Don’t Let a Steep Learning Curve Become a Cliff

A learning curve is a graphical representation of the increase of learning (vertical axis) with experience (horizontal axis).


When we encounter a “steep learning curve” we face an uphill struggle to learn new ideas, practices, systems, etc. The goal is survival and ultimately, to be at a better place at some point in the future.

You know – the best in the world.

Anyone who is going to hire you, buy from you, recommend you, vote for you, or do what you want them to do is going to wonder if you’re the best choice. –Seth Godin

If you’re not going to put in the best effort, why bother?

Your learning curve should always be up and to the right – if it’s not, you’ve come to the edge of a cliff…


…now what?


Why Be Ordinary?

The first step to becoming extraordinary is simply to stop being ordinary.

Here are five suggestions to help you:

  • Avidly collect firsthand experiences– Sherlock Holmes’ greatest claim to fame was his power of observation. Make the effort to observe and understand the nuances of what is going on in your organization. Just one among many leaders? You are still the only “you”, and you know your experiences better than anyone else. Get out from behind your desk, and know what’s happening out there. First-hand observations are critically important-make it a part of your regular routine to gather them.
  • Have a “beginner’s mind” – set aside what you know and be open to looking at things with a fresh perspective. You have extensive education and experience, you may understand tradition, you probably have preconceived notions about things. Don’t forget the importance of starting with a blank page when confronted with new opportunity.
  • Keep an “idea wallet” so you don’t lose momentary insights– anthropologists carry a notebook and camera to record their discoveries. Try recording ideas in real-time – make use of current technologies like your mobile phone with camera, or do it the old-fashioned way with a journal or index card. When you see or hear something interesting, record it for later development and exploration with your team.
  • Become a proactive “idea-broker” and practice continuous cross-pollination– Develop solid, trusted relationships across departments and lines in your organization so that you can understand and apply the lessons you learn in one context to another. Combine learning and collaboration so that you become a conduit for fresh ideas for your team.
  • Embrace the power of storytelling – telling a story has an emotional appeal that transcends the raw data we often collect. Listen to your team. Encourage them to listen to those they come into contact with. Let the stories that come out of those conversations become the vehicles for communicating your message. It will be powerful, memorable, and uniquely yours.

Stop being ordinary TODAY. Reject routine and set yourself and your team on a course to becoming extraordinary.

The world will notice.

inspired by and adapted from The Big Moo, edited by Seth Godin

The Big Moo

Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and being Ridiculously in Charge

In the end, as a leader, you are always going to get a combination of two things: what you create and what you allow.  – Henry Cloud

According to clinical psychologist and leadership consultant Henry Cloud, boundaries are made up of two essential things: what you create and what you allow.

A boundary is a property line. Boundaries for LeadersIt defines where your property line begins and ends. If you think about your home, on your property, you can define what is going to happen there and what is not.

As the leader of an organization – a small group, a team, a department, maybe even the whole organization – you are responsible for the boundaries of that organization:

  • The people you invite in
  • What the goals and purposes are going to be
  • What behavior is going to be allowed – and what isn’t
  • The culture
  • The agenda
  • The rules

The leaders’ boundaries define and shape what is going to be and what isn’t.

In Boundaries for Leaders, Dr. Cloud leverages his expertise of human behavior, neuroscience, and business leadership to explain how the best leaders set boundaries within their organizations–with their teams and with themselves–to improve performance and increase employee and customer satisfaction.

In a voice that is motivating and inspiring, Dr. Cloud offers practical advice on how to manage teams, coach direct reports, and instill an organization with strong values and culture.

Boundaries for Leaders contains seven leadership boundaries that set the stage, tone, and culture for a results-driven organization, including how to:

  • Help people focus their attention on the things that matter most
  • Build the emotional climate that drives brain functioning
  • Facilitate connections that boost energy and momentum
  • Create organizational thought patterns that limit negativity and helplessness
  • Identify paths for people to take control of the activities that drive results
  • Create high-performance teams organize around the behaviors that drive results
  • Lead yourself in a manner that protects the vision

Boundaries for Leaders is essential reading for executives and aspiring leaders who want to create successful companies with satisfied employees and customers, while becoming more resilient leaders themselves.


part of the BookNotes Series – brief excerpts from books I am currently reading

How Are You Celebrating “Evaluate Your Life Day?”

I haven’t been to the Hallmark store to see if there’s a card for it, but today is apparently “Evaluate Your Life” day. Being reminded to reflect on your life – where it is, where you want it to go – can be a valuable exercise. In the spirit of that thought, here’s a repost from an earlier series called “Brand You.”

Very Old New Job Security

Tom Peters was one of the early leaders of the “Brand You” movement. First writing about it in Fast Company magazine, he soon expanded into a series of books. Writing in “The Brand You 50”, Peters has the following comments about job security:

Job security – as we have known it – is vanishing.

So…what now?

My answer: Return to Job Security. Actually, it’s Very Old New Job Security.

It’s what job security was all about before – long before – Big Corporations. Before Social Security. And unemployment insurance. Before there was a big so-called safety net that had the unintended consequence of sucking the initiative, drive, and moxie out of millions of white-collar workers.

I’m talking about job security in the Colonies and in the first century after our country was founded. Which was:

  • Craft
  • Distinction
  • Networking skills

Craft = marketable skill… Determination = Memorable. Networking Skills = Word of Mouth Collegial Support.

It’s about being so good and meticulous and responsible, about what you do (and making sure that what you do is work that needs to be done) that the world taps a speed path to your laptop (or mobile phone – or iPad).

My modern-language term for this ancient, self-reliant, networked, word-of-mouth-dependent, distinguished craftsperson: Brand You.

What are you doing to create “Brand You?”


Other Brand You posts you might be interested in:


2 Questions for Your Consideration

Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company magazine and author of the book “Rules of Thumb“, thinks every leader needs to keep 2 lists:

  • What gets you up in the morning?
  • What keeps you up at night?

There is a lot for leaders to think about in those two sentences. Here is a summary of  Webber’s challenges:

Some people just have jobs. Others have something they really work at.

Some people are just occupied. Others have something that preoccupies them.

It makes all the difference in the world.

Consider this: you spend at least eight hours a day working, five days a week. A minimum of forty hours a week for at least forty-eight to fifty weeks a year. That’s a minimum of 1,920 hours a year. For how many years? You do the math.

What gets you up in the morning?

The level of energy put out by an organization’s people is one of the things that you are aware of as soon as you enter their space. There’s a buzz in the air (sometimes literally) created by people who are working  hard and working together. They want to be there – they came in ready to go.

What keeps you up at night?

This is a chance to be honest with yourself. Many times leaders rarely get a chance to reflect on the things that really matter to the organization’s goals. Most of the time, day-to-day urgent concerns crowd out broader issues that are the really important ones. The things that often keep leaders up are the things that never seem to find the time or place for serious engagement in the course of an ordinary workday.

We all want to do work that excites us. We want to care about things that concern us. So, about that list…

Take out a stack of three-by-five cards. Use one to write down the answer to the question “What gets you up in the morning?” Keep it to one sentence. If you don’t like your answer, throw away the card and start over – it’s only a card. Keep doing it until you’ve got an answer you can live with.

Now repeat the exercise for the question “What keeps you up at night?” Work at it until you’ve got an honest answer.

Now read your answers out loud to yourself. If you like them – if they give you a sense of purpose and direction – congratulations! Use them as a compass, checking from time to time to see if they’re still true.

If you don’t like one or both of your answers, you have a new question to consider: What are you going to do about it?

Whatever your answers are, you’re spending almost two thousand hours a year of your life doing it.

That makes it worthwhile to come up with answers you can not only live with but also live for.

What’s Your Stock?


…the foundation for all classical French cooking.

At the CIA (that’s Culinary Institute of America), you start off your three-year education by learning how to peel vegetables and prepare a basic stock. You don’t do it once – you do it every day during the three-week rotation of the first class. Students move on after the first three weeks, but will continue to use the stock prepared by the next class of new students. Every three weeks, a new rotation of prospective chefs learn how to prepare stock.

A great stock is judged by:

  • Flavor
  • Clarity
  • Color
  • Body
  • Aroma

The perfect stock has what is referred to as a “neutral” flavor. This is a kind way of saying it doesn’t taste like anything you’re used to eating or would want to eat. But you can do a million different things with a great stock because it has the remarkable quality of taking on other flavors without imposing a flavor of its own. It offers its own richness and body anonymously. When you reduce it, it becomes its own sauce starter. You can add roux to stock and create a demi-glace, and with a demi-glace, you can make over a hundred distinct sauces that define classic French cooking.

What’s your stock?

Personally. Organizationally. However you want to define it.

What’s that basic “thing” you are, have, or do that makes everything else come together to make things happen?

Learn to make a basic stock, and the possibilities become endless.

Expanding Your Capacity

Earlier this summer, I reintroduced some thoughts on “capacity.” You can read them here.

Last night in our community group, the concept of capacity came up in our discussion of the current series our church is in. Entitled “The Prodigy in Me,” it’s all about discovering the invaluable gifts God has placed in each of us.

Picking up where the earlier post left off, our group realized last night that being emptied by serving and therefore being able to be filled again was only part of the understanding.

God wants us to have MORE capacity over time.

 If we are growing as disciples, our capacity to be filled AND to serve others should be growing as well.

How’s your capacity?

Developing Your Creative Rhythm

A lot of leader conversations I’m having these days center around the concepts of innovation, creativity, and ideation. The past two days’ posts here and here dealt with the concepts found in the book “The Idea Hunter.” Continuing in the same vein but with a little different focus is the book “The Accidental Creative” by Todd Henry.

The author’s quote from the book flap sets the stage perfectly:

“You go to work each day tasked with (1) inventing brilliant solutions that (2) meet specific objectives by (3) defined deadlines. If you do this successfully, you get to keep your job. If you don’t, you get to work on your resume. The moment you exchange your creative efforts for money, you enter a world where you will have to be brilliant at a moment’s notice. (No pressure, right?)”

To attempt to be perpetually brilliant and increasingly productive, without changing the basic habits and structure of your life to accommodate that undertaking, is a futile effort.

Henry develops the following elements as a structure to guide your creative potential, providing you with the stability and clarity to engage your problems head-on.

Focus – in order to create effectively, you need a clear and concrete focus

Relationships – if you want to thrive, you need to systematically engage with other people, in part to be reminded that life is bigger than your immediate problems

Energy – to make the most of your day, you need to establish practices around energy management

Stimuli – if you want to regularly generate brilliant ideas, you must be purposeful about the kinds of stimuli you are putting in your head

Hours – you need to make sure that the practices that truly make you a more effective creator are making it onto your calendar

Practices in each of these five F-R-E-S-H areas provide the foundation for a life that is prolific, brilliant, and healthy.

Wait a minute – you’ve got a problem with the “creative” label? Call yourself anything you want, but if you’re responsible for solving problems, developing strategies, or otherwise straining your brain for new ideas, you are a creative – even if you end up being one accidentally.

– Todd Henry, “The Accidental Creative”

Brilliance Not Required

Idea work is a vital asset for leaders today. It is highly learnable, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a creative genius because most high-value ideas are not created. More often than not, they are already out there, waiting to be spotted and then shaped into an innovation.

It’s time to become an Idea Hunter.

High-value ideas come to those people who are in the habit of looking for such ideas – all around them, all the time. It’s a search for ideas that’s open-ended, ongoing, and always personal – dialed into who you are, what projects you are pursuing, and where you’re going in your career and life.

Brilliance is optional. Idea Hunters are not, as a rule, geniuses. They are just idea-active. They have a voracious appetite for acquiring ideas, and they are skilled at setting those ideas into motion.

Ready to go hunting?


What’s Your SHAPE?

I am not referring to body shape here – but actually, I am.

an occasional post in the “Brand You” series…

Popularized by Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Community Church in the 1990s, SHAPE is often depicted as an acronym of the following:

  • S – Spiritual gifts: a set of special abilities that God has given you to share His love and to serve others
  • H – Heart: the special passions God has given you so that you can glorify Him on earth
  • A – Ability: the set of talents that God gave you when you were born, which He also want s you to use to make an impact for Him
  • P – Personality: the special way God wired you to navigate life and fulfill your unique Kingdom purpose
  • E – Experience: those parts of your past, both positive and painful, which God intends to use in great ways

Churches who used assessments, interviews, and other discovery techniques wanted members to understand themselves – and what God was calling them to do in service to Him. Starting out as primarily document or paper-based, the process quickly migrated to the digital world. Countless churches now use some variant of the SHAPE acronym to help people focus in on their own irreplaceable, richly detailed personal design.

When trying to determine your “Brand You,” understanding your SHAPE would be a great place to start.

The Body of Christ – the church – is made up of many members, like you. Understanding your SHAPE will help the Body be in better “shape.”

Do you know your SHAPE?

Would you like to know more about SHAPE?