Last post I introduced the big-small-big theory on how to get ahead in the corporate world. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you go back because this post won’t make any sense otherwise…
I talked about the concept of how working in a small business produces more productive employees which can then progress faster in their careers but if this were the only factor, couldn’t you just go from university into a small business, maybe even a crappy business working as a manager then move into a job as Head of Equities at Citigroup?
See, big businesses like order. They like structure and the LOVE process. And it’s not like its without merit. Start up workers cringe at the thought of filling out forms for stationary and needing to complete detailed expense reports at the end of each month. But when you have 100k+ employees, small numbers make a big difference.
So while big businesses tend to make inefficient employees, who take the long route when encountered with decisions and actions, it needs to be done or the company would implode.
This is why big companies don’t like people from small businesses. It is too much of a culture shock. While the big business doesn’t need to teach them how to do their job (ie how to program) they need to teach them all the processes such as documentation, communication logging, project scheduling etc…
If a programmer spots a bug in a live program, he can’t just solve it like he would in a small business.
He would have to analyze the program. Report it to the support team with a detailed document and submit a support ticket. The support team would then send it to the testing team to make sure the bug exists. Then it’s sent to a support development team that focuses on fixes and upgrades. They will organise a meeting with the developer who found the problem. A solution will be drafted, while consulting with the architect. The project will be approved by the Project Manager. It will be inserted into the project schedule by the coordinator and it will finally be executed.
That may seem inefficient, but it’s necessary. It’s necessary because if every programmer just started hacking at the system, and ONE single guy messed up, causing the system to go down for 10 minutes. It might cost the bank the equivalent of that guy’s entire life’s salary – probably more.
Understanding this process is essential for anyone working in a big business, and this is exactly what you’re taught in your first few years as a graduate in a big business. In fact, this is basically all you are taught as your first few years as a graduate. Besides how to scan shit… (If you’re a recent college grad and don’t like the sound of this, don’t worry. You can still get some value from this job by adding everyone to LinkedIn)
Small businesses on the other hand need more of this structure if they want to expand. This is why small businesses like bringing people in from the big guys. They bring order to the chaos. Then they get corrupted… But at least they understand how and why structure is necessary.
Once they pick up some actual knowledge and skills from the small business, they are now a super worker. Who actually knows stuff, has had to make real decisions, not just small tweaks to existing processes and hopefully has results making a real impact on the success of a business. Plus they understand the value of order and process.
At this point they can walk back into a big business in a higher position completing the big-small-big structure.
This method of getting ahead is not without its risks. That being said, no method of getting ahead it without its risks except maybe being born rich or looking like Megan Fox.
Risks include picking a crappy small company that either doesn’t do anything or dies. You should obviously analyse this before you take the job. The great thing about this strategy is that you can look for your small company while sitting in the big one. Don’t leave until you find the perfect position. Look for a small company that is rapidly growing and one that will have progression opportunities. One that has holes in its organisational structure or has huge growth potential (pre IPO anyone?). Look what is happening to Google right now! They are fighting an uphill battle to keep their top staff including recently throwing $3.5 mil at an engineer to not go to Facebook. If you pick your small company right, it can make all the difference.
Another downside of this is work hours and stress. Moving to a smaller company will likely increase both of these elements. If you are planning on having a kid, now is probably not the best time to leave your stable job for a risky start up. Be prepared to work hard in the small business or you will not get the rewards.
Where as in a big business, lots of the time it’s not really worth working hard. Because the reward for doing an exceptional job is usually the same as doing an OK job. If you know anything about the Dilbert Principal doing a crap job will probably get you promoted faster, drinking helps too, but in reality it’s all about personal preference, so networking is probably the best way to go.
The book is crazy famous and has been used by countless athletes, actors, CEOs, entrepreneurs, coaches etc…
For those who don’t know, Psycho Cybernetics is the father of self help books. Its topics include self image, emotional state, action quota, decision making, success mechanisms, happiness, visualisation and I don’t even know what else. It is literally like 5 books in one. Each time I have listened to it, it has been like whole book of new information.
It is one of those books that will resonate with you differently depending on where in life you are. This is why I think so many people go through it multiple times. It’s like reading a different book the next time around.
One of the topics that stuck with me this time around was the topic of decision making. I wrote here how important decisions are and how much of a dramatic impact they can have on your life.
Maxwell Maltz goes into decision making in great detail. Here are some of the takeaways:
Making a decision
Making a decision is incredibly important. While you should use the information you have to assess the pros and cons of a decision you should not dwell on it too long. Decisiveness is one of the strongest traits of any leader and is a key hiring characteristic for management in the corporate world. Being able to quickly come to a decision, act on it and have others follow you creates motion instead of stagnation. Motion is the breeding ground for innovation, creativeness, success and happiness. Stagnation is the breading ground of doubt, lethargy, boredom and depression.
If you are thinking about doing something, decide if you are going to do it or not, then act on your decision.
Locking away the Decision
This brings me to the next point. Locking away a decision. Once you have made a decision, you need to lock it away in the ‘lock box’ as so famously quoted by US Vice President Al Gore. There is no use worrying or stressing over whether or not you made a correct decision after you have made that decision. Once the decision is made, you should completely detach yourself from the outcome of the decision and just work on taking action. All analysis and concern should be done before the decision is made, not after.
If you spend time thinking about whether or not the decision was the correct one is that going to help you achieve your goal?
Worrying and stressing about the ‘correctness’ of your decision is a stupid waste of time, energy and emotional state.
Making the Correct Decision
In his lectures to business leaders, Maltz quotes a few cogent remarks from his attendees:
“Dr. Maltz, the truth is that there are few inherently right decisions or wrong decisions. Instead, we make decisions, then make them right. That’s what leadership is all about.”
“You can always correct a poor decision, but if you do nothing, you can never get the time back.”
As stated above, worrying about whether your decision was the right one or not is not only stupid, but it increases the chances that the decision will end up as the wrong one.
If you decide to start a project, but spend all your days worrying if it will be successful or not instead of working hard to create the output necessary to complete the project, you are creating the result of a poor decision.
Whereas if you had decided you are going to start a project and work five hours a day for the next two weeks on it and not worry whether or not it will be successful, you are creating the results of a completed project which has a higher chance of being the correct decision.
You can significantly alter the outcome of your decision helping to determine its success factor.
Moral of the story
If you’re thinking about doing something, decide and move on. If it turns out you made the wrong decision, make a new decision and move on. Don’t stay in a state of limbo and don’t worry about if you are making the correct decision. Worst case scenario you fail. Who gives a fuck! NEXT.
“Each indecision brings its own delays and days are lost lamenting over lost days…what you can do or think you can do, begin it. For boldness has magic, power, and genius in it.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Firstly, apologies for the latent posts… Too busy having fun! A bit of an update, I’ve just landed back in Vancouver where I will be staying for the foreseeable future. I’ve had an amazing time (the best time of my life…) travelling through South East Asia, North America and Europe but I was moving very quickly and found it difficult to find my zone. When travelling, there are so many new and exciting things to see and people to meet, I didn’t want to be spending my time working, or writing about what I was doing. Heck, I even felt that planning my next destination and accommodation was a waste of the valuable time I had in a place. So I’ve decided to settle down in Vancouver and get some work done.
It is interesting the journey that has brought me here. It all started with one key decision: Quitting my day job. I had a very comfortable life – six figure job, nice apartment all that good stuff. But looking back over the last 9 months, and the opportunities I’ve discovered, the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been, I’m very happy I made the decision.
Since setting off on my journey, I’ve built a network of online businesses that are netting me a small profit; I’ve become a partner in another business and am at the initial stages of setting up a third business. There is lots of work cut out for me in the future, but I’m excited and think know it’s all going to pay off.
What’s interesting about all of this is that none of it was planned before I made the decision to quit my job. And if these opportunities had arisen before I made the decision (which they wouldn’t have), I may have looked at them negatively or not even given them thought. The initial decision is what sparked the momentum.
So if there is something you’ve been thinking about doing, whether it be starting a new project, asking your girlfriend to marry you or completely changing your life, make a decision and stick to it. Because
“In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” -Theodore Roosevelt
Great speech from Dan Pink on what drives people.
Click here if you cant see the video.
– Money is a great driver for repetitive quantifiable activities
– Money is not the best driver for creativity
– People are more inclined to do things because of purpose, mastery and a sense of contribution
It’s interesting to see how many of the successful companies like Google have integrated this work philosophy into their cultures.
When we say the word currency most think of money, foreign exchange, ice grills or the $ sign in Ke$ha’s name. But currency is simply a medium of exchange. Coins, notes and plastic are just one form.
Time, mobility and authority are a few other forms of currency. But today I want to talk about a currency called social value.
Social value is an interesting concept – most people know it exists but few have quantified or qualified it.
Social value is what gets you into a night club, it’s what lets you dodge a ticket with the police, it’s what attracts a large crowd to your party and it’s what gets you the girl.
Social value is not only useful in social situations it also helps greatly in the world of business.
What is Social Value?
Social value can come in many forms and different people will value different forms. Below are a few:
Offering Positive Emotions by Being:
- A good listener
Offering Physical Stimulation by Having:
- Knowledge of interesting places
- Knowledge of interesting activities
Offering Vicarious Status Through:
- Good looks
- Belonging to a certain ‘class’
By now you probably agree that at least a few of these can bring influence at some level. But notice none of them are material? No yachts, platinum credit cards or diamond rings – things associated with the currency of money.
So what do you do with social value?
Social value can be traded like any other currency. It can be traded for different forms of social value, for time, money, authority etc…
If you have certain contacts that can get you into a cool party, you could ‘trade’ access to that party for the time of someone who brings interest and humour to the night.
Or if you have fame or power, you could trade that for time by having others complete menial tasks in exchange for ‘being in your presence’.
How does that Help in Business?
Social value is too big of a topic to break down in a single post but here are two examples of business use.
Situation 1: You want someone’s time
If you want someone’s time (a form of currency), you will need some form of currency to trade. Of course you could forcefully ‘take’ someone’s time by cornering them in a meeting room and chewing their ear off, but more than likely this won’t end productively.
Money will work if you want to buy something and they are providing a good or service. Authority will also work but only with people who report into to you.
But what if you are trying to sell something, gain advice or want free media exposure? Offering social value may be your only option. If you can display to the person you will be funny, interesting and a good listener who will implement the advice given – chances of booking that meeting are higher.
Situation 2: You want someone’s money
I want you to think like a middle manager in a Fortune 500 company. You have a $1 million pa budget, small change for a fortune 500. With your budget you need to purchase goods, say software and office supplies. Both software and office supplies can be obtained through many resellers, all selling the exact same product for very similar if not identical prices. So why would you choose one supplier over another? You’re not even spending your own money.
The answer is: whoever gives the most social value
The salesman who takes you out for drinks and shows you a good time. Who brings you to events and introduces you to new, useful contacts. The salesman who makes you laugh or always has the latest on your favourite sports team. That’s who you’ll buy from.
So what do I do Now?
Social value is something you should always have in mind. Are you taking more from an interaction than you’re giving? If so, you may be pissing someone off.
If you call someone to ask for help understand you’re taking a currency off them (time) and be sure to try and give some form of currency back, either now or in the future. This will ensure a healthy relationship.
What about Friends?
Glad you asked.
The currency ‘exchange’ changes greatly with close friends. Through spending time with someone and building shared experiences the exchange starts happening over longer periods of time, years instead of minutes. This is a good thing don’t worry. Please don’t stop doing favours for your friends because it’s not a fair trade.
That being said, it’s still something to keep in mind. Large inequalities in currency exchange have been the downfall of many relationships.
Pay it Forward
I learned this term the other day from reading Colin Wrights book: Networking Awesomely. Paying it forward is offering value without seeking value in return. If you’re always out giving any form of value (including social), chances are you will receive some back somehow somewhere. Colin goes into depth on this subject talking about how to give value without seeking return but at the same time not being taken advantage of.
This was a brief overview of social value. Social value is used in every relationship from romantic, family, friends & business. It’s used everyday by everybody. It’s not something that one should try and manipulate but understating its value (!) and being aware of how you interact with the world may come in useful down the line.
Have you experienced the value of social value?
Email is, and has been for some time an important form of communication. There are lots of tips out there on how to write emails for achieving specific outcomes. There was a great post recently on how to contact market leaders and there are many blogs on how to use email as an effective sales tool. But what about for those circumstances that are too ad-hoc, that you may not see direct value from or just don’t seem important? How do you construct your emails then? Do you have a set format you follow? Do you even need to worry about how you construct them? I think yes.
I feel every single piece of communication I have with anyone is important. Unless they are friends of more than a few years you really should be following a ‘standard’ email format for EVERY email. This is not just with business either, but with every contact you make. Whether you are talking to your accountant, looking to rent an apartment or buying a fish you should follow your standard format. Your standard email format will vary depending on who you are, what you do and what kind of first impression you’re trying to give off, in other words, your identity.
There are a few reasons I recommend having a structure to how you write your emails.
- It gives you a fall back format if you’re unsure how to handle that particular kind of email
- It makes your email writing quicker as once you get the hang of it, you wont have to think about how to structure your email before you start
- And most importantly: It gives the reader an idea of what kind of person you are
Letting people know your identity, what you do and how you can help is super important. You NEVER know when someone you speak with could open up a new opportunity for you. The guy selling the fish could be your next client or boss.
You are definitely going to write many more emails (or waves) in your life, so its fair to say that writing a good email is a necessary skill and one you should take care of – if you haven’t already.
What is a Good Email?
In my day I’ve had many an email discussion with people from all walks of life. Working as a recruiter, and now as an Entrepreneur means I’ve made first contact with people from the strange to the successful. I’ve had conversations with students, scholars and salesmen with clerks, caterers and CEOs and with bankers, builders and beauticians. Out of all the types of people I’ve had email conversations with, there are few that project a professional, educated and articulate image in their writing. It’s not because they’re uneducated or can’t articulate their thoughts, it’s because they don’t put in the effort or don’t think it’s important.
As a high level rule, bankers and salesmen are the best email writers. And they should be, they get trained on how to write an email. CEOs are fairly hit or miss, as are most senior managers in large non-white collar industries. Everyone else, well, they usually suck. This is good news for you tho because it makes it easy to stand out from the pack.
A good email has many variables including your identity, who you’re contacting and why you’re contacting them. But there is a constant that flows with all well written emails and that is structure. How you structure an email says lots about your personality and thus should be taken into consideration with EVERY email you write. Not just first contact.
How to structure a good email?
Below is the general structure for a well written email. I will explain in detail below.
- How you got their details, call back and reason for email
- Body Topic 1
- Call to Action
- Body Topic 2
- Call to Action
- Body Topic n
- Call to Action
- Closing line
The greeting is simple. If you know their name “Hi NAME,” or “Dear NAME,” will suffice. If you don’t know their name (in the instance of contacting some businesses or a seller on craigslist open with a simple “Hello,”
You should ALWAYS follow with a pleasantry after your greeting. EVERYTIME without fail. Ingrain this into your fingers so that you naturally spit it out with each email you write. There is no reason ever why your email shouldn’t have a pleasantry. Even if you are criticising someone (which you shouldn’t do over email anyways) you should still have a pleasantry to give them the sandwich effect. You will never have anything to lose by adding in a pleasantry, you will make people more inclined to read the rest of your email, you will soften criticism, and will hit the positive emotions of a few. Most will simply ignore it, but for two seconds if your time, its definitely worth it.
Pleasantries can include the following:
- I hope you’re well
- I hope all is well
- I hope the day/week is treating you well
- I hope all is well since we last spoke
Once a conversation has started:
- Thanks for that
- Thanks for getting back to me
- Thanks for your response
- Thanks for your quick response
This is also the line where you can start to display some of your personality and identity. You can add in your super-awesome-fun-exclamation-mark-loving personality or your polished articulate self.
- I’m super excited you got back to me, thanks!!!
- Thank you kindly for your prompt response, it is most appreciated.
How You Got their Contact Details, Call Back and Reason for the Email
This portion of the email will vary depending on the purpose of the email and how you know the person. Use your common sense to determine what to put here but here are a few points that should cover most circumstances.
How you got their contact details
This is only necessary at the start of a conversation. But adding in a line such as “I found your details on xyz website or social media platform” gives the reader a sense of where you are coming from – this is important for first contact.
Call Back Content
If you got their contact details at a networking event, party or some other scenario where you had an interaction of some sort, built some rapport and made plans to stay in contact – this is a great place to add in what I call call back content. If you spoke about a sporting event, a ski trip, kids, whatever – add a few lines in this portion of the email. This will firstly help them to remember who you are and further built rapport. It will also give them some content to bounce off making it easier and more enjoyable for them to respond.
Reason for Email
A reason for the email should be included in every new conversation, even if you’ve spoken to the person before.
- I wanted your opinion on xyz
- I have a proposition/opportunity I think you may be interested in
- I have a few things I think we should catch up about
- I have an update on xyz project or report
- I have some news I think you should hear
This should be brief as you will explain it further, but should give the reader an idea about what they’re in for. This is important when contacting busy people. Also, if the email has multiple topics (discussed below) outline them here.
“I wanted to give you an updated on xyz project and see if you were available to catch up with George on Tuesday”.
The body should be broken into three parts.
- Call to Action
You need to repeat these three parts for every topic in your email.
This is what is happening, the reason for the email in more detail and what needs to be done (basically what most people write in a normal email).
“I’ve just received the report back from John and we need you to look over it. It shouldn’t take too long, just need you to check the final figures and make sure the portions that relate to your team are worded correctly. We need it back by lunch tomorrow”
The father of self help Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People states the only way to make someone do something is to make them want to do it. Unless we are communicating with friends, chances are we want something out of every email we send. The way you make people want to do something, is by explaining the benefits. You can always find a benefit for why someone should do something.
In the above example “I’m sorry for the short timeframe, but BOSS MAN is coming down hard on me to get this finished and your section is the last one we need.” – The benefit here is that he will either avoid getting in trouble by BOSS MAN if he does this on time, or he will get emotional gratification for getting you out of trouble with the boss.
Most interactions will have some kind of mutual benefit. If you’re trying to get a job, buy, sell or share something, chances are you have some type of value to offer. If you’re really stuck for a benefit you can always “owe them one” or “buy them a beer”.
Don’t forget to highlight the benefit.
Call to Action
Once you’ve told them what needs to be done, and what they’re getting out of it, you need to put in a specific call to action or next step.
In the above example: “Please confirm via email that you will be able to complete this for me by lunch tomorrow. If I haven’t heard from you by 4pm today, I will give you a call.”
Here are some other examples:
- Please contact John on this number at this time
- Please send this report here on this date
- I will call you at 4pm on Monday to come see the fish
- Please start this as soon as possible, I will call you on Tuesday at Lunch to see how things are progressing
This step assigns accountability, adds a timeframe and a specific follow up action to get things moving straight away without additional emails back and forth.
Remember: rinse and repeat these three steps for each topic in your email.
This is a simple line, almost a second pleasantry. Something like:
- Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or issues
- I will follow up shortly to check your thoughts
- Thanks so much for helping me out with this
- I look forward to your response
Finish off with your signature. This will include some kind of a:
- Kind Regards
Plus your name and additional contact information such as phone number, website, social media profile etc.
Check out Wisestamp – an awesome free Firefox Plug-in that adds HTML signatures to any web email client such as Gmail. It includes integration and cool little icons for blogs and social media profiles.
Adding this information is important because if you’ve made a good impression in your email and sparked some curiosity it allows people to go off and find out more about you.
This may seem like lots to integrate into every email you write, but as I mentioned, having a structure for your emails will actually increase the speed you write them once the structure is internalised. Having this kind of structure will also give people a strong first impression. Not only that you are kind, formal, structured, put in effort and courteous – but the body will be a relief for people who deal with large volumes of emails as it is telling them exactly what needs to be done. There is nothing more annoying than receiving an email that you need to respond to asking for more information before you can action it.
I hope this helps you build an email structure – personalised to your own identity – that will lead to rewards in the future. Remember, some people will not remember when you write an email well, but they will certainly remember when you write on badly. So make it a habit to write awesome emails!
- You don’t have to let your parents influence your direction in life “There is an expiration date on how long you can blame your parents for pushing you in the wrong direction”
- Failure is OK
- Think about all the positives in your life
- The value of learning from your failures and experience against the value of learning from school
- A reminder on how lucky we are to live in a democratic society
- The importance of giving back