Or listen on Spotify
The best-performing business people I know
I’ve been thinking about the best half dozen business people I know. These are people who will never share their success secrets on LinkedIn, or appear in the business media.
They just run successful, fast-growing, absurdly profitable businesses with motivated staff who rarely leave.
They run rings around most of their competitors.
I’ve realised the one thing they all have in common.
They don’t know how good they are.
In their minds, they’re regular modest business battlers, just trying to get ahead in a tough market.
This are not that. They’re like a business version of a movie Terminator, but in a positive, non-executioner way. They walk into any business situation, and the answers are instantly clear to them, in one scan of the landscape.
Their mental cogs start to whir. You can see the CGI overlays of crosshairs zooming in on problems, real time graphs and calculations with those little tinkly sound effects that movie producers have taught us is the noise computer processing makes.
Too many staff with not enough to do here. Wrong pricing. Product range too wide. Selling to the wrong market segment. They know exactly what needs to be done to get things in order.
Answers that would take many organisations weeks, months of research, meetings, board submissions and so on, and probably still end up with a less effective result.
Some people just have it
Some people just have it, and I don’t know if it’s something you can learn, other than from parents who are the same.
It’s like a business version of Elton John’s songwriting technique. “Bernie sends me an envelope full of lyrics, I sit down at the piano, read them once and I see a movie in my mind, then I play the soundtrack to that movie.”
LinkedIn guys will write an a inspo post saying “I break down how Elton wrote hits in half an hour” with a bit of an implication you can do it with enough hustle mindset. It leaves out the need to be gifted to an incomprehensible level.
There’s no system to become as good as the Modest 6, but there are things they do that are useful to try yourself.
Stay hungry and know your clients
The think all their competitors are as hungry and driven as them, so it keeps them on their toes at all times.
They believe their clients think like they do, maximising sustainable profit at all times, and it gives them heartburn trying to second-guess those clients in negotiations.
Even though lots of clients actually just want to be lazy. (For more on this, How Can You Help Your Clients Be Lazy?)
They understand their clients’ businesses so well they have good ideas on how the clients could improve their business in completely different areas to the service they deliver.
But they never go barging in saying “here’s how you should run other areas of your business better”. That would be a dick move.
Rather, they plant the seeds in conversations with different people in the client organisation, who in turn go to meetings and present it as their own idea.
Those client contacts look smarter, the organisation runs better, and general goodwill builds.
Good people know it’s the result that matters. Lesser people worry about who will get the credit.
A lack of certainty
Each of The 6 is a leader that their staff will follow over hot coals. They are charismatic sales people, in the sense of being great listeners rather than talkers. They make a mistake about once or twice a year.
Every conversation, every move they make, is a step toward their mental plans for years ahead.
I feel like none of them would do well if they had to formally report to a board.
As their friend, I’ll sometimes point out that they are elite business talent. And that while they should not lose the worrisome edge that has made them great, maybe they could stress out just a little less about whatever’s freaking them out them right now.
They’ll be like: “Appreciate the compliment, but that sort of talk makes me uncomfortable.”
What they lack is certainty. And that’s a good thing.
Some people are always right and they will tell you
Some business people are certain to a molecular level. They always know what’s right in every situation and will tell you right away.
It builds a certain confidence, because most people like to follow someone who seems to know where to go. It’s good for inspiring certain types of staff to run toward the machine guns.
Certainty offers finite returns after a while. It means the viewpoints of others from different backgrounds, upbringings, personality types and all the rest get discarded. Because it doesn’t fit in with the One True Truth that the boss brings.
Good people tire of being talked over, and hearing the same fucking anecdote about that time the CEO did a day working in the stores. So they leave.
As Dunning and Krueger noted, nobody brings more certainty than dimwit busybodies and blowhards who can’t tell their true skill level.
Almost all the Modest 6 don’t have formal business qualifications. It makes them uneasy about thinking they’re good, because they feel many others are better qualified.
So they have to prove themselves every day. They started out at the bottom, doing the same work as their staff do now. So they have an instinctive empathy for people at all levels, and do not regard themselves as a natural ruling class.
We’ve all worked with entitled clowns with prestige qualifications, speaking in acronyms and buzzwords, who have no understanding of coalface realities.
Why you should be wary of certainty
Be wary of certainty. Certainty will stop you letting others have a win, when that concession will help your long-term aims.
Certainty makes you think you’ve nothing left to learn, when business is a lifelong opportunity to let clients and staff teach you interesting, useful things.
Certainty brought us WeWork, FTX and the sad wreckage of Twitter.
If you’re hiring, it’s easy to hire the confident certainty candidate when the true star candidate is holding back, because they don’t want to seem up themselves.
Bill Bernbach, whose genius advertising work we lifted to get our own business going, used to carry a reminder card in his pocket every day that said something like “Maybe they’re right.”
Hold your heads up, uncertain people.
You might not think you’re right but you probably are.
Got a comment?
I’ve stopped moderating the blog comments because I get like 50 Russian bot comments a day. But why not drop your comment over on this story on LinkedIn? Keen to hear from you, a real human, on your AI thoughts.
Also, if this story was useful or entertaining for you, why not help me out by sharing it? It’s a ton of work getting these stories out, and more readers really helps me justify the insane effort each week. Bless you.
Why not buy this nice book?
Want a book on how to break free of a job that sucks and set up your own business that you don’t even have to work in? We did that, and here’s the story: Undisruptable: Timeless Business Truths For Thriving In A World Of Nonstop Change.
Zoë Foster Blake said: “Ian is a cheeky, funny, disruptive (and proven: important) business rascal and thank goodness for that.”
Every week since it came out 15 months ago, it’s the #1 Review-Rated biz book on all of Booktopia. On paper, electronic or audio book with me reading it. Get it here:
Also I write a story each Tuesday, drop your email here to get it in your inbox.
For those of you in geo-blocked countries, here’s your non-Spotify audio: