Hard Work Or Talent, Which Comes First?

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The 10.000 hours hands bleeding formula?

”…Life after college sucks. It really does. I mean, I don’t know, at least it did for me, but that’s the only thing I know. You just get a bit derailed. But soon something starts to happen, trust me. A rhythm sets in. Just like it did after your first few days here. Just try not to wait until, like me, you’re 29 until you find it. And if you are that’s fine too, some of us never find it…” – Peter Dinklage / Actor

Check those actors and artists out, what do you see? The fame, flashing lights and glory. Before that glorious day happens, did you know they were once kicked out in the streets without a dime or crashing in someone else’s couch for months…years? The vast majority of their peers that are still in the dark. The industry -Hollywood- is cruel. Many people, especially young graduates or artists, for obvious reasons, are craving for success. Very few end up successful, this is sad. How did they lost their groove? Many questions need to be asked and that’s what I’m going to talk about in this article.

What do you want to achieve?
Being clear about what you want to do is the key to your success. But be careful, money is everywhere and is clearly not what drives people to accomplish amazing things. What’s the money to an NBA athlete, multiple time MVP, without any rings? What’s the money to a terminally-ill oscar winning filmmaker? What’s the money to a football manager who won every championships except in one country? The list goes on. Please tell us: what is your clear vision of success?

Do you really have to count? 
Before getting to the Oscars, the championship trophies or rings, you’ll be hearing that there are no gains without pains. Huh, sorry, it doesn’t have to be painful! Today, you will play guitar (for example) until your finger hurt. Or you’ll beat those drums like crazy and bleed like Andrew in ‘Whiplash’ movie. Tomorrow it’s going to be another story. Another example, you’ll kill your eyes on the computer screen because you have to finish a design project. You forget that you have to be healthy. Do that thing you love everyday first, but don’t go insane losing your life balance. There’s no glory in getting no sleep or no social life, your craft needs those ingredients too, badly. Build a strong work ethic increments by increments. The 10.000 hours rules is a cliché, when you practice until it becomes second nature, you definitely lose the count.

Do you have it in you?
I have to confess, I jumped into the “Yes You Can Code!” bandwagon…I’ve downloaded 12 gigabytes of Android Development Course. As soon as I started, the only thing that captivates me was the UI/UX part. Coding? Pfff, I wanted to skip that part! I like to see things: the Desiiiiiign! It didn’t took me hours of video tutorial to figure this out. Just say no. When you dont’ feel like it, don’t waste your time.

Do you know the rules?
To play the blues you have to know your scales and guitar fretboard, there’s no way around. To gain speed you have to go slow and there are hands exercise for that. Drawing? Photography? They are all about actually learning to see the shapes or the light! Once you know the rules you’ll start break them and your own style will pop.

Do you bend your craft’s perception ?
Photographers don’t click buttons they see the different facets of light and serve them to you in a canvas; graphic designers are not copying and pasting things around, they are visual problem solvers; actors are amazing liars who embody the right doses of romance, drama or action that will make your heart move, no matter what. You know what they say about Miles Davis? That he could actually paint the music with his instrument. Wow!

Are you in constant state of awe?
If your not in the right mood, you’ll miss the shot. Before you do your daily practice, find inspiration and observe the masters at their craft. It can be a book, a video, a song, a concert. Masters will make you very uncomfortable, asking yourself “how does he/she do it?” until you get it right. 

Are you in the right environment?
There are countries where you’ll find that your industry is in very bad shape: no cinemas, very few creative agencies/music labels, no clear artists rights. To be ‘in the moment’ you’d need to go where amazing things are happening. Surrounding yourself with talents will tremendously improve your craft, the easiest way. Before that moment happens, you can use social media to link up, LinkedIN is a big house where the next amazing talent is one click or call away. I see no strangers here, just opportunities.

Where is/are your mentor(s)?
Mentor, it’s a rare species. They are the type of person you leave voicemails to. I once requested a mentorship and was asked to pay for it. Let’s be persistent and follow the people we admire to learn from them. They HAVE TO tell us how they got there and we should make our duty to relentlessly ask them.  A leader is nothing without the tribe.

Do you know that you suck?
Knowing something and doing something is two very different things. It’s in the awareness that you need to apply where change really happen. When you make music in your basement, design or draw a piece without actually sharing them: you are in airplane mode and not aware. Are you afraid, you have all the rights to be. It’s not a big deal, the door to improvement got the words “You suck!” written on it.

Is your failing mode on?
Go fail and fail hard. There are multiple ways of failing, your work can be rejected, your blog article can go down the drain -tell me about it Lionel! :)- you can get a gig get hired, do the job very well, your client then will ask you some free design work, you say no and that’s it! You’ll get your money -or not totally- and will never see the client again. That’s a type of failure. Like I told you, it’s never about the money but strong relationships. Will you have the courage to change your blueprint when facing failure?

Will you force your destiny?
I read that amazing story about Ridley Scott, the filmmaker. He met his success at 40 years old and, before that, it was a rollercoaster of little success and big failure. He stalked some ad agency executives in the elevator with only his portfolio in his hand, and pitched them all the way up. That’s how he got the job, the rest is history.

For decades the formula to success has been hard work. I guess it’s still the case. As far as i’m concerned, getting the right habits is the most difficult part of it. Please let me us know, in the comment section below, the challenges you face on your path to success and your insights. We could learn something from you that will help us find our groove again!

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Where To Find Endless Stories And How To Build A Great Place For Storytelling?

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I used to sell computers back in the days, for a famous french retail store. The direction put pressure on the sales team and I was always looking for the very best techniques and tricks to sell faster and more. God was I wrong! My clients didn’t come back and didn’t call me either. My follow up Emails went to their trash cans. Maybe because they realized that I tried to sell them expensive warranties instead of computers.

I started hitting books about selling, but they were full of dull sales tactics and tricks. One caught my attention and It was “The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness” by Jeffrey Gitomer. Jeffrey is a very cool guy and it shows in his writing. I stumbled upon a sentence that would later resonate with me: If you want to sell without looking and sounding like a jerk, join a Toastmasters Club.

So, I went to a TM’s club session in Paris and I was so thrilled to meet enchanting, warm people curious to know everything about me and applauding me as I took the stage to speak non sense words while my legs were uncontrollably shaking. The applause closed my speech and made me eager to come back for more.

Same ambiance in Brussels: laughs, applause, friendship, Open-mindedness .

Once you start to realize there’s no TM club in your town – I was living in Lille (France)- back then, you want to bring the whole experience in. Here’s a fact: building a public speaking club is hard. Public speaking is human. Let’s have a look about the challenges we are facing when we are dealing with people:

1- They don’t have time
That’s the number ONE objection you’ll get. You’ll learn that time based objections are hiding the most important concerns. Let’s put it this way: it doesn’t take too much time to hang out with friends on a Friday night, have a drink and spending some quality times. It makes you forget about the hard work week you had. Why then, going to a Toastmasters meeting would be that much time consuming?

2- They are shy (and scared)
We are all shy! It’s hard to perform in front of strangers. I never thought Elvis and Michael were scared to death at the single idea of performing. I once witnessed a start-up founder fall off the stage before his speech, painful experience but not something you can’t get over with. Shy people are the greatest speakers. Believe it!

3- They forget about things
If it’s not important to them, they’ll forget about it. How Important is Toastmasters? What’s on the table for the individuals who want to join it?

4- It’s hard to catch their interests
Do they like movies, money, fame, music? What goals are they pursuing? What’s the first thing they do when they wake up in the morning? What keeps them up at night?

5- They lack of self confidence
Some people think they don’t need to practice their speaking skills, because they think they were naturally born with it. Some don’t think they are “capable” of speaking. How to make people believe in themselves?

Now, according to me, here are the tricks a TM club builder should use to get his project on track:

1- Say Hi and smile!
Ah! The daunting art of approaching strangers without sounding like a sales rep. What’s your name? -Open your arms, apologize- state exactly what you doing, and grab their attention with questions. Remember to keep smiling! Nobody talks to grumpy people.

1- Explain Toastmasters in your own words.
What Toastmasters is all about? What we do? Where we do it? How we do it? What we learn from it? Use your own words in a simple talk.

2- Get your business cards ready
Put your name on it and every professional links -websites, social media, etc.- where you and your club can be found. Design a nice but simple business card and always give your interlocutors two or three of them each time

3- Design your communication materials
You should get your website and your printing visuals ready. The writing content doesn’t have to be complicated but it SHOULD look nice. The best designs are talking to human emotions and emotions sell. Craft illustrations, use images, make bold statements and call to actions. Ask for the help of a designer among your friends or business connections.

4- Engage on social media venues
Why social media? To build a community near you. A community of listeners. People wake up in the morning with Facebook  app opened in their smartphones or tablets without even having their feet touch the ground.

5- Spread the word
Newsletter, invitations, interviews, podcasts. I mean, you have everything at your disposal to make noise and get noticed. Go to groups or forums and tell them about your challenges, any issues you may have in building your project up. You’ll always find great insights coming your way.

6- Call for action
Put your number and Facebook page address in front, middle and bottom of your club’s webpage. Ask your visitors to subscribe to your newsletter, join your events; openly ask for memberships. If you don’t ASK you’ll not get anything. Don’t be afraid to ask.

I’ve participated -with two friends- in starting and launching the first Toastmasters club in Lille, our biggest challenge was to find the proper venue for our meetings, and to persuade others that it’d not take that much of their time to come and have fun with us. Today this club counts 25 members and got its certification. Now that I’m in Cameroon (Africa) , I can feel that the lack of culture: no libraries, no theaters, no music venues, no Toastmasters. How to change it?

Either you are a TM member or builder, you are seeking for changes.

I think we are all craving for a change but are fighting so hard against it at the same time. The experience of building a club is the same as founding and marketing your own business. It’s full of failures and discouragement. A Toastmasters club near you is the place to find great stories, have fun and meet new friends. It’s a big family all around the world with open hands and hearts. I think It’s easy to go out and club all night. It’s not that easy to sit down, prepare a speech, rehearse it, stand up and talk to persuade others about the importance of your story. We are all laughing and crying for the same things: books, movies, illustrations, music, arts..
We are all listening to storytellers, because everyone likes a good story.

10 Simple Ways To Be(come) A Great Boss

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Gladys didn’t get paid today. Five months anniversary of ‘non-payment’. She’s really having a hard time because she: can’t afford to pay her kid’s school tuition, avoids her landlord. She knows that she’ll have no lights soon. She’s late for work -again- because she had to deal with the school’s principal first.

I’m not saying that it has always been like this: the job interview was great. Smiles everywhere, new premises, warm and cheerful executives; the pay was good with possible increases. Today, her taxis expenses are unbearable. Coming to work has become a punishment. The projects are dull and monotonous, meetings and briefings keep coming but they are not relevant. There’s no magic anymore. She will sell her belongings to make ends meet. Asking for help to her colleagues? They got exactly the same issues…

‘Do they know how I live? Them, in their big cars and shiny suits? ‘ she asked herself. Yesterday ‘they’ asked her to manage the new equipment delivery, back to her desk she did a Google search and realized that only one of these items cost four times her salary, it brought her down in tears. Gladys is a graphic designer.

Do bosses know how bad they’re hurting their workers when they act like this? Why they keep doing it? How to keep your workers’ loyalty when the competition comes knocking with better salaries? Do they have great bosses? Not necessarily. How to become a great boss then?

Be accountable
We are looking for leaders to unite us around a vision, that’s you. When problems occur we want you to take the lead. If you don’t take the entire responsibility of your employees’ failures or difficulties, you will fail miserably to instill admiration and respect in your troops. You will be only good at giving orders. Problem is that the orders never walk. Do what you say and say what you do, nothing is worse than a chatterbox.
Swim with your team
The work is done, you came down there and validated the client’s project, and you went back in your office. Absent boss. You have no idea how your team will hate you for that, for not having saved everybody’s time when you could just pull a chair up and sit next to each of your team members. Get in the ‘arena’, build constant feedback. Give room for suggestions, push for improvements and if they don’t fly, take a pen and go to the whiteboard or go back to your office’s desk and come out with a rocking PowerPoint presentation.
Honesty is stronger than pride
So many meetings are beginning with new goals conversations, or those the team missed and had to catch up. The first thing to make sure of, in a room, is to ask ” Who, here, has a problem ? “. When troubles arise, it is important to speak frankly. If the financial situation is dire, tell them you will restrain the budget; tell them they will not get paid this month; SAY IT! After that, you will work on solutions as a team. Pride, taboos, hierarchy: they have no place in a team brief. The goal is to urge every players to speak their mind. Issues must be squared and resolved before even getting new clients.
Do not take hostages
It is better to reward someone in full or not at all than in thirds. I’ve often seen managers pay their team third the salary by mentioning problems of treasuries or unpaid bills. Do you really think they will thank you for that? Don’t you think they have electric bills to pay too? May be you thought that they would not be in for the money. Everybody’s in for the money when it’s not invested properly. These investments are what make people stick together.
Invest in your team
This is the truth: you have recruited people who have worked hard for their degrees and are now entering into a routine that’s boring. You, as a leader, must constantly stimulate their knowledge by offering them in-house training. Technology is everywhere and it’s easy to get lost between how to write a good social media post and crunching numbers in Excel.
Invest in your company
I think any company that does not have a quiet room with nice couches and cushions on the floor, simply should not do business. If you expect people to spend their midnight oil, collapsing in chairs waiting for the cleaning service to wake them up: you’ve missed a huge point. Make people love their work space. The interior design and spaces were carefully studied and articulated in companies like Pixar or Google, why not be inspired by them? It is true that some have family obligations, but others are willing to invest serious time in your great projects. Do not turn off their passion when it will only cost you a couch or offering catering services to them.
Limit your exposure
A day in a troubled company. Employees are expecting a raise, as they were promised, and that glorious day didn’t come. They are now stunned to see, coming out of a brand new Aston Martin, their CEO in a golf attire. Be discreet, when you know the rebellion is coming take a bike.
Avoid badmouthing
Lack of information and communication between individuals is the worst evil. If you speak ill of an employee to another behind his/her back, you will do the same on your clients/partners; you will do the same on your competition; your workers will do the same on you! The meeting rooms are made to resolve conflicts.

Be patient
Oh… my biggest flaw. I know that I’ve never been patient; I also know that I am a dog lover and mine taught me a lot about it. It is very hard to master. I remember the day when my Labrador barked endlessly in his cage, I decided to take him out and proceeded to a thorough inspection and cleaning. When you do things well, you expect quick outcomes right? Wrong! He refused to get back in. With patience, I tried several tactics but the one that really worked was linking the action to the word – I pointed the cage out and took an authoritative voice -. If I had listened to my inner voice, I would have taken this alligator’s reincarnation -my Golden Ret’ never chews…- with both hands and forced him in there. But was I aware of his real issues? Was there a snake in that cage? I didn’t know. Clients will not pay you in time -it always drives me numb-, workers will not ‘get it’ right away, people in business will owe you money. Patience is one of your greatest asset.
Forget about the money
I like to think about money as a wild horse instead of a unicorn. If it fascinates you, it will be hard to distance yourself from a greedy competition. Money can make you avaricious to the point where you’ll automatically not pay your team and use vain tricks to keep them around you. Then you’ll establish a downward spiral and cause troubles in your company. I don’t like to minimize the power of money but great relationships are stronger.
In conclusion, finding the right leadership balance is very hard. Sometimes you have to be tyrannical to get things moving in the right direction, but even the tyrants have a great heart. Dictatorship is so yesterday and people’s -especially young bloods- reaction to it is so bad. Nowadays, you have to ‘go with the flow’ without drifting away from your vision and your goals. I think that running a business is like being the eldest of a family: you are expected and forced to be in charge against your will. Entrepreneurs bring hope into the lives of their customers, but most of all: their employees. The power to make their lives better , realize their dreams, allowing them to send their children to school and have a roof over their head. This power is huge and comes with great responsibilities. If you fail, lead by your own vanity, they will blame you for it and forget everything you’ve done for them in the past. But if they watch your baby steps and get involved in the process, things will be different. Stakes are high, be a great boss by practicing these fundamentals.

Your turn. Do your employees like you? How do you keep the magic going?

Become A Software Developer Without A Degree, A Second Chance.

One month. Just enough time for you, if you are 18 to 28 years old, to learn the basics of programming  languages like C#, C++, Java, Cocoa on shiny new iMacs, and enroll on a 3 years long hardcore computing program. No degree required, just a fierce willingness to learn and  be a part of this “renaissance” movement which is happening in France right now.

Welcome to the new amusement park of the French entrepreneur Xavier Niel. A building that incorporate a dark cubic form in which these young people will lay on the floor,hang their clothes up the banisters, crash in front of their computers after midnight.  This is project 42 , and it’s a premiere in France a country  where the unemployment rate is a staggering  10,3%.

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For years, only rich parents were allowed to send their kids to renowned high schools, which pumped  self important new graduates into companies asking for more competitiveness, ROIs and quick results.  African or foreign parents put way more money out of their pockets, without seeing their younglings for years. Ask to any graduates why they would not take less salaries –it’d make sense in an unstable economy- they’d yell at you “Do you know how much these studies cost me?! No way!! Out of question!” – Wrong.

This is how the French education system failed, by letting those who had big dreams but no money, no education and complicated backgrounds down –immigration’s children–. Failure is a necessary part of success, tell me about it! But what to do in a country which always have blamed failure?  Basically the government policy answer is “We know you’ll  fail but don’t  worry you’ll be on comfortable welfare, we’ll take care of you” – Wrong again.

My parents’ choices has always prevailed. After graduating from high school, I went to France and studied Pharmacy, because my dad told me to do so –he is a pharmacist– and It was a sure way to make money like him. I failed once; twice. It sent me into a tailspin. Between odd jobs, money came slow, over years I bought a Wacom tablet, a laptop, a camera and lenses –the dropout is when you buy all the things unrelated to your tuition fees–.

To accelerate my fall I discovered World Of Warcraft, an online game with a beautiful world to dive in, where you are leveling a digital avatar. It was like a drug. Sometimes I went to college –with the money my then girlfriend gave me – sometimes I didn’t. I was lost. In my distraction I started buying all sort of books that I devoured in the university’s library when I was supposed to attend to exams. Books on how to start a company, master creative software,  there was also a paperback  about Java. It looked like a big blue  cinderblock. I remember sending an email to the author asking: ”Your book is so complicated, are you sure it’s for beginners?” I was chocked. “I don’t understand, I wrote it in a way everybody could get,” he said. From this day, I knew that coding wasn’t for me. I found drawing, music, design and photography more compelling.

To succeed you need to lose yourself, and then find yourself while doing tons of non-sense.

We need to reboot the entire education system. Build costumed career paths for our children and not be ashamed/afraid of their choices. In a perfect world a father might say: “Alright son! You want to be a plumber because you’ve spent too much time playing Mario Bros? Okay do it”. Plumbers, these folks are making a living  after all, and a  good one. At the end of the day, a college degree is just a $107,600 piece of paper as Emily Bowen cleverly put it in her article.

During an interview, Xavier Niel said that there’s no degree delivered after the 3 years program “We can’t promise them a degree but we’ll give them the tools they need to be better off in a promising industry.” Companies like Google or the Nasa have visited 42 , and are already making selections. Xavier knows what he’s doing, he has justbuilt himself a reservoir of talented programmers, and they love him. You can tell by the amount of cheers and claps he gets every time he enters the room.

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I’m not disparaging education. It’s necessary. What’s more necessary though, is to find what you love. It’s also our duty to send the elevator back down, because we were all also lost once. Knowing the solution, pass it on to others and watch how they elevate themselves to new heights is priceless.

What is your true call? How did you find it? How did it inspire others?