“We can always kind of be average and do what’s normal. I’m not in this to do what’s normal.” --Kobe Bryant
If you want to be a top performer in any field you must become abnormal. Normal is average, which by definition, is far below the top!
This is one of the eight principles discussed in the book Organize Tomorrow Today, which analyzes top performers in a wide range of fields including Olympic athletes and Fortune 500 executives.
Not another time management system or planner, I thought and recoiled when my book club peer recommended it. After all, we all have 24 hours in a day and if you are already a reasonably productive person, no new time management system is going to magically give you more hours!
And in a world of Purple Cows, One Minute Managers, and Moving Cheeses , the title doesn’t exactly entice you to want to read. It feels more like mom reminding you sternly, to eat your vegetables and floss your teeth before bedtime!
Readers are advised to pick one--and only one--of the principles to work on for 90 days, before moving on to the next. Becoming abnormal resonated most with me.
Don’t be fooled, though. I was expecting disappointment but it is a surprisingly substantive book, based in part on the legendary basketball coach John Wooden’s philosophy.
There are three traits one needs to cultivate to become abnormal, as the book defines it:
No Reasonable Excuses
Most people do not attain superior performance in their respective fields because they make excuses. The book argues that accepting these excuses lets you off the hook, depriving you of the negative emotion needed to spur the kind of action that leads to uncommon success.
Many of our readers aspire to be successful ecommerce merchants and can readily cite any number of excuses why they are not pursuing this goal. If only I didn’t have kids. If only my spouse were more understanding. If only I was independently wealthy. On and on go the reasonable excuses!
Rose Blumkin (right) with Warren Buffet after selling her company to him. Image source: Omaha.com
Have you ever heard of Ms. B? Warren Buffett likes to tell her story when speaking to groups of small business owners. She could neither read nor write and barely spoke any English. In fact, when she arrived at the US port in Seattle she had a tag around her neck like a dog, with detailed instructions on where to send her. As she lacked formal education and language skills, the only jobs available were menial and low paying.
Yet with all these handicaps, the mother of four saved $2,500 and pursued her dream of starting a furniture store. Today, Nebraska Furniture Mart does $1.5 billion in annual sales, never having taken an additional dollar of capital.
Do you still have reasonable excuses?
Not Worrying About What You Can’t Control
John Wooden after his tenth and final championship in 1975 with UCLA. Image source: NYPost
John Wooden is celebrated for his super-human accomplishments as the head coach of the UCLA Bruins: 10 championships, undefeated seasons, and an 88 game winning streak. But it is easy to forget that he was not an immediate success, and in fact lost his first four play off games.
The turning point in his career came on the day he decided he would only worry about what he could control. You see, until he won his first championship, the basketball team used to practice in a rundown facility known as the “BO Barn” (so named because of its pungent smell) shared with several other teams. He often wished this wasn’t so and felt the odds were stacked against him.
On this day, he let go of this worry and redoubled his efforts on the many things he could control--passing fundamentals, defensive drills and even details as minute as the proper way to wear socks and lace-up shoes to avoid getting blisters.
Within two seasons he won his first championship. As a result, UCLA built a new practice facility and stadium for the basketball team. This was such an important principle to Wooden that near the end of his life, he left his son this hand-written note:
Concern yourself with what you can control. If you get too caught up, concerned, engrossed or involved over the things over which you have no control, it will have an adverse effect on the things over which you have control.
A quick test of whether you are stewing over things you can’t control is frustration. “It may sound overly simplistic, but anytime you feel frustrated, pull out a piece of paper and create your own “Can and Cannot” control chart. Doing so will help jump-start you into action toward those things you can control”
For an ecommerce business, it might look like the list below. Notice that there are always many more things you can control.
Delighting your customers
Producing high quality content that is relevant to your audience
Finding alternate customer acquisition channels
Investing in better systems and processes
Reducing or eliminating unproductive activity in your business
Generating more revenue from your current traffic (by investing in Conversion Rate Optimization). I am partial to this one!
Being RSF (Relentlessly Solution Focused)
When you get bogged down by problems it is easy to become “problem oriented”. After all, popular psychology says we should “just talk about our problems and we will feel better!”
Problem is, there is no evidence that this works. Instead, within 60 seconds of encountering a setback, think about all the things you have done right and come up with at least one idea that could be “part of the solution path”. The choice of phrase is deliberate because the first idea you come up with likely won’t be the best, but it is still important to begin ideation immediately.
Image source: SBNation
The authors tell the story of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals:
In Game Six of the 2011 World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals were trailing by three runs as late into the game as it’s possible to go without it being over—with one strike left in the bottom of the ninth inning. But even as Cardinals fans were preparing for the Texas Rangers to clinch the title, the Cardinals players refused to give in to what was seemingly inevitable.
Instead of concentrating on the negatives of the moment, the players forced themselves to think about solutions. Refusing to focus on the scoreboard, the pressure, or how close to defeat they were, they channeled their thoughts toward the fundamental details of having a “good at-bat.” They kept to the routine that had gotten them to the World Series in the first place—waiting for good pitches to hit, not trying to do too much in an at-bat.
They won the series, becoming the first team ever in World Series history to come back from two different two-run deficits in the ninth inning or later in the same game.The Last Dance (the recent documentary about the 1990’s Chicago Bulls) shows that Michael Jordan had this quality in spades. The day after being manhandled and eliminated by the Bad Boys of Detroit, Jordan got his team to hit the gym--to start putting on muscle and building strength so they could hold their own against the “barbarians”. When they met the Pistons again in 1991, the Bulls swept them (4 -- 0) and won their first NBA championship.
Feeling stuck? Try cultivating these traits for 90 days and I bet you will start to notice positive abnormal performance in whatever you do!