How Bad Do You Want It?

My respect and admiration go out to the 47,000 runners, walkers and wheel chair athletes who participated in the New York City Marathon today. As a one-time marathoner, I appreciate the dreaming, dedication and diligence it takes to complete every one of those 26 miles. How bad do you have to want to cross that finish line? Real, real bad.

The intensity of desire, dedication to training and sacrifice of time it takes to compete in a marathon reminds me of the characteristics of the 10Xers that Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen (2011) describe in their book Great By Choice. Like everyone who crossed the finish line in New York today, 10Xers win in the same uncertainty, chaos and luck that cause others to stumble or not even start. Collins and Hansen break down their training practices so we can apply them to our daily race.

Who are 10Xers?
According to Collins and Hansen, 10Xers are leaders of companies that beat the rate of return in their industry by at least 10 times from 2002 to the present. Think of it. These leaders dramatically outperformed their peers through the aftermath of 9/11, global disruption of governments and economies, the 2008 collapse and the Great Recession. And they didn’t operate in safe, stodgy sectors, but in airlines, insurance, technology and biotech, where competitors are served up as the proverbial lunch on a regular basis. As Collins and Hansen put it: “They don’t plan to thrive on chaos, but they can thrive in chaos.”

How are 10Xers different?
Collins and Hansen detail numerous characteristics of the 10Xers; I’ll highlight a just a few that could inspire us in the marathon of our careers:

They have an all-consuming passion about something bigger than themselves. 10Xers don’t just have a dream; they have a mission. They aren’t just interested; they are fanatical. They are so consumed with their purpose that we often think they are little nuts. But we’re energized by working with them and inspired by the possibilities.

 They don’t underestimate the difficulty of achieving their dream. 10Xers may dream at 10,000 feet but plan inch by inch. They prepare with intensity all the time, planning for every conceivable situation. They oversupply with resources and are conservative about risks. What looks like a big risk to the rest of us is often the end result of careful baby steps, data crunching and experiments that came before  “overnight success.”

 They follow their own recipe for success. Here’s a story I heard about Sam Walton, as told by one of his former staff members, that illustrates a 10Xer’s deep self knowledge about ingredients to their success.

Wal Mart was going to open a new store in town, so Sam Walton and his brother invited the soon to be manager to check out a competitive general merchandise store before their grand opening. The eager young manager took note of the state of the store. It was dirty and poorly lit. Aisles were crowded and displays unattractive. The front end was poorly staffed with a long line at a single cashier. He left with a full report, confident of the competitive advantages in his new store.

The young manager met with Sam and his brother, and the three of them discussed the competitive store visit. Eager to impress, the store manager laid out a point-by-point briefing on the advantages of the new Wal Mart. Sam and his brother listened then gave their report. They commented on the creativity shown in a display of fishing merchandise up in the early spring. They noticed the price on a few key items was lower than what they planned. They noticed the shopper convenience services, such as front door package pick up. Then it dawned on the young manager. He looked for everything his competitor did wrong. The Walton brothers knew one ingredient for success was a focus on what their competitor did right, because that’s why people shopped there.

Moments of greatness are possible when we:

  • Live our purpose with passion. Whether it’s running a marathon, serving a not for profit, running for public office, starting a dream business, success beyond our wildest dreams means commitment that stretches our capacity. It is all in. Period.
  • Plan for the worst and prepare for the best. Even with the most careful plans, things will go wrong, take longer or cost more. Overestimate your need for resources and underestimate your ability to “wing it.” When the unexpected storm hits, and it will, those with wisdom and resources will not only ride it out, but take others with them.
  • Follow YOUR recipe for success. What are the things you must do to succeed? What are the strengths that make you stand out? It doesn’t matter that you share them with others, it matters that you know and follow them consistently.

To learn more about the characteristics of 10Xers, check out Great By Choice by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen.

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