I had the opportunity recently to dive into the minds of over 35 business executives, entrepreneurs, business developers, key project leads, etc. My findings were pretty fascinating and I thought I’d share some of this with you.
What started as a small project back in November as I reached out to a few colleagues around what makes them successful, turned into a full-blown research project, where I had the opportunity to spend many hours with very successful people in many lines of business (over 75 hours of research and deep conversation!).
First, for some background. I work for a tech company, CCC Information Services, out of Chicago in a sales role. I’m half way through my sixteenth year (I know, who works for anyone for sixteen years anymore??). It’s a great company. Very forward thinking, very high performance culture. We’ve averaged approximately 24% yr over yr Return on Equity during this time. I tell you that not to brag, but to point out that many of the people I talked to work for CCC….and it’s definitely a high performance culture. The results are there – but I can assure you that everyone goes about their work in a different way. Some better than others….most have the good and the bad – things they do really well and things they can improve. One of the objectives was to uncover both and help everyone get a little bit better.
I started the project because I knew I’d be able to learn something from some of my colleagues about what they do on a day to day basis that sets them apart. I really believe no matter how much success you have or how “good” you are today, if you’re not looking to get better it’s a recipe for disaster. I say that from experience. Nine years ago I got a big promotion. I was 30 yrs old and if I’m being honest – got a little complacent. I stopped pushing the envelope and thought I had “made it”. Thankfully, I got a wake up call a few years ago and my mindset is all about continuous growth. Hard lesson, but a great lesson.
Back to my research and some key findings. I say it was fascinating because I was blown away by the candor and how different people approach things. I liken the conversations to that picture of the iceberg where all you see is what’s above the water. You know the one I’m talking about – where you can only see a small piece above and there’s this huge piece below the surface we never see. This was such a big theme – everyone had so much they did on a day to day basis that they really never thought about. I found that many never thought about their daily habits and what made them “successful”. I put that in italics because success is certainly different for everyone. I can definitely tell you that although important, financial success was rarely the primary factor. In fact, the idea of serving and adding value was a big theme for most. The best of the best definitely had a contribution mindset that set them apart. That was cool to see.
I thought I’d list out a few key learnings and the cool part is this has opened up a much larger conversation about how we can all learn from each other.
Three core themes stuck out and they are as follows:
- Theme #1 – Mindset – Everyone has challenges in their daily lives. It was a pervasive theme. The best of the best have a resiliency to them. A grit factor, I’ll call it. They know that things won’t always go their way but they’re focused on moving forward. Carol Dweck, who wrote the book “Mindset – The New Psychology of Success” refers to two different types of approaches. One is a Fixed Mindset and the other is a Growth Mindset. Here’s what Dweck says about Fixed Mindsets – “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.” Here’s what she says about Growth Mindsets – “People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Sure they’re happy if they’re brainy or talented, but that’s just the starting point. They understand that no one has ever accomplished great things—not Mozart, Darwin, or Michael Jordan—without years of passionate practice and learning.” Make sense? We can all get better. Whatever cards you’re dealt today are simply the hand you are dealt. You have a choice with how you play that hand. This is crucial – without this foundation, I’m not sure anything else matters.
- Theme #2 – Planning – The best plan their work everyday. They don’t let the urgency of others own what they do. They utilize their calendars to schedule important tasks and meetings. As Stephen Covey said in “7 Habits of Highly Successful People”, the best definitely “Begin with the end in mind”. Abraham Lincoln has a great quote, “Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Think about that…we often times want to dive into our email or daily grind….but are you really thinking about your work the right way. The best focus on high impact work and plan their day around that. Quick tip – Pick your top one-three most important projects for the day. Write down 1-3 definitive outcomes you aim to achieve today for each….then set a timer for 90 minutes and get to work on those and those only. Don’t check your phone, don’t go on social media, don’t get lost in email. Focus for 90 minutes on your top three projects. I promise you that if you can do this on a continuous basis, you will build great momentum and will start to really get some high impact results.
- Theme #3 – Fuel – The best fuel for optimal performance. This means they think like an athlete when they work. Whether it’s what you put into your body (food/liquid) or how much you sleep, I can assure the best of the best are thinking about this. In fact, I talked to a very successful CEO who chuckled about the notion of CEO’s pulling all nighters and working 80 hour weeks. He counted sleep as one of the primary components to his success. The average amount of sleep per night was about seven hours for these top performers. There were some that operated on less but I can tell you that their stress level was a lot higher. When it comes to what you put in your body, if you ever played a sport, did you perform well if you just at a Big Mac and Vanilla Shake before your game? I think we both know the answer – so, why would you eat a bunch of junk during your work day? To perform at an optimal level, you MUST think about what you’re fueling your body and mind with.
These are definitely the top three themes that came to the surface but there were a lot more that are important to the daily success. I can tell you that most woke up early but not all. I talked to some very successful folks who aren’t early risers…they still do high impact work. The fun part is that the conversation continues to evolve. I haven’t written much lately as my focus has been on other projects, but I plan on diving deeper on this topic.
Especially now, with so much coming at us on a moment to moment basis, the habits we build and focus we put into place is essential to achieving any type of result.
I’d love to hear from you. What’s the one habit/ritual/thing that helps you achieve what you set out to on a daily basis?
Thanks for reading.