I personally think not. Yes, it makes good news. The occupy Wall St. thing was indeed a thing. The bad 1% of the so called “rich” 1% (for those doing real math ‘1%’ is actually 0.01%) make up 99% of that news — for the 80/20 rule on that one. To make matters a little more ironic the people in the United States who actively complain about being in the 99% are, in all factual terms, really already in the 1% if you look at it from a world wide perspective. For the most part, however, the money is a side effect of what I refer to in my mind as “being plugged in.” It is a concept that works for both the local and global levels. First, let’s talk about the global concept…
My father passed away a little more than 20 years ago and if my some miracle he were to be resurrected today he would be walking around in dumbfounded amazement for probably months just trying to take in all of the science fiction around him. Flat TVs (where did that tube go?), GPS (something can really tell you where you are on the planet?), seeing just about anything you want on “TV” without an antenna — or even a subscription to cable, looking up just about anything on any subject or anyone right from your phone, oh, and that phone…they too have changed a bit over that time period as well. The list would go on far further than I would be able to create for, as that frog being killed in the water being brought to a slow boil, I lived through that change on an incremental basis.
That change, however, is the opportunity and it is coming far faster and stronger than it has over the 20 years that have past. As Peter Diamandis says “Want to be a Billionaire? Solve a Billion-Person problem.” Peter even went as far to co-found an institution that centers around the idea of accessing this opportunity. Singularity University’s mission is to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.
I have to laugh at some of the people around me who say they don’t do Facebook, Twitter, etc, because to me what they are really saying is they want to stay where they are and let the world change around them. Not that you must have a Facebook account but rather you need to know the context of what those services are providing and what is possible going forward. You need to be plugged in. Trying to sell something to a target range of people and don’t know what a Facebook “dark post” is? Then you already lost the game.
Is being unplugged an option? Of course it is. For some people it is the option that will make them the happiest. The real equation that every person needs to solve is:
Q: Am I complaining about my personal situation and my ability to provide, or otherwise deliver fulfillment, to myself and those who rely on me?
If the answer is “Yes”, then you need to get plugged in. If the answer is “No”, then don’t worry, be happy. Fortunately, for any answering “Yes” to this question it takes very little money to get plugged in. It does, however, take time, and most likely a shift on what you believe is possible. As with any problem based on personal psychology this could indeed be far more difficult to acquire than the money you believe is the missing piece.
More recently I saw this question asked on Quora: “What kind of mentality differentiates billionaires from millionaires, and “ordinary people”?”
The answer Alex Moore gave resonates, at least to some degree, with my thoughts above:
I live and work in Tech/SF/Silicon Valley. I know a few billionaires, a TON of millionaires and even more ordinary folks.
The main thing I see, at least in the tech community is that millionaires tend to be really good at understanding systems of value creation (AKA successful startups) and placing themselves into those systems effectively. They smartly interview for and get great jobs in these companies. They not only do that, but they are smart enough to understand the culture being put into place and they take on the values of that culture and expand those values. They go out and recruit their smart friends and add to the cult. Over laced on this mindset is the idea that the world is a semi-set place. It’s changing, but they view basically their role as something where they can take part in it all. The difference here then between millionaires and billionaires is quit vast.
Billionaires (AKA the founders of these few companies) tend to view the world as a tangibly fungible place. Billionaires see the world and want to move the puzzle pieces entirely around. They look for the faults in the ecosystem and identify massive holes and what could be added to take that value. Then they spend about 10 years maniacally attacking the gap, organizing people, recruiting and generally creating a cult. They create a bible so to speak of values and ideas that bundle together in an appealing way to attract other smart people (aka the future millionaires). The billionaires I know don’t look forward to the weekend. They don’t drink. They work from 5am to midnight everyday including weekends. They don’t socialize with friends, they mix friends and work. It’s all one big chain that supports their vision of the future and tying up the value. This is a different internal programming. It’s admirable. Most folks actually rely on these billionaire groups to get their own jobs.
I think then the last group of “ordinary” folks are simply disconnected from these valuable new parts of the economy. What do you do if you live in Trent, Michigan today? The auto plants around you are closing. It’s tough to be a billionaire potential person in that environment, but 100 years ago in 1912 it was actually possible. Ask the Ford family about this.
So overall, location, timing, industry and proximity can come into play. Tech is what’s happening now, but other industries happened before. 1950s Texas oil well drilling, 1910s autos Michigan, 2010s Silicon Valley. There is much to discuss, but the mindset pieces are the key and may be universal.
Now let’s talk about the local concept that is about money… There is a story that many people do not want to talk about — especially in the United States. That is, how much we spend on things we have either justified ‘needing’ or otherwise spend simply because the money is somehow available. The book The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy is a recommended read and defines an Under Accumulator of Wealth (UAW) as an individual who has a low net wealth compared to their income. A person is an “Under Accumulator of Wealth” if their net worth is less than the product of their age and one tenth of their realized pretax income. Take for example a 50-year-old earning $50,000, according to the formula they should have (50*50,000*10%) or about $250,000 in net worth. If their net worth is lower, they are an “Under Accumulator.”
Look, I’m not going to tell you I’m extremely successful, and many will probably think that what I’m going to describe comes with age.
I began to work at 13 years old (in an official 40 hour job during the summer) and held various other jobs in weekends. After receiving my paychecks I would go straight to the mall and waste all of my money on clothes, the latest gadgets, shoes, sunglasses, and things I basically did not need. I had Abercrombie and Fitch jackets, jeans and shirts bought retail at the mall. I had a couple of pairs of Lacoste shoes, and pretty much everything I thought would make me look cool.
What did wasting all of my money on pointless materialistic things do for me? Absolutely nothing.
My success story, after reading “Rich Dad Poor Dad”, was to pay close attention on what I was spending my money on. People look at me today and say I’m “cheap” because I don’t have the latest iPhone, tablet or computer; wear simple clothes (I apply what Steve Jobs did and wear 1 style shirt always to keep my life simple); don’t like to go out to movies, or eat out a lot.
Yes, I’m no longer “cool”, but I’m no longer broke either. I read somewhere that 50% of Americans couldn’t come up with $2,000 in case of an emergency. Now, I don’t know if that figure is true or not, but I’m glad to say that I’m not part of that group. I’m also glad to say that, even though I’m only 21, I have a decent savings account, retirement account, life insurance plan, investment accounts and diversified investments in gold, silver and palladium.
Like I said, I’m not rich but I consider the knowledge I gained after reading “Rich Dad Poor Dad” a success because wasting hard earned money was not going to lead me anywhere anytime soon.
Be it being plugged in, controlling spending, or more likely some combination of the two, the bottom line is they are not degrees you suddenly graduate to and can then relax within. They are not special clubs you need to pass tests to join or otherwise have accumulated status to become a part of. No, instead, like maintaining health, they are life styles you either have or do not. It is a personal choice no one can ever stop you from making and at the same time it isn’t easy.
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
― Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own
Perhaps another separating factor at the local level is personal integrity. Let’s leave the philosophical right and wrong out and focus, instead, on congruency. The simple act of actually doing what you say you are going to do places one in the 1%. Think of the elation you have when someone actually calls you back on an important issue within a specified time frame. That thrill is there because it has become a rare quality that has value — a lot of value. The ability to execute is everything…and perhaps even more.
I don’t having any fear in disclosing my secrets to B teamers because they are not going to end up completing with me. — Chris Sacca
What does this mean? Forget C players — they are not even in the game. B players are not important because even if you lay the playbook on them they cannot fake being A players.
Fine, but it actually goes beyond that…which is the point I never really thought about before. If I teach you my secrets you are naturally going to be an ally of mine going forward. We will end up doing deals together and you will actually enhance my own ability to execute.
The troublesome fact of life, however, is I am not sure there is a road to upgrade to the next level. You might be an A player stuck in a B place (most likely not a C place) and need a nudge to get out but I wonder if there is really a way to otherwise upgrade.
I think the closest memory of formal education doing a good job for myself was at MIT. Organic chemistry, which I thankfully never had the misfortune to experience, was notorious for memorization. Whereas, for nearly every other course, when exam time came around you could bring your notes, books, and calculators because that was not what you were going to be graded on. What you were graded on was how well you can apply the material to new problems. You had no choice but to be an A player or be selected out of the college itself.
With the pace of the world today is it has become almost impossible for formal education to keep up with current needs. Acquiring the ability to learn on your own is no longer an option. Thinking you can do anything entirely by yourself is becoming less of an option as well. Being an A player is a moving target and the only way to stay there is being surrounded by other A players.
Another powerful force in the world that keeps growing and tries to wrap its long tendrils around your neck is distraction. Some times it can be confused with a lack of attention to detail…for example: I send an email to someone saying all I need to get this done for you is a, b, and c. The reply I get back is the answer to ‘a’ but no mention or action on b and c. Did you read it? Did you not care? Did you not have the time? No, it was not some long ass email I sent you that I do not expect anyone to read but a rather “to the point” attempt at making your job easier and all I get back is a brain itch. A players work at the edge of their limits but never allow themselves to fall off the cliff into mediocrity.
The Most Important Word
If you find yourself lost to those around you who seem to be moving too fast and have no desire to catch up… If you find yourself being asked more than once for things that are key in getting the goals in front of you done… If you hold your ideas and methods close in fear of others stealing from you…and you want to be part of the “A Team,” then my advice to you is to find a way to be happy as a B or C player because it simply is not going to happen.
I made an interesting observation the other day when talking to someone who was looking at sending their first child to a private, “independent,” school. They said they only really have two options in their local area and if one, in particular, proves out on a financial stability check then that would be their choice.
Having gone through the process before I highly recommended visiting other schools that are outside of their implied commuting radius of comfort. It was a valuable experience to my that I still remember quite well even some 15 years plus later. Having never been in the private school system before it gave me a wonderful view of the landscape to a ecosystem I would be committing almost two decades to going forward.
I specifically said to them that I did not expect it to change their perspective of only having ‘two choices’ but it would expand their understanding, as it did for me, as to where their decision fit into the larger options the world around them has to offer.
Well… they looked at me like I had nine heads. If they only had two choices why would they ever look elsewhere?
Thinking about this conversation in the weeks that followed I realized it is how my brain works on nearly all matters. I want to know what is outside my reach. I want to know the options that I perceive to be below my standards as well. I want to know the spectrum of possibilities to be better connected, informed, and able to expand to the ‘next level’ if life ever opens its doors of opportunity to allow me to do so. On top of this I always get a further appreciation of the abilities and connections I have today.
The brain is an expert filtering machine. Train it to filter things into importance. Do not cheat yourself out opportunities that come your way because preconceived misconceptions of what you think is important. You just might find that some of those things you marked as out of reach with your brain, but took into your heart with complete and glorious ignorance, become closer over time. Closer to the point where, if you still chose to do so, you can make them real for your brain as well.
When founding a new business you are in the unique position where every decision is indeed your own. Now that you beat the odds and are in that special 10% of businesses that don’t fail shortly out of the gate you will be faced with one of the most difficult prospects in leadership — giving up total control.
To be successful beyond a one man band you need to hire a great team and realize that, no matter what culture alignment you may have created at your baby’s birth, people are different. Keep alignment with top level company goals and values and leave the solutions of future problems to the hands of the team you hired. As former Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Two clear signs you are looking to join the ranks of the other 90% are:
Asking your team an opinion on something you have already decided on and are not willing to change. In other words — giving people a false choice. Like the parent asking a child, “Would you rather hold my hand, or wander out on your own into traffic and get yourself killed?” You are not actually, hopefully, giving them option ‘B’. Worse yet, as illustrated, when you go down this road there is a tendency to stack the option deck so the only ‘valid’ choice is to choose what you have already decided is best by default. It doesn’t work for raising kids and it will not work for raising a team to take your business beyond where it was possible for you to do alone.
Homer Simpson: Aw, you can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forfty percent of all people know that.
If you are really dug in and the first option doesn’t work another sure fire backup plan is to find people on your side. You will find them. That’s the beauty of this backup plan. The problem, however, is now you have started down a road of division amongst the ranks. Subconsciously you will be biased in the future to lean more on your supporters for feedback when it is most likely someone from the rest that will be giving you the best advice.
The good news is that these signs don’t need to be followed. Pay attention. Be selfaware. If you see yourself going down these paths and know it is not the way to achieve greatness — then do something about it! Unless you actually are Elon Musk then being the smartest person in the room is the first sign your team needs an upgrade. You cannot realize achievement beyond your own limits without others doing things better than you could ever dream of.
My father started a business in 1969. It was in the plastics industry and, yes, the “The Graduate” was right:
Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Benjamin: Yes, sir. Mr. McGuire: Are you listening? Benjamin: Yes, I am. Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean? Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
It was a business that was successful from literally the year after its founding until 17 years later when it started to falter. Those early signs of weakness turned into the first massive loss of money in 1991. Then, just two short years later my father passed away after a very short, and unexpected, battle with cancer.
An only child graduating with a degree in Electrical Engineering I spent the six years previous to his death learning about different parts of the business. I spent time in a number of different departments and even spent a short while on the factory floor — not as a manager but someone working the equipment. The hands on time certainly made me no expert in the industry but it did give me at least some appreciation for the day to day and where the money is being made, and now lost. My father was doing his best to retire during those years and relied on other people to engage my learning. A mentor of what his success was and what drove him he was not.
Days after saying goodbye to him I named myself CEO and the President in place at that time COO. We did not have those subtitles previously — my father was simply the Chairman (of the board) and he had a President running the business. With my father now gone the bank, who was obviously worried about the current and future performance of the business, moved quickly to say, “These are the documents to assign the $800,000 personal guarantee from your father to yourself. Please sign…” For a family that had everything invested in the business any kind of personal guarantee was a laughable concept and besides—what else was there to do? No other bank would take the business and if they did not have what they wanted the loan would have been called. In other words, I could sign it, risk the failure of the business and lose everything, or not sign it, and walk away without anything.
So, there I stood with literally everything on the line. I knew I personally did not have the operating skill to take over the business—that was part of my rational for taking the CEO title. More importantly I knew did not want to learn the skills needed to take over the operating responsibility. No, it was not laziness, rather it just was something I knew deep inside I would not be able to be good at. Thus, I knew I had to rely heavily on someone who had those skills and it was my belief that the current president and I could work together to turn the business around.
Though I do not recall the exact time frame it was not long after everything was settled with my father’s passing that the president called me into his office and explained his history prior to joining the company, his work at the company building the business over the years in different areas while it was growing rapidly, to finally rising to the position that he was in today as president responsible for all operations. He wanted me to understand how hard everyone worked to get the business to where it is today. He acknowledged the difficulties we were facing financially but if we just work harder he knew we would be able to once again return to being a profitable company. Sitting there it was kind of like hearing a driver describe how they started out on a straight highway traveling without a worry in the world for 17 years and then having to slow down to read the “bridge closed” ahead signs. Up ahead I could now clearly see the bridge is not closed but it is literally gone, and in front of me is the driver saying if we just speed up again everything will be okay. That straight line thinking from the success of the past would not get us over the chasm of doom that was now in front of us.
Then came the moment of decision in the form of a question from him. He asked, “…and why are you the CEO and I am the COO?” Meaning, not that I should take his place, but rather why he was not named both President and CEO. It was this instant that I knew without a doubt that I had to find a new driver. I am sure he never understood what happened at that moment. I did not feel threatened. I did not care what was on my business card. I only had one thing in my field of vision—getting around the bridge that was out and I did not care who would find the answer. What I did know at that moment was the answer would not be coming from him so we parted ways.
Of course that idea freaked everyone out for as I mentioned earlier I had no intent to take over his position. Everyone was now in a panic mode wondering how we could possibly survive without a leader for operations. (A ‘leader’ that micromanaged down to approving magazine subscriptions for his direct reports) I did not know what was next but now I knew at least one thing for sure. We were no longer heading blindly for the bridge that was out. Yes, we still might, heck would probably, crash and burn in some horrible way in the months ahead but at least we would be trying something different. For as the title of this writing states: “It is more important to stop going in the wrong direction, than to know which direction is right.”
Those first steps in a new direction were over 20 years ago now. In case you are wondering — things worked out pretty well after all.