EIGHTY

[A few personal thoughts…]

Many entrepreneurs and business leaders are never happy. There is always something else to do. Always something new to perfect. Always a new disruption just around the corner likely to turn everything upside down. No wonder so many management reports cite the high levels of stress that executives are under and fact that around 80% of managers feel overwhelmed by the challenges that their business is facing.

Some of this to be expected. Business is tough. Especially running your own team or growing your own company. But much of it is self-inflicted because of the pressure we put ourselves under, determined to compete at the highest level and relentlessly seeking that extra margin gain – the additional 1% improvement that will turn our business from “Good to Great“.

This is why I love Yvon Chouinard, co-founder of Patagonia. He doesn’t care (or worry) about any of those things. He doesn’t seek explosive growth, he doesn’t care about the competition and he certainly doesn’t obsess about marginal gains or incremental returns.

Why?

Because Yvon is an eighty-percenter.

Look at what he wrote in his book “Let My People Go Surfing” and compare that to the management philosophy and obsessive quest for success that you may be more familiar with….

“I’ve always thought of myself as an eighty percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach about an 80 percent proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession that doesn’t appeal to me. Once I reach 80 percent level I like to go off and do something totally different; that probably explains the diversity of the Patagonia product – and why our versatile, multifaceted clothes are the most successful”

Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman

 

I love that philosophy.

 

Perhaps love it more than I usually would because I am currently in Cornwall, looking at the sea and surround by local surf shops selling Patagonia apparel. It’s certainly not impacted Patagonia commercially, in fact they have inspired many other businesses to copy their model and are pushing towards $1 billion in global sales revenue. Patagonia makes you re-think what Pareto’s 80:20 principle really means.

 

Anyway, whatever the reason, I think Yvon has a great perspective. One I would do well to adopt much more. I’ve always been a 100% person. It used to frustrate the life out of my parents when I was younger. Whether it has been my obsession to play golf from a single figure handicap or ride my snowboard down the back of a dangerous mountain or in later years, land my dream job at a big company, write some books or compete in L’Etape on a stage of the Tour de France.

 

Whatever it is that I have been obsessed with over the years, during that time of being obsessed with it 100% I was not content and probably not that happy. For the few weeks of a year riding down a mountain, I was beside myself with excitement, but for the rest of the year I always wanted more. To be more committed. Measuring every tiny improvement, but then always looking for the next one. It’s non-stop. And it can be exhausting. And I’m a million miles away from being a competitive athlete or a top business man, I’m just really competitive.

 

Probably too competitive.

 

I was always inspired by Michael Johnson working ten years to gain an extra half a second in the 100m, Alex Ferguson planning the next campaign the day after they won the premiership or Michael Jordan planning his 6th championship immediately after the game while his team mates were out celebrating winning their 5th. As I’m getting a bit older, I think I’d like to start looking more towards Yvon Chouinard for inspiration. Maybe it’s an age thing. Maybe it’s smarter thinking. I’m not sure…

 

But constantly seeking improvement and putting untold pressure on ourselves (in our personal or professional lives) will probably mean that we will never be content and much less likely to be happy. We should seek to be happy and content today. Not in the future.

Being an eighty percenter offers you the opportunity to be content today, happier in your quest for trying new things and learning new stuff, and certainly not worrying too much about the future.

Maybe instead of being committed to whatever new thing we are working on “110%!!!!” when people ask us, we should instead surprise people and say, “Yeah. This is going to be great. I’m 80% committed….

Evangelist @IBM • IBM Watson • Travel Around Talking about AI, Big Data and the Future of Marketing • Lover of Old Business Books and Good Bourbon • Based in London, UK.

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