- Lack of Focus
Bad things happen when a person doesn’t focus. Let me illustrate with a story. One day a businessman visited a small-town florist shop to order flowers for a friend who was opening a new business. The floral shop owner was unusually busy and was scrambling to fill orders while she took the businessman’s information.
Later that day, the man arrived at his friend’s grand opening and saw a big floral wreath with his name on it that said, “With Deepest Sympathy During This Time of Sorrow.”
The businessman was irate. He called the florist to complain and asked, “What in the world happened? Do you have any idea how stupid you made me look?”
“I’m so sorry,” the shop owner said, “I was a little scrambled when you came by. But your situation wasn’t nearly as bad as it was at the funeral home. That card said, ‘Best Wishes in Your New Location.’”
Anybody can make an honest mistake when things are hectic. But people lacking focus have trouble not because they’re too busy, but because their priorities are out of whack. And that wastes their time and resources. If you go from task to task to task without making any progress, or you can’t seem to reach a goal no matter how much effort you give it, examine your focus. No one can move forward without it.
- A Weak Commitment
For a long time, it seemed that apathy was chic. But effort and commitment seem to be coming back into style. And that’s good because without commitment, you cannot accomplish anything of value. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe addressed the importance of commitment: “Until one is committed, there is hesitance, the chance to draw back, and always ineffectiveness . . . The moment one definitely commits oneself . . . a whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would come his way.”
The last time you failed, did you stop trying because you failed, or did you fail because you stopped trying? What was your level of commitment? Did you give the task everything you had? Did you go the extra mile? Did you put enough of yourself on the line to guarantee that you would give your very best?
If you’re committed, a failure doesn’t mean that you’ll never succeed. It just means you will take longer. Commitment makes you capable of failing forward until you reach your goals.
- An Unwillingness to Change
Perhaps the most relentless enemy of achievement, personal growth, and success is inflexibility. Some people seem to be so in love with the past that they can’t deal with the present. Not long ago, a friend sent me “The Top Ten Strategies for Dealing with a Dead Horse.” I thought the list was hilarious:
- Buy a stronger whip.
- Change riders.
- Appoint a committee to study the horse.
- Appoint a team to revive the horse.
- Send out a memo declaring the horse isn’t really dead.
- Hire an expensive consultant to find “the real problem.”
- Harness several dead horses together for increased speed and efficiency.
- Rewrite the standard definition of live horse.
- Declare the horse to be better, faster, and cheaper when dead.
- Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position.
I bet you’ve seen just about every one of these “solutions” enacted in your place of work. But there’s really only one effective way to deal with that problem: When your horse is dead, for goodness’ sake, dismount.
One Calvin and Hobbes comic strip portrayed the way that too many of us perceive change. Calvin and his stuffed-tiger friend were speeding down a hill in the boy’s wagon. Calvin yelled back to Hobbes, “I thrive on change.”
Surprised, Hobbes remarked, “You? You threw a fit this morning because your mom put less jelly on your toast than yesterday.”
Calvin faced Hobbes and explained, “I thrive on making other people change.”
You don’t have to love change to be successful, but you need to be willing to accept it. Change is a catalyst for personal growth. It gets you out of a rut, it gives you a fresh start, and it affords you an opportunity to reevaluate your direction. If you resist change, you’re really resisting success. Learn flexibility, or learn to like living with your failures.
- A Shortcut Mind-Set
A common obstacle to success is the desire to cut corners and take the short road to success. But shortcuts never pay off in the long run. As Napoleon said, victory belongs to the most persevering.
Most people tend to underestimate the time it takes to achieve something of value, but to be successful, you have to be willing to pay your dues. James Watt spent twenty years laboring to perfect his steam engine. William Harvey labored night and day for eight years to prove how blood circulated in the human body. And it took another twenty-five years for the medical profession to acknowledge he was right.
Cutting corners is really a sign of impatience and poor self-discipline.
But if you are willing to follow through, you can achieve a breakthrough. That’s why Albert Gray says, “The common denominator of success lies in forming the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.”
If you continually give in to your moods or impulses, then you need to change your approach to doing things. The best method is to set standards for yourself that require accountability. Suffering a consequence for not following through helps you stay on track. Once you have your new standards in place, work according to them, not your moods. That will get you going in the right direction.
Self-discipline is a quality that is won through practice. Psychologist Joseph Mancusi noted, “Truly successful people have learned to do what does not come naturally. Real success lies in experiencing fear or aversion and acting in spite of it.”
- Relying on Talent Alone
Talent is overrated. Not because it doesn’t have value, but because talent alone isn’t enough to take a person through the multiple failures that life brings. Adding a strong work ethic to talent is like pouring gasoline on a fire. It’s explosive!
The great artists understand this, though some nonartists mistakenly believe that talent alone carries them through. David Bayles and Ted Orland explain,
Even at best, talent remains a constant, and those who rely upon that gift alone, without developing further, peak quickly and soon fade to obscurity. Examples of genius only accentuate that truth. Newspapers love to print stories about five-year-old musical prodigies giving solo recitals, but you rarely read about one going on to become a Mozart. The point here is that whatever his initial gift, Mozart was also an artist who learned to work on his work, and thereby improved. In that respect he shares common ground with the rest of us.
The greater your talent, the more likely you are to lean heavily on it and skip the hard day-to-day work of improving it. If you possess this negative tendency, put yourself on a growth plan so that you can make the most of your God-given talent.
- A Response to Poor Information
Successful executives have in common the ability to make weighty decisions based on limited amounts of information. But they also have in common the ability to gather reliable information to use as they evaluate issues. General Douglas MacArthur knew this. He asserted, “Expect only 5 percent of an intelligence report to be accurate. The trick of a good commander is to isolate the 5 percent.”
As the pace of life and business increases, the difficulty of being able to collect and evaluate information will increase. In fact, Bill Gates’s best-selling book Business @ the Speed of Thought was written specifically to address this issue.
An example of what can go wrong when decisions are made on the basis of poor information is evident in the purchase of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. Volkswagen and BMW battled each other to purchase Rolls-Royce from Vickers PLC. And Volkswagen won the battle, paying $780 million for the luxury auto-making company. But after the purchase was finalized, the buyers made a shocking discovery. Volkswagen owned the company, but not the rights to the name Rolls-Royce, which is synonymous with luxury cars around the world. The license for the name, it turned out, belonged to another company: Rolls-Royce PLC, an aerospace company. Even worse, Rolls-Royce PLC had ties to BMW. Guess who received permission to use the name? BMW—not Volkswagen. And it all happened because of poor information gathering.
- No Goals
The last major cause of failure is an absence of goals. Don Marquis perceives that “ours is a world where people don’t know what they want and are willing to go through hell to get it.”
Joe L. Griffith believes, “A goal is nothing more than a dream with a time limit.” Many people don’t have goals because they haven’t allowed themselves to dream. As a result, they don’t possess a desire.
If that describes you, then you must look deep within yourself and try to determine why you’re on this planet. Once you’ve discovered that, you’ll know what to shoot for. (I’ll talk more about this in the next chapter.) If you can discover the weakness that weakens you, then you can start doing something about it. And that can change your life. I’ve seen that happen again and again in people who desire success. Let me tell you about one of them.