The video below is a test of your ability to pay attention. Once the video starts, count the passes made by the players in white shirts. Most people get this wrong so pay attention.
Maybe you saw the gorilla, or you’ve seen this video before. In which case, try this one.
I saw the first video a few years ago, and it blew me away. (I didn’t see the gorilla.) And I’ve thought about it often since in many contexts.
The simple fact that we don’t see what we are not looking for is scary. The answer to a problem or the key to a billion dollar business could literally be staring us in the face, and we might not see it because we just weren’t prepared to receive the answer.
It’s another reason I believe people have to be polymaths, masters of many things. At least, certainly, entrepreneurs and investors. The world is complicated, subtle, and ever-changing. Competition is fierce. The skill or insight that drove value yesterday may not drive value tomorrow. So you have to be open to insights from different places. You have to be able to see the world through different lenses so that you’re not the proverbial hammer to whom everything is a nail.
Yet, it’s not enough to just say you’re going to be open to insights. Christensen et al in The Innovator’s DNA explain how the best innovator’s engage in specific behaviors to make sure they see new things and make connections. The book is worth reading because it’s very specific about why those behaviors matter as well as how to develop them.
The book talks about specifically about insights and how to generate them. A related but different angle is finding different ways of thinking, period. What are entire views of the world that are different than your’s that might lead to entirely different conclusions. The word “conclusions” actually is not strong enough because a different viewpoint might lead to MANY different actions that together take you in an entirely different direction.
Vision in coffee
There’s a related angle that I’ve been wondering about since I read Pour Your Heart Into It, the story of Starbucks as told by its founder Howard Schultz.
When Schultz pursued his idea, the coffee market was unexciting. It was a commodity, largely convenience store or diner sort of experience. Coffee sales were, in fact, declining in this country. Even the original Starbucks founders, the source of Schultz’s initial excitement about the business, didn’t believe in his idea of a coffee shop.
Schultz had a clear vision about what he wanted to create. To be clear, what he initially envisioned wasn’t the Starbucks that ended up emerging, but it was a vision in that general direction. And it was a rich, cohesive vision that he pivoted (adapted) in very thoughtful ways. But it was the vision that helped him “see” what others hadn’t seen, helping him make bold decisions that in their aggregate created a unique, highly profitable, and highly defensible business.
One of those insights was to make employees central to the company. Partners, his term for employees, come even before customers in the mission statement, which is something meaningful to everyone at Starbucks. (Shareholders come last.)
The frontline employees of Starbucks, the baristas, have been central to its success in a number of ways. Their extraordinarily good manner with customers leads to customer loyalty. Low turnover lowers hiring/training costs, further increases loyalty with customers, and creates a pipeline for experienced managers for future stores. The fact that all baristas are similarly well-trained leads to predictable performance with stores, particularly new ones.
And all of that was possible for two reasons. One, Schultz had a vision for a customer experience to which coffee was central but not the only thing—employees and store mattered, too. Two, growing up with a father that had been treated badly by his employers, he envisioned a company that would create value by treating its employees well.
In short, he had a vision of the world and a belief system that allowed him to see possibility where others had not.
Where others were focused on improving the profitability of low-priced coffee in the common settings, he saw a premium experience.
Where others saw only whole ground coffee sold for home consumption, he saw a store experience.
Where others saw minimum wage employees as a means to an end in serving coffee, he saw well-paid employees with full benefits that would create multiples of value relative to the added wage and benefit expenses.
Founders and vision
All of this leads to me believe that the original vision, belief system, and passion of the founder are the key to a ground-breaking business. It literally allows them to see the things other miss. It allows them to create and combine elements to create something that is both valuable and unique.
If Schultz sat in front of you in 1985 and articulated his vision to you, how would you have known that he was on to something great? There’s a lot of complexity in that answer, not least his intelligence and ability to sell. Yet, I believe the richness of his vision, the passion with which he articulated it, and a belief system were key. In expressing these to you, it would have been a signal that he was an entrepreneur that had a higher-than-average likelihood of creating a groundbreaking business.
Same with new businesses being started today. Investors, spend time talking about an entrepreneur’s vision of the world and their belief system. What are they passionate about? What do they believe that others might not believe? Entrepreneurs, don’t be shy to articulate your vision and belief system. The stronger, richer, more nuanced, the better. You’re already seeing things that others don’t. Help them see those things so that they can help you create something of enduring value.