Be Outrageous! – Mikki Williams (Entrepreneur, Speaker)

Mikki Williams - Paper Napkin Wisdom

Mikki Williams – Paper Napkin Wisdom

Mikki Williams is a motivational speaker of twenty-seven years and a nine-time entrepreneur, in addition to being a trainer, consultant, coach, author, multimedia personality, and self-described mensch (Yiddish for “very real human being”).  But listing Mikki’s many labels and accomplishments hardly begins to get to the core of who she is.  One look at her website, and it is clear that Mikki is one-of-a-kind.

It is no surprise, then, that Mikki’s paper napkin is also one-of-a-kind.  Making use of all its space, Mikki included a visual aid to help illustrate the message of her Paper Napkin Wisdom, which is, fittingly: “Be outrageous!  It’s the only place that isn’t crowded!”  Below her quote is a series of three sequential photos of the same woman, each accompanied by a short caption.

The first photo shows the woman with a somewhat exaggerated but generally unassuming hairdo.  The caption reads, “big.”  In the next photo, the woman’s hair has now begun to take on the shape of a beehive and the caption reads, “bigger.”  In the third photo, the woman’s hair is a full-blown beehive, evocative of Marge Simpson, and the caption reads, “just right.”  It is now that we are beginning to get to the core of what Mikki Williams is all about.

Like many of the leaders I speak with, Mikki lives her Paper Napkin Wisdom and, in this case, she always has.  She has always been outrageous, which she attributes to her upbringing.  Mikki grew up in show business to a single mother who taught her, “Quit trying to fit in when you were born to stand out.”  Mikki says lessons like these empowered her with the self-esteem to be different.  Not only does she live outside the box, she is not even aware of the box!

This mindset, says Mikki, is what makes her a natural entrepreneur.  Being an entrepreneur is risk-taking and risk-taking is uncomfortable.  But, after a lifetime of being at ease in her own skin – no matter how outrageous – Mikki is comfortable being uncomfortable.  Furthermore, by always being true to herself, she has developed an instinct which she refers to as the entrepreneurial knot in her stomach.  In business – as in life – she listens to her gut and believes that problems arise when she doesn’t heed the call of that entrepreneurial knot.

In her role as a speaker, Mikki tries to pass these lessons along – no doubt with a healthy dose of outrageousness and humor.  Utilizing tools like Play-Doh instead of PowerPoint, she brings to her presentation a playfulness that she thinks enough people do not embrace in life or business.  She says that, when people hire her, they know they’re getting a personality.

And, as someone who was a brand before “branding” was a buzz word, she emphasizes how important it is for each of us to find our USP – our Unique Selling Proposition.  That means manifesting and exploiting what makes us different.  But, Mikki reminds us, that might look very different for each person or company.  For Mary Kay, it is as simple as the color pink.  For Mikki, finding her USP began by paying attention to how people remembered her.  She says she has always been known for her outrageous hair so that became the genesis of her brand.

Proof that Mikki’s approach works came from the author who chose feature her on the cover of the Wall Street Journal, in conjunction with an article about the National Speakers Association.  When she asked him why, out of 3,500 speakers, he chose her, he told her that he went to the National Speakers Association website and, “You stood out.”

Listen to the conversation with Mikki here:

 

Three Steps to Greatness – Deron Quon (Chairman, California Teleservices Inc)

Deron Quon - Paper Napkin Wisdom

Deron Quon – Paper Napkin Wisdom

Deron Quon is Chairman of California Teleservices Inc. and co-founder of menus.com and Datassential, a research company focused on the food industry.  In addition, he is my classmate at MIT’s Entrepreneurial Masters Program.

Deron shared with me an interesting three-part Paper Napkin Wisdom:

To Be Great:

  1. Do great things.
  2. Inspire greatness in others.
  3. Teach others to be great.

Being great is a quality Deron sees tremendous value in because, for him, being great is about achieving our highest potentials.  He feels very positively about human potential and believes that we each have a lot to contribute to our families, communities, and businesses.  By working not just with ourselves but with others to be great, the net results will be substantial.

In terms of achieving greatness, Deron’s Paper Napkin Wisdom lays out his three-part process.  Each component is key and the order is not arbitrary.  Let us take a closer look at each step.

  1. Do great things. Deron emphasizes that “do” is the key word here. We cannot simply wish or want to be great.  We must act.  A lot has been said about the value of taking that first step but Deron takes the thought further.  We must not just take the first step – we must take successive steps to gain momentum and make our growth habitual.  It is the difference between merely taking action and taking action with commitment behind it.

In order to do that, however, we must first identify, on an individual basis, what being great means to us.  Deron notes that we each know what mediocre output for our time and efforts looks like.  Thus, we must also know what stellar output looks like.  We must look to our highest potential to find our definition of greatness and that will likely look different from one person to the next.

  1. Inspire greatness in others. Deron looks to the adage that no man is an island. To achieve what we want, we each need a support base of people rowing in the same direction.  And the way we get people rowing in the same direction is by infecting others psyches with that of our own – by inspiring people through our thoughts and actions.

Deron says we often sell ourselves short.  We do not need to be billionaires to be inspirational.  Something that may seem little to us may be a huge achievement to someone else.  He points out that we can all attain our highest potential but that, “sometimes, we just need to see that role model or example to know that it’s really tangible.”

  1. Teach others to be great. This is about taking inspiration to the next level and adding a more personal connection. It is Deron’s belief that, to be a fully well-rounded person, we must be able to give back and teaching does just that.

For Deron, the first step of teaching others to be great is helping them to formulate what great is for them.  This means providing the principle, the how-to guides, and the key questions but it also means being there to give feedback.  The most effective teachers are the ones who have the same overall lesson but are able to apply it to different people while preserving its core values.

Listen to the conversation with Deron here:

 

Adversity is Inevitable – Brad Howard (President, Trend Nation)

Brad Howard - Paper Napkin Wisdom

Brad Howard – Paper Napkin Wisdom

Brad Howard keeps busy. In addition to being a husband, a father, and one of my classmates in MIT’s Entrepreneurial Masters Program, he is a serial entrepreneur, having been involved in over a dozen successful start-ups. In his capacity as founder and President of Trend Nation LLC, an incubator specializing in e-commerce, marketing, and logistics, he has garnered recognition for both his leadership and his company.

One of the keys to Brad’s success can be found in his Paper Napkin Wisdom: “It’s not what happens that matters. It’s how you deal with what happens that matters in life.” He believes that, too often, people focus on what has happened to them. They get inside their heads, get heated, and blow things out of proportion. But it is Brad’s experience that those who can look past adversity, put things in perspective, and move forward will see better outcomes. Often times, in fact, he finds that horrible situations can yield some unexpected gold nuggets.

This is a philosophy that rings true in Brad’s personal life, as well as his professional life, but that has not always been the case. When Brad was young, his father fell ill and he went into a “Why is the world against me?” mindset. However, as time went on and he observed the way others handled adversity, he began to see that the outcomes to situations were shaped by people’s reactions. By the time he was in college, he was applying his Paper Napkin Wisdom to his life and seeing positive results.

Brad tells the story of how one such application led to unexpected gold nuggets. Three years in, Trend Nation was a half-a-million dollar company that had just moved from Ohio to Nevada. Yet, within six months of the move, they were hit with a lawsuit that left them teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Though Brad couldn’t strike a deal with the patent owner who had filed the lawsuit, he took a strategic step back, assessed the situation, and reorganized.

Dropping a product from a two-product company meant a reduction of half the company’s revenue overnight but that is exactly what he did. The loss made him realize that his company needed to focus on their customer demographic and expand their product line. Today, Trend Nation LLC sees over twenty million dollars in annual revenue and has been on the Inc 500 two years straight. “That single transition was the worst and the best experience that we’ve ever had in business,” says Brad.

Nevertheless, even Brad is sometimes struck with doubt, which is why he has developed tactics to keep things in perspective. He and his team rank crises on a 1-to-10 scale, with 1 representing water boiling over onto the stove and 10 being the death of a loved one. By doing this, he finds people often realize that problems are more manageable than they might initially seem.

Furthermore, he tells his team to prepare for adversity – it is inevitable. That way, when a problem comes along, his team is not caught off guard and is ready to internalize it, think about it, and devise a strategy that will yield the best outcome. Like Erin Weed and Brian Brault, Brad believes that being open about vulnerability creates a bond with his team and makes them feel like they have a stake in the company.

Listen to the conversation with Brad here:

Challenge Builds Character – Patrick Ellis (President, Blue Note Wines)

Patrick Ellis - Paper Napkin WIsdom

Patrick Ellis – Paper Napkin WIsdom

Patrick Ellis is the President of Blue Note Wines & Spirits. While he is passionate about wine, he is also passionate about family and, as I learned when I spoke with him, there are similarities in his approaches to business and family.

It was in regard to those similarities that Patrick directed his Paper Napkin Wisdom: “Raising children should be approached as one would grow a vineyard to produce amazing wines. You need to know when to clip back the vines and when to let them flourish. You can only guide – you cannot force the character. Lush, green, overly rich settings will make the wine flabby and uninteresting. The vines need to fight through challenging soils and conditions to develop their character.” Lengthy as his Paper Napkin Wisdom was, Patrick joked, “I filled my napkin like I play golf. I like to explore all aspects of the golf course.”

Patrick shared with me that he is troubled by much of the parenting he observes and, when given a forum to talk about it, he does so as a way of confronting those frustrations. He felt that Paper Napkin Wisdom was just such a forum because parenting is a form of leadership and a lot of the methods with which he approaches being a father to his three daughters have parallels in other parts of his life.

As with business, Patrick and his wife felt that it was important to bring a plan to parenting, so as to make the process thought-out and dynamic, rather than random. They started with a singular intention – to raise fully accountable, responsible members of society – and almost all decisions dovetailed into that.

One example is that, when Patrick’s daughters turned ten, their allowances were bumped from five dollars a week to one hundred dollars a month, so long as they signed agreements saying that they would no longer ask for anything. By doing this, Patrick helped them start the process of learning to budget but he also included them in the decision-making process.

He notes that it was difficult to watch when one of his daughters had spent her monthly allowance and was forced to forego or delay getting something she wanted but the appropriate response was not to reach into his wallet and hand her a twenty. When parents do such things to alleviate their own guilt, it is a selfish act. We will all face challenges and failures in our lives and it is best that children learn that while in a safe environment.

Patrick relates misguided parenting to a common misconception about wines. He says that people who know little about wine often see beautiful settings and assume that they must produce great wines but, as his Paper Napkin Wisdom suggests, that is not typically the case. Rather, places like Burgundy, where the vines have to fight to break trough, yield wines with the greatest character. Likewise, Patrick cautions, children are not best raised in easy and rich environments.

For those who might question whether Patrick’s approach to parenting is callous, one has only to look at his relationships with his daughters today. They are 20, 22, and 24 – all in university and paying their own room and board. Patrick says that, within the past year, each of his children has sat him down to thank him for their upbringing.

They see themselves as ahead of the pack, in terms of maturity and accountability, which is exactly what Patrick and his wife envisioned for their daughters. But, beyond that, they are a loving family. Patrick tries to meet with each of his daughters at least twice a week and he is even invited to go out with them and their friends.

Listen to the conversation with Patrick here:

Get Out of Their Way! – Adam Robinson (Founder, CEO of Hireology)

Adam Robinson - Hireology

Adam Robinson – Paper Napkin Wisdom

Adam Robinson is the co-founder and CEO of Hireology, which produces a web-based software platform that assists companies in the hiring process from end-to-end. Initially a self-described “accidental entrepreneur,” Adam has since developed an immense passion for entrepreneurship and he donates time to multiple leadership programs, including Entrepreneurs Organization. In addition, he serves on the Board of Advisors for DePaul University’s Coleman Entrepreneurship Center.

Drawing on experiences from previous entrepreneurial efforts, Adam developed the approach that serves as the basis for his Paper Napkin Wisdom: “Hire great people and then get the heck out of the way.” He says the biggest lesson he has learned to date in his career is that, if you hire great people, you have to let them be great and do the things that make them great. If you invest in “A” talent, you have to let “A” talent be “A” talent – not an extension of you.

This is a lesson learned hard for Adam. With his last company, he was surrounded by some great people but he tried to do everything. And, when the economy took a downturn, he realized the operation was a house of cards. People had no qualms about leaving because they had no ownership in the company.

Alternatively, Hireology was a business-by-design, built on the lessons learned earlier in Adam’s career. Before ever writing a business plan, he wrote his core values. He believes that, when a company is first getting started, before the processes are even in place, the core values are their operating system – their compass. Then, as the company progresses, if we, as leaders, coach core values, we don’t have to tell people how to do their jobs because they’ll figure out how to do their jobs while staying true to the core values.

A comparison of the first employees from each of his companies illustrates the difference in approaches. In Adam’s previous company, his first employee lasted about eighteen months. Adam had a very tactical approach – telling the employee what to do each week or each month. Ultimately, the employee saw no professional growth and everyone involved got burnt out. On the other hand, after four years with the company, Adam’s first hire at Hireology is now the VP of Sales, leading a team of twenty-two. He consistently beats his numbers, yet Adam has never told him how to do what he does. The employee has figured it out on his own.

But that is not to say that Adam’s approach is to provide no support or structure. He says, “I want to tell folks where we need to be but I don’t want to tell great people how to get there.” Adam fosters an environment of accountability by allowing his team to create their own plans. He believes that, psychologically, it creates a situation where people feel more invested than they would if they just had a plan handed down to them. He says to his employees, “This is your plan – do you believe in it? And, if so, are you prepared to own it?”

These days, Adam says his job description has changed from, “Do everything and make it happen,” to, “Help great people be successful.” In that way, he says, he has gone from being the rainmaker to helping others to be rainmakers.

Listen to the conversation with Adam here:

Brace For Impact! – Dave Sanderson (Author and Speaker)

Dave Sanderson - Paper Napkin Wisdom

Dave Sanderson – Paper Napkin Wisdom

Dave Sanderson is a name some may recognize. On 15 January 2009, international headlines were made when US Airways Flight 1549 ditched in the Hudson River off Midtown Manhattan. As the last passenger off the back of the plane, Dave Sanderson’s experiences on that day acted to shape the message he spreads as an author and motivational speaker.

The core of that message is found in his Paper Napkin Wisdom: “Being resourceful is the key skill to move from being good to being outstanding.” For Dave, “The Miracle on the Hudson” is a case study in resourcefulness. While he never could have known what was to happen, he believes it was more than coincidence that he was on that plane, citing the fact that he had given up his first class seat on another flight to be there. In the end, his resourcefulness and that of others, including the captain who drew on his training to glide the plane onto the river without colliding into the George Washington Bridge, saved lives.

But Dave notes that resourcefulness did not just begin in the moment of crisis. A lot of intentional work had gone into being resourceful. His time in the business world had provided him with valuable training and he had absorbed a number of skill sets. For a decade prior, he had had the opportunity to work with Anthony Robbins, who emphasized that being resourceful is a skill set. He learned that people often think they cannot do something if they do not have certain resources but, if there is a will, there is a way. Says Dave, “Resourcefulness is a mindset. It is, ‘You never take no for an answer.’”

Of course, saying we will not take no for an answer and actually doing it are different things. Dave offers insight as to how this philosophy can be applied. For him, a good leader focuses on the outcome and helps to guide others in that direction. When an obstacle presents itself, as will invariably happen in any venture, solutions may not always come readily. Dave believes a leader helps his team to break the trance that may be keeping them stuck behind that obstacle by asking better questions. For instance, rather than asking, “How can I solve this problem?” ask “If I could do it, how would I do it?”

And yet, as much as Dave values the training he had that prepared him for his role in helping passengers off the plane and onto safety, he is mindful that resourcefulness is more about applying what you know at that moment in time than it is about technique. For different people, that can mean different things. For some of the passengers on Flight 1549, simply knowing to take a step back while others led was their way of being resourceful. That was not Dave, though.

Dave believes the first thing a leader does to be resourceful is they put themselves in the right state of mind. When Dave heard the words, “This is the captain, brace for impact,” he knew he had to put himself in the state of mind to survive. Once the plane began to settle after impact and he saw the light, he knew he could take care of himself. He then looked around and asked, “Can other people?” Though he encountered obstacles, including a passenger who plead with him to be left on the plane, he did not exit the craft until everyone else had safely made their exit.

Listen to the conversation with Dave here:

Like Your Team – Sonny Vu (CEO & Founder Misfit Wearables)

Sonny Vu - Paper Napkin Wisdom

Sonny Vu – Paper Napkin Wisdom

Sonny Vu is the founder of the award-winning Misfit Wearables, who design highly wearable computing products. In addition, he is the founder and former CEO of AgaMatrix, makers of the world’s first iPhone-connected hardware medical device.

Sonny’s Paper Napkin Wisdom is very to-the-point: “Only work with people you like.” But is it realistic? When Sonny first heard this insight from former CEO of Apple and Pepsi, John Sculley, he liked the sound of it but did not think it was realistic for people like him: Entrepreneurs, young people, and those early in their careers. It was not until he began to reflect back on his own experiences that he started to realize how applicable “Only work with people you like” is at all levels.

It may seem like entrepreneurs, especially at the start-up level, have to work with the cards they are dealt but Sonny argues that, precisely because we are entrepreneurs, that is untrue. We always have the choice. “When we step back and test our assumptions, another path always seems to light up,” he says.

That is not to say that the application of this philosophy will always be easy, though. Sonny notes that first impressions can be misleading and, even if we hire from our gut, we may end up with someone on our team who does not align with our core values. In those instances, Sonny relies on the advice of former GE chairman and CEO, Jack Welch. Welch promotes actively seeking out and eliminating those who do not align. For him, it is better to invest in a person who aligns with our values but is not delivering numbers than a person who is delivering numbers but whom we do not like. The person who aligns can hopefully be trained to improve their performance, whereas keeping the unaligned around is likely to damage our company culture. Others will see that the unaligned is high-performing and assume that their behavior is okay. We do not want to waste our leadership energies undoing this kind of damage.

Sonny cites the experiences he had with his three start-ups as illustrations of how different hiring strategies can affect company culture. With his first company, he hired a lot of people with high IQs; however, their egos led to a great deal of social and communication issues. With his second company, he hired people with experience; yet, Sonny is quick to note the difference between experience and wisdom. There can be a correlation between the two – just like there can be a correlation between a high IQ and relevant skills – but not always. Sometimes, those with a lot of experience can be close-minded, which is not helpful when a start-up is trying to shake up assumptions.

It is only with his current company that Sonny began to apply the “Only work with people you like” philosophy and he praises the radical change. He stresses that it is especially important to surround ourselves with people we like early on, as the very survival of our company may depend on it. Lack of alignment can pull a team apart or, worse yet, have people actively working to undermine each other. On the other hand, Sonny insists, “If you are up against a fast, agile, hard-working, highly functional team that likes each other, that trusts each other to watch each other’s back, you better watch out, man, because that’s a force to be reckoned with!”

Listen to the conversation with Sonny here:

 

 

Is Your Business Your Message? – Jill Lublin (Speaker, Author)

Jill Lublin - Paper Napkin Wisdiom

Jill Lublin – Paper Napkin Wisdiom

Jill Lublin is a public relations specialist, international speaker, best-selling author, and self-described “messenger of messengers” passionate about helping others to create a footprint in the marketplace. Unsurprisingly, she has created a considerable footprint for herself through seminars, books, and countless appearances in print and broadcast media.

Jill’s thought-provoking Paper Napkin Wisdom speaks to the heart of her philosophy about publicity: “Start with a message about why your business is your message. And, if you were starting your business on a paper napkin, what would be the cause and reason for your business?” For Jill, the reality of any business is that people are influenced by the message – the cause and reason. We must still deliver a great product but our message is what attracts others to us. People want to buy into the passionate messenger.

Jill gives the example of a dentist who worked three blocks down the road from a competitor. While he tried to create a warm environment in his office, the other dentist had a “get-‘em-in, get-‘em-out” mentality. About that, the dentist once commented, “I know why certain people come to me and certain people come to him.” The two men conveyed very different messages and people chose to patronize the one with the message that resonated with them.

However, having a message is only part of the equation. It is another thing to get our message out there. Jill emphasizes “five-year-old language”. Tell people what problem you solve in the marketplace the way you would explain it to a five-year-old. She believes that we often have no more than thirty seconds to convey our message and that does not mean we should try to cram as much information as possible into that time. It means that we need to simplify. Says Jill, “If you can communicate your message in a clear, concise, and simple way, people respond better, resonate quicker, and frankly, you get more prospects and more profit.”

And if you have streamlined message, do not fear repeating it. It may seem boring but there is no telling who might be hearing it for the first time. “You’re repetitive to yourself but your listener, your prospect, your customer – they haven’t even gotten it yet,” Jill reminds us. Furthermore, she says, repetition has the benefit of keeping us on-track.

Jill believes that the key to having a footprint in the marketplace is publicity and publicity starts the moment you walk out the door. Our business is our message – there is no separation – and we must be its passionate messenger.

Go to www.publicitycrashcourse.com/freegift for a free offer and listen to the conversation with Jill here:

 

A Gift to Yourself – Kathy Colace (Founder JBN & Associates)

Kathy Colace - Paper Napkin Wisdom

Kathy Colace – Paper Napkin Wisdom

Kathy Colace is the founder and managing partner of JBN & Associates, LLC, an executive search firm with the motto “Strengthening Companies. Building Careers.” She is also the mother of three adult children (after whom her company is named) and my classmate at MIT’s Entrepreneurial Masters Program.

It was amid one of our classes that Kathy produced the following Paper Napkin Wisdom: “Life is a gift… the gift of choice who to spend it with!” I had asked everyone in the room to write down a Paper Napkin Wisdom, about which Kathy commented, “You would think I would come up with a nugget that was about business.” But, she says, after looking around the room, she realized it was her choice to be there among great people. And she emphasized choice, underlining it three times on her napkin.

As the fifth of five children, she felt torn in her younger years between wanting to be her own person and wanting to be perfect for her parents. Initially, her perception of being perfect for her parents was doing exactly as they would do. But, when she started to follow her own path, she realized that her parents loved her for the individual she was. She believes being honest about who we are is at the heart of choosing who we want to surround ourselves with. But that is not to say that making those choices will always be easy.

She notes that toxic relationships are easy to walk away from. It is when we have to let a perfectly kind or well-meaning friend or family member who we no longer have anything in common with out of our life that we begin to feel guilty. “Is that a cold statement?” Kathy questions. “I don’t want it to be.”

Kathy believes it is important that we be around people who add value to our lives and that we add value to their lives. Part of that is being open to the changing dynamic of relationships. Those who are important to us today might not be the same people who are beside us at our deathbeds. And that’s okay. There are benefits to being honest with ourselves about which relationships are important to us, says Kathy. “When you determine or define those quality relationships, they go deeper because you’re not trying to please everyone.”

Like many of the leaders I speak with, lessons Kathy has learned in her personal life have applications in her professional life. She approaches her business relationships with the same mindset that she approaches personal relationships. Not only does she encourage clients to be okay with taking opportunities, even if it means leaving a long-time employer who has been good to them, she says the same thing to her own employees. For her, it is a matter of respect – she respects that her employees have a choice and that it’s not personal. That type of approach, she says, empowers her employees and creates a more transparent workplace.

Listen to my conversation with Kathy here:

Out of the PODS Container and back to Podcasts …

Thanks for all your messages and notes over September! The Blog and Podcast were unexpectedly on a longer than planned hiatus as we dealt with the technical challenges associated with moving my home and office at the same time (more on that later).

Through that process, and challenge, I had to focus on my Personal Dashboard to ensure that I was able to provide my team with leadership and my family with support. Now, that’s done and, as planned, I have an amazing lineup of Podcasts and Blogs coming to you soon.

Even better, I can report that Jack Daly and I have put the final touches on the book outline, which I hope to have done VERY soon!

Keep up the conversation and I look forward to sharing with you some amazing stories of entrepreneurial and leadership wisdom in the weeks to come!

Make it a great day!