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 022011
 
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If You Want Success, Learn To Navigate For Yourself

We’ve all heard the expression “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else”. Let’s take that to the next level: If you don’t know where you’re going and you don’t take charge of charting your own course, you probably won’t end up going anywhere.

Take a look around at the successful entrepreneurs, CEOs and other people that you know or know of. How many of them are current or former pilots or avid sailors? Ted Turner, Richard Branson, and Michael Bloomberg come to mind, but the list is much longer. What does one have to do with the other?

In all my time as an entrepreneur and now increasingly as I have started doing more coaching, research and writing on the topic of human “greatness” and peak performance, one trend I have noticed in those who succeed in all sorts of endeavors is that they take control of their own destiny. They leave the “employee mentality” behind, they determine and describe in a detailed way all that they are trying to accomplish, and then they chart a course to get there. When they chart that course, they know that there will be obstacles and they know that they will likely be off-course a good portion of the time, but they also know that it is far better to have an imperfect path charted than to have nothing at all and just hope for the best.

At its essence, this mentality boils down to taking control and taking ownership of your life, your ventures and your future. You must become the “pilot” of your life – even if you don’t literally become a pilot, you must take the leadership, responsibility and control of where you take all aspects of your life. And like those mentioned above, you must do so realizing that life hardly ever goes exactly according to plan; you will need to monitor your progress and course-adjust on a regular basis. You must also learn to react calmly in the face of changes and danger – only by overcoming your fears will you be able to reach your goals. The knowledge and confidence inherent in having a course charted and having developed contingency plans will help considerably in maintaining calm and “pressing on”.

Be bold. Take charge. Overcome your fears and other limitations. Become the “pilot” of your life and all your ventures and watch how the results you achieve improve markedly.

Oh, and by the way, punching coordinates or a street addresss into a GPS is not navigating – it does not teach you to think through the route you want to take, consider alternatives, take note of the landmarks you should expect to see, react with calmness to changes in the roads, etc. While GPS is a wonderful technology and, like any other technology, should be used to support you as you chart your course and embark on your journey in business and in other aspects of life, you should not become so reliant on it that you learn not to plan, think for yourself and stay aware en route. It’s like my father said to me back in the day, when he saw me using a calculator for my homework – it looks like a nice toy, but make sure it doesn’t keep you from learning the basics of math, the foundation upon which you will build all your other learning.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

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

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May 312011
 
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You Won’t See Them Practice or Prepare …

Unless You’re One of Them

It does not matter your field of endeavor. You could be an entrepreneur, an athlete, a scientist, a musician, or the CEO of any size company, but unless you are one of them, you will not see the “greats” practice or prepare. They are up early or they stay late, in order to perfect their “game” and bring it to its highest level.

I am in the midst of an in-depth study of “greatness” throughout the ages. This includes taking a close look at the lives of hundreds of history’s greatest people in a wide variety of fields and endeavors. It also includes interviewing dozens of contemporary “greats” throughout sport, business, science, music, art and beyond, and looking for common threads in how they have reached such heights.

One such common thread is that those who reach an extraordinarily high level of achievement in their field almost uniformly are preparing when the rest of the world, including their competitors and often times colleagues or teammates, are sleeping. They shoot free throws, they do extra workouts, they prepare speeches, they create, they analyze, they synthesize, and they hone their skills to levels that others only hope to achieve. This is the time they “steal” to take their game to the next level.

Does this mean that they don’t do all the other preparation that their teammates, colleagues and competitors are doing throughout the rest of the day? Of course not. They’re doing that too. The pre- and post-workday “workouts in the dark” and preparation are fueled by their dedication and drive to become the best they can. Sometimes it’s as though they cannot stop themselves from additional preparation in the “off hours”. They are driven by something deep inside that pushes them to put in all that extra work.

Is such drive and dedication something that can be imposed from outside? No. It must come from within. Sometimes it’s hard to even understand the source of this drive. But in the “great” ones it exists. Their bodies and their minds become “vehicles” of greatness, pushed by a force larger than them to do their best and always try to take it to the next level. Does it feel like a burden or extra work to them? Sometimes. But most of the time, it just feels natural. It feels like what they’re supposed to be doing to fulfill their dreams and accomplish all that they can, individually and for their team or organization.

So, if it comes from deep within, can you try to find it? Can you look for a formula to become great? Well, there’s no simple formula or recipe, like if you were going to bake a couple dozen chocolate chip cookies. One thing is clear, however, based on my experience as a coach and as a researcher in the area of “greatness”: before you can find this drive and become “great,” you must first find the endeavor or pursuit that will allow you to bring out your own greatness. It must be something that “lights the fire” within you. It may take a while and it may show up when you’re least expecting it, but if you’re paying attention, you’ll know when you find it.

It is not something that can easily be forced, even if you have the aptitude. Sure, we try to force it all the time, on ourselves, on our kids, on those around us. We focus on what we think we want or what we think society wants or what we think we “should” do. Trust me; this approach will not work. Yes, you can become good at something because others want you to, but you will not become “great”. The only way anyone becomes great at anything is if THEY want it, and only if they want it REALLY bad. Only if they want it so bad that they will not stop at anything short of greatness. Again, the drive MUST come from within. You can receive guidance and support from those around you, but the drive has to come from WITHIN.

What is the source of this desire? From what I’ve seen, it varies widely. For one person, the drive and desire may come from having been told they cannot do something. For another, it may come from following a family tradition of greatness in a particular endeavor. For yet another, their “why” may come from early childhood exposure to a sport or other endeavor that lights a fire within them. Frankly, this question of “why” is one of the hardest ones to understand. It’s a highly personal and individual driver. There really isn’t a lot of uniformity, but there are some common threads. More on this later, as my study into “greatness” continues.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

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

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May 172011
 
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If you seek to be great at something, whatever it may be, you must first understand what it takes to be great in that endeavor. Without this knowledge, you are guessing as you create your plan, goals and preparation schedule. You could actually head off in the wrong direction and do more damage than good, if you’re not careful.

So, how do you find these requirements then? There are several methods, which are not mutually-exclusive. You should do them all, if you’re serious about achieving greatness in your endeavor as quickly as possible.

The first, quickest and most direct method of obtaining the requirements, 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. There are a couple of challenges with this approach. First, top achievers are often very busy people and they are difficult to reach and get time from. Second, even if you do reach them and you manage to ask them your questions, they may not even fully understand how they did it! Some people are great performers, but are not particularly introspective or analytical, so when you ask them to “break it down” for you and give you insights, they may not know where to start. That being said, it is very much worth taking this step. At a minimum, in this process, you may just find a role model or even a mentor.

The second method of finding the key requirements is to talk to one or several coaches in the domain. These could also be referred to as subject matter experts (SME) or maybe even SMEs with a bit extra, as they have chosen to be coaches and thus are likely oriented toward maximizing performance in your particular endeavor. Depending on the area you’re looking at, they may even have attended school for many years and have completed specialized study and certification, in order to be considered coaches. For example, if you are looking to achieve greatness in tennis, speaking with a tennis coach or a certified teaching professional would be a step that could make a lot of sense. You may still want to take the first step of talking to some people that have already done what you’re trying to do – become great at tennis – but a coach is the person who could likely best take you through it step by step, and perhaps more importantly, give you specific feedback on your progress as you go. This is an important part of “deliberate practice”. While this may become a bit costly, as you’ll likely need to receive coaching over an extended period of time, if you’re truly trying to achieve greatness in the endeavor, you likely don’t mind spending some money to do so in the most direct manner possible.

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. Whatever your favorite medium for learning, you would be wise to seek a variety of learning materials to increase your exposure to all sorts of techniques and opinions on achieving greatness in your chosen field of endeavor. While some may be concerned about becoming overwhelmed with information, just be careful to take all information you consume “with a grain of salt,” use what you can at present, and then discard or file the rest away for later use.

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. Try to watch the bigger picture as well as the fine points of what the players are doing. Take notes and discuss your observations with other players, fans and coaches. Learn as much as you can through inference as you watch and try to “get inside the heads” of the players, so that you may understand the key requirements for success that they, as professionals, are focusing on. Depending on the level of the players you are observing and their accessibility, try to talk to them after the competition and understand what they were thinking. If what you are trying to become great at is not a sport, the same approach applies: observe professionals in action, try to understand the big picture and the finer points, take notes, discuss with others, try to talk to those involved in the action and try to incorporate and emulate the best of what you see in your own “game”. To become truly great at something, besides putting in a ton of hard work, you must become a serious student of that endeavor.

Fifth, and finally for now, put to work everything you’ve learned in the above steps. Practice your chosen area of greatness tirelessly, constantly trying to improve and never giving up. Practice is the best method of learning, as long as it is “deliberate practice” rooted in the repetition of the key requirements you learned in the steps above, followed by feedback, so you can continuously improve. It does not serve your cause to practice the wrong methods and steps over and over again – that sort of repetition will only take you further away from your goal of greatness.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin
paul@companyfounder.com
www.companyfounder.com.

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May 102011
 
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Your Will To Succeed

The Most Important Character Trait As An Entrepreneur

In my consulting and coaching practice, I have the good fortune to interact with a lot of top entrepreneurs, CEOs and athletes. I’m in a particularly intense period of such interaction right now, as I’m in the thick of research for a book I’m writing on peak performance and what it takes to be “great” at anything.

My coaching, research and consulting look at many factors that impact peak performance on an individual and organizational level. Even though we look at a wide range of factors, there is one factor that always stands out in successful individuals and organizations: the will to succeed. Given the complexities of talking about this factor as it relates to teams and organizations, I will focus here on the will to succeed on an individual level.

In talking and working with top performers in business and sports, we cover a wide range of factors including: natural ability, clear goals, preparation, belief and the will to succeed, among many others. I see a wide range of variability on all but the will to succeed. In peak performers, almost invariably, when we look at their will to succeed and talk to them about it, its importance comes out as a “10” on a scale of 1-10. When you take a closer look, it’s relatively easy to see why.

First of all, we all start out with different levels of natural ability. In reality, it’s something that’s beyond our control. As the saying goes, “you’re born with it, or you’re not”. Secondly, some people are extremely goal driven, while others are not. Next, some people are fanatical about preparation, while others tend to do the minimum to get by, and yes, this is even true among top performers in many disciplines. In terms of belief, it’s true, most peak performers do have a strong belief that they can be great at what they do, however this belief is something that usually develops over time, with each successive milestone reached.

The will to succeed, on the other hand, is a different sort of animal. While it’s true that many people that have a strong will to succeed seem to be “born with it,” the majority appear to pick it up from environmental factors, often in the early and formative years of life. In my case, for example, I grew up in a very competitive household, mainly with adults. I was not an “only child”, but my siblings are much older than me, so I spent most of my childhood with adults. I observed what they did and how they competed, and from a very early age, even though I was a child, I wanted to and I believed that I could beat them. When I was wrong in certain disciplines, mental or physical, I worked as hard as I could – I studied and trained as much as necessary, in order to beat them, despite the difference in years.

Other peoples’ inner drive to succeed comes from other factors. Perhaps, for example, as is so often the case, a person may grow up seeing what other people have and wanting to be more like them. When I say seeing what people “have,” I’m not necessarily referring to material things. Sometimes we see that other people have the lives we think we want, whether those lives include a lot of wealth, or an apparently happy family, or an apparently rewarding job – whatever it may be. In my coaching work, I often see that people are driven by trying to obtain the lives that other people have. Although this is often misleading, which people only realize once they obtain those things or “that life” that they had been envying, nonetheless, it can be a great source of motivation, drive and willpower.

Then there’s that inner drive that cannot be simply explained by childhood rivalries or by trying to keep up with the Joneses. That harder to explain drive and will to succeed may in fact be the most powerful of all. Where does it come from? I don’t have a great answer for you. For the religious, it comes from a God, that is whichever God they worship. For the non-religious, it comes from some inexplicable source, perhaps from some unknown drive within the human species to continue to evolve and improve constantly.

Regardless of where you may believe the will to succeed comes from, in my experience, it is the single most consistent and powerful factor in all peak performers in all areas of endeavor, including entrepreneurship. Cultivate your will to succeed. Make sure you focus on endeavors where your will to succeed, to compete, and to be at your best is alive and well. If you don’t feel such willpower in what you are doing, ask yourself why. Should you be doing something else? Or is it simply that you need to be more focused so that you can fully engage your will to succeed? Be honest with yourself and realize that without a strong will to succeed in any particular endeavor, your odds of achieving “greatness” are severely diminished, as you simply will not have the strength to overcome the inevitable roadblocks and challenges you will face.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments. Do you agree that the will to succeed is the single most important factor on the road to greatness in any endeavor?

Paul Morin
paul@companyfounder.com
www.companyfounder.com.

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May 062011
 
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There Is No Instant Success

Deliberate Practice Is The Only Way To Become Great

Occasionally, we hear of a competitor, an athlete, or a person in a particular field of endeavor who “came out of nowhere” and appeared on the scene as a major contender. This “instant success” is hardly ever the case. Upon further investigation, almost invariably, this person has had years of preparation and training, and not just random practice here and there. In order to reach expert level in most anything, according to prominent researchers on the subject (for example, see many of the works of K. A. Ericsson), it takes around 10,000 hours (or 10 years) of deliberate practice. This is a form of practice where you don’t just go out and hit a bucket of balls (for example) each day; rather, you hit that bucket of balls (or 20 of them) with a particular iron, with a particular objective in mind, bearing in mind and noting any issues you had. You then focus in on improving your swing and your approach in your areas of weakness. This is a “continuous feedback” loop that will keep you improving. You don’t just go out and “hit your favorite iron” over and over again and hope for improvement.

I am lucky to have an advisory and coaching practice that spans strategic planning, startup and entrepreneurial development, and peak performance coaching. It is a truly fascinating area, as it deals with human potential and performance, individually and in teams and larger organizations. In my experience and observation, the “10,000 hour rule” really does hold true. While it may not be a hard and fast rule at 10,000 hours, it’s a good approximation of the time anyone will need to invest if they want to reach “master” or “expert” level in their chosen endeavor. Most remarkably, this benchmark is not widely known or talked about, and further, even among those that are aware of it, they don’t often stop to consider the implications. The main implication, from my perspective, is that most people will never reach the expert level at anything. Why? Because even if they do end up doing something consistently for ten years, and most will not, they will not have done it in a “deliberate” way. Rather than have 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, they will have had 10,000 one-hour, relatively random, relatively unconnected experiences.

This reality holds true regardless of the field of endeavor we look at. If you are a golfer, or you understand golf to some extent, think for a moment about how the vast majority of people shoot almost the same score (let’s say within 5 strokes), for 30 years or more! How is this possible? Is it because they are simply incapable of doing better? In most cases, OF COURSE NOT! It happens this way because most of them are not practicing “deliberately”. The easiest way to do so would be to work with a coach who understands the concept of deliberate practice. But it’s also very possible, though perhaps a bit more difficult, to practice deliberately on your own. Do most people do so? No they do not. Instead, they essentially go out and play the same round of golf over and over again. Now that may be OK, depending what their objectives are. For example, if their score really doesn’t matter much to them and they just want to be out there to get some exercise and enjoy themselves, so be it. That is a perfectly valid pursuit. If, however, they are truly trying to become “masters” or “experts” with this approach, they are deceiving themselves. It will never happen.

So does this reality only apply to sports? Not at all. It applies to any endeavor, physical or mental, at which you are trying to become an expert. Think about it in terms of your small business or your job. Do you “practice deliberately”? Do you analyze your weaknesses and constantly strive to improve in these areas, day in and day out? Or do you just stick to the things you like to do and feel comfortable with and metaphorically, like the golfer above, continue to play the same round and shoot the same score, day after day, quarter after quarter, year in and year out? Take a close look. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if you are willing to do what it takes to become a “master” or “expert” in your sport, business, field, or other area of endeavor. If not, consider doing something else, as dabbling will not get you anywhere you are likely to want to go.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin
paul@companyfounder.com
www.companyfounder.com.

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