Is Kanye West a Genius?

My greatest pain in life is that I’ll never be able to see myself perform live,” Kanye West, the genius?

Out of context, most people jump to the conclusion that this is an arrogant, egotistical thing to say. Assuming that Kanye is asserting that he is the greatest performer alive and therefore he’s missing out on sharing this experience with his fans… Now, I don’t know the context of this statement. But, I also don’t really care. Because, out of context, this is a moment of brilliant thought; humbly admitting that he may never be able to truly fulfill his potential.

Sure, you may be thinking that it’s a stretch to conclude there is a connotation of humility accompanying this statement. But, think about it. Kanye West will never know what it feels like to be a fan of Kanye West. He will never know what it’s like to get a group of friends together to commit to going to a Kanye performance. He will never know what it’s like to make sure he’s online and ready to check out as soon as tickets go on sale. He won’t know the anticipation of waiting for the tickets to arrive in the mail and the anticipation of waiting for the day of the performance to arrive. He won’t know what his pre-show ritual would have been before the show and he will never know what it’s like to have all of that anticipation build and build until Kanye West steps foot on that stage and the crowd goes wild. And most importantly, he will never know whether or not Kanye West put on a mind-blowing performance. Did he just meet expectations, or did he go above and beyond? Kanye West will never know.

I know what you’re thinking, “Yeah, but he has a production team there to help him exceed expectations.” Well, the problem with that is that his team has the same problem as Kanye. They will never know what it’s like to watch that performance as someone other than a member of the production crew. This inserts a bias that differs from that of the fan. You’re right though, the team can step outside of their bias and witness the moment. None the less, Kanye the performer and entertainer will never be able to really understand the emotional impact he has on a fan.

If you’re an entrepreneur or a marketer, you need to think more like Kanye. Your opinion really doesn’t mean shit. Your customer’s opinion matters. You need to withdraw from the ego you’ve created and try to see your offering from the perspective of your customer. Obviously, there is a large spectrum of differing preferences, opinions, and demographics. Your job is to discover the commonalities that are consistent in the largest pool of your potential customer base and cater to their needs, desires and wants. This is simple segmentation… But many times segmentation can result in an attitude of “my way or the highway.” This is a recipe for failure. You are but one person and your job as a marketer is to serve the many. You cannot – should not – disregard the spectrum of possibilities.

The spectrum that people label as Kanye West spans from delusion to genius. All too often do I hear – and this is especially true in the craft CPG industries – small business owners and marketers taking the perspective of the delusional Kanye. The delusion is that your product is best because you say so. The genius is that you should always push to understand your customer better. Here we find genius in Kanye West. Remember this quote as inspiration: “Your biggest pain point is that you will never be your customer.” Stop making decisions based on your bias. Make decisions that put the customer first.

Entrepreneurs Need to Be Mean

Are you mean enough to be an entrepreneur?

You were probably taught that the world is black and white. The truth is there’s mostly grey. The grey world is a dangerous place for an entrepreneur that only sees in black and white. Black and white are for middle management. If you’re going to succeed in this arena, you need to be able to find the mean. The mean is the statistical average of the shades between black and white.

The entrepreneurial sentiment of “I want to change the world” is not enough. Change is something that comes about rather easily. You already changed the world the day you were born. The deeper sentiment here is, “I believe the world is going in the wrong direction and I want to correct its trajectory.”

Sure, both statements are basically saying the same thing. But, doesn’t the latter sound more impactful and more audacious? It’s definitely more likely to achieve the status of the proverbial Unicorn. The former can provide a pretty useless foundation for building a business atop. For this reason, 99.9% of entrepreneurs will change their world. In fact, many will meet their expectations the day they even conceptualize of going to market. So, why hasn’t “I want to correct the trajectory of the world” become the cliche sentiment of entrepreneurs? Yep, you guessed it. They’re not mean enough!

I was consistently told I was mean for 20 plus years of my life. I was always dumbfounded by this notion. I was always a nice kid and my teachers always had nice things to say about me, with the exception of talking too much in class. People usually liked me and I was usually pretty popular. However, to my younger sister, Cindy, I was mean.

These mean things I did – which, reflecting back were words I said – got me in a lot of trouble. Again, it didn’t make any sense to me because I wasn’t a troublemaker. As it turns out, this was the greatest compliment I’ve ever received. Now that I’m older and my job is to manage the biases of decision makers and the markets they serve, I was really mean. I was super mean. I loved being mean!

The underlying problem was that Cindy perceived my words of wisdom to be a competitive attack. I was young and thought we had the same worldviews. She didn’t realize my intent was to play the role of big brother and to help guide her direction toward a positive outcome. She saw my views as directly opposing hers. So instead of an intellectual discussion, I was met with, “Mom, Jeff’s being mean!” We were never really close growing up. I thought she hated my personality – the same one that made me lots of friends…

Jared Schneider recently described me to a lady he is dating. He told her, “Jeff was really popular in college. But, it almost didn’t make sense. He always went against the grain. He would point something out and play devil’s advocate with people he had just met. He would pretty much cause an argument with everyone. But inevitably he would end up laughing because people would realize he was right.” Her reply was, “He sounds like a really smart guy.”

Thanks Liza! That’s sort of the point – to gain perspective. Once I made a new friend I would become their trusted advisor, understanding their viewpoint and pointing them in a new direction. If I didn’t succeed in winning them over, I still gained something. I was both entertained by the discussion and provided with a learning lesson about the viewpoint while testing the psyche’s ability to see more than one path. Whether I was playing devil’s advocate or being mean to Cindy I only have one goal in mind: correct the error.

Sometimes, admittedly, the error was mine. The way to fix an error is to unabashedly be the mean.  I am selfishly unselfish when it comes to errors. Errors torment me. My weakness in life is that I think I am correct. My strength is that I am not afraid to be wrong. This allows me to quickly correct my bias (and yours).

It is true that most people don’t want to change their bias. But, that’s not the goal. The goal is to guide the bias toward an outcome that corrects the trajectory (of the world). Let’s use a hypothetical, political ship for understanding how to correct a person’s bias:

  • Bobby likes red ships. In his world, the only ship that matters is the red ship.
  • When you meet Bobby, you recognize that there are also blue ships in the world.
  • The problem with a red ship is that passengers will only sit on the right side of the ship – so the ship leans right.
  • There’s a problem with blue ships too. The passengers will only sit on the left and the ship leans left.
  • You are an entrepreneur, you need a ship that will go straight.
  • Because you can’t change Bobby’s bias, your aim is to correct his bias.
  • You need a purple ship and you need Bobby to recognize that there is a place for red ship people on that purple ship.

How do you get a red shipmate and a blue shipmate aboard the purple ship? You find common ground. That is your job. You are an entrepreneur. And if you’re going to be any good at it you need to understand why the red and blue ships attract passengers. So that when you build the purple ship there are already passengers awaiting. It’s up to you to make it meaningful.

Find Satori, my fellow Salesperson.

Sales is Not a Dirty Word.

Convincing is not sales – Matchmaking is sales.

You are a salesperson. You’ve been a salesperson ever since you can remember. The day you started to form a personality was the day you fell into the marketplace. We may like to think of ourselves as reasonable, intelligible people, but our day-to-day is riddled with emotional input and output. These emotions are fueled by a set of beliefs and ultimately dictate our character. A salesperson understands this, embraces all types of characters, and helps the character play his or her role in the game of life.

Unfortunately, the word ‘sales’ and the professional title of ‘Salesperson’ have become tarnished in popular culture. Degrading sales into something entirely different than the prophetic role it can play in society – the distribution of goods and services within society.

Yes, there were con artists and swindlers branding themselves as “salespeople” with an ability to dawn the veil of a charismatic gentle person. These abilities allowed them to portray a personalized genuineness for each individual they interacted with and engaged. Their understanding of the psyche and the games people play coupled with a selfish outlook to get ahead, can turn any buyer into a mark. And when the plot climaxed the buyer believed the salesperson’s game was the solution to their problems. So they bought into the con artist’s game.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. In any sales scenario, we wait to see if the buying actor experiences cognitive dissonance. Let’s assume that, for the sake of argument, our salesperson does not intend to con the buyer and instead is someone helping to find a solution. If the dissonance does set in, the salesman has unintentionally exposed a vulnerability. In that moment of truth, the buyer reveals a con. Unfortunately for the buyer, this conman was not the salesperson the buyer believed him to be. Or, were they? Whether or not the intention of the salesperson was to provide a solution or a con is almost irrelevant at this point. The conman in this scenario is actually the ego of the buyer.

A true conman exposes vulnerabilities and weaknesses possessed by their mark. A true salesperson exposes needs, desires, and values in their customer. Neither is convincing their target of anything. Both are matching a proposed solution to an ideal held by the psyche of the buyer, long before the two ever met. The equation is dependent on the buyer’s ego to deduce and accurately represent their best interest in the transaction.

The two contrasting characters of Salesperson and Con artist provide us with a spectrum for business exchange. A third role emerges between the two, comprised of a myriad of actors who provide Customer Service.

Customer service wants to help everyone.
The Conman artist wants to help themself.
The Salesperson wants to help individuals find the perfect solution.

The Entrepreneur wants every individual to have the best solution. This is where things can get tricky. Is the entrepreneur a salesperson or a customer service provider? Obviously, they must be both. An Entrepreneur’s job is to recognize the con artist, provide customer service, and lead their audience to find the best solution that fits their needs. A great Entrepreneur exposes both the con artist’s findings and the salesperson’s findings and provides a solution that solves for both the desire and the fear harbored in the ego. If successful, s/he becomes the greatest salesperson.

The thing that torments me is that most Entrepreneurs don’t seem to believe themselves to be salespeople. They’ve been equipped with a fear of the word and have put a barrier along their path to success. Instead of providing great salesmanship they provide customer service – which is limited to the products they are willing to provide. Somehow they believe their decision to provide goods and services to the market is too altruistic to be placed on the same spectrum as the convincing Con artist. Or, perhaps, deep down they are afraid a selfish reason for entering the market will be exposed and that that selfish reason will make them a feared con artist. For most entrepreneurs, this is downright silly.

Most Entrepreneurs are selfishly selfless in providing goods and services they believe in and enjoy. These Entrepreneurs must not forget that they exist to provide these goods and services to others. To do this you must sell and match people with your good or service. You’re only a con if you convince someone to do something that directly opposes what you perceive to be their best interest… Is that why you went into business?

Find Satori, my fellow Salesperson.

The Millennial Whisperer

The “Millennial Whisperer” is a term coined by Luke Smaul, business leader and advisor of, Inc. While the context for coining the term was meant to cheekily label himself amongst his peers, the coinage applies to anyone possessing the ability to belong to an earlier generation while connecting with millennials. And, not just in a demanding way but in a way that converts them into believers.

I am not a millennial. Born in 1984, I was raised believing I was Generation-Y. Maybe I’m a Generation-Y, Millennial?

Sometime around 1994, PepsiCo. challenged the idea of generations with a campaign for “Generation Next.” I recall this causing some confusion amongst my pre-pubescent cohorts. Were we Generation Next?

My marketing textbooks in college (around 2004) labeled us as something else entirely. It wasn’t until well after the recovery of the .COM collapse that I first heard the term Millennial.

In truth, we are the elder millennials that don’t quite feel like we fit in with the younger millennials. Sure, we are quasi-digital natives who want to find purpose in our work.  We understand the younger millennial mindset, but It’s really not that hard to grasp. Any generation is defined by the environmental implications attributing to their group-mind. Some people possess the ability to belong to an earlier generation while also connecting with other generations.

Being labeled a millennial affords us a luxury when working with the earlier generations. We are provided with an element for surprise: “He looks like a millennial, but he doesn’t talk like a millennial. He must be 40 (Generation X).” We elders, the Generation-Y Millennials, are Generation Next. We sit on the millennial cusp minding the gap that separates our generations.

Mind the Gap and find Satori, my fellow Salesperson.

Busy is the New Lazy.

Are You Too Busy for Business?

Busy work is a perception. For many of the entrepreneurs I meet, this concept of being busy is posed with negative discourse. There seems to be a correlation between an individual’s self-assessment of the work performed and the actual result in productivity. Within that correlation, the output is dependent on the entrepreneur’s priorities. The most productive people I know would never think that the concept of being busy constitutes as an acceptable excuse for limiting performance.

There are a number of effective methods and tools for increasing productivity. So many so there are blogs dedicated solely to the subject. Yet with all this information floating around for the taking, many entrepreneurs struggle to grasp the one fundamental truth that must be surpassed. If you’re wondering if you’ve learned this truth or not – maybe you need to hear this message as well:

You’re the Problem.

Once you can look in the mirror and say, “I’m the problem,” you are ready to begin your journey toward success.