Seth Godin and Tim Ferris: What’s Your Job?

“What I do for a living is notice things.”

That one sentence is the most remarkable statement in the wonderful two-hour conversation Seth Godin has with Tim Ferris in a recent episode of Tim’s podcast.

Seth Godin, the many-times best-selling author, entrepreneur, speaker, teacher, iconoclast, and blogger. His job, in his words, is “to notice things.”

We should all have such a distilled version of the job that we really do (at work, in our families, in our lives).

If you had to boil it all down, like Seth does (“I notice things”), what’s your job?

In addition to answering that question for yourself, you could ask each person in your company to answer, then share those answers and discuss. It would be a great conversation.

(Bonus points for three words or less, but definitely no more than 10.)

 

The Flip from Gratitude to Taking it for Granted

Amazing, isn’t it, how when we pine for something, we feel a sense of longing and need so deeply.

Feeling the absence of some thing, we imagine what it would be like to have it. We picture all that we would do, and how grateful we would feel, if it came to pass…please!

And then it does.

How long does it take us to flip the switch? Once our mini-prayers are answered, how much time passes before we move on to the next thing? How long before we start taking that desperately-important-thing for granted?

Most of the time we move on too fast, falling into the trap of quickly switching off our gratitude.

Imagine if we stopped—really stopped—to notice.

We would be constantly overwhelmed with gratitude, not just for the new things that we discover are missing for us today, but for the wonder of this next breath, for the chance to see a sky this particular shade of blue, for the sight of a loved one’s smile and bright eyes.

Gratitude is one of our most important, foundational practices.

A simple, powerful meditation you can try is to sit, breathe and contemplate the things for which you feel grateful. Imagine and visualize your heart opening, and it does.

If don’t have a meditation practice, have no fear. Gratitude is there for you at any moment.

All you need to do is stop a bit more often to notice things around you, and then allow yourself to direct your conscious attention to your feelings of gratitude before they slip away.

We certainly don’t need big things to feel grateful.

But when even the big things we so desperately want don’t sustain our sense of gratitude, it’s time to pause, notice and reset.

Two Must-Do Steps to Improve Your Online Security

Let’s switch gears for a bit and deal with some housekeeping about your online security and safety.

I bet most of you haven’t done this and you’ll be happy you did.

These are the two most important things you can do, today, to improve online safety and protect your accounts from being hacked.

The first, easiest and most important is to set up two-factor authentication wherever you can. “Two factor authentication” is a terrible name that must have been made up by engineer.

Let’s call it “get-a-text-to-make-sure-you-are-you” instead.  Less scary, more accurate.

All “get-a-text-to-make-sure-you-are-you” means is that after entering your password (for your Gmail, for example) you get a code texted to your phone and you enter that too. You input this code only once per device, so it’s not a hassle.

Here are the steps for doing this in Gmail. Do this on your email client first, get comfortable with it, and then do it everywhere you can (especially online banking). The instructions for Gmail are (you can find this list, with pictures, here):

  1. Visit Google 2-Step Verification.
  2. Click ‘Get Started’, then click ‘Start Setup’
  3. Sign into your Gmail account.
  4. Click to turn on 2 step verification and enter a phone number under the “Voice or Text Message” option.
  5. Click ‘Send code’
  6. Enter the verification code sent from Google and click ‘Done’
  7. Check the ‘Trust this computer’ box if you’re on a trusted computer
  8. Click ‘Confirm’ to turn on 2-step Verification

Voila!

OK, you’re a two-step authentication wizard! This means that you’re ahead of the 90% of people who haven’t taken this step. Give yourself a hand! (the crowd roars!!)

Now, on to Step 2, because you are brave, and this is also easy.

It’s using a password manager. With a password manager, you remember one, and only one, uber-secure password. The password manager stores all your other passwords and logs you in automatically to every site, whether from your computer or your mobile phone.

I researched this in depth about a year ago, and then started using LastPass. I love it. Not only is it more secure, but the frustration of never remembering my login for websites I use infrequently (benefits logins for work, car rental, airline websites, hotel loyalty cards) is a thing of the past. No more old, worn piece of paper with passwords—or its electronic equivalent. And don’t pretend you don’t have one of those, because you do.

Here’s a 30 second intro video to LastPass.

Look at you, child of the 21st Century! You’re logging in in with your one uber-secure password–your “last password”–to access all your passwords from your laptop or cellphone. You’re an internet security superhero! Plus, on your phone you can use TouchID or FaceID to make this seamless.

(if you really want to pay it forward, sign up with this link and I get a month for free. But I just learned that when looking for useful links to add to this post…that’s not the point at all!)

In addition to being more convenient, because you no longer are scrounging for passwords, over time you’ll start using more secure passwords. And don’t even try to tell me you’re not using the same password for 52 different websites, because we both know you are.

I use the LastPast Premium plan which costs $36/year, but you can also start with the free version. Either way, once you start using LastPass you’ll wonder what took you so long. If you want the full details, check out Tech.co’s latest comparative review.

And, since you’re a human being and you’re about to click to the next thing and do this “later,” don’t. At least, at very very least, do two-factor authentication right now.

Do that instead of reading this NYTimes article—The Two Online Security Steps You Should Stop Putting Off—because it just reiterates everything I’m saying in this post.

My job isn’t necessarily to share new stuff, my job is to help you do important things.

So prove me right and go do it.

 

Want New Habits? Set Up More Reminders.

Change is only possible through the cultivation of new habits. Most of the time these habits grow or fade thanks to tiny, daily reminders.

We are, after all, trying to replace old habits with new ones, and we’re entitled to some help.

Reminders can be people or places, words, smells or feelings. They are formed through promises we make to others and intentions we set for ourselves.

Reminders nudge us to do the things we said we want to do—they push us forward when we feel like ignoring our best-laid plans, and, on the days we forget those plans entirely, reminders put them in front of us, in plain sight, where they’re impossible to ignore.

The reminder distracts us from the delusion that the choice of whether to do this new thing, today, is a big decision. It’s not. We already said this was important to us, and that decision won’t improve if we revisit it. Our job, today, is to start. Once we start, we tend to continue.

So whether it’s making a plan to meet someone for an early morning walk, chopping up the raw vegetables we want to eat instead of chips, a colleague giving us a supportive nod right before we walk on stage, or just whispering our intention to ourselves before a difficult conversation, one of our jobs is to set up reminders everywhere.

They help us turn our plans into habits, our habits into practices, and our practices into the new person we aim to become.

Commitments are a series of choices that we make again and again.

Reminders help make each of those choices a little more straightforward.

One Person

I remind myself that if this post can create a change for just one person, then it’s a good post and a good day.

One person, not hundreds or thousands or millions.

An individual who experiences a small shift and does something different because of it. Someone, somewhere, who takes words and ideas and turns them into positive action.

That shift doesn’t appear in the stats, the likes or the shares.

Those numbers measure something else, and maybe that something matters a bit, but it is poorly correlated with the thing I’d really like to measure: the number of people who are more hopeful today, more committed, more empowered to make a change they seek to make. The number of people who take one more step towards their mission to create positive change.

The measure of success is you and what you do.

Ain’t no stat for that, so why do I keep on checking the numbers?

And why do you?

Lightning (Almost) Never Strikes

New York Lotto Poker Scratch OffI’m sitting outside on a beautiful, sunny, early summer day eating my lunch on a bench in New York City.

Across from me, a guy is frantically scratching off Lotto cards: he buys four, tears the perforation, stacks the cards, and, one by one, scratches them off.

He loses.

He gets up, walks back to the newsstand, buys and scratches off another four.

He loses.

He gets up a third time, buys and scratches off another four. He gets up, walks back to the stand with one of the cards, and trades it for a new one—he won a new card.

He scratches that one off.

He loses.

To watch his intensity in scratching off these cards is to see the story he’s telling himself: each time, there’s a chance (however small) that he’ll hit it big.

That is true.

What’s also true is what happens in practice: he spends money, he scratches, he loses. He spends money, he scratches, he loses.

This behavior leads to that result.

Scratching off Lotto cards is yet another form of hoping that lightning strikes us.

It also comes in the many ways we play small, keep our heads down, and hope that someone will notice us or pick us:

When we don’t invest in relationships because we’d prefer to “just do our work” and hope to be seen.

When we define our role in terms of the tasks we’ve mastered, without expanding our own orbit.

When we’re unwilling to make any tough decisions that put us on the hook.

When we give ourselves lots of emotional outs, so that we never care enough to say “I made this, I’m proud of it, I hope you are too.”

Yes, it is mathematically possible that continuing to do the old things will lead to a spectacular, positive, different outcome.

But if this behavior has, so far, led to that (disappointing) outcome over and over and over again, it might be time to take a step back and consider: how much of how I’m showing up is a form of wishing that lighting will strike one day?

Want to Change? Then Commit 4 Days a Week

Four days a week is what we need to commit to something if we really want to grow.

Twice a week is enough for maintenance.

Three days a week is enough for improvement.

But four days a week creates transformative change.

It doesn’t matter what sort growth you’re working on–you might want to improve your sales, singing, soccer, swimming, saxophone or salsa dancing. Perhaps you’re working on tambourine, thoughtfulness, tact, tenacity, tap dancing or Telugu.

Give it four days a week and change will happen.

Also, while it goes without saying that 0 times a week gets you nowhere, be especially wary of once a week—it may be the most dangerous cadence of all if we care about improvement. At once a week, we feel like we’re doing something regularly, but we never change. It’s perfect fodder for the “I’ll never be good at this” story we like to tell ourselves.

We will be good at this, one day.

And 4 is the magic number to get us there.

GIIN 2019 Impact Investor Survey

The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) has just published its survey of the impact investing market. Each year at this time, I head straight for a chart that’s been, until now, buried in the back.

It’s the chart that talks about impact performance for the estimated $502 billion of impact investing assets. In my view, it’s the most important chart in the report: since “impact” investing exists to create impact, we should care most about whether we’re pulling that off.

Unfortunately, data on impact performance is hard to come by in this report. The only chart that speaks to it directly, the one that I flip to immediately, doesn’t have performance data. Instead, it asks impact investors to self-report their performance relative to their own expectations. It’s a start.

Our Performance, Relative to Expectations

So, how do we think we’re doing? Pretty great, it turns out.

This year, 98% of the impact investors who responded to the survey said their impact performance was in line with or exceeded their expectations. Put another way, just 5 of the 266 impact investors surveyed were brave enough to say that they were under-performing on impact (or, maybe only five have clear enough impact goals and data to make it possible to under-perform).

How to make sense of this? Mathew Weatherly-White proposed on Twitter that perhaps the sector is exclusively doing place-based impact investing in Lake Wobegon (which would lead to the next question: would our version of Garrison Keillor’s famous closing line be, “Well, that’s the news from Impact Investing, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the funds’ impact performance is above average.”)

What happened in 2019 that makes us feel we’re doing so exceptionally well? Nothing much, it turns out, as this is not a new development. In fact, the numbers in this chart have been essentially unchanged over the last three years. Here’s a composite chart based on the data in the 2017 to 2019 GIIN reports:

GIIN 2019 impact performance

Perhaps this is our sector’s version of “too big to fail”–if you’re a self-styled impact investor, you cannot, by definition, fail at meeting expectations for impact. This isn’t for cynical reasons: most impact investors don’t yet have transparent, concrete targets around the impact their capital is meant to create; they don’t have benchmarks of impact performance; and they don’t feel they have a useful, repeatable way to measure that impact in a way that works for them and their investees.

Our Opportunity

While these results could be seen as discouraging, there’s an opportunity here as well. The GIIN, for one, describes their own rising expectations of impact investors in the opening of the report: “Growth [of dollars invested] without impact is pointless…[we believe] impact investors should have specific impact intentions; consider evidence and impact data in the design of their investment strategies; [and] manage their impact performance.”

I’d underline the phrase “manage their impact performance” and add to it “and set and share impact targets and performance for their funds.”

Setting targets, and managing to those targets, isn’t an end in itself. It’s a beginning.

The act of setting goals, and then taking them seriously, is a leverage point that is hiding in plain sight. It has the potential to jump-start a meaningful cycle of learning and improvement. We all know that there’s no way for performance to reach its full potential without knowing what excellence means, without having a bar to strive for. Nor can we improve without useful data—the kind of data that tells us both how we’re doing today and how much separates us from the best performers in our field.

How do we get from here to there?

With something as important as “impact”–the conditions of people’s lives, the fate of our ecosystems and the planet –we cannot miss our opportunity to become great at what we do.

Becoming great at anything feels daunting at the outset, but, as always, our only job is to start at the beginning: by taking one small step, and then taking the next one.

In this case, we starts by setting real targets, taking them seriously, and doing what we can to gather meaningful data about how we’re doing relative to our goals. If we do this with intention and follow through with integrity, then, bit by bit, we will get better. Once we choose to walk this path, we will discover that our small steps take us far: in a year, and then in five years, and then in 10, we’ll be at a different level in our capacity to invest to create positive change, just as we are experts, today, at deploying capital.

This need not be burdensome, heavy or expensive. The best way to start is by going directly to the source—for example, if you’re making investments designed to help people, then talk to those people. Better yet, do it in a way that is respectful, fast, and light touch, one that gives comparable performance results for impact, just like we have for financial results.

Let’s aim higher, not because we have to, but because we can.

 

[PS if you’re wondering what this looks like in practice, our recent 60 Decibels whitepaper might help].

Dupe and Mask

I came across this idea on the TED blog. It’s a concrete solution to the universal problem of writing slides with way too many words on them, and then reading them.

First, a quick review of presentation tips.

To start, never read your slides, ever. Everyone in your audience can read, so why are you reading for them? Reading your slides is the best way to get people to disengage, and it also disempowers you as the speaker—you want us to pay attention to you and to what you say, and you don’t want to fight it out with your slides.

Second, if you’re giving (versus sending) a presentation, limit yourself to six words per slide. Yes, six. If this idea is new to you, check out Seth’s famous post on Really Bad Powerpoint. I know you’re telling yourself this is impossible, that there’s no way you could write a whole presentation with six words per slide (and great images). But it isn’t: one idea per slide, described by a great image with up to six words, is possible and powerful. Give it a shot.

And finally, if you’re putting more than six words on a slide, and you’re not going to read them, what do you do? Here’s where the dupe and mask comes in. The example on the TED blog is of a busy webpage in which the presenter wants to focus in on just one thing – views of this talk, in this example.

 

 

 

 

 

You could do this for any busy slide, and it’s a visual reminder to only present one idea per slide. Even if you don’t literally gray out 90% of the slide in your presentation, dupe and mask is a preparation tool to figure out the one idea this slide is here to communicate. Plus, it’s a great way to remember not to meander around, jumping from circle to circle, and fall back into the trap of sort-of-reading it.

A final suggestion is to keep things moving. Limit yourself to 20 seconds per slide. I just made that number up. It might be 25, or 30. It’s not two minutes though, unless you’re telling us a story (in which case you have all the time in the world). By keeping your internal clock attuned to how long you’ve spent on this one idea, you’re more likely to keep your audience with you by maintaining forward momentum.

What this all boils down to is this: your presentation is about the ideas you’re here to share. Whatever visual aids you bring as support should accentuate and illustrate, but they are not the story. You are the storyteller, and we’re hear to hear what you have to say.

The What, the How and the How Long of Mastery

One of the reasons we don’t acquire new skills in the way we’d like is because, ironically, we take on too much.

It goes like this. We decide one day that we’re motivated to learn something new. Armed with a vague and imprecise understanding of the new skill we’d like to develop, we engage in an (often haphazard) mimicry of that vision. Then, after trying for a bit and seeing few tangible signs of progress, we give up, falling back on a familiar internal chorus of “change is hard” and “I’m never going to be good at this.”

That’s patently untrue. You could be great at this with a different approach.

One way to rewire our ability to learn and grow comes through a clearer understanding of the What, the How and the How Long of mastery:

What to focus on.

How that focus will manifest.

How Long it will take to master the skill.

What to Focus On?

“What” is a massive point of leverage. The most important “what to focus on” rule is to stick to very small things. These are the types of things that, lacking the skill we aim to acquire, we can still learn and master.

This feels counter-intuitive, because we’ve been wired to think about big changes and big skills. Naturally, we fight against the notion of committing to something small, believing it won’t add up to anything. Yet we take for granted that the flawless abilities of any master—musicians, athletes, writers, public speakers—are comprised of thousands of micro-skills brought together seamlessly. Why would it be any different for great people managers, great listeners, great analysts?

The truth is, the only way we learn is with tiny, incremental changes in small things, coupled with enough follow-through to have these small changes accumulate over time. The specific small things we focus on will depend on the skill we aim to master, but a good rule of thumb is to find the foundational skills that have the most connection to the other pieces of the puzzle and go from there.

How to Focus?

The “How” of successful skill acquisition is marked by consistency, concentration and presence.

Consistency is the most important: each and every day, in very small doses, is a far more powerful approach to transformation than once a week on Saturdays for two hours.

This can seem obvious, but we rarely sign up for 15 minutes a day for 30 days straight. We think “that’s not enough time to (write a book, learn to swim better, become more creative),” when, in reality, this sort of daily commitment is transformational.

We should spend these 15 minutes with full concentration and presence, sweeping away both obvious external distractions and the more pernicious internal (mental) ones that hurt us more.

We do this by cultivating the skill of deep mental focus, learning to redirect our attention, every time it gets pulled away, to the task at hand.  In this act of re-direction, we can remind ourselves to maintain an attitude of curiosity and good humor, rather than one of self-criticism. Think of it like a moving meditation, and gently bring your wandering mind back to the micro-skill you are working on.

How Long?

“How Long” is the doozy.

BKS Iyengar Photo Credit: Jack Cuneo Yoga

Early on in my yoga practice there was a pose I simply couldn’t do, called Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana: standing up, you grab your big toe of one foot, lift your leg and straighten it in front of your hip.

It was the second year of my yoga practice, and, in the midst of a yoga retreat in which, thanks to 4+ hours a day of practice, I could nearly do the pose, I quietly predicted that I would be able to do that pose in another year’s time.

That was 18 years ago, and I still haven’t pulled it off. While some of this mis-estimation was a failure of the right kind of commitment on my part, mostly I grossly underestimated how much further I had to walk on that journey.

“How long” is the silent killer of improvement: the gap between our expected and actual progress creates a cycle of self-criticism, reinforcing our original, fixed story of ourselves. “This is impossible, for me,” is untrue, but it taunts us daily as we soak in small failures.

Each of us needs to find our own way to banish this demon, but it helps to remember that these things truly take time (18 years!!), and to remind ourselves that the journey is the whole point.

With this in mind, today, we commit again. We find our 15 minutes. We focus on the one thing we’ve committed to. We remember that working on this one thing, today, is the only way to be sure that we are moving forward.

Stay the course.