What Entrepreneurs Can Learn By Watching Football

 

what entrepreneurs can learn by watching football

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m watching football.  I enjoy watching football, but it hasn’t always been this way.

I didn’t play the game in high school, and up until a couple of years ago I didn’t find the game all that interesting to watch.  There were several rules that I found confusing and I didn’t really understand all the positions.

A couple of years ago however, I made an observation about the game (from my vantage point as a very casual observer) that caused me to start appreciating it, and wanting to watch it more often.

The observation that I made, was that, in many ways, how the game is played is very similar to being an entrepreneur.

What struck me was the concept of “forward progress”. 

It seemed to me that this was the most important aspect of the game. As long as there was a steady supply of forward progress – enough to obtain the requisite first downs as the team marched down the field – then eventually the team would score.

That was the goal of the game. Score, and score often – as much as you can.

All scoring depended however on the team’s ability to continually progress forward.

 Once I understood this principle, the game started to make more sense to me, and I really saw a parallel to life as an entrepreneur because,

Survival as an entrepreneur absolutely depends on the ability to continually progress forward. 

Innovation, branding, new markets, domestic growth, international expansion, market share, exceptional customer service – these are all just concepts that suggest that a company, or entrepreneur is maintaining forward progress in their operations.

They are getting better at what they do, offering better products or more efficient and effective services to a greater number of people.

In the end, it’s all about forward progress. 

Even tiny progress is still progress, and in the game of football (just like the game of business)  “inches” (as Al Pacino famously said) can make the different between a win and a loss.

The parallels between entrepreneurship and football don’t stop there.  There are many others that I can see as well.  Here are a few:

The relationship between risk and reward.

A “hail mary” pass (or marketing effort) may result in a quick touchdown (or profit opportunity) but the larger the potential payout the larger the potential risk.

The importance of understanding “market feedback”

In football if the defence picks up on your pattern and strategy quickly you have to adapt.  If you keep doing the same thing, with a defence that is aware – and has successfully adapted – then your offence will sputter.

Same in business – you have to be adaptive to market feedback.  If you aren’t getting the results that you want then there is a problem that you must correct.  Perhaps your product isn’t providing the value that you hoped it would.  Perhaps your service, or operating systems, need to be tweaked to provide top value to customers.

There are likely many others – I’m sure that I will discover them.

So don’t feel guilty if you indulge a little in some Sunday afternoon football watching.  You’re working on your business :) 

 

Unsuited Book Signing Tomorrow (12pm-4pm) – Calgary Chinook Center Chapters Indigo

unsuited book

Hi everyone!  Thanks for your support in following my blog.

I will be doing a book signing tomorrow for my book Unsuited: How We Can Reject Conventional Career Advice and Find Empowerment at Calgary Chinook Center Chapters / Indigo (6455 Macleod Trail) from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm.

If you are around, come stop in, say hi, and pick up a copy of #unsuited.

Advice To Entrepreneurs: Stay In The Box For A Little While

Entrepreneur Box

Get outside the box!

Think outside the box!

How many times have you heard this?  I’ve heard it so often that I’m not even entirely sure what it means anymore.

I get it:  be creative, think innovation, try to be unique or different, break the paradigm, bring a new set of eyes to the same old problem.

And I agree – innovation and creativity is critical – some of the best ideas ever are ideas that are new and cutting edge, and different.

Thinking outside of the box is critical for the “thinking” phase.  But we have to realize that when we “think outside of the box” all we are doing is really just creating a new box.

When we “think outside the box” we are just replacing the old paradigm with a new paradigm, but we can’t forget – it’s still a paradigm.

So we got out of the old box, and now we are in a new box, and in order to actually make our idea materialize we are going to have to stay in that box, and do some work.

In the implementation phrase of any creative venture – that phase where we take our “idea” and turn it into a “thing” that can actually add value in people’s lives, we’ve got to get comfortable in our new box.

An idea (out of the box) can come instantly – but taking that idea and making it real, that takes some time.  

One of the big problems that entrepreneurs face is that they easily think “outside the box”.  But thinking is only part of the game.  Implementing and doing is just (if not more) important. To implement we must, at least for a season, put the “thinking” on hold, and move into the doing phase.

That is why brilliant innovators often surround themselves with executors – people who can implement.   They know that the ideas are only part of the process.  The execution phase requires skill, and patience, and time.

Great innovators, great “outside the box thinkers” may or may not have great execution skills.

Do you know many people like this?  Are you like this?  Are you great with ideas but then you have a hard time actually bringing your ideas to market.

This is something that any creative person has struggled with from time to time – I know I have.

One of the best things I have learned to do is when I get an idea – to stick with the idea for at least long enough for the market to give me feedback, so that I can determine whether or not it is a good idea or not. 

The idea machine easily runs for an entrepreneur.  But generating idea after idea is useless if we can’t get it to market.  Getting it to market takes execution.  This means that we have to stay in the box – stay with the specific idea – for a while, even while other idea butterflies are fluttering around our head.

Stay inside the box. 

Conquering The Need To Conquer

Alexander The Great

There is a great story, told masterfully by author Steven Pressfield in his book The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great about an encounter that Alexander had upon entering India for the first time.

Paraphrased in my words:

Upon entering India, Alexander first encountered the Gymnosophists, or “naked wise men” descending to the river where they would bathe and chant.  These sages seemed to regard Alexander’s rough core with a sense of patience and beneficence.

An incident occurred that was a matter of discussion amongst Alexander and his Generals.  Upon entering a particular village, one of Alexander’s paiges had strided ahead to clear the road for his precession.  The paige encountered several of these sages who were occupying the road, and would not leave.  A crowd gathered, with a resulting conflict as to who had the right to occupy the road – Alexander or the gymnosophists.

One of Alexander’s generals engaged in a spirited exchange with the senior of these wise men, where he suggested,

 Alexander has conquered the world, what have you done?

To which the sage instantly replied, without a moment’s hesitation:

I have conquered the need to conquer the world

What a powerful example.  Something that I truly wish to emulate in my life.

The word conquer could easily be substituted for “success” or “achievement”.  How many of us feel that we need to be successful?  How many of us feel the constant need to achieve?

I bet all of us for the most part.

Why is this?  What is it about the human condition that makes it this way?

In my life, and my work, I have found that I am at my creative peak, and at my most courageous mindset, when I transcend the “need to achieve”.  When I do things for their own sake, without regard to the rewards that I will obtain from them, that is when I am at my best.

That is when I most acutely trigger flow in my work.

That is when my creativity shines through.

It is a habit that I am trying to cultivate daily – doing work for the sake of the work alone.  In whatever I am engaging in – an article, a chapter in a book, a business marketing campaign, a sales engagement – trying to master the engagement, for the sake of mastery, not because of what I may get from it.

Conquering the need to conquer

I am absolutely convinced that this mindset is at the heart of mastery, and that true masters in any craft (and yes business, and sales, is a craft) at some point, transcend the need for rewards as a result of their behaviour.  Their behaviour then becomes autotelic (meaning it is an end in itself).

When this happens success, or achievement, comes as a matter of course – a natural consequence arising from one’s mastery of a subject matter.  I don’t think that mastery is possible without adopting this type of mindset.  The road to excellence in anything is just too hard otherwise.

So here is a challenge – in whatever you are pursuing – ask yourself.  Would you still pursue it if no one ever found out?  Would you still do it if you never were rewarded?  Is the action its own reward?  That is a very telling analysis into our true motivation.

Why Playing Lego With My Son Helps Me As An Entrepreneur

Lego

My six year old son Seth is far more skilled at Lego than I ever was at his age (or arguably ever).

Playing lego with him is something that I’ve taken to lately.  He really is amazingly talented, not only can he build structures designed for kids much older than him (according to the instruction sheet) but he also is able to come up with his own designs (symmetrical I might add).

His abilities make me proud.  They make me think that a career in design or technology could be in order in a couple of years.  That excites me.

In playing Lego, fairly extensively, with him over the last month or so I’ve also recognized a number of principles that help me as an entrepreneur as well.

Who knew I’d find inspiration in such a simple place?

Here is how playing Lego with my son is helping me in business:

1. “As long as we have the box, it’s ok if we lose the instruction sheet.” 

Even if we lose the instruction sheet (which generally happens within a day or so of getting the new Lego set in our house – remember my son is good at Lego, but he’s still six) we are ok if we still have the box.

The box gives us a picture of the end game – the result that we want. If we lose the instruction sheet we can adapt by keeping our eyes on the final destination (the image on the box).  We may not take exactly the same road, but eventually we’ll figure out where all the pieces go, and re-create the structure that we see.

In business we try to obtain instruction sheets (a mentor, a marketing strategy, a strategic plan) designed to pave the straightest path to the result that we want.  But once we start down this path we often find that the instructions aren’t that helpful (so they might as well be lost), there are obstacles that we didn’t anticipate, and variables that we couldn’t have seen coming.

But as long as we can remember our goal, and why we are doing what we are doing – why we are in business in the first place (the “image on the box”) we’ll be ok.

We might take a different route to the final destination but that’s ok.  We’ll still arrive.

2. “This piece isn’t the right colour, but it fits, and it does the job”

Everyone who has played Lego knows exactly what I’m talking about here.  A piece goes missing (as they always do), and you end up finding a replacement, but it’s the wrong colour.  To a perfectionist Dad (like myself) this can be somewhat traumatic – but hey – life isn’t ever perfect.

This is a great lesson for an entrepreneur.

Life isn’t ever perfect, so get over it.  Sometimes you have to come up with solutions, that while not perfect, at least work, and get the job done until you can get a replacement.  A key skill as an entrepreneur is adaptability, and agility to move quickly.  So if I can get a “replacement piece” from time to time then that’s a victory.

3. “Dad, the dog just stepped on the Millennium Falcon, now we have to start all over again!” 

Such is the sad state of just about every boy or girl who has ever built a lego structure (and has an older / younger sibling or nosy pet).

Life is about uncertainty, especially in business. There isn’t a business in the world that has gotten things “perfect” without any difficulty and then maintained that “perfection” to a steady run of perpetual profits.  Just like the Lego ship, we have to rebuild from time to time.  We have to start over again. That’s life!  But we can endure.

4. “This ship is boring, I want to make a different one”

Progression is a principle of a happy life – in both Lego and business.  That is part of the intrigue, and joy, of being an entrepreneur (and Lego designer).

After you successfully complete one structure (and various derivations of it) you want to progress, you want to grow, you want to test your abilities on a more difficult set.

Such is the case in business.  Progression and innovation is necessary, not only for continuing profitability in a competitive environment, but also for the enjoyment of an entrepreneur.

So I shouldn’t look at challenges and innovations as frustrations (and longing for the “good old days”) but rather as fun opportunities to grow and challenge myself.  That is what being an entrepreneur is all about, and part of what makes it so enjoyable.

Learning To Finish

Finish

Before the end of the year I will be done the first draft of the manuscript of my second book.

Having the “finish line” on my mind, I wanted to write about some of the things that I’ve learned over these last couple years on the subject of “finishing.”

Starting something is easy – most people have enough ideas of their own (or access to other’s ideas) to get the inspiration to start.  After we start, perspiration becomes far more important than inspiration, and really it is just a matter of sitting down each day, turning off the never ending noise machine which is our mind, and doing our work.

But when we approach the finish line, we start to self assess.

We start to wonder whether our work is any good, and whether it will be received well by others.

This isn’t just for a writer.  It applies to the pursuit of any creative venture: a new business enterprise, an artistic or music endeavour.  Approaching the finish line causes us to pull our head up from the daily grind of “getting our work” done, and introspect.

We don’t want to introspect when we are in production mode. The best thing that we can do is just grind, each day.  But, at some point, in the process (usually around the finish line) the introspection is natural.

We start to think about finishing, and what will be the result of our investment of time.

During this process it is easy to doubt ourself and wonder if this whole endeavour was a colossal waste of time, and if so what should  we do? Do we push forward and finish, even if there is a chance that it isn’t a “run away best-seller” or the type of business that makes us a millionaire.

I cannot say that all things in life should be finished. The advice of “never quit” as much as we like to suggest this as a mantra, is actually quite misleading. We quit all the time, and in many cases, it’s a very good thing.

There are many smart times to quit. It’s smart to quit jobs where our personal creative genius will never be cultivated.

It’s smart to quit careers where we aren’t motivated to become our best self.

Sleepwalking through life – trading time for money just to buy some stupid status symbol that we think will impress people that we could care less about impressing – that is not an empowering way to live.

Quitting that life is smart.

But what about our creative work? And by creative work I mean that offering that we give to the world that is purely our own unique creation.

Whether it be a book, an article, a business, a song. What about that? Do we quit on that?

No. We can’t.

The admonition to never quit, only truly applies to those things in our life that we most emotionally identify with, and we are the only person in the world, not our parents, not our church leader, not our boss, not even the President of the country can tell us what those things are.

Only we know.

So if we find ourself staring down the completion of one of those things, we have to first determine if it’s truly “one of those things”.

Here we have to look deep within, and ask ourself – is this a must in my life?

Is my soul, the very essence of who I am as an individual, connected to this task? Do I truly identify my unique purpose in life with this act that I’m engaging in? Must I do this? Is it a want, or is it a must?

If it’s a must, then we have to finish.

No matter how difficult it may be. Even, especially, if no one ever reads our book, or buys our products, we need to complete it for us.

Because if we can finish it, then we’ll be able to finish everything else, meaningful, in our life that we attempt in the future. Therefore, it becomes of utmost importance, to our most strongly held hopes and desires, that we finish the project.

How do we do that?

Well, it is actually quite easy. We finish it the same way that we started it – we sit down, for a pre-determined time, and we make progress on it.

If we do this every single day, eventually we’ll be done. Nothing can stop us from completing it.

There is so much power in incremental progress, it is one of the most under-appreciated forces in the world.

Small steps, consistently maintained over a long period of time produce amazing results.

We see so many examples of this in nature. You can never “watch” a tree grow, it’s growth is too small to notice, but each day, it is growing, each day it is progressing, and slowly, and steadily it rises into a great structure that can out live a human.

A couple drops of rain don’t account for much, but a steady drizzle maintained day after day can lead to great floods, and incredible power as the accumulation of water grows.

This power can work in all aspects of our life as well, and it does work, whether we are aware of it or not.

Every day we are making choices, and when it’s all said and done, when our life is at its end, what we will have, in terms of memories, is nothing but the accumulation of all the small choices that we previously took.

There might be memorable acts of choices throughout our life, but they are the exception. The rule is the day to day. It is the choices that we make each day that in the end make or break us.

Do we watch an hour of TV, or do we spend this hour making progress on our book or business?

Do we walk or do we take a cab?

Do we eat the apple or the cake?

Each choice has a profound, and compounding, effect on our life, and the result is astounding.

Look at any accomplished person, in any field, and what we will see is that the person, each day, made small choices, to in some way or another work on their craft.

That is how we finish. Each day, for a pre-determined amount of time, we make forward progress. We stick to it. With this method there is nothing that we can’t finish.

My Five Favorite TED Talks

TED logo

As I prepare for my upcoming TEDx talk in Kelowna on September 26th I’ve been watching a lot of TED talks.  I love TED.  It is such a brilliant concept and collective – “ideas worth sharing”.

So in honor of my appreciation for TED, I wanted to share my top 5 all-time favorite TED talks.

In no particular order, here they are (and the reasons why I love them)

1. David Blaine – How I Held My Breath For 17 Minutes

Why I Love It: Believe it or not, this was in fact the first TED talk that I ever watched.  It made me want to find out “what was possible” in my life as well, and attempt to do things (albeit not quite as extreme) that other people didn’t think possible either.

2. Ben Zander – The Transformative Power of Classical Music

Why I Love It: The concept of “shining eyes” (watch the talk).  I love teaching and speaking.  I want to be as effective as a communicator as Ben Zander is.  This is a very powerful talk on how we learn, how we listen, and how a teacher knows if they are effective.

3. Seth Godin – How To Get Your Ideas To Spread

Why I Love It: Easily the most influential writer, in my eyes, in terms of getting results in our business.  Through Godin I’ve learned about tribal marketing, how to get ideas to spread, and how to stand out.  Critical for anyone wanting to make it in business today.

4. Diana Nyad – Extreme Swimming With The World’s Most Dangerous Jellyfish

Why I Love It: I love the concept of an “extreme dream”. I love pushing myself to the limits of my capacity.  You cannot watch this talk without being inspired to test your own limits.

5. Sting – How I Started Writing Songs Again

Why I Love It: I’m a writer.  I live in the creative space.  So learning from other creatives is important to me.  This talk isn’t just about writing.  It is really about having a dream, and not letting anything get in your way of accomplishing it.  A must watch in my opinion.

starting today, be the hero of your story

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