Be Curious

The people who know the most, realize the most how little they know.

As my regular readers (yay you!) know, I spend my weekdays at the Entrepreneur Center helping entrepreneurs turn their dreams into world-shaking realities.  One way do this is by connecting entrepreneurs to our network of more than 200 trained mentors who have already done the incredible and want to help others do it too.  Yes, it’s a pretty awesome place.

Today I had the privilege of sitting in on a meeting between Rob Humphreys and one of our most dedicated young entrepreneurs, whom I shall refer to as “young professional” since I don’t know if he wants his name all over the Internet.

This “young professional” is one of the people who makes things happen.  He works hard, runs fast, and just gets things done.  He says what he needs to.  He listens when people give him advice.  He is extremely popular in the program.

And he had an hour long meeting with Rob and asked all the questions he had already prepared before the meeting about his business.  It seemed like the perfect meeting, until it was over, and Rob left him with one piece of advice that is important for all of us to remember:

“BE CURIOUS.”

In that entire meeting, the “young professional” didn’t ask a single question about Rob.  He had prepared so hard to make the most of the meeting for his business, he forgot to ask the person he was meeting with to talk about himself.  As a result, this “young professional” didn’t learn that Rob currently ran a company that could help with two things the “young professional” could need, that Rob had actual experience in his industry, or that Rob worked with people that could potentially be great partners.  The “young professional” was so set on getting the answers to the questions he wanted, he hadn’t created the opportunity to get the answers he really needed.

Fortunately, Rob’s the sort of person that goes out of his way to help other people.  But most people aren’t like Rob, and most the time, most people, miss out on opportunities because they aren’t curious about the world outside of the way they already see it.

Be curious and you might find greatness.

– John Murdock, The Young Professional

Beware the False Promotion

One of the most common issues young professionals ask me about is how to succeed in their workplace.  For many, the goal is a promotion to more prestige, money, and perks.  Good for them.  But it’s easy for young professionals to be so eager for success, they fall for the false promotion.

The false promotion is a change in role that has some advantage in status, money, or perks over a person’s current job, but actually lessens the likelihood or timeliness of the person’s long term success.  I call these “promotions” the places good careers go to die.

Before you chase or accept a promotion to a new role, make sure you know not only what happens at that role, but what happens after it.  If 90% of the people who accept the role end up ultimately getting fired, then it might not be the best seat to sit in.  If no one has ever been promoted from there, or people are promoted from there at a much lower rate than other areas of the company, it might make it less likely for you to move up to two levels from where you currently are.

All promotions are not created equal, so don’t expect them to be.  Find out what your options are, and what you are getting into.

– John Murdock, The Young Professional

Startup South Dakota

Occasionally, I interrupt my normal blog pattern to talk about something happening now that’s relevant to you.  There’s a lot going on in the world right now, and while I usually refrain, I finally felt I had no choice left but to weigh in.  That’s right, I’m talking about South Dakota.  And yes, they are an ally of the United States.  I’m not so sure about Egypt.

It was chilly in South Dakota, so I wore a jacket in this picture with Governor Daugaard. Don’t worry, I still had my earbuds.

Tonight, I write to you from the Holiday Inn in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where I’m spending a glorious night after speaking at the really awesome Governor’s Entrepreneurial Symposium.  You really wouldn’t believe all the cool things brewing here unless you saw it, or previously knew about Sioux Falls.  In a few years, you will hear about their startup scene.

Which is probably a little surprising to the people who had never heard of it, like me before I got the invitation.   But it’s an amazing city with nice people, low taxes, and a strong work ethic.  And now its leaders want to grow their economy by encouraging a crazy group of young dreamers to create jobs.

It’s pretty cool that many leaders around the country, realizing the difficulty our economy is in, are turning to the same force it was built on to help save it: the entrepreneurial will.

There’s a group of people in this world who see the world differently.  Who chase dreams, take risks, and make things happen.  Many of them read this blog.  Our forefathers didn’t sail across the ocean in a wooden ship hoping they’d find someone to work for.  They came here to make something, and they did.  And that spirit eventually grew into the world’s greatest nation.  I’m excited to see leaders and entire communities turning back to our roots, and to the spirit that made us great.

And I’m excited to see what happens in Sioux Falls.

– John Murdock, The Young Professional

How to Build Buy-In

Greetings from South Dakota! I am in Sioux Falls for Governor Daugaard’s Entrepreneurial Symposium, where I’ll be speaking for an hour to a couple hundred of South Dakota’s leaders about how to increase entrepreneurial activity in their state.  A very important theme I will be covering, and a reason for the Symposium in the first place, is generating buy-in.  That got me thinking – generating buy-in is critical to any great success, because any great success requires building a team.  Following are three keys to generating buy-in to get other people to pursue your goals (which you think should be their goals).

1) Voice a clear vision: You can’t get people to buy-in to doing something if they don’t know what that something is.  And even if they do buy-in, they only do to what they thought the vision was.  When they realize it was something different, they likely won’t stick around.

2) Give a good reason for the buyers to buy: A lot of missions fail because the leaders gave reasons to buy that were important to them or someone else but not to the people they were trying to convince.  Know the motives of the people you are dealing with, and speak to those motives.

3) Walk your talk: It’s not enough to tell people what they should do if you aren’t willing to do it yourself.  If you want people to support a cause, they need to see you actively supporting it as well.  If you want your employees or teammates to work harder, then you better work even harder.  If you want your team to perform up to their potential, then they better believe you are performing up to yours.  People lose faith in fakes and phonies quickly.

The ability to create buy-in is one of the most powerful strengths a person can cultivate.  How good are you?

 

– John Murdock, The Young Professional

 

The 5 Signs of a Great Mentor

Today I am running mentor training at the Entrepreneur Center, which is a day-long program we run to teach successful business people how to effectively mentor younger entrepreneurs.  In my actual speaking portion of the presentation, I talk about the difference between being good at something and being good at mentoring to it, and the qualities that make a good mentor.  A lot of young professionals realize the need for mentors, but they have trouble evaluating if they are any good.  Here are the first things to look for in evaluating a mentor:

1) They’ve done something relevant to what you want to do: At the Entrepreneur Center, we break all of our mentors into categories of their expertise, and then set them up to mentor only to their areas of expertise.  By specializing your mentors, you will need more than one mentor, but the knowledge you get for everything will be top-notch.

2) They listen: The best mentors are the best listeners.  If you are going to have a good relationship with a mentor, you are going to have to be and feel heard.  The mentor must understand your situation as well as the mentor can to ask the best possible questions and give the best advice.

3) They ask questions: A lot of people think the way to find smart people is to find people who say smart things.  That is not how you find the smartest people.  The smartest people ask the smartest questions.  While all of your mentors don’t need to be academic geniuses, they need to be smart about the topic they are mentoring you on.  If they ask you tough, probing questions that make you think, then they might be great mentors.

4) They never tell you what to do: Your life is yours to live, and no one else’s.  Great mentors will never tell you what to do – no matter how much you might want them to.  Great mentors drive an internal thought process in the mentee by speaking from their own experience and asking probing questions.  If a mentor starts telling you what to do, get a new mentor.

5) They tell you things you don’t want to hear: Great mentors hold the success of the mentee above all other goals.  This obligation requires mentors to give the mentee the truth when it is hard to give.  There is no chance you are perfect, and if your mentor is telling you everything is, your mentor is either dumb or lying.  And if you really were perfect, you wouldn’t need the mentor.  So get rid of that mentor.

Mentors enable greater success, more quickly, with less hardship.  Make sure you have some good ones.

– John Murdock, The Young Professional

Do You Know Where You Are Going?

Yesterday, in Nashville, 7 hot startup companies pitched their businesses to a room packed with hundreds of investors.  The consensus seems to be, and I agree, that all of them did a wonderful job.  This was largely because, for the past 3 months, everyone knew where they were going.

I don’t mean their business ideas – those changed course more than an over served freshmen wandering home from a Frat party.  But they all knew that 3 months after they entered our program, they would get the opportunity to pitch a business to a roomful of investors from across the country, so as much as they wandered, they knew what destination they had to find – an awesome, investable 12 minute pitch.  And find it they did.

This principle doesn’t just apply to businesses.  It can be seen in the entire city of Nashville, which 2 years ago was only ranked in the top 20 of one national publication as one of the best places to start a company.  This year it has been ranked by 8 publications in the top 10.  The entire city has transformed itself, and it’s because, as much as all our different parts might wander, the entire city knows the goal is turn Nashville into the best place in the country to start a company.

It’s a big, ambitious goal.  It’s also a tough one.  But hey, we’re entrepreneurs.  We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Where are you going?

-John Murdock, The Young Professional

Pitch Day

Today, entrepreneurs from the Entrepreneur Center and Jumpstart Foundry in Nashville will formally pitch their businesses to a roomful of nearly 400 investors from all over the country.

For some, it is the result of years of work.  For others, it has been only a few months.  For some of them, it is their business’ real beginning – the moment they will get the money they need to give their idea life, and turn it into a real, thriving, business.  For others, it might be the end of their journey – a business not meant to be.

All of them should be very proud.  They spent the last 3 months with our team at the Entrepreneur Center and Jumpstart Foundry, working feverishly to turn their ideas into reality.  This afternoon they will stand on a stage and explain their ideas, unveil their dreams, and declare their visions for the future (and how they are going to change it).

No matter what happens, they are all winners in my book.

Congratulations Jumpstart Class of 2012.

– John Murdock, The Young Professional