Have you ever had a Navin R. Johnson Day? — the kind of day that reminds you of this classic scene from The Jerk?
Today was one of those days: a day so completely full of good stuff that it feels like several days’ worth of great experiences as you sit in bed at the end of the day and survey all that happened.
As I am doing that now, I don’t even know where to begin to summarize a day like today, which was equal measures emotionally inspiring and intellectually challenging … the kind of day that resulted in 20 pages of furiously scribbled notes in my notebook.
How do you condense the rapid-fire creativity and deep structural observations of Seth Godin, the award-winning culture creating genius of Dave Ramsey, and the rigorously researched insights of Jim Collins into a thousand word blog post?
And a marching band. There was a legit southern marching band too.
Instead of producing a loooooong string of bullet points of quotes, I will try to pull out some larger themes that run through the brilliant presentations that we saw here today, beginning with an “early bird gets the worm” limited seating breakfast Q&A with Seth Godin.
Less Is More
Seth Godin and Jim Collins bookended the day by making this oft-repeated/rarely followed piece of counterintuitive wisdom. In typical Seth fashion, Godin showed us the world through his wide-angle lens of perspective to capture the tectonic shifts from the Industrial Age to the Information Age to the Connection Age of now. To win 100 years ago, all you had to do was leverage the efficiency powers of mass production, mass distribution and mass marketing to turn out a cheaper product that is average by design because it was aimed at most people living in the large, meaty middle of the bell-shaped normative distribution curve. A century later, there is one big problem to this strategy that has worked for so many for so long: thanks to the infinite choices and connecting superpower of the Internet, “your normative distribution curve is melting!!”
The answer is simple even if not easy. To quote one of life’s great personal success coaches, George Costanza: Do the opposite. Pick an extreme edge and own it, instead of aiming to be the most average. While everyone else is trying for more, try aiming instead for the “us” of a tribe.
People like us (do things like this).
For the first time in history, we can treat different people differently at scale.
Jim Collins, on the other hand, painted the same colors with a different brush — the researched evidence of what actually worked in the companies that left “good” behind to become truly “great.” This resulted in much more direct and succinct admonitions, such as —
Big does not equal Great, and Great does not equal Big. NEVER confuse Big and Great.
You don’t have to be big to be great. You just have to be irreplaceable, either because you are so unique, or because you are so good.
Your organization may become big even if you don’t scale as a leader [in terms of growing your own leadership capability and understanding], but it won’t become great.
Choosing As A Power
Regardless of the environment we find ourselves in, the power to choose is the doorway to change, whether good or bad. Said Godin:
The people who act like a commodity get treated like a commodity. It’s a choice.
This is true for brands (and how the market views them), for companies (and how their customers view them), and for people (and how their employers view them). The same is true on the other end of the spectrum: Leading isn’t about waiting for someone to give you permission to lead and the authority of a position to go with that permission to lead. Instead, leadership is “about choosing to lead,” and we all have the ability to make that choice where we are, with what we have, because of one parenthentical truth …
Dave Ramsey’s commitment to this power of choosing shows up in their selling model. When his team presented him with the initial concept for a subscription based coaching supplement to the EntreLeadership events known as All Access, they proposed a selling motion requiring an annual subscription. “N0,” said Dave —
We don’t do contracts because if we suck, you should be able to quit. I wouldn’t want to have to keep paying for stuff I thought sucked. You don’t want your customers to walk away each month? So don’t suck.
Choice is a lever.
- Grab ahold of it for yourself, and you can make Change happen.
- Put it into the hands of your customers, and the risk they will leave will make Excellence happen.
- Put it into the hands of those who follow you, and the following that occurs thereafter will show that Leadership is happening.
Building a great company is not a function of circumstance, but of a conscious choice and discipline.
Here is a partial list of some of the types of choices Collins outlined that pave the road to greatness:
- Choosing to grow the humility and ambition for the cause that is bigger than yourself that results in becoming a Level 5 Leader;
- Choosing to confront the “Brutal Facts” with brutal honesty;
- Choosing to tackle the task of learning how to build clocks instead of simply telling everyone the time.
See Things Differently
In his session in the afternoon, Collins cautioned against the allure of just looking to “best practices” to learn from:
It is dangerous to study success. It is much more valuable to study contrasts between success and failures.
This perfectly described how Godin opened his session to start the morning, as he described his billion dollar mistake. My best paraphrase:
In 1992, ’93, ’94, I had something none of you had: access to the internet. There was no World Wide Web yet. … I saw the internet and, collected a list of the most interesting places on the net, and published them in a book, Best of the Net. It sold 1,826 copies. It was a miserable failure.
At the same time, two other guys out west also had access to the internet. They saw the same thing I did, but instead of making a book about it, they made Yahoo!
I saw the internet and did what I already knew how to do. They saw the internet and thought of something new to do with it.
Godin’s admonition was a simple one:
We need to change the way we see things.
There is a difference between being an artist and simply being a painter. To highlight the difference, Godin used the contrast of Jackson Pollock (an artist) and his lesser known brother, Charles Pollock (a painter). One can’t help but wonder if Godin has been editing poor Charles’ Wikipedia entry, which surfaces on Google’s search results page like this:
In a world built by Henry Ford using the theoretical blueprints of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Scientific Management, what can be industrialized will be … and you could be next, Godin warned:
If we can write down what you’re supposed to do, we can find somebody to do it cheaper.
Somebody … or something. Ask Wendy’s …
At a higher level, Collins drilled into the modern view of “shareholder value” as the prime directive of any company that aspires to greatness:
There was not a single 10x/”Great” company that we studied that had as its core mission to make money for its owners.
Money is like food, water, and oxygen: essential to life, but not the point of life. The point of life is to do something useful.
How will you change the lives of others? How will some people’s lives be different because you and your company were on this planet? It doesn’t have to be a lot of people. It just has to be real people.
As for the development of an actual set of core values, one thing from Collins to keep front and center:
Only those values you hold when they are competitive disadvantages are core values.
Odds & Ends
I intended to write a focused summary, but I can’t wrap up without including at least some of the quotable gems from these world-class leadership Thinkers and Doers. So, in no certain order …
- “The bad thing about a race to the bottom is you might win. The only thing worse is coming in second.”
- “It’s cheaper to make a mistake now. I’m not gonna get it right. Instead, I’m gonna get it interesting.”
- “The economy is becoming more and more voluntary as it moves from scarcity to overwhelming abundance.”
- “Managing is asking to do what we did yesterday, only faster and cheaper. Leading is pointing over there and saying ‘How do we get there?'”
- “We have to throw ourselves off cliffs and grow wings on the way down” — Kurt Vonnegut
- “If failure is not an option, success isn’t either.”
- “The guy who invented the ship also invented the shipwreck.”
- “The antidote to the Fear is to become more creative than ever.”
- “When you don’t have clearly defined objectives of what winning looks like for each member of your team, it’s like taking everyone bowling and turning out the lights: there will be lots of noise, but you can’t tell who’s winning.”
- “If I have seen further than others, it is because I am standing on the shoulders of giants.” — Sir Isaac Newton
- “When people eat together, culture is shared and trust spreads.”
- “The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” — George Bernard Shaw
- “Processes are more powerful than events in changing people’s lives.”
- “Momentum never happens quickly or easily. It happens over time.”
- “Good is the enemy of Great.”
- “Questions are better than answers.”
- “True leadership exists when people follow when they otherwise have the choice not to.” — James MacGregor Burns
- “What looks like a breakthrough moment to the outside is really the culmination of a long process of consistent, intelligent effort.”
- “The true signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.”
- “The only mistakes you don’t learn from are the ones you don’t survive.”
- “Bad decisions, taken with good intentions, are still bad decisions.”
- “It’s not about getting good luck and avoiding bad luck. Everyone will get both. The question is what will you do with the luck you get?”
- “If you have more than three priorities, you have none.”
- “Be rigorous, but not ruthless.”
1,791 words … that’s about 1,000 words more than my usual length of a post. That’s the kind of day today was.
UP NEXT TOMORROW: Dr. Henry Cloud & Patrick Lencioni