Dec 4, 2009

Great to Good - Getting Back to the Balanced Life

Tiger Woods. Donald Trump. Bobby Fisher. Jack Welch. Michael Jordan. Bill Clinton. Ray Charles. Marilyn Monroe.

What do each of these talented, arguably great individuals have in common?

They let their talent outrun their character. They became more expert at their professions and abilities than with their perspective and integrity. In many instances, they traded the short term for the long term, in spite of their great dedication, discipline and honorable sacrifices.

In other words, they let things get out of balance.

David O. McKay once said, "No amount of success can compensate for failure in the home." I would add, no amount of success can compensate for a failure in one's character, or in one's sanity, or in one's decency as a human being.

I recently read a book called "Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else", by Geoff Colvin. The book is much along the same vein as Jim Collins' Book "Good to Great", in that it shows the reader how to rise from mediocrity to greatness.

Like Collins, Colvin's work is very research based, proving time and time again that world-class performers excel not because of any inborn talent or skill, but because of conscious choice, vigorous training (usually over a 10 year period) and because they shut out the rest of the world in their quest for greatness. They focus. They're intense. They put themselves through deliberate, repetitive and painful practice.

I must admit, I was very inspired by the book, and wanted to recommit myself to becoming truly great in my field.

Until I read the last few pages.

Says Colvin: "What do you really want? What you want -- really, deeply want-- is fundamental because deliberate practice is a heavy investment. Becoming a great performer demands the largest investment you will ever make -- many years of your life devoted utterly to your goal--and only someone who wants to reach that goal with extraordinary power can make it.

"We often see the price people pay in their rise to the top of any field; even if their marriages or other relationships survive [most don't] their interest outside their field simply cannot....Usually, as a means of being able to continue work,the creator sacrificed normal relationships in the personal sphere. Such people are committed obsessively to their work. Social life or hobbies are almost immaterial.

"That may sound like admirable self-sacrifice and direction of purpose, but it often goes much further, and it can be ugly...the self-confidence merges with egotism, egocentrism, and narcissism: each of the creators seems highly self-absorbed, not only wholly involved in his or her own projects, but likely to pursue them at the cost of other individuals." The story of the great achiever who leaves a wake of anger and betrayal is a common one."

I must admit that I'm more goal-oriented than I am people-oriented. I value my family and my freedom more than many of the social circles I frequent. And being such, I value becoming excellent in my field - as a business owner and investor, probably more than I should.

After all, the gap between the costs of mediocrity and the rewards for greatness are growing wider every day as we compete in a very hungry, determined, global economy.

But is that an excuse?

Will our character ever be valued as an exportable product, above and beyond mere commodity?

CEO of the multi-billion-dollar Huntsman Corporation, Peter Huntsman believes so. According to Huntsman, our values as people have not kept pace with technology, innovation, skills, talents, or the arts. In other words, there is a shortage of principled people, value-focused people in our world. And shortages create opportunities for those willing to step in and fill the void.

Interestingly, Huntsman also notes that filling this character void will not be found by focusing forward (as most innovative and entrepreneurial thinkers do so well), but by remembering and revisiting the past.

Character is built upon introspection. Wisdom is found in reconnecting to our values.

An interesting survey was done by the Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA. They asked incoming college freshmen what they felt was most important in their educational pursuits.

The answers are startling and revealing.

Those who believe it is "essential" or "very important" to:

"Be Very Well Off Financially":
1967 : 41.9% vs. 2005 : 74.5%

"Develop a Meaningful Philosophy of Life":
1967 : 85.8% vs. 2005 : 45%

So, we can see that our center as a society has changed considerably. We've become more materialistic and financially focused at the cost of our purpose, meaning, and with life itself.

Like many others, I personally believe that many of the wars we've fought in recently haven't been about protecting our citizens from terrorism, but rather, to preserve our standard of living by acquiring the resources of other countries. We've sacrificed human life for temporal lifestyle.

One last quote, and then I'll get off my soap box.

This is one of my personal favorites, by Hugh B. Brown.

When Success Becomes a Failure

When you are doing the lower while the higher is possible,

When you are not a cleaner, finer, larger man on account of your work,

When you live only to eat and drink, have a good time, and accumulate money,

then success is a failure.

When you do not carry a higher wealth in your character than in your pocketbook,

When the attainment of your ambition has blighted the aspirations and crushed the hopes of others,

When hunger for more money, more land, more houses and bonds has grown to be your dominant passion,

When your profession has made you a physical wreck -- a victim of ‘nerves’ and moods,

When your absorption in your work has made you practically a stranger to your family,

When your greed for money has darkened and cramped your wife’s life,
and deprived her of self-expression, of
needed rest and recreation, of amusement of any kind,

When all sympathy and fellowship have been crushed out
of your life by selfish devotion to your vocation,

When you do not overtop your vocation,

When you are not greater as a man than as a lawyer, a merchant, a
physician or a scientist,

When you plead that you have never had time to cultivate your friendships,
your politeness, or your good manners,

When you have lost on your way your self-respect, your
courage, your self-control, or any other quality of

then success has been a failure.

(Hugh B. Brown, In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 113.)

Oct 21, 2009

Our Freedoms on the Brink

A speech I gave this morning -

My dear fellow Freedom Workers of America – I thank you for joining me today at this counsel to discuss our future as a nation, and some of the challenges we now face as a country, as communities, families, and as individuals.

In a 1950's Readers Digest Article Titled, "The Fable of the Gullible Gull," - the following observation was made regarding sea gulls starving in spite of an abundance of available fish.

The problem: the sea gulls don't know how to fish. For generations they have depended on the shrimp fleet to toss them scraps from the nets. Now the fleet has moved on. The shrimpers had created a Welfare State for the sea gulls. The fat birds never bothered to learn how to fish for themselves and they never taught their children to fish. Instead they led their little ones to the shrimp nets, where the feedings were free of hassle, striving, and work. Now the sea gulls, the fine birds that almost symbolize liberty itself, are starving to death because they gave in to the "something for nothing" lure. They sacrificed their independence for a handout.

I fear, my fellow Americans and Freedom Workers, that many of us have become like these once fat, now starving seagulls. We see nothing wrong in picking the delectable scraps from the tax nets of the U.S. Government's shrimp fleet. In fact, many have now demanded their own "bailout" by demanding some type of government program to protect them from the awful consequences of a fierce but very real global market environment. But what happens when the Government runs out of goods? What about our children of generations to come?

My dear Freedom Fighters of America, let us not be gullible gulls. We must preserve our talents of self-sufficiency, our genius for creating new value, our Christina heritage of being diligent, serviceable and industrious. We must learn again to cherish that same spirit of freedom and independence that our forefathers fought and died for in creating this once-great nation. The dream our fathers fought for is not dead nor lost, but it hangs by a thread in the hearts of many who've lost faith.

The purpose of my speech today is not to entertain you, or inspire you, or even to educate you. My purpose is to awaken you to your situation and your duty as a citizen of this nation.

The 3 Themes I wish to touch upon today:

1) The Costs of Moral Decay in the U.S.

2) The Freedoms We’ve Lost or Destroyed

3) And the Effects of Government Growth and Spending through Oppressive Taxation

I. The costs of Moral Decay in the U.S.

History teaches us that societies erode in their quest for progressive thought and moral relativism - steering further away from freedom, independence and liberty to give way to centralized government, oppression, and inevitable tyranny.

Todd D.
Christopherson brought the following insight to our attention this past month by stating:

“The societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation failed to foster moral discipline. They have taught that truth is relative and that everyone decides for himself or herself what is right. Concepts such as right and wrong have been condemned as “value judgments.”

As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments.”

One columnist observed that “Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become.”2

In most of the world, we have been experiencing an extended and devastating economic recession. It was brought on by multiple causes, but one of the major causes was widespread dishonest and unethical conduct, particularly in the U.S. housing and financial markets. Reactions have focused on enacting more and stronger regulation. Perhaps that may dissuade some from unprincipled conduct, but others will simply get more creative in their circumvention.3 There could never be enough rules so finely crafted as to anticipate and cover every situation, and even if there were, enforcement would be impossibly expensive and burdensome. This approach leads to diminished freedom for everyone

James Faust stated the following:

“There is a great risk in justifying what we do individually and professionally on the basis of what is ‘legal’ rather than what is ‘right.’ In so doing, we put our very souls at risk. The philosophy that what is legal is also right will rob us of what is highest and best in our nature. What conduct is actually legal is, in many instances, way below the standards of a civilized society. If you accept what is legal as your standard of personal or professional conduct, you will deny yourself of that which is truly noble in your personal dignity and worth”

The United States of America - the standard of Freedom and Independence to the world - now boasts 4 interesting but heartbreaking and inconvenient truths.

1) We've become a nation of victimism, and have forfeited our power to those who would govern us by blaming, fighting, and suing one another. All because we've suffered some apparent misfortune. Over 96 percent of the world's lawsuits are in the U.S. - a land that comprises less than 5 percent of the world's population. So much for the Christian conduct our nation’s values were founded upon.

2) America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, has more people in prison or jail per capita than any other developed country in the world - over 2.4% of our population is either in prison, jail, or on parole. This 2.4% continues to grow each year in spite of a continual trend of lower and lower levels of violent crimes amongst our citizens. Interestingly enough, communist China is ranked number two in it's imprisonment / population ratio - with .43% of it's people in prison or jail, they have less than 18 percent as many prisoners per capita as the U.S. So much for freedom.

3) Our largest export isn't computers, oil, steal, food, or toys or even the media - it's debt. We want what we haven't yet earned, and we spend money we don't have. We pass the buck, and in turn, give up our freedom for want of comforts. So much for thrift and industry, and independence.

4) During the Bush years, the government printed and spent more money than it had in all the years under all the presidents of U.S. history – combined. Setting a new standard for deficits at the time, Bush brought us to a staggering $426 Billion deficit. Sadly, this trend hasn’t ceased, as President Obama has topped Bush’s spending spree within the first 6 months in office. Any takers for the deficit now? Over $1.8 Trillion, or in other words, Obama has raised the bar by spending 4 times what Bush spent during his 8 year term, all within a few months.

In addition, future deficits are currently projected to total $9.1 trillion in the coming decade.

If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom: and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that, too – W. Somerset Maugham

As the saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Great nations fall when they forget the lessons of the past.

Why did Rome, one of the greatest nations in the history of the world, fall?

4 Reasons:

First, and most importantly, Rome fell due to the moral and ethical unraveling of its once strong, virtuous and disciplined citizens.

Second, it over extended itself in it's overly ambitious military conquests

Third, it's citizens became excessively reliant upon a government that exercised its oppressive power over and upon its citizens - both through excessive taxation, confiscation of personal property, and terminating human life by imprisonment and death

Lastly, it fell due to fiscal irresponsibly from a centralized government

It is this last point that I want to focus our attention at this time, which is the 2
nd area of our discussion here today.

II. The Freedoms We’ve Lost or Destroyed

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” Ronald Reagan

About 3 months ago, my small property management company was effectively shut down by the Arizona Department of real estate. The reason? I wasn't properly licensed for about 6 weeks when I first started the company over 5 years ago. Unknown to me at the time, I needed a real estate license. Admittedly, I was and am guilty of the crime of not getting a license, while practicing property management for a few of my friends. And admittedly, my ignorance is hardly an excuse. Yet, the power given to government to shut down a legitimist business due to a technicality of law as opposed to a character deficit such as lying or stealing or committing fraud, gives us some appreciation for government's power as well as it's indifference to right vs. wrong. The cost benefit approach used by governments to validate budgets shows time and time again the small businesses of less than 20 employees that make up more than 80 percent of the employment in America, are so much easier to attack and beat than those who can afford to defend themselves with legal and political sway.

As government and burocracy increase in a pretend effort to protect its citizens, initiative and innovation find their opportunities and quests for ownership in other industries, states, or nations, where creativity, freedom, self-reliance, and initiative are valued.

Just as bad money drives good money out of an economy, bad government drives good people out of its jurisdiction.

And what makes for bad government?

I turn to Thomas Jefferson for the answer, when he said, "
history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government."

On another issue, I'm sure there are many in attendance here today who, like me, once owned thousands of dollars worth of stock in Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. That ownership interest is worth nearly nothing now. As we're all well aware, the government announced on Sept 7, 2008, a Sunday of all days, that it needed to own what you and I once owned - all in an effort to "protect us" from a supposed catastrophe. The consequence of this drastic and historic action underscores the ability of government to effectively take whatever it may want or need, even from those who own claim and title.

Historically most state and city governments have reserved their rights to exercise their power of eminent domain for such issues as public highways, utilities, and railroads. But in recent years and decades, we've seen an increase in government use of eminent domain as a means of increasing taxes, using terms like "economic development" or "it will add 10,000 jobs to our economy". The people subsidizing these government/corporate expansions are usually those whose interests are supposedly at heart - the job seekers, whose salary is taxed and budgeted into the development cost-benefit equation. Meanwhile the company receiving the government subsidies receives tax abatements (aka "tax holidays") that stretch out for many years and sometimes decades.

People who've never been without freedom, tend not to appreciate it. You don't see people migrating from a capitalist Hong Kong to get into a communist China. On the contrary, thousands of Chinese flock to Hong Kong to live in relative poverty for just an opportunity to have economic Freedom.

According to the latest figures produced by the late Milton Friedman who passed away in 2005, per capita income in Hong Kong is almost identical with that in the United States.

That is close to incredible. Here we are—a country of 300 million people that stretches from sea to shining sea, with enormous resources, and a two-hundred-year background of more or less steady growth, supposedly the strongest and richest country in the world, and yet six million people living on a tiny spit of land with negligible resources manage to produce as high a per capita income. How come?

Well, direct government spending is less than 15 percent of national income in Hong Kong, it's more than 40 percent in the United States. Indirect government spending via regulations and mandates is negligible in Hong Kong but accounts for around 10 percent of national income in the United States.

The real lesson of Hong Kong for the United States is that we’re using our resources inefficiently. Our government is spending our money to subsidize tobacco and to penalize smoking; to subsidize childbearing and to discourage childbearing; to build new housing and to tear down housing; to subsidize agriculture and to penalize agriculture; and on and on—not to mention converting square miles of forests into billions of paper forms and spending many man-years of labor filling them out and then filing them.

Billions for Taxation! The Internal Revenue Service sends out 8 billion pages of forms and instructions each year. Laid end to end, they would stretch 28 times around the earth. American taxpayers spend $200 billion and 5.4 billion hours working to comply with federal taxes each year, more than it takes to produce every car, truck, and van in the United States.

Tree Taxing - Nearly 300,000 trees annually are cut down to produce the amount of required paper for all the IRS forms and instructions.

Taxing Numbers - The IRS employs 114,000 people; that's twice as many as the CIA and five times more than the FBI. 60% of taxpayers must hire a professional to get through their own return. Taxes eat up 38.2% of the average family's income; that's more than for food, clothing and shelter combined. .

In the process, government tends to neglect its basic functions: as I once put it, “to protect our freedom both from the enemies outside our gates and from our fellow citizens: to preserve law and order, to enforce private contracts, to foster competitive markets.’’

III. And the Effects of Government Growth and Spending through Oppressive Taxation

For the average American, the effect of income tax, employment tax, property tax, sales tax, and capital gains tax makes the actual, real cost of most purchases DOUBLE the sticker price. This hidden cost has been referred to by economists as "the rule of two on taxes."

$185,000 is owed to the U.S. Government by every man, woman, and child.

Government always finds a need for whatever money it gets.
Ronald Reagan

Government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them.
Ronald Reagan


Other Sources:

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
Thomas Jefferson

My challenge to you today is to do one or more of the following three things:

1) take part in the discussions going on in political forums, online or in the newspaper -
"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."
Thomas Jefferson - speak up
2) get involved in the community by serving on a board, doing community service, or helping someone in need - reach out
3) Work on yourself - before kingdoms and nations can change, men and women and families must change - For our nation to be strong again, WE and our families must become strong again. Get your finances in order - cut back on your wants, save, work, invest.

Sep 18, 2009

Before You Buy that Franchise

An email to a friend of mine who's considering buying a franchise.


Based upon some brief research, the company's niche seems to have a sweet spot, and may be worth pursuing.

A few things though -

I would check out the location and setup a time to meet with, or at least call a few owners.

I've found that talking with an actual franchise owner gives me real insights into whether or not the opportunity is something they would want to repeat. Many times, they have regrets (Quiznos and Subway franchisees usually hate the company and want out).

If you fill out the application they sent, they should provide you with the UFOC and franchise agreements if you qualify. Those are the legal documents that spell out all the rules, and in some cases show actual sales revenue of various locations, and what the failure/dropout rate is - all critical pieces of info.

However, beware because the franchisors don't have to disclose a store that's been closed if they're able to resell it to another franchisee - they have loopholes that make the UFOC's look better than they actually are sometimes. That's why I strongly recommend going directly to the franchisees. In fact, you don't even need their permission to do this - I would call 5-6 or so, ask to talk to the owner, and then have a list of questions prepared, such as:

1) Would you do it again?

2) What do you wish you'd known before that you know now?

3) If you don't mind me asking, how much does the store produce for you gross vs. cashflow?

4) How did you finance it (savings or an SBA loan or other?)

5) What do enjoy most / least about running the company/

6) How many hours per week do you work on or in the company?

Email me if you have any questions.

Hope this helps!

Sep 13, 2009

Some Ideas on Capitalism and the Free Market

I recently watched a video about Milton Friedman (July 31, 1912 – November 16, 2006), an American economist and free-market advocate.

Some ideas gathered from the series that I believe are worth remembering, sharing and passing along.

1. Capitalism Fosters Peace. It took as many as 10 different countries to produce a single pencil, all coming from different nationalities, religious beliefs and cultural traditions. It's very likely some of these groups would refuse to work together if they faced each other personally or directly -- in fact, many might opt to kill each other. But the power of the free market allows them to work together, indirectly, in an impersonal way. The free market therefore encourages peace, unity, harmony - not war.

2. People Value Freedom Over Security. In Hong Kong the living conditions are awful compared to the life styles we live in the U.S. People come by the millions from Communist China to Hong Kong, a place with no natural resources, to obtain freedom. Imagine that - people fleeing the "security" and "safety" of communism to be subject to the ups and downs of a free market system. Freedom is probably something the average American takes for granted. Only those who've been without freedom can truly appreciate what a free market society offers.

3. Scarcity Mentality Thinking Creates War. Since 1750, our world population has increased 6 times. But our output as a world has increased over 1,700 times. The idea that there's only so much of a limited resource to go around has caused more wars, destroyed more nations, homes, and individuals than any other false idea. The limited-resource idea breeds selfishness, greed, and fear. If these ideas take root in nations, they lead to the growth of governments, the destruction of personal freedoms, communism, and eventually dictatorships.

4. Combating Terror and Corruption Through War or Legislative Force remains the Least Effective Method.
The history of war, economics, and government shows clearly that in almost every case, whenever government intervenes in the lives of others, it almost always hurts the very people it's hoping to help. Weather it's government's setting of minimum wages, handing out welfare checks, taxing the rich to feed the poor, imposing trade tariffs on other countries, or going to war against another nation for it's natural resources, all of these methods of force to compel another group to more fully comply with our wishes, actually hurts us in the end. The best medicine even if, for example, another country isn't playing by the rules of free trade, is to be the type of people and the type of nation that others will still seek to trade with, to not impose any dues or tariffs - to foster and value freedom over fear. And to trust the hand of providence and the invisible hand of the markets.

5. Letting our Dollars Do the Voting is the Best Form of Govnerment. In such a system, each person gets what they really want. But when we vote for a person to represent us in governement, even though we voted them in, we have to vote for the whole package. We don't get what we want usually through the voting system. But the free market always gives us exactly what we really want - freedom.

Aug 3, 2009

Saving Money - Just for the Fun of It

When I was about 7 years old, my Mom bought a yellow piggy bank to save spare coins in. There was no way to get inside the little piggy except to break it open.

I was intrigued when I would watch my Mom put coins - similar coins we would earn when doing random chores around the house - into the little piggy.

Somehow, it just seemed... I don't know, fun... yeah fun.

So I asked one day if I could start putting my coins into the yellow piggy bank. HER piggy bank. She reminded me each time that the bank wasn't mine, and that anything I put into it belonged to the little piggy - not me. I would have no say-so in where or how or if the money would ever be spent.

I agreed to these wonderful terms. I couldn't wait to start earning money so I could watch it go into the little piggy.

Looking back, I have no idea why the idea of putting money in that little yellow piggy bank was so much fun. I didn't own it. I had no control over it. But I enjoyed watching it get heavier and heavier. It represented work, sacrifice, and it somehow meant something to me, even as a small kid.

I believe, for several years when I was a kid, I saved every penny into that little yellow piggy bank. Not a very good investment, to be sure. But I did learn to appreciate work, sacrifice, and saving a bit more.

I enjoyed working on my chores more. I enjoyed hearing the sound of the coins as they piled up inside the bank. I valued those coins. And I would show I appreciated and valued those coins by putting them in a safe, never to be touched place.

I'm happy to see that the national savings rate of the U.S. has gone up a bit in the wake of the most recent financial crisis. But while it lingers around 1-3%, in any given quarter, I'm still in awe at how much other nations value their work, their earnings, and their money.

The average Chinese citizen saves about 50% of their income. 50 percent! And we wonder why the U.S. is scheduled to loose its 150 year domination as the world power to China.

America's solution? Encourage the Chinese to spend more money. Ha.

Imagine that. Our solution is to encourage a nation that holds one-fifth the world's population to consume more - in a world of limited resources like oil. Not the right solution people.

Better solution - learn from the Chinese, and begin saving.

The little yellow piggy bank can help each of us learn to appreciate what we have more, rather than always looking for the next best thing.

Saving, not for a rainy day, nor to spend it on some big item later on, can actually be fun.

Try it sometime.

Jul 17, 2009

9 Ways To Increase Personal Performance

There are several resources, tools, and methods for increasing one's personal performance, regardless of the pursuit.

Here are nine.

  1. Emulate a Role Model - Everyone needs role models to look up to and to emulate. Stepping into the imaginary shoes and souls of the people we respect and admire gives us the opportunity to get a glimpse, a feel for what’s possible for us. Emulating our role models, even if captured in the simple constructs of the imagination, allows us for a brief moment to become them.

Prior to Mike Tyson courting ego and rage, he spent most of his waking days emulating the great boxers of times past, training like them, walking like them, in every way striving to become just like them. “They were like gods,” he said.

Tyson fell from his ivory tower shortly after the self-centered thinking began creeping in. He began thinking he was unstoppable and greater than anyone, even the ones he once idolized. Humility it seems is a necessary ingredient to proper emulation. And continued emulation is a necessity in the continued quest for greatness.

  1. Competition – Whenever there’s a competitor involved in the pursuit, we inevitably raise our game to meet the challenge. While an exclusive focus on all the various competitors is a recipe for disappointment and mediocrity, a carefully chosen competitor or two is healthy and helps bring us to a higher level.

One CEO of a successful software company actually created another company to compete directly with the one he founded, in an effort to instill a new level of competition and focus.

  1. Keep Score – Whenever we’re involved in the pursuit of something great, keeping score and holding ourselves accountable for results, always increases the likelihood of reaching the desired goal.

Thomas S. Monson, the President and Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints once said, “Where performance is measured, performance improves.

Where performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.” To the extent that we’re tracking our results and holding ourselves accountable to a higher authority, our performance in that activity will improve.

  1. Surround Yourself with Greatness – Being in the presence of great people of high regard, achievement and activity, even if they’re not engaged in the skill or duty you are, is one of the best ways to bring out the best in us.

Now, to be clear, focusing on the environment as a source of power is never the ideal. But we can choose which environments we perform in. And to the extent that we’re unable to choose our environments, we can shape the environment we’re in by brining out the best in others by being our best selves.

One of my friends, who took a significant step down in pay to join a startup company said, “The decision wasn’t hard for me. Sure it seems like a higher risk, with less pay. But I’m now working with people who actually enjoy working, who are passionate about what they’re doing. For the first time in my life, I actually can’t wait to get to work. We have a lot of fun and we work hard.”

If you’re associating with people you respect and admire, and there’s a genuine synergy of goodwill and common values, then your desire to execute for the good of the group and the mission of the company will be strong. And with this desire comes an increase in performance.

  1. Study, Learn, Apply – Knowledge is power.

Simply reading books or bogs isn’t going to get us to the next level of greatness. We have to be very selective in the content we choose to put into our heads. We have to be selective in which new skills we’re going to learn. We have to have a system for incorporating and integrating new skill sets while building and enhancing whatever skills we’ve already acquired and mastered. This integrating process requires wisdom, a philosophy, a framework for seeing the world.

Knowledge has a very short shelf life. Unapplied knowledge is latent power. But that power soon rots. We live in an age of exponential turbulence and informational overload. If we’re not careful, we’ll figuratively drown in all the information, while we starve for wisdom.

For those seeking elevated positions by way of formal educational rather than the harder road of applied knowledge, be forewarned that the rate of change out there is greater than we can keep up with from a simple knowledge-base perspective.

As Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric once said, “"When the rate of change outside exceeds the rate of change inside, the end is in sight." Don’t focus too much on formal education – don’t be one of the “learned”. Be a learner instead.

Said Eric Hoffer, “In times of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.

  1. Use a Mentor, a Coach or an Evaluator – Others see what we cannot see. The world is filled with critics, coaches and so-called experts who’ve never actually walked the walk. But, guess what? They all have the potential to be useful.

Some of the best coaches aren’t necessarily the ones who know how to do the work themselves. This is different from a role model you’re trying to emulate. A coach can be anyone who gives you encouragement, be it a spouse, a parent, or a friend. Coaches are great because they cheer you on and help you realize your true potential. I prefer coaches who are personal friends, who really know and understand me, rather than the 1-800-get-a-coach folks who simply offer information over the phone for a monthly fee. The best coaches are sometimes free and they’re all around us.

An evaluator can be nothing more than a critic who gives you honest feedback. I’ve heard countless CEO’s say that the angriest customers are the best sources for feedback. And they’re right. Feedback, whether positive or negative, is good. But it’s the negative feedback from evaluators and critics that help you know which areas you’re weak and what things can be improved.

But my personal favorite of the three is a mentor. A mentor can be anyone who knows a specific thing you’re trying to learn, and usually has some experience in the field you’re pursuing. Mentors are my favorite because they’re almost the best of both worlds – they may offer encouragement like a coach or a friend when it’s useful, or they can be an evaluator/critic when there’s something that needs be fixed. Best of all, they usually have some mastery and can truly say “I’ve been there, done that. Here’s the best way to do it. Watch me.”

  1. Increase the Stakes – Burn the boats behind you. This one is not one I necessarily recommend to most people, but it does increase one’s personal motivation to perform in most cases. In 1519, Hernando Cortez invaded Mexico and burned his 11 ships behind him. His 500 soldiers were more than motivated, because the only way they were going home was by conquering and gaining the enemy’s ships.

Some estimate that more than 95-99 percent of all multi-level marketing programs fail – and I believe it. It requires a very small investment to become an affiliate or distributor. But if each participant were required to take out a home equity loan, drain all their savings, and invest their entire 401K’s in order to get in and play the game, (say $500,000 rather than $500) the success rate might just be a bit higher – who knows? (Some experts estimate that franchises have a success rate of 95 percent). I believe when our backs are up against the wall, sometimes, we’re forced to excel and achieve. Great achievements are often preceded by great trials and difficulties and failures.

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice – It’s not what you got, it’s what you bring. A gymnastics coach once said that it wasn’t the most talented people that ended up winning the gold metals. It was usually those without the ideal body frame, or natural ability who went on to compete and win in the Olympic games. It was this self-realization, this humility that compelled them to improve and to practice harder than the ones who had the more natural ability.

Mary Lou Retton is a perfect example. When she competed and won in the 1984 Olympics, her frame was much smaller the stout than most of the gymnasts with longer and slender features, features the judges at the time favored. Many argued that she didn’t have the natural ability to compete against those with the more ideal frame, a frame that afforded them a more elegant style.

Practice and dogged determination trump skill and ability in most instances. There are those fields where it’s very clear we don’t have a competitive edge, and we need to exit and move on to an area where we may have the potential to excel. Retton had a disadvantage, sure. But she didn’t let it stop her. She had a burning faith in herself that she could become the best if she trained harder and better than anyone else. Self-knowledge, knowing what we may have the potential to become great at, is just as important as knowing which practices we should let go.

9. Visualization – See it, youre going there. Those who visualize achievement and success were more likely to achieve it than those who simply went through the physical motions of training. In other words, physical training has its limitations. Mental training is just as important.

Denis Waitley, PhD, says, “The mind can’t distinguish between something that is imagined and something that really has happened. So why not preplay the desired result and shape it in your memory?”

Research supports Waitley’s claims. Numerous studies have shown that when athletes imagine themselves performing at their peak level, their muscles twitch and their neuropathways fire as though they actually were competing, Waitley says. By the time they head out to the track, they’ve already run the perfect race so many times in their heads that their bodies simply take over.

More than simply seeing ourselves performing optimally in our mind’s eye, we should take time to meditate, and to enjoy feeling the state we’re in, getting in touch with our core being. Once we’re in this state, we’re able to introduce our vision into the present moment with a deeper understanding, an acceptance and rapport that helps turn our vision into a reality without inner conflict.