4 Steps To Taking Action

Mark Twain has numerous comedic quotes, many of which will get you a laugh (one of my favorites being, “Golf is a good walk spoiled”). Despite the cleverness, and seeming shallowness, of many of the quotes, however, the majority of them have a great depth if you are willing to stop and consider their realities.
One that is particularly applicable, both in terms of general life and business.

“I am an old man and have had a great many troubles, most of them never happened.”

How often in life do we let potential troubles, worries, or complications paralyze us? Take a good hard look at every aspect of your life including work, relationships, health, education, etc. Which parts are you truly happy with and which are you not? Which troubles, that have not happened and may never happen, are stopping you from improving the parts of your life that need attention?
What project would you like to take on that you are avoiding? What challenge is scaring you away? What major life change are you putting off? Humans are creatures of planning and forward thinking, which makes us unique. But when that forward thinking causes anxiety and keeps you from ever coloring outside the lines, then it’s time to get off your ass and shake things up.
Tim Ferriss has a wonderful chapter in The 4 Hour Work Week that encourages readers to do one simple activity:
1. Think of that change you have been wanting to make.
2. Imagine the worst case scenario if you take the leap and it doesn’t go well.
3. Then, realistically consider what steps you could take to get back to your current state (or close to it) if it doesn’t work out.
4. Now, think about what your missing out on by NOT taking the action (fulfillment, happiness, etc.)

Most likely what you are missing out on by not taking the action is scarier than the tangible objects, property, or money that you MIGHT miss out on if you take it. And even if you take it, and it doesn’t go well, you can likely recover pretty quickly! So don’t let the troubles in your life (that haven’t happened) stop you from pursuing what you should.

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Sting Like A Bee

What I’m Reading:

Charlie “Tremendous” Jones has been attributed with one of my favorite quotes:

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for two things, the people you meet and the books you read.”

These days I think you can also add blogs and podcasts underneath books, but the principle is the same. When you finish your normal 9-5 (do jobs with these hours still exist?!?!?), do you go home and turn on the TV and space out to The Bachelor, or The Voice, or whatever new show is based in Chicago? On your way to work, do you listen to sports radio or play games on your phone while riding public transportation? There is nothing inherently wrong with these things, but if they are not directly tied to the industry that you work in, then you could be wasting valuable time.

Did you know there are podcasts that help you learn new languages that are just 15 minutes per episode? Did you know there are blogs that can help you create passive income in order for you escape the corporate grind and become an entrepreneur? Did you know there are books out there about…everything.

Make the best use of your time each day to read or listen to something that will make you a different, better, or more educated person in five years. I’ll share what I’m reading and listening to myself. Jump on the bandwagon with what I’m reading or use it as a springboard to find your own passions.

Currently Reading: Ali: A Life by Jonathan EIG

Muhammad Ali had a fascinating life. He knew from a very young age that he would “shake up the world,” and pursued that end with a dedication few others have matched. He was embroiled in the revolution of African Americans in sports, the Civil Rights movement, and the Vietnam War protests all while rising to top of his sport at the young age of twenty-two. He lived a life from which we can all derive inspiration, whether you loved or hated him. If you want to see what dedication to be the best at something looks like, check out this monster book. If the 500+ pages intimidates you, just do your own research on Ali. As long as you make sure it is from a reputable source, you will be in for a treat.

Become the Go-To-Guy (or Gal)

As I mentor younger employees or new employees within my company, they often ask, “What do I need to do to get promoted?”

Without diving into the numerous issues with that question, I usually begin in one simple place. I don’t go into the “Why do you want to be promoted?” or “What’s your motivation?” or “Are you running to another job, or away from this one?” Those could all be topics of different blog posts.

Instead, I explain to them that people who usually get the jobs they want are already doing them before they are paid for them. Often this only gets me a furrowed brow and a “What do you mean, Mr. Shamelessly?”

What I mean is that the person who is going to get that promotion will already have learned the ins and outs of it and begun literally DOING it before the opening is even announced. The person is not paid for doing these things, usually because they were not asked to do them!

I can already hear the chorus of readers bemoaning the above: they shouldn’t have to do work they aren’t compensated for. Or the ever-present, “Well, that’s not my job”. Well, tough shit, I guess. All is not fair. In fact, almost nothing is fair. You are competing against other people for this job that you want. Why would you not take the advantage if it’s there? What you’ll also find, is that as you get accustomed to doing the more complicated or different position, you not only get better at your own, but it will take you less time. Your time management skills either get better, or – more likely –  you have come to understand Parkinson’s Law (more on that another time…..)

Want some examples of what I mean? The Sales Manager at my company has to collect weekly sales numbers every Friday. He has to track down his sales people and account executives and collect these numbers, put them in a spreadsheet, and send them up to his boss. One of his young and upcoming sales people is interested in being promoted sometime in the near future. He asked me how he could get recognized as a go to person and distinguish himself when the time came. He wanted to know if his numbers would be good enough.

“Numbers only get you into the conversation. They don’t get you the job. You know how your sales numbers get collected by Mr. Sales Manager every week? You think he likes having to do that? Do you think your value would go up if, without being asked, you started collected those at lunch every Friday and sent it to him, so that he didn’t have to worry about it? Do you think the next time a bigger, more important project comes along, he will come to you or to someone else to help get it done? Whose name will end up on that project alongside his?” It took my mentee a moment, but once he understood, it all clicked into place.

That is a very, very small example that takes very, very little effort. However, that’s the point. It can have a large impact on the mindset of the person who will be promoting you one day. Start doing the jobs you aren’t paid for. You will become the Go To Gal or Go To Guy in no time.

Why Losing Is Better Than Failing…and the Difference

A theme that has been written about over and over again is the idea that you need to seek out failure and attempt things that make you uncomfortable. Working on challenges outside of your comfort zone not only teach you new things, but make you better at the simple act of learning, which is infinitely more important. However, this is a simplified idea that ignores the mechanics of what specific challenges learners will encounter. Josh Waitzkin, a fascinating student of the science of learning and performance has written a book titled The Art of Learning that addresses exactly this topic.

If you are not familiar with Josh, he was a chess prodigy who was the subject of a book and movie titled Searching for Bobby Fischer. I would highly recommend that movie for any who have not seen it. In The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin writes about his own learning process that helped him to win eight National Championships in chess and twenty one National Championships and several World Championships in martial arts. Anyone who can become world class at two such very different disciplines is someone worth listening to.

In one of the chapters, he writes about an incredibly powerful learning technique that I believe ties quite simply not just into business, but also the fields of Sales, Leadership, and personal development in general. Waitzkin calls it Investment in Loss. The core idea behind this principle is that while learning a new technique, we have to let go of ego. We have to be willing to lose. Most importantly let go of our tendency to push back (in the form of martial arts in which he competed, physically pushing back against an opponent’s push was a big mistake; the metaphor works for mentally fighting ideas as well). However, pushing back both physically or mentally stunted the growth and learning process. Very simply, Investment in Loss is the letting go of old habits.

How often are we confronted with something new and different and our immediate reaction is to stand our ground or even push back? How often do you see your coworkers, spouses, or children dothe same? How often are we willing to invest in a loss or two, face rejection from customers and prospects, in order to sharpen our skills and shorten our learning curve? As an energetic management consultant Carl Shoemer demonstrates in his incredible seminar on managing change, when a change is implemented, results immediately dip in the short term. However, this is how you assure your long term success. Those who understand this, fully embrace the downturn, a phenomenon similar to what Josh has termed Investment in Loss. When they reach the point of return on investment, if dwarfs the results of those who have not made any investment at all.

*This post contains affiliate links. But the book is still amazing. Give it a read if you want more info.

Why You Should Burn Your SMART Goals

You know those SMART goals that your boss made you set this year for your personal development? The ones that are supposed to make you better at something or other? Or maybe you made them for yourself on a personal journey you wanted to undertake. Either way, go ahead and pull those out, and set them on fire. Yeah go ahead and burn the shit out of them. Or right click on the file and with a flourish smash down the delete button. Now let’s talk about why.

Just about everyone in the business world is familiar with SMART goals by now. Some of the words in the acronym have been switched around or interchanged over time, but the gist is below:
S. – Specific

M. – Measurable

A. – Achievable

R. – Realistic

T. – Time based

When you think about those goals that I just had you shred, and look at them in this format, how inspired were you? How visionary did you feel? Did they excite you and get you out of bed in the morning? My hunch is they didn’t.
It’s a subtle difference, but what you should do instead is set SMART milestones. Your goals, though? Make them audacious. Make them exciting. Make them a vision so grand that when you think about them, you get so damn excited that you can’t help but go and work towards them. Your steps along the way? Yeah, make those bite-sized. But they aren’t your goals. They are just the stairs you have to climb up to your unrealistic, un-measurable, impossible, unrealistic, timeless aspirations. Go ahead, get to burning.

Don’t Blink, or You Might Miss It

 

Chapter Three of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink is titled “The Warren Harding Error.” For those of you who don’t know, Warren Harding was tall and very distinguished looking, what in some modern circles would be called, if I’m not mistaken, a “dreamboat”. Often, he was described as “Roman” looking. He had heavy black hair and bronzed skin. He had a resonant, masculine voice. In short, he looked and sounded presidential. Political forces of the time used these features to take him from a relatively unknown lawyer and lobbyist in Columbus, OH into the Oval Office of the White House. However, unfortunately, Warren Harding was not particularly bright or presidential and has been recognized by many historians as one of the worst presidents in history. Whoops.

This is the backdrop for a chapter that goes on to explain how our snap judgements about people – both positive and negative – can get us into a lot of trouble. Later, the chapter speaks about the height of male CEOs in America. Gladwell polled half the companies on the Fortune 500 list. In 2005, 58% of male CEOs were over six feet tall. General male population over six feet tall? 14.5%. Over 33% of the of the CEOs were 6’2” or taller. General population? 3.9%. Difficult to argue that is pure coincidence, but also easier to accept. Height does not stir the same controversies as race and gender.

This is just one of the many studies Gladwell cites regarding unconscious bias among the general population. Taller men are seen to be more commanding, confident, etc. If you were to poll the boards that appointed these men as CEO, however, and asked them how important height was in their determination, you would have been laughed out of the room. No one in their right mind would consciously say that height is important in the decision making process of choosing someone to run an organization. Right? Somehow, though, it is.

The point of these studies that Malcolm Gladwell cites is not to show that everyone is sexist, or racist, or heightist (if that’s a thing), but more to display that what we consciously say and believe is sometimes at odds with how we act. And this has nothing to do with hypocrisy. It is not a conscious act. Based on your upbringing, your gender, the type of news you consume, etc., your brain has made automatic connections between people, places, and things with positive and negative thoughts or feelings. Harvard has done a number of studies and tests on this, the most interesting of which is the IAT test with a link below if you are interested in trying it:

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html

 

Having implicit or unconscious feelings or beliefs is about as natural as it gets. It’s part of being human and is in fact an advantage that has evolved over time to help us make decisions in the blink of an eye. Understanding these unconscious leanings, however – and casting them aside when necessary – is the next evolution in human development that can make you a better salesman or saleswoman, better leader, or simply a better person.

 

*This post contains affiliate links. But the book is still amazing. If you know anything about Malcolm Gladwell, you will agree.

 

How Shooting Free Throws Can Help Your Business

As many will know, Wilt Chamberlain is considered one of the greatest basketball players to ever live. He even once accomplished the unthinkable, scoring one hundred points in a single game! However, like many seven-foot-tall basketball players, he was a horrendous free throw shooter, averaging one season at about 38%. His career average was also abysmal at 51%. How in the world can one of the best basketball players to ever live only hit 51% of his shots from just fifteen feet away while no one was attempting to block him? Clearly there are some mind games at play, but not all of them follow the rules you would expect.

What will likely didn’t know is that Wilt Chamberlain actually knew how to improve his free throw shooting. He had even proven it worked, too. He just chose not to do it. Surprised?

In order improve his free throw percentage, Wilt Chamberlain took the advice of Rick Barry (another NBA all-time great) and shot the ball underhand, the same way you may have seen done in the movie Hoosiers. This drastically improved his percentage and eliminated a major weakness in his game for almost an entire season, which turned out to be his career best at 61% (This season also included that 100 point game, a game during which Chamberlain hit 28 of 32 free throws. However, the very next season, he decided to go back to shooting overhand, resuming his awful performance. What world class performer would do this?

Later, Wilt agreed he should have kept shooting underhand but just didn’t. He knew what was best for him. He knew what was the right choice. He simply didn’t make it. Shaquille O’Neal, another famously bad free throw shooter, said he would rather shoot 0% on his free throws than ever shoot underhand. These players were more worried about peer pressure and perception than they were about their results.

How often do we make the same decisions in the workplace and in our business? We know that making an extra sales call will yield better numbers. We know that engaging our employees hearts and minds will improve turnover and retention. We are fully aware that attention to detail and transparency with both customers and employees will create healthier business.

But sometimes, even though we are fully aware it does not make sense, we simply don’t do these things. There are myriad reasons why, but the most common is that we don’t want to make a decision that we perceive in our heads to be unpopular or difficult. We take the easier road. I challenge you to make the decisions that will get you greater results, not what will make your life easier.

When you look back at the careers of Rick Barry and Wilt Chamberlain it is unquestionable who was the better basketball player. However, what is most striking, and somewhat sad in retrospect, is that you could convincingly argue that Rick Barry was the best basketball player he was capable of being, underhand free throws and all, while Wilt Chamberlain, as good as he was, never lived up to his full potential. Unrealized potential is one of life’s great tragedies. Can you say the same about your business career?

 

***To end this post, I want to begin with a simple recommendation. If you don’t listen to the podcast This American Life, you should. I am saying nothing groundbreaking as it is one of the top downloaded podcasts in the country, but for those of you that have not yet discovered the wonderful world that is podcasts, go check it out, as that is the source of the material for this post. This American Life featured the story from Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, another gem.