Learn the norm and then push the boundaries

Some time ago I mentioned if we all were the same, the world would be a boring place. This remains a favorite saying of mine. In relation to work, there always are “in” jobs and professions, or the new better way to do your job. In reality, there are many ways to do the same job. Certain tasks may have specific steps, but otherwise, creativity and differences reign.

No matter your business or where you work, it is your individuality that makes you stand out to others. It also is your creativity and the ability to think outside of the box. Do you do that, or is the same old same old? It’s hard to come up with or do something new or different. Ideas that seem so obvious weren’t to most of us. If you are an entrepreneur, whether in a startup or any other type of business, what makes you and your business stand out?

Colleges should teach creativity along with entrepreneurship, business, etc. Tapping into other parts of the brain is important and can be life altering. It is good to think outside of the box and differently than others in your space. Of course, in all businesses and professions, you need to learn the ropes and rules before trying to push any boundaries.

Doing what others have done is safe and where learning begins. We need people to do many jobs that are decidedly not hip or “in”. In fact, being safe or working as others have or in an unhip job may make you a success. Once you have learned the basics, being creative, unique and different has the possibility to make you a trailblazer or visionary in your field.

It’s up to you to determine whether you are okay with the status quo or not. It sure seems more interesting to blaze your own trail within whatever path you choose.

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Do you think before speaking?

Just because the thought comes into your head does not mean it should come out of your mouth. In many situations, it matters what you say next. This is why it’s so important to think before speaking. It doesn’t mean uncomfortable long silences, but it means you need to plan for important conversations, negotiations, or presentations. It also means you need be able to think on your feet.

This can be difficult in emotionally charged situations. But those situations require the most thought and patience.

This was brought home to me a few years ago when an opposing attorney answered a judge’s question too fast and before the judge had finished his question. In doing so, the attorney not only failed to answer the question the judge actually asked, he blurted out information that the judge later used against his other arguments. This really happened.

After speaking too fast and, apparently, without fully thinking through what he was saying, grasping for an answer, it became obvious the attorney was arguing two sides of the coin. It probably will not shock you this was obvious to the judge. It caused the issue on which the attorney had a weak case to look like a failure and the issue on which he had a slightly better argument to lose its shine. The attorney’s failure to think before speaking, let alone not letting the judge finish his question, lost his client any chance of succeeding on either of his positions.

Don’t let this be you. Always plan for important conversations, negotiations, or presentations. If you are not sure of an answer to a question, it is better to admit that. If you do answer, think before speaking. If you do these things, there is a better chance your conversations will go well and you will avoid putting your foot in your mouth.

And, it should go without saying, let people finish their thought or question before responding. If your mouth is open your ears are shut.

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We can always do better by working on ourselves

In everything you do you can do better, you can be better. Always. If you disagree you are only fooling yourself and being intellectually dishonest. Investing in yourself is the best investment you can make.

If you put your money in a can and bury it in your backyard, it has no chance to grow. If you invest your money, it has the chance to grow. The corollary is if you don’t take the time to improve yourself, to learn, you will become stagnant and, in this fast-paced world, probably be passed by others. If you work to improve you will grow and your opportunities will expand.

I am speaking about improving in relation your given business or profession, but it also applies to your personal life. It may help you to take a class related to what you do for a living, taking guitar lessons, or for me, keeping up with the state of the law and current legal opinions.

I know you are busy. I know you don’t think you have time. But the truth is you don’t have time not to invest in yourself. If nothing changes, well, you get the idea.

Think about what you can do to invest in yourself. It will make you a better professional or person, and it will help improve the world around you, your world.

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Do you have work/life balance?

Are you the workaholic each of us knows? You know the one. Checking email from the moment they wake up, when they are at lunch with you (rude, by the way), and checking it right before they go to sleep. Every social opportunity is really a networking opportunity with people they probably would not socialize with. All conversations point towards and relate to business, money, etc. You are not sure what their interests are other than work and making money. Or is this you?

It is no secret that hard work is required for success, and there are times you must work harder than others and longer hours. Getting ahead does not come easy. But, as important as it is to give your all for your career or business, there has to be down time to. No, I don’t mean sleep.

What do you do for fun? What do you do for stress release? If you have to even think about the answer to either of these questions you need to rethink your priorities. Working hard until you die will only result in one result. Everyone knows someone who was a workaholic because they were going to retire young and didn’t make to retirement. While fun is important, stress relief is a required part of all of our lives.

If you question what I just said, talk to your doctor, your partner, your shrink, or whoever you confide in. Stress relief doesn’t need to be training for a marathon or triathlon, but you need to put physical activity in your routine. Your body and brain will thank you for it as you age.

As for fun, it really is a requirement too. It could be sewing or playing an instrument, travelling, participating in a book club, etc. or a combination of many things. But you need to find things you enjoy unrelated to your work. If not, you will have no balance and the odds of burnout or something worse increase exponentially.

Plus, the more things you do outside of work, the more you have to speak about the next time you are networking.

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Expectations are important whether it’s your expectations of yourself or setting expectations for others. In both cases it’s good to be realistic. If your expectations aren’t, it is a negative because you set the expectation too low as if you didn’t have faith in yourself in a given situation or set the expectation too high and don’t come close to touching it.

In setting expectations for yourself, you need to think them through. It may be the expectations you have regarding a co-worker, family member, or friend. Or maybe about a new job or opportunity. The hard part is thinking through if you have enough information to have realistic expectations. If not, can you get the information you need to do so? Information is power and an important part of being able to set your expectations.

When you’re setting expectations for others it may be even more important to make sure you have the information you need to set realistic expectations. In my role as an attorney, my clients are looking to me to walk them through the process of whatever legal situation they find themselves in and to advise them on the possible and likely outcomes. If I can’t do so, I’m not doing my job. 

Of course I can’t know whether a transaction will close or the outcome of a lawsuit, but I have enough experience to guide clients through each step and either set expectations step by step or regarding the ultimate outcome. Sometimes it’s not very specific because I don’t have the information I need to do so. If that’s the case, I let my client know and then, if I acquire new information, I revisit the issue of expectations based on what I’ve learned. 

Many times expectations are a moving target. Knowing this can help you set them for yourself or others. So when setting expectations, be realistic and adjust as new information is learned, while always being honest with yourself or whoever’s expectations you’re setting.

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Intensity v. consistency

When you are striving to reach a goal, do you get there by the intensity you bring to it or by consistency in following the steps you have sketched out? I think it’s a combination of the two. You can employ both to pursue your goals and dreams.

Intensity can move you forward like a big push someone gives you when are on a swing. It’s focus and energy. It may allow you to complete a time sensitive project, move a long term project forward a few steps, or get over a hump that had you stopped in place. It accelerates your progress whether in getting to or crossing the finish line.

Consistency is when you have discipline to regularly work on a project or goal. Discipline is helpful in keeping you on track. It’s easy to not get back to work when it’s a nice day outside or a friend calls you do do something fun. But if you do what you planned it’s investing in yourself. 

When you work consistently and at times with intensity, you will see a return on your investment. Working with intensity all the time isn’t possible. It’s like inspiration in that you don’t always know when a burst will come. When it does, go with it. And even if it doesn’t, keep working on your goals regularly and you will have a much better chance to the reach them.

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What inspires you?

We all take inspiration from different people, actions, inaction, etc. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere and sometimes from surprising places. When it does you need to be ready to notice and process what it means to you. 

For instance, I find inspiration for various blog posts I’ve written from many different sources, many unexpected. The sources include a random comment on a podcast, something one of my children says, and once, from a comment made by an announcer about a snowboarder who had won a gold medal in the Olympics. You never know when it will hit you or where it will come from, but you know it once it does. 

Earlier this year I read about an 8 year old who has unexpectedly inspired other children. Dillon Helbig, who is from Boise, Idaho, is a second grader who wrote a book and then hid it on a library shelf. This action resulted in there being a waiting list to check out his hand written book and other children wanting to write stories and books too. The whole story is great (and easy to find on the Internet).  And now other children want to write. How cool!

Where will your next inspiration come from? There is no way to know. All you have to do is be open to it. Looking for it can work for some, but many times it comes out of left field and is a surprise. Next time you’re inspired will you act, or let the opportunity pass you by?

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The differences between networking and connecting

As has been said by Eric Dewey of eLegal Training, Networking is about knowing more people; connecting is about knowing people more. The distinction is obvious. You know a lot of people professionally and personally, but you actually are connected to only a fraction of those you know.

When you are at a business, social or charitable event, you likely run into many people you know. With many of these people, you will know them “socially” or “professionally”, which is a way of saying you know them, who they are, but are not deeply connected with them and have no investment in their successes or failures.

I think a good example is a small town of say 1,000 people. In a small town, you are likely to know everyone else who lives there. At the same time, you will not be connected with 999 other people. Maybe you are connected with 40-70. This is because connection requires a deeper relationship than simply meeting someone. It involves time, mutual respect, and participation in the relationship by both people to become more than mere acquaintances.

Another good example is LinkedIn. I have approximately 16,000 connections on LinkedIn. But it would be more truthful to say I am networked with approximately 16,000 people on LinkedIn because it is not possible for me to be connected to that many people. If I went through that list, maybe I am actually connected to 100 to 200 of those people, maybe more, but nowhere near 16,000. It’s just not possible.

True connections make up your community. People in communities care about their connections’ success and have a relationship built on mutual respect and trust. Respect and trust have to be earned before someone in your network becomes an actual connection. It takes time and work on the part of both people.

Once you have a connection, you will learn more about each other, be interested in transfer of knowledge and information, and care about each other’s successes (and failures). When you reach this level with another person you add another layer to the community you are building.

Through your networking activities you should have a goal to find people to connect with. By identifying possible connections and forging new relationships you will strengthen the foundation of your community and build the type of community you want to be a part of. These types of mutually beneficial relationships involve real connection and make your life far more interesting.

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Do you have a good pitch?

We all have a pitch to make and the need to do so comes up all of the time. Many times you are making a pitch unconsciously because it can be second nature for some. Think about how good your pitch could be if you actually thought about what you want to say in a given situation.

A pitch is about conveying information to one or more people to obtain a desired result. It can be to a potential client or customer, a potential investor, or a new potential connection.

It is hard work to come up with a pitch. In most situations you will lose the other person’s attention unless you have a short and to the point pitch. This is why people reference the thirty second elevator speech.

So how is your pitch? Is it good? Do you have different pitches for different situations? Spending time thinking about this or outlining pitches is time spent investing in yourself.

You should practice your pitch, including to others you know and trust to provide honest feedback. It isn’t as easy as you may think, but it’s worth it. You want your pitch to come out sounding natural. That’s why you need to practice both alone and in front of other people. Take and listen to constructive criticism and then see where your new pitch can lead you!

So what should you do?  Work on a pitch by thinking of your audience and the message you want to convey.  Don’t make it too long or use words people generally won’t know the meaning of, i.e. dumb it down so whoever you are speaking to will understand what you are saying. By doing so you will avoid your audience thinking about what a word meant and missing the next part of what you are saying.

After practicing, use your new pitch. See what works and feels comfortable. This will allow you to continually revise it to be the best version for the moment and have the best chance for your pitch to be successful.

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What have you learned today?

I recently came across a good quote I hadn’t read in quite a long time and it spoke to something I agree with, which is the importance of being a lifetime learner. I was cleaning out some old emails and the quote was in an email from a friend. The quote brought to mind a truth: continuous learning and training makes for a better and more interesting life and work place.

The quote is “Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them.”  It is by Buckminster Fuller, who has been described as an American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, critic of work, and futurist. What an interesting description for a man who, among many other activities and accomplishments, was a prolific writer, invented the geodesic dome, and was a president of Mensa, the organization for people with genius level IQs. I think his quote is correct on many levels. 

We all have potential, but realizing potential takes work, continuous work.  We all know intelligent people who are disinterested in learning or otherwise do not apply themselves, evidencing the truth that intelligence is not a predictor of success. Learning and applying yourself provides a better chance of improvement, let alone success.

The time to step up is today. It already is February, but it’s not too late to come up with a plan. What should you learn? Well that depends on what you do and what will help you do what you do. The first step you should take is to come up with ideas and make a choice on the first step based on what speaks to you. This could be reading a business book, taking a course online or at a local community college, or finding a mentor. The options are endless and depend on you to make the choice.

Do something, because the right choice is to do something and stop the de-genius process!

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What is your ROI?

I’m not asking what about your return on investment. I’m asking what about your ripple of impact. How does who you are and what you do impact others and your community? If you don’t think this matters you are being shortsighted and missing the market.

Your impact on others reflects on you. Do you serve as a formal or informal mentor? Do you treat people kindly? Do you volunteer in your community? These activities matter. They help you, those around you, and your community. Mentoring younger or less experienced people at your company will make your people and company better. Treating people well rubs off and others are more likely to do the same. Volunteering on a non-profit board or at an event does good for those in need and lifts up your community. Of course there are many other examples, but I think you get the point.

What you do matters in both small and large ways. You never know when a simple positive action you take will result in someone else doing something amazing that wouldn’t have happened otherwise . It’s like looking at timing or a missed opportunity or realizing most times you won’t know when an opportunity has been lost. If you regularly behave in a manner that results in return based on your impact you won’t have to wonder because even if you don’t know for sure, good things are likely to happen.

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