Lifelong Learning for Business Successstring(38) "Lifelong Learning for Business Success"

I used to be surprised when I heard statistics like this: 50% of all businesses fail in their first three years. Well, I’ve been in business for several decades and have seen many entrepreneurs come and go. Quite frankly, I’m more surprised that 50% of businesses actually make it past the first three years because so many of them don’t focus on, or invest time on, education for improving their business. I know that may sound a bit harsh, however…

One thing I’ve learned is that most successful business professionals embrace and engage in “a culture of learning” in order to excel in their chosen career. Personal and professional self-development is an ongoing journey – not a destination. It is always a work in progress. 

Often, businesspeople get so caught up working “in” their business that they forget to spend time working “on” their business. I believe that working “on” a business includes one’s professional development.

Most entrepreneurs only pay lip service to education (well, maybe not you since you’re  taking time to read this blog about business – but I’m talking about the average entrepreneur). When you mention education, everybody says, “Yeah, it’s really important,” and yet many people don’t consistently schedule time to listen to podcasts or audio programs; they don’t read books or blogs or watch videos to learn more about business and networking and leadership and other topics that can help them be more successful.

Ask any number of businesspeople and entrepreneurs if they would be willing to attend a seminar on building their business, and 75% of them will say “Yes!” And yet, if you continue to tell them that the seminar is three weeks from tomorrow at 7 pm, only a handful of those who initially said that they would attend will actually sign up.

Ben Franklin’s Wisdom

Benjamin Franklin once said, “If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the highest return.”

Franklin didn’t mean to spend every penny you have on education. He meant that if you do spend money on education, it will be money well spent.

I love the enduring truth and wisdom in that quote. In fact, Lifelong Learning has been part of my personal values for most of my life. It is also one of the Core Values that I incorporated into BNI®, the company I founded in 1985.

Invest in YOU

Here’s a suggestion that can help get you started on the path to immersing and engaging in a culture of learning:

Look at your financials (or credit card statements or checking account) for the past year. Have you invested money into any type of ongoing business education? If you aren’t “emptying some of your purse into your head,” take a few minutes to think about what you want to learn that will help you build your business and then sign up for something this week. Yes, do it now.

I recommend that you invest an appropriate amount of money on learning for yourself and your business. If you don’t have any budget at all today, there is so much free material available online such as this blog, my videos, BNI, and other books and things from reputable leaders and authors. But still, you’re going to have to take time. And guess what? Time is money.

I think that successful businesspeople understand that if you want to earn more, you have to learn more. Be intentional about learning now to build your future success. Remember, your personal and professional self-development is always a work in progress. Invest in your education and enjoy the journey. 




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Listen to What ISN’T Being Saidstring(33) "Listen to What ISN’T Being Said"

In the realm of business, where every interaction holds the potential for growth, the words of Peter Drucker are powerful: “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”

This is true and extremely important because the quality of our relationships depends on the quality of our communications. When it comes to sales for your business, and growing your business through referrals, understanding this concept is a cornerstone for success.

Notably, not all sales transactions require relationships or extensive communication. Consider online shopping, where the transaction is swift and often devoid of personal interactions. However, even retail giants like Wal-Mart, not typically associated with warm customer relations, emphasize the value of communication and relationships. Their employment of a visitor host to greet customers at store entrances underlines a strategic approach to fostering connections, albeit in a mass retail environment.

My friend, Sara Minnis, is a seasoned coach dedicated to helping sales professionals navigate the intricacies of rejection. She has dealt with a phobia many salespeople face within the sales process by coaching those who are afraid of being rejected by a prospect or customer. She says, “Sales ‘phobics’ might have an unrealistic fear of being rejected during cold calling, during the closing phase, or during a phone conversation.”

This, she suggests, is because the phobic salesperson tends to focus their communication on the emotional fit between themselves and the customer. She explains, “The real business of selling can’t begin until the sales phobic feels that the prospect likes him or her.” To avoid this, she says, “The professional seller directs their communication toward finding a fit between their product and the buyer’s need. Focusing on “being liked” only enhances fears of personal rejection, while attending to the customer’s needs drives the transaction toward a closed deal.”

Communication Builds Connections

Establishing strong relationships with clients gives sellers a competitive advantage, because clients who feel connected or bonded to the seller are more likely to engage in repeated transactions. Communication emerges as the single most important tool for forging this connection. The quality of communication becomes the linchpin upon which a strong, bonded relationship is built.

The art and science of communication extend beyond the mere exchange of words; it is more than simply talking and hearing. It encompasses a myriad of strategies and techniques aimed at earning the right to have your message heard, and to have it understood. A pivotal aspect of this is the ability to align your communication with the customer’s style rather than imposing your own. This strategic alignment sets the stage for masterful sales conversations, where the rapport is cultivated through an understanding of the customer’s preferences and communication patterns.

In the contemporary landscape, sales mastery has shifted towards a more consultative perspective. Many box retail stores have embraced this evolution by adopting the term “sales consultant” to describe roles that were once associated with traditional store clerks. Master sales consultants recognize that their ability to communicate effectively is critical to selling client solutions. Rapport and trust, the foundational elements of successful selling, are intricately woven into the fabric of communication. The successful sales professional understands that building and sustaining client relationships are contingent upon a consultative, communication-centric approach.

The profound wisdom in Peter Drucker’s words reverberates through the evolving tapestry of business networking and sales. The ability to decipher unspoken cues and recognize body language messages, coupled with a strategic and adaptable approach to communication, is the key to navigating successful salesmanship in today’s business landscape. As we move forward, the role of a sales consultant becomes more than a title; it reflects the evolving dynamics, where effective communication is the cornerstone of lasting success.




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Co-Creation Can Boost Creativity, Community and Sales for Your Business. So What Is It?string(87) "Co-Creation Can Boost Creativity, Community and Sales for Your Business. So What Is It?"

There is no aspect of your business that cannot be improved upon with the help of co-creation. Co-creation is a big step further than mere cooperation. As my co-authors Dr. Heidi Scott Giusto, Dawa Tarchin Phillips, and I write in our new book, “The 3rd Paradigm”: “It is about bringing different parties together to actually produce, improve, or customize a product or service, based on a mutually desired outcome.”

In this excerpt for the book, we break down the five types of co-creation, and what each of them brings to the table for like-minded entrepreneurs and business owners.

Five Types of Co-Creation

Co-creation is unlike earlier business models, the latter of which business professors C.K. Prahalad and Venkatram Ramaswamy compared to traditional theater in a 2000 Harvard Business Review article:

Business competition used to be a lot like traditional theater: Onstage, the actors had clearly defined roles, and the customers paid for their tickets, sat back, and watched passively. In business, companies, distributors, and suppliers understood and adhered to their well-defined roles in a corporate relationship. Now the scene has changed, and business seems more like the experimental theater…; everyone and anyone can be part of the action.

This is part of what makes co-creation so attractive: It is always a joint process. The group of people working together on a solution and the involvement of other stakeholders determines the form of co-creation you can or want to engage in.

And like all frameworks, co-creation comes with its own set of limitations and challenges you should be aware of. The drawbacks mentioned most often in our survey are personality conflicts and dealing with egos— not unusual problems when there are multiple cooks in the kitchen.

The Board of Innovation, a global innovation firm, also points to six barriers that arise, particularly in B2B contexts: cost, time, resources, capacity, creativity, and fear of change. Co-creation has immense potential but also risks. Choosing the right type of co-creation for your business is a crucial step to mitigate challenges.

Here we highlight five types, or frameworks, of co-creation. They can be likened to five different paths, which can all lead you to your destination. Which road you choose depends on which path you consider the most suitable for your journey.

Some types of co-creation are more popular and thus more familiar to the average person than others. Many types of co-creation happen in plain sight, but unless you are trained to perceive co-creation in action, it might look very similar to a traditional business model. In fact, it is radically different.

Learn About the Five Types

Here are the five types:

Think tank/brainstorm: A group or company brings together a consortium of people, experts, suppliers, and/or partners to develop a new solution, product, or service. In some instances, this even results in customers handling part of the “production” (e.g., flat pack furniture that customers transport and assemble themselves, self-scanning systems in supermarkets, and self-serve ticket counters at airports).

Crowdsource: A large group of people (often volunteers) co-create (often for free) a product or service by using web-based creative tools. (e.g., Wikipedia, Kickstarter). This type of co-creation can lead to an increased quality of creativity, which was also one of the benefits mentioned in our survey.

Open source: A group or company invites a large group of internal and external experts to tackle its innovation challenge or contribute to its data pool (e.g., Center for Open Science and ResearchGate). This can lead to what many participants in our survey described as a shared sense of ownership and shared resources.

Mass customization: A group or company mass-produces products that have been individually tailored to the customer’s wishes. (e.g., a T-shirt printed with your own photo, personalized Vans shoes, or customized luggage). Many participants in our survey of several thousand entrepreneurs mentioned the diversity of ideas as a major benefit of co-creation.

User-generated content: A group or company uses knowledge and content that is made public by people (e.g., posted online). There are all kinds of web tools to help you find very quickly information that others have posted online (e.g., customer feedback on blogs and forums, YouTube videos, and social media platforms). This is another great example of gaining access to shared resources, which many in our survey listed as one of the advantages of co-creation.

Two Buckets

You can also group these five types of co-creation into just two different buckets:

According to what role the group or company plays in the process: This is about who steers the process. Is it the individual consumer, or the company?

According to the kind of value created: This is about whether your value is a standardized value that all customers can enjoy (co-creating a better product or service), or a personalized value individually tailored to each customer (co-creating a personalized product or service).

Co-creation, following the five types above, is about making something better or making something unique. If unique is the value proposition, even average products can find market success because they tap into the value of co-creation. If it is making something better, even average products can still find market success by being improved with the help of customers and consumers.

That is why co-creation is continuing to rise in popularity among new and established businesses alike. What type of co-creation would work for you and your company?

As you can see, co-creation can unlock additional value in your value creation chain and make that value available for your and others’ success. Wouldn’t it be great if you could optimize the value you provide because you trust and engage with others, rather than keeping your value generation tied to an outdated model? Wouldn’t it be meaningful to elevate your relationships and engage the talents, knowledge, and skills of those who care the most about what you do—your customers and the consumers and stakeholders of your products and services?

There is no aspect of your business that cannot be touched and improved upon with the help of co-creation. Every part of every business can benefit from unlocking and harnessing the power of co-creation to identify the value yet to be discovered, unleashed, and scaled. Every business could achieve greater success by embracing the co-creation process and expanding the trust and investment it can generate among customers, consumers, and stakeholders alike.

Risk taking and Adversity in Learning

Risk Taking and Adversitystring(25) "Risk Taking and Adversity"

One law of human nature is to want more – more horsepower, more serenity, more intimacy, more money, more power, more life. However, getting “more” is often an uncomfortable business. To reach the juiciest apples, we have to climb high, we have to reach out, and we take the risk of falling off the ladder.

This risk taking journey requires us to tread on uncertain ground and is often uncomfortable, whether physically, financially, socially, and especially emotionally. The path to attaining more is seldom paved with comfort; we spend a lot of time feeling awkward, inept, and out of our element. We grapple with physical strain, financial uncertainty, social unease, and the rollercoaster of emotions where terror and exhilaration dance a reckless tango on our nerves.

The Pursuit of “More” Takes Learning

Reaching for “more” necessitates learning, and learning makes us feel like children again, with all the excitement, wonder, and fear that blended together and colored our earliest experiences. It’s not the subject matter of what we are learning that is transformative; rather, it is our starting point and how far we’re trying to reach that make the difference.  Learning is not an absolute; it is relative, profound, and personal. The journey of a paraplegic rediscovering the complexities of walking is as intense as that of a teenager learning to drive. The uphill struggle of a downhill skier learning to snowboard and conquer the half-pipe aligns in spirit with a manicurist embarking on the entrepreneurial journey of running their own shop. The ordinary – something that is routine for one, becomes an extraordinary success for another.

Adversity – a Catalyst for Growth

In learning, we all start from adversity. We don’t make enough money, we dislike our job, we don’t know enough, can’t climb the mountain. Adversity is a catalyst for growth; it may creep into our awareness as dissatisfaction, a natural manifestation of personal growth, or it may be forced upon us by accident or catastrophic illness. Regardless of its guise, we intensely desire to move the arc from adversity to triumph, from struggle to victory. Along this path, we encounter fresh ideas, hone new skills, embrace evolving beliefs, and adopt new attitudes. We face down adversity and stretch ourselves toward success. We improve.

To improve, we must weigh the desired end against the pain of getting there.  No risk, no gain. If we opt for comfort and ease, we forgo the rewards of accomplishment. And yet, if we take to heart what professional athletes are taught and “do something every day that scares you a little,” we stretch our boundaries and move into new territory. As we move beyond our comfort zones, change occurs, we gain more self-confidence, making it easier to push boundaries, and emboldening us to confront and tackle greater challenges. We convert nervous energy that once sent jitters cascading within us into kinetic energy.  We become unstoppable.

In the grand tapestry of existence, our journey is a quest for “more.” More growth, more understanding, more mastery of self. This pursuit is not for the faint-hearted or the seekers of ease. It is for those who dare to defy complacency, who revel in discomfort for the promise of growth, and who understand that the pinnacle of success is reached through valleys of unease.

In the chasm between aspiration and achievement, amid the realm of uncertainty, lies the wonderful experience of growth—an eternal dance of risk, resilience, and reward.

I’d like to hear from you. If you have a story about how you took a risk or faced adversity in order to grow, share it in the comments.




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Keep the “FUN” in the Fundamentalsstring(38) "Keep the “FUN” in the Fundamentals"

I’ve observed that when it comes to business, having fun is something that is rarely talked about. It’s as if most people think fun and business are two completely unrelated and mutually exclusive things. Well, I don’t share that opinion at all. I think it’s important to have fun in business. In fact, I’ve learned that having fun is something businesses and networking groups alike need to do in order to achieve, and enjoy, lasting success.

I’m a systems and process guy. As the Founder of BNI®, I am a steadfast believer in the policies we have, which, by the way, were created by the BNI Board of Advisers, not me. I always say that policies are important because you need to have accountability in a corporation or an organization. However, you can’t be a dictator in the way you apply policy. Apply the rules more like Mandela than Attila. You can practice tough love, follow the fundamentals, and have fun.

Make Learning Fun

I believe in the experiential; I think it’s a great way to teach. When I taught management theory at a university, I had a lot of students that really disliked having to take a management theory class. But one of the things I did was to include a lot of experiential learning. For example, when I talked about specialization and the power of specialization, which can be quite a boring topic, I had an experiential exercise that showed the students how you can increase productivity and business through specialization. It was a fun game-type of exercise, and the students loved it! There was even one student who came to me at the end of the term and said, “I came to your class dreading this topic, but it was the best class I’ve ever had at the university!”

This is an example of keeping the fun in the fundamentals. The students learned the material through experiential learning moments that were engaging and interesting.

It’s okay to have a good time while maintaining accountability with the people in your group or on your team. If you don’t have fun, it’s easy to lose track of why you are there and why you do what you’re doing. Without fun, you can lose your excitement. When you lose your excitement for something, your passion for it is gone and it’s very hard to be successful at anything if you’re not passionate about it. That is why I believe it is so important to have a good time in whatever you’re doing–business, networking, or otherwise, by keeping the FUN in the fundamentals.

Do you have a story to share about a networking or business experience that is memorable because it was fun?




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Networking Education in Business Groupsstring(39) "Networking Education in Business Groups"

I think that all networking groups, as well as other types of professional business organizations, can benefit from regular networking education moments at their meetings.

I personally think one of the greatest volunteer positions in a BNI® chapter is the Education Coordinator role because you have an opportunity to pour into people about the things that you’ve learned. Especially for those who have served on the chapter’s Leadership Team and had some advanced training, or if you listen to the BNI Podcasts, and if you read books on business networking (I’ve written several), you can share helpful information to help all members of the group.

I designed the BNI Podcast episodes to be easily utilized as networking education moments for business professionals. They can be presented as a short summary, highlighting two–three tips or best practices. The transcripts, or portions of them, can be copied and pasted to a digital or paper document to hand out to all members and guests at the meeting. You can also play a short clip to emphasize the topic.

Immerse in a Culture of Learning

I once had an BNI Chapter Education Coordinator say to me, “I am in a chapter where the members just aren’t listening to the podcasts. And we, the leadership team, recognize that for a chapter to be successful, everybody’s got to be working off the same playbook, we’ve got to be together as a team.”

He told me his solution. The very first week in his role as the Education Coordinator he stood up and said to the group, “I basically have two choices as Education Coordinator, and I’d like your opinion on what you’d like me to do. One, you can let me know the topics that you’d like me to talk about, and each week I’ll do a short lecture on that topic. I’ll pull material from BNI podcasts, Ivan’s books, his blog, and I’ll talk about that content for you directly. Or two, we can have a dialogue. We can share ideas on what works and what doesn’t work. Which one of those two would you prefer?” He said he knew what the answer would be, and they all said, “Dialogue, please. We want to talk.”

He then told them, “Great, I was hoping you would say you wanted a dialogue. So in order for us to have an informed dialogue, we have to do the reading. We’ll take topics that you would like to talk about, I will assign a podcast, or a blog, or some material, for you to read or listen to on that topic for the next week. And if you have listened to the podcast, or read the material, you can talk. 

If you haven’t listened to the material or read it, you can’t join the discussion. And we’ll know that you listened to it or read it because you’re going to have to quote something from it. For example – Dr. Misner said this and that on the podcast, or his guest, so-and-so, made this point. But if you haven’t listened to it, you can’t talk.” And they all agreed to do it.

How did it work? Well, because the members knew that they couldn’t be part of the dialogue unless they read or listened to the material, they went from a chapter where almost no one listened to the podcast on a weekly basis, to having almost 100% participation!

This is a great way to get engagement while sharing information that will help the membership in the group and out in the business world. It is a fantastic way to help the chapter immerse in a culture of learning.

The truth is, if everyone listens to or reads the material, and then you spend a few minutes talking about it, it’s so much more real. It is much more engaging than simply sitting there listening to a lecture. And actively participating in a discussion helps people retain the information better, making it more likely that they will use it in their everyday business networking activities.