Category Archives: Calling

We are all in the ‘behaviour change’ business

Mitesh meets Seth Godin

Summary: My Top 10 Takeaways from Seth Godin’s Live Q&A Seminar in London 3rd November 2015:

  1. How to get a billion people saving? Don’t start with a billion people. Focus on the smallest possible number of people you can change…that will allow us to take the next step. We need to change people one by one and then give them the ammunition to become evangelical. We need to figure out the story that our clients will spread.
  1. Behaviour change: We need to accept that – ‘what we do for a living is change people’s behaviour’. So most of the work we do is tell stories, understand behavioural science and engage in a way that changes people. We have to accept that our job is to change people. Now how can we better understand the people we are trying to change?
  1. Trust & attention: Earning people’s trust and attention are going to be the critical success factors for many years to come. We all pay a premium for trust and attention. The person or entity that gets the most trust, will get the most customers. How do we do this better as individuals, as a team, as a firm and industry?
  1. We all tell Stories: People don’t buy what you sell, they buy the story they tell themselves. We need to tell a story that resonates with the person you’re telling it to, and it has to be true. One of the best stories we can tell is that “people like us do things like this”. What will make our clients feel a better sense of belonging with us?
  1. Understand Worldviews: We need to understand the worldview of the people who you are trying to change, or sell to. To find out someone’s worldview – Ignore everything they say, and watch everything they do. People are different and they have different worldviews. Treat different people differently. We need to tell different stories to different people that resonate with them (but they must be true). How can we learn to see better? How can we quickly figure out what people’s worldview is? How do we get masterful at this?
  1. Sell the Benefit: We need to find a way of showing potential clients what is the benefit of using our services before they have to pay? We can’t tell people that I’m not going to tell you my secret until you pay… How do we do this better?
  1. Find your Tribe: As we get bigger we risk getting more mediocre, unless we can say NO. As soon as we can say to a client that you’re not right for me, we start to get the clients you deserve. How can we say no more gracefully?
  1. Client referrals: A lot of us have a loyal audience that never talks about us. The only reason that people will refer you, promote you and talk about you is if it advances their agenda in some way. What would make them want to promote / evangelicalism for you?
  1. Client service: How do you get clients to stay for the long run? They need to feel like they belong. Ask yourself what story do they need to tell themselves to feel like they belong. How will they feel that “People like us, do things like this…”?
  1. Failure is key to good ideas: Human beings are terrible procrastinators. As a result we are less generous, less productive and less happy than we are capable of. We just need to try, it’s an experiment … we’ll only discover afterwards what works and what doesn’t by trying/testing. We have to continuously let our whole organization know what we have tried that doesn’t work, showing that we have failed. That’s how you give people permission to fail, to try and to learn… How can we allow each other to have and express bad ideas, to test, fail and learn?

Our industry be disrupted the way so many others have before. The only question is – When and who can do it?

Our job is to see what others do not see, to imagine what may be. The firms who succeed will be the ones who care more, who gain more trust and pay more attention. We need to get masterful at this!

 

Main points covered by Seth:

I have tried to organise my notes from yesterday Q&A into topics to make it easier for you to scan and pick out what is most useful and relevant to you.

Seth Godin in London 1

The next big thing

The search for the next big thing fuels a lot of people’s work. Well this is the next big thing. Stop looking for the next thing and focus on what’s changing all around you today.

 Change

We are in the midst of a new revolution (that’s even bigger than the industrial revolution). We are 10 years in and it might be another 10 years before others realize it. Revolutions destroy what is perfect and make the impossible a reality.

Anything that you do where there’s a manual, We will be able to hire someone cheaper or automate in the future to get better results than you to do.

The Internet is a platform that gives each of us tremendous leverage. It is not for watching cat videos, it permits each of us to make a meaningful change in the entire known universe.

Disruption

Innovators Dilemma – Clayton Christensen. It’s almost always an outsider that disrupts a system.  Will your industry be disrupted the way so many others have before. Yes it will. The only question is – When and who can do it.

The first person who really observes the industry and really sees what stories people tell themselves and what it will take to change them will succeed.

Trust & Attention

Earning people’s trust and attention are going to be the critical success factors for many years to come. We all pay a premium for trust and attention.

The person or entity that get the most trust, will get the most customers, and the most money. A man came to fix his boiler and covered up his shoes (showed respect). Then gave a list of all his neighbours that have used his services, “you can call any of them”. He built trust quickly, he got business

Failure

Many organizations think their work is so important that they have to get everything perfect. They are not willing to make mistakes and experiment.  It is far more natural to hide, to pretend you don’t make mistakes and to never innovate.

If you’re going to change that, you have to let the whole organization know something you tried that didn’t work, showing that you failed. That’s how you give people permission to fail, to try and to learn… If you made a mistake in previous age it was game-over for you. Today the cost of being wrong is much lower than it has ever been, but we are still acting as if we have a factory.

As a breadwinner how do I make space to fail? Go speak to someone, a new prospect, a lead, a potential customer, user, courageously and generously, set yourself up for interactions that aren’t fatal, but help you see and learn something new. Learning to fail is key.

Ideas

Professional brainstormers allow more stupid ideas than anyone else.  Seth writes his own blogs every day. He writes down up to 10 ideas every day, then types up 3-4, then edits/curates till only one ends up going out on his blog. He says he comes up will a lot of bad ideas, and every once in a while there is a really good one amongst them.

Story is key

All of us buy the story we tell ourselves about the thing we purchase. You get the item for free when you buy the story.

Thousands of people have a Harley Davidson Tatoo but no one has a Suzuki Tatoo. Why do they do it? Is it about the speed or the horsepower? If you ask they will say “this is who I am?” – it says something about them.

In marketing your brand, you should know what it is your customers will say about your product. Great organizations make a change happen.

Harley Davidson turn you from an outsider to an insider, when you buy their stuff, you become one of them, you’re part of a club. Apple doesn’t just produce cool gadgets, hey set out to teach us to have better taste in digital goods, SJ said – “the problem with Microsoft is they have bad taste”. Once you’re hooked on the taste wagon you buy anything that looks better.

Sales

The reason selling B2B is hard is because you are dealing with people who don’t care. The thing someone who doesn’t own the company / doesn’t care is thinking when buying something is “what will I tell my boss?”.

So they buy what has always been bought before, how has it always been done, no one wants to be noticed, take the risk of doing things differently. The only thing we are willing to tell/explain to the boss is “It is cheaper.” “Look how much money I saved?”, “Everybody uses them.” That’s the only story business tell themselves, if you don’t have a story.

It is the purchasing department’s job to say no; to say I want cheaper. You need to believe is that your prices are not high. You will be tempted to lower your price, this is the refuge of the marketer who doesn’t know what to do, it is a last resort.

Tell a story that resonates with the person you’re telling it to, and it has to be true. One of the best story we can tell is that “people like us do things like this. What you want to tell the purchasing department, that “these are 4 of your biggest competitors, they all use me/this… Do you want to tell your boss you missed this opportunity to save a few bucks?”

Worldviews

You need to understand the worldview of the people who you are trying to change, or sell to.

Which kind of person works for the government, or works in a school or in the procurement department. What’s their worldview? A Defensive Buyers worldview: “I don’t want to get into trouble, I won’t get in trouble by rejecting you. So we need to tell them “Do you want to be the last person to sign up, then that’s ok.”

No one goes to work, wanting to be shown they are wrong. Only once you have someone’s attention can you educate them based on what they already believe. We can’t try and change people’s beliefs.

To find out someone’s worldview – Ignore everything they say, and watch everything they do. That’s why focus groups are toxic. Your job is not to make something in a factory, but your job is to see. In a very short time, you need to judge others and figure out what their worldview is.

Where to start?

We hold back, we fit in, we don’t share our dreams. We don’t want to be exposed. We procrastinate. Human beings are terrible procrastinators. As a result we are less generous, less productive and less content than we are capable of.

You just need to start, it’s an experiment, we won’t know till afterwards… we discover what works and what doesn’t by trying/testing.

One of the things hard wired in our culture is the fear of being told “you’re not as good as you think you are”. We have to confront this fear, change the story we tell ourselves in our heads and just put ourselves out there again and again.

Embrace Tension

Change has an ugly twin brother, and he’s called tension. You have to accept tension if you want to change someone or something.

 Are you brave enough?

When people ask “I need to know if it will work before I will try it.” Are asking the wrong question. Once someone else has done it before, if I still ask will it work what people really mean is “I’m afraid.”

It doesn’t matter if it works, what matters is “Are you brave enough to do it?” So you can find out if it does and how you can make it work.

Starting a new business (line)

Anything that is easy to set up or do is harder to market, because it’s harder to stand out. You have to create a community and the need. Almost nobody wakes up and says I have a marketing problem and I can solve it by joining a community.

We need to find a way of showing potential customers what is the benefit of using your service before they have to pay? You can’t tell people that I’m not going to tell you my secret until you pay… Radio gave music producers a free sample… before you buy.

Now imagine you want to create a community that is only open to the top 500 CMOs, but no one has heard of you. Start by getting just 10 CMOs to join. Now the 490 CMOs that are not on it have a problem, because they are worried about what they’re missing out on.

Scaling your business

You scale should be as small as you can possibly live with, then demand will grow and you can grow bigger. If you can start by changing 10 lives, you can get 50, and then you can go online and go to a million … billion.

Figure out what the smallest possible subset for the community is. AirBnB did not start to be the biggest accommodation company in the world, they started small.

The best way to grow (if growth is your goal), is to start with your minimum viable business. You have to keep working till you figure about how to flip one village / one customer / one segment of the market, then you go to the next village and tell them and talk to village 1 / customer 1.

 All things to all people

As you get bigger you get more mediocre, unless you can say: We have a lot of people who want to be new clients, but we’re not going to just take everyone on. As soon as you can say to a client that you’re not right for me, you get the clients you deserve.

“It’s not for you”, is one of the most powerful things we can say when you are making your art. You can be happier and more profitable if you are doing work that people will miss when you are gone. Most people do work that someone else can do. If you could, spend your whole day doing work that only you can do.

Find your tribe

Seth has tried to talk to many different types of people over his career, but all were not right. So many times, the people in the audience were telling themselves a story that didn’t match the change he was trying to make in the world. So he kept trying new groups until he found his tribe – people who were trying to make change – “people like him”.

Product adoption

The product adoption lifecycle is important to know. Everyone has a worldview about where they are on that spectrum, for shoes, for technology, etc. The middle of the curve is most of us.

Early adopters are the geeks and the nerds. The middle/majority waits till the technology is cheaper. The laggards have still not given up their VCR. Something new gives some people stress (majority) vs something new gives others pleasure (early adopter).

In between the early adopters and the masses is a big chasm. The gap between “what’s new” and “what works”. Lots of industries have trained us to try and be early adopters. Movies have created a feeling to make us watch the new film in the first week (otherwise they’re off the screens). That’s why they do the mystery and the trailers, etc.

To achieve scale you have to work your way through the curve. You have to decide which curve you’re going to work through.  Alternatively you don’t go for scale, just keep focusing on the “new”. Seth didn’t follow the permission marketing adoption curve (after the book, he didn’t do the handbook, course, series, the talk, etc). The audience he wanted to have always wanted “what’s new”, so he focused on that.

Getting people to listen

If you are find your words are landing on deaf ears, with no one listening, you need to ask yourself what it will be like when it has changed; when it has reached its tipping point. You start with the early adopters. When people like us are doing things like this, everyone will do it.

What is the story the person is telling himself. He doesn’t want to look stupid. You are an agent of change. Create an environment that makes them look less stupid by choosing you.

Beaurocrats often feel left out and isolated. How do you get better at addressing their narrative; helping them tell a story?

 Marketing is about changing people

When we do our best work, we are not a machine, our best work is changing people that is hugely valuable. We need to own that. “I am going to this meeting to change people”.

If you want to market the importance of customer service to your board, what if you go and interview 10 angry customers on your iPhone, just show that video, and you have now sold the need for customer service. That’s what marketers do. We have to care, we have to own it.

We need to accept that – What we do for a living is change people’s behaviour? So most of the work we do is tell stories, understand behavioural science and engage in a way that changes people. You have to accept that your job is to change people. Now how well do you understand the people you are trying to change?

Referrals

A lot of us have a loyal audience that never talks about it. What is their worldview? What would make them want to promote / evangelicalism for you?

The only reason that people will refer you, promote you and talk about you is if it advances their agenda in some way.

I recommend someone to you that because it will make me look smarter.  “One reason Seth’s blog/books succeed is that he consciously says what people want to tell someone else, so they will forward it to them.”

Client service

How do you let clients to stay for the long run? They need to feel like they belong. Ask yourself what story they need to tell themselves to feel like they belong. How will they feel that “People like us, do things like this…”

Complaints

When you get something wrong, when you have an angry/upset customer if you just sent a robotic professional generic message you will achieve nothing. Instead if a human shows up and makes it personal and apologizes sincerely, you might be surprised.

“I see you” – that simple sentence is at he heart of what we want as humans. Dignity is different than transparency. People don’t want to know everything about you. They want to know that you will treat them with dignity.

Entrepreneur vs Freelancer

As an entrepreneur your only job is to hire someone (better than you) to do what you think your job is, again and again, until you’re only job is to disrupt what you already built.

Freelancers get paid when they work themselves. Seth said that as an entrepreneur he kept wanting to hire myself which left him frazzled. He couldn’t hire others to do his job, he wanted to write his own blogs, run his own classes, etc. Seth is a freelancer.

As an entrepreneur you cannot be the best technical person yourself. You have to be able to leave the building, start a new business line and it should continue to run without you.

Making art

You can do art regardless of what you do. Art is not just painting. We all have a fundamental need to make art. Art is anything we do where we don’t hold back, where we immerse ourselves, do it for the sake of doing it. With art you’re ok to fail, because it’s worth doing regardless of success or failure.

Arthur Miller doesn’t hold anything back. People who make art are all in and don’t hold anything back. We need to do art so we can feel alive. But we may need work for work’s sake to be able to pursue art in an unconstrained way.

Is it possible to make a living making art? Sometimes… But if you have to compromise what your art to get enough money, it’s not worth it. Seth advises people that are starting out – Get a job (any job) to make enough money. That allows you to be able to make your art without compromise. But it can’t be art if it doesn’t resonate with anyone. We need to make something people want, who are “People like us?”.

Be specific

There is a company in NY Mismatched that decided to make socks. It’s cheap to get made. Race to the bottom. ‘Mismatched’ did 40 million dollars in revenue. This company said, our socks are not for everyone, they are for 12 year olds girls who have a fashion problem.

They sell 133 styles of socks that don’t match. It allows people to be noticed, to be able to go and have a conversation. They are targeting a very specific worldview – people who wanted to be noticed, have something to talk about. They gave 12 he old girls something to talk about, gave them meaning, every industry can do this.

People are different and they have different worldviews. Treat different people differently. You need to tell different stories to different people but they must be true.

What is the change you’re trying to make and who are you trying to change? If you can focus on just one group do that. But if you have to market to multiple world views, know that and invest in it.

Building teams

There are 2 ways to build a team – you either look for misfits (they are really difficult to find) or you look for cogs who’ll do as they’re told.

At Apple now you go to the Genius Bar and get someone working from a manual.  That’s the only way they could scale. They don’t care anymore.

 Direct marketing

Direct marketing is about building a connection directly with the person is paying you. The Internet is the biggest direct marketing medium of all time.

A great business, should aim to acquire a customer for less than they are worth. Amazon believes that the average lifetime customer value is $33, so they will spend anything up to that amount to acquire them.

If you’re not going to be doing direct marketing the only other option is to follow the route of Religious institutions/Alcoholics Anonymous, and be the thing people talk about before the went to sleep. There is no other option. Move so far to the edge that people can’t help but talk about it.

Seth has never done a day of SEO, but his blog has been at the top. His blog got big because the first 100 people he started with got a benefit from sharing it. They needed to share it to use the terms he had invented, that they wanted to use. You have to give people a story, a reason that they would want to share with others, design it that way.

(Now Seth’s blog is at a size where He doesn’t want to do what he would have to do to make the number of subscribers go up.)

Elevator pitches

Replace Elevator pitches with elevator questions… No one will buy from you in an elevator.  The key to a great elevator question is “Are you the kind of person that benefits from the kind of thing that I do?” Once you figure this out, need to practice a thousand times, once you get it you’ll have a line outside the door.

What is your purpose/why?

Seth doesn’t agree completely with Simon Sinek on finding the “why” first?  What is the why for a shoe shiner? The why generally has to follow, we need to focus first on how you want to change people / how you want to make people feel. If the shoes shiner figures out that he has 2 jobs/outputs – The shine he puts on the shoe, and how he makes people feel while he is polishing the shoe… Now if he’s going to make people smile, he has a why.

How do you fire a client?

We need to generously tell people they should go somewhere else. Worldview: if someone is going to feel dis-empowered by what you do, that’s not good. Spend the effort in finding alternatives for them.

How about this – “We can’t serve you as well as you need us to. Here are three people that we have looked into on your behalf who can do what you want better and cheaper”.  Now not only have you shown them you care, you’ve given them a good story to tell when they go back to the office.

Dealing with criticism?

Life is not a focus group. You don’t have to listen to everyone. Not everyone is going to get you, but if you spend too much time with them you will lose your footing. The trolls and non-believers need us because they like telling us were not good enough.

Seth has not read an Amazon review of any of my books. “No one becomes a better writer by reading all their 1 star reviews”. Just accept that your books / products / services are not for them. If you are trying to take any tribe from here to there, some people will drop out because they are afraid of change.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore everyone. You need to listen to those people who feel the need for change as much as you do, even if they disagree on how to achieve it.

Work/life balance

By calling it a work/life balance we are creating a problem. Work is personal and work/life overlap. If you let people bring their personality and humanity to work… You may be surprised.

Workaholic – is someone who needs to control the outcome because they are afraid, they need to be online all they time because it may go wrong … that wrecks your life.

To do work that matters – you care enough to try to make things better, and if you fail you learn from it and don’t beat yourself for it. The people in our life are the main reason we are here; so let’s not miss that.

Education

Education was designed to create compliant factory workers. It’s not just the schools fault. It’s too easy to blame the school. We need to blame the parents because they are not speaking up enough. We need to ask “what is school for?” If it is to develop people who can create, take risks, build connections and solve problems then let’s not make them robots.

We cannot take our kids out of school… We can home school our kids from the moment they get home till they sleep. We can get them on Wikipedia, writing blogs, starting their own non-profits, speaking up, volunteering, letting them out failing/testing/learning from the time they are 12 years old.

Tell your kids that an A means nothing if you didn’t learn anything, if you want kids that institutions will fall all over to hire.

You can’t blame schools for wanting to avoid parental involvement, because they don’t get the point and are not consistent.  Mostly annoying. The alternative is for parents to figure out how to earn their voice. I ran nature tours for the school 6 students at a time. Don’t offer revolution, scale, just start small and work your way up. Can we contribute one thing?

Teachers and administrators have a worldview, how do we give them the dignity they are looking for. If you want to make change, understand that you are changing real people, they have real world views and if you want to change them you have to tell them a story that resonates with their worldview.

Emotional labour

Emotional labour is exhausting, but it’s as essential as physical labour. To be a professional means we bring ourselves to the table, even when we don’t feel like it.

We have to be able to say “Follow me, trust me, I have confidence….even when we don’t.” If you don’t feel emotional labour you’re not working hard enough.

Seth’s Closing messages

  •  There is no doubt you have succeeded already, but when you leave today you need to decide what you will do next? Will you choose to matter?
  • Most people do work that someone else can do. You can choose to do work that people will miss if you are gone.
  • We have more leverage to reach more people than ever before on earth.
  • We don’t need someone to pick us, we don’t need a license, we don’t need permission.
  • If you want leverage, if you want to amplify your message, learn to take responsibility and give away credit.
  • Learn to postpone the moment you cash in, as you build trust and attention… That’s the new currency.
  • We may not be able to change the whole world, but what about our corner of the world.

Seth Godin takeaway gift

 

AltMBA Download

AltMBA1

Yesterday I ran a 90 minute download at Redington covering what I learnt on Seth Godin’s Alt MBA.

20 people attended, some from Redington and some from other firms in the city. For those that didn’t make it in running a second session next Tuesday 18th August at Redington.

I had initially thought about going through all 12 Projects; but thankfully for those attending I managed to consolidate it down to 6 key areas of interest.

They were:

  1. What stopping us…?
  2. Making good decisions
  3. Being more creative
  4. Achieving your goals & dreams
  5. Making change happen
  6. The first step

Some of the lessons I was trying to convey were:

  • Know the change you want to make, who you are trying to change and what change you are seeking
  • Get inside the head of your target person/group. If you want to change, influence or persuade anyone of anything, you need to start by understanding their worldview.
  • Develop a human, charismatic and honest story that will resonate with the people you seek to change.
  • Be vulnerable. This will help your team/group open up and get beneath the surface quickly.
  • Review your boundaries and constraints (most are self-imposed) challenge yourself to think bigger, bolder and make more change
  • Push through your fear (it’s your Lizard Brain). When you feel scared that’s when you’re probably onto something good. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
  • The magic of continuous feedback from people who care. The quicker you send it/share it the more input you can get and the better you can iterate your way to success.

The AltMBA is one of the best learning experiences I have been involved in. It drew on the best of Management School and blended it with the best of Online Learning, as well as the latest Neuroscience to ensure what we learn sinks in, is applied and is retained.  Here’s Seth’s original pitch for it.

The question it raises for me is:

What if we could deliver highly effective training like this to new hires, colleagues, future leaders and clients? What if we could download seriously valuable skills in just a few hours or even days?

If you or someone you know would like to attend this AltMBA Download to get an overview of the content (not so much the format), send me a message ([email protected]) and I’ll confirm details.

Here’s a link to the presentation I delivered: AltMBA Download 12Aug Final

aor22

 

Can I help you to make change happen?

One way street

As many of you know I’m coming to the end of my one month course – Seth Godin’s AltMBA – which is all about “making change happen”:

  • It’s been a part time, one month long, online course run by Seth Godin and has taken up all my evenings and weekends.
  • It has been an intense, stretching and eye-opening experience (one more week to go).
  • It takes a very different approach of working, learning and collaborating. I think it offers a glimpse into the future of education. I have loved it and have learnt so much.
  • I’ve completed 11 projects over 3 weeks with 25 other people based in France, Ireland, South Africa, Nigeria, Singapore, Boston, New York, California, and India. (It’s taken up every morning, evening and weekend since 15th June).
  • I’m now into my final week with 2 final projects to go.
  • Here’s the application form for anyone interested in applying for a future cohort (you can give my name as a reference): http://goo.gl/forms/RR470HLG9q

For my final challenge (Project 13) I need to organize and run a live event to teach others what you’ve learned in altMBA. Seth’s brief is –

“Not everyone is able to do the course themselves. Sharing is a generous act, a gift. 10 people (minimum) must attend. It can be at work, at a group you’re part of, or for strangers. It can be offered free or with paid admission. But at least 10 people have to come, and you have to be in charge. It needs to take place no more than four weeks after the end of the altMBA. This is the culmination of everything we’ve learnt so far…”

I would really appreciate your input on this. I haven’t yet figured out whether to do this at work, at home or an independent venue; whether to do a 1 hour summary, a half day interactive workshop ora one week series of mini altMBA experience.

My question for you is –

Are you interested in attending? What would like like to get out of it? Who else do you think might benefit?
How much time do you want to give to it?
How deep would you like to go?

Please reply to this message or email me on ‘[email protected] with your thoughts.

For those of you who wanted to read one or two of my AltMBA posts they are all public; but to make it easier I have listed them below (and tried to categorise them):

General Business:

Project 12 – Launching the ‘Future Leaders’ program (3 minute video on helping others to make change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/launching-our-inaugural-future-leaders-program/

Project 11 – Death is not the end it is just a shedding of skin (What if Apple did Savings & Investments): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/death-is-not-the-end/

Project 7 – I have a problem with Hierarchy (Organisational Change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/i-have-a-problem-with-hierarchy/

Business Development/Sales:

Project 8 – We are all in Sales and we haven’t got a clue (Closing the Sale when decisions are irrational): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/we-are-all-in-sales/

Project 5 – Be the change you want to see in your clients (Inspiring change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/be-the-change/

Project 4 – You were right to choose the competition (Understanding worldviews and empathy): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/right-to-choose-the-competition/

Redington/Pensions & Investments:

Project 12 – Launching the ‘Future Leaders’ program (3 minute video on helping others to make change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/launching-our-inaugural-future-leaders-program/

Project 5 – Be the change you want to see in your clients (Inspiring change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/be-the-change/

Project 4 – You were right to choose the competition (Understanding worldviews and empathy): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/right-to-choose-the-competition/

Project 2 – What is the difference between a dream and a goal (7 steps to Goal Setting): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/dreams-vs-goals/

Project 1 – Make better decisions in 5 minutes (using decision trees to decide what to do if a star manager leaves): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/make-better-decisions-in-5-minutes/

RedSTART/Saving/Financial Education:

Project 10 – If you don’t stretch your limits you set your limits (How do our Assets, Boundaries & Narratives limit us?) https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/stretch-your-limits/

Project 5 – Be the change you want to see in your clients (Inspiring change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/be-the-change/

Project 2 – What is the difference between a dream and a goal (7 steps to Goal Setting): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/dreams-vs-goals/

Personal/Spiritual:

Project 9 – He didn’t belong and that made him sad (How self-imposed constraints kill our dreams/How can we scale/leverage them)?: https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/he-didnt-belong/

Project 6 – Are you a guardian of the future? (Creating a campaign for change – Global Warming): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/guardian-of-the-future/

Project 3 – 4 strangers, 48 hours and 101 ideas (Using Business Canvas to brainstorm 101 new business ideas) https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/101-ideas/

Hope you enjoy them. It’s hard to believe but each of these was written within 24 hours. I welcome your feedback; it’s a gift!

Don’t forget to send me your thoughts on what you’d like to get out a live event covering the ‘top tips for making change happen’?

Thanks,

Mitesh

AltMBA: Reinventing the MBA

It all began just 4  weeks ago when I received this email from Seth Godin’s blog (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/05/a-different-way-to-move-forward.html).

Seth has been often quoted saying:

The traditional top-tier MBA takes two years, you usually need to move and it costs more than $125,000. The best business school experience is transformative. It exposes students to a new way of thinking as well as a cohort of fellow travelers, motivated, smart people in a hurry to change things. What’s changed is that access to information is no longer the reason to go to business school. The information is everywhere. Our goal with the altMBA is to assemble leaders (corporate executives, non-profit linchpins, founders, managers and people in a hurry) and to connect them and amplify their work. Without leaving home. In just a month of intense effort. Instead, we’re organized around action, around publishing, around sharing your work and learning from it.

Alt MBA 2

In his blog on 12th May 2015 he announced that he is finally launching the inaugural class of altMBA. It was going to be a real-time, month-long intensive program. This was going to be a small-group process that works online as well as through hands-on projects. The focus of the program was going to be on group work, leveraging the power of collaboration, both by learning from and teaching others.

As soon as I read it I knew I had to apply. I consulted my wife, my friends, my team and my bosses to check I wasn’t being impulsive; but all were supportive. Redington encouraged me to use my current strategic projects for the assignments (as appropriate) and to do the course at work and around my work.

So I applied. It was a very different type of application form and there was a video bio to record too (my first!). 100 people were chosen for the inaugural group beginning in June. I got in. I felt excited, daunted and terrified all at the same time.

Now that it’s really happening, there is a lot of planning and scheduling to do:

  • I will find out tomorrow (on Sunday) from my coach Paul Jun who my learning group of 4 is for the first week.
  • On Monday at 11am (6am EST) I get a prompt with the first 3 projects for week 1.
  • On Tuesday and Thursday I have online study meetings with my learning team from 6pm – 9pm. Sunday we are booked for the all day.
  • We need to submit each project by midnight on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. These are all online and public.
  • We review other people’s projects and give feedback by 6pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • Saturday appears to be the only day off.
  • That repeats again next week and the week after … Until the 13th assignment is handed in on 15th July.

Last week I got a box in the post at work, filled with books. I also received a reading list by email with over 70 books/blogs/articles on it … I am in heaven!

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These are the commitments we have all signed up to:

  • I will do the hard part first.
  • I will embrace emotional labor.
  • I will think of myself as the type of person who can and does.
  • And I will act that way.
  • I will have a posture of generosity. Giving without hope of getting.
  • I will care about people and the world around me…
  • And I will act that way.
  • I will dance with fear.
  • I promise I will continue to keep making change (‘ruckus’).
  • And then I’ll teach someone else to do so, too.

This is a course of the future, for the future. We are using a whole bunch of online tools, many of which I have never used before – Disqus, Zoom, Slack, Feedly, Digg, etc. Other than what I’ve described above we have no idea what to expect, what the assignments are, how exactly we will work together, how exactly we will do them …

This is not for everyone. These first 100 appear to be a diverse and interesting group of people. As it gets closer many people on the course are feeling anxious, frustrated and stressed at the sheer uncertainty. I also feel like that at some level though the experience has made me realise that I am ok with uncertainty, I can handle change and I quite like being thrown in the deep end. This process is about feeling your fears, acknowledging them and facing them. It’s early days though, I’ll keep you posted on our adventures.

Here we go: 4 weeks, 5 coaches, 13 projects, 100 people, 175 concepts.

All our work is public and will be available for review and comment here – https://altmba.com/blog/

My work will be shared here – https://altmba.com/student/miteshsheth/

Wish me luck! See you in a month.

The Inaugural Class of AltMBA 2015 runs till 15th July.

Down memory lane…

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were listening to a TED talks playlist while doing a bit of spring cleaning. We stumbled across this great talk by Joshua Foer on ‘Feats of memory anyone can do‘. In it he explains, from personal experimentation, how much we are able to remember if we give our full attention, if we are mindful and if we process our experiences deeply.

He concludes by saying “if you want to live a memorable life you have to decide to be the kind of person who remembers to remember”.

The other day I stumbled across all the letters I had sent to my wife during a year we spent apart exactly 15 years ago (she had kept them all together in a folder). I have spent most of the last few days engrossed in reading these letters and notes, 15 years on from when we had written them.

It was incredible to go back into my own 21 year old mind, to be reacquainted my younger self. Through these words, I was taken back to my mindset and my experiences, many of which I had forgotten. Remembering the events, emotions, conversations, feelings, sacrifices, friendships, highs & lows, lessons, insights and learnings from our year apart was amazing.

As I looked back I was so glad that we wrote such long letters and that we had looked after them for the past 15 years. Without them I could not have re-lived, re-examined and revelled in the amazing experiences and memories of my year in India (at Tatvagnan Vidhyapeeth – School of Philosophy).

As Joshua says in the video “we are our memories, so to live a memorable life you have to remember to remember”, I definitely feel richer for remembering. We are so busy in our lives, our attention is pulled in so many directions, it’s easy to sleepwalk, rush, through this already fast paced life. To treasure it and to remember it, we need to stop daily and write, review, reflect.

We need to write letters, or a journal, so that we can deeply process our experiences, thoughts and feelings. I feel that journaling is the single most important gift I could offer anyone I know or care about: just take 20 minutes out each morning or evening to do it. (Recently my wife and I have re-started our 5am routine: We wake up and do Surya Namaskar (Yoga & Pranayama) for 20 minutes, then we both write in our Journals (reflecting on the previous day and our goals) for 20 minutes and finally we read something (thoughtful or inspiring) together for 20 minutes.)

As I look back I am really pleased with our journey over the past 15 years. As I look forward I have no idea what the world will be like in 15 years time. In 2030 I will be 51 years old; my children will be in their early 20s and my parents will be over 75 years old. One thing is for sure I don’t want to let the next 15 years get lost by sleepwalking through life or by not paying enough attention.

Where would you like to be in 2030? What will you remember to remember? When will you start journaling?

Our journey of self discovery

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Last week my wife and I left our children with their grandparents and travelled to Rajasthan, India, with a group of 86 Brits, 600 Americans and a handful from the rest of the world, to join more than 45,000 Indians in a very unique project.

We had gone to participate in a 7 day pilgrimage; a journey of self-discovery. We had all volunteered our time to a grassroots initiative in human and social development called ‘Swadhyay’, which literally means the study, knowledge and discovery of the self in Sanskrit.

We were tasked with going from person to person, from house to house, to meet, build bonds and establish a sense of common humanity with the people of Udaipur (the 5th largest city in Rajasthan). Udaipur is a very cultured, historical and proud place. The warmth, love, curiosity, respect and blessings we received from the people of Udaipur was incredible and beyond belief.

Every family we met had preserved many of its old customs and traditions, but are worried about the influence of globalization, materialism, self-centeredness and pop culture on their children and whether their centuries old unique culture will disappear within a generation. As we spoke and opened our hearts to each other we went from being complete strangers to extended family members within a week.

Thousands of volunteers from diverse walks of life had come together to meet people, young and old, of all races, castes and religions across all of Rajasthan. It is India’s largest state by area. It used to be home to the Indus Valley Civilization one of the world’s oldest, developed and most wide spread. Rajasthan’s economy is primarily agricultural; with a heavy exposure to metals & mining. The problem of famine and drought is deeply related with the economy of Rajasthan.

Between Jan 3rd and 9th, 48,000 Swadhyay volunteers visited 7,677 villages, towns and cities across the whole of Rajasthan. Collectively, we met with more than 400,000 families all over the state. We met everyone from the King and his ministers, to the people sweeping the streets; we went to schools, universities, businesses and homes; we met leaders, professors, teachers, students, children, cleaners, drivers, wrestlers, business owners, rich and poor, young and old.

Our purpose was not to pity the needy or to give them money, charity or other things but instead we wanted to inspire with love and ideas. We wanted to awaken their own self-respect, self-reliance and a sense of social responsibility. We had gone as much to open our own eyes and our hearts, to remove our prejudices and judgements, to bond and connect with people of all backgrounds, races, classes and beliefs. They were inspired in turn to offer their time, effort and skills in creative and collaborative projects that benefit their communities and contribute to their own self-improvement.

This ‘pay-it-forward’ approach was inspired by the teachings of Pandurang Shastri Athavale. More than 60 years ago Athavale put Human Dignity at the centre of his mission and devoted his life to inspiring one person at a time, to commit to changing themselves as the first step to changing the world. Peace, equality and unity are rooted within our own minds. During his lifetime he travelled from house to house, town to town, country to country with his message of common humanity, shared responsibility & collection action. He said “Politics, religion and economics alone cannot resolve the human predicament, because man needs to be transformed and this has to begin with the individual’s outlook towards himself and others”.

We did not go to preach or teach, to pity or rescue, we went to change our own outlook and over these 7 days our hearts melted, our barriers crumbled, our eyes opened and our minds were set free. We feel connected to the rest of humanity in a way we could never have imagined before. We have been transformed from the inside-out. We will never be the same again.

15 top tips for a successful 2015

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I have jotted down my top tips for 2015 to help me remember the most important lessons from last year. If you are running a project, managing a team, leading a business unit, company or charity you might also find some of these tips useful.

1. Focus
2. Address conflicts
3. Consult widely
4. Be decisive
5. Don’t wait for perfect
6. Find brightspots
7. Challenge convention
8. Create new routines
9. Be prepared
10. Don’t underestimate people
11. Live by your strategy
12. Periodically step away
13. Zoom in / zoom out
14. Be flexible
15. Create assets

1. Focus: Don’t diffuse your attention over a dozen things.

As I have grown in age, roles and responsibilities I have had to take on an increasing number of goals, roles and jobs. In 2014, I found the power of focus. I decided not to diffuse my attention over a dozen things but pick one thing at a time to put all my energy into. When you apply all your energy, passion and intellect to solving one problem at a time, to delivering one outcome or achieving one goal, the results are incredible. There’s another benefit too that, with clear focus, others know what you’re working on, they can get involved, support and help you; they can also see when not to distract you; and it’s much easier to say ‘no’.

2. Address conflicts: to avoid confusion, loss of credibility and wider organisational disfunction.

Too often we are left to resolve issues that really should have been addressed at the top. So many things are left unsaid, unresolved and unaddressed despite people spending more and more time in internal meetings. Most of us would rather have polite meetings than have to face the discomfort of conflict. It feels difficult, destructive and disruptive to address the elephant in the room, even when everyone is aware of it. As Patrick Lencioni explains in The Advantage – What we often don’t realise though is that when leaders avoid conflict amongst themselves, they transfer it in far greater quantities onto the people they are supposed to be serving. We need to get better at addressing difficult issues, having difficult conversations and addressing conflicts to create momentum, clarity and loyalty.

3. Consult widely: but don’t wait for consensus.

It’s quite natural to wait for consensus before taking any action, in order to get proper support and buy-in. All too often though we end up with decisions that are too late and too mediocre. I have found that waiting for confirmation that a decision is right before making it is a recipe for disaster.
In 2014 I learnt that consulting widely and socializing an idea broadly is even more impactful than trying to get consensus. Most people will not actively commit to a decision that they haven’t had the chance to provide input to. However, they can rally around an idea that wasn’t their own as long as they’ve had a chance to debate and understand it.

4. Be decisive: overcome inertia and boldly deal with the consequences.

In the absence of clear decision making; confusion reigns, credibility is lost and the organisation suffers. It’s so easy to wait for others to make decisions or to avoid difficult decisions. We all hear people complaining about a lack of clear decision making. What I find incredible is how long people will continue to work in the absence of any clear guidance or direction, with little faith that the important decisions will ever be made. Often in these situations more than getting the right answer, it’s important to simply have an answer – one that is broadly correct and around which everyone can commit. In 2014 I learnt the value of being decisive – I still consult, test and socialise my thoughts – but I’m not afraid of making decisions and am happy to deal with the consequences.

5. Don’t wait for perfect: The pursuit of perfection is the real enemy of progress.

Whenever we are designing, writing, developing or changing something it is natural to seek perfection. We want to do the best. We want to hold on sending the document till it is perfect; we review and re-review our presentation and publications; we don’t communicate the strategy because it still has holes in it; we don’t share our values because it is always work-in-progress. I have found that striving for perfection causes huge inertia and ultimately frustrates everybody. We all know that we learn by making mistakes, even bad ones. By making decisions we allow ourselves to get clear, immediate and frequent data from our actions. We need to lead by example and foster a culture that encourages this.

6. Find brightspots: don’t just look at what’s going wrong.

In our day to day business of finding incremental improvements it is really easy to only look at problems, or what is wrong. Good teams try to analyse their mistakes so that they can learn from them. This is true and important. In 2014 I learnt that it just as important, if not more important, to also look for brightspots, to identify what going well, really well, and study the secret of those successes, in order to share them and replicate those successes again and again.

7. Challenge convention: just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean we always should.

A culture is a way of working together that has been followed so frequently that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. There is real power, speed and scale in having tried and tested habits. A culture is set through hundreds of everyday interactions. Once it is set it’s almost impossible to change. That’s no surprise given we all like the comfort of what we know and what we have always done. It only really becomes a problem when these old habits become outdated. We need a mechanism for periodically asking ourselves and each other whether our culture is fit-for-purpose, facilitating natural opportunities for challenge and creating mechanisms for change. Great teams and companies often disrupt themselves before others can come along and disrupt them.

8. Create new routines: it’s the most direct route to changing a culture.

In my experience if you have identified a problem, consulted widely, provided an opportunity to debate and found brightspots, then all that is left is to create new routines or rituals. These new routines, however small, can appear insignificant but can play a huge role in facilitating broader changes. There is no getting round the fact that change is hard and to succeed you have to persist. Our daily decisions about where we invest our time and how we respond to issues will reinforce this. Small and well thought out changes in routine are the first steps to facilitating bigger shifts.

9. Be prepared: failure to prepare is to prepare to fail.

We all know that with pitches and presentations just taking the time to prepare, to script, to rehearse and seek feedback can lead to a tremendous improvement in success rates. Great speakers and presenters don’t just ‘wing it’, they prepare till its spot on. This year I have learnt to take the importance of preparation in all aspects of my professional, charitable and personal life. My boss (Robert Gardner) comes prepared to every meeting; he has a mind map ahead of every conversation we have. Working with him has taught me to prepare for every meeting I have with him. It’s not long before you see the benefit of thinking ahead and I have started to apply it to every meeting and every conversation I have.

10. Don’t underestimate people: take time to understand them and to develop them.

The ‘right stuff’ that most companies look for is not a superior set of skills that someone is born with but skills people have honed through life’s experiences. Companies focus too much on the grades, trophies and accolades someone has. Over the years I have found that lots of people that have become ineffective or perform poorly are in the wrong role, are not understood, or not well managed. I truly believe that everyone needs to be given a chance to shine in their area of mastery, skill or expertise. In recent years I have learnt not to accept other people’s perceptions and judgements; but to understand people better myself, to look carefully for whether a person has wrestled with the problems you need them to tackle and to create these learning opportunities. As Clayton Christensen says “management is amongst the most noble professions as it offers more ways to help others learn and grow”.

11. Live by your strategy: Carefully choose how you will spend your valuable time, effort and money.

A strategy is not just a one-off, high level plan, created in board rooms and then forgotten till the next year. A good strategy is created through dozens of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy and money (how you allocate your limited resources). With each of these decisions we make a statement about what really matters to us. We need to avoid giving our limited resources to whoever shouts the loudest for our attention or wherever the need is most urgent. If your team are important to you then invest in their development; if learning is important then make time to learn; If your family are important to you, ask yourself how often family comes out top in all the choices you have made in the past week. As Aristotle famously said “We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act but a habit.”

12. Periodically step away: don’t overestimate your impact, allow others lead the way.

Over the past 12 months I have tried to be home for most of the school holidays. Initially I worried that this would make it hard to manage my workload, team, clients and deliverables. It’s actually turned out to be a blessing. Having to be away for a longer period of time forces you to train and coach others. It also gives others the space to fill your shoes and to step-up. I have found that getting some space, stepping away periodically critical to developing a team of leaders.

13. Zoom in & zoom out: we need to check we’re going in the right direction

Our first accomplishments as professionals are usually rooted in our skill in getting things done. We’re fast, we’re efficient, and we do high-quality work. However, to lead effectively often we need to do less. We need to go from being firefighters to being fire marshals, taking a more strategic approach to the business, and solving problems before they become crises. Whilst we all need to be able to get our head down to make sure we get stuff done, we equally need to periodically lift our head up to keep checking were going in the right direction. We need to learn how to both zoom in and zoom out regularly.

14. Be flexible: Work does not need to happen between 9-5pm at the desk.

There are times you need to be in the office from 7am – 9pm and there are times you are better off at home. In the concept/strategic phases of any project I find it’s better to not be in the office. In the socialization/implementation you absolutely have to be in the office. In the insights/feedback phase you need to get out of the office and speak to clients/stakeholders. I think the idea of working 9-5pm in the office everyday is out-of-date. We need to have shared goals and work towards them sincerely and above all flexibly to get things done best in the most sustainable way.

15. Create assets: Don’t just do a job, build process and turn them into assets.

Our teams need our time and attention but above all they need processes. All businesses and teams need ‘processes’, habits and routines to convert scarce resources into something useful. They need to learn routines for how to solve problems themselves, how to deal with mistakes, how to build client relationships, etc. They also need values and ‘priorities’. This defines how they will make decisions, what they will invest their time and resources in and what not. The best way of developing processes and priorities is by helping them solve hard problems for themselves. When we do this systematically we create assets, that are not dependent on us, that make the company or team more productive and more valuable.

2013 was a year of ‘discovery’ for me – listening to my calling, having faith, being bold. 2014 was the year of ‘devotion’ – I made a conscious choice about where, when and how I was going to devote myself, my time and my energy.

As I look forward to 2015 I don’t yet know what it holds for me. It has started as a year of sacrifice and giving. I feel excited by the possibilities as I am a whole year older and wiser. The best part of starting a New Year is that it is still unwritten and it is full of potential waiting to be released. I wish you all the best in maintaining focus to stick to your goals and resolutions, in learning from previous mistakes, in building upon previous successes, to create new routines, build new processes and to make 2015 a fantastic year.

Best wishes for the New Year.

P.S.

Now that the year is over I wanted to look back, review and reflect on my top 15 from 2015:

1. Focus — We all know that if you spread yourself too thinly you don’t progress anything properly. This year I learnt that though you may focus on one major thing at work (you can juggle various smaller things too). Also you still have capacity to focus on one major thing at home, one in your leisure time, etc.

2. Address conflicts head on — I tend to deal with the most difficult problem first and this year was no exception. What I learnt this year though was that most of our brains’ natural tendency is to put off or avoid difficult situations. Acknowledging this is a powerful first step.

3. Consult widely — I knew people want to have an input, contribute and be consulted, even if you don’t end up taking their suggestions on board. What I’ve realised this year is that actually many brains are better than one, and people will highlight things you would never have considered.

4. Be decisive — It’s so easy to procrastinate over a difficult decision. I’ve really learnt the value this year of “shipping”.

5. Don’t wait for perfect — I am not a perfectionist, but I definitely spend too long thinking about and working on presentations and reports. I’ve learnt it’s better to just get out a version 1, so you can get feedback and iterate on versions 2, 3, 4…

6. Find brightspots — I still need to work on this. I find it much easier to identify problems, point out shortcomings and criticise. I need to make it a habit to praise and acknowledge successes and brightspots daily.

7. Challenge convention — there’s a balance to challenging the norm. At one extreme you become a troublemaker, at the other end you’re too compliant. Like everything I’ve realised this is a matter of picking your battles.

8. Create new routines — I’ve struggled. I’ve allowed old routines that I really value to fall away. I haven’t been able to make new routines stick. This will need overhauling in the New Year.

9. Be prepared — I have been preparing a lot more for presentations, meetings and even conversations rather than just ‘winging it’ this year. It’s a really valuable habit.

10. Don’t underestimate people — the most unlikely people have surprised me when given the opportunity. What I’ve realised though is that they may need some support and coaching to really succeed.

11. Live by your word — it’s no good saying something is important to you if your actions don’t demonstrate it. I’m very conscious of this.

12. Periodically step away — the value of this has been really clear this year. Every time I stepped away, or went on holiday, my team really stepped up and shone. We need to do this systematically. It’s is the key to delegation.

13. Zoom in / zoom out — when faced with a problem it’s easy to dive further into the details but it’s a combination of stepping back to get perspective, alongside diving in that creates new solutions.

14. Create Assets — I have caught myself every time I get too consumed in delivery. I have consciously stepped back and tried to create processes, routines and assets for my team. We could all be even better at this, even at home with our children.

15. Work flexibly — I’ve been awful at this in the past 6 months working every hour I can. I want to plan my time better and work more flexibly next year. Moreover, I want to leave at 5pm at least 3 times a week so I can have dinner and do bedtime with my family.

I look forward to starting fresh in the New Year, with new lessons learnt, with new resolutions and new habits to create. Change is the only constant.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”

What will you devote yourself to this year?

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As we enter 2014, and the Earth moves around the Sun one more time, I have found it invaluable to reflect on the past 12 months in order to learn lessons and move forward in the coming year.  The New Year is as good a time as any to ask ourselves: What shall we devote ourselves to? What will be the focus of our time, enthusiasm and energy this year?

In my first blog of 2013 I wrote about looking for inspiration from my Heroes, in their calling, their choices, their determination, their attitude toward obstacles and their incredible achievements (link). As this New Year begins I have to ask myself – Was I brave? Was I bold? Did I face my fears? Did I have faith in myself? Did I embrace adversity? Did I find my calling? More on this later.

My call to action

12 months ago, I had my own ‘call to action’. I left paid employment and entered the uncertain world of self-employment in the hope of spending more time with my family. I was clear that I wanted to spend more time in the next 5 years with my wife and children than I had managed in the previous 5 years. It is so easy to take family for granted, even though we know that they are our greatest source of happiness in life; family doesn’t offer the immediate rewards, recognition and feedback that our careers do.

Clayton Christensen explains it well – “The priorities in our life are determined not by our words but through the hundreds of everyday decisions about how we spend our time, energy and money. With each of these decisions we make a statement about what really matters to us.”

As I entered 2013 I knew the most important job that I needed to do right now was to be a better husband and father. I have felt this many times before and even made countless resolutions in the past to re-address this balance, but 2013 was the first time I was actually going to do something about it. This felt like a moment that might define who I am, that might give me an opportunity to use my talents and to fulfill my purpose on Earth.

However, I hadn’t figured out how I would support this new lifestyle, what kind of work I would do to sustain it and how I could earn enough to cover our expenses. In this vacuum I found myself transported back to the year 2000 when I was trying to decide between earning a living by pursuing my passions and doing something I was good at or a career that were in demand. All sorts of ideas, long forgotten dreams and possibilities filled my head – I could finally become a schoolteacher, author, film director, innovation guru, entrepreneur, etc.

I read a book about “How to find fulfilling work” that just made my predicament worse. I was torn. On the one hand I wanted to be like Leonardo da Vinci – a wide achiever – and pursue many interests all at once. On the other hand I knew I have a tendency to spread myself too thinly and then struggle to do anything well. After much mental wrestling it dawned on me that my biggest successes and achievements in life have come when I have immersed myself in one field and focused all my efforts in one direction, blocking everything else out.

Self-employment and self-discovery

It took so much effort to not get distracted and I had to keep reminding myself of the work-life balance I was trying to achieve. I decided to develop a one man consulting business where I could choose to take on interesting projects during term-time to ensure I was free for school holidays.

I attended a one-day Penna course on ‘Setting up your own consulting business’, I set up a limited company within an hour – Mitesh Sheth Consulting Ltd was born – it all seemed surprisingly easy. Getting clients, however, especially ones that would pay proved to be significantly harder. It took me 3 months to get a handful of clients, from different industries, offering me a broad mix of projects. It took a while though to figure out that I was better off earning my income through the industry I know best – pensions & investments.

Throughout my life I have always thought that there is nothing better than your own boss, but this year I have realised that self-employment is not for everyone (the lack of cashflow visibility at least in the initial period is difficult) and also working on my own was not for me (I’m an extrovert and it felt pretty lonely).

2013 has been a  year of self-discovery for me:

  • I found out that, whilst I loved being at home with my family in the mornings and evenings and during the school holidays, I didn’t like sitting around at home for long periods of time.
  • I realised that I am very ambitious, I love challenges and get tremendous self worth from achieving things.
  • I am also naturally inquisitive and love learning (I’ve read over a dozen non-fiction books this year – link).
  • I like people, especially being surrounded by smart people that challenge me. I am also a rule breaker and disruptor and needed to find a way to channel this constructively.

Finding my ‘Tribe’

The concept of ‘Tribes’ was popularized by Seth Godin in his bestselling book of the same name. He explained the concept as follows:

“Everyone has an opportunity to start a movement – to bring together a tribe of like-minded people and do amazing things. There are tribes everywhere, all of them hungry for connection, meaning and change. And yet, too many people ignore the opportunity to lead, because they are “sheepwalking” their way through their lives and work, too afraid to question whether their compliance is doing them, their family, their company and the world any good.”

Enter Redingtonhttp://www.redington.co.uk – an award winning disruptive pensions and investment consultancy co-founded by Dawid Konotey-Ahulu and Robert Gardner 7 years ago to ‘solve the pensions crisis’. I realised that this could be my working home as soon as I heard Rob’s 100 year vision to help people around the world feel confident about their financial future (link). My initial engagement with Redington started with RedStart, a groundbreaking programme that offers free financial education to young people at school. I then got involved with the Manager Research Team and have recently accepted a permanent role as Director of Strategy.

The more time I have spent with Rob, Dawid, Pete and the rest of the Redington team the more it has become clear that I have found my ‘Tribe’ – this is a group of talented and smart people who are ambitious and altruistic in equal measure, blending rigorous analytical discipline with creative flair.  Having spent Christmas at home with my family I am really looking forward to going back to being part of this Superteam (in the words of Khoi-Tu).

Final reflections

Back to those difficult questions I was asking myself earlier. In 2013 was I brave? Was I bold? Did I face my fears? Did I have faith in myself? Did I embrace adversity? Did I find my calling? I am pleased that for the first time in many years the answer is a yes to most of these questions, with the exception of the last one.

I have not found my calling yet, but I found my tribe, which has to be the first step.  For 2014, I want to make a commitment (not just a resolution) to continuing on this path of self-discovery, seeking to understand  where to focus my energy better and what to devote myself to. 

2013 was an amazing year for me on so many levels, even though it did not feel like it along the way. I will always remember it as my year of self-discovery. I want to share the key to unlocking this internal exploration: daily introspection and journaling.

My resolutions for 2014

I am 14 years from turning 50, I don’t have the luxury of time to waste by just re-living the same year over and over again. If 2013 was the year of ‘self-discovery’, 2014 will be the year of ‘devotion’ for me.

Over the past couple of months my wife and I have started a 5am routine: We wake up and do Surya Namaskar (Yoga & Pranayama) for 20 minutes, then we both write a Journal (reflecting on the previous day and our goals) for 20 minutes and finally we read something (thoughtful or inspiring) for 20 minutes. This routine has been invaluable in helping me deal with this year’s uncertainty, embrace adversity, adapt, understand myself and retain focus on my priorities.

  1. This 5am routine continues to feature front-and-center of my plans for 2014 (‘Daily routines of rock stars’ link).
  2. In 2014 I am looking forward to helping Redington grow with new clients, in new channels and new markets.
  3. After reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and learning about the massive differences that are forged between children over the school holidays, I have committed to spending school holidays at home with my children.
  4. I will use my free days but to write more this year. I started writing a blog for the first time in 2013 and I have really enjoyed it. I have written 19 blog posts and had 7,865 views. I really love writing. I am going to do more of this in 2014.

I’d like to thank all of you for your advice, guidance, support and encouragement throughout 2013. I wish you and your families a very Happy New Year.

For 2014 I offer you the gift of introspection, and journaling in particular, and leave you with this final question:

What will you devote yourself (your time, your energy and enthusiasm) to this year?

How to avoid drowning in a sea of rejection

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When you’re starting out, building a new business or searching for a new job you have to deal with rejection all the time. Even when you are launching a new concept or trying to change direction within an existing business you usually have a string of failures before any glimmer of success. In this blog I discuss how do we can avoid drowning in a sea of rejection?

Although I’ve heard a hundred times before that “it takes time to build a business” and “you have to fail your way to success“, I have found it tough to maintain my motivation in these past couple of months.  When dealing with disappointment I try to remind myself of why I am doing this, tell myself that this is just the beginning and I try to keep my goal in mind. I also tend to meet up with other people in a similar situation to get comfort and encouragement from them. Sometimes that works. Other times you start to feel like a bit of a failure. You start to question your own ability, relevance and even existence.

When I’m in a dark self-pitying place, telling me to “stay positive” doesn’t help much.  It’s usually my wife or good friends that succesfully pick me up with a strongly worded pep talk.  Having been in this place a few times and having heard this a few more, I decided to give myself the same talk, repeating some of their most piercing words, wanting to be able to pick myself up.

I say something like – “You have so much to be grateful for. You cannot control what happens to you in life, only how you react to it.  You choose how you respond to what life throws at you. Life is a battle – fight it.  Moreover start to enjoy the battle. Only the test of fire makes the finest steel”.  It’s early days but this seems to be working.

Last week I was fortunate to meet Dan Pink, author of To Sell is Human, A whole New Mind and Drive, the timing could not have been more perfect.  What he had to say helped me made sense of how I deal with disappointment.  Here are 3 of his ideas for staying buoyant in the face of failure and rejection.  Some of these are intuitive but others fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

1. Talk to yourself

Before we go into any important encounter or presentation we often give ourselves a mental pep talk.  You say “You can do this!” and get yourself pumped up for the occasion. Recent social psychology research suggests this does not work. Surprisingly we are better off asking ourselves “Can I do this?”.

Questions by their nature illicit an active response, even if you are ask yourself questions. Your mind starts to answer the question subconsciously and prepares you for the situation ahead. Try it!

2, Be more positive and friendly than feels natural

In sales and negotiations we are often taught to be poker faced. In business meetings we are coached to be professional. During any important encounter or act of persuading, influencing and convincing we should be positive. We are far more likely to succeed if we smile and are friendly. Positive emotions open us up and make us explore possibilities, while negative emotions narrow us and make us focus.

“Positive emotions broaden our ideas out to possible actions, opening our awareness to a wider range of thoughts and making us more receptive and creative.”

How positive? How friendly? Research suggests that our positive emotions should outnumber negative emotions by a factor of 3.

One way of making yourself more positive is by making time for ‘awe’ – to stop, observe and appreciate nature, human endeavor and the world around us. Try it. Take a moment  to pause and feel a sense of awe for the magnificence of a building, a garden, a view and achievement.

Another approach is to practice ‘gratitude’. Regular reflection on what you have to be grateful for improves your quality of life and well being. Try it. Write down 3 things you’re grateful for each night for a week.

3. Remember that it’s not the end of the world 

The key to surviving and thriving from failure is in how we explain our failure to ourselves (and others). We need to ask ourselves – “Is it really the end of the world? Am I really a complete failure? Is everything really ruined?”.

Following any failure or rejection ask yourself the following 3 questions:

  • Is this permanent? Have I lost all my skills or could I just be having a bad day? Could the client be having a bad day?
  • Is this pervasive? Will everyone always react in the same way? Could everyone miss the point and be uninterested or is there a chance that its just this person that didn’t get it.
  • Is it personal? It’s rarely personal. Maybe he just wasn’t ready. Maybe he’d agree on another day.

We hate rejection so much. We often over-react and start telling ourselves “this always happens”, “it’s all my fault” and “its going to ruin everything”. We need to be less dramatic and de-catastophise things.

If you’re applying for a job try writing yourself a rejection letter before you apply for the job. By thinking about valid objections and rejections you can mentally start to prepare for and respond to them.

What do you do? How do you avoid drowning in a sea of rejection? How do you keep positive in the face of failure and rejection?

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In 2013 become the hero of your own story!

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The New Year represents hope, resolution and change. A new year is a new chapter filled with potential and possibility. In 2013 – will we stick to our resolutions? Will we achieve our targets? Will we make the same mistakes as we have made in the past? Will we be able to build on our previous successes? Will we be prepared for unexpected obstacles? As I look ahead to 2013 I find much inspiration in the journeys of my Heroes; in their calling, their choices, their determination, their achievements and their obstacles.

“If you find a path with no obstacles it probably doesn’t lead anywhere” – Frank Clark

The Hero’s Journey is the basic storyline of all heroes and legends. The plot usually goes something like this. There is hero, except he/she doesn’t always know it. He lives in the ordinary world until he receives a ‘call’ to enter an unknown world. If the hero accepts the call he must face many obstacles. Initially the hero is alone but in time many new and unexpected helpers join him. Ultimately, the hero must survive a final challenge that will test him to the core. Upon success, the hero usually achieves a great gift or reward. The hero usually returns to his home with his newfound gift to share it with and benefit others. This is the basic journey of the Buddha, Gandhi, Luke Skywalker, Neo and even Bilbo Baggins.

I believe that we all get not just one but many such ‘calls to action’ during the course of our lifetime. These are moments that can define who we are, that give us an opportunity to use our talents, to follow our passions or to fulfill our purpose. Our calling can come in many different guises – an unexpected illness, losing your job, a new job opportunity, a dream, a new year’s resolution, a new hobby, a film, a book, etc. We are often caught off-guard by our calling, as we are rarely looking for it. Our missions usually find us.

Whilst we might not choose what happens to us, we absolutely can choose our response to any situation. Each of us has to decide for ourselves whether to ignore the call and stick to our routine life or whether to accept the call to enter an uncertain and risky world, with challenges, obstacles and ultimately ‘a reward/gift’ beyond our imagination.

If we accept the call we have to step way out of our comfort zone and welcome many adversities. We will have to face many challenges and trials head on. We will inevitably begin on these new paths alone. We will face our deepest fears and insecurities and learn to look at life in a way that we might not have done before. However, as we walk unexpected helpers, supporters, friends will come into our lives with assistance, guidance and support. They maybe people we know or people we have not even met yet but they will come from the most unexpected places. In following these new paths, in facing these adversities and in fulfilling these friendships we will be transformed and we’ll never be the same again.

I look forward to 2013 with much excitement, anxiety and hope. I have just started a new business, as a consultant and executive coach to the pensions and investment community. Lots of questions have been running through my mind in recent weeks – Am I doing the right thing? Where should I start? Will I find good clients? Will they be bring in an external consultant in this environment? Should I apply for a regular job instead?

The Hero’s journey inspires me to be brave, bold and not fear the unexpected. Instead, it pushes me to face my fears, to have faith in myself and to embrace adversity in order to achieve something extraordinary, maybe even to follow my calling and to fulfill my purpose.

“Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course” – William Shakespeare

I wish you all the best in finding your calling, facing your fears and in all your adventures over the next 12 months.

Happy New Year!