Archive: April 2013
The Ultimate Graduation Gift
How many people do you know that realize, mid career, that they hate their job but are too far down the road to make a change. Gifting a copy of Shortcut to Prosperity to a recent graduate will help them to avoid this common fate. The book will help them discover where their passions lie and how to create a life that is ideal in every way, from the career path they choose to the partner(s) they join forces with to help them achieve their vision.
How can a book do all that? By teaching a new grad the 10 incredibly powerful shortcuts that prosperous people employ every day—even if they don’t know it—to achieve the life of their dreams. Shortcuts like ignoring the contradictory voices telling them what to study or what job to take and instead, allowing their natural curiosity to lead them to a career that gets their heart racing and imagination soaring. And by showing them how to earn an “I can do anything” attitude that results from successive iterations around something called the Prosperity Cycle.
It took me most of my life to understand the shortcuts I write about in the book, but once I did, they seemed obvious everywhere I turned. I interviewed hundreds of happy, prosperous people to boil these down to the ten most effective shortcuts and then asked permission to share the most inspirational stories in the book. Their stories range from a young man who tapped into his passion for pro sports to build a booming photography business to a machinist’s son in Wisconsin who now builds the world’s highest quality folding knives, and all the way to the unlikely tech success story of a young Canadian hockey player who follows his passion to an executive position with Google.
Part one of the book focuses on shortcuts designed to help the new graduate get started by discovering exactly where they want to go: What are they passionate about? What are their strengths and talents? What does their vision of the future look like?
In part two, I show them how to create an unfair advantage over their peers by building a differentiating level of knowledge and expertise within an area that they are drawn to. How do they take the first step? How do they build on that foundation?
Pursuing prosperity is a team sport. In part three I show the new graduate how to recruit allies to help them along the path, by genuinely caring about people, by aligning yourself with great partners, and by finding the best guides and mentors.
Contrary to popular belief, people aren’t born with the abilities necessary to be great. They have to develop them. These behaviors can be life changing, and changing a life does not happen overnight. And yet, they are still shortcuts. Why? Because if they don’t develop them as core skills at the beginning of their career, they will likely never get where they want to go. I’ll help them build the right mindset, and I’ll offer grounded advice for turning key behaviors into habits or skills. The shortcuts in this book are designed to set a new grad on a path of doing something different, something other people are not doing.
This means training them to see opportunities that others don’t, to envision new models, develop the drive to make them real, and attract a whole lot of great people to help them do it. This is the road to prosperity in today’s world. So, instead of giving your grad an iPhone or really cool pen, give them the Shortcut to Prosperity!
Carefrontation: A Powerful Way to Help Prevent Another Boston
If only someone who knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev had cared enough about him to confront him on his misguided thinking and the tragic sequence of events they motivated. I don’t pretend to have the background to assess psychological forces that are strong enough to cause someone to do what he did, nor can I say for sure that what I have to say would have been enough to change his thinking. I can only share the most powerful strategy that I have ever encountered for helping someone recognize flaws in their own thinking and thereby change their behavior and actions. The strategy is called carefrontation.
My first exposure to carefronation, a combination of caring and confrontation, was from a pastor’s sermon during a non-denominational service in Yosemite Valley Chapel. Maybe it was the message or maybe it was that I had 5 hours to think about it as I hiked up Half Dome later that morning, but 25 years later I can still recall it clearly. The reverend’s message was that if you find yourself in a position where you have the opportunity to help another person recognize their own flawed thinking that you have the opportunity and are, in fact, obligated to help them. He went on to explain that this kind of feedback was confrontational and would only be accepted and processed by the recipient if it was delivered in an extremely caring fashion. If someone knows that you truly care about them, you are in a uniquely powerful position to influence their thinking.
As story fragments of the Boston strategy have surfaced it has become clear that Tamerlan, the older of the Tsarnaev brothers, did little to hide his troubling beliefs. Facebook posts and conversations signaled a dramatic—if not clearly dangerous—shift in his thinking that was noticed by those who interacted with him. Was there anyone close to him that could have confronted him about his beliefs? Were there friends or family who saw the changes but adhered to the “not my business” school of thought that has become more and more prevalent in our society? If so we missed an opportunity that I think is critical to our ability to head off future acts of terror.
My central point is that we can’t rely solely on the police and other security personnel to protect us from threats that come from within our own society. Regardless of how many personal liberties we are willing to give up and how much effort US taxpayers are willing to underwrite to prevent tragedies like Boston from recurring, we won’t prevent them all. People with dangerous thinking will often be visible to someone close to them before the authorities know enough or can legally take action. It becomes incumbent on all of us to insert ourselves in the lives of those we care about and help them recognize when they are headed in a dangerous direction. If carefrontation doesn’t work AND you have any reason to believe that there is a danger to others, you have no choice but to talk to the local police and ask for advice.
Carefrontation, as I talk about it in Shortcut to Prosperity, is a powerful tool that I advise business leaders to adopt in order to help develop high performing teams, but I it also applies to the tragedy that occurred in Boston. If you don’t have time to read the book but want to hear more about carefrontation, send me an email and I’ll reply with a copy of the chapter where I cover this concept.
Chaos = Learning!
A highly successful, but static, organization is a lousy place to learn and unlikely to lead to a great next opportunity for you. Why? Because markets constantly evolve and static organizations are, by definition, increasingly out of touch with the needs of their customers. The problem is that success breeds complacency and the tendency to focus on incremental improvement. And that’s why real innovation rarely comes from the industry leader. They get set in their ways—satisfied with the diminishing returns that come from continued focus on the same way of doing things.
Alternatively, dynamic companies are constantly in motion, desperately trying to find better ways to serve their customers. The most common cause of their desperation is a lack of profitability and, unless they have another source of capital (like a patient investor), the fear that they won’t be around tomorrow. That’s why start-up companies are so innovative. They can’t compete with the optimized business model of the entrenched competitor but gain the advantage if they can come up with a better product or service model. Dynamic companies are creating unique and unpredictable opportunities on a daily basis and commonly turn to the employee that seems most capable, regardless of tenure or pedigree.
Cornell NYC Tech
The business sector is not the only place you see dynamic organizations. I was reminded of the linkage between start-ups and opportunity while reading about my alma mater’s new technology campus slated to occupy New York City’s Roosevelt Island. The winner of a competition to build a tech campus on land worth hundreds of millions of dollars and receive up to $100M in capital to help get it going, Cornell University is turning the typical university model on its head. They are offering non-traditional sounding tech grad degrees like “Connective Media” that deals with designing solutions for the collaborative, two-way exchange between creators and consumers of information.
Cornell’s new tech campus is a start-up and is providing amazingly enhanced opportunities for the students who are brave enough to be their first generation students. They have Friday afternoon discussions with leading entrepreneurs (for their current student body of 8 students) that are organized by Greg Pass, the former CTO at Twitter and a Cornell alumnus. They are shaking up the very nature of how a college operates by making fundamental changes such as eliminating all offices—including all professors and deans—in favor of interaction friendly low-divider cubicles. For more information, check out the NYT Education Life article here.
What to Look For In Any Organization you join
Whether your pursuit of prosperity is leading you toward a for-profit employer, an educational institution, a non-profit or NGO—make sure it meets the majority of the following:
– Too immature to be set in its ways
– Hungry enough to be an innovator
– Just a little chaotic looking
– Crazy busy people who are still having fun
– Leaders who are present and interact broadly
And finally, try to align yourself with an organization where the majority of team members are collocated rather than connected virtually. As Cornell’s president, David J. Skorton, says about his new campus in the city, “Interactions can occur at a very long distance now, but you still see that many… serendipitous steps forward are based on the old concept of bumping into people, having lunch, that personal interaction”. The same can be said of the process for pursuing prosperity.
Have a great day and let me know what’s on your mind!
Follow Zuckerberg’s Example and START EARLY!
I recently read an article that talked about the enormous risk that entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg take when they launch a start-up company. After a moment of reflection I realized why I didn’t agree with the article. Entrepreneurial risk is directly proportional to the responsibilities you currently have and what you have to lose from pursing your idea. As a sophomore at Harvard, Zuckerberg had no mortgage, no wife, no kids, no boss, and his living expenses were being provided for by his parents. And what did he have to lose if The Facebook failed? With start-up costs that rounded to zero—I can’t think of anything. In fact a failure would have yielded valuable experience that would be helpful the next time around. And there is no doubt that if Facebook hadn’t succeeded there would have been a next time
What About the 10,000 Hours of Experience that Outliers Need?
Zuckerberg wrote his first marketable code at age 12—a BASIC messaging program (Zucknet) that he “sold” to his dentist/dad to aid in intra-office communication. He followed this up with dozens of video games that he developed with neighborhood kids and even took programming classes at a nearby college while still in middle school. In high school he developed an early version of Pandora called Synapse which garnered offers from Microsoft and AOL to purchase his code.
I do believe that it takes something close to Malcolm Gladwell’s recommended 10,000 hours of deep practice to gain a differentiating level of capability, but even at age 19, Zuckerberg had already exceeded this number. And when the Winklevoss twins showed up at his dorm room with the idea for Facebook, Zuckerberg was ready.
Start Early and Travel Light
What’s the matter—didn’t identify your life’s work by age 12? Don’t worry, Zuckerberg is a freak of nature and an outlier in every sense of the word, but the path of the prodigy is not the most common path to becoming an outlier. You can start whenever you want, but the path of following your curiosity (Shortcut 2) to an area of passion (Shortcut 4) followed by an investment of something close to 10,000 hours (Shortcut 5-7) will be the same regardless of when you start. The only drawback with waiting to get started is that, over time, you gain responsibilities and increasingly have far more to lose from abandoning a more traditional career and pursuing your own breakthrough opportunity.
Life is a trade-off and you may as well know when you are making one. The longer you wait to pursue your passion in an extraordinary way (if that’s your mindset) the tougher it will get to achieve it. Wait, it gets worse. Investing time and money in expensive toys (homes, boats, cars, motorcycles, etc) only makes it harder. You tie up start-up capital that you will need later and invest precious time that you never get back.
There Will Be Time for Everything Else Later—Really!
My heartfelt advice? Live modestly, save your nickels, and throw yourself into feeding your passion while you are young. Do whatever it takes to gain admittance to the organization that offers you the best learning experience and move up your own knowledge curve as fast as you can. At the same time, invest in developing your personal network by reaching out to capable people and asking them what you can do to help with their initiatives (give/get). The lifetime ROI on this investment will astound you.
What passion are you pursuing? What learning curve are you investing in? Write me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell me how I can help.
“Lean In” Before You “Lean On” a Mentor
I listened to an HBR IdeaCast interview with Sheryl Sandberg (author of “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”) on the flight to visit my family for Easter. Sandberg made a lot of great points, but the one I want to focus on today is the mistake that a lot of women (as well as men) make regarding mentoring. Many young people take the cold call approach and just ask an accomplished leader with whom they have little or no relationship to be their mentor. Unfortunately effective mentorships rarely begin that way.
The most beneficial mentorships occur between two people who have invested time in the process of coming to know, respect, and care about each other. Why? It’s difficult to be a good mentor to someone you haven’t taken the time to get to know. The mentor has to care enough to dedicate precious time to mentoring activities, and that won’t happen until the mentor as come to know and respect the mentee. From the mentee’s perspective, it takes time before you feel comfortable entrusting your hopes and dreams with someone you haven’t already come to know and respect. That’s why the most natural mentorships aren’t arranged marriages but are relationships that begin as something else and evolve into a mentorship over time.
Where Should You Look for a Mentor?
Prime candidates for mentors are former bosses, teachers, or, in the best case, a family friend. Mentorships like these are extremely powerful. Mentors have the opportunity to combine their personal relationships with a mentee with a core competence in their area of interest. The mentorship builds on an existing foundation of mutual respect and, from there, forges ahead into the fun stuff—the discussion of what the mentee wants to achieve and the shortest path to realizing it, based on the mentor’s experience.
If you are fortunate enough to know someone who has succeeded in the same space that you are targeting, you’re already a step ahead. If not, make a list of the accomplished people that you already have a relationship with who are successful in a space that is at least in the same ballpark as your area of passion. You will be amazed at the similarity of the advice you will get from this person and someone who has succeeded in exactly the market space you are targeting. It’s more important that they know and like you than it is for them to have done exactly what you plan to do.
My Best Mentor? My Dad!
I was fortunate to have a dad who had experience with businesses of all shapes and sizes, and even more fortunate that he was a numbers guy. He grilled me for business plans and financial projections, and those projections killed a lot of ideas that sounded pretty good in my head but would have led me down a disastrous path. While he wasn’t an entrepreneur, he believed that being an entrepreneur was the surest path to the prosperity I wanted. And he told me the single most valuable piece of advice that anyone has ever given me: It didn’t matter much where I started my entrepreneurial journey. He was confident that over time I would be able to direct my path toward what I wanted. The important mindset was to get in the game. He gave me the confidence to pull the trigger.
Whether your vision is to become a leader within a large corporation or the chief executive of your own start-up, one of the toughest hurdles you face is the need to believe you can actually do it. Most of us sell ourselves short and don’t aim high enough. An experienced mentor can take the pie-in-the-sky vision that you are hesitant to even say out loud and, through experience and personal example, lead you to the point where you can see yourself making it happen.
There is a chart in my book called “Attributes of a Great Mentor” that gives more details on what you should look for in a mentor. Write me an e-mail at email@example.com and I’ll send you a copy of the chart!