Promotion by PowerPoint

Or how to avoid killing people with your slides

Earlier this year I came across the blog post Death by PowerPoint: The slide that killed seven people. Not only dramatic, but sad reality in companies today.

Here’s a typical encounter: At the end of the meeting, the meeting owner asks the fearful question: “Who wants to summarize?” Silence. Avoiding eye contact. After a few silent seconds that feel like minutes, a shy hand goes up. The new employee. Ah! Still innocent.

Two days later, a link to the meeting notes arrive in the inbox. Keeping it there. Unread. Postponing clicking on it until 5 minutes before the follow up meeting. Time passes. On the way walking to the meeting, swiping through it on the phone. Shocked.

The new employee took initiative. By creating something that wasn’t just a report. Something that wasn’t meeting the existing low standards. It was establishing something new. A new way of thinking. Taking initiative by interpreting the meeting. Making suggestions. Drafting solutions. Stating decisions.

The whole “report” ended up as the baseline of the new project. How it was done. What was done. Who works together. After a few minor tweaks, everyone nodded. Key decisions usually taking hours of discussion were taken away in a few slides. By the new employee!

It’s your chance to change culture and influence your team. Make bold and clear statements in executive summaries, team reports and presentations.

From pipe dream to a small company

Or: How my wife created The Small Batch Project, a company that’s importing award-winning chocolate into Switzerland.

Let’s start with some context. Seth Godin lays out a concept to revoluzionize school and education. If you care about the next generation, then Stop Stealing Dreams is a must read (or at least a must watch of the 20min long TED talk).

This idea, the fact that everyone can excel, and that the best education can happen online, anytime and independent of location made me and my wife discuss a lot. It was a time when she was looking to quit her day job and start an adventure on her own. And then we found the altMBA, an investment of roughly 4’000 USD and 1 month of intense workshops. Signed up. And it all happened in August 2018.

So, did it help? My wife started the year 2018 with a pipe dream of building a company which would have cost probably more than a million to start, and likely years to execute. Ideas we all have in our head, but never get to execute. Simply, it’s too big to even start. The coaching, the constant feedback of peers and the intense reading mainly simplified “mission impossible”. There are no guidelines, no instructions. Just feedback from peers, constant coaching pushing you to make a leap and convert your dream into an executable project. All of a sudden ideas like “start writing a blog” or “do workshops” were discussed. Zero or close to zero capital investment, easy to test, easy to pivot and also not a full crash in case of a failure.

With that, she started her idea to import award winning bean-to-bar chocolate from around the world to Switzerland, online available at The Small Batch Project. She started with visiting a chocolate fair in September 2018, got a company incorporated and a website based on Shopify up and running in October 2018, had an appearance in a market stand in November 2018, another one in December 2018, her first chocolate tasting event in January 2019, and well, a few month into starting the adventure learned a lot, made interesting connections, received broad support from her friends and got positive and re-inforcing feedback from all corners, including an alumni of the altMBA contacting her with some suggestions to improve her marketing strategy.

So all the altMBA did was simplifying a huge business idea into something actionable? Dare to jump? Dare to take action? Kind of. At least it did the most scary part. There was no point anymore of saying “that’s impossible”. Almost no point of going back. And most of that by following the philosophy of doing something good in this world and making it happen.

With all that, my new job title is “professional chocolate taster”.

Reading list 2018

After a slow start in 2017, I got to a few more books in 2018. I’m highly satisfied with the outcome regarding my learning, my acquired inspiration, and generally the selection I made to invest my limited reading time.

I started with A Second Chance: For You, For Me, And For The Rest Of Us by Catherine Hoke. It’s a fascinating story of Catherine believing in people that are at the bottom of their life, often 20 years or more in a high security prison. She brings them back to society. Not only in a safe way, but also making them successful entrepreneurs of small businesses.

A Beautiful Constraint : How To Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden was an inspiration read on how to frame challenges differently. It taught me to avoid seeing constraints as excuses to not pursue the next adventure, but instead see them from a different angle and leverage them to my advantage.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek is a classic based on his famous TED talk. As expected, the book isn’t revealing anything new. That said, I found it worthwhile time spent to inhale more of this simple, yet compelling idea by reading through a long list of good and bad examples.

Talking about “why” – I then moved on to understanding why the young generation needs to find purpose in everything they do. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink puts it in a usable framework. Valid for every generation. But especially good for dealing with the younger one.

The hardest read from a pure “understanding English” (which is my second language) was Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse. It took me a while to digest his ideas. But ever since I’m defining my infinite games and actually started to pursue some of them.

Then, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown got recommended to me, and I’d say it was the most influential book in 2018 for me personally. It’s a lot about saying “no” to clutter and “full commitment” to what’s essential in your life.

Another big one was Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker. Bill Gates mentions it as his new favorite book of all time. It adjusted my world view towards being more optimistic about where the world is heading. It’s towards less children dying after birth, less illiteracy world wide, better medication for the poor or many more people getting out of poverty.

Back to reality, Plain Talk: Lessons from a Business Maverick by Ken Iverson is a convincing story why working smarter over the course of decades outperforms those who look at short-term profit and squeezing out every penny of their employees. It’s about the believe in people and leveraging their will and motivation.

I hesitated for a while, but then still jumped onto It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. I followed Jason Fried for a while already, and I’m working in an environment that isn’t crazy by many of those means. Still, it contained a lot of useful hints on how to do better, and again, believe in the individual.

Ok, too much philosophy, let’s do something for real. Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth by John Doerr presents a 25 year old concept that John Doerr brought to Google and many other companies. The forword by Larry Page, as well as a recommendation by Bill Gates, gives this concept and book additional weight. While the concept is an old hat, it’s revamping goal setting into an easy to understand and execute framework.

The year couldn’t have ended with more insight into the meaing of life than reading Man’s Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust by Viktor E Frankl. If you’re searching for purpose, or simply want to get reminded of the darker times almost a century ago, reading Frankl’s stories from his 5 years of imprisonment in concentration camps is putting everything you do into a different perspective.

Podcasts

During my commute, podcasts work better than reading. I started to listen to Akimbo by Seth Godin, which enhances Seth’s daily inspiration with a weekly 30min talk. Some of the talks from The Knowledge Project by Farnam Street are really twisting my perspective on our world. And Adam Grant interviewed a set of interesting people in WorkLife.

So what’s coming in 2019?

At the time of this writing, I already completed All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin (no, I’m not switching jobs). To move on, I’m thinking of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (Yuval Noah Harari), Principles: Life and Work (Ray Dalio), Mandela’s Way: Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage (Richard Stengel), The Infinite Game (Simon Sinek) and many more. What are your recommendations for me? Contact me, or tweet a reply.

Reading list 2017

I was lazy the previous years. In 2017 I re-started to read a bit more regularly. It’s not a lot, but hey – here’s what I got to.

I started the year with The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success by
William Thorndike. It is a great read to understand Capital Allocation, how some companies work within that framework, and get insight into how challenging it is, as well as understanding benefits for those who believe in it long-term.

The I moved into something more practical. Turn The Ship Around!: A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules by L. David Marquet. It was practical and at the right time for me since the idea presented in this book was a hype at the organization I was part of. But independently of it, the book contains a lot of hands-on ideas for leaders at any level. Especially the early sections where Marquet elaborates on his failures in leadership.

Originals: How Non-conformists Change the World by Adam Grant gives insight into some success stories that are never told. He frames them in how those people had to bypass conventional methods and surprise their surroundings with their approach. He calls this group of people Originals.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey is my favorite read from 2017. It influenced me a lot. It made me talk a lot about it in my family. Like the habit of Begin with the End in Mind, which asks the challenging question of what your friends will talk at your funeral. It’s a must read for those who want to think deeply of what they want to achieve in their life, and also have a framework at hand to make the first step.

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott is a reminder how important it is to give honest and useful feedback. Actually not just a reminder, but clearly giving you a lot of reasons for feedback. The verdict is, the more you like a person, the more honest and frequent should be your feedback. This helps your friends to advance.

The title says it all, I just had to get it – Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography by Richard Branson. I already read Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons In Life a few years back, and Finding My Virginity continues where it left off. Typical Branson style, it’s an amusing read, but also very inspiring what a single person can achieve – from holding various world records to starting over 400 companies to becoming a good friend of Nelson Mandela.

I concluded the year with Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone by
Satya Nadella. I already admired Satya Nadella on his achievements to turn around the image of such a large company in his first months as CEO at Microsoft. The story gives insight how he achieved it. And the insights from his personal life explain a lot why he acts the way he acts.

Learning Spanish

This post is about learning to speak a language using Spanish as an example.

I’m convinced that I did quite well learning German (my mother tongue) while I was not even attending school. I then completely screwed up with English as a foreign language and ended up as a I-can-do-grammar-but-cannot-understand-you guy after more than 10 years of education (to be honest, most others did not better as well).
So I decided to look for a better method when learning another languages – this time I started with Spanish. Eventually I decided to try the Pimsleur Method as my alternative way of learning – in combination of total immersion (see these 10 points to successful language learning). Mainly I liked the approach being a lot closer to how I learned my mother tongue – speaking and understanding comes first, grammar second. Eventually I found a great opportunity to combine my understanding of learning languages and a language school and took some time off to attend an intensive course at Habla Ya in Boquete, Panama.
Below are listed a few resources – some based on the Pimsleur Method, others are some great podcasts to improve understanding of Spanish in daily life.

Pimsleur foreign language program

Best for absolute beginners. The Pimsleur Method from the guy who invented it. Expect to learn a few new words every lesson. These words and phrases are nicely brought up again a few lessons later for reminder (http://www.pimsleur.com/Learn-Spanish).

Learning Spanish Like Crazy

Similar to the Pimsleur method, but a lot more natural speaking. Also it’s not so topic-oriented, but more grammar-oriented. I’d go for that as a nice addition for the Pimsleur, but it also works for total beginners when starting at the first level – definitely a good joice as well (http://www.learningspanishlikecrazy.com/).

Notes in Spanish

The guys from Notes in Spanish have some nice free audio podcasts. Lessons of around 10mins each. Available for beginners, intermediates and advanced speakers (http://www.notesinspanish.com/).

Podclub (from Migros Klubschule)

Nice bi-weekly podcasts from Migros Klubschule. Registration is required, but it’s then free to download all podcasts from Spanish and other languages (http://www.podclub.ch/).