6 April 2020
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I've been taught a success lesson by Airbnb!

I’ve been reminded of what most human beings need to get the best out of themselves, and the lesson came from an unusual source — Airbnb!

Regular readers of my scribblings know I’ve always protested that these new age digitally disrupting businesses have really got away with blue murder and put local rivals at an unfair disadvantage.

You know Uber drivers don’t have the same cost imposts of local taxi drivers, and the mother ship company doesn’t have the same obligations of taxi businesses here.

Airbnb’s cost structure, compared to a hotel or any other conventional hospitality business, which pays award wages, takes out insurance and has other mandated costs, gives this digital disruptor an enormous advantage.

Amazon has killed its opponents by not pricing for profit but for market share and eventually the destruction of its business ‘enemies’.

Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, is apparently in the anti-Trump camp, politically and probably socially, but his business practices really make him a Trump acolyte.

Donald once said the world is made up of “victims and predators and I’m not a victim!”. In business, Jeff is not a victim and he really looks like a predator of Terminator proportions.

And to channel Jerry Seinfeld, what’s the deal with all those wacky bike businesses that we see in our cities? Even our suburbs are littered with abandoned bikes. These not only make the footpaths hazardous but they look damn ugly.

I reckon every café owner who has fought Council to give us what we wanted — tables and chairs on footpaths like Paris and Rome — and have either been given a “No” or charged an arm and a leg for the privilege, would be asking “how come these digitally disrupting bike pushers are getting away with highway robbery?”

So that’s my beef with the disruptors but that’s not to say that they’re all bad.

Uber has certainly made the taxi business lift its game, which it certainly needed to do. The bike brigade is a plus for tourism, the environment and good health. And Amazon and Airbnb have made retailers and the hospitality industry treat us better. And we’re getting charged less to be treated better!

That said, I think the slow rise in wages is partly explained by the fact that retailers have to compete with online rivals with a lot less costs.

And some aren’t even paying the right tax! I think that argument is just another reason for my refusal to jump on the ‘love boat’ of modern people who think digital disruption is, and I quote, “cooool”.

But I digress. The central point of this weekend revelation is that Airbnb reminded me of an important lesson.

A friend of mine has listed her cute country property on Airbnb and has received some really great patronage, with many guests actually cleaning up before they leave. One lady even apologised for not cleaning the bathroom floor!

Apart from her being an excellent human being, I’ve pondered why my friend’s Airbnb guests are so considerate, when, after all, they stay and they pay, so why do they assume the role of cleaner?

Reflecting on my own habits as a hotel guest, I don’t give a toss about how I leave the room or the bathroom.

I suspect as hotel guests we are churn and burn types because apart from the credit card relationship, we’re not reviewed. Well, I presume I’m not reviewed!

In contrast, Airbnb not only gets reviews on the provider of the accommodation but also on the user of the service. I reckon this objective assessment, from both parties, brings with it a different attitude and behaviour.

Imagine a world where we were continually being reviewed — sure it would be intrusive living in a big brother or sister world but I suspect we’d lift our game in so many areas.

My years of hanging out with some of the most successful people in business, sport, academia and even the media, has taught me about the power of mentors and coaches.

Jim Collins penned one of the best business books ever written, with the unforgettable title of Good to Great. Collins has looked at some of the most brilliant businesses on the planet and tried to work out why they were so damn good, no, I mean great.

The number one reason for business success was leadership and it was an enduring theme in all his case studies.

In a lecture of his that I attended, he made the point that when he was young, he even ‘adopted’ mentors via reading books, and effectively created a board of advisers from the legends of business, but they never knew they were on his board!

That said, he did have real mentors like Peter Drucker, who asked him if he wanted to build ideas or an organisation? Jim said “ideas” and Peter replied: “Then don't build an organisation.” Drucker was actually saying that organisations can actually stifle ideas.

One other mentor was asked: “When do I know it’s time for a change?” And the reply was “When you start asking the question.”

Another one recommended that “rather than being interesting, be interested.”

Here’s another pearl of wisdom from one of his mentors, who asked if he had a terminal illness or a phone call that told him he would be independently wealthy forever, would he change his current life?

If the answer is basically no, then you have constructed a good life, Collins explained. But he adds you should be asking this question regularly to make sure you aren’t wasting your precious time.

Another mentor told him that it’s better to have a life not full of transactions but one based on building relationships. And that works just as well in business as it does in life.

One of my media mentors in my early days advised me not to burn bridges with anyone because you never know where some nincompoop will turn up in a position of management and might have a lot of sway on a contract you might be pitching for.

The value of a mentor is not just the great guidance that comes from experience but also the objective criticisms that make you confront what’s wrong and what needs to change.

If you wanted to improve your tennis game, you would go to a coach. If you wanted to lose weight after failing so many times, wouldn’t you go to a very wise dietician, who would help/coerce you into changing your eating habits?

I’ve said before I was lucky that my wife used to look at me like the way a Labrador eyes off a sausage at a barbecue. She not only told me what was wrong with me, but how I could fix myself up! I think it worked!

It’s why I argue that behind every successful man there is a very surprised woman!

That said, my competitive edge has always been that I wasn’t too pigheaded to accept good advice and objective criticism.

The legendary poet, William Blake, effectively observed that “without controversy there is no progress”. Just as Airbnb feedback from guests and from hosts ultimately brings out the best possible hospitality experience, if you want to build a great business, team, family, career or relationships, you should look around for people who can tell you something that you don’t know that could really be good for you. It might hurt a bit to hear things that you’d rather not hear but with the pain comes the gain.

A mentor or a minder, as the old UK television program’s theme song called Minder went: “I could be so good for you…”.

That’s what we all need — someone who could be good for us, even if it means tough love, and objective criticisms.

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