There’s a good chance you’ve lived with a G.E. appliance at some point in time. Lightbulbs, TV’s, washers and dryers – GE has been everywhere in American Households since it was formed in 1892. It’s most famous leader (outside of the big poppa himself, Thomas Edison) was surely CEO Jack Welch. Welch’s aggressive style lead the company through its greatest years of success. Welch was also named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune Magazine in 1999, and the lessons one can draw from his work are too many to count.
Jack Welch passed away at the age of 84 last week. To honor his work, our CEO Michael Dermer riffs on seven of his most recognized words of wisdom.
1. Jack Said… If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.
In this day and age, everyone has competition. Someone else will have more money, more resources, and more technology. It’s not enough just to have a strong “USP.” To be successful in a hyper-competitive world, you need to find a playground where no one else is playing.
Remember, we fight clutter as much as we fight competition. Think about how cluttered your email inbox is; someone could send you a million dollars in gold into your mailbox and you probably wouldn’t even open it. The idea that customers are actively comparing one solution to another is unrealistic… they aren’t. There’s too much to work through.
It’s not enough to just be different or to have a competitive advantage – you need to define the place where you are the only game in town. Or as we like to say, “a playground where no one else is playing.”
2. Jack Said… Face reality as it is, not as it was, or as you wish it to be.
When it comes to being an entrepreneur, there is a brutal truth we have to accept. You are the one that won’t sleep, who will lose friends, max out your credit card, drink too much and fight too much with your significant other, and all over this passionate thing you call your entrepreneurial venture.
There is also a brutal reality that you have to face. And that reality is, that if your venture isn’t going as well as you think it should, it’s your fault. That is, of course, the brutal truth. But facing the reality of the challenges you’ve been up against and embracing the brutal truth to say “How do I excel at the things I’m good at, recognize the things I suck at and know the difference between the two?” is a truth that is the sign of a great leader.
3. Jack Said… When the rate of change inside an institution becomes slower than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight. The only question is when.
Do you know what the CEO of Blockbuster said, just months before it filed for bankruptcy? Something to the effect of “Netflix is not a serious player in all of this.” (Here is the actual quote “Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition,” Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes told the Motley Fool in 2008. “It’s more Walmart and Apple.” His video-rental chain filed for bankruptcy in 2010).
Don’t we think that Walmart should have created Amazon? That Sony should have created Spotify? Or Kodak should have owned the digital photography marketplace? Should Citibank have created PayPal?
They didn’t, because these organizations weren’t operating with an entrepreneurial mindset; they couldn’t see past the current P&L to evolve and adapt.
A traditional organization that thinks more like an entrepreneur is no longer an option; it’s oxygen. Without an entrepreneurial mindset, you won’t survive.
4. Jack Said… When you are a leader, your job is to have all the questions. You have to be incredibly comfortable looking like the dumbest person in the room. Every conversation you have about a decision, a proposal, or a piece of market information has to be filled with you saying, What if? and Why not? and How come?
When you first start an entrepreneurial venture, your organizational chart looks like a solar system and the sun in the middle of the chart is you. Everything depends on you and relies on you and moves forward because of you. At the same time, everything also stumbles because of you and is held back because of you.
For an entrepreneur to turn themselves into a LEADER, there needs to be a transition from operating like a solar system, to an organized chart where the job is no longer to “be the sun” but to enable and empower other people to be the sunshine.
When you empower others by asking them the questions and pointing them in the right direction, your entrepreneurial organization will be set up to thrive.
5. Jack Said… When you own your choices, you own their consequences.
An entrepreneurial venture is characterized by chaos. In the midst of that chaos, one thing will always hold true – there are some people that will own their shit, some people that will “kinda” own their shit, and some that will never own it. When you are part of a larger organization, you can get away with a team of people that “kinda” own their shit, because the systems and processes are in place to keep it running regardless.
When you are an entrepreneur, you can’t get away with that. If you don’t have people that embrace being accountable and taking ownership, it’s impossible to succeed. It’s possible to kid ourselves in the moment, and kid our co-workers, but at the end of the day when we lay our head on the pillow at night, we know whether we owned our shit that day or didn’t.
6. Jack Said… I’ve learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success.
There is a universal truth for all entrepreneurial ventures – if you are doing something you believe is unique, there won’t be a defined path to follow. There will be challenges. If you believe you’re going to create the perfect mousetrap, one that is new and different, and you think it’s guaranteed to catch mice, you’re sorely mistaken. When something is undefined and new, it’s going to be messy. The reality is that perfection is the enemy of the good.
As an entrepreneur, you give it your best shot, get kicked between the legs, come back and refine your approach.
7. Jack Said… Life is too short to spend every day doing something you don’t love.
In his last days, my father told me there was something he wished he had always done. [After he passed] I made a promise that I would never take something that was a passion of mine and say, “I’m not going to give it a shot.”
Being an entrepreneur is not a job, it’s an identity. It’s not about making money or growing your dream company, it’s about living a more fulfilling life. It’s making a promise to ourselves that the ideas that are growing inside of us don’t die, so we won’t look back on our lives and say, “I wish I had.”
This doesn’t mean we pursue every idiotic idea that pops into our mind. What it means, is that we wake up every day making sure we are pursuing what it is we truly find fulfilling.