This is a really interesting piece from the late George Carlin – who, despite all his success took the best part of 35 years before he thought he found his place. While all of this 4 minutes is interesting, and it isn’t so much for entertainers, but really appeals to the spirit of any entrepreneur or employee with the entrepreneur wanting to break out. The bit I find most compelling is when he discusses the choice he made at the age of 30. That he was living in the middle of a generation gap and had to choose a new audience – a new young crew who got it, or an older crew who bought into it. We too need to choose our audience carefully. Should our audience be a bunch of senior managers in company XYZ who believe in the status quo, or should it be a new breed of entrepreneur / intrapreneur whose enthusiasm might be the missing ingredient to change stuff?
- thanks to Ender for inspiring this post.
I was having a discussion with a colleague about staffing at the most senior level of an organization. Non technical, Director and CEO level jobs. In fact the discussion I was having was with a CEO himself. What he said actually surprised me, especially given the level he is at in his personal career. First let me give a brief summary of what transpired.
We discussed a potential candidate for a role in a large corporation at 2 levels below the CEO. I retorted that this particular person we had in mind, was above that level, too senior and ready for a CEO job himself, and so he wouldn’t be interested, and that I thought he was ‘better’ than the role on offer. He disagreed. He said that this person wasn’t ready for a CEO role as he had not even held the role of director and it was too much of a leap…. the discussion kind of went around in circles as to what qualifies a person for the most senior job. His view was that the very top job in large companies was really only the domain of a special few. My point was that who the special few are is really an arbitrary decision made by the people who have the power to put people in positions….
In the qualitative arena of corporate positions there is no such thing as being qualified. Every time a person steps up or gets the opportunity to step up, is because someone in power handed it to them. Sure, they may have done well before but it’s not a guarantee of future performance. In fact, there are probably more examples of CEO’s doing bad jobs than there are of those doing terrific jobs. Especially given that most CEO’s didn’t build the business they are managing, they ‘inherited the corporate wealth’.
As far as I can tell it’s rather simple, and there are a few things that enable and facilitate people getting that big job:
- The person needs to be good at speaking, presenting & selling the future, not necessarily making it happen.
- The person needs to be smart, good at influencing others, but not necessarily a hard worker.
- The person needs to ‘look the part’ – seem like they belong. Present and dress well.
- The person needs to have seemingly ‘relevant experience’ in the same or a juxtaposed industry.
- The person needs to look good on paper, be a justifiable choice to the decision maker(s).
- The person needs someone to have had faith in them earlier in their career, promoting them to senior gigs before they look too old, or even when they looked surprisingly young – they need to be ‘picked’ and promoted. It makes them look more special or talented than the other people.
- The person needs to play a good internal game, this matters much more than their actual output.
- The person needs to not stick out as risk to the organisation, that way the decision makers wont be blamed if they turn out to be not so good.
Notice how none of these things actually guarantee the right person will get the job?
In fact, every job someone gets is based on the previous job someone else decided they deserve. Corporate climbers know this and leverage this through their entire career until they break through the glass barrier. They often then go on to earn millions for years to come trading themselves to various corporations, fooling the world that they are better, more qualified or more deserving to be in such positions. It’s just a game, but it’s not like football where the persons performance can be easily measured.
I’ve met plenty of great CEO’s (in fact the person I’m referencing at the start of this post, is the best I’ve ever met) and I’ve worked for plenty of duds too. So don’t ever let someone tell you that you are not ready, or qualified for anything. Remember that everyone who ever made that level didn’t get there because of how good they were, they got there because of how good people thought they might be, or who their friends were. An entrepreneur on the other hand, gets to where they deserve entirely on their own performance.
The large majority of work we do falls into one of two categories:
- We make things.
- We organise things.
As entrepreneurs we will do well to answer these two questions in response:
- Which one of these types work do we prefer?
- How can we help the parties doing the other part we don’t focus on?
Smart startup founders know that both matter, and both need each other.
One of the most inspiring Business coaches I listen to is the late Jim Rohn. While he comes from the old school of American Motivation, he does have some very sensible philosophies worth paying attention to. I usually listen to him while jogging. And the other I was doing just that when he said these 3 words. He went on to talk about why they were important, but by this time my mind was already wondering into my own interpretation of what they mean, why they matter and why they are actually in order. And here’s is what I think.
Philosophy: The first thing that has to change is how we view the world. We need to embrace of philosophy of self responsibility. The first thing that must change is our mind. But this on it’s own is not enough. How many smart people have you met who can talk a good game, but never do anything about it?
Attitude: It’s no point knowing about something valuable unless we truly believe it is possible, and that it is possible for us. I actually find the word attitude interesting as it is referred to in aviation. The attitude of an aircraft is its angle of flight, or orientation in reference to the ground. Basically, the direction it is headed… While flying, attitude is something which requires constant attention and maintenance.
Activity: It all means nothing if it is just mental. We’ve got to act on the two above factors, or we’ll just end up as another one of those people know the path, but never actually walk it.
It’s pretty disappointing when you come up with a great advertising idea, new website or app – only to be shown one just like it. To learn that it has been done already. It’s a bit deflating in fact.
Unless we purposely decide to flip it around.
What we ought do instead is a create a list of the ideas and projects we arrived just a little to late on.
The list should be called the: ‘Validation of Awesomeness‘ list.
On this list is all the things that you thought of or started independently, just not soon enough. In fact the longer this list gets the happier we should be. We should be happy if it is long, because it proves we are on track. It proves our brain is cranking, we are on the path to getting it right. And eventually, we’ll have a fresh idea that we can take to market and get our own share of awesomeness. It proves our creative prowess. The list tells us it is just a matter of time. In addition it just might gives us the confidence we need to get it to market quickly.
I’ve heard a lot of people call entrepreneurs ‘a genius‘. Usually when someone has achieved amazing success. The most recent call of ‘genius’ has been directed to Mark Zuckerberg – though some may refer to him as the evil genius. I to have been guilty of this affliction. I play the ‘genius card’, when I have envy over what someone else has achieved.
It’s a great card to play, because it infers luck. It infers that they have been born with unusual and exceptional skill. A lucky sperm! This genius birthright is then the result of their success. Not hard work, not embracing failure, not sleepless nights and hours down in the skunk works. The genius card in reality is our way of justifying our own lack of success, or more aptly – effort.
The challenge we must set ourselves is to stop using the genius excuse. Because we know deep down in our hearts, we are trying to marginalize others success so that we feel a little bit better about ourselves.
A retail analysts was telling me that many of his clients don’t want to know the truth about where their customers are going – the inevitable move on-line. He asked him why and he said that many of them can’t face the truth, because it hurts too much.
Another truth is that it ends up hurting more the longer you ignore it.
I heard a great little story today about how to overcome barriers when pitching business, changing minds or influencing in general.
Changing worldviews is hard, often impossible. But there are two possible routes we can take when trying:
Route (A) We can try and change peoples view on a topic- change the unchangeable.
Route (B) We can change the currency. - This route is invariably more successful because it re-directs peoples perspective.
Car sales people do it all the time. Once the negotiation is close to reaching a stale mate on price, they then bring in the optional extras: Items removed from price. Although they do have a value, it changes the view point of the negotiation. It’s a change in currency. And the discussions can progress to a close.
When trying to reach an agreement, or change a mindset, we need to re-invent the currency of what is being discussed.
Some one said these words to me the other day:
“It’s easy for you. You are confident being in front of people and speaking in public…”
I thought for a second and then told him the truth about confidence. Which isn’t verbatim, but it went something like this.
Confidence isn’t something people are born with. In fact, it doesn’t really exist. Confident people are those who are prepared to make themselves ‘uncomfortable’. People who are prepared to risk pain and or embarrassment to get something done. They embrace the risk of failure and get so used to failure, that people believe it comes easily for them. They assume it is ‘confidence’. But it’s just that these people accept the tension of being uncomfortable, as well as the potential for failure. And this is the truth about being confident.
We all want to be irreplaceable. In an organisational context we worry about how needed we really are. It’s an omnipresent reality in a world of agricultural mastery and excess capacity. This is true for white collar desk jockeys, CEO’s and entrepreneurs alike. The more they need us, the safer and happier we feel. The truth is that everyone of us is replaceable. Even Steve Jobs. And the ultimate proof of this is human death. It happens, and we continue on with whatever it was we were doing.
I heard a good way to conceptualize on how ‘replaceable’ we are recently. The idea is that all of us can be replaced, and that the key question was how ‘inconvenient’ our loss would be to the cohort we belonged to. Where are we on the ‘inconvenience scale’ if we need to be replaced?Are we very high like Steve Jobs, or are we very low like a supermarket cashier? The more inconvenient it is, the more utility we are providing. It’s also quite likely that we have greater power of choice in actually placing ourselves elsewhere. One mistake we often make is equating how much we earn, with where we sit on this scale. Higher pay does not necessarily make us less replaceable, it often means the opposite. The real questions in understanding where we are on the scale are these:
- How important is what I do to the people who pay me to do it?
- Will the people who pay me lose money (or systems break) if I’m no longer there to do it?
- How many other people can do what I do?
- Will the other people who can do it, do it for the same price or a lower price than me?
- Are these others easy to get?
If we answer these questions honestly we can get a fair assessment of the value we are creating, for our own business or one we work for. Everything we do in a given week doesn’t have to matter. It may just be that thing you do for 1 hour per week that no one else can. And the thing that we should be working on, is that one thing that only we can do. The stuff we are already great at, not our weaknesses. If we invest time working our our weaknesses, we simply make ourselves ‘more average’ and in turn we fall down the inconvenience scale.
The best way to be be high in the ‘inconvenience scale’ is to become a close to the money expert. By doing this, our potential loss becomes far more inconvenient.