Who are your “Passive Mentors”?

Mentors make a big difference in my life. There are 2 types of mentor: Active and Passive mentors.

Active mentors are those that you meet in person, interact with and get to know.

Passive mentors are those that you learn from without them knowing.  Book authors are one of the top sources of Passive Mentoring.

My Top Passive Business Mentors

Here are my 7 most valuable Business Book recommendations:

What books would you recommend?  Why?

“It’s extremely difficult to do something big. I think setting out to do something small is easier and more likely to work.”  Seth Godin

If you are reading this, I will assume that you writing a book or are thinking about writing a book.  What is holding you back?  What obstacle sits between you and a flow-like state where all is clear and the words come?

I believe the biggest obstacle is not outside of you.  I believe the biggest obstacle is inside of you.

Your anchor is dragging.  More power to the motor won’t help.  You must raise your anchor: The Resistance.

The Resistance

Stephen Pressfield says that our purpose lies behind what we most fear.  The book we are most scared to write is the book we should be writing.  If there is no fear related with the writing, it is probably not important.

Our ego is so determined to undermine us, that it will justify all forms of procrastination.  The excuses will be rational.  They will be true.  They will be well argued.  If we engage on their level, they will always win.  Seth Godin calls this The Resistance.  The closer we get to achieving our purpose, the louder the Resistance will rebel.

Photo Credit: Franck Vervial via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Franck Vervial

The Wisdom of Horses

Ranulph Fiennes  is the oldest British man to have climbed Everest.  He climbed it at his 3rd attempt when he was 65 years old.  What changed on his 3rd attempt?

Ranulph’s wife is a horse trainer.  When he was setting out on this last attempt, she said “do it like horses”.

Ranulph asked “what do you mean, do it like horses?”

His wife explained to him that a horse runs with no thought for the finish line.  A horse runs until it drops from exhaustion.  She told him to only ask himself “can I take one more step?” and if the answer is “yes”, take that one more step and repeat.  Don’t allow your mind to consider more than the next step.

Great endurance athletes have learnt this.  They have learnt to cheat their mind by refusing to allow it to think about the sheer scale of what they are taking on.  They look at the summit of Everest and don’t really see it again until they are standing on it.

Prolific writers don’t think about the 60,000 words they need to write for the book, they think in pages or paragraphs or just word by word.  John Grisham wrote one page per day before starting work at his day job.  One page a day.

If a Gap Opens, The Resistance will win

The moment a gap of thinking is opened, the Resistance will step in and will win.  If I stop to edit, I will kill this writing session.  If an ultramarathon runner thinks “how much more have I got left?” his Resistance will win.  The moment that the pause comes in, is when the Resistance has a chance of winning.

The Resistance will win in any argument.  It has no morals nor any type of excuse that it will not use.  It can only be conquered for moments when you commit completely to the flow, to the production of words, to the practice of piano, to make the sales call, to finish the drawing.

Performance = Potential – Self Sabotage

I spent some time last year interviewing successful endurance athletes like Kilian Jornet.  I wrote about the Mental Models of High Performance.  How do they manage to do the “impossible”?

The answer was quite simple:  They don’t think.  When they are running, biking or swimming they don’t let their mind wander off into the future.  They stay present in this moment.  At most the next stroke, or at the very most the next pause for a drink.

How to write a book?

Write like a horse.  Can you do one more word?  Write one more word.  Keep going.

In the last issue of IESE Insight magazine, Carlos Ghosn offered three key lessons he has learned during his career.

Carlos Ghosn at IESE
  1. First, he said, “Every problem has a solution,” but business leaders have to be prepared to pay the personal or collective price that will come with a given solution.
  2. Second, things have to get worse before they get better. “It’s easier to improve a company in trouble than a company with an average performance,” he said.
  3. His third lesson was that “you learn management by doing” and nothing is as instructive as highly stressful situations. When faced with adversity, often “you cannot sleep, you cannot eat,” he said, but in the end, such situations are often what teach managers the most.

What lessons have you learnt?

What would you share?

Thanks to Sergio C. for alerting me to these wise words from Carlos Ghosn.

“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” Pablo Picasso

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Teaching in IESE Madrid

I finished a wonderful 3 day seminar this week in Madrid with 30 directors ranging from industries as diverse as agriculture, to mobile handset makers, to pharmaceuticals to drinks. The course began on Tuesday morning at 9am as the participants introduced themselves, their challenges and their objectives for the course.

I listened and what struck me is how they were able to say so little in so many words. The spanish do have a tendency to start their mouth talking, and then engage their brain. They are not alone in this tendency. The world over, un-practiced communicators speak a lot of noise before they find the meaning.

Eliminate the Unnecessary

It is not only art that benefits from the elimination of the unnecessary. Those that speak powerfully say what they need to say and no more. Their is little filler in their communication. Their voices use no ehem, ahh, hmm, uhh noises.

Great poets cram massive meaning in few words. It takes more work to say it well in 10 seconds than in 30, more work to say it well in 3 minutes than in 10 minutes, more work to say it well in 10 minutes than in 3 hours. I don’t want to be lazy in my meaning. If I can say it in 30 seconds then I want to say it in 30 seconds. I have been working on videos in my youtube channel – working to squeeze 20 minute sections of my course into 2 minute videos. If I can say it well in 2 minutes, I know that I can say it powerfully in 20.

At the end of the course, the participants again shared their experiences with the group. It was a great source of pride to me as I saw the efficiency with which they used words. They spoke powerfully, they spoke with emotion, they spoke using silence when silence was more powerful than any word, and they spoke from the heart.

It takes a lot of complex thinking to achieve simple speaking. It takes many hours of reflection alone with oneself to understand our emotions, and the stories that generate our meaning in relation to what happens to us. Great communication is a mirror of the inner state. If my inner state is confused, my confusion will shine through my speech. If my inner state is self-doubt, my self-doubt will shine through my speech. If my inner state is tired, apathetic and unloved, my apathy will shine through.

Learning to communicate well can not be achieve merely through an outward journey, a learning of tools. There is a need for an inner journey, to understand myself. Few achieve success as actors. The rest of us need to real feel passion inside to project passion to an audience. We can’t fake it for very long.

There are two types of ignorance: Deliberate Ignorance and Understandable Ignorance.

Sheep

Understandable Ignorance

A non-financial expert is not expected to know how to calculate discounted cash flow valuations for publicly listed firms.  A European is not expected to know how baseball scoring works.  A non-programmer is not expected to understand the syntax of C++ or php code.  These are cases of Understandable Ignorance.

Deliberate Ignorance

If you work in marketing, you must know the basics.  If you work in finance, there are some basics that you must know.  If you are a programmer you must understand code syntax, optimal code, unit test, system test.  If you manage people, there are some lessons you owe it to your team to know.

As Seth Godin says “People have come before us, failed, learned, written it down. Scientists have figured out what works, and proven it. Economists have gained significant understanding about the long-term impacts of short-term decisions. And historians have seen it all before.”

It is not a company’s responsibility to ensure that you are aware of the basic concepts and important developments in your field.  It is your own.

Experts get it wrong.

The price we pay in trusting experts to take the important decisions for us is huge.

We don’t like uncertainty.  Experts give us a sense of certainty.

I don’t know what to do with my savings.  I go to a financial “expert”.  He tells me what to do.  I hand it over to him.  He loses it all in the property crash.

I feel sick and I go to the doctor.  He takes my temperature, looks in my throat, tells me to say “ahh” and then he sits down and writes out a prescription.  I feel good to “know” that the expert doctor “knows” what is causing my symptoms.

Adam's a Doctor
Photo: dalboz17

He doesn’t.  I have learnt to trust the white coats, the diplomas on the walls.  He has learnt to pretend.  He means well, but a system as complex as the human body cannot be diagnosed with temperature and a look in the throat.  Sometimes he is right.  Often he just prescribed some generic drug that seemed to work for the last case that looked like my symptoms.

Be aware of False Certainty.

We love the feeling of certainty that experts give. It is a false sense of certainty.

I am not saying “don’t go to doctors”.  I am not saying “don’t get financial advice”.

I am saying go to the doctor but take his opinion as another input into your own decision making about treatment.  Ask questions.  Ask “what are you seeing?  what are you thinking?  what other things might cause that?  what other options are you considering?”

Experts are more hero-worshiping than others.

Global warming, Financial investments: the “expert” has a vested interest in supporting the status-quo.  Experts’ power comes from the status quo, the accepted viewpoint.  Experts are less likely to question global warming science, year 2000, property bubbles, inflation estimates than those who are not experts.  Their egos are tied up in their status in the existing status quo.  They fear that changing.

Accept uncertainty as life.  Ask better questions.  Allow yourself permission to not agree.

This is relevant for anyone who communicates regularly from a position of authority – doctors, scientists, professors…

3 Types of Experts

I have had several people who have expertise say to me “but I haven’t been successful myself”.  Toni Nadal isn’t better at tennis than Rafa, but he knows how to get results. Michael Porter hasn’t run a business, but he has spent a lifetime interviewing people that have.  There are 3 types of experts:

  1. The Result Expert – Proven ability to get specific results for others
  2. The Research Expert – Has interviewed performers and has a deep knowledge of tools, strategies and tactics in an area
  3. The Role Model – Has been successful

Tim Ferriss has an interesting perspective: “you can learn more from the person who shouldn’t be good, but is than from the person who is naturally excellent.”  Roger Federer has every natural gift to be a top tennis player.  Rafa Nadal had to really fight to become number 1.  Most of us can learn more from Rafa’s approach than we could learn by understanding Federer.

Four Actions of Experts

There are four things that the best experts do:

  1. Choose mastery.  Choose continuous learning. Choose to read, to review, to focus intensely on a continuous process of learning and growing in the specific field in which they are experts.  Go deep rather than go broad.
  2. Regularly interview other experts looking for patterns and best practice.
  3. Create arguments based on four parts:
    1. What we should be paying attention to
    2. What things mean
    3. How things work
    4. What might happen
  4. Simplify complex ideas with frameworks

Four Actions of Wealthy Experts

There are four further things that can differentiate the wealthy expert from the plain expert:

  1. Package their knowledge: Write, speak, record – put knowledge into a form that people are willing to purchase
  2. Campaign vs Promote their knowledge – each interaction leads to a further interaction
  3. Charge expert fees – charge more than you are comfortable with
  4. Focus on:
    1. Distinction – Keep studying the competition and keep innovating
    2. Excellence – Be better
    3. Service – Be helpful and responsive

These 8 actions come from this video from Brandon Burchard.  Brandon helps others become well-paid experts.

I like his explanation of what differentiates a true expert from non-experts.

I will finish with a thought from Charles Handy, the Irish business philosopher who was one of the founders of London Business School.

“The aim of education is to give someone the self belief that enables them to take charge of their own life.” Charles Handy

This is the true aim of any expert.