The Person You Don’t Like

There is this person you don’t like. You don’t really know her but she behaves in a way which reminds you of your Latin teacher, she’s this tall, over-dressed, SUV-armed hectic housewife type of a woman and although you cross her paths quite often she does not even to have taken notice of you.

We all have at least one or a few individuals we not only ignore but we actively dislike – because of some specific behavior we cannot cope with. I’m not talking of having some real enemies but of judging everybody we see and of those objects of our assessments who couldn’t earn minimum scores to be accepted by us.

There is this woman. She’s a saleswoman in a drugstore nearby. She is a small person with thinning hair. Always having her short breaks when I pass the store, gossiping and chain-smoking her way to lung cancer. I can feel her dismissive glance in my back, passing her for my early morning run. In a word: a person I don’t like.

Last Tuesday evening, we needed a special kind of tea and I went to the drugstore. You know that kind of situation – it’s a few minutes before the shops close and you need something but you don’t have a clue where to find it. First, I tried by myself – after all I had seen this person – and this person only – roaming the store. But after a while, I gave up: I approached her and asked her for help.

I could not have been surprised more: this person approached me in a very friendly way and helped me finding the tea, not without additionally explaining – or rather apologizing – for this tea having been put in a different shell than most of the other teas. I was totally perplexed. I would never had expected this behavior: she approached me in a way which contradicted all of my preconceptions.

I thanked her, still asking myself whether this friendly sympathetic shop assistant really was the same person I previously had learned to dislike. After I had left the store I became aware of my reservations regarding some people – that I thought I had abandoned but that we’re quite alive, at least regarding this woman.

I realized that I thought to know that woman, that I was able to judge her based on some details of her behavior. How wrong I have been. The first time I communicate with her, I get rid of my preconception and I immediately start to like her. What a difference.

My learning: do not (prematurely) judge people! It’s not helpful at all, even if you think it helps you steering yourself through the hundreds or thousands of people you meet during your lifetime. Do not judge people! That’s one of the best words of advice ever.

New Day's Resolutions

From New Year’s Resolutions To New Day’s Resolutions

When it comes to New Year’s Resolutions, there generally are two fractions: most of us make their resolutions on December, 31, and stick to them at least for a few days or weeks. Others deny any positive aspects of these resolutions since people don’t stick to them, anyway. There are numerous scientific approaches of setting goals – even data-driven ones – and some of them even suggest that making resolutions could effect people negatively since it burdens them with unrealistic challenges and thus reduces itself to absurdity.

I have asked some friends of mine whether they make their New Year’s Resolutions and they are quite representative: some do and some don’t. But all of them, during the last days of this year, like to reflect about their achievements, ask themselves what went wrong and what were the success factors, if existing. That shows: we all tend to analyze our performance during a specific period of time.

I personally stopped making New Year’s Resolutions in the narrower sense: I prefer to make them rather

  • on a daily basis and
  • in a more implicit way, as a somewhat internalized behavior.

What do I mean with that?

My goals aren’t as specific or output driven as ‘lose weight’, ‘use smartphone less often’ or ‘spend more time with family’ (technically speaking these goals are quite unspecific since they don’t contain concrete numbers), but more input or conscious-driven, like ‘do what you do in the best possible way’, or more operational, like ‘move 15k steps a day’. I try to internalize both, input-driven and operational goals, as much as possible into my lifestyle – so I don’t really think about them anymore as goals but rather as habits.

If you own a dog you can compare it with walking it – it has to be done, it will be done, and mostly it’s fun. You do it every day and you realize its benefits soon. Moving a lot makes me fitter, happier and more efficient. Focusing on doing things very well brings me satisfaction in terms of doing a lot of work without being stressed, a very good working climate and satisfied customers.

To accomplish my more operational goals I use Quantified Self wearables and apps. After having set up a new goal it takes me a few days to internalize and soon I use my Jawbone Up or other QS tools like our explore app for reassurance that goals have been met. Immediate feedback shows me whether I’ve been successful on a given day or I have to add some steps, for instance.

Sounds (too) good, doesn’t it? Sure, there are days this internalization of goals fails. But overall, I think I’ve been pretty successful fragmenting big goals and making them parts of my daily life. Thus – no New Year’s, but rather New Day’s Resolutions for me.

What about you? Has anyone of you stuck to your resolutions and accomplished small or big goals in 2014? Anyway, I wish you a fantastic 2015 – with or without goals!

PS: You might find those famous resolution lists worth a read.

a storm is-a-comin'

Clean up your shit

I’ve just started reading „The Hard Thing About Hard Things“, a book about personal experiences building startups by Ben Horowitz, well-known to entrepreneurs and venture capitalists as a partner of Marc Andressen at a16z. It’s the best business-related book I’ve read for a long time.

Although on a different level, I have experienced pretty much the same as Ben has: the ups and – even more often and more distinct – the downs of running startups. Ben has co-founded Loudcloud, sold its hardware unit to EDS, went on with the software unit named Opsware and sold that to HP a few years later. What sound as a success story – which it definitely is, looking at the final sale – is more a roller-coaster thing garnished with near bankruptcies, massive layoffs, and more. Most of the time, Ben and his colleagues must have felt rotten – even the day before the IPO is described as one of the darkest days (because of the circumstances of the financial crisis, a very bad valuation, etc.).

I don’t know Ben personally, but what I know of him is that he comes across as youngish, positive and active guy – always smiling and offering advice to fellow entrepreneurs. And this is the most compelling aspect of his book: he has seen it all (besides going bankrupt) and he takes it easy. Apparently he always accepted situations and circumstances as they were, and then tried to give his personal best to survive even the darkest business moments.

Being an entrepreneur, at some time there will be this situation you always wanted to prevent. Either you miss revenues significantly and won’t get your next round of financing closed, or your product relaunch leads into disaster: most of your existing customers react furiously, delete your app and cry foul on social media channels. Being the guy in charge, you are the one to go through that fire, first. Ben offers good advice here:

„If you’re going to eat shit, don’t nibble.“

Means: if you have to experience a very bad situation, don’t try to prevent the smaller, additional negative outcomes, but tackle them all – directly. If the situation is bad, very bad – you don’t have to act as if some of its aspects were still ok, but take full responsibility, act transparently, and show the world that you fucked it up. And then, start changing the situation.Regard it as something that can help you to start afresh. Shit is shit but it can be put away. Just look at the modern dog owner, happily tidying up his pet’s excrements, getting applause from bystanders for being socially responsible.

A few years ago, being the CEO of YiGG, a news aggregation site, I oversaw a relaunch that was ultimately important, should become the company’s basis for significantly higher revenues and should be the narrative basis for our future exit story.

It flopped.

After weeks full of hard work, we launched at 3am, when everybody besides us was asleep. I went to bed and advises my wit not to wake me before 10am. She woke me up at 8 – our Director of Communications was on the line: „Michael, it’s terrible – they hate the new design.“ I wanted to time-travel, but unfortunately I had to go back to work and eat shit.

My key takeaway form being an entrepreneur is that there is nothing (business-related) that might kill you. If you are an entrepreneur by heart, you will have the perseverance to use obstacles against themselves. And – trust me – there’s nothing better than having successfully cleaned up your own shit. So – go and read Ben’s book, and then act accordingly.


Think Small, Achieve Big

Getting-things-done tools, or goal-setting by breaking big goals into smaller, more achievable ones, have been very fashionable in the management field lately. A different perspective, but the same aspect of becoming more productive, is the “Lean” approach, as in Lean Management or Lean Startup. All those approaches are based on one fundamental principle: think small.

The flip side of all goal setting techniques is the limited size of the belief someone has in accomplishing that goal. If you set yourself big goals but you don’t really belief in accomplishing them, you won’t be successful. Even if you break your big goal down into smaller ones, you know that there is this big goal somewhere in the background. The danger is that you know you just use the technique because you wouldn’t accomplish this goal straightaway – a classic cognitive dissonance.

My personal approach to reaching my goals is a different one: I think small, very small. I think so small, that my goals become one with my actions. For me, every single action is a goal itself –  you could call it ‘goal-action-identity’. Or, you could see it as a changed perspective: for me, a goal isn’t something I want to achieve in the future, but it’s exactly that what I’m doing right now. This might sound strange at the first glance, but this goal-action-unity implies several personal benefits:

  • Actions are consciously performed: if you think about what you’re just doing, and this action is what you want to do at this moment, then you act consciously and you put as much quality in your action as possible.
  • No stress involved: if your actions contain high quality then this is the best you can perform at this moment and consequently, there is no need to be stressed since you couldn’t fill this moment with something better.
  • Actions and goals are here and now: you don’t have to look into a (brighter) future, towards better actions, better conditions, or accomplished goals. There’s nothing you have to do first, before you can start accomplishing your goal.

The most interesting effect of this unity of goals and action for me is that other aspects of life have evolved in positive ways: here and there I’ve experienced nice twists where I had never expected them.

But, you might say, doesn’t that sound rather esoteric? What are the practical implications of that unity of goals and actions? Here are two examples, one I have recently been told by a business partner, and another I experienced myself during a pitch with AppAdvisors:

A big business built on a small idea 
In 2008, Fanny Auger was so pissed by spammy newsletters that she decided to launch My Little Paris, a newsletter subscription service for women interested in Paris’ restaurants, fashion and other urban tips. The original idea was to provide exactly that kind of dreadfully missed, high-quality service, to friends. In 2013, the founders sold 60% of their company for $90 million , and today the company is fully owned by Axel Springer, a German media company. What started small, as an idea to provide something very small, but in high quality, became huge within a few years. Today, My Little Paris has over 1.2 million subscribers and over 100,000 people paying a monthly fee for receiving a carefully curated beauty box.

Small is authentic
An agency pitch isn’t necessarily the part of work you love most: in order to win the assignment you have to invest heavily – you spend days or weeks of time and human resources. If you don’t win the assignment, you typically don’t know why exactly. To maximize their chances, many agencies try to see things from their potential client’s perspective and to present solutions for all imaginable problems. Being a small-sized company with a focus on consultancy, our approach at AppAdvisors is different:

  • we take our potential client’s briefing, strip it down to its core and create a solution for this core aspect,
  • we try to think this aspect through, even if time to presentation is scarce,
  • we try to see things from the perspective of the clients or users of our potential client,
  • we present just one single solution, the one we like most.

Sometimes, we win an assignment, sometimes we don’t. But every time we are happy with the result, since we believe in our solution.

These are two practical examples of how you could unite your goals with actions. There are gazillions of opportunities to align your goals with your actions. I encourage you to do it: start with simple actions and think about them as goals at the same time. Lend substance to these actions, make them important. Do that with actions of your everyday routine. And then look what happens.

The photo was taken at Ammersee, a lake in the south-west of Munich.

A Matter Of Age?

Michael Reuter

I’m relatively young. Yesterday, I turned 45, and that’s one year younger than the average German in the year 2014. Statistics say that my life expectancy is 90 years; most probably I’ll die on the 13th of April, 2059 – another 45 years to go. And yet, game could be over tomorrow. Who knows?

A Meaningful Life
However, my personal plan is to say good-bye much later – I love life, I want to experience as much as I can and I would like to play with my (prospective) grand kids. And to achieve a maximum of well-being right now as well as being able to live a decent life even as an octogenarian, I try a healthy lifestyle: I run, I do pilates (could be more often), I prefer healthy food to junk, I meditate. I don’t smoke, don’t drink too much, and I don’t watch TV. All this not to prepare myself for a brighter future only, but to optimize my well-being here and now: I live now and I want to do meaningful things instead of wasting time.

The aspect of “now” has become more and more important for me in the last years. I think the main reason is age itself: the older you get, the more you think about the meaning of life and what is still in for you. Another reason for focusing on the actual moment is your own offspring: if you see your kids growing and if you realize how fast they become young adults, then you don’t want to waste your time with some irrelevant stuff. For example, I try not to worry about things in general. If something goes wrong, I don’t offer resistance, but I’ll search for a way out – and there always is a solution. Not to worry means a daily challenge, and certainly I lose my temper regularly. But I try not to. And I’m getting better from day to day. Ultimately, every second of resentment is wasted time. A situation is as the the situation is – it’s up to me to make the most out of it.

Feeling old?
Do I feel old, then? No, definitely not – although everybody younger than 40 years would gently disagree. In fact, I feel quite young when it comes to all work-related aspects: since I work in the app economy and – together with my great partners - I run my own quantified self app, we’re active in a quite innovative and fast-moving area: you can’t really grow old here.

A couple of times during the year I give some lectures at universities. Working with students is a lot of fun and it’s a challenge, too: I want to teach the things I earn money with in a playful way that – at the same time – guarantees a knowledge transfer. And, guess what? There’s absolutely no problem at all to provide the students with interesting and state-of-the-art content, in most cases our daily work offers enough innovative aspects to surprise master students. I know I could be my student’s father, but…hey – when it comes to learning and innovation, I’m quite competitive at 45.

Wanna be younger?
Do I want to be younger? No, definetely not. I really loved being a student in Bayreuth, a small town characterized much more by its university than the Festival Theatre. But I would not want to be that student again. From time to time I envy those guys in their twenties, when they discuss their daily party plans – compared with me and my mostly business- or family-driven schedule. But, being an entrepreneur, I can quite easily arrange my days as I want to have them arranged. So – no need for being 25 again.

To be clear, if a 25 year-old tennis player comes along, he’ll destroy me on the court. And 20 years ago I did not have to do any additional exercise to keep my figure. All that has changed. But I can compensate many deficiencies with some wit and life experience.

Life Achievements
And – during the years I have adjusted some of my goals: whereas I wanted to be the best in some aspects of life, I don’t compare myself with others any more. If it comes to money, social status, or just gaining the upper hand in discussions – all that was important to me before, but isn’t today. Psychologists would argue that people lower their expectations as they get older because they have learned not being able to achieve more. My feeling is, that this isn’t crucial in my case: I just stopped to care about those things. And this is the most adorable aspect of getting older for me personally: to learn and to know what really is of importance in my life.

Important Aspects Of My Life

to be in good health
to live with a loving and caring family
to build companies with great partners
to live in the now.

Everything else is a bonus.

That’s why I don’t think I’m specifically old or young. I just don’t care at all. Not any more. And I strongly recommend that attitude. Just do it!

After all:

Happiness is not a goal; it’s the by-product of a life well lived. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

The photo was shot at Castiglioncello, Tuscany.