A Q&A with Jeremy Gutsche
March 17, 2015
Jeremy Gutsche answers our questions about his new book Better and Faster.
Last Thursday we published our Jack Covert Selects review of Jeremy Gutsche's new book. Today he answers some of the questions we had about Better and Faster.
About Jeremy GutscheJeremy Gutsche, MBA, CFA, is an innovation expert, award-winning author, "one of the most sought-after keynote speakers on the planet," and the CEO of TrendHunter.com, the world's largest trend website, with a couple billion total views and millions of fans. Prior to Trend Hunter, Jeremy grew a $1 billion portfolio for a bank, and today, over 350 brands, billionaires and CEOs rely on his innovation keynotes and change management consulting, including Victoria's Secret, Coca-Cola, Sony, IBM, NBC, Wells Fargo and Hughes Aerospace.
Our Q&A With Jeremy Gutsche
Because we were such fans of the first book, it's hard for me to fully separate the two books, so I see Better and Faster as a continuum of the Exploiting Chaos' ethos. While writing Exploiting Chaos, did you have any sense that you'd come back a half decade later with something more? In some sense, I kind of see B&F as a warning to the people who used your first book to achieve something. In my head I'm hearing you say, "Wonderful! You exploited chaos. Great work, but you can't become complacent, and here's how to stay sharp." Or am I way off base here?
After I wrote Exploiting Chaos, the world tumbled into 6 years of, well, utter chaos. That put me in the right place at the right time and I ended up working for 300 CEOs, brands, and a handful of billionaires who wanted to ensure their companies "Exploited Chaos." The experience was unbelievable. I went from being a corporate director and author to working on the world's most difficult problems at the world's most incredible companies, from Victoria's Secret and Coca-Cola to IBM and Microsoft. I am very thankful. The experience upped my game and helped lead me to very different book. In short, I created something much more personal from my rare experiences, with a goal that gets to a more important set of problems: how do you actually make change happen when change is hard. Ultimately, there is a very bold lesson that smart people and successful teams get complacent and they miss out. Fortunately, there are several important things you can do about it.
Ideally, anyone who finishes your book would learn to successfully practice all six patterns of opportunity. But have you found any evidence to suggest that perhaps certain cognitive styles are challenged by any of the six patterns? Or, do people get stuck focusing too much on one method? I've seen in my own career and life that I have a penchant for divergence, but sometimes have trouble converging multiple ideas into one outcome, almost like I'm juggling a lot of thoughts that just don't seem to want to mesh with one another.
Divergence is a fun pattern that people quickly understand: differ from the mainstream and you will attract attention. However, it's just one of 6 patterns. I like to think of it as an easier pattern that gets people into the methodology. Once you start breaking down your business challenges with all of the patterns, you find many different solutions. Some of those might work really well in one context and others will work well in another. Personality type is certainly one differentiator, but your market, competitive set and team also play into the mix. So instead of just having one solution, I present six. To address this in more depth, I have subsequently released a series of 16 mission critical questions that I've been using in my CEO workshops. Once you buy the book from 800-CEO-READ, you'll get a code and we'll send you the questions and some more frameworks that will help different learning types get the most from our research.
As work-life balance challenges and confronts more and more workers, what are some of the best ways you've seen companies allow employees to devote enough time to reinvention? Especially in, but not limited to, small companies, it can be incredibly difficult to step outside of the day-to-day - the work generating current revenue - in order to explore ideas and products that will ultimately save the business. Or, is it as simple as those willing to work 100 hours a week, and those with enough budget to invest in departments not concerned with day-to-day, will win?
My finance background leads to an EPIC answer to this question. But hang on. I said finance, and readers get bored. So I will use gambling addiction and bring this back to your company. There are two psychological traps that impact the addicted gambler: house's money and the snakebite effect. House's money teaches us that when a gambler has a big win, their subsequent bets become unnecessarily risky. The snakebite teaches us that when a gambler has a big loss, they become overly conservative. With a gambler, we understand, but the same traps impact investors. And with investing, we know that one needs to be balanced. You need to moderate your conservative bets with your aggressive investments. In the world of innovation, the same balance is important. You need a balance of "farming" with more aggressive "hunting". There are plenty of best selling authors that will tell you to take the leap and change completely, but my corporate background leads to a different answer. I think innovation needs to be balanced. You need your more certain, traditional strategies, but you also need a portion of higher risk adapting. I also use this construct because it helps to teach you just how important your hunting is. So it is not about working more, but it is about balance. And iF you remove the higher risk activities from your balance, you will fail.
The book is set up with the Hunter versus Farmer metaphor. Can you explain the difference between being a farmer and mastering cyclicality? Both seem to take advantage of predictable, recurring environments.
Indeed you need a balance of farming and hunting to succeed. The catch is that our brain and our corporations are inherently structured to farm. After 10,000 years of evolution as farmers, once you find your field of opportunity, whatever that field might be, you are pre-wired to repeat and optimize all of the decisions that led to last year's harvest. In times of stability, your farming seems to feel like the answer to all of your woes. But, smart people and successful teams consistently over-estimate control. And the world is always in fluctuation. So if you become too (1) complacent, (2) protective or (3) repetitive, you will be disrupted when the market changes. And guess what, we are experiencing history's highest rate of change, so the only certainty in life is change. So I think it is very important for leaders to build a new skillset, which is the understanding of chaos and how your team and brain respond to change. That's what getting Better and Faster is all about.
I would assume that you're a pretty well-read person. In writing this book, how much of the structure and content of the book can be traced back to the ideas in the book? For instance, did you ever put divergence into practice by saying, "Business books normally do X, so I'm going to do Y." This question primarily arose when reading your colorful sub-headings. For instance, "Peeing Contest, Beer, and the Power of a Clever Redirect" and "Royal Potatoes, Pink Sludge, and Escaping a Bashtag," both found in the chapter on Redirection.
When writing Better and Faster, I wanted to continue with the divergent thinking of Exploiting Chaos by using shocking titles and concepts that grab your attention. In particular, while typical business books overly rely on the Fortune 500 brands, I teach the same lessons using: an ex-criminal who made a multi-million dollar empire, a cancer-conquering entrepreneur who is changing the world, a blue-chip manager who became a (reclusive) billionaire, and dozens of ordinary people who made it big by pursuing non-traditional, pattern-based opportunities. There are many authors I really love, but I actually get frustrated when I see how many books preach very traditional business concepts that are not geared towards an era of change. I think we can all agree that the age of the stable blue chip is gone, but I don't think there are many business books that truly provide useful frameworks for how to adapt your big company or entrepreneurial mindset for a very important thing: chaos. Chaos and change. I hope to help people unlock their potential, faster, by teaching them to understand how change impacts our brain and the patterns of opportunity created by chaos.In short, I want to help people be BETTER and FASTER. Better at adapting to change, and faster at finding new ideas.
Note: Come back tomorrow for our interview with Jeremy Gutsche about books and business.