The Single Most Important aspect of High Performing Teams

“How do you create a happy environment?”
“Simple. I removed all the unhappy people.”

I can’t remember who said this, but it rings true to me.

To get the hot air balloon higher, it is simpler to remove the lead weights than to pump more hot air into the balloon canopy.

Single most important aspect: Remove those that suck

* This post was originally my response to this question on quora.

There is a lot of buzz around Pinterest these days, but the social network that most keeps me entertained while learning is Quora.  It connects people around interests.  I have got some great answers to questions regarding research, articles I am writing, places to visit…

Some of my answers on quora:


Jim Collins on the Writing Process

My favourite business books include Jim Collin’s “Good to Great“.  It is easy to read, simple but clear about the hard decisions that differentiate the great companies from the mediocre.  His new book, “Great by Choice” is out now.  Jim Collins is renowned as someone who has intense discipline in his life.  I loved when I found this text he wrote about his own process of writing:

Jim Collins on the Writing Process 

Jim Collins

“When I first embarked on a career that required writing, I devoured dozens of books about the process of writing. I soon realized that each writer has weird tricks and idiosyncratic methods. Some wrote late at night, in the tranquil bubble of solitude created by a sleeping world, while others preferred first morning light. Some cranked out three pages a day, workmanlike, whereas others worked in extended bursts followed by catatonic exhaustion. Some preferred the monastic discipline of facing cinder-block walls, while others preferred soaring views.

I quickly learned that I had to discover my own methods. Most useful, I realized that I have different brains at different times of day. In the morning, I have a creative brain; in the evening, I have a critical brain. If I try to edit in the morning, I’m too creative, and if I try to create in the evening, I’m too critical. So, I go at writing like a two piston machine: create in the morning, edit in the evening, create in the morning, edit in the evening…

Yet all writers seem to agree on one point: writing well is desperately difficult, and it never gets easier. It’s like running: if you push your limits, you can become a faster runner, but you will always suffer. In nonfiction, writing is thinking; if I can’t make the words work, that means I don’t know yet what I think. Sometimes after toiling in a quagmire for dozens (or hundreds) of hours I throw the whole effort into the wastebasket and start with a blank page. When I sheepishly shared this wastebasket strategy with the great management writer Peter Drucker, he made me feel much better when he exclaimed, “Ah, that is immense progress!”

The final months of completing Great by Choice required seven days a week effort, with numerous all-nighters. I had naively hoped after writing Good to Great that perhaps I had learned enough about writing that this work might not require descending deep into the dark cave of despair. Alas, the cave of darkness is the only path to producing the best work; there is no easy path, no shorter path, no path of less suffering. Winston Churchill once said that writing a book goes through five phases. In phase one, it is a novelty or a toy; by phase five, it is a tyrant ruling your life, and just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public. And so, exiting the caving blinking in the sunlight, we’ve killed the monster and hereby fling. We love this book, and have great passion about sharing it with the world—making all the suffering worthwhile.”

My reflections

  • Writing is work.  You have to push through.  Every day.  It doesn’t get easier.
  • I am a different person at different times of the day.  I must use this better.  I start days slowly. I am inspired at midnight through to 3am.
  • Sometimes throwing everything out is progress.  It is not a step backwards.

What do you think?  Do you write?  What daily disciplines do you have?

Leadership = Do the Next Right Thing

Michael asks “What should you do when you don’t know what to do?”  In the times when he felt lost, out of his depth, uncertain, unsure whether he was the right person in the role…  All the great moments of self-doubt that I know I share…

His mentor’s answer?

“Do the next right thing.”

The full post at Michael Hyatt’s Intentional Leadership blog: “What to do when you don’t know what to do“.  I think it goes further than that.  This is not a recipe for rare moments of doubt.  This is a powerful framing of leadership.

There is a time for Managers, and a time for Leaders

When a team is winning, the captain needs to be a manager.  When the team is losing 3-1 at half time, the captain needs to be a leader.  Doing the same but better is going to lead to a 6-2 final score.  The team has to do something different.  This is when the captain must lead.

However, when leadership is made into something too big, action paralysis sets in.  Self-doubt assails the leader and leads to delay.  Leadership needs focus.

Leadership is “Do the Next Right Thing”

Do.  Action.  Leadership is about action.  Nothing changes without taking action.  Knowing what to do but not doing anything is the same as not knowing what to do.

The Next.  The professional knows where he is going, but never allows his mind to go beyond the next step.  He knows that this will lead to a feeling of overwhelm and the little voice inside his mind will tell him to stop.  It is only by keeping extreme focus on the Next that action is possible and sustainable.  The amateur takes on too big a goal.  He lives in a cycle of building frustration leading to a moment where he decides he will act.  He now sets a massive goal for himself and for a day or two manages to exert maximum effort towards this overly ambitious goal.  Three days later he realises how much work is still left and drops back into a depressed state and stops the action towards the goal.

Right.  What is necessary.  What is correct.  What fits with your values and effectively moves you in the direction of your overall goals. Not what others think you should do.  Not what you think others would expect of you.  Not what you parents want.  Not what your friends want.  It is what you feel is right.

Thing.  Specific.

Do. The Next.  Right.  Thing.

“I will act now.”

The great failures do not come from a lack of strategy, or a lack of knowledge about where you would like to get to.  Few people wake up in the morning with a goal of being unhappy and frustrated.
True failure is lack of disciplined action.  This is not the failure of not achieving a goal, not winning a game…  but the hideous failure of having left a life unlived.

“You only need 20 seconds of courage in a life”.  Where are my 20 seconds?  How many do I have left?

Choose to Suffer for 15 minutes

What is the best way to start a work day?

I get up, I stretch, I shower, I eat breakfast…  I get to my desk…  and then…  what is the best way to start?

I think I have it.

Choose to suffer for the first 15 minutes.  
Decide to do the most important, most scary thing and do it for 15 minutes.  Then stop.

Kilian Jornet

The rest of the day is easier now.

My aim for the next 30 days = choose to suffer for 15 minutes before opening email, twitter, facebook, linkedin.

What is suffering?
I am talking here about purposeful suffering.  Sticking a knitting needle in my leg is suffering, but without any purpose.  The part of me that I want to suffer is my ego – the little voice inside my head that doesn’t like change.

Purposeful suffering is doing what your inner voice most complains about.   While I am doing it my inner voice hits me with its wave of negativity: “why is this important?  who is ever going to read this?  who are you to think you have something to say on this?”

There are three levels of inner criticism, negative self-talk:

  1. Voice of Judgment:  “This is never going to be as good as Seth Godin’s blog”
  2. Voice of Cynicism:  “This isn’t important; nobody is going to read this”
  3. Voice of Fear: “who am I to be writing?  why would anyone read my writing?”
You know you are doing something that is Purposeful Suffering when you get the Voice of Fear engaged.
What do you think?  A good way to get a work day started?  Or just plain stupid?

There is no Freedom without Self Discipline

Freedom is dangerous without self discipline.

photo: Markop

Few people will get anything important done in life without a boss, a parent, a teacher.  It is the removal of freedom that allows creation. Completion requires constraints: deadlines, scope, format…

We chaff at the chains, but they serve us.

My boss is an idiot, but without her insistance I wouldn’t have finished the document.

My teacher knows nothing about the real world, but without his deadline I wouldn’t have written the essay.

My landlord is cruel, but without his insistence on payment of rent I would not have gotten out of the bed, out of the house, into the world, served a paying customer, grown, learnt.

Constraints serve.

Freedom is dangerous without self discipline.

Free your Mind: Writing a Journal.

Would you like lower stress, increased focus, improved memory, faster learning?  Sounds good?  There is one simple 5 minute daily habit that can help.  It will also make you a better communicator.  It might be worth a test?

There are 3 major benefits of keeping a written journal.  
  1. Writing slows down time
  2. The past is a great resource, but only if well documented
  3. A journal is a good life habit, increased mindfulness and awareness of the patterns around you
How to do your best writing?  These are some places that I do my best writing.
How about 5 minutes a day for the next 30 days?  Have a go.  If it works, great.  If it doesn’t, burn the pages and send me an email requesting (politely) the return of the 150 minutes that were “wasted” in this endeavor.
I write in a paper notepad with a biro.  This works best for me.  There was a 2 year period where I wrote on a Palm Pilot (1997-1999).  Others write on a computer or iPad.  
Do you have a journal?  Would love to know how you do it – what tool do you use?  do you do it at a regular time?  what are the positive benefits that you have seen from journaling?

A Rant on Time Management

You don’t need more time management.

You need to say “No” more.

I watched an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert recently.  She said “When I was young I used to think that if I said No to people, they would feel rejected, get angry and feel let down.  Now that I am older I realise that when I say No to people they do feel rejected, get angry and feel let down…  but I have to do it for me.”  It is true.  It is not easy to say “No”.

Dharmesh Shah gives a good thought on framing your “No”. 

It’s not easy.