Earlier in the year I wrote a post explaining why being great wasn’t really all it was cracked up to be (here it is). But some people; a small number of people actually, really want to be great and are prepared to do what it takes to realise their dreams.
This post is for them.
Over the years I must have read hundreds of “how I became successful” books from Robert Townsend’s excellent book Up the Organisation in the late 1970′s through Thriving on Chaos, Good to Great and Seth Godin’s masterpiece Outliers. Added to that I am also an avid reader of biographies.
So what you have here are the top 5 things that most of those people seem to be able to do all presented in bite-sized portions.
1 – Sweep away the barriers – believe anything is possible.
At the beginning of 1954 some 100,000 after modern man evolved nobody had run a mile within 4 minutes. Roger Bannister changed all that and by the end of the year so had another 4 runners. Why? Because once the mental barrier had been removed people began to believe and with belief comes achievement.
We clutter our lives with all sorts of self-imposed barriers that only serve to hold us back. Sweep these aside and REALLY believe that you can do anything you set your mind to and your world will change forever.
2 – Become obsessed with quality.
I looked up the definition of the word “obsession” and here it is: “a persistent idea or impulse that continually forces its way into consciousness”. Say what you like but consistent high quality always differentiates and the greats have never settled for anything less.
If you want to be great make absolute quality a daily obsession with the small things as well as the big.
3 – Give yourself time to improve.
I’m in the improvement business and let me tell you people do not give themselves enough time to change. Olympic athletes don’t win gold medals without practising, great golfers spend a lot of time with their coaches on the range and you won’t get fit and lose weight without finding the time to look after yourself and work out.
You can’t improve without investing some time and the more you invest the better you’ll get. Full in-boxes, blocked-out calendars, needy staff and the inability to say “no” when you should all conspire against us but if this sounds like your life then I’m afraid your chances of becoming great are as slim as my son’s wallet when we go do the pub.
I suggest 20 minutes a day to learn or experiment (both are necessary for change) – add that up and it comes out to about 10 days a year all invested in making you better. Now that’s time well spent!
4 – Fail, fail and fail again.
You need to experiment to improve. fact!
You will fail sometimes when you experiment. Fact!
Therefore if you want to improve you have to be prepared to fail, learn from the experience, decide what to do differently and then try it all over again.
Persistence is omnipotent!
5 – Feed yourself with greatness.
Should you reinvent the wheel every time you wanted to go for a drive? I think not.
Should you work out the best way to deliver a presentation from scratch? Nope.
So should you really spend time working out how to do something when somebody else has almost certainly done it already and written a book about it? Of course you shouldn’t but people do.
These days there are plenty of ways to absorb data but until we can have an implant into our brains like in the Matrix (I would start with learning how to play the piano or any kind of dance) we have to do it ourselves. Here are my top four sources of information: -
- Blogs – there are millions of them. You can find them through Google or better yet, by following the right people on Twitter and they’re concise enough to be read and absorbed quickly. Fast food learning right there dear readers.
- Books – still my favourite because of the range and depth of material covered and the fact that the author can take their time conveying their message. Of course you do have to find the time to read it…….
- People – every thing you need to know is known by the people you know and the people who they know. Go out of your way to mix with the right people and soak up what they know and what they can do. Most people are flattered to be asked too.
- Videos – with YouTube and TED.com stuffed with fascinating, informative and extremely easy to watch video content you are never short of something to watch. Check out my top 10 TED video’s here.
What next then?
- Decide if you really want to be great – how much are you prepared to sacrifice?
- Print off this blog post and stick it to your fridge door.
- Do what it says.
Let me start by illustrating the two occasions when training is not a waste of money; that is, you don’t just learn some new things but you actually change as a result.
When you have no choice.
In the 80′s I was a programmer working at a large UK council. I was trained in a database language called IMS (I know you don’t really care but I’m a stickler for factual accuracy) when they decided that the project I was working on would use a different language instead called DB2 (there I go again).
We were all given new development plans and sent on a training course to learn the new language and when we came back were expected to be able to write programs using DB2. I have to tell this was a great incentive to learn and sure enough I came back from the course and began to use my new skills immediately. The training had worked!
So what can we learn from this?
- Change happens when the new skills you are learning become an integral part of your working life and you cannot function without them.
When you REALLY want to change
I had somebody attend one of my 1-day personal effectiveness and efficiency courses a few years back who had paid to come on it themselves. He worked for a medium-sized property company and had reached the stage where he was “going to have a nervous breakdown” if he didn’t do something about the hours he worked and the stress he was under.
This was most unusual because everybody I had seen before had been sent, and paid for, by their employer presumably because they felt they needed to improve. He had chosen to come because he really wanted to change his circumstances. I have to say that he was by far and away the most motivated and involved participant on that day; perhaps ever and he was determined to get every ounce of value from it.
This story has a very nice ending in that he wrote me an email only very recently to say that he had transformed his life after the day by saying “no” more often, delegating properly and only doing the things that really mattered (pretty much the course in a nutshell there folks saving you the expense of having to attend – I’m just a giver I guess).
In truth it wasn’t me who changed his life; he did it himself by his determination to improve his circumstances.
Another lesson then.
- Change is much more likely if somebody passionately wants to move on.
So why is this important?
Well industry spends billions of pounds on training every year and according to a study run by Xerox only 10% of it actually results in a change in the workplace. Even if you doubt the figures think about the last course you went on and now be honest and say how much of what you learned is actually part of your everyday lives today.
So if you want to make your training budget have more effect you should make sure that you either create an environment where people cannot function without using what they have learned (what we do in Flair) or only select people who are desperate to change. Preferably both!
I am a big fan of personal development but I cannot stand waste; if you’re with me why not review your training strategy along these lines and see where it takes you?
So. You’re over weight; you know what to do (eat less and move more) but you’re still overweight.
You’re out of puff when you run for the bus. You know what to do (exercise for 20 minutes 3 times a week) but you’re still unfit.
Your clients aren’t as loyal as you would like and you know what to do (more contact and don’t be less than great) but they’re still giving work to the competition.
Here’s the thing. Change is not just about education. In fact that’s the easy bit. The hard bit, the bit that makes the difference is breaking one set of habits and replacing them with another. Tricky stuff.
So what’s the message here? Well just because you’ve sent someone on a course; circulated an email or held a meeting to explain what people should be doing there is no guarantee that they will work differently. In fact you can pretty much bet they won’t. Change needs an investment of time and nobody’s got any spare time to give.
If you want change try this as an approach: -
- Find out who is up for change and put all your effort into them first
- Build a framework to break and rebuild habits.
- Show people what you want them to be like.
- Make people accountable for change
- Ensure they free up some time in order to make the transition.
Imagine a sales coach asking that question; well I just did and for good reason.
How many times have you witnessed talented sales coaches or trainers being hired, everybody being washed through an expensive training day and then raving about how great it all was afterwards? Loads, I’m guessing, but how much did their behaviour change as a result?
Well for a short time the answer is probably “quite a bit” but if the environment they work in remains the same it is inevitable they will gradually revert back to their old ways of working but perhaps retaining a few tips and hints from the course. Not a very good return on investment, I think you’ll agree.
Now let’s look at when training works well. Somebody in the team is not working in the same was as everybody else and needs to be brought into line. They receive the appropriate training; come back into the workplace and have a compelling reason to use their new skills. Bingo! The working environment is the key.
As you may be aware I specialise in business development coaching for lawyers and accountants who, as professions, tend not to have very strong sales environments so coaching often results in no significant change and everybody’s disappointed. So here’s an alternative plan: -
- Build a robust, systematic and organised sales environment.
- Find and implement a suitable CRM system and deploy a Dynamic Pipeline Model onto it.
- Put somebody in charge of sales not just a coordinator but somebody who has some real power over events.
- Run structured and properly chaired sales meetings not just talking shops
- Coach people how to work in this environment after it has been implemented!
Now, because I like some aspects better than others they are the ones that get more of my attention. I am always keen to make a start on them, read around the subject and try and make an effort to improve my performance. All great stuff but………
The problem is the reason those other parts of my job exist is because they are required in order to deliver my product to my clients, but because I don’t really like dipping my finger in I just do enough to get by. This cannot be right.
Imagine a doctor who was great at diagnosis but didn’t update your notes or keep up to date with the latest treatments. What about an airline pilot who was great at flying the plane but couldn’t be bothered to do the preflight checks or keep abreast of any modifications to his plane. The list can go on but the result is the same: no matter how good people are at aspects of their job they cannot be considered as “great” unless they are good at all of them.
So if you’re a professional services provider: a lawyer, accountant, banker or consultant and you only focus on the fee-earning part of your remit you can never be great. You must be as keen to develop and hone your skills at business development, management, client care and strategic thinking in that same way that you would for your chosen vocation.
This means finding time to do them, making every effort to get better (attending courses, reading books and blogs, talking to other practitioners and even contributing to the subject yourself) and keeping abreast of any new innovations, ideas and tools. Imagine doing that for the above list!
I know some of you may suggest that because I live in a greenhouse I should keep my mits away from the pebbles but my sincere belief is that we should all self-examine: what is our complete job description? Do we really embrace each aspect of it in the same way? How do we need to change to be great at everything we do?
Some people I know already take this view, others really don’t care but to be honest they are probably not the ones who would spend time reading this kind of blog anyway. But if you truly want to be great at what you do then strive to be great at everything you do.
The use of mentors is a very powerful way for people to change their behaviour. They are totally bespoke, completely focused on you but, regrettably, very expensive. In fact they are usually reserved for senior management and directors but if you are lucky enough to have access to a mentor and are committed to change then you most surely will.
Heroes are all around us. They are people we may know personally, sometimes famous people or perhaps people we work alongside but have no personal contact with. The things that all heroes have in common is that they inspire and lift us and usually can provide some knowledge or experience that we can learn and grow from. In many cases we have to receive this information from their writings or video clips (whoever invented YouTube should receive the freedom of Wolverhampton Football Club as a reward) but it doesn’t matter because so long as we can get access to it that should be enough.
Here’s the sad thing though. Many people can’t have a mentor and don’t look for heroes so they don’t find them so they never get the benefit of their experience and they fail to grow. Shame. The overwhelming majority of successful people have benefitted from the inspiration and knowledge of others and so could you.
It is definitely not for me to say who your heroes should be but here are two of mine. The first is a video clip of Steve Jobs talking at a graduation day at Stanford University and the second is a Blog from Tim Ferris who wrote the 4 Hour Work Week. I have many, many others and yet am always on the lookout for more.
Steve Jobs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA
Tim Ferris: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/
Want to accelerate your development but got no cash? Get a hero (or two) and lift your game to their level.
Here’s a story that will make you realise that nothing can defeat the human spirit when it decides it wants to achieve something.
Daniel Kish had is eyes removed at the age of 13 months due to retinal cancer and so has never know the gift of sight. However, you are very likely to see him cycling unaided through his local park or hiking in the mountains in charge of a group of blind teenagers.
Daniel has developed the art of echolocation to fantastic heights. By continually making clicking sounds and then listening for the echos coming from the objects around him he can build a mental picture of where he is and what obstacles are in his way.
Here he is hiking right next to a sheer drop – awesome!
He now spends his time teaching other blind people to do the same effectively giving them a whole new sense and thus providing them with a freedom that they have not experienced since they had full sight or forever if they were born blind.
A remarkable story and very inspiring but what difference does that make to you, you may well ask. Well I think it makes loads of difference. Most of us have a tendency to give up on things if they hard to master (imagine how hard it is to become a human bat) preferring instead to defer back to the old and comfortable ways. I don’t think Daniel opted for this approach.
If you want something badly enough and are prepared to sacrifice whatever it takes to get it then nothing can stop you. Change almost always comes down to perseverance and a willingness to fail – in Daniels case I imagine that this involved real pain.
Inspiration comes from within, change comes from sacrifice and fear crowns the status quo as king!
Imagine walking into a book shop (a bit easier than imagining all the books on Amazon) and seeing all those books: millions of words all designed to entertain, inform and educate you.
You can buy a book for a few pounds and read it in a few hours without fully recognising that it may represent many years of research and experimentation carried out by the author. All that information concentrated and made available to you for a tiny investment in time and money. What a trip!
So I reckon the real question has to be why doesn’t everybody buy books, read them and become an expert – easy! We could all be masters of our corporate universe: no wasted time, totally effective, awesomely creative, killer delegators - the list can go on. But it won’t because that’s not what happens, is it?
No; buy a book, go on a course, subscribe to an e-learning programme and yet the actual amount of change in your behaviour is miniscule. Same goes for team members you send on courses – all that investment giving a tiny sustainable improvement. In fact according to Xerox, who conducted a worldwide study of their training effectiveness, only 18% of their training budget actually resulted in any change. What a king-sized drag.
So why is that and what can you do about it?
There are several reasons for this but here are the two main ones: -
- Time – change takes time and you have to build this time into your schedule. I have no researched figures on this but I would suggest you reserve an hour or two per week for 6 weeks for every day on a course or for 4 weeks for every book you read.
- Timing - is crucial for change. If somebody isn’t ready they won’t change – simple as. This applies for you too. Look for what they call a “seminal event” that is an external reason for people to kick themselves into gear. Such things as a change in personal circumstances, threats to the lifestyle or employment status or problems that have not been encountered before.
So what to do? Firstly look for the seminal event that will push any change agenda through whether this is for a member of your team or for yourself. Secondly ensure you schedule some transition time to enable that person to experiment and adjust to the new material.
Einstein said that the definition of madness was doing the same thing over and over again in the same way but expecting a different outcome each time.
Is training a waste of money? No of course it isn’t but if you want to get more change bangs for your training bucks listen to Einstein and implement the new material in a different way: pick your time then find some time.
I remember the day I had my first mobile phone. It was fitted into my car and meant that all that “dead time” I spent driving I could now dedicate to catching up with my calls and keeping on top of my game.
I also remember my first laptop. Anywhere I went I could review my emails, work on documents and tinker around with spreadsheets and then I got my hands on an aircard so I could be on-line as well. Train journey’s had never been so productive.
But there was something else too. My focus had changed. Sure, I spent time building forecasts and long term plans but most of my attention was directed towards the operational here-and-now. Not such a bad thing perhaps but with all my “dead time” went the ideas; the smaller innovations and the light-bulb moments that used to come to me in the car and on train journey’s – I spent precious little time working on my business and almost all of it working in my business.
In Flair we call this thinking time Purple Time and I happen to believe it is vital to anybody who is on a journey: wants to move forward from where they are now to a different place. I had pretty much lost most of my Purple Time.
Luckily for me about this time I took up running again and discovered a whole new source of Purple Time that was even more productive than before. As soon as I was in my stride, usually a mile or two, I would forget I was running and my mind would be somewhere else. All I had to do was hurriedly right down my ideas as soon as I returned home and I was fine. The shower had a tendency to wash ideas away along with the dirt and the sweat.
I know that a number of people reading this will dispense with the idea of having spare time to think and would prefer to be doing all the time. I am perfectly fine with that belief. But if you recognise that most progress comes from somebody somewhere thinking “ah ha! Now that’s a much better way of doing things” then you must manufacture some new Purple Time of your own. This is especially true for managers and business developers where this kind of deep thinking is crucial.
Mobiles, laptops, WiFi, Blackberrys and PDA’s mean we can be connected to our operational duties pretty much anywhere on the planet (except on the train from Birmingham to London of course where the signal strength is lousy) leaving precious little time for anything else.
Make some space for yourself. Use your Purple Time to work on your business and let innovation and creativity flood back into your business lives. Here’s a few ideas to try out: -
- Next time you are on a train journey sit in the quiet zone and leave your laptop and your work in your bag.
- I know that strictly speaking lunch is for wimps but at least one lunchtime a week leave the office and walk for an hour on your own.
- If you are an exercise-minded person you have probably already discovered Purple Time but if you haven’t then why not avoid watching MTV on the treadmill and see how it goes.
- I would not recommend thinking too hard whilst driving – all your senses should be focused on the road but just turn off your radio and see what happens.
Give these ideas a try and do persist – it will take you a little while to find your “Purple Feet” but once you have them there is no going back. Oh and do leave the iPod at home. Music helps you think but prevents deep levels of thought being reached.
Some years ago I wanted a small brochure which I intended to hand out to prospective clients with a few appropriate inserts added for good measure. We didn’t have the right skills in-house so I asked around a bit and managed to find two firms who seemed to fit the bill. I invited them in for a chat.
Now, I’m not the kind of guy to beat about the bush when I know what I want. I like to explain my requirements and answer any questions the supplier might have then I want him or her to tell me their proposal. That’s just how I roll and I don’t think I am alone on this.
Anyhow, the first supplier arrived. I was very keen to make it a pleasant and brief experience for both of us so I suggested I explain what I wanted. I even had some examples of other people’s folders with notes explaining what I did and did not like about each one . Tragically this did not meet with the expectations of my guest one bit.
“How about I just tell you a little bit about my company” he said sweeping my lovingly placed samples to one side. Before I could say “well no, I don’t think so matey” he was off. I think he had covered his clients history from 1957, their turnover, staff numbers and offices and we were just getting to the “and this is our extensive product range” when I managed to shut him up.
I began to explain my needs for a second time until I was forced to take breath, as one does, at which point he was off again – listing out his product range and proudly explaining about their creative design capabilities. It was a nightmare!
I tried one more time with to avail – he had clearly had his sales approach beaten into him and he was going to follow it to the bitter end. Which he absolutely did.
When he finally fell silent I genuinely think he expected a round of applause or something. Instead I suggested he send me a brief email to include price, design, specification and timescales. Then he left no doubt feeling it was a good meeting. It wasn’t.
The second person was exactly the opposite. His opening line was “Is there anything you would like to know about me or my company or shall we get straight into your requirements?” Brilliant! I have used a variation of that opener many times myself since then. He listened as I went through the specification, took notes and when I had finished asked a series of questions. He then produced a couple of samples from his bag that were pretty close to what I wanted and he noted down my modifications. We hadn’t even talked about price and he had got the deal.
Now I wonder: how many times have you opened a sales pitch or a presentation with a whole lot of stuff about you? Do you really think they are interested in how many offices you have, how long you have been going or what your product or service offering looks like? Well here’s the skinny – they almost certainly aren’t.
Next time why not give the poor prospects a chance – ask them if there is anything they want to know about you and if they don’t press on to the bit they really find interesting – their requirements. It will work wonders!