Episode 7: Skills Are Tools

Welcome back to the Toolbox. We’ve talked about broad based tools like belief systems and active imagining.  Now let’s start getting more specific.

No one would think of building a house without tools and materials, hammers, nails, lumber, etc.  So what tools do you need for financial success? Over a lifetime, there may be many, but if you start with these two, all the rest can be mastered as needed.  What are they?

1. Master the English language and how to use it to persuade others to meet your needs!

Let me get personal for a moment.  I have started 10 successful companies in biotech, medical devices, finance, and other fields.  Did I have skills in those fields? No!  I never had a math course beyond high school algebra; never had a science course at all, and didn’t study accounting until my second year of law school.

What I did study was how to use language to persuade, excite and explain my dreams to others and get them to support them.  I found scientists who would develop the products, I found financial experts to fund my companies, and I found accountants and lawyers to guide us through the process.

If you truly understand the power of language—English in particular, and other languages if you can—you can learn anything else you need to know or find someone who already knows what you need to help you.

But if you don’t know why “Me and him went to the store” is bad grammar, or if you think the language of some ethnic group is “cool”, and you use it in business, I can just about guarantee you will fail.  So learn to use language as the powerful tool it is.

With a command of language, skill in public and private speaking and writing, and the understanding of how money works as a tool and not an end in itself, there is no reason to fail. 

Learn from those who are already successful. You don’t have to re-invent every skill.  You can, instead, find someone who is already successful and learn from him or her just by observing, or, if you have the chance, by asking questions.  

Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker who built his early fame by convincing people they could walk on a bed of coals did not just build a fire one day and try walking on it.  He found someone who actually did it, asked how they did it, and then put that knowledge to work to begin building his fortune. 

Warren Buffet, the most successful investor of all time, learned from his mentor, Ben Graham, how to find undervalued stocks; then improved on that technique and became one of the richest men in the world. 

There are hundreds of other skills and techniques you can learn, but it all starts with realizing that everything you learn, in school, on the job, or just living life, can be a tool to help you achieve success.  Learning some of those skills can sometimes be hard work.  But who cares?  Once you realize that the skills are the tools to your success, the work can become pleasurable—because it has a purpose: to make your life better.

We’ll talk more about converting skills into investment assets in the next blog.

Episode 17: Race, Gender, and Success

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We hear a lot these days about “White Privilege” and “Gender Bias”.  If you can change the way you think about those things, you can increase your chances of success in business and life dramatically.

First of all, everyone who is not blind to reality knows that in the United States (and most of the world), it is extremely helpful to be a white male instead of black or Hispanic or Asian, or a female.  I would be lying if I did not say that in the United States today, it is a great advantage to be born white—and also an advantage to be born rich.  But there is a huge difference between an advantage and a privilege.

In this, as in life, words matter. If you are black or part of any other minority race and I say to you, “White Privilege”, your mind will immediately think of some special entitlement that is granted to white people that you cannot hope to have.  But if I change that phrase to “White Advantage”, notice how differently that makes you see the world.

Let’s take an example.  If you are on a basketball team and are only 5’10” tall, and an opposing player is 6’10”, he has an enormous “advantage”.  But does it give him the “privilege” of always winning?  No. If in your mind, instead of saying “advantage”, you think “privilege”, you will have missed a huge opportunity. Just having an advantage does not mean you win. That was proven dramatically in the basketball world a few years ago by a player named Muggsy Bogues.  Muggsy was 5’3” tall, but became a star player in the NBA, playing against 7-foot giants for 14 seasons in a league where even a 6-foot tall guard was considered too short.

His story is inspiring in its own right, but the point is that if he had considered being tall equal to the privilege of winning games, he would have stayed away, never tried, and never had the success he did.  Did he have to work harder than everyone else?  Yes.  But he considered his short height an obstacle to be overcome, not the lack of the “privilege” of being a basketball player.

By the way, the same is true of gender bias. The reality is this:  life is not fair, never has been and never will be, but, particularly for those living in the United States, there is almost always a way to overcome any obstacle of race or gender.  A black man was elected president of the US for two terms.  A black man was for many years the CEO of American Express, a company that most people consider almost of a symbol of white wealth. There are and have been female CEOs of several Fortune 500 companies.  And with the passage of time, as more and more women and racial minorities succeed in high profile jobs and in politics, the advantage will be less.  

But the key to success, whether you are in a minority or a white male, is to recognize that life is not fair, but never to consider someone else’s advantage to be a privilege; it is just an advantage that can be overcome. If you are part of a minority and see what others call privileges as just obstacles that can be overcome, you are very likely to succeed. By the way, if you are white and think that you are entitled to success as a “privilege” you will almost certainly fail and lose out to someone who worked harder and played the game of business and life better. 

As someone who has founded 10 successful companies, invested in many more and observed what happens in the real world of business, I am going to go a step further.  If you are in a minority, but take the trouble (and make the huge effort) to understand how the game is played, prepare yourself better and work harder, you can actually make your minority status into an advantage. How can that be?

Consider this, I am considering hiring or promoting two employees, one is a minority and the other a white male. They appear to have accomplished pretty much the same things, but both are young and have potentially long careers ahead of them. I am very likely, either consciously or unconsciously, to give preference to the minority person. Why?  For a very simple reason.  I care about who can add value to my company for the long term.  If at a young age I am presented with two candidates who seem to have accomplished the same amount, but I know that one had to overcome big obstacles to get where he or she is, who do you think I am going to believe is more likely to succeed when my business faces the obstacles that every business does?  I’m going to favor the one who has already proven that they can face tough odds and succeed anyway. 

It doesn’t always work that way.  There is still prejudice in the world, but particularly in business, hard work, acquired skills, and toughness of mind will prevail.  So please, never think of “privilege”; think only of obstacles to be conquered.

Episode 18: Failure vs FEAR Of Failure

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Believe it or not, one of the biggest obstacles to achieving financial freedom and an abundant and successful life can be summed up in three words: FEAR OF FAILURE. Notice that I did not say, Failure. I said Fear of Failure. In reaching any goal worth having there will be failures along the way—often many of them. No, it is the Fear of Failure that dooms most people to lives of frustration, living far below their potential.

The reasons are actually quite simple. Fear of Failure does several things, all of them bad.
1. It persuades us never to try, or
2. It makes us give up on ourselves or our dream at the first major barrier,
3. It paralyzes us at exactly the times when bold action is needed.
4. And, it undermines the inner belief of “I can do that” that we have talked about already and are starting to build.

But to deal with the fear of failure, we first have to look the possibility of failure in the eye. Every time I start on a new project that I think has any risk of failure, I do something that most of us find very uncomfortable. It is not comfortable for me either, but I have learned that doing it is one of the best predictors and guarantors of success I know. What is that something?

Before I ever take action, I ask myself these questions:
1. “What is the worst thing that could happen if I try this?”
2. “Can I survive if the worst thing goes wrong?” I’m not thinking about the kind of physical survival that could happen in a war or natural disaster I mean can I survive it economically and can the relationships that I cherish survive it.
3. If the worst happens can I do more than just survive the failure; can I rebuild my dream and try again?

My experience has been that in almost all cases, even the worst case situation can be overcome, but looking at the risks squarely, in the beginning, takes the fear out of the equation.

Fear of Failure is the biggest cause of actual failure, usually because of one basic reason: Fear of failure causes us to give less than our best. It is human nature to build in an excuse, “I could have succeeded but I didn’t have the chance to give it my full attention.” Whatever that excuse is, banish it from the beginning. It is a little scary to put all your hopes and dreams into a project, but anything less almost guarantees failure. There is a saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Mark Twain turned that around into a saying that is much better when you are talking about committing to a project. His phrase was, “Put all your eggs in one basket: and watch that basket.”

The lesson from all this is very simple: Look the risk of failure squarely in the eye and decide if you can deal with that risk if it happens. If so, commit completely and make sure that failure doesn’t actually happen.

Every successful business I have ever created has had one or more “near-death experiences” in which failure was possible. But because I had faced those possibilities in advance and was committed to success in spite of those risks, I managed in almost every case to turn potential failure into success. Out of 11 businesses I founded, one did fail, but the failure was of the business. It was not my failure and I went on to more successes. You can too.