Posted on June 28, 2015 by Josh Linkner

As someone who has played guitar for more than 30 years, I can tell you that the secret to regular practice isn’t teeth-grinding discipline. It isn’t external rewards or penalties. It isn’t even the dream of rocking a stadium for adoring fans.

The truth is, the regularity of practice — and the progress than ensues — is often driven by convenience. Simply put, the easier it is to pick up my ax, the more I play. If my guitar is leaning against the living room couch, I’ll pick it up regularly and wail away.

On the other hand, if my guitar is upstairs in a case, the seemingly painless act of going to grab it has a marked impact on my amount of practice. When it’s easy to grab, I grab it. When there’s an extra step or two (even small ones), performance suffers.

Think of the short walk upstairs and the six seconds to open a guitar case as “friction.” Not a gigantic barrier, but that small amount of friction has a dramatic impact on results.

We all work so hard in both our business and personal lives to achieve significant results, but often fall short by failing to recognize and utilize friction to our advantage.

If you sell a product or service, think about all the steps your customers must go through to do business with you. Every extra choice, document, meeting, phone call, click, or decision in the sales process creates friction. And for every single point of friction, your batting average and closing speeds decrease. If your competitor has a worse product at a higher cost, yet makes the buying process simple, you may be losing customers that should be yours.

What about internal friction in your organization? Every extra step, needed approval and unwarranted meeting creates friction that slows you down, diminishes productivity, and damages morale. In business — and life — the less friction that exists, the better the results will be.

You can also use friction as a driver to avoid doing impulsive behavior. If you put your pack of cigarettes inside five different Tupperware containers and leave them in a closet in the basement, you’ll be far less likely to grab a smoke than if the cigarettes are in your front pocket.

If you’re getting distracted at work by checking Facebook too often, install free software that requires you to enter a complicated password every time you have the urge to log on. If you want to stop doing something, add some friction and you’re in-the-moment decisions will be much easier.

Think of friction as a lever that you can move up or down depending on your desired outcome. If you want more of something, remove friction and make it easy. If you want less, add extra steps.

It’s as simple as that.

The Frequency Factor

Posted on June 21, 2015 by Josh Linkner

If you ask an advertising guru what it takes to inform consumers and ultimately move them to action, they’ll instantly spout out their golden formula: Reach + Frequency.

This marketing truism has been captivating customers since the days of Henry Ford, and has carried its weight through every technology advance, product launch and celebrity endorsement over the last 100 years.

Decoding this recipe, Reach refers to reaching the right audience with the right message at the right time. This is how most people think of marketing. But equally important is Frequency, the lesser-known but critically important ingredient. If you saw the classic “teach the world to sing” ad from Coca-Cola only once, it might beckon a smile but you’d never remember the words 40 years later. The indelible message became part of our collective psyche due to its frequency.

Frequency is a powerful force that transcends the field of advertising. Frequency of message elects presidents, drives social change, and hoists pop stars to deity status. It’s also a critical — yet often overlooked — factor in driving organizational change.

If you lead a team or company and you’re frustrated that your folks “aren’t getting it,” examine your frequency factor. Listing off your 12-point plan at a single team meeting won’t fully deliver the message without some repetition, unless you lead a team of savants. You can’t expect people to truly embrace changes in strategy or philosophy unless they have repeated exposure to the message.

As the person who crafted the new plan, cultural values, sales pitch or recruiting strategy, you spent hours refining every word to make it perfect. So holding a single team meeting to roll out the new approach won’t carry the day. A message sent is not a message heard. The snazzy launch must be followed by the constant drip of repetition in order to effectuate meaningful change.

The same principle applies to our customers, investors, interpersonal relationships, and strategic partners. If you want people to absorb your message, they’ll need to hear it more than once. Reinforce key themes with consistency and your message will fully sink in over time.

We can learn more than just proper martini etiquette from the mad men of advertising. The content of your message is the first step, but the frequency brings it to life. If you remain skeptical, list the ingredients of a McDonald’s Big Mac in your mind. I bet you nailed it; 20 years after those memorable ads peppered the airways.

Frequency delivers.

Play Up

Posted on June 14, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Imagine you step onto a tennis court, facing a partner that’s at least 50% better than you. As you volley back-and-forth, you notice the precision of your shots, the power of your serve, and the intensity of your game. Your stronger opponent has raised your level of play, helping you push to new heights of performance.

Now imagine the same scenario against a player 50% worse than you. You know you can win the match handily, so you take it easy. Your play is a bit sloppy and while you win the set, you certainly don’t advance your game.

Surrounding yourself with people that push and challenge you has a powerful way of elevating your performance, which is a concept that extends far beyond athletics. Conversely, if the people in your life are playing small, you suffer a natural gravitational pull working against you; dragging you back instead of helping you leap forward.

As you work to achieve your best in business, career, family and community, the company you keep becomes an important factor. If your colleagues are driven, growth-oriented, and creative, you’ll see these same traits magnified in yourself. On the other hand, if your peer group consists of lazy, apathetic blamers, you may pick up some of their negative characteristics.

It’s been said that your net worth is likely the average net worth of the three people closest to you. Our peers, colleagues, and friends have a surprisingly large impact on how our lives unfold. Corner-cutting teams produce more corner-cutters. High integrity groups replicate ethical behavior. Shallow, gossipy friends drag down your own thinking and behavior.

Even if you’ve been stuck with the same colleagues or friends for years, think about branching out. Imagine the ideal version of yourself – the person you truly want to become – and then consider which people are most like your vision. Even if you have to network or find a fresh way to connect with new faces, purposely choosing the people in your life can drive a dramatic impact. Seek out those that can challenge you to play your best. Push you to the next level. Help you grow and expand.

Embrace one of the most powerful approaches to improve performance. Surround yourself with people that personify the qualities you seek, and you’ll simply thrive.

Play up.

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Who’s (or What’s) Your Enemy?

Posted on June 7, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Darth Vader was intent on using his natural abilities to destroy humanity and lure good people to the “dark side.” Produce manufacturers are haunted not only by their direct competitors, but also by the giant salty snack conglomerates that are purveyors of instant gratification but lack nutritional value. Kids in troubled urban areas with failing schools often face the enemy of illiteracy.

On your path, you will inevitably encounter enemy forces. Sometimes, however, the real enemy is not who you think and not so easy to identify. It’s easy to assess blame to others, play the victim card, and throw our hands up in helpless despair. While tempting, it doesn’t get you off the hook for taking personal responsibility for the outcomes you seek. The biggest enemies we face may not be others, but internal enemies such as fear, impatience, greed, laziness, and distraction.

Having the privilege to regularly interact with some of the most successful people on the planet, I’ve noticed a fascinating pattern. The best of the best start by having a vivid image of what they’re looking to accomplish. They can describe it in Technicolor detail. From there, they identify all the enemies that could derail progress. The final step: a rock solid plan to overcome. Enemies generally fall into four categories:

1) People – The CEO of your big competitor. Your arch rival in sports. An abusive spouse. Who are the people who create the biggest roadblocks to your progress?

2) Organizations – Regulatory bodies that withhold approvals, competitive companies or teams, lobbying groups peddling legislation that could hamper your growth.

3) Internal Factors – These are the most common, and most difficult to identify and conquer. Your mindset on tenacity, learning, growth, courage, and commitment fall into this category.

4) Natural Forces – The 26.2 miles of road during your marathon attempt, the pollution you seek to eliminate, the cancer cells you’re driven to vaporize.

Once you’ve listed each enemy, craft a specific plan to beat them. Even if these enemy forces feel overwhelming, creative solutions can be uncovered to conquer nearly any opponent (think David vs. Goliath).

Don’t let your enemies lurk in the dark. Instead, bring them into the light by identifying and examining them. Use these negative forces to strengthen your resolve. Nothing makes you want to win more than knowing someone is waiting for you to fail; make it your mission to prove them wrong. Every small victory will build confidence and focus.

Know thy enemy. And conquer away.

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Harness Your Peak Activity Window

Posted on May 31, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Imagine an early morning visit to the zoo.  You’re all excited to see animals leaping around with enthusiasm, demonstrating their swift command over nature.  You first stop by the owl exhibit, only to find these majestic creatures engulfed in deep slumber.  Next, you wander over to cringe at the creepy bat display, only to find it closed until dusk.  At least you see some excitement from the roosters who appear to be totally in their groove during these early morning hours.

We all learned back in middle school that animals have natural circadian rhythms.  It isn’t natural for a cheetah to set the new ground speed record at 4:00am nor do I expect to see my dog (DaVinci) ready to play before 11am.  Animals have certain times where they perform at their best, and other times that just aren’t optimal.  Of course, we people are animals too.

Author and entrepreneur David Farbman speaks extensively about this concept in his recent book, The Hunt.  He suggests that each of us have a Peak Activity Window – a natural timeframe each day where we do our best work.  By knowing yours and planning around it, you can improve performance.

Perhaps you’re a “rooster,” feeling your best at the crack of dawn.  Or maybe you’re a “dolphin,” splashing, jumping and flourishing mid-day.  You could be a “bat,” getting most active at the evening twilight.  Or you may be a “night owl” like many of my musician friends who release their best creativity only when the sun has long been down.

One isn’t better than the other.  The important point is to understand your own Peak Activity Window and build your schedule around it.  If you’re a night owl, don’t schedule your big, important sales call first thing in the morning.  Roosters will do better at breakfast meetings than dinner meetings.

Taking the logic further, you may have different windows for different types of work (or art).  Personally, I write best in the mornings but trip over my words later in the day.  In contrast, I absolutely stink at working out before noon but tend to get energized at the gym between 3:00 – 6:00 pm.  Working with your natural rhythms – instead of fighting them – can be a powerful approach to reign in the outcomes you desire.

Let nature work for you by discovering and harnessing your Peak Activity Windows.  Schedule your time accordingly, and it just may give you that extra boost of performance you seek.  When you work at the right times, the impact of your thunderous roar will be felt far and wide.

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Posted on May 25, 2015 by Josh Linkner

The forceful and deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake that ripped through Nepal on April 25 ravaged the country, leaving more than 8,000 people dead.

Unfortunately, the tragedy continued weeks later when, on May 12, an aftershock earthquake struck the region for a second time. Only slightly less intense, the aftershock was measured as a 7.3.

The experts who study earthquakes expect and try to plan for aftershocks.

Aftershocks of different nature occur in many aspects of business and life, yet we’re often surprised by their impact and force. To drive meaningful change in your business and life, consider using aftershocks to your advantage.

Creative explosions, for example, are too often considered a “one and done” stroke of imaginative genius. An idea is hatched perfectly and is so powerful that it simply needs basic execution after birth, the theory goes. In fact, creativity is needed not only during the initial idea phase, but also in the dozens (or hundreds) of aftershock decisions that are involved in executing on the new idea.

The initial rush of creativity will likely be rendered impotent unless it is followed up by a series of adjustments and innovations.

The same concept applies for rolling out a new policy, driving cultural change, or rallying the team behind a new plan. The sizzle of a new initiative quickly fades, and sustainable change rarely takes root by just announcing it. Change of all flavors requires not only the big bang of a sexy launch, but also a consistent stream of action to reinforce the need for change and help people adapt to the new world order. Shifting hearts and minds requires stamina, not just sizzle. Carefully plan your aftershock strategy if you’re truly committed to transformation.

Bold sales presentations often need a series of follow-ups to close the big deal. Process improvements require a feedback loop so you can continue to refine and adapt the new operational advantages as you gain knowledge. Even changes in relationships often need a series of aftershocks to ensure the new roles of engagement remain intact.

Yes, think big, bold ideas that pack power. But to bring those ideas to life, plan your aftershock strategy with the same care as the big bang itself. Transformation is within your reach, as long as you’re willing to systematically see those audacious ideas through by adding some shock-and-awe to your execution plan.

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Your First Day

Posted on May 17, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Remember that first day at your new job?

You spoke to friends and family the night before; you were brimming with excitement. You could hardly sleep, and when the morning alarm rang, you jumped out of bed with enthusiasm. It felt like a sunny day, even though the clouds were out, and you practically skipped into the building when you arrived early. The day was filled with optimism, possibility and curiosity.

Then Day Two arrived with just a little less eagerness. The commute was a pain, you noticed the bad coffee in the break room, and that guy down the hall never stopped talking about the game.

Day Three was a tad worse. And by Day 30, you slid into a funk. What was once magical now felt mundane. What once seemed like a fresh beginning transformed into just another gig.

Unfortunately, this same decay applies to new projects, hobbies, educational pursuits, locations, relationships, exercise regimens and even community volunteering. The exuberance of our first day can gradually fade into a dim light of apathy.

But it doesn’t have to.

Leadership development expert Drew Dudley tells a great story of his trip into the jungles of Africa. His guide for this dangerous adventure proudly told the petrified Drew that it was his first day. Now Drew was all about helping out the new guy, but wasn’t quite sure he wanted to be the test case for an inexperienced guide.

Seeing Drew’s concern, the guide smiled widely and went on to explain that he always wanted to be a guide. He loved the work, and when he showed up on his first day, he was overwhelmed with excitement and dedication. That was 15 years ago, and the guide proudly stated that it has been his first day ever since. He makes every day his first day, filled with enthusiasm and commitment. Rather than settling into a rut, he makes every day count by being fully engaged and appreciative.

Now that’s the guide we all want — whether it’s trekking through the jungle or as our Realtor, yoga instructor, oncologist or mortgage banker.

You get to choose the impact that time has on your life. You can let the days whittle down your energy and passion, or you can use each day to fortify your resolve. If you approach every day as Day One, you’ll remain open-minded and ready to perform at your best. Don’t settle for the gradual slide of deterioration that lures so many of us to become walking zombies. You’re not here to go through the motions; you’re here to make a gigantic impact.

To truly deliver on your calling, make every day your first.

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What Was. What Is. What’s Next?

Posted on May 10, 2015 by Josh Linkner

What Was: “That’s the way we’ve always done things.”

What Is: “Don’t rock the apple cart; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

What’s Next: “I wonder what would happen if we took an entirely different route…”

When you think about your own organization, what percentage of energy, focus, and brainpower do you spend in each category?  If you’re chasing sustainable success, What’s Next should become your mantra.  It is such a short and beautiful question that challenges the established norms and explores the possibilities.  It also has a built-in cleansing; a letting go of the past in favor of new potential.

If you want to shake things up in your career, company, or community, try a simple game: For 10 days in a row ask, “What’s Next?” 50 times a day.   Ask the question at the end of meetings, when you arrive home to see your kids, when you enjoy a big gain or a difficult loss.  Ask it when you finish breakfast or when you deliver that big sales pitch.  Ask it in the middle of creating your art, whatever your profession may be.

Perhaps you just landed a huge new client.  What’s Next?  Can you leverage this client to win 10 more?  How can you over-deliver to deepen this new relationship?  What changes should you make internally to best serve this new customer?

Maybe you’re dealing with a crushing setback.  What’s Next?  Is the challenge solvable, or is it time to move on?  What can you learn from the experience to be better in the future?  Is there any value you can salvage.

Or what if you’re just cruising along in autopilot mode?  Things are stable, secure, and you’re doing okay.  What’s Next?   You’re not built to play small.  If you’re feeling comfortable, it’s a perfect time to explore what you could change to reach your next level.  Now may be the perfect time for further education.  To ask for the big raise.  To start a new hobby or passion project.  To roll up your sleeves and volunteer.  To start the company you’ve always dreamed of.

History can certainly be a wonderful teacher, but it can also serve as a confining prison.  Learn from the past, but don’t let it shackle you.  Asking what’s next with religious fervor will allow you to unlock a world of fresh possibilities.

So I ask you dear reader… What’s Next?

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The Cobra Effect

Posted on May 3, 2015 by Josh Linkner

During the time of British rule of colonial India, the government became concerned that too many deadly cobras roamed the streets.  The leaders came up with what appeared to be a clever solution – pay a bounty to any citizen who brought forward a dead cobra.  The “cash for snakes” program worked like a charm for a while, and the streets became clear of these poisonous reptiles.

But then a shift happened.  The payouts began to increase at a staggering pace.  When British officials investigated, they discovered an unexpected consequence.  Entrepreneurs started breeding cobras in mass numbers, so they could be killed and delivered to the Government for a handsome reward.  Outraged and refusing to be taken advantage of, the British officials immediately canceled the program.  At that point, the market for dead cobras dried up completely for budding snake startups, so the entrepreneurs cut their losses by releasing the snakes into the streets of Delhi, making the original problem of wild cobras far worse.  The government wasted tons of cash, only to end up with a much bigger problem.

Now known as the “Cobra Effect,” the incentive clearly drove an unintended consequence.  And the plague of unintended consequences has only grown since the days of British colonial rule.

Too often in both business and life, we solve problems impulsively.  We hastily install a new policy, offer a shiny incentive, add just one more step to the production process, cut price to get the deal, or reduce quality to save costs.  But these duct-tape solutions rarely stand the test of time.  Like the old cartoons, when a finger is placed in the dam to stop a leak, the pressure increases elsewhere and a new leak begins to spout.

You can conquer this whack-a-mole issue, where beating down one problem results in new problems popping up.  The trick can be linked to a simple line of computer code.  In software development, one of the most basic commands is IF/THEN.  In other words, IF a certain thing occurs, THEN respond in a certain way.  With this framework, software engineers think through all the possibilities and develop a game plan to address each of them.  They think through the implications of how one action will impact the next, and so on.  In your case, put the same IF/THEN thinking to work by thinking several moves down the chessboard to avoid the sting of unintended consequences.

IF you cut training to get sales people in the field more quickly, THEN what will happen to closing rates?  IF you complicate your internal processes to reduce errors, THEN what will happen to speed and efficiency?  I’m not suggesting a recipe to maintain the status quo, but rather a game plan to properly handle the implications of one domino tipping over the next.

Rash fixes often backfire, producing a longer route to success rather than a shortcut.  Crafting a more deliberate approach will save time, resources, and headaches in the long run.  A good imaginary road sign to memorize: “WARNING:  Beware of Unintended Consequences.”  Follow it, and you’ll avoid those pesky, slithering cobra-like problems.

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Look Up

Posted on April 26, 2015 by Josh Linkner

One day while living in Nairobi, Kenya, Kenton Lee found himself walking to church next to a young girl. He noticed that, despite their lengthy walk, her shoes were far too small for her little, but growing, feet. He felt sorry for her and wondered why such injustice existed. To him, shoes seemed like such an obvious thing; a basic necessity. And yet here, for this child, shoes were once given to her, but that was in a distant past and that same pair no longer sufficed for her present needs.

That formative encounter happened in 2007. After much pondering on the simple notion of “why,” Lee launched ‘Because International’ two years later. It’s first project: The Shoe That Grows – an adjustable show that can grow up to five sizes, sturdy enough to last five years. They come in small and large, so that the two pairs can outfit a child from kindergarten age through the ninth grade.

For over a billion children in extreme poverty throughout the world, this shoe can be life saving. While we think of shoes for comfort, fashion or warmth, children in underdeveloped nations are at high risk for soil-transmitted parasites and diseases. In this sense, shoes are truly a barrier against harm – hazards, both seen and unseen.

Adding to the fascination, Lee has innovated not only the product itself (a shoe that grows), but also with his distribution model. Because International encourages its supporters to bring a duffel on their journeys to underdeveloped parts of the world. Each pair of shoes compresses down into itself; thus, you can fit 50 pairs of shoes in a regular suitcase that is allowed by airline weight limits. Yes, you can bring 50 pairs of these shoes in one suitcase, on a plane. So let’s do that math – one person’s trip means 250 collective years of safety for children’s feet. A true game changer.

So how did this all come about? Back in 2007, on that walk to a Kenyan church, Kenton Lee was observant. He had the wherewithal to notice the young girl who was walking alongside him. Had this been you, would you have noticed her? Are you ‘heads up’ in the world, noticing the limitless possibilities around you? Or are you ‘heads down’ in your to-do list, inbox, or Twitter account? If the later, you’re bound to miss tremendous opportunities for inspiration and breakthrough ideas.

Instead of waiting in line and checking your social media feed for the 36th time that day, why not play “I Spy” with yourself? Challenge yourself to simply notice the intricacies of your surroundings. This heightened level of awareness will help you break free from previously held patterns and discover new routes to innovation and success.

You’ll never seize your girl-on-her-way-to-church moment if you’re buried in tasks or distractions. I can say with confidence that she’s not on your cell phone screen. She’s out there in the world, and is just waiting patiently to be discovered.

Do yourself – and her – a favor. Look up. Absorb what’s around you. Utilize your surroundings. Extract the possibilities from everyday experiences, and you’ll be amazed what creative ideas spring forth as a result.