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The Flywheel Series – 8 Steps on how to actually start pushing the Flywheel to achieve your goals

I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Alan Blakey of We had a great chat about Jim Collins’ Flywheel Effect and how this might relate to investment and achieving financial goals. Check out the full YouTube video when I post it in the next few weeks to follow the whole conversation.

While we were talking, Alan asked me to break down how a person could go about putting the Flywheel concept into practice in some easy to understand steps. I realized that it was about time I did this on the blog as well for anyone that is keen to get some success and wants to know how to start moving the Flywheel in their own life.

If you continue to work towards your goals using a strategy that is built around your strengths, weaknesses and ultimate potential and you are prepared to commit your time and energy to the required level, success is ultimately inevitable.

If you’re not familiar with the Flywheel concept, I suggest you check out my previous post to get you started. You can also check out the official Collins’ site here.

The Flywheel Effect is not a tool in itself but an effect that happens from the constant, persistent and relentless application of a strategy built upon the Hedgehog concept, our ‘one big thing’ that we are working towards.

This process is not for the faint hearted. It will only work if you are truly passionate and committed to the goal you want to achieve because it does require you to focus and sacrifice comfort for progress.

The steps are simple but the process is not easy. Still interested? Here we go.

Step One: What are you trying to achieve?

Obviously, you need to start with some kind of idea about what you want to achieve? Do you want to be a fitness god? What about a talented musician? Or even just be wealthy? Only you know what your goals and aspirations should be. By starting to visualize and talk about your burning ambition you start to make it tangible and more real.

Step Two: Work out what you’re passionate about

This is important. You might want to be wealthy but are you passionate about that specifically? Why do you want to be fit, musical, intelligent or any other thing? Are you passionate about creating a legacy for your kids or being able to express yourself through language or music? Passion is important because this is what will keep you going forwards when things start to get tough.

If you are struggling to get clarity on this, just keep asking Why? In my case, Why do I want to get my Taekwondo Black Belt? A little bit like Hillary’s Everest, because I want to know if I can. Because if I achieve this, I will know that I have reached a new level of personal growth and done something hard, that I never really thought I could do in the past, because its unfinished business and so on. Secretly, like a lot of people, I just want to be like Van Damme.

Step Three: Work out what you are good at or have potential for and then confront the brutal facts.

This is easy. Within what you want to achieve, where does your potential lie? What are your strengths and what are your current limitations? Are you a big picture person, or a detailed person? What suits you best?

If you want to become an artist, what is your best style? Do you like to draw or is painting more your thing? Maybe you like sculpture or animation? You know yourself best. If you want to be an investor, what’s your capacity for risk? If you want to study, what’s your learning style? Understanding yourself and your strengths and weaknesses is critical to creating a winning strategy.

Now it’s time to confront the brutal facts. Say you want to be an opera singer and your goal is to sing The Queen of the Night aria in Mozart’s Magic Flute. Great, but first confront the brutal facts. If you have a naturally deep voice then the challenges are immediately obvious. It’s a soprano aria with some notes right up in the stratosphere. Can you become an amazing singer with operatic voice control and dexterity? Definitely. Will you be able to sing that specific soprano aria in the original key? Maybe not. Confront the brutal facts and unlock a vision of your maximum potential. What is achievable in the timeframe you have available and how much can you commit to your goal?

We are not all Michael Jordan or Michael Phelps. Not everyone can be the best in the world at something or can dedicate their entire life to it. However, the common factor around the most successful people in the world is their laser focus on their goals. I highly recommended the Netflix documentary ‘Last Dance‘ to get an insight into Jordan’s mindset and method. You can find out more about how Michael Phelps achieved his goals on the Tim Ferriss podcast with Michael and Grant Hackett. You might not be Michael Jordan but if you want to be really good at basketball you can still achieve your own maximum potential which is the most important thing.

Step Four: Now create your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)

Yep, I said Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). Jim Collins’ terminology not mine. This is your ultimate, most awesome thing that you want to achieve. It’s built from your passion, your strengths and your weaknesses and your potential. It should be ambitious but theoretically possible. It’s also generally a longer term goal, not a short term milestone. For example: Mine currently is to achieve my Taekwondo Black belt. The more I work on this goal, the larger the challenge seems. The interim steps involve earning two more levels before I can achieve the final goal but instead of saying, “get my Red belt” as my goal, I am focused on the long term BHAG of the Black belt. There are many obstacles between here and there but it is theoretically possible and having confronted the brutal facts I can maximize on my strengths and compensate for my weaknesses on the way to the end goal.

Step Five: Start at your goal and work backwards from there to create a Strategic Plan

It is important to note that when we are confronting the brutal facts we are not saying, “I can’t, I should give up before I start” here. We are saying “What are the facts? What do I need to account for or overcome? If I can’t overcome, how can I adapt or compromise?” The trick is to start at perfection and work backwards from there. If you start at the beginning and create small incremental goals you may stop early, thinking you have achieved your maximum potential. If you start with what perfect achievement looks like and work backwards, you will aim and plan for that and end up further along in the long run even if you don’t quite achieve the ultimate goal.

In my case again, the obstacles to achieving my Black belt include:

  • I am a bit average at flying kicks and I haven’t learnt them all yet
  • I struggle to break stuff with certain parts of my body
  • My knowledge of the required Korean language and history is insufficient
  • I can’t perform all the required techniques with near perfect form
  • I can’t hold my own in a sparring match
  • I am not in good enough physical and mental shape to undertake the two days of torture (I mean fair and reasonable assessment) required during an ITF Black belt grading.

These are the obstacles before me and I am nowhere near ready but if I start with thinking about my goal as if I have already achieved it, then the obstacles become tasks.

I am a bit average at flying kicks and I haven’t learnt them all yet becomes…

Learn and master all flying kicks

This is a sub goal under my main BHAG and forms part of my Strategic Plan. In order to master flying kicks I must also improve my flexibility, the height of my jumps, my fitness and my coordination so I need a plan that will help me achieve this.

By working through each of the obstacles in this way, we can create a Strategic Plan that cannot help but push us towards our goal. By default, executing the plan will start moving the Flywheel.

Step Six: Measure incremental success

From the previous step, we form a detailed plan of the things that need to happen to move us towards the BHAG, pushing the Flywheel so to speak.

If I only focus on my BHAG to measure my success it will be a repetition of waking up every morning and saying “Nope, no Black belt yet” for the next two years. Somewhat unmotivating.

If I make my measurements more focused on incremental steps I can easily measure my progress. In my case I could measure my progress towards mastering flying kicks by:

  • Testing myself on the names and specifics of each jump (in English and Korean to help me achieve other small goals as well)
  • Measuring myself against a standard fitness test (such as the Beep test)
  • Measuring the height of my jumps progressively
  • Having my instructors assess my progress and provide feedback
  • Successfully grading to the next two belt levels before black belt

Seeing positive results from the above will drive my personal Flywheel and create momentum over time.

This kind of measurable progress is great and easy to track. However, progress is not always measured in tangible returns. If the first step on your journey is to learn then the first measure of success may be in the growth of knowledge or skills rather than the achievement of specific steps. Knowing more today than you did yesterday is still progress.

Step Seven: Avoid the Doom Loop and have patience

In Good to Great, Collins discusses what happens when a company is dissatisfied with progress and changes strategies to focus on ‘the next big thing.’ I liken this to switching from one fad weight loss program to another due to a lack of results. Inevitably as we switch from program to program we might see short term gains but never achieve long term success and in fact often end up gaining weight. I say this from personal experience. Collins calls this the Doom Loop.

During your journey towards your goal you may experience pitfalls, hold ups, lack of motivation, life changes and various other things that reduce your ability to push the Flywheel. Tweaking the strategy to ultimately keep moving towards the goal is one thing, changing the strategy completely risks entering the Doom Loop.

One way of avoiding demoralization from set backs and an accidental descent into the Doom Loop is by using Collins’ concepts of Productive Paranoia and The Stockdale Paradox. I won’t go into great detail here but the idea with Productive Paranoia is, if you’ve already thought about what could go wrong with your plan and come up with some contingency strategies, its easier to cope when something does go wrong. The Stockdale Paradox is more of a mindset where we confront the brutal facts of our situation but remain optimistic that we will succeed or triumph over adversity in the end. This helps us avoid the temptation to try the ‘next big thing’ and entering the Doom Loop.

Above all, patience is the key to long term success. We cannot expect to pick up a set of weights today and have a body like young Arnie the next. The common factor linking all ‘overnight’ success stories is that they are rarely successful ‘overnight’. Behind what we see on the surface are years and years of committed and unwavering attention and effort towards the goal. This is a lesson that has ironically and poetically taken me years to learn but I have finally developed patience in my long term self improvement journey.

Step Eight: Never Give Up

Slow progress, no matter how incremental, is still progress. The only failure comes when we give up entirely on pursuing our goals. On my journey, I am constantly being diverted and finding myself on the round about path towards my BHAG. Nevertheless, whenever I find myself unexpectedly pointing in a different direction, I quickly assess my situation and find a new way to get back on the path to my goal, even if it involves a detour. I give a good example of how this can be done in my previous post on this topic.

When it comes to never giving up, we can also look to genuinely successful people for inspiration. I heard an inspiring person say an inspiring thing on a YouTube video recently. I can’t find the video again easily to reference unfortunately so I will paraphrase.

Right now, in mid 2021, the South Korean boy band BTS is the biggest music act in the world. Seemingly an overnight success they exploded into the stratosphere of the western popular music world in 2020 with their Billboard #1 hit Dynamite. Appearing on the surface to be a manufactured pop sensation, this group of seven multi-talented members has actually been pushing the Flywheel since well before their official debut in 2013, going through years of incremental progress, constantly training, writing and producing their own music with their company on a budget only a fraction of that of the most prominent South Korean music agencies. Due to this unrelenting focus and commitment to their strategy and goals they are now achieving a textbook example of the success that comes from the Flywheel effect. Building their success on a combination of clever social media presence, inspiring and meaningful music and arguably the most difficult and put together choreography in the industry, they are now a force to be reckoned with in the music world with a host of music awards behind them and massive fan following called ARMY.

One member, Park Ji-min (Jimin), discussed in the video how he was disappointed with his current progress on achieving his vocal goals and his mindset around this epitomizes exactly what is needed to achieve long term success. He said, and I am paraphrasing here, that even if he wasn’t progressing as fast as he would like, if he continued to practice and work on his singing, he couldn’t help but achieve his goals in the end. The important thing to note here is the clear intention to keep practicing no matter how long it takes regardless of disappointment or lack of progress. The achievement of the goal is considered inevitable if this is done. Giving up was not an option.

Most of us never become world famous pop stars or would even want to but we all have goals we want to achieve. In the beginning, Park Ji-min was an average South Korean kid from Busan, a teenage contemporary dancer who didn’t know anything about singing. He now has one of the most unique, interesting and beautiful singing voices of the pop world. His success is directly related to the establishment of goals, an unrelenting commitment to achieving those goals and a mindset of always working hard and moving forwards.

If you continue to work towards your goals using a strategy that is built around your strengths, weaknesses and ultimate potential and you are prepared to commit your time and energy to the required level, success is ultimately inevitable.

I hope these eight steps help you create a strategy for pushing your own Flywheel towards success. It won’t be easy but when you look up for a minute you will see me pushing my own Flywheel right alongside you.


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