Stay on TargetSocial Sciences
When Charlie asked Bill Douglas the secret of his success, Douglas had answered with a question of his own: he asked Charlie if he remembered the scene from the movie Star Wars when the pilots of the Rebellion were attacking the Death Star at the end of the movie. It having been one of his favorite films, Charlie remembered the scene well. “Recall how that one pilot with a round face and the funny little beard was leading his squadron in for their bombing run, and all hell was breaking loose all around them? They were being shot at by cannons on the surface of the Death Star, and being chased by fighter pilots who were zeroing in from behind. And in his flat, totally unemotional voice, he kept saying, ‘Stay on target. Stay on target.’ That’s the secret to success in business. Staying on target. It is one of the core principles of our business.
Bill Douglas had founded Future Perfect Now nearly twenty years ago. Now, the company was a leading provider of personal success coaching, home study programs, as well as a huge library of books and audio programs on personal and business success. Douglas had been one of the early pioneers in direct consumer marketing. In the early days, he didn’t have money for advertising or a field sales force, so he put his satisfied students to work. First, he gave them commissions for recruiting new students into his programs. Then, as he became too busy to conduct all of the desired programs himself, he started training former students to be trainers and coaches. As the business continued to grow, many of his students started building their own regional organizations. Rather than prohibit this, Douglas created a tiered compensation program that actually encouraged their growth.
“The target principle has two components – focus and concentration. Focus means having a manageable number of goals before you at any one time. You’ve probably heard the saying that you can have anything you want in the world, you just can’t have everything. The more willing you are to be focused, the more you end up being able to accomplish. Concentration, on the other hand, means applying all available resources to achieving that focused goal. It means staying on target, even when the world presents you with innumerable distractions and crises that tempt you away from your target. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that concentration is the secret to success in war, politics, business – in short, in all human affairs. He was right on target!”
Charlie was taking notes, as had become his routine when speaking with the teachers that he found appeared whenever he began to ask the right questions. “One of Napoleon’s greatest victories came at Austerlitz in 1805.” Douglas was a keen student of military history, and frequently referred to the strategies of great commanders to illustrate some concept he was trying to explain. “He was over-extended and outnumbered. His chief lieutenants all advised him to retreat and regroup in order to fight another day. Instead, he attacked. And he didn’t just attack, he attacked where it was least expected, right at the center of the enemy line. His men ripped a huge hole in that line. In the morning, they turned and rolled up the Austrians, and in the afternoon wheeled around to dispose of the Russians. Napoleon was frequently outnumbered on the battlefield, but he always made sure to have more soldiers and more guns at the point where the actual fighting took place. He was a master of the target principle: knowing exactly what you want, and then being willing to concentrate everything on that goal.”
Douglas walked over to his bookshelf and pulled down a thin volume. “Back in 1936, in the darkest days of the Great Depression, Dorothea Brande wrote a book entitled Wake Up and Live! It was one of the first self-help books of the modern era. She said that people often choose to fail by getting involved in so many different activities they cannot excel at any one.” Charlie was amazed at the way Bill Douglas could go without apparent effort from citing to quoting Dorothea Brande; he must have spent thousands of hours reading and listening to audios. For him, Future Perfect Now was not just a business; it was a passion and a mission.
“People are like the old circus barker who ran the shell game sideshow at the carnival. He’d lay out three or four walnut shells on a table. One of the shells had a pea underneath. Your challenge was to keep your eye on the one containing the pea as he zig-zagged the shells around the table. It was almost impossible. In the same way, people fill up their to-do list with piles of empty shells, things that have little to do with their real goals in life. They keep all those shells moving, and it makes it difficult if not impossible for them to keep their eye on the real priorities. At least, however, they always have an excuse for why they fail: they just had too many things to do. Have you ever heard of an economist named Wilfredo Pareto?”
Charlie shook his head. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t say why.
“How about the 80-20 rule?”
Charlie nodded. He was very familiar with that.
“That’s the Pareto Principle,” Douglas continued. “Pareto showed that almost uniformly, twenty percent of your efforts in any endeavor will yield eighty percent of your results. For a typical business, twenty percent of the customers bring in eighty percent of the revenue. In sales, twenty percent of the salespeople earn eighty percent of the commissions. In our own daily life, twenty percent of your efforts are responsible for eighty percent of your results. And so on. One of the secrets to success is to break out of what I call Pareto’s Prison. Just imagine, if you could take the twenty percent of your efforts that yield eighty percent of your results and expand that productivity to another ten or twenty percent of your time. You would have huge leverage! By a modest increase in your effective input, you would have a phenomenal increase in your output.”
The relationship between Future Perfect Now and The Courage Place had been a natural. Now in his sixth year of operation, Charlie had just opened his twentieth location, this one in Phoenix. The Courage Place had become a magnet for the type of people interested in the personal development programs offered by Future Perfect Now, while FPN customers made the most enthusiastic members of The Courage Place. For the past year, Charlie had tried to interest Bill Douglas in a joint venture to develop an FPN-Courage Place retreat center. Whereas all of The Courage Place facilities developed up to this point had primarily served a local audience, Charlie saw the potential for an operation that would attract people from across the country and at the same time give him greater access to and credibility with the corporate community. It would also give Douglas a venue for showcasing the latest FPN programs, and for making his own headway in the corporate market, which up to now had shied away from FPN in favor of more traditional sales and management programs.
Douglas was intrigued, but each time he and Charlie spoke by phone he had expressed concern about losing focus, about “not staying on target.” Cheryl von Noyes had told Charlie that Douglas was obsessed with focus. “You might say,” she told him, “that his focus is focus!” He had never strayed far from his core business, nor had he ever entered into a joint venture with another organization. Now the two men were meeting face to face for the first time to discuss just that possibility.
Douglas’ office reflected the man. The walls were lined with bookshelves that seemed to be filled with every self-help book ever written, all carefully catalogued by author and date. There was not a loose piece of paper to be seen, which brought to Charlie’s mind a picture of his own office, where for each item on his to-do list there was a corresponding pile of paper on his desk or worktable. In lieu of a picture, behind Douglas’ desk was an archery target with an arrow stuck in the bulls eye. It was lunchtime, and out on the grounds Charlie could see many of FPN’s corporate staff walking or jogging along the trail that snaked its way through the 140-acre campus.
Douglas was speaking. “FPN is the world’s largest publicly held private corporation.” Douglas looked at Charlie and smiled at the apparent paradox. “We have thousands of shareholders around the world – 133,527 to be exact – but our stock is not traded on any market. Almost nobody who has stock ever wants to sell it. The only way to get stock is by earning options through your performance as an FPN distributor. You should see our annual meetings. Imagine a cross between the Harvard Business School and half-time at the Super Bowl. And what has made all this possible has been,” and here Douglas pointed to the target behind his desk, “a relentless focus on the target.”
Douglas walked over to his bookshelf and pulled out another volume, and opened it to a page marked with a post-it note. “You have to decide whether you want to be like the iceskate, with all your force bearing down on the key point, or be like the skating rink, an acre wide but only an inch deep. You’ve probably heard about time management systems that encourage you to develop three lists – an A, a B and a C list?” Charlie nodded. “Well, here’s what Peter Drucker, the greatest management scholar of all time, has to say about it.” Douglas put the book back, as if to indicate he already knew the reference by heart. “Drucker says you should only have an A list and a B list, and that you should put one hundred percent of your time on the A list, otherwise you’ll never get anything done. Nothing, he says, is dumber than doing something efficiently that shouldn’t be done at all!”
“In other words,” Charlie said, “stay on target!”
Charlie looked across the room at the target on the wall. He held his left arm out straight in front of his face, as if holding a bow, and with his right, pulled the imaginary bow string back to his ear. Holding that positionn he said, “I’m guessing it’s about twenty-five feet across your office. The chances of my hitting a bulls eye from here are slim to none. If the target was four times bigger, however, I’d be a lot more confident.” Charlie shot his fingers out straight, as though releasing the arrow, and watched its imagined arc across the room. “When you’re growing your business, how do you tell the difference between an opportunity that’s making the target bigger, which is a good thing, versus one that is presenting you with a brand new target, which very well might not be?”
“Great question!” Douglas walked over to the target and pulled the arrow out of the bulls eye, then balanced it on his finger in front of him. “I have four arrows in my quiver. Those four arrows are attention, energy, time, and money. They are the four essential resources that every business leader must manage. If an opportunity allows me to make more productive use of those resources, meaning that the payback greatly exceeds the required incremental output, then it’s probably making the target bigger. On the other hand, if the so-called new opportunity requires a great deal of attention, energy, time, or money relative to the payback, then it’s creating a new target that takes my eye off the one bulls-eye that is essential to the success of my business.”
Douglas laid the arrow on his desk, and Charlie wondered if he would be in the office late that evening trying to shoot it back into the bulls-eye. “Cheryl mentioned that you’re friends with Mitch Matsui, the guy who translates all those McZen poems.” Charlie nodded, “Yeah. In fact, the seeds of my own business were planted when Mitch and I spent a week in the Grand Canyon several years ago.”
Douglas stuck his hands in his pockets and looked out the window. “I must have flown over the Grand Canyon a thousand times, but I’ve never been down in it. I’ve heard it described as God’s most magnificent natural cathedral.”
“If anything,” Charlie replied, “that’s an understatement.”
“Let me know if you guys go again. I’d love to tag along, if you don’t mind.”
“As a matter of fact, we’re planning a trip for early October. I’ll send you some information.”
“Thanks. That’d be great. And I’d also love to meet Mitch. I really get a kick out of those McZen poems he writes.”
“Mitch swears he doesn’t write them, that there really is a poet named McZen, and that all Mitch does is translate his poems from the original Chinese calligraphy. He’s even shown me a few of the originals, which are absolutely elegant.”
“Well, I’d still love to meet him – and Master McZen, if that’s possible.” Charlie hadn’t noticed before, but on the coffee table was one of Mitch’s latest McZen translations: The Sound of One Hand Working, which included some of McZen’s more irreverent thoughts on work life in America. “There’s so much truth in these poems, and especially this one,” Douglas said as he held the open book to Charlie, who read this poem:
May I have your attention please?
It’s a gift so often requested.
So grudgingly given.
So rarely appreciated.
“It’s like he says,” Douglas continued, “your attention is your most precious resource, which is why people say pay attention. More than anything else, attention is a limited resource, because you can only pay attention to one thing at a time. People are successful to the extent that they make a conscious choice about what they want to pay attention to. Some of the most miserable people in the world are those who choose to pay attention to bad news, and never see good news.”
As Douglas was talking, Charlie had been alternately looking out the window and scanning the books on the shelves. Suddenly, he burst out laughing. “What’s so funny,” Douglas asked.
“Another one of McZen’s little poems talks about how there are many roads to success, and it’s a darn good thing, too. You’ve built this magnificent business empire by keeping your focus on a tiny little bulls eye. That’s something I could never do.”
“Of course you could,” Douglas replied. “It just takes discipline, and the will to succeed.”
“You know, Bill, for a long time I believed that, and it was the source of endless emotional pain. Because I was so easily distracted and unfocused, I figured I must have some sort of a character defect. And finally, I read a book about adult attention deficit disorder. I’ll tell you, it was like looking in a mirror; the book described me exactly. I actually went in to see a psychiatrist for a diagnosis.”
Charlie laughed again as he looked out the window. “When I went in for my results, the doctor told me he had good news and bad news. The good news, he said, was that I did not have ADD. The bad news was that I had RBADD – really bad attention deficit disorder.”
Now both men laughed, then Charlie continued: “I read a book that said that people with ADD actually make great entrepreneurs, because we’re always scanning the horizon for opportunities and pursuing them quickly when they arise. We make great hunters. Unfortunately, we don’t make very good farmers, because our idea of long-term planning is ‘what’s for dinner,’ not planting something in May and waiting for a harvest in October.”
Douglas laughed and shook his head. “I guess I’d never looked at it that way. I would consider myself more of a farmer, and each of the people in my organization are the plants I’m cultivating.”
“Well, one of the things this book said,” Charlie continued, “was that when a farmer and a hunter team up together, they can make an unbeatable combination. Maybe that would be one way we could work well together – I could bring a lot of energy, and you could help focus it.”
“Maybe so,” Douglas said, nodding thoughtfully. “Maybe so. As I said, energy is the second arrow in my quiver. Most people spend their energy the way a dandelion spreads its seeds, thoughtlessly tossing it out to whatever happens to be in front of them and hoping something good will happen. They spend hours soaking up the garbage on television; they carry around anger and fear and hatred, and so many other negative emotions; they drift through the day without any real sense of purpose or goals to achieve; and then they wonder why they don’t have any energy. As my teen-age daughter would say, ‘Well, duh!’ They don’t have it because they’re wasting it.”
“I’ve got my own theory about energy,” Charlie said. “I think it’s a logrhythmic function.”
“What do you mean by that?” Douglas asked.
“Energy expenditure has a geometric impact. One unit of energy at the end of a project is worth a lot more than the same unit of energy at the beginning of a project. Think about it. When you’re getting something new started, everybody has a ton of energy because they’re all excited and enthusiastic. But after weeks or months of long days and late nights, people may be tired and discouraged, and energy becomes a much more rare commodity. It’s at the point where you most want to quit that another pint or so of gas in the tank could push you past the checkered flag. I always ask people to imagine running a hundred yard dash. The closer you get to the victory tape, the more your legs hurt and your lungs burn. “
“That’s a great metaphor.” Douglas said. “I’ll have to remember that, because the third arrow in my quiver is time.”
“The universal and unsolvable metaphysical mystery,” Charlie said. “I once read that time is simply God’s way of keeping everything from happening all at once.”
“Yeah,” Douglas laughed, “well, the other day I saw a bumper sticker that said, Jesus is coming…look busy! If more people would turn off the TV, get their butts out of the easy chair, and get busy, then there would be a lot less anxiety and a lot more wealth in this world. So many people never achieve their goals because they kill time, and killing time is nothing less than killing life itself. Procrastination is stealing time from tomorrow so you can avoid what you should be doing today, which leaves you permanently living in the shadow of yesterday. Time is money, they say, but only if you use it effectively. And money is the fourth essential resource.”
Douglas picked up the arrow and spun it around like a cheerleader’s baton. “It’s funny, everybody thinks that money is so important in business, but in my book it’s the least essential of the four resources. One of my early mentors in business gave me some advice I’ve always tried to follow, and it’s served me very well. In business school, we learned that ROI – return on investment – is one of the most important indicators of long term wealth creation. Most business people pay lots of attention to the R – increasing sales to grow their revenue, forgetting the fact that you can just as effectively increase ROI by minimizing the I. We have a beautiful campus today, but for many years we operated out of a warehouse with orange crates for office furniture. We had more important things to invest our money in than beautiful buildings and fancy furniture. Even today, with all our success, we are extremely careful about how we spend our money.”
“More than two thousand years ago, Lao Tzu said that the sage is ruthless.” Charlie was looking at the target, imagining four arrows impaled in the bulls eye. “I think if he were in the room today, he would agree that to be successful you have to be ruthless first of all with yourself. You must ruthlessly eradicate negative attitudes and cultivate positive ones.”
Douglas nodded, and picked up where Charlie had left off. “You have to ruthlessly guard your energy, and channel it into only the most productive activities.”
“And,” Charlie continued, “you have to be ruthlessly productive with your time. Every minute, every hour, you must be asking yourself if what you are about to do is the most important action you can take to move you in the direction of achieving your goals.”
“And you have to be ruthless in how you spend your money,” Douglas concluded. “There are a million temptations out there, and it’s easy to come up with reasons why you need every one of them. The road to wealth is built through ruthless control of desires.”
Douglas looked silently out the window for a long while. The joggers had all gone back into work. At length he said, “You mentioned Lao Tzu a few minutes ago. At about the same time he was writing his poetry, the Persian army of King Darius had landed an invasion force on the shores of Greece, at a place called Marathon. The Greek army that had gone there to meet them was badly outnumbered. Many of the Greek generals wanted to retreat back toward Athens, but Miltiades prevailed upon a council of war to attack first thing in the morning. The Greeks didn’t just march across the field towards the Persians, they hit them at a dead run. Speed – and concentration – made up for a deficit of arms. The Greeks swept the Persians from the field, in what might have been one of the most important battles of all time. But for Marathon, our world might not have been shaped by the thinking of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.”
“So let’s marshal our forces and move quickly.” Feeling the emotion he had once interpreted as terror but which Nick Amatuzzo taught him to recognize as exhilaration welling up inside, Charlie knew he’d found a vital partner for helping him reach his memory of the future.
“Winston Churchill once said that there is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that’s fighting without them,” Douglas replied. Shaking Charlie’s hand, he said, “let’s make the target bigger, and then let’s stay on target!”