Friday, August 27, 2021

Social Skills are the Root of Business Success

I was once asked: Why should students learn social skills?

I just rediscovered my answer. It's still worth reading, I think. Especially in these days as more and more people hide behind their phones and Covid has turned going out and meeting people into a lost art.  

Social skills are essential to anyone who believes that interacting with others will be important to their personal or financial futures - which is just about everybody (except maybe lighthouse-keepers).

I define social skills as the behaviours and attitudes that help people interact with each other. This includes showing interest in other people, knowing how to conduct pleasant (and productive) conversations, and understanding social norms (e.g., don't talk with your mouth full, hold the door open for people coming in behind you).

It also includes body language (smile more, slouch less), adapting your behaviour to your setting (e.g., you likely act differently at a business meeting than at the bar with friends), making people feel valued, and finding congenial ways to express your opinions or disagree with others without eroding your personal relationships.

Social skills are essential to success in your career and your personal life. If you go around being rude or missing social cues, you can't expect many friends to hang around. If you are good at getting along with a wide variety of people – colleagues, bosses, subordinates, customers, suppliers, etc. – then you can expect to thrive in most professions.

Indeed, those who master social skills are likely to find themselves more popular and more successful than those who practice these skills half-heartedly. It’s the thoughtful gestures – offering to help someone, sending a thank-you note, or making people feel welcome in new environments – that get you noticed as a leader.

Based on old Hollywood movies, you might think that most business leaders succeed through greed and cunning. In truth, most people advance to the top by displaying social skills – acknowledging individuals’ contributions, making people feel part of a team, and continually extending their network of contacts.

Social skills alone won't get you to the top. But you’ll never get there without demonstrating empathy and respect for others.

Open your eyes, open your heart, and always open doors for other people.


(See also: "Every person is an adventure")

Thursday, August 12, 2021

How to be entrepreneurial

Entrepreneurs aren't just business owners. They actively seek out opportunities to create something better. That might be a new pizzeria, an innovative product line, or a new digital service that will save time and money. Entrepreneurs are society’s most positive change makers.

In fact, social progress depends on entrepreneurs. It wasn’t a corporation or university that developed the telephone, but inventor Alexander Graham Bell. A century later, neither Bell, Kodak nor IBM developed a digital platform for exchanging personal photographs – but a few energetic Harvard undergrads built an online student directory called Facebook.

Going forward, the world will need even more entrepreneurs. They are essential problem-solvers. 
A century ago, cars, airplanes, mines, steel mills, chemicals and expressways became essential elements of daily life. Now we know many of these systems to be toxic. We must swear off of high carbon fuels, unsustainable lifestyles, and unhealthy foods. We need new solutions fast. Big businesses can fund it, big government can regulate it, but only entrepreneurs can come up with speedy solutions at scale.

And not just business needs entrepreneurs. Science, medicine, education, governments, communities and non-profits all face huge challenges today. They all need entrepreneurial leaders who can boost efficiency and develop creative solutions to common problems. Those that embrace innovation will thrive.

Whether you're a leader or a worker, a teacher, student or volunteer, you can contribute more by embracing entrepreneurial approaches. 

How do you start? 

Here are five ways to hone your entrepreneurial edge.

1.    Be curious. Notice how things work. Track the things that irk you and your friends/coworkers. Things that frustrate and peeve are opportunities in disguise. Consider Pierre Omidyar, who wanted a more efficient way to sell his old Pez dispensers, and created eBay.

Flaws in service and product quality may be your best business opportunities. Start with the question, “What if we could…?”

2.    Practice a pro-active mindset. Entrepreneurs are notorious for tackling problems with gusto. (An old joke says that the entrepreneur’s motto is “Ready. Fire. Aim!”) By all means, plan your work before you begin, but chase your ideas with energy and tenacity. If it’s just a side hustle, find time to work on it every day. If you're not sure what to do next, just roll up your sleeves and start doing; a path will emerge. Develop a bias for action: no problem can survive an all-out assault. 

3.    Be a research fiend. If you think you spot an opportunity, don't just start building a new product or service. Research the heck out of your idea first. Find people who are likely prospects for your innovation, and relentlessly ask them how they feel about the current conditions/marketplace. What bothers them most? What would make them buy something new? How much would they pay? How often will they buy? What other solutions would you be competing against? 

Like any good researchers, don't just pay attention to positive evidence. Listen carefully when people pour cold water on your idea. Keep asking what they would buy. Chances are, your first idea won't be the best solution. Winning innovations evolve, over time, based on evolving experience and market feedback. When the research points you to a new path, follow where it leads. 

4.    Build your network. No entrepreneur succeeds alone. Engage with other people to find friends, partners, allies, resources, prospects. Share your ideas with everyone you meet. (Secrets are for the weak). Seek mountains of feedback. 

      Socialize with active, dynamic people who appreciate your passion and energize you with their own. Stay in touch – never let valuable contacts lapse. Create ongoing value for the people in your network – often, the best way to do that is to introduce them to each other. You never know what will result.

Business is primarily about people – and success comes from hanging with the right ones. 

5.    Think bigger. It takes no more energy to pursue a big dream than a small one. Today’s information technology makes it possible for individual and small groups to tackle huge problems. Once you have an idea, "embiggen" it. How can you boost its impact? Look for ways to tweak your innovation, add new features, serve new audiences, and otherwise expand its reach. If you face direct competition, the winner will be the group that scales it ideas to help the most people and create the most value.

 As author, poet and statesman Goethe has said: “Dream no small dreams – for they have no power to move the hearts of men.”

 Good luck in your entrepreneurial pursuits. Let me know how they go.

rick@rickspence.ca