51% (#997)

I had an amazing conversation with a “super-preneur” last week as part of our ongoing research  for a course I’m running with Dr. George Pransky called The Entrepreneurial Advantage. This man is a model for how the entrepreneurial mindset can lead to long-term sustainable success, defined by researcher Marcus Buckingham as “being at or near the top of your field for at least twenty years”.

What we were trying to get during our time with him was what George called his “psychological platform” – the internal functioning that led to his success rather than the behavioral advice others might glean by “copying” his strategies or actions.

As with most successful people I’ve spoken and worked with over the years, he had no idea why he thought and acted the way that he did, including relentlessly “stalking” people he thought could help him, getting and being fired from multiple high-profile jobs without any loss of enthusiasm, and ultimately inventing a multi-billion dollar industry.

His explanations for his ability to go for what he wanted unrestrained by things I would be inclined to call rejection and failure included “It was easy for me because I grew up in the Vietnam era”“Most people don’t want to ask people to make commitments with money, and “Every time I got fired I bought a new suit”.

As we spoke further, we went a bit deeper. He talked about his sincere desire to get a meaningful job in an industry he was drawn to and his tenacity to follow through – helpful traits to be sure, but definitely on the output side of the inside-out equation. He talked about a baseball coach he had in school who taught the kids to have meaningful “at bats” rather than focusing on the outcome each time they came up to the plate.

And then a question occurred to me that brought everything he’d been saying into focus:

On a scale from 0% to 100%, how much say do you think you have in how things turn out?

Without hesitation, he answered “51%”. He went on to point out that he had not only achieved everything he had achieved with “51% control”, but that he would bet on himself ten times out of ten with those odds.

While I’ve not done the math (and wouldn’t necessarily believe it if I had), 51% control over outcome sounds about right to me. There are an incredible number of success factors that are largely or even completely outside of our control, including the environment/ culture we are working in, the behavior of other people in that environment/culture, our current skill level, the level of competition we are facing from day to day, and in my mind, the “fickle finger of fate”.

But the few things that are at least largely in our control, including:

  • our understanding of the impact of thought and state of mind on performance
  • whether or not we show up to the game and how fully present we are to it when we get there
  • what we say or don’t say and do or don’t do
  • our attitude towards the people around us
  • our ability to learn from everything that happens
  • our capacity for resilience – to bounce back from every adversity “as good as new”
  • are more than enough to be the difference that makes the difference over time.

If I believe that achieving results is 80% or more within my control, I will likely work very hard to achieve them but then be very down on myself every time things don’t go my way. Over time, I’ll either become a control freak, a stressed-out overachiever, or both.

If I believe that achieving results is 20% or less up to me, I’ll probably do the minimum necessary to keep my job and my head above water, feeling lucky when things do go my way and disconnected from the people around me and the tasks at hand.

But results being 51% down to you is different. It doesn’t guarantee you anything, but it does:

  • Give you control on the board of a company
  • Get you kicked out of every casino in the world
  • Give you a reason to show up fully without putting any undue pressure or expectations on yourself to succeed

It allows you to invest fully in the direction you are heading without undue investment in the details of how things turn out. It directs you away from plans, schemes, and timetables and towards opportunities to get in the game and excel.

Knowing that the path is almost always unpredictable and uncontrollable takes the pressure off you to try and predict and control the future and leaves your attention firmly in the here and now, having “quality at bats”, knowing that the outcome will take care of itself. You’re not so much playing to win as playing the odds, letting each situation bring something new out of you and learning as you go.

One final thought:

When I brought the idea of “51%” up as part of a leadership keynote I did over the weekend, someone in the audience asked if it was similar to “flying by the seat of your pants”.

After a moment of reflection, I responded that it is like flying by the seat of your pants with one addition – the realization that your pants are made to fly!

With all my love (and may the odds be ever in your favor),


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