Like everyone trying to grow their business, I look to other, proven business leaders for words of advice.
The looking? That’s not a hard thing to do – there are a lot of business platitudes out there. Thousands of business books are published each year, newspapers and magazines groan with ‘Celebrity CEO interviews’, and in this time of always-on, real-time communication, you can – if you wish – listen in as today’s business leaders muse aloud in a way never possible before.
The result? A few nuggets of advice buried under a morass of contradictory, half-formed, never-proven anecdotal opinion. Read long enough, and you’ll likely find someone who will categorically state the exact opposite of whatever deeply-held tenet of business advice you’d previously held dear.
One result of living in this world of cacophony, is that when you do eventually stumble on a universal truth, it glitters in a way that’s inescapable.
Here are the four universal truths that I’ve gleaned along my personal three-decade path of business growth:
1. “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
The inimitable former world boxing champ Mike Tyson makes the point that when you get into the ring, the time for plans and planning is over – you better have grooved your A game and be ready to both execute and improvise.
Does this mean that planning is a useless activity? Far from it – to me, effective planning is vital to business success – I learned long ago that plans are nothing, but planning is everything (another great quote, but so widely used that it’s now pretty much unattributable).
2. “We would estimate, very roughly, that a master has spent perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at chess positions.” – Herbert Simon and William Chase
What a boring quote, right? And what on earth has it to do with business? Well, you may be more familiar with the more media-friendly version – the so-called 10,000-hours rule from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, ‘Outliers’ – Simon and Chase’s Nobel-prize winning study from which the original quote is taken forms the basis of Gladwell’s assertion.
The number of actual hours required to become a master at anything – and whether mere hours clocked in can alone make one a master of anything – has been frequently disputed since Gladwell’s book burst on the scene, but the underlying precept – that brilliance and mastery take time – is generally true.
In an age that lauds the get-rich-quick mentality of ‘Unicorn Nation’, coming up with a great new app or business model and flipping it for millions (or billions) is a viable career option (at least for now, while the money holds out).
However, for those interested in building something that lasts, mastery – and the patience, focus and dedication required to attain it – is the key to success.
3. “Because your brain doesn’t have a brain.” – David Allen
You won’t find this specific wording in any of David Allen’s books (he made it as an aside during a podcast we recorded together), but it’s the single greatest argument for mastering personal productivity that I’ve heard.
Here’s the harsh fact of business leadership in the twenty-first century: If you don’t master the information climate you work in, it will eat you alive. And this will only become more true with every passing week, month and year.
Does that mean we all have to become time and productivity ninjas? No, but it does mean we all need to be in control of email, texting, phone calls and meetings – or they will control (and overwhelm) us.
4. “Let’s get real, or let’s not play” – Mahan Khasla
This is actually the title of a book – about sales performance of all things – but the seemingly narrow focus of the book belies a much wider precept that has remained with me and directed my behavior ever since I first read it.
The precept? Be an adult in the world. Drop the posturing and petty pretenses we all engage in every day, and turn up with truth, a work ethic, and openness. Read the book. It’ll inspire you to do the same (oh, and don’t confuse this with the ‘Authenticity Industry’ that has emerged in recent years – that’s a different group of shamans altogether).