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations

Going to Read Soon:

  • Imperfect Courage: Live a Life of Purpose by Leaving Comfort and Going Scared.
    • After getting to meet the author, Jessica Honneger and hearing her story of creating a fair trade jewelry collection in Austin, TX, I was compelled to pick up the book. Love her business model, faith and journey!

Things I’m Working on Lately: 

A lot in digital marketing tactics, WordPress and every operational thing you can think of starting up a company from how to file for sales tax, filing LLCs, creating barcodes, finalizing the Operating Agreement, creating the pitch deck, packaging, finances, marketing plan, etc.

I could expand on this, but I’ll just leave it there for now…. back to work.

 

career advice

The Six Laws of Influence

This is a follow-up to my previous post on knowledge as currency.
One of the most celebrated books in modern America is Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People for good reason. The art of persuasion cannot be understated. Like I said in my last post, those who leverage knowledge as currency when they are in high demand are poised to win, but what’s the point if no one knows (how great you are)?
Dale Carnegie famously defined diplomacy as this, “the art of letting someone have your own way.”
The great thing about this is  you don’t have to be a type A personality to influence people either. Normally I stay away from self-help sort of mumbo jumbo or self-assessments on your fixed personality traits such as the Meyer-Briggs test for good reason – what I find flawed in those sort of assessments is that they categorize you into a fixed type of person even if you might be 50% assertive and 50% introverted.
They also assume that you can never change. History books are filled with incredible stories of entrepreneurs who failed several times before succeeding and people who have turned their life around after drug addictions, traumatic events, etc. The fact is, the past is the past. To me, there’s no point over analyzing it. Do you think those people sat around drinking frappucinos asking each other, “Hmmm.. are you ENTJ or INFJ?” Are you like me, and think it is dangerous to bucket yourself into one of these groups whereby you create a self-fulfilled prophecy around the “type” of personality you are?

The art of persuasion applies to all personality types and all areas of life. Here are some tips to understand persuasion as diplomacy.

In the Influence: The Pscyhology of Persuasion, the six laws of influence are tactics and rationales behind diplomacy. The below is an excerpt from the University of Kent‘s discussion of the book:
The law of scarcity
For example, if you let an interviewer know that you have other interviews coming up, they will be more interested in you as you are perceived as a sought after candidate.Items are more valuable to us when their availability is limited.
Scarcity determines the value of an item. For example if a customer is told that an item is in short supply which will soon run out they are more likely to buy it. Time also works here. A time limit is placed on the customers opportunity to buy something. Customers are told by the seller that unless they buy immediately, the price will increase next week. Auctions such as ebay create a buyer frenzy often resulting in higher prices than the object’s value. If something is expensive, we tend to assume that it must be of high quality because it is in demand: one jewellery shop doubled the priced of its items and were surprised to find that sales increased!
The law of reciprocity
If you give something to people, they feel compelled to return the favour.  People feel obliged to return a favour when somebody does something for them first. They feel bad if they don’t reciprocate. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”.
After someone has turned down a large request, they are very likely to agree to a smaller request. This is why shop staff are trained to show the most expensive item first. A salesman who suggested a 3 year warranty costing £100 found that most customers refused but were then happy to buy 1 year warranty costing £30.
The law of authority
We are more likely to comply with someone who is (or resembles) an authority. In other words, people prefer to take advice from “experts”. There is a deep seated duty to authority within us learned from parents, school, religious authorities etc.
The law of liking
We are more inclined to follow the lead of someone who is similar to us rather than someone who is dissimilar. We learn better from people who are similar to us. We are more likely to help people who dress like us, are the same age as us, or have similar backgrounds and interests. We even prefer people whose names are similar to ours. For this reason, sales trainers teach trainees to mirror and match the customer’s body posture, mood and verbal style.
Research at the University of Sussex found that people more easily remember faces of their own race, age group or gender than those of others.
It’s also very important to remember and use people’s names. Others are much more likely to like you and respond to you if you say “Hello Sarah” rather than just “Hello”.
The law of social proof
We view a behaviour as more likely to be correct, the more we see others performing it. We assume that if a lot of people are doing the same thing, they must know something that we don’t. Especially when we are uncertain, we are more likely to trust in the collective knowledge of the crowd. This explains herd or lemming behaviour. For example when there is panic in the stock market everyone follows everyone else and sells, however great investors such as Warren Buffett, know that this is the time when the best bargains are to be had, and instead, buy.
The law of commitment and consistency
Consistency is seen as desirable as it is associated with strength, honesty, stability and logic.Inconsistent people may be seen as two-faced, indecisive and “butterflies”: never committing themselves for long enough to complete tasks. People will do more to stay consistent with their commitments and beliefs if they have already taken a small initial step.
If you can get someone to do you a small favour, they are more likely to grant you a larger favour later on. If someone does you a favour, let them know afterwards what happened: they will appreciate your feedback and may be able to help you further in future.
We evaluate a university more positively when we have got into it or a car we have bought when we own it. We look for the good points in the choice we have made or items we have bought as this justifies to ourselves our consistency of choice.
Want more? 

 

knowledge-career advice-networking career advice

Knowledge as Currency

Our global economy has evolved dramatically over the last two generations. A quick google search of things that were around in the 80’s that are extinct now, produces a whole slew of technological advances (and no, I’m not just talking about neon pants, boom boxes and mullets). Things like recording machines, cassette tapes, records, iPods, VHS among many others are relics of a bygone era.
Consumer Products aren’t the only things that have changed. In the 1980’s, the mining industry lost 25% while construction grew by 7%. In the 1990’s , Manufacturing employment dropped by 30%.  In the 00’s, from 2000 – 2007, tourism employment increased by 75%, and now retail is back higher than pre-recession levels while healthcare continues to rise steadily by 80%.
As technology has advanced at a rapid pace, our society has changed the way we value goods and services. Things that once would have been luxury items have now become free (just look at all of the capabilities of a smartphone). When things become free, we don’t value them. We expect them. Over time in an advanced economy, commodity products are elaborated in more ways and even labor is commodotized in the service industries.
While goods and services are becoming demonetized, knowledge as a service is becoming increasingly valuable. This is an example of the clothes line paradox – over time there are things that disappear from our accounting statements. Tim O’Reilly, explains this concept well – things that hung on a “clothes line” do not use up energy and thus are not measured or counted. Since they are hard to measure, they “disappear” from the economy. Typically, losses come from goods-producing categories as consumer demand shifts to open-source platforms or expectations of what is included in a product rise (e.g. live streaming on YouTube).
Perhaps the best example of the rising value of certain forms of knowledge is the self-driving car industry. Sebastian Thrun, founder of Google X and Google’s self-driving car team, gives the example of Uber paying $700 million for Otto, a six-month-old company with 70 employees, and of GM spending $1 billion on their acquisition of Cruise. He concludes that in this industry, “The going rate for talent these days is $10 million.” You could make the same case for Snapchat’s $1 billion valuation and Facebook’s offer early on.
That’s $10 million per skilled worker, and while that’s the most stunning example, it’s not just true for incredibly rare and lucrative technical skills. People who identify skills needed for future jobs — e.g., data analyst, product designer, physical therapist — and quickly learn them are poised to win.
We have an economy that optimizes for the output, i.e. shareholder value. Shareholder value can be wildly variable on consumer sentiment, market demand and current events. Just look at the stock market.  It goes to show the importance of striking when the iron is hot. Knowledge used as a tool for persuasion is crucial in career development.
Those that optimize for a global economy use tools that help us see where outputs are maximized. Knowledge isn’t a zero sum game. It cannot be lost if gained by another person. With that being said, there will always be jobs to replace jobs for ambitious people. This advice is despite skeptics such as a McKinsey Institute study that claims that 5 percent of today’s occupations could be fully automated and 1/3 of the tasks involved in over a half of today’s occupations could be replaced by AI. There’s recent hype that an overwhelming number of jobs will disappear in the next 20-50 years. Forecasting it just that; a best guess. Past technological advances created more jobs than were lost shifting careers from manufacturing to information technology.
So what’s the point?
Knowledge is your competitive advantage. Leverage it where opportunity exists.
For example, one person who communicates his or her knowledge is able to command a higher salary than another who simply lists it as a bullet on a resume. Knowing how to and executing on the articulation of knowledge is more important than the knowledge itself. Perception becomes reality.
Here are three ways to leverage knowledge: 
  1. In Transactions – Knowledge is leveraged in several ways in the way that services or goods are bought or sold; both in the raw materials and finished goods in addition to the tactics involved in negotiating the value of knowledge. This is primarily impacted by research and preparation. As the old saying goes, “poor preparation results in piss poor performance.” Don’t underestimate the value of it.
  2. Context Specific – This is unarticulated knowledge, experience-based, context specific or even muscle memory. The application or context specific knowledge is tacit because it is hard to share with others. Call it a gut feeling you get when you know something will or will not work. It is able to be recalled when triggered by specific memories either from first- or third-hand experience.
  3. Fostering Innovation – By sharing explicit knowledge in an increasingly fragmented world or doing something that fosters innovation in your free time. The greatest example of this is a side project. How a person spends their free time says a lot about them.  It can show the level of intensity, grit and creativity used to take an idea from hobby to real achievement and also the thought process of how we prioritize our time. As a creative thinker, it means improving my writing product while learning new marketing strategies.
Here are a couple articles to keep the conversation going:
brainstorm-entrepreneurship-focus-product entrepreneurship

#ThursdayThoughts: Stop the Brainstorming Brain Drain

There are two types of entrepreneurs:
  1. Those who sit around brainstorming who their customers are while sipping frothy macchiatos
  2. Those who spend time actually finding out who their customers are by doing the real work
Why is this actually important?
Finding out where (i.e. what medium) and what (i.e. content/product that performs better) and why (i.e. qualities that attract them) supported by REAL data will support a linear increase in REAL sales.
It’s the difference between:
a) vomiting your message onto the internet (and egotistically thinking that it will be amazing or that you think you know your customer best)
vs.
b) finding out why your customers have chosen you AND where they found you (the hard work of analytics, A/B testing, creating customer personas, etc.)
Last thought: Being specific and tailoring in your focus is KEY. For example, Google Adwords, SEO keywords or Facebook ads tend to perform better with a lower cost per click and higher engagement rate when keywords are incredibly specific toward a vary narrowly targeted audience.
So stop spreading yourself too thin and start focusing.
To keep the conversation going, check out these value-added tools to predict whether or not your product, service, feature or content will be successful:

 

languages-memorization-learning learning

How I Hack Spanish Language Learning (And Other Things)

I recently reignited my passion for language learning with a desire to take Spanish to the next level. I used to be comfortable having a basic conversation in Spanish, but realized recently as it was coming back to me that there are “little hacks” that can take me from intermediate and able to have a basic conversation to fluent. My loose definition of fluent is the ability to converse comfortably across a spectrum of topics, dialects and speeds.
Hack Learning
Before I even get into the way I “hack” Spanish, it’s important to start with a strategy of how to memorize and ultimately a discussion on learning.
First of all, let’s think of flashcards. Why do we use them? Because repetition works. Our brains are hard wired for repetitive motions, formulas, key strokes, facts that combine into a conclusion…you name it. Its one reason why athletes train in specific “reps.” I found that this time around, learning Spanish has been easier as if it has percolated in my brain a while and now it is just a matter of recalling the already learned knowledge.
The below is the memory decay bell curve. Anki Spaced Repetition Software uses the methodology below to capitalize on the ideal duration of time to recall learned knowledge. If you learn something today, you might remember it tomorrow. If you don’t recall the fact again, you might forget it in two or three days. If you review it before you forget it, it’ll “stick around” in your head a bit longer than the first time interval.
memory-leaning-spanish
A perfect example of this in action is my husband. He often shares news or other insightful stories that he read or heard about during dinner. The act of sharing these stories often is repeated a second or third time to other friends or family over the course of a few days or a week. Those same stories then become easily recalled in real life application, during business calls, etc. This is the epitome of a mother asking her child, “tell me what you learned today at school.”
Learning How to Learn
I’ve never been good at standardized test taking. I over analyze problems and tend to want to create new unique solutions rather than answer the question with what I view the professor thinks is the right answer. It’s a mix of being head-strong, creative drive and comfort level working in uncertainty (I digress). However, there’s a reason why students that take prep courses perform higher on college entrance exams and why knowing your audience is equally as important as the subject matter. To illustrate this, I recently heard about a student that performed exceptionally well on blue book essay exams in college by utilizing an audience-driven strategy. She figured out that her professor only skims the essays for keywords when grading the papers. So, she began underlining the most important words in every exam and noticed that her grade went up, too. Lesson learned? Know how to hack your audience.
When Memorization Gets in the Way of Learning
For the efficient student, getting an A on a test is as simple as cramming memorized facts in 15 minutes before and then forgetting them 15 minutes after. This is NOT learning. What separates memorization from learning is a sense of meaning bound by the ability to web logic from arbitrary facts (that are memorized).
Like the Anki repetitive system above or the rote learning method, there’s a pattern of reminders that instill ultimate knowledge of subject matter rather than pure memorization. In math, I think of it as the ability to recall and apply an equation to a real life problem naturally without a cheat sheet. The solution to learning rather than memorizing is at the threshold of the forgetting curve above whereby a piece of information has been repeated enough times that it become common knowledge. Likewise, the repeated information is then able to be “chunked” into associations or threads in order to understand something. The connections emerge naturally because the facts have been chiseled into memory.
Getting over the Intermediate Language Level Plateau
I recently have been thinking lately that I’ve been stuck in an intermediate level of Spanish for a long time. My language practice has been static and if I’m honest, the biggest gains I made were when I was in Peru and forced to communicate every day with people who spoke zero English. I argue that the majority of language learners who spend 2+ years studying a foreign language are stuck in a sort of limbo or complacent plateau. They’ve memorized thousands of words, but can either only marginally apply them in everyday practice or do not know the nuances of the language in order to converse with ease. By the way, it is estimated that fluency in a language equates to a vocabulary of an estimated 10,000 words.
According to Joshua Foer, “when you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. Studies have found that the number of years one has been doing something correlates only weakly with level of performance.” [emphasis added]
My Hacks to Take it to the Next Level
The biggest way to overcome a learning plateau is by mixing up the routine and engaging in deliberate practice. Studies have shown that top achievers consciously keep out of a plateau by focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented, and getting constant and immediate feedback on their performance. Athletes are a perfect example. Variety is KEY (check out Conor McGregor’s secret sauce).
Ouch, sound familiar?
Memorizing Common and Idiomatic Phrases
  1. Frees up my brain capacity to formulate the structure of the sentence rather than stumbling to translate phrases that don’t make sense between languages.
  2. Allows me to transition quickly between topics
  3. Keep up with conversation rather than thinking of the translation to each word.
  4. Repeat usage of phrases until it’s second nature (i.e. I don’t even think about it).
Reading and Listening in Spanish
  1. I switched my Google News settings to Spanish
  2. I make a concerted effort to read outloud in Spanish a few times a week. I even took video of myself speaking in Spanish. When you watch yourself, you quickly see all of the faults!
  3. I subscribed to news podcasts in Spanish that I listen to on my daily commute
Conversing in Spanish with a Native Speaker
  1. It may seem intimidating to converse with a native speaker, but the only way to improve is to put yourself out there.
  2. I converse with and imitate a native speaker’s  dialect once a week
Monitoring Progress and Holding Myself Accountable
  1. I use the Anki system of flashcards to record how many new words I learn each week. This allows me to go back to review them and also note my progress. Roughly a vocabulary of 3,000 words is necessary to reach basic conversational fluency which composes approximately 95% of common conversations. The remaining 5% can be up to or beyond 40,000 words (wowza).
Want to learn more? Here are three articles on learning hacks to keep the discussion going:
customer service-customer success-sales-marketing entrepreneurship

Turn a Support Center into a Profit Center

When is the last time you can think of where you were thoroughly impressed by your experience as a customer?
Disney almost immediately comes to mind – after all, they are all about creating a “magical” experience. The sheer creativity at Disney blows me away. From a replicated Employees at Disney are instructed to always say, “my pleasure,” rather than “you’re welcome.” Characters can never be seen changing costumes in front of customers and ride attendants become actors each diligently playing a part in the experience. Disney has a whole college program dedicated to teaching and encouraging a beyond enchanting customer experience. While little gestures might not always be remembered, they contribute meaningfully to the overall feeling associated with a particular place or company and the overall satisfaction. For example, how many people would go back to or recommend a salon after one bad hair cut? Would you go back to a hotel is the sheets were unclean? Or, would you recommend a restaurant if the service was bad?
Little details go a long way.
This point might already be obvious so let me say the inverse; a little screw up can cost a lot of business. This brings me to my next point and case study – when a company makes a little or big screw up, it goes a long way if it fixes it by rewarding the customer  and/or going above what’s necessary to fix the mistake.
You may have heard about the recent Delta glitch – the one that completely shut down Delta’s servers and entire control board in August 2016 (yeah, that one). I happened to be unlucky (or lucky) enough to be in the middle of it. Our 2 hour flight turned into a 5 hour delay in Detroit. Needless to say, we were not happy.
A couple days after our flight, Sean received an email from Delta stating that they were going to give him 20,000 bonus Skymiles for his trouble as a Gold Medallion (translation – the perks of status are awesome). Sean, however, had the brilliant idea of complaining to Delta since I did not receive such lovely bonus miles. Since there were two travelers, logically, there should have been apologetic emails to both of us.
After two emails and several days later, I received the following email from Delta:

Capture

Score!!! 20,000 Delta SkyMiles bonus points!
Keys to a good support email:
I highlighted a few key points in their email back to me which I found to be good in any customer support email:
  • Personalizing the email (note the extra time he took to say that he acknowledges that I was looking forward to quality time with family);
  • Showing empathy for customer’s circumstances;
  • Highlighted the most important takeaways;
  • Demonstrated that they listened AND responded by making the customer happy a la bonus miles;
  • Made it sound like I am a valued customer in the very last sentence
Oh wait, I’m not done. On top of that. We received two more emails a few days later stating that we received $200 eCertificates for the inconvenience that the mistake caused us.
That was a total value of $800 freely given by Delta for their mistake. Needless to say, we will continue flying with them. Delta went above and beyond to keep us as customers. But beyond just saying that they wanted to keep us as customers (of course they do), they acknowledged that flying is more than just flying. It is about getting to your destination and the experience of what comes at the other end of reaching your final destination. For most travelers, this means a much anticipated vacation that may have been planned out MONTHS in advance. The fact that Delta acknowledges the real reason I was traveling (to spend quality time with family) hits the nail on the head as to the service and experience they are selling. Every hour waiting in an airport is an hour lost from that precious PTO accrued throughout the year.
So what can you take away from all of this? Little mistakes (or in Delta’s case, a huge mistake) can end up costing companies millions. Delighting each and every customer on the front end (proactively via Customer Success), can end up saving companies a ton. Likewise, knowing that a service or product is just one conduit to a much bigger experience (e.g. I want NetFlix to work so that I can spend relaxing time with my family) is just as important on the support side. It’s way cheaper to set the bar high than to constantly put out fires or in other words, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Support as Sales
The support team is really the sales team. Success plays a critical role in driving sales by not only answering customer questions, but by keeping customers happy with the product or service (via education, marketing, etc. It turns support from a cost center to a profit center in the company because of their ability to enchant customers to be loyal to the brand.
Proactive AND Reactive
There’s a time and a place to woo customers over and to be putting out fires when things get ugly. While customer success is proactive, a company cannot survive without a good group of reactive support ready for action when the time comes.
travel

How we spent 14 days in Hawaii for less…

Disclaimer: The above picture was taken from one of our hikes on Oahu.
I can’t begin to say enough about the payoffs from racking up hotel points, credit card and frequent flyer miles. Over the course of the last two years, we have literally saved thousands of dollars we would have otherwise spent by redeeming rewards for travel or by erasing transactions via our Capitol One card.
The number one thing you should know if you are planning new to take a vacation using rewards, is plan far in advance in order to allow yourself plenty of time to rack up points or fulfill the spending requirements on new credit card bonus offers. If you’re like us, you might not plan more than 6 months out for your next vacation. This vacation idea formed from a few friends joking around about how awesome Hawaii is and how awesome it would be to get a group together to take advantage of all the natural splendor Hawaii has to offer.
1. Go on the off season
Is there really such this as an off season in Hawaii? Come on – I mean it’s perfect weather all year round. However, this alone will save you $600+ on flight costs. The best times to go to Hawaii are after the holidays from Feburary through May. By the middle of May comes around, you’ll see a dramatic spike in flight costs from the mainland. Additionally, even though it may cost a little bit more, I recommend only allowing yourself one layover if you are flying from the East Coast (your tired self will thank me later).
2. Save up those miles early!
Save up your miles now! Save up miles through carriers such as Delta, Alaskan or American. We were lucky to have enough Delta Skymiles to pay for one of our flights round trip. That ended up saving us over $850! Since Sean travels a bit for work, he managed to rack up Gold Status (more on the benefits of gold status in a future post) and got upgraded to first class on the way to and from Seattle to Hawaii. Disclaimer: if you do have status with an airline, check their policy on companion upgrades. Since I was booked via a reward ticket (e.g. Free!), I could not get upgraded to a better seat (translation: 6+ hours of crying babies in coach).
3. Home share whenever possible
Travel with a group through an Airbnb or Homeaway to make your money go further. The house sharing economy is still largely unknown to most tourists, but given the number of amenities and convenience a rental house provides, it’s a no brainer. We stayed in three houses with washers, dryers, beach towels, kitchen amenities and really anything you could think of on two different islands  throughout the trip. Cost of splitting housing for 14 days = $50/day per person. No too bad for being in paradise AND we could have easily found cheaper places! This was between 5 people for two bedroom homes. One of the houses was even on the beach.
Here’s a breakdown of how we spent our 14 days in Hawaii:
  • Flights – $850 (one flight free and did I mention 1st class?)
  • Lodging – $1400 (for 2 people)
  • Food – $200 (give or take, some meals out and many home cooked meals)
  • Car Rentals – $150 (we took advantage of corporate rates for Hertz in order to get upgraded & one free day)
Grand Total = $2570 or less than $1300/person
Takeaway
With a little bit of advanced planning, it is totally possible to get away to one of the most beautiful places on Earth. In fact, when I was a poor recent college grad, I went to Hawaii for less than half of that by bumming with a friend.
Until next time…
Travel more, be awesome!
book-review-career-advice-tips career advice

Book Review: Smart Like How

A few months ago, I read a book on career development called, “Smart Like How.” Unlike other books on management, entrepreneurship or business, “Smart Like How” fundamentally challenges traditional assumptions on how to advance in the workforce. The author recognized that people who accelerate through the first stages of their career, are excellent at creating opportunities for themselves, among other things. But how do they do it? He breaks out subtle skills that speed up the process of moving up for people just starting out in their careers.
I truly believe if you read but one book on career advice, it should be this one.
Here are a few tidbits of its contrarian career advice.
Stuff they Didn’t Tell you in College
Be a smart consumer of education. Too many of my friends simply followed the herd to grad school with no clear choice of career or the financial impact of student loans on their future lifestyle. Given the high opportunity cost of higher education, I truly believe there are alternative routes to further one’s career.
Schools offer two core services:
  1. Providing you with knowledge
  2. Certifying that you learned something
It is key to understand the value of certification versus knowledge.
When knowledge is most important:
If you are looking to advance your role by taking on new knowledge, certification matters less.
When certification trumps knowledge:
If you’re part of the product (i.e. selling yourself or credentials), certification and school brand matters more. (e.g. my financial advisor graduated from Harvard).
Bottom line – approach education like any business decision and don’t let vanity get in the way. Track record is the ultimate certification, “Jenny closed a six-figure deal,” trumps, “Amy has an MBA from Stanford.”
Hard Work Paradox
The hard work paradox states that even extreme effort and sacrifice is not enough to guarantee career success and how differentiating yourself from the get-go works.
The Hard Work Paradox acknowledge two truths about professional life:
  1. There is a finite limit to how much you can possibly work.
  2. People who work really hard gravitate toward industries, then companies, and ultimately teams where everyone else works really hard too, ultimately diminishing their ability to set themselves apart from their peers.
Takeaway – professional advancement can ultimately be determined by quality of work, making the organization better, and getting authority figures to entrust you with some power and responsibility of your own.
Developing a Positioning Map
A positioning map is a simple mental exercise of understanding the competitive landscape of your company, it’s industry and your competitive advantage within it. A positioning map is more than simply the company’s elevator pitch, but doesn’t need to be the bottom of the ocean either. All you need is an understanding of your company and its place in the industry today. The positioning map could be more than a comparison of different companies, but deeper picture into service or product lines, market share and in-demand tools/skills utilized for each. Distilling the challenges of your current company within a competitive landscape allows you to be able to think seriously about tough, subjective decisions that business owners are grappling within right now.
After understanding why a position is valuable and intentionally structured within an organization, it becomes easier to then as an employee, to layout a roadmap for how to implement the vision.
Additionally, most people don’t know how to use data to implement their vision. If you’ve been working a while and trying to find something out, there’s a good chance someone else probably asked the same questions at some point. The data is likely there, but there’s a good chance that it is just sitting idle with no real reason for why the data is being collected other than to be reported at yearend or within board meetings. Valuable information can be found in CRM systems, market research reports, internal presentations, online reviews of a product or custom satisfaction surveys. Often useful information is not used to improve a business simply because it gets lost in the shuffle in an inconvenient format.
Persuasion and Adoption of Ideas to Prove your Value Proposition
Ideas need to be more than just interesting to be heard by the right people. Here are 6 steps for driving acceptance of your message within an organization.
  1. Step Back – There’s no excuse or subsititute for doing your homework. Anticipate objections and make your idea easy to swallow based on the audience.
  2. Put it in Writing –  Jeff Bezos is famous for requiring senior managers to present ideas in six-page memos that the team reads in silence to start meetings. Writing forces you to sharpen your thoughts. For Bezos, “Full sentences are harder to write. There is no way to write a six-page memo and not have clear thinking.”
  3. Identify Stakeholders – Figure out the first person who needs to be on board from the start and will provide good input. This makes the iteration process easier.
  4. Chose the Right Format – Every person processes information differently. Having a mixture of visuals, reading and a verbal presentation ensures a broad array of people will absorb the information.
  5. Engage in Person – Work a little harder to make a memorable impression. Follow-up over different mediums. Just had an in-person meeting? Follow-up with a phone call or email, etc.
  6. Secure Next Steps – Always take ownership of the next steps and seek to control the momentum.
Work is a Means of Fulfillment 
Finally, Smart Like How comes out and dispels the elephant in the room – the fact that we, in a modern society tie up a significant portion of our identity in our jobs. The fact that it is nearly impossible to go ten minutes into a conversation with a stranger without asking each other what our job is shows the weight we attach to work. That’s fine, until you consider that many of us aren’t in the jobs that we really want to be in and nearly half are still grappling with uncertainty around what the right job would be.
Considering that we spend approximately 2,0000 hours per year tied up in our work, should we really spend that time sub-optimally (i.e. not fully utilized or in work that we are apathetic about)?
Want more?
work-tulips-laptop-productivity life hacks

Making Deep Work a Priority in a Distracted World

 Sub-Optimal Work
Spending 6 hours wandering in Ikea while perhaps fun, is not the best use of time. In Cal Newport’s Deep Work,  not all work hours are created equal – deep work is that which is spent optimally working in concentrated efforts without interrupted. Cal suggests that deep work spent on cognitively demanding tasks is best done in the morning and free from distraction so that the brain is naturally rewarded with a sense of accomplishment earlier on.
In reality, we can call resonate with the fact that much of our workdays get sunk into emails and meetings; and the insanity of it seems to be that we spend countless hours going back and forth sending emails to schedule meetings. Those hours wasted could be spent securing deals, creating great products and hiring the best talent. A full 70% of a typical CEO’s schedule is spent on sub-optimal work instead of “deep work.”
Reducing the “Noise”
Of course, there are several other awesome productivity tools such as Slack, Bluejeans, Basecamp and others that help teams collaborate and communicate more effectively, but at the end of the day, it’s important to be able to have something to show for your time. Communication tools are just that – tools. They can be used to simplify processes, steer a team in the right direction and breakdown necessary tasks, OR be used to create more, “noise” which in turn creates friction and miscommunication.
“Noise” is the unnecessary and distracting chatter, content or anything in the way of getting you to achieve your one goal. “Friction” is any thing or activity that impedes your ability to complete a task such as hurdles that you have to jump through unnecessarily to get to your end objective (more on creating a frictionless product here). Most of UX/UI design is centered around reducing friction for customers.

If you want to make something happen in your life, chances are good that you’re not doing it already because of friction.

Some friction is inevitable – the very act of tracking productivity may be defined as friction. Don’t get me wrong, I do think making everyday tasks as frictionless as possible is ideal, but friction in itself is not bad.
Did you know that some of the best UX is actually wrought with friction? Ikea is one of the best examples. Ikea stores are intentionally designed full of friction like I mentioned earlier – you have to meander through a maze of departments in order to get to the item you want. They WANT you to take your time looking at the latest trends in housewares and design before you get to the checkout. This is very intentional. It’s as if to say, they want you to be counterproductive.
However, if you ask Bill Gates or Arianna Huffington one thing they have in common, you’ll find that they both have an affinity for the word, “focus.” This I emphasize to say that those who become the best at focusing in a world full of constant distractions will be the most successful.
As an Executive Assistant, I find myself pining over the best tools and processes to help C-suite executives focus on the tasks that matter most in order to make every work hour count. Think of how much more profitable companies could be if their senior management’s days were centered around this approach?
With that, here are a few articles on productivity in the workforce:
Got a productivity hack or app to share? Share in the comments below!
life hacks

Sites I Love

Productivity:
  • Get Pocket – save all of your favorite websites to be viewed at a later date. Easy to bookmark your favorite news articles, how-to guides, etc.
  • Self Journal  – hand writing may seem faux paux, but it’s the best way to remember. The SELF Journal motivates and lays out your days for success by utilizing a 30-day roadmap structure to hold yourself accountable and create habits that stick.
  • Coursera – For a low monthly fee, you can pick up virtually any new skill from an accredited university online. Skip the expensive diploma and hack your way to an advanced degree.
News:
  • Skimm – I Skimm my mornings with this witty and sarcastic app that hand-picks the news for the day. Unlike other news sites, Skimm seems to know it’s audience is young professionals so it delivers a mix of news on business, world affairs and the occasional entertainment gossip. Btw, it goes great with a coffee and donut.
Fashion:
  • Hello Gorgeous Blog – Just a midwest gal with sassy style on a budget. She is constantly delivering cute outfits that are easy to curate.
  • LE Tote – new fashion delivered to your door. Get as much or as little as you’d like. My favorite aspect of this delivery platform is their unlimited rental option for $39/month (compared to Rent the Runway’s $60+ option). I’m a big proponent of this because it allows you to try new fashion every month without cluttering the closet with fast fashion purchases. Plus, it’s really cheaper than buying to keep up with the latest trends.
  • Like to Know it – This is an instagram service that allows you to find the pieces from outfits of your favorite Instagram fashionistas. After signing up for the service and liking their pictures, you’ll get an email telling you where to buy each piece.
Travel:
  • 10xTravel – Follow Bryce’s advice to hack your way to free trips by strategically planning points offerings. He is always up on the latest deals and is incredibly creative with combining the best offers.
  • Airbnb – Make sure you use the Delta Airbnb platform to get SkyMiles every time you book. You have to book through this portal: https://www.deltaairbnb.com/
Well-Being & Happiness:
  • Shipt – groceries delivered to straight to your door for the cost of an Amazon Prime membership.
  • Blue Apron – the best meal planning service yet; although I prefer to hack my way to meal planning (by organizing and planning out my own meals).
  • ClassPass – $10 fitness classes anywhere (not in every city though)
  • YNAB (You need a budget) – Easy way to track your personal finances and get on with it so that you can save up for that lake house!
  • Real Food Bar – My favorite ‘go-to’ meal replacement when I’m crammed for time. It’s filling enough to get me through my afternoon AND I have zero guilt eating these nutritious bars since they are made from just 9 simple ingredients and zero added sugar.
  • GoodReads – The most successful people read….a lot. Bill Gates alone devours 50 books per year. Not that I am anywhere close to that, but I do value having a constant revolving reading list and reading reviews from others.
Business:
  • Canva – Design without being a designer! Easy-to-use templates for social media posts
  • Hubspot – The CRM dream team. Integrate your CRM with your email platform and get the best advice for optimizing your website & SEO score
  • Sumo  – Deals website for entrepreneurs & amazing email marketing advice and tips for generating online traffic, etc. The best advice out there.
  • MailChimp – Ridiculous automations, APIs and tracking links to measure effectiveness of anything from FB to website pop-ups. The best on the market with plans starting at $10/month.