Mind Your HiPPO

When JC Penny stock shot to nearly one billion dollars after hiring who was referred to as “The Second Coming of Steve Jobs,” the parade was all but booked on the corner of Money Street and Prosperity Avenue.

18 months later, after the failure of renowned business executive Ron Johnson, those same streets were barren,  littered only with the discount coupons they couldn’t even pay former patrons to use.

According to Business Insider, the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion,” or HiPPO is a plague that has affected many top corporations and moguls from Sears to former Clinton White House Aide, Jason Goldberg respectively.  This phenomenon is costing stockholders their investments and reserving a space in the unemployment line for an unsuspecting and once faithful and career driven employee pool.

HiPPO Beware

It is often suggested that the most successful entrepreneurs are those who surround themselves with more intelligent people.  Using this information, many major and upstart corporations looking for a boost in profit will seek out and highly compensate one of these individuals. With stacks of hundred dollar bills blocking their ear canals, the suggestions of others become unable to reach the HiPPO’s brain superiority.  

No one is listening, thereby allowing only one set of opinions are being heard.

Whilst surrounding oneself with more intelligent or knowledgeable people is a good start, being able to let their opinions flow and being willing to be challenged is vital for the best plan or decisions to emerge.

This humble leadership doesn’t just apply to the traditional role of the ‘leader’, it helps everyone whose perceived authority can unduly influence critical conversations.

Surround oneself with intelligent people is a good start, let their opinions flow is vital for the best decisions to emerge. Tweet this

Highly Intelligent Individuals DO Make Mistakes

The catalyst of failure for Johnson with JC Penny was determined to be something so simple and avoidable, it’s hard to fathom that it was even allowed to occur.

Forbes Online suggests that Johnson chose to follow his “gut” instead of proven focused group data in determining consumer preference. To state it simply, a multimillionaire believed that he better understood what a middle class patron wanted to purchase. In this case, the data was available, though it was ignored by a feeling.  Since JC Penny threw all of it’s “cents” into the pockets of Johnson, is it any wonder why when Johnson asked his subordinates if the plan was working, no one had the gumption to speak up?

Large Ripples The Of HiPPO Effect

The HiPPO effect creates ripples of intimidation as members in the board room learn to keep their mouths shut, eventually lose their voice, and become accustomed to the role of subservient rat to the Pied Piper.

Employees are disempowered, moral is destroyed, and accountability becomes a tale of folklore and mythology.

The goal of a company is reduced to the vision of one, and no matter how well that one is able to see, it could never compete with the strength in vision of a cohesive unit. Why have a board room or, better yet, a board, if the voices and opinions of those in and on it are irrelevant?

Hungry, Hungry, Not The HiPPO

Once a problem has been recognized, it must be confronted if it is to change.

This is often the most challenging proposition to implement and can largely determine the fate of an organization. Allow the opinions of the staff to be vocalized before those of the influencers, even if it requires a closed or silent voting session. Crowd voting has also become a popular method with the seemingly infinite resources of technology.

To diffuse the intimidation factor of the great HiPPO, these actions are imperative. Proper facilitation, idea implementation efficiency, and  restoring the voices of those who matter can bring the creativity and success back in the board room to which it belongs.

Originally published on Linkedin by Mike Sutton

 

Monthly Productivity Tips – March 2016

Welcome to the Productivity Tips summary series.

Every Monday, a select group of subscribers get a single, actionable productivity tip to help them get their week started off right.

Once a month, we aggregate the last month’s tips into one blog post to share with the rest of the world.

If you would like to get the tips  – hot off the press and into your inbox every Monday – simply subscribe using the form on the right.

In the meantime, we hope you find these tips useful and we’d love to hear how you have put them into action.


 

#1: The Law of Two Feet

fashion-person-woman-feet

(by Harrison Owen)

Spoiler: “Leave a meeting if you are not learning or contributing and cannot change it.”

You have feet, be prepared to use them.

At times when you’re in a meeting and feel like you aren’t learning or contributing, either change that, or use your two feet to leave.

Move somewhere else where you can make a difference, or at least not feel miserable.

Don’t blame the meeting, the conference organiser or the colleague that talks too much and not letting you voice your opinion. “Responsibility resides with the individual”.

Image credit: pexels


 

#2 : Keep it short, sharp and visual.

odeo-meet-standing

Spoiler: Have short meetings around a large whiteboard, no seating and have plenty of markers.

Long meetings eat up resources and most importantly: employee productivity. If you need to drag your employees frequently out of their flow to be in meetings (maybe even daily like in Scrum), you’re best keeping the meetings short, energised and highly collaborative.

We’ve been doing that very well with a simple meeting space with a large whiteboard, no chairs, and plenty of markers in various colours.

Why?

Large whiteboard? To help ideas to flow and develop freely.Everyone can gather round it and see the ‘whole picture’.

No chairs? So everyone can stand and stay energised and achy feet are a great natural reminder that your meeting is going on for too long!

Colourful markers? To use on the whiteboard (doh!).

Visual learners account for over 60% of the population, so chances are your meeting participants will retain more and collaborate better.

Fun fact: The author of this picture Dom Sagolla said:”This picture was taken in the middle of our reinvention and creation of Twitter.”

What are you waiting for, use this tip right away!

Image credit: Dom Sagolla 


 

#3: Answer recorder = Question Asker = Answer Summariser

raise-hand

Have the question asker summarise and record the answer

Spoiler: Amplify learning and understanding by requesting the person who asked the question to summarise the answer they got and record it for others.

I know getting people to ask questions in the workplace is already hard enough, but what if you want to make the most out of every question being asked and bring collective learning onto a completely different level?

In meetings, you encounter questions being asked over and over again, especially by the same people.

This is caused by information from answers not retained, or unclear answers and incomplete follow-up questions.

By getting the person who asked the question to verbally summarise the answer and record it on the key-points you get increased clarity, better distribution of effort and questioner satisfaction all at once.

Try it and see.

P.S. In the meeting canvas, use the Key Points section to record your questions and answers. Print out the pdf and you got a nice record for the future.

Image credit: Innovation School 


 

#4 Get Emails Out Of Your Way

checkin-mail

Spoiler: Block certain hour per day for only emails or use InboxPause 

Emails are getting in the way of you being productive? Checking emails several times a day can interfere with your focus.

One way to solve this is to separate answering emails from focused work.

If you are disciplined, you could block your calendar for a certain hour a day to check and respond to emails, no exception.

A bit short on discipline? Then you could use something like InboxPause, which pauses your inbox from receiving new emails. Emails can still be sent out but you won’t get any until you hit “Unpause”.

Whichever you try, good luck with controlling email this week. We’d love to hear what worked for you.

Image credit: Leonard J Matthews


 

#5: Speak only when you can improve the silence

talkative-fence

Spoiler: Keep the agenda and purpose in mind, speak only when you can improve the silence.

We have the problem of some meeting attendees not contributing enough and the added problem of other participants talking too much. This can derail meetings , making them take longer and distract from the purpose.

Like in any social settings, the talkers often influence others and assume the role of opinion leaders
The quantity of interaction is commonly used as a gauge of influence – so much so that Klout (https://klout.com) that gauges your ‘influence score’ by your social media interactions, blogging activities, etc. Of course there are people gaming the system.

This is not be a game, quality should beat quantity.

As a participant in any purposeful conversation you can improve both your influence and the value of the conversation for everyone by speaking when you truly believe it will improve the silence.

Speak only when you can improve the silence – Jim Estill

Image credit: Bea

Our first ever public release: Pricing plans and 7 useful features for amazing meetings

beaver , photo

Welcome to “Beaver” – our first ever public release of Amazemeet.

This little bundle of simplicity and usefulness has been 12 months in the making and has been in an invite-only beta test since June 2015. We are so so so excited to finally let the everyone have a play with it.

Who is Amazemeet for?

We built Amazemeet for everyone who organises and attends medium sized group meetings from 3 up to 30 people. Amazemeet is platform independent and you can use it to design and host meetings in person or distributed and remote.

Many organisations – and we have consulted with some of the largest –  have a *huge* problem of wasted time and money because their employees are stuck in poorly designed and unnecessary meetings. The financial scale of the problem is staggering and even more so the scale of wasted human time and potential.

We built Amazemeet for all those employees in all those organisations – wherever they are in the world.

What’s new?

Well – if you are not one of the lucky 400+ beta users – everything is new!

To save us typing and you reading why not head over to Amazemeet for no-credit-card-needed near-instant demo. You’ll get a good idea what Amazemeet can do for you and all these features would make more sense. Here are 7 useful that Amazemeet offers to help you get better at meetings:

#1 Clear canvas-style meeting workflow design
Canvas design helps you work through – step by step – the process of thinking and creating amazing meetings. With our canvas you can improve any and all meetings with validated purpose, tracked agenda items and actions that people actually follow up on.

#2 Real time updates to the canvas
Supports you and your contributors to collaborate on your meeting design in realtime.

#3 Notifications of contributor activities
You can see what your collaborators have added to the meeting whilst you were offline

#4 Meeting Scoring
We provide a proprietary algorithm to help you score how well designed your meetings are – from the point of creation to the last action completed and provide actionable feedback on how to improve them.

#5 Zapier integration.
Zapier is like plumbing for the web, your meeting data can be piped to all your favorite internet services like tasks and calendars.

#6 Endorsable contributors and agenda
Put an end to the wrong people talking about the wrong things and wasting everyone’s precious time. With Amazemeet each contributor can endorse both the contributors and the agenda to make sure you have both the right people and the right topics.

#7 Validated Purpose
Purpose drives both the contributors and the agenda – without it, your meetings are almost certainly doomed. With our purpose validation – everyone can endorse and shape the purpose of the meeting ensuring your meetings are focused from the very start.

Pricing

We want anyone to be able to use Amazemeet and we want the pricing to be simple and straightforward.

So for starters, all users get every meeting canvas feature we build – there are some things like dedicated custom domains that really only make sense for large organisations with thousands of users.

We differentiate all plans based on the monthly quota of meetings included in the plans.

Amazemeet is free for  up to 5 meetings a month  and the monthly subscription goes up to $649 a month for up to 1000 meetings – that should be enough for most organisations and departments. All plans can be shared across an unlimited number of users.

Checkout our pricing page for what’s included on each plan.

What happens next

We have an exciting vision for Amazemeet and we are committed to emerge and shape it further in response to what our customers need.

Thanks to our product development approach we can make and release features very quickly  – but we like the idea of releases (only so we can name them funny things like ‘Beaver’).

Chimpanzee is coming
chimpanzee , release photo


Image by lightmatter 

Our next release in a couple of weeks is titled ‘Chimpanzee’ and we are planning for it to include:

  • Recurring and repeating meetings
  • A meeting cost feature – so you can get a sense of how much a meeting is costing your team or organisation
  • Actionable feedback on meetings that affect.
  • Agenda tracking – that will begin to provide auto facilitation for groups.

 

Thanks for being part of our mission to help people save time and live more productive lives.

Please share Amazemeet with your friends – because friends don’t let friends have crappy meetings.

We need 2 amazing women in tech to join us at #WebSummit.

Update: Closing Date Extended to October 9th.

So much has been going on with Amazemeet in the last few months – we’ll update the world in due course – but here is some whopping great news we’d love you to hear and share!

We’re going to Web Summit

The short story – we got accepted to join the Alpha Track of the Web Summit tech conference – the “best Tech conference on the planet”.

The  lovely Web Summit crew offered us an extra ticket to to bring a female member of our team  – well, we are small team of 3 and our only female team mate is traveling around in Asia – we ended up with 2 extra tickets.

So we got inspired and decided to do something rather splendid (drum roll pleeease).

…and we’d love 2 amazing women in tech to join us.

We are delighted to announce the Women in Tech “Join us @ Web Summit” competition to offer 2 hard working , creative, ‘got mad skills’ women in the tech industry (or working towards a career in the tech industry) the tickets.

But not only the tickets , you have to get there too right?! –  so we are also including a return ticket to Dublin from anywhere in the EU and 3 nights accommodation too.

challenge_flyer_A4-mhs

Important info:

All you need to know is on the flyer but we’ll re-emphasize some really important points:

Send your submission to [email protected] – please include your name and a short bio.

Closing date is October 2nd at 10am Central European Time – anything that we receive after this date / time/ will not be considered.

You can only make one application per category (or one application across multiple categories).

No more than 2 applications per person and only one per category (as above).

Return tickets are from within the EU, we encourage applications from talented women anywhere in the world but if you apply from outside the EU and get selected, you will need to cover your airfare to somewhere in the EU and we’ll handle the rest.

Thanks – and good luck to anyone applying, we are really excited to see what comes through the inbox!!

Please share this post and/or the flyer as much as you can – the more the merrier  and lets encourage more gender diversity in our industry.

A Giveaway for Business Folk

First of all, let me thank everyone who filled out the European Meeting Survey. If you don’t know about it, it’s meant to determine the present state of meetings in European businesses, much like some recent American equivalents. We’ve got almost 100 responses so far, but we need to take it up a notch.

Which is where you come in. Whether you’re in Europe or not, you can still help us AND qualify to win a prize! (I’ll explain how in a bit.)

pablo

Don’t speak English?
We didn’t forget you; we have  German, French, and Spanish versions.

Filled it out already?
If you left us your email, we’ll automatically include you in the draw.

By this point you’re probably wondering – what is the giveaway?

The giveaway is: an actual physical book, a handwritten note, and a surprise; sent to you in the mail. Don’t you just love getting things in the mail? 

At first we thought of choosing the book for you, but then we decided that the winner should pick it. To give you some ideas, you can check out the NY bestseller list for business and also some new/popular titles this year:

coolbooks

Want to enter? Follow the steps:

The more you do, the more you increase your chance of winning.

  1. To fill out the survey, go here.
  2. To email the survey, you can copy this.
  3. To share on twitter, click here. (Feel free to customize the tweet.)
  4. To let us know what you did, simply fill this out.

Did ya do it? Great! Thank you and good luck. 🙂

P.S. The end date for this giveaway is June 2nd. Any entries after that will not be considered  for the draw.

Designing for Empathy and Other Meeting Insights from Paul Axtell

So we’re hustling with the Amazemeet app and giving the Meeting Facilitator Canvas around, but we were wondering what people – especially experts – thought of the idea. Maybe there’s something we’re missing or maybe their insights can direct us better. In any case, I started asking around and…

We got the pleasure of chatting to Paul Axtell whose book we greatly enjoyed because his values align with our own. For example, Paul talks about empathy and design, which are the most important elements in a meeting if you ask us. A meeting cannot be productive without strong leadership as well and it seems that Paul really knows what he’s talking about, so take notes and let us know what you thought at the end. But before we start, here’s what Paul does:

PaulAuthorPhoto

Paul Axtell is the author of Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations and Being Remarkable, a powerhouse of advice for extraordinary performance at work and in life. He provides consulting, coaching, and conversational skills training to a wide variety of clients, from Fortune 500 companies and universities to nonprofit organizations and government agencies. 

All right, let’s start with the interrogation! I mean, questions. What is the biggest pain point for you personally in meetings, Paul?

If you ask people about their complaints regarding meetings, these are the top three responses. People who do not listen to others (1) distracting behavior (2) lack of progress on agreed upon actions between meetings (3). The most missing points in the meetings I see are these: 1. Lack of visibility during complex conversations. 2. Leaving a topic without deliberately and thoroughly wrapping it up.

My personal complaint might be that people ask to discuss things that they have little intention to change.

What pain points do you encounter most often in meetings? How do you deal with them?

I don’t experience many because I ask for what I want up front in terms of how the meeting will go. People are always relieved that someone has thought about the best way to handle each conversation.

The old adage about getting what you expect holds true in meetings — expect more and you’ll get more.

In your book, Meetings Matter, you focus on relationships and conversations. Can you tell us more about how you decided to focus on these two elements and how they make or break a meeting?

After your core competency or discipline, the next skill set you need is conversational skills and relationship creation. If both are in place, then meetings are easy. If one or both are missing, then it’s is much more difficult to converse in groups. Therefore, all ideas about how to improve meetings will wither. Need conversation and relationship first in place first. This becomes more important as group size goes above eight.

You talk about “designing a conversation”, Paul, and we’re constantly reminding people that they have to “design their meetings”. Do you reckon a good meeting design could open up more space for empathy?

Interesting question…never put meeting design as a source of empathy together before. Seems to make sense. For instance, I’m an advocate of starting all meetings with this question:

“Does anyone need to say or ask anything before we start?”

This gives people permission to express something that they would like people to be aware of or address so they can concentrate on the meeting. This would be a generous way to begin.

It’s mostly the responsibility of a manager to design meetings, but what do you think of more collaborative ones? How much say should attendees have over what happens in a meeting?

Participants have a lot of say about process but it will go better if they are reacting to a well thought out design rather than taking the groups time to start with a blank canvas.

Speaking of canvas, could you look at the Meeting Facilitator Canvas and let me know if anything’s missing or could be improved? 

First blush, I really like what you’ve got. You have the most important segments identified.

CS-Axtell1

I did a webinar for Soundview last Tuesday and one of the questions was about ways to track a meeting. I’m not much of a fan of Powerpoint because it shuts down conversation and sets up distraction, but this is clearly something different.

What kind of digital solutions should managers already be using?

Powerpoints, iPads, video conferencing, audio conferencing.

Do you think “meeting apps” help or disrupt meetings? What do you think about The Meeting Facilitator Canvas?

I’m relatively naive with respect to apps. I do love mind mapping and taking notes in this way either on paper or on an iPad if people can do it quickly.

I’m in favor of trying anything and everything to make meetings work. 

The decision point is always, does the technology add value to the conversation or take away from the attention to the conversations that make up the meetings. The Meeting Facilitator Canvas can serve as a gentle reminder to not skip any key elements of preparing for and leading meetings.

How open are people to new solutions and habits in their “meeting behavior” in your experience?

People want to be better and they are very open to suggestions by anyone with whom they admire, trust, and can provide feedback in a non-threatening way.

Any parting advice for the people and companies who want more productive meetings?

Have fewer items on the agenda, invite fewer people, have a clear track going in and stay on track. Have someone set up to issue meeting notes within eight hours. Have someone set up to track all commitments made during a meeting so they are completed as scheduled. Talk about the right things — things that move your company forward.

Yikes, seems like the Amazemeet app can take care of all that. Once we’re done with it. If you, dear reader, want to get into our private beta, all you have to do is sign up on the main site

And thank you for sharing your insights with us, Paul. ☺

Our startup journey: The week of BETA and metaphor strategizing.

So we’ve officially decided to outline the entire journey of Amazemeet, hoping it will be helpful to others or just informative to our users. We believe that there is value in knowing what a team’s all about, not just the app, so we want to share our highs and lows with you, open our kimonos, and get to know one another better through this crazy startup process.

This week is a MAJOR MILESTONE for Amazemeet because it marks our very first round of private beta. It’s private for now and we’ve limited the number of testers, so we can extract the most value from our most eager users (and by users we mean friends, but we have to use this term because everybody else does).

Because the interest in testing the app has been amazing, we’ve decided to throw another couple of beta rounds for those who didn’t get the chance to play with the first iteration. So if you’re a hard-core early adopter who’s been praying for a new solution to boring meetings, download the canvas from the main site, and we’ll contact you when we have some spots left for early access.

Now, let’s see what the goals for this week are and what we’ve learned from last week. The closer we get to launch, the crazier this startup journey gets!

Violeta got a little color-crazy.

(Ignore the fact that Violeta is referring to herself in the third person.)

In my defense, Trello does not exactly provide label presets, so what do you do when you see six colors, which you can group with any kind of words to provide meaningful labels? Here’s what I did:

labelsontrello

I’m not entirely sure if Mike (my technical co-founder) was happy with this turn of events, but he did give me a 7th color for milestones. Sometimes it pays to go along with “the crazy ones” because we see things as they could be. And if you ask me, that’s a pretty powerful tool in anyone’s startup toolbox.

Question: Are you using all of trello’s useful features?

Mike worked on the app all weekend.

He found himself in Krakow, Poland for the weekend and instead of going to see Wawel Hill, Auschwitz, the Wieliczka salt mine or even rack up a healthy bill at his client’s expense, he worked on the app. If that isn’t dedication to help people have amazing meetings, I don’t know what is!

But it wasn’t all work – he spent 2 hours in the spa, swimming and braising himself in the sauna!

It’s all really worth it though –  because we are building something really beautiful that 130 really lucky people are going to see and use very soon!

The first BETA email campaign could have been better.

Feedback is so important, especially at the start when you’re fumbling your way through all the things you should be doing, could be doing, and could have done better, but you didn’t know at the time. In our case, our subscribers saved us from fumbling through all our net email campaigns by telling us what went wrong:

email1

There was a “yes, I’d like to test the app” button on the bottom of the email, which unfortunately, some people didn’t even see. So when I got the excited “yes, I want to beta test”, I had to make sure they’d pressed it. When they said “no, I didn’t see it”, it was clear we messed up.

Also, I am so grateful for my co-founder’s sage advice to segment the subscribers and pace our campaigns in this way instead of bulk-sending to everyone. If it weren’t for him, we would have lost on potential beta testers because we didn’t position the button right (it could have been closer to the top) and because the text on the button was invisible.

That said, we’re happy that we got lost of clicks anyway. Thanks to everyone for being as excited about this app as we are. Seriously, we couldn’t do it without you.

Takeaways: Listen to your co-founder, segment your subscribers, heed all feedback, and always improve your efforts.

How metaphors can help you launch:

This is the part where I tell you how important your pre-launch strategy is.

I am personally taking Amazemeet’s pre-launch strategy very seriously because we’ll likely not get another chance. (I don’t want us to become one of those startups that pivot and re-launch constantly, which we’ll do if we have to.)

So I created an entirely new Trello board for it and together, we (Mike and I) came up with two metaphors (well, similes) for our pre-launch experience:

  1. Launching is like a tsunami. Every wave builds up on the next until the final tidal wave strikes, and the after-waves bring additional sign-ups to make sure the buzz doesn’t die too quickly or at all.
  2. Launching a startup is like launching a rocket into space. You need certain parts to get to certain altitude, after which you need to jettison or re-imagine them to get into your established trajectory.

Based on these visions, we can clearly see what needs to be done to launch successfully. After all, launching needs to be a unique experience for each startup, rather than everyone following the same old frameworks.

Question: What’s the metaphor for your startup launch vision?

What we learned this week:

  1. As long as it helps, you can be a little crazy with your strategy.
  2. Always do better than the last time and take feedback very seriously.
  3. Don’t be afraid to be creative when it comes to strategy. Think metaphors.
  4. Some tools are indispensable at the start, like Typeform for user feedback.

P.S. We hope you enjoyed this post and if you have any questions, ping us on twitter because Violeta lurks there and never leaves a mention unanswered.

Our Startup Journey: Building a beautiful app, new faces and more growth.

Last week I shared our story so far and the unbelievable growth in subscribers and downloads of the PDF canvas. Here is more on our startup journey for the week of 16th/March/2015.

We’ve be working on making a usable and beautiful app

We’ve had the basic working app for a couple of weeks – by working I mean it does the basic editing functionality you would expect…in the gulag.

The printable Canvas was designed to be simple and deliberately monochromatic. In print, a lot of colour would be counter productive.
But in the desktop and mobile world the  greater interaction and dynamic content could really rock with the right use of colour.

So where are we at with the app? Well we think we can open it to private beta in the next 10 days  – around the 30th of March – with a beautiful experience and some essential basic features like:

  • Creating new canvases
  • Auto-saving a canvas as you edit
  • Downloading a canvas as a PDF
  • Managing your canvases
  • Sharing by email
  • Basic calendaring

Although we have not built a native mobile app, we have taken great care to make the experience pretty sweet on tablet (think iPad) screen sizes.

Invites to the private beta will be going out this week. Ping us if you would like to join it.

We’ve also been working on growth

With just the two of us, we need to work extra smart to pick the right experiments to conduct. Early on we had really focused on LinkedIn – after all it is the world’s largest professional network. Perhaps it was timing or what we did, unfortunately our Return on Hacks (RoH)  was pretty poor on LinkedIn. Even contacts on my network were quite unresponsive to friendly ‘please check out my cool canvas’ emails.

However the data we are getting from the TNW and follow on exposure is telling us we should explore “getting press” a bit more deeply. In addition, we’re applying the Bullseye Framework from the best-selling Traction book, which everyone has been recommending. It’s powerfully simple and straightforward, I’m sure we’ll benefit a lot from it.

So that’s what we are doing for the next couple of weeks – doing research and experiments into getting more press exposure, and narrowing down our marketing strategy. Wish us luck!

We hired a designer

Using basic Rails scaffolding and jQuery, I got the main app site up and running – but it was pretty nasty looking. Well, not so much nasty as much as just plain and uninspired.

My trouble is I know good and beautiful design, I just can’t do it. So off I went to my most trusted of freelancer sites – oDesk.

I love oDesk because it has such a huge population of really good people. It offers a platform for digital nomads and other talented people to make a decent living wherever they live in the world. You can find pretty much any kind of digital professional on oDesk for almost any price range.

All of the previous people I have worked with from oDesk have gone on to become really good friends too and I’m confident the designer I found will also become a great friend and collaborator.

Ana Flasker is a wonderful designer I found on oDesk. She loves photography, travel and has such a wonderful eye for simple beautiful things. At our first Skype call she was really thoughtful and asked great questions. And OMG – she turns stuff around PDQ!

She is freelancing right now and if you are looking for an amazing designer with mad skills – please check her out at anaflasker.com.

We exploded Trello

Violeta did an amazing job holding the fort last week whilst I was working with clients and keynoting a conference and it must have unlocked a hidden chamber of ideas because our Trello board is bursting with ideas for growth hacks, people we have to follow up with, candidates for a blog series featuring our users and a whole host of other things.

As a result we had to reorganize our Trello board into its own organization and created a few other boards to help us stay organized on the bits that matter.

We tried to hire a developer

So last week I was focused on trying to hire a designer  – not just for the app – but to help us incorporate some design thinking into other things we create. I’m confident that Ana can do that with us.

I also tried to hire a Rails developer. So, onto oDesk again, I found a guy in Poland. This suited me because for the next few weeks I will be visiting Krakow in Poland pretty regularly on other business. I thought it would be a great opportunity to improve collaboration with the developer.

When it comes to hiring developers, I’m pretty easy. I offer a paid mini-contract of no more than 3 hours. For the first hour, I pair program with the candidate on a few stories of a small app of my choosing. This is to experience firsthand their collaboration skills, how they approach a problem and their general craftsmanship. Are they messy? Do they create more tech debt than is healthy , are they naturally efficient – that sort of thing. Then they spent 90 minutes on their own working on as many of the other stories in the sample app as they can. We then meet again for the last 30 minutes, they demo what they have and talk me through the design of what they built.

Based on this paid trial, I decide whether I want to do more work with the candidate.

Unfortunately as I got to the point of explaining this evaluation approach to the candidate, he asked ‘you mean pair program with me?’ and when I responded ‘Yes’, he suddenly went offline on Skype and I haven’t seen him since.

I think I dodged a bullet on that one. However, the search continues.

Skype
Scared to pair?

 5 things we learned this week

  1. The world loves openness – we are getting so much love in the various communities we are in by just being open. Sharing what we are trying to do and being astounded at the willingness of people to help.
  2. You can spread yourself too thin – between client work, keynoting, travel and family, there was very little of Mike left to spend on our startup.
  3. We need to invest in translation into Mandarin – thanks to some lovely coverage in Manager Today, we got a few thousand downloads from Taiwan and Mainland China. We want all our subscribers to be super-comfortable with the language on the Canvas – so we need to invest in translating both the Canvas, the app and the site. Volunteers welcome!
  4. Conducting small experiments is the way to go – we’ve been focusing on two channels too heavily while we should have explored more growth channels in parallel. But it’s never too late to start now.
  5. Keep your friends close – Violeta has been telling me that her heavy participation in communities and social networks has helped her with a few things, like for example, looking for easy solutions or finding the right people to ask for particular things. She’s super grateful for them and I am for her. It all works.

Until next week, keep on keeping on.

 

Work Backwards: The Key to Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

Like many (semi) accomplished individuals, I experience Impostor Syndrome almost daily. It recently accelerated because I was asked to do an AMA and put on a page among some amazing people who have done amazing things, and I… I’ve just done things.

But then I thought about what my friend Nikki always says:

If I’m not in over my head, I’m not having fun.

While this is a healthy attitude to have, many people will react in the opposite way when forced to face things they don’t know about. And the thing is, even the most accomplished people experience this.

I have heard famous people admit they have it, watched my heroes explain how they wake up every day, not believing their “luck” and worrying if they’ll be able to meet their fans’ bloated expectations.

I used to get paralyzed from expectations myself. Whether I expected too much of myself or others did of me, my reaction was always the same: I would refuse to do anything that could get me in that position, ever.

And yet, I said a big YES to the AMA. Why?

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Because fear is the worst driver. And it never goes away. The only way to vanquish it is not to feed it. Even though most of us feed our inner fears and doubts daily, it doesn’t mean we have to be “stuck” in this mentality. It simply means that we need to dig deep, find the source, and face it.

Before We Start

Let’s find the best definition of I.S. and go from there.

(I’ve put numbers next to the points I’ll discuss in reverse order.)

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments(4). Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve(3) the success they have achieved. Proof of success(2) is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Notably, impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women(1). 

It’s from Wikipedia. Forgive my sources, but you’ll find no better definition of this syndrome anywhere, and so detailed. Now, in order to get to the bottom of it, we have to work backwards, point by point.

1. The Gender Gap

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Before we can tackle this on an individual level, we have to look at the global implications. The fact is that more women tend to feel this way than men, which says a lot about our society.

In a world where men are generally paid more and are encouraged to be more confident and successful, women fall slightly behind. Except we don’t. We only perceive ourselves as standing on a lower level because of these unfair conditions we’re fighting to change.

And, as we all know, perception is reality.

I’m not suggesting that men are intentionally making women feel that way, but they’re not helping themselves either – attitudes in the tech world have been toxic and a lot of men have been making asses of themselves lately (like Google executive Eric Schmidt at SXSW and T.J. Miller at the Crunchies). All this media attention reflects the reality we live and work in, so it’s natural for women to feel bullied and under-appreciated in such a hostile environment.

If we want to turn this around, we have to start with a better appreciation system (not to mention fair wages), especially in the work place where male ego reigns (and frankly, needs to be deflated).

2. The Locus of Control

There are two types of people: those with internal locus of control and the ones with external locus of control. Internal locus of control means that you see yourself as the driver of your life — everything you do happens as a direct result of your actions and decisions. External locus of control just means you tend to blame external factors for your failures and successes.

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So if you tell your boss you’re late on that report because your colleague hasn’t given you all the information you needed, you’re viewing the situation externally. You must know there are things you can do to speed up the process, but you either see yourself as helpless or you’re lazy.

I generally disagree with this type of thinking. If you see things this way, you’ll never be able to take responsibility for your life. The sooner you do it, the better you’ll be at: solving problems, overcoming fears, getting results, advancing your career, forming relationships, etc.

And by doing so, you won’t have the need to prove you deserve your success. You’ll just know you do.

3. The Confidence Problem

A person with high self-esteem will not be experiencing the Impostor Syndrome, at least not frequently and/or deeply. A person with high self-esteem knows what they’re capable of, where their weaknesses lie, and thus sees no reason to feel inferior to anyone.

If this is you, great! The other 70% of the population, however, doesn’t feel the same way. Most of us go from day to day slightly terrified of being exposed or laughed at. (This is especially true if you work in a high risk/high reward environment, like entrepreneurship for example.)

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But this is low confidence speaking. Don’t listen to it.

You’ve reached this level because you worked hard and you took the right opportunities. In fact, if you learn how to apply the “internal locus of control mindset”, you’ll be more likely to recognize your success as your doing, as it should be.

(And of course, refrain from focusing on failure too much.)

Whatever you can do to raise your confidence, do it. Ask friends, colleagues, etc. what positive traits you possess. Look into the mirror and tell yourself what you love about your personality. Just anything that can help.

As a side note, I also think it’s important to encourage women to be more confident and not to punish them if they already are — because in today’s business world there’s a tendency to view “bossy women” as “bitches”, which is yet another gender lapse on society’s part.

4. The Accomplishment Book

Once you have the right gender attitudes, locus of control, and confidence, all you need to do is internalize your accomplishments.

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This is easily done with the help of an “accomplishment book”.

After a tough spell of burnout/depression, I had to find a way to crawl back to my most productive self again, so I applied this hack. I bought a small notebook and started writing down small accomplishments I had made every day. At first they were things like “went for a walk” and “sent an email”, but they started growing bigger, and soon enough there was plenty to be proud of. And I’ve continued this ritual to this day.

It also helps raise your confidence and acknowledge the steps you’ve taken to be where you are. It’s the proof you need to see in order to believe that where you are is very much deserved.

In fact, you can read about Fast Company’s experiment with that same concept, where the team kept a daily journal of their accomplishments for a week and found out that it was beneficial to their night’s sleep and daily productivity.

*

If you followed the steps in that order, you may feel much better about your accomplishments. The key here is to remember and apply this process (or at least certain parts of it) every time that the unwelcomed feeling surfaces.

And know, you’re not alone. We’re all fighting the same demons.

Our Startup Journey: Finding a Co-Founder and 2 Rockets

March 17th 2015

Today we hit 5000 signups and downloads of the Meeting Facilitators Canvas.

5000
MailChimp List of 5000

These are 5000 individuals who filled a short form, got an email, clicked the link contained in the email and downloaded the PDF, Word template or sample word document – even all three.  I think this is the perfect time to share this jaw-dropping milestone and our beautiful journey.

The story so far

I created the Meeting Facilitators Canvas in November 2014 as part of a workshop to help my clients experience better conversations. My intention was to offer a simple, open sourced tactile tool that people could use to design better meetings.

My offering was a simple PDF that meeting organizers can download, print and work through to create a one page meeting plan and shared record that all meeting participants could collaborate on.

Throughout December, I tweeted and tried to create some awareness on LinkedIn about the presence of the the Canvas. My friends and professional network were great in spreading the word and downloading the Canvas – which gave a small morale and growth boost.

I had tried to build multiple startups – all by myself and self funded. I knew the pains of such a approach well. This time I was determined to get help earlier.

Enter The Social Media Maven

cyclone , journey photo
Photo by WikiImages

Violeta Nedkova is a force of nature – her enthusiasm and seemingly endless curiosity is infectious. I initially came across her blog from a retweet a couple of years ago and was really impressed with her style.

We had tried to launch something together early in 2014. So when I needed help with hustling on Amazemeet – Violeta was my first thought. I approached her initially with some freelance work and I’m glad that she agreed!

We got to work – creating content, exploring the market segments and tuning our strategy. We collaborated so well and with such ease that it wasn’t long before I was convinced that Violeta was the right person to become my co-founder. I asked, she said yes and the party was about to get funky!

Prepared for slow growth

By the middle of February , downloads of the Canvas had doubled but still only about 200 but growing. Our Twitter following had grown from zero to over 1200 followers – and not the dodgy kind either.

Overall though, interest was still pretty low. We used this time to put in place a delivery mechanism using Sendgrid and MailChimp to automate the registration and downloading of the Canvas. Coupled with Google Analytics, we had a great setup to get info-rich data about where the signups were coming from and when.

Rockets

Week by Week Analytics
Week by Week Analytics

From March 2nd, the automation we had in place was going nuts.

Hundreds of people everyday were signing up.

  • Google was showing how many were signing up and getting the ‘Thank you ‘ page.
  • MailChimp was showing that similar numbers were getting the welcome email and clicking the download links.
  • Finally the download tracking on our WordPress site were confirming that similar numbers were actually downloading the Canvas.

Rocket #1: We got Product Hunted

We got Product Hunted
We got Product Hunted

Violeta: OMG!!! We got listed on Product Hunt

Me: Huh? Product Hunt – it’s not connected with our customer segment [LinkedIn]?

Violeta: Well it isn’t, but it is an awesome community of passionate people I’m in that shares cool products.

This is just one of many times that I’m grateful that Violeta is my co-founder. Her conviction that Product Hunt was a community we needed to be part of was absolutely spot on.

Violeta does what she does best – she engaged openly, sincerely and with curious wonder. The support and comradeship that the Product Hunt community showed us was spectacular.

Rocket #2: The Next Web Facebooked us

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The traffic we noticed from the time the Product Hunt listing happened was phenomenal – we were experiencing about 20-30 sign ups a minute. People from everywhere were downloading the Canvas.

We believed Product Hunt alone was the reason for such traffic – until I took a look at the analytics we were getting from Google.

Sure, there was significant traffic from Product Hunt referrals but almost double that was from Facebook. Yes – FACEBOOK!!!

I was puzzled – Facebook wasn’t even in our customer segment and frankly we didn’t really want it to be. But the data was the data. We thought someone from Product Hunt had cross posted on to Facebook. But with over 4000 visits so far from Facebook  – that was some cross post!

So we looked and there it was. The Next Web – one of the internet’s most influential technology publications had posted a simple post on their Facebook page. They hadn’t written about us – simply posted and the flood began.

It is still going on – in 2 weeks since all this started we have gone from 248 signups (from December 16th 2014) to 5000 today. And climbing.

A Real Platform for Engagement

So now we have 5000 sign ups. But what does this really mean?

It means we have a great platform to start to talk with the people who signed up and really understand what their experiences of organising, attending and surviving meetings are.

It means we can begin to learn how to be useful and valuable to our users. This is exciting beyond words and it has already started.

Special Thanks

Product Hunt –  We are deeply grateful to this amazing community for their openness and support. Please go check them out, you will discover and support many startups and meet some really amazing people.

The Next Web – we are still in awe at the power of a simple post by the influential press. We are so grateful that we somehow earned their blessing.

What Next?

We think we have something that genuinely helps people, so over the coming days we will be releasing an online app to help the people who signed up to use the Canvas faster and more conveniently. We will also be sharing our journey of building this start up.

Stay tuned!