Aspire | Action | Acquire
Aspire | Action | Acquire

Visceral Thinking

At the age of 52, having signed a new contract with the McDonald brothers, Ray Kroc, had diabetes, incipient arthritis, and had lost his gall bladder and most of his thyroid gland. He was a “a battle scarred-veteran of the business wars” and “still eager to go into action.” He was, he wrote, “convinced the best was ahead of me.”[1] The creation of billionaire wealth often involves repeated failures or moderate successes. This is confirmed in the study of self-made billionaires The self-made billionaire effect by John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen. The authors of observed that “serial business creation seems to improve the prospects of a new venture.”

A comparative assessment of success is made of professional golfers by leading sports psychologist Bob Rotella. In How champions think, he writes “A golfer needs confidence in order to win a tournament.” He then states that: “Confidence comes from winning”, before asking “how could anyone get the confidence for winning the first time?”[2] But what of negative experiences? How can they positively impact on future ventures? In short, Rotella concludes that confidence comes from mentally reinforcing the experiences from winning, starting small, and abandoning thoughts of failure.

It is important not to confuse learned confidence and non-learned optimism. The late oil billionaire J.P. Getty, who wrote several biographies, could not be accused of lacking confidence. He warned, “habitual optimism and enthusiasm can be carried to dangerous – and even disastrous – extremes of overestimation and overzealousness.”[3] Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, in Man’s search for meaning and Vietnam veteran Admiral Jim Stockdale, interviewed in Good to Great, separately identified that the prisoners who didn’t make it as the “optimists” with short-term expectations.

At issue is the imperfect correlation between optimism and success. Contrariwise, “there is an almost perfect correlation between negative thinking and failure.”[4] A striking observation by Sviokla and Cohen is that billionaires intentionally guard their time from non-essential [read delegable] activities to constantly cultivate their innate curiosity. This, according to the authors, “gives them the time to read or converse widely on the subjects that let them make remote connections.”[5] Ray Dalio, the billionaire banker and author of Principles, identifies that highly successful people have highly developed mental constructs of success and a willingness to test them in the world of reality.[6]

Invariably, situations do arise in decision making where confidence and optimism conflict. Compared to most people who operate from a single perspective, highly successful people are “simultaneously creative, systematic, and practical”. Where highly successful people don’t have specific skills they partner people who do, according to Dalio. This is consistent with the “Performer-Producer” roles proffered by Martin Fridson in his study of billionaires.

A somewhat perplexing view provided by Sam Walton is: “I try to play a “what-if” game with the numbers – but it’s generally my gut that makes the final decision. If it feels right, I tend to go for it, and if it doesn’t, I back off.”[7]  Sam Walton, who partnered his brother Bud to co-found Walmart, also made a habit of knowing his competitors’ businesses as much as he did his own business.


[1] Ray Kroc, and Robert Anderson, Grinding it Out: The Making of Mcdonalds (Chicago IL: Contemporary Books, 1987(1977)).

[2] Robert J. Rotella, and Bob Cullen, How Champions Think: In Sports and in Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016), 33.

[3] J. P. Getty, How to be Rich (New York N.Y: Jove Books, 1986), 56.

[4] Robert J. Rotella, and Bob Cullen, How Champions Think: In Sports and in Life (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016), 31.

[5] John Sviokla, and Mitch Cohen , The Self-made Billionaire Effect How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value (New York NY: PortfolioPenguin, c 2014), 76.

[6] Ray Dalio, Principles: Life and Work (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017), 95.

[7] 1. Sam Walton, and John Huey , Sam Walton Made in America: My Story, (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), 253.