Need to Be Heard? Learn to Be Brief.

brief_Bookcover_play-03-231x300I love concise messages. So when offered the opportunity to read Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less by Joseph McCormack and then blog about it, I was all in. Writing a book about being brief showcases the author’s credibility from the first paragraph. McCormack’s Brief succeeds in all ways.

“That’s the way it goes,” we say when we don’t get:

  • Support for our ideas
  • An approval after our presentation
  • The sale
  • A job or promotion

There’s always reason (aka an excuse):

  • Bad timing
  • An off day
  • Competing factors
  • Favoritism or office politics

Actually, when things don’t go our way,  it’s usually about us–what we say and how we say it, attached to what we do and how we do it.

If we want better outcomes, we need to master brevity.

Learn to be brief.

Your career is driven by words:

  • Your boss explains the need for improved processes. You present new ideas and initiatives..
  • Your customers express their needs. You describe how your company’s products and services can meet them.
  • Your manager declares the desire to build talent. You define your capabilities.

Your biggest career challenge is cutting through the maddening clutter of noise, distractions, and interruptions, exacerbated by digital communications.

Joseph McCormack’s book, Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, leads you out of McCormack bb16d5afeedd0ad8986cb9_L__V367807303_SX200_the morass and into some rarefied air.

He writes:

Brevity is a choice. When you want to get more, decide to say less.

Think about that for a second. Consider how much workplace air you fill with talk that grabs the undivided attention of others. For most of us, it’s not much.

Consider these statistics from McCormack:

People speak about 150 words per minute, yet have the approximate mental capacity to consume about five times that number, or 750 words per minute.

Unless you’ve quickly hooked your listener with compelling information or stories, s/he has lots of time to drift to other thoughts before you’ve made your point.

Think about the last time you listened to someone who captivated you with an idea or an observation–a time when you hung on every word. Do you communicate that effectively? If not, what would it take and what would your career payoffs be?

Brief gives you the insights and the tools.

Commit.

If brevity in communication were easy to do, you’d see a lot more of your coworkers doing it. If you master being brief, your career value will increase if not soar!.

McCormack writes:

To be brief doesn’t just mean being concise. Your responsibility is to balance how long it takes to convey a message well enough to cause a person to act on it.

Effective presentations are smooth. Creating them can be rough. You don’t get to the power of brevity without putting in the challenging mental work.

McCormack adds:

Brevity starts with deep expertise. Only with thorough knowledge can you accurately make a summary.

His book digs into the how to’s, providing clearly stated models and stories that remove the mystique so you can up your brevity.

He emphasizes:

To communicate effectively nowadays, you must be able to speak in headlines and grab someone’s attention right away.

He advocates this approach:

Map it. BRIEF Maps [his model]…used to condense and trim volumes of information

Tell it.  Narrative storytelling…to explain in a way that’s clear, concise, and compelling

Talk it. …turn monologues into controlled conversations

Show it. Visuals that attract attention and capture imagination

Digital screens, phone calls, meetings, email, and interruptions of every dimension compete with what you want others to hear. Being brief helps to deflect their potentially negative effects.

Brief branding

Like it or not, you already have a reputation around the way you communicate.  Do you know what it is? Are you a rambler, a dominator, a repeater, a windbag, an empty suit, or a clarifier?

If you want to boost your career, become known for being brief, bringing clarity, and cutting through the clutter, taking the pain out of getting work done.

If you want to get good at it, then consider reading Brief.

 

As a Product of Your Choices, How Are You Doing? |The Behavior Gap

Our lives and our careers are products of our choices, the ones we make from reason ExpectationsRealityand those made emotionally. Sometimes we even make choices unconsciously.

No matter our method, the results become our property.

We generally make better choices when we’re well informed and free of fear. Bridging those two helps us master our behavior gap.

Who’s in your ear?

There’s a lot of noise out there. Much of it raises expectations. We want a good job that pays well so we can buy stuff, grow wealth, advance, run with the “right” crowd, and feel successful.

That noise influences our wants and pushes us in the direction of the crowd. Sometimes it drowns out our vision of  the career and life style we want. It can negate our dreams, convince us to replace them, and send us someplace that promises more than it delivers.

So choosing isn’t always easy, especially when we’re tempted to link the reasons for our choices to what experts, social media, and talking heads say is the way to go.

beharior gap 41vTID0CztL__SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Carl Richards makes this point when he introduces the concept of the behavior gap in his book, The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money. Richards is a certified financial planner, but his book, although focused on issues around financial decision-making, is about how we make choices.

As I see it, for every gaff we make with our money, we fall into similar traps with career, relationship, and self-management decisions. So as you read his book, it’s no stretch to take the insights well beyond the financial.

Today every “expert”  has a viewpoint and an outlet to express it. Advice about the best career strategy, the best way to manage your money, or how to live your best life is given and shared– and shared again and again–until it sounds like an absolute.

Richards writes:

“…the sheer quantity of information makes it virtually impossible to sift through all the noise…and find the stuff that actually matters. Worse, we’re losing our ability to distinguish between the two. What matters? What’s just noise?

Take control.

The struggle is fighting the fear of missing out (FOMO) and of being wrong. Listening to the noise doesn’t remedy either.

We are products of our choices. We can listen to all those voices and become paralyzed or reckless. Or we can listen to ourselves.

Richards cuts through the clutter with concepts about financial choice-making that zeros in on what we need to do:

“…make decisions that are in tune with reality, with your goals, and with your values.

He reminds us that we can only control what we can control. That does not include what’s going on in China or on Wall  Street or in the government. He reminds us that we all control two fundamental things: working hard to earn a living, saving as much as we can, and making wise decision about how we invest our money.

Richards writes:

Our deepest instincts (if we listen to them) will tell us that money doesn’t mean anything: it’s simply a tool to reach our goals…By goals I mean stuff that matters to you.

From my perspective, achieving your goals means developing your skills, adding value to your job, building positive workplace relationships, and taking advantage of the right opportunities for growth when they present themselves.

A good start is to get in touch with what you value as part of a good life and assess every career choice against it. Listen to your inner voice when faced with a choice and don’t ignore what you hear. Every time I did, I ended up burning myself with a wrong-footed choice.

The behavior gap

Your behavior is within your control, so you need to own it throughout your life and particularly as you steer your career. Reason and emotion are often at odds with each other, challenging your choice-making.

Whether the choices you face are about finances or career options, there is awareness, relief, and even comfort to be found in Richards’ book.

 

 

Is Amazing Performance Really Amazing? What to Do About Meaningless Words.

Have you noticed how amazing everyone is these day? If not, just listen.

Somehow we’ve become surrounded by all these amazing people who do amazing work with amazing colleagues in amazing places during these amazing times.

Someone may be saying that you’re amazing too.

By definition, to be amazing means one needs to affect others with great wonder, to astonish. That means creating great surprise or marvel (yes, marvel).

That’s a tall order like a Starbuck’s Frappuccino Grande with whipped cream. Amazing or simply as ordered?

Reality or hyperbole?

What we do and how we do it characterizes our performance. Our bosses and coworkers form opinions and express them, sometimes to each other, to you, or on your performance appraisal.

The words they use might be fact-based or baseless assumptions. Sometimes people just say anything to fill in conversational space–no words of value extended.

We’re all prone to exaggerate at times, especially when we’re enthusiastic about something.

Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses exaggeration for emphasis or effect. You might use it when you:

  • Announce a new hire: “She’s the answer to all our fears about the new app.
  • Give performance feedback: “You carried the whole group on your shoulders this year.
  • Announce a promotion: “Jack out-maneuvers any crisis.”

Hyperbole only has effect when it has context. Saying, “We hired Mary who is amazing and promoted Jack who is also amazing and have you to thank for your amazing performance,” leaves us with no real information about them.

Word power

We need the right words to communicate what we mean because without them we end up adrift. At work we need clear words so we:

  • know what to do and how to do it
  • understand if we’re doing things correctly or not
  • remain motivated to keep growing

Words comes from outside and within, defining us and our world. Words have real, undeniable power.

Sometimes, though, we get ourselves in situations where we:

  • don’t know what to say
  • are caught off guard
  • forgot what we planned to say
  • don’t care about the issue or person

Of late, when people are caught short, they just say: “He or she or it was amazing.” (If you don’t believe me just listen to a talk show, the news, ads, an interview, your friends, or yourself. Consider counting the “amazings” in your day.)

Answers like “amazing” (or “This is crazy or nuts or awesome.”) are equally part of the workplace.

An amazing recovery

Empty words create malnourished communication. In a marketplace where you need to standout to be discovered, you need to speak and write using words that mean something.

When everything is said to be amazing, suddenly nothing is or can be. When everyone is amazing, nothing differentiates one from the other.

To believe that we are continually amazing becomes delusional. Praise words and laudatory phrases are wonderful. They become an issue when the words don’t come with context.

If I’m amazing at work, then in what ways do I astonish:

  • Do I get more accomplished in a day than my coworkers?
  • Do I produce fewer errors?
  • Have I achieved a standard of customer satisfaction performance that exceeds goals?
  • Do I work more calmly under stress than most?

No one performs at the top of their game all the time. So when you’re not creating wonder, you have skills and behaviors to work on. That’s how you grow and continue to raise the bar.

Amazing is rarefied air, breathed briefly under special conditions, so you must keep reaching.

Let’s fix this.

Words are power tools. Communication is enriched by those who use words to convey what they mean, not to fill space with empty sounds.

If you want to distinguish yourself, commit to using language that delivers insights, ideas, perspectives, viewpoints, and feedback clearly. I’ve stricken “amazing” from my vocabulary for now. I don’t want to sound like the echo of our times. Like you, I want to sound like myself.

Want an Incredible Career? Discover What You’ve Got. | Maximize Your Potential

maximizeyourpotential_small_2__V355563455_Amazon Publishing was kind enough to send me a copy of Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks, & Build an Incredible Career, so I could read it for a blog post. Because I got so much out of Jocelyn Glei’s first book, Manage Your Day-to-Day, I was eager to read this one. It’s a winner.

Ever been told, “You have potential”? What was being predicted about you? What did those words actually mean?

In business, “potential” generally means having the capacity for growth or development. It’s that latent capability that portends something bigger and better for our careers and the organization’s success.

Potential is a nice sounding word that can puff us up, giving us reason for optimism about our future. Too often that’s where it ends.

We get no details to build on, only those indecipherable clues imbedded in the occasional feedback from our bosses.

Generally, the best we can do is try to surmise how others think our potential will play out. It might mean we have:

  • what it takes to achieve leadership greatness or simply to take one step up the company ladder
  • the intelligence to earn multiple degrees/certifications or the ability to master html to support the company website
  • the assertiveness needed to sell the company’s high end products or the emotional intelligence to handle customer care services

Typically, there’s a trap here–believing what others say about your potential and charting your career course based on it.

Own your potential.

Your potential resides within you. When others tell you what they “see” as your potential, it’s through their lens, often one biased by what they and the organization need.

Jocelyn Glei’s new book, Maximize Your Potential, focuses us on the “you” of “your potential.” Since it’s an asset, you need to own it fiercely, developing it to take you where you want to go.

Like Glei’s earlier book, Maximize Your Potential is an integrated collection of short pieces from important thought leaders who help us find clarity and focus in our careers.

Cal Newport, Georgetown University professor and author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, confronts the oft cited advice to “follow your passion” in the context of maximizing potential.

He writes:

…few people have pre-existing passions that they can match to a job. Telling them to ‘follow their passion,’ therefore is a recipe for anxiety and failure….

If you’re like me,  you’ve struggled to align how you see your potential with the elusive specter of something you might construe as passion.

Whenever someone I respected at work expressed optimism about my potential, it seemed like another bread crumb trail that would lead me to my passion. It wasn’t.

If I had known  these two lessons from Newport’s research, I may have fared better:

 Lesson 1: What you do for a living matters less than you think.

To build a career, the right question is not “What job am I passionate about doing?” but instead “What way of working and living will nurture my passion.”

Lesson 2: Skill precedes passion.

..if you want something rare and valuable, you need to offer something rare and valuable in return–and in the working world, what you have to offer are your skills.

Now I see. Because developing skills comes before passion:

It doesn’t matter if we fully understand our potential at any given moment.

          I just matters that we develop as many skills and as much job knowledge as we can.

The byproduct is discovery or rediscovery of our passion.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, author and researcher, currently at Columbia Business School, reminds us to focus on getting better, rather than being good.

When we look at our passion and potential as co-contributors to our success, take a steadied and positive approach to tapping into both, we position ourselves for an incredible career.

Tend to your garden.

Understanding your potential starts with you. But you can’t uncover it unless you turn over the ground where your career is planted.

Maximize Your Potential gives you tools you need and explains how to use them well: diaries, daily rituals, skills practice, and relationship building.

Your potential may always be a bit of a mystery. All of us need help cutting through the weeds to find the fruit. Luckily for us, this book is a sharp scythe.

Just Not the Creative Type, You Say? Don’t Believe the Myths.

Since, as a writer, I’m fascinated by creative expression, I jumped at the invitation to read Myths of Creativity 9781118611142_p0_v2_s260x420and blog about the new book by David Burkus, The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas, released today. It’s a fascinating and liberating book.

Our bosses are famous for asking us to come up with:

  • A better process for handling customer complaints
  • New copy for the company’s “About” page
  • A promotion to increase sales
  • Ideas to improve morale

They tell us we need to be innovative if we want to advance, get good performance ratings, and be rewarded.

You say to yourself, “I’m not the creative type. I just do my job…on the phones/in production/in tech support.”

Then your boss says, “I need your contribution by Friday.”

End of conversation. Beginning of panic.

Relief arrives.

David Burkus provides the oxygen we need to clear our heads about creativity. In his new book, The Myths of Creativity, he debunks what we have come to believe about creativity and creative people. He shows us that we’re all creative and how.

He writes:

We don’t need to rely on belief in an outside force to generate great ideas. We have everything we need inside ourselves.

Most of us think of creativity as being the domain of painters, musicians, writers, and movie makers.

Burkus reminds us that:

Creativity is …the process of developing ideas that are both novel and useful.

You do that…me too.

But he also reveals something very important about what it takes to tap into and realize our creative potential at work.

Creativity in the form of innovation requires four things that are aligned:

  • Domain-relevant skills (…expertise)…the knowledge, technical skills, or talent an individual possesses in a given domain [area]….
  • Creativity-relevant processes…the methods people use to approach a …problem and generate solutions….
  • Task motivation…the willingness to engage…passion….
  • Social environment…[which] can either positively or negatively affect creative expression….

Think about how much freer your thinking is at work when you can draw on what you’re good at, using good problem-solving methods around a task you care about, in a work environment that suits you. Heaven!

Burkus adds:

Both expertise and creative methodology can be taught….Everyone can generate great ideas.

Debunking myths

Creativity myths exist because we let them. Sometimes we actually want them to be true to get us off the hook or give us an excuse to stay in our comfort zones.

Some myths have been so ingrained  that companies adopt and perpetuate them, not to their benefit.

The myths Burkus covers erase our excuses and relieve our anxieties. He explains them straight up and provides eye-popping, real-life business examples that stick.

The ten myths are the:

  • Eureka Myth
  • Breed Myth
  • Originality Myth
  • Expert Myth
  • Incentive Myth
  • Lone Creator Myth
  • Brainstorming Myth
  • Cohesive Myth
  • Constraints Myth
  • Mousetrap Myth

The Expert Myth strikes a loud chord. If you think you need to be the smartest one in the room to come up with the best idea, then heed this Burkus point:

The Expert Myth argues that the hardest problems are solved by the brightest minds in the field, but the evidence counters with a different argument. The people who solve tough problems are often from the edge of a domain. They have enough knowledge to understand the problem but don’t have a fixed method of thinking..[so] they possess the creative ability to find the right solution.”

If you also think that creative ideas are the product of individuals touched by the Muse, Burkus  challenges that too:

…the Lone Creator myth…[is]…the belief that creativity is a solo performance and that the story of innovations can be told as the story or a single person working fervently on the new idea.

He shares little known information about Thomas Edison, more promoter and team leader than lone inventor, to make his point:

Too often…we prefer to recognize only one person for an outstanding creative work. This isn’t just a selective revision; it’s a fabrication.

Free yourself up

The Myths of Creativity frees us from our self-imposed limiters. Burkus’ myths can be found in nearly every company and are felt by most of us–mere employee mortals doing our jobs.

By discarding the myths, no matter what job you do, you can better use your creative, innovative thinking to make a process, a product, or a system better. Kudos to you!

Refocusing Your Know-how | From the Pick and Roll to the Prostate

 We get known for what we do and have always done. That’s how personal brands evolve.

It’s easy to ride out a positive brand. Just keep doin’ what you’ve been doin’ so you can keep earnin’ what you’ve been earnin’…and maybe a little more, if you’re lucky.

Tested know-how is a kind of career currency. You know when and how to use it successfully– a comfort to the people you work with.

When we add value and make a difference, our work satisfies us.

Then sometimes the ground shifts and we have to shift with it. Or we may see a unique opportunity and decide to push ourselves into new space.

In both cases, your know-how comes with you, providing the foundation for your next move.

Be ready…and steady.

Think of your knowledge and skills like an investment account. The more equity you build, the more prepared you are for surprises.

Things have a habit of changing when you least expect them to:

  • The company reorganizes, merges, or gets bought.
  • You get reassigned (up or down), furloughed, or dismissed.
  • You become ill, disabled, or injured.
  • The product or service line changes and the processes you’ve mastered with it.

Suddenly, the once clear path to sustainable success becomes confusing, uncertain, and even frightening.

Take heart: Your rock is still there. It’s your know-how.

The transferable skills, knowledge, and experience that you’ve always relied on remain, ready to be tapped into anew.

The task at hand now is about focusing yourself on immediate problems and needs. Then putting your know-how to work to resolve them.

Digging in

Recognizing how your know-how can start to restore your sense of control is a crucial first step.

Jack McCallum, acclaimed writer for Sports Illustrated and author of nine books, most of them about great basketball teams and players, is a case in point.

He is an expert at the nuances of  basketball moves like the pick and roll. His sports and journalistic know-how are clear in his writing. In his early sixties, he was gradually throttling down his career.

Then he got prostate cancer.

So what did he do? He wrote about it. First in a  op ed piece in The Morning Call newspaper where he shared his personal logic for following the “watchful waiting”  protocol. He got lots and lots of emails from lots and lots of people–prostate cancer survivors, widows, and physicians.

This response spawned his decision to turn his journalistic skills for research, interviewing, and rational thinking to the challenge of prostate cancer decision-making. What he discovered informed his own treatment decision (which was ultimately to have his prostate removed) and to demystify, as much as that’s possible, the complex arena of prostate cancer treatment.

His first result was ending up cancer free with minimal side-effects.

prostate 819CxxluCaL__SL1500_-220x360The second was his book, The Prostate Monologues: What Every Man Can Learn from My Humbling, Confusing, and Sometimes Comical Battle with Prostate Cancer.

(Suggestion: If you are someone or know someone with prostate cancer, this book is an important read, actually more like a conversation with a good friend over coffee…lots of important factual information, anecdotes, cases, and a few laughs when needed.)

Build portable know-how.

Almost everything you know how to do at your job is a transferable skill.

Whether you need to rebound from a calamity or you want to explore a new direction, there are many ways to give your seasoned skills a new platform and focus.

Consider utilizing your:

  • Web design skills to format e-books for self-published writers
  • Financial skills to support a non-profit needing a comptroller
  • Public speaking skills for a cause that needs a strong voice
  • Fine arts skills to help traumatized children express themselves
  • Project management skills to aid a community group in chaos

Your know-how is exclusively yours. You developed it in ways that express who you are, and it has become integral to your brand. It’s there when you need it, so take good care of it. Then when you’re called upon, you’re ready to step up.

Getting Nowhere In a Hurry? Take a New Route. | Manage Your Day-to-Day

It’s wonderful when a book moves me to recalibrate my routine and reclaim my creative goals. That’s what happened when I was invited to read and blog about Manage Your Day-to-Day edited by Jocelyn K. Glei at 99U. This book delivers the goods as  the structure, content, and style harmonize. I keep it within reach.

We work hard to find the right job and even harder to progress in it. manage_book

So, it’s discouraging when our days feel:

  • Harried or unsatisfying
  • Repetitive or fragmented
  • Controlled by the needs of others
  • Menial and incomplete

The hours can be long and the unrelenting demand for information exhausting.

There’s an edge to our days when we’re concerned that we’ll miss something and inadvertently disappoint the expectations of others.

Working your way

You’re the one who controls the way you use your work day. It may not always feel that way, but it’s true. It comes down to setting boundaries, adopting right habits, and managing the expectations of those around you.

Manage Your Day-to-Day, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei at 99U, targets the drags on your time and psyche through short, tightly focused articles by 21 accomplished business people, writers, and academics who get at the heart of big issues and provide realistic ways for change.

Scott Belsky, founder of Behance, writes in the foreward:

No matter where you work or what horrible top-down systems plague your work, your mind and energy are yours and yours alone. You can surrender your day-to-day and the potential of your work to the burdens that surround you. Or you can audit the way you work and own the responsibility of fixing it.

The book unfolds in four sections that become the routes for a career going somewhere.

Route #1: Build a Rock-Solid Routine

All routines aren’t necessarily productive. We can spend a lot of time checking devices, meeting with people, and walking the floor, believing that somehow we’re capturing essential information we need for..well…something.

Mark McGuinness, author and creative professionals coach, advises:

The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second.

Reactive work is all that checking.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project,  reminds us to protect the time needed for creative work if we want to produce something of worth.

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently…frequent work makes it possible to accomplish more, with greater originality….    

Route #2: Find Focus in a Distracted World

Differentiating ourselves is essential to our career growth. It’s how we stand out from the crowd to demonstrate our uniqueness and creativity.

Consider this point by Jocelyn K. Glei:

In a world filled with distraction, attention is our competitive advantage. Look at each day as a challenge–and an opportunity–to keep your eye on the prize.

Our ability to manage distraction to enable our creativity to flourish means we’ve conquered the paradox noted by Cal Newport, professor at Georgetown University:

Increasingly, creative minds are torn in two opposing directions. We’re asked to apply our intellectual capital to solve hard problems….At the same time, we’re asked to be constantly available by email and messenger and in meetings…..

Route #3:Tame Your Tools

In every career there are tools of the trade; pros know how to use them effectively. Technology, both a social and practical tool, challenges our decision-making and self-control.

Jocelyn K. Glei reminds us that:

Technology should be a tool, but if we do not keep our wits about us, it can easily become our taskmaster…It’s easy to blame the tools, but the real problem is us.

So each time you reach for a device, ask yourself: “Why and why now?”

Route #4: Sharpen Your Creative Mind

What we want from our work most often is the freedom to make a difference, to produce something useful, and to be creative.

Design professional, Stefan Sagmeister says it best:

If you want to do projects that you really love, you have to be aware of how difficult they are to do. For a long time I wasn’t doing certain projects, but I thought I would love to do them if I had the time. Then when I had the time, I avoided doing them because of all the other stuff that I still needed to do, like e-mail. And it’s just so much easier to do e-mail than to actually sit down and think….we don’t have time because it’s convenient not to have the time, because we don’t want to challenge ourselves.

Re-claim your time

Time is precious and limited. What we do with ours is our choice. It’s time to break our bad habits and dig into the work that will ultimately fulfill us. Taking control of our time day-to-day is immensely empowering.