Worry Aboout Things You CAN Control!-Zig Zag Principle #16

June 28th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Finding your beacon is a very personal and individual pursuit, but there are some principles that should guide you.

First, you should look for those things you are passionate about and you have the ability to achieve.  They should exceed your grasp so that you’re pushed, but they should not be so far beyond your reach that they are unattainable.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey talks about our areas of influence and areas of concern.  We all have things in our lives where our preferences and choices can and do make a difference.  These are our areas of influence.  Some are quite simple. For example, what we wear to work, what we eat for breakfast, or even the jobs we choose to apply for are all things that are clearly within our area of influence.  Then there are areas that are more complex, but where we certainly do have an influence.  If we’re part of a management team, we may not have complete control over decisions that are made, but we do have a say.  If we’re a parent, we can’t really force our children to do exactly what we want, but we can certainly influence their behaviors.  If we see a compelling social need, we may not be able to solve it single-handedly, but we can make our own unique contribution.

Then there are those things that, no matter what our concerns may be, are not within our area of influence.  Because I love being outdoors, I am very concerned about the weather.  But, no matter how vocal I may be when I wake up wanting to play golf and find snow on the ground, there is not a darned thing I can do about it.  If I work at the lowest staff level of an international conglomerate, I likely will have no real influence on corporate strategies.  If I own a small manufacturing business, the price of gas is beyond my control, even though it has a huge impact on my business plan and profits.

Most people spend 80 percent of their time worrying about things they cannot control.  In other words, they spend all of their time and energy focusing on their areas of concern rather than their area of influence.  The way to identify those things you want to pursue is to focus right on the border of where your area of influence touches your area of concern.  If you establish your beacon in the fog right on the edge of your area of influence, you will find that your area of influence becomes much larger and you will find that your goals, though challenging, actually are achievable.

What Kind Of Trip Do You Want?-Zig Zag Principle #15

June 24th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

 In the last chapter, you assessed your resources and figured out what kind of vehicle you have at your disposal to take on your journey to success. Now let’s talk about clearly identifying your destination.  Where do you want to go?  What is your beacon in the fog? 

Imagine there are two groups of friends who want to take a trip, and both groups start out with identical resources.  The first group spends considerable time researching travel ideas on the Internet.  As they explore various options, each mentions a long-held dream of seeing France, so they set a goal to travel there together in one year.  When their income tax returns arrive, each person deposits the money in a special fund created just for this trip.  They cut expenses wherever they can in order to build their savings accounts. They each get a credit card that gives them double miles, which they then use responsibly (so they’re not wasting the money they’re saving on interest). They even put their change in a jar at the end of the day. 

A year later, they are able to purchase their airline tickets with frequent flyer miles; in fact, they have enough miles to upgrade to those oversized business class seats with the individual video amenities.  Soon after, they are ready to take off.  They fly into the Charles de Gaulle Airport, then head to the luxurious Hotel de Crillon.  While in Paris, they schedule adequate time to stroll through the Louvre and see some of the world’s most famous paintings.  Of course, the Mona Lisa is at the top of the list.  They climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, counting each step as they go.  Their evenings are spent in famous French restaurants that serve croissant au beurre, thinly sliced French fries, and sweet crepes.  After enjoying Paris, they make their way down the beautiful French Riviera to visit Nice and Cannes.  They even take a day trip to Monaco to visit the raceway and winding streets that meander along the sheer cliffs.  After spending two weeks of leisurely, deliberate enjoyment, they return home, relaxing in business class. 

The other group of friends kind of jump in their car one day and say, “Hey, let’s take a trip!”  Once they’re all in, they open their wallets and see they have a total of $17.93 between them.  That doesn’t seem like much, but one person has a credit card with a $500 credit line (at 29 percent interest). No one has a strong opinion about where to go, so they flip a coin to see if they should travel east or west.  The quarter lands on tails, so they head west.  As they leave town, they stop at the local Gas-n-Go to fill up and buy some snacks and soda pop.  They charge their credit card for the gas and drinks, and off they go.  After about 200 miles, they realize they are in a remote part of Northern Nevada, where the inhabitants consist mostly of rabbits and rattlesnakes.  Not surprisingly, they realize they have no idea where the closest town is, which concerns them because their gas tank is getting low and they are almost out of drinks.  Suddenly, they begin praying that they have enough snacks and gas to get them back home.  And, in the midst of those silent prayers, they find they are getting on each other’s nerves. 

In both cases, these are trips that are going to be talked about for years to come.  But the nature of the reminiscences will vary considerably!

Many people live their lives much like the friends who took the second road trip.  They take whatever comes and live day-to-day or paycheck-to-paycheck.  They do not have a plan or a goal for where they want to go, let alone end up. There is no beacon guiding them toward where they have determined they want to go.

Stopping to Think at Buckaroo Bill’s

June 23rd, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

We’ve wound our way up to West Yellowstone to the most delightful restaurant called Buckaroo Bill’s. I’m enjoying time with family (although a few of them are carsick from the twisty roads, which of course got me thinking again about The Zig Zag Principle.) Zigging and zagging is such a powerful concept in nature. It is how we live our lives. It’s how we travel and move, it’s how streams wind their way to large rivers. Zig zagging is how we find success in our lives. Yet in business we frequently race quickly towards a goal, only to find failure. Is it any wonder why nine out of ten small businesses fail? 

Since I’m here in this gorgeous setting, surrounded by nature, let me briefly share The Zig Zag Principle, the most powerful concept that I have come up with in business so far.  Zig zagging sounds undisciplined, but indeed it is a very disciplined pragmatic approach—like a big river zigging and zagging it’s way to the ocean.

The first thing that you do is…set a crazy, big-hairy goal out there. (I am very goal oriented and I encourage everyone to be so too.) So you set this large goal out there. Then you assess your resources. Next you create a catalyzing statement or the emotional fuel to get your team to join you. Once your goal and your values are in place, the first thing you do is, you divert!

You drive to profitability. 

Zig #1 is always drive to profitability.  Getting to profitability and operating in the black is much more powerful than operating in the red. It’s comfortable, it’s logical. And it also allows you durability. It’s just that profitability might not always be in a straight line with your main goal.

Zag #2 is always to add processes and resources

Zag #3 is to add scale

The other key component in zig zagging is what I call the guardrails.  These are the components that keep us from getting lost and going into the weeds. Guardrails are the things that keep you focused on your big long term objective.

The road to success is never a straight line. Instead, zig and zag with confidence and you’ll get there.

No Crystal Ball Here!-Zig Zag Principle #14

June 21st, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Chapter 2

Beacons in the Fog and Catalyzing Statements 

Midway through my career I was working for an incredibly shrewd and successful businessman named Ladd Christensen.  One day, in a moment of frustration, he called me into his office and bellowed, “Rich, define ‘entrepreneurship!’” I rattled off some lame textbook answer, and he responded, “Wrong. Wrong! Entrepreneurship is having the courage to wander in the fog.”At the time I didn’t really buy it.  My style was to move from point A to point B in as direct a line as possible.  I was (and still am) a goal-setter, and wandering aimlessly held no appeal; in fact, it seemed antithetical to getting where I wanted to go, either in business or in life.

Although I disagreed strongly with Ladd at the time, the point of his tirade became much more clear years later when I read an article by a well-known educator and religious leader who told how he had once asked for clarity from his file leader on an assignment and received what initially seemed to be a puzzling response:   

          He [told me], “The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning.” I replied that [yes] I would like to see at least a step or two ahead. Then came the lesson of a lifetime: “You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you.” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Edge of the Light,” BYU Today, March 1991, p. 000) 

Despite my natural inclination to always want to know exactly where I’m headed, I’ve learned that, whether we’re talking about starting a business, completing a complex project our boss has given us, or helping a trying teen get through high school, our lives inevitably involve some wandering in the fog.  Very seldom do we have a crystal ball showing us every step we should take and everything that is going to happen.  

Finding Our Beacon in the Fog

It is one thing to wander aimlessly, which some of us, unfortunately, do.  It’s a very different matter to identify and set our sights on what I call a big, audacious goal, which becomes our “beacon in the fog.” With that beacon firmly in mind, we are far better equipped to head into the darkness, knowing we may not always be able to see where we’re going with crystal clarity, but still knowing where we’re headed.  Airline pilots do this all the time.  They barrel through storms and massive cloud banks at 500 miles per hour, unable to see ten feet in front of them, and we passengers are accepting of this insanity because we know they are fixed on a clearly identified bearing.

If we’re smart, we do the same thing.  We start out with a big goal to guide us, and every once in a while we hit a smaller goal, which provides a break in the fog that lets us catch sight of our beacon before we take those next steps into the darkness. The process is more messy and risky than it is clean, pristine, planned, and calculated.  But if you have a solid, clearly defined beacon in the fog to move toward—and a foundation to travel on—then you will arrive at your destination, just as you’ve planned.  But only after some inevitable zigzagging!

Shirts or Skins?

June 17th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

In business one of the most important decisions you make is who you choose to be on your team. The only decision that is really more important is who picks you to be on their team. That is something I’ve heard Roy Williams say many times over the years.

www.zigzagprinciple.comLast week I was able to go to dinner with my dear friend Takahiro in Japan. Takahiro was my colleague very early in my career, when I was working for Novell. As I was finishing my MBA, we took an Asian trip as part of the final class. The trip included some time in Japan.

When Mitsubishi signed up to be a strategic account of Novell, no one else really had any Japanese experience, so I was assigned the job.

I was picked to be on that team.

That experience has opened many doors throughout my entire career. The experiences I had and the things I learned during that period of time are really what launched my career.

Last week, as I sat with my dear friend Takahiro, we exchanged fun stories about the zeal of youth and the wild business decisions that we made. Early on, we simply didn’t know better, so we went out and did some really cool, crazy things together. These actions have served Takahiro and I well.

I appreciate the types of deep relationships that you can form while working with the right team. Although Takahiro and I haven’t seen each other in person for thirteen years, the connection is still very strong and we greatly enjoyed reminiscing and catching up on the wonderful things that have happened in our lives.

I (virtually) observed Takahiro get married, and I actually delivered the congratulatory address, remotely. Takahiro has watched my young children grow via email and phone calls. We’ve also shared in the simultaneous and exciting launch periods of our careers.

My advice to everyone is:

1. Behave competently early on in your career.
2. Make sure that you perform.

As David Owens used to say, (and as I quoted several weeks ago) “You work for yourself.” Your competence and incompetence will always show its head, so be competent and in those early stages, irrespective of where you are at in your career…perform. Make a difference and really contribute. It will be something you take with you your whole life. It will allow you the opportunity to, someday, reflect back with your first dear colleagues. It will let you think back on your early days in fondness.

What The Heck Is Froghair?-Zig Zag Principle #13

June 16th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Throughout this book, I will provide proof from my own experience that the principles I’m putting forth work.  So, to summarize our need to identify our resources—which should include a combination of mental capital and relationship capital—here’s an introduction to the company I will be using to prove the points of this book.  This company’s name is Froghair.  I’ll return to it in each of the following chapters.

In 2001, I was running a technology company and had a very bright employee named Abbie Hunter.  She was an aggressive young woman who had dreams of her own and who told me one day that she wanted me to help her set up a company.  And she meant it! After thinking through what I’d be willing to get involved with I said, “Okay, Abbie, I’ll help you with whatever idea you come up with, but it has to involve the outdoors and golf.”  Why?  Because I had plans to go climbing in the Himalayas, and I am also an avid golfer.  I figured if I was going to add anything to an already very full plate, it had better be something I was passionate about.

Abbie went to work on ideas and a few weeks later came back with a business plan involving selling outdoor and golf equipment.  I agreed to combine my mental and relationship capital with hers, and we started a company with almost zero financial capital.

Well, the business did okay and we had some fun working on it, but it was not a high priority for me or for Abbie, and eventually she left to take a well-deserved job on the East coast.  I was now on my own with it, and it turned into something my boys and I ran out of our garage.  Orders would come in; the boys would label, clean, and pack the products; and then semi-trucks would pull into our small neighborhood to pick up the orders.  One time I actually slept in the garage to keep my eye on a particularly large order.  I had fun and scored some nice equipment, my boys learned some good lessons and discipline, but the business was never something my wife and I fed our family off of.

A couple of years into this, I developed a relationship with Curtis Blair, who shared my passion for golf.  He had experience and knowledge of the golf market.  He also had knowledge of Latin America and spoke Spanish.  He decided he wanted in on this deal (maybe for the free golf balls?), so we agreed that he’d come onboard to develop markets in Central and South America and expand the corporate side of the business, which he did with considerable success. We were able to combine our mental capital and relationship capital to establish a small stable of commercial accounts with whom we made a point of maintaining very strong relationships.  We also built relationships with several high-end, name brand suppliers, all of which loved doing business with us because we always paid our bills on time, often well in advance of what their terms called for.  (The know-how around both the need and how to do that is part of my mental capital.)

The company grew to the point where, when we wanted to get out from under it, we were able to sell it for a tidy profit.  However, we cared about the relationships we had formed during our years together, so we were very careful about screening the buyer, who turned out to be a man in Arizona who had an abundance of financial capital and a similar passion for golf.  His idea for running the company, though, was that he would turn the operations over to a college student our buyer would leave town for a month at a time to play golf.  The outcome of his brilliant business plan was a disaster, which might surprise some people because the man we sold the business to had all the financial capital needed to take our germ of an idea and make it a huge success!

Not that we wanted it, but when the new owner fell behind in the payments he owed us, Curtis and I ended up taking back our ownership in 2009.  Gratefully, we still had our relationships with suppliers and clients, we understood the markets and business processes, and we hadn’t lost any of our passion for being outdoors and playing too much golf.  The one change we did make was that we renamed the company “Froghair” and then set out to achieve our long-term goals (which I’ll share in the next chapter).

There was a lot of zigzagging involved when I first started that company with Abbie. There was a lot more when Curtis joined up with me and took us into markets I didn’t know anything about.  And there was even more when we regained ownership.  But that zigzagging was possible because we identified our mental and relationship capital. 

Summary

Whether you’re looking to start your own company, to excel in the company you work for, or to achieve goals in your personal life that have always eluded you, the first step in building your foundation is assessing your resources.  Just as Donald Trump’s jet can fly him around the world, my Audi can easily get me across the country, and my son’s kick scooter can get him down the block, we can each start with what we have right now and then decide where we want to go with our own unique vehicle.  Then we can trade up as we acquire more resources.

Now that you’ve begun identifying your resources, it’s time to learn about setting your beacon in the fog.

Just Do The Right Thing!-Zig Zag Principle #12

June 15th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Building relationships is an important and never-ending opportunity that will set the foundation for your zigzagging.  It will open more doors for you than you could ever imagine.  It’s also a process that needs to be looked at from the right perspective.  I would recommend that you remember two important principles:  First, do the right things for the right reasons.  Second, don’t ever use people.

We live in a selfish world where some people believe the world stopped revolving around the sun on the day they were born.  Some have the mindset that everyone but themselves are disposable and that they can just burn through as many people as necessary to get where they’re going.  My experience and observations have taught me repeatedly that a far better way to live is to have a genuine concern for others and seek ways to serve those around you.  That said, our motivation should never be anything other than doing the right thing. 

I recall one young man who I was eager to help.  He was incredibly bright and talented, and I saw a lot of potential in him.  On several occasions I put myself out there to help him.  When I was leaving the department where I had been his boss, I made sure he had a good position.  A few weeks later, he complained to me that he was not happy in his new job and was looking for another.  I opened my network of friends to him and helped him find new employment.  A couple of months later he had burned through those relationships, and I found myself having to apologize to close associates for the messes he had created.  I recommended him for several other jobs and offered my advice whenever he called.  I even helped him get into a prestigious MBA school.

I never received a thank-you from him, nor any offer to reciprocate for the help I had given him.  In fact, one time I asked a very small favor of him, but he was too busy.  Another time I overheard him pointing out some of my weaknesses to a group of associates. We should not help others with an eye toward what we can get in return, but when all we get back is a lack of gratitude and a sense of being used, that becomes burdensome. In this case, though my “friend” continued to call for help from time to time, I simply quit responding to his demands and returning his calls.  No one likes to feel used.  

Application

Wherever you are and whatever you plan to do, you’ll benefit from making a list of the resources you have at your disposal.  Start with what you have today and dig deep down into your pocket.  Look for resources that you might otherwise overlook. 

 

Value Equation 

Mental Capital + Relationship Capital = Financial Capital 

  • List your mental capital:  What are you good at?  What are you passionate about?  What skills do you have?
  • List your relationship capital:  Who are ten people that can help you get closer to your goals? 
  • If you do not have ten people you can call on, what can you do to build relationships with ten such people? How can you serve these people?

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When Life Give You Lemons…-Zig Zag Principle #11

June 11th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Building networks of relationships does not happen overnight, and it takes attentiveness and hard work.  I’ve seen people who set out with a very clear goal to build a network as quickly as possible.  They see their goal, and they see others as a way to reach the goal.  And they often bulldoze straight ahead, leaving expendable bodies in their wake.  Some of the greatest relationships I’ve been fortunate to enjoy have come at the end of zigzagging that took place over months and even years—and could never have been envisioned if I had sat down and tried to map out who I needed to know and where knowing them would get me. 

As part of my MBA program while I was still working at Novell, I had the opportunity to go on a trip through Asia to study various businesses in Japan, Korea, and China.  When I returned, Mitsubishi had just signed a contract with Novell for some strategic engineering work.  As it happened, I was the only one in our department who had ever been to Japan.  So, even though I did not speak the language, I got assigned to be the strategic engineer for Mitsubishi. 

During this time the president of Mitsubishi’s PC Division, Dr. Peter Horne, traveled from Japan to Utah several times to meet with Novell’s CEO, Ray Noorda.  My job was to pick him up at the Salt Lake City airport and drive him to our Provo office, which was about an hour away.  I suppose I could have viewed this assignment as something of a chore, but I chose to see it as an opportunity to get to know a very bright, talented, capable individual.  So, I would wash my car, (thank goodness, I had recently traded up from the Dodge Colt!) and would try to think of some interesting topics of conversation. 

Dr. Horne and I had made the same trip several times when something happened that changed my life. As he climbed into my car on a Wednesday afternoon for another trip back to the airport, Dr. Horne tossed his jacket into the back seat of my car, unbeknownst to me.  When we pulled up to the terminal, he grabbed his luggage but inadvertently left his jacket behind.  I drove home, dropped off the car for my wife, and then got a ride to a Boy Scout activity I was helping to chaperone.

This was before cell phones, and while I was gone my wife got a frantic call from Dr. Horne letting her know that he had failed to retrieve his jacket and that his passport and wallet were in its pockets.  Without a second thought, my wife loaded our three kids (all under the age of six) into the car and drove like crazy up to the airport.  My wife and these little kids ran through the airport as fast as they could in order to get the jacket to Dr. Horne before his flight took off.  (If you can remember ancient history, this was before the days of airport security.) 

A few weeks later my wife received a package in the mail with a beautiful hand-carved jewelry box and a thank-you note.  In the note Dr. Horne commented that his wallet had contained a substantial amount of cash and that not one cent had been touched.  He expressed amazement that we would have the integrity to return his wallet without even looking inside.  He was also grateful that my wife would drive up, even though it was clearly an inconvenience.  In a subsequent conversation, Dr. Horne told me that if I ever decided to leave Novell, he would like to talk with me.  Indeed, the time did come when I left Novell, and through a series of fortuitous events I became the general manager of  Mitsubishi Electrics PC Division in the United States.  Meeting Dr. Horne was one of the first real breaks I had during the early years of my career.  What started out as a small act of service on my wife’s part was rewarded with a strong mentor, boss, and a dear friend.  I will be forever grateful to Dr. Peter Horne.

You Scratch My Back, I’ll Scratch Yours-Zig Zag Principle #10

June 11th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Relationship Capital

If you take your smarts and your intelligence and do nothing but sit in a dark room and think about how bright you are, then obviously nothing is going to come of them.  But if you take your smarts and your intelligence and use them to the benefit of people around you, the relationships you build will propel you toward your goals.  Likely, you won’t find yourself traveling in a straight line; but, even with twists and turns, you’ll get there.

While I was still in college, I worked in technical support for a startup company named Netline.  Everyone in the company was busting their guts to make this little leading-edge technology business work, and we had advanced to the point where we had attracted the attention of a billionaire who was coming to see if he wanted to invest in the company. 

The day before he was to arrive, we set up a demo wall and prepared everything needed to show him the technology.  I was just a peon in this company, but as I was getting ready to leave that night, I noticed our cement floor had not been swept or mopped, and the place was filthy.  We were a startup, and we were so focused on the technology that those small details were overlooked.  But I guess I had learned enough from my mother to feel embarrassed to have this incredibly successful businessman see our offices looking as they did. 

So I drove home and got my wife, and we went back and cleaned the building.  As it happened, everyone was gone by the time we started, and the next day I didn’t feel any need to point out what we had done.

We made our presentation to the businessman, he was impressed with the technology, and the company got the funding it needed.  As we celebrated, there was a buzz about who had cleaned the building; and even though I didn’t say anything, someone figured out who had corrected a glaring oversight.  As simple as my contribution was, it created relationship capital with the vice-president of marketing, who asked me to be his technician.  Before long, he was promoting me within the company and inviting me to travel with him to trade shows. 

I didn’t have much mental capital at that point, but—without even intending to do so—I formed relationships that have lasted for years, simply by knowing which end of a broom to hold onto. 

Several years ago I traveled to Lake Tahoe to deliver a lecture. Before the appointed time, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of about twenty young entrepreneurs from Canada who had asked if I’d spend an hour with them answering questions on starting businesses. 

We had a delightful exchange, and, as we got to the end of our time together, they asked me what they could do to help me.  Not thinking anything about it, I said something like, “Oh, everything’s good.  Thanks for the offer.”  As I was heading to the presentation I had come to make, one of my associates told me we had misplaced the handouts we were going to use.  He was a little panicked and was hoping we could find a copy machine in time to make new copies. 

The next thing that I knew, Ernistina, one of the young Canadians, had gathered her team together.  They figured out where to make the photocopies and then took the time to hand them out to the group of people who were gathered in the lecture hall.  Because of her awareness and service, the event went off without any glitches and was a success.  I was so grateful to Ernistina that I instantly invited her to a seminar we were teaching on entrepreneurship.  We, of course, waived the tuition and even helped with her travel expenses. 

Ernistina certainly hadn’t met with me with the plan that she could then turn her energies toward making photocopies, and I can only assume that she had other things to do after we finished our discussion.  But by being willing to serve me, she was able to expand her relationship capital considerably.  And I was able to make a new friend.

Are You An Educated Idiot?-Zig Zag Principle #9

June 9th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

What Is Mental Capital?

I value education.  I grew up determined to graduate from college, and I did.  Twice.  First, I earned a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering (which is not a major I would recommend if you want to sail through college), and second, I earned an MBA.

I give you this background because I don’t want you to misunderstand when I say that getting an MBA or any other degree is not mental capital.  Information alone is not  sufficient.  I know enough “educated idiots” who are very book smart but are not able to put what they’ve learned to good use.  Whether your sources of information are traditional or nontraditional, your mental capital is your ability to apply that information.  

I learned things in my MBA program that have been of direct benefit—lessons having to do with finances, human resources, motivational philosophies, etc.  But the greatest benefits came from experiencing the discipline of learning—exploring, digging, experimenting, and applying.  I made it a point to continue to explore and discover after I received my diploma, and I’ve learned some lessons since that have stayed with me far longer than the content I was tested on in the classroom. 

As you assess your mental capital, by all means consider what you’ve learned in school, but also consider what you’re good at.  What special skills do you have that you could apply to your current situation? What are you curious about?  Do you have unique insight or understanding about a particular field? 

For me, I think I have some natural ability as a salesman, which helped me convince my brothers to mow lawns for me.  I’m good at understanding technology, something I was aware of when I set out to repair that old lawnmower in my parents’ garage.  Both are forms of mental capital I’ve continued to use to this day.  Somewhere in my career, I became adept at search-engine optimization, or making sure web sites show up at the top of the list you see when you push “search.”  That knowledge didn’t exist when I graduated from college, but I picked it up along the road and it’s paid big dividends. 

 

I Just Love Happy Endings!

I have an acquaintance who had a solid career in print journalism at the time personal computers first made their appearance back in the early 1980s.  Like everyone around him, he had to learn a new set of skills.  Some of his coworkers balked at the changes this new technology was bringing to the newsroom and did as little as humanly possible to adapt. But Bob got excited, learned all he could, dug deeper than most, then kept digging, and today oversees a vast and complex website for an international organization.

I know another man who didn’t quite finish his degree in graphic design, in part because he needed to get a job to support a growing family. He had worked for a small television station as a student and was able to get on fulltime when he dropped out of college.  Rather than feeling he was at a dead end, though, he taught himself everything he could about a technology that was shifting from analog to digital and from standard definition to high definition.  Soon he became indispensable to the organization, and a few years later he caught the eye of a major television studio that needed someone who could keep pace with systems that change almost daily.  It was not a degree that got him this higher paying job, it was his mental capital.

Sometimes our schools present learning as a straight line:  You learn this, you pass the test on that, you get your diploma, you get your first job, and you move up the ranks.  But identifying and applying our mental capital will inevitably lead us to zigs and zags throughout our lives, if we are willing to open our eyes to our potential and to the possibilities that lie before us.

Passion is a vital form of mental capital.  It not only drives us, but it gets people aligned with us as we pursue our goals.  In my professional pursuits, I am passionate about technology and about building businesses.  Now, technology can be a pretty dry subject, but I can almost guarantee you I’ll bring so much passion to any discussion we have that you’ll find yourself fascinated before long.  Recently, I was given one hour to meet with an internationally known figure to discuss a technology I thought might benefit him.  The one hour he agreed to turned into four hours, and at the end of our discussion he introduced me to his colleagues by proclaiming, “This is the coolest geek I’ve ever met!” 

Your passions will be different from mine.  But find them.  Make sure your own fire is burning brightly, and others will see it and support you in your pursuits.

User Friendly Newsletter

June 7th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

I am so excited by the fact that McGraw-Hill has allowed me to blog the entire Zig Zag Principle book, that I fear I’ve gotten a bit exuberant. Some reader feedback indicates that daily email updates from my blog have become too burdensome. The last thing I want to do is to create a burden. Therefore, a new plan is in order.

I will still post to the Zig Zag Principle blog daily, however I’ll scale back and only publish a weekly e-newsletter.

My team and I thank you for your patience with us. We appreciate your understanding as we fine tune the best way to share information and add value. I invite you to send me your thoughts, findings, and insights. My personal email address is rich@zigzagprinciple.com.  I look forward to receiving feedback from you.

This week I will be in Japan taking (my soon-to-be-12-year-old son) Timmy Tyrus on his grand adventure “becoming a man”–one of the traditions in our family. I’m excited to blog and offering some insights from Japan.

Thank you so much for your support and interest in Zig Zag Principle and I look forward to our future dialog.

Set Business Traditions

June 7th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Do you have business traditions in your organization? Most people have special family traditions. I think it’s also important to set business traditions for your company and for your family. I’m currently on a business trip with my twelve-year-old son. Trips like this give me the opportunity to help teach my children how to conduct business in other cultures, and as Timmy Tyrus puts it, this tradition helps him to “become a man.” Watch this quick video to get a kid’s prospective on this fun tradition.

 

What are Your Resources?-Zig Zag Principle #8

June 3rd, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Now that you know who you work for, you need to take an honest look at two things:  what your resources are right now, and where they can take you.

I currently drive an Audi A6.  I love this car, and I love going on road trips in it.  No matter the distance or destination, I know I’m going to get there, and I know I’ll travel in comfort.  I can sing along with my favorite music on the satellite radio, and my biggest worry is that my speed will creep up to the point where I’ll get a ticket.  Driving this car is an absolute pleasure!

We Lived on Potatoes and Love!

My Audi A6 is dramatically different from what I drove in college.  When my wife and I were first married, we drove a1972 Dodge Colt that had been wrecked three times.  I know people joke about cars that are held together with bailing wire and duct tape, but ours actually was.  We tried to improve its appearance by covering up some of the larger dents with a rough coat of Bondo and then painting the entire car with blue spray paint.  

That plan didn’t work very well.  In fact, I was so embarrassed by the car that when I was working on my MBA, I would park half a mile away so that no one would see what I drove. The car had a broken oil pan, and the head was cracked.  It would get me to school and back, but I never dared take it out on the freeway, let alone on a road trip.

Back then, that was my only resource for getting to my destination.  I can go a lot farther now in my Audi A6 than I could in that old Dodge Colt.  But the Colt was better than my eight-year-old son’s current resources.  He recently founded a business selling homemade crafts around the neighborhood. When he makes his deliveries, his mode of transportation is a kick scooter.  So, while my Dodge Colt was constrained by the city limits, his radius is a few blocks from our home.  But he is making do with the resources at his disposal.  His vehicle is different from my Audi A6 and even my Dodge Colt.  But it can still take him places.

Of course, the business he is building with his resources is dramatically different than the type of businesses I am able to build.  But then, the businesses I build are dramatically different than the ones Donald Trump builds.  Which is why he has a jet!

Obviously, we can go farther if we have a jet than if we just have a kick scooter.  But any one of these vehicles will get us somewhere.  We may have farther to go and more zigs and zags to create if we are starting with the kick scooter, but even when we think we have no resources, we actually do. Whatever your circumstances, it is important to look deep down in your pockets.

Just A Small Town Boy

I grew up in a rural Southern Utah town with a population of about 2,000, if you include the cows and chickens.  My family did not have any worldly wealth to speak of. But I had dreams of going to college, succeeding as an engineer and businessman, and moving somewhere a bit bigger than my beloved hometown.

When I was a young boy, my resources were the equivalent of my son’s kick scooter.  They consisted mainly of sheer determination, the guts to move forward, time, and boundless energy. I also had a bicycle, which was handy because a nice neighbor who knew I wanted to work offered me a paper route.  With that paper route, I was able to save enough money to fix up an old lawn mower that was sitting unused in our shed. After a bit of self-promotion, another neighbor offered me the job of mowing the hospital’s lawns.  Between the paper route and the lawn mowing, I was able to buy more lawn mowers, and I invited my brothers to help mow other lawns.  I kept a percentage of what they earned, which seemed fair because I was supplying the equipment.  I saved most of the money I earned and put it toward my goal of going to college.  I also worked hard in high school and received a scholarship, which added more resources toward my goal to graduate from college.

It may seem that I traveled in a fairly straight line toward my goal, but if you look more carefully, I did a lot of zigging and zagging. It may also seem that I had very limited resources, but let’s review them before arriving at that conclusion:

  •  
    • Determination
    • Time
    • Energy
    • Good Health
    • Supportive parents
    • A bicycle
    • A neighbor who offered me a paper route
    • An old lawn mower in the shed
    • Money to fix the lawn mower
    • Knowledge to fix the lawn mower
    • Another neighbor who offered me the lawn-mowing job
    • Friends who wanted to mow lawns
    • Good grades, which led to a scholarship


I love speaking to young, enthusiastic college students.  But whenever I talk about resources, one of them will say, “Rich, it’s great you’ve been able to start all these businesses, but look at where you are!”  I then have to tell them that I had to climb the ladder rung by rung, starting at the very bottom.