Thought of the Week – If you’re not getting better you are getting worse
Business is fierce and rapidly changing. It is not enough to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your previous work or even maintain your current pace or capabilities. You and your team must evolve and grow. While harsh it is absolutely reality that if you are not getting better you are getting worse.
You must strive daily to improve and be in constant pursuit of positive growth. This focus will separate you from the pack in the end. Improving does not happen naturally however. It must be worked for. It must be planned and never left for chance.
Develop an improvement plan and review for progress at least bi-weekly. Dream big and big things will happen if you commit and follow through. So, follow through you must. Think. Execute. Adapt. Then Repeat. Get specific and go win!
*Originally published on LinkedIn
The best are the best for a reason. The most wealthy, most ambitious, most successful entrepreneurs in the world—Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, Sara Blakely from Spanx, Mark Pincus from Zynga, Kevin Plank from Under Armour—have all oriented their perception in order to be as successful as possible. They have changed their very way of thinking; they have developed The Entrepreneur Mind.
The author, Kevin D. Johnson, of The Entrepreneur Mind: 100 Essential Beliefs, Characteristics, and Habits of Elite Entrepreneurs has boiled down these characteristics to their very essence in his insightful landmark novel. After running his own multi-million dollar corporation, Johnson Media Inc. in addition to founding and investing in a host of other entrepreneurial ventures, Kevin Johnson has developed the wherewithal, the resilience, and the motivation that has driven the planet’s most successful capitalists over the course of history.
Written specifically for both emerging and established entrepreneurs, the book concisely articulates one hundred key lessons that aid the new and the experienced alike. Restricted to seven categories, Strategy, Education, People, Finance, Marketing and Sales, Leadership, and Motivation, this valuable advice makes the bumpy road to true fiscal freedom a smooth path free from hiccups. Relying on his own experience, Johnson delves into detail on several particular points in his life, potentially the most captivating of which is a life-changing visit to Harvard Business School.
Yet, these life experiences merely support his main points and illustrate how to change, and the value of changing, your perception of the contemporary economic climate. Some of his tremendous tidbits of advice include but are not limited to: learning to think big, understanding who makes the best business partners, knowing what captivates investors, comprehending when to let go of an idea, and figuring out where to avoid opening a business bank account. Perhaps one of his most engaging ideas is his belief that too much formal education can actually hinder your entrepreneurial growth, a seemingly paradoxical idea that, in reality, largely rings true.
For those looking to dip their toes in the water of entrepreneurial instability, The Entrepreneur Mind is a wonderful introduction to the groundwork of capitalism.
Inspiring others, stoking a fire of passion in others, is an art that cannot be understated. To inspire others to follow you, embrace your dream as their own, and work towards making that dream come true, is a phenomenal though poorly understood concept that paradoxically remains of the utmost significance in the professional world, yet fails to be taught. How does an entrepreneur teach others to be the best of themselves? How does a leader cultivate ambition while retaining top talent? How does a CEO gain the loyalty of his/her workers and not encourage stagnancy?
Such are but a few of the many questions that Max Depree’s Leadership is an Art explores with versatile accuracy. Acknowledging the multitude of prevailing beliefs that currently characterize the ‘right way’ to lead, Depree concisely but comprehensively answers many of the questions that plague modern leadership. He teaches many lessons, and so I have chosen to list a few of my favorite just below:
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say ‘Thank you.’ In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor.”
In developing any capitalistic enterprise, the leader must understand expectation and articulate what is considered success and what is failure. In achieving such, the leader must do whatever they can to produce what he or she said would be produced, be that a product or service. Yet, even when acting as a “servant,” the leader must understand they are always doing so for a price, thus acting as a “debtor.”
“Leaders don’t inflict pain; they bear pain.”
The harsh reality of running a business is that there is sacrifice. There is burden. There is pain. However, even in the face of difficulty, a leader cannot bend to the stress. To bend to the stress, to take your stress and displace it onto others, namely other employees, is to discourage those you’re supposed to encourage. In order to secure the best possible productivity from your workers, you must set a stellar example they can model. While it is hard to not internalize stress, leaders must strive to remain relaxed. Otherwise, said internalized stress will manifest in other ways, hurtful ways.
“Participative management is not democratic. Having a say differs from having a vote.”
An important though subjective distinction, it is significant to let your employees know they have a voice in the organization and where it’s going. However, an effective leader must also realize that, ultimately, the final decision is up to him or her. Moreover, employees themselves must realize this. They must understand that while their input is appreciated, it is not necessarily, or by any means really, the end all be all. Depree delves into detail on this vague idea and provides insightful advice on how to approach and implement this philosophy.
The truth is that leadership is a dynamic skill, changing with the tides and altering with the current state of the company. What leadership requires a year ago may be different today. What leadership requires at one company may differ considerably from what leadership requires at a different company. Leadership is malleable, flexible, but strong. It is an art top business executives must learn and must always continue to learn; and Depree helps do just that.
It would seem that in today’s popular culture creativity is often associated with some sort of innate ability or inherited trait. Yet, such is not only misinformation, it’s nonsense. Each and every one of us holds the ability to make things better, to improve our lives, to innovate. I think that perhaps the reason so many do not believe themselves to be creative is because of this ridiculous notion that only those who are born with “it” can be creative. The fact is that creativity, like anything else, is the product of effort, of trying to be successful. When entrepreneurs create a product, it did not simply spring to mind in its entirety. Rather, said entrepreneur had an idea, an idea others have likely had, to be honest, and then he/she acted on it. It is the action here that distinguishes the would-be entrepreneur from the million dollar man. The million dollar man tried, failed, tried and failed again, and then tried again and again until they triumphed.
My preface aside, this is largely what How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery concerns. The author, Kevin Ashton, does a brilliant job of illustrating an abundance of man’s major breakthroughs and backing up said breakthroughs with the facts that led up to it. Spoiler alert: they were not spontaneous. They took years and years of effort from seemingly “average” individuals who displayed resilience, not genius.
In describing these various stories, Ashton exposes the facts behind the fiction, the truth behind the legends. Beginning his book with a tale of Mozart composing entirely in his head, as though his masterpieces are some sort of spontaneous creation and his committing notes to paper a mere record of what has already occurred, Ashton soon proves that creativity is the product of time and effort. Creation is work and Ashton manages to elaborate upon this fact with meticulous attention to detail, narrating with to-the-point prose and an engaging voice.
Yet, while the book is certainly worth reading, you could also just read the first chapter and understand the entire point. In fact, Ashton’s plot structure of moving from story-to-story to merely articulate the same exact message over and over again can be a bit tedious; and to be frank, I kept hoping the book would develop into something more. It didn’t.
Regardless, ultimately, I recommend it. How To Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery is certainly inspiring, and does a wonderful job of bringing a very real, tangible, measurable dimension to creativity. We are all “ordinary,” but with one extraordinary accomplishment, we become a legend.
In today’s incredibly competitive marketplace, it is commonplace for us to become too comfortable with our current positions. Spending 40+ hours a week doing something we don’t like is not only irrational, it’s hurtful for your mental health. You deserve to do something you enjoy for a living. Just because you may have to branch out from the security of a stable job is no excuse to deny yourself happiness. Jon Acuff’s “Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck” does a fantastic job of illustrating just how to accomplish taking back control over your job.
Utilizing his own experience, the author ensures that it’s not something you need to start a new career, it’s merely putting what you already have to use. He claims that each and every one of us has what it takes to succeed in any profession (minus the obvious educational requirements for higher tier executive positions). Essentially, he claims that four aspects of character we develop in every job from scooping ice cream to evaluating astrophysics are responsible for our success or for our failure. By building upon our relationships, skills, character, and hustle, we are able to overcome any professional obstacles that may hold us back. Such professional obstacles include but are not limited to: Career Ceilings, Career Bumps, Career Jumps, and Career Opportunities.
In regards to Career Ceilings, Acuff speaks to the possibility of getting stuck at your current company. At times, we ascend to what we think is the highest position we can reach in a company, yet with sharp skills, we should be able to ascend past that seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
Career Bumps refer to an unexpected change of events, like losing your job for instance. While these events may at the time seem to be tragic, the truth is they can in fact be turned into very lucrative opportunities. By developing relationships as mentioned previously, you will be able to rely on the professional business connections you have already made.
Career Jumps describe when we jump to a different role. While chaos and uncertainty will undoubtedly characterize any such transitions, we will be able to emerge unscathed so long as we develop the proper character. Remember the resilience that allowed you ignite your career in the first place in order to overcome any unforeseen circumstances.
Career Opportunities are a bit more self-explanatory; they’re career opportunities. At times, when opportunity meets preparation, we are lucky enough to be offered a chance to take advantage of an upcoming job position that will further cultivate our professional lives.
While it may have taken Jon Acuff sixteen years to realize how to “do over” his career, it only has to take you however much time it takes you to read his book. Even if you’re not interested in changing careers or reorienting your professional track, the book is still worth a read for the insightful advice, if nothing else. Ultimately, I would not say it’s the best book out there, but it’s certainly beneficial for perspective. Remember the character, the relationships, the skills, and the hustle that has gotten you to where you are today. Never stop developing your core skills. Never stop innovating.
Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business tells the tale of Paul Downs. Speaking with simplistic but truthful prose, Paul Downs describes the ups and downs of owning his custom furniture business for the last 24 years. This down-to-Earth memoir transcends economic jargon to preach a relatable story of sacrifice, resilience, and eventually, triumph.
Boss Life speaks with a particularly vivacious tone. Written at the hands of a renowned New York Times columnist (Paul Downs), the syntax and sentence structure flow together seamlessly to paint a realistic and inspiring portrait. However, though it is well-written, its real allure lies in the lessons it communicates to all who are lucky enough to read it.
Downs clearly makes it a point to focus on people. Although “he had to learn about management, cash flow, taxes, and so much more,” he was always “keenly aware that every small business…starts with people.” The author offers priceless insight into who to hire and why to hire them. Furthermore, he goes on to detail various motivational strategies each of which likely deserves a book in its own right. However, when said strategies do not necessarily pan out, Down sheds light on how best to let coworkers go.
Further attuned to the theme of people, the author delves into client management with adept efficiency. He discusses the ideal purchase, describing with engaging and comprehensive prose, the significance behind a proper initial sales pitch. He pays similar meticulous attention to every step thereafter, all the way until (in his case) the final delivery of the furniture. However, all of this attention paid is not to discredit the story itself.
Forbes, after having ranked it among the best business books of 2015, claims it “is a memoir-not a manual-about life as a small business owner, complete with honest reflections on failures and shortcomings.” Boss Life not only stands on it own as a how-to manual guiding you towards financial success, but as an engaging narrative capable of transcending boundaries set forth by arbitrary genres. It speaks to readers not just in one market, but in nearly every market. It depicts the human condition while simultaneously offering sound financial advice. It offers a beautiful story yet never strays from its distinguished place in the fiscal community.
Truly, and perhaps remarkably, it is the best of both worlds. Downs discusses sales but reflects on hardship. He elaborates on bookkeeping but maintains his literary light. In one fell swoop, Paul Downs has appealed to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company while simultaneously retaining his Pennsylvania custom furniture roots. This memoir is an exercise in universal appeal, and stands to benefit anyone who decides to pick it up.
Written by David Schwartz, The Magic of Thinking Big is a motivational self-help book that proposes a carefully designed program that can help you get the most out of your professional and personal endeavors. Schwartz emphasizes that you don’t have to be the smartest, most talented, or the most connected person in order to succeed in life. The key to success according to this book is spelled out in its own title: the magic of thinking big. When you create a habit of thinking big you will automatically motivate yourself to improve in different aspects of your life such as having a better work life, earning more money, creating better, more satisfying relationships, etc.
The Magic of Thinking Big emphasizes four key points that further prove his thesis about thinking big:
“Think positively toward oneself”
The first thing Schwartz explains is that one of the main factors that tend to hold people back is that they think too small. In order to succeed it is important that you think positively towards yourself. He uses a story of a salesman who sells significantly more products than his colleagues and he is in fact not smarter, more educated, or better than them. He simply sells more because he expects himself to sell more.
“See what can be, not just what is”
Schwartz also stresses the importance of visualization. Thinking big is not just about thoughts and ideas. You actually need to train yourself to see not just the present, but the future possibilities that lie ahead.
“Broadcast good news”
Another great point that the book explains is how transmitting good news is a win/win situation, not only for the people surrounding you, but also for yourself. When you broadcast good news, you and the people around you will feel better, lighter, and more motivated to conquer bigger things.
“Make your attitudes your allies”
Lastly, Schwartz makes a valid point about attitude. Similar to point number three, your overall attitude about things will affect your emotions, your productivity, and your overall stamina. Make it a habit to make your attitudes your allies; have these feelings work for you and not against you. If you maintain a bad attitude about your job, for example, your success will become stagnant.
Aside from these four key points, The Magic of Thinking Big also describes three failure “diseases”: excuse-itis, detail-itis and procrastination. These are very common factors that will not help you succeed and will definitely not allow you to think big. For example, having excuses for everything will not help you grow and succeed, micromanaging will exhaust you and you will lose vision of the big picture, and procrastination prevents you from being productive, hence getting one step closer to success.
All in all, The Magic of Thinking Big is a very useful book that undoubtedly resonates with many of us, as we all have individual goals we would like to achieve in life. It helped me refocus on the big picture vision I have for myself, and I guarantee it can help you too.