Life Lesson

Take A Curiosity Break

Earlier this week I came across an excellent article about the link between curiosity and living a happy healthy life. It outlines the ways being consistently inquisitive can contribute to healthier brain activity, IQ and relationships, as well as, increased happiness and personal satisfaction. I am a huge proponent of creative thinking and would like to think curiosity has fueled some of my more inspired moments so, the correlation presented in this article weren’t a huge surprise. However, the article did get me thinking about the benefits of incorporating “curiosity breaks” into a personal workflow.

New Business Opportunities:

Allowing yourself a bit of time each day/week/month dedicated to pursuing new interests or random thoughts may lead to the new business opportunities you’ve been attempting to discovering through more traditional channels. Learning about a new hobby, culture or experience can reveal a new industry/audience in need of your products or services or a new solution you can adopt to expand your offerings and attract new clients.

Reinvigorated Approach To Existing Business:

Exposing yourself to alternate environments and processes can shake up the way you approach your existing projects and customers. We all tend to fall into a pattern of thinking about how we do our work and the methods we use to solve problems. Investigating new topics – as assorted as they may be- can break up cyclical thinking and unconsciously new context and mindset can sneak in, breathing fresh life into a stale routine. Even something as simple as observing someone else do their job in an entirely different professional sphere can inspire new ideas for improving your own work. A “curiosity break” could also be the fix for a mental rut, those periods – sometimes weeks long- when you can’t seem to operate as productively as you’d like. Allowing yourself the leisure of curiosity replenishes mental creativity and energy.

More Enlightened Holistic Perspective:

On a larger scale embracing curiosity can help you become more satisfied with your life & work. Building your knowledge and familiarity with an assortment of activities, cultures, hobbies, place or wherever your interests lead brings more opportunities for enjoyment into your daily reality. The more you engage your mind and it’s curiosities the more energized your overall outlook will become. Investing in an intentional curiosity practice and truly integrating creative wonder into your routine will unleash a ripple of fulfilling satisfaction through your entire perspective.

In the process of writing this post I have reminded myself how important my varied professional interests have been to creating a rich, dynamic and satiating career. I would encourage you to start making time for “curiosity breaks” in your routine.

For some simple ideas on how to start feeding your curiosity refer to "The Power Of Curiosity"

Lessons From The Kitchen

Prior to joining the more traditional 9-5 workforce I spent two years as a pastry chef. After college I had no idea what I wanted to “be” so I went to culinary school to pursue a passion. It was there that I was taught the importance of efficiency. You see, in a professional kitchen you need to be able to turn around an order quickly and accurately. The faster you’re able to get a plate out to the table, the sooner the table will have eaten and departed and the next party seated. The more tables you can turn over in a night the more you can profit.

My culinary curriculum was structured largely around efficiency. We were taught cooking methods and communication skills to ensure greater consistency of efficient performance. This type of specialized training – found in culinary programs worldwide- makes working in a variety of kitchens easier because there is a base hierarchy of priorities – efficiency, flavor, presentation, etc- and methods to achieving them. In the years since I have left the world of baking I find myself using a lot of the principles I learned in culinary school to navigate my professional activities. In the spirit of spreading some of those lessons in hopes it helps you become more consistent and efficient I have put together this list of lessons from the kitchen:

Be Prepared: Line & pastry chefs alike spend a good portion their day preparing their stations; chopping, mixed, sorting, storing everything they’re going to need to complete their orders. They need to look ahead and see what is on the menu then plan and prep accordingly.

What if you were to look ahead at your day every morning –or at the close of the day look towards tomorrow- and prepare mentally and physically for your day’s menu? I try to do this every day and I spend a good deal of time gathering the research, prepping the files, reading the emails that will contribute to the larger tasks of my day. It has helped me maintain a fresh perspective of my priorities and eases the anxiety of last minute stress and unexpected hiccups.

The Economy Of Steps: In school we were taught about The Economy Of Steps. Basically, the fewer physical steps you needed to take to prepare a dish the more you were able to contribute to a profitable restaurant workflow. If you were going to the freezer for eggs why not get all the refrigerated items were going to need for the next two hours? Continually walking back and forth across a kitchen eats up time and energy. Keeping your mind in the game and an eye on the larger list of things needing to be done made a chef much more effective in a kitchen.

The basic premise behind this principle, that the more aware you are about every step in your day the more efficient your personal workflow will be, is one many professionals could invest in. Instead of repeatedly checking in on your email, go every two hours. Focus on what needs to be done there then move on to the next task. If you’re going to be making an office supply order, check with everyone before closing out your order. You will be saving someone else in your company some time and therefore contributing to the larger, hopefully profitable, workflow. Take a few days to challenge yourself to be more in tune with your economy of steps, it may reveal a few time saving patterns you may have been overlooking.

Establish A Leader: In every kitchen there is a head Chef. They’re the boss. If they tell you to do something, you don’t argue, you do it. If there is something you disagree with you address it with them after service so as not to disrupt the larger workflow. The head Chef is responsible for establishing the flow of the kitchen, they work with the expediter to get plates out on time, they make the big on-the-spot decisions. If something goes wrong it is his credit that is tarnished. On the other hand, if something goes right he receives the praise and, if they’re a good Chef they’ll openly share accolades with their entire kitchen. The rest of the stations in the kitchen are part of a well established chain of command headed by the chef. Acknowledging this and abiding by it, even when you may not agree with the decisions, is what keeps a kitchen’s service moving. Smart head Chefs will also encourage an open dialogue with their line outside of service to make sure everyone is happy with their role. 

While the strict chain of command doesn’t transpose to a number of industries the recognition of a leader is certainly an asset for an efficient worker. I notice this most in meetings. If, at the beginning of every meeting, a leader were identified to keep the group on task and moving through the items at hand most meetings would be far shorter and more effective than if they are left to an open ended chat. Even if an agenda has been established you need someone who will be responsible for making sure people are heard and topical focus is maintained. This is a particularly useful approach to virtual conferences where there is a tendency for people to talk over each other.

Eat Your Own Product: A good chef tastes his or her goods. It is the only way to make sure their customer is getting what they ordered.

How often do you put yourself in your customer’s shoes? Try it. Place an anonymous order, call customer service with a fake complaint, or simply imagine what it would be like to be on the receiving end of your work. Being aware of your output will reinvigorate your approach to how you get there. No matter how many clients you have, or how great your profits, if you wouldn’t want to be your own customer you are doing something wrong.

These four lessons are just a few of the ways my kitchen experience has influenced my 9-5 career; while I still do a good deal of baking they are the only skills I learned in culinary school I currently use professionally. Although I never expected to walk away with much more than a killer croissant technique I’m happy I’m am now able to share some of the business acumen I got from my culinary education.

How Do You Choose To Communicate?

Every day there is a new option for communication; email, phone, skype, twitter, SMS, etc. As the number of channels available through which to communicate multiply so to do the number of people who claim to be experts on each. There certainly may be nuances and particulars implicit to the various options there are three rules that will make you a master of any method:

1.    Make sure your audience, be it one person or hundreds, is comfortable with the method. You probably have your preferred methods of communicating but if those you are trying to communicate with don’t share your preference you may be wasting your time. If you are trying to use SMS to send a message to someone without a data enabled phone then you message will be lost in the ether, literally. More frequently messages are invading channels where they may not be welcome. Facebook, for example, is used by many for personal networking so when commercial or professional messages are received they may be ignore or worse, cause the receiver to become annoyed. Make sure the method you choose to communicate is one your audience prefers, even if that means sending the same message through more than one channel.

2.    Be sincere.  You know when you’re on the receiving end of a hastily written, jargon filled, mass email. You also know how whatever the desired message contained within, you’re less likely to give it much thought or credibility. Next time you find yourself writing one of these messages take a second to ask yourself are you being genuine. This doesn’t mean you have to write a novella it means you have to speak succinctly and intent. You will recognize the difference in reception if you always present your words with awareness of the audience and goal of the message.

3.    Know the etiquette.  For most channels there are a loose set of standards of etiquette. You shouldn’t send an SMS in all caps, don’t flood an in-box with unnecessary emails, look someone in the eyes when you speak to them. Many of these “rules” are learned first by watching, then by doing. If you aren’t sure exactly what the proper content is for a Twitter message read those of others. If you aren’t sure what to write in your LinkedIn status then look to those whose work you respect.

Simply be smart and curious when investigating new methods of communication. Don’t let the number of options intimidate you. Even if it means sticking to the standards – phone call or face-to-face meeting- if you follow these rules you will improve the chances your message will actually be heard.


The Lost Art Of Mentorship

In the classical trades like carpentry, cooking, tailoring, even plumbing there is a long tradition of mentoring. Individuals more established and experienced in a particular industry foster relationships with the newer generations by becoming mentors to members of the fledgling ranks. They pass along skills, trade secrets and lessons learned in an effort to educate and support their mentees. Through mentoring companies and even entire industries experience the benefit of continuity; continuity of tradition, practices and standards. On the receiving end mentees are given the chance to share newer trends and technology with their elders in an effort to evolve their chosen field.

Mentorships are far less common in the world of businesses. The competitive culture in a lot of large companies makes the teacher/student dynamic an unsteady one. And in small businesses there is rarely the time to maintain genuine mentorships. These realities however, do not reduce the need for mentors; in fact, I would say they increase the need for a supportive professional relationship.

I have been lucky to be both a mentee and mentor and firmly believe both experiences have contributed enormously to my ability to push myself personally and build professional relationships that go beyond the usual boss/employee or seller/customer dynamic. While my experiences unconventional – in that they weren’t focused on a single trade – they were none the less influential. When I was a mentee I had a person to go to with my questions (regardless of their triviality) as well as someone whose own experiences were able to guide mine. Once I moved into the role of mentor I recalled the advice and mannerisms my mentor had shared with me. I worked hard to listen before commenting and to openly consider feedback. The exchanges I had with my mentee were genuinely educational for us both and we remain each other’s champion even as our relationship has become much more collegial.

Many progressive companies have instituted internal mentoring systems or engaged a company like Bizucate to coach and support their employees. However, it is well worth the effort to seek out a mentor relationship. Whether you are just entering into a new industry and need help translating the nuances or if you’ve been at it for a while and want to pass along your lessons and experiences while learning more about what’s fresh here are a few tips on starting down the mentor path:

Where to find a mentor/mentee

I usually suggest looking outside of your immediate work environment. It removes some of the inevitable influences of office politics and allows questions and comments to flow freely without having to worry about looking uninformed or stepping on someone’s toes.

• Check with your alma mater’s alumni office.

• If you’re a member of an association or professional networking group look around your next meeting.

• Colleagues in other offices may have some referrals.

What to look for

There are benefits to finding someone with whom you share a similar viewpoint or background; it may be easier to find yourself at ease with them or directly relate to their experiences. However, you can learn a lot and really expand your professional perspective by seeking out a relationship with someone who may hold different ideals, position or even gender.

• Find someone whose work and reputation you respect.

• Make sure it is someone who communicates openly and clearly.

• Ideally it should be someone who has time to commit at least a year to the mentorship.

How to ask

Keep it simple, keep it courteous. Begin by acknowledging the commitment of time and involvement you’re asking of them and then outline what you hope to gain from and contribute to the mentor experience. Be prepared to present the pros and cons but in most situations I think you’ll find the conversation is an easy one.

How to maintain the relationship

This should be determined according to the availability and need of both people involved. Try to figure out a schedule of regular check-ins to keep you both connected. Other than that let the relationship organically develop; ask questions, seek guidance, share experiences, teach, discuss. The potential is limitless as long and the channels of communication remain open.

So, go forth and find your mentor/mentee. It is one of the best investments you can make in your professional development.

A Follower Revolution

In life and, in particularly, in business heavy emphasis is placed on becoming a leader. From a very early age we are told to lead by example; we are groomed to think like a leader; act with the confidence of a leader; constantly seek the leadership position etc. Every once in a while the importance of teamwork is highlighted however, even in those situations the teams are often composed of a bunch of people who have been raised to believe they are truly “leaders;” the ego often becomes a hindrance; leading to ineffective or imbalanced efforts and/or output. They have lost sight of the importance of all the followers that are required to support a successful leader and ultimately to realize a shared goal.                                        

The more time I spend in the “professional world” the more I notice the negative effects of this sense of leadership entitlement. Projects are often derailed by a wide variety of ineffective followers; saboteurs, dispassionate contributors, frustrated collaborators; people who have become so fixated on only wanting to be the one in the lead they overlook the importance of being an equally productive and quality follower.

There needs to be a renewal of follower pride. Schools, organizations, businesses need to reemphasize the value of every person that contributes to the whole of a successful endeavor. Culturally we need to focus on patience, shared accomplishment, genuine support and widespread hope for betterment. There is no one person who can affect great change or create revolutionary products. These things are only achieved when people work together.

I am not saying people should no longer aspire to leadership positions nor that good leadership will no longer be essential to navigate difficult projects. I am simply asserting we need to reestablish the characteristics of an excellent “follower.”


  • Quality listening needs to be emphasized just as much as quality speaking. Collaborative efficiency weighted as much a astounding results. 
  • A great leader will not only have once been a follower but will welcome the opportunity to once again contribute as a follower on future projects. 
  • Great followers will realize that, while this may not be their time to lead, the experiences and lessons taken from following will ultimately make them a better leader when their time comes. 

Schools, organizations, businesses need to reemphasize the value of every person that contributes to the whole of a successful endeavor. Culturally we need to focus on patience, shared accomplishment, genuine support and widespread hope for betterment. There is no one person who can affect great change or create revolutionary products. These things are only achieved when stellar leaders AND suburb followers work together. So go out and start the follower revolution. 

**I just stumbled upon this TED talk by Derek Sivers about First Followers. It seems the revolution has already begun.  

The Loyalty Investment

This past year many of our clients faced cut backs that frequently resulted in either reduced or, in some cases, lost business for us. We, like so many other small businesses, are accustomed to quickly adapting our services and business development approach to our customer’s needs and the larger economic climate. Whenever a project was cut loose we would usually reassess the customer’s initial needs to see if we could propose a modified solution that fit in to their new budgets. If the interest was still there we often revised the project scope and deliverables – shortening the length of a course or restructuring ancillary materials to be more multifunctional- so that a slower economy didn’t also mean suspended business development for our clients.

Why, you may ask, did we not simply turn around and pursue our client’s competition? They would surely be interested in services and content which would help strengthen their market position. Well, the answer boils down to loyalty. We have always tried to work with companies and individuals whose ethics and goals are complimentary to our own. We like to dig in and really understand their business in order to determine how we might best serve them. This is much easier to do if the people are just as curious and hard working as we are. It is also a much more sound investment of time and effort to develop quality relationships with our clients if we know that by providing them effective and loyal service they will continue to bring their work to us.

When the economic climate shifted dramatically and our clients’ budgets drastically reduced it was not as though that professional investment also took a dive. In fact, if anything the spirit of alliance was only strengthened. These were people and businesses that needed our help to keep their eye on the long term; needed to improve their workflows, continue their training and adapt their business development/marketing plans. 

Yes, we could have probably made more money last year by abandoning this sense of loyalty. But, we chose as a company not to panic and begin taking business from anywhere. Instead we decided the greater potential for long-term profit was in continuing to invest our loyalty in long time customers.

This isn’t to say we didn’t pursue any new business. In the instances when a project could not be afforded and the lost revenue needed to be supplanted we took it as an opportunity to explore new verticals and expand our services. We found opportunities in new arenas, like marketing and higher ed, that were conducive to our existing services. We also mined Bizucate’s current employee skill sets and identified new services –social media consulting, for example -- which we could offer to our clients. Both of these exercises carried the unanticipated benefit of reinvigorating our company’s core passion for embracing chances to learn.

We know this level of flexibility is more often the luxury of small businesses –- especially those well versed in ways of bootstrapping -– and that, at the end of the day, practical needs (payroll, accounts payable etc) need to be met. However, the basic philosophy behind remaining loyal to your client base is one that can be exercised on a number of levels. Whether it is the decision to give a little of your time “off the clock” to provide advice or to serve as conduit for information or introductions that could help a struggling customer where you can’t companies large and small can benefit from the loyalty investment.

As we start a new year (with some cautiously optimistic forecasts) we have already seen a slight return on the loyalty investment from clients who have reinstated previously suspended projects and have expressed interest in the new services we added to our roster. By keeping our focus on the larger picture we will continue to grow our business ethically. 

What Would Your Last Lecture Be?

In May I was given The Last Lecture, a book by Randy Pausch with Jeff Zaslow, and it provided me with my latest dose of reality.

On July 25th Randy Pausch died. A professor at Carnegie Mellon he took an opportunity to give a "Last Lecture" usually given by a retiring professor. Randy's lecture wasn't about being diagnosed with terminal cancer or what to do with a life with an expiration date. His lecture was all about achieving your dreams and the great realities we make as a result. Not only did he achieve almost all of his dreams...but he has inspired millions. One of those millions was me.

The book is the background history, thoughts and feelings that went into the content he chose to share in his 116 min last lecture  you can watch "Really Acheiving Your Childhood Dreams" on YouTube. I'd also suggest checking out The Last Lecture website too to find out more about Randy and his dreams.

This posting isn't about Randy's lecture. It's about yours. What will you leave behind? What legacy will you leave for others to ponder? What will you be remembered for? What are you doing right now that you'd be proud to leave for others? Will you leave anything?

Surely we don't have to do anything. Death and taxes I believe are the only two certain things, so said Ben Franklin. They're the only two things you have to do...and some people even try to cheat both of them.

I could stop here and just leave the rhetorical question hanging out there and leave you to figure it out for yourself. We both know no one can answer the question except you.

I've thought about what my last lecture would be but like many other things in my life...I'm not done yet. The power of education, the experience of seeing beyond common borders and the impact others bring in life are three things that I have used to help me make my trip thus far both enjoyable and rewarding. But there's much more to it. For now I'm going to remind myself that the ride won't last forever and I'll keep on being the student of life I am and share it with everyone I meet as well, especially those closest to me.

Take a few minutes and watch Randy's video and see the passion, curiosity, love and reward Randy had for life. Think about what your last lecture might be...and if you don't like the title or the can change it. You just have to make a choice to do so.

Keep the learning going...pass it on!



It's All In The Process... Well, Most Of The Time

Stevemartin190_2(I knew that would grab your attention. No need for a double take, that's Steve Martin. I found this photo in the New York Times book review section. The photo credit goes to Sandee O.)

What does it mean to be a Renaissance Man?

After some intense thought and brief research, I found that a Renaissance Man is thought to be a man or a woman of many accomplishents.  The success of these accomplishments is in part due to the Renaissance Man's proficient knowledge in a wide range of fields.

Where am I going with this?

I came across Steve Martins' Born Standing Up earlier this year and it really got me thinking about processes. This book is an autobiography, but reads like a biography because it's a
step-by-step take, by Steve Martin, on how he accomplished his success.

In business terms, Born Standing Up is about the process. It's healthy to ID what customers need and then give it to them, but having a process in place on how to accomplish giving the customer what they need is stellar. Do you know your process?

Beth Schneider over at Process Prodigy has nailed the topic and has created a business based on processes. It is my understanding that in order to be successful in your deliverables for the customer, you have to have a process (system) in place to be sure it happens the way it's supposed to happen, every time.

What's your process for keeping your customers?

Send me a comment, I'd like to know. And if you've read the book, what are your thoughts about it?

Keep the learning going...pass it on!