161. Alex Osterwalder: The Invincible Company

Today, on the Disrupt Yourself Podcast, we welcome innovation expert and one of the top-ranked thinkers in the world, Alex Osterwalder. You'll hear how Alex views failure, about his mentorship with Yves Pigneur, and which companies he views as leaders in business model innovation.

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We talk about how Alex's goals changed and have evolved throughout his life. Early on he wanted to be a professional beach volleyball player. Although this worked out for his beach volleyball partner (Stefan Kobel), Alex went on to study business and political science. His education began his journey questioning why things were the way they were.

In this episode, Alex explains the ideal work structure in the 21st Century, including why your company might need a Chief Entrepreneur or Chief Internal Venture Capitalist. We also talk about the power of using visuals, and what it’s like to be a company in the “sweet spot”.

Listen to the episode in the player below, or download and enjoy it on Apple Podcasts. If you’re so inclined, please leave us a review!

Takeaways from this episode:

  • Questioning things can provide alternatives. Alex’s education in political science and business helped him to start questioning the ways businesses are set up. Could there be a better way to structure things?
  • Failures can be great opportunities. When Alex looks back, some of the failures he experienced helped him pivot his life in a positive direction. Because Alex had an interview he considers a failure, he was available for a job even better-suited for him.
  • What is a business model? Alex defines this as “how you create, deliver, and capture value”. When business models have expired- what do you do? Alex walks us through Ping An’s innovation as an example.
  • Innovation should be valued at the top. Alex explains the Chief Entrepreneur- someone at the top of the company who is looking for ways to innovate. 1) Managing the present and inventing the future should be of equal-importance. 2) You need a team to help with innovation. Alex explains the role of a Chief Portfolio Manager, a Chief Risk Officer and more.
  • Try using visuals. Concepts can often be visualized more easily with an image than with words. Visuals can help align the understanding of more people.
  • Think ahead. Alex references Netflix’s ability to look a few business models ahead.

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

148. Jeremy Andrus: Building Something of Value

My guest on the podcast today is Jeremy Andrus, the CEO of Traeger Grills and the former CEO of Skullcandy. During his tenure, Skullcandy grew from $1 million in sales to $300 million, and over the past few years Jeremy has taken Traeger from $70 million in revenue to almost half a billion with a goal to reach $1 billion in the near future.

When discussing his time at Skullcandy, Jeremy admits that while there was much he loved about being CEO, the day he left he felt a huge burden lift off his shoulders. He describes the experience like a pressure cooker, on top of which he felt a sense of dissatisfaction with his own performance.

“[I]f you ask me about my Skullcandy experience…I will tell you I loved it until I really think about it, and then I will say, “I was totally dissatisfied with the outcome and I didn't feel sufficiently knowledgeable or good at what I did.”

So, what was the catch? The company was growing. The return on investment was high. When Jeremy left, he could have faded off into the sunset without anyone condemning him for it. But what was he really looking for?

Continued Below…

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As Jeremy considered his options, he almost passed completely on the CEO position at Traeger. What, he though, could be interesting in selling grills? But as he looked deeper into the potential of the market, Jeremy knew that he’d found something special. A space ready to be disrupted, where no one else was playing, that he could build and mold into something great.

“I want to create value. Like, I want to build something where, because of my ingenuity and hard work and thoughtfulness, willingness to take risks, I can actually build something that has value.”

Recent conversations with my own team have highlighted the fact that we don’t often feature guests that are in the Sweet Spot of Learning, an oversight that we hope to correct with this interview. Because Jeremy IS in the sweet spot—things are tough, but not too tough, and easy, but not too easy. The first five months were rough (a story you’ll want to hear!), but now Jeremy has truly settled into doing what he’s passionate about.

“I actually really love the problems we're solving. That, to me, is the sweet spot…It's only in the last couple of years where I've said, “This is it. I get to love it every day, love what I do.””

Join us as we discuss Jeremy’s journey, from childhood dreams of being a CEO to realizing he needed to be a good CEO; his short-lived but thrilling career as a day-trader; and the importance of creating experiences for other people.

Listen to the episode in the player below, or download and enjoy it on iTunes. If you’re so inclined, please leave us a review!

Takeaways from this episode:

  • Jeremy can’t think of a time when he didn’t want to be a CEO. As a child he was always looking to build a better business, or find an innovative gadget to sell door-to-door. After spending a summer working on a farm for hourly pay, Jeremy realized he preferred working jobs where he could control the outcome.
  • Ten years after college, Jeremy still wasn’t sure what he really wanted to be doing. He just knew that he was dissatisfied with his situation and wanted a disruption. In his words, he “bounced around a lot,” including a stint as a day-trader where he turned $25,000 into $2 million and then lost it all (plus another $200,000). While the adrenaline rush was exciting, Jeremy realized that just trading at the whims of the stock market was not fulfilling to him. If he couldn’t have a direct impact on the outcome, where was the value? “I want to create value. I want to build something where, because of my ingenuity and hard work and thoughtfulness, willingness to take risks, I can actually build something that has value.”
  • As CEO of Skullcandy Jeremy took the company through a period of enormous growth. However, Jeremy also felt a bit too much like he was “faking it,” and didn’t feel like he was a great CEO. When he left the company he reached out to a mentor, who helped him identify the problem. “He had a really astute observation he said, “You know what?” He said, “I think what you really want is to be better at what you don't feel like you are great at.” And I wanted to be better at my craft.”
  • One thing Jeremy loves about his work is the growth that he experiences daily. He is not the same person today that he was six months ago, and this allows him to tackle new challenges today that he couldn’t have tackled back then.
  • On the subject of mentoring, Jeremy admits that he had a great mentor in Wayne Morino, but he feels he lucked out on the timing of their introduction and the connection they had over Wayne’s desire to help Jeremy and his company. Jeremy has tried to pay it forward but admits it can be tricky balancing mentoring requests with the needs of his own business and life. “I just want to select moments where I can actually uniquely be helpful. Being more meaningful in fewer moments.”
  • When he was first approached about being the CEO of Traeger, Jeremy was put off by the idea that there was nothing interesting in marketing grills. However, once he did his due diligence, he realized that not much has changed in the consumer experience since the 1970s, making the market a great place to build something new.
  • Even though Jeremy was excited about working at Traeger it took only a few days to realize that the culture was toxic and a lot of things needed to change. After five months of observation, Jeremy made a presentation to the board that was brutally honest in its assessment of the business. He thought for sure that he was getting fired, but he was also at peace with his assessment of the business. Despite tensions with the majority owner, Jeremy was able to push forward and overhaul the negative experience his employees had been suffering through.
  • Invest in people, not just the company.
  • Now in a period of hyper growth, Jeremy fully admits that he loves his job (with no caveats). “[W]e're swinging big and I have confidence where we're going and I actually really love the problems we're solving.”

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

120. Play to Your Distinctive Strengths

It’s time for something a little different.  Instead of interviewing a guest today, I’m going to do a dive deep into one of the accelerants outlined in my seven-point framework for personal disruption that I discussed in Episode 80, as well as in my book, Disrupt Yourself. In Episode 100 I did a deep-dive on accelerant #1: taking the right kinds of risk. Today, we’re going to talk about accelerant #2: play to your distinctive strengths.

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Play to Your Distinctive Strengths – Worksheet

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First, we’ll define what a distinctive strength is, and then provide you with eight clues to help you find some of your hidden strengths. We’ll talk about how to use your strengths in distinctive ways, how to leverage the strengths of people around you, and how to speed up your current S-curve of learning, becoming a high-growth individual by focusing on what you do uniquely well.

As we begin this journey, I respectfully request that you be honest. Be honest with yourself about what you want. Don’t edit. It’s okay if you don’t know what you want. That’s part of the fun. Focus on being a creator, not a competitor, not going after what others have, but creating what you want. Leverage what you do well, what you do uniquely well, and play to your distinctive strengths.

Listen using the player below, or download the episode on Apple Podcasts. If you enjoy what you hear, or even if you have constructive criticism, please leave a comment. I love hearing from my listeners about what you want—especially on these deep-dive episodes! What do you want me to focus on in the future? What is most helpful to my audience? What gave you an “ah-ha!” moment?

Thank you for listening, and enjoy the show!

Takeaways from this episode:

  • At a high level, a distinctive strength is something you do well that others don’t.
  • Eight clues to help you find your strengths:
    • What skills have helped you survive?
    • What makes you feel strong?
    • What exasperates you?
    • What made you an oddball as a child?
    • What compliments do you dismiss?
    • What are your hard-won skills?
    • What do you think about when you have nothing to think about?
    • What are your values?
  • Often “superpowers” are things we do effortlessly, almost reflexively, like breathing. When you ask people to use their genius they may very well think, “But that’s so easy. It’s too easy!” So instead of feeling like you value them, they think you don’t trust them. As a leader, it’s your job to not only spot talent, but to convince people that you value their strengths—and they should, too.
  • Sometimes it helps to identify strengths as a team. Don’t think too hard; it should be top of mind. When your team feels strong, they will be more willing to venture into new territory––to take market risk and consider ideas for which there isn’t yet a market. (We’ve created a worksheet to assist you as you identify each team member’s superpower)
  • Some assignments for this week:
    • Listen to the episode every day for a week, and write down any ideas that come to you. Pick one a day that you will act on.
    • Write down compliments as soon as you get them.
    • Be aware when you are exasperated! Make a note of what is “just common sense.”
    • Observe how you spend your time. Are you spending most of your time doing things that make you feel strong?
    • Observe the strengths of people around you. What can you do to nudge them toward using those strengths more deliberately?
    • Does your big goal, your grand plan, play to your strengths? How can you “tweak” it to better leverage your strengths? Evaluate if it is the right goal.

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

94. Bethany Quam: Staying in Growth

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When we’re feeling stagnant or trapped in our job, jumping ship altogether often seems like the best option for disruption. However—and this is a big one—what if you didn’t have to? What if you could identify what motivates you, and why your current job isn’t a good fit? What if you communicated your desires for growth to your boss, and were able to do so in a constructive way? What if you could find a way to disrupt yourself without quitting or losing your job?

Bethany Quam’s “first career” at General Mills was not a good fit. Having graduated from college with an accounting degree, Bethany spent her first two years working in the finance department and making practical use of her practical degree. At her annual performance review Bethany was shocked to find out that while she was considered technically sound at her job, she was also “too chatty.”

“[He] literally wrote that in my performance review. And he said, you know, finance people are supposed to be more introspective. They’re supposed to be kind of seen and not heard that much, until it’s time to drive home the fact that you’re off budget. And it was another wakeup call a little bit in terms of—“I can do this work, but am I truly starting to understand what really drives me, and what I really wanted to do.”

Bethany refers to this moment as a “cue,” letting her know that her internal motivation and drive lay elsewhere. Looking back on her life, Bethany now sees many such cues, including her diligence to sell Girl Scout Cookies in the second grade just to win a stuffed horse. Luckily for Bethany, General Mills had a sales rotation program that allowed individuals from outside the department to go on a six-month rotation on the sales team, and it was while she was in Cleveland on this program that Bethany realized what truly motivates her.

“I started telling my boss this, “Listen, what I’m driven by is learning, leading, and ensuring that I leave the campsite of General Mills always better…I am interested in where I can have a broader impact on the people and the business of General Mills…I give you that piece of advice, too: helping your boss understand what you’re interested in is super important. And then sometimes telling them—this is what I see it in. And you can give them examples of two or three jobs. But tell them why those are interesting, and then say to them, “What do you see?”

Bethany would go on to be in sales for 18 years before pivoting to a different “career” within General Mills (she says she’s had four careers in total). Her ability to communicate with her direct superiors about her motivation and drive allowed her to disrupt herself within the company, all while maintaining a steady paycheck.

“I started to understand that it wasn’t about the job, you know, what do you want to be when you grow up, it was more about, what drives my energy?”

Join us as we explore Bethany’s career journey, how to push out of the comfort zone to stay in growth mode, and Bethany’s love for the gift of feedback. If you like what you hear please subscribe and leave a message in the comments. You can play it on the player below, or download the episode on iTunes.

Takeaways from this episode:

  • Know what motivates you. Look at cues from your childhood about what you are truly interested in, and don’t be afraid to ask yourself if your current line of work plays to your natural strengths and tendencies.
  • When you get into bigger roles [such as leadership], be intentional. Don’t be afraid of the gift of feedback. Even if the feedback is negative, it helps us take corrective action and look to the future.
  • If you’re the one who needs to give difficult feedback, make sure that it is feedback that comes from a place of caring. Be kind and look for ways to help.
  • You don’t have to leave your current company to move to a different learning curve.

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