Never conform to please your critics, perform to thrill your fans! It's FOR whom it's FOR!!
"Interconnectivity" seems to be the category in which most technological advancement is directly impacting our lives. There appears to be an over-abundance of companies, methods, and means by which we can communicate. All this advancement has changed things - radically - some for the better, some for the worse.
What hasn't changed, however, is the importance of communicating well. No matter who you are, what you do, and what you plan on doing, you will likely benefit from becoming better at communicating.
Consider how many different means by which we can interact with one another:
- Telephone messages
- Voice message applications
- Video conferencing
- Social Network Sites
- Chat rooms and forums
- Greeting Cards
- Video platforms
- Photo platforms
- Addressing a meeting or small gathering
- Carrier pigeon
- Smoke signals
Given the preponderance of communication media, and the growing amount of communicating we do, I would recommend that we begin to consider communicating to be one of the "categories" in our lives. We tend to think in terms of categories such as fitness, finances, and family. Perhaps it's time to add Communication to the list. What I am suggesting is that it becomes an area in which we intentionally monitor our performance, and hold ourselves accountable for improvement.
Let's start with big picture stuff:
Communication should be Clear - how many inscrutable emails do we get?
It should be Often - don't make people wonder, especially in areas of problems (creditors, for instance) or intimacy. Stay in their minds.
It should be Honest - you are only as good as your word. Old fashioned, maybe, but truer today than ever.
It should be Professional but Fun - in today's casual world, it is still okay to be proper, correct, and upstanding in your messaging. However, don't forget to pump your personality into it, too. Nobody likes boring!
HOW you communicate something is critical! You can have the right words, but say them or communicate them in the wrong way, and you've done more harm than good.
Listening will always be a big part of good communication. When it comes to listening, be active, sincere, engaged, with good eye contact, and avoid interrupting. If necessary, have people repeat things back to you, or even summarize key points back to them.
Remembering names is another critical area of good communication. There is no excuse for being bad at this. One of the hottest tips I can give in this department is to always try to be first to introduce yourself, whether to a lone individual, or in a crowd. The reason for this is that you are informed ahead of time, so to speak, that a new name will need to be remembered, and you won't have to be caught off guard. Walk up to the person(s) and initiate, eagerly listening for the name(s). Then, immediately, repeat it back to yourself multiple times as the small talk flies. The name is, by far, the most important thing you need to take away from this initial encounter. Also, repeat it aloud once they've said it. This will both help you remember it because now you're hearing it a second time, and the other person always likes to hear her name spoken anyway. Plus, it shows that you care enough to make a point of remembering it.
Now, when it comes to all those methods of communicating listed above, there are several things to know.
1. Be sure and use the appropriate means to match the situation. For example, don't handle conflict with voice mail, email, or text. It's best done face-to-face.
2. In most cases, your relationship with another person will require a mix of several of the above.
3. Understand that response times have decreased, and people almost demand to hear back from you right away. You can fight this a little bit by establishing "policies," as in, "It's my policy to answer emails within 24 hours." In this way, no one can complain if you don't respond to one in four milliseconds!
4. Think about your privacy rights, and those of your children. Anything and everything you post becomes public and permanent (with the exception of a few questionable app services which are trying to correct this). Do you really want those private moments on display for the whole world? Will your children want that record of their "awkward years" out there forever? Are the photos you're posting causing a security risk because the world knows exactly where you are and who you're with? Is it obvious your house has been left unattended? Did you just inadvertantly alert the world to the location of your child? Just give it some thought and establish some boundaries for yourself.
5. Also think about legalities. Most people don't realize that all of their communication can be subject to a court order of discovery and can be used against them. It may be unlikely, but if it's ever happened to you, it will forever change how flippant you are with what you communicate, to whom, and how.
I could go on for pages and pages in each of these areas, but mostly just wanted to open up the subject here at a high level. The overall goal is to make communication a category in our lives, and strive to be intentional and excellent at doing it.
Ultimately, communication is simply expressing to the outside world who you are at heart. So, when it comes to communication, always try your "heartest."
For instance, one famous quote (usually attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but which is actually a misquote of an earlier statement by him) goes like this:
"Build a better mousetrap and people will beat a path to your door."
But a more accurrate quote, which I'm sure all of you who've had good ideas can agree with, goes like this:
"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." --Howard Aiken
Take wheels on suitcases, for instance. Now there's an idea so good, as soon as you see it you can't imagine how anyone ever got along without it. But would you believe that we put a man on the moon a full two years before we put wheels on suitcases? Probably because we didn't have an American President making speeches and compelling a nation to pull together and fulfill the grand vision of figuring out a way to "make our baggage more mobile within a decade! Ask not what your country can do for you . . . ."
But one man, Bernard Sadow, had the idea for wheeled luggage, and (would you believe it?) he actually had trouble selling his idea! You can read about him here.
In studying this topic and giving some talks about it recently (watch for my soon-to-be-released CD from Life Leadership's Launching a Leadership Revolution series, entitled "Jared and the Journey of an Idea"), I have decided to add to the already enormous body of thought on the subject. It might not be a good idea to do so, but hey, good ideas are hard to launch. So a not-so-good idea? I figure I may as well give it a try. So here goes:
An idea goes through many stages on its journey to fruition:
1. Realization - you see the problem to be fixed, clearly, and perhaps for the first time
2. Mechanization - the method by which you "think it up." It may be a brainstorming session, a conversation with someone, or an accidental occurrence (the invention of Post-It notes comes to mind)
3. Assimilation - the combining of previous ideas into a new one
4. Inspiration - the catalystic spark or insight that puts it together for the first time, and the desire to change the status quo that pushes the process along
5.Germination - most ideas are not hatched fully formed, instead, they need to grow and blossom under more thought and consideration (and even discussion)
6. Elation - the passion that arises when pursuing a real improvement or breakthrough
7. Confirmation - when you first begin to realize you've got it, and evidence suggests that it really will work.
8. Dissemination - the act of forcing your good idea down other people's throats!
Of course, there are many additional "ation" words we could throw at this, but, um, that wouldn't be a good idea.
What's helpful in this is to realize there's a process by which most good ideas come to life, and by considering these steps, we can put ourselves in a position to be more creative and better at problem solving. Let's look at the 8 steps again with an eye to how to apply them:
1. Make sure you have invested the thought time to clearly identify and classify the problem, truly understanding it as thoroughly as possible. Be sure to work toward the root cause and avoid being misled by the symptoms.
2. Take steps to actively generate possible solutions. This may involve gathering with others, making sketches, having a brainstorming session, benchmarking the competition, or just playing around with things.
3. Realize that most new ideas are just combinations of previous ones, and ask questions such as, "What could we combine that has never been combined before?" and "What do we already have available or have already done that could be synthesized into something new here?"
4. Provide motivation to yourself and your team by visualizing and vision-casting success and a new, desired reality that will be brought about by the solving of this problem or the creation of a breakthrough idea.
5. Provide healthy nurturing and incubation for your ideas, allowing them to be considered openly without having to survive the negative attacks of "It'll never work" and "Not my idea." Keep egos and reality tests away from your new ideas when they are young and give them time to morph into something real.
6. Enjoy the process and refuse to become frustrated, which often shuts down creative channels. Instead, foster the enthusiasm of a treasure hunter nearing the red X on a map.
7. Carefully test your new ideas to verify their validity, and have an open process for analyzing how effective they might actually be in the real world.
8. Have a process for sharing your idea outward into your organization (or the world) that allows it to first be received by those who stand the most to gain by it, thereby gaining momentum and strength before it attracts critics and detractors.
But the most important thing to know is this: the future can be whatever you want it to be, you merely have to think it up!
At least that's the idea.
Time spread too thinly across too many activities is a killer for anyone truly seeking mastery. There simply isn't enough time to become a master at more than one or two things in life. Time doesn't wait forever. Health doesn't last forever. Windows of opportunity don't remain open forever. Relationships will not wait forever. Time lost is time lost. Period. Mastery is only available if given enough time, and delaying or restarting Immersion or spreading oneself too thin both deprive one of the time required for mastery.
Also, one can easily observe that attempting to compete part-time with someone who has dedicated himself full-time to a profession is likely an exercise in futility. Sooner or later the person with the most focus, the most commitment, the most "skin in the game" will win.
In order to take the fullest advantage of life immersed in a worthy pursuit, one must focus. We are all busy. There are many, many different responsibilities in life. We have family obligations, work responsibilities, friendships and other interests. However, mastery requires concentrated immersion in the subject at hand. The more concentrated our focus, the more quickly proficiency and expertise will result. That means throwing ourselves all the way in. There is no partial immersion. Immersion works because, like the Hokey-Pokey, it requires us to throw our whole selves in.
I sat in my little metal folding chair absolutely petrified. My hands were sweaty, my posture slumped, and I couldn't hear a word the presenter was saying. All my faculties were consumed with the fear of my impending doom.
What was so downright terrifying?
I was about to give my first official public presentation.
I was eighteen years old and an engineering co-op student at General Motors. More for our benefit than anything else, at the end of each semester we co-op students were required to give a presentation of our work assignment and accomplishments that term. They were horrid affairs, to be sure, with a dim little old-fashioned bulb-type overhead projector, and amateur flimsies comprised of lots of really unimportant information. One by one each victim would get up and grind through a horrid three minutes. Soon, it would be my turn.
My memory blanks out at this point. Perhaps it's some sort of protection mechanism, the kind of thing that eliminates our past tragedies from memory or at least preserves our self-image by refusing to remind us of what dorks we once were! At any rate, I can't recall one detail about that presentation except for how scared I was beforehand.
It didn't go away any time soon, either. Year after year we'd go through the same drill and I'd be wigged-out-scared each time.
Fast forward to today, where I basically make my living speaking in front of audiences around the world. I give somewhere around 50 public talks a year, and have been doing so (and often more) for almost 20 years. Now, I don't even break a sweat. I am not only NOT scared by speaking in public, I actually relish each moment!
First, the proverbial "time on the water." Anything we do a lot will eventually become comfortable. Notice I said "comfortable." Just because we ultimately get comfortable at doing something that previously scared us to death, however, doesn't mean we actually get good at doing it!
To become good at public speaking, I've learned (and continue to learn) that one has to accomplish several things. I've written and spoken a lot on this elsewhere, so for this short article I'll just condense it into a nice little jingle taken from the world-famous smash hit song, Old MacDonald, as in, "Had a farm." We all know how the next part goes: "E - I - E - I - O!"
Let's use that little bit of wisdom in the form of an acrostic (I know, I know, I hate acrostics, but this one was just too cute and memorable not to do! Give me a little slack here, sheesh.)
E = Educate - this means to teach the audience something they didn't know before. It should be a good reminder to deliver real content, something valuable, insightful, helpful, or profound.
I = Illustrate - this is one of the most important things to remember; you haven't told them until you've shown them. Use stories and illustrations to drive points home.
E = Entertain - if you don't make it fun, it won't be memorable. Worse, if you don't keep their attention, they won't even hear enough to remember any of it anyway. So be entertaining, engaging, and fun.
I = Inspire - this is where the emotional component comes in. Remember: the difference between being articulate and eloquent is passion. Eloquent speakers share their passion as much as their information.
O = Outcome - What action do you want the audience to take as a result of your talk? If you don't give them marching orders, you can be sure they won't march anywhere other than away from your podium.
There are millions of little, simple guides like this one, but I have to make the case that this little jingle from Old MacDonald just might be the most memorable. I hope it is. And I sincerely hope that when you next have the opportunity to speak in front of people, you think of this little acrostic and don't just have the jingle running through your head (because that would be annoying).
"And on this farm he had some chicks . . . "
Everyone has experienced walking into a room of strangers and not exactly knowing what to do. Where do you sit? Who do you talk to? What do you do with your hands? Is everyone looking at you? What are they thinking?
These feelings of insecurity are natural, but they don’t have to be permanent. In fact, one of the worst things that can happen to your ability to relate to other people and to “fit in” is to be overly conscious about yourself and how you are coming across. Being self-conscious means being less “other-conscious.” This is bad, because it basically means you are too busy thinking of yourself to be thinking about the other people.
“But I am thinking about the other people,” you might say. “That’s why I feel so awkward in these situations.”
That may be true. But you’re thinking about how those other people are thinking about you, which isn’t really thinking about them at all. It’s really just another way of thinking about you, by thinking about what they are thinking about you. Get it?
There is a very helpful saying that goes something like this: You wouldn’t worry so much about what other people thought of you if you knew how seldom they did.
Remember that. It’s very helpful advice.
One of the biggest areas in which you can have a breakthrough in dealing with other people is to realize that everyone feels as if he or she is at the center of the universe. They are busier thinking about how they are coming across than they are noticing how you are coming across.
So here’s what you do with all of this. Here’s how you stand out in a world where almost everyone is self-focused and nervous too. Enter a room with your head held high, your eyes making contact with others, and a smile upon your face. Be the one who approaches other people and introduces himself first. Don’t wait for others to make the initial contact. You make it yourself. Play a little game in your head by pretending that the one who makes the initial contact first wins! Shake hands, give your name, and strike up conversations by asking others about themselves. People are infinitely interesting when you care enough to dig into who they are and what they are about. Try it. You will be shocked how effective these little steps are.
I mean it! Act comfortable even if you are not. Force yourself to behave in the proper way and eventually it will become a habit. No one will be able to tell that you are actually feeling a little nervous deep down inside.
There is a line in a rock song that says, “Charisma is the key to opportunity.” It may not be as simple as all that, but it’s not too far off the mark, either! The world seems to make way for a person who knows where he or she is going. And there is no better way to demonstrate confidence and a sense of direction than by being comfortable around other people. Learn the habits of good interaction with people, whether they be older, younger, or much different from you. Get good at being the initiator. And stop worrying so much about what other people are thinking about you. Trust me, if you do these steps often enough, they will think much more highly of you for doing so!
I was in a bookstore one day browsing through the section on historical fiction. I am a sucker for a well-written novel set in a real historical time and involving characters from our past. Thumbing through the familiar names of Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, and Jeff Shaara, I was surprised to come across a couple of books in this genre by Steven Pressfield. I knew Pressfield to be the creator of the story behind the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance. Intrigued, I bought both books and read them with relish. They were remarkable. They transported me back in time, immediately got me interested in their characters, and also taught me much about the epochs in which they were set. Impressed with the breadth of Pressfield’s creative ability, I dug into the story of his success.
Apparently it was seventeen years of trying before Pressfield got his first professional writing job. It was a partnership on a screenplay for a movie called King Kong Lives. Excited and confident of success, Pressfield invited everyone he knew to the movie’s premiere. Nobody showed. Not a soul. Then the review of the movie in Vanity Fair said of Pressfield and the other man who helped write the script, “. . . Ronald Shusett and Steven Pressfield; we hope these are not their real names, for their parents’ sake.” Talk about criticism!
Pressfield himself writes of that time in his life, “Here I was, forty-two years old, divorced, childless, having given up all normal human pursuits to chase the dream of being a writer; now I’ve finally got my name on a big Hollywood production . . . and what happens? I’m a loser, a phony; my life is worthless, and so am I.”
If the story had ended there for Pressfield, we may never have heard of him. But something happened. In Pressfield’s words: “My friend . . . snapped me out of it by asking if I was gonna quit . . . no! [Pressfield answered]. ‘Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.’”
It’s hard to imagine sometimes the resistance and rejection successful people have overcome on their journeys. We look at them and immediately see their genius, their ability, their authentic swing. We know them by their Margaritaville. But excellence comes only after the long struggle against any and all obstacles that come along. This is easy to forget when looking upon someone who has “made it.”
There is another, deeper lesson to be gained from Pressfield’s story, however. In effect, he was told not to waste his failure. Specifically, he was reminded to be grateful for it!
We have already been through the discussion about how failure isn’t fatal as long as it isn’t final. But we need to emphasize here that failures are extremely valuable if utilized properly, that is, if they are used as learning experiences and employed in the task of making us better.
Failures hurt. In reading the account of Pressfield’s first professional flop, it is easy to feel his pain and embarrassment. But fortunately for thousands of fans all over the world, Steven Pressfield did not allow his humiliations to define him; instead, he let them refine him. The concept is simple but difficult to live out consistently: our failures should not define us, but rather they should refine us.
Too many times we allow our failures to go to waste. As a result of the pain of failing we quit, pout, lash out, lose confidence, and lose hope. In such cases the failures hurt, but they are not allowed to instruct. They knock us down, but then are not utilized to lift us higher. They make us appear foolish, but are not allowed to help us grow wise.
Author Frans Johansson wrote, “ . . . groundbreaking innovators . . . produce a heap of ideas that never amount to anything. We play only about 35 percent of Mozart’s, Bach’s, or Beethoven’s compositions today; we view only a fraction of Picasso’s works; and most of Einstein’s papers were not referenced by anyone. Many of the world’s celebrated writers have also produced horrible books,* innovative movie directors have made truly uncreative duds, megasuccessful entrepreneurs have disappointed investors, and pioneering scientists have published papers with no impact whatsoever on their colleagues . . . the best way to beat the odds is to continually produce . . . .”
Any life lived will most certainly come with a litany of failures, mistakes, embarrassments, and humiliations. If we are not mature enough to use these shortfalls as steppingstones, they don’t find their way into our legacy and are spilled out as waste instead. In such instances, we have felt the pain but not grabbed the gain.
Never waste a failure. Wring from it all the experience and learning you can to come back stronger and better the next time. And no matter what, keep producing.
* He doesn't mean me!
(Below is an excerpt from my next book, being crafted with love and blood even as you read this!)
There is an old story about a fisherman who believes he has died and gone to Heaven as he catches one perfect 2 lb trout after another. As he sets his fly and hooks into yet one more, he can’t fathom his good fortune. The sky is blue, the weather ideal, the fish biting like he’s never before experienced, and everything is absolutely perfect. It is not long, however, before the realization dawns on him that he is not in Heaven at all. Instead, as the boredom and the pointlessness settle in on him, he realizes he’s actually in Hell.
It’s hard to describe just how hard this little parable hit me the first time I heard it. In one moment it erased all my whiny complaints about how difficult and elusive success seems to be. The trout fisherman in Hell story is so extreme, so seemingly ridiculous, that we are confronted with a strange and brutal fact: we may hate opposition and struggle, but it is critical for our mental health. Without the struggle, we would feel no joy in victory.
How can this be? How can it be true that we are actually happier and more fulfilled when overcoming opposition than when everything is easy and simply rolling our way? It is because of the way we were made. Without a battle to win and an enemy to vanquish, the value of the warriar goes to zero. In the famous words of Thomas Paine, “What we attain too cheaply we esteem too lightly.” If we don’t earn it, we can’t enjoy it.
This is profound, and it ought to provide a telling answer against all those dismal statistics that suggest that the "odds" of making it are too tall. If we consider only statistics most of us would never get out of bed in the morning, much less find a way to force ourselves to study for that upcoming calculus exam or next achievement in our career. You see; it doesn’t matter how difficult success is or what the odds are of us “making it.” What matters is our struggle against the opposition, the force of our will against the force of everything that would try and stop us. Not only does it fulfill us to have something against which to push, but in the process it also makes us better. It is the resistive weight that builds the muscles. So ultimately, it doesn’t matter if success is hard or not, it simply matters that we pursue it anyway.
She knocks on the door to my office and waits until I motion her in. Politely she asks with expectant eyes if I'd like to visit her "gum store." For once making the right choice (trying to remember if I've put her off earlier for the same request) I rise from my work and take her by the hand.
Her big brown eyes and freckled face are all delight as she tours me around the various flat surfaces of her bedroom, each delicately decorated with candies and gums of many colors and varieties. On one particular tray she has segregated Chiclet candies by color, arranging rows of them in a clever striped pattern. On another featuring one lone piece of gum on a tiny silk pillow, she has affixed a sign that reads, "Some of our gum is even royal!"
Everywhere there are signs, and prices, and even games to be played. Displays have been crafted with boundless creativity and flare. Her marketing skills as a 9 year-old are so far ahead of most adults that I consider hiring her on the spot to write ad copy for our company. "And here are some magazines I put together, Daddy," she says, offering me two well-researched handcrafted gems replete with explanations and diagrams showing how gum is manufactured. Throughout each magazine are clever ads and jingles, one-liners and specials. I marvel at the bud of talent inborn.
She is my only daughter, all sweetness and flair, with her own style and dramatic expression. She is precious to me beyond description. And perhaps to her, I am (in addition to her mother) the only audience that counts. Her happiness increases as she sees that her work has pleased me. Later, she again enters my office and hugs me. "I love you so much," she says.
The creative process is exhilerating. We conceive an idea, lay out our plans, and begin work under the most naive of expectations. The mere act of putting things together as we see them rushing into our mind is invigorating. In this delicate early phase, we are alone with the stream of conciousness and can hardly answer its call quickly enough.
Eventually, however, our peaceful cocoon of creativity must clash with the violent opinions of the real world. And usually we are not treated very kindly. Know-it-alls and pedants, critics and cynics swoop in to pluck the joy from our freshly birthed creations - feeding on our receding happiness like parasites without a food source of their own.
And it hurts.
In fact, many who are stung by the unfeeling mud from the masses retreat within themselves and carefully hide the candle under a bushel, having learned the lesson not to bring it out in front of others ever again. It is tragedy in the true sense of the word. When one's creativity is snuffed by harshness, innocence is lost. Something dies. The world is a little less beautiful.
But a true artist doesn't perform for the world. A true artist creates because it is what she does; who she is. All she has to do is remember who her true audience is. It's not the world, or its teeming masses of unthinking envious critics, or even its well-meaning coldhearts. No. Her real audience is her father, her Father in heaven. He is the One who embedded those talents and creative capacities in her to begin with, and it is for His pleasure she should give life to their impulse. Just as I attempted to do in the sincere expression of my approval and affirmation for my daughter's "gum store," God does for His children; for those who are called according to His purpose. He is never harsh or unkind in his praise of our sincere use of talents for His glory. And He is never too busy. Having thus pleased Him, we should thereby be insulated against the opinions of mere mortals. After all, it wasn't for them.
So express those truths you hold deep inside. Create, write, paint, build, design, assemble, as for a king. His is the only opinion that counts. He is your lone audience; the audience of One.