Success Secret: To Be Different, You Have To Think Different

How does one become successful?

In thinking about the mechanics of achieving success, as we do constantly here at the Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business, we realize it’s really our thoughts that propel our success, because what we think leads us to take certain actions, and positive actions lead to success.

So what should those thoughts be?

Here are ten thoughts—mindsets, if you will—that help entrepreneurs and business leaders think differently, and when they think like this, they tend to be successful:

  1. Don’t wait to be selected. Select yourself! Don’t let fear or lack of self-confidence keep you on the sidelines. You can determine what steps need to be taken to achieve your goals and start walking in that direction. You can promote yourself on social media. You can raise money through crowd sourcing. You can publish your own work, and create your own music. Get going!
  2. Being best is more important than being first. The first one out there with a new idea or product often makes mistakes and struggles. Learn from others who’ve gone before so you can be the best you can possibly be, and learn from the experience (and mistakes) of those who were first out of the gate. Always be thinking about how to step up your game. Don’t expend your energy on being first. Focus on being best.
  3. Success is only predictable in hindsight. Success is never inevitable. Time, energy, and effort are behind every successful person. We have to have a vision that’s clear. Even with a vision, you won’t execute flawlessly, but you’ll be moving in the right direction. Success is never assured or predestined. When you work hard with a vision in mind, you become what your vision would have you be.
  4. Put service before self. Forget the notion that business and personal are two different things. It’s always personal. No matter how successful you are, you need to give of your time and talent and help those around you. The odds of success increase to the degree you help others.
  5. Do things others aren’t willing to do. When others are giving up, opportunities increase for those who are willing to step up to the plate. Whenever you do something others are unwilling to do, you raise the game to the next level and you stand out from the crowd. Zig Ziglar, perhaps the greatest motivational speaker of all time, expressed it beautifully when he said, “There are no traffic jams on the extra mile.”
  6. The depth of your network is more important than its breadth. If you’re just networking without cultivating relationships, you’re missing the chance to build a foundation that will support you the rest of your life. Stop looking at people for what they can do for you. Think instead of ways to support each other.
  7. Ideas are important, but execution is everything. If you don’t follow through with action on your ideas, you won’t succeed. This is true in sports; it’s true in business; and it’s true in all of life. Forward movement comes only when you take a step.
  8. Leadership is earned, not given. Real leadership involves one’s ability to inspire and motivate others in their organization to feel capable, skilled, and respected. It’s critical that they feel good about what they’re doing if you want them to do their best. Those who cultivate this ability will earn the title of leader, and true leadership leads to success.
  9. Pay it forward. Successful people don’t wait to get a raise. They work hard to do what it takes to deserve that raise. This is related to putting service before self, but it also has to do with doing the things a successful person does, even before you achieve your success goals. Put in your time in; pay your dues; keep your eye on the prize. This forward thinking—combined with forward action—will propel you towards success.
  10. Make your own history. You don’t have any idea what the future will bring, so even if it’s only in your own community or niche, be the best you can be and you will create your own history. I tell my students that they will all—every single of one of them—make their own history. Each of us, by virtue of being alive and being here, has a difference to make in the world. Make your own history, and make it a great one!

Master your thoughts; execute your vision; claim your success.

When you can embrace these ten thoughts or mindsets as successful people do—when you begin to think differently—you’ll begin to act differently. When you begin to act differently, you’ll begin to carve out success however YOU define it.

That’s when you’ll begin to live your dreams, not your fears.

A Negative Mind Will Never Give You A Positive Life Concept text on background

Creativity and Innovation

I’m tired of all the doom and gloom about destructive change and concerns over foreign competition and its negative impact on our economy. I don’t believe we have run out of being the kind of country we can be. We are still harnessing the enormous power of combining creativity with innovation to continue to make new jobs and move our economy forward.

Why creativity and innovation together?

Creativity is the generation of novel or useful ideas. While it has enormous business potential and context, creativity usually begins as a personal act.

Innovation, on the other hand, is bringing the best of these ideas to reality. This usually involves working as a team to implement the idea.

It’s been this combination of creativity and innovation that has allowed us as a nation to create opportunity for others.

Change has to occur to get to what’s next

There’s a whole industry around mobile phones, which weren’t even in existence over 30 years ago, and only affordable for less than 20 years. Because mobile phones have become so ubiquitous, those who used to build, install, and service pay phones are out of a job. Yet because of mobile phones, there are new industries that employ far more workers than were ever needed before.

The current levels of creativity and innovation are leading us into a whole new realm of economic richness and robustness.

Results of creativity plus innovation

Here are just a few things that emerged from a combination of creativity and innovation. They are changing the world right now and could change the world forever: 

  1. iPad – innovators took an existing idea and made it into true mobile computing. You can put a portfolio on it and take it everywhere. It was recently the fastest selling non-phone technology in history.
  2. Straddling Bus – introduced in China, where traffic is a major problem in cities. It’s cheaper than a subway, partly solar powered, and will span two lanes and carry up to 200 people. The Straddling Bus is raised seven feet above the roadway so cars can pass underneath. It transports large numbers of people without impeding existing traffic flow.
  3. Martin Jetpack – the first practical jetpack coming out of New Zealand. It can fly you up to about 8000 feet and move you around. They’re already using it for commercial applications.
  4. Man Suit – XOS2 Suit by Raytheon – It allows the least muscular person to lift weights of over 200 pounds and punch through wood that before they couldn’t even saw through.

We can all learn to be more creative than we already are. Instead of listening to all the naysayers, consider what can you do to make a difference. Never stop reading, learning, observing, and thinking. Surround yourself with other smart people, and combine that creativity with innovation.

Learn to live your dreams, not your fears.

Photo credit: “Creative business” by Brian Jackson via Dollar Photo Club

Saying YES Instead of NO

By Miles Davis, Ph.D., Dean of the Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business

My specialty is entrepreneurship: everything from a technology start-up to a home-based sole proprietorship. I’ve studied what makes entrepreneurial endeavors successful and what makes them crash and burn. I’ve been fascinated to realize that those mindsets, skills, and practices that lead to entrepreneurial success often also lead to happiness and satisfaction with life in general. Today I want to reflect on the value of trying to say YES instead of NO.

There’s power in our words

If you’ve ever had a boss who always said NO, you know it can stifle you and make you feel negatively towards your boss. Many speakers say we should say NO more often, but I want to take a different perspective. YES can be a way to develop people. NO ends discussion, stifles creativity, kills innovation, stops learning, and puts a box around initiative.  Don’t let NO be your reflex reaction. It’s rarely informative.

To compound the problem of using NO too often, most leaders don’t take the time to tell people why their answer is NO. Admonishment is not a teachable moment. As a leader, when you teach someone how to get to YES, you may well have done the most important thing you can do to contribute to his or her development. You’ve certainly added value to your organization.

Sir Richard Branson said: “I have enjoyed life a lot more by saying YES than by saying NO.” In my own experience, saying YES is more fun and allows people to develop. Being able to get to YES is a more useful tool than saying NO.

Questions that can get you to YES

By saying YES in the right way, you can help people refine their thinking, develop in their process, understand your expectations, and advance the development of the organization. Where leadership is concerned, a slow YES is often more instructive and ultimately more productive than a fast NO.

When you’re tempted to give NO as an answer, consider these responses:

  • “Before I give you an answer, I’d like to know what your thought process was so I can understand how you got to this question.” This helps them to self-select an exit strategy if they’re not ready to answer.
  • “Let’s peel back the layers on this issue. Can you help me better understand your logic on this issue.”
  • “That’s an interesting idea. Who else is on board with this? Have you articulated this? Have you road tested it?”
  • “How does this add value to our core mission?” If they’re bringing you issues that aren’t aligned, maybe you haven’t communicated your mission. Or maybe they’re saying they don’t agree with that mission. Either way, you’ve got some other work to do.
  • “Help me connect the dots on this one. Why will this take us where we want to go?”
  • “Have you identified all the risks? What are your contingency plans for things that don’t progress as expected?” Make sure they identify the risks.
  • “What are the downsides of not moving forward with this?” There is no such thing as inaction. By doing nothing, you have chosen to do something and you need to understand the downside of that.

These questions are designed to develop the person’s thinking, and they make you a slightly different person, too. You are treating people as colleagues and worthy of your attention.

When NO is more common than YES

If you’re finding yourself having to say NO a lot, you should look at your own leadership ability. It can mean your vision is not understood, your team is not aligned, or your talent is not performing up to par. We hire people because we think they’re fully capable, so we shouldn’t be stopping them by saying NO all the time. You may not be teaching, mentoring, communicating or leading as effectively as possible.

A strong leader has the ability to collaborate with others, and the questions above allow that process to happen. They remove the judgmentalism and allow them to stretch their thinking. Often their enthusiasm exceeds their experience, so you want to develop them. By asking these questions, you are trusting your team. We all want people around us who are not afraid to bring us their ideas for opportunity or innovation.

The world is in a turbulent state. Things are changing. If people are afraid to come to you with new ideas, then how are you going to grow your business? So many of the great ideas in one place were rejected elsewhere.

Why do people normally say NO?

  • They believe it keeps them from wasting time. We don’t know what our employees know. Every successful leader I know has been willing to accept feedback from the people around them.
  • They think that by saying NO, they are managing risk. But really, you increase risk by always saying NO. You blind yourself to the opportunities that exist. You create information deficits, because people stop telling you things. You increase your blind spots. This increases your risk. Where information is not shared, it can’t be used.
  • Some people think saying NO builds character. While adversity can build character (though it reveals character more than builds it), so does empathy and understanding. Life has enough adversities. We don’t have to continue to pound on people to make them stronger. You hired them to do the job. Extend something more useful—understanding. If it still doesn’t make sense, help them understand why.
  • They think saying NO helps people focus and keeps them from biting off more than they can chew.  They like to imagine they’re protecting them. But if they’re coming up with ideas, they’re already extending their thinking.

While saying NO might be more convenient, progress is better accomplished with effective communication, effective collaboration, prudent resourcing…not by saying NO. Rather than kill something with a quick NO, a good leader uses every adverse scenario as an opportunity to grow the individual and organization.

Great leaders help people get to YES

There’s nothing we need more today than people who can think through issues. Without them, we face mediocracy. We want people who can look at a problem from a different perspective. As leaders we need to cultivate this in young people, and we can do it by saying YES more than we say NO. It’s not an industry conversation. It’s an across-the-board conversation. We must start with our children by asking them these questions.

The world is changing so fast. What we need are people who can think and people who can make decisions. YES is a catalyst that begins—not ends—the conversation. It causes people to extend their thinking. It inspires rather than demoralizes.  It encourages trust rather than doubt.

YES may be the most powerful word in your vocabulary. Use it wisely and use it often.

New Year, New Beginnings…

Each second, day, month, and year we get the chance to start anew.

The past is just that—past. It is true that life is not a Nintendo game, but we can reset and change course to put our lives in the direction of fulfilling our potential and living our purpose. Whether the fall semester was your worst or your best, it is a new year and a new semester—a chance at a new beginning.

As a new semester with new classes begins, I encourage you to explore your potential and grow—not just as a student, but also as the unique person you are. You have a purpose in life that only you can fulfill. Part of fulfilling that purpose is the pursuit of excellence and educational achievement.

The tag line for the Byrd School of Business is “Success stories start here.” Let this be the year you declare that your success story begins.

What You Did Yesterday Won’t Guarantee Tomorrow’s Success

My son plays soccer for the St. Louis University Billikens men’s soccer team. He was an outstanding soccer player when he played for his academy team before being recruited by the Billikens. He was part of the U.S. U14 National Team. He got written up in papers, received accolades, and was selected for regional and international teams. All of that got him to being recruited by St. Louis, but when he got there, he didn’t get to play. When I asked this young man who had been a star in the eyes of so many, including me, why he was not playing his freshmen year, he said, “Dad the speed of play is so much faster here.” Instead of being the standout player who was recruited by a soccer program with an incredible history, he was like everyone else they had recruited that season. On top of that, there were players who had already been on the team and had learned the fast-paced play of top Division 1 soccer. If he wants to see playing time, my son has got to step up his game to play at this higher level.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely proud of my son, but his situation got me thinking about what he’s going through and how it applies in entrepreneurship too. It’s great if you and your business did well in the past. You might have won the businessman of the year award two years ago. Last year you might have had record sales.

But what you did in the past doesn’t matter when a new day starts.

You have to always be ready to step up your game. You have to stop depending on what you did before to allow constant reinvention of yourself. That’s the only way you’ll penetrate your market and re-establish yourself on an ever-changing playing field. There are people there today who either weren’t there yesterday or who don’t care what you did yesterday.

Today I was listening to the radio and hearing about the new Apple products. Every year, they’re coming out with something new; they’re reinventing themselves. Apple is pushing its digital photography and video. They’re incorporating video—even editing—into the smartphone. It’s a constant reinvention.

You cannot rest on your laurels. Things are changing too fast.

But change brings opportunity. Virgin Atlantic is experimenting with a space ship that flies at high altitude that will connect Europe and the US in 30 minutes. Our state of change is accelerating and it impacts our whole society. Sometimes things cycle back around, but they’re still changing.

We have to always think, “What’s the next act for me and my business? Where do I want to be 15-20 years out? How do I stay adaptable?”

As you look at all aspects of your business, your past success can be the biggest impediment to your future success.

How can that be? Because you tend to want to do what you already did. Eliminate the idea that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In fact, when things are going well, it is time to examine what can be done better. Compete against yourself to push you and your business to higher levels of performance. Don’t be held back by your fears.

Live your dreams, not your fears.

Leaders: Do Less And Lead More

Racecars burn out if you run them continuously

The individual efforts we make on behalf of the organizations we’re supposed to be leading are not necessarily the same as actually leading them. Sometimes we get moved into a leadership position and think we need to become a pace setter—to work harder and faster. The reality is different. Working harder and faster may work well for a short time, but when we try to run a racecar continuously at high performance mode, it burns out.

This is what happens to a lot of entrepreneurs who try to build successful businesses. They get it off the ground, get it successful, and they are willing to work day and night. But people who are just employees can’t sustain that. It’s not a good quality of life. There comes a time in the life of our organizations when our workaholic ways may actually de-motivate others around us. Then it’s time to redefine our role as a leader.

Redefining leadership

Entrepreneurs who work without rest are confusing activity with leading. They’re not the same. They’re not the same at all.

Sustaining our role as successful leaders requires that we redefine leadership. If we rely entirely on our individual capabilities and effort, we’ll never develop those around us to move our organization to the next level.

Once you have moved beyond the level of being a direct contributor and start bringing others in, they may be doing the work you used to do. It’s a different job when you have to coordinate others. You have to allow them to grow to the level you attained. You have to step back and let them develop to their full potential.

Entrepreneurial leaders must get beyond technical skills

When we recruit recent graduates into our business, they usually come with a set of hard skills. As they move up the ladder, however, you have to make sure they develop leadership and management skills, skills that too often are not taught in school. They’re not taught about change and transition; they’re not taught how to motivate others. This must come from you, their leader.

At the Byrd School, we always advise our students to take psychology and sociology, because the biggest challenge to the organizations they will lead in the future is not going to require that they have a specific hard or technical skill. It’s going to require they be able to manage and lead other people. We want them to go into their first jobs with an understanding and appreciation for these “soft skills” that will move them from workers to future leaders.

You probably didn’t have the advantage of learning those soft skills when you were in school, so it’s important you develop them now, and a key step towards that is taking time to remove yourself occasionally from your daily activities and embrace the leader’s mindset.

To be an effective leader, sometimes you need to do less

As the scale of your organization increases, your job is to set the strategic vision. If you spend all your time engaging in tasks, when do you spend the time to vision? When do you spend the time to plan…to scan the environment…to make sure the organization stays on track?

You have to delegate things you used to do yourself and give others a chance to grow. If you don’t, your organization becomes dysfunctional and stagnant. If you’re doing the job you’ve hired others to do, you’re wasting the organization’s money and you’re holding your organization back.

As a leader, you must take time off, because you can’t keep on spinning without taking a break. You need time for your family and your friends. Some of your best creativity will come when you’re not directly engaged in activities. If you are leading, you need creative time to set the vision and get others excited about what you’re doing.

Spend less time doing and more time setting in motion the things that infuse energy into your organization—energy that makes things happen. Close the door and close your eyes sometimes. Give your mind a chance to relax. You need to do less, lead more, and watch your organization grow.


Adapted from a radio interview for River 95.3


Creative Destruction

The last light bulb factory (the G.E. plant) in the U.S. shut down recently in Winchester. It’s an exit to a company that traces its roots to Thomas Alva Edison in the 1800s. There is a transformation taking place right now to a different kind of bulb. They are more energy efficient, but the bulbs require more manual labor, so they’re primarily being manufactured in China. It is an outsourcing and exporting of labor. 

We should never lose sight of the fact that we’re talking about people and their jobs. There are about 200 people who worked at that factory in Winchester who no longer have a job.

But we need to have some understanding about what’s going on – it’s an ongoing process called Creative Destruction. It’s an economic theory about innovation and progress popularized by the Austrian American economist Joseph Schumpeter and adapted from the work of Karl Marx. It refers to a natural process in capitalism that acknowledges the role of destruction in most kinds of innovation. Things that existed before and enjoyed advantage for a while may be destroyed to create new advantages. 

We have seen innovative, dominant companies like Xerox and Polaroid fade as other things come to the forefront. Remember Montgomery Ward, FedMart (which became Costco), Woolworth’s? These companies were outdone by nimbler competitors. Tapes got replaced by compact discs, and now we have MP3s. 

Right now, there are free online newspapers leading to the creative destruction of traditional newspapers. Printed directories of all kinds have gone online. It has a direct impact if you’re caught in the middle of the transition. Radio has adapted by merging two technologies (radio and podcasts) to make the transition and survive in a different form. 

These changes can be used for good as well as for evil, but it shows the challenge to the world that things adapt and change. 

Creative destruction has brought us wonderful things. I love my digital camera, but the workers at Polaroid, Kodak and similar manufacturers and suppliers in the industry were negatively impacted. Consumers adapt, and it does have a downside to those people in those industries unless they adapt to new skills. 

In the long term, society as a whole has enjoyed a rise in overall quality of life from innovation. For example, in 1790, 90% of Americans were farmers. Now 2.6% are farmers. Farm jobs were destroyed for exponential productivity gains. Most would argue, however, that present day farmers enjoy a more prosperous lifestyle than they did back then. 

So my message to you today is to understand the process of creative destruction. There are opportunities that arise from that destruction. And the challenge to the individual is to stay aware of the changes that are occurring and take pro-active action to address shifts in your industry. Seek out opportunities for education, training, and skill development before you are forced to as a result of economic shifts.

Live your dreams and not your fears. 

Adapted from a radio interview with Dr. Miles Davis by Randy Woodward on River 95.3

Photo credit: “Colorful Abstract” via BigStockPhoto

7 Tips For Attracting World-Class Talent

You can’t shrink your way into prosperity

As the economy picks up, it’s time for business owners and entrepreneurs to stop thinking about survival and start thinking about growth. To position yourself for the good times ahead, you need talent. And not just any talent…world-class talent. You want people who could be game-changers in your organization. Ask yourself what talents you need for your business to grow and expand. If you’re hiring the right talent at the right time, you’re going to grow.

But you won’t be alone in seeking those top-tier people. As the economy heats up, so will competition for the best talent. There are ways other than money to improve your odds.

7 tips to compete for top talent:

  1. You have to have a story to tell. Talented candidates want to know what they’re getting into. You must be able to articulate what you’re all about and what you have to offer. Paint a picture they want to step into.

  2. You have to define what it is you want. Write down your expectations and how the person filling the position can meet them. Hire for the need, not the person. In other words, organizational needs should always drive hiring decisions. Don’t write a job description around an individual.

  3. Seek balance. People are generally hired for their cognitive intelligence, but they’re often fired for their lack of emotional intelligence. Assuming your candidate has the right skill set, ask yourself if they’ll contribute to the culture of your organization.

  4. Be available. Keep candidates in the loop about your decision-making process. Let them know if you’re really interested in them. If there are reasons you can’t give them an answer right away, tell them. Don’t leave them hanging.

  5. Be thorough in your background check. Go beyond the resumé. Conduct a disciplined competency-based interview. Just because someone has a great personality doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right for the job. Hire slowly; fire quickly. The wrong person can do a great deal of damage to your organization.

  6. Be flexible. With high quality people, you may find things they value more than others. Consider making concessions if they can still get the job done.

  7. Be willing to pull the trigger. You have to be able to close the deal. Don’t lose a great candidate because you didn’t act to hire him or her before someone else.

Go get ’em!

There is world-class talent out there who could take your business to the next level. What are you waiting for?

This post was adapted from a radio interview with Dr. Miles Davis on WZRV-FM’s  “The Valley Today” with Mario Retrosi.

Photo credit: “Executives” by Wavebreak Media Ltd., via BigStockPhoto

Is it Time for Business to Get Out of the Business of Health Care?

The passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or what has commonly come to be called “ObamaCare,” has sparked much debate about the nature of health care access and possible impact on employers. Some have speculated that small businesses will even reduce staff to have more part time employees or cut staff to fall below the minimum of 50 employees, the threshold for complying with the provisions of the ACA.

What is not being discussed is whether businesses should be in the business of offering health care at all. Before answering this question, we must first understand how it came to be that businesses offer health insurance, as it was not always so. Just like the recent law enacting the ACA was passed by Congress; it was Congress that ushered in the era of employers providing health insurance.

During World War II, workers demanded wage increases that were prohibited by wartime wage and price controls. To grant a concession to labor without violating wage and price controls, Congress exempted employer-sponsored health insurance from wage controls and income taxation—in effect allowing off-the-books raises for employees in the form of non-taxable health benefits. This created an enormous tax advantage for employer-sponsored health benefits over health insurance purchased by employees with after-tax dollars (e.g., auto insurance). By the mid-1960s employer-sponsored health benefits were almost universal .(

Lehman and Belady (1974) articulated a set of “laws” related to increasing complexity of software evolution that equally applies to government regulation and the healthcare market place. A recent conversation with a small business owner highlights the challenge of selecting health insurance for her employees: “How am I supposed to make a decision on the various healthcare plans [available]? I mainly look at the cost, which continue to rise, and try to find the cheapest one.” In addition to choosing healthcare plans under the ACA, employers are required to report the cost of healthcare coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan on an employee’s Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. The increasing cost, complexity, and reporting requirements of providing healthcare insurance to employees requires that we think beyond the political polemics and in terms more favorable to the major provider of healthcare insurance: employers.

We have now become familiar with terms such as “universal coverage” and “one payer” or “single payer” healthcare systems. Maybe it is time for us to explore some other alternatives, which do not have as much political baggage attached. For example: according to the Kaiser Foundation (See:, the average employer contributes $400.00 per month, per employee, for healthcare insurance. What if the employer just paid employees the additional $4800.00 per year and employees purchased their own insurance on “open exchanges”? The process could be set-up the same way we presently have healthcare savings accounts, but it would shift the administration of healthcare benefits and plans from the employer to the end user of the product. Employees could make decisions based on their individual circumstances, and companies could focus resources on their core business.

The above is only one example of how we could change how healthcare insurance is accessed in this country. We could also eliminate the favorable tax treatment given to such benefits, which in turn would cause as dramatic a shift in the system as when Congress first began exempting healthcare insurance in the 1940s. The national conversation has already begun on healthcare insurance and its rising cost to the country. It is now time to begin discussions on why businesses should get out of the healthcare business. As one company owner said to me in exasperation, “I do not cover [employees’] car insurance; why should I cover the cost of [employees’] health insurance.”