• The Action Digest
  • Posts
  • 💥 Running Toward Problems, Staying Above The Line, and Studying 31 CEOs

💥 Running Toward Problems, Staying Above The Line, and Studying 31 CEOs

Welcome to the Action Digest, a dojo for training creative fitness and learning from the world’s most creative grandmasters.

Today’s digest includes the following nuggets of insight:

  • 🎩 We learn the problematic attitude that made Abraham Lincoln one of history’s most renowned leaders.

  • 💸 The man who’s built seven billion-dollar businesses explains why running toward problems is the key to succeeding at the highest level.

  • 🌊 We’ll explore a coaching framework for showing up as our best selves when we’re feeling under stress and pressure.

  • And more!!

P.s., you can check out editions 1-17 here in case you missed them, including insights such as the playbook that Coco Chanel used to rewrite the world of fashion and go from orphan to multi-millionaire, how Steve Jobs cultivated great creative taste, and the motivational memos that turned around a failing soup company.

Seriously, there are some gems you’ll appreciate in these earlier editions. ;-)

1. Our potential is proportionate to the size of the challenge that we face

During a talk in 2005, Abraham Lincoln’s biographer—Doris Goodwin—was asked why Lincoln is held in such high regard. “You know, I guess what Lincoln himself would say,” Doris responded, “is that for a President to be great, he has to have the challenge.” “There has to be that supreme challenge.” 

Lincoln held challenges in high regard—so much so that he worried his fellow Americans didn’t have enough of them, “he worried that his whole generation did not have the challenges that the Founding Fathers had faced, that they had harvested the whole glory, and that all that was left for his generation were modest ambitions. And maybe he’d go to Congress, maybe he’d even become President, but nothing great would happen.” 

Lincoln’s concern was rendered tragically obsolete when the Civil War broke out and the United States faced its most supreme and distressing challenge in history. But Lincoln’s relationship with adversity meant he was perfectly positioned to lead the nation through the crisis, for the crisis brought out the best in him. For much of his life, Goodwin learned that Lincoln had a depressive disposition. And yet, “during the Presidency, I don’t find any indication that he’s depressed in bed,” Goodwin reflects, “he’s the one who sustains everybody else’s spirits, and he’s the one who starts off the cabinet meeting with a funny story. He's the one that’s replenishing his energies by relaxing. He’s the one who’s dragging them out to relax at nights when they don’t want to. So I think once he got to that place where his talents were being realized that the depression did not take hold anymore.” 

Problems and crises are inevitable. How we respond to them isn’t. While problems often bring out the worst in us, it doesn’t have to be that way. If we can learn to recognize that our potential is proportionate to the size of the challenges that we face, and that problems offer an opportunity to define ourselves and hone our character, then our problems can be a source of strength. We can become energized in response to adversity—and our struggles can even bring out the best in us.

2. Problems are not something to avoid but something to run toward 

In his book, How To Make A Few Billion Dollars, Brad Jacobs reveals the playbook he’s used to lead seven different companies and generate a net worth of over $4 billion. One of the most crucial principles came early in his career when he met with a trusted mentor for lunch. 

“I arrived burdened with problems that I began to unload on him. Mr. Jesselson listened carefully—he was good at that—and waited until I had run out my string. Then he put down his fork, turned to me, and in his thick German accent said, ‘Look, Brad, if you want to make money in the business world, you need to get used to problems, because that’s what business is. It’s actually about finding problems, embracing and even enjoying them—because each problem is an opportunity to remove an obstacle and get closer to success.’”

Click. Brad felt his mindset shift. A new way of navigating the world had just been unlocked.

“In that moment,” Brad continues, “I learned something invaluable: Problems are an asset—not something to avoid but something to run toward. Big ambitions often beget even bigger problems. If your initial reaction to a major setback is overwhelming frustration, that’s understandable, but it’s also counterproductive. Once you’re over that moment, pivot toward success: ‘Great! This is an opportunity for me to create a lot of value. If I can just figure out how to solve this problem, I’ll be much closer to my goal.’”

“Life can be uncomfortable,” Brad concludes, “but you can accomplish a lot if you can figure out how to reframe the uncomfortable things in ways that allow you to utilize them.”

3. Below the line, above the line

Another successful entrepreneur, Jesse Pujji, found a way to put Brad’s principle into practice. 

“I ran the same business for ten years and the way you solve problems in that business is the same over the ten years,” Jesse explained. But after Jesse started coaching in 2017, the way he responded to problems changed. Jesse describes a moment when he was walking with one of his coworkers and “he goes… if I could give you a piece of feedback Jesse—I don’t know what you’ve done, but when I meet with you now and something’s going wrong, you don’t say anything different than you used to say, but I feel completely different walking out of that meeting.” Meetings with the new Jesse were more relaxed and constructive. 

So what changed? 

Jesse simply became more conscious of the energy he brought into the room when addressing problems. “I think I used to bring a ton of, I’ll call it “me” energy, but it’s the same thing as “fear” energy. I’m afraid. It’s not going to be successful. There’s an issue. And if you work for someone and they walk in with that energy, man, it’s scary, like am I getting fired? Is this guy mad?” 

But through coaching, Jesse came to recognize this fearful energy as being “below the line.” “Below the line is in a state of threat, closed off, kind of combative—and you can be a little below the line, or a lot below the line.” 

He also learned to recognize when he was above the line. “Above the line is open, curious, wanting to learn, wanting to just be in a love space.” By getting better at knowing whether he was above or below the line, he could then figure out ways to raise himself above the line whenever he noticed he was below. 

“If anyone wants to start,” Jesse counsels, “just try to notice.” “What words do you use when you’re below the line? How does your body feel when you’re below the line? What kind of thoughts come into your mind when you’re below the line? And so for me, I'll give you a couple of examples: when you start hearing me use the words ‘should, need, or must,’ I’m definitely below the line. Another one for me is either/or thinking—anytime I’m going ‘it can either be this or this,’ I’ve just crossed off every other option because it can only be two options—that’s a definite sign that I’m below the line. When my chest gets tight… that’s a sign that I’m below the line.” 

The energy we bring to a problem determines how effectively we solve it. Replacing fear and tension with curiosity and openness can transform a problem from a source of stress into a springboard for success. The first step is developing a fine-tuned awareness of when we are above and below our line. 

P.s. Jesse also recommends checking out this worksheet from his coaching group which lists more indicators of whether we are above or below the line.

4. The Action Method Product Line — Tools For Problem Solvers

It took Abraham Lincoln some time to practice his decisiveness.

Early in the war, Lincoln was dealing with a General who refused to move troops into battle.

“I think this is one case where Lincoln’s kindness and sensitivity and desire to give somebody a second and third chance was too much,” Goodwin explains, “he was too patient.”

Eventually, Lincoln made himself a promise that if the General didn't move the troops by a certain date then he would be removed.

This decision tool is a simple one: an action item with a deadline.

But it proved effective and became a reliable tool. “This is one of the things Lincoln did, interestingly, as a leader. He would make promises to himself. ‘I'm going to tell myself if this doesn't happen by such and such a date, then I'm going to change my mind, I'm going to do something, I’ll get rid of him.’ And then he did.”

The Action Method journal makes it easy to turn Lincoln’s style of action planning into a habit.

“Gone are the days where I walk out of a meeting with long notes and no clear understanding what I need to do. These notebooks keep me on track.”

Tina Roth Eisenberg, founder and designer

5. Problems are the seeds of…

A 2023 study interviewed 31 CEOs of large organizations ($500k-$2bn annual revenue businesses) to learn how they achieve new insights. 

It turns out that all of the CEO’s insights were…

🔐 This insight, that reveals what Starbucks, Henry Ford, Google, and Airbnb have in common, is for premium subscribers (yep, this weekly digest is reader supported). For the price of one fancy coffee per month our research team will agonize over the lessons learned from world class creative leaders and teams who make ideas happen, and send their tightly summarized conclusions directly to your inbox on a weekly basis. What a proposition, huh?!

☕️ Join us and help make this weekly action catalyst for creative minds a sustainable project.  

💥 Upgrade to unlock full access to this and every Action Digest each week.

We’ll leave you with this…

“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise—with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disentrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” 

Abraham Lincoln

Thanks for subscribing, and sharing anything you’ve learned with your teams and networks (let us know what you think and share ideas: @ActionDigest).

How well did today's strengthen your resolve?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.