Today I am publishing my 2016 Integrity Report.
This is an exercise I do each year because these reports provide a reason for me to revisit my core values and consider if I have been living in a sincere way. Basically, my Integrity Reports help me answer the question, “Am I actually living like the type of person I claim to be?”
There are 3 main questions that I will answer in this Integrity Report.
- What are the core values that drive my life and work?
- How am I living and working with integrity right now?
- How can I set a higher standard in the future?
As always, you are welcome to use this format to conduct your own Integrity Report (if you are into that kind of thing).
1. What are the core values that drive my life and work?
Below are my core values and some questions that I use to think more deeply about each area. My core values have remained largely the same, but each year I tweak them a bit. My guess is that this will continue as self-discovery is a lifelong process.
- Am I learning new things, exploring new places, and experimenting with new ideas?
- Am I questioning my limiting beliefs and trying to overcome them?
- Am I building habits that lead to continual improvement?
- Am I fulfilling my potential?
- Am I giving myself permission to be happy with where I am right now?
- Am I living like the type of person I claim to be?
- Am I mentally and physically strong?
- Am I preparing for unexpected challenges?
- Am I taking steps to overcome the challenges in my life?
- Am I contributing to the world or just consuming it?
- Am I someone others can count on?
- Am I helping to make things better for others?
Some readers like to use the above questions to think through their lives, but you are welcome to develop your own list of core values. If you want to create your own Integrity Report, feel free to browse this list of common core values.
2. How am I living and working with integrity right now?
Alright, time for the good news. Here are some improvements I made over the past year to live and work with more integrity.
Writing about ideas of practical significance. One of my key areas of focus as a writer is to cover ideas and stories that are actually useful in every day life. I can always improve in this area, but I do believe I did a solid job of deliver practical and useful ideas over the last 12 months. Some of the highlights include discussing the science of anxiety and what to do about it, how to stop procrastinating, how to stop buying things we don't need, how to avoid common decision making errors, and how to analyze the failures in your life.
Apologizing for my mistakes and righting old wrongs. I make a lot of mistakes. Sometime last year, I realized that not only was I making mistakes, I was also responding to my mistakes incorrectly. I would push the situation into a dark corner of my mind, never bring up the mistake in conversation, and just hope that others would forget about it. Once I realized this, I decided to fix things and send apology letters.
Here's one example: On July 31, 2015 I wrote apology letters to 40 customers who purchased a high-priced course from me that, in my opinion, failed to deliver the value it promised. I took the course down, refunded all of the money, and sent a personal apology to each person. The most important line in the apology was this, “I won’t be perfect in this journey, but when I do screw up I will make things right.”
Here's what people sent in response to my apology:
- “My loyalty to you and your work has just doubled.”
- “Actions speak so much louder than words and your actions speak volumes of your true commitment to your mission and your community of readers. When treated right, a broken bone will heal stronger at the point of failure. I think it’s fair to say that you have treated the situation (I won’t call it a failure because it wasn’t to me) perfectly and you will have a stronger reader community for it.”
- “You're a beauty James. Thanks again for your honesty.”
I cannot tell you how relieved I was after this experience. I had procrastinated on sending these apologies for a year. That's right, an entire year. Twelve months of awkwardness and anguish evaporated in 24 hours. It was one of the best uses of time I can think of. Furthermore, not only was my apology the right thing to do, it also completely turned the situation around.
Here are the two biggest lessons I learned while writing my apology letters:
- Don’t justify your actions. When I started writing I had a very strong urge to generate reasons for my behavior or explain away my mistakes. Just say you’re sorry and admit that you screwed up. You don't need to berate yourself, but don't water it down either. Just state the facts: “I did X and it was a mistake.”
- Give specific examples of how you are getting better. Don’t just tell them that you messed up. What steps have you taken to improve? Show that you care about the mistake so much that you took real action to correct it.
Today I actually feel stronger because I owned up to my flaws.
Sharing the work rather than hoarding the work. I have said this basically every year, but let me say it again: nearly everything I write about, I have learned from someone else. I am building upon the work of others, synthesizing ideas and stories, and sharing what I learn with you. I don't own these ideas and I'm not worried about “getting credit” for my work. What I want more than anything is for my work to help people. I just want to contribute something useful to the conversations we have about why and how we live our lives. This is why I list footnotes at the end of each article and why I maintain my Thank You page.
Focusing on contribution over compensation. Charlie Munger has a fantastic quote about money, privilege and impact: “People should take way less than they're worth when they are favored by life… I would argue that when you rise high enough in American business, you’ve got a moral duty to be underpaid—not to get all that you can, but to actually be underpaid.” 1
I love the idea that once your needs are cared for, it is actually your duty to make the world a better place. This is a philosophy that has guided my actions as an entrepreneur so far and I intend for that to continue.
3. How can I set a higher standard in the future?
Now for the hard part. Where am I currently struggling and what can I do to improve over the next 12 months?
Thank people for their help. While I have done a good job of writing apology letters, I have done a terrible job of writing Thank You notes. A few months ago I wrote the article titled, “Make Your Life Better by Saying Thank You in These 7 Situations” as a reminder to myself. There are some Thank You notes that I should have written six months ago that—as I sit here typing away about integrity and responsibility—I still haven't written.
Return to writing consistently. My business was built on reliability. I wrote an article every Monday and Thursday for three years without missing a beat. When I say I'm going to show up, I show up. And then, my friend Scott passed away, I signed a book deal, I started hiring employees, and suddenly I lost the momentum of writing weekly articles. There was a six month period from late 2015 to early 2016 when I only wrote 14 articles and I should have written at least double that. This is a trend that I would consider out of character and not in alignment with the values I listed at the beginning of this report.
The good news? I'm back on track with a new streak. It took me awhile to adjust to writing books as well as articles and to being the leader of a team. Now I'm publishing every Monday and we're going to keep that pattern going.
Create a personalized reader experience. www.littleguydistributing.com currently receives almost 1 million visitors each month. While that number is almost 1 million people more than I expected to read my work when I began writing, it has created some problems. The biggest problem is that different readers have different needs. I write about a broad range of topics: productivity, creativity, behavioral psychology, strength training, self-improvement, and more. Some readers want exercise tips. Others want scientific research. Still others want time management strategies.
Right now, I just send out ideas as I get them and hope that it hits the mark with most people. I can do better than that. One of my goals for the next 12 months is to create a personalized experience that makes newsletter subscribers feel loved. Yes, you should get new articles when I publish them. But you should also get the most relevant content to your needs and interests. I have a lot of ideas about how to do that and I am excited to raise the bar.
The Bottom Line
My hope is that my annual Integrity Reports help me hold myself to a higher standard and build a business that makes life a little bit better for others. I have made so many mistakes in the past and I am sure I will make many more in the future, but I still find it remarkable how often I can screw up and still make progress as long as I am willing to take steps to improve.
As always, thank you for being part of this worldwide community. I'll do my best to continue delivering ideas and stories that make your life better.
Integrity Report Archives
This is a complete list of annual Integrity Reports I have written. Enjoy!
Corporate Governance According to Charles T. Munger by David F. Larcker and Brian Tayan. March 3, 2014.