Email etiquette | the CC

EmailEtiquette

One of my favorite sources of office etiquette is Ross McCammon who writes articles as the Equire Guy for Entreprenuer magazine.

His recent article on the etiquette of using the CC feature in emails is brilliant. We’ve all used it. We’ve all been a victim of someone else using it on us when we’ve least expected it. Some of us may have even been thrown under the bus via the CC. It sucks!

If you’ve ever been confused about when and how to CC someone else in an email thread, read on. Below is the excerpt as it appeared in the Feb 2015 copy of Entreprenuer.

You’re at a party talking to your co-worker Dave. You’re having a nice back-and-forth about work stuff, the softball game next week, what the smell is …

As Dave is talking to you, he taps Susan on the shoulder and beckons her over. So now it’s you, Dave and Susan. But he doesn’t say anything to Susan or even disclose why he asked her over. He just continues talking to you like Susan’s not even there saying out loud everything you guys were discussing before she got there. Even the stuff about Susan. And she’s not saying anything. She’s just standing there, looking blankly at the space between you and Dave.

That’s what CC’ing is like. But that’s a particular type of CC – the “discreet insertion CC.” All of a sudden a name appears in an email. Why is that person here? Where did they come from? What is their agenda? Why is their presence not being acknowledged? This is surreptitious. Distasteful. Irritating.

Contrast this with the “Over-insertion CC,” which involves acknowledging that you’ve added someone to the email thread. It’s like the above scenario, only Dave says, “I’m going to bring Susan into this.” Still surreptitious, but less so. And a little less irritating.

Also of note is the “responsibility minimization CC.” It says “By involving someone else, I am making myself less culpable should whatever we’re emailing about go sour.” On the spectrum of Irritation, this falls between the above two types of CC’ing.

The most aggressive approach is the “defensive CC.” It says to the other party: “By involving this particular person, you are not going to so easily get away with what you think you’re getting away with.” Forget irritating. Here, you just seem vaguely sociopathic.

But the worst CC is the “blind CC.” It’s a move straight out of a spy novel. It says “Hey, go over there and stand behind those boxes. Just wait. They’ll come in, we’ll talk, and you’ll hear everything! And they will never know.”

The blind CC says to the CC’d, “I trust you with this information. In fact, I trust you more than I trust the person I’m betraying.” That’s the problem: It’s sneaky. And the 438th rule of business states, “If you benefit from the sneaky behavior of others, at some point the sneaky person will use the sneaky behavior against you.” Your emails will also be copied to someone else without your knowledge.

THE EFFECT ON THE COPIED

Sometimes you’re Susan. You’re the one that’s been brought into the conversation against your will. If you’re only the third or fourth person on the email chain, then you an obligation to acknowledge that you have been pilled into the conversation. And if you have any questions as to why that is, you have an obligation to inquire about what kind of contributions the CC’er thinks you can make. This is an investment. It says to everyone involved: “I want to be of help here, but if I have been CC’s here for ulterior motives, then please think twice about ever CC’ing me again.” It also says: “It may have been a mistake to CC me, because I am the kind of person who forces you to spend a lot of time explaining why I was CC’d. You irritate me, I will irritate you tenfold.”

The ethical problems are obvious: You’re changing the terms of discourse without the other person agreeing to that. CC’ing denies your colleagues a choice. Also, it lessens the importance of the CC’er and it forces the CC’ees to deal with a problem that they didn’t ask to deal with.

AND THEN?

The reason you’re doing the CC’ing is less important than the effect it has on communication – both in the short and long term. The CC suggests you don’t fully trust the person you’re dealing with. (Which, of course, your don’t.) A healthy skepticism is an important virtue in business.

But communicating that skepticism in such an obvios way changes the terms of communication. It says “You and I can’t do this on our own,” or “I won’t let you do this on your own.” When someone inserts a CC, I am immediately less inclined to communicate openly with that person. It degrades our relationship.

The Esquire Guy also provided a quick guide to the do’s and don’ts of email CC. For the entire article, pick up a copy of Entreprenuer today.

EmailGuide2

The fatal flaw of trying to please everyone…

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I recently went out to lunch with my family. It was Saturday afternoon and my father-in-law, who was planning a drive to the neighboring city for the weekend, joined us. At the restaurant, he realized that his old school Garmin GPS had been drained of its battery and required a recharge. He pulled out the wall charger and looked around for an outlet.

In an effort to help, as a good son-in-law would, I took charge. Instead of suggesting that he use the navigation app on his smartphone, I told him not to worry, grabbed the device and the charger and walked over to the concierge. They refused to help. Undaunted, I looked around and saw a wall outlet right by the door.

I quickly savored my small victory and plugged in the device. I realized that I really couldn’t leave just out in the open (you know … because theft of GPS devices is so rampant these days). In a moment of genius, I figured out a way to hide the device from main view by placing it inside a hard to reach crevice, making it difficult to steal easily. Plus it was right in my line of sight, so if anyone tried to steal it, I’d see them.

Fast forward to paying the check and packing. Now it was time to go grab that Garmin and return it triumphantly to my father-in-law, who as I imagined it, would jump for joy at my success. His appreciation would know no bounds and I’d collect some brownie points from the wife for future use.

Slam dunk!

I unplug the charger from the phone, pull the device out of its well-hidden spot and push the power button in delightful anticipation. Nothing happens. I try again. Nothing. I flip the device and see that the lithium ion battery had actually come apart when I’d placed the device into the crevice. This was because the cover of the device had to be removed in order to plug the charger into it. So, the battery never got charged.

With my hopes for brownie points, appreciation of my efforts and celebration of my genius completely gone, I handed the device back to my grim looking father-in-law with an apology. At the same time, I looked up to see my wife laughing at me and shaking her head.

“I can’t believe that the battery came off. All that work for nothing,” she said jokingly. “That is classic you.”

As she said this, something in my mind clicked.

“Classic me?”

“Does she believe that I failed to succeed in getting the Garmin charged because I did a half-assed job?”

“Does she have an impression that I fail a lot?”

During the drive back home, I started thinking.

It was true that I didn’t check the device to make sure that the battery was still in its place while charging. In fact, I didn’t even check to see if the outlet was working. It was a half-assed job. In my desire for a quick win and to get an easy approval from my father-in-law, I didn’t check to make sure that everything was working as expected before sitting down to eat. A tiny oversight that cost me big.

It also hit me that I have this tendency to jump up and offer help as much as possible. It’s my way to get the appreciation and approval from others. However, because I jump to help out on all situations, I don’t always succeed. It’s either because I didn’t have enough time. Or I didn’t have enough resources. Or because, to be honest, it really wasn’t something I wanted to do but offered to help anyway.

My intentions and my efforts, no matter how benevolent, were useless.

And there is the problem.

Even though I probably satisfied my family over 80% of the time, people tend to remember disappointments more vividly and for a longer time than moments of happiness. So, in my wife’s mind, the “classic” me failed a lot. The “classic” me didn’t always put 100% effort in achieving success when it came to helping my family. She placed a deep discount on the value of my successes.

The same is true at the office.

There are many of us who happily on a new project or a new assignment or a new task even when we already have enough on our plate. Because we are ambitious. We are driven. We want to get noticed.

And what better way to get exposure than to get your hands in as many initiatives and projects as possible.

But here’s the thing. No matter how well intentioned you are or how many long hours you are willing to put, when you spread yourself across too many activities, you are bound to fail at a few.

Some you will fail because you weren’t able to devote enough time to go through the minutia. Some will fail because you relied too heavily on someone who didn’t care as much about the project’s success. But most of the time, you may not completely fail. You’ll work extra hard to finish the project but will end up delivering a low quality product. You tried to please everyone, juggled too much stuff and things fell through the cracks.

It happens.

You may not even notice. You’re so busy focusing on the 8 out of ten projects that were completed successfully and on-time, that you minimized the two failures.

But as I said, people don’t place as high a value on the successes of others as they place on their failures.

One little oversight or a little mistake can derail all your efforts.

In the stock trading world, there’s a saying: “You’re only as good as your last trade.”

The same is true in the corporate world. You’re only as good as your last success.

So how does one get around this.

It’s simple!

Just don’t take on everything. Learn to say no. You don’t need to please everyone.

Those who say that the way to career success is to never say no. Those people are assholes. Take a look at them. They’re going no-where. You know why? Because they’re too busy being everyone’s bitch.

When you try to make everyone happy, you make no one happy. When you try to stand for everything … you stand for nothing.

So be strategic about what you take on. Review all the stuff that’s on your plate. Get rid of i.e. delegate items that are time suckers with low impact. Take on projects and tasks that you know for sure you can complete, especially if they are ones with high visibility. Focus on one to two items at a time. And work on these whole-heatedly. Don’t cut corners. Don’t rush. Work your ass of to get nothing short of perfection.

Now you’ll be known only for your successes.

People may not like you for saying ‘no’, but they’ll like you a lot less when you say ‘yes’ and then fail. They may think you’re an asshole but they will begrudgingly respect you for being honest.

In my personal case, I didn’t really have to run around to help my father-in-law. If I hadn’t offered, he would have looked for an outlet and then would have moved on. He wouldn’t even have associated me with that bad experience. Had I not said anything, he would probably have pulled out the navigation app on his phone and used that. Yes, he hates using it but he knows how. In fact, that’s exactly what he did.

We would have gone on with our lives and I would have walked out of that lunch with a neutral score. But I had to get involved and so, by failing, I walked out in negative territory.

At least my beautiful, amazing wife got a huge chuckle.

What your “Out-Of-Office” message says about you…

Out-Of-Office
Your personality heavily influences the path your life will take. The difference between someone who’s a failure vs. someone stuck in mediocrity vs. someone wildly successful is very deeply rooted in your character traits and habits. The differences are very subtle at an individual level but add up quickly.

Recently saw this posted on by Ruslan Kogan on Linkedin which provides a perfect example of the subtle difference between a high performer and a mediocre one.

You can tell a lot about a person’s work ethic from how they word their Out Of Office email template when they go on leave. You can also tell if it’s a person that’s driven by and gets inner fulfillment from achieving an end goal or simply by fulfilling their minimum contractual obligations.

Out Of Office template for someone who always does the bare minimum:

I am out of the office until 20th January and will not be checking my emails during this time. Please email john@smith.com.

Out Of Office template for a high achiever:

I am out of the office until 20th January and will have limited access to emails so please expect a slightly delayed response. You can also contact john@smith.comwhile I’m away or if any matter is urgent, you can call my cell on 0412 345 678.

So keep an eye on what Out Of Office template your team mates choose to use. It’s a good guide.

Which one are you?

Read the entire article “Don’t hire Hotmail users & other tips to save your company culture

Master the annual performance review

Welcome to the new year!

While you’re still recovering from that amazing holiday vacation and desperately trying to hold onto your new year’s resolution, your company wants you to reflect on the past year and tell them all about how you think you did.

It’s called the annual performance review. It’s the report card your company uses to evaluate you. Some companies take this process really seriously. Some don’t.

You, however, should take the performance review process very seriously. It’s the one opportunity the company gives you to actively toot your horn and not feel guilty about it. And the best part is that it becomes part of company records. All your glory (or lack thereof) is read, analyzed and stored for future reference and use.

So, here’s how to ace your review.

Avoid surprises |

If you’re waiting for the year end annual review to find out what your manager thinks of you, you’re screwed. You should know exactly what’s going to be on your review before you walk into your one-on-one. The only way to do this is to get periodic feedback sessions with your boss. Most bosses won’t have the time to set this up so make it your job. One of the first things you should do when starting a new job or starting a new year at the same job is to ask if you can set up periodic informal feedback sessions.

Then follow through.

Set meetings every month or at least once a quarter. It’s your job to know when your boss is unhappy with you and to fix it. Solicit “real time feedback” after a meeting or a pitch and ask for feedback directly both good and bad. It’s fresh and allows you to improve immediately. More importantly, it shows you care

Don’t sit around till the end to find out what you could have done. Too little. Too Late.

Market the hell out of your successes |

Influence your boss’s impression of you by taking action well ahead of review time. Throughout the year, you keep track of the accomplishments you’ve had … both small and large. Talk to your boss about every single one as soon as possible without appearing to be bragging. If possible, thank her for her support or acknowledge how you couldn’t do it without her help.

Then, during the annual review, make sure you line these successes up against your goals. And if you did it right, then your boss will remember all those accomplishments you guys talked about.

Brevity is key |

Seriously, don’t write a book. Be nice to your boss and try to keep your goals and commentary to no more than 500 – 700 characters. In a twitter driven world where 140 characters can move worlds, there’s nothing you can’t say in a few sentences. Use bullet points that get straight to the point. Abbreviation when used appropriately is fine. Do not use language you use to text your friends. No “LOL” or “IDK” or “WTF”

 Use numbers & well defined metrics |

Follow up your successes with quantifiable metrics. You increased sales by 13%. You decreased cost by $180K. You increased productivity by x%. Numbers make an impression. They give instant credibility.

Align your successes with the goals of company |

Some companies will distribute a set of goals for the year. In these cases, make sure that your goals and successes are aligned to leverage the things that are important to your leaders.

Even if your company doesn’t actually distribute goals, you need to figure out what’s important to your boss and the overall company.

Align your goals with those of your boss. This way, when you crush them, you make your boss look good. When he looks good, he will make you look good.

Be a marketing guru |

Highlight strengths but downplay weaknesses. If you led the successful implementation of the new ERP system but it was over budget, then focus on and highlight that you implemented it. Highlight the perceived or realized benefits. Don’t mention the fact that it was over budget.

Don’t lie |

This is a no-brainer. Don’t take credit for shit you didn’t do. The last thing you want is to be called out for being a liar. Remember, anything that goes on your review stays in the system forever. Being known as a liar ain’t a good career move.

Be positive |

The importance of displaying a positive attitude towards your job, your colleagues, your manager and your company can not be understated. The performance evaluation is not an avenue for you to bitch and complain. Remember how I said earlier that it becomes part of your permanent record?

No matter how pissed you are at something, use positive language.

In fact, you need to make sure nothing negative goes onto the evaluation. Nothing negative from you about the company, the job or anything else. And definitely nothig negative about you from your boss.

You can use the annual review to remind your boss about all the great things you accomplished … so that he remembers them when he’s deciding pay raises. You can use the annual review to secure a promotion. And most importantly, you can use the performance review process to set goals and expectations for the upcoming year. This way, when you crush them, your boss will notice.

Finally, the annual performance review a great way to set the stage for your future success at the company. By getting in front of it early every year, you can actively shape the image of you seen by senior leaders. This can be a deciding factor when they’re looking to promote from within.

Don’t f#@k the drunk intern … and other career saving holiday party tips

office-party-drunk_SRS-Legal-230x300Holiday parties are back! Companies are makin’ money and the ones that aren’t being cheap are bringing back the holiday party in full swing.

While it’s supposed to be a time to hang loose and let your hair down, in reality, it’s the opposite. It’s an opportunity for you to show that you can be reserved and professional when you don’t have to be. It’s an opportunity to show upper management that you can take care of yourself and not embarrass the company if left to your own devices.

Holiday parties won’t make your career. But they can definitely derail it if you’re not careful and if you’re not on your best behavior.

Here’s how not to screw up.

Do NOT skip the party … or be really late

While there is never an obligation to attend a holiday party, don’t be that prick who’s too cool to attend. No matter how lame you think it is, you must go. The people who organize these i.e. most likely your boss(es) will notice. Even if they don’t, don’t miss the opportunity to show off your polished social skills and mingle with upper management.

Showing up extra fashionably late? You’re just being extra dumb. Senior management probably won’t stay too long. For them, this is not a time to hang loose. They’re still working. So, most of them will stick around for the obligatory hour or two and then make an exit. You do not want to miss out.

Married? Don’t take your spouse if they’re not invited. However, definitely do bring them if they are invited. Don’t have a baby sitter? Find one. They’re working? Tell them to call in sick. This is important to you. They need to show up and represent the hell out of you i.e. make you look good.

Which leads me to the one exception. If your spouse or significant other is incapable of making you look good in front of others, then save yourself and leave them at home.

Dress well

This is a no brainer. You’re going to a business social function to see and to be seen. So wear something nice. More importantly, dress with class.

Men | Wear a suit if you can. Even if others don’t. BUT…and it’s a big “but”. Make sure to wear a suit that looks good on you. Don’t pull out that 5 year old suit that’s too big or too tight. If you don’t look good in it, throw it back in the closet and go buy another.

Women | Dress to impress. Look hot without looking slutty. Tight fitting dresses are risky so instead, go with form fitting. When you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, it shows in your confidence. Just please refrain from showing off too much skin. Avoid making this about your body regardless of how sexy it is. Don’t allow yourself to get boxed as the “chick from legal with the hot legs.” It’s about you as the whole package.

Married? Make your significant other also follow the rules above. They represent you and your brand at this shin-dig. Don’t let them pull you down.

Don’t show up hungry

Yes, there will be food. Tons of free food. But do you really want to waste your time in the food line? Precious time that can be spent mingling. So, grab a drink, walk around and look for the key people you need to get in front of.

When you do eat, keep the items on your plate to things that can be eaten in small bites. Avoid looking gluttonous. You don’t want to be caught in the middle of a conversation with a big ass chunk of food in your mouth. Stay away from anything that is too liquid (gravy, sauces, etc) or anything that can stain your clothes if it falls.

Make sure you’ve got nothing in your teeth.

Control alcohol intake

This is NOT the place to get drunk. So go with a plan to stay attentive and focused. Know how many drinks it takes to get you from a good confidence boosting buzz to tipsy. You want to stay in that “confidence boosting buzz.” So as soon as you reach it, stop drinking. Get a glass of water or coke or something. Wait 15-20 mins before the next drink.

Notice that the senior leaders are either drinking water or other non-alcohol beverages or they will nurse their one drink forever. That means, their judgments are not clouded. Neither should yours.

Leverage your spouse…big time

Your spouse or significant other knows you better than anyone else in that room. They can help you raise your profile, both in the room and at the office.

First, your significant other is your arm candy. If they look good, you look good.

Second, your significant other can be a great cheerleader and marketer of your brand. Have them with you when you approach the big boss and her husband. While you’re buttering up the boss, your partner should work on their significant other. While you make a good impression on the lady who has an influence over your career, your spouse can make a good impression on the one person who has influence over the boss lady.

Avoid talking shop

While it’s inevitable that conversations about work will come up, play it smart and keep it light and high level.

  • Don’t bitch about work | by doing so, you’re being a downer.
  • Don’t talk badly about people | anything you say can and will get back to them or worse, HR.
  • Don’t pitch big ideas to the CEO | use the time to connect with her on a personal level and then subtly request if you can put some time on her calendar to discuss some thoughts (ideas) you’ve had. Most likely she will say yes. Leave it at that. Follow through the next day.
  • Don’t linger with one person too long | unless the person is your BFF at the office, don’t hog up all their time.
  • Have a list of people you want to get in front of. Make sure that you do.

Do. Not. Twerk.

If there is dancing, keep it classy.

This ain’t an audition for “Bring it On”. Keep the booty shaking, the soulja boy, the gangnum style, the harlem shake, the anaconda and whatever else you’ve got, to yourself. You may be the best twerker on your block. Your colleagues don’t need to know.

If you’re with a significant other, dance only (or mostly) with them. If you’re by yourself, dance with a group of people you are friends with. No grinding.

Again … keep drinking to a minimum.

No flirting … no hookups

This isn’t prom. OK? The goal of the night shouldn’t be to hook up with someone. Even if the opportunity presents itself like your favorite dessert on a diamond encrusted plate … just walk away. You are being watched and you are being judged. It’s not worth losing your job over or being the known as the creep that took advantage of poor drunk intern.

Some others

  • If sitting at a table, don’t leave without asking if anyone else needs something – we know you can’t carry it all.
  • Make an effort to walk around and say hello to as many people as possible. Don’t sit at one table for the entire evening.
  • Avoid cell phone use. Post to Facebook later.
  • If you do take a call, it better be from the baby sitter or the hospital.

The Korporate Klimber looks at the holiday party as an opportunity to leverage a career boost. I’m not saying that the holiday party is where you pitch your next big idea. Definitely don’t do that. But it is a great opportunity to set the stage for next year.

Just don’t screw it up and become memorable for something stupid.

Leaders & Leadership | thoughts from GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt

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The General Electric company is consistently recognized as an excellent breeding ground for future business leaders. So much so, that many of the current Fortune 500 leaders today rotated through GE doors before they became CEO. Jim McNerney, Chairman & CEO of Boeing, came from GE. Bob Nardelli, ex-CEO of Home Depot and Chrysler as well. So did David Cote, CEO of Honeywell. The list goes on.

The only other institution with such a reputation is Harvard.

“Firms led by CEOs who were trained at GE will outperform firms led by CEOs who were not; GE’s reputation for developing CEO talent is, in fact, well deserved and not mere hype; and GE appears to develop more CEO talent than other noted CEO talent-generating firms.” – Ivey Business Journal

So when GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt shares his thoughts on leadership and the evolving role of leaders, the Korporate Klimber pays attention.

Here’s what Jeff wrote recently |

[Recently], Aon Hewitt named GE the #1 company for developing leaders. They are an HR consulting company, so their designation means a lot. GE always ranks near the top of the list, but it is nice to be #1. A few days earlier, the Hay Group, another HR consulting firm, named GE #2 on its list of best companies for leadership.

The ratings are based on: practices and culture; global development; business and leadership strategy; reputation; and financial performance. GE tends to do well across all of the categories … that is one of our strengths.

One of the reasons GE has endured as a respected company is our commitment to leadership. However, I have always believed that “leadership has no shelf life.” In other words, as times change, techniques and emphasis must change as well. In our volatile world, leadership must adapt.

Great leaders embrace change. You, as an aspiring leader, should never accept the status quo or the phrase “Well, this is how it’s always been done.” People who say that will never become leaders. Change in inevitable. Success requires us to not only embrace the idea of change, but also that one become an agent for change.

Jeff goes on to say |

So let’s start with the elements of leadership that stand the test of time: a commitment to performance, a foundation of integrity and a desire to learn. These have been traits of good GE leaders for more than 100 years. They will – they must – never change. And, we stand by these foundations in good times and bad.

Pay attention. This is important.

Commitment to performance - You’ve got to work hard. There’s no way around it. No shortcuts. No “hacks”. But notice that he says “commitment to performance” not commitment to hard work. This means that it’s the end result i.e. the quality of the product you deliver that determines the quality of your performance. And as we all know, every high quality product requires hard work and attention to detail.

Foundation of integrity – Success without integrity will not last. Just look at Elliot Spitzer. He was the best attorney general that New York state ever had. He became governor. He was going to be the next president of the United States. Then, he gets caught for hiring prostitutes. This guy, who was the poster child for upholding the law, does something illegal. He lost his integrity. He lost the trust of those who put him up on a pedestal.

If success is built on relationships, and if relationships require trust, then how can one be successful without integrity?

Do the right thing. Always.

Desire to learn - The world is changing and so are the requirements of the workplace. Many of the skills that were important to succeed at a job just a decade ago are obsolete today. Adapt or become irrelevant. Learning and knowing new things, keeps you relevant.

No one likes stale potato chips. Keep yourself fresh. Never stop learning.

Here’s Jeff again |

But leadership must evolve with the times. Let me describe three aspects of leadership that are vastly different today than when I was growing up in the company.

Today, leaders must be deep first and broad second. The emphasis on a “general leader” is declining. Domain matters. Our best leaders have great instincts for markets, customers, data. General leaders can do ok for 2 or 3 years. Domain leaders build ideas that last.

Today, leaders must be risk managers not control freaks. I grew up in a controls-based company. But, the environment was easier. Good leaders today manage the 3-4 things that really count; they know how to prioritize.

Today, purpose is more important than process. In the past, we were more of a process-oriented company. Doing things the right way is still important today. However, in this slow-growth world, outcomes for our customers matter most. Leaders must have a passion for winning.

Passion for winning! You’ve already got that. That’s why you’re reading this blog and this article. Otherwise you’d be going through slides of top 10 twerkers in Romania or something.

Now all you need to do is develop the other skills.

Keep Klimbing.

 

Lateral thinking and 6 new shortcuts to success

Success. Perception vs. Reality

It took the oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller 46 years to make a billion dollars. Starting with a single oil refinery in 1863, and over two decades, he painstakingly built an empire.

Seventy years later, Michael Dell [of Dell computers] achieved billionaire status in 14 years. Bill Gates did it in 12. Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg, at the age of 23, became a billionaire in 3 years. Groupon’s Andew Mason did it in two.

How is it that some among us can build eBay in the time it takes the rest of us to build a house? Because most of us follow the same old pre-prescribed paths to achieve success as our parents did and their parents before them. We work hard. However, certain successful innovators break convention to find better routes to stunning accomplishments. They don’t work harder. They work differently.

They utilize lateral thinking.

Shane Snow is a serial entrepreneur and skilled journalist. His book Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success delves into reasons why some people are able to achieve incredible success in implausibly short time frames. He then goes on to show how each of us can use these “smartcuts” to to accelerate our success. According to Snow,

“Lateral Thinking is the process of solving problems via different angles than you might expect. It doesn’t happen when you do more of the same thing. So just simply working harder may not accomplish a goal like rethinking the approach you’re taking. Lateral thinking is about getting in the mindset of breaking the rules that aren’t really rules; they’re just the way things have been conventionally done in the past.”

Snow recently talked to Eric Barker of blog site Barking up the Wrong Tree and shared six strategies to help us get better, faster. Here’s an excerpt:

1) Forget “Paying Your Dues”

If paying your dues was essential, there would be no child prodigies or Zuckerberg billionaires.

“In all sorts of industries, what you see is that the fastest risers and the most successful are often not the ones with the most experience. What the patterns show is that people who tend to switch tracks, switch from different ladders or different careers, end up amassing more skills and more flexibility and more of this critical, lateral thinking that allows them to make breakthroughs and surpass their peers a lot faster than others.”

Often when people talk about the importance of paying dues, they’re afraid of failure or afraid of breaking rules. Playing it safe can help you do “pretty good” — but it’s rarely the way to get to the very top or to get there fast.

So go ahead, shake up that old stoic corporate culture. Don’t sit around in your department, waiting for your boss to retire so you can get promoted to his role. Instead, take some risks at your job. Do things differently. Get noticed and get promoted to be the boss of another department.

2) Find Your Yoda Outside The Office

Snow’s research found that formal mentorship didn’t work. That top lady exec they assign to guide you at the office? Zero effect on your career.

But the mentors you seek out on your own? Boom. They take you to the next level in a big way. But what’s the difference between the two?

Mentors need to care about you. Here’s Snow:

“Good mentors don’t just guide your practice, they guide your journey. They care about you and where your life goes. They are with you for the long haul. They are willing to say, ‘No,’ and to tell you what you’re doing is wrong. Those kinds of relationships yield outsized results in terms of future salaries and happiness.”

And caring goes both ways. If you don’t feel a bond with your mentor and you don’t open up, you won’t get the most from them. You need to care about them too.

“An organic mentorship is built around friendship and vulnerability. You need to be open about what you’re scared about and what you’re going through. Good mentors don’t just guide your practice, they guide your journey. This is the thing that you see in Star Wars and in the Karate Kid.”

So, go “wax on, wax off” an old Japanese man’s cars. Find a teacher who you care about and who cares about you and you’re not just on your way to a great career, you’re on your way to a primo life.

3) Watching Others Fail Helps You Succeed

Seeing others screw up helps you learn. It’s a shortcut to getting around a little known cognitive bias Snow discovered in his research.

When surgeons tried to learn a new procedure, which ones improved the most? The ones who saw others make mistakes.

“Surgeons who did successful surgeries tended to continue to improve, but surgeons that sucked at the surgery got even worse. And if you saw your buddy succeed at a surgery, it didn’t help you at all. But, paradoxically, if you saw your buddy fail at a surgery, you actually got better.”

Huh? So unless you’re good from day one the only way to get better was to watch other people fail? Why?

Because your brain is trying to stop you from feeling bad about yourself. So it lies to you.

When you screw up, you make excuses. “Not my fault. Sun was in my eyes.” When you see someone else do well, you say, “Well, of course, I’d do it just like that.”

But when you see someone else bomb you say “Whoa, better not do that.”

It’s one of the fundamental differences between the beginner and the expert mindset. Beginners need encouragement so they don’t quit. But experts love negative feedback. That’s the secret to how you keep improving.

4) Forget First Movers. Be A Fast Follower.

“I had that idea but they beat me to it.” Ever said that? Okay, you’re now officially a whiner. Because you were dead wrong.

You were actually in the better spot. Research shows the guy who starts second is more likely to win. Facebook wasn’t the first social network. MySpace came before that. In fact, it wasn’t even the second. But it is undisputedly the most successful. Similarly, Google began when Yahoo, Altavista and other search engines were immensely successful and popular. Now, most of us can’t live without Google.

When you’re first you have to waste a lot of time and energy figuring out best practices. When you’re second, you can just play “follow the leader.”

Instead of spending all your time trying to get better, work hard on studying and emulating those who are better than you.

Timing isn’t as big a deal as you thought and you can learn from those who came before you. Look around your company. Around your office. There are so many established processes that waste time and cost your company money. How many approvals does it take to submit a purchase order? Is someone doing it better or faster? Study them. Learn. Replicate. Succeed.

Then repeat.

You’re not too late. You’re right on time.

5) Want To Be More Creative? Add Constraints.

When you have limitations you can’t take the easy route. Constraints force you to think. And often, unless forced, we don’t think much at all.

When challenged, we have to be original.

“Constraints … give us boundaries that direct our focus and allow us to be more creative. This is why tiny startup companies frequently come up with breakthrough ideas. They start with so few resources that they’re forced to come up with simplifying solutions.”

So don’t bitch about how you don’t get the freedom to be creative at your job. You need the constraints. Change your view. Don’t look at them as roadblocks. Instead they are merely bumps that you need to figure out how to get around. Constraints help you become even more creative.

6) “It’s Easier To Make Something 10 Times Better Than To Make Something 10% Better”

That line is from Astro Teller, head of Google X. Those are the guys who build driverless cars and other supercool stuff.

When you try to make something 10% better, your brain is burdened with all the baggage that came before. You have no room to maneuver.

When you say 10 times better, you have to reinvent the whole process. It makes you think big. You toss out the old rules and start fresh. Here’s Shane:

“If you’re aiming for 10% improvement you are going to work within the conventional bounds of what normally happens in your product or industry. If you say that this has to be 10 times better, then it forces you to get down to the first principle of what is most essential. This is a way to force reinvention, which is really what innovation is.”

And when you dream big, people want to join you. Your co-workers talk about you. Senior leaders want to throw money at you to groom you as a future leader. Ambition is a force multiplier. When you think 10x instead of 10%, you behave differently.

Research shows when you set bolder, more audacious goals you work harder than when you’re reasonable. According to Shane:

“Subconsciously, we actually push ourselves harder when we’re going after bigger, loftier, harder goals. Research shows people who set higher goals end up outperforming their peers or themselves because they push themselves harder or because they force themselves to find more creative, alternative, unconventional solutions to problems.”

So dream big. No, even bigger.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.