An Experiment In Editing – 4: To Sell Is Human

The following is the fourth in a series of posts inspired by Jason Fried’s post on Signal V. Noise about a writing class he would like to teach. In the hypothetical class, he aimed to show that editing and compressing is truly valuable. That’s why the posts get shorter, not just varying in length, he aims to go from the fully explored idea to just the main point of the text. I am going to attempt to do this with several of my posts, as an experiment to see if it helps with my writing skills.

To see the original post, please click here.

One-Line Version

Selling is important, selling solves problems, selling can make lives better.

One-Paragraph Version

Every job involves persuading people, a good solution to a problem, needs people to believe in it, for it to be implemented. You need to understand people, keep going when things get tough and understand the problem you want to solve. To move people, you need you pitch your offer, be able to adapt to changing situations and you need to work for the customer. Not just yourself.

Three-Paragraph Version

Why Sales?

Every job today has an element of “non-sales selling” (persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve them making a purchase). These skills are critical in all jobs, so we are all sales people. In a world where everyone has access to the same information, moving people can be a way to help people solve a problem, not screw them over.

The ABCs of Selling

Attunement – Understanding your customer, so you can figure out the best solution for them, as an individual.

Buoyancy – Being able to keep going despite all the rejection you will face trying to move people.

Clarity – Understanding the situation as clearly as possible, so you can solve problems your customers didn’t know they had or didn’t know could be solved.

Skills You Need, To Be Good At Moving People

Pitch – Your customers can’t buy your offer if they don’t know it exists. If you never put the information into the world, it doesn’t exist. An effective pitch is crucial to moving people.

Improvise – Plans fail, situations change. You need to be able to think on your feet and adapt to the situation as required.

Serve – A good salesperson ultimately serves their customer. You can improve your service by making it personal (find a way to improve your customer’s situation). Or by making it purposeful (find a way to improve the world, even just a little bit).

One-Page Version

This book is about how Sales not only deserves a re-branding from being all about pushy con-artists, but that Sales is actually a necessary skill for workers everywhere today.  

We All Work in Sales

A Survey of western workers, found that 1 in 9 people work in traditional sales, but that the other 8 in 9 spend 40% of their time in “non-sales selling” (persuading, influencing and convincing people in such a way that doesn’t involve them making a purchase).  Pink refers to this as “moving people”

How We All came to be in Sales

One of the skills that seems to be universally useful, is the skill to move people. Teachers move their students when they get them to study hard and learn for their futures. Nurses move people when they work on building a treatment plan with their patients to create a plan that works and they will stick to outside of the hospital setting.

Does Sales Deserve Its Bad Reputation?

The success of a sales technique is determined by the amount of information on both sides of the transaction. If the seller has more information, he has more power, so he can use tricks and be pushy to get more sales. Today, every person has access to the same information as everyone else, this means the seller and buyer are equally powerful, so lies and tricks won’t work. So today, the best salespeople actually work to find the best solutions for their customers, not just to get the best deals for themselves.

Attunement

Attunement, is all about understanding your customer. The better you understand the person and their needs, the better chance you have of being able to help them with their problems and therefore the better chance you have of making the sale.

Buoyancy

Salespeople face a lot of rejection. No matter how persuasive you are, you can’t persuade everyone. If you give up at the first failure, you will never sell anything. Being able to bounce back and carry on is key to surviving in sales.

Clarity

Clarity allows you and your customer to see the situation clearly and understand it. You can offer a solution to a problem your customer may not have known even existed or that they did not have know could be solved.

Pitch

The pitch is how your customer learns about your offering. If you never make the offer, no one ever finds out about it and therefore never buys it. The stronger the pitch, the more likely you will move people.

Improvise

Selling on a formula doesn’t work in a world where information is so readily available. Being able to react and adapt to situations is a key skills in moving people.

Serve

As a salesperson, you have the opportunity to improve the lives of others, your offer solves a problem. There are two ways to serve. Make it personal, find a way your offer benefits the person. Make it purposeful, find a way your offer makes the world a better place.

A Summary Of To “Sell Is Human – Daniel H. Pink”



When you think of a salesperson, what comes to mind? List the first three words you would use to describe a salesperson, are any of them positive? The main idea Dan Pink is trying to promote in this book, is that sales does not only not deserve its bad reputation (anymore) but is actually an incredibly useful skill that all of us can learn to become more successful.

We Are All Salespeople

Pink quotes a survey that says most workers in the west actually spend as much as 40% of their time in what he calls “non-sales selling”: persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve them making a purchase. The same survey also found that many businesses and successful people consider these soft skills to be essential to their success and provide much greater returns than the effort they put in.

The survey found that 1 in 9 people are in traditional sales, but the other 8 in 9 spend so much time to non-sales selling or “moving people” as Pink says, that we are all in sales too.

How We All Became Salespeople

What is your job title? How much do you do that specific thing? For example, if you are a software developer, how much time do you spend just coding? If you’re an engineer how much time do you spend just building things? If you’re an accountant, how much time do you spend just doing financial calculations? If you answered above 80% I am willing to bet you work in a large company and be in a highly specialised role.

Larger companies tend to have enough people that they can hire people who each have a narrow specialism, so if Janet the developer can’t manage projects for her clients, that’s fine, Emma the project manager can do that instead. In smaller companies though, each worker tends to be less specialised “designers analyse. Analysts design, marketers create. creators market.” (I changed the spelling of analyse to match UK English). Pink calls the ability to adapt to different roles like this, elasticity. He argues that the job market changes so quickly and so often nowadays that elasticity is becoming a critical skill for people who want career longevity.

Ed-Med

What’s Ed-Med? I hear you cry? It’s not a weird spin-off of Ed, Edd and Eddy (90s Cartoon Network anyone?). It refers to Education and Medicine, the two fastest growing industries at the time “To Sell Is Human” came out (2012).

Moving people is a skill that can make a huge difference in any industry, but how could a teacher use sales? They don’t have any products to push, they do have students they need to encourage, though. They need to persuade children to learn now, to improve their prospects in the future. Teachers need to agitate their students.

Agitating students sounds like a bad idea. Why would you purposefully be annoying? Let me explain:

In moving people there’s irritation and there’s agitation.

Irritation – Getting people to do what you want them to do.

Agitation – Getting people to do what they want to do.

So agitation is actually giving people the push or the nudge in the right direction to do what is best for themselves.

There is a good example in the book. Pink meets a nurse, whose patients stick to their treatment plans at a rate significantly higher than the national average. When he interviews her, she tells him that she works out the treatment plan with her patients, by allowing them to be a part of the process. Rather than just telling them what she believes to be right, she gets their buy in, so they feel more compelled to keep up the treatments once they are at home and no longer being watched. Patients want to get better and because this nurse has asked for their opinion and their help to figure out the best plan, the patients feel listened to.

Does Sales Deserve Its Bad Reputation?

Earlier, I asked you what your first thoughts were when you think of a salesperson. Pink created a word cloud of the results he got when asking people the same question, the most common word…Pushy. Difficult, yuck and sleazy also featured heavily among the list. Only 5 of the 25 listed words were positive, including “necessary”, “challenging” and “fun”. Positive words were mentioned much less often than negative words, in general for this survey.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Pink explains how this may have been true in the past because traditionally the salesperson had more information than the buyer. Now that everyone has access to the same information the balance of power has been shifted to be more… balanced. In a world where the buyer and seller have the same information, dishonesty isn’t going to provide any benefit, the buyer will see through it. Instead a salesperson who wants to find the best results for their customer and does everything they can to get their customer the best solution will be most successful, like the nurse earlier. So the most successful sales people today actually work for their customers, not against them.

A New Kind of Sales

Famously, the ABCs of selling in Glengarry Glen Ross were “Always Be Closing”. This high pressure strategy may have worked well when sales was one-sided, the salesperson had all the power and all the knowledge. Now, Pink says the ABCs of selling are :

Attunement

Buoyancy

Clarity

I’ll explain what each of these terms mean and share my favourite tips from the book.

Attunement – Understand Thy Customer

Attunement is the ability to take the perspective of others. It’s about empathising with the person you wish to move, so that you can understand their needs better and then find the best solutions for them. It is not just about getting some money off them and having no idea if you have helped them at all or worse, knowing you screwed them over.

There are 3 main principles of Attunement:

1) Increase Your Power By Reducing It

When was the last time you felt more powerful than the person sitting across from you? Did you know something, that they didn’t? Did you care more about the outcome for yourself or the other person?

Now imagine a situation where you are the one with less power, such as interviewing for a new job that you really want. You are probably much more conscious of what the other person is thinking, how they may react to your body language, the things you say and what you do. You’re trying to take their perspective. Become more attuned to them.

When we are in a position of lower power than the person we are talking to, it becomes easier to shift our mindset to assume the other person’s perspective and this makes it easier to move that person. So if you are the one with more power, but you want to better understand the other person, try reducing your power. Give them more knowledge or ask them about a topic they are already more knowledgeable than you, so they can feel more powerful. Having a better understanding of the other person gives you more power to move them.

2) Use Your Head as Much as Your Heart

Perspective taking involves thinking (head) and empathy involves feeling (heart). Using a healthy dose of both is much more effective than using one and not the other.

If you can successfully take someone else’s perspective, you have the best chance of ensuring the best outcome for both parties. You can figure out a solution that solves their problem, without giving away too many of your own resources, so both sides leave the table happy.

You also need to understand who has the most influence in a situation. I could spend all day every day proving to someone at the same level as me at my company that I am the greatest employee ever. But, someone at my level doesn’t decide my pay or whether or not I get a promotion, my boss does, if I use my head, I can figure out who best to impress.

3) Mimic Strategically

People tend to like people who they view as being similar to themselves. This goes back to ancient times, when we humans would stick together in small tribes and survival meant everything. If someone was from your tribe, they were likely similar to you and familiar. Someone unfamiliar could be from another tribe, a dangerous tribe. So today we still associate similarity to ourselves as being more trustworthy due to an outdated survival instinct.

That’s where mimicry comes in. You can copy the body language of people you wish to move and even use phrases they use to make yourself seem more like them and therefore more trustworthy. But, if you get caught copying them, you will irritate them and end up alienating that person, rather than convincing them you’re worthy of their trust.

Buoyancy – Just Keep Floating, Just Keep Floating

Sales people get rejected. A lot! Think how many sales calls you reject before even hearing what they have to say. I’m not judging, we get cold calls where I work all the time and I can’t stand it. It just wastes my time and theirs. However, I imagine it’s probably even worse being the cold caller and just getting person after person hanging up on you not wishing to speak to you or even being plain rude and hanging up (I don’t do this, unless dear reader, you are a cold caller, in which case I definitely do this, so don’t cold call me…)

Interrogate Yourself!

Me: Hey You!
Also Me: Who? Me?
Me: Yeah, You! Are you able to finish this blog post?!
Also Me: Yeah, I guess so. I mean I’ve finished blog posts before, so I should be able to do it again.
Me: Good, well done. Keep going.

You just witnessed a conversation between two very charming gentleman. The first character seemed a little aggressive at first and the second, a little timid for my liking. But, look closer, the first character, was actually convincing the second character to convince himself that he was capable of finishing this blog post. Why didn’t the first character just tell the second guy that he was capable? I’ll explain why.

Should You Really Question Yourself?

When you hear a statement, you don’t tend to process it very deeply. You just absorb the information passively. When saying something nice to yourself, you do get a small emotional boost because you have been positive to yourself, but this boost fades fast. For a longer, more effective self-boost, trying questioning yourself. There are 2 reason this works:

1 – When you hear a question, you are being engaged, so you respond to the question, even if it’s in your heads. As a result, you process the information more deeply. Asking yourself if you would succeed, actually prompts you to remember times you have succeeded before. Remember the conversation from earlier? This was me persuading myself I could do finish this blog post, so I felt compelled to carry on. You are reading the result now.

2 – When you ask yourself why you want to do something, you are more likely to think of ways to motivate yourself from within. Take the conversation I had with myself, it will feel good to complete this blog post, so I want to do it. Motivating yourself with inner feelings of goodness is much more effective than with outside rewards (material goods) like gummy bears or a new car or whatever things you like.

3-to-1 On All Positivity!

Moving people can feel like an “endless sea of rejection”, so you may turn to some positivity to make you feel better. Maybe, listing all your good points will help raise your spirits. Actually, no it won’t.

Studies have found that the ideal ratio of positive to negative comments, for keeping your spirits up, is 3 positive comments to every 1 negative comment. The 3-to-1 ratio of positivity to negativity, is best for your wellbeing and for staying resilient. Strangely, studies also found that if you surpass a ratio of 11-to-1 you actually do more harm than good, so be nice to yourself, just not too nice.

Nothing Lasts Forever, Not Even Rejection

I’m not going to pretend that failing at something isn’t a horrible feeling. But, it is a temporary one. If you can learn to see your failures as “temporary rather than permanent, specific rather than universal and external rather than personal” you can become much more resilient. You will can keep going longer and achieve more int he long run, than people who give up. No one wins every time, but it’s the people who get back up and try again that become truly successful. It’s not about blind optimism either, it’s about being to bounce back when you take a hit, its about staying buoyant.

Clarity – I Can Sell Clearly Now The Rain Has Gone

Clarity is being able to help others see their situation objectively and identify problems they weren’t aware they had or weren’t aware could be solved.

Framing It Right

Contrast is key to moving people. If I offered you 10 coins of an unknown currency in exchange for your phone you wouldn’t know if that was a fair deal. But if I offered you 10 pounds for your phone, you would know that’s a bad deal for you because you understand the difference in the value between 10 pounds and your phone. Changing the frame of reference for the person you are trying to move can help you to move them.

The Less Frame

I don’t know about you, but I get choice paralysis for the most minor of things. I will be at a vending machine struggling to decide which sweet is worth my 50p. There are just so many to choose from, what if the skittles aren’t as good as the wine gums?! Instead, if you offer someone fewer choices, they are actually more likely to make a decision and therefore a purchase. It’s easier to choose between two products than forty. So reduce the number choices your customer needs to make to make their decision easier.

The Experience Frame

Think back to the greatest holiday of your life, now think back to the greatest item of clothing you have ever bought, which evokes stronger feelings of joy? Most people get stronger, longer-lasting happiness from experiences than material goods.

You can frame you offer by the experience the customer will get from it, rather than the quality of the product itself. That’s all well and good for people trying to sell holidays, but what to do if you’re selling material goods? Find the experience. Kodak don’t sell cameras, they sell memories. When Apple came out with the iPod, they didn’t sell music players, they sold “1,000 songs in your pocket”.

The Potential Frame

Not all non-sales selling is about you giving to a customer, you may be convincing someone to give to you. Like getting an interviewer to give you a job. When you go to a job interview, if you focus on how much you can grow as much as you focus on your past experience, you actually paint a better picture of yourself. Talk about your potential to grow with in the role as well as your past experience in order to seem like a better candidate for the job.

Pitch, Please!

If you never make your offer, how will anyone get it? Making an offer, is called a “Pitch”. Below are some tips on crafting effective pitches.

The Subject-Line Pitch

When you’re at work, you are busy, you can’t reply to every email. You have things to do and you only want to use your attention on the most useful information brought to you. If this is true for you, it’s going to be true for the people you’re emailing, too. How then, do you get their attention?

Busy people answer useful sounding emails. If you can’t solve a problem at work, the person who solves that problem for you is going to feature pretty heavily in your good books. So, next time you need your boss to reply to your email, try to phrase the headline in a way that sounds most useful to them. Do they need to someone to cover this weekend and you want that overtime pay? Put “I can work this weekend” as your subject-line. Subject-lines are the email equivalents of headlines, they’re all you’ve got to grab the reader’s attention, make them count.

The Specific Ocean

Specificity is key in getting people’s attention. If you read the headline “How To Write Better Pitches”, that could be any number of tips, to anyone for any situation. Therefore, you don’t know if it will directly apply to you, so you don’t care that much. Instead the headline “5 Ways To Pitch Your Promotion To Your Boss, Today”, you now know there are 5 tips, for employees who want a raise and want it today. If those details apply to you, you’re much more likely to read the second post than the first one. When you try to get everyone, you get no one. Better to grab the attention of people who can benefit from your offer.

The One-Word Pitch

The world moves fast, attention moves faster. I don’t have long to draw you in. I need to get my message across, fast. Imagine I could get you to think of my brand every time you hear just one word. Seems impossible right? Lets try it with some other brands.

Search.

Priceless.

Did you think of Google, then Mastercard? If you can get to people in one word, then you have their attention in the shortest time possible. So figure out a way to associate one word with your brand and your brand with one word, to people’s attention instantly.

Tom Cruise And The Dalai Lama Are At A Starbucks…

THE classic improv scene. It turns out, improvisation is incredibly useful in moving people. You can’t prepare for every possible outcome, so being able to think on your feet becomes useful. There are 3 rules of improvisation that make it work.

1) Hear Offers

To really be able to move people, you should be able to really listen to them. Sales isn’t about being able to talk anyone into doing anything you want them to do. It’s about understanding their needs, so you know how you can help them. You have the best chance of understanding if you learn to listen well, with no agenda.

Even phrases that seem like objections can be offers if you learn to listen for them. “I couldn’t possibly pay £100” is the same as saying, I will pay, if you lower the offer. “I can’t make Wednesday”, what about Tuesday? It gets easy to hear offers, once you start listening.

2) Say “yes, and”

You’re trying to get your friends to all go on holiday. Tabitha keeps coming up with excuses. Tabitha is bad at improvisation and doesn’t help solve the problem. Here are Tabitha’s Yes, buts

“Yes, but we can’t afford it”
“Yes, but we can’t make the time”
“Yes, but we will never find a room for all of us”
“Yes, but” just leads to a never ending cycle of excuses where you never make progress.

Instead, try “yes, and”. This leads to positivity and progress towards solving the problem.

“Yes, it is expensive, and we can book ahead to make it cheaper”
“Yes, it’s a lot of time, and if we plan ahead, we can make it work”
“Yes, there are a lot of us, and there is a hotel with enough rooms for all us on this website here…”

Much better to say “yes, and”, right?

3) Make Your Partner Look Good

Negotiation isn’t a zero-sum game. If the other side wins, that doesn’t mean you lose, this isn’t football. In negotiations there can be win-win situations. You can find the best solution for your customer and get a rewards for your offer. Just like in improv scenes, where if you and your partner have a good scene, you both look good, win-win.

If you make your customer look good, they are more likely to feel good and depending on the industry they will become a repeat customer or be more likely to spread good word of mouth about you, so you get more customers, win-win. See the pattern?

Salesman, At Your Service

As a salesperson, you have the opportunity to improve the lives of others. You can solve problems and create joy. The two rules of service are:

  1. Make it personal
  2. Make it purposeful

Make It Personal

A study found that when radiologists were given scans to look at with photos of their patients attached, so they were looking at the person they were helping at the same time as seeing an abstract scan that could be doesn’t evoke any feeling, they were 80% more likely to spot issues not related to the original reason for their hospital visit. This means they were 80% more likely find a cyst when looking at a broken arm, that they wouldn’t have spotted otherwise, and end up saving a life or sparing someone some pain.

To personalise yourself to your customers you could add a picture of yourself to your website, you could write a bio about your story. Now you’re no longer just some faceless business, you’re a human, trying to help. Are you more likely to buy a pie from PieMart inc. or from aunt Deirdre who’s passion for baking pies lead her to quit her job, start up a bakery and make each and every pie with the same love and devotion she gives to the pies she bakes for her nieces and nephews.

Make It Purposeful

In a call centre where the staff were cold calling people to try and raise money for scholarships and other funds for university students, some employees were offered the opportunity to meet some of the scholarship students their calls had brought in donations for. When they heard about how the money they brought in had made university affordable for these students and allowed them to get an education they other wise couldn’t afford, the callers realised why they were doing their job. This resulted in a dramatic increase of donations made as the callers were dialling more and feeling more impassioned in their pitches, now they knew what a difference their job made.

Think about how you will improve the life your customers and you will feel much better than thinking about how much money you will make from the transaction. You will find it more motivating and more fulfilling than trying to make some money.

If you have a recommendation for my next read or have comments about this book summary, please let me know in the comments below.

An Experiment in Editing – 3: The Best Way To Avoid Burnout, Without Slowing Down

The following is the third in a series of posts inspired by Jason Fried’s post on Signal V. Noise about a writing class he would like to teach. In the hypothetical class, he aimed to show that editing and compressing is truly valuable. That’s why the posts get shorter, not just varying in length, he aims to go from the fully explored idea to just the main point of the text. I am going to attempt to do this with several of my posts, as an experiment to see if it helps with my writing skills.

One Line Version

A change is a good as a rest – My driving instructor actually told me that.

One-Paragraph Version

The instinctive way to avoid burnout is to slow down, to not work so hard or to take a break. This doesn’t have to be the case. To keep going, you need to do something that makes you think in a different way to the way you think at work. This is similar to working different muscle groups for your brain, if your arms are tired, your legs will still work fine. If you had some in-depth debates at work, take some quiet time and read a book.

Three-Paragraph Version

If you start feeling stressed and worn out, you know instinctively that you need to take a rest. You can’t keep going forever, your body requires downtime to be more effective in the up-times. So if you have worked too hard for too long you can take a break and go on holiday, then come back feeling refreshed. Maybe you could work less hard to begin with, but if you want to advance your career as quickly as possible and you know your peers aren’t going to slow down, then you could end up getting left behind. That said, I don’t recommend working late, just working hard within your normal working hours.

This is where doing a contrasting cognitive activity helps. What is a contrasting cognitive activity? It’s an activity where you are still using your brain, but you are using it in a different way to the way you do at work, similar to how when you work out at the gym you use different muscle groups on different days. The contrast between the two ways of thinking has been shown to prevent burnout for much more time than doing the same kind of activity for the same amount of time.

This doesn’t mean you have to do something fun at home to offset doing something useful at work, although I do recommend this as well. It’s more about using your brain to accomplish a different kind of task. If you feel you must do something productive for your contrasting activity, you can do so. If you have a very sociable job with lots of talking to clients, you could read a book at home, it can be educational if you still want to learn. If you write code all day, you could write a journal or blog posts at home. Your brain is capable of many different types of activities, so the list is endless, just separate work and home.

Original Post

We’ve all been there, work is just droning on and on. from week to week. Today is no different. You wake up, hit snooze, wish it were still the weekend and slowly drift off to sleep, then 10 minutes later, do it all over again. You drag yourself out of bed and into the shower. That’s over, even getting dressed feels difficult right now. Then there’s the dreary drive, with the never-ending queues of traffic. You finally get to the office and hope nothing major goes wrong, you just want an easy day. You finish, some fuzzy amount of time later, only to realise it’s Monday and you have to do it all over again for the next 4 days.

You swear the job didn’t use to be this bad, that Sally in marketing wasn’t that annoying just a few weeks ago. Yet the spreadsheets you used to tackle with glee (for some people this is true, don’t judge) suddenly look like a grey pile of sludge you have to trudge through. You are stressed. Last week you were stressed. This is what being burnt out feels like.

You see two ways out of this funk:

  1. As soon as you get home, just do nothing. Relax in front of the telly and pretend the whole world away. Then tomorrow, you will feel refreshed.
  2. Don’t work so hard anymore, this feeling is horrible and you don’t want to repeat it.

Here’s the problem, you try plan 1. but you are still stressed the next day, you realise escapism isn’t working, you are just as burnt out as before. On to plan 2. this lasts maybe an hour, then you realise you don’t want to do the bare minimum, you care about doing a good job and you want to progress in your career.

What now? Your two plans have failed. Time to hand in your letter of resignation? No. According to Google’s in-house productivity expert, Lila MacLellan, there is a better way. Google has shown time and time again how successful they can be in cognitively demanding environments, so she must know what she’s talking about, right?

MacLellan recommends doing activities that require you to use your brain in a different way to how you do at work. It’s like when people who go to the gym have different days for different muscles groups, if you did leg day every day, 3 days in a row, your legs would be exhausted and perform more poorly each successive day and you may even injure yourself.

It’s all about using your different brain muscles (figuratively speaking) if you have a super social chatty job like making sales calls one after the other, try quietly reading a book once you get home. If you stay sat at a desk all day, go for a brisk walk in the evening. If you write code at work, try drawing in your spare time. The task can be equally demanding of your brain’s abilities, but it just has to be a different way of using your brain than what got you so fatigued in the first place. Research has shown this to be much more effective in refreshing you from day to day, than just trying to avoid the stress or doing nothing.

This makes your day-to-day life more fun and fulfilling. It will help you to be more resilient, making you feel fresher at work for longer and improving your mood as you will have more skills to handle stress. You can’t avoid stress forever (sadly), but you can become better at handling it.

If you have any stress-busting tips, please let me know in the comments below.

An Experiment in Editing – 2: What I Discovered When I Tried Warren Buffett’s 5/25 Rule

The following is the second in a series of blog posts inspired by Jason Fried’s post on Signal V. Noise about a writing class he would like to teach. In the hypothetical class, he aimed to show that editing and compressing is truly valuable. That’s why the posts get shorter, not just varying in length, he aims to go from the fully explored idea to just the main point of the text. I am going to attempt to do this with several of my posts, as an experiment to see if it helps with my writing skills.

Original

I saw a video recently about Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule in which it is claimed that Buffett once had a conversation with his pilot. For anyone who doesn’t know, Warren Buffett is one of the most successful investors in the world and has been top of his game for decades. After realising he’d had the same pilot for 10 years, he was perturbed to find that the pilot had not moved on in all that time. I will be paraphrasing, but Buffett says something along the lines of “if you’ve been working as my pilot for 10 years, I must not be doing my job right” so he instructs the pilot to write down 25 career goals and that he can write anything he wants.

Next Buffett tells the pilot to prioritise the top 5. This is more difficult, but the pilot does it. Now, Buffet asks him

“What will you do with the other 20?”

The pilot says “I will treat these as 2nd best and work on them when I have spare time”

Buffett replies “No. You avoid those at all costs, until you had achieved your top 5.”

Buffett explains that spreading yourself too thin means you don’t make any significant progress towards any of your goals. Focusing on a goals instead, is the key to making progress.

This doesn’t mean that you are limited to do just 5 things for the rest of your life, never trying anything new, just repeating the same cycle of days for the rest of time. BUT you can’t do number 6 until you have achieved ONE of the top 5. This is the crux of the idea.

This idea can be applied to any area of life where you have too many options. Too many options meaning there are multiple things you want to achieve, but you never quite seem to get any of them done, they just remain on a wish list for all time. For example, do you have too many hobby projects you never complete? Too many career skills, so none seem to improve all that much? Too many new business ideas, but you don’t ever seem to start any? All of these can be whittled down to your top 5, allowing you to focus and make real progress.

I tried this for myself. I don’t have 25 career aspirations, so I wrote down 25 things I want to do in my life in general from hobbies, to work, to travel. The top 5 I prioritised, see below:

  1. Improve my writing
  2. Improve my blog
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Travel outside Europe
  5. Start a side-Hustle
  1. I have been reading more and more lately about the benefits of being able to write well, which was part of my inspiration to start a blog, so that was always going to end up on this list.
  2. This blog is new, there’s lots of room to grow and improve, but I’m enjoying the process so far With a lot of practice I hope to be writing better articles, have a better website and anything else that would make the blog better.
  3. I have been trying to do this for years, but I always give up a few weeks in. I was recently pointed towards “Couch to 5k”, which aims to make running a habit by easing you in. Instead of going too hard too soon and quitting, as I always have done in the past, you build up to longer runs until you can do 5k even if you started from a point of doing no exercise at all. The best part for me has been the structure the app provides, as I tend to just run hard, then get tired and never want to run again.
  4. I love to go on solo-travel trips, but I have played it pretty safe so far, going to European cities where pretty much everyone speaks English and the culture isn’t too different to our own. I want to go further away and experience more, even if it is a little scary to not speak the language or know all the customs, that’s part of the fun, right?
  5. I recently read a fantastic book by Chris Guillebau, in which he describes the merits of having a “side-hustle” and how to start one. The book is very clearly written and inspiring, with great advice. I aim to write a post on it someday soon. The main reason the idea drew me in, is it allows you to have a project of your own, that gives you a sense of achieving something of your own. Guillebeau says it’s not about workaholism, having a second job would be a nightmare for many people. Side-hustles come come in many different forms, as you can see on his podcast it’s a creative outlet for some people for others it gives them a sense of independence. It’s a great way to do some work you enjoy, just for you, without going all in and quitting your job to start a business.

If this post or the original video inspires you to try the idea for yourself, please let me know in the comments below, how it worked out for you!

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Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule, comes from an anecdote where, it is claimed that he wanted to help advance the career of his pilot after realising the pilot had had the same position for 10 years. In order to do this, he questioned the pilot about his top 25 career ambitions, making it clear to the man, that nothing was off-limits.

Now that the pilot had his list of 25 career goals, Buffett told him to prioritise them in from most important to least and then circle the top 5. Once this was done, Buffett asked his pilot “now that you have your top 5, how will you treat the other 20?”

The pilot replies “I will focus on the top 5 and work on the other 20 in my spare time”

Buffet says “No. The other 20 are now your list of goals you will avoid at all costs, until you have completed one of the first 5, then you may move on to number 6”.

Buffett’s thinking, was that by spreading ourselves too thin, we end up making little to no improvement at all in the goals we have set ourselves. It is better to focus on a smaller, narrower range of things until you have reached one of those goals, then progress on to the next one, so at any one time, you only have 5 goals vying for your attention.

I tried to do this for myself, my top 5 being :

  1. Improve my writing
  2. Improve my blog
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Travel outside Europe
  5. Start a Side-Hustle

1. I want to improve my writing for many reasons: work, this blog, being able to communicate better, being able to organise my thoughts better, being able to argue better, this list goes on.

2. I find writing this blog to be a very rewarding hobby, so improving it should hopefully improve that satisfaction.

3. Exercise is just good for you and I haven’t had a regular habit of exercising well since I was at university. The health benefits and benefits it provides to my mood and well-being have been sorely missed.

4. I enjoy solo-travel trips, but I am starting to think I have played it safe for too long, I want to fly further afield and see more of the world than just my home continent.

5. I recently read Chris Guillebeau’s book on Side-Hustles and was convinced by him that it’s not some workaholic’s dream, it’s more about having a project you do for yourself that you can enjoy, be creative in or just use to provide yourself with a little extra money and therefore independence.

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Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule is a rule where a person lists their 25 top goals for their career, then prioritises the top 5 and finally ignores the other 20. That seems counter-intuitive, but the idea is to focus on fewer goals more intensely to achieve real results, rather than making next to no progress across many many goals. You don’t have to never do anything other than the top 5 though, once you complete one you can move on to goal 6 and so on, until all 25 are completed.

I tried this for myself, my top 5 are:

  1. Improve my writing
  2. Improve my blog
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Travel outside Europe
  5. Start a Side-Hustle

1. I want to improve my writing as I see it as a valuable skill in life and work.

2. I want to improve my blog as I enjoy the hobby and want to make it as good as it can be.

3. I want to exercise more regularly to improve my health and well-being

4. Europe is safe and familiar, travel is about new experiences, so I want to go further to find newer experiences.

5. I like the concept of creating a project for myself and I need more money!

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Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule is about listing your top 25 career goals, prioritising the top 5 and forgetting about the rest. Only moving on to goal 6 when one of the top 5 is completed. I tried this for myself and found I want to focus on writing, blogging, exercising, more adventurous travel and starting a Side-Hustle.

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Focus on your most important goals, don’t think about the rest until you have succeeded in these goals first.

Why I Take All My Notes By Hand And Why You Should Too

Swapping the keyboard for a pen, has many benefits

Why do you even take notes in the first place? Usually it is to keep a record of something you would not otherwise remember. Computers have become increasingly popular for note-taking due to their speed and the options of storage and (for those, like myself, who are cursed with eternal bad handwriting) legibility of the script.

So if my handwriting is so hard to read, so much slower than typing and storing all my paper notes is so much more difficult than using a computer, why am I recommending handwritten notes to you?

You Remember More Of What You Write By Hand

If your intention is to learn, it makes sense to get as much information down as possible, right? Wrong. Studies have found that when you write notes by hand, summarising in your own words, you actually retain more information than when you type the information.

The more deeply you think about something the first time the better you remember it. Whereas simply copying word for word what someone says, involves much less thinking, less understanding and therefore less remembering. Summarising in your own words, requires you to think about it and then translate it into language you yourself understand, this deep process that doesn’t happen in super fast typing is what helps you remember the information.

Writing By Hand Can Make You More Creative

When you type, you hit a few keys, the letters appear on the screen and you’re done. When you use a pen however, you draw funny shapes, each one different from the other, you feel the pen pressing into the paper, you hear the pleasing skrrtch skrrithch of a pen being dragged across the material.

The engagement of multiple senses, motor functions and cognitive functions lights up so much more of your brain than typing ever could. This ‘lighting up’ effect in your brain, allows many more connections between parts of your brain, allowing creative thoughts to flow. Essentially, typing is the same movement over and over, but handwriting involves seeing, hearing, feeling, moving and thinking.

Writing By Hand Is Relaxing

The slow pace of handwriting that I mentioned before, not only allows us to remember more and think more creatively, it turns out, it even soothes you. Modern addictive technology combined with the constant availability of such tech means we can be stimulated at all times of the day. If we want to be, we can be distracted endlessly. This seems fun at first but it is not good for us. In a world where we never stop, we never relax.

Handwriting is tech-free, it’s totally analogue and very slow, this combined with it lighting up all those different parts of the brain, mean that handwriting has similar benefits for the brain as mindfulness. It allows your mind to rest and recover from the barrage of notifications, videos and texts or just whatever has stressed you out that day.

I’m sure there are many other benefits of writing by hand, but these are just some I have read about. If you know anymore or disagree, please let me know in the comments.

Simple Ways to Make Your Business Writing Better

This blog is a game-changer, it’s going to disrupt the online content world and create a new, unheard of change in this tired, bloated industry… Actually, my writing is nothing like that, but how many times have you heard that with the word “blog” swapped for the word “company”.

The kind of writing you find on company websites is incredibly clichéd and most of the time boring. This is true for internally facing and externally facing writing. As someone with a blog, I am interested in being a better writer. I am not a business writer by trade, but improvements to any kind of writing are helpful to anyone. You might feel you don’t need to write anything in your job, but you have probably written an email or (for anyone pre-gen-Z) a letter. So, you might as well be better at that, right? Besides, words are what connect people. You can’t get your ideas across to someone without telling them about them, unless you’re a telepath or very talented mime.

Write to Someone Specific

Hey you, Reader, yeah, you! Are you paying attention right now? Okay, good. The first tip is to write to a someone, not to yourself. You know what you mean when you say something, that doesn’t mean a reader does. Know what I’m saying?

The words I say come across more clearly and sound more conversation-ey if I talk directly to you (I hope). Would you prefer that I describe to you how “this makes the writing read more like a personal chat?” or, would you prefer “that the writer of this blog post explain that there is a great benefit to be had, if one were to address a specific audience member, rather than just think aloud?”

Write Exactly as Much as You Need to. No More.

Write Out an Acronym the First Time You Use it

You get to a meeting, everyone is discussing the KPIs, HGTs and GMOs. What. The. Hell? I know maybe one of those acronyms, and I wrote this post! You start to feel stupid, out of the loop. Why does everyone know these words and throw them around so casually? Why don’t I know them? I’d say the fault is theirs, not yours. There’s no need to purposefully, exclude people, from certain information. You’re in this meeting to discuss something, learn something or otherwise communicate ideas to each other. No need to drown someone in codes they don’t understand.

Whilst the example I gave was more silly, there are times in my job as a BSA (Business Systems Analyst) where it can be really helpful to have someone explain the acronym about to be used. I am sure it’s the same for your job. I didn’t even realise SQL was pronounce see-quel when I started…

If you are the one writing in order to share information, make sure everyone knows the acronyms by explaining it the first time you use it, SWIM (See What I Mean?). This tip works for technical jargon too.

Passive Voice and qualifiers are really weak!

I sound stronger when I explain to you that I wrote this post. That I thought up how I was going to say it and then said it, exactly like that. I sat there in my leather armchair, smoking a pipe, surrounded by leather-bound books, pondering my next sentence. I didn’t actually, but it sounds better than:

“The leather chair was sat in by the author, the pipe was smoked by the author. The books surrounded him and thoughts were had by him”

Another thing that really doesn’t sound very good is a qualifier such as “really” or “very”. Just say it was “amazing” , not “really good” , or say that it was “crap” , rather than “very bad” .

Make It Easy to Scan the Page

How many times have you been reading a lengthy document thinking “I know the point I liked was here somewhere, in this never-ending wall of text. It was at that line, no. Next line. Ah, here’s the bit about the dolphin trainer, so it must be coming up soon, hmmm. Still can’t find it.”?

This is exactly the experience you have had before, dolphin trainer and all. This is what it’s like to try to find a specific point in a solid block of text. Instead, use headings, bullet-points, and the like to make the page easier to scan. People hate reading more than they have to, to find the bit they like. So give them signposts to follow, your readers will silently thank you.

The original article that inspired this post is from Fast Company, I didn’t take down all their points, just the ones that resonated with me the most. Please feel free to read the original article in full, here.