The journey to a better financial place

Just finishing up a great book — ONO: Options Not Obligations by Marc Warnke.  This is one of those books that is so full of good information and is told in such an engaging way that you just can’t put it down. I managed to devour all but about 20 pages of it on the train up and back to NYC last week.

Marc is what he terms a “family first entrepreneur.” He has been quite successful and made lots of money along the way, but unlike many entrepreneurs he didn’t let the pursuit of the dollar overtake his life. He made sure that every move he made, every venture he undertook, both supported his family and allowed for the quality time he wanted to spend with them.  Along the lines of my previous post, Marc encourages us to define success in our own terms, as well as how we choose to get there. He gives us permission and some good guidance on how to choose alternate paths to the typical 9-to-5 worklife that may work better for us and our families.

In the process of reading this book, Marc really made me take a hard look at how I think about money, how I think about work, and how I think about “stuff”.   And I realized my money and time (they’re essentially the same thing) were not working as hard for me as they should be. That I need to really think about where I want to be at some future point, specifically define that time frame, and start strategically laying the groundwork now for getting there. He breaks this process down into manageable steps, making the journey to a better financial place seem much less intimidating.

This is not one of those rainbows and unicorns “how to become a millionaire in 3 easy steps” books. As Marc explicitly states, this is not a “how to” book, but a “how to think” book. He backs up his ideas with examples from his own life, and solidifies his financial advice on how to grow wealth through better decision making with real number-crunching scenarios.  He is also very honest in the pitfalls and risks involved in pursuing entrepreneurial success, and suggests a number of strategies to both assess risk and manage it wisely.

Whether you’re looking to make an entrepreneurial fortune or just live comfortably and retire a little early, this book is an absolute MUST READ.  For your convenience, you can purchase it here [affiliate link].  Or buy it somewhere else. Or borrow it from a friend. Doesn’t matter how you get the book, just read it. You won’t be sorry you did.

As a matter of fact, this book is so chock full of good information I’m giving it a second read just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Sorry — you’ll have to borrow it from someone else.


photo courtesy of Alan Cleaver

The Power of Why

photo by walknboston

Like every parent, I am subjected to the question “Why?”  oh, about every 15 minutes or so. Barring “How long until we get there?” it is my son’s favorite question. These days it seems like every statement I make is met by a 4-year-old equivalent of the Inquisition.

The apple apparently doesn’t fall far from the tree – back in the day I tortured my parents the very same way. However, my line of questioning was often blocked by a parental “Because I said so.” As a kid I thought this was a bogus response; as an adult I still think it is. What’s the value in that kind of answer? What do you learn, other than to obey without question? How do you do something with purpose, if you don’t know why?

Knowing that there’s legitimate value behind the question – despite the annoyance of being drilled with it – I try to answer to the best of my abilities whenever asked (whether it’s my kid or my boss). And I still persist in asking that question myself (whether it’s my kid or my boss) whenever I think there’s more to the story than I’ve gotten so far.

The importance of this simple three-letter word was really driven home in a presentation given by George Eid of Area 17 at the Event Design Summit this week. George told us a personal story about the failure to ask why. Nearing completion of a lengthy website project for one of his clients, the CEO sent word that the bar at the top of the webpage needed to be removed; despite the fact that it destroyed the integrity of their visual design, they acquiesced. (After all, the customer is always right, especially if you want to get paid.)

After all was said and done, George asked the client that all-important question: WHY did it need to be removed? Turns out the CEO had just bought a 13-inch MacBook and wanted to be able to see the full page on screen – the part that was hidden was just about the width of that bar

… But when they removed the bar, they only removed the bar; they didn’t shorten the page. Even though they followed direction to the letter, the failure to ask WHY resulted in a failure to meet the customer’s expectations.

As George so eloquently put it,

“Keep asking why. Ask why all the way back to Adam and Eve.”

By continuing to ask why (even to the point of considerable annoyance) we get to the root of the problem, the core of the expectations. It is only by asking why until we are satisfied with the answer that we can move forward from a point of knowing and understanding. It is only by asking why that we can learn enough to truly get it right.

So I’ll take a deep breath and indulge my son’s never-ending why’s. He’s only trying to get a handle on the reasons and expectations so he can get it right.  I can’t really fault him for that.

As for the other question?

“We’ll get there when we get there.”

The Fallacy of Failure

People don’t try new things because of a fear of failure. But what exactly does it mean to fail?

By definition, failure is “the condition or fact of not achieving the desired end.”  Fair enough. But who gets to decide what that desired end is? Your parents? Your boss? Your neighbor down the street? In practice we let the outside world dictate what counts as success or failure, but in truth YOU are the only one who can really make that call.

We put so much stock in lofty goals that the society at large establishes, but that sometimes don’t make sense for us as individuals. We don’t try because we are afraid that we won’t be the best, or the smartest, or the first. Odds are you won’t be the best or the smartest or the first in whatever you set out to do. That’s no excuse not to try.

Just like failure, success is also up to you to define. What if success was as simple as being really good at what you do? As simple as jumping the smaller hurdles along the way to a loftier goal? As simple as simply getting off the sidelines and giving it a shot? Would we be so afraid of failure if we actually made it harder to fail?

Pick your desired ends wisely, and failure is not an option.

My New Favorite Software

Freeplane in action

Today I think I met the software equivalent of my new best friend.

Between work stuff and personal stuff I do a lot of writing. Product literature, articles, blog posts, powerpoint presentations – you name it. Before I really start the writing part, I try to create an outline to organize my thoughts and keep my content in some kind of sane order. But here’s my problem – I tend to be a non-linear thinker. No matter how much room I leave in my initial outline for subsequent thoughts, I always end up with a page full of arrows and comments written sideways in the margins, or numbers and stars that point to more thoughts on a separate page that I inevitably misplace.

Today I found heaven.

Freeplane is a free mind-mapping program that is tailor-made for people like me. You start with a central concept, and then create branches off of it for each of the topics you want to cover. Each of these can be further branched off for subtopics, and so on.  Forgot a point? No problem. Freeplane lets you add additional branches wherever you want on the map, and it will shuffle everything around automatically to accomodate it. As far as I know, you can keep branching off endlessly, making it as complicated as your little heart desires.

Once you get to the writing part, you can collapse and expand the various branches so that you can focus on what you need instead of getting distracted by all the information at one time.

The app can be used on Mac or PC. (Yay! I use both.)

Download it. Use it. Enjoy it.  Never create a disorganized outline again.


Synchronicity PostScript:

I posted this last night, and woke up this morning to find Chris Brogan talking about mind-mapping as well. Freaky.

Check out his post here to see how he’s using mind-mapping software (different package, but essentially the same thing) to help organize is business and keep him on track.

Are You Creative?

Image by Myki RoventineIf someone asked you if you were creative, what would you say?

This is a question I posed recently to a bunch of friends and colleagues in various places.  And I was quite surprised at some of the answers I got.

Of course my wildly creative friends belted out and emphatic “YES!” and proceeded to tell me all about the projects they were working on or just finished or had in their head for the future. No surprises there – I already knew what they would say, and it was fun to get an update on where they were going.

A few others said that they were decidedly not creative. The surprising part for me was not that these people didn’t think of themselves as creative, but that they were quite happy with that.  They didn’t want to be creative; they were happy in their little box and didn’t really care to venture outside of it.  Of course, as a creative myself, I had a very hard time wrapping my head around this – not wanting to be creative? To me that would be like not wanting to breathe. But to each his own.

The one that really floored me was an old friend from college.  Probably one of the more creative people I know.  Ever since way-back-when he’s had a very sharp wit and a wicked sense of humor. At college he masterminded quite a bit of creative stuff, although admittedly the campus Powers That Be were usually not as appreciative of his inventiveness as the rest of us were.

So I asked him the no-brainer “are you creative” question and he said…


“I might have been once, but now I don’t feel that’s true.”

Totally blind-sided me with that one. What?!?  That’s an answer I may have accepted from some people, but certainly not him. Really?? Just – poof – it’s gone??  It made me kind of sad to think that he had lost such a great part of himself somewhere along the way. (Or at least believed that he did.)  Is it even possible to “lose” creativity, or does it just get beaten into hiding by social conformity and rusty from disuse?

I don’t believe he really lost it, he just thinks he did.  Go find it dude, it’s in there somewhere.  Did you check in the garage…?


So what would you answer to the question? Are you creative?

FREE – Illegal and Uncivilized?

photo by Marcin WicharyWhile doing some research for my potlatch post yesterday, I stumbled on this interesting little tidbit. It got cut from the original writing, but in retrospect I decided it was just too good not to share with you.

So we were talking about the potlatch and the ritual giving away of goods by tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast.  Somewhere in the late 1800’s the meddling government agencies and missionaries in that territory decided that this practice just had to go.  They considered it “a worse than useless custom.”

According to these groups, the practice was flagrantly wasteful and flew in the face of “civilized” values, so they made it illegal. Yes, they made it a crime to give your stuff away. Punishable by imprisonment for 2 to 6 months, in fact.

In 1951 they decided that this law was a bit nutty (yes, it did take them 50+ years to come to this conclusion) and the laws banning potlatch were repealed.

Digital Potlatch – The case for giving it away for free

These days you can find information on just about anything for free. Home Depot gives away lots of how-to’s on their YouTube Channel. You can download books from Seth Godin and Chris Anderson at no charge. There are blogs, wiki’s, and specialty websites on just about everything imaginable. At no other point in history have so many people had so much access to so much knowledge, so much expertise, so much content. And it’s free.

Seems kind of counter-intuitive from a capitalist perspective. Why would you give something of value away when you could charge for it? What’s the value in that?

The art of giving away actually isn’t all that new of a concept. The indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest practiced potlatch, the redistribution and reciprocity of wealth, long before the digital age. In potlatch the one who dies with the least toys wins; status is raised by who gives away the most resources, not who accumulates the most. This ritual practice ensured that the basic needs of the entire group were met, and established and strengthened bonds between its members. By giving away freely to the people surrounding him, the host of the potlatch invested in his own long-term success through the recipients’ continued support.

Today’s “digital potlatch” works in much the same way, but with information being distributed instead of food and household goods. Those that have the knowledge give it away freely to those around them, which helps the recipients achieve success in some way. The recipients in turn become avid supporters of the knowledge giver, spreading the word about the good stuff the giver has to offer.

By giving away a portion of what you have to offer, you not only help others achieve success but invest in your own success as well. Seth Godin understood this when he gave away Ideavirus – he knew that circulating it free on the internet would get him more eyeballs much quicker than a book sitting on a shelf in the local bookstore (if the local bookstore was interested in carrying it at all), as well as the goodwill generated by “good stuff for free”. He now has an extremely loyal worldwide following that will support his ideas, buy his books, and probably put him up for the night if he asked them to.

Participate in the “digital potlatch” and share what you know. Redistribute the wealth. Be reciprocal. By sharing all this information we better ourselves as a group, and become more interconnected in the process. Isn’t that the real win?


Photo credit: Denise Carbonell 

The Issue of Respect

Michael Irvin started a conversation a few days ago in one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to. Can respect be demanded or must it be earned?  There were a number of really good points made along the way, but in reading the thread it occurred to me that this either/or thinking was keeping the discussion too narrowly confined.

I think perhaps we need to add a third “bucket” to this conversation.

To DEMAND respect has too much of a “gimme” connotation to it; sounds a little despotic. If you demand from people, they eventually get resentful. This isn’t helpful.

To EARN respect is to acquire it through hard work and experience. This is certainly foundational, but perhaps still just shy of the mark we want to hit personally and professionally. Just because you’ve put in time in the trenches doesn’t mean you got it right, nor does it mean that people will give you respect for it even if you did.

Let’s COMMAND respect; deserve and receive as due. Be honest. Be genuine. Be true to yourself and your principles. Do your homework. Push forward for the greater good. The people that matter are the ones that will respect you for it; the ones that don’t respect this don’t matter.

Respect is kind of like applause. You can hold up the “applaud” sign to your audience when you want them to clap; hopefully they’ll play along. You can execute a technically perfect performance for the audience and get some legitimate appreciative noise. Or you can say to hell with the audience and throw yourself wholeheartedly into your work for the personal joy and sense of accomplishment it provides YOU — and maybe your audience will get caught up in the moment with you. And just maybe they’ll give you a standing ovation for digging that deep.

Go for the ovation.

“If we think about it, the magic will come.”

This profound statement was handed to me by my 4-year-old yesterday.

We were sitting on the living room floor playing with Legos, talking about what we could build. Then, as our creation took shape, we started figuring out what else it looked like or what else it could be used for.  The boat turned on end and blasted off into outer space. The house became a telephone.  What else could it be?

“If we think about it, the magic will come.”

He’s so right. But as adults, we forget that. We forget what incredible powers of creativity we have, the ability to connect completely unrelated things in innovative ways.  And everyone has it buried in there somewhere – but somewhere in the growing up process we lose that belief in ourselves. We forget how to suspend reality for a while and let our imagination take the reins. As adults we negate the possibility of thinking about things in ways other than what we’re told is appropriate.

An empty paper towel roll isn’t really a telescope or a megaphone.

An empty tissue box isn’t really a shoe.

A shirt stuck on your head isn’t really a cascade of long hair.

Heavens, no! Just imagine where those kinds of thoughts might lead someone!  But that’s my point – imagine where those kinds of thoughts might lead someone…

This very short yet very wise person has helped me open myself back up to the “magic.” To let myself think about things in unconventional ways, and to come up with solutions that go against the rules. To let go of the self-censoring for a while and imagine possibilities rather than focusing so much on why it couldn’t possibly work.

In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin argues that  our society has been structured to churn out “mediocre;” there are set parameters that we must stay within for the factory system to maintain its privilege, and we’re taught from a very young age to stay within them to be accepted, to get a job, to live the “American Dream.” Except that system isn’t working anymore, and those that can think beyond those walls are the ones that have the upper hand now. (I won’t spoil it for you – if you want to find out more you can read the book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? [affiliate link] for yourself.)

My young one will learn soon enough that the outside world is a little uncomfortable with playful thinking, so I’m going to encourage him to keep it going on the home front – as much for my sake as his. Don’t be surprised at anything you see when you walk in our front door. With any luck, we’ll all be pleasantly surprised by what comes out of it.

So go think about it. The magic will come.

The First Step to Achieving Escape Velocity (in 6 easy steps)

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  – Albert Einstein

Acheiving “escape velocity” is something that’s being talked about a lot lately. Mostly it’s in the entrepreneurial sense; strategies for gaining enough support, cash flow and general oomph that allows you to break free from your current situation  and launch you onto your new career path of choice. Even Chris Brogan talked about it recently on his blog, which you can read here.  With escape velocity as anything else, you’ve got to start somewhere, and I think that’s part of the conversation that’s being missed.  How exactly do you start?  Well, you could learn more about your chosen path, talk to some people who have already gone that direction, start scouting out funding sources — all very valid suggestions.  But where do you really start?

One of the most important first steps — no wait, THE MOST IMPORTANT first step — in the process is changing your own mindset.  It doesn’t matter if you’re changing careers or just trying to break a bad habit, this is where it all starts. You need to stop thinking like a “_____” to stop being one.  Now I’m not talking about the overly generalized “think like a winner, be a winner” motivational pep-talk stuff, I’m talking about really taking a critical soul-searching look at yourself and where you want to go, and then creating an action plan for change. It takes time and it takes effort, but it is doable.

The first step to achieving escape velocity (in 6 easy steps)

  1. Create an avatar. Make up a fictional character, the embodiment of someone who has achieved “escape velocity” as you define it.  No, really — I’m serious! See this person in your mind in glorious detail.  Give him or her a name. Draw a picture of them if you have to, but make them as real as possible for you.
  2. Make a list of your Avatar’s traits and behaviors. Write down anything and everything you can to really flesh out a description of who this person is and how they act. Is your avatar happy and outgoing? Willing to help others? Well-read? Disciplined? Willing to take risks? How big of a risk? What kinds of questions does he ask? What kinds of people does he hang out with?  What does he do in a crisis? How does he act in particular situations? What time does he like to eat dinner? What does his diet consist of? How many hours of sleep does he need?  No detail is too small or bizarre to include at this point.  (Just keep in mind that we want this person to be awesome but still human – leave “ability to fly” and “can bend steel with power of thought” off the list.)
  3. Now make a list of your traits and behaviors. Do they match up to your avatar’s?  Of course not — if you were already that awesome you’d already be living your dream life. But don’t despair, because here’s where we start to connect the dots.
  4. Create a plan for change. Line up your traits one-for-one against those of your Avatar; you now have a working list of “disconnects” between the current you and the person you want to be. Now you have a concrete list of things that need to be tweaked or changed to move you from Point A to Point B.  Don’t be put off by the length of the list; we’ll get to that next.
  5. Slice your plan into actionable steps. Rank your list from quickest and easiest to those that will be the hardest for you. Also make note of those that will be most time/resource consuming.
  6. Blast Off! Start with the easy stuff — accomplishing a few changes and being able to check them off your list will help build your confidence and keep you motivated for more.  Also pick one moderately hard thing to start working on now; working your way through the challenge will give you a real sense of accomplishment.

As you work your way through the list, remember that change can be hard, and sometimes really uncomfortable. That’s okay — the more you practice the easier it will become.  The more you succeed, the more you’ll want to try. The goal is to get you unstuck and moving on that path towards the person you want to be. Don’t stay so focused on the end point that you miss the fun of the journey; no matter how fast or slow you progress just keep moving forward and you’ll get there.  🙂