7 Non-Negotiables of Winning


How to spot employees’ true game-changing character traits for creating a winning culture

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Contrary to most conventional management wisdom, The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning looks beyond employee skills and background and to identify the true game-changing character traits for creating a winning culture.
Based on the author’s methodology for what abilities drive decisions and actions within his own company, The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning details how respect, belief, loyalty, commitment, trust, courage, and gratitude play an integral part to multiple key business outcomes.
  • Provides illuminating stories and skill-building exercises to increase individual and group strength in each of the traits
  • Author David Williams is CEO of Fishbowl Inventory, the leading provider of inventory management software and asset tracking solutions serving over 10,000 companies worldwide

When these seven core traits become the standard within any company, employees become inspired to flourish and companies sail over business hurdles to achieve record growth.



FIRST DRAFT NOTES – Not for Public Distribution or Replication – Read Only Edition




I believe in people, not just their output. When leaders trust their employees and give them creative freedom to try new things, they consistently achieve positive results in the long run. This book is for individuals who don’t feel like they fit the standard corporate (hire/fire) mold in which a person’s worth is measured on a scale of 1-10 and money is the sole driving force of the business.

There is no perfect work methodology just like there is no perfect employee. We are all evolving and growing together. In this book, we share what we developed as a team as we built a successful company and, far more importantly, a place where people could enjoy working together in collaboration. We are far from perfect and we embrace our failures as opportunities to learn. I have lived, learned, and striven to do better each day, and that is all that I can ask of everyone in the Bowl.

Early in my career, I was lucky enough to have patient leaders who saw past my youthful errors to realize what I was capable of. As a result, I was able to do and be better. They provided me with opportunities to develop and grow, and this has helped me accomplish extraordinary things that I didn’t even realize I could do. It’s therefore only right that now, as a CEO, I return the favor to my own employees and strive to educate others about a simple truth I learned long ago: The secret to success is to Fail Up and move forward.

The key to Failing Up is to connect Soft Traits to Hard Results.

You can continually benefit from Hard Results – those that you can measure, quantify, and that show a return on investment – as you add to and strengthen your Soft Traits (characteristics and attributes). When we see our Hard Results in action, we naturally become more motivated to increase and improve our Soft Traits. Likewise, we will naturally see growth in our Hard Results as we increase the competency and capacity of our Soft Traits.

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself. “~ E. Roosevelt

No matter how hard you try, you are going to make some mistakes. And while the fear of failing has the effect of immobilizing us, there is newfound freedom in accepting your failures as opportunities to learn and develop in new ways. You do not have to accept the judgment of others about your successes or shortcomings. Their perspective is part of their learning path – not yours.

What matters most is how you respond to your mistakes. If you accept accountability, grow, and move forward and upward, you can achieve great things. Some of the greatest triumphs in history took place right after, and can be tied directly to, the biggest failures.

You don’t have to be a CEO to find this book useful. I wrote this book for leaders, midlevel employees, students, homemakers, and anyone else who has goals and wants to do something great with their lives. I will show you that it’s okay to fail as long as you keep your eye on the end goal and follow seven basic principles I use every day in my business: the 7 Non-Negotiables.




Building a company is a lot like building a home. In gifting stock to our employees we spoke of the difference between renters and home owners. We have organized this book in a similar format. In section one I share how we lay a solid foundation and review how to develop personal skills. In section two I share how to effectively work with others. In section three, our Fishbowl team assists in showing how to build the framework and in section four we provide you will the tools to start building your own home. Throughout the book, we understand the value proposition of our employees being owners versus renters. Just like a home, once you own it there is a different care, maintenance, and spirit that is born. We see that as we enthusiastically share our company.



Entrepreneur by Choice



When anyone calls Fishbowl asking to invest in our company, with sincerity and on behalf of our team, I always respond…


“We are employee-owned, debt-free, we grow with our own cash, and our exit strategy is death. We probably don’t fit your investment model.”


Most investors are taken aback by my response because in their world everything has a price. But my world works differently. Some things are not for sale and cannot be bought – and Fishbowl is one of them. I value how our employees feel about our company more than the price potential investors would pay for it, or what I may personally gain. I understood why in the business world we call venture capital money “funding.” Starting your business $1 million to $10 million in debt never appealed to me or the team at Fishbowl. When we need funds, we earn them, or we work with local banks to secure loans that can be quickly paid back.

We have publicly stated that we will never sell Fishbowl, go public, or adopt a mainstream corporate mentality. Fishbowl belongs to current and future generations of Fishbowlers – and always will. In 2012, 50 employees became co-owners of the company and in 2013 we added an additional 10 who successfully and consistently demonstrated the 7 Non-Negotiables. This book is about our journey, our lessons learned, our achievements, and our Fail Ups.

Great leaders teach by example and by inspiring others. This picture also represents our Fishbowl leaders. We don’t shake the pole or continuously adjust the bait as we go fishing. We patiently mentor and support, and together as a team we reel in the big fish.

fishing lesson 1 David and Tanner


Section I – Laying the Foundation for Success

1. Rhythm of Business in the Bowl

2. The Far Side of ComplexityThe Single Greatest Secret of Leadership


1. Rhythm of Business in the Bowl

I have been an entrepreneur from my earliest recollection. I never wanted to be anything else. I had a dream of what I thought could be the greatest company in the world to work for; yet for some reason, I never thought that dream would ever become reality. Somehow, however, that company came to be – and I had a hand in making it happen. Today I am the CEO of a fast-growing business of approximately 100 manager-less individuals in Orem, Utah that makes award-winning inventory management software. Our product, Fishbowl Inventory, is the #1 requested inventory software for use with QuickBooks for small and emerging businesses. Many Fortune 500 companies also use Fishbowl Inventory as a standalone asset tracking tool.

Our work will never be easy – and that’s the way we like it in the Bowl. We love a good challenge. Our company is located at the base of Mount Timpanogos, which is the heart of one of the most breathtaking mountain ranges in Utah. And while it’s a magnificent mountain, it’s not an easy climb. And that’s why it’s crucial for us to have the mountain right there. Our secret to success in business is to always look up, and remain open and optimistic. We like to break a sweat and work hard as we climb higher. We also relish playing, laughing, and exploring along the way.

Did I choose to be an entrepreneur or did I simply fall into the Bowl?

I consider myself an entrepreneur by choice. My path into entrepreneurship was set long ago. The following are a few of the qualities that define me, as well as most of my colleagues at Fishbowl:

  • No business title will ever fit for long. We are like fish, which must keep swimming to stay vibrant and alive. As such, our teams change functions and offices multiple times per year.
  • Fish swim easily in schools with one individual always leading in front. Leaders aren’t necessarily appointed. Rather, they emerge naturally to fill specific needs.
  • We will never embrace a corporate mentality. We dislike being “bossed around,” yet we will give it our all for the team and for one another. Fish instinctively know how to swim and in which direction to travel. Our overriding policy is: don’t tap on the glass! In other words – we don’t work well when stress is used to force an outcome. We prefer calm water, yet we can weather even the most treacherous storms, if necessary.
  • We love to build things, to play together, and to help people. Give us a challenging project that supports the greater good, then give us enough space and time, and we will consistently exceed expectations.
  • Our work must be noble and for something larger than ourselves because we are in the people business. Our customers and partners are our friends. We show up at work each day to see people we are excited to spend time with. Happy Fish create great products and happy customers. This is what contributes to significant growth in revenue year after year more than any other factor. And even more important than the revenue is the remarkable journey to success. 
  • We are fiercely independent, tough competitors, and extraordinary team players.

Every activity I start I pursue with my whole heart, all-out. I have no middle ground. I love sports and activities where I compete on my own and as a team. I play the piano. I ran a marathon. I swam over a mile every morning for several years and then moved on to road biking, averaging 100-plus miles per week. I am constantly competing against myself and working to break my own records.

Fifteen years ago, I started bodybuilding – a form of exercise and self-expression I continue to engage in to this day. I didn’t just lift weights; I competed until I had won the top natural bodybuilding competition award in the Western 20 States at the age of 50. From this experience, I learned a valuable lesson:

No activity that matters to you should be pursued only halfway.

john easter


As important as giving your all is, avoiding burnout is equally essential. I set a pace and rhythm for winning the big prize, yet I still employ my intense natural laser focus to accomplish the goal. One hundred percent is the only option for me. If you are only 85 percent committed, then you are not committed. And this is true for all aspects of life.

In my personal life, I set the speed, temperature, and pace on extreme, yet I work in a calm, easy Bowl.

How does this work?

The first Non-Negotiable, Respect, empowers me to show up as my authentic self. It also empowers everyone else to bring his or her unique talents, gifts, and rhythm of work to Fishbowl.

Perhaps you are hoping to discover the secret to building a successful career, or find out the tips and tricks of the trade. I mentioned above that I care about people and how to please them – so I’ll let you in on one extremely important secret:

Lesson 1 begins right here – and it starts with you.

What you put out in the world returns to you in equal measure.

There are no shortcuts or quick fixes. It’s your life. Make the most of every moment because you don’t know how many of those moments you are going to get. My son Cameron only lived 25 years on this earth, but he lived more in that short time than many who reach a ripe old age. He never wasted a minute. He is remembered today not for his work title but for how he loved and uplifted people. Every year on February 16th we celebrate Cameron’s life and legacy. Later in this book, I go into detail of Cameron’s herculean battle to live, his celebration of life, and what we who knew him continue to learn from his example. However long we live – and whether we realize it or not – we all leave something behind. Have you thought about what your legacy will be? How do you show up in the world of work each day? It seems like many employees today like to keep their options open. They show up for work while keeping an updated résumé on the market and then wonder why nothing remarkable is happening for them in the workplace. Consider doing something different: arrive at work tomorrow and dedicate yourself like it’s the last job you will ever have. See after this whether your experience is transformed. Respect the job you have, and the people you work with – and if you find you cannot do this in your current position, dedicate yourself to finding one where you can and will.

The most important lesson I will share in this book is that every individual sets his or her own rhythm and pace. The intensity that I set for myself reflects my personal goals. The 7 Non-Negotiables are the guiding principles at Fishbowl; they create a solid foundation so that everyone can develop and contribute their own unique gifts. They are the compass that helps us all to discover our “True North.”

I share with you my personal experiences so you can learn from the mistakes I’ve made while enjoying the benefits of hindsight. There is a way to be extreme and laser-focused without sucking all the energy and life out of your teams. At Fishbowl, we call this “adjusting the trim tab.” A leader doesn’t need to leave a big wake. A true leader acknowledges those who support him during the journey.



2. The Far Side of Complexity


The Single Greatest Secret of Leadership

“I am only an average man, but, by George, I work harder at it than the average man.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt

After years of constant struggle – and banging my head against the wall of success and failure – I finally broke through to the far side of complexity and arrived at something I never expected to find: Simplicity. I learned that achieving success doesn’t have to be overly complicated. This is the secret that led to the simple realization of my greatest trait that drives my success: I have learned to Fail Up.

It has taken much of my life to discover what I am great at. So when I fail, I fail big. I allowed my failures to define, limit, and even incapacitate me for many years. I was not open to the possibility that success is a journey. Failure is an integral and inevitable set of stops in the process, and I simply needed to get back on the right track.

When I finally discovered this secret – when I changed my paradigm – I changed my life.

I no longer define others or myself as “failures” when we don’t accomplish what we initially set out to do. Instead, I recognize and appreciate that there are areas in our lives we have mastered, areas we are developing, and areas where we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.

As leaders, we serve our employees best by not focusing attention on their weaknesses and mistakes. Instead, we should encourage them to navigate through challenges on their journey. We can help by asking questions like “How do you learn best?” “What could you do better?” or “How can the team better support you in the future?”

The most important thing is to strive to move forward continually. Some days we make great progress in some areas; other days we seem to slide back a bit. If we were to chart our progress on a board, it has ups and downs, but overall it should move upward as we live and learn from our mistakes and failures. This is the heart of Failing Up.

There were times when my personal challenges brought me to my knees and broke me to the point I couldn’t even get out of bed. There were moments I wanted to throw in the towel or wallow in confusion because I just didn’t know what to do anymore. I wanted to give up; but I didn’t. I hope you won’t have to fall as far as I did to learn how high you can bounce back.

We often struggle to see what we can learn from challenges because they seem so unfair and impossible to bear while we’re in them. I will never understand why I lost my son when he was only 25 years old and in the prime of his life. For a long time, I felt like I had failed because I could not find any way to help him get better. I also felt lost because I didn’t know how to cope with his departure and absence.

Even if we don’t understand why bad things happen to us, if we can Fail Up from them, we can become better people and better leaders, and build better businesses as a result. My own path hasn’t been an easy journey by any means; but I no longer get lost in the weeds. I live, learn, and move forward.

My life is far from perfect. But I have discovered that when I practice what I preach everything around me gets better. So don’t be afraid to fail – and don’t waste energy trying to cover up failures. Learn from them, and move on to the next challenge.

I’ve come to realize that if you haven’t experienced failure – or have ignored the lessons inherent in the process – you’re missing out on your most invaluable opportunities for growth.

Learn to look for the “gold in them thar hills,” then leave the pain of failure and take the gold from the experience.

I want to change the world – not so that others will know I’ve changed the world, but because I feel a genuine desire to help people. I do my best to never quit or give up on anything or anyone. Admittedly, this has led to some disastrous results because I stayed in some positions far too long. Though it hurt me at the time, I have the blessing of perspective today as I look back on those standing, steadfast, and immovable experiences. I realize now that these have been some of the most character-defining periods of my life, regardless of the financial gain or loss, or the perception of right or wrong.

I have made it a habit to think about people first and money second. I’ve made – and lost – a lot of money throughout my career. And while being financially successful is rewarding, losing a lot of money taught me that life goes on, and it has helped me see that in the final analysis I don’t really need money to be happy. People, on the other hand, bring tremendous joy to my life. I love people. Relationships are what I cannot live without.

You (yes, you!) are the only person putting up roadblocks that are keeping you from achieving what you want to be in business, as well as in life. I have come to believe that our challenges in life are placed there to serve an important purpose: to determine how serious we are about our choices.

The ability to look beyond the current circumstances to see the ultimate possibilities and eventual outcome is something that every great leader has within himself or herself. And it’s also something that every aspiring leader must absolutely learn. If there was just one trait a leader could learn that would make the single greatest difference in their effectiveness, in their company’s ability to succeed, and even in the success of their personal career and personal relationships, it would be the ability to always keep their sights on the ultimate goal. This means accepting that failure is inevitable. It also means cultivating the ability to continually Fail Up.

I will present and teach the seven basic principles I use every day in my business. Some will come faster than others, but that’s okay. You have your entire life ahead of you, as do I, to continually work on these traits. All you need to do is improve yourself just a little bit further each day, and to rejoice and even have fun in the process of celebrating what you’ve learned after every mistake.