Bullets and Cannonballs

cannon balls.jpg


Or Bullets?

The best thing I heard this week came from the Tim Ferris Show, episode 361, with Jim Collins.

There were a lot of great things in this episode, but the one that stuck with me is Firing Bullets, then Firing Cannonballs.

Collins explains how companies decide what chances to take and how some companies figure it out by firing bullets and others by firing cannonballs.  The ones that fire bullets first are the most successful companies.  The ones that fire cannonballs first are the ones that don't last

From Collins' own blog:

Picture yourself at sea, a hostile ship bearing down on you. You have a limited amount of gunpowder. You take all your gunpowder and use it to fire a big cannonball. The cannonball flies out over the ocean…and misses the target, off by 40 degrees. You turn to your stockpile and discover that you’re out of gunpowder. You die. But suppose instead that when you see the ship bearing down, you take a little bit of gunpowder and fire a bullet. It misses by 40 degrees. You make another bullet and fire. It misses by 30 degrees. You make a third bullet and fire, missing by only 10 degrees. The next bullet hits—ping!—the hull of the oncoming ship. Now, you take all the remaining gunpowder and fire a big cannonball along the same line of sight, which sinks the enemy ship. You live. 

He goes on to apply the model to Apple and the iPod:

By 2002, the iPod remained a small part of Apple’s overall portfolio, accounting for less than 3 percent of net sales, meriting neither a separate line item in Apple’s financial statements nor a mention in the opening paragraph of the company’s business description. The iPod was a very cool bullet, but a bullet nonetheless.

Still, Apple had increasing empirical validation. People loved the iPod; customers loved iTunes for the Mac; iPod sales more than doubled in a year; the music industry faced severe challenges from growth in illegally downloaded music; and Apple employees wanted an easy way to download music without stealing. 

So, Apple took the next step, launching an online music store and working out a deal with the music industry to offer individual songs at 99 cents. This, too, succeeded, and Apple had more empirical validation. Millions of people would rather buy music than steal it, if easy to access and fairly priced; people were clamoring for iTunes for their Windows-based personal computers; and Windows had an installed base of more than one billion personal computers. 

Finally, with all this empirical validation, Apple fired the big cannonball. 

I'm a big believer in small steps, small bets, and making small, consistent progress in order to achieve a result.

The world doesn't reward this.

The world wants the big bet, the risk it all, go for broke gamble. 

Go big or go home.

But that's not my nature.

I’m methodical. I’m consistent. I show up every day and put in the reps. I don't want to see big gains. I want to see results over time.  

Over time, lasts.

One time, doesn't.

When I heard Collins explain firing bullets, it gave me a whole new mental model.

Small steps are great, but you may not be heading in the right direction.

Small bets are wise, but you are still guessing and hoping it pays off.

But firing bullets, you are taking aim and firing, then correcting if you are off. 

You are re-calibrating.  Taking the previous result into account and then readjusting your aim, and firing again.

You keep firing bullets.  You keep firing ideas.

You keep firing until it hits, and then you fire the cannonball.

I wish I knew what my cannonball was.

But until I do, I'll keep shooting bullets, and seeing if I hit anything, and adjusting my aim.

Instead of feeling like I keep missing, I'll use the mental model of bullets to keep on going, until I figure where to fire my cannonball.

What to do when one of your professional networking contacts responds to your email?

What do you do after you have contacted someone in your professional network and they respond?

Be human.

Today, you are going to spend 15 minutes connecting with people who have responded to your LinkedIn messages and emails.

There may be only one person who you need to follow-up with.

The F-word: Follow-up

When people respond to your notes, Follow-up.

What does this look like? Nothing more than a thank you for responding and then try to move from an online connection to an in-person connection.

It can be a meeting for coffee or lunch or a simple phone call.

This isn't complicated.

In fact, I'm embarrassed by how simple this is.

And yet, most people won't do this.

People will say, "I don't have time."

That's fine for most people, but not for you.

You are going to spend 15 minutes today and follow-up with one person to try to set up an in person conversation.

Got your timer? Is it set for 15 minutes?

Ready, set, Go!

At 15 minutes, Stop!

Did you follow-up with that one person? Did you follow-up with more than one?

Now you do what you would normally do as a human being: spent time talking with the person you followed-up with and find out how they are doing.

Talk to them about what is going on in their life. Find a way to help them.

And when they ask how they can help you, be ready to ask for their advice or their wisdom or their experience.

People love to help people.

People love to give more than they love to receive.

Make sure you are being a giver and receiving will take care of itself.

How to grow your network contacting people you already know

Today, spend 15 minutes getting in touch with people you know and the companies on your target list.

You're going to use LinkedIn or email to contact these people.

Remember, you’re not cold emailing these people. They should be people you already know.

Focus on the people you know who already work at the companies you want to work at.

Send them a quick note.

Nothing formal:

"Hey, it's been awhile since we were in touch. How are things going at X company?"

If you want to add more you can tell them what you've been doing lately:

"After we worked together a Y company, I went to work at Z company and have been there for a few years."

You don't need to ask them for a job.

You don't need to ask them for anything.

You simply need to get in touch with them to start the conversation.

Spend 15 minutes doing this and see if you can get notes out to a few people.

Got your timer?

Ready, set go!

At 15 minutes stop!

How'd you do?

If you have been following the rules over the past few days, you've spent 1 hour making lists of people you already know and finding companies you would like to learn more about.

You've also contacted some of them.

Hopefully, you are starting to see some traction on using this small amount of time everyday to grow your network.

Do you have a list of target companies? If not, here’s why you should!

If someone asked you to give them a list of the companies you want to work for, could you hand it to them today?

If not, that's what you're going to create in today's 15 minutes of professional networking.

First, what is a target company list?

It's a list of the companies you would be interested in learning more about to see if you want to work there.

Why do you need one?

The target company list helps the people you already know connect you with people they know.

If you say to one of your existing connections, "Who do you know?" they have no place to start thinking about people they know.

If you give them an anchor point in the form of your target company list, it gives their brain a place to focus and they can say, "Company A, I know someone there," or "You don't have Company B on your list, have you ever thought of working there? I know some people I could introduce you to."

Today, you are going to set your timer for 15 minutes.

You are going to look at the list of people you created and the places they work.

You created this on Day 1 and Day 2.

Using LinkedIn, you are going to click on the company name in your connections' profiles, read about the company, and decide if you want to add that company to a list.

It can be on paper, in a Word document, or on a spreadsheet.

It doesn't matter where you write down the names of the companies you are interested in as long as it is something you can email or print off and physically hand to someone.

If you already know of some companies you'd like to work for, add them to the list as well.

You don't have to know people at the companies on your list today.

Eventually, you are going to meet someone at these companies and they will become part of your professional network.

Got your timer set?

Ready, set, go!

When the timer expires, stop!

How did you do?

Do you have some companies on the list?

Keep this list accessible.

You are going to use it every time you meet with one of your professional contacts.

If you want to spend some time cleaning it up or expanding on it, go ahead, but don't over think it.

It's a tool to generate conversation and connections.

Next up, we are going to focus on how to use the lists of people and target companies you have already created to start expanding your professional network beyond the people you already know.

To build your network in 15 minutes, find out where the people you already know work

Day 2 of growing your professional network in 15 minutes each day.

A quick recap of Day 1, you spent 15 minutes making a list of people you know.

I don't care if you came up with 10 names, 5 names, 3 names, or 1 name.

The important part is that you spent only 15 minutes taking one small step to build your professional network.

Day 2 is about taking the list of people you created on Day 1 and finding out they work.

Just like Day 1, you're only going to spend 15 minutes on this today.

Get your timer ready and set it to 15 minutes. Go to LinkedIn.

For 15 minutes, you are going to look at the list of people you know, and, next to their names, write the name of the company they work for.

If they are not on LinkedIn, skip them and come back to them later, but try to search for most of the people on your list.

Set your timer.

Ready, set, go!

Don't worry if you didn't get through the whole list.

As long as you find at least one person you know and you have figured out where they work, you're a success.

That's it for today.

Tomorrow, we'll learn about some of the companies these people work for and figure out if they go on the target company list or not.

Who do you know? Take inventory of your professional network in 15 minutes

I wanted to try something that I have been thinking about:

Giving you a 15 minute task to complete each day for a week to see if it helps jump start your professional networking efforts.

I need to make sure you don't spend more than 15 minutes on it.

Google "online stopwatch" or use the timer on your phone.

Here's the activity for today:

I want you to write down the names of people you know.

You can write them on a piece of paper, or in Word, or on a spreadsheet.

It doesn't matter as long as you can find them later.

Here are 10 ideas to stimulate your brain. These are groups of people you may know.

1. Family

2. Friends

3. Co-workers

4. Co-workers from previous jobs

5. Co-workers who have left for other jobs

6. Social or professional clubs

7. Religious institutions

8. People you have met from existing networking activities

9. Alumni

10. Influencers in your industry

Set the clock for 15 minutes, and hit start.

When the time expires, stop!

On your marks, get set, GO!

When the timer expires, STOP!

How did you do?

Let me know how many names you came up with. That's it.

What does the perfect day look like to you?

I get up early. I usually do, but today would be no exception.

I spend my morning reading, writing, and eating breakfast. 

I meditate and do some stretching.

For a couple of hours, I work on tasks that need to get done for one of my multiple businesses.  These are the important tasks, the ones that grow the business and move it forward.

I spend time with my family before the kids go to school.

Around 9AM, I go to the gym and workout for an hour.  I spend another hour or so relaxing in the hot tub and showering.

Then I head to a late morning coffee or lunch with a colleague or new networking contact.  We exchange ideas about what we are working on and come up with a plan on how we can work together.

In the early afternoon, I run some personal errands and then return to work on the tasks in my businesses that are administrative in nature.  Tasks that have to be done to maintain the business, but aren't necessarily strategic - paying bills, tracking finances, updating online information.

During the late afternoon, I go for a walk or go outside and play with my kids.

Our family sits down together to eat dinner.  We talk about what we did that day and what is new in our lives.

After dinner, my wife and I clean up the kitchen and do any small household tasks.

The kids get homework done and spend time reading, writing, or watching TV.

My wife and I sit down to watch 30 minutes of TV - usually one episode of the series we are currently into.

A little after 9PM, we go to bed.

This is my perfect day, and for the most part, for me, this is every day.


What about you surprises most people?

My wife and I were at a dinner party and the host asked all the guests to say one thing that people don't know them. "I'm full of surprises," was my reply.

I felt clever.  It was interesting, yet still mysterious.

My answer didn't explain what I meant or give an example, and the question passed on to the next person without further explanation.

If I was asked the question again, I would say, "I am full of surprises, which means I will do things that you wouldn't expect me to do."

The reply might be: "What do you do that I wouldn't expect?" 

There's a whole list of Fun Facts on my website, but in addition, here are some things I do/have done that might surprise you:

  • Worked on a cruise ship
  • Obstacle races
  • Wake up at 5AM
  • Own a food truck
  • Own a franchise business
  • Owned rental real estate
  • Was in charge of one of the largest student organizations at Texas A&M
  • Can hula hoop and juggle
  • Enjoy flying drones
  • Enjoy public speaking
  • Plan to climb all the 14ers in Colorado
  • Will karaoke and am likely to jump up and bust a move at Disney World when the camera is on me.

What do you value the most?

Time. It is finite and equal.  I can always make another dollar, but I can’t make another minute.  When each minute is gone, it can never be recovered.  It can be re-allocated, but at the expense of other things.

Everyone has the same number of minutes in a day – 1440.  We all get the same number every day.  One could argue some people have more days than other people, but we can’t know how many days we have.  We only know we have today and we all start today with the same number of minutes. 

How a person uses those minutes determines achievement.

It may sound like I am hyper-focused on using my time efficiently.  I would agree I focus on efficiency, but, more importantly, I focus on effectiveness.

Effectiveness is doing the right things.  Efficiency is doing the right things well. 

Effectiveness is what you spend your time on.  Efficiency is how well you spend your time on those things.

Therefore, it is possible to waste minutes focusing on the wrong things.  Spend your minutes on social media browsing your friends feeds all afternoon and you’ve likely wasted some of your time. 

Spend your minutes on social media creating posts that attract people to your art or your business and you’ve likely created value with the minutes you used. 

Spend your minutes watching reality TV all afternoon and you’ve probably got little to show for your time. 

Spend your minutes talking to your spouse or children and you are focusing on relationships that support and fulfill your life.

If you are spending time on the things that make you more effective in all areas of your life, it is still possible to be inefficient with your minutes.

Spending time working out can be an effective use of your time which improves your overall fitness and feelings of well-being. 

However, working out for more than an hour, is generally an inefficient use of time.  The additional minutes spent have less impact on your fitness than the first 60 minutes and can actually lead to injury and decreased fitness.

It’s through this lens of thinking about what I spend time on and how well I use the time I spend that makes time the thing I most value.

People may think that I don’t value love or relationships as much.  However, the way I spend my minutes on love and relationships demonstrates how much I value them.  By making my family and my relationships a priority for my time, I am giving them their appropriate level of importance.

In addition, I believe that love is not a finite thing. I also believe that different people have different levels of love.  I can have more love in my life.  I can have more love in my life than someone else.

This is not the case with time, which is why it is the thing I most value.

What is something you believe that most people don't?

This question comes from the Tim Ferriss podcast.  He regularly asks his guests this question as part of the rapid-fire Q&A at the end of the show.

I'm not likely to be a guest on the show, but I thought I would answer the question anyway.

I believe a lot of things.  Some are beliefs shared by many people.  Some are shared by only a few people.

If I could pick one thing I believe that most people don't, I would say it would be achieving most things takes less effort than people think.

When I think of effort, I think of huge amounts of stress and energy.  Fighting against the wind. Pushing boulders up a hill.  Those are the images that come into my mind when I think about effort.

Often, people think of any new adventure or endeavor in terms of all the effort it will take to become successful.  Images of wind and boulders stop them from starting.  Starting is where the effort really happens, but it only requires a short burst of energy to get started. 

Once you've started, you simply keep going.  Step after step, day after day.  Keep going and don't stop and you'll find the effort required to keep going is a lot less than you expected.

We can do so much more than we think if we just start.  And just starting can be easier than we think if we don't picture all the days after Day One.  If we just think about the first, smallest thing that has to happen, it's less daunting.  

After the first step, just think about the next step.  After that, the next step.  And so on.

Over time, that thing you wanted to do, the one that seemed so impossible to accomplish, comes easily and you'll be amazed at how far you have come.


How 1% of My Day Changed My Life

This was originally written in May 2015 at 15minutesofchange.com, and I have republished it here with slight modifications.

There are 1,440 minutes in a day.  15 minutes = 1.04% of your day.

I used this 1% of my day, every day, for a year and changed my life.

Two years ago, I had an idea.

It was really more of a hypothesis: If I work on ideas and projects for 15 minutes each day, I will get more of them done.

I have always had projects.

My projects are about gaining new knowledge and skills. Sometimes, the projects are focused on creating new businesses. Some of them go farther than others. Some of them start and never finish. These seem to be the ones that require time I don't have.

But if I could spend a small amount of time on them each day, maybe I could make progress.

For the couple of years, I have been spending at least 15 minutes each day on projects.

Spending time on them each day gave me a chance to test the ideas.

A few of them have taken on a life of their own, and I plan to continue to work on them. Most of them have slowly slipped into a coma and are currently on life support. I know they are there, they could be revived, I'm not ready to pull the plug on them, but it will take a miracle for them to survive.

The majority of my ideas are centered around developing a portfolio of side businesses that could someday replace my day job.

Here's the problem I was trying to solve:

Let me clarify something about my current day job: It's not the worst job in the world.

I make a very good living doing it. I work reasonable hours, most of the time.

I enjoy most of the people I work with.

In the grand scheme of employment, I have a good situation. I understand that there are millions of people who would love to be in my employment situation.

At the same time, I believe there is more to life than working in an office for 30-40 years, looking forward to the day you retire.

My current office job is not what I am trying to escape - it's any office job.

When I say office job, what I really mean is trading my time and energy making someone else's dreams come true.

I would rather spend my time and energy making my dreams a reality.

My dreams aren't to make a certain amount of money, but to control my time.

I want to decide how I spend it.

I want to be able to go to the gym in the middle of the day. I want to ski on Wednesdays. I want to spend my time with people I enjoy being around. I want to work on things that are interesting to me.

Of course, I have to keep the roof over my family's head.

The primary means of doing this is the day job. Until I am able to replace that income doing things I love doing, then my time between 8 and 5 on weekdays will be owned by an employer.

I am a small bets kind of guy.

I prefer to make sure something will work and then ease into it.

I need to be able to spend the time I have on small projects to see if they are going to work or not.

Finding time is the challenge.

I don't want to spend every weeknight or all weekend away from my family - being a husband and father are the two most important jobs I have.

With the day job and the family, finding time to build my side portfolio is challenging.

As I thought about this challenge, I developed my hypothesis.

How I got started on this:

It was a small bet.

It was time I could find.

I found my time in the morning.

I found that if I could achieve small wins on the projects I was working on, I would feel good about the project and continue the next day.

It allowed me time to think about the projects. It gave me distance. When I came across a problem I couldn't solve, I could walk away and come back the next day. When I did that, I usually came back with a different take on the problem and could solve it quickly.

At first, I just built this website.

It wasn't the first one I ever built, but it gave me more experience buying domains, setting up hosting, installing Wordpress and a theme. I learned about plugins. I learned how to set up an email list.

Over the course of this past year, I have built two other sites: one for my wife and one for our food truck.  The experimentation helped me learn which tools I like to use.  I have a different preference for the platforms where I build my sites. I prefer Squarespace over Wordpress now.

I switched email list services from AWeber to MailChimp.

All of this experience and learning happened in the short spaces in time in the morning when I had time to work on it.

The learning came from the doing.

What else did I learn?

I also explored things like collecting survey information from food truck customers. My family owns a food truck, and I was trying to learn more about our customers.

I found the customers were willing to provide their feedback, but as I contacted food truck owners, they were unresponsive or not interested in getting customer data. I may come back to that project, but for now, it's one of the ones on the ventilator.

I also gained experience with Elance and Fiverr for a few pieces of information I needed.

I used Elance to get a list of catering companies I could contact about our food truck. That worked out pretty well, and we have gotten some catering gigs as a result.

I used Fiverr to get a catering brochure created. We can hand it out at the truck when people ask about catering. I also sent it to all the catering companies I had previously contacted.

I've tried some other ideas like selling a workout shirt communicating proper gym etiquette.

I got a little experience with Facebook ads and with the service that doesn't print the shirt unless you get enough orders. I didn't sell any shirts, but I didn't pay for any of them either, so I was out only a few bucks for the ads. I may try this one again at some point.

Through all of these different projects, I wrote about my experiences using the 15 minute technique.

I created a small guide that could be downloaded for free. I learned how to use Gumroad to deliver digital products.

I started writing and posting my ideas to LinkedIn's writing platform. I got feedback from co-workers and other colleagues expressing their appreciation for my writing.

I wrote a post about the chain method of habit formation. My mom has been using it to help her add exercise to her life. She said a few of her friends have started using it.

I rediscovered writing. I was an English major that hadn't written much more than emails or PowerPoint presentations since college.

Writing about things that are interesting to me and finding my ideas are shared by other people is a reward by itself.

There were some unexpected mental benefits associated with my experiment.

This process kept me sane when things got busy. In my day job, there are times of the year that can take up all my energy.

Having an outlet to work on projects that were important to me helped me find fulfillment in my life when things at work were stressful.

Instead of thinking about work when I was at home, I filled the time vacuum with things that brought me joy.

I became more aware of my habits.

Spending 15 minutes each day became a habit. It made me think about how easy it would be to add other habits.

In the past year, I have started: morning meditation, daily reading, drinking more water, daily writing, building my network by connecting with people each day, pushups, pullups, and gratitude.

These sound like easy things, but until you build them as habits, they move in and out of your daily routine.

I have found that habit formation and behavior design are topics I like.

I started taking a master class from BJ Fogg on Tiny Habits with the intent I will be able to coach people on the technique.

These insights came as a result of spending 15 minutes each morning exploring things that interested me.

What's Next

The past two years, I learned about things I like to do and other things that I don't.

I have a lot of new ideas. Some will work and some won't.

I'm going to continue to focus on improving my writing skills. I am going to continue to write about new ideas and what I learn along the way.

I believe that most of this learning wouldn't have taken place if I hadn't explored using small amounts of time everyday to work on these ideas. I may have read or researched them, but I probably would not have gotten as much experience as I did.

I don't know how this story ends. I don't have one big idea to change my life and change the world.

I may never have one single purpose in life. I'll have many professions, hobbies, businesses, and interests.

This past year has been a journey to figure out who I am and what I want to do.

It has been a trek from project to project, but I feel like I am farther up the mountain today than when I first started.

Along the way, I have found new influences, added new skills, and most importantly overcome the fear of getting started.

Through it, I have found joy not in getting to any destination, but in the journey itself.

I am excited about what the journey will look like over the next 12 months.