Disruptions do not necessarily cause negative results. Sometimes, having a disruption mindset is actually a catalyst to a greater change. Jesse Cole sits down with author and leadership innovator Charlene Li to discuss how shaking up culture and going out of your comfort zone can open up brand new opportunities, giving every business leader better insights. Charlene shares some tips on using a useful business dashboard as a tangible goal marker and learning to love your future customers. She also stresses the importance of putting your manifesto into action, which can establish a strong authority.
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Why Having A Disruption Mindset Can Be Good For You With Charlene Li
Our guest is Charlene Li. Charlene is an absolute rockstar in the innovation and disruption space. She’s been named one of the most creative people in business as well as one of the top 50 leadership innovators in the world. She’s the author of six bestselling books including The Disruption Mindset which is a game-changer. The book became an instant Bible for me on how to disrupt the sports industry. I believe every business leader should have this on their bookshelf. I am fired up to look into the future of business and welcome the one and only Charlene Li.
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
I am excited to jam with you. This whole idea of disruption and especially now, more than ever, I want to know where it first became something that you were looking into. Why disruption for you?
It started when I was a kid. I grew up in Detroit. I’m Asian-American and Detroit is not what you would normally find them. We’re the only family of color in our entire community. I was a walking force of disruption being in the room. I was always curious about how do I speak and stand out because I stood out everywhere I went. I got used to this. I saw myself as disruption like, “If I’m going to be different, I may as well be different.” I develop this ability to have a lot of empathy. I’ll be able to navigate my way through rough waters in many ways. That gave me a sense of courage to always think about disrupting and looking at things from a different perspective.
You did a few things before you got into being an author and speaker. From a business stand, where did it stand out like, “You got to disrupt if you want to stay relevant?”
It came right after I graduated from Harvard Business School. Everybody else was going to investment, banking, and consulting. This is 1993. I decided to look into this new thing called the internet. When I graduated, there wasn’t even a World Wide Web.
That was when Prodigy came out other than Netscape.
We had AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy. I have accounts on every single one of those services. I’m enamored by it. I did research to say, how could I play in this area? I could go to hardware and software, communications, pipes, cable companies, or into the content. The first three I knew nothing about. I go, “I consume content. I can work in that space.” I interviewed all over that and settled on newspapers because I love the mission of newspapers and also given what they do, I figured they would be the first ones to be impacted by this. I staked my career coming out of Harvard Business School on the disruption of the internet in the newspaper industry. That ended up at the San Jose Mercury News. I am working on helping newspapers figure out what to do with this new thing called the internet.
You were one of the first to look at this digital disruption and reinvention. Is that where you started guiding them?
I worked on selling internet advertising which was brand new. We were the second newspaper online by the fall of 1994. I was one of the people working with the advertising team saying, “This is how you normally sell print, sell online, how you talk about it, and how you educate people. Go out there and talk to people about who is this audience. How do you buy an ad? What’s a CPM?” We were defining the sizes of banner ads back then. It was the Wild West.If you stay only in that safety zone and never push out of it, you're never going to grow. Click To Tweet
I remember when we first try to change the model of what we’re doing. We’re telling people, “We’re not a baseball team.” They’re like, “You play baseball.” I’m like, “We’re not a baseball team. Our players do choreograph dances. It’s a circus.” It took a lot of convincing for them to get to know that. I think you learn the first concept of future customers. I’ll tell you, Charlene, when I started reading about that, I was like, “Thank goodness, someone is saying this because it’s not the traditional 60-year-old baseball fan anymore. You have to look into the future.” Tell me about how that concept first started coming to you and where it is now.
I started at San Jose American News. I got married, and then I went to Boston. I got another newspaper job. I was employee number one for their online newspaper division. It is called Community Newspaper Company and all the small weeklies and small dailies about 120 publications serving 200 communities around Boston. It’s the privilege of the Savannah market. It was like, “Who cares about that market?” I’m like, “This is people’s lives.” When you truly understood what their needs were, they wanted to know what was happening down the street. They wanted to know what was happening in city councils whether the local team won.
“Why didn’t the garbage bay pick up?” This is the news that impacted people’s lives every day. When we realized it wasn’t about the news and newspaper, it was about the community, that gave us the hook to say, “We have the opportunity to become the community and town online.” That’s what we started. It was a Psycho Town Online. Every single town had a site. Wayne’s early days in 1996, 1997, we gave people the ability to self-publish. This is way before its time. We were having online debates and we were doing things crazily because we knew and understood what the needs were of people in the local communities.
Everyone still talks about the Wayne Gretzky quote, “You look the way where the puck’s going, not where the puck was and not where it has been.” That’s where you guys started looking at. You talk about this concept of someone’s turn your back on the customers. Share that a little bit because people are like, “What are you talking about? These are the people that brought us here. What do you mean to turn your back at them?”
I’ll give a great example. The way that most newspapers used to make money is through their classified ads. Every other newspaper company would do is you be charged with print and they give online ads for free. From an economic point of view, that’s crazy because people don’t value online. What we’re going to do is charge for the online and give the print away for free. That was exactly what we were talking about. We loved our print customers but that wasn’t where the future was. That was a dying industry. We said, “The future is going to be an online space where you can put up pictures, have more descriptions, and be up-to-date on what is available or not.” We made money. We are profitable in that first year because of our online advertising. We could show that people were willing to pay for this and pay for all of our operations.
Share a little bit of some of the bigger companies, the familiar ones that have done the same thing. You mentioned Facebook that said, “We’re not going to do what we used to do. We’re going to go after this future customer.” I don’t think many businesses at all have a map or in their office that says, “These are our future customers. This is who’s paying us right now. If they don’t, who should?” Share some of these bigger companies that have done this, and it’s worked out for them.
To your point, first of all, I go into companies. I ask them a couple of questions when I do my consulting, then I’ll go, “Give me an hour. Let me walk around your company. Let me talk to people because I want to ask them a few questions.” They’re nervous. I’m like, “I guarantee you, it’s not going to be hard.” I go to a random person and I ask them, “What’s your strategy for the company? Tell me who your customer is.” If they know that, “Tell me who your future customer is and then show me your dashboard.” Those three things tell you so much. Are they aligned with what you’re trying to go? If they don’t know what the strategy is, what are they doing?
They’re doing the job heads down. They’re not thinking strategically. If they don’t know who their customer is, you got a problem there. Can they identify where you’re going with that strategy? Does your strategy have a clear future customer you’re trying to serve? If your strategy is about the future, if you’re talking about your current customer, there’s a disconnect. The dashboard goes, “What’s on there? Do I know what I’m doing every day?” First of all, am I measuring that? Second of all, is it clearly leading me towards our combined definition of success?
There’s a lot to unpack there. I know you’ve talked about this a little bit. I want to get back to the bigger picture of the future customer. The dashboard is fascinating because most companies have sales and regular daily metrics. What’s the dashboard you recommend?
Have you had a customer in there and ideally your future customer? I’ll give you two Facebook examples. First of all, on the dashboard. I had a chance to look at Mark Zuckerberg’s dashboard back in March of 2010 thereabouts. In the first column, all their current web users. In the second column, all the mobile users and didn’t have an app. They were looking at this awful experience on the mobile web. There was an Android, iPhone, and Blackberry. Blackberry was big back then.
At the bottom right-hand corner were revenues, financials, and there was blank. The dashboard was visible to every single person on Facebook. They could see what was important to Mark Zuckerberg. Clearly, mobile was the future. They didn’t come up with a full-fledged mobile strategy until 2013. There was also a message like, “We care about financials. We’ve got to focus on this customer experience. At some point, that box will be filled. We’re going to pay a lot of attention to it, but not now.”
I’m intrigued by that. A company different than Facebook, you have your customer metrics and then you have your future customer metrics. For instance, in our stadium, we have 100,000 people that go to our ballpark but we’re also taking the show on the road. We’re also doing 24/7, 365 games. We’re creating this whole other network. Is that part of our future customer that we’re keeping track of this whole new way we’re going? How would you look at that?
How I would look at that is look at your first time customer. Do they come back? Who are the people who didn’t come up? Who are the people who were on your list but have never come to a game? Look at those adjacent and young users. If you have a good idea of who your future customer is, not your current and best ideal customer but the people who could represent potentially in new revenue stream or new growth area. What have you had satellite locations to get that energy? It may be broadcast electronically but you still have that same enthusiasm in the room with ambassadors. Is that a growth area?
What’s the likelihood that that would work? You don’t know where the future is, and this is one of the biggest problems. If you don’t know who your future customer is and people are not comfortable and sure, they’re not 100% certain, guess what they do. They go running back to profitable current customers. That’s safety there. I know who’s going to work. I’m not going to waste my money. If you stay only in that safety zone and you never push out of it in that comfort zone, you go over here and explore, you’re never going to grow.
In my journal, I wrote future fans. I started both who should not be our future fans. It was easier for me to go that route. I started thinking about the typical generic season ticket and box seat ticket holder that they’ve done for 100 years and that’s not where the future is going. What’s this new type of experience? I started thinking about TikTok because we have more followers than any major league team. This little Savannah, over 300,000 followers. I’m like, “It’s a younger audience that wants the fun and wants this.” How do we get them to be our future customers where our future fans where they want to buy? Zuckerberg didn’t know the exact answer, but he knew that’s where he wants to go and it took three years to finally target that. Is that what you see?
I do see that and look at it this way. The way you define your business, are you a baseball team? Are you a stadium? Are you an entertainment business? If you an entertainment business then you look at these in a completely different way. I’ll give you a little example. My husband and I are owners of a winery up in the Sierra Foothills. We are opening our tasting room. This is my little side project. What I described to my team is we’re not a tasting room or winery. We are an experienced business and we happen to make and sell wine then your mindset changes differently. All the other entertainment venues in Sacramento, that’s our competition. It’s not the other tasting rooms. Getting them to come to our region is the hard part. How do we engage them? How do we bring our experiences to them at sacrament because we’re not tied to a geographic location?
Since you are not in the wine business or baseball business, what are those things that you’re doing to say, “We’re going to do this that other wine companies aren’t doing because we’re not in the same business as them?”
We’re set up to create a huge database of every single person who was coming in. Even if they don’t want to be messaged to, we’re going to track that they coming, they come back again, be able to segment them, to be able to understand how are they developing, and what is happening? We know that wine drinking and purchasing is declining so we have to go after a new market which is young people who drink spirits. They don’t drink wine. Wine is too complicated. The way to explain wine is it has raspberry accents with a bit of pepper. We’re going to have infographics to explain what the wine tastes look like. To bring in this graphic with, “I like this one that has this taste map. They get me another one that has that taste map.” This approaching wine from a completely different perspective than a host has been to demystify it.
I’m a craft beer drinker. We have beer festivals at our stadium. We even tap at the morning beer festival because you can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning. We do a lot of crazy things but wine, I don’t understand it. If you want to have a big demographic, how do you simplify it, make it easy, and have that gateway? People love wine but it’s getting that first step. What you’re doing is smart. Charlene, what makes people leave and say you wouldn’t believe what happened when I went to this place? That’s one question we always ask ourselves. When they leave our ballpark, what would make them say, “You wouldn’t believe that happened to the stadium?” It sounds like you’re on that path. If we can jam for a while but begin with the end in mind, that’s where this future customer and mindset. Share that insight a little bit and people can start there.
This is the hardest thing that an organization does. It’s hard to pull yourself out of your every single day. You’re a small business owner and you’re sitting there. Tons of urgent things that are important coming into you but we know that the not urgent, important things are the things that are going to make a bigger difference in your business.To the extent that you can protect that time, create that space so that you can think and reflect on where you want to be. Wayne Gretzky was good at what he did because he practiced it. As a child, he would sit there, watch hockey games, and sketch out where the ice puck was going. He would see how right was he in guessing, go back in, and analyze what was wrong but he didn’t do this by sheer talent. He had to work at it. If you want to start with the end in mind, you have to work at it. You have to practice skating to where the puck is going to be. A lot of times, they’re going to be wrong in the beginning.
That’s where you learn. You said that leaders should spend 50% of their time in the future.
The higher you are in the organization, the more time you had to spend in the future. I don’t see anyone else doing it. You’re at the top of the organization and you don’t think about the future. Do you have somebody else in a closet someplace who’s going to do this for you? You’re it. The buck stops with you. If you don’t think about the future, no one else will and you’re going to put your business at risk.Unimportant things usually make a bigger difference in your business. Click To Tweet
At some point, you spend your time in the future and then you have to burn the boats. That’s scary.
Alexander the Great went to defeat his enemies and they were completely outnumbered. When they got ashore, he ordered his soldiers to burn the boats and they go, “What do you mean? That’s our only escape route.” He goes, “We will sail home in our enemy ships, or we will die trying.” That’s what it takes. At some point, you’re going to be faced with a make it or do it, do or die decision. Do I go into this new space, pursue the future? Do I retreat to safety? You can always retreat to safety. It’s always there but unless you take a close look at that future and strategically say, “I will not pursue it. It’s too dangerous. I’m not capable of doing it.”
You retreat to safety, but I do not accept. It was when people say, “I like it here. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. That future looks scary. I don’t even want to look at it.” How can you not even look at it? Your customers are there. You need to fall in love with your future customers because when you’re in love, all you want to do is be with your future customers. You can’t help but be there. You know you’re not going to meet all their expectations. You’re going to fall down, and you’ll not be able to be there all the time for them but you’re going to keep trying because you love them. Why would you not want to pursue them?
I see it almost like a drug that holds people back. You keep getting paid by your current customers. You keep getting paid over and over again. Charlene, I don’t know if you know this. In 2019, we announced we’re getting rid of all advertisements at our stadium. We became the first ad-free ballpark, which is crazy and doesn’t make sense. That’s a burning the boat moment. We realized that that’s not the future of advertising. It’s putting billboards at stadiums. That’s not what’s best for our future customers. They don’t want to be advertised, sold, or marketed to.
You have to get over like, “This money that’s been coming to you in the past, you have to say no for potentially a much bigger pie and more importantly a bigger impact on future customers.” What I’m thinking about is it inspired us. I was reading that when we made that crazy decision. I was like, “We’re going to get rid of all of our advertising” Directly, you cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars, Charlene, right away. We’ll win in the long run. I think about this burning the boats in what Netflix did. I’m a big fan of Reed Hastings and what they’ve done but this is going to streaming. He may have burned a little early but to share how that goes into this whole theme of like, “This is where we’re going.”
When Netflix offered streaming, they created two pricing plans. One for streaming and one for their bed envelopes. People were up in arms about this and they botched the launch of it. They apologize for not communicating well but they didn’t go back on what they did. They said, “This is our future. This is where we’re going to be and we’re going to have that business model for it.” They announced that they’re going to raise the prices again. It took them a while. They said, “It’s time. We got a gazillion people who joined us over the pandemic. We’ll go beat the benefits of that. We’re going to do this.” Despite all the people complaining when they did this move, they did not back down from it.
It takes a lot of guts and you don’t do this lightly. The other example I gave was Adobe. When they went from Packard software to their cloud, they announced that they were no longer going to support the Packard software. That was the last version. Fifty thousand people wrote a petition and said, “We want our Packard software back. We don’t want this new future.” Adobe goes, “We burned the boats.” Employees, customers, and investors are coming to them, “You got to go back.” They go, “Burn the boats.” They said it over again.
I remember our first year of our first team, they’re like, “This is too much of a circus. We’re out. We want baseball.” Even this past year, I had six box seats. We don’t lose seats because we have a big waiting list. They were like, “You guys are getting too crazy. The traditional baseball is gone. We’re out.” I’m like, “You have to be okay with that.”
What Adobe did is they ran the numbers. They had war rooms full of charts everywhere. They did the research. Initially, they didn’t go and say, “We’re going to go all the way to Cloud.” When they could see the numbers and felt comfortable that this is a bigger market, they replaced anybody that they lost. That’s when they said, “We’re ready to go.” It wasn’t this foolhardy, “I’m going to close my eyes. I hope that it’s going to work.” It was well done, well researched, and they could back it up. Every single person on the executive team went, “This is the right thing to do.” They held their hands together.
Kumbaya moment, they looked around the circle and said, “Are we doing this? Are we committed to this 100%?” I spoke with people during that time and they go, “Our executive team is not cracking. They are steadfast 100%.” My experience from this was talking to the CFO at Adobe. He could talk as well as eloquently about the customer experience as the Chief Marketing Officer, as a person in charge of the experience, a person in charge of the product. The CFO had completely internalized who their future customer is and what they were trying to build for them.
It’s smart because if everything starts with putting yourself in your future customer’s shoes on a better experience, that’s where a lot of disruption can come from. This phone here I’m holding, in 2015, I went to T-Mobile. People were like, “You’re going to T-Mobile, you can’t even talk on the phone in half the places you go to.” I’m like, “I love what they’re doing because they’re going against the way things were, I’m going to do it.” The first couple of months were a little rough. We kept saying T-Mob prompts, but they figured it out. When I read about T-Mobile and CEO John Legere, everyone knows him. When you talk to us about it, everyone knows about the customer experience. This is the best way to disrupt and T-Mobile did better than anybody. Share a little bit of that story.
T-Mobile came in the fourth largest behind all the other players in the US mobile market. John Legere came in with a brand-new strategy to do everything that the big carriers were doing. They started the strategy right before he joined. They were looking at it like, “We could do this. Should we be an urban brand? Should we be a youth brand? How do we position ourselves?” They did all this research. They found that people were angry at their carriers. They were angry, mad, and felt like they would be held over the barrel with these two-year contracts. They couldn’t get a new phone when the new phone came up because they were in a two-year contract.
They said, “What if we were to tear up the contract? Let people come and go and be customer-oriented. Say we love our customers. We’re going to do the right thing for them. Give them free Netflix and do all these other crazy things. Give them unlimited data.” That’s crazy. They said, “We’re for the customer. We’re going to be the uncarrier.” When you are the uncarrier, it opens up the possibilities. You get a CEO who’s traditional died in the wall and straight shooter. He gets him then he goes, “I like that. That’s cool.” He figured out he had nothing to say at the upcoming CES Conference. He goes there and blows the doors off by dissing his competition especially AT&T. He goes, “I need a T-Mobile shirt.”
He goes out and he gets a custom printed T-Mobile shirt in bright pink that he wears under his suit jacket. He puts on a T-Mobile baseball cap. He looks like no other CEO you’ve ever seen. He’s talking trash about his competition. Everybody carried it and talked about it, but his audience was his employees. His employees saw that and they go, “We’re different. This is not the usual game.” What John Legere did was a huge amount of external work but also a huge amount of internal work to change the culture at T-Mobile. This is not in the bug. The reason I know this is my company did a lot of the strategy work for T-Mobile during this time. I had all the background story. It was the steps that they did externally but all these steps internally as he bring along and he changes that employees had the power. They had the agency to be able to create the uncarrier experience with every single person that came across.
He wanted to make the brand, cool but he wanted to make it internally first. Bob Iger in his book Ride of a Lifetime talks about the biggest challenge with Disney when they were going through struggles where people weren’t as proud because they didn’t have great products to be proud of in the ‘90s when they were struggling with their films. We want to have great products to feel proud of. He’s like, “How do I make you guys love what we’re doing? I got to make a better product, a better experience, and make it cool to wear the pink shirts that we’re wearing around town.” That was part of his model. We got to say, “Will our people be our biggest fans?”
He was the biggest fan of the employees. He has huge call centers. He’s like, “How do I visit a call center?” He got a segue. He wrote it up and down every single corridor, high fiving every single person that he could. They got tons of confetti candidates and they did huge parties, celebrations, and recognition for employees. It was crazy. This is not the way you normally run a business, but the goal is we’re the uncarrier. We have permission to do anything we want. It’s no wonder, Jesse, you would love them because it’s completely contrary in the way to do things. What cracked me up was when John Legere personally changed. You look at a before and after picture. He looks fully buttoned-up.
He’s testifying Congress and everything. He retired from there. His entire wardrobe was pink, magenta, and black. He grew his hair long, slicked it back. My favorite part is he had this crazy show on Facebook on Sunday mornings called Slow Cooker Sundays where he would cook something. He would re-promotion to T-Mobile, and then do some crazy antics. This is not normal. He had a couple of million people watching him every Sunday, more so than most cable channels did. Talk about promotion and visibility for T-Mobile and they’re now the number three easily, quickly catching up on to Verizon. Knocking on Verizon’s door to be number two. This is a huge turnaround for the company. I worry a little bit that they’re moving away from that because as they have grown bigger and more corporate, that sense of energy and rate of innovation has definitely slow.
They were the underdog. They were breaking all the rules and they were challenging it. You share in your book from $20 billion to $40 billion, they kept climbing in revenue. The personal question is curiosity and his ability to attack the way things were. I think about that in what we do. I wonder what that positioning is. We’ve seen presidents do and see other people attack it. I struggle with that, but I also realized the value of giving people a better experience is sometimes you have to make them even more aware of the challenges. If you’re in my shoes and we’re a challenger brand like T-Mobile and the way baseball is, it’s too long, slow, boring, and they’re not changing at all. It needs to be more fun and more exciting. If you were CEO, would you take a similar approach to him? What would you do to make sure the word gets out even more?
I believe that messaging value propositions and everything have to do with the values of the organization. T-Mobile was in a position where it was a straight out dog fight. They weren’t attacking them for being bad companies, they were attacking them for not doing well by their customers like, “Shame on you for not treating your customers better.” That’s a different type of attack. The focus here has to always be on your customers that you’re fighting for them whether you’re going to be aggressive and pointing out your competition, how they’re not doing things well versus loving your customers, there’s no substitute for that. That should be the focus.
For us, “Shame on you for nickeling and diming people when they come to ballparks and making $8, $7 for this and making the experience. All of our tickets are all-inclusive. It includes all your food, all your drinks, everything. Shame on you because it’s not the best fan experience.” The family should not leave a ballpark where they’re broke, bored and they should not leave a ballpark like this. That’s a better stance to take.
I wouldn’t even focus on the shame on you. You go and be you. Do what you have to do. This is what we believe. This is the experiment we want to have because we don’t believe in nickeling and diming people. I want to know that I’m going to have a great time. I may be willing to pay a premium on it or I’m willing to, as an organization, take a little margin on that knowing that I don’t have to spend as much on marketing and we win in the end because other people are going to talk about the great experience that we’re going to have. It goes back to what experience you want to have and what is it that your audience wants? I can see in other markets that your approach wouldn’t work because they want baseball. They want to be intensely sitting there with a scorecard, noting every single thing, and that’s what they’re going to get. We all have friends who do that. They do not come to your yangs. Not your target audience.
They did have the uncarrier manifesto. Do you believe every company should have a manifesto on what they believe in?The higher you are in the organization, the more time you have to spend in the future. Click To Tweet
Every company and every person should have a manifesto. I’ve been doing these manifesto workshops and the beauty of a manifesto. It’s your statement of how you see the world should work and how you will play in it. The manifesto says, “This is what is wrong with the world and how we are going to fix it.” I see the potential. This is where the world could look like. This is where we are now. This is what we are going to do to close that gap. It is a public statement of why I exist. I love purpose statements but they’re just a statement that says one tiny little thing. My purpose statement is to help leaders thrive with disruption. That sounds great. It’s something I could say at a cocktail party, but what does that mean? What’s going to guide me every single day? What is my purpose? How am I going to serve the world?
Somebody came to me and this wonderful other leadership coach, I was at a meeting of leadership coaches, talk about and feel good. There’s one woman who came up to me and said, “Where are you from? How are you doing?” She goes, “How do you serve the world?” That is such a wise and deep question. I have to be honest, when the pandemic hit, I was thrown back on my back. For about two weeks, I was in grief thinking about what we had ahead of us. The thing that pulled me out was her asking me that over and over again. I kept going back to my purpose. I go back to my manifesto. That got me back out into the chair strategy, live streaming strategy. I don’t know where this is going to end up but what my purpose is. I need to get up every single day and help leaders thrive through this crazy disruption. That is my purpose.
You have a full one-page manifesto. I’m not asking you to read it. The best way to start it is with a rant. What are the challenges? What are the problems? How do you put hope and fix that?
My rant is there are many problems in this world. There were many overwhelming problems, pick one. Pandemic, climate change, or hunger in our streets. I live in San Francisco and there’s so much hunger down the street from me. Economic opportunity, equality, it goes on and on. There are many problems. We’re not going to get there by incrementally solving these problems within our comfort zone. The only way we’re going to get there is if we have as many disruptive leaders out there as possible, who are competent in their ability to create disruption. They can go out there. My rant is we need more disruptors. My purpose every day is to create more disruptors, get people out of their comfort zone to go figure out what that edge is and leave at that edge because that’s where the magic happens.
That is the perfect way to end the show but I’m not going to let you out here. That’s inspiring and important. I don’t know if you have some others from companies that you’d be willing to share. A lot of people need to have an example. T-Mobile has one, the uncarrier. You’ve shared a few others, but you can share a few offline. That’d be great for the audience. I worked on one for months and it’s challenging to work on it when you don’t have many to emulate with.
I like the one from next door, the Google Community ones. The next door has one. We’re neighbors. What does it mean to be a neighbor in the physical space and in the digital space? I do one with someone and she has a whole thing about how to write personal manifestos. In many ways, there’s no right way to write a manifesto. Jesse, I know you’ve been working on yours for weeks and months. Put it out there. That’s what I did. I wrote a draft and shared it with a friend. We gave ourselves accountability partners. He had to write one for himself and his business too. We shared and I was like, “Edge out the ads. It’s good. It’s fine.”
The other thing that I would say is the one thing about the manifesto is that you use it to inspire the people around you and yourself. It adds its power. The power of the manifest is partly that you write it. The second part is that you use it. This is the thing about purpose statements in manifestos. They have to be authentic. Only you could write this. They have to be inspirational because they go up into the future, but they also had to be shareable to have that power. They also have to be actionable. There are needs to be things in there that say, “What are we going to do about this? What am I going to do about this?” You live that and you do those things every single day.
That’s part of disrupting your culture and also creating a movement. You talk a lot about a movement. We put on a website back in 2015 when we first launched, Join the Movement. We didn’t know what that meant. Every day people keep joining the movement and we’re still working on that, but it’s powerful. Talk to me about how you can disrupt culture and join a movement together because that’s powerful.
Movements are important because what you’re trying to do when you create a disruption is hard. I keep thinking that innovation sounds good, but innovation is whitewashing disruption and giving a false promise is going to be easy. Disruption is hard. When people get discouraged, they come against those barriers that are hard things to do. They’re going to have to have some motivation. The vision of the future, the future customer, but more importantly the sense of belonging to a movement, being part of a tribe is important because people step up themselves and become leaders and say, “You need to join this movement too. Come and join the movement.” It’s not only on you. It’s a part of the leadership that’s hard to develop where it’s no longer about your personal leadership but you bring other leaders up to take on the mantra of leadership that was shared with you. That’s what creating a movement is.
If someone is reading and they’re like, “I want to start a movement for my restaurant,” what do they do?
First of all, make sure that everyone knows what restaurant you want to have. Those three questions, do you put your strategy? Who’s your future customer? What does your dashboard look like? If everybody in your organization understands those things, you are on your way to creating that movement. You get your customers to be a part of that. Do they understand your strategy? Do they love the fact and clear about they are your future customers? You measure and you say, “Am I bringing those people in? Am I being successful at encouraging those people to spread the word? Are they part of my movement?” One of my favorite examples of a movement brand is Harley-Davidson. I look at their customers as the people who buy those expensive, beautiful bikes.
They also think of their fans as a person who the only thing they’ve ever bought is a Harley-Davidson keychain. Those are their customers too. When you start thinking about that as a small business, as a restaurant, it could be the people who may have walked by your store, but they are a part of that ecosystem. How do you make them part of your movement? They may never even come in because they may be vegetarian. You’re a steak house but they tell their steak-eating friends, “That’s a nice steak house on the street and the people there seem happy. You should try it out.”
I think about a powerful brand like Yeti. More people have Yeti hats than they do. They’re representing the brand because of what the brand says about them and how it makes them feel. That’s the thing about everything, their whole touchpoint, what their brand says. The movement is more about the feelings that they have when they get into your ecosystem. Am I hearing that correctly?
The other thing you talked about is growth. You said growth leads us. Disruption doesn’t create growth, growth creates disruption. I see this a little personally. As we set a vision to this is where we’re going. We said, “We’re going to go from here to playing year-round which no one else is doing to playing on the road, taking the show on the road, doing all this.” All of a sudden, this plan for growth created how are we going to do it. Is that what you’re saying have a growth plan a little bit with your movement and then that will create how you’re going to disrupt?
I look at it this way. I say grow in not just revenues but grow in your impact, personal way, if you’re in a church, your ministry, whatever it is that you’re growing. We’re talking about big G growth. It’s hard to grow. You make it look easy, but it was a huge amount of work. What you all did in a short amount of time is incredible but there was a huge amount of work behind that. What happens is when people begin on this path like, “I got a vision. I got an idea. I’m going to keep growing.” It’s hard. I thought that disruption was going to lead to growth.
If I do this, it’s going to be it. The actual act of growing is disruptive, and it feels disruptive because it changes the way we interact with each other. It forces us into new relationships. It forces us out of that comfort zone. All we want to do in our natural inclinations is one back to that comfort zone. This is the thing that the pandemic has taught me. We were thrown out of our comfort zone back in March 2020. We were catapulted out of it. We’re sitting there, mocking around for about 5 or 10 days, trying to get our lives back together again like, “What the heck is happening to us. We don’t want to do this.” We were forced to go into this new world. We would never have imagined us working, connecting, and having relationships in this way.
I have three-hour Zoom calls with my family at dinner and we’re hanging out. We spend more time together than we’re apart because of the technology. It’s crazy. We’ve been to the edge. We know what it’s like to be out of our comfort zone and we’re okay. That should give us confidence that we can accomplish in such a short amount of time that we thought would have taken years or never have got there. We have this confidence now that we can leave our comfort zone and not go 5% or 10% out but go right to the very edge. My advice to everybody out there is to go right out to the edge, take a look, and see what it’s like because you don’t know where your edge is until you go to it.
If that’s too much, then take one step back. When you take that one-step-back, you know you’re on solid ground. You’re not going fall off the edge but stay there. Don’t go back into your comfort zone. Stay at that edge. Over time, you’re going to be able to grow that edge. For your team, it’s important to define what that edge is for the organization because if they don’t know where the edge is, they will stay in the center and they won’t take the risk because the things they say is, “I need permission to go try something new. I don’t want to fail because failure is not going to be tolerated.”
If you tell them, “This is the edge. This is the playing field. This is the sandbox that we can be in. Go right to the edge. Anything that happens in there, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. We lose a little money. We can afford it. You make a mistake, it’s okay. Go and try. Spread our wings. Try a new game. Go out there, just don’t go past that edge.” Be clear where that edge is. When you’re clear about the edge, they suddenly feel like, “I can do that.” They take one step out of that little center and you sit in and like, “Congratulations. This is awesome. You took that little bit of risk.” They’ll go a little bit further. This doesn’t happen overnight. Disruption is something you learn, and you get better at it the more you practice it.
The worst thing that could possibly happen is that it’ll add to the failure resume.
One of the things I love is having a failure resume and the ways that I’ve screwed up and messed up. First of all, it keeps me humble. The second thing is the most important thing about the resume is to put right next to it what did you learn? On resume like, “This is the position I had and these are all the things I did.” With failure resumes like, “These are all the ways that I messed up and you put that right behind, what did I learn?” If success is this goal and what you end up with is short of that goal. We don’t call that failure. We call that not quite there yet. That gap gives us data and information but how we can close that.Fall in love with your future customers. Click To Tweet
Unless we have that gap, unless we try, we’re never going to get to success. What happens to many business owners is, “I don’t want to do this until I know I can have 100% success.” The difference between people who never get started because they have this fear of failure and the people who move forward into it is, “Are we comfortable with this gap? Are we comfortable sitting there knowing we didn’t get there? Are we confident that we can start closing the gap even though we haven’t hit it?”
That’s how you begin. People ask me all the time how do I begin? I go, “Pick something that seems hard and out of reach. What is the only piece of data or minimally viable data that you need to have to be able to make your first decision to get to that path? Don’t try to solve everything, but what’s the one simple piece of data you need to get to feel comfortable taking that first step?” Take another first step so you get closer to that goal versus trying to solve all of it before you begin the journey.
It’s almost like looking at failure as discovery. We say, “What can you discover? What can you learn from this minimum viable thing they put out from going to the edge? What can you learn?” We’re scared. Jeff Bezos said, “Our success is a direct function of the not experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.” We’re not doing enough experiments to disrupt. Charlene, we’re getting to the end. I’m going to go a quick little Knight dimming here. I’ll throw it back on you. I’ve been grilling you, you get to grill me. You are the host of this show. You can ask me one question.
What is the one thing you wish you had done differently?
When I answer that question, play bigger. I was in a small playground and a little tiny team in Gastonia, North Carolina. We were testing little things out like flatulence, fun nights, and salute Thunder one nights. I would’ve played bigger, taking bigger risks, and not be too afraid in the beginning. That was a challenge for me. It’s like, “Let’s jump. Let’s spread our wings. Let’s get out there. Let’s get to the edge.” That’s what I would’ve done differently because every time big chance that we’ve taken, we’ve learned so much that’s pushed us to the next level.
Reflecting back on that, the second question, how can you play even bigger now? You don’t have to answer that.
I’m not going to. I’m going to think about that. I immediately think about bigger risks but that’s my first thought process. You’ve mentioned a bunch of questions. If you want better answers in business, you got to ask better questions. You’ve mentioned a few throughout this episode. Are there some questions that you always go back to with some of these groups that you work with?
I always ask them what are the beliefs that hold you back? If the beliefs of disruptive organizations are things like openness, agency, and the bias for action, then what are the beliefs that you are saying to yourselves as individuals, but also as an organization that is holding you back? Do some analysis around it. Sit down as a team, take some Post-it notes out, write on them, and throw them in the middle. We don’t have permission to fail, I have to get permission before I act, I don’t know what to do, or we don’t have enough money. What is the belief that we have? Put them in the middle, and then discuss it as a team. They go, “Are these true? If they are no longer true, then agree. We’re not going to believe these things anymore. We’re not going to act as if we believe these things anymore. We’re going to instead have new beliefs that replace them.”
That’s how they can start disrupting. They got to throw it all out there and then start rocking and rolling. Final two, Charlene. This has been great. You’ve never been asked this question so I’m going to ask it. What does going bananas mean to you?
Going bananas feel is you let go of any hesitations that you may have. Anything that’s holding you back when truly enjoying and feeling joy.
If that could fit into this disruption, I love that. Final one here. What makes someone unforgettable?
What makes somebody unforgettable is that they make you feel great. They evoke a feeling in you. We don’t remember what people say. In the case of you, Jesse, we don’t remember what they’re wearing. We don’t remember what they say and what they do, we remember how they made us feel. When we think about the best leaders, the best moments, we remember them because of the feeling in us that they left with us. That’s what makes somebody unforgettable. Always go for that emotion. Business is one of those things where we shy away from emotion and words like intimacy scare us. Relationships and trust scare us because we feel like there’s no place for that in business. It’s the opposite. They are the root of what business, organizations, and leadership are. It all comes back down to relationships and relationships are about these feelings that we have for each other.
The best brands make you feel something. They have to often disrupt themselves to make you feel something more than a typical brand. That’s one of the roots of this whole book we were talking about. What are they doing to make you feel something to go into stretch themselves to feel something special? Charlene, this book is a Bible for us. We are going back to it over and over again. You shared much. Is there anything else that you want to share where people can find more? You have to buy the book. If I’ve been told everyone, buy the book and I’ve never got that much of a sales process. I’ve had lots of authors but I’m telling you, this is a game-changer. Charlene, thank you first. Is there anywhere else people can send or announce you’d like to leave the audience with?
I am on my site, CharleneLi.com. I’m at that handle on social media. I do say contact me, reach out. I would love to hear what you are doing and where you are in your journey. This is how I do my research. Half the examples in the book came from my community. It wasn’t me knowing people. It was me having a network of people like you. It’s to know what the experiences are and the stories. They inspire me, they keep me going so please stay in touch.
Once you read this blog and a year from now, look back and say, how much have you disrupted yourself, business, industry, and challenge yourself and hold yourself accountable? I’m holding myself accountable. A year from now, Charlene, we’re going to talk again and we’d better done some crazy things. Thank you for the inspiration.
You’re welcome, Jesse. It’s great talking to you. Thank you for the opportunity.
You are a rockstar. That was a lot of fun. I appreciate it. This was great. There’s lot of good things. Thank you, Charlene.
About Charlene Li
Charlene Li speaks truth to what really inspires change in business: people who want to rethink the way they run our businesses and, really, their lives. The Disruption Mindset will motivate more people to believe they can achieve the impossible.
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