Monthly Archives: January 2014

The secret of success in 3 min 30 seconds?

This great (and short!) 2005 TED talk from John St. John about what many successful people told him over 7 years of research and 500 interviews.

Nothing earth-shattering per-se but a great summary in less than 4 minutes.

In short here are his 8 points:

  1. Have passion for what you do: Do it for love of it not of money
  2. Work hard, but on something you like doing and have fun doing
  3. Good: become really good at things through practice, practice, practice.
  4. Focus on the one or few things that you can really move
  5. Push: push yourself. Physically and mentally.
  6. Serve something of value to others
  7. Ideas : be creative, listen, observe, be curious, ask questions, make connections…
  8. Persist: never give up, even through failure or naysayers.


ps: Once you’re there, you might want to watch his 2009 follow-up TED talk on how to remain successful (tip: don’t fall asleep at the top!)

The promises of Brain science

In the last 15 years (or so), brain science has significantly improved our understanding of how the brain really works and is capable of from an adaptability standpoint.

One of the most interesting discovery, I think, was that what used to be thought as a fixed-capabilities organ, always getting worse after 18-20 years old, is actually an extremely plastic one. Recently again (December 2013) an Ideacast episode (the Harvard Business Review podcast) on reducing stress with mindfulness – i.e. mediation-, and how it can also help in business settings, was highlighting how mediation can physically changes how the brain is wired.

It would have been thought as heresy to think the brain could have such plasticity even 20-30 years ago. At least for the non-specialists.

For those interested in learning more, here are a few books I read on the topic the last 5 years that are definitely worth reading.

For instance, Brain Rules, talks extensively about how the brain works and how this could be used to change the way classrooms and office are designed. The key elements I got from this book were that:

  • The brain is wired to work better when exercising (think about our ancestors walking in the savanna for hours to find a prey to hunt), hence exercise is good for the brain… and we should be working at our computers while being on a treadmill! You can even buy these workstation treadmills on Amazon now
  • It takes up to a decade for short-term memories to become genuine long-term memory
  • Emotions and feelings heighten our learning and memory capabilities (do you remember where you were and what you were doing on 9/11? I certainly have a vivid recollection of this meeting room in Eindhoven I was in when I learned the news).
  • and many more interesting facts

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
ISBN: 0979777747
ISBN-13: 9780979777745

Another one, Management Rewired, although a bit long winded and going through many detours, uses what has been learned about how the brain works to come with interesting points about why feedback and praise don’t actually really work and then contributes some thought-provoking ideas. For instance, it advises to let someone do something we know is a wrong approach or idea, then cut the reward associated with it thereby indirectly demotivating the person to do this again.

Or, on the flip side, that the best way punishment works is by not giving it. That the positive impact of not giving it when the person expects it was much more important that the one coming from a praise or reward (unless the reward keeps on increasing, which is a tough one to achieve!).

Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science: Charles S. Jacobs: Books
ISBN: 159184262X
ISBN-13: 9781591842620

A third one, Buyology,  examine the human brain mechanics as it applies to the science of selling and advertising. Also based on the latest research on brain science and a little bit scary sometimes as advertising and manipulation can easily become close cousins in the wrong hands.

Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy: Martin Lindstrom, Paco Underhill: Books
ISBN: 0385523882
ISBN-13: 9780385523882

Finally, moving from books to marketing consultancy, a company like Studio B, also leverages these developments in brain science to help company develop better white papers, leaflets or even PowerPoint presentations.

Interestingly enough many of the points they advocate on their website, match with the philosophy of presentations that Jerry Weissman has been teaching for 20 years. The difference being that his teaching are based on experience as a TV producer not brain science. Still the conclusions are very similar in many aspects.

I find this change from a “computer” modeling of the human brain I grew up with, to the re-discovery of its very special way of functioning fascinating. I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years we teach us in that front. What I’m sure of is that Ray Kurzweil and his assumption (in his book “The singularity in near”) that within 20 to 30 years computers will be able to simulate a human brain, and even the whole humanity, in a computer the size of today’s laptops is totally unrealistic.

Should you empty your inbox?

With the advent of powerful search tools for emails, be them web ones (a-la Gmail or or client based (MS Outlook), many people believe it’s OK to leave all incoming emails in their inbox and to stop filing them in folders. The thinking is that you always can search whatever you need to find it your 10,000 emails filled inbox.

There are “pilers” (people that pile-up and search) and there are filers (people that sort and file in structured ways). I get this. It’s more a question of personality than sheer right or wrong approach.

That being said…

I stumbled onto this WSJ 1’30” video from Ritz Carton’s Simon Cooper where he talks about email and how he uses it. There are a couple of nuggets that I believe make lots of sense from a personal productivity perspective:

  1. Don’t leave your office without emptying your inbox
  2. Being on top of your inbox is a key aspect of keeping in control of your business (or responsibilities)

Many time have I been waiting for people looking for an email they wanted to share with me or, worse, telling me they had not received my email or had forgotten about it because it’s somewhere within their 10,000 emails, including 1,500 unread ones.

With such a “system”, how can you know that:

  • Things you should be on top of, are being followed up as expected?
  • You are not letting people down by dropping the ball somewhere?
  • You are not wasting your and other people’s time by permanently looking for this email somewhere in your inbox? (“wait I’m sure it’s here – I recall seeing yesterday – of maybe if I sort by name, or by date- oh let me do a search….”)

By cleaning your inbox and leveraging a process a-la GTD (or a simplified version of it) you will be much more in control of your life and deliverables. By allowing your inbox to explode in size you won’t. At least not fully. This is a simple as that. At least for the vast majority of people.

The simplest and lowest hassle way is to have a “reference” folder where you would put ALL your emails (the ones you don’t want to delete from your inbox) and, in an “Action” folder all emails that require you to do something. This is not forcing a piler to become a filer. It’s about being sure that:

  • Nothing is left in your inbox that you have missed: The Inbox is always empty when you’re done.
  • You have one folder with all the emails that require action
  • You have one folder with your 10,000+ emails you did not want to delete for various reasons.