No one knows what the future brings. If uncertainty is a fact of life and business, then you should be ready to futureproof your business. Michael Zipursky discusses getting ready for the future with the CEO and founder of Potential Squared, Colin Hunter. Colin shares insights on the role of leadership and the importance of coaching and mentoring. We also hear why leaders need to learn fast and not be afraid of failure. Learn from these unique insights and be ready to face your business future.
I’m very excited to have Colin Hunter joining us. Colin, welcome.
Thank you very much, Michael. It’s a joy to be here.
I’m excited to have you on the show here. You are an author, a mentor, an entrepreneur coach, and the CEO of PotentialSquared International, a business you have been running for a couple of decades. Your team specializes in creating and delivering leadership assessments and development solutions that disrupt the way people are led.
You have a new book called Be More Wrong. It’s all about becoming a better leader. I want to dive into that because I’m sure that there are many insights from the book, as well as your experience of building this business. You have worked and lived around the world. I’m excited to gain your perspectives and learn from them.
I want to get into the area around failure. That’s something that you talk a lot about, how failure can help people become better leaders. Before we get to that, I would love to hear about what you were doing before you started PotentialSquared International. You were in Paris. You are in London but you have spent time in the US. Take me back to the early days of Colin Hunter 1.0. What were you doing? How did you get to where you are?
If I go way back, I was experimenting, as a child, with people, groups of friends, mixing them but I never realized what it was that I was good at or I had a passion for until later. The first part of my career was following everybody else’s advice but my own and going into chartered accountancy. I’m one of those people that had Arthur Andersen on my CV.
I was a Tax Consultant in the days when you did hand computations of tax returns. I left that and, by luck or by chance, walked into Procter & Gamble. I was sales marketing pharmaceuticals. It was only after a breakdown around the age of 30, which I talked openly about where I suddenly realized I was doing something I hated.
It wasn’t about the job. It was because I wasn’t fulfilling my passion. I’ve got that space. I had a kick up of the backside that made me realize that I needed to do something different with my life. Since then, being on a journey exploring consulting about coaching, I fell into leadership through a few connections. I have started to work up my mindset around leadership.
It was only in 2007 when we’ve got going, that I suddenly realized that we weren’t practicing what we preached. A lot of the philosophy that I hear your other guests coming on for me started in 2007 when I started to realize I needed to create almost playgrounds and experiments to work up new thinking but also to live and practice what everybody else was preaching about leadership.
I want to dig more into what drew you to leadership. What was it about the concept of leadership? You hit on this experience that you had that so many people find themselves in where they are essentially following other people’s expectations or advice. Looking back on that stage of your life, what advice would you have for others? How do you think that you could have potentially played that a little bit differently or made different decisions that could have had a different trajectory on your life?We're futureproofing what we do for the future of our organizations. We can't predict it, but we've just got to get ready. Click To Tweet
I’m thinking about the person who’s joining us, reading, and is in a place where they might be doing work that isn’t fulfilling them. There is something inside of them where they are doing it because it’s a good job, it’s providing good benefits or money but something is missing. If you reverse-engineer that, what advice might you offer?
One of the biggest things I have as a philosophy is moving from work-life balance to life balance. I did it for two reasons. One is that we waste so much energy trying to be something we are not. I see so many people smiling, laughing or singing before they walk into an office. As soon as they walk through the office door, their personality changes.
A lot of my coaching has been around almost releasing the original version of you like The Beatles documentary that’s come out. You are releasing that original bit that you were working on there. You were happy in the space. Life balance is one thing. The second thing is that I never felt I should have grown up or I feel I should not have grown up.
If we think about when we are a child, we have a self-correcting system. Our mind is able to adjust, to cry one moment, to laugh, fight with our friends, and make up with them the next moment. All we do is add on layers and layers of advice, fears, or in my case, Imposter syndrome when I was growing up. The second bit of advice I always go back and say is, “If I was to revisit the person who is the child and not too young but the teenager, what would you be doing? What would your passions be?” Start there with your career. I would encourage people to experiment. It’s what I’m doing with my daughters. Go experiment, play.
My eldest is about to go to university but do two degrees, Economics of French and Business. Go explore. Learn about Paris. Live in Paris. Learn about different cultures. Don’t fundamentally grow up until you have had a chance to play. That’s part of my philosophy as a playground. Create your own playground.
As you started to discover this concept of leadership, or at least have it more structured or formalized in your mind, what was it about leadership that drew you to that? You had some experience working as a sales manager, head of an international business. What was it about leadership? A lot of the work that you do or the majority of the work you do, from what I have seen, is still connected to leadership. What is it that draws you to it?
The definition we hold of leadership is agitating for the future. Therefore the restlessness that I have had in my life always plays to that. Consequently, I’m never happy. Part of it is the Imposter syndrome. I will read this show back and think, “I could have got this answer better. I should have said this. Did that sound stupid?” I will always read back.
This restless piece is also about agitating for the future. If you think about leadership in a different context, it’s Nassim Nicholas Taleb who wrote Antifragile. He talked about the Caesars ingesting little bits of poison to make themselves resilient to the future in terms of an assassination attempt happening with poison. If they ingested little bits, they would be immune to the poison when it happened.
A lot of my thinking for leadership is we are future-proofing what we do for the future for organizations. We can’t predict the future. We’ve got to get ready. We’ve got to be all prepared for a “spontaneity session” to a Larson cartoon. That’s what got me interested because I suddenly thought, “I’m never going to get bored because I’m going to always be preparing for the future.”
History is useful to look back on. I loved History as a subject of school but I’m more fascinated. I went on a podcast, and the guy who did it was brilliant. He said he was a futurist, and that appeals to me. That’s why I’ve got into leadership. I wanted to create something different in the future. That’s what I thought I could do.
Is leadership this something that you feel only becomes relevant at a certain stage for a business, and more specifically, is take the solo consultant and compare that to a consultant and founder of a firm that maybe has 5, 10, 20 or 50 team members? Does a solo consultant need to be thinking about leadership? Is that something that should even be on their plan, taking up mind share or is it only once you start having a team that you need to be thinking about leadership in your experience?
There are two answers to this. When working with organizations, they say, “Are you going to work with our leaders?” My answer always is, “Leaders are at every stage of the business.” If you talk about frontline, hotels, and lottery, the leaders are the people who welcome you at reception. They are the ones who are opening the door in the car as you walk in. The other bit of leadership is if you think about thought leadership.
I was lucky to sit at a table with Michael Bungay Stanier, who wrote The Coaching Habit. He’s a brilliant author and thinker. He was just about finishing The Coaching Habit. It wasn’t published yet. We were talking about books and why you would publish a book. We were starting to think about leadership. We were starting to think about thought leadership, and his answer was, “I’m writing the book and publishing it because I wanted a business card for my business.”
I started to think, “There’s a concept in here about what is thought leadership.” He’s moved right into that space. We went into the next presentation, which was about thought leadership itself. The definition was right, five articles in the Harvard Business Review. I was like, “Really? That sounds like too much hard work.” The alternative was practice leadership. I said, “I could do practice leadership.”
Whether you are a solo entrepreneur, there is this choice that you have to be a practice leader at least. Leadership is about agitating for the future. There is a great book by Dorie Clark called The Long Game, which I have read. She’s astounding and crystallizing the best practices but her core piece is to choose something you are passionate about. Focus on it. Focus, not sprinkle, and be a thought leadership or a practice leader in that area. For the solo entrepreneur, that’s the key thing. What space are you occupying?
It’s something that I have given a lot of thought to because I used to and still do recommend the book Straight Line Leadership by Dusan Djukich because it’s not about the leadership of a team. It’s about the leadership of self. When I look back on my development as an entrepreneur business owner, just look who I am. In the early years, my focus and interest in the concept of leadership were to perform better. I could be a better person even though, at times, there were no other team members.
As our team has continued to grow, I still need to focus on myself, developing much room to improve. The shift has become much more on how to be a better leader to lead the team and demonstrate through leadership. We are all leaders. It’s important that we are always thinking about what stage we are at and developing that side of leadership, whether leading ourselves to perform better and get the results that we want and reach our potential or leading a team.
I’m interested in your experience as a sales manager and head of an international business. Many consultants, when they start their companies, don’t have any sales or marketing experience. They are thrust into the requirement to sell themselves as the product. What was your experience when you started your own company? How did you find your sales experience helpful or not helpful? Where did that lead you to as you started your own consultancy?
We have written our narrative for our business, and one of the chapters is, “What are your problems?” We have taken a line from The Lord of the Rings which is, “We have been going around in circles.” We have and it is fascinating. If you go to a networking event for consulting firms and you ask questions, “What’s the best route? Is it to get a salesperson who sales and then you get your delivery team behind it or do you get sales delivery consultants working in there?”
We have tried everything. I started as a sales deliverer. When I first walked into the Oxford group, the first organization I worked with, I was given a brilliant leader. He set me off on a target and said, “You’ve got sixteen days of delivery or £500,000 worth of sales. If you are getting £500,000 sales, you can have six days of delivery. If you want to sweat your asset, you are going to be doing sixteen days of delivery unless you want to sell them.”To be a really strong leader, you've got to have a strong connection. You've got to have the ability to amplify the voices of your people in a psychologically safe way. Click To Tweet
It was a great motivator. I went down. Standard Life was my first client, built relationships, got it to £750,000. I was working. As my old boss said, “Profit is freedom.” Sales were driving me. I was getting salary increases. I was getting a better company car. I took that into my mentality. There are probably about five of us who started at a similar time with the Oxford Group. We are still friends, and we still have that model in our minds.
You listen to other firms, and they go, “What you need is a VP of Sales. You need to drive a VP of Sales, and then you need a strict process. You need to get Salesforce.com and you need to drive this. You need consultants who deliver in the specialism.” We went down that route a couple of times. Each time it fails because there was a disconnection. A key thing for me is it depends on the brand you want as a consultant. Ours has always been about the partnership with the client.
I will give you an example. In the last few years, we have won three awards with one client, Akamai. Those awards were based on sitting down with the client at the beginning and saying, “We are going to experiment and fail with you regularly. We are going to learn fast. We are going to push the boundaries.” It was, by lack of judgment, I sat in a room and said to this client at the time, “Imagine in 4 to 5 years that we are sitting at a big award ceremony, getting an award for the progress we have made because we pushed the boundaries and we have done something different.”
We both said, “We would love to do that.” “What we are going to have to do is we are going to have to fail regularly. You and I are going to have tough conversations. I’m going to hate every time an email is sent to me because I’m going to worry that we are going to fail.” That’s a tough conversation. “You are going to worry about the next email coming from me.”
This was given to me by a client friend who fortunately passed away, Drew Cameron. He said with his clients, he works on the principle, “If things are going well, go and tell your client. If things are going badly, run and tell your client.” That whole philosophy is in my sales piece, where people trust me. They know that I’m in it. They know that I’m going to be honest. They know that we are stretching. We know we are going to achieve.
Those awards have generated regular income but we never rest on our laurels. We have worked out getting consultant players who can sell and deliver, get them to have targets like I had when I was younger. It would be a million. Looking at the number of days delivery and setting them off, creating their own fiefdoms and saying, “Go sell, build your relationships.”
I have a question for you on that to go a little bit deeper. It sounds like one of your superpowers as part of the say else process, and the client development and engagement is honesty. It’s not being afraid to have those tough conversations. I find that very interesting because many consultants struggle with that.
They look at the relationship between the client and themselves as the client being up here, higher up, and the consultant being lower down, and they don’t see themselves as peers. They are at the beck and call of the client. They still say yes to things they probably shouldn’t say yes to. They are afraid to have those tough conversations or be very direct for the concern of maybe turning the client off, making them upset, losing the business.
How early in your engagement or in that relationship do you have that level of honesty and directness in the conversation with the client? Is it even from the initial sales conversation before they become a paying client or do you wait until the contract is signed and then you say, “Here’s what we need to be thinking about?” How do you view that type of conversation, and when do you have it?
We have it early because a lot of the work we do is around three Cs, confidence, conviction, and connection. Confidence is physicality and the vocality to be confident in the moment. Conviction is about the values and the purpose you hold as a business but the identity you hold. Connection is the agile moment.
To do that, if all you have is confidence, which a lot of consultants hold, which is, “As long as my deck is great, my presentation is great, I’m going to work in there.” If our conviction is the only way to truly lead is to be humbled, fail, and learn fast, we’ve got to show that in our space, if we believe that to be a strong leader, you’ve got to have a strong connection. You’ve got to have the ability in a psychologically safe way to amplify the voices of your people.
You’ve got to get them reading a great book at the moment, Jocko Willink around Extreme Ownership. I don’t know if you have read it but it has a fantastic concept. To get all of those, you’ve got to start from the beginning. I’ve got a client that I have known for many years. I remember the first time I met him was in a sales pitch. We have this exercise for a personal brand that would show what we are like. We said, “We will do personal brand exercises.” The exercise is, “What do you think about me?”
You are in a sales pitch. You can imagine a line of them sat across one side of the table, us on this side of the table. My opening thing is, “We have talked for five minutes. We have broken bread. We are about to go into the content. To start, I would like you to take a pad and pen out, and in pairs to write down, “What you like about me,” on the left-hand side and, “what you don’t like about me,” on the right-hand side. If you are doing this right, you should be laughing.”
The people on the other side, including Ian, sat, and they wrote their list. He was laughing. He was smiling. He had a little sneer on his face and a sly look. You ask them, “Give me what’s on the left-hand side.” They then give you. As soon as they give something like confidence, say, “What gives you that?” We were already going into behavioral work.
On the right-hand side, they started to give us all the things that they didn’t like. “You are too much of a salesperson.” What gives you that? By the end of that exercise, you then flip it around and say, “Now that you have given the feedback to me, what I would like you to do is write down on your piece of paper three things of you.” It’s me to the client and they are writing the three things down. I’m asking them for their three things. At that moment, I’m challenging.
I’m going, “One of those is right but the other two are this.” You are starting to get into a conversation, which they realize they are going to get refreshingly direct. We are not going to sugarcoat it. We are not going to be blunt brutal. We are not going to take people off their knees but we are going, to tell the truth, as we see it, and we are going to explore the truth. Therefore doing that upfront, Ian doesn’t bother about any pleasantries. If he’s got feedback, “We need to talk.” “Yes.” That’s a good relationship.
Is this all done before the actual paid engagement begins?
That was done before that.
How do you think about that from a mindset pricing, time-commitment experience? You are taking the time to meet. There’s communication. This is a series of potentially hours where you are sitting down and breaking bread. Are you thinking about this? Do you do this with any prospective client or do they have to meet certain criteria in terms of potential revenue, how valuable they would be, cultural fit? People would be very interested in knowing how you balance the time and energy to put towards this without, whether or not it’s going to work out.
In some ways, we are not great at working out the value of the client but the other way around of looking at this is the majority of our work is word of mouth. When we are introduced to somebody, they know about us. They know you are going to get this with PotentialSquared. We’ve got a big leader who is worth $1 million and has come through somebody sitting down with a wife over a dinner table, who’s working for another client and saying, “Is that what you are looking for? Talk to PotentialSquared.” They know and get that.Putting people in immersive experiences shows you very quickly their true behavior and character. Click To Tweet
The important thing when it comes to any of this is we have learned that certain small clients can either become bigger clients. That’s one thing. Looking at certain clients that we started with, I’m looking somewhere like Skyscanner. When we first began to work with them, they became a bigger client. We are also looking at smaller consulting firms that grow, and we have worked with. I work with what I am passionate about and what I can see as opportunities. I’m also willing to pay it forward to certain clients.
Part of that is putting skin in the game. I hate that expression but it’s the one where you say, “I’m going to give you 50% off the fee but you will pay me the 50% if we do the work in the right way.” That is a great way I have found because I have never had them not pay on the work because they have achieved what they want to do but it almost softens the blow.
I would have also imagined that does create differentiation between others in the marketplace if you are willing to take that extra step forward and provide greater value than somebody else is willing to provide. That would also lead to more conversations and, therefore, more engagements. Looking at your website and the work you do, you offer many different types of services. How do the services you offer differ from when you began many years ago?
We used to do everything. Now we do much more focused supply. For example, we are the largest provider of internal audit training for financial services, full stop. We’ve got a PwC Letter of Assurance from one of the big banks because of the work you are doing with PotentialSquared. We know that we can provide assurance of the behavioral patterns that you are providing in there.
If you look back where we started, it was Barclays Africa. We were working on all of those pieces. We basically did what we felt we could do at the time to get a foothold in there. As we have grown, we have developed, we still do an internal audit but we do it around the focus of leadership. How do you create ownership, either in the two teams are through their leaders.
I have adopted an Australian colleague friends piece, which is, “How do you get people to own their role, not rent their role?” Which I love as a concept. We have started to do that in the leadership context but we have gradually more and more said, “Focus, not sprinkle,” and particularly around thought leadership, we started to say, “We are about emotion, leadership, changing mindsets, and also about this newer concept around developing practices that lead to habits, that lead to systems that feed leadership. We have started to focus our language in that area, which has helped a lot.
You have your four core solutions of assessment, development solutions, virtual reality, and digital learning. Under development, you have leadership development, team development, talent development, executive coaching, innovation, and assessment pieces. Even though there are these multiple pieces, you are saying that’s not what it looked like if you went back 5 or 10 years.
You would have had maybe potentially a lot more services. What you have done now is you have boiled it down. Is that correct? These four of the assessment, development solutions, virtual reality, and digital learning, how do you see all of those connecting together? How do you communicate them to a client to say, this is the typical starting point or this is how we tend to work with?
I don’t think we’ve got it nailed. I will be honest on that. We are still working on this. The way I draw this together is leadership challenges or the pain points as we would have described them come in many different ways. We have taken Donald Miller and StoryBrand as one of our frameworks. If you are familiar with Donald Miller’s work and StoryBrand, then we say, “What are the pain points we deal with?”
We have worked up the key pain points for leadership are assessment and development, either of talent, leaders or people. That’s one area. The skills of assessment and development are core to leadership because a lot of leadership is about observation, insights, coaching, and mentoring on top of that. We have that. That’s one key pain point.We want to give something more to society than just a name on a consulting firm. Click To Tweet
The second key pain point is transitions of leadership from your first role in leadership or even before that, your individual contributor and how you are starting to get them to have influence without authority as we would describe it. We talk about the journey from the 1st line leader to the 2nd line leader, and then to executive leadership. Where we used to stop was almost at executive leadership.
One of my sweet spots is coaching people to be MD or coaching people how not to be an MD because why would you want to do that? A lot of people stop and go, “Really?” It’s not what it’s cracked up to be. There are those stages. If I had one area that is overlooked so much by organizations or abused in many ways is talent. When you look at talent, it’s about firstly codifying talent. “What is talent? What does it look like? If I was a talent, what would I look like? What would I feel to you? What would I sound like?”
Take the three Cs in there when I walked into a room. It’s very difficult to tell because you see a lot of people in isolation take the sales role. You never see a salesperson in action even with consulting, because normally we are often one person gigs or working. What we worked at was that the VR immersion, the use of actors, the use of what we now describe as development centers, where we put people in immersive experiences shows you very quickly see what their true behavior and characters are and characteristics.
It’s gone back to Jocko Willink’s piece. When they are training in their boats, 6 versus 2 and they are swapping around the leaders, boat six is failing and they swap around the leader of boat 2 into 6 and suddenly 6 is winning and wins the race. What they are doing is experimenting. They are showing in an immersive environment the power and different skills of leadership. We have blended a lot of that into how we create immersive playgrounds that allow leaders to either identify their talent, what they are doing good or bad at or start to look at the leaders of the future and what they are doing.
When you look at your services and again, comparing now to many years ago, how has your pricing strategy changed? Are there any mistakes that you made around pricing in your business in the early days or even more recently that stand out to you?
When we first started, we were around Africa. My business partner and I, at the time, said, “As long as you pay his business class flight, we don’t care what the day rate is because we are going to go to Botswana. We are going to South Africa.” We were doing some of the best work we have ever done. We were having weekends traveling around Africa. It was brilliant.
That was my biggest mistake because then you had a very low day rate, which other people were going, “Can you match that?” I’m like, “No, we can’t.” We spent a journey of the first, probably ten years trying to increase our day rate. What was interesting is the discussion around IP that’s come later. One of our successes was starting to almost quantify what level of IP have we got? What value are we adding?
It was starting to do some development work within consultancies. You were pitching off and looking at a day rate for somebody who was working in a major consultant. You were seeing what you were charging and getting surprised. We were doing code deliveries and going, “I’m leading my company.” How is that working? We started to shift it around.
What’s interesting is that there’s a piece for us where I still have a passionate belief that if the work is good enough, I’m willing to take a reduced fee. We have started to look at a new project called the 500, which is looking at increasing equity in careers for undiscovered leaders, neurodiversity in other areas. We are willing to take a massive hidden margin or even reinvest the profit in it.
Unless we can start to transform that, the new crop of aspiring leaders that are going to come through is not going to be there to motivate me to do the work I want to do. We want to start that. We want to build that. We also have a belief in the future that’s a bit like IP and the software technology areas is becoming commoditized and almost given away for free in some cases. A lot of our IP will be given for free and will be doing the value-adding work at a higher rate.
Do you think that is a luxury or the potential that you have because you have a more established firm? If somebody is at an earlier stage, maybe doesn’t have the level of resources. Is that a smart move for them to consider as well or should they focus more on doing great work, generating as much profit as they can? Later on, as they take on and expand more, they could have some of these projects where they might be willing to move down their margin or take work that is lower paying. How do you feel about that?
You’ve got to look at the individual at your drivers. Certain people say, “I only want to work the first fifteen years of my life and then I want to retire.” I look at them and think that’s great. I have always had an infinite game in my mind. I don’t think I will ever retire. I want to keep enough income in there to keep me going. I want to also think about what would happen. We have always had a plan in the business that we could walk away tomorrow, realize something and have enough to survive. Running a consulting business for me has always been about that. I could never see it past three months ahead.
We used to work with cashflows where a Thursday night cash would come in at 11:00 at night. I would be lying in bed, waiting for the payment. I went to bed happy, middling or didn’t sleep that night. The piece for me is that if you go back to the Dorie Clark work around The Long Game, there are going to be hard years where you are going to have to reinvest that money back in. You’ve got to cut your cloth at the time. You’ve got to work hard to do it. It doesn’t come overnight.
She talks about seven years is the level to get that through. That’s with hard work and grind but there are ways now of monetizing through social media, podcasts, and other places, which can provide you with almost a passive income that allows you to go off and explore in other areas. I’m not saying I’m an expert in that. I’m learning a lot of that myself now and I’m working.
I look at it, I always go back and go to what’s happening with a great leave at the moment. There are a lot of people like myself who realize that we want to give something more to society than just a name on a consulting firm. It’s deliberate that I don’t have my name on the consulting firm. It used to be Hunter Roberts and now I decided it’s going to be PotentialSquared. I didn’t want my name in it. I want my legacy to be about the sustainability of the products, the thinking, and the growth. In some ways, money is important but I’m not the wealthiest person in the world but am I happy? Yes.
Are there 1 or 2 things you have done that you feel are critical in setting the business up so that it does have that legacy, whether that means selling the business in the future or slowly transitioning yourself more and more out of the day-to-day so that the business can run without you? Is there anything that stands out that you have been working hard towards, that you are actively working on, or that you did and you feel will or has had a big impact?
The one thing is partnerships. I do a lot of partnerships, whether it’s with experience points. We are working with a partner with a company called Make Time Count that’s not for profit. A partnership is one thing because there is something about IP and wrapping your IP within a system that adds value to what you do and how you do things.
Rather than going out and reinventing how to do an app or other things, I have always found that partnering with other people provides a certain solid base. As a salesperson, if they’ve got a well-wrapped-up product, I can sell it. I can go out and experience points. A classic example is their innovation product, superb. As a salesperson, I could go out and probably earn a living doing that so that’s great.
The second thing on the IP is working up your IP. We had a mantra in our minds, which is, “How do we make money while we sleep?” We started putting the PI 2 model together, which is in the book. We started working that up. We started to think, “We need to get awards on this. We need to get a measurement on it.” We know that is worth something and the data we are gathering is worth something. That’s the second piece.
The third thing is we move towards more of a productizing route to gain a product that could be sold to work. If I had my time again, I would work up a business model that was saleable rather than a product. Products have their time and become passé afterward. What I’m working on with The 500 is a business model that has sustainability and looks at an impact on society but that has value in its own entity. It’s almost a movement that self-sustains itself. That’s what I would have looking back in the days I would stop moving so much towards a product side and more towards a business model that could be sold.You've got to be known for something. You've got to have an area of focus and be differentiated. Click To Tweet
Your book, Be More Wrong: How Failure Makes You an Outstanding Leader, it’s an interesting concept because so many entrepreneurs and consultants, the word failure to them means loss. It’s a negative thing, yet you have a bit of a different viewpoint on that. How can failure create better leaders?
I’m about to do a course with Ozan Varol signed up. I’m eating my own dog food, and learning a bit from him. He hates the term fail fast and he wrote an article on it and he described it’s much more about learning fast. The principle behind Be More Wrong is experimentation. It is about learning fast. To do that, you’ve got to step out of the house. You’ve got to take a foot of the journey you’ve got to go.
If you are going to put yourself into the sea, there’s no point in sailing your ship around the harbor. Ships are meant for sailing. Why not go seek some rougher seas? All these principles in here about Be More Wrong are, “How do I get myself and my team to stretch ourselves?” If you want the course term, get barnacles on your butt in terms of stretching and pushing yourself. Learn fast. By learning fast, you are starting to get to the point.
The key element here is design thinking. If you think about most startups, they’ve got an early product out there that is getting feedback initially. Even for The 500, we have been putting a storyboard. We have been testing key concepts and looking for holes in our arguments. By doing that, we have been able to hopefully get a more solid product that goes into the design and final prototype and then goes out to testing.
That whole concept about Being More Wrong as a consulting firm is you’ve got to be known for something. You’ve got to have an area of focus but you’ve got to be differentiated. How are you going to differentiate? By stretching maybe 1 or 2 areas. There are people out there who have a niche area in data or IP. It is finding that, stretching it but remembering people catch up pretty quickly every year. What’s the next thing? What’s the next situation?
Can you offer an example of either in your own business or someone that you have seen or a client where they adopted and embraced this mindset of, “It’s okay to fail,” and took action that maybe others would have faced a lot of resistance to or hesitation around and what the result was?
I can give you a couple of examples that we have done with it, which is coaching mentoring. Taking a class example, if International Coaching Federation says, “You are only to be a coach.” If you are a friend of Michael Bungay Stanier who’s written books like The Coaching Habit and The Advice Trap, which says, “Don’t give us so much advice.” You then come in and say, “I want to create a product, which is the blend of the two.
You’ve got all these people in the ICF, the International Coaching Federation who are going, “You are giving advice? That’s not coaching.” I’m not going to call it coaching. I’m going to call it catalyst. The reason I’m going to take a risk and try and have a go of something different is most leaders struggle to coach. They have advice and mentoring. If you think about a complete business model leadership, you go from having a prototype, an idea or somebody who has experience. There’s some feedback or a challenge from the leader.
The next phase of that is not coaching because they are sitting there as an individual going, “I have screwed up.” The next phase is about mentoring and guiding. This blend of a more sophisticated conversation about mentoring and coaching I put into the market. Part of it was because I didn’t want to be accredited as a coach because I wanted to still give the advice. I took a risk and it’s funny how it has been quite successful to go out there but I failed a couple of times.
When you said, “Go out there,” what does that mean? Did you write an article? Did you send emails to people? Did you post on social media? What was the action that you took that could have “failed?”
I went into clients and said, “I don’t believe in coaching alone. I believe in a more sophisticated conversation. Most of your leaders are struggling with coaching because you are only going for ICF for credit. I’m going to get shot down by ICF accredited coaches.” There is nothing wrong with being an ICF accredited coach but most leaders are not ICF accredited coaches. They live in a world where they need to flip to give advice where somebody is sitting there going, “I don’t know, just tell me.” They’ve got to swap around to coach in the other way.
Going into an organization and saying, “I’m not an ICF accredited coach. I’m going to teach your people how to coach and mentor in the same conversation. By the way, we are going to use actors to do it. We are going to give them a playground with a remote control to stop and start the conversation. We were going to explore the 50 ways they could have this conversation using mentoring coaching as a blended solution. How does that sound?” “Yes.” We’ve got blown out of the water 10, 20 times.
Tell me a little bit more about that. When you first started getting feedback from people and put that on the table, was there a lot of pushback or acceptance?
There was a lot of acceptance from the leaders in the room who were doing it because they were suddenly going, “It’s okay to give advice.” I said, “Yes, as long as you are giving a little bit less advice. You are not doing it because it’s the quickest thing to get the person out of the room. You are being very clear about it.” I remember there was a group of ten senior leaders in a major consulting firm. We had a horseshoe of them sitting around. We had the actors up front. We were doing something called Forum Theater.
All these senior folk was of the opinion that they could solve the problem. It was a bit like the scene from the airplane, whether the passengers were in distress and you’ve got the first person coming up and going, “Get hold of yourself.” The next person is coming in, slapping across the face. The next person has got the baseball bat. We had nine of those senior leaders come in and try to solve the problem in their own particular way and none of them worked.
It was this beautiful moment where the most junior person in the room came up to the front and used a bit of mentoring, a bit of coaching, got the person to get out of the seat, use the three corners of a room to talk about the three issues gotten to visualize it all, and guided them into a solution. You could see all the senior leaders have this moment, an epiphany of going, “I have been screwing up most of my life because I have been telling or I have just been coaching. I haven’t blended it.” That was a classic moment. If you said to somebody, “Have you taught them coaching?” They said, “No, I have taught them something called a catalyst.” “I don’t like the word catalyst because it’s not coaching. It’s not mentoring.” We still do it but it’s successful.
What would you have done if the response was negative? How would you have handled that if there wasn’t the acceptance that you received?
Part of me would have been stubborn, so I would have listened. I would have asked the questions. It depends where the feedback had come from. If it was the leaders in the room, I would have listened to them. I would have said, “What’s helpful for you to understand how to have a more sophisticated conversation?” The other part of me believed that I and a lot of my colleagues had successfully done this.
A couple of other people I was chatting with have the same philosophy, have done this for many years. That way didn’t work. We needed to find a different way to allow them to have those conversations. That was our belief. There’s a principle in here. We have found a way that didn’t work. Find another way. That’s what design thinking has given me but it’s a tough skin.
All of our clients hear me say the words “imperfect action” multiple times a week because I believe in my own experience. The business over the years has shown that the more feedback you get, the better decisions you can make. You can’t see success if you are not trying and learning. I have never been a big fan of the word failure. I call it learning experiences. We are very much aligned on this.
Before we wrap up, I have a couple of quick questions for you. The first is, you are very active. You take on a lot in terms of running your business. You are trying these different ventures and business models. You are writing. You are clearly reading a lot as well. When you look at the habits, principles or practices that you are using or are part of your life daily, which ones do you think have the biggest impact, and support you in achieving and sustaining the level of performance, creation, and development that you are able to put out?We don't believe in coaching alone. We believe in a more sophisticated conversation. Click To Tweet
One is headspace meditation. That is the one I’m on the 1,400th day in a row that I have been working and I measure it every day, twenty minutes. If I don’t do that, my ideas are not flowing. I find my best ideas flow in there.
When do you do the headspace meditations?
In the morning. The book by James Clear, Atomic Habits gave me this but I nest habits. What I do is I’m up normally at about 5:30. I do an hour workout. I then do 10 minutes of stretching and 20 minutes of headspace. I then do Pilates while I’m also listening to some new music. While I’m doing all of that, I’m listening to my audiobooks. How I reach so much is I listen to audiobooks while I’m working out. That two hours in the morning is the bit that makes me survive.
Do you work out and do Pilates?
I don’t know if I have ever heard that before. To me, Pilates could be the workout.
It could be. On my cheat days, I do Pilates but there are five days a week that I’m working out. I’m either doing Zwift on a bike or I’m doing a hit exercise. Pilates for me is a focus on my core. It’s a focus on my back that I have had problems with. I have also added in hanging. I have started pull-ups and hanging to stretch my back out. I have found that this works for me. This is where experimentation is. I have experimented with so many different techniques. I find this keeps my body and physicality strong. I do that and my headspace. Best ideas happen.
Before we wrap up, I want to make sure people can learn more about your book, your company, and your work. Where’s the best place for them to go to connect and learn more?
For the book, BeMoreWrong.com is the website. You will be able to find out more about the book. For PotentialSquared, it’s Potential2.com. You will find that. We are about to set up the site for The 500, going through the website would Be More Wrong or PotentialSquared. That’s where you will find me.
Colin, thank you so much for coming on.
It’s a pleasure, Michael. I enjoyed the conversation. Thank you.
- Colin Hunter
- PotentialSquared International
- Be More Wrong
- The Long Game
- Straight Line Leadership
- Extreme Ownership
- Make Time Count
- The Coaching Habit
- The Advice Trap
- Atomic Habits
About Colin Hunter
Author, Mentor, Entrepreneur, Coach, CEO and Lead Guide to a business that was created to inspire leaders by disrupting the way they engage and develop their people. We specialise in creating immersive, measurable and virtual playgrounds to inspire new ways of thinking, systems and habits. We are leading the way in Virtual Reality for leadership.
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