One Learned Skill Contributes To Success More Than Any Other

The CEOs of the fastest growing companies in America have a single, learned attribute that makes them more successful than anyone else. You can learn it too.

For decades while helping founders build their businesses, we have told them the number one attribute of success is Speed of Execution, which is the practical outcome of being willing to take risks.

Entrepreneurs and founders who exhibit Speed of Execution are able to do so because they move on an idea without having enough information to know for certain the idea will work. While others are researching and doing case studies, they are already turning the idea into reality. They can do this because they have learned by experience that the only way to perfect an idea is with movement, not planning.

Planning never creates movement, but movement can create a great plan.

The Data Is In—Moving Fast Works

New research confirms this is the path to success. Gallup, which built the popular StrengthsFinder assessment, recently developed an online version specifically for entrepreneurs—the Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder evaluation. They invited the founders of the 2014 Inc. 500 fastest growing companies to take the assessment, and discovered that the number one attribute, shared by a whopping 85 percent of the founders, was the willingness to take risks.

Our Beliefs Determine Our Behavior

Risk-taking is the belief system, the mindset. Speed of Execution is the practical outcome of that belief system. Risk takers believe that moving quickly with all the information will work better than trying to get it all figured out before you move. They understand that you don’t get comprehensive information in an ivory tower, but from experience. Those who move on an idea quickly in the trenches, always get information not available by analysis.

The number one indicator of success in an early stage business is not how good your product is, or how smart your marketing is, or your uniqueness, or your funding, or any of those traditional ideas of what makes for success. The number one indicator of success in early stage business is simply Speed of Execution. Get an idea and get moving on it. You will find out if it’s a good idea or not much more quickly and reliably by moving on it than by musing on it.

Steering Your Business

How do you steer a ship? The logical answer is with a wheel and a rudder—that’s wrong. The intuitive answer is, “Get it moving.” Movement steers a business in the same way. Moving the rudder on a ship dead in the water does nothing to change the direction. Only movement will affect change.

Planning is your rudder. I would never advocate putting a boat in the water without a rudder. But most people are sitting around building hand-carved, silver inlaid, 100 foot tall rudders to stick on the back of their 12 foot dinghies, and wondering why their idea sinks before its launched. Get a simple piece of metal (a basic idea), stick it on the back of your boat, and get out of the harbor.

Move Fast. Break Things.

The faster you move, the less rudder you need. Bill Hewlett famously said, “When I talk to business schools occasionally, the professor of management is devastated when I say we didn’t have any plans when we started. We were just opportunistic. Here we were, with about $500 in capital, trying whatever someone thought we might be able to do. So we got into this thing not by design but because it worked out that way.”

For HP, considered by most to be the founders of Silicon Valley, movement created the plan.

For the first ten years of Facebook’s existence, Mark Zuckerberg echoed Bill Hewlett, and led the company with the mantra, “Move Fast. Break Things. If you’re not breaking things, you’re not moving fast enough.”

Stop thinking. Stop planning. Your plan, like Bill Hewlett’s, will form as you move, not while you’re reading case studies. Get a nice little rudder, stick it on the back of your business, and get moving as quickly as you can. It’s counter-logical, but to the most successful entrepreneurs in the world, it’s very intuitive.

Implement now. Perfect as you go.

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The Two Most Important Business Words You’ve Never Heard

These two obscure words just might help you and your business more than anything else you’ve ever learned.

For years we have shared that anyone can be successful with just a few things: 1) Speed of execution—get enough information and take the risk to get moving quickly, 2) Be the bulldog—never give up. In shorthand, get moving and stay moving.

There are two words that go along with these that I personally have found more important, transformative, and practical than any other two words in business. They are two of the 1,000 most obscure words in the English language, and I think they ought to be on the tip of our tongues every day:


Oxford’s in-the-box definition: The mental faculty of purpose, desire, or will to perform an action; volition. A better in-the-trenches definition, which John McCormack used in his wonderful book Self-Made in America (where I found the word 10 years ago): “The will to succeed that shows up in single-minded pursuit of a goal.” Or in other words, “Get out of my way; I have somewhere I need to be.”

Conative people don’t even have to say that. You see them coming and you just step aside. They’re the ones who move on an idea while others are studying it. They understand that planning never creates movement, but movement creates the plan. They know clearly where they want to end up, and will do whatever they have to between here and there to make it happen. For the conative person, the process is completely negotiable, but the end result is never negotiable.

A stream is a great example of conation—running relentlessly to the ocean and willing to do whatever it has to do to get there.

In his book, Shift, Peter Arnel described how he went from a weight of 406 pounds to 150 pounds. First, he decided to. Second, and much more important, he said, that from that moment on, he saw the world through the eyes of a 150-pound man, and made all of his decisions accordingly. That’s conation. How do you know you want something? You’re already doing it.

We use a shorthand definition with four key elements—Committed Movement in a Purposeful Direction. 1) Purpose is the long-term goal, 2) Commitment is recognizing the costs and moving ahead anyway, 3) Direction is figuring out the next one thing to do to accomplish the Purpose, and 4) Movement is the key to whether I actually want to reach the objective. Which leads us to the second-most important business word you’ve never heard.


Oxford calls it: A wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action. Our in-the-trenches definition: The desire, with no intention of doing anything.

“Wouldn’t it be great if…?” “Someday I’m going to…” “I sure hope that…” It’s all just velleity. You can have a great Purpose, chant at your vision board all day to demonstrate Commitment, and know exactly what one thing you’ll do next to establish your Direction. But until you have Movement, it’s all just wishful thinking.

Doing vs. Knowing

The way we’ve been taught to learn is unfortunately cognitive, not conative. But the education system is wrong. We do not think our way to a new way of acting. We act our way to a new way of thinking. Want to change something in your life? Do something different. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of velleity.

Just once my mother had to say to me, “Chuck, there is no such thing as an excuse, there aren’t even reasons, there are only priorities.” She never had to say it again. It describes the difference between conation and velleity perfectly. The conative person figures out what is important and does that first.

It affects us in the big picture even more than in day-to-day tasks. Visionaries are conative, dreamers are velletious. A visionary is already doing what they desire (conation), and a dreamer is talking about how nice it would if… (velleity). Dreamer’s talk, visionaries walk.

You get what you intend, not what you hope for. If we stop hoping to build a great business and decide we want it bad enough, we have a much better shot at getting there.


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