On Friday 9th of November, I did my first ever Ted Talk and to make the challenge just a little bit bigger I decided that I would give the talk in French. Which was actually a bigger challenge than I expected.
Here’s the script for that talk in english.
Today I want to share something with you, something that I have learned working for over 25 years as a turnaround expert with large companies, and having coached individuals to success.
It’s a simple, but powerful approach, that I have used both personally and with clients that has helped them to achieve some amazing goals.
My little secret to big successes is Aim High, Start Small, Celebrate and Keep Going.
So the first part of this approach is Aim High – what does this mean?
It means set a bold goal for yourself, your career, your business, or for your teams.
Many people don’t like to do that. Often they will say I’m not sure if I am capable of achieving it.
There are two things to mention here:
- The first one is if you don’t try, then you will definitely never achieve it
- And the second is – you are all capable of achieving more that you believe
Does anyone know what the world record for running a marathon a day on consecutive days is?
In 2008 the record was 51 marathons in 51 days, set by a 48-year-old Italian man called Enzo Caporaso – which sounds unbelievable.
Then in 2012 Ricardo Abad, ran 607 marathons in 607 days.
His original goal was 500 marathons in 500 days, but when he completed it he just kept going and ran 607.
Even more amazing was that Ricardo did this whilst he worked a rotating shifts in a factory. That’s right he worked days, the afternoon and then nights and still found the time and energy to run a marathon a day for 607 days.
Now, I am not suggesting that everyone should rush out and sign up for 608 marathons.
No, but I am just suggesting that when you look at what he achieved then maybe, just maybe, we can all do more than we think.
I certainly know this is true from my own experiences and I will explain some of those later.
So we have to aim high.
Because it’s bold goals that inspire us, no one is excited by small goals. There needs to be some sense of achievement, a real challenge something that makes us say it would be superb if we could achieve that.
Now I understand that big goals can feel a little scary, but I always remember this quote from Richard Branson, who said “if your goals don’t scare you, then they are too small”.
So it’s good to be a little bit afraid. We need to look to challenge ourselves to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. Our comfort zones are not our friends – they are zones of mediocrity.
My favourite big bold goal of all time was set by John F Kennedy, in May 25th 1961.
When he said by the end of this decade we should land a man on the moon and bring him back safely .
This was a goal that inspired a nation, it inspired a generation and probably the world.
This is what big goals can do.
And what I like about that goal is the clarity in it’s definition.
The goal is not just to put a man on the moon, but also to bring him back safely – which is a part that I am sure that pleased the astronauts.
People often tell me, but if I set a big bold goal, what if I don’t know how I will achieve it.
Let me let you into a little secret. When JFK made that big bold beautiful goal he had no clue how they were going to achieve either.
How do I Know that?
Well much of the technology needed to achieve the goal didn’t exist when he set that goal.
But Kennedy knew that they would have enough time to solve those challenges on the journey.
This was a big bold beautiful goal but Kennedy had given enough time for it be achieved, which is also very important.
So Aim High, but don’t be too aggressive with the timing, you need to give yourself the chance to succeed.
Now that you have your big goal, the next step is to get started.
Surprisingly for many people, starting is the hardest part of achieving the goal.
It could be that you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, or it could be that you have self doubt. But where do those self doubts come from?
There are two voices that we all hear that can make us start doubt ourselves and that can stop us from starting on the path to achieving our goals
The first is that internal voice, that little devil that we all have sitting on our shoulder the one that tells us we’re not good enough. We don’t have the talent. We don’t have the time. Or imagine how you will feel if you fail. In fact, it’s probably better not to try than to try and fail.
The second voice is external. It’s all those people around us who tell us it’s not possiblea will never happen, no chance you don’t have the right skills, the talent, the time, blah blah blah.
But more often than not, their comments are about themselves, not about us.
They are voicing their own self doubts, their own limitations, the things that are holding them back and we mustn’t let our potential become a prisoner of their self doubt.
The best approach to get beyond this is to start small.
Identify something that you can achieve and start there.
When I decided to run my first marathon at 52, my two best friends told me I was too old, to fat, too unfit but I found myself a plan that started with just a 15 minute run. That was it day one just run for 15 minutes – I knew I could do that – it might kill me, but at least I could do it, I could make a start.
You don’t have to eat the elephant all in one go, just start with a little bite.
Find something simple that you can do and start there to free yourself from those negative voices.
Also, if you’re in a leadership position be the positive voice, be the angel on the other shoulder that tells people they can do it, they will be successful.
One of the challenges when we are facing big challenge we can be that we become overwhelmed. I see that a lot with the companies and clients that I work with.
They want to start but don’t know where to start which leaves people feeling overwhelmed and they end up with analysis paralysis which hold them back. So what to do?
A good friend of mine told me that her mother said the secret to cleaning up after a party is to always start with the knives and forks. It doesn’t matter how big a mess there is, or what needs to be done – always start with the knives and forks.
Why the knives and forks I asked, is there something special about them
She said, by knowing that you always start with the knives and forks it gives you a clear starting point. You don’t need to think about what to do first or where to start, there is no analysis paralysis, you just start
And then once you have started you will figure out what to do next, or just start on the next nearest thing.
It’s about moving from thought and into action.
So for your big goal ask yourself what small item could you start with and start there.
For the book I wanted to write, I had no clue about it’s structure, what all the themes would, how many chapters, I didn’t even have a title. I didn’t know where to where to start.
So I asked myself what could the knives and forks be in this case. What was something simple I could do just to get started.
So I decided I would write a single blog post, just 400 words something that I thought might make a good subject for a chapter.
That got me started, it wasn’t a lot just 400 words but it was a start.
And once we start we open ourselves up to the possibility of big success.
The next step is to celebrate your progress, any progress it doesn’t matter how small.
I cannot stress the importance of celebration enough, and the critical role that it plays in achieving success, and especially big success.
There is a simple truth that what gets recognized gets repeated, and we need to recognize and celebrate our success, especially the small ones in the early stages, as this will help to motivate us, to encourage us to continue and start to build momentum.
When I mention this in businesses people often tell me I am wrong, and that in their company they always wait until the big successes are achieved before celebrating.
Then I ask them how many big successes they have had in the last and when they scratch their heads and say not many. I am not surprised
At this point I usually ask them if they have any children, and what did they do when their child took it’s very first step and then dropped onto its bottom…
Like everyone else they say we cheered and we applauded, we that’s it, we brought relatives in to see.
And then I ask why – it’s not like your child had broken the 100m world record, or run a marathon
And every time they tell me, it’s because it was their first step and we want to encourage them to try again and for them keep going because thats how we learn to first walk, then run, and then maybe one day run a marathon
The same principle applies with yourself, with business and with your teams – if you want to encourage people or yourself to try again and to keep going, then you need to celebrate their first steps, their first effort, their first small successes.
If you choose to wait until a big goal is achieved before celebrating, then you will most likely be waiting forever.
We need the recognition it’s hardwired within us. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs one of our basic needs is a feeling of self-worth a sense of achievement, so by celebrating we are serving this need, and it encourages us to try again.
So we start by recognizing effort, then the small success, constantly raising the bar and as we do that the performance will follow.
The last part of the approach is to just keep going and I cannot stress the impact that this can have on your potential results.
One of the greatest qualities we can have or develop is persistence.
Why’s that? Because Persistence is a Talent Multiplier.
Big successes are often just the accumulation of small successes, and it’s persistence that allows them to accumulate to accumulate them.
For some goals, we don’t have to do better, we don’t have to increase what we are doing we just need to keep repeating it.
When people hear that I have written over 1200 leadership articles in just 4 years they ask me how did you do that. My answer is simple I just wrote one article a day, which is not a lot of effort, but I did that every day for 1200 days.
It wasn’t the single effort the achieved that goal, it was the accumulation of all of those little efforts and this is one way to achieve big goals.
Repetition can also help us to improve our performance too.
One of my favourite stories on this comes from Derek Sivers who tells the story of the pottery class that split into two groups.
The first group were told that their grade would be based on one pot, all they had to do was make the best pot that they could make.
The second group was told that their grade would be based solely on the number of pots that they made, if they made 30kg of pots they would get an A, if they made 25 they would get a B, and so on.
So the first group would be judged on quality and the second group would judged on quantity.
At the end of the term there was a surprising result and that was that the best pots were made by the second group, and not the first even though that group had been only focused on quality.
The second group, just by making pot after pot they got better, they had learned, they refined their technique, they had improved.
Repetition can lead to improvements in performance and it can be these small incremental improvements that can lead us to big successes.
Aim High, because it’s big goals which inspire us the most.
Start Small, find something simple and start there, to eliminate doubts.
Celebrate, because what gets recognized gets repeated and creates a positive dynamic.
Keep Going, because persistence is a talent multiplier and big successes are often just an accumulation of lot of small successes.
Aim High, Start Small, Celebrate and Keep going and these are my little secrets for your big success.