Private victories, public victories

Segmentation is one of the basic marketing tenets. If you build a product, target a segment that will love its strengths and ignore its shortcomings. Similarly, if you want to build a blog that becomes massive (assuming you aren’t someone famous already), you are better off focusing on some niche. Examples of such niches are productivity, personal finance, minimalism, health, etc. Going after learning in as broad a sense as this blog does isn’t a winning strategy. For those of you manage to stick on despite this very broad focus, I try every once a while to explain what this blog is about. An idea that will help frame this is – private victories precede public victories.

I am re-reading the 7 Habits very slowly. And, it was nice to be reminded of the logic behind Covey’s structure – focus first on private victories and, only then, will public victories follow. This is the basis of the character ethic that Covey describes. It is about bringing a certain sustainability into life and happiness by being effective. So, what does that even mean?

I’ll go back to my concentric priorities image. If we think of the world as a series of priorities – you, your people, your work and your community – private victories are focused on you, your people/relationships and parts of your work.

The principle is straight forward – you will be able to lead others only once you lead yourself. And, to lead yourself, you have to first understand how to be proactive, to think long term while focusing on what you control and learn to prioritize.

The first time I read Covey’s book, I spent all my time attempting to put the “private victories” portion in action. I had such a long way to go. However, as I read it now, I feel more comfortable with this portion of the book. I am still giving it plenty of thought but I find myself thinking about optimizing existing approaches versus building them from scratch. This process has taken 7 years. And, I’m sure it’ll be a few more years before I spend more of my time attempting to live part II.

How does this relate to this blog? I write about what I most need to learn. And, this blog is and has been shamelessly self focused over the past 8 and a half years. That will likely change with a time. But, for now, it is me teaching myself how to develop a perspective that is both effective and kind. That is why this blog is some parts happiness and other parts productivity, minimalism, some finance, health etc. It isn’t the most effective marketing strategy and is certainly not a case study in segmentation. But, I don’t intend this to be any of that.

This is about growing into character – one learning at a time, over a very long time. It is hard work. But, it is also an awesome process. As is evident in the sheer number of topics I write about, there isn’t any prescribed way to go about this process. Sure, there are a few principles that help. But, for the most part, you are on your own. It is just a journey that requires consciousness and engagement.

And, mostly, it is a journey.

PS: “For those of you manage to stick on despite this very broad focus, I try every once a while to explain what this blog is about.” – if you’ve stuck around for a while, you probably don’t need an explanation. So, you probably guessed this – this is more a reminder of the “why” for me than it is for you. Thank you for your attention. :)

Can’t talk yourself out of a problem you’ve acted yourself into

I was reminded of a wonderful story from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book (I seem to be in Stephen Covey remembrance zone these past weeks) about a man in his seminar complaining about his wife calling him every hour asking him where he was and what he was doing. He just couldn’t seem to convince her to trust him. Curious, Covey asked him how he’d met.

It turned out that the man had met her at a similar seminar and had cheated on his ex-wife in the process.

“You can’t talk yourself out of a problem you behaved yourself into” – were Covey’s wise words to the man.

There’s a saying in George R R Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series (a.k.a Game of Thrones) – “words are wind.” In Westeros, what you say counts for every little. What you do, however, is everything. It made a lot of sense – they didn’t have social media to track reputations.

But, has social media and all the other kinds of media changed the fundamental principle behind the “words are wind” idea? I don’t think so. Yes, it is easier to build a beautiful facade around your track record. But, it is just as easy to break it – all it takes is one truth teller on Twitter. In some ways, the idea that “words are wind” applies more in today’s context.

All we have is our track record. If it is representative of who we are, then we must keep doing what we are doing. And, in the process, aim to do more with what we have, and better. If it is not representative of who we are, it is worth remembering that we can act ourselves into it.

What we do is the surest way of expressing who we are.

What to be vs. what not to be

It is fairly easy to come up with a list of things you don’t want to be. It feels like you have done the hard work of attempting to define who you would like to be in the process. But, really, you haven’t.

“I don’t want to be a flake” is fundamentally different from “I will always keep my commitments.” The former has enough fudge built in for you to keep 7 out of every 10 promises and still be able to rationalize your behavior. The latter, on the other hand, is a commitment to integrity. It swears by the idea of 100% or none. There are no excuses and no easy way outs – you are forced to make real trade-offs.

As a result, there are only so many things you can be. The chances that you’ll pull off research that wins a Nobel prize while being a party animal who paints the city red 3 days every week are minimal. If you want to be a Nobel prize winner, you will need to make some very real sacrifices. Prioritization is essential.

That is precisely why very few choose to take a stand. It is just much easier not to.

But, of course, there is a real trade-off there too – character isn’t built that way.

Network and net worth

Many exclusive clubs and business schools use the idea of tapping into their network to attract members. I am skeptical about this. While I think these clubs and schools do bring together interesting people and probably increase the probability that you will find like-minded (perhaps even like-valued – if you are lucky) friends, I am still not sure access to their networks accomplishes all that much.

What I would agree with is that a network is incredibly powerful. Who you know is generally more important than what you know as it opens more doors to possibilities. So, the question still remains – how do you build a network?

I agree with an acquaintance who pointed out bluntly that “your network is proportional to your net worth.” While his focus was on financial net worth, I’ve expanded on his definition and arrived at the following thesis. Your build your network by building your net worth on 3 dimensions –

1. Build financial net worth. This is true – the more financially wealthy you are, the more easily doors open for you.

2. Build power net worth. Find me a powerful person who doesn’t have a network to call upon. This is related to financial net worth but slightly different in nature. A network born out of power is probably the most fickle of the lot. Ask any discredited politician. Perhaps it is no surprise that many of them work hard to increase their financial net worth while in power.

3. Build character net worth. This is the final dimension and is one that is often ignored. Building character is the longest and most sustainable method of building a network. The hard work lies in building a worthy character and proceeding to do great work. A reputation follows, slowly and surely. And, once such a reputation is built, it is the hardest of the three to bring down. You and I probably know of nice people who have built enormous networks, often by frequently connecting one person to another. It helps that it is fairly easy to tell a person’s character by looking at their track record around work and relationships over the long term. People of character will not always be liked, but, the chances are high that they are held in high regard for their character and work ethic – especially by those who’ve been in close contact with them over the long term.

This thesis has a couple of interesting implications. First, the more important part of building a network is not having access to individuals with high net worth. It is having a high net worth yourself. A beginner politician might be denied entry into a network of the most powerful politicians in the country. But, if the person doesn’t know how to build power net worth, he/she will not survive.

Second, each of these can combine with the others to make a formidable combination. While financial net worth and character net worth often go together, I find that power net worth and character net worth don’t do so nearly as often.

Finally, it is possible for anyone to have an excellent network. While one might not succeed as spectacularly on the finance dimension, we can all aspire to succeed over the long term on the character dimension.

Yes, it isn’t easy and yes, it isn’t guaranteed to work. But, find me a solution that is both on an issue as important as this… and I’ll show you a solution that is wrong.