Category Archives: focus

Sink your ships

This post is inspired by a presentation I attended last summer by Mitch Joel, a brilliant marketer who has a wonderful blog over at Six Pixels of Separation.

Mitch told the story of legendary explorer Captain Hernando Cortés. In July 1519, Cortés and a small army left the Spanish held island of Cuba and set out on one of the greatest conquests in the history of the world.

In order to eliminate escape by some of his men still loyal to the Governor of Cuba, Cortés “scuttled” or intentionally sank his ships. Some historical accounts incorrectly claim Cortés burned the ships. The method of destruction doesn’t really matter – the point is, there was no going back.

This time of year, a lot of us are making New Year’s resolutions and trying to stick to them.

Think of Cortés and his choice to sink his ships. How can you “sink your ships” to make sure you stick to your goals?

If one of your goals is to eat better, throw away all the food in the house that doesn’t fit the healthier eating plan. (People eat what they have on hand, so healthy eating at home really happens at the grocery store.)

Are you trying to spend less or get out of debt? Cut up all your credit cards and only pay cash for discretionary purchases.

Do you want to watch less television and workout more? Sell your TV.

Do you want to travel more but find it hard to plan or take vacation at the last minute? Plan and book your vacations now and tell your friends and family. It’s unlikely you’ll cancel.

Do you want to start exploring social media for your company but don’t have the money? Cancel any ineffective traditional advertising and re-allocate the budget to finding someone to help you explore these new channels.

What are your goals? What ships you can sink?

You’re just like Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

I’ve never been very good at golf. I’ve always played different sports and I could usually pick them up fairly easily and be adequate without a great deal of practice.

Not golf.

I would play a couple times a year. My friends would call when their 4th player canceled or they were desperate. They knew I was a hack and was likely to spend as much time in the woods as on the fairways.

I recently decided I wanted to get better at golf. My uncle John talked very highly of a golf instructor on Long Island named Victor Romano. John insisted that if I was serious about improving, that I drive out to Long Island and take lessons with Victor.

Victor is a wizard. In the matter of only a few lessons, he has helped my swing immensely and has fixed some major flaws. I still have a long way to go but I’m starting to see improvements.

Victor has a metaphor for golf improvement he calls “moving the bell curve”.

The metaphor is one of a 100 golf shots. Every swing a golfer takes, they reach into this metaphorical bucket and take out a ball. Ball #1 is the best shot they could possibly hit that day, given their skill level. Ball #100 is the worst. Plot those 100 shots and you get a representative bell curve of that golfer’s current skill level.

When you’re starting out, the bell curve is very wide. The #1 shot is probably OK and the #100 shot might be a complete whiff.

Bell Curve

As you gets slightly better, the #1 – 5 shots are quite a bit better but the worst #90 – #100 shots are still embarrassing shanks.

As you continue to improve, the #1 – #5 shots get even better, the medium shots get a little better and the worst shots aren’t quite as bad but #99 and #100 are probably still ones you would rather forget.

This is true for me and it’s true for you and it’s true for Tiger Woods. When Tiger Woods shoots a 76 (a terrible day for him), he hit some of the worst shots possible on his bell curve.

After working with Victor, my best shot (my #1) is almost as good as Tiger’s worst shot (his #100). That means the best shot I can hit out of 100 is comparable to the worst shot Tiger Woods hits.

The point of Victor’s metaphor is this.

Golfers always make excuses for the way they played a certain hole or a certain round. If they shot a great score on the front nine but played poorly on the back nine, they blame it on exhaustion or the fact that it was getting dark. If they hit a huge slice into the pond, they blame it on the fact that they pulled their head or that new wedge that they just haven’t figured out yet.

They’re wrong.

Their skill level is at a certain point. On a bad day, they hit more balls from the higher end of their bell curve.

The purpose of practice, in golf and many other endeavors, is to move the bell curve.

Chris Brogan and Seth Godin write new blog posts every day. Some posts are better than others but their last 100 are significantly better than their first 100. Through practice, over time, they have dramatically moved their blog quality bell curve. Following their lead, that’s what I’m trying to do as well.

Pick a skill in your business or personal life, what is your #1 ball? What is your #100?

How can you improve and move your own bell curve?

[Photo credit: Paul Gallegos / PR Photos]



From Kelly, a really cool post about Parkour, a really cool sport.

My favorite is Kelly’s quote to wrap the post:

Gives me chills. My entire girlhood, my entire life, might have been so different in so many ways if I’d had any of this when I needed self-confidence, when I needed to be living in and learning my body rather than being so wary of it. Oh, the possibilities.

And with some practice…walls become ladders and obstacles disappear….

The underlying metaphor of Parkour that obstacles aren’t always obstacles and anything is possible.

If you have a child, please teach them this. Parkour is one good way to do so.

Stacking dominoes


Remember stacking dominoes as a kid? As long as you stack them close enough together, they’ll all fall down because they are the same size and weight.

Think of your competing priorities & projects as dominoes that are not the same size. Some are much larger and heavier. Some are smaller and lighter.

If you stack them in the right order, the momentum from the completion of one tips the others. But if you stack the smallest dominoes first, they won’t tip the larger ones. You’ll be stuck.

Will one successful product launch fund the next three?

Will one critical sale help close the next ten?

Lay out all your projects. Identify competing priorities. Determine how to stack them so that the success of the first sets off a chain reaction.

Stack the dominoes. Then focus manically on tipping the first one.

Hit ‘em where they ain’t

The first time I heard this advice from my Dad, he was teaching me (a right hander) to bat left handed. At the time, I was still young enough and naive enough to think that he invented the phrase.

In fact it was coined by Wee Willie Keeler, a great hitter in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and at 140 pounds and maybe 5 feet, 4 inches, one of the smallest players ever in professional baseball.

The point is, you can hit the ball hard but if you hit it right at someone, it’s a likely out. Alternatively, you can hit the ball softly, but if you place it between fielders, it’s a sure hit.

It’s true in baseball and it’s true in business.

Sam Walton opened his first store in Rogers, Arkansas. The second store was in Harrison, Arkansas, population 6000. His eighth store was his first outside of Arkansas, in the thriving metropolis of Sikeston, Missouri. Sam hit ‘em where KMart and Woolworth weren’t. By the time he has expanded to the same markets as the leaders, Wal-Mart had the profits, growth and momentum to compete, and eventually crush KMart and Woolworth.

Before you buy a plane ticket to Arkansas, understand that “where they ain’t” doesn’t necessarily mean geography. In the 1950s and 1960s, Joe Flom hit ‘em where they weren’t by taking on the work that the traditional, white-shoe law firms disdained: litigation and proxy fights. By helping position his law firm, Skadden Arps as M&A specialists, Flom and his partners dominated when relaxed federal regulations and the internationalization of markets in the 1970s resulted in a boom in the number and size of corporate takeovers. By carving out the niche and doing the work nobody wanted to, when the tidal wave hit, Flom and his partners were the default experts. Being experts in the complex world of M&A allowed Skadden Arps to spread into every area of old-line work and by 1989 had gross revenues of $517.5 million dollars, making them at the time, the world’s richest law firm.

Whether geography or area of focus, listen to Wee Willie Keeler and hit ‘em where they ain’t.