Long Ball > Short Ball

Q: What do the Netflix, Uber, and heroin have in common?

The first two cases are generally accepted as good things. The third is not… unless you’re a junkie. Most new technology, products (which, for this example, includes heroin), and services are aimed at giving us low-friction, instant gratification solutions – the answer to my question. For example, Netflix allows you to stream your favorite show anytime, anywhere, on any device.

At first glance, life appears better because of instant gratification. We endure less boredom and enjoy more productivity. Less waiting, more doing. It’s like we’ve paid for a permanent fastpass to the skip the line and go straight to the ride, no standing around, ever. The world moves faster than it did 50, 20, or even five years ago. In most cases, that’s a good thing. Because many of us are used to getting what we want when we want it, the rest of this post may be hard for some to digest.

Short Ball vs. Long Ball

If something is easy to get, the majority of people will get it. That’s why the examples are so popular: they give the masses quick, cheap access to something they want whether it is entertainment, pleasure, or just a ride. When it comes to products and services, we’re conditioned to expect things fast and easy. There’s nothing wrong with frictionless access, but that same ease doesn’t always apply to the work we produce or the projects we work on.

When it comes to your own work, you have to choose between the short ball and the long ball. The short ball is what you want: instant results. You don’t want to put in your apprenticeship, you want to be a master today. You don’t want to come out of college and take an entry level position, you want to go straight into an important (and well-paid) role. You aren’t satisfied with a work in progress, you want finished art. Sometimes this leads to cheating and fraud. But most of the time it just leads to mediocre results because you take shortcuts.

By contrast, the long ball is what you’re willing to work at/on/with for extended periods of time. You’re willing to do the grunt work to understand the craft. You don’t mind delaying gratification and celebrating small wins while keeping one eye on the big picture. You’re okay having a work in progress for years at a time because you know your finished work requires that kind of effort. The long ball is a more difficult path. But you are better rewarded for pursuing it because there are less people willing to pursue the long ball than there are the short ball. As Robert Frost wrote over 100 years ago…

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost

Short ball typically means short rewards. If you want to change your body, but you’re only willing to work at it for a month, what you can pull off is limited. A  multibillion dollar health and wellness industry has done a great job tricking the masses – a la “8 Minute Abs” type products – for years.

If you want to change your body, and you’re willing to work at it for years, you can accomplish more than you realize. Ask anyone (over 30) with a six-pack if they just decided to get ripped a month prior. Real results take time in fitness, just as they do with art, business, or sport.

If you choose to pursue the long ball, there will be fewer people attempting to do the same thing you’re doing. The masses flock to infomercial-like products promising shortcuts with the same results as proven long-term strategies. And they crush it because so many are willing to believe that a shortcut will work – nobody wants to endure wait if you don’t have to. But that’s the thing, many times you have to.

The divergent – and often the more educated on a particular subject – don’t depend on shortcuts. They put together a long term strategy to get results. Pursuing the long ball, because it’s harder and fewer people are willing to do the work, typically means pursuing bigger rewards. For a (fictional) example, think about Patrick Swayze’s character in the original only Point Break: he was the only one willing to charge monster waves at the end of the movie and he was the only one who got to enjoy them.

Pursuit

It took Michaelangeo over four years to paint the Sistine Chapel. George Lucas has been building the Star Wars brand since the 1970’s and he’s still focused. God promised Abraham a child but made him wait 20 years before he fulfilled his word. Good things often take time.

“There is no road too long to the man who advances deliberately and without undue haste; there are no honours too distant to the man who prepares himself for them with patience.”
– Jean de La Bruyère

The pursuit is where you find the good stuff. The journey is what teaches you the life lessons you seek. The path to completion is what makes the project worth it, not the finished product. Just ask anyone who has produced a piece of art. They’ll tell you they admire it, but when you ask them about it, they’ll often jump into the details about how it was finished or an unexpected outcome they encountered while they worked on it. Having a bunch of trophies shouldn’t be the goal, getting really good should be.

Besides, shortcuts can be dangerous. Take the popular smart drug Adderall, for example. It can be used as a shortcut to becoming more productive. In the short term, it works. But repercussions of long-term use include everything from sleeplessness, panic attacks, to thoughts of suicide. I can’t speak for everyone, but being more productive for a few hours each day doesn’t seem worth it. You can only cheat your body so long; the shortcuts will come back to haunt you.

Enjoy the journey. Don’t wait to enjoy your project until you’re done. Celebrate progress. When you’re done, you won’t look back and say, “That took forever, I’m glad it’s over.” You’ll look back and say, “I’ve come such a long way. It took a lot of me, but it flew by and it was worth it.”

Long Ball Challenge

Not everything requires an eon to achieve. You can still lose a significant amount of weight in a month. You can still finish a painting in an hour. But often times, if you’re pursuing something more seriously than a hobby, you’re going to have to be patient and put in vast amounts of work for the desired results.

My last post discussed part of my current sales strategy: long ball. Before that, I wrote a book that took two and a half years: long ball. I’m building my kitchen table and it will take at least four months to complete: long(er) ball. But I’m an athlete and I’m an artist. I know from experience that good things, like a good pot roast, take time. There’s no way around that and I’m used to it.

A person who can think long term doesn’t pity herself during short-term setbacks.
– Ryan Holiday, Ego Is The Enemy (excellent read)

It’s hard to delay gratification for these big projects, I get frustrated just like you will. But patience is power, so work on it. If you are impatient, find ways to create smaller milestones while you’re still working on your pièce de résistance. They can be related or not, there are no rules. That’s why I post on the blog. Books take years (for me), but blogs take a few hours (depending on my caffeine intake). It’s practice and it’s fun. Look for little wins along the way and you’ll be more apt to stay the course for the long ball prize.

I want to challenge you. Yes, a personal challenge, to take on something larger than you normally would. Call it a BHAG, call it a masterpiece, call it your life’s work, doesn’t matter to me. I want you look six months/a year/five years down the line and pick something you want to accomplish and begin chipping away at it. You don’t have to knock it out in a day or a weekend. If you do, your sights are too low. This should be something that, by it’s very nature, is going to take you a long time. Some examples might be a body transformation, starting a business, or even learning an instrument. The patience and focus required of you will be transformative among the litany of instant gratifications you receive in your daily life.

If you need someone to keep you accountable, reach out to me, I’d be happy to check in with you. Be patient, persevere, and take pride in your work.

How To Think Like A Thought Leader

Let’s break the term “thought leader” down into two parts before we discuss it: (1) thought – “an idea or opinion produced by thinking or occurring suddenly in the mind.” In order to have thoughts on a subject, you’d need to know about said subject. You’d need to study it or at least be familiar with it. (2) leader – “an organization or company that is the most advanced or successful in a particular area.” This part is relatively self-explanatory. I won’t elaborate on leadership since I already have here, here, and here.

Wikipedia defines a thought leader as:

thought lead·er – individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.

So, said another way, a person who has unique thoughts on a particular subject due to their expertise AND whose opinion is looked to for guidance. Now that we have a clear understanding of the definition of a thought leader, we can proceed with how to think like one.

Assuming you’ve found your industry, here are a few of the first steps toward becoming a thought leader. These can be applied on a personal or a business level. I have intentionally been vague with these principles so they can be applied to many fields. I am currently working in healthcare so, when appropriate, I’ll share specific examples of what I’ve done. 

Step 1: Set Up Pertinent Social Media Accounts

Find where your audience “lives” and setup professional accounts. I don’t necessarily mean “business” accounts, but rather an account that looks like it has been used before: high quality profile picture, customized and relevant URL, filled out profile information, header images added, and appropriate contact information about how to contact you. At minimum, you should look the part to be taken seriously.

For me, the audience I’m looking to connect with relies on Twitter and LinkedIn, so that’s where I planted my flag. I found a few people in my industry via the search function and began a private list so I could check in on them.

If your audience doesn’t use Twitter, don’t set it up. You can come back to it later, but don’t give yourself more work than necessary.

Step 2: Sign Up For Industry Newsletters, Blogs, & Subscriptions

Productivity gurus frown on this because you’ll be inundated with emails. But, they’re emails containing valuable information about your industry. These should consist of trends, current events, and key influencers’ opinions. Emails are the most common forms of content, but don’t forget about webinars, podcasts, books, audiobooks, tweetchats and every other form of content available.

There may be some overlap with social media. When you find popular industry social media accounts to follow, check out some of the sights they’re sharing and sign up for those newsletters as well.

Becoming a thought leader is a lot like slingshotting. You have to use other people’s momentum to get around them. But, in order to slingshot, as Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton Jr. show us below, you have to be close to them to make that happen.

Step 3: Dedicate Time Each Day to Read

This is the second most important step (the first is still to come). Anyone can sign up for an email and never read a single edition, that’s not the point. The point is to drink from a fire hydrant of knowledge and soak up what’s happening in your industry as quickly as possible. The only way to do that is to be tuned in to what’s happening.

If you’re new to an industry, odds are you’re not having the conversations that drive thought leadership, yet.

Those conversations are the eventual goal. But, since you’re reading this, you’re probably still working your way there. The next best thing is to know what’s happening in your industry as soon as it becomes public knowledge. Set aside time every day to find out what’s happening all across your new world.

If you’re only able to spare 15 minutes each day, that’s fine. As long as it’s something, it’s better than nothing. I shoot for 30-60 minutes of reading each day. This often includes a TedMed (remember, I’m in healthcare) video while I eat lunch at my desk. Your boss may not be thrilled about this tactic since it doesn’t appear immediately beneficial, so think about ways to more productive with your time.

Step 4: Think Critically About What You’re Reading

Look for trends. Look for overlaps from other industries. Keep your eyes open how emerging ideas are coming together. For me, a couple of the current topics of discussion are artificial intelligence, utilizing big data, and wearable technology. These are individually written about every day. But, when I dug deeper and connected a few of the dots, I realized these were individually interesting, but collectively fascinating:

The information from wearables (e.g. a Fitbit or an Apple watch) is collectable and being sent to people’s electronic health records so healthcare organizations can collect vast amounts of (big) data. And people are using artificial intelligence to predict outcomes from that information so conversations like this can happen:

“Mr. Jones, based on the streaming information from your Fitbit, your heart rate has spiked unusually. We’d like you to come in to get that checked out.”

Step 5: (MOST IMPORTANT STEP) Add Your Insight & Share It

Like a band who plays cover songs early in their career, you often have to repeat what others are saying before you are able to come up with original ideas.

Get caught up on the industry, then comment on it via your preferred social media accounts from Step 1. You are sharing the same information, but that’s alright. Think of it like eavesdropping on a conversation and being able to add your two cents, even if nobody listens. You don’t have to come up with profound thoughts about every article, just some of your own unique commentary on it. If it’s thought-provoking, say what part provoked your thoughts. If it angers you, say what angered you. If you see a connection, point it out.

Learning to digest the information, not passively regurgitating it, is what helps you form your own ideas (Step 7) about what’s happening.

I use a Hootsuite Google Chrome browser extension to share all my articles. You can do it manually, use Buffer, Hootsuite, or any other sharing platform that works effectively for you. If you want to reach more people you can use #hashtags or relate things to trending topics on the various social media platforms.

And in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have. This is a drill for YOU, not to gain followers. Those will come naturally when you begin to say interesting things.

“Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.”
— Bruce Lee

Step 6: Commit To The Strategy

This isn’t something you can do for a week and expect results from. You must commit to the “long ball” and realize what you’re doing is investing in yourself.

You may not need to read as much six months after starting, but thought leaders lead. They are always ahead of the curve. And you can’t stay ahead of the curve if you’re not sure what’s happening in your industry. Ditch the newsletters that report crap, unsubscribe from the ones that are late to the game or self-promoters, and don’t be afraid to sign up for new blogs or magazines that are interesting – even if they’re ancillary to your industry.

For example, my prospects/clients are technology folks at hospitals. I initially began reading healthcare blogs and quickly added technology, internet of things (IoT), and other various publications to my arsenal because that’s what other thought leaders are reading themselves.

The compounding interest gained will return dividends when you’re privy to some of the conversations that thought leaders are having. Remember, that’s the goal: not to get your information from blogs filled with public knowledge. Your goal is to (eventually) be ahead of the blogs. You want to be the person the writers are contacting about a quote for their article or even the one writing the articles. Much of this comes down to how you do your job, what your company is working on, and many other factors aside from what you’re reading.

Step 7: Move Away From The Crowd & Have Conversations

Thought leaders don’t repeat what others are saying, they lead the path with new thoughts. Sometimes their thoughts are wrong, inaccurate, or heavily biased. But being willing to be wrong (and be called out for it) comes with being a leader. Conversely, if and when you formulate new ideas that are useful to your industry, you’ll receive the credit.

I can’t tell you this will be one month or four years after you commit to becoming a thought leader, again a lot of that depends on how you do your job and a number of other external factors. But this is a great way to start. And once you’ve systemized this processed, keep pressing and have those conversations.

Conversations with clients, with vendors, with potential business partners. Have them in person, over the phone, or even via social channels. Test your new ideas in conversation. Find out what other people in the industry think about your ideas: Do others agree with you? Or do your ideas need time to marinate?

Use social media, start a blog, or sign up for HARO to be a resource for reporters if you’re confident in your knowledge. If you haven’t done any diagnostic thinking, be prepared for criticism. Be open to it and adjust your thinking. Refine your ideas and go at it again. If you have done the critical thinking and your ideas are worth their salt, you’ll be rewarded with the recognition of being a thought leader. What you do with that label is up to you.

By definition, to be a thought leader, you have to be ahead of the pack. but if you don’t know what’s happening in your industry, you won’t know how to get ahead of said pack. You have to consume as much of your industry as possible to get a grasp on it. Then, once you see the larger industry trends, you can formulate your own ideas that stand independent of the majority of folks who are simply regurgitating each other’s knowledge.

I’m not to the point where I’d say I “understand” healthcare. This industry is as wide as it is deep and I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of knowledge. Fortunately, I brought a backhoe to dig with instead of a toy shovel like most people entering a new industry. I had a plan and, so far, my plan is paying dividends.

This is my best advice for how to think like a thought leader. But before you run off and apply these ideas, ask yourself a couple important questions: Why do I want to become a thought leader in the first place? And is there another way to get that desired effect instead of becoming one?

When Change Is Counterproductive: The Exception vs. The Rule

Teaching “The Close”

Training sales people was one of the most rewarding parts of my job at the furniture company. Every six weeks (or so) I would receive a fresh batch of hires needing to learn how to sell furniture. If they didn’t sell, they didn’t earn a paycheck. Because of this unforgiving logic, I considered my time with them imperative.

Furniture University (FU for short) was often filled with people who had never sold anything for money. They had been on the job for a few days or, at best, a few weeks learning the processes and products. The ones who “got it” ate up the material. The ones fearful of rejection found an excuse for everything I taught.

The process that I focused on was one of specific dialogue. It was wrought with one-liners, questions, and strategy (I can’t take credit for the sales process, that came from my teacher/employer/mentor; the real salesman). The coup de grâce of this sales process was the closing question:

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Using Pattern Recognition To Improve Customer Service

Using Pattern Recognition To Improve Customer Service

My trip to CLT from JAX started off typical: cramped, hot, and teetering on the brink of late. We boarded on time, but the plane was small. Everyone had seats, but there wasn’t ample space for luggage. No worries; I had a window seat and we’d be taking off shortly.

The baggage, and people, found appropriate homes and we braced to push back. After all, that’s what happens when the door shuts and everyone is buckled up. Except, we didn’t.

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Perfecting Your Craft When You’re Not Practicing Your Craft

perfecting your craft when you're not practicing your craft

I did it as an experiment. My schedule would soon change and I would have less time to focus on the things I wanted to work on. My attention would be drawn in many new directions, none of which faced my writing.

Writing had become my craft. Some people play music, some paint, and I wrote. Though my schedule was changing, I still wanted to continue honing the craft I’d come to love.

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Success In Spite Of Failure

People contact me regularly to guest post on the blog. Most of the time, this attempts are weak and irrelevant to what I share on the blog. However, this one stuck out.

I discuss chasing your dreams, failure, and perseverance regularly. This infographic speaks directly to these topics and is a great reminder that no matter what failures you think you’ve gone through, you’re not alone. Remember, success is closer than you realize.

Please enjoy this piece from Essay Tigers:

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Unintentionally Practicing Stoicism (The Demise Of My Station Wagon)

Unintentionally practicing stoicism

I have to thank Tim Ferriss for getting me into this. He’s had me thinking about stoicism for months. It started when he recommended Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle Is The Way, some time ago. During the book, Ryan mentioned Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. After that, Tim began sharing Seneca’s letters via his podcast. I consumed all of it, but I didn’t feel a change.

Some books hit you at just the right angle + time + mood and change your life. None of these resources altered my way of thinking but they did reinforce a mindset I adopted from playing competitive sports. Football coaches preach, “Nothing is as good as it seems. Nothing is as bad as it seems.”

They usually say this when players get too excited or too upset as an attempt to level a player’s head. It can be used for both sides of the argument, but I find myself using it more when things go wrong. Good coaches know the best players are the ones who remain focused in all situations – good or bad. I was raised to think like this, but it’s easier to write about than to apply.

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How To Use Discipline To Execute Strategy

“One minute to start!” said the announcer over the loud speakers.

I clicked my Nike running watch to “Stopwatch” mode. I wiped my sweaty brow one last time before the gun fired and I took a gulp of muggy, Charleston, SC air before forcefully exhaling.

My warm-up felt good, my shoes were broken in, and it looked like the rain would hold off long enough for me to run a dry race. There was nothing left to do but set my 10K (6.2 miles) personal record. Or, as runners refer to it, “PR.”

“Ten seconds to start,” boomed the announcer. “Good luck runners!”

It didn’t matter that I had run the Cooper River Bridge Run six previous times, I still had butterflies. My training, though grueling and thorough, was solo. This was a competition – something I hadn’t done in a while.

“Three… Two… One…!” The starting gun fired and I raced South with 40,000 fellow runners, walkers, and joggers.

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