How many times has your success depended on knowing something that most people don’t? The survey research I did for my new book, Business Brilliant, uncovered just how frequently highly-successful people think and act differently from the great majority of people with identical levels of education and smarts.
There are certain elements of success that everyone agrees on–ambition, hard work, persistence, and a positive attitude. But my survey showed how some people have “business brilliance,” a distinctive take on getting ahead that is often at odds with the more pervasive mindset.
If you want to get an edge and separate yourself from the common herd, take some cues from the seven beliefs and habits of the most successful people:
1. An equity position is necessary to get wealthy.
Ninety percent of the super-successful say this is true, versus fewer than half of the masses. More importantly, 80 percent of “business brilliant” people say they already have an equity stake in their work. Just 10 percent of the middle-class have an equity position of any kind, and the vast majority (70 percent) say they’re not even trying to get one.
2. I’m always looking to gain an advantage in my business dealings.
About 90 percent of “business brilliant” individuals say they are always trying to grab an edge, compared with just about 40 percent of the middle-class. Gaining even small advantages in a series of deals can have a cumulative effect on your wealth, but since most people aren’t even looking for one, they’re that much more likely to end up on the disadvantaged side of every deal.
3. Doing things well is more important than doing new things.
Getting wealthy usually means you’ve taken an ordinary idea and executed it exceptionally well. That’s what 9 in 10 “business brilliant” people believe. Most other people, though, think that wealth requires a big, new idea. Unfortunately for them, big ideas are rare and risky. Too many people are waiting on the sidelines for the perfect big idea to come along, while the most successful people have jumped in the game, and busily honed their skills at execution.
4. I hire people who are smarter than I am.
Exceptional execution requires those who are business brilliant to focus on the two or three things they do very well. So they get their work done by building teams with complementary capabilities. Surveys show that most people, though, would rather learn to do tasks they’re bad at than get others to do them. The business brilliant know that you get to the top because of your strengths, not your weaknesses.
5. It’s essential I really understand my business associates’ motivations.
If you’re dependent on other talented employees, you’d best know what makes those talented people tick. That’s the belief of about seven in 10 people in my “business brilliant” cohort, compared with fewer than 20 percent of the middle-class. My survey suggests that your willingness and desire to really get to know and understand your business associates is a sure marker of success–and one that most people don’t have.
6. I can easily walk away from a deal if it’s not right.
The “business brilliant” know that bad deals, like bad marriages, can be painful–and costly. So if the deal on the table isn’t right, 71 percent say they have no problem cutting bait and moving on. Only about 22 percent of the middle-class say the same. Most people are willing to take their chances on deals that don’t seem right from the start, even though it’s less risky to walk away.
7. Setbacks and failures have taught me what I’m good at.
Those who are “business brilliant” have, on average, more failures than members of the middle-class. But they use those failures to help them succeed on the next attempt. Just 17 percent of the middle-class say they learn from their failures in this way, which is really a shame. Everything worth trying contains an element of risk, after all. If you fall on your face, you might as well learn from the experience to help you succeed on your next try.
HOW to reach prosperity:
What’s the Clear Roadmap to Prosperity?
For more than half a century, Americans could confidently follow a path to wealth. In this book excerpt, the author of Business Brilliant explains that scenario is no longer viable.
In the coming pages, you will see how Business Brilliance has little to do with IQ or education. You will learn how Richard Branson became a billionaire because he can’t read a financial spreadsheet. You will discover how a high school educated circus clown used his Business Brilliance to become the billionaire founder of Cirque du Soleil. You will find out why a Brooklyn entrepreneur needed to listen to his lowest-paid employees, and how a $100 million line of business was the result. You will see how the famously impulsive founder of JetBlue uses his Business Brilliance to build soaring successes atop his many crushing failures.
In the process you will witness the debunking of some very popular myths about success. You’ll see how Warren Buffett started getting rich as soon as he stopped investing the “Warren Buffett Way.” How Suze Orman built her personal wealth by ignoring her own gospel of frugality. How Bill Gates made the business deal of the century not because he’s a computer genius or an “outlier” but because he executed doggedly on a simple three-step business strategy that anyone can learn. You will see how Steve Jobs stumbled into his greatest fortune by sheer accident—and then rewrote history so it looked like it had been his plan all along.
But most importantly, the seven Business Brilliant principles will help you learn about yourself. You’ll see why it’s just as important to follow the money as it is to follow your passion. Why a “big idea” won’t help you succeed, but the person in the cubicle next to you probably can. Why your network needs fewer people, not more. And why you’re better off doing only the very few things that you do exceptionally well. You’ll also learn about some behaviors that might be holding you back. Why you fail to ask for what you want at the very moments you’re most likely to get it. Why you feel bad when you win a negotiation. And why failure itself is a bad thing only if, like most people, you try to push it out of your mind by taking on something new.
I didn’t figure out these principles on my own. They are the products of years of original research, careful study, persistence through setbacks, and lots of help from other people. In fact, the book you are holding is the product of all seven of the Business Brilliant principles it explores.
The Trouble with What Everyone Knows
In the past six years, household net worth in the United States has fallen by trillions of dollars. The Census Bureau estimates that Americans lost more than one-third of their net worth between 2005 and 2010. White-collar unemployment, meanwhile, has lingered around 6 percent, a number not seen since the 1983 recession, 30 years ago. Standing behind these ranks of unemployed white-collar workers are millions employed workers who are worried about the stability of their jobs and wondering about the long-term viability of their professions and their chosen careers.
You’ve probably never heard of Umair Haque, but the Harvard Business Review ranks the young London-based consultant as one of the world’s 50 top management thinkers. In March 2012, Haque posted an unusual blog entry on the Harvard Business Review website. In it he wrote, “All around us, yesterday’s institutions are buckling and breaking, creaking and cracking (markets, governments, universities, corporations).” We count on institutions to provide us with social stability and rules to live by, but Haque says it’s obvious that the rules are all broken: “You know it and I know it. If you play by the rules today, you’re probably going to end up broke, lonely, miserable, exploited and empty.”
Which brings me to your motivation for reading this book.
Every chapter in this book explodes a commonly held myth about creating wealth and reveals success secrets of self-made millionaires and billionaires that they’re not always eager to discuss. Most founders of Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 500—their list of the fastest growing private companies in America—say that the ideas used in their businesses were more or less stolen from their previous employers, though you’ll never see a news release to that effect.
In the next chapter, I will take the saying “Do what you love and the money will follow” and stand it on its head. The chapter will show how the world’s richest clown, the world’s richest fine artist and Seinfeld’s most successful bit player have all achieved enormous wealth by doing what they love while always, always following the money. The following chapter will show why self-made millionaires ignore the scrimp-save-and-invest mantra of the financial services industry and why three-quarters of all the people reading this book are underpaid. Subsequent chapters will explore principles of Business Brilliance such as “Know-Who Is Better Than Know-How,” which reveals the virtues of taking a “heads I win, tails I don’t lose” approach to any project and “Imitate, Don’t Innovate,” which attempts to bury once and for all the myth that success requires a “big idea.”
In the final chapter, I’ll go out on a limb, offering my own four-point program for Business Brilliance, based on my interpretation of the best practices among self-made millionaires. I call this program LEAP, in part because following it requires a certain leap of faith in the Business Brilliant approach. It’s also called LEAP because I believe that if you take all four points to heart and then execute on each of the accompanying 17 steps, you will enjoy a quantum leap in your income. I can’t promise that I know how to mint new millionaires. That’s the stuff of late-night get-rich-quick infomercials. But I can promise that your outlook on making money will change fundamentally and your results will improve if you make the LEAP program a priority in your life.
I see an urgent need for this book. To me, the main issue for decades now has been risk. More and more financial risk has been heaped upon members of the educated middle class in the form of lost pension plans, reduced health-care coverage, skyrocketing tuition costs, and the housing bubble. Big corporations and other institutional employers used to shelter us from these risks in exchange for our diligence, conformity, and loyalty. But that deal, common 50 years ago, is dead. Now the riskiest thing you can do is try to hold up your end of that bargain and hope that your employer will reciprocate. In other words, we are all now free agents. We are all entrepreneurs, whether we want to be or not.
Being a know-it-all is a great way to make people question your common sense.
When it comes to credibility-building, the three most powerful words in the English language are: “I don’t know.”
Many salespeople and most managers think that they’ll lose credibility if they admit ignorance, especially about something about which they “ought” to know. However, the exact opposite is the case.
Admitting ignorance makes everything else you say more credible. Admitting ignorance marks you as a person who’s not afraid to speak the truth, even when that truth might reflect poorly on you.
Needless to say, the “I don’t know” should be followed by a plan to discover the information that’s required, if the issue is truly important. And you WILL be judged on whether you deliver on that promise.
But here’s the thing: people dislike a know-it-all. They can often sense, at a gut level, when they’re being BSed. Even if they’re taken in, when they find out (as usually happens) that they’ve been BSed, they never trust the BSer again.
10 Things Extraordinary People Say Every Day
They’re small things, but each has the power to dramatically change someone’s day. Including yours.
Want to make a huge difference in someone’s life? Here are things you should say every day to your employees, colleagues, family members, friends, and everyone you care about:
“Here’s what I’m thinking.”
You’re in charge, but that doesn’t mean you’re smarter, savvier, or more insightful than everyone else. Back up your statements and decisions. Give reasons. Justify with logic, not with position or authority.
Though taking the time to explain your decisions opens those decisions up to discussion or criticism, it also opens up your decisions to improvement.
Authority can make you “right,” but collaboration makes everyone right–and makes everyone pull together.
“I was wrong.”
I once came up with what I thought was an awesome plan to improve overall productivity by moving a crew to a different shift on an open production line. The inconvenience to the crew was considerable, but the payoff seemed worth it. On paper, it was perfect.
In practice, it wasn’t.
So, a few weeks later, I met with the crew and said, “I know you didn’t think this would work, and you were right. I was wrong. Let’s move you back to your original shift.”
I felt terrible. I felt stupid. I was sure I’d lost any respect they had for me.
It turns out I was wrong about that, too. Later one employee said, “I didn’t really know you, but the fact you were willing to admit you were wrong told me everything I needed to know.”
When you’re wrong, say you’re wrong. You won’t lose respect–you’ll gain it.
“That was awesome.”
No one gets enough praise. No one. Pick someone–pick anyone–who does or did something well and say, “Wow, that was great how you…”
And feel free to go back in time. Saying “Earlier, I was thinking about how you handled that employee issue last month…” can make just as positive an impact today as it would have then. (It could even make a bigger impact, because it shows you still remember what happened last month, and you still think about it.)
Praise is a gift that costs the giver nothing but is priceless to the recipient. Start praising. The people around you will love you for it–and you’ll like yourself a little better, too.
Think about a time you gave a gift and the recipient seemed uncomfortable or awkward. Their reaction took away a little of the fun for you, right?
The same thing can happen when you are thanked or complimented or praised. Don’t spoil the moment or the fun for the other person. The spotlight may make you feel uneasy or insecure, but all you have to do is make eye contact and say, “Thank you.” Or make eye contact and say, “You’re welcome. I was glad to do it.”
Don’t let thanks, congratulations, or praise be all about you. Make it about the other person, too.
“Can you help me?”
When you need help, regardless of the type of help you need or the person you need it from, just say, sincerely and humbly, “Can you help me?”
I promise you’ll get help. And in the process you’ll show vulnerability, respect, and a willingness to listen–which, by the way, are all qualities of a great leader.
And are all qualities of a great friend.
We all make mistakes, so we all have things we need to apologize for: words, actions, omissions, failing to step up, step in, show support…
Say you’re sorry.
But never follow an apology with a disclaimer like “But I was really mad, because…” or “But I did think you were…” or any statement that in any way places even the smallest amount of blame back on the other person.
Say you’re sorry, say why you’re sorry, and take all the blame. No less. No more.
Then you both get to make the freshest of fresh starts.
“Can you show me?”
Advice is temporary; knowledge is forever. Knowing what to do helps, but knowing how or why to do it means everything.
When you ask to be taught or shown, several things happen: You implicitly show you respect the person giving the advice; you show you trust his or her experience, skill, and insight; and you get to better assess the value of the advice.
Don’t just ask for input. Ask to be taught or trained or shown.
Then you both win.
“Let me give you a hand.”
Many people see asking for help as a sign of weakness. So, many people hesitate to ask for help.
But everyone needs help.
Don’t just say, “Is there anything I can help you with?” Most people will give you a version of the reflexive “No, I’m just looking” reply to sales clerks and say, “No, I’m all right.”
Be specific. Find something you can help with. Say “I’ve got a few minutes. Can I help you finish that?” Offer in a way that feels collaborative, not patronizing or gratuitous. Model the behavior you want your employees to display.
Then actually roll up your sleeves and help.
“I love you.”
No, not at work, but everywhere you mean it–and every time you feel it.
Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing. If you’re upset, frustrated, or angry, stay quiet. You may think venting will make you feel better, but it never does.
That’s especially true where your employees are concerned. Results come and go, but feelings are forever. Criticize an employee in a group setting and it will seem like he eventually got over it, but inside, he never will.
Before you speak, spend more time considering how employees will think and feel than you do evaluating whether the decision makes objective sense. You can easily recover from a mistake made because of faulty data or inaccurate projections.
You’ll never recover from the damage you inflict on an employee’s self-esteem.
Be quiet until you know exactly what to say–and exactly what affect your words will have.