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

 

Slamming into the pot holes on the road less travelled

I’m pretty sure I don’t necessarily believe in karma. If I did, I would have put down last week to a karmic episode, instead I’m now forced to find some other life lesson in what happened.

I had been really looking forward to last week, as much as it meant me leaving Dennis (the camper van) and Daisy (the camper trailer formally referred to as Goldie) for a few days it was going to be the most radical example of our Life Work Adventure. It involved me flying out from our trip to present at three events across three states within three days and then flying across the country to be back with the girls in time for a hot dinner on day four. But I was soon to find that sometimes things don’t quite go as planned.*

*Oh yes, I fully appreciate the irony that my last post was about how great preparation makes planning less necessary…but more on that later.

The expectation was that we would park up the van Tuesday, somewhere around Nelson Bay in NSW, then on Wednesday morning the girls would deliver me to Newcastle Airport (30 minutes away) where I would then catch a flight to Melbourne. Once in Melbourne, I would be picked up by a driver at the airport and driven to a client’s office to run a three hour workshop (on enabling technology adoption) before heading back into the Melbourne CBD for the night. Then on Thursday morning I would rise early and head to the Arts Centre to do a keynote on using technology to deliver more engaging tourism experiences before returning to the airport and continuing to Perth. I would run my final event, an all-day bootcamp for my Digital Champions Club, on Friday before an early Saturday morning flight back to Newcastle (via Melbourne) to catch up with the girls…and catch up on some sleep.

On paper it looked like everything would dovetail in nicely but almost immediately things started to unravel.

Plane cancelled

Firstly, my flight from Newcastle to Melbourne was cancelled with only a couple of hours’ notice (due to a lack of crew) and as there was no other flights leaving Newcastle I then bought a second ticket (on a different airline) to Sydney and a third ticket (on a different airline again) to take me through to Melbourne. Unfortunately, my second flight out of Newcastle departed late (also as a result of crew issues) which meant that I only made it to Sydney in time to watch my connecting flight back out of the gate and take off down the runway. And even though the client was incredibly accommodating (with all the participants volunteering to stay back until 6pm) the multiple delays meant we eventually had to pull the pin and postpone the workshop until a later date.

My plane leaving without me

Thankfully the other events went far more smoothly, though Qantas put on a domestic leg of an international flight to Perth which has different security requirements that resulted in having a $100 bottle of my favourite wine…that I’d bought from the cellar door…in the Hunter Valley…as a gift for the guest speaker who was presenting at the Digital Champions Club the following day, confiscated at the airport.

Bottle of wine confiscated at the airport

If I was a believer in karma or fate I’d probably put it down as some form of retribution for my previous posts on how well prepared I felt for just about any eventuality, or as a good friend of mine in Perth pointed out, perhaps it was the necessary punishment for being so bold as to think I could just go and live and work on the road for three months with my family.

But as I am not a believer in karma I’ve now being forced to come up with a different explanation as to why all these things went wrong. Here’s what I’ve got so far.

  1. If you plan on doing anything, something will generally go wrong
  2. If you plan on doing something irregular or uncommon, then the chances of things going wrong escalates rapidly.
  3. When something does go wrong, you will always wish you built in some additional capacity
  4. If things are important ALWAYS build in some additional capacity
  5. Every time something goes wrong it’s an opportunity to learn
  6. The biggest risk is we don’t learn when we should, and we end up with the same problem at a later date

Oh, and the best thing is this. You don’t necessarily need to wait for the ‘something’ to happen to you. The power of the internet and open sharing means that you can just as quickly and easily learn from other’s mistakes…with far less downside.

So, if you’re ever travelling with your family, working from a van and need to fly out from a regional airport for an important gig, half a day of spare capacity is not enough. Always fly the night before.*

*You might think that this is incredibly niche advice but I guarantee that someday in the future I’m going to get an email to a long defunct email address saying ‘Oh my god Simon, your advice saved my life’.

Update

We left Lake Macquarie on Friday and headed to the Hunter Valley for an impromptu birthday lunch and a spot of wine tasting. We camped for a couple of nights before heading back towards the coast. We stayed a couple of nights at Anna Bay before heading to Nelson Bay…which was the start of the adventures described above.

Birthday lunch in the Hunter Valley

I stayed on in Perth a couple of extra days to catch up with friends and spent a magical day at Rotto on the Sunday before heading back towards the van and the girls on the Monday. After dealing with a couple of days of awkward rain in Nelson Bay (awkward because we haven’t really had to deal with much of that since leaving Melbourne) we packed up and headed north again. We are currently at a farm stay just near South West Rocks and Byron Bay is now clearly in our sights.

The view at Rotto

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.

Hitting the road less travelled

A quick word of warning: I’m taking a break from my usual style of newsletter for a few months to share something a little more personal…in fact I’m not just taking a break from my usual style of writing, I’m taking a break from my usual style of life.

For the next three months I’m going to be living in and working in a camper van as I travel up the east coast of Australia with my family. Along the way I will also be capturing what I learn and sharing it via my newsletter and on YouTube. I hope you join me on this adventure…or even better, start planning your own.

If you’re not interested in sharing in this journey, please feel free to unsubscribe here.

Back in August last year I announced my plan to take off on a three-month Life-Work Adventure (the announcement was posted to my YouTube channel that has but four subscribers so there’s a good chance you missed it). The idea was to spend three months travelling with my family in a camper van up the east coast of Australia but rather than treat it as just a holiday I wanted to see whether I could maintain much of my current workload and continue to support my clients while I did it.

The idea was spawned about a month or so earlier from an offhand conversation with my good friend, confidante and fellow schemer Mykel Dixon. We’d spent the day hanging out around Brighton Pier, talking about the need for professional speakers and other types of advice givers to more fully embody their work. Our shared belief was that in a world where more and more people start positioning themselves as expert consultants or ‘thought leaders’ it was no longer enough to just have a couple of spiffy models and throw away one liners. The validity of your ideas and ability to develop a sustainable following would ultimately depend on your ability to demonstrate your ideas in a congruent way through your own life and work.

On that fateful day I also told Mykel about my unfulfilled dream of taking my family on a road trip uptake east coast of Australian in our camper van, a.k.a. Dennis (Dennis has his own webpage here if you’d like to check it out). Dennis is a 1990 Nissan Homy (yep, that’s what it was called) and I’d originally wanted to do the trip in 2015 to celebrate Dennis’s 25th birthday…unfortunately ‘stuff’ got in the way and it never eventuated.

Given that two of the things I talk about are a) how technology enables a better quality of life and b) how technology allows us to now work from pretty much anywhere, it felt like doing this road trip, not just as a holiday but as an experiment on how we might take a different approach to managing the way our work integrates with our life, would be a great way of me embodying the ideas I talk about with others.

The last six months or so have involved much planning and investment in the background. On the travel side Dennis has been gone through a roadworthy and the registration transferred from WA, we’ve had a tow ball fitted and trailer brakes installed, we’ve bought a second-hand camper trailer and kitted it out, we’ve arranged to take Miah and Poppy out of school for a term and spoken to their teachers about home schooling during the trip.

On the business side I’ve also been working with my team to identify potential challenges and risks that would stop me meeting the expectations of my clients and we’ve put in place plans to help manage this (a strong belief I had about the adventure was that my clients shouldn’t have to pay for it through greater inconvenience or a lower quality experience).

I’m sure there are unaddressed challenges on both the travel and the work side that we’ve missed but after six months I finally feel like we are ready to get started…and the truth is some things just won’t become apparent until after you’ve already started.

So here we are now, exactly one week out from our adventure starting. In seven days’ time we will be driving out of Melbourne in Dennis, towing our new home, a (yet to be named) Goldstream Storm pop top camper trailer. For the next three months it is my intention to do most of the same work as I do now. I will host coaching sessions and meeting over Skype, I’ll capture content and develop ideas for my keynotes, I’ll even fly out from the adventure on the odd occasion to speak at conferences or run events and then fly back in again. Oh, and along the way I also hope to get a good chunk of my next book finished…but more on that another time.

But most importantly I will be doing all this whilst embarking on an incredible adventure and creating amazing memories that Nomes, Miah, Poppy and I will look back on, and talk about, for the rest of our lives.

Want to follow the adventure?

Subscribe to my newsletter here.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel here.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you have any comments or ideas, head over to this page.

No amount of training will replace self interest

My dad is one of those people who prides himself on how well he trains his dogs. But growing up we had a dog by the name of Buster and even my Dad wonders sometimes whether Buster just spent 15 years training him.

Buster would go with my Dad everywhere. One day Dad was out running errands and Buster sat with him, sitting obediently in the front passenger seat footwell. It was about lunchtime so Dad stopped off to pick up a steak sandwich to eat. He was eating it on the go but had only managed to eat about quarter of it before getting to his next stop. Trusting that Buster knew not to touch food that wasn’t his, Dad left the steak sandwich unwrapped on the front passenger seat.

After giving the dog a stern ‘Don’t touch it’ he jumped out of the car and ran into a nearby office to drop off some documents. Returning a few minutes later he jumps back in the car and felt a small surge of pride to see that his steak sandwich was still sitting on the front passenger seat.

Commending Buster with a warm ‘Good boy’ it was only after he picked up the sandwich and took a bite that he found out Buster had managed to slip the steak out of the sandwich and left the rest of it completely intact.

The truth is training or telling people what to do rarely works. People might look like they’re doing what they’ve been told, but under the surface something quite different might be going on. If you want people to follow your orders, back up your project or use your technology you need to do one of two things. You need to either take the time and effort to understand how people doing what you want is in their own self interest or you need to find a way to make the wrong outcomes harder to achieve and the right outcomes easier.

* This post is a reflection on a story that I’ve recorded as part of a larger project on the use of storytelling in business. To find out more about the project or to check out some of the stories I’ve recorded head to Project Live.

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

Doing less to achieve more. Five things I’ve learnt from working a 30 hour week.

Six months ago I wrote a post committing both myself and my team to a 30 hour week. I felt now might be a good time to check in and let you know how it’s gone.

But first a confession. I haven’t actually managed to stick to just 30 hours of work each week. There have been a couple where I’ve done less but in most cases I have done more. That being said, I probably didn’t start with an average of 40 hours a week either. So a more accurate title for this post would have been ‘Five things I’ve learnt working at least 10 hours less per week‘…but it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

So what have I found?

I’m more relaxed
We all struggle with a lack of progress sometimes. The old me would have taken this as a sign that I needed to work harder and longer until I ‘broke through’. The new me steps out, goes and cleans the pool or takes the dogs for a walk. In the back of my head, I know I’ve got some time to burn so I might as well just take a break.

I’m more selective
Cutting your hours back is a great catalyst for culling the work and the clients that you don’t want to do or that don’t add value. Over the last six months I’ve had countless conversations with my team about whether a particular task, program or client is really worthwhile. Sometimes they have, sometimes they haven’t, but the most interesting discussion have been on the ones that didn’t appear to be worthwhile but after making a couple of little tweaks, suddenly made sense.

I’m doing better work
Funnily, one of the first clients I told about my 30 hour week immediately booked me to give a keynote to a room of 100 consultants. It made me realise that now we walk around with our work in our pockets, so many people are struggling to maintain balance. But apart from giving me the opportunity to experiment with a different approach to work and to explore a bunch of new ideas about how technology can make us more human, the reduced pressure and additional head space (see points one and two above) has also improved the quality of my thinking and ultimately my work.

I can switch off easier
I used to really struggle to call time at the end of the work day. When you have your own business there is always at least one more thing you could do…and I would generally try and get it done. Cutting my hours has given me permission to call it quits at the end of the day and not be racked by guilt as a result. This is not to say I don’t think about work outside of work hours anymore, rather I don’t feel I need to, but sometimes I still want to.

I enjoy my family time more
I used to work so hard to put boundaries around my work. I would explain to Nomes (my wife) and Miah and Poppy (my kids) that just because I worked in the backyard didn’t mean I didn’t have work hours. I would leave ‘the house’ at 8:30 in the morning and would finish at 5:30 in the afternoon. But these artificial boundaries just meant I missed out on doing cool things like going for a swim with Miah and Poppy after school or taking Nomes out for lunch during the week. Now I get to be the person who says yes to everything.

As I write this I’ve been trying to think of the ‘cons’ as a counterpoint to the ‘pros’ above…but I really can’t think of any. I really have no intention of returning to my old schedule, if anything, I would like to cut back my hours a bit more. In fact the family is currently planning a three month ‘work-cation’ in our campervan Dennis where the intention is to experiment with a whole lot more flexibility than I employ at the moment (if you’re interested, you can follow follow the adventure through my YouTube channel).

Probably my biggest take away to date is that our current obsession with busyness means we are often doing more work rather than ‘good’ work or the ‘right’ work. Perhaps this is because employers still struggle to define output in other ways apart from the number of hours worked. Perhaps it’s because our identity is increasingly tied to what we own or what we earn. Perhaps it’s because we are worried that if we don’t look busy we might lose our jobs. But regardless of the reason why we feel compelled to be busy I have little doubt that we are often doing a whole lot more than we need to achieve a whole lot less than we could.

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

The three best reasons to change how you work

Change might be the new black but it almost invariably comes with uncertainty, discomfort and short term costs. So if we are going to embark on any form of change we need a good reason. These are the three best reasons I know:

1. We don’t have the time. It is unlikely that you are flat out doing only the important things. Research suggests that out of an eight hour work day the average working is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes. Other activities that contribute to being busy include reading the news (one hour per day), discussing non-work related things with co-workers (forty minutes per day), and searching for new jobs (26 minutes per day). If, out of the three hours of productive time, we are often spending it in ineffective or unnecessary meetings, communicating poorly, rushing to meet deadlines, constantly following up emails and fixing mistakes, then we might be busy but we are not being effective. Fixing some of this would be a good investment.

2. We don’t have the right people. If you are consistently thinking you don’t think you have the right people, it might not be them, it could be you. The difference between the right people and the wrong people is often in how we motivate, train and support them. By providing an environment that encourages change, celebrates success and tolerates failure people are more likely to be show initiative…otherwise the first bit of initiative we are likely to see is when our best people leave to start a new job (see point one above).

3. We don’t know what to do. We live in an age of constant change and disruption. If you don’t already have a steady stream of value adding improvement opportunities coming your way, then your current approach clearly isn’t working. If you want to know what to do, start by asking people about the challenges they’re dealing with every day (once again, see point one above). If you spend just a little bit of time looking around your organisation you will definitely find things worth fixing. Spend a little bit of time after that and you will probably find some possible solutions. The gap between identifying opportunities and implementation can be shortcut with the right motivation (see point two above), methodology, guidance and support but if you don’t know what to do then you clearly need to change your approach to doing things.

As I said, these are the three best reasons I know for changing the way we work. Unfortunately, in so many organisations these are the excuses we give for inaction.

 

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

The perils of working from home

For those of you who have spent the last week tramping through the mountains outside Queenstown (it’s the only place I’ve recently come across that is completely devoid of an internet connection) the latest viral video on the net has been the interview of Professor Robert Kelly by the BBC. While a discussion about the impeachment of South Korean president would not normally be considered an internet sensation, when your two kids and your wife play an unexpected cameo in the background, well, then shit blows up!

So why is this such a big deal?*

*and is this blog making it an even bigger one?

As someone who spends a good 70% of my time working from a studio in the backyard, I’d like to think I’m qualified to talk about the perils of working from home…and this ain’t one of them. This is not to say I don’t get visits from my kids while I’m in Skype meetings. In fact, this happens all the time. I just don’t think it should be a big deal. To be honest, I love it when my girls visit me in my office. I love that they get to see what I do and meet some of the amazing people I work with. I also love that the childish curiosity that compels them to put their head in front of the camera and wave to whomever is on the screen provides a dose of reality, and humanity, to my work.

So if this isn’t one of the perils of working from home, what are (and how can you overcome them)?

  1. Distraction. A little bit of distraction is OK, constant distraction is bad. Working from the kitchen table when the TV’s on, people are talking or kids are screaming is hardly an environment for doing good work. Solution? You need to have a dedicated work place with a door that can be closed when necessary.
  2. Ergonomics. Because home is often a secondary workplace, we often don’t take ergonomics as seriously as we do ‘at the office’. But regardless of where you work, there is still a duty of care requirement that needs to be met. Solution? If you’re going to work at home regularly you need a decent desk and a decent chair (but you can pay for this out of all the money you save on fuel/parking/public transport).
  3. Internet. Working from home regularly means that you will be accessing more data, and wanting it faster. I’m a big believer in using Skype to build and maintain relationships and you don’t want your internet speed to ruin your catch-ups. Solution? Move to Mount Eliza with me where you get super fast fibre to the home NBN…or at least consider upgrading your data plan, modem and wifi to get the most out of where you currently are.
  4. Presentation. One thing that was clear in Robert Kelly’s video was that he was working from his spare room, you could even see the bed in the corner of the shot. Think about how you present to others in your video calls and make an effort to present as professionally as possible. Solution? The minimum is to have decent lighting and reasonable sound but you should also avoid using your laptop camera (unless you like the up nostril look and want to show of your ceiling cornices) and think about the backdrop.
  5. Listening to the radio. On most days my commute to work is about thirty seconds and as a result I rarely get to listen to the radio in my car any more. Is this a big deal for me? Not at all. I actually just wanted to reiterate that I get to save a couple of hours each day travelling to and from work, which is time I then get to spend at home with my family and friends. If you like your family and friends, you should try working from home 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.

Should we be doing a thirty hour week?

I grew up in Cervantes, a small fishing town in Western Australia where my dad was lobster fishing. One thing that my dad would always do on his boats (especially if someone else was going to be driving it) was limit the revs (or speed) that the engine could run at. If you rev an engine higher for longer you not only use more fuel, you also increase the rate of internal wear and the risk of long term damage. By artificially restricting the revs to an optimal level, the engine would operate more efficiently in the short term and be more reliable in the long term.

I think one of the big challenges we face with technology is that it’s allowing people to rev both faster and longer. Not only are we trying to get more done in each and every moment, we are also taking our work home with us and continuing it after hours and on the weekend. In the short term we might feel that we’re getting more done but we are experiencing diminishing returns on the time we invest, and over the long term there is potential for some serious damage to be done.

A recent study showed that workers in smaller Australian mid sized businesses were doing an average of 10.7 hours per week outside of normal business hours. As a business owner, these free hours might sound awesome but the truth is many of these hours are not that productive. In fact for the average worker doing an eight hour day only three hours of those are generally spent doing meaningful work.

Over the long term, our inability to disconnect is also impacting the quality of our relationships and in turn our happiness, health and well being. This in turn has a negative impact on our work. Those who work 55 hours a week rather than 40 were 21% less engaged and 27% less focused, often compelling them to put in a few extra hours to make up for the unproductive ones…

…and oh how the vicious circle continues especially now we are always connected, always contactable, always on.

So what’s the alternative? Well a Swedish software company Filimundus last year experimented with reducing the work day to six hours (whilst paying their people the same money). It has been successful enough that they plan to continue it and anecdotally report that there has been no perceivable drop in productivity i.e. their people are generating as much output from six hour as they use to get from eight…and they are more happy and engaged when they do it.

This is the same experiment that my team and I have now embarked on. Can we reduce our hours, improve our quality of life and still get the important work done? We are only a few weeks into the experiment but I feel there has already been significant benefit. Primarily, it has given me permission to seek better balance. As someone who works for themselves, there is always work to be done. The 30 hour target immediately gave me permission to switch off, take breaks, go for a swim or a walk, have lunch with Naomi or go to the movies with the girls on a Friday afternoon. In addition I’m more conscious how I spend my time when I’m actually working. I have two hours less each day which leaves less time for procrastination and low value work.

I want to start work when I’m ready, finish when I want, and get as much done as I can in between.

But this is not just an issue to be addressed by the self employed, it is just as relevant for larger organisations. One of the biggest fears I find amongst organisational leaders is the inability to escape their technology, and subsequently their work. Yet it is often the decisions that are made (or not made) at the top of organisations that are perpetuating the problem.

They’ve supplied employees with laptops and smartphones.

They’ve let their people to take work home on weekends.

They haven’t questioned emails sent by their direct reports late on a Sunday night.

And there’s still an expectation that everyone be in the office 8:00 AM on Monday morning.

The opportunity of technology was one of improved flexibility, not a hope of bonus productivity. And although this extra work may not have been requested, it is ultimately endorsed through its acceptance.

This is not a post aimed at discouraging the use of technology; it’s a post aimed at encouraging us to use it in the right way. As pointed out by the director of Melbourne University’s centre of workplace leadership, professor Peter Gahan

“When it is planned for well, you should be able to get the same levels of productivity out of people working shorter hours with more technology, and so on, than you used to get out of eight.”

Why not cash in some of our technology dividends and also take advantage of the flexibility that technology provides. Many of us now have a choice as to when and where we work which means we don’t need to turn up to an office and try and complete everything in one stint (either an eight hour or six hour one). We can work from home, break up our day…work when the inspiration hits us and in doing so work less hours and get more shit done!

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