Yes, Elon Musk is Crazy

 
SpaceX_logo2I read an article recently that said Elon Musk asked his biographer, Ashlee Vance, if he thinks he, Musk, is insane.

My answer, if Elon Musk asked me, would be yes. I think Elon Musk is insane, just as I think Ted Turner was insane, and Richard Branson was insane.

I don’t mean that in a negative way. I don’t think they need to be committed. I use insane in a positive, you-have-to-be-crazy-to-do-what-you-did, kind of way. As I lay out in my book What Next, you don’t go from a billboard advertising company to pioneering 24 hour cable news with CNN, as Ted Turner did, unless you’re a little crazy. You also don’t do that in a straight line. It takes twists and turns as you find the right path and go around or over obstacles.

Entrepreneurs hear that word, crazy, a lot. Imagine you said to friends or family that you were going to start a rocket company. Even if you had hundreds of millions of dollars, I think you would be called crazy. No, I know you would be called crazy because that’s exactly what Elon Musk’s friends called him.

But did you miss the big revelation in his story? Elon Musk had no expectation of making money at this venture. It was his passion and belief in something bigger that compelled him. In my previous post about this video called Crap Filter, Elon says that you have to be compelled to start a company or be the boss because it’s not easy. What is compelling you to do the things you do, and are you responding or pushing it off for later?

I think a lot of people confuse the word crazy with confident and compelled. Elon Musk is not crazy in the sense that we think of it, he’s just crazy enough to confidently follow through on what compels him.


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In This Order

 
In my first post on The RFR Principle there were three words that I think are really important: In This Order. The full quote is: “The RFR Principle says that three elements are necessary for success and they are, in this order, Risk, Failure, and Reward.

Why that order?

First comes the risk because without action, without doing, there is no risk, so risk has to come first.RFR

Failure must be next – it’s the buyer’s remorse that comes from making a decision, the worry and doubt that creeps (and sometimes speeds) in. But it’s so much more than that. Failure is the unanticipated details that come with starting something new, the deflation that follows confidence, the obstacle that from a distance only looked like a bump in the road. Nothing is flawless. No plan, no matter how well thought out and how adeptly executed, is perfect, and that is why failure must be next. The good news is it’s rarely fatal as long as you deal with it quickly and calmly.

Reward comes last and is the most tenuous of the three. It’s often not as great as expected and comes later than anticipated.

Because the RFR Process is perpetual, once the initial cycle completes, all three elements can occur simultaneously. Like electrons speeding around a nucleus, Risk, Failure, and Reward all circle Success and it’s up to you to influence their speed and trajectory.


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Embrace the Complexity of Options

 
Anthony RobbinsIn a post a long time ago (one of my first) titled “Oh No” I lamented the fact that I was just another motivational author or speaker and I was not happy about it.

I think the reason I don’t want to consider myself a motivational author or speaker is that they are too simplistic in their approach. I, however, want to embrace the complexity of options. Take a simple concept like fear. I just read an article about Anthony Robbins saying how fear holds you back from success and while I’ve written about that very topic, I’ve also written about the benefits of fear. It’s too simplistic to say fear=bad and courage=good but that’s really all Anthony Robbins is saying, and most motivational speakers say.

I keep coming back to something Scott Loughmiller said in What Next, “I don’t take risks I manage risks.” And that concept can be applied to everything: I’m neither afraid nor fearless, I manage my fear; I’m neither under confident nor over confident, I mange my expectations. The fear is there, the lack of confidence is there but we push through it and yes the lack of fear can be dangerous and over confidence can get us in trouble. We constantly fluctuate between emotions and that’s ok as long as we manage to make progress.

This also ties in well with what Gary Vaynerchuk told me when I interviewed him in 2013, that self-awareness was the most important trait for success. If you are honest with yourself about what’s holding you back, you can begin to manage it.

Anthony Robbins and his ilk are the sugar rush of success, it’s a nice rush but it won’t last. Simple sells very well for them, but life is complex and requires complex solutions together with lots of work. Go to a motivational speech or read a motivational book and you’ll feel good for a while. Become self-aware and manage your issues and you’ll be well on your way to sustainable success – but like anything it takes work.


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Gary Vaynerchuk Knows Himself Well

 
It’s no secret that I believe strongly that curiosity is essential for success. If you read this blog or read my book, you’ll find curiosity hailed throughout. You will also find that I speak of other traits that amplify curiosity and lift ordinary success to higher levels. Those traits are a sense of adventure, willingness to try things, a healthy understanding of risk, and self-confidence, to name the ones I think are most important.

Gary_1In my interview with Gary Vaynerchuk he added one trait to this list that is often needed to balance out the others, that trait is self-awareness. You have to be a good judge of your own strengths and weaknesses and that requires self reflection. Listen to the conversation about self-awareness here:

 Vaynerchuk SelfAwareness

In my book, What Next, I interviewed an entrepreneur, Scott Loughmiller, who, when I thanked him for answering the questions so thoroughly said, “That’s ok I like this self-reflective kind of stuff.” That’s why he’s successful, because he is able to take stock of his own abilities and concentrate on the things he’s good at while hiring the people to do the things he’s not.

Loughmiller was trained as a programmer, a coder, but he doesn’t code much any more because he has the bigger picture to worry about. He knows there are people who are better at coding and can devote all their energy to it so that he doesn’t have to spread himself too thin and micromanage the project.

Gary said something that I suppose would sound ridiculous to a normal person. He said there was a time that he thought he should win an Emmy, Tony, Grammy, and Academy Award, really believed that he had it in him to do it. That made sense to me because I’ve had those grandiose ideas myself (In What Next I call them delusions of grandeur). It was self-awareness that brought Gary back to reality.

Do you take the time to think about your strengths and weaknesses? Do you understand yourself more than anyone else? If not, why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


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Yin-Yang of Confidence and Fear

 
In What Next I relay the story of how Julie and I decided to buy an investment property in California but what I left out was how perfectly we compliment each other, how we balance each other. When Julie was feeling apprehensive about this big decision I was confident, calm, and reassuring. When I began to have doubts, wondered if we were making a mistake, Julie took the role of the voice of reason and strength.

Confidence and FearJulie was the Yin to my Yang as I was hers. What I’m seeing now, in a painfully real way, is that the Yin and Yang are within us as we fluctuate from confidence to fear and back again. As I move closer and closer to opening my spa, with all the details that need attending to, I cycle through the range of emotions. It takes a toll.

In Adversity on Purpose I talk about how successful people seek out difficult situations, investments or business opportunities for example, in spite of the risk and the obstacles in their way. They do this because they know that what lies on the other side of the struggle is success. I know that, too, but the cycle is unavoidable.

If all I had was confidence, where would the attention to detail come from? If I was sure things would work out, why would I check and double check my progress? It’s the fear, the worry, the concern, that keeps me on track. Conversely, without confidence, why wouldn’t I just give up? Without belief in the prospect of success, why would I be so dedicated? It’s the faith we have in our own abilities that drives us forward.

The confidence and fear cycle goes on but compliments each other as we continue forward over obstacles and up hills. How have you used this dichotomy to your advantage?


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Prove Them Wrong!

 
Andy Murray with trophyFor any tennis fans out there I know I’m not being a spoiler to tell you that Andy Murray won his first major tournament Monday when he beat Novak Djokavic in an amazing five set match at the US Open. There were plenty of people who thought he couldn’t do it, didn’t have the extra little something to be a champion. I confess I also felt that at times including Monday evening as I saw his decisive lead chipped away forcing a fifth set.

We all face naysayers and our own doubts, but the people who persevere are the ones who keep coming back, tournament after tournament, failure after failure. These people believe in something no one else does (at least it sometimes feels like no one else believes).

I have two stories relating to that which I’d like to share. The first takes place in the principal’s office of my middle school when I was in 7th grade. I was not a very good student back then. I rarely did my homework prompting many parent teacher conferences and frustrating my parents. My science teacher, Mrs. Gillen (I still remember her name), was also quite frustrated with me. On this occasion she took me to the principal’s office to try to talk some sense into me. I remember her words very clearly. She said that I needed to apply myself, get better grades or I was in danger of having Brain“my brain atrophy.” Mrs. Gillen then asked if I knew what atrophy meant. I did and defined it for her. I think she was as shocked with my knowledge as I was with her idiotic statement. I knew my brain was just fine and that my real problem was boredom.

Needless to say, my brain did not atrophy and I have gone on to be quite successful in spite of Mrs. Gillen’s dire predictions that I wouldn’t. The second story is much more recent and involves a very embarrassing  mistake on my part.

Two years after accepting a new job with an increased salary I noticed that I wasn’t being paid properly, that I was short several thousand dollars a year. Yes it took me two years to realize this – as I said embarrassing. The company’s response was “too bad.” Unless I could prove that I was being paid wrong they wouldn’t do anything about it. In one meeting an executive said to me “after all the nice things I’ve said about you to (the president of the company) what do I say now? AJ’s still a good guy but he’s apparently not good with money?”

MoneyI smiled because I knew that was so far from the truth that it was indeed laughable, and said, “Well that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to think what you want but that doesn’t change the fact that you aren’t honoring the agreement I entered when I took this job.” I was able to prove my case and got the back pay I deserved.

In both of those examples the people I was dealing with had very little confidence in me but I kept moving forward, working to improve myself and achieve the desired outcome on my terms. It is hard when you feel isolated but that’s exactly when you need your inner voice to come through loud and clear. I’m sure Andy Murray had doubts, was fearful and nervous, but he stayed focused and knew that a positive outcome was still very possible. The same goes for you in whatever is giving you pause right now.

It’s up to you to prove the doubters wrong so what are you waiting for?


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Size Does Matter

 
I’ve been writing in a cryptic way about a What Next I’ve been working on and in a recent post called, Whose Priority Are You?, I gave more information about this project saying that I’m searching for commercial retail space. Having identified several possible locations I have a difficult decision – is bigger better?

Truck under bridgeSize does matter but that doesn’t mean that bigger is necessarily better (just ask the driver of that truck). When you’re talking about a retail establishment you have to ask yourself, will the additional space bring additional revenue? That has to be weighed against the question of whether the additional expense, rent, is a hardship if the extra revenue is not realized. The size of the space, the size of the rent, the size of the risk, the size of the potential, all matter and all have to be weighed against each other to come to a decision.

Speaking of size, every decision seems huge at the time you’re making it but in retrospect big decisions often have less of an impact than you thought at the time. A favorite song has the lyric “It’s not a hill it’s a mountain as you start out the climb“* and that is what I think too many people do, initially perceive everything as too difficult to overcome. It’s very easy to become paralyzed by over analyzing every detail. Don’t get me wrong, details matter but at some point you have to decide.

In What Next, the book, I quote Lee Iacocca the former chairman of Chrysler, “I have always found that if I move with seventy-five percent or more of the facts that I usually never regret it,” he said. “It’s the guys who wait to have everything perfect that drive you crazy.” So what did I decide? I chose the bigger space believing that the potential gain was worth the risk and worth the rent. Of course there is still the question of location that needs to be considered. So let’s see how the negotiations turn out the way I want them to.

* The song is “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” by U2 of course


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Confidence Matters

 
Harvard Business Review BlogWho am I to disagree with a writer for the Harvard Business Review? I’m nothing compared to him, nowhere near as smart. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic says that “Less Confident People are More Successful” so my first two sentences must mean I’m a wild success because my lack of confidence is on full display.

Tomas may indeed be smarter than me but that doesn’t make him right. Confidence does matter and his article makes clear Confidence Mattersthat he does not understand the difference between confidence and arrogance. He makes three points in the article and all are easily refuted.

Lower self-confidence makes you pay attention to negative feedback and be self-critical

While that may be true, what about that statement says that high self-confidence makes you ignore negative feedback and makes you less self-critical? I’m a very confident person (some may even say over confident) but I put a huge value on feedback and negative feedback is much more important to me than positive feedback. Anyone can tell me an idea is great but I want to find the holes in my logic, the problems I’m too close to see. My confidence has nothing to do with my critical thinking abilities. There isn’t a decision I’ve made that I haven’t gone back and evaluated how I could improve upon it, it’s called learning and it’s something I believe in and confidence doesn’t diminish that.

Lower self-confidence can motivate you to work harder and prepare more

Again the statement itself is true but motivation comes in many forms and my confidence doesn’t diminish the various motivating factors that make up my ambition. As I write in What Next: “motivation is the tinder for the spark of inspiration; it is the thing that catches fire.” Once the fire is burning confidence will help you to carry it like a torch to light the way for others.

Lower self-confidence reduces the chances of coming across as arrogant or being deluded

And here it is. Tomas is equating confidence with arrogance and they are two very different things. Confidence may look like arrogance when someone’s opinion doesn’t agree with your own but who’s really being arrogant in that situation?

The points raised in the article are good ones but here’s how I’d present them. Be confident but value other’s opinions. Be confident and stoke the flames of motivation. Be confident but not arrogant. Done.

 


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The Calm After the Storm

 
HurricaneAfter a hurricane the weather is often beautiful, it’s the calm after the storm. Making a decision, particularly a decision that involves money and risk, you often feel you’re in a storm, being buffeted about in a sea of fear, concern, enthusiasm, confidence, and doubt.

I’m not yet ready to declare my decision final but while sitting on the train yesterday I was Beachovercome by a sense of calm, a sense that fear and doubt were completely vanquished. More than being calm, I was serene, totally comfortable with the decision I’m about to make.

I know it won’t last as problems are sure to arise because problems are a part of life, but I also know that during the worst of times I can have faith that the feeling of calm will return.

Do you have stories of calm after a storm? I would love to hear your comments below.


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Imperfect

 
I’ll start with the bad news: to feel good about yourself, to have a sense of accomplishment, you have to set the bar high. The good news is that no matter how high you set the bar, you define success. For example, if you set a goal to reach the level of president in your company, a difficult goal, but only make it to vice president, you can decide whether you were successful or not.

This is a concept that is explored in my latest obsession called “Failure Club” a web TV show with Morgan Spurlock. The idea of failure club is to push yourself so hard that it’s almost impossible to succeed. An example from the show is Liz who wants to start a high-end handyman business and have 10,000 clients in one year. This is a lofty goal and if she only makes it to 5,000 clients she’ll have failed, or will she? The answer to that question is up to her.

By pushing ourselves, and setting difficult goals we really understand our limitations, our strengths and weaknesses. We define the line between perfection and imperfection. I thought about this after seeing this tweet from Greg (@StrategicMonk) during the #Inspirechat tweetchat.

Imperfection Tweet

Race FinishSurviving imperfection is what we all do on a regular basis and that’s good because it means we’re challenging ourselves as we strive for perfection. Think of an athlete missing first place by a small margin – that’s surviving imperfection because it was a learning experience.

The other part of Greg’s tweet is trusting yourself and confidence is a big part of that. Confidence in your ability and confidence that while you didn’t reach you initial goal you still succeeded. Here’s my story, a story only friends and family know, until now.

The Longest Day

After becoming an avid cyclist I set a goal of doing a ride called the longest day. The ride was so named because it was usually held on the weekend closest to June 21, the summer solstice. Oh and because it was a 200 mile one day bike ride from the northernmost part of NJ to the southernmost part of NJ (see my crude drawing of the route).LongestDay

I trained long and hard for the ride (it wasn’t a race) putting in over 1200 miles in the months prior to the Longest Day. I was ready and I was confident. The night before the ride we all met at the hotel we’d sleep at so we could start at 4:30 the next morning. I was on a team with three others and we had one support vehicle following us. My wife would join us half way with a second support vehicle.

It was cold as we started riding at 5am but at least it wasn’t raining yet. By the time the sun came up the rain started and we rode mile after mile in some very heavy rain. There were some breaks including a glorious two hours of bright sunlight and heat. Then the thunderstorms came. We tried waiting them out but made the decision to finish the ride. That’s when my teammates made a decision I wasn’t comfortable with.

Drafting

In cycling, the practice of drafting is riding very closely behind the rider in front of you making your ride easier because there is less wind resistance. If you can ride behind something bigger, say a truck, then it will be even easier. My teammates decided to draft one of our support vehicles, I refused. The roads were wet, the rain was torrential, and riding that closely behind a truck just wasn’t safe in my eyes, not to mention the fact that it felt a lot like cheating. Since it wasn’t a race I felt I’d be cheating myself out of the effort I knew I trained for.

I watched as my teammates sped away in the distance and I kept rolling on. Because of all the delays the hour was getting late and it was getting dark. My wife kept her truck behind me to block me from speeding cars. Annoyed that she was driving slow the cars would swerve around her getting much too close to me for her comfort.

The End

Finally at 8:30pm Julie pulls along side me and asks, “How do you feel?”

“I feel fine. Why”

“Can you finish” she asked.

“Of course, it’s just five more miles!” That’s when she dropped the bomb.

“Then get in the truck. You proved you can do it but one of these cars is going to hit you and I’m really worried.” We argued a bit but I could see the concern on her face so at 195 miles into a 200 mile bike ride I stopped. My teammates made it to the finish line but I feel I completed the task while they failed.

What do you think?


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