Humanity’s Success, Through Beastly Struggles

Humanity has brought famine, plague, and war under control. Author Yuval Noah Harari writes:

Success breeds ambition, and our recent achievements are now pushing humankind to set itself even more daring goals.

Harari adds:

And having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus.

But, can our new ambitions give birth to new beastly struggles? Could genetic engineering give birth to a violent species of humans? Could regenerative medicine create an antibiotic-resistant pathogen? Could nanotechnology be hacked to become the modern-day Black Death?

Author Andrew McAfee does not share my perspective, McAfee notes:

We need to let the technologies of the second machine age do their work and find ways to deal with the challenges they will bring with them.

McAfee co-author of, “The Second Machine Age” understands that humanity’s success will breed ambition. He also understands that you poorly predict the future. Why, because predictions are based on your current assumptions.

Instead of making bad assumptions, McAfee explains you need to find solutions for these challenges:

  • Improving education to reduce the number of unskilled workers
  • Focusing on entrepreneurship because it’s an innovation engine
  • Supporting scientists, by reforming the U.S. intellectually property laws
  • Upgrading our infrastructure — bridges, airports, streets and highways

When you focus on finding solutions, and not making predictions you can better manage humanity’s ambitions.

The Cult-Like Following

Speaker Simon Sinek writes:

People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

Leaders and companies inspire others by first explaining, Why they do what they do.

Sinek adds:

By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?

Your Why serves to inspire your team and customers, it instills purpose and loyalty. This is why companies such as Apple have a cult-like following. This is why Martin Luther King influenced a movement. This is why John F. Kennedy moved a nation to put a man on the moon.

What is your Why?

Your Competition Is Using It

Author Simon Sinek writes:

Have you ever had a sales rep try to sell you some “office solution” by telling you that 70 percent of your competitors are using their service, so why aren’t you?

No one wants to be the guy that is not using the thing that everyone else is using. But, there are questions you should ask before agreeing to buy the thing:

  • What if 70% of my competitors are idiots?
  • What if 70% of my competitors are buying because everyone else did?
  • If 70% of my competition is using that product? How does that give me the advantage?”

Sinek adds:

These are all forms of peer pressure. When marketers report that a majority of a population or a group of experts prefers their product over another, they are attempting to sway the buyer to believing that whatever they are selling is better.

Don’t be swayed by peer pressure. Don’t fixate on the cheaper short-term solution, over the better long-term solution. The short-term solution is a temporary fix, that can lead to long-term costs.

The Zip Line of Your Life

You are about to slide down the zip line when your lizard brain screams, “No! This is dangerous!” You begin to panic and tell the guy who is strapping you into the harness, “I can’t do this, please unstrap me!” The guy does not question your decision and unstraps you.

While choosing not to participate is not an issue, the successive decisions not to participate are an issue. Why, because the quality of your life is based on your choices. Author James Lawrence (the Iron Cowboy) explains:

The only limits are the ones you set for yourself.

Lawrence continues:

Don’t find your limits. Exceed your limits.

I find that if you hold yourself to a ridiculous standard, you consistently exceed your limits:

  • Push yourself to be more
  • Push yourself to be better
  • Push yourself to be smarter
  • Ask yourself, “What is next?”

You must cultivate an obsession with your definition of success. When you choose to participate, the quality of your life evolves.

The Definition of Failure

You walk into the office, and you're told the project you’ve been managing for over two years is now being led by another team. Your first reaction is confusion which is followed by anger and finally the feeling of failure.

When you ask why has the project been taken away, you are told the new vice-president decided that his team will manage all software-based projects. There is no meeting to discuss a transition period. There is no conversation about the status of outstanding issues. There is no communications about scheduled work. You just get an email, “Hi, I am taking the lead on this project.”

You understand that change happens but what you don’t understand is the insensitivity. The move leaves you feeling uninspired, unsafe and unfulfilled.

Leadership authority Simon Sinek makes it clear:

Returning from work feeling inspired, safe, fulfilled and grateful is a natural human right to which we are all entitled and not a modern luxury that only a few lucky ones are able to find.

Sinek continues:

We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.

Yes, you need time to acknowledge what has happened but you can not allow failure to define you.

Triathlete James Lawrence explains:

Don’t let failure beat you down. Look at it as a blessing and a turning point that leads you to a different future.

How will you define that different future? Do you need to set a goal? Do you need to focus on the next step? Do you need to focus on the details? The answer is Yes, but don't forget to take massive action.

What Are Your Standards of Behavior

The definition of value is “A person's principles or standards of behavior; one's judgment of what is important in life.” Your standards of behavior are crucial in deciding how to live your life, who you will be, what type of work will inspire you and what relationships you will seek.

You have an idea of what is essential in your life, but you spend most of your day on automatic. When you unconsciously move from task to task, you are operating based on someone else’s judgments. Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi explains:

Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.

What if you had a list of values? What if you chose five? What if you live those values every day for 30 days? The list is borrowed from author James Clear:

  • Authenticity
  • Achievement
  • Adventure
  • Authority
  • Autonomy
  • Balance
  • Beauty
  • Boldness
  • Compassion
  • Challenge
  • Citizenship
  • Community
  • Competency
  • Contribution
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Determination
  • Fairness
  • Faith
  • Fame
  • Friendships
  • Fun
  • Growth
  • Happiness
  • Honesty
  • Humor
  • Influence
  • Inner Harmony
  • Justice
  • Kindness
  • Knowledge
  • Leadership
  • Learning
  • Love
  • Loyalty
  • Meaningful Work
  • Openness
  • Optimism
  • Peace
  • Pleasure
  • Poise
  • Popularity
  • Recognition
  • Religion
  • Reputation
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Security
  • Self-Respect
  • Service
  • Spirituality
  • Stability
  • Success
  • Status
  • Trustworthiness
  • Wealth
  • Wisdom

Once you decided on what values resonate ask yourself, “How do I practice these values today?” Let that question simmer and inspire you to take massive action.

Improving Through Analysis

The people that started working with you have surpassed you. You’re smart and talented, but you're missing an essential ingredient for success. Let these questions simmer:

  • What if you knew your weaknesses?
  • What if you knew your strengths?
  • What if you analyzed your decisions?

Peter Drucker, the author of Managing Oneself explains:

The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis. Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations.

Drucker notes:

Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person— hardworking and competent but otherwise mediocre— into an outstanding performer.

The feedback analysis is a tool that will you develop into the person who is prepared for opportunities. Look at these questions:

  1. What are your strengths? Once you have identified your strengths, place yourself in situations where your strengths will produce results.
  2. How will you improve your strengths? The feedback analysis will help you identify where you need to develop skills or acquire new ones.
  3. Where are you intellectually arrogant? Build a latticework of mental models so you can understand how the world works.

What has worked for me is setting a timer on my iPhone: Time For Feedback. When the timer goes off I:

  • Review my decisions.
  • Ask, “What value I added?”
  • Ask, “Did I operate from my strengths?”
  • Ask, “Where did I struggle?

Document your answers and on the weekend review your week. The review allows you to understand what you’ve done and how you’ve performed. More importantly, the review helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses. Go through the exercise for the next 30 days. The results my impress you.

I Want To Be A Leader, I’ll Do It Later

You’ve always wanted to be in leadership, but it's never been a priority. There is always something more important, or you convince yourself, “I will pursue it later.”

Roman Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca notes:

You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply.

If you want to be in leadership, then decided to be a leader. Shift your mindset and obsess:

  • Read 500 pages every day on leadership every day.
  • Model a leader that you find inspiring.
  • Everyday do the little things that will make you a better leader.

Seneca continues:

Believe me, it is the sign of a great man, and one who is above human error, not to allow his time to be frittered away: he has the longest possible life simply because whatever time was available he devoted entirely to himself.

Your time is limited use it wisely.

Communicating Your Purpose

The company has gone through four CEOs in five years. You have noticed a disturbing pattern, the Why changes based on the CEO. The changes have led to a degradation in the company’s How and What.

It’s no wonder why the organization has been losing talented leaders. To make matters worse, the employees are concerned about the company’s shifting purpose and loss of institutional knowledge. Speaker Simon Sinek notes:

We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.

You desperately want to be inspired to believe in a purpose so you can help the organization achieve its vision. Alan Mulally, former CEO of the Ford Motor Company, explains:

It’s important to have a compelling vision and a comprehensive plan. Positive leadership — conveying the idea that there is always a way forward — is so important because that is what you are here for — to figure out how to move the organization forward.

What is a possible solution?

Human beings are social creatures. You thrive in an organization that creates a culture of transparent communications. Why because it helps in:

  • Making you feel like you belong.
  • Making you feel safe.
  • Making you feel special.
  • Giving you a voice to express concerns and wins.
  • Developing trust in leadership and with your co-workers.

Communications is critical without a clear plan the Why is lost.

Fear of Failing

What if you started your day with Why:

  • Why did I choose my profession?
  • What are my top three favorite books and why?
  • If life is so short, why do I do so many things I don’t like and like so many things I don’t do?
  • If I had to move to a state or country besides the one I currently live in, where would I move and why?
  • Why am I, me?
  • If I learn from my mistakes, why am I always so afraid to make a mistake?

Now that your mind is simmering for solutions, What If:

  • What if you inspired others to do their job better?
  • What if you spent the day listening first and speaking last?
  • What if you asked someone how are you doing and then listened?
  • What if others followed you and not because they have to, but because you inspire them to?

What if every day you directed your focus? How much value would you add to your personal relationships, to the people in your charge, to your health and fitness, to your finances, to your emotional and spiritual life? Speaker Tony Robbins has an answer:

“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.”

Why do you dabble your way through life? It’s fear: fear of failing, fear of succeeding, fear of not being good enough, and fear of the unknown.

Instead of allowing fear to manage your life what if you decided to no longer live that narrative? What if you decided on a goal and took action to achieve that goal? What if you decided that you no longer wanted to live an ordinary life but an extraordinary life?

How would your life evolve? Who would you help? Robbins notes:

It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.

Worth Paying For

Your car has almost 100,000 thousand miles and taking it to the dealer is expensive. Fortunately, a family friend recommended two mechanics:

First Mechanic:

  • Good mechanic.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Explains what he does.
  • You have never met face to face.
  • When you dropped off your car it’s up to you to figure out how to get home.

Second Mechanic

  • Good mechanic.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Explains what he does and why.
  • You've met face to face allot.
  • Follows up with you after the work is done.
  • Consults with you before any work is started.
  • Texted you “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Fathers Day.”
  • He drops you off and picks you up, so you don’t have to take mass transit.

It’s understandable why you only take your car to the second mechanic, author Tony Robbins notes:

“If you add the value, you will become the brand. Find a way to add more value than anyone else does.”

Adding value is a standard that most customers expect but adding more value than anyone else does is rare. How would you add more value:

  1. Be faster.
  2. Offer Better Quality.
  3. Increase Convenience.
  4. Follow up.

It’s not rocket science, but it does take a degree of implementation. If you don't add more value to your customer, then you will lose the customers to the person that does offer more value.

The Disappointed Executive

“You people are terrible managers!” the senior executive insults the team. You’re in shock. You’re upset. You’re disappointed. Author Simon Sinek explains:

It is better to disappoint people with the truth than to appease them with a lie.

The senior executive has disappointed you with the truth of how he feels about the team. Instead of being defeated you mentor yourself: I must become the leader I do not have, and help others feel valued.

Sinek clarifies:

When we help ourselves, we find moments of happiness. When we help others, we find lasting fulfillment.

To be a great leader you don’t need to do great things. To be a great leader you must do the small things. It can be something little like asking, “I’ve noticed you’ve had a rough couple of weeks. Is everything OK?”

Why, What If, And How

Most managers support the process and are good at getting results. You don’t want to be like most managers. You want to inspire others on a journey of Why. Not What If. Especially not How.

To inspire others to join you on the journey requires leadership. Author Simon Sinek spells it out:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

Leadership is not a title but a practice. It’s about the little things done consistently:

  • Making others feel safe.
  • Giving others responsibilities.
  • Giving others opportunities.
  • Making others feel valued.
  • Understanding others.
  • Caring for others.

Sinek insists:

Those whom foster relationships who take care of others will find themselves in the position where others can be trusted to have your back.

It’s your choice to be a leader. You don’t need permission. You don’t need a title. You must decide to care for others: inspiring them to dream more, learn more, do more and become more.

Managers And Not Leaders

“If you don’t do what I’m telling you, I am going to tell the boss!” snaps the new director at one of his subordinates. It was a disturbing response but expected. Why because management is focused on improving performance now, and not on the long game.

While the promotion is a validation of the good technical work, leadership demands a variety of soft skills, the author Simon Sinek explains:

The real job of a leader is not being in charge. It’s about taking care of those in our charge.

Sinek continues:

The reason you get managers and not leaders is because the employee that is good at their job gets promoted to a leadership position but does not get training on how to be a leader.

How do you establish an environment that not only rewards good work but nurtures leadership? You can start by asking a question as simple as, “Is there anything you need to do your job better?”

In a corporate environment that maximizes shareholder value, over good leadership the question sends a clear signal — you care about maximizing value for your team.

There is Only One Line, Next

The frustrated cashier barks at the customers, “There is only one line!” Reluctantly, everyone obeys the cashier as she races between two registers. Her effort to keep the line moving is failing, and customers are frustrated.

Regrettably, you are one of the frustrated customers, and you start thinking:

  • Where is the manager?
  • Why can’t the cashier call for help?
  • Why can’t another employee help?
  • Why are there only two registers open during rush hour?

Finally, the manager shows up, she casually steps behind the register and announces, “Next.”

The manager does not acknowledge the overwhelmed cashier. The manager does she not apologize to the frustrated customers. The manager does not show urgency? The manager just says, “Next.”

The author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek notes:

“Value is not determined by those who set the price. Value is determined by those who choose to pay it.”

You did not experience value. You suffered through a breakdown in leadership opportunities. What could the company do differently:

  1. Make sure the registers are staffed during rush hour.
  2. Empower the cashiers to call for help when the line is getting long.
  3. Train the team to be mindful, if the line is getting long hop on a register.

Sinek continues:

Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them. People are either motivated or they are not. Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.

Why can’t the company hire already motivated people? A team motivated to keep the customer happy is a force multiplier.

Poor Leadership

Poor leadership makes you angry. It breeds dissension. It fosters power struggles. It encourages indecision. The net result of poor leadership is uncertainty from your employees, customers, and shareholders.

Why, does poor leadership have an adverse effect? The author Simon Sinek notes:

Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief - WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?

How do you find the clarity to articulate? You can start by answering, “Why should anyone care?” It’s the Big Bang question that gives birth to a universe of What If and How questions. It’s the rally point, where power struggles, indecision, and uncertainty become unimportant.

Poor leadership is incapable of adding value to the question. It is the responsibility of transformational leadership to shepherd value, anything less leads to poor results.

Time Is Not On Your Side

You are always putting off what must do today, for tomorrow. It’s not your intention, but other things demand your time, Seneca explains you are wrong:

Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside.

While Seneca understands why you put things off, he explains it’s a grave mistake:

But putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today.

Tomorrow is not guaranteed, so your only option is to plan your life and get done today what needs to get done. There is no magic plan, it just comes down to doing the work; putting in an inhuman amount of work. If you don’t, if you expect that you will get it done tomorrow then you are foolish. Seneca makes a strong argument:

How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived.

Don’t wait. Don’t say tomorrow. Don’t put it off. Don’t expect that tomorrow will come.

If Questions Are So Important Then Why Did You Stop?

Paul Harris, a Harvard child psychologist, explains that a child asks about forty-thousand questions between the ages of two and five years old. Why, because you hardwired to ask Why, What If and How. Warren Berger the author of “A More Beautiful Question,” notes:

“As the children’s neurologist Stewart Mostofsky puts it, they have not yet developed mental models to categorize things, so part of what they’re doing when questioning is asking adults to help them with this huge job of categorizing what they experience around them, labeling it, putting it in the proper file drawers of the brain.”

What if you could reignite your question engine? What if instead of responding with an answer you responded with a question? What if you used questions to make better decisions? What would that be worth to you?

Unfortunately, around age five you begin to cut back on the number of questions. Why, there are some explanations one being that schools are not designed to answer questions but to produce workers, Berger refers to the author Seth Godin:

“Our grandfathers and great-grandfather built schools to train people to have a lifetime of productive labor as part of the industrialized economy. And it worked.”

Yes, schools are not preparing you to be an innovative thinker or expert questioner, they want obedient cogs. They want you to follow instructions and memorize facts. Gradually, your question engine is extinguished, and on average it’s never reignited.

I lived the majority of my adult life scared to ask too many questions. Yes, in part because I was never encouraged to ask questions in school and when I did ask too many questions I was told that it was more important to get through the lesson.

Berger understands because of the advancement in technology humanity will need innovators, expert questioners not those whose only skills are the ability to memorize and repeat facts, the researcher John Seely Brown explains:

“The consensus seems to be that this new world demands citizens who are self-learners; who are creative and resourceful; who can adjust and adapt to constant change.”

Berger continues by explaining a possible solution to reinvigorate our child-like curiosity:

One way to start is by looking at how other practiced questioners do it — focusing, in particular, on how they employ fundamental Why, What If, and How questions to solve problems and create change.

Ultimately it comes down to economics. A highly skilled worker is more valuable than a less-skilled worker. Highly skilled workers — focus, in particular, on how they employ fundamental Why, What If, and How questions to solve problems and create change. They will continue to be employed so what will you choose.

Let me be honest with you; if you choose to be a cog in the machine automation will replace you. Does that make a choice easier?

Are You Failing To Achieve? Then Model.

You want to become the best version of yourself, but you are always failing to achieve the goal.

You're not failing because you lack motivation. You are failing because you lack guidance. Every person that has achieved their best version have done so because they had guidance. English mathematician Isaac Newton expressed:

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

I have always enjoyed Newton’s quote, but Scott Dinsmore words resonate more with me:

“Find people who are ridiculously good at something and follow in their steps.”

When you stand on the shoulders of giants or find people who are ridiculously good, what you are doing is modeling: observing and mapping the successful processes which underlie an exceptional performance of some type. Before you begin your journey, first do an inventory of where you are and where you want to be. Then find someone to model.

You could speak to that person directly, but it might be easier if you studied their books, articles, podcasts, and videos. What you are looking for is:

  • Their 80/20
  • What they do
  • What they don’t do

You must also pay particular attention to what you refuse to model because it goes against your values.

So what is the one area of your life that you want to improve? Now find someone that is ridiculously good in that area and put in the hard work to accelerate your success.