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.

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.

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?

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.

White Space

Posted on April 19, 2015 by Josh Linkner

“It ain’t about the notes you play,” legendary trumpeter Miles Davis once proclaimed. “It’s about the notes you don’t play.”

In the art world, the unused space around a painted object is known as white space and is considered equally important to the image itself. The open space frames the work, providing the necessary contrast to allow the image to stand out. Think of those nearly blank print ads with a small Apple logo in the middle of a sea of white, and you’ll realize that great advertising also uses white space for impact.

If the white space creates better art, why do we pack our calendars with the same squeeze-it-all-in mentality as a game of Tetris? Our caffeine-gulping, type-A, grind-‘em-up-and-spit-‘em-out culture leaves about as much white space as a Times Square New Year’s Eve.

The challenge with this always-on approach is that we miss the most important opportunities to be creative. If you’re heads-down on your to-do list, you largely spend your hours on transactional work. Task-oriented. Focused on deliverables. Unfortunately, when you’re heads-down you aren’t able to notice the world around you. The opportunities to create. To advance your art. To explore the possibilities.

Compare this to heads-up time. When you lift your head up and give yourself permission to have unstructured time, you’re able to savor fresh patterns and ideas. By giving yourself some white space on the schedule, you’re not wasting time but rather putting it to a higher use. In the same way artists, musicians and poets would never clutter their work by squeezing in the maximum amount of brush strokes, notes or words, packing your schedule like a can of tuna confines rather than liberates.

In our always-on work culture, allowing for some white space is easier said than done. I suggest you start small, by taking a White Space Challenge. Try a 30-day experiment in which you carve out just 5% of your time (two hours from a 40-hour week). Schedule this time like an important, unchangeable meeting. But instead of being task-oriented, allow your mind to wander and explore. Go to a museum, take a walk, listen to music. Spend time reflecting instead of doing, just for a couple hours a week.

Miles Davis thought about musical notes as a pathway to connect periods of silence. Celebrate the holes in your schedule instead of shun them, and that white space will help you create beautiful music.

Learning and Unlearning

Posted on April 11, 2015 by Josh Linkner

When you study the best-of-the-best, they share a common trait across industries, age, geography, gender, and skill set. Top performers are lifetime learners. Instead of hanging up their studies upon completion of formal education, they embrace a love of learning for the long run. They devour books, lectures, and workshops to improve their game.

This isn’t a groundbreaking concept. “Duh,” you may proclaim. “Earners are Learners. I get it. I’ve heard that a thousand times.”

But here’s the twist… While you may have a plan for ongoing learning, have you ever plotted out what you want to unlearn?

Ongoing learning is a powerful practice, but only when accompanied by a game plan for unlearning. Many great companies and leaders have fallen by clinging to previously held beliefs, approaches, and strategies. In other words, once they learned something they expected that insight remain relevant and impactful forever. Institutional learning is especially dangerous, since concepts can easily outlive their shelf life.

In many organizations, people love to share best practices. By definition, these are tools and techniques that yielded a strong result in the past. But to assume they have the same staying power as a Newtonian law can lead to crushing setbacks. Instead of sharing best practices, it’s time to consider next practices. Learn from the past, but also have the courage to unlearn in order to keep up with our rapidly changing world.

The same applies with your leadership approach. The command-and-control, fear-based style that worked 15 years ago no longer carries the day. From the simple things such as the manner in which you run your Monday morning meetings, to larger issues such as attracting and retaining top talent, you may need to unlearn a thing or two in order to move forward.

We know that you can teach old dogs new tricks. The question for you – are you equally willing to unlearn? Challenge your previously held assumptions and establish an unlearning list to accompany your learning objectives. Embrace both learning and unlearning, and you’ll quickly leap to the head of the class.

Compasses Over Maps

Posted on April 5, 2015 by Josh Linkner

A map is certainly a handy tool to help you reach your destination. When the map is accurate, you can sit back and follow your course, no thinking required.

Your brain can really take a vacation if you’re using the GPS guidance in your car or from Google Maps. When the system tells you exactly how to navigate every twist and turn, you can focus elsewhere and simply comply.

But what if the map is wrong? When conditions change, such as roadwork or an accident, your GPS system no longer maximizes efficiency. Or when new roads are built before the system is updated, you find yourself relying on an outdated set of instructions.

Think about how you and your team navigate the work in your own organization. Do people require detailed, step-by-step instructions of exactly what to do at every moment (a map)? Management-by-operating-manuals worked fine back in the days when markets were local, customers were homogenous, product cycles occurred over decades, and complexity was minimal. Workers didn’t need to think all that much on their own, as long as following the map would ensure their safe arrival.

Boy, has the world changed.

With today’s furious speed and mind-numbing complexity, there’s no such thing as a map to success. Naïve bosses who still hand out maps don’t understand that the model no longer works. The cost to produce a map in the past may have been justified, since change was slow. But with a rate of change like none other in history, imagine trying to create a street map if the roadways completely changed five times an hour.

Not to mention, business victories now involve pioneering new ground, requiring the equivalent of off-roading through uncharted territory.

When teams or organizations turn off their brains and simply follow the map, progress shrivels. Issuing a compass, in contrast, is a far more effective approach to leadership. Provide a clear vision of your destination point, and give your team the tools to navigate their own path. Empower them to make decisions in the face of ambiguity.

Give them the target and resources, and then let them use their ingenuity and judgment to find the best route. Shifting terrain, unexpected roadblocks, and surprise attacks can be conquered only by travelers who can think and act without detailed instructions.

Creativity over compliance. Empowerment over control. Thinking over following. Compasses over maps.

The Six-Month Rule

Posted on March 29, 2015 by Josh Linkner

While studying jazz composition and performance at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, a weathered professor taught me a valuable lesson. With the wisdom of a Tibetan Monk, this sage jazz cat whispered to me with understated confidence, “What you learn today, you’ll play in six months.”

He was referring to an idea gestation period, a natural time frame to go from initial learning to muscle memory. I may have understood the scale, riff or chord he happened to be teaching that day, but it took a good six months to internalize it and make it my own. If I wanted to perform something fresh, new and bold, I needed to begin the learning process six months prior.

As his purposeful words have echoed in my mind over the last 25 years, I realized this concept covers far more ground than just jazz guitar licks. The six-month rule applies to numerous aspects of business and life: What you learn today, you can fully apply in six months.

Think of health and fitness. For most people, six months of healthy eating and exercise will enable a stunning transformation in both looks and well-being. The decision to get in shape takes six months to manifest. If you want to become reasonably knowledgeable in Asian currency fluctuations, salmon fisheries, or assembly line logistics, a solid six months of study will bring you to point where you can hold a thoughtful conversation.

Six months of focused energy can transform broken relationships, reinvent sales and marketing practices, or establish new lifetime habits. While it doesn’t work for everything (brain surgery takes longer to master, learning to make a grilled cheese sandwich is shorter), the six-month rule applies to thousands of cases in our lives.

In just six months, you can achieve remarkable progress with this powerful framework. What you first learn today, you can internalize and master in just 180 days with consistent follow-through.

Unfortunately, this simple law backfires all too often in our quest for instant gratification. We want the results immediately, without putting in the work, sacrifice, and patience required to bring seeds of ideas to maturity. Farmers fully understand the gestation period between the planting and harvest of their crops; we need to do the same for our own progress.

Think of the person you want to be six months from now. The skills you want to possess, the knowledge you want to command. Think, too, of the business you want six months out. The clients. The deals. The team members. With this new six-month vision, reverse-engineer what you need to learn today in order to enable your vision to materialize. Six months at a time, you’ll consistently marshal yourself and your company to your own field of dreams — fully ready for harvest.

Decide what you want today, and enjoy the win six months out. Music to my ears.


Posted on March 22, 2015 by Josh Linkner

In just 60 seconds, Taylor Swift sold out all 18,200 seats at Madison Square Garden. Her music, and the experience she creates for fans, is irresistible.

Fistfights have broken out as eager customers battle it out to get a pair of Nike limited editions kicks.

In contrast, think about the cover band in the lobby of the nearby hotel, playing to a half-full room of apathetic listeners who offer neither money nor applause. Or the wide selection of athletic shoes available and readily in stock for under $30 at your local Walmart.

In nearly every industry, there are products and services that are bland, boring and basic. And then, there are the few that are irresistible. Bill Clinton has earned more than $100 million delivering speeches, yet most public speakers are lucky to earn a chicken dinner at the local Rotary Club.

So what makes Taylor Swift, Nike, and Bill Clinton irresistible, and how can you harness the same verve for your business? Here are four key ingredients:

■ Go to extremes. Irresistible products, services and people are typically extreme cases. They offer the absolute highest quality. Or lowest price. Or most extreme experience. They are the loudest or quietest; the biggest or smallest. Rarely do you find irresistibility in the middle of the pack.

■ Become unapologetic. Costco doesn’t try to be a plush retailer. Floyd Mayweather doesn’t pretend to be humble. Being irresistible means being authentic and unabashed. Take a stand, and never try to be all things to all people.

■ Tempt with exclusivity. The fear of missing out on something scarce boosts your irresistible factor. Limited editions, exclusive offers and scarce supply drive demand. The more rare, the more results.

■ Create emotional connections. Delivering on basic product or service expectations doesn’t create differentiation; being competent is merely the ante to play. Creating meaningful experiences with each interaction leads to being irresistible. Do you and your offering delight all five senses of your customers, audience or colleagues? If not, time to take it up a notch.

Even in challenging financial times, the Hermes Birkin bag is only available for the company’s most loyal customers. It’s so exclusive that mere mortals like us can’t walk into a store, plunk down $12,000-$20,000, and walk out with one of these purses.

The bags are so irresistible, that fashionistas often pay double (or more) to snag a used one on eBay.

What would it take to make you and your company just as irresistible? Instead of wasting money to market a mediocre product, make it irresistible. To advance in your career, make yourself irresistible to those you serve.

Alluring. Tempting. Desirable. When you amp up these factors, customers, investors and employers simply won’t be able to resist.

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