In Vistage, we say “Great leaders ask great questions.” The most important question: What’s my purpose?

The 2 Ingredients of Purpose

Your purpose is about solving problems that are meaningful to yourself. Two phrases are key in this sentence:

  1. solving problems – whilst you can get momentary happiness from experiences, only improving quality of life for other beings gives rise to lasting fulfilment
  2. meaningful to yourself – if you don’t enjoy the journey, you are going to give up quickly. If you give up, you will not solve problems. You must be selfish in this respect. You must use your own unique combination of talents and desires in a way that is satisfying to you personally

The path of the purposeless one is beset on all sides by distraction and other people’s priorities. Modern western society gives us the greatest freedom of action of any civilisation in history. This freedom is dangerous without defining how you will use it.

The greater the freedom, the more important to clarify your own purpose.

“Freedom is not the absence of commitments, but the ability to choose – and commit myself to – what is best for me… “

Paolo Coelho

Dan Sullivan speaks about 2 kinds of freedom:

  • “Freedom from” – the removal of obligations: I save enough money to not have to work in a job that is not meaningful
  • “Freedom to” – the creation of a purpose: I actively exercise my power of will to choose to pursue a meaningful purpose

Being highly efficient in pursuit of what is fundamentally unimportant is a terrible life path. I know several people who are brilliant at tactics, but lack any coherent life strategy. They are lost.

Nobody climbs Everest by accident. It was a dream and a plan and part of the meaningful activity of life for a decade before the summit.

How do you begin to answer: What is my Purpose?

Write something down. Anything.

What do you want to do during your life? Bucket list, problems you want to fix, experiences you want to have, how you differ from others, how you relate to others, teachers that made a difference…

Write them all down.

That’s step 1.

My friend David Tomas and I went to a 3 day workshop with Dr John DeMartini about 10 years ago called “Master Planning for Life“. For 3 straight days we sat in silence in a room in London and we wrote a plan for our life. Mine is 150 pages of word document. It is exactly what I described – a big list of every place I ever wanted to go, every thing I ever wanted to learn, every person that matters, every teacher that impacted me, every dream I have… and a set of financial plans that would allow me to make it happen.

I haven’t done everything that is in the document. I get demotivated and forget to review it often. I have days where I ask myself “what is it all about?”

I have this document as a map and a compass that can get me back on track.

You have to write it down.

…and then you iterate it many, many, many times. You come back to it regularly and add things that are even better and delete things that don’t resonate any more.

After 100 iterations you have something that can re-motivate you about why you are here.

After 1,000 iterations you should start to have something that really reminds you what is important and how to use your time.

Is there a shortcut?

…of course not. This is too important an aspect of your life to cut corners. Imagine if you just copied someone else’s purpose document? You’d end up living a great life, for them.

…and iterations are vital – because often what you think is important or meaningful when you are young turns out to not quite be the experience you expected.

Put it where you will see it often

It is not the writing down that matters. It is the iterating and repeatedly reminding yourself of what you think is important.

The problem is not that you don’t know what matters to you and what activities are most important – it is that you forget or get distracted so often.

If you liked this post, you will also like finding purpose and defining a vision for your life and A Truly Compelling Vision.

Professional Rugby Players do it…

On a transatlantic flight this year I came across the “Chasing Great” documentary that followed the life and career of New Zealand rugby captain Richie McCaw.

When Richie was 12 years old, a friend of his father asked him to put his dreams down on paper. They wrote it on a napkin while having lunch. Here is the napkin (source NZ Herald 25 August 2016: Chasing Great: Richie McCaw’s secret video tapes revealed)

A recreation of the napkin containing Richie McCaw’s All Blacks plans.

Professional Golfers do it…

Here’s something I found today on twitter that resonated… Pro Golfer Justin Thomas shared his written goals for the coming season…

Last night I drove home from the Costa Brava. This is a 90 minute drive. I spent 89 minutes looking at the road ahead and about 1 minute using the mirrors to see what was behind me, and what was in the lanes next to me.

Driving while looking mostly in the rear view mirror is dangerous.

Do you know where many people spend their time looking while driving their life?

Looking in the Rear View Mirror

Income statements, balance sheets, project status reviews, current account balance, kilos overweight… These are all backwards looking indicators. They describe the past and the effect of past action.

These are useful indicators for Levels 1 to 3 on Jim Collin’s 5 Levels of Leadership. They are terrible indicators for a leader that aspires to Level 5 Leadership.

What are the forward looking indicators in your business and in your life?

Driving while Looking Forwards

Gratuitous photo of me & Jim Collins at Vistage Chairworld

As we drove yesterday, we were listening to a conversation between Jim Collins and Tim Ferriss (it is excellent: I highly recommend that you find 2 hours to listen to their conversation about life, disciplines, purpose and the essence of a well lived life).

Jim Collins’ Important Concepts for Life & Business

Jim Collins shared many of the concepts that he has been working on for the last 30 years:

Three things struck me from this conversation:

  1. Clarity of speaking comes from consistently writing your ideas down
  2. Excellence is the fruit of a conscious decision and commitment to long term disciplines (that are not easy for anybody)
  3. Evidence matters (especially in living our own lives)

Clarity of speaking comes from consistently writing your ideas down

How to Speak Clearly?

I love Tim’s podcast. He is interested in exactly the same range of questions that I find myself interested in. He asks good questions and pushes his guests to be specific, to give examples, to be clear. He doesn’t invite people who are not experts, and he doesn’t let them away with generic, vague concepts… he pushes them to get clear.

Both Jim and Tim have spent a lot of time writing.

As I develop the next iteration of my programs at IESE Business School, I realise that the biggest growth step that I can develop for my participants is to push them to think clearly. I believe that the only way to check whether you can think clearly is to learn to write clearly… and great writers know that great writing is the result of multiple processes of editing.

The big gap between most people becoming great speakers, is to first become clear thinkers.

Social media and rapid meetings and political correctness has allowed lazy thinking to become normal.

Excellence is the fruit of a conscious decision and commitment to long term disciplines (that are not easy for anybody)

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Aristotle

Jim’s first question to Tim (I love how Jim immediately took control of the conversation, rather than just react to Tim’s questions): “What was the topic of your senior thesis at Princeton?”

It turns out that Tim has been studying, investigating and writing about the same general concepts for years. How do humans learn? and the more specific: How do the most effective human learners actually approach learning?

Tim is no overnight success. He’s been committed to learning in the same general themes for over 20 years. Jim is no overnight success. He’s spent the last 30 years committed to learning in the same few general themes.

Evidence matters (especially in living our own lives)

Poor data leads to poor decisions.

The person that each of us is most capable of manipulating is ourself. In their conversations, Tim and Jim reiterate the importance of evidence.

Very often, an accepted truth is the barrier to your next step of growth. One small, well intentioned, bad habit is costing you more than all the good habits you have invested in.

Often the members of a Vistage group play an interesting challenge role in calling out “The Elephant in the Room” – where they see you reliving a repetitive delusion that is damaging your progress in work, relationships and life.

We can fool ourselves better than anyone. Often the delusion is blatantly obvious to everyone, except me.

More Jim Collins…

I’ll leave you with one of the few video recordings of Jim Collins that are available publically:

This video is for Vistage Speakers, and is a briefing video about what to expect as a Vistage speaker.

About Michael Canic

“Professionally, I love working with committed people and making a difference. When I get to see the before-and-after it’s tremendously rewarding.”

Michael Canic

Michael Canic is a business strategy consultant and regular Vistage speaker on the subject of Relentless Consistency.

Michael’s Resources:

The author, at UCD Smurfit
The author, at UCD Smurfit

What is Good Strategy?

These points come from my notes from listening to a lecture by Prof. Pat Gibbon of UCD Smurfit Business School in Dublin during the Executive Edge day in May 2014.

  • Good strategy begins with a clear diagnosis (widely accepted) of the real current condition of the business. If there is nothing painful then this is strategy driven by internal politics, not strategy driven by a determination to be the best company, team that we can be.
  • Good strategy clearly articulates the challenges (big potholes on our path).  If there are no scary challenges, then it is not good strategy.  There are dangers out there that can kill your business.  If you are not vigilant, the bugs and the weeds will take over the garden.
  • From "Walking the Talk" Cording, Harrison, Hoskisson, Jonsen (2014), Academy of Management Perspectives
    From “Walking the Talk” Cording, Harrison, Hoskisson, Jonsen (2014), Academy of Management Perspectives

    Good strategy covers “Ideology” – There is an answer to “who are we?”  As people, as leaders? Michael O’Leary shows that “cheap” can win – but has to be lived by the full organisation. It is not enough to live values – to be a trusted organisation, a trusted leader, values must be both explicitly expressed and lived daily. Are these still lived? Aspirational values not being lived = loss of all trust and company becomes commodity. Image to the right comes from “Walking the Talk”: Under-promising is almost as dangerous as over-promising.

  • Good strategy articulates the set of coherent daily, weekly, monthly actions that must be inculcated, measured and made habitual? What systems – budget, motivation, talent, metrics?
  • Good strategy addresses the question: How do we concentrate our resources in areas where our opponents are weak? What are the real sources (that customers really care about) of our advantages? “Don’t attack walled cities”
  • Good strategy addresses innovation and change: How do we as an organisation cheaply explore ideas? How do we embrace “trying, failing & improving”?  Is it career suicide to lead a failed product launch?  If so, there will be no innovation.
  • Good strategy understands sales.  Neil Rackham tells us that today’s customers are polarizing around extremes of transaction oriented (“give me your price for this”) and trusted relationship (“help me think and I’ll pay you well”) – you cannot target both groups with the same approach. Transactional – push towards self service. Trusted – over-resource with senior experts; only chase projects with very high win probability (coming second is worse than not bidding).

Further Resources on Strategy

 

What else is important?  What challenges do you face when you are tasked with defining strategy?