Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Internalizing What You Read – My Top Four

 

Successful entrepreneurs generally love reading. Reading is a great way to force ourselves into some “deep work” (I love the blog by Cal Newport on this topic).   We move so fast, juggle so many topics, and are constantly shifting gears that putting our heads down into a single topic for a week or several months and plowing through a book is rewarding.   Most of us use books as idea synthesis. We learn and apply.  We are Macgyver for ideas. We put them together and find new ways to create.

One downside of all this reading though is that we move from one book to the next and rarely internalize the teaching enough to unlock the value that lies beneath the surface of the first read.

My friend Boaz helped me realize this by suggesting that everyone read two of his top books at least five to ten times in repeat over 1-2 years. He suggests reading 10 pages in one of these two books every day of the week.   I followed Boaz’s suggestion as much as I can and have found it to be a totally different experience. This method works wonders for your psyche if you select the right books.

As far as my own deep work goes, my top four books are the ones that I aim to internalize. I’ve listed them on my books page and encourage entrepreneurs looking to take it to the next level to spend some quality time with these books.   This is my suggested curriculum for “Life 101.”

 

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
  Jonathan Livingston Seagull  – Richard Bach
  Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill
  How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

 

Forgetfulness

 

Isn’t it funny how we are so forgetful?  I am amazed at how we, both as individuals and a society are able to forget things.   We’ve all had those times in life where we started to figure things out. When we found something motivating, or some clarity, a new habit, or some inspiration that caused us to start working on the fundamentals and what we know is important. Yet, we still forget.  Energy fades. Focus wanes.

Even the most profound, life changing realizations and positive attitudes can fade away if not kept current.

The obvious example is exercise routines: the ol’ New Years resolution phenomenon. But there are other areas in life like being intentional, morning routines, thinking positive, smiling in public, networking — all of these are fertilizer for thriving in life, yet we still forget about them.

I don’t have the antidote to this affliction of forgetfulness.  But here are a few things I’m trying to maintain the energy from discoveries thus far and continue to move forward (not the other way!):

Say things over and and over and over and over.  This is one reason I blog. It is said that most bloggers only have one thing to say. They just say it differently over and over all the time. I’m cool with that. I’m saying it for me, anyway.

Being public about your goals and attitudes. Again, blogging is the public forum. Fear of embarrassment is a powerful motivator. There’s nothing like blogging that you love to run and realizing you are turning into a fatass.  People will notice.

Forums and accountability groups.  When you’re high energy like most entrepreneurs, you tend to be erratic. Setting the rhythm of a monthly accountability group is key to reentering on a regular cadence.

Have a big picture view.  This is in line with riding a motorcycle around a curve. When I was learning, I always wanted to look down at the wheels, monitor the bank angle of the bike, and look closely at the mechanics of the turn…. but then I learned I was doing it all wrong.  You look UP. You look to where you WANT to go instead of where you are now, and everything just works. All the little things just fall into place if your head is up and your attention is placed on the destination. This goes for life and startups too.   For me the big picture view comes from quiet time, music, and attending church on a fairly regular basis.

I wish I could say I know how to program myself and never drop a new habit. But I’m not there yet. The best I can do is to repeat out loud my chosen path and remind myself to stay the course.

 

Inspiration is for Amateurs

 

Recently in a great post on AVC, Fred Wilson talked about the days he feels like “mailing it in” and had (what I thought) was a very inspirational post about his energy level and vision for his role as a VC.    Down in the comments, Arnold Waldstein shared this comment:

Favorite quote of all time:

“Inspiration is for amateurs.”

Chuck Close

This threw me off!  At first it bothered me.   I started to question my own motivation for this blog. Check my own personal tag line, right up top: “seeking perpetual inspiration as entrepreneurial fuel.”   But I realized after some thought that this quote doesn’t conflict with how I believe inspiration works for entrepreneurs.

Energy from being inspired comes in bursts. There are highs and lows. Inspired days never last longer than a week or two at best. There will be low energy days for any super motivated entrepreneur. It’s important to accept this and have habits and awareness enough to know that you will have another inspired burst of energy soon and you must keep pressing forward until it finds you.

Here are some tips that can help manage the highs and lows of your energy.

  • Have a good co-founder.   This is so huge for entrepreneurs. Co-founders are critical when your inspiration and energy is low. Sometimes you will be low together, but most of the time you will have someone to lean on. Or even better, when your partner is feeling down, you can experience the great feeling of lifting him up out of the funk.
  • Have healthy habits. Even when you’re low on inspiration, it’s important to keep your rituals going. Keep reading. Keep exercising. Keep listening to music. Keep relaxing. Keep balancing family intentionally.  Habits are an extremely valuable stabilizer for dramatic swings in inspiration.
  • Have disciplined work goals. Aside from the habits, it can also be helpful to have hard metrics that you’re working to achieve. Number of customer calls per week. Cold e-mails per day. Blog posts per week. Whatever the number, never give up pursuing it. This will press you forward. Rely on the external numbers to hit when the intrinsic motivation is low and your forward progress will continue. It may feel like a lot more effort to move a shorter distance when you aren’t feeling inspired, but the important thing is that you keep moving.
  • Have self-awareness tools.  For me self-awareness comes most frequently from two things: (1) writing this blog and (2) my monthly EO Forum meetings.   On the blog side, it’s not that I write something and then immediately figure something out. It’s that I’ve not got almost a couple hundred posts of things I’ve figured out, and the act of writing, publishing, and often discussing means they are a little more burned into my psyche. In the lulls, so many times I think back and realize that I’m going against something I wrote. That helps me keep it together and press forward.     Second, my EO Forum meetings provide a nice slow and relentless rhythm. My wife can always tell when it’s getting towards the end of the month long period between meetings. Every meeting I leave recharged, with a new perspective on my so-called problems and the energy that comes from focusing on how I can help my peers through their challenges.  It’s mandatory rhythm for me.

There are plenty of other tips and tools, but the important thing is that I agree with Arnold. Inspiration isn’t a reliable enough tool to reach the levels you want to reach. We need to embrace the more mechanical necessities to be sure that constant forward motion is the norm.

 

 

Less is More in Practice – Tips on Gumption and Antifragile

 

When you think about the concept of antifragile and removing clutter from your life, you probably will start to realize that clutter less life and high-functioning existence goes far beyond what’s in your desk drawers and your attic.   It’s a way of thinking. Less is more is the most valuable concept in which I am enjoying pursuing mastery.  Of course when you pursue mastery, you know you will never achieve it– and that’s why it must be pursued.   But this isn’t about mastery… it’s about less.

Here are some ways I have found “less is more” in practice:

  • Shorter e-mails. Google Docs work perfectly fine and are more collaborative than extensive dialogs.
  • Faster responses to e-mails with intentionally fewer details. The details can be handled face-to-face or over the phone, or if not, they didn’t need to be mentioned anyway. Over-discussing details in writing can slow down a team and often seems micromanaging.
  • Delegate the heck out of your “duties.”  Entrepreneurs running companies don’t realize how much unnecessary admin work they take on. It’s crazy and amazing when you realize some of the ludicrous tasks that you spend your time doing.  (Expense reports, back and forth about your calendar scheduling, ordering supplies for the kitchen)… I’ve seen some very powerful entrepreneurs spend their time on some very silly things, without even realizing it.   Taking those tasks isn’t about opening up their calendar so they can do more meetings– it’s about achieving less clutter in your head and clarity of thought throughout the day.
  • Fewer goals… how about just 1 per quarter? Or at most 1 per week?
  • One Page Strategic Plan for the quarter.  Not a book. ONE page! Strictly limited to ONE page.
  • No notes in meetings.
  • Less paper.  We should be beyond paper.
  • Inbox Zero. Tips here.
  • Be intentional about the number of meetings and hours you will work in a week. Take the clutter out of your calendar. Many things can wait.

I’m enjoying working to figure this out. To say it’s a seeking the mastery of ultimate productivity seems to be understating the value of this idea. It’s about clear thinking. Rhythm. Being intentional. And having clarity about how you move the needle.  It’s the core and first requirement of gumption.

Sit still and quiet long enough to know what needs to be done before you start doing.

 

 

When You Don’t Know the Story – Amazing Video Post – More Aviation Excitement

 

“So there we were…!”     I love starting stories like this.

So there we were. Margaret and I were driving back from our quiet weekend getaway to the North Georgia mountains and enjoying the quiet ride with no kids.  On Saturday we had an amazing 14 mile hike up beyond Amicola falls and all the way to the Len Foote Hike Inn. If you haven’t done the trip, it’s awesome! I highly recommend it.   More on that later.

As we drove south towards home, cruising down I-575, about 1:00pm we noticed a fleet of police cars zooming north with sirens blaring.  Then we hit the traffic. We just stopped. On a Sunday afternoon! Some goober had probably decided to crash his car and inconvenience our quiet trip home. So we sat stopped for a few minutes. Then  we noticed the police cars zooming up the shoulder beside us… then they stopped right in front of us. Then the fire truck came and stopped right in front of us. Then the other fire truck! What in the world?! Whatever had happened was right in front of us! So we grabbed the iPhone camera and videoed what we saw next as we weaved through the growing scene.

Check this out:

Now as a pilot, my first reaction is probably different than non-pilots… my FIRST reaction was “AWESOME! AWESOME! AWESOME! HE MADE IT!!!!” (In fact you can hear me say this on the video and Margaret cheered for them.) I mean, the plane was perfectly in tact and he had obviously executed a perfect landing on an interstate without hurting anybody at all. No people on the ground, no people in the plane.

Pilots have a saying that:

A good landing is one you can walk away from. A great landing is one you can re-use the airplane.

Obviously he executed a great landing.   Now the problem here begins when we start speculating about what happened.  It didn’t look like anything was on fire, so probably not a fire. No structural problems that we could see, so the airframe was fine.   Weather was a little cloudy with some light showers in the area, but visibility was fine and unlikely there was any windshear or other severe turbulence issues.

Then that leaves one of the most common issues: fuel.    I’m just saying… as we pulled up the N-number on FlightAware, tracked where we went the day before and where he was today.. then consider the fuel capacity and burn of his Beechcraft Bonanza 33, it would make sense to draw the conclusion that his reported “Loss of Power” was related to his “Loss of Power Making Juice.”  I REALLY hope that’s not the case. I’m just saying it’s possible.

Again,  it’s not my place to speculate about the complex chain of events that led to whatever happened, but I just wanted to share the story because it leaves you with a bag of mixed emotions.  YES, we are ecstatic that he made an amazing successful emergency landing without hurting anyone or any property.  But if it turns out it was poor planning or bad decision making that led him to the situation in the first place, it takes some of the edge of the excitement for his Sully-like heroics.  Then there is the fact that they had to close the highway for several hours after the incident causing thousands of people to have their schedules messed up.  So the happiness for the good piloting and good fortune is potentially muted by a number of related factors.     I guess it’s just life. Sometimes things don’t yield a single simple emotion, and especially without knowing the full story (yet), it’s hard to know how to react.

Still, when driving around Kennessaw, GA you may want to keep your eyes UP!

 

 

The Incredible Value of Deep, Meaningful Relationships… in Business!

 

Forum Relationship BuildingWe all know the difference in a real relationship and a superficial relationship. It’s about trust. It’s about really knowing and understanding what makes someone tick and knowing that they know what makes you tick.

In business today, the most successful people are the ones who bring real, deep, lasting relationships into their business world.   Call them “friendships” if you must, but because these friendships are built in a setting where things get done and differences are made, they are typically even more powerful than best friends.

THIS ISN’T NETWORKING… Networking is forming a new contact. Networking doesn’t create deep relationships, it only puts you in the right place to build the relationship. You have to use disciplined structure, routine, and intentional actions to turn a contact into a relationship. All too often, our focus is on networking: forming as many contacts as we can, at the cost of forming deeper relationships. That matter.

A few key benefits from deeper, more intentional, more structured relationship building:

….TRUST…

Every relationship that is functional, productive, and meaningful starts with trust. Not coincidentally, the most successful business arrangements in the world are started from a position of trust. For a company to invest money in you, someone must first trust you. For you to provide your service to a company, someone must first trust you.   The reason spam cold calling has such a low response rate is because it is approaching people without first establishing trust. Even e-mailing “contacts” who have signed up for an e-mail list performs not nearly as well as warm introductions from trusted contacts. Nothing is more powerful than an introduction attached to a recommendation that “I trust this person, you trust me, so you can trust them.”

…MORE POWERFUL IDEA SHARING FUEL…

When we have ideas and we share them, those ideas are processed from their own viewpoint, their own experiences, their own needs, and their own observations. That’s the default nature of humans. However, in a true deep relationship there is a stronger understanding of what the other person is thinking. We are putting ourselves in their shoes. We are thinking about the world from their perspective. If a truly deep friend comes to us with an idea, instead of thinking about the idea, the innovation, the invention from our own experiences, we typically know that we must first process their idea from their own viewpoint of the world. From their life experiences, pains, challenges, and dreams.  When this happens, we collaborate on a level that people in a shallow, business-only relationship cannot achieve.    Ideas are fueled. We annex our creativity in the minds of our friends and deeper ties.

…MAKING THINGS HAPPEN…

Once ideas are born, it takes crowds to make them happen. Turning innovative ideas into meaningful action requires groups of people, not individuals working alone.  Without deep relationships built on trust and true understanding, it is difficult to rally others, to inspire, to move! When people leverage deeper relationships they extend their own abilities, their own excitement, inspiration, and personal energy. Inspiring others to act on your behalf is a requirement of great leaders, and inspiration rarely happens from shallow contacts and wide networks. It happens from deep friendships.

…ACCELERATING WHAT MATTERS…

Maslow had it right. We are all looking for the same things. Food, shelter, love… but at the top of the pyramid of personal needs is self-actualization. Aligning purpose and passion with work and industry. Deep relationships are the key driver to helping you achieve self-actualization.   The people around you, who know your goals, your passions, your skills, your weaknesses- are the most suited to helping you become self-aware enough to achieve true career satisfaction.

…HAPPY LIFE, MORE SUCCESS…

Good makes more good, as we all know. Confidence in itself accelerates our abilities. Deep bonds, friendships, close professional relationships all give us a satisfaction that we cannot gain from superficial relationships, no matter how many of them we have. The value in career and life satisfaction for building a successful career and a thriving industry cannot be ignored.

…BUILT TO LAST…

Industries and companies are made first and foremost of people. The stronger the relationship glue that holds together an industry, the stronger the industry or profession becomes. The cycle continues by continuing to build stronger individuals.

…PERSONAL LEGACY… 

We aren’t just making deals, building industry, we are building your personal legacies. We will be known for the work we do, and the difference we make. Even if our work doesn’t directly give us warm-fuzzy, we are surrounded with opportunities to help others accelerate in their career, in our industry. The opportunity to give of ourselves to others to help them achieve a higher level of happiness is the greatest opportunity we have to leave an impressive, memorable mark on the world.

 

 

The Thing That Matters in Anything that Matters

My Kids Birthday Present Photo

My 3 kiddos' birthday present photo to me.

Giving.

It’s the one thing in every thing that matters that makes things matter. (say that 5 times fast!)

Ask people what they believe are the things that really matter. Here are some the answers you’ll get.  I propose that giving is at the center of each one.

Love.

Love isn’t about you. It’s not about what you get. It’s what you give to the other person. It’s how much you can lift them up. That’s what love is… it’s humble, selfless giving.

Healthy Living.

It’s all about giving to yourself. Giving away your pride and laziness. Giving energy to the commitment to exercise. Giving it to the trails. Give it to the water. You have to put in and overcome your desire to keep the unhealthy ways and put in. Only then will you experience healthy living.

Gumption.

Gumption to me, is the act of giving energy to things. Rolling up your sleeves and getting s**t done. It’s all about giving.

Faith.

Whether it’s religious faith, faith in yourself, or faith in the goodness of people.  It’s about giving energy towards hope and belief. Giving effort to the positive feelings and actions that good faith creates in you.

Peace.

Give focus. Give quiet time. Give faith. Give love. Give gumption. Giving all of these things on a regular basis leads to Peace.

 

 

 

Value Creep

 

I heard a new term the other day: “value creep.”   Someone was talking about how things seem so clear when you set out to do them, or when you step back and look at your WHY, your PASSION, your PURPOSE. But then as we start down the path, we experience value creep: that is, things that didn’t seem important or really aren’t even relevant to our purpose start getting in the way. They start getting our attention. They steal our energy away from what really matters. Then these noise-creating attackers become so cluttered and so important to us, that we can’t even see through them to our original, true, driving purpose.

It happens in everything. In parenting, especially, but also in any job, any company.

You have to deal with all the little things related to the HOW, but find disciplined ways to always check your position relative to your original purpose. Check your heading. Are you still headed where you’d like to be headed? Are the little things causing you to lose focus? Drive? Energy?

If so, take some time to recenter, refocus. Deviate from your current heading if it’s been caused by value creep.

Happy Monday!

False Deadlines

 

False DeadlinesWe are rushed a lot.

We recognize that time is in limited supply. The things we choose to invest our time into must be done efficiently.  When we choose to take on a task, we typically default to getting it done as fast as possible. You had to choose that task over at least a hundred other things that needed your attention.

But really… what’s the real rush? Is it really important that you move on to the next thing?  Would life be better if we would just accept that some things need us to slow down?

I find myself creating false deadlines so I can justify rushing through things. Examples: I pretend that I only get one shot at a pitch, so I’d better hurry up with the supporting collateral. I imagine that when I’m working in my lawn, that I’d better hurry up because this way I can hurry to get more quality time with the kids.   Neither of those are usually true.

So sometimes I realize that I’m doing this and I don’t know why. I force myself to take my time. Just focus on enjoying the work. Just focus on quality.  It’s amazing what happens… the quality improves dramatically, and the enjoyment I experience during the work makes it even better.

Next time you are rushed… question your motives. Question your deadlines.

 

Grab a Wrench or Hire a Dude – Handoffs and Outsourcing Considerations

Editorial note: today I got a little winded… so I’m going to give those short attention span readers the entire summary in two sentences. – JC

The Short Version:

In your own ventures, when you do things yourself, you do them better because you have the true goal of Quality in mind. But doing everything yourself isn’t possible, so just keep true, deep down, meaningful Quality in mind as you make the outsource/handoff-to-scale decisions.

ZMM Mechanic - Outsource Sales or NotThe Value of Exploring Your Own Work

A lot of the ideas one takes from ZMM leave you with more questions than answers.  This one is no exception… but that’s kind of the point!

On our Motorcycle Monday topic from ZMM, let’s talk about whether you should hire a professional mechanic to fix your motorcycle or figure it out yourself. It’s not always an easy choice for those who are truly dedicated to Quality. In my mind, at least today, let’s use the dilemmas of outsourcing parts of your life and your company as you grow.  When do you hire a professional “mechanic” and when do you sit down and roll up your sleeves to do it yourself?

The default answer for the typical fast-paced-life entrepreneur is to outsource that which you do not understand, or that which you are not a high-performer. Maybe. But at what point do you outsource? Is it just a financial decision? Is it merely for capacity? What about your own need to understand the business, especially in the start-up phase?

I don’t think it’s purely financial, and I don’t think the decision is solely based on the fastest, shortest path between point A and B.   A, of course being a startup, no-revenue company, and B being a sustainable, profitable, mature organization.  Is the best way to build a sustainable company to get there the fastest?

Let’s look at both sides as Pirsig does.   The “professional” mechanic has been trained by someone on the exact steps to take to do his technical work. He is seeing many bikes each day and to him, they are all just work to be done. He knows the steps, the parts, the order, and he repeats his routines each day.

Consider the professional lead generation or “telesales” company. They are making calls, reading scripts, pumping through leads as fast as they can.   Sure both of these so-called “professionals” are equipped to do the job, but at what level of quality?   Does the mechanic actually know YOUR bike? Does he understand the slight variations, changes, and subtleties of what makes your bike different from the other 6 he saw in his day? Is he truly able to see, diagnose, and understand the intricacies of your motorcycle compared to the other ones?

Does the professional telesales guy really know what the value is of what he is selling?  Sure he can pump through many more, but at what cost to the future relationships of the prospects on which he is calling?  What experiences is he missing that could make him that much more valuable on the phone?

On the other side, there is the value of sitting down in a quiet room. Just you and your bike and GUMPTION. You know there is a problem to be solved, but you take your time. You aren’t rushing to a solution, you are “just fixing.” You are fixing the bike because you enjoy fixing the bike.   You may not have any clue where you are headed, where the problem is, or how to get there and diagnose it. But you take your time. One screw at a time. Slowly exploring, remembering the order in which things come apart…. and then making your own experiments to troubleshoot and diagnose the problems.

Consider this same approach if you are starting up a new company or new initiative for your organization. Rather than hiring a professional to plow through and rush to the end, how much more quality do you achieve through the process, if you take your time and “Just fix.” Selling is my example of the week… I know the quality of my conversations are so much higher than anything that will be ache vied by a professional telesales organization. I am learning through these conversations. I may not be the smoothest talker taking the shortest distance to a closed deal, but I am learning along the way. I’m in no hurry. I’m aiming for quality and sustainability.

Remember what I said about leaving you with more questions than answers…. here’s why. Being a startup entrepreneur, or really anybody with more than one thing to do in a day… we have to decide where to invest our time. And as much as a start-up entrepreneur would benefit from sitting down and doing NOTHING but making calls 12 hours/day… this wouldn’t yield much of a company. This is where teams come in. This is where careful resource allocation and planning come in.

My conclusion and encouragement for people who want to create something new and accelerate their pursuit of quality is to carefully consider quality when making these decisions.

 

 

Whoa Buddy – It’s Hard to Slow Down on Mondays

 

Slow down to go fasterMan oh man, sometimes it is so hard to practice what I preach. All this talk of slowing down to go faster, enjoying the ride, focusing on the journey… sometimes is really hard!

Take today for example. After an AWESOME few days of focusing on my oldest son on our trip out West, I was so excited to wake up this morning and put my head down to hit the phone, crank out the work product, and really get things going for Quench today.

Well those who know me, know the problem. When I get so excited, I start to let impatience take over. I bite off more than I can chew. I blast out 50+ e-mails before 7am hoping to setup meetings, lunches, coffees this week. The only problem is, I sometimes initiate more than I can possibly follow through on. Arg!

So I’m trying to meter my Monday mornings now. I try to prioritize the top few things I’m excited about.  I pick the “ONE THING” that must happen this week and focus on that. And then I take some time to slow down. Instead of doing my run first thing in the morning, I actually am intentionally pushing it back to late morning. This gives me a good long break in the day. It is my “slow down” run. To get my week started off on the right track, with a focus on quality, not quantity… and clear priorities, to be tackled with a clear mind.

ps. I hope you are so lucky to be this excited on Monday mornings. (Here’s why.)If you aren’t, do something about it.

 

Let’s Clarify Value Rigidity – Don’t Misunderstand Me

 

Motorcycle MondaysIn last week’s Motorcycle Monday post, I talked about the concept and “gumption trap” of value rigidity.  When you are focused on a project and you get stuck, you experience stuckness. Stuckness causes you to re-evaluate what you think is important to get the project done. Stuckness means the project changed from what you thought it was to what it actually is.  So in order to get the job done, you have to refocus your priorities… also known as “values.”

BUT…

Let’s not get confused here between priorities that are labeled values and actual, deep down, CORE VALUES.  Of course life is made up of layers and “values” are the same way.  Maslow tells us this, you know. Of course what is most important to me today wouldn’t actually be as important to me if I hadn’t had a decent meal in a week.   What I believe is critical to my own personal success would change completely if I didn’t have a loving family surrounding me, awesome friends, and amazing resources.

So I think it’s important to just remind ourselves that everything in life is layered.   Life is dynamic, life is complicated, life is layered.   And as Pirsig reminds us, you have to sit still and quiet long enough to understand where you are in the layers and to know when you need to adjust some priority or “value” that may be keeping you from achieving a quality life.