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Having Potential (#119)

Much of our motivation in life is driven by two feelings that are often at different ends of the emotional spectrum: inspiration and discomfort.

This week, the focus is on discomfort.

A few months ago, a friend of mine spoke to a group and imparted some harsh but salient wisdom that stuck with me. He said, “When you are ten, potential is cute. When you are 20, it’s nice. But by the time you get to 40, it starts to become an insult.”

While this can be painful for some to hear, I think there’s a lot of truth in his words. Here are two definitions of potential, courtesy of the Oxford dictionary:

Adjective: Having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.

Noun: Latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.

Based on these definitions, it makes sense to refer to something as having potential when it’s early in its lifecycle, be it a person, product or organization.

However, as time goes on, using that same phrase moves from something inspiring to something that becomes a crutch to, eventually, an insult.

Don’t believe me? Tell a mom or dad of a 15-year-old that they have the potential to be a great parent and see how they react.

It’s not that a person who has been dabbling in something for 10-20 years without success doesn’t have potential. What’s more likely is that they lack the talent or the conviction to convert that potential into something meaningful.

For instance, when an entrepreneur talks about the potential of their product yet, and it’s been a decade or more since it’s generated any meaningful sales, they are fooling themselves.

The same goes for an organization that’s been doing essentially the thing for ten years and getting the same results. Saying they have “potential” is no longer the right word to use.

Indeed, potential has an expiration date.

Ultimately, we need to decide where we want to convert our potential into achievement. These will likely be areas in your life that are most important to you, not what others decide are most important or valuable.

The question to think about in your own life or organization is, where in the future would it be an insult to look back and hear that you had had potential?

I have asked myself this very question. At no point in my life do I want to look back and feel that I had the potential to be or do better – as a father, a husband or a leader in my business – and not lived up to it.

With that in mind, pretend it’s five years from now and ask yourself the following:

  • Where would I not want to be told I had potential in my business (either overall or for a product)?
  • Where would I not want to be told I had potential in my family and personal life?
  • Where would I be really upset to hear that I had the potential to be an X?

If you’re not on track to live up to your potential in any of these areas, then go do something about it.

Don’t be someone who had potential. Be someone who acted on their potential.

Quote of Week

 “There is no heavier burden than an unfulfilled potential.”

Charles Schulz

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Raising Values (#118)

As a company, we have always aspired to not have a lot of rules. Instead, we prefer to focus on and reinforce our company’s core values. We believe they are key directional markers that can help team members make more thoughtful, sound decisions.

Recently, while reading Adam Grant’s book Originals, I learned about a study done by two sociologists who studied non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust (rescuers) with a group of neighbors who lived in the same town but who did nothing (non-rescuers).

The study revealed that what ultimately differentiated the rescuers from the non-rescuers was how their parents disciplined bad behavior and praised good behavior.

When the rescuers were asked to recall their childhoods and the discipline they received, researchers discovered that the word they most used was “explained.” The focus of their parents was on the Why behind their disciplinary action and the moral lesson or value to be learned, rather than on the discipline itself.

This practice conveyed the values their parents wanted to share while also encouraging critical thinking and reasoning. Grant notes that by explaining moral principles, the parents of those in the rescuer group had instilled in their children the importance of complying voluntarily with rules that align with important values and to question rules that don’t.

The rescuers were almost three times more likely to reference moral values that applied to all people, emphasizing that their parents taught them to respect all human beings.

Another key to creating these moral standards that researchers found is praising behavior or character over the action itself. For example, in one study, children who were asked to be “helpers” instead of “to help” were more likely to clean up toys when asked. Similarly, adults who were asked “Please don’t be a cheater” cheated 50 percent less than those that were asked “Please don’t cheat.”

The same researcher suggests that we replace “Don’t Drink and Drive” with “Don’t Be a Drunk Driver.”

It turns out that values are far more effective than rules at eliciting the outcomes and behaviors that we want. In either a family or an organization, it is virtually impossible to cover all possible rules or monitor the adherence to them. Doing so would create a lengthy process manual or a draconian set of guidelines.

I’ve observed that highly successful families, organizations and companies select and focus on a few values that are most important to them. These aren’t token values that sit on the wall. They explain the Why behind those values to their group and regularly reinforce them, both in terms of accountability for not meeting the standard as well as celebrating decisions that are made which support those values.

These values can cover hundreds, if not thousands, of situations, far more than any set of rules could. Most importantly, people are encouraged to openly question decisions that are incongruous with the values. Enforcement is not top down; it’s made by all the members of the group.

The individuals who acted bravely to save would-be victims of the Holocaust were never explicitly told to do that. It was following the values that were instilled and strengthened throughout their lives that brought them to a logical, courageous decision.

Quote of the Week

“The moral values, ethical codes and laws that guide our choices in normal times are, if anything, even more important to help us navigate the confusing and disorienting time of a disaster.”

Sheri Fink

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Moment or Movement (#117)

This past Saturday, students all around the world marched peacefully in the March for Our Lives. In Washington DC, it was the biggest youth demonstration since the 1960’s.

The symbolism and significance was not lost. One of the last speakers at the event was Yolanda Renee King, an extremely poised 9-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

One of the themes brought up several times by the young speakers was the importance of making this march and the cause behind it a movement, not just a moment.

In an interview after the event, a professional organizer was asked what the difference is between a moment and a movement. He replied, “A movement has to cost you something.”

This is a powerful statement, one that I thought about for a quite a while.

It reminded me of a story a friend shared with me about one of his employees who did not agree with a position that the company had taken on a societal issue. The employee told my friend, the CEO, that he was quitting because of it.

Rather than be upset, my friend told the employee that he respected him tremendously for paying the price of being true to his values. For those values, he was willing to sacrifice his job.

It can be easy to ride the wave of a moment and go with the current. Many politicians specialize in and make a career of this.

But when that moment is over, there is a decision to make.

Truly launching a movement requires sustained action around a deep-rooted purpose, no matter the personal or professional cost. It will involve ups and downs, roadblocks and sacrifices. There will be many detractors and haters. However, what keeps a person, group or team going is the belief that the price of failure is greater than doing nothing.

What I finally grasped for the first time this weekend is that these kids believe that the status quo is threatening their lives, and that’s no longer an option.

A few years back, CVS Caremark rebranded with the tagline “Health is Everything.” CVS then put their money where their mouth was, suspending the sale of all tobacco products in 2014. That decision cost them an estimated $2B in tobacco product sales almost overnight. However, following the announcement, the public rewarded them by driving their stock price to a 34-year high.

As individuals and organizations, we will each have our moments of opportunity. The question is, when your moment is over, do you have the conviction to create a movement?

Quote of The Week

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

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Preventative Maintenance (#89)

Despite there being over 40 million flights per year, it’s rare for an airplane to crash or fall out of the sky. A main reason for this is this is that the airline industry is focused on preventative maintenance.

There is an understanding that the costs associated with being reactive is likely to be catastrophic, both in terms of loss of life and money. Therefore, planes and parts are routinely inspected and replaced before they go bad.

This concept of preventative maintenance and being proactive is something we teach our account managers here at Acceleration Partners. Instead of just waiting for a client to bring up an issue or comment on a trend, we encourage them to proactively address it before the client does.

It’s understood that waiting until the client brings it up is too late. The cost of inaction is always more expensive than addressing a problem proactively, whether that’s a financial cost or damage to the relationship or reputation.

With hurricanes Harvey and Irma dominating the news and compelling millions to evacuate, this topic of preventative maintenance comes squarely into focus. While there are heated debates about the causes of such devastating storms, its undeniable that the world is warming and the seas are rising. Yet, the increased likelihood of more catastrophic natural disasters is often ignored or overlooked, despite repeated warnings from experts.

A perfect example is the White House making a statement on Wednesday that, “This is not the time to talk about climate change.” Then when is?

It’s almost impossible to get state or federal governments to act on preventative measures. Politics, budgets and special interests all come into play; debates happen yet nothing gets done. Sadly, no one gets elected or becomes a hero by protecting us from the future. The glory is gained from the firefighting.

Then, a disaster like Irma or Harvey strikes. Suddenly everyone bands together. Budgets open up and unlimited funds are made available to clean up the mess. Heated discussions over the debt ceiling subside. This nonsensical cycle of focusing on the problem after it occurs—at an extraordinary expense—simply continues.

Contrast this approach with how the Dutch have managed to keep Amsterdam, a city that sits several feet below sea level, from flooding year after year. As this well written article outlines, the Dutch have developed a world-class flood prevention model with the goal to be able to survive a 4,000-year storm. They’ve also done an incredible job of getting everyone on the same page about the cost of inaction.

In other words, they are maintaining the planes before there is a crash.

This all circles back to the concept of Urgent versus Important. If we don’t take care of the important, we will be forced to deal with the urgent. Shouldn’t it be most important to protect against the realities of global climate change and rising sea levels?

Our inability to act in a preventative way keeps forcing us to deal with urgent situations and devastating consequences. It leaves us all hoping and praying that the worst-case scenarios don’t come true.

Today, we are in desperate need of leaders who can make decisions proactively around important issues as opposed to just reacting with urgency.

I never thought I would say this, but we need to learn from the airline industry.

Quote of the Week

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Benjamin Franklin

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Sharing Belief (#83)

Having people in our lives who share their belief in us is incredibly important; it’s the underpinning of great leadership, good parenting and many religious foundations. Motivational guru, Tony Robbins’ entire career and platform is based on helping others believe they can do more than they thought possible.

That said, belief must also be coupled with reality; reality of what it will take to achieve the desired outcome. One without the other will likely lead to failure, disappointment and even unreached potential.

For example, I can tell my daughter that I believe she can get into Harvard or become an Olympian, but that should be accompanied by an explanation of what that will require in terms of passion, skills, effort, commitment and time. She must know that, if she really wants something, no one else can or should do the work for her.

Belief grounded in reality is critical. It’s also something I think many micro-managers and “helicopter” parents get very wrong.  Telling someone that you believe in them and then doing the work for them at the first sign of struggle doesn’t allow them to gain the experience of learning from their own mistakes, which is an essential element of success.

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear John DiJulius, a best-selling author and one of the top customer service gurus in the world, give a keynote speech. Like many successful people and entrepreneurs, John shared that he was diagnosed with ADD and struggled in school when he was younger. Fortunately, he had wonderful parents who told him how much they believed in him.

John’s experience came full-circle with his own son. At the age of 10, John brought his son to a national wrestling tournament as he had beaten everyone else in his age group in the state of Ohio. In the double elimination event, John’s son lost his first match 15-0 to the top ranked boy. The match even had to be stopped several times because John’s son was crying. He lost the second match in 15 seconds. It wasn’t pretty.

On the flight home, John’s son asked about returning the next year to compete. John told him that, if he was serious about doing so, it would require a higher level of training and dedication than he’d ever committed to before, all of which he outlined in detail. John was also clear that, while he believed in him, he wasn’t going to hold him accountable for doing the work. His son had to want it for himself.

John admitted that he honestly did not think his son’s zeal for competing the following year would endure. But, to his surprise, his son fastidiously followed his training regimen. When they returned the next year, his son not only won his first six matches, he also beat the same kid who he’d lost to in the finals the prior year and won a national championship.

When John asked his son how he mustered the will to do what he had done, his reaction was simply “because you told me I could.” In relaying the story, John expressed guilt that he had doubted his son’s ability and dedication to compete at that level; he just thought he was giving him a good pep talk. Had he not conveyed his belief in his son, the outcome of that national championship may have been different.

Let’s all remember the power of inspiring others to do more without actually doing it for them. Be there to root them on and then stay out of their way as they learn to believe in themselves.

If you want to see John’s story for yourself, you can watch it here (minute 6 is where he wins).

Quote of the Week

“Sometimes you have to believe in the belief others have in you until your belief kicks in.”

John DiJulius

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Having Doubt (#74)

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend time with one of my favorite people, the scholar and public speaking guru, Conor Neill. Conor has helped many people drastically improve their public speaking abilities by teaching them how to develop a confident, compelling message, leaving their listener with no doubt that they are an expert on their subject.

Our discussion quickly turned to the growing entrenchment in rigid ideology around the world. Conor connected this to the concept of faith and shared a story about a devoutly religious friend of his who was open to all questions and criticism about his beliefs.

This friend spoke with Conor about the importance of having faith in the face of doubt. His premise is that, if you have only doubt, you’re cynical. On the flip side, if you do not doubt, then your beliefs begin to border on fanaticism, even fascism in the most extreme cases.

This is a powerful concept and, in many ways, explains the dynamics undermining the very divided political environment in the U.S. and around the world. Today, people seem less open to dialog and respectful debate, or even trying to understand an alternate perspective. Instead, they’re defaulting to rigid ideology or even anger when their core positions are challenged.

Exacerbating this situation is the fact that many of us get a majority of our news from social media; platforms that curate the information we receive based on our past behavior, stated preferences, and our peer set. This creates a strong propensity for “confirmation bias” as we are exposed to stories and opinions that support the views we already have—some of which are unsubstantiated rumors or outright lies (e.g. fake news). This is a very dangerous phenomenon that we all need to be more aware of.

While we need vision, conviction, and confidence to be successful, we also need to balance that with doubt, healthy skepticism, and humility.

Here are a few more benefits of having doubt and openly contemplating it with others:

  • It keeps us open to new ideas and perspectives
  • It keeps us humble and motivated (overconfidence is often often a precursor to failure)
  • It causes us to question more and to test our own assumptions more carefully

Quote of the Week

“We should be unafraid to doubt. There is no believing without some doubting, and believing is all the more robust for having experienced its doubts.”

Justin Holcomb

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