Driving the Road to Success
Here's how you can following the path of Bezos, Bain and Disney.
The following excerpt is from Unreasonable Success and How to Achieve It: Unlocking the Nine Secrets of People Who Changed the World, out now via Entrepreneur Press. Purchase from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound | Entrepreneur Press.
If your goal is to be unreasonably successful, the journey to get there is one you must travel on your own terms. I liken the concept to driving your own personal vehicle on the road to success. There are two types of vehicle which can give unreasonable success. The first type is useful; the second is indispensable.
Type 1: Pool Vehicles
The first type of vehicle is something that already exists in your environment, something external or extraneous to you, which you can leap on and from which you can derive great benefit. I call these "pool vehicles" because I worked in an oil refinery and we had pickup trucks to drive around its sprawling estate. Pool vehicles could be used by any manager.
In your career, a pool vehicle is something in the environment that can help you. It won’t guarantee success, but it is a good start. What is there around you — knowledge, worldview, technology or other trends — that you can use as a launch pad?
For Bill Bain, it was the theories of business strategy that had been originated by the Boston Consulting Group. BCG put its ideas, such as the Boston Box, out into the public domain to build reputation and sell business. When Bain started Bain & Company, he was able to use all BCG’s concepts. They were high-octane stuff, fuelling a whole new industry.
Jeff Bezos also used the BCG ideas to develop his philosophy for Amazon, especially dominant market share and lowest costs and prices. Bezos also benefitted from two other pool vehicles: internet retailing and "Californian Venture Capital Syndrome," which values growth above short-term profits, supporting Amazon’s losses for long years, allowing a focus on customer experience and low prices.
The two pool vehicles Walt Disney exploited so well were the rise of animated cartoons and, later, the rise of amusement parks. Disneyland was in many ways the opposite of traditional amusement parks, which Walt disdained as "nasty, dirty places run by hard-faced men." Without their existence, he would probably not have had the idea for a pristine and uplifting park idealizing the best of American small-town values.
Type 2: Your Personal Vehicle
Pool vehicles are useful, but your own personal vehicle is essential. In other words, you must create something new that vastly increases your impact on the world. You can use your personal vehicle for three reasons:
• Leverage — Use the vehicles’ power, wealth, manpower, reputation, intellectual property and influence.
• Collaboration — Enabling you to do what you can't do yourself or can't do well, like supplying
missing ingredients; building supporters.
• Credibility and publicity — Help you to be taken seriously by backers, gatekeepers, enthusiasts and finally the general public/customers.
For example, Bill Bain built a very large consulting firm, consisting of hundreds and then thousands of high-powered consultants. He needed large of numbers of Bain consultants to talk to client executives throughout their organization, to understand their perspective on the strategic issues as defined by Bain & Company; to gather data both inside the organization and in the marketplace; to perform analyses; and then to present the findings to the client, while also nurturing the close relationship between Bain and the client company.
The collaboration he needed also came from his partners, the people who sold client assignments and master minded them. In the early days of Bain & Company, Bain withdrew from doing this himself — not because he couldn’t, but because he didn’t want to, and he spent his time dreaming of the future and managing his partners closely. Without the likes of Ralph Willard, John Halpern and Mitt Romney, Bain & Company would not have been so spectacularly successful. I have never seen such a talented and effective team of people below the boss, or a team so loyal to Mr Big. Incidentally, Bain did not buy them with money; he kept most of that for himself. He mentored and inspired them, simultaneously giving them free rein, yet retaining control.
Bezos needs the leverage of his Amazon army to an even greater extent than Bain did. Bezos too places enormous importance on the quality and ambition of those he recruits. To get big fast required him to build an enormous organization. Collaboration was similarly vital. Because Bezos knew nothing about functions such as warehousing and logistics, when Amazon had to start investing very heavily in these, he hired the very best people he could find, backed them totally unless they failed and fired them if they did.
Credibility was also vital. It came by becoming the largest online retailer by far (later the largest retailer period) of books and then of other products. Bezos' relentless focus on exceptional customer service and unbeatable prices underpinned Amazon’s rapid expansion.
Disney started his studio with just one other cartoonist, the nerdy and introverted Ub Iwerks. Disney supplied the ideas, Iwerks the execution. Mickey Mouse is the perfect example. Somehow, mice had entered Disney’s unconscious mind. On a train from Chicago to Los Angeles, he sketched a scenario for "Plane Crazy," about a mouse who built a plane in order to woo a lady mouse. The storyline worked, but his drawing was hopeless. Iwerks redesigned the rodent, giving Mickey a curved posterior and a long nose, which made all the difference.
Related: Don't Think Outside Your Box!
A pool vehicle that already exists is a useful start — something you can leap upon and use for your own purposes. If there is nothing in the environment you want to use as a vehicle or anti-vehicle, you should change your environment to a more fertile one. For unreasonable success, you must have your own personal vehicle. You cannot walk to unreasonable success. What is to be your vehicle?