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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