Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

How business is like poker

Business can be a lot like poker sometimes.

Many people take the wrong approach to poker and gambling.

When gamblers are losing money, they will keep playing to try to win back their losses. I see poker players spend hours at the table, lose stacks and stacks of money, and have no idea why.

And when people are winning, they’ll “quit while they’re ahead.” They’ll win a little bit and be satisfied with having a few more dollars in their pocket.

I think that’s totally backwards. Maybe we can call it the “gambler’s paradox.”

When you’re down, you should get up from the table, take a break, and gather your thoughts to understand why you’re losing. Maybe even call it a day.

And when you’re up, either your luck is running hot or you’re doing something right, or both. So you should ride that wave as long as you can.

You tend to see this in business as well.

When things aren’t working in business, you may see people stick to the same strategy, pump more money into advertising, and use brute force in an attempt to make things better.

Instead, they should take a step back, analyze where things are going wrong, and adjust accordingly.

When business is going well, many companies rest on their laurels, slow down, and stop innovating.

This allows more nimble and innovative startups to enter and win markets.

When things are bad, take some time off to refresh and rethink.

When things are good, put the pedal to the metal and keep moving fast and innovating.

Don’t fall prey to the gambler’s (or business’) paradox.

What do you think about this paradox? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

How to become great at anything

achieve greatness

I just listened to the Freakonomics podcast episode called “How to Become Great at Just About Anything.” You should go listen to it, but only after you read this post. :)

There really wasn’t anything groundbreaking in there. There’s no magic bullet, no “limitless” pill you can take, nothing like that.

It basically comes down to hard work performed consistently over time.

That’s kind of obvious, but there was a little more nuance to it.

The hard work you put in has to be intentional, meaning that you have to set specific goals and objectives. And you have to be able to stretch yourself and get out of your comfort zone in order to grow.

This is what is called “deliberate practice.”

In the episode, there was a study that compared bus and taxi drivers in London. Both would drive many hours every day. But bus drivers would drive the exact same route daily, while taxi drivers would drive all over the city and be forced to memorize every street (before smartphone maps, of course).

Even though both bus and taxi drivers drove the same amount of time, the study found more growth in taxi drivers’ brains, primarily because they kept learning new routes and explored new areas of town.

The shining example of the episode was a woman, Susanne Bargmann, who loved singing but was pretty bad at it. So she decided to work with a singing coach and practice one hour everyday.

Her goal was to achieve the “big” sound that Christina Aguilera expresses when she sings.

After singing everyday for a year and a half, she achieved her goal.

Her next goal was to perform in front of people. She crushed that one as well.

Now she’s a recording artist in Denmark. Amazing.

When I blogged for 30 consecutive days and continue to write every weekday, I’m deliberately practicing my writing. I believe that I’m a better and more consistent writer because of it.

Hard work and consistency are certainly important to getting good at anything. But being deliberate about what you’re trying to achieve and getting out of your comfort zone are just as crucial.

So what do you want to become great at, and how will you work toward it?

I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Photo courtesy of Koka Sexton on Flickr

Ignorance and empathy

This weekend I got into a heated argument with a friend because she said some pretty ignorant things. I won’t get into exactly what we talked about, but basically she didn’t agree with facts and couldn’t empathize with the problems that plague many other people because she was clouded by her own issues.

I think this happens to many of us. We are so busy dealing with our first world problems and don’t realize that we have it soooooooo much better than many other people, even those who may live down the street.

That’s ignorance, and we’re all guilty of it to some extent.

When we form opinions without understanding or even looking up the facts, that’s ignorance.

When we lack empathy for those who aren’t like us, that’s ignorance too.

I’ve written about the importance of empathy in both business and life. I still believe it is the most important trait that one can have.

I think my friend’s ignorance caused the lack of empathy in her point of view. And I probably wasn’t as empathetic as I could have been in trying to understand where she was coming from.

It’s really obvious, but a good combination is to be as non-ignorant and as empathetic as possible, at the same time. But it can be difficult when we are clouded by our environment and points of view.

Have you encountered situations where you identified ignorance and a lack of empathy? How did you deal with it?

I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

I love unsubscribing from emails

I’ve done a bunch of email marketing in the past and still do, and I believe it’s one of the most effective marketing channels.

But I’ve been on an unsubscribing binge and it feels awesome.

Sorry, fellow marketers.

I receive about 150-200 emails per day, and I’d guess that 25% of them are some sort of email newsletter or social network notification.

I used to glance at these emails and if I didn’t see anything interesting, I’d archive them.

Lately, I’ve skipped the glancing step.

Now, I’m unsubscribing from these emails.

I believe being part of communities is a great thing, which is why I am part of many of them.

But…so…many…notifications…

A bunch of valuable newsletters and notifications made the cut, but it feels good knowing my inbox won’t be as clogged and some of the cognitive load is lightened.

How do you manage all of your email newsletters and notifications? Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

What do you do when you start to lose steam?

Steam from geyser

The day you launch that new product, your first day on the job, and the day you move to a new house are all very exciting.

You’re starting something new, there’s a lot of activity and momentum, and the change is invigorating.

But then days, weeks, months, and years go by, and things can get dull.

That initial luster wears off, growth decelerates, momentum slows, and things just aren’t as exciting as they once were.

What happens then? What happens when you start to lose steam?

Do you power through, continue to work, and find new ways to make things exciting again?

Or are you on to the next one?

One option isn’t necessarily better than the other, but the way you respond says a lot about the person you are.

There is certainly strength in persistence, but it’s not always the right option. You might be spending a lot of time and energy on something that has no hope for the future.

On the other hand, you can lose a lot of opportunities if you move on to something new too soon. If you persist and keep chugging along, you might be able to catch that break.

Being able to recognize when to keep working or move on is difficult, but such a valuable skill.

What do you do when your projects start to lose steam? How do you recognize when to keep plugging away, and when to move on?

I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

 

How do you remember or log your ideas?

I had a great idea for a blog post about 10 minutes ago, but I didn’t write it down or log it anywhere. So I completely forgot what that idea was.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or if I just have so many things going on. But if I don’t note the ideas that come to mind, many times they’re long gone.

Whenever I come up with an idea, I try to email myself, create a card in Trello, create a note in Evernote, or write it down in my physical notebook.

I think this is actually part of the problem – that I don’t have one specific way of logging my ideas.

Another part of the problem is that I might come up with ideas while driving or taking a shower – inopportune times when I can’t take notes.

And, of course, my memory capacity is fading, so I can’t remember them all.

So I’m wondering how you remember or log your ideas. Do you have a set tool or process? What if you don’t have access to these tools? How do you remember what comes to mind?

I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

 

Taking a long-term view

Sometimes you have to do things now that won’t pay off for a long time.

It’s so much easier and immediately satisfying to do the things that will pay off in the short term.

Doing that smaller, easier task just to cross it off your list.

Chasing that hotter but lower-value lead in your sales pipeline.

Checking email instead of writing a few pages of your book.

But if you take the time each day to work on the longer term projects, they’ll eventually be way more valuable when you complete them in the future.

Develop that relationship that may lead to the big sales deal in the future.

Work on writing that book, even if you only get a page done.

Start that moonshot project you’ve been thinking about.

I admire Amazon for not caring about what Wall Street says and continually reinvesting their profits back into the company to keep growing. And I admire Google for attacking huge, difficult problems like self-driving cars and diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s.

It’s much harder to do work that won’t pay off until far in the future. But when it does pay off, it’ll be that much more rewarding.

What long-term projects are you working on, and what short-term sacrifices are you making to get those projects done? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Are startups more like hockey or basketball?

 

Which startup approach should you take – the hockey or basketball approach? basketball hockey puck startups

In hockey, the more shots you take, the better your chances of scoring and winning.

Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals is the NHL’s best scorer, and season after season he leads the league in shots on goal. Shooting percentage doesn’t matter.

Can the same be said about startups? Should you pursue a number of projects and take a bunch of shots to see what works?

In basketball, you want to take the best, highest percentage shot that you can. You can keep moving the ball around until you find that open shot. Shooting percentage matters a lot. Points per possession is a very important team statistic, and the best teams have very high PPP.

Should you take this approach for startups instead? Should you dig deep on one problem or product and keep tweaking until you get it right?

I think there is an argument for both approaches.

A lot of it depends on how you work.

If you’re very stubborn (not necessarily a bad thing), the basketball approach will probably be a better fit. You’ll likely be determined and set on attacking that one problem until it’s solved.

Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, pretty much went bankrupt to keep Pandora afloat until he got that open shot. Things turned out really well, but it could have easily gone the other way. Who knows.

If you’re more flexible (not always a good thing), the hockey approach may work better for you.

Game developer Rovio created 51 games before launching the hit Angry Birds. Things turned out well, but maybe they could have found success earlier if they stuck with one game for longer. Who knows.

With startups, you just don’t know what the best approach may be. That’s what makes them so exciting and frustrating at the same time.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Photo courtesy of Radio Kenai

Doing what you have to do vs. doing what you want to do

Venn diagram

The other day, I said to my wife, “Oh crap, I haven’t blogged yet today, I have to blog.”

She responded with, “Why don’t you do what you want to do, instead of what you have to do?”

I’ve thought about that for the last few days.

Yeah, there are days where I don’t want to blog, and it’s something that I feel like I have to do.

But I want to keep up my streak of blogging every weekday.

There will always be things that you have to do but don’t really want to.

Run that boring report. Clean your toilet bowl. Unpack.

And of course, there are things that you want to do.

Plan that fun work event. Drink a beer. Watch Netflix and chill.

The best situation is when what you have to do is what you want to do.

Work out.  Write that interesting article. Close that deal you’ve been working on for months.

Try to find that intersection of the venn diagram of things that you want to do and things that you have to do, and you’ll be good.

How many things that you have to do are what you want to do? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Change is exciting when you’re in control of it

It’s moving day today! Vicky and I are moving to our new home today and we’ll start the process of settling in.

I think change is exciting. I’ve always welcomed it in my life.

That’s why I think I was initially attracted to the consulting world, since I was put on different projects every few months and exposed to various clients and problems.

I also think my penchant for change has been the cause of me already having three different careers already.

And it’s why I love being an entrepreneur.

All of those changes were the result of my choices. Many times change occurs that’s out of our control.

When my Dad passed away, that was a big change for me that I couldn’t control.

If your organization isn’t doing well, layoffs might occur that may change your career.

Maybe a new competitor comes in and changes the course of your company.

I can be tough when change changes you.

I think it’s valuable to look ahead sometimes to see where you can control change, whether it’s in your career or personal life. Then you can identify where you might have the highest impact and create change instead of having it change you.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!