One of my favorite movies of all time is Amadeus, which if you haven’t seen it, is a fictionalized biography about Wolfgang “Amadeus” Mozart which follows Italian composer Antonio Salieri’s rivalry with Mozart at the court of Emperor Joseph II.
One of my favorite scenes in the film (actually one of dozens that are so memorable) is this dialogue after Mozart presents a brand new piece of work (which is extraordinary of course) to the Emperor:
EMPEROR: Well, Herr Mozart! A good effort. Decidedly that. An excellent effort! You’ve shown us something quite new today.
[Mozart bows frantically: he is over-excited.]
MOZART: It is new, it is, isn’t it, Sire?
EMPEROR: Yes, indeed.
MOZART: So then you like it? You really like it, Your Majesty?
EMPEROR: Of course I do. It’s very good. Of course now and then – just now and then – it gets a touch elaborate.
MOZART: What do you mean, Sire?
EMPEROR: Well, I mean occasionally it seems to have, how shall one say? [he stops in difficulty; turning to Orsini-Rosenberg] How shall one say, Director?
ORSINI-ROSENBERG: Too many notes, Your Majesty?
EMPEROR: Exactly. Very well put. Too many notes.
MOZART: I don’t understand. There are just as many notes, Majesty, as are required. Neither more nor less.
EMPEROR: My dear fellow, there are in fact only so many notes the ear can hear in the course of an evening. I think I’m right in saying that, aren’t I, Court Composer?
SALIERI: Yes! yes! er, on the whole, yes, Majesty.
MOZART: But this is absurd!
EMPEROR: My dear, young man, don’t take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It’s quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that’s all. Cut a few and it will be perfect.
MOZART: Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?
EMPEROR: Well. There it is.
The Emperor reminds me of someone who didn’t renew my Titans Master Class mastermind group a couple of years ago because he said that there were “too many good ideas” (or “too many notes” I guess).
He added that he was frustrated that he couldn’t find the time to work on (or execute on) all the amazing things he was learning.
I was not insulted nor did I try very hard to keep him in the group–and I promised to help him in the future which I have.
Ironically, the two biggest initiatives he decided to focus on most intently when he left (and now with no distractions from any other good ideas getting in the way) could be sourced directly to two presentations given by guest speakers at Titans Master Class.
So in a way, my work was done here–but I couldn’t help but feel I had failed him–and I was a bit glum.
What bugged me was not that one of my flock had left me; rather, I was saddened that maybe a core principle I learned growing up as a direct marketer had a fatal flaw.
I always believed that you can never have too many good ideas.
Of course if you are a “quick start” entrepreneur, and I know many of you are, it’s easy to get overwhelmed…and that’s why you must have a system to catalog, store and have at the ready as many new ideas as possible all the time.
And you don’t have to work on all of them immediately.
Maybe I failed this Titan by not stressing enough that he could save some good stuff for later.
I’ve heard this quote from a number of friends and entrepreneurs regarding the fact that there are only two times:
Now and not now.
This helps a lot when I remind myself that there is nothing better than working with entrepreneurs but that they can also be a little nuts when it comes to never hearing an idea they don’t like.
Over the last four years I have interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs and business leaders for my two mastermind groups, Titans Mastermind and Titans Master Class.
Everyone I interview has two things in common:
1) They are all best-in-class, multi-channel, direct response marketers
2) They are all incredibly successful at generating excitement (and profit) in a specific area they are passionate about
Knowing that, I ask the same question of every one of them after spending some time talking about the history and trajectory of their businesses:
“What is holding you back in the growth of your business?”
Almost all of the answers I receive can be put into three buckets:
1) “I have too many ideas and I don’t know which ones to focus on first.” I heard over and over some version of, “I have more good ideas than I know what to do with; it’s the implementation that screws me up.” Like the Emperor hearing “too many notes.”
2) “I don’t receive enough candid feedback and constructive criticism on all of those new ideas that I can really trust.” Although the follow up question would be, “Can you (the entrepreneur/owner/leader) hear the opposing view?”
3) “I don’t receive enough new ideas from others.” Of course this could add to the list of “too many ideas” and also might relate to the entrepreneur having some selective hearing too. Reminds us of Emperor Joseph II again doesn’t it?
Too many ideas
This is a problem we all face whether we are entrepreneurs or senior executives.
And the real definition of this problem is that “too many” means “not enough time or resources to get the best ones done.”
It’s all about that constant battle to create the right balance between idea generation and getting the essential ideas into the pipeline if appropriate (and then staying focused).
Having the right staff is essential.
So is knowing when to say “no for now” and making it a possibility for later (i.e. “not now”).
The country’s foremost expert in Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) Ned Hallowell, believes that there would be no entrepreneurs if this “affliction” called ADD, that affects so many of us, did not exist.
Shiny objects definitely serve a purpose as they pertain to innovation; but they also create some frustration.
Therefore ADD is far from being a stigma…it’s a strength…although it clearly can get in the way of productivity.
Ned (and many others) also believe that controlling and resisting the urge that all entrepreneurs have to chase every shiny object (immediately) is crucial to achieving their greatest success in business.
There is no quick solution to this problem but most of the entrepreneurs and leaders I interact with regularly understand that if they can get the right systems (and people) in place for implementation (which in most cases is not their strong suit), the results can be extraordinary.
Plus they need to create a “garage” or “storage locker” for all the good ideas they can’t get to right away but ideas that should never be lost.
Over these last four years, this has been a major theme and something we discuss regularly among the members of Titans Mastermind and Tians Master Class, business by business; and it’s also something I work on with all of the businesses I consult to regularly.
One trend I’ve seen in my masterminds and the ones I am a member of is that the entrepreneur/CEO/”rainmaker” joins the group with a key “number two” who can prioritize the ideas, sort them, and put them in the right place priority-wise—and help with the execution (or store them for later) once everyone returns home.
Not receiving candid feedback
Being able to tell the emperor he or she has no clothes (or that they know nothing about great classical music!) has been a problem forever.
And the problem arises from employees not wanting to rock the boat and the leader not really listening for subtle (but potentially powerful and useful) criticism.
It’s been my observation that a little extra open-mindedness and a true open-door policy from the entrepreneur or President can be game changing.
If you are the CEO, always know that everyone is looking for ways not to be in conflict with you…and surrounding yourself with “yes men/women” will not lead to the results you really want.
You instinctively know this but rarely do we get introspective enough to do something about it.
Having the ultimate power to hire and fire at will always leads to getting a lot less truth…but you must work to get the truth…and make sure your team knows that they will not be penalized for telling the truth (or giving their contrarian opinion).
And if you can’t hire folks who will speak up, you better be in groups (Vistage, Young Presidents, Entrepreneurs Organization, Strategic Coach, high end masterminds etc.) to get your dose of honest feedback.
Many leaders believe the opinions of “outsiders” way more than the folks close to them on the inside…not a mistake in itself…but getting both perspectives will lead to chasing after fewer bad ideas and pursuing more good ones.
I’ve always said that your true friends are the ones who will tell you if you have something hanging out of your nose, if you have spinach in your teeth or if your idea sucks…and in all of those instances, if telling the truth is going to work, love also must never leave the room.
I would recommend that you demand this of friends and family in your personal life…and also demand that of the folks that would die on a sword for you in your business as well.
It’s not easy…it takes time to build that trust…but it is so worth it.
New ideas that may not be yours
This is the area that fascinates me the most.
I already said that most entrepreneurs I interact with have more ideas than they know what to do with and they know it’s the new (big) ideas that drive exponential growth.
But here’s the issue that comes up time and again from business owners:
The belief that every good idea worth pursuing needs to be their own.
This is the toughest one for entrepreneurs to accept and to even recognize it’s happening…since no one else had the “big idea” to get the party started in the first place (i.e. launch the company).
But I have seen so many businesses fail in the long term because the founder didn’t recognize great ideas from others in the organization readily.
Finding what I call “the second rainmaker” is helpful (which could be that “number two” I referred to earlier).
Having a key number two to give you new ideas (and still another key partner to help prioritize and implement) is by far the biggest void I find in the companies that have the most difficulty making the next big jump in revenue and profit.
In entrepreneurial businesses I encounter, most (if not all) of the “best ideas” come from one person…the person at the top of the food chain.
In addition, as mentioned previously, those leaders rarely have someone in their company that gives them candid feedback to every brilliant idea they have (which happens about every 15 minutes or so); and they also rarely have no one else in the organization coming up with new ideas that they can build on.
How lonely is that?
In almost every case, the CEO/owner does not have a “second rainmaker.”
I know that when you have a mission or vision that is so much a part of your DNA, it is sometimes hard to hear other folks who might actually share that same mission/vision…and are actually ready (or “deserving”) to contribute at a much deeper level with their own ingenuity.
Please read my post “From intrapreneur to entrepreneur” which talks about my personal experience regarding growing idea generators from within…and also making sure you are working to be one of those internal rainmakers if you are not the owner/CEO/founder.
Recognizing talent, hiring them and growing them…and then actually listening to them (and their ideas)…is what will lead to the most exponential growth in your business.
There is a risk that your second rainmaker might then add even more shiny objects to the idea mix… but who is to say that one of theirs can’t replace one of yours?
Having been lucky enough to be a “second rainmaker” in a company where I shared the vision of the founder at the deepest level…and then definitely got heard…all I can say is that it is doable.
To summarize my prescription for success in any entrepreneurial company that successfully moves itself to what author Peter Senge calls a “learning organization”:
1) Make sure, as the leader, you are doing only the things you are best at and the things only you can do better than everyone else. This is the wisdom of entrepreneur coach Dan Sullivan. The core premise of what he teaches is that it is critical to only work in your “unique ability.”
In addition to Senge’s book and everything Dan Sullivan has written , I also highly recommend the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
2) If you are like most of the entrepreneurs Ned Hallowell talks about–and you have no shortage of new ideas but can’t get them all done–figure out a system to know a good one from a bad one. That is, choose wisely by making sure you have people around you who tell you the truth about your ideas, good or bad. Reward them for candor and don’t punish them for honesty.
If you can’t hire for this, get it from key peer groups on the outside.
And if you are part of the staff, be that honest person once you have earned the trust of your superiors.
Top down or bottom up, be transparent that there will be no room for yessing everything to death.
3) Once you have the implementation and feedback loops handled, get yourself a second rainmaker. I know that is not an easy button/easy hire and it’s a long term play. But it is best if you can have one at your side.
If you can’t grow a second rainmaker, you still need to find one.
Go to outside experts or be part of a mastermind group to help you make rain (i.e. consultants and colleagues who want to be your partners, not just creators of chaos). Do that at a minimum.
And if you are the “intrapreneur”, working closely with an entrepreneur, look to be a rainmaker for them…always.
If it sounds like I have all of this handled myself, I don’t.
As a result of this very long post I just re-wrote this on a post-it note and hung it at eye level on my computer monitor:
Refrain from doing things someone else can do better, find great implementers who complement your tendency towards shiny objects, find employees and friends who tell you the truth and don’t think that you are the only one who can make rain.
There’s water (i.e. ideas) everywhere…some is streaming as new thinking from the spectacular people you are surrounded by and some is coming from the sky (which actually originates in your brain…weird gravity thing).
But whether the water is coming from a fire hose held by others or it is rain you are making on your own (and hopefully with a powerful “second rainmaker”), stop complaining and just buy a bigger umbrella.
P.S. Sorry about the long post today—portions of this were taken from a post from a couple of years ago called, “Who is your rainmaker?”–and when I was re-watching that scene from Amadeus (amazing film) in the context of “why people get overwhelmed drinking from the fire hose of too many ideas,” I got carried away.
I hope it was helpful in some way…and as a thank you for getting this far (although I know many of you read the P.S. first and that’s OK too!), I want to gift you something here that I decided to include at the conclusion of the bibliography in my new book, Overdeliver.
It’s “Dick Benson’s 31 Rules of Thumb for Direct Mail” (Dick was the smartest man who ever lived on the art and science of direct mail).
My plan is to use many of these 31 rules in future blogs to show how the principles here all apply to everything we do online today.
Chapter 3 of my new book is titled, “How paying postage made me a better marketer” and I firmly believe that…not just because of the discipline it took to make stuff work when there was printing, postage and fulfillment of physical products involved…but also because I studied these rules from Benson in the 1980’s and I apply almost all of them in some way on a regular basis.
Let me know if you have any epiphanies as you read them knowing that Dick had no idea what the Internet was…or that the best direct marketing was yet to come:
BENSON’S RULES OF THUMB
*Author’s note from Brian Kurtz: I thought it would be extremely useful and insightful to include Dick Benson’s 31 “Rules of Thumb” that open his classic book, Secrets of Successful Direct Mail, as an addendum to the reading list I have created for Overdeliver.
Please remember that Dick wrote these rules pre-internet, yet every one of them has an application to online media.
“In defense of these prejudices: I have a lot of scar tissue backing up these principles. I offer them to you with this qualifier: They work for me.” — Dick Benson
1. A two-time buyer is twice as likely to buy as a one-time buyer. Most of the experts I know who issue catalogs, handle circulation for publications or raise funds by mail know this to be true.
2. The same product sold at different prices will result in the same net income per thousand mailed.
3. Sweepstakes will improve results by 50 percent or more.
4. A credit or bill-me offer will improve results by 50 percent or more.
5. Tokens or stickers always improve results.
6. Memberships renew better than plain subscriptions by 10 percent or more.
7. “Department store” pricing always pays except for membership offers.
8. You can never sell two things at once.
9. Self-mailers almost never work.
10. The more believable a special offer, the more likely its success.
11. The addition of installment payments for an item over $15 will increase results by 15 percent.
12. Dollar for dollar, premiums are better incentives than cash discounts.
13. Adding elements to a mailing package, even though obviously adding cost, is more likely to pay out than cheapening the package.
14. For magazines a “soft” offer (“Try a complimentary copy at our risk”) is better than a hard offer (cash or “bill me”).
15. A Yes-No option will increase orders.
16. “FREE” is a magic word.
17. Two premiums are frequently better than one.
18. Long copy is better than short copy.
19. Personalized letters work better to house lists (those who have bought or subscribed before) than to “cold” lists.
20. Brochures and letters should stand alone and each of them should contain all the information.
21. Direct mail should be scrupulously honest.
22. Subscriptions sold at half-price for at least eight months will convert at renewal time just as strongly as subscriptions sold for a full year at full price.
23. Lists are the most important ingredient to the success of a promotional mailing.
24. The offer is the second most important ingredient of direct mail.
25. Letters should look and feel like letters.
26. An exclusive reduced price to a house list will more than pay its way.
27. To predict final results from a promotion, you can assume you will always receive as many more orders as you’ve received in the past week. This projection will generally be valid beginning with the second week’s orders and continuing thereafter.
28. A follow-up mailing dropped two weeks after the first mailing will pull 50 percent of the original response.
29. An incentive to pay cash when you offer both cash and credit options reduces net response.
30. Test mailing packages are best when they come from independent creative sources.
31. Offers of subscriptions using two terms (i.e., 8 months, 16 months) will pull more money . . . but 10 percent fewer orders.
Nothing works all the time, but ignore any of these rules at your own peril.