Archive for 2011

What I Mean by Success

December 21st, 2011 — 5:30am

When I say “success” on this blog, I wonder if anyone misunderstands my meaning. This is my big chance to clarify…


Definition 1: the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors.

This is the meaning I have in mind — achieving the goal you set out to achieve.

Definition 2: the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

Not the idea I’m going for. So when I say that deliberate action focused in a consistent direction over time is perhaps the single biggest key to success, I mean it’s key to reaching your goals, not that it will lead to wealth, position, honors, and the like.

In fact, if your goal is to sacrifice your life serving the poor, deliberate action focused in a consistent direction over time will bring you success in that goal, and bring you the opposite of “definition 2” success.

It’s up to you to choose attempts or endeavors that are worthwhile, and not foolish, selfish, or harmful. Whether or not success is “a good thing” depends on whether or not your goals were worthwhile in the first place.

If you read my other posts and start imagining a mansion on the beach with little margarita-umbrella-things, well, I tried.

Extreme Interpersonal Respect

December 20th, 2011 — 5:30am

I’ve had the privilege of spending time with some people who are at high levels of success and influence. They have some qualities in common with each other, and I think that’s worth paying attention to. For example, they are disciplined, near-perfectly reliable, and speak truthfully.

Recently I’ve noticed another common quality, extreme interpersonal respect. They treat each person they interact with as valuable, and worthy of a gracious response. They occasionally disagree with someone in the room, sometimes strongly, but it’s never a personal slight, a dogmatic claim, or a disrespectful tone. They are all extremely busy, and time is carefully budgeted for each interaction, yet when I interact with them I feel valued, never dismissed or condescended to.

I have to believe this is not a tactic, this reflects true humility and a deep sense of value for other human beings. I also believe this extreme interpersonal respect is part of why they have so much success and influence in the first place. We all rely on other people for word of mouth, promotions, partnerships, sales, etc. There is no such thing as isolated success.

Every human interaction is a chance to build a bridge that increases trust. Not only is this generous, it’s an investment in your own future.

Strangers, Friends, and Marketing

December 19th, 2011 — 6:30am

It doesn’t make sense to ignore your friends while trying to get the attention of strangers, but businesses do it all the time.

Friends (not your personal friends) are already familiar with your business, and have probably purchased from you before. Strangers know nothing about your business and have to be introduced from zero.

I think the compulsion to look for more strangers comes from how businesses start. If I start a consulting business, it’s new, so it has almost no friends. The only way to grow is to recruit strangers. I successfully recruit 20 strangers a year to give me 1 project each. After 5 years the business has 100 friends, most of whom are not giving me any new projects.

The natural thing is to keep doing what’s working, so I continue spending resources to recruit 20 new strangers a year.

What if I spent equal resources to make what I offer more valuable to the 100 friends? What if I made sure I was the best possible solution to their current problems? What if I asked those friends to send referrals? Would I ever need to recruit another stranger?

Marketing to strangers is not bad, it’s just difficult and expensive. Focus a lot of attention on your friends.

Emotional Risk vs. Financial Risk

December 14th, 2011 — 6:30am

Financial markets are filled with millions of anonymous people investing trillions of anonymous dollars. These investors contribute money and nothing else, so they have nothing to lose except money. Although losing money is painful, being an anonymous investor isn’t very scary. There’s financial risk, but no emotional risk.

Emotional risk is a singer-songwriter getting on stage and belting out her music to a crowd that may or may not like it. Emotional risk is taking public responsibility for something that might fail. It’s doing something that could get you laughed at. It’s firing someone you like who isn’t good enough at his job. It’s hiring someone who’s more talented than you are. All the important and rewarding stuff in life involves emotional risk.

There’s an endless line of anonymous investors chasing away outsized returns from any financial risk opportunity that becomes visible. There are not many people willing to take emotional risk to do new, controversial, conspicuous, scary things. Taking emotional risk goes against human nature, and that makes it rare, and that makes it valuable, and that makes it rewarding. The crazy thing is, taking emotional risk doesn’t cost anything. It’s just a choice anyone can make.

Personal P.S.: My job as a leader involves a lot of emotional risk, or what feels like a lot to me. As owner and CEO the buck stops with me, for everything my companies do. I am in no way immune to the instincts that push us all toward perceived safety. I feel the fear, often intensely. When I overcome it, it’s because I want a life that matters, even more than I want a life that feels safe and comfortable. I fantasize about having both, but I don’t think that exists in the real world. Here’s to everyone who lays more than money on the line.

Do I have to be this busy?

December 13th, 2011 — 6:30am

A video response to that question from a small business owner, including the idea of a self-perpetuation delegation cycle.

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