I see it everyday. The buzzard on top of the lamppost just sitting there. Waiting. Watching. Listening. Still. Silent. Working smart by doing next to nothing.
When there’s a movement, it swoops down. And has lunch.
For the buzzard the lamppost serves two purposes. It gives it a vantage point. And saves its energy. When it flies, it is to hunt. It is not flying around in hope. It is flying on a mission to eat. Movement equals food.
For years I have subscribed to the Motley Fool subscription service. It’s an excellent service. Probably the best there out there. It teaches you how to look at the fundamentals of companies. It tells you their methodology of discovering the rule breakers. And it teaches you how to look at what the future markets for these rule breakers is likely to be. It encourages you to invest while these companies are still unknown by most.
Yesterday, I listened to a podcast Motley Fool put out about driverless cars. Its view is that they are going to happen. And when they do, there will be losers and winners. The losers will be the insurance companies. Why? Well, the number of crashes will be dramatically reduced to almost nothing.
The cars of the future will be computers with 4 wheels. So the winners will be the companies who can develop the chips that are capable of processing all this data to enable them to drive without you and I. They think they have spotted this company. A company who has developed a processor that can process all that information 10 times quicker. And so making the driverless car just a matter of time rather than if.
What is the Motley Fool? They are a lamppost. They allow you to see things early. They detect movement of a different kind. Once that movement has been spotted, it shares that knowledge. It is then up to its subscribers whether to act or not.
If the buzzard was down at ground level, it would have no overview. And therefore, it would eat less. Also, if it were constantly flying around searching for food, it would use up too much energy to sustain itself. Lampposts provide leverage by providing an overview. Lampposts allow buzzards to eat more.
A lamppost can be anything that allows you to see things early. It can be a book you read. A talk you listen to. A conference you attend. A holiday you go on. And yes, a subscription newsletter.
When you are up real close, you can’t see the context, you can see what’s around the corner, you can’t see what is coming.
Lampposts are important. They help you see things early.
Yesterday I zoomed up to Dublin for a quick meeting. On the way back, we stopped in a food market called Avoca. It’s impressive. The attention to detail. The sourcing. The variety. The way it was all displayed. After an hour or so, we decided to hit the road back to my sisters. But before we did, we thought we’d have a quick cup of tea.
The place was pretty busy, but the guy who served us took time to warm the cups, and the teapot. I watched him pay attention to getting it right. The cup of tea was perfect.
He didn’t have to warm the cups, he didn’t have to warm the teapot, but some people just think about the customer. Maybe he thought we had another 200 miles to drive. Maybe he thought we looked tired. Maybe, he just made the cup of tea that he would like to have been served.
When you hire, find people who think like a customer. Find people who care. Because they will never make a bad cup of tea.
Try doing something new, try raising some money, try being ahead of your time, and you are going to hear this word a lot. I mean, a lot. Entrepreneurs hear this word more than most. What makes the entrepreneur is how they react to it. How they use it give them strength. How it spurs them on. Entrepreneurs keep going.
Entrepreneurs develop a thick skin because they have to. They learn the art of the hustle. They learn to pick themselves back up from the floor. Time after time. Because they know that one day they are going to hear that short, sweet, beautiful word: Yes.
I used to think networking was some kind of dirty word.
But, I was wrong.
If you can 'find the others' who are are trying change the world, it will help you just to be around them.
They will help with optimism, with belief, and with contacts who be able to help you. They will share problems, and answers to similar issues to what you will face. What industry they are in doesn't matter as much as how they view the world. And what they think it could be.
You need to hang out with them. Learn from them. Argue with them. Drink with them. Dance with them. Sit around a fire with them till dawn.
I have been doing my workshop for quite a while now, but it took me quite a while to figure out that that the real importance of it was the small network it creates. Fellow crazies.
Tara Lemmey said it best at Do USA 'People who want to change the world need to hang out with people who want to change the world'.
One of your jobs as an entrepreneur is to 'find the others' who want to create as much change as you do.
Go 'Find the others'.
Where these two circles overlap is where you are now. It’s called today. And today is your biggest gift. You can’t change the past. It is done. Learn from it. But don’t live there.
Yup, the future is exciting. But it will be shaped by what you do today. How hard you work at something today. How much you try today. How much you learn today.
The future is decided by what you do today.
Where these two circles overlap will be where I will have my biggest successes. And my biggest failures. But it will always be where I am most alive.
Charlie Engle is an ultra marathon runner. He ran across America. He ran across the Sahara in 100 days. I asked him to write a piece for the YearBook that we do at Hiut Denim. He said he would. On one condition. That I had to promise to give the factory everything I had. Like everything. And not to hold back. And not to spare myself. His words haunt me. I will be honest with you.
The question I always ask myself is am I giving it my best shot. Am I trying my hardest, am I doing my best? Am I giving it everything? It's why I set my alarm at 5.50am each work day. I don't drink alcohol in the week. And I focus on the priorities, and leave the rest undone.
This goes some way to answering the question 'am I giving it my best shot?'. But there is a question before that. And it is this: Is the shot you are taking the one that matters most to you?
For me, getting 400 people their jobs back in a town that used to have Britain's biggest jeans factory is the shot I want to take. It matters to me. And it provides me with the daily fuel to push hard. Yes, it's risky. And it maybe the biggest risk I have ever taken. But everyday it keeps me on my toes. I am alert.
I am alive.
Before I start a project, a business, I draw three circles. One is: Does this interest me. Does it interest me enough to fuel the bad days. There will be bad days. Trust me. And that is when most people quit. They don’t have enough interest in it to keep going when logic says it is going to fail.
Then I ask myself, do I have a skill that will enable me to make this successful? Can I make it work? Can I find an edge here? And lastly, what have I seen that others haven’t? Can I get a seat early on the train? When everyone is doing it, the train has already left the station?
This intersection here guides me. It is where I have the greatest chance of success, of having fun, and of feeling alive. This is the sweet spot on the tennis racket. This is where you need to find yourself. So draw three circles. Make sure you operate in the intersection of all three. You are most alive there.
When I sat down to work out whether I should start Hiut Denim Co, this is what I wrote:
1, My Interest. I love jeans. Love my town. Love creative people.
2, I can tell a story. I can communicate. And we had a great story of a town that used to make jeans. The town knew how to make a great jean. And I knew I had skills that would help me sell it.
3, Manufacturing can come back home. The internet has changed the world for the small maker who sells direct. And I saw it early.
Sometimes the best way to start something is to keep your day job, and start it as a side project. I have some experience of this. I started howies from our spare bedroom in 1995. In 2001 we got our first salary cheque. I started The Do Lectures back in 2007. Neither Clare nor myself have taken any salary from it. Sometimes in order to get something off the ground, that is what has to be done. You can’t do that forever, I know. But it sure is one way to start. 99% of all businesses fail because they never start.
For me, The Do Lectures matters. There is something amazing about this informal community of optimists. It’s like a support-network for ideas and ideas people.
I have no doubt The Do lectures has changed my life. The people I have met have changed my view the world. And I count myself lucky to be involved. I have made friends with some incredible people.
A labour of love does require you to love it. It’s no chore for me to do all the mundane stuff. I love doing the hoover on Tuesday morning. I love making the fire. I love cleaning the coffee cups. I see the magic of it still.
I believe The Do Lectures is one of the best events in the world of its kind. Not the biggest, but so special. And I am super proud of it. The Do has given me far more than I have ever given to it. I am lucky.
Working for something that matters to you is the best reward of all.
I live in a house that has never had central heating. It has an open fire. And two log burners. Each morning I light 3 fires. And each night I light 3 fires. All winter long. What I have learnt from lighting fires is the importance of every detail. Good wood is important. Seasoned. And with moisture content below 20% is best.
But no matter how good the wood is you can’t start a fire without kindling. The job of kindling is to easily light and transfer that heat onto the logs so the fire takes hold. But kindling needs newspaper in order get it lit. And newspaper needs a match. There is no detail that is more important than another. And things have to be done in their natural order.
The mistake commonly made in startups is that the founders concentrate on one detail in particular, normally the one they are very good at, and let the others slip. And then they wonder why their business didn’t catch fire. In that way starting a business is like starting a fire: The only detail that matters is all of them.
We have had our battles. Some you won. Some I won. I have learnt a lot from you.
I learnt always to respect you. I have also learnt I must never fear you. Because that is what you want. Fear is your weapon. It’s the seed of doubt that you plant. And once planted, it just grows. That’s how you win. I take that knowledge with me to every battle now.
I am a football fan. And I am always intrigued by who steps up to take penalties. And who misses. The most talented players don’t always make the best penalty takers. Why? Because penalties are less about skill and more about nerve.
If you kick the ball hard and in the direction you have picked beforehand, the chances are you will score.
The average success rate of a premier league player taking a penalty is 83. 91%. Yet the average success rate of a penalty taker at the World Cup is around 71%. In theory the world’s best players should have a percentage at least equal to the Premier League player. But there is more pressure at the World Cup. So nerves play a part. And the bigger the tournament the more there is at stake.
The player who can put the consequences of missing out of his mind at the key moment of taking a penalty is more likely to score. The player who lets all that stuff get to them won’t hit the ball as sweetly as they normally would. The context of the importance of this particular game has played on their mind, and so will bring about the thing they fear the most: Them missing.
Failure wants you to dwell on consequences and context . It knows that it makes you tense, anxious and uptight. At that point the simplest of things, like scoring a penalty from just 12 yards into goals that is 24ft wide and 8ft tall, becomes much harder.
The zone you have to be in to score a penalty is one where all you have to do is to kick the ball. The mind thinks of nothing else. Zen like state where failure does not exist.
Failure, and his close cousin, fear, want you to be at the precise moment of taking the penalty to be thinking what you will feel like when you miss, what the headlines will be, what your team mates will say. And if you listen to that chatter, the chances are you will miss.
The real skill of the best players is being able to shut fear out, to not care about the thing they really care about, to accept failure is best defeated by being loose. So their talent can come to their fore and not their fear.
Being loose is a hard thing to learn. And like kicking a ball to within a centre metre of where you want it, it just takes practice. Standing up to do a talk requires you just be yourself, but when you are uptight you are not that. Standing up in front of a huge audience, singing your songs requires you to imagine you are just singing to a small local club. Context is important to keeping loose. Writing lyrics for a song require you to not worry about the audience you are trying to please. Indeed, the best lyrics don’t make a bunch of sense when you read them aloud. Far from it.
Being loose means when it’s your turn to kick the ball, that all you think about at that key moment is kicking it in the direction that you have already planned. And kicking it as hard as you can.
The irony with failure the more you think about it, the more it becomes self-fulfilling. Fear stops you listening to your instinct, fear makes you over think your actions, fear stops you trusting your talent and skill. As fear takes hold, our breath shortens, our muscles tense, our thinking becomes less clear. And with all that the odds of doing our best become a lot less.
Being brave is not about accepting the consequences should you fail, but instead not allowing those consequences to enter your head at the key moments. Failure requires fear in order to do its best work. Once you know that, you can work on making failure fail.
Learn to breathe. Keep things in context. Above all, learn to be loose.
And just kick the ball.