Building a Blogging Habit

I just checked my blog post volume since the start of this year (2020).

The stats look like this:

  • April – 19 posts this month (including this one)
  • March – 3 posts
  • Feb – 1 post
  • Jan – 2 post

Before that, the prior few years were very sporadic. I was unable to build a regular habit of writing and posting. I could start, but never could get into a regular routine. Perhaps I had a good excuse of limited spare time as was in survival model (still in it?!) with 2 young babies (now aged 3 and 4).

It is no coincidence that the above productivity coincides with the COVID-19 lockdown. My blogging strategy during it has been simple: post once a day on topics I am thinking about or interested in.

Here is some insight into how I am going about it:

  • I don’t have a regular routine to achieve this. Sometimes it is late at night before bedtime, other times it is whilst the 4yo is doing a school activity which doesn’t need supervision;
  • I build constantly add to an ‘ideas pipeline’ in WordPress by writing the title and if needed, add a few thoughts in the description box or link to an article, webinar etc. Right now I have a pipeline of 20 posts;
  • Each morning I’ll quickly scan the draft ideas list and whichever one grabs me I’ll aim to get it done right then, or during the day whenever I can. I know that this lack of structure will not sustainable for me over time, but given lockdown, home-schooling and everything else it is the only tactic – albeit a very loose one – which has worked to date;
  • The time to write each post is different but I’ll aim to not spend more than 30min on average. Some are more detailed – for example, Top 9 Strategic Planning tools – which may require more than 1 hour;

Having done this now consistently for over a month, it helps me to re-engage with something I have always loved: writing. Over the past decade, as a start-up founder and management consultant, I have spent 99% of my time in powerpoint and excel i.e. story-telling via diagrams, and analysis.

Hopefully I can continue the momentum and produce similar output for next month (and thereafter). We’ll see.

Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19

On Friday I caught up with a friend who works at WhatIf (now owned by Accenture). We were talking about the impact of COVID-19 on the future workforce. He mentioned an interesting point around how the crisis could drive increased mental health impacts as employees (and companies) grapple with the future transition from ‘work-from-home’ to whatever is the ‘new normal’.

Some firms may stay as is, some may adopt a hybrid model, and some may go back to offices full-time. Whichever the model, each presents its own set of unique short-term challenges for staff and firms.

Gartner have a great article here discussing these issues further. It is called ‘Leading Your Employees Through The Emotional Side of COVID-19’. If you are leading or managing teams, I suggest you take a look.

Strategy Tools

Recently I came across Strategy Tools and the founder Christian Rangen. He has put together a series of simple tools and software to make it better, easier, and more fun to think about, and develop, strategies and plans within businesses large and small. There are multiple ways to use the tools, whether in-person or virtually via canvasses, simulations, games, apps, and more.

There are many other use cases for the tools (e.g. government, executive education etc) however the point is well made: the practice of strategy has become too hard.

As a strategy practitioner and consultant for over a decade, he is 100% right. Why this is the case is a post for another day.

For example, the below ‘Strategy Intro’ tool is visually, super simple. The hard part is obviously getting the details filled out. But having an easy way to represent something complex – in a way a teenager could understand – is a huge benefit for firms and practitioners.

This is especially relevant for those firms who believe that ‘strategy’ is spending 6-9 months every 3-5 years to create a 300 page document full of power-points which no-one ever reads, nor can remember.

The Long Term Funding Roadmap

There are 30+ more of these tools available for different business requirements (e.g. scale-up planning, transformation). Over the next few weeks I’ll be learning from Christian (via the Strategy Tools Coaching Course) deep-diving into these. I’ll be sure to write a few posts on how it goes, as well as the most relevant tools I come across.

5 Disruptive Leaders 5 Days

Following my crisis leadership post (here), I’ve been thinking a lot about how the senior management of businesses around the world – whether multi-national companies with 300k staff or small SMEs with a few employees – are leading their firms through these disruptive times.

So starting tomorrow (Wed 8th April 2020), I’m starting a mini-challenge: 5 Disruptive Leaders in 5 Days.

Each day I will focus on a business leader who has demonstrated leadership through a disruptive crisis, whether due to competitive threats, new business models, war, product liability, terrorism, or economic meltdowns. I’ll keep it simple with a few practical tips on key things to learn, including leadership attributes they demonstrated, and links to a few resources to learn more (e.g. videos, podcasts, books, articles etc).

Right. Let’s do it #5DisruptiveLeaders5Days

Lockdown Learning

I saw a Ryan Holliday blog post today (here) where he talked about how to think about using your time effectively during the Corona Virus lockdown. In it, he referenced a quote from the author Robert Green:

There are two types of time: alive time and dead time. One is when you sit around, when you wait until things happen to you. The other is when you are in control, when you make every second count, when you are learning and improving and growing.

As we enter week 2 of lockdown, I certainly haven’t been proactive or strategic about learning or improving anything specific. But I have noticed the following changes in behaviours and habits:

  • Running to make up for no sport (45min runs with our labrador every other day)
  • Creative cooking (I cooked an amazing southern fried chicken – using panko breadcrumbs and buttermilk – and chips…on a Monday night!)

IMG_5558

  • Blogging activity has increased (have posted 5x compared to x1 over past 3 months)
  • Significant more quality time with our 3 and 4yo (I’m doing the lion-share of home-schooling at the moment)
  • Significant more VCs with family and friends (this includes a 5hr session using HouseParty on a Sat night with 3 other local friends…let’s just say Sunday was very tough)
  • Sleeping has stayed about the same (I typically get around 8hrs per night, which I need)
  • Podcasts, audiobooks, books, online articles etc have remained the same

I have downloaded Duolingo although am yet to take the next steps. I need to co-ordinate with Lydia on which language we should attempt.

Over the next few weeks, I anticipate that the above will continue. A major addition will be an independent work project or 2, and hopefully be in early development by the end of April. Whether this is research, a product (e.g. online course, e-book etc) or something else, I am yet to decide. But I will post an update here soon when I know more.

 

Zooming

I came across an article this week here which asked whether Corona Virus (CV) could present a tipping point for virtual events. This reminded me of a pre-CV experience at the end of 2019. I attended a virtual conference hosted by marketing guru Seth Godin.

Afterward I was amazed at how far VC technology has come in being able to easily manage large numbers of people in an interesting and organised way which adds-value to both sides. He ran it using Zoom, had over 300 attendees from 50 countries, used self-managed break-out rooms over the course of the 2hrs, and created interactivity (which game them market research) with Q&A into the chat boxes.

Whilst it wasn’t perfect, it was impressive. I would certainly attend more of these, and reconsider in-person ones. Until this time, I had only ever used VC tech for standard corporate meeting use cases with just a few people. Now, I am recommending my parents to set up Zoom as an alternative for traditional B2C options (Skype, FaceTime).  Although that may change if the firm can’t get a handle on Zoom-bombing.

Despite some negative scaling side-effects and challenges, Zoom’s stock has post-IPO gone through the roof (actually, through the atmosphere). This gives them a massive window to place new bets and scale-up new products, value-added services, and M&A.

It is not often a newly public firm gets to invest for the long-term, but now is the certainly the time to accelerate investments into becoming a key player within the enterprise (and B2C?) ecosystem. Vertical, horizontal and hybrid platform solutions across many sectors and use cases will likely emerge as it has with IoT. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, how Zoom responds, and how long until its market capitalisation falls back down to earth.

Perspective

Last month I took 3 weeks off for a trip to Australia with the family. It was the longest holiday I’ve had since I got married (7 years ago). We spent the majority with friends at the beach, hosted everyone at an amazing beach house we rented, & celebrated my 40th over multiple days. We also took a road trip to the tiny town where I grew up (and hadn’t been back for 29 years). We introduced the kids (2 & 3yo) to my home country for the first time. It was an amazing trip.

Reflecting on it now, the one major personal benefit was perspective. Being away from the daily grind freed up my mind to think about the bigger picture. To reassess both immediate & longer-term objectives & plans. To revisit & eventually listen to what my gut was saying.

Although not everyone is able to take that much time off, if you can, definitely do it. Or take as many shorter breaks as you can manage. Plus, bake in ‘perspective time’ into your daily week. This could be morning routines, fitness, listening to music or podcasts when commuting, or simply walking. I’m certainly more mindful of this now. For me, I’m generally pretty good at focusing on this. My week of perspective time generally looks like this:

  • 4x week of sport squash & fitness (weights, run, spin class)
  • x2 Podcasts per day (right now I’m into The Pitch, Without Fail, Product Hunt Radio, a16z, Business Wars Daily, Masters of Scale)
  • 5 min Journal morning & night (I’m generally poor at this)
  • Read for at least 15 min before going to bed (currently reading Michael Ovitz’s autobiography & Bad Blood, story of the Theranos fraud)
  • x1 week dog walk/run on beach

Given that we have a 2 & 3 year old I’m doing pretty well to achieve the above. Our next family trip is a week away in May which will be outdoorsy, staying in cabins in a forest outside the Cotswolds. We do it yearly and I can’t wait. Perfect for gaining perspective.