What Do Two Pizzas, Blue Cars and a Dented Universe Have in Common? You Know If You’re an Innovator

IMG_2643That idea you have, which everyone is calling crazy and couldn’t possibly work: well, it probably won’t work. But you should try it anyway.

Such was the advice of Guy Kawasaki (pictured), venture capitalist and former chief evangelist at Apple: “If someone says you will fail, it doesn’t always mean you will succeed. But if you don’t try, you will never know…and that’s the worst outcome.”

Kawasaki was one of a dozen powerhouse speakers at The Synergy Global Forum, held last Friday and Saturday and positioned as a blockbuster event to inspire entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to go big, take risks, think differently. It was held at none other than Madison Square Garden and the game was on for the audience of roughly 6,000 people of all ages and from all over the world to apply morsels of wisdom from Sir Richard Branson, Jack Welch, Malcolm Gladwell, Steve Forbes, Gary Vaynerchuk and a handful of others. The roster was short on women – featuring actress Robin Wright speaking on gender equality, entrepreneur Billie Whitehouse and Kimberly Guilfoyle, host of Fox News, as the emcee of the event. (Surely, the Synergy organizers could have found a few more female leaders to take the stage? I digress…)

While each speaker brought a unique perspective to leadership, management and innovation, there were key themes resonating across the starlit stage over two days. Like a preacher in a church, a rabbi’s sermon or a commencement speaker at a college graduation, what you hear is validating what you know. Repetition, however, strengthens your resolve and perhaps leads you to real change. I thought I’d share some truisms I picked up at the event that might be useful on your professional journey:

On teams and talent:

“Talent is the most important disruptor” (Bonin Bough, entrepreneur and former global marketer director at Mondelez), so invest in your people. And know when to fold ’em. “You are only as good as your weakest link” (Malcolm Gladwell). Lastly, hire carefully – “it’s better to have a hole than an asshole” (Ben Bradbury). What might have been the most tweeted quote of the event was the eloquently noted declaration (and book title) by Richard Branson on taking chances: “Screw it, let’s do it.”

Communication:

Music to PR’s ears: know how to talk to people, how to tell your story and how to listen. “Communication, not lack of ideas, is the reason why companies fail” (Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google). That said, roll it out carefully: “Vision without execution is hallucination” (author Simon Sinek).

Personalities & Pursuits:

Hard skills are becoming a commodity; emotional intelligence and classic skill sets will be of most value in the marketplace (Gary Vaynerchuk). Emotional intelligence, along with good judgment and negotiating savvy, make the list of the The World Economic Forum’s top 10 skills employers will seek by 2020. Kawasaki emphasized to “niche yourself,” identifying unique attributes of your product and service that will stand out. Think of the smart car that fits in a parking space without having to parallel park. Not a small feat.

Teams:

When working on projects, assign small teams of no more than 12 people, advises Steve Forbes. He invoked Jeff Bezos’ 2-pizza rule that if you need to order more than 2 pizzas for a meeting, you have too many people in the meeting.

Mentors:

When we were in grade school, we liked those teachers who were easy on us; but when we get older we’re looking for mentors and managers who push us harder. We realize, says Kawasaki, that it’s easy to get lazy and we can’t succeed without some assistance.

Much of the Synergy Forum was about the proverbial thinking outside the box. First, you need to know what’s in the box. Forbes relayed the story of Alfred Sloan at General Motors who challenged Ford Motor Co., which at the time was just producing black cars in one model. That was the “box.” While Ford’s Model T only came in the color black between 1914-26, Sloan changed the rules and GM started producing cars of various colors, various models and price points and took a leadership position.

So, what’s in your box and do you have the courage to step out of it? Or, as Steve Jobs, would say: “Dent the universe.”

— Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz