Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

How to Get Lucky


In his book, “Delivering Happiness” and his many speeches, Tony Hseih  talks about “luck” and how it compares to optimism.  There was an experiment done where people were asked to rank how lucky they are by asking the question:

On a scale from 1 to 10, do good things just happen to you a lot or never?

Then these same people were put into a room and asked to read a newspaper that had been especially printed for them. They were asked to count the photographs in the entire paper- front page to back page.   About half way through the paper, however, there was a giant fake advertisement that said something to this effect:

If you are counting photos, you can stop now, this was just a test to see if you would notice it, you now win $100 and can go home!

The results were amazing… the people who considered themselves as unlucky by saying “Good things never happen to me,” by a large margin missed the ad and finished the task, reported the number of photos and left.    The “lucky” ones, by a high margin, walked away sooner with $100 in their pocket.

Learn your own lesson here, and I’ll skip to the probing questions:   Are you paying attention enough? Are you optimistic that things good might happen to you if you are open to them?  Do you try new things? Do you meet new people? Do you meet new people? Do you meet new people?

Do you meet new people?

I have a strong opinion that meeting new people is one of the most valuable ways anyone can spend their time if you want to “get lucky” and move forward in a successful and happy life.  Introvert, extravert, hermit, hobo, I don’t care what you think about networking or meeting people — it’s like exercise, if you make yourself do it it will reward you. Get over your own stubbornness about thinking you are shy or someone who doesn’t like to network, or whatever. Just get over it. One foot in front of the other.

Invest in optimism for yourself. Invest in being open and aware to what’s around you, and surround yourself with new people, new ideas at all points in life.

I don’t make many claims about helping you, but I promise if you do this: luck will find you.


Disgusted! Blah! Yuk!


Disgusted at MediocrityI find that I am motivated by disgust. It’s a good motivator for me. Specifically disgust at mediocrity.  Usually I’m a pretty positive guy and I’m more motivated by positive things than negative. But disgust at mediocrity will really get me juiced for a while.

I get disgusted at mediocre experiences… in a store… in a church… at a conference… and it makes me want to make those experiences that I control far beyond mediocre.

I get disgusted at mediocre relationships… between myself and others… between others that I know… between children and their parents.  That makes me want to do something tangible and immediate to ensure I am working to blow away mediocrity in my relationships.

I get disgusted at mediocre companies… I don’t mean the size of the company, or the financials, or even the quality of the output… I just mean that they have settled for mediocrity across the board. Perhaps they’ve settled for mediocre culture, perhaps product, perhaps financial performance… whatever it is that’s mediocre about a company, you can smell it from miles away.

I suppose my disgust isn’t with the mediocre output itself as much as it is that mediocrity is an admission that excellence doesn’t interest them. Excellence isn’t the goal, survival is the goal.

So yeah, I guess it’s ok to be disgusted once in a while if it lights a fire under you to do something to keep yourself out of the same situation.


Creating your Personal Core Values


Yesterday I described an exercise you can use to leverage your written personal core values to help with big decisions or a “review” of your life at any point.   However, I realize that many people don’t actually have written core values.  Do YOU?

If not, here is a fun way to find them.  Do this with a close friend, business partner, or accountability mate. Share each step with each other.

  1. Think about your personal dream advisory board. Who would you put on this board? You can use any human being you know. Superheros, historical figures, friends, relatives, co-workers, bosses, competitors, clients, vendors, children, old people, mean people, nice people, yellow people, red people.  Make a list.   Spend some time in quiet thinking about this. Don’t do it quickly.
  2. After you’ve carefully built your “dream team” of personal advisors, share it with your partner.  Spend time discussing each person on your board. Talk about what you admire most about them. Talk about why they made the cut on your board.  As you talk, feel free to revise and edit the board.  There is no right number of people on the board.
  3. Following your discussion, write out beside each board member single words that describe this person. Just list them out beside each board member.
  4. Share the words with your partner, discuss and edit as necessary.
  5. Looking at the list you’ve just created, circle the words that inspire you the most. Circle the words that are what you want to be.  You may circle one per board member, or many per board member. There are no rules.
  6. Take this list of circled words, and write them on a new blank page. This is the beginning of your core values.  Sort them, order them, draw them, or write them over and over. Put them into sentences, or leave them as words.  Do whatever you want, because this is the list of words that will give you your 7 core values.

I love this step-by-step approach to creating personal core values. I did mine about 18 months ago and they have become a big part of how I think and make decisions. It has helped me be much more intentional.

By the way, here are JC’s personal core values, but get your own!

  1. Self-aware and at Peace
  2. Engaged with Family and Friends
  3. Financially Enabled Freedom
  4. Intensity in Everything
  5. Open and Direct Always
  6. Resourceful and Applied Smarts
  7. Laughter is Air

(ps. At least click “laughter,” it will leave you with some good energy!)

Using Personal Core Values and Personal Creed to Evaluate Big Life Decisions


Recently I was helping a friend evaluate a number of opportunities in front of him for the next steps in his career. He has a lot of good things going on and he has one of those unique times in his life where the decisions made in the next 1-3 months will make a tremendous impact on the next 20 years of his life.

Evaluating a handful of opportunities when the stakes are this high is tough.  It’s amazingly complex. I’ve mentioned many times that I have a personal creed and my own personal core values. I cannot say how many times I have fallen back on the 7 written core values to help make decisions; so in this case I decided to help him create a matrix of the opportunities and measure everything against his core values.

We built the tool, and I think it can be a useful idea for anybody considering where they are in life and where they want to be.

Here’s the exercise I did for my friend:

  1. At the top of the page, list your personal core values (and personal creed if you have one).
  2. Number each one.
  3. In a table, across the top, list the opportunities ahead (jobs, companies, cities, etc…)
  4. Down the left side of the table list the criteria you want to use to measure the decision
  5. Evaluate each criteria against your core values and put the numbers beside them in parentheses
  6. Be sure that each core value has at least one criteria attached to it, if any are not on your list, add them, but word them as you would word the criteria to measure against, not the core value itself.

How you measure, rank, and score each box on the grid is up to you. But the idea is that you actually leverage your personal creed and personal core values to make big decisions. It won’t give you the answer, but it’s a great starting point for how to think about the decision and very likely will give you some clarity.

Even if you aren’t at a big pivot point in your life, I’d suggest taking 20 minutes today and doing this for yourself. Are you living up to your core values? Are you in the right place? Are you around the right people?  Or are you waiting for something to happen? You know how I feel about waiting.



Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable


Hilarious Improv Coaching for SalesThis morning I’ll share takeaway #4 from Quench Network Forum launch last week.    We had a half-day session that I can now safely admit was a big risk. A grand experiment if you will.  We had a half day of Improv Coaching from Emily Reilly Russell, the Lead Actress at Whole World Theatre.

In my research phase of Quench, a very successful serial entrepreneur in Atlanta told me that his improv and acting training has provided him the most valuable business skill to date.  I was intrigued enough to research the idea further, speak with lots of acting coaches around Atlanta, and ended up with a group-based improv program that was designed to build face-to-face communication skills as well as tremendous team-building.

Well it was a risk I am glad we took! The program was awesome.   First of all, we’re going to rename that segment to “Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable.” And boy was it uncomfortable!  In the beginning of the program, we were lying on the floor, breathing, eyes closed, focused on breathing and focused on “energy.”    Yes, weird, fluffy, and odd for sales training, right!?  But as the program progresses it part builds on the previous exercise. We went through a number of stretches and yoga-style “things.”   Then we were placed in pairs that rotated every exercise and had to get comfortable standing face to face with our forum mates, making direct eye contact for extended periods of time. No jokes, no gestures, just staring into each others eyes.  Talk about uncomfortable!?!?! Have you ever tried this?  Wow. It’s a skill I didn’t have before that program, and I can already say that after the program, I’m much more aware and comfortable making extended, intentional eye contact when I speak with people in professional and personal settings.

The rest of the program was great and hilarious. We progressed to speaking exercises, to showing emotions with and without words, with and without gestures; then conversation direction changes, how to handle them with grace and how to keep positive energy going in a funny or odd situation.

In addition to continuing to use Improv Coaching as part of Quench Network, I may even consider getting some acting lessons of my own.  Even I believe I need to work on “Getting comfortable being uncomfortable.”


*Credit for the phrase “Get Comfortable Begin Uncomfortable” goes to the most successful sales person I know, Adam Mullen, an Account Executive with Fortna. Props given where props are due!


Knowing How You Learn – Try a Family Table


Jim Ryerson Sales Octane Teaching the DecisionMap

Jim Ryerson from SalesOctane Teaching the DecisionMap

I confess that I have a hard time with lectures. Seminars and conference sessions are ok, but maybe 1 in 5 keeps me engaged long enough to actually learn something useful.  I find that when I sit down and be still and quiet, even though there is someone talking and supposedly teaching in the front of the room, my mind drifts away quickly and to far away places where it can get some things done!

Another takeaway (#3!) from Quench forum and sales training for young reps last week was that the “training” component kept even me engaged the whole time.  It was just as engaging as if I was in conversation with each of the trainers. This happened mostly on purpose. I know that sales people are like entrepreneurs– full of energy, ideas, and constant mental engagement. Big seminars and lecture based programs won’t work for them. We won’t actually learn anything in those programs.   If we are truly self-aware, then we know that about ourselves and won’t waste our time and money in many seminars (and boring webinars too, by the way) because we know it’s hard for us to gleam real learning from those formats.

I believe the reason the Quench training received such high marks is because it was delivered into the small group forum format.  We spent an entire day talking on the same level, at the same table, as peers. We first bonded and learned about each other. We became friends and allies in a big way first.  We became a family. Then, when someone joins our group who happens to be a trainer, and starts teaching us, we learned. We really learned. They weren’t just giving a seminar, they were sitting at our family table. When you are sitting at your family table, you don’t disengage, your mind doesn’t wonder. You don’t start writing e-mails, txting, and checking for new leads. You are present. Engaged.  Ready to learn.

That’s what I believe happened last week, and I believe it will happen again and again.

If you have a Forum, and you believe there are areas in life that you could use help from trainers (hopefully you do!), consider inviting trainers, teachers, experts into your forum. Bring them into your family, because that is the place you are most likely to learn in a big way from them.



Quench Network Takeaway Numero Dos – Where’s the Beef


When I was sharing my plans to launch Quench Network with friends and colleagues, there were some who questioned whether the forum experience would be meaningful to young professionals. Would they be interested in going beyond the surface? Would they be willing to open up? To humble themselves, admit problems, weaknesses and fears.

Well, that’s takeaway #2 from last weeks inaugural forum of Quenchers:  people found it refreshing to have a place where you can skip the small talk, skip the BS, and talk about something real in a group of peers where they can relate and help.

The forum meeting structure in Quench is so tightly managed that it forces the members to speak succinctly and on-purpose. We only share our experiences, we do not give advice to each other. We only ask clarifying questions and we don’t disguise advise in the form of questions. When we give our updates and talk about our issues, we do it in only a couple of minutes, so we leave out the fluff.  These tools and more bring people to the meat faster, and it worked really well.

My only wish is that more of life could be like this: less small talk, and more meat. I love meat.


Inspirational Results – David Cummings’ Pardot Acquired by Exact Target for almost $100mm


I have to publish a bonus today, because I’m so excited and proud of my friend David Cummings.  If I am going to write a blog about entrepreneurial inspiration, then it would be a sin not to give David some huge props this week!

As you probably know by now, last week, David’s company, Pardot, was acquired by Exact Target for a deal worth $95,500,000.00. I had to write out the zeroes because it just looks so darn sexy.  Yes, the results of this success are sexy.

David is an inspiration to thousands of entrepreneurs. He has built multiple amazing companies, and now there is an amazing story that will attract global attention and validation to his talents. David’s leadership and example in the Atlanta entrepreneurial community are truly far reaching and that is awesome.

However… You won’t ever find David jumping around to be the center of attention at a party. You won’t find him caffeinated and yelling on stage telling people to get excited. You would never even find him trying to raise money and convince VC’s that he can be the next big thing. (Yes, Pardot was bootstrapped.)

Instead, David is the type to focus on the task at hand, leverage extreme discipline, self-control, and laser focus.  He has focused energy.   If you were trying to fire-up a bunch of high-schoolers about entrepreneurship, these are not the things you would talk most about.

What you would talk about are the results. The zeroes in the results are inspirational.  The hard work without the results may not even be worth talking about. But with the results, the picture comes together to give energy and excitement to thousands. Be inspired by Pardot’s success, but make don’t make the mistake of thinking that getting there is like buying a lottery ticket.




Half-Way Point – The Middle of the Pool or the Run


Half way pointYesterday morning on a swim at the gym I had a thought: When doing those hard, brutal laps, my favorite spot in the pool is in the very middle.   Then I realized my favorite spot on a run is typically the half-way point.

What’s so special about half-way?

Well, for one, I’ve just demonstrated that I can already accomplish the exact same amount that I have to go. That’s cool.   Even better: It’s a lot easier to capitalize on my momentum that I have at this moment, and keep going than it was to get out and get started on that first half.   This momentum and this confidence give me what I need to approach the second half as if there’s nothing to it. It will be easy!

I believe this can be applied to lots of areas of life.  Just pick something and consider that you are at the half-way point.

  • Let’s see, raising kids… I’d like to say getting them through baby years is coming to an end, sure some folks say the second half is the hard part, but that’s ok- we’ve got momentum and some confidence as parents.
  • Career wise, what if you consider that you’re at the half-way point of some critical phase. No matter what decade you are in, consider that you’re in a phase that is half way finished, you are proven, now it’s a simple matter of making the second half even better.
  • Financially, assuming you have achieved some financial traction in the last 5-years, how much better can you do in the next 5? Whether it’s savings in the bank or cashflow… you’re just half-way to somewhere. Just do that again and you will be proud of your progress!

Fun thoughts.

And now, it’s Friday and you are officially half way through this 2-week period. How did the first half go? Got some momentum to carry you forward?



Easy Way to Be Someone’s Hero – Dig a Little Deeper


Bell Curve of ConversationsOne of the principals of a successful mastermind forum is that you come to the table ready to share the “best and worst 5%” of life.

It works like this: Take everything in life and put it into a bell curve. In the middle, you have all the small talk:  weather, sports, news.    This is stuff we’ll talk about with anybody.  Moving out from there, you have slightly more personal topics, politics,  family, kids, church, exercise. Then you go even farther out from small talk: what you get paid, fears, childhood good/bad memories, struggles.

Finally, you get out to the fringes. What we call the 5%. The 5% best things in  life and the 5% worst things in life. You don’t share this with many people if anybody at all.   In my forum we bring the expectation that each person shares their 5%. Cut the small talk. Straight to the business.     We believe that we each have plenty of friends to spend our time in the other 90% of life, but our forum is designed to support the best and worst of life.  It’s one of the reasons our forum is successful.

However, my point isn’t that you have to go all the way out to the 5% to have more meaningful relationships, but in every meaningful relationship in your life:

Don’t be afraid to gently dig a little deeper.

When talking to friends and you ask them about their life at home. When things aren’t going well is when you’ll often get the most casual answers. If you really care about this person, and the time and setting is right, don’t be afraid to just gently scratch a little deeper. Ask another question or two. Change your tone. Let them know that it’s ok if they want to share something with you.

It’s amazing when this happens how you can become a hero. You can be the one who showed that you cared more than anyone else, and all you had to do was ask a couple of extra questions at the right time with the right attitude.