As editor in Chief and director of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei leads its mission to provide the missing curriculum on making ideas happen. In this post, she discusses key concepts from her latest book, Make Your Mark.
Shift 1: Defining your purpose is more important than defining your business model.
The notion that you can lay out your business model in advance, and then meticulously follow it like a yellow brick road to success, is completely outmoded. With the rapid-fire evolution of technology, no one knows what the future will look like in 5 years or even next year. As a result, more and more companies are letting their business models unfold over time.
And that’s where purpose comes in. Let’s take Google as an example. Google’s purpose is to organize the world’s information. That’s not a business model, that’s a mission. And it allows them to evolve and innovate quickly. Google started as a search engine, but who knew 10 years ago that their purpose would evolve to encompass mapping the world? Or email? Or self-driving cars? Maybe search will die as a business someday but Google could still continue to thrive because they are constantly exploring and reinventing what it means to fulfill their purpose.
In other words, purpose acts as a flexible moral compass for where your company can and should go next, while a business model acts like a straitjacket.
Shift 2: Acting like a human is more important than acting flawlessly.
The rise of e-commerce and the social web has made finding customers for your product or service easier than ever. That said, it’s also made it easier than ever for your customers to talk back. Whereas brands used to push their products and messages out in what was essentially a one-way conversation, the social web has transformed it into a two-way conversation.
What that means is that brands — as companies or solo-entrepreneurs — need to be more authentic and more improvisational. Finding your voice, participating in the conversation on an ongoing basis, and being able to respond honestly when you mess up are all essential skills.
In my interview with Neil Blumenthal, one of the co-founders and CEOs at Warby Parker, he talks about how consumers have extremely sensitive “bullshit detectors” these days. We’ve been so inundated with advertisements that we know immediately when a brand is being fake and when they’re being sincere. Honesty, humanity, and empathy are becoming competitive advantages.
Shift #3: Embracing ambiguity is more important than sticking with “what works.”
Research has shown that creatives aren’t often given the opportunity to lead because there’s an unconscious bias against them. People associate creativity with nonconformity and unconventionality. And when they think about an effective leader, they think about someone who brings order. Obviously if you believe that a leader’s role is to bring order, you wouldn’t want a creative to lead. (Of course, this has nothing to do with whether creatives actually can lead, it’s just an unconscious bias many of us have.)
What’s interesting is that these qualities that have typically biased folks against creatives as leaders — that they’re unconventional, unorthodox, and full of un-tested new ideas about the way things should be done — are actually turning into assets when we look at today’s work and business landscape and how it’s evolving.
Adaptability and agility are at a premium. You need to constantly be innovating. You need to be making new bets and taking risks every day. You need to be trying to reinvent yourself, and your business, on an ongoing basis. And these needs line up perfectly with creatives’ skillsets.
In my interview with John Maeda, formerly the president of RISD and now a design partner at KPCB, he points out that creatives are in the perfect position to lead right now. Because they’re okay with uncertainty – not knowing what the future holds – and they’re okay with failure and they like nothing more than to innovate.
This post is based on the research in Make Your Mark: The Creative’s Guide to Building a Business with Impact. It features contributions from the designers and entrepreneurs behind companies like Google X, Facebook, Warby Parker, O’Reilly Media, Fog Creek, and many more. Learn more.