Learn to Teach. Teach to Learn

When I retired, I thought I was through with business. And I was, until the social network came along and enticed me to blog.

Like most bloggers, I write about what I know -- strategy, leadership and branding. My motive is nothing more than to share my experience with today’s business community, in the hope they might put an old warrior’s advice to good use.

To improve relevancy, I’ve had to familiarize myself with the new economy and products and services that didn't exist when I was CEO of coffee/confectioner, Jacobs Suchard. As a side benefit of this crash course in catch-up, I have learned more than I ever imagined. And although I'm no longer engaged in commercial business, I am once again “thinking business” and enjoying the rush of discovering the ideas and innovations of today’s entrepreneurs.

Nothing has been as illuminating as studying the ways and means of Apple. More recently, I delved into the business of “cult” energy drink brands, Red Bull and Monster.  I strongly advise anyone in consumer products or services to examine Red Bull’s strategies and culture. Do that and you can’t help but think differently about your own brand or business. The folks at Red Bull are the ultimate entrepreneurs. Although you may be caught in the bureaucracy of an old-economy organization, you cannot escape the fact that great ideas create change.

Your idea can change a company. That idea can also change you.  Believe me, there's nothing like a business breakthrough to set the right foundation for the rest of your career. Take the time to look at other industries. You’ll be surprised what you can learn and how that information can affect your own business or industry. A trade show is a great place to start.

After 15 months of blogging, here’s the most important things I’ve taught:

  1. Complexity in a company is a cancer. Keep it simple. Focus.
  2. Strategy has never been more important. With the pace of business and with so many options at a leader’s disposal, clarity of purpose is critical to differentiating you from the rest of the pack. Leverage it to get ahead. Remain focused on it to stay ahead.
  3. Creativity is the last great bargain in business. Institutionalize it within your modus operandi and mindset. This is difficult for big-company people because they are part of a “spend your way out of it” culture. Creativity is the key to a small company’s success. With the emergence of social media, the leverage of creativity is immeasurable.
  4. Appreciate that culture is the strategy. Look at Apple. No question Apple would not be what it is today without Steve Jobs' vision and tenacity. But don't overlook the fact that Apple's culture is innovative, competitive, focused, passionate and collaborative.

Look to a future beyond the fiscal year. Develop strategies that define the future based on the actions you will take to achieve that vision.

And after 43 years in business, here are the five most important things I learned:

  1. Life is a journey, not a destination. I didn’t get this until I left the corner office and began to discover interests beyond business. Don’t wait that long.
  2. You can successfully balance work life and home life. Hug your kids. They grow up faster than you can imagine. Sure, there are times where you’ll have to put in the long hours. But you can work smarter. That means more hours for your family and your out-of-work passions. Trust me; the business won't suffer.
  3. Business is more exciting than ever. Okay, so there are roadblocks – government meddling, environmental challenges, cheap foreign production. But look at the opportunities – online marketing, social media, niche products and services, specialization, the list goes on.
  4. “Greed is good” is becoming “greed for good.” Entrepreneurs invest in opportunity. Saving the planet is good business. In the renewable energy market, global investment has increased from $33 billion in 2004, to $211 billion just seven years later.
  5. The most important thing in business and life is to love what you do. This means following your passion. Mine was marketing. Now that I’m out of the business, my passion is writing. And one day I’ll find a publisher not afraid to take a chance on a grey-haired, rookie novelist.
The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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