Talent and Innovation

Everyone says they want to innovate. Every company talks innovation. We’re now seeing innovation as a core value for many companies. But are they really innovating?

Innovation is about talent. In the absence of talent there can’t be innovation. The first step to innovation is recognizing the two types of talent required to be innovative.

The first type of talent required to innovate is visionary talent. This is the talent, skill, or competency to see things others cannot see, or are unwilling to accept. Visionary talent is often related to first-movers. Many of the products and services we use on a daily basis started first with a vision. A mobile phone, a smart watch, wireless headphones (or ear buds), technology in the cloud versus a mainframe. These inventions, or innovations, required visionary talent. How do you spot visionary talent? Individuals that possess an insatiable appetite for learning, dreaming, and pondering not what is, but what could be.

The second type of talent required for true innovation is technical talent. This is the talent that is required to bring the vision to life. Think of Steve Wozniak to Steve Jobs. Technical talent tied to visionary talent. Or Charlie Munger to Warren Buffett. Technical talent is what enables our ability to bring dreams into our daily reality.

In 1899, Charles Duell, then Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, said, “Everything that can be invented, has already been invented.” While I personally don’t believe this to be true, let’s for a moment assume it is. If this were to be true, then arguably technical talent would be far more valuable than visionary talent. Why? Because the focus would be on incremental improvements of things that already exist. However, this raises a thought provoking question. What’s invention versus innovation.

In 1849, Italian inventor Antonio Meucci, invented the telephone. It wasn’t until 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell won the first U.S. patent for the device. Fast forward to 1973 when the first phone call was made on a Motorola mobile phone. Was the mobile phone an invention or simply an improvement on something already invented? Remember, it was 50 years after the phone was invented that Duell said everything that could be invented already had been invented.

Regardless, visionary talent and technical talent combined are required to innovate. Combining the creator of dreams with the builder of those dreams allows us to improve our lives in meaningful ways.

What’s your talent pool like? Who are your visionaries and who are your techies? How often do you review your organization for these two types of talent? Your answers to these questions will be the proof point for whether you are building and living an innovation culture.

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Type A Personalities – 3 ways to confront anxiety

Worker thinks solution of his problems

Hard charging, Type A personalities, often struggle with taming their fear of failure.  Most would agree that fear, when kept in check and under control, is an emotion that can both protect and propel us.  Understanding the cause of the fear you’re experiencing is the first step to developing a plan to calm it, contain it, control it.

Anxiety is the result, or symptom, of fear. If I fear I won’t be able to hit the ball, anxiety causes me to dread my up-at-bat.  If I fear I will fail my statistics class, then anxiety will kick in and cause me to block any learning that will ultimately help me pass the class. If I fear I will miss my monthly sales number, my anxiety will cause me to go into rapid-fire mode doing as many things as I can simply to create the appearance that I’m working hard.

Anxiety perpetuates fear, creates the stress, and force, strong enough to shut you down.  Dealing with anxiety is critical to successfully navigating change, taking risk, and managing failure.  Here are 3 ways to keep your anxiety in check:

  1. Ask the question “why not me?” When we think we will fail it is because we don’t feel competent, smart enough, savvy enough, or insightful enough to win.  Why not? Rather than thinking about the failure, replace that thought with the question why not me.  I’m smart, why not me?  I’m intelligent, why not me?  I’ve accomplished a number of great things, why not me?
  2. Turn anxiety into excitement. Replace, what if I fail, with what will I learn? Replace what if this doesn’t last, with how much better will I be no matter how long this lasts?  What will I have experienced that will make me more valuable, more fulfilled?
  3. Breath. The power of 10 minutes of just breathing is quite powerful.  Call it meditation, self-reflection, self-empowerment, or self-love, whatever you call it the purpose of this 10 minutes is to rebalance your inner self.  To bring calm to any internal bubbling that’s taking place.  There are thousands of books on this subject, apps for your smartphone, and calming music for your ears.  Get one, or some, but act now to calm the storm from building.

12 Things Great Leaders Do Daily

McChrystal

By definition a leader is a person who leads or commands a group – at least that’s what Professor Google says.  My definition is a bit different.  Who wants to be commanded?  Sure there are times, situations, and circumstances when being in command is required.  Directing, ordering, and controlling are verbs that often come to mind when we think of leaders.

Just about anyone can be taught to do these things.  Just about anyone can dish orders, direct others, and attempt to control.  Many “leaders” regardless of training can do this for some period of time before being discovered as ineffective.  Great leaders however, take a different approach.  These leaders must do all the directing, ordering, and controlling as previously mentioned but it’s how they accomplish these things that set them apart.

Great leaders are great because they:

  1. Understand how to empathize
  2. Effectively communicate their vision
  3. Ask great questions, deep questions that provide insight
  4. Act in their own authentic way, not trying to be someone else
  5. Adopt a beginners attitude
  6. Surround themselves with people smarter than they are
  7. Spend time on self-reflection, how they operate and the result produced
  8. Network and connect with others to learn
  9. Ask for, and accept help when needed
  10. Lean on mentor(s) for coaching and perspective
  11. Roll up their sleeves, never asking others to do something they haven’t or wouldn’t do themselves
  12. Inspire others through their words, actions, and behaviors

So start today with some self-reflection.  What are you doing?  What do you spend most of your time on?  How do you interact with those around you?  What’s the reaction of others when you walk in a room, speak during a meeting, engage with others in a break-room?  Consider this list and strive to embrace each one in a genuine way and you’ll find your results improve in a timely manner.

Why Your Role as Sales Leader Isn’t to Motivate

MOTIVATION word cloud, business concept

Many people think “cheerleader” when they envision an effective sales leader.  Someone who gets the team fired up, screams and shouts, and sets everyone on a rah-rah march into the field to meet prospects.

The sales leader is expected to be a high-powered extrovert, charismatic, outspoken, aggressive, and perhaps even a bit shocking.  We have all worked for sales leaders that possess these characteristics and shall I dare say, some other, more wild ones to say the least.

Early in my career I worked for such a sales leader.  He’d stand on a chair or a table during sales meetings screaming at the top of his lungs, face beet red.  The hair on the back of your neck would stand on end.  You were pumped.  There was nothing you couldn’t do.  But when he finished his super-charged motivational speech, the result felt more like a tirade than an inspiration.  There’s an enormous distance between rallying a group with fear versus inspiration.

So what is the sales leaders responsibility as it relates to motivating a sales team?

Are you ready for the answer?  None.  You have no responsibility to motivate your team.  Each sales person on your team is responsible for motivating him, or herself.  So what is your job as the sales leader?  Provide vision and inspiration.

People want to follow a leader who demonstrates the confidence that he knows where he’s going, how he’s going to get there, and why getting there is so important and beneficial.  I’ve built a number of sales teams over the years.  I have worked hard to be an inspiration – doing this provides your team members with the “why” should they do what you’re asking them to do.  Inspiration transcends motivation.  You can motivate for an hour or a day but motivation is time constrained.  It lasts only as long as the instigator – you – are on duty.  But to inspire, creates a fire, that burns deep into desire.  The greater the fire you build the more insatiable the desire is to achieve the goals you’ve set – whether you’re around or not.

Your job is to find out what drives your team.  Is it money?  Is it recognition?  Is it invention or innovation?  Is it client engagement scores?  Once you know what drives each person on the team you will be able to create your inspiration roadmap.  That roadmap will provide a clear picture to:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. Why are we going there?
  3. What’s in it for us?
  4. What will we feel once we’ve arrived there?

Most organizations fail due to a lack of clarity around the vision. You’ve got to assemble a team that WANTS to a be a part of your vision.  Trying to convince someone they will be happy going to Buffalo in the winter probably won’t sell.  You can expend all your energy convincing or you can set out to find those who are interested or intrigued with going to Buffalo.  It’s the Good to Great philosophy of getting the right people on the bus and the right butts in the right seat.

Lead by example.  Walk the talk.  Model the behaviors.  Do these things and you’ll increase your ability to inspire your followers to achieve remarkable results.

Why Generosity?

generosity

Lately I’ve been paying more attention to the actions, words, and behaviors of the business world.  Observing acts of kindness and generosity. Watching folks give their time, talent, ideas and coaching to others.  Providing insights and perspectives that make a positive impact in someone’s life.

The world of business can be difficult at times.  It may even be difficult most times.  We live in a hyper competitive environment where the rule of thumb has always been to outshine those around you.  If I can just outperform, over deliver, sell the most, build the coolest this-or-that, I’ll be vaulted to the top. That was then…

Today, the there’s another way to shine, be seen, rise to the top, and excel.  It’s a paradigm shift, and perhaps a shift some either don’t believe in or feel is too soft.  That shift revolves around being generous.

Generosity isn’t a weakness.  It’s not about being soft.  Being generous demonstrates the ultimate control.  You’re in control of your choices, actions and decisions.  You choose where to spend your time and where not to spend it.  Generosity is about both quality and quantity…the two MUST be tied together to be a generous act.  Giving someone a mountain of feedback without any guidance or coaching as to how they might use that feedback isn’t being generous.  It’s also not showing great leadership either but that’s for a different day.  Generosity comes from being “genuinely” concerned for another.

Think of those who have helped you in life and your career.  Can you think of someone who helped you for no reason at all?  Perhaps someone who took an interest in you and at the time you couldn’t understand why?  It appeared then that they would have had nothing to gain by helping you but they did anyway…willingly giving their time and attention to you.

Can you think of a person like that?  I can.  Several.  And without exception, every one of them is super successful with reputations as strong leaders, mentors, confidants, and friends. They’ve filled their buckets by helping those around them and by doing so their successes multiplied.  We all know that one person at work who everyone loves.  They never have a bad word to say about anyone.  They are trusted by everyone and intimidated by no one. Without seeking power, they’ve acquired it through their generosity.  They use that power to help others, foster relationships, calm storms, and generate new ideas.

Think about how generous you are.  It’s not about money…it’s far more than that.  It’s about giving something much more valuable than money. It’s about giving some of yourself to others. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want the world to see.” Start small and see the difference it makes.

Sell Me This Pen. The Interview Question All Sales People Should Expect.

picture-of-quill-pen-ink-pot

Sell me this pen.  Pitch me as you would a prospect.  How would you sell our product if I was a buyer? Sound familiar? These questions, and more like them, are asked in most sales interviews. But should they be? If you’re the candidate being interviewed should you take the bait and answer? Or is there another way to respond that better showcases your critical thinking skills?

This question poses significant risk to the candidate.  Sure, you may have a perfect reply and wow the interviewer, however, there’s also a chance this question is a trap. Answer it and you could be perceived incorrectly.  Don’t answer it and you risk rubbing the interviewer the wrong way.  The problem with this question is that it doesn’t provide you, the candidate, with enough information to form an intelligent response.  You know nothing about the pen, and even less about the buyer.  Many companies sell pens, payroll, financial services, insurance, consumer products, accounting services, etc., but not all their buyers are attracted to that company for the same reason.  Every buyer is on his or her own journey.  Without understanding the motivations and behaviors of a specific buyer, your best response provides nothing but entertainment value for the interviewer. So how can you reply in a way that demonstrates intelligence and thoughtfulness rather than appearing aloof?

If you’re the candidate being interviewed I propose a different reaction to this question.  Instead of answering I would look at the person interviewing me and say, “Before I can sell you anything I need to understand your needs as a buyer. What’s important to you and why? Have you made purchases like this before? What happened?”. Turn the “sell me the pen” question into a dialogue to learn about your buyer.

Taking the bait and trying to sell the pen is risky.  Is it a Bic pen?  A Cross? A Mont Blanc? Or is it a new digital smart pen? A buyer who needs a pen to write down a quick grocery list has different buying needs than a buyer who attends a Board meeting and needs to record in detail everything that takes place in that meeting.  One buyer may need something simple, quick, cheap.  Another buyer may need something more sophisticated and advanced. Do you know what kind of pen it is?  Do you know the buyer?

For those conducting the interview I’d suggest asking a different question.  I understand the insight you’re attempting to gain by asking this question.  I’ve built many sales teams from the ground up and never asked this question.  Instead, I ask the candidate to tell me how they would educate themselves on the product we sell and the buyers who purchase it. Asking this question provides insight into the candidates critical thinking skills versus pure stage performance.  In some cases you may be selling a commodity where critical thinking skills are less important.  However, if that’s your belief I’d challenge it. Commodities can only go so far. At some point you will need a value differentiator to grow your business, and that differentiator won’t be found or identified by a performer.  It will be identified by someone whose interactions with your buyers are thoughtful and curious.

As buyers become more educated, knowledgeable, and aware of other options, an employers goal should be to fill their business with thinkers, while a modern sales professional should be focused on working for a company that demonstrates its commitment to understanding the customer and aligning value to the need.  Strong critical thinking skills will be essential as we continue our progress to a knowledge based society.

So will you take the bait and answer the question?

Preparing to Fail is the First Step to Winning

Failure

Some of the most important lessons we learn in life are from our failures.  They serve as proof that we are trying new things, pushing new boundaries, and welcoming the unknown.  John Maxwell, the famous inspirational author, says the quality that distinguishes someone successful from one who is unsuccessful is his “capacity to manage disappointment and loss.” He goes on to say that while we all want to succeed, we should instead train for losses.

From our earliest days as children we learn to accept failure.  We fall while trying to learn how to walk, or ride a bike.  We don’t make the team we try out for, or we do make the team but as second string.  We get accepted by 4 of the 5 colleges we apply to, but that one declination stings.  Failure is everywhere.

Imagine if the world’s greatest inventors refused to fail.  Everything from the light bulb, to air travel, from the television, to the computer would be at risk.  When Thomas Edison was asked about how many times he tried for the light bulb and failed he said, “I didn’t have 1,000 failures.  It simply took 1,000 steps to make the light bulb.” Talk about an optimists attitude.

Our challenge is to rid our mind of the negative stigma associated with failure.  Human beings by nature are curious creatures.  Asking “why” leads to testing new thoughts, ideas, ways of doing things.  In the absence of curiosity we would have never discovered new lands, new civilizations, new technologies, or new medicines to treat and cure disease.  So why is it that people run from failure?

I would submit that some people believe failure shows weakness.  If you knew…you wouldn’t have failed.  Talk about an absurd viewpoint.  The famous management expert, Peter Drucker, said, “I would never promote a person into a high-level job who was not making mistakes…Otherwise he is sure to be mediocre.” Many organizations reward status-quo.  Companies that find themselves on a winning streak become complacent.  Their leadership sits back to relax and enjoy victory.  The problem is, that while you’re sitting back complimenting yourself for being so brilliant, your competition is working feverishly to disrupt your success and pass you by.  It happens every day.

So shift your thinking from having to be an expert at everything to one of a beginner…a learner.  When you’re in a learning mode your mind is open to everything that’s possible.  When you’ve decided you are an expert your subconscious shuts down your critical thinking skills creating tunnel vision.  So open your eyes, let your mind wander, and begin to think of new ways to do things.  As John Maxwell said, “Mistakes are acceptable as long as the damage isn’t too great. It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill as long as you don’t lose your cow!”

Embrace your failures…with each one you’re learning, growing, and becoming better at whatever you’re doing.