Stephen Shapiro on Invisible Solutions and Creative Entrepreneurship (#240)
Our Guest Today: Stephen Shapiro
Stephen Shapiro was one of the first guests to appear on Feisworld Podcast in 2014. Today, we are excited to bring him back to the show to talk about his brand new book released on March 3rd, 2020 called: Invisible Solutions: 25 Lenses that Reframe and Help Solve Difficult Business Problems.
The book will help you:
- Discover why we are hardwired to ask ineffective questions and learn to work through those barriers.
- Understand the power and importance of well-defined questions.
- Reframe any problem multiple ways to help you find the optimal solution.
- Move from idea-based innovation to question-based innovation that drives higher ROI.
In this conversation, you’ll hear directly from the author, keynote speaker Stephen Shapiro:
- How he went about constructing the book and finished writing it (based on 10+ years of consulting experience)
- The “user testing” process, and how Stephen was able to gather and leverage user feedback to create the best version of his new book
- How this book compared to some of his previous books – Best Practices Are Stupid, Personality Poker in terms of the writing and marketing experience
- For those of you who are in the process of publishing your first (or second) book, Stephen answers the publishing industry questions and what you need to know as a new author
- For creative entrepreneurs (new and experienced), Stephen helps answer the question: “How do we stand out with so much competition in the market” .
- Where to seek valuable, trusted and actionable advice (and how to cut through the noises to focus on your work)
Watch Our Interview
Stephen Shapiro on Invisible Solutions, Self-Publishing and Creative Entrepreneurship | Feisworld – Powered by Happy Scribe
First of all, when we’re entrepreneurs, at the end of the day, it’s an emotional ride. It is a roller coaster, at least for many of us. There are days when the phone doesn’t ring and you’re like, OK, I’m going to have to go get a job somewhere, or whatever it is. I’ve had my own business for 20 years now. Now. But every single year I go through a cycle, okay, well, this is the last year this isn’t working. But I look at people who are not in the world that we’re in, people who have regular jobs, who have to commute in traffic. I look at people who just don’t have the flexibility that we have. And so even if there are times when I worry, even if there are times when like, oh, this is hard work, I figure in the scheme of things, it’s much more fun. It’s not as much work because I get to choose the work I get to do. So just I remind myself that we are all so blessed to do the things that we do.
I realize that you’ve you are literally one of the first people not even top ten, the first five people I interviewed for my podcast called Phase World back in 2014. And I remember driving up to meet you and you play this magic trick, and that was somehow super memorable. What was it, like, done on purpose? Was it like, help me relax or something?
I don’t remember. I just remember sitting there. The technology has obviously evolved a little bit because we’re, like, gathering around the computer, talking into the microphone. I remember a slightly different set up than this.
Yeah, well, it’s very exciting. I feel like I love surrounding myself with people who are constantly innovating and doing things that excite them. And because of that, I am recently very pleased to find out that you’ve been working on this new book called Invisible Solutions. And I’ve been reading also prior to this call as well. So could you give me, like, we haven’t even talked about this. What triggered you to write such a book? What was it like from kind of years ago when you first started to ideate that process?
So my last book, I submitted the manuscript on March of 2011, I think it was, and it’s called Best Practices Are Stupid. I like the book. It’s a great book. But one of the things which I realized was in some of the parts of the book, I talked about the importance of asking better questions, and I gave a few examples, but it left people wanting more because it was one thing to say you need to do it, it’s another thing to actually give them the tools to do it. So I was going back, actually, as I was looking at the history of this book, I went back and I realized nine years ago, one month after the manuscript for Best Practices or stupid was submitted to Penguin. I decided I need to start creating something that will answer the question, how do we ask better questions? How do we actually reframe a problem? How do we know for asking the right questions? And so I started building something which I called the challenge toolkit. And the Challenge Toolkit was really just a tool kit that would allow people to reframe their problems. And that evolved over time.
I use it with my clients. We had some great success with it, but I never really planned on. I could think in the back of my mind it was going to be a book, but I just never knew when or how. And then it was a year ago. I locked myself in a hotel room and said, okay, time to write the book. And I just wrote the book and then spent the past year editing and refining it and improving it and getting better examples. And that’s the you know, for a book that I wrote relatively quickly. It took me nine years to write it.
Wow. So I didn’t realize that the trigger happened at a hotel room. And I wonder that’s some determination, because I’m also working a book along with several other people from my community, some of whom you’re familiar with. How long did it take for you to kind of shape up and create the first draft?
Being honest again, I had nine years of material I’ve been collecting, whether it’s speeches, articles, conversations with clients, videos that I got transcribed, podcasts have been on that I got transcribed. I had all this body of work ready when I sat down, locked the doors, turned off the phone, and started writing it, I had the first draft that I printed. I mean, it’s a shell of what the final book is, but I had a first draft, which you could actually read from COVID to COVID in three days. But then to bring it to production quality level, it took basically a year. So it doesn’t take a long time to get the first book version of the book out. In fact, I started writing the book in December of 2018, and by April of 2019, I had copies printed that were being distributed. I wasn’t selling it, but I was distributing it to my past clients and to people that I trust because I wanted to get feedback. I wasn’t sure whether the book was ready, so I wanted to find out what examples worked, which ones didn’t, which lenses work, which ones didn’t. But it’s really interesting because you can get a book from start to finish in your hand printed in a matter of weeks.
It actually is amazing what you can do these days.
Wow. I know you work with some of the services that you recommend, and do you recommend that people are self publishing it one way? Meaning they just go ahead and research different companies they can work with or is there a particular formula or format that you recommend people when they turn to you for, hey, what the heck am I doing when it comes to self publishing?
Well, I think the key thing is that and this is just in publishing in general, not just self publishing, you need to know why you’re doing it because that’s going to determine the strategy. So I had a self published book that I came out with in 2007 and I used it was pure true self publishing. I hired a cover designer. I did the interior layout. I hired people to do the editing. Never had an ISBN number, so you couldn’t buy it anywhere. My goal was to sell it in bulk to my clients. So I do a speech to find her people in the audience. I want to be able to give them something that I could customize. So each cover was customized with the client’s logo. The interior was customized with a message from the CEO or the event organizer. And that was the purpose of that book. So that’s a different model than if you are trying to create a hardcover, high quality book like I’m doing this time, which is also different than if you want to use KDP, which is kindle’s publishing platform that they have. So there’s no one answer. There’s so many different ways that you can go about publishing a book these days.
And it really depends on what your goals are, how many books you think you’re going to sell. In some cases, print on demand is the right answer. Because if you’re only going to print a handful of books and sell a handful of books, well, it’s different than somebody who has to print 50, 00, 10,000 or 20,000 copies of their book and hope that it sells. Which, by the way, 99% of books never sell more than 10 copies. So you really have to know what your platform is and what your goals are.
Yeah, well, speaking, which I feel like that’s something that just triggered me, that the way to how you broke down that question, is something that people can actually learn from the lenses and the techniques from the book itself. So before I kind of jump right into it and realize that I’m a reader, I’m someone who worked with you in particular on this book, who would you say is the book targeting? I think people are always curious about that. Like, or has that changed, you know, during the time that you’ve written the book?
Yeah, so I think it’s first of all important to tell people what the book is because I don’t think we’ve talked about the book. So the book is called Invisible Solutions. The subtitle is 25 lenses that reframe and help solve difficult business problems. And the goal of the book is the premise of the book is that the best way to find a solution to your problem is to not focus on the solution. Having the answers isn’t the answer. It’s actually about the questions. And we don’t spend enough time trying to step back and say, what’s the problem I’m really trying to solve? And can I look at it from a different angle? So Mark Twain has this nice quote, which I won’t bore you with all the details of, but there’s a line in it that I love and he calls it a mental kaleidoscope. It’s basically taking all these different colored pieces of glasses he would describe and you keep on turning them to get different combinations and that’s what these lenses are is it’s a mental kaleidoscope that allows you to take a problem that you’re trying to solve and reframe them different ways?
So that was the intention, was helping. The original title of the book was how to Solve Any Business Problem. That was the original title of the book. Too literal, I guess. People didn’t like literal titles, so we changed it. But the goal originally was my sweet spot for the past 25 years has been innovation people, executives running large innovation departments and large companies. As time has gone on, I realized maybe it’s not just innovation people, maybe it’s anybody who has problems that need to be solved, which could be in sales, it could be in marketing. So a wide range of it could be middle managers, it could be people on the front line. And over time it’s just evolved away from innovation for large corporations to problem solving for everyone.
Yeah, I mean, I noticed the reason why I said I feel like the audience is much bigger, like you said, than big people who are senior executives working in very large businesses or specifically innovation teams is. Most recently I realized that as I was reading the book and as my mom’s going through some of the medical procedures in the past month, I noticed that the lens I was reading about is about emotion. And somehow that just triggered me to think about that, what I have learned about her as well as myself and how I was able to reframe that to the positive. And for us to live our lives very differently than just a mundane every day we have the same arguments, we go through life very much the same way. And that kind of helped me to even manage and deal with my everyday life somehow. So that’s where I saw the opportunity and the potential of the book being something that should be like a household item. It should be something that people can integrate as part of their lives well.
And ultimately I know that the process is not going to solve every problem in the universe. There’s nothing out there that’s going to do that. But there are categories of problems that I do know. It solves business problems, it will solve pretty much. There aren’t a lot of business problems that I’ve not been able to find solutions to with this. Now, if it’s a complex, really, really technical problem, it might not provide the solution, but it might provide some nuggets that move you in the right direction to finding a solution. When it comes to personal life, I know it works for many different problems, but it’s not going to solve every problem. And I wouldn’t claim it. I don’t position it as a business book. But it’s interesting that you mentioned the emotion lens because that’s actually one of the lenses. As I went through the iterations of the book, that’s one that changed. So you talked about the positive side of the emotion lens, but what I’ve discovered over time is that there’s positive and negative and there’s actually power and negative too. And especially when it comes to engaging people, sometimes it’s not so much that it’s positive or negative emotion, but just even having emotion in a problem statement.
Because the thing that we tend to do when we’re innovating or solving problems is we look at everything from a very intellectual lens. How do I increase revenues, how do I increase sales? As opposed to the emotional part, which might be how do I get my customers to feel like they’re at home when they’re in my store? Or how do I get our employees to feel like we’re the employer of choice or give us a five out of five unemployed satisfaction surveys. So those are the positive sides of things. But there are some great examples of even tapping into the negative was a great way of stimulating people’s creative juices.
I love that. Yeah, I noticed it’s a very YinYang type of book. And it’s not about what I like about the book is that you’re not inserting yourself firmly to say there’s only one solution. But I feel like even within each solution, there are permutations of ways where you can actually look at it. Like you said, it’s not just positive or negative. So as a speaker, and I have the pleasure to witness you kind of dissecting and talking to people at various levels, including people who are running what we call small businesses with everyday challenges. What are some of the examples, by the way? This podcast is clearly completely unscripted. Just me throwing questions on Stephen. What are some of the examples? Were like a situation that you remember? What was the business problem like and how you were able to talk through that problem?
Yeah, well, let’s first, I run a small business. It’s pretty much me. So let’s talk about how I’ve used the lenses even in the writing of the book, and it’s how it shaped my thought process. Because my thought is, as I say, if you don’t eat your own dog food, there’s something wrong. So I try to eat my own dog food as much as I can. So what I did was, when I came up with the first iteration of the book and I had my lenses, I decided to apply the lenses to the book. So it’s sort of this iterative process, which is also why it takes a little longer. It’s not like I started off knowing exactly what I wanted to say. So the first lens that I decided to choose was the pain versus Gain lens. And basically what that says is sometimes people make decisions more quickly if you are solving a problem rather than if you are trying to give them something nice, something positive. And I’ll just say a quick example here, because we’re just sort of playing here. I know you’re in Boston, and you must know Jordan’s Furniture, right?
You know Jordan’s Furniture? Yes. Okay. So when I moved back to Boston back in 2003, one of the things I decided to do is buy a mattress. Really comfortable mattress, the best mattress I could possibly find. So I buy this mattress and super comfortable, slept fantastic. And I turn on the TV and I’d always hear commercials are on the radio. I’d hear commercials for buy our mattress, get the best night’s sleep. Well, I was getting the best night’s sleep. Those commercials would do absolutely nothing to get me to buy a new mattress. And then I turn on the TV, and there’s Elliot from Jordan’s Furniture. And what he does is he basically he has got a vacuum cleaner and a mattress, and he starts vacuuming this mattress, and he’s telling the audience as he’s vacuuming the mattress that if your mattress is over eight years old, it will weigh twice its original weight due to the dead skin cells and dust mites that have accumulated over the years. And then he empties the canister that he’d been vacuuming the mattress with onto the mattress and is filled with disgusting, gross stuff. And so the thing which I would have you think about is what would have me buying a new mattress?
Best night’s sleep or dust mites? Well, it was the dust mites that had me buy it. So that’s the pain versus gain lens. Sometimes we make decisions based on pain rather than just gain. And when I looked at the book that was originally written was it was a gain book. It was an innovation book. Hey, you’re a company. You want to grow your business. Everything. How do we take it to the next level? Rah. Rah. Success. Success. But I also know that when we have strong economies like we have right now, at some point the economy will turn around, the economy will tighten. I mean, this has been a good run, a long run. So if I’m only writing a book for the gain side of the equation, when the economy tanks, I have a book that will become irrelevant. Innovations typically cut the second that there is a recession. So I wanted to focus on the pain. And what are the pains people have? Well, it’s the problems that they have. It’s the opportunities that they can’t tap into. And if I can help a company in any economic position solve their most difficult and important problems, that would be valuable.
So that’s one lens which I used in the very, very beginning of writing the book, and then I used two other lenses that I think are interesting. One is sort of a weird name, but it’s called hyper NIM. Hyper NIM basically means take a word and find a higher level of it. So for example, if you went to a rescue shelter where they have animals and you went and say, I want a Chihuahua, that’s a very specific instance. A hypernon for Chihuahua would be dog and a hypernon for dog would be pet. And each of those opens up different opportunities because if you went to the shelter and you’re only looking for chihuahua and there were no Chihuahuas, you would leave without a pet. But if you were open to dogs, well obviously there’s a lot of dogs, but maybe you hadn’t considered cats or tigers or lions or whatever they might have in the shelter. So what I do is I said, well what’s a hyperlink for book? I’m writing a book. What’s the hyper NYM? Well product is one of the hyper nymphs. Well okay, what kind of products? And so I started looking at it and say, well okay, obviously there’s the book, the ebook, the audiobook, but then we started creating a video book which is a completely different product.
And then I started looking at other products and we’re creating some cool technologies that you know about that are going to help create a totally different level of interaction with the lenses, which then led to the access lens. The access lens basically says instead of hiring someone, like hiring me to speak or owning something, how can you rent something and have access to it? Like sort of Netflix. And you know, that’s the tools that we’ve created actually give people access. So those are three different lenses right there that just demonstrate how I applied specifically to the book.
And by the way, I love the book and I know that by the time people are hearing this, your book will be on the shelf. They can order right away from Amazon. And I have to say, preparing for this interview, what I learned about the lens browser is it really helped me quickly process, digest all of these concepts kind of on a single screen. And for me as a media person, as a podcaster was kind of convenient to my surprise and for me to kind of remember what some of the names are as well. So was it challenging to come up with some of these names? Because I personally find summarizing distilling information to be really challenging. Was it hard for you?
Well, keep in mind that this is something I’ve been working on for nine years and I’ve been testing it out with clients and so what people will be buying is not something which I just made up. It’s not something that came out in a year’s time. This is based on nearly a decade of testing the concepts with clients and seeing what works and what doesn’t work, what lenses are most valuable, which ones aren’t. And so I actually have a catalog of close to 75 different lenses. Some of them just weren’t as valuable, some of them weren’t as universal. Some of them were very, very specific to certain situations. And ultimately I’d like to bring all of the lenses and more to people, but we need to start somewhere. So I found the 25 that were the most universal, the most powerful, the ones that we found solved pretty much any problem. And so that’s basically how it came about. And they just got approved and tweaked to better examples as time went on.
And I have this like, crazy brainstorm right now because half of my brain is thinking that what you just brought up is what my community is podcasters, YouTubers and future writers thinking about is I hear this pain point where people have a lot of these ideas, but they don’t really know what to cut, like what to eliminate. And for us, firsttime authors, compared to you, who’s written tons of books, some of these are best selling books and you are speakers. It’s very natural for you and for us, I think, myself included, is that you go from no idea to think where to say nobody cares about this book and nobody’s going to read it, to all of a sudden you have all these materials and you’re stuck with them all, and they all seem so important and close to your heart. And you work with an editor and writer be like exactly like you said, you need to eliminate like 70, 80% of it. What is your advice? I know it’s a little general nonspecific to kind of help people navigate that and make the book as most helpful and useful as possible.
Well, answer a slightly different question first and then I’ll come back to that question. What I’ve found is that there are two ways that people tend to write books. And I call them the color by numbers approach or the puzzle assembly approach. The color by numbers approach is one which people who are deep, deep, deep experts in their content and have delivered it in a particular way, and they know exactly the structure of the book will work. So what they do is they say, well, my book is going to have twelve chapters. And those twelve chapters for each chapter, here’s the four points that I want to make in each chapter. For each of those, here’s the three supporting arguments. Boom. Color in the numbers, send it off to the publisher and they’re done. I mean, I know some people, one guy in particular who’s published, I think, 70 books. That’s the way he does all of them. I’m not a 70 book person. I’m on number six. So I’m a lot slower because my approach is a puzzle assembly, which is basically I know a lot and I know what I want to say, but I don’t know necessarily how it all hangs together.
And so what I do is I use a tool, a Mac tool called Scrivener, which is a great way for organizing your thoughts. And you like scribner, too. Good. Yeah. The way I like to think about it is index cards. And so instead of trying to figure out what’s the structure, I just say, well, I want to talk about this lens in this lens, in this lens. And so each lens becomes its own little note card. And then, oh, I want to add this topic. I want to talk about differentiation, and I want to talk about how to become distinctive and how do you shift your mindset. So I just create all these cards, and they just sort of explode. And then I move them around and move them around and move them around. It’s like assembling puzzle pieces. And eventually it hangs together, and in the process, things that don’t fit become a little more obvious. So that’s pretty much what I try to do as much as I can and use that process because I think things become self evident. But I think the other important thing for me and maybe it’s just you’d think doing what I’m doing for as long as I’m doing it, I’d be so confident in what I’m doing.
But the reality is what I believe to be true doesn’t mean that’s what the market believes to be true. What I think is the right problem to solve doesn’t mean it’s what the market thinks is the right problem to solve. And I think that’s one of the mistakes that we make is arrogance, thinking that we have the answers or we know what the questions are. And so that’s why for this book, because this one was so important to me is I didn’t go straight from writing and editing into publishing. I went from writing editing to printing copies to my trusted advisors. And we sent out a couple hundred copies to people I respect. I hopped on the phone with them, and they told me this lens didn’t work. There’s a couple of lenses that just they liked it, but it wasn’t as universal as I had hoped. So I swapped in a different lens, and we kept on playing with it until we got it the way which most people liked it. So I like feedback, and that also helped me understand, what do I need to cut, because the market will tell me what’s not working.
That process can be painful for some folks. And I remember, as you know, I recently released a documentary as of late last year. And I have to admit that the most painful yet, the most helpful conversation I had with my team, the production team, would be, we all worked so hard on this. This better work, because I don’t think I have the budget to do it again. And in retrospect, I have to admit that we can go through a laundry list of things that I feel we could have done differently, including things we didn’t really know on the spot until we do know now. And I think it’s pretty daring for you to, even though it’s very necessary, but for you to seek feedback on an ongoing basis from people you respect and, you know, how did you handle that emotionally, by the way?
You have to avoid taking it personally. You have to know that what your goal is is not your ego, but rather the best possible product. I remember when I worked with Penguin on my last two books prior to Invisible Solutions. And I’d go in and I say to the other, I said, please tell me anything that doesn’t work. I want you to rip it to shreds. If you don’t, I’ll be disappointed. And he looked at me, he’s like, Nobody ever says that. Everybody’s like, don’t criticize my baby. He’s like, no, this is not my baby. This is something which I want to make sure the world is going to want. It’s not my creation for me to love. It’s my creation for others to love. And I love the perspective. One of my beliefs is sometimes simplification is the best innovation. A lot of times we’re always saying, what do we add? You know, what do we make better? But there’s a quote. The guy wrote the Little Prince. He said, you know, perfection is not attained when there’s no longer anything left to add, but when there’s no longer anything left to remove. And I think that is just a brilliant perspective in terms of what is perfection, what is innovation.
And we have to be comfortable knowing what to kill. Because the reason why a lot of companies fail isn’t because they’re not doing the things they should do. They’re doing things they shouldn’t be doing. There’s work that they’re investing in that is parasitic, because they’re taking money investing in bad solutions, irrelevant solutions that could be invested in other areas of the business that would have more value.
Well, so I love your answer to that, and I think that triggers me to kind of just do a quick switch to look at the fact that you have joined part of my Mastermind. And I know you’re quite active in the community on Facebook as well. And to my surprise, because the way I see you as this keynote speaker, I’ve seen you standing in front of an audience of thousands, maybe more than 100 in some of these situations. And yet the people I interact with, to clarify, are not just podcasters, YouTubers, but everybody has their own small business as either executive coach, someone working. In creative people are engaging with you and asking you questions. So all of a sudden I realize it’s relevant. And I hear this all the time. And for my own small business in digital marketing is I want to take this opportunity maybe to ask you a few questions that I think the community will really want, not just the solutions for, but kind of see how you break it down. So, same questions. When people are running their business, they always ask, how do we stand out? How do we differentiate ourselves?
There’s so many other coaches and digital marketers out there. How do we get noticed?
I think you use the word differentiate because I think that’s an important word. I think part of it is obviously, if you’re going to differentiate, you have to be distinctive. You have to have some. It doesn’t mean you have to be unique, but you have to have your own spin on it. When it comes to innovation, there are literally thousands of speakers and consultants talking about innovation. The key is to find what makes my style, my perspective unique. So part of it is my content is a little different than what other people say. My voice is different in terms of when I’m on stage, I’m very experiential and interactive. I want people to feel like they’re part of a show where they’re not in the audience, but actually on the stage with me, those are my things. But then you have to get the message out and every business is different. So I think standing out again as everything, there’s no one right answer. It really depends on your B to B or are you BTC if you’re selling to individuals? Well, now you might have to sell 10,1000 books or whatever it is you might be selling.
Toasters me. Because I mainly work with businesses, I don’t need to sell as many. So I need to stand out in a different crowd and I just need to make sure. I think at the end of the day, my perspective is, and you know this, there’s three things that I always believe you need to do in order to be successful. One is you need to find something that you really get jazzed up about it, because you have to love what you’re doing, especially as an entrepreneur, if you don’t just go get a job. The second thing is you have to be good at it, or at least have the ability to become good at it, or you know who to partner with in order to make it successful. We’re not going to be great at everything, but there are certain aspects of our business which you need to be very clear that you are the person to go to. And then the last one, and I think it’s important because a lot of people get it backwards, is you need to create value for others. It’s not about creating value for yourself, but it’s creating value for others.
So when people ask me to define innovation, innovation to me is not about ideas, it’s not about technology. It’s about relevance. We need to be relevant in the minds of our audience. We need to create value for the audience and the way they want value created. And I think that’s just important. And then you get out there and you do it. Most of my work, I’ve done some analysis on this, I would say probably 80% to 90% of my work comes from people who have either been in an audience when I gave a speech, a past client, somebody gave them a recommendation. It’s a speaker’s bureau that I’ve done work with in the past. Whatever it is, it’s sort of word of mouth. So the way I stand out is by doing a great job for my clients and adding as much value as I possibly can such that they will recommend me to others. But that’s not always the right strategy. There’s going to be different strategies. That, again, comes back to the question people say to me, steve, Internet marketers call me all the time, hey, Steve, what if you could grow your list to 1 million people?
I’d be like, yeah, but if a million people only have one buyer, that’s not really a very useful list. I would rather have 100 Raving fans, people who are just super excited about what I do. That a million people who don’t really care. So it’s the question that becomes so important.
Absolutely. Yeah. And then another popular question that pops up all the time and there’s kind of a bit of a debate, is finding your niche. I think it’s so easy to Google that everybody needs their own niche, including when they speak to people who have never done anything, who has never published a single episode of a podcast or a blog post, who has never done a single video and hit publish. So for me, that was my struggle, trying to take in that advice, and yet that I realized, for me at least, I needed to experiment a lot more before I realized who I am, what I’m about, and leaving kind of my past experience intact, but not making myself all about the person I used to be. And I find the two lenses, even, I struggle to say, like hyper NYM and hyponym in a way to make me realize who I am about and the landscape of my services, that was really helpful as well. So what’s your take on the whole finding your niche and be that one keyword everywhere sort of approach?
Look, I know everybody says that you want to have a niche, and I see the value in that, and I guess it really depends on how you define niche. I mean, I’m innovation. I don’t work with particular industries. I don’t work with particular functions or departments. I don’t work with particular types of people. My process is universal. And I’ve worked with companies in every industry, every function. The reason why people say niche is because it sometimes makes it a little easier. I remember somebody once told me, a guy who was in the publishing industry, and he said two books were published that were pretty much identical. One said how to enjoy Walt Disney World. And the other one was how to enjoy Walt Disney World with children. Now, the reality is, 99% of the people who go to Disney World are probably there with children. And the book that said how to Enjoy Disney World with Children outsold the other book. So sometimes niches are just a marketing tool to get people to think that, you know, what their industry deeper. But I don’t think it always works in my world as an innovation person.
What I bring to the table is actually the fact that I’m not an expert in any industry. I’m not a financial services expert, I’m not a manufacturing expert. I’m none of these. But I’ve worked in every single industry, and I bring what works in one industry to other industries so that cross pollination becomes really valuable. So the Niching advice is sometimes just take it. My best advice is to ignore all advice. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for you. You need to understand the context. And we don’t spend enough time understanding the context of how we’re running our business. Now, look, if you come from a financial services background and you’re an innovation person and you love consulting like one of my buddies, great. Then become the world’s best financial services innovation consultant that there is, that makes perfect sense. But if you’re forcing yourself into a niche just to do that because that’s what everybody tells you to do, I’m not saying it’s the wrong advice, but just question it. We need to recognize that the advice that people give us comes from a good place, but isn’t always relevant to what we’re working on.
Absolutely. Well, thank you for clarifying that. I can just feel my blood pressure. You feel better when you talk to people who can give you a different lens to kind of look at life and examine kind of the common advice speaking with. Another challenge I hear all the time is, how do we cut through the noises and get to the information and knowledge that are actually helpful? People joke around and it’s like, but this is good for you. This course is good for you. This video and all these advices were good for you. And somebody said, Tammy said, well, so is castor oil. Like, how do you determine what’s good? You are faced with a lot of these challenges as well, I’m sure. Stephen.
Yeah. I don’t think I have great advice on this other than to find the people that you respect and trust that have implemented. When I take advice, I only take advice from people that I admire and would love to emulate and learn from. And if they give me advice, I’m more likely to accept their advice. I’m more likely to if they recommend a course, to use their course. But I just know for myself that how I see the world is differently than how someone else sees it. And therefore, I need to really look at it with fresh eyes. And the times when I blindly trusted someone, at the times when I made some of my biggest mistakes. So I think most people know themselves at some level, know what they need. I think it’s very useful to have mastermind groups, because then you have people who get to know you. You trust them, they trust you. They can give you the honest advice, saying, hey, stop doing this, because this is hurting your business. And these are free things. I mean, you just find three friends that live nearby that are doing similar type of work and say, let’s get together for coffee every month.
That’s awesome. Just something as simple as that can be valuable. So I really think the network is what’s the most important. So if I have a problem, I don’t turn to a course. I turn to a person. And if I’m working on something and say, hey, you know what? I need an elearning platform.
Hey, Faye, I know you’re working with some elearning platforms. What are the ones you’re using? Because I know you’ve had a lot of success with that. I want to learn more from that. And that, to me, is the key. It’s knowing who to turn to.
I love it.
Can I just throw one last thing? There is? When I hire people, in many cases not every case, but in many cases, especially earlier in my career, I didn’t hire people for what they knew. I hired people for who they knew because I sort of believed that if I’m going to hire somebody as a mentor or coach or whatever you want to call them an advisor, and they get to know me and trust what value what I offer, and they have a huge network, well, now I get a multiplier effect. I’m not just getting advice. I’m now getting access to people that they’ve built their careers getting access to. So the who I know that Simon Sinek likes to talk about the why. I’m much more interested in the who do you know? Not from a utilitarian perspective. I’m not trying to take advantage of people, but who I know who I have access to is, to me, in many cases, more important than the why.
And to me, that has proven to be true as well in the past year or basically two years, for me to close a client not just close a client, but to work with someone I love working with, that we can together innovate new ideas, we trust each other. Nearly all my clients without selling, without me putting on a single paid ad are from, for example, the Cesco and Elton MBA community, including people who didn’t work with me in the same cohort, didn’t even come from the same session, and the Doyclarks community and obviously from you, Steven, as well, the referrals that you had. And that’s absolutely true about the community who we belong to and kind of the people that we know that resonate with us, like spiritually and sort of the way we approach things in general, even without just setting sights on, this is the exact result I want. That’s why myself and people in my community say, this guy just got a book with, you know, he gained a million followers within two weeks. We usually we often don’t fall for that. So not result oriented.
Yeah. It seems, unfortunately, that there’s more and more people who are selling snake oil, and what they do is they decide, well, I couldn’t make it in the world of consulting, so I’m going to sell to consultants, or I couldn’t make it in the world of speaking, so I’m going to sell two speakers. And that doesn’t mean that somebody who sells to speakers isn’t a good person to buy from. But you just need to understand, do they really have the experience? Do they know what they’re talking about? Unfortunately, there are too many people out there selling you things that aren’t valuable now.
Yeah, absolutely. So we just have to train our muscles to kind of see that through more clearly. And you have a lot more experience than I do, but I do see people becoming early. Entrepreneurs, have their site hustle, so desperate to leave their jobs, tend to fall for these websites and articles and people. So we have a few minutes left tonight I want to talk about. Are there things that you want to discuss but you haven’t had a chance to? Any word of advice? Anything you want to leave with the audience?
I would say that first of all, when we’re entrepreneurs, at the end of the day, it’s an emotional ride. It is a roller coaster, at least for many of us. There are days when the phone doesn’t ring and you’re like, okay, I’m going to have to go get a job somewhere, or whatever it is. Look, I’ve had my own business for 20 years now, but every single year I go through a cycle, okay, well, this is the last year this isn’t working. But I look at people who are not in the world that we’re in, people who have regular jobs, who have to commute and traffic. I look at people who just don’t have the flexibility that we have. And so even if there are times when I worry, even if there are times when all this is hard work, I figure in the scheme of things, it’s much more fun. It’s not as much work because I get to choose the work. I get to do. So I just try to wake up just feeling really even when I’m worried, just to remind myself that we are all so blessed to do the things that we do.
And I think that’s for me, after 20 years, you still have the ups and downs. It’s not like once I get to a certain point, everything is going to take off. It’s always work because the world changes. Every day there’s a new technology that comes out. There’s a nice, bright, shiny object we need to be chasing. The world changes. We need to change with it.
There is no better way to end this because it means so much. And truly, I appreciate your honesty, because the people who approach me and want me to help them get in touch with you are people who find you just so inspiring and mesmerizing, and I don’t think they necessarily see the way that what you just described. I think they want to be you so that they can leave all those uncertainties behind. And I feel so blessed that you’re able to share that transparently. It means so much because every year I feel like for me so sometimes a few times a year, maybe at the end of some months, makes me think about that.
It’s a great ride. It’s a challenging ride. And anybody who thinks that the ride is going to end probably should keep a real day job because it gets more challenging, I think, as time goes on, as more people recognize how great it is to be an entrepreneur and there’s more competition and there’s more technology and tools and disruption and all those other things. But it’s wonderful.
Awesome. Steve I’m going to add one more question, and maybe this is something about not probably not unique to you, but I love the fact that you’re evolving with technology. Granted, you come from an engineering background and science has always been part of your DNA. How do you still then find yourself, have to adapt to new technologies, open yourself up to things of the unknown that you’re uncomfortable with in the past 20 years of working as an innovation speaker and expert?
Well, absolutely. And I think for me, for two reasons. One is when you talk about innovation, a lot of people immediately assume it’s about technology. So when people hear innovation, they think, artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality, that’s what a lot of people think innovation is. And so I need to at least be verse. I’m not looking to ever be a machine learning expert. I’m not looking to be a blockchain expert. There are people who have those as their expertise. But I need to figure out how all these things fit together from a cultural perspective inside of organizations. But just putting that aside, people consume content differently. They get up on a stage and give a speech. That’s changing, and it will continue to change as people have access to material on YouTube. I just saw a study recently which showed that ad revenues from YouTube was larger than like ABC, NBC and CBS combined or whatever the numbers. It was just like, okay, well, that’s a pretty interesting shift in things. So as people have access to this content, how do we create more value in an environment where people consume content differently? Maybe they don’t want an hour.
Not saying they don’t, but maybe they want six minutes. Maybe they want 1 minute. And we need to adapt and evolve the way we market, the way we sell, and the way we deliver our content to meet the changing expectations. If I always delivered my content assuming everybody’s on desktop, well, that’s pretty old school. Most content is consumed on mobile, so I need to know that everything I’m creating is at least mobile friendly. If it’s not MobileFirst.
I love all the new content you’re creating, which I will certainly be, including links and some of the teaser content. I love the background. I love these fast paced videos that you’re creating, reading a book and being able to answer questions and through interview formats. So I am very excited and optimistic about the launch. I would love to invite you back after the book launch as well because I feel like that’s the missing piece, that there are a lot of interviews for people before they launch a product, but then there are very little conversation kind of after your learnings and reflections. I would love to do this again, if that’s okay with you.
Absolutely. And just anybody who’s thinking of doing a book and wants to do it the way that I’m doing it is recognize that sadly, writing the book and publishing the book is the easy part. Selling the book, getting people to even care about your book, especially now where there’s like I don’t know what the number is, it keeps on changing, but it’s like one or 2 million books come out every single year, I think in the US alone, whatever that number is, it’s just staggering. And we are as entrepreneurs, whatever business you think you’re in, like I might call myself a speaker or a consultant. That’s not my business. I’m a marketer and I’m a salesperson. That’s it. Now I need to have my expertise, but I need to be wearing at least that hat from time to time. Because if I’m not using that marketing and sales perspective, having the best book that sits on a shelf and never sells doesn’t create value. Having the best product that doesn’t sell doesn’t create value. If we’re all in the business, I think a lot of us become entrepreneurs not to get rich, but because we want to make a bigger impact.
We want to feel the impact that we’re making. And in order to make an impact, people have to know about it. So I’d love to come back and talk about that. Absolutely.
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