Hello Leader,

In this KEY I share with you my “This Is Your Decade” letter to Edan Shahar. I hope it inspires you to share your thoughts and feelings with your sons and daughters, or with other young people in your circle.

Edan edits the KEY letters and he continues to challenge me to clarify and simplify my message.

As always, your comments are welcome. Please forward this KEY to friends, family and associates.


Aviv Shahar

Listen to the Small Business Trends Radio Interview with Aviv about The Most Important 120 Minutes of Your Day. Aviv shares critical strategies to help you foster and hone your Peak Productivity Zone.

Enjoy our latest transformational strategy podcast. Listen to Why I Left The Limo In Copenhagen & The Garden Hose Insight. In this Transform-to-Lead podcast you will discover the power of reframing: To come up with a new solution and create a breakthrough strategy you must first ask a new question.

This Is Your Decade

Dear Edan,

This is your decade. You are 22 and the world is before you. You have grown up and become a nice young man. You make us proud. Your care and maturity, curiosity and drive, leadership and sensitivity, intellect, initiative and social skills are some of your assets. You have many other gifts, some of which you know. Some you will discover in the future. Setbacks and challenges will be part of the journey. It’s what you make of them and how you turn them into growth and development opportunities that will define your path.

Special Conversations

Six years ago, during your junior year of high school, you requested we hold regular meetings. Since that time we have often found ourselves in rich and thrilling conversations. We have spoken about life, meaning and purpose, delved into history, psychology, religion and business, talked of duality and the soul, explored the development journey and the nature of power, money, love, relationships, the mind, leadership and more. We discovered the five natures of conversations and the “seven games” one can choose to participate in and play in life. During these conversations we have had special moments filled with presence, vitality and the communion of purpose.

For me, these conversations were a wonderful bonus on top of our hiking expeditions in the Cascade Mountains and the Olympic Peninsula that were our earlier summer rituals. Our conversations have left me feeling fulfilled and enriched beyond words. On many such occasions I thought, ‘If I lived just for this one conversation’, it would be a life well-lived. And then there was another and another, and then another again. Like a chain of beautiful gems. So awesomely rich has been my experience. Thank you. I love you.

What Makes a Business?

I’ve watched you grow and excel at the University of Washington. You mastered the art of study, taken up physics and math, aced economy and philosophy, and graduated this summer with honors. You made a point to engage your professors, to provoke and create stimulating discussions. You exercised leadership skills as house manager and pledge master in your fraternity and in starting a company. What a life. What a thrill. How profoundly you have grown and matured.

You are now embarking on the next leg of your journey. You are developing your start-up company. In our coaching sessions, I often use the riddle approach. It’s a great teaching methodology. Discovering and resolving a riddle makes you work hard toward a solution and it makes the finding of the answers indelibly memorable. You remember the riddle: “What makes a business? When are you in business?” The answer was not having a cool product or a new service and not having an office or place to go to work. It was having a customer. You are in business when you have a customer. A sun is a sun because it has planets rotating around it. Natural charisma and brilliant intellect do not make a leader. A leader is one because he engages others in a cause and because they are prepared to join in and follow as he inspires them to their own opportunity and growth. You are a leader in order to help lead others. You are in business to help create value for a customer. Money is the byproduct of this process. Microsoft and Hewlett Packard are your first two customers. You’ve made a great start!

The Most Difficult Thing in This World

This, too, is a riddle you know. Some groups I work with take an hour and many hints to resolve this enigma. What is the most difficult thing in this world? People volunteer many good responses: success; not sabotaging opportunities; not taking things personally; handling rejection; finding your passion; leadership; forgiveness; making peace; innovation; truly listening. All these and many more are good answers but they are not the most difficult task. The most difficult task in this world is getting the right ingredients to the right place at the right time. This is the most difficult thing about business, about relationships or about anything else you choose to do. Some get the right ingredients but not at the right time or not in the right place. Some get to the right place but are too early or too late. Others are on time with many of the right ingredients but are just not in the right place. Aligning all the essential ingredients in the right place at the right time is what makes the extraordinary happen.

What is the challenge? There are many parts in this equation that you cannot control. What you need to do is master what you can control, which mostly is you. Your first task is to gain control over your response to what happens to you. Your second effort is to develop the art of influencing. Then there is a third invisible dimension. Some will call it luck. Others will describe it as attracting serendipity. My experience is that your focus on the first and the second efforts will take care of this third element.

Great success stories, stories of transformation and destinies that create an impact, all involve a journey to gather the right elements in a place and time where they are able to express themselves fully. But most of the time the characters involved don’t know this. They operate in the dark, in the face of ambiguity, with many uncertainties and a spectrum of unknowns. The work, the success, is in the journey as you:

  1. Discover your path.
  2. Focus on what you can impact.
  3. Fully respond to the moment, to the opportunity you are in right now.
  4. Follow through on new possibilities thoroughly. Not being dismissive. Not being prejudiced.
  5. Make many attempts; fail fast to harvest learning, to forward the next attempt.
  6. Create openness to new ideas, possibilities and permutations.
  7. Attract and surround yourself with great people that challenge you and complement your strengths with theirs.
  8. Cultivate tenacity, patience and discipline, together with enjoyment and adventure.
  9. Bring competence and passion to answer a need – to realize a vision.
  10. Take the next action.

This is your decade

Trust yourself and have confidence. Allow for uncertainty, open search and change. See in other people their best; promote and encourage the best. Remember that helping others grow and develop can be the most exhilarating and the most frustrating of tasks. If you need to visit the edge of the envelope to discover what it’s like, do it but do it wisely. Not for ego, not for showing off, but to understand how you work and what works for you.

My theme for the coming year is: “2010 is a Bigger Game”. It opens a decade of challenge – a decade of transformation. What will this decade bring? No one knows. We do know it will be a different decade than the one now coming to a close. It will be a decade like no other decade before. Make it your decade.

My experience and learning is that:

  1. Taking action, taking your next step is more powerful than all the unknown and uncertainties in the universe. When you take action you change your world and, as a result, anything can happen and everything becomes possible.
  2. Everything in this world needs to be earned. If you do not earn it on the front end you will need to earn it later.
  3. Living and leading is as much about how you handle and what you do in the “not knowing” phases as it is about moving forward with clarity when you do know.
  4. When people tell you that your ideas are crazy and you cannot do something, they are speaking about themselves, not about you. This is often an indication that you are onto something worth working for. All great things were at first met with disbelief and cynicism.
  5. In the beginning and in the end, this is your life and your time. You have to make up your own mind. Everyone, including me, will have views and preferences. Your decisions are yours to make.
  6. Arrogance blinds you and limits your ability to learn and grow and is a waste of precious energy.
  7. Boredom is a dis-ease that exposes you to lesser options, lower standards, and opens the door to bad habits.
  8. Carelessness and lack of love are signs you are not where you ought to be or that you are in the wrong place inside yourself. Love is not about what you do when you feel like doing it. Love is about what you do when you don’t feel like doing it. Your mother is the best example I know for this.
  9. To create results you’ve got to be idealistic. To nourish your dreams you’ve got to be practical. This means you’ve got to transcend and integrate the ideal, the practical and the real on the path you create.
  10. Being ethical and principled provides you a great freedom. It frees you up to be adaptive and flexible. Following your compass does not mean having to break the wall with your head. There are simpler ways to break the wall and most often you can climb over it, go around it, or simply open the door.

Make this a decade of discovery, growth and realization. I’ve found that to live is to continue to evolve. Evolve in your self-concept and evolve in your concept of what’s important, what you value and what you care for. People catch up to themselves and implode because they do not realize the concept of success is different in your 30’s than what it was in your 20’s; and then it hanges again in your 40’s and in your 50’s. For example, at one stage success is about having an opportunity. Then it is about what you can do. Success then is about what you achieve, and then what you create. Success shifts again to what comes to join what you do, and what is added to what you create. And then it evolves again to what you enable others to do and create. It’s the same with love. Love is not meant to be the same. Love grows and evolves with time and with age.

The journey is like a Stairmaster. As you step on the stair it leaves you and you have to take the next step and climb a new stair. Every day is the most important day of your life. It determines what will become possible when tomorrow becomes today. The past is done. There is nothing you can do to change it. The future is a chimera; it lives in our minds. Today, this minute and the next is all we really have. The future, when it arrives, is simply the next new today. When you work every day to take a step forward you then turn around one day and realize you have created a future.

Make this decade a teacher of who you are becoming. This decade has no map. You can chart your own course as it unfolds. Do not fear struggle, pain or doubt. When you set your mind on something, there is nothing in this world you cannot do. Make this decade your Sherpa friend to help you climb your mountain. Living is the real thing. Enjoy it. Enjoy your adventure. I am always near when you need me.

© Aviv Shahar