[A] man’s most specific gift: his ability to put all his resources behind one activity, one field of endeavour, one area of accomplishment… Human excellence can only be achieved in one area, or at the most in very few. — Peter Drucker
Having riches in the bank account is nice. You can buy cool cars, fancy clothes, expensive watches, dine extravagantly, fly to exotic destinations.
But having riches in the bank account does not buy you peace, confidence, security. The lizard brain doesn’t allow for it. It tries to scare the shit out of you. Fearing that the number will go down too far. Fearing that the income won’t come in to keep up with payments. Fearing that it could all go away as fast as it appeared.
Having riches in your mind – when you have the inner confidence that all the riches in the bank can be stripped – because your greatest asset by a thousand times over is your mind.
“If one takes away riches from the wise man, one leaves him still in possession of all that is his; for he lives happy in the present, and without fear for the future.” — Seneca
Being rich in mind recognizes that the big bank account was only a by product of hard work, good decision making, and a confidence in one’s ability to provide value to people.
We are unable to rely on ourselves. Or to be more precise,
We don’t believe we can rely on ourselves.
It’s all based on the narrative that our brain has concocted for us. Lucky for us, narratives we tell ourselves can change
In fact, it’s easy to rely on ourselves. That you can do that thing that you’ve always wanted to do.
That you can start that business venture.
That you can start a portfolio of the work you’ve been working on in your 5–9.
That you can start a blog.
That you can go back to school.
That you can volunteer to do a project at work to boost sales.
That you can change careers.
What is holding us back is fear. The primal part of our brain doesn’t like pain, it likes survival. That part of the brain doesn’t care about anything else.
The primal brain’s mission is to make you survive. In other words, to not fail. The primal brain sees two options.
- You can’t fail.
- You can fail.
But those options are actually these ones:
- You don’t try, and you don’t fail.
- You try. And you learn something. Or you succeed.
Success is in your DNA, you are meant for greatness.
Sounds like a wonderful quote from your favorite 2AM motivational speaker infomercial.
But well, isn’t it kind of true? Even if it’s on a small scale, we’ve all have had success.
Peter Drucker, an author and the “founder of modern management”, has this to say about what man can do.
[A] man’s most specific gift: his ability to put all his resources behind one activity, one field of endeavour, one area of accomplishment… Human excellence can only be achieved in one area, or at the most in very few. — Peter Drucker
After high school, I was rejected by all my university applications. This was a pretty heavy blow for me. Before my mom had passed, she would’ve whooped my butt if I didn’t get a university degree. So for the 2 years after high school I hustled my ass off and was accepted into the UBC Commerce program. At the time the program only accepted one out of every 18 applicants.
Not a big deal for some, but for me, I put my energy and focus on one thing and willed and determined myself into success. At 20 years old, it was an endeavour I focused a lot of energy towards, and made sure I succeeded.
As we get older, it seems wiser to make more realistic expectations of oneself. It’s only the ridiculous or the foolish to remain dreamers into adulthood. Yet it also seems like those exact same people are the only ones that achieve high success.
Each one of us has the ability to throw ourselves in atleast one major endeavour, one project, one direction. It might not happen within a week, month, year, or even years. But if I believe one thing, it is that the best things in life are gained through long term compound interest.
Success comes if you keep at it.
It gets so frustrating when my day ends up getting clogged with meetings, emails, and instant messages. A few days in a row of this and at the end of the week, I have no real work to show. I haven’t contributed anything to the organization, learned anything new, or made progress on the projects that I’m excited about.
A few months of this, and it starts to feel like I’m never going to get any work done. Not only that, someone’s gotta eventually notice that I’m not doing any actual work right? If only I didn’t have to answer all these e-mails and attend all these meetings.
Thankfully for us, distractions have always been an issue for knowledge workers. Many wonderful people have tried various productivity systems, here are a few that I find useful.
What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important. — Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States
Consider the urgent and important tasks, the ones where if you decide you’re going to put off for another 24 hours, you’re going to get fired, or your customer is leaving you. In a fairly strong organization, this should happen infrequently, less than once a week or month. These are your first tasks.
Outside of that, work on the important and not urgent. Work on the things that will push you forward in your growth and development and the project that gives you the best opportunities. In Eisenhower’s words, these are the ones that are seldom urgent.
Where this matrix falls though, are the things that are not very important, but are things that just needs to get done. What happens when those things get pushed down the priority list, is that work that needs to get done slips through the cracks, gets delayed, and people are waiting for it. This isn’t good for the organization, and therefore, not good for you me either.
So while it’s important to focus on the growth and development opportunities, tempering it with tasks that need to get done using the next method works well.
Eat the Frog
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day” — Mark Twain
I’ve found this method to be quite helpful. The full method is fairly self explanatory through this beautiful matrix I drew in my free Paint app.
Where this method differs, is that stuff that are not important, but have to get done, are the things that go first. Rip the bandaid, get it over with. It’s kind of like, do your homework right when you get home, and you can play and do whatever you want afterwards.
Where this matrix falls through, is that your time can end up getting entirely consumed by tasks that you don’t want to do, or the ones that don’t provide the growth opportunity for you. This isn’t good for your own fulfillment, effectiveness, or your career.
Where does this leave us?
Energy Based Prioritization
There are some days where you have more energy than others.
Your best days, where you got a great sleep, you are focused, you woke up knowing your why and your purpose, these are the inspiring days that don’t come often enough. These days, choose the Eisenhower Method. Asides from the emergencies, work on the things you want to do! It creates the synergy of knowing what you want to do, why you want to do it, and having the mental resources to work on it.
On the other days, when you have a backlog of things that have to be done that you don’t want to do (and there is always a backlog), work on those things. Get through it as much as you can, get through the day, and just eat the live frogs so you can get to work on the things you want to do.
Isn’t it easy to believe that leadership looks like some variation of Major Payne? Muscling your way by simply telling others what to do. Ordering others around, acting like you know what’s best. Focusing on activities and outcomes.
Leadership is about having followers. Having followers doesn’t require a position or a title. Leaders are the ones who are brave enough to step up, and lead with energy, enthusiasm, and living out core values that inspire others to bring the best out of themselves.
“A new hospital administrator, holding his first staff meeting, thought that a rather difficult matter had been settled to everyone’s satisfaction, when one of the participants suddenly asked: ‘Would this have satisfied Nurse Bryan?’ At once the argument started all over and did not subside until a new and much more ambitious solution to the problem had been hammered out.
Nurse Bryan, the Administrator learned, had been a long serving nurse at the hospital. She was not particularly distinguished, had not, in fact, ever been a supervisor. But whenever a decision on patient care came up on her flood, Nurse Bryan would ask, ‘are we doing the best we cand o to help this patient?’ Gradually over the years, the whole hospital had learned to adopt what came to be known as “Nurse Bryan’s rule’, had learned in other words, to ask: ‘Are we really making the best contribution to the purpose of this hospital?'”
Step up and do what others aren’t willing to do. Step up and do what makes everyone else uncomfortable. Stick up for what is right. Challenge yourself and lead by example. When you are willing to go that extra mile for the organization, for your colleague, for the customer, to do what is right, is when you energize others to do the same.
Excerpt from The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
“The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or Outer Scorecard.” — Warren Buffett
When you’ve got the Outer Scorecard, you are at the mercy of perceptions outside of your control. How can I suck up to the boss? Does anyone above me notice that I’m putting in extra hours? How does my appearance look? Do I look like I’m successful and have made it? Have I got enough Likes on my Instagram; otherwise I need to take it down. I have to buy a new car, not a used one, or what will people think of me? If I buy a home, will my family be proud of me? My children are acting crazy, people must think I’m a bad parent!
When you’ve got the Inner Scorecard, your dialogue with yourself can be … Did I put in all my effort into this project? Am I improving, or just going through the motions. If I was the customer, would I be happy to receive this product/service? Am I being courageous, or playing it safe? Am I contributing to others? Am I selfless, in order to help others? Does my wife/husband, children, dog respect me?
“I say ‘Lookit. Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover?'” — Warren Buffett
An excerpt from Chapter 53 of The Snowball by Alice Schroeder, a biography of Warren Buffet.
“Let’s say that when I was 16, a genie had appeared to me. And that genie said ‘Warren, I’m going to give you the car of your choice. It’ll be here tomorrow morning, with a big bow tied on it. Brand-new. And it’s all yours.’
Having heard all the genie stories I would say, ‘Whats the catch?’ And the genie would answer, ‘There’s only one catch. This is the last car you’re ever going to get in your life. So it’s got to last a lifetime.’
If that happened, I would have picked out a car. But can you imagine, knowing it had to last a lifetime, what I would do with it?
I would read the manual five times. I would always keep it garaged. If there was the least little dent or scratch, I’d have it fixed right away because I wouldn’t want it rusting. I would baby that car, because it would have to last a lifetime.
Greatest of all time that is.
Bill Walsh joined the San Francisco 49ers in 1979, taking over the worst team in the league. In his third season as head coach, he turned the worst team, and won the Super Bowl, a first of it’s kind turn around in the NFL. Bill Walsh went on to win three more Super Bowl’s in his career, and revolutionalized the NFL with the West Coast Offence.
“Everybody’s got an opinion. Leaders are paid to make decisions. The difference between offering an opinion and making a decision is the difference between working for the leader and being the leader.”
Standard of Performance
Walsh is known for his Standard of Performance, setting the bar to be the best in performance, while maintaining the right attitudes. It is as follows …
“Exhibit a ferocious and intelligently applied work ethic directed at continual improvement; demonstrate respect for each person in the organization and the work he or she does; be deeply committed to learning and teaching, which means increasing my own expertise; be fair; demonstrate character; honor the direct connection between details and improvement, and relentlessly seek the latter; show self-control, especially where it counts the most — under pressure; demonstrate and prize loyalty; use positive language and have a positive attitude; take pride in my effort as an entity separate from the result of that effort; be willing to go the extra distance for the organization; deal appropriately with victory and defeat, adulation and humiliation (don’t get crazy with victory nor dysfunctional with loss); promote internal communication that is both open and substantive (especially under stress); seek poise in myself and those I lead; put the team’s welfare and priorities ahead of my own; maintain an ongoing level of concentration and focus that is abnormally high; and make sacrifice and commitment the organization’s trademark.”
Walsh has many facets around his philosophy of coaching, management, and leadership, however this is his cornerstone statement. All activities and attitudes point back to this statement. Regardless of how much you agree with his standards, Walsh highlights that it is of prime importance of a high performing organization to have high standards.“The culture precedes positive results. Champions behave like champions before they are champions.”Sustained success does not happen by accident. It always leaves breadcrumbs to follow. So let’s dig further into his philosophy.
“I directed our focus less to the prize of victory than to the process of improving — obsessing, perhaps, about the quality of our execution and the content of our thinking, that is, our actions and attitude.”Work Ethic
“For me, the starting point for everything […] is the work ethic. Without one of significant magnitude you’re dead in the water, finished.”Walsh was known for his fierce work ethic. In practices, he narrowed down to the quarter of a yard where a receiver should be and turn around to expect a pass. During practice, if a receiver stepped a quarter of a yard out of position from where he was supposed to receive the ball, even if he received it, he would stop and call the play and demand the receiver to do it again until he got it right. His discipline for the right execution of plays is what would lead his team in high pressure situations, to be able to perform their plays like clockwork.
Quarterbacks were taught the three step, five step, seven step back, how to throw the ball, when to throw it, how to hold the ball, and practice throwing at different distances, velocities, trajectories, and angles. Linemen were taught specific key moves, foot movement, foot positioning, arm movements, and multiple drills were designed to practice each one of these. Practices were organized and scheduled down to the minute.
Walsh had raised the bar for his team, to practice their faces off, to go further than what other teams were willing, in order to have the most well practiced execution, with the right strategy, and people who were taught exactly how they should do what they need to do at the highest level.
“Most of the [leadership] theories seem to take monumental work ethic for granted, as if it is assumed or something, as if people automatically know what it is and do it. I didn’t assume it. The majority of people out there don’t know what it is.”
Making Good Decisions and Planning
Outside of the time Walsh spent on practices, tape, games, travel, he was planning strategy and execution. He would plan for several scenarios under several circumstances, running what-if and scenario analysis so that he would be prepared for almost anything.
“If I’d done my work properly, little would arise that hadn’t been anticipated. There’s always something you can’t anticipate, but you strive to greatly reduce the number of those unforeseeables.”
Walsh would also script the beginning of the game. Not only would the first number of downs be planned, but every game he was known for planning out the first 25-30 plays that the offence would run. His players came to expect this and looked forward to hearing the script of the game. This allowed players to visualize and pre-meditate on the execution of the beginning plays to set the right tempo for the game. Proper execution of the script would lead to a quick lead at the beginning of the game.
It also gave the team a sense of calm. In an environment where tens of thousands of the opposing team’s fans are screaming at you, in howling wind and freezing weather, these environments and contexts are not conducive to the best decision making. Making decisions on the fly in high pressure situations, does not produce the best decisions. Scripts and contingency planning would assure that the decisions were made ahead of time, in better environments when emotions and distractions were controlled.
“What is the width and depth of the intellect you have applied to your own team’s contingency planning? What could happen tomorrow, next week, next year that you haven’t planned for, aren’t ready to deal with, or have put in the category of “I’ll worry about that when the time comes”?
“Great organization is the trademark of a great organization.”Managing PersonellAt this point, it is no surprise that Walsh has a lot to say and think about regarding employees of your organizing. On setting his standard and letting it permeate through the organization:“Bonding within the organization takes place as one individual and then another steps up and raises his or her level of commitment, sacrifice, and performance. They demand and expect a lot of one another.”“Employees can thrive in an environment when they know exactly what is expected of them — even when those expectations are very high.”“Place a premium on those who exhibit great desire to keep pushing themselves to higher and higher performance and production levels, who seek to go beyond the highest standards that you the leader set. The employee who gets to work early, stays late, fights through illness and personal problems is the one to keep your eye on for greater responsibilities.”Reading Walsh’s book, The Score Takes Care of Itself, was a difficult read. It brought out insecurities of mine and I would ignore or disagree with many of his writings. However, through reflection, it is the work ethic and discipline of a great man, who pushed it outside of the limits of my own thinking, that I realized that I am miles away from one of the greatest coaches of all time. So what now?“It takes time to develop the Standard of Performance; it is not just a seminar or a practice or a season’s worth of seminars and practices, but thoughtful and intense attention over years and years.”
As 2016 comes to an end, I am taking stock of all that I’ve read and learned this year. It really does seem like last December was just around the corner as I was planning on what books I would read this year. Not everything I actually got to, but I am really proud of how much I did actually get to read.
Below are a list of books, in a rough order of when I read them. I’ve marked a asterisk (*) symbol beside the books that were my favorite reads of the year and I will carry lessons that I learned from them for the rest of my life, and that I would recommend others to read. Also the title of the book may have a link to my book notes that I’ve posted on my blog if you are interested in knowing more.
Mindset is based on a thesis that people, in different forms and areas of their life, approach life with a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset. This book has been extremely popular and has been blowing up all over within the business field, education, parenting, and I would imagine sports as well. Many influencers recommend it, including being on Bill Gates’ reading list.
This book’s central tenet is that “The impediment to action advances action, what stands in the way, is the way”, a quote from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. This book was my introduction into the school of philosophy called Stoicism. This philosophy also has been blowing up all over, particularly in the start up world as well as making rounds throughout the NFL. I just about highlighted a passage from every single chapter. Stoicism isn’t a boring philosophy, they were interested in pragmatic and practical strategies in living a good life. If you’ve started to hear about Stoicism or have read about how this ancient philosophy relates to modern life, I would highly recommend this book.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl *
An absolute classic of a book that has stood the test of time, and is recommended on so many people’s recommended book list. Man searches for meaning, but perhaps it is in fact that life is asking man what meaning to give to one’s life. A good place to start when asking yourself what you want out of life, or what you want to do with the life you’ve been given.
Also it goes into great description of what it was like to live in a concentration camp. Definitely an eye opener. I was touched so much and it grew a yearning inside of me to learn more about WW2, that I arranged a trip to Berlin, Germany in 2017.
No art is original, all art is stolen. Many artists have been influenced by Michael Jackson, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton. Every great artist has been influenced by the past, and build on what was created, but give their own uniqueness to it. So there is no need to feel like you are copying someone else’s art. You should be copying someone else’s art, it is the only path to original art.
Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
You can’t find your voice unless you use it. Artists don’t develop in a vacuum, they are developed with other artists. Share your work, so you leave a trail for people to find you. If you ever wanted to have an online presence of a body of work, I recommend getting this book. Only takes an hour or so to read.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
I’m glad that I took the chance to re-read this classic book. Nice to read some children’s fiction every once in awhile.
The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh
Bill Walsh was the coach of the 49ers, that was the first coach to take a last place team and turn it around to a championship team within 2 years, and create a dynasty and changed the way the game was played with his West Coast Offence. His central theme is his standard of performance, how he expected his entire organization to take their job seriously and do everything with excellence. I did not enjoy this book very much, however I must admit that their are lots of hard lessons that I may be trying to avoid.
Tartine by Chad Robertson
This book is the bible on home sourdough bread baking. I never got around to creating my own sourdough starter (however I attempted once and failed), but I grew a huge appreciation for bread and how it’s made. The book is filled with bread recipes as well as what to do with the bread. It goes through a history of bread through the ages and it’s origins, and is wonderfully written. I salivate now thinking about the stories of Chad’s time in France as he learned to bake bread all day, and ate raclettes, bread, and local rose every night. An excellent read.
The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Deep Work by Cal Newport
We are in the age of distraction, and a skill that is becoming more rare, while becoming more essential to the knowledge worker, is the skill of deep focus and doing deep work. The type of work that can’t be automated or systemized, that requires creativity and thought and deep problem solving, requires the ability to work deeply. Cal Newport shares why this is such a problem, why it’s so necessary, and strategies to deploy in your own work life. I should mention, Cal Newport is a full time professor, with a kid, publishes research papers, runs a blog, and has time to write books. If you want to see in detail how productive people work, you may consider listening to this guy.
Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis
Arguably, some of the hardest times I’ve laughed this year (not just in reading, but in general), has come from reading this book. If you are a parent or interested in parenting life, this book has a ton of funny stories that I am sure are very relatable. You may know Michael Lewis as the author of such books turned movies as The Big Short, Moneyball, and The Blind Side. Michael is a fantastic writer, and this is the first book I’ve read from him.
Deskbound by Kelly Starrett and Glen Cordoza
We live in a sitting world. It’s a bit scary to consider that it’s possible to not do any significant walking, say, more than a few minutes from the parking lot to the office everyday. Or to consider that many people’s most significant movement is only once or twice a week to the grocery store. Our bodies have not been able to catch up in evolution to deal with all the sitting that we do. Sitting can wreak havoc on our bodies, by putting us in unnatural positions, shortening the length of muscles and tendons, reducing blood flow, dropping our metabolism, and slowly reducing functionality of our muscles. Sitting and position is a skill that is completely lost in our age because of the sedentary lives that we live. Over a lifetime, all this bad positioning can lead to heart disease, injuries, loss of productivity, and suboptimal overall performance. I certainly don’t want to be held back in my 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 100s, because I did not maintain the one opportunity at a healthy body that I got in this life. Learn proper sitting, standing, and walking positions, and overall maintenance of your body.
Microadventures by Alistair Humphreys
In our world of internet, highways, netflix, and offices, our culture has lost a sense of adventure. Often we dream about a time when we can just quit our job, hit the road, and follow wherever the journey takes us, a great adventure. However that is impractical, or not necessarily something we want to do for those with a career, family, or any number of reasons that hold us back from a great adventure. Humphreys challenges the reader with practical ways to get away and take on “microadventures” that can be done on a weeknight, or over a weekend.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi *
A beautifully written memoir, that is arguably one of the best books of the year across all genres. If you want to read something that will touch you, read it. If you want to read something that is well written, read it. If you ponder the meaning of life, read it. I thirst for another book written as well and is as touching as this. Also an easy read, ~3 hours.
Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Like most popular young adult series, this was highly addictive. I think I read the whole series in 4-5 weeks.
Customer Success by Mehta, Steinman, Murphy
The Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life by Amy Schroeder *
This is the first biography I’ve read since I was very little, and I am so glad that I picked it up. Warren Buffett has always been a hero of mine, and lives a really interesting life. His behavior and approach to both life and business has a lot of teachings to learn from. Another book that I have tons of earmarks and highlights on.
As an aside, biographies are awesome! I went in expecting to get some lessons, but I quickly found that I could get to know who Buffet is, and actually look up to him as a hero and mentor. I am definitely going to look out for more biographies to read from now on.
Tools of the Titans by Tim Ferriss
To anyone who is a listener of his podcast, I would say this is a must-purchase. Anyone who doesn’t listen to his podcast, I can’t see it as having near the same value. The book is written as notes and excerpts from his podcasts, and highlight 5-10% of each interview. It has been great for me as I’ve listened to 30+ of his podcasts. However, regardless, I pretty much read, watch, and listen to every thing single thing that Tim Ferriss produces.
There are a few additional books that I read this year that were not interesting, or I have chosen not to share. However, I am proud to say that I read 25 or so books this year. Considering I was expecting to only read 6-8, I am really proud of myself, and realize that I have to set the bar much higher!
However, more than anything, it is not the quantity of books that one reads, but the lessons that one learns from them. I can say that I certainly am not the same at the beginning of 2017, then I was at the beginning of 2016, and my life is richer because of the books I’ve read.