October 21, 2023

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 mins

Jim Collins: 10 Suggestions for Young People

At a glance


Today’s Fast Summary:

  • Jim Collins, famed speaker, researcher, and author, during his keynote speech to graduates of the Drucker Institute, offered 10 pieces of advice to become a top leader.

  • Studying yourself and your habits, asking more questions, and optimizing your time is essential to becoming a strong leader and thinker.

  • Articulate and live by your key values to be an effective individual.


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Jim Collins: 10 Suggestions for Young People

Which advice do you consume? Today, I’d like to introduce you to some I regularly follow.

Jim Collins, famed speaker, researcher, and author, during his keynote speech to graduates of the Drucker Institute, spoke of a generation of level 5 leaders. Level 5 Leaders, according to Collins, are both humble and ambitious.

Collins offered young people 10 pieces of life advice to help them become Level 5 Leaders. Here are Collins’s 10 suggestions for young people:

  1. Build a personal board of directors.

“I pulled off the side of the road, and I'm panting. I'm 25 years old. I've got five years to figure this out and hence was born the idea of the personal board of directors.”

Choose 5 individuals to use as character symbols throughout your day-to-day. Pick those individuals based on character, not their professional achievements. Collins advises choosing “the greatest people” you know of.

These people won’t know they’re on your board, so choose industry leaders, famous experts, or anyone whom you admire.

Embody the characteristics you admire in them.

  1. Study yourself like a bug.

“What does this bug do? What is this bug passionate about? And what is this bug encoded for? [Do so] with no judgment—don't judge and say this bug should be better at math.”

This practice is about non-judgemental empirical observation. Take time to write out your key qualities—both physical and emotional. Answer Collins’s questions.

Track your habits, thoughts, emotions, and moods for 1 month and record your findings in a spreadsheet or notebook. Observe how small changes in your routine contribute to feelings of satisfaction.

These patterns are key to discovering your hedgehog concept.

  1. Add white space to your calendar.

“No phone. No email. I was going to say no fax but they don't even have that anymore. No Twitter. No emails. No connections. Engage in these glorious pockets of quietude.”

In his speech, Collins spoke of Rick Warden, who reads 1 book a day. After 3 years, Warden had read over 1,000 books. Warden realized he’d learned more in that year than ever before.

Regularly block off chunks of time to think with no distractions. Turn off your electronic gadgets, and silence your phone. Aim for daily white space.

The most effective people engage in quiet time to think.

  1. What is your questions-to-statements ratio? And how can you double it?

“John Gartner, another member of my personal board, brought me into his office one day and said ‘It occurs to me Jim you spend way too much of your time trying to be interesting. Why don't you channel your time around being interested?’”

Channel time towards being interested, not interesting. The frequency of your questions should be much higher than that of your statements.

Collins emphasized the importance of asking questions and learning from everyone you meet. When you meet someone, ask yourself, ‘What can I learn from this person?’

Those around you have the knowledge you can glean wisdom from.

  1. What would you stop doing?

“If you woke up tomorrow morning and discovered that you had inherited 20 million dollars and you also discovered you had a terminal disease and you only had ten years to live—what would go on your stop-doing list?”

Imagine you wake up tomorrow morning with $20 million in your bank account. But, you also learn you’ve contracted a terminal illness, and have only 10 years to live.

Critically think about what you would stop doing if this were to occur. Visualize the scenario in detail.

  1. Create a stop-doing list.

“Peter Drucker asked the same question of him every time he came—not ‘What have you done?’ but, ‘What have you stopped doing?’”

Write out a list using the information you collected in the last suggestion. Name the concrete and abstract tasks and behaviours you’d stop doing.

Consider what you’d potentially outsource or quit altogether. As Collins says, “The real task is to always be clear about what to stop doing.”

These are distractions hindering you from living to your potential.

  1. Quit distracting opportunities.

As Collins says, “There will always be many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.”

The hedgehog concept is at the intersection of passion, skill, and financial viability. There, you will find your true meaning.

Don’t do anything that doesn’t satisfy your passion, utilize your skills, or isn’t potentially lucrative. This includes once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Collins says of these, “[A] once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is a fact but not a reason.”

  1. How do we build a legion of level 5 leaders?

“Find something for which you have so much passion that you are willing to endure the pain.”

A level 5 leader is one who builds enduring greatness. They value their organization’s success more highly than their needs. Level 5 leaders have a unique combination of humility and determination.

To become one, find something for which you have so much passion that you are willing to endure hard work’s pain.

  1. Articulate the values you refuse to compromise.

“If we're going to go through whatever we're going to go through, [your values are] the guiding constellation.”

List your guiding principles on a piece of paper. Manually write them out. Here are a few of my favorite examples: humility, honor, loyalty, courage, and honesty.

As Collins says, “It starts not first with our strategies but with our values.”

Communicate them to those around you. Embody them as personal principles.

  1. Aim to only accomplish ⅓ of your life’s work at 65.

“I didn't want to follow a traditional path. I wanted to carve my own path.”

Peter Drucker, at age 65, had only written 1/3 of his books. In fact, Drucker wrote 10 books after he was 86.

Your life should be a stimulating stream of progress. Your passion and creativity don’t expire at 65, or even 80. Both are virtually endless.

These suggestions aren’t just for young people. Rather, they’re all practices and reframing tools we can all use to become stronger people.

Check out this link to see Jim Collins’s full speech.

This week, we’re going to be trying our hand at a few of Jim Collins’s practices for young people. Remember—you can try them at any age. Use a pen and paper for these, or make a spreadsheet if you prefer. Track your realizations on each front.

  1. Study yourself like a bug.

    a. Imagine you’re a bug, and look at yourself through a metaphorical microscope. Ask yourself, “What does this bug do?” “What is this bug passionate about?” and, “What is this bug encoded for?” Take time to write out your key qualities and skills.

    b. Look at yourself empirically, and refrain from potential judgment. Ask peers or family members for their input.

    c. Track your habits, thoughts, emotions, and moods for 1 month and record your findings in a spreadsheet or notebook. Observe how small changes in your daily routine contribute to potential feelings of satisfaction.

  1. What would you stop doing?

    a. What would you stop doing if this particular scenario were to occur? Visualize the scenario in detail.

    b. Create your stop-doing list. Write out a list using the information you collected in the last suggestion. Name the concrete and abstract tasks and behaviours you’d stop doing.

    c. Wherever possible, stop doing those things.

  1. Articulate the values you refuse to compromise.

    a. Consider your personal values. List these on a piece of paper. Manually write them out. Research those of famous people and use theirs as inspiration.

    b. Communicate these values to those around you. Tell others so they can keep you accountable. Embody them as personal principles.

These words of wisdom have helped me navigate professional and personal difficulties. Use them to become a humble, compassionate leader.


Conclusion

I’d love to hear from you:

  • Which of these did you feel was particularly meaningful?

  • How can you practically incorporate these approaches?

  • What would you add?

Tweet at me (@_alexbrogan) or respond to this email — I’ll try to respond to everyone.

Have a wonderful Saturday, all.

Until next time,

Alex


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