Art of Earning, Big Thinking
I’m not the kind of person who wakes up early to exercise.
I’m not the kind of person who is outdoorsy.
I’m not the kind of person who makes a lot of money.
You have a story (probably many) about who you are and what you’re about.
Those 4 were some of mine.
Have a minute? I’d like to share more–but it’s personal.
In January 2016, I hired a personal trainer because I thought I needed someone to hold me accountable for exercising on a regular basis.
I didn’t like the way I felt, the way I looked, or the amount of energy I had. It seemed like a reasonable solution to the problem.
Guess what? I went to the first 2-3 sessions of the package I purchased and didn’t show up for the rest.
In January 2017, I decided I was going to set my alarm for 6am and start the day with a workout.
I’ve massively succeeded. I feel more comfortable in my body, I love the way I look, and I have pretty boundless energy.
The difference? When I hired a trainer, I told myself, “I’m not the kind of person who exercises on her own.”
When I got serious about changing my routine, I told myself, “I am the kind of person who wakes up early to take care of herself.”
And, now I am.
I moved to the coast of Oregon 5 years ago.
Every day, I felt like a “city person” in our small fishing town.
I loved spending time outside in the temperate rain forest, at the beach, or in the state parks. But I looked at Sean’s friends–who would hike up a mountain and then ride their bikes 20 miles on the beach in one weekend–with jealousy.
They were “outdoorsy” people.
When I moved back to PA 2 years ago, I grieved the loss of the wild outdoors. I wanted mountains, beaches, and rivers. But I realized that PA Dutch countryside, deciduous forest, and rail trails were cool too.
We bought a Subaru. We got a bike rack. I bought hiking shoes.
And we used them.
One day Sean said, “I think we’re becoming the kind of people who go hiking & biking every weekend.”
I said, “We already are.”
When I started my business, I set my earning goal at about $30,000.
That’s how much I had been making in my previous job.
After all, the person I am–the interests I have, the skills I have, the way of thinking I have–isn’t the kind of person who makes a lot of money.
Luckily, I met a lot of women (and men) who were exactly the kind of person I knew myself to be (smart, ambitious, values-driven, philosophically-minded…) who were making a lot of money running fabulous businesses.
I changed my mind: I am the kind of person who makes a lot of money.
Not only that, I’m the kind of person who leads a company that makes a lot of money.
And now I do… and now I do.
What I’ve discovered is that, quite often, when I say, “I’m not that kind of person…”
What I mean is that “I wish I was that kind of person. Too bad I’m not.”
What’s more, I’ve discovered that I can be any kind of person I really want to be simply by changing my story and taking action to make it real.
Now, left to my own devices I might have been perfect (dis)content to limit myself to my preconceived notions of who I am and what I’m capable of.
But I make a point to surround myself with savvy, fiercely intelligent, healthy, and happy friends. They’re business owners who are constantly improving themselves, their companies, and their craft.
They’re the members of CoCommercial–an online community of small business owners serious about making waves in the New Economy.
Yesterday, during CoCommercial‘s The New Economy & Your Money virtual conference, I asked our members to consider their money stories.
They shared the “kind of person” they believed themselves to be.
And many, many of them realized that the kind of person they believed themselves to be was only a shadow of who they truly wanted to be.
They realized that by shifting their money stories, their entrepreneurial stories, or their personal stories, they could change the action they took and the reality they lived in.
Think about the reality you’re creating with the stories you’re telling yourself about the person you are.
If you don’t like the “kind of person” you believe yourself to be, take action to change it. When you do differently, you become something new.
When you become something new, it might be the person you’ve been all along.
Interested in surrounding yourself with the kind of business owners who can help YOU make this kind of leap?
Interviews, Show Notes
40% of our happiness is genetic. About 10% is our environment. The rest of the percent goes to our behavior and mindset. This is where we have a lot more control over our happiness.
— Vanessa Van Edwards
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Tara: Welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit. I’m your host, Tara Gentile, and together with my friends at CreativeLive, we talk to powerhouse small business owners about the nitty gritty details of running their businesses, making money, and pursuing what’s most important to them. Each week, I deep dive with a thriving entrepreneur on topics like time management, team building, marketing, business models, and mindset. Our goal each week is to expose you to something new that you can immediately apply to growing your own business.
This week, we’re bringing back listener favorite, my personal friend, and friend of CreativeLive, Vanessa Van Edwards. Vanessa is a behavioral investigator and the founder of the Science of People. She’s also an author, sought-after speaker and trainer, and a self-described recovering awkward person. Her recent research and her newest CreativeLive class have focused on what makes us happy. I wanted to find out how Vanessa has been using her work on happiness to build and nurture the Science of People team. We talk about company culture, difficult conversations, and her personal pursuit of happiness.
Vanessa Van Edwards, welcome back to Profit. Power. Pursuit. Thanks for coming back and talking with us again.
Vanessa: I am so excited to be back. It’s always good.
Tara: Awesome. So you’ve been doing a lot of work on the subject of happiness lately. I’m … I’d love to know what made you so interested in what makes people happy?
Vanessa: Yes. So it was a very personal, started as a personal adventure. I am not one of those people who was sort of born as a happy-go-lucky, high positivity naturally. Unfortunately. I’m a neurotic, for sure, definitely a worrier, and so I always felt like there were, there was all these people were just like born happier than me, and I wanted to know if that was actually true from a scientific perspective, because I’m a total geek, and started to dive into it to see could I change my happiness levels as my own human guinea pig, and what would it take to do that?
Tara: Wow. That’s awesome. And I can totally identify with that, too, because I am also not like a naturally happy person. So what did you find? Are you normal? Or, you know, were you able to change that happiness level for yourself?
Vanessa: Yeah. So basically what we found is … so first, we did … I always like to start with the academic review. So the big academic review, we looked at 246 happiness studies, and there is some basic happy math that I think everyone should know, and I was kind of surprised I didn’t know this. It made me feel less bad about not being that happy-go-lucky person. So here’s the happy math. So about 40% of our happiness is genetic, and that’s, you know, directly from our parents, what our genes are programmed for our happiness expressions or happiness levels. About 10% is our environment, and this is the one that really gets us tripped up, because as humans, we have the tendency to say, “Hmm, I’m not happy. I am going to move to California. I’m going to buy a new car. I’m going to get a new house. I’d better find a mate.” We like have all of these things that are almost exclusively environment, but the problem is, is that’s only 10% of our happiness levels. So we put 90% of our energy into 10% return. Which is why we have so many unhappy people, and why I think I was unhappy for so long. The last one is, the rest of the percent goes to our behavior and mindset. So this is where we have a lot more control over our happiness, and the problem is behavior and mindset seems really fuzzy, and that’s where we started to dig into our research of how could I change my behavior and mindset beyond whatever Cosmo and Marie Claire article has ever told us, which is just journal more. Just do a gratitude journal. Just say nightly affirmations. Which doesn’t work for me.
Vanessa: And I think doesn’t work for a lot of people. So that, that’s where we focused a lot of our energy was on that behavior and mindset.
Tara: That’s really interesting, because Michael and I, before we … before we buzzed you on the Skype were just talking about how what makes you really extraordinary is this sort of crazy ability that you have to pull out really actionable, really concrete, really just, you know, take it and do it and actually run with it things from a lot of crap that is otherwise construed as woowoo. Like you know, journal more, which …
Vanessa: You know, I’m allergic to fluff.
Vanessa: I don’t like that stuff.
Tara: Yeah, totally. So that made me wonder, like, I guess, let’s just dive right into the research.
Tara: That you’ve done. So what are one or two of the things that kind of surprised you about what makes people happy, and how could we immediately apply those to our daily lives?
Vanessa: Okay, okay, I love it. Okay, now, we’re getting to the good stuff. So I’m actually, like, I actually … I raised my hands up in the air, you couldn’t see, it was very … it was very nerdy of me. Okay. Yes, I’m excited. So the first thing that I was really surprised about was that when we did, we did a huge happiness audit. So we took all these 246 academic papers, pulled out the patterns that we actually thought were doable. Like, there were patterns in those academic papers that were great, but like weren’t actionable. I think, you know, it was like live in a happier country. It’s like, well, you know, I can’t like do an article and be like, “Just move to Switzerland, everyone, that’s the answer.” So we took out the patterns that actually would work, and then we created what I call the happiness audit. So it was a free quiz that we put up on our website, and it was running for a long time, because I wanted massive data. I wanted over 15,000 responses, and I wanted them, you know, across ages and genders. And what we looked at was not all the responses, but we specifically pulled out the happiest people and the unhappiest people in this data set, and we looked at what was different about the unhappy group versus the happy group, specifically, and we found that they were using happiness as a skill.
So instead of thinking of happiness as a byproduct of an action, they actually thought of it like a language or a skill. So the way they approached their happiness or talked about happiness was like a practice, and this is the biggest difference between the happiest and unhappiest people is the happiest people go for things in their to do list, their to do lists look like this, “Answer all my emails, hit my financial goal, buy a new house, and get my business to the next level.” Very, very practical goals, but they were hoping that happiness would be a byproduct of those professional achievements. Whereas happy people actually built happiness into their daily life in the structure of their life. In other words, they didn’t let it sort of be the end result, they had it be the cause, and that is how happiness works from a scientific perspective as well. When you look at a lot of the studies, you know, lottery winners are no happier than they were a year before they won the lottery. They’re exactly the same level of happy. If you look at Forbes 400 richest Americans, they have the exact same happiness levels as the Pennsylvania Amish. Exactly the same. So more money does not make us happier. You know, the most beautiful people, they did a study with models, supermodels. Supermodels and fashion models are not any happier than the rest of us. And that is all those people who say, “When I lose 10 pounds, I’ll be happier.” The thinnest people on Earth, literally, the thinnest people on Earth are no happier than the rest of us.
Tara: Brilliant. So you told us what they unhappy people’s to do lists look like, and why that doesn’t actually produce more happiness. What does happy on a to do list look like?
Vanessa: Yes, okay, so the happiest, so happy is a really weird word, right? It’s like this sort of thing that we think of like skipping through the meadow, and I don’t know about you, Tara, but like on a daily basis, like I don’t skip, nor do I have any meadows like nearby.
Tara: Oh, God, no.
Vanessa: Yeah. So typically, actually, the happy makers are things like capability. Things like awe. So capability is a big one. That is the easiest way to increase your happiness. We don’t think about capability in terms of happiness, so when I say capability, I mean, power, feeling like you are badass at something, feeling like you are better than other people at what you are doing, and so what happy people’s to do lists tend to look like is they tend to do what’s called job crafting. So they create their day around their skills. So they are doing things on a day-to-day basis, and they can’t do everything like this, but they know that there are anchors throughout the day where they are using their skills that make them feel like, “Damn, I’m good at this.”
Tara: All right. So I want to get back to the job crafting thing in a little bit, because I think that that’s a great thing to talk about in terms of your team, which is where I want to head, but there was one other thing that I want to make sure that we talk about maybe a little bit further, which is something that’s interesting about the way you’ve talked about the research so far is that you were focused on the biggest ways you could have an impact on your personal happiness level. Like what your personal happiness ROI was going to be, and you pointed out that, you know, the things that we think about, you know, moving to a different state, getting a car, changing your job, whatever it might be, those things are really only 10%, and so if you spend 90% of your energy just affecting 10% of the results, like that’s not good. Like, right, the 80/20 Rule tells us that we want to spend 20, or you know, we want to spend time on the things that create the biggest output, right?
Vanessa: Yes. Yes.
Tara: So can you talk a little bit more about that? Like what does … how does that impact, you know, our daily routines or the ways we approach structuring our lives to be in that state of happiness more often?
Vanessa: Yeah. So here’s the good news, is that the things that make us the happiest are actually the smallest things. So, and this … we don’t … this is why a lot of people who feel like they are either anxious or they dread their mornings or they wake up with anxiety, they fell like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to quit my job or move or restructure my entire life to get happier,” and that is not the case at all. Actually, the smallest things have the biggest impact. So the three things that you really want to focus on, if I had to sort of boil it down into three things, it would be focusing more on capability. So using more of your skills and more of your skills in new and different ways, and that can be as small as making an amazing breakfast, making an amazing cup of coffee, responding to an email in a really organized and conscientious way. Whatever, you know, sort of that your capability is. Second is hope. Now, hope is a really kind of an abstract concept. When you break down hope, we can easily do that by learning, and that … that I do with what I call a learning bucket list, which we can talk about in a little bit. And the third one is awe. So awe is the easiest, cheapest way to get more happiness into your life, and what studies show is just thinking about watching your favorite movie produces pleasure.
Vanessa: It actually increases 27% more endorphins, just thinking about watching your favorite movie. So when I talk about awe, I’m talking about what are the very, very small things, including your lunch that you have waiting for you in the fridge, the movie that you’re going to watch this weekend with your friends, or a beautiful view on your Instagram account, those very little things are actually the things that add up to much greater happiness.
Tara: That’s incredible, and it sounds like it’s really just sort of an ounce of mindfulness about how you can pre-plan to experience those little things that do add up. Is that accurate?
Vanessa: Yeah. It’s … you know how we’re all really conditioned to like eat well? We’re like, oh, you know, people track their calories and they try to get 30 minutes of exercise in a day and they get 8 ounces of water. Just like you measure your calorie output, your exercise minutes, and your water ounces, you can do the exact same thing with your dopamine, your endorphins, and your serotonin.
Tara: Well, brilliant. I mean, that’s great news for nerds like us, right?
Vanessa: Exactly, exactly. And I promise for my non-nerds listening, I will break that into a much more digestible, non-geek chemical words as well.
Tara: Yeah, okay, awesome. So I do want to transition a little bit and talk about your team and what role happiness plays inside the Science of People, because it’s one thing for you to study it as a team, it’s one thing for you to teach about it as you and as your team, but it’s another thing to kind of engineer it into your company culture. So let’s talk about exactly that. What role does happiness play in your team culture?
Vanessa: Yeah, okay, so there are kind of four ways that we tackle happiness from a team perspective, and I actually think that talking about my team is a perfect way for you to think about your own happiness, because they are used in the exact same way. So the very first thing that we did after doing this research, and we finished this research about a year ago, so all of these changes have happened in the last 12 months, and it’s been incredible to see the changes in productivity, in ROI, our numbers. The ROI has been tremendous in terms of the growth of the company.
So the first thing is we did something called job crafting with all of our employees. So what this is, is you look at all the tasks that you do on a daily basis, and you can do this yourself. Make a list of all the tasks that you typically do in the average day or the average week. And then in the column next to it, you want to write down the skills that you’re using to complete those tasks. So you might find that all of your skill, all of your tasks, fall into the organization skill. Or that all of your tasks, let’s say you’re a coach, all of your tasks fall into the listening skill. So I want you to write down all the tasks and all the skills that are associated. That might be three skills. That might be thirty skills. And then I want you to, on the list of skills, star or circle the ones that you feel like you are exceptionally good at. The ones that like you’re like, “I was made for this. I was born for this. I love doing it. I feel so good when I do it.” That’s hopefully going to be only two or three, right? We don’t … you can put modesty aside, right? If you’re awesome, awesome at 10, cool, good on you, that’s awesome, too, but if you only have two or three, that’s about average. So what we did is we looked at all the tasks and skills that were happening amongst our team members, and right now, we’re a team of six, and then we began to figure out which skills matched with who. So for example, I learned that one of my employees is really, really visual. She’s really good at graphics. She’s amazing at seeing colors and shapes and fonts. I’m really bad at visual things, so basically, we started to trade tasks. So we line … I know all the skills of my employees, and we began to trade to see where could we focus our skills, and maximize the amount of I love doing this work, I feel really good at doing this work.
That is a much easier thing than I want to do what I’m passionate about, right? Like everyone talks about passion, but actually, you’re much better off talking about capability, and that’s an easier thing to do on a day-to-day basis than passion.
Tara: Oh, brilliant. Yes, I mean, I could go off on a whole tirade about passion. I love the idea of talking about capability instead, and you know, that getting into the flow, and feeling like … Sally Hogshead talks about wellspring activities, you know, those things that energize you, and I totally agree, it’s so much easier to identify those things for yourself, and you know, tell yourself the story, remember those stories, remember those moments when you felt like that, and it seems like a much more productive conversation to have with your employer as well, but I’m sure it’s something that people can do in their own businesses, too. So whether they have a team or not, it can be a real opportunity to look and see how could you improve your happiness? How could you better job craft, even if you’re a business of one now, so that you better understand how you could grow a team into the future.
Vanessa: Exactly. And like a quick example of this is if you’re a photographer, I was just talking about this with my photographer. So my photographer is Maggie Hudson at Honeysuckle Photography, and her skill, obviously, is photography, lighting, working with people. She does not like editing. She can do it. She’s good at it. But she doesn’t love it. So she started building into her packages hiring a contractor editor, and that made her so much happier to take on new clients and do what she does, because she’s just putting way more energy and charging differently than she would have, because she wants to be able to know that someone else who loves editing can do it.
Tara: Brilliant. And okay, and so that was so important, because you said she’s so much happier to take on new clients, which means she’s more likely to do what she needs to do to sell, right?
Tara: And that’s one of those things that I don’t think people, especially small business owners, realize all of the personal hurdles that they have to selling. It’s not actually selling itself that’s hard, it’s these personal hurdles that we put in front of ourselves, and that’s one of them, doing work we don’t want to be doing.
Vanessa: And that is a surprisingly easy thing to do when you break down your tasks and your skills.
Tara: I might be a professional educator and expert, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning. When I’m ready to learn a new skill, the first place I go is CreativeLive. Check out this great class.
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Tara: I know you just had your Science of People team all together in Portland. It was World Domination Summit weekend, and you guys all got together. I was watching the pictures, it looked awesome. What did you guys do during that company retreat to kind of spark happiness for your team while they were visiting?
Vanessa: Yeah, so the next kind of thing that really contributes to happiness is growth, and the idea, and this ties into hope as well, is that failures are not … do not mean that you’re a failure, they just mean that that specific thing was a mistake or a failure, and that anything can be learned, and actually, learning provides a lot of happiness. So the reason why I bought my entire team to WDS was because I wanted them to know that they have a lot of learning in their lives, and so we have something that I encourage all my employees to do called the Learning Bucket List. So a learning bucket list is all the skills, lessons, ideas, and things you want to learn about in your lifetime. And we don’t often think about learning like that, but so I have all of my employees think about what are the skills they want to learn, and how can I fund that for them. So I will frequently pay for trainings for them. Like if they want to learn, like for example, one of my employees really wants to learn video editing. Fantastic. We do a ton of videos. I’m happy to pay for his online course to learn how to do video editing and buy the software for him. We also have what’s called a book fund. So any employee who wants to get a book, and it does not have to do with business, it can be any book, they just have to submit me an email for why they want the book and what they want to learn from it, and I will buy it for them. And so that is a way that I am trying to encourage that learning on a day-to-day basis.
Tara: That is awesome. I think everyone should go out and make their learning bucket list now. I think that’s incredible.
Vanessa: What’s on yours?
Tara: The thing that makes me happiest in terms of learning right now is copywriting. I just totally nerd out on copywriting, and it’s something that yeah, it just, it makes me really, really happy. Obviously, it fulfills a need in my business as well, and it’s a skill that, you know, makes sense for me to improve, but it also makes me insanely happy. Probably the other thing, then, is, you know, my partner and I are constantly talking about me going back to school and following through on the academic goals that I once had, and I think, you know, there’s … there’s no good reason … like there’s no good financial reason for me to do that. There’s no, like, there’s no promotion that would be in my future if I went back to school and got my PhD, but would it make me happy? Yeah, probably. So those would be two things.
Vanessa: That could be an investment in happiness, right?
Vanessa: Like, that would be a pure investment in happiness, which would definitely come out in other areas.
Tara: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I’m sure I could find the financial ROI on that for sure. So you mentioned failure a little bit ago, and that brought to mind, you know, one of the difficult parts of growing a team and owning a small business, which is having difficult conversations with people? So how do you balance performance management, having difficult conversations, and still keep this culture of happiness going in your company?
Vanessa: Yeah, so it’s … I … what we try to focus on is progress does not mean that you can’t have setbacks, and progress is actually the number one way to motivate people. So if you look at any kind of goal, weight loss goals, savings goals, employee goals … money, bonuses, promotions, not high on the list. Compliments, not high on the list. The biggest thing you can do to encourage progress, I’m sorry, to encourage achievement is actually highlighting progress. So the way that we do this is we do monthly check-ins. We have kind of like a scoreboard, where basically, we have all of our analytics, and we’re very analytics-driven, you know. We just hit 80,000 subscribers on YouTube, and our goal is to hit 100,000 right? We have 100,000 email subscribers; our goal is to hit 120,000. So we are very, very aware of those goals. Now, a failure could be not posting enough on YouTube or posting a YouTube video that gets a lot of dislikes or not a lot of views, right? That could be, I guess, considered a failure. However, it did get some views, and we can look at that video and be like why is this video different than the other videos that performed well. So we look at every single thing as a mark on the progress chart. So it’s not a failure, it’s just a mark on the chart. And that helps sort of reshift the … I want them to take risks, right? Like every single person on the team owns one of those metrics. Right? Like Robbie’s in charge of YouTube and Yael’s in charge of our email subscribers. Ben’s in charge of our top of the funnel getting Google organic traffic. Lauren’s in front of, charge of Twitter. They own those numbers. And so I can say to them, all right, whatever you want to do to get our Twitter subscribers up to 20,000, do it. Play, adventure it, be adventurous, as long as you’re tracking it, I don’t care. So that’s a very different way of thinking about failure. It’s just a stop on the progress line.
Tara: Wow. Wow. Okay, so do you have those same kind of conversations individually then? I mean, it sounds like if people have these … have this ownership over particular pieces, you know, are you having progress conversations on an individual level and kind of what does that look like?
Vanessa: You know, we don’t do performance reviews.
Vanessa: I don’t do one-on-one performance reviews. Which I usually will check in with people via email. Like I’ll say, you know, how’s it going? How you feeling? How you liking everything? We do something that I call start/stop/continue. So start/stop/continue is every month, every four weeks I ask each of them what would you like to start? What would you like to stop doing? What would you like to start doing more of? What would you like to stop doing or do less of? And what would you like to continue? So they’re very used to, and they prepare to tell me those stop/start/continue things. Typically, they happen in a group or over email.
Tara: Wow. Okay, so it really does sound like everything from top to bottom in the way you manage your people is focused on making sure they’re working at their highest capability, helping them fulfill the learning, and then, you know, therefore making them as happy as possible. That’s incredible.
Vanessa: And I think that every … every single one of us, no matter what we do, should be doing stop/start/continue. Just like job crafting with my employees, I think all of us, every week or every four weeks, should sit down and say what should I be doing more of, what should I be doing less of, and what should I start doing.
Vanessa: Right? Like that is an incredibly powerful exercise for anyone.
Tara: Yeah, and it’s also not super intimidating, either, right? Like it leads to incremental changes, instead of like earlier, you mentioned, you know, if you’re unhappy, you might think that you have to completely change everything to create a happier experience for yourself, but stop/start/continue really gives you this opportunity to, you know, you could just stop two things, or you could stop one thing.
Tara: You know, each time you check in and little bit by little bit, you’re chiseling away at the things that aren’t making you happy or that aren’t allowing you to kind of operate at your highest capability.
Vanessa: Exactly. That’s exactly it.
Tara: Awesome. So Vanessa, what makes you happy?
Vanessa: I really, really like quests, and that is something that I discovered I think accidentally. It was … a Quest, a la Chris Guillebeau, for anyone who’s read The Happiness of Pursuit, is a very defined challenge or adventure. So it could be reading every book on the New York Times bestseller list in a year, or the top 1 books in a year. It could be traveling to all fifty states. It could be cooking cuisine from every, you know, all the major countries. It could be learning a language. I have found that that is a magic, very potent combination. One, it’s learning, right? You’re usually doing some kind of learning in a quest. Two, it gives you a lot of hope and anticipation, right? Every time you think about completing the quest, you actually get endorphins. Just like when you think about watching your favorite movie, it produces endorphins. And third is it’s progress. Right? Every time you go to a state, every time you cook a dish, every time you learn a new vocab word, check, you get that off the list. Oh, and lastly, bonus, is that you feel really, really awesome the further you go down the list. And so I have a lot of quests constantly going in my life, both personal and professional, and that’s sort of how I gear all the chapters of my life is around them.
Tara: That’s awesome. What is one of the quests that you’re on right now?
Vanessa: So one of my quests is that I want to try every single top-rated restaurant in Portland.
Tara: That sounds awesome.
Vanessa: I know. And I like … and it’s basically an excuse for me to invite all my friends out, because they all know that I’m on this quest, so I have like a big spreadsheet, and I invited a bunch of my friends on it, and they just put their name down on the restaurants they also want to try.
Tara: Wow. That’s amazing. That’s totally awesome. Okay, so tell us about your new CreativeLive class.
Vanessa: Okay, so I am … I am really, like I can’t even describe. Like excited isn’t the right word for it. I feel like this course is the course that I wish I had ten years ago. The unhappiest day of my life was my college graduation. It was one of those days where I realized that I was making all my decisions based on things I thought I should do, and nothing that I actually wanted to do, and so it took me a very long time to get off of that structure. And we will talk about, in the CreativeLive course, about the four systems that cause us to make decisions. And so my goal with this course is to sort of shake up the personal happiness value system that we have. I want everyone coming into the course to re-evaluate how they make decisions. The small decisions, like what they’re eating for breakfast and what they are going to put on their to do list, and the big decisions, like what’s my purpose here, what’s my legacy, what do I want to be remembered for. Because I think that if we don’t stop and do that now, there’s that famous Chinese proverb that said the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, but the second best time is now. That’s how I feel about happiness.
Tara: Oh, that is so good. I am definitely going to be tuning into that. I will also be making Shawn tune into that, as well.
Tara: And then can you tell us also about your upcoming book?
Vanessa: Oh, gosh, yeah. Yeah, so … so many years in the making, that book. So I have a book coming out April 25th, it’s called Captivate, and it is on hacking human behavior. So I love people skills, I do not consider them soft skills, I consider them hard skills. So I want, this is the first time, I think, anyone’s endeavored to teach people skills like you would learn math or science. So I break down conversation formulas, we talk about algorithms, we talk about basically the language of people skills from a very black and white perspective.
Tara: Wow. This is your life’s work to this point.
Vanessa: This is … someone asked me recently, “So how long did it take you to write the book?” And I was like, “Uh, 31 years.”
Tara: Yes, that is … that’s awesome. Well, I don’t … I don’t even know where to go from there. I’m so excited for you. What … is there anything else that we should know about that you’re working on that’s coming up for you in your business? What, you know, what’s your next big project?
Vanessa: Yeah, you know, actually, the next big project is sort of the next phase of the happiness research, so if you’re getting ready to listen to the CreativeLive Power of Happiness course, or you’re thinking about it, one thing you can do is you can actually go to our website, and take the happiness audit. So the happiness audit will actually kind of clue you in right now, if you’re like, whoa, I don’t want to wait until October. I know, it’s really far, I don’t want to wait to take the class. You can go take the happiness audit now, and that also helps us with the next phase of our research. So it’s ScienceofPeople.com/audit, and it’s all free. Just fly through it. You know, don’t overthink the answers, and that will not only help you give you some insight into, you know, the course and your own happiness, but it will also help us with our next phase of the research.
Tara: Awesome. Everyone loves a good quiz.
Vanessa: Yeah, I know.
Tara: All right. Well, Vanessa Van Edwards, thank you so much for coming back on Profit. Power. Pursuit. Thank you so much for talking about happiness and your team and yourself and your own journey. This has been a really fascinating conversation. I am excited about telling people about what you’ve just told us, so thank you.
Vanessa: Thank you so much for having me. Bye guys.
Tara: Find out more about Vanessa Van Edwards at ScienceofPeople.com. You can also find her new CreativeLive class, the Power of Happiness, at CreativeLive.com.
Next week, my guest is online business pioneer and social media expert, Joel Comm. We talk about how he chooses new platforms, why he’s betting big on live video, and how his businesses have been impacted by social media.
CreativeLive is highly-curated classes from the world’s top experts. Watch free, live video classes every day from acclaimed instructors in photography, design, audio, craft, business, and personal development, stream it now at CreativeLive.com.
This has been Tara Gentile. Discover how to accelerate your earning as a small business owner with my free class, Revenue Catalyst, at QuietPowerStrategy.com/PPP.
That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., a CreativeLive podcast. Download more episodes of this podcast and subscribe on iTunes. If you appreciate this kind of in-depth content, please leave us a review or share this podcast with a friend. It means the world to us.
Our theme song was written by Daniel Peterson, who also edited this episode. Our audio engineer was Kellen Shimizu. This episode was produced by Michael Karsh. We add a new episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. every week. Subscribe in iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you love to listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode.
Photo of Vanessa by Armosa Studios
Is it all glitz?
Lately, I’ve seen a great deal of pushback against the glitzy promises in Facebook ads or webinars about 6 or 7-figure businesses.
People say they don’t need or want to grow a 6 or 7-figure business. They’re tired of the hype. They just want to figure out how to make what they have… work.
When I started my business, I wanted to earn enough to stay home with my daughter and still drink daily iced lattes. My goal? Maybe $500 per month.
As my first year in business progressed and I quickly surpassed my old salary (not a huge accomplishment), it started to dawn on me that I had created a full-time job.
I had to work at least 35-40 hours a week to maintain the work that was now paying bills. It was working but it wasn’t very exciting.
Soon, I was introduced to people who were earning quite a bit more than I was but had similar businesses, similar experience, and similar audiences. “What was the difference?” I thought to myself.
They had a different goal and, because of that, they had designed their businesses to earn 6 or 7-figures instead of 4 or 5.
What’s the difference?
They didn’t get lucky. They weren’t working harder.
They simply designed their businesses to perform differently. And they believed in their ability (and the business’s) to perform to their goals.
I didn’t know this was possible when I started my business. Sometime in my life, I had arbitrarily assigned myself an earning ceiling around $35,000 (band geeks and religion majors don’t generally earn much).
I initially designed my business to hit that number. When I did, I pushed hard to reach a little higher.
Then I realized that if I just redesigned my business a bit, I could easily hit $120k+. So I did. And I did. I’ve been redesigning it to hit bigger goals ever since and I’ve trained my clients to do the same.
That might sound trite and simplistic. But I assure you, it is not.
Honor what you’ve already achieved.
What I see happen so often is that business owners like you beat themselves up when they haven’t hit the “glitzy” numbers that others have advertised. They don’t recognize—and honor—that they’ve achieved what they designed to achieve.
In other words, there’s a very, very good chance that the revenue you’re bringing in right now is the revenue your business is currently designed to bring in.
Pat yourself on the back. Seriously. Most people can’t get anything off the ground, let alone make offers and sell them to customers they’ve courted with their own two hands (and words). You have already achieved greatly.
Between a rock and a hard place?
Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re at where you’d like to be.
In fact, you might find yourself between a rock (a business that’s paying some or all of the bills) and a hard place (big opportunities or goals that seem just out of reach).
It’s not so much that you or your business is underperforming as that you have a huge opportunity to design it to work better and produce more.
You see, your business is working. If you push harder and harder with the business design you have right now, you won’t make it work more for you. You’ll just be working harder at the model designed to produce what you’ve already produced.
Maybe you haven’t felt like you had the time to market your business properly…
Maybe you wonder how everyone else “keeps up with everything…”
Maybe the Impostor Complex reminds you of all those times when you’ve set a goal and haven’t reached it…
These aren’t personal shortcomings. They’re a result of having a business design that doesn’t match your goals. A smart business design creates time, reduces the amount of effort required of you, makes team-building easy, and makes goals reality.
If you’re going to break through to those sought-after outcomes, you need a new business design.
Would you rather push yourself to make a business work that’s designed to earn $75k per year? Or push yourself to make a business work that’s designed to make $250k per year? Or $1m per year?
It’s the same amount of work. But the work is different and the decisions are different–because the design is different.
Time to commit.
This is why it’s important to talk about 6, 7, and 8-figure businesses. If you don’t know how those businesses work, you can’t design a business that performs that way—nor do you have the information you need to make an informed decision about whether you want to build that kind of business or not.
I assure you: if you want to build a 7-figure business, you can. It’s available to you. It might take you time, research, and experimentation to find the right business design to hit that number. But it’s out there and it is yours if you want it.
Right now, you can choose to work hard at a 5-figure business design or you can choose to work hard at a 7-figure business design.
Yes, people use these numbers to wow you and glitzify you–but under all that is a real need to exposure yourself to something different so you can make an informed decision about the business you want to build.
What will you choose?
I truly hope you choose to stop getting by and start getting ahead with a fresh business design. To help, I’ve created a set of free training focused on guiding you through making simple tweaks that allow you to earn more at a more predictable pace.
Register below to get started or click here for more information.
Design Your Business To Earn More
Get our FREE Revenue Plan Workbook, plus the bonus Revenue Catalyst mini-class and live workshop. Enter your email address below!
Thank you! To download your Revenue Plan and start your stress-free money making a plan today, jump over to your inbox, confirm, and then download!
Interviews, New Economy
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Tara: How do world-class entrepreneurs make the decisions they make and achieve the things they achieve? This is Profit. Power. Pursuit., a CreativeLive podcast, and I’m your host, Tara Gentile. On this podcast, we explore what it takes to live a sustainable, creative life by uncovering the strategic and tactical components of how creative people make money, take control of their businesses, and pursue what’s most important to them.
My guest today is Nilofer Merchant. She’s been called the Jane Bond of Innovation because of her ability to guide companies through impossible odds. She’s also launched more than 100 products, netting more than $18 billion in sales. On top of that, she’s written two books, The New How and 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era, which I recommend to all of my clients as can’t miss reading for the new economy.
Nilofer and I talked in depth about her concept on Onlyness, the spot in the world only you are standing in. We also talked about how networks are the best way in which work is done today, and how she’s working to enable each and every person to be empowered in this world. Listen closely for the way Nilofer approaches having conversations with fear.
Nilofer Merchant, welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit. Thank you so much for joining me.
Nilofer: I’m so glad to be here.
Tara: Awesome. So I’d like to start by talking about the phrase that you coined in your book, The New How, Air Sandwich. You had corporations with varied levels of team members in mind when you wrote about that, but I have really noticed this problem affecting very small creative or idea-driven businesses as well. I think we talked about that on Twitter maybe a few months back. Can you talk about what an Air Sandwich is, and what kind of problems it can cause in a business?
Nilofer: Sure. So let me first define it. So Air Sandwich is when there’s a gap between the high level direction, usually set by one person, and the execution, which is usually set by someone else, and in traditional organizations, there’s usually a bigger gap between those things, and so I started calling that an Air Sandwich, because just like a good sandwich, all the stuff that really matters, like a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich, all the stuff that really matters in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the peanut butter and the jelly. And so if you’re missing the things in the middle, which in an organizational context is, you know, understanding, shared understanding, understanding the debates, understanding the tradeoffs, the set of things that helps make an idea turn into reality is missing, that’s when you have an Air Sandwich.
Tara: Great, so I think with micro-businesses, largely, you know, they’re creating the vision, and they’re doing the execution, but they’re having a really hard time connecting those two things. What can we learn from sort of the corporate model and, you know, what you’ve developed in terms of helping corporations get through this Air Sandwich problem that we can apply to connecting our visions with our day-to-day execution?
Nilofer: Sure. So let me just bring it down to … down to real Earth. So back when I was a small business owner myself, because remember, I started Rubicon Consulting and grew it to a $4 million business over the course of 11 years, so … And when it first started, it was me in my pajamas with my computer on my lap, so I have some sense of what that moment looks like, and I will say the one thing that has always closed that Air Sandwich is to get really clear on the high level, where are you trying to go, the horizon, as I like to call it, and then figure out a way to be explicit with yourself about what are the different ways you could do it.
So I would, for example, do a map of five years out, and start to paint a picture, but then I would say, okay, for this year, what would be one measurable outcome that could be done within this year, and then I would sit down and break that down and say okay, so then, what would we need to do at work, at home, in fitness category, just every part of my life for that one thing to become real. It included who I would hire or what kind of regimen I would put myself on so I had really high energy or all the different aspects, and I would type this up. Tara, if I could send you the one-pagers, I had a one-pager for every year for ten years.
Nilofer: And I saved them all in a box, in fact, and the reason I did, I saved them, is because somebody said, you know, sometimes, we forget to track how much progress we’ve made, because we always have a new horizon and we’re always, if we’re lucky, right, we get to keep building on what we’ve already done, and so then we move onto the next goal and stuff, and so I started saving these in a box, and what was fun to do over time is to go back and go oh, I may not have gotten every specific thing on the original, you know, like three years ago kind of list done, but it was very clear what the direction was, very clear of what the specific tactics might be, and then as you were playing out the year, some other opportunities would come up. But I would actually, then, every day, so just to kind of bring this down to practical purposes, every single day, I carried around that little sheet of paper that was for the year, and I sat there for the month, so if it was the start of November, I would have sat down for the month and said, okay, here’s the kinds of things I’m going to do in November that will tie to the big picture goal for the year, and then every single day, for every single day of a week day, I would write down what would be the three things I would do that day that would get me towards the goals for the month, that would get me towards the goals for the year, and those are all the practical things I did as an entrepreneur to help close that gap between the big idea and the reality becoming, you know, real in the marketplace.
Tara: I think this interview is going to be a must listen for my clients, because that’s very similar to the structure that I put them through, and I love the way that you just described that, so thank you. I want to kind of shift gears a little bit and talk of another term that you coined, which was from your second book, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era, and that’s Onlyness. Can you tell us more about what Onlyness is?
Nilofer: Sure. So Onlyness is that spot in the world only you’re standing in. It’s a function of your history and experiences, visions and hopes, and I use those four words very specifically. I’m saying it’s everything that might have happened to you, even if it sucked. It’s everything where you’re from, and sort of what has shaped you up to this moment, but it also has to include your aspirations and dreams for where you want to go. So it’s both the moment, it’s the creative space that you’re living in that is both the past and what has made you, and the future and what is pulling you into the future. And I use the term Onlyness, I was trying to struggle, I was struggling, excuse me, with the word when I was first creating it, because I was looking at words like talent, or uniqueness, and let me explain why I didn’t use those words. So I didn’t use terms like uniqueness that were relative terms. So when I was the only woman in a boardroom, for example, people used to say I was quote/unquote unique, and I wanted to turn back to them with the most sarcastic tone in my voice, and say, you know, 52% of the population is a woman, so that doesn’t make me very unique, you know?
The other part of my business, I want to say something like I’ve shipped over 100 products, generating $18 billion in revenue, so my commentary around, like a market move, is probably more linked to that then the fact that I’m a woman, right? And yet, people would say that was quote/unquote unique, so I was trying to find a non-relative word. So something true to you, and I was also trying to claim back that thing that a lot of has been in our lives, especially if you’re weird or wild, and most of us who are solopreneurs or freelancers are weird or wild in some way or another, that’s what makes us not want to fit into corporate structure. We have often been the quote/unquote only person, in some setting, that’s totally the weirdo at the table, and I was trying to take that weirdo element and make it the positive strength that it is.
Tara: Let’s talk about that weirdo bit a little bit more, because I think, you know, you’ve also written about Onlyness as turning a negative into a positive, and I know I found this to be true in my own brand and in my own business as well, is that, you know, like I can turn something like, you know, I get a little too intellectual, a little too nerdy into something, and I can actually make that the positive focus of my brand. Are there things that you personally were told that were negative about your personality or the way you worked that you’ve discovered that are really assets in disguise?
Nilofer: Oh, gosh, I don’t even know which one to choose, but I’ll choose one I have written about. It’s by someone who’s actually a fellow thinker, someone that I really regarded, and someone who’s exceptionally good in the marketing space, and so when I turned to him, it was because I was trying to name my now second book, because as you know, Tara, I’m working on my third, but when I was trying to name it, I knew, because of my experience with my first book, that naming might not be my thing, because I’m not a marketer, and I am purely a strategist, and so you know, usually, I help other people do this kind of thing, and so I turned to him and he said, I’ll never forget it, because I turned to him and I said, “You know, I really need advice about how to even just think about the process of naming it.” So I had probably three-quarters of it written, blah, blah, blah.
And he said, “You know, as a brown woman,” this is how he started the sentence, and I’ll never forget the whole sentence, so I’m going to say it and then I’m going to come back to what the implications are, so, “As a brown woman, your chances of being seen in the world are next to nothing, because if you are really edgy to an audience, you won’t fit in to what they expect of you, and therefore, they won’t listen. If you’re not edgy, you’ll never stand out. So…” And then he’s staring at the ceiling for a little bit, kind of like mulling that one over for a second, “So you’ll never be seen in the world.”
And the implications of that, of course, are huge. First of all, sometimes, you know, we’ve all been told that some part of our life, I can repeat so many stories I’ve been told in my career of you know, that’s not going to work, because of who you are. And I’ll tell you the ironic moment is not only did I get myself up off the ground, not only did that book become one of Harvard’s bestsellers, not only did it get me named one of the top thinkers in management, the number one person to shape the future of management, but the day I got announced as a speaker for TED, the very first note I got in my inbox, very first note, was, “Congratulations,” from that person. And I said, and I was such a little snot about how I did it, because I really wanted to circle back with this guy, ‘cuz I said, “Hey, so I thought you said I’d never be seen in the world?”
And he goes, “Did that bother you?”
I go, “Yeah, so don’t ever do that again, and let me explain to you, you know, that it cost me several months of my life, thank God it didn’t cost me more, but those of us who turn to each other for help are being incredibly vulnerable and soft right in that moment, and because I trusted you, I was especially vulnerable and soft, and you took that moment to point out something, by the way, that might be your truth, but it’s not my truth.” And that’s probably the one lesson I would want any of us to take away is no one else can define your truth for you. You have to define it for yourself.
Tara: So true. What do you do personally when you are faced with that kind of “feedback”, for lack of a better word, that, like you said, can put you on your back for two months? What do you do to get yourself motivated again and plugging forward with your goals?
Nilofer: I think the term you were looking for was “bullshit.” That’s not feedback. That’s bullshit. So …
Nilofer: And I’m being specific because somebody else’s limiting definition of you can never have enough space for you to be creative. Never have enough space for you to actually go do the work you need to do. So any time you ever feel yourself shrinking in front of someone or because of something someone said, run away from that person. You get to decide for yourself where power lies, and the power of the narrative is one of the biggest powers we have, the story we allow ourselves to hear about our self. I’m not saying lie to yourself, because you know, there’s moments where I do sit there and think gosh, am I limiting myself by being too edgy or whatever, right? But you get to determine that, not someone else.
So the first thing is like really to get that message out there. None of us can allow ourselves to become smaller because of someone else. If we do, we’re doing it to ourselves. It’s not them. It’s us.
Then the other thing I do is, the reason I actually snapped out of it, to be quite honest, was because I was telling the story to a friend who happens to be very strong in the feminism space and very strong in the tech space, and I happen to be sharing it, because I’d just finished mentoring some other young women, and I said, “I hope that the experience I’m having doesn’t get repeated onto this next generation.” So I was relaying the story more in the context of why I was spending all this time with this other generation.
And she said, “You know, if that … ” because the way I’d repeated the story was not by saying the bullshit part, and so she said, you know, “Just in case no one’s told you, that story is complete bullshit, and let me tell you why it’s complete bullshit.” And she really told me what I’m trying to hopefully pass on in this conversation, which is you get to define it, it does not define you, whatever it is.
Tara: The need to see that kind of detachment from bullshit is so important, and I think so many people get attached because of just exactly what you said, you know, we’re vulnerable in those moments of asking for help from people, and so we kind of … we attach ourselves to whatever they say about us, and I just really appreciate, you know, you kind of demonstrating that detachment.
Nilofer: Yeah, and I think that the key in the lesson is who do you surround yourself by? So you know, whatever you call it, posse or squad or friends or professional colleagues that you appreciate learning from or mentors or sponsors, because we all have different names for roles people play in our lives, but to be able to pick up the phone with people, and to be able to relay a story like that, and for someone else to be able to say that’s bullshit, right? And so we have to really, the one thing I wish I had done early in my career, and Tara, I’m 47 years old and I feel like I’m just learning this lesson, is to be very intentional about who is in your inner circle, and how to tell your inner circle that they’re the inner circle, and so that way, when you need that place to be soft and vulnerable, there is a group of people who you can count on, you know, to be there for you, and I wish I had just really understood how much you need that as a creative person in your life.
Tara: Yeah, I’m really glad that you brought up this question of people, how have you gone about finding who’s going to be in your inner circle and kind of developing those relationships with the people that you need to have supporting you, the people that you want to have supporting you?
Nilofer: Well, I think the thing is, so I’ll tell you what I used to do in the past, and then to show you the contrast, sometimes, it’s helpful to do the what not to do story, like don’t dress like this. This is the emotional equivalent of what not to do that my friend does on the telephone show. So the what not to do, what I used to do is I used to say, you know, I should be gathering critics in my life who can help me get better at an idea, they’re the ones who are going to poke all the holes in it, etc. etc. And so I largely had people who were extremely smart, but not necessarily very kind and not necessarily very compassionate, and I just was a punching bag, so if I … which made me good at certain things. Like I’m extremely resilient, and I think because I value the push and pull of idea development with other people, that part was really served, but what I forgot I also needed or didn’t acknowledge enough is how much you also need the place to be soft, and one of my friends who’s become a friend is Nancy Duarte, and I’ll repeat what she said to me.
We had known each other for something like ten or fifteen years. Brilliant, brilliant entrepreneur. As a woman entrepreneur, there aren’t that many of us, we both knew each other in Silicon Valley, we both published our first books with O’Reilly, so you know, we had a number of connections, and at one point, she turned to me, she goes, you used to be a lot less soft, and now you’re soft and it gives us such a different relationship. And I realized that I had made a twist in my own life of who was my inner circle, had I established that with them, and then I could give myself permission to be soft, and then for me, then, it’s making a list of what those people are, and just a few years ago, I was telling my husband, you know, if I had to make that list now, what would it be, and we just sat, and happened to be lying in bed, and so we just sat there and made this list up. It’s going to be someone who I can be, you know, the rock star speaker who just did a 5500-person audience a few weeks ago. Also the person who just won, I’m now one of the top 50 ranked management people in the world, blah, blah, blah, right? Like they’ll totally get that, but they’ll also get that I’m a complete neurotic person stressing about whether or not even one person will buy my book. Right? So those two can both be true in the same body and the same person, and that colleague, that friend, that close inner circle will be the person who totally gets that both of those are both true at the same time.
Tara: I’d love to go a little bit further in that direction, because I think this is, probably especially for the women in our audience, definitely for me, so maybe this is more of a personal question, that contrast between ambitious and resilient and almost like hard-nosed in the face of failure or criticism juxtaposed with being soft, being vulnerable. That’s a really difficult balance to strike, and you know, we … I think we’ve been taught so much that … that the hard side of you is what needs to show up when you’re speaking, in the boardroom, when you’re on a client call, when you’re on a sales call, whatever it might be, and I know for me personally, it can be really hard to tap into that softer side. What do you … what did you do to try and make that softer side of you more accessible in the moments when that was going to serve you best?
Nilofer: Truthfully, I think it’s that I’m cool with it. I’m cool with the fact that I’m flawed. I’m cool with the fact that I’m going to make mistakes. I’m cool with the fact that I am neurotic at times. I’m cool with the fact that I am scared at times. Like I think I have finally forgiven myself for being a human being. Do you know what I mean by that?
Nilofer: And if I’m okay with me, then I’m going to trust my instinct when I’m in a conversation that if I’m going to connect with you on something, I’m going to go and be real about this one thing in this particular way, or I’m going to tell you a story in a particular way, and I’m going to trust that that’s all … that’s all part of the plan, and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll recover from that, too.
I’ll tell you something that, so the intellectual argument for what I just said, so that you’re okay with yourself? I’ll tell you the intellectual argument of it, because I just learned it recently. I was talking with Carol Dweck, this is probably now two or three years ago, and it’s on my blog, so if you Google my name and Carol Dweck, you’ll probably find it, but Carol who wrote Mindset, and I were sitting in her office at Stanford University, she’s in the Psych department overlooking the Squad, the Quad area of, you know, Stanford University, and so I had said, “Okay, so I get everything you’ve written.” Like we had had this nice, long conversation. I said, “Well, what’s the conversation you’re having with yourself when you want to be a growth person versus a fixed mindset person? What’s the internal conversation you’re having with yourself?”
And she said, “Oh, no one’s ever asked me this question.” And she says, she looks at the ceiling, and she says, “You know the conversation you’re having with yourself is, ‘Regardless of what happens, I trust that I will figure it out from there.'”
Nilofer: And I think that’s the thing is you have to be okay with you, and then everything else, like, you know, because you’re going to make mistakes and you’re gonna sometimes, one way when you sit there, and later you’re like, oh, maybe I should have acted another way, or whatever, right? Like it’s all good, and it will all work itself out in the long range.
Tara: Nice. So let’s shift gears a little bit, and I want to talk about some of the concepts from Eleven Rules, because I love that book. It is one of my favorite books, and it is required reading for pretty much everyone who works with me. Either they gain it through osmosis, or they actually sit down and read it, but one of your rules for creating value in the social era is that collaboration is greater than control, and I think that many of our listeners, myself included, would self-describe as control freaks. What are some ways that entrepreneurs can give up control even in tiny little organizations?
Nilofer: So you know, like let’s do ideas, since all of us are in this knowledge economy, creative economy, whatever you call it. We’re in the business of making ideas. So let’s use ideas as the thing we’re going to talk about for a second, and then I’ll use you and I as an example for a minute.
So I published a thing called Onlyness in the 2012 book. I am now working on a book that will be published by Viking/Penguin sometime in 2016, probably the latter half, that’ll be about Onlyness entirely. It’s thirty or so stories of people living out their Onlyness, first in how they see it in themselves, then as they find their fellow, like people, and then as they galvanize action making something a reality. I notice that you tweet on it, have coached on it, etc. right? And I’m not threatened by that in any way. I could be, right? I could be like most people, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, control.” But actually, the way I think about it is, “I wonder if she’s really good at coaching on it, because if this book and this idea takes off the way it looks like it might, she might really be an interesting person to partner with. Or would she be the person to right the tools book, right? So the way I start to think is less about can I control the idea, but what’s the end game? And the end game is I want to enable each and every single person to be as powerful as they can be in the world, even and especially if they’ve been told by society that they do not have a seat at the table.
So I’m looking for especially women, people of color, and young people who are told, “Gosh, your idea doesn’t count because you don’t know enough,” or uneducated people, or blah, blah, blah, right? And I’m figuring out how to get that 50% of the population back into the economy. That’s my goal, and I am sure that this idea is part of that, and then I’m just going okay, so who else wants to play? Who else wants to play? Who can extend this idea? Where are they going to take it? What other ideas are they going to build on it? Blah, blah, blah. And then an idea gets a chance to not just be something I hold tightly like in the fist of my hand as if it’s my own, but I get to hold it open, like an open hand, you get to pick it up, you get to mold it into something you’re doing, you get to take it to another group of people that will come and take it from your hand, and to me, that’s a more powerful and bigger idea than something I control.
Tara: What I also really like about what you just described is that it’s not necessarily about finding, like giving up control within an organization, but giving up control, sort of throughout the network, because what I see with my clients, and you know, other microbusiness owners, is that they are kind of isolating themselves out of a need for control, and the people who are really, really getting ahead are the ones that are finding new and interesting ways to partner up with people, like you mentioned, and this concept of collaborating with people, giving up control over your own ideas so that you can find those partnerships seems to me like a great move forward for a lot of business owners who are looking to grow in a different way.
Nilofer: Well, networks are the way in which work gets done today, absolutely, so we can state an absolute truth, and so then a question, so the piece of advice I give to people who are working within companies who want to live out their Onlyness, I ask them to speak up more within an organization, because their ability to speak up and own and idea and champion something, even if it’s the weirdest and wildest thing anyone in that room has ever heard is going to turn out to be an opportunity. Promise. It’ll improve the team performance at least by 30%, and it may also, even if you suck, even if the idea sucks, right? That research has been out there, and then when you’re outside the organization, when you’re on your own, it’s to figure out what networks do you want to belong to and with, who do you want to know, how do you want to build on their ideas, how do you want their ideas to influence yours, and networks are going be the way in which we’re going to extend each other’s work. So I think about it as which guild, if I was back in the 17th Century, and an artist, which guild would I belong to? Well, networks are just the more common way of us thinking about it. Hubs.
Tara: I love that. So another role that you mentioned in the book is that consumers become co-creators in the social era. What do you see as missed opportunities for entrepreneurs when it comes to really empowering their consumers to become co-creators?
Nilofer: I think most of us try too hard to try to lock everything down, and you might remember this Tara, but I’m not sure your audience would know that for my second book, I actually blogged the book, five big sections of it, at Harvard. Harvard had never done a multi-part series before. They have since I created it with them, but we had a big idea. we thought it wasn’t worth waiting until it was perfect. We thought it would be really fun to see if we could see what people said and what questions they had and all that stuff. So I literally wrote parts one and two, we had kind of a sketch for all five parts. I wrote parts one and two, pretty much locked it down, then we went to press with one. Then I waited to see what did I hear. I had proofed two. We went to bed with two. I waited to see what did I hear with three. And so on. And it was this, you know, it’s almost like what’s that game, I have it in my head where it’s like that jump rope game where there’s two …
Tara: Double Dutch?
Nilofer: Double Dutch, that was the word, and you’re jumping. You’re jumping in and out of the rhythm of the game, the person who’s holding the ropes, that’s one part of it. There’s the ropes themselves, and there’s the people who are interplaying with the ropes. We’ve got to think about it much more in that interactive way. So the question is, you could be the rope holder, you could be the person jumping in, you want to think about who could you be doing a dance with? And the reason the Double Dutch thing came to mind is just because it is playful.
Tara: I love that. You’ve also written that our goal is to learn our way into the future. What should we be paying attention to to learn what we need to create the future that we really want?
Nilofer: I’ve give you my best tip for how I’ve learned this. So for eleven years, I ran a consulting business, and before this, I used to think my job was to know a lot, and in a consulting business, obviously, they hired me because I was competent, and you know, had a lot of information and all that stuff, but I learned my job was really to figure out how to engage other learning, so that once I left the building, that team would carry it over the finish line, because my success was not a PowerPoint Slide, because that was Mackenzie. My success was an outcome in the market place, and I wasn’t the only one who’s going to do that, right? So I needed a bunch of other people to see the idea and believe in it and all that stuff, and so what I learned to do to go into meetings was not to say here’s the four things I would say or try to communicate. I actually really sat there and crafted what would be the questions I would want to know more about, and I would right in the corner of any meeting notes what those questions were, and I think the smarter I’ve gotten in life, it’s by sitting there thinking more about what do I need to know before I go into a conversation with someone? What am I curious about with them? What do I … what could they tech me? And the more I get better at asking questions, the more I become essentially proficient at learning, because what it helps you to do is to identify what you don’t know, and the minute you’ve done that, you’ve toggled your whole brain over to reception mode.
Tara: That’s a really great strategy for people, I think. That brings me to sort of something that we’ve been sort of circling around in this conversation, which is imposter complex or the inner critic, you know, whether it’s getting vulnerable with your relationship-building, or whether it’s finding the softer side of who you are, or whether it’s asking questions instead of going in with a solid plan or a solid I know this and you will listen. How have you combatted that inner critic voice or that imposter complex over the years?
Nilofer: Well, some of it is time in the sense that you do have credentials, you do have your experience, you do have things that you’ve done, and you have to realize no one gets to take that away from you, so you know, you can stop having that conversation. And then I also, I have to talk myself down off the ledge by having a conversation with fear. So instead of … I think most people have a relationship with fear, like they see it around the corner, and then they run like hell from their inner critic. I actually sit and have a physical conversation with my inner critic. Actually sit and like go, “Okay, now is the time we’re gonna chat.” I’m not kidding. I actually do this. I sound insane, don’t I? “Now is the time we’re gonna chat,” and I actually sit there and try to listen for what is the critic trying to tell me. Because the critic’s job is trying to serve, or fear, right? Fear’s job is to try to protect, and try to protect you from failure, to try to protect your ego from being crushed. Ideally, it would have protected me from that guy who told me what he did, you know, about the brown woman thing. This inner, and in that case, it was my, you know, external critic, right? But when we have an inner critic, it’s to try to protect us, and I think the question I have to have is what do you need me to do? Is there stuff I need to manage? Is there stuff I need to learn more about? Is there certain skill development I need to do? Well, then those are points of fact. Okay, let me go work on those things. But then the rest of the time, inner critic, you sit right here, I’ll be back next week, we can talk some more. But you can’t run my whole life, girlfriend, you know, because I’ve got other shit to do, and I have, like, I need to focus on those other things, and the thing is, the minute I sat, I actually had a bench in Los Gaz, which is where I last lived, I had a particular bench where I met fear and my inner critic, and I had like, you know, kind of a little ritual around it. I would go to the bench, I would have the conversation, then I would go away from the bench, and be like, “I’ll meet you here next week.” And I haven’t found that exact spot in Paris here, but I’m very clear when I’m having this conversation, because then, once you honor that commitment with yourself to actually listen to that critic, then it teaches you something. So you’ve got to listen for the part you need to learn to, and then you just need to figure out how to park it for a while, but you can’t ignore it, because the more you try to ignore it, the more it screams at you.
Tara: I love that personal ritual that you’ve developed. That’s awesome. So you mentioned Paris, and that’s kind of where I’d like to take the conversation next, as we start to wrap up. One of the missions of this podcast is to find out how creative, driven people are pursuing what’s really, really important to them, and I have a feeling that your move to France kind of falls into that category. So how did you make that decision to pick up your family from California and move them across the Atlantic?
Nilofer: Yeah, when our whole jobs and everything were in California, well, so we really started with the vision, you know, so going back to the horizon, and I am especially good at this in our family, you know, between the family dynamics especially, I’m especially good at it, and so my husband had come to me, my husband who’s an engineer/CTO time guy, he come to me and said, “Hey, you know, by the way, I’ve tracked everything we ever imagined when we first met, and we’ve accomplished all those things.”
And I was like, “Oh.”
And he does, by the way, like he remembers the first, you know, time we kissed and everything. Like, he’s that guy. So I said, “Oh, well, we better come up with some new dreams, and a couple days later over a glass of wine, I said, “Oh, we have a minute,” like, let’s do some crazy dreaming thing, and I said nothing’s off the table, name anything you could imagine us doing in your wildest dreams, and one of them was to live at least a year abroad, and that was, and then probably like four and a half years from that conversation, we moved to Paris, and it took a whole series of ridiculously small chess moves to get across the board and get to the other side, but the one thing I’ve learned from the vision process to reality is give yourself enough runway, because if you say next year, I’m going to move to, you know, it seems insane, because there’s so many things you’d have to almost do too much, too much hard turning, right, to navigate, but if you give yourself enough runway, then even the biggest boat can make a U-turn and go in a different direction, and so we just started that process, and slowly, but surely, we figured out how to step up. You know, so then we were looking at everything through the lens of that. Like if we’re going to live a year abroad, would we say yes to this three-year board commitment? Would we say yes to this particular new job? Would we … You know, and we were just trying to navigate those things until we figured out what the interlocking pieces were, and then we also reached out to the network and said hey, we’re …. you know, the private network, not the big one, and said, hey, we’re thinking about doing this, do you know anybody else who’s ever done it? And we went and found ten people in the course of a couple of years that had done it, and people who had failed at it, by the way, come, two months later, gone home, just different, different scenarios, and that also told us, okay, what do we want to do in relationship to that? So we made a commitment to ourselves, no matter how hard it was, we were going to gut it out, and we’re really glad we did. That we had their stories to draw on, because the first year was ridiculously hard, regardless of what the social media presence looked like, and the word divorce came up way more often than it should have in our household, but we got through it, because we had learned from the network what we needed to do. So I think those are probably the two lessons is you know, ask for help, but then give yourself enough time horizon to kind of navigate change.
Tara: Wow, to circle back to where we kind of started the conversation, did you have like a one-page plan like you described before for this move?
Nilofer: Yeah, we had a, so in that case, we actually had like a big picture, sort of like move abroad, and then we said in year one, we have to figure out what geography. Year two, we had to, so we actually did. We had a high level like what we’d have to figure out, and then the final year was mostly about oh my God, like it was all the logistics of, and I think Tara, you just went through a move, so you probably know what it’s like to have to put all your things into storage or go through all your things, but that was the least fun part of it. The earlier part of that, we’re going to go for our scouting trip, we’re gonna, you know, so just a whole series of things like that. So we did, we match it up by a four-year plan, and then lived against that.
Tara: Nice. So what kind of opportunities has living abroad opened up for you or for your family?
Nilofer: Well, I mean, personally, so I’ll talk about the personal side for a second then I’ll go to professional. So I think personally what’s been amazing is my son is 100% fluent in French and partway through German and learning Spanish and learning Latin and I just, because that was our driver was we wanted our son to have this global sense of the world. So that’s just been profound to watch, and then of course, he gets to make fun of my French. He actually, at times, covers my mouth, because he’s like, “That accents just terrible,” and he’s 12 now, right, so he’s embarrassed by me a little, or he’ll help me figure out how to exactly say the specific thing I want to say. So personally, on that level, we’ve grown as family, and I’m really starting to think about professionally where I would take the world. I see Silicon Valley so much different. So going back to the professional side now, so much different from the angle in which I’m sitting at now. I kind of had this sense how much Silicon Valley had gotten the case of Affluenza, when almost everything they’re building is a photo sharing app or a food delivery service app. I think they’ve lost perspective on what real world problems are and what they could be putting their energy to. So with the rare exception of Google or Twitter, I think a lot of Silicon Valley has become, you know, they’ve just been struck by Affluenza. They’re rich and fat and happy. And I wouldn’t have necessarily seen that if I wasn’t here living so far away and seeing what interesting problems startups are starting to do here, and I think they’re much more socially conscious startups, and so I’m … it changes your perspective, and then I think … I think you’ll have to ask me, I don’t know, two or three years from now, what did this mean for our professional growth path, because I don’t think that that’s … I can see little mingling elements of things that might happen, but you know, it’s early, early days on that.
Tara: Yeah. Awesome. So one final question, what are you pursuing next?
Nilofer: I am pursuing this idea of Onlyness, because I believe it’s a way for people who have traditionally been powerless in society to have a form of power and a seat at the table. I believe that will create more economic opportunity for themselves and their communities and our society as a whole, so I’m very excited about that, and I feel like I’m learning a lot in that work. Related to that, I’m a fellow with the Prosperity Institute, which is a think tank based out of Toronto, which is worrying about societal equality, so that we have a society that works for all, not just the 1%, and they’re essentially helping me pursue the idea of Onlyness, so one of the things we’re going to be doing in the next year you’ll hear about is research to scope the impact of Onlyness in terms of business performance, but also in terms of economic impact as a larger economy, macro-economics kind of view.
Tara: Fantastic. I’m looking forward to that. Well, Nilofer Merchant, thank you so much for joining me.
Nilofer: Thank you.
Tara: Find out more about Nilofer Merchant at NiloferMerchant.com, and pick up her books, The New How and Eleven Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era on Amazon. That’s it for this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. You can download other episodes of this podcast and subscribe in the iTunes store. If you enjoy what you hear, we appreciate your reviews and recommendations, because they help us reach as many emerging entrepreneurs as possible. Our theme song was written by Daniel Peterson, who also edited this episode. Our audio engineer was Jaime Blake. This episode was produced by Elizabeth Madariaga. You can catch up on older episodes in the iTunes store, where new episodes are added every week, and you can learn by going to CreativeLive.com.
Art of Earning, Art of Growth, Interviews, Show Notes
With all the talk about how cheap it is to start a business today, it seems like that old adage “you have to spend money to make money” has gone the way of the fax machine. And, it’s true that you can put up a website and offer your product or service for next to nothing.
Yet, it’s also true that once you get started you realize the copious amount of ways you could be spending money: a designer, a virtual assistant, a trade show, an advertising account, a coach, etc… Even the little subscriptions add up fast.
I know many creative and idea-driven business owners who decry the expenses associated with running their businesses. But it seems successful business owners figure out how to not only become comfortable spending money to make money but become excited at the prospect of investing in themselves.
Running a Business With an Investment Mindset
Megan Auman, designer, educator, and metalsmith, is one of those successful creative business owners. I’ve always been impressed with Megan’s investment mindset and her ability to quickly make decisions about spending money (and even using debt) in order to further the goals of her business.
Megan has never been attracted to doing things the cheap way. She’d rather get results and get them fast by making investments in quality tools, materials, and opportunities.
When you listen to my interview with Megan Auman, take special note of all of the factors that go into making an investment decision. Spending money is fun—but it has to be smart, too.
Click here to listen on iTunes. Don’t forget to subscribe & leave us a review! Thanks!
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