“I never knew what I wanted, except it was something I hadn’t seen before.” – Robert Altman
Today, let’s talk about how to really get a competitive edge by hiring the right kind of people. Edelman Digital’s David Armano would call them T-shaped people, or even Sun-shaped people. He isn’t wrong. The point is: A company is only as good as the sum of its parts. And by that, I don’t mean equity, technology or assets. I mean people. Invest in people, really invest in them, and your company will soar. Hire on the cheap and treat them like asses in seats, and your company will falter. It’s that simple.
What do you think makes Apple great? Trust me, it isn’t their servers or cool offices. It’s people. People come up with the ideas. People turn concepts into reality. People fight for their projects and make sure they happen. People invent, design and perfect the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. People explore new ideas and figure out what the next big thing is. People make customers feel special. People either make or break companies and brands, from the CEO to the greeter, and from the designer to the cashier.
It’s always been like this. Social Media didn’t invent anything. “Putting the people back in business?” Why did you ever take them out to begin with?
“If I complain about a traffic jam, I have no one but myself to blame.” – Steve Wynn
Neither my posts, my wisdom nor my ideas emerge from a vacuum. Everything I have learned until now and everything I will ever learn in my life will come from doing, learning, experimenting, and from listening to people who tried to do the same thing in different ways before I came along.
It is strange to me to hear people sometimes lament that “there are no original ideas left.” I think they are completely missing the point. The importance some people attribute to the originality of an idea is completely overblown. It’s an ego trip. They’re just disappointed because they couldn’t be known as the guy who came up with it. Truth is that the next big product won’t be a completely original idea. It will be an original take on a dozen old ones. What was the first iPod? A portable CD player without the CD. What’s the iPhone? A phone that does more than other phones. What’s a venti latte from Starbucks? A 20 oz cup of coffee with a Starbucks logo on it. What was the first light bulb? A candle without the candle.
Truth: What makes an idea good isn’t how original it is. It’s how relevant it is for its time and how well it works. Who cares if you were inspired by a dozen things other people did? Who cares if you borrowed from artists and designers and engineers who solved a problem or created something great twenty years before you became the precious little center of your mother’s world? That’s how it works. You go out into the world and get inspired by other things. You take bits and pieces of things that work somewhere else, and you adapt them to your needs, then piece them together to create something better.
Here’s something else: Great ideas, real innovation, the next big thing, no one is going to come up with them sitting at their desk or brainstorming with a roomful of suck-ups.
Great ideas, real innovation, the next big thing, they’re all out there, waiting to be pieced together like a puzzle. And the puzzle pieces, they are scattered all over the place waiting to be found. How are you going to find them? In a meeting? During a powerpoint presentation? At the end of a RE:RE:RE:RE string of emails?
Who are you hiring? What are you doing with these assets? What types of tasks are you giving them? Are you evaluating them based on their ability to respond to emails, schedule meetings and drive incremental points of change, or are you recruiting and evaluating based on people’s ability to truly drive your company forward?
“If you don’t go, you’ll never know.” – Robert DeNiro
You want to find out how to get better at customer service? Take off the suit, get in your car, and go talk to your customers. Better yet, become a customer all over again. Heck, do both.
You want to find out how to design better products? Start looking at every product out there a little more closely. Things that have nothing to do with your industry. Dog toys. iPhone applications. Action figures. Tennis rackets. Bicycles. Sunglasses. Mechanical pencils. Media players. Faucets. Swiss Army knives. Even cat food is designed to look, taste and feel cool. Learn what works.
You want to find out how to become a wiser business leader? Go out and talk to people who have suffered under some really bad ones. You’ll learn very quickly how to avoid becoming the next mediocre suit with a big title.
If you’re too busy to do any of this yourself, then make sure the people who work for you get to do this. If they can’t hire people who will, then give them permission to. Send them out into the world. They aren’t going to learn anything new sitting at a cubicle all day, filing papers.
You want to generate great ideas on a regular basis and execute on them the way Apple and Nike do? Surround yourself with creative thinkers who will challenge groupthink, uninspired corporate obstacles and collectively work together to figure out how to rock the As all the way to the Zs.
Inspiration and wisdom are everywhere. Whatever unbeaten path you may find yourself on, it’s still a path. People have been there before. Maybe the path looked very different then, but it’s still the same path. Find these people and learn from them. Since you probably didn’t have time to clear your schedule today, let me bring a little bit of that wisdom to you… but after that, you’re kind of on your own.
Very few of the little bits of wisdom below were meant to be used as business advice, which is precisely why I selected them. They’re all really about life, about decisions, about integrity, about the choices we make. But it doesn’t take a genius to see how some can be applied to customer service, to hiring, to innovation, to career management, to choosing whom to work with, and to coming out of this recession a market leader.
“If a guy doesn’t have a little gamble in him, he isn’t worth a crap.” – Evel Knievel
You don’t get to be a market leader by playing it safe.
“Let’s see what our competitors do first” is not the path to market leadership.
“Can you show us some case studies first?” is not the path to success.
Every time I hear executives speak enthusiastically about the crazy projects their junior teams are working on, I smell success. Whenever I hear career administrators dismiss ideas from junior members of the organization because they’re too bold, because they’re unproven, because they haven’t been tested by the market, because they aren’t guaranteed to work, I smell failure.
Success – just like good ideas – doesn’t emerge from a vacuum. Success is nothing but the final intelligent outcome of a thousand purposeful failures.The light bulb wasn’t invented overnight by a major technology company based in Palo Alto. Neither was the automobile.
Success is a process. It has its own architecture. Its own unique elements. Its very own DNA. Think about the quality of people you hire and promote. Are they just there to be asses in seats? Does their job consist of spending a third of their day responding to emails? Are they merely “head count,” as some companies call them? Do you truly encourage and reward initiative, innovation and courage, or do you make a process of crushing them out of your organization?
Here’s a tip: If you feed your organization average, don’t expect to get anything but average results. If you only feed your business “safe,” don’t expect to get anything but “safe” results (which means no results at all). If you surround yourself with suck-ups and cowardly little self-serving tyrants, don’t expect a whole lot either.
Fortune does favor the bold: Apple takes chances and wins. You could say the same of Pixar. Google didn’t get where it is by playing it safe. Look at what Ford has been doing for the last three years. How do you think Zappos got to be Zappos? Even Old Spice, for that matter, took a chance and scored big – turning a tired, irrelevant brand around with a few deliberate strokes of genius and a healthy dose of courage. Where do you think all of this started? With decisions. Decisions made by people. People who were willing to take calculated risks in order to win. People who were willing to go where no one had gone before and see how far the rabbit hole went. Where did these people come from?
Imagine where those companies would be today if they had hired unimaginative desk jockeys whose idea of advancement was to fly under the radar long enough to get promoted and just “do their jobs and go home.” Your company should be a hotbed of ideas, not paperwork and reports.
So invest in people. Be smart about it. Treat them like the assets they are. Give them what they need to make you next year’s success story. If there ever was a secret to gain a definitive market advantage, it’s this.
“Wisdom is knowing when to shut the f*ck up.” – Adam West
Here are a few additional tips from some people far smarter than I am:
“Courage is doing something you need to do that might get you hurt.” – Bobby Bowden
“Change is not threatening.” – Steve Wynn
“I love discourse. I’m dying to have my mind changed. I want to know, you understand? I like listening to everybody. This to me is the elixir of life.” – Jack Nicholson
“Take a bit of the future and make it your present.” – Andy Grove
“If you’re not nervous, you’re either a liar or a fool. But you’re not a professional.” – Jerry Lewis
“Hire people who will treat the switchboard operator as friendly as they’ll treat the managing director.” – Sir Richard Branson
“My definition of evil is unfriendliness.” – Muhammad Ali
“Tell the truth. sing with passion. Work with laughter. Love with heart. ‘Cause that’s all that matters in the end.” – Kris Kristofferson
“Never accept ultimatums, conventional wisdom, or absolutes.” – Christopher Reeve
“If you want results, press the red button. The others are useless.” – Homer Simpson
“Hypocrisy is a detriment to progress. There’s always a hidden agenda.” – Larry Flint
“Money doesn’t make people happy. People make people happy.” – Steve Wynn
“A nickname means you belong.” – Buck O’Neil
“Risk means guessing at the outcome, but never second-guessing.” – Mel Brooks
“The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile.” – Julia Child
“Nothing is just one thing.” – Carrie Fisher
I hope that gave you something to think about. Have a good’n.
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Read more about it here, and if you’re still on the fence about it, download a free chapter to check it out.
You’re clairvoyant. Puzzles was the topic of the day for me. Great post. And lots of quotes for the tweeps 😉
Thank you for an excellent post. I just wish more companies and professional practice in particular would take your message to heart. It’s a bit like the old Ben Franklin saying: “Invest in your mind and your mind will fill your purse with gold.”
I wish more of them would read this blog. 😀 That would be a good start.
I like this. Especially as Fresh ID is growing, we have struggles with this a bit – we need to save money, yet get a lot of work done, and the balance in workforce talent and cost is sometimes hard to get right, when we need to be profitable at the end of the day or the whole business will fail at some point.
What I love the most though, is your perspective on this (and other things), which makes me think about my business and ultimately leads Lisa & I (and now Tom) to improve it. You do that so well, effortlessly really. Thanks for continuing to be one of my favorite thought-provoking bloggers. This is why I want to work with you so badly on ginormous projects with a budget! 🙂
Your second point on originality chimes in along the same lines as Stephen Johnson’s excellent book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’. The thought of the lonely inventor having an inspirational moment in insolation is discredited. Rather ideas are more likely to flourish within either a connected community or from connected experiences.
Johannes Gutenberg, seen as the inventor of the modern printing press, used his (failed) experience as a wine maker to apply the idea of agricultural screw presses into print making.
It’s no coincidence that idea generation is likely to be more concentrated in communities. Ideas themselves have to go through a rigorous process refinement and improvement, usually as a result of being challenged by others.
Whereas this dialectic process traditional happened in towns, and cities during the 17-20th Century, in the modern age online communities are increasingly being used to test ideas.
I’ve always believed in investing in people first and bricks and mortar second. The problem is the world doesn’t see it that way. They view labor as a cost and nothing more. Welch knew it, Hsieh knows it, yet it’s not a very sexy idea. As least not as sexy as the shiny new toy. It also takes a deep commitment and a long-term focus instead of the ‘what did you do for me today?’ mindset.
Leaders know that their job is to maximize value not minimize engagement.
Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about what the best companies look like from an employee perspective. I keep coming back to a central idea. I think those doing it right see their competition (among others) constantly trying to poach their staff. These outsiders offer more money, more perks, more power, et al., yet the people aren’t interested in leaving. They know they have a good thing. They feel part of something larger than themselves. They feel they are appreciated, trusted, and making a difference.
That’s where I want to work – even if it means I have to start the company myself. Thanks for always keeping it real, sir. Means a lot to me.
“First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Ghandi
“Every time I hear executives speak enthusiastically…I smell success. Whenever I hear career administrators dismiss ideas…I smell failure.”
All I can say is AMEN! Great post!
This post is spot on. Many leaders fail to understand the whys it is very important to always reinvest in people and looking for new talents. Companies are struggling with recruiting daily now more than ever before.Thanks for sharing insight with us.
Awesome post, now let’s deploy a demo for the french administrations to make them understand the truth in is humans.
Since decades they must have missed a bunch of essential skills in order to develop great industries…Fortunately conservatism is not king.
You have a way of taking centuries old concepts and giving them a new spin. As a creative person, I’m constantly on the lookout for inspiration. “Truth is that the next big product won’t be a completely original idea. It will be an original take on a dozen old ones.” You can substitute “my next film and/or video” for “the next big product”. Old ideas are everywhere looking to be made new again.
And as a business owner, I’m always looking to make my product better, more efficient, to stand out from the competition. Gotta listen to what your potential customers want and you ain’t gonna do that at home on your couch chomping on beef jerky. “If you don’t go, you’ll never know.” – Robert DeNiro (true)
Thank you for a great post Olivier!
It is fascinating how we invest into equipment and technology with the hope to get a 2 or 3 year ROI. At the same time it is the people that create the results, everything else are merely tools. The ROI of the right investment into people development can most often be measured in months. Investment into people and leadership development is the fastest ticket to success and organizational performance.
Again, thank you for this blog, it is very timely!
I’m just think of forwarding this to our management team, hoping they take the time to read this… 😉
No, honestly I totally agree with you and it would be great if more companies not only thought like this but even more important acted accordingly. Treating people right helps to be more productive and more happy. It’s a another part of the work-life balance and I think it is important if you want good people, clever and creative ones. http://wp.me/p1JgHJ-M
Heard a lot of the same ideas from @Andy_Boynton the other day. He’s the author of “Idea Hunting” and also the Dean at Boston College’s business school. All good stuff, and a really great post by you.
I love the quotes, and am using the Muhammad Ali quote now. Fantasic!!!
Really nice post! Will totally share this one to my workmates.
Boy, there’s almost too much good stuff here for me to comment on. I almost want to be sorta lame and just say, “Hey dude…good post.” But of course, I can never be that brief.
To me, the link that prevents all of these good things from happening that you speak of is that there is such immense pressure on people to be “the one,” as you say. People are really ticked that they can’t claim they created cyclone technology. Dyson did that. People are really ticked that they weren’t the first ones to make money online. When you’re a boss, the pressure is on to show that you are worth that salary. A lot of people translate power as “treating other people who can’t do anything about it like crap.”
We live very much in a “me” society these days. I have to be the….I must be the best at…I am not sure where that pressure comes from, but I know that everyone around me, including me, looked or looks at ages like 25 and 30 and thinks, “Crap, I’m not famous yet. I’ve blown it.”
Where does THAT come from?
As soon as we become a bit less me-focused and a bit more world-centric, I think a lot of the ideas you outline here will fall into place. But I am not going to hold my breath on the former.
Throughout history we have seen masses of people go through life lessons.
Be it the times they learned hand washing of doctors saved women’s lives during childbirth, or in our life time with becoming environmentally conscious and recognizing the need for alternative fuels.
None of these shifts came because folks said “oh yeah, this will be for our own good let’s do this with ease.” They were always painful and birthing like experiences. Some more like breech birth, but that’s another blog post.
People are historically lazy when it comes do doing what is good for them and the “right thing.” How funny we can look back over many such times in history and YET we keep making the same mistakes.
Not seeing how when we support each other – or invest as Olivier calls it, that is when we activate something in each person that brings out a new layer of brilliance. That is when the spark of genius awakens and “something is invented.”
Olivier my question for everyone is a little different – “When will they start investing in themselves?” That is when the world will respond in kind. It is the law of nature, start leveraging it already jjeeezzz.
You don’t have to own a company to see the relevance in this post 🙂 Investing in people – investing in yourself – it’s all the same soup. Keep your stomach full of it.
The old Air Force Colonel John Boyd (our Sun Tzu and inventor of OODA loops) used to say: “People. Ideas. Technology. In that order.”
Now many of us have seemed to have completely reversed the order. To our peril.
Great quotes and great explanations to them. I’ve actually seen that the better you explain, detail or give an example to anything you say, the better will everyone understand it. This is one of the things that I like about Yuri Mintskovsky’s writings, he always gives clear explanations to everything he says and that’s why I find his marketing courses to easy to understand.
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