Jesse Henry, the CEO of Catalyst Media, discusses The Theory of Success at TEDxFSU (Transcript)
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The Theory of Success by Jesse Henry at TEDxFSU
When I was in elementary school, I had this problem. My friends made fun of me, and said I was stupid. And for the longest time my stutter defined who I was.
Now if you think that was uncomfortable for you, how do you think I felt? Just out of curiosity, how many of you thought I was completely screwing this up? Say I!
Thanks for the support guys. But in all honesty, this was a problem I thought was unsolvable. I had a speech therapist for 11 years, and encountered many people who felt bad for me. Speech therapy just simply wasn’t working. Now I’m not telling you this to start a pity party, but honestly: how many of you would have skipped school if you had a stutter like this?
How about reading out loud in class? I had this one problem in particular with guard gates. I grew up in a middle class paycheck to paycheck family, but my friends all lived in these nice gated communities. When I’d pull up to the guard gate, I’d try to skate by and just say my last name “Henry for Fertel,” or just show them my ID and pretend I didn’t hear them. And when they asked my first name, my response, “Jesse.” Introducing myself to people was a nightmare, and as I’m sure you can imagine, I received a few funny looks.
We all know first impressions last a lifetime. I was fighting an uphill battle from day one. These were the simplicities of life that most people took for granted. Unfortunately, I was a tall, skinny, awkward child with a stutter. But in reality, we have all been through this. For me it was a speech impediment, for you it may be obesity, or for you in the back it may be shyness. We all have our problems. No one is perfect. So as much as this is personalized for me, it’s truly generic for all of us.
When I was 5 years old, I was sitting at home on a rainy day in South Florida watching James Earl Jones on TV. Now most of us don’t actually know who James Earl Jones is, we know him as Darth Vader from Star Wars and Mufasa from the Lion King. So my dad is sitting at home, eating his bowl of cereal in the corner and says: “You know, Darth Vader is just like you.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He said: “Darth Vader, he has a stutter, just like you do.” And to me, this was mind blowing. A world famous actor? With a stutter? And at that very moment, I realized that I didn’t have to talk like Porky Pig forever. So when I went back to preschool, I decided to sign up as the lead role of Prince Charming in the school play. Now, was I perfect? No. Did I stutter? Yes. Did I get to kiss the princess? You better believe it.
But from that moment forward, I realized that stage acting was the best way to solve my problem. My stutter forever changed my perspective on life. My strategy was to participate in acting camps and other plays. And finally I was beginning to realize that if you want something to happen, you have to go get it; no one is going to change your life for you. Cheers, cheers, right?
I ended up doing stage acting for 9 years and stopped right before high school, just in time not to be considered a drama geek. But it was that whole experience that really brought me to realize the 3 keys to success in entrepreneurship: perspective, strategy, and execution. Quite honestly, these keys aren’t only for business but for life.
I solidified these 3 keys during my entrepreneurial studies at FSU. I went up to Dr. Blass, the gentleman who runs the entrepreneurship center, and I said: “This is it Dr. Blass. I’ve found the theory of success in entrepreneurship.” Now he has a huge smirk on his face — as most of my professors do when talking to me — but Dr. Blass spent 20 years in the Air Force rising up to Lieutenant Colonel so when he told me that his people come across upon something similar, I felt indifferent.
As much as I was pissed off that I wasn’t starting this revolution, I was comforted that my findings were backed by people who knew what they were talking about. This brought me to a gentleman by the name of John Boyd, who discovered a decision making model for air combat called the OODA loop. OODA simply stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. He discovered this loop while analyzing the American F-86 fighter plane with the Soviet MIG-15. The MIG could turn quicker and move faster than the American plane, but despite this, the American plane won more battles.
Now Boyd attributes this to the increased field of vision in the American plane. He said this increased field of vision allowed the Americans to make better decisions, which resulted in the Russians being out maneuvered.
So here’s a more simplified version of the OODA loop, and what we can find is that success is simply being one step ahead of the competition. So as I look deeper into this, I realize that this decision making process was cyclical and dynamic as opposed to linear. So I started looking at other types of decision making loops I could use and stumbled across something called ‘double loop learning.‘
Now the double loop learning is a theory of personal change that’s used in management and development. It was coined in 1976 by the late Chris Argyris, and I’ve decided to retrofit Chris’s model and put my own spin on it. So what we have here behind me, is more or less, an infinity loop with Perspective in the middle: Perspective, Strategy, Perspective, Execution; Perspective, Strategy, Perspective, Execution. Double loop learning requires multiple OODA loops. We must constantly send our brain feedback in order to create the best response. You’ll notice I have put perspective in the middle for a very specific reason.
Perspective is quite simply the lens we view life through. Our perspective is a combination of our nature and nurture up until this very point. We all view life through a certain lens. Your perspective is your lens, or your current. Now in this case, we are not attempting to go against the current, but empathizing with others in viewing the world through their lens. Our perspective changes every second of every day. I tend to think my perspective grows with every experience, even the negative ones.
During my time at FSU I’ve had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of student entrepreneurs. During a meeting with one of them, I came across the term, ‘aggregation of marginal gains.’ Now I know this term sounds really fancy, but all it’s saying is ‘increasing or decreasing by 1%.’ By taking these small gains, they add up to something significant over a period of time. Think of this as compounding interest.
So as I look deeper into this, I realize that this decision making process was more of a philosophy. Your perspective, as I said, is a combination of your nature and nurture up till this very point. And you can find your perspective’s 1% growth by simply reflecting on the day’s events. This could be a good or bad conversation you had, a compliment, or just something you’ve observed throughout the day. By always using our perspective, we can ensure the growth in our perception.
Now I’ve noticed that the best way to alter our perception is through communication. For thousands of years, communication has catalyzed our civilization. This is part of the reason why social media has been such a huge hit. I get frustrated when students are afraid to talk about their ideas. How do you expect your idea to succeed if you won’t talk to the people? Communication at the forefront can greatly enhance your chances of success. “We’re all living at least 80 ms in the past,” says David Eagleman. He believes that our consciousness lags behind events, so when we think an event occurs, it’s actually already happened before our brain has a chance to create the memory.
Now what this means is we share descriptions of experiences and not the experience itself. “Why?” you’d ask. Because we all have different perspectives, different seats in the room, different emotions, different nature, and most notably, different ideas.
Just out of curiosity, how many of you would say you have had that million dollar business idea? Say I! You guys aren’t too smart, are you? But I sit down with these students who have these ‘million dollar ideas’ and guess what the first question I ask is? “Have you typed this into Google?” now as I’m sure most of you can assume, most frequently the answer is no. But I enjoy talking with these students and doing some market research with them because it helps me grow my perspective. By communicating with the student, I am able to come up with innovative solutions and grow my entrepreneurial mindset.
But the reason why I can’t teach you to be an entrepreneur is because you have a perspective that’s yours. Let me repeat, no one can teach you how to be an entrepreneur. Because you have your own perspective. You authored that perspective. You’re the sole creator of that perspective. And you’re the only one who will ever truly know that perspective. Perspective is you right now.
So when people ask me if I can teach them to be an entrepreneur, I say, I can’t teach you to be you. Perspective is ingrained in our DNA, it is truly what separates us as individuals.
Our next topic, Strategy, has differentiated many businesses over time. Strategy can be thought of as connecting two dots, two thoughts, two perspectives or two currents. Sometimes the game plan isn’t to make money. 80% of what I do brings in no income at all. I enjoy partaking in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and helping others succeed. This is all part of my strategy.
I was able to attend a leadership conference a few years back, and came across the book “How full is your bucket?” The concept of this book is really interesting. By building people up and complimenting them, we are filling their buckets and also filling our own. By depleting them, making fun of them, ripping them, we are dipping from their buckets and also dipping from ours. When our bucket is full we feel great, when it’s empty we feel awful.
Now our bucket is just a metaphor for our personal net worth. My strategy has been, and always will be to build people up and to fill their buckets. I’m not a very religious person, but I do believe what goes around comes around. Do good for others and good fortune will be in your future. This strategy has fundamentally changed the way I communicate with other people.
Recently, I was on the phone with a friend who said: “I can’t learn from others’ mistakes, I can only learn from my own.” As a bucket filler, I kept my mouth shut. But I’m sitting there thinking, like, this is one of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard. We simply don’t have the time, money, or energy to make the mistakes that others have made for us. Charles Darwin once said: “It is not the strongest nor the most intelligent species that survives, but the one most adaptable to change”. Sometimes we just have to deal with the cards we’re dealt. We have to roll with the punches and make the best of every situation. By constantly observing and adapting, we can ensure a strategy that will create the most impact.
Our final topic, Execution, defines success in business and in life. “If everyone felt they were entitled to hard work, our world would look a lot different.” Spoiler alert, it would look a lot better. As I said previously, I can neither confirm nor deny a higher power, what I can confirm is that if you want to ace that test next week, the only person who can fulfill that vision is you. No guy up in the clouds can get you the A on that test. That’s all on you.
People tend to look in the mirror when everything’s going right, but look out the window when shit hits the fan. We must stop blaming others for our mistakes. Accountability is a huge facet of execution. People that execute don’t waste time feeling bad for themselves. They wake up every day and realize they have an opportunity to make a difference in this world. When shit hits the fan, it’s time to look in the mirror and realize what you could have done better. By holding ourselves accountable, we can force ourselves to stop talking and start doing.
I’ve always said there are two types of people in this world, talkers and doers. Execution is what fundamentally separates these two types of people. People that execute don’t let others determine their destiny. They use their perspectives and strategies to see their visions come to fruition.
Earlier we talked about entitlement. In one of my favorite shows, House of Cards, my old pal Kevin Spacey makes a speech about entitlement reform. He makes a statement that is simple and profound. When addressing the whole nation he talks about the problem in America. He looks right in the camera and says, “You are entitled to nothing.” He goes on to talk about how this country was built. He says: “You build your future, it isn’t handed to you.” I must admit, he’s right. I hate to say it but, I live in a generation of entitled people. We feel that we’re entitled to a nice car, a lot of money, a cute girlfriend, and worst of all, success.
But for every one person that works hard, there’s 10 that sit on their ass and play Minecraft. I always tell my peers, “There is nothing on this planet that will ever replace hard work.” As I said there are two types of people in this world, talkers and doers, leaders and followers, puppets and puppeteers. The leaders, the doers, and the puppeteers, take the bull by the horns and march forward. They have a sense of accountability, and no sense of entitlement. They are relentless in their attacks, and they pick themselves up after falling down.
For people that execute feeling bad for themselves is a waste of time. Without execution we are all dreamers. I can teach you entrepreneurship, but I can’t teach you to be an entrepreneur. You can read about riding a bike, but until you fall on your face with no training wheels, you will never understand what it’s truly like. Entrepreneurs execute. They get up and go. We all see problems, we all see solutions to these problems. Entrepreneurs fix those problems, and you can’t teach that. The willingness to take action is all intrinsic.
So to sum this up, there are three things that differentiate people, businesses, and experiences. Only you can hone these skills as they’re personal to you. If there’s anything to take from this talk it’s to be a sponge. Listen and observe because you can’t learn when your mouth is open. Every day you have an opportunity to grow your perspective. Think of your perspective as your base. No one can take it from you, and it’s yours, forever.
But, if you’re looking for the tipping point in success, it’s not in perspective, it’s in execution. This isn’t about success in business, it’s about success in life. The journey may take you 10,000 hours. It may take you a whole lifetime. Frankly, no one knows the answer to that. But there’s one thing that can ensure success, and that’s getting up every single time you fall down, and realizing that you’re just a little bit closer the next time around. Don’t heed advice from the cowards who neither know victory nor defeat. You must always remember that the ball is in your court, it’s time to take a shot. Win or lose, at least you tried.