Over the past year, I have been learning a tremendous amount about the mental habits of some of the most productive and impactful people in history. If you gave yourself a second to think of who these entrepreneurs may be, I’m sure you could think of some that I will mention in this column. This past year has been reading insightful books by intelligent individuals and writers that really break down what made these collections of people so special. The books are based off extensive research, interviews, and conversations to really understand what made these people tick.

An Infatuation with Creators

For as long as I can remember, I have been infatuated by the stories of these “superhuman” people, specifically entrepreneurs. They make such a meaningful change on the way things are built, ideas are understood, and the future is paved. While studying in college, I was always blown away by the mathematicians and economists that developed such complex yet simple theories to explain new phenomena within the world. As I fell deeper in love with entrepreneurship, the same obsession continued to develop.

This has very much been almost a 10 year journey of growth and I’ve worked hard to expose my mind to many different lives. I’ve studied Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Elon Musk, Bob Marley, Ev Williams, Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, Benjamin Franklin, Nikola Tesla, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Albert Einstein, Larry Bird, and many others. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting with the lot of them, but I’ve made sure to choose biographical literature that is well reviewed, researched, and written. When I can, I find autobiographies by the individuals. When those aren’t available, I search for specific authors that I know are very focused on extensive research before putting the work together.

How I’ve Applied their Lessons as an Entrepreneur

I strive to take the lessons from these individuals and apply them to my own personal philosophies on how one achieves great impact in the short 100 years that we’re put on Earth. I have always dreamed of making a big enough impact on the world that it will have ripple effects hundreds of years into the future as the human mind and population continues to grow. I’ve always known that it won’t be easy and that is a major driver behind why I study these individuals so closely.

As an entrepreneur, I am learning something new every single day that I sit down to my computer. Whether I’m tasked with a new aspect of the company that I haven’t tackled before or I am troubleshooting a current system within the company, I am in a position where constant learning is required. I test new hypotheses, analyze results, and move forward with the best solution. That process is practiced hundreds, if not thousands, of times and it all leads to positive change within my businesses. It’s this idea of having a growth mindset.

And that growth mindset stems from what I’ve learned from studying these influential people. They were able to make such a significant impact on the world because they were always looking forward, always looking for new opportunities, and always open to making changes when it was called for.

Two Key Characteristics of Influential Entrepreneurs

As I’m performing all of these tests in the various areas of my businesses,  I’m also keeping a keen eye on where I want the business to be in 1, 2, 3 years and who I want to become in both the short and long term. The secret is that in order to achieve great impact, you must be in a super state of balance between the present and the future.

From my studies, I’ve arrived at two key characteristics that make these types of people so special.

  1. You must have a vision of your future.
  2. You must be able to stay focused on that vision for long periods of time.

I’ll break each characteristic down to its simpler form so that you can relate to what they actually mean when practiced in everyday life.

1. A Vision of the Future

The Story of Ed Catmull

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Ed Catmull, the current President of Pixar, helped to found and build Pixar and effectively created the first computer generated movie for the big screen. In “Creativity Inc.” written by Ed Catmull, he talks about the vision that he had of creating the first computer generated movie since when he was in his mid teens. He emphasizes how much of a driving force it was in the first 30 years of his life as he worked to make that vision become a reality.

The story of Ed Catmull and Pixar is an extreme example of someone having a vision for their life and working tirelessly to make it a reality without losing sight of that final outcome. The story truly shows the importance of having a future reality that you are passionate about and working towards present in your life. A vision of the future can be 1 year out, 2 years out, and even 30 years out. It will differ per person, but I believe that those with the longest visions and predictions tend to have the greatest and longest lasting impact of all on humanity.

Vision Alone Is Not Enough

Before Steve Jobs could explain how to build the computer, he knew the impact that it would have on millions of people all over the world. Those that can see far enough into the future are the ones that have the potential to make a great impact. I highlight the word, potential, because it does not guarantee greatness. There have been many dreamers that predicted what would happen in the next 100 years, but they were not the ones who made that vision a reality. Vision alone will not create impact. It must be coupled with an endless amount of focus on the steps to achieve that future reality.

2. Focus on the Vision

Ed Catmull focused for over 20 years on the vision that he held as a teenager before it became a reality. He set up learning opportunities in his life where he could become more intelligent in the technology that would allow his vision to come true. He stuck with it relentlessly until he was in a position and surrounded by the right set of people where he could make it happen. Had he veered from his short term paths towards another future, history could have been different. The same story goes for many pivotal events within each person’s life.

We Are Easily Distracted from Our Vision

The human mind is very easily distracted from the future that we want for ourselves because of everything that is happening in the present. Our inner psyche questions everything that we want to do which eventually leads us to become nervous about the final outcome. When we are nervous about the final outcome, we perform an act of defensiveness and tend to move away from that outcome. We may shut it out of our minds, decide to “give up” on it becoming a reality, or try to justify why it’s not the right future any longer.

In today’s world, we are even more distracted by our connectivity to information, news, opinions, other people, and an endless maze of stimulating content on the Internet. We are exposed to thousands of distractions each day making it more and more difficult to stay focused on who we want to become in the next year or what we want our business to achieve within the next 5 years.

The Power of Focus

In saying, focus sounds simple. In practice, it is much more burdensome and difficult to maintain. Those that can become and stay absolutely focused on each next step to reach their ultimate vision are the ones that achieve their vision faster than they, or anyone else, would have ever imagined. It’s not easy and it’s definitely not meant for everyone because of the potential side effects that happen. Through my studies, a popular theme that has come up for these super influential individuals is the decision to cut out certain people and experiences from their lives in an effort to stay focused on the future that they envision.

You’ll hear extremely similar advice from other theorists and philosophers that have studied the habits of the most influential figures in history. Many have performed the same studies that I have in the past and have reached their own conclusions on what makes these individuals special. While my thoughts may apply more directly to the lives of entrepreneurs, it is quite a universal truth for all of the most impactful individuals.

In “Think and Grow Rich” by Napolean Hill, he states this as a method for achieving what you desire:

First: Fix in your mind the exact outcome that you desire.
Second: Determine exactly what you intend to give in return for that outcome.
Third: Establish a definite date of when you want to achieve the outcome.
Fourth: Create a definite plan for carrying out your desire. Put this plan into action.
Fifth: Write down the outcome you desire, the time limit, what you’ll give in return, and the plan of action to make it a reality.
Sixth: Read your written statement aloud, twice daily. As you read, see and feel and believe yourself already in possession of that future outcome.

Hill’s simple six steps combine the need to create a definite vision and own it through short term focus. As you can see in his steps, you first create the definite outcome that you want and then you prepare yourself to stay focused on it every single day that you wake up. He presents that if you follow these steps and truly believe in them, you can make any outcome a reality.

Hill studied the most impactful entrepreneurs that arose after the Great Depression and worked alongside many of them as a coach and advisor. His work has been a huge influence on my understanding of achieving long term visions and the importance of balancing that focus on the future and present.

How Can You Apply Vision and Focus to Your Life?

As an entrepreneur, you have the power to make real change. Your ability to envision the future greatly determines how much of a change you can actually make. Your ability to then stay focused on your vision has an even greater impact on who you can become.

If you’ve never done it or haven’t done it in quite some time, think 1 year out and answer the following questions:

  1. What is one outcome that you want to achieve?
  2. What are 4 steps that will get you closer to that reality?

Repeat the same four questions for 2 years out, 3 years out, 5 years out…go as far out as you can. Allow yourself to be creative and to follow your true passions. Take note of who you want to become and start to focus on the steps to get there. Anything is possible with the human mind. It’s all up to us to apply ourselves properly to each situation.