Jimmy Spithill, skipper of America’s Cup-winning Team Oracle USA, wisely once said, “Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy.”
You may not be as experienced, as well-funded, as well-connected, or as talented, but you can always outthink, out-hustle, and outwork everyone else. Even when everything else seems stacked against you, effort and persistence can still be your competitive advantages—and they may be the only advantages you truly need. Or so says David Finkel, co-author of Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back.
With apologies to David, here are some of his strategies, unplugged, plus a few of my own:
1. Do your most-feared thing first. In the words of Mark Twain, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task—the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results.
Get it over with and you’ll free up a tremendous amount of energy with which to get on to the rest of your day. This may be a phone call you’ve been dreading to make or an email you were afraid to write. Get it over with as early in the day as possible.
2. Take strong stands. Research from Carnegie Mellon University shows humans prefer cockiness to expertise, and we naturally assume confidence equates with skill and shows that people prefer advice from a confident source, even to the point that we are willing to forgive a poor track record. Even the most skeptical people tend to be at least partly persuaded by a confident speaker. So be bold. Stop adding qualifiers like, “I think” or “I believe” when you speak. If you think something will work, say it will work. If you believe something will work, say it will work.
As Venus Williams recently said after getting to this year’s Wimbledon final, her first since 2009, “It’s easy to be afraid; you have to let fear go. You just have to. There’s no way around it. You’ve got to believe in yourself. No matter how things are stacked against you, you just have to believe—every time.”
3. Tap into the power of now. Then do one extra thing. Do it now. Decide it now. Delegate it now. Finish it now. Start it now. Then … Make one extra call. Send out one extra letter. Visit one extra prospect. Reach out to one more potential strategic partner. When you add up all these one-extras, they will make the difference.
4. Feed your winners, starve your losers. Cut your lowest half of marketing activities and invest in those that freed-up time, talent, and money to reinvest in scaling the top 10 percent of your marketing activities. Cut your lowest-producing product lines, and invest the freed-up resources in scaling your winning products and service lines. And stop wasting your coaching time trying to make a bottom producer better; instead, invest that time in making your winning team members even more productive.
5. Learn to be both decisive and to purposefully delay decisions. Some decisions should be put off until a later day; they just don’t need to be made now. Other decisions—and generally the larger pool—should be made on the spot. One of the most powerful habits you can cultivate is that of making solid decisions once you have the information you need at hand. So ask yourself, “Will having more time really increase the quality of my decision?” If the answer is yes, delay it. If the answer is no, make your call and get on with its implementation.
6. Learn when to cut your losses. Too many people hang on too long. If you know a person, a strategy, a product, or a partnership just isn’t going to get you what you need, make the hard decision early and free up your resources to find a solution that will.
7. Write it down. Emmitt Smith, our E Smith Realty chairman, learned a life lesson from Dwight Thomas, his high school football coach in Pensacola, Fla., who told him, “It’s just a dream until you write it down, and then it becomes a goal.”
8. Do what others are unwilling to do. Jeff Haden, a writer for Inc. magazine, says the easiest way to be different is to do the things other people are unwilling to do. Find your motivation (which this time of year typically comes from TV commercials featuring athletes) to be the best. What motivation is better than AND1’s aggressive, in-your-face basketball shirt that reads, “Out there somewhere, someone is practicing, and when you meet him in head-to-head competition, he will beat you.” (Although their “Pass. Save Yourself The Embarrassment.” shirt is really good, too.)
So, pick one thing other people won’t do. It can be simple. It can be small. Whatever it is, do it. You’ll instantly be a little different from the rest of the pack. Every day think of one thing to do that no one else is willing to do. After a week you’ll be uncommon. After a month you’ll be special. After a year you’ll be incredible, and you definitely won’t be like anyone else.
A quote I have on my desk reminds me every day: “Successful people form the habit of doing what unsuccessful people don’t want to do.”
Susan Arledge is managing director at E Smith Realty Partners. Contact her at email@example.com.