The Outsiders

I recently read a book by William Thorndike called "The Outsiders."  It tells the story of eight unconventional CEO's and their radically rational blue print for success.   In most cases, they outperformed their peers by over 20X in terms of long term value creation.  Here are three unconventional traits that all eight of the outsiders possessed:

1) They were masters at asset allocation.  They made asset allocation decisions based on long term value creation, not based on meeting Wall Street's quarterly earnings projection. They all had highly centralized investment decisions but very decentralized operations.  The "Corporate Head Count" could typically be counted on two hands.  

2) They were all comfortable with concentration in things they knew well.  In almost every case these CEOs bought their stock back when Wall Street undervalued them.  They were cautious to pull the trigger, but they bet big when they did.  

3) They were all frugal and non-flashy.  None of them had fancy ivory tower offices or drove over the top expensive cars.  In comparison to their peers, it was proven that there was actually an inverse relationship with lavish headquarters and investor returns.  

No matter what your journey may be, long term value creation, a highly specialized focus and a non-flashy demeanor should be able to serve you well.  If that what's it takes to be an "Outsider" you can sign me up!

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The 8 Keys

Lewis Howes, founder of The School of Greatness, came up with 8 keys to success that powerful leaders do:

1) Create a clear purposeful vision.  Only say yes to things that support that vision. Make sure your vision is bigger than your excuses.   

2) Turn adversity into your advantage.  You don't have to look for adversity, it will find you.  When it finds you, use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. 

3) Cultivate a champions mindset.  You must believe that you will win.

4) Develop hustle.  Hustle beats talent any day of the week.   

5) Master your body and health.  You have one mind and body to take you through life so take care of that vehicle.  

6) Practice positive habits.  Your level of success will be determined by the habits your create.  

7) Build a winning team around you.  Make sure you have the right people on the bus.  

8) Be of service to others.  Become a servant leader. 

The principles of success and leadership are timeless and unchanging.  It is our job to take these timeless principles and create our own version of success and leadership based on our unique skills and circumstances.  My hope is that some part of Lewis's formula speaks to you.

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Sunday Blog: God's Workmanship

It is easy to look at movie stars, business icons or pro athletes and compare them to our own life.  Even though every one is human with their own unique struggles, comparing yourself to others can lead to a feeling of inadequacy.  God created each of his children with a different path, distinctly designed for them.  So instead of comparing yourselves to others, I believe we should measure ourselves against what God has uniquely designed for our individual life. 

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  -Ephesians 2:10

He has showed you, O man, what is good.   and what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  - Micah 6:8

My prayer is that instead of measuring myself against others, that I will measure myself against God's unique plan for my life. As God's workmanship, we can be a good and faithful servant.  

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Make Stress Your Friend

We all experience stress on a regular basis.  Kelly McGonigal, prominent health psychologist, taught about the dangers of stress on your health for over 10 years.  She warned her patients that stress could lead to anything from the common cold to cardiovascular disease. Only recently did she find out that what she was teaching was not only wrong but it was potentially harmful to her clients. 

Her recent research shows that high stress ranks as the 15th leading cause of death in the US.  BUT, this only applies to people that believe their stress is harmful.   Those who experienced stress but did not believe it would harm them were no more likely to die than anyone else.  This led to further research on the subject that led to the following discoveries:

1) If you change your mindset about stress it changes the impact on your body.  Your bodies natural stress response increases your heart rate and breathing which energizes your body and flow of oxygen to the brain.  Your body is preparing you to rise to the challenge.  

2) Stress also triggers the release of the hormone "Oxytocin" which is the same hormone that is released when you hug someone.  The release of this hormone triggers your body to crave social interaction, which creates a natural support network to help you overcome whatever challenge lies ahead.  

Stress is your bodies natural way of preparing you to rise to any challenge by creating physical and emotional power.  It only becomes harmful if you view it that way.  The major takeaway from Kelly's message is that chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort.  Chase your dreams and embrace the stress that follows. 

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Sunday Blog: Trust In Fear

Our brains are hard wired to help us survive.  This makes fear an unavoidable reality that we will all face throughout every aspect of life.

Isaiah 12:2 says, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.  The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

My takeaway from this message is that we should not try to avoid or run from fear, but rather use it as an immediate trigger to turn our trust to the Lord.  This simple act will draw us closer and create an intimacy that is well worth the effort. 

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Pass It On

I am actively pursuing knowledge in a unique field that has been totally missed by conventional education as well as industry experts.  Peter Thiel would describe it as a "delusionary popular belief" where the majority of people believe one thing as best practice when in fact the opportunity lies in doing it totally different.   

The problem with pursuing knowledge about a "delusionary popular belief" is that it is nearly impossible to find a mentor or teacher because almost everyone has it wrong.  In this case, I was fortunate to find someone that has 30 years of experience and knowledge in exactly what we are trying to pursue.  

When I reached out to him, he was extremely excited to hear that someone "got it" and invited me to his home.  When I arrived he prepared us a wonderful dinner and had 10 huge binders of organized information ready for my arrival.  We literally stayed up until the wee hours of the night while I took over 10 pages of notes and he shared everything he knew on the subject.

He literally taught me more in 12 hours than I could have learned through years of experience and countless exercises of trial and error.  At the end of our time together I thanked him and asked how I could possible repay him.   He simply said, "Pass it on."

He taught me that we all have unique experiences and knowledge that a younger generation can learn from -- He taught me how important it is to be passionate about a given subject and to be a life long learner.  If he had not taught me what he has learned then that wealth of unconventional knowledge could have disappeared forever.  I am thankful for the many mentors and teachers that I have and will make a commitment to do everything possible to "Pass it on."  

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The Biggest Obstacle

Last night was another great event at Purpose on Tap.  Tommy Newberry, author of "Success is not an Accident" and founder of the "1% Club" had a great message.  His purpose is coaching people to help them realize their full potential.  He teaches that there is no real limit except that which you create in your head.  He left us with four performance character qualities:

1) Develop an incredible work ethic - it's easy today because most people don't.  Do more than you're paid for -- Be excellent and stand out. 

2) Develop focus - a distraction is something that you migrate towards that was not in a premeditative fashion. 

3) Develop relationships - build a network of win/win relationships.  Get to know and learn from the people at the top of whatever field you want to pursue.  

4) Serve - get obsessed with adding value to those you work with.   More value than your competitors.  Serve people the way they want to be served better than anyone else.  

If you want to increase your reward, focus on service and contribution.  Develop rituals of high value activities that will keep you on track.  Don't wait, set goals now before you know how to reach them.  My big takeaway from Tommy's message is that you don't have to have supernatural intelligence or a lot of money to develop the four performance character qualities.  You just have to remove the biggest obstacle, which is you!

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Sunday Blog: Adequacy

We all go through times of feeling pressure or fear that we are not meeting others expectations or those that we set for ourselves.  There is an alternative to these feelings of inadequacy.   

Paul told the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 3:5:  "Our adequacy is from God."

Through relying on this promise, we can grow through faith and obedience.  My takeaway from Paul's message is that our adequacy can be found in God, which will replace fear and anxiety with a spirit of joy and contentment.  

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Connecting the Dots

I recently listened to Steve Jobs' infamous 2005 Stanford commencement address.  This is a great message that is always fun to watch this time of year.  Here are a few highlights:

1) You can never know how the dots of your future will connect, but you have to follow your heart and have faith that they will. 

After dropping out of college, Steve visited a coding class that later gave him the idea for Apple.  If he had never dropped out, he never would have visited that class.  

2) You must be truly passionate about your work.   

After 10 years of building Apple, Steve was fired by his board.  That experience allowed him to reconnect with what he was passionate about and rekindled his creative spirit.  This led to a path of world-changing creative companies that ultimately led him back to Apple.  

3) Every day ask yourself, "Is this what I would be doing if it were my last day?"  If the answer is "No" too many days in a row then it's time to change something.

My big takeaway from Steve Jobs' amazing career and life is that the dots will always connect when you combine passion, focus, creativity and continuous improvement.  He was passionate and focused on creating things that had never been done before.  And he used his creativity and the desire to constantly improve as his guide. With that combination, the dots will always connect.  

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Stay Curious

Erik Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., recently spoke to a classroom of students at Stanford about the future.  He sees the future being one of abundance.  As technology advances rapidly in so many different directions we will be entering an age where life expectancy will be increasing, driverless cars will make the roads safer and machine learning will allow us to process data and improve at rates that we cannot even imagine.  His advice for the students was as follows:

  • Be a part of this era of positive change and innovation and find a work that allows you to serve others.  Stay focused on that and don’t be distracted by all the things that are out of your control (like the news and social media).
  • The world rewards those who persevere and work hard.  Develop Grit.
  • Stay curious and imagine new and better things.  This is what drives positive change.
  • Say “Yes” to as many things as you can.  Say yes to going on a trip, to tackling a new challenge, to pursuing an idea or an opportunity.  When in doubt, say “Yes” to any opportunity or experience.

We are entering an era where anything is possible.  Erik gives some great advice on how to be on the winning end of this great technological movement.  Find your niche, stay focused, develop grit, be curious and say “Yes” to as many opportunities as you can.

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Sunday Blog: The Ultimate Synergy

Have you ever heard of a person that accomplished something great in life completely by themselves?  The reason you have not is because of the power of "Synergy" which is the 6th habit in Stephen Coveys infamous book "7 Habits of Highly Effective People."   Synergy simply means that people working together can defy human logic and accomplish more than the individuals could working by themselves.

Exodus 11-17 tells about Joshua's great victory against the Amalekites.   

"As long as Moses held up his hands the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.  When Moses's hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it.  Aaron and Hur held his hands up, one on one side and one on the other - so that his hands stayed steady until sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. Then the Lord said to Moses,  'Write this down on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.'  Moses built an alter and called it 'The Lord is my banner'..."

The lesson from this passage is how much more powerful Synergy can be if God is part of the mix.   Moses, Aaron and Joshua were a powerful force working together, but when you add God to the equation anything is possible.  My main takeaway is to make sure God is a part of your equation if you want to create the Ultimate Synergy.  

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Creative Monopoly

Peter Thiel believes that all happy companies have one thing in common.  They create a monopoly by solving a problem that no one knew existed.  Monopolies are a necessary part of progress, because the outsized profits associated with a monopoly are the only way to justify the huge risk.  Here are Peter’s 4 characteristics of a monopoly:

  1. Proprietary Technology: You need a 10x improvement from anything else that currently exists.  One full order of magnitude.
  2. Network Effects: Its more useful the more people that use it.  Like Facebook.
  3. Economies of Scale: The company gets stronger with more sales.  This is why it’s easier to create a monopoly with software than a service business.  Great scale should be built into the original design.
  4. Branding:  Think Apple.

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple, he slashed any product lines that he couldn’t see at least a 10x improvement.  Don’t just improve on something that already exists, create something new.  Just like all happy companies have one thing in common, all failed companies do as well.  They failed to escape competition.  My big takeaway is that any company can create their version of a creative monopoly if they focus on solving a problem that no one in their space knows exists -- If they focus on how to create an offering that is 10x better and different.

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Zero to One

Peter Thiel is one of the most successful and forward thinking entrepreneurs in the world.  He is most recognized for being the founder of Pay Pal and the first outside investor in Facebook.  Here are a few takeaways from his book Zero to One:

  • He always asks people a contrarian question, “What important truth do most people disagree with you on?”  It must be framed as, “Most people believe in X, but the truth is the opposite of X.”  Good answers to this question will determine the opportunities of the future.  
  • He believes that brilliant thinkers are rare, but courage is even more rare.
  • It’s not wrong to imagine a better future, but it is a mistake to just expect it.  Creating a better future won’t just happen, it is up to those with the foresight to see what needs to be done and the courage to actually do it.
  • What does everyone agree on?  If you can find a delusionary popular belief, there is a huge opportunity in identifying what’s hidden behind it. 
  • The most contrarian thing you can do is not go against the crowd but to simply think.  What great company is nobody building?

Horizontal progress is taking things that work somewhere and rolling it out everywhere.  Vertical Progress is doing something no one else has done, this is known as Zero to One.  His answer to the contrarian question is, “Most people think the future of the world will be defined by globalization.  But the truth is that technology matters more.  Without technological change, if developing nations around the world lived like Americans the environmental impact would be catastrophic.  Therefore, globalization without technological advances is not sustainable.”  My big takeaway is that if you want to do something that will truly make an impact in the future, the opportunity lies behind a delusionary popular belief, behind a truth that the rest of the world does not see.  If you can find that truth, you can go from Zero to One.

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Changing Hearts

This past Mother’s Day we were blessed to have Sonny Perdue speak at our church.  His message began with the acknowledgement that we live in a world today where Christians are the most persecuted religious group across the globe.  Christians are even under attack in our own country.  Sonny mentioned a USDA employee that was recently fired for respectfully asking to sit out of an exercise that was contrary to his religious beliefs.  So he posed the question, “How are we to live and act in this day and age while Christianity is under attack in so many different ways around the globe?”  His answer referred to scripture.

Matthew 5:16 states, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.“

There is no better example in the Bible of letting your light shine before others than Daniel.  Daniel lived in full obedience to the Lord and was unintimidated when they threw him in the Lion’s den for breaking their law and praying to his heavenly Father.  King Darius saw that Daniel was unafraid and that God protected him from the Lions.  He said in Daniel 6:26, “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.  For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.”

Daniel lived his life in such obedience and faithfulness that king Darius glorified the living God.  Sonny challenged us to do the same.  I am thankful to have Godly men serving our country that are not afraid to share the gospel through their words and actions.  He ended by saying, “God can change hearts, through our lives, with his power.” 

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Discovering Purpose

Erik Barker, author of “Barking up the Wrong Tree” challenges many of the principles that we are taught will supposedly lead to success.  He posed the question, “Why is it that some days, I can conquer the world.  And other days, it takes me three hours to convince myself to shower?”  Through his research, he discovered one secret that must be included in your morning ritual or EMSR (Early Morning Success Routine) if you want to ensure that you are ready to conquer the world.  Your routine must include the feeling of a sense of purpose.  Here is why:

  1. Dan Pink believes that feeling a sense of purpose is one of the most motivating things in the known universe.  His definition of purpose is, “Am I doing something in service of a cause larger than myself, or, at the very least, am I making a contribution in my own world?”  
  2. Feeling a sense of purpose in the morning not only makes you feel alive, it actually keeps you alive.  Researchers at Tohoku university in Japan did a 7 year study of over 43,000 adults, ages 40-79 asking if they had a meaning in life and then tracked their health.  95% of the people who reported having a meaning in life were still alive 7 years later versus only 83% of the ones who did not.
  3. If feeling alive and living longer isn’t enough, another one of his studies found that purpose is sexy.  Erik’s research found an interaction between physical attractiveness and meaning in life, with more meaning in life contributing to greater interpersonal appeal for those of low and average physical attractiveness.

So naturally the next question is how do we discover purpose in a “normal life” without dropping everything to become missionaries in the rain forest?  Duke professor Dan Ariely suggests that you can create purpose by reframing any experience through a different lens.  You might not be able to change “What” you have to do but you can change “How” you see it.  When you look at any situation through the lens of how it can help others, you’ll find it more purposeful and motivating.  My takeaway is that all of us can start the day with a sense of purpose if we spend a few moments thinking through how we can positively impact those within our circle of influence.

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Daily Miracle

Despite being published in 1910, Arnold Bennett’s book How to Live on 24 Hours a Day is a great guide for the ageless question of “How can we make the best use of our time and lives?”  He begins by addressing our counter-intuitive tendency to value money over time.  When in fact, he argues that time is a great deal more valuable than money.  If you have time, you can obtain money, but you cannot buy yourself a minute more time.  Here are few more thoughts from Arnold on how to make the most of your time and your life:

  • Pursue your dreams, even if you fail.  It is the trying which matters, the journey which fulfills us.  He uses this story as an example: “A man may desire to go to Mecca… he fares forth, he may probably never reach Mecca; he may drown before he reaches the port; he may perish ingloriously on the coast of the Red Sea; his desire may remain eternally frustrated.  Unfulfilled aspirations may always trouble him.  But he will not be tormented in the same way as the man who never leaves Brixton.”  His message is simple, it is better to try and fail than to live with the regret of never trying.
  • It is never too late to improve yourself.  You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose.  Employ an hour and a half each evening to cultivating the mind.  This can only be accomplished if we stop the mindless diversions of Netflix, Snapchat and Facebook.
  • We can plan specific pursuits for our spare time, rather than flitting it away.  Find a specific diversion.  When you have something definite to look forward to, something that is to employ all your energy – the thought of that something gives a glow and more intense energy to the whole day.
  • Most of us overestimate the amount of time we actually spend working.  The average worker is only productive for 3 hours per day.  The rest is spent on social media, gossiping, lunch and other distractions.  If you are able to stay productive in your work and complete your responsibilities efficiently, you will be amazed at how much time you actually have to focus on other meaningful things.

The supply of time is truly a daily miracle.  You wake up in the morning and your purse is magically filled with 24 hours of the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life!  It is yours.  We shall never have more time.  My hope is that you will remember and take with you Arnold's quote, “We have, and have always had, all the time there is.”

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Sunday Blog: Hand Tailored Blessings

I believe that trials and tribulations are part of God's perfect design.  We should not resist or run from difficulties, but rather view them as hand tailored blessings designed for our benefit and growth.  Embrace all the circumstances that God allows in your life, trusting that he will bring good out of them.  View problems as opportunities to rely more fully on him.   

Paul told the Philippians:

Don't be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

My prayer is that I will never be anxious about worldly problems.  And I will come to God with thanksgiving for his many hand tailored blessings hidden in trials and tribulations.  

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Remove the Thumbtack

If you find yourself sitting on a thumbtack, don't take an aspirin to numb the pain, remove the thumbtack.  This is an accurate analogy for how we many times attack problem solving.  We focus on treating the symptoms rather than finding the root.   I have learned from experience that when it comes to innovation or continuous improvement, throwing money at symptoms can be a very expensive endeavor that will leave you with the same recurring problem.  Here are a few thoughts on how to remove the thumbtack:

1) Make time to take a step out of the weeds.  The day to day weeds are full of symptoms.  If you don't allow yourself to step out of the weeds it will hard to see the forest from the trees, or the root from the symptoms. 

2) Rapidly conduct small tests, testing each hypothesis.  Iterating quickly and inexpensively is the best way to find the root. 

3) Sort it out on a whiteboard with multiple perspectives.  The more solution oriented minds that you can get on a problem solving session the better.

4) Learn from other industries.  Regardless of what you are trying to do, there is a good chance someone else has done something similar. 

Taking the road less traveled and blazing new trails isn't easy.  As you strive to innovate and improve, I hope you will find the best way to remove the thumbtack rather than just numb the pain.   

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Ultimate Sophistication

This past week I went on a brief retreat with a few entrepreneurial friends. While together we went through the exercise of creating a 5 year plan for our businesses. Part of the exercise was to think back and write down the specific things, that are unique to us, that got us to where we are today. There were 3 uniquely simple things that got Swift Straw to where we are today:

1) We always treat every customer request with an extremely high sense of urgency. I have been amazed by how much business we have won by simply treating every customer need with urgency.    

2) We find ways to say "Yes" to our customers. In fact, no one in our company is allowed to tell a customer "No." With enough collaboration and critical thinking, every customer problem has a solution. I have been amazed by how much business we have won by finding ways to say "Yes" when our competition says "No."

3) We continuously grow, improve and find better ways to do things. Everything we do is constantly challenged. Saying "That's the way we've always done it" might be the fastest way to find yourself looking for a new home.

After reflecting on our unique characteristics I am still amazed that 3 things so simple can also be unique. I guess Leonardo Da Vinci was right when he said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

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Sunday Blog: He Lives!

I was fortunate to experience another great event at "Purpose on Tap."  The speaker, Ross Mason, is an amazing person who has dedicated his life to expanding God's kingdom through service, entrepreneurship and innovation.  Several years ago he was paralyzed in an accident while training for an iron man.   While in the ambulance the paramedics were shocked that he was cracking jokes and having a good time.  

They said, "Don't you know you could die at any second?"  

He laughed and said, "Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, so I'm either going to see Him in a minute or He will keep me here because He has bigger plans for me."

He then walked through a number of miraculous events in his life since that point that could only be explained as miracles directly from the Living God.  My big takeaway from his message is a reminder that we worship and serve a living God, not a statue or monument for the past.   He is the living God, the eternal king and the only one capable of the many miracles that we experience in this life. 

"But the Lord is the true God.  He is the living God, the eternal king.  When he is angry the earth trembles, the nations cannot endure his wrath." Jeremiah 10:10

My prayer is that we will never forget that we serve an awesome, omnipotent, miraculous, eternal and living God.   

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