Lessons From a Street Vendor Part I

On 03/12/2010, in Career, Entrepreneurship, by Jordan Wilson

Another interesting article by Forbes.com.

It reminds people that they can learn life and business lessons almost anywhere. Obviously, you can learn much from watching the actions of CEOs and billionaires. But you can also gain valuable insights from those much lower on the corporate ladder.

The article makes some good points that I will address over three posts.

Consider the business lessons offered by Mr. Wang, the street vendor. His first is to,

Dream Big

… you must have a big goal to drive you. … Goals give you purpose. The bigger the better. When you are driven to achieve something that is meaningful to you, you don’t just work for a paycheck, you live a dream.

Very, very true.

I would suggest though that the goal be attainable. People can exceed their expectations, so aim high. But, at the same time, try to insert a little realism into your objectives.

If you dream of being an all-star NBA center, you need to have some genetics in your favour. You can do everything right, but if you do not have the physical size to play that position, you cannot realistically succeed.

Before beginning to pursue a dream, be honest with yourself. Determine whether there are any legitimate factors outside of your control that prevent success. Factors that cannot be dealt with no matter what you do. In business careers, there are usually no such factors, but they may exist for some people. Watch for them. Then set goals that can be attained with effort.

Aim as high as you possibly can. At 5′ 7″, becoming an NBA center is probably not possible. But you can still be an NBA player. Just look at success stories such as Muggsy Bogues and Spud Webb for inspiration.

Do not let the naysayers drag you down. If you believe your dream is possible and have a realistic plan to attain it, that is all you require. The only value in the negativity of others is in the motivation it will provide you to succeed.

Why aim high? Why not set more easily attainable objectives?

As you work toward your goal, there will be significant obstacles and set-backs along the way. Your goal had better be worth the time and energy. Because at points in your journey you will need to ask yourself if the result is worth the cost.

If it is not, you will abandon your objective at some point.

While dreaming big is important, I recommend that you also,

Be as Specific as Possible in Your Goal

I would suggest that you set your ultimate goal as clearly and specifically as is possible.

For example, you are 18 and entering university. You want to become an Investment Banker. The Nick Leeson of your generation.

That sounds like a good goal. Well, maybe not quite like Nick, but in general.

But it would be better if you want to become one by the time you are 27. Better still is to be a 27 year old Director in an Investment Bank (IB) working on Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) in the Oil & Gas (O&G) Industry.

You can drill down a lot farther, even to the suit you are wearing and the office you occupy.

If you do not have a firm idea what you want to do in your life, I am not telling you to make a decision. Leave yourself as much leeway as possible in career options. But when you do decide, try to set specific goals to pursue.

Because by attaching as much detail as possible to the goal, the simpler it will be to plan the path to achieve it.

It will also be easier to visualize.

The Power of Visualization

Visualization is the use of mental imagery to achieve objectives.

There is a variety of literature that explains visualization techniques in great detail. If you want to learn more, try a quick google.

I do not believe that, as one self-help company states, “it is like having a genie at your disposal.” In fact, I find that marketing slogan scary. Very scary.

However, I do believe that visualizing your goals is an extremely useful tool. There are many studies that show visualization can greatly assist in the attainment of goals.

One study I learned in school involved basketball players and free throws. Players were divided into 3 groups and their free throw ability tested. Over a period of time, Group A practiced free throws 20 minutes per day. Group B, the control group, did nothing. Group C practiced free throws in their minds each day for 20 minutes. No actual free throws, only visualization.

In subsequent testing, Group A improved their results by 24%. Group B, as expected by not having practiced, had no change in performance. And Group C? They improved their results by 23%. Almost identical to Group A. Yet without actually practicing free throws, only imagining them.

If you watched the recent Winter Olympics you probably saw visualization in action. Before each ski run, athletes would stand with eyes closed, bobbing their heads, and moving their bodies as they visualized a perfect run down the slopes.

Visualization techniques are widespread among athletes. But they are also used successfully in business.

When visualizing, use all of your senses in bringing your dream to life.

Maybe you want to live and work in Paris. As you visualize your goal, imagine the smell of fresh baked croissants wafting from the local pâtisserie as you walk to work. Feel the crisp Paris air in springtime on your cheeks. Hear the sound of boats navigating the Seine as you cross the bridge. Savour the taste of fine French cooking and red wine after a hard day at work. Envision the many wonders of the Louvre in your mind’s eye.

Use every tool at your disposal to imagine your future and the rewards that will come from all your hard work. At some point you will need them as you reach obstacles that appear insurmountable. But if you have faith in your dream and put in the proper effort you can overcome most hurdles.

Faith and effort are crucial. But they are like a powerful engine on a car. They will transport you in a hurry. But without a roadmap, you will never arrive at your destination.

In order to reach your goal, you will also need to properly plan your route.

Turn Your Goal Into a Business Project

Achieving your dream will be a multi-year task. Treat it like you would any business project.

Determine the exact steps necessary to achieve the goal, set realistic time frames for each step, and properly resource.

Build over time to your ultimate goal. If you attempt to do everything at once, it will overwhelm you and you will abandon the effort.

To make the journey seem less daunting, set periodic milestones along the way. A milestone is a key point in the project that can be measured. This may be time related (e.g. annual project review) or encompass intermediate critical events in the overall project (e.g. graduating from university is usually a prerequisite to obtaining a full-time job).

Measure your actual progress against where you expected to be in the milestones. If need be, increase your efforts and/or modify your objectives to get your overall goal back on track.

Be tough and honest in your assessments. If not, you are only cheating yourself.

Usually you just need to focus and put in the effort to succeed. If you take the easy way and continually change your objectives or shift the time-frame you will never achieve your goals. So re-prioritize your resources (i.e. your efforts and time) and dedicate yourself to the ultimate goal.

In our example above, by age 27 you want to be an IB Director performing M&A work in the O&G sector.

Setting a target date forces you to bear down in your efforts and planning. Without a firm date, you will wake up at 40 and wonder where the time went. Always set explicit time frames for goals.

Find out the skills required to excel in your chosen field. To work in an IB, technical skills in finance, law, tax, or accounting are useful.  It should be straightforward to plan your formal education.

But you want to work in the O&G sector. To gain an advantage over your peers, plan now on getting exposure to the industry itself. Do not wait until later. Later never seems to come. Especially with all the work a new IB employee will have to endure.

Set intermediate goals or milestones that accomplish this. Like the master objective, be as specific as possible in detailing these goals. Also, make sure you visualize success for your intermediate goals.

You might aim to work at least 3 of 4 summers for an O&G related company in some specific capacity. Maybe passing with a minimum mark of 75% at least 2 industry relevant electives (e.g. geology, petroleum engineering) each year at school. Or, it could be writing and passing one significant term paper on a company in the sector and interviewing key employees. The possibilities are endless.

Do not be afraid to dream big.

Be realistic in your goals but do not short-change your potential. It is higher than you probably realize.

Visualize in as much detail as possible the goal you wish to realize. Use this to motivate you when you need to push through the obstacles that always arise.

Properly plan the path to your final objective. Set short and medium term goals so that you build to your final objective over time.

Then it is up to you to achieve your goals. Through your effort and energy.

Tomorrow we will look at the next business tip from Mr. Wang; hard work is crucial for success.

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