Go MEANS Push!
What is driving you to reach your aspirations?
I’ve come to the understanding that there are broadly three pieces or parts to achieving, in a sustainable way, your greatest aspirations:
- Foundation — a basic understanding of who you are, what is important to you, and integration across the five “spokes” of life: Work, Relationships, Health, Spirituality and Self-Expression
- Direction — a framework for exploring and articulating the right goals, and getting started/gaining momentum
- Performance — managing mindset, activity, skills and network in a way that drives sustained high levels of performance and impact towards your aspiration
These three aspects are part of the Complete framework, which I outlined a couple of articles back. Foundation is covered in detail in The Good Life Book (2017), and is also incorporated into Complete as “The Wheel”. Direction includes the DREAMS framework I described in the last article. In this article I want to talk about the final piece of the puzzle i.e. Performance, and the MEANS tool.
You might think that by setting the right goals that your job is done, you simply have to work hard and you will achieve your dreams. This is not the case, I can say from personal experience. Even if you are doing what you love, you will find yourself at times unmotivated due to feeling tired, overwhelmed or due to setbacks and any number of other reasons, for example.
Even if you are on track to your goals, it is possible that you can go further and faster by applying some performance improvement. Getting there sooner is always a bonus, but perhaps more importantly it helps mitigate the risk that other external or unforeseen factors will arise before you reach your goal. The longer it takes you to go somewhere, the lower the chance you’ll ever get there. Quite simply there are situations where you just run out of runway.
Let me give you an example that is close to home. If you are trying to do a career change or launch a business then you have a burn rate of money, but also of time (and time = money anyway because of opportunity cost). If you have 6 or 12 months self-funding then the fact you might do something clever in 13 months or 23 months doesn’t matter since you’re “dead” after 12.
So many different types of aspirations have a kind of timebox or window associated with them. Of course anything is possible, and it’s never too late etc. etc. but we’re trying to be proactive here. How to set the right direction AND get there as quickly as possible (without going too quick!)
Another factor is that often the real win is what happens after you reach your initial aspiration. You achieve one dream, then your dreams get even bigger towards your potential. In my case, I’d love to direct a movie that I’d written. But it’s not about the one movie, it’s about several, about perfecting the craft. With a few exceptions it’s not just the first thing you do that resonates most, it’s often the third book, song, movie that hits the spot, for example.
You’ll want to have the tools, practices and routines in place not just so you can do one good thing once and before you die, but so that you make a streak of performance(s) over time. Living on an even higher, and deeper level.
Being a solopreneur, as I am, or any kind of leader intensifies the requirement for you to perform at high levels most of the time, if you’re down then things can grind to halt. On the other side, if you’re working with high performance then new opportunities become visible, and you have the requisite confidence to chase after them and to engage others to help you (all) get there!
In this article I want to give you a really really quick overview of what I call MEANS, a performance model for working at a higher level.
As a quite aside before we get into the model, the title of this article is a reference to Formula One. It’s where the race engineer tells the F1 driver (an elite athlete, and highly driven individual) over the radio to “Push! Push!” If even they need encouragement and a little help to go faster and win, then don’t we all?
Figure 1: MEANS
MEANS is an acronym for:
- Mindset — confidence, drive, mental focus, flow, 360 degree perspective, clarity, calm
- Experiences — managing, the “user experience” that you create for others, your own experience of life, and your personal experience stream
- Activity — task focus on value creation, working smart, allocating energy and time
- Network — interdependent group of collaborators, mentors, colleagues, contacts and so on
- Skills — the management of hard and soft skills that support capabilities required for you to win at your aspirations
The last article talked about DREAMS, the method for becoming clear on what you want and effectively planning and building momentum around your goals. Even with the best-laid plans there is a need to effectively manage execution, and that is where the six areas of MEANS come in.
Your eventual success will come down to how well you manage each of the six individually and overall.
To get your head into the zone we’re talking about you can insert the word “Managing” before the names of each area, since we’re talking about an ongoing process, rather than something you do once.
The final caveat here is that although I’ve identified these areas, and made some progress on each, I want to try to build out the “leading practices” and “critical practices” in each area over time. I want to see which area makes the most difference in different situations.
This will be through research, talking to experts, the podcast and an ongoing open-ending conversation with you, where you can share your tips and perspectives. Performance is a huge area, but one I feel can seem like a “black box”. I want to try to demystify performance in a simple and practical way.
With that in mind I want to give only the briefest thumbnail sketch of each area to get us started. Although brief, I hope this overview provides some valuable framing and food for thought.
How do you build a high performance mindset?
There is a quote often ascribed to Henry Ford that goes something like:
“Whether You Believe You Can Do a Thing or Not, You Are Right”
Mindset is critically linked to performance factors such as confidence, focus, motivation and drive, but also ultimately interrelated with things like beliefs and perception. At a further stretch we could talk about the creative mindset. We could talk about gratitude and peace of mind being important for finding happiness in life.
How do you get yourself in the mental and emotional state that leads to effective and efficient performance? What about mental resilience and robustness?
What about factors that support effective mindset such as diet and exercise?
These are all questions we’ll explore over the next months. For now, I recognize that managing mindset is a process, a habit, a routine. I personally want a performance mindset to have more confidence, and get more of the right things done in the right way, but I also want peace of mind, clarity and a feeling of connectedness too! Can you have it all?
Let’s find out.
Complete as a paradigm is ultimately about improving the quality of experience of your work and life, and “experiencing more”.
So, how do you develop an effective capability in managing experiences for yourself and others?
I see the management of experiences as being three-fold:
- Internal — Managing the factors that most greatly affect your experience of life (including your subjective perception, how you make meaning, your happiness and how you feel)
- External — Managing the experiences you create for others as you interact with them. This includes your personality, personal brand and personal engagement
- Experience Stream — Managing the activities, stories and content you consume, create or participate in
How you feel is defined by how you think about and perceive your experience of life. You are defined by how you make others feel. You learn and grow through experiences, including stories about others experiences.
While this area covers a lot of ground, and it’s kind of a new way of looking at things, I feel that work and life are an experience, the rewards of which lie in how we think and feel about our experience, and how we influence/support how others think and feel about us. Managing experiences therefore shouldn’t be left to chance.
Experiences also shape who we are, so quickly and so completely. For a long time I’ve seen the power of certain experiences to create memories, and this fact has been instrumental in what I’m trying to do with my business Total Life Complete.
I used to promote electronic music parties in Sydney “Freedom 2, with a guest DJ from the UK” in 1993, is one that people still talk about almost 30 years later! It’s not hard to think about electronic music / rock / hip-hop / <insert genre> shows, and music in general evoking emotions and creating memories. But what about the whole package when people gather?
What has been interesting for me to reflect on and analyze, looking from my side and the customer side, is what from the whole end-to-end package of engagement with the crowd (announcing the show, marketing, buildup, line-up, venue, production, surprises etc) drove the experience and memories the most? Why this show vs. the many others I did?
I taught a Consulting 101 type course for a while, and it was a week based around an immersive case study. Although in principle this was essentially teaching from a ring binder in a conference room, I found that performance was really key in making a memorable impact and embedding the learnings and lessons. By this I mean how I and other instructors interacted with the students and each other, the stories we told, and judgment about how to manage energy levels by mixing up different types of activities and so on.
In the last article I talked about an activity I run in my business for clients called “Walk and See” where we quickly teach you some photography skills then let you loose to shoot creatively in the streets and corridors around where we are based. In a sense it’s not really about the photographs per se, it’s about the shared experience and the thrill/confidence boost of learning and applying a new skill.
In fact, the common thread between the examples I just mentioned is that it is not only about the experience itself, it is about the downstream effects of having had the experience. Thus the focus is about not just entertainment, but experiences with a purpose.
In general what transforms an experience from mundane to magical? This not only a question for me as I plan content and events, but also for all of us as we try to create a life (and a work) containing more magical moments.
Thinking about quality of experience is also a solid yardstick to assess some of the junk that we fill our life with. What sort of experience of life do I get spending 2 hours on social media and news sites every day? It’s not only a waste of time, but puts a cloud over everything else I do!
In part, I’m rushing this series of articles out not just because I want it to prompt an ongoing conversation, and because I really want to stake out the landscape of personal and professional growth that I’ll be trying to help you with.
I’m rushing because I want to switch over to “experiential mode” and a different way of interacting in the future i.e. groups, videos and other content I’ll be sharing, including hopefully in VR before too long.
How to you manage your energy and time in the most effective way?
Aside from project managing your immediate goals, there is a need for a more strategic approach to how you apply your energy and time to the most important and valuable things.
When we talk about effectiveness, you need to understand what that really means and how it is measured for you. Generally it is about value created, or priority outcomes reached, it is about reaching or exceeding goals and performance measures.
Thus, to be more strategic I’m taking about asking questions such as:
- What’s the objective, what are we really trying to achieve here?
- Where’s the money?
- Who is the audience/customer? What do they really want, need, dream of?
- Is this the highest value use of my time and resources?
- How do we measure the effectiveness/performance of what we’re doing? How do I measure my effectiveness?
It is easy to get stuck into doing, and not take a heads up to look at the big picture. Are you on still on track? Is the destination even the same as it was? Is there a better way to get there that is now visible/possible? How can I go further and faster?
Activity also incorporates the idea from The Good Life Book (2017) that performance is a result of managing energy first, then managing time. You put your best energy towards your most important/highest value tasks at the right time. Instead of doing this, most of us approach our day like a round of the game Beat Saber. We wake up and just start hacking away at whatever is in front of us!
Activity therefore, is also about focus. It, and the other areas of MEANS, are necessarily about results and outcomes as well. It feels good to perform, and in addition you’ll want to set up other relevant performance metrics as well.
Perhaps you have established an aspiration and some goals using DREAMS and you want to ensure that you are hitting the milestones and targets and are on track with that. Perhaps your goal is increasing sales and revenue for your business, so you might track new customers, and other pipeline metrics, and measure what positive effects your work on MEANS is having there.
The point is that MEANS is literally intended in this context as “a means to an end”, how effectively you’re doing means has to be measured in terms of whatever the end is that you are seeking.
“I read for growth, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.” — Twyla Tharp
I don’t think that anyone would argue with the need for, and power of, personal networking?
At the same time, networking at times has taken on this kind of sleazy, fake and exploitative aura. We imagine wide-smiled, shiny-shoed salesmen with big handshakes and dollars in their eyes.
Yet the saying that “it’s who you know, not (just) what you know” still rings true. The best networking is win-win, or at least give and take. It is about relationships not transactions.
Your performance, and yourself (as the quote implies), will be a function of how well you manage your network (and the knowledge that you take on board).
For me, one of the biggest surprises from hosting a podcast was that it wasn’t just about content or the number of listens an episode got, but about building relationships with the people I’d interviewed. Interviewing can be a kind of personal and vulnerable experience, and by its nature is a shared experience. I’ve gone on to befriend my guests, and in several cases collaborated with them on other projects. That’s not why I went into it, but it has been a nice side effect. It’s a different way of thinking about networking.
One of my guests admitted that he almost exclusively meets new people through his work. And I’ve seen it is a beautiful thing when you can collaborate with someone on a project you both care about. Business can be a beautiful thing too, if you’re in it for the right reasons and doing it right! Many of my collaborators are business people, so it’s not the exception but expected to a degree that we’ll talk business and seek out mutual opportunities together. So it’s not about meeting a person so you can sell to them, it’s about thinking about where the biggest areas of shared opportunities exist, and prioritizing those.
In this way your network becomes a collaborative value-creating web of relationships, and a valuable asset. Valuable in terms of income, and valuable in terms of experiences, friendship and life.
How effectively do you use your existing network?
How do you strategically build your network?
How do you establish and maintain the relationships, the win-win/give-and-take situation, rather than being solely transactional?
Who is your network is/could play the role of coach, mentor or accountability group member? Who could you play those roles for?
“You double your intensity with skill.” — Twyla Tharp
It is a fallacy to believe that successful people are born fully formed and don’t ever learn or practice! Sure, they might have a particular set of talents and traits, but they also drill the basics, and have a hunger to learn whatever will help them to go faster and win!
In the past, formal education has been the path to certain types of jobs. Following that, the next stage is a Master’s or MBA to get into leadership, or a PhD if you’re going into research or academia. There is job specific learning and on the job learning. This is valid, but it’s not what I’m really talking about here.
At the other end of the spectrum is “lifelong learning”. Sure the learning part is important, perhaps to keep up with the latest developments in your field. But the “lifelong” part is perhaps more important. It is a state of mind, openness to new knowledge and experiences that has a positive effect beyond whatever facts you absorb.
As adults we learn most effectively when we have a concrete problem to be solved. In a sense, with Complete and DREAMS I’m challenging you to shoot higher, and thus creating new “problems” for you. The problem is that you need to work out how to get from Point A, where you are now, to Point B, your dream, aspiration, or goal. Making that journey/closing the gap almost inevitably involves the acquisition of new skills.
What the Skills area of MEANS is really about is getting good at, and being dynamic in, managing your skills.
Looking at where you need to go and understanding what skills you need to get there, and getting those skills, or repurposing existing skills. In some cases this will extend to finding skills in others in the market, rather than building your own, and that is a skill in itself!
When I talk about “dynamic” in skill management, I’m talking about being agile and willing to jump in to take on some micro learning, then apply it in a short amount of time, for example. Or to see a new challenge, then be able to use your initiative to identify what knowledge and skills are required to meet it. And to be able to do this again and again. As jobs, and industries and even economies continue to be disrupted, dynamic skills management becomes a necessity rather than a nice to have.
For me, there are a series of what I call “mega-skills” or “superpowers” and these including things such as creativity, problem solving, decision making, consulting, project management, storytelling/communication and so on. These skills have broad application across almost everything that you might do or attempt. They can also be seen as means to an end, since in this context you are building the skill to help you to do something else. For example, you are learning basic project management skill because you want to have more success in building your business, finishing a book, or finishing the preparation for that ironman event next year.
From this list, creativity is one that I’ve chosen to prioritize working on with leaders. It is like the Swiss army knife of skills. Everyone is creative to some degree, but growing and hardening your skills means that you are prepared and confident in using your skills when the need arises.
I hope that this brief article has provided some food for thought and a framework for assessing and improving performance.
At the end of the day, performance is about results or outcomes. MEANS is literally a means to an end, so while you can and should assess your maturity and performance in each of the five areas, you critically need to ensure that everything that you’re doing is leading to better results/outcomes in the overall goal you are reaching for, and getting the faster, cheaper and so on.
A concrete action you could take now would be to assess MEANS for yourself from three perspectives. Firstly give yourself a ranking from 1 to 5 based on how well you manage each of the five areas of MEANS, such that each area has a score (not a ranking) where1 is poor/a weakness and 5 is differentiating/a strong strength.
Next, repeat the scoring exercise but measure the impact each area is having on overall outcomes from 1–5 in each area.
Lastly, think about a developmental perspective, prioritize the areas of MEANS in order of where you should invest next. For your top priority area identify two concrete actions you believe you could take to improve this areas, that would have the biggest impact on performance in reaching your goals!
As I said earlier I’m interested over the next months building a clearer understanding on what the leading practices and tips and tricks are for each of the five areas of MEANS. I’m also interested in which of the five areas is most important in driving overall results. I think it is Mindset, but let’s see, or perhaps this depends on the nature of the aspiration or goal that you are reaching for at the time?
Let’s get the conversation going in the comments below, and in the Complete LinkedIn group.
Have I missed something? What is your biggest performance tip?