Categories
Book reviews

Can’t Hurt Me: Notes

Wow, what a fantastic book! The story of David Goggins journey from abuse and obesity to becoming the (perhaps) worlds hardest man is extraordinary. He describes the process he has gone through, starting with a very rough childhood with an abusive father, becoming fat and lazy, never working out, to joining the Navy SEALs, running ultra marathons and setting a world record for most pull-ups in 24 hours…

David Goggins
David Goggins

The hardest man god ever created

Notes & takeaways

To the unrelenting voice in my head that will never allow me to stop

Do you know who you really are and what you’re capable of? I’m sure you think so, but just because you believe something doesn’t make it true. Denial is the ultimate comfort zone.

Motivation changes exactly nobody. The bad hand that was my life was mine, and mine alone to fix. So I sought out pain, fell in love with suffering, and eventually transformed myself from the weakest piece of shit on the planet into the hardest man god ever created, or so I tell myself.

Human beings change through study, habit, and stories. Through my story you will learn what the body and mind are capable of when they’re driven to maximum capacity, and how to get there.

The Accountability Mirror

“Look at you,” I said. “Why do you think the air force wants your punk ass? You stand for nothing. You are an embarrassment.” I reached for the shaving cream, smoothed a thin coat over my face, unwrapped a fresh razor and kept talking as I shaved.
“You are one dumb motherfucker. You read like a third grader. You’re a fucking joke! You’ve never tried hard at anything in your life besides basketball, and you have goals? That’s fucking hilarious.”
After shaving peach fuzz from my cheeks and chin, I lathered up my scalp. I was desperate for a change. I wanted to become someone new.
“You don’t see people in the military sagging their pants. You need to stop talking like a wanna-be-gangster. None of this shit is going to cut it! No more taking the easy way out. It’s time to grow the fuck up!”

A new ritual was born, one that stayed with me for years. It would help me get my grades up, whip my sorry ass into shape, and see me to graduation and into the Air Force. The ritual was simple. I’d shave my face and scalp every night, get loud, and get real. I set goals, wrote them on Post-It notes, and tagged them to what I now call the Accountability Mirror, because each day I’d hold myself accountable to the goals I’d set. At first my goals involved shaping up my appearance and accomplishing all my chores without having to be asked.
Make your bed like you’re in the military every day!
Pull up your pants!
Shave your head every morning!
Cut the grass!
Wash all dishes!
The accountability mirror kept me on point from then on, and though I was still young when this strategy came through me, since then I’ve found it useful for people at any stage in life.

If You look in the mirror and you see a fat person, don’t tell yourself that you need to lose a couple of pounds. Tell the truth. You’re fucking fat! It’s okay. Just say you’re fat if you’re fat. The dirty mirror that you see every day is going to tell you the truth every time, so why are you still lying to yourself? So you can feel better for a few minutes and stay the fucking same? If you’re fat you need to change the fact that you’re fat because it’s very fucking unhealthy. I know because I’ve been there.

Tip: Can’t Hurt Me pair well with Born To Run

If you have worked for thirty years doing the same shit you’ve hated day in and day out because you were afraid to quit and take a risk, you’ve been living like a pussy. Period, point blank. Tell yourself the truth! That you’ve wasted enough time, and that you have other dreams that will take courage to realize, so you don’t die a fucking pussy. Call yourself out!

Your life is not fucked up because of overt rascists or hidden systemic racism. You aren’t missing out on opportunities, making shit money, and getting evicted because of America or Donalf fucking Trump or some people hate immigrants or jews or harass women or believe gay people are going to hell. If any of that shit is stopping you from excelling in life, I’ve got some news. You are stopping you!

You are giving up instead of getting hard! Tell the truth about the real reasons for your limitations and you will turn that negativity, which is real, into jet fuel. Those odds stacked against you will become a damn runway!

No time to waste

There is no more time to waste. Hours and days evaporate like creeks in the desert. That’s why it’s okay to be cruel to yourself as long as you realize you’re doing it to become better. We all need thicker skin to improve in life. Being soft when you look in the mirror isn’t going to inspire the wholesale changes we need to shift our present and open up our future.

During my senior year in high school, all I cared about was working out, playing basketball, and studying, and it was the Accountability Mirror that kept me motivated to keep pushing toward something better. I woke up before dawn and started going to the gym most mornings at 5 a.m. before school to hit the weights. I ran all the damn time. One night I ran thirteen miles – the most I’d ever run in my entire life.

Craving discomfort

From that point, I brainwashed myself into craving discomfort. If it was raining, I would go run. Whenever it started snowing, my mind would say, Get your fucking running shoes on. Sometimes I wussed out and had to deal with it at the Accountability Mirror. But facing that mirror, facing myself, motivated me to fight through uncomfortable experiences, and, as a result, I became tougher. And being tough and resilient helped me meet my goals.

Memorization

After my mother realized I was serious about joining the Air Force, she found me a tutor who helped me figure out a system I could use to learn. That system was memorization. I couldn’t learn just by scratching a few notes and memorizing those. I had to read a text book and write each page down in my notebook. Then do it again a second and third time. That’s how knowledge stuck to the mirror of my mind. Not through learning, but through transcription, memorization, and recall.

When you have no confidence it becomes easy to value other people’s opinions, and I was valuing everyone’s opinion without considering the minds that generated them

As soon as I realized that, being upset with them was not worth my time. Because if I was gonna kick their ass in life, and I was, I had way too much shit to do. Each insult or dismissive gesture became more fuel for the engine revving inside me.

Goals

Whether it’s a career goal (quit my job, start a business), a lifestyle goal (lose weight, get more active), or an athletic one (run my first 5k, 10k, or marathon), you need to be truthful with yourself about where you are and the necessary steps it will take to achieve those goals, day by day. Each step, each necessary point of self-improvement, should be written as its own note. That means you have to do some research and break it all down. For example, if you are trying to lose forty pounds, your first Post-It may be to lose two pounds in the first week. Once that goal is achieved, remove the note and post the next goal of two to five pounds until your ultimate goal is realized.

SEAL training

They say you like suffering, Goggins. That you think you’re a bad motherfucker. Enjoy your extended stay in Hell!

Just getting through Hell Week would be the biggest honor of my life so far. Even if I never graduated from BUD/S, surviving Hell Week alone would have meant something. But I didn’t just survive. I was about to finish Hell Week at the top of my class, and for the first time, I knew I was a bad motherfucker.

Once, I was so focused on failing, I was afraid to even try. Now I would take on any challenge. All my life, I was terrified of water, and especially cold water, but standing there in the final hour. I wished the ocean, wind, and mud were even colder! I was completely transformed physically, which was a big part of my success in BUD/S, but what saw me through Hell Week was my mind, and I was just starting to tap into its power.

In a society where mediocrity is too often the standard and too often rewarded, there is intense fascination with men who detest mediocrity, who refuse to define themselves in conventional terms, and who seek to transcend traditionally recognized human capabilities.

Never forget that all emotional and physical anguish is finite! It all ends eventually. Smile at pain and watch it fade for at least a second or two. If you can do that, you can string those seconds together and last longer than your opponent thinks you can, and that may be enough to catch a second wind.

Challenge: Taking souls

Choose any competitive situation you’re in right now. Who is your opponent? Is it your teacher or coach, your boss, an unruly client? No matter how they’re treating you there is one way to not only earn their respect, but turn the tables: Excellence.

That may mean acing an exam, or crafting an ideal proposal, or smashing a sales goal. Whatever it is, I want you to work harder on that project or in that class than you ever have before. Do everything exactly as they ask, and whatever standard they set as an ideal outcome, you should be aiming to surpass that.

If your coach doesn’t give you time in the games, dominate practice. Check the best guy on your squad and show the fuck out. That means putting time in off the field. Watching film so you can study your opponent’s tendencies, memorizing plays, and training in the gym. You need to make that coach pay attention. If it’s your teacher, then start doing work of high quality. Spend extra time on your assignments. Write papers for her that she didn’t even assign! Come early to class. Ask questions. Pay attention. Show her who you are and want to be.

If it’s a boss, work around the clock. Get to work before them. Leave after they go home. Make sure they see that shit, and when it’s time to deliver, surpass their maximum expectations.

Whoever you’re dealing with, your goal is to make them watch you achieve what they could never have done themselves. You want them thinking how amazing you are. Take their negativity and use it to dominate their task with everythin you’ve got. Take their motherfucking soul!

Armored mind

Time stood still as I realized for the first time that I’d always looked at my entire life, everything I’d been through, from the wrong perspective. Yes, all the abuse I’d experienced and the negativity I had to push through challenged me to the core, but in that moment I stopped seeing myself as the victim of bad circumstance, and saw my life as the ultimate training ground instead.

My palms were soft and quickly got torn up on the bars because they weren’t accustomed to gripping steel. But over time, after thousands of reps, my palms built up a thick callous as protection. The same principle works when it comes to mindset. Until you experience hardships like abuse and bullying, failures and disappointments, your mind will remain soft and exposed. Life experience, especially negative experiences, help callous the mind.

Hell Week is designed to show you that a human is capable of much more than you know. It opens your mind to the true possibilities of human potential, and with that comes a change in your mentality. You no longer fear cold water or doing push-ups all day. You realize that no matter what they do to you, they will never break you.

Yes, it was miserable, but I fucking loved it. I thrived off of the barbaric beauty of seeing the soul of a man destroyed, only to rise again and overcome every obstacle in his path.

Doubt

The sympathetic nervous system is your fight or flight reflex. It’s bubbling just below the surface, and when you are lost, stressed out, or struggling, like I was when I was a down and lost kid, that’s the part of your mind that’s driving the bus. We’ve all tasted this feeling before. Those mornings when going on a run is the last thing you want to do, but then twenty minutes into it you feel energized, that’s the work of the sympathetic nervous system. What I’ve found is that you can tap into it on-call as long as you know how to manage your own mind.

Tip: read my notes on “The Compound Effect” which is also a great book on self improvement

No matter the task at hand, there is always opportunity for self-doubt. Whenever you decide to follow a dream or set a goal, you are just as likely to come up with all the reasons why likelihood of success is low. Blame it on the fucked-up evolutionary wiring of the human mind. But you don’t have to let your doubt into the cockpit! You can tolerate doubt as a backseat driver, but if you put doubt in the pilot’s seat, defeat is guaranteed.

Sounds simple, right? It isn’t. Very few people even bother to try to control the way their thoughts and doubts bubble up. The vast majority of us are slaves to our minds. Most don’t even make the first effort when it comes to mastering their thought process because it’s a never-ending chore and impossible to get right every time.

There is no shame in getting knocked out. The shame comes when you throw in the motherfucking towel, and if I was born to suffer, then I may as well take my medicine

After finishing Hell Week

“Mr. Skop is dead,” the captain said. He took stock of the room. His words had been a collective gut punch to men who were already on the knife’s edge after nearly a week with no sleep and no relief. The captain didn’t give a fuck. “This is the world you live in. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last to die in your line of work.” He looked over at Mr. Skop’s roommate and said, “Mr. Moore, don’t steal any of his shit.” Then he left the room like it was just another fucked-up day.
I felt torn between grief, nausea, and relief. I was sad and sick to my stomach that Mr. Skop had died, but we were all relieved to have survived Hell Week, plus the way the captain handled it was straight ahead, no bullshit, and I remembered thinking if all SEALs were like him, this would definitely be the world for me. Talk about mixed emotions.

Was it possible to survive this, day after day? I thought about quitting. If failure was my future and I’d have to rethink my life completely, what was the point of this exercise? Why delay the inevitable? Was I fucked in the head? Each and every thought boiled down to the same old simple quistion: why?
“The only way to guarantee failure is to quit right now, motherfucker!” I was talking to myself now. “People have a hard time going through BUD/S healthy, and you’re going through it on broken legs! Who else would even think of this?” I asked. “Who else would be able to run even one minute on one broken leg, let alone two? Only Goggins! You are twenty minutes in the business, Goggins! You are a fucking machine! Each step you run from now until the end will only make you harder!”

No matter where we were stationed, we got after it every single morning. We’d meet up at 4 a.m. and get to it. Sometimes that meant running up the side of a mountain before hitting the O-Course at high speed and carrying logs up and over the berm and down the beach. In BUD/S, usually six men carried those logs. We did it with just the two of us. On another day we rocked a pull-up pyramid, hitting sets of one, all the way up to twenty, and back down to one again. After every other set we’d climb a rope forty feet high. One thousand pull-ups before breakfast became our new mantra. At first, Sledge struggled to rock one set of ten pull-ups. Within months he’d lost thirty-five pounds and was hitting one hundred sets of ten!

Warming up for a 100 mile race

Also, I didn’t exactly come in well-rested. The night before the race, I passed by the SEAL Team Five gym on my way off base after work, and peeked in like I always did, just to see who was getting after it. The captain was inside warming up, and called out. “Goggins, let’s jack some fucking steel!” I laughed. He stared me down. “You know, Goggins,” he said, stepping closer, “when the Vikings were getting ready to raid a fucking village, and they were camped out in the fucking woods in their goddam tents made out of fucking deer hides and shit, sitting around a campfire, do you think they said, “Hey, let’s have some herbal fucking tea” and call it an early night? Or were they more like, “Fuck that, we are going to drink some vodka made out of some mushrooms and get all drunked up”, so the next morning when they were all hung-over and pissed off they would be in the ideal mood to slaughter the shit out of some people?”
The captain could be a funny motherfucker when he wanted to be, and he could see me wavering, considering my options. On the one hand, that man would always be my BUD/S instructor and he was one of the few instructors who was still hard, putting out, and living the SEAL ethos every day. I’ll always want to impress him. Jacking weights the night before my firsts 100 mile race would definitely impress that masochistic motherfucker. Plus, his logic made some fucked-up sense to me. I needed to get my mind ready to go to war, and lifting heavy would be my way of saying, bring on all your pain and misery, I’m ready to go! But, honestly, who does that before running a hundred fucking miles?

Challenge

Set ambitious goals before each workout and let those past victories carry you to new personal bests. If it’s a run or bike ride, include some time to do interval work and challenge yourself to beat your best mile split. Or simply maintain a maximum heart rate for a full minute, then two minutes. If you’re at home, focus on pull-ups or push-ups. Do as many as possible in two minutes. Then try to beat your best. When the pain hits and tries to stop you, dunk your fist in and let it fuel you!
If you’re more focused on intellectual growth, train yourself to study harder and longer than ever before, or read a record number of books in a given month.

before a race his girlfriend was going to run-
Kate was ready to go. Her goal was to break five hours, and for once, I was satisfied being a cheerleader. My mom had always planned on walking it, and I figured I’d stroll with her for as long as I could, then hail a cab to the finish line and cheer my ladies to the tape.
The three of us toed up with the masses as the clock struck 7 a.m., and someone got on the mic to begin the official count down. “Ten…nine…eight…” When he hit one, a horn sounded, and like Pavlov’s dog something clicked inside me. I still don’t know what it was. Perhaps I underestimated my competitive spirit. Maybe it was because I knew Navy SEALs were supposed to be the hardest motherfuckers in the world. We were supposed to run on broken legs and fractured feet. Or so went the legend I’d bought into long ago. Whatever it was, something triggered and the last thing I remember seeing as the horn echoed down the street was shock and real concern on the faces of Kate and my mother as I charged down the boulevard and out of sight.

What am I capable of?
I couldn’t answer that question, but as I looked around the finish line that day and considered what I’d accomplished, it became clear that we were all leaving a lot of money on the table without realizing it. We habitually settle for less than our best; at work, in school, in our relationships, and on the playing field or race course. We settle as individuals, and we teach our children to settle for less than their best, and all of that ripples out, merges, and multiplies within our communities and society as a whole. We’re not talking some bad weekend in Vegas, no more cash at the ATM kind of loss either. In that moment, the cost of missing out on so much excellence in this eternally fucked-up world felt incalculable to me, and it still does. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Training hard

I ran that sixteen-mile stretch at least three times a week. Some days I ran home too, and on Fridays I added a ruck run. Inside the radio pouch of my standard issue ruck sack, I slid two twenty-five-pound weights and ran fully loaded for as many as twenty miles to build quad strength. I loved waking up at 5 a.m. and starting work with three hours of cardio already in the bank while most of my teammates hadn’t even finished their coffee. It gave me a mental edge, a better sense of self-awareness, and a ton of self-confidence, which made me a better SEAL instructor. That’s what getting up at the ass crack of dawn and putting out will do for you. It makes you better in all facets of your life.

By now, I’m sure you can tell that it doesn’t take much for me to become obsessed. Some criticize my level of passion, but I’m not down with the prevailing mentalities that tend to dominate American society these days; the ones that tell us to go with the flow or invite us to learn how to get more with less effort. Fuck that shortcut bullshit. The reason I embrace my own obsessions and demand and desire more of myself is because I’ve learned that it’s only when I push beyond pain and suffering, past my perceived limitations, that I’m capable of accomplishing more, physically and mentally – in endurance races but also in life as a whole. And I believe the same is true for you.

Our culture has become hooked on the quick-fix, the life hack, efficiency. Everyone is on the hunt for that simple action algorithm that nets maximum profit with the least amount of effort. There’s no denying this attitude may get you some of the trappings of success, if you’re lucky, but it will not lead to a calloused mind or self-mastery. If you want to master the mind and remove your internal governor, you’ll have to become addicted to hard work. Because passion and obsession, even talent, are only useful tools if you have the work ethic to back them up.

Sadly, most of us give up when we’ve only given around 40 percent of our maximum effort. Even when we feel like we’ve reached our absolute limit, we still have 60 percent more to give! It takes twenty years to gain twenty years of experience, and the only way to move beyond your 40 percent is to callous your mind, day after day. Which means you’ll have to chase pain like it’s your damn job!

Life is one big mind game. The only person you are playing against is yourself. Stick with this process and soon what you thought was impossible will be something you do every fucking day of your life.

Over a period of time, your tolerance for mental and physical suffering will have expanded because your software will have learned that you can take a hell of a lot more than one punch, and if you stay with any task thay is trying to beat you down, you will reap rewards.

Our minds are fucking strong, they are our most powerful weapon, but we have stopped using them. We have access to so many more resources today than ever before and yet we are so much less capable than those who came before us. If you want to be one of the few to defy those trends in our ever-softening society, you will have to be willing to go to war with yourself and create a whole new identity, which requires an open mind.

If you are on the hunt for your 100 percent you should catalog your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Don’t ignore them. Be prepared for them.

Ultraman

I took the bike and logged over 1,000 miles in the three weeks prior to Ultraman. I’d wake up at 4 a.m. and get one hundred-mile rides in before work. On weekends I’d ride 125 miles, get off the bike and run a marathon, but I only did six training swims, just two in the open water, and in the ultra octagon all your weaknesses are revealed.

In one stretch in 2007, I ran an ultra almost every weekend. There were fifty-mile races, 100-kilometer races, 100-mile races, and longer ones too. I was all about spreading the Navy SEAL legend that I loved, and wanted to be true and living our ethos.

Maybe you think I’m a special case or an obsessive maniac. Fine, I won’t argue with you. But what about my friend Mike? He’s a big-time financial advisor in New York City. His job is high pressure and his work day is a hell of a lot longer than eight hours. He has a wife and two kids, and he’s a ultra runner. Here’s how he does it. He wakes up at 4 a.m. every weekday, runs sixty to ninety minutes each morning while his family is still snoozing, rides a bike to work and back and does a quick thirty minute treadmill run after he gets home. He goes out for longer runs on weekends, but he minimizes its impact on his family obligations. He’s high-powered, wealthy as fuck, and could easily maintain his status quo with less effort and enjoy the sweet fruits of his labors, but he finds a way to stay hard because his labors are his sweetest fruits. And he makes time to get it all in by minimizing the amount of bullshit clogging his schedule. His priorities are clear, and he remains dedicated to his priorities. I’m not talking about general priorities here either. Each hour of his week is dedicated to a particular task and when that hour shows up in real time, he focuses 100 percent on that task. That’s how I do it too, because that is the only way to minimize wasted hours.
Evaluate your life in its totality! We all waste so much time doing meaningless bullshit. We burn hours on social media and watching television, which by the end of the year would add up to entire days and weeks if you tabulated time like you do your taxes. You should, because if you knew the truth you’d deactivate your Facebook account ASAP, and cut your cable. When you find yourself having frivolous conversations or becoming ensnared in activities that don’t better you in any way, move the fuck on!

Perhaps you aren’t looking to get fit, but have been dreaming of starting a business of your own, or have always wanted to learn a language or an instrument you’re obsessed with. Fine, the same rule applies. Analyze your schedule, kill your empty habits, burn out the bullshit, and see what’s left. Is it one hour per day? Three? Now maximize that shit. That means listing your prioritized tasks every hour of the day.

The 24 hour mission

The whole point of the twenty-four-hour mission is to keep up a championship pace, not for a season or a year, but for your entire life! That requires quality rest and recovery time. Because there is no finish line. There is always more to learn, and you will always have weaknesses to strengthen if you want to become as hard as woodpecker lips. Hard enough to hammer countless miles, and finish that shit strong!

Are you an experienced scuba diver? Great, shed your gear, take a deep breath and become a one-hundred-foot free diver. Are you a badass triathlete? Cool, learn how to rock climb. Are you enjoying a wildly successful career? Wonderful, learn a new language or skill. Get a second degree. Always be willing to embrace ignorance and become the dumb fuck in the classroom again, because that is the only way to expand your body of knowledge and body of work. It’s the only way to expand your mind.

In life, there is no gift as overlooked or inevitable as failure. I’ve had quite a few and have learned to relish them, because if you do the forensics you’ll find clues about where to make adjustments and how to eventually accomplish your task.

Breaking the world record for pull-ups

After seventeen hours of pain, around 3 a.m. on January 20, 2013, I did my 4021st pull-up, and the record was mine. Everyone in the gym cheered, but I stayed composed. After two more sets and 4030 total pull-ups, I took my headphones out, stared into the camera and said, “I tracked you down, Stephen Hyland!”
In one day, I’d lifted the equivalent of 846,030 punds, nearly three times the weight of the Space Shuttle! Cheers spread to laughter as I pulled off my gloves and disappeared into the back room, but much to everyone’s surprise, I was not in the mood to celebrate. Does that shock you too? You know that my refrigerator is never full, and it never will be because I live a mission-driven life, always on the hunt for the next challenge. That mindset is the reason I broke that record, finished Badwater, became a SEAL, rocked Ranger School, and on down the list. In my mind I’m that racehorse always chasing a carrot I’ll never catch, forever trying to prove myself to myself. And when you live that way and attain a goal, success feels anti-climactic.

At first, when you push beyond your perceived capability your mind won’t shut the fuck up about it. It wants you to stop so it sends you into a spin cycle of panic and doubt, which only amplifies your self-torture. But when you persist past that to the point that pain fully saturates the mind, you become single-pointed. The external world zeroes out. Boundaries dissolve and you feel connected to yourself, and to all things, in the depth of your soul. That’s what I was after.

The Buddha famously said that life is suffering. I’m not a Buddhist, but I know what he meant and so do you. To exist in this world, we must contend with humiliation, broken dreams, sadness, and loss. That’s just nature. Each specific life comes with its own personalized portion of pain. It’s coming for you. You can’t stop it. And you know it.
In response, most of us are programmed to seek comfort as a way to numb it all out and cushion the blows. We carve out safe spaces. We consume media that confirms our beliefs, we take up hobbies aligned with our talents, we try to spend as little time as possible doint the tasks we fucking loathe, and that makes us soft. We live a life defined by the limits we imagine and desire for ourselves because it’s comfortable as hell in that box. Not just for us, but for our closest family and friends. The limits we create and accept become the lens through which they see us. Through which they love and appreciate us.

The internal voice

But it’s not the external voice that will break you down. It’s what you tell yourself that matters. The most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones you’ll have with yourself. You wake up with them, you walk around with them, you go to bed with them, and eventually you act on them. Whether they be good or bad.
We are all our worst haters and doubters because self doubt is a natural reaction to any bold attempt to change your life for the better. You can’t stop it from blooming in your brain, but you can neutralize it, and all the other external chatter by asking, what if?
What if is an exquisite fuck-you to anyone who has ever doubted your greatness or stood in your way.

We live in a world with a lot of insecure, jealous people. Some of them are our best friends. They are blood relatives. Failure terrifies them. So does our success. Because when we transcend what we once thought was possible, push our limits, and become more, our light reflects off all the walls they’ve built up around them. Your light enables them to see the countours of their own prison, their own self-limitations. But if they are truly the great people you always believed them to be, their jelousy will evolve, and soon their imagination might hop its fence, and it will be their turn to change for the better.

Unsure what to read next? The Obstacle Is The Way explores similar ideas and mindsets as Can’t Hurt Me.

Categories
Book reviews

The Obstacle Is The Way: Notes

This was my first real introduction to the philosophy of Stoicism. Having heard a lot about it from the Tim Ferriss Podcast, I was eager to dive deeper into it. This book was a great place to start, as it delivers clear and actionable principles.

Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday

A media strategist and prominent writer on strategy and business.

Notes & takeaways

I think Stoicism is a deeply fascinating and critically important philosophy. But I also understand that you live in the real world, and you don’t have time for a history lecture. What you want are real strategies to help you with your problems, so that’s what this book is going to be. – Ryan Holiday

This thing in front of you. This issue. This obstacle – this frustrating, unfortunate, problematic, unexpected problem preventing you from doing what you want to do. That thing you dread or secretly hope will never happen. What if it wasn’t so bad?

What if embedded inside it or inherent in it were certain benefits – benefits only for you? What would you do? What do you think most people would do?

Probably what they’ve always done, and what you are doing right now: nothing.

The discipline of perception
There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try:

  • To be objective
  • To control emotions
  • To choose to see the good in the situation
  • To steady our nerves
  • To ignore what disturbs or limits others
  • To place things in perspective
  • To revert to the present moment
  • To focus on what can be controlled

See things for what they are.
Do what we can.
Endure and bear what we must.

What blocked the path is now the path.
What once impeded action advances action.
The obstacle is the way.

Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.

Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel

Recognize your power

Just because your mind tells you that something is awful or evil or unplanned or otherwise negative doesn’t mean you have to agree. Just because other people say that something is hopeless or crazy or broken to pieces doesn’t mean it is. We decide what story to tell ourselves. Or whether we will tell one at all.

There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.

Choose not to be harmed – and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been.

Marcus Aurelius

Live in the present moment

It doesn’t matter whether this is the worst time to be alive or the best, whether you’re in a good job market or a bad one, or that the obstacle you face is intimidating or burdensome. What matters is that right now is right now.


Think differently

Having learned early in life that reality was falsely hemmed in by rules and compromises that people had been thaught as children, Steve Jobs had a much more aggressive idea of what was or wasn’t possible. To him, when you factored in vision and work ethic, much of life was malleable.

For more inspiration on thinking differently, read my notes on The Everything Store

This is radically different from how we’ve been taught to act. Be realistic, we’re told. Listen to feedback. Play well with others. Compromise. Well, what if the “other” party is wrong? What if conventional wisdom is too conservative? It’s this all-too-common impulse to complain, defer, and then give up that holds us back.


Finding the opportunity

A good person dyes events with his own color, and turns whatever happens to his own benefit.

Seneca

The Blitzkrieg strategy was designed to exploit the flinch of the enemy – he must collapse at the sight of what appears to be overwhelming force. Its success depends completely on this response. This military strategy works because the set-upon troops see the offensive force as an enormous obstacle bearing down on them.
This is how the allied opposition regarded the Blitzkrieg for most of the war. They could see only its power, and their own vulnerability to it.


Take that longtime rival at work (or that rival company), the one who causes endless headaches? Note the fact that they also:

  • Keep you alert
  • Raises the stakes
  • motivate you to prove them wrong
  • harden you
  • help you to appreciate true friends
  • provide an instructive antilog – an example of whom you don’t want to become

Or that computer glitch that erased all your work? You will now be twice as good at it since you will do it again.

When people are:
Rude or disrespectful:
They underestimate us. A huge advantage.

Conniving:
We won’t have to apologize when we make an example out of them.

Critical or question our abilities:
Lower expectations are easier to exceed.

Lazy:
Makes whatever we accomplish seem all the more admirable.


Build your inner citadel

We take weakness for granted. We assume that the way we’re born is the way we simply are, that our disadvantages are permanent. And then we atrophy from there. Nobody is born with a steel backbone. We have to forge that ourselves.


Anticipation

If only more people had been thinking worst-case scenario at critical points in our lifetimes: the tech bubble, Enron, 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, and the real estate bubble might ave been avoidable. No one wanted to consider what could happen, and the result? Catastrophe.

Book notes: Zero To One

Today, the premortem is increasingly popular in business circles, from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies and the Harvard Business Review. But like all great ideas, it is actually nothing new. The credit goes to the Stoics. They even had a better name: premeditatio malorum (premeditation of evils).

A writer like Seneca would begin by reviewing or rehearsing his plans, say, to take a trip. And then he would go over in his head (or in writing), the things that could go wrong or prevent it from happening: a storm could arise, the captain could fall ill, the ship could be attacked by pirates.

Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation, nor do all the things turn out for him as he wished but as he reckoned – and above all he reckoned that something could block his plans.

Seneca

Always prepare for disruption:
What if…
Then I will…
What if…
Instead I’ll just…
What if…
No problem, we can always…

And in the case where nothing could be done, the stoics would use it as an important practice to do something the rest of us too often fail to do: manage expectations. Because sometimes the only answer to “What if…” is It will suck but we’ll be okay.

We are dependent on other people. Not everyone can be counted on like you can (though, lets be honest, we’re all our worst enemy sometimes). And that means people are going to make mistakes and screw up your plans. Not always, but a lot of the time.
If this comes as a constant surprise each and every time it occurs, you’re not only going to be miserable, you’re going to have a much harder time accepting it and moving on to attempts number two, three and four. The only guarantee ever, is that things will go wrong.

Beware the calm before the storm.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
The worst is yet to come.
It gets worse before it gets better.

The world might call you a pessimist. Who cares? It’s far better to seem like a downer than to be blindsided or caught off guard. It’s better to meditate on what could happen, to probe for weaknesses in our plans, so those inevitable failures can be correctly perceived, appropriately addressed, or simply endured.


The art of acquiescence

The fates guide the person who accepts them and hinder the person who resists them

Cleanthes

When a doctor gives you orders or a diagnosis – even if it’s the opposite of what you wanted – what do you do? You accept it. You don’t have to like or enjoy the treatment but you know denying it only delays the cure.

If someone we knew took traffic signals personally we would judge them insane.

Things could always be worse. The next time you:
Lose money?
Remember, you could have lost a friend.
Lost that job?
What if you’d lost a limb?
Lost your house?
You could have lost everything.

Yet we squirm and complain about what was taken from us. We still can’t appreciate what we have.

The goal is:
Not: I’m okay with this.
Not: I think I feel good about this.
But: I feel great about it.
Because if it happened, then it was meant to happen, and I am glad that it did when it did. I am meant to make the best of it.


Perseverance

If persistence is attempting to solve some difficult problem with dogged determination and hammering until the break occurs, then plenty of people can be said to be persistent. But perseverance is something larger. It’s the long game. It’s about what happens not just in round one but in round two and every round after – and then the fight is that and the fight after that, until the end.

Persistence is an action. Perseverance is a matter of will. One is energy. The other, endurance.

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield

Alfred Tennyson

When Antonio Pigafetta, the assistant to Magellan on his trip around the world, reflected on his boss’s greatest and most admirable skill, what do you think he said? It had nothing to do with sailing. The secret to his success, Pigafetta said, was Magellan’s ability to endure hunger better than other men.

There are far more failures in the world due to a collapse of will than there will ever be from objectively conclusive external events.


Something bigger than yourself

Hoping to stain the McCain family’s prestigious military legacy and the United States, the Vietcong repeatedly offered McCain the opportunity to be released and return home. He wouldn’t take it. He would not undermine the cause, despite self-interest. He stayed and was tortured – by choice.

People are getting a little desperate. People might not show their best elements to you. You must never lower yourself to being a person you don’t like. There is no better time than now to have a moral and civic backbone. To have a moral and civic true north. This is a tremendous opportunity for you, a young person, to be heroic.

Henry Rollins

Sometimes when we are personally stuck with some intractable or impossible problem, one of the best ways to create opportunities or new avenues for movement is to think: If I can’t solve this for myself, how can I at least make this better for other people? Take it for granted, for a second, that there is nothing else in it for us, nothing we can do for ourselves. How can we salvage some good out of this? If not for me, then for my family or the others I’m leading or those who might later find themselves in a similar situation. What doesn’t help anyone is making this all about you, all the time. Why did this happen to me? What am I going to do about this? You’ll be shocked by how much of the hopelessness lifts when we reach that conclusion.

Stop making it harder on yourself by thinking about I, I, I. Stop putting that dangerous “I” in front of events. I did this. I was so smart. I had that. I had that. I deserve better than this. No wonder you take losses personally, no wonder you feel so alone. You’ve inflated your own role and importance. Start thinking: Unity over self. We’re in this together.

Whatever you’re going through, whatever is holding you down or standing in your way, can be turned into a source of strength – by thinking of people other than yourself. You won’t have time to think of your own suffering because there are other people suffering and you’re too focused on them.

Help your fellow humans thrive and survive, contribute your little bit to the universe before it swallows you up, and be happy with that. Lend a hand to others. Be strong for them, and it will make you stronger.


Meditate on your mortality

Death doesn’t make life pointless, but rather purposeful. And, fortunately, we don’t have to nearly die to tap into this energy.

It’s a cliché question to ask, What would I change about my life if the doctor told me I had cancer? After our answer, we inevitable comfort ourselves with the same insidious lie: Well, thank God I don’t have cancer.

But we do. The diagnosis is terminal for all of us. A death sentence has been decreed. Each second, probability is eating away at the chances that we’ll be alive tomorrow; something is coming and you’ll never be able to stop it. Be ready for when that day comes.


Prepare to start again

The great law of nature is that it never stops. There is no end. Just when you think you’ve successfully navigated one obstacle, another emerges. But that’s what keeps life interesting. And as you’re starting to see, what’s what creates opportunities.

Elysium is a myth. One does not overcome an obstacle to enter the land of no obstacles. On the contrary, the more you accomplish, the more things will stand in your way. There are always more obstacles, bigger challenges. You’re always fighting uphill. Get used to it and train accordingly.

Related book: The Compound Effect


Knowing that life is a marathon and not a sprint is important. Conserve your energy. Understand that each battle is only one of many and that you can use it to make the next one easier. More important, you must keep them all in real perspective.

Not everyone looks at obstacles – often the same ones you and I face – and sees reason to despair. In fact, they see the opposite. They see a problem with a ready solution. They see a chance to test and improve themselves. Nothing stands in their way. Rather, everything guides them on the way.

First, see clearly.
Next, act correctly.
Finally, endure and accept the world as it is.

Of course, it is not enough to simply read this or say it. We must practice these maxims, rolling them over and over in our minds and acting on them until they become muscle memory.

So that under pressure and trial we get better – become better people, leaders, and thinkers. Because those trials and pressures will inevitably come. And they won’t ever stop coming.


On Stoicism
Today, Bill Clinton rereads Marcus Aurelius every single year. Wen Jiabao, the former prime minister of China, claims that Meditations is one of two books he travels with and has read it more than one hundred times.

If Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is antiquity, it is we who are the ruins.

Joseph Brodsky

As I tried to show in this book, countless others have embodied the best practises of Stoicism and philosophy without even knowing it. These individuals weren’t writers or lecturers, they were doers – like you.

Over the centuries though, this kind of wisdom has been taken from us, co-opted and deliberately obscured by selfish, sheltered academics. They deprived us of philosophy’s true use: as an operating system for the difficulties and hardships of life.

Philosophy was never what happened in the classroom. It was a set of lessons from the battlefield of life.

Now you are a philosopher and a person of action. And that is not a contradiction.


You now join the ranks of Marcus Aurelius, Cato, Seneca, Thomas Jefferson, James Stockdale, Epictetus, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, and many others. All these men explicitly practiced and studied stoicism. They were not academics, but men of action.

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.

Henry David Thoreau

Personal review

Structure
The book is divided into three big sections: Perception, action, and will. Each section has about 10 chapters, exploring different aspects of that theme. Each chapter starts with a story, and the rest of the chapter expands upon the principle found in that story.

Pros

  • Interesting book, and a lot of great value
  • Motivating
  • Easy to read. Small chapters, short stories
  • Great book to read in small segments over a longer period of time
  • Inspiring stories from people who have put the stoic principles to use throughout history

Cons

  • Somewhat repetitive. Better to read in small doses
  • Some of the principles are overemphasized and the text length could be reduced

Conclusion: Worth to read in small bites, perfect as a 10-20 pager before bedtime.

Categories
Book reviews

Never Lose A Customer Again: Notes


Gary Vaynerchuk, with his books The Thank You Economy and Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, was the first person to open my eyes about the importance of great customer service, and how it often seems to be at the bottom of companies priority lists in the digital age. Joey Coleman, with his book Never Lose A Customer Again, wants to give companies new inspiration and tools to succeed.

The author
The author

Award-winning speaker and business consultant Joey Coleman teaches audiences and companies all over the world how to turn a one-time purchaser into a lifelong customer.

Review

Pros: If you have not read similar books, it’s worth a read as it gives inspiration and strategies on how to improve customer relationship, a vital part of any company. There are several good ideas and points that makes this a good read, especially if you haven’t read any other books on customer experience.

Cons: Having read the works of Gary Vaynerchuk, I felt this did not bring a whole lot new to the table. Could have cut 1/3 of the book, too much repetition. Most of the examples is the authors own personal experiences with different companies’ customer services, which I sometimes find a little too easy. I also consider it a cheap move to write about the creation process of the book and try to derive value from that. You should have a clear vision of what should be in a book when you start writing it. Trying to squeeze in how the author experienced the customer service from some kind of author-helping-consultancy is just not very interesting.

Losing customers is the biggest threat facing business today – and yet most companies don’t even realize it

Joey Coleman

Notes

The current situation

Current business trends glamorize growth, incentivize acquisition, fail to consider the emotional journey of the customer, undervalue retention, and underpay and underequip customer-facing employees. Not to mention the fact that they completely ignore their customers basic biology and human behavior.

The very structure of most businesses is set up to reward the acquisition of new customers. In most businesses, the “stars” are the employees who bring in new clients, not the employee who keep clients happy after the sale. As if this didn’t stack the deck enough, the leaders of most companies usually came through the ranks of marketing or sales. Because they understand sales and marketing, they are quick to look there for guidance and advice, as well as focus and interest. It’s what they know.

This creates a propensity within the typical organization to reward, acknowledge, and promote those who are outward facing and focused on new business development, rather than recognize individuals who are internal facing and focusing on keeping current customers happy.

The salesperson is not concerned about getting the right prospect – a person who will be a good fit and stay with the company for a long time – because they are typically incentivized by the total number of new accounts, not retained accounts.

The number of resources devoted to marketing and sales are enormous compared to those directed toward customer retention. The 2017 edition of the annual CMO Survey found that the average business spends 6.9 percent of total company revenue on marketing – and yet less than one fifth of that total spending is dedicated to customer retention activities.

customer life cycle

Despite the fact that the customer life cycle graphic is balanced with three elements on each side of the “purchase”, very few businesses devote any attention to the right side of the graphic.

Individuals working in customer service usually report to another department (marketing, sales, operations etc), and that department head reports directly to the CEO. The customer service/experience voices go unheard for lack of a seat at the executive table. As a result, the work they do is often seen as a commodity or ignored altogether.

Across a wide range of industries, a 5% improvement in customer retention rates will yield a 25 to 100% increase in profits

Frederick Reichfield, author of The Loyalty Effect

Many people mistakenly interchange the terms “customer service” and “customer experience” I believe they describe very different situations. Customer service is reactive, while customer experience is proactive.

Customer service is how a business responds when things go wrong or a customer expresses a need. Customer experience, on the other hand, comes on the front end. It anticipates what might go wrong and structures the interactions to avoid this from ever happening

Apply the Hollywood technique.

Applying the Hollywood technique in business, the customer’s emotional journey becomes the primary focus. If businesses approached their customer interactions in the same way movies approach their audience interactions – figuring out the emotions a customer should have every step of the way – the entire world would change.

Evaluate your current situation

  • When prospects review your marketing materials, do they get a good idea of what their experience is going to be like if they become customers (not what they will receive from doing business with you, but how they will feel when doing business with you)?
  • How long does the typical prospect assess your product or service before becoming a customer?
  • Does your sales team effectively and accurately record customer desires and needs?
  • Does your sales team effectively and accurately share customer desires and needs with the individual(s) responsible for maintaining the relationship once the sale is made?
  • Do prospects receive a detailed and accurate preview of what the experience will be like after becoming customer?
  • Do you preframe the prospect’s expectations to be in alignment with your business operations?
  • Do you create remarkable experiences during the Assess phase?
  • If so, what are they?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is “pathetic” and 10 is “world class”, how would you rate the experience your prospects currently have?

Personalize

Make the required remarkable

Joey Coleman

Zogics is one of the wellness industry’s largest one-stop shops for fitness professionals. They send a personalized thank you video as part of the confirmation email to every customer. After implementing this strategy, the open rate of that email rose from 20 to 60% and the video watch rate is around 20%

Counter buyers remorse

The most important thing a business can do to counter feelings of buyer’s remorse is to offer ways for a customer to reaffirm their decision as quickly as possible. By reaffirming the customer’s decision through a series of positive, high-energy communications, you can counter the chemically induced feelings of doubt. Whether it’s a video that reminds the customer they made the right choice or a case study affirming that your offering can solve their problem, giving evidence of your ability to deliver can serve as a counterbalance to the customer’s feelings of doubt and uncertainty.

A brief “Keep the Faith” video can be emailed to new customers between the time they place their order and when the order is received or service delivered. Giving customers visual confirmation of the business’s enthusiasm for the new relationship is a great way to reassure them about the decision to do business with you.

Building personal connections

Building personal connections is a vital element of relationship building. By explaining who is on the team and detailing roles and responsibilities, it’s possible to reduce uncertainty and establish trust early in the customer life cycle. Customers need to know where they should go with questions, concerns, and problems that may arise in the first few weeks and months of working together. Offering personal details about team members that go beyond their duties and responsibilities creates possibilities for connection via points of commonality or contrast. By empowering your employees to play an active role in creating your customer journey touchpoints, you increase buy-in, implementation, and commitment to the process in the long run.

Make it physical

On Online Trainer Academy, the first-ever certification program for online trainers.
After the training course is purchased, Jon’s team mails the customer a hardback textbook, a spiral-bound training workbook, and instructions for how to use these two items in conjunction with the online training videoes. The fact that Jon’s online training program has a physical textbook and workbook automatically distinguishes it from the bulk of online education programs. The fact that these books are beautifully designed and printed further cements the emotional experience customers have and supports the brand image/reputation of a high-quality, high-value program.

Defy customers’ preconceived expectations. Create contrast in experience. Online customers expect that every interaction will be online. Consider adding offline interactions to bring your company and experience into the tangible world. Sending something via mail feels almost old-school in comparison with online offerings, but this contrasting experience creates a remarkable interaction.

Create micro experiences

On Baro, successfull new restaurant in Toronto
The customers interests, food and drink selections, and preferences not only are captured, but the experience coordinator reviews these daily. Before the restaurant opens for the evening, the coordinators talk to each server about the specifics of the guests who will be seated in that server’s section. “Our goal is to constantly create micro customer experiences for our guests” Michael Falcon, one of Baro’s partners, explains. “Small, subtle, memorable gestures that will resonate with them for years to come.” The budget for creating these interactions is purposely kept lean – 250$ per month total, for the entire restaurant – to “keep the team creative.”

Give special treatment

Your most loyal customers deserve special treatment. Create something of unique value to them and not only will they feel appreciated, but they will see themselves as “part of a club”. If there is the opportunity to add a dash of nostalgia, that will only heighten the experience. Exclusivity is a powerful feeling. Don’t be afraid to create a limited-edition item or make a special experience available just to these customers who are most loyal and supportive.

The best customer rewards offer exclusivity and rare opportunities – and sometimes both! Look for things that you can give away that cost very little to you compared with how much your customers will value them. For your best referrers, go above and beyond to actively seek out special experiences that they wouldn’t easily be able to arrange on their own.

I developed a four-step process to help you understand your customers and position your business to roll out an enhanced customer journey:

  • Investigate
  • Observe
  • Personalize
  • Surprise

Eliminate your logo, tagline or any other message about you: Let’s be honest – if you give a customer an item with your logo or name on it, you’re not giving a gift. You’re giving a marketing tool that you hope the customer will show to their friends, which ideally will lead to more business to you.

Experiences are great, but help the customer remember: Gifting your customers with remarkable experiences is fantastic, but don’t forget to memorialize the experience with a memento. Dinners, concerts, golf outings, and the like tend to be forgotten rather quickly – but not when paired with a cookbook from the restaurant, a framed photo of the band from the concert, or a piece of golf apparel from the pro shop at the golf course you played.

Don’t forget the note: If you’re going to make the effort to surprise someone, you should be willing to make the effort to write a handwritten note to accompany your gift. If you’re not willing to do that, please don’t even bother with the gift.

Don’t give to receive: Give presents and surprises because you want to, not because you want to be seen a certain way or you think it will lead to something else in return. No one likes a present that arrives with strings attached.

Success surveys

A in-depth “success survey” allows for data collection about the individual customer to be used in personalizing future communications. In addition, larger data sets from these surveys will identify trends within the customer base and could alter early sales messages, systems, and processes for future prospects.

Gather referrals

The best referrals come from happy current customers. Make your referral program easy to understand, even easier to participate in, and worthwhile for the referring customer’s investment of time and effort. Your best customers most likely spend time associating with your ideal prospects. Creating the opportunity for customers to talk with their friends and lolleagues about your offering feels natural when you give customers the necessary information to make it easy for them to refer people to you.

Asking for referrals requires thoughtful timing and a sincere ask. The goal should be an honest assessment of how you are performing. This feedback not only provides the data to enhance operations, but can serve as a marketing tool to draw in prospective customers. Used properly, testimonials drive sales in a meaningful and measurable way.

When asking for a testimonial, the company should give the customer specific guidance on what it’s looking for. It’s not enough to email the best customers and say, “We have a new website launching, would you be willing to write a testimonial?” That’s not have you create an advocate. That’s putting the onus on them to do the work.

The better approach is to go to the customer and say, “We’ve worked together for a long time. You’ve had some massive success and changes within your organization as a direct result of your relationship with us. Would you be willing to share the impact of our work together?

To make giving a testimonial even easier, you can also say to the customer, “Look, I recognize that you’re busy and have a lot on your plate right now. With your permission, I’d like to draft a testimonial for you. You can feel free to edit or amend it as you see fit.”

Investigate

Dale Carnegie is famous for saying, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” The typical business approach to interacting with customers is to jump up and down and scream, “Look at me! Look at me! Look what I have!” Instead of asking questions and learning all about their customers, businesses have a tendency to focus on themselves.

It never ceases to amaze me how much I can learn by merely spending five to ten minutes investigating online

Joey Coleman
Categories
Book reviews

The Compound Effect: Notes

You understand what this book is all about from its title: How small, targeted steps and habits over time will add up. A simple, but high-energy and motivational self development book written by the founder of SUCCESS Magazine, Darren Hardy. Several inspirational real life examples of the compound effect at work, and several useful techniques and strategies to improve yourself in every aspect of life.

The author
The author

Darren Hardy is an American author, keynote speaker, advisor, and former publisher of SUCCESS magazine.

Notes

I want you to know in your bones that your only path to success is through a continuum of mundane, unsexy, unexciting, and sometimes difficult daily diciplines compounded over time.

If we want to succeed, we need to recover our grandparent’s work ethic.

Darren Hardy

Your biggest challenge isn’t that you’ve intentionally been making bad choices. Your biggest challenge is that you’ve been sleepwalking through your choices. Nobody intends to become obese, go through bankruptcy, or get a divorce, but most often those consequences are the result of a series of small, poor choices.

If I always took 100 percent responsibility for everything I experienced – completely owning all of my choices and all the ways I responded to whatever happened to me – I held the power. Everything was up to me. I was responsible for everything I did, didn’t do, or how I responded to what was done to me.

From this day forward, choose to be 100 percent responsible for your life. Eliminate all of your excuses. Embrace the fact that you are freed by your choices, as long as you assume personal responsibility for them. It’s time to make the choice to take control.

Go for whole-life success – balance in all the aspects of life that are important to you: business, finances, health, family, lifestyle and relationships.

Track your progress

You cannot manage or improve something until you measure it. Likewise, you can’t make the most of who you are – your talents, resources and capabilities – until you are aware of and accountable for your actions.

Pick an area of your life where you most want to be successful. I want you to track every action that relates to that area of your life. If you want to get out of debt, you’re going to track every penny you pull from your pocket. If you want to lose weight, you’re going to track everything you put in your mouth. This process forces you to be conscious of your decisions.

It’s time to WAKE UP and realize that the habits you indulge in could be compounding your life into repeated disaster. The slightest adjustments to your daily routines can dramatically alter the outcomes of your life

Darren Hardy

Position yourself for luck

The complete formula for getting lucky:
Preparation + attitude + opportunity + action = luck

“When I asked Richard Branson if he felt luck played a part in his success, he answered, “Yes of course, we are all lucky. If you live in a free society, you are lucky. Luck surrounds us every day; we are constantly having lucky things happen to us, whether you recognize it or not. I have not been any more lucky or unlucky than anyone else. The difference is when luck came my way, I took advantage of it.”

It’s a funny thing; the more I practice, the luckier I get

Arnold Palmer

The biggest difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people are willing to do what unsuccessful people are not. Successful people aren’t necessarily more intelligent or more talented than anyone else. But their habits take them in the direction of becoming more informed, more knowledgeable, more competent, better skilled, and better prepared.

For example: by listening to something instructional why commuting, you will gain knowledge equivalent to two semesters of an advanced college degree – every year. Think about it; using the time you’re currently wasting by listening to radio or generic music, you could obtain the equivalent of Ph.D. in leadership, sales success, wealth building, relationship excellence – or whatever course you choose.

Action steps

Write out the half-dozen small, seemingly inconsequential steps you can take every day that can take your life in a completely new and positive direction.

Write down the small, seemingly inconsequential actions you can stop doing that might be compounding your results downward.

List a few areas, skills or outcomes where you have been most successful in the past. Consider whether you could be taking those for granted and are not continuing to improve, and are therefore in jeopardy of having that complacency lead to future failure.

Where in your life are you not taking 100 percent responsibility for the success or failure of your present condition? Write down three things you have done in the past that have messed things up. List three things you should have done but didn’t. Write out three things that happened to you but you responded poorly. Write down three things you can start doing right now to take back responsibility for the outcomes of your life.

Identify your triggers: look at your list of bad habits. Identify what triggers them.

Your why

The power of your why is what gets you to stick through the grueling, mundane, and laborious. All of the hows will be meaningless until your whys are powerful enough. Until you’ve set your desire and motivation in place, you’ll abandon any new path you seek to better your life. If your why-power isn’t great enough, if the fortitude of your commitment isn’t powerful enough, you’ll end up like every other person who makes a New Year’s resolution and gives up too quickly and reverts to sleepwalking through poor choices.

Goals

The one skill most responsible for the abundance in my life is learning how to effectively set and achieve goals. Something almost magical happens when you organize and focus your creative power on a well-defined target. I’ve seen this time and again: the highest achievers in the world have all succeeded because they mapped out their visions. The person who has a clear, compelling, and white-hot burning why will always defeat even the best of the best at doing the how.

Choice + behavior + habit + compounded = goals

Top people have very clear goals. They know who they are and they know what they want. They write down and they make plans for its accomplishment. Unsuccessful people carry their goals around in their head like marbles rattling around in a can, and we say a goal that is not in writing is merely a fantasy.

Every morning at 7 a.m., I have what I call my calibration appointment, where I take fifteen minutes to calibrate my day. This is where I brush over my top three one-year and five-year goals, my key quarterly objectives, and my top goal for the week and month. Then I review (or set) my top three MVPs (Most Valuable Priorities) for that day, asking myself, “If I only did three things today, what are the actions that will produce the greatest results in moving me closer to my big goals?

Right now I’m working on adding more adventure into my life. I set weekly, monthly, and yearly goals to do something I wouldn’t normally do. Most of the time it’s nothing earth-shattering, but things such as eating different kinds of foods, taking a class, visiting a new destination, or joining a club to meet new people.

It’s important to cash out your day’s performance. Compared to your plan for the day, how did it go? What do you need to carry over to tomorrow’s plan? What else needs to be added, based on what showed up throughout the day? What’s no longer important and needs to be scratched out? Additionally, I like to log into my journal any new ideas, ah-has or insights I picked up throughout the day – this is how I’ve collected more than forty journals of incredible ideas, insights, and strategies. All hell can break loose throughout the day, but because I control the bookends, I know I’m always going to start and finish strong.

Develop your own personal board of advisors

I’ve hand-selected a dozen people because of their areas of expertise, creative thinking ability, and/or my great respect for who they are. Once a week I reach out to a few of them and solicit ideas, run thoughts by them, and ask for feedback and input. Having started this process, I can tell you the benefits I’ve already received have been profound – far more than I anticipated! It’s surprising the genius people are willing to share when you show sincere interest.

After spending a couple of hours with Paul, hearing about his plans, ventures and activities, my head would spin. Just trying to make sense of all he had going on exhausted me. After time with Paul, I’d want to go take a nap! But my association with him raised my game. His walking pace was my running pace. It expanded my ideas about how big I could play and how ambitious I could be. You have to get around people like that!

Don’t wish for easy

When conditions are great, things are easy, there aren’t any distractions, no one is interrupting, temptations aren’t luring, and nothing is disturbing your stride; that too is when most everyone else does great. It’s not until situations are difficult, when problems come up and temptation is great, that you get to prove your worthiness for progress.

This is perfect attacking weather, mainly because I know the others don’t like it. I believe that nobody in the world is better at suffering. It’s a good day for me.

Lance Armstrong

Be extraordinary

Regarding applying for a job: Research all the people in the organization. Take that list and run it by your entire network to see if they know anyone who might know someone in this organization. Search every name against your LinkedIn database. Find a few people to connect with. Talk with them and ask them to put in a good word for you. Send them gifts, notes, and other things, and ask them to hand-deliver these things to the decision makers. Phone, e-mail, text, tweet and Facebook them during the process. Could this be overly aggressive? Heck, yes! But I have found that you may lose one out of five for being too aggressive, but you get the other four!”

Do what it takes, even the unexpected, to make your case heard. Add a little audacity to your repertoire.

Darren Hardy

It takes very little extra to be extraordinary. In all areas of your life, look for the multiplier opportunities where you can go a little further, push yourself a little harder, last a little longer, prepare a little better, and deliver a little bit more. Where can you do better and more than expected? Where can you do the totally unexpected? Find as many opportunities for “WOW,” and the level and speed of your accomplishments will astonish you… and everyone else around you.

Categories
Book reviews

Born to Run: Notes

Summary.

The story builds upon the author’s own running experience. Being a semi-enthusiastic runner, he kept getting injuries. Speaking to doctors, they told him that humans simply were not built to run long distances, and injuries therefore inevitably would occur. However, he did not take those answers for granted, and started investigating the subject on his own. He hears rumours about “the running people”, a Mexican tribe called the Tarahumara. Supposed to be some of the greatest runners in human history, while avoiding injuries, the author wants to find out how they manage it.

This sparks a fantastic adventure, switching between tracking down the Tarahumara, researching their history, ultra-marathons, meeting some wonderful characters, as well as a hefty attack on the shoe industry.

Notes.

On why we are born to run by Dr. Lieberman.

“…You’ve got to ask yourself why only one species in the world has the urge to gather by the tens of thousands to run twenty-six miles in the heat for fun. Recreation has its reasons.”

Dr. Dennis Bramble

“Forget about speed; maybe we were born to be the world’s greatest marathoners.”

“Even though biomechanically smooth human runners have short strides, they still cover more distance per step than a horse, making them more efficient. With equal amounts of gas in the tank, in other words, a human can theoretically run farther than a horse.”

Which is also proven, in the yearly 50 mile “Man Against Horse Race” in Arizona, where human regularly beat horses in endurance.

“Dr. Bramble discovered that when many quadrupeds run, their internal organs slosh back and forth liker water in a bathtub. Every time a cheetah’s front feet hit the ground, its guts slam forward into the lungs, forcing out air. When it reaches out for the next stride, its innards slide rearward, sucking air back in. Adding that extra punch to their lung power, though, comes at a cost: it limits cheetahs to just one breath per stride. Actually, Dr. Bramble was surprised to find that all running mammals are restricted to the same cycle of take-a-step, take-a-breath. In the entire world, he could only find one exception: you.

Springy legs, twiggy torsos, sweat glands, hairless skin, certical bodies that retain less sun heat – no wonder we’re the world’s greatest marathoners.

The reason for humans to develop into long distance runners were simple: to catch prey. Dr. Lieberman says “To run an antelope to death, all you have to do is scare it into a gallop on a hot day. “If you keep just close enough for it to see you, it will keep sprinting away. After about ten or fifteen kilometers’ worth of running, it will go into hyperthermia and collapse. We can dump heat on the run, but animals can’t pant while they gallop. We can run in conditions that no other animal can run in.

Unlike our true ancestors, the running men, the Neanderthals were the mighty hunters we like to imagine we once were; they stood shoulder to shoulder in battle, a united front of brains and bravery, clever warriors armored with muscle but still refined enough to slow-cook their meat to tenderness in earth ovens and keep their women and children away from danger. Neanderthals ruled the world – till it started getting nice outside. The new climate was great for the running men; the antelope herds exploded and feasts of plump roots were pushing up all over the savannah.

But there’s a problem. Our greatest talent also created the monster that could destroy us. Unlike any other organism in history, humans have a mind-body conflict: we have a body built for performance, but a brain that’s always looking for efficiency. We live or die by our endurance, but remember: endurance is all about conserving energy, and that’s the brain’s department. The reason some pople use their genetic gift for running and others don’t is because the brain is a bargain shopper. For millions of years we lived in a world without cops, cabs, or Domino’s Pizza; we relied on our legs for safety, food, and transportation and it wasn’t as if you could count on one job ending before the next one began. You could never be sure that you wouldn’t become food right after you catching some. The antilope you’d chased down could attract fiercer animals, forcing you to drop your lunch and run for your life. The only way to survive was to leave something in the tank – and that’s where the brain comes in. The brain is always scheming to reduce costs, get more for less, store energy and have it ready for an emergency. You’ve got this fancy machine, and it’s controlled by a pilot who’s thinking “okay, how can I run this baby without using any fuel?”
You and I know how good running feels because we’ve made a habit of it. But lose the habit, and the loudest voice in your ear is your ancient survival instinct urging you to relax. And there’s the bitter irony: Our fantastic endurance gave our brain the food it needed to grow, and now our brain is undermining our endurance.

We live in a culture that sees extreme exercise as crazy. Because that’s what our brain tells us: why fire up the engine if you don’t have to?

To be fair, our brain knew what it was talking about for 99% of our history; sitting around was a luxury, so when you had the chance to rest and recover, you grabbed it. Only recently have we came up with the technology to turn lazing around into a way of life; we’ve taken our durable, hunter-gatherer bodies and plunked them into an artificial world of leisure. We’ve taken away the jobs our bodies were meant to do, and we’re paying for it. Nearly every top killer in the western world – heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, hypertension, and a dozen forms of cancer – was unknown to our ancestors.

“We monitored the results of the 2004 New York City Marathon and compared finishing times by age. What we found is that starting at age nineteen, runners get faster every year until they hit their peak at twenty-seven. After twenty-seven, they start to decline. So here’s the question – how old are you when you’re back to running the same speed you did at nineteen? The answer is sixty-four. Isn’t that amazing? Name any other field of athletic endeavor where sixty-four-year-olds are competing with nineteen-year-olds!”

On ultramarathons and coach Joe Vigil:
“No other elite coach could give a hoot what was going on at that giant outdoor insane asylum in the Rockies. Self-mutilators, mean motherfuckers or whatever they called themselves – what did they have to do with real running? With olympic running? As a sport, most track coaches ranked ultras somewhere between competitive eating and recreational S&M. Super, Vigil thought, go ahead and sleep, and leave the freaks to me – because he new the freaks where onto something. He loved the fact that ultrarunning had no science, no playbook, no training manual or conventional wisdom. That kind of freewheeling self-invention is where big breakthroughs come from. These runners were like mad scientists messing with beakers in the basement lab, ignored by the rest of the sport and free to defy every known principle of footwear, food, biomechanics, training intenstity…everything.

On the beginning of Barefoot-Ted:
“…He got checked by a chiropractor and an orthopedic surgeon, and both said there was really nothing wrong with him. Running was just an inherently dangerous sport, they told him, and one of the dangers was the way impact shock shoots up your legs and into your spine. But the docs did have some good news: If Ted insisted on running, he could probably be cured with a credit card. Top-of-the-line running shoes and some spongy heel pads, they said, should cushion his legs enough to get him through a marathon. Ted spent a fortune he really didn’t have on the most expensive shoes he could find, and was crushed to discover that they didn’t help. But instead of blaming the docs, he blamed the shoes: He must need even more cushioning than thirty years of Nike air-injection R&D had come up with.

After doing research on his own, Ted discovered that Leonardo Da Vinci considered the human foot, with its fantastic weight-suspension system comprising one quarter of all the bones in the human body, “a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” He learned about Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian marathoner who ran barefoot over the cobblestones of Rome to win the 1960 Olympic marathon – and about Charlie Robbins, M.D., a lone voice in the medical wilderness who ran barefoot and argued that marathons won’t hurt you, but shoes sure as hell will.

Shoes block pain, not impact!
Pain teaches us to run comfortably!
From the moment you start going barefoot, you will change the way you run.

“No wonder your feet are so sensitive,” Ted mused. “They’re self-correcting devices. Covering your feet with cushioned shoes is like turning off your smoke alarms.”

On his first barefoot run, Ted went five miles and felt…nothing.

There was an important point in all of this: running shoes may be the most destructive force to ever hit the human foot. Barefoot Ted, in his own weird way, was becoming the Neil Armstrong of twenty-first-century distance running, an ace test pilot whose small steps could have tremendous benefit for the rest of mankind. If that seems like excessive stature to load on Barefoot Ted’s shoulders, consider these words by Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University: “A lot of foot and knee injuries that are currently plaguing us are actually caused by people running with shoes that make our feet weak, cause us to over-pronate, give us knee problems. Until 1972, when the modern athletic shoe was invented by Nike, people ran in very thin-soled shoes, had strong feet, and had much lower incidence of knee-injuries.”
And the cost of these injuries? Fatal disease in epidemic proportions. “Humans really are obligatorily required to do aerobic exercise in order to stay healthy, and I think that has deep roots in our evolutionary history,” Dr. Lieberman said. “If there’s any magic bullet to make human beings healthy, it’s to run.”

On the Tarahumara.
“The Tarahumara aren’t great runners,” Eric told me. “They’re great athletes, and those two things are very different. Runners are assembly-line workers; they become good at one thing – moving straight ahead at a steady speed – and repeat that motion until overuse fritzes out the machinery. Athletes are Tarzans. Tarzan swim and wrestles and jumps and swings on vines. He’s strong and explosive. You never know what he will do next, which is why he never gets hurt. Your body needs to be shocked to become resilient. Follow the same daily routine, and your musculoskeletal system quickly figures out how to adapt and go on autopilot. But surprise it with new challenges – leap over a creek, commando-crawl under a log, sprint till your lungs are bursting – and scores of nerves and ancillary muscles are suddenly electrified into action.

For the Tarahumara, that’s just daily life. The Tarahumara step into the unknown every time they leave the cave, because they never know how fast they’ll have to sprint after a rabbit, how much firewood they’ll have to haul home, how tricky the climbing will be during a winter storm.

On Caballo Blanco.
“I’d get up at four-thirty in the morning, run twenty miles, and it would be a beautiful thing. Then I’d work all day and want to feel that way again. So I’d go home, drink a beer, eat some beans, and run some more.”

Categories
Book reviews

The Everything Store: Notes

Summary & Thoughts

“The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the age of Amazon” is a mix between a biography of Jeff Bezos and a history of Amazon.com, much like “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. I’ve wanted to read this for a long time, and had high expectations. I’m very happy to say that the book delivered everything I wanted plus more!

“There is so much stuff that has yet to be invented.
There’s so much new that’s going to happen.
People don’t have any idea yet how impactful the Internet is going to be and that this is still Day 1 in such a big way.”
– Bezos

The start
Bezos started his career at a Wall Street investment fund:
While the rest of Wall Street saw D.E. Shaw as a highly secretive hedge fund, the firm viewed itself somewhat differently. In the owner David Shaw’s estimation, the company wasn’t really a hedge fund but a versatile technology laboratory full of innovators and talented engineers who could apply computer science to a variety of different problems. Investing was only the first domain where it would apply its skills. So in 1994, when the opportunity of the Internet began to reveal itself to the few people watching closely, Shaw felt that his company was uniquely positioned to exploit it. And the person he anointed to spearhead the effort was Jeff Bezos.
It was through this time the idea of “The everything store” first were born. Bezos later left D.E. Shaw to start his own company, which eventually became Amazon.

Amazon was started on a shoestring budget. Bezos backed the company himself with 10,000$ in cash. He later added 84,000$ in interest-free loans and received a 100,000$ investment from his parents.

Books where not a coincidence
Amazon’s first product catalogue consisted only of books, which were no coincidence. They were easy to send, had the same format for packaging, no expiry date etc. There were also a gigantic number of books available, which meant Amazon could compete with traditional bookstores by simply offering pretty much every book available in the world, since they were not limited by a small, physical store. This also meant that Amazon’s first customers were hardcore, loyal fans, often purchasing books they simply could not find elsewhere. This also lead to a positive word of mouth, as they would tell their friends were to find those hidden gems.

Later, when researching new product categories to stock, Amazon hired a “SWAT team” to research categories of products that had high number of SKU’s (unique products), were underrepresented in physical stores, and could easily be sent through the mail. This was a key part of Amazon’s early strategy: maximising the internet’s ability to provide a superior selection of products as compared to those available at traditional retail stores.

Fun fact
One early challenge was that the book distributors required retailers to order ten books at a time. Amazon didn’t yet have that kind of sales volume, and Bezos later enjoyed telling the story of how he got around it. “We found a loophole. Their systems were programmed in such a way that you didn’t have to receive ten books, you only had to order ten books. So we found an obscure book about lichens that they had in their system but was out of stock. We began ordering the one book we wanted and nine copies of the lichen book. They would ship out the book we needed and a note that said “sorry, but we’re out of the lichen book.”

The review function
Amazon early developed a review feature, coded by one of the early developers over a single weekend. Bezos believed that if Amazon.com had more user-generated book reviews than any other site, it would give the company a huge advantage. A lot of the book publishers where unhappy about the feature, due to negative reviews from non-professional critics. However, it went on to serve as an organic marketing channel, where customers used Amazon as a reference guide for purchasing books, looking at the hundred of thousands of user-generated reviews.

How they outcompeted established stores like Barnes & Noble
Bezos had predicted that the chain retailer would have trouble seriously competing online, and, in the end, he was right. The Barnes & Noble owners were reluctant to lose money on a relatively small part of their business and didn’t want to put their most resourceful employees behind an effort that would siphon sales away from the more profitable stores. On top of that, their company’s distribution operation was well entrenched and geared toward servicing physical stores by sending out large shipments of books to a set number of locations. The shift from mailing small orders to individual customers was long, painful, and full of customer-service errors. For Amazon, that was just daily business.
A lot of the big players in the markets Amazon challenged made the same type of errors. Semi-motivated attempts to build a digital presence, but unwillingness to commit due to a historically stable and more profitable physical market.

Amazon warehouses/distribution centers
After hiring Jeff Wilke, a Walmart logistic executive to rebuild Amazon’s distribution centers, Bezos told him he wanted a distribution system that was ten times larger than it currently was, and not just in the United States but in Amazon’s new markets in the UK and Germany. When asked what products they would be shipping, Bezos replied “I don’t know. Just design something that will handle anything,” Wilke recalls. “I’m going, you’re kidding me, right?” And Bezos said “No, that is the mission.” I had to have a solution to handle everything but an aircraft carrier.”
At Walmart, distribution centers shipped containers of products predictably, once a day, to all stores in the surrounding area. At Amazon, there were innumerable packages going to countless destinations. And there was no predictability, as Amazon sales were growing 300% a year and constantly adding new product categories.

“A customer might order one book, a DVD, some tools – perhaps gift-wrapped, perhaps not – and that exact combination might never again be repeated. There were an infinite number of permutations. We were essentially assembling and fullfilling customer orders. The factory physics were a lot closer to manufacturing and assembly than they were to retail.”

To get things under control, Wilke started a series of daily conference calls with his general managers. He told them that on each call, he wanted to know the facts on the ground: how many orders had shipped, how many had not, whether there was a backlog, and if so, why.

Amazon Marketplace
In november 2000, Amazon announced a new initiative called Marketplace. The effort started with used books. Other sellers of books were invited to advertise their wares directly within a box on Amazon’s own book pages. Customers got to choose whether to purchase the item from Amazon itself or from a third-party seller. If they chose the latter, either because the seller had a lower price or because the product was out of stock at Amazon, the company would lose the sale but collect a small commission. “Jeff was super clear from the beginning. If somebody else can sell it cheaper than us, we should let them and figure out how they are able to do it.”

Insane growth
During an early investor presentation, Bezos would tell the investors he projected $74 million in sales by 2000 if things went moderately well, and $114 million if things went much better than expected. This was high goals, but the actual net sales in 2000 tells the story about the explosive growth: $1.64 BILLION.

High demands for the workforce
An early employee worked part-time, which amounted to 35 hours a week. If he wanted to be accepted as a full-time employee, it was expected to almost double that time to around 60 hours a week.
During interviews, if the potential employees made the mistake of talking about wanting a harmonious balance between work and home life, Bezos rejected them.
At Amazon, everyone on the team was supposed to work harder than everyone else. The assumption was that no one would take even a weekend day off. “Nobody said you couldn’t, but nobody thought you would. There was deadlines and death marches,” says an early employee.
As Amazon’s growth accelerated, Bezos drove employees even harder, calling meetings over the weekends, starting an executive book club that gathered on saturday mornings, and often repeating his quote about working smart, hard, and long.
As a result, Amazon had a high churn rate of employees, and a lot of executives left the company when they wanted to have children, as it was not a family-friendly environment.

“Even though we were probably faster than ninety-nine percent of companies of the world, we were still too slow.”

“If you’re not good, Jeff will chew you up and spit you out. And if you’re good, he will jump on your back and ride you into the ground.” – Amazon employee

Some of the quotes from Jeff, remembered by the employees:

“If that’s our plan, I don’t like our plan”
“I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?”
“Are you lazy or just incompetent?”
“If I hear that idea again, I’m gonna have to kill myself”
“Why are you ruining my life?”

But most Amazon employees also acknowledged that Bezos was primarily consumed with improving the company’s performance and customer service, and that personnel issues are secondary. “He had this unbelievable ability to be incredibly intelligent about things he had nothing to do with and he was totally ruthless about communicating it. Jeff doesn’t tolerate stupidity.”

“This has to scale to infinity with no planned downtime. Infinity!” – Bezos

“…It was considered a Jeff project, which meant that the product manager met with Bezos every few weeks and received a constant stream of e-mail from the CEO, usually containing extraordinarily detailed recommendations and frequently arriving late at night.”

“The meetings can be intense and intimidating. “This is what, for employees, is so absolutely scary and impressive about the executive team. They force you to look at the numbers and answer every single question about why specific things happened. Because Amazon has so much volume, it’s a way to make very quick decisions and not get into subjective debates. The data doesn’t lie.”

On investments.
In the company’s first letter to its shareholders, Bezos wrote: “We will make bold rather than timid investments decisions where we see a sufficient probability of gaining market leadership advantages. Some of these investments will pay off, others will not, and we will have learned another valuable lesson in either case.”
Amazon went on to invest in companies like IMDB.com, Exchange.com, Pets.com, Gear.com and a lot of similar companies.
Ultimately, Amazon ended up losing hundreds of millions of dollars on these investments. “Amazon had to be focused on its own business. Our biggest mistake was thinking we had the bandwith to work with all these companies,” says one Amazon executive from those days.

On innovation

“The thing about Bezos is that he is not tethered by conventional thinking. What is amazing to me is that is bound only by the laws of physics. He can’t change those. Everything else he views as open to discussion.”

Jeff have a grand vision for Amazon – that it be not just an everything store, but ultimately an everything company.

“If you look at why Amazon is so different than almost any other company that started early on the internet, it’s because Jeff approached it from the very beginning with that long-term vision. It was a multidecade project. The notion that he can accomplish a huge amount with a larger time frame, if he is steady about it, is fundamentally his philosophy.”

A major Amazon shareholder once asked Bezos at the profitability prospects for Amazon Web Services. Bezos predicted they would be good over the long term but said he didn’t want to repeat “Steve Jobs’s mistake” of pricing the iPhone in a way that was so fantastically profitable that the smartphone market became a magnet for competition.

When brainstorming around the Kindle reader: Bezos felt Amazon needed to control the entire customer experience, combining sleek hardware with an easy-to-use digital bookstore. “We are going to hire our way to having the talent,” he told his executives in a meeting. “I absolutely know it’s very hard. We’ll learn how to do it.”

When speaking to a design team: “I’ll figure this out and it is not going to be a business model you understand. You are the designers, I want you to design this and I’ll think about the business model.”

In 2002 he started a new personal ritual: He took time after the holidays to think and read. Returning the company after a few weeks, Bezos presented his next big idea to his team. One of this ideas was to split all divisions into smaller team, that set its own “fitness function”. For example, a team in charge of sending advertising e-mails to customers might choose the rate at which these messages were opened multiplied by the average order size those e-mails generated. A group writing software code for the fulfillment centers might home in on decreasing the cost of shipping each type of product and reducing the time that elapsed between a customer’s making a purchase and the item leaving the FC in a truck. Bezos then wanted to personally approve each equation and track the results over time. It would be his way of guiding a team’s evolution.

“Step by step, ferociously.” The phrase accurately captures Amazon’s guiding philosophy. Steady progress toward seemingly impossible goals will win the day. Setbacks are temporary. Naysayers are best ignored.

On brutality
For the big book publishers, Amazon’s dawning monopoly in e-books was terryfying. As suppliers had learned over the past decade, no matter the category, Amazon wielded its market power neither lightly nor gracefully, employing every bit of leverage to improve its own margins and pass along savings to its customers. If the company didn’t get what it wanted, the reaction could be severe.

One competitor said: “They have an absolute willingness to torch the landscape around them to emerge the winner.”

“We don’t have a single big advantage, so we have to weave a rope of many small advantages.” – Bezos

Fun facts.
Bezos was one of the original investors in Google, his company’s future rival, and four years after starting Amazon, he minted an entirely separate fortune that today might be worth well over a billion dollars (based of a supposedly 250 000$ investment).

Categories
Book reviews

Zero to One: Notes

Summary & thoughts

Several interesting ideas and perspectives, though few groundbreaking. The book is more a collection of notes and ideas than a book with a clear structure and flow. Not longer than it needs to be, and worth reading.

Build a monopoly

Thiel advocates the importance of building for a monopoly, not going head-first into a big market with lots of competitors. Only by building a monopoly business will the company be able to reap strong profitability and create lasting businesses. To achieve this, he advices to start by taking an dominant position in a niche market before scaling to adjacent markets:

“Amazon shows how it can be done. Jeff Bezos’s founding vision was to dominate all of online retail, but he very deliberately started with books. There were millions of books to catalog, but they all had roughly the same shape, they were easy to ship, and some of the most rarely sold books – those least profitable for any retail store to keep in stock – also drew the most enthusiastic customers. Amazon became the dominant solution for anyone located far from a bookstore or seeking something unusual”.

Same goes with Tesla, that did not start of by trying to dominate the entire market for electric cars, but identified a gap in the segment for luxury electric sports cars.

Burned by bubbles

Writes about how different bubbles have affected the mind set of future entrepreneurs, for example from the dot com crash and green-tech. “Would-be entrepreneurs are told that nothing can be known in advance: We’re supposed to listen to what customers say they want, make nothing more than a “minimum viable product”, ant iterate our way to success.”

The entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley learned four big lessons from the dot com crash:

  • Make incremental advances
  • Stay lean and flexible
  • Improve on the competition
  • Focus on product, not sales

However, the opposite principles are probably more correct:

  • Its better to risk boldness than triviality
  • A bad plan is better than no plan
  • Competitive markets destroy profits
  • Sales matters just as much as products

Seven questions & the cleantech bubble

The 1990s had one big idea: the internet is going to be big. But too many internet companies had exactly that same idea and no others. An entrepreneur can’t benefit from macroscale insight unless his own plans begin at the micro-scale. Cleantech companies faced the same problem: no matter how much the world needs energy, only a firm that offers a superior solution for a specific energy problem can make money. No sector will ever be so important that merely participating in it will be enough to build a great company. Most cleantech companies crashed because they neglected one or more of the seven questions that every business must answer:

  • The engineering question: Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
  • The timing question: Is now the right time to start your particular business?
  • The monopoly question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
  • The people question: Do you have the right team?
  • The distribution question: Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
  • The durability question: Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
  • The secret question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others dont see?

He then argues that most cleantech companies did not have a answer for most of these questions. However, one company that did get 7 of 7 was Tesla:

Technology: Tesla’s technology is so good that other car companies rely on it: Daimler uses Tesla’s battery packs; Mercedes-Benz uses a Tesla powertrain; Toyota uses a Tesla motor. General Motors has even created a task force to track Teslas next moves. But Tesla’s greatest technological achievements isn’t any single part or component, but rather its ability to integrate many components into one superior product. The Tesla Model S sedan, elegantly designed from end to end, is more than the sum of its parts: Consumer Reports rated it higher than any other car ever reviewed, and both Motor Trend and Automobile magazines named it their 2013 Car of the Year.

Timing: In 2009, it was easy to think that the government would continue to support cleantech: “green jobs” were a political priority, federal funds were already earmarked, and Congress even seemed likely to pass cap-and-trade legislation. But where others saw generous subsidies that could flow indefinetely, Tesla CEO Elon Musk rightly saw a one-time-only opportunity. In January 2010 – about a year and a half before Solyndra imploded under the Obama administration and politicized the subsidy question – Tesla secured a $465 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy. A half-billion-dollar subsidy was unthinkable in the mid-2000s. It’s unthinkable today. There was only one moment where that was possible and Tesla played it perfectly.

Monopoly: Tesla started with a tiny submarket that it could dominate: the market for high-end electric sports cars. Since the first Roadster rolled off the production line in 2008, Tesla’s sold only about 3000 of them, but at $109,000 a piece that’s not trivial. Starting small allowed Tesla to undertake the necessary R&D to build the slightly less expensive Model S, and now Tesla owns the luxury electric sedan market, too. They sold more than 20,000 sedans in 2013 and now Tesla is in prime position to expand to broader markets in the future.

Team: Tesla’s CEO is the consummate engineer and salesman, so it’s not surprising that he’s assembled a team that’s very good at both. Elon describes his staff this way: “If you’re at Tesla, you’re choosing to be the equivalent of Special Forces. There’s the regular army, and that’s fine, but if you are working at Tesla, you’re choosing to step up your game.”

Distribution: Most companies underestimate distribution, but Tesla took it so seriously that it decided to own the entire distribution chain. Other car companies are beholden to independent dealerships: Ford and Hyundai make cars, but they rely on other people to sell them. Tesla sells and services its vehicles in its own stores. The up-front costs of Tesla’s approach are much higher than traditional dealership distribution, but it affords control over the customer experience, strengthens Tesla’s brand, and saves the company money in the long run.

Durability: Tesla has a head start and it’s moving faster than anyone else – and that combination means its lead is set to widen in the years ahead. A coveted brand is the clearest sign of Tesla’s breakthrough: a car is one of the biggest purchasing decisions that people ever make, and consumers’ trust in that category is hard to win. And unlike every other car company, at Tesla the founder is still in charge, so it’s not going to ease off anytime soon.

Secrets: Tesla knew that fashion drove interest in cleantech. Rich people especially wanted to appear “green”, even if it meant driving a boxy Prius or clunky Honda Insight. Those cars only made drivers look cool by association with the famous eco-conscious movie stars who owned them as well. So Tesla decided to build that made drivers look cool, period – Leonardo DiCaprio even ditched his Prius for an expensive (and expensive-looking) Tesla Roadster. While generic cleantech companies struggled to differentiate themselves, Tesla built a unique brand around the secret that cleantech was even more of a social phenomenon than an environmental imperative.

Categories
Book reviews

Alibaba’s World: Notes

Facebook, Google, Apple, Ebay, Twitter, Amazon, LinkedIn, Netflix, Microsoft, Snapchat, Slack, Yahoo, Adobe… American companies dominates the list of the worlds biggest tech-companies. While Silicon Valley pukes out one behemoth after another, the rest of the world struggles to keep up. However, there are some rare exceptions. Alibaba is one of them. 


Why I read it & expectations

Before I read this book, my knowledge of the company was limited. I thought it was some sort of chinese Ebay, and a place to find eastern manufactorers where half of the providers probably was scammers. I did notice the occasional news headlines like “Alibaba eclipses Black Friday sales records” and so on, and I thought it would be interesting to read about a non-US company for once. In addition, you cannot ignore a company with numbers like:

  • As of this writing, Alibabas market value is 430 billion $
  • Their “singles day” campaign sold products for 25 billion dollars. In one day…

Main takeaways

The author
The book is written from the perspective of Porter Erisman, the head of international marketing in Alibaba and one of the first non-chinese employees. Its very refreshing to get the story told from an inside perspective. It details the journey of Jack Ma, Alibabas founder, from a humble english teacher with big ambitions.

The start
One of his first endeavours into the tech-world was to create a company that offered website services for chinese companies. At the time, internet accessability in China was limited, and the website had to be created in the US. To show its customers that they actually created the webpages, they had to send printed images of the websites from US to China by mail!

Local impact
Taobao, a “chinese ebay” company owned by Alibaba, has made a really big impact. In several chinese villages, the marketplace of Taobao has become so important for the communities that it accounts for a large percentage of its total commerce.

The book illustrates just how important Alibaba and Taobao has been in leapfrogging China from a offline to online country. For example, earlier this summer they announced a project to bring high-tech infrastructure and next-day deliveries to 150 000 new villages in the vast, rural China.

The importance of localisation
When battling with the US giant Ebay, Alibaba used its knowledge about chinese culture to outmanouvre its western competitor. While Ebay had a minimalistic and clean user interface, Alibabas websites was the manifistation of a designers nightmare: flashing icons, glowy text, endless gifs… While most westernes would dismiss this as ugly and chaotic, the thought behind this was to resemble a traditional busy chinese marketplace, filled with color and noise. It worked. To the chinese this was a sign of a place teeming with life and great deals waiting to be discovered, while Ebay’s minimalism was considered boring and lacking “soul”.

Alibaba also knew that one of the biggest obstacles to chinese e-commerce was trust. As a country completely new to internet and a strong tradition with face-to-face trade, building trust between users was of outmost importance. They solved this by implementing a free chat tool, allowing users to get to know each other before settling a deal.  

The massive scale
Every month, about half of chinas population (600+ million users) use Taobao or Tmall (another Alibaba company) services.

Alipay, a payment service developed by Alibaba, is now the worlds biggest payment system with 520 million users.  

A total of 86 000 employees. 

Did I mention the market value of Alibaba is 430 billion dollars? 

Conclusion

Alibabas World ended up changing my perspective on several things, including my view on China. I have always considered them to simply copy/paste western successes, but the amount of innovation they are doing is quite astonishing.

The book made me realise that I really need to expand my knowledge about the country. The sheer size of its websites (did you know 4 of the 10 biggest websites are chinese?) and companies starts to dominate the world, and I believe its worth shifting some of the focus from Silicon Valley and over to the east. 

Categories
Book reviews

Smarter, faster, better: Notes

Smartere, raskere og bedre! Sjelden har en bok lovet å fikse så mye av livet ditt på en gang. Men klarer den det? 

Svaret er kort og enkelt nei. Ironisk nok har forfatteren (Charles Duhigg, red.anm) gått i de samme fellene som han advarer leseren mot: Det å fokusere på feil ting og bruke for mye tid på unødvendige oppgaver. For her har han virkelig gjort det vanskelig for seg selv. Boken er delt inn i 8 deler:

  • Motivation
  • Teams
  • Focus
  • Goal setting
  • Managing others
  • Decision making
  • Innovation
  • Absorbing data

Hver av punktene kunne fylt en bok eller tre på egenhånd, og det er her problemet ligger. Ikke bare er emnene gigantisk store, hver av dem har 3-4 underkapitler og historier, med en 5-6-7 forskjellige karakterer og navn som trekkes frem. Det blir dermed svært tungt å lese seg gjennom hvert emne, og det som ser ut som en lettlest pocketbok tar evigheter å komme seg gjennom.

Charles har utvilsomt brukt enormt mye tid på å skaffe materiell og lage intervjuer med relevante personer, for å gi boken mer kredibilitet. Det er sikkert 40-50 forskere som trekkes inn ila boken, og alt jeg klarer å tenke er “du kunne gjort det veldig mye lettere for deg selv, stakkars mann”.

Det sagt så er det flere interessante caser i boken, og av praktiske lærdommer så sitter jeg igjen med følgende:

Teams: 
“…some team leaders at Google make checkmarks next to people’s names each time they speak, and wont end a meeting until those checks are roughly equivalent.”

Focus: 
Bokens kanskje beste del, hvor Air France-ulykken beskrives i detalj, og hvordan den kunne skje. Her forklares hvordan inngrodde “mentale modeller” kan overskygge det man faktisk ser og opplever her og nå, og hvordan hjernen kan slå seg helt vrang i stressende situasjoner.

Goal setting: 
Stort fokus på SMART-goals, men at man i tillegg til dem bør sette seg et såkalt “stretch goal”. Et hårete mål som hever blikket forbi de forefallende oppgavene, og sørger for at man jobber mot en større gulrot der ute i horisonten.

Managing others.
Interessant fortelling om hvordan “Toyota-metoden” revolusjonerte en amerikansk bilfabrikk. “Our basic philosophy was that no one wanted to go to work wanting to suck. If you put people in a position to success, they will.”