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Every Great Leader Is An Inventor

The Inventor’s Hat

Whether you’re the CEO or an entrepreneur, one thing is always clear. You’ve got a lot of hats to wear. Out of all those hats, there’s one that defines the core of what leadership really is.

That’s right, you’re an inventor.

As an inventor you craft a vision, and then you make it happen. You might be doing all the heavy lifting yourself or you might be directing the execution of your vision. But that’s just a matter of scale.

The reason that a leader has to be an inventor is because it’s your job to define what it is you do as a company and how you do it. You’re writing the playbook. You’re mixing the formula.

Inventing Is In The ‘How’ You Do It

Whether you’re reacting to find a solution to a problem, or taking action to venture into new territory; what makes it unique, is how you do it. Anything you can do can always be done better. How much better, depends on how inventive you get.

Innovation is the key. Innovation is what differentiates you in the market. It’s not the fact that you cut costs, raised income or brought in new revenue streams that’s important. That’s business 101. It’s how you did it. And that, is vision.

That’s inventing.

Sure. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel. To build a good solid business, all you have to do is follow the “best practices” of business, right? Yes. And that’s leadership. Nothing wrong with it. But vision. Inventing. That’s not just leadership, it’s great leadership.

What Great Inventing Achieves

There are 2 things you want to acheive when you put your inventing hat on:

  1. Solve fundamental problems. There are a lot of short-term bandaid solutions to problems that become long term crutches. This happens when you treat the symptom of the problem instead of finding a cure for the actual problem. Great inventing gets to the root of a problem and solves it without creating new problems.
  2. Change the way the people do things. And for the better. You’re making the act of doing something better, faster, smarter, easier, cooler. The results of great inventing are best described with words that end in “er”.

The thing is, when you’re not inventing, you’re following what someone else already invented. And you get what they got out of it. No more, no less.

Inventing is your best chance to create zoom. To get more out of something. To take it further, faster. And create amazing solutions that change the way people do things. It takes creativity. It takes vision.

But hey, somebody has to invent this stuff.

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The Way Forward Is To Frame Forward

Framing

There’s something terribly wrong with your business, your flagship product, and your team.

I know this, because nothing is perfect.

But no one wants to buy a barrel of rotten apples. And your barrel is no different than anyone elses. It’s really not. The only thing that’s different between barrels is how people see them. It’s perspective. And the people that sell a lot of apples. They have a great perspective.

They create imperative. They create a frame, and inside that frame everything is good. It’s where everyone wants to be. It’s where everyone needs to be. The frame is always open to new opportunity.

Building A Frame That Takes Your Company Forward

To create a positive frame that moves you forward, you have to tell a story. The story is already there. You just need to find it. And the way you find it builds a case for moving forward. The way you find it teaches you to believe that you can move forward. There are 3 steps to building your story frame:

1. Values

The values equal the impact of the results. The values relate a common belief that everyone can understand. “Pollution control is good for our environment”. That’s a value. It opens our story with something that everyone can relate to and the conclusions are natural ones.

2. Context

Through the context, you create the percieved results. The context is the situation at hand. “Coal fired powerplants are putting millions of tons of pollution into the air we breathe everyday”. It’s what’s happening. It’s the context of our story.

3. Issues

The issues are our deliverables. They’re the actual results. The core issue is what your story is here to achieve and it defines a specific course of action. “Our wind power generators are pollution free”.

How Positive Framing Is Used By Successful Leaders and Salespeople

You can see by the frame I created that it’s a good solid frame. It makes sense. OUTSIDE of the frame, windmills have some negative attributes. Like everything else, they’re not perfect. They’re expensive, they require specific windy locations, they’re a hazard to birds.

Inside the frame are the positives. INSIDE the frame, we can understand with great clarity that this needs to go forward. That it should and that it can.

Framing gets a bad rap because politicians tend to abuse it. But it’s purpose is:

  • To see problems as an opportunity to create innovative solutions.
  • To run towards something good, rather than away from something bad.
  • To open the door to new opportunities.

With positive framing you can separate yourself from the competition. Motivate your people. And you can see that even though your flagship product isn’t perfect, it’s more perfect than not.

It gives you a way forward.

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Turning Deja Vu Into An Opportunity For Change

Deja Vu

Easy to say. Difficult to do.

The other night I watched Tony Scott’s Sci Fi thriller, Deja Vu, starring Denzel Washington. It got me thinking because in it, they have a fictional wormhole viewer that allows them to see backwards in time exactly 4 1/2 days.

The premise is that they’re using this viewer to solve a crime after it’s already happened by watching the events leading up to it as they unfold. The kicker, is that this gives them the opportunity to change what happened. Maybe.

Every Business Has Its Deja Vu Moments

We’ve all seen them. They’re the “Uh oh, this is gonna go bad” moments. We’re presented with a situation, and somehow, we know we’ve seen this before. We recognize them for a number of reasons:

  • Experience. Been there, done that. It blew up last time. It’s going to blow up this time.
  • Objectivity. If you’re not the one responsible for executing “the right way”, then it’s easy to say, hey this is the right way. For the person that has to execute it the right way; if they can’t, it’s easier to just do it the wrong way. It’s easier to do what you know. No matter how wrong it is.

So it comes down to having the right people. Because either, you’re not sure how to do it right, or you have someone who knows, but doesn’t know how to make it happen. Even more importantly, it comes down to recognizing a deja vu moment so we can change an otherwise inevitable outcome.

Making The Opportunity To Do It Right

I firmly believe that, as a leader, you don’t always have to have the best idea. But you do have to recognize the best idea. The only way to seize the opportunity when something doesn’t feel right, is to stop and recognize the deja vu moment when it occurs.

Don’t slough it off. Don’t let it pass by unrecognized. And know that you’re going to need help.

By their very nature, these moments slip by us because we kind of feel that something is wrong. We’re just not sure what. Or why. Or how to define it. And mostly, we don’t know how to fix it.

You might need help from the resident guru in your team. You might need to hire some big guns from outside your company that have the experience and can show you exactly how to do it right. It’s a hard sell to say “Hey, there’s something wrong. But I don’t know what it is. Or how to fix it”. Investigate it anyway. Talk to people. Get input.

Hindsight is 20/20. It’s easy to figure out what went wrong after it happens. Deja vu offers us a huge opportunity because it’s 20/20 foresight.

Well, maybe not quite 20/20.

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Chess Strategy For Business

Chess Strategy

If you’re not too familiar with chess, not to worry. Read on.

Chess has a long history. It’s been around for at least a thousand years in its current form. And for good reason. It’s been teaching Kings, Queens, Emperors and other power brokers about strategy since its inception.

It’s also a game that’s full of rich symbolism. Castles, Knights, Bishops, Pawns; every piece takes us back to thoughts of ‘the days of old’. I’m going to attach some symbolism to some of the pieces to get you thinking about how to approach a problem, and then I’m going to show you some of the key strategies that chess teaches.

These are all things that are applied by successful companies today.

Attacking A Problem, Piece By Piece

The Rook. Or castle, moves straight ahead, back, or side to side. It’s a forceful piece. Think of it as military power. In business, think of it as size and strength. The Rook is a great defensive piece. It’s not fearful, and offensively it can sweep in quickly and own a section of the board. Or a slice of the market, since we’re talking about business.

The Knight. Even today, if you own horses, it’s a good sign that you have money. A thousand years ago, having a stable full of horses meant great wealth. The Knight, or horse, is financial power. The knight moves in an L-shaped pattern and can jump over other pieces. It’s most effective in the center of the board. If you can drop a load of cash into the middle of a situation, you can have a say in what happens. Of course, with Knights and cash, you need to have a sound exit strategy, or you could lose them.

The Bishop. Politics, negotiation and influence all fall under the realm of the Bishop. In business, it’s about making connections. It’s about managing a situation or sweeping in to clean it up. The Bishop travels diagonally and often seems to come across the board out of nowhere. Oops, I didn’t know you knew so-and-so.

So those are the things you can leverage to your favour; size and strength, capital, and connections. Now on to the strategies.

Business Strategies From Chess

Keep the pressure on. With every move you need to force your opponent to make a predictable defensive move. This is how you stay in control of the situation and prevent them from taking action of their own. They’re constantly reacting. Putting out fires. Unable to execute their own strategy.

Every move counts. A bad move is a wasted turn. You lose time, ground, momentum. You run the risk of losing control of the situation and finding yourself on the run. Great chess players and business people are very conservative during the opening with what they do. But once they’ve gained some ground …

Every asset counts. In grandmaster chess, if you lose a piece and fail to take one on your next turn, it can cost you the game. Business can be that competitive. You need every asset that you have to gain an edge. Once a grandmaster is two pieces up on an opponent, victory is practically assured. The momentum picks up and it snowballs from there. Use everthing you’ve got. If you’re not using it, sell it and turn it into cash that you can use.

Chess teaches you to take complex situations and heavy pressure and deal with them. It teaches you strategies that are intrinsic. The value is in their very nature, sort of the way you can always count on gravity to make an apple fall on someone’s head. It just is.

I like to play Chessmaster occasionally. The game has a great interactive tutorial section put together and hosted by several chess grandmasters. And there are dozens of preset computer players with radically different styles to play against.

And when it comes to business, remember, the game’s chess not checkers.

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Communicate Your Vision

Why

Yesterday I got tagged by Rob over at Yack Yack to join in on a meme. The challenge; to write a post about why I blog. You know how these things work. You write whatever the meme calls for and then you tag 5 more people to do the same thing to keep it going.

My first thought was, who should I tag? And who would be interested and who wouldn’t be?

Well, I couldn’t just do this without wrapping a business concept around it to share with everybody. So here goes …

Decisions Are Made Before They’re Made

When you walk into a meeting, a boardroom, or a shareholder vote where there are big decisions to be made, the outcome is already decided. More than a few executives have been thrown aside and more than a few people have lost control of the businesses they started and built up from nothing because someone else effectively campaigned to make it happen.

There is a fair amount of politics in business. It’s human nature. And it can rip a company apart from the inside out.

At the same time, if you know what needs to be done. If you know what the right decision needs to be. Then you have to get everyone on board before that decision is made. Leading with vision means getting everyone on board with an idea and then executing that idea.

If you surprise people with a new idea, you might be the one who gets surprised. But when you communicate your vision effectively, other people can see it. They can get used to it and make it their own.

Recruiting For The Meme

So, rather than just writing about why I blog and tagging a few people and possibly having it go nowehere, I thought I’d see if anyone was interested first. I sent out some quick emails late last night. I sent out 9 and I got 8 responses back. From the 8 people that responded, I got 7 thumbs up and 1 decline.

These are all great blogs from different corners of the globe. Everyone here has their own unique voice and they’re worth checking out. Here they are:

Nate is the Scottsdale entrepreneur
Jon is the philospher
Gregg is the contender
Robin Bal is the guy who’ll help you watch your fortune
Anthony is  the bloggist’s blogger
Mark is a very funny guy
and Scot is a collector of interesting things for you to read 

*Update. Ms. Q (tardy about checking her email!) got back to me. And coincidentally, she wrote a post about why she blogs … the same night I sent the emails … cue (or miscue) twilight zone music.

*Update. The Paper Bull has jumped into the arena. It took 4 tags from different people to get him to charge. Which is another good boardroom lesson; Sometimes you need some help to get everybody on board. 🙂 

Hopefully, over the next couple days they’ll ponder the big question. Why? I’m looking forward to reading what they each have to say. As a side note, Rob’s fun little Tumbleweed Ratio WordPress plugin is available to download and try out.

Oh, and I almost forgot. Why do I blog? Because I can’t write 100 pages.

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Leadership Means Losing Control

Pass The Ball

No, I don’t mean freak out.

When you’re building a business or a team, or anything, success means growth. Growth means more to manage. And that means you have to lose control. Or rather, give it up. Delegate. Pass it to others.

Leaders that don’t, hit a wall. Growth stops. Moving forward stops. And a lot of times, dissension wells up and sparks a downhill slide in everybody else’s ability to even care about what’s happening.

Control Is An Illusion

Give it up. If it comes back to you, it was always yours in the first place. You’ve probably heard this before in reference to the things that we love. It also applies to leadership, because if we care so much, if everything has to be exactly perfect, we run the risk of losing it by trying too hard to hang on to it.

As a leader, if you’ve got too much on your plate, it’s hard to stand back and look at the big picture. And at the top of the leadership hierarchy, this can hurt a business faster than anything. It means there is no vision. No comprehensive strategy. More importantly, it means no one is making sure there is.

The details are important, but how they all fit into the larger puzzle is just as important. As a leader, the big picture is your job. The details are someone else’s.

How To Lose Control

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. One step at a time. If you hand over everything all at once, a lot of things will go wrong. Delegate you details one step at a time. Make sure the right tasks go to the right people. You’re not just offloading work, you’re building a hierarchy, a team, and a whole process of growing and getting more done.
  2. Things will go wrong. It’s going to happen. It HAS to happen. It’s just part of your and everyone else’s learning process. A lot of times you’ll know what is gonna go wrong. And you’ll be there when someone drops the ball to make sure it doesn’t roll down the hill. Your team learns. And they’ll have more respect for your knowledge and experience. And your leadership.
  3. Let your people own it. I’ve seen many people micro-managed to the point where they just don’t care to turn on their brains when they show up to work. It’s a self-defeating cycle. The more you micromanage people, the more you have to. Give people direction. They’ll find their own way and take a lot more pride in their work. When you figure it out yourself, when you have to make it happen and you do, you get a huge sense of accomplishment and confidence.
  4. Balance being removed and involved. Keep in mind, that handing over the keys doesn’t mean you leave your team to fend for themselves and completely ditch out. Every once in a while you have to stand in front of your army and lead the charge.

I hope some of these tips can help your business and your other endevours. I went through this process myself a few years ago. I had far too much on my plate and I wasn’t sure that everyone else could step up and each take a piece of all the things I was doing.

They could. And they did.

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Taking Risks … Are You Scared Riskless?

Tiger vs ElephantNothing ventured, nothing gained.

Chances are, this tiger can’t take down an elephant by itself. And the chances are, he’s going to get shot in the process. But if he can pull this off, everybody with stripes is gonna be eating real good for quite a while.

That’s risk. Plain and simple.

There are all different kinds of risk. There’s reckless abandon, calculated risk, there’s rolling the dice and betting the farm. There’s taking a chance and knowing you’re going to lose. There’s taking a chance and knowing you can’t.

Most of the risks that manage to stare us down are pretty small. There’s not much to lose and a lot to gain, but we still can’t take the risk because of perspective. We believe we’re going to lose a lot more than we will. The truth is, almost anything you can imagine, but can’t do, has been done by someone else who took the risk and made it happen.

And every risk you take, no matter how small, no matter whether you win or lose, teaches you that. Here’s an old ad I clipped out of Rolling Stone a long time ago:

Too often we are scared.
Scared of what people might think if we tried.
We let our fears stand in the way of our hopes.
We say no when we want to say yes.
We sit quietly when we want to scream.
And we shout with the others,
when we should keep our mouths shut.
Why?
After all,
we do only go around once.
There’s really no time to be afraid.
So stop.
Try something you’ve never tried.
Risk it.
Enter a triathalon.
Write a letter to the editor.
Demand a raise.
Call winners at the toughest court.
Throw away your television.
Bicycle across the country.
Try bobsledding.
Try anything.
Speak out against the designated hitter.
Travel to a country where you don’t speak the language.
Patent something.
Call her.
You have nothing to lose
and everything
everything
everything to gain.

JUST DO IT.

Go on. Get out of here. Go take a risk. And I’ll promise you one thing …

Maybe you won’t pull it off. But if you do, everybody with stripes is gonna be eating real good for quite a while.

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From Bourne Identity To Leadership Ultimatum

The Bourne UltimatumThe Bourne Ultimatum is coming to theaters this summer. There’s a sneak-peek trailer on firstshowing for this third episode of the Jason Bourne series starring Matt Damon. It looks good.

At first, I thought I should post this in the Whatsis category of Zoomstart which is just an archive for cool stuff. And then I figured, since I’m a big fan (of the first movie, not so much the second), I’d take some lessons from the Bourne Identity and turn them into a mini ultimatum … er … ultimate guide to leadership. Sort of like what I did with Frank Miller’s 300.

So “Sit down, strap in, and turn on all you got”.

Jason Bourne On Kick Butt Leadership

  1. If you lose your identity, go find it. It happens to every leader. You might lose faith in your own ability. People might question or challenge or lose confidence in you as a leader. Take the time. Reach out. Go find that person that was you again.
  2. Maintain balance. You’ve got your good guys, your bad guys, your love interest. All play an important part in maintaining a healthy balance. Balance gives you a diverse network of resources to draw on. Balance changes things up and prevents you from getting tunnel vision by focusing too much on one thing.
  3. Make the most of what you have. Maybe you brought a ballpoint pen to a gunfight, or a Mini Cooper to a car chase. Whether you’re under cost controls or you just got caught short-handed, you’ve got what you got. Get creative and make the most of it.
  4. Take the fight to them. The best defence is a good offence. You can sit around and let whatever happens happen. Or you can take the initiative and make things happen. Do that, and your actions are the driving force that decides WHAT happens. And when.
  5. There’s always another chapter. The story’s never over. No matter what happens, the worst thing that can happen is that you learn something and you do better next time. Leadership is not a destination, it’s a journey. And there’s always another adventure around the next bend.

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Bigger Than Life. The Flavor Flav Factor

Flavor FlavLeaders, stand out. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be leaders.

Leaders need to have a strength of character that goes beyond normal boundaries. A character that’s bigger than life. A character that is not embarassed or fearful, but dynamic and apart from the crowd.

Gregg Hawkins talks about tactical blogging. It’s a great post with some key insight on why it’s important to write a blog for people first and search engines second. One point he made really caught my eye. Here’s what he said:

Be unique and stand out above the rest by adding a little “flavor flav” to your site. Bad metaphor at attempted humor, but moving on! For those of you who don’t get it don’t worry, just add more flavor to your site.

Now hang on a second …

I know Gregg was just joking but this really isn’t a bad metaphor at all. In fact it’s a great metaphor for understanding the mechanics of leadership. The under-the-hood stuff.

Flavor Flav is outrageous. He doesn’t make any apologies. People know him for his music, his tv series, that crazy viking helmet and his ever-present clock pendent. He’s got the kind of character that makes people wonder ‘What’s this guy going to do next’?

The Mechanics Of Leadership

There are two things that make leadership happen:

  1. Leaders don’t follow the crowd. They head off in their own direction. This is something that’s ingrained in them to the core. But … if no one follows, then you’re not a leader at all. You’re just all by yourself.
  2. Leaders have electricity. They have magnetic character. This is what draws people towards them when they take off in their own direction. It might be how they look, how they act, what they say; the key is, they make people curious, inspire them, motivate them and compel them to navigate into uncharted territory. To follow the trail they blaze.

There are a lot of important character traits that define great leadership, but without the mechanics of leadership, without both these moving parts, it can’t happen.

The Chicken And The Egg

The question has to be asked. Are some billionaires and notable figures eccentric because they can afford to be, or are they successful because they stand apart from the crowd?

It’s fair to say that one fuels the other, but the latter is true for the most part. At least when you look at the mechanics of it.

The next time you’re building something great. Something that leads the way, make sure to stop and ask “Where’s the Flavor Flav Factor? What makes this bigger than life”?

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5 Things Every CEO Can Learn From Frank Miller’s 300

300Business is a competitive sport. Sometimes it can get bloody. Sometimes it should.

So it’s no wonder that quotes from great works such as Sun Tzu’s the Art of War are often worked into insightful business ideologies. The movie 300 carries many great lessons that can be applied to business. Especially in the area of leadership.

About Frank Miller

Frank Miller is an amazing writer. He has written some of the most influential graphic novels in the medium. I’ve always been a big fan. If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s also true that one of Frank Miller’s words is worth a thousand pictures. It’s great to see his work (Sin City, 300) on film.

300 is based on historical events. A small force of Spartans held off the massive Persian army at the battle of Thermopylae until help could arrive.

The Lessons Of 300

The original graphic novel is broken into 5 chapters. Here they are with the wisdoms they bear:

  1. Honor. There’s a big difference between ethics and integrity. Know the difference. Be open. Take the high road.
  2. Duty. Not everyone practices honor. Know when it’s time to cut integrity loose and get ethical.
  3. Glory. Celebrate your successes to build momentum. Capitalize on your successes to create more of them.
  4. Combat. Stand in front of your army and you’ll always have an army behind you.
  5. Victory. Sweet isn’t it. Now go back to number 1 and do it all over again.

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