31 March 2020
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Make sure you hang out with legends

When I embarked on writing about outstanding businesses and entrepreneurs in the early 1990s for Australian Small Business magazine and then The Australian newspaper, I didn’t fully understand how beneficial ultimately it would be for me and my own desires to build a successful business.

Apart from building an affinity with hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of businesses and their owners out there over nearly three decades, which nowadays continues through our online business coaching website www.growyourbusiness.com.au, I’ve been changed/educated for the better. You’d have to be thick as a brick not to have learnt something from the great business builders like Aussie’s John Symond, Wizards’s Mark Bouris, Boost’s Janine Allis, Richard Branson, GE’s Jack Welch, Gai Waterhouse and Gerry Harvey.

Apart from being gobsmacked at the mountainous achievement of these visionary, high achievers, when you hang out with them, on top of that you can’t help to be educated or given a competitive advantage by simply listening to them.

Of course, I was lucky as my media reputation opened doors that I stepped through to get to know them but I had to be insistent and had to push them to give me the info and insights that I knew I wanted and my followers in the media wanted me to get for them.

One of the great lessons I learnt that helps those out there who would love to have tread the path I was lucky to go down, was given to me by Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, one of the best business-building books of all time. Jim said he created a virtual board of advisors made up of the biggest names in US business and he did it by reading their books and imagining what they would say when he had questions he would have loved to pose to real mentors/advisers.

It’s not the same as having these people helping you but it’s the next best thing and I was thinking of that advice as I read Tim Ferris’s book over the Christmas break called Tribe of Mentors.

Let me share with you some of the competitive edge pieces of advice from some of the legends of global business.

Andrew Ross Sorkin is an odd business beast as he is a New York Times columnist, is a co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box, wrote the GFC best-seller Too Big To Fail, which was turned into a film which was nominated for 11 Emmys and was a co-creator of the Stan TV series Billions.

This is an exceptional 41-year old and his grasp on the relevant was best shown by a few of his answers to Tim’s questions.

Q. If you could have a gigantic billboard…what would it say?

A. “Things are never as good or as bad as they seem.” This shows he’s learnt healthy scepticism from journalism and being a glass half full guy by being in business for yourself.

Q. What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student?

A. Persistence matters more than talent. The student with straight A’s is irrelevant if the student sitting next to him with B’s has more passion.

And I loved this.

Q. When you feel overwhelmed or unfocussed, what do you do?

A. …I remember a great exchange in the film Bridge of Spies. Tom Hanks, who plays a lawyer, asks his client, who is being accused of being a spy, “Aren’t you worried?” His answer: “Would it help?” I always think, “Would it help?” That is the pivotal question that I ask myself every day. If you put everything through that prism, it is a remarkably effective way to cut through the clutter.”

Arianna Huffington showed the world how an innovative woman could use the Internet to create a media company that could attract more eyes that some of the biggest media brand names in the world!

She launched The Huffington Post in 2005 and in 2012 won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. Her take below on dealing with failure was memorable.

Q. How has failure, or apparent failure, set you up for success?

Arianna talked about a series of small failures when her second book was rejected by 37 publishers! Depressed but hopeful she went into a Barclays Bank in London, near where she lived and asked the bank manager, Ian Bell, for a loan to make ends meet.  He said yes and not long after the book was published. Arianna said “I still send Ian Bell a holiday card every year. My mother taught me that failure is not the opposite of success but a stepping stone to success.”

Q. To Ferris’ billboard question again.

A. I’d have to say that, burnout is not the price you have to pay for success.

Like many of the successful people I deal with, Arianna thanks learning about meditation as being important in her overall approach to being successful.

If you don’t know Tom Peters and you want to be a success in business, either as an entrepreneur or as an executive, then you’ve been reading the wrong stuff. Some of the biggest businesses in the world use Peters as a sounding board, executive coach or as facilitator for creating visionary business plans. He is a legend of the US and global business speaking fraternity. His book In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Businesses has been hailed as “the best business book ever” in very respected circles.

He is a big reader and lover of books and says his competitive advantage has come from being open to learning from others! The theme of my story today, if you haven’t noticed!

Q. What is the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?

A. I’d like to think I spent a couple of decades a half step ahead of the pack. But about four years ago, I felt I couldn’t even see the tail end of the pack because I was so far behind. So I took a de facto one-year sabbatical and …READ and READ and READ some more. When it comes to tech change, where I felt out of it, I think I can now effectively deal with its implications with some degree of confidence.”

That’s guts when a business guru can admit he had to ‘go back to school’ to catch up but isn’t it an inspiration?

Q. What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

A. They say: “Think big! Have a compelling vision!” I say: Think small. Do something super cool by the end of the day! I write about excellence. Most see excellence as some grand aspiration, Wrong. Dead wrong. My two cents: Excellence is the next five minutes or nothing at all. It’s the quality of your next five-minute conversation. It’s the quality of, yes, your next email. Forget the long-term. Make the next five minutes rock!”

Peters is unusual but he has a healthy respect for introverts who do more thinking than talking. He likes the person who pauses and thinks and he has a unique habit, which I guess he reserves for people he wants to help.

“I love giving books away! I bet, crazy as it may sound, I’ve given away a minimum of 25 to 50 books of each of these books,” he told Tim, referring to a list of recent publications that had excited him.

I think I will rest my case on the competitive advantage from learning from legends.

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