Jun 202011

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

May 232011

Punished by Praise

The Early Achievers’ Curse When Seeking Greatness and Peak Performance

Be careful when receiving praise or when heaping it on yourself (self-talk) or others. Too much of the wrong type of praise can be counter-productive and can actually undermine your efforts to become great and achieve peak performance in your chosen field or endeavor.

This sounds counter-intuitive, you may say. Doesn’t praise help to build up your self-image and make you a stronger performer with more confidence? It is indeed a double-edged sword. Praise, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. The issue is that when something comes easy to you and you hear from everyone around you things like, “Wow, you are really great at this … you’re a natural,” it tends to make you say to yourself, “You know what, they’re right; I am quite good at this”. In some cases, this leads to over-confidence and engenders a mindset that is not in touch with what it takes to become great at anything – hard work and “deliberate practice” over an extended period of time.

Based on everything I’ve seen in my own consulting, coaching and execution, there are no shortcuts to greatness, no matter the area of endeavor. You of course do have to believe that you can be successful and you have to have the willpower to make it happen, but it is very dangerous to believe that it will come too easily to you. I’ve seen it time and again, in fields as diverse as soccer, chess, mathematics, sales, entrepreneurship, art and music – the young student or adult beginner gets a lot of positive feedback early in the process of learning. They then do very well for a while and are at the “head of the class,” but then with time, they inevitably get passed by someone with less initial “talent” who wants it more and works harder and smarter to make it happen.

The other aspect of getting too much praise early is that for some, it makes them reluctant to take risks and step outside their comfort zone in the future. In order to become truly great at something, to become a true expert, you need to “take your knocks” and you need to be willing to take risks, make mistakes, learn from them, and then move on. However, if you really enjoy the early praise and recognition that you receive, it may make you less likely to take the necessary risks to achieve greatness in your chosen endeavor. The praise and recognition can actually become addictive and you don’t want to risk damaging your self-image by taking a chance of making a mistake or “failing”. Without the willingness to take risks, you can unknowingly place an artificial ceiling on your growth and your ability to become a master or an expert in your field. Such fear of failure can put an end to an otherwise promising “career” in anything.

So, what’s the answer? Well, it certainly isn’t excessive negativity. Nor is it ceasing to give or receive praise. Rather, when you give praise or receive it, you must include a counter-balancing reality check every time – a reminder that there is always more to learn – that no matter how good you are, there’s always room for growth. If the feedback, whether it be praise or criticism is not balanced this way, it can be very dangerous and can severely limit your potential to become great and achieve peak performance.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin

May 122011

As An Entrepreneur, Your Number One Job Is To Believe

I was talking with an old friend of mine today regarding his experience founding and building the leading business in a market segment he pioneered in Brazil, first in São Paulo, then throughout the country. Actually, I was interviewing him to get his insights for a book I am writing regarding peak performance and what it takes to achieve “greatness”.

During our discussion, he told me a very interesting story that illustrates the importance of believing that what you’re doing will work, will be successful, beyond a shadow of a doubt. The story starts with him moving to Brazil from Philadelphia after finishing school and wanting to continue his run as an entrepreneur. Before coming to Philadelphia for school, he had been a successful entrepreneur in the entertainment space in Paris. But now, here he was, moving to yet another country, recently married to a Brazilian woman and trying to figure out what business he could start that would be successful in Brazil. At the time, he barely spoke a word of Portuguese, which was going to make it very interesting as he tried to persuade prospective customers.

He found a partner with a similar background and a similar set of advantages and disadvantages, the most important of which were not knowing the language and having no idea how to build a business in the Brazilian setting. In case you’re not familiar, Brazil has been ranked as one of the most difficult places in the world to start a business, largely due to the massive bureaucracy and red tape involved. To complicate matters even more, the business he and his partner decided to start was in the healthcare space and had more than a tangential connection with doing business with government entities – yet more red tape. Another big challenge was that they were trying to bring a model that had been successful in the United States, but had no track record in Brazil. I guess you could say they really had the “deck stacked against them”. Despite this fact, based on their previous performance as successful entrepreneurs, they were able to attract startup capital and they did get their business going.

In order to be successful, given what they were learning about how business worked in Brazil, my friend relatively quickly realized that he would have to establish a distribution arrangement with one of the successful industrial families of Brazil that would be able to open doors for him. So, with his relatively weak, but steadily improving Portuguese, my friend began to contact families that were in businesses that could make sense. He made a lot of calls and heard “no” more times than he cares to admit, but due to his perseverance and belief in what he was doing, he pushed on. Finally, after about a year of denials and what at times felt like a hopeless battle, he met with a well known family that had a very strong distribution business with national reach. He gave his pitch and fortunately, after some hemming and hawing, it was accepted. To this day, six years later, even though his company has grown significantly in the meantime, this is my friend’s most important distributor and has been a tremendous ally in opening some important doors.

So now we get to the part about why, as an entrepreneur, believing, even when it seems no one else does, is your most important job. My friend was talking with this distributor the other day, in his now close to perfect Portuguese, and they were reminiscing about old times. The distributor was telling him that when they first met, he really understood very little about the niche my friend was going after and specifically what he was trying to do. BUT, he said, “I could see that you believed very strongly in what you were doing – your passion and belief came through in the way you communicated your ideas. So I took a chance. I really bet on you and the strength of your belief.” This is an example of where the strength of your belief in what you’re doing can make or break the success of your endeavor, whatever that endeavor may be, in your business or the rest of your life. Your belief comes through in everything you do and if it’s strong enough, is obvious to everyone with whom you interact.

The story has a very happy ending, as the niche my friend pioneered is now taking off in Brazil and my friend and his partner stand to do very well as a result, as due to their perseverance and belief, they are now positioned in front of the wave, as the number one provider in that space.

I look forward to your comments. Do you have an example where your belief or that of someone you know was the deciding factor in the success of a business or other endeavor?

Paul Morin

Mar 232011

Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.
George Sheehan

In order to follow the advice of this quote, you first must have a sense of “the person you believe you were meant to be.” Who do you believe you were meant to be? What were you meant to accomplish? Many of us have not taken the time to contemplate these questions. The answer for most will be multi-dimensional, dealing with many aspects of life. Give it some thought. Once you’ve arrived at a conclusion to these very personal questions, heed the advice of this quote and be courageous and determined to become that person you think you were “meant to be”. Don’t settle for less.