Breathe Deep & Act Normal v2

panic anxiety stressIt’s been a while since I’ve had to breathe deep and act normal. I’ve had the usual worries, niggles, fears – but nothing that’s ground me to a halt. Until last week.

I received an email out of the blue a few weeks ago from the MIT Sloan School of Management, inviting me to an MBA event in London. Turns out, they think I’m a ‘stand-out’ woman. I’m sure they say that to a lot of women, but it still made me chuckle. I rarely talk about my day job on the blog, for fear of chasing away people with how truly nerdy I am. I get excited about automating process flows, for Pete’s sake! So for MIT to take notice of my nerd skills was entertaining, but not something I really wanted to explore if it involved networking. Otherwise known as talking to total strangers about myself. Eeeeek. And hyperventilate.

When I didn’t respond to the original email invite, I got a follow up. This event was going to be a face-to-face meet and greet with all the top global business schools, and a chance to ‘sell’ myself to them and their programs. Didn’t I want to invest in myself? (A bit of history here: I started an MBA the year before the global financial crisis, and when I took voluntary redundancy, I negotiated a lot, but not the ongoing funding for the MBA. It’s a crippling amount of money, and I just completed the first unit.) I was all set to RSVP ‘Hell No’, when Husband Dear urged me (strongly) to attend. So I did.

There were several points during the day when I nearly talked myself out of going. I had no idea what to expect which made it impossible to map out contingencies which set me firmly outside of my safe zone. Ergo spiralling discomfort and panic. I dropped DD to ballet and had a calming coffee. I read something trashy on my Kindle. And then it took 70 texts back and forth with Husband Dear to get me in the building. I was a mass of knots, which was strangely not evident in the very calm face I saw reflected in the elevator mirror. I had on a very pointed pair of shiny black shoes. The pain from my squeezed toes gave me something to focus on other than my spiralling panic. 

I took a small lap around the snack area – well, for stand-out women they offer canapés and other fancy finger foods – before I took a deep breath and walked into the networking area. Commence asphyxia. Focus on hobbled toes. Unclench jaw. I almost drew blood from curling my fingernails into my palms. Cue the fake smiles and the “Hiiiiiii, yeah, I’m exploring my options….”. I was almost dizzy with breathlessness, and a lack of food.

I finally hit my stride at the Copenhagen Business School, where I was sounding more like myself and less like a constipated chipmunk on helium. My heartbeat was almost back to normal. There was a really good alumnae panel after the networking section which also made me realise that what I lack in confidence, I make up for in age and experience. So I went back round again, a lot calmer, to check out a few more programs. And it turns out, the ones I really felt at home with, or synced the most with where I am and where I want to be, are the London programs. Who da thunk?

Now I just need to figure out if I really want to do this. We’re talking 18-24 months of some serious studying. Something tells me it’s going to put a huge crimp in my blogging time and my TV time and it might actually mean I have to get a responsible job at the end of it (no, running my own company doesn’t count as a responsible job). 

Any words of advice? An eight-ball I could borrow? A tarot reading? How do I know if I want to ‘invest’ in myself? Am I really cut out for this if terms like ‘investing in myself’ make me cringe and giggle in equal measure?


FeelGoodNetworkI really struggled with today’s theme, and some might say this is more an emotional impact than a visual one, but I just had to share!

This awesome little card was passed to me by Cat, founder of the FeelGood Network (I’ve written some posts for them). It made me feel 10 feet tall! It’s the same feeling I get when I see another comment or like on a post. So to everyone that has stopped by, liked, commented & followed this blog:

You are awesome!

The Balance of Risk & Return in team building

I’ve worked with some great wealth managers over the years. Everything I know about building portfolios, I learned from them. I realised that a lot of considerations one should take into account when building a portfolio are the same when a leader is building a team.

When building a portfolio for long-term investment, there are investment styles that fit your attitude to risk and allow you to meet your goals with a high probability for success. Similarly, there is a ‘magic’ combination of personalities that will work well together, perform under pressure & take your company/brand to new heights. There are a few other factors which contribute to the success of both, which I discuss below.

The ‘perfect’ portfolio is one which keeps you on target to achieve your goals without abandoning your strategy at the worst possible times (market volatility). It is prepared for all potential economic environments, but committed to none. Similarly, a solid team is clear on its goals and where its energy should be directed. Communication (in all its forms) is key: it builds on the premise of honesty & transparency, especially across diverse teams. 

Every team member should be clear why they are part of the team & what they are expected to contribute, based on their skill set & area of expertise. Your team needs creatives, strategisers, networkers & planners. In the same way, if you are investing, you should be clear on why you are picking a particular investment and what part you expect it to play in your overall wealth strategy.  

Use periodic rebalancing to take advantage of ‘reversion to the mean‘. Rebalancing your portfolio allows you to benefit from volatility and contrarianism in the market: you sell some shares of the winners and plough the gains into the lower performers and/or put new cash into investments that earned lower returns.

The same tactic applied to business allows you to consider new additions to your team. What perspective could your administrative assistant offer? If (s)he’s dealing with your clients & customers on a daily basis, you might get some great insights and ideas. If you have a high performing team member, could you assign them to lead a new team? This will set them on a new learning curve and keep them engaged.

In essence, the key to a good portfolio & a good team is the balance of diverse but complementary elements, active management, a clear vision & concise communication. 

Build a brand, inside out

“Make something people want” includes making a company that people want to work for.” –Sahil Lavingia, founder of Gumroad

Brands have moved beyond the logos that associated a product with a company. Brands are the whole experience now, the start to finish of the client journey with your business. In a world where customers are empowered, businesses need to understand that they are managing expectations rather than selling. Their brand ‘managers’ should be their employees, especially those who are first-line customer support.

Companies should strive to foster open, transparent cultures, where employee relationships are managed with the same care as customer relationships. When customers are in control, great customer service is a way to set one company apart from others.

A company driven to keep its customers and employees happy will try to consistently deliver on promises & exceed expectations. Happy customers tell 4-6 friends about their experience. Happy employees do the same. A smart company will recognise that its people are ‘appreciating asset’.

Build & promote a people-centric philosophy across your organisation. Find yourself thinking, if I were buying this product/service, what would I want? What would make me feel special enough to come back again and again? Do the same for your employees. What is going to make them show up, day after day, bringing their game faces and their best ideas? Staff work through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: once they are ‘secure’ – i.e. adequately compensated, have decent benefits, they look for the value-add. Is their skill set maximised? Are they appreciated? Is the work environment inclusive & diverse? Are they proud of the company’s output? These ‘non-compensation’ and ‘non-job’ factors are bigger than ever now.

Test the reception of your ideas by reaching out for regular feedback. Read your reviews and employee engagement surveys. Tell people how you’re going to address issues. Fix what needs to be fixed. Nothing will destroy loyalty faster than asking but not taking any action. A customer or employee who feels unheard will soon become disengaged.

Successful, enduring organisations have a clear mission, respect for their employees & customers, and have invested time, energy & money into building a sustainable culture, because they know this key fact: the best advocates of their business come from within.

Give Your Idea Life 101

There is a happy place between paralysis by analysis and doing without thinking. In fact, doing without thinking is arguably riskier because you can waste time and money making mistakes which could have been avoided with some good spadework beforehand.

Before you launch your product at the world, start by running through this checklist:

  1. Identify similar offerings & research if they have have struggled commercially. Find out why. Are you about to make the same mistakes?
  2. Will you be competing against a more established company in this space or not? If not, why not? What do they know?
  3. Talk to a knowledgeable adviser about your target audience, distribution channel, or business model. Are there invisible risks?
  4. Map out the process for a single transaction of your product. How will your target audience hear about your product? How will they buy it? How will you handle a problem with the product?
  5. Research the competition. Look at financial statements for companies in your product area. How do they generate revenue? What was their initial outlay? Are you missing an element to compete? Do you have a realistic estimation of what it will take to get to market?
  6. Create a proposition for how you will make money, and describe it to a savvy friend or trusted adviser. Ask them to take your proposition apart! It’s not easy hearing someone poke holes in a long-held vision, but it will help you perfect it.

And then read this incredibly inspiring article about the Shake Shack, which went public today on the New York Stock Exchange!

If you want to read some more, here’s what I’ve got on my Kindle (some are free with my Kindle Unlimited subscription!):

People like pictures

 Coherence around a clear vision leads to a successful output

Remember that strategic planning meeting to discuss how the product/service fits into the overall vision? Remember the Powerpoint presentation and the talking? There was some sort of shared understanding of the current Reality and how the output was meant to improve the vision. Could you recollect the exact aims of the meeting after a week or two? Go on, fess up, did you use a fair mix of education and guesstimation to come up with what you thought you should be doing towards achieving the vision? Did your team-mates do the same? Thought so. This independent thinking probably resulted in a disjointed set of actions, potentially leading to a total departure from the vision. I’m kidding. Not really, but this is worst-case scenario.

From my experience in start-ups & small businesses, it is easier to maintain a steady flow of conversation, to confirm or negate what was agreed at the meeting, shortening the time-frame for ‘recalibration of vision’. In a large company, composed of multiple teams, the potential for nonconformity is much greater, and the time to catch & correct (re-calibrate) is greater.

“People like pictures, ergo Pinterest!”

A visual model is a powerful tool to counteract the memory fade. Our working memory can only hold 7 ± 2 ‘chunks’ of information, so we extend our intellectual abilities with models. They provide a mnemonic aid that enables us to see complicated relationships and easily move between various mind-sized groupings of things.

Truncate your Powerpoint presentation and structure the meeting with ‘doing’ activities  – build a visual model together through storyboarding, sketching, or other forms of creating. The model will encapsulate the vision, and help answer the question, “Why are we doing this?” It goes against the top-down authority mandates and requirement document rulebooks. It capitalises on the opportunity for buy-in & positive engagement from the people ‘on the ground’, and develops a sense of ownership in the strategic direction of the company.

As companies wade through increasingly nebulous product & service challenges, creating rich storyboards & building processes around clear diagrams could increase the prospect of delivering a successful product or service to market.