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“Surround yourself with good people” With David Horesh and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

The first thing I do when facing a pressured situation is imagining the worst possible outcome — a complete failure, a disaster. Depends what the situation is, but that can mean someone losing their job, losing a deal, or maybe just upsetting a client or boss. Whatever it is I make it vivid, but then […]

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The first thing I do when facing a pressured situation is imagining the worst possible outcome — a complete failure, a disaster. Depends what the situation is, but that can mean someone losing their job, losing a deal, or maybe just upsetting a client or boss. Whatever it is I make it vivid, but then — I also come to terms with it, to a point where I start planning what will I do after it happens. In a sense, seeing the future, and not such a bad one, takes the edge off the situation. This is a great way to get some perspective, as at the end of the day, 99% of stressful situations are not life or death ones. In other words, whatever happens — we will make it through.

As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewingDavid Horesh.

David Horesh is the founder of ‘The Unit’, a business development firm that carries out strategic assignments for decision makers. After almost a decade in a military environment, he now implements his soldier skillset in the business world. Currently working with tech companies, startups, universities, PE investors, and leaders, as their execution arm on strategic matters.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Israel, a first child out of three, my mum’s originally from Australia and my dad’s originally from England.

My childhood was pretty much about having fun. I wasn’t a bad kid, but school was definitely not a priority, or as I would say to my parents “I can study all my life, but I can only be young once”. Still, there were two things they did everything they could to ingrain in me:

Number one — no excuses, they never let me off the hook, I was always held accountable for my mistakes. I remember the parent — teacher meetings, where unlike my friends’ parents, they would always take the teacher’s side. I did not make me happy at the time, but today I am really grateful.

Number two — ‘always do your best’. It didn’t matter what I was involved in, whether I was first or last, the most important thing for them was that I gave it my all.

In hindsight, I think the combination of the two has made me who I am today.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.

I don’t think I was specifically inspired to be any of that, but from an early age I did know this — to do amazing things you need to surround yourself with amazing people. And I wanted to do amazing things.

So, to answer your question, along the way I have met exceptional people — leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, innovators, researchers, and others. Each one of these people has left a mark that has impacted my journey. Each one of them slightly corrected the metaphoric compass that guides me through this business adventure I’m on.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Aside from my family and close friends who have always been there for me. There is one person who has deeply impacted my attitude to life, and that is Major Bnaya Sarel (RIP), my company commander from my military service in the IDF. Picture this:

It was a winter night of 2011. My platoon and I were exercising our navigation skills up and down the Galilee hills. It’s cold and wet, we’re confusing hunger with tiredness, our muscles are aching, and the night had only just begun.
A night of walking alone in an unfamiliar environment, enduring all these never-ending discomforts. So many times, I climbed the wrong mountain or crossed a running river. We all did. But eventually, near sunrise we would make our way towards the final point, where we could finally climb into our sleeping bags.
Unfortunately for us, Major Sarel always made sure that what we thought was the final point was never it. Although he greeted us with a smile, the following sentence was always: “Do you see that hilltop 3 clicks north of here? I’ll see you there in one hour”. We called this an ‘unplanned mission’ (which became pretty routine). Every time Major Sarel saw us grumbling about this ‘unplanned mission’, he said the following: ‘you have two choices, you can moan and complain about how unfair life is, or you can smile and make a decision to overcome your new reality’.

This attitude to life has stuck with me ever since, and needless to say has been extremely rewarding during Covid.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Imagine this, I’m on stage with about 300 people in the crowd.

“Hi, my name is David Horesh, and I’m the founder of…”

Suddenly, my blood pressure rose, I could hear my heartbeat through my head. Am I speaking loud enough? Are the words coming out of my mouth making any sense?
My confidence went out the window, and for the first time in my life — I froze.

“How could this happen to me”, I thought to myself. “I’ve stood in front of crowds so many times before — in the military, network events, with friends. Where are my words?!”
Fortunately for me, the crowd realized what was going on and started to clap. I mumbled a sentence or two, thanked the crowd, and got off stage.
I swore that day, six years ago now, that this would never happen again. That the next time I get on stage it would be a spectacle.
So, I built a system; I write my pitch down and read it out loud to make sure it’s ‘speakable’, I record and listen to it in loops for days, I practice moving slides and choreograph the right body language, and last but not least — I get it right ten times. Only then, I know I’m ready to get on stage.

For a long time, my ego told me I was a natural on stage. I’m not. It takes a lot of hard work, but thankfully that is not something I have a problem with.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Understand that the first years of your career are about gaining experience and not about making money. For years I had two jobs — one that payed me and allowed me to put food on the table, and another one, where I worked for free, that gave me practical real-life business experience.

The funniest thing to me these days is college graduates that finish school and expect companies to hire them because they have a piece of paper. Nobody cares about your grades, having a degree these days is like being able to breathe — it’s a prerequisite that does not make you unique in anyway. What does make you stand out is experience, real world experience that can be applied to problems that companies are facing.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

‘Shoe Dog’, written by Nike’s founder Phil Night. I have never read a storyline book that goes so deep into the guts of the business. Night openly discusses the challenges and even the failures that made Nike what it is today. What impressed me the most was that the company was built and founded way before it was so common to raise capital. It was a time when entrepreneurs were rated by how much revenue they brought into the business and not by how much capital they raised.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

There’s a saying in Hebrew — ‘Hakol Barosh’ — ‘It’s all in your head’. Normally a phrase that’s thrown at young soldiers going through extreme physical training, with a purpose of educating them that the real struggle is more mental than it is physical. I love this saying as it is so true for every aspect of our lives — business, education, relationships. It’s all about reminding ourselves that even when we think our tank is empty, there’s always a few more drops that can drive us forward.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Wow, I am actually really excited about this. Two months ago, a group of us felt that society is missing a bit of optimism. Covid has caused a lot of unrest — in business, politics, and even in our personal lives, and we realized it’s time we get some perspective.

So, we started a project, the Baltam Project (Baltam — as in the Hebrew military phrase for the unplanned), where we bring forward stories of struggle from individuals that have been through a thing or two. Basically, filming one on one sessions with the most amazing people, talking about being disabled, discrimination, PTSD, going through a stroke, handling death, and so much more. The content is truly fascinating, and we really hope that it inspires people to look on the bright side of life and take action to make it even better.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?

I only have two:

The first thing I do when facing a pressured situation is imagining the worst possible outcome — a complete failure, a disaster. Depends what the situation is, but that can mean someone losing their job, losing a deal, or maybe just upsetting a client or boss. Whatever it is I make it vivid, but then — I also come to terms with it, to a point where I start planning what will I do after it happens. In a sense, seeing the future, and not such a bad one, takes the edge off the situation. This is a great way to get some perspective, as at the end of the day, 99% of stressful situations are not life or death ones. In other words, whatever happens — we will make it through.

The second thing I do, is remind myself I have done everything in my power for the outcome to be what I want it to, and if things go sideways, well that’s just life, but at least I can fall a sleep at night knowing I gave it my best. Although, keep in mind this piece of advice does have one prerequisite — you really do need to give it your best, because if you don’t it doesn’t work.

Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

Being able to cope with stress is just like being physically fit, it isn’t just one thing you do — it’s a way of life. You need to eat, sleep, train, and repeat. Training in this case being — handling stressful situations, find one stressful situation a day and face it head on. Just like going to the gym, you start small and slowly but surely you work up to the big weights. I guess what I’m saying is that being able to handle stressful situations isn’t something you do in your spare time, it’s something that you keep challenging yourself with until you get better and better.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.

In my opinion physical training is the best meditation there is. CrossFit, running, Krav Maga, basically anything that involves adrenalin or an elevated heartbeat is a great way to clear your head. You can’t read emails or be on a conference call whilst lifting iron or running. Well you can, but that just means you’re doing it wrong.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

Sure, I ask myself one question — ‘Is this new interruption related to what I am currently putting my life into?’

If the answer is yes — great, I can consider acting on it immediately or putting it on the ‘to do list’. If the answer is no, I go back to what I was doing. Having a mission is the best technique for staying focused. It makes it very easy to tell the difference between critical issues that deserve your attention and distractions that are just getting in the way.

We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

The only habit you need is a steady routine that allows you to pursue your goals. Obviously this changes if needed, but this is more or less mine: I wake up at 6:00, CrossFit at 7:00, breakfast with my wife at 8:00, and start working by 9:00, mostly on critical or attention consuming tasks. A 45 minute lunch break at 1:00 and back to work until 6:00. Dinner and family time until 8:00, and then my last 2–3 hours of work which are always when my best ideas come to me.

This is my system. For some it may be too little and for others it might be too much, but the important thing is to have a system that works for you. One that allows you to invest the time you need into your life goals.

What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

By surrounding ourselves with good people.

I believe that we are the average of the people we interact with the most. The better these people are, the better we become. If we choose to surround ourselves with average, mediocre, pessimists, that’s what we’ll be. But, if we surround ourselves with disciplined, hardworking, go-getters, that’s what we will become.

As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

I guess it all starts with whether or not we are doing something we love. If we spend most of our time awake doing the things we love most, it is preposterously easy to get into a state of flow. Whether you paint, trade, code, or lift, do what you love and the flow will come naturally.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Accountability. I would love for as many people possible to see themselves accountable for everything that happens in their lives — good or bad. We need to understand that when we blame the boss, the market, the government, we are giving up our responsibility for personal happiness. We are basically saying — ‘you, not me, are responsible for what my life is going to look like’. But the moment we point our fingers back to ourselves, we immediately become the ones in charge of making our life the best it can be. And this is something I wish for everyone.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

There are so many incredible people out there making such a great impact on humanity. If I have to name some I’d say Jocko Willink, Phil Night, Gary Vaynerchuk, Simon Sinek, and any other person that’s encouraging us to better our attitude towards life.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to meet new people, learn new things, and help wherever I can. Check me out here:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-horesh/

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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