Derek Sivers

Entrepreneur, programmer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

What Got You Here Won't Get You There - by  Marshall Goldsmith

What Got You Here Won't Get You There - by Marshall Goldsmith

Amazon page for details and reviews.

Aimed at already-successful people. The personality traits that brought you to success (personal discipline, saying yes to everything, over-confidence) are the same traits that hold you back from going further! (Where you need to listen to lead, and don't let over-confidence make you over-commit.) Stinging counter-intuitive insights that hit very close to home for me. Great specific suggestions for how to improve.

my notes

A few people never need maps. They’re blessed with an internal compass that orients them automatically. They always make the correct turn and end up where they intended via the most economical route. They go through life with an unerring sense of direction. It guides them in their school years, careers, marriages, and friendships. When we meet people like this, we say they’re grounded. They know who they are and where they’re going. We feel secure around them. We feel that any surprises will only be pleasant surprises. They are our role models and heroes.

This very confident CEO has a bad habit of verbalizing any and every internal monologue in his head. The higher up you go, the more your suggestions become orders. He thinks he’s merely tossing an idea against the wall to see if it sticks. His employees think he’s giving them a direct command.

They have no idea how their behavior is coming across to the people who matter - their bosses, colleagues, subordinates, customers, and clients.

People’s inner compass of correct behavior has gone out of whack.

Actors stepping on a line. Writers misusing commas. Chefs leaving out a key ingredient. People who do one annoying thing repeatedly on the job - and don’t realize that this small flaw may sabotage their otherwise golden career. And, worse, they do not realize that (a) it’s happening and (b) they can fix it.

First solicit “360-degree feedback” from colleagues. A comprehensive assessment of strengths and weaknesses. I confront them with what everybody really thinks about them. Assuming that they accept this information, agree that they have room to improve, and commit to changing that behavior, then I show them how to do it. I help them apologize to everyone affected by their flawed behavior and ask the same people for help in getting better. I help them advertise their efforts to get better because you have to tell people that you’re trying to change; they won’t notice it on their own. Then I help them follow up.

We have an elevated opinion of our professional skills and our standing among our peers.  We conveniently ignore the costly failures and time-consuming dead-ends we have created.

These delusions are a direct result of success, not failure. That’s because we get positive reinforcement from our past successes, and, in a mental leap that’s easy to justify, we think that our past success is predictive of great things in our future.

Confidence erases doubt, blinds us to the risks and challenges in our work. If we had a complete grip on reality, seeing every situation for exactly what it is, we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.

But our delusions become a serious liability when we need to change.

When someone tries to make us change our ways we think the other party is misinformed and don’t know what they’re talking about. The criticism does not apply to us, or else we wouldn’t be so successful. We discredit the messenger. “Why is a smart guy like me listening to a loser like you?”

The paradox of success: These beliefs that carried us to initial success may be holding us back in our quest to go to the next level.

Successful people have one idea coursing silently through their veins and brains all day. It’s a mantra that goes like this: “I have succeeded. I have succeeded. I have succeeded.” It’s their way of telling themselves that they have the skills and talent to win and keep winning. This “I have succeeded” belief, positive as it is most times, only becomes an obstacle when behavioral change is needed.

Successful people literally believe that through sheer force of personality or talent or brainpower, they can steer a situation in their direction. It may be the most central belief driving individual success. People who believe they can succeed see opportunities where others see threats. They’re not afraid of uncertainty or ambiguity. They embrace it. They want to take greater risks and achieve greater returns. Given the choice, they will always bet on themselves. Successful people tend to have a high “internal locus of control.” In other words, they do not feel like victims of fate. They see success for themselves and others as largely a function of people’s motivation and ability - not luck, random chance, or external factors.

Successful people have an unflappable optimism. They not only believe that they can manufacture success, they believe it’s practically their due. As a result, successful people tend to pursue opportunities with an enthusiasm that others may find mystifying.

It explains why successful people tend to be extremely busy and face the danger of overcommitment. It can be difficult for an ambitious person, with an “I will succeed” attitude, to say “no” to desirable opportunities.

None of them said they were trying to “save a sinking ship.” They were overcommitted because they were “drowning in a sea of opportunity.”

They think, quite logically, that since you pulled off a miracle once, you can pull it off again for them. So, opportunities are thrust at you at a pace that you have never seen before. You are not experienced or disciplined enough to say no to some of them. If you’re not careful, you’ll be overwhelmed in due course - and that which made you rise will bring about your fall.

When we do what we choose to do, we are committed. When we do what we have to do, we are compliant.

The more we believe that our behavior is a result of our own choices and commitments, the less likely we are to want to change our behavior.

Cognitive dissonance actually works in favor of successful people when they apply it to themselves. The more we are committed to believing that something is true, the less likely we are to believe that its opposite is true, even in the face of evidence that shows we may have chosen the wrong path. It’s the reason successful people don’t buckle and waver when times get tough. Their commitment to their goals and beliefs allows them to view reality through rose-tinted glasses.

Our success makes us superstitious.

Almost everyone I meet is successful because of doing a lot of things right, and almost everyone I meet is successful in spite of some behavior that defies common sense. One of my greatest challenges is helping leaders see the difference, see that they are confusing “because of” and “in spite of” behaviors, and avoid this “superstition trap.”

Defensive reaction number one: They refuse to accept that not all good things flow to them because of the less-than-good things they do.
Defensive reaction number two: Fear of overcorrection.

Executives who insist their remoteness, their inscrutable silences, their non-accessibility to their direct reports is a controlled, calculated tactic to get people to think for themselves.

People will do something - including changing their behavior - only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values.

To get you to do what I want, I have to prove that doing so will benefit you.

The protective shell that successful people develop over time which whispers to them, “You are right. Everyone else is wrong.”

If you press people to identify the motives behind their self-interest it usually boils down to four items: money, power, status, and popularity. These are the standard payoffs for success. It’s why we will claw and scratch for a raise (money), for a promotion (power), for a bigger title and office (status). It’s why so many of us have a burning need to be liked by everyone (popularity).

They don’t happen in a vacuum. They are transactional flaws performed by one person against others. They are:
1. Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations - when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point.
2. Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.
3. Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.
4. Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.
5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”
6. Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.
7. Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.
8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked.
9. Withholding information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.
10. Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward.
11. Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.
12. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.
13. Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.
14. Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.
15. Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.
16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
17. Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.
18. Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help us.
19. Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.

Half the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.

We get credit for doing something good. We rarely get credit for ceasing to do something bad. Yet they are flip sides of the same coin.

Stopping some behavior gets no attention, but it can be as crucial as everything else we do combined.

To achieve the goal of “being nicer.” All you have to do is “stop being a jerk.”

All you have to do is... nothing. When someone offers a less-than-brilliant idea in a meeting, don’t criticize it. Say nothing. When someone challenges one of your decisions, don’t argue with them or make excuses. Quietly consider it and say nothing. When someone makes a helpful suggestion, don’t remind them that you already knew that. Thank them and say nothing. This is not a semantic game. The beauty of knowing what to stop - of achieving this state of inspired neutrality - is that it is so easy to do.

The higher you go, the more your problems are behavioral.

There’s a fine line between being competitive and overcompetitive, between winning when it counts and when no one’s counting.

Winning too much is the #1 challenge because it underlies nearly every other behavioral problem.

If we withhold information, it’s to give ourselves an edge over others. If we play favorites, it’s to win over allies and give “our side” an advantage.

Even when you’re in the checkout line at the supermarket, you’re scouting the other lines to see which is moving faster.

The need to add value: It’s common among leaders used to running the show. They still retain remnants of the top-down management style where their job was to tell everyone what to do.

It is extremely difficult for successful people to listen to other people tell them something that they already know without communicating somehow that (a) “we already knew that” and (b) “we know a better way.”

The problem is, you may have improved the content of my idea by 5 percent, but you’ve reduced my commitment to executing it by 50 percent, because you’ve taken away my ownership of the idea. My idea is now your idea - and I walk out of your office less enthused about it

People don’t like to be critiqued, however obliquely. That’s why passing judgment is one of the more insidious ways we push people away.

You are not allowed to judge any helpful comment offered by a colleague or friend or family member. No matter what you privately think of the suggestion, you must keep your thoughts to yourself, hear the person out, and say, “Thank you.”

When you start a sentence with “no,” “but,” “however,” or any variation thereof, no matter how friendly your tone or how many cute mollifying phrases you throw in to acknowledge the other person’s feelings, the message to the other person is You are wrong.

As he looked ahead, he spied another vessel, heading rapidly downstream toward his boat. This vessel seemed to be making every effort to hit him. He rowed furiously to get out of the way, but it didn’t seem to help. He yelled at the other vessel, “Change direction, you idiot! You are going to hit me. The river is wide. Be careful!” His screaming was to no avail. The other vessel hit his boat with a sickening thud. He was enraged as he stood up and cried out to the other vessel, “You moron! How could you manage to hit my boat in the middle of this wide river? What is wrong with you?” As he looked at the other vessel, he realized that there was no one in the other boat. He was screaming at an empty vessel that had broken free of its moorings and was going downstream with the current. The lesson is simple. There is never anyone in the other boat. When we are angry, we are screaming at an empty vessel.

Intentionally withholding information is the opposite of adding value. We are deleting value.

You see it in people who answer every question with a question; they believe revealing anything puts them at a disadvantage.

Being bad at sharing information doesn’t mean we are willfully withholding it. The two are not exactly the same thing. But the net result is the same in the eyes of the people around us. How do you stop withholding information? Simple answer: Start sharing it.

He scheduled time to debrief his assistant on what he was up to.

Successful people become great leaders when they learn to shift the focus from themselves to others.

If you came up with a good idea in a meeting, did it spring unbidden from your fertile imagination? Or was it inspired by an insightful comment from someone else in the room?

When you hear yourself saying, “I’m sorry I’m late but the traffic was murder,” stop talking at the word “sorry.” Blaming the traffic is a lame excuse - and doesn’t excuse the fact that you kept people waiting.

The next time you hear yourself saying, “I’m just no good at... ,” ask yourself, “Why not?”

These are not genetic flaws! We weren’t born that way, no matter what we’ve been brought up to believe.

“When I was your age...” Inevitably, it’s a self-pitying lecture that points out how difficult and miserable the parent’s childhood was in comparison with the childhood the parent is now providing for his or her children.

When I was finished, she said, “Daddy, it’s not my fault you make money.”

Stop blaming others for the choices you made.

We can’t see in ourselves what we can see so clearly in others.

If you put all your cards in someone else’s hands that person will treat you better than if you kept the cards to yourself.

Benjamin Franklin said, “To gain a friend, let him do you a favor.”

You are saying, “I can’t change the past. All I can say is I’m sorry for what I did wrong. I’m sorry it hurt you. There’s no excuse for it and I will try to do better in the future. I would like you to give me any ideas about how I can improve.”

“Why don’t you thank her now?” I asked.
“Because I want to wait. It’ll be more impressive when the job is done.”
“That may be true,” I said. “But do you think she’ll resent it if you thank her now and thank her again with a bigger gesture when the job is completed? Do you think she’ll resent you for thanking her twice?”
Gratitude is a skill that we can never display too often.

Punishing the messenger: manifests itself in big and little ways. It’s the momentary snort of disgust you exhale when your assistant reports that the boss is too busy to see you.

Each of us to cross the line and begin to make a virtue of our flaws - simply because the flaws constitute what we think of as “me.” This misguided loyalty to our true natures - this excessive need to be me - is one of the toughest obstacles to making positive long-term change

The real problem is your self-limiting definition of who you are. You define phony as anything that isn’t... me!

This stern allegiance to his definition of himself was pointless vanity. If he could shed his “excessive need to be me,” he wouldn’t see himself as a phony. He could stop thinking about himself and start behaving in a way that benefited others. Sure enough, when he let go of this devotion to “me,” all his other rationalizations fell by the wayside.

It’s an interesting equation: Less me. More them. Equals success. Keep this in mind when you find yourself resisting change because you’re clinging to a false - or pointless - notion of “me.” It’s not about you. It’s about what other people think of you.

We get so wrapped up in achieving our goal that we do it at the expense of a larger mission. It comes from misunderstanding what we want in our lives.

Goal obsession: It’s not a flaw. It’s a creator of flaws. It’s the force that distorts our otherwise exemplary talents and good intentions, turning them into something we no longer admire.

They were chasing the spotlight. They were under pressure! They were in a hurry! They had deadlines! They were going to do something that they thought was important! Other people were depending upon them! These are the classic conditions that can lead to goal obsession.

Reflect upon our work, match it up against the life we want to live, and consider, “What am I doing?” and, “Why am I doing this?”

People have an overwhelming need to tell you something that you don’t know, even when it’s not in their best interest.
Journalists would have a hard time surviving without information compulsion. People wouldn’t call them with tips on a good story, or agree to be interviewed, or spill secrets about their company, or hand out delicious quotes.
The same compulsion blossoms into full flower in our daily lives.
It’s the reason we like to dazzle our friends at dinner parties with the esoterica we know (even when we suspect we may be overstaying our welcome), or why coworkers like to gossip around the water cooler (even when they know that their chatter may get back to the people they’re prattling about), or why friends tell us in excessive detail about their health or their love lives (even though they close their ears when the tables are turned).
It’s the reason “that’s too much information” has entered everyday speech.
We all have an overwhelming need to display and share what we know. And we do it excessively.
Study the twenty annoying habits and you’ll see that at least half of them are rooted in information compulsion.
When we add value, or pass judgment, or make destructive comments, or announce that we “already knew that,” or explain “why that won’t work” we are compulsively sharing information. We’re telling people something they don’t know.
We’re convinced that we’re making people smarter or inspiring them to do better, when we’re more likely to achieve the opposite effect.

There’s nothing wrong with that. The world would be a more dangerous and less interesting place if we didn’t understand how to either share information or withhold it. It’s good to share information that helps people. Likewise, it’s good to withhold it when it harms people (that’s why many secrets should be kept). The same goes for emotion. Worth sharing sometimes. Other times, not worth it at all.

The key to your job is client selection. You ‘qualify’ your clients to the point where you almost can’t fail. The deck is totally stacked in your favor. That’s what I do here. If I have the right people around me, I’m fine.

One of the defining traits of habitual winners: They stack the deck in their favor. And they’re unabashed about it.

They do this when they hire the best candidates for a job rather than settle for an almost-the-best type. They do this when they pay whatever it takes to retain a valuable employee rather than lose him or her to the competition. They do this when they’re fully prepared for a negotiation rather than winging it. If you study successful people, you’ll discover that their stories are not so much about overcoming enormous obstacles and handicaps but rather about avoiding high-risk, low-reward situations and doing everything in their power to increase the odds in their favor.

I often have a hard time convincing successful people that not everything needs improving. Successful people have a glaring tendency to overcommit. If you outline seven flaws, they’ll want to tackle all of them.

Five reasons people do not succeed with their diet and fitness goals.
They mistakenly estimate:
•  Time: It takes a lot longer than they expected. They don’t have time to do it.
•  Effort: It’s harder than they expected. It’s not worth all the effort.
•  Distractions: They do not expect a “crisis” to emerge that will prevent them from staying with the program.
•  Rewards: After they see some improvement, they don’t get the response from others that they expected. People don’t immediately love the new improved person they’ve become.
•  Maintenance: Once they hit their goal, people forget how hard it is to stay in shape. Not expecting that they’ll have to stick with the program for life, they slowly backslide or give up completely.

I have learned a hard lesson trying to help real people, change real behavior in the real world. There is no “couple of weeks.” Look at the trend line! Sanity does not prevail. There is a good chance that tomorrow is going to be just as crazy as today.

The next time you find yourself trapped by a needy, demanding staff. If they need too much of your time, you can’t just tell them to stop bothering you. You have to wean them away and make it seem like it’s their idea. Let them figure out what they should be doing on their own. Let them tell you where you’re not needed.

He inspired his whole staff to get behind the suggestion. But a few days later, after he had enough time to debate his decision strenuously with himself, he’d change his mind, saying, “Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.” In his head, he was being open-minded. In his staff’s collective brain, he was confusing them. Let’s not get into the fact that you can’t do that in a leadership position. You can’t motivate 200 people to conquer a hill and, when they all start charging, say, “Wait a minute. Maybe this isn’t such a smart plan.”

You have to change 100 percent to get 10 percent credit for it.

His employees did not understand the company’s mission and overall direction. “I don’t get it,” he said. “I’ve spelled it out for them in meetings. I’ve summarized it in a memo.”
“Let’s review the situation,” I said. “How was this memo distributed?”
“By e-mail,” he said. “It went to everyone in the company.”
“Okay,” I said, “but my hunch is that the method of distribution is all you know about this. How many people actually opened the e-mail and read the memo?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Of those, how many do you think understood the memo?”
“I have no idea,” he said.
“Of those who understood it, how many believed it?”
He shook his head.
“Of this dwindling group of believers, how many remembered it?”
Another sorry head shake.
“That’s a lot of unknowns for something you regard as vital to your company’s existence,”
“You thought your job was done when you articulated the mission and wrote the memo - as if it were one more item on your to-do list for the day. You checked the box, and you moved on.”

The failure of managers to see the enormous disconnect between understanding and doing. Most leadership development revolves around one huge false assumption - that if people understand then they will do. That’s not true. Most of us understand, we just don’t do.

Follow-up: Once you send out a message, you ask people the next day if they heard it. Then you ask if they understood it. Then a few days later, you ask if they did something about it. Believe me, if the first follow-up question doesn’t get their attention, the next one will, and so will the final one.

The shelf life of knowledge, especially technical knowledge, is continuously shrinking. And so free agents respond by moving on to new challenges that enhance their knowledge and let them outpace the shrinking value of their experience - and in turn reward them with more satisfaction and, quite possibly, more money.

People in their 20s want to learn on the job. In their 30s they want to advance. And in their 40s they want to rule.

You have to find out what they want at every step - by literally asking them.

The company needs the knowledge worker far more than the knowledge worker needs them.

Stop trying to change people who don’t think they have a problem.