Friday, March 24, 2017

Why Multi-Tasking Is a Myth, Part 1

Thomas Edison famously said, “There is no substitute for hard work.” Most of you on this distribution list already know that. You are among the hardest working people we know and have probably never been called slackers. You’ve paid your dues, you’ve kept your nose to the grindstone and burned plenty of midnight oil to get to where you are today.  Congrats on that.
You can’t possibly log or bill any more hours than you are currently working, but deep down you sense something’s missing, right? You know you could be getting home from the office a little earlier and feeling less stress in the evenings and on weekends. You know you could be spending more quality time with your friends, family and spouse—without making any less money. But how?

The solution doesn’t require you to clone yourself or consistently hit the lottery. You just need a better understanding of what makes you tick at work.

Step 1—Realize that no two people are the same when it comes to personal productivity. So don’t look for a magic “system” or training aid to give you a 10x boost in what you already get done in a day. It’s a personal challenge that only you can solve.

Step 2—There are probably times of the day or week in which you find that you’re more productive than others. Not sure? Try going over you daily time logs, journals, diaries, CRM system or any other places in which you keep track of your work activities for clues.

The main thing is to know when you are most likely to be “in the zone” and schedule you’re heaviest mental lifting for those times. Many productivity experts suggest doing your toughest tasks of the day, first thing in the morning. But, not everyone’s a morning person. Others do their best thinking late at night, when everyone else is asleep and your household, phone and mobile devices are quiet. Others need to clear their desks and heads mentally in the morning and use the afternoon to hit it hard—often right after a vigorous walk or workout during lunch. Some don’t even bother with high-agenda items on Mondays and Fridays when they’re likely to be distracted or exhausted and use the middle days of the week to hit their stride.

Again, the key is to know when you’re most likely to be “in the zone” which is increasingly limited these days. Case in point: Four out of five of you (78%) who responded to our
recent InstaPoll said that you your work life has become more complex than it was five years ago.

In response, it’s tempting to try to cram more into the day and juggle as many responsibilities and assignments as you can. Multi-tasking has become a badge of honor in many circles. IT SHOULDN’T BE!

Multi-tasking increases errors and impedes creativity

Many professionals think they can juggle multiple projects, responsibilities and tasks simultaneously. They think they can finish a presentation while booking cross-country flights and taking urgent calls from frantic clients all at the same time.
In reality, experts say, you’re not really multi-tasking as much as you are switching back and forth very quickly from one activity to another.

Unfortunately, with all that rapid-fire switching, you’re not doing any of your activities particularly well. That’s because your brain is working extra hard to handle multiple thoughts simultaneously. It’s like what happens when you have too many windows open on your PC or too many apps running on your phone.

As Dr. Matthew MacKinnon explained in Psychology Today, “science has consistently shown that the human brain can only sustain attention on one item at a time. Our overestimation of our attentional capacity stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of multitasking and of the human attentional system as a whole,” added MacKinnon.

New York Times
columnist, Phyllis Korkki recently wrote that “Your ability to get things done depends on how well you can focus on one task at a time, whether it’s for five minutes or an hour.”

When you multitask, experts say you tend to make more mistakes. Earl K. Miller, a neuroscience professor at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory argues that when you toggle back and forth between tasks, “the neural networks of your brain must backtrack to figure out where they left off and then reconfigure.” Miller, who was interviewed for Korkki’s article series, said the extra brain activity causes you to slow down and errors become more likely. That’s why Miller believes people are much more efficient if they mono-task.

According to Miller, the brain is like a muscle that becomes stronger with use and weaker when not challenged. “As with physical exercise, the more we strengthen our mental connections by focusing on one task to the exclusion of all others, the better we can perform,” added Miller.

As far back as the 1930s, Allan F. Mogensen, the creator of work simplification, coined the phrase "work smarter, not harder." Sorry multi-taskers, but that means doing one thing well at a time, not doing many things half-ass all day long. Next week we’ll look at ways to prevent you from falling into the multi-tasking trap.

Have a good weekend. HB


TAGS: Mutli-tasking unrealistic, Matthew MacKinnon, Phyllis Korkki,
Allan F. Mogensen

Friday, March 17, 2017

Why Can’t We Look Away from Our Screens?

As parents of two teenage boys, my wife and I went to see the award-winning documentary Screenagers the other night at our local community center. We weren’t alone. If you are worried about the amount of time your tech-savvy kids or grandchildren are spending on their devices, then this film is a must-see. Since Screenagers isn’t shown in most commercial theaters, you’ll have to find it at a local school, church synagogue or community center. It’s worth the effort.

Screenagers is directed by physician Delaney Ruston who set out on a journey to see if she should be concerned about the amount of time her own teens were spending on their devices. As Ruston and other researchers discovered, the average American kid spends 6.5 hours a day looking at screens (not including time spent online doing actual homework). In short, she found that screen time is definitely affecting concentration, development and family relationships although not entirely in bad ways. If you set some reasonable boundaries, then you kids can maintain their social status without turning into one of those gamers you hear about on the news who doesn’t leave their room for weeks at a time.

Kids aren’t the only ones with screen addiction

In a new book,
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, social psychologist Adam Alter warns that our devotion to digital devices has morphed into something very much like addiction.

As Alter described in a recent New York Times interview, addiction is no longer limited to getting hooked on chemical substances such as heroin, cocaine and nicotine. It’s really about seeking any experience that makes us feel good. That’s because when we do, our brains to release the neurotransmitter dopamine and we keep coming back for another hit of the feel-good chemical. It could be getting likes on social media or getting to the next level on your favorite online game.

“We’ll get a flood of dopamine that makes us feel wonderful in the short term, though in the long term you build a tolerance and want more,” noted Alter.
Not surprisingly, Alter found that game producers often pretest different versions of a release to see which one is hardest to resist and which will keep your attention longest. It must be working.

A Gallup poll found that half of U.S. smartphone users check their devices at least several times per hour and that 60 percent of adults
keep their cellphones next to them when they sleep. A Good Technology survey of 1,000 workers found that half of respondents check their emails during the night. Sure, some of that checking in is for work-related purposes (or work-related paranoia), but gaming companies and social media platforms know our gadgets are perfect delivery devices for addictive media. If games and social media were once confined to our home computers, portable devices permit us to engage with them everywhere.
The problem, said alter is that, “We’re checking our social media constantly, which disrupts work and everyday life. We’ve become obsessed with how many ‘likes’ our Instagram photos are getting instead of where we are walking and whom we are talking to.” If you’re on the phone for three hours a day, Alter said you’re not spending enough time on face-to-face interactions with actual people. “Smartphones give everything you need to enjoy the moment you’re in, but they don’t require much initiative. You never have to remember anything because everything is right in front of you. You don’t have to develop the ability to memorize or to come up with new ideas.”
Solutions for tech addicts (and near-addicts)
Our January post, Time for a Technology Timeout, described a number of tech detox facilities and we talked about our 24-hour weekend tech-fasts here at HB. Alter suggested being more mindful about how we are allowing tech to invade our lives. Instead of going cold turkey, Alter suggested cordoning off your tech usage. For instance, not answering email after six at night or only posting or responding to emails at selected times of the day. (We recommend 9am, lunch time and right before you go home).
Alter said, “find more time to be in natural environments, to sit face to face with someone in a long conversation without any technology in the room. There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in. You shouldn’t always be looking at screens.”

In the film Screenagers, one good strategy that Dr. Ruston suggested was drawing up a contract with your teen about how often they can use their smartphone every day. The key is not to ram the contract down your kid’s throat. Instead, present it to them as a first draft, let them make some modifications and negotiate a little. That way, they’ll feel they had some say in the rules and will be more likely to comply.

*** New Insta Poll: How many times per month are you communicating with clients? Early results show that about half of you are not communicating often enough. See how you stack up to your peers (Our latest Insta Poll is on the right side of our home page). Maybe it’s time you put the devices down and picked up the old fashioned phone a little more.


Walking out of the Screenagers showing, my wife and I couldn’t help noticing how many adults whipped out their smartphones the minute the film was over. If you want your kids, employees and co-workers to be more present in the real world, you need to start setting an example. Use mobile technology as a powerful communication and information gathering tool—don’t let it own you or define you.


TAGS: Screenagers, Delaney Ruston, Adam Alter, tech addiction

Friday, March 10, 2017

Written and Spoken Credibility Killers, Part 2

Last week’s post about Written and Spoken Credibility Killers hit home with many of you so we thought we’d do a follow-up post. Thomas Greve, a business development manager at EMS World wrote in, “Spot on Hank. Another pet peeve is ‘lets' nip it in the butt.’ Say what?? It is nip it in the bud as in plant reference. Drives me nuts.’”

Thanks Tom. We know many of you are extremely busy professionals who do the bulk of your writing and thinking over the weekend. Before you do, we’d like to share a few more credibility killing red flags that seem to trip up even the most intelligent and articulate of business leaders.

Look at the paragraph below. How many errors do you see?

Irregardless of where you sit on this issue, we should take positive steps towards making less grammatical errors in our daily communications.
After apprising the situation, it seems to be a continual problem in business today. By correcting these common errors, you’ll sound more intelligent and you’ll go much farther down the path of being a respected business communicator. If nothing else, that will insure you’ll be complemented for your sterling intrapersonal skills. 

If you didn’t find at least six errors, then you’re not trying hard enough!
Here are some other common misuses (and abuses) of every day language in business today that I’ve assembled courtesy of the good folks at Chartec,, and How many of these grammatical gremlins and oratory oversights sound like you?

·         Accept vs. Except

Accept- (verb) to agree with, take in, receive. Example: We accept your decision.
Except- (preposition) Apart from. Example: All committee members are present except for Ms. Brown.

·         Adverse, vs. Averse

Adverse - (adjective) Unfavorable, opposing one’s interest. Example: They found themselves in adverse circumstance.
Averse -(adjective) Antipathy, repugnance, having the feeling of being opposed. Example: She is not averse to increasing her workload.

·         Affect vs. Effect

Affect - (verb) to influence something. Example: How will that affect the bottom line?
Effect - (Noun) the result of (Verb) to cause something to be Example: Her speech had the effect of motivating the listeners.

·         Apprise vs. Appraise

Apprise - (verb) Give notice to. Example: Please apprise me of the situation.
Appraise - (verb) determine the worth of something. Example: The ring was appraised before we purchased it.

·         Beside vs.  Besides

Beside - (preposition) at the side of, next to , near. Example: Take a seat beside me.
Besides - (adverb) Furthermore, in addition to. Example: Besides, several of us will be out of town next week.

·         Compliment vs.  Complement

Compliment – (Verb) To give praise. Example: I complemented Steve on his speech.
Complement – (Verb) To complete something or match it well. Example: Her skills complement the needs of our department.

·         Continual vs.  Continuous

Continual – (adjective) Often repeated, very frequent – but occasionally interrupted. Example: They've received continual complaints.
Continuous – (adjective) Uninterrupted. Example: We couldn't hear over his continuous talking.

·         Discreet vs. Discret

These two can create some awfully funny incorrectly worded sentences. “Discreet” means having discretion; that is, being careful in what you say or do. But “discrete” means separate or distinct. (Example – I would prefer we kept our relationship discreet since we do not have a discrete office setting.)

·         Different than vs.  Different from
Although these seem to have become interchangeable, many people still require that formal written English fit the following: use “different from” when comparing two things, and use “different than” when you use a whole clause to create the comparison. (Example – Your format looks different from mine. Perhaps this is because the format I used is different than the most common business letter formats.)

*** NOTE, Hank Berkowitz was the featured guest this week on Josh Patrick’s Sustainable Business podcast. The topic was Thought Leadership Content.

·         Farther vs.  Further

Farther – (adverb) At or to a greater distance. Example: We are located farther down the highway.
Further - (adverb) More or additional – but not related to distance. Example: We need to have a further discussion on that.

·         Fewer vs.  Less

Fewer – (adjective) Of a small number, only used with countable items. Example: He made fewer mistakes than last time.
Less – (adjective or adverb) To a smaller extent, amount or degree – used with quantities that cannot be individually counted. Example: If they made less noise, we could concentrate.

·         Lay and lie

The key difference between these two words is intent or will. It involves a choice – a person or animal, etc. can choose to lie upon something, but a book or pencil cannot choose to lay upon something. Someone must put it there. Also, another clue is that “lay” always has a direct object. (Example – Before I lie down to sleep each night, I lay my book on the nightstand.)

·         Principal, Principle

Principal –(noun) Person who has controlling authority. (adjective) Something essential or important. Example: Let’s talk about the principal reason we’re meeting today.
Principle – (noun) Basic truth, policy or action. Example: It’s important to stick to our principles.

·         Regardless, Irregardless

Regardless – (adjective or adverb) In spite of. Example: We are leaving regardless of whether you’re ready.
Irregardless – This is not a word. (Yes, you may find it in your dictionary, but you’re only embarrassing yourself if you use it.)


Your clients and followers don’t expect perfection every time you communicate with them. But, keeping these credibility killers in mind (or posted near your computer or tablet) will go a long way toward keeping them engaged with you and your batting average well above the norm.


TAGS: Credibility killers, poor communication in business, confusing similar words, better business communication

Friday, March 03, 2017

Avoid These Written and Spoken Credibility Killers

Not sure if it’s the weather, the financial markets or the volatile geo-political climate, but, many of you have been hunkering down lately to do some deep reflection and writing. Bravo. We know most of you don’t make your living as wordsmiths, so we’re pleased to see how many of you are blogging or writing articles, newsletters, eBooks, white papers and more.

This type of short-form writing is one of the most effective ways to position yourself as a thought leader. Just make sure your followers aren’t distracted but some of the most common author (and speaker) credibility killers.

You work hard to burnish your reputation from your office setting, to your professional bio, to your website, to your LinkedIn profile. Then wham, you lose your focus when writing, speaking or presenting. The danger is, you never know who might be reading, listening or overhearing.

Don’t pollute the personal space of others

Here’s a conversation I overheard at a recent conference between two professional women--not teenage girls--who were lamenting the cold temperature in the auditorium: “Oh my God! Why do they always blast the AC in these places?” complained one. “It is what it is,” replied her companion, sighing.…… “Brrrrr. Tell me about it,” said the first.…... “Brrrr. I know, right?” replied the other. “Brrrr. Really,” added her friend.

It’s like being forced to overhear a stranger’s embarrassing cell-phone conversation. There are better ways to make small talk in a professional setting. You don’t want to be accused of eavesdropping, but your personal space is being invaded and you’re not forming a very positive impression of the yakkers you are overhearing. Chances are they are highly accomplished professionals who are attending the conference for the same reasons you are. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and they didn’t make a good one on you. It’s not likely you’re going to network with them.

*** Work life getting too complex? Take our 10-second insta-poll and find out how you stack up to your peers.

I’m telling you why you shouldn’t trust me

To be perfectly honest with you, if you can’t chose the right words, don’t fill the space with empty verbiage. Wait a minute. Run for the hills if someone keeps using the phrase “to be perfectly honest with you.” Why? Because their credibility is shot. Whether you’re in a restaurant, in a car dealership or in a tense business negotiation, when someone says to you, “to be perfectly honest with you,” it implies they’ve been lying to you up until this point. Inc. Magazine recently published a list of 15 other phrases that make people mistrust you. It’s a great piece, but in all honesty, you have to navigate through an annoying slider to get to each one of the fifteen.

For all intents and purposes, people are lacking in confidence and conviction, not just integrity, when they resort to phrases like “to be perfectly honest with you.” Speaking of “for all intents and purposes,” that one gets butchered frequently, too. How many times have you seen it written as spoken as “for all intensive purposes?“  Ouch!

In fact, we’re betting that 85 percent of you would admit you need to improve your written and spoken communication skills…..notice we wrote 85 percent, not “85%.”Many of you are numbers people, but please, use the percent sign “%”sparingly. It’s best used inside charts or when describing parenthetical ratios, such as “nearly three out of five investors (59.5%) feel they are unprepared for retirement.”
Speaking of numerical relationships and trendlines, how many of you say something went from this number to that number? Sounds logical, but the preferred way to express a numerical change over time is to/from.

EXAMPLE: Don’t write: “The fund’s rate of return increased from 7.7 percent in 2015, to 9.8 percent in 2016. Instead, it should be: “The fund’s rate of return increased to 9.8 percent in 2016 from 7.7 percent in 2015. When in doubt, go present first, past second.
So, next time you really want to convey your point to your readers or listeners. Oops, there’s another flag. This one’s on me and I fall into this trap often.

Let’s take the innocent looking word “so.” Kill it as a sentence starter from your written and spoken vocabulary. According to communications coach Sabina Nawaz. Starting with “so” implies that you’re tentatively asking for permission. You don’t need to waste time and bandwidth clearing your throat. Just get right to the point. You’re an expert. You don’t have to qualify your remarks.


Again, we’re not here to be your high school English teachers. But, the sloppy written and spoken word has become an epidemic in today’s tweeting, texting, too-busy-to-think before-I-send world in which we live.

If you have a lot to share with the world and don’t have the time to codify it, there are plenty of excellent writing coaches, ghost-writers and content collaborators around. They can help you clarify your thought and get your expertise swiftly from your brain to the published page or screen. Many have technical expertise in personal finance, tax, insurance, business succession planning and medical topics. Contact us any time and we’ll be happy to assist.


TAGS: conversation killers, top business writing mistakes, phrases that make people mistrust you

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Power of Content Calendars

Not just for the wordsmiths and marketeers in your organization. It’s as easy as 1-7-30-4-2-1

It’s no secret that Thought Leadership Marketing (aka “content marketing”) is one of the most effective ways to position yourself as an expert in your niche and to stay top of mind with your clients, prospects, influencers and/or members throughout the year. Blogs, e-newsletters, white papers, webinars, published articles, social media posts and podcasts, are all proven forms of thought leadership marketing. We know you have the expertise in house, but how do you keep coming up with great topics when you don’t have a full-time writing staff?

Start with a plan.

You wouldn’t have clients invest their money without a plan. You wouldn’t hire an architect to build your dream house if he or she didn’t use blue prints. So, why would you start pushing out content to your universe of followers without a plan?

Getting started and sticking to it

Editorial content calendars (sometimes called content calendars) are what we typically recommend to clients to get your thoughts organized for the short-term, intermediate term and long-term. You can start with a simple spreadsheet showing the months, types of content, topics covered and who’s responsible for each piece of content. 

You don’t need to invest in expensive or sophisticated marketing automation software in the early going. The main objective is to have a simple snapshot of the year ahead and to try your best to stick to the plan. It’s OK to make adjustments as important new topics rise to the surface during the course of the year. But you want to maintain a consistent schedule—we call it a “cadence” just like being consistent about your diet, your new exercise routine or your new personal enrichment class.
In fact, both content calendars and resolutions tend to fail for many of the same reasons. Perhaps you committed to a goal that’s too big or your support group falls apart. Maybe you just don’t know where to begin. Instead of giving up on your content marketing plans, as four out of five people do with their resolutions, make a plan that works for your organization.

To help you stick to your content plan, here are 6 key steps adapted from a presentation by Frank Dale, CEO of content management software company, Compendium (now part of Oracle):

1. Map out all the content your organization produces.
There’s probably more than you think. In addition to blogs, write down all forms of content, including videos, photos, presentations, webinars, social media posts, marketing materials, press releases, industry and business articles, white papers, FAQs and events.

2. Sort this content into categories or types.
Creating content categories ensures that your organization covers a broad range of topics, not just marketing. Categories can include: “”How To” best practices, industry trends, company news, marketing, events and more.

3. Identify who is creating your content.
Your organization has content authors who don’t know they’re authors. Anyone with hands-on experience within the company has a story to tell and can contribute to your content marketing effort. This includes employees from different areas of your company (marketing, IT, legal) as well as external authors (customers, partners, industry thought leaders).

4. Determine how much and how often your “experts” can contribute. Some authors can easily provide a steady stream of content (social media managers, public relations, customers), while others may be more sporadic (event planners, video producers).

5. Think rows and columns. Once you’ve completed these steps, develop a simple spreadsheet that includes all this information. From this spreadsheet, you can begin to create a content calendar. We like using a traditional monthly calendar because I can easily see what content is planned and when.

6. Be realistic about what your organization can accomplish.
It might be helpful to think about frequency using a technique pioneered by content strategist Russell Sparkman/FusionSpark Media  called the “1-7-30-4-2-1” method. Here’s how it works:

·         1 represents the content your organization can commit to publishing daily. This might be something as easy as the sharing of industry news via Twitter or Facebook.
·         7 refers to weekly content, such as a blog post.
·         30 is what your organization can publish monthly. These might be more extensive content pieces, such as an e-newsletter or video.
·         4 refers to a quarterly content commitment, such as a white paper, e-book or contest.
·         2 is biannual content, such as an event, new brochure or webcast.
·         1 is annual content, such as an event, conference or app.

Don’t get painted into a corner

We advise our clients to think three to six assignments ahead at all times. Start setting up little folders for each upcoming post or article now (paper or digital is fine). You never know when you’ll come across a great nugget or factoid in July that will be perfect for the assignment that’s not due until November.


Approaching content marketing in these manageable bite-sized steps prevents you from feeling overwhelmed and allows you to build a content calendar that’s manageable and sustainable. Best of all, this exercise is easier and less painful than dieting or going to the gym and you’ll have a “ripped” and “buff” reputation to show off for all your effort and discipline.


TAGS: content calendars, editorial calendars, content marketing, Russell Sparkman, Compendium, 

Monday, February 13, 2017

How About a K.I.S.S for Valentine’s Day?

Leonardo da Vinci, the 15th century renaissance genius once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” What he really meant was “Keep It Simple Stupid” (K.I.S.S.). Based on your reaction to last week’s post, Super Bowl Ads and Vince Lombardi Motto Confirm Need for Simplicity, we thought it might be worth drilling further into how we can manage the overwhelming complexity in our lives.

Sydney Finkelstein, a management professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School
of Business did a great piece for BBC  two years ago this week--Why Is Simplicity So Complicated?—and it’s still relevant today. The majority of you (71%) told us in our unscientific InstaPoll that your work life is more complex than it was five years ago. In fact, nearly three in five of you (57%) felt your work life is significantly more complex than it was five years ago.

Whether inside or outside the workplace, Finkelstein said most people today feel that they’re always busy, always on, “always trying to keep up with an endless array of challenges and tasks hurtling their way.”  He added that even when people know what they need to do, the sheer volume of tasks filling up “countless sticky notes, smartphone memos, and good old-fashioned ‘to do’ lists adds up to one big serving of complexity.’”

Sound familiar?

Many have lamented the cruel irony of technology—something that’s meant to make everyday life simpler and efficient—actually makes it more complex. As Finkelstein noted: “How simple can it be when we have profuse password prompts and inboxes brimming with 500 new emails per day? Why do I need to sign into an app or website using Facebook or Twitter? And the pile-on of technological simplifiers that complicate things goes on and on — just how many passwords do you have to remember to sign into everything you need for daily life and work?”

Is life becoming too complex or are we just getting lazy?
 Take our Web InstaPoll and see how you stack up to your peers.

Solution: Complexity-free zones

We recently collaborated with our client, Independence Advisors, on an e-book about the many parallels between flyfishing and investing. What’s flyfishing got to do with investing?  Turns out plenty as Independence founder, Chas Boinske is happy to explain. A lifelong passionate angler, Boinske has found that being patient, using a small number of reliable tools, minimizing your choices and keeping costs down works quite well on the river and in the investment world. For more on this topic, read Chas’s recent post based on the e-book Simplicity Can Pay Big Dividends in Fishing and Investing.

Psychologists refer to the “power of mindfulness,” which roughly translates into living in the moment and not cluttering your brain with too many other things. Many who meditate, run, swim or do yoga can get a taste of that state of mind. Embracing simplicity in everyday life isn’t easy, but there are things we can do to create more complexity-free zones.
Here are some of Finkelstein’s recommendations about how to do so:
1. Start by looking for the simple solution to things, at least as a first step. This can be almost laughably easy. What’s the first thing you should do when your computer, printer or modem freezes, asks Finkelstein? Unplug! Chances are that simple will maneuver will do more for you then perusing FAQs, waiting for tech support or calling customer service.
2. Don’t constantly check your email.  Finkelstein suggests carving out a fixed time period every day— start with 20 minutes and move up to two hours, or longer — when you’re just NOT connected. This might not be feasible for everyone, but 20 minutes is a manageable start for most. For more, see our recent post, Time for a Technology Time-Out?
3. React less. Many managers spend their days fighting fires, reacting to what is happening, rather than controlling events. Finkelstein argues that you can get better at this by building a 15-minute “reflection break” into as many of your days as possible. This is time in which you simply THINK rather than do. It’s not so much daydreaming as it is thinking about what you should do better, differently, or not at all. Take the time to be more proactive, rather than reactive. “The greater sense of control that comes with reflection will pay for itself many times over in the form of reduced stress,” says Finkelstein.
4. Use your resources and delegate. Imagine you could magically create a team of people who can contribute rather than having to do everything yourself. Newsflash: If you’re a manager, you’ve probably got people reporting to you already. While it’s not simple to be a manager, Finkelstein said the principles of delegation are simple enough. “Set clear goals. Empower people to take charge. Hold them accountable. Coach them. You’ll know you’re getting this reasonably right when you feel confident enough to take your reflection breaks every day,” added Finkelstein.

So what’s the common thread between Finkelstein’s and Boinske’s advice? They create time. And when you have more time you have greater control and less stress. “Simplicity is one of those rare states where the old adage that less is more actually holds true,” observed Finkelstein.
As renowned folk singer Pete Seeger famously quipped, “Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.” On this Valentine’s Day, keep the value of simplicity and clarity in mind if you really want to impress that someone special in your life. When you use your brain as well as your heart, you’ll look like a genius rather than a fool. You might even get a K.I.S.S.


TAGS: Leonardo da Vinci, Sydney Finkelstein, Chas Boinske, Independence Advisors, managing complexity, stress reduction

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Super Bowl Ads and Vince Lombardi Motto Confirm Need for Simplicity

I was on a video conference call with a client the other day. We had half a dozen people calling in from four different cities and several time zones. I tested my system, accessed the web link, punched in the call-in number and the pass code….and spent the next 10 minutes listening to elevator music… myself.

Panicked, I reviewed my calendar to make sure I had the right day and time. Check. I tried the call in number and pass code again to make sure I had dialed in correctly. Check. I tested my system settings to make sure I had all the updated software for slides, audio and video. Check. So, where was everybody?
Slowly, but surely the invitees straggled in….An East Coast team member apologized for having another call go late. Another participant in the Southeast said her building’s Internet service was down all day. Meanwhile, her colleague on another floor of the same building said he did have Internet service, but the IT department had started its weekly patch update right before our call was scheduled. Yet another team member was driving through the Midwest and had no wireless service at the time the call started. Then the slides wouldn’t load.

Sound familiar?

Finally, we got everything loaded about 25 minutes after the one-hour call was supposed to start. And it was a very productive meeting….while it lasted. At about 55 past the hour, people started dropping off because they had to race to their next meeting or conference call (and likely take a bio break). And about half of the action items for next meeting went unclaimed.
In one sense it’s amazing that you can hear and see remote colleagues in real-time and work collaboratively from far flung workspaces, whether in a conventional office, car or spare bedroom of your home. But, is all this technology really making us more productive—even when it works?

I bet this scenario didn’t occur to any of the tech companies (or ad agencies) that shelled out $5 million for Super Bowl air time—even the ones going for humor.

According to the Deloitte Human Capital Trends survey, more than 7 out of 10 surveyed organizations rated the need to simplify work as an “important problem,” with more than 25 percent citing it as a “very important” problem. According to Deloitte, only 10 percent of companies have a major work simplification program today.

Is life becoming too complex or are we just getting lazy?
Take our Web InstaPoll and see how you stack up to your peers.

Bottom line: You can’t do your best work or your best thinking, when you are constantly distracted, overwhelmed, and stressed out just trying to keep up. As management guru, Stephen Covey famously wrote in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:  too many workers today will tell you, “I’m so busy sawing, I don’t have time to sharpen the saw.”
Deloitte researchers said two-thirds of today's employees feel "overwhelmed" and 80 percent would like to work fewer hours. But how can they when the average worker checks their phone 150 times per day? With the flood of emails, conference calls, meetings, and other distractions research says the average office worker can only focus for seven minutes at a time before they either switch windows or check Facebook, according to neurologist Larry Rosen (see video for more).

Fortunately, not everyone has resigned themselves to the tyranny of complexity.

Our client Kyle Walters, founder of Dallas-based Atlas Wealth Advisors recently spun off a tax affiliate. Why? Because his firm got tired of referring clients to tax specialists who didn’t call back, or who wren’t proactive about helping clients anticipate future problems As Walters explained, what most people really want is a single point of contact—a “personal CFO”-- to handle all of their financial issues in one place. “So we stepped in to fill the void,” added Walters, whose firm’s motto is: “Simplifying Your Life.”
My friend Richard Rapp, head of the Westport, CT-based creative agency, Altamira, said that managing complexity, not eliminating it, is the key to achieving success today. Rapp said that complexity usually falls into two categories:  (1) Those that are self-inflicted and (2) Those that are thrust upon us. “We help our clients untangle their complexity challenges through a triage approach that involves key stakeholders on the ground and in the C-suite,” he explained.

Super Bowl ads: Confusing or brilliant?

Some thought many of Sunday’s Super Bowl ads were riveting, while others thought they were great entertainment, but not likely to make them go out an purchase the advertised products or services—even if they could remember who the advertiser was.

According to Rapp, the ads that stood out and scored well on the USA Today Ad Meter were those that “focused single-mindedly on a story that rang true to the brand and resonated emotionally with viewers.” Many ads used humor, action and celebrity to break-through the clutter of 60 plus ads during the game. Here are a few that stood out for Rapp:
  • Buick’s Cam Newton ad told a simple story using humor and celebrity in a very effective manner. Importantly, the entire story revolved around pre-conceived attitudes about the Buick brand. 
  • Amazon Echo and Google Home both aired spots that demonstrated the features and benefits of their AI assistants and both were very good. However, Amazon Echo aired three different 10-second spots, each focused on a different feature. The “play My Girl” ad was 10 seconds of perfection with excellent casting, a simple and beautiful story line, a cute young girl and a simple, clear payoff delivered by the advertiser’s product, observed Rapp.
  • Mercedes-Benz tapped the Boomer emotion, and likely Mercedes-AMG roadster buyer, with one last hurrah for the Born to be Wild generation. The use of Steppenwolf’s classic, the only song available on the juke box in this biker bar, drove the story to its climax as we saw Peter Fonda climbing into his Mercedes roadster and leaving the pack of Harley Davidsons in the dust. Excellent storytelling, use of music and celebrity that was dead on.
  • Kia scored points for the overall use of humor by making fun of cause-minded young drivers and using the most outrageous comedic actress, Melissa McCarthy in the role of the “hero’s journey,” chuckled Rapp. The message was actually very simple: that it’s hard to be an environmental hero, but it’s easy to be eco-friendly when driving the Kia Niro. 

As with so many things in life, the simplest approach is best. Rapp said that “clarity of purpose and vision” allows companies to push their innovation and growth goals more effectively, while better aligning employee buy-in and customer acceptance. Walters said it stems from the rise in complexity in life today and people’s limited attention spans. “There’s so much more going on in people’s lives and there’s so much more that you need to know. The decisions become bigger. The stakes become more dangerous if you’re not careful. I find people don’t even know what they don’t know,” added Walters.
NFL coaching legend, Vince Lombardi may have summed it up best: “People try to find things in this game that don’t exist. Football is only about two things: blocking and tackling.”


TAGS: Kyle Walters, Richard Rapp, Super Bowl ads, need for simplicity, Melissa McCarthy, Steven Covey, Deloitte Human Capital Trends