How to Lead: Be Interested, not Interesting

Last week, we learned that great leaders are those that can create psychological safety within their teams. These teams outperform others where psychological safety is lacking no matter how talented, creative, educated, etc the individual team members are. We learned that it is important to create trust & respect in team members, and this in turn creates a feeling of safety. You can read more about this here.

This week, we will go into what it takes to actually create this psychological safety. My proposal is contrary to much of what pop culture portrays as leadership. There are images of high powered corporate CEOs and world leaders. YouTube videos and articles on the Internet talk about how to be charismatic, how to persuade people, how to convince others, etc.

Learning these skills have been akin to getting superpowers. The quality of relationships has gone up substantially for me, and I hope you can get something similar out of them.

Continue reading “How to Lead: Be Interested, not Interesting”

Ideas in 2015

I had originally decided to write this as a post with the best books I read in 2015, but ideas are a lot more general and books are not always the best place to get ideas. I hope these ideas serve you as well:

1. The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson

This book was a game-changer for me. Everywhere around us, the stories that rise to the top are stories of people who had massive success. We hear about stories of Zuckerberg, Gates, Warren Buffet, et al. We hear about companies such as Instagram and Uber which are creating or transforming entire industries. Seeing all this, I used to get down on myself. I would wonder why others were succeeding while I was not. Perhaps something was wrong with me. The ones who made it are just more special or more worthy than me to have made such quantum jumps.

Not so. The Slight Edge talks about the incredible power of changing the definition of success to taking any action towards a worthwhile ideal. The book also has the idea that success is easy if the practice of success happens over time.

Consider the idea of losing weight. You know that drinking soda will not help you in that area. However, if you’re with friends you realize that drinking that can of soda in that moment will not make you gain weight. But you also know that NOT drinking that can of soda will not help you lose weight. And that’s where we fail. It is easy to say no at that moment to that soda, but it also easy to say yes. Yet, compound decisions like that over a long enough period of time and we are not able to succeed with our weight goals.

You can apply this to all areas of your life: schooling, fitness, relationships, business, etc. In fact, I ended up listening to this book 3-4 times this year. I found it to be absolutely powerful and I highly recommend it. The book helps you really understand the idea of the slight edge and how it can be applied to all parts of your life. It really is the secret between success and failure in life.

As a result of this, I ended up taking and following through on an online course by the University of Berkeley and edx: The Beauty and Joy of Computing.

While it may not have an immediate benefit in my life, I understand that getting more skills under my belt that interest me will undoubtedly pay off in the long run. [for more on that, read Scott Adams’ highly fun book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.] There were more areas that I applied the slight edge in, which I will get into below.

2. Giving > Getting

This idea was profound and was inspiring by a few books: The Go-Giver by Bob Burg, Become An Idea Machine by Claudia Altucher, and Choose Yourself by James Altucher, Charlie Hoehn (whom you should definitely follow), and the work I’ve done with BAPS Charities.

The goal of the list above isn’t to name drop, but to share the tremendous commonality of this idea to success and happiness that people have found again and again in all walks of life.

The idea is simple: the best way to have a fulfilling career, relationships, health, etc is to give first. James and Claudia Altucher propose the idea of giving out great ideas to people and companies. Coding, production, etc can all be outsourced, but good ideas cannot. The goal is to exercise the idea muscle (which is a muscle like any other part of your body) and give give and give the best away to people who can use it. This leads to conversations and conversations lead to opportunities to contribute. I have literally emailed founders at companies with ideas and gotten a positive reaction.

Textbooks for Change, Akira.MD, Ginger.io, and OpenCare  have been a few companies I’ve done this with in the last 2 months alone and have been blown away by how much I have learned about them, but also how appreciate they have been with my insights and ideas. In one instance, I have had a chance to become an adviser to the company.

Bob Burg and Charlie Hoehn mention that giving out ideas, but also connections, and opportunities will lead to more exciting career fulfillment. This is something that I plan to dive very deeply into in 2016. I find this method of forging a career to be a lot more rewarding than the apply via a cover letter and CV to jobs and move ahead. By giving with any expectation of getting anything back before any real tangible opportunity, we are much more likely to get a positive response back.

This technique above helped me make new friends as I’ve reached out to people I’ve admired and shared ideas that they may like.

3. Education != Schooling

 

John Taylor Gatto is a revelation. I first stumbled across his 5 hour interview titled The Ultimate History Lesson. As New York State’s teacher of the year, and New York City’s teacher of the year many times over, he had had enough and had to quit.

Gatto goes deep into the history of schooling and goes on to outline with startling clarity how modern schools are not designed to educate citizens, but rather designed to create a class of workers. These workers are conditioned over at least 12,000 hours of forced schooling to base their intellectual and emotional value and worth in external approval, have others set the agenda for their lives. The system is designed to enforce hierarchy and class structure so that most do not deviate from it.

He goes on to highlight alternative methods of education, which should develop the…

  1. Ability to define problems without a guide.
  2. Ability to ask questions that challenge common assumptions.
  3. Ability to work without guidance.
  4. Ability to work absolutely alone.
  5. Ability to persuade others that yours is the right course.
  6. Ability to debate issues and techniques in public.
  7. Ability to re-organize information into new patterns.
  8. Ability to discard irrelevant information.
  9. Ability to think dialectically.
  10. Ability to think inductively, deductively, and heuristically.

If you are short on time, at least carve out 1 hour to listen to his lecture titled “The Seven Lesson School Teacher: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

If you are more interested, there are many interesting ways to follow-up. Gatto’s book titled Weapons of Mass Instruction come to mind. There is also a massive open-sourced learning community that untethers education from schooling and encourage people of all ages to take control of their education. These ideas make it very clear that fixing schools won’t do it. For a real revolution, we must learn to educate ourselves. We must learn to take control of our own lives and not wait for the power-that-be to grant us the golden ticket of our destiny.

I know this all sounds very conspiratorial, but after doing your own independent reading and listening to the story that’s laid out, you cannot help but get how true the story presented above is.

Understanding these ideas helped me understand many of the feelings of general helplessness, loneliness, and poor self-image I have often experienced (or keep experiencing at times). Understanding the role of schooling in my life has given me such a large portion of my power back. It has helped me be bolder in my thinking in actions, fear less, and find happiness and self-worth in my own self.

4. Move!

Spark! The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey at the Harvard Medical School convinced me beyond a shred of doubt that daily exercise is a great lifetime practice not just for my body but also for my brain. As a nerd, it was the brain talk that convinced me to start exercising daily.

Aerobic exercise changes the brain completely and significantly impacts its ability to learn, manage stress, ward off and treat ADHD, depression, and addiction. The opening chapter alone is worth the price of admission as Dr. Ratey highlights the impact of exercise on a school population with an absolutely staggering impact.

I’ve been almost pretty disciplined since this summer to have kept a regular exercise habit going. Exercise has become a mainstay in my life and without it, I have a hard time thinking and functioning well. My body gets antsy after a while if I haven’t exercised. I highly recommend this book for those who do not take exercise seriously because it presents ideas on how the brain itself is impacted.

Credit goes to the incredible Special Ops trainer Mark Lauren for writing You Are Your Own Gym to help me devise a High-Intensity Interval Training program.

That was 2015 in a set of ideas. I’ve tried to present the most life-changing ideas above. I hope some of them were useful to you. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or clarifications you would like and I would be happy to go into them.

Why The Selfie Will Give You No Joy

I was out with a friend a few days ago and this person was really insistent on taking pictures. I asked her why she takes these pictures of what she is doing, what she is eating, wearing etc.

She wanted to take a picture with me. To remember our time together. I kept refusing her. She wondered why, and I was not able to articulate a good enough answer for her. Her reason for taking these pictures was to “share my life with my friends.” Perhaps I seemed anti-social, or perhaps I seemed over-protective. The reason why I refused is none of the above.

The reason is this: I did not want our meeting to lose its meaning.At a profound level, if you capture everything you do, then nothing remains of value. I see people describe their lunches with the same language as they would describe the birth of their newborn. I see a real poignant moment with someone special shared in the same breath as a weekend of watching TV.

Pictures and photos had worth to them before the invent of digital cameras. A moment had to be special to be captured. There was meaning attached to it. But now, we capture everything. But how often do we revisit them? And if we do, how often do those pictures evoke the same sentiments? And even if they do, how long before we just swipe sideways to move on quickly to another moment of complete banality?

We’re losing our ability to reminisce. To remember and ponder our own lives. We captured everything on our phones, but forgot to capture it in our minds and hearts. We write beautiful captions to complement our photos (with the appropriate number of hashtags for more likes and more followers), but what meaning do those words carry when they are written for an audience of many instead of an audience of self?

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Look at the image above. How many people do you think were “in the moment”? Can you really be involved with what’s happening if you’re seeing it through your phone screen? We are so obsessed with sharing our lives, that we perhaps forget to share these moments with own selves.

We forget that we create our own meaning with our own moments. We do not need the validation of others to bestow us with the acceptance of what we are feeling.

Let’s put own phones down. Let’s quit our instagrams and snapchats for a few days or weeks. Let’s give meaning to our lives again.After all, only real meaning can give us joy.

How to Kick Butt Public Speaking

I absolutely love going in front of the room, perhaps getting on a stage, and speaking. The thought of such a thing might horrify some people, but not me. I live for it.

I like how it makes me feel completely alive. I get to have a deep and interesting conversation (yes, I know I’m usually the one talking, but we’ll get to that) with strangers, with friends. You know, the kind of stuff we pretend to do when we’re using social media.

But it wasn’t always like this. I used to blend into the wall when I started out. I couldn’t string together a sentence in public to save my life. “Any minute now,” I would say, “they’re going to find out I’m a phony.”

It never happened.

I’ve read more books on this than anyone I know, I have spent thousands of hours on stage either giving a speech, performing, or preparing for one of them. So here are a few things you can do to make yourself Kick Butt Public Speaking (metaphorically speaking).

1. Speak Like A Human

Yes. No person tells another person “It is important that we realign with our goal metrics to stay aligned with the targets set before.”

You’d say “Hey man, we promised we’d work out more, and we haven’t. Let’s go to the gym.”

And yet, time and time again, I see perfectly intelligent and interesting people go up to a podium or in front of the room and start talking like corporate or government bureaucrats. Stop it. Talk like a human.

How do you do that? Good question…

2. Pretend you’re speaking to a friend.

Better yet, ACTUALLY speak to friends. Work the room before you get up and make some friends.

My fondest memories with friends includes staying up late into the night and talking about our personal dreams, hopes, fears, failures, love, and mortality. The secret is to get into that mindset (and I should say heartset, because really it’s about opening yourself up from the heart) when you get up to present.

People want to hear a human story. A story of dreams, hopes, fears, failures, love, struggles, and of course mortality. Yes, you can find nuggets of these in every talk you are going to do. You may go up and fill your 15-30 minute speech slot if you don’t do this, but the audience won’t remember you.

Be human. Speak to me as a friend when you’re up there. Of course this requires…

3. Knowing your Allies

You can’t open up and speak to an audience of friends (even when they are strangers), when you believe that they are judging you. Friends aren’t judging you. They’re cheering you on.

No one wants to see you fail when you’re up there.

People say you should imagine the audience naked to help you present. I say imagine the audience as a long and close friend leaning forwards hanging on your every word. Just because that’s what friends do, and what you’d do for a friend. Then it becomes easy.

Everyone becomes your ally.

4. Practice!

Sorry. No way around this. I have screwed up too often. I screw up all the time now. My screw ups don’t look too screwy these days, but I know they happened when they do.

You don’t seek forgiveness when speaking with friends. You may do something silly. You take it in stride. You don’t beat yourself endlessly afterwards for screwing up. After all, you were just with friends.

This somehow makes practicing and trying again and again a lot easier.

I was 13 when I got pushed to speak a lot more. After that, through friends and mentors, I had the good fortunate to lead the Debate Club in my high school, do improv comedy in high school, do plays and presentations, as well as do acting work till I turned 23.

You’d be a fool to think I was spectacular on that first debate tournament I ended. And you’re equally foolish to think that you’re going to be Steve Jobs when you walk up on the stage. But you try, you practice, you fail. You try again.

5. Steal!

Oh yeah. Steal. Steal a lot. Steal great ideas. Steal great design. Steal great quotations, great one liners. I devoured pretty much every Steve Jobs keynote. I devour Presentation Zen. I devour great TED talks. I devour great politicians and leaders speaking. I devour great movie scenes.

So there you have it.

Just some ways to kick butt when you’re public speaking.

There’s a lot more to it. Such as learning the art of rhetoric, understand storytelling principles, etc etc.

But this is a good start.

The Social Detox Diet

You’re hungry for a real social experience. Yes, even if you’ve spent the last few hours hooked on your phone. You know how I know this?

Because you’re still doing it!

It is ENDLESS. Just when I end up scrolling to the top of the twitter page, or the Facebook page, it gives me a notification that there is just one more new update. Just. One. More.

To be honest, most of it is depressing, even if it isn’t depressing. I know…you’re on a beach enjoying the weather while I’m in cold Canada. That’s great, you look like Henry Cavill or a Victoria’s Secret Supermodel while you’re on the beach. I’m trying to get there. What’s that? Another 10 THINGS EVERY 20 YEAR OLD NEEDS TO DO NOW TO MAKE A MILLION DOLLAR ABS article? Crap, I’d like million dollar abs, and I guess I need to do this. Oh no! I don’t do most of the things on this list!!!!

Every Snapchat requires a response.

It’s making us insane. It’s a steady diet of junk that means nothing.

I get it though. “That’s how friends communicate,” you say. “You’re being anti-social!!!”

But I quit Facebook late in August 2013. I haven’t been on since. I like it. I quit Snapchat. I like it. I browse instagram on my computer, and not on my phone so there is impulsiveness to share. I like it. Steve describes it beautifully:

Facebook creates a false and unsatisfying sense of socializing.

Being active on Facebook had the effect of filling my social bucket. But it was essentially a false fill, like drinking salt water instead of fresh water. Instead of providing a real sense of connection that satisfies, it made me think I was out there being social, but I’d still be “hungry” afterwards. Facebook activity could never recharge my batteries in the way that face to face interaction could.

When I dropped Facebook, I began feeling genuinely more social when I’d go out. Even when running errands, I’d notice myself chatting and joking around with people more often. When I was active on Facebook, I wouldn’t do that as much because I had the false sense that I was being social by interacting with my online posse.

KNOWING ABOUT someone through their updates is not the same as KNOWING them. And pictures and videos cannot capture the distinction. I’d now like to share with you a few other points that have resonated deeply with me. By the way, you can replace Facebook with MOST other social networking sites.

Facebook communication is mostly low-priority noise.

When I dropped Facebook, I noticed that the communication volume in my life dropped significantly. However, I felt no drop in the level of significant and meaningful communication. What I seemed to lose was mostly a lot of noise.

Generally speaking, communicating via Facebook is a shallow experience. You read streams of brief messages from a variety of people, but the messages don’t contain much depth. Most are trivial and mundane. Some are clever or witty. Very little of the information you’ll digest on Facebook is memorable and life-changing. Using Facebook can still give you a feeling of connectedness, but the long-term benefits are negligible.

Facebook essentially gives you the emotional sense that you’re doing something worthwhile (i.e. connecting with people), but when you step back and look at your actions and results from a more objective perspective, it becomes clear that you’re really just spinning your wheels.

Friends lose their individuality and become part of a collective.

Facebook compacts so much communication into a single stream, and this can have a depersonalizing effect. As I continued to use the service to interact with people en masse, I gradually began thinking of my online friends as a network, stream, or blob, as opposed to valuing each person as a unique individual.

When I’d post a status update, who was the intended recipient? Which friend was I updating? In truth I wasn’t sharing with anyone in particular. I was simply sharing with the collective.

If I posted something on a friend’s wall, I wasn’t just communicating with that friend. I was communicating with their posse too. If I used the private messaging feature, it was just one message among dozens. Friends were becoming like interchangeable drones.

Facebook is computer interaction, not human interaction.

The reality of using Facebook is that you’re just typing and viewing insignificant bits of information on a digital device (computer, cell phone, iStuff, etc).

The next time you use such a service, pause for a moment and do a reality check. What are you actually doing? Who’s with you? How is this advancing your life? What if you do this for 20 more years? What do you expect to gain from it?

You can call it social networking, but it’s not really a social experience if you’re actually alone sitting at a computer. Real socialization is face to face.

There’s a tremendous richness to in-person socialization that just doesn’t translate over the Internet, at least not yet.

A ***hug*** isn’t a real hug. A smiley isn’t a real smile. All you’re doing is pushing buttons.

I’ll go so far as to say that Facebook isn’t social networking. It’s anti-social retreating.

If you want to disagree with me about this, you’ll have say it to my face. If you try to tell me off by typing something on a digital device, you’re only proving me right. Evil, I know.

Facebook is ruled by addicts.

This is probably obvious, but the Facebook “friends” that you’ll interact with most frequently will tend to be those who are the most addicted. They post more status updates and comments because they spend a lot of time on the service. So you end up giving the most attention to those who are the greatest addicts.

In short, you end up spending the most time interacting with the people who are the worst influences — highly unproductive people who don’t value their time. This can have many adverse effects, such as causing you to become more addicted to the service and to feel the urge to post more often just for the sake of posting.

If your strongest connections on Facebook are the most addicted, how is that going to influence you over time? The closer you become with those people, the more you’ll get sucked into spending more time on the service.

After I left Facebook, I asked myself, Should I really be giving so much attention to the greatest social networking addicts?

While even the biggest addicts can be very intelligent, helpful, and growth-oriented, their addiction tends to sap their ambition, causing them to make little forward progress in life. It should come as no surprise that many of these people are financially stagnant. It’s hard to improve your finances when you devote so much time to non-income generating activities each day.

So if you’re still reading this (and have you noticed that our attention spans are getting shorter because we are getting used to consuming only bite sized bits of information?), here’s my challenge: socialize in real life.

If you’re a passive reader of this site and we haven’t met, send me an email at dpvtank@gmail.com or leave a comment. I’d like to walk the talk and connect to more people in a real individual way.

In the meanwhile, consider going on a media detox.

I’m a big advocate of testing. If you’re an active Facebook user, and you go 30 days without it, you’ll gain a much clearer understanding of its role in your life. In my case it was obvious within a few days that the benefits I got from using it weren’t worth the effort, but there were other subtleties I didn’t notice until weeks later.

If you can’t do it, then it becomes clear that these tools are ruling you. Are you really in charge then? Despite how connected you are, aren’t you dependent on the number of likes, favs, or retweets you get? So are you in control?

Test it out. Try it out for 2 weeks. No social media. And let me know how it goes.