Tag Archives: motivation

Materializing Your Ideas

Biffy Clyro, Saturday Super House © Storm Thorgerson. Courtesy of Idea Generation

Image: Biffy Clyro, Saturday Super House © Storm Thorgerson. Courtesy of Idea Generation

The world doesn’t need another f*(king —insert your idea here— .

This statement is something that you need to hear. You need to pin that on your wall and look at it every day. Because that’s how people feel. Let that drive you to prove everyone wrong.

Someone I’ve known for a very long time, who I highly respect, wrote these provocative words in an email recently in response to a business plan written by someone else both he and I know quite well. I’m not going to mention any names or particulars here in the interest of discretion.

The entrepreneur who wrote the business plan in question asked a small group of close friends and colleagues, myself included, to read through his proposal and offer up any critical insights and feedback.

By my estimate this entrepreneur has spent nearly a decade thinking seriously about the subject area covered. The document itself, from what I gather, is the culmination of a lifelong aspiration influenced by many past business and personal experiences.
Certainly these could all be considered necessary prerequisites to launching a successful business endeavour.

So when someone says to you, quite bluntly, “this idea has been done before and the world really doesn’t need it“, entrepreneurs, you should stop and take note.

This is the default response you’ll invariably hear when embarking on a new project. “Convince me otherwise”, potential stakeholders will challenge. Not because they want to see you fail or they want to just shoot down your idea for the hell of it. No. Chances are quite good someone has already thought of your super-amazing-incredibly ground-breaking-revolutionary-über-innovative idea. So you’ll need to prove the naysayers dead wrong. Potential investors will want to know what you’ll do to differentiate from brand leader X. How your product or service will out-innovate the countless reams of other competitor offerings you’ll be facing.
The same person who wrote the words included at the beginning of this post also made the insightful point of saying, “focus more on the ‘why‘ over the what”, as a way to find your market niche.
I think this is outstanding advice for anyone eyeing a piece of the cut-throat start-up/product development/marketing game. I’d also add, when re-writing your business plan for the 100th time, pretend you’ll be pitching your idea on the Dragon’s Den (Shark Tank if you’re in the U.S.). What would Kevin O’Leary think about your proposal?

By some estimates the number of business start-ups that fail can be anywhere from 30 to 95% depending on how failure is defined. Fail faster and more often has become a popular mantra in the tech and creative industry of late —but also the word “no”. When people say “no” a smart entrepreneur will learn from the experience and adapt accordingly. Tenaciousness in this regard is likely the one outstanding character trait that separates the average entrepreneurs from the great ones. So entrepreneurs, get used to hearing the word “no”.

Steve Jobs was famous for his use of the word “no” which, over the years, effectively killed off hundreds, perhaps even thousands of product concepts and ideas he deemed too inferior to line the coveted Apple Store shelves. Now, interestingly, it seems Google’s CEO Larry Page is following in Steve Jobs footsteps, marching to the drum of streamlined development in an effort to usher in a radically transformed Google.

But don’t let all this talk of killing ideas prevent you from pushing yours forward. What matters is perseverance. Put another way, ideas are relatively worthless without a need, passion, opportunity, execution, team work, and follow-through.

The Deliberate Practice Mindset

Jerry Rice Deliberate PracticeNow that the NFL season is back in full swing it seems fitting to mention one of the great stories covered in Geoff Colvin’s best-selling business book, Talent Is Overrated. By the way, if you haven’t already heard of this book I would highly recommend giving it a read.

The story of Jerry Rice, the legendary wide receiver who led the San Francisco 49ers to 3 Super Bowl victories, is an inspiring testament to power of hard work and determination.

Jerry Rice wasn’t the biggest, strongest or fastest player, but his work ethic was unparalleled. Geoff Colvin explains that Rice was a master of what he calls “deliberate practice”. The purposeful effort required to improve performance and skill in a specific field—for example academics, entrepreneurship, or professional sports—beyond what many of us would consider normal standards. Deliberate practice, contrary to the popular myth of natural inborn talent or so-called ‘giftedness’, explains why Jerry Rice was such an extraordinary athlete.

Here’s a rather lengthy excerpt from chapter 4 of Colvin’s book:

What Made Rice So Good?

With regard to most players, that kind of question usually guarantees an argument among sports fans, but in Rice’s case the answer is completely noncontroversial. Everyone in the football world seems to agree that Rice was the greatest because he worked harder in practice and in the off-season than anyone else.

In team workouts he was famous for his hustle; while many receivers will trot back to the quarterback after catching a pass, Rice would sprint to the end zone after each reception. He would typically continue practicing long after the rest of the team had gone home. Most remarkable were his six-days-a-week off-season workouts, which he conducted entirely on his own. Mornings were devoted to cardiovascular work, running a hilly five-mile trail; he would reportedly run ten forty-meter wind sprints up the steepest part. In the afternoons he did equally strenuous weight training. These workouts became legendary as the most demanding in the league, and other players would sometimes join Rice just to see what it was like. Some of them got sick before the day was over.

Occasionally someone would write to the 49ers’ trainer asking for the details of Rice’s workout, but the trainer never released the information out of fear that people would hurt themselves trying to duplicate it. The lesson that’s easiest to draw from Jerry Rice’s story is that hard work makes all the difference. Yet We know—from research and from just looking around us—that hard work often doesn’t lead to extraordinary performance. We also know that even after an excellent college career, Rice did not possess outstanding speed, a quality that coaches generally consider mandatory in a great receiver. So there must be something else lurking in Rice’s story.
There is. Note several relevant points:

He spent very little time playing football.

Of all the work Rice did to make himself a great player, practically none of it was playing football games. His independent off-season workouts consisted of conditioning, and his team workouts were classroom study, reviewing of game films, conditioning, and lots of work with other players on specific plays. But the 49ers and eventually the other teams for which Rice played almost never ran full-contact scrimmages because they didn’t want to risk injuring players. That means that of the total time Rice spent actually playing the game for which he became famous, nearly all of it was in the weekly games themselves.

How large a part of his football-related work was that? Let’s estimate very conservatively that over the course of a year, Rice averaged 20 hours a week working on football; the work is demanding and even the most dedicated player can sustain only a limited amount. There is evidence that Rice probably averaged much more than that, but let’s play it safe. That’s about 1,000 hours a year, or 20,000 hours over his pro career. He played 303 career NFL games—the most ever by a wide receiver—and if we assume the offense had the ball half the time on average, that’s about 150 hours of playing time as measured by the game clock; this may be overstated, since Rice wasn’t on the field for every play. The conclusion we reach is that one of the greatest-ever football players devoted less than 1 percent of his football-related work to playing games.

Of course it’s true that all NFL players devote most of their work-related time to nongame activities, and that fact is significant. These people, doing their work at its highest level and subject to continuous, unsparing evaluation, don’t set up weekday football games for practice; they spend almost all their time on other activities, a fact that we should remember. In the case of Rice, one of the greatest players, the ratio was even more extreme.