Monthly Archives: August 2010

Driven To Distraction

Yup, that's distracting

What was I saying? Yes that’s it, no wait, I’ve got it:  I’m distracted.  It’s not that I’m not motivated, I’m plenty motivated, it’s just that there’s plenty on TV, there’s Facebook and the hours that can be spent “Liking” pictures of our relatives pets and lets not forget we need to wring our hands a bit about Fox News’ slow ooze towards undermining Democracy.  Wait, what was I saying agin?  Oh yeah, distraction.

I have lots of ideas, some of them really good and it’s easy to think that any one of them are the solution to all my problems, financial, creative, interpersonal.  These ideas can be along the lines of those dreams we all have where during our sleep we have an earth shattering epiphany, only to wake up and realize that what we were dreaming about, while in the dream made perfect sense, in reality wasn’t even coherent, and you then realize in the dream you weren’t even wearing pants.

Ah well, here it is, the end of summer again.  The end of summer seems to bring more “I’ll knuckle down and start putting my better ideas into action”  than that champagne induced semi correction we call New Years Eve.  But, how is this year going to be different?

For me, I just read the best business book I have ever come across (and I’ve read quite a few) “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.  I highly recommend this book, especially for those artists and entrepreneurs with no formal business education. Simply put, it is an examination of the differences between merely good enterprises and great ones.

Now there are six main concepts in the book, but I only want to talk about one of them here.  All of the “great” companies had in common what Collins refers to “A Hedgehog Concept”  That is one idea that you pursue that has three attributes:

1.  Something, a product or service you are passionate about

2. You feel you have the potential to be the best in the world at the skill of.

3. Something that has a CLEAR economic engine to sustain you.

Why go all business book on us Steve?  What does this have to do with distraction?  We have a tendency to bounce from idea to idea that we think will be a silver bullet of growth, progress and quick reward.  The reality is you have to work on your hedgehog concept over a long period of time.  You have to commit to your concept and keep going especially when it gets rough, especially when there are obstacles, for in those obstacles lie the opportunity for the greatest growth.

Very successful companies have these concepts and stick to them.  Walgreens runs drugstores, they don’t get distracted by a momentary interest in making engine parts for the space shuttle.  Mainly because they aren’t passionate about it, can’t be the best at it, and funding it would destroy the economic engine they’ve established.

That sounds sort of abstract and duh, I know.  But don’t we as entrepreneurs do the same thing all the time?  I constantly have new opportunities put in front of me.  I am getting much better at staying in my “Hedgehog Concept.”  I love doing what I do, I try everyday to get better towards my goal of being best in the world at it, and the economics, while always striving to improve them, are clear and can sustain me.

What’s getting in the way of your “Hedgehog Concept?”  Are you unclear on what you’re passionate about?  passions change for sure, but there are differences between passions and being passionate about something.  Being passionate about something mens you have committed yourself lock, stock and barrel to the idea of immersing yourself as far as you can, the idea being a person, business or craft.  The “Hedgehog Concept” just keeps you focused on the process of making that successful.

Biggest de-railer is fear.  What if I fail? What if it turns out not to be my passion? What if it’s too much work?  What will my parents think because what I really want to do is  drive an ice cream truck? Unfortunately, if you stay in that head you will never get started, so get over it.  Look at the horizon, it’s not going to walk towards you, so you might as well walk towards it.  If you have faith in what your potential can be and can just start moving, you will be surprised how much ground you can cover.

Now, the elephant in the room is that thing we were told when we were kids, (this is America, you can be anything you want when you grow up, it’s the land of opportunity,) that conotes ease and entitlement  and personally, part of me is still waiting to grow up, so from time to time that’s what distracts me.  Have I picked the thing for my life that I’m most passionate about?  How the hell am I supposed to know?  I have many passions.  However, I committed to agenting and being a positive force in the livelyhood’s of others a long time ago, and I have found that my relationship with my craft has deepened.  At the time I picked it, did I recognize it as my dream job? NO!  I needed a damn job at the time, so I jumped in and I found after a while I really enjoyed it.  That caused me to want to get better, and that process made me passionate about it.  It’s not always passion first that gets you started. Sometimes it’s good old fashion necessity and discipline.

But, I still get distracted from my goals.  I wonder sometimes if this blog is another one of my distractions.  After much introspection, I’ve realized that giving business advice and helping people to have the best career the can IS my Hedgehog Concept, and this is a simple tool to support it further.

I encourage you to sit down and write out your concept, clearly and using those simple steps.  I’ll warn you upfront, you have to think about it a lot and one or another of the steps won’t have clear answers at first (some of the companies studied took many years to realize their concept), but once you realize what you want to do and decide to do JUST THAT THING without distraction, you will be surprised how many options and possibilities suddenly present themselves.

Enjoy, I’m gonna watch sports, maybe go to a movie… just kidding… I think.

Lost In The Land Of Steady Habits

Hartford, the capitol of the Land of Steady Habits.

If you go back several posts on my blog, you’ll read that I recently left the palm trees and deep brown of the desert landscape and headed east for a spell.  My son and I got his school situated for the fall in NYC and then made a short trip up to the lush green of Connecticut to visit family there.

We stayed at my folk’s place for a few days and had dinner one night at my sister Paula’s house.  One of her first questions to my son was: “how are you liking Connecticut after being in New York?”  He said it struck him as the most boring place on earth.  Her reply?  “Well, that’s life in the land of steady habits.”  The quizzicle look on my face prompted her to explain that Connecticut, and I suppose New England as a whole for that matter is known as ‘the land of steady habits.’

Now, I grew up in Connecticut  and must confess this moniker was news to me. I have never heard this description of the fatherland before.  Although, in retrospect I can’t argue much with that representation. It’s not particularly boring, but life does have a certain pace that seems to go in a straight line there.  Whereas in California, the pace tends to head off in multiple directions at once, while converging in an orderly line only intermmitantly at the Ventura Freeway/Interstate 405 interchange.  Though in all fairness, my son at 19 finds Los Angeles and the glitz of Hollywood boring as well.

Of course all this got me thinking, as random asides and obscure news articles so often do.  Hmm, what are my ‘steady habits?’  Are steady habits bad? Probably some.  Are steady habits good?  Probably some.  What ARE  MY steady habits?

John Mayer - from Fairfield, CT. His good practice habits made him very wealthy and able to get girls.

Some steady habits are for your own good (and those around you.) Brushing your teeth, showering, cutting your toe nails before they themselves become cutlery. But, it seems to me we do so many things as steady habits that aren’t so great.  Things we know aren’t serving us, like negativity, procrastination, obstinence, ambivilence.  You may argue that those are situational.  I suppose they can be, but I’ve noticed more often than not they’re habitual behaviors.

Above so many other things in your life, your habits define you.  When we were young, the kid that only washed once a week became known as the “smelly kid.” As adults, the guy who drinks a 5th of whisky each day is “the loser” whose license keeps getting taken away and will be on his way to rehab sometime soon.  “Wait a minute” you say, Alcoholism is a disease!  True, but it starts as a habit and blossoms into a debilitating condition.

You’ve heard people tell you their own habits many times.  “I’m an optimist!”  “I’m a pessimist!”  or my favorite, when someone says: “to be totally honest with you…”  Um yeah, thanks for letting me know you’re NOT totally honest with me all the time.

I’ve noticed people who are negative have trouble breaking that habit and tend to be negative most of the time.  Conversely, positive people, though sometimes so sunny for prolonged periods you want to throttle them, tend to be positive most of the time.  Most of us tend to go back and forth, not being one thing ALL the time.  But, if we can look objectively at our habits, we’ll certainly see our tendencies.

Being Negative as a habit seems to breed further habits of defeatism, procrastination , fear and withdrawal. Being Positive seems to breed action, motivation, inspiration and hope.  I know which one sounds better to me.

As for me, there are habits I want to and need to change.  I habitually avoid confrontation.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually quite good at confrontation professionally because I’m making money by playing a role.  But, as irony would have it, in my personal life, not so much.  I’ll capitulate immediately on things I feel strongly about to avoid an uncomfortable personal situation.  Not good, as that can breed resentment and passive aggression bubbling to the surface.

I also trend towards disorganization.  I really love things to be organized, but I’ve never put it as a top priority.  So, instead of organizing as I go, I tend to wait until I can barely see over stuff, then I have to take a chunk of time to get it completely organized.  When that’s done, I feel great and more relaxed!   But, if I could do it a little at a time as a daily habit,  I could feel great and relaxed everyday.

Noah Webster - His birthplace is in my hometown of West Hartford. He had good spelling habits.

Oh, I have lots of steady habits.  I’m thoroughly lost in the land of steady habits. Everything from my morning coffee routine to how I prioritize things at work. But, I’ve decided I’m going to use this opportunity of shooting off my mouth to take stock of them all.  I’m going to write down as many as I can possibly think of, positive and negative.  I’m going to commit to keeping the ones that serve me, (so I don’t become the smelly kid) and replace the ones that are holding me back  (such as disorganization) with more useful habits.  I challenge you to do the same.  Further, I dare you to write in the comments below one or two habits you are going to change. Public commitment and putting things in writing are powerful motivators.

My brilliant, life coach wife once told me that doing something (or not doing something) 27 days in a row will produce a habit.  Now, I’m not sure where she got that, or if she was just trying to get me to put the toilet seat down or stop piling my clothes on the bedroom furniture,  but I have changed or developed habits using this strategy many times now.  Everything from flossing, to generating new business.  She’s right yet again, it works.

So, let us all venture forth together, lost for the moment in the land of steady habits, but moving towards habits that are more positive and more profitable.

An Ode To Sweet Lou

Lou Pinella, the coach of the Chicago Cubs has announced he’s retiring at the end of the baseball season.  That makes 40 years in the major leagues, first as a player and then a manager.  He won World Championships as both.  I’m old enough to have seen him play, first with the Royals and then with the Yankees.  When I was a kid in the late 60’s, my Dad would bring me to a few baseball games a season and I saw Lou play once.  I never forgot him.  Before the game he came over to the stands not far from where we were sitting and struck poses for some pretty girls there.  Flexing his muscles and looking sharp for a camera that wasn’t there.  That’s why they called him “Sweet Lou.”  It’s not that they thought Lou was sweet.  It’s that Lou thought Lou was sweet. Everyone sort of laughed at his arrogance.  I just thought he was an idiot.

But he did something during the game that I’m not sure I fully understood until recently. He was at bat early in the game with nobody on base. A ball was thrown knee high a little on the inside, and Lou did something surprising.  He didn’t jump back.  He stood his ground and pushed his leg out.  The ball hit him square on the side of his knee.  Do you have any idea how hard a major league pitcher throws?  He didn’t even flinch. He was so intent on being the tough guy that he just dropped his bat and ran (slowly) down to first base.

It wasn’t until today when my friend Gabriel told me that my last post ‘Possibility’ reminded him about the need to “lean into” his gifts.  That got me thinking about Sweet Lou again.  It also got me thinking that we spend a lot of time jumping back when things scare us a little.  You see, Lou’s gift was not running or catching or throwing,  though he was good at those things.  His gift was and still is being a competitor.  He saw an opportunity to get on base in that game and he went for it whether or not it scared him or hurt him a little. He didn’t think about the fear or the pain, he needed to stay true to his gift, so he just leaned in. Did he take one for the team?  I don’t know, maybe he hated everyone on the team.  I think he was just doing what came naturally to him. Making sure he capitalized on an opportunity to compete and win.

Is it lack of self confidence that keeps us from fully leaning into our gifts?  Could be, as Lou certainly seemed to have more than his share of confidence.  I think the real lesson is that it’s more important to embrace our gifts and lean into every opportunity to use them.  That can be scary for an Artist as every opportunity seems to come with a judgement about the work.  Well, what would happen if we took the fear and potential pain of that judgement off the table?  How about if we believed in ourselves and built a confident mind as opposed to concentrating on another’s beliefs about our talent which only erodes our confidence?  Think about yourself for a minute. How far could that mental shift take you?

I guess it all depends. Exactly how far are you willing to lean in?