Angela Duckworth is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies grit and self-control. In her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Professor Duckworth defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”
“In their work with The United States Military Academy at West Point, Duckworth and her team of psychologists have worked for years to understand who will make it through the rigorous training and who will drop out. For weeks on end, new recruits are asked, on an hourly basis, to do things they can’t yet do. Most cadets are tired, lonely, frustrated and ready to quit.
What’s interesting is that those who rise to the occasion and make it through the intense training are not the ones who have the most talent. Many drop out who have all the ability in the world. When presented with challenges that exceeded their current skills, what they lacked was a never give up attitude.”
Duckworth translated what she learned working with West Point into all areas of life in studying high achievers, from bankers and business leaders to artists, athletes, medicine, law, journalism and academia. What her research has found is illuminating.
She admits, in nearly every example of high-achieving success stories, there is a combination of luck and talent. But, it goes deeper than that. The subjects of her study were driven to improve. “When the average person would be satisfied, the top of any field or profession is not. They are their own harshest critics.”
Angela Duckworth – Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
My family doesn’t like this about me. I’ve often said if you could print out my inner thoughts in a bubble that hovered above my head, I’d either be committed or arrested. As harsh and demanding as I can be on my employees, vendors and business partners and (at times) clients, they all tolerate it, not only because I allow others to ride on my coattails, so to speak, and benefit from my success, but also because they know I’m quite literally 100 times harder on myself.
Listen, none of this is flowery, warm or fuzzy, but it’s the truth and it’s high-time, if no one else in your life has allowed you to acknowledge it, that I give you the space to do so here, in a safe place where you understand that you’re not the only one who thinks this way:
It’s the same with top writers, athletes, business leaders and academics. Everyone in orbit around them is aware of this and they’ve made their peace with it. I know my peers, ex-employees and contemporaries dislike me for this, but that has more to say about them than it does about me.
They call me a workaholic or say that I’m too driven. Let them say what they want. I do not care. When Walt was building Disneyland and had already spent half the money with nothing more than mounds of dirt to show for it, he wondered aloud to the lead engineer, with tears in his eyes, if building the park’s railroad and four different “lands” might turn out to be his biggest mistake yet. That harsh self-criticism and determination to see things through led Disney to build an apartment for his family inside the park, so he could eat, sleep and work on-site without leaving.
If you look at the research and examine your own heart, your most successful endeavors happen when you’re ferociously determined and working your hardest; when you know in a very deep way what you want and that you’re not only passionate about what you’re chasing but absolutely determined to capture it. Like adding top-quality racing fuel to a high-performance engine, it helps if you’re doing all of this in service of your higher sense of purpose.
Listen. I know you have grit or you wouldn’t be reading this update. You’d be mentally wandering about, worrying about this pandemic and economic shutdown. You’d be one of the majority in our profession, who are great when things are going well but fall apart when things aren’t.
But you’re not like the majority. You won’t turn away from or reject the grit inside you. You’ll embrace it. Let this be your fuel to navigate the best path forward.
In coaching, consulting and reviewing the reports from our on-site trainers, human capital challenges are at the top of the list of items we’re hired to fix. As I’ve done with most systems, challenges and opportunities in business, I help my clients and trainers develop and deploy “litmus tests,” or quick “yes/no” tools to help guide next steps.
Here’s one you might put to good use when your next employee challenge or frustration arrives. Ask if this is an issue of character or circumstance.
Our data indicate: underperforming employees are rarely an issue of character. These situations are almost always an issue of circumstance.
For example, we failed to place the employee in the proper role. The training program was inadequate. Oversight and motivational systems were not being deployed consistently. Communication was unclear. We did not support the employee’s desire to learn new things, master his own environment and contribute to a higher sense of purpose.
And yet, I see employees in our clients offices being disciplined or terminated because of circumstance. This is a horrible mistake. Do not let good people go if you haven’t done your job in placing them in the best-fit position, training, managing and motivating them and then getting out of their way so they can help you achieve your vision and mission.
In the rare situations where an employee has demonstrated a problem with character, in a twist of irony, many practice owners drag their feet in firing the employee.
Listen. There are no quick fixes for issues of character. There is only one solution for an employee who is dishonest, has a poor work ethic, refuses to be a team player and sabotages new projects in the office: swift termination.
And yet, too many business owners fail to address this problem because the employee has been with the team for a long time, performs their job, at least from time to time, sufficiently, etc.
Isn’t that interesting? The fact that most small business owners will tolerate a crisis of character but not one of circumstance? Why?
For starters, it’s easier to blame the other person for poor performance than it is to look in the mirror and admit that your systems for hiring, training, management, motivation and culture all stink like yesterday’s garbage.
Our egos don’t get damaged when we point our fingers at someone else. But, like my mother used to say, “when you point your finger at someone else, there are three more pointed back at you.”
This advice and litmus test, if you take a moment to unpack and consider them, make perfect sense in the larger picture of running a successful business. Because if you get this right, you’ll behave in the opposite fashion of every other competitor in your industry.
From the first Netflix earnings call of 2020 and MarketWatch:
“What does it mean to “watch” a show on a streaming service? For Netflix Inc., it now means viewing at least two minutes. The streaming service noted in its first quarterly earnings report of 2020 on Tuesday that it has changed the definition of viewership — while Netflix used to consider any customer that streamed 70% or more of a single episode or film as having viewed that property, it now will count a view after viewing two minutes or any offering. The company admitted that it would boost the limited viewership numbers it provides by more than one-third.
“The new metric is about 35% higher on average than the prior metric,” Netflix executives said in their quarterly letter to shareholders. “For example, 45m member households chose to watch ‘Our Planet’ under the new metric vs. 33m under the prior metric.”
This, my friends, is the definition of insanity and a very slippery slope.
I’ve said for years that the internet is largely an unregulated cesspool when it comes to advertising and false metrics. Does anyone remember Jay-Z’s album selling a million copies in five days? Except it didn’t. His streaming service, Tidal, is under criminal investigation in Europe.
Facebook logs a view for advertisers when a video plays for at least three seconds. YouTube uses better metrics and bills the advertiser when a user watches a complete add that’s 11-30 seconds long or watches at least 30 seconds of an ad that’s more than 30 seconds or interacts with the ad. Instagram has admitted to wasting billions of paid sponsorship dollars on followers that don’t exist. Every year Facebook deletes billions (with a B!) fake accounts.
According to Forbes, “In the six-month period from October 2018 to March 2019, Facebook said it removed 3.39 billion fake accounts. That’s twice the number of fake accounts detected and removed in the previous six-month period and over a billion more than the 2.37 billion people who actively use the social network on a monthly basis.”
Netflix is following Facebook down this insane rabbit hole. It’s one thing to hoodwink investors about the number of actual users and views but advertisers won’t tolerate it and eventually everything comes home to roost. Streaming services will need to significantly increase subscription costs or introduce more advertising, something Netflix has said it will never do. Uh huh, Facebook said the same thing. “We changed our minds,” is the most-common phrase ever uttered by companies that follow the dollar down these rabbit holes.
As a small business owner, not only can you not afford to behave like this (you have to count with dollars in the bank and lifetime customer value and return on investment, etc.) but you must also pay very close attention to any advertising platform or media channel that counts with funky math.
The most transparent and effective online advertising platforms right now, for my businesses, are Amazon and Google, respectively.
I’m optimistic that Amazon can take over both of these categories (transparency and overall effectiveness). How much juice they will want from the squeeze is the only hurdle that remains for local service providers. But, rest assured, Amazon is coming for your advertising dollars.
I’d leap for joy if they allowed targeted in-package advertising for new movers, grocery deliveries and standard packages. It’s not a far leap for Amazon to allow local service providers to advertise in specific packages and via email footer ads with coupons for furniture assembly, appliance installation or lawn service. They have the best 360 degree view of their 101 million Prime members. Why not leverage those data points and sell to local service providers, after which Amazon could easily acquire or affiliate with the most successful of the bunch?
As a sound business principle, seek out and work with organizations that consistently raise the bar.
Google has done this consistently for years and has allowed very smart marketers like Jimmy Marketing to help local service providers make a ton of cashola. Amazon will hopefully do this even better.
Everyone else, unfortunately, is feverishly lowering the bar. There is no excuse to follow them into oblivion.
I’m back from a whirlwind trip to Las Vegas, where we hosted 50+ TC Boot Camp attendees, three private coaching clients, a quarterly planning meeting for two of my companies and a scouting trip for a few long-shot investments. In two of the three private coaching meetings, a common theme we discussed was systems management. I reviewed business systems through three lenses: communication, oversight and recalibration.
Everyone seems to enjoy talking about systems, creating systems, perhaps even training their employees on new or existing systems. Since the first mention of “business systems” in 1980 by McKinsey and Company and through the creation and adoption of Six Sigma, business leaders throughout the world have been obsessed with automation and systems, to help eliminate defects in any process.
Sounds great, right? Just like “running a marathon” sounds great, the problem arises in the distance between idea and implementation. We all want to be in great shape. Getting off the couch and running every day is another story. We all want our businesses to run smoothly with maximum profit and happy stakeholders and shareholders. Systems oversight and management is another story.
Who Moved My Cheese? is a simple yet effective business fable about adapting to change and overcoming fears. The book has sold more than 26 million copies and remained on the New York Times business best-sellers list for nearly 5 years. It offers very little in the area of systems development, but it diagnoses precisely why systems fall apart and why we need them in the first place: change.
Your top competitors in business today will not be your top competitors five years from now. The problems you solve for your customers, clients, patients or donors today will not be the same problems you will solve a decade from now. Your employees, shareholders, stakeholders and strategic plans will change. Everything, in fact, will change; and that’s precisely why clients consistently travel to me with challenges and frustrations in dealing with change; anticipating change and overcoming their fears in adapting to, circumventing and even enjoying the change in their lives.
This morning on your way to work, your car keys were probably right where you left them last night. In business, however, nothing is where you left it. Change is continuous and often compounding or confusing for you and your employees. For example, if you left your employee training systems where you last touched them, perhaps when you started the business, they are not where you left them. Your training systems have, for good or for ill, been changed, improved, strengthened, weakened, diluted or condensed, etc.
Your systems have either adapted to or been run over by change. When’s the last time you took a look at them? How consistently and effectively do you oversee the systems in your business?
Things are not where you left them.
Five years ago, Nir Eyal wrote a book called Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, which helped startup tech firms understand user psychology. He discussed the research on slot machines, which use variable rewards and pleasures that come at unpredictable intervals. If you haven’t read, Addiction by Design, it is both amazing and alarming.
In response to pressure from psychologists and child development specialists, tech industry insiders have blown the whistle at Google, Facebook and WhatsApp, becoming critics of the very tools and addictive apps they spent years developing. In his latest book, Eyal admits that there will be a movement to be “post-digital” in 2020. He says, “We will start to realize that being chained to your mobile phone is a low-status behavior, similar to smoking.” But, he does not think technology is the problem. We are.
Throughout the book, Mr. Eyal challenges the idea that technology is doing all of this to us. “These are things we can do something about,” he argues, “It’s disrespectful for people who have the pathology of addiction to say we all have this disease. No, we don’t.” Eyal says technology is something people overuse, which suggests we need to do something about it ourselves, but Tristan Harris, the former Google ethicist, argues the opposite. Harris speaks around the world, leading the movement to regulate big tech firms and require that they change how they develop tools and apps, putting the onus on them to make their devices and apps less addictive.
Although I don’t expect these two narratives nor their arguments on technology and behavior to be settled anytime soon, I do think there are some valuable takeaways for your business, when faced with any challenge or opportunity:
First, never forget, regardless of the narrative in your mind, there is always a counter-narrative. Make it your job to get better at seeking out the counter-narratives in your life and in your business. Work to understand them, whether you ultimately accept them or not.
Second, ask two important questions when you face any challenge or opportunity: “Am I sloughing off personal responsibility or reclaiming it?” and “What does my understanding about this issue, opportunity or challenge tell me about me?”
Eyal equates his stance on technology and personal responsibility to a time in his life when he was obese. The myriad digital detox crash courses he attempted were just like the 30-day fad diets he tried but were unsuccessful. He finally lost weight for good when he asked himself why he was eating.
The solution he advocates and the narrative he’s accepted on technology overuse is a slow process. “People often look at their phones because they are anxious or bad at being alone,” he says, “The phone-hooked need to figure out why they are so uncomfortable waiting in line without their screen and what they fear around them.”
This mental contrasting ability to hold two narratives in your mind is extremely productive and serves as a great tool in running your business.
In every corner of life and business, you’ll find those who cling to one narrative and those who can mentally contrast, play devil’s advocate, hold strong opinions loosely and let the best idea win. One road leads to success, fulfillment and happiness. The other leads to stagnation, frustration and peril. Here’s to taking the path less-traveled. Here’s to understanding all narratives and the power they have, for good or for ill, to help you or cause you to fail.
Three months after its public debut, Uber posted a $5.2 billion loss that’s “impressively vast” even for a company whose business model is based on outspending the competition, said The Economist. Since its inception, Uber has lost a total of $14 billion. A few weeks ago it laid off 400 people from its marketing department, representing a third of the entire division, and has placed a hiring feeze on new engineers.
Uber’s stock is down 20 percent since their IPO in May. It’s expensive to recruit drivers, there’s more competition and consumers are very price-sensitive. Even the most-promising startups, with billions of dollars in venture capital, must answer to the laws of gravity.
Last Wednesday was a private coaching call day. I started early in the morning and took call after call, in 45 minute increments, until late afternoon. In many of the calls, there was a common theme of growth via attempt to ignore gravity. Doubling the size of your business is not as simple as doing twice as much of what you’re doing right now. Growth creates complexity and complexity kills growth. New employees, hours, locations, additional doctors and strategic partners – all of this is complex and it can strangle the very thing you want to achieve.
As a recovering stubborn-headed know-it-all who used to do all of this the wrong way, please learn from my mistakes and understand what I get to see working all over the world and also what doesn’t work.
Understand the laws of gravity in your business. Attempt to defy them and you will eventually be pulled back down to earth.
First, decide how big you want to get and why. Aimless growth is like a mapless journey. It might turn out great, but the odds are not in your favor. If you can’t write down a revenue goal, you’re highly unlikely to achieve it by accident.
Second, determine how much profit you must derive from each unit of time, service or product. Do not violate it. Cut costs at every turn.
Third, know your “enough is enough” number and have people in your life that can hold you accountable to not only achieve it, but also to enjoy the life you’ve created around you before you’re dead and gone.
Fourth, realize every successful business is really a marketing and sales business. If you don’t know the money math inside these core competencies, you will never achieve significant growth.*
Take total collections and divide it by the number of new patients, clients or total products sold last year. Do the same with total collections and number of full time employees. Know your most-productive hours in the business and your least-productive hours. Set the minimum required revenue per hour or per product line and task managers to maintain or exceed those metrics.
Failing to acknowledge the gravity in your business is like ignoring a bad joint sprain and attempting to run a marathon. Most of your peers operate blindly and big dumb companies behave badly all the time, but this is no reason for you to follow in their path.
* You and 39 other clients can join me in 2020, where I will show you best-of-class statistics for each of the metrics (i.e., gravity) in your industry and help you perform in the top 1-5% of your market and field. You can request details for an upcoming discovery call where you will see details of the program. Make your interest known by going to MyCoachingApplication.
Most small business owners are used to giving answers, not asking questions. If you followed around some of the world’s top CEOs and leaders, you would find the exact opposite is true. The best leaders are great at asking questions, so that the best ideas win and the best answers quickly become evident, even if they arise from the least-expected team members.
Management expert Peter Drucker was well-known for asking smart questions like, “What changes have recently happened that don’t fit what everyone knows?” Read that question again and let it sink in for a minute.
Most leaders start their meetings with assumptions, biases and beliefs about their market. They see any change in the market as something to be dealt with based on their existing talents and tools. They almost never assume the solution is entirely out of their wheelhouse. They simply go about fitting every “nail” to their hammer. Drucker’s question, however, forces you to stop and ask what you don’t know.
If revenue and profit are up this quarter, why? Start with what you might not know. Maybe there’s a new employer in your area offering excellent audiology coverage. Might that be the unknown source of your good fortune? Perhaps the referral campaign you did 60 days ago is finally catching up with busy schedules and spouses who want to get their loved ones into the hearing health care provider before their vacation. Maybe consumer confidence has a lot to do with your growth, etc.
The list should be long of possible reasons why something different is happening in your business, but you’ll never articulate the actual reason if leadership insists on giving answers instead of asking smart questions. If things aren’t growing as quickly as you would like, here are five of Drucker’s questions to ask of your team at your next meeting:
Too many small business owners can’t articulate a powerful and meaningful reason why they exist in the marketplace other than the fact that they want to earn a living and they like what they do. I’m sorry, but the market doesn’t care that you like to boost clarity or perform surgery or help clients with legal problems. The market only cares how much value you can deliver in solving problems for consumers.
Too many small business owners are unclear about exactly whom they serve. We were crystal clear years ago when we stopped treating children and cochlear implant candidates. We’ve never looked back and have continued to grow, even by dismissing 25% of our previous new patient flow. We know exactly whom we serve and we know precisely what they value.
Finally, what is your plan and how will everyone in your organization know if you’re making progress? Drucker says, “Progress and achievement can be appraised in qualitative and quantitative terms. These two types of measures are interwoven – they shed light on one another – and both are necessary to illuminate in what ways and to what extent lives are being changed.”
Know what your results are and how to measure them.
If you need some inspiration in making your next quarter one of your best ever, stop coming to the table with all the answers and instead start asking better questions. Set the framework and keep asking, “What more can we do to delight our patients?” Your team will have answers. Give them the freedom and motivation to pursue them in service of your mission.
I returned from a great meeting with clients recently and met my assistant to go over our plans for the coming week. If I’m in one of our offices, I like to go walking around and say hello, let people know I’m still alive and, occasionally, like I observed today, I get to see a new employee or two in training.
At our departure desk today, there was a new smiling face in training and a handful of patients checking out, all under the careful guidance of two administrative employees and their supervisor. If this new employee was paying attention, and it appears she was, then she learned a powerful lesson today about what patients and spouses want when it comes to hearing appointments.
Most of these patients were coming back in 1-2 weeks for prescription changes and two were coming back in three months for a cleaning or observation appointment, I’m not sure, I was only in the area for 20 or 30 seconds. 100% of these patients said some variation of the same thing. When asked which day of the week works best for them, they all said, “The day and time that is least likely to make me wait.”
Steve Jobs has a famous quote about the customer not knowing what they want until you show it to them. This advice is cute and different. It flies in the face of consumer surveys and focus groups, but it assumes you face the same daunting task of inventing the next great technological revolution, like the iPhone.
You need not reinvent the mobile phone. Your job is not that complicated. You simply need to listen to what patients want and give it to them.
Pouring over 20,000 new patient appointment requests from last year alone for our clients and our privately-held practices; reading the transcripts from over 1,000 secret shopper tapes, the data are crystal clear: your patients and their spouses want appointment times that are convenient to them, and don’t make them wait on you.
If you ignore this and fail to provide your new patients with convenient appointment times (think 5pm, 6pm, 7pm or later) within 7-10 days, they will go somewhere else and/or, if you can get them to show up, they are 400% less-likely to start treatment. * Don’t shoot the messenger.
In a new study from researchers at MIT, the journal Marketing Science reports that consumers make much simpler decisions than most marketers assume. Our brains are really good at deploying an “index strategy” or a straightforward ranking of our options. The advantage of making only slightly better decisions wouldn’t be worth it, in most product and service categories, so we quickly rank the options we believe are available to us based on simple factors like price and quality, finalizing our decision when there is a clear winner. However, when consumers are not able to clearly index their options, they get stuck and delay the decision until there is a clear winner, if ever one appears.
As the only practice owner on the planet paying attention to this research, and as someone who fully understands its power and importance in the consumer markets of hearing aids and treatment, I acutely implore you to pay attention as well.
Stop pretending like patients and spouses care about the technology you use or the level of training you received as a specialist. They don’t. That might bother you but it doesn’t make it untrue. Start recording your new patient phone calls and checkout desk. You’ll hear the same thing all day long. “What’s your appointment time that won’t make me wait on your?”
Pay attention and give consumers what they want, or go work for someone who will.
At lunch this weekend, my 13-year-old stepdaughter told me “at dad’s house, we keep our opinions to ourselves.” I didn’t even finish swallowing my food before I said, “I completely disagree,” quickly stopping all conversation at the table.
I asked, “When should you freely share your opinion, even if it isn’t well-received?” All three of my kids at the table had good answers. When a friend is being a little too crazy on the trampoline or if you know something that could help someone, like telling them they are going the wrong way to the airport, etc.
We quickly boiled it down to a litmus test: if your opinion can prevent unwanted harm or facilitate something good, share it and don’t be shy. People who don’t have the guts to say what they think, especially when it can help someone or prevent something bad from happening, usually live quiet lives of despair.
“You’ll never get what you deserve in life if you keep all your thoughts and opinions to yourself,” I said, “Plus the conversations are a lot more interesting and you’ll probably learn something about the other person that can help you both in the future.”
I share this story because you own a business and you have a handful or even scores of employees who are afraid to share their opinions with you. The smartest and most-successful amongst us are really good at helping our employees be tactful, yet we do not surround ourselves with sycophants. Brené Brown calls it “getting comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.”
I had private clients in a few weekends ago who are very smart and capable, growing quickly and experiencing the challenges and complexities that come with growth. One of the challenges is stepping aside and letting someone else take the reins on projects and responsibilities inside the practice.
In determining who will step up to the plate and be their team leader, the only question I had for one potential inside hire was whether or not she could be blunt and honest yet tactful with you if someone needed to be fired. Their immediate answer was, “Absolutely not.”
“So, she’s not a leader,” I said. Keep looking and make sure you put people in positions of responsibility who are comfortable having uncomfortable conversations, who are not sycophantic in their approach with you, and yet, can still be tactful with subordinates.
My parents and grandparents taught me this skill when I was a child. I’m now teaching it to my kids. Never assume your employees and team leaders had this taught to them at a young age. Odds are, they didn’t and you must insist that you are surrounded by tactful leaders willing to share their opinions.
The Smithsonian magazine reported recently that archaeologists uncovered an ancient Roman bathroom, decorated with suggestive mosaics, meaning dirty jokes were built right into the walls. Just like bathroom humor has been around since the dawn of time, there are many things that never change, even in today’s fast-paced, always-on, hyper-connected society.
For example, your patients will always want to know certain things from you before they buy, before they refer, before they pay in full, etc.
Each year, Jeff Bezos and Amazon ask, “What do we know about the consumer that never changes?” This is an extremely telling secret hidden in plain sight. The world’s #1 disrupter of many industries is not asking, “What’s new and always changing?” He has thousands of software engineers and towers filled with experts who can keep up with the day-to-day details of running the world’s biggest online retail firm. Instead of focusing on up-to-the-minute minutiae, Jeff Bezos wants to know what never changes. He wants his eye focused on the horizon. Yours should be too.
Complete and unrecognizable disruption will one day transition the orthodontic industry so that 100% of treatment is delivered direct to the consumer. How orthodontics is paid for and reimbursed by insurance companies will change. How consumers connect with providers and what they demand in return for their investment will change. Those who set the laws, regulating our profession will change.
Set amid all of this disruption, there will be winners and losers. The winners will have asked and provided solutions to the fundamental question, “What do we know about orthodontic consumers that never changes?”
What fascinates people. What makes them laugh. What makes them fearful, jealous, spiteful. How do they behave when they are happy, sad, excited, eager, hungry or tired. What would stimulate their desire to enhance their smile. Why they would come see you, considering all of their options, including the option of doing nothing. These are the things that never change.
Study them, and you hold the keys to human nature that can unlock a lifetime of success, so that everyone around you thrives. Ignore them, and you’re doomed to continuous struggle, inconsistent results and a lifetime of frustration.