Are you ready to fail in 2019?

Are you ready to fail in 2019?

The beginning of January is a magical time of year. It’s the one time where we get to look forward to all the possibility and not have to deal with any of the failures. If you’re anything like me your social media feeds and email inbox will have been flooded with tips on how to achieve your goals to “Make [insert year] the best year ever”. More than any other month of the year, January is a time of immense optimism.

So it’s going to be a bit of a downer when I tell you that most of the plans you are making for this year will fail. In fact research suggests that organisations fail to execute 90% of the plans they make. And if you think this is just about organisations failing you’d be wrong. All over the place people are betting big on yours and other people’s failures.

One notable example is the gym and fitness industry that preys on people’s failed New Year’s resolutions to get in shape. Gyms lock people into long term contracts of 12 or 18 months that clients are expected to pay for even if they never end up going. Research by Finder.com.au suggests that unused or under-utilised gym memberships costs Australian’s $1.8 billion each year.

So to help you plan better for 2019 I’m not going to provide some rah rah advice on how to achieve your goals, but rather some practical advice on how to ensure that when you fail to achieve your goals or complete your projects that at least you do it well.

1. Make your failures small
Small failures are much more palatable than big ones. Using the analogy of a gym membership, it makes more sense to not use a one month gym membership than a 12 month one. Smaller projects (and shorter memberships) might be relatively more expensive but until you know you can achieve your goals it makes sense to make small bets first.

2. Make your failures unique
There is no point failing for exactly the same reasons as everyone else. Spend a little time finding out why other people have failed on similar projects and then build in contingencies for this from the beginning. This will not completely eliminate the risk of failure, but at least you won’t fail for reasons that could have been easily avoided.

3. Fail early
If you’re going to fail then ideally you want to fail before you’ve made a substantial investment of time, money and resources. To achieve this you need to try and identify the unknowns of your project and likely failure points so you can test them as quickly as possible. Once again, this won’t stop you failing but it will greatly reduce the financial, emotional or chronological cost of doing so.

4. Fail often
I’m not suggesting that you actively seek out failure but rather you should regularly put yourself in a position where failure is an option. In some ways failure is a game of odds: the more projects you start, the more improvements you attempt to make, the more likely it is that you will encounter failure. So rather than try and avoid failure all together, see that it’s an unavoidable outcome of creating valuable change.

All the best for your failures in 2019. May they be your best failures yet!

…and if some of the projects you’re looking to deliver this year are technology related, and you’re interested in doing them more successfully (and perhaps even failing a few of them really well) we are currently recruiting new members for the Digital Champions Club. The Digital Champions Club is a digital transformation program for small and medium sized organisations that develops the internal experts you need to deliver value adding technology projects. If you’d like to find out more about the program or to get some free advice on how to avoid projects failing, get in touch to book a free 25-minute consultation with me.

…oh and if you haven’t already seen it, you might be interested in downloading my latest white paper ‘When Technology Fails to Deliver’.

Happy trials

After nearly three months we finally returned from our Life Work adventure a week or so back. It’s taken me a little time to write about it because a) I’m still sifting through all the memories to find the hidden gems of meaning; and b) the day after we got back I took off to Perth for four days to help an old friend celebrate his 40th birthday.

Two and a half months up and two days back

One phrase that has been with me over the whole journey is plastered across the title of this blog. I found the phrase left in the comments section of either a Facebook or LinkedIn post I wrote announcing our imminent departure a few months back. It was left there, amongst all the general platitudes and well wishing by a friend of mine Georgia Murch. Now there’s a small chance that this was just a typo and that Georgia really meant to wish us “happy trails” but knowing Georgia I would suggest that it wasn’t.

Campfires

At the time I first read it I wasn’t really sure how to take it. When you announce a big trip like this you kind of hope everyone will be joyous and perhaps just a little bit jealous and although I always appreciate a good pun it felt a little bit deflating as well. Weirdly though, I haven’t been able to get the phrase out of my head for the last three months and looking back on it now I wonder if in fact it’s the best, and simplest, way of summing up the whole experience.

Let me assure you there has been no shortage of happiness…but also no shortage of trials. Here is an excerpt from one of Naomi’s Facebook posts highlighting just a few of the things we’ve had to endure during the trip (she assured me this was the abbreviated list).

  1. No time together without kids
  2. Sleep deprivation
  3. Arguing in the car about our next destination
  4. Kids fighting
  5. Stopping the car in the middle of nowhere, getting out of the car and refusing to get back in the car
  6. Mess, everywhere you look
  7. No wardrobes
  8. Stressful packing up and setting up days
  9. Eating crap food at theme parks/on the road because there is no alternative
  10. Drinking bad coffee because there is no alternative
  11. Being pooed on by birds
  12. Missing our dogs terribly and worrying about them after one ends up with a nasty injury, and they dig up our friend’s tennis court and a nice big hole in our hallway carpet
  13. Finding a pediatric dentist along the way to remove a splint after Miss 7 nearly knocks her front teeth out
  14. Miss 7 then proceeds to chip a front tooth on the bath tap
  15. Miss 7 goes to first aid after she flips out of a raft halfway down a waterslide called the BLACK HOLE!
  16. Miss 7 gets bitten by a horse which is distressed by 300 tourists trying to pat it and her being caught in the middle
  17. Miss 9 burns her hand while toasting marshmallows
  18. Miss 9 wakes up in the night and proceeds to vomit in the campervan
  19. Miss 9 sprains her ankle after doing 100 cartwheels
  20. Being stranded on the Gold Coast while our campervan takes a trip to the mechanic for 4 days
  21. The drone gets attacked by a sea bird and now lies at the bottom of the ocean
  22. Leeches
  23. Simon’s flights being cancelled/delayed
  24. Really bad showers
  25. Did I mention the dirt and sand in our beds.

And yet when I read over this list again none of this comes with an ounce of regret. Not only have we had the privilege of enduring these trials as part of a once in a lifetime adventure, I also have no doubt that experiencing these challenges has made all of us better for it.*

*Along the way I’ve been reading Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder and you could easily look at the above list as a list of disorder, things that are worth mentioning because they are both uncommon and challenging. The academic side of me that I’ve been trying hard to suppress over the last few months of blog posting would then want to talk about how the ability of each of us (both individually and collectively) to absorb and recover from each of theses trials has made us and our relationships stronger…but let’s not go into that.

So why does it take a trip like this to bring us all closer? Why couldn’t we have created such an experience without leaving the comfort of home? There’s no good reason for not doing it, but I can also tell you we didn’t. Perhaps it’s because that ‘in the moment’ conflict sucks. None of the above experiences were enjoyable at the time they occurred, their value is only when looked on in retrospect. Perhaps we just don’t have the energy for it, that after long days slaving away in the salt mines we don’t want to endure further trials…even if they are an opportunity for connection and growth.

Or perhaps we’ve just got really good at avoiding conflict in our day to day lives.

Not only do we live in more controlled environments that have eliminated many of conflicts causes, we have also become incredibly good at avoiding confrontation when challenges inevitably arise. We have smaller families living in bigger houses, we fill our lives with work and other activities, we go on resort holidays and lay on daybeds drinking cocktails out of coconuts…and we have a multitude of devices that require our constant attention. There are now so many other places we can go when the going gets tough that we can sometimes pretend that the challenges of human existence don’t apply to us.

But when you shrink your entire living space to something smaller than your dining room it becomes almost impossible to avoid these types of challenges. And once you can no longer avoid them the best strategy is to embrace them. For us that meant family gatherings around the campfire where each of us shared how we were currently feeling. We asked questions of each other to better understand what was going on and we collectively discussed ways of making things better.*

*In fact, we had one of our little gatherings the day after we got back (this time around a candle on the dining table) and much of the conversation was focused on how we can bring all that was good about our adventure into our day to day lives. The first challenge was how to deal with the incredible amount of unnecessary space in our house. To this end Nomes and I have decided to move out of the upstairs master bedroom and into one of the kid’s bedrooms so we can be closer to them. For their part they’ve agreed to continue to share a room for the foreseeable future (its relative luxury compared to sharing a bed in the camper trailer). In addition, the girls have also voluntarily committed to no screen time during the week in exchange for our weekly family movie (a ritual we started on the trip).

The very last questions I ask my digital champions at the end of a project, after everything’s been implemented and the feedback has been gathered is “Knowing everything you know now, would you do it again?”

And if I was to look back on the last three months and answer that question the answer would be an irrevocable “Yes!” In fact, Nomes and I have already been discussing how we could do a trip like this on an annual basis.

Rounding up the horses at night

So, as much as describing the adventure as a Happy Trial may not sound as appealing as drinking cocktails out of coconuts, I think the accumulation of experiences and where the journey has taken us is infinitely more valuable than any tropical holiday I’ve had in the past. And just because I really do encourage you to consider how you might swing an adventure like this yourself, how you might flip the life and work parts of your life for an extended period and enjoy your own set of Happy Trials, I will leave you with something a little more positive – a list. My list. A reflection on some of the incredible experiences and happy times we have had together over the last few months (and I can also assure that this list is abbreviated as well).

  1. The girls chasing waves in their best dresses and getting completely drenched
  2. Nailing all the rollercoasters at Movie World
  3. Rounding up a herd of horses at 10 o’clock at night in our dressing gowns
  4. Spending a day building a straw bale house
  5. Poppy catching her very first fish
  6. Three generations of Wallers abseiling off a mountain at sunset
  7. Playing story games around campfires
  8. Reading books for no reason except pleasure
  9. Driving my camper van Dennis for extended periods (being behind the wheel is one of my happy places)
  10. Jervis Bay at Sunset with the beach to ourselves
  11. Toasting marshmallows (even after Miss 9 burnt herself)
  12. The girls showing me up in their very first surf lesson
  13. Waterslides
  14. Following the locals recommendation, camping next to an isolated beach and being the only people on it
  15. Stews and other camp specialties
  16. Seeing the girls learn to love reading
  17. Our weekly family movie night
  18. Taking a detour and exploring where my Dad grew up on the Southern Yorke Peninsula in SA
  19. My camper van office
  20. Having the complete support of my team throughout the trip
  21. Seeing the whole team grow and develop in my absence
  22. Having so much time where it was just our family
  23. Having time to stop and reflect on where the world and where my work is heading next
  24. Getting home and starting back at work with renewed excitement and vigour
  25. The anticipation of getting to do it all again

 

Where’s Waller

 

Listen to the locals

On Wednesday we left Byron Bay to head up to the Gold Coast and spend a week at the theme parks. Along the way we had arranged to stop at an old friend’s place outside of Mullambimby. His property, aptly called Altitude 261, required ascending a road that was both rather steep and rather poorly maintained. In fact it was both steeper and less well maintained than I had imagined which eventually resulted in me having to try and reverse Dennis and the camper trailer back down the road, eventually abandoning the trailer in someone’s driveway and busting a seal in Dennis’s transmission.

Lunch at Rod’s place

I probably should have paid a little more attention to the phone call I had with Rod before we turned up. I just mentioned, I wasn’t paying that much attention but I think the conversation went something like this:

Rod: So, what type of vehicle do you have?

Me: I have a camper van towing a camper trailer

Rod: Oh, the last 500 meters or so of the road up to my place is a little rough.

Me: The van is four wheel drive

Rod: That’s good, you will probably want a four wheel drive.Me: What about the trailer

Rod: Hmmmm, I’m not sure about the trailer

Me: That’s OK, I can unhitch the trailer and leave it at the bottom and just come up in the van.

Rod: That a good idea, you can always call me if you get stuck. Lots of people call me when they get stuck.

So at this point I probably should have been a little more concerned than I was. And when I set off from Byron Bay I had every intention of unhitching the trailer and leaving it somewhere. But as we got closer to Rod’s road the lanes became narrower and the number of locations where I could safely unhitch and leave the trailer somewhere diminished quickly. So much so that when I turned into Rod’s road the trailer was still attached.

I think it’s fair to describe the road as ‘deceptive’. It started with a nice bit of tarmac followed by a bit of well graded gravel. With just 1.5km to go to Rod’s place things were still looking pretty good. Then the road started rising sharply, washouts started appearing and it became increasingly clear that the council worker tasked with grading the road had knocked off early.*

*I actually later found out that no one was actually tasked with maintaining the road. Responsibility for its upkeep had recently passed from the state to the local council but there was no money to go with it.

With limited opportunity to turn around I did my best to keep going. But as I dropped back through the gears and the wheels continued to spin, my confidence in Dennis’s ability to tame the mountain started to wane. With still another kilometre or so to go and with Dennis back in 1st gear, I slammed on the brakes just in time to save the engine stalling, which in turn saved us from starting an uncontrolled decent back down the mountain…in reverse.

Now as much as this situation sounds a little precarious, it is about as good as things got for the next hour or so. Given that we could no longer go up, the only option was to go down. I started backing the van and trailer down the hill and managed a tight turn into a narrow driveway. We got the trailer back far enough to execute a three point turn but as I started pointing Dennis slow back down the hill I realised that we were about to tow the trailer off the edge of the driveway into a three foot high drainage ditch.

Trailer positioned precariously

Without enough engine power to reverse the camper trailer further back up into the driveway, we were forced to chock up the trailer and unhitch it from Dennis. We then drove back down to the bottom of the road and called Rod for help…just like he suggested.

Thankfully Rod turned up with a far more capable four wheel drive than our one and after hooking up the camper trailer he successfully towed it out of trouble and up the road for us.

Initially I thought he was just going to tow it all the way up to his place and then perhaps back down the hill for us again after lunch. Then, at a small intersection about another 500 meters or so further up the road, Rod suddenly stopped the car and suggested we unhook the trailer. Initially I looked around expecting to see his house but instead I spied a washed out goat track strewn with gravel, heading up a near vertical slope. It was at this point I suddenly realised we hadn’t even got to the section of road that Rod had initially warned me about in our earlier phone call.

Next time, I’m going to listen to the locals.

Dennis at the doctors

Postscript: After returning from lunch we found a pool of oil underneath Dennis as result of a busted bushing at the rear of the transmission. We managed to nurse Dennis and Daisy to the Gold Coast where we were planning to spend a week at the theme parks. The van is now currently in for repairs and we aren’t sure exactly when we’ll be leaving.

Update

After leaving the farm stay at South West Rocks we spent three nights at an incredible camp site on the Clarence River called Michael’s Clarence Valley Retreat. It looked like the set of a Crocodile Dundee movie and the owner Michael, or Mick, was a Paul Hogan doppelganger. After leaving the Clarence our next stop was Byron Bay where we met up with a couple of friends who came up to escape the Melbourne winter.

Camping along the Clarence River

Out fishing with Mick

My office in Byron Bay

After Byron we stopped off at Mullumbimby, the location of this week’s blog, and then headed up to the Gold Coast for our week long ‘world tour’. We’re currently staying at Paradise Country at the back of the Village Roadshow Studios and on our world tour we’ve so far visited Movie World, Sea World, Wet n Wild World and the Australian Outback Spectacular World. There is little doubt that we’ve hit the ‘peak tourist’ phase of our adventure…I think it’s just about time to hit the road again.

Where’s Waller

 

The answer to poor short-term planning is good long-term preparation

We are now a little over a month into our three-month Life Work Adventure. One of the key motivators behind the trip for both Nomes and myself was to get a break from our tightly scheduled existence (fully acknowledging that neither Nomes nor I have schedules that are either tightly packed or terribly well planned). What this meant was that by the time we left home five weeks ago we had little idea of where we were going or what we wanted to do on the trip.

Our camp at Glenworth Valley with the bed in Dennis set up for Mum and Dad. Are we the only people travelling the coast with a spare room?

This approach, and its potential short comings, were on full display on Mother’s Day when a good three hours after we were meant to check out from the caravan park we were staying in we decided to depart and head off to do some camping in Booderee National Park, which was in the exact opposite direction from which we were meant to be travelling in.

The incredible white sands and amazing sunsets of Booderee National Park

Although a little frustrating at the time I shouldn’t really have been surprised at such lack of planning. In fact, right from the very inception of the trip any attempts I’ve made at planning have gone badly. Perhaps at some point feeling a need to get to ‘somewhere’ I tried instigating a pre-departure planning conversation with the girls. It went something like this

Me: So, girls (this includes Nomes), where do you want to go?

Nomes: I want to go to Byron Bay, and I want to go to Brisbie [Island] to visit the cousins

Girls: Yeah, we want to go to Brisbie!

Me: Anywhere else?

[insert three sets of big, beautiful eyes giving me blank stares]

Me: Does anyone want to go to the theme parks?

Girls: Yeah, we want to go to the theme parks…for a week!

Me: Great! Anywhere else?

[insert three sets of big, beautiful eyes giving me blank stares…again]

So, before we left our collective plan was, quite literally, travel up the east coast, get to Brisbie Island, and pass through Byron Bay and the theme parks on the way…oh and hopefully get back in time to wash the school uniforms before the start of third term.

Less planning means more preparation

So how do you prepare for a trip where you don’t know where you’re going or what you’ll be doing?

Well assuming that you don’t want to deal with the fallout of things going off the rails, the only possible way to prepare is to prepare for everything.

And I wasn’t quite willing to let things go off the rails. One of my criteria for the ‘working’ part of the adventure was that my clients shouldn’t have to pay for it. What I mean by this is that my clients should expect to receive the same level of quality, service and professionalism that they do when I’m working from my regular office.

So, to ensure that we could have all the flexibility we desired whilst also ensuring the client experience didn’t suffer, I set out to get really well prepared for everything.

Red Teaming

To identify the possible risks and challenges of associated with three months working on the road I ran a red teaming exercise* with my staff well before Nomes and I committed to doing the trip. From this we determined a number of things I could do to better prepare.

*Red Teaming is a concept I picked up from an interview between Tim Ferriss and Marc Andreessen, founding partner of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. The concept originally stems from the military but how Marc presents it, red teaming provides the opportunity to challenge or ‘torture test’ an idea even if everyone already agrees with it. The ‘red team’ is an internal group (with the privilege of insider knowledge) tasked with trying to pick an idea apart. A good red teaming exercise might not necessarily discredit the whole idea, it might just identify small weaknesses that need to be addressed. You can read more about this in Tim’s book Tools of Titans.

The two biggest potential challenges we identified was connectivity and availability. To address this, I ended up with two 4G mobile data plans on different networks to limit network availability, bandwidth and other connectivity risks and I also invested in a nine-metre-long squid pole that I could use as a mast to increase the range of my modem…but so far it hasn’t been*.

*This is something I learnt from my dad when we were sailing up in the Whitsundays a year or so back. I had no reception at sea level when we were travelling around some of the islands but when he hoisted my mobile phone up to the top of the mast with the hotspot enabled I was able to run Skype calls with my team from the front deck of the boat.

In addition, I committed to being ‘in range’ and available two full days each week so that Sunny could pre-book meetings and coaching sessions as required. This meant checking into a caravan park with suitable 4G coverage on a Tuesday afternoon and not leaving until Friday morning (this would leave me a minimum of five days per week for the Life part of the adventure which could stay relatively unplanned).

To assist with this my team would identify a selection of suitable locations for me to stay each week. They would use a combination of Google searches (for suitable caravan parks in nice locations), customer reviews, maps of Telstra’s and Optus’s 4G coverage and data from services like OpenSignal (where people voluntarily collect and share information on the strength and speed of their mobile phone signal) to identify three or four options and then plot them on a co-authored Google Map which I could then access from my smart phone.

Other risks we identified and prepared for included inclement weather (for which I’m carrying multiple different microphone options), lack of power (I bought both a car charger for my laptop and an external battery pack that would allow me to run my laptop for up to four hours), last minute keynote/workshop bookings (the team also plotted out regional airports along the route) and personal accidents and emergencies (they also identified and plotted out emergency medical facilities as well).

This might sound like an excessive level of preparation but as I mentioned earlier, it was important for me that the client experience wasn’t risked. And although it may seem excessive it is all relatively doable. From what I’ve experienced to date I would suggest the biggest risk with a trip such as this has nothing to do with technology, and everything to do with people.

Preparing others as well as yourself

The biggest limitation when it comes to taking off on the road for three months is the patterns of work and engagement we have created with others. If you were considering something similar the question to ask yourself is

‘How will your customers and staff take it if you’re physically unavailable for three months?’

If you currently feel your physical presence is required to either do the work yourself, or get other people to do the work for you then three months on the road might be a bad idea. The truth is people take a lot longer to change their processes. It’s taken me a good three years to prepare the people around me for my lack of physical presence.

I started preparing members of my team the day they started working with me (for Sunny and Camille that was over three years ago). From day one they have never been accountable to metrics and I’ve never tracked the hours they work (even though I know that many of my peers do). In fact, for the last two years all my staff have had access to unlimited leave because I trust that they wouldn’t abuse it. Instead, we are collectively accountable to our purpose our values and the quality of the work we do.

My team are also all remote, Sunny lives on the other side of Melbourne, Camille in Manila and Marc is a true digital nomad, travelling, living and working across the many islands of the Philippines.

And I started preparing my customers two and half years ago when I moved from Melbourne down to the Mornington Peninsula. I didn’t want to have to commute backwards and forward to the city each day (and most of my clients are interstate anyway) so since then every customer has been directed towards engaging with me over Skype for small group meetings (Sunny positions it as the flexibility of a telephone call but with the engagement of a physical meeting). For members of my Digital Champions program they have only ever known Skype based coaching and if anything, it sets an example to them about what they could be doing with their own clients.

This is not to say you can’t take off for three months without all this preparation. Many people quit their job, take long service leave (or some other form of sabbatical) and take off on journeys such as this. But this option requires that work is put on hold whilst you do some extended living. The limitation of this is that eventually the life bit will end, and you will need to go back to work. If instead you want to find ways of better integrating your work with your life, well then…you better start preparing.

Update

We finally got our first few days of rain just after my last update. We were holed up in Jervis Bay for a few days but managed to escape down to the incredible Booderee National Park for a couple of days of free camping. On Tuesday we headed to Sydney where we met up with my parents and checked into a hotel for the night (I was running a workshop the next morning and the client was paying).

I attempted to valet park the van and trailer at our hotel in Sydney… but ended up having to park it myself

After the workshop on Wednesday afternoon we headed to Umina Beach on the north side of the Hawksbury River with my parents in tow. After doing some coaching sessions on Thursday and squeezing in a game of golf on Friday we got back on the road again and headed to Glenworth Valley for a couple of days camping, horse riding and abseiling.

My office in Lake Macquarie

Monday, we said goodbye to my parents (who headed home to Perth via Sydney) and moved north again to our current location at Lake Macquarie. This week I’ve had a chunk of work to get done in preparation for a couple of workshops and a keynote I’m flying out for next week. A few days in one place has also given the girls a chance to get the van sorted out and restocked before we head off again tomorrow.

Can you inherit a mid-life crisis?

This week I took my kids surfing for the first time. We were staying at Broulee on the NSW south coast and its safe beaches and long easy waves make it an ideal place to learn to surf…or at least that’s what the brochure says. It turns out I had recently come into a brand new 9′ mini mal (more on that later) and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a lesson on how to use it. Better yet, I could do a group lesson, take the girls and triple the experience.

I organised a one and a half hour private lesson with Broulee Surf School. The instructor Shane was ace and he had as out and riding waves within 20 minutes. The girls, with their youthful flexibility, low centre of gravity and carefree attitude were complete naturals. I on the other hand, with my stiff joints, lanky frame and general lack of balance and coordination had quite a different experience. After an hour and a half of expert tuition I can’t honestly say I ‘surfed’.*

*It turns out that some people are born with a tight Achilles heel which in turn leads to a lack of flexibility in the ankle which in turn means it’s difficult to plant your foot flat and maintain balance when you’re lifting yourself up to a standing position on the board. Apparently when it comes to surfing my Achilles heel is my Achilles heel.

Now the fact that I didn’t manage to surf, with the help of a professional instructor, on some of the easiest waves in Australia might come as a surprise to some. It would most likely be a surprise to all the close friends who recently contributed $800 to surf shop voucher (an incredibly generous 40th birthday present) that subsequently resulted in me owning a 9’ mini mal. To be fair to them, this wasn’t a whimsical midlife crisis type gift, it was in fact a thoughtful gesture to help replace my previous surfboard that I’d bought myself as a midlife crisis type gift a few years earlier. Unfortunately, this first surfboard suffered irreparable damage after being blown off the roof of Dennis (our campervan) whilst driving along the freeway at about 100km/h on the way back from our annual camping trip to Barwon Heads 12 months earlier.

So, this all begs the question, when was it exactly that I started pretending to myself that I was a surfer.

It’s a convoluted story but it all started 30 odd years ago when my Dad took me surfing at Waikiki in Hawaii. I had been around the ocean my whole life but hiring long boards on the beach at Waikiki and riding the long rolling swells was my first memory of surfing.

Dad was a surfer when he was younger. I never saw the surfboards, except in one or two old photos, but what I remember quite distinctly was that he still had his old boardshorts from when he was in his 20’s…and was endlessly proud of the fact that he still fitted in them in his 40’s (having now experienced myself the negative impact that kids have on commitment to exercise and the positive impact they have on the consumption of comfort food and alcohol, I quite agree this is something my dad deserved to be proud of). I’m not sure if it was his own memories of surfing at Pondalowie Bay in his teens that resulted in him taking me surfing that day at Waikiki but regardless of the reason why, that day in Waikiki left a lasting impression. Not only did it result in an enduring and incredible memory, it also led me to mistakenly believe that I was a surfer.

I remember getting my very own surfboard not long after that. I wasn’t so keen that I went out and bought a board myself, instead I got it as a birthday or Christmas present. It was second hand and had a couple of dings in it, but owning your own surfboard is a great way of maintaining the delusion that you’re a surfer. I took the board out a couple of times, but I don’t have a distinct memory of ever standing up on it. In fact, the most use it ever got was for skurfing (a cross between water skiing and surfing) being towed behind a little power boat that was kept at my parents’ holiday house.

I used to justify to others, and myself, that the reason I didn’t take it out surfing was that it was a little too small for me (I was 6’6” and the board was only 6’2”). The real reason was probably that I just sucked at surfing. And if I needed further proof this was always the case I now have it in a board that is a good two and half feet longer than me which I still can’t seem to stand up on.

Now I’m not saying that my Dad sucked at surfing quite like I did. I’m fairly sure he was never afflicted with the same lack of coordination and flexibility as me. I’m only saying that my only memory of him surfing was one day at Waikiki Beach in Hawaii.

So, the other day as I stood out in the water (it was only waist deep) waiting for the right wave to fall off, I suddenly wondered whether I might have somehow inherited a midlife crisis from my Dad. Whether on that fateful day on Waikiki Beach 30 years ago he was just reliving his own youth. That taking me surfing was just his own midlife crisis playing out, and by inviting me to partake in the event, he inadvertently passed on the ’sham surfer’ gene to me.

And so, as I stood there in the waist deep water, looking back towards the shore where my two girls catching wave after wave, having an incredible time and creating their own lasting memories, I wondered whether I may have just inadvertently passed onto the ’sham surfer’ gene to them.

 

Update

This last week we’ve covered a lot of ground, but not all of it by road. After the surf lesson at Broulee we drove to Canberra via Batemans Bay. The next morning, we flew out of Canberra to Adelaide to catch up with my extended family for a surprise 70th birthday event for my dad.

From Adelaide the road trip continued with 25 family and friends boarding a bus and driving from Adelaide to the Southern Yorke Peninsula. We spent a couple of nights in Point Turton where my dad grew up and visited Pondalowie Bay where may grandfather fished during the summer, my dad spent his days surfing…and where my drone got taken out by an Albatross (all captured live and uploaded to YouTube).

Monday we returned to Adelaide and flew back to Canberra. On Tuesday we spent almost the whole day at Canberra’s incredible science museum, Questaconbefore packing up and heading back to the coast on Wednesday. As I write this we are currently camped up at stunning Jervis Bay feeling especially grateful we are currently missing the terrible weather back in Melbourne!

 

Play ‘Where’s Waller’?

What to do when a bird poos on your head during a business meeting

On Friday last week I had an early morning coaching session scheduled with a new member of the Digital Champions Club. Most of my meetings and coaching sessions are conducted over teleconference…which is rather convenient given that I’m currently working from a camper van travelling up the east coast of Australia.

Whenever I have a meeting there are certain things I do to ensure the quality of the experience*. The first thing I do is find a suitable distraction free environment to work from. The second thing is to run a speed test to ensure whatever network I’m using has suitable bandwidth for teleconferencing. The third thing is I setup an external webcam mounted on a tripod rather than the built-in webcam on my laptop (this provides the ability to better position the camera and avoids unnecessary camera movement that occurs when you invariably move your laptop around).

*Part of my commitment before leaving on my trip was that my clients shouldn’t be paying for it. What this means is that my clients need to receive at least as good an experience as they would get if I was working from my office at home. 

Finding a suitable location means putting some distance between the ‘camp’ and my ‘office’ when I’m working to avoid the inevitable distractions and interruptions that come with a young family. Normally this means driving our camper van Dennis a short distance away, preferably with a nice outlook over the beach, popping the roof, setting up my laptop on the desk and working from there.

But on this particular day I decided to take a different approach. It was still too early for most of the caravan park kids to be out on their bike, and the park we were staying in was fairly empty, so I thought I’d just find a quiet place within the park and work from there.

I found this lovely spot, on a picnic table, underneath a beautiful big tree, and I set up my office there. I got out my webcam and positioned this beautiful shot of trees and lawn in the background, connected to my hotspot and connected into the teleconference.

As soon as my video feed came up the other participants immediately commented on the incredible location. I told them a little about where I was working from and casually dropped one of the lines I like to use ‘It’s my job to live the dream and then show others how to do it’. Now perhaps it was karma or perhaps it was just bad planning but about 10 minutes into the call a couple of rosellas took up residence in the tree above me. The first issue was their incessant squawking meant the other participants could hardly hear a word I said, the second issue was that before flying off to find their next victim they shat all over my laptop…and myself.

Now I like to consider myself a professional and I wasn’t going to let a bit of bird poo impact the ‘client experience’. Apart from a quick glance to assess the extent of the damage I barely blinked an eye, I focused back in on the discussion and continued through another 40 minutes of the coaching session with bird poo in my hair, on my shirt and running down my left leg.

In fact, it turns out the only person who was more professional than me was the client. Obviously having seen the bird poo spontaneously appear on the left sleeve of my shirt he managed to wait right until the end of the coaching session to ask whether a bird had pooed on me (In hindsight I also imagine that if I didn’t insist on such a high-quality webcam the bird poo may not have been quite so obvious).

So, what does all this mean? Was it just karma for me being a smug bastard or is there something else for us to learn? I’m a huge fan of finding something to take away from any situation and for me the lesson was this:

Always think about the audio.

At the end of the day it wasn’t the bird poo that has the most impact on the client experience, it was the incessant squawking of the rosellas and after that it was the wind gusts that the microphone kept picking up. As my AV guru and all-around legend Dave Dixon has said to me many times before, people will put up with bad quality video, but they won’t put up with bad quality audio. Bad quality audio makes people’s brains work much harder, eventually they fatigue, and then they give up.

So next time you’re on a teleconference with a client from a caravan park somewhere on the south coast of NSW, or anywhere else for that matter, even your desk or your office boardroom, make sure your think about the aural experience you are providing other participants…and if a bird shits on you, put it down as a stroke of good luck.

 

Update

On Wednesday we left Mallacoota and crossed the border into New South Wales. Our first stop was the beautiful seaside hamlet of Pambula, nestled between the towns of Marimbula to the north and Eden to the south. Thursday was a work day and most of it was spent in my mobile office, parked up at the Pambula Surf Club.

On Friday, after the ‘poo incident’ we went and explored the Killer Whale Museum in Eden (if you ever want to hear an incredible and true story of cooperation between humans and animals I highly recommend you reading up on the story of Old Tom and the Whalers of Two Folds Bay).

On Saturday we left Pambula and headed north for our first free camping experience of the trip at Brou Lake Campground. This incredible campsite was recommended to us one of the Eden locals we met. It is located in Eurobodella National Park and sits right between a beautiful lake and pristine, unpopulated beach.

We reluctantly left Brou Lake on Tuesday (after our water and food started running out) and headed north once again to Broulee, another small seaside hamlet located just south of Batemans Bay.

 

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

 

Where’s Waller

Escaping an octopus’s cold embrace

One of the interesting challenges of life on the road is schooling Miah and Poppy. As we are only away for one term both their teachers have taken a fairly relaxed attitude to what this looks like and, like us, believe that what the experiential learning of the trip will far exceed what they might get from two and a half months of formal education.

An example of this occurred the other night when we started discussing analogies. I don’t remember exactly how the subject came up but we ended up playing a game of analogies around the table after dinner. The game involved one person saying an action, object or situation and then the next person had to find an analogy for it.

When explaining what an analogy was to Miah and Poppy I described it as “a comparison that aids in understanding”. Often we use analogies to aid the understanding of others but it’s interesting that in developing an analogy to help others, it also undoubtedly aids in improving our own understanding as well (This is why it is something that I get my Digital Champion’s to do for every project they undertake. Not only can it help stakeholders understand what complex software makes possible, it also provides clarity to the champions as to exactly why they are doing the project).

The morning after the analogy game I started reflecting on various aspects of our trip so far and thinking of analogies to better describe them. So far, the one particular aspect of our trip that has really stuck with me, and perhaps warrants the further understanding that analogy brings, was how come it is so freakin’ hard to get out of the driveway.

Although the planning for our Life Work Adventure had started six months previous, although we had done all the big things like organise transport and accommodation (our van and camper trailer), work arrangements, schooling and dog sitting, the day of our departure was spent frantically running around packing, cleaning and organising random ’stuff’. Our initial plan was to leave at 10:00am, this got pushed back to 1:00pm and we finally left at 2:30pm…without actually getting everything done.

When describing the challenge of starting the trip to others, I first suggested that the frustration was like trying to extract yourself from mud or quicksand but I have hence determined that it could more accurately be described as ‘escaping an octopus’s cold embrace’.

In our day-to-day lives there are all these things that hold us in place. There are big ones such as pets, children’s schooling, jobs, houses and gardens to maintain and mortgages to repay as well as many smaller ones such as sports teams, extended family, friendship groups, tv shows we want to watch and the familiarity of our daily routine. In essence, each of these is a tentacle that embraces us, making us feel safe and providing a sense of belonging but also serving to trap us and ultimately hindering us from pursuing other opportunities, even the ones we truly value.

One of the most common comments I heard from friends and family before leaving was “I wish I could come with you” or “I wish I could do that”. My response at the time was a somewhat flippant “Well of course you can, anyone can do it” but the reality is that we are often so tightly held by all those tentacles that extracting ourselves feels near on impossible. We may manage to sever one or two of these tentacles but in the time it takes to free ourselves from the rest, the old ones regrow and entrap us once again*.

And much like the octopus’s prey, the risk is that eventually we stop fighting. The dreams we might have had of something more or something different slowly start to fade and we justify to ourselves that a cold embrace is better than no embrace at all…

…and once we have given in, the octopus strikes. It pierces our skin with its beak and injects us with a toxin that liquifies our internal organs before sucking our insides out. As our consciousness slowly slips away we realise that we are just feeding the beast that will ultimately prey on the ones we love.

OK, it’s important to realise that like any model, the mental model of an analogy has it’s limitations. Not every tentacle offers a cold embrace…and (perhaps) your insides won’t be liquified. Some of the things that hold as back, such as friends and family, also provide important support networks and are integral to our sense of self. For me, the analogy helped clarify some of the tentacles that made it so hard to get out of the house and onto the road such as the holding power of material possessions, debt and work.

What was perhaps most interesting of all was that as soon as we were a couple of hours out of Melbourne these challenges had largely been forgotten. As soon as we were too far away to turn back and therefore too far away to do anything about them, the holding power of those things dissipated. The truth is, in three months time we will return home and our house, our possessions and our mortgage will still be there. Bar getting rid of all of them (like my inspirational friend Craig Skipsy) what I hope for is that next time leaving will be significantly easier. I expect that we will worry about these things a whole lot less…and perhaps more importantly, I hope we believe in our ability to escape the octopus’s cold embrace a whole lot more.

*This is not the first time I have experienced this. I remember back in 2010 when I quit my corporate job with Rio Tinto and left Perth to move to Melbourne. When I told coworkers I’d quit the most common response was the question “Who are you going to work for?”. The assumption was that if I’d quit then I must have already lined up a better role with one of Rio Tinto’s competitors. When I told them I didn’t have another job lined up and that in fact I’d quit because of conflict of values, the next thing I heard was “I wish I could do that”. I realised in hindsight that so many of my coworkers and friends were trapped in a vicious cycle of working in jobs they didn’t enjoy for companies they didn’t like and then spending the money they earned on bigger houses, nicer cars or more lavish lifestyles to justify why they did these jobs in the first place. Unfortunately their high cost of living required them to continue to work in jobs they didn’t enjoy for companies they didn’t like…

Update

On Wednesday last week we left Mount Eliza and travelled to Seaspray, situated on 90 Mile Beach, just east of the Gippsland Lakes. Thursday was my first day of work on the road with a meeting in the morning and three coaching sessions in the afternoon. We stayed at Seaspray until Saturday before moving on to Lakes Entrance. On Monday we travelled to Mallacoota close to the Victoria – NSW border.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Where’s Waller

The power of choice

The power of giving people a choice lies in what their decision tells us. If we insist that people use a particular piece of software or work in a particular way, we may find out that there are better ways for things to be done.

The PC era of technology was defined by the standard operating system. Computers would be preinstalled with Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. People were largely expected to do their work with just a handful of solutions, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook. This used to make a lot of sense, firstly because there weren’t that many other options to choose from and secondly, end users mostly lacked the knowledge and skills to identify other options and use other options.

But we are now operating in a new era where much of the software we need is now web based and can be purchased on a subscription basis. There is now an incredible number of options that can be accessed cheaply and easily, and from any device we choose to use. But most organisations provide little or no opportunity for people to have a say in the technology they use.

Now we could pretend that people don’t have a choice. That, as employees being paid a salary, they should be expected to use whatever technology and tools they are given, but the truth is people always have a choice. The first, the smallest, and perhaps most common choice they have is to abstain, to actively find ways to avoid using the solution they’ve been given. The second, medium sized choice is to go and source an alternative (and in a world of web based software that you can purchase with a credit card this is not all that difficult). And although it seems a rather drastic response, the third possible choice is to resign. In fact research shows that when high performers don’t get the technology they need to do their best work they are twice as likely to leave the organisation.

Once we accept that people always have a choice, the next question is ‘how can structuring these choices help provide meaningful feedback to the business?’ Providing people a certain level of choice as to what technology they use (or even whether they use the technology or not) helps organisations understand whether the tools being provided are what people want and need. Clearly, if our people adopt and actively use the technology solutions they are provided then we are doing a pretty ace job. But each of the alternatives: abstinence, seeking alternatives and abandonment give insight into what might be wrong.

Abstinence suggests that either the espoused or actual value proposition for the end user doesn’t stack up. If someone is unwilling to try the solution at all, or tries it and then discards it soon afterwards, then we need to accept that for whatever reason, it doesn’t appear to be a good use of their time.

If someone is seeking alternatives then it reflects a belief that there are better, more useful or usable solutions available than the one that’s been provided….and if they are also unwilling to tell you about their proposed alternate it also implies that they don’t trust the IT department to work in their best interest.

Perhaps the most worrying of all is resignation or abandonment. We generally abandon something if it has no perceived value now, or in the future. The decision to resign implies that not only is the current technology inadequate but there is little hope that this will be addressed in the immediate future.

We are in an era of rapid digitisation. In many cases organisations are rolling out multiple large technology solutions that have the potential to provide incredible value to the organisation…if they are used effectively. On the other hand, if these solutions are not embraced or are not used effectively the benefits will go unrealised and all that the organisation will be left with is the cost.

People always have a choice and the success of our digital transformation projects ultimately rests on what people choose to do. Once we acknowledge this then clearly the best course of action is to help our people make better, more informed choices…whatever the outcome of those choices might be.

If you’re looking to start a digital transformation program for your organisation but having a hard time getting the ball rolling, head over to the Digital Champions Club to see how we can help you through the process.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Comfort with discomfort

It was hot
 
Over the Australia Day long weekend I went camping with a bunch of friends to a place called Taggerty. Taggerty sits just north of the Yarra Ranges in central Victoria, and by want of its position further from the coast and in the lee of the Yarra Ranges it misses out on some of the more variable weather patterns that Melbourne is famous for (it is generally four or five degrees warmer during the day).
 
In summary Taggerty is hot…  
 
…well actually…
 
…it’s not THAT hot, it’s just hotter than I’m recently used to. Over the weekend it averaged 35 degrees celsius (95 degrees fahrenheit)  most days while we were there, but growing up in Perth this was just normal summer temperatures. And for my brother-in-law who lives up in Queensland, anything less than 30 means it’s time to put a jumper on. And for players at the Australian Open who were dealing with a court surface temperature of 69 DEGREES CELSIUS our 35 degrees would have been quite welcome.
 
The heat felt outside our immediate comfort zone, but only because we spend so much time at 22 degrees celsius. We live in air-conditioned houses and travel in air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned offices which are all regulated at 22 degrees. It is all very pleasant right up until we are unable to regulate the temperature any more and then we struggle to adjust.
 
An elaborate metaphor
 
You might not have picked this up but my camping story is also a rather elaborate metaphor for…
 
…the impact of job-destroying robots.
 
Research shows that improvements in Artificial Intelligence and related digital technologies mean that over the next decade almost all jobs will change, and a number of jobs will no longer exist. Which means that everyone who has a job is going to have to deal a bit of change and discomfort. And if we are constantly seeking out what is familiar and stable in our work, the less capable we will be when change becomes inevitable. 

It is entirely possible to avoid discomfort in the short term, but over the long term this is likely to have some dire consequences.
 
  1. We will be ill prepared. If we struggle to operate outside of our comfort zone and our comfort zone eventually disappears, then it goes without saying that we are then more likely to struggle. Seeking out discomfort is an important strategy for building job resilience.
  2. We will miss opportunities. The more we focus on the status quo the less in “Who’s to say the status quo is the best we can do anyway?” There are a whole bunch of people who are currently working outside what we might consider OUR comfort zone (even if they are operating well within theirs)…and many of them seem to be having a great time or doing great work. What’s to say that if we were willing to extend ourselves a little bit we might find incredible new opportunities.
  3. We feel less alive. Ultimately, it is variability of our experiences that makes us feel alive. Happiness is relative to sadness, excitement is relative to boredom, and comfort is ultimately relative to discomfort. We tend to appreciate and enjoy things more when we have also experienced the alternative.
 
The little known power of experimentation
 
In his best selling book How To Lead A Quest: A Guidebook for Pioneering Leaders Dr Jason Fox talks about the power of experiments in developing corporate strategy. Experiments are cheap, simple, easy ways of trying something new whilst also giving yourself a safe way out. This same thinking can be applied equally for an individual level as it can for an organisation.
 
Experiments come in all shapes and sizes but involve a few common elements. They start with a hypothesis (or question you hope to answer), they involve taking action, and there is time given to analysis and reflection.
 
But I imagine you knew some of this already. The little known power of experimentation is that it is a safe way to just do something. And in just doing something we will not only learn the things we hope to learn (answering our hypothesis), we will also learn other things we didn’t expect…and most importantly we will become more comfortable with discomfort.
 
My two grand experiments
 
I’m currently in the process of running two grand experiments. I call them grand experiments because they have the potential to significantly impact the way that I work, and even the way that I live (that being said, they still provide a safe out should they fail to deliver the outcomes I hope for).
 
The first of these experiments is called Project Live. Project Live aims to challenge how I present my keynotes. It is based on the hypothesis that  through the more sophisticated use of images, colour and lighting I can create the type of immersive experiences you might otherwise associate with music concerts. If it fails I can always go back to the structure of my existing keynote presentations but if it succeeds I have the opportunity to dramatically improve the audience experience.
 
The second of these experiments I call my Life Work Adventure. My Life Work Adventure involves me working from a camper van for three months whilst travelling with my family up the east coast of Australia. It is intentionally not just a three month holiday, in a sense that would be too easy. I want to prove that as long as we have access to the right technology and we treat our colleagues and clients with love and respect we can effectively work from anywhere. If it fails I can always go back to working next to the pool in Mt Eliza but if it succeeds I have the opportunity to have similar, or perhaps even longer adventures with my family in the future.
 
If you can’t stand the heat
 
Leading up to our camping trip some of our friends were genuinely concerned about how they were going to deal with the heat (one family even left their camp stove at home so they could pack an evaporative air conditioner) but in some ways the reality was far better than the expectation. Yes it was hot but we quickly found ways of staying cool the best of which involved floating down the Acheron River on inflatable toys and inner tubes drinking a cold beer. The truth is, this isn’t something we would have tried unless it was so damn hot…yet ultimately this was perhaps the ultimate memory we will have from the camping trip. Thirty-two people, on a flotilla of inflatable toys, slowly floating down the Acheron River.
 
In the end it was the unexpected heat that created the most amazing opportunity.


This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

The fine line between sharing and self promotion

There is no doubt that digital technology has greatly enhanced our ability to share and connect with others. Whether it be email or social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, we are more connected than ever before. As the ease of connection has grown we have expanded our networks beyond the tradition inner circle of friends and family to include many ‘weak ties’, people we’ve met at networking events, people who found our profile online, people who’ve reached out to us and we felt obliged to accept their ‘friend’ request lest we hurt their feelings…people we would struggle to recognise on the street.*

*Professor Robin Dunbar famously determined that we can only maintain 150 meaningful relationships at any one time. This was termed ‘Dunbar’s number’ and has been shown to apply online in much the same way as it does in real life

Sharing with an audience of people we don’t know well is impacting how we communicate. For some, it means sharing less on public platforms, unsure of who is listening and what people might think. For others, it’s carefully curating the content we post online to highlight the best parts of their life and work. And for a few, it is a genuine and meaningful opportunity to expand reach and impact.

But the real risk that lies within these expanded networks is that we stop caring as much. Rather than considering them as friends or acquaintances we start to think of them as an audience (either a personal or a professional one). We can still pinpoint close friends and relatives within that network, but when we consider them as a collective, the number of weak ties often outweighs the number of people whom we care deeply about…and we don’t have the capacity to care about them all.*

*The definition of care is ‘the provision of what is necessary’ and I don’t believe we can show true care for others without taking the time to understand their personal interests and needs.

And so just like an actor treats their audience different from their loved ones, we start doing the same. We play a part for our audience that is different from what we show in private. We seek approval…and we self promote.

The line between sharing and self promotion is a fine one. From the outside they appear much the same but the intent is so very different. Sharing is done from a position of generosity to help the people we care about. Self promotion is what we do to make people like us and remember us…and to confuse matters further, sharing will generally result in some element of self promotion, and self promotion always requires some form of sharing.*

*Case in point is this post. As much as possible, I’ve tried to write this from a position of generosity, to articulate a problem I see many of my peers dealing with and help them find a way past it. But if we are to assume for a moment that it achieves it’s objective, then there is also little doubt this post will also serve to promote me. 

This fuzziness between sharing and self promotion is not just theoretical, it’s a problem I’ve been struggling with over the last few months.

About a year or so ago I started working with Mykel and Dave Dixon (aka The Dixon Effect) to produce a short video that articulates the motivation behind the work I do. It was based on an awesome video that they had done for a good friend of mine Dr Jason Fox, a video that beautifully captures his wonderful complexity and thoughtfulness.

I acknowledge that my willingness to fund the project was not altruistic, it was conceived of for promotional purposes…but along the way the intent changed. The original script was rewritten, Mykel composed new music and Dave reshot some of the video because I felt so uncomfortable with the self promoting elements in the first cut…so uncomfortable that I knew I wouldn’t be happy sharing the video once it was finished.*

*The final product is more a call to action about the choices we make with technology than it is about me. I wanted people to see that making smart choices (or any choice at all) about how we use our digital tools can improve balance and quality of life. 

I received the revised video a month or two ago but have continued to struggle with how and when it is OK to share it.

This dilemma has meant that apart from one little airing on Facebook the video has spent most of its life sitting dormant on my hard drive.

So where does that leave us?

The fuzziness between sharing and self promotion means that only we can determine whether what we post online is done from a position of generosity or selfishness. The fuzziness also means that we will always be able to pretend to others (and ourselves) that one was really the other, but if we continue to operate from a position of selfishness we will ultimately devalue our networks, including the people in them that we genuinely care about.

So with that in mind, I’m sharing my video with you now in this post. I’m sharing it because I think it is a good example of the fuzziness that we are all grappling with when it comes to social media. I’m sharing it because regardless of the self promotion, I believe the message is an important one…

…and I’m sharing it because if you like the video and you find it valuable, well maybe you will like me just a little bit more as well.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.