Monday, September 30, 2013

A Book Worth Reading

Greetings All:

It has been a while since I have done a book review on my blog.  I have been reading a fair amount this year.  Two of my recent favorites are Matterhorn, A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes and The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.  The first book follows a young Marine Lieutenant as he and his platoon fight the enemy, the jungle and each other.  It is a fantastic, graphic, heartbreaking and inspiring read.  The second book tells the improbable tale of the 1936 U.S. Rowing Team's epic triumph in Berlin.  Both are great reads and have plenty of life lessons.  I enjoy history. I cannot help but think I would have done a whole lot better in college had I majored in that subject.  Such is life, or to quote Marlantes, "There it is."

While history is great, I also place a priority on reading business & self-improvement books.  There is a ton to read.  Some are classics like Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.  f you really want to go old school, check out Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.    Ryan Holiday turned me onto it and he is someone who takes his reading seriously.  There are plenty of new authors out there.  For this post, I want to highlight a book I like and an author I like more.  The book is Stick with It Mastering the Art of Adherence and the author is Lee Colan.  For this post, I will refer to it by it's shortened title, Stick with It.  Actually, I should say authors as his wife, Julie Davis-Colan, is a co-author.  Something tells me Lee would give the lion’s share of the credit to Julie.  Lee is a very smart guy.

I first learned of Lee through the Books 24x7 email I receive about once a week.  One email this summer turned me onto another of Lee’s books, Leadership Matters.  It offered great suggestions about why leadership matters and not just at the office.  Lee’s company, The L Group, sends out regular emails.  I signed up to learn more about his philosophy towards business and life.  I'm glad I did.  When Stick with It Mastering the Art of Adherence came out, I grabbed a copy from the (awesome) Bettendorf Public Library and read it several times.  In fact, I racked up a $1.00 in fines keeping it late.  I like to "test drive" books from the library and if I like them, I will purchase them (usually via Amazon).  I was able to get both of the books and now have the freedom to mark them up.  I'll make sure I've got a full high-lighter as here's a lot to note in each of them.

His books are not lengthy.  I believe that is important.  Case in point:  My boss challenged me to read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.   I am sure I was assigned it at some point in college.  I’m equally certain I took the Cliff Notes path on my naval journey of sailing another “C.”  I have the audio book and it weighs in at a hefty 23 hours!  That’s a bit much.  Lee’s books, I assure you, are not that long.  This is by design.  Lee was kind enough to speak with me recently and he commented on the length of business books and how they have gotten smaller.  The idea, as Lee shared with me, is to communicate an important message in a efficient way.  His books do this.  

I think this is an important point.  I am not in favor of artificial limits on the size of books.  Meditations is a fraction of the size of Atlas Shrugged.  Both, in my opinion, are exactly as long as their authors wished them to be.  I think there are lessons you can apply from both these books.  Even though I am only early into Atlas Shrugged, I have taken away several good points.  With Meditations, I'll need to back up the truck to fit everything in I took away from that one.  (My personal favorite is to be wary of "...that poor thing called fame..." or words to that effect.)  However, most of us have a limited amount of time for reading.  Of that time, I would suggest that keeping a balance of reading is a good thing.  Of course, read for pleasure and I do not count TMZ as part of that group.  (It's like saying cotton candy is a side dish for dinner.)  The trick is to make a conscious effort to read something that will bring value to you AND is something you can immediately apply to your life.  To borrow a phrase from Tim Ferriss- Enter Lee and Jule's book.

The premise of the book is that while having a strategy is important, it's only half the battle.  The other half is the execution of that strategy.  How we execute it important.  However, often times failure happens from not fully executing to completion.  Or, put another way-we give up.  Lee and Julie utilize the term adherence as their definition of sustained execution.   If you take nothing else away from this blog (besides checking out their book), please make it their chart.  

Lee recently reported that this chart has been trade-marked and that is a good thing, as he should have ownership of it.  There is value in it.  It sums up their concept.  You have to focus on what your strategy is, as opposed to doing a number of other things.  (Example, if you want to grow your business by cold calling, cleaning your desk will not dial the phone.)  Competence, have a base knowledge in what you are doing.  (Back to our cold calling example, have a script and better yet, memorize it.  If you're selling snow-throwers, avoid calling Phoenix.)  Finally, there is passion.  Have a reason for why you are doing it.  (Cold calling ain't fun, I've done it.  However, if you believe in your product, then sharing your message with the benefits of the product, how it can make your prospect's life better, will help you make those calls.)  This is my takeaway from the chart.  Here's what Lee and Julie say:

"A good plan gets you in to the race, but adherence propels you into the winner’s circle.

When you consistently sharpen Focus, build Competence and ignite Passion, you plant the seeds of victory. Initially, you may not see tangible results, but rest assured, growth is occurring under the surface. As you stick with it, momentum builds, creating a self-reinforcing cycle of victory.

Focus provides the clarity necessary to make decisions that support your most important goals. It results in a clearly defined pathway to success. A sharp focus answers the “what” question – What do you need to do to execute your strategy?

Competence is used in the broadest sense of the term. It encompasses all the skills, systems, processes and tools a team uses to achieve its goals. The result is the ability to commit to, measure and hit your targets. Building competence answers the “how” question – How will you execute your strategy?

Passion creates a sense of connectedness. It creates a connection between teammates, a connection to our human need for meaningful work and a connection to each individual’s sense of value and contribution. Igniting passion answers the “why” question – Why are you executing your strategy?"
What I like about this approach is you can apply to both your work and your personal life.  Case in point, our cold-calling example.  Let's say you are an insurance agent and your salary is based heavily on commission.  Your strategy may be, not surprisingly, make more sales.  Your strategy may be to focus on professional women returning to the workforce.  Rather than agonize over women over 30 or over 40 (I know, I know, you're not supposed to ask a lady her age, but go with me here...:)) or if it should be lawyers, then doctors, or doctors in this or that zip code, how about this?  Pick up the phone and call all the numbers you currently have (focus) get a good script that stresses benefits to the prospects (See Bryan Flanagan's book, So You're New To Sales for ideas) and practice your pitch (competence) and believe in what you're doing.  (passion).  One of my favorite quotes is from R.W Emerson, "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."  I view enthusiasm as a combination of all three of these ideas.  
As far as your home, or personal life, this approach can work as well.  Let's say you want to start a tradition of more family time.  Your strategy is to spend more uninterrupted time with your family one weeknight.  That is the strategy.  Your focus is on Tuesday nights as there are no activities with the kids and you easily punt happy hour with your softball team at the local watering hole.  Your competence is pizza and board games, or $5.00 movie night, or whatever.  This is "how" you and your family will spend time together.  I suppose you could sit around translating Latin to English but Monopoly is a whole lot more fun.  And passion, well that is a no-brainer, it's your family.  But let's take this a step further, how you can lose family night.  Examples can include:  One parent has a business trip so the rest of the family opts out; One kid has a test the next day and needs to study;  One kid gets grounded for the weekend and sulks in their room, and oh, a million other real-life situationns.  Let's say after a couple of weeks family night dissolves away.  By practicing adherence, you can remember why you're doing this in the first place- to be together as a family.  You shift it to another night.  You shorten it, no game night but takeout from the kid with the test's favorite restaurant.  When mom or dad is away you pull up Facetime or Skype so she or he can check in on the fun.  Whatever works to keep family night going.  Whatever it takes to...stick with it.  The point is you take an idea and put it into practice.  With Adherence, you can develop habits, ideally positive ones.
I also see a value in using adherence to make educated, unemotional decisions on what is not working.  Adherence does not say keep cold calling forever if you are not making any headway.  (Remember our selling snow-throwers in Phoenix idea.)  It means an honest vetting of your strategy.  It means not giving up at the first sign of adversity but also not getting knocked from the donkey again after slamming into the windmill a dozen times.  
If you spend a fair amount of time developing a basic strategy, you should be able to use adherence to fit your needs.  I like to think of strategy as simply a plan wearing a collared-shirt and shoes with laces.  As a former boss told me a decade ago:  "You gotta have a plan.  It doesn't have to be a great one."  
A final point is fear.  We live in uncertain times.  As I type this, we do not know if the Federal government will be open for business tomorrow.  You can check out the news can get real depressed real fast.  I asked Lee about this and he shared these thoughts:

(Jeno's Question to Lee)

On page 162, you address fear as being "...the greatest enemies of passion."  It is sage advice to acknowledge fear but what about the constant fear of losing a job, a contract, a client, an industry (Yellow book anyone?).  How do you fight fear everyday?

Lee's Reply:

"Yes, worry wrecks our focus.  Research studies have revealed that we typically worry five times as

much about things that will never happen as about things that actually do occur. That’s a lot of wasted worry! If you’re this distracted, you cannot effectively live to up your potential. Worry will drain your energy and stifle your commitment. Every minute you spend worrying is a minute that you’re not committing.

One good way to combat worry is to commit to memory Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer”: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and

the wisdom to know the difference.” Once you’ve accepted the things you cannot change, how do you change the things you can? Simply take a rational approach. Let’s say you have a new job and are worried about making a mistake. The worrying mind quickly jumps to a worst-case—and highly unlikely—scenario:

If you make a mistake, you’ll get fired. Rationally, you know this is improbable, but how do you prove it to yourself? It’s simple. First, you break down the chain of events that would lead to your firing. Then you assign a probability to each event; a rough estimate will do.

Your Worry                                 Your Estimate of the Chances

I will make a mistake at work.                  25%

It will cause a problem.                            10%

It will be too late to correct it.                  70%

If it causes a problem, 
my boss will be upset                              10%

If he is upset, he will fire me.                   5%

So what are the real odds of your being fired? Even though each individual probability is just a rough estimate, the total probability, which is the product of all these individual probabilities, is a good ballpark estimate:

Probability of being fired because of a mistake = 0.25 x 0.1 x 0.7 x 0.1 x 0.05 = .0000875, or .00875% (less than one chance in ten thousand)

Now, doesn’t that put things in perspective? This kind of rational ap­proach can help you get a handle on your worries. If the chances of your being fired because of a mistake are less than one in ten thousand, there’s really no reason to worry about it.

Take Positive Action! Life rewards those who seize the moment and take positive action. Action converts interest into commitment. The antidote to worry is purposeful action.

Andrew Carnegie said, “The average person puts only 25 percent of his energy and ability into his work. The world takes off its hat to those who put in more than 50 percent of their capacity and stands on its head for those few and far between souls who devote 100 percent.” This is especially true in our degree of commitment. When we fail to invest 100 percent in our goals, we compete against our own potential.

People naturally gravitate to those who are committed to achieving a goal. Total commitment manifests itself as bold action; in a leader this is recognized as genius and power.

I rely on the Bible to ask penetrating questions that illuminate the truth, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (Luke 12:25)"

End of Lee's reply.
Lee's answer is great way to approach life.  This musing by Lee sums up why I like his (and Julie's) writings and enjoy checking out the emails that the L Group puts out regularly.  You can sign up to receive them at their website:
Here is a link to a video they put out this weekend on why failure is not final, here's that link:
I hope you will take some time to check out Lee and Julie's work and see for yourself how it can help you in business and life.  Here are a couple of ways to order their books, either from their site or on Amazon:
The hyperlink to use for the book’s landing page is:

I would like to mention that I am getting no compensation for promoting their work.  I just happen to like what they put out and think Lee is a class act, especially after agreeing to speak with me based on an email request.  Do I consider their work the end all and be of business, of course not.  It's not a class at the Wharton Business School.  It is, however, a way to take a good idea, get comfortable with it quickly and then apply it to your life.  

As with everything I put on my blog, these are my opinions.  I'd like to know what you're reading that has inspired you.  Share it with me.  Better yet, start your own blog and send me the link.  I'll look forward to reading it.

We all have goals and a general idea of how to go about them.  Lee and Julie's book gives you a way to get after your goals by spending time on the execution and sticking with it.  Not giving up is perhaps the most important thing.  After all, if you quit, so does your strategy.  That is a shame, especially since quitting often happens tragically close to what otherwise would be a success.  As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said,  "Difficulties increase the nearer we get to the goal."

Enjoy the book and the week ahead.  Be well my friends.

All the best,
The images displayed in this blog post are with the permission of Lee Colan.

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