BBF Approved: Lessons from Business Adventures

Wow! It’s been awhile since I did a book review! But I’m back and this one’s a goodie.

The best business book I’ve ever read” – Bill Gates

High praise from Bill Gates. Warren Buffett is also said to be a fan.

So what’s the book? Business Adventures by John Brooks.

So what is it really? Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street is the subtitle. Which it true. The book consists of twelve stories of the world of high finance. It’s a fascinating insight into a world many of us will never glimpse. And if you, like me, love understanding how the world works, this book is an absolute gem.

Did I mention that Business Adventures is old?! Yet still relevant
Did I mention that Business Adventures is old?! Yet still so relevant.

When I was reading it, I was trying to understand why Bill Gates will call it the best ever. It’s not immediately obvious. As the subtitle says, the book consists of stories. It’s not a how-to guide. It’s not step by step instructions. It’s stories. The lessons and learnings are there but you have to decipher them for yourself. Which I think is part of the brilliance of the book. Everyone who reads this will find different lessons. They will pull out the things they need to know. That are relevant to them, their life and their business. What has stuck with me won’t be what sticks with you when you read it. And that is brilliant. And the power of story telling.

So instead of delving into each of the twelve stories and summarising, I’ve decided to share my twelve lessons.

Lessons from Business Adventures

  1. The Fluctuation – Not all human behaviour is logical. If you get too caught up in the micro, you might miss the macro.
  2. The Fate of Edsel – Yes you need to know what you customers want. Make sure you’re actually listening to them and not just pretending to.
  3. The Federal Income Tax – Get your processes right. This means putting the ambulance at the top of the cliff, not the bottom.
  4. A Reasonable Amount of Time – Insiders have the advantage (duh!). Find a way to get inside even if that means creating the game.
  5. Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox – Go all in.
  6. Making the Customers Whole – Do what’s right. Always.
  7. The Impacted Philosophers – Create a culture of open, honest, upfront communication or risk jail.
  8. The Last Great Corner – If you’re ballsy enough you can take on the institution, no matter how small you are.
  9. A Second Sort of Life – Transfer your skills to a new environment and you’ll grow in big, big way.
  10. Stockholder Season – Have your say, even just to amuse yourself. I.e. not everything serious needs to be taken seriously,
  11. One Free Bite – In today’s knowledge economy you better know what knowledge you can take with you.
  12. In Defense of Sterling – actually a few men do sit in an oak panelled room and control the world. Its not just in the movies. Scary!

So there you have it! My twelve lessons, that apply to my life, not just the world of Wall Street. Business Adventures they may be called, but they’re life adventures too.

Letter to My Younger Self

I was writing a letter to my younger self yesterday, as a reflection exercise, and midway through realised I was really writing for me, now, present time. All of my advice to myself is still highly relevant. The big lessons are the hardest to learn, the hardest to transform into action. Somehow thinking about my 16 year old self, allowed me to access the things I need to be thinking about right now.

I want to share with you what I wrote, in the hope it will inspire you to do the same.

Proof. The original, unedited, unfiltered, scribbled version.
Proof. The original, unedited, unfiltered, scribbled version.


Dear Sara,

You’re wonderful. Really. Just the way you are. The sooner you start believing in that, the sooner your growth trajectory will explode. You’ll put yourself out there more. You’ll try things. Have more incredible experiences. This is important. You learn by doing. By experiencing things. So get out from behind the laptop and the textbooks. Don’t stay small because you’re scared. Get out and do what you want. I can tell you as your future self that you’re fine. It all turns out fine. The worst that can happen is pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things. Perspective is a wonderful thing. Cultivate it.

Life is not all or nothing. A bad day or moment doesn’t mean you’ve failed at something. No matter how long it takes, as long as you pick yourself back up again, you are winning at life. You get to decide what winning at life looks like and I say choose to win small and frequently. Big wins will the come as an automatic consequence.

Lose control. I know, I know! This is so far outside of our sphere – control and order is where we live. It’s powerful to realise letting go of the reins doesn’t cause the world to implode. That knowledge will allow you to take risks. Start small, talking to a stranger. For control freaks, taking risks is a muscle that needs to be built up and exercised. So again, small and frequent. Then when the time comes, you’re ready to take big risks. So call the boys, take the dance class, commit to more than you think you have time for and stretch yourself.

I want you to know you are destined for great things. Keep following what you enjoy and keeps you motivated. The rest does follow, just like you believe it does. So you are on the right track even though you don’t see the path yet. You can always end up where you’re meant to be.

There’s a lot of life lesson stuff here. It’s a little intense. On a lighter note, have fun. A lot of fun. Squeeze the most out of life. Sitting around waiting isn’t your style so embrace that side of you.

Lastly, always remember you are more beautiful than you see, smarter than you realise, more fun than you give yourself credit and 100% deserving of achieving all of your dreams.

Love always, Sara.

Making the Most Out of Your Weekend

Earlier this week I came across this article on getting the most out of your weekend. For awhile now I’ve been aware that my weekend really sets me up for my week. I can usually tell on Sunday night what kind of week I’m going to have. To increase my likelihood of success, I’m going to use the upcoming long weekend to explore each of the ideas in the article. So pop over and read the article, then jump back to see what I’m going to get up to.

I'm likely to find myself at this beach on a long summer's weekend.
I’m likely to find myself at this beach on a long summer’s weekend.

1. Dig deep.

Something I loved as a kid? Easy! Swings. Since I moved (again!) I’ve lost my go to local playground so this weekend’s mission to find a new one and swing to my heart’s content.

2. Use your mornings.

I’m the first to admit I can let my sleep patterns get all kinds of out of whack over the weekends leading to me missing out on my mornings. I love mornings, early morning sunlight, brunch, peace and quiet while everyone else sleeps in. So good. I’m going to be up and at ’em this weekend so watch out. The plan is to use the time to write, something I’m still not doing nearly enough of.

3. Create traditions.

I’ve just started a tradition with some workmates, Friday night G&Ts. This weekend we’re doing it again and long may it continue.

4. Schedule downtime.

I’m notorious for going from one thing to the next all week and all weekend. Rarely do I just stop and not have anything planned. The idea of scheduling time to do whatever takes my fancy sounds like bliss and something I really need to do. I’m locking in Saturday from after lunch until mid afternoon (if this weather keeps up, you’ll find me at the beach!).

5. Make time to explore.

There’s a walk along the coast from my new place that I’ve been meaning to check out. This is the weekend I’m going to make it happen.

6. Plan something fun for Sunday nights.

Sunday nights for me mean dinner at my adopted family’s house. So this one is a bit of a tradition too, we do the weekend crossword, watch Pointless (a UK game show) and play cards together. I love that it takes me out of the preparing for the week headspace and allows me to maximise my weekend time.

To top all of this off this weekend entails two of my favourite things – live sport and live music. It’s going to be an epic weekend and lead into an epic week.

Tell me, what weekend habits do you have to set yourself up for success?

Mini Improvement: Airport Security

Last year when I went to Europe (yes this post is long overdue) I cleared a lot of airport security and border control in five different countries. Which makes for 5 versions of what required to happen. Some places require laptops out, other don’t. Some places classify IPads as laptops, others don’t. Some have super tight border security, others don’t. Throw in that what standard is required seems depend on what official you’re dealing with and how well the metal detector decides to work that day. Talk about difficult to negotiate conditions. And the last thing you want to do when travelling is upset the wrong official. Combine all of that with language barriers and you have a recipe for disaster.

Airport runway by Nick Page
Airport runway by Nick Page

This makes it imperative for there to be clear, easy to understand i.e. pictorial visuals guides to instruct you what to do. Not surprisingly, this is a pipe dream. In some places it was fine, like in Glasgow where I could ask if I needed to declare my chocolate to border security (I didn’t). In other countries, well let’s say I think I got told off in Dubai for wearing my bracelets through the metal detector, but I’ll never know for sure.

The mini improvement in this case is pretty simple:

  • Get clear on what the standards and expectations of passengers are. Pay attention to common questions to indicate where you’re going wrong.
  • Display instructions are visually as possible. Pictures transcend language. Make sure the pictures are positioned in places that passengers get the information when they need it (this means when they should be thinking about what they need to do to clear security, not when they need to whip off their steel cap boots and hold everything up).
  • Use the same standards to develop training materials so the officials are delivering to the expectations given.

As always with mini improvements, it’s not that hard to lift your game. It’s simply a matter of thinking about things from the customers perspective.

Getting Back on Track in 2016

At the end of 2015 some motivation from an incredible friend got me recommitted to this corner of the internet. As 2016 gets under way (two weeks in already!) I’m reflecting on how I got to where I did and what needs to change to be successful. I’m thinking about my goals and aspirations for BBF. How I want to feel with it. What particular needs it’s going to fulfil in me. All of this thinking is geared to working out what needs to change in order to achieve the things I want.

The problem solver I am always need to start with identifying the problem. I hit a writing slump. I lacked inspiration.

This slump didn’t just happen. My muse didn’t just fly away. Getting to the bottom of the causes of this and addressing them is the only way to ensure I don’t end up in the same spot again.So here are some factors that contributed to my writing slump:

  • Yoga on posting day. I’m not one of those super organised bloggers that has content created and scheduled in advance. Maybe one day. So posting day for me includes inputting into WordPress, editting, writing social media posts. Things that take time. My absolute favourite yoga class is taught on Tuesdays (my old posting day for those new around here) and fitting yoga and blogging in the same evening just hasn’t been working. So I’m being kind and realistic to myself and moving posting day to today, Wednesday!
  • Not getting back into my habits and routines on my return from Europe. In fact the level I’d let my writing routine completely vanish on travels is another issue. Europe was definitely much more of a disruptive force than I bargained for. I hadn’t anticipated how wiped out I’d feel over I got back. So I certainly didn’t plan for it. With 2016 promising to be my most hectic year yet, with plenty more disruptions something has to change. My solution: scheduling tasks in. If I schedule the time into my calendar, I leave space for it. This approach has allowed me to train for half marathons and complete yoga challenges so I know it works for me!
The future is bright fuchsia!
The future is bright fuchsia!

In this case, I’m looking at bringing back something I used to do. So I find it helpful to ponder under what conditions I got my posting groove on.

  • Writing daily. Right before I went to Europe I completed a 21 day writing daily challenge. Not everything was for the blog but it all kept my writing muscles toned. And the more I wrote, the more inspired I was. I was in this wonderful self reinforcing cycle of writing and inspiration. What you do daily really does add up. Realistically I don’t have time to write daily. If I set that as a goal I’d be setting myself up for failure. And I’m not going to do that to myself or recommend that you do it to yourself. So the goal is three times a week. And yes I’m scheduling it, as promised!
  • Taking in lots of inspiring and brain stretching content. When I’m listening to podcasts, reading great books I get ideas. When I watch crappy television, I don’t. I’ve written about this before here, so won’t dive into again. Essentially I’m getting back into my groove of ensuring my media consumption is positive, uplifting and full of ideas I can riff off. And dam it feels good!
  • Capturing ideas on my phone/laptop/notebook. I’m back to keeping a notebook and pen by my bed because when inspiration strikes, you gotta that sucker down or lose it forever.

If this post has gotten you thinking, as I hope it has, here are few more questions to guide your pondering:

  • What do you want to change or bring back and why? Always with the why.
  • What’s blocking you? What obstacles are in your way? They could be mental, physical, schedule (like mine). Brainstorm as many ideas as you can come up with. Then brainstorm some more.
  • Under what conditions are you successful? Are you like me and if you schedule it in then it happens? Or do you need someone to hold you accountable? Maybe put some money on the line in a bet with a friend. Get beyond what conditions motivate you and think about your environment. Where do you write best. Train best. Think of lots of different scenarios were you are successful. Could be as simple as getting out of bed on time everyday. Use all of those situations to think about your difference conditions for success and then pick what you think might work for this specific situation or goal.

Welcome to getting back on track! 2016 is going to be an epic year so let’s get to it!

Candid: Dear Zoe

Things have been rather quiet in BBF land recently. I can hear the tumbleweeds. After my Europe trip, home happy and exhausted, I thought I’d be brimming with inspiration. Instead I was like a balloon deflating, pssssssssst. Three weeks of almost no writing, save journalling my trip, and my mojo was gone.

Weeks turned into months. That was August and it’s now December. My relationship ended. I had to move house suddenly, moving in with a colleague for three weeks before my new place was available. Life was tumultuous and it was all I could do to keep it together at work. Resurrecting my writing seemed impossible. There were times I thought I’d never blog again.

But then I got a message.

‘So when are you posting next?’

From my blogging bestie, the ever fabulous Zoe at the Wayward Professional.

Zoe and me at the Blogcademy Auckland, where we first met.
Zoe and me at the Blogcademy Auckland, where we first met.

For the last six weeks its simmered in my brain. At least one person wants to read what I have to say.

So here I am. Writing again.

To all my readers, find your Zoe. Find one person who believes in what you do so much, that they ask for it. Demand it. Beg for it. Someone who keeps you believing when everything else is dragging you away from your dream.

So thank you Zoe, and any other reader still hanging with me. I cherish your belief in what I do. Onwards we go on this journey.

What did you learn?

I’ve literally just jumped from writing my newsletter to writing a blog post because I had a brainwave. When inspiration strikes, it must be acted on. To get the newsletter that inspired this post, go here. It comes out on the last Wednesday of each month  (that’s tomorrow!) so get in quick or you’ll miss it!

As you read this, I’m in Europe having a wicked holiday. The week before I left (and when I’m writing this) was a complete madhouse of finishing things off, packing, planning, organising, cleaning. In the midst of all that preparation, it’s only natural I learnt something. And it often the way, it was as I was writing that clarity broke through.

Moment of clarity. Image credit.
Moment of clarity. Image credit.

A big part of my scramble to get ready to go away was setting my client up to succeed without me. To go from me being around 3 days a week to unreachable. I fretted as I assigned tasks and asked for volunteers to champion improvements in my absence.

I struggled to let go.

Many of you will relate to wanting to do things yourself so they’re done properly, expediently, your way. I’m so guilty of this and I might just be doing a disservice to my client.

That’s the revelation. By not letting the client do more, I was removing the opportunity to try, experiment, fail, succeed, improve.

That’s what I learnt today (or two weeks ago). What did you learn?


Mini Improvement: Yoga Studio

I love my yoga studio. The space has great energy. The teachers are amazing. The timetable suits my lifestyle. Both locations are working distance from my office, talk about handy!

It’s idyllic.

Now there's somewhere I'd like to practice! Image Credit
Now there’s somewhere I’d like to practice! Image Credit

What scope could there possibly be for a mini improvement?

Recent expansion to a second studio has led to a computer system upgrade. I’m all for your systems keeping pace with your rate of expansion (if not slightly ahead) so yay yoga studio!

This upgrade included allowing yogis to scan in on arrival. Marvellous.

But the yoga teachers were struggling to set the new computers up to recognise us as we scanned. We were writing names on paper.

The solution is straightforward.

Write instructions.

Create a how to guide. Use photos or screenshots to make the steps super clear.

Thankfully now everyone at the studios has figured out the new systems. It works wonderfully, smiles all round. Teething issues are normal, but aim for short and painless as possible.

What process in your life, existing or new, could use some instructions?

Friend Friday: Europa

It’s Friend Friday time.

I’m off to Europe! Tomorrow!

Edinburgh. York. London. Brussels. Leuven. Amsterdam. Phew! Sadly no Spain to practice my Spanish. Next time.

I haven’t been before and I’m flying solo so I want to hear all your tips. Your favourite locales. The best cocktail. Most picturesque park. How do make sure your overseas adventures are magical?

Regular programming on BBF is set to continue so make sure you’re following on Bloglovin’ so you don’t miss a thing.

First stop Edinburgh! Image credit.
First stop Edinburgh! Image credit.

Creating Change: The Beginner’s Guide

Part of my job as a consultant is to create change. As in my expertise is sold on the basis that I can create change for a business. Let me tell you, it’s pretty daunting at times. Let me tell you something else, it is completely doable. And I’m going to tell you exactly how I get it done. It’s not just me either. My colleagues have been using this exact approach for longer than I’ve been alive. They’ve passed the secret to me and now I pass it to you. I’m not saying creating change is easy but a roadmap is a serious improvement on being lost.

So where do we start?

Image credt.
Image credit.

Baseline. Or understand the situation, in plain speak.

Figure out exactly, and I mean exactly, what the problem is with the status quo. Every afternoon at 2.30pm I’m hit with a massive energy slump and reach for the chocolate for a pick me up instead of, I can’t lose weight. There is no specific training program for this task rather than, my whole team do this job differently. Be specific! Get right down into the nitty, gritty. A well defined problem is halfway to a solution. So take your time here. Talk to people. Gather evidence.

Examples of evidence:

  • Time of day something occurs
  • Frequency of occurrence (use a tally chart!)
  • Quotes from people involved, this can include your wonderful self
  • Pictures – before and after photos are a fantastic way to track progress and stay motivated

Questions to ask:

  • Is the problem getting bigger or smaller? What trends can you uncover?
  • Where exactly is the problem occurring? Is there a shop whose clothes prove irresistible, plunging you further into debt? Or a certain desk in your office where you get zero done?
  • When does the problem rear it’s head? A certain shift at work? When the supervisor is or isn’t around? Or mid afternoon like the snacking example above?
  • What do you know about the situation? What don’t you know? Fill the gaps.

Essentially it’s your basic who, what, when, where, why. And a bonus how much.

Creating change successfully happens when you understand what your changing from. Take your time here. Typically I will spend half my time  at a client diagnosing the problem. In our society of quick fixes and instance gratification this can feel scary. Like your exposed. Not moving fast enough. Let me state it here and now, changing the right thing is worth waiting for. That’s what this step is all about, making sure you create change where it’s needed the most.

You know what you want to change from, but what do you want to change to?

Time to find your vision. I’m willing to bet that during the understanding phase you’ve gone from a million improvement ideas to a few specific ones. Going back to our afternoon snacking situation. A goal of losing weight throws up exercise and diet changes as the obvious solutions. Few nuances to flesh out but you get the idea. In our situation, the issue is the lack of energy, causing bad eating habits. The place to start would be getting enough sleep. I’m no nutritionist so we won’t go into what specific diet changes would stop an afternoon energy slump but I’m sure they’re out there.

Do you see why we got so deep understand the situation now? Because the vision of what we need to change to becomes so clear. So focused. Instead of trying to change a million things and HOPING it fixes the problem, we can change one or two things and know they’ll have the desired impact. Talk about empowering!

Vision is only half the magic formula.

Yep, there’s more. That icky feeling creating your vision brought up? Time to hone in on that. Dissatisfaction. Or dissonance. The disconnect between what you have and what you want. Or the difference between your baseline situation and the sparkling vision you’ve developed. Energy slump and chocolate versus eight hours of glorious sleep.

Do not skip this step. I repeat. Do not skip this step.

Typically people change when the status quo gets too painful. When change becomes easier than staying the course. Digging into dissonance is all about creating those conditions. You’ve actually done most of the hard work for this step in the previous ones. Simply paint the picture of the current modus operandi and then vividly contrast with the vision. Whether it’s just you or your whole team, you now have the motivation to change. Pretty powerful stuff.

Vision + Dissonance + Plan = Change

It’s not enough to show people a vision of the future. They need to see the path or they won’t take the first step. But people also don’t like being told how to change. Tricky.

Because people don’t resist change, they resist being changed. – Peter Bregman

The answer is to develop the plan with them. You’ve created a vision. Let them adapt it. Be open to input. You know the actions you agree to are the ones you stick to. That applies to everyone. At this stage of the game, step back and facilitate. If you’re looking to create change for yourself, get someone else in to facilitate. A trainer, expert, best friend, me. But don’t let them dictate, ultimately whoever executes the action decides.

Remember every good plan defines success. Remember SMART goals? You need some of those. Get input on this too.

Change only comes from action.

You have a roadmap. You have motivation. There are no excuses.

When the getting gets tough, go back to where you started. Use all of that evidence you collected to remind everyone how far they’ve come. Recharge the motivation levels. Do it regularly. Daily is not too often. Where are you at compared to where you were?

Remember change is process. The plan that was brilliant and inspired on paper might not work so well in reality. Adapt. Stay committed to change but allow the vision to be flexible. Within reason of course, I still demand outcomes.

You’ve got this!

Wow, we’ve really dug into creating change on this one! I would love to hear what you think about longer form posts like this one. Even more, I want to hear what change you created!

My faith in you never waivers.