Sep 252014
 

For more than 100 years, the population of developed countries has coalesced and formed sprawling metropolises, as cities offered ever greater opportunity to excel and succeed. One of the prices paid for the density of humanity is the gridlock of traffic that is the bane of any thriving metro today.

rushhour

I question everything, study everything, and observe how people react to situations. Traffic seems to be a nearly universal challenge that brings out the worst in most people. Traffic, so mysterious, so out of our own control, leads even the best of us to complain. I now believe that there is an invaluable lesson to be learned while you sit in daily traffic, yet exceedingly few manage to learn it.

Bear with me for a second while I make a pretty big leap: This lesson can be traced to the extreme hardships vividly documented by Viktor Frankl.

Viktor Frankl’s mother, father, wife, and brother all died in Nazi concentration camps. Viktor endured hunger, cold, and brutality in Auschwitz and Dachau. He knew that he would probably be killed any day. He lost all his belongings, including his life’s work, which was a scientific manuscript that had taken extraordinary time and care to create.

viktor-frankl

Frankl’s situation was dire. He could have easily given up all hope – most people in fact did. But Frankl emerged from the tortures an optimist by cultivating an empowering idea: he reasoned that even in the worst of situations, a person has the freedom to choose 1) how they perceive the circumstances and 2) to create their own meaning from them. Gordon Allport notes in the preface to the third edition of Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” classic, this is what the ancient Stoics called the ‘last freedom’. The evil of torture is not so much physical, but the active attempt to extinguish it is dibilatating. A favorite quote of Frankl’s was Nietzsche’s “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”

Fast forwarding to Los Angeles, Houston, NYC, Dallas, Portland, or Chicago, the minor torture one endures daily is traffic. It infuriates, it shreds our positive attitude, it becomes a great source of complaints, and there is no escape or relief. It is clearly far less daunting than Viktor faced, but traffic is a modern, incessant torture just the same.

The lesson to be learned and appreciated is similar. In concentration camps, Frankl learned that, even though captive, he had the freedom to either let his circumstances infect and corrode his attitude or he had the freedom to choose his attitude and make the best of it. The lesson of traffic is the same: you can either let it get to you, or you can choose to enjoy the day, traffic be damned.

Consider these quotes for a minute:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

— Viktor Frankl

The truth is that stress doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about these circumstances.

— Andrew Bernstein

Nothing gives one person so much an advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.

— Thomas Jefferson

Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Complaints, either voiced out loud or simply thought out inside your own head, are a mental cancer that ruins your day. Decide to have a great day, no matter what happens, and you will have your great day as your reward.

— Bob Sakalas

This masters-level life lesson is universal. You often cannot choose your circumstances but you can choose your attitude. This applies universally to almost any situation you can’t control. If you are a student, you can’t control that teacher who doesn’t do it your way. If you are a parent, your teen will argue to the point of no return. You may have coworkers that drive you crazy day in and day out. There is no finite list of circumstances as Bernstein pointed out above.

Recently, I unwittingly started complaining — mostly inside my own thoughts — about how much back-to-back business travel I had to endure in the last few months. Although I didn’t voice it often, it was on my mind and my internal complaints began to corrode my attitude, which has a domino effect on everything like productivity, effectiveness, clear thought, focus, peace, optimism, and gratitude. This week, I finally realized the downward spiral I had inadvertently decided to put myself on. I have the freedom to ‘whistle a happy tune’ as I board flight 255 or let the circumstances infect me. Only the former helps things turn out for the best.

Tomorrow morning, I will sit in traffic, thankful for the opportunity to catch up on my stock market awareness while I listen to CNBC. I have seen the light. I hope that you do to.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. FYI, I did in fact whistle the tune to the Andy Griffith show as I boarded a 737 this week.

Sep 162014
 

Warren Buffett is a smart guy. In my book, it is more important to have great common sense than it is to just be I.Q. rocket-science smart. Mr. Buffett is both – he clearly stood in line several times as God was dealing out common sense before he was born.

warren-buffett-hi-res

As many of you know, I am a long-term investor and I have read Warren’s shareholder letters with great interest for years. I don’t agree with Warren on every front (mostly politics) but he does author a lot of great, common-sense quotes worth thinking through.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.
    ~
  2. Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.
    ~
  3. Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.
    ~
  4. It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.
    ~
  5. It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.
    ~
  6. In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.
    ~
  7. You only have to do a very few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong.
    ~
  8. The business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective.
    ~
  9. Wide diversification is only required when investors do not understand what they are doing.
    ~
  10. It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price.
    ~
  11. Look at market fluctuations as your friend rather than your enemy; profit from folly rather than participate in it.
    ~
  12. We believe that according the name ‘investors’ to institutions that trade actively is like calling someone who repeatedly engages in one-night stands a ‘romantic.’
    ~
  13. If a business does well, the stock eventually follows.
    ~
  14. You’d get very rich if you thought of yourself as having a card with only twenty punches in a lifetime, and every financial decision used up one punch. You’d resist the temptation to dabble. You’d make more good decisions and you’d make more big decisions.
    ~
  15. Generally speaking, investing in yourself is the best thing you can do. Anything that improves your own talents; nobody can tax it or take it away from you. They can run up huge deficits and the dollar can become worth far less. You can have all kinds of things happen. But if you’ve got talent yourself, and you’ve maximized your talent, you’ve got a tremendous asset that can return ten-fold.
    ~
  16. You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you.
    ~
  17. The trick is, when there is nothing to do, do nothing.
    ~
  18. No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.
    ~
  19. Money will not change how healthy you are or how many people love you.
    ~
  20. Never lie under any circumstances.
    ~

neverbetagainst

There’s a lot of wisdom, and great reason for optimism, in less than 500 words.

I.M. Optimism Man

Aug 252014
 

A lot of people think that I’m a true “morning person” but unfortunately, that is not the case. Being a morning person implies that you jump out of bed, fully awake and ready to go, naturally, almost magically. Maybe some people are that fortunate but I’m not one of them. I burn the candle at both ends far too often, working hard and working out, daily. Jumping out of bed is not in the cards for me — my wife can attest that watching me get up is akin to a time-lapse photography sequence.

Yet, I decided years ago to transform myself into a morning person of sorts. What I really am is a rhythm and habits person, who believes in will power and forethought.

Just because I’m up at 5 am daily does not mean that it is easy. In fact, this graphic sums up mornings perfectly, from my perspective:

not-a-morning-person

After years of experimentation and observation, I believe that getting a good, early start in the morning produces killer benefits for the rest of the day.

A good start must be defined, because I believe it is not plunging headlong into the rat race sooner than most everyone else.

  • A good start involves reading a bit to kickstart fresh ideas.
  • It definitely includes pre-planning your day and your top “big rock” priority.
  • A good start must include forward thinking, as well as a bit of reflection.
  • It also should include comprehensive stretching, which works wonders physically.
  • If you are a believer, saying a short prayer or two helps orient yourself to your higher calling.
  • Finally, when the weather cooperates, it also includes stopping, watching, and appreciating the sun rise.

It takes 6 – 12 weeks to build or break a habit. But once you get past the habit barrier, I believe that there are great benefits to the choice of becoming a “morning person” — at least my kind of coffee-sparked morning person. The 10 reasons to become a morning person include:

1. Peace
When you get up early, you find moments of peace and solitude in an otherwise crowded, busy, loud-as-heck, full-of-distractions world. Peace and solitude is great for the soul. I’m not exactly meditating on my patio, but I get it.

2. Reflection
Early mornings are great for reflection, especially as you move to cup of coffee #2. One of the things I started a few years ago is keeping a smartphone based journal. I find, in the peace of the early morn, reading over my recent entries helps generate more ideas.

3. Self-Determination
You an either set your own priorities or others will set them for you. Early mornings give you time to think about whats important to you. It helps fight the urgency conspiracy driven by other people. Get up early to find the time to set your own agenda, your own priorities.

4. Magic
The sunrise is in fact magical. Try it for one week. Then, tell me I’m wrong.

5. Avoiding Some Stress
If you have to go somewhere, you will avoid 90% of the stress of traffic, while saving a lot of time as well. Most cities are busy but not jammed before 7 am. If you go in early, you will avoid that stress that every 8 am commuter feels.

dawn-runner

6. Sharpness
If you get up early and go for a workout, your mind and body are running at full speed by the time others start arriving, sleepy and groggy. Being the sharpest person in the room is a fantastic feeling and it doesn’t hurt your chances of accelerated promotion.

7. Balance
By getting up early, you get more balance in your life. When you take time to plan your day, you tend to be more thoughtful about it, which in turn leads to prioritizing your tasks and plans, both at work and in other pursuits.

8. Special Projects
When you finally forge yourself into a morning person, you will find that you have the capability of getting special project started and completed. I wrote my book, Seizing Share, using the early morning system. Interruptions don’t wake up and start interrupting until 7:30 or 8 am.

9. Improved Optimism
The more mornings you enjoy with a good start, the more often you will have the right, positive attitude all day. Optimism is a crucial ingredient toward success, so with improved optimism, you will often see more success. It becomes a self-sustaining upward spiral.

10. Better Sleep
A lot of people struggle to fall asleep. However, if you get up early, you are more worn by the time bedtime arrives. As a result, you fall asleep quickly and sleep more soundly all night. Our bodies like rhythms. The trick is to keep to the schedule. Once you have a great schedule, you will find that you sleep better, feel more fit, and ultimately become healthier too.

Consider becoming a morning person. I’m living proof that it can be done, even if you are a night owl today.

I.M. Optimism Man

Jun 242014
 

Regret is often the product of not taking a chance, not embracing an opportunity, when we had it. While people offer a lot of excuses for why they missed out as they express regrets, the underlying truth is most often a failure of courage. If you are not making mistakes, it is a clear indicator that you are not trying enough new things. But it takes courage to try anything new, to embark on any new exciting journey, to try a road less traveled by the rest of the human herd.

The hardest step is always the first — getting started comes before getting motivated — and getting started takes courage.

Nothing gets in people’s way more often than fears, and fears are usually quite silly once one looks back on them and sees them for what they really are. It is often more than just the fear of failure that prevents people from trying the new. Others have fear of success, for with success comes far greater responsibility. Others yet fear change or the unknown, simply because they assume the the unknown is worse than where they are today. Small minded people fear people that are not like them, or people that think differently than them. In every case, those who decide to risk in the face of small fears or large fears, expand their lives and their horizons. This is courage and like every key to success, courage can be learned, courage can be practiced, courage can be expanded through experiences.

skydiving

This is not to say that all fear is bad. Fear is what drives prudent decision-making, in other words balancing the chance of success versus the chance of failure. But those without courage allow themselves to become paralyzed. Fear prevents so many things that are good. A person with a fear of rejection doesn’t stick their hand out and introduce themselves to new people. Similar fears convince people to not try out for the team, to not run for class president, to not put in for that promotion, to not decide to have kids, to not be all they can be. In each of these cases, the upside potential usually outweighs the downside risk but those who have not developed the courage to take risks, shrink away from opportunities.

All the great leaders of the last century have observed the extraordinary importance of courage. Winston Churchill, perhaps the greatest leader during world war two, proclaimed “Courage is the first of the human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all the others.” He is right. I have often written about the crucial importance of integrity. Is it possible to be a person of integrity if you do not have the courage to stand up for what you believe is right? Is it possible to have extraordinary character if you don’t have the courage to stand up to peer pressure? Your faith will be tested, as will your sense of duty. Even your purpose will be questioned and you will have to have to courage to swim against the ever-changing winds of “popular” thinking.

Courage takes practice. One doesn’t typically have the courage to speak in front of an audience of thousands if they have never spoken in front of an audience of five, then ten, then thirty. One doesn’t step onto a basketball court and hit two game winning free-throws unless they have played thousands of games first. The trick is to take every small opportunity you can, at least every one that makes prudent sense along the road of life, so that when the time comes, you have the experience and the courage to give it your best shot.

speaking-well

Fear is often driven by perceived risk, not necessarily actual risk. Irrational fear is driven by an irrational perception of risk and it leads to paralysis or irrational failure. Healthy fear — lets call it apprehension — is healthy, because it is driven by an accurate assessment of risk. It does not immobilize us, but helps us make good decisions when it is critical that we must. A great example is a person trapped atop a burning building. While most of us have a fear of heights, the prudent and courageous person can evaluate the situation, and decide that sliding down a wire over the yawning abyss is less risky than staying put on top of the inferno.

Courage therefore is not lack of fear but rather mastery of fear and risk. Mastery of fear and risk starts with doing your research, your homework, evaluating your situation. Preparation helps an extraordinary amount, yet many people are lazy and do not prepare. Using my example of speaking in front of a large crowd, it is far easier to master your fear and succeed if you have developed great material, written down a crisp opening, made some backup notes to keep in your pockets, and practiced your speech once or twice. Courage is bolstered through preparation.

Preparation may not put you completely over the top, but it makes that last bit of courage far easier to muster. Courage allows a person to become decisive, to grab opportunities that others do not, to take chances when the odds are good.

Take every prudent risk, face the world with courage, and your world will be a far bigger place, with far more expansive horizons, with plentiful opportunities. Don’t listen to your peers for you must realize that smart, courageous people are rare – most everyone you will know will have far more limited horizons than you.

The world can be your oyster if you embrace it. Envision yourself courageous. Take smart risks. Embrace opportunities with little hesitation. Most importantly, realize that courage requires practice.

Here is a quote I love:

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

Embrace opportunities. Life is better when you have the courage to live life large, with few regrets.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. Watch Jim Carrey in Yes Man once a year.

yes_man

May 042014
 

America is a society built on impatience. And impatience can sometimes – only rarely – be somewhat of a virtue. People with ambition are impatient for progress and it helps a fortunate few. America’s impatience has helped it become the only true superpower.

jenny-mccarthyHowever, there is a dark side of impatience, and many Americans seem to not to see it. Get rich quick schemes are everywhere – yet don’t really work. Lose weight in six weeks or less, without much effort, magazines proclaim – this doesn’t work either. Jump from one career to another – or one spouse to another – until you find what you want – well, that doesn’t work either. There is proof everywhere that impatience is not the road to true success.

Yet, people, silly people, want to believe there are effective shortcuts when in fact, there are none.

Our society’s Achilles heel may in fact be lack of patience. Wall Street is a perfect example, where titan companies lose billions of dollars of market cap valuation because they missed a quarterly earnings announcement by 1% versus analyst expectations. Yet these same analysts are often just guessing when they create those expectations. As a result, executives make damaging decisions to “fix” quarterly results, like dramatically discounting deals to customers when discounts were not needed, training customers to wait for fire sales when there really is no fire. Yet, if these same executives owned their own corporation privately and did not report to the whims of the investment crowd, none would act so impatiently and irresponsibly.

You can see it everywhere. Kids in high school are suddenly taking steroids to become stronger and faster atheletes quickly, even though the science clearly shows that there are dire health implications. People go on diets eating nothing but protein and fat that damage their health, in part because they have poor will power, but primarily because they lack patience to lose the weight at a healthy rate. It is a crazy crazy world and impatience’s dark side is very real.

patience-thomas-edison

A wise person is one that exhibits patience when patience is the right thing needed. There are few shortcuts to becoming a nuerosurgeon or for that matter a great salesperson. It takes lots of time, and experience, and learning, and patience.

The more patience you have, the more likely you are to succeed instead of giving up. Time, patience, and a little water carved the extraordinary Grand Canyon. If you decide to accomplish great things, these too will take steadiness on purpose and more patience than most can muster.

There is an interesting phenomenon in regards to patience. Careers that take the most time to train – neurosurgeon for one – are usually great longterm careers without a glut of people in the field. The reason is lack of patience. Few have the patience to study for eight more years after graduating from high school even though, if they had, it would set them up financially for life. Patience and sacrifice are closely related.

The good news is that there is great opportunity for the patient when you live in a land of the impatient. Zag when the others zig. Choose to be extraordinary. Combine initiative and creativity with patience, sacrifice, and resolve. It will yield extraordinary success.

I.M. Optimism Man

Apr 152014
 

No one ever succeeded because of how many projects they started but abandoned unfinished. While getting started is required, in truth, finishing is the thing that matters most.

In this day of exponential networking and explosive knowledge-sharing growth, ideas multiply like rabbits. It is all too easy to start a new website, form a new business, create a new venture, and become available to much of the planet. But for all the ease of the start, finishing is as difficult as it has always been. It is also important to recognize that in many ventures, there is a long series of finish lines, not just one. Version one rarely takes the world by storm.

If you want to change your trajectory, action is required. Doing nothing accomplishes nothing. Nothing great happens without optimism, decisive action, tenacity, and patience. The last two, tenacity and patience, are what it takes to finish. Finishing is the only thing that matters in the long run.

airplane-restoration

Before you start something new, I suggest weighing all your options. Plan well, which means creating not only Plan A but Plan B and C to. Plan with great detail. The value of planning is not that every step will go according to plan — it will not — but rather that you think things through with great detail and logic, and commit those plans to paper. A plan gives you a skeleton to solicit the feedback of others as well.

If you are having trouble with creating a great plan, try this trick — plan the project backwards. Start with the end in mind — the “what” you will accomplish. Then clearly write down “why” you want it. The “why” gives goals life, and fuels tenacity. Then, working backwards, discern all the detailed first downs (the “how”) that you must accomplish to get to that end-point. I personally prefer outliner tools to do this, but index cards and post it notes also work well. I believe pale ink on paper is magical.

It will not be as easy as you think it will be, but don’t let that stop you. Start less, but when you start, you must have the zealot drive to finish.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS> Getting Started comes before Getting Motivated

PSS> Finally, on the occasion when you do not finish what you started, be sure and capture as much learning as possible. That is the only take away you will have — don’t waste it. Once again, pale ink matters. Keep journals of ideas and lessons learned, and review your journals at least one weekend per year.

ideas-in-journals

Mar 192014
 

We have an efficient society, but far from a perfect one. People like to think the the cream always rises to the top, makes the big bucks, deserves all the respect and accolades. Meritocracy theory rules the day.

The truth is that we do live in a time of extraordinary opportunity. The market for talent, ideas, and creativity does give some people a change to become overnight successes in just 5 – 10 short years. But, there are also many other factors in play. If you ask a few questions at the right time, most entrepreneurial success stories that I hear always have one or more “…and then I got a lucky break…” moments in them. When you dig deeply, you tend to find other moments of extraordinary support from a third party, whether financial, resource, or connections. I have yet to find a person who really went from no where to the top of the world without some good fortune and a bit of assistance along the way.

Meritocracy is good, but if you are wise, you must also clearly see and understand the issues that surround it. The dark side of the coin is that it gives rise to a certain snobbery, a lot of jealousy, and tremendous frustration for those who make the wrong decision when faced with a crucial crossroads moment.

Here is a great little video that delves into the idea of meritocracy and whether it is truly possible. Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success:

alain_800x600

With all thy getting, get understanding.

I.M. Optimism Man

Feb 212014
 

Belief is always more than half the battle. During these Winter Olympics, no moment proved this point more clearly than USA’s T.J. Oshie versus Russia, in the overtime shootout.

Click on the video below. Here is how T.J. Oshie built his mental momentum, long before stepping onto the Olympic ice in Sochi.

tj-oshie-sochi

 

Optimism alone doesn’t bring you a gold medal. Goals, hard work, practice, determination, talent, family support and more — all matter too. But, without belief, you will not get there. Believe you can, and you can.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Jan 182014
 

Life deals the cards.

We get different hands to play every week, if not every day. One hand might be great — maybe at work, you get a full house with aces over kings, while another one of your hands might be a pair of threes at home, while your relationship with your teenager might be queen high and nothing else.

You rarely can influence the hand that you are dealt this week. But how you play your hand is up to you and matters a lot.

Probability = 0.000154% (by the way)

Probability = 0.000154% (by the way)

Too many people slack off. To come out on top, you must play each hand that is dealt to the best of your ability. Approach each situation — strong hand or weak hand — with belief, with tenacity, with will power, and with a positive attitude. You have to be willing to do the work, day in and day out. Attitude matters. Excellence is never about one day.

The only true formula for success is enthusiasm, focus, discipline, and hard work, no matter the pursuit. There is no substitute for giving your all.

This is a great rule to live by: Play the hand you are dealt to the best of your ability.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS> Another great rule: don’t wear rose-colored sunglasses — understand your odds of success and take (more) risks accordingly. But never, ever try something without enthusiasm or you have sealed your fate.

Jan 072014
 

You must believe you can, if you want to accomplish great things. Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you will be proved right. Pessimists and realists always sell themselves short.

In my first post of a series that hopes to prove this point, watch this memorable video from the 2008 Olympics:

4x100 Mens Gold 2008

Choose to believe. Choose to be an optimist. It is the only path to greatness.

I.M. Optimism Man

Dec 092013
 

I listen to so many talking heads, all talking incessantly on talk shows on talk channels, news channels, satellite radios, and streaming internet feeds. Everybody sounds smart.

stern

Here is a point to ponder:

All of us are smart enough to know there are problems. Most of us are smart enough to point out specific problems in an eloquent way. Some of us are smart enough to ask the right questions to understand the true, underlying causes of a problem better. Few — very few — of us are smart enough to ask the right questions, at the right time, in the right way, so that the people who are in the position to act come to the right, logical conclusion, fueled with the motivation to move forward and solve the true problem.

McKinsey & Co is well regarded as the smartest guys in the room when it comes to business strategy consulting. McKinsey teams often propose “brilliant” solutions that can’t be, or are not, implemented, given a company’s situation, personnel, and organizational culture.

It is only brilliant when the smart solution makes it to the finish line and helps as designed.

Smart guys, like the bright stars at McKinsey hired from the best Ivy League schools, often don’t get the essence of the lesson. Solutions that get implemented are worth much more than solutions proposed but abandoned. It often comes down to asking the right questions, not telling people the solution to their problem.

Think for just a minute about the federal government in DC. Is anyone asking the right questions or is everyone, on both sides, simply trumpeting their “we should do this and we should do that” messages?

I.M. Optimism Man

Nov 252013
 

Jim Rohn is one of my favorites. His philosophies and mine are most often in harmony.

In my opinion, Jim is the perfect guy to listen to when you decide a three day retreat to some lonely, beautiful mountain top cabin would do you a lot of good. Mr. Rohn was not the most succinct, but his message was absolutely outstanding. Here are my choices for a Jim Rohn Top Ten Quotes of all time.

jim-rohn

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.

I would argue that discipline and execution are where most of us fail. We all have ideas. Few ideas are ever converted into written goals, a failure of discipline right out of the gate. Those written goals then need to be distilled into written missions with due dates, missions are distilled into projects (with due dates), and projects into readily achievable tasks (with due dates). Tasks need to be managed on the calendar, and discipline is needed every step of the way.  That is execution.

We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.

I would rather suffer the pain of discipline. Let’s take staying in shape as one small example. Staying in shape takes a discipline of eating well and keeping a fitness routine. Yes, there is pain to get up a bit early and fight the bitter wind to get to the gym. But would you rather lose your mobility at 70, and spend your golden years stuck in a senior center? I’d bet the pain of regret is worse than the pain of fitness.

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

Never stop learning. Too many folks stop learning after school. Yet, all the people that knock it out of the park have three things in common:

  • they have the discipline to set written goals and plans while driving toward accomplishment,
  • they prefer to suffer the pain of discipline over the pain of regret, and
  • they embrace learning new things, seeking out knowledge at every life’s turn.

If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.

Prudent risks must be taken. This one element stops 99% of people on this planet. Choose to be one of the one percent.

Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don’t fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.

If you are not making mistakes, you are not taking risks. All progress involves failing forward, never giving up while taking chances. The US Marines teach the idea of adapt and overcome, and they are dead-on right. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.

People think they can’t change. Change involves a decision made in a millisecond. If you don’t believe you are shackled, you are not.

Character isn’t something you were born with and can’t change, like your fingerprints. It’s something you weren’t born with and must take responsibility for forming.

Becoming a remarkable person is your responsibility and your duty. Read my previous article here.

You don’t get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour.

Few people understand this simple economic truth. I would add that supply and demand of your value-added abilities matters too, because the marketplace is quite efficient. But, in the end, find a way to offer more value than most others, improve yourself in valuable ways, and you will make a lot more income in the end. Financial success is not a mystery.

Make measurable progress in reasonable time.

Too often a week goes by, and I don’t make a first down that matters. Sometimes a month goes by. Sometimes a year… Keep a log, keep a diary. Measurement requires pale ink to stay honest with yourself. Make sure that you are making meaningful, measurable progress. No one will worry too much about your lack of progress except for you.

And my all time favorite Jim Rohn quote:

Let others lead small lives, but not you.
Let others argue over small things, but not you.
Let others cry over small hurts, but not you.
Let others leave their future in someone else’s hands, but not you.

Rest in peace, Mr. Rohn. Job well done.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. Taking a three day contemplation weekend — without T.V., without radio, without noise, without crowds —  is something we should all do, at least once every three years, but it is easier said than done.

mountain-cabin-in-winter

Nov 052013
 

I get many great ideas by reading quotes distilled by others. The beauty of quotes (and the people that search for them and give them to us for free) is that they often are the true essence of a big idea.

Jack is no saint, but he is a heck of a businessman. He is a top ten guy in the big business Hall of Fame. Here are ten great quotes from one of the most passionate and successful corporate leaders America has ever had:

  1. An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.
  2. Control your own destiny or someone else will.
  3. Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.
  4. Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that I can do. Because then they will act.
  5. Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.
  6. If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.
  7. You’ve got to eat while you dream. You’ve got to deliver on short-range commitments, while you develop a long-range strategy and vision and implement it. The success of doing both. Walking and chewing gum if you will. Getting it done in the short-range, and delivering a long-range plan, and executing on that.
  8. You measure your people and you take action on those that don’t measure up.
  9. The biggest cowards are managers who don’t let people know where they stand.
  10. The essence of competitiveness is liberated when we make people believe that what they think and do is important – and then get out of their way while they do it.

This brings me to another question – why does America never manage to elect a president with serious experience at running an complex enterprise with hundreds of thousands of employees? It seems that we should — someday soon — give it a try. Experience matters. But, that’s a topic for another day.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Oct 272013
 

Not everyone succeeds at what they attempt.

Invariably, people often make excuses for why things didn’t work out as well as they hoped. Some of the most commonly accepted excuses is that the other guy or girl had “more talent or a higher IQ.” Yet, the smartest geniuses on earth are rarely the most successful.

Here is a six minute food-for-thought video, especially if you are a parent and want your kids to have successful lives:

Now, how do you teach the lessons is an open ended question. Please write me if you find ideas that really work.

I.M. Optimism Man

Oct 142013
 

Continuous improvement is difficult but not impossible.

In almost every case, continuous improvement follows a formula of measurement, analysis, planning, practicing the new adjustments, implementation in real life situations, and then a return to measurement, as the cycle repeats. To achieve a long run of continuous improvement, coaches are always involved. Even the best of the best, dominant professionals such as Tiger Woods, Lebron James, or Lionel Messi, live within this never ending cycle of coaching.

We know this commonsensical truth in our role as parents. In today’s America, keen competition both in sports and in the classroom demands that many do whatever is needed to give their kids an edge. We hire many coaches for our kids. Our kids join “select” or “club” sports teams, primarily to learn the sport the right way, to get coached, so that they have a chance of success when they grow up to become high school and college level players. Other kids who are focused to excel academically are also coached, not only by teachers at school, but by after school tutors and academic tutoring enterprises. Many tutors specialize in coaching kids for entrance exams to competitive high schools and colleges.

Adults seek coaching as well when it comes to sports. Millions are spent on golf lessons and tennis sessions. The bottom line is when someone is looking for an edge, coaching is invariably involved.

But what about our careers? What happens at work?

If a critical path to your success is giving great stand-up presentations, does anyone, especially someone that is a true professional at presenting, give you hard biting feedback and demand that you incorporate the feedback next time out? Is your improvement measured and analyzed?

If you are a medical doctor, does anyone coach you on how to improve your bedside manner and really relate better to your patient?

If you are a corporate manager, does anyone watch how you interact with your key employees and give you great tips of how to improve, as a manager, to get better motivation and results?

If you are a preacher, do the churchgoers let you know if your message hit home, and will be remembered, this fine Sunday?

I find that the answer for most everyone answers “no” when asked about improvement and coaching in their career. Yet, the same career that is most critical to living a good live, educating one’s children, and retiring in comfort. At work, no one measures, no one analyzes, no one coaches, and no one is serious about making plans for improvement.

How do you get better if you get little to no feedback?

One path is to say “So what — I’m good at what I do.” That’s fine if you want to be within one standard deviation from the mean, but usually, becoming top 10% is needed, and the top 1% is where the serious money is made.

The truth is that you must become proactive, you must become creative, you must seek out ways to get valuable feedback and coaching. What gets measured gets improved. How can you measure how well you are doing? How can you get honest advice? What can you do to get continuous feedback?

You can become world-class at what you do. To get there, you must take initiative. Please send me an email and share what program you invented for yourself to become world-class at what matters most in your career.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Aug 302013
 

Here is a great, first-hand account from the founder of Cypress Semi. It was published in the Wall Street Journal. It is well worth reading.

I strongly encourage you to subscribe to the Journal. It is one of the few newspapers on earth that sees things clearly in its reporting, not going to the extremes we witness with most other news sources.

I.M. Optimism Man

T.J. Rodgers:

Targeting the Wealthy Kills Jobs

My investment in my company helps maintain 3,470 permanent positions. What’s not ‘fair’ about that?

By T.J. RODGERS

One of the signature themes of the Obama administration is that the American dream is under attack due to “income disparity.” The words divide the country into haves and have-nots, suggesting a national condition that needs to be corrected—presumably by “progressive” taxation as a mechanism for income redistribution. The American dream has traditionally been one of individual success that is rewarded and admired. But we are now urged to become a zero-sum society in which those achieving the American dream are envied and even resented.

The American dream is not politically affiliated. The last time it was alive and well was the period from Ronald Reagan’s second term in office through Bill Clinton’s second term in office. In those 16 years, we enjoyed continuous low taxes, low government spending and economic prosperity.

Since 2000, the economy has staggered under the record government spending and deficits of two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The result of that spending spree has been lower real wages and higher and more-persistent unemployment. The Federal Reserve has pushed interest rates to near-zero, and, for the first time ever in the U.S., that Depression-era medicine has not worked—a scary situation reminiscent of Japan’s decade-plus economic demise.

According to the latest 2012 IRS income-tax data, the top 1% of American taxpayers earned 20% of all income and paid 36% of all taxes. The top 5% earned 36% of all income and paid 58% of all taxes. Will even higher taxes help the economy? My experience in Silicon Valley tells me that high and so-called progressive taxes are a major cause of the country’s current economic problems, not the solution.

In Silicon Valley, the rich commonly reinvest their wealth close to home. For example, I have reinvested most of my net worth in 8.5% of the shares of my own company.

Since its 1982 founding, Cypress Semiconductor has been a net creator of jobs and wealth. We have returned $2.2 billion more to the economy through stock buybacks, share dividends and spinouts than we have taken out in total lifetime investments. That figure doesn’t count the $4 billion in wages the company has paid or the taxes paid on those wages. Currently, my investment helps maintain 3,479 permanent, high-paying jobs with good health-care benefits that are now threatened by more taxes.

A couple of years ago, I decided to invest in my hometown of Oshkosh, Wis., by building a $1.2 million lakefront restaurant. That restaurant now permanently employs 65 people at an investment of $18,000 per job, a figure consistent with U.S. small businesses. If progressive taxation in the name of “fairness” had taken my “extra” $1.2 million and spent it on a government stimulus program, would 65 jobs have been created?

According to recent Congressional Budget Office statistics on the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus program, each job created has cost between $500,000 and $4 million. Thus, my $1.2 million, taxed and respent on a government project of uncertain duration, would have created about one job, possibly two, and not the 65 sustainable jobs that my private investment did.

On the other end of the capital-intensity scale, Cypress Semiconductor required huge investments to create jobs in its chip-manufacturing plants. Between 1983 and 2003, those investments totaled $797 million and led to the creation of 4,033 jobs at an investment of $198,000 per job created. Thus, my own experience on the cost of job creation ranges from $18,000 to $198,000 per job, compared with $500,000 to $4 million per job created by the Obama stimulus program.

This data squares with the broad numbers showing that private investment is more efficient than government spending in creating jobs. In other words: Every dollar that is taxed away from private investment and spent by government produces fewer jobs than the jobs destroyed by the loss of private investment.

Yet the politics of envy, promoted most notably by President Obama himself, continuously stokes the idea that the wealthy are not paying their “fair share.” This injured sense of unjust rewards was summed up on a radio show I heard the other day, when a caller said of the rich: “How much more do they need?”

How much more do I need? How many more jobs do you want?

Even European socialist democracies are starting to understand that tax-and-spend policies kill jobs. For example, both Italy and Spain have repealed their incentive programs for solar energy (along with their “green jobs”) because the countries have calculated that for every job created by government investment in green energy, somewhere between 4.8 jobs (Italy) and 2.2 jobs (Spain) are lost because of the reciprocal cuts in private investment. I am aware of these figures because from 2002-11 I was a major investor in and chairman of SunPower, the world’s second-largest solar-energy company, also based in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley is today’s brightest example of the traditional American dream still at work. The investments for most startup companies must come from individuals who can wait 10 years to get a return on investment. Only very wealthy Americans can afford that.

Like many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, I have reinvested in the next generation of entrepreneurs, in my case via the Sequoia Fund and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, two venture-capital firms that gave me a shot at the American dream. I also serve as a board member of their portfolio companies.

Does anybody really believe that moving investment decisions from Silicon Valley to Washington by raising taxes on venture capitalists and their investors would make Silicon Valley more productive? Consider the Solyndra debacle: It was obvious to most of us here that the solar-energy company had zero chance of survival. That’s why the company had to be government-funded near the end; no real investors were willing to step up.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, President Obama insulted America’s entrepreneurs by telling them: “You didn’t build that.” Progressive taxation is just another tool used by government to take over an ever-larger part of the U.S. economy. The horrible irony is that the government keeps telling the very people whose jobs it destroys that if we only tax the rich more, everything will be better.

Mr. Rodgers is the founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor

Aug 072013
 

Stephen Covey was brilliant at summing up essential facts in such a way so that others not only understood them, but did something about them, incorporating them in their lives.

Happy couple embracing and laughing on the beach

Here is one of Covey’s memorable lists: Twelve Things Happy People Do Differently (paraphrased a bit)

1. Express Gratitude

When you appreciate what you have, what you have becomes more valuable to you. If you are not thankful for what you already have, you will have a difficult time ever being happy.

2. Cultivate Optimism

Optimists see their world as one of endless opportunities. Hope is crucial. It keeps you happy when times are challenging.

3. Avoid Social Comparison

Comparing yourself to someone else can be toxic for your own attitude. The only person you should compare yourself to, today, is to yourself, yesterday. Always strive to improve yourself.

4. Practice Acts of Kindness

When is the last time you were kind to someone else? If it is more than a few hours ago, you are missing a great way to improve your own happiness.

5. Nurture Social Relationships

Happy people have deep, meaningful relationships.

6. Develop Strategies for Coping

Murphy’s Law remains strong. Develop healthy strategies for coping with unexpected life changes.

7. Learn to Forgive

Harboring ill-will or feelings of hatred is horrible for your own well-being.

8. Increase Flow Experiences

Flow is the state when time stands still and you are in a zone. It happens through focus. Stop multi-tasking as much to get in the zone.

sunset

9. Savor Life’s Joys

Stop and smell the roses. Happiness cannot exist unless you slow down to enjoy. Rest and be thankful to be alive. Experience the joy in life.

10. Commit to your goals

Commitment and persistence leads to accomplishment. Magical things happen when we commit ourselves to accomplish goals that we set for ourselves.

11. Practice Spirituality

Recognition that life is bigger than ourselves happens when you practice spirituality. Surrender the idea that you represent the greatest life-form ever.

12. Take Care of your Body

Without good health, happiness falls apart. Good nutrition and exercise go hand-in-hand. It is important to be well-balanced and happy.

Thanks Dr. Covey for leaving a legacy.

I.M. Optimism Man

Jul 312013
 

Are you in a job that you love, a job that feels like it was made just for you, a job that makes getting up a joy?

You have the freedom to be in a job that feels that right. We are in America, the land of opportunity and freedom. But opportunities only come if you are willing to decide and then actively pursue what you want. Wishful thinking doesn’t get you far. Too many people decide to go day-in and day-out to work that they know is not a good fit for them.

I made an important crossroads of life decision a few weeks ago which explains why I haven’t posted in a few weeks. After working for more than six years on my own smartphone software startup, I decided to sell my shares and plunge back into the Fortune 500 corporate sales life, the area in which I thrived for more than 15 years.  I carefully considered and re-considered my professional experiences with various employers and realized that working in major account professional sales, selling complex, strategic, business-enabling technology is the arena that I love the most and truly was at my very best.

Once I had that fact in my mind’s eye, where to go work was easy — I have a great interest and love for business intelligence and data warehousing. I decided to return to Teradata, the undisputed leader in BIG data warehousing and analytics, used by many of the largest, most successful Fortune 500 companies worldwide. I had experienced an early version of Teradata back in 1992 − 1993 and really enjoyed it, but outside influences succeeded in recruiting me away.

This crossroad was a great experience. It is liberating to decide — 100% for yourself — what exactly you want to do next. Deciding for yourself lets you jump in with both feet, fully committed to what you are doing and why you are doing it. Too many people let outside influences sell them on their next job, without planning what they truly want for themselves. They fall into their next job, and then they feel locked in for years to come, wondering about other possible pursuits, wondering why they don’t feel fully committed, and struggling to be more optimistic about their future. I thought about this crossroads for several years, narrowed my focus over time, and ultimately decided what I wanted. It didn’t happen quickly, taking another 18 months to finally have the right opportunity pop up. Luckily, opportunities always pop up eventually for the person that knows what he or she wants and has the patience all good things require.

I would encourage all you of you think through what makes you happy and positive at the workplace. Ask yourself the lottery question — if I had my choice and money was not the (primary) objective, where would I be working and why do I want to work there? Once you are crystal clear on this one question, it becomes a straightforward effort to find that job and move forward, optimistic and happy without the feelings of drudgery that accompany 8 − 5 at the wrong company.

When you are passionate and optimistic about what you are doing, you become a top ten or even a top one percent professional. Such professionals tend to get more opportunities, get promoted, and ultimately do very well financially too.

Discern what you want and make that crossroad decision. To quote Yakov Smirnoff, “America, what a country!” But you have to make a choice and you have to take decisive steps, to take advantage of the freedoms America truly offers.

I.M. Optimism Man

Jun 292013
 

Greatness requires optimism.

A lot of self-appointed “smart” people spend a lot of our time discussing the terribly difficult issues of the day. Every time you turn on the television, some pundit is explaining how it will never work, or how a company will certainty fail, or how the market will crash. Pessimism is everywhere, often disguised under the banner of realism. Whenever a sentence starts with “It is not realistic to…” it is wise to listen with a cautious ear.

Why do people position themselves as realists? Because fear, uncertainty, and doubt “sell” — as the saying goes, good news doesn’t sell newspapers.

Few — if any — great achievements have come from pessimists. You have to be optimistic, you have to be an action-oriented believer, willing to take risks, to create anything truly great.

Need proof? Consider this example case:

 Could a pessimist / realist have created Disney World?

Case closed.

Will it be easy? Of course not. Here is what Walt Disney observed:

“You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.”

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

Decide to be an optimist and don’t think small. Optimism + decisive action + tenacity can lead to greatness if you are willing to set your sights high enough.

I.M. Optimism Man

May 062013
 

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
— Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo was spot on right when he made this observation.

Those of us that have made a great living with successful professional sales careers know that less is more: finding the one aspect that really matters to the prospect is priceless while pursuing a sale. If you find that one item, professionals don’t dilute it with a fog of other features, functions, and benefits that cloud the decision.

The problem is that simplicity is often difficult to distill. Finding a perfect, clear message that motivates people in just 7 – 10 words is what makes or breaks a pricey highway billboard campaign. There are lots of very expensive television commercials but few communicate as well as this one. Finding a perfect 90 second elevator pitch makes or breaks many budding entrepreneur as they pursue angel or venture cap funding. Finding the simple but powerful theme behind your product line that resonates is often the difference between success (what does BMW stand for?) or failure (what does Saab stand for?).

How can we apply this important concept to our daily lives? We are all selling something all the time, no matter if “it” is a product, a service, our company, our personal capabilities, our kids, or ourselves. The video segment below offers an important clue, an important change of thinking that can have big positive ramifications as to how you approach your messaging.

Simon Sinek has simplified how to sell, how to market, so that all of us can become far more effective. It comes down to focusing on why, first and foremost. Why is all powerful, yet 99% of companies, 99% of people start with what, then how, and finally and often optionally, why. Speeds, feeds, horsepower, megawatts, gigabytes, megahertz, and fiber-connect are not what blows people out of the water and gets them to join your side.

Think differently. Start with why. Think better.

I.M. Optimism Man