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Got Grit?

May 4th, 2016

Seeing grit in action in one of the grittiest places on the planetGrit

In her Ted talk and new book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth explores why some people – entrepreneurs, students, rookie teachers in the urban core or West Point cadets – succeed. Her answer? Grit. Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” even in the face of challenges.

I’ve been thinking about grit and entrepreneurship lately. I saw a lot of both on a recent project in Malawi, Africa. In the literal sense, rural Malawi is one of the grittiest environments on the planet. The average per capita income is $255 a year. Most homes are one-room huts with no electricity or running water, and the red-clay soil fills your shoes, if you have a pair, with grit.

Grit may be a teachable or learnable trait in developed economies, but it’s a daily survival skill in Malawi. Here are three examples, among the dozens I observed, of grit in action.

Solar-Charged Opportunity: Traditional communications infrastructure has limited reach, but mobile phone use is pervasive. People who did not have access to electricity or running water in their homes eagerly showed me photos of their children on their phones. In most villages, it’s easy to spot the entrepreneur who runs the mobile phone-charging business: just look for the hut with the solar panel propped against a milk crate in the front yard.

A Recipe for Perseverance: Michael supports his five children and relatives by preparing meals for visiting project teams – a skill he learned during a 9-year stint cooking for a Dutch family. Late one afternoon, the guest house lost access to water and electricity while Michael was preparing dinner. He quickly shifted gears and built a charcoal fire outside. With the help of candles and my flashlight, he finished preparing the meal on the kitchen stoop. Then he mounted his bike for the hour-long commute, in pitch darkness, to his village. True grit.

The Next Big Fish: I first observed English at the Lake Malawi shoreline, chatting with the fisherman preparing their boats and nets for night fishing. The next morning, I found him on the guest house porch with the work of the village painters and carvers he represents displayed for sale. A day later, he was back with fresh-caught fish from the boats he represents. English is a salesman who gets results. He works from sunrise to sundown because his goal is to buy a boat, hire fisherman and run his own fishing operation.

Grit requires sticking with the hard tasks and working hard to make future goals a reality. By that definition, some of the grittiest people I’ve ever observed live in the rural villages of Malawi.

Got Grit? If you’re curious about your own grit quotient, check out Duckworth’s Grit Scale.

Got Goals? Five Ways to Stay on Track in 2015

January 5th, 2015

Several years ago, I visited a friend in London. On New Year’s Eve, we had dinner at a local bistro, and then did something I had never done: we sipped champagne and set goals for the coming year. Not resolutions, but career and business goals. It’s a tradition I continue to observe.

Setting goals is challenging enough – but the real work is keeping your goals from unravelling as the year unfolds. Here are a few tips for keeping your 2015 goals on track.

  1. Document your Goals

The often-cited “Harvard Goals Study” suggests that people with clear written goals achieve more and earn more than those who don’t. Putting your goals into a form that you can review and revise is key to staying on track. Not a writer? Consider developing a visual infographic or mood board to capture the intent of your goals. You can also use goal-setting software tools, such as the ones listed here.

  1. Set Interim Outcomes

Let’s say your business revenue was $5 million in 2014 and your goal is to increase revenue by 30% in 2015. What might that look like on a monthly or quarterly basis? For example, you might set a monthly revenue goal for the first quarter of 2015 that is less than a 30% increase. Chances are you’ll need the first quarter to put processes in place and manage your learning curve as you work towards your goals.

  1. Review Your Goals Weekly

Whether you’ve written your goals down, developed an infographic or loaded them into software, set a weekly appointment review them, assess the past week’s activities and define actions you can take during the coming week.  

  1. Take Daily Action

What can I do – right here, right now – that supports the goals I’ve set? Asking yourself this simple question on a daily basis is a powerful way to keep yourself on track. For example, re-engaging with a lapsed prospect instead of having lunch with a friend you see regularly might be a better use of your goal-focused time.

  1. Benchmark Opportunities to Your Goals

It’s called Bright Shiny Object Syndrome. You’ve set your goals, and then you get distracted by a new idea, or a shot-in-the-dark possibility. When an idea or opportunity surfaces, test it against your goals with the following questions:

  • Does this idea or opportunity bring me closer to achieving my goals?
  • How do I know this?
  • Is pursuing this idea/opportunity the best use of my time, compared to what I could be doing?
  • How will pursing this idea/opportunity affect current projects or initiatives that support my goals?

An update on New Year’s Eve in London: my friend wanted to launch a business in a warm climate near the ocean, and her goal that year was to relocate to a beachfront community. She now runs a successful real estate company in Florida.