10 Leadership Secrets for Disruptive Innovation From a Serial Millennial
By 2020, 50% of the workforce will be millennials. A millennial is usually defined as someone born between 1980 and 2005. We older people look down upon them and judge their sense of entitlement, narcissism, gadgetry fuelled ADD, and constant need for positive reinforcement. Like the Gen-Y crowd before them, they burst into the workplace saying: “I’ve been here for ten minutes, when are you promoting me? What’s wrong with you, can’t you recognise real talent when it’s staring you in the face?”
But Caleb Hong breaks the stereotype and is not someone you discover on LinkedIn… well you will but he has no photo and almost no detail in his profile. He doesn’t blog – he’s not seeking anyone and prefers to stay under the radar. Sorry Caleb! He is however a millennial serial entrepreneur who is very successful and incredibly complex; shy and thoughtful with a razor sharp mind and sense of purpose in his life. He and I were recently part of a business leadership panel in Sydney and we got to know each other. While he was speaking on stage I was wishing that I was in the audience so I could take notes.
When I got home, I furiously wrote down what I could remember and then had a coffee with him a few days later. He has even turned a business into a franchise that went national and sold others for healthy profits. At one point he was operating four businesses at once, overseeing a hundred staff and coping with being on anti-depressants. He figured-out how to function effectively with just the 2-3 hours each day where he could positively interact with people and make good decisions. Here is the real world wisdom from Caleb – the rest of this post is essentially from him.
Insight #1: Listen to the market to find problems you then solve for them.
I think businesses shy away because they feel they are too small or don’t have enough experience. They have a picture in their mind about what they need to become or achieve before they can approach that potential client or investor. This timidity comes from looking at ourselves rather than looking at what companies and individuals need in the marketplace. It’s got nothing to do with you. One thing about remarkable companies is that they are customer-centric. I think it’s important to adopt that focus early on.
Here’s a simple process I’ve used often in the past twelve months. Create an approach that can get you directly in front of the right people. Listen to the market, find problems you can solve, Figure out what people want & need. Package it; then sell it back to them. The companies giving you initial feedback can become your first customers.
I’ve closed 6-figure deals, pre-selling services without a business card or a business logo, because I found what businesses desperately needed and gave it to them. Two months ago I did a similar thing; I reached out to a $6 billion financial company. I had a look at their marketing and extracted 14 key areas where they were leaving money on the table. Then I got in touch with them and gave them a comprehensive run-down on what they needed to do. The exercise was simple, but the impact was huge. When it’s not about you, and you make it about helping and solving problems that businesses or individuals have, you’re able to cut through the noise and gain traction very quickly.
There are two reasons why I think this might resonate with businesses. What’s changed over recent years is that the marketplace expects businesses to add value – not just communicate value.
And you want the shortest pathway to cash-flow and at the same time create a proof of concept as quickly as possible.
Insight #2: Your ability to sell your ideas is crucial.
Whether it’s a product, a proposal or a project; nobody is going to believe in your idea more than you. But it is critically important that you don’t just rely on the idea to sell itself, even if it’s good. This may seem obvious but so many make this mistake.
Ideally, you want to have a great idea and be great at presenting and selling that idea, which leads me to the first point.
A) When selling your idea, work on optimising both the sales process of your idea and the idea itself. Sometimes, we can focus on one at the expense of the other. If you address both, you’re doubling the rate of your success.
B) If you were the buyer, would you buy your own product? The reason why this question is so important is because people buy into you before they buy into your idea. While you’re selling the idea, investors and potential clients are first looking at you.
Steve Jobs believed in his company and products so much, it created a reality distortion for the rest of us, including his own team. We talked about the man as much as we talked about the products.
When we believe in our idea, we’re helping our investors, potential clients and employees close the gap between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’. That gap becomes smaller and smaller. And that’s exactly what we need to move fast and pivot, as our products and business are growing & improving while it gets closer to what it ‘could be’. The most forward thinking companies live in this gap. The businesses that are left behind predominantly live in the ‘what is’ or worse, ‘what was’.
C) Integrate context with content. Your idea is the content. The industry and the businesses you are applying the idea is context.
Selling your idea becomes so much more effective and persuasive when you understand the context as much as your content. Your product, proposal or project becomes an obvious solution to a much needed problem or need. A simple exercise is to rate out of 10 how much you understand your product, project or proposal and then do the same for your context – the niche that you are trying to reach, the business that you are speaking to, the markets you are seeking to reach. Then work to improve the content or context based on your score.
Insight #3: Most of your time is wasted.
For about 24 months while I was battling through depression, I had a mere 2-3 good hours to get anything done. That taught me a lot. If you only had two hours to achieve results each day, you wouldn’t waste time on trivial things. Rather, you’d be doing things that give you the biggest returns. It’s actually a really powerful exercise – just ask yourself: “If I had 2-3 hours in a day to build my business, what would I be doing? More importantly, what would I stop doing?”
As you apply resourcefulness to your time, your efforts, your money, something happens… resourcefulness not only makes your resources go further, it actually attracts more resources.
These are the things I did during that period of forced time-poverty. In the few hours I had each day, I focused on the most critical activities and projects and reduced or eliminated low value activities. I automated or delegated the rest. But that’s not enough. I also created a better process to make decisions fast. I used a simpler but more intuitive set of metrics to drive my businesses – going from whole spread-sheets to just looking at 3-5 numbers a day. Instead of training my best people, I mentored them. It was one of the best ways of taking myself out of the equation while empowering people to achieve bigger results. It’s like training an Olympian. At that level, you become a trainer, a coach and a mentor.
I love Michael Gerber’s work on repeatable systems, but building systems without the right spirit and heart, without the trust of your best people; is a recipe for sub-optimal results. Connecting people to what you’re doing with mission and purpose is key and I love what Tony has written on this topic (I read his LinkedIn blog).
Insight #4: Business is about people.
The quality of the people you work with inevitably changes the quality of your business. And with that said, it’s important to work with the best people, whether they are employees, business partners or other businesses that support your growth – law firm, accountant, HR services, etc. Even if you can’t afford them now, there’s no reason why you can’t meet them now. Here is an example: I’ve worked with law firms that I selected because they were cheaper to begin with and eventually charged me double as I grew and could afford their fees… but they were the best. And I’ve worked with top consultants and accountants in this way too. The best people will also introduce you to other top professionals that you need in your ‘virtual’ team. They will also connect you with potential clients. But what’s even more important is who you become by working with the best people. Quality people make a massive difference in the success of a business – only work with the best; find a way to afford them.
How do you bring the best people into your world? To do that, here are two practical things I can think of. First you must be the very best you can be, personally and with your business. Great people attract similar people and the fastest way to better yourself is to find mentors.
The second point builds on the first: You want to create a framework that creates ‘pull’ and attracts the right people. I use what I call the 7C framework – your Core Mission, Character, Chemistry, Competence, Culture, Connection & Contribution.
I use the 7C framework to better myself and I’ve created a training program using this framework for my team. I use the framework when hiring people and it serves as a compass that helps me identify the right organisations and individuals to build relationships. And using the 7C framework across different areas of the business creates congruency, which is a key ingredient in building a great brand. So the cycle perpetuates.
Insight #5: You don’t need more information – you need more action.
So many people believe that they need more information before they can decide and execute. I think that’s a misconception because the focus is on learning, rather than execution. The fact of the matter is that we do not lack information – we have information overload! We’re especially running into that problem head-on in 2015 because there’s so much information out there, rather than being compelling, it paralyses. We become overwhelmed with information and it causes confusion & bottlenecks, so we look to learn more to resolve it, and it becomes a negative cycle.
The key to success is learning the right thing, not learning more. It’s learning the right thing that empowers execution. My guess is that most of us already know enough. We know far more than we are implementing. What is needed is insight and less information.
Insight #6: Business plans are a waste of time.
Business plans are slow and they become out-dated quickly, before they’re even finished. The more time your spend on your plan, the longer you are out of the market. It’s all downtime because there’s no cash coming in and by the time you’re ready, the market most likely will have changed and you’re once again out of tune.
It’s better to plan as you go. When you start a business or a project within an existing business, 80% of your efforts should be focused on selling and marketing, generating revenue as fast as possible. That’s your business lifeline and it’s your proof of concept. Let’s take it from there and just simplify it. If you want to market and sell something, you just need three things to get started. 1) You need to know who your target audience is; 2) You need an offer; and 3) You must choose one customer channel that you’ll leverage to reach them. That’s it. It’s not 100 moving parts – complexity can come later. We are planning as we go and pivoting based on what we learn. This cuts enormous time and energy.
Insight #7: Ditch the 12 month calendar and instead work with 12 week cycles.
Many businesses tend to have their biggest months towards the end of the year. That’s because a year gives you at least 10 months where you can procrastinate until it’s crunch time. I treat 12 weeks like a year. I’ve been doing this for my businesses and my client’s businesses and found it makes execution more predictable. The challenge with a 12 month calendar is that there is a lot of assumptions built into it. The further we plan, the more assumptions we’re making. Making decisions and allocating resources on assumptions and theory in a cut-throat market is risky business. Short cycles create urgency, action and accountability – no time to wait or procrastinate.
Insight #8: It’s all about rapid momentum.
I was speaking to a billionaire once and there was one thing he said that struck a deep chord. In fact, after that conversation I realised it was something I did very consistently. He said: “It’s not about how big or small a business is, it’s more about how fast or slow a business moves”. This is now more relevant than ever.
Everything becomes easier with momentum. And to create momentum, you need speed. To create speed, it’s important to make execution easier. Remove complexity. A complex plan is harder to implement.
One of the metrics I measure daily in my business is doing one thing per day that simplifies something in my business – whether that’s creating a checklist, an SOP, taking out a step in a process, replacing technology, etc.
The simpler your business becomes, the more likely it’s going to build rapid momentum. Don’t make things more complicated than it needs to be.
Insight #9: Your life partner is your life-line.
Something that I learnt was about valuing people for who they are, and not for what they can necessarily do for you. I learnt that from my wife. I’ve never met anyone with so much authenticity. One big factor of life-balance is having the right people around you. They help you do it better through instruction, imitation but most importantly, through inspiration.
I think life-balance is actually a product of our perspective. The perspective of the life we desire does dictate whether we create balance and how we choose to create that balance.
One perspective that I love thinking about is seeing myself and a whole bunch of people that I love still doing life together until our last breathe in wheel chairs. That would be cool. And that perspective drives my balance today.
Insight #10: Instill a multiplier into the DNA of your work
We’ve been accustomed with the idea that good is not good enough, and that to be good you want to be excellent at what you do. It’s a fantastic idea except today most people in the marketplace are thinking the same.
It’s hard to stand out in today’s market but I have a hack that could make you dangerous. There are hundreds of articles talking about why you need to upload blog posts regularly. But what if I told you that you can actually pick up 1-2 clients per blog post you create. Would this be of interest to you?
And what if I then laid it out, step-by-step, thoroughly and as specifically as possible. What if all you had to do was to implement the process again and again whenever you needed more clients. This would very quickly create a list of businesses waiting to speak to you.
I know this works because I’ve run this for a handful of my clients. One company in Sydney in particular achieved an account penetration by ten-folds using this approach.
You can apply this in many different scenarios and foresee the outcome of your activities. When you do what you do — whether that’s marketing, product expansion, sales, strategy meetings, client delivery, etc. – is it going to cause people to beat down your door for more? Or will it cause people to simply say “that was good.”
For example, we can ask ourselves: “What needs to happen in order to publish one blog post and have a list of businesses waiting to speak to me?” And what would happen if you could find application for this again and again in the more critical parts of your business?
Every activity has an innate DNA. Some are designed to produce average results, some negative, some are great and others are so revolutionary or meet the deepest need in the most practical way possible that it commands the attention of many people immediately. The speed of cut-through depends on a value equation.
Is your activity designed with the DNA of additions or multiplication? For one speaking engagement, you get three more. What would you have to do for that to happen? Now you’re designing your business to multiply with each small act.
This last insight, number 10, is one big thing that separated Apple from its competition. Here is a great video by Guy Kawasaki who worked with Steve Jobs.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.
Tony J Hughes is a best selling author and speaker in the field of sales leadership. He has three decades of business leadership experience and has also taught for the University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. Tony’s LinkedIn blog is widely read and he can be found at RSVPselling.com and TonyHughes.com.au.