5 Takeaways from The Compound Effect

I just finished reading this fantastic little book called The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. If you are a personal development junky, I highly recommend it. Hardy makes the case that we need to get back to good old fashioned hard work and consistency in order to be successful. We like to believe in fairy tales and applying a few life hacks to change our lives, however, the compound effect is about small positive habits and choices made over a long period of time which create big results. A pastor said it this way “It’s often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants.”

 Lust vs love

If you want success, help others get it. Anthony Robins opens with this in his message at the beginning of the book and Darren Hardy closes with it at the end. Many personal development and leadership books present this idea but at the end of the day we are all pretty selfish. As humans we are each trying to get ahead often at the cost of pushing others down. It is easy to view your field and work as a zero sum game. Someone else’s success takes away from your success. It is a battle between lust versus love. Lust is selfish and all about what I can get whereas love is about what I can give. If you can overcome this tendency toward lust and instead serve others, put others first, and help others succeed, you will stand out. This is also far more fulfilling in the long run. As Hardy explains, the person who goes against the norm is unusual and is the one who can achieve extraordinary results.

Choices

One of the questions Hardy raises is whether we are choosing our behavior or being a passive receiver in life. If I am honest more often I am a passive receiver. I fail to plan, to adapt, and often let life happen to me. It is essential to remember that we are each 100% responsible for our lives. Don’t point your finger to the world for the source of your problems but first look at yourself.

On a more positive note, one of the habits and choices I continually make is to be a reader. Over the past few years I have established the habit of reading in the morning before work. Sometimes I get discouraged by looking around and seeing colleagues or friends who appear just as successful but do not read. Thoughts go through my head of getting extra sleep or getting a few more hours at work for overtime instead of reading. This book helped remind me that the compound effect is at work in my habit of reading. It may not make a difference today, tomorrow, or this year, but over time I will gain wisdom and insight that cannot be manufactured.

Habits

One idea I have recently seen is linked with habits is integrity. High integrity is when your actions align with your values. What you do trumps what you say in every situation. When your habits and actions conflict with your values you will be unhappy, frustrated, and it will ultimately lead to self-delusion. I can tell my wife I love her but unless I plan a date my actions do not communicate this truth.

Another point about habits is awareness of what we think about and where our time is going. Our lives move in the direction of our strongest thoughts. We often see what we are looking for and create our own reality. I realized my habit of looking at work emails early in the morning and late at night was creating a reality of stress and anxiety. I decided I needed to break this habit to end this cycle of stress and anxiety. Since then I have turned email notifications off from my phone and no longer use my phone to check work emails. 95% of the emails I will likely get between 5pm one day and 8am the next can be handled the next day. For the other 5%, if it is urgent I can be reached on my cell phone. I want to be mentally and physically present when I am home. Often when I am reading and responding to work emails at home I am not mentally present. So far this has been working for me.

Momentum

Momentum is important to maintain habits but requires the discipline of a predictable routine. One of the ideas that Hardy shared was to bookend your day. Bookending your day means controlling how it starts and how it ends. As we all know, anything can happen during the day and your plans can be crushed, however, we have the ability to control the start and finish. For starting my day I like to read, journal, and meditate. I try not to allow the concerns and worries of the day to encroach on this time which is why it has been helpful to turn off email notifications from my phone. Hardy describes what he calls a “calibration appointment” in the morning which consists of 15 minutes of looking over his 1 year, 5 year, quarterly, monthly, and daily goals. While I have not been going through these for myself every single day, I did take the time to think through some of my goals. For me this goes back to our thoughts and how our life moves in the direction of our thoughts. If I don’t consistently remind myself of my goals I tend to forget about them. I become what I described earlier as a passive receiver just drifting through life. I find I need to remind myself of my goals so that I can pursue them daily and adjust them as needed. As this book conveys, I will not be able to achieve most of my goals in a day but through consistent habits and choices and the power of the compound effect, over time I can achieve my goals.

Influence

I am 100% responsible for what I feed my mind. I control who I spend time with, the environment I put myself in, and what I choose to dwell on. That last one of what I choose to dwell on has become painfully apparent to me. When I have a bad call with a client at work or experience a setback do I choose to mull over it and tell my friends or spouse about it when I get home? When I feel like someone has done me wrong do I choose gossip about it and replay it over and over in my head? What I ultimately learn over and over is that I give power to these negative experiences when I choose to talk about them and think about them. This can be hard to come to terms with emotionally because like many others my inclination is to be a victim. Being a victim is far easier because I do not have to take responsibility. However, in order to experience the compound effect in a positive way I need to take responsibility of what influences my mind and my habits.

Although applying the compound effect isn’t easy to accomplish, it isn’t very complicated. It’s all about discipline, consistency, and a focus on the long term rather than the short term. As Hardy explained near the beginning: our problem isn’t a knowledge problem but an application problem. We know what we’re supposed to do but fail to do it. I encourage you to try some of these principles, see what works, and watch how the compound effect can change areas of your own life.

Extreme Ownership

There are so many ways to consume information in our world today. If you have a desire to learn something new on a particular topic there are virtually no legitimate excuses to fail to seek it out. One of the ways I consume information is through podcasts which is how I originally heard about Jocko Willink and his book Extreme Ownership (co-authored by Leif Babin). I was listening to a podcast and Willink was the guest. He mentioned his book Extreme Ownership and it was a classic case of “That sounds like a good book. Maybe I will read it someday.” As time went on, Willink was the guest on two other podcasts I consistently listen to, an old friend recommended the book to me, and so I decided it was time to read this book. I do not regret that decision as the book is full of practical leadership principles that I have been able to apply at work and in my personal life. Willink and his co-author Babin use their experiences and stories as U.S. Navy Seals in Iraq and as leaders of a leadership consulting company, Echelon Front, to communicate leadership principles. The stories and principles flow well and develop the cohesive concept of Extreme Ownership. The book is completely full of valuable information so I will just highlight a few of the concepts that stuck out to me.

Extreme Ownership

“As individuals, we often attribute the success of others to luck or circumstances and make excuses for our own failures and the failures of our team.” I personally find it very easy to live life as a victim and feel like the challenges I face and failures I experience are no fault of my own. I often go a step further and blame them on things outside of my control. That approach is easier to emotionally accept than taking ownership. The concept of extreme ownership described in this book requires self-awareness and humility, both of which are not developed overnight. I have caught myself in mid-thought multiple times over the past few weeks when I realized I was slipping into a blaming mindset. I find myself wanting to blame failures on a team member at work, someone who did not follow through, or someone else’s poor judgement. The truth is victimization is far less rewarding in the long run than accepting responsibility, identifying the direction to go, and executing. I am striving to practice extreme ownership but I am definitely a work in progress.

“When a leader sets such an example [extreme ownership] and expects this from junior leaders within the team, the mindset develops into the team’s culture at every level.” We cannot expect what we do not express. What we express will not be taken seriously if it is not backed up by example. No matter how willing I am to uphold a culture of ownership, unless I model it, I will not be able to affect any spheres of my influence. To create a culture of ownership and taking responsibility, I have to set the example. I have to admit it is a lot easier for me to recognize where others should take responsibility than to do so myself. I am realizing everything hinges on my initial reaction to failures or breakdown in communication. Is my first reaction to point the finger and try to determine where others dropped the ball or is it to look at myself first, figure out how I contributed to the problem, and then take responsibility?

No bad teams, only bad leaders

“…it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate. When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable – if there are no consequences – that poor performance becomes the new standard.” Ultimately the poor performance of any team can be attributed to the leader. Again, this is not easy to accept but it is true. The leader is in charge of setting expectations, following up, and coaching to maintain performance. Whatever is being tolerated will become the standard and it is the leader’s job to set the expectation. John Maxwell says “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” This principle is definitely easier to talk about than to put into practice. I know this idea is true intellectually but I often fall back into a mindset of blame. I am learning that leadership is rewarding but it is hard. Being a leader is not always glorious and when you are doing a good job it can be taken for granted, whereas when you fail you attract attention. This is why it is important to enjoy your work, develop good relationships with your team and enjoy them, and figure out ways to celebrate success. In the same way that we each have to accept responsibility when practicing extreme ownership, we also have to take responsibility for celebrating our wins.

Prioritize and Execute

“Even the greatest of battlefield leaders could not handle an array of challenges simultaneously without being overwhelmed. That risked failing at them all. I had to remain calm, step back from my immediate emotional reaction, and determine the greatest priority for the team. Then, rapidly direct the team to attack that priority.” I recently went through a season at work of feeling overwhelmed. I felt there were just too many tasks to complete like keeping up with engineering tasks, juggling multiple projects, keeping up with dates & deadlines, phone calls, emails, questions from team members, and other people to talk to. I learned through that season that I need to rely on my team and trust them to take on some of the load, I can’t tackle all the tasks in front of me at once, and that I need to be ok with everything not being complete at the end of the day. The strategy recommended in this book is a helpful one: remain calm, avoid the initial emotional response, and determine the greatest priority and execute.

Another quote from the book said “Even the most competent of leaders can be overwhelmed if they try to tackle multiple problems or a number of tasks simultaneously.” I had to learn that to be an effective leader I cannot do everything myself and do it all at once. I have come to the conclusion that being busy with no margin is not a badge of honor for a leader; however, this is generally the perception people have. We tend to think that the busier you are the more important you must be. I am learning to set priorities and delegate. Another book I recently read called Getting Things Done by David Allen recommended a strategy involving 3 D’s:

  • Do It
  • Delegate It
  • Defer It

Overall Extreme Ownership helped me identify areas of weakness in my leadership and personal life. The content itself was formatted well making it easy to follow. The principles from the book are not just vague concepts but leadership principles which can be readily applied. I will definitely be recommending this book to fellow readers in the future.

Ego Is The Enemy

Like many of the books I read, I picked up and read Ego Is The Enemy after hearing about it from multiple sources. I first heard about it from a friend about 8-9 months ago. Last weekend an acquaintance mentioned it and this time the topic struck a chord with me. I have found reading books based on inspiration in a particular season of life is the best way to find the most useful applications. This book did not disappoint me.

Ryan Holiday conveniently splits the book into 3 parts: Aspire, Success, and Failure. He shows how ego can destroy us in each of these phases. Holiday also weaves in stories from historical figures, currently successful people, and his personal life to illustrate the points he makes.

Aspire

Passion

Aspiring is all about the journey from obscurity to success and what you do to get there. Passion is typically seen as a good trait. We recognize it in people who tell us all about the things they intend to accomplish, often very convincingly. However, when it comes to showing actual progress there often isn’t any. Why? Because you can be busy with intentions without actually accomplishing anything. This is what Holiday calls the “passion paradox.”

I am no better. I fall prey to this all the time whether it is imagining to myself all the books I will read, telling my friends about all the miles I will run, or telling my co-workers about all the work I plan to complete. Passion tends to cause us to overestimate what we can accomplish in the future but underestimate what we can accomplish right now. We always seem to have far less time than we imagined.

The Canvas Strategy

The canvas strategy is all about making other people look good and be good by providing support for them.

“Find canvases for other people to paint on.”

“It means you’re the least important person in the room – until you change that with results.”

“Say little, do much.”

“…the person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction, just as the canvas shapes the painting.”

My struggle with this is that I often want recognition and reward now. It is hard to sit back and let someone else take credit for my idea. My ego causes me to think short-term rather than planning for the long run. As Holiday says “Let others take their credit on credit, while you defer and earn interest on the principal.”

Work, Work, Work

So what should we do? Henry Ford said “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” My ego wants the fact that I aspire, plan, and have great ideas to count toward success. This doesn’t work. I have to sit down, delay gratification, and put in the hours. This isn’t sexy and popular in the short term but pays off in the long run.

Success

Always Stay A Student

“An amateur is defensive. The professional finds learning (and even, occasionally, being shown up) to be enjoyable; they like being challenged and humbled, and engage in education as an ongoing and endless process.”

As soon as you believe you already know everything, you stop learning anything new. To maintain success and excellence we have to continue being a student. It can be easy to fall in the trap of believing you have arrived. But what got you there? Unless your success is a flash in the pan, it took hard work, effort, and persistence over a long period of time. This effort does not end once you become successful. This point also reminds me of Carol Dweck’s work and book Mindset which delineates between 2 different mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. With a fixed mindset we feel our intelligence is fixed and are obliged to prove how smart we are. Someone with a growth mindset knows they have deficiencies but strives to learn and grow. They don’t need to prove how smart they are because they are in the process of “becoming.” I personally don’t always get this right and often fall into a fixed mindset, however, I am applying this to my life and want to cultivate being a learner.

Managing Yourself

“As you become successful in your own field, your responsibilities may begin to change. Days become less and less about doing and more and more about making decisions. Such is the nature of leadership.”

Although I have received a few promotions, I would not say I have arrived in my field of engineering. I still have a lot to learn with regard to technical skills and will always be honing my leadership skills. I have definitely found the quote above to be true. Before I was given the opportunity to take more responsibility, I would be given a task or direction, and could focus solely on that thing. I did not have a lot of influence in the office so I was rarely interrupted and I was not communicating directly with clients so my phone calls were few. As time has gone on, however, I have gained more influence, built more trust, and taken on more responsibility. These days I may have 4-5 things going on at one time and be delegating work to the younger engineers. If I don’t learn to cope with this effectively as time goes on, it will be very easy to become overloaded. I am learning to steer the ship and delegate the other tasks.

Failure

We are all bound to fail at some point. We can do everything right and still get into trouble. Since we all fail, it’s not so much a matter of if it comes, but when it does, how do we respond? Holiday points out that often when we fail we lack the ability to examine ourselves and figure out what behavior led to our failure. We have to learn to invest our time and energy into habits and patterns that will fix our trouble, not lead us to make the same mistake later.

I found Holiday’s book very helpful and practical. I appreciate the way it is organized in a very simple way and easy to follow. If we are honest, pride and ego are traits that we all struggle with on some level. I found that after reading this book I walked away with tools to fight the ego that so often crops up in my life and hinders me from making an impact and being successful.