Jim Stovall
Winners' Wisdom 2006
by Jim Stovall

Price vs. Value

In our society today, we know the price of everything and the value of virtually nothing. The old adage is true. The best things in life are, indeed, free - or at least free of monetary cost. Warren Buffet said, 'Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.'

Money is only useful in the areas where money is effective. When it comes to your health, your family, your friends, your faith, and your freedom, money won't solve your problems.

I have been rich and I have been poor, and 'all things being equal' rich is certainly better; however, wealth does not make you happy. Wealth simply makes you wealthy. Happiness makes you happy. This is a state of mind and a decision often based on intangibles in our world that are not affected by money. If money is used properly, it can create great value in your life and in the lives of others; however if money is misused, it will take you farther away from the values that will truly make you happy.

Many people in our society are suffering from a disease I call 'more.' This disease causes you to want more of everything. Unfortunately, the more you get - if you are suffering from this disease - the more you want. You want bigger houses, more expensive cars, designer clothes, and all of the trappings that we are sold minute-by-minute by countless advertising messages. While these things are nice and there's certainly nothing wrong with them, people suffering from the disease of 'more,' spend money they don't have to buy things they don't need to impress people who don't care. The more they get, the more they want, and in our credit-laden society, these people are getting deeper and deeper into debt which creates a cycle which takes them further away from the personal satisfaction and peace that is the basis of true happiness.

It is a fortunate person, indeed, that can manage their personal success while experiencing financial success. Any problem that can be solved with money is not really a problem. It's a situation that must be dealt with. I don't ever want to minimize the financial struggles many people are facing; however, we must remember that money is a result. If you can get to the root cause of the problem, the money situation will resolve itself.

As you go through your day today, remember that the price of happiness cannot be paid with money.

Today's the day!

Personal Opinion Poll

We spend an inordinate amount of time, effort, energy, and money to impress people with whom we come in contact. Unfortunately, most of these people don't care about us and are not impressed with our car, clothes, or other paraphernalia that we somehow feel to be imperative.

In the final analysis, the only opinion of us that really matters is the one we have of ourselves. Our thoughts, ambitions, and expectations are what define us as people. We have the ability to craft and change these with the force of our will.

Recently, a valued friend and colleague shared with me some of his personal and professional affirmations. These statements are how he chooses to view himself. He has, in effect, taken his own self-opinion poll and decided who he is and how his life should be ordered. I got his permission to share some of his life statements with you.

Who Am I?

I love life and take no day or opportunity for granted!

I am devoted to waking up early each day. I do so revived, full of energy, psyched to work out and seize the day!

I love my family. Everything I do is revolved around my commitment to our well being!

I am an extremely lucky man. The harder I work the luckier I get. I have unrelenting energy and never stop working towards the goals that are important to me!

I am an incredible advisor. I love to coach others to maximize their wealth and the choices wealth creates!

I think only the best, work with only the best, and expect only the best for myself and those I serve!

I am an exceptional business partner. I contribute and compromise for the betterment of the firm and our collective futures!

I am a great inspiration for my family, clients, coworkers, and friends. I am as enthusiastic about the success of others as I am about my own!

I am an optimist even when everybody else is not. I learn from and then forget about mistakes of the past and press on towards the better opportunities of present and future!

I am honest and moral. I always do what's in the best interest of others!

I am physically, fiscally, and emotionally sound! I am in constant pursuit to improve, grow, and make life better!

I believe in what I say. I say what I will do. I do what I say!

I believe these statements for they are fact.

This is who I am!

I want to thank my friend and colleague for a glimpse into his life and who he chooses to be. As you go through your day today, remember, your life is a choice. Choose wisely.

Today's the day!

Honest Abe

It was Abraham Lincoln that gave the world the sentiment that if honesty were not pursued because it is simply the right thing to do, it should at least be pursued as the quickest way to succeed.

There is no contract that can ever fully protect you from a dishonest person, and there is no dispute or challenge that cannot be overcome between honest people. Honesty is not simply the absence of a lie but communicating all the information that people are entitled to and that they rely on. Unfortunately, some of our leaders have recently demonstrated you can communicate a lie while technically telling the truth, or at least not perjuring yourself legally.

Whether it's President Clinton or O.J. Simpson, the lack of a clear and complete truth will taint you forever. President Clinton was a respected leader that has many accomplishments to his credit. He came from an obscure town in a small state and became arguably the most powerful man in the world. O.J. Simpson overcame many challenges in his life to become the very best at his chosen profession of football. Both of these gentlemen are entitled to respect for their accomplishments; however, it's very difficult to think of them without the taint of their misdeeds and dishonesty following closely behind.

It takes a lifetime to build a solid reputation and a moment to damage it. Unfortunately, in our litigious, media-driven world, people can be known for their single worst deed instead of a lifetime of good deeds.

Think of all the people in the world that you trust totally. I don't mean that they won't steal your wallet when you're not looking or purposely miscount the change for a ten-dollar bill. I mean people who communicate clearly and mean what they say just as they say what they mean. If you can think of more than a handful of people who you consider to be totally honest, you've probably not set the standard high enough when you think of honesty.

The purpose of honest communication is to communicate the intent and the reality between everyone involved. Too many people use communication for an opportunity to spin, oversell, or hype the situation as they wish it were instead of how it really is.

When you're communicating a deal, an offer, or an opportunity to someone, you must be able to think internally and say in your own mind, "If they knew what I knew, they would be as excited about this as I am." If anything more or less needs to be added, this is probably not a positive deal that is based on total honesty.

As you go through your day today, recommit yourself to being totally clear and totally honest in every situation. It's the right thing to do and the best way to succeed.

Today's the day!

Being, Doing, and Having

We live in a world that is obsessed with having more things. One of the fastest growing industries in our society is the storage business. We are buying so much stuff we can't hold it all. We are having to rent places to put our stuff. There is nothing wrong with having things as long as the things don't really have you.

Unfortunately, we have a preoccupation with buying things that we can't afford, using money we don't have, to impress people who don't care. Acquiring wealth and assets is a byproduct of doing work which creates value in the lives of others. In our consumer 'buy now world,' we have it backwards. We want to have things that will make others think we are already successful.

The universe is set up with three natural steps to success: being, doing, and having. First, you have to 'be' the right kind of person who has the motivation, intensity, ethics, and values that would make you successful. Then, after you become this kind of person, you are ready, willing, and able to 'do' the things you know that are necessary to make you successful. And, finally, after you have become the kind of person who is doing the right things, you will inevitably 'have' all the stuff and things you want.

In proper balance and as a reward for hard work, having nice things is wonderful. As a fašade of smoke and mirrors using consumer credit to create the illusion of success, it is a hollow existence. Trying to have the result first is like the guy who stands in front of his fireplace saying, Give me some heat, and then I will throw in some wood.' Or the farmer who says to his field, 'Give me a crop, and then I will plow, plant, and fertilize.'

When you get the natural system out of order and want to have things before you become the person who would do the right things, you inevitably will still have to pay the price for those things; and if you do it out of order, the price will come attached to a staggering interest charge.

As you go through your day today, focus on yourself as the ultimate tool which will perform the tasks creating value in our world that will inevitably result in you having everything you want and more to share with others around you.

Today's the day!

The Gift of Giving

We live in an acquisition, consumption, disposable society. I am reminded of the famous, or possibly infamous, bumper sticker and slogan that says, 'The one who dies with the most toys, wins.' In reality, the one who dies with the most toys simply died with the most toys. The ones who win are the true winners. They are, quite simply, not the same thing.

There is certainly nothing wrong with having the trappings of a good life; however, one of the benefits or luxuries that success can afford us is the true gift of giving. Winston Churchill said, "We make a living by what we get and make a life by what we give."

Giving goes far beyond something we should do or ought to do. Giving is something that becomes a part of us and a part of our life's plan. Giving should, indeed, be a plan. You should not give your time or resources to an individual or an organization simply because they called you on the phone or mailed you a request. You don't buy your toys this way, so you shouldn't exercise your gift of giving in a random, haphazard fashion. Certainly, you should pay attention to appeals for gifts from solid organizations, but this only begins the due diligence process which enables you to determine where your efforts and your resources can make the biggest difference.

I know people who receive fulfillment from making gifts to organizations that further the arts. On the other hand, I know people who are dedicated to making a lasting difference among the homeless. I am drawn toward projects in the area of education and assisting people with disabilities. There is no right or wrong answer here as long as you have an answer that works for you and your family.

The gift of giving is a treasure because the minute you exercise your ability to give, you are transformed into a giver. I have studied a number of psychological surveys that deal with mental health and overall life satisfaction. Invariably, the people who give their time, talent, and resources are the most happy and satisfied. They, also, seem to become the most successful in their personal life. I will never believe that they give because they're successful. Quite the contrary. These individuals have a history that would tell us they are successful because they give.

As you go through your day today, look for ways to explore new and exciting avenues to exercise your gift of giving.

The Little Things

We are all rushed and crunched for time in our world today; therefore, anything you choose to do should be done with your best effort or not at all. With so many responsibilities and opportunities before each of us daily, there is no time nor reason to be mediocre at anything.

Everyone understands the urgency of performing well in the tasks they consider to be 'big things,' but they too often overlook matters they consider to be 'little things.' If you really analyze the areas of your life, either personally or professionally, that you consider to be 'big things,' you will find, if you look closely enough, that they are nothing more than a series or group of 'little things.'

You may run the best, most efficient business operation ever known to mankind, but if your people don't answer the phone politely and professionally, or if they don't invest the time and energy to simply get people's names right, you are wasting your time.

Our most precious possession is our name. One of the elements that distinguishes world class service from standard service--whether it be business, dining, hotel, transportation, etc.--is that the world class professionals greet you politely, energetically, and use your name correctly.

There is a certain group of business 'experts' who believes that in order to be successful we must practice intimidation. While I disagree with this philosophy, there is an amazing learning opportunity for us all within these intimidation theories. These adversarial intimidators would tell you that the best way to 'put someone down' or try to establish your own superiority is simply to mispronounce or misuse their name.

The most amazing, thoughtful, meaningful, and significant message can be diminished by a simple typographical error. No matter how profound the words on the page may be, if they contain sloppy errors, you may as well stamp the words in bright red across the top of the page: 'I really don't care very much about this.' You've heard it said countless times, but it is as true today as the first time you heard it. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. If you want to show people how much you care, pay attention to the little things, and you will find the big things take care of themselves.

As you go through your day today, do everything as if it alone will make the difference between success and failure. You will find that it does.

Today's the day!

The Great Technology Divide

Since the beginning of time, technology has constantly changed the world in which we live. These changes, however, do not extend to everyone equally; therefore, what becomes a breakthrough for one turns into a barrier for another.

At some point in ancient history, a builder took a good look at a dwelling in which he lived. He stood on the floor and looked at the roof above him and realized that that platform over his head could serve as the floor for another story in his dwelling. In order to get to this next floor, this ancient builder developed or invented an early version of what we today call stairs. These stairs opened up a myriad of possibilities. Most of us either live or work in a building that utilizes this multi-floored technology; however, as the stairs opened a new world for many people, it limited the world for those who were, due to physical limitations, unable to climb the stairs.

For thousands of years, the world has been separated into two groups: Those who can read and write, and those who cannot. For those people who even today are unable to read and write, on one hand they benefit from the advances of their literate neighbors. On the other hand, they are unable to participate in many of the benefits of living in the information age.

Today, you and I live in a society where there are so many new advances and developments on every front that it is impossible to participate in all these advances, much less master them. This leaves us with the quandary of selecting which technologies and corresponding expertise we choose to master.

As I am dictating this column, I have confirmed airline reservations for seven upcoming trips that will take me, literally, from coast to coast and border to border. I am taking advantage of the developments that have come in the aftermath of Orville and Wilbur Wright's breakthrough invention; however, when I travel via airplane, I do not utilize the technology with my own expertise. I rent the expertise of pilots who work for me directly or for the airlines.

In your business and personal life, there will be many technologies that you master but many more in which you borrow or hire mastery from others. Those who will succeed in the coming decades will be those who proactively decide which technology to master and which technology to delegate.

As you go through your day today, realize you can't be the best at everything, but if you're going to succeed, you've got to be the best at the right thing.

Today's the day!

Pay Attention

This morning, I heard about an exceptional young man who graduated from high school this year. He achieved a perfect score on both of the national college entrance exams. When asked how he accomplished this or what advice he would give to other students, he offered a brief but poignant statement. "Pay attention." While this may seem simple, it's important to remember that all great and enduring truths are inevitably simple. We don't fail because we don't know what to do; we fail because we don't do what we know.

The simple admonition to "pay attention" is deeper than you might first imagine. All of us pay attention. Many of us too often pay attention to the wrong things.

Several years ago, I was the keynote speaker for a major business convention held on an island in the Caribbean. After my presentation, the promoters of the event had arranged for two famous Las Vegas magicians to perform. As I was still backstage following my speech, I had an opportunity to meet and talk with these magicians. I asked the obvious question that most of you would ask, "How do you make a 400 pound tiger disappear right before the eyes of thousands of people who are on the edge of their seats paying attention?" One of the magicians laughed and responded, "Fortunately for us, they are all paying attention to the right thing at the wrong time and the wrong thing at the right time." The two magicians assured me that if they told everyone the magic secret before their performance, no one in the arena would fail to observe how the illusion is performed.

So, as we're striving to pay attention, it is critical that we pay attention to the right things. While being fooled during an entertaining Las Vegas magic show may be great, being fooled while looking at the wrong things in our personal and professional lives can be disastrous.

I recently heard about a survey conducted nationally among high school seniors. While over 90% of these young people could name three members of the Simpson family from the popular TV show, less than 10% of them could name three Supreme Court justices. Over a third of them could not name our vice president; therefore, it is obvious that these young people are definitely paying attention. The question that will determine success and failure remains, what are they paying attention to?

As you go through your day today, determine what is important to you and pay attention. Tune out everything else.

Today's the day!

The Four Minute Transformation

In less than four minutes from now, you will have completed reading this column. Four minutes seems like an insignificant amount of time, and -- in many endeavors of life -- it is. There was a time when breaking the four minute mile was the most controversial topic in the field of sports and human endeavor. For many decades, people had approached running a mile in four minutes, but no one had ever run a mile in less than four minutes.

Many coaches, commentators, and even physicians felt that it was impossible. There were dire warnings of permanent heart and lung damage or even death resulting from running so fast over such a long distance. Then one day, in one particular race, Roger Bannister ran just a few seconds faster than anyone had done before. He created the four minute transformation that, if understood, will not only apply to runners but to your performance level in every area of your life.

Although there had been literally thousands of world class runners around the globe trying to break this record, it had never been done; however, the week after Roger Bannister broke the barrier, there were five runners who equaled the feat. Within a year of Bannister's sub-four minute mile, 54 runners around the world had done it. A few years later, high school competitors were routinely breaking the four minute mile.

It would be impossible to convince any thinking person that the state of training and competition was such that 54 people broke the same record the same year. Instead, we have to recognize that there was a mental and emotional component to this phenomenon. People couldn't break the record because "No one had done it before." Once someone had done it, it entered the realm of possibility. This releases creativity and power that results in performance.

There are high level performers who can do anything if they can see that it is possible. There are high level pioneers like Roger Bannister who break the barrier and set the standard for others to follow.

As you go through your day today, think of all the things that you do simply because "That's the way we always do it." Conversely, think of all the things you don't do, or even attempt, because "No one's ever done it that way before." Remember, what someone else has or has not done will not affect you if you are a performance pioneer.

Today's the day!

When Lightning Strikes

It was an ordinary day in 1999. I came to my office, went about my daily tasks, and all seemed right -- or at least normal -- in the world. One of the tasks that was on my calendar involved writing a book and getting the manuscript off to the publisher. I had written six books previously, but they had all been nonfiction. As those six volumes had taken up most everything I knew and lots of things I merely suspected, it was time to take a different approach on book number seven.

I sat down to begin dictating a novel. Since I had no knowledge or experience in writing novels, there wasn't much cluttering up my mind. The only advice I gave myself was the advice I had heard as far back as I could remember growing up as a child in my parents' home. "Whatever you decide to do, do your best." This is important advice, and it's easy to miss the critical point. Obviously, you want to do your best. Where a lot of us fall down is in deciding to do the right thing.

I have spoken in arenas for years to many thousands of sales people and business leaders. They deal with countless people each day. Many of those encounters are not important, while a few of them are critical; and every once in a while, the lightning will strike. Unfortunately, you and I never know when the lightning is going to strike, so all we can do is our best at everything we decide to do.

You never know when a chance meeting is going to turn into a million dollar opportunity or a lifelong personal transformation. You never know when that single call, letter, or email is going to be the one that makes the connection of your life. And -- for those of us who from time to time through art, music, the spoken word, or our writing get to briefly be creative -- it's simply impossible to tell when the lightning is going to strike and the whole world will change.

That first novel I sat down to do my best on in 1999 was written in five short days and published just as I dictated it, word for word. The Ultimate Gift has become a worldwide phenomenon selling over 3 million books and soon will be released as a major motion picture starring James Garner, Lee Meriwether, and Brian Dennehy.

Think of the times in your life when the lightning struck and you and those around you were forever changed. If you will but focus on the possibilities, you will never do anything less than your very best.

As you go through your day today, do the best you can at everything you decide to do, and trust that the lightning will strike when and where it is supposed to.

Today's the day!

Time Bank

Time is the most uncertain, illusive, and most precious commodity that any of us possess in our personal or professional lives. It is the one true non-renewable resource. I have read no less than a dozen books on time management, and the truth is we can't manage time. If we are diligent and committed, we may be able to manage ourselves, but time does, indeed, march on.

We live in a society where everyone wants a piece of your time. Fortunately, or unfortunately, you and I spent all of our time yesterday doing something; therefore, if we take on something new today, it will have to replace something else. How we invest our time is a matter of priorities, but we must make sure they're our priorities and not someone else's.

Unfortunately, the utilizations of time that most people would deem to be most important are too often relegated to whatever time may be left over. Most people would consider family time, study time, recreational time, and personal development time to be something they would want to make a higher priority in the future. These things are too often the recipients of whatever time we may have left over when everything else is done.

I maintain that the concept of done is not valid. When you consider you are done, you have probably only reached a stopping point or a temporary break in the action. Are you ever really done learning, managing, mowing the lawn, or brushing your teeth? Therefore, waiting until you are done to activate your priority, family, or recreational time is an illogical and detrimental concept. These things should be budgeted into your time bank just like work, household chores, and everything else we must do in order to maintain our lifestyles.

For the last seven years, these Winners' Wisdom columns have been sent out to magazines, newspapers, and online publications around the world every Thursday morning without fail. They generally take me about 10 to 15 minutes to write each week. In the past several years, I have discovered the wisdom of writing them when I have the inspiration in my mind for this week's effort. Oftentimes when I write the columns early, something time-sensitive pops up on Thursday morning, and I'm glad the column is out of the way so I am not forced to rush out something that is less than my best effort. I call this concept of moving things forward in an attempt to control my calendar banking time.

Next time you are near a reservoir where a river has been dammed up to create a lake, observe that all the water is still there. It has simply been stored up to use at a later time for irrigation, power generation, flood control, or recreation. The water must be stored when it is available so it can be released when it is needed. Your time and the demands that are placed on your time are like that river. Either you control it, or it will control you. I am pleased to report that as I close this column it is 2:34 on Tuesday afternoon.

As you go through your day today, remember you can't control your time, but you can manage yourself.

Today's the day!

Customer Conservation

Progress in business can be defined as getting new customers for your products and services. There may be a lot that goes into this activity, but -- at the end of the day -- this is how we measure growth. Other activities either support this growth or maintain the business we currently have. Satisfied customers are the key to life and success.

People in business pay huge amounts of money and go through amazing efforts to get lists or data bases of potential customers. You might be surprised to know that you currently have free and easy access to one of the most amazing and underutilized customer lists in the world. If you will go to your computer, your filing cabinet, or your rolodex, you will find untold numbers of former customers, underserved customers, or customers who are expanding their needs.

These people need to hear from you on a regular basis. There is a great old Vaudeville joke that asks the question, "When should you tell your wife you love her?" The answer is, "Before someone else does." This is also true of your customers and former customers.

Your current customers should hear from you regularly, and you should explore the following things:

  1. How do they feel about your products and services?
  2. How can you better serve them?
  3. What are their plans in the future that could increase your level of service to them?
  4. What other companies and individuals do they know who should be prospects for your products or services?

Next, you need to go to that dreaded list of people who are former customers. In most cases, you won't be able to remember why they stopped doing business with you. The ironic thing is, your former customers probably don't remember why they quit doing business with you, either. You need to contact them and communicate the following:

  1. They were a valued customer that you would like to re-establish a relationship with.
  2. If either of you are aware why the relationship ceased, solve the problem.
  3. Determine how their business has changed or their needs may have expanded since you did business with them.
  4. Ask them what you can do to regain their trust and build on the relationship.

Unfortunately, whether it's a personal or professional relationship, too often we will do more to get the relationship than we will do to keep it. Remember, you need to always be in a sales, marketing, and service mode with everyone you do business with. If you're not in this mode, you can rest assured that your competition will be.

As you go through your day today, value and expand on your current customer relationships and repair and restore your former ones.

Today's the day!

Your Grass is Green

Oftentimes, we are all guilty of comparing the very worst of our current circumstance with what we perceive to be the very best of everyone else's.

Over the past year, I have gone through the amazing process of being a part of my book entitled The Ultimate Gift being made into a major motion picture. Prior to going through this experience, I had a rough idea of what actors, directors, camera people, makeup artists, etc. do as a part of their profession, but I never really understood what a producer does. To the uninformed novice, a producer seems to get all the credit and do very little work. As I mentioned, this is an uninformed opinion. After getting just a brief glimpse behind the scenes, I've come to the conclusion that all you need to do to be a movie producer is to have:

  1. The patience of Job.
  2. The wisdom of Solomon.
  3. The diplomacy of Kissinger.
  4. The leadership of Churchill.
  5. The forgiveness of Gandhi.
  6. The creativity of Michelangelo.
  7. The instincts of Warren Buffet.
  8. The humor and sarcasm of Jimmy Buffet.
  9. The flexibility of a contortionist.
  10. The strength of Sampson.
  11. The endurance of Lance Armstrong.
  12. The legacy of Red Stevens -- the main character in The Ultimate Gift.

Recent government employment surveys show that 80% of workers are unhappy with their jobs, and two-thirds would change jobs immediately if they had a place to go. The question before us is: Are all of these dissatisfied people a victim of their circumstances or a victim of their attitude? If you go through life thinking you're working harder and doing more for less recognition and compensation, you will always be dissatisfied. It's not about the money or the job.

Recently, I read about a professional athlete who was dissatisfied because his $8 million salary was not as large as a teammate's $8.2 million salary, and he was certain that he was producing all of the success their team was experiencing while his more highly compensated teammate was not performing well. Obviously, this is a person who is getting paid an amazing amount of money for getting to play a game that we all enjoyed as children, while enjoying accolades and a celebrity status that few people can even imagine. Somehow, in the midst of all of this, this young man -- earning in excess of $8 million a year for playing ball -- has found a way to feel deprived.

Before you take the time, effort, and energy to climb over the fence, be sure to observe objectively that your grass is as green as anyone else's. As you go through your day today, think of all the things you want in your professional life and see if they're not already available to you where you are.

Today's the day!

Hard Work and Fatigue

Many of us come home after a hard day's work feeling fatigued and worn out. If asked, we would honestly respond that the hard work has caused our weariness. In reality, hard work can be exhilarating, while frustration, delays, conflict, and unproductiveness wear us out and create fatigue.

As a professional speaker at conventions and arena events, I spend quite a bit of time traveling through airports around the world. People often comment on how tiring travel can be. The travel, itself, is not really all that tiring. It's the delays, frustration, long lines, and lack of coordination that often creates the tired and weary traveler.

Too many people confuse activity with productivity. Activity is tiring. Productivity is invigorating as you can observe the progress you have made toward your goal. Just because you're busy and tired does not necessarily mean you're getting anything done. The hamster in the cage running furiously on the spinning wheel is creating a lot of activity and no productivity. He is running a great distance without making any progress.

There are several things you can do to avoid the time-wasters and fatigue-creators in your life.

  1. Have a daily list of priorities you want to accomplish. List them from the most important to the least so if you run out of day before you run out of list, you've accomplished the maximum possible for your efforts.

  2. Try to avoid trivia, interruptions, junk mail, spam, and unsolicited calls. This is much harder than it sounds as there are countless people wanting to make their priorities and problems your focus for the day.

  3. Schedule brief breaks during the day. Take a walk, read a magazine, call a friend, etc. Five minutes of distraction and recreation can make all the difference. Sometimes it's easier to get an hour's worth of work done in 55 minutes than in a full hour.

  4. Get in the practice of relegating everything on your list to one of three outcomes. Either do it, move it, or scratch it. When you close the book on today's activities, everything on your list should be completed, rescheduled for another day, or determined to be so insignificant as not to be pursued.

You are the most important commodity in your business and personal life. We allow people to waste our time, energy, and focus when we would never allow them to steal our money or resources. As you go through your day today, focus on priorities and avoid the time-wasters and fatigue-creators.

Today's the day!

The Critical Element

Every endeavor in our lives--be it personal or professional--has one or more critical elements. A critical element of any venture is the unique piece of the puzzle that everything else relies upon.

I regularly have people call, write, or stop by my office to offer me all types of amazing business opportunities. Most of these amazing business opportunities have one critical element that has been eliminated or overlooked. For example, someone might call up and explain how, for a modest investment, I can buy into a huge percentage of their operation involving a goose that lays golden eggs. These eggs are worth thousands of dollars, and we're all going to be rich.

This promoter, sales person, or would-be entrepreneur wants to talk about everything but the critical element. He will invariably explain how they have figured the cost of feeding the goose, caring for the goose, protecting the goose, as well as all details surrounding shipping the golden eggs to market. The one critical element they do not want to discuss is, quite simply, does this goose really lay golden eggs?

In the vast majority of ventures proposed to you, if you will identify and probe the critical element as quickly as possible, you will save yourself a lot of time, money, and headaches. When it's all said and done, there's always more said than done, and people don't like to discuss the critical element because they want to live in a fairytale land instead of in reality. Unfortunately, you and I have to live our lives in reality. If other people want to be delusional, there's absolutely no reason for us to join them.

I have always felt that the 10 Commandments are hard enough to live by, but for some reason, years ago in one of my books, I wrote what I call Stovall's Eleventh Commandment, which simply states: Thou shalt not kid thyself. Or to state it more eloquently, quoting Mr. Shakespeare, "To thine own self be true."

Any business opportunity, investment, or venture of any type is only as strong as its weakest link. Identify it as quickly as possible, and if it holds up and proves to be valid, you can proceed full steam ahead. If not, don't waste your time in Fairytale Land.

My team here at Narrative Television Network tries to employ a principle we call accelerating your point of failure. The only thing worse than failing today is failing a year from now. Test everything carefully, locate and examine the critical element, and either cash in or move on.

As you go through your day today, focus on every critical element in your life and maximize your opportunities.

Today's the day!

The Reality of Risk

From an early age, we are encouraged by friends, relatives, and those who care about us to be careful, take it easy, and watch out. The thinking behind these admonitions is that we've got to avoid dangerous situations and eliminate risk in our lives. It is certainly prudent to avoid exposing ourselves to unnecessary danger; however, the idea of eliminating risk is counterproductive. Risk is all around us. It invades every area of our personal and professional lives. There is a false assumption that one choice carries risk with it while the alternative choice is risk free.

In the investment world, the riskiest investments are considered to be real estate and the stock market, while the safest investments are considered to be guaranteed bank or government accounts. While the bank and government investments do guarantee that you will not lose your money, over the last 50 years they have proven to be the most dangerous and risk-laden decisions you could have made.

While the stock market and real estate invariably go up and down, at times reminiscent of a roller coaster, over the long haul they have consistently performed well and offered good investment returns. On the other hand, over the same half century, the safe and conservative investments, which are guaranteed by banks or the government, have not even kept up with inflation; therefore, they inevitably lose value.

Prudent financial advisors will tell you that there is a place for all kinds of investments. I would certainly agree; however, the point we want to understand is that risk and safety rarely are easily identified and totally pure.

I know people who are afraid to fly, so they drive on cross country trips. Their fear, obviously, is that they could be a victim of a plane crash if they fly on an airplane. While this is statistically possible, the risk of dying in a plane crash is insignificant compared to the risk of driving your own vehicle. In reality, more people are injured or killed driving to the airport than on a commercial airliner.

Every successful business began adrift in a sea of risk. There were a multitude of things that could go wrong for every one that could go right. Many startup ventures fail, but a few grow, prosper, and eventually succeed. The only way to guarantee failure in a business venture is never to begin. If you launch your dream, you might fail. If you never start, you are guaranteed to fail.

As you go through your day today, re-examine risk and safety. Never take a risk you don't have to, but never play it safe when it guarantees your failure.

Today's the day!

Knowing What You Don't Know

There are four clear states of knowledge and understanding in which you can find yourself.

  1. You know something and know that you know it.
  2. You know something, but you don't know you know it.
  3. You don't know something, but you don't know that you don't know it.
  4. You don't know something, but you know that you don't know it.

All of us live part of our personal or professional lives in each of these areas at one time or another. They each have their advantages and disadvantages. If you know something and know that you know it, you can act with confidence and profit from the experience; however, it is important to not rest in this knowledge as the state-of-the-art will always change, and the rate of change is accelerating daily. People who know a computer program and know that they know it will be forced to upgrade their skills as new generations of software are developed, or they will be left behind.

All of us, from time to time, know something but don't know that we know it. This is caused by a lack of perspective. There is probably a piece of property near where you live that you have driven by countless times. Then, all of a sudden, it becomes extremely valuable and is developed in such a way that the owners or speculators profit greatly. If you will look back at the situation, you may realize that, had you thought about it from a different perspective, you knew--or at least should have known--that that property would increase in value. You simply didn't compile the knowledge in such a way that you could recognize the value and act upon it.

The most dangerous person in the world is someone who doesn't know something, but they don't realize that they don't know it. These are the people who go through life and fall into every pitfall and obstacle along the way. They think they know it all and, in reality, they only learn from the mistakes that their ignorance causes them to make. They are over-confident, and you simply can't tell them anything. The best you can do for them is to stand back and help pick them up after the inevitable crash-and-burn.

The greatest potential is held by those people who don't know something, but they understand that they don't know it. This is a powerful concept in that they can understand that there is something they don't know and recognize that they need to know it. These individuals rarely make mistakes, and they are always growing and developing. The world doesn't belong to them yet, but it probably will someday.

As you go through your day today, act on the things you know and build on the things you don't know.

Today's the day!

Sales and Marketing

Sales and marketing are two terms that are often heard together and even used interchangeably. They are both vital to success but are two extremely different, sometimes opposite, concepts. The terms import and export are also used together but, as you know, they are quite opposite when you consider any transaction.

Sales, for the sake of this discussion, is the process of contacting potential buyers to present your products or services. Marketing, on the other hand, is the process of creating an environment where potential consumers call you about your product or service. While the desired result may be the same, the process and skill set required are totally different.

One of the sales person's first tasks in any communication is to demonstrate a need for the product or service to be offered. The person selling insurance, in this instance, would contact you, informing you of the risk and peril you are in if you do not have insurance. While this is honorable, valid, and sometimes effective, it can be much more desirable when the perspective customer, through marketing efforts, becomes aware of the need for insurance and initiates the communication.

Sales and marketing create two totally different dynamics emotionally in the mind of the potential customer. Consider the difference of two phone conversations.

  1. You are sitting at home relaxing after a hard day's work, preparing to enjoy a family dinner, when the phone rings. It is a fast-talking, high-pressure sales person calling you about a vacation opportunity of a lifetime. Your immediate reaction is total resistance and a desire to get off the phone as quickly as possible.

  2. You are relaxing around the dinner table with the family after a hard day's work. The topic of a summer vacation comes up and various family members begin excitedly discussing their ideas for a trip. Then someone remembers an advertisement, flyer, magazine article, etc., and you pick up the phone and call a resort to get information and make a reservation.

In both cases, you are on the phone with a representative of a vacation company; however, the dynamic is totally different because one is an imposition and the other is fulfilling a need or desire you have identified yourself. This need or desire may have been created by an effective marketing campaign, but in any event, it has short circuited the sales process.

Sales and marketing are both effective tools in much the same way that a hammer and a screw driver are both useful but hardly interchangeable. As you go through your day today, look at your efforts in sales and marketing. Determine to understand the differences and do both well.

Today's the day!

Defining Yourself

All of us spend far too much time, effort, and energy worrying about what other people think about us. We would spend far less time worrying about what other people think about us if we realized how seldom they do. In the final analysis, the only opinion about us that matters is the opinion we hold of ourselves. This involves a level of self-evaluation and honesty that few people achieve.

One of the great writers of all time, William Shakespeare, wrote, "To thine own self be true." This is very simple but not very easy. In order for us to fully understand who we are, we first have to be clear on who we are not. The great sculptor, Michelangelo, when asked how he was able to take a block of granite and turn it into a beautiful woman, replied, "You simply find a block of granite and remove everything that is not a beautiful woman." All of us have talents and abilities that, if fully exploited, would make us successful. Unfortunately, we too often perform outside of our level of talent and expertise.

One of the advantages I find in being blind is that there are so many things I cannot do. This leaves a handful of things I can do where I can focus my efforts and energy. This narrow focus has brought me a high degree of success, happiness, and satisfaction. If you have all five senses, you will have to take on the added task of focusing your energy in certain areas while eliminating others where you could perform if you wanted to.

Remember, Michael Jordan was arguably the best basketball player that has ever played the game; but when he decided to play baseball, he was barely a mediocre Minor League player. Playing in the Minor Leagues is great if that's all you can do. I would argue that each of us has Major League talent and ability if we will simply play the right game and not play the wrong ones.

Everyone you can think of who has ever achieved greatness has focused their talent in a narrow range. Anyone attempting to be great at everything is destined, at best, to be average at a lot of things and great at nothing. Try observing yourself objectively as if you were evaluating an employee. Give yourself an annual review. Determine what you do well and where you perform at only an average level. Begin to work on eliminating the average until you only deal with the things you do well. The more specialized you become as you focus on your greatness, the more you will succeed.

As you go through your day today, determine to undergo an honest self-evaluation. Move toward your area of greatness, and away from everything else.

Comstock Gold

Recently, I was reading a historic novel about the Gold Rush in California and Nevada in the mid-1800s. It was fascinating to learn how people lived during that time and in that place. There are a multitude of lessons to be learned in observing any situation.

The early miners struck some promising looking veins of gold, and the Gold Rush was on. People came from around the world with nothing more than their hopes and dreams of gold. As the various mines developed, it became much more expensive and labor intensive to get the ore out of the ground. Many people who came halfway around the world expecting to get rich, only got a job working in someone else's mine.

These West Coast mines were unique in that there was a blue clay that continued to seep into each of the tunnels and mine shafts. They had to assign many workers to do nothing more than scoop up this clay and haul it out of the mine, creating large mountains of this waste blue clay material. This clay removal made the mining process more dangerous and more expensive.

They called in mining experts from around the world to determine how to stop this blue clay from creeping into the mine works. One deep mine expert arrived from Ireland and, as he was walking up the hill to the mine shaft, he noticed the enormous pile of blue clay. He casually commented, "That is the largest pile of silver ore I've ever seen."

As the gold played out, the Comstock Lode became one of the richest deposits of silver the world has ever known. Many fortunes were built in just a few short years - not because of gold, but because of a waste byproduct they had overlooked.

Unless you and I are interested in silver mines, this may not have any direct application to our lives; however, it may be worth more than the silver or the gold if we will come to understand the significance. We must ask ourselves the golden question: What opportunities are we overlooking simply because we think we should be working in another direction?

Success generally lies in recognizing and exploiting value before anyone else does. You may already have the key to everything you want in your hands. Step back and look at it from a different perspective. Don't only think about what you see, but think about what other people might see. Oftentimes, wisdom and genius come from simply observing your current situation from another angle.

As you go through your day today, look past the gold and even the silver. You may already possess more than you think.

Today's the day!

Priorities and Possibilities

In the final analysis, the only thing you and I have to invest in either our personal or professional lives is our time. Money and resources can come and go. They can also be replaced. Time is the absolute irreplaceable commodity that we all deal with. We all have the same 24 hours a day to invest; therefore, people who succeed in life on their own terms are those who have learned to become great investors of their time, effort, and energy.

Like most things in life, being a great investor of time is not a black and white matter. Instead, there are a number of variables impacting how you should utilize your most precious asset. I divide the two extremes of time management into priorities and possibilities.

Priorities are the day to day mundane things that must be done. These priorities would include paying your bills, answering your correspondence, returning phone calls, etc. While these things may not get you where you want to go, they are important because they keep you where you are.

On the other hand, possibilities are the big picture, long range, creative pursuits that outline our potential greatness. It is critical that you invest some of your time resources in this area; however, if you invest too much in this one category, you will be like the ship's captain who is looking at the far horizon with his telescope while he is hitting an iceberg directly in front of him. Conversely, if he only worries about missing the icebergs, he could safely wander around in circles for years.

Most of us are very organized with our priorities and relegate our possibilities to any time we may have left over at the end of the day, week, or month. I recommend that, for scheduling purposes only, you make your possibilities a priority on your daily list of things to do. Block out periods of time to consider new marketing ideas, long term business strategies, great travel or vacation plans, etc. Your possibilities deserve more than whatever time you may have left over, but if you don't handle your priorities, you may find yourself out of business and out of luck.

As you go through your day today, find and document a balance between priorities and possibilities. Realize that it doesn't benefit you to work today unless you have a future, but you have no future unless you handle priorities today.

And, as always, today's the day!

Jim Stovall is the president of Narrative Television Network, as well as a published author, columnist, and motivational speaker. He may be reached at 5840 South Memorial Drive, Suite 312, Tulsa, OK 74145-9082, or by e-mail at JimStovall@aol.com . Visit http://www.jimstovall.com for additional information.

Many more articles in Personal Development in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2006 by Jim Stovall. All rights reserved.

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