In an interview with Leo Babatua, the author of Zen Habits, Tim Ferris quotes Herb Keleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines as one of his inspirations. According to Tim Herb says that anyone could be the CEO of Southwest by asking this simple question-will this help us to be the lowest cost airline? This statement is so simple that it stunned me. It was a simple way of saying what I am trying to do with my book and this website. Help my readers become CEO’s of their lives, but not just their lives, every thing in it. (Note, I’m not sure if Herb said this or not but check out this website and see what you think.)
What does a CEO do? He leads the company with a clear idea of where they are trying to go or what they are trying to do. He gives the company and everyone in it direction. And so that he or she can do that they look at the options and choose from among them. And if there are no options, if there is only a single way to get ahead, then they sense that way and lead their followers along that path. It may be the path of least resistance, or the path of maximum benefits for everyone involved. In either case or any case, they provide the glue that keeps all of the parts of the company together. They give each part direction and purpose so that as a whole the company works well. Each part is useful and is used.
Now if everyone in Southwest Airlines shared this simple idea, they would for the most part be able to lead themselves. They would still be a part of Southwest, they would still be helping to make it the lowest cost airline but instead of having to ask Herb they could ask themselves and so lead themselves.
And if the idea changes, if instead of wanting to be the cheapest, they wanted to be the sexiest or the fastest, then so long as this simple change is transmitted clearly to every part of the organization, then the organization can continue to function effectively only this time as a whole it is working towards being the fastest or the sexiest.
So before we go any further, lets talk a little about idea. In the terms of this book and this website an idea is anything that can create a change when it connects to another idea. What do I mean by that? As an example, riding my motorcycle this morning I realized that the motorcycle is an idea. Why? Because when I connected to it, when I got on it to ride it, the motorcycle changed me. Instead of a pedestrian I became a rider, someone able to get to places fast. Getting off the bike I changed again, I became a person again. The macbook pro that I am using to type with is an idea. In this instance it changes me from a person to a writer. And guess what. I change it. Instead of just being a computer, now it is being used. It’s potential is being realized. Likewise, the bike changed when I got on it to ride. It was able to go places because I was operating it. We can thus think of ourselves as ideas too. We don’t have to though. If you don’t like thinking of yourself as an idea then don’t. I like to think of myself as an idea because at any moment in time I can ask myself the question, what is the idea of what I am trying to be at this moment in time. It’s not that I am any one single idea, or maybe I am. but perhaps I am the big idea of Neil Keleher that is made up of the smaller, but not insignificant, ideas of bike rider, writer, father, husband, yoga teacher etc…
So now lets talk about ideas other than ourselves. lets talk about ideas that we can use to lead with. Riding a bike I lead with the idea of getting from A to B or perhaps I am trying to get around a track as fast as possible. Writing this book, or in this case, this article, I am trying to introduce you to notions that will help make your life easier. Basic Principles that can be used in any aspect of life so that you can get on with doing what you are trying to do. You could be leading a company or you could be part of a company trying to do the best job you can. You could be a writer, a martial artist, part of a family or part of a rock band. You could be leading your body with the idea of a yoga pose or a Tai Ji movement. By knowing the idea of what you are trying to do you can get on with doing it and whether you are leading yourself, someone else, a team, a company, an inanimate object, knowing the idea of what you are trying to do you can get on and do it in the best way possible. You don’t even have to ask if what you are doing is efficient or not, if it is helping you do the idea of what you are trying to do, then what you are doing is useful and thus not a waste. Even if you are learning and making mistakes in the process, if you learn from those mistakes, if you experience them then that experience can help you with the idea of what you are trying to do.
Now if this seems too simple or perhaps not detailed enough I believe you are right. Just having an idea isn’t enough. If I want to ride a bike I have to learn how. If I want to lead a company, or create one, I need to put all the parts together and I need to know what each part does.
A motorcycle is a big idea made up of all sorts of small ideas that work together so that bike as a whole functions well. The same (ideally) with a company, and the same with our body. Each part is an idea in and of itself. Each part of a company, of our body, of a bike, each part has a specific function. That function is what defines the idea. That function is what enable the small idea to function as part of the big idea. It is all the small ideas together that make a big idea work.
When the small ideas in a motorbike are connected they create a change, together they create the big idea of a bike and when someone gets on a bike and turns the ignitiion on, more change is created.
Likewise with a company, when all the parts of a company connect, and when someone comes along with an idea of someplace to go, then that company can go places.
Here’s another look at ideas. As you hopefully have seen, ideas can be broken down into smaller ideas. This doesn’t just apply to the idea of companies or motorbikes or the idea of our bodies, this also applies to the ideas of things that we have to do. As an example, again from the Leo Babauta/Tim Ferris interview, Tim says that he does three workouts a day. What a workout, a way of improving or maintaining the fitness of the body. We can go to the gym once a day and have a one, two or even a three hour workout, or we can break our workout down into the smaller parts that make it up. We might do this anyway. Going to the gym we might spend 20 minutes doing cardio and then 20 minutes of weights and then 20 minutes of stretching and cooling down. Now if instead of doing cardio as a warm up and stretching as a cool down, if instead we view these as exercises in their own right, we could go to the gym three times in one day and on each visit work on any one of these ideas. Or we could break the weight workout into different ideas. Perhaps one part of our workout is upper body and the other part lower body. We could then go to the gym and do upper body weights followed by stretching and then when we go back, do cardio followed by lower body weights and stretching.
Notice how each of these “small ideas” has a purpose. Wether an idea is a big idea (leading a company) or a small idea, the thing that makes an idea useful is understanding what it does. In the case of working out the lower body we are making the legs, knees and hips all stronger or more mobile or a little bit of both.
Going back to Leo’s blog, when he got that started in the process of creating it everything he did was led by a clear idea of what Zen Habits is. Peaceful and Simple. In one of his blogs he writes about how he responds to people who make him angry. He asks himself if he is in line with what his blog is about. It’s not to say that he doesn’t get angry. I’m sure he does, but he doesn’t let that anger affect his writing or his blog. He is leading himself with a clear idea of what he is trying to do. As a result all of his readers can see this and choose to follow him. Why? Because the idea of what he is trying to do is very clear and visible for all to see.
Imagine leading anything that we do with a clear idea of what we are trying to do.
Now, if we aren’t doing what are we “doing” instead? Well, then we could simply be watching the doing of everyone and everything around us. Or we could be resting from doing and enjoying the fact that we have done something. Or we could be thinking about what we would like to do.