Indra Nooyi: A Story in Being Yourself and Persistence

thinkstockphotos-500841556Have you ever heard of Indra Nooyi?

Maybe not, but you’ve probably bought her product at one time or another in the past year. Ms. Nooyi is the CEO of Pepsi-Co., the makers of the popular and well-known Pepsi soda brand. However, her position at Pepsi is not necessarily what is the most amazing fact of her story. Granted, reaching the status of being a Fortune 500 company CEO is huge and significant, but how Ms. Nooyi got her start is the real story. That’s because she risked everything with no safety net to fall back on.

Some Compelling Advice

Indra Nooyi came to the U.S. like so many other great minds, arriving as a student immigrant. Ms. Nooyi jumped to a slot in Harvard’s master’s degree program in business. However, graduating wasn’t her biggest challenge. It was translating her academic success into a result: getting a job. Ms. Nooyi’s first real interview was total failure – no connection, no rhythm, no job. However, she received a piece of advice from a professor that Ms. Nooyi has carried forward since then to her role as a CEO. She was told to simply “be herself.”

Ms. Nooyi clearly took the advice she received to heart. Not only has she been herself as intelligent, smart, persistent, and daring, she has also scored an enviable position of 75 percent plus support by her own employees worldwide. See if you can find a politician with as much support even when winning a national election.

What Makes A Person Successful?

For business owners and leaders, the lesson from Ms. Nooyi is to never forget what really makes a person successful. It’s not the suit, it’s not the past laurels, and it’s not the school degree. What makes the difference that catches people’s attention and gets their support is one’s personal confidence and persistence. Ms. Nooyi gambled everything with not just coming to the U.S. to succeed but to also establish herself in a highly competitive arena: business consulting. Had she failed, Ms. Nooyi would have had to return back to India and likely would have disappeared into a vast number of IT companies there; everything for her was on the line. But she persisted. And Ms. Nooyi, with her new advice on being herself, was quickly hired. That in turn became her path to eventually becoming Pepsi-Co.’s latest CEO.

A Better Choice

Business leaders trying to keep a company going will at some point face a challenge where everything has to be put on the line to get to the next level. Many don’t take that leap. It’s too risky, it’s too costly, or it’s too unknown. Yet from Ms. Nooyi’s example, the last thing anyone should be doing is trying hard to fake their way through the issue. Be yourself. Trust your skills and trust your gut to make the right the decision. That’s what got a person to a leadership role in the first place, so why should he or she be any different at the moment that counts the most? Risk, responsibilities, fears of what-if can all combine to make someone think behaving differently may be the best path forward. Clearly, from Ms. Nooyi’s example, there’s a better choice.

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Getting Out of Your Own Way

thinkstockphotos-477282161Brilliant author, philosopher, and speaker Alan Watts once published his autobiographical book, In My Own Way, the title of which is a play on words with alternate meanings. An extremely independent thinker, Watts clearly did things in his own inimitable way. The clever alternate meaning is probably more common for the rest of us, where we use excuses and other convenient reasons to get “in our own way” on the path toward success. As Watts pointed out, the difference lies between fulfilling yourself and obstructing yourself.

Starting a business is a bold step, not one for the timid. The list of excuses used to avoid the dangers of launching a business are many and varied, but they all resonate with the same timidity. Fear of failure is probably the most common thread among all of the excuses holding us back. It takes courage to take the plunge, and a prospective entrepreneur must be willing to take some chances or they will definitely getting in their own way.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

You are familiar with these. We have heard them all before: I don’t know enough about running a business. I don’t have the skills. I don’t have sufficient contacts with the right people to get started on the right foot. I can’t afford it right now. The economy won’t support a new business just yet. It’s just not the right time.

Each of these may be a valid concern, but the bottom line is that they are nothing more than excuses holding you back from exploring your dream. THEY are not what is holding you back. YOU are what is holding you back.

 

Overcoming the Fear of Failure

There are many ways to overcome the fear of failure. One of the most common is simply out of necessity. People lose their long-held jobs and have to pay the rent. Being “forced” into business has been the best thing ever to happen to a lot of people. But whether you are forced, following your dream, or simply fall into it by chance, the opportunities are there for you to succeed. Pat Flynn’s success is a good example.

Pat Flynn was laid off by an architectural firm in 2008. He set a goal of passing an architecture-related exam and created a website to gather information on the test and how to pass it. Many others were also interested in this objective and the site started generating thousands of hits daily. His internal light bulb went on and Flynn wrote an ebook study guide on how to pass that test, selling it for $19.99. Within a month, he had generated sales in excess of $7,000. He never looked back, and today is the brain trust behind SmartPassiveIncome.com, as well as numerous other revenue-generating websites. Pat Flynn got out of his own way.

Founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg is an extremely successful entrepreneur. He didn’t start the wave that has become social media, but his brainchild is today clearly the most popular vehicle in the genre. On his profound success, Zuckerberg said, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

You must get past that little voice in your head that says, “You can’t,” and find the other one in there that says, “Yes, you can.” That voice is in there. You just have to find it and listen, for a change. The boldness to take the plunge depends on it.

As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Mistakes as Vehicles to Success

Accidents and mistakes have given us many advantages that otherwise might have never come about. In fact, experimental accidents have been responsible for many of our scientific and medical advances over the past few centuries. The business world has also learned to take mistakes and failures to heart as learning experiences rather than obstacles. Our mistakes can be viewed as stepping stones to future successes.

Famous singer/song writer Janis Ian recently documented in a blog post several of the mistakes she has made over the years. Describing herself as prone to accidents “in the minefield of life,” she revealed some whopping errors. Three noteworthy examples are refusing the role eventually played by Rhea Pearlman in the hit TV series Cheers, passing on performing at Woodstock, and declining to write the musical score for the blockbuster film, The Graduate.

These were definite mistakes, to be sure. But as serious as these now obvious blunders were, Janis Ian is still doing what she loves and making others happy in the process. She is earning a living writing music and performing, and the world is better for this. None of her mistakes in that minefield have kept her down nor kept the world from enjoying her music.

Isaac Newton’s mother made a mistake that had the potential of altering the history of science. Young Isaac was pulled out of school to help run the family farm, but he was really no good at this, and his mother recognized it. She also knew that he really wanted to finish his schooling. When she realized that this was a far better fit for her son, she found another way to get the farm running as it should and allowed her son to finish school. The world of science is better because of this woman’s mistake being corrected and learned from.

Many stories tell of business successes born after their founders’ prior failures. Macy’s, the department store chain, is one of the largest such chains in the world, but Rowland H. Macy suffered through multiple business failures before learning enough from them to bring him and his family fame and wealth.

Dave Anderson of Famous Dave’s BBQ restaurants was, at one time, a not-so-famous Dave, after experiencing not one, but two business bankruptcies. One of them was as a wholesale florist supplying very large clients like Sears Roebuck. His business grew so rapidly that he failed to keep up with it, and lost the business. But, he learned from his mistakes and personal limitations. Indeed, he describes failure simply as “a learning tool.”

Since Dave knew that he loved making food, a restaurant was an obvious choice, and Famous Dave’s is the famously successful result, but he did not stop there. Anderson also created the LifeSkills Center for Leadership in Minneapolis, investing over a million dollars to start the program for helping at-risk Native American youth. The program focuses on leadership skills–the same skills Dave learned from his previous mistakes.

As author John C. Maxwell put it in his successful book, Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success, your objectives should include this mantra:

“Fail early, fail often, and fail forward.”

Mistakes should become vehicles, not obstacles. Like Janis Ian, despite mistakes you keep on keeping on. Isaac Newton’s mother learned that correcting mistakes can create value where none appeared to be. Like Rowland H. Macy and Dave Anderson, you build success on the foundation created by prior failures.

As social activist, composer, and singer Bernice Johnson Reagon put it, “Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.”

How Introverts Thrive in Quiet

When we picture successful people, we tend to lean toward the extroverts — those who speak up more, get noticed more, and interact with others more than their introverted peers. But introverts have much to offer beneath their quieter demeanor, and they are more than wallflowers. They are not necessarily even shy.

Extroverts thrive on interaction with other people, which gives them the energy they need, and they tend to be restless when alone. Introverts, on the other hand, recharge through seclusion and tend not to be lonely when alone. An introvert may look forward to a quiet evening at home with the same zeal as an extrovert who anticipates an evening out with friends. The extrovert is geared toward activity, the introvert toward contemplation. They are both vital parts of the same world.

You may not realize that some of your close friends and family members are introverts. It doesn’t always show.

“I dream big and have audacious goals, and I see no contradiction between this and my quiet nature,” Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” writes on her website.

Cain, a former attorney and negotiations consultant, dropped out of corporate life to live a quieter life as a writer at home with her family. She describes the seven years of writing her best-selling book as “total bliss.”

“Quiet” was published in January, 2012. The following month, Cain left her blissful world momentarily to do a TED Talk, “The Power of Introverts.” To prepare, she joined Toastmasters, worked with TED’s speaking coach, and spent six days with an acting coach. Three months later, she wrote that she had become an “impossibly oxymoronic creature: the Public Introvert.”

That introvert aced her talk, which reached one million views faster than any other TED talk and now is ranked as the 12th-most viewed TED Talk of all time. It’s the favorite of Microsoft founder and multi-billionaire Bill Gates, himself an introvert who says one of the advantages of introversion is the ability to spend long periods of time thinking about a problem or concept.

Cain tells “Quiet” readers that Western society is dominated by what she calls the “Extrovert Ideal.”

“Introversion — along with its cousins – sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness — is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology,” she writes. Extroversion, she notes, “is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”

Society really isn’t designed for the introvert. Children are encouraged to speak up, to get over “shyness,” to play well with others. Introverted teens may be considered antisocial or withdrawn. Adults in the workplace are often advised to be assertive, to join committees, to take leadership roles at work and in the community — in other words, to be productive members of society, or as Cain says, the Extrovert Ideal.

“But we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly,” Cain writes. “Some of our great ideas, art, and inventions — from the theory of evolution to Van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer — came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.”

In the quiet, introverts are in their element, momentarily removed from the world of the extrovert. They create art, solve business problems, and come up with great ideas. Businesses are wise to celebrate the introvert along with the extrovert. They are two sides to the same coin.

The Re-Branding of Curious George

Many people are unaware of the origins of Curious George. For the youngsters who love the books and TV show today, George is just an adorable little monkey who happens to live with a man in a yellow hat. The children watch as George gets himself into all kinds of trouble, learning along with him how to problem solve.

The stories didn’t begin that way, though.

When the very first Curious George stories came out back in the 1940s, George was a monkey who had lived in Africa. The man with the yellow hat tricked George into coming out of hiding by playing on his curiosity. He originally planned to take George back to Europe and put him in the zoo. Instead, the two began to develop a relationship.

It’s interesting to note the prevailing opinions of the time. Many people looked at explorers who went into the jungle as heroes. They wouldn’t have had as many negative associations with an explorer kidnapping a monkey from the jungle as we would today.

The new books that children read today came out in the 1990s. These later books don’t really talk about how George came to live with the man in the yellow hat. The authors of these later books, which are modeled after the original books, focus on George’s curiosity and how he manages to solve his problems. The authors of the newer books recognized that people today wouldn’t appreciate the story of the man with the yellow hat kidnapping George from the jungle.

When the newer books and television series first came out, the authors focused on creating a fun story centered around a lovable monkey and the trouble he could create. Rather than focus on how the monkey and the man with the yellow hat came together, they just developed an entertaining story focused around the present.

You could say this was a re-branding of Curious George — and it was a complete success.

Successfully framing your company for success

When you set out to market your company to your customers, you must understand your audience and what they seek. The new audience of preschoolers in the 1990s and 2000s wanted an entertaining character without the baggage that came with the original, so that’s what the authors delivered.

Similarly, you should familiarize yourself with your customers enough to predict what’s going to resonate most with them. Use this to guide your marketing and re-branding efforts. Audiences might change over the years, particularly if your company’s been around for several decades, so don’t be afraid to shed parts of your original message and add in something new if it will help you reach your customers.

When it comes to advertising, nothing matters more than understanding your audience. Those familiar with the saga of Curious George will find the comparisons between the popular monkey and the marketing campaigns of evolving companies intriguing. If you’re interested in developing a new marketing campaign, call to us today at 847-768-2679. We’d be happy to help you get started.

Blaze Your Own Trail to Business Success

Something interesting happens between childhood and adulthood. As children, people tend to not want others to copy them. As adults, however, we spend a considerable amount of time trying to copy those around us. We see someone with a new idea, and all we want to do is imitate their accomplishments. Someone successfully develops a new app, and 50 similar ones seem to spring up overnight.

While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it’s not always the key to success.

Consider this example: Two sisters, Anna and Mary, sit down together to draw pictures. As with many big sister/little sister pairs, Mary looks up to her big sister. She carefully watches as Anna sets about drawing a picture of their family house with everyone out in the yard. Mary picks up each crayon as Anna lays it down, then goes about copying her sister’s artwork.

After a few minutes, Anna notices what Mary is doing. “Mary, don’t just copy me!” she exclaims. “You have to make your own picture.”

Anna recognizes what many adults fail to see. If Mary simply copies her picture, she won’t be able to demonstrate her own strengths. If the sisters’ drawings are exactly the same, neither will stand out as unique. When they both create their own pictures, however, then each picture stands on its own merits and creative vision.

How to apply this to business

Developing new ideas in business is difficult. It takes a uniquely creative mind to come up with a useful service or product that no one else has thought of before. It can certainly be tempting to just copy another company or business model and hitch a ride on their road to success.

Unfortunately, this strategy rarely works. If you’re offering potential customers exactly the same product or service as an already established company, what reason would they possibly have to switch to you? Your business isn’t unique or special. Instead, it’s a copy of one they already know and trust.

Creating something unique

There’s nothing wrong with using another person’s success as a source of inspiration, but have confidence that you have something special to bring to the table, too. Find a way to work that into your business model.

For example, say you worked in retail for a considerable amount of time while putting yourself through school. You may decide to specialize in helping retail stores with their marketing plans. Or perhaps you’ve found new ways to cut administrative costs and are able to offer potential clients lower prices for the same high-quality service.

Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur or an established business pro, keep looking for things you can bring to the table that your competitors can’t.

Blaze your own trail. Find your own niche. And build your own success story other entrepreneurs will want to copy.

Marketing Lessons from Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein has taught generations of children lessons about life from his books of fun and goofy poems. People of all ages can appreciate his wit and what he has to say. As adults, it’s easy to forget all those valuable words, but Shel Silverstein also has a number of lessons he can teach us about business and life. Here are four quotes from the famous poet that we should never forget as we begin to build and grow our businesses.

“Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

This lesson can be very hard to remember in daily life. After all, most entrepreneurs have at least one force in their life telling them they’re not going to succeed. Sometimes one of the most important lessons is learning to tune out the naysayers and finding the mental strength to succeed in the face of adversity. Form your dreams, identify your goals, and plot a way to get there.

“If the track is tough and the hill is rough, thinking you can just ain’t enough.”

Forging your personal path is never easy. While most people intellectually understand there will be challenges, all too often, when these problems arise, they give up.

In business, you must accept the fact you’ll face problems and that things won’t always go according to plan. Sometimes the challenges will feel like too much. But if you have goals, you need the perseverance and strength to make it past the hurdles. Believing you can do so and determining the steps needed to succeed will give you the tools you need to continue along the path to your goals.

“If there is a book you want to read but isn’t written yet, write it.”

This quote applies to more than just books. It also applies to industries and businesses. If no one is fulfilling a particular niche and serving customers in a particular way, use that as your window of opportunity. The marketplace is extremely competitive. The companies that succeed are the ones that identify a need, determine a way to fill that hole, and then get their information in front of the necessary audience.

The idea of writing your own book also speaks to the importance of taking initiative. No matter what your position might be, finding ways to anticipate needs and then addressing those issues instead of waiting for someone else to notice the problem is an excellent way to get ahead and find both personal and company-wide success.

“Just ’cause somethin’ ain’t been done don’t mean it can’t be did.”

This quote also speaks to the importance of taking risks and being willing to be the first one to take a chance. This might mean developing a new product or service to fill a certain niche, or taking a conventional industry and finding completely unique ways to deliver your products and services. No matter what might drive you, don’t allow yourself to be limited by what others in the industry have done. Don’t be afraid to blaze your own trail and see where the road takes you.

Shel Silverstein has words of wisdom for all of us. Keep these quotes in mind and use them for the motivation you need to move forward. If you need help developing your marketing plan, contact us. We’ll be happy to offer guidance as you get started.