Think…….

02/08/2012

This was the headline of an advert in yesterday’s Financial Times, it was placed by the Qatar Foundation (www.qf.org.qa – unlocking human potential). It summed up wonderfully what I have been recommending to ambitious entrepreneurs on a mission to build a business. All too often individuals fail to create space to think, instead they embark on a crusade of activity with no direction – they fail to think it through. This can be extremely dangerous as chasing around like the proverbial headless chicken quite commonly leads to making decisions later regretted. Here is some fantastic wisdom for those of you running a business (its taken directly from the advert – it’s really powerful and very thought-provoking)

Few things possess more Power than a Thought

Because a Thought has the potential to become something significant. To solve something meaningful. And to inspire us to achieve great things.

What makes a Thought so powerful is that it can be created by anybody. At anytime. From anywhere.

That’s why Thinking should be encouraged and nurtured in all its forms. No matter how small. Or how impossibly grand.

Because wherever Thinking happens, Big ideas follow. Minds become enlightened. Knowledge grows. And people discover new ways to unlock their potential.

So start Thinking

Innovation is driven by the power of creative thought, experience shows that it is in those quite moments of contemplation that breakthroughs occur – a new product idea, new market or solution to an existing problem. It worked for Archimedes when he got in the bath (Eureka) and Isaac Newton when he was sitting beneath an apple tree contemplating the universe.

Thinking is the precursor for strategy development and innovation. Balancing thinking with doing can deliver quantum shifts in performance – it also delivers clarity, one that so many entrepreneurs claim they lack for their business.


Collaboration is key to competitive advantage

13/07/2012

How times have changed in the past ten years. Companies I would have viewed as major competitors at the turn of 2000 have now become close allies – we are sharing knowledge, IP, business ideas and revenue streams. It strikes me that collaboration is very much embedded within the mindset of the forward thinking organisations I meet on a day-to-day basis. Those that hold their cards too close to their chest will almost certainly miss out on new business and product opportunities. Collaboration can present itself in many formats:

  • Businesses with complementary skills coming together to bid for large contracts – one where the mix of expertise and geographical coverage offers massive benefits to a customer. This can be achieved as a consortium or through what is commonly referred to as a special purpose vehicle (SPV)
  • Companies fusing complimentary products and services to create a new offering – WP did this several years ago, we took creative expertise of a University and combined it with coaching techniques to create the highly successful Winning Pitch TV (WPtv) – a great example of HE working with a SME
  • Euro Garages one of the North’s most successful companies brought together petrol stations with Starbucks and Subway franchises to build a new experience in filling the tank.
  • We see it everyday on the motorways with Starbucks, M & S and other high street chains teaming up with service operators to create a new service station break – this used to be a joke in terms of food quality, now, very different
  • Large pharma companies engaging with smaller niche R & D operators. A much nimbler and cost effective route for multi nationals to build their innovation pipeline

Fundamental to collaboration is a win- win attitude, there has to be a common goal, a shared vision, a sense of trust and purpose, fair commercial gain for both parties. Working as I do everyday with high growth companies, its very clear that those entrepreneurs who think partnership are opening themselves up to so many new possibilities.  Stay awake, think about who you can collaborate with, the only warning is, be sure why you are doing it and what’s in it for both of you!


Faith is important for entrepreneurs

26/06/2012

The life of an entrepreneur is full of ups and downs. The high’s are fantastic and the feeling of jubilation when you move closer to your intentions provides a clear sense of accomplishment – it delivers the impetus to keep pushing on. It’s a great place to be because motivation and energy helps to build an important ingredient for success – momentum.

However, we all know, building a business can likened to a roller coaster ride, the journey very rarely proceeds along a smooth path. Obstacles are just part of the game, these force us to create diversions and look for alternative ways of getting to our destination.

Constantly being forced to deal with the need to explore alternative roads to the end point can have a wearing effect on  mindset. The danger is when it stimulates negative self talk – what’s the point in doing this? Is it really worth it?  Many entrepreneurs will have at some point internally deliberated these issues. Only you can answer these questions, only you can decide whether to keep going or not.

The power of autosuggestion brought to us many years ago is a vital antidote. Autosuggestion is a psychological technique  developed by  Emile Coue in the late 19th century. It’s an important tool in conditioning our mind to achieve our goals. It can be as destructive and constructive. At the heart of autosuggestion lies conditioning ourselves, through our senses to achieve what we want.

Through observational research, I have come up with other practical tools to help at critical points where emotional support is vital for the entrepreneur. The reality is, it can be easier to give up than to carry on – winners in all walks of life dig deep, maintain focus and continue with their mission, they accept setbacks are just part of the game.  The old adage when the going gets tough the tough get going is one you should reflect on when these feelings kick in.

Mental toughness differentiates winners from losers, your sense of purpose ebbs away when you listen to negative self talk, phrases such as why am I doing this? are symptomatic of the condition, in turn it weakens the endurance of the mind thereby resulting in I give up. Successful people have an insatiable desire and internalised motivation to succeed – you have really got to want it!

Having faith in what your are trying to achieve is a vital ingredient for success. If you dont believe then dont expect others to. It’s important to condition your mind to becoming resilient. Without faith and mental toughness the reality is, winning becomes more difficult. When things are not going your way, embrace the principles of R.A.F

Rewind – and go back to your vision, picture success and hold this image in your mind. Quiet contemplation is vital to aiding this process. This activity will move you out of the negative state and refresh your mind then get you back “on purpose”

Accept – that things will not always go your way. Avoid long drawn out dissections of why things turned out the way they did. Coming runner up is sometimes a wake up call for us. Accept the position and move on otherwise negative self talk will hinder progression.

Have Faith in yourself and your ability to achieve what you want out of your business. When you develop faith, bouncing back when things go wrong is far easier. By having faith you convince your mind that anything is possible

Practice, practice and practice this philosophy and see your success improve dramatically.

 


Entrepreneurial leaders – Create space for practical learning

06/06/2012

It is the leaders role to create and communicate a compelling vision and strategy to staff and stakeholders. When this is done with passion and authenticity, strong foundations are built for innovation and creativity; it sets the scene for personal progression and engages teams to fire on all cylinders. But how does the leader gain the inspiration, insight and knowledge to build such an environment. Well the answer may lie in the cliché – leaders are readers. Having worked with over 3,000 small businesses over the past 6 years, many of which would be termed gazelles (high growth innovative firms), the one ingredient that differentiates outstanding performance from mediocre is a leaders approach to learning. Winning Pitch’s work in this field indicates that organisations led by individuals who create space to acquire and apply knowledge go on to derive benefits of faster and sustained levels of growth.

The inability or lack of motivation to allow time for learning often results in leaders pursuing business as usual strategies. In the worst case this leads to disconnection from the market place and the needs of customers. The resultant impact is lack of competitive advantage and a spiral decline in margins, market share and revenue. Innovative high growth business leaders practice the philosophy of 20% thinking and learning along with 80% doing and reviewing. This mental framework facilitates an iterative approach to entrepreneurship, project implementation, idea generation and learning. It is a process commonly associated with scientific discovery. Iteration provides an effective route to positive progression and getting new ideas and projects off the ground more rapidly. It drives momentum, a characteristic commonly displayed by successful entrepreneurs.

Maintaining the healthy 20:80 split is extremely important as a slip in either direction can lead to either inertia, particularly if too much learning prevails or chaos if too much doing dominates the agenda. The latter gives rise to another popular cliché – not being able to see the wood for the trees. So what is the secret sauce to achieving an optimum return for the 20%? It is appropriate to point out that entrepreneurial leaders embrace different learning preferences and styles, however our experiences are summed up wonderfully in the Chinese Proverb:

I hear and I forget

I see and I remember

I do and I understand

The power of learning by seeing and doing charaterises many of the ambitious entrepreneurial leaders Winning Pitch has worked with. Several learning formats that have emerged from this school of thought, the most popular being peer to peer networking – informal environments where entrepreneurs’ get together to discuss and debate issues and challenges they face. This becomes an extremely powerful option to fast tracked learning, the reason being many problems associated with growth are common – very often they revolve around building teams, finance, access to markets and regulations.

An environment where entrepreneurs debate how they solved specific growth challenges can save others facing similar difficulties an enormous amount of time. Such edited highlights are proving to be an increasingly popular way of consuming new learning. This approach has given rise to numerous entrepreneurial networking organisations such as Entrepreneurs Circle, Supper Club, Tie and Winning Pitch’s High Growth Foundation. Entrepreneurs often make reference to living a lonely life and exposure to their peer group can deliver a whole range of learning benefits, firstly, they can help to alleviate and cope with those feelings of isolation and secondly, they can steer them to solutions only obvious to an external viewer.

Experience sharing is a valuable tool for entrepreneurial businesses and their leaders; more specifically it produces accelerated learning within organisations where training budgets are limited. Simple yet highly effective routes to achieving this can be done by:

Viewing what great looks like – strategy, raising finance, sales & marketing approaches implemented by non-competing organisations. This helps entrepreneurs to acquire knowledge of trusted advisers and expertise. All too often entrepreneurs end up on the receiving end of bad advice. By speaking to those deemed as exemplar this can fast track to effective support networks.

Speaking to other entrepreneurs – what went right what went wrong. There are excellent learning opportunities distilled from bad experiences and more often than not entrepreneurs are only too willing to help others avoid the mistakes they made themselves.

Studying biographies of success – we live in an age where the digital environment provides a content rich source of inspirational stories of the tactics and tools successful people have implemented to achieve great results. Many high performing entrepreneurs featured as part of Winning Pitch’s network regularly refer to the insights gained from studying these biographies as being – stimulus for change, acquiring new knowledge and delivering enhanced performance.

In early 2012, Winning Pitch via its High Growth Foundation accompanied 18 entrepreneurial leaders on a learning journey to Silicon Valley. Common to these UK entrepreneurs was their desire to build globally focused organisations. Through Winning Pitch’s contacts on the West Coast ambitious individuals were exposed to some of the largest brands on the planet including Google and LinkedIn. On return participants stated that the learning journey had acted as catalyst for both personal and company progression.  Participating entrepreneurs listened to the stories and methods used by global company leaders – how they go about their business, innovate, manage staff, build culture, access finance – not only what they do but more importantly how they think. The UK delegation were united in one key learning outcome – The mindset and the scale of thinking within Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is a quantum level greater than that seen in the UK. Entrepreneurial leaders – Create space for practical learning (See www.highgrowthfoundation.co.uk for more information)

 

The UK boasts internationally competitive and highly recognised educational institutions, ones equipped to teach strategy, management tools and techniques and associated frameworks and philosophies at the highest level. However, is there a missing link in the provision of assistance? Could more be done to help entrepreneurs embrace a mindset which raises the bar of performance in a big way? The UK economy needs more high growth businesses and new starts to deliver employment opportunities – NESTA’s Vital 6 per cent report clearly showed that a small minority of high-growth businesses hold the key to job creation and wider prosperity. This means we need UK entrepreneurs to learn how to think bigger, no better way of doing that than seeing it in action.


Non Executive Directors – Try before you buy!

10/05/2012

It seems very much the rage at the moment for companies to hire Non Executive Directors (NED). I am a big fan of these “outsiders looking inside“. They provide wisdom, guidance, help to raise the bar and introduce more robust systems and processes, help leaders make decisions and support change. In many instances an NED can help to open up new doors to finance and potential customers – help in the transition of growing up. If you are pursuing VC funding or PE finance then having a NED is often part of the deal.

One observation would be that many young companies appoint NEDs too early on in their cycle. They view them as the saving grace and the magic wand with all the answers. The reality is young fast growing companies should initially seek out a mentor or experienced person and trial the relationship before Companies House papers are signed. There are many individuals out there searching for NED trophies, it almost becomes their barometer for success – food for the ego!

My message to young growing companies who are seeking their new best friend, the NED, is be sure they can add value, be clear on where they can take you and most of all dont GIVE AWAY equity, people either buy or earn a stake in your company.


Gazelles – past and present (part 2)

02/05/2012

I wrote a blog a week ago that covered Harvey Goldsmith’s view of the Top 10 greatest entrepreneurs past and present (part 1). Here is the final listing from 6 – 10 and the insights I think are important for other ambitious people:

6. Harry Hyams (1928 – ) – a man who changed the face of commercial property. He built Centre Point in the 60’s and left it controversially empty for months. He was a man who got his timing right, stirred things up – a great example of success is often down to luck. Many would say he planned to be “lucky”

7.Bernie Ecclestone (1930-) – grasped the opportunity when he saw it. From selling cars to F1 supremo. The window of opportunity is presented to so many of us but how many grab it when it appears? It often only lasts for a short time. His vision and leadership is an inspiration to us all.

8.William Morris (1834-1896) – crafts and arts specialist who dreamed of improving the quality of life for British workers. He was a highly successful artist whose designs are still around today – the message is? Leaving a legacy and putting something back!

9.Lew Grade (1906 -1998) – a master entrepreneur in the entertainment business. Famous for pushing an idea across the finishing line – how many of us are guilty of losing faith in an idea when the first hurdle presents itself. Faith is such an important part of getting the idea into the market place. Sunday Night at the Palladium and Pink Panther were several of his major accomplishments.

10. Sir Martin Sorrell (1945-) Not had the best of press this week given the big salary. However, so many forget what this man has achieved. In the mid 80’s he bought a little company called Wire & Plastic Products – this became WPP. It emerged as a world-beating communications and advertising business. Annual revenues running into billions and profits approaching £1bn. How many others can say they have done that. Grit and determination are key ingredients of his success. So the press….get off his back, how short people’s memories are!


Global Entrepreneurship Conference – Get Lucky

14/03/2012

This was probably one of the best events I have been to for a long time. Sometime fantastic speakers, for me Lord Heseltine did the business, what an incredible man. His own entrepreneurial story was highly engaging, it came straight from the heart. He talked about how lucky he had been in his career, one that led to the creation of Haymarket Publishing, a global business with 2,000 employees.

Well on the note of luck, Harvard Business School have done their research and some really interesting findings have emerged. They claim that luck in business can be cultivated, through what they call lucky attitudes and lucky networks. They found that a lot of their entrepreneurs believed in and are extremely open to the power of serendipity – in other words a lucky attitude. They also have a wide network of relationships that at first glance may have little to do with business but somehow later come into great relevance.

Richard Branson’s off the scale mindset of creativity is testament to the power of being different. A common theme around loving what you do was woven throughout the day – passion lies of the heart of success, it keeps you going and is a vital ingredient to mental toughness. The Black Farmer Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, hit the spot as well – going into business or growing a company means you have to overcome your fear, and you only live once, so go for it and be brave.

An amazing job done by Liverpool Vision and the broader Liverpool Community – so many other cities could learn from their ambition and visionary leadership. An example of public sector practicing what they preach.