"Life is difficult." That's the start of M Scott Peck's brilliant book The Road Less Traveled. I agree strongly. And I disagree strongly too. That life is difficult, says Peck, "is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult -- once we truly understand and accept it -- then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters."
I think Peck goes too far. I will argue that life is difficult, even if you accept fully that it is difficult. It is difficult not because it is difficult -- though it often is -- but because we humans have a genius for making it difficult. And we have that genius because we are lost, strangers in a strange world.
I will also argue that life can be easy, or at least a lot easier than we make it.
And finally, I'll argue that business is both difficult and remarkably easy too.
So let me explain.
Life is Difficult
I agree with Peck. Life is difficult because we expect it to be easy. We are always moaning about setbacks or burdens, "as if life should be easy." But life is a series of problems. We either moan about them or we overcome them.
So far, so good. But I also think that life is intractably difficult because we think that we can make it easy, by changing our circumstances. We look for the magic bullet, and the magic bullet always fails to do the trick. We imagine that everything will be fine if we fall in love, or get the right job, or make a big stinking pile of money, or achieve professional success. But the figures show, for example, that newlywed couples are much happier, in most cases, immediately before they get married, and that it is all downhill from there. After a couple of years they are no happier than they were before.
This is a perfect illustration that life is difficult, and that it becomes more difficult once we expect it to be easy. In my experience nothing is more difficult than living with another person, and the more you love them, the harder it is. Everyone fights with their spouses. So if we expect it to be easy, we are going to be disillusioned. The same with starting a new job, living in a new town, even living in a new dream home. But if we say to ourselves, this is going to be truly worthwhile, but initially it will be hard -- then it becomes a lot easier. When problems and pitfalls roll along -- as they will -- we are prepared for them, and can work constructively around them. We can take pride in our skill in working around the difficulties, instead of moaning that they are not fair. And we should also expect that the things that give us most pleasure are also going to be the things that give us the most pain.
To expect otherwise is to reckon without life's depths, the deep waters that are hard to swim in but make living really worthwhile.
So far, Peck is 100 percent right. But ...
Life doesn't have to be so difficult
There are two ways that we can make life much easier for ourselves and the people around us. The first way is to use the 80/20 principle, and change our circumstances:
1. An awful lot of life's problems come from other people, especially the people we don't like. So make it a rule never to work with people you don't like. For example, if you don't like your boss, get a new one. If you don't like someone working for you, don't moan -- change them. Never live near people you don't like -- get to know the neighbors before you commit to moving house. Don't do business of any kind unless you like the people involved. Don't have "friends" you don't respect, or that like moaning, or treat other people disrespectfully.
2. Never do work you don't like, however much it pays. Only do work that absorbs you and that you can do in your own way.
3. Avoid situations where you don't shine, and particularly where you do the opposite. Avoid the snake-pits of your life. If you can't stand traffic jams, don't commute. If you don't like waiting, minimize all contact with public services. If you get bad tempered with stupid people, don't put yourself into contact with people you define this way.
When I ask people how their lives could be improved by removing difficulties, I am always struck by two things. One is, how many of these problems are actually people. The second amazing thing is that the list of monster problems is usually very short. Remove these frustrations, and life becomes a lot sweeter. Use the 80/20 principle to identify the few things that cause nearly all the problems. Then remove the problems.
But, sadly, that is not enough. Changing our circumstances takes us a long way, but not the whole way. So we need to use the 80/20 principle again -- but to do something a bit harder.
That is to change ourselves.
Not easy. But, again, the list of things most of us need to change is also remarkably short. To continue my earlier list:
4. Yield. Be willing to yield. The only way to win an argument is to see it from the other person's viewpoint, and concede they might be right. The only way to end a flaming row with your lover is to give up your pride and agree with them. Pride and ego are sometimes good, but mainly they just get in the way and make everyone miserable, especially ourselves. Yielding also means giving up. If something is really hard, the only way to conquer it is to stop fighting so hard under your own steam. If you yield, help will come from outside. Yielding is not an admission of failure. It is the way to use the strength of the universe to do what you cannot do.
5. Love. Love life. Look for the good, not the bad. Recognize generosity, skill, attractiveness, insight, and love in others. There are plenty of bad things around. But switch your attention to the good things. There are plenty of those too. Once you recognize goodness, you multiply it.
6. Be optimistic. This is where believing that life is difficult can lead you astray. Sure, life is difficult, but the difficulties can always be overcome. There is always a way. It's just a question of locating it.
7. Most important of all, love yourself. Love yourself because you are "a child of the universe -- you have a right to be here." Love yourself because you are useful to other people. Every day, find a way to be more useful. This takes brains as well as spirit, insight and cunning and self-awareness, as well as good motivation. Nothing is more important than making yourself the most useful version of yourself that is possible - with the help of the universe. You are most useful when you enjoy what you are doing. So what is useful and enjoyable?
Business is Difficult
The evidence is clear-cut:
• Most firms fail. Quickly.
• Even successful businesses nearly always fail. Nothing fails like success.
• The problem with businesses is that they are subject to the market. The market always brings new competitors and new issues. Nothing stands still. The market is cruel and remorseless. This is great for the economy, but terrible for companies.
Business is Not Difficult
There is a formula that hugely multiplies the chances of success. It's also a very easy and simple formula, with only three moving parts:
• Hire only "A" people. Less than one percent of firms do this. They are always successful.
• Become a "star business" -- the leader in a high-growth market or niche. If your existing business is not a *star*, find a new definition of the market where you can be the leader in a high-growth niche. This formula, too, never fails.
• Use simplicity to make products and services far easier to use. There are two ways to do this. One is to cut the price in half. The other is make the product more than twice as valuable -- through making it intuitive and incredibly easy to use. These two routes to simplicity also never fail, unless someone else takes them further.
Life is difficult.
Life is not difficult.
Business is difficult.
Business is not difficult.
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