I had the privilege of attending the Mercer University Executive Forum the other night to listen to David Cumming speak about innovation and entrepreneurship. He told his story of starting businesses and supporting entrepreneurs in Atlanta and Georgia. He tried to make some important points for where Macon could go if it embraced startups and entrepreneurs of all kinds. But buried in the presentation were a couple of points that I feel are important for anyone to think about.
In case you haven’t heard of David he is the founder of Pardot, an online marketing application company located in Atlanta that he sold a few years ago for $95M (Which to me isn’t the important point) and he also founded Atlanta Technology Village, ATV (Which in of itself is incredible). All of this before he was 33 years old. So in a very short life so far he has built a lot and supported a lot. Inside that message were two points that I think are worth really exploring.
The biggest thing that I took from David the other night was how he didn’t wait for someone to say it was OK to do something or that what he wanted to do was possible. He saw needs and opportunities and took steps to do something with and about them. It is the difference between asking “Is it possible” and “Why isn’t it possible”. He is aware of the world around him and experiences he has in that world. Having this awareness and openness to see things is an incredible gift that anyone can cultivate. You start with the desire to see things differently and then taking the time to ask yourself often, as often as each interaction, what did you see/feel in the interactions you had. Many of us already do this but don’t realize it and what we express comes out as a complaint about a situation instead of a solution for it. If we saw things through the lens of what could be instead of what is we would find more and more chances to take advantage of them. But once you see them you have to avoid the second trap that David seems to do naturally which is “the voice saying no”. So many times we let others or ourselves talk us out of pursuing something because what we are considering isn’t in keeping with what they know to be true or what they think should be done about something. To me this speaks to the singular vision of people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook who pursued their dreams of making the world better against the wills of many and in the face of the unknown. A quote that I wish I could find a source for is “Those that fear change are most are those that have mastered the old”. To get back to David’s story when he started ATV he purchased a $12M building and put $100K of furniture in it and then invited startups to come and pay rent month to month to be there. All terrible ideas that probably were expressed to him but he either didn’t hear or didn’t listen to. In this building they provide free drinks (including tap beer) and snacks in the rent, they have nap rooms and game rooms. I heard people saying after his presentation “I can’t believe people don’t take advantage of all of that” several times. Which brings me to point two I got from his presentation.
David always spoke in “we” and “us” when he talked about what was accomplished. He talked about his focus on culture and values. When he talked about the crazy benefits that Pardot offered, unlimited PTO and house cleaning, and/or ATV, beer and nap rooms, he wasn’t bragging about doing more but doing what was needed to attract the right people and retain them. For me all of this comes down to the point that all problems in business are people problems. You have to have a clear mission and vision for the organization that you share so that people can decide if they want to be part of that effort. That is about hiring the RIGHT people. If you don’t have cultural alignment people won’t be with you long or if they are they will slow you down if not hold you back. You have to be able to link what they are doing and want to do with that mission and vision to keep them. That is about getting those RIGHT people in the RIGHT seats. In some cases when there are many great organizations out there to work for with great missions you have to find ways to help people focus on what they are uniquely able to do. Just because they are the right people from a culture standpoint doesn’t mean that you have them in the right role. We have started referring to this at Infinity as GWC, Gets It, Wants It, Has Capacity to do it. Which we took from the EOS system. If they are the right people but don’t GWC then you have to find another seat for them even if that seat isn’t with your team. Then once you have the right people in right seats you have to spend all of your time as a leader working to support and focus them on those things and the organizations mission. Back to the “I can’t believe people don’t take advantage of all of that”, if you have the RIGHT people doing the RIGHT work then they won’t desire to waste their time abusing the perks but understand they have those perks because of the focus and effort they put into the organization.
So to bring both of these together, those of us that want to change our companies, community or the world have to find those things that only we see that need to be done, work toward them regardless of whether they make sense to others, be able to articulate why we are doing it in a way that allows us to gather others to our effort that want to use their skills in the effort, and focus those skills on only those things that they GWC. Not hard right? To be honest I have allowed opportunities to pass, I have let the words of others cause me to not do things I thought were a good idea and I have failed many times to get the right people and get them in the right seats. But what I haven’t failed to do is learn from my past so that my future can be better. I commend David Cumming for taking a great business success and turning it into something that is helping others achieve their dreams. I hope to be part of a community here in Macon that one day does the same for those in our community by seeing things differently and have the courage to try.
On a final note for those that are aware we have an unlimited Paid Time Off (PTO) policy here at Infinity, Pardot was one of the companies that inspired me to set it up. And I am still inspired by it because their entire policy is two words “Be Reasonable”. All because they have the RIGHT people they don’t have to over complicate the rules. Do you have the RIGHT people on your team? Would love to hear how you find them and keep them with you too.