Sat, 22 April 2017
It might not seem like tolerance is the root for success, but if you dig deeper, you'll find that small businesses struggle without these core concepts of tolerance. So how does tolerance play a part in something like a successful artwork, or music, or the next product or course you produce? Let's find out in this podcast.
Direct download: 136-Why_Success_Is_Hindered_By_The_Lack_of_the_Tolerance_Effect.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm FJT
Sat, 15 April 2017
Sun, 9 April 2017
In a small business, strategy and tactics often go wrong.
Yet all you hear about is success, success and how someone made it big.
This episode is about some bad judgment calls and also about plain pomposity.
In this episode Sean talks about
Story No.1—The Internet Marketing Conference Fiasco of 2003
To read this podcast online:
I remember one of the early events in my speaking career
Renuka was sitting in the audience. When I finished my speech, I came back to my seat and asked her how she found the speech. I gave you a minus two, she said.
Speaking hasn't been easy for me, and I struggled a lot not knowing what to say when in front of an audience
Luckily, almost at the start of my career, I ran into Eugene Moreau and his 13-Box Speaking system. The 13-Box system was so honed, it was like having a Samurai sword at your disposal. Except, it's not much use having a Samurai sword and not going through “sword practice”.
To get my practice in speaking to a high degree of professionalism, I'd speak everywhere I could. And when I mean, speak everywhere, these weren't at fancy events. I'd speak at the Rotary club, some places where people would meet to network and even at association meetings. In my mind, it was pretty clear that if I didn't get the practice, I wouldn't become a confident speaker.
And I knew I'd reached a good level when I was paid to speak at an event
It wasn't much. I think it was about $300 or $400, but hey, this was a paid gig. The only problem was that my so-called ability had gone to my head. In the first few years, I'd rehearse fifteen, sixteen times before getting in front of an audience.
This event, however, was different. The audience happened to be farmers—not professionals. They still had to sell their products, so they still needed a message like the one that's contained in The Brain Audit. But because they were farmers, I got a little pompous.
I practiced a couple of times, then my wife Renuka and I drove to the event
The signs were not good. Both Renuka and I had spent a restless night, and we had a long drive ahead of us. She kept asking me if I'd done my usual practice runs. I nodded, but I knew I'd taken some shortcuts. And on that day, when I went on stage, I was sleep-deprived and already a bit tired from the drive. Plus, as you can tell, I hadn't done my usual 15-16 practice runs.
Yes, I got a minus two.
This series is a little detour into the world of Psychotactics—and. About times when we got below par results
Some of the results were our fault, and some of them were just experiences we had along the way. In every instance, we learned a lesson, and it helped us move ahead in our business. Let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we? Let's look at some minus two experiences. Like the time back in 2004, I think, where I was a speaker at an Internet conference, and everyone was selling their products, but me.
Why did things go so wrong?
Story No:1—The Internet Marketing Conference Fiasco of 2003
I should have known better than heading to a particular Internet Marketing Conference in Australia.
It was what you'd call a pitch-fest.
Pitch-fests are given that name because the speaker tends to speak for a fixed amount of time, but then reserves at least a third of the given time to pitch their products or services. Think of speaker after speaker getting up on stage and selling like those folks you see on infomercials, and you get the idea.
I was not even part of the original speaker set up, but I was keen to be part of an international speaker group
Even though it was barely 2003, the speakers at the event had substantial lists, exceeding 50,000 subscribers. We, on the other hand, might have had fewer than 1500 people on our list. I watched as speaker after speaker got on stage and made a presentation. Then they'd make an offer, and there would often be a scramble to the rear of the room, where they were selling their products.
It was pretty early in my career, but I was pretty confident of my speaking skill by then
I'd done a bit of selling from the podium as well, and I thought I'd be going home with several thousands of dollars in sales. This dream of mine seemed more feasible when I compared myself to the person who did his presentation just before mine.
His presentation was more about how to run some software, than a real transfer of knowledge. And yet when he made his pitch, there was an almighty scramble to the end of the room. I was sure I could top that act, because my presentation was clearly better than his, and plus in my mind, I was a far superior speaker.
But even before I could get on stage, things went wrong
I was allocated just 45 minutes, and that included my presentation and my pitch. I figured the person introducing me would be done in about 3-4 minutes, but like an Emcee that won't shut up, he went on for a whole ten minutes, maybe longer.
Sure, he was saying good things about me, but I was losing a tonne of time in what I considered to be a pointless introduction. Anyway, I got on stage, did my presentation confidently and made my offer. It was the moment I'd been waiting for. I had dreams of the audience stomping over each other to get to the back of the room to buy my products.
You have a good idea of what happened next, right?
And you're right. Nothing much happened at all. About 15 people gingerly got up from their seats, and casually sauntered to the back of the room. Would they buy the product, I wondered? In my head, I was still doing the calculations.
Since we were selling the product for $100, I'd still make $1500 at the very least. However, maybe 9 of them decided to go ahead with their purchase. And you might think that's still a pretty good deal for a 30-minute presentation, right?
And yes it was a good deal, but not when you consider the expenses
To be part of this event, I had to fund my own travel costs. There was the flight to Australia which exceeded $500, the hotel room which also exceeded $500 for the duration of the event. And then there was food, transport to and from the airport and other incidental costs. Plus, the organisers wanted 50% of all sales to be passed on to them as a commission.
This was a -2 experience
I was out in the cold, and not feeling very good about myself. Any pity I have for myself is quickly tempered by the fact that there's a learning experience in every failure. I resolutely sat at the back of the room and watched what caused clients to scramble like crazy.
That event wasn't my first lesson in scarcity, but it certainly was the first one that was doused with so much defeat. It's the defeat that made me pay close attention to every single presenter. I stopped paying attention to the content of the presentation and instead paid attention to what they did instead. And I learned some very valuable lessons on that day.
But one mystery remained.
Remember the speaker who went before me?
He wasn't terribly good; his content was mostly technical. He made a pitch that involved scarcity just like everyone else. So why did he succeed when I did so miserably by comparison? I knew him well, so I went up and asked him what he thought was the big reason because I frankly couldn't see what caused the audience to rush to the back of the room.
And that's when I learned about the concept of the bonus. Now you're well aware of bonuses when you buy a product or service online, right? But I had bonuses too with my pitch. Why didn't the bonus work as well?
The key was the nature of the bonus
He was offering some software that would enhance their positions on Google rankings (yes, these were the good old days where a lot of crazy stuff worked). But that wasn't what people were so excited about. He had promised that the first 50 people would not only get the software, but he would install it on their servers, so they had to do nothing but run it.
It wasn't the bonus. It was so much bigger and better than a mere bonus. And that's when I learned that you need to make the bonus more important than the product or the service itself. Why? Because when people decide to buy something, they've already made up their mind.
If you've decided to buy a fancy new computer, you already are in the frame of mind to buy it. But what if someone offered you a bonus? Like a nice box of chocolates if you bought the computer from them? The box of chocolates costs just $15; the computer $3000. What are you focused on? What if I told you that you could get the computer without the chocolate box? That's the power of the bonus. That's the lesson I learned from this -2 experience.
I lost on the monetary front.
But when I got back to Auckland, I had a plan in place. We re-looked at The Brain Audit page and made sure we had an irresistible bonus in place.
And the power of the bonus worked!
As a result of the “failure” in Australia, we sold more product than ever before. That embarrassment led to a profound learning experience, and to this day when creating a product or service, I think about the bonus long before I write the sales page for the product.
The bonus—that's what matters more than anything else. And it doesn't even have to be many bonuses. Just one compelling bonus is what makes the client decide they want your product or service right away.
But hey, this isn't about the good, success stuff. These are stories about where we messed up.
Time for Story No.2, don't you think?
Story No.2—A Mess In Wellington: Why Extreme Personalisation is Not A Good Idea
Only thrice have I gone blank on stage. Once was back in school when I was about 12 years old. The next time was the first time I made The Brain Audit presentation, but the third time was really odd. It was at a time when I was confident with my speaking and was being paid to speak as part of a series.
When I first started out in marketing, I read and heard stories of personalisation
One of these stories came from a veteran marketer, Dan Kennedy, who once spoke about how he showed up for a Mary Kay event. Mary Kay Inc. is a cosmetics giant and is famous for its bias to the colour, pink. Superstars—the salespeople who earn 0ver $18,000 in a four month period and build a team—are rewarded with a pink Cadillac.
Dan Kennedy, ever the showman, turned up for the Mary Kay event in pink
Pink suit, pink tie, pink patent leather shoes. Kennedy said he wore pink in order to sell more effectively at Mary Kay events and it clearly worked for him as he'd sell 40% more when dressed in pink. Unlike at the Internet conference, I was not selling anything at this event, but I saw no harm in trying to personalise my presentation.
Since I was working with brokers at an insurance company, I spent hours talking to my liaison at the head office. I then sought out and found examples of insurance-based problems and solutions. All of this research was my aim towards personalisation, and I didn't realise I was making a big mistake.
The first mistake was that it ramped up my nervousness a lot…
When you're making a presentation you're already on someone else's turf. I'd just made it a lot harder by over-tweaking my speech to include many insurance-based case-studies. Trying to force fit their case-studies in my presentation wasn't a mistake, but I didn't have any background of the case-studies. No sooner did I bring up the case-studies than I had people in the room say, “that didn't work” or raise objections to the case-study.
This threw me off guard
Instead of doing The Brain Audit presentation, which was all my own, my entire talk was intertwined with their case-studies. I was not prepared for any pushback from the audience, and yet the cat calls came at intervals.
However, once you're nervous, things start to spiral. I was plainly confused and slightly terrified on that stage. Finally, I just gave up and wrapped up as quickly as I could. What should have been an hour-long presentation was curtailed to a mere 30-minutes. Suddenly the emcee had a nasty problem of filling in half an hour of dead air, as there was no presenter in sight.
This was definitely a -2 moment
Renuka wasn't around to give me those low scores, and I had to self-evaluate my own performance. Why did things go so wrong? Was it Dan Kennedy's bad advice? Or was I at fault? What I failed to notice, and learned a lot later, was that presenters do tailor their presentations.
Kennedy would have worn that crazy, even slightly-ridiculous outfit, but his speech would have barely wavered at all. He might have had a few words here and there that talked about Mary Kay or the kind of business, but he would have scripted his script and nailed it down. The Mary Kay women knew their business; Dan didn't.
In my case, the insurance agents knew their business, and I clearly didn't. To give the audience examples that they could pull apart was a silly move. They knew I was an outsider and my attempt to endear myself to them was easily the worst move I could make.
So what's the learning we got from this experience?
Let's say we're selling a product like the info-products course. That course is designed to show you not just how to create an information product, but to create one that's so useful that clients come back to buy many info-products from you in the future.
Now let's say your current sales page is pretty generic. But then you're going to be introduced to 10,000 coaches. And now you don't want the page to be generic. You want it to speak to the coaches, don't you?
Think of the Dan Kennedy factor: He only wore pink, he didn't colour his text in pink.
If we were selling to an audience that was precisely coaching related, we could change the first paragraph to talk about coaching and the biggest problem facing a coach today. And how the information products would be likely to help that coach. But that's where it would stop. Once we went past the problem, the solution would be as it is on the Psychotactics page right now.
Which brings up an ethical problem doesn't it?
If the product is not specifically created for coaches, would it be right to give the idea that the product was designed for coaches? And that's not what the main problem on the sales page is doing. The solution is to get the info-products course because it helps you create info-products—plain and simple. But we relate better to signage or information that seems to call us, rather than the general public.
The product or course would still have to deliver the goods. It would still need to help coaches (or anyone else) create outstanding info-products. However, there would be a greater attraction factor if the audience felt it was aimed at them.
At Psychotactics, we don't ever appeal to a specific audience e.g. coaches. Instead, we use the concept of target profile, so the question of using this method would not arise on our sales pages. However, there may be several situations where you have to appeal to a specific audience. In such a scenario, make tiny changes at the top, and don't go changing everything else.
My stop at Wellington was pretty scary
I've mentioned in an article and podcast before how I was so petrified of the place that I was not keen to go back to that venue. But several years later it's exactly where I had to speak once again, and once again. And it was a paid speaking engagement, so I couldn't back out of it.
This time, however, I stuck to my original speech, got a rousing applause and didn't have to flee the auditorium in a hurry. I was able to turn my -2 experience into a plus 6 or 7, at the very least.
The third -2 experience was the mistake of tweaking the rules we have at Psychotactics
We have rules because we've run into a problem before and we're not keen to rep area the mistake. Even so, it seems ridiculous to hold on to rules forever. Sometimes we break our own rules.
Retribution follows shortly. This is the story of a workshop where we broke our rules, and things went south very quickly. In fact, there aren't one, but two stories that follow.
The Importance of Keeping to Your Rules
“I don't like the smell of the carpet”. That's the ultimatum we got from a client's wife.
You'd have quickly figured out we're not dealing with a customer, but his wife instead. But what does the wife have to do with the event? And what was the “carpet story” all about?
Rules are meant to be broken, but sometimes we bend over backwards too much, and we pay the price. We've had many such instances where we've sought to bend the rules; trouble has hit us thick and fast. Here are just two instances, where we allowed family members.
Back in the early days, we had a system called the Protégé system
From that Protégé group, we created an Inner Circle which consisted of just a few clients. So few of us, that I thought to myself no harm could come by including their wives or partners.(Just as a matter of clarification: Back then all the clients in our Inner Circle were male, which is why I mentioned wives or partners). Anyway, on with the story.
And that's when our trouble began
We'd booked an intimate boardroom, seeing we were so few. But as the wife of this participant walked in, she stormed right out. “I don't like the smell of new carpet”, she said. I'm not sure what the problem was, or if she was allergic to the smell of new carpet, but we were to start our session, and we were in a fix. She demanded another room, and there was none to be had at the hotel. So she took her grievance to the reception and started berating the staff.
If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's this: When you want to get on a flight, you don't scream at ground staff. And this was no exception. She was yelling at the people who were most likely to help her and help us.
As her screaming got louder, we were forced to step in and take over. As we found out later she'd inadvertently been screaming at the General Manager of the hotel as well. The GM was quite unassuming. You'd never expect that she was the GM because she was low-key and looked more like an employee. And this screaming was aimed at her as well until we decided to take matters into our hands.
With a lot of pleading and apologising, we managed to get another room
The room was super-large, more like a disused meeting room. We were so few of us in the room, and it made the entire proceedings so very un-cozy. However, our little nemesis didn't stop there. When I'd bring up a point in the presentation, she'd object.
She hadn't read The Brain Audit; she hadn't gone through the notes. We thought it was a good idea to have the partners and wives come along, but it was evident she had no context, so she interrupted and argued her way through the day.
At most events and workshops, most clients hang around the meeting room
Unlike other events where people leave shortly after, you'll find that we stick around, and so do most of the clients. We may be around for a good hour or more after we're done, but in this case, we were out of the room like a bolt of lightning. We made our way to our room just to recover our energy and then an hour later to the bar where we inhaled some gigantic margaritas.
But did we learn our lesson?
Apparently not. The lesson was not to allow anyone who wasn't part of the group. Anyone who hadn't read the notes in advance (and we send notes a month in advance) or hasn't read The Brain Audit is not welcome at our events. But there was a pleading tone in the e-mail we got just the day before the event.
Apparently, our client was visiting California with his daughter, a teenager. He asked if we could accommodate her at the back of the room. She'd be very quiet, he said. She would just sit there and not participate, he said.
I don't know why I didn't see the signs
Think of yourself as a teenager. Would you sit through a workshop on Website Strategy for three whole days for no reason? It became evident that there was an ulterior motive, but we only realised it later when going through previous correspondence with this client.
He'd earlier asked us if he could book two seats at the event but finally booked just one. WE didn't think about it at the time. Clients ask all sorts of questions, and we answer, and no one really dwells on such issues. But as the workshop unfolded, so did the chaos.
She didn't participate in the workshop discussions, but in a Psychotactics workshop we have group activities
That's when she'd tow along with her father, which seemed fine at first. Soon enough other clients started complaining. She was butting in, in the discussions, the clients told us. She'd start going off on a tangent, and then her father would defend her, causing a very unprofessional situation in the discussion.
I had to tell the client that his daughter couldn't be in the room or attend any of the sessions
This made him mad. He couldn't see why she wasn't able to attend. It didn't seem to occur to him that she wasn't part of the group, or hadn't even paid for the seat. It was a messy moment and one that we could have avoided. It created a whole bunch of frustration that none of us needed. And while it wasn't exactly a minus two moment, it sure created a bleak, nasty situation.
So what's the learning?
The main learning is never to allow anyone who doesn't have the credentials. In the case of all workshops and courses, those credentials are the purchase of The Brain Audit. If the client hasn't read or listened to The Brain Audit, they're not welcome.
However, at a different level, we needed to stop being overly kind and letting in anyone—wives, husbands, kids or anyone who wasn't required to be at the event. No matter how much pleading is done, this rule is now unshakeable.
And that's how our minus two learning has helped us
In every instance, we've learned more from the bad times than the good. That speaking engagement at the farmer's conference taught me not to wing it and be prepared, even over-prepared. The event in Australia seemed to be a fiasco, but it was a valuable training ground for me, once I started paying attention to what was happening around me.
The event in Wellington, with the insurance agents, taught me never to over-personalise anything. Over-personalisation puts you squarely in the region where you're not the expert. You already have your speech ready, and it's best to do a sprinkling of personalisation and then keep to the original script.
Finally, it was and is important to have our benchmarks when it comes to attendees, whether at events or courses. Making an exception doesn't always lead to chaos, but why bother inviting confusion in the room? Our job is to ensure our clients get the best experience ever and go home with skill. By restricting who's in the room, we end up with a better result every single time.
And then we can enjoy our margaritas. We don't have to guzzle them after an energy-draining day! But these minus two events are only part of the picture.
How do you dramatically increase your rate of learning?
And why do we get stuck when we're trying to learn a new skill? Strangely the concept of boxes comes into play. We move from beginner to average—and then we spin in that middle box, never moving to expert level.
Listen or read about: Not just how to learn, but how to teach as well.
Direct download: 134-When_Things_Went_Wrong_at_Psychotactics_And_What_We_Learned_From_Our_Mistakes.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:05am FJT
Sat, 1 April 2017
When you sit down to write a book you and I can waste a lot of time, if we don't take time to outline
But what are the elements involved in outlining? And how can we make sure we don't make any silly mistakes?
If you're about to write a book or plan to be an author sometime later, this information is for you. But even if you've already published books, you'll be amazed at how this information speeds up your process and gets better results.
In this episode Sean talks about
Element 1: How many points do you cover in your book outline?
Read online: Outlining Your Book: The Three Crucial Steps
Around the start of 2010, I was very upset with myself.
I'd pre-sold a workshop and as I always do, the notes for the workshop are sent to the attendees a whole month in advance. Since the workshop was being held earlier in the year, I had been thinking about the notes right through my summer break in late December and early January.
Uniqueness is a pretty difficult topic and I needed to find a way to ensure that everyone—without exception—got the concept of uniqueness and was able to implement it. The only problem with writing the notes, was that it seemed like the notes were going to be at least 200 pages long.
200 pages is like a security blanket for a writer
In the mind of a writer, the chunky volume of notes seem to suggest you have something important to say. And yet my wife Renuka isn't a big fan of a ton of notes. “Why can't you write fewer pages?” she asked me as we were sitting at the cafe. “Why can't you get the same point across, so I don't have to read so much?”
A pointed question like this is truly frustrating for me because I know it's easier to fill a book with a ton of information. But a book, or notes in this case, need to be Spartan. They only need to have enough pages; just enough knowledge for the client to get a result. They don't need to be padded or filled with words no one needs. And this meant I had to go back to my outline several times.
When writing a book, the most difficult task isn't the writing
Distilling the ideas down to simplicity is what gets in the way. I have to force myself to leave the office, sit at the cafe for hours at a time, with no Internet connection. Monday's draft gives way to Wednesday's, and will be supplanted by Friday's draft. Sometimes it can take a month of drafts to get my thoughts together.
Except it was already January. The clock was ticking closer to my deadline. I had to make sure I had the book going. Which is why you, and I, we both need an outline.
So how do you outline a book?
Let's explore three elements of book outlining to get us on our way:
Element 1: Why you should ideally cover just three points.
Element 1: How many points do you cover in your book outline?
When you think of a topic like “presentations”, what comes to mind?
Let's make a list, shall we?
Those points above represent a tiny list. If you were to look through the books on Amazon.com alone, you'd find at least fifty, possibly a hundred, even two hundred and ten topics on the singular topic of presentations. It's at this time that a novice or unthinking writer decides to do it all. He or she decides to cram as many items as possible into a single book, just to make sure nothing is missed.
Take watercolours, for instance
Back in 2010, I was pretty hopeless at watercolours when the painting bug struck me. How hopeless is hopeless? I painted for three months faithfully following the instructions of my teacher, Ted. After three months, the area had an auction of the artwork. My painting came up on the auction block.
The auctioneer started at $30. No takers
$20? Wait, auctions are supposed to go up, not down.
But there was the painting at $10, and still no buyers in sight. Now that you'll have to agree is a hopeless situation. Anyway, to avoid such a high level of embarrassment in the future, I decided to take watercolours a lot more seriously.
I tramped down to the library and came back armed with at least a dozen books on the subject matter. As I opened book after book, a similar scenario unfolded. Every book seemed to feel the need to cover all the possible topics under the broad umbrella of watercolour.
This is the kind of mistake you want to avoid as a writer
The journey to outlining a book or just about anything—a book, an article, even the weather report—is better served by working three elements; three main topics and then digging deep into the sub-strata of every one of those topics. Ironically, though, you have to start with the entire mess. You have to begin your journey by being reasonably crazy and listing everything. Which means you've got to roll out two steps.
Step 1: List all the points you can think of
Take for example the topic of “pricing”
If you were to gaze deep into the crystal ball of pricing, you'd be sure to run into dozens of topics and angles. Covering every possible scenario, even at the brainstorming stage should drive you crazy. Well, let it drive you crazy. Writing a book needs to start with a brainstorm, long before you get to the outlining stage.
So let your imagination go on that rodeo as you list everything you could cover. An exhaustive list is not a bad thing. It demonstrates how much you know and how much you can cover in the future. However, once you're done with that list, it's time to pick the three elements that will go into your book. You have to wiggle your way into Step 2 and choose three points.
The problem with Step 2 is deciding which points to choose
You'd probably think it's crazy to choose any random points, but that's usually what I do. Take the “Black Belt Presentations” book for example. I didn't set out to write a series of books on the structure of a presentation or webinar. I set out to write a single book. And when we look at the huge list we can muster from a single visit to Amazon; I decided to simply choose the three elements that I considered to be important.
And so we had:
When outlining, take on the role of a GPS. Sure there are a thousand points to cover, but it's easy to get lost. Instead, cover just a few points, ideally no more than three main points.
Were there more topics to cover?
Sure there were. Would I cover it? Maybe in another book, a series of podcasts, articles, etc. But as a writer, creator, weather reporter, you can't really go digging into every single cloud or that spotty bit of sunshine. You have to make a decision to drop stuff. To take a simple analogy, think of a sculptor. Or rather a dozen sculptors all with similar blocks of marble.
The job of the sculptor is to remove the bits that don't matter so that you can reveal the sculpture that does matter. Yet, when you look at the finished work of a dozen artists, you'll notice they all end up with different types of sculpture. Given the same topic, e.g. presentations, you have to get rid of all the sub-topics you can't possibly cover and stick with just three.
Three? Not four? Or five?
I've got “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz sitting on my desk. First written in 2004, it's gathered a bit of dust, but when I open the Table of Contents, what holds 250-odd-pages of the book together? It's the topics—four, not three.
1: When we choose
And nestled under those four categories are what Schwartz needs to say. Even though you can clearly spot ten, wait, eleven chapters and one prologue, they're still magnificently constrained by the limitations of four topics.
When you look at The Brain Audit, you don't quite see that in the Table of Contents, do you?
The Brain Audit is split up quite clearly into seven chapters. And yet there's an overlying structure to the book. The first three chapters are about attraction. They're solely dedicated to getting the client's attention. The next four chapters are all about risk. It's what causes the client to back away, to get all hesitant, even though they seem to be so interested in your product or service.
But what if you don't have such clarity of vision?
How are you supposed to know that one topic will seamlessly fit into another? The reality is that you don't need any such seamless fit at all. Three random topics can fit together. To demonstrate this, um, magic trick, let's take that list we created above. Let's first randomly take the first three topics.
The three topics work together, don't they? So let's take the next lot.
That works too, doesn't it? Let's move to the third lot.
– Displaying Data
You may feel that timekeeping may not require an entire chapter. And if that's the way you feel, then simply get rid of the topic, and slide in one that makes you feel more comfortable.
Writing a book may seem like a daunting and reasonably frustrating experience
An enormous amount of frustration bellows forth from the need to cover everything in sight. Instead, if you were to cover three topics, almost any three topics, you could seamlessly stitch them together to create a fantastic outline.
You still have to do a fair bit of work to get the book written, but the battle is won or lost at outline stage. Train your outline to sit, beg and play dead, and you've already vaporised away the first—and biggest headache of all.
This takes us to the second bit where you outline the personality of your book
To get on this fascinating trip of structuring the personality of your book, you have to dig into a whole bunch of books you love. It's time to use the power of deconstruction to get going.
Element 2: Deconstruction—How To Systematically Outline A Book (So You Can Get It Off The Ground)
Imagine you're the emperor in a far eastern land.
And your son, Kintsukuroi (pron: khintz-ku-roi) is about to go through the ceremony of investiture. The bowl is the most important symbol of this rank being given to the young prince.
And yet, the king opens his cabinet to find the magnificent bowl broken into a hundred pieces. Broken hearted at the wanton destruction of this incredible piece of art, the emperor retires to his private chambers to share his sorrow with his son.
The night passes quietly, but in the morning there's a huge commotion.
The cabinet of treasures has been broken into and not only have the pieces of the bowl disappeared but also the bejewelled crown for the prince, which was to be used for the investiture ceremony. What's worse is the thief was seen running towards the prince's quarters. Could the guards break down the door? Why was there smoke coming out of the prince's quarters?
The mystery was solved the next day when the bowl reappeared, whole again, but glistening with veins of gold where the cracks had been. And the prince appeared at his investiture ceremony later in the day. Except he had a thinner crown, depleted of much of its gold.
Kintsukuroi means ‘to repair with gold’ in Japanese, and is the art of repairing pottery with gold and understanding that the piece is the more beautiful for having been broken.
When creating the outline of a book you have to deliberately break, or deconstruct the work of others, so that you can engage in Kintsukuroi, and reconstruct your own book in a way that's far superior.
And that's exactly what I did back in 2002 when I first started writing the earliest version of The Brain Audit
I was brand new in marketing and writing just 16 pages of The Brain Audit took me well over a week. Even the introduction derailed me quite a bit. So I turned to a book I loved a great deal called “Don't Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. His introduction seemed to be so un-stuffy, so well put together. And he had a ton of graphics in his book. Right then and there I decided my book would have a similar tone of voice and style.
When outlining your book, it's easy to get caught up in the construction of your own words and pages. And yet, it's pretty important to go through at least six-eight books that you love, if only to understand the underlying structure.
Take for instance most of the Psychotactics books or courses
There's a structure to the book that you may have noticed, but not necessarily paid great attention to.
– It starts off with an introduction.
And as you wander though the pages of the book, you'll run into cartoons, captions, stories, examples, fly out boxes, summaries, a food recipe—and so on. This is the underlying structure that makes the book so easy to read.
It's the powerhouse that pushes you forward, making sure you get to the last page. Compare this with a book that has no summaries, no visuals, no captions and examples that are always harping about ginormous companies like Amazon and Apple.
You get the idea, don't you? When you deconstruct a few of your favourite books, you get a wish list of what you'd like the reader to experience in your own books, don't you?
You've gone through the act of Kintsukuroi
The books you looked at were already quite impressive by your own reckoning. That's the reason why you chose them in the first place. But then after you've broken them apart, you get to reconstruct them in a way that's more beautiful and more suited to you than ever before.
And this structural break and remaking process is what helps you put your information under a structural format that you can keep and evolve over the years. When you're outlining a book, it's easier to put pieces of content where there's already a category or space. It's a lot less intimidating when you know what needs to go where in the book structure.
Structural inspiration comes from many places
I love the music of Sting, and in one particular concert he talked briefly about the inspiration behind several of his songs. For instance, did you know that “Englishman in New York” is not Sting singing about himself? In the video it appears as though the song is about Sting, an Englishman, but in reality the song is about famed gay author Quentin Crisp and his experiences as an outcast.
When I first heard that little bit of information, I was quite tickled. And so I decided to add a little story about how we “wrote our books”. Since then the structure of a Psychotactics course or product has included “the making of this book” that includes photos and a little story.
But if I copy the structure, won't it look similar?
Did you know that my introduction and illustrations were influenced by “Don't Make Me Think?” Of course not, and even now if you were to hold The Brain Audit and Steve Krug's book side by side, you're unlikely to find too much of a resemblance. The key isn't to make an identical copy.
Remember the procedure? You're breaking first, then reattaching it together. There's a bit of additional input going into the structure. Whether the structure comes from you or from another source, it all helps to create that Kintsukuroi moment. Construction after deconstruction.
This is the kind of deconstruction you want for your book as well
You could see it as a sort of template for all books you create in future. What makes it truly beautiful is that the act of breaking up the structure of other books ends up with a stunning new creation. It's truly Kintsukuroi and helps create a powerful outline structure.
We worked our way through creating just three topics, deconstructed and reconstructed the structure of our book, but finally it's down to purpose. Why are you writing the book? Is it just to put words on paper, or is there some other reason?
Element 3: Purpose
Usually from December 20th to Jan 20th every year, I take a summer break.
The days consist of no e-mail, endless episodes of detective series on Netflix, biographies and beer. Eventually, December gives way to January and New Zealand (and I) wake up from our month long vacation.
To ease myself back into work mode, I start reading business books. And this year started out with an outstanding book called “The Content Trap” by Bharat Anand. Just leafing through the introduction takes you well past 30 pages and yet every moment of the introduction is gripping.
But what is Bharat Anand's purpose?
This is the question most writers need to ask themselves before sitting down to outline their books. Is the book meant to create consulting? Are you expecting to improve your profile? Would you hope to do a speaking tour as a result of your book becoming a bestseller? Would companies hire you to solve their problems? And would it involve big business or small firms?
In the case of the “Content Trap”, my perception was that the book was aimed at bigger companies
The examples within the book were amazing, but there they were: Amazon, the Scandinavian newspaper publisher Schibsted, The New York Times, the sports marketing giant IMG and Harvard Business School's own content management system.
These examples leave me and most other readers in a sort of trap of our own. We have all these utterly outstanding examples, but all of them are companies that are high and mighty. Even if we were to admire the sheer depth of the learning, how would someone like you or me put this information to use?
And this is where the purpose comes right in
You need to be clear about why you're writing the book. In Anand's case, he's got a great idea and scintillating data to back up his concept, but it falls apart at the seams because there's no way to use it.
Could it be that the book is designed to give potential clients an idea of what's possible? Could it be that they then call the author in for extensive consulting? Many books are written with the goal of getting consulting in mind. Could this be one of them?
When I sat down to write an outline, I wasn't always clear about the goal
The early years saw me create sparse outlines and fill content into the early books. This was my way of battling my seeming insecurity. I didn't see myself as a marketing person and saw myself as a cartoonist. The more pages I had in a book, I convinced myself, the less I had to worry about refunds.
It doesn't help when some early buyers, and we're going back to 2003 or so, said they were returning the books because there were too few pages. Back then, most of the world was still walking into bookstores and stepping out with $20 hardback books. And there we were, selling a PDF for $67 that consisted of fewer than 20 pages. Hence the need to “fix the book” by adding a tonne of material that may or may not have been needed.
Today, when I outline the book, the main goal is to get a precise result
If you buy the book on presentations, you could be woken up at 3 am and still be able to put together a very compelling presentation from the ground up. If you spent your hard earned money on the information products course, you'd find an incredibly well thought out template on how to create info-products.
Whether it's photography, article writing or landing pages, the goal is well-defined before I start to write. And this is something you should do. It seems like such a tiny, inconsequential part of the outlining process and yet it's crucial.
What's the end point when the book comes out?
Is it to get you more consulting?
Knowing the end point makes a difference to the examples you give and how you structure your book. The end in mind, it's sometimes called. Knowing where you're going. It applies to everything in life, but especially when you're outlining a book.
Once you know exactly where you're going, you can focus your energy better than ever before.
The Three Elements Needed When Outlining Your Book are:
Element 1: Why you should ideally cover just three points.
P.S. Since the end of January 2017, Google has been marking sites without HTTPS as non secure. This means that your clients may be driven away from your site. To make sure that clients don't leave your site you have to have HTTPS.
Direct download: 133-The_Crucial_Steps_Needed_When_Outlining_Your_Book.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:49pm FJT
Sat, 25 March 2017
Why do some landing pages work while others fail? The core of a landing page lies in picking a target profile. Yet, it's incredibly easy to mix up a target profile with a target audience. And worse still, the concept of persona comes into play. How do we find our way out of this mess? Presenting the target profile mistakes we make and how to get around them quickly and efficiently.
In this episode Sean talks about
Part 1: Target Profile Blind Spot
To read it online: https://www.psychotactics.com/landing-pages-fail/
In Mexico, there's a beach that goes by the name of Rosarito.
The rocks on that beach made advertising executive, Gary Dahl over 6 million dollars back in 1976.
Those rocks were a smooth stone that was soon better known as Pet Rock. These rocks were marketed as if they were live pets. They had their own cardboard boxes, straw and breathing holes for the “animal”. People buying the Pet Rock knew fully well what they were buying. And yet they went along with the gag. They leafed through the 32-page official training manual, which included instructions on how to care for the rock. You could, it joked, teach the rock to “sit” and “stay” but “roll over” or “shake hands” was a little harder to explain.
What was important back then and what's just as important right now is that people knew it was a gag; a dummy. They knew they were buying something that couldn't really do much for them. And they went along with the joke. When it comes to marketing or selling our products and services, we often don't realise we're dealing with a dummy.
We think we're doing the right thing when choosing an audience.
In the book, The Brain Audit, there's a whole chapter on why this premise of target audience leads you off the path and into dummy land. And yet the one thing we've heard over and over again is the concept of target audience. It's our Pet Rock moment.
We are stuck with something that seems fun and exciting, but won't do anything but “play dead”.
This episode takes on the issue of target profile and why it's so important for your landing page. Thousands of clients have read the book, The Brain Audit, and yet I see so many of them mixing up the concept of target profile and target audience. So how do we separate the two once and forever?
In this article, we cover three parts (as always).
– The blind spot with target profile (and why we keep repeating the same mistake).
Let's start with the blind spot, shall we? Why do we keep making the same mistake over and over again?
Part 1: The blind spot with target profile
I remember when I took my first driving test in Auckland, New Zealand.
I drove a manual, what you'd probably call a stick shift back then. As part of my test, I was asked by the testing officer to go down a hill. Immediately, I put the gear into neutral and coasted downhill.
You know what happened next, don't you?
As exhilarating as it can be to race down hill at top speed, you shouldn't ever put a car in neutral and when heading downhill. There are a whole bunch of things that can go wrong. But that downhill drive was my blind spot. I had done it so many times before, that I didn't see that it would not only cause a problem, but would get me a nice big F (as in Failed) against my test.
Most of us make the same mistake when we get down to working with our target profile
When asked about our target profile, we get drawn into the error of describing a target audience. And this mistake is reasonable because almost every marketing book or course talks mostly about target audience. It suggests that we should look for a bunch of people. E.g. people who are afraid of making presentations, or teacher, or people who want to be coaches. It talks about targeting huge groups of people all at once. While this is a great starting point, it's only the starting point.
An audience won't get you very far
You may not be focusing on an audience, but instead on a type of person. So instead of ‘people who are afraid of making presentations', you think of a fictional person. And you say: “Ok, let's call him Chris.” And then you go on to rattle off the factor of how this fictional person named Chris may end up being terrified of presentations. And you think you're on the right track at this point.
But a testing instructor would still fail you
And this is because you're still not paying attention to that blind spot. When we use the term, target profile, it's not an audience, and it's not a ‘let's call him Chris.' Because if you say let's call him Chris, you're saying the following:
Chris is a fictional person. Kinda like a real person, but not a real person.
You see the difference between real and fictional?
Because the Chris I used to know wasn’t fictional. He lived about 20 minutes from my place. He was a genius at computers. He didn't drink water, only wine and milk. He was grumpy as hell and yet extremely helpful. And if I wanted to go out with Chris for lunch, I know that I'd have to deal with his grumpiness. I'd know exactly what he'd want. And the Chris I used to know wasn't interested in making presentations at all.
But I do know Christina
Christina isn't a big fan of making presentations. She would rather bake two-dozen cakes and have kittens, than speak. And we're not even talking about the hard task of ‘presentations'. We're talking about just standing up at a networking meeting and speaking for one measly minute. Christina knows it's critical for her business. She knows she's in a safe space with friends all around her, but she can't overcome the wave of panic that starts the night before.
She prepares like crazy, but it's the same thing over and over again. She can't sleep well. The drive to the event is an ordeal. She looks at all those people at the networking meeting, so cool and relaxed, and wonders if she can ever be like them. And then, when she's done, she feels like somehow she could do a better job. She's happy to go back to the office, turn off the phone, recharge—and just do what she's good at doing—instead of doing these crazy presentations. But now, she has to make a presentation. And she's terrified…
Now that's the emotion and drama you get with a real person. But there's more
Fictional people can't tell you when you're going on —or off-target with your message.
The only way you can get to a target profile is to have a real person. Just like that testing instructor in the car with me. If he were fictional, I would have passed the driving test. I'd also be likely to win $50 million in the lottery on the very same day. But instead, I failed. I learned from my mistake; spotted my big blind spot.
And today I'm your driving instructor. Instead of coasting downhill and putting others and us in danger, let's keep the car in gear. Let's use the concept of the target profile as it was meant to be used, shall we?
Let's explore the questions you're going to need when conducting a real client interview.
Which is when we run into our second problem. More often than not, we run into a concept of persona. We are told we don't need to focus on a real person, but we can easily base our marketing on a character. It's almost like a fiction novel. We make up the character as we go.
Except what we end up with, is a little Frankenstein. A Frankenstein with random body parts all stitched together. That's the difference between a person and persona. And we're about to find out why a person—a real person matters a lot more than persona.
2) Persona vs. person (Why a person matters more)
When my niece Marsha was eight, she wanted a dog for her eighth birthday. Then her parents realised that someone had to walk the dog, come rain or shine. There would be many trips to the vet, they figured. And the dog would need to be trained, so there wasn't poo all over the carpet.
Marsha got a toy dog instead. It barked and you could pull it around. And it sounded like a real dog.
But it was a dummy
And that's the problem with persona. Persona is when you assume the role of another person. You try to walk in that person's shoes. And your shoe size is 10, but that person wears a size 13. You might assume things will be fine and you'll somehow manage. But you don't and you can't. Because while we all can try to imagine what that person is going through, we can only imagine.
In short, we get dummy text, dummy words and dummy emotions from dummies. To get real text, real words and real emotions we have to go to a real person. Not real people, one person. Because a real person won't have “dummy thoughts” or dummy words.
So what do dummy words resemble?
Dummy words looks like they were written by you and me sitting in our office, looking at a computer screen. We churn out words that are stifled and boring. Or worse, we may copy headlines like “Who else wants to…blah, blah, blah, blah” and slap it into our headline on the landing page.
That's not how a target profile speaks
A target profile speaks from a place of real emotion. I remember sitting at a workshop early in the Psychotactics timeline, and explaining my website issues to someone. This is what I said: “I feel trapped with my website. Every little change I have to make, I have to go back to the developer. And then I have to wait, because he's busy, or asleep or something. I feel like I'm at his mercy all the time. And it's a crappy feeling.
I want to be able to have more control over my own website, do my own things and yes, I can understand bits and pieces that need to be added. But for the most part I want the control. I want to be like the person that can drive, instead of being driven.
Feel that raw emotion? Well, with persona-based writing you have to make all that stuff up…
For instance, let's take the Nobis Hotel. They have a persona-based website, by their own admission. Here's what it reads like: The personas are frequent travellers who are sick of sterile chain hotels and want something different. They make their own decisions on where to stay using the web and social media. Buyers want upscale luxury but in a modern style, not the old-world traditional style.
And how does their landing page reveal those problems?
Nobis Hotel is an independent, 201-room first class, luxury hotel in Stockholm, Sweden occupying a prime spot on Norrmalmstorg square, the single most central and attractive location in the downtown area. Nobis Hotel is a new centre stage of Sweden's Royal Capital, defining our own personal sense of Stockholm hotel luxury.
It calls itself modern, elegant and extremely comfortable, but also ethically sound, warm and moderate. It says it provides their guests with true value for their money in a stylish and pleasant setting designed by award-winning architects.
Does that sound like a real person speaking?
A person talks in plain language. He or she has real emotions and real frustrations. And it makes it super-easy for you to take their exact words and put it down on your sales landing page or home page, or any page for that matter.
It's the emotion and the wording that attracts your audience
Yes, audience. Because even though you start out with one person, that one person's voice attracts others just like her. So if your target profile is Rita, all the ‘Ritas' of the world are attracted to that message. And so you get a consistent audience. An audience that identifies with that one big problem. And wants to solve that one big problem. So instead of trying to juggle with different personality types and multiple problems, you solve a single problem.
And it's all being handed to you on a platter. No thinking, no research, no fiddling with key words—and it still works for you. My niece Marsha is much older now, but even as a child she clearly knew the difference between a real dog and a dummy one.
When you're dealing with target profile, you have to deal with someone real. Otherwise, you just have a dummy.
3) Questions to ask in a target profile interview
The worst problem with a target profile interview is really not knowing where to start.
And logically, we believe there must be some way to have a set of questions. And so we create a bunch of questions. But in reality, those questions don't always work. The target profile interview doesn't always follow a path. Suddenly, you're wondering whether it's a good idea to have the interview at all.
But how do you create the questions?
Well you don't. What you're looking to do is get a bunch of components together instead. I know, I know. It sounds technical. But here's what you're seeking to get:
1) The list of problems. Yup, all the problems that the customer faces when dealing with a product or service like yours.
So can you ask other questions?
Sure you can. But these set of questions enable you to get a tonne of information that can almost literally be slapped right onto your sales page, or in some cases, even your home page. Of course, there's some re-engineering to do, but for the most part, you have all the stuff you've been looking for. All the bags of The Brain Audit get covered in one fell swoop.
So why bother with this interview at all?
Because in many cases, you'll find that the client's problems are not what you anticipated. There you are in your cubbyhole, imagining stuff, but the client often doesn't feel that way at all. And there's more, of course. You get to hear the client's exact words. Their terminology. Their emotions come surging through in the conversation. And for the first time, ever you can feel the pain.
But what if you've already felt the pain?
Many of us start up businesses because it seemed like a good idea. But often you start up a business because you feel the pain as well. So for instance, I felt the pain of being a cartoonist that was always on call. I wanted to have my vacations—and not just vacations, but substantial vacations. And so yes, I started out trying to help myself. So yeah, I know that pain. I can go back and feel that pain.
If you've ever had a big injury or operation, you'll know what I mean. The pain at the point in time is unbearable. Several weeks later, the memory of the pain is there, but not quite there. After a few years, it's almost impossible to recreate that pain. The target profile has no such problem. They're in the emergency ward right now. They feel the torrent of pain and know what they'd like to see as the solution. They understand why they're not keen to take the risk and will tell you so.
And that's what a target profile interview does
Yes, it does sound dramatic, but a target profile can change your world and how you create your landing page and market to your audience.
When Kathy Sierra sat down to write her book on JAVA, it wasn't supposed to be a bestseller.
They had incredible odds with over 16,000 other books on JAVA already on Amazon. And yet they cut through the noise? How did they do it? They didn't pull the stunt that many Internet marketers do. Instead they focused on how people read and why they get to the finish line. The more the readers got to the end of the book, the more popular the book became in programming circles.
Frankenstein's Laboratory by Beef Chavez (audio sourced from "Scar Stuff Blog"). Licensed under Creative Commons "Attributions 3"
Direct download: 132-Why_We_Fail_to_Attract_the_Right_Clients_Target_Profile_Mistakes.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:55pm FJT
Sat, 18 March 2017
Why do great inventors, business people, and a ton of smart people have in common?
They have many traits, but one specific trait is the ability to crack a problem. When everyone else has given up, these people are able to figure out what no one has done before.
How do they do it? This article shows you how to increase your learning speed by using deconstruction. It shows you how to crack puzzles that seemed too difficult by others.'
In this episode Sean talks about
Part 1: Where to start your learning journey
To read it online: https://www.psychotactics.com/speed-learning/
How to deconstruct complex topics (and accelerate your learning)
What can a single video on YouTube contain?
If you were to look at just six minutes of a NASA video, it might put you off ocean currents forever. In exactly six minutes, the contents of the video contain some of the following:
◦ Atmospheric circulation
That's only the partial list of what's included in the video, and it hits you with rapid succession
If you're confused, you ought to be, because the video is approximately how we approach most topics. A topic, any topic, is incredibly complex. However, the complexity can be quickly deconstructed.
That is to say; you can learn a skill or teach someone a skill reasonably rapidly if you're able to break apart the concepts into smaller bits? The question is: where do you begin? What does deconstruction involve? And how do you know you're going about deconstruction the right way?
To understand deconstruction we need to look at three elements:
– Where to start your journey
So where do we start our journey?
Deconstruction always starts with a choice. But what do you choose? Let's find out.
Part 1: Where to start your journey of deconstruction
A tonne of gold costs about $64.3 million in today's prices.
Indians are reputed to own 22,000 tonnes of gold. That's a staggering $1 trillion dollars in gold in a single country. Gold bars and coins are almost alway bought at festivals when buying gold is said to bring luck to the buyers. But the real obsession for gold stems from wedding jewellery. Weddings alone account for 50% of the demand every year.
And in South Mumbai, if you wanted to buy gold, you'd head to a particular area called Sonapur.
“Sona” is the Hindi word for gold and in Sonapur, you'd see dozens of gold merchant stores crammed back to back in a specific area. Now bear in mind that Mumbai is a big city that spans 603.4 square kilometres. Yet, someone looking for jewellery, and particularly gold jewellery would know exactly where to go.
We have no such specifics when we're dealing with a vast and complex topic
Should we start with wave formation or thermohaline circulation? Upwelling, dead zones or nutrient distribution? Or should we wander right into sea surface height, instead? It's clear that we need to start somewhere and the best way to get started is to pick subject matter at random.
Random? Surely that doesn't seem to be a systematic way to go about deconstruction
Let's pick “dead zones” from our list above, shall we? It's a pretty random pick considering how much material the six-minute video covers. However, as we dig into the topic, one thing becomes very clear. It's easier to dig deeper into “dead zones” and see how they occur. In under a minute, this video talks about how we get to mass extinction by focusing on a single topic.
Deconstruction becomes clearer when we move into areas we're more familiar with
Let's take a sales page or landing page, for instance. A landing page has headlines, subheads, first paragraphs, problems, solutions, objections, uniqueness, bullets—the list goes on and on. To be intimidated by such a vast amount of moderately unfamiliar information is difficult to cope with. So we go into “random mode”.
We pick something—anything—so that we can get going. Let's ignore the vast majority of the page, and head for the bullets, instead.
What do you notice when you look at the bullets below?
– How to assemble all the elements a customer needs to see to buy
paDidn't find a pattern?
Well, let's look at it another way, shall we?
– How to assemble all the elements a customer needs to see to buy
– Why FAQs are the place for “fussy” objections
You noticed the HOW and WHY this time around, didn't you?
If you're looking at the entire landing page, you're unlikely to notice the pattern even if someone helpfully placed it in the HOW and WHY format. You'd be focusing on too large an area, and it's close to impossible to deconstruct your subject matter when the area is too vast. Instead, you need to look at all the components available and choose just a tiny area, just like Sonapur, where the gold jewellery is sold. If the entire map of Mumbai were your sales page, Sonapur would represent the “bullets”.
When I was learning badminton many years ago, my coach taught me how to win points consistently
My badminton days are a bit of history now, not so much because I'm getting older, but more so because I'm one of those crazy people you see on the court. You know the type, don't you? They lunge at everything. And all of that lunging and diving just to win the point ended up with a tonne of muscle pulls and strains. Being the super-competitive person I am, I hired a coach to help me win points without having to lunge about so much.
But you see the problem looming, don't you?
Where do you start? The coach started randomly, getting me to focus on the grip. You can try it yourself, even if you don't have a handy badminton racket around. Squeeze your fingers together as if gripping a racket, while moving your hand forward.
Immediately there's a tension in the shot causing the shuttlecock to go back faster over the net. Avoid the squeeze and attempt to hit the same shot, and the shuttlecock goes a lot slower, thus dropping short of the opponent. By focusing on a subtle component of the entire game, the coach was able to get me to practice the grip, and that alone helped me win a few extra points in every match.
Every topic has multiple layers that make up the whole
The reason why we get confused and are unable to decipher, let alone master the topic is that we try and take on the entire 604 square kilometres of real estate instead of focusing on a single area. But what if you focus on a single area, but still can't see the pattern?
What if there's no coach around to show you the grip? No one around to helpfully move the bullets around and demonstrate how HOW and WHY play a pretty significant role in bullet construction? How do you go about seeing the pattern yourself?
Part 2: How to find patterns when there's no one to help you
How do you pronounce S-A-K-E?
If you said “Sah-kay” you're right.
If on the other hand, you said “sah-key”, you've failed to see the pattern. In almost every phonetic language the letter “e” creates an “eh” sound. So when you read the word “karaoke”, you don't say, “carry-oh-key”, but “kara-oh-keh” instead.
Once someone points out the pattern, it's easy to correctly pronounce words in phonetic languages such as Maori, Spanish or Japanese. But what if no one reveals the pattern? In such a scenario, you'd miss the sound of “eh” and instead use “e”, instead. How do you find patterns when there's no one else to help you?
Let's try it now.
How do you say K-A-R-A-T-E?
You have it down pat, don't you? Kara-teh and Shee-ta-keh.
And no matter how many Japanese words you ran into from now on, you'd know that the “e” is all about “eh”. This tiny bit of information may make sense by itself, but it's when you see the profusion of the words that have “e”, that you realise how many words you're likely to pronounce incorrectly.
What you might not have noticed is that you've worked out the pattern
For deconstruction, the first phase involves taking a tiny piece of the pie, as it were and focus on that piece. However, unless someone points out the pattern, you may not see it right away. The moment you take many examples of that very same pattern, you start to get a clear understanding.
If we go back to the landing page example, for instance, you might not see the HOW and WHY so clearly on one landing page. After all, there are many ways to write bullets and copywriters take care to see they intersperse different types of bullets in an entire set.
Even so, if you were to go from one landing page to another, and keep at it, you'd see a pattern in an incredibly short period. Try it yourself. Go to about 5-7 landing pages on the Psychotactics site alone, and you'll start to see the pattern of HOW and WHY wherever bullets appear.
But there's an additional bonus in going through many examples
Once a pattern registers, you are likely to see other patterns as well. For instance, a bullet can be written in a very simple way, or it can be embellished to go a bit further. Let's take an example.
How to prepare the room before the presentation
How to prepare the room before the presentation (even if it's already been set up earlier).
We added two other elements in the bullets and you'd notice if you went through a whole set of them
We emboldened those bullets with “and” or “even”. As you go through an entire set of bullets, page after page of nothing but bullets, the secrets of bullets reveal themselves to you. It's approximately how you go about deconstructing just about anything, even when there's no precedence.
For instance, during James Hutton's time, the world was thought to have a fixed creation date
Apparently on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BC, the world was created, or so it was taught around the time of James Hutton. Hutton is called the “father of modern geology” because he came up with the fundamental understanding of geology as we know it today. Hutton was curious about how the earth was formed. The religious texts of the day were pretty clear.
The earth was 6000 years old according to Archbishop James Ussher of Ireland. And that was that—no further discussion was allowed on the topic. Hutton wasn't exactly convinced and he set about his journey of deconstruction.
Hutton's moment of discovery came indirectly because of his whisky and his women
In 1747, Hutton was a young medical graduate, who got drunk and the ladies got too much of his attention. He managed to get his lover Miss Eddington pregnant. The scandal that erupted saw her being rushed off to London to give birth.
Hutton's family too needed to limit the damage to their reputation and he was forced to leave Edinburgh and go off to a small family farm in Slighhouses, Southern Scotland.
It was there that he saw the top soil run off and go downstream
If the land were always going to be eroded, there would be no topsoil and crops couldn't be grown; which in turn would cause people to starve over time. Hutton couldn't buy that the earth would be stripped away to nothing. Working in isolation, he rejected the world view at the time and needed to figure out how new land was formed.
And then on his form his great idea about “how new land could be created.”
Hutton's examples were cliffs. Around his farm were dozens, hundreds of cliffs. In the exposed parts of the cliffs, he'd have noticed the bands of rocks, laid down like layers one on top of the other, and at different times.
He'd figured out how rock was formed like no known person had done before his time. Sedimentary rock that's taught in school these days was revolutionary back in Hutton's time. How did he do it? He looked at example after example until the rock gave away its secrets.
Surely you and I could look at rock all day and the only result would be a big headache at the end of the day
But let's stop to think about deconstruction for a second. You could take apart quite a few things in your house or office today. Over time, and with a little bit of persistence, you'd work out how it was built. The more examples you deconstruct using the very same, or similar product, the more likely you'd be to recognise its structure.
While it may seem that some people are incredibly intelligent at deconstructing and reconstructing concepts, they're probably just as bright as you. The brain works solely through pattern-recognition. If you find enough examples to work with them, and you get working on those examples, the ideas reveal themselves to you over time.
There's no doubt a bit of luck involved
Luck plays as big, if not a larger role than hard work, but to deconstruct just about anything you need time and persistence. And lots and lots of examples. It's hard to believe that you, me, anyone of us can deconstruct, but you can look through historical or even modern times and find not tens of thousands, even millions of examples of people who achieve many deconstruction goals every single year.
Nothing is quite as good as a good teacher
A teacher's job is to reduce the learning curve and make you smart, smarter than the teacher himself. Even so, you can be your own teacher if you start with Phase one and isolate a tiny part of the big puzzle. When you get to Phase two, you'd need lots of examples, possibly hundreds, before a pattern clearly starts to emerge.
Sake, karate, karaoke. That's a pattern.
Writing bullets. That too is a pattern. Figuring out how the Earth regenerates itself, yes that is a pattern as well. Which then takes us to our last phase: reconstruction. Or how to stack the layers as you go forward.
Let's find out how it's done.
Part 3: How to stack the layers going forward
In late October 2016, I gave a presentation at the WeArePodcast conference.
The presentation wasn't about how to grow your audience or monetise your podcast. Instead, the presentation was about the elements of telling a story. For weeks before the event, I struggled with the presentation, and the reason I was so conflicted was due to the length of the presentation.
I had just 30 minutes or so to get the point across.
How do you take a lifetime of storytelling and encapsulate it in a 30-minute module?
You don't. When you deconstruct or reconstruct, the goal should be exactly the same. It's always meant to take a tiny piece of the information you have on hand and then go deep. I happened to talk about the elements of a story in that presentation, but if I were making a presentation on how a dead zone shows up in the ocean, I'd use the very same principle. And that's what you should do too as well.
Instead of taking on the entire subject matter, take on a tiny slice
If you were presenting about dead zones in the ocean floor, you'd probably cover three elements.
1: The ocean conveyor belt
Granted, this is a tiny part of what you're likely to know about thermohaline circulation and the ocean conveyor belt, but it's enough. And how do you know it's enough? There's a precise benchmark to know when you're overcooking your information. That benchmark is the ability of the audience or readers to recall the information.
If you overdose them with information, they'll recall parts of it, but not all
Information that's just re-constructed just right usually allows the client to remember the entire sequence without too much prodding. And covering just three points, even when you have a thousand to cover is usually a good way to go about things.
Three points force you to constrain yourself and go deep into your content. For instance, many podcasts on the Three Month Vacation covers about 4000-5000 words, yet they only cover three points. This article might go well into 4000-5000 words, but it only covers three points. It's likely that the person reading this information may not be able to recall the three points instantly, but give them a summary and it all comes flooding back.
And that's how you know your reconstruct is goody-yum-yum
At Psychotactics, we do this reconstruct at our workshops. Take for instance the workshop we had on Landing Pages in Queenstown, New Zealand. It was a three-day workshop, and on the very last day, I got the group to summarise what they had learned. If you've done a solid job, you'll see their eyes, not the top of their heads.
No one will be looking down at their notes scrambling to remember what was taught. Instead, they'll be looking right at you, reassembling the information just the way it was given to them. This technique is also easy to use when making a presentation to a live audience. You can have 200, 500 or a 1000 people in the audience going through the sequence of what you've just taught them. And that's the real feedback—when the audience can remember it all.
So do you remember what you just learned?
– Where to start your journey of deconstruction
The journey needs to start with a small slice. Instead of taking on a big topic, go down to one tiny part. Want to take apart the car? How about holding back a little and then taking apart just the wheel, instead? If you have someone to help you; a teacher; a guide, then that speeds up the learning process.
But what if you have no one?
What if you're like James Hutton and you're faced with the prospect of doing something no one has done before? In such a case, and in every case, really, you should be looking at a tonne of examples.
Examples help you understand the same problem, see the same patterns from many angles. You may or may not hit the jackpot of how to write bullets on a landing page, but if you look at dozens of examples of bullets, you'll find the so-called secret will reveal itself to you.
Finally, when it comes back to the reconstruct, it's just as important to realise that you have to be a bit stingy with your topics. Instead of covering half a dozen topics, just cover three main topics and go really deep.
You know you're not overdoing the information because the audience can easily recall what you've told them without needing to look at their notes. Even 4000-5000 words later, the reader or listener should be able to remember the points you've covered and pass them on to someone else without too much of a problem.
And that is the short and exciting journey of deconstruction.
Now it's time for some sake, eh?
Direct download: 131-How_To_Speed_Up_Learning_with_Deconstruction.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm FJT
Sat, 11 March 2017
The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere
This is an elaboration/review of the book by Pico Iyer.
How do you slow down? What do you mean by going nowhere? And how can we slow down with our busy business and family life?
Sean says, ” I still have the same day I used to have before. But somehow it's different. Now, I have more time.”
In this episode Sean talks about
Part 1: The Passage To Nowhere
To read it online: https://www.psychotactics.com/losing-momentum/
4 am is the most difficult part of my day.
And it's not for the reason you might be thinking. It's not difficult because it's so early in the morning. For me it's quite the opposite. For close to 20 years I've been rising at 4, sometimes a bit earlier, without the need of an alarm. The sound and feel of 4 am is embedded in my system and I instinctively know when to wake up.
Which is where the problem begins.
Within seconds of waking up, I'm completely awake
I feel as though my brain is a train leaving the station, and I, as the train driver need to keep up. Five minutes later, I've walked out of the door, across to the office next door and I'm already at work. At this time of the day, and without the need of any coffee or tea, I can start to write a book, work on a presentation or take on the endless flow of e-mail.
So how do I slow down?
That was the question I asked myself as we slid into our December break. We're all so alert, so full of this persistent need to work, to learn, to keep going at high speed. How do we slow down without losing momentum? And if we were to slow down, where would we get the time to slow down? This last question seems to cut right to the core. That we have no time to do what's most important to us. Which is why I started first listening to, then reading a book I'd bought almost two years ago.
Yes, the irony wasn't lost on me. It took two years to get to the book, but as December rolled along I listened to it once, then a second time, before getting a physical copy from the library.
The name of the book? The Art of Stillness: Adventures In Going Nowhere.
A book by writer, traveller, Pico Iyer. And let me tell you my short journey about going nowhere in a hurry.
We'll look at three elements of the book, and it's a very tiny book, spanning just 74 pages. When listening to it on audio, I think I was done with listening to it in a few hours. Even so, less is more. That's the agenda of the book and the lesson I learned.
Here are the three things we'll cover:
– The Passage To Nowhere
Part 1: The Passage To Nowhere
Sitting still is a way of falling in love with the word and everything around it.
Iyer, despite the Indian sounding name, was born in Oxford, England in 1957
By the time he's twenty-nine, he's got an office on the 25th floor in midtown Manhattan; an apartment on Park Avenue and 20th Street and a job that most writers only dream about. He covers apartheid in South Africa, the People Power Revolution in the Philippines, the chaos that enveloped India during prime minister Indira Gandhi's assassination. He wrote extensively for Time Magazine and took long vacations in exotic parts of the globe. The very thought of going nowhere was an incredibly alien concept.
And yet the constant excitement has a finite boundary
If you listen closely enough to life, it speaks to you in a whisper. Pico Iyer found that he couldn't hear that whisper. He was racing about so much that he never had a chance to see where he was going, or truly enjoy what he was doing. He never had a chance to check if he was truly happy.
Writers have a funny way of going to their core
Some hit the bottle, others write endlessly. Iyer decided to retreat to Kyoto. Now I don't know if you've ever been to Kyoto, but it's one of the most amazing cities in the world. There is a richness in the palaces and temples of Tokyo that's hard to imagine, let alone replicate. Iyer decided to leave behind his dream life and spend a year in a small, single room on the backstreets of Kyoto. He craved a sense of stillness.
In the early part of his book he talks about how not so long ago, our greatest luxury was access to information. There was no such thing as too many books because a book was savoured. Information was a slow drug. Today it's the freedom from information that we seek. The chance to be still is what Iyer calls the “ultimate prize”.
“I'm not a member of any church, and I don't subscribe to any creed; I've never been a member of any meditation or yoga group,” say Iyer. And by the time I had hit this paragraph, it struck me that
I was in a remarkably similar position; we all are, in fact. We're all rushing around, slightly overwhelmed at the amount of information we have to process and implement. We're not necessarily a member of any meditation or yoga group and yet there's this obvious desire to slow down until Pico Iyer takes it one step lower. We need to be still; go nowhere.
The chapter on “The Passage to Nowhere” clarifies the issue
It's not about sitting at home and never going anywhere. Travelling opens up our minds, often makes us better, more interesting people. Stillness isn't about a location. You can sit in the middle of a Mumbai street, cars honking and be perfectly at peace, though admittedly the goal isn't about how far you travel but how alive you are.
Stillness it seems is the ultimate adventure; one I'd been on, but certainly not on a daily basis.
So as we slid into summer in this part of the world, I took my chance. In December, Auckland goes to sleep. Around the 20th of December, all the Christmas parties are done, kisses exchanged, and the city goes into hibernation. And it's not just Auckland. The entire country goes into an enforced vacation until mid, even late January. It was my chance to go on a trip I'd never gone before.
I started to meditate
I tried sitting in a Lotus position on the floor. I can do it quite easily as I sit on the floor most days at some point or the other. But I didn't feel comfortable sitting for long periods of time. My next try was sleeping on the floor, and despite the warmth of the season, I felt a bit chilly. So I climbed into bed, pulled the duvet over and that was my Goldilocks moment. I soon discovered that trips require a bit of planning. I scoured iTunes for suitable meditation music until I found the one that suited me best. I wanted to see what this trip to nowhere was all about.
Stillness like anything in life requires momentum
When I first tried to clear my mind, the momentum of the day cluttered it with thoughts of an even higher frequency. I might be sitting and doing nothing, and have no perceptible thought in my head. The moment I meditate, the thoughts, random thoughts burst through trying to shout over one another in an attempt to get my attention. But then the momentum dies down around the 30-minute mark. By the 45-minute mark, it becomes addictive, this meditation stuff.
And that's what takes us to the second part of this review: The Charting of Stillness. In this section, he talks about his friend and songwriter, the late Leonard Cohen. He also talks about Matthieu Ricard, a Frenchman who was called “the happiest man in the world.” What made this Frenchman so euphoric? Let's find out in the next part.
Part 2: The Charting of Stillness
When you look at Matthieu Ricard, you don't see a molecular biologist. Because even if you and I have not a clue about what a molecular biologist looks like, Matthieu Ricard doesn't look the part. And that's because he's wearing the robes of a monk, and has this endearing smile.
The University of Wisconsin was deeply interested in that smile
They attached 256 electrodes to the skulls of hundreds of volunteers and put them all through a 3 ½ hour continuous functional MRI scan. The researchers were searching for positive emotions at first. In later experiments they looked at areas of compassion, the ability to control emotional responses and interestingly, the ability to process information. The subjects were similar in most respects, except some had engaged in ongoing stillness, while others had not.
There was a marked difference between those who'd practiced the art of stillness vs those who hadn't
Those who'd gone through stillness for about 10,000 hours had achieved a sense of happiness that was beyond any records in neurological records.
Their happiness factor was literally, quite off the charts. And Matthieu Ricard explains that happiness is a muscle. That like a muscle it can be developed. His philosophy is based on how Buddhists explain the nature of the mind. And you don't have to be a Buddhist to understand the concepts of the blue sky.
If there are clouds, there is blue sky behind them. All you need is patience to sit still and the blue shows up again.
This blue sky analogy was interesting
Don't get me wrong. A blue sky is, at least to me, the most boring kind of sky. I love clouds, all kinds of clouds. My niece Marsha are even members of the cloud appreciation society. So the analogy kind of bugs me, because I think all clouds, without exception, are incredibly stunning. Even so, the analogy of the blue sky is pretty solid. We lead a life based on our terms, travel places I want to go.
Even our websites aren't built with some keywords in mind or driven by client's demands. We do the things that most interest us instead of being governed by what competition does. Still, there are clouds. Clouds of irritation, envy. They roll in quietly going from a nice, fluffy cumulus to a menacing cumulonimbus.
Theoretically, I want them to put those 256 electrodes on my head and I want them to find happiness, compassion, no desire to react to emotional triggers and the ability to process information in an unusual way. It was a journey I was willing to take. As I meditate under that duvet, I start off all busy in my brain and then I get on the road to stillness. There are days when I don't quite feel like leaving the room and heading to work, it's that addictive; that cool.
And yet there's the obvious objection, isn't there?
Who has time to stand still, or lie still. To me, at least 30-45 minutes was an intrusion. While on vacation it's fine, because I truly do nothing, we're now back to work and that's a chunky 45 minutes out of the day. There's so much to do. How are we supposed to tackle yet another slice of the day slipping away for yet another activity?
This takes us to the third part: The Secular Sabbath as it's called in the book, but which I've changed a bit to the “internet sabbath”.
Part 3: The Internet Sabbath
What happens if you don't check your e-mails one day?
The elves come in, check your e-mails and your inbox is clear the next day, right? We know the price of not being on top of things.
Pico Iyer takes time to talk about the sabbath, but he stresses he's not stepping foot into any religion. Instead he talks about a secular sabbath. About a day every week, when you completely free yourself of work. And incredibly, you get off checking stuff on the Internet.
All this talk of meditation and taking time off gets some people a little upset
Iyer talks about the time he was on a live radio show. The woman calling in was clearly upset. “It's all very well for a male travel writer in Santa Barbara to talk about taking the day off,” she said. “But what about me? I'm a moth trying to start a small business, and I don't have the luxury of meditating for two hours a day.”
Two hours is clearly an exaggeration on the caller's part but the point is clear
We don't have time to meditate and we don't have time to stop checking e-mails and the internet. Yet it's precisely the people who are most under pressure that need to give themselves a break. Iyer suggests the poor, overburdened mother could ask her husband, her mother or a friend to look after the kids for thirty minutes a day. That would bring back a touch of freshness and delight to share with her kids and her business.
As you hear Iyer's words, it's still hard to accept that you can just walk away from the day
I struggled with weekends. My 4 am wake up time doesn't respect weekends and until late 2015 I'd be at work on Saturday and Sunday. “I'm only here for a little while”, I'd say to myself, but I'd often be doing something or the other until 9 or 10 am. On the weekends I was supposedly spending 10 whole hours at work. Whether it was productive work or not is completely debatable and here's why.
One weekend, my niece Keira came over and I was lying on the sofa. She said, “Seanny's always tired”. That was my moment of clarity. The weekends weren't helping me at all. So I stopped coming to work on the weekends. We have courses on
Psychotactics and their Friday assignment is my Saturday. For many years I'd say, “I need to check the assignment on the day itself.” Instead, I just told clients that if they finished their assignment by my Friday evening, I'd check it. If not, I'd be back on Monday. I expected pushback from clients. To my surprise I got none.
Many in Silicon Valley observe an Internet sabbath every week
All devices are turned off from say, Friday night to Monday. Kevin Kelly, is a spokesperson for new technologies and the founding father of Wired Magazine. Kevin takes off on month-long trips without a computer so as to get rooted in the non virtual world. “I want to remember who I am”, he says.
Even so, Kevin Kelly's methods seem a bit far fetched. Instead you can simply turn off your Internet connection for a day. My wife, Renuka and I go for a walk every day for an hour and a half. We try and get about 10,000-15,000 steps a day.
On Sundays however, we don't take the “workday walking route”
Instead we find another route and take a physical book or a diary in which to write or draw. I try and avoid the iPad or any kind of device that will get me back on the Internet. It's a constant challenge but it's completely invigorating. The simple act of putting the phone off and turning it on, 24 or even 48 hours later doesn't increase your workload by much. However, it does dramatically improve your ability to be more calm, more resilient in life.
What's been the result of all of this meditation and calmness?
Like Iyer, I stayed away from meditation for all these years. I convinced myself that my mind was blank enough when going for a walk or painting. And truly it was.
But conscious meditation is different for me. It almost always brings a rush of thoughts; of things that need to be done. Renuka tells me I'm sleeping better and my breathing is less shallow. Instead of reacting to events, I seem to let them pass like clouds, expecting that blue sky will show up shortly.
But easily the biggest change has been the morning train. Remember the train that starts in my brain and races out of the station at 4 am? Well, it doesn't do that any more. I now wake up, meditate and then go to work.
I still have the same day I used to have before. But somehow it's different. Now, I have more time.
Resistance seems like an overbearing force in our lives
We want to achieve a lot, but as soon as we get started, resistance kicks in. But did you know there are ways around resistance?
Direct download: Episode_129-How_To_Slow_Down_Without_Losing_Momentum.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm FJT
Sat, 4 March 2017
Part 2 of how working with a partner can be both an upside as well as a downside. How do you cope? How do you take it to a whole new level, without all the drama that goes with partnerships? Find out how to run a two-engine business instead of depending on flying alone.
Direct download: 132_Part-2_The_Insider_Story_of_Psychotactics_Working_With_A_Partner_Spouse.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm FJT
Sat, 25 February 2017
How easy is it to work with your spouse or partner? What are the upsides and downsides? These are questions that are asked all the time and there's a good way to know if you're going to work well together. Here's Part 1 of a series of 2 episodes.
Direct download: 131_Part-1_The_Insider_Story_of_Psychotactics_Working_With_A_Partner_Spouse_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm FJT
Sat, 18 February 2017
Everyone loves a fabulous year, but the best years for us are those that aren't terribly great. We learn more, and go through a revolution in such "difficult" years. That was 2016 for me. Life took me on diversions I hadn't expected and to me that became the most interesting element of all. Now I look forward to the diversion. Find out how you can be calm even when life takes you off route. And how the off route can be the one thing you look forward to time and time again.
In this episode Sean talks about
Part 1: Why Goals Are Not Enough (And Why Pacing Matters)
To read it online: https://www.psychotactics.com/power-diversion/
In February 2016, I took a rather interesting vow.
I vowed to stop grumbling.
Now let's get one thing straight: we all grumble. Some do more than others, but I'm one of those people who are easily disappointed, and so I'm relatively more prone to grumbling. Why I decided to stop grumbling, I'm not sure, but I know it led me down an interesting path. Instead of spending all my time trying to figure out what was wrong with the situation, it often led me to analyse why I was in that situation in the first place.
And that leads me right into what I learned in 2016. I learned why goals are not enough (and why pacing matters). I've always been clued into the fact that time management is not as powerful as energy management. And 2016 was when I had some solid, practical applications for this concept of time vs. energy.
I also realised that closed doors open, if you're willing to persist. However, at the top of the list of my learning was “the importance of the diversion”. This message resonated stronger within me than anything else.
Let's find out how and why the diversion mattered.
In July 2016, we decided to go to Goa, India.
India, as amazing as it is in terms of beauty, food and culture is not quite a vacation for me. My parents live in Goa, which by itself used to calm and peaceful, but now seems like any other part of India, noisy and chaotic.
What makes the visit slightly worse is the location of my parent's house
My parents live in a tiny two-bedroom cottage, but it's located at a junction. If you've visited India, you know that horns on vehicles are meant to be used whenever possible. Cars, buses, motorcycles—they all honk while on the move, but almost always honk when at a junction, just to warn others of their approach. You see the problem, don't you? My parents are used to the traffic, as well as the honking, but the sounds of India drive me a little crazy.
To make sure we were suitably removed from that chaos, we decided to rent our own cottage
This cottage was about 15 kilometres (about 7 miles) from my parent's place and supposedly a lot quieter. You know how you're not supposed to trust things you see on the Internet, right? Well, we didn't. I got a cousin of mine to check out the place and get back to me. “It's by a narrow road,” she said, “and not particularly noisy. There's a bit of traffic, but it's not too bad.” Going by this assessment, we decided to rent the cottage.
When got to Goa and the cottage was amazing
It had a superb lounge area, superb art on the wall, decent food nearby, two large bedrooms and was perfect in every way but one: the sound of traffic. Apparently the road was narrow and seemingly devoid of traffic, but it also happened to be the route to an industrial estate. This meant that when traffic rolled, it was the sound of enormous trucks rolling by.
Normally this would be enough reason to grumble
We'd done all our due diligence and there we were in a situation not a lot better than before. Yet this location proved to the starting point of a completely different type of vacation. Normally on vacations we eat, drink and rest a lot. Instead we ended up at an Ayurvedic centre (quite by chance) and were instructed to stay on a diet, with no alcohol and we could only sleep at night.
At night we were often woken up by the barking of stray dogs, so we'd wake up early the next day for the Ayurvedic treatment, yet quite tired. In short, what seemed to be a vacation was not a vacation at all. We got back to Auckland more tired than when we left and could barely function for the first two weeks.
Yet, this was my biggest learning: the role of the diversion
We weren't supposed to end up in this cottage. We weren't supposed to be at that Ayurveda centre. We were supposed to eat, drink and make merry. Yet it was the most life-changing vacation we've ever had. Both Renuka and I found that the diversion helped us tremendously with our health. Once we were done, my blood pressure which was soaring, was almost back to normal and my cholesterol levels were the best they'd been in past seven years.
Our food changed
If you look at the photos on Facebook, and I post food photos almost every day, you'll notice a marked difference in the food we ate from July onwards. We didn't consciously move towards vegetarian food, but meat is a rarity these days. I'm the biggest fan of bread and yet I've been making dosas (a fermented version of rice and dal) since we got back. All of this has had a massive impact. And the story of our trip to India is just an example of how 2016 has helped me focus on the diversion.
Before 2016, I'd be more driven to getting to the goal
Anything that took me away from the goal was a needless irritation. I'd do almost anything to get back on track and to avoid the diversion. The sight of a “diversion” sign would get me needlessly upset. Yet at the end of 2016, I tend to revel in the diversion. If things are not going my way, I tend to find the importance of that diversion.
Don't get me wrong: I don't believe in destiny
I used to believe in it, and it's fine if you believe in it, but I don't. I don't believe that things happen for a reason either. I believe that things happen, and we put a reason to it. This diversion angle isn't about life unfolding to a plan. Instead, I see it more as a sense of calm as things go awry.
That instead of grumbling and getting upset, it's about enjoying the diversions. I know this to be true because not all diversions end with lower cholesterol and happy stories. Some diversion are just a royal pain, but when you're ready to accept the diversion for what it is, you're a bit like a walking Buddha, accepting things for what they are.
I'm still very goal oriented
I still believe in the concept of getting things done, yet I'm less paranoid about the diversion. To me that's been the biggest learning of 2016. I think I didn't do as well as I expected with the grumbling goal. I could have done better. I've grumbled less than I usually do, but more than I would have liked.
What I do know is that diversions don't faze me as much as they used to. To quote a Jack Johnson song: Swim like a jellyfish, rhythm is nothing; you go with the flow, you don't stop.
That jellyfish lesson; the lesson about diversions and learning from the diversion—that's my first lesson. The second was even more ironic. You know that at Psychotactics we talk about the “Three Month Vacation”, right? Well, in 2016, we didn't take our three month vacation as we should have. And it really impacted our work. Let's find out how.
Part 1: Why Goals Are Not Enough (And Why Pacing Matters)
The Article Writing Course at Psychotactics is called the “Toughest Writing Course in the World”. When you make a statement like that, most people assume the course is tough for the person doing the course. Admittedly it's very tough for the student because you have to get from a point of struggle, to being able to write a very good article in less than 90 minutes.
Yet for me it's a bigger struggle
A course with just 25 participants generates between 10,000-15,000 posts in just 3 months. All of those comments, assignments and questions have to be answered. Plus there's no such thing as “rolling out last year's course”. Between 10-20% of the course changes every year (and has done so since it first ran in 2006).
However, this year I decided to do something that would put even more pressure on me. I decided to create Version 2.0 of the Article Writing Course. It's not like the earlier version was a dud, but like everything in life, a course needs an upgrade.
Under perfect circumstances, the notes would be rewritten well in advance
However, when doing a Psychotactics course, I like to gauge the reactions of the clients. Where do they proceed quickly? Where do they get stuck? And so at least for this course, I decided to write new assignments and notes while the course was in progress.
No matter how good you are at writing or creating courses, it's incredibly hard work. Which is why we have the “Three Month Vacation” in place. We work for 12 weeks, then we take a month off. Then another 12 weeks and then another month off.
In 2016, we didn't stick to our well-oiled routine
The “twelve week on, four weeks off” has been the primary reason why we achieve our goals. It allows us to work, then rest and come back with a full charge. The vacation in India, while great for our health and diet, left us more tired than before. And then we did a half-baked vacation to Australia in October.
Instead of taking the entire month off, we tried a two week break, and a work trip at the tail end of the journey. Technically a two-week trip is as good as a month, but having work at the tail end means I never quite relax as much as I should.
And this was my second learning
That though there are diversions, it's important as far as possible to stick have a solid pacing. The routine is what's most efficient, which is why it's called a routine. When we stray away from this pace of work and downtime, we are straying away from what's most efficient.
By the end of the year I was quite drained
I've managed to do as much as the previous years, probably even more. Yet, it's important not to be so very tired as you head into a break. And yet I could see myself yanking myself to work at 5 am (instead of 4). I could feel the tiredness in my bones simply because we hadn't stuck to the pacing. Taking weekends off was a great move and it helped me to get back to Mondays with a bounce in my step, but even the vacations mattered. What also mattered was how we structured the vacations.
The diversion concept is easy to spot, but how does this pacing apply to you?
We often work through the year, expecting that work itself will get us to where we want to be. Yet, it's been proven time and time again that downtime is where the brain really works. A tired brain simply does not function to its highest capacity. A brain is like a modern jetliner. It needs to fly, but then it needs to get down onto the tarmac and refuel before it gets back into the air.
A jetliner's greatest value is not when it's on the tarmac, but when it's in the air. Yet, without the downtime and the maintenance, that plane will crash to the ground. It's the routine that keeps that plane in high performance mode at all times.
It's one thing to have goals.
It's one thing to say that it's important to have vacations and weekends. Yet, it's quite another thing to structure that downtime. That in 2016, we failed to structure all of our downtime in the way we normally do. And that the month off from December to Jan will do its thing. Even so, the breaks should be better planned and executed. The goals are one thing, and the pacing is quite another.
That was Lesson No.2. And with a little planning (and some diversions) we'll have more pacing in 2017, so that we go to the break still quite relaxed and not quite so tired. All of this talk about pacing is really a pre-cursor for energy management, isn't it? I've always suspected there's something fundamentally wrong with time management and this year it came home to roost. Energy management is far superior to time management. This was my third lesson for the year.
Part 2: Time Management vs. Energy Management
You wouldn't think chefs would solve a productivity problem, would you?
And that's just what stuck with me when I was watching a Netflix's episode called “Chef's Table”. What struck me was the difference between my method of cooking and theirs. Now I may get the ingredients in advance, but usually I'm looking at the recipe just before I cook. Then I'll assemble all the spices, the veggies etc. and start the cooking process. While that cooking is in progress, a whole bunch of utensils get dirty and have to be washed. I'll then finish the cooking, and then it's time for the plating.
The chefs don't operate like me
The ingredients are bought in advance, they're chopped in advance, they're located right where they should be when the chef is ready to cook. What struck me is that a professional cooking system had a remarkable similarity to the way I write. I will write topics on one day, outline on the second day, expand on the third, edit on the fourth, and in the case of the podcast, record on the fifth.
It seems like a long process, but the actual writing doesn't take time when I split it all into tiny bits spread over five-six days. If I tried to do it all at once, even a single break in the chain drains my energy and I waste twice or thrice the time.
I know you've heard me write and talk about this energy issue before, but to me it was crucial especially when teaching difficult courses like the Article Writing Course. In the past the emphasis on the course was to turn out dozens of articles. Yet, that often exhausted the participants and more importantly by the end of the course they weren't able to write within 90 minutes.
Some still took 3 hours, some even longer. And if you slog so hard, it's easy to get exhausted and even have dropouts. Now our dropout rate is often restricted to just one or two participants, but even so, I'm responsible for their success. If I'm the teacher, I can't afford to have dropouts simply because they're getting exhausted.
Which is why energy became such a big issue for me in 2016
I started to design my life around energy, not time. Any task was almost always split up into parts—like a chef sequence. Incredibly enough the first day of the sequence involved nothing but planning. Planning all the things I had to do was just day one. And in the courses, that's what clients spent their first day doing as well.
They planned what they were going to write about. This simple shift in energy vs. time management makes a world of a difference both for me, as teacher, writer, trainer, as well as for the learner. Instead of being bludgeoned by having to do it all at one go, the clients were able to learn better. I in turn was able to achieve more and do so consistently.
Overall the year was draining
I struggled when I returned from India; didn't have quite the break I expected in October in Australia and technically I should have achieved a lot less. Yet, when I look back at 2016, the only place where I struggled was in when reading books. I didn't get too much reading when it came to books, but otherwise I was able to get through a quite tough year to my satisfaction. Of course I'll never be satisfied. I still want to do twice as much, or thrice as much.
I'm fascinated with a lot of things: cooking, drawing, painting, software, dancing, teaching. The list goes on and on. And to maintain a high proficiency you need to be like a chef. I need to be like a chef. We both need to do the prep work well in advance.
Time management is still interesting to me, but it's energy management that really got my attention. Which takes us to the final point: dealing with seemingly closed doors.
Part 3: Dealing With Seemingly Closed Doors
Every day I pick up my niece Marsha from school.
And every day we avoid the mad rush of school girls and exit from the gate on the far side. We have no problem with this gate on most days, until we ran into a certain Friday. We could see the problem unfolding from a distance.
First there was a motorcyclist trying to get the gate to open. Then a woman stepped out from her car and ran into a similar problem. By the time we got to the gate, it seemed like there was a lock on it. If so, we'd have to retrace our steps and go back at least 150 metres to the other gate.
It was a boiling hot day, and I'm no fan of the sun
So I decided to fiddle with the gate. As it turned out, it wasn't locked after all. There was a lock on the gate giving everyone the impression that it was locked, but the gate was merely jammed. A bit of a tug in the right manner and it rolled to the right as it should.
To me this was part of my learning for 2016 mainly in my personal life
For much of 2016, Renuka was having a lot of trouble with her allergies and partly with breathing at night. On the trip to India, she went through the Ayurvedic treatment that helped her reduce the nodules that were blocking her breathing. We thought with treatment the problem of breathing well would improve—and it did. Even so, we couldn't shake the problem of her allergies.
Around 2008 or 2009 she'd gone to an allergy clinic
Without any medicine or fuss, they managed to get rid of her allergy in 24 hours. Instead of sneezing endlessly, using nose sprays or taking over the counter medication, she went from achoo, to being a normal person. Before she got to the allergy clinic her nose would get all clogged, her sinuses would flare and her eyes would get all red. She watched dozens of videos on YouTube and tried to self-medicate. The sinus issue and allergy would back down for a short while and then come right back.
So what's the point of this story?
We thought the allergy gate was closed. She'd been to the clinic several years ago, was free of the allergies. Now that they were back, would there be any point in going back? Instead of treating that gates as locked, she went back. And within 24 hours her allergies were gone and have stayed gone for the last few months. What I'm trying to say here is simple.
Through 2016, I ran into friends I thought I'd lost forever. I just had to dig further and deeper to find them and we were reunited. Most of the things I thought were doomed were just stuck on pause. When I worked my way through them, sometimes months later, they seem to magically open gates I thought were permanently locked.
I really wondered if I should add this fourth point of “never giving up” in this piece
It seems so very trite. So mundane. Yet, the story of Renuka's allergies, plus being able to find a long-lost friend was a matter of pure chance after giving up. It's not like I hadn't tried before. I did try. But then after a lot of persistence, I gave up. What this message is all about is to try again, a lot later.
That gate at Marsha's school seemed locked to everyone. And yet it needed nudging. Who knows? Maybe the motorcyclist and the driver of the car loosened it just enough for me to yank it free. It's a lesson that you have to keep going long after everyone else (and possibly even you) have given up.
And that was my 2016 in a nutshell.
We are already in 2017. Last night I had my zero-gravity dream again.
It's a recurring dream where I simply spread my hands wide and I'm able to beat gravity. Like an astronaut that tumbles and flies in zero gravity, I'm usually in a room, floating to the ceiling. Occasionally I'll go outside. Probably even show off a bit by doing double or triple flips. No one in the room seems to be surprised by my ability, but even in my dream I'm trying to prove that it's not a dream.
Except I didn't have this dream for all of 2016 (as far as I can remember).
Was 2016 a bit rough? Monetarily it was like all other years. We made thrice as much as we need and that's more than enough. Our subscriber rate went through the roof, climbing 200% and then 500% or more. And no we didn't do anything dramatic. No advertising or joint ventures or anything of the sort. No hoopla launches.
Though we did sail through a second year of podcasting and I believe that made the difference. Clients continue to listen and learn a lot from the podcasts. And if you haven't already noticed, they're almost little booklets by themselves if you were to print them out. Almost every podcast is about 4000 words and covers just a deeper look into a subset of a topic.
Even so, I felt a bit unsettled by 2016.
Now after a whole month of rest, I'm ready to take on 2017, doing better stuff, not just more stuff. And I have my cue. I am flying; I'm in zero gravity. La, la, I'm on the ceiling again. Catch me if you can!
Sometimes life takes you down a diversion.