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.

Mule or Tortoise?

Mules are interesting animals. They are a cross between a male donkey and a female horse. A mule is stronger than a horse and historically was used for heavy work in agriculture and timber. Mules are independent creatures and can be very obstinate and stubborn at times – hence the saying, “He’s stubborn as a mule.”

Tortoises are equally fascinating. They can live longer than 150 years and have hard shells that make them less vulnerable to predators. Tu’i Malila was the oldest tortoise on record, born in 1777 and died in 1965. If you’ve ever watched a tortoise, you know that they are slow, plodding reptiles. When they are presented with an obstacle they find a way to go around it.

The metaphor for entrepreneurs is obvious. And notice that I’ve avoided the even more obvious example of the tortoise and the hare – that’s a whole different blog someday. Instead, the lesson here is about stubbornness vs. perseverance. As entrepreneurs, we are continually confronted with situations that require some level of perseverance. If we fail to persevere, we end up flitting all over the place and accomplishing nothing. But when does perseverance turn into stubbornness? Presumably stubbornness is not necessarily a desirable trait. The dictionary defines stubborn as “unreasonably obstinate; obstinately unmoving.”

The story of Milton Hershey is inspirational. He launched three candy companies in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. And all three failed. Hershey moved back to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he started another company that made a unique type of caramel. But he was convinced that chocolate was the wave of the future and sold his caramel business to start the Hershey Company. Of course the Hershey Company went on to become a huge success in the milk chocolate business.

Was Milton Hershey stubborn, or did he persevere? Back to the dictionary which defines persevere as “to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly.” I believe Hershey epitomized the definition of perseverance. He had a vision. He was constantly tweaking and refining his products. He surmounted his obstacles and eventually became highly successful.

Stubbornness is evidenced when we keep banging our heads against the wall trying the same things over and over. And it’s not working. Suppose we have a business that is struggling to gain traction. We’re not making much money – maybe even losing money – and we continue to keep doing what we’ve been without making any material changes. Now that’s stubborn.

Let’s take that same example and overlay it with perseverance. The business has been struggling to gain traction. We’re not making much money – maybe even losing money. But we believe in the long-term vision and aren’t about to throw in the towel. Instead, we step back and analyze what we’ve been doing. We do the research necessary to identify refinements and adjustments to our approach. Perhaps we even make a major pivot. Think about the tortoise. He reaches an obstacle that he can’t go over. Does he keep trying to climb over it without success? No, he “pivots” and moves a different direction, eventually ending up achieving his vision – whatever that might be for a tortoise. Perhaps our business needs a different approach to marketing and sales. Maybe we need to eliminate a particular product and add another. Regardless, we must do things differently than we have in the past. We don’t quit. We aren’t a victim. We simply get better at how we play the game.

Stubbornness doesn’t require much brainpower. There’s a lot of wallowing that occurs. Perseverance is smart. The vision persists. The ideas flow. And success is ultimately achieved.

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 – Audio Episode 11 – Shooting Star.

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.

Mule

Cocoons and Garlic Necklaces

How often have you encountered situations where you conclude that luck must have played a part in the outcome? Perhaps you barely escaped being involved in a horrific traffic accident. Or you walked into a meeting with a prospective customer with whom you’d never spoken and won a major account just by “being in the right place at the right time.” Is someone who seemingly sails through life without struggle just lucky? What about fate? Is our destination already mapped for us? Are some people pre-ordained to succeed and others to fail? Could it be that we use “luck” and “fate” as rationale for something we don’t understand or can’t explain?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and profess that I believe luck and fate are mostly myths. Since no one can prove or disprove this statement, I think I’m pretty safe. Notice I didn’t completely rule out either concept . . . because I can’t be totally certain. But I do think that how we live our lives has a lot to do with what we might otherwise perceive as luck or fate. While this may sound a bit New Age, stick with me on this.

I am totally committed to the notion that positive energy exists and when we live a positive life in every way possible, good things come to us. Does this mean that a positive lifestyle provides protection from bad things happening to us? I don’t know. I suppose it’s possible but I prefer to look at . . . yes, the positive side of this. Here’s what I know for sure. When I’m thinking positive thoughts my heart rate is lower, my head is clearer and I’m more often “in the zone.” I’m much less resistive to new ideas and my creativity is off the charts.

Successful outcomes are a combination of many things. It helps to have talent, skill, intelligence, hard work, determination and perseverance. Everyone has talent. Unfortunately many people don’t dig deeply enough to discover their true talent – but it’s there. Skill can be learned and developed. Almost everyone can learn and develop a skill. Intelligence is innate, but even those individuals with average or below-average IQs can be very successful by learning how to think. Yes, there are many who are allergic to hard work, but everyone has the opportunity to work hard. With the right mindset, anyone can possess enormous amounts of determination. And of course we all can persevere if we choose to be patient. Too often, people are willing to give up because they aren’t determined and patient enough. Are people who consistently enjoy high levels of success just lucky, or have they discovered their talent, honed their skill, learned how to think critically, worked hard, been doggedly determined and are supremely patient?

Who needs luck when we can wrap a cocoon of energy from a positive mindset around our talent, skill, intelligence, hard work, determination and perseverance? The universe works in amazing ways and perhaps we resist negativity and bad outcomes by living inside this cocoon? Suppose we’re competing for a contract and we lose. Some might say that our woo-woo positive approach didn’t work. But I choose to see it differently. Instead, I get very excited when I don’t win because it means that something better is in store for me. In the moment that may be hard to see. But I’ve experienced this concept countless times. There have actually been instances when I’ve later learned that what we “lost” would not necessarily have been right for us in the first place. I remember vying to acquire an apartment property in a small town but did not win the bid. A few months later the major employer in that town pulled up stakes and left – occupancy at the apartment property we had wanted to buy was devastated.

Luck and fate are abstractions that can allow us to rationalize our success or failure. Living the most positive lifestyle possible eliminates the need for carrying a rabbit’s foot or wearing a garlic necklace to ward off evil spirits.

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.

garlic necklace

Hyperopia

Here’s a fundamental question for all entrepreneurs. Are you a visionary? Being a visionary and having a corporate vision are two different things, so take care not to confuse the two. For a company, a non-profit or any other organization to thrive and succeed over a long period of time, visionary leadership is paramount. And unfortunately, many companies stagnate and die when the visionary leader moves on for whatever reason. That’s why it’s crucial for a company to continuously develop visionaries across generations that will help to sustain the organization in the future.

It’s not hard to think about individuals who exemplify the term “visionary.” Steve Jobs comes to my mind before anyone else. He was a rebel and an unconventional thinker who wasn’t afraid to take risks. Similarly, Bill Gates was a visionary who became the richest man in the world as a result of his ability to understand and shape the future. What comes to mind when you hear these names – Henry Ford, Wilbur and Orville Wright, John D.  Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Sam Walton, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg? Each was a phenomenal innovator. Each had an uncanny sense of where the world was going. Each had dreams but was also a doer.

Being a visionary is partially innate and partially learned. So, what can we do to develop our visionary leadership skills? How curious are you? Do you read everything you can get your hands on? Visionaries are expansive readers and are curious about everything. Curiosity stimulates the imagination and helps bring forth new ideas manifesting in a high degree of creativity. How persevering are you? The next time you’re ready to throw in the towel remember that visionaries have a stick-to-it attitude. They are highly resilient and believe they can solve any problem. Visionaries love discussion and debate. Some may see this as confrontation but it really isn’t. Instead, a visionary likes to listen to differing points of view even when it gets a bit lively.

What other ways can we model visionary behavior? Do you embrace change or are you more comfortable living with doing things the same way? Visionaries are change agents. They like to teach and are focused on doing the right thing. Integrity ranks high on their list of values. Do you have high expectations for your team? Sometimes the line between high vs. unreasonable expectations can blur a bit. But don’t expect a visionary to set a low bar. Visionaries tend to be eternal optimists and can’t see a glass half empty – it’s always half full. And visionaries are some of the most passionate people you’ll ever meet. Finally, visionaries don’t live in the details – they are quintessential delegators.

A visionary has a knack for looking at a collection of data and telling the future. He sees things that others don’t and isn’t the least bit concerned if his ideas are pooh-poohed. In fact, he’ll work hard to persuade others to buy into what he believes because he has a supreme degree of self-confidence.

By emulating their behaviors, traits and tendencies, we too can become visionaries. Our value to our organization increases exponentially when we provide visionary leadership.

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.

eye doctor

Grrrrrrreat!

Question: Is there a secret formula for “greatness?” Some people seem to be destined that way. The rest of us . . . I’m not so sure sometimes.

Answer: Think about the people who you might consider being great – they can be living or dead. Who do you include? Albert Einstein? George Washington? Jonas Salk? Mother Teresa? What do all of these people have in common? They were all human beings, just like you and me. Each of them faced trials and tribulations similar to our own. None of them set out to be great. So just how did they rise to the level of respect and achievement that they did?

Each of these great people worked hard to live to their full potential. No one actually does this completely. But some people seem to get closer than others. So what does this say about mankind? We all are meant to do great things. When I was a child my parents pushed me hard to be better. My teachers did the same. On the basketball court my coaches rode me hard. There were times when I resented this but as an adult I realize that each parent, teacher and coach saw that I had potential and wanted me to achieve it. I attribute some of my success to having these people believe in me and encourage me to reach for the stars.

Some of us weren’t pushed as hard during our formative years as was I. So how do we do great things? Here’s the formula:

(Big Dreams + Risk Something) + (Resilience + Perseverance) + Positivity = Greatness

We can’t do great things if we don’t dream big dreams. Why don’t more people dream bigger? Because often there is risk involved or they don’t believe they can realize their dreams. But when we dream big and we put ourselves at risk, then we have a chance to make a real difference. And there’s no doubt that when we do both of these things we may not always succeed immediately. So it’s imperative that we bounce back and keep on trying. In the immortal words of Winston Churchill – we never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. Finally we must maintain a positive outlook on everything we’re doing. Negativity blocks the flow of positive energy that we need to make the formula work. There’s one word that describes all of this . . . mindset. Great people who do great things have a great mindset.

You and I can have a great mindset. It requires practice every single day. Our DNA is programmed for us to do great things. When our mindset is in the right place, our greatness 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.

Einstein

The “F” Word

Question: Recently I’ve been unsuccessful with several things in my life including a relationship, a business initiative and with an attempt to buy a house. How do I stop feeling like such a loser?

Answer: You are referring to a concept that most of us call failure. And you can take comfort in knowing that all of us encounter it periodically. Everyone. How each of us deals with failure is another matter. In my book, An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By, I wrote a chapter in which I say that “Mistakes are simply unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life.” I believe that the same statement can be made about failure.

If we look at failure as a finite experience it can be profoundly negative. But if we see failure as merely a step in a process, then there is hope. And hope is generally a positive emotion. It all boils down to how we choose to view what the world might typically deem a failure. The process of failure is actually a process of elimination . . . what works and what doesn’t. We tend to get caught up in the emotions surrounding failure and may be unable to see the good that can come from it. These emotions run the gamut from frustration, embarrassment and inadequacy to anger, despair and blame.

We owe Thomas A. Edison a huge debt of gratitude (as well as a number of other inventors over the centuries). He made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts to invent the light bulb but when asked about this by a reporter, he responded, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” Imagine the emotional control he must have had. But rather than giving up and accepting each “step” as a failure, he learned how to make little tweaks that eventually led to success.

Perhaps if we look at our failures in a more scientific manner – as part of a discovery process – we can overcome the negative emotion that often is associated with apparent setbacks. This along with a good dose of perseverance, resilience, a positive mindset and coupled with an expectation of good results, can propel us to the success we seek. This is a powerful recipe that all boils down to how we choose to think.

When we choose to learn from our experiences the “steps” toward success are infinitely good. As entrepreneurs and human beings we can then embrace this process as part of the richness and fullness of life.

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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