The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking: What Successful People Didn't Learn in School

The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking: What Successful People Didn't Learn in School

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by Cliff Michaels

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Endorsed by Leaders in Education & Business


In The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking, Cliff Michaels takes us on an inspirational journey while capturing the passion and wisdom of extraordinary people. On the cutting edge of life and business strategies for over 20 years, Cliff not


Endorsed by Leaders in Education & Business


In The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking, Cliff Michaels takes us on an inspirational journey while capturing the passion and wisdom of extraordinary people. On the cutting edge of life and business strategies for over 20 years, Cliff not only shares his triumphs and tribulations as an entrepreneur, he unleashes a fun system of timeless lessons anyone can follow. Drawing on classic mentors from da Vinci, Edison, and Mozart, to modern moguls like Jobs, Oprah, and Branson, Cliff suggests we all benefit from a real-world MBA – your Master’s in Basic Abilities. This fast-paced book raises the bar for learning success principles.

Editorial Reviews

Tony Hsieh

“Cliff Michaels delivers a powerful path to profits, passions, and purpose.”
Blake Mycoskie Founder - TOMS Shoes

“Cliff’s writing is full of creativity, inspiration, and practical lessons. Whether you’re a student or professional, I highly recommend this book.”
Michael Caito - 2010 Chairman

“A visionary leader and pioneering entrepreneur, Cliff Michaels sets the bar for life and business training. The 4 Essentials is a winning formula.”
Dave Logan - Former Associate Dean

"The 4 Essentials is a fun read. Like Cliff, it's full of passion with a blend of new ideas and timeless wisdom."
Sue Hesse - Director Foundation Partnerships

“Cliff’s concept for a real-world MBA (Master in Basic Abilites) hits the nail on the head. He takes us on a life journey with pragmatic insights, offering a guide for anyone on their entrepreneurial path.”

Product Details

Greenleaf Book Group, LLC
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Read an Excerpt

The 4 ESSENTIALS of Entrepreneurial Thinking

What Successful People Didn't Learn in School
By Cliff Michaels

Greenleaf Book Group Press

Copyright © 2011 Cliff Michaels
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-615-45055-1

Chapter One

Early Childhood

"I was too naïve to know what I couldn't do, so most of the time I just did it." Reflection

Midnight — Summer, Santa Monica, 2011

It's been twenty years since I conceived this book. Final draft is in sight. Friends say my favorite Oscar Wilde quote should go right here:

"Be yourself — everyone else is taken."

Okay, Here Goes Nothing:

• I'm a semi-dyslexic insomniac.

• I wasn't a born entrepreneur; just a misfit.

• Sometimes I talk too much — I could listen more.

• I might be attention deficit. Did you see that squirrel moonwalk?

• My best-kept secret? I don't own a suit. A jacket over jeans has to pass for reluctantly fashionable. All things being equal, I'd rather be naked.

Somehow, with all my foibles, I found success and never regretted failures along the way. That said, if 30-something Cliff could chat with 20-something Cliff, ohhh the conversations we'd have ...

Tales of a Soccer Kid

I was born in New York City, 1967, the baby brother of two sisters, Gigi and Eve. I was a short, scrawny kid with a gift for gab. Gift for gab is kid-speak for occasionally witty and hard to shut up.

My parents are Jewish, originally from Brooklyn. Mom and Dad divorced as early as I can remember and rarely spoke again. Mom is a retired nurse who enjoys live theater. Dad is a psychiatrist and neurologist who fancies himself a renaissance man, but with a Groucho Marx complex. I didn't live with my dad but we enjoyed tons of Dodger baseball games. Those hours at the ballpark gave us a common vocabulary for sports, books, and dirty jokes.

We moved to Tenafly, New Jersey when I was a baby, then Southern California when I was 5. We moved eight more times before I was 12, mostly downsizing middle-class neighborhoods from Encino to Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley. My childhood was neither privileged nor underprivileged, but home life was a bit dysfunctional. As the youngest, I was oblivious to family squabbles and tuned out most of the noise. My sisters and I lived with my mom but we were years apart and didn't hang out much. Like many siblings, we became closer as adults and always shared a special bond.

Both parents were too busy to watch over us kids, so we had no family structure. To the contrary, Gigi, Eve, and I were left to our own devices. The girls moved out early, Gigi at 15 and Eve at 17. I love my sisters madly. They always checked in on little Cliffy and for that, I'm eternally grateful. As for me, most of the time anyway, I was a home-alone kid, starved for attention.

In spite of a disjointed upbringing and nine different schools from kindergarten to high school, I was a good student. On occasion, I played hooky to hang out at beaches, libraries, and local arcades. That was the extent of my shenanigans. Wild kid, huh? With no parental supervision, it's amazing I didn't get into trouble, but I was fortunate to be a bookworm (a gift from both parents I suppose). I often escaped to my favorite novelists; among them Twain, Dickens, and Salinger. These early mentors taught me about humor and hope, good versus evil, and the inequities of life. They also inspired me to write.

It's fair to say I'm a movie buff, music maven, and comedy nut. My earliest influences were Steven Spielberg, The Beatles, and George Carlin. I'm also nostalgic for classic cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Charlie Brown, and Winnie the Pooh. If you're too cool for cartoons, you're too cool for me.

At the heart of my DNA, I was a sports junkie. I played everything from tennis to baseball, but soccer was my year-round passion. At 9, I was selected to play for a club team called the Junior Aztecs. We were sponsored by the Los Angeles Aztecs, a professional club of the former North American Soccer League. We even got to train a bit with the pros and play a few games at the Rose Bowl in front of live crowds — quite a trip for a soccer kid.

At the time, Brazilian soccer legend, Pelé, came out of retirement to play for the New York Cosmos, a cross-country rival of the Aztecs. My first memory of Pelé was watching him fly through the air, scoring on a bicycle kick. Dreams of a professional career soon danced in my head. For those who don't know his story, Pelé was so poor his neighborhood team was known as The Shoeless Ones. At 16 however, he was selected to Brazil's national team. At 17, he scored six goals in the 1958 World Cup, skyrocketing to international fame. He would ultimately lead Brazil to three World Cup Championships from 1958 to 1970 and the Cosmos to a championship in 1977. By career's end, Pelé was the indisputable King of Soccer with a mind-boggling 1,281 goals in 1,363 games.

The Love Speech

In 1977, Pelé played his farewell game at Giants Stadium, New York; one half for the Cosmos, the other for Santos, his native club from Brazil. I was 10 years old. Before the game, in front of 75,000 screaming fans and a TV audience in 38 countries, Pelé delivered a short speech I would never forget:

"I want to take this opportunity to ask you, in this moment when the world looks to me ... to take more attention to kids all over the world ... I want to ask you ... because I believe love is more important than anything we can take from life ... because everything else passes ... to say with me three times, LOVE."

With each cry of "LOVE" from Pelé, a jubilant crowd echoed, "LOVE." After the game, 3-Time World Heavyweight Champ, Muhammad Ali, embraced Pelé and said, "There are now two of The Greatest." I was too young to appreciate the moment but considering I had no formal mentors growing up, Pelé was a pretty good choice. It's been said he's done more goodwill with his message of "LOVE" than most world leaders. Deservedly, TIME Magazine included Pelé on their list of "100 Most Important People of the 20th Century."

Months after his farewell game, I was seeking an autograph from Pelé. Among a swarm of kids at a soccer clinic, I shouted, "What does it take to be a champion?" Pelé flashed his famous smile and said three words, "Practice. Teamwork. Love."

My Soccer Journey

By the time I was 11, our Junior Aztecs had won league titles and played matches in far-off lands from England to Israel. I had a knack for scoring goals and was a fairly good playmaker. At 12, I transferred to a new club, West Valley United. We were the first American team to win one of the largest youth tournaments in the world (The 1981 Robbie), played annually in Canada. I scored two goals in the championship final, the game-winner on a diving header. I was 14 and my confidence couldn't be higher.

Unfortunately, by the time high school rolled around, ankle twists and physical therapy were routine. I played out my senior year but knew I had lost my edge. By 17, ligaments in both ankles were shredded. Although college scouts showed interest, athletic scholarships went down the drain.

By 18, the physical damage was irreparable. Any hopes of a soccer career were crushed. Maybe I was never good enough anyway? I spent half my senior year on crutches, the other half wondering what I would do with the rest of my life. I was emotionally lost.

Fortunately, Pelé's words never escaped my soul. "Practice. Teamwork. Love ..."

Chapter Two

Games, Chess, and Secrets to Success

"If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril ... Know your enemy and know yourself ... and you can !ght a hundred battles without disaster." Sun Tzu ( Est. 6th Century BC ) Chinese Military Strategist - The Art of War

Life 101

I left home a few months before high school ended. I was a double threat, clueless and penniless. I couldn't afford my own place so I crashed on the couch of whatever friend would have me. The idea of college weighed heavy on my mind but my father offered to help with a few semesters of tuition. I still had to navigate the world on my own (food, rent). There's a Life 101 manual, right?

I soon immersed in entrepreneur magazines and self-help books, assuming answers were a page away. Unfortunately, books were usually too dry or full of hype. There were inspirational stories but nothing tangible. Business books were worse. Unless you were a math wiz or card-carrying member of Wall Street, the complex graphs and acronyms were enough to depress anyone, even an ambitious kid like me.

Then one night, I picked up a bit of life wisdom watching a favorite movie ...

"How About a Nice Game of Chess?"

In 1983, Matthew Broderick played a computer wiz-kid named David Lightman in the blockbuster film, War Games. In the story, Lightman begins what he thinks is a harmless video game. He soon discovers he's inadvertently hacked into a military computer and nearly triggered the United States into launching a nuclear attack against Russia. The computer is an artificial intelligence system designed to simulate war games — code name: WOPR; short for War Operation Plan Response. WOPR's programming included chess, poker, and tic-tac-toe. In theory, the practice of these strategic games would enable military commanders to learn from mistakes in wartime.

The countdown has begun. Lightman must now save the planet from World War III. Fast-forward to the movie's final scene. War generals and computer gurus at the NORAD Command Center are attempting to stop WOPR from launching a first strike. Just minutes from an apocalypse, Lightman programs the computer to accelerate the learning curve by playing tic-tac-toe against itself. Exhausted from playing futile war games and a tireless loop of tic-tac-toe that always ends in a draw, the computer blows a fuse and shuts down. In the darkness of a quiet war room, a simulated voice addresses the computer's designer. "Greetings Professor Falken - a strange game - the only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?"

Suspending disbelief as a movie critic, what I took away from War Games was the idea of a system that teaches us to learn from mistakes. Wouldn't it be cool if we all had a real-world war plan to fight life's battles?

I decided to hit the library and check out a few books on chess. I was fascinated by War Games since I played chess but was never very good. My basic curiosity was how many moves a great player can see ahead. What I learned is that Grandmasters, the highest rank a chess player can attain, are never pigeonholed a few moves ahead. They visualize entire game scenarios, adjusting on the fly to a bank of tactics they've practiced for years. They also rely on their knowledge of an adversary as much as textbook strategy. In other words, Grandmasters are as nimble as they are forward-thinking.

A few books later, I connected chess to life skills and brain development. Here's where research got interesting. To become an exceptional chess player, you have to learn six pieces, each with unique shapes, sizes, and abilities. There are literally billions of potential scenarios after an opening move. Risk assessment is constant. Such complexities make chess one of the best games to develop memory and reasoning skills. In turn, these enhanced brain functions make us better in math, reading, and spatial learning. We even develop patience and social intelligence by reading an opponent's body language or facial expressions. Listen up poker players and would-be negotiators — games of chance like Monopoly or one-dimensional video games can't compete for life-skill development.

When I looked back at my childhood, I realized how lucky I was to have developed a few real-world battle skills. Reading provided vocabulary and knowledge; writing instilled creativity and imagination; chess improved memory, logic, and problem solving; soccer provided teamwork, coordination, and disciplined practice — perhaps these Essentials would serve me well as an adult?

Back in 1985 however, I had little perspective beyond the classroom or soccer field. Like most teenagers, I was insecure and life was a mystery. How would I earn a living, make time for a girlfriend, or even balance a checkbook? I had moved so many times as a kid that loyal friends were hard to come by. The few friends I had were moving away to different colleges. There were no e-mails or cell phones; no online social networks to make communication easy. I was 18 with no guidance. In my mind, I was alone.

War games? !e real world? I knew nothing. I was in survival mode ...

Chapter Three

My Summer Real Estate Camp

"On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain ... either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers ... to climb higher tomorrow." Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) German Philosopher

Street Practice

Once high school was over, I detailed cars for a little cash but what I really needed was a future game plan. After reading all those business books, I considered real estate. At the time, no-money-down investments were all the rage. Unfortunately, books didn't provide experience and those late-night evangelists with money-maker infomercials struck me as charlatans. So with no such thing as a real-estate boot camp, I hit the housing jungle of Encino, California, my pockets full of nothing but curiosity.

For weeks, I strolled into open houses and real estate offices, asking brokers and homeowners how to buy properties. In time, I met experienced investors who let me tag along. After driving them nuts with endless questions, a few guys shut me up and put me to work as a gopher. My tasks consisted of cold-calls, paperwork, property search, and the proud title of "lunch boy" — fetch Cliff, fetch. Whatever they needed, I listened and learned. Working for pocket money ($100/week), I got one hell of an education. It was nothing like the spare-time riches promised in cheesy seminars. The real world was a boatload of work.

A typical workday began at 7:00 a.m. The guys I worked with specialized in auctions and foreclosures. My job was to follow leads and scope classified ads for new bargains, then make calls to owners, agents, and banks. I did this every morning for hours on end. Then I organized a road map of all the properties. After a quick lunch, I was out knocking on doors and analyzing homes. It was a great way to learn property prices and design.

I usually worked into the night, seven days a week. I must have seen a thousand homes that Summer. By Fall, I had knowledge of loans, contracts, negotiations, and cash-flow analysis. I studied dozens of neighborhoods and kept a property journal. When it came time to make offers, I could recite numbers cold (amenities, square footage, sale comparisons). My hard work also made an impression on the investors I hung out with. I soon realized the big dogs needed little bloodhounds like me. Money they had. Time and energy to sniff out all the deals they didn't.


Excerpted from The 4 ESSENTIALS of Entrepreneurial Thinking by Cliff Michaels Copyright © 2011 by Cliff Michaels. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Sue Hesse
Cliff's concept for a real-world MBA (Master in Basic Abilites) hits the nail on the head. He takes us on a life journey with pragmatic insights, offering a guide for anyone on their entrepreneurial path.
—Sue Hesse (Director Foundation Partnerships, The Kauffman Foundation)
Michael Caito
A visionary leader and pioneering entrepreneur, Cliff Michaels sets the bar for life and business training. The 4 Essentials is a winning formula.
— Michael Caito (2010 Chairman, The Entrepreneur's Organization)
Dave Logan
The 4 Essentials is a fun read. Like Cliff, it's full of passion with a blend of new ideas and timeless wisdom. (Dave Logan, Former Associate Dean, USC Marshall School of Business #1 NY Times Bestselling Co-author- Tribal Leadership)
Blake Mycoskie
Cliff's writing is full of creativity, inspiration, and practical lessons. Whether you re a student or professional, I highly recommend this book.
—Blake Mycoskie (Founder - TOMS Shoes, NY Times #1 Bestseller of Start Something That Matters)
David Logan
The 4 Essentials is a fun read. Like Cliff, it's full of passion with a blend of new ideas and timeless wisdom.
—Dave Logan (Former Associate Dean, USC Marshall Business School, #1 NY Times Bestselling Co-author- Tribal Leadership)
Tony Hsieh
Cliff Michaels delivers a powerful path to profits, passion, and purpose.
—Tony Hsieh (CEO -, NY Times #1 Bestseller of Delivering Happiness)

Meet the Author

Also See Cliff > Cliff Michaels is a New York Times Bestselling author, speaker, strategist, broker, and social entrepreneur. His real estate firm, Cliff Michaels & Associates, has closed over $500 million dollars in sales since 1992.
Cliff was the Founder of Knowledge Café (1996), an online community for life and business learning, and Co-Founder of (1999), the first online registry to feature digital-notary technology.
Cliff also served as a 10-year board member and 2003-2004 President of the Entrepreneurs' Organization Los Angeles (EO), part of the world's premier peer-to-peer network for business owners. He launched the chapter's first mentor programs for students, co-chaired international learning events, and created philanthropy galas for various charities.
Cutting his entrepreneurial teeth with street-wise mentors, Cliff bought his first home at 19 with no money in the bank. His unique experience as a college freshman inspired research to prove a simple theory: that a substantial gap existed between classroom education, corporate training, and real-world Essentials for success and happiness.
After dropping out of USC as a sophomore, Cliff spent the next 20 years building companies in real estate, technology, online learning, and strategic consulting.
Cliff's trademark Success Systems enable anyone to launch a thriving business, build a dynamic career, or design a passionate lifestyle. His e-courses and live training are available through
Giving Back Mission > Cliff's bigger mission is to inspire, give back, and raise the bar for global education and entrepreneurship. With each sale, free books and courses are donated to students in need. 

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The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking: What Successful People Didn't Learn in School 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cliff Michaels offers an insightful viewpoint on both life and business. An incredibly fast, fun read that will change you life. A total paradigm shift in how we view education, and specifically, what we all should be learning (or should have learned) in school! A true inspiration. Filled with entertaining stories, motivational quotes from incredible visionaries and what really are the Essentials of entrepreneurial thinking. A must read. Would give 10 stars if I could!
ZJL More than 1 year ago
Cliff's approach is personal and practical. A deep dive into the people we admire - himself included - and how we can apply those lessons to our own paths. This book is beyond a read for "entrepreneurs" - great read for life skills in general!
TheCarter More than 1 year ago
A friend recommended this book to me and I couldn't be happier in my purchase! This is not a book that you'll read once and forget about. Cliff provides a bevy of helpful tools and tricks of the trade that I will keep on hand throughout my entrepreneurial career. Down to earth and practical information defines what this book means to me. You must buy this book! You will not regret it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Matt Slater, Entrepreneur | Student | Connector The 4 Essentials is a must read for any aspiring entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur myself, I can vouch that my success has been largely due to the concepts and practical skills presented in this book. From always sending thank you letters (to the level of detail Cliff describes), always following up and always looking at a relationship as a two way street--Always ask how can you help them. Your network is your networth, and the 4 essentials really puts that into perspective. I have no doubt this book will be the catalyst to the success of many entrepreneurs. Thank you Cliff.
NDoctor More than 1 year ago
Reading this book was like a conversation with a trusted mentor. Cliff Michaels is as practical as he is entertaining. From Cliff's college days, real estate adventures, Diary of a Dotcom, and amazing stories on famous people, it's hard to put the book down once you start. I recommend The 4 Essentials to peers, professors, and professionals alike. The 4 Essentials should be required reading. ~ Nathan Doctor, President, USC Entrepreneur Club.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Chirag Sagar, Student at University of Southern California Cliff Provides all the tools and resources that an entrepreneur needs in order to execute on an idea. His 4 principals for entrepreneurs help them understand how to plan and execute on ideas, but more importantly he illustrates that it's just as advisable for you to know what, how, and why you are doing it.
StudentofLifeBH More than 1 year ago
LOVE The 4 Essentials! For a university student and entrepreneur-in-training, the material was very powerful, inspiring, and insightful. Incidentally it landed in my hands at exactly the moment when I became disillusioned and dissatisfied with rote learning/cookie-cutter academia. I was looking for a better way, and voila! What Cliff Michaels is doing to "raise the bar for education" (and entrepreneurship) is highly commendable. His book is now top of the list for go-to guidance in my life and career. Can't recommend The 4 Essentials enough. Every student and professional should read it!
SteveChen More than 1 year ago
I LOVED THIS BOOK! I am both a professor and entrepreneur who rarely takes time to write these reviews. But The 4 Essentials is like nothing I've ever read. The book completely redefines the word entrepreneur and challenges our whole concept of education without reducing the importance or merit of higher learning. You can't put this book down once you start and you'll read it again and again (it's that good and that original). Author Cliff Michaels shares his most personal life and business experiences (success and failure), and it all started as a campus boat rocker at USC. The journey as a successful real estate broker investor and pioneer in online learning is juxtaposed against a true novella called Diary of a Dotcom (amazing story of Michaels' wild high tech venture- I won't spoil the ending)). But that's just the first 40 pages! The rest of the book is an series of essays that propose 4 Essentials for success "and happiness" (and a paradigm shift for real-world education). This book gets my highest recommendation and is now required reading in all my classes. Bravo, Cliff Michaels! This book is destined to be a classic.
mwreviews More than 1 year ago
Cliff's work is a true paradigm shift for those who looking to improve their skills in business. As an avid business reader, I often find that material can be broad and unfocused. Cliff's approach hones in on the core "character" of what makes a successful businessperson and provides simple focused steps to developing to one's full potential. The book stays focused on tangible and reachable goals. A very uplifting and fun read. You'll walk away ready to take on your next venture with a completely new perspective!
EntrepreneurDR More than 1 year ago
If you like thought-leading Bestsellers like Seth Godin, Tony Hsieh, Blake Mycoskie, Jim Collins, or Tim Ferris, you'll love The 4 Essentials by Cliff Michaels. This book is destined to be a classic. The stories and lessons are timeless and entertaining. Once you start, this book is hard to put down. Cliff offers a unique look at modern + historical thought leaders, rebels from sports & entertainment, and insight to business moguls I would otherwise never know. Although I knew the names, I came away with fresh perspective on legends like Lucy, Branson, da Vinci, Jobs, Edison, Einstein, Gates, Mozart, Oprah, Woods, and countless others. I also loved the 1 for 1 business model that gives back to students and young entrepreneurs with each purchase of this book. RIGHT ON!
jimbosanjose More than 1 year ago
I've read dozens of business books on how to become a better entrepreneur. I think the author has done a fantastic job connecting his personal story to how to what he feels are the four key essentials to succeeding. Its an easy read and is not filled with jargon but instead well spun stories the exemplify how the author was able to apply them in his life. This book can apply to not only the small business owner but the person working their way up the corporate ladder. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Anna-Penn More than 1 year ago
A leading visionary for our time. Michaels has identified the specific strategies that anyone in business today must understand in order to succeed. He finds the common threads among the great masters and modern day success stories and blends them into a formula that can be reproduced. A fascinating book that will make you see the world and business in a whole new way.
amason88 More than 1 year ago
Humorous and insightful, an absolute must read for those in stuck in a rut or looking to forge a new path. This book will motivate you to make the necessary changes to put you back on track with a smile on your face.
businessownerMD More than 1 year ago
READ THIS BOOK! I read 5 books a month and this is one of the best!