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The Obstacle is the Way - Ryan Holiday - St. Louis Scale Up Summit

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Mon, Oct 23, 2017

2017 Scale Up Summit .pngI bet you are a stoic.

John D. Rockefeller was.

If you’re in business, stoicism should be a prerequisite.

“Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.” ~ Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, describing what happens to businesses in tumultuous times

It’s not surprising, in Great By Choice, Jim Collins shared stories of 10Xer’s who display this characteristic.  Andy Grove’s approach to prostate cancer in Great by Choice 10Xer’s Empirical Creativity – Andy Grove Intel shares his stoicism.

Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle is the Way, The Daily Stoic, and the Ego is the Enemy, keynoted the Scale Up Summit in St. Louis last week.

The Obstacle is the WayThe Obstacle is the Way.jpg

What exactly is stoicism?

In his book, The Obstacle is the Way, Holiday shares an old Zen story. 

A king felt his people had grown soft and entitled. He developed a plan to teach his subjects a simple lesson.

He placed a large boulder in the middle of the main road to block entry into the city. He hide close by to observe their response.  “How would they respond? Would they band together to remove it? Would they get discouraged, quit, and return home?”

The king watched as subject after subject came upon this impediment and turned away. Several tried halfheartedly before giving up. Many complained, cursed the king, lamented, yet did nothing about it.

Several days past, a lone peasant arrived on his way into town. He did not turn away. Instead he strained and strained, trying to push it out of the way. Suddenly an idea struck him: Scrambling into the nearby woods he found a large branch he could use for leverage. Using the branch as a lever, he dislodged the massive rock from the road.

Beneath the rock the king had placed a purse of gold coins with a note, “The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”

Where one person sees a crisis, another can see opportunity.

Where one is blinded by success, another sees reality with ruthless objectivity.

Where one loses control of emotions, another can remain calm.

Desperation, despair, fear, powerlessness—these reactions are functions of our perceptions.

Marcus Aurelius

Universe is Change Our Life is What Our Thoughts Make it stoic_philosopher.jpg“Our actions may be impeded . . . but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.”  ~ Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius truly saw each and every one of the obstacles he faced as Roman Emperor as an opportunity to practice some virtue: patience, courage, humility, resourcefulness, reason, justice, and creativity.

As Matthew Arnold, the essayist, remarked in 1863, in Marcus we find a man who held the highest and most powerful station in the world—and the universal verdict of the people around him was that he proved himself worthy of.

Marcus Aurelius saw The Way Through Them.

“Objective judgment, now at this very moment. Unselfish action, now at this very moment. Willing acceptance—now at this very moment—of all external events. That’s all you need.” ~ MARCUS AURELIUS

Three Disciplines

Positioning Systems Strategic Discipline come from the Rockefeller Habits Three Execution Disciplines: Priority, Meeting Rhythms and Metrics.

Overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps.

It begins with how we look at our specific problems, our attitude or approach; then the energy and creativity with which we actively break them down and turn them into opportunities; finally, the cultivation and maintenance of an inner will that allows us to handle defeat and difficulty.

3 Disciplines to Overcome Obstacles Objective Judgement, Unselfish Action, Willing Acceptance marcus-quote.pngIt’s three interdependent, interconnected, and fluidly contingent disciplines: Perception, Action, and the Will.

Whatever we face, we have a choice: Will we be blocked by obstacles, or will we advance through and over them?

Because obstacles are not only to be expected but embraced.

The Rockefeller Habits – Scaling Up

Ryan Holiday shared John D Rockefeller stoic philosophy.  The Obstacle is the Way reminds you when challenges occur, if you think and act like Rockefeller, you'll see the opportunity in every hardship. 

In future blogs I’ll share the examples Holiday provides, stories from history to illustrate the arts of relentless persistence and indefatigable ingenuity. How to turn the many negative situations we encounter in our lives into positive ones—or at least to snatch whatever benefit we can from them. To steal good fortune from misfortune.

Is Abundance an Obstacle?

Holiday questions if Abundance isn’t America’s biggest obstacle.

We’ve already seen countless industries and businesses fail to change in the face of Digital Disruption. At the heart of our Scaling Up principles is tools to help you navigate and succeed through dynamic changes. Join me November 1st for simple, practical and actionable exercises at the Scaling Up Business Growth Workshop in Cedar Rapids, IA. We’ll share foundational principles from Scaling Up and Strategic Discipline.

Want to apply Scaling Up to your business?  Contact  Or take our Four Decisions Needs Assessment to discover how your business measures against Scaled Up companies. We’ll contact you.

Hammer & Nails logos.pngHammer & Nails – The Man Who Turned Down Shark Tank

Mike Elliot embraced his obstacles all through his life, including being turning down by  Shark Tank, then raising $200K from its viewers to create Hammer & Nails Salons for Guys.  Elliot was the most inspirational speaker the first day of the St Louis Scale Up Summit.  I share his story next blog.

Topics: See Crisis as Opportunity, Perception, Action, Will Disciplines, St Louis Scaling Up Summit, Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle Is the Way

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Doug Wick, President

Positioning Systems


The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

Our 3 disciplines include:

- Priorities
- Metrics
- Meeting Rhythms

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