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Don’t Just Make a Difference. Make a Difference for the Better.

“Keep your feet on the ground—but have your head in the clouds. Strive to achieve great things, not just for yourself, but for the betterment of mankind.” This is how Dr. Alfred Barrios describes idealism, which is a characteristic of geniuses. There are actually 24 characteristics that the world’s greatest geniuses have in common. I use these as my guide to make decisions and solve problems creatively.

Idealism has never failed me in my life and in business: doing my best to make a difference for the better. I know this seems too simple, but it has never failed me. When I started my first business mowing lawns, it was my saving grace, and when I took over Pharmacyclics it became the heart of our mission.

Making a difference for the better is different than making a difference.

Lots of people can make a difference, but can you make a difference for the better? The mission to make a difference for the better has been a game changer for me and my companies. One of my very first real entrepreneurial endeavors was cookies. We made great cookies, and they really made people happy. We sold millions of cookies. The issue for me personally was I didn’t feel like I was making a difference for the better and because that part was missing, I moved on.

As I committed to this simple idea and applied it to how I selected projects, doors to my real potential and winning opportunities opened for me. This is when I really started winning. When I was running Computer Motion, which later merged with Intuitive Surgical, the goal was to use robots to make surgery less invasive, create less scar damage, reduce recovery time and make surgery easier for the doctor and the patient by providing more precision operations.

Simply put, I was making a difference for the better by using robotics that have perfect memories, four arms, never tire… well, you get the point. It was the concept of making a difference for the better that allowed me to see the opportunity. Then when I took over Pharmacyclics I did the same thing. This resulted in a company that was worth less than $1 per share selling seven years later for $265 per share.

Making a difference for the better is a simple idea that is very big. And it has become a guiding light for me in my investing criteria, day-to-day operations and my personal life. If it, whatever “it” is, cannot pass the “make a difference for the better” litmus test (decisive test), I leave it alone.

When I look back over my career, this simple idea has been the one thing that has never failed me. As a teenager, my first business was mowing lawns. My goal as a teenager was not to make the Forbes 400 list but to simply make enough money to get myself through college. When I was mowing lawns, I realized when I went that extra mile to make a difference for the better, the property owner wanted to tip me or give me more work. It wasn’t even very difficult. Sometimes it was a simple smile, extra care to make sure a hedge was edged perfectly or taking the time when I was done to have the owner walk the property with me admiring my work.

Making a difference for the better is my driving force today and it has never let me down. Make sure you add this concept to your existing company or startup. Practice making a difference for the better in how you answer the phone, handle a customer’s complaint, an investor’s question, by taking the time to remind an employee how important they are to you or by picking up that piece of paper on the floor that everyone else seems to walk passed.

If you have an idea for a new business or some action that you know can make a difference for the better, you have the responsibility to make sure you make that happen. You will always win when they win. Whether it is a product, an idea or a simple action when it can make a difference for the better you have to do it. Realizing this responsibility will give you an undying purpose, and purpose is the highest form of motivation. Following this responsibility with action will build confidence and you will then be able to realize your true potential.

Ideas and confidence are the bridge to financial success. You cannot bring a product, idea, or dream—no matter how great—to the broadest audience possible without continued confidence of energy, resources, and persistence.

Ideas that truly make a difference for the better, reinforced by the right actions (confidence), and proper resources can create a powerful unseen wavelength that cuts through previously believed barriers and old, stuck ideas. I look forward to seeing how you make a difference for the better on this planet. I can’t promise it will make you a billionaire, but I can assure you that this common-sense piece of advice will allow you to reach your full potential and feel great about who you are and what you have contributed.

Post your ideas on how you and I can make a difference for the better together. I am always looking for new partners that use their idealism and for new investments that make a difference for the better.

Original article posted by on August 27, 2015.

Article Updated: July 6, 2018


  1. Morgan Gilbert on July 7, 2018 at 2:20 am

    Very inspiring! I never considered the idea that there was a difference between “making a difference” and “making a difference for the better”. But it’s true! I find people can get wrapped up in the doing without a purpose as well. I think one way we can make a difference for the better is by our every day actions no matter how small. Because you never know how they will impact those around you. Thanks!

    • Sabrina Ochoa on July 11, 2018 at 6:39 pm

      Thank you Morgan! That’s right! Our every day actions can make a big difference!

  2. Robyn Bevens on July 11, 2018 at 6:12 pm

    What a great article! I hadn’t considered how some of the great companies of the world really are making a difference for the better! I always thought it’d be so cool to seen a video or book series for kids that goes over all different types of careers so they can understand what’s involved in them before needing to decide what to study. I think that could help young adults be more productive in their studies and careers, and let’s them be a little more self-determined over their futures.

    • Sabrina Ochoa on July 11, 2018 at 6:38 pm

      Thank you Robyn! Your idea is genius!

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