“Focus on WHO instead of HOW” — Dean Jackson
There’s a famous story of Edwin C. Barnes, who in 1905 had no money or expertise. However, he was an ardent fan of the inventor, Thomas Edison.
Barnes wanted to become business partners with Edison. He knew that if he became partners with Edison, there would be no limits on what he could accomplish. He took a freight train to New Jersey and walked straight to the Edison Laboratory.
He was wearing musty and scrappy clothes and told Edison he wanted to go into business with him. Edison was impressed by the boldness and made Barnes a floor sweeper.
During the next few years, Barnes did far more than expected of him for little pay. He also paid close attention to Edison, getting a sense of how he thought and what his goals were.
After years of working on his dictating machine — what later became known as the Ediphone that recorded “voice letters” on a wax cylinder — Edison wanted to commercialize it. He loved the invention but none of his staff saw much marketability in it.
Barnes, however, thought the machine was brilliant and saw a huge potential market. He made a marketing plan for how he intended to sell the machines throughout America and shared the plan to Edison. He sought payment only on the success he created himself.
Edison liked what he saw and accepted Barnes’ proposal. Within a short period of time, Barnes had sold thousands of machines and even had to create his own company to handle the demand. While things were growing dramatically, Barnes became known for hiring great people to help him market and distribute Edison’s machine. He didn’t see himself as a boss, but more of a coach and a partner to all of his employees.
Barnes quickly became a millionaire, which back then meant a lot more than it means now. He developed a unique collaboration and partnership with Thomas Edison that became a long-term and highly lucrative relationship.
Barnes didn’t have a plan.
Instead, he had a person.
He had someone he wanted to work with and help.
He didn’t have a HOW. Barnes had a WHO.
— — —
Don’t ask HOW
When most people have goals, they immediately begin thinking about HOW. Billionaires immediately begin thinking about WHO.
The public school-system does not teach people to become WHO-thinkers and collaborators. Instead, the school system teaches people how to become HOW-thinkers, equipped with a seemingly endless amount of generalized skillsets.
Rather than looking for OTHERS to work with, kids are taught to compete against others and look for right answers. There is basically zero training on developing mentorships, collaborations, partnerships, teamwork, and leadership. Even as a PhD student, I’ve been surprised how generalized my education has been. Rather than working with specific WHO’s, my whole education has been a non-stop flow of HOW’s.
Dan Sullivan is the founder of Strategic Coach and has coached more successful entrepreneurs than anyone alive. According to Sullivan, when a person shifts from HOW to WHO, their goals immediately become national or global. Their thinking expands at least 10 to 100 times bigger, because they aren’t the one figuring out the HOW. Someone else already has that taken care of.
According to Sullivan, the entrepreneurs who want to reach 100X or bigger influence and income realize they must collaborate with their competition. The best collaborations are when a idea-generator teams up with a distributor of ideas. This is what happened with Edison and Barnes. Edison had the idea and Barnes took the idea to the masses.
Becoming a WHO-thinker
“Your network is your net worth.” — Tim Sanders
Most people’s goals are based on HOW. According to Dan Sullivan, thinking about the HOW is daunting and leads to procrastination. Instead of asking HOW, a much better question is WHO.
WHO do you want to learn from?
WHO is already doing what you want to be doing?
WHO is where you want to be?
WHO fascinates and/or inspires you?
WHO do you want to collaborate with?
WHO do you want to help? According to bestselling author Jeff Goins, “Success isn’t about who you know. Success is about who you help.”
There is a clear transition that people make as their vision for themselves advances. They stop thinking in terms of “I do this.” Instead, they shift to either “They do this” or “We do this.”
“They do this” is where you begin thinking bigger about yourself and your time. You realize that when you’re operating in your super-power, your time can actually be worth a lot of money. Therefore, you begin outsourcing and delegating the stuff you dislike about your work to other people and focus only on that which you love. Said YouTuber Casey Neistat, “What is the ultimate quantification of success? For me, it’s not how much time you spend doing what you love. It’s how little time you spend doing what you hate.”
It may seem scary to begin hiring or outsourcing before you feel ready. But the moment you begin doing it, you’ll never look back. The extra time and also the increased rate of happiness and productivity will more than 10X for you, justifying the cost.
“We do this” is a special place held for only those collaborations that make absolute sense to you. This is where you want to start thinking really big about the WHO’s you want into your life. This is what Dan Sullivan was talking about when he said you want to collaborate with your “competition.”
And by the way, competition doesn’t exist for people who know who they are. Competition doesn’t exist for people who trust themselves enough to know they can create continual Blue Ocean’s for themselves, regardless of the situation.
Competition doesn’t exist for people who are abundant WHO-thinkers, because rather than trying to steal the whole pie, abundant WHO-thinkers recognize that:
- The pie doesn’t belong to them, but to the Universe
- The pie is not finite, but infinite
- Nor is the “game” finite, but infinite
- The more of the pie you can give away, the bigger it gets for you
- Relationships are the most important currency in the world
- It’s better to give the piece of pie on your plate to the right person and you’ll quickly get plates back with even bigger pieces
Give your piece away to the right person (even if it’s your favorite flavor)
“Life gives to the giver and takes from the taker.” — Joe Polish
Regarding the last point in the bullet above, I recently had the opportunity to co-author a book with one of the SHARKS from the TV show Shark Tank, Kevin Harrington. Several months ago, Kevin’s CEO, Mark Timm, heard me give a talk at a mastermind and felt good about me. He didn’t know what we would do together, but felt like something important was going to happen.
During my first meeting with Mark, I told him the only thing that made sense for me was co-authoring a book with Kevin. I’d been looking for opportunities to co-author books with people at far different stages in their life and career than I’m at.
Within a few days, I got a text message from Mark, “Kevin’s onboard. He loves the idea!”
For the next two months, I worked back-and-forth with my agent on a book proposal. Then, something deep inside me began to feel wrong, like I wasn’t the guy for this job. But at the same time, I knew this was potentially a career-altering opportunity.
In the midst of all of this, I heard back from Dan Sullivan, my dream mentor and the founder of Strategic Coach that he’d also like to co-author a major book with me.
According to Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek:
“The opposite of love is indifference, and the opposite of happiness is boredom.”
“Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all.”
“Remember — boredom is the enemy, not some abstract ‘failure.’ ”
I realized that, although a golden opportunity, I wasn’t as excited about the Kevin Harrington book. It had becoming a complex and messy situation. But even more, I just felt like something was amiss. I ended-up getting on the phone with Mark to discuss why the project was beginning to stall when it had so much momentum. I began to explain why the situation was getting complex to me and then the idea hit me, “Mark, you should be the co-author of this book!”
I heard nothing for 10 seconds.
“You know what,” he said, “This feels really right. But who would write it? Would you still write the book? I want you to continue being involved on this project.”
“No,” I told him, “I have someone way better at writing than me who can take care of this for you.”
I ended-up linking them with a friend who has a company that specializes in writing books exactly like this. The connection worked-out perfectly. I was able to make the pie a lot bigger for Mark and Kevin. I didn’t need to eat that particular pie with them. I didn’t need to hold that opportunity tightly from a scarcity perspective. I gave that piece away. And now my relationship with them will last long-beyond this one project anyways. This was the right way to go for this project. Mark was the right name on that book. I wasn’t going to get in the way of that.
Billionaire Richard Branson said, “Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.” When you have an abundance mentality, and your focus is on giving more than taking, you realize that endless buses are coming filled with endless pieces of pie.
When you operate from abundance, you develop powerful relationships with powerful people and you never run out of opportunities in “The Gig Economy” of which we are now a part. Operating from abundance means you’re humble, people trust and like you, and you’re a master of your craft. When this is the case, you will never run out of gigs in the gig economy.
Never forget the important words of Jim Collins from Good To Great when he said, “It takes discipline to say ‘No, thank you” to big opportunities. That fact that something is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ is irrelevant if it doesn’t fit.”
“Stay scrappy” (words of wisdom from a very wise and humble man)
Bestselling author Jeff Goins has some really important stuff to say about saying “No” to the wrong opportunities.
According to Jeff there’s a huge difference between people who try to look sophisticated and people who remain scrappy. As he said:
“Sophisticated” people are highly concerned about their image. They care about accolades, recognition, and appearance. In reality, these people look better than they actually are. Sophisticated people really care what others think and tend to compare and compete. They don’t have a sense of their own work and are willing to do whatever has worked for others.
Conversely, scrappy people are far more concerned about the work. They let their work speak for itself. These people are better than they look. Scrappy people stay in their lane. They’re confident in who they are and don’t compare themselves to others.
We live in an age where people really really want to look sophisticated. I’ve seen this so many times. A writer gets their first couple thousand email subscribers and all-of-a-sudden they are now the expert selling courses on the subject. And of course, they are taking all of the credit for their own success.
The words of entrepreneur and strategist, Michael Fishman are instructive:
“Self-made is an illusion. There are many people who played divine roles in you having the life that you have today. Be sure to let them know how grateful you are.”
In the book Give and Take, Adam Grant explained that successful people GIVE others credit while unsuccessful people TAKE the credit. Who wants to have a relationship with someone who takes all the credit? Who wants to have a relationship with someone who isn’t appreciate and grateful and giving?
Those seeking sophistication either wanted fame and notoriety in the first place or they have completely forgotten WHY they were doing their work. Either way is a short-term approach to life and a death-sentence for developing long-term and important relationships.
Create a list of “dream mentors”
When the WHY is strong enough, you’ll figure out WHO!
When the WHO is exciting enough, you’ll figure out HOW!
— Benjamin Hardy’s adaptation of the quote by Bill Walsh
In the book, The Third Door, Alex Banayan tells the story of how he met and learned from people like Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Steven Spielberg, and others.
Alex was clearly a WHO-thinker. Rather than deciding specifically what he wanted to do, instead he thought of WHO he wanted to learn from. Once he decided WHO, then he began getting very creative about HOW he would connect with those people.
Alex was particularly inspired by Elliot Bisnow, the founder of Summit & co-owner of Powder Mountain Resort in Eden, Utah. Alex wrote down on a piece of paper:
He listed Elliot Bisnow and spent the next several hours composing an email to Elliot. He said exactly what he needed to say in that email and got a meeting, which turned into a mentorship.
In their first interview, Elliot gave Alex some “ground-rules” for developing powerful relationships with people:
- Never use your phone in a meeting. It “makes you look like a chump.” The more digital the world gets, the more impressive it is to use a pen. And it’s also just rude to be on your phone.
- Act like you belong. Walk into a room like you’ve been there before. Don’t gawk over celebrities. Be cool. Be calm. Never ever ask someone for a picture. If you want to be treated like a peer, you need to act like one. Fans ask for pictures; peers shake hands.
- Mystery makes history. When you’re doing amazing stuff, don’t post it on Facebook. No one actually changing the world posts everything they do online. Keep people guessing what you’re up to. Plus, the people you’re going to impress by posting stuff online are not the people you should care about impressing.
- Never, ever, go back on your word. If I tell you something in confidence, you need to be a vault. What goes in does not come out. This goes with your relationships with anyone from this day forward. If you act like a vault, people will treat you like a vault. It will take years to build your reputation but seconds to ruin it.
- Adventures only happen to the adventurous.
Who are your dream mentors?
Who are your dream mentors?
Who are the people who are WHERE YOU WANT TO BE?
Who are the people who fascinate and inspire you?
Who are the people you want to learn from?
Joe Polish, the founder of Genius Network and arguably the most connected man in business, has a list of “rules” that he expects of those whom he interacts with. He calls it his “Magic Rapport Formula.” The principles of his formula are:
- Focus on how you will help them reduce their suffering
- Invest time, money, and energy on relationships
- Be the type of person they would always answer the phone for
- Be useful, grateful, and valuable
- Treat others how you would love to be treated
- Avoid formalities, be fun and memorable, not boring
- Appreciate people
- Give value on the spot
- Get as close to in-person as you can
If you combine Elliot Bisnow’s rules with Joe Polish’s formula, you have a potent cocktail for developing relationships and mentorships with just about anyone.
You don’t need to be the best in the world at what you do. You simply need to get the job done. You need to be able to help your DREAM MENTOR in a powerful and compelling way. Remember Edwin Barnes from the beginning of this article? He didn’t have much by way of expertise. He just had a definite desire to work for Edison.
Wait, no. He wanted more than just to work for Edison. He wanted to be Edison’s partner. He wanted to collaborate with Edison. And of course, he did. It took a little time, but he built rapport and then seized a powerful moment by making it all about Edison’s success and goals.
A fast and powerful way to get noticed
Being mentored by your heroes is one thing. But collaborating with your heroes is something entirely different. Sure, shooting emails back and forth, or even getting an interview with famous people is cool.
But developing an actual partnership with a DREAM MENTOR will require that you have something very powerful to bring to the table.
Barnes brought intense enthusiasm and then used that to take Edison’s ideas out into the world. Barnes was what Jeff Goins’ would call “scrappy.” He just wanted to do the work. He got better and better and better at what he did.
If you already have a pre-existing capability, all the better. As Dan Sullivan has explained, the best collaborations are when a creator and distributor come together to take both where neither could go on their own.
WHO is someone you want to partner with?
DREAM BIG HERE! Think really really big.
WHO do you want to learn from?
WHY this person?
Once you have the answer to those two questions, all you need to do is get to work. As Bill Walsh wisely said, “When the why is strong enough you’ll figure out how!”
The HOW will only take care of itself when you have the proper WHO and WHY in place.
The WHO is the first question you need to answer. The WHY must be powerful for selecting that particular person.
Write it down on paper.
Write down WHO you want to work with.
Write down WHY you want to learn from and/or work with them.
Then, and only then, begin writing down HOW you plan to develop the connection. That connection should be built on the basis of service to their goals. In most cases, you’re better-off doing more front-end work than Barnes did for Edison. Although sometimes your spirit and enthusiasm may be enough, in today’s hyper-connected world, people in high places are getting more requests than they know what to do with.
You need to make yourself stick out. If you approach them AFTER:
- you’ve already been supporting their work in powerful ways
- it’s clear to them you know what you’re talking about
- you’re proposing ways you can help them achieve their goals without much work or effort on their part
THEN you’ve got a really really good shot at developing incredible partnerships with your DREAM MENTORS.
Be so good that you can’t be ignored
“If a thing is done well, no one will ask how long it took to do it, but only who did it.” — John Taylor
All of this is a lot easier if you already have developed expertise at something. Cal Newport explains the importance of being “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.”
If you understand relationships and if you’re an abundant person … PLUS you’re already really really good at what you do, then it becomes easy to get mentored by and work with nearly anyone you want. If you have rare skills and abilities, you can use those skills abundantly to HELP the people you want to work with. Even more, you can also establish immediate credibility.
Jeff Goins is right about the difference between being “sophisticated” and “scrappy.” Yes you can work with just about anyone if you really want to. But WHY? Is it to make yourself look good? Is it to fuel your ego and pride?
Dan Sullivan says it only takes him a few minutes with a person for him to feel their core motivation, whether that be growth or greed.
If your focus is on growth, giving, and continuing to do the work you love, then partnering with DREAM MENTORS will only catapult you further. But beware of what Jeff Goins calls “The Dark Side Of Success.” It’s very easy to lose your way and forget your WHY when even a little bit of success comes your way.
And if you truly dedicate yourself to becoming SO GOOD YOU CAN’T BE IGNORED, you will become successful. Becoming successful isn’t rocket-science. It’s about serving a specific audience in a way that is highly useful. It’s about developing skills and using them to benefit others.
It’s never been easier to learn and develop skills. We have access to a global world with endless information and connection. We also have distribution channels that allow us to get our work and products viewed by millions of target audiences for either free or really cheap.
Developing mastery is easier than staying clear on your values and WHY after mastery has been developed. Follow Jeff Goins’ advice to stay scrappy no matter how “successful” you become. Always be better than you look. Stay humble and grateful in your relationships and people will love you.
Always make the pie bigger for people. And when you shift your focus from HOW to WHO, you’ll immediately begin thinking 10X or 100X bigger.
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This article first appeared on Medium.