Become a Smart, Restrained Communicator Like Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, America’s founding father, statesman, and polymath, was a doyen of the self-improvement movement. His methods for self-mastery are worth taking a serious look at if you’re interested in getting better at anything in life.

In his wonderful Autobiography (1791,) Franklin discusses his once-foolish delight in spinning artful arguments and doggedly winning over his opponents.

Winning an Argument Aggressively is but a Short-term Ego Victory

'The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin' by Benjamin Franklin (ISBN 1492720941) As a young man, Franklin had a habit of fervently arguing his case in all matters and alienating people around him. He frequently ensnared his challengers with hard-hitting rhetoric:

I found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took a delight in it, practis’d it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved.

However, Franklin ultimately recognized that his take-no-prisoners approach of arguing was by no means endearing him to other people. His realized that his brash way of outwitting his challengers had been self-defeating.

Benjamin Franklin, Doyen of the Self-improvement Movement

Arguing, if it is to Be Constructive, Must Be Done Tactfully

In an attempt to develop amenable character traits, Franklin radically improved the way he interacted with others. He let go of all expressions of conceit and bold self-confidence. He stopped using words such as “certainly” and “undoubtedly” in his speaking and replaced them with phrases that signified personal opinions—for instance, “It appears to me, or I should think it so or so for such & such Reasons, or I imagine it to be so, or it is so if I am not mistaken.”

I continu’d this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engag’d in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner, you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire. [Alexander] Pope says, judiciously:

“Men should be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown propos’d as things forgot;”

farther recommending to us

“To speak, tho’ sure, with seeming diffidence.”

Learn to Resolve Important Issues through Sensible Discourse

'How to Win Friends & Influence People' by Dale Carnegie (ISBN 0671027034) Franklin realized that this measured conversation and gentler interactions was helpful in preventing conflicts and softening resistance in those he wanted to influence. He writes, “This Habit, I believe, has been of great Advantage to life, when I have had occasion to inculcate my Opinions & persuade Men into Measures I have been from time to time engag’d in promoting.”

This rule of skilful conversation and interpersonal relationships later became one of the foundational principles in Dale Carnegie‘s masterful self-help manual How to Win Friends and Influence People—specifically, that our ticket to success in life is the ability to make others feel good about themselves.

Persuasion is Not About Outmaneuvering Others and Proving Them Wrong

The ability to communicate effectively, plead your case, and influence others is one of the most useful skills for succeeding in the modern world.

  • Learn to resolve important issues through sensible and mindful discourse.
  • Be assertive where you must, but never aggressive.
  • Be open-minded, understand the other person’s perspective, and keep your emotions under control.
  • Never insult, disgrace, or cause the other person to lose face.

Views, opinions, and judgments can differ, and these can and should be discussed civilly. However, to debate such differences vigorously so as to cause bad feelings toward is not necessary and is almost always counterproductive.

Idea for Impact: Arguing for the sake of deciding a winner is never constructive. When an argument starts, persuasion stops.

Before Jumping Ship, Consider This

Don't Jump Ship in Frustration

Dissatisfied with your job? Considering jumping ship? There’s no guarantee your next job will be any better. Many people who jump ship in frustration run into the same problems that were an obstacle with previous employers.

Consider working on a solution before trying to jump ship. Try to discuss your future with your boss.

  • Examine your motivations. Insist on realism. Do you have clear goals and priorities? Step back and assess what’s happening in your career journey. Don’t have unrealistic assumptions.
  • Start with a plan. What specifically are you seeking to make your job better? How can you get it? If you feel your career has become stagnant, realize that people who stay in one function or one industry may move up quickly in the beginning of their careers but often reach a ceiling later when they become too specialized.
  • Be brutally candid with yourself. Make sure you’re capable of handling the roles and responsibilities you’re seeking. Determine if they’re available.
  • Meet formally with your boss to discuss your plan. Take the initiative to lead the discussion; unlike at a performance review, here you drive the discussion.
  • During the meeting, ask your boss to evaluate your skills and your potential. Hear him out. Use active listening—repeat what he said to make sure you understand each other.
  • Give the boss your perspectives after hearing his. Don’t be confrontational. Try to cooperate. Think before you respond: reacting too quickly will set your boss on the defensive and guarantee an argument.
  • Once you’ve agreed upon a solution, do everything to progress it. Example: One woman wanted to be reassigned to her company’s trade sales unit. At her own initiative, she attended her industry’s trade shows, developed contacts, and learned what was necessary to succeed in sales and marketing.
  • Don’t expect quick action: changes take a little time. Perhaps you may be happier with a lateral move: many people think that careers should follow an upward trajectory. In fact, most jobs transitions don’t entail a promotion. Most successful careers involve a mix of lateral and upward movement.

Idea for Impact: Try to ask for honest feedback about what’s holding you back from a promotion. You’ll find it easier to tackle career frustrations in a familiar environment at your current employer rather than at a new company where you’ll be under pressure to learn the ropes and produce results quickly.

The #1 Cost of Overwork is Personal Relationships

Is your career ruining your relationships?

There’s an old adage that no one ever said on his/her deathbed, “Gee, I wish I’d put more time in at the office.” Still, modern corporate life demands high-level performance for sustained periods.

Work has a tendency to capture people’s lives, leaving them out of focus and out of balance. Many people are working longer hours, often to the point of overlooking their individual needs: family, health, fitness, and home.

Is your career is ruining your relationships?

Personal relationships are often the first casualties of overwork. Hard workers are often in denial about the deterioration of their relationships. They unhesitatingly offer one of the many excuses that society seems to have sanctioned for overwork: “need to send the kids to private school,” “boss demands it,” “we’re experiencing quality problems and I’m making a good impression by firefighting”, “I’m keeping more patients alive,” and so forth. They are often the last to notice that their personal relationships are suffering.

As I mentioned in my article on willpower, many marriages go bad when stress at work is at its worst. This “muscle metaphor” for willpower, on a day-to-day basis, people use up all their willpower on the job; their home lives suffer because they give much to their work.

The time you do spend with your families can be more meaningful

'You Cant Predict a Hero' by Joseph Grano (ISBN 0470411678) Joe Grano, CEO of business consulting firm Centurion Holdings, used to work six days a week and almost every night. After years of slogging on Wall Street, his personal relationships worsened. Discussing how his ambition and long work hours led to his divorce (he had two daughters with his wife) in You Can’t Predict a Hero, Grano writes,

All successful, ambitious people are personally selfish to some degree. This goes beyond just the desire to pursue your self-interest in carving up the power and money in business. You can’t work the long hours that success requires and can’t set the individualistic priorities that ambition dictates without stealing somewhat from your loved ones. Some may think that a selfish perspective is rationalized with the rewards of money and prestige. Perhaps. But what if your loved ones don’t really care as much for those material rewards as you do? The truth is that successful people do what they do because they love doing it. The career is their passion, their mistress. It’s the adrenaline that drives their metabolism. The drive to spend those long hours working is as essential a part of their genetic makeup as is their DNA.

If you’re going to become a successful leader, you need to reconcile yourself to your own selfishness, not just the selfishness of others. Many of your peers will spend more time with their families than you do with yours. Finally, accept that the psychic rewards that come from your ambition and eventual success, while satisfying to you, may mean much less, if anything at all, to your loved ones. This is one of the prices of success. You’ll need to sacrifice on the amount of time you spend with your loved ones. Compensate by not sacrificing on the quality of that time.

Idea for Impact: Success doesn’t come without a price; neither does failure. With every choice comes consequences

What people really want and need is not work-life “balance,” but to live deeply satisfying lives both personally and professionally. The trick is a personal choice—to become more conscious of what and who matter most, and then to create the life you want.

Work-life balance isn’t so much about balance as it is about setting and living priorities. Remember, with every choice comes consequences.

A Little Known, but Powerful Technique to Fast Track Your Career: Theo Epstein’s 20 Percent Rule

Lessons on Career Advancement from 43 Year-old Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein

Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein's 20 Percent Rule for Career AdvancementTheo Epstein (b.1973), president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, has thus far had a stellar career as a sports executive.

As a freshman at Yale, Epstein was assertive enough to flaunt his role as a sports editor for the Yale student newspaper. After cold-contacting many professional sports teams to express interest in working for them, he grabbed the attention of a Yale alumnus at the Baltimore Orioles. This stroke of luck led to three consecutive summer-internships at the Orioles with increasing responsibilities.

After graduating from Yale with a degree in liberal arts, Epstein joined the Orioles full-time as a public relations assistant. His ingenuity caught the eye of Orioles President-CEO Larry Lucchino, who took Epstein under his wings. When Lucchino became team president of the San Diego Padres, he took Epstein and made him director of player development.

At Lucchino’s suggestion, Epstein also attended law school full-time whilst working 70 hour-weeks at the Padres. At that time, nobody on the small Padres’ management team had a law degree. By going to law school and getting a Juris Doctor degree, Epstein could help review players’ contracts. “Getting that seat at the table gave me the opportunity to be involved, and then my responsibilities grew from there,” he once recalled.

At age 28, Epstein moved again with Lucchino and joined the Boston Red Sox as general manager. In doing so, he became the youngest general manager in the history of Major League Baseball. Ten years later, in 2011, Epstein became president the Chicago Cubs.

At both the Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, Epstein intelligently used complex statistical analytics to oversee the teams’ curse-breaking championships. In 2004, Epstein supervised the Red Sox’s sixth World Series Championship and ended their 86-year drought. And in 2016, when, under Epstein’s presidency, the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series Championship 108 years after the previous time they did, their triumph ended the longest drought in professional sports.

Theo Epstein’s 20 Percent Rule: Undertake Your Boss’s Less Glamorous Responsibilities

In a recent interview (22:31-minute mark in this “The Axe Files” podcast) with the University of Chicago’s David Axelrod, Epstein revealed a career advancement technique that helped fast-track his career at the Orioles, the Padres and the Red Sox:

Whoever your boss is, or your bosses are, they have 20 percent of their job that they just don’t like … So if you can ask them or figure out what that 20 percent is, and figure out a way to do it for them, you’ll both make them really happy, and improve their quality of life and their work experience. And also gain invaluable experience for yourself. If you do a good job with it, they’ll start to give you more and more responsibility.

Idea for Impact: Those Who Raise Their Hands Climb the Ladder Faster

Theo Epstein's 20 Percent Rule: Undertake Your Boss's Less Glamorous ResponsibilitiesHuman nature is such that everyone likes to do what he/she likes and not what should be done. If you can determine those aspects of your boss’ job that she hates and volunteer to help her with those responsibilities, you can expand your job’s horizons.

When you can seize such opportunities to raise your hand and sign up for tasks and responsibilities that aren’t particularly attractive, you not only learn by way of broader experiences and gain confidence, but also become more visible to management and situate yourself for a promotion. As I’ve written previously, before you can be seen as eligible for promotion, you should have demonstrated competence in doing a part of the new job you aspire to.

Seek out projects, prove that you’re eager and able to go the extra mile, and gain valuable face time with top executives.

Beware of Advice from the Superstars


Steve Jobs’s Eschewal of Market Research

'Steve Jobs' by Walter Isaacson (ISBN 1501127624) Apple’s Steve Jobs said in a 1985 interview, “We built [the Mac] for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research.”

Twelve years later, he famously told BusinessWeek: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Throughout his illustrious career, Jobs eschewed market research and relied on his intuition. The aforementioned two quotes have become as legendary as the highly opinionated man himself. Reiterating Steve Jobs’ talent to see the needs of consumers before they themselves could, Apple’s Chief Design Officer and co-creator of Apple’s iconic products Jonathan Ive stated, “We don’t do focus groups—that is the job of the [product] designer. It’s unfair to ask people who don’t have a sense of the opportunities of tomorrow from the context of today to design.”

Take Away: Alas, many people who venerate Jobs have taken his message as a pretext to downplay the need for consumer research. Jobs may be correct, but his assertion is perhaps confined to the kind of pioneering products and services he introduced at Apple and Pixar. Most people who claim to be inspired by this lesson from Jobs’s career neither work in the narrow consumer electronics domain nor have their hero’s brilliant intuition and an extraordinarily gifted creative team to sidestep market research and customer input.

Stephen King’s Disdain for Outlines in Writing

'On Writing A Memoir of the Craft' by Stephen King (ISBN 1439156816) In the bestseller On Writing, celebrated American author Stephen King famously states that he never uses an outline to organize his thoughts. He describes the routine of outlining as “the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored. … I don’t take notes; I don’t outline, I don’t do anything like that. I just flail away at the goddamn thing.” King advised other writers to keep from using outlines.

Take Away: Legions of King’s fans assumed that since this technique works so well for him, it must work for them too. Alas, they were mistaken: they aren’t as talented as him and cannot work without generating a detailed outline for a road map of creative writing. What works for writers—amateurs and professionals—is the advice of Terry Brooks, another famous American author, who wrote in his Sometimes the Magic Works, “Perhaps the best reason of all for outlining is that it frees you up immeasurably during the writing process to concentrate on matters other than plot.”

Sheryl Sandberg’s Privileged Work-Life Balance

'Lean In' by Sheryl Sandberg (ISBN 0385349947) Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg wrote a prominent career advice book and feminist manifesto called Lean In. Sandberg urges women to fight for gender equality and be assertive to achieve career success.

Sandberg’s writing has been criticized for being out of touch with the reality that most women face. She establishes much of her “you-can-do-it-too” counsel on her own experience as a successful woman who’s balanced her career and family through high profile jobs at Google and Facebook.

Take Away: Few people come from as privileged a socio-economic background as Sandberg to obtain two Harvard degrees, get an illustrious mentor at college, work on prestigious research projects at the World Bank, and acquire hundreds of millions of personal wealth by their mid-careers. Few women can aspire to be as fairy-tale affluent, talented, and privileged as Sandberg. Few can afford to hire assistants and domestic help to help balance the demands of personal and professional life. Few people have the benefit of working in the upper echelons of progressive corporate environments such as those at Google and Facebook that make it as conducive to “lean in” like her.

What Worked for Them Won’t Work for You

If you read about how successful people get successful, remember that the career advice that works for the superstars is not necessarily what will work for most ordinary folks. So, don’t be misled by their “it worked for me” advice.

If a specific technique worked for Steve Jobs, Stephen King, Sheryl Sandberg, or anybody else who gives you advice, don’t assume it will work for you too. Alas, you are likely not as naturally brilliant, gifted, endowed, or disposed as they are. Neither are you as privileged to have access to the resources they can tap into.

Beware of Advice from the Superstars In addition, in giving advice, superstars tend to understate—perhaps intentionally—the role that circumstances played in their success. On balance, much of success in life is a product of luck—being at the right time, at the right place, with the right people. Alas, what worked in their circumstances may not work in yours.

The Buddha taught prudence in such matters. He asked disciples to do what he taught only if it worked in the context of their own lives. He encouraged disciples to listen to his ideas, mull them over, try out what made sense, subsequently adapting what worked, and discarding what did not work.

The best way to educate yourself is by exposing yourself to a variety of success principles. Observe the top performers in your field. Then, identify, emulate, and adapt their effectiveness techniques to your circumstances. (See my previous article.)

Idea for Impact: Expose yourself to many success principles and consider what qualities, attributes, mental models, or approaches to life you may want to assimilate into who you are, even in part. Don’t expect to blatantly imitate a hero and expect the same outcomes: BE YOURSELF.

Leadership Lessons from the Spectacular Rise and Fall of Avon’s Andrea Jung / Book Summary of “Beauty Queen” by Deborrah Himsel

When companies do well, their CEOs are often heralded as outstanding visionaries and brilliant innovators. In particular, when macroeconomic conditions are favorable, these CEOs are sheltered from scrutiny because the spoils of their success deflect attention from their leadership shortcomings (see my previous article on how success often conceals wickedness.) When the tide turns, however, the leadership deficiencies are exposed for all to see. The CEOs are the first to get the blame, even if they may not merit it.

Deborrah Himsel’s Beauty Queen offers an insightful tale of the spectacular rise to the top and the tumultuous fall from grace of Andrea Jung. Beauty Queen divides Jung’s tenure as the CEO of cosmetics company Avon from 1999 to 2012 into two halves: Jung led six consecutive years of double-digit growth initially and then presided over a series of operational missteps that led to her resignation. Alas, Avon has never since recovered—its numerous restructuring efforts have failed, and its strategic and financial performance has severely deteriorated.

The Rise of Andrea Jung and Avon (1999–2005)

'Beauty Queen: Inside the Reign of Avon's Andrea Jung' by Deborrah Himsel (ISBN 113727882X) Promoted at age 41, Andrea Jung brought glamour, charm, and personal style to her CEO’s role. She quickly reshaped Avon’s image and articulated a powerful purpose for the company. She injected energy into a decaying cosmetics brand and pushed Avon into new profitable markets in China, Russia, and other countries. When Jung became CEO, 60% of Avon’s sales were in the United States; by 2011, only 17% of sales were in the United States and 70% were in developing markets.

Jung’s revival of Avon’s fortune catapulted her fame; she became one of America’s most recognized chief executives. Fortune magazine named her one of the most powerful women in the world. Jack Welch recruited her to General Electric’s board of directors.

Beauty Queen attributes this initial success not only to Jung’s inherent strengths in marketing and branding, but also to her right-hand person Susan Kropf. Kropf was a brilliant operations person, who balanced Jung’s acute lack of skills in running the day-to-day operations of a global company.

The Fall of Andrea Jung and Avon (2005–2012)

Avon’s sales started to slow down in 2005. And, Susan Kropf’s exit in 2006 corresponded with the dawn of Avon’s misfortunes. Andrea Jung never replaced Kropf; Avon was left without a chief operating officer.

As Avon started to struggle, Jung’s inadequate operations experience became a serious liability. A streak of self-inflicted problems resulted in strategic and operational disasters that took a huge financial toll and resulted in a flight of Avon’s top talent. Jung failed to deal effectively with failures of computer systems in Brazil, inadequate inventory and supply-chain management, poor management of working capital, and a staggering bribery scandal in China.

Jung’s lack of expertise to deliver results went up against her bold projections about the business’s future. Straying from Avon’s door-to-door direct selling roots, Jung experimented with a direct-selling channel, but quickly abandoned her strategy of running Avon retail stores. Her attempts to start baby-goods and other new product lines foundered after just two years. Avon’s many acquisitions failed; a silver jewelry company (Silpada) that Jung bought for $650 million had to be sold back to the original owners for $85 million.

Avon never recovered from the blunders that Andrea Jung presided over

Avon Beauty Products After Jung’s several turnaround efforts had failed to take hold, she resigned in 2011. Her replacement, former Johnson & Johnson executive Sheri McCoy, has since struggled to turn the company around.

The bribery scandal in China impaired Avon. In 2014, Avon settled the case with the Justice Department and the SEC for $135 million. To boot, Avon not only spent $350 million on legal fees, but also lost ground in the burgeoning cosmetics market in China.

Avon’s market value fell from $21 billion (1-Mar-2004) at the height of Jung’s success to $1.1 billion (15-Jan-2016). The company’s stock price fell from $44.33 to $2.50.

Lessons from Andrea Jung’s Leadership Style at Avon

Some of the most instructive leadership lessons from Beauty Queen are,

  • “Studying the trajectory of the Avon CEO is a great way to learn leadership. Andrea’s career … offers invaluable lessons about finding the right balance between substance and style.”
  • “Her story is a cautionary tale, one that suggests the critical importance of being aware of your weaknesses and how they can sabotage you.”
  • Leaders should know when to go. “If Andrea had departed in 2008, she would have left with her reputation and halo fully intact … CEOs that are successful early on often err on the side of staying too long.” [See my previous article on why leaders better quit while they’re ahead.]
  • Companies should pair up their leaders with deputies who have complementary skills to offset the Achilles’ heels of the leaders.

Recommendation: Skim through the first six chapters of Beauty Queen for an informative quick read on Andrea Jung’s rise and fall at Avon. Thumb through the next five chapters for an uninteresting discussion of broad leadership lessons and action lists in dry PowerPoint style.

Lessons from Sam Walton: Learning from Failure

Sam Walton (1918–1992) experienced failures and setbacks. And, like all successful people, the iconic founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club prided himself on learning from those experiences.

Lessons from Sam Walton's Autobiography: Learning from Failure

Walton’s Initial Success … and Then, in a Heartbeat, Failure

By 1950, a 32-year-old Sam Walton had established himself as a successful retailer in Newport, Arkansas. In 1945, Walton had purchased a Ben Franklin variety store and set up a five-year personal goal to make it the most profitable variety store in the region. By 1950, Walton had a record $250,000 in sales and $30,000 to $40,000 in profit (some $2.5 million in sales and $300,000 to $400,000 in profits in today’s dollars.) His success had attracted a lot of attention.

Not only that, the young Walton family—Sam, his wife Helen, and four young children—had firmly established itself in Newport. Sam and Helen were very active in the community and had taken up prominent civic and church duties.

An innocuous legal oversight cost him this success. When he had signed the lease on the property rental for his Ben Franklin variety store in 1945, thanks to inexperience and excitement at becoming a merchant, Walton had agreed to give back the landlord 5% of sales. He later discovered this was the highest any retailer had paid for rental.

More significantly, Walton had also neglected to add a clause in his lease that would give him the option to renew the lease after five years. Therefore, in 1950, when the lease on Walton’s Ben Franklin store expired, his sneaky landlord knew there was nowhere else in town for Walton to relocate his store. The landlord refused to renew Walton’s lease at any price! The landlord bought Walton’s well-established store along with its fixtures and inventory and transferred the store to his son. Walton was devastated; he had no choice but to give up his successful store. In his best-selling autobiography Made in America, Walton recalled this as the lowest point of his business life:

I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. It really was like a nightmare. I had built the best variety store in the whole region and worked hard in the community, done everything right, and now I was being kicked out of town. It didn’t seem fair. I blamed myself for ever getting suckered into such an awful lease, and I was furious at the landlord. Helen, just settling in with a brand-new family of four, was heartsick at the prospect of leaving Newport. But that’s what we were going to do.

Walton family: Sam Walton, his wife Helen Walton, and four young children

Sam Walton Was Not One to Dwell on Disasters

All the hard work he had put in to build a successful store and the earning power he had established over five years had become worthless because of an innocuous mistake. Nevertheless, Walton didn’t let this disaster get him down.

I’ve never been one to dwell on reverses, and I didn’t do so then. It’s just a corny saying that you can make a positive out of most any negative if you work at it hard enough. I’ve always thought of problems as challenges, and this one wasn’t any different. I don’t know if that experience changed me or not. I know I read my leases a lot more carefully after that, and may be I because a little wary of just how tough the world can be. Also, it may have been about then that I began encouraging our eldest boy—six-year-old Bob—to become a lawyer. But I didn’t dwell on my disappointment. The challenge at hand was simple enough to figure out. I had to pick myself up and get on with it, do it all over again, only even better this time.

This Newport experience turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Walton. His family relocated to the relatively obscure Bentonville, Arkansas, for a brand-new start. Walton started over and established himself as a retailer again—only in even bigger and better ways. In 1962, Walton decided that the future of retailing lay in discounting. His strategy of buying low, selling at a discount, and making up for low margins by moving vast amounts of inventory, made Walmart the most successful retailer ever. From 1985 until his death in 1992, he was the richest man in the world.

Successful People Learn from Failure and Get On

'Sam Walton: Made In America' by Sam Walton (ISBN 0553562835) Walton’s was a typical entrepreneurial response to failure—successful people take risks, fail sometimes, but pick themselves up, ask what they can learn from the experience, and try again, even harder the next time.

On a related note, Bill Gates, the most successful entrepreneur of his generation, once said, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

Complement this lesson on failure with J.K. Rowling’s reflections on the benefits of failure in her famous 2008 commencement address at Harvard: “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me…The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.”

Recharge Your Self-Growth through a “Plan of Conduct” à la Benjamin Franklin

In Boston at age 12, Young Benjamin Franklin became a printer's apprentice with his brother James Franklin Young Benjamin Franklin’s formal schooling was incomplete. He pursued education through voracious reading. In Boston at age 12, he became a printer’s apprentice with his brother James. At age 17, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia seeking a fresh start and initially worked in several printer shops around town.

At age 18, Franklin traveled to London to acquire some equipment for establishing a new newspaper in Philadelphia. However, the sponsor soon withdrew from the project; so a disappointed Franklin remained in London working as a typesetter. In 1726, at age 20, he decided to return to Philadelphia to strike out on his own.

Benjamin Franklin’s Organized Action Plan for Efficiency and Success

At the threshold of adulthood, Franklin ruminated on the kind of man he wanted to be. During his time in London, he was deeply unhappy that his life had so far been disorderly because he had never outlined a design for how to conduct himself. During his 11-week voyage from London to Philadelphia, he applied his methodical mindset to develop some rules for self-improvement and called them his “Plan of Conduct.”

Those who write of the art of poetry teach us that if we would write what may be worth the reading, we ought always, before we begin, to form a regular plan and design of our piece: otherwise, we shall be in danger of incongruity. I am apt to think it is the same as to life. I have never fixed a regular design in life; by which means it has been a confused variety of different scenes. I am now entering upon a new one: let me, therefore, make some resolutions, and form some scheme of action, that, henceforth, I may live in all respects like a rational creature.

  1. It is necessary for me to be extremely frugal for some time, till I have paid what I owe.
  2. To endeavor to speak truth in every instance; to give nobody expectations that are not likely to be answered, but aim at sincerity in every word and action—the most amiable excellence in a rational being.
  3. To apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of growing suddenly rich; for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty.
  4. I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of every body.

'The Benjamin Franklin Reader' by Walter Isaacson (ISBN 743273982) Franklin’s “Plan of Conduct” was a precursor to his constant quest in self-improvement, as documented in his “Autobiography” (1791.) A few years later, he supplemented his plan with a “Moral Perfection Project,” 13 guidelines to motivate himself to be more virtuous and strive for moral perfection.

These first few pursuits of self-improvement and reflection weren’t a passing fad for Franklin—he adhered to these rules for the rest of his life. He was proud that he had the wisdom to develop and commit to them so early in life. He reflected in his “Autobiography” (1791,) “It is the more remarkable, as being formed when I was so young, and yet being pretty faithfully adhered to quite through to old age.”

Idea for Impact: Create Your ‘Plan of Conduct’

Create your own rules for living and commit to them for a life of success and wisdom. The values you establish for yourself will align your actions with your goals and dreams and so reduce regrets of overlooked opportunities.

Recommended Reading: For a great collection of the writings of Benjamin Franklin, including his “Autobiography”, see Walter Isaacson’s “A Benjamin Franklin Reader”.

Fear of Failure is an Obstacle to Growth

The fear of failure—atychiphobia—is such a significant psychological threat to motivation that it can instinctively cause you to sabotage your likelihood of success. If you fear failure and limit your activities, you are acutely impeding the knowledge and wisdom that comes from opening yourselves up to the new and the unfamiliar.

In “Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society”, John Gardner (1912–2002,) an activist and a member of Lyndon Johnson‘s cabinet, reminds us that openness to new experience is vital to learning and self-renewal:

'Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society' by John W. Gardner (ISBN 039331295X) One of the reasons why mature people are apt to learn less than young people is that they are willing to risk less. Learning is a risky business, and they do not like failure. … By middle age, most of us carry in our heads a tremendous catalogue of things we have no intention of trying again because we tried them once and failed. … We pay a heavy price for our fear of failure. It is a powerful obstacle to growth. It assures the progressive narrowing of the personality and prevents exploration and experimentation. There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling. If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure—all your life.

Ready for a Promotion?


Promotions Can be Stressful

Promotions Can be Stressful Last year, researchers at the University of Warwick found that the mental health of managers typically deteriorates after a job promotion.  Part of this anxiety is attributable to,

  1. the loss of the security of a familiar role and the established relationships around the role,
  2. perceived cognitive inadequacies concerning demands of the new position, and,
  3. the uncertainty of transition and the innate human resistance to change.

The greater part of this anxiety is a common career mistake. Often, professionals take up new responsibilities for which they are not entirely prepared. Even when management judged them as qualified for the new role, without thinking through a new role before accepting the promotion, these professionals unintentionally position themselves for stressful transitions, bitterness, or eventual failure.

When Is It Time to Move On?

Do not assume that you are ready for a promotion just because you possess the right academic background, you look the part, you have the right contacts within the company, or, you have impressed your management with your capability to develop a few good ideas and articulate them well.

Here are a few questions to reflect on and assess your chance of a successful promotion or a horizontal transition.

  • Are you enthusiastic about taking on a new role? Does the new role fit into your medium- and long-term career plans?
  • Have you been performing your present duties well enough to justify a promotion?
  • Do you have a successor in mind for your current role? Have you made yourself replaceable? Are you willing to entrust your current responsibilities to a successor without a significant interruption in pace of work?
  • Ready for Promotion When Is It Time to Move On Are you qualified or experienced enough to do no less than, say, 40% of the new role reasonably well?
  • Have you demonstrated eagerness to gain knowledge of the new responsibilities?
  • Are you familiar with the responsibilities, autonomy, challenges, opportunities, and deliverables of the new role? Do you know how to get things done in the new role? Do you know where to get help?
  • Are you proficient with the communication, networking and interpersonal skills needed to make it in the new role? Will you get along with your peers, subordinates, and management at the new role?
  • Are you at ease with the demands on the new role: time, travel, pressures, and challenges? Can your family (or other aspects of your personal life) support this transition?
  • Can you swallow your pride if you are rejected for the new role? Are you ready to seek honest feedback about how management values you, listen, and make yourself more promotable in the future?

The more questions you answer with a “Yes” to, the better your chances for a successful promotion. Reflect on the questions you answer with a “No” to. Create a growth plan, improve your professional profile, and, ask for feedback from management on what you can do deserve a promotion.