Peter’s Laws: Supercharging Your Attitude
In this blog, I take you through six more of my Peter’s Laws, how they’ve guided me in my career, and how they might give you a new perspective.
Attitude is everything and the future really is better than you think. When I tell people that we’re going to be living in a world of abundance, they sometimes look at me and ask, “Really? Haven’t you heard about the economic downturn in this part of the world? Or terrorism in that part of the world? Or murders everywhere? The world is falling apart.”
Many people have an extraordinarily negative mindset that shapes how they think about everything. But we’ve always had challenges as a species. We’ve always faced challenges in our civilizations. And guess what? We’re still here, still thriving on Earth because we’ve always learned to overcome them.
In my last blog, I introduced you to Peter’s Laws that express my mindset of being passionate and persistent in achieving seemingly impossible goals.
So, here are another six Peter’s Laws — these meant to supercharge your attitude about doing things big and bold.
1. The ratio of something to nothing is infinite. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who talk about stuff, but never actually do anything. They will always have excuses that prevent them from starting. When I’m interviewing a potential employee or partner, it’s what this person has done already in their life that matters far more than what he or she plans to do. The best predictor of a person’s future success is their past actions. It doesn’t matter how small an action is, but to do something is so much greater than just talking about doing it. So, the ratio of “something to nothing” is literally infinite. Accomplish that first step and use what you’ve learned to build the next step and the next step after that. Results will follow. Charles Lindbergh said it well: “The important thing is to start; to lay a plan, and then follow it step by step no matter how small or large one by itself may seem.”
2. You get what you incentivize. If something in your life is not working, it’s because you incentivize that behavior. Of course the opposite is true as well. In the United States, our tax code is so complicated that it creates an entire accounting and legal industry. Why is it so complex? Because we incentivize the lawyers who run this nation to keep it as such. You get what you incentivize. Along those lines, I’m a big proponent of incentive competitions, the idea that you can put up a cash prize with a very clear goal and ask people around the world to solve it for you. Incentives are a powerful way to get the smartest people in the planet to help solve your problems.
3. If you think it’s impossible, then it is‚Ä¶ For you. Belief that something is possible is the first and most critical step in doing anything. Why would you ever set out on a journey that you thought was impossible? That would be suicide. I’m amazed (and mortified) by the number of people who believe that bold objectives — such as solving world hunger or creating global literacy and healthcare — are impossible. We’re living in a day and age where impossible things are becoming possible every day. Imagine going back in time, just 20 years ago and describing to someone that by 2016 we would have one billion cell phones in Africa‚Ä¶ Or that video teleconferencing would be free to everyone. And that’s just the beginning of the insanely wonderful breakthroughs happening right now!
4. An expert is someone who can tell you exactly how something can’t be done. I love this one. When I announced the Ansari X PRIZE, many of the “experts” in the aerospace industry explained to me how naive I was. When the Longitude Board composed of the world’s greatest Royal Astronomers saw the working clock built by watchmaker John Harrison (which met all of the goals to win the Longitude Prize of 1714), they refused to pay him the purse because they were absolutely sure it would be won by an astronomical solution. A lot of times experts in a company have narrowed their vision of what is possible. In fact, in a rather perverse incentive, an expert is massively disincentivized to promote someone else’s radical and disruptive solution, because if it results in a wholesale change in their field, they are no longer the expert‚Ä¶ they are now a has-been. Some experts are therefore inspired and committed to keep that something exactly the way it is. They may not tell you that specifically, but psychologically, it’s how they feel.
Henry Ford said it best in the following quote that speaks to both experts and impossible things. Regarding his employees at Ford Motor Company, Ford said, “None of our men are ‘experts.’ We have most unfortunately found it necessary to get rid of a man as soon as he thinks himself an expert because no one ever considers himself expert if he really knows his job. A man who knows a job sees so much more to be done than he has done, that he is always pressing forward and never gives up an instant of thought to how good and how efficient he is. Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying to do more, brings a state of mind in which nothing is impossible. The moment one gets into the ‘expert’ state of mind a great number of things become impossible.”
So, experts are sometimes those individuals who tell you exactly how something can’t be done.
5. The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.This Peter’s Law came to me from Burt Rutan, the man who designed and built SpaceShipOne, the brilliant vehicle that won the Ansari X PRIZE and is now hanging in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. As Rutan explained it to me, a small incremental improvement is not a breakthrough. For example, a computer that is twice as fast is predictable, even expected. But during the vacuum-tube age, before the invention of silicon wafers, imagine that we told the experts that we were going to build computers out of silicon chips — that would have been considered crazy at the time. And therefore, when it actually happened, it was a true breakthrough.
I ask CEOs whom I lecture this: “Where in your organization do you allow for crazy ideas to be tried and tested? Because if you don’t do this, if you’re stuck with just very incremental steps, you’re stuck with incrementalism, not breakthroughs.”
6. The world’s most precious resource is the persistent and passionate human mind. I’m often struck by the ability of a single individual to change the world. Think Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Larry Page, Richard Branson‚Ä¶ They each started with no money, no technology, just their passion and perseverance. Ultimately three things make anything possible: People, technology and money. If you have the right people and the enough money you can create the technology — that’s called innovation. If you have the right people and the right technology, you can attract the funding — that’s called venture capital. But money and technology, without the right human mind driving them, is useless matter.
In my next blog, I’m going to share with you how as a graduate student in my mid-20s I founded an International Space University that would become a $50 million institution based in Strasbourg, France.
NOTE: As always, I would love your help in co-creating BOLD, and will happily acknowledge you as a “contributing author” for your input. Please share with me (and the community) in the comments below what you specifically found most interesting, what you disagree with and any similar stories or examples that reinforce this blog that I might use as examples in writing BOLD. Thank you!
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