A lecture given by Roy H. Williams on top of the Wizard Academy in Austin, Texas.
There are four people in the ocean of Life that you will meet. There’s only four people that you meet and you meet the same four over and over and over. The first person that you meet on the ocean is Drifting. The winds and waves of Circumstance have pushed the drifter this way and that way. You know you’ve met a Drifter when they say, “Whatever. It’s all good.”
The second person you meet is Surfing. Now these people seem to be having a pretty good time. They’re just looking for a wave to ride. They’re looking for the next big thing and so they just paddle around until a wave rises up and they get on top of it. They don’t ever really get anywhere, but they have a nice time. They ride the circumstances.
The third person you meet is Drowning. Now if you’re normal and healthy and well adjusted you’ll only have to be rescued from drowning two or three times in your life. Financially, emotionally, relationally, maybe chemically, you know? There’s going to be some intervention by someone who loves you to help you out and help you get your head back together, ok? That’s normal, so that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about professional drowners. You’ve met these people. You meet them and they say, “This has been the worst week of my life, I don’t know what I’m gonna do!” So you reach out and help them. You get them all straightened out, you know who I’m talking about. You get them all straightened out and two or three months go by and you see them and ask how they’re doing. “Oh, it’s just been the worst week of my life, I don’t know what I’m gonna do!” See those people never come around me because word has spread that I will hold your ass under until you quit thrashing. Roy is not a mercy guy. And so people just need to know that. I help you once and if you don’t have your poop in a group I’m done. I’m sorry.
Drowners obviously don’t get anywhere. They’re just whatever. Now, the fourth category (and hopefully it’s all of us) is sailing. They’re Navigating. Here’s what’s interesting. The person that’s navigating can turn the sails to compensate for changes in the wind and they can turn the rudder to compensate for changes in the waves and they can steer the ship to get back on course only if there’s something that never moves. You cannot navigate by monitoring the wind and the waves. That’s the point. The circumstances? The changing circumstances? No. If you’re monitoring the circumstances and making your decisions based on that you’re surfing!
The person who has the North Star, something that is not attached to the ocean, a non-negotiable is what I call the mountain you’re willing to die on. What mountain are you willing to die on? What is the one thing not up for discussion, not gonna happen, non-negotiable, and that cannot move? You get to pick what it is.
In this week’s Monday Memo I asked a question and I ask it at least once a year. What are you buying with the hours of your life? Money can be replaced. Time cannot. What I do today is important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it. What you do today is important. What we do together today is important because we are all exchanging a day of our life for it. A day we cannot get back.
So the idea is, you have to have a North Star and so this is a reminder in stone, like architecture. And when the Lochland stone is mounted in the next few weeks and we approach the tower’s finish and that landscaping is done and you stand there and you see that little dim light in the sky every other star in the sky moves slowly across the sky during the night. Every star in the sky moves. The only reason the North Star doesn’t move (and this is important) it is directly above the axis of the Earth. It is literally that point of light around which the whole world revolves. You understand? The light is just above the axis of the Earth and the whole world spins. It never changes position it never moves but every other star moves as the Earth revolves and as the seasons change. Not the North Star.
So here’s the question: What is the one thing around which your whole world revolves? Because until a person knows that you cannot trust your plans. You can trust your plans when you know this is the thing that’s not up for negotiation. This is the thing we protect at all cost. This is it. Now when you have more than one it is very important that they are prioritized. Because when two things that are important to you come into conflict like Justice and Mercy which one bows the knee to which? Honesty and Loyalty? Everybody gets to choose. You don’t have to submit your choices to anybody else but you need to know. And when you think about it, I hope these two never come to conflict but when they do that’s the one that wins. And so when the crisis happens you have no doubts, you have no anxiety, you’re not torn in two directions because you decided far in advance of the circumstances which of your values bows the knee to which of your values.
This weekend a young man named Tenzing Norbu graduated with his Associate’s Degree. Tenzing is one of the young men where I’m involved and participating in his education. He received a high honor called the Lorenzo Snow Man of the Year Award. This afforded him the opportunity to address the entire student body as well as the other attendees in the Commencement Exercises.
I was deeply moved as Tenzing recounted his life story, expressed gratitude that he had been able to receive his education, and conveyed excitement at the difference that he would make in the world. I think as he completed his address there wasn’t a dry eye in the auditorium and it renewed my commitment on living, loving, learning, and mattering.
Indeed we all have the opportunity to live, to eat, to sustain life. We have the opportunity to feel love and to reach out to people and show tender expressions. We have the opportunity to learn and to grow and to intellectually stimulate ourselves. However, the most important driver during a life-long quest is that of doing something that matters.
As I listened to Tenzing’s expressions of excitement and hope for the future I realized that one of my life’s missions is to indeed educate young men and women in third world countries and that is much of my matter. It inspires me, it motivates me, it gives me hope, and it actually makes all the other crazy things that I have to do in life worth it.
Each one of us in our lives must find our matter. At some point or another we must deeply search for what our matter is and attempt to give back and to make this world a better place. Otherwise, life is fleeting.
I challenge each of us to think and to look forward to ways that we can matter and make a difference in this world. Tenzing I congratulate you and expect great things for you in the future.
This past week I’ve been in New York City supporting one of my clients. I’ve been to New York City hundreds of times through the years and I love the vibrancy of the city. I love the energy. I love the “Make it Happen” attitude and I especially love the delicious food.
However, each time I leave the city I find myself exhausted, depleted, and honestly just a little bit worn out. But my perception changed somewhat this trip. The first day of our meetings I was with Gary, CEO and founder of his company. Our day was very intense as we were discussing vital, critical, and difficult strategies trying to prepare for the change coming to Gary’s company. After several hours Gary turned to me and said, “Rich, come, let’s walk. I need to find peace.”
I thought, Peace? Peace in the middle of New York City? We’re sandwiched right here on Broadway, Gary! We’re between the Empire State Building and the Flatiron Building. Where are you going to find any peace in the madness down on the street?
But, I didn’t say that. Instead I followed Gary. We left the building and began walking until we arrived at Madison Park. At the front of Madison Park I observed a large bird holding a rose in its mouth. I thought, humorously to myself, Maybe there’s the nature and peace that Gary is seeking. The only problem is the bird was made out of nails, stood about twenty feet high, and the flower was artificial.
But I soon found myself relaxing and becoming calm and my soul restoring as we walked and made circles in the trees, shrubbery, watching birds pecking at the breadcrumbs in Madison Park. Gary told me the importance of meditation in his life, of calming his soul, and soothing his spirit. He did this by walking and talking. I observed several times throughout the day Gary reciting the Serenity Prayer and indeed Gary’s countenance was as calm as mine. At the conclusion of this little walk Gary and I were rejuvenated, ready, and prepared to fight the next battle.
My office is also purposefully located near opportunities to find serenity. I have a beautiful workplace that overlooks ponds, a beautiful golf course, and snowcapped mountains. I love watching the geese and the ducks fly in and out. Indeed, when I get anxious and stressed I’ll close my door and go to the window and look at the beautiful scene and take a few deep breaths.
Although I didn’t publicly say it to Gary, I want to announce it now: Thank you, Gary for teaching me a lesson here. Thank you for teaching me that peace indeed is something you go and find and decide for yourself to have. It is not an environment that you necessarily have to wait for it to come to you. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of Madison Park or a bustling New York City sidewalk with drivers screaming and honking at each other. It doesn’t matter it’s the Empire State Building or pine trees looming over you. You have to make the decision to find peace and then move into that state of mind and where you can find some level of calm and serenity. Indeed, the park in New York City is just as profound a place to find peace and meditate as is the view out my window overlooking Mount Nebo and the East Bay Golf Course with the ducks flying in and out.
Indeed, peace is not something you find, but something you have to go and get.
One week ago I took my family on a much-needed family respite to the Southern Caribbean as my children were on Spring Break. These are some of my favorite islands in the world. It’s just a grand adventure. There was one destination in particular that I was excited to visit and that was Maho Beach or what is better known as the Airport Beach in St. Maarten. I pride myself that I’ve visited many of the “Ten Most Dangerous Airports in the World” including the Lukla airport in Nepal. Indeed, the St. Maarten’s airport is one of the ten most extreme airports in the world. Large jumbo jets come barreling over this beach and you feel that if you were to jump up in the air you would touch the planes’ underbelly. Watching these jets blast past you as they fling debris, sand, and dirt is actually extremely exhilarating.
I watched with great interest as several fools attempted to hold on to the back of the chain-link fence that separates the beach from the airport runway, staring down the barrel of a 747. As that engine roars up it throws up debris and sand and everything goes flying, including those tourists who can’t hold on tight enough to the fence. A few of them hang vertical for a while but eventually lose their grip and fly back, sliding down the sidewalk and pavement. As they are doing this I think, “You’ve got to hang on tighter than that, stupid or better yet just get out of the way.” (You see I stood behind a smaller airplane and that was enough for my pallet.) Nonetheless it was really fun to watch these idiots attempt to hold on to the fence. As I looked at that I could not help but liken it to a business analogy as I always do. Today I have five strong tips to help you know how to either hang on really tight or get out of the way. Here are my five tips.
Number One: When you see many other failures occurring. Similar to that airport, when people are flailing around on the ground, trying to find a stronghold it means it’s probably time to run and get out of the way of the jet engine’s blast. It is the same way with a business.
Number Two: When there is great confusion in the industry. Take note when everyone’s confused as to what’s going on in the industry. We’ve recently seen that with Google and their Panda and Penguin updates. Everyone’s confused. That often means it’s time to sit down, hunker down, and get out of the way. In the case of the airplane it kicked up all kinds of sand, dust, and debris. People couldn’t even see until the commotion had died down. Once everything settled down it was easy to navigate the beach again.
Number Three: When prices decrease dramatically. When your margins or prices are rapidly decreasing that is typically a sign you are on a downward wave and that the wave is about to plummet and grind you into the ocean floor.
Number Four: When there’s a lot of noise and blather. When you get the industry experts and pundits all standing up and blathering and making bold statements about the confusion that’s a pretty good sign that it’s time to stand back, let the dust settle, and get out of the way.
Number Five: When you see non-natural or contrived ways of doing business happen all around you. This is a pretty good sign that some disaster is soon to follow and it’s time to take a step back. Indeed timing is everything. In business just getting on the front of the wave can mean great success that will push you for a long time. On the other hand trying to ride the back of a jet airplane and having it thrash you into the ground is a time to get out of the way.
In business people frequently just hang on too long. I’m confident as you watch for these signals it will help you navigate the storms of business and of jet airlines blasting you in the face and enjoy it. In closing I’m including a couple of bonus YouTube videos as a bonus that shows just how close the airplanes get at this beach and just how dumb some of the tourists act and if you ever get the opportunity to go to St. Maarten take it and go visit this airport beach.
Rich: Hey! Rich Christiansen here. Their name matters. I’m here with Lane Tucker. He’s the base operations manager at Eagle Point and every time I come down here everybody knows my name! It makes me actually want to come here more. I took a large group of twenty young men down here and Lane and his staff knew all their names. This is one of the most service-friendly places I’ve ever been. Lane tell us a little about Eagle Point and about your philosophies.
Lane: Here at Eagle Point we make it a point to get to know everybody that we come in contact with. If we don’t know your name we’ll at least be able to recognize your face. We people to know us and we want to be able to know you. We’re a small resort with a home-town feel and we want it to be quaint and for people to be happy.
Rich: I gotta tell ya, this is the greatest snow on earth, and I’m gonna grab the camera here and I’m going to show you. I have a ski resort thirty minutes from my home but this is where I come. This is where I come to ski every single time and it’s largely because of the service and anyone (here, I’m going to give you the camera back. This is real, raw, and relevant) every time they come down here they say this is the best-kept secret in the world. This is the best skiing in Utah. Today I sang at the top of my lungs. No one was within five lifts of me. Good thing no one heard me. I didn’t have to wait in a line once. This is the best skiing in Utah so come and visit Lane here at Eagle Point.
Rich: Hi everyone! Today I’m here with Desire Ward.
Rich: I’ve been mentoring Desi. Desi has just launched a new website called Unconvential Kitchen. In the first couple of months this site has grown to 4,500 subscribers. Desi is the cat’s meow but she is facing something that is extremely challenging for all young entrepreneurs. Give a big sigh.
Desi: Yes, overwhelmed.
Rich: Here, let me show you how Desi is doing it. Desi, there’s lots of stuff going on, ready? CATCH!
(Rich tosses a bunch of golf balls at Desi)
See all the balls drop on the ground? Let’s try that again.
Desi: This is why I love Rich. He’s a great mentor.
Rich: Let’s try this again. She caught three. Now, drop those. There’s a better way.
Desi: Let’s see if I can actually catch these.
(Rich tosses them to her one at a time.)
Rich: She only dropped three that time and caught a few more. Now, multi-tasking is stupid and it does not work. Multi-tasking is stupid and it does not work. Pick your top three things you have to do in your life, for example, Desi? You just identified your top three. Pick your top three things you have to do in life and then DO them. Don’t try catching all the balls at one time or you will absolutely drop them.
Each one of us has need in our lives to receive gifts, blessings, and help from other individuals. It’s a reciprocal two-way street. Part of receiving also requires giving. It’s where I often find some of my greatest joys in life.
The organization I’ve most recently been utilizing to engage in the education of youth and also in philanthropic efforts abroad is Choice Humanitarian. This is a fine organization that is conducting a campaign this Friday March 22, 2013 to raise resources specifically for a hospital and a school in Polochic Valley that I and my teen team helped build this summer.
I’m a strong supporter of this and would invite you, as you are inclined, to also participate in supporting this fine organization, Choice Humanitarian.
Once each year I’m asked to go and lecture at my Alma Mater Brigham Young University for their entrepreneurial program. This is something quite frankly that I look forward to and, although I’m not always sure how much value it gives, I feel it is a way to give back and to connect with the students. Indeed today is my lecture at BYU and as I was preparing for this presentation my heart has been joyful and melancholy at the same time based on several interactions that I’ve had with young entrepreneurs.
My presentation today is going to be dramatically different than in years past. I’m not going to use slides or do a big fancy presentation or get right to the nuts and bolts and gritty details of The Zig Zag Principle which everyone knows that I love so dearly. My presentation today is going to start out telling three stories. These are three stories that all came from Brigham Young University entrepreneurs. These stories indeed highlight three ways NOT to start a business.
Story Number One:
Last year at this very lecture there was a young man that kept having tears come to his eyes during the presentation. He was taking notes almost faster than I could speak and I could tell that there was great impact. After the lecture he asked to visit with me and we had a dialogue and he proclaimed that, “Everything you said to do, I did the exact opposite and I’m paying for it.”
This young man now has visited with me several times. He was in my office last week again with tears in his eyes as he explained that he had great desire to be an entrepreneur as did several of his dear friends and roommates. They’d all jumped in without an operating agreement and chewed off a great opportunity for a service industry in the local area that required high capitalization. This happened to be a massage business.
This young man then highlighted to me how he’d signed personal guarantees as well as collateralized the one asset that he had, which was a piece of real estate, shortly into the venture while he was an undergraduate. He got married and began having children. Ironically his partners exited without signing the personal guarantees and he ended up getting stuck with all the liability.
Indeed the business model, although superficially looked great, the reality was it was not financially viable. Each year, despite tremendous efforts, it would lose as much as thirty, forty, fifty thousand dollars in a year and membership base in the business grew. It appears to be somewhat high profile but now the young man in preparing to graduate from college with a Master’s degree. He has a great and promising future before him, indeed several very large and well-known companies desire to employ him. His situation led him to ask me, “Rich, do I declare bankruptcy or do I try digging my out of this? I can’t stay in this anymore. It will disrupt my marriage, furthermore I’m moving. Do I pay this debt off for the next period of life?” He estimated that he lost around $150,000 while going to college. Although I have great respect for this young man and his tenacity to try being an entrepreneur he exposed himself to risk that wasn’t appropriate or necessary.
Story Number Two:
A young man at the age of twenty-five years old was working for a company and saw that the model was just slightly askew. The company ended up going out of business. Well, this young man saw a solution to the model, put $15,000 on his credit card at the age of twenty-five, and indeed he was right. He instantly had a team, they started having tremendous success and before long the company was doing several million dollars a year on a kind of an edgy business model, but a brilliant business model nonetheless, and he started buying all his employees BMWs. It was a pretty darn arrogant company, full of swagger.
He sold that company and within a couple of years, I think at the age of twenty-eight to the tune of $12 or $13 million. Great win, right? Twenty-eight years old, done! He’s got it made! What did he do? Well, he kept the swagger up, kept driving the fancy cars, acting like he had it all made, but he couldn’t resist from violating the non-compete agreement.
What’s the result? He violated the non-compete with the company that he’d sold. They came back and sued him, taking basically every bit of the payout that they had given him, completely decimated the new company he had created, and in many ways I think really damaged his future potential. Devastating.
A young man who for twelve years now comes to me at least twice a year. I expect the call every spring, every fall. “RICH! Great idea! I’m ready to start the business now! I’m finally gonna do it!” Twelve years later he still hasn’t created the company he’s been talking about.
These three stories highlight the reasons I passionately believe in zigzagging, failing efficiently, and not exposing yourself to more risk than you are prepared to deal with. Now I realize, some people have a higher risk threshold than others. The first story was dramatically higher risk than the second one. I’ve come to the conclusion after many years of battle wounds, cuts, and scars, and scrapes that failure is very good and important. And going forward I will not be consulting, helping, or supporting or enabling anyone who can’t show me two or three really good failures.
The secrets to success aren’t really secret at all.
Secret Number One: Fail efficiently and learn from your mistakes
Secret Number Two: Avoid risking what you can’t afford to lose
Secret Number Three: Maintain a proper balance in life so you don’t end up destroying the most important things in your life
That’s what defines entrepreneurship. I think in my next post I’m going to talk about the three ways TO start a business with great success and it’s going to involve a young lady, my mentor Alan Hall, and I’m going to pick one other just for joy.
Go forward. Zig Zag. Don’t be afraid to be an entrepreneur. Keep these key things in mind. Don’t risk what you can’t lose. Fail very efficiently. Avoid destroying the most important things in your life.
This past week I got an urgent email from a colleague of mine who had just received notification of a caustic article regarding his industry and sector on the front cover of The Wall Street Journal. Although it did not call him out by name it did call out his primary competitor and somewhat poster his career as being in an erroneous industry.
The first reaction of my college was to want to jump in and to make comments and boo and protect the industry and protect his name. With great wisdom the other peers on the email counseled him not to do that.
As I thought of this situation I recalled another great tragedy with incredible negative press that should have quite frankly devastated an entire industry. Everyone knows that I love to climb in the Himalayas at altitude and indeed in 1996 the greatest tragedy in the history of that mountain occurred. Two very famous climbers that led probably the best-known guiding services, Mountain Madness by Scott Fischer and The Adventure Consultants led by Rob Hall, were at the very center of this crucible event. A terrible storm hit, they broke several of their rules, and many climbers died on the mountain including these famous guides. Jon Krakauer wrote a book called Into Thin Air, a best-selling book that documented this terrible tragedy.
What was the result for the mountain climbing industry? The result was even after this documented tragedy came to light several other agencies stepped in and focused on their own safety and success rate. What do you think happened? They ended up thriving. A few examples are Alpine Ascents led by Todd Burleson and Himalayan Experience led by Russell Brice. The Discovery Channel even created a special program documenting Russell’s teams. This only added more fuel to the fire.
I showed this example to my college and as well as five crucial steps that were necessary to execute when bad press happens. I think this is also very applicable and appropriate for you to take advantage of these rules.
Number One: Resist the urge to jump in
Your first reaction is going to be to jump in the fray and get right in the middle of everything. My wise uncle used to say, “When you wrestle with pigs you’re going to get mud on you.” It’s very important that you resist the urge to jump right into the middle.
Number Two: Differentiate your company
Identify what went wrong within the industry. Pinpoint the problem and make sure you clearly show your client how your company differentiates from those problems. Bring it up every time you speak, every time you present, and every time you see a client. Indeed, that was the key things that these Everest companies did that helped them to survive. Every time they dialoged they didn’t bring up the tragedy, as a matter of fact they avoided it. But what they did is say, “We are a safe company. Here is our safety record. Here are our rules and this is how we handle difficult situations.” Make sure you differentiate on your key value propositions especially where your competitors failed.
Number Three: Strategize with your trusted network
Just like my associate did, the first thing he did was reach out to his network and with their help came up with a strategy and plan of how to posture and position. Take a few breaths as you back out of the fray and come up with a really solid game plan of how you can advance forward as everyone else is retracting.
Number Four: Put on your white hat
Putting on your white hat means never making slanderous, pointing, or cutting statements over what occurred. As a matter of fact avoid the topic and whenever it is brought up and thrown right in your face you can make comments such as, “Oh, well in the case of Rob Hall, he was an incredible climber. I have nothing but respect for him. My heart and best wishes go out to him and his family at this difficult time. You’ll find that we’re a company that focuses on safety and on safe success.” Indeed, put on your white hat.
Number Five: Use the publicity to your advantage
A New York politician said, “I don’t care what you say about me, just make sure you spell my name properly.” And indeed that’s the fifth point. Oftentimes press, even the bad stuff, can be beneficial. So don’t get right in the middle of the fray where you end up getting mud all over you, but use the renewed interest in your favor. Any type of press, PR, and exposure can be good for the industry. Just make sure that if your name is used they highlight you properly and they spell your name properly. That means links to your website, Twitter, Facebook, all the social media pages, and other various ways to contact you.
Indeed, what could seem like a very negative, caustic event can end up being one of the best possible things for you. I’m confidant that applying these five steps when negative PR happens, rather than going out and hiding under a rock or rather than jumping in front of the bus, can advance your business rapidly. Indeed, as we talked about the Seven Moments of Impact several posts ago, anytime there’s chaos such as this it’s usually an incredible opportunity to advance your business. Take advantage of the negative PR, as a matter of fact, draft off of press, whether it’s positive or negative and your business will do nothing but thrive.
When I began writing The Zig Zag Principle I strongly knew that I wanted to have a section about eating your own cooking. When I wrote Bootstrap Business I already had a great story about the business I was currently running. We grew from $5,000 to $1.2 million the first year and then over $2 million the second year. We sold the business two years, three months, and nine days after creating it. However, there was one resounding complaint. It was, “Sure, Rich. But you’ve done it thirty-five times already.”
When doing The Zig Zag Principle I wanted it to be an independent success story. We based Froghair on the principles in the Zig Zag book and by following those principles I was able to report in the book that in the first year alone Froghair indeed had grown to just over $3 million in sales. Today I’m very proud to announce The Rest of the Story.
Two years after having been created, Froghair grew to $4.4 million in sales with a 14% net margin of $603,000 net profit. (Not bad for a $5,000 start.) My expectation is this coming year Curtis and Shane will yet double the business again. But what I’m MORE proud of is how literally and exacting the team has applied the principles. Now that’s not to say there haven’t been some extreme ups and downs. After that first year we had a major supply problem and indeed the company had a near death experience. However, through perseverance and determination on both the supply and consumer side of the business we’ve completely stabilized. I would like to publicly give a hat tip to Curtis, Shane, Jared, Emily, and all the other team members who have been involved in this effort. What you’ve done is spectacular and I will tell everyone boldly and publicly that the principles and concepts in Zig Zag work. They work! They work! They work! If you apply them you will see a dramatic impact in your own life. Now this isn’t saying it’s easy, because it’s extremely hard and oftentimes you feel like you’re hanging on with your fingernails, but it’s so totally worth it.
I look forward to hearing the rest of your own story.