Learning The Keys To Exceptional Execution


The following is a guest piece by best-selling author Kevin Kelly.

Launching and leading an “xceptional” business is simpler than you’ve ever imagined. Not easier. Not less time consuming. Not less gut wrenching, but simpler.

Counter-intuitively, many successful entrepreneurs didn’t start with a compelling vision, a wow idea or indeed a workable business plan. Some went on to dominate a market without any previous background in it.

So what’s the secret?

Groundbreaking research conducted by Columbia University’s Amar Bhidé in 2000 titled “The Origin and Evolution of New Businesses” revealed that 88% of “breakthrough companies” were the result of “xceptional execution of an ordinary idea”, according to their owners.

Amar told me in 2013 that some factors have changed since he first published his findings, for example, access to capital is more widespread through crowd-funding, along with a mainstream popularization of entrepreneurship and rise of a global startup ecosystem. However, these developments haven’t changed the fundamental principle of his work.

In my latest book, “DO! The Pursuit of Xceptional Execution”, I interview entrepreneurs from around the world. They are the leaders of some of the most compelling global brands and companies, ranging from one to 3,000 employees, with turnovers from $100,000 to $130 million. They hail from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Bologna, Italy; from Des Moines, Iowa to Galway, Ireland.

They run app companies, consultancies, clinics and sprawling technology corporations. I call them the Xceptionalists because their success came from the xceptional execution of an ordinary idea.

You don’t have to be Bezos or Branson, Einstein or Jobs. Your product doesn’t have to be a Bentley, Hublot, or a Stradivarius. And your product or service doesn’t have to be a Dropbox, a Flickr, or a Hulu. You simply find an ordinary idea, and implement that idea with xceptional execution.

Xceptional execution brings results. To launch and lead a breakthrough company, you don’t need to invent the next light bulb. You don’t need $50,000 in the bank. You can start with what you have, exactly where you are.

All Ben Milne, co-founder and CEO of Dwolla had was a burning desire to solve an existing problem. His company was paying too much in credit card fees. The man changing the face of the financial world had no prior background in the industry before he began in 2009. Four years later, Forbes magazine listed Ben as one of the 12 most disruptive names in business for his groundbreaking idea for helping customers process a transaction in a simpler way.

Four Argentinian business people wanted to make their country a technology hub during a financial crisis when the peso was devalued, even though they had no business plan, the country had no history in technology, and they had only $5000 in capital. Those four entrepreneurs started Globant – now a global company with 3000 employees and revenues of $129m.

Agnes McCourt now 72, created unislim, Ireland’s biggest slimming organization. It is now over forty years in existence and continues to grow and evolve even though she admitted in her first class that she hadn’t got a clue about how to lose weight.

These are not isolated examples. 40% of Inc. 500 founders that were interviewed in Amar Bhide’s book had no past experience of working in the industry they went on to dominate. A survey of Inc. 500 entrepreneurs found 60% didn’t create a business plan before launching their companies.

Being an Xceptionalist means giving yourself permission to explore the brilliant ideas your mind generates every day. Then, it’s about the Xceptional execution of that ordinary idea.

Here are 3 ways you too can become an Xceptionalist:

1. Commit to ongoing learning from everyone
Research conducted by Richard Boyatzis at Case Western Reserve University highlights the importance of learning in business. He found that the two skills linked to revenue generation and profitability were “values learning” and “facilitates learning.”

In his paper ‘The Making of an Expert’, K. Anders Ericsson from Florida University claims that, with what he describes as deliberate practice, anybody can develop expert status.

With the internet, you know have a university at minimal cost at your fingertips – there is no excuse for standing still in the learning field.

Teachers come in many guises. You need to understand this if you want to build your business to the highest level.

A former student asked if I could help her brother with his first publication. We met and I gave him some tips. Afterwards he asked how he could repay me. Michael is a website designer who works on many high profile online projects. He offered to update my uninspiring site at zero cost and designed a website that has consistently maintained a page one search engine ranking in many key phrases.

The result has been a dramatic increase in enquiries and speaking engagements around the globe. The student became the teacher.

2. Learn from the university of the customer and the co-worker
One of the key strategies for breaking sales records is to sell the customer back their own product. In most of the companies I’ve worked, one of my first actions was to speak to a representative sample of customers to identify potential product improvements. I would then consult the production team to see which of the customers’ opinions were viable.

Then, I would go back to the customer and sell them our product plus their revisions. The odds of a customer refusing a product they had an input into is smaller than when presenting your own product.

By listening to his customers, Giacomo ‘Peldi’ Guilizzoni, founder and CEO of Balsamiq unleashed the business’s potential. He said, “At the outset our idea was to sell the mockup as a Confluence plugin. There was no intention of selling a Desktop app…. However, our customers came on the site and pretty much demanded it. …Today 80% of our business is for desktop applications.”

Peldi’s major goal in business was to learn. “I had set aside a year’s wages so I knew the worse possible scenario was I would learn a lot regardless of the outcome. This goal was the foundation for success of the business.”

3. Recruit right
If you want to develop an xceptional business, recruit xceptional people. Guibert Englebienne, co-founder and CTO of Globant told me, “When you find unique talent, recruit it. We are now always looking for people who fascinate us, know more about a subject than we do. The time is always right to recruit a person like that.”

Ben Milne, CEO and Co-Founder of Dwolla advises, “There’s no science in business. Just find good people … Surround yourself with fantastic people you can trust who can be your eyes and see things that you couldn’t possibly see anyway.”

So don’t let your lack of industry knowledge get in your way of building the next blockbuster business – take the first step today. Be xceptional!

Kevin Kelly is an internationally-acclaimed and leading authority on the keys to success in entrepreneurship, leadership, sales and motivation. In addition to being a keynote and motivational speaker, Kevin is also a best-selling author, with his latest book being “DO! The Pursuit of Xceptional Execution”. To learn more about Kevin and his work, visit his website at kevinkellyunlimited.com.

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Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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