Archive: January 2013
The Key to Inspiration: Feeding Your Curiosity
Jack Dorsey was nuts about maps as a kid. He couldn’t get enough of them. But static maps weren’t enough. He wanted to see what was happening on those pictured streets. So he bought a scanner and built software that would allow him to map the movement of ambulances and police cars. He soon realized that he was just showing what had happened, when what he really wanted to know was what was happening. So using these ideas, he landed a job developing real-time emergency dispatch software. But Jack’s passion was for real-time data, and so he was dissatisfied with his software “maps” of the city. They didn’t have any people in them—the generators of real-time data.
And that is when Jack Dorsey began working on the prototype that would eventually evolve into Twitter. The cofounder of Twitter told this story in a talk at Stanford University titled, “The Power of Curiosity and Inspiration.” http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=2594
I love this speech because it confirms what I know to be true. The most successful people I know are still trying to figure out how their world works, whether their world involves engines, computers, advertising, or medicine. This is why I believe curiosity is one of the most potent shortcuts to prosperity. Every person that I interviewed for my book, Shortcut to Prosperity, has it.
Curiosity motivates the hard work of innovation
When you are following your curiosity and exploring an idea or discipline that you are passionate about, it’s not work. It becomes effortless, inspired. You find yourself pushing past frontiers, until one day, you are so deep that there’s nobody else to turn to for answers. When that happens, you know that you’ve successfully pursued your passion—and had fun doing it. Along the way, you will have advanced through the Prosperity Cycle and moved closer to your life goal.
Need a way to start feeding your curiosity? Choose a subject that you are curious about and spend a month learning about it. By all means, scour the Internet and put a good book on your nightstand, but also find a living, breathing person who is an expert on the subject and interview them over coffee or lunch. Don’t worry, experts love talking about their expertise, and the majority of people are willing to take the time to guide someone with a genuine interest. The dynamic nature of interacting with a person will deepen the learning immensely. Look for a niche within the subject that you are especially interested in and follow up. It may just influence your next career move.
Lindsey Vonn — Outliers Poster Girl!
Outside Magazine did a feature story on Lindsey Vonn in their February 2013 issue. During her interview, Lindsey reminisced about training slalom gates as a kid at Buck Hill, the tiny 310-vertical-foot ski hill near her home in Minneapolis. The hill was too short for giant slalom so the racers there did a lot of slalom training. The redundancy of training on the same little slope on the same little hill drove some kids crazy, but not Lindsey. She couldn’t get enough. “I got more slalom gates in than any kid in the country by, I don’t know, tens of thousands.” And she needed it. Her junior coach at Buck Hill initially felt sorry for Vonn’s dad, Alan Kildow, for having a “turtle for a daughter.” Lindsey was slow compared to the other kids and the coach felt sorry for her father.
But we all know how this story ends. Lindsey Vonn is on the verge of becoming the best ski racer ever to step into a ski binding, man or woman. And both she and her first coach will tell you that she wasn’t a gifted skier. How did she do it? By utilizing the principles of Shortcuts 4 and 5.
When Lindsey was 8 years old she used a school essay to proclaim that she was going to be the greatest skier of all time. Most of us need vision exercises like the ones in Shortcut 4 to figure out what we eventually want to become. Some combination of Lindsey’s personality and upbringing allowed her to identify her personal vision at a very young age and then to sustain it for the next twenty years. If you want to call Lindsey gifted, this might be her greatest gift. As my Aussie friends would say, “good on her!”.
Lindsey’s personal vision and passion for skiing provided the fuel required to out-work the rest of the skiing world. By the time Lindsey joined the U.S. development team at age 14 she had more mileage—more time in gates—than any other kid her age, in the U.S. and probably in the world. I agree wholeheartedly with Malcolm Gladwell and his Outliers’ thesis that there is no substitute for time committed to the focused practice required to get down the learning curve that I describe in Shortcut 5, Learn from the Best People and Organizations. Get far enough down this curve and you start to look different, to look gifted.
What is your personal vision? What do you feel passionate enough about to effortless commit 10,000 hours to exploring? Your life will be incredibly different when you can answer those two questions.
Just Where Do You Want to Go, Anyway?
Write down the most outrageous personal vision statement that you can imagine—the one that you would never tell anyone else. If you think you can do it, you’re not thinking big enough. Take that piece of paper and put it someplace safe. Just writing it down and keeping it will change your perspective of what’s possible. What I’m referring to is a concept called Creative Tension. MIT professor Peter Senge coined the term to describe a strong and useful force created when you take the time to create a personal vision and compare it to where you are today. People who can clearly see the changes necessary to achieve the vision become highly motivated to make those changes.
Imagine stretching a rubber band between your left and right hand—or pick up a rubber band and do it. Let your left hand represent your current reality and your right hand represent your personal vision for what you want your career and life to be. Fix the position of your left hand by internalizing every aspect of where your life is right at this moment. Fix the position of your right hand by imagining your life as you would like it to be ideally. Feel the tension in the rubber band—the tension between your vision and your current reality—trying to pull your hands together. You have only two choices to relieve the tension. You can do what it takes to move your current reality toward your personal vision or give up on your vision and convince yourself to be more satisfied with your current reality and the status quo. While nothing is wrong with either approach, I hope you are attracted to a force that drives change for the better.
Because while there a lot of definitions of prosperity, that’s a pretty good one— living a life with purpose. Experiencing life when you possess an exciting personal vision is different. You feel the tug of creative tension every day, pulling you closer to your vision, helping you make smart choices, helping you accept the changes that may be necessary. A deeply meaningful personal vision finds its way into your daily thoughts and actions, modifying your behavior and bringing energy and enthusiasm to every attempt you make to change.
Do you have creative tension in your life? Check back next week to learn more and to access an exercise to help you build it.
Hell Yes, There Is a Shortcut to Prosperity
The global economy has been turned inside out by an information-powered revolution that has, in many markets, annihilated the status quo and stalled the industry leaders that depended on it. The result? An upward spike on the chart of change in our world today—and a lot of uncertainty when it comes to your career path. Because we tend to resist change, we end up battered by it, tossed about by the wave of change crashing over us. But why not ride the wave of change instead and surf it all the way to a more prosperous life.
Prosperity means something different to each of us (a subject for another blog), but the shortcut to achieving it, whatever prosperity means to you, is the same for all of us. In my experience the shortest path to prosperity is to invest as much time as you can in a market space that you are passionate about, where you can apply skills that you love to use, and, over time, develop significant expertise. Enough expertise that you start to see things differently—easily seeing ways to solve the problems of other people (users, customers, co-workers) who spend time in the same space.
In the surfing analogy, this means being the expert on your own stretch of beach, understanding the approaching wave better than anyone else and leveraging your expertise to not only ride the wave, but to help others ride it too. The increasingly dynamic nature of our world means that wave after wave of change is pounding every market space there is. The person who understands how to ride the wave has a lot of opportunity.
Shortcut Yes – But Still a Lot of Work
Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. So said Thomas Edison. Intuitively, most of us know this is true. We just wish it weren’t. We hope that one day, in a stroke of luck, all of the prosperity we have hoped for will land in our laps. But of course it doesn’t work that way. Once you make the tough decision that you are willing to do the work required to achieve prosperity, the shortcut becomes simply adopting a set of habits that others have shown will help make your hard work pay off. The prosperous people who shared their stories for the book did so because they felt fortunate to have learned which initiatives allowed them to make the most progress toward prosperity and want to share that learning with others.
You Say Entrepreneur – I Say Intrepreneur
It doesn’t matter whether you are part of a large organization or stepping up to lead a start-up, they both reward the same behavior. The start up needs people with deep insight into a market—and better ideas—in order to survive. The established company needs a continual flow of better ideas in order to avoid becoming irrelevant. Shortcut to Prosperity is about helping you achieve a satisfying and prosperous life regardless of whether you choose to pursue it within a small or large organization.
Lack of energy and fear of wasted effort is what keeps most of us on a path that is less than fulfilling, exciting, or fun. The Shortcut to Prosperity book and blog exist to provide a framework and an actionable plan to allow you to develop and achieve a personal vision of how you want to live your life—what you want in it as well as what you want from it. Once you have your vision firmly in mind, the tools in the book (shortcuts) will help you make that vision become a reality.
Over the next year or so, I plan to use the blog as a place where I can share thoughts—mine and those from other successful people—on the best ways to achieve prosperity. Please help me by sharing your learning and experience. The dialog will help us walk around an issue and evaluate it from multiple perspectives. I look forward to hearing from you!
The Shortcut to Prosperity
Common sense tells us that we make progress on what we focus on. And when our focus takes the form of actions based on recommendations from successful business leaders and entrepreneurs, progress is ensured. It might not look exactly like what you expect and it may not come as smoothly as you would like, but you will make progress toward a more fulfilling and prosperous life. The purpose of this blog is to give you an opportunity to carve out some precious time on a weekly basis and invest it in developing a set of habits that will enable you to create a personal vision of prosperity and, over time, achieve it.
I Believe in You
I believe in anyone who adopts a growth mentality (see Shortcut 2) by believing that rather than being set in stone, capability is grown by embracing a challenge and celebrating the learning that results whether you succeed or fail. I believe in anyone who is willing to separate themselves from the crowd by deciding to do something, by executing on a plan, and experiencing the exhilaration that comes from making it happen (see Shortcut 1). What’s in it for me? The satisfaction of sharing a career’s worth of learning with people interested in using it to create cool products, services, and lives.
Prosperity—an existence that enables you to apply your passions, personal strengths, and values to work that is personally satisfying and fun while providing the financial resources to experience your envisioned life.
Achieve Your Own Personal Vision
How often is the status quo exactly what you want? Most of us are following a path that has become familiar to us. But is it an existence that engages our strengths and passions while leading to our own definition of prosperity? Probably not. You owe it to yourself, your family, and colleagues to flesh out the vision that lives just outside your consciousness, and let it inspire you to a fuller life. If you do, dividends in the form of satisfaction and prosperity will flow not only to you but also to those who are attracted to your cause. If this sounds a little too idealistic – trust me, it’s not. The ten shortcuts that will be discussed here are as effective as they are simple. All it takes is a little discipline on your part. Check back here every Tuesday to take the next step and share your insight when you have experience that could help someone else.
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