Dec 132016
 

As I observed last year, very rarely do people try 5 different ideas to succeed, yet an often used phrase is “I tried everything!” — the truth is no, you did not.

I ran across this article a few weeks ago. It illustrates the core idea of pivoting and changing your approach when Plan A, or Plan B, is not working out. Quitting too quickly is the norm.

The original article is available at fastcompany.com but I included the text below, in case fastcompany takes down this excellent lesson someday in the future. I do recommend subscribing to Fast Company — few magazines capture the spirit of entrepreneurship better.

The Pivot

How YouTube, Instagram, Pixar, And Others Found Major Success After A Big Pivot
Sometimes the best way forward is a giant leap sideways. Here are 10 companies that bet big on a new direction.

J.J. MCCORVEY 10.17.16 6:00 AM

1. WRIGLEY
Soap seller William Wrigley Jr. switched to hawking baking powder in the late 19th century. To drum up business, he gave away chewing gum, and eventually he realized that customers were more excited about the freebie. The gum stuck.

The payoff: Now a Mars subsidiary, Wrigley is the world’s largest gum manufacturer.

2. NINTENDO
Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo in 1889 as a purveyor of playing cards. His great-grandson unsuccessfully expanded the company into taxis and “love hotels” before hitting gold in the early 1970s with an electronic shooting game.

The payoff: Gaming domination via Super Mario Bros., Game Boy, Wii, Pokémon Go, etc.

3. LISTERINE
The mouthwash was first marketed as a general-purpose antiseptic, meant to get rid of both household grime and, um, gonorrhea. In 1914, pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert started selling it as a halitosis remedy.

The payoff: Current owner Johnson & Johnson sold $340 million worth of the stuff in 2015.

4. 3M
The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (get it? 3M) originally planned to sell excavated minerals to manufacturers. But when that didn’t work out as planned, it shifted to producing finished items, such as sandpaper.

The payoff: Some 60,000 products later, 3M makes everything from Post-its to surgical soap.

5. TEXAS INSTRUMENTS
Geophysical Services Inc. made tech to help gas companies find oil. The start of WWII forced GSI to halt its profitable overseas business, so in 1946 it formed a lab to develop electronics.

The payoff: The lab grew into Texas Instruments, maker of your high school calculator and still a top semiconductor producer.

6. PIXAR
When Steve Jobs bought into the business that would become Pixar, it was a maker of graphics oriented computers. He refocused on software, and Pixar later started making animated films.

The payoff: Pixar’s movies have pulled in more than $10 billion over the past 21 years.

7. PAYPAL
Conceived as a mobile-encryption service, the company switched to cash transactions (initially between PalmPilots). After eBay users latched onto the service, PayPal developed into the leading tool for web-based payments.

The payoff: PayPal helped fuel the e-commerce boom and today is worth more than $47 billion.

8. FLICKR
Caterina Fake and then-husband Stewart Butterfield started Ludicorp to develop online games in 2002. One feature let players save pics, and it proved so popular they moved away from games and built a photo-sharing service.

The payoff: Flickr became the go-to home for digital photos and was acquired by Yahoo in 2005.

9. YOUTUBE
YouTube launched in 2005 as a video-dating site. Users didn’t bite, but the company’s founders soon noticed that people had started sharing other kinds of video content.

The payoff: YouTube is the world’s second-most-visited site (after Google). Viewers consume 3.3 billion hours of video every month.

10. INSTAGRAM
Burbn tried to be many things: a Foursquare-style check-in app, a friend-meetup service, and a photo-sharing tool. Noticing that photos were users’ favorite feature, Kevin System ditched the other functions and rebranded as Instagram.

The payoff: More than 500 million monthly users post 95 million photos and videos a day.

A version of this article appeared in the November 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.

My point is simple.  Don’t give up.  Trying many ideas to make your idea succeed. And if those don’t work, pivot, more than once if needed, with no loss of enthusiasm. Its the best way to succeed.

I.M. OptimismMan

Nov 102016
 

I have often argued that change is good, and fear of change is irrational. Our election was actually a referendum on the appetite for level of change that America was ready for, cleverly disguised in less than like-able candidates, frequent surprise revelations, personal attacks, and a homogeneous media establishment that lost all perspective drinking its own Kool-aid, losing touch with the voter.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks about the results of the Michigan, Mississippi and other primary elections during a news conference held at his Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, March 8, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS9XHP

We will be better off trying new things, renegotiating new trade agreements, removing excess regulation, and focusing on jobs, the economy, healthcare, and security. Everything is on the table. Progress happens when you embrace change, strive to do your best, and fine-tune everything.

Most importantly, America now has a moment of Republicans controlling the House and Senate. Stagnation should be gone, at least for a few years. Its an opportunity to be bold and fix a number of things for the better, to earn the trust of America to keep going when the next election time arrives.

Don’t believe me that change should be embraced? Answer this simple question: Will you pay more or less if you shop and fine-tune your insurance coverage every six months, or simply stay with State Farm for two decades, sending them check after check?  Re-negotiation and re-visiting deals, policies, taxes, and government incentives, once you have the hard data from previous and recent results, makes a lot of sense.

Those who embrace change with optimism, win in life. Sure, you make a few mistakes along the way, as that is the price of trying new things. Perfection and risk avoidance are not the real goals – both lead to stagnation and a result far from perfection. In the end, you end up in a much better place, no matter if we are talking about your personal career or if we are talking about Uncle Sam’s place as the leading country in the world.

I’m an economically focused voter: Less taxes works. Less regulation works. Making our companies more competitive world-wide, works. Bringing overseas cash home to America will result in more investment here. Investment leads to more jobs. Lets actually do stuff and try stuff, not just talk about stuff.

A lot of people who voted blue are despondent, but I believe we must become American first, not politically partisan first. Washington has been constipated for far too long, not fixing anything. Trump was not my first choice, but lets support change, experiment, and see what works. Trump was elected by the same democratic process that elected over 200 years of presidents. We live in the greatest time ever. Pessimism has been the religion in DC for the last 12+ years. I believe a lot of people will be optimistic because they think Trump will change things. Optimism builds on itself. Lets start working together now.

I am truly optimistic today!

I.M. OptimismMan

PS> Happy Birthday U.S. Marine Corps. We love and appreciate all you do to ensure our freedoms.

 

Sep 052016
 

There has been a lot of debate in recent years about the “relative value” of a college education, especially in light of skyrocketing college costs and the corresponding student debt.

From my perspective, that’s the wrong debate. Common sense tells me that, if your goal is “to be all you can be” — to do your very best — finishing college is a given and a must. Sure, we have all heard the stories of the brainiac college drop-out who founded the next billion dollar startup. If your son or daughter has that special mix of entrepreneurial brilliance, unquenchable desire to learn on his or her own, and unstoppable drive, ignore the rest of this article. For most, however, I think the debate should focus on whether an undergraduate degree is enough.

Is a Masters degree worth the money and effort?

value-of-graduate-degree

After doing a little analysis, the answer is an emphatic “yes“; in fact, I would argue that a Masters (or doctorate) is critical to improve one’s cash flow, reduce chances of unemployment, and have a higher ultimate trajectory in one’s career. A Masters offers more doors of opportunity, more chances to succeed. Unfortunately, opportunity does not always equal achievement. Higher cash flow means you have the opportunity to save and invest more each year, but that does not guarantee that a person makes that choice. You must still execute on the job and make great impressions on lots of executives to have a chance of promotions. And of course, you must recognize issues clearly, actively network, and look for new opportunities when the career track you are on proves to be a dead-end. Lots of people with advanced degrees don’t hit the ball out of the financial and career happiness park.

Most studies seem to focus “how much a person earns upon graduation” because those are simple metrics to find, and then asks how many years does it take to pay back the cost of the extra years of school. I looked at it from an investor’s point of view, including factors such as an increased rate of savings, compounded returns on investments, and improved chances of promotions and therefore future earning potential. I also tried to bake in some insidious realities, the worst of which is that people who make more money often spend more money. In the end, my spreadsheet assumes 50% of your additional earnings will be blown in spending instead of invested wisely.

While it varies by area of study, in general, Masters degrees are worth about 30% more income in many fields. That gap tends to become smaller as the value of on the job experience comes into play, but then widens again when promotions into higher levels of management occur. I decided to keep the 30% gap in the model throughout one’s career based on the assumption that these two factors balance each other out.

The assumptions in my “Is a Masters degree worth it” spreadsheet are:

  • Masters degree graduate earns 30% more before tax.
  • My Bachelors graduate saves 10% of salary and invests it at 7.5% compounding (Why pick 7.5%?).
  • My Masters graduate saves 15% of salary (because of better cash flow) and invests it at the same 7.5% compounding return.
  • Bachelors gets 4% raises annually.
  • Masters gets 6% raises annually (assumes greater promotion opportunities / and factors in better supply and demand aspects of having a Masters).
    Note that there are a number of soft benefits of the Masters baked into this 6% number — for example, having a Masters degree from a good brand name college increases your networking and credibility. Also, if your Masters degree is different from your Bachelors degree, it gives you a broader range of jobs to choose from if times turn difficult in one industry (for ex. the cyclical downturns in oil and gas that we are seeing right now are really tough on a person with only a BS in Petroleum Engineering or Geology). Lastly, your “birds of a feather” networking benefit will give you better connections across companies. All in all, this factor might be considerably higher than 6%, especially if you reach the highest levels of a corporation.
  • The cost of the in-state (yes, price paid for the degree matters) Masters degree is paid back over 10 years with no interest (assumes a loan from family).
  • No inflation factors are in the spreadsheet – but if they were, both savings numbers would reflect it the same so I didn’t see the need to over-engineer.
  • My spreadsheet models working until 65, and assume the student attains the Masters in two years time (works two years less in their professional job than the Bachelors-only graduate).

The bottom line is that the person with a Masters, given the same amount of optimism, initiative, and tenacity in his or her career — as well as equal will power to save and invest — is likely to retire / start phase three with approximately twice as much in savings / investments. In today’s dollars, the end result @ retirement was $2,034,720 in investment accounts for Masters vs $1,071,274 for Bachelors.

For the student, it boils down to this one question: Why not spend 2 – 3 extra years in school to enjoy greater cash flow, have more opportunities, and save at least $1 M more by the time you retire?

Click here to dive into the details of my spreadsheet.  I could have added more fine-tuning but the case is quite compelling without a lot more spreadsheet work. Please email me with suggested improvements or observations.

masters-spreadsheet

Here is a really interesting research paper on the topic, including details by area of study. A Masters is not worth nearly as much in certain fields as in others.

earnings-by-major

Get a Masters. Do whatever it takes. It is not even close. I believe that continuing college, straight through to a Masters, is the best way… because once in the workplace, distractions abound. Discipline is crucial to success in every phase of life, no matter if you are working on your college degrees or your nest egg for financial independence and comfort: It is crucial to start saving and investing right away — starting late makes things much more difficult, because compounding requires lots of time to do its inevitable magic (See rule 21 here within my 22 rules for financial success).

Final thoughts: Given the woeful state of social security and the changes in longevity, I believe that “normal” retirement age is likely to change from 65 to 70 before 2050. In such a case, the Masters advantage will actually become much larger because compounding gains really kick in the afterburners in the latter years of the model. If you missed it, I really don’t believe in retirement as most understand it: here are my thoughts on retirement. Lastly, success and wealth is a broader topic than savings and investments. Here is an article from a few years ago that helps a person take a 360 degree view of everything that contributes to true wealth.

I.M. Optimisman

PS. Not every career is impacted by the masters degree equally. I am a professional sales executive in the high-end computer software space, an arena where no colleges (as far as I know) offer any degree. In professional sales, the masters doesn’t help regarding direct earnings which are usually target based, although it clearly does help with promotions and outside opportunities. If you are the parent of a student that seems destined to sell professionally for a living (hmmm, I wonder if there are kids that think “sales” when in school), I would suggest creating your own spreadsheet model and sharing it — I would love to contribute. My gut tells me it is still well worth it, due to the improved odds of moving up into upper management.

Jun 102016
 

What makes one person more creative than another is hard to grasp. We all want to have more original ideas that change the world, make things better, or at least get us noticed. But, in practice, you must have the courage to have a lot of bad ideas to have a few great ones. To be an original, you have to put it out there, in the harsh light of public scrutiny. I think the greatest misconception is that most believe that they will be judged based upon their failed ideas. In truth, your chance for a great breakthrough is built on a foundation of ideas that didn’t work out, and people don’t hold your failed creativity against you.

To be original, you must take initiative and you must be brave. You must go against the status quo and peer pressure.

Consider this excellent TED presentation by Adam Grant of the Wharton School. I hope that you walk away more willing to put your ideas out there and be an original:

Fortune favors the bold.

I.M. OptimismMan

Jun 082016
 

I sometimes hear people say that they are out of fresh ideas to overcome a challenge. When I later ask them about how much they read (books in particular), I invariably find that the answer is that they are heads down busy and haven’t cracked a book in months or years. I have yet to find a person that is both a) out of ideas and b) an active, avid reader.

dots

I also have noticed that whenever I read, a multitude of ideas, often unrelated to the material I’m reading, flood my consciousness. I believe invention is rarely a net new construct on a blank sheet of paper. I believe invention and developing ideas is a matter of connecting the dots of your previous experience and understanding with new input that changes the perspective and creates new connections. The book is a catalyst that changes thinking and structures in your mind.

woman1600

TV and movies don’t have this same positive effect because you don’t use your imagination, your mind’s eye, to visualize what you read in a book. Visual medium makes it too easy, letting your brain rest and just lay there on the couch. Brain research has shown that neural activity is less while watching TV than while sleeping. Bottom line, don’t be surprised if you have few new ideas while placated by the pacifier of television.

Try reading a quality book for 20 minutes each day for a month, while jotting down any fresh ideas that you have during those 30 days. I suspect you will find a remarkable difference. Build a lifelong habit of reading and learning: it will serve you well.

I.M. OptimismMan

 

PS. Keep a log of TV time and reading time. Its a great reality check of time spent vs time invested.

May 032016
 

Everything is become more complicated and interconnected. When faced with a difficult decision, almost everyone adds more detail, weighs more aspects, analyzes the problem to the n-th degree, and creates complexity. I personally work to sell solutions that create timely, valuable, and actionable insights from data, a topic that is truly large, complex and ever-growing, given the explosion of “big data” as zillions of devices connect to networks and every aspect of business becomes digitized by computers. The result is thousands of topics from hundreds of vendors and millions of powerpoint slides.

Every data analytics vendor dilutes its message with every word added to every powerpoint slide. Every company uses the same buzz words, every slide says much of the same, and the final slides always says the preceding 100 slides prove that this vendor’s specific solution is the best decision.

I believe there is great opportunity for a bold optimist that decides to zig when everyone else is following the zagging herd: simplify the message while everyone else complicates it.

If I was the customer, I would limit each presentation to 30 minutes, with 20 minutes of presentation and 10 minutes of question and answer. I would limit each vendor to the top 5 reasons their solution is best for my company. I would limit the number of powerpoint slides to 10, and the number of words per slide to 20.

bruce-lee-simplicity

Would less be better? Of course it would, because each vendor would be forced to distill their message to the essential. The customer could better compare each vendor’s solution at its core essence. TED presentations are phenomenal and each is limited to 20 minutes.

This applies to all aspects of life, and it offers you great opportunity to shine. If you are a lawyer, are you better off with a rambling 40 minute final argument or a 5 minute hard hitting one? If you are a teacher, is it best to spend hours on one topic or boil it down to the essential while students are still paying attention?  If you are a preacher on Sunday, will the congregation pay better attention to 40 minutes of fire and brimstone… well, you get the picture. I have found that if you “train” your target audience that your message will be short, they will pay close attention because they appreciate your approach.

Anyone can become the Master of Succinctness with effort and expertise. People love those that can make their point, with impact and simplicity.  Less is more, when done well. Your career will flourish. I’m still amazed that the Gettysburg Address was less than 300 words, yet most big data analytics slides have 100 words of broken English on each.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. In case we forget, here is the Gettysburg Address, all 272 words of it…

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Feb 252016
 

Differentiation is important. People decide who they want on their team, who they hire, who they promote, who they buy from, who they associate with, and who they become friends with, based on what they perceive makes a person special and different than the rest. Personal differentiation is driving force behind who gets elected, who a person marries, who succeeds and who flails about.

What makes you special? What makes you better than the average guy? What makes you stand out? How do people describe you to a stranger? What quality will make you a success over the long-term?

For some, their differentiator for personal success if obvious. Kevin Durant’s height, athletic ability, and basketball IQ made his destiny as one of the best players in the NBA simple to see, even as early as high school. Sure, he made smart choices that helped, he had determination to persevere, he envisioned his future and did what was necessary to make it happen. But his differentiators are God given and quite obvious to all, especially the ones that had to guard him.

Most of us are not freaks of nature endowed with superhuman hops. We are born much closer to average than being an extreme outlier in terms of ability. In statistics, outliers are stats that are so far outside the averages and the normal bell curve that the data points look like bad data. Mozart was an outlier in musical ability. Einstein was an outlier. Wayne Gretzky is an outlier, as are Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps.

So what can the rest of us do to differentiate ourselves?

The answer is far simpler than you think, although not necessarily easy. Far too many people search for natural traits that they were born with, rather than decisions that they can make and stick to. The trick is to find an area of life where few people make the right decision, the decision that could help them immeasurably over the long-term.

Uncompromising personal integrity is one such magical ingredient: the differentiator that can serve as the bedrock to build a great life of success. Unquestionable integrity is a choice that anyone can make, but in truth, exceedingly few people do. Yet, when a company is looking for a leader to be in charge of a division, integrity is one of the most important criteria that it looks for in candidates for the position.

We live in a desert of integrity.

One aspect of integrity is telling the truth. University of Massachusetts researcher Robert Feldman conducted a study that was published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology. Robert asked two strangers to have a conversation for about 10 minutes. The conversations were recorded. Afterwards, each person was asked to review the recording. Before doing so, the research participants told Feldman that they had been 100% honest in their statements. However, during the review, the subjects were surprised to discover all the little lies that came out in just 10 minutes. According to Feldman’s study, 60 percent of the subjects lied at least once during the short conversation and in that span of ten minutes, subjects told an average of 2.92 false things. If 60% lie when it does not matter in just ten minutes time, it seems logical that more than 85% will lie when there are greater incentives and the outcome really matters. A recent study of dating websites found that 81% of people lied about themselves while seeking a new mate and another found that 91% of college grads lied at least once on their résumé. Our world is a desert of integrity indeed.

Another aspect of integrity is whether or not people steal or cheat when they have a good opportunity. The fraud prevention industry has long held to a general rule of thumb called the 10-10-80 rule. Chain retailers with experience of millions of employees believe in it. The rule says 10% of people will never steal no matter what, 10% will steal at any opportunity, and the remaining 80% of employees will steal or not steal, depending on how they evaluate a particular opportunity and their chances of getting caught.

Integrity is greater than simply being perfectly truthful and not stealing, although these two aspects are black and white and therefore simpler to measure. Keeping your promises, doing what you say you will do — no matter what it takes — is the fundamental core basis of integrity.

The choice of integrity is available to you and completely up to you. Your past matters not. You can make the wise choice to live a life of uncompromising personal integrity from this day forth.

I believe that integrity should become your #1 differentiator. Choose to become remarkable: becoming remarkable is not a birthright. Less than 10% of people demonstrate integrity in their daily lives by avoiding all deceit. When you add in doing exactly what you said you will do, keeping all your promises large and small, you will discover a world few people know and understand: you will become a person who is destined for success. Others will inevitably learn that you are the rare person who they can count on in good times and in bad, the person who will do his or her very best, the person who will do the right thing every time when put in positions of greater responsibility.

I.M. Optimism Man

Feb 132016
 

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Four words that have survived since the mid-1300’s. Why? Truth thrives.

I have often written about the extraordinary opportunities available to all of us. We live at an extraordinary time, a time of fantastic and rapid change, in the best country in world. I believe that the opportunities to achieve whatever one wants to achieve in today’s America are limitless.

Yet, I know a lot of people that look at the same things I do and simply don’t see it the same. They see scarcity where I see abundant opportunity. It has taken me a while to figure out why but I believe I now understand. There are three fierce guard dogs at the gates of opportunity, and it turns out that most people see the snarling beasts, they miss seeing the gates, let alone the rainbow and waterfalls in the garden on the other side.

The guard dogs are risk, sacrifice, and faith. One or more of these prevent many from jumping on thousands of golden opportunities. Today I’ll spend a few minutes discussing the first one — risk.

Young adults have a great advantage over most of the working population. If they grew up in an optimistic home, they believe they can conquer the world, they have little if anything to lose, they don’t yet listen to (or at least adhere to) the often faulty, limited “wisdom” of their elders, and they have had few disheartening experiences. There is good reason most tech start-ups are fueled by young adults.

As we get older, we tend to take less and less risk. This risk aversion invades most of the facets of a person’s life: financial, emotional, professional, psychological, personal, you name it. Yet the core truth of “nothing ventured” rules nearly every facet of life.

By the time people hit their 40’s, most don’t want to take any chances. This is a terrible mistake that shackles one’s life. Without accepting risk, all you can expect is a lousy return following the path of the risk-free herd. When you embrace good risks, you expand your possibilities and your life.

Overcoming the fear of risk is possible and comes from learning and understanding probability better than the average person. Risk is simply half of the equation: once a person learns to evaluate risk clearly, in relation to probable return, she can start making educated decisions regarding the worthiness of any endeavor. These three guard dogs start to look much more lovable.

It is easiest to understand risk vs. return in simple betting. If someone offered you 3:1 odds on the flip of a quarter, it becomes a good bet – in other words a risk worth taking, because the quarter flip will win 50/50 over time. On a dollar bet, you would get paid $3 the 50% of the time that you win, but lose only $1 the 50% of the time you would lose.

The same is true in life. If you invest $1,000 in a growing, successful company that has a current P/E ratio of 10, a historical low for the stock, because of a short-term sell-off, while all its close competitors have P/E’s of 25 – barring any skeletons in the closet, you generally have taken a good bet – odds are much better that your stock will appreciate to $2,500 (probably more (because I’m ignoring earnings growth over time in this example)) rather than falling to $500 in the future. You can further mitigate the risk by investing $1,000 in 10 companies in similar situations – even if you are wrong on 5 of 10 — and 3 of them get halved while 2 tread water and stay at the price paid — if the other five do move up to their historical P/E, your final tally would be $16,000 on a $10,000 in investments, or a 60% return. If you leave that $10,000 in a money market account at Bank of America, you will earn less than $5 per year in this crazy near “interest-free” financial climate.

Yet many people never overcome the fear of risk. My suggestion is start small and gain momentum gradually. A big misconception is that those who take risks are fearless. Not true. People that take prudent risks, after weighing the probable rewards, are courageous and smart.

I really like John Wayne’s definition of courage….the Duke said “Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.

It is incredibly important that a person learns to embrace prudent calculated risk during his entire life, learning from experiences as he grows older. There are always risks worth taking, and when you are 40, 50, or 60, you have a much broader base of experience, connections, and resources than when you were but 22. The idea is not to put more than you can afford to lose in any one investment or idea.

My discussion took a financial turn because it is easy to illustrate with numbers, but taking prudent risks is just as vital on your emotional, professional, personal, and psychological facets of life. If you come up with a great idea that is worthy at work, take the risk and land a meeting with your own CEO. Pitch it! You might just make Executive VP after all. Go to that job interview. Ask that girl out. Go ahead and volunteer when they ask. Speak up at the community meeting. Try helping out at the local soup kitchen or Meals-on-Wheels or Big Brothers Big Sisters — seriously! Start that little business on the side and stick to the project to the finish line. Always remember that it helps to fail spectacularly from time to time in order to become extraordinary in the end.

The great Wayne Gretzky is right when he says “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Michael Jordan put it this way: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

What have you ventured this month? What have you ventured in 2015? Take more risks to be all you can be!

I.M. Optimism Man

Dec 102015
 

Hindsight is 20/20. When I was asked recently for my best advice to a struggling college student (see previous post), the discussion of finding and picking a starting job when graduating came up as well.

picking the first job

Lou Holtz has observed that we should never try to maintain a certain level: as Lou summed it up in this speech, You are either growing or you are dying, there is no middle ground. I believe this is just as true for individuals as it is for companies. I think the graduate should — first and foremost — strive to start her career at a company that is growing rapidly. With growth comes opportunity, happiness in an organization, improved teamwork, reduced politics, and a feeling of success and purpose. A company that is growing quickly — perhaps 20 – 25% a year – hires many more people, creates new teams, and has opportunities for healthy promotion and advancement.

Companies that are running near flat in terms of revenue or profit growth offer few chances for real advancement and expansion of responsibility. This is a hard environment to gain momentum, as promotion usually requires someone in management to leave and vacate a spot in the stagnant org chart.

Working hard in school, participating in extracurricular activities, adding practical experience with internships and on campus leadership positions, and being optimistic will all help expand the number of offers you receive at graduation time. If all goes well, you will have a number of choices to pick from. Pick the job offer from the firm with a healthy, growing environment.

I.M. OptimismMan

Nov 272015
 
jordan-resize

The following video is worth watching: it is not about optimism per se, but I have found that if you have your black belt in optimism, nearly everything contributes to your self-chosen outlook.

Josh Luber’s talk will expand your thinking and appreciation for limitless possibilities. Human “logic” and cooperation is extraordinary, and the rise of interconnectivity and ‘big data analytics’ networks millions of minds together in surprising ways. If you work in marketing, this presentation is 5-star fascinating.

Yes, if you are wondering, I am a bit of a sneakerhead, although my participation is limited to the search for the perfect pair to wear, and not at full retail, if I can help it.

I.M. OptimismMan

Oct 042015
 

Basic knowledge doesn’t get you far. If it did, everyone with a smartphone and access to Google would become CEO of Skynet or some other growing multi-national corporation.

Ideas are far different than knowledge. Fresh ideas — your ideas — your ideas blended with other ideas — are one of your most important assets. A great idea person is welcome in any group, whether work associates, sports teammate, or personal friends.

The problem is that ideas are often like fine wine — it takes time for them to grow in character.

wine

I have posted often about keeping journals — writing it down is helpful. But, as I personally have discovered, ideas that are inter-dispersed in chronological journals get lost — the signal disappears in the surrounding noise.

Do you keep an ever-growing, well-indexed vault of your ideas? Do you read over your ideas on a regular basis, so that they serve as a catalyst for new ones? How do you distill ideas so that they don’t get lost in the clutter? How do you improve them over time?

Imagine if you started when you were young — lets say as a middle-school student or a freshman in high-school — and wrote down every idea! you ever had in a permanent vault. What if you then re-read and added to your ideas at least once every three months?

This would constitute managing your ideas as an important asset. Do you manage your ideas as an asset?

If you have no idea how to start, I would suggest Day One if you are an iPhone / iPad / Mac person. Evernote is another possibility although I find it cumbersome to review and improve. IdeaMatrix is a good tool that I helped invent, if you are happy with text only idea management (which offers brilliant speed and ease, but gives away pictures). As I type, I realize that I have not done my homework because I don’t know how to effectively export and backup from Day One or Evernote — and it is pretty clear that most tech companies expire after a few years. Trusting one of these with your idea vault also means that you must backup / offline / in a export-import friendly format. I will update this post after I work through the backup capability investigation. [here is an update on Day One — export to an adobe ‘pdf’ file seems to be the best backup — of course, that means you should do so on a regular basis, but in general, I’m comfortable with the capability.]

A few quotes to consider:

“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”
– Victor Hugo

“Ideas are great, but mostly worthless, without action and optimism.”
— Bob Sakalas

“Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.”
– Alfred North Whitehead

Are you an idea person? Manage and refine your most valuable of assets. If you are not an idea person today, start a vault today — it isn’t magic.

I.M. Optimisman

PS. An article worth reading… how IBM encourages invention.

Aug 262015
 

The headlines this week are all about China woes, and how that domino has started a sell off throughout world markets. While pessimist blood runs in the streets, an optimist is gleeful about being give an entry point opportunity.

I’ve always been a “Growth-At-a-Reasonable-Price” investor, commonly referred to as GARP. Adding to my GARP formula, I like to invest in companies that have a “unique moat” that makes threat of obsolescence from competition or immediate technology innovation hard to imagine (I guess I’m a GARPUM investor). Lastly, I believe you must know your investment thesis… GARPUMIT — For the first time in a while, a few momentum companies that have been on fire (and therefore outside my GARP radar) have been discounted.

yesterday-you-said-tomorrow-nike

People often become paralyzed trying to pick the absolute bottom of a market which is both logical and illogical. It is logical to have this desire, but logic also says that your odds of buying a stock at its low is close to impossible and determined by luck, not skill. Like it or not, irrational price swings exist and will continue to exist, efficient market theory be damned: there is plenty of evidence.

Let’s check where these issues will be on January 2017. If I’m right, they will be up 30 – 50% in only 18 months and should double in four years (by September 2019). I like putting it in writing so that all of us can learn from opportunities. GARP Stocks to consider, IMHO:

Apple @ $105
Starbucks @ $52 — in truth, this is not as much of a sale but still a worth buy
Nike @ $105

Optimists have the innate ability to be brave because they have hope. Optimists buy when investments are cheap. Did you buy?

I.M. Optimisman

Jul 182015
 

A few weeks ago, I discussed the need for whole-hearted commitment and the will power that results as its by-product. Today, I’m compelled to mention the obvious: There is no substitute for working hard on your pursuit. If you don’t invest the hours, the sweat, the blood, your chances of seeing your finish line diminish greatly.

Consider these observations:

Hard work has made it easy. That is my secret. That is why I win.

— Nadia Comaneci

nadia_comaneci

The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.

— Vince Lombardi

You aren’t going to find anybody that’s going to be successful without making a sacrifice and without perseverance.

— Lou Holtz

Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them.

— Ann Landers

The biggest trick in life is finishing what you start, and the number one ingredient is the will power to do the hard work, the unexpected work, without hesitation.

— Bob Sakalas

There is no substitute for hard work.

— Thomas Edison

colin-powell-flag

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.

— Colin Powell

Would you rather suffer the pain of hard work or the pain of regret? If you are optimistic, I think the answer is clear.

I.M. Optimism Man

May 022015
 

Here’s a short thought to consider:

Alexander the Great was tutored by Aristotle from the time he was 13 until he was 16 (yes, that is an education in 4 short years). He then conquered and assembled one of the greatest empires – ever – before he died at the ripe old age of 32 in Babylon. His military tactics are still taught today. That was a heck of a 16 year run.

Alexander-the-Great

Read the wikipedia on Alexander the Great — its worth the 10 minute investment of time.

alexander-empire-map

So my question is simple… what should you be able to conquer this year? What should you conquer in the next 16 years?

I believe we are preconditioned to not get much done in a hurry because most people don’t. We have a lot of upside. We must change our internal expectations of excellence, pace, milestones, and goals.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. Here is an interesting quote to think about from a man who clearly knew a thing or two about leadership. I wonder if we don’t focus on leadership enough. I wonder (out-loud here (I don’t know the answer, yet)) if companies with five star leaders tend to outperform the S&P 500.

quote-Alexander-the-Great-i-am-not-afraid

 

Apr 122015
 

A lot of people believe leadership comes from position in an organization. Because so many believe it, position does matter, but only to a certain point.

I believe true leadership comes from a state-of-mind that looks for innovative solutions to problems, combined with credibility that is earned through competence, integrity, vision, decisiveness, and the ability to communicate effectively.

While a lot of things must come together to create the magic of “earned” leadership, two of the most important are initiative and clarity. Consider these two quotes:

 

Initiative is a great differentiator between a leader and a follower. Keep a log of new things that you initiate. Log initiative that you see taken by others in your network. Pale ink will open your eyes and help you see how rare initiative is, and highlight the opportunity you have to lead.

— Bob Sakalas

Colin Powell

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.

— Colin Powell

Do you want to lead and grow as a leader?

Don’t wait until someone “appoints you” as a leader. Start today by taking some initiative and communicate your vision clearly and concisely. Then, evaluate your effectiveness. Does your initiative cause change? Keep a log and study what happens. Everything takes practice yet so few actually practice, especially in the workplace. Writing it down will keep you honest with yourself, keep your momentum, and help you learn and improve.

I.M. OptimismMan

Mar 302015
 

There have been a lot of articles and books written about applying big business success formulas — like branding for example — to a person’s personal career. Maybe there’s some truth to it.  After all, the companies that differentiate themselves, the companies that stand for a clear ideal (want a safe car, buy a Volvo…) tend to survive and flourish.

I have started to think about this idea in a different light: What is an individual person’s lasting, sustainable competitive advantage?  Companies, after all, try hard to find an edge that would help them take marketshare from their closest competitors.

I think I know the answer.

First, consider this quote from management hall of famer, Jack Welch:

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.

Change-today

I would like to transform this statement into my own:

An individual’s willingness and desire to question everything, to seek knowledge, to synergize it with current challenges, to gain insights, to learn lessons without always enduring the scars of experience — and then — to proactively change his or her approach, to experiment with optimism, to dare to fail, to strive for the new and the great, is the only possible competitive advantage a person has.

Fortune is on the side of the optimist: 98% of people do not like to change, fear change, or at a minimum, avoid change.

Therein is the gold plated opportunity, available to the optimistic few.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. I was thinking about personal differentiation a few years ago — this article is well worth reading. Combine these thoughts of proactive learning, embracing change, and living with integrity, and you are sure to go places.

Mar 152015
 

Can you think differently? Really creatively? Can you ask “why am I doing things this way?” or “why am I doing this at all?” at a truly atomic level?

In many things — business, school, life — we seem stuck on rails, unable to stop doing things the way we have done them, the way they have been done for prior decades — even if we have many proof points that question whether we are on the right track.

One of my most obvious examples is managing public companies for results every 90 days. The “quarterly results squeeze” invariably results in a whole host of problems, including net margin compression, motivation destruction, loss of quality employees, loss of quality in general, investing only for the short-term, and all kinds of foolish wasted time and energy. Yet, almost every public company continues the sad practice unabated. It hits the company that is struggling hardest of all, which helps many good firms auger into the dirt, unable to pull up from the dive.

This TED video is a great test to see if you are able to think differently on a large scale. I believe Ricardo is a wise luminary who tests most people’s ability to take a leap of faith. I’m sure others will see Ricardo as flat out crazy.

ricardo-semler

I think his ideas, ideas that have actually been tested in his company and in education, should be considered, given the dismal results many of our current paradigms in business and education are delivering.

Most importantly, all of us have opportunities to do things differently, to question everything in our own personal sphere of influence. What is a topic in your like that you should ask “why” three times in a row on, and what can you try to do better, to do differently?

Please watch the video, and then decide — are you able to truly think differently, or are you cemented in the status quo? You are not on rails — you can, if you believe that you can. Choice is all powerful.

I.M. Optimism Man

Mar 142015
 

It is way too easy to let other people think — and make conclusions — for you. We are often quick to accept myths, and propagate them to others, as though they were God-given.

Myths are all around us.

We only use a small percentage of our brain. Not true.

Men and women are dramatically different. Not so much. In truth, the differences are actually statistically small when it comes to language ability, spatial reasoning, and many other factors, with a large percentage of women outperforming the average man on all factors except for physical strength (and vice versa on the factors where the average woman outpaces the average man).

Left handed people are more creative. Nope. Visual learners vs auditory learners. Everyone has a major lean one direction or the other, right? No, not right. Mozart makes you smarter. All this is myth because differences that are measured and detected are negligible in scale and biased by the test itself.

Flying isn’t safe. Actually, it is crazy safe. Crashing is not safe — ok, that one is true. Filtering your water or drinking bottled water will make a positive impact on your health. Doubt it, given the water quality in most American cities. Now, if you drink more water because you focus on your water, that’s a different discussion. Location matters: If you are in Africa, water quality takes on a whole new level of concern — filters matter. Vitamins will give you more energy. Unfortunately, not supported by any proof.  Aroma oils, or the SleepNumber bed, will help you sleep.  Only if you believe it, and your belief is what matters, not the pricey bed, oils, and atomizers.

Want another 1,000 myths busted? Watch Mythbusters — I love a show that questions prevailing wisdom.

mythbusters-poster

Unfortunately, few humans do their own research. The wisdom of crowds is perhaps, not so wise. Google makes it easier than ever to try to dig one or two layers deeper — but of course, you have to question the motives and perspective of the articles you find as well.

My point is simple. When you hear a “fact” spoken with great authority, it is wise to question it. I have found that perhaps as many as 1/2 of these facts are tainted, or the differences exaggerated so much so that making decisions based on them is foolish. I realize that I often don’t get to the truth, but thinking it through, the process itself, is always helpful in the end.

One of the “facts” I strongly disagree with is that a person “can’t beat the stock market averages” so therefore, go ahead and invest in mutual funds, invest with (expensive) professional investment counselors and brokerages, and invest in ETFs. The implication is that you should simply strive to be average. The people that push this one make their living by selling their services to you.

normal-distrubution-bellcurve

Stock investing returns, and almost everything in life, follows a normal distribution, a bell curve.

If you find your own way to stay above the average even by a few percentage points, your returns over 20 or 30 years will greatly outpace a person that is dead-on average, or a few points below. I believe that is possible by just paying better attention and following some principles in your approach.

The funny part of the myth is that if most people believe they can’t beat the markets, that actually improves the odds for people that believe that they can.

Investing is but one example. Questioning everything opens up new possibilities and new understanding. It is well worth adopting on every aspect of your life.

Life offers great possibilities to be an outlier if you believe you can be an outlier. But that’s a future post.

Cheers,

I.M. Optimism Man

Mar 042015
 

When given a challenge, we usually forget to sharpen the axe.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

– Abe Lincoln

Are you a student? If you answered no, I believe you have the wrong perspective. Our world is changing ever faster, and I believe you must be a student all the days of your life. Jim Rohn agreed:

Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.

Learning is the beginning of wealth. Learning is the beginning of health. Learning is the beginning of spirituality. Searching and learning is where the miracle process all begins.

sharpen the axe

The axe that I want to help you sharpen is your memory, and not by just a bit. I want to double or triple your ability to remember whatever it is that you want to remember, in a tenth of the time that it might take you now.

How? Learn (and practice (everything takes practice)) a proven technique from the ancient Greeks that has mostly been forgotten in the age of wikipedia. To start, please take less than an hour and watch these three videos, without distractions, without texting your friends, without checking your instagram, facebook, or e-mail. If you are not familiar with the “Do Not Disturb” setting on your iPhone, it is found under Settings / it is the 7th item down from the top on iOS 8.x.

Why invest your time? How much better would your life be if you could look at something just once and then remember it?  How much time would you save?  How much better would your social fabric be, if you remembered every person’s name when you met them, and the names of their spouse and kids too! What if you unfailing remembered the sports that the kids play and the schools that they go to, where the parents work, what they do, and what they are focused upon the last time few times that you spoke to them?

Why three videos? Because this is a new concept to most of us — and three times from three perspectives helps one learn and understand, when you are a newbee.

Video 1 — Joshua Foer

Joshua-Foer-Feats-of-Memory-Anyone-Can-Do

Video 2 — Idriz Zogaj

IZ-mem

Video 3 — Daniel Kilov

daniel-mem3

Sharpen your axe and chopping down trees becomes a heck of a lot easier.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. I just bought the Kindle version of Dominic O’Brien’s book. I’ll give you an update in a few months. I’m on my way!

Feb 182015
 

Pessimists often think that there is little opportunity to succeed in this world, but I, and all true optimists, see millions of opportunities everywhere.  The real trick is to pick one and focus on it until you finish what you started.

Here is a great example, and one that should be of interest, given that sooner or later, most of us wind up visiting a hospital:

nicolai

Go find a problem to solve. This young man did.

I.M. Optimisman