If you’ve tried to visit Idea Drunk in the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably been confronted with a warning screen from Google. The site got infected with malware a couple of months ago. I’m blaming getting drunk and surfing the internet without protection. But we got our penicillin, waited the for the infection to clear up and we’re back online.
A big shout out to Mike Freeman for putting in so much work to get everything back to normal. Now that Idea Drunk has a clean bill of health, I will be starting to update regularly again. Thank you for sticking with me through this. Enjoy!
Sometimes I write letters. Real ones … with a pen and paper. Letters that get sent to people in the mail. In reality, it’s not the most efficient form of communication. It requires a little bit of extra effort. But the extra effort required produces a disproportionate gain for the person getting a letter in the mail. They get the surprise of getting something their mailbox. They get a physical object. They know that I took extra time and effort to communicate with them. All of this is value that is above and beyond what is actually said in the letter.
All of this is better an email. Email is convenient, but it’s average. It doesn’t stand out. It’s boring.
FROM “MEH” TO GOOD
Mediocrity sucks. Sure, you can get by. You can survive. But you don’t succeed by being average.
The good news is that moving from “average” to “good” is easy. It only requires an extra 10% effort to distinguish yourself from the masses of mediocrity.
To accomplish any task, whether it be in your work or personal life, requires a base amount of dedication. You have to put in SOME time and effort into it. Most people coast along trying to stay between the lines. Trying to be normal. Putting in the minimum amount of effort in order to be average.
If you’re already average, than you’re doing it the base amount. To distinguish yourself from from the average all you have to do is add the extra 10%. Run the extra windsprint. Get into work 15 minutes earlier. Say “please” and “thank you”. All of those things are easy enough to do, but allow you to separate yourself from the pack. To stand out. To rise above the average.
1. At The Bar
If you’re looking to meet a romantic interest at the bar, there’s a certain baseline. If you’re a guy, all you have to do is stand out from the crowd of lazy and shy guys out there. You have to do the simple things that that none of the other guys do. The simplest? Iron your shirt. Most guys don’t pay attention to their clothes and go out dressed like slobs. A close second? Smile. Most guys look nervous, bored or stoic if they’re uncomfortable at the bar. The third? Get off your ass and talk to a girl. Okay, so this one is probably more than 10% of extra effort, but it definitely helps you stand out, as 90% of guys are too scared to take this step.
2. At Work
The average worker bee comes in, clocks the minimum number of acceptable hours and then rolls out. Sure, they’ll stay late when a project requires it or push through the weekend if there’s a tight deadline, but that’s it. They don’t want to be there. They don’t want to do work. To stand out and show that you give a shit, show up 15 minutes earlier and stay 30 minutes later than the norm. It’s only 10% more time than the typical work week, but you’ll be infinitely more productive. Without other people there to distract you, you’ll be able to focuse to kick start your day and wrap up everything before leaving.
If you want a competitive edge on the pitch, you have to train for it. Your teammates are doing it. Your competitors are doing it. The guys who want to take your spot on the field are doing it. But if you’re training as a team, chances are that you’re all doing the same workout. So stay late and do those extra windsprints. Work that extra 30 minutes a week on your pass or your shot. Those little elements will add up to make you a much better player on the field.
Going from average to good isn’t difficult. You don’t need any special skills or exceptional brain power. You just need to put in that extra little bit of effort. And that extra 10% will provide you with exponential results that eclipse the additional work you put it. The tougher task is going from good to great. But that’s a whole different story and a whole lot more work.
Over a decade ago, I was a rower in high school. We were doing time trials on an erg and it was there that I learned one of my most important lessons. The pride of the crew was to push yourself so hard on the erg that you puked. It was a stupid adolescent way of proving that you could put mind over matter.
“Shut up body. You don’t know what your limits are.” It was a foolish sense of empowerment and control.
But the problem with pushing that hard your form goes to shit. You’re expending so much energy, but not going as fast as you should be for your output. So you’re inefficient. You’re slow. And then a coach told me something that changed everything – don’t forget to breathe.
It happens when we’re concentrating on something so much that we forget to breathe. We forget to relax and give our bodies what they need most – air. We allow our determination to deprive our muscles and brain of precious oxygen. And this is what prevents us from functioning at 100%.
So the next time that you’re facing a wall and stuck, don’t forget to breathe. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the field, in a race or in the boardroom. Don’t forget to let a little oxygen in your system with some deep breathes.
I play a lot of ultimate frisbee. I’ve written about it before here and here. Recently, I was selected for a high level men’s team that represents Montreal. They’re good. The level of play is higher than any other team that I’ve been a part of. They’ve won national championships and they’ve gone to worlds. For my ultimate frisbee career, this was a move up for me. When this happened, I was REALLY excited. It would give me a chance to learn from a group with a high level of experience, strategy and skill.
And then something interesting happened – they changed my position. I normally play a cutter, because I’m quick on the field. They changed me to a handler. The football equivalent would be moving a wide receiver to play quarterback. When this happened, I almost shit my pants. I had no idea why they thought that I would be a good handler. I had basically no experience in that role. I didn’t know the positioning, strategy or throws required. I was in fear of seriously screwing up and getting benched.
The stark reality of promotions is that people usually get pushed into positions of greater responsibility by being really good at the tasks that they already do. The challenge is that the new position often involves a completely different skill set than what was required from the previous role. Basically, because you were good at one thing, you’re asked to do something completely different. Because you’re an awesome art director, all of a sudden you’re expected to manage creative teams and guide other people’s work. But being good at concepting and art direction doesn’t give you the skill set to manage people. It’s a totally different beast. You have to deal with egos, motivation, creative opinions and strategy.
When faced with a host of new responsibilities without the proper training, it’s easy to panic. Since you just got the new position, you sure as fuck don’t want to screw it up. It increases your stress levels and distracts from actually performing. To move up gracefully, and surviving the handicap of not having the full skill set for a new role, there are five key things to do:
1. Stick To What You’re Good At
The first thing to do is to stick to what you’re good at. The skills that got you to where you are. The experience that got your selected. When you first enter into a new role, a big mistake is to try and prove that you can do everything. The truth is that everyone expects you to be able to be able to those things that you haven’t learned yet. By trying to do them without guidance or experience, you’re just going to prove that you CAN’T do them to everyone. So, lay low on your weaker points for the first little while. For the first big game, you want to stick to your core skill set. If you’re fast on the field and can only throw with 95% accuracy within 30 meters, then stick to that.
2. Get A Mentor. Or Two.
The next step is to get a mentor. The goal is to find someone who is willing to teach you the ropes and fill out your skill set. You want someone who has been there before. The good thing about a team or a big organization is that there are a lot of people who can help you out. And don’t be afraid to approach a couple of people. Some people can help you with throwing. Some people with cutting. With positioning. With defense. Ask everyone what you need to do better in order to play better on the team. Get constant feedback, tips and improvement. The goal is to get enough tips so that when you practice, you are practicing the right things.
3. Practice. A Lot.
To fill in the skill gaps required in your new position, you need to practice. A lot. It’s all about repetition. Getting enough experience under your belt that the movements are easy and automatic. The goal is to have near-perfect execution in practice. When it comes to game time, you can focus on the important things, like reading the opposition and adjusting your strategy. This step is often the toughest, because there is no shortcut. You just need to put in the hours to gain the experience. Dirk Nowitzki’s recent NBA playoff record of nailing 24 straight free throws was a product of practice. He credited it all to a couple of late night shooting sessions during their eight day game-less stretch in the playoffs. He just put in the reps.
4. Game Time – Introduce New Skills.
After a couple weeks of practice, you have a shiny new skill set that you want to incorporate into your game. But treat the introduction of those skills as a test. If they work, then keep using them. If not, then try to figure out what when wrong and fine tune. If worst comes to worst, go back to the practice stage. Keep on working on your skills until they’re game ready. There is no need to force new elements in before they’re ready. The key is to introduce them as a part of your game, and than carry on with the swagger that you had all along.
5. Fake It ‘Til You Make It
Until you have the full skill set required, keep on faking it until you make it. Don’t show the weaknesses in your game to your opponents on the field or to your clients in the boardroom. Just keep on practicing and working the extra hours until you get those skills locked in. People always assume that if you’re on the team or in the room, that you’ve earned your way there. Don’t prove them wrong by volunteering the information to show that you’re not.
Getting the call up is exciting and terrifying at the same time. Whether you’re moving into a new role at work or on the playing field, the emotions are the same. There is the enthusiasm at the opportunity to move up to the next level. There is the fear of failing now that the stakes are that much higher.
In order to be successful in a new position, you need to round out your skill set. But you don’t have to do it all at once. The reason you got the call up is because of what you’ve already proven that you can do. You can take your time and introduce the new elements as you get more comfortable with your role and yourself.
Being exceptional doesn’t happen overnight. You have to work hard. You need to bust your ass. You need to put the hours in. According to Gladwell’s book “Outliers” the magic number is 10,000 hours.
But getting to 10,000 hours is intimidating. If you invest an hour a day, it would take over 27 years to become exceptional under this premises. That seems like a long time to me. Until I realized something – amazing people aren’t awesome at everything. They have strengths and weaknesses. Steve Jobs is a visionary, but an asshole. Dirk Nowitzki is one of the best shooters in the NBA, but sucks on defense.
The reason why amazing people are valued is because their strengths eclipse their weaknesses. Nobody cares that Jobs is abrasive if he continues to deliver leading innovative product design.
INVEST YOUR TIME WISELY
I’m not saying that you don’t need to put in the hours – you do. But invest your time wisely. Focus 80% of your time on the improving your strengths. Make them even better. Become impossible to beat. Create such a big advantage for yourself that nobody can touch you when you’re playing your strengths. Then spend 20% of time on getting your weaknesses up to snuff.
In an interview with Steven Stamkos, one of the the youngest NHL players to have a 50 goal season, he talk about how most people spend 80% of their time trying to improve their weaknesses. That leaves only 20% of their training time to work on their strengths. The result is that their weaknesses are bumped up to be acceptable. But because they are neglecting their strengths, those strengths suffer and drop down to par. The result is that their skill sets become normalized. They become average players with average abilities.
Who wants to be an average player? By focusing your time on improving strengths, you can increase the advantage you hold over your competition. This allows you to dominate the competition and become a truly exceptional player.
This philosophy doesn’t apply only to sports. It applies to your career, art, music and relationships. In all of those fields, you will have natural strengths and weaknesses. You may be charming with clients, but not a strategic thinker. You may be a great abstract painter, but awful at representing details in your art. You may be a fantastically caring romantic partner, but a terrible cook. It’s all good.
The reason why people will reward your work is because it’s exceptional and it’s different. Spend most of your time increasing the good instead of trying to decrease the suck.
From the video listed here, I’ve been convinced that Steven Stamkos is a cool kid. He seems humble, hardworking and appreciative of where he has been able to get himself.
I especially like the fact that he found humility getting benched his first season. Instead of being a spoiled hockey brat, he busted his ass to get improve, get more playing time and score earn a 50 goal season. I would definitely trade training lessons for marketing lessons with that guy.
An embarrassing picture from 10 years ago of me and Derek post water balloon fight.
When I was younger, my high school girlfriend threw me a surprise birthday party. Needless to say, it was awesome. It was well planned out beforehand. She asked my parents if it was cool to have it at our house. She arranged for all of my friends to show up and hide. She got a cake. There were even water balloons filled for my friends to “welcome” me to the party.
And then it went horribly awry. We were supposed to meet up with my friend Louis to get a ride back to the house. But his car was wrecked that morning, so he was running about two hours late. And I think we were wandering around East Hastings in Vancouver – not the safest neighbourhood. So, all of my friends were hanging out at the house getting bored and we had no way to get there. The success of the party was in jeopardy.
But I had no clue that any of this was happening. I was just wandering around downtown with my girlfriend. Nothing special. And then when we got dropped off at the house, I walked towards the back door with absolutely no clue that I was about to be pelted with about a dozen water balloons. Surprise!
And then I came to the realization (as I was dodging water balloons in my backyard) that all of my friends were there to surprise me and wish me a happy birthday. Best gift ever.
With surprises, there’s often a lot of preparation and little things that can go wrong. But in my case, the little details didn’t matter. The long wait in a sketchy neighbourhood downtown didn’t matter. It was the surprise that mattered. It was the surprise that was the gift and the thought that was the source of the happiness.
THE BENEFITS OF SURPRISE
The key to a great surprise is that it’s an unexpected piece of happiness. It’s an interruption of the typical pattern. Good surprises can delight people. They can interrupt your customer’s routine or interaction and radically shift their view of your brand.
And a surprise shows your customers that you care. It shows that you’ve been thinking of them. That you appreciate them enough to put in the extra effort. That makes people happy. And aren’t we all trying to foster a tribe of happy customers?
And surprises make for great conversation. They create stories. Stories that your customers can share. Tell their friends about. Stories that will build your reputation. Differentiate you from your competition. Demonstrate that you care about your customers. And provide justification for you to charge a premium for your services.
HOW TO DO IT RIGHT
1. Take time to plan the surprise. Base it on a simple thought or insight about your target. It doesn’t need to be expensive, but it should show that you’re thinking about them and that you care. KLM knew that waiting for planes was boring. So, they found a way of making it exciting for their customers.
2. Keep a lid on it. Whatever you do, do NOT spoil it. Don’t hint at the surprise. The main benefit of a surprise is the fact that it’s unexpected. By hinting that something is going down, you’re opening a window to expectations and imagination. And if you can’t meet those expectations, you won’t be able to deliver the same level of happiness.
3. Execute the surprise. Since it’s unexpected, you never know how people are going to react. They could be blissfully happy, indifferent, speechless and shocked or even angry. Be ready for a range of reactions and be prepared to roll with whichever one you’re faced with.
4. Document the surprise. Take pictures afterwards. Or a video. Make it easy for the person to structure it into a story if they want to tell other people about it. Or give them a memento so that they can remember the moment if they want to revisit it themselves.
Recently, when I was indulging my Lomography habit, I went to purchase some film online. I went through to the checkout. I didn’t use a discount code or membership offer or anything special. But then they gave me a free notebook and roll of film! For no reason! It wasn’t an offer that was plastered all over their website like “if you spend $40, you get a free roll of film.” It was just something nice that they decided to give away as a gift to surprise people when they’re checking out. It cost them almost nothing, but it was 100% unexpected. And I loved it.
I went to grab lunch today at a greasy spoon best known for its delicious poutine and delectably inexpensive hot dogs. It’s a small joint. One of those places where the owner works the counter and they only accept cash.
I was standing in line to place my order when the lady in front of me was unable to pay. She only had plastic on her and this place only accepts cash. The nearest cash machine is about a 5 minute walk away. She would have to walk all the way there and back and come back to a cold lunch. Way too much effort.
Instead of making her do that (and risk losing her business), the owner said that it was cool. She could just come back and pay them tomorrow.
How amazing is that? He TRUSTS her.She wasn’t looking for a handout. But he was able to make a quick judgment call that keeps her as a customer, gains her gratitude and impresses the rest of us standing in line.
It’s awesome when people are empowered to make these snap decisions. When corporations allow people to trust their customers and bend the rules. Because when a business or a brand trusts you with something, you begin to trust them. You see your business as a relationship, not a transaction.
With a little consideration and the cost of delayed payment on a hot dog, this place was able to earn the trust or a customer for life. What’s the small cost that you could cover to do the same?
Lately, I’ve been able to do a lot of thinking in the subway. The frigid Montreal air keeps me awake on my morning commute and it has resulted in a lot of people watching and observation. The subways are packed at rush hour. Literally. I have to awkwardly squeeze my way through the doors and apologize to people in broken French about getting slush on their snow boots.
Upon the exit, people pour out of the trains and onto the platforms. In the huge crowd of people, everyone starts to move like lemmings. Heads down, following the person in front of them. Not really aware of their surroundings. They’re just on their way to work and not too man. Well, almost everyone.
Then there are those who walk quickly. They bob and weave and pierce through the crowd. They are constantly looking for a way to get ahead of the people in front of them.
Those who walk quickly:
- Keep their heads up and their eyes forward
- Are assertive
- Have a goal/destination
- Don’t get drawn into the slow pace of the crowd or their surroundings
When the world around you slows down, it takes a motivated person to keep on moving forward. To keep on looking for better ways of doing things. To push yourself to march to a different beat, when everyone is following an invisible conductor of mediocrity.
Kudos to the fast walkers. Even if you don’t know where you’re going, at least you’ll realize it before everyone else.
A couple of weeks ago, I was taking my normal subway trek home from workl. There is usually a busker or street performer playing in the subway trying to gain the attention (and money) of the weary masses rushing home. On a normal day, they would be playing some crap that I don’t really understand or Green Day. Either way, it blends into the background – it’s the same stuff day after day. If it’s a different performer, nobody notices.
Until this guy showed up. He looked normal. He didn’t have an amazing voice and wasn’t particularly good on the guitar. But he was playing the Super Mario Brothers theme song! People stopped and took notice. They pulled out their phones and recorded videos. A couple of people dropped fivers in his guitar case. He wasn’t just a busker. He was a star in the subway and he was raking it in.
What made this guy successful at busking? Easy. He was different. He was nostalgic. He stood out.
He wasn’t a good singer. He wasn’t an amazing guitarist. He wasn’t dressed up in a cool costume. But it didn’t matter. People are willing to overlook a lack of skill for something different. The iPad didn’t have a front facing camera. It wasn’t the easiest to type on. It didn’t run flash. So? People don’t care because it’s cool and it’s different.
The admissions officers a top college will overlook an average GPA if you started your own environmentally friendly product line.
The recruiter at your dream job will overlook limited work experience if you are a world reknown blogger and have written a book in your field.
So that’s what I learned from a dude on the subway – it’s better to deliver on one thing that differentiates you from your competition than to focus on being “just as good” on what they’re already doing.
INFLUENCERS is a short documentary that explores what it means to be an influencer and how trends and creativity become contagious today in music, fashion and entertainment.
The film attempts to understand the essence of influence, what makes a person influential without taking a statistical or metric approach. It’s opinion. It’s hearsay. But it’s also awesome. One of the most insightful quotes from the film comes from a creative director of a fashion house. He says, “Places where people assemble for PASSION is where you see the most influence.”