Chicken Feed

What do sandpaper, tiny bits of stone and gravel, a 1969 John Wayne movie and successful people – especially entrepreneurs – have in common? The one-word answer is . . . grit. I’ve written before about perseverance, but grit takes this idea a step beyond. It’s one thing to keep on keeping on, but grit adds a special dimension to the notion of resolve. But before we dive in, let’s go back to the opening sentence for some context. Sandpaper has a very rough surface that is referred to as grit. This grit can be very coarse or very fine depending upon the project at hand. Chickens eat tiny bits of stone and gravel to help them digest their food. These small particles are also called grit. And who can forget the classic John Wayne movie called True Grit, in which a young teenage girl works in tandem with a drunken U.S. marshal to track down her father’s killer.

Many of us call it quits too early when something isn’t going the way we had envisioned. As entrepreneurs we are told that we must persevere and eventually things will turn out the way we want. So we slog on and keep fighting the good fight. However, this isn’t grit. Remember the earlier mention of sandpaper. Everyone knows that if we rub sandpaper on our skin we can draw blood. Grit does this metaphorically. We invest more of ourselves in whatever we are pursuing than just time and stick-to-it-ness. In the process we may get a little bloodied. We may get a black eye or a broken nose. But in the end we win.

So just how does grit manifest in more concrete terms? Let’s look at some people who have demonstrated “true grit” in exemplary fashion. Singer/songwriter Dolly Parton grew up dirt poor as she describes it, in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Even so, she maintained a cheerful and positive mindset throughout her childhood that has served her well during her long and illustrious career. Today, at age 71, she has amassed a fortune worth more than $500 million. She claims she had more “guts than talent.” But I think it was her optimism and sunny disposition that helped her overcome the obstacles she faced along the way.

Next, there’s the amazing success of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon. Bezos graduated from Princeton in 1986 and went to work on Wall Street. He enjoyed a fairly lucrative career in the investment world but he had a dream. He saw that the Internet was going to dominate the future and gave up his hedge fund job to start Amazon in 1994. The catalyst for him was his passion for that which was scientific and technological.

Finally most of us know the story of J. K. Rowling. Divorced, on welfare and struggling to provide for her baby, she was nearly out of options in 1994. In spite of these challenges she wrote the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The manuscript was rejected by 12 different publishers before finding one that would print it. And in several cases, the rejections weren’t very kind. But Rowling had no choice but to bounce back and keep trying – it was either that or she would never be able to climb out of the deep hole she was in. Her resilience made all the difference – and of course the rest is history with 400 million copies of the Potter books being sold.

There are many other elements that can be included when defining grit – courage, bravery, pluck, mettle, backbone, spirit, strength of character, strength of will, moral fiber, steel, nerve, fortitude, toughness, hardiness, determination, tenacity, guts and spunk, to name a few. I’m partial to a combination of optimism, passion and resilience that accompany persistence and endurance.

Call it what you will, grit is essential for moving beyond perseverance to the successful outcomes we desire. And yes, there will be blood, sweat and tears along the way. But they are merely proof that we have invested our heart and soul in the arduous and exhilarating process of fulfilling our vision.

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 43 – Lincoln vs. Douglas.

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.

The 1,057 Point Swing

The 2016 presidential election results surprised everyone and created much uncertainty in many quarters. Often uncertainty produces fear about what’s going to happen in the future. There’s no doubt that many people have expressed such fear in recent weeks. I watched the election results during the evening of November 8 and remember how futures for the Dow Jones Industrial average plummeted as much as 800 points on the prospects of Donald Trump being elected president. Then when the markets opened on Wednesday, November 9, the Dow marched ahead closing up 257 points. This is a swing of more than 1,000 points in less than 24 hours. What the heck happened?

It’s pretty clear to me that there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the direction the election results were headed. This uncertainty produced much irrational fear that drove the markets lower. When cooler heads prevailed the irrationality evaporated and the markets moved up. What is the byproduct of uncertainty and fear? It’s opportunity. It’s my opinion that the greater the level of uncertainty the greater the level of opportunity.

I attended an affordable housing industry conference a week after the election. There was a lot of hand-wringing and pessimism. A number of attendees were convinced that support for affordable housing was going to decline and the industry would blow up. No doubt there are some potential threats on the horizon, but there are an equal if not greater number of opportunities. As entrepreneurs we have a choice to make. It’s the classic “glass half-full or half-empty” choice. There’s no question that things can and will happen that are less than desirable – that’s an absolute. It’s how we prepare and deal with them that matters.

At the industry conference I sat on a panel and posed the following question to the audience. I’ll pose it to you as well. “How many of us have a strategy to deal with the effects of uncertainty?” Out of a room of 750 people maybe two or three hands were raised. Was your hand raised? It’s so easy to become lulled into a sense of complacency. We think we know where our business is positioned in the marketplace, and we generally understand the direction our industry is headed. But then something happens to completely upset the apple cart. Simulating various scenarios and their impact in advance of such occurrences can be very helpful in identifying potential courses of action. But there’s still a healthy dose of optimism that is also required.

The real test for us is how we react to uncertainty. Do we immediately begin envisioning all of the negative possibilities? Or do we lick our chops at what uncertainty could mean in positive terms? Some entrepreneurs thrive on uncertainty. They run toward the disruption caused when things don’t go as planned. Why? Because they know how to adapt. They modify their strategy to fit the current situation. They are nimble and opportunistic. They are unafraid and know how to manage risk.

We too can learn how to use uncertainty to our advantage. To do so we must constantly be looking at a multitude of “what-ifs.” What if the election goes a certain way? What if interest rates increase? What if our top salesman walks out the door? As we cycle through the various possibilities, we weigh the pros and cons. And only seeing the cons misses the entire picture. There are always silver linings in whatever happens – we just have to look and find them.

One of the biggest threats to our affordable housing development business is the prospect of corporate tax reform. Investors use a federal affordable housing tax credit to help fund our developments. If the tax rate goes down, the value of the credit is less and there are fewer funds available for development. With the election of Donald Trump and a Republican Congress, the prospects for corporate tax reform are much improved. But we’ve been hearing about corporate tax reform for the past several years. And tax reform won’t cause the demand for affordable housing to be any less. So even before the election, I’ve been mulling over other ways to deliver affordable housing should the tax credit be diminished or even eliminated. We do have a strategy to pursue an additional product set that will enable us to continue providing such housing with or without the credit.

When we develop a strategy to deal with the effects of uncertainty the sky is the limit. We are able to move forward with confidence and optimism while others may be mired in negativity and limited thinking.

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 23 – Misplaced.

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.

threedoors-copy

Vacuum Cleaners and Movies

“If you think life is magical or life is hard, either way you are right. Your thoughts are the source of reality.” I love this quote by Dr. Debasish Mridha, an American physician and philosopher. And here’s a phrase that is toxic to the entrepreneurial mindset – “It’s too hard.” Why? Because it’s an affirmation – and a powerful one at that. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that the mountain in front of us may be huge. But we can easily tip over into defeatist territory if we say something is “too hard.” Often that’s a signal that it’s time to give up. Au contraire!

Conquering something difficult and maybe even insurmountable is a true entrepreneur’s dream, much in the same vein as climbing Mount Everest or something less daring like public speaking. I want to “run to hard” and embrace it. I do so because I know that many others have run away from it. “Too hard” is an opportunity to blend innovation and creativity into a solution. It’s an opportunity to witness the power of a positive attitude. It’s an opportunity to learn how tough we are and how able we are to persevere.

There are examples all around us of how “too hard” really wasn’t. Think how hard it must have been to put a man on the moon in 1969 before the technological advancements we have today. The first heart transplant must have been amazingly hard – yet someone did it. And how hard was it for swimmer Michael Phelps to win 28 Olympic medals over the course of his career? There’s no doubt that someone uttered the “too hard” phrase with each of these accomplishments. And that someone was obviously dead wrong.

Here’s what I’ve learned. A leader must be the eternal optimist. He or she must absolutely and totally believe in the goal or objective. This belief must be authentic and genuine – not playacting for the team. There’s confidence on steroids at work here. But more than sheer willpower is necessary to generate the desired result. The effort must be strategic and smart.

Hoover, Electrolux and Oreck seemed to have a corner on the vacuum market for years. Then along came James Dyson with a revolutionary idea in the late 1970s.  He created 5,127 prototypes over five years and the G-Force Dual Cyclone was born. Dyson has since become a worldwide market leader with 2015 sales of more than $2 billion. Here’s another example. Blockbuster had 2004 revenue of $6 billion while Netflix brought in $500 million. Today, Netflix has more than 75 million streaming subscribers and Blockbuster is out of business. What happened to “too hard” with Dyson and Netflix?

Dyson revolutionized vacuum cleaner design and eliminated the need for a bag. It was clearly a disruptor in its industry. Its swivel ball technology also made it easier to use a vacuum cleaner in tight spaces – something the incumbent makers had failed to do. Netflix was all about convenience for its customers. I remember having to drive to the Blockbuster store to rent a movie. Meanwhile Netflix was sending them through the mail. Ultimately, the company figured out that streaming was the future and rode the wave in handsome fashion. “Too hard” was transformed into stunning success through innovation, creativity, perseverance, resilience and above all a “can’t lose” mindset.

How do these stories apply to us? If nothing else, it’s imperative that we learn how to convert too hard into let’s do it.” We must first convince ourselves that we can do whatever we set out to do. Then we must persuade our team to believe the same way. I know that this sounds like a lot of rah-rah. But the formula is a pretty simple one. Yes, there will be risks – but we figure out how to manage them. Yes, there will be failure – but we use it to learn what works and what doesn’t. And yes, there will be periods where progress seems painfully slow – but we keep moving forward until we break through.

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 22 – Yin and Yang

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.

vacuum_cleaner

Reality Superstar

There are many acts we perform as entrepreneurs that are very similar to walking on a tightrope. They require just the right amount of focus, nerve-control and balance to keep from falling into the abyss. You are probably experiencing one or more right now. But here’s one to which you may not have given much thought. How do we be an “all-in optimist” and yet maintain a perspective that is grounded in reality? Another way of putting it is, “how do we see reality through rose-colored glasses?”

Let’s face it; sometimes reality bites. We prefer not to look at the downside which may lead us to fantasize about the upside. Eventually our point of view becomes one of hope which should not be confused with optimism. Rick Page wrote a great book a number of years ago entitled, Hope Is Not a Strategy. He’s right. I’ve tried to remove “hope” from my belief system. To me, the concept of hope conveys a sense of passivity. I’m more interested in assertively taking action in such a way that there is no room for hope in the equation.

If there is no hope and we must face reality, how can we possibly be optimistic? I believe that there is a way to be very optimistic about almost every situation while still understanding and living in reality. First, we must assess and face the downside head-on. This means that we need to take an objective look at the situation and in a cold and calculating fashion determine the facts – whatever they may be, good and bad. There is no room in this process for ignoring, denying or rationalizing. It’s critical that we inventory everything.

Next, we look at the facts and develop a complete understanding of the risks at hand. We must look at every risk as an opportunity to fail. Identifying the risks puts us in a position to figure out how we’ll mitigate those risks. So let’s review so far. We’ve recorded all of the facts we know about a situation – good and bad. We’ve determined the risks and mitigated them. And now we want to stack the deck in our favor. We do this by creating a clear path to win. Think about it this way. Suppose you are the captain of a sailboat. You need to get from Point A to Point B. But you know that there are many rocks, shoals, severe currents and other dangers lurking beneath the water. Before you set sail, you take charts, weather conditions, current sailor reports, and every other piece of information you can get your hands on. You then plot your course (creating a clear path to win) around the obstacles (mitigating the risks you identified from your fact-finding effort).

The last step in this process is that of holding a positive mindset. This should be relatively easy because you know the clear path that you need to take to win. And you’ve already planned for known and unknown challenges. The end result is that you possess an air of confidence, for in your positive state of mind, you know without a doubt that you are going to sail the waters smoothly, calmly and successfully. Now that’s optimism!

Becoming a Reality Superstar requires that we be optimistic. Optimism goes hand-in-hand with reality when we utilize a fact-based process to embrace the challenges that we experience. No longer do we need to hold onto hope, because we are supremely confident of our success.

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.

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The E Factor

Here’s a simple test. Do you wake up in the morning and can’t wait to tackle the day ahead? Does your brain function in overdrive with an idea a minute? Are you ever bored? Are you able to stay in “the zone” from a productivity standpoint for long periods of time? Do you experience endorphin rushes at times other than when you are exercising? Are you almost always in an upbeat mood no matter what? If you answered “yes” to all of these questions except for being bored (and answered it “no”) then you are experiencing the “E” Factor.

The E Factor is a major ingredient in the recipe for the success of an entrepreneur (and everyone else for that matter). The E Factor is . . . Exhilaration! Exhilaration is the energizing excitement that puts an exclamation point on our lives. There’s no drudgery in Exhilaration. There’s no exhaustion in Exhilaration. There’s no negativity in Exhilaration. There’s nothing boring about Exhilaration. Exhilaration is all about positivity, optimism, the glass is overflowing (as opposed to half full), fireworks-on-the-4th-of-July, the sun is always shining and everything WOW!

From personal experience I can tell you that my life is so much richer and fuller as a result of reaching and staying in a state of Exhilaration. The little setbacks along the way that might throw others for a loop are mere speed bumps for me. My existence goes far beyond my vocation and has become totally holistic in nature. I know this may sound corny, but I truly am in love with life and life is in love with me.

How do we reach and stay in a state of Exhilaration? There are three steps that have worked for me. First we must make serious choices about how we think. If you read my blogs regularly, you know that I constantly talk about how much of a difference our mindset can make. We all know this for the most part, but it’s not always easy to remember. Maintaining a positive state of mind is absolutely and totally critical to the E Factor. We must recognize when we are starting to veer into negative thinking; stop and release the negative thought, and replace it with a positive thought. I have found that a positive affirmation said over and over is a perfect replacement for a negative thought.

Second, we deserve to live our passion. I realize that sometimes there needs to be a ramp-up process to reach this passion. My passion isn’t just what I do for a living. My passion is the way I live. It’s filled with many things for which I have a passion including my relationships, my philanthropy, my health, my creativity, my faith and many more elements. I’ve said numerous times that passion is what allows us to see in color. Just because we may not be totally passionate about our careers at the moment doesn’t mean that there aren’t many other aspects to our lives for which we can have passion. And with respect to our careers – we should have a step-by-step plan that provides the light at the end of the tunnel for when our career does become our passion.

Finally, we must practice intense gratitude. Being grateful for what we have and what we receive keeps the energy channel open for us to receive more good in our lives. When I think back over the years about all the wonderful people who have done wonderful things for me, my gratitude needle explodes off the meter. Saying thank you isn’t enough. Doing good things for other people is an expression of our gratitude that recognizes what others have done for us. It’s a bit of a pay-it-forward mentality.

We can live in a state of Exhilaration if we choose to do so. It’s as simple as that. And to achieve the E Factor we must be positive, passionate and grateful. Enjoy the fireworks show!

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.

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All the Best

Question: I hate being disappointed about so many things in my life. How do I set my expectations so that this doesn’t happen?

Answer: Disappointment is an insidious feeling. Years and years of disappointment breeds cynicism. Disappointment also leads to pessimism. Cynicism and pessimism slowly creeps into our consciousness and attacks our soul. At all costs we must avoid allowing ourselves to be disappointed. So your question is really about how to avoid being disappointed.

The solution may sound perverse but it’s really not. Expect the best. It’s that simple. Expect the best. This is not a Pollyanna concept but a mindset. Think about it. When we try to lower our expectations what does that do? It creates a mindset that is limiting. We may take actions that align with our lowered expectations and as a result we ensure that we won’t achieve our highest good. The reason we may be disappointed is because we may not really believe high expectations. We think at one level that things are going to be amazing but deep down inside we don’t really believe it. And the situation then becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Expecting the best is all about truly believing. I’ve written before about being accused of wearing rose-colored glasses. But I’ve found over the years that always expecting the best generally turns into reality. It’s the law of mind-action. What we believe in our minds is produced in the world around us. Of course a distinction must be made lest this law be misunderstood. If I’m 60 years old and believe I’m 20, I’m not really going to roll the clock back and become 20 again. But if I believe that I feel like I’m 20 . . . if I truly believe this . . . then I will feel like I’m 20. Which brings us back to expectations. How many times have we said, “I really want to win that new contract, but the deck is probably stacked against me.” What is most likely to happen? We won’t win the contract because we affirmed that we wouldn’t. Our lowered-expectation is that we won’t win.

Expecting the best is liberating. It means that we have no need to lower or measure our expectations. Instead we can truly believe the best about our lives. And as an added bonus, our beliefs will manifest.

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.

Ice Cream