John Spence went from being kicked out of college with a D average to becoming CEO of an international Rockefeller foundation and reporting directly to Winthrop P. Rockefeller III just a few years later. This turn around wasn’t an accident, it was something John did by maintaining a focus on innovation, personal growth, and a thirst for learning. As an entrepreneur, he has worn many hats, but has always maintained that focus on innovation. This is the inspiration for his contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom: “II > EI”. Simply put, the equation means that to be successful in the future, the rate of internal innovation must exceed the rate of external innovation.
In the entrepreneurial world, when everything around you becomes unstable, internal innovation is required in order to maintain (or grow), especially considering the speed of change around us. Entrepreneurs know in their core that in order to be successful, we must out-innovate, out-create, out-experiment, and out-deliver our competitors.
The pace of innovation is faster and the scope is broader (global) in every industry, sector, and marketplace. Consider the modern smart phone: in 1982, to purchase something that had every capability that a smart phone currently has would’ve cost $3.2 billion dollars (with a B!) and been the size of two tractor-trailers. An iPhone now retails for $700 and fits in your pocket. In 10 years, you may be able to purchase the same capabilities for $5 at the size of a human blood cell.
The next question that most entrepreneurs will ask, according to John, is regarding intellectual property and the protection of ideas. While the open source economy is rapidly developing, the protection of intellectual property will require a heightened attention on process. This means a powerful commitment to continuous, daily, incremental improvement. In John’s experience, this also requires convening with like-minded individuals to bring new ideas and provide support (the oxymoron of personal connection in the face of technological disconnect).
In that vein, John’s work has provided him with relevant analysis on the younger generation of today’s workforce and produced surprising results. The so-called millennial generation values the opportunity to do important work, work with cool people, and make a difference. This comes from the realization that you can Google an answer, but not a question - it cannot ask you a question and cause you to think critically. The correlation for entrepreneurs is that the success of your business, regardless of size, is directly determined by the quality of the people that you can get, grow, and and retain. Even for “solo-preneurs”, this means your personal network - people who can challenge you and help generate ideas (the process is likely to be 90% give, 10% take).
From similar analytical findings, John’s research shows that the qualities people value most in leadership are asking great questions and the ability to listen. When listening to your key players, ask yourself the following: What does that mean to me? How can I use that? What can I do right away? Similarly, according to John, you must be bold enough and curious enough to explore different industries as a new source of learning and growth.
When thinking of this kind of exponential growth, consider this analogy: which choice you would make if someone offered you either $1 million immediately, or 1 cent that doubles every day for 30 days? The long-term satisfaction of the latter is a perfect microcosm for John’s philosophy on internal innovation.
Jason Womack is an educator, author, entrepreneur, and CEO, among other things. He is an avid practitioner of his own philosophies on work/life balance, productivity, and forward progress, and with Master’s degrees in Education and Psychology, is well-educated in the way we think. These facets of Jason’s life and work have inspired his contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom, which is a simple straight line from point A to point B. The philosophy behind Jason’s napkin focuses on how to get to point B without getting knocked off course, how to persevere when the path gets rough, and how to focus when it gets easy.
As Jason explains, from a certain age, we are programmed to look towards “what is next” (e.g. in high school, we look towards college as the next step). This is the difference between destination-based goals and direction-based goals. “Getting through the day”, for example, is a destination-based goal - it is not necessarily a bad thing, but it may be limiting your perspective. After a few instances of concentrating on destination, however, you begin to understand your direction - the experience(s) you want to have, both in your work and your life.
Direction, according to Jason, is all about momentum. It allows you to experience - and learn from - everything along the path to point B. An exercise that Jason employs is to consistently acknowledge when something is complete, rather than rerunning it internally to find mistakes or weaknesses. This exercise not only helps to push forward, but also helps to commit to systems and processes. This creates a flow of psychology, sociology, and technology, which Jason says will help clarify your direction-based goals.
In terms of psychology (the thinking side), create an “at my best” list - an explicit inventory of conditions when you are most successful (e.g. eating a full breakfast, meeting first-thing with key players, etc). Think of this list as another version of strength-finder, where you create an opportunity to move forward. Another way to think of this is resilience. Most would consider resilience when faced with major, life-changing, negative events, but Jason encourages us to also consider everyday stressors and obstacles that you get past, which indicate that you’re making progress.
The second phase - sociology - is all about support. Ask yourself who are you going to hang out with next, and decide whether that person is someone who will help you get to the next level. You will eventually find yourself in an atmosphere of mentorship, friendship, family, and support. The “who” in this instance will always have a profound impact on the “why” the “how” and the “why”, and will further influence your movement, momentum, and destination.
Finally, Jason talks about technology. Rather than just the screen size, battery life, and cord length, Jason refers to any tool that will help with tracking and accountability. In other words, how do you utilize the tools - high- and low-tech - available to you in order to keep moving forward? How do you track yourself and what systems do you employ?
From these three areas, Jason has developed three questions to ask yourself on a daily basis to help focus your direction: 1) what did I complete today? 2) who can I acknowledge today? 3) what am I grateful for today? This exercise will help show that everything is relative - both the successes and the failures (e.g. the guy without shoes complains until he sees the guy without feet). It also creates a powerful historical record to show that something that seems significant now might not seem that way a few months or years later.
As entrepreneurs, we are experts in cognitive dissonance, according to Jason - the ability to notice a gap or when something is off. We must challenge ourselves also to notice what is there and what is “on”.