Do You Have to Be Bad at Something Before You Can Be Good?


When you’re learning something new, there’s often an expectation that you’ll pick it up easily. That it will be smooth sailing. That you won’t skip a beat.

After all, the world moves faster every day. The competitive landscape is more intense than ever. Time is in short supply. It’s one sprint after another to learn what you need to know. Learning curves can feel like vertical climbs.

But when in your life have you learned something new and performed it perfectly right from the start?

As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in the book Outliers: The Story of Success, it takes about 10,000 hours to master a skill.

The hard part is the feeling of incompetence that comes along with learning. Two things happened this week that made me think more about being bad at something new.

First was reading the work of Erika Andersen in an HBR post, which was the subject of my blog post yesterday. She wrote about how to identify the next skills you should learn.

In that was an angle on having to be bad at something before you can be good. The important thing, Andersen says, is to continue on through the bad phase so you can get to the good.

In fact, it’s the subject of her new book coming out this winter called Be Bad First: Get Good at Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future. Sign me up. The pre-ordered book will download on my Kindle app on March 8.

In a Forbes post that may have inspired the book, she gives great strategies for How to Get Good at Things By Being Bad First. One of them is managing your self talk and being deliberately encouraging in how you speak to yourself.

That brings me to the second thing that happened this week. I’ve been trying different yoga classes, looking for 2 to do consistently each week. In addition to the serenity, stretching and balance benefits, I’m training to do paddle board yoga in the spring and summer.

And I’m moving through being bad into being good. One of my yoga instructors gave me a little smile this week when I at last managed to transition into Warrior II with the correct arm in front.

And my first experience with stand up paddle boarding last fall left me with a patch of broken skin on my thumb from holding the paddle the wrong way. The skin healed, and I figured out a better way to paddle.

Something the teacher in yesterday’s yoga class said made a big impression on me. He advised us not to condemn, judge or demand. If we let go of these mindsets and expectations, we will be calmer and happier.

These could apply to others. They could also apply to ourselves. By letting go of judging ourselves and demanding perfection, we are more free to experiment and learn.

That’s what Andersen is saying too. Most everyone will be bad at something when they first start. But by having faith in your ability to persevere and learn what you need to know, you can get good.

Another great book, What To Do When You’re New by Keith Rollag gives strategies for you to perform new things in front of people who aren’t familiar to you. Focusing on learning and getting better, rather than being good right away, is a great tip.

And his HBR article on being new gives good guidance on asking questions: consider what you want and why, determine whom to ask and if the time is right, ask short to-the-point questions and express thanks.

It’s humbling to recognize what you don’t know and what you need to learn. To try to ask the right questions, even when you don’t know what you don’t know. To take a crack at doing the new task. To learn from and recover from the inevitable mistakes. To start building competence.

This is what I’m doing in my new career role in marketing. This is how I navigate new community leadership roles. And this is how I approach my exercise classes. It’s not easy, but I keep moving forward.

As I learned from my yoga teacher, don’t judge yourself or demand perfection. Be kind to yourself and let yourself experiment. You’ll achieve much more, much faster and much better than you ever thought you could.

What Will You Learn This Year?


With the torrential pace of change in our world, how will you decide what you need to learn this year?

Even if you’re not tackling a new job as I am, every field is changing rapidly. This makes lifelong learning an imperative for all of us.

Richard Bolles had an early inkling of this. While he’s better known as the bestselling author of the annually updated What Color is Your Parachute?, he also wrote The Three Boxes of Life.

In it he argued that we should not think about our lives in a linear fashion of education followed by work followed by retirement.

Instead, he advocated that all 3 boxes of life should be woven through every stage of our lives. This has never been more true than today, nearly four decades after the book was published.

Our education has to continue in parallel with our careers. For those who loved formal schooling, as I did, this is welcome news.

And for those who didn’t, there are many new ways of learning – by online courses, by doing and by observing, to name a few – that can make it more fun and intuitive.

And weaving in elements of retirement with its passion projects, travel and leisure refreshes and inspires us. This is why what we do on weekends is so important.

Thinking about all the things I need to learn in my new role, a Harvard Business Review post by Erika Andersen caught my eye this week.

How to Decide What Skill to Work On Next gives a great framework to focus your learning efforts. Andersen links the framework of Jim Collinshedgehog concept from Good to Great with learning.

Collins found that great organizations have 3 areas of focus:

  1. What drives their economic engine
  2. What they can be the best in the world at, and
  3. What they’re most passionate about.

Linking that with learning, Andersen advocates asking yourself these questions:

  1. How can you learn and grow in a way that will help your company succeed? What will drive the bottom line?
  2. Of those areas, which ones could you become excellent at? If you’re good at similar things, those are ideal starting points.
  3. How passionate are you about those areas? And she shows that passion can be learned by looking at the benefits to learning and how it will create a better future for you.

This is not only a manageable and efficient way of making a personal learning plan, but it’s also inspiring and exciting.

It’s helping me narrow my focus and pick the highest-impact areas in my learning project. And it’s reassuring to know that I don’t have to learn everything, right away.

Like so many things in life, it’s about identifying the highest priority areas, taking initial actions, assessing progress and course correcting. It’s taking steps forward, day after day.

What’s Your Sunday Routine?


How do you spend your Sunday?

Inspiration abounds in the Sunday Routine series in The New York Times. Each week, a different New Yorker shares their weekend rituals.

And Laura Vanderkam‘s book What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend made me much more thoughtful about planning and enjoying the precious 60 hours from Friday night to Monday morning.

She helped me understand the important of planning “3 to 5 anchor events” every weekend. These might be fun day trips within a short drive from home, dinners with family and friends, time for yourself and more.

It’s especially important to plan fun, relaxing and meaningful weekends as a means of refreshment after a busy work week.

Here are a few activities in my Sunday grab bag. They aren’t things on every Sunday’s menu, but they’re favorite things that I order as often as possible.

Enjoy exercise. Sundays are perfect for longer-form exercise than during the week. Today, for example, was cardio on the treadmill, followed by a yoga class.

The added bonus during treadmill time? Catching up on favorite shows with TV everywhere on the DIRECTV app. (Full disclosure: for many years I’ve worked at DIRECTV, which is now a proud member of the AT&T family. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own.)

Spend time with family. Whether it’s an excursion to a park or other local landmark, a religious service or a special meal together, Sundays are perfect for family time.

In our house, we often have an early Sunday dinner. My husband loves to cook, thankfully, so we often get to enjoy new recipes he’s trying. Our teens are in the middle of high-school finals and college apps, so there’s plenty of work to be done on weekends too.

Get a jump on the work week. Before the hustle and bustle of Monday begins, it’s great to create a plan for the week. In the relative calm of the weekend, it’s an ideal opportunity to spend focused time on an important project. And it’s a good time to clear the decks of accumulated email and open actions.

Focus on special projects. What side projects do you have going on, separate from your day job? For me, it’s blogging.

Although my blog often explores professional topics in marketing and communications, blogging is filled with intrinsic motivation for me. I enjoy it so much that I get lost in the flow of the experience. Whatever your flow state is, devote some of your weekend to it.

Spend time in nature. Especially in the winter during the shorter, darker days, it’s important to spend time outside on the weekends. Whether it’s exercising, gardening, dining or a myriad of other outdoor activities, the outdoors has a restorative quality to it. Connecting with nature is grounding and soothing.

Of course, those on the east coast of the U.S. will have to do this on a weekend other than this one. The snowstorm there is one instance where no action can be the best course of action.

Catch up on reading. Weekends are a great time to read a wider variety of materials than during the work week. Maybe it’s reading the longer news stories you didn’t have time for during the week. Or maybe it’s the latest business book. Or a novel that has lessons about leadership and life.

Enjoy favorite TV shows. If you work in an entertainment-related business, as I do, this really fun homework for my job. Streaming shows on the DIRECTV app (see: exercise, above) is a great twofer – exercise and entertainment.

Today during treadmill time I streamed Jobs for G.I.s on the AUDIENCE network. It’s a compelling look at the challenges veterans face as they transition from military service to civilian life. It makes me proud of my company’s focus on hiring and supporting veterans.

Learn something new. What do you want to learn this year? Whether it’s personal or professional, weekends give you the time and space for learning, whether it’s in person or online. A new book out this month called Stretch is full of ideas for how you can future-proof yourself and your career.

Have fun and enjoy life just as is it. Perhaps most important is to enjoy the moments and the special people in your life. The past is done, the future isn’t here yet and the present is right before you, waiting to be savored.

Why I Joined Snapchat Today


Are you looking for more fun in your life? Would you like to connect with friends and family? Do you want to research the fastest growing social network?

Those are the reasons I joined Snapchat today. I want to learn how I can use it in my personal life. And I’m interested to see how businesses are using it to build their brands.

It’s a feeling not unlike the one I had upon joining Twitter. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I didn’t fully know why I was there. I couldn’t yet articulate what I wanted to accomplish.

And that’s okay. Part of learning why you’re in a social network and how you can use it for personal and/or professional objectives is to experiment and play with it.

That reminds me of Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick‘s opening to their book The Art of Social Media.

“We are in the trenches of social media, not in a “war room” back at headquarters,” they wrote. “We acquired our knowledge through experimentation and diligence, not pontification, sophistry and conference attendance.”

That’s what I’m doing with Snapchat. I’m learning as I go. I’m making mistakes along the way.

And while I’m not quite ready to share “how to be social” in this network in the way I did with LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, that day will come.

Today I set up my profile and found a few friends. To maintain at least a few boundaries, I didn’t click on younger family members or professional colleagues.

To my surprise, a handful of my Facebook friends were on Snapchat, so I connected with them. And I convinced my spouse to join, so we could learn together.

In the meantime, there was an unexpected benefit to joining Snapchat.

Not surprisingly, my daughter doesn’t want to interact with me in social media.

But when I told her I joined Snapchat, we had fun looking through her Stories and Snaps together. She showed me how captions and geofilters work.

Best of all, she finally followed me in Instagram. And I was able to follow her back for the first time.

Now I just need the next big social network to come along, so she’ll be my friend in Snapchat.

What Makes a Great Acceptance Speech?


The Golden Globes is a great reason to gather with family and friends.

It’s fun to celebrate favorite movies and TV shows, rooting for favorite performers.

And if you’re a communicator and marketer, like me, it’s entertaining to listen for the best speeches of the evening.

The winners in my book? Sylvester Stallone for Creed and Lady Gaga for American Horror Story: Hotel.

Show emotion. Sly looked stunned when his name was announced, sitting in his seat for a few moments before he stood up. (The standing ovation may have begun before he stood up himself.) And his first words were about his genuine surprise.

Lady Gaga pulled her hand to her mouth, stopping time for a moment as the win sunk in. And among her first words were, “This is the biggest moment of my life.”

Shine the light on others. Sly endeared himself to the whole world when he said, “I am the sum total of everyone I’ve ever met.”

Lady Gaga said, “Because of you I was able to shine.” And, “Thank you for sharing your talent with me.” And, “You guys pick me up every day.”

Be brief. The best speakers leave you wanting more. Not wondering if they’re going to say something memorable (eventually), or wrap it up and be gone. Not so with Sly and Lady Gaga. I would have been happy listening to them speak for hours.

And that’s the art of a great acceptance speech.

6 Brilliant Blogs for Marketers


What are great blogs for marketers?

And why read blogs anyway? Because they’re a quick, timely and entertaining way to learn about the latest trends in marketing and get interesting viewpoints on how the field is rapidly evolving.

Researching top marketing blogs reaffirmed 2 things. First is my devotion to 3 blogs marketing-related blogs. Second is 3 more I’m adding to the blogs folder on my iTools (the collective name for my personal iPhone, iPad and MacBook).

3 long-time favorites –

Seth GodinAlso known as “Seth Godin’s riffs on marketing, respect, and the ways ideas spread.” Ever since Linchpin, I’ve been a fan. His post, Don’t snow globe me, bro, not only helped my former Corp Comms team focus on what’s most important. One of my team members was so inspired she had a snow globe made for me.

Chris BroganAlso known as “media, marketing, lead generation and customer acquisition strategies for business.” Ever since Social Media 101, I’ve been a fan. And I’m endlessly inspired by Chris’ perseverance – with blogging and with life.

Harvard Business ReviewAlso knowns as “ideas and advice for leaders.” Ever since I found back issues in a colleagues’s office, I’ve been a fan. So many terrific thought leaders – Umair Haque, Peter Bregman, Heidi Halvorson, Alexandra Samuels, Tom Davenport, Dorie Clark, Tony Schwartz, Karie Willyerd and more. Now I’m following posts on marketing, market research, analytics, branding and data.

3 new favorites –

Ryan Holiday. Also known as “meditations on strategy and life.” Ever since I visited Ryan’s blog, I’ve been a fan. Of all the marketing blogs I searched – and there were dozens – this captured my attention. I clicked through post after post, and link after link of this author, marketer and entrepreneur.

Ann Handley. Also known as a “content marketing keynote speaker and best-selling author.” Ever since Everybody Writes, I’ve been a fan. Her expertise is digital content marketing. She’s the chief content officer at MarketingProfs, with marketing resources for marketing professionals.

FiveThirtyEightAlso known as “using statistical analysis – hard numbers – to tell compelling stories about elections, politics, sports, science, economics and life.” No, it’s not a marketing blog. But since my new role is in market research, reading this blog launched by statistician Nate Silver is another immersion strategy to accelerate my learning project.

What are your favorite marketing blogs?

Every Day is New Year’s Day


How’s your life going a week into the new year?

Are you firing on all cylinders? Energized by your dreams of creating change in your life? Or does it feel like ages ago that you embraced a bright, shiny new year, with all its possibilities?

Perhaps we’re expecting too much from a single day. Perhaps we’re trying to do too much. Or perhaps we didn’t plan for life’s unexpected twists and turns.

But perhaps New Year’s Day is as much as state of mind as it is a date on the calendar. How could you bring a New Year’s sensibility to all of your days? Here are a few ideas.

Set yourself up for success the night before. Wrap up your tasks for the day. Note your priority actions for tomorrow. Straighten up your surroundings. Pack a delicious lunch. Set out the stuff you’ll need for tomorrow. Get a good night’s sleep.

Have a plan. Don’t put everything on your list for the day. When I do that, my eyes glaze over and I don’t know where to begin. Start with 3 to 5 priority tasks. Pick one to tackle first thing. Your most difficult one. Preferably in a 60- to 90-minute uninterrupted block of time.

Expect the unexpected. When you over schedule, there’s no slack in the day to roll with the punches. This week, for example, we (finally) had rain in Southern California. That meant traffic was heavier and more time was needed to get to the office. Plan some unplanned time to make up the difference.

Enjoy the adventure. Take in the sights and sounds of your surroundings. Look up from your smartphone. Look people in the eye, smile and say hello. Be present and make note of what’s happening from moment to moment.

Stop the doom loop. If you hear yourself spiraling into a sea of negativity, tell yourself to stop. Replace those thoughts with more positive, optimistic ones. If you feel embarrassed about a mistake you’ve made, remember that most people are thinking about themselves and won’t even notice.

Cut yourself some slack. Focus on the good in your day. Remind yourself of what you did accomplish (hopefully your top 3 – 5 priorities), rather than what you didn’t. Speaking of “priorities,” did you know when the word first entered the English language in the 14th century, it was singular? That’s right. You could only have one priority. Not multiple ones, as we have today.

Be kind to yourself — and others. Often we can get so wrapped up in our own challenges, that we fail to notice others are struggling with the same things. Or even more difficult problems than our own. It’s safe to assume that everyone we come in contact with is carrying a heavy load. Be nice to them. Smile. Offer a kind word. That goes for you, too.

Act the way you want to feelThis is my favorite of the “Secrets of Adulthood” from Gretchen Rubin and The Happiness Project. If you want to feel happy, start acting that way. If you want to feel grateful, think about your blessings. If you want to feel more positive and optimistic, start acting that way. It takes a deliberate choice and less than a minute of your time. That’s a pretty good return.

Remember that today is your new year’s day. And tomorrow. And the day after that. Make it count. Make a difference. Make it fun. Because all of our new year’s days add up to our lives. What kind of a life are you living? You don’t have to meet every last goal for yourself before you start enjoying it. Decide to make each moment special, for yourself and everyone around you.

Quant Questions

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What are good questions to ask about new research?

That was the question I had as I revisited Keeping Up With the Quants: Your Guide to Understanding + Using Analytics.

Written by Tom Davenport and Jinho Kim, this is a book I read a few years ago when I led our company’s employee engagement survey strategy.

Working closely with our partner, Towers Watson, I was learning a lot. Yet I wanted to better understand the underlying analytics.

As I moved into a new role and have embarked on a learning project, I’ve revisited the book.

It includes a great list of questions that leaders should ask about analytics projects. They’re summarized from marketing and strategy professor Liam Fahey‘s article in Strategy and Leadership.

Here they are:

Overall questions:

  1. What business issue or need is the analytics work intended to inform? (This reminds me of the McKinsey & Company question, what problem are we solving for?)
  2. What are the core insights relevant to understanding the business issue and its context?
  3. How can I leverage these insights in the work I do?
  4. How do the insights affect decisions confronting us now?
  5. How do the insights help shape emerging and future decisions?

Questions for preliminary findings:

  1. What is surprising about this finding?
  2. Can further analysis be done to strengthen or refute the finding?
  3. Should others be involved to challenge this emerging finding?
  4. Is there a significant insight emerging here?
  5. If the thinking holds up, how should it affect my thinking on this or other topics or issues?

Questions for new insights:

  1. What is new to each insight?
  2. What was the old understanding?
  3. How significant is the difference?
  4. What is the reasoning or “argument” that connects the data set to the insight?

Questions after insights have been delivered:

  1. Who was/is involved in shaping the new understanding?
  2. How might they have influenced the outcome?
  3. What might be the principal difference across individuals or units?

In our ever busier and faster world, I also ask myself what the one key takeaway and implication is from the research. How would I summarize the insights in a sentence or a tweet?

In addition, I ask myself if I truly understand the work. If not, it’s time for more questions.

After seeing the movie The Big Short this weekend about the 2008-09 financial crisis, I wish more people had asked a lot more questions.

Find Your Adventure


Early in my career I had to visit a supplier in France. The company was in Paris, so evenings became perfect for sightseeing.

The Eiffel Tower was high on my list. I asked one of my French colleagues if he had any suggestions for my visit. Surprisingly, he hadn’t visited the landmark, despite living in the area of many years.

The same dynamic applies to me at times in Los Angeles. Some things are so close, I could go any time. As a result, “any time” often doesn’t happen.

On New Year’s Day in 2015 as I watched the Rose Parade on TV, I decided it would be fun to go this year. Pasadena isn’t far from home. And I had happy memories of attending the parade once as a teen.

What fun this morning was. There was the parade of street vendors and bicyclists before the event. Supporters of one of the presidential candidates had their own parade after the last official parade participants disappeared down Colorado Boulevard.

And I don’t recall ever seeing in the televised version the pooper scoopers who follow each group of horses. Yet these were some of the most animated and crowd-friendly people in the parade. They waved, danced and took selfies with spectators.

When skywriters filled the sky with political messages, even the marching band at our spot on the parade route turned to look. Some pulled out their phones to snap pictures.

The element of the unexpected was what made the day. It made me think about the practice of PR. What a fascinating way to attract attention and dominate social media.

It’s funny how leisure time can help you think in new ways about your profession and about your work.

That was one of the key points that caught my eye in Laura Vanderdam‘s book, What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend.

She also suggests having 3 to 5 “anchor events” each weekend a dinner with friends and family, a movie, a bike ride, a trip to a local landmark and so on.

To fuel those events, she advocates making a List of 100 Dreams. The ones within an hour or two of your house can serve as inspiration for weekend planning.

Her idea that you need to plan your weekends as much as you plan your work weeks leads to a lot more fun and enjoyment. And that perspective makes everything in life better, whether it’s personal or professional.

Find Your Adventure was the theme of today’s Rose Parade. What will your adventure be this year?