4 lessons entrepreneurs can learn about problem-solving from the NASA engineers who landed Apollo 13

Apollo 13
Apollo 13 astronauts treading water as they await their recovery helicopter in 1970.

  • Entrepreneurs can grow their problem-solving skills by emulating the tactics used by the Apollo 13 NASA engineers.
  • Avoid panicking, and take a step back to assess and understand the situation or problem at hand.
  • Weigh each potential solution carefully, but once you’ve made a choice, commit and don’t second-guess your decision. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Entrepreneurs are inherently problem-solvers. After all, we start our businesses because we recognize a need that needs to be filled. Take me, for instance: Part of my previous job at an internet media company was to create tools for editors to build forms, surveys, and polls. The problem was that at the time, the form-building landscape offered few good options. I decided to change that, and my company, JotForm, was born. 

But in the course of solving big-picture problems, smaller ones are constantly springing up and threatening to derail us. Some days, it feels like there are hundreds of fires that need to be put out before I’ve even finished my coffee. 

On those days, I like to think of an anecdote from Jerry C. Bostick, the flight dynamics officer for the Apollo 13 mission. More than two decades after the spacecraft was safely brought back to Earth after near-disaster, screenwriters Al Reinert and Bill Broyles were interviewing Bostick for the script that would become the film “Apollo 13.” One of their questions was, “Weren’t there times when everybody, or at least a few people, just panicked?”  

Bostick’s answer? No. 

“When bad things happened we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them,” he said. 

If ever there was a situation when panic would be warranted, the Apollo 13 mission was one of them. But panic wouldn’t have helped Mission Control then, and it won’t help you, either. 

Work the problem

One of NASA‘s most renowned problem solvers was flight director Gene Kranz, who oversaw both the Gemini and Apollo programs during his 34-year career. While trying to figure out how to rescue the three astronauts whose lives were on the line on Apollo 13, he said to his staff, “Let’s work the problem, people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.” 

Kranz’s “work the problem” mantra is still used by the agency today. Astronaut Chris Hadfield explained the process in his book, “An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth,” describing it as “NASA-speak for descending one decision tree after another, methodically looking for a solution until you run out of oxygen:”

“When we heard the alarm on the Station, instead of rushing to don masks and arm ourselves with extinguishers, one astronaut calmly got on the intercom to warn that a fire alarm was going off – maybe the Russians couldn’t hear it in their module – while another went to the computer to see which smoke detector was going off. No one was moving in a leisurely fashion, but the response was one of focused curiosity; as though we were dealing with an abstract puzzle rather than an imminent threat to our survival. To an observer it might have looked a little bizarre, actually: no agitation, no barked commands, no haste.”

University of Virginia Professor Thomas S. Bateman laid out “working the problem” in eight steps:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Determine goals/objectives
  3. Generate an array of alternative solutions
  4. Evaluate the possible consequences of each solution
  5. Use this analysis to choose one or more courses of action
  6. Plan the implementation
  7. Implement with full commitment
  8. Adapt as needed based on incoming data

This calm, rational approach to problem-solving works for astronauts and entrepreneurs alike. No matter what you’re dealing with, take a step back, understand the problem, and descend each decision tree until you find a solution. 

Be adaptable 

It might turn out that your original vision isn’t the one that ends up being realized. Or maybe you successfully launched one product, but changing technology forces you to reimagine it a few years down the line. That’s okay. Successful entrepreneurs know that change is inevitable, and if they want to survive in the long term, they’ll have to adapt. 

Nokia, for example, began as a paper company before following consumer demand and transitioning to rubber tires and galoshes. In the 1960s, it began making military equipment for Finland’s army, including gas masks and radio service phones, among other things. It eventually rose to prominence as the most successful cell phone manufacturer on Earth between 1998 and 2012. Even though it was eventually crushed by Apple after the release of the iPhone, Nokia lasted as long as it did thanks to its agility. 

Ask “why?”

Asking “why?” over and over again might make you feel less like a CEO and more like your toddler. But the truth is that there’s a lot we can gain from having an open, inquisitive mindset. Entrepreneur Michelle MacDonald suggests asking “Why?” five times to get to the root of any problem. 

“Many times when a problem arises, we jump to the first thought about why that problem is occurring, and then focus on a solution to fix that,” she said. “This is like putting an adhesive bandage over a hose and expecting it to hold.”

Say you find yourself drowning in work because you keep putting off tasks. Your five whys might go something like this: 

  1. Why am I constantly stressed? Because I have too much to do and not enough time to do it. 
  2. Why don’t I have enough time? Because I often procrastinate. 
  3. Why do I procrastinate? Because I don’t particularly enjoy some of the tasks I have to do. 
  4. Why don’t I enjoy them? Because they’re not a good use of my time, and someone else can easily do them. 
  5. Why isn’t someone else doing them? Because I haven’t delegated them out. 

Doing this will help you treat the actual problem, not just its symptoms, and keep you from trying to resolve the same thing over and over again. 

Positive thinking

Bostick’s answer about Mission Control’s refusal to panic spawned one of the most iconic lines of all time: “Failure is not an option.” Though that exact phrasing is an invention of the “Apollo 13” writers, the sentiment was accurate.

Negative thinking undermines the brain’s ability to think broadly and creatively, because fear and stress obscure options. Of course, you’re going to be stressed if, say, you lose a major client or there’s a freak explosion aboard your space craft. But those who cultivate positivity tend to be more resilient to such shocks, said Barbara Fredrickson, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and author of “Positivity.” 

One report co-written by Fredrickson suggests that positive emotions create a sort of buffer that helps people overcome setbacks. In fact, positive emotions were shown to help businesspeople negotiate better, improve decision-making and drive high-performance behavior. 

“Positive emotions expand awareness and attention,” Fredrickson said – critical attributes for anyone trying to solve a problem. “When you’re able to take in more information, the peripheral vision field is expanded. You’re able to connect the dots to the bigger picture. Instead of remembering just the most central event, you remember that and the peripheral aspects, too.”

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How employers can better support working moms with in-person and hybrid work options after the pandemic

working from home virtual learning
Moms may report more anxiety and loneliness while working from home.

  • Working moms face a particular disadvantage when it comes to balancing remote work with domestic duties.
  • A Yale University study suggests moms are more likely to feel depressed, anxious, and lonely while working from home.
  • When deciding on continuing remote work after the pandemic, employers should consider making accommodations for working moms.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Many employers have found to their surprise that remote work offers productivity and savings. Why return to the office, and continue paying that pricey lease, when your employees are just as productive from home? I can already hear the groan of discontent from parents around the country – particularly mothers. Indeed, studies have found that mothers suffer a gender disadvantage in the remote work environment. They are more likely to work with their children present. Their household chores increase when they work from home. They are more likely to report depression, anxiety, and loneliness than their husbands.

Regardless of how attentive their husbands are to the gender imbalance in child-rearing, the fact is that mothers of young and school-aged children tend to be the primary caregiver. They have found it more difficult to manage their maternal and remote work responsibilities during the health crisis.

Employers who decide to continue the experiment with remote work after the global health crisis must avoid contributing to this gender disparity. My research and discussions with mothers reveal a singular finding about how to close the gender gap from remote work: Remote work should be an option, not a requirement.

A case for in-person work

Just as parents realized they relied on school as a form of daycare, mothers have come to realize that they rely on in-person work as a break from their domestic roles. A study by Yale University found that mothers suffered the most due to the clash between the domestic and career roles while working from home. Going to work creates a clear demarcation between these roles.

One friend, I’ll call her M., recently took mental leave because she found the demands of remote work and child-rearing too overwhelming. “I found myself scolding my kids simply because they wanted to spend time with me. They are still too young to realize that they were interrupting my work.” M. is fortunate enough to have the option of paid leave. Now she’s afraid that her firm might decide to require remote work post-health-crisis. “I cannot wait to go back to the office, and I’m not sure if I can stay at home if we go full remote.”

The allure of going remote for some businesses is obvious. Firms can save significantly on fixed overhead costs if they downsize or even eliminate their office space entirely. Indeed, many firms are considering going hybrid – placing some of their workforce in-person and the rest remaining at home. Employers are conducting occupational analyses to determine who will stay remote and who will return to work.

Pressures on mothers

Employers should also consider the gender factor. Some accommodations should be made for mothers (and anyone else, frankly) experiencing difficulties with remote work. They should have the option to return to work even if their positions have been deemed suitable for working remote.

It’s important to note that this problem will not just go away when children return to school after the health crisis. Mothers of young children will continue to care for their children at home. Many parents will decide, regardless of the distress, to save on the costs of childcare and aftercare if at least one parent is working from home.

This is not just a matter of accommodating subjective preferences. The research shows significant mental health problems for many mothers working remotely due to the health crisis. Remote work has altered the work-life balance for many mothers in ways they never envisioned, and employers considering a permanent or hybrid remote work approach must keep mothers in mind.

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How tech-based design solutions can help stop the spread of COVID-19, according to an architect

elevator button coronavirus
In some quarantine hotels, staff help guests by pressing the elevator buttons.

  • Mengbi Li is a lecturer in built environment architecture at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia. 
  • She says the design or redesign of existing infrastructure can help people overcome COVID health challenges.
  • One redesign option is to make high-touch public spaces, like elevator buttons and toilets, motion-sensitive and touch-free.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The coronavirus has been escaping with distressing frequency from quarantine hotels, threatening serious outbreaks. To make things worse, multiple variants of the virus, possibly more infectious and deadly, have recently been detected. This accentuates the need for robust hotel quarantine, especially in countries like Australia that have controlled community transmission.

While the hotel quarantine system has received wide attention, relatively few people have had the opportunity to experience and observe it first hand. Even fewer have been able to compare with other regions handling similar challenges. I happen to have needed to travel overseas and thus experienced quarantine in several places over the past months.

Based on my experience as an academic in architecture, I share some thoughts and observations here on how the design or redesign of buildings, infrastructure, and cities can help people overcome the health challenges created by COVID-19.

Our buildings and cities were not designed to handle such extraordinary situations as this pandemic. One consequence is their design has often made the need to touch surfaces unavoidable.

Take elevators, for example

Some of the most frequently touched surfaces in buildings are the buttons in lifts. In some buildings in China, plastic wrap is used to cover the buttons and a sticker showing the time and date of last disinfection is attached nearby. Other buildings provide tissues for people to use as disposable finger covers.

In quarantine hotels, this procedure is even more carefully managed. Staff help guests by pressing the button. This small touch area needs frequent cleaning, which calls for extra human resources.

At Baiyunshan airport in Guangzhou, I used an elevator with touch-free buttons. The keypad had infrared sensors installed next to the usual button. With just a wave of their finger over the touch-free button, users can select their destination.

Another mode free of physical screens features numbers displayed in a front-projected holographic display. A sensor detects the movement of pressing a button in the air to activate the lift.

This technology is not out of our reach. In response to the pandemic, authorities in Melbourne and Sydney have trialed touch-free buttons using infrared technology at pedestrian crossings.

One concern about touch-free buttons is the challenge they present to the visually impaired. Currently, a push-button is placed next to the infrared sensor. An alternative for people who need assistance would be to use gesture or voice commands. Other concerns include reliability and vandal-proofing.

Another sensitive touch spot is the toilet. The airport toilets I visited in Australia, China, and Singapore are equipped with touch-free features to activate the flush, tap, soap dispenser, and hand dryer. However, the doors and locks cannot function without touch. Touch-free sensors or foot pedals would probably help.

Alternatively, new materials or coatings like antimicrobial polymers could be applied in areas where touch is unavoidable. Of course, care must be taken to ensure the antiviral potency is both reliable and people-friendly.

Design solutions don’t have to be high-tech

Interestingly, touch-free public spaces do not always rely on advanced materials or sophisticated technology. In a Melbourne quarantine hotel, I noticed several bollards with foot pedals being used as hand sanitizer dispensers. These are designed to function mechanically and require no power connections.

Instead of a simple stainless steel bollard, this dispenser could be further reimagined as an artistic sculpture integrating the building’s signage at the entrance. Elsewhere, this design could be incorporated into litter bins along the streets.

Usually, for architectural design, circulation patterns are analysed to see how people reach each space and establish the relationships between different areas. For safety purposes, exits are checked to ensure people can evacuate in a timely way. To prepare for future pandemics, these studies could add analysis of touch points in both pandemic and non-pandemic periods.

The shared challenge posed by the pandemic has prompted some innovative ideas. For example, physical reminders to keep a social distance have variously involved using carpet tiles, mowed or trimmed landscape patterns, furniture arrangements, temporary structures, and pavements or stickers.

Other solutions involve applying modular construction from well-equipped containers to create emergency hospitals or mobile testing stations.

From touch-free public spaces to designing for social distance and modular construction, there are still many ways the design or redesign of our buildings and cities can help to protect the public. Good design is particularly important to protect those in high-risk environments, such as workers and senior citizens in health care and aged care.

As necessity is the mother of invention, there is nothing like a period of stress to stimulate creativity, industry, and innovation.

The Conversation
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How to choose between an in-person, hybrid, and remote work model for your business post-pandemic

Remote work
Companies can decide to have employees work entirely remotely or predominantly in person.

  • The pandemic has forced organizations to rethink the office work structure.
  • Post-pandemic, many leaders will have to decide what’s the best work model for their businesses — in-person, remote or hybrid.
  • The future of work requires careful planning for both business leaders and their employees.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

After about a year of working remotely and making changes due to the pandemic, many leaders are confronting the same crucial question: What does the future of work look like in my organization?

As a leader, you must decide what workplace model you want to use, considering the needs of your business and your employees. Generally, organizations will have three options: entirely remote, predominantly in person, or a hybrid of the two.

Before you decide, it’s important to know the merits and drawbacks of each model. Here’s a quick rundown:

Predominantly in person

Before the pandemic, many organizations had nearly all employees in an office most days, and some feel an inclination to return to this workplace model. Some organizations have struggled to create a fully collaborative environment while working remotely, and Netflix CEO Reid Hastings spoke for many detractors when he called remote work “a pure negative.”
 
Companies that have encountered remote work challenges may want to go back to simpler, pre-pandemic times. If you’ve led a highly successful in-person organization, it’s natural to want to regain that degree of organizational success, collaboration, and camaraderie.
 
But companies must know that while many employees cannot wait to return to the office, others have decided they prefer remote work and have even moved far away from their former office. Freelancing and hiring company Upwork found that 23 million Americans plan to relocate in response to increased remote work opportunities. These employees may decide to pursue a new job if coming back to the office is mandatory.

Before returning to a purely in-person model, get a sense of what people want by either having managers collect intel or distributing an anonymous survey. If your employees predominantly want to continue working remotely, it may be worthwhile to listen.

Fully remote

While some companies have struggled remotely, many prior skeptics have embraced remote work in the pandemic. Companies as large as Twitter have even told employees they can work from home forever.

The benefits of a fully remote model are apparent – being completely virtual allows companies to save on office space and in-office technology, such as remote friendly conference rooms and office servers. In addition, remote work can give employees the flexibility they didn’t know they craved, allowing them to set a better schedule for themselves, be more productive without the distractions of an office, and be more present outside work.

However, companies shouldn’t be replicating all their in-person workflows, meeting routines, and management approaches in a newly virtual organization. Instead, the best remote companies help their employees engage and collaborate while working from home, share strategies to help their people manage a remote workday, and invest in employee necessities by offering laptops, office supply reimbursements, or high-speed wireless subsidization.
 
That said, be aware of and think of ways to accommodate the people who were looking forward to coming back to the office and won’t be excited to find out there isn’t one.

Hybrid

It’s crucial to know that creating a hybrid work environment requires a careful strategy in and of itself; it’s not a way to avoid setting a clear course. Leaders of hybrid organizations must create an environment where employees are consistently available and every team member is engaged professionally, even if they rarely come to the office.

Hybrid organizations have one clear advantage: They give every employee an opportunity to work however they want, whether that means coming to an office consistently, working from home every day, or something in the middle. Hybrid organizations also have the benefit of a ready-made office space for in-person meetings, training, team building, and more.

However, hybrid organizations need to ensure everyone is integrated into their work environment, regardless of where or how they work. There must be clear expectations and norms about when employees can work remotely and when they should be in the office. Leaders must plan in-person meetings and collaboration carefully, rather than abruptly calling employees into the office for conferencing. Most crucially, they must ensure that employees who work from home frequently are not passed over for advancement and recognition, and don’t fall into social isolation.

Companies should weigh these three workplace models carefully, and not thoughtlessly gravitate to the style that is closest to what they’ve always done. You should also be ready for a healthy percentage of your workforce to opt out of the model that you choose, as many folks are discovering new preferences for how they’d like to work.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Choose your strategy, support it, and be honest with the people in your organization about where you are heading – knowing many of them might choose to head in a different direction after their own experience over the past year.

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4 ways to increase your level of influence in the workplace

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Leading by example is the best way to influence others at work.

  • There are several ways you can grow your influence as a leader at work, says career coach Melody Wilding.
  • Expressing trust and understanding is key to inspire passion in your employees and team members.
  • By earning loyalty and leading by example, you can steadily increase your level of influence at work.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Influence – especially in the workplace – is about setting an example that inspires others to do as you do. The keyword here is, inspire. Influencing others isn’t about pressuring people to submit to your requests. Nor is it about manipulation. 

Influence, at its core, is akin to persuasion in the most genuine form. It involves inspiring others by how you show up and how you make them feel by leading them.

So, how does a leader influence a team to work towards a vision, share their passion, and to get things done? 

If you’re a sensitive high-achiever (or what I call a Sensitive Striver), then you already have the tools that other less-sensitive leaders may not. Your team will understand that you care about their values as much as your own, because of your ability to read them and to feel how they are feeling.

Your strength in empathy gives you a boost because you know what matters to your team. This creates a space of connection, understanding, and trust. With that as your foundation, your success in influencing as a leader will shine.

Leadership by influence: 4 essential aspects to increasing your influence in the workplace

Once you have a solid base of trust and connection with your team, you can strengthen your ability to influence and further your success as a leader. Here are a few key skills to increase your level of influence:

1. Be transparent

To increase your influence in the workplace, you must remain open and honest. It’s important to allow others to voice their questions and concerns and to answer them with transparency. Being honest is easy when there is good news to share, yet remaining 100% honest when the news is bad can be difficult.

The best leaders are transparent in all instances. If a question is posed that you are not prepared to answer, say, “I want to be sure to have all of the correct information before I answer that. Let me check the facts and get back to you by the end of the day.” Be sure to follow-up as soon as you can address their question. Answer with positivity and openness, and you will achieve a team committed to you and your goals.

As a Sensitive Striver, if problems do arise, your ability to communicate with empathy will be a guiding light for the rest of the team.

2. Inspire loyalty

Inspiring a sense of commitment from your team is vital to successful leadership and influence. This can be accomplished by motivating and improving the working lives of your employees.  Look for and speak to their accomplishments. Understand that your success also lies in the quality of people that you help advance within the company.

If someone in your group is going above and beyond in their role, acknowledge them. The pride you take in your team’s successes not only motivates your team but inspires deep loyalty to you as their leader, which is the best use of your influence in the workplace.  

3. Lead by example

Sensitive Strivers don’t fall short on determination. Lead by example by staying confident and focused on the end goal. A leader crippled by self-doubt or deterred by setbacks sets an uneasy tone and can contribute to chaos among the team. When a problem emerges (which you have most likely played out in your head), keep a steadfast and positive attitude. This is important, though difficult, especially if your reputation is on the line.

If you see yourself struggling to maintain or regain positivity, take a moment to remind yourself that you can change your mindset. Your attitude is your choice, and your team will mirror that behavior. Turning obstacles into unprecedented opportunities generates a collective calm that is nothing short of inspiring.

4. Beware the perfectionism pitfall

Sensitive Strivers tend to be perfectionists. Your impeccable attention to detail and ambition to keep going until it’s “flawless” contribute to your success. Yet, at other times, your need to do things “right” can fuel anxiety. As Brené Brown says, “Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there’s no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal.”

Carrying your expectation of perfection over to the team you are trying to lead will decrease your influence in the workplace and chip away at the group’s morale. To avoid fallout, stay focused on what is working, and what you can control. More likely than not, the end goal is still intact.

The ability to influence others is one of the most essential qualities a leader can have. Taking the time to learn the steps of influencing others intelligently and ethically, will improve your success as a leader, and that of the company’s.

Sensitive Strivers, you have a leg up in the world of influencing people. Your high emotional intelligence, your passion, and your drive will set you apart. You will be a leader who brings people together with a common goal and will inspire your team to get things done and done well.

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4 techniques to control your emotions and remain calm during stressful moments at work

woman upset at work
If you find yourself getting upset at work, use grounding techniques to keep calm.

  • During high-stress situations at work, we often don’t have time to go for a run or write in a journal.
  • Career coach Melody Wilding says there are other techniques you can use instead to calm down in the moment.
  • Cooling down with a drink of water, clenching and relaxing your fists, and box breathing can help you relax.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Strong emotions are inevitable in today’s busy, stressful work world. And it can be difficult to control emotions – especially in tense situations at work.

Maybe you’ve been so frustrated with a colleague that you exploded with anger. Or perhaps you cried after getting feedback. If you’re anything like the high-achievers I coach, then you may wrangle with fear of not measuring up to the expectations you have of yourself. 

Complex feelings like disappointment, panic, or even shame are natural, but that doesn’t make them any less difficult to deal with. Without the right strategies for regulating your emotions, it’s easy to overreact.

However, many well-known strategies are unrealistic or impossible to do during the workday. Few people can go for a run or write in a journal during a heated meeting, for example. 

Here are four realistic alternative strategies you can use to control your emotions in the moment. Stay calm and composed and respond in a way you’ll feel good about. 

1. Cool down

When you experience an emotion, your body gears up to fight or flee. Your sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive. Your heart rate speeds up and your internal temperature rises. It’s why your palms perspire when you’re nervous or your cheeks get flushed when you’re embarrassed. 

To push back the rising tide of emotion, you have to quell your internal, physiological response. One easy way to do this is to lower your body temperature. Grasp onto a cold glass, melt an ice cube in your mouth, take off a layer of clothing, or move closer to the air conditioner. Better yet, take a time out and head to the bathroom so you can splash water on your face. 

Scientifically speaking, this activates the mammalian diving reflex and kicks on your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation. 

2. Ground yourself 

When overwhelming emotions strike, it’s tempting to lose yourself in a wild train of thought. You might recall every past instance of failure or worry about future outcomes. When this happens, you can use grounding techniques to reorient back to reality and keep yourself firmly rooted in the present. 

Simple grounding techniques you can use in the moment include to control emotions: 

  • Clenching and releasing your fist
  • Digging your heels into the floor
  • Relaxing your hips into the corners of your chair
  • Concentrate on the eye color of the person you’re speaking to

Pay attention to concrete, observable sensations and objects around you. This channels your attention toward what’s true and what you can control versus the chatter running through your head.

3. Breathe like a Navy SEAL

Navy SEALs know a thing or two about managing emotions under pressure. They use a particular form of regulated breathing to stay alert, focused, and calm. Box breathing, or four-square breathing, is a practice you can use discreetly at your desk or even in the middle of tense conversations. 

Here’s how it works:

  • Breathe in for four seconds.
  • Hold air in your lungs for four seconds.
  • Exhale for four seconds.
  • Hold your breath, lungs emptied, for four seconds.

You can find guided visualizations online to assist you in a box breathing practice if you’re just getting started. 

4. Buy yourself time before you respond

You’ve probably experienced regret after spewing words you didn’t mean. You want to avoid losing control in the future, but how? I tell my clients to buy time for themselves by asking questions. 

Start by empathizing and validating the other person’s view, then pose a question to get more information.

For example, you might say: “Great question. What’s your sense of the situation?” or “What I’m hearing is that you’re unhappy with the results. What else is factoring into your response?”

This gives you space to process your emotional reaction, use the tools above to calm down, control your emotions, and consider how you want to respond. 

Fighting your emotions doesn’t work. It will only leave you frustrated and unhappy. Instead, embrace your feelings and manage them appropriately using these simple strategies.

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3 steps to pivot your professional reputation and explore a new career path

career coaching
A reputation pivot is the shift someone makes when their current career is no longer serving them.

  • Lida Citroën is an personal branding and reputation management specialist.
  • If you feel unsatisfied with your current job or career path, Citroën says it’s never too late to consider a professional change.
  • To pivot your professional reputation, assess your new target employers or clients to determine what skills they’re looking for. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

With the onset of the global health crisis in 2020, many professionals and entrepreneurs were forced to consider doing something different as industries struggled, jobs dwindled, or customers stopped buying. In 2021, many of those industries, jobs, and customers are still reluctant to fully engage, leading professionals to evaluate other long-term options.

The past year has been an opportunity for us to pause and reflect on the course we are on. Do I love my work? Do I like being able to work from home, surrounded by family? Do I need additional schooling to reskill or to upskill my abilities? 

Many professionals and entrepreneurs may have a change of heart about their career, find themselves uninspired by their workmates, or find their skills irrelevant to their current work or the market. This, in turn, leads them to evaluate their path forward and make changes.

For these individuals, a new career path brings hope, possibility, and enthusiasm but the inevitable question emerges: Am I completely starting over? When shifting your work, attention, and reputation to a new direction, a reputation pivot can ensure great success.

What is a reputation pivot?

A reputation pivot describes the shift someone makes when their current reputation and career are no longer desirable or feasible, and they want to take the positive assets of their reputation with them to do something very different.

For example, the doctor who seeks to become a children’s book author, the venture capitalist who sets out to become a motivational speaker, the sales professional who launches a food-truck business, or the college football coach who becomes an actor.

When facing a shift, it’s critical to bring forward the qualities, characteristics, and reputation successes that are positive, memorable, and valuable, and, at the same time, shed the aspects of one’s reputation that don’t serve the new audience.

How to pivot

Here’s an example of a reputation pivot: Bruce loved being a popular restaurant owner in his vibrant college town. Each school year, the area was buzzing with young people eager to partake of his varied menu of American cuisine with a Latin influence. They sat at his bar, running up large bar tabs, and dined in his restaurant, which always stayed open late to accommodate their youthful stamina.

When the global health crisis hit, he had to navigate the new restrictions and keep his business running. With fewer college students on campus and seating availability shrinking due to distancing restrictions, Bruce wondered whether his future was in the restaurant business after all.

In talking through what he loved about his work, Bruce acknowledged it was interacting with “his kids,” as he called them. He often had long, heartfelt conversations with them at the bar or dining area. He even joked that some saw him as their “Dad” away from home. This gave him pride, as he’d never had children of his own.

Bruce believed his passion was working with young adults. He wasn’t personally inspired to become a social worker, therapist, or counselor, but helping young people venture into entrepreneurship excited him. “Being an investor means you’re their guide. I can share my experience as a business owner – the successes and failures – and support them through the financial, emotional, and business challenges and opportunities,” Bruce said.

After selling his restaurant, he gathered other investors who had similar passions and more experience in the industry. They launched a small boutique firm, catering to emerging entrepreneurs in specific markets. Bruce marketed his reputation and brand as “Dad” to the young entrepreneurs. His website showed images of him with former students celebrating birthdays and graduations. His LinkedIn profile and online review sites were flooded with kind sentiments from his former patrons, some of whom had now come to him for investment guidance.

Bruce leveraged his reputation as a caring, empathetic, and talented business owner who related to, and had the respect, of young people. He was not focused on investing in hospitality ventures because that brought up painful memories. Many of his contacts from the restaurant and bar business dropped off his priority list, and were replaced by fellow investors, youth advisers, and counselors, and college entrepreneur programs who all referred potential candidates to Bruce. 

Here are three main steps for pivoting, and how Bruce employed them.

1. Inventory current reputation assets 

For Bruce, he started by examining what was working: He knew how to bond with young people, gaining their respect and confidence quickly. He enjoyed being around them, hearing their stories of college challenges and offering support when needed. He was also a well-respected business owner in the area. His restaurant had been a staple in the community for 20-plus years and he was known for being generous (supporting many fundraising efforts), friendly, and insightful. He’d started many food crazes before they became national trends, earning him respect as a visionary entrepreneur.

Bruce was also smart about money. When economic times were tough, he pared down his menu to keep staff employed. When he was forced to shut down indoor dining, he invested in systems to make outdoor dining more comfortable before many of his competitors had done so. When the time came, he was able to sell his equipment and real estate for a handsome sum, even though the nation was still struggling to return to regular restaurant operations.

2. Assess the target audience

For Bruce, the target audience he’d served (literally) for so long was the same group he’d be working with next. He was no longer looking to offer a dining experience to college kids away from home but would now be seeking college-aged entrepreneurs and inventors whom he could invest in and help nurture to business growth.

While he felt he knew the audience, he still had a lot to learn. Bruce created spreadsheets of what he knew, what he didn’t know, and where he could get the needed insights into his target audience.

3. Decide which reputation assets to leverage and which to shed 

Early on, Bruce knew he wanted to retain the camaraderie, support, and father-figure style he’d enjoyed in the restaurant. That wouldn’t change. But he now wanted them to respect his business acumen, self-discipline, structures, and protocols for investment viability. He also knew that some of the casualness he’d tolerated before, which at times bordered on disrespect, would need to stop. This was a new, serious business and he was not in the hospitality space any longer.

With a clear understanding of how he wanted to be positioned (reputational goals), an assessment of his target audience’s needs and desires, and a positioning plan for growing his reputation in this new direction, he was ready to venture out. Bruce kept a close eye on how his value was perceived by his core target audience – the young entrepreneurs – as well as his business partners, the investment community, the media, and the local community. As his business grows, Bruce feels empowered to use the available levers he’s developed to course correct, learn, and scale his offer, and enhance his reputation.

Is 2021 the year for you to pivot?

Have you reflected on your career and realized that what you’ve been doing is no longer inspiring, fulfilling, or meaningful personally or professionally? Pivoting takes thought and strategy, but the time might be perfect for what you can offer. Following the steps above will help you to evaluate your goals and get where you truly want to go, rather than maintaining the path you’re on.

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SCOTT GALLOWAY: I predict the New York Times will outlive both Facebook and Google – here’s why

Nighttime view of the New York Times Building
When The New York Times renewed its emphasis on subscriptions, it became one of the most durable brands in media.

“The task is … not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.” ― Erwin Schrödinger

Just as life is not about what happens to you, but about how you respond to what happens to you, insight is not a function of data, but of how you perceive the data. Plotting data in different ways is illuminating, even fun, and it can lead one to discover stories. And while “stories” often connotes fiction, stories can also be true, and can even create truth. 

The best way to predict the future is to make it. And, just as history is the stories we (i.e., the victors) tell ourselves, stories can shape the future by giving people a path, an inspiration, or a goal. One inspiration for those stories is data … and different ways of looking at the data.

Just read the last paragraph and it’s clear I’m insecure re: my intellect, or have an edible hangover. The answer is yes.

Anyway, I love 2×2 matrices, and how their quadrants inspire stories. Identifying two factors that define four groups can provide insight into industry dynamics and illuminate pressures and opportunities. Often, the points on a matrix are a function of quantitative analysis; however, the real value is in the sorting, not the calibration. 

In that spirit, I’ve been thinking a lot about how tech is battling for our attention. Screens have infested our lives and we’ve become re-attached to an Orwellian umbilical cord. From fitness to dating to news to travel to investing to cooking, every slice of our day is a battleground among tech players for our monetize-able attention. Two factors drive strategy in this battle: the value of the attention that firms command, and the means to monetize that attention. Hence, our A2 matrix.

Scott Galloway

So what are the stories we see when we organize the data along these axes? And can these stories pull the future forward? Let’s start with the upper right “luxury” quadrant.  

Scott Galloway

This category includes brands that target consumers willing to pay a premium for products, and for the privacy and status-signalling that comes with premium pricing – primarily user-derived revenue. 

This is a great space, but it takes relentless innovation to maintain premium positioning. The strategic imperative for these companies is first to maintain, and then to grow by expanding the attention they capture. Apple, the valedictorian of this space, has been steadily working out from its base in computers to mobile, television, voice, and wearables. The story coming into focus on the page is a move into fitness, and to acquire Peloton. 

Scott Galloway

Is Peloton worth $36 billion? As an independent company, in my view, it’s hard to justify. But is an additional two to four hours of attention per week from the most influential people on the planet worth $36 billion to Apple? Yes, in a heartbeat.

Scott Galloway

Companies in the Mass Market quadrant also depend primarily on user-derived revenue, but serve a broader consumer base. This is a tough category, because these companies typically lack the insulation provided by an aspirational brand, and therefore face the threat of price competition. This competition can come from another mass market company with greater economies of scale or more efficient technology, or from the quadrant to the left, the Menaces, who don’t need to charge users much (or anything) because they have an alternate revenue stream. 

The strategic imperatives, then, are to build scale, increase switching costs, and improve the value proposition. Fortunately, there’s one strategy that addresses all three: the rundle. A recurring revenue bundle should be the backbone of all these companies.

Most of these businesses already offer subscriptions, and are buttressing their offerings as they hear the footsteps of the Menaces whose attention may supersede the regulatory hurdles or infrastructure the mass has put in place. Think of WhatsApp challenging Vodafone. Spotify is moving aggressively beyond music into podcasts, and probably beyond. Verizon is incorporating content into its wireless plans, offering Disney+ as an option.

Scott Galloway

Companies in the Menaces quadrant give away their service for free in order to accumulate massive scale and monetize the attention of their users. Typically, these companies scale with breakthrough product innovation, but once they secure market power, they direct their innovative energy into protecting their turf and exploiting users for the benefit of their true customers: the advertisers or brokers who pay for order flow.

Once scale is achieved, these businesses are incredibly profitable and can make the jump to lightspeed, where network effects stave off competitive pressure. Their only real threat: government regulation. So, the strategic imperative becomes to overwhelm Washington with lobbyists and public relations professionals that in turn overwhelm DC and the media. There are several-fold more people working in PR at Facebook, smearing lipstick on cancer, than there are journalists (globally) covering tech.

Scott Galloway
Scott Galloway

This is a business of scale, and of sociopathy. Regulators would be wise to hire economists, antitrust experts, and behavioral scientists to understand this quadrant better. Similar to climate change, it’s an emergent problem of long-ignored externalities, and those who benefit from our blindness have politicized expressions of concern and positioned them as hysterical, socialist, and (worse) European.

Scott Galloway

The last quadrant contains the Underachievers. These firms are doing something right – they capture a great deal of time from affluent users – but leave surplus value on the table. In sum, they are not commanding the space they occupy. It’s hard to maintain a premium position when you are exploiting your users. It’s like jumping Double Dutch while studying English. CNN offers a great product and enjoys affluent/influential viewers … but so did the “Tiffany” network (CBS), until HBO and Netflix came along and offered viewers the chance to pay with money rather than time spent discovering that they likely had opioid-induced constipation. (Sidenote: Rush Limbaugh 1951-2021.) The challenge for these companies is to rally the leadership and capital needed to traverse quadrants into the Luxury space.

It can be done, and The New York Times is proof. As an ad-driven business, clinging to the wrong stakeholder (advertisers) in a declining industry, the share price plunged from $50 to $3 in five years. When it moved into the Luxury quadrant, via a renewed emphasis on subscriptions, it became one of the most durable brands in media. Prediction: The gray lady will outlive Facebook and Google. The firm’s stock price has increased 8x since 2012.

Scott Galloway

Clubhouse is attempting to traverse quadrants with a move to a subscription model, which is smart. I have never been on the Clubhouse app. However, if we introduced a “Douchebag” axis to our model, the voice-conversation app would occupy its own quadrant.

The hard thing

It can be illuminating to take a step back and consider an industry along a few key dimensions. We leverage data to construct a lens that informs our decision making. However, this is just the first step. Implementing change is harder … and why the potential returns are so great. Management teams that use these insights and embrace the difficult – and dangerous – work of traversing the crevasses between quadrants require a CEO who does not give into the temptation to just ride it out, collect his/her $30-50 million, and move to West Palm Beach. The future belongs to the bold: the storytellers who can act on their stories and pull the future forward.

Speaking of stories, I’ve been telling one about Twitter for some time now. The company needs to move into the Luxury quadrant with a (partial) subscription model, premium features, and proprietary content. Over the past few months, Twitter has publicly adopted this strategy, and registered a 100% increase in share price. But now comes the hard part: moving from lip-synching this blog to product development … we’ll see. 

Here’s another story we see: Goldman Sachs is the most undervalued brand in business and will attract an activist investor who will push for a rundle and verticalization. I begin to tell that story on today’s episode of Pivot, stay tuned, my brothers and sisters: Like a mastiff, I’m hungry for a lion. I’m not sure what the last sentence means, but it makes me feel 40 again. And that’s enough.  

Life is so rich,

Scott

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7 key strategies for scaling from a solo entrepreneur to a successful business leader

colleagues in work meeting
Teams thrive when they have a higher purpose and long-term goal.

  • Entrepreneurs should adjust the mindset of doing everything solo to building a team to grow their business.
  • A culture of learning from failure is key to becoming a successful business leader when scaling a startup.
  • Fine-tuning the business’ purpose is important for entrepreneurs becoming team leaders.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As an adviser to many startups today, I still see that most of you entrepreneurs see yourselves as the sole driver of your new solution, and the key driver of your new business.

That’s not all bad in the beginning, but as you scale, every business has to build a team to keep up with the wide range of skills needed, fight new competitors, and respond to changes in the marketplace.

For many, it’s hard to make the switch from that top-down, order-giving culture, and it’s hard to find the time to recruit and coach the new team members you need to scale the business to success.

Many new businesses fail at this stage because they don’t build the required team culture to keep teams engaged and committed, and founders burn out trying to do too much.

Based on my own experience in large companies, as well as small ones, here are seven key strategies I recommend for building the teams and culture that will drive business success:

1. Admit to yourself and others that you need help

Don’t let your ego and passion prevent you from building a team around you, listening to others with complementary skills, and delegating decisions as far down as possible. We all need to be humble and recognize that what we need to know about technology and the market changes daily.

2. Identify a business purpose and goals that motivate any team

Today, modern teams are engaged by a higher purpose, such as improving the environment or helping the underprivileged, more than just money and profit. You need them to make a personal commitment to customer service, improved quality, and change to improve the future.
 
Blake Mycoskie, founder of Toms Shoes, set a goal of donating a pair of shoes to the needy for every pair sold, and maintains team commitment by providing international trips to assist partners in distributing shoes in interesting places, including Nepal and Honduras.

3. Encourage your team to make decisions and take action

Many teams I know are frustrated by never-ending debates and constant requests for more analysis by management. Satisfaction and commitment come from choosing a path to move forward, evaluating results and customer feedback, and learning from all their best efforts.

4. Keep teams small, diverse, and collaborative 

I find that teams with more than eight or nine people often get bogged down in internal politics and have trouble sharing data effectively or reaching consensus. People all need to trust each other and be able to recognize the value of diverse perspectives. Avoid long and never-ending projects.

As an example, CEO Jeff Bezos at Amazon is known for his two-pizza rule: No meeting or team should be so large that two pizzas can’t feed the whole group. He is convinced this assures maximum productivity and that no one’s ideas get drowned out or ignored.

5. Practice active listening and open team communication

As the size and number of your teams grows, the amount of time you spend listening and communicating must also grow. Resist the urge to limit what teams need to know, interrupt negative messages, or jump quickly from listening to a solution. Promote the sharing of ideas and feedback.

6. Foster a culture of constant learning, even from failures

Many new business leaders can’t wait to implement fixed team processes to improve productivity and minimize risk. While productivity is important, the bigger risk is not learning from customers and the market and falling behind. Reward new ideas, experiments, and critical team feedback.

7. Be the model of customer focus for the team

Too many business leaders I know retreat further and further from the customer as their business scales. Make sure you schedule time for regular customer visits, and make sure your team understands that providing value to more customers is your definition of growing the business.
 
As your business grows from a startup to a sustainable business, you too have to grow from an entrepreneur to a business leader. Of course, if your interests and passion don’t lean in this direction, you can always bring in an outside CEO who already has the skills, or you can merge or sell your startup to another enterprise and move on to start a new venture.

Just be aware that a winning team makeup and culture won’t happen by default. It takes recognition of the need and effort on your part. I urge every entrepreneur to take a hard look at their own situation – you may be a key part of the problem, or the driver of the next unicorn business solution.

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5 practices to improve your financial health, according to an elite business coach

millennial money habits
Mental strength is key for escaping complacency when it comes to finances.

  • Derek Moneyberg is an entrepreneur and wealth coach who helps people improve their financial health.
  • He says financial goals are more about security than freedom, and many Americans are financially insecure.
  • To achieve security, he suggests cultivating an abundance mindset by practicing mental clarity and stamina. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As we step into 2021, we are better understanding that our financial goals mean more than just freedom … they mean security. Meeting our goals can give us the peace of mind we are looking for in trying times.

In a revealing survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of WSFS Bank, 40% of Americans under the age of 40 aren’t optimistic they’ll succeed in their financial goals with 43% adding they frequently have trouble paying everyday living expenses while 19% claimed it happens to them “constantly.”

I recently had the opportunity to speak with business coach Derek Moneyberg, (yes, that’s his name) and the self-made mogul shared a few simple pointers on improving financial health and taking control of our lives …

1​. Mental clarity

“When building your financial future, you have to reevaluate your mindset,” Derek explained, “and your thoughts about money, success, wealth, and hard work.”

Moneyberg innately understands that we are bombarded every day with biases that promote a toxic mindset locking us into a mediocre existence. Eliminating those misconceptions propels us forward with an attitude set on abundance rather than scarcity. 

2​. Mental stamina

Successful people have a tenacity that most of us aren’t born with,” Derek said. “To set and meet financial goals, you have to adapt to processes and thought patterns that will push you, and this is a lot easier said than done.”

Moneyberg maintains that mental strength is a significant catalyst for pushing one out of complacency when it comes to finances. 

3​. Communication and negotiation

“For most people taking a step towards promotions and pay raises is a major part of attaining their financial goals and without the right negotiation techniques, you might as well consider it impossible,” Derek said. “What I mean by that is we have to communicate to win, we have to learn how to be convincing then go after and get what we want.”

4​. Do not hesitate to sell

“​If you want to be wealthy, if you want to reap the benefits of financial success, you have to have the guts to sell,” Derek said. “Build a brand that customers love, market yourself and prove that you are a leader that others can trust. A leader that others want to follow.”

Moneyberg knows that if you offer something of value and put yourself out there, you scale yourself to meet your goals.

5​. Creativity

A common trait among the world’s most elite individuals and Fortune 500 companies is the ability to be constantly creative within an erratic market.

“Not only do you need to be able to stand out,” Derek said, “but you also need to be able to think outside the box.”

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