Train Hard, Negotiate Smoothly

Negotiations break down….. © James Madelin 2016

Negotiations break down….. © James Madelin 2016

As your career progresses, you’ll fall into two big traps.

First, with promotion you’ll find yourself a manager of people. You’ll likely be completely unprepared. Your company probably won’t help. The more senior you become, the less you get to execute and the more you depend on your team to…. Their success is yours to share. Their failings will be your fault. More on this soon.

Second is your life becomes filled with negotiations. You’ll be similarly unprepared, with no idea how to approach them in structured way to influence the deal in your favour.

Here are some things to help make you a better negotiator. If you’d rather learn first-hand than read this blogpost, click here for my next “Negotiating Business” seminar.

Train Hard Fight Easy

The military teaches a THFETrain Hard Fight Easy” philosophy. Business isn’t war (no matter what people like to think), but we can learn from the military’s obsession with operational excellence.

THFE applies to negotiating. In the rush to get to the table, to close the deal, to get on with the ‘real’ work, it’s common, and easy, to start negotiations without having spent any time preparing.

If your counterparts have prepared, you’re unlikely to get the deal you hope for. So prepare! Discuss, plan and even roleplay.

Write down zones of possible acceptance, your best alternative to doing the deal, who’s responsible for what, who has which role in the room (which may be different to your day-to-day roles), make sure you’ve researched precedent, then build and master the case for your key points.

Use History

It’s all been done before. Your industry is not unique, nor is the deal you’re working on. History doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme.

I once negotiated a licencing deal for durable product IP. I ran a company that manufactured and sold accessories. Someone I knew had designed a product I was interested in licensing.

Before negotiations began, I spent considerable time and effort to find the world’s most reputable source of licencing fee data.

When my counterparty demanded 10x the usual fee, I had evidence from the data to justify my offer. I negotiated with confidence thanks to having researched the precedent. The same couldn’t be said for my counterparty, who insisted he be paid a lot more than the industry standard.

He couldn’t produce a convincing reason, or data, to support his demand and we didn’t do a deal, which was in my best interests. Probably not, sadly, in his, as we’d both have been better off if we’d agreed a deal.

Ignore Culture If…..

You can ignore a lot of what is said about the significance of foreign cultures in negotiating, if you’re well travelled.

By ‘well travelled’ I mean you’ve walked streets in far-off places and dived deeply into cultures you didn’t grow up in. You’ve made mistakes in languages you don’t speak, felt awkward, overcome it with smiles and wild hand-waving, then made firm friends in wild places that you’ve forgotten about.

If you’re more of a ‘hang out by the pool’ sort of traveller, all is not lost; find the bright colleague who’s multi-lingual and hands-on and take them with you. Listen and act on their opinions.

In talks with Japanese companies, I had been warned to expect the usual clichés; that building rapport would take years, that saving face is paramount, that every detail counts more so than usual… you get the picture.

Most of that, almost all, is a western-centric, parochial way of thinking. My Japanese counterparts were as keen I as was to reach an agreement, otherwise we wouldn’t have been wasting each others’ time. They knew about European cultural styles and were just as eager, out of politeness, to suit my style, as I was to suit theirs.

We negotiated in a mutually respectable way and reached an agreement. Which is what you can expect anywhere in the world. There’s very little you can do in one culture that would derail a negotiation, that won’t derail a negotiation anywhere else.

There is a global culture of business. Conduct yourself in a respectable, polite manner, use the negotiating tools you’ve learned*, bear in mind you’re not on home ground, and you’ll be fine.

Tick Tock

Constraints are incredibly powerful. Do you have a deadline by which time you have to have completed negotiations? Never let your counterparty know it.

Is there an important event that can only occur if you complete negotiations? Never let your counterparty know it.

Use every opportunity to find your counterparty’s constraints.

Examples of this are everywhere, and easy to miss.

The UK government’s issue of the Article 50 notice is the most recent, most public and most cripplingly stupid negotiation mistake I remember seeing; creating a two year deadline for a process that they hadn’t begun preparing for.

An apocryphal tale of a negotiation counterparty offering to help your logistics by arranging limos to and from the airport for you, so they’d know when you had to fly back to base with results.

Negotiate Smoothly

If you’d like to learn how to use these tips and tricks to your benefit, and overcome anyone trying to use them against you, come along to a Negotiation Training Seminar that I host in partnership with ex-WTO negotiator Dmitry Grozoubinski regularly. The next public one is “Negotiating Business,” on Tuesday October 29th in central London, England. Details here.

Battling The Entrepreneur's Curse

100827_orbis(tm) film strip.jpg

I couldn't launch. It wasn't good enough. It would fail. I'd fail. 

The next prototype would be better. I'd launch then, next month.

Except I did launch. It was good enough. I didn't need another prototype.

And it was a success. I was a success.

But thanks to the Entrepreneur's Curse, it nearly never happened.

The Entrepreneur's Curse resurfaced few months later when I found myself having a conversation with a startup sitting on great technology. They'd been working on it for years, and had never launched. 

They couldn't, you see, because it wasn't good enough. The next prototype would be way better. They told me they'd fail if they launched. 

They never did launch. They did fail.

Common wisdom, your family and friends, colleagues, bosses, even mentors and advisers, will often tell you that you have to plan. 

Validate until certainty. Remove all risk. 

The only problem with that is that you can't remove all risk.... In almost every case, the market only knows what it wants when it sees it. And until you put it on sale, in the wild, beyond your ability to influence the feedback, you simply can't know with certainty if your product will be a success*.

I've launched many products successfully. A few less so. 

I would never have launched my first, and most successful product (the orbis Ring Flash), without the intervention of a close friend of mine who told me in no uncertain terms that it was ready for launch. It was good enough. It was great! He gently told me to shut the f*&£ up when I told him how much better the next prototype was going to be. 

When I was struck by similar doubts about ensuing products, I remembered the lesson I'd learnt from the first, quieted my inner voice that they weren't ready for launch, and I launched. Successfully, in most cases (you'll always have a failure here and there).

Now, working as a consultant, I find that established companies all too often are struck by similar curses. They're always different, and always the same; curse of reluctance, of inaction. The Entrepreneur's Curse

Have you ever said these to yourself? D'you have colleagues who have?

  • Don't hire, I'm still not certain we'll need to. I'll be certain next month. (you won't, get hiring now)
  • Don't fire, I'll find a place for them next week. (you won't, start managing them better now)
  • Don't commit to that, I'm still not certain we should. I will be next month. (you won't, commit or forget about it)
  • Don't share ideas, projects, challenges, roadmaps. I'll lose the company's 'secret sauce' if we do. (you won't, your secret sauce ain't that)
  • Don't delegate; the responsibilities I love, and am great at handling, will change, and I might not be as great in my new role. (you will be, delegate everything you can)
  • Don't buy it when we can make it! (buy it, don't make it, if it's not shippable product)

The Entrepreneur's Curse stands in your way of greatness.

The number of times that inaction is the right path are few, compared to the times that a default to action is the right way forward.

So in practise, you have to launch when it feels wrong. You have to act when it feels wrong.

All the talk of getting out of your comfort-zone is mostly BS, but in these cases it's dead accurate; you will feel massive self-doubt, because you're pushing through our natural resistance to change. 

It feels viscerally like you're doing something wrong.

It is the the very same thing that many people are telling you not to do. Your inner voice is probably telling you to stop. 

Because it's not ready. Even when it is. 

So as Mark Twain famously said: "The secret of getting ahead is getting started."

Do it now. Launch it. Get selling. Get started.

If you'd like help launching, or pushing through your natural resistance to change and evolution at any stage of your company's growth, call me.


PS If you're at all inclined to believe in karma, or self-perpetuating cycles, your inner voice can go crazy; so much so that your own doubts start feeding themselves, getting in your way and damaging your success. This can be dangerous... The only way I've found to avoid this is to surround yourself with people who've done this before; they're the only ones that truly understand.

*You can greatly reduce risk with validation (more on that soon), but never remove it.

How To Turn Your Lunch Into $1,000,000


My Dad taught me there's no such thing as free lunch.

Turns out he was right. Lunch costs a cool million. 

Don't believe me? Read on to find out how you're probably spending a million on lunch. 

You could be reading this from anywhere of course, so it might be $1,000,000, £1,000,000 or €1,000,000. Pick your own base currency.

Before we get onto the how's and why's, let's remind ourselves about the savings crisis in the developed world. 

The Saving Crisis

The pension at the company you work for is most likely broken. The government's pension is broken. If, like me, you're not in your 60s or older, it's very unlikely that your home country will be able to afford to help you in your old age.

Companies are desperately trying everything they can to manoeuvre their way out of funding, or paying, for their company pensions.

Of course your company and the country you live in aren't making much of a fuss about this. 

Why would they? It would topple governments and boards, so you'll have to take my word for it (feel free to do your own research).

So... to ensure you can enjoy a long and happy retirement, have you been saving since you started work? Have you been stashing cash away since you were 16, 18 or 21?

Probably not.

It's a crisis. 

The psychology underpinning why we don't save more, from younger, features a few lovely biasses. The main one is Immediacy Bias.

Smokers know what they're doing is going to kill them young, but they can't stop. Why? The near-inevitable cancer, pain, suffering and loss are so far in the future that "Meh!". Who cares? 

They can't. We can't. You can't. It's just unimaginable. We can't relate to it. It's tomorrow. Mañana. Pffft.

We just can't care about stuff that's not immediate. Millions of years of evolution haven't selected for pension-saving genes. Or "give up the booze and ciggies, they'll kill you" genes.

We're evolved to focus on immediate dangers... even in today's anodyne, extinct-sabre-tooth-tiger world, our lizard brains haven't quite caught up, and saving for a distant tomorrow is something we find almost impossible to do.

Getting young professionals to change their behaviour is big business. Apps, challenger banks, governments all want to change it. I'm not sure I've solved the problem for them, but what I've found is pretty astounding and it might help.

The Lunch That Cost A Million

In my 20s, freshly graduated, I headed for a career in the City of London, working for investment banks in trading risk, P&L, trading and sales. I bought lunch every day, at least a coffee a day and of course I headed out every Friday on the beers, having fun, making new friends and networking my way upstairs.

In my 30s I wised up a bit. A steady girlfriend had me thinking ahead that one day I might settle down, though of course mostly we just partied together. By my 40s, married with kids, I doubled down on saving more, avoiding the drip-drip-drip of daily lunches and coffees out and about. 

I had my own espresso machine at home too, so I could save on the price of a daily commuter coffee and I became a mean sandwich maker.

So no takeaway coffees for me any more. No lunches either, except for Fridays, and days of partying in pubs and bars every Friday are long gone.

On a whim one day I modelled how much this lifetime of tiny daily spending had cost me.

Not a lot, really, spread across my life. All those lunches, coffees and partying, including the substitute 'made at home' lunches, come to about £70k in a working lifetime. By the time you're in your 40s as a professional something-or-other, you should be earning that every year. It's not really all that much spread over a 45 year career, is it?

But it starts to get horrifying, frankly, shortly after that simple calculation. 

Instead of just spending the money on takeaway lunches, coffees and bars, what would happen if you invested it, returning the average of 4% a year?

You'd have a LOT of money at retirement. 

And what if you invested to return 4% and in investments that paid a pretty normal 3.5% dividend? 

Making your lunch and coffees at home you'll have a cool million in your pension when you hit 70.

Yes. You read that right. By making your lunch and coffee at home and investing what you save, you'll retire with $1,000,000.

Don't believe me? Check my sums*.

Laying it out like this isn't going to suddenly make a ton of partying young professionals start saving hard, but every time I've shown this to friends, their jaws always hit the floor.

I thought you'd like to see it for yourself, too.

Time to tuck into lunch**!


Tags: #finance #investment #saving #pension #bias #immediacybias #compounding

* The spreadsheet, if you want a copy to play with, is here. It's pretty basic. Have a play adding columns to make it more accurate (how much do 4g of coffee beans cost a day?) or play around with the returns and dividends.

** You do need to make a damn good lunch at home or this all feels joyless... gherkins and mayo are my secret ingredients.


Want to subscribe to this blog? Follow me on Twitter or plug this link into an RSS reader like Feedly:

Pigeons, Bombs and Buying More

Black Diamond Jetforce Scarpa Boots_1200p.jpg

I was about to go skiing. As someone who loves cool gadgets, gear and tech, I looked across at my awesome set of touring skis, custom made ski poles and top-of-the-line Italian skiboots. And I felt cold. Dead inside.

I wondered why.

The thought struck me... if I was watching a Faction Skis Youtube video featuring my skis, or reading a review of my Scarpa Maestrale RS ski boots, I'd be salivating over them. Desperate to own them. Saving hard for them. Dreaming of one day looking across a room and seeing my very own, sitting there. 

Such a contrast to reality. I wondered why.

Is it unimportant that carnal, primitive, addictive desire ends when your gear arrives? I can think of only two brands who believe it so important, they've built it into their gear, their gadgets. More on them later. 

Everyone else? Nope. Not even a glimmer. But the truth is, I don't think they know what they're missing.

Of course it's important. If the things I own instil a strange obsession in me that transcends the enjoyment of using them, the next time I need to replace or upgrade, I'm going to return to the same brand. We talk of 'churn' in software marketing all the time, but why so rarely, if ever, with gear, is brand churn measured and minimised?

How can we create primitive, base, addictive, contemporaneous desire for the gear ('consumer durables' as they're called) that we own?


Therein lies the epiphany that I'm here to share with you today.


'Epiphany' is a big word, but I haven't found anyone else who's connected the known influences of addiction and marketing consumer durables. It works for software too, of course.

What is the one thing that most of us are irrationally addicted to? Social media. The Facebook feed. The news. The Twitter timeline. The Pinterest roll. The inbox. The Flipboard edition... Browsing Amazon for the nextest, bestest sports watch. And so on. We look, we look more, we can't stop... 5, 10, 15 minutes or more later we look away, confused that our lives haven't improved. An hour later we do it again. Why?

It's called Operant Conditioning and it was discovered by behavioural psychologist B F Skinner.

Skinner found that pigeons would get bored, when pressing a button got them no reward.

Unexpectedly they'd also get bored when they pressed a button that rewarded them with food every time.

What drove them totally crazy was when Skinner modified the experiment, so when the pigeons pressed the button they were rewarded with food randomly. It drove the pigeons crazy. They couldn't get enough of pressing the button.

Nir Eyal wrote eloquently on how operant conditioning explains how social media, email, et al, all have a strange hold over us. In a nutshell, we never know if we're going to be rewarded for scrolling, for argument's sake, through our Twitter feed. The rewards are random. So unlike a sure thing, which is boring, and a thing that never appears - also boring - sporadic rewards trigger things in our lizard-pigeon-brains that make us continually seek them out. And keep going back for more, whether we're rewarded or not.

Addicted. To a terrifying degree.

This is relatively easy to design into software, even though most software companies don't.

Why has no one designed sporadic rewards into consumer durables? Into gadgets and gear?

As I looked across at my lovely ski gear, I realised it held no surprises for me. A ski is a ski is a ski. It might be one of the best skis in the world, but a sure thing is boring, right? And yes, I get unexpected rewards from using the ski, but that's processed in my mind independently of the ski; it's the action that's rewarding, not the gear. Not the brand.

And there's the Big Idea. How can we imbue gear, gadgets; consumer durables, with agents that will engender the sporadic rewards that we know will addict us to the brand?

"HOLD UP!" says my wife, in her empathetic way. "Why is this important? With the world so full of landfill, pollution, plastic bag-filled oceans, isn't engendering obsessive desire for brands, for stuff, evil?"

I don't think so.... who doesn't want to love the things they own more? It might actually make us keep them for longer.

Here are some thoughts and ideas that no one is doing;

  • A member's club for the owner of your product, that applies to any owner, not just the first, offering sporadic rewards. Some big, many small, most tiny. People who buy second hand often move on to buying new, later. Give them a reason to buy your brand new.
  • A landing page where anyone who owns your product can go to start a real relationship with your brand. With the promise of more than just an extended warranty and newsletter. With the promise of surprise and delight. Of sporadic rewards.
  • A place to go to find out if you've got the reward, easily and often. Make it public, so everyone else wants in on the act by buying something you sell.
  • Tie rewards into the events you run, the tradeshows you attend... the Youtube videos you make. You probably already have current marketing campaigns that can support your Operant Conditioning campaign.
  • Change the product itself, during the ownership cycle, if there are elements of software to it.

I could go on. The key is in creating the sense of randomness. The will-I, won't-I? Make your customers peck repeatedly, like the pigeons, without knowing if and when they'll get a reward.

Very different from the regular, predictable owner's club.

Who is already doing this? Apple, with the iPhone: I get sporadic rewards from iOS updates that transform my phone into something better. Sometimes they don't, and that's the key. It's no surprise that most people replace their iPhone with another iPhone.

Tesla does it too, with their car firmware updates. Most of the time, they're mundane. But sometimes they unlock Easter Eggs and other hidden new features for the car you already own. You won't know until you unlock it in the morning, if you've just been air-dropped a sporadic reward. No surprise that Tesla owners are crazy-obsessed with their cars, so much so it's like all the quality and recall scandals never happened.

Canon nearly does it with their "Canon Professional Services", the only problem being you have to have bought so much of their gear that you're already invested in their brand. Bloomberg too, nearly do it, with the Bloomberg Arts Club... but again, the barrier to entry is too high for it to be really functioning operant conditioning.

BMW, Ford, Nike, Salomon, Faction, Petzl, Fox, could all be doing this, and should be, to name a few. None are. It works for software too. Most software companies don't do it either.


I can help.


PS. So what's with the pigeons and bombs in the title? BF Skinner used pigeons and mice to research conditioning. Along the way he devised an ingenious method for organic bomb guidance in the early 1940s, using pigeons in the nose of a bomb who'd been trained to peck at a target on a screen in front of them. As the bomb drifted off target, where the pigeons pecked would move, correcting the bomb's trajectory.

PPS. I'm in the process of working out the best way you can subscribe to this blog, if you'd like to. Until I've worked out which of the myriad choices is the best one, follow me on Twitter.