How to Write an Agreement – Record vs Defer

[ New Distinctions for Entrepreneurs – Part 5 of 12 ]

Some years ago, I decided to stop using written contracts in my business.

As my professional relationships have become deeper and more personal, the written contracts felt more and more like a ‘pre-nuptial agreement’. The idea of having a contract between me and creative partners to help keep us connected was inadvertently a weakening of our human to human trust.

This is the way I believe most contracts between people operate. They collapse the quality of a human relationship into a quantified list of this’s and that’s, OK’s and NOT OK’s.

Throughout the years, I have also become more and more orientated around creating very clear agreements with the people I work with. At the start of a new partnership, in fact, I spend close to an hour in conversation creating clear agreements with my new partners. We do this verbally, eye to eye and heart to heart.

Although these situations sound the same, they are actually quite different. Most written contracts are created as an alternative to what might be an uncomfortable or confronting person-to-person conversation.

Nobody wants to discuss the possibilities of things not working out at the start of a relationship. It doesn’t feel good. ‘Things are going well. Knock on wood. Why curse it?’

There is a cost to deferring the conversation to a written document though. Through that deferent a little bit of trust is lost. Deferring the difficulty to a contract is an alternative to vulnerability and authenticity – two of the most powerful bonds of human relationship.

Ironically, when we invite legal documents to replace the development of human relationship, we strip the relating of the fought bumps and edges that actually create the hitching into each other. As we round the edges, the surfaces of our connections smooth out. It may look like we are staying close together, but there is nothing holding us in place.

The moment friction arises, we look not to each others eyes, we seek not to each others voices…instead we refer to the document that is the fallback of our relationship.

In my work, I do not want a fallback. I want the human relationship to be the totality of our commitment to each other because in what I do, the partnership itself is a functional part of the work. I need flexibility. I need people having the total legal freedom to walk away so that I can have the space to ensure their staying happens only through their own internal personal commitment.

I’ve allowed this idea of not using written contracts to influence other areas of my life too. Recently I sub-let a studio on the beach in Santa Monica from an attorney. He sent me a list of terms outlying a written agreement. I responded saying, “I’m much less interested in terms and price than I am in creating a relationship with you. Let’s meet for coffee.” He obliged and the next day we were shaking hands as ‘partners’. No contract and I now I have a view of the Pacific Ocean from my desk.

A few months back, I was invited by a friend to publish a short fiction story I wrote. The editor sent me a contract with many pages outlining the terms of the deal. There was a lot of publishing business lingo and many terms that felt awkward to agree to, especially never having spoken about them.

I wrote back saying I didn’t want to sign it, but I was interested to know what things in it were important to them. They responded admitting they didn’t know what was in it and they just sent what the publisher said to send.

After an in-depth conversation, we decided instead that they would decide what is important to them, I’d decide what was important to me and then we would discuss. We did this and we came to agreement on a number of points. After that, we then recorded those points in a document and both signed it.

In the end then, we did have a written agreement. My insight thus is that it’s not whether I have a written agreement with people or not, it’s where that agreement comes from.

Was it created as a way of deferring uncomfortable conversation into blocks of text?
Or was it created as a record of things that we have already spoken about and come to agreement on?

The latter is supportive of a powerful relationship. The former, I believe, is in opposition to such.

When writing written contracts, how could you start recording agreements instead of deferring them to legal text?

What conversations might you need to begin having?

What kind of impact might this have on the professional relationships you create?

How to Negotiate – Path vs Deal

[ New Distinctions for Entrepreneurs – Part 4 of 12 ]

Negotiation in the western world is entered into as a kind of civil combat. It is a game where two or more parties battle for their interests, taking where they can and giving up where they feel they must to get the most that they can.

From the outside, this is functional, but it is absolutely a zero-sum game (where the net result benefit of both parties is zero). Even when people negotiate saying they want a ‘win win’, it’s usually just a way of being nice and having some empathy for the other side. The truth is, in most every ‘win win’, somebody wins at least a little bit more. And usually it’s the person insisting on the ‘win win’, the other side feeling a debt for their purported good nature.

What makes most negotiations zero-sum is not the function or even the result (ironically). What makes them zero-sum is the intention from which the parties enter the negotiation. If the intention is self-interest (i.e. winning), then the result is inevetibly someone getting more than the other. In a positive-sum game however (where the net benefit of both parties is positive), there is no winning. Winning only exists in a binary.

So what if we thought about negotiation as a positive-sum game? What if instead of it being a battle, we took negotiation to be a kind of exploration? What if we saw it like negotiating a winding path?

I like to imagine that everyone in the world is on a path of their own values and desires and that all these paths eventually intersect (since we live on a sphere). This place of intersect would be where BOTH all of your interests AND all of their interests are met.

What if when you went into a negotiation you could come from a place of exploration along your path to the place where your path crosses the other’s path?

What if you committed yourself to locating that intersect as the highest priority?

Your consideration and your inquiry would immediately transform. The questions you ask would be different. The offers you’d make what be different.

What if instead of entering negotiations to make a ‘deal’, you enter them to negotiate your path until your found the place of intersect?

How to Sell – Serve vs Sell

[ New Distinctions for Entrepreneurs – Part 3 of 12 ]

Convincing someone to pay you so that you can serve them has always seemed ass-backwards to me.

Asking other people to ‘go first’ in the trust building ritual of reciprocity is, in itself, counter-productive in building trust.

What if instead of ‘sales’ being about convincing people to pay you so you can serve them, ‘sales’ was another name for ‘free service’?

What if instead of trying to ‘convince’ people to buy what you have, you simply gave it to people?

Or if in your business, if the cost of giving what you’re selling away is too high to make this work, what if you found other ways to serve people for free instead of trying to convince them?

If sales is about building trust, then a ‘convincing’ orientation is like kryptonite. A convincer needs to come up with all sorts of clever brain wrangling persuasion techniques to overcome the innate human sense of distrust. It’s a lot of unnecessary effort. (Not to mention the indirect cost of living in the world as someone who constantly sacrifices the quality of the means for the quantity of the ends.)

What if you stopped trying to ‘sell’ to people (as in convince them) and focused instead completely on ‘serving’ people?

I hear your fears about giving it all away and not getting anything back.

First of all, when it comes to resources like time and money, be careful not to spend a lot serving a few. Instead, spent a bit serving many.

Second, you drawing the line in the sand as to what is free (sales-service) and what is paid (service-service) is key. Be bold in your giving and bold in drawing and standing for your line.

Finally, you asking for the money in your marketing or sales conversations is key.

“_________ and you shall receive.”

Most people mistake the blank for ‘give’. It’s not ‘give’, it’s ‘ask.

“Ask and you shall receive.”

As Gary Vaynerchuk once wrote: Give, give, give, ask.

How to Market – Generate vs Locate

[ New Distinctions for Entrepreneurs – Part 2 of 12 ]

The typical first step in marketing is to identify or ‘locate’ your market. It is to investigate and inquire as to who wants what you’ll be selling. Who needs it? Who would buy it?

While there is absolutely important value in this step, it misses out the fact that marketing is (or at least can be) a dance of creation.

It’s not that looking for existing markets is bad, it’s that if you are focused only on this you will miss the fact that what you put out into the world changes the world.

When your business launches – when you begin providing your product or service – you impact the world. You will do so somewhere between imperceptibly and massively.

What if instead of focusing on ‘finding’ people to buy your stuff, you focused instead of creating people to buy your stuff?

Focusing on your uniqueness in the service or product you provide often creates a paradox where it becomes simultaneously more valuable to people and less obvious to people what the value is. The onus thus is on you to communicate that value and create your market.

What if you were to generate a market instead of locate one?

How might this change your market research?

How might this change how you describe and advertise what you do?

How to Pitch – Impact vs Impress

[ New Distinctions for Entrepreneurs – Part 1 of 12 ]

The typical orientation when ‘pitching’ your business is to impress your audience so that they will want what you have.

What if instead of pitching to impress, you pitched to impact?

What if the pitch itself could add value to someone’s life or business? What if it could deliver an experience, be it the experience your business offers or a different, but relevant one?

What if instead of your pitch being an attempt to impress people with your ability to deliver value, you exemplified that ability by actively delivering value?

How might your pitch change?

How to Not be Jealous – Live Q&A

While speaking at the Inside Out Movement in Zurich earlier this year, someone asked me “How can I observe others’ success without feeling envious?”

It’s always a bit strange for me to be asked questions about how to ‘do life’, as if I might know the answer. I’ve never purported to know the answers or to know how to ‘do life’ well or right. Having spent years sharing insights that I’ve had about how I’ve been able to do my life and work better however, I suppose people assume I might have something to say about what they are facing.

Recently, when on a stage, I’ve given up deflecting such questions or turning them into an opportunity to ‘coach’ people to find their own answers. (I still very much do this in dialogue, but even then not always.) If someone asks me a question and something from my own experience comes to mind now, I just share it.

The key for me in this is not losing myself in the process. It is important to me to not fall for the story that ‘I have the answers to people’s questions’ – be them about life, entrepreneurship or whatever. It matters to me to share what I can see, while at the same time, not buy into my own bullshit.

Having said that, in this video I describe how I deal with (and avoid) jealousy…

How to Love Everyone You Meet – Live Q&A

While speaking at the Inside Out Movement in Zurich earlier this year, someone asked me, “I want to love all humans. How can I get to that point?”

In watching this clip of myself, I had to cringe a number of times.

Firstly, because I spend the first two minutes giving the guy Florien a hard time for asking the question the way he did. I’m framing my response up as trying to help him ask more empowering questions, which is true and useful, but in hindsight, I can see also that my motivation was to remind myself not to buy my own bullshit when people ask me advice.

Ironically, after beating him up for asking my advice, I ended up giving him some advice anyway…just in the form of a question.

Through dialogue, I shared my ideas on how loving people is not about what we need to do, but what we need to STOP doing.

The even bigger and final cringe for me is how the video ended. After our five minute conversation, Florien is even more confused. I decided to take the route that this was a good result, which in many cases can be true, but in this case I think it was a cop-out.

It would have been useful if I followed my own advice in this moment. If I had loved my inner judge of myself as ‘someone who has the answers’, maybe then instead of trying to stop that self from showing up, I could have actually heard Florien. Maybe if I’d been easier on myself, I wouldn’t have gotten in my head so much.

I think the truth is I didn’t have a good answer because I struggle with the same thing.

So much so that I once asked a mentor of mine a very similar question!

“How can I create in myself a desire to serve everyone I meet?”

His response was simpler and much more useful:

“Think loving thoughts.”

How to Serve & Relax More – Me vs You Time

When people get burned out on work, they talk about needing some ‘me time’. I get it. When all you’ve been doing is working, time to slow down and just be with yourself helps to relax and reconnect.

However, some people seem to need more ‘me time’ than others. While everyone is different, I do think that the need for ‘me time’ is more often a response to spending time doing things that lack inherent joy.

While we might say that when working, we are spending time on ‘others’, the truth is most of us aren’t actually that consciously connected to others when we are doing our work. It is thus not being focused on others that has us feel the need to put our attention on ourselves. It is more so that we have been spending time acting habitually and without being connected to anything at all.

My friend S. Brian Smith once shared with me a favorite quote of his:

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.”

– Tagore

It is quickly becoming a favorite of mine too.

What if instead of needing ‘me time’ because we have been spending our time in joyous work, we could oscillate between ‘me time’ and ‘you time’ where BOTH times bring us a sense of joy and fulfilment?

I find there to be a distinct difference between working habitually and on autopilot versus working in conscious service of another person or people. As the quote above reminds us, serving other people is inherently joyous.

To be honest, the text you are reading right now is the product of my ‘you time’. I’d been procrastinating for weeks on writing text the accompany the videos I shot. In a conversation we were having while walking along the beach yesterday afternoon, my wife pointed out to me that my resistance to doing them was because I was focused on them as a ‘task’ or as ‘work to do’. When she asked me “What if you focused on how writing them would serve people?”, it was like someone had plugged me back into the wall. I wanted to stop the walk right then and there, go grab my iPad and start writing. Since then, I’ve written thousands of words and every minute doing it has been joyous. I haven’t felt a need for ‘me time’ at all. I’ve felt only a fully embodied desire for more ‘you time’.

What if you started committing to some ‘you time’ everyday?

This doesn’t have to be ‘feeding the homeless’ kind of service – it can be anything that you already do that is a kind of work. The difference is in your attention to the doing being on the service it is for others – how it will help and impact them.

What if the most productive time of your day could also be the most joyous?

My guess is you would have much less a need for ‘me time’.

How to Have Fulfillment Without Effort

We are presumed to agree that a fulfilling life comes through strenuous effort.

What if this isn’t true? Or at least, what if having to ‘compete’ and ‘struggle’ is not the only path to fulfillment? What if there is another way? A way that is easier and more relaxed? A way in which one may, say, become a mother and have meaningful career success, without straining or fighting for any of it?

In conversation with an entrepreneur I was partnered with last year, we created a ‘rule’ for her life, which is encapsulated in the phrase:

To be joyful or not to be.

For every choice she has to make, she asks herself: ‘Will doing this bring me joy?’

If the answer is YES, she does it.
If the answer is NO, she does not do it.

By building her life with bricks of joy, the house she lives in is joyous.

Does this sound too simple? Does it sound too fantastical? Too improbable?

If you have any grounding in science and logic, I certainly hope it does.

With a background in Physics and Math it certainly did for me, for most of my life.

However, at some point I realized I was considering this through a strictly ‘Newtonian’ lens.

The moment I began looking at life as not simply a sequence of causal events, but as a collective of happenings from the chaos of which order emerges, I was able to see how making decisions based on principles, over time, could be the source of an emergent success.

I began to see, for example, how choosing joy in every moment could create a joyous life.

What if you were to choose a principle and simply live for it and from it? What if you were to do so, not because you could connect the dots of causality between now and a future that you desire, but because you allowed yourself to be raptured by the idea that through time, the seeming randomness and inconsequentiality of your principled activity made an intelligent chaos that was required for the order of your vision to unfold?

What principle would you commit to living?

How to Stop Lying to Yourself – Acknowledgement vs Ownership

I like the idea of ‘owning’ something versus being a ‘victim’ to it.

For example, let’s take the objective situation of a new entrepreneur who is offering their product or service to the market and has had little to no sales.

The victim perspective of this would be to look upon it with desperation and to state simply, ‘nobody is buying our product/service’.

The owner perspective of this would be to look upon it with a sense of possibility and to state, “I haven’t shown people the value of our product/service yet”.

The owner focuses on the aspect of the situation where they have influence. The victim focuses on the aspect of that same situation where they do not have influence.

But this is not the point of my writing or my video. My point here is a nuance that takes this a bit further.

The moment we understand the distinction between Owner & Victim, we begin seeing it everywhere. Simply this new way of seeing can be very empowering.

At the same time, if we’re clever (which all of us are at least unconsciously), we find a way to act like an owner while actually still being a victim.

The way we do this is to acknowledge how we may have been perceiving something as a victim and then instead acknowledge a perspective where we focus on the influence we have. We might say something like, “I haven’t been going to the gym because I have been going to bed too late”. We’re owning our lack of productivity. Great.

But what if we continue to not go to the gym? Are we really owning this? Or are we just ‘saying’ it so that it sounds like we are? I believe the latter.

To be a better owner thus, we must not only acknowledge a perspective where we have influence over the situation, but also take action coherent with that perspective. Otherwise we are simply ‘talking’ like an owner as opposed to actually BEING one.

Without owned action, we are a victim masquerading as an owner.

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