About that quote: "Ask What Needs to be Done"

Every mentor at Startup Weekend Stockholm is invited to provide a quote for the Instagram event campaign. For the February 2018 Foodtech event I chose a thought that I had just tweeted when I was asked -- an idea that I have found very useful for solving difficult problems.

Never ask if something can be done; ask instead what needs to be done to make it happen. This apparently simple change of perspective is surprisingly effective because it reframes the question from one about possibility to actually finding solutions. When you ask yourself or other people if something is possible you allow the possibility that it is not. By asking how it could be done you concentrate all your efforts on finding some sort of solution.

Once you have taken away the option of simply walking away from the problem people tend to get much more creative in finding solutions. Perhaps you have to redefine the problem, or perhaps you need to adapt your expectations. But when there is no option to just walk awa…

How To Do Lists Give You Peaceful Nights and Weekends

Every working week usually ends for me by writing a "to do" list for the work to be done the next week, or at least Monday. I do this partly so that I don't forget the work in progress, or the highest priorities, but it also has the useful side effect of making the weekend more relaxing. This offloading of the work still to be one onto paper or a file appears to lighten the load on your mind, since you know the list is safely written down and you don't need to keep thinking about it.

How you do this mental offloading step doesn't seem to make any difference. At my own desk I tend to use a paper list and when I am travelling I often use an email to myself. Once the list is safely written you can mentally "close the office" for the weekend without being stressed by all the work still to be done. It has always worked for me, though I don't recall seeing any serious research to back it up.

But now there is some experimental evidence that indirectly sup…

Speaking: When it's Time to Lose the Slides

In the business world most presentations are accompanied by Powerpoint or Keynote slides. This is so much taken for granted that the first instinct of many people when they are asked to speak is to put together a slide deck.

Yet there are many cases where it can be more effective to present without slides. This approach has several advantages. First of all it reduces the amount of preparation overhead. Look around the offices of any large business and you will quite often see people spending way too much time on this activity. I have often wondered what would happen if presentation software could log and report hours of activity so that an organization could measure the overall cost of slide preparation.

Better still, not only does it eliminate the time spent making slides, it also gives you more flexibility during the delivery, where you can pivot the presentation more easily in response to previous presentations or inputs from the audience. Perhaps a comment by someone else in the …

Pitching Innovations; When Spoilers Are a Good Thing

Creators of fiction take great care to avoid leaks, from extra security guards hired to watch over the printing of a much anticipated new book to shooting multiple alternative endings for a TV series so that even the talent doesn't know what happens.

But for entrepreneurs, developers and marketers who are trying to pitch an innovative new product, technology, idea or whatever, this is the worst way to approach a presentation. Perhaps in movies you can spring a complete surprise on someone in a literal elevator pitch, and they decide to greenlight it on the spot. Reality is different. People normally distrust new ideas the first time that they see them, but over time they come to accept and then like the new idea simply by being exposed to it.

There is an important lesson in this idea. If people need time to get used to a new idea before they accept it then the effective influencer takes care to make sure that this happens. Long before you ask someone to decide about your great ne…

Use a Clicker to Improve Your Presentations

There are many ways to make your everyday presentations more effective, though most of them involve some effort or at least practice. But there is one short cut that can make anyone a better presenter almost immediately: just buy a clicker and then use it.

You might think that you only need one in big venues where you are too far away from the computer to use the keyboard, but this is not true. Even in your everyday office presentations you can boost your effectiveness by quietly using a clicker to change slides and to blank the screen.

Why is using a clicker so important?

First of all, by using a clicker you eliminate a major source of distraction both for you and the audience. If you are using the keys on your laptop then every time you want to change a slide you have to walk over to the laptop, find the key, press it and then go back to where you were. While you are doing this you have to pause momentarily what you are saying and you break eye contact with the audience. Every time…

The Favras Effect: Why you Should Always Ask Someone Else to Proofread for You

No matter how carefully you proofread your own copy some quite serious typos can slip through the net. But show the copy to someone else and they spot the errors immediately, even if they merely glance at the text. Usually this person who spots the obvious error with a mere glance is your boss, doubling the embarrassment.
In workshops I often call this the Favras Effect after the French aristocrat Thomas de Mahy, marquis de Favras, who was hanged on 19 February 1790 for being on the wrong side in the French Revolution. Just before he was hanged he was shown his death sentence, glanced at it and observed "Je vois que vous avez fait trois fautes d'ortographe". -- "I see that you have made three spelling mistakes". 
Because of this comment Mahy has since had a reputation for his coolness in difficult circumstances, though it is quite likely that other people in similar situations might also have seen obvious errors that everyone else missed but either didn't …

Email: First Answer the Question

Analyzing past miscommunications I see that one of the most common causes of failure is when the original thread-starting question contains a well defined question but that question is not answered, or at least not answered in a satisfying way.

Sometimes the respondent somehow misses the question, perhaps by reading the message too quickly on their phone.  There is one simple way to avoid this problem. When you receive an email that contains questions mark each distinct question then check that your answer provides an actual answer to each of them. Don't rely on memory; go back and check what they wrote.

Quite often the respondent does attempt to reply but they don't actually answer the question, simply adding more information or commentary. You can catch this mistake by asking yourself if the reply is really a direct answer to the question. So, for example, someone asks what is the topic of your speech you should respond something like "My speech is about the impact of …