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Walt Disney said, “I do not like to repeat successes; I like to go on to other things. I believe in being an innovator.”
Whether you’re a single-operator like me or have a staff of DJs, it can be difficult at times to find a need to be more of an innovator if your clients continually tell you that you’re already doing “a good job.” Where’s the motivation to improve? You’re already good. You’ve got the accolades to prove it. Why fix something that isn’t broken?
If this line of thinking has become your mantra, then “good” is all you will ever be. You may be able to brag about being the best, darn good DJ out there. And, if that is your goal in business and in life, more power to you. You should be applauded for living your dream.
True innovators, however, do not rely on past successes to carry them into the future. They are never satisfied with their current level of performance. They are always thinking, scheming, dreaming and striving for the next level. In some sense, this is just another way of saying what Jim Collins said in his book “Good to Great:”
“Good is the enemy of Great.”
The most successful companies in the world all had to make a very difficult transition…going from good to great. How do you motivate yourself and those in your employ, if you feel that you and they are already doing a good job? How do you find a way to dream bigger?
The answer, quit believing the hype!
When I was a kid I played the trumpet from the 2nd grade through high school. Because my parents invested in music lessons, I was forced to practice an hour a day, every day of the week. By the time I got into my mid-teens, I thought I was pretty good. You could say I was “tooting my own horn” (pun intended) at how good I thought I was. And, why not? I got rave reviews from family and friends at the end of each talent show and concert where I performed. Against my local , trumpet paying peers, I was the “schnizz.”
My motivation to practice daily, which had always been a chore for a young boy, became a huge waste of time. I now spent that hour a day, normally devoted to practicing, telling myself and others just how good I was. Having had enough of my cockiness, my dad tried to remind me that no matter how good I thought I was, there was always going to be somebody that was better. At 16 or 17 years old, his words fell on deaf ears…until I went to audition for bands and orchestras where extremely talented and disciplined trumpet players, all about my age, came from around the country to prove me wrong.
To paraphrase Mark Twain: “When I was a boy, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned.”
I gave up the trumpet right after I entered college. I lost the passion, the motivation to improve. I didn’t want to put in the work to be better than “good.” It’s a decision that I still regret.
Watching the Olympics, I heard people say, “I’m gonna get in shape!” They went out and bought the P90X Workout video, which now acts a bookend to a dozen other workout videos. My wife and I have a treadmill, which I jokingly refer to as the world’s largest paper weight. I’ve listened to kids that have watched professional athletes, and have heard them say, “I’m going to be like (fill in the blank).” Sometimes, while visiting Walt Disney World, I see a dancer or singer and am dazzled by their talent.
It’s easy to forget how much work they have put in just for one, brief performance, or game. Sure, it takes talent, but how many talented people have not succeeded? I once heard a statistic indicating that every minute an NFL player plays in a game, he has trained and worked out for at least 100 minutes. That time doesn’t even include the years of training to get into the pro’s. To be great, talent is helpful, but hard work is unavoidable.
It’s easy to look at Disney’s level of organizational excellence, and say “I wish I had that.” It’s easy to read books, attend conferences, watch DVDs and then do your business as usual. The often ignored question becomes, “What action am I going to take?”
Last week I traveled to Wichita, Kansas, to attend The Mobile Beat Pioneer DJ Tour 2010. Among the attendees was a DJ that has been in business since 1996. This mini-conference was the first educational experience he had ever attended in his 14 years in business. When I spoke to him by phone afterwards, I could hear an excitement in his voice that further enhanced the level of awe that he conveyed in meeting over 100 other DJs from around the Midwest and to hearing 3, top-notch presenters. He shared what he had learned and told me his plan to become more creative and innovative in his business. He realized, simply from attending a conference with other DJs, and even though he had always thought of himself as a good DJ, that he had been operating his business in a self-imposed rut. More importantly, he’s realized the work he’ll need to invest to grow his business. His enthusiasm indicates that he’s up to the task.
What about your DJ business? Yes, there might be some quick and easy improvements you can make to give the impression that you are committed to innovation. But real transformation in companies doesn’t involve short-cuts and gimmicks. It takes hard work… no, it takes hard, smart work. There’s no getting around it.
If you’re honest with yourself and set aside the hype, you’ll want to take action. You can’t sit around thinking about it. At some point, you have to roll up your sleeves and dive in. Force yourself to get creative. See beyond your past successes and look for ways to invent new ones. Become an innovator.
Author’s Note: Because of a very busy schedule next month, including a vacation at Walt Disney World, my friend and Chicago’s very own, Peter Merkle, will be writing in my place. I’ve had the opportunity to get a peek at his article, and I know you will like it. See you in November!