Jim Collins cautioned us to avoid the hubris of our own success; don’t be too rigid or too steadfastly tied to the way it’s always been and fail to think about the way it is going to be. To me, avoiding this mistake comes down to one word “awareness” and awareness comes down to one of my favorite expressions: admitting you don’t know what you don’t know. When I walk around New York City, where I live now part time, I’m still a big kid from South Dakota. I get excited to walk outside every day and can’t believe I get to do what I do with so many great people and companies. That’s what being a beginner is about for me — that’s what keeps me grounded and constantly aware: the joy of discovering what I don’t know every day! And I try to stay in that sense of awareness in everything I do, excited and unafraid to be a beginner. I walk in with an ego and then let it go.
Be like this and maybe you can avoid what Dina Kaplan, the co-founder of blip.tv, told me she did wrong when her company launched: “We thought we had this great product, and we just thrust it on our users and said, ‘Here you go!’ We should have paused, listened to the influencers in our world, built up friendships and trust and then asked: what do you think of this product we’ve been working on? How can we improve it? You don’t enter a conversation by yelling at people, you enter it by pausing and listening and only then, after some time, speaking up.” Joe Pulizzi, a Content Marketing Evangelist and “lover of all things orange,” made the same mistake: “I fell in love with the idea of our product. Not that it was a bad product, but it just wasn’t needed in the industry as much as I thought. I sought out advice from my mentors too late in the process. They saw this coming way before I did. If I had a do over, I would have talked to my mentors at least every other month instead of about every six months.”
Ann M. Devine, Executive Director of Pi Sigma Epsilon (the national sales and marketing fraternity) echoes both of these change agents: “In all the companies I worked with and for, they all had one thing in common: whether they were a small business or Fortune 1000, at some point they forgot about the basics. Simple things like segmenting markets, increasing revenues and decreasing expenses, or thinking marketing was creating brochures and catalogs.”
Overconfidence, arrogance, forgetting the basics… three of the deadliest sins leaders commit when they fail to check in constantly and forget the basic rules of testing and trying things out before they go. In other words, “kids” take our advice: do your homework and ground yourself in the processes, data, and marketing expertise you need to succeed.