Desire - The Essential Attitude

This Saturday I met with an acquaintance of mine. This goes back a long way. We used to work together during my days at the stock exchange and hadn’t met since. He was in the risk management division and so I had a lot of interactions with him back then. There was a lot of catching up to do, I thought there would be. However I was absolutely surprised when he told me that he was still working at the NSE and in the same division. “You must be in love with spreadsheets.”

As we were talking and learning about what we do now and have been doing, I couldn’t understand what is keeping him at the job for so long. He hasn’t especially grown to some great heights. I was feeling disturbed about all this because the guy is very intelligent and can do lots more. He is a master in finance graduate form the London School Of Economics.

I took upon this moral responsibility to motivate, invigorate, educate, provoke desire in him as probably I would do in a training program. Obviously in this case I had a captive audience, he couldn’t go anywhere! So we started chatting along and I was asking him questions, one after another to drive in my point and giving him lots of examples and case studies and philosophies.

This went on, I think for over two hours. At the end of this I asked him how would he feel about setting himself a big goal, chasing something great and making a lot of money. I got this far away look in his eyes, a lazy expression and he whispered, “I wouldn’t mind.” Gosh! Can you believe it? That’s not exactly what I had in mind. That’s not how I will describe an overwhelming desire for being successful. Would you?

A 1986 Harvard study reveals that outstanding achievers have one thing in common. This was based on studies done with non-corporate professions such as outstanding musicians, teachers, parents, athletes, photographers, government employees and unusually effective political leaders. The one thing in common all these people had was an absolute sense of mission. These people didn’t go to work everyday. Te went on a mission. There was something they ‘had’ to do. It was compelling. It was a deep rooted desire.

Desire can transform mediocrity into breakthrough. Only desire can. I heard this example once in a training program about little things making a big difference. The example cited was this – you take 211 degrees and you get hot water. You can take the hot water and use it for anything – you can use it to make a cup of coffee or you can shave with it or you can bathe with it. But if you add just one more degree then that hot water converts to steam. You can take this steam and propel a locomotive all over the world. It’s the other degree that makes the difference. 

Most salespeople reading this would very well understand what I am saying. There is no commission for the sale you almost made. There is no additional salary from the promotion you almost got. There is no deal from the deal that you almost negotiated. There is no gain from the great investment that you almost got right. There is no degree, no certificate from the course you almost completed. There is no learning from the book that you bought unless you read it. The difference between almost and actual is no more than one degree. The one degree of desire.  

I see a lot of people who are cribbing about things all the time. They crib about their salaries, sometimes about the jobs they are doing, about the hours they are working, about the lives they are leading, about the goals they have and cant accomplish etc etc. When you probe it a little deeper, you actually uncover this great fascination we have for other people’s abilities.  If only I could talk like that, if only I could sing like him, if only I went to a business school that he did, if only I got a better break like him, if only my company would pay like his company. Basically what people are saying is “if I had someone else’s ability as well what wouldn’t I do?” The answer is nothing. How can you possibly use someone else’s ability when you aren’t even using your own. 

There is an old story, I am told from the Bible. God was going to another country and he called three people and told them that since he’s going away for a long time, he wants to distribute talents. He gave five talents to the first one, three to the second one and one talent to the third one. After a long time when God came back, he asked the first one how he used his talents, the man said he used it brilliantly and acquired five more as a result. Thee God was very happy to learn this and gave him ten more.  The second one said I used my three talents and learnt at least three more. Again God was really happy and gave him six more. Now, obviously the story is about the last one – This one is like most of us. He told God on how cruel he was to give him only one talent. He told God that he favors others but not him. He told him that he had such few talents that there was no point in even using it. He told God if only I was like the other two, even I could have done more. Finally, God took away his talent because he did not use it. The law says very clearly – if we use what we’ve got, we’ll be given MORE. The converse is also true. 

The point is this: The one degree of desire is actually the ability to use what you have got to reach wherever you want. As long  as you use and move forward the other abilities will come to you. If you keep waiting for them to come so you can start – Guess what! – it wouldn’t come.  

There was golfer named Ben Hogan. In terms of love and passion for the game, he is reckoned to be number one. He had started with no money. He used to only eat one meal a day s he could save money to buy his golf kit. From there he rose to great heights. One night he and his wife were on a drive. He suddenly saw this big bus charging towards their car on the highway. The bus had no lights. He instinctively threw himself on his wife to probably have a chance at both being saved and to prevent the steering wheel crashing on to his chest. At the hospital the doctors had no hope. They said that Hogan will be a very fortunate man if he can ever get out of this hospital.

There is no way to get him out of his bed for life. What the doctors hadn’t accounted for was ‘desire’ that Ben Hogan had. Even as he lay there in that hospital bed he had the golf clubs in his hand. He started feeling those clubs, visualizing playing again. He started walking again after some time – all bundled up though in cane and crutches and what not and barely move around.

Even in that state he would stand and take his golf club and make repeated attempts at putting in his room. He would go out to the golf course on crutches and stand there. He couldn’t walk so he would just stand there and go on swinging mindlessly. He kept on an on.  Slowly the muscles developed and definitely the impossible happened. The rest of course is known history. He went on to win many tournaments and break many records. Some still standing. Ben Hogan wasn’t a natural golfer. He had some talent, of course but there are many who have much more. He was an ordinary golfer in terms of skill. BUT nobody on Earth had more desire than Ben Hogan to make it. So he did. 

Desire does make a difference. But don’t be fooled into thinking that it is the only ingredient to outstanding success. All of us have had the desire and yet faced disappointments and will do so in future as well. The real test of desire is what you do when you face this disappointment. Helen Keller couldn’t see, couldn’t hear and couldn’t talk. One must believe in this situation that life is over. Yet she was an incredible author. How? She was an active voice in political opinions. How?

She lived a long life. She is as admired as any philosopher has been.


Desire has to be combined with something called intelligent ignorance.
Ignore what you don’t have. 
Desire alone will then defy logic. 

We can actually see this all the time. Oftentimes you might find a new salesperson, a complete fresher, joining your teams. He doesn’t know much about processes and skills and techniques required to sell your product. Yet, somehow, at times we find these new guys are so enthusiastic and keen that they believe the product is really good and everyone should have one. I have seen these new guys outsell every experienced person in their first few months and years. It happens because the desire to prove themselves is very high and so is the ignorance of what they don’t have or the ignorance of the ‘way things are done here.’ 

A great example of intelligent ignorance is the Bumble Bee. It’s impossible for the Bumble Bee to fly. The body is too heavy and wings are too light. Any study you read on the Bumble Bee will prove this in any way you want. But you see, Bumble Bee doesn’t read. Bumble Bee flies. 

Henry Ford once said “I am looking for a lot of people with an infinite capacity for not knowing what can’t be done.” Henry Ford is perhaps the greatest corporate example for intelligent ignorance. He didn’t go to school. He didn’t go to college. He wasn’t an engineer. He built the V8 engine. The great Thomas Edisson had three months of schooling in his entire life. He is the greatest inventor of all time. He built the light bulb. Just for the sake of knowledge though,

Henry Ford early career was spent as a shop floor engineer with Thomas Edisson. Unimaginable isn’t it, here are two people with little or no education, with no money, with no real background to speak about and they go on to define the modern world we live in.  

I’ll narrate a final story about a teacher addressing the students on their first day at the business school. This is a true story. She asked them to describe a ‘can’t’ Obviously no one could. The students looked at each other. Some mumbled. But no one could define it. She then asked them to define ‘can’. The room was buzzing, students started defining cans; long cans, short cans, coke cans, beer cans, all sorts of cans. The conclusion was that there is nothing called a ‘can’t’ because if there were, we should be able to define it. There is only something called a ‘can’ and from that day her class is called the “I can class.” 

It’s not what the situation is. It’s what we make of the situation we’re in that separates outstanding achievers from achievers. I wish we were to throw the ‘cant’s’ out and  only worry about the ‘cans’ and that is what we need more of in our lives. Desire is the ‘cans’ – Intelligent

Ignorance is the ‘cant’s’ – That’s why it’s called ‘ignore’ – If the Bumble Bee can, am sure you can.

Can you?