The man who made up stories

Once you a time, there was a man who liked to make up stories. He liked it so much he did it all the time.

When he heard people talking, he would imagine what they meant and why they said it. When he saw clouds in the sky, he imagined rain coming.

Very often, he was the hero of his own stories. When the characters he had invented spoke to him, he would make up replies to advance his plot. With the fear of rain, he would carry an umbrella. Sometimes he got what he wanted and would call it a good story. Sometimes, he got wet and called it a bad story.

One day, he hit his head and lost his ability to make up stories. 

All of a sudden, there were no more characters and he was no longer the hero. There was no more plot and no more story. Nothing was good or bad anymore. There was only the truth.

 – – The beginning – –

A 5-step process for handing-over work to other people

We all have things to do. Some of us have lists and lists of things to do. But that doesn’t mean everything on the list should be done by us, ourselves, alone. Before you take any action, slow down, look at your to-do list, and consider the following process for handing-over work to other people…

 

STEP ONE: Figure out what is for you and what is not… Ask 3 questions

What must I do myself?

  • These are the things that it would be wrong to give to anyone-else. This is your core functional and personal business. You can’t hand-over a personal medical check-up to someone else and you shouldn’t be handing over strategic decision making either.

What could I give to someone else?

  • Strictly speaking, this is everything left over after the first question. But its worth asking again as it gets you thinking about why you could hand it over. Sure, I like the grass to be cut in nice straight lines and sure I enjoy making that report, but I certainly could ask someone else to do these things.

What should I give to someone else?

  • Depending on your vision of work, your answers may vary. If you are the “Tim Ferris type” you might think that everything that could be handed-over should be handed-over. If you are feeling guilty about workload, you might feel that you should be doing it all yourself. This question is about the reasons why handing-over work could be the best thing for you, for others and for the organisation. Of all the things you could hand-over to others, what things should you give away so you can focus on bringing more value to the organisation? What jobs will give someone else the opportunity to grow and bring more value to the organisation?

 

Possibly, as you tried to answer these questions, you were thinking: “But there is no-one else!” and so the answers went as follows: Everything, nothing, not-applicable.

To really use this process, you need to forget all of this during step one and just move forward. Imagine a perfect world where you were surrounded with opportunities to hand-over work. Now go back and answer the questions!

 

STEP TWO: For whatever tasks you have decided should be handed-over to someone else, define the competence required for the job

Now you have listed tasks/jobs that you ought to give to someone else, answer the following 3 questions for each of them:

  • What knowledge is required to do this job?
  • What skills are required to do this job?
  • What attitude is required to do this job?

 

This step is all about defining requirements for the job. There may be other requirements like time, resources, specific environmental requirements… but right now, we are trying to imagine what competence someone would display in doing the job. Don’t worry yet about who does or does not have this knowledge, skill or attitude. Just name it.

 

STEP THREE: Think about the right people for the work

This is usually the point where people say again “But there is no-one!”. And telling you again to “imagine a perfect world” is too much to handle. So let’s get realistic about people with the following 5 questions. Answer them as they appear. Don’t get stuck on asking whether those people want to do the work or not…

  • Of the people who work for you, who could be good for this job and why?
  • Of the people in your immediate surroundings, team or department, who could be good for this job and why?
  • Of people in any part of your organisation, who could be good for this and why?
  • Of anyone else you know outside the organisation, who could be good for this and why? (yes, ANYone!)
  • Of anyone anywhere currently unknown (!?) who could be good for this and why?

 

Reading these questions, some people will find them ridiculous. But taking the time to ANSWER them often provides new insight. You might realise that this thing should never have been on your to-do list in the first place. Or that its time to recruit. Or that you have a bigger network than you thought. Or that your lower-level tasks can actually be awesome motivating work for someone else…

 

STEP FOUR: Take care before you take action

If by now you are ready to hand-over work to someone, just take a moment to define the risks associated with that:

  • How could this all go wrong? How likely is it that it will go wrong?
  • What will be the impact of this work not being done well?

 

Be careful with these questions. If you are into controlling everything or worried about letting people down, its very easy at this point to just think: “The risk is too high – I’d better do it myself”. But by now you should have realised that doing everything yourself is not the best solution ..or simply not possible.

 

STEP FIVE: Hand-over the work in the right way

Now it is time to actually give this work to someone else, take one last moment to consider the following 3 questions:

  • When is the right time to hand-over this work?
  • What support do you need to help you get the support you need?
  • How will you communicate the job hand-over?
  • How will you follow up on the work?

 

If you have followed the 5-steps and actually answered all the questions above, you might have realised a few things about yourself, the people you work with or your organisation. You might even be ready to hand-over some work.

 

Good luck!

 

 

Creating customer delight

In December last year, I delivered some training in Poland for the European Graduate Programme of one of my clients. Arriving at the hotel after a stupidly long-day of airports and travel, I discovered 2 things: The hotel had a spa with pool and I really should have packed my swimming trunks😦

 

I asked if the hotel could give me some (clean) trunks from lost-property. With a big smile and much sympathy, the lady at reception told me they could not. But she did offer to arrange a taxi to a large shopping centre just down the road. Already tired, hungry and not motivated, I declined and added: “It doesn’t matter. It’s not a problem.”

 

At that very moment, the hotel general manager had just arrived. He asked “Is everything OK?” and I told him that everything was perfect, I was just disappointed not to profit from the pool at the end of a long day. He looked me straight in the eyes and said: “I will go to the shop and buy you some trunks. What size would you like?”

 

As a polite English man, I felt this was too much to ask and replied that it was OK, not necessary. Again, he looked me straight in the eye and added “I want to help you and I would like you to be able to really profit from our hotel. Please, let me go.”

 

And he did.

 

While he was gone, I ate a great Indian room-service meal and wondered how I would deal with paying for the trunks, whilst not having it on the hotel invoice I would be sending my client and accountant.

 

45 minutes later, a knock came at the door and a smiley face gave me a package: Wrapped in Christmas paper were my new Adidas swimming trunks with a note that they were offered with the compliments of the hotel and wishing me a good stay.

 

In this example, the service was amazing. Conscious of my situation, the hotel went way beyond the standard to satisfy my needs. Since that day, I have been telling everyone about this hotel, posting videos and comments on their Facebook page with my great review.

 

Of course, not everyone can give their time (or swimming trunks) for free. And customer delight doesn’t necessarily come from giving (in) to everything your customer asks. But if you are in the business of serving clients, there is surely something to be learnt here: Whatever your work and whomever your client, are you (not) delivering against expectations or are you creating delight and loyalty with real care, long-term relationships and results?

 

 

ps – when I went back to that hotel last month, I found an inflatable swimming pool ring and arm-bands waiting on my bed🙂

 

 

The depressed inventor

The depressed inventor hadn’t always been depressed.

For most of his life he had been really happy.

As a little boy, he loved to invent clever ways to fix problems. Once he invented a cat flap to feed the family cat when she came home in the morning. And to get to school more quickly, he invented a really big catapult to throw him from his house to the school yard (although Mummy said “No” to that one).

 

For every problem, he invented a solution.

And that pleased him very much for many years.

 

Until the day he ran out of problems to solve.

At first, he thought it would be a good moment to take a holiday. Surely when he came back, he would find lots of new things to invent?

But when he got home, he still couldn’t find anything to work on.

Until he had an idea: He would invent a problem!

For days and days, he worked very hard at inventing his problem.

No time to eat, no time to sleep. So much work to be done!

 

Finally, he was satisfied: He had a problem to solve!

So he set to work to invent a solution.

No time to eat, no time to sleep. So much work to be done!

He read lots of books and talked to lots of people. He made lots of notes and did lots of sums.

 

But after lots of time, he still hadn’t invented a solution.

And so he started to get sad. And sadder still. And sadder still, under he was completely depressed.

For the first time in his life, he didn’t know what to do.

So he went to bed and slept. And slept. And slept some more.

 

After a few weeks, the doorbell rang.

The depressed inventor dragged himself downstairs.

At the door stood Benny the Baker, who wanted to know why he hadn’t come to buy any bread for so long. And his little girl Jenny, who asked “Why do you look so sad?”

So the depressed inventor explained. He told Jenny how he loved to invent things to fix problems and how he had always worked hard to make everything work just so. When he told her how he had run out of problems, little Jenny started to smile.

As he started to explain how he had invented a problem, little Jenny started to giggle.

And when he said he was sad because he couldn’t invent anything to fix his problem, she just burst into laughter!

The depressed inventor looked at Jenny all seriously and asked: “What’s so funny?”

 

And so little Jenny told him:

“It’s so silly. You can’t fix your problem because you just made it up! And the more you work on it, the worse it gets. But it doesn’t even exist, because you just made it up! Your problem is that you had no problems and made up a problem so now you have a real problem because you can’t solve your problem. But there’s still no problem. It’s so silly!”

 

All at once, the depressed inventor understood.

Little Jenny was right.

And he started to smile again as he remembered he had made up his own problem.

And that’s not really a problem at all !

 

THE END

Facing freelance fear for the future

When I started out freelance in October 2008, I knew setting up business for myself involved risk: “Will I be able to win clients? Will I survive? Am I better off with the security of employment for someone else?”

On day 1, I had a contract for 11 days work at 350 euros before VAT. Enough to pay the bills for the first month. But I asked myself: “Will I have enough work in November?”

I started the next month with the same (renewed) contract and some other new work . I asked myself: “Will I have enough work in January?”

Eventually, as I saw some stability, I managed to stop worrying too far in the future. (Today, for example, I know that I have enough work until February 2016.) I started to think the sky was the limit and wondered how far I could increase my revenue. I even congratulated myself on being able to take on so much and make it work. At that point, things became interesting and the fear changed form…

 

I would win more-and-more work and invoice more-and-more, but I started to feel the pressure of too much work. But I told myself  that this was “a luxury problem” .. I should be thankful the work is there. I was afraid to say “no”. If they asked for me, I had to make it happen. If I said “no”, it would all fall apart sometime later. This is how my work progressed…

revenue-worktime 1

Proudly, I would tell myself I was working and invoicing more-and-more and that business was great. But a look at the facts told me something was wrong:

  • I was working minimum 60 hours a week, every week
  • I was too tired to enjoy any of my non-work time
  • People said I was on the road to burn-out
  • I was making money, but I didn’t feel like I had any control
  • I worried constantly that if I said “no”, people would go away and I would lose that business in the future
  • I was “successful” on paper, but not happy

 

 

For a while, I held the course. It worked.

Then it didn’t. I couldn’t do it anymore.

 

The next year (2013), I had a “crash” and couldn’t work for a few months. When I went back to work, I struggled to deal with the commitments I had made prior to that. But I wouldn’t dare go back to those clients and say “I can’t do it”. That would be breaking a promise. And I had already let them down by the taking time off. So on I went. The yearly revenue went up even more despite the time off. And although the average work time went down on the year (due to my absence) my actual week looked even worse then ever.

 

I wondered if I had learnt anything, but in the back of my mind I had at least started to ask some good questions:

  • How can I call myself successful if I’m not happy or healthy? “Success” in terms of what?
  • How much of my life do I want to spend “working”?
  • What work do I WANT to be doing? If I was only doing what I liked most, what would it be?
  • How much money do I need to live how I want to live? Why would I need more than that?
  • If I say “No” to anything that doesnt fit the work I want, or anything unnecessary to meet a quarterly financial need, what could be the worst that might happen?

 

Not knowing all the answers was tough. It fueled the fear (“Don’t screw it up”). But I was past the point of no-return: Assumptions had to be tested to find a new balance.

 

Today, the graph has progressed on both measurements, most importantly the average weekly work-time:

revenue-worktime 2

 

Here’s what I learnt from my crash:

  • Its not healthy to consider success in terms of “more”. Success is achieving what you really want or need and no more. In terms of my revenue, I no longer think “Can I invoice more?” but rather “Do I now have enough?” If the answer is “yes”, I won’t take on any more work. I know that its possible in the short-term, but more work and more money is not the goal. For the years to follow, I have no intention at all to see those blue bars go up.
  • I now set “work-life balance” goals more in terms of “life” than “work”. What do I want to be doing with my time on Earth, both in and (now importantly) out of work time?  (The answer by the way is “having fun” and “relaxing”). I want to see those red bars go down even more. Or at least to consider that all “work” is “not work” (fun).
  • I made a decision on the financial worth of a day of my life. Here’s how: If I want to be doing 123 when I’m not working and I need XYZ euros to sustain that, how much do I need to earn while I AM working? And if I divide that by the maximum time I am willing to work, what is my required day-rate? This is a very different approach to “What did I used to invoice?”, “How much will they pay me?” or “What is the market price?”
  • Although previous experience made me think I knew how things worked, testing assumptions has proved me wrong. For example, when I clients came along, I tested the assumption of what they would be willing to pay for my time. That’s why the blue bar HAS still gone up.
  • I fired a few clients. Those who weren’t bringing me joy in my day-to-day interactions had to go, as did those who weren’t willing to pay for my time (life). Blue bar up; red bar down.
  • I started to say “No” trying to trust myself and the universe that it would all be OK.

 

The results in terms of finance and work-time are in the graph above, but the important results cannot be seen in numbers:

  • My time off work is spent sitting in the sun, playing with my kids, sleeping more and making music
  • This summer was the first in 7 years where I didn’t “fall over and die” from exhaustion in the first 2 weeks off
  • I have more focus in the jobs I take on and more fun day-to-day doing the work
  • I still have my annual 15 weeks holiday🙂

 

“So, Dan, what’s your point?” I hear you ask? “Why write this?”

I guess for those that don’t need to hear this experience, there is nothing to learn. But if you are lost in your quest for freelance success, victim of your own ability to please your clients or worried that your work-life imbalance is not sustainable, maybe this is the point:

 

Be clear on what you want out of freelance life, focus on that in every interaction, test your assumptions and dare to take your cake and eat it.

 

But, in the words of some wise Chinese tourist-site manager…

chinese wisdom

 

Thanks for reading

D

No more self-employed lazy guilt

As a self-employed person, I have a tendency to work, work, work. But right now, it’s 9.15am and I still haven’t “done anything”. Is this bad?

Well, first of all: It is not true. Having gotten up at 6.30, I packed my kids off to school, spent 45 minutes exercising and have since been reading “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel whilst eating a healthy breakfast that I enjoyed taking the time to prepare. So I have done something.

But let’s pretend that I had just rolled over in bed, left the family to it and done nothing but sleep. Yesterday, I only did a 2-hour coaching session and I just spent all of July and August on holiday. That doesn’t sound like doing much. Is that OK? Is that what self-employed people do?

Last week, I read an article about the morning rituals of awesome entrepreneurs like Jack Dorsey or Mr Branson. Up at 5.30. Sport. Meditation. Family etc.. Inspired by that this morning, I thought I should probably now sit down and seriously meditate on my top 3 priority business objectives for the day, week and year to come. I should make plans for new services or products, improved efficiency and more profit. That’s what successful business types do in the morning, right?

But quite frankly, I can’t be bothered. I don’t need to do anything. Tomorrow and Friday I’ll be delivering training all day, my revenue-winning calendar is as fully-booked as I’d like it to be and I don’t have anything hanging over my head. Except the “self-employed-lazy-guilt”, that is.

And then the phone rings. Is it a new client calling to ask me if I’m available for training next Wednesday? What will I say? Strictly speaking, I’ll only be lazing around doing nothing but fuelling my own pleasure. Will I be able to say “No”? Can I tell the truth? Or should I say I’m fully-booked? What if he takes a day off himself and sees me at the cinema at 11am? Or running in the park? Where will I hide?

Or maybe it’s my mother, calling to tell me I’m a lazy freelancer and I can’t possibly expect to be successful if I just hang-around doing nothing when work could be done.  “Everybody has to work”. “You can’t expect to just take random days off in the week. Your father could never do that.” Or even worse: “Don’t say ‘No’ to work now. You never know if you’ll still have more next year. You’re lucky people ask you. You should say ‘Yes’.”

Fortunately, it’s an unknown number. The stuff of voicemail. I don’t answer it. Today, I am calling all the shots. As I was promised when I read “Freelancing for Dummies” all those years ago, it would be great if I could do whatever I want whenever I want. If I chose to work for myself, it’s because I thought I could be a better boss to myself than anyone else. Well, I want a boss who loves my happiness more than the cash, productive hours or time-filling. Who is happy with achieving targets and going home early. Correction: Who doesn’t even call it “early” because that implies some form of 9-to-5 ritual just for the sake of it. 

For the new season ahead, my boss is going to tell me take it as easy as possible. “The clients are satisfied and so should you be. And even if they aren’t, you can’t please everyone all the time.” Relax. It’s not lazy. It’s awesomely efficient, minimum effective dose. It’s long-term sustainable, more rounded and balanced. You deserve it. Not because you worked so hard before, but just because you deserve it. Full stop.

So go lay on the grass for a while.. 

Super Dad inspires again !

When I was a boy my Dad was amazing.

At the end of a long day somewhere, as I would drift in-and-out of consciousness in the back seat, he would pilot the car home. I was unaware at the time as to what he was really doing. He was simply an amazing Dad who could drive. When we got home, he was use his super-Dad powers to scoop my 20 kilograms of dead weight into his arms and take me to bed, somehow magically getting me into my pyjamas without waking me up.

Between October and December, he would crack nuts, using only a nutcracker and his super-Dad strength. I couldn’t do this.

At the weekend or some evenings, he would magically remember all the things he needed to do to make spaghetti bolognese, which everyone would agree was brilliant.

And he had a great collection of music. Loads of different stuff. He introduced me to James Taylor, Kris Kristofferson, ELO and god only knows what else. He was even the first person I knew to dig Nirvana.

Today, I am a Dad.

I drive a car, carry my kids to bed and introduce them to music. I still don’t crack nuts. But I can. Because I am amazing and I have super-Dad powers.

It would be easy therefore to think that my Dad was actually just normal. Just bigger and further on in life. But that’s not the point.

The point is that the little things we take for granted as adults continue to amaze and inspire our kids, and to affect their future.

I still make spaghetti bolognese like my Dad told me to and I can see the awe in the eyes of my girls when I do these normal things and they see super-powers.

And the same is true for the not so cool things. I don’t really remember what they were with my Dad, but it stands to reason that if all these other things were blown up into super proportion, then the not-so-good things were too. So what do my girls think when I am tired and miserable, impatient and angry?

And the inspiring never ends.

When I see my Dad today, I see someone who has understood what is important and what is not. Who has stopped running around and no longer does the things he doesn’t want to. I see a man who got his shit together to retire at 50. Who can build a pond or a vegetable patch or fix a motorbike. He still has super-powers and I still want to be like him.

So, I guess that whatever I am doing on Father’s Day, the point is the same: For better or worse, I am inspiring my kids.

All Dads are.

Make it count.

Good luck!

Days 3 + 4 at ATD2015

Back in Belgium, here is a mini-summary of the last 2 days of ATD2015, which thanks to Harry Potter and Lufthansa, could not be delivered earlier…

Day 3


Day 4

…and that’s pretty much it. Another year of ATD conference fun over😦

It was really great!

Thanks for reading

@dan_steer

You can make comics for learning too!

Brian Melvin has filled his room in the last #ATD2015 session (W315)And once again, I cheated. Backdoor. Feel bad for the queue. But I’m here, so let’s go!

According to Melven, we have a choice for presenting information to our people: Words or images. Images work better. But we aren’t all graphic designers, so what do we do?

Follow this process:

  • Get your story and characters straight.
  • Decide what kind of style you want. Today, we are looking at comic styles.
  • Find someone who can draw something. Melven suggested not going to a design agency, but just getting online and finding freelance people or student that can help. It’s really not that expensive to get a character like the one below gin 15 or so poses you can use in your materials) for about $200
  • Script out your story and get that script sign-off BEFOREHAND you go to the drawing board
  • Put a storyboard structure in PPT.. keep it simple, just a few boxes
  • Add some text!


  

Other (book) references that may help you on your visual journey:

Transforming users into contributors – JD Dillon at ATD2015

Having spent the last 3 days missing the elusive slightly-bearded JD Dillon at ATD2015, I am in session W212 to find out how Kaplan is transforming users into contributors. Much of the time, our people know better than we do. How can we release that into the organisation? We know we are supposed to, but what are the principles and tools we need to keep in mind to make this happen?

Admitting that he has nothing original to say today (!), JD started by reminding us of one of the key messages from yesterday’s keynote speaker Sugata Mitra: “It’s not about making learning happen, but letting it happen.”

Adding to this, he notes that many learning professionals have trouble bringing something useful to the business table: We are slow, we are not the experts and we are focussed on building and pushing things into the organisation. We have limited reach, yet we still try to get everyone trained. And we are obliged to justify every last bit of our efforts and carefully spend a set budget (to get everyone trained). JD says we have to stop trying all this formal process-driven nonsense to get to the table and … BE the table.

What does that mean?

Firstly, think about the way we learn at work and compare to the way we learn at home: If I have a problem with my plumbing at home, I jump on Google or YouTube with a problem-based search in mind and find what I need to move forward with my problem right now. I don’t worry about the production value of what I find and I certainly don’t have to fill in any forms or get my manager’s permission to learn.

Why can’t learning at work be like learning at home?

Or rather: How can we shift our focus as learning professionals to make learning at work like learning at home?

  

We need to foster the right contribution behaviours

To ensure we have meaningful, relevant, scalable and reusable content from our users, JD proposes to focus on a few things:

  • Firstly, we need to eliminate the perfection mentality. People need to know that it’s OK to just share stuff. One minute of video doesn’t oblige 5 hours of production. Spelling mistakes are not a problem.
  • Secondly, enable bragging and helping. People who do good work should talk about that work and share their stories. Sometimes they will think that is arrogant to do this. But as users, we are all looking for content. So somebody has to share!
  • Thirdly (actually, I’m pretty sure I missed points 3+4) we need to give some kind of structure that makes it easy for people to contribute from everywhere.


In principle, this all sounds great, but there is still some cynicism from learning professionals: We worry about control and consistency. We think people will surely get things wrong. “They don’t understand people’s needs like we do.” etc etc…

  

Here are the tips I heard from JD and some of the attendees today and my own 2-cents on the topic:

  • Get a wiki
  • Don’t try to moderate everything – let it go and let the contributors find the balance
  • Keep a formal controlled space for the content that your company is not willing to leave in the hands of the users
  • Teach (or encourage) contributors what makes a good contribution
  • Help content-generators to “think SEO”
  • Ask people to jump in and share a story. And thank them when they do.
  • Add a little points system for sharing. People won’t generate content to get the points, but some (yes, ONLY some) will dig it and appreciate the “thanks”.
  • Keep your eye on what is happening on your system or in the organisation (report, if necessary) and use that to think about what topics are hot, where people have picked up content after a formal learning initiative etc..
  • Ask your users (consumers and content-generators) what functions or support they want on the platforms you use
  • Ask people to create little video-blogs to tell more about “how” they do what they do rathe than just writing on the “what”
  • Look for early-adopters in the organisations and whisper “requests to share” in their ears. When the latecomers start looking around, at least they will see something useful.
  • Get top-level managers to “narrate their work”. When the top-guy is doin this, it sends a message to people that it’s OK to share. But be careful with the tone.. If you can feel that your top-guy is really not the guy to set the right tone with that, DON’T ask!


Thanks for reading

D

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 185 other followers