Distilling how to get an edge in business

October 5, 2011

The World Business Forum brings over 5000 business leaders together to hear from thought leaders and luminaries. Some of the big themes across many of the speakers are: people (not companies) leading innovation, digging deeper and looking outside of our own view of the world. As conductor and author Ben Zander said, it’s not about motivational speeches, but looking for transformations that can stay with you the rest of your life. Here are a few quotes and thoughts from Day 1:

Entrepreneur and NBA owner Mark Cuban talked about how there are inefficiencies in the marketplace; if you can give yourself an edge in knowledge or out hustle people, you can succeed. Real estate mogul, Barbara Corcoran said that the first thing that she looks for in hiring is passion, which can not be taught. Bill George (former CEO of Medtronic and author) said that most people only give 30% effort in what they do; only delivering what they are told to do since they are not engaged and working on things that excite themselves. George also said that the size of an organization is inversely proportionate to the propensity to take risk. 21st century leadership isn’t about titles, but rather helping people find the sweet spots where strengths and passions can connect.

 

Photo by PhotographybyDov.com

Malcolm Gladwell said that taking risks is at the core of leadership; need people to innovate and be creative. The problem he points out is that as humans, we are hardwired to seek the approval of our peers. It is much easier to take massive operational risks but not social risk. We see this in teenagers and it was a major component of the recent failures on Wall Street. Leaders can withstand the ridicule of peers. [BTW - Gladwell is working on a new book, he discussed it with a small group of attendees and Dan Rockwell captured some good notes]

There were similar themes at the BIF-7 conference last month. Whitney Johnson, co-founder of Clay Christensen’s investment firm and writer for Harvard Business Review called on people to disrupt themselves. She told her story of the challenges that she faced leaving a Wall Street analyst firm to go to a start-up focused on disruptive innovations. She summed lessons from her personal path to disruption:

  1. If it feels scary and lonely, you are probably on the right track
  2. Be assured that you have no idea what will come next
  3. Throw out the performance metrics you’ve always relied on
  4. Your odds of success will improve when you pursue a disruptive course; targeting a new market vs existing will deliver 6x more success and 20x greater revenue
Process and creativity/innovation are opposing forces at companies. Companies need to create spaces for people to try, fail and iterate.

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