“Don’t bore us get to the chorus” – and other life lessons from Tom Petty

I woke up this morning to the surprising and sad news of Tom Petty’s sudden passing. Initially this got me thinking (and I’ll admit selfishly) that I won’t get to fulfill my bucketlist goal of seeing the legend perform live.

You see, this man was known for belting out a mile long list of hits spanning decades. But to me there was much more to it than that.
I took up guitar in my early 20’s, and musicians like Petty are a God send to aspiring musicians just starting out. Simplicity!
4 chords in a loop followed by a simple 3 chord bridge? Easy peasy, I can do that. In 20 minutes I can pull together a semblance of something that would be catchy around a camp fire.

For that simplicity, the amateur guitarist in me thanks you Tom.

Don’t bore us get to the chorus

So let me take a page out of this legend’s book and get straight to the point…

Here are 3 life lessons that I picked up from Tom Petty.

1. The power of constraints

Tom was a master of constraints. In his brilliant style he was able to peel away an idea to get to its very essence.

Like a sculptor chiseling away bits of stone to reveal the perfect form, Tom was able to get laser focus on an idea without over complicating it.

To me his songs were like masterful little haikus.

2. Get to the point 

Comics like Seinfeld or Louis CK have also mastered this knack for delivering prolific hits.

Set up -> Set up -> Pay off -> Repeat

Jab -> Jab -> Left hook

Unlike a band like Radiohead which delivers arguably the opposite – layer upon layer of complex patterns resembling those optical illusion art pieces popularized in the 90s that revealed a picture.

When you stared at them for 20 minutes and were nearing a catatonic state, an image of an elephant would reveal itself.

Tom taught us to get to the point.
3. Don’t overthink it. (Keep It Simple Stupid)
I remember devoting a Saturday afternoon (this was before I had kids) to his “Runnin down a dream” documentary and seeing him talk about his song writing process.
In one of the clips he talks about coming up with the lyrics to “Free Fallin”. He would brain dump something that “sounded good” and matched the chords as early on as possible.
90% of what came out spontaneously from his subconscious would stick leaving him to interpret the song’s meaning after the fact.
Tapping into this incredible ability to get out of his own way lead to some of the greatest results in his incredibly prolific library.
For all that you taught us through your music and song writing, and for providing us with an awesome soundtrack our lives over the past 40 years, I thank you.

How to get your team thinking 10x

We recently completed our Fiscal Year End review and planning meetings for two of our businesses at Thermo King Western. This is a time of year where it is a grind for a lot of our team members, dealing with inventory counts and preparation for auditors. Along with the busy also comes a sense of relief and rejeuvination from the ability to hit the reset button, reevaluate priorities and start fresh for an exciting year ahead. 

Shortly after our year end comes our planning meetings for the year ahead. And this year, we tried a slightly new approach in our planning, which I wanted to share. This post is about the 10x vision exercise completed by our teams.

There is a lot of buzz in the business community these days about 10x growth. The idea of going exponential is creating mythic case studies covering the likes of Uber, Airbnb, Netflix and Instagram to name a few. The idea is a compelling one. But what does it mean when you take this concept and turn the lens on yourself and your organization? 

Looking back

In our strategic meetings this year, we did just that. Using part of Dan Sullivan’s framework, we turned back the clock and documented all of the key changes in our past that lead to our last 10x growth spurt. For example, if your company currently does $1m in annual revenue, what were the changes that occurred that drove your business from $100k, and how long did that take? 

This first exercise gives you the confidence and realization that going 10x is something that you have already done. Where people and organizations classically get stuck however, and why this exercise is important, is that it forces you to recognize what got you here is not what will get you there.

Looking forward

Now comes the fun and challenging exercise of imagining out into the future. Each one of us had 10 minutes to write down a future date, and describe the key changes that took place, leading to our next 10x growth spurt. We then had to go around the room one by one, describing those changes in detail as if they had already happened. This is easier said than done, as we had to frequently correct eachother’s grammatical tense, and question their certainty on details in their stories. 

However at the end of all of this, we had a compelling (and sobering) picture of what would be required in order to make the next leap. 

What happens next? 

Now that we have our vision of the future documented, comes the real work. Reverse engineering our big vision is where the rubber will meet the road, but having time traveled through this initial exercise, our team has the belief that it is totally possible – and after this exercise, I believe we have completed our first step of many on this exciting journey. 

4 things you need to know about executing on your ideas

Good ideas come to us all every day, passing by like clouds in the sky. However, a relatively few number of people manage to act on them effectively. 

We drive home from work, are struck with inspiration, pat ourselves on the back and move on. 

Our business, 3D Print Western is built upon turning out ideas on a daily basis, and below is a trick that helps us find success. 

1. Develop a low friction way to capture your ideas.

Inspiration can happen anytime and anywhere. And not long after it occurs, it can just as easily be gone. 

You need a quick and easy way to capture those fleeting gems. A few tools that I use  and keep with me at all times are Siri on my iPhone, and a notebook specifically for capturing ideas. 

Using Siri on your iPhone or iPad 

  1. Press and hold the “home” button on your iPhone or iPad. 
  2. Say “take a note”
  3. Siri will automatically place your dictation in your Notes app. 


My favorite notebook for capturing ideas

Rhodia is highly ranked and recommended amongst paper enthusiasts, which I am not. But if you scour the enthusiast websites for superior stationary – Rhodia is a recurring theme. 

For me, the paper quality is great, and I feel good knowing that technically astute paper aficionados have given it the thumbs up. 


2. Determine what your filter is for selecting ideas to execute on

Wired magazine co-founder and technologist, Kevin Kelly has a great filter that he uses when deciding on projects to embark on. 

Picture a Venn diagram with 3 circles intersecting. In order to embark on a project, the three criteria must be true:

  • Something that people need 
  • Something that I’m good at
  • Can or will anybody else do it

For the third point, you may have an idea that is marginally better than anything else that is currently available. But decide on a filter that makes sense in order to help you prioritize and vet which ideas to take action on. 

3. Begin with the end in mind and work backwards

As Einstein famously noted, if you can’t explain something simply you do not understand it well. 

Begin by describing your idea in great detail as if it has already happened. 

  • What does it look like? 
  • Who uses it?
  • How do they use it?
  • When and where do they use it?
  • Where do they buy it?
  • How do you sell it to them?
  • How do you make it?

If you cannot answer these types of questions, you will need to do some creative thinking in order to paint a clear picture for yourself. 

4. Decide on your first step

At our company we work in 2 week worlds using Sprints to break down larger projects. 

Once you have fleshed out your idea, you want to determine the first step, and lowest cost method to validate it as soon as possible. 

The best way to validate an idea is to see if someone would be willing to write you a cheque. If it is not an idea that you intend to monetize, decide on a different metric that would help provide quantifiable feedback for you. Give yourself a target of 1 month to get a website or Facebook page up and see if you can get anyone to take action.

Thanks to services like Shopify, Etsy, WordPress templates and Facebook storefronts, it is getting easier and easier for anyone to start a business or create a product or service for next to zero upfront cost. 

Whatever your big ideas, working through these 4 simple steps will help allow you to turn them into reality. 

Artificial Intelligence as a Platform

With much talk these days about platforms, I wanted to put down some thoughts around the platform as a concept, their evolution as well as future implications around artificial intelligence as a platform tool.

What is a platform?

The dictionary defines a platform as:

“a raised level surface on which people or things can stand”

So what is the purpose of an elevated level surface on which people or things can stand?

I think the most obvious benefits would include some variation on the following:

  • To see or be seen
  • To hear or be heard
  • To access something or somewhere that was previously inaccessible

To see or be seen

Taking this metaphor further, the obvious examples are applications like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The power of these platforms, barely 10 years old have enabled people around the world to accomplish some pretty radical feats, previously difficult to reproduce.

I ran into an old acquaintance this week who I haven’t seen or spoken to in over 5 years. We knew all about each other’ families, recent vacations and accomplishments before the first sentence could be uttered. We’ve quickly integrated and normalized these now ordinary capabilities into our everyday lives, but this is as close to omniscience as I can imagine we’ve ever been.

To hear or be heard

Back in Mozart’s time, the people who were able to witness his musical talents were limited to the fortunate few who were able to fit into his concert halls. Platforms such has iTunes have leveled the playing field giving anyone on the planet with a smartphone access to billions of ears.

To access something or somewhere that was previously inaccessible

Uber and Airbnb are the newest members in a string of platforms creating a near perfect matching of supply and demand. To match “I have a car” with “I need a car” without the need for any searching, or struggle is an extremely powerful use of the platform model, and I think this is a preview of what is to come over the next few years.

Artificial Intelligence as a platform tool

In terms of technology, a calculator in its simplest form is a platform which enables more advanced, accurate and efficient calculations, allowing its users to achieve greater and possibly more advanced results. I can remember doing our multiplication tables in elementary – getting the number combinations driven into our heads so that they came to us intuitively.

However, from the standpoint of cognitive load, one could argue that the time spent memorizing these tables took away from practicing more advanced mathematical calculations at an earlier age.
A handful of schools in Finland have taken this concept to heart and allowed calculators in the classrooms from the outset. They have the viewpoint that these platforms will create space to focus on more advanced and practical problem sets earlier on, giving their students a leg up on the traditional model of learning.

Comments like Elon Musk’s recent musings on the “non-benign” apocalyptic fate of our AI future are having people take notice. However, I am of the mindset that AI is  going to play out as a more advanced version of the calculator. I believe it will allow us to access something or somewhere that was previously inaccessible – leading to a world of abundance, as Peter Diamandis puts it.

Our “Massively Transformative Purpose” at our company 3D Print Western is to help accelerate progress through technology. At the core of this idea is the elimination of waste. Wasted effort through automation, wasted time through digital manufacturing, wasted money through unnecessary advertising and marketing. Focusing instead on delivering greater value through research and innovation.

Artificial Intelligence will be an incredible tool which will enable the elimination of these wastes helping us instead to focus more energy and resources towards creating a better future.

Don’t think just do: the timeless wisdom behind the swoosh

When thinking about the landscape around managing oneself, there are two opposing ideas that I have found to be true:
1. My present self cannot be trusted to make the best choices in the present moment.

Yet…

2. My present self knows what is best for my future self.

This odd dichotomy is a powerful insight if you can put it to your advantage. HBR published an article in 2012 titled, Your Problem Isn’t Motivation in which they identified one powerfully simple insight:

If you want to follow through on something, stop thinking. Or as Nike puts it, Just do it

Armed with this knowledge, there are two tricks that I employee strategically to help thwart my present self. 

1. Gamification of my habits

All of the mundane habits that I talk myself out of on a regular basis such as drinking water, taking my multi-vitamins, making my bed or stretching are all things that ideally I would not like to think about, but just do them on a regular basis. The trick I’ve found that works best is gamification (the application of typical elements of game playing e.g. Point scoring, competition with others).

Tracking stats and earning points for brushing and flossing, making my bed etc. is oddly enough the only prodding I need to build these habits into my daily routine. I’d recommend an app called Productive, although there are several others available out there.

  
2. Schedule your to-do list into your day

My day is broken into a combination of meetings and free time. When that free time comes up, I can be my own worst enemy, picking away at multiple projects 5 minutes at a time so that I feel like I am not losing traction. “Present me” knows that this is not a good practice for future me. As a results, I schedule time in for my projects, as well as micro time-blocks for responding to e-mails and knocking off all 5-minute tasks. 

In this mode, the only thing left to do is to stop thinking and start doing. Put your mind at ease knowing that your past self has already prioritized and laid out the best path for you. Now all there is left to do is follow. Brilliant for our monkey minds.

As with everything in life, it pays to keep things simple. And simple planning and scheduling in advance for all that your future self needs to accomplish is the best method I’ve found.  

These two apps may change your life

My iPhone is less cluttered with apps these days as I’ve been slowly distilling its contents down to the essential few. 

It’s easy to get trigger happy with all the promises offered by those shiny boxes in the iTunes or Android Store. 

As Spider-Man would likely tell you about your smart phone, with great power comes great responsibility. I try to use mine as a platform and a means to help elevate my capabilities and state of mind. Two of the best apps I’ve found that help me to achieve this are The Five Minute Journal and Productive. 

1. The Five Minute Journal. The paperback version of this product was my favorite gift to hand out this past Christmas due to its simple little layout. They follow the haiku-like constraints of starting your day off with a quote, followed by:

  • 3 things you are grateful for
  • 3 things that would make the day great
  • A daily affirmation
  • For the evening you submit 3 amazing things that happened during the day
  • And one thing that would have made the day even better

What makes their app such a standout is their elegant and thoughtful use of the available technology to help improve the daily journaling experience. 

Each day you can upload a photo to append to your entry. These can later be viewed in a calendar mosaic to help you recall the days when reviewing past entries. 

2. Productive. This is simply a habit tracking app that had been recommended to me a half dozen times.  

Why this app is a must have for me is that I’ve programmed it to poke and prod me into doing good things regularly. 

The app politely nags me into doing everything I know I should be. It gently asks me to brush and floss my teeth every morning, after suggesting that I make my bed. Before leaving for work it ensures that I’ve taken my multivitamins and drank a full glass of water. 

Every time I oblige my robot philanthropist, I get rewarded with a delightful chime and reassurance that my day is about to go perfectly. 

I don’t know why it’s taken an app to get me to run stairs every evening. But it’s working. My hamster paw is hitting that lever every time to receive my next reward. 
 

3 Things Triathlon Can Teach You About Agile

This June will mark 4 years since I took on the audacious challenge of completing my first full Ironman triathlon in the South of France. To this day, I don’t know how I managed to cross the finish line albeit in a tortoise-like time of nearly 14 hours. 

It still feels like a fluke that I completed the task, and I don’t put myself in the category of the true Ironman athletes that seem to have this epic race down to a fine science.

Breakdown of the race

The race which takes place in Nice, France every year in June breaks down as follows:

The swim

You begin with a 3.8km open water swim starting from the beach in the Mediterranean. They have it structured so that you complete two giant loops. 

  
The bike

The bike course runs 180km with an immediate 3,600 ft ascent into the Alps followed by a quick descent back into the city. 

  

The run

The race is completed with 4 laps along the Promenade in Nice totaling 42.2km.

  
As mentioned previously, I am a complete amateur when it comes to challenges like this one. But the lessons learned which I apply daily in the business world are priceless. 

1. Focus on small daily habits without losing sight of the big picture
We operate 4 businesses comprised of selling and servicing various equipment, as well as a 3D Print manufacturing business. Very few days in our world are the same, and it makes for a very dynamic environment to work in every day. 
Our primary tool that we use to help execute daily, and meet our clients’ ever changing needs is an agile approach sometimes referred to as scrum. All this means is that we work in 2 week sprints, focusing on projects that will deliver maximum value in the marketplace. 

How it works:

The teams

We work in cross functional self-managed teams of 4-6

Sprint planning

At the start of each two week sprint, we select and define a handful of stories which have been prioritized and defined, and which we think we can accomplish within that two week period. 

Daily stand-up meetings (these are the swim strokes)

Following that we meet every morning, same place, same time for no more than 15 minutes to check in on daily progress. 

These daily meetings are the swimming strokes where we try daily to perfect our technique, minimize effort finding that path of least resistance (often through automation, and leveraging already proven methods). 

Sprint retrospectives (This is where you sight your course)

At the end of each sprint, we review the work that has been completed. We have been following this method for nearly two years now, and in that time I have observed a common area where teams struggle. They focus on the daily swim strokes, but forget to look up at the target, see if anything has changed, reposition based on new information and course correct. 

If you focus, just on “Getting things done” every day, but forget to pick your head up and reorient yourself often, there is a very good chance that you could be swimming in the wrong direction. 

2. Don’t underestimate the importance of morale

Hopping on a bike for 7 hours after a 3.8km swim is a hard thing to wrap your head around. I can’t imagine completing this task without having a solid mindset in tact. 

The only way, I could overcome this challenge was to keep my attitude in check, focusing on gratitude, and a little bit of dishonest self-talk. Mantras like “I feel amazing” or “this road is gorgeous” or “man am I lucky to be biking in France” got me through 7 grueling hours in the mountains. 

The same holds true in our workplace. We start our meetings off with a positive focus, sharing good news or small wins. Another way that we keep our morale in check is through peer driven micro-bonuses. Our teams each receive 50 points every month which can be spent on team members when they demonstrate any of our core values. Points can then be used to  buy things like Amazon gift cards or company swag. (We use a tool called bonus.ly – definitely worth checking out)

Cultivating a positive mindset helps get us through any challenge that comes our way.

3. Focus on progress not perfection

9 hours into the race I dismounted off my bike, and wearily changed into my runners to take on the last part of the race which was the marathon. I can remember seeing people on the side of the course in stretchers getting treated for exhaustion and feeling envious of them getting to lay down. At this point of the race, I probably drank a liter of Coke just to keep myself conscious. There was only one tactic that kept me moving forward, and that was to focus on one step at a time. 

Every step forward represented progress, and I knew that if I could continue putting one foot in front of the other, eventually I would make it. 

The same is true in business. Many days are going to be a challenge, and in the moment your goals may seem completely unlikely and irrational. As a result, we keep our daily goals small and focus on progress not perfection. If you’ve taken one step forward it’s been a good day.

The Power Of Tweets

I usually write about tech and business in these posts. But with my daughter’s due date quickly approaching, it’s naturally causing a lot of reflection and thought around those existential questions and emotions in this journey we call life. I’m now 18 months into this father thing with our boy Harrison, and in that time, he has already surpassed my 11th grade history teacher, Nick Prowse – who until now was untouchable as far as teachers go.

I know it’s an age old cliche that children are our greatest teachers, but I am now starting to realize where it comes from. Harrison teaches me new lessons on a daily basis and they tend to fall into one of two themes. 1. The power of cultivating a growth mindset, 2. and the importance of being present.

The power of cultivating a growth mindset

To see the world through our boy’s eyes is a very unique and rewarding experience. Literally everything he encounters is new and interesting. He is by far my greatest teacher and reminder on the importance of the here and now.

Carol Dweck describes this in her book Mindset, where she talks about the spectrum between a fixed vs a growth mindset. A fixed mindset lives in a rigid world of winners and losers, where talent is fixed and abilities cannot be learned. A growth mindset on the other hand is embodied by failing forward often in order to achieve rapid learning and progress. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

Yesterday Harrison practiced going up and down the stairs no less than 20 times, and for me it was a perfect example of that. Through this growth mindset, he is changing and developing at a remarkable pace which is incredibly inspiring.

The importance of being present

I’ve never paid as much attention to the birds and trees in our backyard since Harrison came around. He is utterly fascinated by the “birdies”. And I apologize in advance for this, but I’m quickly learning that the tweets in our backyard are far more significant than the ones in my Twitter account. I think C.S. Lewis succinctly captured this idea of being present that as adults we are constantly striving to rekindle.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”

And with that, I’m going to end with an amazing short film put out by Radiolab a few years ago which summarizes the above, entitled Moments. Enjoy!

Tesla Model 3 will be unveiled March 31st

There has been a lot of hype and anticipation for Tesla’s Model 3 mass market entrant to the electric car industry. While enthusiasts have been guessing at its release date for more several months now, our long wait has nearly come to an end.

Elon Musk’s goal has always been to bring electric cars into the mainstream, by starting first with its high-end Roadster model, and gradually building economies of scale until the timing and technology infrastructure were just right.

Timeline

  • 2008 – Tesla releases the high-end Roadster super car in 2008
  • 2012 – Tesla releases the luxury Model S in high-volume production after moving into the famous Fremont, CA NUMMI plant
  • 2015 – Model X SUV is released in limited production
  • 2016 – Tesla’s affordable mass market Model 3 begins taking pre-orders

As of this afternoon, Tesla has released an e-mail announcing that the big announcement will take place this March 31st in addition to the start of online reservations.

We’re excited to share details of the Model 3 prototype unveiling at an intimate event in Los Angeles, CA for less than 800 people.

We want to share this with Tesla owners first, as a token of our appreciation for your support over the years. We’ve saved 650 places at the event for current owners including their guests.

Places will be allocated at random through a drawing on March 16. To enter, simply click below and register before noon PST on March 16 2016. You’ll need to use your MyTesla email address to ensure successful entry into the lottery. On March 17, official invitations will go out to those selected through the lottery.

Model 3 reservations will open to the public in Tesla stores at 10am Pacific on March 31st. A website live stream with online reservations will begin at 8:30pm Pacific the same day.

Top 5 Hacks for Multiplying your Effectiveness

I recently wrote about decision fatigue and how it can get in the way of our progress. 

One of the hacks that I’ve been working with is the idea of identifying what Dan Sullivan calls Multipliers; that is, specific activities or projects that will move you towards multiplying your effectiveness. 

Every quarter I identify five “multipliers” that will help me get one step closer to my 25 year vision. 25 years because it creates a filter for me to focus only on the activities that will have enduring value – a radical concept in the west where we live by quarterly earnings reports.  

Although this 25 year mindset may seem radical here in the West, in Japan it is embedded in their culture. I discovered this while studying international business in Tokyo during my University days. Toyota is a perfect example of this mindset where they demonstrate the long game through their relentless pursuit of continuous improvement coined “Lean Manufacturing”. More evidence of this mindset can be seen simply by looking at the top 10 list of oldest companies.

  

In my own personal pursuit of multipliers, I’ve recently become aware of the power of what I would call “mini-multipliers”, more commonly referred to as  automation. Computer engineers have been aware of the powers of automation for years. But until recently, people like myself who are inept when it comes to coding have been on the outside. 

Enter tools like Zapier, Workflow and IFTTT that are changing all that. The following is a list of the top mini-multiplier/automation tools that I am currently using to help multiply my effectiveness.

1. Zapier

Zapier is like a magic genie that integrates with a massive list of applications allowing for near infinite possibilities.

  •  Send my teams weekly, quarterly and monthly e-mail reminders for a variety of projects and reporting requirements
  • Automatically add e-mails that I star to a to-do list in Trello (my to-do application)
  • E-mail shipping instructions to our shipper/receiver automatically when a 3d printed part has been marked ready for shipping

2. Workflow

Similar to Zapier, Workflow is a mobile application that can be programmed to perform numerous chains of events with the push of a button

  • Send my wife flowers with the push of a button (I’m not joking). When I push a button it sends an e-mail with specific instructions which I’ve created an email template for
  • Order a pizza. On those Fridays when we decide to treat ourselves, I’ve programmed a button that sends a request for our two favorite pizzas to the restaurant in our neighborhood. I push the button on my phone and 15-20 minutes later they are ready for pick-up

3. Fiverr 

Are you impatient with Excell or require some quick artwork at a bargain? Fiverr is an awesome resource connecting you directly with the crowd. I often get spreadsheets cleaned up and formatted, illustrations, whiteboard videos etc. for a fraction of the price that a local design house would charge. 

4. Numerous

Is an app that organizes a feed of all the numbers that I want to track in one place. I can track:

  • The price of Crude Oil (which is up to $38.75 today!)
  • A countdown of the number of days until my daughter’s birth
  • # of days until the next SpaceX launch
  • Temperature in Edmonton
  • Charge level of my Tesla
  • # of likes on Facebook business pages
  • Current Net Promoter scores for our business

5. Evernote

This is my lifeline for all documents in my life. Picture a digital filing cabinet that you don’t need to organize. Evernote is powerful, and can read PDF’s and handwriting. I simply scan in all of my documents and files, and Evernote makes them a breeze to find through intelligent searches at any time from anywhere. 

Have a list of mini-multipliers that are helping you elevate your game? Send me any of your suggestions or recommendations.