Incremental Progress + Purposeful Preparation = Positive Outcomes

I’m not big on clichés, but there are a few mottoes I live by that I believe have helped me quite a bit in life. I won’t list all of them here, but here are two I believe are worthy of sharing publicly.

Motto #1: Incremental Progress

Incremental progress is a methodology I adopted when I started learning Spanish 3 years ago. In short, incremental progress is a way of thinking that reinforces the idea that no matter how big a goal, problem or task may be, significant progress can be made over time if there is a structured and consistent approach applied to it.  Take learning another language for example. I hear people say all the time they’d like to learn another language, but they get overwhelmed after three to four weeks of trying. My approach initially was I would spend a minimum of 60 minutes every day learning Spanish, and after about a year I would be able to speak comfortably with native Spanish speakers. Now, after three years of consistent studying and speaking with native speakers, Spanish has become nearly as easy as speaking English. When you think about it, it should become easier, right? If we do the math, that’s 365 days X 60 minutes of Spanish a day, which is about 1,095 hours of practice. Malcolm Gladwell states in his book “Outliers” that it takes at least 10,000 hours to master any skill. If mastering Spanish is what I’m shooting for, I have a long way to go if I want to use this number as a benchmark. However, since most “normal” conversations in both English and Spanish don’t require highly sophisticated levels of intellectual talk, I think I’m fine learning at my current pace.

I take the same approach to reading books. One of my favorite managers, Corey McQuade with whom I worked with at Northwestern Mutual in Chicago, told me that his secret to reading several books per year was setting a goal each day for how many pages he wanted to read. Sometimes his goal was 10 pages a day, and other days it was more. This approach allowed him to hammer through countless numbers of books despite his hectic schedule with managing his staff at work, being a husband and spending time with his three kids. This was nearly 10 years ago when Corey told me about this approach, and since then it is a methodology that has helped me greatly.

Motto #2: Purposeful Preparation

My second favorite motto is “Purposeful Preparation.” I define purposeful preparation as a deliberate and dedicated time of focus and concentration that someone takes to be “ready” for someone or something. Some might argue that purposeful preparation is the same as “deliberate practice.” But I believe these are two fundamentally different concepts. Deliberate Practice is something that someone does in order to get better at something over a long period of time. Whereas, purposeful preparation can be a temporary period in time where you might be preparing for something that is short term in nature (like a meeting, for example). Preparing for a meeting might consist of practicing a sales presentation or simply setting up the meeting room with refreshments and reading materials.

I believe there is absolutely NO excuse for being unprepared for a business meeting. Yes, sometimes it’s okay to be unprepared for an informal meeting like forgetting to wear an ugly Christmas sweater to an ugly Christmas sweater party. That’s okay. However, it is not okay, to wear a wrinkly shirt to an important job interview. It is not okay to not have practiced your sales pitch before meeting a potential customer. It is not okay to go to a business meeting and you have nothing to write on or write with when you should be taking notes. I could go on and on here, but I’m sure you get the point.

There is no secret for how to prepare – you either do it or you don’t. Once you’ve adequately prepared and you’ve done everything in your power that you know to do, you should rest easy and forget about the outcome. Taking time to prepare is 100% in our control – the outcome is not.

I regularly work with entrepreneurs who are seeking capital and I tell every single one of them at the outset that they need to prepare to dedicate most all of their time and energy on fundraising efforts (especially for an early-stage company in their first round of financing). I have seen time and time again where entrepreneurs don’t dedicate enough time or preparation to raise the capital they need and they fall short of raising the money they need. Or they’ll come to investor presentation meetings unable to answer basic questions about their business and leave confused as to why no one was interested. Most investors can see right through entrepreneurs who fail to prepare. And quite frankly, it’s insulting and disrespectful to waste an investor’s time by not being adequately prepared for a pitch meeting.

In summary, even though I hate cliches, I’ll leave you with just one commonly used cliché that actually isn’t that bad: “Control the controllables.” Incremental progress and Purposeful Preparation are both 100% in the control of the person doing them. No one fully controls the outcome of most things so I encourage you to take comfort in knowing that once you’ve given it your all in preparing for your big moment in life, just sit back and wait for the outcome. If you’ve prepared properly, the outcome is usually good. Cheers – KM


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