Two Faces in the Mirror

mirrorRichard Branson, the already successful Branson, has had to close down businesses that were sucking money down drains with no end in sight. Arguably, he made bad decisions and bad investments. If he lives long enough and stays active, he’ll do so again. Long after the big crash that almost did him in, the freshly, super-successful Trump has been involved with failed real estate projects in Vegas and in Mexico, been sued or threatened suit by investors, and more recently his licensing and speaking deal with the company using the Trump University brand has bitten him in the ass. Presuming another decade of active entrepreneurialism, these won’t be the last sour real estate projects or the last ass bite.

Disney has, recently, bought companies it later, quietly killed. Put out John Carter From Mars and The Lone Ranger.  Completely screwed up its California Adventure theme park and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars re-tooling it. Examine almost any shiny success, and on its flip side, you’ll find grimy failure. How do you feel about that fact?

Zig told the story of the cat hat stepped on the hot burner, then not only wouldn’t ever jump on the stove again, but wouldn’t even come in the kitchen. This is  how most people feel about and react to failure, particularly embarrassing and humiliating or expensive failure. If they experience it once, they never want to go in the kitchen again. One punch in the nose is all it takes. The truth of success scares the shinola out of most people.

There are also, always, the exceptionally successful individuals who are, in various ways, failures personally. Houdini failed at almost nothing, except control of his own ego, which very directly caused his premature and unnecessary death. There’s a T-shirt being sold, with picture of Bill Clinton, that reads: “Remember when YOUR biggest problem in Washington DC was MY stain on a blue dress?” It’s funny, but it also speaks sadly of the stain on a smart and talented man.

My friend Gene Landrum has written intelligently and eloquently about the dysfunction of the extraordinary achiever, and if you haven’t read any of his works, start with Profiles of Greatness.  Most exceptionally successful people are not even close to “superior” – in fact, most are horribly flawed, but manage to rise above their own foibles.

My own history includes a private graveyard of business failures and disappointing projects, most given the swift sword, a few dying slowly and agonizingly;  financial embarrassments;  and some number of people with permanent negative opinions about me. I am not universally beloved nor consistently and certainly successful.

To hit some business highlights, going backwards, there has been mail-order ice cream (which sounds funnier than it is), a high-priced be-an-expert academy that failed to launch, a comprehensive how-to course for inventors no inventor wanted, a retail store: the Self-Improvement Center ahead of its time. Just these added together, a million bucks, give or take, down the drain, a bit noisily.

There was, way back when, both a corporate Chapter 11 turned 13 and a personal bankruptcy. There are four business experiments underway now and I’m confident at least some will become tax losses buried in the back yard. Of more micro nature, were I to try and list and briefly describe all the mis-steps, mistakes, misadventures and misfortunes, it’d be best to do it like an old-fashioned encyclopedia, with a thick volume for each letter of the alphabet, the entire set consuming several shelves. And I’m not done making messes. I say: success is cooked up in a messy kitchen.

If your success game plan features being right 100% of the time and never making mistakes or your fragile ego demands never getting egg on its face, you’ll be playing the game for only a short time, timidly, and without distinction, or you’ll rise high and fast only to fall just as fast and crash as hard as can be.  The ironic fact is, the game is won by losers.  If you aren’t floundering or outright failing at something, you probably aren’t doing much of anything. When you look in the mirror, if you don’t see a winner and a loser, the guy or gal you do see isn’t playing the big game.

You have heard the cliché: success breeds success. It does. But what you don’t often hear is the other, equal truth, that failure is the other parent of almost all success.  The goal of success can never be to avoid failure, but to manage it, minimize its harm, extract its lessons, leverage it in every way possible, rise above it, and know that it will be forgotten and made irrelevant in time.

Everybody knows that Babe Ruth struck out more than he hit home runs. Most superstar athletes perform similarly. Michael Jordan missed more than 9,000 shots in his pro career. 26 times, he had the game winning shot in his hands, missed, lost. He said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life – and that is why I succeed.” By his own words, he acknowledges seeing two faces in the mirror.

How To Lead & Live A Disappointing Life (Told No, At Every Turn)

Rejection in BusinessDuck, duck, oops. By now, the Ducky Dynasty controversy sparked by patriarch Phil’s raggedly voiced, Biblical based anti-gay answer to a GQ MAGAZINE interviewer’s question is old news. I wrote this when it was dominating media. A&E pretended they were shocked, despite a record on Phil’s beliefs dating back at least ten years. That same week, a PR person (of all things) 146-charactered a tweet taken as racist by many and stupid by many more when waiting to board a flight, and she was publicly, “loudly” fired before the flight landed. Anybody with any business, brand, career, money or reputation to protect who tweets at all is dumber than a pile of manure.

But these days, people like ‘ol Phil have to be “on guard” at all times or know they put their empires at risk by voicing their opinions. My speaking colleague of 9 years, Zig Ziglar, had exactly the same position on this item as Phil, but never, to my knowledge, pushed it as in-artfully. Nor would he have agreed to be interviewed by GQ. (Reminds of President Jimmy Carter’s asinine agreement to being interviewed in Playboy, where he made a remark that created a firestorm at the time.)

Whatever you think about Phil’s statements, you should know that your opinions or beliefs are every bit as offensive to a whole lot of folks. A society where opinion is dangerous is a dangerous society indeed. Of course, Phil and his family are rich, they have militantly loyal and enthusiastic fans, and this may wind up making them richer, not poorer. He handled it perfectly.

Several people sent me Phil’s book, HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY,  as a gift, and in it I found a story, that is absolutely typical and representative of two truths behind most Renegade Millionaires. One, what my friend Glenn W. Turner called “being intelligently ignorant” – too dumb to know something can’t be done, and doing it, often to the shock, dismay, and occasionally, rage of “smarter” folks. Second, living undeterred by being told “No”.  So, here’s how Phil “cracked” Wal-Mart for his duck calls…

“So, one day I pulled my old truck in front of the first Walmart I saw, walked in, and said, ‘Hey, how many of these duck calls do you want here?’ The clerk laughed and told me, ‘We don’t buy duck calls. Son, you need to go to Bentonville.’ (Wal-Mart corporate headquarters). I drove down the road and tried the next few Walmart stores.…finally, one of the store managers said, ‘You got an order form?’  ‘Nah, I just figured you could pay me out of petty cash.’ ‘Well, I’ve got a 3-part form I need to fill out,’ he said. ‘I’ll try six of them.’

When that store manager filled out his 3-part form with WALMART at the top and wrote down ‘six duck calls’, I walked out looking at my copy and thought – I’ve got me something here. When I got to the next Walmart, I showed the store manager the form and told him, ‘Walmart’s stocking duck calls. This last store ordered six.’ He said, ‘Give me what you’ve got.’

Eventually, Phil had sold $25,000.00 worth into Wal-Mart stores. Finally, the chief buyer at corporate called and wanted to know how this had happened, and Phil told him. The buyer said, “Let me get this right. You mean to tell me you’ve been driving around in your pick-up truck and convincing our sporting goods departments to buy your duck calls without even conferring with me, who’s supposed to be doing the buying for the whole Wal-Mart chain?”

To his credit, the buyer gave Phil a letter officially authorizing him to keep doing what he’d been doing and okaying store managers’ purchasing. About a year later, Phil finally went to Bentonville. Storewide sales averaged $500,000 a year for 20 years, and opened doors at Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, etc., and went a long way to making Phil and his family rich. How many Phil’s do you think accept the first no?

This mirrors the story of Kenneth Cole, and the way he launched his shoe company – which I’ve told often. Everything else swirling around Phil now is irrelevant. Just focus on this specific aspect of his thinking and behavior: that normal and customary ways of doing things are for other people. This  is how big things get done and big money gets made.

Most environments – Wal-Mart included – have a bureaucratic rule book in place, bureaucrat keepers of the rules; a stultifying process that preserves their power and deliberately renders all others supplicants. Most everybody accepts this, most are confounded by it, some fight their way through it like the lone cat of the six stuffed into the same burlap sack tied shut and dumped into the water trough, who claws and bites and fights his way out. (This has long been a common form of population control of cats on farms.)

A few people refuse to accept this. A few ignore it, out of intelligent ignorance, renegade nature, and an instinctive or conscious recognition that being in a tied-shut sack with competitors, submerged in water, and fighting to be the only one to survive is an undesirable game, even for the victor. A whole lot of what I’ve done, do and teach about marketing, selling, entrepreneurship is all about never getting into or being put into the sack with the other cats, submerged in water.

At every turn, the person of accomplishment and wealth was and continues to be told “No”, “You Can’t” and “That’s Not How It’s Done Around Here”.  Metaphysical-leaning thought leaders teach that this is how “the Universe” tests the truth and depth of each individual’s desire:  a long line ahead of them, in front of a thick, wood door with no bell, through which timid knocking is never heard, and to which a few react: why bother with the damn door at all?   Test of character and will or simple fact of life, you can decide. But life is most profoundly and consistently disappointing for those who honor bureaucracy, who accept No.

– By Dan S. Kennedy, serial entrepreneur, from-scratch multi-millionaire, speaker, consultant, coach, author of 13 books including the No B.S. series, and editor of The No B.S. Marketing Letter. FOR A SPECIAL FREE GIFT FROM DAN FOR YOU including newsletters, audio CD’s and more: visit:

What You Accept, You Get

Only Accept SuccessHere’s a secret I’ve discovered about millionaire and multi-millionaire entrepreneurs: they want what they do and their companies do to be right. Not 80% right. Not 90% right. Right, period. They are, therefore, very much disliked by a lot of people, and if they are “big” enough, by the media. Jobs. Bezos. Trump. Working for them, many ex-employees say, was hell. But maybe it was being incompetent in their employ that was hell.

Winning isn’t just a statistic on a spreadsheet or a bank account balance. It is the customer, Mrs. Matilda Smith, in Rockford, Illinois, getting what she asked for on her pizza or the right product in the delivered package or a human answering her call in fewer than four rings.

Customer appreciation is not a once a year sale or an automated thank you e-mail. It is an authentic attitude, top-down, permeated throughout an organization, actually occurring – and measured, policed and enforced – every day. I don’t care how big your company, if you don’t actually care about the people, the individuals, giving you money, they will drift off in search of a place where they feel valued and appreciated.

Another secret about rich entrepreneurs: they don’t just seek success. They HATE failure.

They often react to it violently. Martha Stewart was known to drop into a K-Mart store, find her branded goods sloppily stocked and throw the entire inventory from shelves onto the floor. Eisner instantly fired a group of Disney Park employees caught not smiling. Walt had a fit over one’s lousy delivery of The Jungle Cruise script. I saw Trump tear an empty towel dispenser from a restroom wall in a Trump hotel and throw it 20 yards down a hall.

These people are said to terrorize their employees, their associates, their vendors. But how calmly should you accept failure?  Should you “stay calm and carry on”? Only if you want more of the failure you calmly accept. If your blood doesn’t boil and offenders see fire shoot from your eyeballs, your lesser response will be taken as permission. If there is failure and new training, new controls, new supervision is not installed as remedy, the “let’s TRY and do better” will be taken as permission.

There are places where incompetence as failure has dire and instant consequences. The jailer who forgets to lock the inmate’s cell or misses the razor blade in the body search may wind up quickly dead. It’s a fine object lesson for other jailers. The cruise ship captain who is busy texting  and gets into too-shallow water and capsizes and sinks the whole thing, and injures and drowns passengers, goes to prison. As it should be.

Creating dire and instant consequences for incompetence and failure is a good thing in any and every business. I’ve told of Chuck Sekeres’ “3 strikes and you’re out” for his in-bound telemarketers: three calls in a row without a set appointment, you’re out. Next batter up. No quarterly performance evaluations. Don’t even wait to be told. After 3, get up and slink out. Minute by minute. Drop three passes in a game, butt on bench. If possible, traded.

Fail at managing the V.A., the IRS and Benghazi, shouldn’t three strikes be enough?  They tried to impeach Clinton over one intern. I used the word RUTHLESS in my book title “No BS Management of People and Profits” because, damn it, we desperately need a lot more ruthlessness in a lot more places. In homes, in neighborhoods, in small businesses, in big companies, in government. You can start with you.

– By Dan S. Kennedy, serial entrepreneur, from-scratch multi-millionaire, speaker, consultant, coach, author of 13 books including the No B.S. series, and editor of The No B.S. Marketing Letter. FOR A SPECIAL FREE GIFT FROM DAN FOR YOU including newsletters, audio CD’s and more: visit:

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