Process Yields Progress
by Nick Nanton, Esq.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
- Lao Tzu
I am willing to bet that almost every single one of you reading this article has read the above quote – or had it quoted to you – in the course of your life. You’re starting college and it’s rough – somebody tells you about that first step. You’re having trouble getting a new business off the ground – somebody tells you about the first step. Whenever you’re at the initial stage of anything – you hear about ‘that thousand miles’ and ‘that first step’.
And to be fair, you can’t argue with it – it’s true. That ‘thousand mile journey’ starts with that first step.
What people don’t discuss, however, is the 4634th step. Or the 5489th step. When you’re so far from the beginning that you’re in danger of forgetting where you’re going – and when you’re still so far from the end, you think you’ll never make it there.
When you’re in the middle of the grind – when it feels like the pay-off will never come – and when you may be so tired you don’t think there ever will be a pay-off – that’s when it can be incredibly difficult (maybe the most difficult) to take the next step.
I firmly believe that when you get to that tough slog where it just feels ‘like you’re grinding it out for no reason’, that’s actually when you’re in the middle of the real hard work that’s going to ultimately validate your efforts. This is when it’s most important to follow through on the process and systems you’ve set up – and not forget what got you as far as you already are. That’s when you need to power through with your process and get what you originally wanted with it.
But let’s not start with the 5489th step. Let’s take Lao Tzu’s advice and start with the first.
THE FIRST STEP AND WHY IT’S CRUCIAL
Someone who I recently learned of, and am enamored with, has become an inspiration to me and a whole lot of other people, …former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. He always had an interesting first step for his players at his ‘first talk’ of the season. It probably wasn’t so interesting for the seniors to hear the exact same ‘first talk’ they heard when they were freshman - but Wooden was a man who believed in the proper process, which is one big reason he was voted “Coach of the Century” by ESPN.
That first talk of the season was not about the goals for the team, who the captains would be, or any of the usual rally cries of a typical coach, nope, it was all about Wooden demonstrating, in meticulous detail, how the players should properly put on their socks and their shoes. Yes, he would actually show them how to do it. And yes, you usually don’t get that kind of instruction after you’re two or three years old – especially from one of the best college coaches of all time. Frankly, most coaches at any level above elementary school would think it was too trivial to deal with – and college boys should know how to dress themselves!
Wooden, however, knew that most good players ended up on the bench because they ended up with blisters from gameplay. And he knew most of those blisters could be prevented if players would simply take the time and put on their socks and shoes correctly.
Hence the lecture every year – even to the players who had already heard it!! It was a vital first step to Wooden’s process – and do you really argue with a guy who ended up with an over-80% win record? …who won ten national championships? …who is regarded as America’s ‘winningest’ coach? I certainly wouldn’t!
By building from that base, Wooden created teams that knew basketball inside and out. He gave them a process that enabled them to do their very best – and turned him into a legendary coach.
It’s what all of us need to do in our individual businesses. Your first steps, in any venture, should be about finding out what works, from the bottom up. ‘Fine-tuning’ will obviously come as you continue along the way, but if you nail down the process that works for you personally, it’s a template that can take you to where you want to go -- if you learn the basics, remember them and continue to implement them.
Some aspects of that process are generic – they’re essential to anyone trying to do what you’re doing. Others are personal – making use of your specific talents and what works best for you. Out of all of it, however, you build your own unique process by seeing what’s effective and what isn’t. Once you have it all put together, you drill that process into your brain at every given opportunity. And you never forget why you use the process you use – because it works …for you. Not for the guy down the street, or somebody two office doors down from yours… for YOU!!!!
And it has to be the process that’s going to serve you all the way down the line. I have to hand it to my four year-old son Brock’s T-ball coach, Coach Will, because he showed me this power principle in action and how it’s relevant at any age.
The kid that was playing pitcher (no, really, in T-ball they have one, they just don’t actually pitch!) in the game ran from the pitcher’s mound to run down another kid running to home plate – and pulled it off. He got the out. But the coach told the pitcher that’s not what he wanted to see. That’s not how the game is played. It’ll work out in T-ball, but that play won’t work when the kids get a little older, and a little faster. He said, “You might get an out this year with that play, but we’re not here to get outs, we’re here to learn how to play baseball.” Wow! Now that’s what I’m talking about! Coach Will wanted them to learn how to play the right way for the long run – now what worked just for now – so as they moved on, they could power through with the proper process.
With any first steps, you should be doing the same thing – finding out how whatever “game” you’re learning works, and how best to play it - whether it’s the game of life, the game of business, or a true game. The principle is the same.
THE FIRST STEP AND WHY IT’S OVERRATED
No, I’m not getting into an argument with myself, it’s true…first steps are absolutely crucial and also amazingly easy!
First of all, people are always incredibly encouraging when you start something new (unless they know you well enough to sense you’re heading for disaster). It’s exciting to them and they live vicariously through you trying something for the first time. Why? Because you have to do all the hard work and all they have to do is watch!
Seriously, how many quotes and advice do you see on beginning something, whether it’s a business or a relationship or just a workout regimen? Whereas, when you’re in the middle of something and whining about it – well, everybody’s in the middle of something and whining about it. And they’d rather listen to themselves whine than listen to you do it!
The first step also often means you’re not putting that much at stake. There’s not a lot invested in it emotionally, physically or financially yet. It’s basically setting a goal and beginning to figure out how you can achieve that goal.
Taking that first step usually means:
• You’re beginning something you want to get done.
• You haven’t faced serious opposition to your goal.
• You’ve psyched yourself up to get going – so you’re ‘pumped’ to see it through.
• Nobody expects a lot from you – because you’re just beginning to find out how it’s done.
In other words, sure, you’re nervous – but you’re okay to start that long ‘thousand mile’ journey, whatever it is. It’s not so bad. You’re choosing to do it. And nobody will be too hard on you about it.
The first step is also generally not that complicated. Remember what the first day of school or a class was like? It was the teacher telling you what you were going to be doing the rest of the semester or year and that’s about it. You didn’t have to worry, at that point, about having homework done or passing any tests. You were just there – trying to stay awake until the bell rang. Hey, even with Coach Wooden, all they had to do was figure out how to put on their socks and shoes the first time he talked to them! Most of us can handle that kind of pressure.
And one last thing about the first step not really being all that bad – you can totally ‘bail’ before the second step. Seriously, most things won’t have horrible consequences if you bail early (guys, this is not an excuse the day after that bachelor party, don’t even think about it!). Maybe you say to yourself, “Hey, I want to learn Mandarin Chinese (I use this example in honor of Lao Tzu).” You take that first step – maybe you get an introduction to a beginner’s Mandarin Chinese book – and then the bolt of lightning hits your brain….“Hey! This is hard! I’d rather spend the effort on __________ (fill in the blank with your next goal).”
What did you lose? …that $9.99 you spent on the book? …and those ten minutes it took you to realize it was hard enough for you to learn English? …let alone this.
Taking one step on the thousand mile journey and changing your mind? No big deal. Getting five hundred miles down the road and changing your mind? Enormous deal. That’s why you can’t…
DON’T JUST MUDDLE THROUGH THE MIDDLE
So let’s talk about being five hundred miles down that thousand mile road. That’s what I like to call the unsung hero of heroic struggles – the middle.
They say the closer you get to the summit, the harder it is to reach it. I’ve chosen to consciously disagree, and you can too with the right mindset – and I talked about this a little at the beginning of this chapter. When you’re so far along, you forgot why you started - but you’re not far enough to see where you’re going - it’s easy to feel like you’re stumbling around in the dark, going through the motions, and completely not getting anywhere.
And that’s where you have to power through with your process. That’s where you have to put your socks and shoes on correctly and keep doing what you’re doing, if you’ve proven to yourself that it works. You may need some adjustments – that’s normal, because the world is always changing – but in general, you have to ‘keep on keeping on’.
I’m speaking from personal experience on that point. For example, a big part of our business involves me speaking at different events all across the country. They are great because they usually generate a lot of interest in our business and we get to build a list of prospects who were interested enough to come out and hear me, and give us their contact information to stay in touch – so it’s almost always a good decision to accept invitations to speak at events. It’s something I’ve learned works for us and it’s definitely a big part of my process.
Well, I was invited to speak at what was billed as a major seminar event in California – and I was told there might be a lot of influential people there that would be interested in doing business, and many of them had very large fan bases (sounds good, but believe me, I’ve heard it before and the delivery of those elements is usually far less than what has been promised). So I thought about it. It was a big commitment (a week in California, away from my family in Orlando), and a big financial commitment (not that it was overly expensive for the trip, but because of my marketing budget at the time, I had to choose between this trip and a new marketing campaign I really wanted to launch).
The California trip, more and more, just felt like a big hassle to me, and an inconvenient one at that. I was ready to skip it, when I remembered that this kind of thing – speaking at places where I could widen my circle of influence and boost my network – was really a vital way that we grow our business. So, I agreed to it.
When I got there, I was amazed at the number of top-tier speakers and writers that were in attendance – it was a room of about 100 people who were all seven figure speakers and authors. I won’t drop names, but I would be willing to bet you’d know at least half of the people in the room. We’re talking about men and women who literally fill STADIUMS with rabid fans wanting to hear them speak, and others who had collectively sold over 100 MILLION books! It was insane! Don’t get me wrong, the seminar was hard work – sessions night and day – but out of that came lots of things, including an invitation to speak at another event which proved to be a huge windfall, and there are many other opportunities still being fleshed out, all because I didn’t forget my basic principles, even when I was reluctant, and I powered through with my process.
PROP-UP YOUR PROCESS WITH PRINCIPLES
When I was thinking about whether or not to accept that speaking engagement, I didn’t think about making important new contacts or generating more business. I concentrated on the expense, the work and the inconvenience. Obviously, big mistake on my part.
Fortunately, I got back on my thousand-mile road because I remembered that the process didn’t exist for its own sake – the process brought results!!!
And that’s what we all have to remember. We must continually perfect the process – and sticking to that process is more important than anything else…because the process gets us to the goal line.
When Coach Wooden gave his annual “socks and shoes speech,” some older players would start to feel insulted that he was still teaching the ins and outs of footwear. They didn’t want to listen to it all over again.
But consider this – do you think Coach Wooden really wanted to tell players how to put on their socks and shoes every single year?
Don’t you think maybe one season, he said to himself, “Maybe I don’t have to do this anymore. Maybe these college kids can figure this out for themselves.” I’m willing to wager he did – and that he also went back to doing it because he once again realized that this was his process, it worked and he should stick to it. …and because it was also important to his players’ process.
After the newness of whatever you’re in the middle of wears off, it’s tempting to forget all the building blocks that got you there. It’s easy to be distracted by turn-offs on the thousand mile road and take another route …that will take you somewhere you really don’t want to go.
Both behaviors are dangerous to your business. Sticking to your the principles that you used to develop your process helps you avoid them. Maybe you have a choice between a lunch with somebody you like but isn’t going to do much for your operation – and somebody else you don’t know that well but could do an awful lot for you. You’re better off seizing the second opportunity, even though you’ll have to invest some time and energy in getting to know this person and selling them on you and your business.
Making productive choices that will further your process means you’ll keep getting the results you want. And, hey, you can always have lunch with the other friend on a day when there isn’t a conflict.
When the pay-off isn’t necessarily in sight, you simply have to trust that what you’re doing will work – and that your process will, in fact, see you through to the other side.
I will leave you with some very wise words from Coach Wooden: “Don’t be too concerned with regard to things over which you have no control, because that will eventually have an adverse effect on things over which you have control.”
You have control over what you do and how you do it. You can’t control the outside factors. Even if you’ve made your process the most powerful it can be, it still won’t work every single time. But if you fixate on the things that could go against you, you’ll have a hard time achieving what you want to achieve.
Life is all about making the odds work in your favor – and having a process that will allow you to power through to the end of whatever road you’re on - means that chances are you’ll get what you’re after.
So pull on those socks and lace up those shoes the right way – so you can win the game!