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Articles filed in: Entrepreneurship
If we want attention, we must deliver value.
If we want to be innovative, we must practice empathy.
If we want loyalty, we must give respect.
If we want to be believed, we must earn trust.
If we want rewards, we must embrace risks.
If we want to matter, we must create meaning.
We not only reap what we sow but also how and why we sow.
Image by carnagenyc
Making a mark is not something we talk openly about that much, but it’s something we think about a hell of a lot. From the grandmother who hands down her legendary Christmas pudding recipe, to my Uber driver who, despite having held a managerial position with a big retailer for sixteen years, ‘wants to build something of his own’. From the street artist who feels like he has no voice, to the financial planner who wants to teach the next generation of children how their small actions today can impact their future.
The fear that we might run out of time to make our mark is one of the reasons we strive to get better at telling our stories. But if the truth is what’s at the heart of all great stories, we can’t begin to make a mark until we acknowledge and articulate what we’re really here to do. Once you’re honest with yourself about the real work you care about and why, you can begin to unapologetically make the mark you hoped to make.
Image by Steffi Lange.
We spend a lot of time trying to convince people of our opinion at work, in business and in life. If only we could attract more customers. If only the customers we had could be persuaded to spend more. If only our colleagues could see the sense of doing it this way? If only the team leader would approve the budget. If only they would listen.
What if we stopped devoting our energy to persuading those who may never change and began nurturing the relationships with the people who believe what we believe instead? How would that change our attitude, behaviour and sense of what’s possible? What would be the impact on our work be then?
It’s easier to find a like-mind than to change a closed one.
Image by Thomas Hawk.
When Elon Musk unveiled his audacious vision to colonize Mars this week, commentators had as much to say about his hubris and lack or fear as they did about the plan itself. They remarked that Musk’s greatest strength is probably that he has never been afraid to fail. That’s just not true.
Of course he has. If he weren’t afraid of failure, he wouldn’t be invested in success. You can’t simultaneously care about something and then shrug your shoulders in the face of failure.
Fear and success go hand-in-hand.
The difference between Musk and many of us is what he fears more than failing, is not giving it his best shot. Our fear of failure has never been more real than it is today, in a world where we have more power than ever to determine our path in work and life. It’s scary as an entrepreneur to be the one creating the ideas, launching the business or leading the team without someone higher up the food chain to blame if it goes wrong. It’s also thrilling to know you are responsible when it works.
When you look back at anything you’ve achieved (however small), you realise that your success was always preceded by fear. And it will be again. You might not be on a mission to Mars, but your mission feels just as important and scary to you as Elon Musk’s feels to him. The fear is a sign that you care, and that you’re doing meaningful work. Don’t let it hold you back.
Image by SpaceX.
We first met casually, in a social situation one Saturday morning. Less than five minutes into the small talk Terry asked what I did for a living. No sooner had the words “I run my own business” left my lips, than his hand reached into his back pocket to draw out some business cards (one for me and a few for my friends). Terry is an accountant who specialises in small business.
His reaction was a reflex. He has learned to see any conversation with someone who is not employed as an opportunity. Of course Terry is trying to grow his business the only way he knows how, by using a scattershot approach, looking for the opportunity in every single encounter—because ‘you never know’.
Not every encounter is an opportunity to close a sale.
The way to succeed is not to clutch at all of the straws—it’s to have the discipline to discern.
Discernment and timing are two skills every marketer needs to cultivate, because ‘you never know’ is not a smart marketing strategy. We need to make understanding who our customers are, and who they’re not, a priority.
The best way to start is by taking time to consider the worldview of the person you’re trying to reach. Easier said than done, especially if your back is against the wall.
Luckily there’s a blueprint to help you make a start.
Image by David Tan.
Look in the jewellery shop windows in any western city and you’ll notice the same trends—rings, bracelets and necklaces designed to appeal to what most people like the look of. Jewellery designer Megan Auman found her niche by marrying her talents as a metalsmith and designer, to create pieces that would change how a particular kind of woman felt, (not just how she looked) when she put them on.
Three Questions For You
1. What do the people you serve want and need?
You must get to know them almost as well as you know yourself.
2. How does the value you create best intersect with the worldview and desires of those people?
Understanding this helps you to make something people want, instead of having to make people want something.
3. What brings you the most joy?
There are a million and one things you can do, what is it that you must do?
Image by Nefatron.
This is the story of a trap we all fall into. Every single entrepreneur or creator without exception is thrown off course by following a similar pattern. It doesn’t matter if you are on the board of a Fortune 500 or a designer trying to get her blog off the ground. The same struggle happens at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between.
You’re about to start a project, set up shop, begin blogging, develop a breakthrough product—what’s the first thing you do? You begin looking for inspiration and the first place you look to is your competitors—the people and companies you believe have everything worked out.
But sometimes you forget to stop looking and start doing. You begin to draw on their experience neglecting to build on it by using your own. You subconsciously focus on how hard it’s going to be to catch up, instead of intentionally learning from what they forgot. Their voice, purpose and way of showing up in the world gets louder and grows bigger, while yours seems quieter and smaller, until eventually it’s so muffled that you can’t find it at all. This is the point where some people stop showing up because they don’t gain the traction they had hoped for as a pale imitation of a competitor, influencer or market leader.
The people who stick with it know that there is a place where truly great ideas, writing, design, products, services, platforms and innovations are born, if only we would allow ourselves to tap into them sooner and more often. Everything truly great is inspired by our own stories and experiences—our unique worldviews.
I know for sure that as soon as I began putting more of my own experiences into my writing it got better. So what? Maybe you couldn’t care less about writing? You might want to be CTO of a global corporation, or CEO of the best company in the world? So this is where I draw out my trump card (and everyone else’s too). If we know anything about how Apple succeeded under Steve Jobs we know that he, as my friend James Victore would say, “had an opinion and put it in the work.” He drew inspiration from what he lived and saw other people living, not from what he saw another company do. The following passage from his Stanford Commencement address is worth revisiting.
“And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.”
Of course everyone knows that Apple is the exception to every rule of success. There’s only one Apple after all and perhaps the same conclusions can’t be drawn in the industry you work in? Except that the Airbnb guys experienced the pain of not making rent, so they started a company unintentionally by renting out the extra space in their apartment. And Mark Zuckerberg created a platform for people like him, without quite realising how lonely the rest of the world was too. Then Dave Gilboa, Co Founder of Warby Parker lost a $700 pair of glasses he couldn’t afford to replace and it got him thinking about why glasses cost as much as an iPhone. The same rules applied in the pre-digital world of Adi Dassler—yes, Adidas got its name from the founder who learned how to make shoes by watching his father who was a cobbler. As an athlete Adi also came to realise that the right equipment could enhance human performance. He went on to design football boots that helped Germany to win the 1954 World Cup and athletic shoes that were responsible for enabling the gold medal winning performances of Jesse Owens and Dick Fosbury.
This isn’t just true in the world of product innovation. Great works or art, design, graffiti and literature from Banksy to Brontë are all inspired by lived experiences or drawn from within.
Your inspiration is all around you in your day to day. Your advantage probably already exists.
You’re just not looking there. Yet.
Image by carnagenyc.
filed in Entrepreneurship
What if I don’t do what the bus driver says?
What if sharing my dream makes people believe the impossible is possible?
What if there were no buttons?
What it we made the wallet disappear?
What if the ‘one more thing’ changed everything?
What if we taught our kids how to lose?
What if this is the first link in a chain that never breaks?
What if this moment helps someone to see?
What if three words gave people the courage to question the answer?
What if the thing my brain convinces me to run from, is the reason I’m here?
What if today is the last time I get to make change?
What if we each acted as if?
Image by Chris Green.
filed in Entrepreneurship
One of my heroes died yesterday. Maybe he was one of yours too? Robin Williams wasn’t the kind of hero you are reminded of every day. You might remember him as you’re riding the train home one night and you smile when you see the words ‘Carpe Diem’ etched into a teenager’s forearm. Or when you hear a piece of music from a movie soundtrack on the radio. Or when the TV channels inevitably play Mrs Doubtfire trailers at Christmas.
Journalist Ty Burr tells the story about the time he met Williams one morning on a New York street, as they were both setting out for a jog. For a split second Ty saw the man before his brain processed who he was. The man (not the actor) smiled back until he saw the flicker of recognition cross Ty’s face, then he put on his celebrity armour.
The irony of the human condition is that we fear being invisible and yet we fear being seen. We want to feel like what we do matters, that our time here stood for something. And yet we know that when we stick our necks out we are opening ourselves up to criticism and failure.
Despite his genius Robin Williams was no exception, he experienced the fear of not being good enough as we all do. He once acknowledged “this idea that you’d better keep working otherwise people will forget.” It was that need to keep raising the bar that made him one of those rare actors who could make us laugh and cry in equal measure.
He cared about doing that. He knew it mattered. He understood that he was here to contribute a verse and that doing it meant facing his fear of failure. I’m glad he did.
What will your verse be?
Image by Loren Javier.