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Destiny Control

The best people I’ve ever interviewed, such as Andy Grove, Bill Bradley and Steve Case, all believe in three fundamental truths about everyone’s life:

1. Everything is changing, always

2. Reality always intrudes

3. Every person can have a profound effect on their own destinies

It’s a belief in what poets call the symmetry of our actions, that the chickens do come home to roost, that what goes around does come around, that Karma is real, that there is always a day of reckoning. Or as the great retired preacher R. Maurice Boyd of The City Church of New York puts it, “Life is moral!” It’s exciting that tomorrow will be different from today. It’s comforting that the mean and vicious often get their comeuppance and the loving get their reward.

It’s also sobering to know that each of us is not only the protagonist but to a large extent, the author of our own stories. You have much more control than you may believe, though only if you start by being alert and responsive to reality and if you recognize how brutal life can be. Wild animals are aware of this.

Wisdom of the Wild

Abraham Maslow also writes that the healthiest people “live more in the real world of nature.” As someone who profoundly respects all living creatures, particularly free ones, I have found that the ablest among us are as alert and aware as wild animals. Self-sustaining creatures are acutely aware because for them, awareness is survival. To be alive is to be alert.

I live next to a wildlife preserve in the mountains of Sonoma, California. Even my little tabby cat is always alert. My frequent absences as well as the presence of rattle snakes, a food-stealing fox, raccoons, coyotes and even the odd cougar, means that her life depends on instantaneously registering and calibrating every noise and scent.

Most of us in industrialized societies are only lulled into semi-consciousness by our climate controlled interiors, daily routines and lazy, categorized thinking. I submit to you that to thrive in our hyper-competitive yet sensory-deprived world, you need to be as freshly and as acutely aware as a wild animal.

A last thought regarding reality recognition–one way to judge how well you see reality is how well you are living. Proof is not in the pudding, it’s usually in the outcome of your choices. It is a trait that virtually all high-achievers develop. Once developed, it can help you be strong and true. But recognize this reality–it can also make you strong and cruel. It’s your choice. In the wilds of the city as well as the forest there are both prey and predators.

Tips for greater reality recognition:

—Shut up and develop listening/awareness skills
—Don’t make snap judgments (use analysis as well as intuition)
—Resist too much categorization
—Assess like a pollster, (“Argue using data, don’t argue with the data” Andy Grove)
—Beware of “experts.” Do and trust your own analysis
—Seek ‘reality checks’ from those you admire
—Proof of your reality perception is in the proceeds of your life

Cheers from Sonoma,

Donald





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How Andy Grove Absorbs Reality

One top-flight executive who has exquisite reality recognition and thus survival skills has raised listening to a high art. His name is Andy Grove. Back in 2001, I interviewed Grove, then the CEO of Intel Corporation. He is a legend in the annals of technology and business. Grove discovered the impurity in silicon (sodium) and thus helped launch the whole computer age. He also co-founded Intel, the dominant manufacturer of computer chips and microprocessors. And he is known to be as tough as he is brilliant.

Well, he certainly was testy the day I interviewed him. I could see him grilling his press person as they approached the conference room in which my camera crew and I were setting up. When he reluctantly sat down, he barked that he didn’t have much time. I tried to make some friendly small talk. Grove would have none of it. I explained that we were there to learn how he thought, to find out what his philosophical paradigm was. “What makes you think I have one?!” he snapped. Not until the fourth or fifth question did he relax his guard, finally convinced that we weren’t wasting his time.

Grove is a person keenly aware of risk and opportunity. He told us that when he was a boy, he and his mother assumed gentile identities and hid from the Nazis. As a college student he escaped Hungary just ahead of the advancing Soviet Red Army. On the central subject of prescience, or recognizing reality before others, Grove stressed observation, listening, and gathering of information, what he called the “absorption” of data.

“You have to immerse yourself like a sponge into the environment and make yourself available to be influenced by people who want to influence you, who have to influence you… so each of these decisions properly has to be preceded by a period of absorption. ‘Listening,’ if you wish.”

Note that Grove stresses that there are people in your path who have information for you, people to whom you might not typically listen—people who are in a position to see what you can not see, and “have” to communicate with you. This need stems from their sense that their knowledge is important, telling, or helpful. You may find it disturbing simply because it doesn’t fit within the premises upon which you are making your choices. These individuals may be far down the organizational ladder, they may be naturally reticent, they may be persons you rarely listen to, they may be children… but what they have to say may help you tremendously in your business, relationships or even your health.

Coming up: Part 3 of “Don’t Kid Yourself”—Intuition Versus Analysis

Cheers from Sonoma,

Donald





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19 Personality Traits of The Good Among The Great

Trait #8: RealisticA Clearer, More Efficient Perception of Reality

This is the big one when it comes to earthly success. I’ve found that the single biggest advantage that moguls and power brokers have over the rest of us is that they ‘get it’ faster and with less effort than the rest of us.

Some of the best observers of human nature also found that recognizing reality, warts and all, was necessary to succeed. The late 20th Century psychologist, Abraham Maslow wrote that the top one percent in terms of psychological health has a “greater freshness, penetration, and efficiency of perception.” The late, great psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck wrote, “Mental health is an ongoing process or dedication to reality at all costs.”

Know thisif you’re navigating life with a clearer mental windshield, then all of your thinking, judgment and choices improve. If you develop a fresher, more penetrating perception of what people around you want and how situations actually arose, it will be as if you have a kind of x-ray vision into others’ motivations as well as circumstances… and even the future. You will spot frauds faster, you will trust your own impressions more, and you will get much better at predicting outcomes.

This is Chapter 8 of 20 within my forthcoming book, The Good Among the Great. This books aims to prove theaories of Abraham Maslow’s regarding the best individuals he could find. Maslow believed that only one percent of mankind, maybe less, were truly healthy, autonomous adults. Maslow died before he could pursue data-rich research; so much of this is his theory or a very educated set of observations about the exceptionally strong temperamentally. However, after interviewing hundreds of the world’s top business and political leaders, I found that Maslow’s 19 traits to be spot on when it comes to a subset of ultra achievers–the good among the great. Conversely, I found another subset, actually maybe the majority, among the high and mighty–the hyper-aggressive, to be profoundly lacking in many of these traits.

Back to reality and how the good guys among great achievers are wedded to it: Great individuals are realistic about everything, including themselves. Most of us don’t critically examine our “selves”–our strengths and weaknesses, faults and foibles, fears and longings. We don’t test our assumptions, nor do we look stoically at the repercussions of our actions. We certainly don’t recognize our blind spots. And we all have blind spots.

Indeed, whole societies have blind spots. Remember how a majority of Americans believed that the Iraqi’s had weapons of mass destruction, even after it was proved that they did not.

One of my favorite quotes is also a favorite of Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman, Charlie Munger“Recognize reality even when you don’t like itespecially when you don’t like it.”

OK, but how? First of all, shut-up. Second, listen.

Coming up: Part 2, “How Intel’s Andy Grove Absorbs Reality”

Cheers from Sonoma,

Donald