In his recently published The Ingredients of Outliers, physician-lawyer-businessman John Shufeldt, MD, JD, MBA, has written a succinct recipe book for personal achievement, for becoming outstanding, an “outlier,” in your field. In statistics, an “outlier” is a rare case, and in life, outstanding excellence is rare and treasured.
Dr. Shufeldt’s section headings and my comments follow:
HUMILITY: The Root of Success
Dr. Shufeldt gives examples from his life of instances where ego has gotten in the way of success. Teachers will tell you that you cannot learn what you think you already know. The Bible admonishes, “Pride goeth before a fall.” “Egotism is the glue with which you get stuck on yourself,” according to writer Dan Post. Inspirational author Vernon Howard advised, “extinguish the ego.” Poet Rudyard Kipling urged us to view seeming success and seeming failure as two “impostors” and not be swayed by them. An unrealistic view of ourselves is unattractive and can lead to serious miscalculations.
FAIL FAST: The Gift of Failure
“All successful people were failures along their journey—the only difference is that they learned and persevered,” writes Dr. Shufeldt. Recall that Abraham Lincoln lost several elections before becoming President of the United States. If you are always succeeding, you are probably not challenging yourself enough, not reaching for sufficiently high goals. We can learn from our failures but not from inaction. Marian Wright Edelman is cited as noting, “Failure is just another way to learn how to do something right.” The more you try, even if failing, the more you learn, and quicker is better.
PERSISTENCE: Press On!
Dr. Shufeldt begins this section by recalling the courageous persistence of George Washington and the Continental Army in its War for Independence from Britain, during most of which conditions were brutal and defeat seemed likely. Billionaire industrialist H. Ross Perot is quoted as lamenting, “Most people give up just when they are about to achieve success. They quit on the one-yard line…just a foot from a winning touchdown.” I love the quote from American essayist Christopher Morley, “Big shots are only little shots who keep on shooting.” Steve Jobs is cited as indicating that half the battle in being successful is simply perseverance.
PREPARATION: When the Wind Blows
The story is told of a farmer’s helper who was newly hired despite his puzzling comment that his greatest strength was that he “can sleep when the wind blows.” Not long after, a severe storm blew in, and when the farmer went to get this lad’s help, he found him soundly asleep. Awakened, he stated, “I can sleep when the wind blows.” In the morning, when the storm had passed, the farmer found that all his animals and property had been secured without suffering any damage, as the helper had fully prepared for the storm so that he could “sleep when the wind blows.” American Boy Scouts have as their motto, “Be Prepared.” The U.S. Coast Guard has essentially this as their motto, too, in Latin: Semper Paratus, “always prepared.” For most activities a great way to insure you are prepared is to have a check-list, just as airplane pilots and astronauts use to prevent overlooking anything important. Benjamin Franklin is quoted, “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”
COMMUNICATION: A Lost Art
Dr. Shufeldt quotes playwright and essayist George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” To communicate successfully, we need to check and re-check that our audience has heard and understood our message. In college I was taught that in giving a speech, you should “tell them what you are going to say, then say it, then tell them what you have said.” Speak and write simply where possible. Don’t cross your arms or clench your fists, nor roll your eyes in response when spoken to. Maintain eye contact. Don’t speak and run, commenting as you fly by. Use proper grammar and spelling. Avoid empty sounds, like “uh” and “you know.” If someone stops listening to you, stop talking. When others talk, listen carefully; listening well is a key to understanding and thus to successful communicating.
IMPERTURBABILITY: Staying Calm
In his poem If, Rudyard Kipling advises, “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…trust yourself when all men doubt you….” In a crisis, keeping calm is key; one must make haste slowly. One does not want to be like Chicken Little, who thought the sky was falling and ran around alarming the other farm animals. Dr. Shufeldt quotes the late Reverend Norman Vincent Peale: “The cyclone derives its powers from a calm center. So does a person.”
TOLERATING RISK: Being a Doer, Not a Dreamer
Dr. Shufeldt emphasizes that entrepreneurism is risky, quoting the joke that “the way to make a small fortune in business is to start with a large fortune.” Sure, most new businesses go broke, but some succeed and some make it big, which may appeal to you. Shufeldt has been involved with successes and failures and knows “try, try again” has got to be balanced against “don’t beat a dead horse.” As the song goes, “know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” There is a life cycle in new businesses: innovator, imitator, idiot. If you want to run a business, let me recommend you read Kevin D. Johnson’s The Entrepreneur Mind, with his discussion of 100 characteristics of the successful entrepreneur. You have to be a visualizer and an actualizer.
KINDNESS: The Art of Paying It Forward
Dr. Shufeldt gives several examples of lives changed by simple acts of kindness, including that of Frederick Douglass, who became an outstanding writer, publisher, and orator despite being born into slavery. We are urged to go beyond WIIFM [What’s In It For Me]. Dr. Shufeldt maintains that his own acts of charity have in fact ended up benefiting him even more than those he helped. Mark Twain is quoted, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can read.”
LEARNING: A Lifetime Pursuit
Continuing to learn is essential. Socrates is quoted as saying, “A wise man knows he knows nothing.” Late in his long life, the peerless Michelangelo wrote on one of his sketches, Ancora imparo, “I am still learning.” The late, great Nobel-Prize-winning physicist, Richard P. Feynman called himself a “curious character,” continually wondering “why?” Shufeldt urges us to read, read, read, and take classes. I liked his quote from Winston Churchill, “I began my education at a very early age—in fact, right after I left college.” The self-taught American writer Eric Hoffer [read his The True Believer, if you get a chance], wrote, “The future belongs to the learners—not the knowers.”
OPTIMISM/ENTHUSIASM: Look on the Bright Side
Shufeldt claims to be optimistic, almost to a fault, but writes that it allows him to view difficulties as opportunities. Blind optimism would be wrong, but a rationally positive view helps keep us going. The story is told about writer and editor Norman Cousins, who overcame cancer largely through his unwillingness to acknowledge defeat and his focus on humor and laughter. Many other examples are presented, including that of the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, author of the best-selling guide, The Power of Positive Thinking, who distinguished between the “energetic optimists” and the “purveyors of gloom.” Dr. Peale founded Guideposts, an inspiring monthly magazine with a circulation of over two million. Shufeldt writes, “enthusiasm is infectious—spread it.” Science fiction novelist Robert A Heinlein, one of my favorites, notes that even if pessimists were right more often than optimists, being optimistic is more fun.
PERSPECTIVE: Changing It Changes Everything
It has been said, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” Our cherished positions are often determined by our “points of view,” our perspectives. Dr. Shufeldt maintains that the most important lesson life has taught him is that life is about perspective: changing your perspective changes everything. Southwest Airlines’ phenomenal success is accredited largely to their philosophy of putting their employees first, on the theory that happy employees will treat customers right. One guru has advised, “You choose to worry or you choose not to.” Another enjoins us to focus on the journey, not the destination. My favorite quote on the topic is, from Horace Walpole, “Life is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.”
INDEFATIGABLE: Empty the Tank!
When you are engaged in something worth doing, do it all the way. Go the extra mile. Use up all the gasoline in your tank. We can do more than we think we can. Run your marathon flat out. Go all in, beyond your comfort zone. Shufeldt cites one of his favorite movies and mine, Chariots of Fire, which starts with beautiful footage of British runners in training, doing their utmost. He reminds us of the brave passengers on United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, who, led by Todd Beamer and inspired by his “Let’s roll,” overcame the hijackers intent on crashing the plane into one of the government buildings in Washington, DC. They indeed gave their all. As Kipling wrote, we should “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.”
EFFICIENCY: Doing Better What’s Being Done
Theodore Roosevelt lived only 59 years, yet achieved amazing feats: a warrior, explorer, statesman, writer, the youngest man inaugurated as President, and he served two terms. He lived life to the fullest and did so efficiently. Management expert Peter Drucker is cited, “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” Both are important. Shufeldt advises us to have goals that we put into writing: “S.M.A.R.T. goals, goals which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.” Then we must act on them. Have a “to-do” list and work on it. Your daily list should likely have only a few, most important, elements. The founder of wildly successful Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is credited with having found a new way to conduct a retail business. Bezos emphasizes that Amazon is “customer-centric.” They do better what should be done.
INTEGRITY: A Priceless Commodity
“Simply put, integrity is doing what you say and saying what you’ll do,” Shufeldt writes. “Integrity” is derived from the Latin word for wholeness. Cheating is anathema to those with integrity. Examples of integrity in sports, such as golf, where players have cost themselves victories by calling fouls on themselves, are given. Former U.S. Senator from Wyoming Alan K. Simpson stated, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”
INTUITION: Your Guts Don’t Lie
While the preceding discussion has emphasized accentuating the positive, there are times when fear is appropriate, and you must “listen to your gut.” Our “fight or flight” response may be needed and we must avoid “freeze.” Whether you are walking in a strange area at night or surfing an unfamiliar site on the Internet, you need to be cautious. Shufeldt notes there is an organization named “Heartless Bitches International” that has a web site listing hundreds of “red flags” people should heed in developing relationships. Sexy actress of the last century, Mae West, is quoted, “Don’t marry a man to reform him. That’s what reform schools are for.” Google “red flag” for myriad sites with warnings. Lies are red flags, as are rudeness, arrogance, laziness, negativity, tough pre-hire negotiation, callousness, excuses…. Shufeldt warns, “In my experience, women have better gut instincts than men, but are less likely to follow them.”
Finally, Dr. Shufeldt advises:
THE RARE FIND: Become the One of a Kind
Actress Bernadette Peters is quoted: “You’ve gotta be original, because if you’re like someone else, what do they need you for?” Maybe you are not supposed to try to be just any kind of unique, but to be uniquely good. American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, a favorite of mine, wrote, “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” It’s lonely at the top, sometimes, but the air is clean and the view is terrific.
Dr. Shufeldt acknowledges that much of this we have heard before, but it is worth repeating. In just under 200 pages, he includes his own observations and anecdotes along with those of many other successful people and students of success. The book is a virtual handbook for those who hope to be outstanding…like you.
Dr. Cooper is a retired scientist, now a writer, author and writing coach. His first book, Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage and Devotion, was published by Outskirts Press in 2011 and is available from Outskirts Press, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, in paperback and ebook formats, as are a memoir he co-authored, The Shield of Gold, and two memoirs he edited, High Shoes and Bloomers and But…at What Cost. On Twitter, he is @douglaswcooper. His blog is http://douglaswinslowcooper.blogspot.com.