The Advantage Letter by Dave Martin
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Sunday, November 15, 2009
Volume 15 | # 348
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Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. » William Faulkner

A Little Dream Time

One of my long-running soapbox topics when speaking to groups is the fact that “natural talent” is overrated. Now when I suggest that, I’m not saying that having innate abilities is trivial. It’s often those innate abilities (if we’re lucky) that steer us to do and be whatever it is we wind up doing and being.

My main point is that it is almost never natural talent that separates the most successful from their peers in any given field. In fact, at higher levels of competition (whether that competition is athletics, business, academics, etc) natural ability is hardly a differentiating factor at all. When the other guys have similar inherent talents, it’s those who actually put in the hard work who tend to excel.

I found myself reflecting on that point again this week when I read an article about one of Kobe Bryant’s preseason projects this year. Now, truth be told, I was never a big Bryant fan. (Not hating, just saying.) But I’ve actually gained much more respect for him over the past few years as I’ve learned about his just-about-insane workout regimens.

As impressive is his willingness to develop new skills heading into the 15th year of his career. The article I read described how Bryant sought the mentoring of Hakeem Olajuwon during the off-season.

Hakeem is one of my all time favorites. I found myself working out next to him in a local gym last year. I’d take the guy at 46-years-old over half of the centers in the league now. (But I digress.)

Bryant asked Hakeem to work with him to learn some of the “The Dream’s” famously-effective “post moves” near the basket. Bryant knows he’s approaching the part of his career when he won’t be able to simply blow past or jump over people. After establishing himself as the best player in the NBA (sorry Cleveland), Bryant continues to outwork and out-prepare just about everyone in the league.

At the NBA level, every guy in short pants has incredible “natural talents” and gifts. What differentiates the best from the rest tends to be personal drive and a sustained work ethic.

Luckily for us, we don’t need to be 6’8” with “hops” to excel in our jobs. But personal drive and a work ethic are every bit as important to us. In fact, a world-class work ethic may be the greatest “natural talent” a person can have… or develop.

In an increasingly commoditized and competitive industry, is anyone outworking you today?

Looking Up or Looking Down?

I spent the better part of last week at a large banking conference in Boston. The attendance at this year’s show was noticeably smaller than in past years. And honestly, that wasn’t much of a surprise. After a historically tough year for banks and bankers, lots of organizations put conferences and outside events on their “cost savings” list. I’m not sure that I totally agree with that strategy, but I understand it.

As I attended sessions and made my way about the exhibit hall, a piece of advice an old boss of mine gave me stayed in my head. He said, “It only takes one new relationship to make any trip a worthwhile trip. Don’t worry about who’s not here. Worry about who is here, and get to know them.”

As I approached the booth of a company created by a good friend of mine, I ran into an old acquaintance working for a company I had never heard of. Their booth was adjacent to my friend’s. After exchanging brief pleasantries and “How ya’ been’s?” that old acquaintance tore into a monologue about what a crummy business environment we’re in. That quickly morphed into what a bad conference this was and then, somehow, onto his last two failed career moves.

Within 60 seconds, I was borderline depressed. The funny thing was that his new employer may actually offer a few services that would be complimentary to those my company offers. But I walked away thinking, “Would I really want to deal with that kind of “woe-is-me” mindset?”

When I walked five feet over to visit with my old friend, the contrast couldn’t have been starker. He quickly told me, “Dave, you know, attendance is down. But there are lots of vendors who have dropped out. We’re seeing as many or more people than ever. I actually think the ratio of attendees to vendors is really good.” Ah, my spirits were lifted.

Within two minutes, a current customer of his walked up, and they began a spirited and upbeat conversation. I smiled and excused myself so they could talk business. Needless to say, my friend later told me that he had a great conference.

I’m in no way downplaying the challenges of our current business cycle. But I am a firm believer that the attitude and confidence we project matters more than ever to present and potential customers.

Is your demeanor today one that customers would actually choose to be around?

The fact is, the differences between peak performers and everybody else are much smaller than "everybody else" thinks." » Charles Garfield

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated entities or sponsors.
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