Feb 162012
 
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beware the entrepreneur's blind side

Beware The Entrepreneur’s Blind Side

By now, most everyone, including entrepreneurs, has heard of the movie called The Blind Side, released in November 2009.  It’s about the touching story of Michael Oher, the offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, who when he was younger, was taken in by a family who helped him escape the hard-knock life he was born into.  The movie is based on the 2006 book The Blind Side:  Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis.

The “blind side” in American football refers to the area behind the quarterback’s back, when he is setting up to pass the ball down the field.  Since most quarterbacks are right-handed, the blind side is usually the area to their left when they’re facing the line of scrimmage.  The player on the offensive line who is charged with protecting the quarterback’s blind side, therefore, typically is the left tackle.  That’s the position Michael Oher plays and the reason the movie was given that name.

You may ask, what does the “blind side” have to do with entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship?  Having been around the entrepreneurship game several decades now and having had the pleasure (usually) of getting to know a bunch of entrepreneurs quite well, I have come to realize that almost all entrepreneurs, especially very successful ones, also have a “blind side”.  They may have several, in fact, but there is one that is very common and stands out from all the others.  That blind side is their egos.  In particular, it’s the way their egos often cause them to have an insatiable appetite for recognition and accolades.

This blind side does not exist for all entrepreneurs, of course, but it exists for far more than most people realize.  Even those who play down their need for recognition and don’t appear to have a “monster ego,” when pushed, often reveal that it is just thinly veiled beneath the surface.

I say this not as an indictment of entrepreneurs.  I am an entrepreneur.  They are my people, and as I said earlier, it’s usually a great pleasure and sometimes even an honor to get to know them well.  Rather, I say this because far too many times, I’ve seen this ego-driven blind side be the source of entrepreneurs’ downfall.  When “too much is never enough,” financial ruin is often not far behind.

What can entrepreneurs do to fight this blind side tendency?  I think the best approach is to make sure they have a good “offensive line”.  They need a great “left tackle,” so that when they’re looking down the field, trying to make big plays, someone is watching their back.  They need a right-hand person, a consigliere, or a Michael Oher type character who knows what needs to be done to protect their blind side and who loyally gets the job done in a tireless manner.  This person can be a relative, an employee, an outside advisor, a nun, a monk; it can be whoever.  As long as the blind side protector is competent, focused, and tireless, it does not matter who is getting the job done.  In fact, if the job’s big enough, it may require a whole team of people to get it done right.

The key, regardless of whom the left (or right) “tackle” is, or how the blind-side-protecting-team may be comprised, is that the entrepreneur is willing to listen.  The entrepreneur does not always need to take the advise of his or her advisors, of course, but the entrepreneur should always be willing to listen and truly consider advisors’ recommendations.  If he or she does not respect their opinions, why have them around in the first place?

The impetus for this article is that I’m now right in the middle of watching an exceptionally successful client and friend allow his ego-driven blind side to get the best of him and potentially send him to financial ruin.  The errors in his approach are now obvious to most everyone but him.  I personally have been telling him to “punt” on this particular project for more than six years.  He hasn’t been able to do it, as his ego and sense of self-worth have become so inextricably linked with the success or failure of this (ill-fated from the start) project.  He did not listen to those trying to protect his blind side and now he is paying the price, and it’s a big one.

Don’t let yourself be the victim of a Lawrence Taylor type hit to your blind side.  Set up a strong group of advisors and heed their advice, particularly if you get the sense that your ego may be taking you down a disastrous path.

I look forward to your thoughts.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

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Jun 202011
 
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Where Does Greatness Come From?

Let’s focus in on human greatness here, as there are a lot of types of greatness in the world. So, where does human greatness come from? No one knows exactly, but I will give you some ideas of the steps to get there, based on my in-depth study of over 250 of the all-time great historical figures in a variety of fields, as well as my interviews and conversations with a large sample of contemporary greats, in fields ranging from entrepreneurship, to the military, to science, sports and many others.

The first and most important lesson is that generally speaking, people are not “born great,” simply knowing from the very start that they are gifted in a certain area and that they will become one of the “greats” in that area. As previously discussed, as much as there’s a great deal of folklore and exaggerated stories out there to that effect, most human beings do not become great at something from one minute to the next, without a huge, concerted and inspired effort. The common wisdom now is that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to move from beginner to expert in a particular endeavor. That does not necessarily make you “great” of course, but usually, if done correctly, it will at least get you to “expert” status. You will know more and be better at your chosen endeavor than the vast majority of the remainder of the human population.

So if it’s relatively clear what it typically takes to become an expert in a field, is it also clear what it takes to achieve “greatness” in a particular endeavor or field? Unfortunately, not really. In my experience as an advisor and coach and in my research, I have found a wide variety of paths to greatness. That’s good news and bad news, as the saying goes. It’s good news, since even if you are not or have not been on a particular path, it doesn’t, de facto, mean that you cannot become great in your chosen field or endeavor. It’s bad news because it doesn’t give us one well-defined path to zoom in on in an effort to achieve greatness. That being said, in my experience and my research, I have found some common threads of the path to greatness. I will lay out those commonalities in the form of a ten-step process to become great at anything. There are no guarantees, of course, as most of the hard work rests on your shoulders, but by using this approach, in my opinion, you will maximize the probability that you can become “one of the greats” in your endeavor.

The first step is to identify the area of greatness that you are pursuing. You should be as specific as you can, given that the more nebulous you leave it, the more difficult you will find it to make focused efforts toward achieving your goal in the steps that follow.

The second step is to uncover the key requirements to become great in your chosen endeavor. The four main approaches you will pursue in uncovering these requirements will be the following:

a. Go directly to the “horse’s mouth”. That is, you should contact one or several people who have already done what you’re trying to do – become great in your field – and ask them how they did it. Try to get as many specifics as possible.

b. Talk to one or several coaches in that domain. These could also be referred to as subject matter experts (SMEs) or maybe even SMEs with a bit extra, as they have chosen to be coaches and thus are likely oriented toward understanding how to maximize performance in your particular endeavor.

c. Read books by experts in the field. Reading appeals to some folks and does not appeal to others. There are also many books on tape now, which you can listen to when you are driving or exercising. If you are more oriented toward learning from video, you should also be able to find plenty of resources in that medium.

d. Watch true professionals in action. If what you’re trying to become great at is a sport, watch as many events as you can, but don’t just watch as a fan or casual observer; watch as a student of the game. Likewise, if your focus is in business or another area, become a curious student of all that happens in your field.

The third step is to take stock of your natural abilities. Take a look at your physical and mental attributes. Don’t judge yourself or determine whether these attributes are good or bad at this point, just take stock. Are you exceptionally tall? Are you great with numbers? Etc.

The fourth step is to look at your strengths and weaknesses relative to what you’ve determined that it takes to be great in your chosen endeavor. You’ll want to go into great depth here, as understanding where your weaknesses are, for example, will allow you to structure your practice in a way that helps you to optimize your use of time and accelerate your road to greatness.

The fifth step is to focus in on your “why”? That is, why do you want to become great at this endeavor? What is it that’s driving you? Is it a “strong why”? In other words, do you think it is sufficiently strong to drive you to put in and maintain the extraordinary effort and concentration level that will be required to become great?

The sixth step is to set goals for yourself. You will want to set short-, medium- and long-term goals that take into account the requirements to become great, as well as the specific areas you’ve determined where you need to make improvements. Monitor progress toward your goals and make sure that you set a timeline for completion of each goal.

The seventh step is to constantly reinforce your belief that you can attain the goals that you’ve set for yourself to become great in your endeavor. This belief will be reinforced regularly if you have set your goals in a way that they are achievable on an incremental basis. Allow yourself to achieve small victories along the way, as this will nurture your belief. As with the later step of maintaining calm, you will also want to use positive self-talk and visualizations in this step.

The eighth step is to develop a detailed preparation schedule that is oriented toward reaching your goals and achieving greatness. Regardless of what your endeavor is, you may want to work with a coach or other qualified third party to ensure that your preparation schedule makes sense in terms of getting you to where you want to be without burning you out in the meantime.

The ninth step is to make sure that you have in place a calming mantra and approach for when you get into stressful situations on the road to achieving your goals. If you are trying to become great at anything, no matter what the field, it is inevitable that you will encounter some, maybe even a huge amount of stress along the way. You need an approach to deal with fear and stress and keep progressing toward greatness. That approach will likely involve extensive use of positive self-talk and visualization.

The tenth step is to constantly work on and nourish your will to succeed and concentrate. In fact, based on my experience and research, this may be the most important step and factor in your success. There are very few exceptions among the historical and contemporary greats that did not have to exercise enormous power of will and concentration, usually on many, many occasions. Becoming an expert is challenging enough. Becoming great is another whole level and it almost always requires many instances of calling on massive willpower to overcome the inevitable obstacles that lie in the path to greatness.

We’ll go into each of these steps in much more detail, but this summary gives you an idea of the path you need to follow to move from beginner to expert, and then, if your “why,” your belief and your willpower are strong enough, on to greatness.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com.

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Jun 152011
 
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How To Determine Your (Relevant) Weaknesses

In order to determine your weaknesses, presumably so you can address them and improve in those areas, you must first put a frame around the question: “what are my weaknesses.” This means that in order to identify and address your weaknesses, you must first determine which weaknesses are relevant. What is it that you are trying to accomplish? For example, if you’re trying to become a great entrepreneur, it wouldn’t be particularly relevant that you can’t sing very well, unless of course, your business is a singing telegram service with you as the solo performer. Likewise, if you’re trying to become a great marathon runner, it wouldn’t be particularly relevant that you don’t excel at the 100 yard dash.

First, of course, you must decide what it is you are trying to be great at. Be as specific as you can. For example, just saying “running” is not sufficiently specific. It should be more along the lines of: running the 100 yard dash, the mile, marathons, etc – you get the idea. Likewise, it wouldn’t be sufficient to say, “I want to be great at business.” It should be more specific, such as, “I want to be a great startup entrepreneur,” or “I want to be a great CEO of a medium-sized company,” or “I want to become great at identifying undervalued companies, buying them, and then selling them at a large profit.” What is it that you are trying to be great at? Write it down as specifically as you can.

In order to further frame the question, let’s go back to an earlier concept about how to determine what it takes to be great at something. There we discussed that there are four principal ways to find out what it takes to be great at something (below is a summary of each of the four ways; for the full article go here):

The first, quickest and most direct method of obtaining the requirements for becoming great at something, is to go directly to the “horse’s mouth”. That is, you should contact one or several people who have already done what you’re trying to do and ask them how they did it. Try to get as many specifics as possible.

The second method of finding the key requirements is to talk to one or several coaches in that domain. These could also be referred to as subject matter experts (SMEs) or maybe even SMEs with a bit extra, as they have chosen to be coaches and thus are likely oriented toward understanding how to maximize performance in your particular endeavor.

The third manner of uncovering the key requirements for greatness in your endeavor is to read books by experts in the field. Reading appeals to some folks and does not appeal to others. There are also many books on tape now, which you can listen to when you are driving or exercising. You can also find many instructional videos if you happen to be someone who learns better by watching video.

The fourth way to discern the key requirements for achieving greatness in your field is to watch true professionals in action. If what you’re trying to become great at is a sport, watch as many events as you can, but don’t just watch as a fan or casual observer; watch as a student of the game. Use the stop action (pause) on your DVR. In many endeavors, you can also often watch “professionals” in action by just asking permission.

These approaches to determining how to be great at something are not mutually exclusive. You can and should use of mix of these approaches to accelerate and optimize your learning.

Once you have a good idea of what it takes to become great at your chosen endeavor, you are now ready to compare your personal abilities against the “requirements.” Often times, it’s a good idea to take a look at this on your own, but then to follow up with a coach or some other qualified third party, as it can be difficult to be objective in looking at your own abilities. That said, if you don’t have access to such a third person, a self-assessment is far better than doing nothing at all and just fumbling along blindly.

How you do this assessment of your weaknesses may vary, but one simple way to do it is to make a basic matrix that includes the key requirements, the relative importance of each requirement, then your and another person’s ratings of your abilities. The following is a simple (and incomplete) example of such a matrix for someone looking to become a great clay-court singles tennis player. The ratings are on a scale of 1-10, with ten being most important and the highest attainable level for the self- and coach assessment.

requirements/weaknesses assessment - tennis

We won’t go through this assessment in excruciating detail, but let’s focus in on a couple of key points. First, bear in mind that this is a simple and incomplete example of an assessment. While something like this sample will get you much of what you need to assess your strengths and weaknesses, if you truly want to become great at something, whatever it may be, you’ll want to take this assessment to as granular a level as possible, so that you can really home in on the key areas you need to work on. Second, it’s key to focus in on those areas that have high importance, on which you and/or your coach also rated you with a low score. It is by prioritizing this way that you will optimize your efforts and get the most from the time you invest. It should also accelerate your improvement, which will in turn give you additional confidence and likely better performance in all areas. Third, based on this example, you can see the importance of getting the input of a coach or another qualified third party, as the tendency in most cases is to rate yourself more generously than a third party may. Also, it is likely that, if selected well, that third party or coach will have a much broader frame of reference in the selected endeavor than you do and will thus be able to give you a more objective and complete assessment. Finally for now, note that although this example assessment pertains to a sport, it is equally applicable in almost any endeavor at which you are trying to become “great.”

You may recall from a previous article that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” has been identified as the benchmark for what it takes to become an expert in anything. Deliberate practice refers to a form of practice that involves not just simply showing up, but rather very deliberately setting objectives, performing practice, and getting feedback on the results. Implicitly such practice involves zeroing in on weaknesses and attempting to address and correct them on an ongoing basis. In other words, to use golf as an example, just going to the driving range and hitting a bucket of balls is not sufficient. Rather, you should go to the driving range with a specific objective or set of objectives in mind, attempt to accomplish them, and note where your results vary from those intended. You should then determine what errors or weaknesses caused the variance, and then work on correcting those issues. It is in this way that you are most likely to see continuous improvement and progress toward your objective of becoming great. As noted above, this approach applies equally to sports and non-sports endeavors.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com .

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