Extreme Ownership


100714-N-4930E-034  BETHESDA, Md. (July 14, 2010) Marine Corps Sgt. Matthew Ortiz holds the coin presented by Master Chief Petty Officer Of the Navy (MCPON) Rick West.  West visited the National Naval Medical Hospital to meet with service members recovering from wounds while serving in Operation's Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Abraham Essenmacher/Released)

Not returning calls, not being on time, not having enough money, being too old, being too young, being too fat, everything is too expensive, people are getting stupider, all this processed food is killing us, crime is out of control, today’s music is all derivative trash, always blaming someone else — in other words complaining. Sound familiar?

As with Gary Vaynerchuk, one of the few things I complain about is complaining. To quote a fictional character:

If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole. — Raylan Givens

Obviously complaining is not the only thing that can put someone in this category but it is pretty high up there. For this story I am going to keep it simple with only two places to look if you find yourself complaining — both of which are taken from the book: “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

#1 Personal Discipline

Discipline starts every day when the first alarm clock goes off in the morning. I say “first alarm clock” because I have three, as I was taught by one of the most feared and respected instructors in SEAL training: one electric, one battery powered, one windup. That way, there is no excuse for not getting out of bed, especially with all that rests on that decisive moment. The moment the alarm goes off is the first test; it sets the tone for the rest of the day. The test is not a complex one: when the alarm goes off, do you get up out of bed, or do you lie there in comfort and fall back to sleep? If you have the discipline to get out of bed, you win — you pass the test. If you are mentally weak for that moment and you let that weakness keep you in bed, you fail. Though it seems small, that weakness translates to more significant decisions. But if you exercise discipline, that too translates to more substantial elements of your life.

Sometimes the issue we face is attacking what we think of as simple problems with ineffective solutions. The trouble with getting out of bed and being on time for your day is it seems like a simple problem — just set an alarm. What if, however, that first alarm is not working? Maybe you need more firepower to make that first goal happen.

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On a serious note — more firepower does not necessarily mean a louder version of what you are already doing. In fact, it could mean what you are doing is using the wrong tactic. If your ‘mosquito’ is literally getting out of bed perhaps you need to find a way to kill it before it is born. Maybe you need to get nudged at the right point in your Sleep Cycle. As written in Less Doing, More Living: Make Everything in Life Easier by Ari Meisel:

You can also play around with very basic concepts of sleep timing. The idea behind sleep timing is simple. The general sleep cycle is 1.5 hours, and you want at least three cycles per night. If you don’t get enough, or if you wake up in the middle of a cycle, you won’t feel well rested. To find out when you need to go to bed, you can work backward from the time when you wake up, then add fifteen minutes to fall asleep. For example, if you need to get up at 5:30 a.m., then subtracting 1.5-hour intervals takes you to 4:00 a.m., 2: 30 a.m., 1:00 a.m., 11:30 p.m. You also need to add fifteen minutes for falling asleep, so to get four complete cycles, you need to go to bed at 11:15 p.m. To get five cycles, you’d go to bed at 9:45 p.m. If you’re getting enough hours of sleep but waking up groggy, it could very well be because you’re off by fifteen minutes and you’re waking up at the wrong point in the cycle. That’s an easy fix that can make a big difference.

Maybe you need a better purpose for getting out of bed. Maybe it is something else. Assuming, or perhaps better said… blaming it all on the failure of the first alarm clock, or that you are not a ‘morning person’, is not going to get you any further in life than you already are.

#2 You Are Most Likely Wrong About What You Think Is Beyond Your Control

If you pick up a copy of Jocko and Leif’s book and read only one chapter then make it the chapter 10 entitled, “Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command” Notice the title includes Leading Up the Chain of Command. If leading up, that is being in a leadership role to your superiors, is possible in of all places the military, which is known for its rigid chain of command, then what in the wide wide world of sports are you waiting for to make it happen within your own world?

Though not directly the target of the chapter this mindset also applies to ‘not being able to do anything’ because, pick one… someone is on vacation, it is the weekend, ‘they’ are not going to decide until 30 days from now, they already said no, etc. The world is moving 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is always possible to get more done towards a goal even if you are in the state of hallucination that all you can do is wait. Education, preparation, risk mitigation, options exploration, extended search for wisdom, etc. The bottom line is if you really need to get something accomplished the winners will find a way to work on a solution while the complainers complain there is nothing they can do.

This story was inspired by a book that goes far deeper into layers of extreme ownership and is well worth a read. From their website:

In Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin share hard-hitting, Navy SEAL combat stories that translate into lessons for business and life. With riveting first-hand accounts of making high-pressure decisions as Navy SEAL battlefield leaders, this book is equally gripping for leaders who seek to dominate other arenas. Jocko and Leif served together in SEAL Task Unit Bruiser, the most highly decorated Special Operations unit from the war in Iraq. Their efforts contributed to the historic triumph for U.S. forces in Ramadi. Through those difficult months of sustained combat, Jocko, Leif and their SEAL brothers learned that leadership — at every level — is the most important thing on the battlefield. They started Echelon Front to teach these same leadership principles to companies across industries throughout the business world that want to build their own high-performance, winning teams.

Stories from the Navy SEALS applied to business that, in turn, are applicable to everyday life — sounds like a formula for success. With winning strategies that worked for when the ultimate of risk was on the line — life — how far might one be able to go when the only thing at risk is personal failure? Read the book, apply the teachings, and find out the answer.

(Originally posted on Medium)

Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you handle what happens to you


Prince Ea recently made a short video where he quoted a statistic of a study done on 300 world leaders — everybody from Martin Luther King, to Mahatma Gandhi, to Hellen Keller, etc — and what they had in common. 75% of them were either raised in poverty, abused as children, or had some serious physical impairment. This reminded me of a story I wrote on Medium of how the saying “The rich get richer” is in conflict with the saying “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” Though there are examples of rich becoming poor I wondered if there were any studies done on how many of the rich came from challenged backgrounds.

Looking around for data I came across this simple info graphic of where wealth has come from in some of the most extreme cases. Out of the world’s 100 richest people today 27% are heirs and 73% are self-made. In case you missed it, that figure is stunningly close to the 75% of the world leaders that arose from challenged beginnings.

From Poor to Rich

One of the more recent ‘rags to riches’ stories of hard work comes from Jan Klum, the founder of WhatsApp Messenger. The business was acquired by Facebook Inc. on February 19, 2014, for approximately US$19.3 billion. As Daniel Jacobs wrote on the transaction:

When Jan signed the papers that would make him one of the richest men in the world, he didn’t do it in the Four Seasons or at Facebook Headquarters, and he didn’t have camera lights glaring. Instead, he returned to the nondescript building where he once stood for hours waiting with his mother for food stamps.

The hardest place to create success is when you find yourself at a comfort level where change is not mandatory. You might be uncomfortable, you might be wishing for more, you might be blaming countless things ‘outside of your control’ for why you can’t get further. Yet, if change was mandatory then things would…, well…, change. If you find yourself in a place where you are not happy — it might not be about money, it might not be about world leadership, it does not matter where the source of your unhappiness is — then turn your ‘shoulds’ into ‘musts’ and become the inspiration for others to do the same. Do it not to impress people but to impress upon people what is possible.

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You can either break down, or break records. Your choice — Prince Ea

…and you can’t break records by breaking other people down. Success leaves clues. Find the clues that match the needs of your strengths and talents and begin with the end in mind.

(Originally posted on Medium)

The best definition of ‘success’ I have heard

Character and Identity

In a past story here on Medium I wrote about my definition of entrepreneurial success. To summarize, my vision of success is simple — doing what you say you are going to do. However, after recently listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast, The Interview Master: Cal Fustian and the Power of Listening, I believe there is a higher level to my answer than I originally realized.

It has been said that your character speaks of who you are in this moment, while your identity speaks of who you are purposed to be. No matter how you define it, changing who you are in this moment is no easy task. When Cal was asked who is the first person that comes to mind when he thinks of the word ‘successful’ one of his answers (starting just shy of 2 hours and 23 minutes into the podcast) was George Foreman.

Cal recounted George’s troubled past — no money, siblings making fun of him for something he would only later realize to be the fact his father was Leroy Moorehead and not J.D. Foreman, dropping out of school, etc. To which Cal said was the foundation of a nature so filled with anger that people were even afraid to approach him for an autograph. Going into fight Muhammad Ali in 1974 there was some fear that Ali would not leave the ring with his life intact due to the viciousness of George’s style and 40–0 record with 37 knockouts. What George could not imagine is that Ali would take advantage of this anger and do his best to block and provoke for nearly the entire fight. He was just saving his energy until George was out of gas. When this finally happened Ali went on the offense and soon defeated the undefeatable.

When Cal spoke with Foreman on the subject it was George himself that said, “The hardest thing you can do in life is to change your character,” and basically, in his early 40s, he came back to boxing, but he was completely different. He was no longer the surly guy, he was a guy who would do ads for hamburgers smiling and laughing. He realized that surliness and that anger is what brought him down against Muhammad Ali. From this change in character he was able to regain the title at the age of 45 against Michael Moorer who was 19 years younger than him. That was an extreme symbol of success because he needed to change who he was to accomplish his goals.

So, yes, I still believe success on the long run can be boiled down to doing what you say you are going to do, but what happens when your character gets in the way of making that happen? All of your future success hinges on the power of you deciding to leave the moment of who you are behind you and move on to who you are purposed to be. Thus, the highest definition of success is reserved for those that are able to make this happen.

For George Foreman anger was holding him back from achieving his purpose. Looking back, as obvious as that might be, I am sure there were a lot of people around him that liked him for the character he was and when he started to smile they probably were — let’s say — not supportive at the very least. Changing your character is a hard enough to do in isolation, however, when the world is watching (no matter how big or small your world happens to be) the thought of it alone is almost impossible.

Look at what George Foreman did at the age of 45 in boxing! If you are reading this it is probably not too late for you to do the same if there is a similar character trait that is holding you back. That is, it is not too late until it is…

Top 10 Deathbed Regrets:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life other people expected of me.
I wish I took time to be with my children more when they were growing up.
I wish I had the courage to express my feelings, without the fear of being rejected or unpopular.
I wish I would have stayed in touch with friends and family.
I wish I would have forgiven someone when I had the chance.
I wish I would have told the people I loved the most how important they are to me.
I wish I would have had more confidence and tried more things, instead of being afraid of looking like a fool.
I wish I would have done more to make an impact in this world.
I wish I would have experienced more, instead of settling for a boring life filled with routine, mediocrity and apathy.
I wish I would have pursued my talents and gifts.
— Shannon L. Alder, author and therapist that has 17 years of experience working with hospice patients

The regrets listed above are big ones. If you need to change your character to eliminate any of them then when would now be a good time to make that happen?

(Originally posted on Medium)

How is owning a startup business like owning a failing business?

Going Out of Business

I have been in a few of these places — meaning I have been able to say I turned a failing business into a success, I have had to close a once prosperous business that no longer could find a reason to survive in a changed world, I have been a part of startups that have become successful and a few that could never quite get off the ground. Also, don’t miss the key word ‘owning’ in the title of this story. The experience of owning is a much higher reward, and higher risk, proposition than ‘running’ or ‘working for.’

I do not, fortunately, get much hate mail but it does come in occasionally. This snip is from almost three years ago (cheap digital storage makes finding good memories and bad memories just as easy):

As a prior employee of both of your father’s legacies, Captive Plastics and Lincoln Mold, just wanted to say that although you may carry his name you’ve sold out any claim to his righteousness. Your father was a great man while you were just a bean-counter. — (name withheld)

A lot of people seem to want to be the owner and “boss” but few understand what that really means. For the Captive Plastics reference it meant either signing my name to the $800,000 personal guarantee in place to a very unhappy bank after my father passed away or having them simply call the loan that was already in trouble. From my perspective, with almost nothing in my personal bank account — what’s another $800,000 going to mean on the short ride to zero? Basically I was all in whether I wanted to be or not and one of the first things I did at the time was reduce my salary to $1,000 a year. Yes, that’s not a typo. Assuming a weekly pay, my pre-tax income was a stunning $19.23 a week — why bother? I still needed medical coverage and this was the best way for me to achieve that. For those that are unclear on the timing the unhappy bank and failed performance were in place before I took over the business when my father passed away — so, yes, my personal mourning period needed to be put on hold as well.

When Lincoln Mold got in trouble it was a much smaller business that, despite years of trying to pivot, could never seem to find a new path to profitability. During those years of no profitability I stopped taking any income from the business. Thankfully the successful turnaround of Captive Plastics gave me the ability to cover the over $1,000,000 in liability of the defined benefit plan. This was true even after selling off all of the assets of the business, including the real estate, and using those proceeds to pay down the debt. Writing this now I am realizing, just from the ‘bean-counter’ perspective, this situation was a lot worse in magnitude than the first one I was in nearly 20 years ago. With no hope of a turnaround I would have been living a much different life now if I did not have the bank account to cover that liability.

So what does all of this have to do with a startup business? A read on Quora seemed to sum it up when someone asked, “How do founders pay their bills after they quit their full time jobs but are still seeking for investment in their startups?”, Ivan Mojsilovic, CEO & co-founder at Yanado.com responded with:

1. eggs for breakfast every day

2. cheap coffee for lunch

3. eggs for dinner (if you’re tired of eggs, skip dinner)

4. no restaurants

5. no new clothes

6. no cars (public transportation or walking)

7. no sex (this was hard)

8. bills, what bills? (it’s sucks not paying bills, but what a hell)

You would be surprised on how little money you can live on.

…and Sam Rosenthal added:

9. When we want entertainment, we go to places with no admissions. Parks and friends houses. I never knew how many great parks there are in my area until we had no money.

10. If a vital appliance breaks, we (my wife and I) become that appliance. I am now an expert dishwasher with a John-Henry-like ability to outdo even the most advanced dish cleansing apparatus! Though I suspect using a lot more water.

11. Any new big items we make ourselves. I’m making my son his first bed because, it seems, the littler the bed the more expensive. Lumber is cheap.

12. Invest in caffeine drenched products. I get up early to spend time with the kids and go to sleep late dealing with household stuff (some mentioned above).

13. Become an expert at the budget. Luckily, my wife handles this. As the author mentioned for #8, sometimes people will be payed later because that’s the only option.

#7 is still somewhat of an issue given the general level of exhaustion for the both of us. However, we’ve had some luck with strict scheduling. Though this too may well not be enough when, for example, one of us falls asleep reading to the kids. Kids beds and rocking chairs can be surprisingly comfortable and the mate knows it’s just better to let the other sleep than to stick to an intimacy schedule.

You do all of the above and if you get it right — be it a startup or a turnaround — the rewards can be huge. Huge as in a large section of the population would call them unfair.

You do all of the above and if you get it wrong — be it a startup or a turnaround — and the consequences can be devastating. If Captive did not turnaround to profitability it would have been personal bankruptcy. Even if I managed to get out of that hole there would have been most likely no way to get out next one Lincoln Mold would turn into just 20 years later.

Either way, while you are doing it life is hard. You need to find someway to either like, or at least tolerate, getting punched in the face all of the time. I didn’t go the egg route but rice and boxed Kraft Mac & Cheese became my best friends. Vacation only happened when the flames went down low enough so there was only smoke visible — and with that only as far as the car could take you with a few hours of driving providing you did not stay too long. Bottom line is being in failure mode or startup mode is not a sustainable place to be. Yes, there are dim bulbs in the leadership sphere that try to live the highlife as Rome burns but let’s discount those special kinds of stupid for this story.

Circuit City was founded in 1949 and 60 years later it was liquidated in Chapter 7. In some ways a business is like a life — some days are better than others but everyday forward is also one step closer to your death. Business has the fortune, through the right leadership, to keep pushing the span of its life further and further out. Kodak, Polaroid, Blockbuster, Borders, Tower Records, Circuit City, Pan Am, DHL, Eastern Airlines, Lionel Corporation, RCA, E.F. Hutton, Compaq, TWA, Arthur Andersen, F.W. Woolworth Company, Enron, Bear Stearns, etc, all got into trouble for various reasons. (Did you know Foot Locker is all that survives from F.W. Woolworth Company?) What about companies like Wesabe, Color, Pay By Touch, SearchMe, Joost, Cuil, Boo.com, Reactrix Systems, Spiralfrog, Friendster, etc? The list of startups that fail is far longer than mature companies that go out of business but the main difference is they have not been around long enough for most people to remember who they were even though their history is far more recent.

Luck helps a lot and the brutal fact of entrepreneurship is its not for everyone. It cannot be taught, it is a tough road, and the odds are so much against you that for those who try most are self-selected out quickly. You need to be in a place of total responsibility for the outcome — be it good or bad — while at the same time have the brutal self awareness to know what you suck at and where, and how, to call in for help. If you catch someone doing it right, do take the time to thank them for making it past the odds and supporting the lives of the so very many they touch.

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(Originally posted on Medium)

The number one thing that’s going to change your life…

U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on Feb. 23, 1945. Strategically located only 660 miles from Tokyo, the Pacific island became the site of one of the bloodiest, most famous battles of World War II against Japan.  (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)

The only thing, that will change your life, change your business, change your money, change your relationship, is you must raise your standard. Now I know that sounds boring, stupid, basic, but it’s the truth.

The only thing that changes our life long term is when we raise our standards. What does that mean? That sounds so boring and dumb. It means that all of us in life have things we want. We don’t get what we want, we get what we have. Remember what I said earlier, we all get what we tolerate in ourselves and other people, but when you’re no longer willing to tolerate something that’s when your life changes. The difference in people is their standards, period. The difference in people is their standards, period, and what do I mean by standards? Everyone in the world has a list of things they think they should do. I should lose weight. I should work out. I should spend more time with my kids. I should work harder. I should make more calls. I should. I should. I should. I should, and then you know what, people don’t do their shoulds, and they get mad at themselves, and they what I call “should all over themselves.” They beat themselves up about it. What changes people is when you’re should becomes a must. When suddenly the thing you said should happen has to happen. That’s when human beings change. It’s like, if you want to take the island, and you’re the head of the Army, the most powerful way to take the island is to burn the boats, because if there’s no way to go back it’s amazing what happens when it’s a must to do something versus the should. That’s what makes human beings succeed. — Tony Robbins

It took five weeks for the US Marines to capture the island of Iwo Jima. It took me a lot longer to change my own life and thankfully without anything close to that amount of risk. My Tony Robbins story is a long one that started with a visit many years ago from a high school classmate. We graduated MIT together, class of 1986, and it was he himself who used to joke that the only reason he was accepted to MIT was the need to make a quota for a specific minority. Now he is standing in front of me telling a story of how he is living on a boat in Hawaii while helping to turnaround businesses. What? …and that I should look into the teachings of this guy called Tony Robbins who wrote a book called Unlimited Power. What the what?

It was intriguing enough to make me go out and buy the book after which it promptly sat in my closet for the several years that followed. Somewhere in between the subject of Tony Robbins came up in reference to the things we should be doing in human resources at the family business where, for the most part, further discussion was dismissed because he was largely thought of charlatan by the head of HR.

In the years that followed I was faced with my own business turn around and the interim COO I brought in at the time wanted to go down to Florida and attend one of Tony’s seminars called UPW to “see if there are any chinks in this guy’s armor.” He wanted me to go with him and my health was not in a position where I had the energy to even make that move, but, okay, I get it, it was time to read the book. Which I did and if you are wondering my COO came back with only praise for what he experienced.

Though I do not remember any details of the book exactly, I know got sucked in deep enough to order the Personal Power CDs (they were probably on cassette at the time, and, yes, they were probably purchased from one of those infamous late night TV infomercials that the “the guy with the big head and big teeth” was running constantly in those days) and that is where the momentum started to build. Going through nearly all of the program with deep dive attention it was like I literally woke up from being asleep for most of my life. It was a year or two later when I finally made it down to, coincidentally Florida again, to attend my first UPW seminar where my journey with Tony truly began in the full technicolor glory that I describe going to a live event is as compared to the B&W silent movie version of the multimedia products.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” — Jim Rohn

To say I raised my standards may be true but more precisely I no longer accepted standards that were lower than I what I knew now I was capable of achieving. I believe Jim Rohn’s statement to be true with the only change of adding yourself to that average. In other words, before the people you spend time with can lift you up you need to change yourself. I should lose weight — starting with what I am putting into my body. I should be more financially secure — starting with wasting less time on Facebook and in front of the TV. I should make more of my life — starting with investing in the talents within me. You all ready have people supporting your existing standards. If you don’t you wouldn’t be where you are today. If you are not happy with where you are start with yourself. Raise those shoulds into musts. Then look for the people who might be just outside of your existing circle for help. You already know who some of them are. Reach for their hand to get out of the hole and they will in turn lead you to others that will take you even further. I, myself, would not be in a position to have written any of these Medium stories without going through this process and for anyone who asks, and for a lot that don’t, I tell them I have Tony Robbins to thank for starting me down that road.

“Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” — Leo Buscaglia

As a side note, one of the most memorable experiences of going to UPW for the first time was seeing the range of people that were changed by the experience. One person described himself as only being alive because he decided to go to the event rather than use the gun in the nightstand to kill himself. Others had very successful lives who wanted to take them even further. For myself, all I knew is that something more was waiting for me in this life. I didn’t know what it was but I wasn’t looking to waste another year ending up in basically the same place I started with the only progress being one less year left to do something about it. I also had the simple perspective that if someone could use these strategies to turn around a life that was close to being ended from one’s own hand — imagine where I could go starting from a place seemingly already much further ahead. Now almost 20 years later I am living a life I could not even have dreamed of back then and I mean this literally. One day I am going to find that original workbook from the seminar and wonder to myself if I would could even be friends with the person I was back then. Yes, today I would still reach down the hole to try to lift my former self up but the real question in this intellectual trip is would my former self have taken that hand to get out? Without the help of Tony Robbins, sadly the answer would probably have been “no.”

(Originally posted on Medium)