The simple existence of an alternative is often all that's needed to keep hope alive
Over the years, I worked hard to avoid being influenced by first impressions and blindly adhering to convention. Growing up in Berkeley as an excellent student in a town that frowned upon football as being too militaristic, I wasn't expected to join the Berkeley High School football team, but that's what I did. This was a big step for me. I had not played in any of the peewee football leagues, so it was my first exposure to the sport. Nonetheless, those earlier lessons in dealing with fear helped me tremendously. In high school football, being able to handle fear is 75 percent of the game. I will never forget the first team meeting with head coach Chico Mendoza. Coach Mendoza was a tough old guy who had played college football at Texas Christian University, home of the mighty Horned Frogs. Coach Mendoza began his opening speech, "Some of you guys will come out here and you just won't be serious. You'll get here and start shooting the shit, talking shit, bullshittin', not doing shit, and just want to look good in your football shit. If you do that, then you know what? Turn your shit in."
He went on to elaborate on what was unacceptable: "Come late to practice? Turn your shit in. Don't want to hit? Turn your shit in. Walk on the grass? Turn your shit in. Call me Chico? Turn your shit in?' It was the most intense, hilarious, poetic speech I'd ever heard. I loved it. I couldn't wait to get home and tell my mother. She was horrified, but I still loved it. In retrospect, it was my first lesson in leadership. Former secretary of state Colin Powell says that leadership is the ability to get someone to follow you even if only out of curiosity. I was certainly curious to see what Coach Mendoza would say next.
I was the only kid on the football team who was also on the highest academic track in math, so my teammates and I didn't see each other in many classes. As a result, I ended up moving in multiple social circles and hanging out with kids with very different outlooks on the world. It amazed me how a diverse perspective ut-terly changed the meaning of every significant event in the world. For instance, when Run-D.M.C.'s Hard Times album came out, with its relentless bass drum, it sent an earthquake through the football team, but not even a ripple through my calculus class. Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative was considered an outrage among young scientists due to its questionable technical foundation, but those aspects went unnoticed at football practice. Looking at the world through such different prisms helped me separate facts from perception. This ability would serve me incredibly well later when I became an entrepreneur and CEO.
In particularly dire circumstances when the 'facts" seemed to dictate a certain outcome, I learned to look for alternative narratives and explanations coming from radically different perspectives to inform my outlook The simple existence of an alternate, plausible scenario is often all that's needed to keep hope alive among a worried workforce.
Focus is saying no to 1,000 good ideas.
Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.
The last 10% is 90% of the work.