Category Archives: Business

Is it all about passion?

So Good They Can't Ignore You
So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Passion makes for success. Without passion you’ll fail. If you don’t have passion about what you’re doing, you won’t do it for long. We’ve all heard these catch phrases, and while they sound good, I’ve had a niggling suspicion in the back of my mind that it doesn’t always work that way. I’ve seen salesmen with loads of passion fail in closing deals. I’ve seen actors with passion for their craft fail in getting work. I’ve seen speakers who are passionate about a cause fail to mount cogent arguments.

While I was growing up, my parents sent me to music lessons. Every week, I remember going to my piano teacher’s studio where she’d have me play scales and pieces I had practiced during the week. On weeks where I had slacked off, my teacher would ask if I had practiced. I’d say “yes”, to which she’d reply, “I can hear you haven’t practiced this week”. If, as a kid, you’d asked me whether I was passionate about music, I don’t think my answer would have been a resounding yes, but as the years of practice added up, I got better and better, and while I’m certainly no concert pianist, I now say I’m passionate about music in general, and piano music in particular.

Cal Newport’s recently released book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, deals with this very topic. He dispels the popular concept that you need to find your passion before you launch your career. Instead, he spells out the importance of following four simple rules that’ll put you on the right trajectory. Each of these rules isn’t revolutionary, but when combined, they make up a sensible and coherent action plan no matter what your career.

The first rule is don’t follow your passion. In this section, Cal strongly argues following your passion is bad advice, especially when you’re passionate about a field you have limited experience with.

The second rule is be so good that they can’t ignore you. Here, Cal puts forward a number of examples of successful individuals who have honed their skills through deliberate practice. He recalls the 10,000 hour rule made famous by Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, whereby those who are experts in the field, be it music, sport, or business have spent 10,000 hours developing their craft.

The third (slightly cryptic) rule is turn down a promotion. Cal argues it’s important for skilful people to be deliberate about how and where they direct their efforts. Control here is key, as is having the freedom to take little bets in exploring and experimenting with areas of interest. He also stresses the importance of continual improvement noting that so many people stop learning and stretching themselves once they’ve found a comfortable job.

The fourth rule is think small, act big. In this section, Cal provides examples of other successful people who have ‘discovered’ their big and challenging missions after they’ve developed a high level of domain knowledge and cultivated rare skills. One of my favourite quotes of this section is “working right trumps funding right work”.

After reading So Good They Can’t Ignore You, I can see parallels in my own life. My passion for music seems to have come about repeated and deliberate (at least on my parents’ part) exposure from a young age. I received ongoing encouragement with provided additional motivation to practice more, becoming more confident and playing (and enjoying) different genres. In other fields, I’m now more motivated to spend time deliberately practicing and developing my skills, applying some of the author’s other rules.

Why people fail

Why People Fail

Success. It’s what so many people strive for. It’s been the subject of much study in recent years. Think of all of those personal development courses, CDs, tape sets, and books. Recall the sports psychologists during the recent Olympics. What about the business coaches walking in and out of office buildings every day.

But what about studying why people fail?

My good friend, Siimon Reynolds, has just released a new book that deals with this very notion. Why People Fail outlines sixteen common obstacles of success and how you can overcome them. Whether it’s stress, mistaking IQ for EQ, low energy levels, or a lack of persistence, Siimon explores why people fail and provides ideas on overcoming them. I particularly liked his chapter on daily rituals. Whether it’s clearing your desk, prayer, learning a new language, or planning for tomorrow, by incorporating these tasks into daily rituals, you can make a significant impact on your life over a period of time.

So if you’d like to get some great tips on avoiding failure, get a copy and read it.

Who owns the news?

Who owns this content?
Who owns this content?

I’ve just finished listening to a recent story on the ABC’s Background Briefing about who owns the news and it makes for interesting listening. At the World Media Summit, of over 400 media publishers and editors, in China yesterday, News Corporation chief, Rupert Murdoch, repeated his call for news organisations to charge for content on the Internet. He warned that news organisations and content creators must change otherwise search engines and other aggregators would eat all their lunch. He said that many Internet users believed that once they’d paid their ISP for access, they had purchased access to a content buffet. This message was echoed by the boss of the Associated Press, Tom Curley.

The Background Briefing piece interested me by pointing out that newspapers have been under threat since the 1930s with the advent of broadcast radio. Radio presenters were able to read breaking stories from the newspapers over the air before the public could purchase the papers, and this upset the publishers. Journalists, of the newspaper variety, cast aspersions on radio journalists, saying they weren’t in the same league as them. Naturally, the same occurred with the advent of television and television journalists. Over the years, the Associated Press (AP) has stood up for the commercial interests of publishers. In 1918 they won a case against the International News Service, who was found to have ‘copied’ AP’s work, claiming it as their own, and they’re likely to cite this precedent sometime soon. Today, AP is trialling a new strategy to prevent sites from copying and reusing its material. When it distributes content, it will be wrapped in a container that includes a tracking beacon that will allow central monitoring of users who view that piece of content. It’ll be fascinating to watch its progress.

If you’ve got a spare 40 minutes, I can highly recommend the episode.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Repetition, repetition, repetition

I’ve recently been observing the communication methods of some great leaders and a common thread is their use of repetition. That’s right, a common thread is their use of repetition. (Okay, I’ll get my hand off it.)

When you think of charismatic American leaders, who comes to mind? Martin Luther King, John F Kennedy, and even William Jefferson Clinton. All of them used repetition in their speeches to get their point across. Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech used phrases and images that King had finessed over years of public speaking. John F Kennedy Even today’s American President has made use of the “yes, we can” refrain over, and over, and over. (Stop it!) Australian politicians have also found a fondness for repetition. You knew Paul Keating was making a point when he repeated the last sentence.

Successful business leaders, too, have made use of repetition to get their point across. Jack Welch had a saying of being simple, being consistent, and hammering your message home. That’s why he produced a wallet-sized card containing all of GE’s values. Wal-Mart’s founder, Sam Walton, repeated his company’s values again and again.

Repetition doesn’t need to happen in the same sentence. It doesn’t need to happen in the same talk or speech. But, if you’re wanting to get your point across, repetition (and consistency) over time will help ensure people get what you mean.

Lots of money chasing too many bad ideas

All investors would like to think they make good decisions. Many think that by performing the right type of analysis or due diligence, they’ll be able to get more information about an investment target and so make a better assessment about whether or not to invest. So what about venture capitalists?

Hare and tortiseA recent article in The Economist reports investors have a voracious appetite to throw money into venture capital (VC) funds focussed on promising start-ups. Marc Andreessen, one of the founders of Netscape Communications, announced in early July 2009 that he and his business partner had raised over $300m to invest in start-ups and it was oversubscribed. What’s interesting is that a month earlier, the Kauffman Foundation released a study concluding the US venture capital industry must shrink for it to be viable in the long-term. It found the industry has been stagnating, producing declining returns, and has grown far too big.

Although firms such as Google, Home Depot, Microsoft, and Starbucks were venture-backed, less than 20% of the fastest-growing comanies in the US had venture investors. In fact, only 16% of around 900 companies in the sample had venture capital backing. Further, the returns from the venture industry is 10% below a leading listed small-cap index on a ten year timeframe.

So there you have it, too much money trying to find the next big idea. Once investors wake up to the fact that the industry has not been producing spectacular returns, and has been charging a small fortune as a management fee, it’s inevitable they will reallocate their investments to other asset classes. The question is how long will it take?