The Tony Robbins Effect at Dreamforce: AKA Day 1’s Mind Explosion

Dreamforce 14 has kicked off with a bang. CEO of Salesforce Marc Benioff welcomed over 130,000 attendees, with over 3 million people following the action online, via stream. Tony Robbins had the room literally dance their minds out and shaking it off like the pros. PayPal Mafia trio talked all things money, from early days of PayPal to Bitcoin. And Tony Prophet spoke about giving back, the value of philanthropy and empathy as key to success in life.

“As a leader you have to be ready for inevitability of change and keep the beginner’s mind” - Marc Benioff of Salesforce.

Focus on Giving Back

Focus on creating more value than you capture, and give back. Marc Benioff asked everyone at Dreamforce to bring canned food, to deliver millions of meals to fight hunger. And in the spirit of giving back, who was the speaker to kick off the Dreamforce experience? Tony Prophet, VP of Microsoft who spoke about community service and philanthropy. Prophet is focused and passionate about improving health care for children and HIV positive women, and helping teens get college education. “No one should be treated unfairly, just because they’re different. We all have the same rights. Having impact beyond the bottom line. That’s what I’m most proud of,” Prophet said. Can an intense focus on empathy be a key to success?

PayPal Trio on Data, Hiring People Who Failed and eBay

The firechat with the PayPal Mafia trio – Max Levchin of Affirm, Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp, and Reid Hoffman, an entrepreneur and investor – took everyone back to the early days of Silicon Valley, when PayPal was just a crazy idea of a bunch of people who wanted to “disrupt money.” Levchin shared thoughts on the recent split between PayPal and eBay: “It’s great they’re splitting, because, being part of eBay there’s lots of things we never touched on, like small business lending. We’ve been huge and steady for so long. Pulling PayPal out into the wild is a good idea. PayPal makes more sense as an independent company.” Key to PayPal success? Hiring passionate entrepreneurial people during tough times. “The company became composed of the bunch of smart, entrepreneurial and driven folks. Half of the people we recruited was from the companies that failed,” said Levchin. Then the conversation moved on to the value of data as the driving force for innovation. The panel was in agreement: Data is the new overlord, and our collective future depends on it.

Tony Robbins set Dreamforce on Fire

Tony Robbins took Dreamforce by storm and yes, this is how the room looked like. That’s when you know Dreamforce is not your average conference.

Tony Robbins pulled off an epic talk, covering lots of ground from how your decisions and focus in life affect your emotions and success, to engagement to money and giving it all away. Bonus: most people in the room got their workout in for the day, because Robbins is just that intense. “What are you going to focus on? Whatever you’re focused on you are going to feel. Focus equals feeling and when you start to control your focus, you start taking control of your life. The meanings we give to things control your life.” said Tony Robbins.


9 Incredible Internet of Things Gizmos

The Internet of Things is going to change the way marketers, businesses and people interact with the world. With the rate of things being connected to the internet increasing at an exponential rate, these changes are coming sooner than you might imagine.

Here’s a round up of what we think are some of the coolest, most inspiring and craziest ways IOT will change the face of our world.

As marketers, it’s fun to imagine how we might start to take advantage of these new web based interfaces. From a smart gun, a wireless pill bottle, to the most intimate of body parts, what will the future of marketing look like with this new connected world? Let us know in the comments your bright ideas.

1. K Goal: Vagina tracker

K Goal vagina tracker

It can already stream the internet straight to your face, vibrate around your waist when you’re slouching and track your health using only your wrist. Now, wearable technology is getting even more intimate and attempting to conquer the final frontier: the vagina.

Recently launched on Kickstarter, the KGoal Smart Kegel Trainer, produced by San Fransisco-based sexual health startup Minna Life, describes itself as a “Fitbit for your vagina,” an interactive device to guide, measure and track pelvic floor muscle exercise. It takes the form of a squeezable silicone pillow, connected to a smartphone app, that measures your “clench strength” and feeds the data back to a smartphone app via Bluetooth. It also has an internal motor for “real time vibrational biofeedback.

Read more:

2. The iPhone of Guns

Smart Gun

One of California’s largest firearm stores recently added a peculiar new gun to its shelves. It requires an accessory: a black waterproof watch. 

The watch’s primary purpose is not to provide accurate time, though it does. The watch makes the gun think. Electronic chips inside the gun and the watch communicate with each other. If the watch is within close reach of the gun, a light on the grip turns green. Fire away. No watch means no green light. The gun becomes a paperweight.

Read more:

3. Smart Lighter to quit smoking


A new Internet-connected lighter called Quitbit will light your cigarette, but wean you off a smoking habit too.

 A new Kickstarter campaign called Quitbit takes the same monitoring principles embedded into fitness trackers and helps users track and cutdown on smoking. In a nod to the name, it’s like a Fitbit for smoking.

Read more:

4. Amazon Dash – home scanner


Let’s be real: Amazon isn’t going to stop until you can go your entire life without setting foot in an actual brick-and-mortar store. Now the company wants to make buying groceries and sundries from its AmazonFresh same-day delivery service even easier, and it’s doing it with a tiny little gadget called the Dash. Yes, move over Fire TV — Amazon’s newest bit of hardware is a free (for now?), WiFi-capable barcode scanner.

Read more:


5. Smart Bike – GPS directions on your handle bars


 While some cars these days are smart enough to drive themselves, the bike industry has remained largely untouched in terms of innovation. But a new company wants to pedal forward with what it’s calling the world’s first smart and connected bicycle.

A Kickstarter campaign for the Vanhawks Valour smart bike connects with a smartphone app and brings tech like GPS directly to the handle bars. The concept is part of a greater effort to help bikers keep their eyes on the road, especially during high-traffic commuting times.

Read more:


6. Nest Protect – Love your smoke alarm


Everyone by now has heard of Nest’s smart thermostat. But their newest product, Protect, solves another problem at the home: those annoying and sometimes un-safe smoke alarms.  Great design and more proof that the future of smart homes is amazing,

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7.  Electric Objects – smart art

smart art

There’s more art on the Internet than in every gallery and museum on Earth.

But many of these beautiful objects are trapped. They’re trapped inside of devices like our phones, our tablets, our TVs, our laptops — devices designed for distraction, living between texts, tweets, football games and emails from work. 

So we wanted to make a new way to bring art from the Internet into your home.

Read more:


8.  Pill Bottle


 AdhereTech, a New York City-based startup, released a wireless pill bottle at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show it claims alerts patients when they have to take their medication and keeps track of their usage and dosage.

The pill bottle uses lights, speakers and sensors to track how often the bottle is opened and closed, humidity and how much medication is removed in real-time. Using cellular technology, it then sends the information on to doctors, pharmacists who can monitor it.

If the medication isn’t taken on time, users receive a phone call or text message alert as a reminder.


Read more:


9. The FingerReader – for visually impaired


Scientists at MIT are developing a ring-shaped device they claim can read aloud text to people with visual disabilities in real-time.

The FingerReader, worn as a ring on the index finger, has a small camera mounted on top and speech software that converts text from books, newspapers and menues into audio.

The audio device, which took three years to design, connects to a laptop or mobile phone and includes a text extraction algorithm, allowing users to read single lines or whole blocks of text when selected.

Read more:

Don’t wait. Just Begin: The Key to Creativity

start_sprint“One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily.”
(Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

The hardest part of writing this blog post is writing this sentence – this one right here, the one you are reading right now. The starting point of any creative task is always the trickiest part, the part that slowly, painfully builds up in you, until you’re about ready to burst. It’s the one thing you keep putting off, escaping temporarily, to peruse your email, to do more research (who are you kidding), and get it “right.”

But the act of finally starting, especially when your idea doesn’t seem perfect, is the most fundamental rule to creativity. It’s not just in writing fiction or blog posts that this rule applies. The act of starting is hailed in all walks of creative and artistic life, as well as in business and the world of the entrepreneur. From the tenets of the lean startup, the teachings of the world’s best writers, to Steve Jobs’ philosophy of “always be shipping”, the world’s most creative and successful thinkers all knew how crucial it was to simply start.

Start and Beautiful Things Will Happen

The idea for this blog post came when I was watching C.C. Chapman, a self-help author and social media buff, speak to an audience in Toronto about how to live an amazing life. He gave some useful advice about how lead the life you want to be living, which he’s written about in his book Amazing Things Will Happen.

But the most memorable encounter of the evening for me was not from C.C. at all. A woman in the audience raised her hand and she said his talk reminded her of an old Goethe quote she’d heard long ago, a quote that had changed the way she lived her life. This was the lengthy, but powerful quote which she knew by heart, and recited to the audience:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

As a side note, there has been some questioning over whether Goethe ever actually said that. But the source of the quote is less important than its message. The fact is, you find fragments of this quote all over the web. It’s stuck around and is so popular for a reason: it feels absolutely true.

What the quote reveals is that when you finally commit your life to a path, only then do the things you need to make it successful emerge. Many of us struggle to make decisions in life. We pain over quitting our jobs, starting a novel, putting things off to a later date when everything will make sense. What this quote strikes you with is the idea that waiting for a better time is a mirage. There is no time where everything will be perfect and you’ll finally start without fear.

Your only duty is to start, and from there, the path will become clear and fruitful. “Providence” kicks in. Connections get made. The path always makes more sense looking back. But you had to take that first big baby step in the offset, or else none of it would have ever happened.

The Ego and The Psychology of Procrastination

“The easiest thing in the world is not to write.” (William Golding)

Previously we talked about Steven Pressfield in our tips to live life more creatively and his discussions of resistance. Resistance, he says in his book The War of Art, is that powerful force inside of you, preventing you from living your true purpose and following your dreams. This resistance can be felt every day, getting in the way of what we know we should be doing. It’s that desire to check emails before starting your real work. It’s the sneaking out for early lunch when really you should have your butt on the seat. Drinking with friends on a Wednesday, love making, yes that too, even putting your family first at the expense of what you want to be doing. Some of these things feel natural to you, and they are all good to an extent.

But much of these distractions come from something inside you that actually doesn’t want you to create what you feel you need to create. The ego.

We are psychologically wired to avoid trying to create, argues Pressfield, because when you finally set something down, you risk rejection, you risk failure. This is the ego protecting itself. We deeply identify with our sense of purpose, so if we screw it up, then who are we?

This is why creation is often discussed as a kind of death. It is the death of your fears and your ego, it is an evolution to a next stage. And that is scary. We seek comfort instead in the temporary retreat of not doing that big thing we should be doing.

But you must keep in mind these distractions will never fulfill you. Putting off your true purpose is one of the most numbing, painful things to live with, but you do it because the fears of the ego are even bigger. Facing these fears is incredibly tough and it’s why starting is so difficult.

Forget about perfect and go

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
(Margaret Atwood)

One way to cope with this constant resistance is to face it directly, and simply try and forget about it – or at least ignore it.  Much of the time, we are too critical of our initial abilities to create, so we avoid starting, waiting for a moment when all the dots will line up.

The truth is, the most successful people don’t think they’re perfect. Shakespeare probably didn’t sit around waiting until the perfect sonnet jumped into his brain. He just began and he didn’t stop. The power is in knowing how imperfect you are, and to run with it anyway.

Susan Cadley, a licensed psychotherapist and writer, discusses on her blog how she faces up to her imperfections right from the start.

I acknowledged the initial feeling of disappointment and the inner critic voice telling me “you’ll never get a creative spark again”. “Thank you for sharing” I tell the inner critic and I let her know that I know better. I remind her that creativity is not always an instantaneous combustion of fireworks and ideas. Some creations take time and mistakes and detours create more layers, complexity and depth. I gently confronted my inner critic and suggested that we “play and see what shows up next.

Instead of giving in to her inner critic, she personifies it, and she tells it to go take a hike. When you’re on a mission to create, you should do the same. Ask your self, are you really just scared this idea isn’t perfect? Then realize it never will be, and feel free to just begin.

The Power of Starting in Business and in Life

“Real artists ship.” (Steve Jobs)

These days, it’s not an exaggeration to say people are in love with the idea of being a startup entrepreneur. From the Holywood blockbuster The Social Network, to the billion-dollar Instagram acquisition, striving to be a software kingpin is the new cool.

It’s interesting to note this entire culture of the startup is completely based on the idea of just getting started long before you’ve ever figured out what the hell you are going to do. The agile or lean startup method was arguably first set in stone by Steve Blank in his seminal Four Steps to the Epiphany. But this methodology was popularized by Eric Ries, a student of Blank’s, in his best seller The Lean Startup. “Lean” has given us a whole new vocabulary, one that gets thrown around in board rooms across the world, and tossed up on whiteboards, in all those fancy new venture-funded startups.

Lean is all about starting with just a hunch and going from there. You set down your hypothesis, then go out there and test it out. You don’t even expect it to be right. In fact, you’re happy when it’s proven wrong because you’ve just learned something. Ego plays a big role in startups, of course. But it’s never welcome when it comes to finding product market-fit. This concept is summarized by Blank when he says “inside the office there are no facts, there are only opinions.” To grow your start up, you need to get outside and you need to make mistakes.

And while Apple Computer certainly seems to believe in perfectionism – Steve Jobs was infamously a control freak – the company also seems endowed with the DNA to constantly be delivering. They have dependable ship schedules for new phones and computers, sticking to incredibly tight deadlines to push out the greatest, world-changing tech. And they keep doing it over and over again. The Steve Jobs quote above, that “real artists ship,” is a perfect summary of this idea. You sit around waiting to be perfect, or the perfect time, you’ll never be an artist. You’ll never create something worthwhile. You need to commit to starting and shipping, and you need to acknowledge upfront that there is no such thing as perfect, only hypotheses that beg testing.

Getting Started

There’s never been a better time to get started on that project that’s been bugging you. In fact, there is no other time. What is important to understand is that the procrastination you face daily, preventing you from beginning your creative task, is deeply entwined in a psychological fear of the ego. But what is clear, from the advice of entrepreneurs and writers, is that starting is the most important act of all. It won’t feel perfect. You might not know where you are headed – and that’s all good. When you finally arrive, all the steps you took will make sense.

To pull once more from the quote above: Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

The Art and Science of Good Story Telling

brain_heroimage_dynamic_lead_hero_imageTelling a good story can be a powerful thing.

Most of us remember being read to as a child, that warm feeling of listening to our parents tell us about magic, imagined worlds. A great film or novel can stick with you for days, and often a lifetime. In business, good stories can land you a new job, or rally your team behind an intimidating new project.

No doubt, for content marketers and brands especially, great story telling makes all the difference. While improving your creativity is all about discipline, the psychology of how your creative efforts are experienced is important to understand and apply to your day to day life. After all, it doesn’t matter what your company is doing, if you aren’t telling your story well, who is listening?

Story Telling and the Brain

To start let’s take a look at what’s going on inside our heads when we are given a story. As Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich points out in his Lifehacker article on the science of story telling, the reason we feel so engaged when we hear a story, read a novel or see a play – whenever we experience a narrative – is quite simple. When we are being told a story, our brain experiences it as if it was really happening to us.

For years, we’ve known the centres for our brain used in decoding language were instrumental in understanding a story. But what gives the story its deeper impact is a wonderful, explosion of additional brain activity, totally unassociated with language or logic. What happens is all areas of your brain that would be activated if the event was truly happening to you, get turned on when hearing the narrative. Your brain lives it like it was real.

In a 2006 study, researchers asked participants to read words with strong odour associations, while they were wired up to a brain scanner (MRI). What researchers saw was the subjects’ olfactory cortexes lighting up. When subjects saw words like “chair” or “table” those same areas stayed dark.  Similar studies showed the same impact when subjects were given phrases that had action in them, such as “John kicked the ball,” the motor cortex associated with “kicking” lit up.

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. (Source)


Story and the Power of Motivation

Other studies have suggested the story isn’t just causing additional brain activity – but it is one of the most powerful ways to actually influence thought and behaviour.

In his book, Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story, Peter Guber argues that humans aren’t moved to action by “data dumps,” PowerPoint slides, or spread sheets. Rather, humans are moved by emotion. And the best way to get at people emotionally, he says, is to tell them a story.

Science has backed up Guber’s argument in recent years. Psychological studies repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by the story. The more immersed you are in it, the more you turn to putty in the story teller’s hands. What is happening is the way you process information gets altered radically. Your defences drop, and you even ignore inconsistencies that you’d notice in an otherwise less-stimulating story.

This helps explain why “data dump” presentations are so ineffective in inspiring change. Our brains simply aren’t wired to casually accept a message when presented dryly. To the contrary, when we are given those big bullet lists, we become skeptics. We prime ourselves to do everything but whole heartedly get involved with the idea being presented. A good story makes those defenses drop, which is why Guber uses the metaphor of the Trojan horse throughout his book. It’s a way to sneak past the gate keeper.


How to shape a powerful story

It’s great to know why we experience stories so deeply, and it’s helpful to know just how powerful they are. But how can we become better story tellers?

While there really is no formula for good story telling – otherwise, Hollywood wouldn’t put out so many costly flops – there are some useful tips and concepts to keep in mind.

One of the biggest culprits in bad story telling is the use of stale, cliche language. Words have the power to elicit emotion, but it’s been shown that certain phrases and metaphors can actually lose their power to do so over time. George Orwell, in Politics and The English Language, famously criticized the use of vague, cliched imagery. Any marketer can attest to this. How many times must we “optimize” something, and “leverage value”. These phrases are tough to avoid in our business. I’m guilty of it, too. But Orwell would point out that by relying on these pre-fabricated thoughts, we’re not just being lazy, we’re losing all the emotional potency that speech contains.

“[No one] seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse. [...]  there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.” (source)

Another author, Kurt Vonnegut, best known for Slaughterhouse Five, and Cat’s Cradle, had a great appreciation for the art of putting together a powerful story. He outlined, in a much quoted essay, his rules of writing (My favourite, #3: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”) But perhaps more interesting, and somewhat counterintuitive, was his rejected master’s thesis detailing a scentific method to creating a good story. Vonnegut put forward the idea of analyzing the story on a grid.  On the Y axis was the continuum of Good and Ill Fortune. The X axis moved from the beginning to the end of the story. Using examples from popular stories, he argued we can actually chart out the shape of stories, and that certain shapes show up again and again in popular culture. He says there should be no reason we can’t simply dump this information into a computer to spit out a good story.

vonnegut_boymeetsgirl vonnegut_cinderella vonnegut_maninholeVonnegut later presented this concept at a talk he gave, captured in this video – which is well worth the watch, if only to see his clever, hilarious ability to distill classic works of fiction down to squiggles on a chart.


Whether Vonnegut, in his usual wit, was just being ironic in his view on literature, or whether he truly believed that great stories are fundamentally just great formulas, is besides the point. It is intruiguing to note the emotional power of these basic shapes in stories. It allows you to step back and use this insight when crafting your own stories, speeches, slide show, or maybe just when writing your next email. As you build up your creative habits, understanding the science and art of storytelling is a great complement.







Want to be creative? Grab a beer

“Write drunk; edit sober,” Ernest Hemingway

man at typewriter with beerRecently, there was a great discussion over at Medium, by Michael Cho, about the creative benefits of being a little blotto before you sit down to do creative work. The secret? Alcohol lowers inhibitions, and allows you to connect the dots more freely between disparate ideas. Which is, essentially, what creativity is all about. (That and hard work, which can seem counterintuitive, but might be what Hemingway was talking about in the above quote.)

While caffeine pulls a number on your brain to make you feel like you have more energy, alcohol has its own way of influencing your creativity.

After you’ve had a couple beers, drinking makes you less focused because it decreases your working memory, and you begin to care less about what’s happening around you. But as researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago discovered, this can be a good thing for creativity’s sake.

The article dives deep into the different effects caffeine and alcohol may have on your work. Simply put: coffee is for the hard, focussed work. And alcohol could help with the “new ideas” stage.

Read it all here.

Disclaimer: don’t try this at your office.



Four Strategies to Make Better Decisions: Decisive Book Summary

cups hiding ball“When it comes to making decisions, it’s clear that our brains are flawed instruments,” Chip and Dan Heath

I’m a pros and cons kind of guy. When I’ve got a difficult decision to make, I pull out a sheet of paper, sketch a line down the center, and start marking down the obvious benefits and pitfalls. It’s a method once prescribed by Benjamin Franklin. It’s one of the most common approaches to solving a dilemma.

And unfortunately, it often leads to the wrong decision, or simply fails to add any real clarity.

At least, that’s how Chip and Dan Heath describe it in the intro to their latest book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.  Humans, it seems, are simply terrible at making good decisions, say the authors, who also co-wrote the best sellers Switch and Made to Stick.

In Decisive, the Heath brothers put together decades of experience and the leading theories and studies on the topic, to describe the “four villains” of decision making, and a framework that can be used to overcome them. Big decisions are something that effect everyone, on all levels, from our romances, to our careers, so it’s crucial to know how to get them right. Continue reading “Four Strategies to Make Better Decisions: Decisive Book Summary” »

How Being Creative is Like Going to the Gym

lego guy lifting bar bell

“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”  — Sommerset Maugham

Creativity is one of the most sought-after skills in business and in life. And as we know from mountains of anecdotal, and psychological evidence, creativity is not a random “god given” gift, reserved for only the select few.  It can be done by anyone.

But therein lies the rub. Creativity is “doing.”  It is hard work and in many ways it’s a lot like going to the gym. While flashes of insight can occur to just about anyone – that Eureka moment – there’s a lot of discipline involved in living a creative life, and executing on your ideas.  As Albert Einstein suggested, it takes liters of perspiration to make an idea come alive. Continue reading “How Being Creative is Like Going to the Gym” »