The Sales Webinar has already passed — it was earlier in the year.
I just had something very interesting happen. I finished up a sales training class for a client I have worked with for the past 12 years and after the class several of these attendees thanked me very much and said they had taken pages of notes and learned some very valuable ideas. Then, later in the evening I attended their annual sales awards dinner, and again several folks told me the session that day had been wonderful and two of them actually told me that, through various programs I had delivered for their company, they had learned some “career-changing” ideas. I was extremely flattered and glad to know I had helped, but what happened next was career-changing for me!
As the CEO stood at the front of the room and announced the company’s top sales people and managers I was amazed to see that most of them were the very same individuals that had thanked me for the workshop. In other words, the most successful people were also the ones who wanted to learn the most, even though many of them had been in the field 20 years or longer.
Earlier in the day as I was teaching the workshop I had noticed that many of the “older” sales people were furiously taking notes and nodding in agreement every time I covered a particularly important point. They were also the most eager to ask questions and engage in the workshops and group discussions. However, I also noticed that several of the “jokesters” took few notes, rarely participated in the discussions and did not ask a single question. Not surprisingly I did not see any of them win an award, but later at the bar I did hear many of them complaining about the comp plan, that their products were priced too high and that their competitors were “buying” contracts with lavish presents and dinners with purchasing agents.
The mediocre thought they already knew it all, the best were eager to learn more.
The mediocre were resentful, the best were grateful.
The mediocre saw problems, the best saw opportunities.
The mediocre complained, the best succeed in the same arena.
I might have spent the day teaching, but I learned just as much as they did, well, at least the best of them.
Because I read so many business books, people often ask me how I retain everything I am reading. Here is how I do it…
I recently read several excellent books on how to increase your learning ability and become an expert in your field of study. The first two books were, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” and “Deep Work” by Cal Newport. In these books he studies a number of people who have achieved the pinnacle of excellence and their careers, from musicians to chess grandmasters to financial experts and surf board makers. To summarize his key points here is what I took away from his thoughtful and very intense scrutiny of how these people became the best of the best.
- The 10 years or 10,000 hour rule definitely applies, all of these high achievers spent years and years studying, honing and perfecting their craft.
- Practicing in your area of expertise is not enough, you must do what is called “deliberate practice.” This sort of practice entails using mentors, coaches, colleagues and other people to push you for continuous improvement. It also means that when you practice alone you must push yourself to the very limit of your skills so that you are constantly increasing your expertise.
- To do work at this level you need do what Cal calls “deep work.” Essentially this means that you must create chunks of time, a few hours to several days or weeks, where you do nothing but focus intensely on learning and improving your skills. It is this undistracted time that allows for finding connections, patterns and reaching a level of understanding that few people in your field can attain.
- The guiding principle for being among the best in the world at what you do is based on a Steve Martin quote. When he was a struggling comedian and his audiences were having difficulty grasping the sort of comedy he wanted to do, he decided that the best way forward was, “To be so good they can’t ignore you.” Obviously this mantra work exceedingly well for Steve Martin, and I would suggest that it will work well for you too.
In his riveting new book, The Art of Learning, Waitzkin tells his remarkable story of personal achievement and shares the principles of learning and performance that have propelled him to the top–twice.
Josh Waitzkin knows what it means to be at the top of his game. A public figure since winning his first National Chess Championship at the age of nine, Waitzkin was catapulted into a media whirlwind as a teenager when his father’s book “ Searching for Bobby Fischer” was made into a major motion picture. After dominating the scholastic chess world for ten years, Waitzkin expanded his horizons, taking on the martial art Tai Chi Chuan and ultimately earning the title of World Champion. How was he able to reach the pinnacle of two disciplines that on the surface seem so different? “I’ve come to realize that what I am best at is not Tai Chi, and it is not chess,” he says. “What I am best at is the art of learning.”
What I gleaned from Josh and many of the ideas that Cal described in his books, was that to become the best in the world at what you do takes time, a massive amount of deliberate practice and an intense focus on the subject you wish to master.
Since I have been named among the top 100 in the world at what I do, I can tell you from experience that these two brilliant gentlemen are absolutely correct in their findings and advice. I have never met anyone who was truly spectacular in their craft who did not devote many years of work, focus, effort, and training in their relentless drive to the the best. However, you’ll notice that I did not say “hard work” because another factor that strongly impacts the ability to succeed at a high level is: Passion. When you are deeply passionate about the area of your study, pushing yourself unceasingly in an effort for countless improvement does not feel like work, it is pure joy. Many people ask me how I can possibly read more than 100 business books a year and the answer is very clear; it’s a ton of fun for me. I love to read and learn about business because I’ve dedicated my life to helping businesses and people around the world be more successful. So every hour I am hunched over a book or my iPad, taking notes and trying desperately to learn new ideas that will assist me in my quest, is truly one of the most enjoyable parts of my life.
Therefore, if you aspire to be among the best in the world at what you do here is a formula that might help you do just that:
Passion + Persistence + Deep Work X Deliberate Practice = World-Class
I very much look forward to your comments – John
Here is a very brief video on two good books and one awesome question. I hope you will take a few minutes to try to answer this question and please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below…
I wish you every possible happiness and success – John
In case you have not watched it, here is a link to my recent video on:
When I first got into the training and consulting business I really believed that it was critical that I demonstrate an exceedingly high level of competence and a strong confidence in my ideas. Often times when a client felt that I was wrong, I would argue with them and defend my position with vigor in an attempt to prove that I was right and they were wrong. Then one day I had an epiphany…
I was not right.
Actually, I am never right.
The truth is there are often multiple right answers. My ideas are based purely on my opinion and every person in my classes has a right to their opinion too. Each of them has a unique background, with unique experiences and they have seen, read and learned all kinds of things I have never been exposed to. No matter what my answer is to a question, it is extremely rare that my answer is the only right answer.
As soon as I realized that, everything became easy.
I no longer had to defend, argue, persuade or attempt to prove that I was right – because I knew I wasn’t. Sure, I’ve had a lot of business experience, read thousands of books, worked in hundreds of different companies all over the world – but still, at the end of the day, I’m just giving a thoughtful guess as to what I think the answer might be. I could be completely wrong, I have been several times in the past, and I will be several times in the future. However, there’s also a very good chance that I will be right, or at least my idea will work well, perhaps as well or better than other people’s ideas.
Adopting this position allows me to be fearless, because it is impossible for me to fail.
I offer my opinion, I give some feedback, I suggest the very best ideas I can possibly think of, and then is up to the other person if they want to accept my idea or reject it. It’s just an idea. If they hate it, that does not matter at all, they are perfectly welcome to think that my idea is terrible. But here’s the most important point: that doesn’t mean I’m terrible or stupid or incompetent, it just means they didn’t like my idea. Big deal.
Luckily, the people that hire me are typically inclined to be interested in my ideas and most often think they are pretty good and even sometimes excellent. Again, that’s nice, but it doesn’t crush my soul if someone feels I’m completely off-base and have no idea what I’m talking about.
It’s just an idea…big deal.
I look forward to your thoughts – do you think I’m right?
I have just returned from a trip to Kraków, Poland where I was invited by the US Consulate to be the keynote speaker at the Polish American Innovation Bridge event. I also had the opportunity to give a speech at the Polytechnic Institute. I found the Polish entrepreneurs I met to be very energetic, enthusiastic and passionate about building businesses. However, there was one theme that ran through all of the comments and questions which was, “What happens if I fail?” There seemed to be an overwhelming fear of failure across the groups I spoke with. The event organizers asked me to focus on two special areas, how to handle failure and how to successfully network with other entrepreneurs and business people. It also seems that the current Polish entrepreneurial culture does not support the idea of win/win networking. Many of the students and entrepreneurs I talked to were very worried about sharing their ideas with anyone else and did not believe that other entrepreneurs in their community would be willing to help them, so in large part they decided to go it alone.
Earlier this year I spent a good deal of time in Australia and New Zealand working with business people and entrepreneurs there. I find it fascinating that they had almost the opposite fear: the fear of success. There is a saying that they have in Australia and New Zealand, “The tall poppy syndrome.” If you, as a poppy, grow too tall compared to the rest of the poppies, they cut you down to size. In these cultures if you are too successful it agitates the people around you who are not as successful and you are put under a great deal of peer pressure to conform to the societal norms of not sticking out. The question I kept getting in Australia and New Zealand was, “How do you think so big in America?” They just couldn’t understand the idea of wanting to grow a billion-dollar company or the desire to be hugely successful, and said that in their business culture colleagues often tried to keep you in a more “reasonable” frame of mind when talking about business growth.
Let me be very clear, I was extremely impressed in Poland, Australia and New Zealand with the very bright and talented entrepreneurs I met. They were curious and wanted to find out how to improve themselves and their businesses. And not everyone I met fits in the categories I mentioned above, but I did find it interesting to see the stark differences in the different cultures. What’s even more fascinating is that I have run into all of the same issues working with entrepreneurs in America. They are fearful of failure, afraid to be too successful and reluctant to share their ideas and ask for help from the other entrepreneurs and business owners around them.
So my question to you is, do you suffer from any of these three entrepreneurial fears?
I look forward to your thoughts – John
Because I teach business excellence for living and have won a few “Thought Leader” awards I often have people ask me, “John, how do you become the best in the world at something?” The answer is very simple, but definitely not easy. Here is my advice on how you become world-class.
You have to define very clearly what you hope to become world-class at and then focus on that intensely. People do not become truly great at something by happenstance, it’s because they’ve identified exactly where they want to excel, studied it very carefully, created a detailed plan, enlisted a group of supporters and helpers and then dedicated their life to becoming among the best-of-the-best in their chosen field. IMPORTANT: You’ll notice that I put “among the best” not “best in the world,” because to actually be number one on the face of the earth at something is exceedingly challenging. It is one thing to be really, really good at something, it is a completely different pursuit to be the undisputed global leader, so be careful what you wish for.
Once you have determined where you want to be considered as one of the best, then you must have the discipline to get up every day, follow your plan and take all of the steps necessary to become world-class. There is a significant amount of research that supports the idea that it takes about 10 years or 10,000 hours of persistent and disciplined practice to achieve world-class status. I recently read that if you were to pick one business topic and study it for one hour a day, seven days a week, for seven years…at the end of those seven years you’d be considered a national authority on that subject. I know that sounds ludicrous, but I’m living proof. I have read a minimum of 100 business books year every year since 1989 (this does not even include magazines, white papers, blogs, videos and audio books) and have been named one of the Top 100 business thought leaders in America and one of the top 500 leadership development experts in the world. I am not a genius, I’m just very, very focused on the topic of business and leadership excellence and have dedicated 26 years of my life to learning everything I possibly could about those topics. With enough discipline, you can achieve the same level of expertise in any area that you might choose (as long as you are physically able).
The amount of disciplined action you apply will in large part determine your success. A little bit of focus; not quite sure where you want to go… a little bit of discipline; you don’t always do what you’re supposed to do… a little bit of action; you don’t really try that hard – the outcome is mediocrity. If you choose someplace where you deeply and passionately want to be regarded as world-class, exercise extreme discipline in pursuing your plan and apply massive action… you will likely look up in several years and realize that you are among the best in the world in that area.
Yes, it is just that simple and just that difficult!
To make my point even more strongly (definitely not to blow my own horn), I hope you’ll take a moment to read the press release below. I was recently recognized by the American Management Association for a cool designation and was blown away by the other people on the list. Also, I’ve been nominated for a different award which is considered the single most prestigious management and leadership award in the world, the Thinkers 50. Part of this award is based on voting, so if you feel that I deserve your vote I would be extremely appreciative if you would take just a minute and fill in the needed information to cast your vote for me (you can only vote once).
For those of you that aspire to be among the best in the world at what you do, I hope that you will use the formula of: FOCUS + DISCIPLINE x ACTION to assist you in your quest to be world-class.
John Spence Named one of the top 50 leaders for 2015
The American Management Association, one of the world’s most respected business and professional development organizations, has named John Spence as one of the top 50 leaders to watch in 2015.
As part of AMA’s continuing mission to provide the best resources and insights from the world’s leading business minds, this list was created to highlight the work of some of today’s most impactful business leaders. According to the organization’s website, “These influential business leaders have contributed to the business world in many ways, and AMA is excited at the potential contributions and innovations they will make in 2015.”
This prestigious award for John Spence comes on the heels of recently being named by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speaker’s in America and by HR.com as one of the Top 500 leadership development experts in the world. In the last year Spence has also been recognized by Small Business Magazine as one of the top 100 small business influencers in America.
“I am extremely honored to be on this list,” said Spence. “I have spent my entire career trying to help businesses and people be more successful and this is a wonderful validation that my work is making a positive impact.” Other leaders on the 2015 list include, Jeff Bezos the CEO of Amazon, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, strategy guru Henry Mintzberg, world renowned consultant Ram Charan and leadership experts Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.
About John Spence: John has presented workshops, speeches and executive coaching to more than 400 organizations worldwide from firms such as Microsoft , Coca-Cola, GE and IBM, to dozens of private companies, non-profits and associations. He is the author of four books and has been a guest lecturer at over 90 universities including Stanford, Cornell, the Wharton School of Business and the Entrepreneurial Masters Program at MIT.
About the AMA: For over 90 years, American Management Association International (AMA) has been a world leader in professional development. Organizations worldwide, including 90% of the Fortune 500, turn to AMA as their trusted partner.
Here is a link to the Thinkers 50 voting page, I cannot possibly thank you enough for taking a moment to vote for me if you feel that I am worthy of this award.
You will need this information to cast your vote:
Person who gets your vote: John Spence
Person’s title: Managing Partner
Person’s organization: John Spence, LLC
Person’s email address: John@JohnSpence.com