Wilderness and business survival have similarities
Keep a cool head
Note what you have and what you don’t
Look for help and be cautious
There is a metaphor to be found in a Popular Science blog post by Dan Seitz, How to Find Drinkable Water in The Wild. While the writing could benefit from a stern editor’s hand, everything that’s in the article applies to survival in a small business environment.
Seitz begins, “instead of freaking out, take some time to assess your exact situation.” Imagine: the solopreneur or small business owner overwhelmed by the demands of doing business, the pressures of hustling for new revenue, and a sudden crisis. The stress can destabilize. As with being lost and no water, so goes when confronted with a threat to your business. Stop and take stock of the reality of the moment. Identify the most crucial item that is lacking and go in search of it in a calm, reasoned manner. This is not the time for your Type A mentality to flaunt its Me First attitude.
Seitz adds, “Clear doesn’t necessarily mean drinkable”. Boil water if you can. Use a filter if you have one. Try to get as close to the source of the water as possible. Don’t trust just because you are desperate. Fact check, ask for a second opinion, research other cases who have utilized a referral before you take it.
“Running water and groundwater are the most common water sources in the wild…”, the article continues. That might be stating the obvious. But if you are under pressure, you have many screaming concerns in your head. Still your mind and then think of the obvious places for help. You might be surprised by what you have to get out of your predicament. As standing still and listening for the sound of a stream can save you from dehydration, looking around your office for staff with a unique knowledge set might direct you to a lifeline (perhaps a hobby which could connect you to a vendor).
Seitz summarizes his key points by saying, “No matter where you get your water, don’t just start chugging… If you’re calm, careful, and thoughtful about your water, though, you’ll be able to up your odds of surviving.” That is the takeaway when you are lost in a forest, the desert, or sudden meltdown in your business. There are many anecdotes of business owners who survived a crisis by standing still, taking inventory of their resources, and acting with a plan instead of fear. Often stronger than before.
What are your survival anecdotes? Or comments? Let me know or tweet me @expatjackb
I am a passionate tea enthusiast. You would know this if you knew I moved to Taiwan to be closer to tea culture. That would also be a lie, I moved here for my career. What isn’t a lie is this aged oolong tea grown on the slopes of Lishan, Taiwan. Note that the tea is pretty indicative of where the leaves grew: very high near the summit of this mountain facing the sea, so it captures quite a bit of the essence of the region.
This is a lightly aged tea, around three years from drying and packaging as of this writing. Using conventional Chinese tea pouring methods, the first two brewings yielded a very clear, light jade hue. Oolong tea can either be a kind of light coffee color or a dark, brooding green but this Lishan oolong is very pale.
This cup is also very nicely aromatic. It has a kind of mulched leaves fragrance but, like its color, is light on the nose. I liked that because some oolong teas are too heavy on the floral notes and make it hard to savor them.
This definitely had an oolong taste but was more in the direction of rich, green tea not unlike genmaicha. Personally, it’s delicious but gave me a better perspective for greener oolongs, particularly those of this region. The first brewing has a very clear floral and mushroom taste. But the second brewing gave a mix of mushroom, honeysuckle tannins with a green tea backend.
Very expensive (almost $30 for as little as 50 grams and just under $50 for 100 grams), a small amount of leaf stretches far. By the way, this is a limited run oolong tea so be aware of that when you are shopping for Taiwanese yields from last year or earlier. A nitpick of mine is product descriptions which are essential for teas like this. Technically sold from the city of Taichung, the tea farm is on the very spine of Taiwan’s central mountain range and this region is known for vegetables collecting the Pacific air.
What is your experience with oolong tea, Taiwan in particular? Let me know here or ATjackge on Twitter. (Note: there aren’t any affiliate links to the products in this post. This is a sample review.)
(Author’s Note: This article is an exercise in repurposing previous material. I took the basic idea from my last article and expanded on its theme.)
The day is war. Face your day prepared for #battle. That means having discipline, a regimen, gear in good shape and the most essential item in your kit, PopTarts®. No soldier feels complete when they realize they left a sad and lonely PopTart® in the toaster. That’s a bad look.
Here are five steps you must take to ensure you leave for work stress-free and prepared.
-Don’t forget your list. Review the daily task and equipment/snack #list you prepared the night before. Do this as you get ready for the day. I normally list the things I need to bring into the office, things to leave out of my bag, and my lunch. It might seem obvious if you bring lunch to work but this will prevent you from forgetting it in the rush out the door. Be #mindful to add fruit or something for a snack.
“Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”–Martin Luther King, Jr.
Preparation also coincides with work. Your day really starts when you start working. Put that to its most efficient use and you will save a lot of time.
-Don’t Spend Your Morning in the #Inbox. This should be entirely automated. You can get a digest of your important messages so you can address any emergencies or give yourself focus so you can handle the day without feeling pinched the moment you get to the office. Ideally, do this from your phone or laptop on the way to work.
“People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.”–Vince Lombardi
-#Huddle Team sports, military organizations, even Dungeons and Dragons tables do this before a session to ensure everyone knows what’s ahead of them. #Gather your team or your partner and go over the day’s agenda together. Get to the point, no small talk.
-#Tackle the Biggest, Most Unpleasant Tasks First. This applies to your yard work and your office. Concentrate on the biggest, most headachey responsibilities out of the gate. And the schedule will open up for the rest of your day. You won’t feel pulled in so many directions with each of them demanding the highest priority.
“Nothing will work unless you do.”–Maya Angelou
Using the military was a poor theme but many of us have felt like we were fighting a battle and we hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet. Any #obstacle or moment of hesitation is going to make getting ready in the morning an increasing chore. Streamlining your process before you wake up is going to make it smoother. The carryover effect into your workday is the added benefit: you won’t feel like you are fighting your way through your day. You will probably be more productive. And you will feel a greater sense of #accomplishment along the way.
What do you think of these tips? Let me know in the comments or tweet me at @expatjackb
Starting your day stressed when you know it’s going to be a pressure cooker is no fun. Don’t go to work already in a bad mood because you left your house feeling rushed. Or you forgot something and had to come back for it. Or only realized you forgot something now that you are at the office.
The day is war. Face your day prepared for battle. That means having discipline, a regimen, gear in good shape and the most essential item in your kit, PopTarts®. No soldier feels complete when they realize they left a sad and lonely PopTart® in the toaster. That’s a bad look.
Here are ten steps you must take to ensure you leave for work stress-free and prepared.
Coffeemakers with timers are there for a reason. If you use a Keurig or similar device, go to recyclable cups and prep them the night before. Leave them in the pod so you don’t grind, pour, stamp the cups when you get up. The same goes for tea. If it can be done while you are asleep, then make it work for you.
-Sort your clothes the night before.
Did you mother lay out your clothes the night before school? Good. Be smart, be prepared. Be like Mommy.
-Let the sun in.
Research shows that the brain returns to its primitive habits when we see natural light. The first thing you do in the morning is open the drapes. This will let sunlight in and convince the brain it needs to wake, it forces you out of bed, and just the physical activity will get the blood moving.
-Drink a glass of water.
This will hydrate you. It’s not always promoted but water has been shown just as effective at waking a person as caffeine in some cases.
Studies show music enhances motivation in exercise which is why we often use music to get us in the mood to work out or clean the house. Logically, upbeat music should be the get up and go soundtrack of your morning. I suggest Pantera, Billy Idol or a college marching band. Do not use Billie Eilish or Mazzy Star. That’s for quiet time after work. And another article.
-Get a shower timer.
If you know you only have five minutes of water to bathe, you will become resourceful very quickly. I suggest you do as I do-navy shower, shave, brush teeth. Get wet and turn the shower off, shampoo and soap. Turn water on again and shave. Water off, brush teeth. Dry off. Rinse your mouth at the sink. You should be able to get all of this done within a few minutes and reduce your water consumption.
-Go cold breakfast.
Set out the bowl and the cereal. In fact, skip it.There is no most important meal of the day. This was an advertising campaign which brainwashed the American public when we ought to know better. CICO. (Calories in, calories out. And a trim soldier is a ready soldier. I read that on the back of a cereal box once.)
-Set a hard out 10 minutes early.
If you set an alarm to wake up, set an alarm for when you absolutely must leave whether you are dressed or not. This is your air raid siren. Your squad needs you. You show up late, the battle is already over. However, if you need to catch that bus or train at 8:30AM, set the alarm for 7:50AM. Sure, it’s only 15 minutes to where you need to be, but that doesn’t matter-you’re a soldier and Sarge says be out of your quarters by oh seven fifty.
-Don’t forget your list.
Review your list and your agenda as you get ready for the day.
Bonus follow up: Preparation also coincides with work. Your day really starts when you start working. Put that to its most efficient use and you will save a lot of time.
-Don’t Spend Your Morning in the Inbox.
This should be entirely automated. You can get a digest of your important messages so you can address any emergencies or give yourself focus so you can handle the day without feeling pinched the moment you get to the office. Ideally, do this from your phone or laptop on the way to work.
Team sports, military organizations, even Dungeons and Dragons tables do this before a session to ensure everyone knows what’s ahead of them. Gather your team or your partner and go over the day’s agenda together. Get to the point, no small talk.
-Tackle the Biggest, Most Unpleasant Tasks First.
This applies to your yard work and your office. Concentrate on the biggest, most headachey responsibilities out of the gate. And the schedule will open up for the rest of your day. You won’t feel pulled in so many directions with each of them demanding highest priority.
Using the military was a poor theme but many of us have felt like we were fighting a battle and we hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet. Any obstacle or moment of hesitation is going to make getting ready in the morning an increasing chore. Streamlining your process before you wake up is going to make it smoother. The carryover effect into your work day is the added benefit: you won’t feel like you are fighting your way through your day. You will probably be more productive. And you will feel a greater sense of accomplishment along the way.
Which of the tips do you use? Let me know in the comments or tweet @expatjackb
Websites too often go for the hard sell when promoting films that deliver the site’s message. Or worse, nothing to sell but a cheap gimmick to get you to click through a slide show of images and worthless content. I am going to swing for the fences and give you three movies every executive needs to watch on one page, no images or hard sell, and I will even use movies that aren’t about business.
Steven Spielberg’s 1985 magnum opus. Better than Raiders. Better than Close Encounters. Hands down the best movie about setting goals, overcoming obstacles, not settling for less and, at the end, getting what you deserve rather than what you wanted. A group of young friends set out to find treasure when one of them finds a clue from One-Eyed Willy, a legendary local treasure hunter. The promise of pirate treasure pushes the motley crew of kids who learn adult lessons along the way.
Executive lessons: sometimes the prize isn’t a pile of gold but in proving yourself right. Use what resources you have. Particularly your mind and your sense of adventure.
Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s story about an ambitious producer who wants to make a movie in Hollywood sat in the wings for twenty years until Gene Kelly took a chance and directed. Singing in the Rain’s plot is not as interesting as the challenges the cast and crew faced to make it. This 1952 film follows Kelly as the erstwhile producer who wants to make the perfect musical. Knowing Kelly roped in an 18-year-old Debbie Reynolds with no dancing background and made Donald O’Connor bedridden for a week is just a few examples of how important being ‘perfect’ meant to Kelly.
Executive lessons: reaching for perfection is admirable. Be mindful of the capabilities of your team and their limits. You might have a Debbie Reynolds on your team but if you push too hard to meet your expectations, your project may be a masterpiece you will lose the talent that helped you. Know your ego.
Another Spielberg movie is the Tom Hanks-Leonardo Dicaprio vehicle, Catch Me If You Can. (2002) About a young imposter who fakes his way through different careers to defraud the rich. It is also about an FBI agent who matures from a by-the-books lawman to understanding his quarry more humanely. A stand-out performance by Hanks and Dicraprio (and an appearance by the amazing Christopher Walken), it’s a crime caper, a comedy and a romance about the twentieth century.
Executive lessons: succeed with the resources you have and the creative ways you and your staff can exploit them. Be mindful of the consequences, don’t let nearsighted rewards blind you from the long term gains you could have. And the prize isn’t always about money.
Epictetus wrote, ‘Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.’
Runner up is The Big Lebowski. The executive lessons listed here can be found in this interpretation of The Big Sleep by the Cohen Brothers.
Comment on my LinkedIn page or tweet me @expatjackb what you think of my movie choices! What other movies do you suggest? Let me know!
The moment you have a product AND a service or an assortment of products, you have to start thinking about how to connect those products and services together to serve your customers’ needs. To quote Kristen Baker from her article, ‘How to Build a Product Ecosystem Buyers Will Want to Be In’, you have to know how “to solve for all of the needs of your customers — which helps improve brand loyalty and advocacy.” And to do this, you need to develop products or optimize existing ones to best suit customer needs.
The end game of a product/service ecosystem is an interconnected feature list putting the customer at the center in order to “to make the lives of your customers easier by solving for a wide array of challenges within the system they’re already a part of.” (Baker)
Tabletop gaming cafes are an excellent example of a product and service ecosystem. Ca Ca City is a cafe with branches all over Taipei. They serve the usual drinks and simple dishes you would expect. They don’t serve lunch or salads or complicated lattes with foam pandas embossed on the top. What they sell is table time.
Table time is the service. Students, housewives, people on their day off who like to play games but don’t have the space or freedom to use their own homes to organize a group are looking for safe, comfortable, not too loud environments to play. And Ca Ca City offers exactly this.
There is a drink minimum, of course. Since its a group of friends, usually, that means the cafe sells time at a table and several drink orders. The enticement to enter this arrangement is a membership. You don’t have to join, the menu price is the same for any other customer. But for a fee, you can join the cafe’s VIP list and get discounts.
Here is where the ecosystem expands and teaches the real lesson on why you need to be thinking about how you can integrate your products and services together into this dynamic: Ca Ca City also rents out games. Purchase is available, of course, but the brilliance behind this cafe over its competitors early in the game cafe market was other cafes required customers to buy the games in order to play. In fact, there are cafes that prohibit customers from bringing in their own games, including Dungeons and Dragons, and enforce a time limit. More on this in a moment.
Ca Ca City delivers because it understands how the threads in their product web are connected and convert into sales: you can bring your own games if you want, you can rent games since it’s usually a hassle to bring your game boxes, or you can purchase the games at a discount if you are a VIP member. Which also counts for items that go with the games. Ms Baker outlines how they developed their ecosystem:
Listen to your customers. Don’t listen to the static answers, “I’m looking for a something something stereo”, but listen to the need-“I want to play music in my home office but it can’t be in the way, it has to have clear sound and it has to be able to stream my playlists”.
Simplify the connections within your product ecosystem. Let’s go back to Ca Ca City. The customers are people who know what the cafe offers and they want to spend time with their friends. The cafe makes it painless to rent space, order a round of drinks and set up a game in a single transaction. There isn’t sales pressure, there doesn’t need to be. Missing a pen? Dice? A score sheet? All available where you buy your cappuccino and in all likelihood you will get when you order your drink.
Update and improve your product ecosystem. One branch is heavily tabletop role-playing game customers. Not just Dungeons and Dragons but also systems with extremely complex, arcane requirements such as miniatures, maps, and environments. So they remodeled the cafe to include larger, smoother tables and a miniatures and paints corner next to a reduced card game shelf. Management understood their market and adjusted to its habits.
Baker caps her rules by telling us to be mindful to make joining your ecosystem valuable for customers. The keyword here is “value” and many misunderstand this to mean price. Ca Ca City wasn’t the first gaming cafe. Students were bringing their Pokemon and Magic the Gathering cards to Starbucks and McDonald’s but this Taiwanese cafe gelled the demands together and sold themselves as a gaming cafe. And the community had long since complained there weren’t many places for an older enthusiast to play with their friends until a cafe stood up and said, ‘we have tables, you can use them, do exactly you normally would, just pay a little more for time’. DnD demands time; sessions can take three-, four-, sometimes six-hour stretches. Where most coffee shops have a one- or two-hour occupancy rule, Ca Ca City will gladly let you rent a table for as many hours as you need…for a price.
I want to add another step: follow up at the social level. Actively engage the customers if you can as they leave, encourage them to follow your brand on social media, or by joining an emailing list. (LINE is a popular social app in Taiwan which integrates Messenger-, Stories- and Twitter-like features, and Ca Ca City’s page is active with gamer customers.) Create an environment where your customers want to be actual participants in a community. It’s not enough for them to feel they are, that is so much smoke and mirrors from a marketing department, but you want them to believe their business and their habits matter to your brand.
How have you organized your products into a brand ecosystem? Let me know @expajackb on Twitter.
“When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, ‘It’s in the script.’ If he says, ‘But what’s my motivation?, ‘ I say, ‘Your salary.'”— Alfred Hitchcock
Getting someone to do a task can be a challenge. I am talking about teamwork, collaborationc and peer support. Blessed with colleagues who are willing to give their support, there will be times when the resource is simply not willing to do it.
The situation is dire when the support is yourself. You can stretch, have a coffee break, listen to DragonForce but those won’t help you when the well is dry. You or your teammates are in a place where someone depends on you and you are not delivering.
Imagine you are working on a group presentation for class, we’ve all been there: there is a topic, each student is given a subtopic to research, write and contribute to the overall script. Maybe someone is responsible for PowerPoint slides. Another for props. We have been down this terrible path before: someone ends up writing the whole thing for the group, there are missing slides, there is one prop brought from home, and two of the group haven’t even read the script, let alone rehearsed it.
Do you think this doesn’t happen in some fashion at work? It doesn’t have to be this way. Evidence-based research has shown that early to late adolescents can be motivated to participate and complete group tasks. And further research has shown certain methodologies that worked with high school students worked with MBA students. (Wal, Zeger & Oosterbaan, Anne. (2013). Government or Business? Identifying MPA and MBA students’ Career Determinants. Public Personnel Management. ) Before anyone argues its still “students” enrollment at Columbia school of business skews 25-51. (As of 2011)
The ABCs of motivation are: Autonomy, Benefit and Competence. Autonomy is providing a sense that the person is in charge of what they are doing, that it’s their choice to be there. They also have to see the reward for doing it: it has to be relevant. Finally, they have to feel what they are doing contributes to something. Telling them that it’s important doesn’t work. They have to know it for themselves.
“But what’s my motivation?”
In his callous way, Hitchcock reminded the actor that the reason they are doing the job to the best of their ability is the paycheck. The end result of a hard day’s labor. The actor gets caught up in the minor details, the creative fleshing out of the pretend life they have to present as if real to an audience, and naive or ignorant of a practical drive to be there in the first place and work. The actor has most of the components of wanting to contribute, Hitchcock just provided the rest. It’s easy to look at the quote as the hard truth of the worker in an often derided job for the luxury-class, forgetting for the moment that theater and screen acting can be hard work. (There are exceptions.)
Another group often frowned upon are Millennials. Which is funny considering every generation since the Greatest One has earned that honor. Millennials need just as much attention as the rest of us when yoking them to perform. According to a suspect Gallup poll, fewer than a third of employed Millennials actually engage in a meaningful way at work. This poll is told by management, human resources and recent college graduates with little career experience but the drudgery of new hires. So look at the numbers with a grain of salt.
Disregard the age, the class and the culture of the members of your team. Respect them individually for their own needs. Then find ways to persuade them into accepting their role in the task, their takeaways, and show them how the result illustrates their strengths.
Comment below or tweet me @expatjack with your tips/tactics for engaging your team to contribute. A short version of this article appears on Medium.
I grew up on KQED, San Francisco Bay Area public TV channel 9, which gave me the 1960s Batman, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and while it wasn’t “my thing” I would watch Julia Child on sick days and my mother was folding laundry.
Julia Child was the rare woman who was the host of her own show in those days. She was an affable yet very competent if picky teacher. She was showing you her way of doings things in the kitchen. And her way was the law. Yet she also displayed the very qualities we need if we are going to be useful when mentoring and instructing to a practical objective. Cooking succeeds using the best tools, ingredients and philosophy towards an end product.
Let me tell you a story of failure. I was teaching a business email writing course for Taiwanese executives through National Taiwan University’s professional training program. The ingredients were there: trainer, clients, classroom, whiteboard, projector, lesson materials. The recipe: lesson plan, pre-whiteboard work, desk arrangement, light mood music before class. Where was the disaster? A step in the lesson plan called for the students see a demonstration of how to describe a picture with concrete details and then try on their own with an alternate picture, then to see how I would describe my picture with abstract details and they would try with theirs. You get the idea.The goal was to use a picture or blank infogram and be able to describe its concrete and abstract elements in an email. The picture I used was a farm scene which lacked obvious abstractions-it could have done with more clouds, or hints of sunshine to connote warmth or season. I HAD a picture ready to substitute at a moments notice. Furthermore, my lesson was too balanced on the describing and not on the practical application. You shouldn’t need to spend time describing an intangible in an email in several sentences. One instance will do. Focus on the concrete, physical in the email. This step in the lesson plan completely ignored that.
I stuck to a rigid agenda in lockstep when what I needed was the Julia Child method of baking brownies. I realized I had failed my clients when reviewing my notes and made up for it in the next lesson as a form of review and follow up. The damage was done when it needn’t have happened in the first place if I had loosened up and trusted my kitchen instincts. This is what Julia Child would have wanted.
Let’s look at what a basic recipe and instructions look like and how it applies to hands-on training. Note the parenthetical notes and additional comments in the ingredients and instructions.
INGREDIENTS 2 cups, sugar (granulated, brown, or both) 1 cup oil or melted butter, slightly cooled 4 large eggs (or vegan substitute) 1 cup, flour 2/3 cup, cocoa powder 1/4 tsp salt (or a pinch depending on prior tasting)
INSTRUCTIONS Preheat oven to 350ºF and lightly grease a 9X9″ pan and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt until well combined. Add the oil or butter and the eggs into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Whisk the ingredients together until well combined. You can also fold in chocolate chips at this point if you want. At this point, reduce salt or add more powder depending on consistency or tasting. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use a rubber spatula to smooth out. Bake at 350 F for 30-45 minutes until a tester comes out with moist crumbs. Slightly underbaking them will keep them extra chewy. Let cool before slicing.
The purpose of giving simple brownie instructions is to demonstrate how training ought to follow the same principles: -Exact ingredients…allow for dollops and pinches Have a plan and reason for each step in your procedure. But allow cutting a task short or giving it more room if the trainees need the time. -Exact temperatures…but check occasionally with a tester toward the end It’s not necessary to test after every lesson point but its a good idea to see the trainees demonstrate briefly what you have taught so you know if they are on the same page. -Step by step instructions, start from the top…plan for substitutions immediately before and as you get towards a step to change. Vegan for eggs, chocolate chips after whisking, swap a farm picture with an image of a tractor on a summer day. -Allow to cool…then taste test with peer review of handouts, worksheets or problem solving breakout sessions.–This article appeared in part in Medium.