Stephen Jackel talks business growth
Ideas, innovation and action to power healthy business growth

Why you should live in No Mans Land

     Posted on Thu ,12/05/2011 by Stephen Jackel

No Mans Land – an area between two opposing forces that neither side wishes to occupy. This is the ground between two armies that must be crossed to reach the enemy but means coming under fire. It’s the cratered mud, snaked with twisted barbed wire between the trenches of each side in the first world war for example. It’s dangerous and uncomfortable territory that neither side wishes to occupy. Much better to stay in the relative safety of the trenches on you own side than move even slightly towards the enemy.

It’s also the name of a theory that has been crystallizing for me over the last few months.

The No Man’s Land Theory states that when there are two completely opposite views on a matter that the true answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

In many ways it’s nothing new. Really it’s just saying that there are exceptions to every rule. Or the sage advice that there’s always two sides to every story. Or it’s not black or white it’s grey.

Call it what you like, the power comes in adding this as a tool to your belt. The No Man’s Land Theory has proven a useful tool for me to recognize when two options or opinions are put forward that usually the right answer is neither and both at the same time. There’s truth on both sides and it’s about finding the balance, the tension in the middle where things are just right.

A simple example: When it comes to investing, a common showdown is “Shares or real estate? Which is better?” Shares advocates argue that real estate is not liquid enough, the initial outlay to enter the market is too high, blah, blah… while real estate buffs will say that shares are too risky and you can’t go wrong with bricks and mortar, no-one is creating more land, and so on. So which is better, shares or real estate? Of course the answer is “both” or “it depends”.  Both have different pros and cons so depending on who you are, what your financial state is, what your future plans are, how close you are to retirement, etc you may have all shares, all real estate or more likely, a combination of both as the pros and cons of each compliment each other.

Take away thoughts:
1. What “No Man’s Land” scenarios have you encountered recently?
2. Over the next few days, be on the lookout for No Mans Land scenarios that you encounter and spend some time out in No Mans Land, searching for the sweet spot.

Making the most out of today – at the last minute

     Posted on Wed ,11/05/2011 by Stephen Jackel

It’s early in the morning and I’m on my way to work. Already issues are looming; I’m expecting a crazy runaway day. Sound familiar?

What can we do to salvage something, to make some real progress rather than spending the day being reactive?

Here’s my plan:
1 Take control. Spend the first 5 minutes at work making a plan for the day. This will result in a prioritised todo list.
2 Book time in my calendar to action at least one of the top non-reactive tasks.
3 Look to address the underlying causes of reactive problems rather than simply getting things going again. I’m sure there’s a saying about that – a stitch in time… Even if today is not fun, this way it won’t happen again!
4 Apply relentless optimism. It makes the toughest of days more fun and combined with Never ever giving up it helps achieve the best possible outcome.

Got any tips? I’d love to hear them.

How to fix battery life problem on HTC Desire HD Android 2.2 mobile phone

     Posted on Sat ,16/04/2011 by Stephen Jackel

How to stop the battery drain on your HTC Android so that it lasts more than a day.

Almost a week ago I upgraded to an Android phone, the HTC Desire HD (full review to follow). The main disappointment has been the battery life. It does not even last for a whole day! Various Google searches has given lots of advice for how to disable energy draining features. But it seems a little silly to have a smart phone and then turn off all the smart features. A few colleagues at work have the same phone and suffer the same problem. Their solution – just charge it during the day. That’s fine if I’m in an office, but what about on the weekend?

I noticed that the phone often felt quite warm, even when it was in the snooze mode. Some more Googling and I finally stumbled on the answer. There’s a bug in the Android 2.2 software that causes a process to constantly use 70 – 100% of the CPU and thus quickly drains the battery.

The solution:
Enable USB debugging mode. Go to Menu / Settings / Applications / Development… then tick the “USB Debugging” option. Done.

For some reason this stops the process from using heaps of CPU and suddenly your battery lasts much longer. The only side effect is that your computer will ask to install some extra drivers when you connect your phone via USB (or you can just turn off that option when you connect).

Your HTC Desire HD Android is now the awesome phone it should be!

Juice Defender
I’ve also installed the free Juice Defender app that seems to do a good job in disabling battery draining features whenever the phone is in sleep mode but re-enables them once you start using it.

Why I gave up trying to save the world

     Posted on Wed ,11/08/2010 by Stephen Jackel

A while back I was big into helping the environment, saving the world, you know, that kind of thing. The problem was that the more I learnt, the more depressing everything seemed. Worse still, the general message was about guilt. People who drove cars, purchased items in plastic packaging, ate red meat, didn’t have enough north facing windows, etc were destroying this planet. In other words, people like me were destroying this planet.

I didn’t want to be destroying the planet. But if I didn’t drive a car it would take me about 2.5 hours to get to work – one way, a crazily high percentage of items come packaged in some form of plastic, I quickly got sick of eating chicken every day and it didn’t seem particularly feasible to do major renovations to the house. I felt more and more guilty and less and less empowered to be able to fix anything.

So I gave up.

Don’t get me wrong, I used low energy light bulbs and I still recycled bottles, cans and paper, but that was about it. I still cared but I figured there wasn’t much I could practically do so I just stopped thinking about it. Problem solved.

…Until recently when a series of comments, articles and podcasts stirred this whole thing up again. At first I let the comments float by (I wasn’t going to get sucked into that old guilt spiral again) but then I realized that I was actually hearing a different message. Rather than being told I was evil for existing, the underlying message was “We all have to live on this planet and so do our kids and future generations. So let’s get on with doing what we can to live in a sustainable way.” So simple. It was not a message of guilt, but rather a practical message of hope. Let’s make the changes that we can towards creating a better world.

And so I’ve started a compost heap in my back garden. I feed it daily with fruit and vegetable scraps. It’s just a baby but it will grow. Each week I save a few kilograms of garbage from being picked up by the garbage truck. In many ways this is small. Maybe even insignificant. I doubt you could even see the compost heap if you zoom in on Google maps. But it’s something. The true power comes as more and more people start taking these little steps. It’s an matter of scale. Imagine if millions of people around the city all began using a compost heap. That would save millions of kilograms of garbage and probably take a few garbage trucks off the road. Now that would be something.

For me this is just the first step as I renew my long journey towards living in a better, greener pattern. And it’s got me thinking about what other steps I can take. At home but also at work. What steps can I take at work? How can our businesses, the places where we spend many hours of each day become greener? How can our businesses all their part in creating hope, in saving the world?

SMART Goals Part 2 – Measurable Goals

     Posted on Tue ,23/03/2010 by Stephen Jackel

This is the second part of the 5 part series on how to set SMART goals – that is, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Measurable – how will you know you’ve met your goal?

When someone says that you need to set measurable goals, it’s easy to think “sure, seems obvious”. Yet it amazes me that it’s so easy to miss. Goals can sound great, but be missing this vital ingredient. To make matters worse, some things are inherently tough to measure.

Some poor examples of measurable goals:

“I want to increase traffic to my website.”

“I want my business to make a real difference in people’s lives when we perform service x”

“I want to be good at doing push ups”

“I want a high level of quality in our space travel technology”

Some of these are fairly specific but are not measurable. How will you know when you’ve made a real difference to people or are good at push ups or have an acceptable level of quality? How much extra website traffic defines success?

Some of the above examples are easier to make measurable than others eg

“I want to increase traffic to my website to an average of 10,000 page views per day”

“I want to be able to do 50 push ups in a row”

However, how do you measure the more “fluffy” things like “making a difference in people’s lives” or increasing quality?

Some things are difficult to quantify which means that it’s hard to prove that you’ve actually
succeeded. This can be a very tough aspect of goal setting to get right.

When you can’t think of an obvious way to measure success, the temptation is to simply say “I’ll know it when I see it”. That’s WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! You have to try harder! How will you know it? What will you look for to know that you’ve achieved your goal?

Back to the examples… How do we know if our business has made “a real difference in people’s lives when we perform service x”? What can we measure to know that we’re making a difference? We could measure number of compliments or customer testimonials that are offered. We could ask at least some customers to complete a short survey. Depending on what service x was, we might expect a high percentage of customers to return for more if they valued what was provided. The point here is that there may not be a single perfect metric but we can probably think of some that are close or even a couple of different metrics that would indicate the goal has been achieved.

So the goal may be “I want my business to make a real difference in people’s lives when we perform service x” “I want to my business to achieve an average of 8 out of 10 or higher on customers surveyed about service x and have 50% of customers return for more service x”

What about the quality of our space program. Quality is another thing that is hard to measure. I recommend focusing on what the outcome of good quality will be rather than trying to define detailed parts of quality. Eg rather than arbitrarily demanding that less than 1 out of 20 parts is rejected due to quality issues, define the desired outcome:

“I want a high level of quality in our space travel technology” could become “I want to put a man on the moon and return him safely”. Can’t do that if the quality’s not there!

What are some of your goals? How can you make them measurable? Have you got any tough ones that are hard to measure?

Do you set SMART goals? Part 1

     Posted on Sun ,07/03/2010 by Stephen Jackel

Who invented the Winter Olympics? What a crazy concept! A bunch of people turn up on a snow covered mountain, strap various pieces of equipment to their bodies and then proceed to hurtle down the side of the mountain, often with no way to stop. And because that’s not interesting enough, they usually throw in some sharp corners, a series of flag poles or a giant jump or two. I suppose the clever ones stick to the flat ice rink. Yes, I love the Winter Olympics!

The Winter Olympics are all about skill, courage and achievement. Athletes have trained for 4, 8, 12 or more years to perform often for just a few crucial seconds in an event. And when the event is over, we often see the raw emotion poured out – whether there was success or not. After years of training, did the athlete achieve their “dream”?

And by dream of course we mean goal. We are goal driven creatures. Really I mean that. Stop and think about it. Without goals we drift, we wander from idea to idea, interest to interest and never muster enough dedication to finalise anything. Goals give us a way to focus, to channel our energy, our time, our resources and convert them into achievement. Goals make us amazing creatures. Creatures that have changed the world! The Winter Olymics oozes goals.

So what makes a good goal? Goals need to be SMART. SMART is a mnemonic that stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time bound

Whenever you set a goal, you should make sure it hits each of those points. Or put another way, if you set a goal that fails to meet even one of the SMART characteristics, then that goal is going to cause you trouble!

Today, let’s look at setting Specific goals.

Specific – be precise not vague. What is it that you want to achieve?

For example, the goals like “to run a business that is a leader in it’s field”, “to get fit” or “to prove that our country has superior space exploration technology” are not very specific which means that they will be hard to achieve without breaking them down. They are more “visions” which in turn need to be broken down into specific goals.

Goals like “to feature on xyz innovation TV show for our work in the field of blah”, “to be able to run 5kms in half an hour” or “to put a man on the moon and return him safely before the end of the decade” are much more specific.

Over the next few posts I’m going go into detail on each of the other SMART attributes.

What are some goals that you’re working towards at the moment? Are they specific?

Is your business part of the social media conversation?

     Posted on Thu ,11/02/2010 by Stephen Jackel

First there were blogs. Then came MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. There’s no denying that social media is immensely popular right now. But there are plenty more people who are looking in at this crazy online social world and scratching their heads. What is the deal?

On one hand it’s really simple. You add friends to your “network” and then say stuff. On other other hand, it’s hard to see why or how this can be useful, particularly for a small business.

The answer is to take a step back and realise that the web is no longer just a bunch of static web pages that people browse. It’s an extension of the real world. It’s a place where people can meet and share stories, ideas and solutions. It’s part of people’s lives. It’s a place bubbling with conversations. It’s a constant rain of information, thoughts, questions and suggestions from around the world that lands and mixes into an ocean brimming with the things that are important to people.

Now the question becomes not “what is social media” but, “are you part of the conversation?”

Are you sharing your ideas and knowledge with the world? When someone has a problem that you know how to solve, are you there to help? Will the person’s friends know about you to refer you on? Do you know when people are talking about you or your business? What are they saying about it?

Regardless of whether you’re there, people will be talking. Talking about problems that you could help solve and even talking about your business! Can you afford not to be an active part of those conversations?

Over the next few posts, I’m going to explore the social media scene in more detail. Meanwhile, why not do a Google search for some keywords in your industry. Search through the results and find some blogs and check them out. You might be surprised by how much people are already talking.

What is your opinion about social media? How well do you understand it? Are you part of the social media conversation?

Hello Small Business World

     Posted on Tue ,26/01/2010 by admin

I’m excited about small business. Small-medium businesses are the heart of creativity and innovation. They power nations and drive economies.

Some small businesses are growing and thriving. Others are stagnant or slipping backwards. Why? I believe that healthy things grow. People, plants, countries, and of course, businesses. What makes the difference between an amazing business and an average business. How can we create happy, healthy SMBs that just won’t stop growing?

This blog is about my adventure down the rabbit hole of starting a small business. It will be the story of my journey. Please come along for the ride!

Are you just starting a business at the moment? Or do you remember what it was like when you did?