A year and a half ago I was invited to sit at a workshop and be a guest expert at a conference. The event was Hardware Con, and because I had just been invited briefly before, and have never been a “guest expert”, I had no idea what to expect. So, because I had no idea what to expect, I didn’t think much of it until I got there. While sitting in the room 5 minutes before our workshop session started a small feeling of anxiety began to creep into me.
Thoughts popped up like: What kind of answers would I give that would even be helpful to these guys? Am I gonna tell them what camera to buy or what the difference between a grip and a gaffer? Would it benefit them for me to give feedback on the videos they’ve made?
Nothing out of the ordinary happened. They didn’t ask me questions that we’re related purely to the technical aspects of video production as I had initially worried about, but instead asked me to give feedback on some video ideas or to give feedback on their video strategy. This is all good and logical enough, but for some reason I felt like the advice I could in this domain wasn’t enough and wanted to give higher level advice, so I asked them about their overall marketing and what their funnel looked like. This was 2014, mind you, and internet marketing was still somewhat an obscure thing to learn, and because I was so interested in it at the time (still am) I felt like there was a lot I could give input on.
As so, when I transitioned the conversation to talking about internet marketing, things started to go south. People started getting uninterested and confused. One person even felt provoked by his skepticism and and asked, “Wait, what expert are you a field of again?"
“So why are you talking to me about internet marketing?"
“Um. Because your internet marketing determines how you should strategize your video and what kind of concept your video should have depending on what channels you’re promoting it on"
This sounds like a good answer because its true, I still believe in this answer that I gave him, but he didn’t like my answer.
“Okay, but, what makes you an expert? Why should I listen to you?"
“I don’t claim to be an expert. I could know less about this stuff than you, I was just invited to be here"
He let out a sigh of dissatisfaction and left the room.
After this incident I had an older gentleman ask me about my services, but as I left the conference, I still couldn’t help feeling like I f’ed up somehow. I drove an hour and a half to get to this conference, and now I felt like a fool. Am I regretting this? I thought to myself as I drove the hour and a half back home. The entire rest of the week I would think back to that event and feel embarrassed. This feeling slowly, slowly dissipated as I comforted myself telling myself It’s okay, you will realize something important one day and it will be because of this failure.
And finally, a year and a half later I did realize something important. I can accept that people will label you and box you in to the domain that you’re in. And this makes complete sense because this is the domain you’re known for. If you try to force your expertise on them outside of your positioned domain, people will be thrown off, so you have to connect with them where they’re at first, earn their trust and then transition to a different domain.
Very tactically, it looks like this:
To take this post full circle and tie it to the story, it was because of that experience at Hardware Con that emotionally compelled me to pay attention to this stuff. Had I not been as embarrassed as I was at the time, I’m not sure this concept of “being boxed into my domain” and “transitioning out” would have really stuck out. So I’m glad for it. And I write this hopefully to inspire you to keep faith in the failure experiences you’ve had and to encourage you to keep an eye out for the revelation that that experience can give you years down the road.
Principles by Ray Dalio is basically a collection of all the wisdom Ray Dalio has ingrained. Halfway finishing the book I thought This book is amazing, but it has too many good lessons. How am I going to remember to apply these lessons when the situation arises?
The typical route for developing your own principles is to make a mistake, feel the pain of that pitfall and think, how could I have avoided that error? At which point your brain replies, You developed a wrong opinion about this person. Didn’t Ray Dalio say something about opinions in his book? At which point you flip back to the page and read:
This is nice to keep in mind for the next time a similar problem occurs, but wouldn’t life be easier if you didn’t have to go about making mistakes and learning from them — if you could see the situation and apply the right protocol?
The problem isn’t that we don’t have foresight, the problem is that when we’re going through life events, we don’t have a mental clarity to consciously remember to apply the right protocol to the right situation. If we were robots we could. If we we’re robots we could just set an IFTTT trigger event (or a Zapier) that pops up in our mind and tells us what to do. Obviously we’re not robots, but I think there’s something that clues us in on how to move toward this, and that something is If / Then statements (Conditional Statements).
I like to think a lot, and as a result of thinking a lot I come up with a lot of theories and mental models. When I was younger I was one of those “Why don’t you believe me!?” types, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed that I had been wrong so many times, that just because a theory I came up with made sense to me, it could very likely be false.
But if I immediately dump my theories, then I think I could be dumping a lot of value. Because all high level work — anything conceptual or longterm lives in the realm of theory.
So how does one make sure they're not stuck in theory, and that they're actually getting results that apply to the real world?
In my opinion, the easy answer, and the answer you hear most often is: "take action”. While this is accurate advice, I think it’s one of those simplistic pieces of advice that doesn’t really get you anywhere.
I want this post to be helpful to you, but in order to do that, I need to quickly explain what I think theory is.
I remember when I first wanted to get good at basketball. Like anyone of course, I Youtubed Kobe Bryant moves and tried to learn them. I remember thinking that his advice was generic and inapplicable. His advice, however, is actually really good advice, it was just that it was inapplicable for me. That’s how many people view strategy; their inability to value it isn't because the strategy itself is bad (although sometimes it is) but because they don’t have the referential compression to understand it and see how they would apply it. With those Kobe videos, I was still new to basketball, I could barely shoot the ball let alone do a post up—fadeaway jumper...
This perception of generic advice was very similar to my early days of attending business conferences. At the end of the conference I would ask my fellow friend/audience member what he thought of the keynote and they would say something like, “Wow, it was so good. Thinking of retargeting pixels as a form of long term branding, that’s going to be amazing for my business”, and I would be thinking What? why can’t he tell me something that I can actually do today.
Only after I got better at basketball and learned fundamental movements, could I appreciate Kobe’s strategic choice of moves. Since I now know how to do a spin or finish with a reverse layup, I can string them together. I can appreciate the strategy behind that combo: your defender thinks you’re going to drive hard baseline, so instead you spin back into the paint, since you’re in the paint the big will come in to block your shot so you reverse layup using the rim as protection.
And as for my understanding of business, back then I didn’t even know what retargeting pixels were, and I still don’t really know what they are. But I’ve practiced running Google ads and Facebook ads, and I know how to use the Divi theme for Wordpress, and I’m decent at writing copy so basically I just write three ads and copy and paste the script that Google gives me near my contact form. Quick note: I haven’t actually done that yet, and I intend to implement it soon.
And the result, well, it’s not perfect, and will take refining, but the point is I can scrap something together, and when I can do that I can appreciate simplistic advice that sounds heady and do higher level work.
I walked up to the front desk and asked, “I have some questions about my account, can I speak to a manager?”. I was at the gym, and my plan was to ask about why they charged a $30 fee, and a mailing I got saying they offered a $7 membership. I wanted to see if there was leverage in negotiating a waiver of the $30 or my membership fee ($15) down.
The manager explained that the $30 fee was a yearly fee and that the $7 membership is a special membership that allowed you to only go 3 times a week. So, I didn’t get a negotiation win from that —
If you know me, I’m a big fan of Ramit Sethi and one of his main financial teachings is to have you negotiate a lot throughout the course of your life. When I first read his material I immediately agreed with his advice, but the thought of negotiating things seemed weird and out of the norm. I mean, I’m Chinese so I naturally inherited a lot of my Mom’s skills, but I didn’t know how to apply these skills outside of flea shops or Craigslist.
But since for the past year I’ve been playing the credit card signup bonus game, and incurred credit card fees and bank fees, I’ve made many attempts at applying Ramit’s negotiation techniques. His blog posts basically walk you through each step, and by following it, I’ve experienced how easy it is to win at these things. For example, I lost track of my Amex card and didn’t realize I didn’t pay the card for 3 months. This resulted in late fees of over $100. But Amex’s customer service is so good, all I had to do was call in and ask for them to be waived, and they did. When you experience wins like that, success can be addictive.
I remembered when I first got out of college. I spent half my time building my video production agency and the other half doing content marketing for Fuzed. Once I got the hang of managing the podcast, Jake, my boss, gave me the project of creating feature release landing pages with an accompanying explainer video for each new integration that came out. (Fuzed makes integrations similar to how Zapier works)
At the time, it was such a struggle to write the copy for the video, then write the copy for the landing page, then go into Wordpress and put it together. It took me days to get one done, and was painfully frustrating. This frustration lead me to think I would be much better off putting my time building my agency, why am I working for Jake? My agency work is creative and fun and these copywriting tasks are a pain. Of course, this attitude lead to a lack of initiative on my end, leaving Jake with disappointment.
When we parted ways, my initial thought was Yes now I have the free time to work on what I want to work on. But It’s been a year since that time and I regret dropping the ball and allowing Jake to be disappointed in me. It's not that I feel regret because of a loss of opportunity to work at Fuzed, but because I went from being an A player to being a C player once I was assigned set of projects that I wasn’t excited about.
If I think about completing the same project now, I could knock out a feature release landing page + video in a few hours. It seems so easy now.
I use this to take all of my ideas, no matter how irrelevant or how low it is as a priority and I write them all down into swipes. Then I just "later" those ideas far into the future so future me can be reminded. Maybe then I'll decide to actually take action on those ideas when its a better time.
In this video I:
Mailbox is an App by Dropbox that syncs with your laptop and your phone. The best thing about this app is that you can boomerang emails to yourself so that when you want to reply to an email later you don't have to do it right away.
In this video I cover:
If you've followed my blog so far, you'll notice productivity patterns. One pattern, or habit, if you will, is the ability to just work on one single task or one single project for a set block of time.
Naturally, as the day progresses, we open up more and more tabs as work and other interesting content gets shared with us.
So in the video I cover:
As a creative or strategist, there seems to be a never-ending flow of good ideas. Ideas that we are really hyped up for, but for some reason we just don’t execute.
What tends to happen to me is that during times where I’m driving, showing, or when I’ve just had coffee, I get flooded with ideas and visions of things I could do. I immediately start actioning them in my head. It goes something like:
Okay I’m going to set up this joint venture program, what does that look like. Okay, this works and this works but I don’t have these resources to actually make it work.
Then I get distracted before I fully develop the strategy in my head. This is detrimental because while I’m spending energy half-determining the upside and resources involved, I waste a ton of mental energy thinking about what those action items will be for myself. I don't write it down because I’m not fully convinced — because the concept isn’t thought through.
After reading Getting Things Done, I’m convinced that this is the reason why I often feel mentally drained. If, when you’re planning out the strategy and don’t fully plan out the action items, you actually waste will power by halfway thinking through implementaion task even though you aren’t actually implementing. Meaning, you spend energy “implementing” when you haven’t actually implemented anything.