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An article in 1to1media by Harley Manning describing speakers at the 2014 World Business Forum caught my eye a few weeks ago. In particular, a speech by Malcolm Gladwell on transformation and disruptive innovation was particularly interesting, because he discussed three traits of a successful entrepreneur:

  1. Being open and creative.
  2. Being conscientious – having the ability to follow through on ideas to make things happen.
  3. Being disagreeable – the kind of person who isn’t concerned if everyone around them thinks they’re crazy.

I think these three traits are not only desirable, they’re critical in order to be successful in business today. Gladwell’s exactly right. The world is changing too fast for a decades-old entrenchment mindset. And yet one of the biggest hurdles I see in the business world today is an unwillingness by executives to open their ears to one of their biggest assets, their employees – especially the younger set.

That’s not to say that the Millennial generation has all the answers, but in a world that’s moving from business as usual to more disruptive models of commerce in a digital economy, we’re fools not to actively listen to those in our employ. That’s where the first trait comes in – being open to the ideas of people in your business, and creative enough to see where those ideas could apply to your situation.

I think number two, being conscientious, requires a certain amount of trust. If an idea has merit, the people floating the idea need to be able to trust that you’ll follow through on it. Otherwise, why should they bother? Being a part of an innovative, forward moving company (whose executives value your ideas) is exciting! It makes you want to keep on churning out ideas. However, being shut out or shot down tends to have the opposite effect.

In fact, another speaker at the event, Columbia Business School professor, Rita McGrath, said “The scariest thing I hear executives say is, ‘don’t bring me any surprises.’” Scary words indeed! Today’s business leaders need to hone those listening skills and look for hidden innovations waiting to be tapped. Be on the lookout for unusual ideas. Don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable.

And my favorite, number three, don’t worry if people around you think you’re crazy. Crazy can be good! Think back on how many seemingly crazy ideas have actually taken off in your lifetime. I can think of several: FedExAmazon and Zappos – each of which started off as an ordinary individual’s rather zany germ of an idea – an out-of-the-box answer to a particular problem or need. Did people think they were nuts at the time? Yep! Are the naysayers kicking themselves because they didn’t buy stock when they had a chance? You bet!

The point I’m trying to make here is simply to do everything we can to avoid thinking in terms of status quo, business as usual and comfort zone. Gladwell and McGrath have the right ideas here for forward-thinking businesses. Stagnation really is the enemy of success. Instead, stay on the edge, keep your listening ears tuned, and don’t be afraid to fail.

Image: JD Hancock

Originally posted on Inside CXM, January 13, 2015

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