Sep 272011

Fortunate is the person who has developed the self-control to steer a straight course towards his objective in life, without being swayed from his purpose by either commendation or condemnation.
— Napoleon Hill

If you have decided to be a gung-ho optimist who takes decisive daily action, odds are very good that you will have a successful life’s journey. Along the way, you will encounter subversive critics who sow the seeds of pessimism, fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The pessimistic little statements are the mental version of viruses and bacteria. Most optimists eventually build up immunities against the condemnation: they learn to ignore people that say “you can’t” or “it will never work” and just take action and prove the critics wrong.

I believe that the other side of the coin, “commendation” from Napoleon Hill’s fantastic quote above, is a much more insidious virus. It invades many an optimist covertly, ultimately causing lots of problems. There is a fine-line between having confidence or being over-confident, having admirers or having associates that secretly want you to trip and fall. Compliments and flattery often go to peoples’ heads and they start to suffer from Big Head Syndrome or BHS.

A person with BHS is easy to spot — he or she starts at least half his or her sentences with “I” and loses perspective as to the team effort behind the scenes — one of the most famous BHS quotes/career-ending moves ever happened when Al Gore told America that he was the key player in the invention of the internet. (Yes, he mispoke, but you can’t watch this 90 second video and not realize that BHS is the virus that ended his political ambitions).

Today, anyone who earns quick promotions or wins accolades can get infected with BHS in a hurry. BHS sneaks up quietly and unexpectedly. After years of seeing yourself as a pretty successful professional, something clicks and you find yourself transformed, believing that you are God’s gift to your company and acting as arrogant as Maverick in Top Gun. The higher one rises in the org chart, the more money one makes, the more accolades one receives, the greater one’s span of management control, the more people solicit one’s advice, the more corporate dinners one attends at the imaginary head of the table, the more he or she is surrounded with yes-men and yes-women who pour on the commendation and flattery. Steering a straight course becomes very hard when you feel like Tom Cruise.

Staying humble, both publicly and in one’s heart, is incredibly important. If BHS infects you, painful lessons are surely coming in your future. Your team may begin to hope that you stumble, and they have the subtle power to help that happen. You may find yourself jumping at opportunities that are not a good fit for you, because you are overconfident. You might find yourself living for work and ignoring the family. You may start living a extravagant lifestyle as your subconscious tries to match your prideful inner vision. These self-destructive scenarios (and many more) are often the result of Big Head Syndrome.

Here are three quotes worth considering:

You can have everything in life you want,
if you will just help other people get what they want.

— Zig Ziglar

There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go
if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.

— Ronald Reagan

Humility is not thinking less of yourself,
it’s thinking of yourself less.

— Rick Warren

So what can you do to help inoculate yourself from the insidious commendation virus?

First, read and recommend it to at least three others each week 🙂

Then, search, find, and develop several sincere close friends that will
a) honestly tell you like it is,
b) stay optimistic “can do” people in the face of long odds, encouraging you when things look bleak, and
c) will make the time when you need help.

Many people I talk to often say they can’t find such friends. Don’t look for good friends, but rather look to be a good friend. Find moments to help people. Talking less and listening more is the key. You will be pleasantly surprised.

After you are fortunate enough to earn several core friends, don’t forget to ask for their advice, often. Take the time and energy to keep those valuable friendships alive and healthy.

If you stay humble and optimistic, giving public credit to all those that help you and thanking God for His blessings and help daily, you will avoid the BHS commendation trap and keep the success momentum going.

I.M. Optimism Man

Sep 202011

Some things never change. Critics are some of the most pessimistic people on earth, promoting themselves by trying to bring down the person who is making a sincere attempt to succeed. All too often, we fall into the critics’ trap and listen to these self-important bystanders, letting them demoralize us and others.

I suggest that each of us stand up and oppose a critic at least once each week. Declare a subtle war against these agents of pessimism. It does not have to be an aggressive encounter: simply point out, publicly if possible, that it is far easier to criticize than to accept the risk and take action. Every time we succeed at dampening the enthusiasm of a critic, we help many people over time.

Full conversion of a critic is more difficult but it is possible too. Imagine if you convert just one critic into a person that inspires others — what is the longterm effect if the converted one then inspires dozens of people over the next ten years? The effect on dozens of lives can be profound. I personally feel especially good when I know I’m spreading the gospel of the Optimistic Few. Interestingly, the converted-critic-now-optimist is better off and happier too.

Here are words worth memorizing:

It’s not the critic who counts,
Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled,
Or where the doer of deeds
Could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man in the arena,
Whose face is marred by dust and sweat, and blood,
Who strives valiantly,
Who errs and comes short, again and again.

Who knows the great enthusiasm,
The great devotions,
Who spends himself in a worthy cause.
Who, at best, knows in the end
The triumph of high achievement,
And who, at the worse, if he fails,
At least fails while daring greatly

So that his peace shall never be with the timid souls
Who know neither victory nor defeat!

– Teddy Roosevelt

Fight the critics. Be subtle but effective. Be a secret agent of the Optimistic Few — it makes your day more exciting to target your next pessimist. Don’t let them tear down the optimists that dare to act. It is a fight worth fighting.

I.M. Optimism Man

Sep 192011

The amount of time people are spending on social networks is extraordinary and the pace of growth and change is incredible.

Have you heard of yet? You will. Check out #3 on the chart below. Tumblr, by the way, launched less than 5 years ago. Tumblr’s About page says they now have more than 50 ((implying less than 100?) employees.

Here are the estimated minutes Americans spent on social networks and blogs in May 2011, taken from Nielsen’s Social Media Report: Q3 2011.For most people, really BIG numbers are hard to get one’s mind around (or the state lottery would no longer work). In case you don’t have your calculator handy, 53.46 Million minutes at Facebook alone is more than 100,700 years of time (in one month!). Yes, this is “wow!” moment because that means Facebook will use over 1,000,000 years of American waking hours in 2011.

It is time each of us really understand the impact of social networks. I highly recommend reviewing the 12 slides presented, because social media is a tsunami that will have a tremendous effect on the future.

It has never been easier, and never been harder to become an overnight, world-wide sensation. Easy because so many interconnections exist, moving information world-wide, instantly. Hard because everybody is playing at the party, well illustrated in the tennis match commercial from a few year’s back that many people have seen (but if you have not, here it is).

With change, the Optimistic Few see great opportunity. See it. Understand what you can do to help. Act on it decisively. Rock the world.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. As a side note, I continually question how much time we dedicate to certain pursuits and Facebook is one of them. It fits rather nicely with my argument that one should consider avoiding most “news” sources. But, it is also clear that social networking will continue to grow exponentially, and therefore there is great opportunity for a person that understands and sees a good opportunity to succeed in the new new world.

Sep 152011

Here is one of Ronald Reagan’s best pre-presidency radio addresses regarding the immutable realities of economics, taxes, wealth redistribution, and capitalism — and it is only 3 minutes in lengthamazing! I am hopeful that Washington will soon remember it. As an optimist, I realize that it is inevitable that the lesson is relearned again, because truth cannot be held back indefinitely.

The short speech is available in Reagan’s own voice, if you prefer to listen to it instead of read, here on YouTube.

“A modern day little red hen may not sound like or appear to be a quotable authority on economics but then some authorities aren’t worth quoting…

About a year ago I imposed a little poetry on you. It was called “The Incredible Bread Machine” and made a lot of sense with reference to matters economic. You didn’t object too much so having gotten away with it once I’m going to try again. This is a little treatise on basic economics called “The Modern little Red Hen.”

Once upon a time there was a little red hen who scratched about the barnyard until she uncovered some grains of wheat. She called her neighbors and said ‘If we plant this wheat, we shall have bread to eat. Who will help me plant it?’

“Not I, ” said the cow.

“Not I,” said the duck.

“Not I,” said the pig.

“Not I,” said the goose.

“Then I will,” said the little red hen. And she did. The wheat grew tall and ripened into golden grain. “Who will help me reap my wheat?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I,” said the duck.

“Out of my classification,” said the pig.

“I’d lose my seniority,” said the cow.

“I’d lose my unemployment compensation,” said the goose.

“Then I will,” said the little red hen, and she did.

At last the time came to bake the bread. “Who will help me bake bread?” asked the little red hen.

“That would be overtime for me,” said the cow.

“I’d lose my welfare benefits,” said the duck.

“I’m a dropout and never learned how,” said the pig.

“If I’m to be the only helper, that’s discrimination,” said the goose.

“Then I will,” said the little red hen.

She baked five loaves and held them up for the neighbors to see.

They all wanted some and, in fact, demanded a share. But the little red hen said, “No, I can eat the five loaves myself.”

“Excess profits,” cried the cow.

“Capitalist leech,” screamed the duck.

“I demand equal rights,” yelled the goose.

And the pig just grunted.

And they painted “unfair” picket signs and marched round and around the little red hen shouting obscenities.

When the government agent came, he said to the little red hen, “You must not be greedy.”

“But I earned the bread,” said the little red hen.

“Exactly,” said the agent. “That’s the wonderful free enterprise system. Anyone in the barnyard can earn as much as he wants. But under our modern government regulations productive workers must divide their products with the idle.”

And they lived happily ever after, including the little red hen, who smiled and clucked, “I am grateful, I am grateful.” But her neighbors wondered why she never again baked any more bread.

Ronald Reagan (perhaps the most Optimistic President the United States ever had).

I.M. Optimism Man

Sep 112011

I am Optimism Man — but I will admit that I wavered toward the dark side of pessimism in 2003.

I was asked for a prediction of how much time America had before the next terrorist “large scale” event. At that time, I said that it would probably happen within 3 – 5 years — it was difficult to imagine that we could mount a truly effective war on terror that would prevent it over the longer term. After all, terrorists hide mostly mixed in with the common people, in common and crowded places, in many cities in many countries. The U.S. military is unstoppable when facing a conventional army within the borders of a conventional country, but this game is far different and far more sinister.

Today, we have proof that optimism, action, and resolve can accomplish the extraordinary. Ten years have passed and our vigilence and determination have kept what seemed inevitable from happening. America has not had to suffer another huge blow that kills thousands in spectacular fashion. Nor has Europe, or Asia. These last ten years are incredible proof that we should always remain optimistic, no matter the odds. What seemed impossible in early 2003 has turned out to be possible.

Sincere thanks to our leadership, our military, our intelligence communities, our law enforcement professionals, and our allies for all you do. We are reminded every day that freedom isn’t free. Thank you for all you do — it gives us great reason to believe and to be optimistic. I am sorry that I doubted in 2003, but I have been taught a great lesson just the same.

Today, we still face a determined and sinister enemy. We are also confronted with difficult challenges including the economy, the jobs outlook, the political impasse, teetering foreign banks and economies in a highly interconnected and somewhat fragile global finance network, and of course the quickly growing U.S. deficit. But, all of this seems more manageable and even winnable, compared to the challenges we did manage to overcome in the last ten years.

I.M. Optimism Man

Sep 092011

How many people feel powerless when faced with adversity and humble beginnings? The answer is millions, if not billions.

There is no reason to accept the status quo, here or anywhere. An optimist can change his life, and the life of all he inspires.

Watch this 5 minute story:

You have more knowledge than you need already. Take the initiative. Take decisive action. If William can do it, you can too. Invent something. Do something. Have faith. Be amazed at the change of trajectory it can make on your life, and the lives of others.

I.M. Optimism Man

Sep 062011

Most people are not fully challenged or fully engaged in their job. There is usually plenty of time to shoot the breeze in the break room and still get most of one’s responsibilities done. The nature of work in corporations also virtually guarantees that one’s creativity is not challenged on a daily basis. People tend to fall into a rut, doing more of the same tomorrow that they did today and yesterday. Busy without challenge, without using creativity, turns into weeks, then months, then years of unfulfilling toil.

I want to make a simple suggestion: invent one new product. Set a deadline. Find a problem that needs a better mousetrap, a creative solution. One guy I knew created a rubber molding that makes a snug seal when his garage door is closed, keeping out rain and wind blown debris. Before long, he was hawking the solution on late night TV commercials. Not too long after that, his retirement-in-comfort outlook improved dramatically.

There are plenty of problems that need creative solutions. What the world seems short on is people that decide to do something about it — people of creativity and most importantly, action and optimism. There is always room for one more great invention!

Your first attempt might not rock late night TV ads, but inventing a product and seeing it to a finish line is none-the-less extremely satisfying. You feel like you got a chance to swing the bat and hit a home run in the big game of capitalism. Your second product might not get rave reviews. Or the third. But it you try this idea — invent one new product — or better yet — invent one new product every year — your life will be changed for the better. You will feel alive and vibrant, even if none ever make you millions.

What do you have to lose but the feeling that you are toiling in a 2011 knowledge-worker coal mine?

Be optimistic. Take decisive action. Enjoy life.

I.M. Optimism Man