“I never knew what I wanted, except it was something I hadn’t seen before.” – Robert Altman
Today is a writing day, but not here. I have a deadline looming – a sizeable amount of content to transfer to the page one tap of the keyboard at a time – so the next few posts will be drawn from the vault. Yes, we will resume our Psychology of Failure series, but not today.
Today, let’s instead 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.
I often hear people lament over the fact that there are no truly original ideas left. They’re 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.
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 good it is 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. To 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.
Great ideas, real innovation, the next big thing, no one is going to come up with them sitting at their desk, 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. 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?
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 this yourself, then make sure the people who work for you get to do this. 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.
“If you don’t go, you’ll never know.” – Robert DeNiro
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 two 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.
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.
Invest in your people. Treat them like kings. 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
This post was written to “Rhino II” by the Stereo MC’s, on DJ Kicks (From myMassive Attack channel on Pandora)