Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

How Focused Are You?

“Most people have no idea of the giant capacity we can immediately command when we focus all of our resources on mastering a single area of our lives.” Anthony Robbins

The pace of our lives is increasing on an almost daily basis. Sometimes I just don’t know where the day goes between phone calls, emails, blogging and dealing with customers. What happens though is that we tend to begin autopiloting a lot of daily tasks and instead of working towards our goals we get stuck in just maintaining the state we are in. I have seen people maintain this state for years, months or weeks on end without realizing that they are just not making any significant progress in their lives. Yet when you talk to them and ask about their schedule and business it is usually packed. I have gone through several periods like this myself and I think one of the most significant changes that I made to my daily schedule was adopting the GTD methodology. For those of you not familiar with the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology please click on the link below to a series explaining it.

The GTD methodology has helped me tremedously in keeping my eye on bigger goals while making sure that all the mini steps that need to be completed are clearly marked out as well. Early last year I started reading Leo Babauta’s  Zen Habits blog seriously. He also follows the GTD methodology and has modified the original methodology in some places. One of the modifications that really helped me was his concept of setting the three most important things that one needs to accomplish in a day. Instead of having your usual to-do list which can often be a little overwhelming, he trimmed it down to 3 things that would have the greatest impact on your day, week, month and year. This has helped me prioritize my action items and has helped me in getting a lot more of the critical things accomplished, sooner rather than later. 

Focus is a key success factor that is found in all great individuals. Whether they be entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers or even bloggers. The ability to concentrate our energies on activities that yield the highest output will result in accomplishing our goals faster and with greater efficiency. This being the start of the new year I would highly recommend integrating the ‘3 most important things list’ to your daily schedule and see whether it makes an impact on your life. I wish you all the best of success in 2009. 

Related Posts:

5 Steps to Get Things Done

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Passion and Satisfaction

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” Steve Jobs

I re-read Steve Jobs Stanford address (Link) recently and this point really stood out for me. Over the last couple of months I have met with a lot of individuals who are doing whatever they are doing solely for a pay check. Life is then a monotonous series of events with very few diversions, and often leads to frustrations, stress and in some cases depression. Finding one’s true calling in life is definitely not the easiest of things to do. Many people struggle a very long time to find something which makes them happy in the true sense. The main emphasis however is that one needs to put oneself out there continuously to find what that true calling actually is.

I believe the litmus test outlined by Steve Jobs simplifies this seemingly difficult task. Personally I always knew that I wanted to go into business. That was the first step. Eventually I realized I wanted to be involved with businesses which dealt with  people on a daily basis. Today, apart from running an HR consultancy business I serve as an advisor to many startups and businesses. Everyday brings with it new challenges and the ability to meet new people. This keeps me motivated and I look forward to each new day.

I have spoken to many people about passion throughout this last year. When we do not  have passion for what we do on a daily basis, life is bound to get monotonous and unfulfilling. Therefore, we have to make a conscious decision to ask ourselves on a regular basis “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”. When we answer “no” too many times in a row we have to make a pro-active effort to change.

Related Posts:

Expertise & Passion by Seth Godin

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5 Steps on How to Make a Decision

“When you cannot make up your mind which of two evenly balanced courses of action you should take – choose the bolder.” William Joseph Slim

Over the course of this last week I have talked about the decision making process. This process can help us in making difficult decisions. The process forces us to take action and to move from one step to the next in a continuous flow. Standing still has to be avoided at all times. From a business perspective, not being able to make critical decisions or to keep delaying them, will eventually lose you any competitive advantage you may have had. The world unfortunately does not wait for us to find the right time or right opportunity to make a decision. Listed below is a methodology I use for decision making:

1. Objective Clarification: The first step when making a decision is to look at the larger picture. Decision making is not an isolated process of just meeting specific needs, it is one in which broader goals and aims have to be taken into consideration for the future. It is only after clarifying what we hope to gain or learn from the decision we take, do we move to the next step. To learn more on how to clarify objectives behind a decision please click here.

2. Data Collection: The second step involves getting all the facts and figures required to make a decision. This could include, research, surveys, feedbacks or any other form of data collection which would provide us with information to help make a decision. The truth is, it is not possible to have all the facts and figures specially in a time bound situation. Life is about making optimal choices based on, often incomplete information. One must not let lack of data hinder us from making decisions. To learn more about data collection please click here.

3. Listing Options: Once we have adequate data about decisions we have to make, the next step in the process is to develop a list of alternatives. The purpose of this list is to put down on paper different options available.There will always be several possible alternatives available when one has to make a decision.Making an endless list of possible alternatives is not wise, and frankly, will waste a lot of time. Be specific in what you want and develop your alternative list accordingly. To learn more about developing an option list please click here.

4. Evaluating Options: I use a simple model which helps rank options according to our objectives and weight-ages given to specific factors. This enables us to rank each option in an unbiased manner and helps to gauge how they compare against each other on a holistic level. This model is developed on the basis of the prior 3 steps discussed. To learn more about the model and how to use it for your decision making process please click here.

5. Making a Decision: After successfully completing the four steps outlined above, we reach a point where we should have enough information to make a decision. Most of the time, we will not have all the information required, life is all about making optimal choices based on incomplete information. We should not let this affect our decision making process. Once a decision has been made, one needs to take responsibility for it and ensure follow through. To learn more about the final step in the decision making process please click here.

If one were to look back at life, there are bound to be decisions which, in retrospect were not the correct one. The important thing to remember is not the fact that one made a wrong choice, but whether we learned from the mistake or not. We should not let past failures inhibit us from making similar decisions in the future. If one were to take such an approach,  very little progress forward would be made. As mentioned earlier, life is short, we need to have the courage of our decisions, confidence to trust our gut instincts, and keep moving forward. I wish you all the very best on all your life decisions in the future.

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Can you make a decision?

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Theodore Roosevelt

After weighing all possible alternatives, a decision making point is reached. This stage in the decision making process is where many individuals face problems. Some of the reasons I come across quite regularly for this are; there is inadequate information, I have received mixed reviews from feedback which has further confused me, I want to put this decision off for a while to think about it more, I cannot make this decision alone and, what if I make the wrong decision? These are all valid reasons to put off making a decision. However, if this becomes a recurring pattern in life, then, very little progress would be made when a difficult problem arose. 

Once our homework is done, and we believe we have adequate information about the decision at hand, we have to take a leap of faith. Waiting for the perfect situation, the perfect business opportunity or the perfect partner will invariably hold you back. We have to be proactive and want to move forward, this not only increases confidence, it provides invaluable experience and feedback. It is in moments of decision that we find out who we really are, and what we are made of. Use these opportunities to showcase your skills and abilities rather than shying away from taking responsibility. 

Once a decision is made, the next most important aspect of this entire process is, follow through. We have to be a 100% committed to the decision we make, and take full responsibility for it. This is not a time for excuses or getting cold feet. We must prove to ourselves, as to those affected by the decision that we have what it takes to execute the decision. If one makes a habit of changing one’s minds after taking a decision, this reflects poorly on character and value systems. In business, such a person would be deemed unreliable, and lacking the confidence required to take responsibility. Hence, next time you are put in a position to make a decision, do your homework well ,and when ready, make the decision and follow through. As an added benefit, the feeling one experiences after making a correct decision is amazing, and should be the end goal every time!

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Ranking your Options

“Choice of aim is clearly a matter of clarification of values, especially on the choice between possible options.” W. Edwards Deming

 Once we have developed a list of alternatives, the next step in the decision making process is to rank them. The ranking process requires basic elements to keep it simple, yet effective. The first element required is developing a criterion list to assess all your possible alternatives against. Listed below, you see an example alternatives list I have created for the laptop example I mentioned yesterday. For this example I singled out what I felt were the most important factors. The same example can be adjusted for just about any decision. Whether you are assessing a new car, business idea, partner, employee or a potential investment opportunity. Develop a list of criterions against which you can assess all the available alternatives. It is important to rank all the alternatives against chosen criterions. 

The next element that is required is, assigning weight ages according to your preferences. I used a 10 point scale for this example, however, there are other ranking scales, and I have personally used a 100 point scale as well. This depends entirely on the complexity of the decision, and the number of criterions being used to assess each alternative. The next aspect is to assign specific scores to each option, based on the criterion. I have used a 5 point scale for the assessment in the example below, 5 meaning, very satisfied and vice versa. After you grade each criterion, multiply the scale score with the assigned weight-ages. Finally, add each options total score, and you have a decision based on resulting total scores for each alternative.

Laptop Rankings

A further complexity to the model above,  particularly when making business decisions, is to add a risk component. I left this component out of the above example to make it easier to understand. Adding a risk component can help you weigh the risk-reward ratio of each alternative. This has been very helpful to me when assessing different business opportunities. The model described above, brings together all the factors we have spoken about in the last couple of days. It is important to understand the logic behind each of the components, and the manner we arrived at this stage. Once we have a total score, we are ready to move to the last stage of the decision making process.

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Developing Alternatives

“The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.” Henry Kissinger

Once we have adequate data about decisions we have to make, the next step in the process is to develop a list of alternatives. The purpose of this list is to put down on paper, the different options available. The purpose of this exercise is to write down all the options floating in one’s head and translate them into a tangible option. This helps put perspective on the decision at hand by giving an overview of the options available. Many individuals like to write down as many possible alternatives as possible at this time. I think this complicates the decision unnecessarily.

The point of adding structure to your decision making process is to streamline it and make it more efficient. When we don’t do this, decisions take longer because of the incessant processing going on in your head. This ends up not only confusing an individual, but also significantly prolongs the time it takes to reach a decision. Therefore, when you develop a list of possible alternatives, only jot down those you are seriously considering and which fit the larger objective behind the decision process. For example lets say you want to buy a new laptop. You have been to the stores, got all the brochures and now sit down to make a list. If your list contains 20 possible laptops you are interested in, the decision will take forever to make. I had to make this decision a couple of months ago. I needed a laptop which was aesthetically pleasing and highly portable. I took a look at a couple of alternatives, the choice came down to a Sony or an Apple, I then made  a decision and settled on the Apple.

I think many of us make the decision making process a lot more complicated than it actually needs to be. There will always be many possible alternatives available when one has to make a decision, like choosing a college, a car, a computer or a mobile phone. Making an endless list of possible alternatives is not wise, and frankly, will waste a lot of time. Be specific in what you want and develop your alternative list accordingly. If for some reason one cannot find enough alternatives or an alternative that fits your criteria, it is possible to delay making the decision. However one should not use this as an excuse to be complacent or avoid making a decision. Once we have our list of alternatives ready, we can move to the next step of the process. 

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Getting your facts right

“Trust your hunches…Hunches are usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level.” Dr. Joyce Brothers

Carl Jung did the foundational research behind the very popular MBTi personality type test. One of the capabilities of the test is to assess the manner in which we process information and reach decisions. On one extreme of the scale, you find individuals who require all the facts and figures to help them make a logically correct choice. On the other hand of the scale, you have individuals who trust their intuition, and tend to make what may be perceived as more emotional decisions. I happen to be one who trusts intuition a lot more than depending on facts and figures. There have been times this decision making process has got me into trouble, however, the times that things have worked out in my favor outweigh them. What it comes down to is personality type, and our values and belief system. One needs to be comfortable with whichever path one chooses to take.

The truth is, it is not possible to have all the facts and figures specially in a time bound situation. Life is about making optimal choices based on the often incomplete information. One must not let lack of data hinder us from making decisions. If one finds oneself delaying making difficult decisions or finding ways to avoid making such decisions, we need to ask ourselves the cause of such behavior. Confronting this head on will help enable us to progress in life. Life is too short to run away from making decisions which need to be made. We need to have the courage and confidence to trust our instincts and if we make a mistake, to learn from it. A conscious decision needs to be made about actually living life rather than just spectating it from the sidelines.

When in doubt or with little information to base a decision, consult others who may help guide you. This helps get a different perspective on the matter and may make it easier to make a decision. I have spoken about mentors in great detail, and how they have consistently helped me in decision making relating to both my life and business. Sometimes it just takes that little bit of re-affirmation, and at others, it may require a radical point of view. Either way, if we do not ask others for feedback and advice, we are not allowing ourselves to grow as individuals. Once you have your facts, figures and gut feeling, it is time to move to the next step of the decision making process.

Related Articles:

– How do you process information?

– How do you make a decision?

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Decisions and Goals

“Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.” H. L. Hunt

In life we all come to inflection points where difficult decisions have to be made. We all have different ways of analyzing situations, and then moving through the decision process. Some of us move through the process based on gut feel, while others need all the details first. Depending on the complexity of decisions, some of us are able to make decisions faster than others. What is important is to be comfortable with our thought process and rationalizing techniques. However, emphasis has to be laid on reaching a consensus when adequate time to think and reflect about the situation has been taken. 

The first step I usually take when making a decision is to look at the larger picture. Let us say for example, our business has some available cash to invest in a product range. At this point we have to look deeper into the decision making process. What primary objective do we achieve by investing in one of these product ranges? Is it increased short term profitability, long term cash generation potential, increased exposure or does it need to replace our existing ranges? On a broader level, we need to establish the current business position and what it needs at this point of time. Upon understanding present business needs, it is time to zoom into the selection process. 

In life we often have to make decisions which have much wider implications than are initially apparent. Whether you are deciding what you want to do in life or selecting which business to start, it all comes down to asking yourself “What do I want as an end result when I make this decision?”. Is it to be happy, make money or get satisfaction? Identification of the end goal is by far one of the most important factors needed to evaluate a decision. Decision making is not an isolated process of just meeting specific needs, it is one in which all the broader goals and aims have to be taken into consideration for the future. Think long and hard about what you want and what the business needs and goals are. Once these factors have been identified, it is time to move to the next step.

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5 Steps to deal with difficult people

“Logic: The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and in-capabilities of human misunderstandings.” Ambrose Bierce

One of the habits that Stephen Covey advocates in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. If there is one piece of advice I would give anyone to deal effectively with difficult people, it would be this. It is an extremely simple concept on the surface. When we look deeper and ask ourselves whether we practice it, most of us would have to respond in the negative. We are more often than not, quick to use our frames of reference and perceive the situation solely from our own angles. Before we go about labeling individuals as difficult, it is important to first understand where they are coming from and what the main drivers behind their behaviors are? Only then, can we deal with the situation effectively.

Listed below are five steps to use as a mental checklist when dealing with a difficult person:

1. Understanding Personality Types: Identify the type of person you are dealing with, only then can you determine the best way to work with this person. It is important not to get frustrated during the exploratory  stage of the personality type. This is not the easiest of processes, keeping your cool and emotional quotient under control will help you reach the most effective way of dealing with them in the shortest period of time. To learn more about the different personality types please click here.

2. Understanding the Situation: Before jumping into an argument, take time out to listen to the other person. Understanding their perspective and position on a particular situation is important. Instead of pushing our judgements onto them, we need to give them adequate room to share their point of view with us. We also need to evaluate our attitude towards the type of person and situation. How do we react usually? Are we using any negative frames of reference which make matters worse? Lastly, we need to take into account any external factors which may have triggered the situation. To learn more about understanding the situation correctly please click here.

3. Mental Game Plan: Prior to initiating a conversation, we need to ensure a clear head. Next, develop a couple of critical points to focus on during the course of the discussion, to help reach a mutually agreeable decision. Keep a laser like focus on the type of end result you are looking for. Visualize it before hand if possible, this specific exercise has helped me greatly. To learn more about devising a mental game plan please click here.

4. Language & Tone: When dealing with a difficult person, we need to keep our language and tone in check. What usually happens is, when certain buttons are pushed we tend to go on autopilot, and respond in a manner which may not be optimal. Keeping a strict control on the choice of words, sarcasm and the tone in which to conduct a conversation is critical. To learn more about the proper use of language and tone in a such discussions please click here.

5. Emotional Control: This step is by far the most critical aspect of having an effective discussion with a difficult person. During the course of a heated discussion, our emotional thresholds are often breached. When such an event takes place it has the potential to trigger an adverse reaction. Hence, we need to be aware of our personal thresholds, and develop adequate responses when they are breached. To learn more about how to control one’s emotions please click here.

This mental checklist has helped me deal with difficult people most effectively. In business we will often have to work with challenging individuals. The important thing is to keep one’s focus, practice patience and work towards a mutually beneficial end goal. I would be very interested to hear about your experiences with difficult people and your comments on how you dealt with them. What were specific challenges? How did you overcome them? I look forward to hearing from you.

 

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Emotional Control

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge.” Plato

I have talked about the importance of emotional control in prior posts in this series. I think it deserves its own section as well because dealing with difficult people is an extremely challenging exercise without control. A lot has been written about the importance of emotional control in life. It is a key component and defines successful people who have an inherent ability or have cultivated one to shrug of nasty comments or asides without taking it personally. Not all of us possess the patience to react with poise and calm in difficult times. It is important to learn through mistakes we make when our threshold levels are tested. 

A couple of important factors to understand in how to effectively control one’s emotions are:

1. Self Awareness: Whenever an event takes place in our life we interpret it cognitively, process it emotionally and take a particular action. Much of the time specific events trigger automatic emotional responses which may be a result of specific past experiences. Self awareness of automatic responses is vital to control our actions to the best of our abilities. This is a first step in taking greater control of our emotions.

2. Emotions & Value Systems: Stephen Covey has suggested in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that one must analyze our emotions through the lens of our value system, what we believe in, who we are and who we want to be. For example, if we believe in looking at the best in people and we encounter an individual who only looks for flaws, such an encounter may trigger a negative action. We need to constantly remind ourself of our beliefs and tailor our emotional responses accordingly.

3. Identify Thresholds: All of us have personal and emotional  threshold levels. When that threshold hold is reached, we can either stay in the conversation and tune out, leave the conversation and come back later or leave altogether. Depending on the situation and tolerance of threshold level, we can choose one of these three responses. It is important to make this decision in order to act in a manner keeping with our beliefs.

4. Personal Comments: During heated conversations with difficult people, be prepared to take some low blows. This is how the person is attempting to instigate a response to bring you to his/her level. All of us have points, which when pushed, can set us off. We need to learn control even when they are pushed, it is a small price to pay to reach an early agreement. If however the level of personal comments reach an unacceptable threshold level, we then need to take appropriate action.

Controlling emotions and behavior to the best of one’s ability is a responsibility for each and everyone of us. It is much easier to be the person who flares up and goes on a raving rant, than to be the one who has the patience and emotional control to weather such flare ups. My journey as an entrepreneur presents  many such situations often on a daily basis, these require and help me to think through things with an emotionally balanced perception. The moment we let our emotions slip, we make decisions that could potentially be disastrous for future business.

 

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