Sam Walton, Made in America

June 3, 2008

Made in America is an autobiography of sorts, written by Sam Walton with John Huey. Sam Walton is better known as the founder of Walmart. These days, just saying “Walmart” can arouse a wide array of emotions . Some people love the low prices and expansive selection, while others are outraged at supposed mistreatment of employees, while others call Walmart the “Mom and Pop store killer”. I’m not here to discuss those issues right now, but rather share little nuggets of knowledge throughout this book. The book is chalk full of important lessons about business, marketing, leadership, augmented with endless personal anecdotes. While I am reading this book, I’ll just try to share what I found to be important to me, and try and present it in a way where others can glean importance from it as well.

[My mom] told me I should always try to be the best I could at whatever I took on. -Sam Walton

This is a great mindset to have, especially when in the business of… well business. This drive that Sam Walton had is one of the largest reasons why Walmart is where it is today. He was not satisfied at just having an OK store that had OK sales. He wanted a great store with great sales, always looking for ways to improve his store, instead of idly waiting for sales to magically mushroom. I interpret this motivation as inner self will to always be improving, not greed. I hope other will see this the same way. If he was after money, he would not have lived the way he did and still does. I will be excitedly writing about this topic in upcoming posts.

I’ve always held the bar pretty high for myself; I’ve set extremely high personal goals. – Sam Walton

It is my opinion that a growing number of people are simply not applying themselves in their classes, or careers. Some are happy with the mediocre, which in a way is sad, however, we have God given talents that should not be wasted. I would encourage all of you to find an area that is of interest to all of you, and just go for it. If you have been thinking of creating a website for awhile, get educated, and go do it. If you have been mulling over the thought of learning a new skill related to your field, more times than not, the only thing stopping you is you. Whatever you desire to do, develop the will power to do it, and get excited about it, and set goals.

The Bottom Line:

  • Try and set lofty goals for yourself, and learn to challenge yourself.
  • Try your best in all areas of your life, do not develop a passive nature.
  • ” Failure is not the worst thing in the world. The very worst is not to try.”- Anonymous

Your money or your life.

June 2, 2008

A friend told me today about a bumper sticker that he saw the other day, “Whoever has the most toys when he dies wins!” While we may laugh at this statement, realizing how ignorant it is, too many people live like this. Many people work extra overtime or two jobs to pay off that house they cannot afford, the fancy BMW parked outside, or to pay off outlandish credit card debt. Of course, some people just need to work that much to support their families, which is commendable. Though this may be the case for some, many others are just living outside of their means. I often hear people say they work so much so that they can provide a better standard of living for their family; one that they did not have growing up. What do you think your family will value more? A more expensive car, or spending more time together as a family? Just some thoughts to ponder…

When people outlive their bank accounts, other elements in their lives are sure to suffer. I have heard of many families that have had strained relations because of debt problems, living pay check to pay check, and constant working. I am no expert on relationships or finances, but I do know what is important to me in life. If I had a choice to have that new plasma TV, or to spend more time with my family and friends over the years, I would always choose family and friends. When people were asked “If you could change one thing you did in your life”, common responses are “spend more time with my family” “being with my children growing up”, “make a positive impact on more people’s lives” etc.  While I would usually not quote people from a forum, this one comment struck me personally:

I believe whoever dies with the most people who have loved them and will miss them and is in the good graces of God will win. -User in a forum(thekingcobra63)

Bottom line: Make sure your relationships are not being compromised by “getting the most toys”.

How old is too old to be spoon fed?

June 1, 2008

When we were babies or even small toddlers, it would be foolish to try and teach us how to feed ourselves. Not only are we not physically capable, we have about a 50/50 chance of eating something non-edible versus something that has some nutritional value. As we grow older, we become more able to feed ourselves and more knowledgeable as to what is beneficial to eat. At a certain age, presumably, we are no longer told what to eat, and how to eat it.

As far as I am concerned, this is analogous to education. In preschool and kindergarten, our reading and writing skills are somewhat lacking, and we learn whatever teachers tell us, or maybe whatever is on Sesame Street or Blue’s Clues on a particular day. I would wish that all of us were blessed with great parents that also taught us many important life lessons, but I know that many do not. As we grow older we are encouraged, or ought to be encouraged, by those influential figures around us to read books, and begin to learn about topics on our own in, addition to those taught in the classroom. Below is a very interesting quote from Steven Covey, about how Americans are educated these days.

It’s a fact that more people watch television and get their information that way than read books.

One of my biggest pet peeves, and I am guilty of this from time to time, is when people talk about a subject, and they use information they heard on TV to support their argument. Granted, this is not always bad, but using “facts” from TV can get you into trouble from time to time. This is, and will be, especially relevant during the upcoming elections in November. I hope by this day in age, most people know that the American media can be a little bit biased… But that is a whole other topic.

Most people struggle with life balance simply because they havn’t paid the price to decide what is really important to them- Steven Covey

Don’t let this be you, and surely don’t let the media tell you what they think is important for you, because you will just be misled. Values of the media, in my opinion, should not be those that a life should be built around. Don’t let the media be in the driver seat of your life (maybe they could be in the trunk), but rather you yourself get in the driver seat and choose to be someone who proactivley seeks education.

The bottom line:

  1. Cut back on TV viewing time, taking in information with a grain of salt.
  2. Try to learn more about topics from different sources, like books.
  3. Do not let TV tell you what is important, because it usually isn’t.

What are you waiting for?

May 31, 2008

Putting first things first is one of the seven esteemed “Habits of Highly Effective People”. On the surface, this may seem vague, yet obvious. If something urgent comes up, we focus our attention on it, and knock it out of the way. However, Steven Covey’s insight is much different, and it runs deeper as well. He encourages readers to place daily activities into a matrix, helping sort out which activities should demand the majority of our time and energy. (Here is a matrix specifically aimed towards bloggers.) In general, quadrant three and four activities are not important, therefore not much time should be spent in them. He notes that it is important to clarify which items are actually in Q3, but are often believed to be Q1. Just because something is urgent does not mean it is important. Covey strikes the nail on the head when he describes matters that seem urgent, but “are based on the priorities and expectations of others.” A simple question to ask if you are always strapped for time is “What would happen if I didn’t do this”. I remember hearing on a radio show a technique a women used for time management. If two events ever conflicted, she would ask herself, “What will the consequences be in 10 mins, 10 days, and 10 years?” This frame of thought gives a nice balanced outlook in the short and long run, helping determine if an activity is important and/or urgent.

Effective people stay out of Quadrants III and IV because, urgent or not, they aren’t important. They also shrink Quadrant I down to size by spending more time in Quadrant II…Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management. -Stephen Covey

When I read over this passage, I was prompted to examine my daily routine to determine which of my activities were in Q3 or Q4. For example, when a few of my good friends were going out to see the Indiana Jones Premier midnight showing, they really wanted me to go, and they told me that I would not want to miss out on this. Social pressures made this event appear as if it was urgent therefore important, when in reality, it was neither. Sure it would have been great to tag along, but when my sleep would have amounted to only four hours, I knew my studies would suffer, especially during class the next day or two. Other activities that were in Q3/Q4 were video games and aimlessly surfing the internet.

What I really want to stress in this post is this main point, taken from Steven Covey: “What one thing could you do in your personal and professional life that, if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your life?” A few things popped up in my mind right away when I read this:

  1. Read more books
  2. Create a blog
  3. Learn to type 40-50 WPM without looking at the keyboard

Bottom Line:

  • I encourage each of you to determine what parts of your daily routine are not important, even if they seem urgent.
  • Try to minimize these activities, learn to say “No” if you are feeling overwhelmed with responsibilites.
  • Focus your efforts on matters that are not urgent at this point in time, but which would allow “quantum leaps” in effectiveness in either our personal or professional lives.

Will you hurry up and finish so I can talk?

May 30, 2008

This phrase often runs through my mind when I am conversing with people, and I’m sure that I am not the only person that frequently has this mindset. When I enter into a conversation with someone, more times that not, it is because either of us has something that is personally important or interesting that we would like to share with each other: a news story from last night that is particularly important, a tidbit from that book we have been reading, or maybe that new music group that is the best thing since cable internet. It could be anything really.

Sometimes I stop listening to a person a few seconds after they have just started talking. For example, a friend recently came up to me to tell me about this really cool band he had recently started to listen to, but as soon as I heard “cool band” I immediately zoned out, and started raking my brain to come up with an even cooler band that I had recently discovered. When he stopped talking, I tuned back in and started saying “Oh yeah, cool… But I found this really cool band as well. Let me tell you about it.” I’m sure it is obvious how disingenuous I was being, yet I felt that I needed to one up him, and in the process I am sure he became very agitated.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply

-Stephen Covey

He continues to say that our reasons for listening this way is because we want to be understood. What a novel concept. However, there is not a positive correlation between how much I talk in a conversation, and how much people want to actually listen to me. It is unfair to expect our counterpart to listen with an intent to understand, when we do not do the same for them. This insight can be very powerful in establishing deep, effective relationships. I am not talking about manipulating people, or using special “listening techniques” so I can get what I want. That is dishonest, and frankly flat out wrong, even though it happens on a daily basis in every career field.

Often times I wonder why many of my relationships are shallow, where conversational topics only skim the surface, and the most personal thing I know about someone is what they ate they ate for lunch that day. I now realize that this void is just fallout of daily conversational battles, where each person is yearning to be understood, but is never fulfilled. I have been in numerous situations where a person will start to say something, and before they can finish their first sentence, someone has starting talking about a similar experience, leaving the first person feeling dejected. Covey writes that instead of pretending to listen, or flat out ignoring a person, one should use “empathetic listening”. He continues to delve deeper, writing that empathetic listening includes “listening with the ears, but also more importantly listening with your eyes and with your heart.” When a listener takes this course of action, he/she will begin to really understand the speaker, and climb into their frame of reference. It is at this point in which relationships will deepen, and when people will feel more comfortable opening up and talking about more meaningful topics.

The Bottom Line: Genuinely listen to people, “listen to understand, then to be understood.”

Victim by choice?

May 29, 2008

One of the main ideas throughout The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is that people tend to blame their environment as the cause of their problems. Excuses run the gambit; from blaming your family, your genes, your job, the economic times, etc. Stephen Covey’s response is that “Quality begins with me.”

You’re not a victim of conditions, you’re a victim of your own decisions, your own choices.

-Stephen Covey

With this mindset, in most circumstances, accomplishing goals in life depends on personal initiative and determination. However, the scales can be tipped in either direction, from “My life isn’t what I want it to be because of other people”, to “I can do everything myself.” I feel it is important to not be arrogant by not accepting help from anyone, or to be foolish enough to believe that everything can be accomplished just by myself. Mr. Covey does talk about this in the book, and one of the pillars of “being effective” is synergism. In essence, he stresses the importance of being able to work collaboratively in teams and the immense benefits that can come if it, but that is another topic in and of itself.

The main theme I wanted to write about today was about taking control of the events in one’s life that are within one’s grasp. To be able to distinguish which events can be affected by you, and which events are simply out of your control is a skill that can be very powerful in life. Challenging may it be, I am going to try and get a handle on situations in my life, while recognizing those that are out of my control. With a mentality such as this, “luck” happens more often. I am becoming a fan of Ralph Emerson, and his many quotes that are so applicable to life: “Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

You Reap What You Sow

May 28, 2008

Stephen Covey used a quotation taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson that I thought was especially encouraging, yet basic at its core.

That which we persist in doing becomes easier—not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a point in my life where many of the daily tasks I am doing are relatively new to me, a lot of them seem appropriately daunting. I am learning valuable skills in these coming years that will be pertinent in relation to my life, career, and future family, and it is easy to try and look for an easy route. Most things in life have no “easy way out”, and Stephen Covey vehemently supports this notion, “You always reap what you sow; there is no shortcut,” He uses the idea of trying to cram on a farm, forgetting to plant in the spring, and brushing it off all summer, yet coming back in the fall to try to reap a harvest that you did not sow. It isn’t possible. While some special cases may occur, the general rule stands true, and should be in the forefront in all of our lives.

The Bottom Line: You reap what you sow.