You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”  That’s one of my favorite sayings, and a true maxim in life and in business.  Having a “know it all” mentality can lead to disastrous decision making.  I’ve learned this the hard way, and if I had a dime for every time I have said “you don’t know what you don’t know” to one of my teammates or colleagues, I’d be very rich!

The beautiful hand painted wooden Russian Nesting Dolls from the city of Penza (above and below) illustrate this point very well.  The dolls descend in size and fit inside one another.  You open the largest one and keep going until you finally come to the impossibly tiny little doll at the end.

Ever had a problem you think you solved until another related issue popped up? Something completely unexpected.  Then you thought you solved it again but then another surprise came up?  And so on and so on until you finally got the correct answer?  Finding the right solution is just like opening up a set of these nesting dolls one by one.

Problems can be solved faster by knowing the simple fact that “you don’t know what you don’t know.”  So here are some simple ideas to keep in mind.

1.  Don’t Assume Anything – You’ve heard bosses and mentors say, “If you A-S-S-U-M-E, you make an A-S-S out of U and ME,” right?  I have to agree that, while extremely difficult NOT to do, assuming things can be very costly, especially when communicating with others.  Of course, you have to assume or guess at some things, but try and get as many facts, background info, etc. ahead of time.

2.  Be Prepared – For anything.  Expect surprises, and just take the issue as it comes and think things through carefully.

3.  Have a “Beginner’s Mind,” or “Shosin” as the Zen Buddhists like to call it.  By being open and devoid of preconceptions, you bring a level of humility and desire for learning to the challenge at hand.

4.  Get Help – Ask experts or experienced people and advisers who can help you.  And do your homework independently, as well.

5.  Test and Iterate – If you have the luxury of time, take baby steps and test your ideas. Whether it’s a new product or a new target audience, or whatever, put it out there on a test basis first, then evaluate feedback and results….and then adjust accordingly.

We at Lore Systems have put in place these practices and have benefitted immeasurably in making better decisions in everything we do.

Good luck, and thank you very much for reading.  Please feel free to comment and sign up for my Blog!


Yanik Silver’s 34 WINNING Rules for Maverick Entrepreneurs

My friend Yanik Silver is a successful, young, internet marketing expert.  A self-made millionaire by the age of 30, Yanik exudes creativity, energy, and passion.  He’s a veritable idea factory, and I am impressed by his knowledge and wisdom at such a relatively young age.  His Twitter handle is @yaniksilver and his main Blog site is

Yanik has, through reflection and analysis of his business experience and interactions with dozens of the world’s top entrepreneurs and business leaders, developed what he calls his “34 Rules “  They can also be found on one of his Blogs:

So here are YANIK SILVER’S 34 RULES FOR MAVERICK ENTREPRENEURS  (I added some commentary of my own in BOLD text below.)

  1. It’s got to be a BIG idea that you, your team and your customers can “get” in seconds.  Agree 100% that THINKING BIG is one of the most important things you can do in business.  See my Blog Post on “5 KEY LEARNINGS.”
  2. Strive to create 10x — 100x in value for any price you charge. Your rewards are always proportionate to the value you provide.
  3. You must charge a premium price so you have a large margin to provide an extraordinary value & experience.  This is right out of the Steve Jobs Playbook!
  4. Provide a ‘Reason Why’ customers should do business with you and pay you a premium.
  5. Get paid before you deliver your product or service. And when possible figure out how to create recurring revenue from transactions.  Collecting cash early allows you to finance your business, and ecurring revenue creates maximum shareholder value.
  6. You get to make the rules for your business. Don’t let industry norms dictate how you’ll work or who you’ll work with.  Another Steve Jobsism.
  7. Create your business around your life instead of settling for your life around your business.
  8. Consistently and constantly force yourself to focus on the ‘critically few’ proactive activities that produce exponential results. Don’t get caught up in minutia & bullshit.  Focus!
  9. Seek to minimize start-up risk but have maximum upside potential.
  10. Get your idea out there as fast as possible even if it’s not quite ready by setting must-hit deadlines. Let the market tell you if you have a winner or not. If not — move on and fail forward fast! If it’s got potential — then you can make it better.  The one great characteristic of internet-based businesses is that the feedback loop is shortened and rapid iteration can be done to perfect the model.
  11. Find partners and team members who are strong where you are weak and appreciate being paid on results.
  12. Your reputation always counts. Honor your obligations and agreements.  There’s nothing more important than INTEGRITY.
  13. Never, ever get paid based on hours worked.
  14. Leverage your marketing activities exponentially by using direct response methods and testing.
  15. Measure and track your marketing so you know what’s working and what’s not.
  16. Bootstrap. Having too much capital leads to incredible waste and doing things using conventional means.  I love this concept.  Bootstrapping builds a culture of resourceful and a “lean and mean” operating philosophy.
  17. Your partners and employees actions are their true core — not what they tell you.
  18. Keep asking the right questions to come up with innovative solutions. “How?”, “What?”, “Where?”, “Who Else?” & “Why?” open up possibilities.
  19. You’ll never have a perfect business and you’ll never be totally “done”. Deal with it.  Warren Buffett has said that it’s not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.  See my related Blog Post on Buffett.
  20. Focus most of your time on your core strengths and less time working in areas you suck at.
  21. Make it easier for customers to buy by taking away the risk of the transaction by guaranteeing what you do in a meaningful way.  If you are supremely confident in your product or service, you should have no problem guaranteeing it, and every customer loves a guarantee.
  22. Always have something else to sell (via upsell, cross-sell, follow-up offer, etc) whenever a transaction takes place. The hottest buyer in the world is one who just gave you money.
  23. Always go back to your existing customers with exceptional offers and reasons they should give you more money. It’s 5x less expensive to sell to happy customers than go find new ones.
  24. However the flip side is – fire your most annoying customers. They’ll be replaced with the right ones.  I have done this and it has worked miracles in getting my Team focused on the higher-value customers.  Figure out how to “score” or rank your customers and rationalize the lowest value ones.  You can then apply the scoring system to new business opportunities you evaluate, so that you accept the customers you want.
  25. The marketplace and competitors are always trying to beat you down to a commodity. Don’t let that happen.  I agree that getting into a commodity position is a losing proposition because someone will ALWAYS be lower in price.
  26. Develop and build your business’s personality that stands out. People want to buy from people.
  27. Create your own category so you can be first in the consumer’s mind.
  28. Go the opposite direction competitors are headed — you’ll stand out.  It’s amazing how so many of successful business leaders and investors are CONTRAIAN in their thinking.
  29. Mastermind and collaborate with other smart entrepreneurs if they have futures that are even bigger than their present.  You can’t win by yourself.  You need peers, advisors, mentors, and others who can help you.  Create a group, join a YPO or EO Forum, or a Vistage Group.  I am in a YPO Forum and the learnings and experience have been priceless.
  30. Celebrate your victories. It’s too easy to simply move on to your next goal without acknowledging and appreciating the ‘win’.  This is a good one.  Oftentimes, you see Founders relentlessly clamoring for “more, more, more!” without stopping to celebrate success.  This is super important for morale.
  31. Make your business AND doing business with you FUN!
  32. Do the unexpected before and after anything goes wrong so customers are compelled to ‘share your story’.
  33. Get a life! Business and making money are important but your life is the sum total of your experiences. Go out and create experiences & adventures so you can come back renewed and inspired for your next big thing.  Life is very short, so enjoy your moments at every opportunity.
  34. Give back! Commit to taking a % of your company’s sales and make a difference. If this becomes a habit like brushing your teeth pretty soon the big checks with lots of zeros won’t be scary to write. If you think you can’t donate a percentage of your sales simply raise your price.  The more you give, the more things come back to you. Giving is great for the community, for your company, and your teammates.  
This is a big list and, for me, I like #1, #6, and #8.  I believe in “Thinking Big.”  You’re going to be thinking anyway, so why not Think Big?  As for #6,  your business will definitely differentiate better if you follow your voice and make your own rules, as opposed to following someone else.  The great companies create their own products and solutions.  They set the trends.  Finally, I can’t say enough about FOCUS (#8), because that’s one of the TOP 5 necessities for success.  I blogged about this in my very first Blog Post, SUCCESS FORMULA.
Which one of these 34 RULES do you like best or find most relevant to your business?  
Please Comment below and Subscribe to my Blog.  Thanks!       
Featured image courtesy of Ralph Zuranski, licensed via creative commons.

Warren Buffett’s Ten Rules for Winning

While enjoying a nice lunch with my Son at a Minneapolis Jimmy John’s sub shop this weekend, I saw this “WARREN BUFFETT’S TEN RULES” sign tacked to the wall.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take a glare-free or hi-res photo, so let me list out these Rules below (with my comments in bold Italics):

No. 1:  REINVEST YOUR PROFITS – When you first make money, you may be tempted to spend it.  Don’t.  Instead, reinvest the profits.  Buffett learned this early on. In high school, he and a pal bought a pinball machine to put in a barbershop. With the money they earned, they bought more machines until they had eight in different shops. When the friends sold the venture, Buffett used the proceeds to buy stocks and to start another business. No surprise that this is Rule #1.  He is the greatest investor of our time and one of the reasons is because he followed his own advice here.

No. 2:  BE WILLING TO BE DIFFERENT – Don’t base your decisions upon what everyone is saying or doing. When Buffett began managing money in 1956 with $100,000 cobbled together from a handful of investors, he was dubbed an oddball. He worked in Omaha, not on Wall Street, and he refused to tell his partners where he was putting their money. People predicted that he’d fall, but when he closed his partnership 14 years later, it was worth more than $100 million.  In short:  Don’t be afraid to be contrarian.  Time and time again, we see tremendously successful investors, businessmen, entrepreneurs take a contrarian approach.  Wasn’t it John D. Rockefeller who said the best time to buy is when there’s “blood in the streets”?

No. 3:  NEVER SUCK YOUR THUMB – Gather in advance any information you need to make a decision, and ask a friend or relative to make sure that you stick to a deadline. Buffett prides himself on swiftly making up his mind and acting on it. He calls any unnecessary sitting and thinking “thumb-sucking.”  Buffett invested $5 Billion in Goldman Sachs during the worst moments of the 2008 financial crisis when Wall Street appeared to be melting down.  He committed this money in a 15 minute (no thumb sucking here) phone call with Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein.  Result?  A $10 Billion profit in 30 months.

No. 4:  SPELL OUT THE DEAL BEFORE YOU START – Your bargaining leverage is always greatest before you begin a job – that’s when you have something to offer that the other party wants. Buffett learned this lesson the hard way as a kid, when his grandfather Earnest hired him and a friend to dig out the family grocery store after a blizzard. The boys spent five hours shoveling until they could barely straighten their frozen hands. Afterward, his grandfather gave the pair less that 90 cents to split.  This advice holds not only for jobs, but also for any kind of negotiation, investments, partnerships, JVs, etc.

No. 5:  WATCH SMALL EXPENSES – Buffett invests in business run by managers who obsess over the tiniest costs. He once acquired a company whose owner counted the sheets in rolls of 500-sheet toilet paper to see if he was being cheated (he was). He also admired a friend who painted only the side of his office building that faced the road.  I think the lesson is also that the devil’s in the details, and that little things mean a lot. The best organizations have a handle on all of the nuances and details of their operations.

No. 6:  LIMIT WHAT YOU BORROW – Buffett has never borrowed a significant amount – not to invest, not for a mortgage. He has gotten many heartrending letters from people who thought their borrowing was manageable but became overwhelmed by debt. His advice: Negotiate with creditors to pay what you can. Then, when you’re debt-free, work on saving some money that you can invest.  If our country had followed this advice, we wouldn’t be in the financial pickle we’re in now, that’s for sure.  Seems like Buffett is not only saying to limit what you borrow, but also very simply to be disciplined, and that’s a key success driver

No. 7:  BE PERSISTENT – With tenacity and ingenuity, you can win against a more established competitor. Buffett acquired the Nebraska Furniture Mart in 1983 because he liked the way its founder, Rose Blumkin, did business. A Russian immigrant, she built the mart from a pawnshop into the largest furniture store in North America. Her strategy was to undersell the big shots, and she was a merciless negotiator.  This is my favorite of the Buffett Rules.

No. 8:  KNOW WHEN TO QUIT – Once, when Buffett was a teen, he went to the racetrack. He bet on a race and lost. To recoup his funds, he bet on another race. He lost again, leaving him with close to nothing. He felt sick – he had squandered nearly a week’s earnings. Buffett never repeated that mistake.  The only one making money at the racetrack is the owner.  I bet he’s happy he learned this lesson at a young age.

No. 9:  ASSESS THE RISKS – In 1995, the employer of Buffett’s son, Howie, was accused by the FBI of price-fixing. Buffett advised Howie to imagine the worst- and best-case scenarios if he stayed with the company. His son quickly realized the risks of staying far outweighed any potential gains, and he quit the next day.  Continually assess current and future risks and mitigate those you can to help shape and control your future.

No. 10:  KNOW WHAT SUCCESS REALLY MEANS – Despite his wealth, Buffett does not measure success by dollars. In 2006, he pledged to give away almost his entire fortune to charities, primarily the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He’s adamant about not funding monuments to himself – no Warren Buffett buildings or halls. “When you get to my age, you’ll measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you. That’s the ultimate test of how you lived your life.”  What a great definition of “success.”  After all the effort, the blood, sweat and tears, and the battle scars from the business and investment world, the Master defines his success so simply and elegantly.

I can’t help but think that the world would be a better place, and the economy would be in much better shape if we all followed Warren Buffett’s Rules.

Hopefully, President Obama will continue to seek Mr. Buffett’s sage counsel and (I know this is a stretch) convince him to become our next Treasury Secretary when Tim Geithner (my Mandarin language TA at Dartmouth) retires.

Thanks for reading, and please leave a Comment below.  Which Buffett Rule is your favorite one? What kinds of things do you think Mr. Buffett would do if he were Treasury Secretary?

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