Monday, September 30, 2013

9 Startup Habits That Will Transform Your Work-- LinkedIn

By Shane Snow; LinkedIn

When I left journalism school, I and half of the grad students in my class entered the job market as freelancers. (It's a tough market for journalists, even today). And then a peculiar thing happened: all of these amazing, Columbia-educated journalists who'd written for The New York Times and NBC and Time Magazine started approaching me for help—despite the fact that they were far better writers than me. In the past, I had run a website consultancy, so my friends asked my advice on building a website, promoting themselves online, getting clients, managing invoices and taxes, and so on. Essentially, they needed help becoming entrepreneurs, which required an entirely different skillset than the journalist's craft. While some of what we freelancers needed was practical (sales skills, websites, etc.), what we really had to do was start thinking of ourselves as startups.

But truthfully, startup skills are not just useful to the self-employed app developer or forced-into-freelance journalist. The habits—and the mindset—of successful entrepreneurs are becoming increasingly valuable in every 21st century workplace.

Having spent most of my life around entrepreneurs—and having attempted to mimic their best moves in my work as a business owner, then freelancer, and now startup founder—I'm convinced that the following habits will make anyone twice as successful, not to mention employable:

1) Systematizing Repeat Tasks
Entrepreneurship, by definition, is the art of creating systems that generate more value for less effort. Startups realize that the opportunity cost of doing mundane tasks adds up quickly, preventing them from doing the high-impact work they have set out to do.

Though this is a mindset more than anything else, there are all sorts of tech products you can use to automate repeat tasks in your work right now. Sanebox for hiding email you don't need to see during the day. LastPass and Dashlane to save all your passwords, so you never have to keep track of more than one master login. And one of my favorites is IFTTT, which lets you set up automatic If>Then triggers for almost anything. For instance, IFTTT sends me a text message on mornings when the weather forecast says rain (so I don't have to waste time looking it up or heading back to my house when I forget my umbrella), and it sends all my Gmail attachments automatically to be backed up to Dropbox, so I don't have to hunt for files online when I need them.

If your time is worth $25 or $50 or $500 an hour, then fork over the $15 for someone else to do your laundry for you and work on something for two hours instead. If you have to do tedious data entry to create a report every week, set up a spreadsheet to pull in and add the numbers for you. This is the entrepreneur's philosophy, and it can make you more productive than almost any other thing.

2) Great Storytelling
"Those who tell the stories rule the world." This Native American proverb is painted on the wall of my office, reminding everyone in the company that narratives—and the ways you tell them—matter.
Entrepreneurs are constantly pitching. Ideas, products, investment opportunities.

The most important element of a successful pitch is the story. Great start-ups are fantastic at painting a big, ambitious picture that gets people excited. Indeed, if there's one skill that will get you noticed and remembered, it's the ability to give a great speech, make a riveting presentation, and write compellingly. Entrepreneurs spend more time preparing and honing these details than most lackadaisical PowerPoint junkies out there, and that's because for a start-up, everything hinges on them.

3) Carving Out "Heads Down" Time
Interruptions eat up a huge amount of the average person's work time. Great startups have the habit of finding ways to protect their people from needless distractions. And smart managers block off swaths of their calendars for "productivity time."

4) Split Testing And Iterating
A hallmark of the Lean Startup movement, entrepreneurs are wont to constantly pit two or more approaches against one another and let data inform their decisions. What should the home page call-to-action say? Split test two different sentences and see which gets more clicks. How do I get more people to respond to my emails? Test different subject lines, lengths, and endings like "Thanks for your help in advance" versus "Warm regards." What kind of outfit makes me look more professional? Try two different styles and keep track of the compliments.

(I realized this habit had spilled over to my regular life when I found myself "split testing" salsas at a taco joint the other day.)

Truthfully, we're not all as good at making decisions with our guts as we think we are. But a good split test doesn't lie, and entrepreneurs are constantly pitting their test winners against new ideas.

5) Looking For 80/20s
There's a strange phenomenon in work that almost always holds true: if you examine your life, you'll often see that only 20% of the things you do account for 80% of the results you get. Being productive and being busy are two different things. If you want to quadruple your productivity, focus on the 20% first, and if you can, cut the other 80% that just makes you busy.

6) Rather Than Planning, Doing
Too many of us have meetings about meetings, and end meetings with lists of follow-up conversations to be had later. But startups, for which every second counts, have a habit of taking on-the-spot action. Instead of promising to email an introduction for you, a startup founder will pull out her phone and write the email while you sit there. Then the issue doesn't have to take up future brain- or calendar-space.

7) Ditching Meetings... But Taking Every Networking Meeting
Most meetings are worthless. They usually have too many people, who feel obligated to talk because they are there, and they're almost always too long.

"Meetings are typically scheduled like TV shows. You set aside 30 minutes or an hour because that's how scheduling software works," write Jason Fried and David Hansson in their book, Rework. "If it only takes 7 minutes to accomplish a meeting's goal, that's all the time you should spend."

Startups often hold meetings while standing up, so the desire to get the meeting over with outweighs the desire to dilly dally on unimportant things. And often they simply cut meetings in favor of asynchronous coordination over email.

However, entrepreneurs also know the importance of serendipity in their work, so they make a point to network as much as possible. "I take every [networking] meeting," says Michael Ventura, CEO of digital innovation agency Sub Rosa. "Because in our industry, you never know what could happen."
(P.S.: The way I solve the dilemma of having networking meetings eat into important work is by dividing my weeks into "heads down" days and "explore" days.)

8) Asking "Why" Like A Five-Year-Old
Entrepreneurs aren't satisfied with the status quo. They ask "why" over and over again until they get to the bottom of things, rather than ascribing superficial blame on people, or worst of all, accepting the explanation, "That's just the way it is."

This relentless inquisitiveness in fact, helps entrepreneurs find and fix the 20% wrong that causes 80% of their problems.

9) Seeing Every "It Can't Be Done" As An Opportunity
This is the mindset from which innovation springs. To an entrepreneur, convention means average, and impossible means profit potential. People who see the opportunities in the can'ts in their work—and seize them—create positive change, get promoted, and work happier.

Read the full article on LinkedIn

Monday, September 23, 2013

What It Takes to Make New College Graduates Employable

My older son graduated from high school last week and has started a pleasant job as a summer lifeguard. In four years we expect to attend his college graduation, and we hope the time there leaves him with great experiences, a love of learning and some idea how to get and keep a job. 

It’s that last part of the equation that I’m going to focus on. My heart sinks every time I read a news story or opinion piece quoting employers who charge that four-year colleges and universities are failing to provide graduates with the skills they need to become and remain employable. Of course, in many ways, this isn’t a new story. 

“A four-year liberal arts education doesn’t prepare kids for work and it never has,” said Alec R. Levenson a senior research scientist for the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California. 

Mara Swan, the executive vice president of global strategy and talent at Manpower Group, agreed. 

“There’s always been a gap between what colleges produce and what employers want,” she said. “But now it’s widening.” That’s because workplaces are more complex and globalized, profit margins are slimmer, companies are leaner and managers expect their workers to get up to speed much faster than in the past. 

Read the rest of the article online. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

10 Mental Toughness Fundamentals for Entrepreneurs

By Marty Zwilling, Veteran Start-up Mentor; Executive

In sports, mental toughness is defined as the ability to focus on and execute solutions, especially in the face of adversity. If anyone in business ever needed mental toughness, it's an entrepreneur. Investors tell me that startup success is all about execution, all while facing determined competitors and overcoming customers' resistance to change.

Dr. Jason Selk, in his most recent book "Executive Toughness," talks about mental toughness with analogies between sports and business, but he never takes it all the way to entrepreneurs, where I believe it can have the most impact. So here is my interpretation of the fundamentals he outlines, adapted to the language of a startup:
  1. Define the win for your business. A startup is not a parlor game. With a for-profit startup, it's all about solving a problem that embodies real pain, for real customers who are willing and able to pay for a solution. For social entrepreneurs, it's all about making the world a better place. Figure out early what it takes to win, or you will lose by default.  
  2. Adopt a business vision that fits your self-image. In every case, you need a long-term vision that drives self-fulfillment and self-image as well as business success. Assess your strengths and weaknesses, and visualize how these will lead to business success. If the vision doesn't fuel your passion and match your skills, you won't like the lifestyle.
  3. Establish real business goals and processes. It's hard to achieve things that have not been defined, and the steps to get there are not clear. I recommend a business focus on a one-year timeframe, with a limit of three product goals and three process goals. 
  4. Prioritize the priorities. Prioritize or perish should be every entrepreneur's mantra. Accountability requires splitting your big product goals into daily process goals and scheduling them to completion. Don't get distracted with the unimportant.
  5. Practice accountability through self-evaluation. Learn to look in the mirror every day. No evaluation means no awareness of how you are doing, which gives you no basis for improvement. Good performance does not require perfection, which is unachievable.
  6. Control your emotions to control your performance. Learn to control the degree to which your nerves and emotions are engaged and on alert. By maintaining basic mental stability and physical fitness, and preparing yourself intellectually you will function more effectively and successes will grow.
  7. Prepare to say the right thing. Practice your response to the three most common situations you face. Creating and documenting scripts, like your elevator pitch, for key interactions help you and your team maintain focus. They build confidence and reduce the anxiety that often gets in the way of leadership performance.
  8. Prepare mentally every day. Your mind can be strengthened every day, just like a muscle. Complete a mental workout every day to dramatically improve your focus and ability to execute consistently. It's one of the most effective methods known for training your body and mind to stay under control and perform to your potential.
  9. Develop a relentless and optimistic solution focus. Replacing all negative thinking is one of the most critical pieces of your mental toughness puzzle. Approach all solutions one step at a time, where a step is any improvement to the current situation. Remember that a focus only on problems will likely cause more problems.
  10. When you set your mind to do something, find a way to get it done, no matter what. While a relentless solution focus is the mental step, discipline is the action step that makes solutions materialize. In this way, discipline delivers success. Make discipline a habit by limiting temptation and conscious practice.
We all need these fundamentals of mental toughness to succeed and lead in today's business environment. It takes more than market knowledge and technical skill alone. That's the fun part of the challenge to most serious entrepreneurs. If it was easy, anyone could do it. Are you ready to step up to the plate?

Read more articles from The Huffington Post online...

Monday, September 9, 2013

5 Best Things to Say in an Interview- from Monster

By Catherine Conlan
Monster Contributing Writer

The best things you can say in an interview won’t necessarily get you the job on their own, but they can certainly pave the way. Keep these five things in mind as you go through the interviewing process to give yourself the best chance at landing the job.

Ask Good Questions

According to Howard Pines, founder and CEO of BeamPines, “the best thing a candidate can do at an interview ask good questions.”

Doing so shows that you are thoughtful and interested in understanding the company. There’s usually a chance to ask questions at the end of your interview, so be ready with questions that show you’re engaged in the process.

Pines suggests several questions, including:

  • What are the biggest short- and long-term issues I would need to focus on in this position?
  • What would I need to focus on differently than the previous person in this position?
  • What organizational issues should I be aware of?
“I’m flexible.”

Whether it’s about possible job duties, a potential start date or simply timing for the second interview, stressing your flexibility makes you easy to get along with.

Hiring managers don’t like complications, and having to coordinate complicated schedules or haggle over a job description eventually just makes you look difficult. While you certainly don’t want to be a pushover -- and “flexible” shouldn’t define your salary negotiation -- show your potential employer that you’re interested in results that work for everyone.

The Company’s Own Words

Before your interview, become familiar with the company’s website and literature. Pay attention to the words used -- what’s important to the organization?

“In your interview, hit key words that appeared on the company website or brochure,” says Olivia Ford of Adeptio. “These key words might include team, leadership, simplistic, culture or growth.”

Mixing these keywords into your answers can provide a subtle hint that you are plugged in to what the organization is looking for.

“That’s a Good Question.”

Use this phrase instead of blurting out “I don’t know” if the interviewer stumps you with a surprise question. It can give you a few moments to come up with an answer and, in the meantime, strokes the interviewer's ego a little bit too.

Avoid the “I don’t know” answer when possible, but of course don’t lie about your experience or training.

Reasons You Want the Job.

Knowing a job prospect’s motivations is important for managers who are hiring.

During your interview, talk about how this position fits into your future plans and the ideas you have about your career, how it fits with your values, and what you would like to learn from it. Talk about how you see yourself in relation to the company and what you believe you can bring to the position.

These kinds of thoughts show who you are as a person, and go a long way toward giving the hiring manager an idea about how you might fit in the company’s culture and values.

Read the full article and others online.

Monday, September 2, 2013

How Do You Live Up to Your Legacy?

Dhara Naik- Levo League

As my 30th birthday approaches ever so quickly, I’ve been wondering how I can measure success without looking at how many things I’ve been able to cross off the checklist that I made in my early twenties.

I realized the more important question I should be asking myself is how I’m living up to the legacy that I want to leave behind. This sounds like such a strange and scary thought to have at 29. My grandfather and I were extremely close, and since he passed away seven months ago I’ve been thinking about the legacy he left behind. He was a well-respected and successful businessman, but despite all of his achievements and risk-taking endeavors, it was his character that encompassed his legacy. While saying a few words at his funeral, I realized he had truly lived up to a memorable legacy.

Looking back at his life, my grandfather made decisions that reflected his character even when it meant he had to make a sacrifice. Others may see his sacrifices as mistakes, but everyone’s definition of success is different. For me, I thought it meant being an overachiever and perfectionist. Whether it’s in work, relationships, or something as simple as making lasagna, I’ve spent the last decade chasing after things so I could adhere to the checklist I had made. I thought if I could cross everything off that checklist, I’d be successful. There have been moments where I was extremely stressed out, exhausted, and so caught up chasing the checklist that I forgot to stop and smell the roses. Quite frankly, I wasn’t even fun to be around (just ask my friends and family).

It was not until my grandfather got sick and I spent a lot of time with him for the last two months of his life that I came to see my definition of success had been wrong all along. In an eye-opening moment, I realized it wasn’t about how fast I could complete a deliverable or how quickly I could respond to emails. And it wasn’t about how to perfectly present myself at all times.

After some soul searching, I didn’t really have the answer on how to define my legacy, but I knew that at the very core it’s about my character as a person and how I can make some sort of difference in the world. It’s all about living my life fearlessly and with passion. It also means that somewhere along my journey, I can inspire someone to achieve their legacy according to their terms. If I can do that, then that’s ultimate success.

Read this article and others online...