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.
This morning I attended the funeral of John Ashcroft originally my driver but later he became a good friend. Please don’t stop reading I’m not going to get all sentimental on you but he did leave a strong legacy we can all share.
As I was sitting in a packed out chapel listening to the excellent eulogy by one of his old clients something became obvious to me: John had an incredibly strong brand without all the usual cost, time and hoo-har involved in building one.
He was a freelance professional driver; a one-man band who did everything from arrange his work, drive his clients around and attend to his finances all the way up to looking interested as we droned on about our own little lives. So how could somebody who did all those things still have time to build a strong, really really strong, brand?
Well truth be told John didn’t care for brands (“and all that jazz”) but what he did care for was: -
- Making sure his clients were always delighted with what he did for them
- Living his favourite quote “the answer’s ‘yes’ now what’s the question”.
- Never letting them down – EVER!
- Always being able to react to the last minute changes his clients subjected him to.
- Always making his clients feel special.
- Always being cheerful, happy to listen and open to anything new (he was a regular Facebooker).
- Never being late and so never needing an excuse.
You see John had no need of a fancy logo or a mission statement or an elevator speech or a strap-line. He just consistently did what it said on the tin: delighted his clients and as he did so his brand took care of itself.
So next time anybody mentions branding to you think of John and think of what he stood for and you’ll know exactly what to do next.
Well done Europe and commiserations to the USA who came very close to nailing it. Great golf but what can we learn from it that would be useful in business?
Well the first thing to say is that everybody on both teams were great golfers; that’s a gimme. Each player has enormous talent and ability but more than that they are used to delivering under pressure and in the spotlight. Pretty similar to life in the second decade of the 21st century really: everybody is pretty good. The recession has cleared out most of the poor performers so quality is no longer the edge it used to be.
So what was it that made the European team raise their game and win? I think it came down to 3 things.
Jose Maria Olazabal provided truly great leadership: support, discipline, belief all in abundance. After the win he said to his team “All men die, but not all men live. And you have made me feel alive again this week”.
As Rory McIlroy put it “He has made us cry in the team room this week, some of us have broken down into tears with some of his speeches”. Even after the game was won Olazabal was urging on Francesco Molinari to win his match.
Never underestimate the power of inspired leadership.
Passion for the Cause
The late Seve Ballesteros became the cause for this European Ryder cup team. Olazabal had partnered him on numerous Ryder Cup teams in the past and had a special bond that went beyond their shared homeland. But Seve was so well liked and respected he became the cause that everybody rallied around.
Olazabal said ”Seve will always be present with this team” a sentiment added to by Sergio Garcia who said “We did believe, there’s no doubt that we’ve been inspired by Seve, through our captain.” Again Rory McIlroy summed it up “knowing that Seve’s looking down on us, it’s just been one of the most incredible days that I’ve ever had on the golf course.”
Wanting to win is natural in all sports people but having a shared cause that everyone has a passion for lifted their performance to a different level and one that the Americans were unable to match.
Having a shared passion for a single cause that sits above the obvious prize makes all the difference in the world.
There may have been momentary doubts; there must have been. To be faced with 12 matches and the opposition only has to win 4 of them would seem an impossible task especially when faced by a talented and pumped up USA team but they always hung on to the belief “we can win”.
Justin Rose said after his amazing win over Phil Mickelson “Jose told us to believe and we really wanted to, we really did.”. Belief helps you to pick yourself up when you have fallen and can steer you through the narrowest of gaps to pass the finishing line first. In short, belief promotes persistence – which will surely conquer all that lies before it.
Following one of Olazabal’s dressing room talks and even though they were 4 points adrift Ian Poulter said ”We weren’t four points down. We felt like we were all square. We just knew we had a chance. And do you know this is history right here.”
If you believe in yourself you really can achieve miracles.
So what can we take away from all this?
In business we can’t just rely on being better than the next firm we must look within ourselves and ask these questions: do we really have a cause not just a target and are we all passionate about it? Do we believe in ourselves and those around us and finally do our leaders support, believe and inspire us to achieve the seemingly impossible.
So, with the week in front of us about to unfold how do our organisations match up to the European Ryder Cup Team of 2012?
Richard St. John is a success analyst who spends his time researching, speaking on and writing about success. These 8 secrets stemmed from a question a schoolgirl asked him on an aeroplane for which he had no clear answer.
This simple question inspired a 7 year journey of discovery that embraced over 500 interviews of successful people like Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates, Frank Gehry and Norman Jewison across business, the sciences and the arts.
- do it for love not for money.
- if you do it for love the money will follow.
- passions are the first thing you thing of in the morning and the last thing you think of at night.
2. Work hard
- the harder you work the more you will achieve
- success rarely comes without hard work; lucky winners are few and far between.
3. Be good at what you do
- work long and hard to be good at something
- practice; practice; practice
- when it comes down to it if you aren’t good at what you do you can’t be a success and sustain it
- concentrate all your efforts into one or two goals.
- without focus your resources will be too thinly stretched to achieve real success.
5. Push yourself
- physically and mentally push yourself to your limits
- push through shyness and self-doubt
- make it a privilege to serve people
- serve other people something they will find of value
- think more about the needs of your stakeholders than of your own needs
7. Have ideas
- you must find the time to think
- seek inspiration from whatever and whomsoever you can: books; TED; mentors; gurus
- listen; observe; be curious; ask questions; problem solve; make connections.
- persist through failure
- persist through CRAP: Criticism; Rejection; Assholes; Pressure
I happen to think that these simple, yet powerful, ideas are both accurate and inspirational. Also since they are Mr St. John’s and not mine I feel justified in asking you to Tweet this out and pass onto others who are searching for their way forward.
These words propagate the status quo, suppress change and create a whole world of “can’t do” so should be avoided whenever possible.
- If I could just get that job/lose weight/pass that exam/win that client my life would be so much better.
- If I can find some time I am going to get on top of my Inbox and keep it that way.
- If you want me to do that I will have to have this, that and the other in place first.
- When I get time that’s the next thing I’m going to do
- When I have read up on social media I will join LinkedIn and get connected.
- When you’re as old as me you don’t need to follow the rules.
- I hear what you’re saying BUT that does not apply to me.
- That is a great idea BUT……
- I can see what you’re suggesting is right for most places BUT it just won’t work here.
When you feel the need to use any of these cop-out words think again: is what you’re saying true or could it be down to the threat of losing control, laziness, fear of change or just because it wasn’t your idea in the first place. Instead why not try a different answer like “how could we”, “why don’t we” or “what if we did this”.
Answers are everything. It’s better work towards them than stand in the way of their discovery.
Why does anybody swap suppliers? Sometimes it’s because there is a cheaper alternative but mostly it isn’t. Would you swap dentists because a cheaper one set up next door? Unlikely. In reality people keep the status quo and only move on for a reason and in most cases whether they stay or go is up to you.
Here are three of the most popular causes for client departures: -
- “Perceived indifference” - the client thinks you don’t care any more even though you do. They feel neglected and can only look back with wistful fondness to the days when you were courting them and couldn’t do enough for them. They just want to be loved and cared for but sadly you’re just not hitting the spot anymore.
- Poor quality – you simply aren’t delivering the quality they expect for the money they’re paying and because of point 1 above you don’t even know it. Regardless of the product or service you offer great quality is the best form of protection you can get.
- Knock-out deal - one of your competitors has a brain-wave and comes up with a new and innovative product that totally blows your client away. Sometimes this innovation can lower the price but keep the quality; sometimes the price is irrelevant.
So how can you make sure your clients don’t wander off and misbehave with the competition?
- Treat your clients like your friends – contact them often and not always about work, shoot the breeze with them, show you appreciate them rather than just tell them, make them laugh, surprise them, listen to what they have to say, be there for them and take an interest in them as people not just as a source of revenue.
- Never become complacent with your quality - treat complaints as a way to improve and not a nuisance to be side-stepped, genuinely ask people what they think (avoid questionnaires), hunt down poor quality and deal with it at source and never accept “it’ll do” as an answer.
- Make time to innovate – if you’re running at 100 mph you can only just manage to keep on top of your BAU let alone come up with great new innovations. Watch, listen, ask and think before gathering some of your key support team together and asking them “so what does the future look like?” Full heads means full diaries and full diaries mean no head-space for creativity.
Simples innit? Treat your clients as you would treat your friends and never become complacent and your client estate will only grow and, as a nice bonus, you’ll get more client referrals than you know what to do with!
Actually these days being great at what you do isn’t an option in the same way that a steering wheel isn’t an option on a car; its sort of essential to make the car work properly. The problem is that whilst we all know this it’s an “I’m Spartacus” moment where the real message is lost in all the other noise (if you’re not sure what I’m talking about check this out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8h_v_our_Q).
So let’s just reflect for a moment on what being great really means. Great politicians such as Winston Churchill; great sports people such as Serena Williams or great innovators such as the late, and very, great Steve Jobs all have a few key elements of their personality that are the same.
Of course these are exceptional people so can these same traits be applied in our more ordinary lives?
I think so especially these three key characteristics: -
- Perfectionist - never stop until it’s what your client asked for or even better.
- Innovator – today’s new is tomorrow’s old but what are you working on for the day after?
- Benefactor - the ABCD factor; above and beyond the call of duty.
Strive for Perfection
When you’re rushed “good enough” sometimes has to do. I know this and so does everybody else but your client doesn’t care; they only see the final outcome of your efforts and if it’s not what they asked for they will not be best pleased. Perception is everything here so the key is to understand what your client actually wants – asking lots of questions is a good start followed by reflecting back your understanding for confirmation.
When you know what they want and before you start to deliver it take a moment to think what “better than that” looks like because this is your actual target. Your goal is simple then: deliver the “better than that” option and make it perfect.
Innovate to Propagate
Isn’t it amazing how fast the world moves these days. Until the Internet revolution free stuff before you’d even bought anything was usually pretty lame. Then somebody cottoned on to the fact that if you give away really valuable stuff it draws people into you and begins to form a business relationship. Now if you don’t offer freebies people think there’s something wrong with you and hastily press onto the next site.
Now, has it happens I’m not entirely in favour of free stuff: “no cost” often equates to “no value” in many people’s minds but the point is yesterday’s innovative idea rapidly becomes the norm.
So greatness encompasses a deep-seated desire to come up with something new, exciting and useful in your particular discipline. Size, as I tell everybody who will listen, isn’t everything. What matters is that it is new and raises an inquisitive eye-brow in your clients.
Let the people you serve know you love them
Above and beyond the call of duty; going the extra mile; climbing the last peak – the list of clichés goes on but the truth is whilst perfection is making your offering great doing unexpected and perhaps quite lateral things will make you even more noticeable.
Sending a written thank you card or remembering a piece of specific information like a birthday or special interest and then acting upon it shows you care. In other words you actually demonstrate to (not just tell) the people you serve that they matter to you and you see them as more than just a meal ticket.
And so to conclude….
The whole point here is that whilst you could get away with being OK or even good at what you do in the past in the new world exploding around us this just isn’t going to be good enough. Steering wheels aren’t optional extras and neither is being truly great at what you do any more.
“You’re simply the best, better than all the rest, better than anyone, anyone I’ve ever met” warbled Tina Turner a long time ago. But, had she been singing about businesses she would have been leading us all up the wrong path.
Think about it. This obsession we have to be the best at whatever we do is just not possible because it implies that the rules are the same and so are the ways we measure “best” like runners competing in the 100m sprint. Whilst the rules and the measurement are the same for all competitors (start at the same time and first through the tape is the best) in business this is just not the case.
Let’s explore this a little further. I asked my son who his favourite actor was and his response was no real surprise “do you mean comedy or action dad?” in other words “best” depended upon context. Added to that when I asked my daughter the same question she provided a different list of names to my son. Personal preference can also affect “best” just as much as context.
So supposing you wanted to be the best window cleaner in the land. To some people this would mean the cheapest, others it would be the most thorough whilst another set might be looking for those added extras like washing down the paintwork at the same time you clean the glass. Each group of customers would measure your performance according to what was important to them.
Now here’s the dangerous part: trying to be the best at whatever you do is almost certainly likely to be based upon what you think rather than what your clients think. This means there is a very strong possibility that your version of “best” may not be their version. Result: unhappy clients and a disappointed you. In business the only thing that matters is what your clients think.
So what can you do? Well the really successful organisations do three things: -
- They have a very clear idea of who their target market are. Whilst they recognise they can’t satisfy everyone they don’t care as long as this group has their needs met or, better still, surpassed.
- They focus all their energy on finding out what the needs and preferences of these people are and they shape their offering and the way they deliver it to entirely meet those needs.
- They are constantly reassessing what their market needs and how well they are satisfying them – complacency is a stealthy killer.
Well there you have it dear reader. Trying to be the best for too wider group of people will almost certainly result in you providing an average service to all of them. Why not focus upon a smaller and more defined target group; take some time to understand what they want and how they want it delivered to them (the best according to them) and then continually strive to deliver. Greatness beckons I think.
As it turns out Tina Turner has done that for her audience for many years with enduring success and long may she continue to do so.
I still remember my first day in a real job. It was July 13th 1982 and I had just graduated with a degree in computer science. Even now I can remember feelings of discomfort and fear mingled with excitement and anticipation: a heady mix indeed. But there was another very powerful driver: a deep-seated fear of upsetting people.
Perhaps it stemmed from my childhood (must get that analysts appointment booked in the diary) or maybe everybody feels that way I don’t know but it was certainly a huge influence on my early career; making me behave and react in certain ways but always with a need to be liked and not offend.
Now these are quite natural feelings; who wants to be disliked or who wants to offend people but what I didn’t realise is this: occasionally, when you champion a cause, take a stance or support one of your values some people will be offended or may dislike you for it. This is an unfortunate fact of life.
Later in my career I worked for a remarkable man called Mike Sparkes. He was my first agent and represented me during my entire freelance career as an IT professional. Then, when I switched over to sales, he was my boss and a very short time after that he became my business partner. I had the privilege of working with him for 18 glorious months before a man who should have had an extra couple of hours in bed turned the key in his lorry instead. But during that brief time I think I learned more about business than any other time in my career and it was Mike who made me think differently about making enemies. Quite frankly he was pretty relaxed about it all.
His view was simple: if you’re not pushing the boundaries you’ll never be great and pushing the boundaries can create conflict. Believe in something, have a set of values and defend them to the hilt. Compromise is a wonderful thing so long as you can retain your personal integrity and all concerned are winners otherwise dig in and slug it out.
So what does this mean in practice? Here are a few thoughts: -
- When you know something is wrong speak up.
- Don’t be bullied into anything that clashes with your personal values
- Don’t let anybody just take what’s rightfully yours
- If you don’t have the skills, experience or time to do something then say so.
- Don’t suffer fools gladly or in any other way for that matter
- If you have an idea that you believe in stand up and be noticed even if it’s against the prevailing beliefs
- Never, ever get dragged into a conversation or situation on the basis that somebody will be offended if you don’t.
Doing what’s right isn’t always doing what’s easy and this often means conflict. If you want to reach your full potential then you must do what you see is right and live with the consequences. These days I may have a few more enemies but I have also achieved much more than I could ever have dreamed possible on that scary summers day in 1982.
I have this habit. When I’m presenting I almost always make use of a flip-chart but from experience I always remember to check the pens before the start of play (draw a line across the top of the paper; firm line – good pen). Any that are no good I throw away; a great habit to have, I feel.
You would be amazed at how many people don’t do this, they just put it down and leave it for the next person to pick up. Is it suddenly going to regenerate like a pen version of Dr Who? I think not.
Some problems we encounter take time and trouble to put right but many do not. Throwing out useless pens, picking up litter, putting a cup into the dishwasher or reporting a broken lightbulb takes no time at all but if enough people make the effort the effect is noticeable.
I believe that if you see something that isn’t right either fix it yourself or tell somebody and get them to fix it. If it’s my job or it’s easy (think pens) it’s the former otherwise it’s the latter.
On a different tack my favourite Dr Who is still Tom Baker – who’s yours?