Posts filed under “Blog”

Book Review: Essentialism the Disciplined Pursuit of Less

This post, is a part of my thinking and research for my new book, centred around the tensions between productivity and creativity. You can follow other related entries here


If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably noted that I tend to be interested in a million and one things.  In the past, having a broad (and random) knowledge base has come in handy on client projects or in my writing, but  it has also been  a huge detriment to my productivity. I want to try and do so many things that I get overwhelmed and end up not making progress on anything. Last year, I stumbled upon a book called “Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less” by Greg McKeown and it has had such a big impact on my life that I wanted to share my top three take-aways.

From the back jacket cover:

The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.  It is not  a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.

By forcing us to apply a more selective criteria for what is Essential, the disciplined pursuit of less empowers us to reclaim control of our own choices about where to spend our precious time and energy – instead of giving others the implicit permission to choose for us.

Essentialism is not one more thing – it’s a whole new way of doing everything. A must-read for any leader, manager, or individual who wants to learn who to do less, but better, in every area of their lives, Essentialism  is a movement whose time has come.


The book guides you through a process that involves three phases: explore/evaluate, eliminate, and execute.

  • Explore/Evaluate: Essentialist give themselves the opportunities to explore a wide variety of activities and ideas before they narrow down to their final selection. They never commit to anything without first thoroughly analysing how it fits within their goals and objectives.
  • Eliminate: Identifying the things you want to work on is not enough, you have to then  eliminate the activities that don’t make the list. This includes unnecessary meetings, social obligations, or other projects. Greg recommends focusing only on the “vital few.”
  • Execute: The last part of the process involves actually doing the work. Essentialist have the discipline to stick to their focus and refuse to be sidetracked by unexpected requests or opportunities that will distract them from their goals.

I found the model to be helpful and easy to implement. My brain is always racing with so many ideas that it’s easy for me to get caught up in something that isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. I realized that if I was going to accomplish anything substantial, I would have to cut a lot of other stuff out – even if they were fun activities.



1) Create the Space to Think

One of the most important lessons I took from this book was to schedule in blocks of time to think, evaluate, and explore. It today’s productivity-obsessed culture it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have to fill up every minute of the day with work or social activities. In my group of friends everyone is running around so much that the term “so busy” has become a joke. Every week, I go over to my favorite coffee shop for a few hours to catch up on my reading, write morning pages, and just take some time to think about how everything is going. That time has become extremely valuable in gaining clarity about the things I want to pursue- and those I have to let go.


2) Prioritize Your Life or Someone Else Will

Unfortunately, we live in a work culture that has trained us to be hyper-reactive to all communications, meeting requests, and projects. People expect instant responses to their requests, even if that means interrupting your work on something important. For this reason, establishing clear prioritize for yourself is essential in getting things done. For me, hitting my daily word count and with working out are two big priorities. I will try to complete those before tackling emails and calls. That way, I always know that I’ve made good progress on the things that matter, without getting caught up meetings and requests.

I have stopped saying that I am “so busy.” Tim Ferris has said that a lack of time indicates a lack of priorities and going through the Essentialism process, I now wholeheartedly agree. If you don’t make time for your dreams, your health, your friends and your family – you’ll definitely pay for it later. (Coincidentally, ignoring those things are the most common regrets of the dying.)


3) Embrace the Power of No

It’s completely liberating to say no. Saying no to the things you don’t want to do is easy, the real hard part is saying no to the things you actually want to do because there are other things that are more important. For me, finishing my novel last year was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. To do so I had to be very realistic about my limited free time since we were still writing and finalizing The Decoded Company. So I said no to a bunch of other stuff I wanted to do: spanish lessons, drawing class, learning the ukulele – I love all of these things but writing my novel was more important. It was cutting those stuff out that allowed me to focus and push through and write nearly 100,000 words in my spare time.

This year, I have a few projects around digital culture that I’m toying with, not to mention I want to write another novel, so I’m forcing myself to really evaluate how much time these projects will take before committing to starting them. Ultimately, this book has been a big in deciding what to pursue and what to let go. Prioritizing your dreams is a hard exercise, but an essential one if you want the chance to truly pursue them.



Bonus: Download a free copy of Greg’s  “12 Myths that Lead to an Unfulfilling Life,”



[DigiCulture] DYI Cyber-Vigilantism: The Heroes We Need?

The Heroes We Need ?

This post explores some of my thoughts around concepts of Digital Culture.  You can find the other related entries HERE. 



One of my favorite moments in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is the final scene where Lt. James Gordon tries to explain to his son why the police must hunt down Batman. “Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now,” Gordon says, looking saddened but resigned.

I’ve always loved the quote and find myself thinking of it often. Gotham was dark and flawed and the nature of its own corruption demanded an equally flawed protector. Batman has his own issues that are the foundation for the moral code he is driven to uphold. He sees a gap in existing systems, a failure from trusted institutions to do their jobs, and so he steps in. Within a super-hero movie, his actions are romanticized, seen as a noble sacrifice for the greater good. As viewers, Batman’s story is transparent and so we can empathize with this justification for taking the law into his own hands.

As I was researching an article for Makeshift Magazine  about Cyber-Vigilantes, I couldn’t help but think of Batman and his quest for justice. I wrote about one of the most well known examples of cyber-vigilantes known today – the hacktavist collective Anonymous – and their self-assigned role as our protectors. They too are deeply flawed and sometimes dark. They have made mistakes but have also played a role in highlighting some of the shortcomings of the law (even though they had to break the law to do so.)

Anonymous has taken a stance in many political situations, often picking sides and launching attacks in order to uphold their own code of honor. For example, after the Paris terror attacks in 2015, where 10 staff members of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were killed, Anonymous launched #opcharliehebdo – declaring war on Islamic radicals. They disabled websites and social media profiles affiliated with known extremist groups. It’s an intriguing space, once that can be morally ambiguous. On one hand, taking down the websites of known radicals who actively preach for the killing of innocent civilians is  a good thing. On the other, the means to do it violates the law.

Anonymous has also recently targeted the Missouri chapter of the Klu Klux Klan after the white supremacist group threatened to use “lethal force” against Ferguson protestors. In retaliation, Anonymous “dehooded” Klan members, making their personal information available online and disabled Klan affiliated sites.



Deconstructing Cyber-Vigilantism

I’m particularly interested in the psychology that necessitates this type of response from civilians who deliberately decide to engage in these behaviours without any legal jurisdiction. I started by looking at the commonalities that unite all of these communities, regardless of who their target was. I’ve found that there are three main elements of Cyber Vigilantism.

1) “I was wronged.”  – The Violation of a social/moral/cultural Code  

Someone feels like the code has been broken and the initial outcry is declared, be it through uploaded video, photographs, or first person accounts of what happened. The declaration is important as it calls attention of this transgression to the rest of the web, helping to publicize the offense and increase the scale of the response, especially once the content goes viral. Usually, the outcry begins on a social network or a YouTube video that begins to gain stream through extensive sharing. Content sites like Reddit and Buzzfeed act as amplifiers, helping to curate and direct the information to specific web audiences. Eventually, popular blogs will pick up the story and will bring it to the attention of the mainstream media who will help spread awareness to offline audiences as well.

Good Example:  Trash Bin Lady, Mary Bale who was captured on CCTV putting a neighbor’s cat into a trashbin was identified within hours after the cat’s owners posted the footage on Facebook asking for help identifying the suspect. Within days, the story had received international attention and the CCTV footage was being played on television networks all over the world. (2011)


2) “They’re getting away with it.” – Lack of Traditional Accountability 

Often, the victim of a crime feels helpless and there is always a fear that the perpetrator won’t get what they deserve. This is important, because it refers to the gap that I mentioned above – often, people feel like traditional law enforcement insufficient or incapable of responding. Both, Anonymous and other groups are driven by the belief that they are a necessary part of society, filling a void that is either overlooked or underserved. Their activities are always driven by an unmet need.

Good Example:   There are several online communities who devote themselves to hunting down child molesters, often by posing as minors in chat rooms in an attempt to incriminate offenders. Many members of these communities feel that general law enforcement don’t have the resources or the time to hunt down so many possible perpetrators and so they take on that task themselves, passing along relevant information to the police. In Russia, is a community that has taken their involvement one step further.  The site uses the Internet to lure drug dealers. Once a meeting is arranged, the suspect is confronted, their stash destroyed and they are often beaten up as well. Members of the network blame the police for their inability to curb drug trafficking, so they opt to do it themselves. The site has now “expanded” its services to include hunting down child predators.


3) “You’re Guilty” – Public Shaming and Tangible Consequences for Actions 


The act of cyber-vigilantism concludes once consequences have been delivered. At minimum, the punishment involves some form of public shaming – the exposure of personal identity including information about your past, workplaces, etc. Unfortunately, public shaming is usually accompanied by more severe tangible impacts including receiving death threats and harassing phone calls, loss of employment, and emotional duress.

Good example: Justine Sacco, a communications professional was fired from her job after a public outcry in response to her tweeting “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white.” What’s interesting about this is that Justine didn’t do anything illegal, but violated a social code in a way that had very real consequences.


Brave New World

One of the most empowering aspects of the Internet age is an individual’s ability to access power that was normally reserved for large organizations. The problem is that too often, individuals who act outside the scope of the law do so without any clear accountability. I am often conflicted in my opinion on Anonymous. I am wary of their methods but cannot deny my belief that their work is important, even essential.

In the Dark Knight, the villains were very identifiable, making it easy for us to support Batman’s actions even when they broke the law. However, we all know that in the real world the truth is a far more complex thing, a story with many sides that requires time and patience to unravel – two things that online communities often lack in their fervor to pass a sentence on a transgressor. In my next post on this subject, I’ll explore the implications of wrongful accusations, social codes that are themselves problematic, and the normalization of cyber-vigilantism in our daily digital culture.




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[SciPO] Course Debrief: Altucher & The Creativity Habit

This is the first “show your work”  post about my Innovation and Emerging Business Models course for Sciences Po’s MBA in Economics and Finance in Paris. You’ll be able to see subsequent entries here

This past summer, I was invited by SciencesPo, France’s leading university for Social Sciences, to teach a course on innovation for their first year MBA program.  11 sessions later, I can’t believe we’ve reached the end of the semester! For the past few months, every Wednesday I’ve hopped on the metro and headed over to the beautiful campus in the sixth arrondisement, right in the heart of Saint Germain. Now that the course is wrapping up, I’ll be blogging a bit about the curriculum, the research I came across and my experiences in general.

Tomorrow will be our final class, and my students will be presenting their final projects: an innovation brief tracking emerging areas of opportunity in an industry of their choice. I encouraged them to pick an industry they were serious about engaging in and so far it’s been a wide and eclectic mix ranging from men’s grooming and women’s fitness to home-schooling and robotics.

Before diving into “innovation tools” I wanted to spend some time identifying the necessary conditions needed to cultivate innovative thinking on an individual, team, or industry wide level. Too often, we see the focus only on the end-result innovation, glossing over the necessary conditions that were required to generate success. For the first few modules, we focused on creativity and on identifying the necessary skills to help foster innovation.

Creativity is a habit that can be developed: James Altucher’s Idea Machine

On an individual level, creativity is a habit that can be developed and it requires making a concentrated effort to come up with ideas and seeking out new sources to spark our curiosity and making new connections between different ideas. I took inspiration from the brilliant James Altucher‘s idea machine strategy and at the beginning of each class, I would choose a topic at random and give them between 5-7 minutes to come up with ten ideas.

I got a lot of resistance. Why 10 ideas? Why a limited time frame? What’s the point? Will we be graded? Will we have to share our ideas?

The first time we did this, the topic was “10 Businesses You Could Start.” No one could come up with 10 ideas.

What’s interesting was the conversation that happened when we started digging into to why. Some people had placed restrictions on themselves in terms of capital or resources even though I hadn’t given those constraints. Some people were getting bogged down in how to execute the idea, some people were afraid of not having ideas that were good enough. Talking about this helped them realize the limitations we each face when trying to come up with something new. We learned to take inspiration from everything around us, to identify pain points, to make crazy connections even if they don’t make sense, and – most importantly, to let go of the ego pressuring us to come up with “perfect ideas.”

During another class I told them to take two separate ideas and combine them to  create a new idea (Altucher calls this Idea Sex, lol).

“But it doesn’t make any sense!” I was told by one very logical student. “Who says it has to?” I replied. A big pause, and then a grudging nod. This is a safe space, I told them. It’s not about coming up with ten good ideas, but just 10 ideas. It’s like doing push-ups: we’re just making the muscles stronger so that when we DO need to come up with good ideas, we’ve had good practice.

Subsequent exercises remained a bit difficult but by class five, I felt like we had hit our stride, with the majority of people being able to reach 10 ideas. The feedback from doing this regularly has been tremendous. Some students are amazed that they’ve managed to come up with 120 ideas over the course of the semester. Others told me it sparked creativity in other classes and they found themselves thinking of new ideas more frequently. By class ten we had become idea generating machines – they looked at the topic and went to work immediately, a far cry from the confused and sometimes frightened faces at the beginning of the term.

My favorite feedback was a comment from a student who stopped to tell me: “I never thought of myself as an idea generator, but this class has shown me that if I practice, I can come up with some great concepts. It’s changed the way I look at myself.”  I was happy to see their ability to come up with ideas improve dramatically over the course of the class. Innovation is about seeing connections and you can only get to that place if you train yourself to always be thinking about new opportunities.

While I can’t claim to do the idea generation exercises every day like James suggests, I do them during my morning pages with enough regularity that I can vouch for their effectiveness. It’s such a simple thing to do, and it can have a big impact on your ability to innovate.

So a big thank you to James for helping us become idea ninjas!  Speaking of James, I’m a huge fan of both his blog, and his book “Choose Yourself” which I highly recommend you read!

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Seasons of Work: Summer School – part 1

This is a “show your work”  post about sharing some of my thinking around  my own career development. 

I have often spoken about lifestyle design on this blog (here and here) and it remains one of my most important priorities. I always like to step back and make sure that the way I’m living my life is aligned with my optimal energy levels and habits. For example, during the cold months I am very rarely tempted to venture outside of my apartment. For me, winter is my most productive time because I hole up in my little writing cave and work. Spring and fall are in between times, a mix of execution, travel, and projects. Summer is all about being outside, taking some time to think, moving at a slower pace and enjoying the little things like cold ice tea and a walk in the park with Pixel.

One of the saddest parts of being an adult is not being able to take summer vacations anymore, and something that I always vowed to fix in my own career. Over the past few years, I’ve managed to schedule my time so that during the summer I have a reduced active workload. An active workload is any external deliverable that someone is waiting on. I’m still doing a lot of writing and research but am  not committed to anyone else during this time. Sometimes things come up that are unavoidable but generally, this system has worked pretty well. It does mean that I work longer hours in the winter sometimes but for me, the trade-off is worth it.

Summer is also the time I carve out to learn.

One of the things that I love most about working in the digital space is the sheer speed at which everything moves. It keeps you on your toes and forces you to pay attention to what’s going on because everything is constantly changing. For me that means I need to regularly reassess my skills and make sure that my knowledge base is growing in order to continue to deliver value to my clients and on my own projects. In that vein, every summer I poke around online and find a few courses to audit. It’s the perfect summer activity. I do my course readings on patios, in parks, by the Seine. My reduced workload gives me time to explore new ideas, which is the perfect lead in to my ramp up for fall. Armed with new insights I am always energized when September comes around, eager to apply what I’ve learned. Many of these courses are free, and you can audit them if you don’t want to do the course assignments. I usually pick a mix of doing the course work and auditing. I tend to gravitate to a mix of innovation, strategy and foresight courses though occasionally I’ll take a random one that strikes my fancy. MIT’s Open Course platform is a gold mine!  Here are the courses I’m interested in this year:

  • The Sociology of Strategy:  A course that investigates some of the central questions in strategic management through the lense of sociological research with a focus on (a) relative firm performance; (b) the nature of competition and market interaction; (c) organizational capabilities; (d) the beginnings of industries and firms; (e) the diffusion or transfer of ideas and practices across firms; and (f) strategic change.  
  • Advanced Strategy:  A course that explores  the roots of long term competitive advantage in unusually successful firms. It will focus particularly on the ways in which the actions of senior management build competitive advantage over time, and on the strategic implications of understanding the roots of a firm’s success.

Over on Coursera I’ve narrowed down my choices to these three: Understanding Media by Understanding Google from NorthWestern University, Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies: the first step in entrepreneurship from the University of Maryland, and Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations.

Audit vs. Take

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll audit most of the courses, meaning I’ll watch the lectures and read the notes but I will be very choosy about which exercises and assignments I do. I won’t get a “certificate” of completion from Coursera but I don’t really care about that as I’m only interested in expanding my own skills. Last year I took Managing Innovation: Emerging Trends which I really liked and so I’m hoping this year’s picks will be as interesting. I enjoy that it’s self-paced so I just go through the readings and lectures at my own speed. What I’ll usually do is review all the course material to see what’s most interesting and then choose the courses that I think will be the most fun and useful. If something is really boring, I’ll skip it.  The Google course looks fascinating and I’ve already read several of the books on the suggested reading list so this will be a nice complement to critically evaluating some of the ideas I’m already familiar with. The coursera platform has a much nicer interface than MIT’s and you definitely have to be self-motivated. I schedule some time each week to focus on this because it’s an important part of my professional development. Yes, we have to stay on top of trends and startups and current events but I’m finding that it’s also important to slow down and re-examine some of the big ideas that are underlying these shifts.


Here are a few articles I’ve found about other people who are taking an innovative approach to professional development.

  • The (now) famous Personal MBA by Josh Kauffman about how to access the same information for yourself.
  • The Tropical MBA – my current obsession about building a location independent business. Part of my next five year plan. So much good stuff here, I’m all over their content: podcasts, blogposts, newsletters…MOAR!!!

I’ll be blogging about the more interesting tidbits of my courses this summer, and sharing some the best stuff with my lovely newsletter subscribers, stay tuned and happy learning!   If you’re interested in staying updated about my research, upcoming books and general cool things I find online, sign up for my monthly newsletters and get my best stuff first. Subscribe here.  

[Data] Decoding Prince Charming: A tale of quantified love #thedecodedcompany

This post is a part of my thinking around the concepts I wrote about in my latest book, “The Decoded Company: Know Your Talent Better Than You Know Your Customers.”  You can see some of my other thoughts about big data, organizational culture and talent management here

I came across this very funny TED talk about a woman who used analytics to find her ideal partner. As I watched, I realized she was basically using the Decoded Model to find a man- which is awesome. The personal application of the Decoded model was an ongoing discussion between the authors as we wrote the book. I kept joking that I wanted to write a follow up applying the same model to our personal lives, and now, watching Amy’s story I think the idea has some real merit!

I decided to treat this as a case study and analyzed Amy’s behaviour based on the model’s three principles.


The Story: 35 in a million – not the best odds

According to the data she collected, Amy Webb realized that her strategy of dating through serendipity was ineffective. She lives in Philadelphia, and started by crunching some numbers. Out of a population of 1.5 million people, if half the population was male, then based on her dating criteria (age range, religious background, hobbies) combined with the probability of reciprocal chemistry, there were only 35 men in the whole city that would be a good match for her.

Amy didn’t like those odds and formulated a new plan: online dating. I am going to summarize her approach within the context of the Decoded Model.

Online Dating

Amy liked online dating because these sites use algorithms to determine compatibility. At first, this approach failed because her suggested matches were all terrible, including one gem of a prince who ditched her at an expensive restaurant with a $1300 bill. Ouch.

The problem was the algorithm  relied on data points that were superficial and self-reported. As you know, the decoded model recommends a mix of both self-reported and ambient data so that you’re not completely skewed by your own biases.

She tried a new approach: to treat the dating sites as databases to collect the necessary information to reverse engineer her own perfect match.


1. Data as a Sixth Sense: What is love? A 72 Point Checklist.

Data as a Sixth Sense is about collecting all the data possible so that you can gain valuable insights. By pairing instincts with analytics, we can gain a perspective that’s grounded in data but tempered by experience. It also helps you see things that  you might otherwise miss.  Amy embraced this principle fully by first going on a fact finding mission. She wanted to be very clear about what she was looking for.

  • She created a list of data points (72!) of the most important characteristics she wanted in a mate.
  • She prioritized the list based on a first tier and second tier state of importance.
  • She built a scoring system to mathematically calculate whether or not the guy would be a good match.  A prospective date would have to score a minimum of 700 points to be eligible for an email response. 900 points guaranteed a date and 1500 points meant there was real long term viability.


Technology as a Coach: Learning to write a better profile

Technology as a Coach is about using technology to show you how to improve your performance. Once Amy had implemented her system she found several matches, but there was a snag: the men she was picking didn’t like her back. So she used technology as a coach and created a system to improve her own performance on the dating site.

  • She found and researched other women on the site who would be vying for the same men.
  • She created 10 fake male profiles to conduct “market research,” to gather data about everyone else in the system.  To be clear, she didn’t catfish anyone, she just monitored the requests she got without responding or engaging. She only collected data on the type of women that would be attracted to the same type of man that she was and analyzed that information to find common traits of success.
  • She looked at qualitative  (the language they would use) and quantitative (how long their profiles were) data.
  • She found out that content matters: smart people write longer profiles 3,000 to 5,000 words, but the popular people write very short profiles averaging about 97 words and they use non-specific language to appeal to a broader audience.
  • Popular women on the site waited on average 23 hours between communication.

Amy used this information to learn about what would work and what wouldn’t and she created what she called  a “super profile” that applied all of these best practices.


Engineered Ecosystems:

Engineered Ecosystems is about using data to create the type of culture that you want. To use quantitative feedback to seed the types of behaviour and values that you want to amplify. Amy did this through the combination of the first two steps. Now, armed with a super profile, and a data scoring system that quantified the values she wanted to her future partner to possess, she was ready to engineer her own ecosystem of love.

  • Her new super profile yielded many offers but she stuck with her scoring system and only responded to men who had crossed the necessary threshold of optimal compatibility.
  • She met a man who scored 850 points, and after going on a great first date, she rescored him to a whopping 1050 points!
  • She ended up marrying that man and they now share a beautiful daughter named Petra.




Amy was able to use the data around her to gain better insights into her own behaviour (data as a sixth sense), she leveraged the technology to be a learning tool to help improve her performance (technology as a coach) and she quantitatively used data to identify the values and traits she wanted to amplifying, making it easy for her to select the right person (engineering ecosystems).

I really had a great time watching Amy’s story and it has fueled my interest in finding other examples of how people are applying the Decoded principles in their own lives to attain better results. You can see the video below.



If you would like to learn more about how you can apply The Decoded Model within your own organization (or your love life?), feel free to email me as I often (time permitting) take on a few clients to help implement our principles. You can contact me here.


If you’re interested in staying updated about my research, upcoming books and general cool things I find online, sign up for my monthly newsletters and get my best stuff first. Subscribe!