Lessons from Working With Josh Kaufman

Lessons from Working With Josh Kaufman

Many of you know that I worked with Josh Kaufman, best-selling author of The Personal MBA, for a long time. He was and still is my mentor, and someone who has helped me in more ways that I can count. I’m very grateful to him for everything he’s done for me, and look forward to continue having a strong personal and professional relationship with him for years to come.

Josh and I have stopped working together, but still talk on a regular basis. To honor my time with him, I thought of writing a post about the most important lessons I learned during my time under his tutelage…

The importance of systems

One of the first books Josh suggested I should read from the Personal MBA list was Thinking in Systems. This was one of the most important reads of my past year, and I was able to put its lessons into practice constantly on my work with Josh. Josh is a systems thinker and evangelist, and his constant help in making me implement systems in my own life has been priceless.

Systems are everywhere. Every action or event is the output of a system. If you want to change the output you have to change the system. From relationships to health, everything became easier to control when I started thinking in systems.

The reason Josh manages to do many things at the same time, with an optimal quality, is because of his brilliant implementation of systems. Of course, I still have a long way to go before I reach his understanding of systems, but I’ve taken a big leap forward thanks to my time with him.

Ask questions instead of giving advice

Getting a straight answer from Josh was really hard. He’d rarely make it easy for me. I remember talking with a past coaching client of his, saying that by the end of their calls his head would hurt (in a good way). Josh would always ask me questions even though he knew the answers, in order to help me go through the valuable process of finding the answer myself.

This has been a critical skill to learn for my coaching, and conversations in general. When I want to help someone, I rarely reply with my own opinions anymore. Asking questions is the best way to A) Help someone see the answer, and B) Discover new answers for both of us.

One more thought: when people find the answer themselves, they’re more receptive to accepting it. Telling someone what’s best rarely works, unless there’s a lot of respect and admiration on the other side of the conversation.

Value-creation mindset

Going from “What can I get from this?” to “How can I help?” is more than just about paraphrasing. It’s a mindset that I only felt to fully embrace after seeing Josh constantly frame ideas and systems from that perspective. If you look at most of the protests by young people across the world demanding for better jobs and returns on their education, you’ll see a complete lack of the value-creation mindset.

Let me share a good example: a friend is currently trying to get a raise. When I asked him what he’s doing to accomplish that, he told me he made a presentation with all the reasons for why he deserves the raise. He told me that he thinks they owe him that, that they are making a lot of money because of him.

Well, that’s great, but unless you connect your needs to their needs, instead of becoming a problem to solve, the path to a raise is going to be much steeper. Going from “I’d like a raise” to “How can I help the business in order to justify a raise?” is critical in that kind of negotiation.

On that note, one of the best questions Josh ever asked me in response to my offer to help was: What can you do to bring value, that doesn’t require my direct input? This is not easy to answer, but it’s a fantastic exercise to really understand your role and potential when working with somebody. If you can understand their business, it’s highly likely that you’ll find ways to bring value to them (and get compensated in return).

Change the environment and the behavior will follow

We love to believe in two lies. One, that our actions are a result of our conscious decisions, and two, that habits such as laziness, procrastination, etc. are personality traits that are engrained in our person.

Well, this is wrong. Plain and simple. Concepts like Guiding Structure can change one’s life very quickly, if one accepts the harsh truths: We are not in control as much as we like to believe, and we can change our habits if we take responsibility of doing so.

Many conversations with Josh were about changing and implementing habits, and we’d eventually click very quickly on how to create a proper environment to encourage and enforce any action we’d like to see happen. Of all the lessons from Josh, this one is probably the one that will compound results in my life the most.

Accept and mitigate risk, don’t deny or ignore it

Josh is a world-renown business coach and teacher. He understands the basics and complexities of business and human psychology as good as anyone. And when I’d ask him about a particular new idea for the business and whether it’d work or not, he’d quickly say: I don’t know.

Truth is, no one knows. The world has too many variables for anyone to predict things with 100% accuracy. What one should do instead is tackle as many variables as possible, lower the risk, and prepare for multiple scenarios.

This was a critical lesson for me, because being a perfectionist (a flaw of mine), I’d like to have everything under control. Now, I can approach businesses with a much clearer methodology because I’m no longer trying to do the impossible. Instead, I focus on celerity and the variables I can manage. Same goes for business coaching, where people may think that not knowing something means a business or a project is not ready. That’s not the case, because there’s always going to be something you don’t know, and that’s the risky and fun part of business.

Focus on the variables you can control, move fast, reduce uncertainties, prepare for multiple scenarios, and accept the inherent and always-present risk of businesses.

Thanks to Josh for some invaluable lessons, and the most fun I’ve had so far working with anyone.

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