Focus On Contributing. Not on Achieving.

September 11th, 2011

I recent finished reading Jim Collins book, Good to Great (which is a must read for those interested in creating world class, sustainable organizations). I headed over to Jim Collins blog and discovered a great post about a day he spend with management legend Peter Drucker. The following extracts particularly resonated with me:

” I reflected back on his work, The Effective Executive, and his admonition to replace the quest for success with the quest for contribution. The critical question is not, “How can I achieve?” but “What can I contribute?” 

I am a strong believer that happiness & success can only be found by contributing to something bigger than yourself.

At one point during my day with Drucker, I asked, “Which of your twenty-six books are you most proud of?”

“The next one,” snapped Drucker.

He was eighty-five years young at the time, cranking at a pace of nearly a book a year, plus significant articles. Over the next nine years, he added another eight books to the count, and continues at age ninty-four to produce work highly relevant to the challenges of the twenty-first century.

When I read this I was blown away by the fact that most people hope to write 1 book in their lifetime yet Drucker in the years where most people consider the best part of their life behind them, managed to write a staggering 9!

At the end of my day with Drucker in 1994, we pulled up to his home after a meal at his favorite local restaurant. “How can I thank you, how can I repay you?” I asked, knowing that the value of a day with Drucker was incalculable. 

“You have already repaid me,” said Drucker. “I have learned much from our conversation today.” That’s when I realized that what ultimately sets Peter Drucker apart is that he does not see himself as a guru; he remains a student. Most management gurus are driven to say something; Drucker is driven to learn something. Drucker’s work is interesting—he is interesting—because, to borrow a phrase from the late John Gardner, he remains relentlessly interested. 

“Just go out and make yourself useful,” he finished.

Drucker’s hunger and desire to learn is truly inspiring. Collins is right on the mark – the more you learn, the better you can draw connections and understand relationships – the more likely you will be able to produce and develop work is that is interesting and relevant.

The full article can be found here.

Self Reliance #4: Fortune & Joy

June 26th, 2011

This post forms a series based on #Trust 30 challenge – a writing imitative where I write daily using Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words of wisdom as inspiration.

The secret of fortune is joy in our hands. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was listening to a podcast the other day (I Love Marketing), and the founder of BNI International (a business networking organization), Iven Misner made an interesting observation about success. He noted that if you ask anyone who is successful at anything, they will tell you that their secret is [Insert some common characteristic] – this could be focus, intensity, hard work, networking, innovation, education (and the list goes on).

Of course none of these are really secrets at all. If you were to ask someone who was not successful, they would likely give a similar list. With one difference. They would also include luck, or fortune.

Misner noted therefore that success in any pursuit, lies in the uncommon application of common knowledge. I agree. But it doesn’t fully explain why some people are immensely successful. It does not in my opinion adequately deal with the issue of luck, or fortune – being in the right place, at the right time.

The impact of luck/fortune in creating success is well documented. Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, spends considerable time illustrating that in addition to hard work, deliberate practice, and lots of hours, luck also plays a vital role in creating success. Gladwell utilizes a number of examples to show the role that luck play including Bill Gates. Gladwell shows that Gates was fortunate to go a wealthy high school, which at the time could afford (due to some parent’s connections and initiative) to provide computer access to the students. Gates took advantage of this, and consequently, as the computer revolution broke, he was one of the few individuals who had accumulated over 10,000 hours on a computer, and had the knowledge to capitalize on the opportunity.

Consequently, (although I hate to admit it), luck/fortune plays an important role in success. There is a way however (in my opinion – and it seems also in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s opinion) to turn luck, or fortune to your advantage.

If you think about anyone who has become exceptionally successful at something – beyond all the general characteristics which come to mind, like organized, disciplined, ambitious, educated, focused, intense, charismatic (I think you get the point), they all have one thing in common.

Read more…

Self Reliance #3: Virtue & Vice

June 23rd, 2011

This post forms a series based on #Trust 30 challenge – a writing imitative where I write daily using Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words of wisdom as inspiration.

Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I think sometimes we believe that it is easy to hide who we really are – put on a facade when we are with certain people, in the hope, that we can fool them. Interestingly however, 93% of human communication consists of body language. While it might be easy to change our words – it is exceptionally difficult to change our body language.

We read other people’s body language without even realizing it – apparently 60-70% of all meaning is derived from non-verbal behavior. This means that when someone attempts to put up a facade, or hide who they are, it often creates incongruities between what they say, and how they act. And these are easily picked up – often at a subconscious level by the people around. Ever just felt in your gut that something was ‘funny’ about someone? Perhaps you just felt you couldn’t trust someone? Or that you simply didn’t like them, but couldn’t put your finger on it?

Consequently, we communicate who we are through our actions – our body language, every moment of the day. I think therefore that its simply easier to just be yourself – whether you lean to vice or virtue – at least that way people know that what they see if what they get. Often, honesty about who you are is more important to people (at least in my experience), then what you are (vice or virtue). What’s mostly important to people is understanding who you are and what you represent

Self Reliance #2: Trust Thyself

June 22nd, 2011

This post forms a series based on #Trust 30 challenge – a writing imitative where I write daily using Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words of wisdom as inspiration.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you don’t back yourself, and your decision 100% you end up getting hurt or you end up failing.Why? Because if you don’t trust yourself, you are not willing to put all the chips on the table and just go for it. And if you don’t give your all, because you don’t trust yourself the chance of you succeeding diminishes. Your mind, body and physical strength are not in unison when you don’t trust yourself – they fight each other.

Consequently, not trusting yourself succeeds only in confirming your fears that you cannot and should not do something. Which means the next time you do something – you don’t trust yourself. Its a nasty cycle.

If you trust yourself however you begin with the mindset that anything is possible. Your whole being – your heart, mind, and physical strength therefore is committed as one to the singular purpose of your goal or objective. They vibrate to the same iron string. And this is vital.

When I was in 5th year of my law studies at university, I had to make the tough decision to trust myself – trust the decision that a career in law was not for me and pursue a career in education and in business. This was tough. I was making a decision to forgo a potentially lucrative career in law, lay my five years of university to the side, and pursue a risky, and uncharted pathway as the founder of a start-up.

Read more…

Self Reliance #1: Integrity

June 21st, 2011

I have undertaken a commitment – a 30-day writing challenge from which is an online initiative and 30-day writing challenge that encourages you to look within and trust yourself.

Each day a quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson is emailed as a prompt for writing and self-reflection. I have joined the commitment a little late – but better late then never!

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Be yourself. Don’t care what other people think. My parents gave me this advice – although at the time it sounded cliched, I have come to realize just how powerful it is to remain true to yourself. More often than not, I find that we spend more time thinking about what other people think about who we are, rather than what we think about who we are.

Whenever I find myself worrying about what other people, I remind myself that:

  1. I am really not that interesting and its egocentric of me to think that other people are always thinking about me
  2. Other people are likely thinking about themselves
  3. Why should I let the thoughts and opinions of people who (often) mean very little to me/don’t see very often/never again dictate who I am, and what I do

Time is short. If you let yourself be influenced by what other people think, you are effectively letting other people spend your most valuable asset – time.

Read more…

SydStart Autumn 2011

April 12th, 2011

screenshot20100327at3.12.44pm 300x136 SydStart Autumn 2011I recently went to Syd Start a conference, and networking event for start ups, talent and investors (with a tech focus). The afternoon/night was extremely enjoyable with a number of excellent take out points (from an awesome line up of speakers). What was particularly exciting is that Syd Start represents the early beginnings of a growing start up scene in Sydney, and Australia.

So, what did I learn?

Mike Cannon Brookes (Founder of Atlassian, Twitter @mcannonbrookes)

  • Marketing: Every single day you should think about marketing and how to sell/build awareness of what you do.
  • Hiring: When you think you have to let someone go, you already should have.
  • Culture: Build somewhere you want to actually work – give an experience. Hire well. People is the culture, so hire people you want to work with.
  • Metrics: Measure everything. What are the 3 most important things? You should be able to tell me immediately what they are.

Elisa Bizannes -(Founder Start Up Bus, Twitter @EliasBiz)

  • Minimum Viable Business: Point of a start up is to make money. If there are no customers, there is no long term start up. Focus on building the minimum required to make a viable business.
  • Perfectionism: Being a perfectionist will kill you -prioritize time based on what will have the most impact.

Nick Lowe (Founder of Go Get)

  • Advertising: Don’t ever spend money on advertising – give yourself limits and barriers and encourage creativity
  • Perfectionism: Voltaire – “The perfect is the enemy of the good”. Don’t go for perfect, just go for good.

Marc Lehman (Founder at Sasuu, Twitter @marclehmann)

  • Competitive Advantage: Do whats difficult – its ultimate barrier to entry
  • Cost of Sales: Vital – can you suffer a compression of margin?
  • Decision Making: Start ups suffer from a decision problem, not a dollar problem. You need to spend more time on making the right decisions, instead of throwing money at the problem.
  • Scaling: Scale ahead of your curve. How? By automation. Ask yourself – Can this be automated? Think about how you are allocating resources, and try to automate everything!

Overall, the key point that stuck with me was that:

  • Speed is everything. If you cannot launch a new venture in 90 days, you are too slow! Think about sprinting.

For slides from all the speakers, + more information on Syd Start Spring 2011, head over to Syd Start



March 3rd, 2011

Over the last couple of weeks the following quotes have really resonated with me. I thought I would share them with you in the hope they will inspire you as they have me.


“Be so good they cannot ignore you.”

- Steve Martin

[Context] I had an experience over the last fortnight where I felt that I had nailed a performance in a competition and (in my books at least) was far ahead of the competition. I didn’t win. It really brought home for me the importance of this statement. In anything subjective, being merely good is not sufficient to overcome any bias that may WILL come into play.  What became clear to me was the truth in Steve Martin’s statement – and it is something I have decided to adopt as a life philosophy.


“Where your invest your love, you invest your life.”

- Mumford and Sons

[Context] This line from a Mumford and Sons song resonated with me because at times I get caught up in work, and in projects I am developing, and loose sight of relationships. It reminded me to be careful where I invest my love – work, or people. This isn’t to say investing it in work, or a purpose is bad – its just about making sure you get that balance correct.


“Are you goin to tell me the skies the limit, when there is footprints on the moon. I don’t need a TV show to dance with stars, not me I’m good.

- Where Do We Go From Here (Chris Brown ft Pitbull)

[Context] My mother always used to say to me when I was young that I should shoot for the stars, because if I missed, I might still reach the moon. The idea was that I should think big, because even it if failed, I would end up in an amazing place. This line from a Pitbull’s verse in this song resonated with me in the sense that it encourages you to think big, and don’t listen to the limitations others might place on you.


“Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

- Helen Keller

[Context] I recently delivered a speech on super heroes. The commonality amongst all super heroes is that they have fidelity to a worthy purpose. This quote reminded me that in some way, every one who is committed to a worthy purpose is a hero.


Tom: These Playmobil toys of yours do amazingly well. What is your secret? What do they do that is so interesting?

Playmobil CEO: It’s not what the toy does that’s interesting. It’s what the child does with the toy that is interesting.

[Context] This interchange resonated with me because of the simple, yet very apparent difference in mindset between the two people. I think this highlights the importance of not just focusing on the features of a product or service, but really understanding how people use it and benefit from it. This connected with me because I have been reading a lot lately over the last year on Customer Development (Steve Blank), and Lean Start Up (Eric Reis) which have a strong focus on ‘getting out of the building’ and talking to the people who use/potentially would use your product/service to see whether what they do with your product/service is interesting.



Playing At It vs Playing In It

January 17th, 2011

While passion and creativity are often discussed – I was recently reading a book on presentation design, and the following paragraph struck a chord with me.

“Be in the moment to maximize your creativity. When you play music, don’t repeat the notes on a page, but play beautiful music. Don’t play at it. Play in it.

Only when you play in a thing do people listen & hear you and are moved.”

- Brenda Ueland, in Presentation Zen

Don’t play at it. Play in it. Simple, yet powerful words of advice – to cultivate creativity – but also as a litmus test of where your passion truly lies. When you work – do you feel like you are working at it, or in it?

I believe that when you are passionate about something – playing in it, as opposed to at it, happens automatically. Benjamin Zander, composer, conductor of Grammy Nominated Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, and aficionado & promoter of classical music has a similar philosophy when it comes to music, and our passions – he calls it the ‘One Buttock’ philosophy.

Watch his TED talk below to discover why!

Elimination is the Key to Tranquility

January 8th, 2011

“Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity.  Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?”
– Marcus Aurelius

I find that this simple question, ‘Is this necessary?’ is a great way to:

  • avoid buying useless stuff
  • avoid procrastinating
  • avoid over-eating
  • avoid getting caught in social obligations I do not want to be part of
  • create ideas for books, blogs, businesses – all focused on creating something that provides a simpler solution to an existing problem

It is a simple question – with a far reaching range of implications. Get into the habit of asking ‘Is this necessary?’

Learning: How vs What

December 15th, 2010

“In an age of accelerating change, how you learn is more important than what you learn.”

Marty Neumeier

This epitomizes my philosophy towards learning & life. Our aim at Art of Smart Education is to focus on the how – the how is a skill set that you take from school, to university and to work. It is more important than the what. It means that even if things all fall down, you have the skill set to start again (wheras the knowledge accumulated in the past may be useless).