Three Cups of Tea


Building Relationships and Becoming a Trusted Advisor

“The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family.”  – Haji Ali; Village Elder – Korphe, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan  

K2 – The world’s second highest mountain peak, located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan

In the spring of 1993, American adventurer Greg Mortenson was part of an expedition to climb K2, the world’s second highest mountain, located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of North Eastern Pakistan. 

While making his descent in blinding snow he got separated from his group.  Instead of arriving in the village of Askole, where base camp was located and the rest of his party had been headed, he ended up 3 kilometres off course in the remote village of Korphe. 

Although only 3 km as the crow flies, Korphe is located on the opposite side of a deep chasm from Askole and due to heavy snow and the spring melt, inaccessible for over half the year.  Mortenson was stranded in Korphe for several weeks while he waited for the snow to melt.    

During his stay he noticed that the village was exceedingly poor and had no local school.  During the winter months children would either leave their families and stay with relatives in neighboring villages or more often than not, simply stay home when they couldn’t get across the chasm to Korphe.  Once the snow melted, out of gratitude for their hospitality, Mortenson pledged to return to Korphe and help them build a school of their own. 

Fast forward twenty-five years and Greg Mortenson, through the Central Asia Institute that he founded, has built over 171 schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The full story of how it all started can be found in Mortenson’s autobiographical; “Three Cups of Tea; One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time.”  Although some of Mortenson’s claims are suspect and he has been accused of financial mismanagement the fact remains that there are now dozens of schools providing education to thousands of children across the remote mountain regions of Central Asia, where there were none before. 

I was reminded of Mortenson’s story recently while contemplating the often long and drawn out sales process in my business.    More specifically, I remembered the way in which Haji Ali had explained to Mortenson how to go about building long lasting relationships with the Balti people – Slowly, over tea.

There are as many different approaches to sales as there are sales people and clients.  There is no one-size-fits all approach.  But over the years I have observed that most new sales follow a path that roughly correlates to Ali’s three cups of tea theory. 

Meeting One – You are a stranger.

It is the sales person’s job in this first meeting to put the prospect’s mind at ease.  Listen to the prospect’s needs, wants, goals, dreams, and fears.  Do not interrupt.  Remember, no one trusts you at this point, offering grandiose advice without a full understanding the problem will only reinforce that distrust. Speak only when necessary, asking clarifying questions, or answering questions directed at you. 

Once the prospect has told you everything now is your turn to speak.   Resist the temptation to offer a solution.  Your job is to simply leave the prospect wanting to see you again.  Give them the impression that you are the only person in the world who can help them.  But don’t tell them how. 

I often leave these meetings by saying something like, “You’ve given me a lot to think about.  I know I can help you with this but it’s going to take me a few days to get my head around all this.  Can I call you on Tuesday?” 

When I call back on Tuesday like I promised I simply say; “I have found a solution to your problem, when can we get together so I can explain it to you?”

Meeting Two – You Are An Honored Guest

I’ve already told them that I have the answer.  They are happy to see me and eager to hear what I have to say.  They put on the charm and roll out the read carpet.  It’s as if The Pope himself or some other wise guru has come to visit with a special word of wisdom just for them. 

I begin by repeating back to them as verbatim as I can remember, the exact concerns they had the last time we spoke.  I ask them for feedback and confirmation that I understood them correctly.  When we are both in agreement that I understand the problem.  I lay out the solution being careful to link it back to their specific needs every chance I get. 

Some prospects will be so excited and happy about the solution that they will want to sign the contract right then and there.  Unless you want to make a one-off sale and forever cement yourself in the prospect’s mind as a one problem solution, resist that temptation.  Tell the prospect that they need to sleep on this.  You are trying to go from honored guest to trusted family member.  Family doesn’t rush into things.  By telling the prospect to sleep on it you are simultaneously giving them an out and elevating your status to as the kind of person who has their best interests in mind, like family. 

At this point I leave the meeting by saying, “Take your time with this, read it over, do your own research.  If there is anything you don’t understand, call me.  I’ll check back next Thursday and see how you’re doing.” 

When I call back on Thursday I ask if they have any questions and then tell them when I am available to come by and implement the plan. 

Meeting Three – You Are A Trusted Family Member

Now it’s time to do business.  This time when I come, the prospects tend to greet me like an old friend or relative.  The formality is gone, the red carpet has been replaced by a dusty floor mat.  I am no longer the wise guru with all the answers, I’m the kind uncle, or brother who’s looking out for the family.  There is no need to put on airs, I’ve already seen their dirty laundry, there is no point hiding it anymore.

At the start of the meeting I take a quick minute to reconfirm their needs and remind the prospect how my proposal solves their problems.  At this point there are very few questions left to be answered. This meeting is light, conversation centers around general life and personal matters.  Signing the contracts is just a formality and it’s done almost as an afterthought. 

Once contracts are signed, I reinforce the family image but reminding the clients that I am in their corner.  They can call me any time, day or night, there are no questions they cannot ask.  I promise to stay in touch and set a reminder in my calendar to call them twice a year, once on the anniversary of the signing of the contracts and once on their birthday, just like family. 

This process has worked for me consistently for 7 years.  My best clients have become friends.  Review meetings are more like reunions.  Without even realizing what I was doing, I’ve been following the ancient Balti tradition of three cups of tea since I started in this business. 

It works.  But more than just being a tactic for making more sales, if you’re genuine it’s a great way to make friends.  Most of my clients I think would agree, I’ve got a lot of friends. 

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Life on Purpose


By believing their lives are meaningless, modern thinkers are failing to act in their own self-interest, as the evidence now shows that people who embrace a spiritual view of a purposeful life (regardless of whether this view is derived from religion or from philosophy) are more likely to be happy and to find fulfillment in their one chance at life (regardless of whether that one chance is given by a Maker or by nature).  – Gregg Easterbrook; The Progress Paradox, How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse

Do you believe there is a reason for your life? 

Better yet, do you live your life on purpose? 

The world is an amazing place and it just keeps getting better.  Today, people are more prosperous, healthier and less likely to get caught in war or violence of any kind than at any other time in history.  Technology continues to make our lives easier, giving us the ability to do more in less time, and with greater accuracy.  Thanks to medical advancements we are living longer with less chronic disease and recovering faster from injuries.  Thanks to advances in international relations and trade we are less likely to be called to serve in our national armies and to die in war or other armed conflicts.  In just about every metric imaginable, on a world-wide scale, life just keeps getting better and better every year. 

Sure, there are some localized issues and climate change is a real concern but the men who died in the trenches of World War I would trade our problems for theirs in a heartbeat.  Just over 100 years ago, if you got called into service in The Great War you were just as likely to contract the Spanish flu as you were to get shot in battle. 

In 1651, philosopher Thomas Hobbes characterized the natural life of the human animal as, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.  That is, without the existence of a benevolent centralized government.  The role of government, according to Hobbes, is to temper mankind’s basest nature and promote a peaceful and prosperous society.  Things obviously haven’t turned out quite the way he predicted but for the most part, Hobbes was right. 

Today however we live in a time when, despite the fact we have built a society as close to Hobbes’ ideal as possible, people are convinced things are getting worse and life is meaningless.  Why is that?  Anyone can see that life today is better than it was yesterday.  Why are we so easily convinced otherwise?

Personally, I think it has something to do with our inability to live on purpose.  We are too easily influenced and manipulated by outside interests and too quick to think the worst when things don’t immediately go our way.  We aren’t strong enough to remain focused and persevere through adversity, no matter how small.  We’ve gone soft.

Gregg Easterbrook, editor of The Atlantic Monthly and The New Republic, hit the nail on the head in his 2003 book quoted above.  People get depressed, and fear the worst, when we lose our sense of purpose. 

With a strong sense of purpose, we can weather just about any storm.  When business is bad, government regulations make it more difficult to compete or get ahead, and family troubles conspire to steal your focus, it’s purpose that helps us rise above. 

So today I want everyone to thing about their purpose.  Why does your business exist?  There are two times in the future when the answer to that question should cause you to alter course.  The first is when you answer, “I don’t know”.  When you no longer know why you’re doing something – stop doing it.  The second is when you answer with something along the lines of “mission accomplished”.  When the reason you’re doing something no longer exists, it’s time to re-evaluate and start something new. 

Many organizations fear “mission accomplished” almost more than failure but this is more of vision problem than it is a purpose problem.  If your stated purpose is to complete a specific project, what do you do when the project reaches a natural conclusion?  Your purpose needs to be bigger than that, or you need to have the courage to shut it down and look for something new.

Here’s to living on purpose.

What’s Next?


If you have ever read about training for U.S. Navy SEALs or other elite military units, you are probably familiar with the advice that is given to those entering basic training: “Don’t look ahead: simply focus on the task at hand.” Sounds like process, right? – Matt Dixon; The Well-Built Triathlete, Turning Potential into Performance

At this point in the New Year everyone is still talking about New Year’s Resolutions and making goal setting a priority. But somewhere in the hustle and bustle of everyday life a huge percentage of people are going to fail at their goals and simply give up. You might be doing great so far but once the kids go back to school and life goes back to “normal” those changes you promised to make to your eating and spending habits are going to start getting harder.

According to the Huffington Post only 8% of people keep their New Year’s Resolutions with most falling off the wagon within the first 3 weeks. People who set both short and longer-term goals at other times throughout the year tend not to fair much better.

The problem seems lie in the area of planning and the prevalence of an all or nothing attitude. Personally, I want to try and cut down on the carbohydrates and sugar in my diet, but it was my neighbor’s birthday yesterday and he insisted that I eat a piece of his double chocolate birthday cake. Well, there goes the New Year’s Resolution, I may as well forget it!

A better approach is to take the advice of the Navy SEALs, just focus on the task at hand, or look at the famous 12 step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous and take it one day at a time. Hardly anybody hits a home run in their first at bat, loses 20lbs in a week or wins an Oscar the first time they step in front of a camera. Life is a process and incremental change is far more sustainable than going for the big splash all or nothing game changer.

To say that 2018 was a challenging year for my business would be an understatement. One of my stated goals was to increase sales 20%. Sales decreased, and I missed my goal by a whopping 37%. There were lots of things that went wrong last year that contributed to this huge miss but at the end of the day a lot of it had to do with my inability to hit the smaller, day to day markers that would have led to a better chance of success. I lost focus on the task at hand.

Goal setting is not the problem. Stephen Covey famously told us to begin with the end in mind, that’s goal setting but he also told us to put first things first, break-down each task to a series of simple steps and just keep doing the next thing.

So, before you give up on your New Year’s Resolutions or say that your goals are unrealistic or just too hard, take a breath. Achieving your goals is a process, break it down and ask yourself – what’s next?

What Makes Things Great


It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard … is what makes it great. – Jimmy Dugan; A League of Their Own

Tom Hanks as fictional baseball great Jimmy Dugan in “A League of Their Own”, 1992

I love baseball!

As a kid it was the only sport that I was even remotely good at.  That’s not saying much.  My batting average was well below .250, and I was stuck out in left field, otherwise known as the no man’s land of defensive positions for kid’s baseball. 

My saving grace was the fact that I had a good eye, or maybe I was just too timid to swing the bat and ten-year-old pitchers aren’t exactly known for their control.  As a result, I batted second and walked a lot.  I also scored a lot of runs because I was almost always on base when our best hitters came up.  Defensively I was fairly decent at running down fly balls, but my arm was horrible, so all the opposing players had to us was tag up and they were reasonably assured of advancing at least one base, maybe two if my throw was weak or off line, which it usually was. 

But I still love the game.  Maybe also because as a Canadian kid who could never master the art of ice-skating and hated to be cold, playing hockey was out of the question.  So I stayed inside and waited for spring when all the kids in town turned their attention from skating and black rubber hockey pucks to running and white leather balls.

As I got older, I noticed something else about baseball.  It’s really hard. 

Baseball is deceptively hard because at first glance, with the exception of the pitcher, it might not look like the players are really doing all that much.  But hitting a ball, that’s approximately two and half inches in diameter, coming at you at 80-90 plus miles per hour, with a wooden club, keeping it within a 90 degree area in front of you and sufficiently away from 9 defenders so that you can run 90 feet without getting caught… is hard.  Really, really, hard.

Success in baseball is measured in ratios.  For a batter a ratio of .300 (or 30%) is considered good.  That’s why it’s three strikes and you’re out, giving a hitter any less than three attempts would be unfair, and really boring to watch.  That’s also why hitters are obsessed with their number of at bats.  Most hitters will tell you they need to get up to bat at least 4 times in a game before they can have a reasonable expectation of contributing anything to the success of the team. 

My baseball career ended when I was 14.  My sub .250 batting average and rubber arm made me a liability that the increasingly competitive teams in our area just couldn’t take a chance on, so I retired.  But the lessons I learned on the diamond have served me well in life and as we prepare to move into a New Year I’ve been thinking about a few of them while I’ve worked on my business plan. 

Here are 4 things I learned playing baseball that have applications in business and in life. 

1 – Do Hard Things

You never learn anything if everything you do is easy.  John F. Kennedy, when he announced the United States plan to put a man on the moon in 1962 put it this way. 

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

It took seven years, but the things NASA learned along the way contributed to their success and have served humanity in ways many of us will never fully grasp. 

The term “moon shot” stems from this moment in history.  Pick a goal that is hard, that if you were to try it right know you are practically guaranteed to fail at and put all your energy into learning about it and getting better over a long period of time and you just might succeed.

2 – Success is Failure

Or put another way, every failure leads you one step closer to success.  What happens when a batter strikes out?  They come back the next time even more determined to hit the ball.  I’ve done the math, nearly every success is proceeded by a failure, sometimes many failures.  The key isn’t to try and knock the ball out of the park every time, it’s just to get a little better every day. 

3 – Never Stop Learning

Professionals are always trying to get better at their chosen craft.  Athletes study game tape and pick apart their performance, then they hit the gym or the practice field and work on their mechanics.  They are constantly learning in order to get better. 

Between 1962 and 1969 NASA launched 10 Apollo missions before they ever attempted to land one.  Why?  Because they needed to learn as much as they could first, people’s lives were at stake.

Business people read and test new theories all the time.  We are always learning.

4 – Results Matter More

When I played baseball, I quickly learned that no matter how I did it, getting on base was the real goal.  “A walk’s as good as a hit!”, my coach would call from the dugout as the umpire called out “Ball Four!” and I trotted down to first base.  I soon led my team in walks, hit by pitch and runs scored.  While walking isn’t nearly as fun or flashy as hitting a frozen rope over the head of the short stop, the result is the same. 

Pick a result or set a goal and then do everything you can to achieve it.  It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work.

And remember, just because it’s hard doesn’t make something not worth doing.  The hard… is what makes achieving things great. 

Happy New Year – see you in 2019.

Pointing Toward The Infinite


Restlessness:  this is the word that concerns us.  Restlessness is the characteristic distinguishing human beings from animals.  Restlessness is the power that creates history and culture.  Restlessness is the root of every spirit that uplifts itself toward mortality; restlessness is – let us go ahead and say it – the most profound meaning and the lifeblood of all religion.  Restlessness – not in any transitory human sense, in which all we find is nervousness and impatience – no, restlessness in the direction of the eternal… pointing toward the infinite. – Dietrich Bonheoffer

Turning the calendar

My cousin recently posted on Facebook that the week between Christmas and New Year’s is that time of year when we don’t really know what we are doing, where we are going, or what’s happening.  How right she is…

By now the gifts have been opened and the turkey has been eaten but the kids are still off school and the prospect of going back to normal seems pointless with another major holiday just around the corner.

The be fair, some of us do go back to work but there isn’t really all that much to do so we wrap up loose ends, clean up our work spaces, and work on the things we don’t have time for the rest of the year.  The rest of us have stay home and end up doing the same kinds of things in our personal lives, catching up on television programs, reading and cleaning out the vacuum cleaner. 

Regardless of how we decide to fill the time most of us are existing in a kind of suspended reality.  Waiting. 

We wait for the New Year, when it is socially acceptable to start new things.   We finished all our major projects last week so that we could enjoy the Christmas season free of anxiety, (at least free of any anxiety cause by unfinished work, Christmas of course, brings its own special form or anxiety that is beyond the scope of this post) and now we are left with restless anticipation.

I like what Dietrich Bonheoffer had to say about restlessness, quoted above.  According to him there is a spiritual dimension to restlessness.  It is the “root of every spirit that uplifts itself toward mortality”. 

Put another way, I think what Bonheoffer was getting at is that restlessness is our spiritual self wrestling with the reality and limitations of the physical world.  We all know on a spiritual level that we are made for more.  It is that deeply held longing that has driven mankind to create. 

One theologian friend of mind once call mankind the “created family of a creative God behaving creatively”.  Restless creativity is just part of what it means to be human.

A creative mind

We create everything out of this sense of restlessness and it is during this week, between the frantic race to Christmas and the fresh start of the New Year, that we are at our most restless.  And potentially, our most creative.

It’s a great time of year to make plans, organize and lay groundwork for the next big thing.  I’ve been updating my business plan, developing goals and creating tracking systems that I will use for the entirety of 2019.  I’ve also been going to the gym, reading, catching up on a few movies and cleaning my office.  After I post this I might even take apart and clean the vacuum cleaner.  

The point is that feeling restless is good.  It drives us forward, even when it seems like we aren’t making any progress, forces us to be creative and prepare to do what we are meant be doing, so that we can remain “pointing toward the infinite”.

Stay restless and get creative…

First Things First


An Introduction to First Principles Thinking

In this day and age, when people talk about First Principles Thinking. the name the comes to mind most often is Elon Musk.  There is no better example living today of this way of thinking than the founder of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX.

What is First Principles Thinking, or reasoning from first principles, as it is also called?  It is the act of breaking down a problem to it’s most basic and fundamental questions and then building a new and innovative solution to that problem from scratch. 

As Musk explains, most people reason from analogy, meaning that they make assumptions based on what they already know about a problem, generalize those assumptions and inevitably come up with solutions that are very similar to what has already been tried before.  In other words, we don’t go far enough in breaking down the problem to reach the first principles and therefore are limited in our creativity to building on the work of others.

For example –

Reasoning from analogy would look something like this:  Given what we already know about bicycles how would we go about building a better mode of two wheeled transportation?  The end result would likely look very much like a bicycle.

Reasoning from first principles on the other hand would look more like this:  If I wanted to travel between two points and deemed it too far to walk, how would I get there?  While the end result might still look very much like a bicycle, it could also look like a skate board, a Segway or an airplane.  The first principle is not, how do I build a better bicycle but rather, how do I create a better mode of transportation?

When Elon Musk first decided he wanted to put a man on Mars he began looking for a partner to help him build a better rocket ship.  He soon realized that the thinking on rocket ships was pretty much the same and that everyone agreed that to escape earth’s atmosphere you needed a disposable (one time use only) booster rocket.  The cost of building such a rocket is astronomical and not suitable for commercial space flight.  So Musk created a new first principle, how do I break earth’s atmosphere without breaking the bank?  The result was the creation of the world’s first reusable booster rocket that is not only significantly cheaper and more efficient to operate but also significantly cheaper to build than the conventional single use models.

Reasoning from first principles in business and in life takes a bit of creativity and a bit of deep thinking.  You need to be able to look at a problem and see beyond the initial question to the fundamental core of what you are trying to accomplish.  As Musk learned – not how do I build a better rocket but how do I escape earth’s atmosphere more efficiently?  Or in my financial planning practice, not how much money do I need to save for retirement but what do I want to do with my time?

Watch here as stand up comedian Michael Jr explains his first principle.  There is a lot more here than just a story of a stand up comedian telling jokes and I might write more about the kinds of things he says some other time but for now just watch and think about your own first principles.

 

Do you sell cars, or give people a means to visit grandma?

Are you a Dr. or a person who helps people live a healthy life?

What are your first principles?  Tell me in the comments below.

 

L C Sheil writes regularly about, spirituality, life and business coaching.  He is the founder and director of The Matthew 5:5 Society (formerly The Meekonomics Project) where he coaches ministry and business leaders to Live Life to the Fullest in Complete Submission to the Will of God. 

Mr. Sheil has authored two books and is available for public speaking and one on one coaching in the areas of work life balance,  finding and living your core values  and financial literacy.  Write to The Matthew 5:5 Society here for more information or follow L C Sheil on twitter and instagram.  

Vlog Ep 11 – The Value of a Financial Planner


Did you know that the average annual return of the stock market over the last 50 years has been over 7% while the average individual investor has achieved only 2.3% over the same period?

Ever wonder why that is?

It has nothing to do with fees, or institutional investors taking all the good opportunities.  It’s much simpler than that.

In Today’s VLOG I’ll tell you why most individuals can’t achieve those kinds of returns consistently and how to give yourself a fighting chance.  The answer is simpler than you might think…