How The Best Get Better: The Art and Science of Entrepreneurial Success

Physical Copy:

By: Dan Sullivan

Rating: A

This was my second Dan Sullivan book. It was a short little book that is a resource for his coaching clients. He is really speaking to a lot of struggles I am having and that a lot of business owners have. I have gotten to where I am in a large part from being what Dan describes as a rugged individualist. A do it yourself and work hard kind of person. But to continue to grow as a person and as a business, I need to develop completely different skills and habits. This short book tackles those issues and prescribes tactics to move past them.


Concept 1: The Ceiling of Complexity

All the growth in a person’s life occurs in stages. Within each stage, the individual comes to a point where it is not possible to base further growth upon his or her existing knowledge and skills: The individual has reached a “Ceiling of Complexity.”

The problem is experience.

A new state of simplicity is required: No further progress is possible because the existing stage of growth is filled with the complexity of experience – the messes, details, and complications that come from doing things a certain way for a long time. It becomes clear that working harder and longer in the existing stage no longer works.

A new set of concepts and strategies is needed to achieve a new state of simplicity.

All stages of individual growth come from having goals. At first, goals liberate and motivate us; once achieved, they hinder us. Working to achieve goals motivates us to develop specific relationships and personal habits. Once the goals are achieved, these relationships and habits – now firmly entrenched – become the Ceiling of Complexity that prevents the next stage of growth.

A new set of goals is required: New more demanding goals automatically force us to develop new relationships, structures, and habits. New relationships will provide us with larger opportunities and better results. New organizational structures will provide us with the support necessary to obtain larger opportunities and better results. New personal habits will enable us to obtain higher levels of performance and achievement.

Concept 2: The Personal Paradigm Shift

Crises cause shifts: Often, in order to overcome a crisis, new information is required. New information may point to deficiencies in the dominant belief system: that paradigm may cease to explain how things work.

Paradigm 1 – Rugged Individualism: 

“I can do it by myself.”

It is crucial to the early life development of individualism and self-reliance. But after a while, in this rapidly changing world, Rugged Individualism is disabling: it prevents further development of an individual’s “Unique Abilities.”

Unless a shift away from Rugged Individualism is made, a person’s time and effort are spent on activities where he or she has little ability.

Paradigm 2 – Unique Teamwork:

Rugged Individualism gradually prevents an individual’s Unique Abilities from developing into extraordinary performance and achievement. A new paradigm is needed: Unique Teamwork. Individuals with different Unique Abilities link together so that their weaknesses are transformed by others’ strengths.

Instead of being trapped by their weaknesses, individuals in this paradigm are free to focus entirely on their strengths.

Concept 3 – The Future-Based Self

The future-based self is who the individual imagines he or she is going to be. This is influenced by powerful goals.

The past-based self resists anything new.

The future-based self responds to new and bigger challenges:

To them it is essential to have a continuous flow of new and bigger challenges. He or she is continually creating, modifying, and improving a powerful future self image. The purpose of the present is to enjoy constant growth and improvement while laying the foundation for even greater growth and improvement.

Living accidentally or intentionally is a choice:

People dominated by their past-based selves, build the meaning of their lives around things that happen to them by accident.

The future-based person achieves freedom from the past: The future-based self is conscious and intentional. It is continually created over the course of a lifetime through imagination, risk-taking, and focused effort.

Concept 4 – The Two Entrepreneurial Decisions

There is a direct correlation between the number of entrepreneurs in a country and the standard of living that everyone enjoys.

Entrepreneurs distinguish themselves from non-entrepreneurs by making two fundamental decisions:

  1. To depend entirely on their own abilities for economic security.
  2. To expect opportunity in life only after creating value for others.

The future-based individuals achieve freedom from dependency:

“No one else has to support me. No one else has to take care of me.”

Entrepreneurs achieve freedom from entitlement:

The attitude of entitlement says, “I am owed something – by society, by the government, by the company, by my family.” This attitude imprisons the individual in a lifetime of unfulfilled expectations, grievances, and self-pity.

The entrepreneur says, ”I am not owed anything by anyone. Any opportunity I want must be created by providing something of value to others.”

Concept 5 – The No-Entitlement Attitude

The most successful, creative, and happy people – in every field of human activity – are those who have a no-entitlement attitude.

Entrepreneurs constantly create opportunities for themselves, rather than waiting for someone else to do this for them.

People experience dissatisfaction in this age of entitlement:

The chief feature of this age is that during a period of unprecedented progress and prosperity, never have more people been more dissatisfied. The reason is the pervasive acceptance of the entitlement belief system in our society.

Society was promised immediate and total perfection:

After the Second World War, especially in North America, there was extraordinary economic growth for a 25-year period. There was so much wealth and opportunity for bureaucratic expansion that government, corporate, and union leaders began claiming that modern society could be perfected – and in the very near future.

The major message of the age of entitlement was that individuals were no longer responsible for themselves; a bureaucratic “entitlement society” was now responsible for everyone.

Everything is created and earned:

In order to escape this world of dissatisfaction – the universe of bureaucratic dependency – it is necessary to have an attitude of no entitlement. No entitlement means that no one owes you anything; everything must be created and earned through individual initiative and cooperation.

Concept 6 – The Two Economies

The Time-and-Effort Economy, accounting for 80% of all people who work, is based on the desire for job security, predictable activity, and guaranteed income.

The Results Economy, consisting of the remaining 20% of the working population, is based on the desire for greater opportunity, income, and freedom of action.

People who work in the Time-and-Effort Economy experience loss of control:

In the Time-and-Effort Economy, individuals do not create their own economic opportunity; instead, they sell their labor to someone else.

How to create value and opportunity:

The Results Economy is different: instead of focusing on security and guarantees, entrepreneurs focus on creating greater value and opportunity. People who become entrepreneurs give up all notion of guaranteed jobs or incomes.

What is needed is the opportunity to create value for others.

They seek change, cause change, and take advantage of change. Those in the Time-and-Effort Economy fear change, while those in the Results Economy thrive on it.

Strategy 1 – The Entrepreneurial Time System

The goal of a bureaucratic time system is to achieve maximum uniformity, repetition, and predictability. This is supported by rigid work hours and rigid work days.

In tranquil times, this leads to boredom.

During times of great change, this leads to crises, high levels of stress, and exhaustion.

The Entrepreneurial Time System results in variety, creativity, and higher productivity:

It is implemented by dividing all time into 3 distinct kinds of days, each of which lasts 24 hours.

The Free Day: The purpose of the Free Day is rejuvenation and enjoyment of physical, mental, psychologica, and emotional capabilities. Complete separation and freedom from work-related activities and obligations is required.

The Focus Day: The purpose of the Focus Day is to maximize concentration of an individual’s capabilities on the most important activities, relationships, and opportunities. Complete freedom from non-productive tasks and details is required.

The Buffer Day: The purpose of this third kind of day is preparation – for the rejuvenation that will occur during future Free Days and the productivity that will occur during future Focus Days. Complete freedom from the pressures and demands of Focus Day activities and deadlines is required.

The Entrepreneurial Time System results in increased rejuvenation, productivity, and preparation:

Free Days lead to increased energy, creativity, and optimism. Focus Days lead to twice the results in half the time. Buffer Days lead to increased simplicity, efficiency, and the ability to plan further into the future. 

Strategy 2 – The Largest Check

Entrepreneurs become trapped by “The Largest Check”:

Many individuals become trapped by a certain size of check or the total amount of money received from a client or customer in a single year. Certain efforts and habits are engrained to achieve a check of that size. Growth past that is hindered by those efforts and habits.

Market relationships: The entire network of relationships is static: everything and everyone within it is fixed at a certain level. Nobody progresses.

Organizational structure: The support structure is not geared towards growth. It is geared towards maintenance of the Largest Check.

Personal work habits: The habits geared to a $5 million dollar check are very different from those geared to a $50,000 dollar check; those geared to a $50,000 dollar check are different from the habits geared to a $5,000 check.

Breaking through the Ceiling: Set a larger check size goal!

Once established, the new Largest Check goal immediately impacts relationships, organizational capabilities, and habits. The quality of relationships increases, organization capabilities are upgraded, and personal productivity habits undergo constant improvement. At the end of each year the process is repeated, and a higher Largest Check becomes the new goal.

Strategy 3 – The No-Office Solution

The word bureaucracy comes from the French language and means “rule of the desk or office.”

Offices are generally where non-entrepreneurial activities take place. Offices are where entrepreneurs go to “hide” from their most important activities, relationships, and opportunities.

Get rid of the office: Without a personal office, there is no alternative except to focus all their time and attention on productive activities. There is little possibility of being surrounded by bureaucratic stuff and messes. Entrepreneurs find that they are increasingly focused on their best abilities, relationships, and opportunities.

Create a superb meeting room: A meeting room that is always free of notes, papers, files, reports, books, and magazines. No work desk or office furniture but instead a meeting table with a number of comfortable chairs. There should be outlets for phones and computers.

Rule 1: The meeting room must always be free from stuff and messes at the end of each business day.

Rule 2: If the entrepreneur does paperwork in the meeting room, at the end of the day, related materials should be removed and properly filed or stored by a support peron.

Rule 3: On a particular day, if the entrepreneur has no one to meet and no paperwork to do, then he or she should not come to the office.

Whether in the meeting room or attending external meetings, the entrepreneur should always be totally focused on developing money-making opportunities.

Strategy 4 – The R-Factor Question

A past-based client or customer is opposed to growth. They are devoted to their past activity rather than results.

The following question clarifies whether a person is past-based or future-based in his or her thinking:

“If we were meeting three years from today, what has to have happened during that 3 year period for you to feel happy about your progress?”

The non-answerer is not worth pursuing.

In answering, he or she demonstrates both trust in a potential relationship and a clear desire for a bigger and better future. The answer will always be given in terms of specific goals, objectives, improvements, changes, and solutions.

Once we know where a person wants to go in life, we can begin assisting his or her progress by contributing our abilities and resources.

Strategy 5 – The Referability Habits

The best marketing strategy in the world is to be referable.

All referability depends upon 4 habits:

  • Show up on time.
  • Do what you say.
  • Finish what you start.
  • Say please and thank you.

Practice these 4 habits.

Within your organization, make these 4 habits the basis of all training and procedures.

Strategy 6 – Delegate Everything Except Genius

All human beings spend their lives in the following zones of activity:

  • Incompetence, 
  • Competence, 
  • Excellence, and 
  • Unique Ability.

Those who achieve extraordinary results during their lives – spend almost all of their lives in the zone of Unique Ability.

There are different forms of genius: Anyone who identifies his or her zone of Unique Ability, and then spends ten years of concentrated effort within that zone, will begin to think, communicate, and perform in ways that other people see as genius.

Unfortunate childhood lessons must be overcome: Many individuals are never able to identify their zone of Unique Ability, let alone concentrate on it, because they are trapped by childhood training. They learned that the secret of success in life is to work on your weaknesses.

Focus on uniqueness; delegate everything else: The best entrepreneurs in the world have discovered that the key to success is to focus totally on their Unique Ability and to delegate everything else.

Unique Ability activities are those that we absolutely love doing, that give us more energy than they consume, and that continue to produce greater levels of skill and better results in relation to the amount of time we invest.

When we are in our Unique Ability zone, we experience constant growth, increasing confidence, and an ability to innovate solutions. Additionally, we experience a sense of simplicity, clarity, and serenity, which deepens in relation to the amount of time we spend in the zone.

Summary – The Road to Economic Adulthood

Escape from the crises of complexity:

These are the crises of complexity:

  • Too much happening, not enough time to think and learn
  • Too little security, not enough opportunity
  • Too few resources, not enough leverage

Economic adulthood: To move from economic childhood to economic adulthood – a transition that requires them to be self-directed, self-motivated, and self-managed in a world of continual change.

Action Items:

Implement and experiment with the entrepreneur time system.

Develop and learn about Unique Ability and delegate everything else.

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