100% TPR

At the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, all cadets learn many valuable lessons about life. One in particular seems extra important in this day and age. When something goes wrong – anything at all – a cadet is expected to state to a superior officer, “It was my mistake, Sir, and I take full and total responsibility. I made the mistake because . . .” It matters not that someone or something else may have caused things to go awry. Cadets are taught from the very beginning to own the results of whatever may be happening around them. I call this 100% Total Personal Responsibility – 100% TPR.

Think about how much finger pointing occurs in our daily lives. The excuse factory is operating 24/7 and works at full capacity to produce victim after victim. Few people are willing to stand up and proclaim 100% TPR. Thus, it’s refreshing to see that young men and women, who are choosing a career in the Army, are doing so with a mindset of personal responsibility. They truly own their lives. Entrepreneurs should take notice of this concept to understand how to become effective leaders.

Think about a variety of every day scenarios where we witness the blame game being played. A basketball team with a losing score believes that the officiating has been too one-sided. “It’s hard to win an “eight-on-five” game,” some of the players exclaim. There’s no doubt that blown calls are a fact of life in sports. Players that have 100% TPR aren’t going to point the finger at the referees though. Instead, they will stand up tall and say, “It’s my responsibility that we lost because I didn’t execute on offense like I should, and I allowed my opponent to get past me to the basket too many times.”

A small business is competing for a contract and loses. The vice president of sales is visibly angry and says, “The playing field wasn’t level. We should have won, but our competitor had an unfair advantage by making promises they won’t be able to keep!” Conversely, the entrepreneur with 100% TPR says, “We lost because we didn’t do a sufficient job of differentiating our product from the competition. I take full responsibility for that.”

The whole point is that as adults, we NEVER blame someone or something for our failures. We ALWAYS take 100% Total Personal Responsibility for everything that happens. You may be thinking that there must be circumstances that are out of our control where we shouldn’t be held responsible. For example, what about the guy who steps off the curb after checking for traffic and a crazy drunk driver mows him down at 90 miles per hour? How can that guy be at 100% TPR? Here’s the thing. That guy made the choice to be in that place at that time. That’s not to say that the choice was right or wrong – just that’s the choice he made. Perhaps he could have looked further down the street to see the drunk driver barreling toward the intersection and waited until the car passed. And don’t misunderstand – this isn’t to say that the drunk driver wasn’t responsible – he was absolutely the one at fault. But when we are at 100% TPR, we aren’t worrying about anyone else because we have 100% ownership of our lives.

Eliminating any and all thoughts of victimization is critical to living a life of 100% ownership. It liberates and empowers us, allowing for constant self-improvement and growth. When we blame others, we interrupt this improvement and growth process. In my business and in my life, I want to evaluate the risks and rewards and proceed based upon the information I have gathered. The choices that I make may be right or they may be wrong, but they are my choices and I own them, regardless of the outcome.

We can practice the concept of 100% TPR by stopping ourselves when we are in situations where blame might normally be the default thinking. Instead, we say, “I take 100% Total Personal Responsibility for what has happened. It happened because . . .” This affords critical analysis to determine the root cause for a failure and gives us the opportunity to learn how we can make different choices in the future. And remember, taking 100% TPR isn’t enough unless the second part of the idea is explored – “It happened because . . .” We must know what we could and should have done differently.

Success can come through failure if we are willing to take 100% Total Personal Responsibility. It can also allow us to model great leadership for the benefit of others.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 92 – Death, Taxes and . . .

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

A Dirty Word

What two words in the English language couldn’t be further apart in their meaning, but are often intertwined for entrepreneurs? The first word by itself is part of the everyday life of an entrepreneur – and every other person in the world as well. This word is relatively innocuous. But when connected with the second word it’s like adding the primer to dynamite. The resulting explosion can have all sorts of detrimental effects on our lives.

That first word is “failure.” Many entrepreneurs (and others) fear failure. But successful entrepreneurs have almost always experienced failure in different ways and multiple times. They use their failure to recalibrate or pivot, and find a new way to make something work. David H. McConnell was a door-to-door book salesman who offered a little gift of perfume to female customers. Selling the books didn’t work out so well, but there was great demand for the perfume. So McConnell ditched the books and turned the perfume concept into what is now known as Avon. Ever heard of Traf-O-Data? It was a partnership between Bill Gates and Paul Allen for the purpose of developing reports from traffic counters for traffic engineers. Needless to say the business was not a success. But Gates went on to launch another venture called . . . Microsoft. And then there’s the famous story about a man named Fred Smith who wrote a paper for his Yale University economics class involving overnight parcel deliveries. The professor wasn’t impressed and gave him what Smith recalls was a C. Undaunted, Smith pursued the idea which today is known as Federal Express.

This brings us to the second word. The word is toxic to entrepreneurs for it can easily become a mindset. The word . . . “defeat.” Failure is part of a process of experimentation and discovery. Defeat is the end. Once defeat is admitted, there’s nothing more to be done. I knew a man who worked for someone else for several decades. Then he decided to spread his entrepreneurial wings and bought a business. He labored mightily but eventually had to close his doors. But rather than lean into the experience and use it as a stepping stone to success, he withdrew. His confidence was shaken and he began making unhealthy choices. He tried working for someone else again but eventually ended up driving a taxi. Now there’s nothing wrong with driving a taxi if it’s for the right reason. But in this case it was his way of curling up in the fetal position and saying, “I can’t.”

I think that it boils down to whether or not we have a “die trying” mentality. It boils down to whether or not we have a positive image of ourselves. It boils down to moving as fast as we can to kill our own bad ideas so we can make room for the good ones! When we are afraid to fail, we are setting ourselves up for defeat. One of the most important things about failure is making certain that it’s not so monumental that we can’t right our ship. A mindset of defeat occurs when we are convinced we’ve lost it all – forever.

Here’s what I’ve learned. I don’t set out to fail at anything but accept the fact that I will and I must, if only to find the good ideas that work. I always make sure there’s enough of a margin of safety that my failures aren’t going to “kill” me. This leaves room for a pivot or a more significant shift. Regardless of my failures I will always remain positive and optimistic. Sometimes this can be very hard but it’s fundamental to avoiding defeat. When I do fail I look for what can be salvaged from the experience to bolt onto the next iteration of whatever I’m doing. And finally, I know that I’m a step closer to success by eliminating a step in the process that didn’t work.

Failure and defeat are not connected in any way, shape or form. Great opportunity and great success can rise from failure. Nothing good comes from defeat.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 57 – Headwinds

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Oops . . .

I’ve said many times that mistakes are simply unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life. Too often we beat ourselves up over the mistakes that we make. Innovative forward-thinking entrepreneurs make a lot of mistakes. This is normal and necessary to some extent. It’s when the same mistake is made repeatedly that there’s real cause for concern.

Understanding how mistakes are made can be helpful in eliminating their repetition. Simply shrugging off a mistake as “an unfinished experiment” is a missed opportunity to gain deeper insight into why it happened and what can be learned. This also must be tempered in the other direction. We’ve all seen sports teams that play not to lose. Often this ends badly. We can become tentative and overly-focused on avoiding mistakes. And what happens then? We actually end up making even more mistakes.

I’ve learned quite a bit about mistake-making over the course of my life and career. Many were silly. Some were more significant. Fortunately none were ever life or death. Here’s what I’ve learned.

A number of my mistakes occurred because I failed to Plan. I shot from the hip or simply jumped into the water without any forethought. Plotting a course doesn’t mean having a 40-page business plan. But it’s important to think through the different steps that will be taken to reach the ultimate objective. In the process we also look for possible hiccups that might be encountered and determine what can be done to avoid or mitigate them.

With a plan in hand we make sure we have sufficient resources to effectively implement it. Further, we also determine if we (and/or our team) are adequately Educated on what we will need to do to succeed. A large percentage of mistakes are made because those implementing the plan aren’t fully up-to-speed on how to do so. Failure to be sufficiently educated on the “how” and to understand the context of a particular situation can have deadly consequences. Think about an auto mechanic who isn’t properly trained on how to re-connect a brake line on a particular model of car. Uh oh.

Following a plan and being educated on the “how” doesn’t guarantee a mistake-free execution if Process is ignored. On June 1, 2009, Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing all aboard. The report by the French Aviation agency, BEA, stated, “Temporary inconsistency between the measured airspeeds likely following the obstruction of the pitot probes by ice crystals that led in particular to autopilot disconnection and a reconfiguration to alternate law,” and “inappropriate control inputs that destabilized the flight path.” In other words, the pilots failed to follow the prescribed process for such conditions.

Here’s a cause for mistakes that happens more often to me than I care to admit. It’s called Distraction. I’ll be cranking away on a project and the phone will ring; someone stops by my office, or I need to dash off to an appointment. Unfortunately my project was interrupted and so was my train of thought. When I pick up where I left off I’m in the danger zone. Invariably there’s a gap that I can pinpoint as the root cause of whatever mistake ensues. More recently I’ve been trying to make some notes to myself before tending to the distraction.

Information Failure is usually referenced in the field of economics. But I think it can be broadened in more general terms to include mistakes that are made from bad information, bad facts and/or bad conclusions. There have been times that the data was old and I hadn’t bothered to make sure that it was current. And, there’s no doubt that I’ve drawn the wrong conclusion as a result of incomplete information.

We all want to minimize our mistakes. Understanding what causes them is the first step in this process. For me a failure to plan, be educated, follow process, becoming distracted and using bad or incomplete information are usually the reasons for my mistakes.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 39 – The Enemy.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

thenuttyprofessor

2,300 Feet and No Ropes!

On May 15, 1963, astronaut Gordon Cooper blasted into space on Mercury-Atlas 9. The Mercury capsule was 10.8 feet long and 6.0 feet wide. The duration was 34 hours and 19 minutes 46 seconds at a maximum velocity of 17,547 miles per hour and an altitude of 166 miles.

Alex Honnold is a world-renowned big wall free solo rock climber. He is particularly famous for climbing Yosemite’s Triple Crown – The Nose (El Capitan), Mt. Watkins and The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome – completed in 18-hours and 50-minutes. Free solo climbing is done without ropes, pitons or carabiners.

Navy Commander Jeremiah Denton was a POW in North Vietnam for eight years (1965-1973) four of which were in solitary confinement. He was forced to participate in a 1966 televised press conference during which he blinked the letters T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse code. After his release from captivity he retired at the rank of Rear Admiral and became a U.S. senator from Alabama.

What is the common thread that runs through all three of these individuals? Of course their physical stamina is obvious. But perhaps even more amazing is their mental toughness. I can’t imagine what it would have been like stuck in a tiny Mercury capsule all by myself hurtling through space at an incredible speed. What if something went wrong and I couldn’t get back down? Or how about being 2,300 feet up the 3,000 foot face of El Capitan with no ropes or anchors and suddenly feeling sick? And being tortured and isolated for years in a prison camp is incomprehensible. Without mental grit, think about how easy it would have been to go stark-raving mad in each of these situations and just totally lose it.

Fortunately as entrepreneurs we’re generally not faced with situations that threaten our mortality. But developing a strong mental state is critical to our entrepreneurial success. There are many situations that we encounter that call for mental toughness. If we waver or lose our way, we can lose a whole lot – financially, in terms of relationships, team members and reputation.

Exactly what should we do to become mentally tougher? First, how do we contemplate and deal with failure? Failing is actually a crossroads for us. When something doesn’t work the way we had planned we have a choice to make. We either give up or we get back up and keep trying. Feelings of pain and discomfort create patterns that our brain wants to avoid in the future. True progress is made when we decide to move forward past the pain and into a state of endurance.

Second, we need to identify the self-imposed limitations that hold us back. Do we have routines that have actually become ruts? If we keep pushing the goal we achieve real growth. Breaking out of old habits and happily accepting new challenges is mentally stimulating and helps us become conditioned for success. As is always the case, constantly maintaining a positive attitude is an enormous step toward becoming mentally tough.

Finally, we visualize the end result then write the script for the journey to get there. Mental toughness cannot be achieved aimlessly. We must have an end game in mind. Gordon Cooper wanted to finish the mission and get home safely. Alex Honnold wanted to get to the summit of El Capitan. Jeremiah Denton wanted to put his feet back on American soil. In each case they had a clear objective and kept it front and center at all times.

To become mentally tough we embrace failure and use it to create endurance. We discard self-imposed limitations and through positivity, set the table for success. Ultimately we paint a clear picture of what our success will look like and then execute the strategy and tactics that take us there.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 5 – Now What?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Yosemite_El_Capitan

Pluses and Minuses

There’s one thing of which I’m certain . . . I think. Have you ever had this kind of feeling? We entrepreneurs are a pretty confident lot. We are scrappy and tough. There’s nothing we can’t do including leaping over tall buildings in a single bound. Throw us a challenge and we’ll whip it with one hand tied behind our back and blindfolded to boot. Right? Well, maybe. And most of the time.

Entrepreneurs have several “thought enemies,” one of them being gnawing and nagging doubts. Here’s a not-so-fictional example. Let’s say that things have been going pretty well in our business and we’ve had some nice wins along the way. Then we hit a little speed bump – perhaps a contract doesn’t get signed that we thought we had in the bag. Or an important customer stops doing business with us. In other words, we get knocked off our game a bit. That part we can handle with aplomb as we go on to sign another contract or we fix the problem with our important customer. It’s what happens next that can be perplexing.

After we’ve been bucked off the horse so to speak, we begin to have feelings of doubt. For example, we are ready to introduce a new product or service, but we wonder if it might flop. In the past, we would have launched without any trepidation, but now it feels different. Could something else go wrong that that might cause everything to come unraveled? We know that these gnawing and nagging doubts aren’t healthy and could become self-fulfilling prophecies. Yet still they are there and hard to push out of our mind.

Why is our confidence shaken, and doubts have entered the picture? I’ve thought about all of the times this has happened in my life and believe it centers on a rather recent failure in the past. The earlier example that I gave where the contract or customer was lost illustrates this notion. Coming off of a failure makes us wary and more sensitive. As entrepreneurs we have winning in our DNA. Failure is for losers. And yet we do fail and we do lose. Sure we’re resilient, but we can’t ignore what it felt like to fail and lose and we don’t want to experience it again. And so we’re vulnerable to doubt and uncertainty. Subconsciously we’re thinking, “I’m sure what I’m doing now is going to work, but if it doesn’t, I don’t want to be hurt again.” We find ourselves moving forward but wondering . . . always wondering when the other shoe will drop.

Here’s what I’ve learned about myself when these insidious doubts start creeping into my consciousness. I step back and take inventory of all of the positive successes that I know lay in front of me. I may have just lost a deal, but there are ten more that I believe with all my heart will succeed. Now here’s the key – even if only half of the ten deals actually succeed, I’m still way, way ahead. In other words, I’m not looking at the glass half full, but I’m looking at multiple glasses and every one of them is overflowing. Immediately my mindset changes and all is right with my world again. I’ve accepted the fact that I had a prior setback. I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll have more setbacks in the future. But I know that the pluses will always far outweigh the minuses and the winning score will be in my favor – overwhelmingly!

Gnawing and nagging doubts are usually a product of a recent failure. We get past such feelings by looking at the scoreboard and realizing that we are way ahead in the game. Ultimately this makes us unbeatable.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

water glasses

980 by 600

I saw a video clip the other day of the Haohan Qiao Bridge that stretches 980 feet between two cliffs in China’s Shiniuizhai National Geological Park. It’s a suspension footbridge that is extremely unique in one particular sense . . . it’s made of glass. As you walk (or crawl) across, you see through the glass floor and look straight down 600 feet to the canyon below. We’re told that the glass is 25 times stronger than ordinary glass and if it breaks it is so dense that a person won’t fall through.

What’s interesting about this bridge is the fact that it’s bold, it’s big AND it’s safe (we’ll assume for the moment that what we’re being told about the bridge’s safety is correct). This bridge is the perfect metaphor for what we’re trying to accomplish as entrepreneurs. There’s nothing wrong with small-ball, but after playing this way for a number of years we sometimes yearn to take that big leap across the canyon. Doing so requires that we push beyond our comfort zone and summon a fearlessness that we may not have previously experienced.

What prevents us from taking big and bold action? Often it’s a question of safety. We’ve invested much in the way of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today and we don’t want to risk our bank account, our 401(k), our home, our health, our reputation and yes, the possibility of failure. The risk of failure is likely the Number One reason we don’t take those big and bold steps. The rest of the risks can be successfully managed. We use them as “why not” reasons, but ultimately it all boils down to the chance that we might fail.

What does failure look like to you? Many of us are programmed to abhor failure. In school, getting an F was something to dread. Our parents were disappointed. We thought we looked stupid in the eyes of our classmates. There was real shame associated with this letter grade. Throughout our lives we have been conditioned to avoid failure at all costs. And so we say things like, “I don’t want to go all-in on my business idea because I can’t afford to put my family at risk.” But at the root of it, we are afraid to get that paper back from the teacher with a red F in the upper right hand corner.

I’ve said many times that failure is simply an unfinished experiment in the laboratory of life. Failed experiments can sometimes be the only way we eventually get it right. I’ve started numerous business ventures that failed. In one case we raised investor money to fund a particular concept but could not get the traction we were looking for. Within a few months we realized that we were going to fail and so we gave everyone’s money back and shut down the venture. The goodwill from the early recognition of our failure and the act of returning the investment capital enabled us to build even stronger relationships with those investors who have invested in subsequent ventures. Long ago I realized that there is nothing to be ashamed about when we fail, and maintain our integrity in doing so. I just haven’t figured out how to go big and bold without the risk of failure somewhere in the equation.

Here’s the bottom line. Step One – think big and then think bigger. Step Two – focus on how to mitigate the risks that could be associated with failing when launching that big (bigger) idea. Step Three – release the ego and realize that failure doesn’t diminish us as individuals. Step Four – create a solid implementation plan. Step Five – GO FOR IT!

Going big and bold is a process to be managed. But it also means that we have to get out of our own way to deny the insecurities and perceptions of failure that prevent us from moving forward.

 This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

glass bridge.

Hammer, Hammer, Hammer

Is trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole a cliché or what? Just for grins, I tried to do this once and had no problem. Of course the hole was a heck of a lot bigger than the peg. But of course that’s not the point. The more we try to force things that aren’t meant to be, the more likely we are to become frustrated and fail. This I do know from lots of experience.

Here’s an example. In the old days I might have interviewed a great candidate for a position we had open. This individual had all the right qualities, the right experience and seemed enthusiastic about joining our firm. We would extend a job offer and perhaps there would have been some back-and-forth dialogue over the terms, salary, etc. But then the candidate went dark and stopped responding. My tendency was for my sales instincts to kick into overdrive and really put the hard press on this person. More often than not the person might eventually come to work for us. But it usually wasn’t a happy marriage and ultimately ended in divorce. What did I learn? If we have to “chase” someone and “sell” them on joining our company, then they probably aren’t the right fit in the first place.

Here’s another example. I have a big decision to make. I’m trying my darnedest to find complete clarity in this situation. I list all of the pros and cons, but the answer still isn’t there for me. I talk to other people whom I trust, but no one grabs me by the hand and opens the door for me. I continue to press for a revelation, but none comes to me. The frustration mounts and I feel stress because the decision must be made immediately. The stupid peg just won’t go into the hole! What did I learn? Complete clarity is often elusive and most of the time we have to make the best decision we can after considering all of the facts. And we need to trust our gut to some extent.

Here’s the final example. A number of years ago there was an investor who owned a large apartment complex that our firm wanted to manage. I cultivated a relationship with this investor and met with him regularly. I tried everything I could think of to convince him to retain our services. He was self-managing the property and I just knew we could improve his bottom line. All of my creative marketing and sales methods were for naught. We never were able to win the business. I hammered and hammered and hammered, and the square peg never made it into the round hole. What did I learn? We’re not going to win 100% of the time. As long as we’re paying attention to the basics and fundamentals mixed with a sufficient dose of creativity, we’ve done what should be done. Sometimes we’ll succeed and sometimes we won’t. Trying to force success is a pathway to being demoralized.

When we force things and try to muscle through, we often flounder and fail. When we relax, pay attention to the details and trust our instincts, we improve the probability that things will fall into place. And if they don’t, we simply stop hammering and move on.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

hammer