My idol growing up was basketball legend Dr. J (Julius Erving). The problem was, however, as hard as I tried to be like him and make the moves he made, I simply couldn’t come close (mild understatement)… and I was pissed as hell! Years later, I had business idols. First it was Sam Walton of Walmart, then Steve Jobs, then someone else, then someone else…
The Transformation From Idolizing… To Admiring… To Learning
Fortunately, at some point along the way, I unconsciously switched from ‘idolizing’ people and brands to ‘admiring’ them, and it wasn’t until then that I was truly able to establish my own identity, which helped me develop into my own individual ‘brand’ if you will. My ‘idols’ became ‘mentors’ who I learned from, and I learn something from someone everyday… and I love that. Many people say they are the best and greatest at what they do. That may be true if you are Michael Phelps, but even in his case, he recently learned (via Ryan Lochte) that you are only ‘the best’ until, well, YOU ARE NOT.
It also matters not just ‘what you learn’ but how that information is relevant to your situation that will actually help you be better at what you do. For example, the story of Ben and Jerry taught me tremendous lessons on business, but nothing of it had anything to do with making or selling ice cream. Bill Gates is another person I admire. Though I haven’t learned a single thing about writing code, as the only code I’m adept at is the 4-digit code I enter at the ATM, I still have learned a tremendous amount from him on the many other aspects of his business and the strategies that enabled him to succeed. Probably one of the greatest feats I think is how he was able to sign his deal with IBM to license his software, while avoiding giving them the exclusive rights. That one clause in his contract with IBM was probably the single biggest factor as to why Microsoft has become one of the most successful companies on Earth. Why? Well, had that clause in his contract be written differently, IBM would be his only client! But back to identity and individuality…
Who are You and What Have You Done With Me?
I would say that less than half of the people I meet in business are truly operating out of their own identity, and that is an understatement. They’re still stuck trying to be their own versions whoever their particular “Dr. J” is. The sad thing is I think that is a big factor that holds them back…
Stock value aside, I think it’s great that Mark Zuckerberg wears a hoodie, because that’s him and he’s being true to himself. If I saw him every day in a three piece suit I’m sure he’d look like a moron, only because he would feel like a moron, as I am a firm believer that you look how you feel and vice versa. I also think it’s great that Steve Jobs was, for lack of a better word, ‘challenging’ to work with, as if it wasn’t for that, he wouldn’t have got kicked out of his own company, invested in a small company called Pixar, made a thousand times the return on his investment, and come back to dominate the company he was kicked out of years before, and go on to revolutionize the computer industry in just a few short years.
Find Out What You Suck At
Personally, I think it’s great that I learned early that I sucked at baseball, as I was able to pick up a basketball and do a far better job! Steve Jobs may have sucked at a lot of things, but he sure as hell was a genius at integrating technology in a way that forced customers of his first product to come back to buy the second, and third, and so on. Defining what you are good at and what you ‘suck at’, I have found to be a blessing. Which leads me to a quick story…
In 1991, Gary, who was my first ever business partner (and my current partner today at N2ITIV) was having a bit of a hard time handling the operations part of our business, and I was having an even harder time as the designer. One day, I walked into his office and proposed that we switch. He would become the designer and I’d handle the day-to day affairs of the business. Well, in the nearly 22 years since, I have stuck to the operations side of business, and he has gone on to handle the design and creative departments of not only three companies we have had together, but also has headed the creative side for many multi-billion dollar corporations as well.
My point here is to find out who you are and what you are good at and, once you do, brand it like your life depended on it! A good way to find out who you are is to get a notepad out and write what your true passions are. Write down who you admire and what you admire about them. Ask your family and friends what they think your greatest strengths are and, well, ‘what you suck at’. This will help give you a clear understanding of who you are. I am so happy I have learned ‘what I suck at’.
I must pop in a small disclaimer though. This post is geared mainly towards the entrepreneurs or small business owners to help define who they are, so they can delegate the other responsibilities to those who are more adept in the areas where they are weak. This does not however apply to things like individual sports, where you have to be well rounded at everything as if you play tennis and have a lousy backhand, your opponent will expose your weakness all day!
So be yourself, and if you don’t know who you are, grab a pen and start writing and pick up a phone and start calling. That’s all for now.
Have a great day!