Instead of brainstorming, take a shower

Brainstorming, creative meetings…we’ve all attended these, with very poor results. At most people simply repeat the ideas they already have and nothing novel is born.

showerpower

Why is this? I think it’s because creativity doesn’t work that way, at least not for me. For me- novel ideas are seldom generated in a meeting rooms = at the Boss’s demand. It’s not that I cannot summon my “muse” on demand, it is almost always a matter of physical and mental setting. Let’s start with the physical- for me creativity usually required some distance and “buffering” of the external world- a closed room, some music, etc. it does NOT include multiple people in the same room and noise. But even this isn’t enough (and, to be honest, many times lead to procrastination). What I really need is to doze off, to drift and enter a “zone”. I need to be in the righ mental state of mind, which for means to be as far away from the challenge/ problem as possible.

I can achieve this better when I’m NOT thinking about the work or physically located in a work environment. Looking back, my best ideas come in strange places and are tied to specific activities:

  1. Exercising (Running, swimming, surfing)
  2. Taking a shower
  3. Right before I fall asleep

So, the optimal work environment for me would have a treadmill, shower and a bed! But seriously, having identified these activities as especially prolific ground for creativity, the most effective use for me would be to engage these in a concise manner- with a game plan. So to induce more creativity, the best method for me is to:

  • Find places/activities which work best
  • Go to these places with a game plan/ specific goal in mind ( a specific question or topic that needs to be addressed)
  • Once the activity is over, Record, record, record whatever I’ve thought of (difficult to do if the idea pops into your head right before you fall asleep, but doable).

Once this process is in place, it can be refined (matching specific questions/mental challenges to specific activities).

Try to identify your (physical and mental) sweet spots, and engage in activities you know are conductive to creativity. And don’t forget to record it in the end- a good idea you’ve forgotten is just as useless as the one you haven’t even thought of yet.

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My only rule about rules- is make none!

When I was serving in the Navy people asked me if after my service I would be going to India (as part of the “post service” almost every Israeli takes after their military service- something like a “gap year”). I said that even if the paid me I won’t do it. At the time it appeared to me as India was a place young Israelis go to in order to get high, lay on the beach all day or try to find “enlightenment” by doing Yoga or stuff. And that wasn’t for me.

Make no rules
Make no rules

Several years later while working for a multinational corporate I was asked to go to India to help set up a joint venture company with a local firm. I couldn’t really decline, so I’ve found myself traveling to India. And then again. And again. I can’t recall how many times I’ve visited, but my passport has 7 Indian Visas in it.

So in the end, they did pay me, and I did go there. Multiple times. And I even liked some of it- the people were extremely nice, the food interesting and some of the sites were unbelievable. And it got me thinking about the “Rules” we make to ourselves and what they mean to our career. For instance, during my service at the Navy I can across a high ranking officer who was not my cup of tea, so I told myself I would never work with him. Several years later, and what do you know- I ended up working closely with the man, and actually enjoying it. Same goes to industries I’ve said I won’t work in, place I didn’t like to visit, etc.

I even recall saying I would never wear a suite to my wedding, and now I relish every opportunity to wear one for work… and the list goes on.

It seems as though as you grow up you tend to break many of the rules you set for yourself when you were younger. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Perhaps you really shouldn’t be tied by the same set of rules which were fitting when you when 18, or 28 later in life?

So I made myself a rule. Instead of making rules, breaking them and rationalizing it after hand, I decided I will make fewer rules, and try to be more flexible. That does not mean I gave up on my principles- I still consider myself to be reliable, trustworthy and a good person. But if a situation shall arise when I will have to act slightly differently to get things done, I will do so without remorse.

Try it. Use less conclusive language- I will NEVER work with that person, I won’t EVER do that. The less you do, the more free you will become to make decisions which suit who you are now, not who you were when you made the damn rule.

But remember- even this isn’t a rule…

Your online footprint management is vital for your career

Online footprint across platform
Online footprint across platform

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Its’ all so easy and effortless, we don’t stop for one second to thing how our online behavior can affect our career. But like so many other things that can appear small and insignificant at the time, over a long timeframe our online actions accumulate and can have a profound impact on our career.

Is it possible that what we post on Facebook can affect our next job? It sure can, for 2 reasons.

The first is that in the “online” world our professional lives are inseparable from our personal lives. Everything is free for everyone to see, so there’s no point in maintaining an impeccable persona on “professional” sites (LinkedIn, Xing for example) and behave rudely on Facebook and twitter. It’s all the same to the web.

The other reason for the significance of our online behavior is that everything we do online leaves a mark somewhere on the web, and it’s now impossible to erase this “online footprint”. Every ugly selfie you’ve posted, untasteful twit and even innocuous detail you’ve mentioned somewhere online might one day come back to haunt you. It is almost futile to try to resist this (try shutting down ALL your social media accounts, email, and subscription to random websites etc.

So given that everything we do somewhere online is visible to all and will remain there forever, how should one conduct? Try these following tips:

  1. Be kind and ditch negativity- the web has endless memory. Everything posted lasts forever. So it is much better to spread kindness than rudeness. And don’t start battles over the web- things tend to escalate quickly online (we don’t see or fear the other person) and people have long memory, too. As a rule, if you can contribute something positive, do. If not, shut up about it.
  2. Be honest- no point in lying although some will try (a guy a know from my service in the navy boasts in his LinkedIn profile that he graduated first from the Naval academy, and commanded elaborate drill with US 6th All lies). Keep whatever information you want for yourself, but never lie. Remember- potential employer know how to Google and compare your’ various profiles.
  3. Be positively active- your online footprint today, is, in fact, your business card and portfolio tied together. If you have enough google references- it means you are important. Appear on many entrepreneurs’ website- it means you in the entrepreneurial business. So if hiding isn’t an option anymore, you might as well do the opposite and contribute as much as you can.

Remember, you online activities is like a trail of breadcrumbs you carve on the face of the internet. It might just lead something great your way- you just need to make sure you leaving the quality stuff behind, and keep all the negativity to yourself.

For maximum productivity, recreate economy class at your office

Working in economy class

I’ve recently had the pleasure of flying a transatlantic flight to the US. After several hours, I’ve finished my reading materials, watch all the movies in the VOD and was bored to death. Then I opened my laptop and started working. The hours flew by, and the only thing to stop was my battery dying after several hours. But what was so extraordinary wasn’t the fact that I managed to work for several hours, it was the level of focus I’ve reached during this period. This allowed me to do stuff I usually put off doing, like sorting all my emails, replying long overdue ones and actually clearing my inbox. I then moved to more creative tasks, like writing new documents from scratch, white papers and even working on some annoying documents such as proposal templates. I then moved to really creative things like writing blog posts (this included), a business plan for a friend and some marketing materials- all of these which require very high level of commitment and focus. It was like I was in the zone, or as some call it, “Zen mode”. And the reason for this is clear- with nowhere to go, nothing else do and with very little obstructions from the outer world, the brain can much more easily focus on the task at hand, and do so in an orderly, starting from the mundane and moving up to more resource demanding tasks which isn’t usually a good idea since the trivial stuff usually drains most of my energy.

And I didn’t try to multi-task, since there was only one think to do at a time.

This got me thinking- could I somehow replicate this environment and reach the same results in term of effectiveness? I could find an uncomfortable place to sit, kill Wi-Fi connectivity, put my headphones on and play some relaxing music and zone off for several hours. But I suspect this will not achieve the same impact- something will always distract me- a phone call, or some colleague at the office asking a question, not to mention the need to grab lunch or coffee. Nevertheless, I’m willing to give a try. And to make it more effective I will do the following:

  1. Find a quiet room with no one else in it- minimum human interaction is necessary
  2. Kill the Wi-Fi ; no need to elaborate, any incoming email grabs your attention and destroys your focus
  3. Play some music- something to take my mind off work
  4. Set a clock for exactly one hour -even the flight ends eventually
  5. Allocate myself 1-2 tasks to focus on – any more than that and there’s a good probability I will just skip between tasks.
  6. I won’t force- if I see this isn’t working, Ill terminate the experiment and try another time (no point in forcing creativity or productivity)

I will try this and let Y’all know if this succeeded in improving my productivity.

Being Bezos (or not)- 4 things you can learn from Amazon CEO

I’ve just finished reading the “Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” (http://www.amazon.com/The-Everything-Store-Bezos-Amazon-ebook/dp/B00BWQW73E).

This happened to coincide with Amazon reporting strong Q1 of 2015 with sale topping $22.7 billion.

"Jeff Bezos' iconic laugh" by Steve Jurvetson - Flickr: Bezos’ Iconic Laugh. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
“Jeff Bezos’ iconic laugh” by Steve Jurvetson – Flickr: Bezos’ Iconic Laugh. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

Over more than 400 pages the author, Brad Stone, tells the story of the online behemoth, of the growth of internet technology over the past two decades, but more than everything else, this book focused on the personality and mindset of Amazon founder and CEO- Jeff Bezos.

I’m not going to tell you that by reading this book you will become like Bezos. In fact, there’s very little chance that you will one day become as rich or influential as Bezos. But you will also never be him personally, and that might be a good thing because according to this biography he is not the most pleasant man around. But what you should do is learn from the man, not try to copy him. So here are several things I picked by reading this book.

  1. Long term thinking- if you take nothing else from Bezos, you simply must embrace this principle ( I wrote a seperate post about this topic: https://owntrepreneurship.com/2015/03/30/the-benefits-of-long-term-thinking-and-decision-making/)
    Bezos thinks not in days or months but in years and decades. This mindset has helped him to raise above petty arguments and create a clear vision for his career and later, his company. A famous story mentioned in the book describes how Bezos was ready to leave the wall street firm he was working with to start Amazon.com. His CEO at the time tried to persuade him to stay onboard for another quarter- there were bonuses involved so financially it made sense. Bezos asked to think this over the weekend and reverted that it was time for him to leave. When the CEO asked what so urgent he was said that when he will be 80 years old and looking back on this decision, a few thousands dollars more or less (salary and bonus) would not made such a difference. But had he chose to stay and therefore missed the opportunity of a lifetime (internet retail was just beginning then, and everyone was rushing to grab a piece of the market) he would have regretted this his whole life. When you’re not even 30 years old and thinking what you might feel at 80- now this is long term thinking..
  2. Determination– Jeff was a determined kid, teenager, student, employee and now CEO. His determination made things which were conceived to be impossible (like an online store where you could buy everything) a reality. It will also make commercial drones possible and perhaps even commercial space flights. When he sets out to do something, he doesn’t stop until it’s either done or failed miserably.
  3.  Not afraid to fail- Bezos is certainly not afraid to fail, and usually takes bold risks which often result in millions of dollars lost. He seems to be fine with it, as long as it improved the overall scheme of things (product, customer experience etc.).
  4. Simple, clear vision-At Amazon it is clear that the company’s goal is to provide the best possible customer experience. If this requires lowering prices, crunching the competitors and hurting the stock price- so be it. Everyone in the company knows that and Jeff constantly re-iterates his vision in any communication (internal and external). This in turn creates the culture he desires which feeds the growth of the company.

You’re not going to be Bezos, so don’t try to. But you can try to see how these personality traits can be incorporated in your life and career. After all, these have made him what he is today, so they are proven to work (at least for him..)