Deep down, you know you should do it. But how often do you wing it and fly by the seat of your pants because “Gosh, I don’t have time . . . I’ve done this before . . . I know what I’m doing”? It is obvious that you have to get ready for whatever game you’re playing, but all too frequently methodical preparation is the missing ingredient in today’s world of instant analysis, easy access to information, and glibness that sounds good at first but is unconnected with the reality at hand.
In Dare to Prepare, successful people such as wine guru Robert Parker, investment legend Bill Miller, pianist Leon Fleisher, Goldman Sachs partner Lisa Fontenelli, broadcaster Bob Costas, firefighter Ann Marie Tierney, New York Mets manager Willie Randolph, and many others share the way they apply discipline in preparing for career-changing games, deals, meetings, and interviews. Cal Ripken Jr. played thousands of games in the major leagues but prepared for each like it was his first. NPR host Liane Hansen has interviewed countless people but approaches each interview with the same meticulous research time and time again.
Make sure there are no slips “twixt cup and lip” as you get ready for your next personal or professional challenge by daring to prepare.
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About the Author
GREGORY JORDAN is a writer from Baltimore. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, The Hill, and Crisis magazine.
Read an Excerpt
PUT ME IN, COACH
You know the feeling--you first got it as a kid. Say you are a young musician taking lessons. You listen to your teacher play the piece for next week; you practice the most difficult chords with her; and you go home and nail it like Wynton Marsalis or Yo-Yo Ma. You tell yourself you've mastered it and decide to watch a sitcom instead of practicing more. You show up at your teacher's house seven days later, stretch your fingers, and utterly flub the recital.
Or say you're on the bench in youth basketball or in the Little League dugout, and you want to play. You can nail that shot; you can hit that pitcher. Coach turns to you; you get your chance; you rush in; and you miss the basket altogether or strike out on three pitches.
Most of you remember experiences like this as a kid. Comical or trite, they stick with you. And they serve as good analogies for trying to close a multimillion-dollar deal or sale, give a big presentation, do a negotiation, interview for a job, or pick a doctor. The exclamation "Put me in, Coach" didn't become a piece of Americana for nothing. It is the American way, in fact, to see or hear something done once and believe you can do it better. Immediately!
Whenever I hear John Fogerty's 1985 song "Centerfield," I laugh at the way I still feel the eagerness of a kid in the dugout when it comes to taking on a task. So hummable, the song captures the youthful zeal we can still feel when a big task is at hand. "Centerfield" became a favorite of my client and friend, the late Kirby Puckett, during the joyous ascent of the Minnesota Twins in the mid-1980s. Kirby had that Little League enthusiasm, and he made you feel as a fan that you could do it, too.
But let me tell you something: Kirby Puckett practiced, sportsese for "prepared," like his life depended on it. He was right up there with Cal Ripken Jr. in terms of a certain paranoia: I doubt either ever said "put me in, Coach" without feeling completely assured that he had prepared for all the possible dimensions of the at bat or of fielding the ball. Each man tempered his boyish zeal for the game with a studious devotion to preparation. On the scale of perspiration and inspiration, Cal and Kirby spent 50 percent of their time preparing and 50 percent performing. They perspired methodically during hours of practice and inspired monumentally when we were allowed to glimpse them perform.
For many reasons, the lionization of the master preparer seems to have waned. Performers are admired for their results, but not necessarily studied and emulated for their preparation. Enron was obviously a product of this do-it-quick culture. We live in what is perhaps the most results-driven era in history. Earnings, whether real or imagined, and performance, whether real or inflated, do not necessarily result from thorough preparation anymore. But, as a moralist at heart, I still believe that enduring success results from effective preparation. You can try to sneak around preparation, develop shortcuts, or come up with clever schemes. But succumbing to a shortcut culture will usually catch up with you.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS:
WHEN YOUR MOTHER OR
FATHER PREPARED LIKE THERE
WAS NO TOMORROW
Doting elders of my family told me that I was going to be president of the United States. Most of you probably got that treatment, too. I was president of my high school and college classes. I began to believe the incessant familial hype and couldn't wait to turn thirty-five to qualify. Put me in, Coach, I can be president.
Your head is filled with images of winners. Particularly during the technology boom of the late 1990s and the real estate boom of this decade, people were becoming multimillionaires like never before. Understandably, a lot of people want to skip steps and rush into fame and fortune.
It took a wise man to slow me down. Soon after law school my uncles and aunts started asking me for tax advice, and I would give them answers based upon what I had learned in my studies. But as a lawyer for whom I worked, Robby Goldman, said to me: "Don't give advice unless it is based on your knowledge and experience." Robby forced me to learn to think and know before I spoke. He essentially was saying that even his own instruction was insufficient unless I practiced it myself.
Preparation mentors never stop coming into your life; when I started the Shapiro Negotiations Institute, I was in my fifties. Mark Jankowski, my partner, was in his thirties. I recognized Mark's skills and generational advantages and looked to him as a mentor. He taught me how technology could help a business become more productive and organized. We tend to think of mentors as our elders, and this is usually the case. But I realized you could open yourself up to mentors of any age; their experience, and your lack of it, should be the determining factor.
The greatest preparation mentor I ever had was my father. He was an immigrant from Russia with a primary school education and winning business skills. He owned a plumbing supplies company. When I grew old enough to work for him, I expected I would fill in alongside him in the office with my fancy brain and new calculator. But he put me in the warehouse to help manage the inventory and delivery of pipes and fittings. I loaded and unloaded trucks in the summer heat.
He said to me: "To do this business right you have to understand the underbelly of it."
I resented it, just as many of you no doubt resented your father or your first boss making you pay your dues. I resented it for a long time.
And then one day I understood. He kept me from rushing into the game; he forced me to prepare.
The apprenticeship process seems to be fading. This is emblematic of a broader departure from preparation, as you are pressed to multitask and produce more work product. You feel forced to find shortcuts for doing things. We all want to get into the game sooner. Of course, people still wink at preparation and work ethic, but a wink or a nod isn't what my father and his preparation generation had in mind. Along the way, we're losing some of the satisfaction and thoroughness that came with good, old-fashioned preparation.
Like some of you, I was lucky to grow up a son of the preparation generation. The preparation ethic was easier to instill because there simply were fewer distractions or excuses available to avoid it. My dad taught me to ignore the impulse and pressure to say "put me in, Coach." In essence, his message was: don't curb your enthusiasm, but harness it with a method. And don't make excuses about why you can't.
THE THREE EXCUSES, OR, WHY WE SAY WE DON'T NEED TO PREPARE
There are three common excuses for not preparing methodically and thoroughly:
1.I don't have time.
2.I've done this before.
3.I know how to do this.
"I DON'T HAVE TIME!":
THE GOTTA GET IT DONE TRAP
You probably remember a high school teacher or college professor's admonishment: you that you actually save time at the back end of a paper or project by preparing more thoroughly at the front end.
After a few frustrating efforts, you probably realized they were right: you actually have a less frustrating experience and superior result by slowing down at the beginning in order to thoroughly outline that term paper or presentation.
It's good advice that everyone knows makes sense. Why don't we follow it? The answer, I think, has a lot to do with technology that pushes you to multitask and engage in our speed-dial way of life. You have tools for instant access and instant response. You are told you can do more in less time and several things at once, so you do. It is incredible how busy you feel, and how little of substance you sometimes feel you actually produce.
In fact, I think I remember from high school physics that the key difference between speed and velocity is direction. Speed can take you in any direction, including round and round in a circle; velocity has a fixed direction. A preparation method transforms your excess speed into velocity. It harnesses your energy into direction.
Multitaskers are speedy. You're working your BlackBerry, cell phone, and computer; you're reading the stock market results; you're glancing at the newspaper--all at once. I actually used to read the newspaper at ball games or in the morning while I drove the car. So in my case, multitasking was not only a threat to the quality of my work, but to my clean driving record and health!
Once upon a time, e-mail was supposed to allow you to respond to some people on your own time. You could wait to respond to the e-mails until you were ready and had reflected on their queries or issues. Then along came the BlackBerry. E-mails acquired the urgency of phone calls.
Even recently I would leave the BlackBerry in vibration mode when I was in a meeting or even giving a speech. And nine times out of ten I would know who was calling and switch with the multitasker's second mind to think about the issue facing the caller while speaking to a dozen people in a conference room!
I still have concentration issues, and I've struggled with them since I was a young, up-and-coming multitasker. There was a television in my room and I would do my homework with it on. I had a little trick--a string on the off switch that I would pull when I heard my father's footsteps coming down the hall. I was already multitasking because of the intrusion of technology into my life.
Multitasking can result from technology or from peer pressure or from sheer hyperactivity. But you've got to shut it down and restore the methodical steps of preparation to turn speed into velocity. A preparation checklist (like the Preparation Principles Checklist in the appendix of this book) will help you do this and probably reduce your blood pressure along the way.
The heartening fact is that you will not only make fewer mistakes, but you will also enjoy what you do more. You will feel less rushed; you will feel like you have more time. And you will be able to say with confidence instead of arrogance: put me in, Coach!
The Two Powers of Nice--How Can That Be?
A recent coincidence reinforced my belief in the importance of methodical preparation. My first book, The Power of Nice, was about negotiations and was translated into four languages. My consulting firm, the Shapiro Negotiations Institute, trademarked the title of the book and still uses it as the program title in some of our courses. The title became a fundamental part of our brand and was closely associated with our consulting.
So I was surprised one day in the early summer of 2006 to receive a call from a friend who had read in Newsweek magazine about another forthcoming book entitled The Power of Nice. How could this be, I wondered? Was someone blatantly exploiting our trademarked phrase? Was it an effort to appropriate our brand?
I read the article and learned that the authors were the executives of Kaplan Thaler Limited, the advertising group in New York City. They were probably best known as the creators of the winning Aflac duck advertisements in which the woeful duck is always getting abused.
Although the article pointed to their Power of Nice as more of a life advice book (so not competitive with mine in terms of content), this was still an important issue for me and my firm. But, as usual, I was busy--about to leave with my wife on a vacation in Oregon. Adding to the time pressure was the fact that my partner Mark Jankowski was caring for his wife who had experienced a devastating illness. I just didn't have the time to dig into the matter and knew what I wanted to do right away. I told myself: I don't have time to deal with this!
So I contacted the authors to ask them to consider using a different title that would not confuse readers with my book and my company's trademarked product. When I made the call, I hadn't fully prepared my strategy or scripted the conversation. The response from the person I spoke with was not good, and I was treated in a way that made me feel a wee bit like the abused and underappreciated Aflac duck.
During the call I was sitting in my office looking down at Baltimore's harbor. Water encourages reflection, and I realized--and not for the first time--that I had failed to practice what I preach.
By not sitting down with my team and thoroughly assessing the situation with a preparation method, I failed to methodically define my objectives, understand the other party's interests, forecast potential outcomes, and write a script to prepare for my encounter.
Now, I had plenty of good excuses to have rushed things. But no excuse is good enough to account for not preparing. Fortunately, it is never too late to prepare. Mark helped me recognize my error, and I rededicated myself and my team to preparing methodically. We analyzed the matter with the preparation checklist.
Methodical preparation transformed us from ugly ducks into well-prepared negotiators. We requested a copy of the authors' book in draft form and confirmed that the substance of each book was very different. We determined that the authors did not plagiarize our writing and ideas, but used a title without researching its prior use. And we realized we could propose a settlement that would avoid litigious nonsense and instead bring us a bit of a win from their book. Mark helped me to look at the issue succinctly when he said in an e-mail: "In order to continue to expand the brand of The Power of Nice, we will try to leverage a settlement agreement with these authors into an even higher profile for our book and concept."
By heeding my own advice and preparing methodically, we got the result we wanted. Kaplan Thaler agreed to acknowledge us and our trademark on its book's website with a link to our negotiations site; the authors mentioned the distinction between the two books in their book, and they provided other disclaimers. All of these concessions turned into additional marketing for a book that we published eight years ago. By scrutinizing our objectives, we prepared a proposal that made more sense than fighting over four simple words. By abandoning the excuse of having no time to prepare, I was able to aid our cause more effectively.