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15 Ways to Overcome Fear of Failure

When most creative people pursue their goals they imagine what it would be like to reach them (Hope of Success). And they also worry that the goal will not mountain -seabe reached (Fear of Failure). Those two emotions go together and are reverse sides of the same coin. That creators’ fear of failure is perfectly natural and is to be expected whenever you’re facing a difficult, challenging task, such as a writer crafting a play if she’s never written one before, or a lithographer preparing a work for an important contest.

But at times the fear of failing becomes a major psychological obstacle that keeps creators from reaching the success and satisfaction they’ve been hoping for. Creators who are dominated by the fear of not succeeding, but failing have developed—often without realizing it–characteristic tactics for protecting themselves from enduring what often is not just a fear of failing, but a much more dreadful terror of failing. Ironically, those tactics do more to contribute to failure than to prevent it.  It’s worthwhile looking at those tactics that you might recognize in yourself so that something might be done about them.

Rather than enduring the misery of experiencing that terror of failing the person harried by it may:

  • Avoid competing with others of comparable ability. They prefer being the big fish in the little pond.
  • Be perfectionists. They don’t attempt things in which they won’t be able to attain perfection or near perfection. The tactic here is to carve out a very narrow area of competence in which they excel and can approximate perfection.
  • Prefer very easy or very difficult tasks, nothing in the middle. In contrast, most high achievers generally pursue tasks and goals they have a one in three or two in three chance of succeeding at. Not a sure thing and not an impossible thing.
  • Avoid displaying their abilities in public. A pianist may be able to perform beautifully in private, but shy away from performing in front of people.
  • Avoid attempting anything important. The more important the activity, the more they avoid it. A writer may avoid trying to get his work published even though publication is the logical outcome of the writing process.
  • Avoid taking risks. Most creators who become eminent experience turning points at which they take a risk which their less eminent contemporaries are too timid to take. Fear of taking chances melts in the face of a strong and urgent purpose and self-confidence (If you’ve been reading my posts you can’t have helped but notice I’m enamored with self-confidence because it, along with skill, is the antidote to most creator’s main problems, including self-doubt and discouragement).
  • Have trouble performing under time pressure. They panic as they approach the deadline. Even the word “deadline’ scares them. They delay. They give up. They shut down. More confident creators are challenged by a race against time and are often the most excited and highly focused and at the height of their skills when the clock is ticking. The best tactic is to forget about the deadline completely and focus totally on the task.
  • Prefer practice and games rather than the real thing.
  • Seek social support. People who fail tend to have as friends others who fail.
  • Have unrealistic expectations–oddly enough, on the high side. Asked to estimate how well they’ll do at achieving a goal they will say they’ll do far better than they actually will. I had an egotistical friend in college who wrote a paper for English in which he said he was brilliant, a great lover women couldn’t resist, handsome, a wonderful athlete, and a conversationalist who could charm birds out of trees. The professor returned his paper with the comment scrawled on it: “It’s a shame you can’t add a command of the English language to the list of your other accomplishments.”
  • Misjudge past performance. They also exaggerate how well they did in the past.
  • Reject the measure of a skill. For example, the student who doesn’t do well and says, “Getting good grades doesn’t mean a thing.”
  • Avoid measurements of their performance. They don’t want to know how well or poorly they’re doing, for if they knew they might have to admit they failed. Without contrary information they can always say, “I’m doing pretty well.” At work, they are the employees who dread performance evaluations. They might even arrange to stay home on the day of the evaluation. The best writers, best painters and actors are just the opposite. They want to know if they’re doing well or poorly. They welcome feedback, and actively seek it, feedback that is rapid, specific, and helpful. They are always asking about their work, “Well, what d’ya think of it?” Studies of highly creative people show that they accept helpful guidance and have “an openness to advice.”
  • Not try. A fear that dominates many creators and makes them quit trying to succeed is the fear of failing to reach financial success, or just break even. Writer Francois Voltaire and painter Claude Monet won Money treefortunes in government lotteries and were able to devote themselves completely to their work. But Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner spent most of his writing life in virtual poverty. When his picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine he couldn’t  pay his electric bill of $35. He wrote: “People are afraid to find out how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are.” But financial risk is part of the creator’s life style and for many writers the fear of being broke can be exhilarating, a source of creative energy. Most creators perform better under some amount of financial pressure. Sherwood Anderson’s publisher thought financial security would help him produce more and sent him a weekly stipend. But that made him less productive, and Anderson asked them not to send it anymore: “It’s no use. I find it impossible to work with security staring me in the face.” In The Courage to Write Ralph Keyes says, “Knowing that there is a direct line between putting words on a page and food on the table keeps me focused.” Picasso said he was rich but tried to work as though he was poor.
  • Reject responsibility for their failures. If you wipe your hands of responsibility, all pressure is off and all fear of failing disappears. You might know creators who go to great lengths to avoid responsibility. They concoct elaborate excuses for their failures.

symphony-hall-893342_640A not uncommon fear of failure among creators takes the form of “encore anxiety.” It is the fear after producing a successful first work that no matter what you do you won’t be able to produce a second work that’s as good or as successful.

 

To overcome fear of failure, go down the above list and develop counter-tactics. For example:

  1. Always try; don’t not try.
  2. Be interested in measurements of your performance; don’t avoid them.
  3. Consider your past achievements dispassionately; put your ego aside.
  4. Associate with other successful creators of comparable ability, not failures with less ability.
  5. Pursue goals that aren’t easy, goals that are a little out of reach.
  6. Open yourself up to areas in which you haven’t yet mastered perfection
  7. Take more chances; that shouldn’t he hard because creators are attracted by risks.
  8. Have realistic, not unrealistic, expectations.
  9. Judge your performance as accurately as you can.
  10. Actively seek feedback on your performance; don’t avoid it.
  11. Have no fear of financial pressures; let them motivate you.
  12. Be confident that you will succeed again.
  13. Don’t be intimidated by deadlines and time pressures; they help you perform better.
  14. Don’t fear competition. It may bring out the best in you and help you reach a level of success in your craft you’ve never dreamed of.
  15. Accept responsibility for failures.

success-620300_640All creators are capable of overcoming fears of failing, and when they aren’t extreme and debilitating, those fears can be positive—a push, an incentive– and have helped many creative people reach success.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Filed under Artists, Becoming an Artist, Blocks to Action, Conquering Blocks, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Expectations, Faulkner, Fear of Failure, Feedback, Goals and Purposes, High Achievement, Inner Skills, Motivation, Picasso, Publishing, Self-Confidence, Success, The Writer's Path, Writers

Preparation and Creative Success

A young recent college graduate found out I was an experienced often-published writer and came over and asked me if we could get together to talk about writing. And so we went to a restaurant and talked for an hour and a half.

writing-828911_640She wants to be a poet. She’s started reading poetry but isn’t trained in it. She’s a fledgling poet, a poet in the making. She showed me samples of her work and I liked it and could see what she’s trying to get at. I encouraged her. As we were finishing up she mentioned magazines and poetry journals she was going to send her poems to. They included the New Yorker and Poetry and other of the most prestigious publications in the country.

I went home thinking, “I hope she doesn’t get too disappointed if her poems are rejected. They probably will be. She doesn’t yet realize how competitive publishing is. She’s thinking only of the gift she senses in herself. But there are whole armies of other gifted people everywhere in the world. There’s no premium on giftedness among creative people. They’re all gifted.”

And I thought, “There are a million poets nowadays, just as there are two million novelists and three million artists, some of them extremely well-trained in their craft and who have long experience. And every poet, novelist, and artist would like to be extraordinarily successful.” But why would I of all people discourage her? She’ll find out for herself. Then we’ll see what she’s made of. Will she still be writing and still be as enthusiastic in five years? Ten years? Fifteen?

Then I received an email from a graduate student in Texas who’d heard me speak. He wanted to know if I could refer him to an agent and publisher he could contact after he started writing. He hadn’t started writing yet.

I replied in my email, “I think the most important task for you now is to focus on writing, writing, and more writing. And reading good writers who are writing the kinds of things you want to write—write and study how to write. Learn bestsellers-67048_640and learn more. Read because people you read about are people who’ve spent their entire lives reading. Develop your abilities. Getting an agent, getting a publisher are separate activities from writing and should be kept separate. After you’ve gotten good at writing, then it’s time to start thinking about getting your work published. First get good.”

What I was saying was that success–particularly in the arts–is difficult, and that preparation is the key. And is the key to success in everything. And that if you lack the skill to reach a goal you will not reach it. You will not reach the goal pen-27043_640until you have the necessary skill. There has to be a perfect match between goals on the one hand and skills on the other.

The main reason most artists and writers fail is because they haven’t developed the skills they should have developed, but neglected to. The need is to develop an expertise not in every skill but in especially the key skills a person in that field must excel in if they are to be as successful as they could be. If you don’t have the skills, if you’re to succeed you’ll have to acquire them. If, for example, a fiction writer isn’t strong in the skill of characterization she’ll have problems because characterization is an essential skill. Many say more essential than every other writer’s skill. So a writer better focus on developing that skill.

You can take a flyer and try—nothing ventured nothing gained. And if you fail, you fail, so what? But something unfortunate often happens to artists and writers (and actors, etc.) with high hopes who, because they’re unprepared, fail and fail again, and again, and again. They may never succeed and never know why they don’t. Their beginner’s confidence, once so strong, now flies out the window. They become deeply discouraged and may quit, and that’s it. Their career, once so hopeful, is over.

Their dreams of being creative all the time and living the life of a writer, painter, or actor, or dancer dissolve. Why? Because they’d been so hungry to succeed fast they’d neglected their preparation. And preparation is what they should have been doing—slowly, patiently learning, learning more, overcoming their weaknesses, and building up their strengths.

I can’t possibly tell you how many promising writers and artists—talented, impressive people–I’ve known who failed pencil-1203980_640and gave up and never reached their peak. All professional writers and artists have encountered more than a dozen more talented writers and artists than themselves who no longer write or paint at all. Who knows what they might have accomplished? How much better it would have been for them if instead of thinking, “I’m not good enough” they’d thought, “I’m not YET good enough, but one day I will be if I commit myself to getting good, very good.”

A theme of mine is that it’s always best to face reality, however harsh and however much at times we want to hide from it. Face reality head-on and don’t lead a life of illusions. Never hide. And a reality that a creator has to face head-on and not hide from is that it takes a long time—usually many years–and a lot of patience and an almost unbelievable amount of work to become what I call a REAL painter, or REAL writer, or REAL actor, or REAL dancer who has what Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway called “seriousness.” And there are no exceptions.

According to the research on the development of expertise in any field thousands of hours of application have to be put in if your aim is to excel or even be competent. No outstanding creative achievement has ever been produced without that much work on the part of the creator, however much natural ability he or she possesses. Some degree of that mysterious stuff called talent is necessary. But it’s far from everything. Talented people are a dime a dozen. The poet Hesiod who lived hundreds of years before Plato wrote, “Before the Gates of Excellence the high gods have placed sweat.” Sweat becomes part of the real creator’s everyday life.

The expert makes the performance look easy and we’re seduced: “I can do that.” But we have to look past the ease of the expert and realize creating is fun, it’s a gas, it’s fulfilling, and nothing else in your life compares with it. But succeeding at it at a high level is exceedingly tough. But many people have acquired a TV-ratings kind of mentality. It’s either quick results or cancellation.

It’s the same in the arts. A couple of tries without reaching success and it’s ratings time: “Who needs this? It’s harder to succeed than I thought. I’ll go into something else.” Then if you quit, nothing will be gained and many perfectly good years will have been wasted. But when we look at creative people who’ve “made it” we invariably find beings who have (1) persevered through setbacks (2) been devoted to developing to a high level the specific skills that made their high performance possible, and (3) had a thirst that can’t possibly be quenched to get better and better still.

So it’s wise to ask yourself as you work, “Am I really ready? Am I sufficiently prepared?” Lay your ego aside. If your answer is an honest “No, I can see I’m not,” go back, be patient, and focus harder on preparation.

Feel your expertise growing, your unique creative voice becoming clearer, your skills being refined before your eyes. For backdrop-772520_640a while don’t concern yourself at all with appearing on The New York Times best-seller list or any best-seller list. The hunger to see your name on these lists is the bane of writers. Don’t worry about having your work shown in the fanciest galleries.

When you’re prepared and your skills are strong enough that well may happen. But not until. But whatever you do, don’t quit till you’ve seen how high the skills you’ve so conscientiously developed will take you.

Sometimes I see the young poet on the street and I ask her, “Are you working?” And she smiles and says she is.

 

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Filed under Artistic Perfection, Artists, Becoming an Artist, Creativity Self-Improvement, Dancers, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Goals and Purposes, High Achievement, Inspiring Young People, Motivation, Preparation, Publishing, Self-Confidence, Success, The Writer's Path, Work Production, Writers

13 High Achievement Skills for Artists and Writers

Part I

I’m writing a book that says high achievement for artists and writers is within reach. It describes eight qualities creators need if they are to excel. If even one quality is missing, they will not excel. Day after day for a week I made no progress on one section. I would sit down to work at the computer and find myself fiddling around mindlessly for a few hours, then going down to the kitchen for a snack or looking around for someone to talk to, or I’d do laundry or something and after a while would go back upstairs to the computer with every intention of working on that section only to find myself Laundrychecking the sports scores. Then I’d quit for the day and feel that nagging dissatisfaction with myself that writers and artists so often feel. Finally I sat down on my recliner to try to get to the bottom of this and asked myself, “What’s the problem?” and I immediately answered, “That section is too easy for me.”

Most people in the world can be divided psychologically into two broad groups. Probably you are in one group, just as I am. There is the minority who set and pursue challenges for themselves and are willing to work hard to achieve something, and then the majority who don’t care about challenges all that much and don’t work hard. Those two groups are to be found among artists and writers everywhere in the world, just as they can be found among students, accountants, businessmen and women, athletes, and people in any other field. Mozart was a tremendous worker who practiced, performed, and gripped a quill pen to compose so many hours that by the age of 26 his hands were deformed.

The first group that sets out in pursuit of challenges possesses a distinct kind of motivation, a specific kind of measurable psychological need that the group that is indifferent to challenges lacks. That need is called Achievement Motivation, Success Motivation, or The Need to Achieve, and the people who have it are those who reach higher achievements than most other people, certainly higher than those who don’t care. (Much of the initial work on race-695303_640Achievement Motivation was done by psychologist David C. McClelland). The achievers are more successful artists and writers, just they are more successful students, physicians, athletes, salespeople and business executives. It is naïve of a creator to think talent alone will take a person to great heights. Most teachers of writers and artists will tell you that it is rarely the most talented pupil who dazzled the class that they hear and read about later. They hear about the one who was the most determined to succeed and the most dogged—a member of the first group.

So it seems to me extremely important if you want to enjoy more success, however you define success, to understand what high success people are like, so if you wish, you can become more like them and achieve more creatively and find more fulfillment. If they are in the business world, achievement motivated men and women have high career aspirations just as achievement motivated writers and artists are ambitious and have high career aspirations. Author Ernest Hemingway was as ambitious as anyone. An unbelievably hard worker, he wanted nothing less than to be the world’s greatest writer. And in 1954 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize, he was. Vincent van Gogh said that while he wasn’t successful during his life—he sold only one painting in his lifetime and traded another for brushes–one day he would take his place among the immortals. In the work world achievement motivated people get more raises and are promoted rapidly. If they are unemployed they get new jobs more quickly than less motivated people. Companies that employ a lot of them prosper.

If you are in the first group—achievers—I know you very well. I know how you think. I know how you act. I know your values. I know something about how your parents reared you. I know what color clothes you prefer to wear.

man-73318_150First of all, you are definitely goal-directed, and it’s no secret to you that achieving goals will require that you follow a linked series of steps over an often long period of months or years as you progress from beginner to expert, and sometimes amateur to professional. P.G. Wodehouse said, “Success comes to a writer, as a rule, so gradually that it is always something of a shock to him to look back and realize the heights to which he has climbed.”

From the start you exert yourself and mobilize more energy to reach your goals than other people. And you are able to persist steadily without interruption whereas poorly motivated writers and artists have low energy and will interrupt their work more often and not engage in it for long periods, even years. That can have a detrimental effect: if you neglect an activity for just 48 hours you function much less effectively when you resume the activity. While achievement people are hard persistent workers, they need not fill their entire day with work and are able to cut out and enjoy leisure time. At least in America most people work at least 7 hour days and must travel to and from work, but professional writers usually work at home about four hours, 16.7 % of the day, leaving 20 hours for other things (though some, like prolific novelist Philip Roth, work all the time).

paintings-316440_640A long gestation period is required before artists and writers are fully developed and performing at their peak, and during that period you spend your time actively thinking about how to do things better. You constantly talk about doing things better. You’re concerned with getting better all the time. You take classes, you study, you read, you learn. In other words, you are dominated by what is called An Urge to Improve. It’s not difficult to understand why people who constantly think about doing better:

  1. Are apt to do better at what they’re interesting in doing better
  2. Prefer working in situations where they can tell easily if they are improving or aren’t
  3. Keep track of their performance so they can tell if they’re in fact doing better

If you are an achiever, the goals you set are one or more of four types:

One, you compete with yourself, trying to achieve more in the future than you’ve achieved in the past. Is this true of you? If it is, you stay interested by aiming higher and higher. Once you’ve achieved a goal, the goal loses its luster and you now want something more. You had an essay published. That’s over and done; now you’ll write a book.

Two, you compete with others. You may not like it, but unless you do your creative work solely for the joy of it, you have to compete. Hundreds of writers, possibly thousands, are trying to get their stories in the same magazines as you and as many artists are trying to get their work shown in the same galleries. As novelist Doris Lessing said: “You have to remember that nobody ever wants a new writer. You have to create your own demand.” No one wants a new painter either. And so to draw attention to yourself in a cluttered field of one talented person among many talented people, you must develop the competitive survival skills of the showman and self-promoter.

The necessity of competing needn’t cause anxiety if you learn to be dispassionate and non-attach. Then you see competing as just another challenge and role, the role of the marketer of your work, a set of skills that can be learned, the logical conclusion of all your development and all your work.

Three, you engage in a long-term involvement over the long haul, and four, you pursue unique accomplishments–definitions of the work of writers and artists.

painting-316135_640You have sub-goals which will lead in an orderly way to the achievement of your major goals. For example, you know that to do as well as you hope, you’ll need to acquire more and more knowledge of your craft throughout your career. Knowledge is not quite everything, but almost. Writers and artists of all kinds draw from all the cumulative knowledge they’ve acquired. They do that sometimes consciously, sometimes spontaneously. What they know is reflected in their every word, every turn of phrase, every image, every idea, and every choice of color and perspective and every brush stroke. So it is incumbent on them if they are to excel to learn more and more about their craft, including how it’s done and how others have done it.

You take a futuristic view and are a long-range planner who keeps his/her goals in mind continually. They are never out of your mind very long. (In itself, this makes you exceptional because most people have very little idea of what their goals are and don’t think of them often.) The more important the goal is to a low-motivated person, the less interested in it he becomes. He loses focus on what’s important. But the more important it is to you, the achiever, the more challenging and therefore the more interesting to you it is. As it becomes ever more important it becomes ever more challenging and ever more interesting.

It’s worth remembering that to an achievement motivated person like yourself failure to achieve a goal makes the goal more attractive, not less. Failure doesn’t devastate you, but pushes you to greater effort because now it is even more of a challenge, and you thrive on challenges. You try again. And then again and again tenaciously until you succeed, whereas a less strongly motivated writer or artist may not try a second time and never reach success.

You are aware that reaching your goals depends on how difficult they are in relation to your capabilities. The ideal you’re trying for is to match your abilities perfectly with your goals, your abilities equipping you to achieve them all. If you lack the ability, you cannot reach the goal. Simple tasks and very difficult tasks are interesting to people with low motivation, but not to those with achievement motivation like yourself. You’re drawn to goals that are moderately difficult—not too easy; not too hard, but a little out of reach. Goals like that motivate you the most.

It’s been said that if writers were good businessmen, they’d have too much sense to be writers, and John Steinbeck said the profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business, and the same is true of painting, dancing, and acting. If you’re an achievement motivated writer or artist you won’t even try to reach goals that in your judgment of your own capabilities you don’t have at least a 30% chance of reaching. I submitted a manuscript to a publisher with the odds of publication statistically about 3,000 to 1 against. But I was confident and thought I had a 30% chance. I was right and the book was published.

joshua-tree-5104_640You will not pursue goals that aren’t challenging enough. Sure things hold no excitement for you. They’re not interesting, just as the section of the book I’m writing is too easy for me. So you spice things up to make the goals more challenging, sometimes making the sculpture or the novel you’re working on more complicated, more ambitious, something, you’ve never tried before, for example. If something is important to the achiever, she will sometimes work days or weeks non-stop. But if it isn’t, she’ll avoid work. She’ll go fishing.

Think about your three main writing/art goals at this time. Your crucial goals should always be held clearly in mind so that if I asked you could quickly say…

“No doubt about it, my major overriding goal now is…

“My second most important goal is…

“Also very important is…

Do you feel all in all you have a 30%-65% chance of reaching them? (I’m asking you if they are moderately difficult goals, the achiever’s aim.)

 

Part II

 You work in intense, concentrated spurts (which studies find now is the most effective way to work). Other people often marvel at your capacity for sustained effort. They ask, “What do you have going for you that you can stick to it and never seem to tire?” It’s because you are achievement motivated. But when the work is done, you put it completely out of mind and want nothing more to do with it. You want to go on right away to the next moderately difficult project, or you want to go to the beach and forget all about your work. The change from hard work to a total disinterest in work is so extreme at times that your significant other will say to you, “One minute you’re a ball of fire, the next I can’t get you to do a thing.” A research study found that professional writers couldn’t remember what they had just written, but amateurs could remember very clearly what they had written.

You consider your goals very carefully if you are achievement motivated. You “research the environment,” gathering information wherever you can and consider the probability of success of a variety of alternatives and try to find goals and tasks that will excite you. Should you continue working on the project you’ve started or stop and begin something else? One thing experienced creative people are good at is knowing when something is not going to work out, and if it isn’t, they don’t hesitate to junk it. Writers have been known to write an entire book, then decide they don’t like it and put it in a drawer and forget about it. Should you get help? Getting help is a sign in itself that you’re trying to reach the goal. Should you try something completely different such as a new style, a new technique, a new market for your work? You take time to reflect on your career, your strengths, your weaknesses, your ambitions, and your possible future continually.

When you set goals you spend more time thinking about what it would be like to succeed than what it would be like to fail. You don’t dwell on failure, only on success. And what is success to you? It is reaching excellence. Producing excellent work is far more important to you than prestige. But prestige is more important than excellence to those whose motivation is low, and they dwell on the possibility of failure.

When working in a group setting and asked to pick someone to help them solve a problem, low motivated people will tend to choose friends, but the most highly motivated will choose for a partner someone who’s more able than they are, friend or no friend.

You are task-oriented, a hard-worker no matter what the situation is—writing, painting, doing chores, planning a novel, assembling a dresser. The low-motivated writer or artist avoids working hard whenever he can. Also, highly motivated people, surprisingly, are better able to recall tasks they didn’t finish. And if they’re given a chance, they will return and compete those tasks. Even tasks that were interrupted many years before—the so-called Zeigarnik Effect. Achievers are not comfortable with unfinished business.

You prefer to take personal responsibility for outcomes rather than to leave the outcome to chance. You want outcomes to be the result of your own efforts and your own skills. You are not a gambler if no personal skills are involved and if winning and losing is a matter of luck and not of skill. Lotteries and slot-machines aren’t appealing because no skill is involved. If you were able to throw dice with a 1 in 3 chance of success or work on a problem with the same odds, you will choose to work on the problem because the result would be dependent on your abilities rather than chance.

Since achievement motivated people are always interested in improving their performance, they crave feedback on how well they are doing. The feedback must be (1) rapid and (2) specific. They want to know now and they want to know why. They are writers and artists who want constructive criticism.

So if you wish to be more of an achieving writer and artist:

  1. Pursue moderately difficult goals that require: a) doing better, b) competing for success, and c) engaging in projects that need long-term involvement and unique accomplishments.
  2. Get in the habit of researching your environment, looking for many sources of useful information you’ll need to set reasonable and attractive goals.
  3. Don’t dwell on failure; dwell on success. Think of what it will be like when you’ve succeeded.
  4. Be always expanding your knowledge. Set knowledge development learning goals.
  5. Take a long-term view of your writing, your painting, your sculpting.
  6. Be interested in excellence for its own sake.
  7. Work intensely in spurts and persist in the face of failure.
  8. Carefully consider the probability of success achieving each of your goals.
  9. Take personal responsibility for your work and your career.
  10. Get rapid and specific feedback on your efforts continually.
  11. Get help
  12. Be thinking all the time of how to do things better.
  13. Place your confidence in your own abilities and your own hard work.

I’ll have to find a way to make writing that section of the artist’s and writer’s book more interesting—more moderately difficult–so I can work harder and finish it. We’ll see what happens.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Leadership: The Effective Leader’s Mind

David J. Rogers writes for artists, writers, performers, and creative people of all kinds and has also provided consulting in strategy and leadership to some of the world’s largest corporations. He has lectured on these subjects extensively in North America and Europe. His best-selling book Waging Business Warfare: Lessons from the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority–now a new, revised, and updated E-book–has been called a business masterpiece.

“The responsibility for a host of a million lies in one leader who is the trigger of its spirit.”(Ho Yen-His)

alexander-the-great-35767_640The greatest competitive leaders in business, whatever the industry, are exceptional. They may be anywhere in the organization—as is also true of leaders in warfare. They are out of the ordinary because they combine a complement of qualities that equip them perfectly for a leader’s life but that are only rarely found together in one individual. They are knowledgeable, talented, creative, intelligent, energetic, flexible, and driven. They are obsessed with the need to take direct action and mix it up with the competition, and they are savvy strategic thinkers.

Hannibal, the Carthaginian (247-183 B.C), was a true master of strategy. In fact, he is called the father of strategy. Napoleon considered him superb in every aspect of warring, and the Duke of Wellington thought him to be the single greatest soldier in all of history. To this day Hannibal’s victory against the Romans, commanded by Varro at Cannae in 216 B.C., is considered the most perfect tactical battle ever fought. Hannibal’s army of 50,000 annihilated the Roman army of 86,000.

Before the battle began, Hannibal, knowing the importance of a leader keeping his people informed, called his army together and addressed them. He told them that at a certain point during the fighting it would appear that they were about to lose, but to have courage and have no fear because what would be happening then was part of his plan, and soon the tide would turn. It has been said that the mind of the leader is passed on to ten thousand subordinates.  A great leader is an inspiring leader.

How could a much smaller army beat a larger one, and so deci­sively? The historian Polybius provides an important answer: it wasn’t Hannibal’s soldiers or order of battle that made the Carthagin­ian army superior to the Romans. It was Hanni­bal’s superior personal skills. Then Polybius makes a matter-of-fact comment that carries immense implications for businesses vying for com­petitive excellence: “As soon as the Romans found a general who equaled Hannibal in ability, they immediately defeated him.”

And how could a little pipsqueak of a company like the WD-40 Company with its minute work force consistently outcompete giants Du Pont, 3M, and Pennzoil the way Hannibal beat the Romans?

In short, a contest within the contest between the Carthaginian and Roman armies was the contest between leaders. The better leader won; the less capable leader lost. More than 135,000 men took part in the battle of Cannae, each pitting his abilities against his counterpart on the other side. Yet it was the qualities of just two human beings—Varro and Hannibal— which stood out and dominated the day.

startup-594126_640 (1)The situation is precisely the same in business competitions. Many companies have had all the material resources necessary to gain the advantage over competitors but weren’t able to do so until the right leader with the right vision, right strategy, right plan, and right insights into how to manage people took charge. We should guard against becoming so accustomed to discussing competitions between businesses that we forget that businesses don’t run themselves: people run them. We shouldn’t forget for a moment that behind the corporate names GE, Procter & Gamble, IBM, McDonald’s, Toyota, GM, Microsoft—and behind their every strategic and tactical move are the leaders who are pitting their quality as leaders against the quality of competitors’ leaders.

CEOs know how integrally leadership ability bears on the well-being of their corporations. When 300 of them around the world were asked what they would look for in their successors, “personal leadership style” was the most sought-after attribute. “Aggressive competi­tive outlook” was second. Who a leader is and what he or she is made of and how clear a thinker may be more important than all the other company resources, including size and wealth.

Every strategic and tactical move reflects the minds, the spirits, and the personalities of those leaders. However much information the business man or woman or entrepreneur has in hand–studies, reports, analyses, anecdotal stories, scenarios–strategic decisions require problem-solving under shifting, loosely-defined, ill-structured circumstances. They are made in a kind of fog and because of the fog always require of leaders qualities of decisiveness, courage, and clear thinking.

Man thinking-23838_640Effective leader-strategists are thinkers with a two-pronged ability. First, they are sensitive to the complexities of the problems they are facing and able to process multiple perspectives. They try patiently to understand the situation objectively and to penetrate the problem to its core.  They also consider a range of goals that are sometimes inconsistent before considering a number of solutions and arriving at a satisfactory answer. Then, second, they are equally adept at integrating the perspectives into a coherent viewpoint, in this instance, a strategy. They are not conservative in their thinking, but are independent, open-minded, and flexible.

People with little strategic ability, being less complex thinkers, think simply. They work with only a single, simplistic perspective, and are generally unwilling or unable to consider alternative solutions. They are impatient and evaluate quickly and then turn to other matters. Their thinking tends to be rigid, dogmatic, and inflexible, a world removed from the more active, quick, alert, and subtle mind of the superb leader-strategist.

French colonel Ardant du Picq (1821-70) made highly detailed and scrupulous studies of the factors leading to success in battle. His most fundamental conclusion was that “It is the mind that wins battles; that will always win them, that always has won them throughout the world’s history.”

In his Art of War, Sun Tzu (400-320 B.C.) put the issue quite simply: any commander will be able to forecast which side will win by answering the question, “Which of the two commanders has the most ability: me or him, (or her)?”

It is minds that win business competitions—often one woman, one man sitting in an office alone, thinking.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

 

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Are You a Zombie? A One-Second Yes or No Quiz

zombie-156138_150I’m wondering if something like this has ever happened to you:

I went to a company I’d never visited before to do consulting with them. I opened the front door and walked in and something was wrong. “What is this?” I thought, looking round. “Everyone is so SLOW. They’re moving slow; they’re talking slow. He’s slow and she’s slow. The janitor is slow and the CEO is slow. The whole work force is slow. They’re just slow.”

My first job after college was with a very slow company. I’ve been to many slow companies, slow people from top to bottom.

Do you know slow companies, slow people like that? Do they drive you nuts?

They’re lethargic. They take forever to make decisions. Meetings never start on time. There’s never a sense of urgency about anything. When they were students employees turned their papers in late and made excuses. Now, grown up and in a job, they haven’t changed. They turn their assignments in late and still make excuses—and no one seems to care. Deadlines don’t mean a thing if they’re inconvenient.

In a graduate course I was taking the assignment was to do a research paper and present the results in a ten-minute oral presentation. I sat there listening and thought one presentation after another was terrible. Now I knew everyone and knew that they were smarter and more knowledgeable than their presentations would suggest. I decided that they were under-performing because they weren’t setting their standards high enough. The whole class was settling for mediocrity and no one wanted to be the first to say “I’m one person who’s not going to settle for mediocrity.” They didn’t want to be the first to break the mediocrity norm.

In the same way, in some companies and non-profit organizations and schools bad habits creep in and a never-spoken-of agreement develops that no one is to work too hard. The whole organization then becomes slow. But put hard-working dynamos among them and watch the tempo pick up. Once the first student in that class gave an exceptional presentation, the habit of mediocrity was broken and the presentations that followed were very good.

I point out in my book Waging Business Warfare that business competitions are won by companies made up of “movers and firers,” enthusiastic, energetic, high-spirited people who have this in common: they always want to get into the action and mix it up with the competition. They improve morale, that miraculous state of mind producing determination, zeal, and the will to win. Quarterback great John Brodie said that at times the whole team rises up a notch or two. That’s the effect movers and firers have.

 The Erwin Rommel Gauge

Erwin Rommel, the legendary German Field Marshall in WW II—the “Desert Fox” whose Blitzkrieg attacks emphasized speed above everything—said that you can tell which side is going to win the battle simply by watching the tempo with which troops move. I think that’s true of businesses and people in any walk of life, and in their personal lives too.

I would bet that using the Rommel measuring stick of employee work tempo we could predict the probable winners of business competitions, fast companies being more likely to win than slow companies.

I’d expect that skill level being more or less the same and personality issues being similar, the person with the quicker work tempo would get the promotion over the slower candidate.

So I would think the fast employee will make more money and climb higher.

I would suspect too that work tempo directly affects a company’s productivity and profitability.

 Achievers and Zombies

Some people you know move through life at an accelerated clip. They’re DECISIVE. They’re QUICK. But others you know are locked in neutral, or are moving in reverse. They’re walking under water. They’re in a stupor. It’s noon before they realize they’re alive. They’re zombies.

Achievers do things fast. They know that when things are done lethargically, seven out of ten turn out poorly. They’ve got ENERGY. They’ve got ZEST. They’re EXCITABLE. Their by-word is “RIGHT NOW!”

  1. Get in the habit of deciding what you want to do and doing it decisively, even if it’s just taking a drink of water. If you drink, DRINK.
  2. Fall in love with action.
  3. Whatever it is, do it now.
  4. Be impatient with delay.
  5. Set the standard for speed.
  6. Guard against becoming a zombie.
  7. If you’re in a slow company be a norm-breaker, be a mover and firer.
  8. When a flint strikes steel, sparks fly. Be a flint striking steel. Make sparks.

The first archaeologist to the tomb, the first person to a goal, the first runner to the tape, and the first company to the market reap the richest rewards.

Whatever you’re doing, pick up the tempo.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

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How to Win Your Business Wars

cannon-309152_150My interest is in helping people achieve. My book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life is based on the philosophy that to reach fulfillment and achievements in very practical ways every person must become highly skilled at overcoming a variety of obstacles, most of them in ourselves. The book teaches those skills and has been very well received.

Then people started asking me for ideas that would relate to the realities of business that they faced every day, particularly the business competitions that affected their livelihood. Now it is obvious that the most intense form of competition is warfare. So I set to work organizing my research and thoughts relating business and warfare. The result was my book Waging Business Warfare: Lessons from the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority.

Let me introduce you to it now.

The Name of this Game is Competition

Where there are profits to be made, as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow there will be competition. And at times the competition will be intense, and the fate of businesses and careers may depend on who at the end of the fray has a higher share of those profits.

You may say, “We are not obsessed with the competition, with competing.” But your competitors may have an-us-versus-them mentality and be obsessed with you. They do not have your best interests at heart, to put it mildly. The promise of profits makes what is now yours appealing to them.

So it is wise, as it is said in warfare, to be prepared for anything.

 A Radio Station That Wanted to Win

I’d just finished being interviewed about Waging Business Warfare on a radio station when the station General Manager poked her head into the studio and invited me into her office.

“I love what you have to say,” she said. “If only we’d known this stuff a few years ago we’d be a lot better off than we are today.”

The station’s ratings and advertising revenues were in the middle of the pack. But the General Manager had high ambitions and hired me to apply the Principles of War—the basis of my book—to her operation by training her personnel and developing a strategic and tactical plan based on those principles that could be implemented quickly.

All the staff were involved in training, from the newest and least senior person to on-air jocks. (Who had a lot to contribute.) The training was based on the notion that people have an unlimited ability to learn new information, master new tasks, and adapt to new responsibilities.

It challenged staff, and they became deeply involved and responded with great enthusiasm. The training was given over a four-week period and a strategic/tactical plan of action was developed, distributed to everyone who had participated in training, and then was implemented immediately.

 Business Failures: A Dismal Story

Six hundred thousand new companies will open in the United States this year, many on-line, and start competing with all the optimism in the world. Many businessmen and businesswomen will have been dreaming about starting their business for years. Ten per cent will succeed, but 9 out of 10 will have competitive difficulties and will fail, and those dreams will be shattered.

They will lose their business war because they aren’t prepared to compete, and someone else who is better prepared will win.

A Vocabulary You Already Have

It’s not hard for business people to see the connection between business and warfare. When business theorists looked for a model as they were starting the field of business strategy they studied warfare.

The language of warfare already permeates the business vocabulary. Where do businesses compete? On the “battle ground.” Companies “launch offensives.” On the advertising and marketing “fronts”, they take “preemptive moves,” “battle” for market share, and engage in price “wars.” Small companies justifiably call themselves “guerrillas” and sales reps everywhere are “the troops,” the “foot soldiers.” They work on “the firing line.” And where does the real action of any company take place? In the “trenches.” Companies “seize the offensive” and “flank” the competition.

 Intense Competition

Realizing that warfare is too important to be left to chance (there is no margin of error in warfare), the great practitioners of war–the master strategists, kings, and generals throughout history that populate the book–looked for hard and fast guidelines, blueprints for victory that could not fail but to lead to success.

They agreed on a small number of universal truths, now called the Principles of War. Those principles make the study of warfare not just a group of disorganized notions and random ideas, but a complete, supremely well thought-out and tested science, one that predates the study of business management and marketing by thousands of years.

Business as a form of warfare subject to the Principles of War is the core competitive approach of some of the most profitable and fastest-growing companies in the world. During the PC wars between Microsoft and Apple, and between iOS and Android in the smart phone wars, the Principles of War were and are being applied. That’s why winners—small companies or large– are victorious, though they might not realize that fact.

The Principles of Waging Business Warfare in Brief

  1. Good leadership is the first requisite of competitive superiority. An army of deer led by a lion is more to be feared than an army of lions led by a deer.
  2. Maintain your objective; adjust your plan. Winners focus on only one thing: the main objective. They don’t wander off on tangents. But no plan survives the first contact with the competition, so you must adjust the plan.
  3. Concentrate greater strength at the decisive point. The cause of most successes in business and warfare both can be summarized for brevity in just one word: “concentration.” Yet in business, concentration is the most often neglected principle.
  4. Take the offensive and maintain mobility. The side whose strategic and tactical ideas are superior will usually gain the upper hand and do so soon after the competition begins and at less cost than the other side. You cannot win unless at some point you take the offensive. Many businesses do not seem to know this.
  5. Follow the course of least resistance. Never get into a pissing contest with a porcupine.
  6. Achieve security. Know your competitors, know how their leaders think, know the desires of the consumers of today and tomorrow—and the day after.
  7. Make certain all personnel play their part. High productivity is an offensive weapon, and it is never equal on both sides. Like armies, businesses will go only as far as their personnel will take them. You want action-oriented “movers and firers” who always want to get into the action.

 The Radio Station with the Will to Win

The radio station implemented the strategic and tactical plan we had developed and the personnel applied what training had taught them. The station quickly shot to number one in the market in not one, but all its demographics, and its advertising revenues rose accordingly.

In addition, as expected, staff morale sky-rocketed. Intense competitions are exciting for the people engaged in them, whether they are between American-Japanese-Korean-German-French-Swedish auto manufacturers or between Verizon and AT&T and between basic cable and Direct Broadcast Satellite TV or between beer and spirits breweries, between one restaurant and another restaurant, or aggressive competitors of any size in any line of business in any city or town in any country on earth.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

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