“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. 

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.

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.

Are airlines next to be disrupted?

Airlines are running the risk of being disrupted.

The now standard cautionary tale of Netflix disrupting Blockbuster is becoming a pattern across several industries; think Airbnb disrupting hotels, Uber disrupting the taxi industry and Apple disrupting the mobile communications industry.

There seem to be two patterns at work here:

  1. Increasingly customer-centric business models
  2. The convergence of exponential technologies enabling increasingly customer-centric business models 

1. Increasingly customer-centric business models

I was recently on a business trip on the opposite corner of North America, over 15 hours of travel each way. My experience was terrible. On my way back to the airport to catch my return flight, my journey quickly turned into what could have easily been a Seinfeld episode.

The check-in agent informed me that the flight I had booked was full and that they didn’t set aside a seat for me. This meant that I had to step to the side with my luggage until they had checked in everyone else. My only hope of being on the flight was if someone did not show up.

Not that it was any of their concern, but I had important meetings scheduled for the next morning, and a pregnant wife with our 15 month old toddler waiting for me to get home that night. Needless to say, I was not delighted.

2. The convergence of exponential technologies enabling increasingly customer-centric business models

Fast forward several hours later, and I finally made my flight. Upon retrieving my luggage, I opened my Uber app, and dispatched a driver. Within seconds, a friendly voice was ringing my phone confirming which exit I was near. No sooner did I exit the airport that a clean, brand new Lexus SUV was awaiting my arrival outside to take my bags and drive me home. And did I mention this experience came at half the fare of my usual cab ride? Needless to say, I was delighted. 

Only the most customer-centric will survive

If we look around us in today’s market place, there is a pattern at play. As Peter Diamandis, founder of Singularity University and the X Prize writes about in Bold, the impact of exponential technologies is increasingly democratizing the world around us. 

Some businesses are surviving until now in spite of themselves. Richard Foster, a lecturer from Yale School of Management estimates that the average lifespan of companies listed on the S&P 500 has gone from 67 years in the 1920s to less than 15 years today. He states that by the year 2020, 3/4 of those S&P 500 listings will be companies that we have not yet heard of.

In the face of all this rapid change and disruption, I believe that Netflix, Uber, and Airbnb are killing it simply because they are incredibly useful, and incredibly customer-centric. Technology just happens to be the enabler.