Are you a rhino?
Yesterday was “Save The Rhino Day.”
Officially, the purpose of the day is to encourage people to be aware of, and support efforts to save the rhinoceros from extinction.
A noble concept, indeed; but to entrepreneurs, the day has additional meaning.
Over 30 years ago, Scott Alexander published the first in a three-book series, titled “Rhinoceros Success.”
When I discovered Alexander’s classic about a decade later, I was struggling during the very early days of what was to become a 9-year career in door-to-door sales.
All of us were independent contractors, who would meet at a warehouse every morning, purchase a supply of merchandise, mark it up and take it to the streets to convert into a daily profit. We were all therefore running our own businesses, and some of us even grew our one-person operations into multi-million dollar chains of our own warehouses.
One evening, after a particular rough day while I was still in training, a colleague handed me a tattered, worn-to-the-spine copy of Alexander’s book. It was a page-turner of only a little over 100 pages, including about a dozen fun, two-page-spread illustrations, and despite my utter exhaustion I tore through it in only about an hour.
Its basic premise and lessons hit home with me immediately, and have stuck with me ever since. Over the years, I’ve met many fellow entrepreneurs who have also been profoundly affected by it.
Alexander reveals his central theme right in the opening sentence of the book:
“The secret of success is, naturally, becoming a rhinoceros.”
According to Alexander, there are two kinds of people in the world: rhinos and cows.
The rhinos are the aggressive, audacious, action-taking achievers who are making everything happen. We’re the ones who are building businesses, becoming wealthy and having a great time charging towards our goals. We sacrifice the security and complacency of the pasture to live a life of excitement and adventure in the jungle, doing things most people aren’t willing to do and having the two-inch thick skin necessary to put up with the rejections, frustrations and setbacks that all successful people overcome.
Then there are the 95% of people who are the cows – the complainers and rationalizers, who are always depressed, always blaming, always making excuses about why they’re not successful. They are lazy and contented, happy to follow the herd and remain safe in the pasture, needing a “farmer” to be in charge of everything they do and everywhere they go.
Cows are always looking for the easy way, but they give up easily (all it takes to keep a cow on a farm is a single, thin wire around the pasture). On the other hand, rhinos are not afraid of hard work; we always keep charging and persisting; taking massive action.
Alexander explains that a key characteristic separating rhinos from cows is being results-oriented versus excuse-minded: “Rhinoceroses have no excuses. There is no excuse for not wildly charging every day. There is no excuse for not being audacious or not being alert for new opportunities… There is absolutely not one bona fide, genuine excuse for not being super-successful.”
Rhinos also know that the more successful you want to become, the more value you have to give. Cows, however, don’t think in terms of giving – they want to have everything given to them.
Alexander strongly encourages rhinos to hang out with other rhinos, while also acknowledging that the vast majority of people will always be cows, which is just fine. After all, rhinos need cow manure to fertilize our farms and gardens, we need milk to enjoy ice cream sundaes. “Cows in the country provide a scenic view on our Sunday drives in the Rolls Royce,” Alexander writes, and “cow hides make attractive looking wallets.”
Is he too harsh on the cows? Not if you realize that anyone can choose to be a rhino – it’s just that most don’t. After all, life on a farm is certainly easier and safer than life in the jungle – even if the possible rewards can’t compare.
I highly recommend all three of Alexander’s rhino books for all entrepreneurs. They’re quick, fun reads, and bound to have you nodding your head throughout at the simple but profound truths. Read just a few pages of any one of Alexander’s books, and you’ll be more ready than ever to charge after your goals.
And next May 1st, you’ll look at “Save The Rhino Day” in a whole new light.