Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Level Beyond.... Go For It!

I had a conversation with someone today regarding "is it possible to hit higher plateaus for people who are aspiring to higher levels?"

The truth of the matter is this: no matter what you have achieved, how high the plateau you feel you have reached, you will always be somewhat frustrated that there is something that could have been a little better. We always know this. At times, we will do it perfectly, and get it just right. But, nevertheless, there is always a new development, a new way to play, a new design, a new idea, a brighter methodology, whatever, waiting for us around the corner. It is as if no matter how good we get, there is always another level beyond where we are that we can aspire to grow towards.

An example of this for me has been playing the saxophone. When I was in 4th grade, I saw the jazz band come to my school. All the other kids said "I want to play trumpet. I want to play the drums." But not me. I said, "Next year, I'm going to play the saxophone." I always knew I wanted to play the sax, you see. I loved the sound. I thought it looked cool. I just loved the way the saxophone bell curved and how the keys looked so shiny when fingers played them. But, mostly, I loved the sound of the sax and the "voo-voo" sounds the musician made with it.

The next year, I started to play the saxophone. I noticed that in 6th grade, the lead player got to play two solos. COOL. I decided that I would practice so I could be the lead player. I played my saxophone more than any other student, and became the lead player in 6th grade.

In 7th grade, I noticed that there was a Jazz Band. I tried out for the jazz band and got into it. It was so much fun. There was a cocky sax player in 8th grade who told me I'd never be as good as him. He was pretty good. He won the Louis Armstrong jazz award that year for 8th graders. I decided I would win the Louis Armstrong jazz award in 8th grade, if I could. It wouldn't be easy. We had another good sax player, my best friend, and also a good trumpet player and trombone player. It was not a cinch. I'll never forget winning that award how happy I was!

It continued this way, until rather than awards, I started looking at WHO I could play LIKE. This was totally different. I was now listening to music and different sax players, like David Sanborn, Frank Foster (Count Basie's sax player), the guy from Supertramp, and others. I started playing along with records. And, I got better. But there was always someone better than me. I remember trying to play David Sanborn songs for years, until, finally, in college, I told a friend "I can play Sanborn note for note." He said, "you're kidding." I said, "No, I'm not, listen." Then I played a Sanborn song pretty much note for note. He was blown away. He said, "Scott, you JAM on the SAX!!" Coincidentally, this was the same cocky sax player who was better than me in 8th grade. Sadly, he quit playing, last I'd heard. I wasn't though. I knew that Sanborn wasn't as hard to copy as other sax players, like Ben Webster, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Wayne Shorter.

Wayne Shorter, as a saxophone player, is simply amazing. Of all the greats still alive, I rank Shorter as the best. Coltrane died some time ago, and although he was great he doesn't move me the same way that Shorter does. I set, as a goal, to play Wayne Shorter note for note. But after trying to play Shorter's solos year after year I sadly came to the conclusion in my early 20's that such an ability was impossible for me to attain. In other words, that I'd never hit that level of playing. Perhaps, Wayne was impossible to copy. Or, so I thought.

Well, isn't it interesting how we grow? There clearly was a level beyond me then, wouldn't you say? So, in my late 30's, I was playing in a band called BODY, which I still have alive and kicking today at We were playing funk, Afro-Latin, jazz, and other fusion songs. One song I decided would be fun to play was Black Market, a song by Weather Report from the 1975 album of the same name. Wayne Shorter played the sax on Black Market. Well, while practicing for the rehearsal to bring this song into the band, I found myself playing for a friend when I suddenly stunned myself while playing along with the solo Wayne played on the CD track: I hit each note almost exactly the way Wayne played it! Later, in rehearsal, I did it again. I was so excited. I remember my bass player, Joe Duran, saying, "you're not going to copy that, are you?" (Joe and I like to tease each other.) And I just laughed and said, "No, I just wanted to show you that I can do it." He said, "Nice. Now think up your own solo." Which I did. Was it as good as Wayne's? I suppose that was for the listeners at our gig to decide. I remember Matthias, my guitar player, grinning at me more than once and saying, "Awesome solo, Scott," back in those days.

Later that night, I went home and listened to a more recent recording of Wayne playing with Herbie Hancock. I realized that Wayne has grown since the recording of Black Market, and to play like him now would actually be another level or two beyond where I am now (or three or four). The point is this:

No matter what we have accomplished, there is always seemingly another level of skill, knowledge, and growth to be achieved in our future.

If you're reading this and saying to yourself, "Man, that is true!" Then, why not use this as a moment to dig deep and aspire to the next level in your own skill, talent, or vocation?

As somewhat of a polymath, or Renaissance Man, I've always seen myself as someone who aspires to be knowledgeable on multiple subject matters. I remember back to 1994, when I'd been selling for DSI, and my company merged with Bell Atlantic. When we bought BABSS, the new company blended the resources of the old, so that my team now was managed by the former Bell Atlantic Business System Services Group Manager, Dick Bomely. Bomely, or "The Bomber" as his team lovingly referred him by for his brusque manner of managing his team, looked at my business card from DSI and frowned eyebrows. "Senior Account Executive, ha!" he exclaimed. "I'll show you a senior account manager. I want you to meet Bob Wood." He got on the phone at that instant and scheduled me to meet with Bob the next morning for breakfast. At first, I was taken aback. After all, I thought I was a good salesperson. I'd had success with my accounts, respect from my peers, and had won a few large deals in my past. But I knew there were people better than me. I just didn't know who. Well, I was about to meet him.

I recall the next day when I came home from work, and I told Patti, my girlfriend at the time, "I just met the next level today." I was talking about Bob Wood, the Northern California Region's star salesman. When I met Bob earlier that morning, I remember there were several things that impressed me about him. First, he was sharp, dressed impeccably. Second, he was sharp as a tack and funny. He was quite clever. Third, He knew his clients and knew his company well. He was also a little cocky. He'd also gained quite a reputation for signing huge deals with Chevron and other firms in the Bay Area. But, all of that said, he was also human. I'll never forget that Bob put a $20 bill on the table, then freaked out when he thought the busboy took it! I never saw him pull the $20 bill out of his pocket, so as far as I was concerned, it wasn't substantial. But, if a busboy can make off with your Andrew Jackson, you're human, right? But I sure was impressed by Bob, anyway.

Meeting Bob Wood was the event that triggered me to decide to push my sales career to the next level. I went out and bought new suits (not just $300 suits, but $1000 suits). At first, I went into debt to do it. So, at least I LOOKED better than Bob. As Tony Robbins says, sometimes you "gotta fake it til you make it." It's true. People noticed, too. I got compliments all the time in those days for my suits and ties. They treated me with more respect because I treated myself with more respect. I then subscribed to Harvard Business Review and Strategy + Business Magazines to step-up my acumen and skill-set. None of my peers read these magazines. I revamped my sales approach to include starting at the top FIRST. I started learning how to sell at a higher level - even to the daunting C-level of organizations. I was determined to learn how to get in the door of these difficult prospects. Three months later, I had the opportunity to win a large support contract with Tandem. Bob told me that I'd never get it signed, because Tandem wanted us to service equipment without a database of the serial numbers, and BABSS wouldn't approve such deals. I called the Vice President of Operations in our company and asked him if he wanted another $2 Million revenue for the company. He said, "Yes, with who?" Then I explained my problem about the serial numbers. He gave me a solution to survey the assets on the first service call in each location, which was a win for everyone. I won Tandem, my first multimillion dollar deal of that year, and went on to attend every Summit Club the company held from then on. Could Bob have been my inspiration?

Later, I met another guy who was "the next level" through interviewing with Arthur Andersen. he didn't dress fancier than me. In fact, he looked like he was on his way to a night club when I met him. But this guy wrote $20 Million dollar deals on a routine basis. He'd earned the right to dress however he wanted. Wow, here's a guy who is another next level beyond Bob. You see, no matter how good we get, there is always someone a level up the scale who might know something we don't. Even if you are the top-rated cardiovascular surgeon in your country, there may be someone in another country who discovers a breakthrough surgical procedure that makes your skills pale by comparison. There is probably something greater in every person who reads this article.

And that is what I am urging you to go after. Whatever it is you want in life, go for it! Go from being good at it to being GREAT at it. Do what nobody else is willing to do. Go for it with all you've got within you. Because you're the one called to that special interest, that talent, that vocation. If you don't do it, what then? Who will do it? Anyone? And if someone does do it, and you didn't, how would it feel THEN?

I remember a former manager, Greg Ficke, who once said to me, "You know, Scott, you will never regret the thing you try and failed trying to do. You may always regret not trying to do it." I think Greg is right. But I'd go further and say you'll regret not DOING it, for sure. But you might regret failing, too. Learn from your failures, get up, refine your process, again, and again, until you WIN. Don't just TRY to DO it, DO IT.

The author of this article is Scott Andrews. Scott is the Founder of AspireNow and CEO of ARRiiVE Business Solutions. ARRiiVE helps executives launch companies, improve sales and marketing, and empower the employees within their organization through unique models of collaboration and team-building. If you want to learn more, visit For business coaching, call Scott directly at (805) 459-6939. Let him know you found him at AspireNow (

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