Past Performance… Future Results

 

Past Performance,
Future Results

16

July, 2019

Three years ago, I had dinner with an investor in my company who led a prominent fund that had invested in dozens of early-stage startup companies. He’d seen some of those companies go from ideas to being worth billions of dollars.

I asked him a simple question: “Can you predict the big winners?”

He quickly responded, “It’s fairly easy to predict the good ones. They do things more or less as I’d expect. It’s nearly impossible to predict the great ones… the ones worth billions… the ones that profoundly change how business is done.”

I asked: “Why is it nearly impossible to predict the great ones?”

He smiled and shook his head. “Because they are bending the universe. They do little according to plan. Often, they break one thing after another. And investors like me shake our heads. Until one day they figure it out. And investors like me say we always knew…”

*******

About ten years ago, a friend who felt he’d lived at an unhealthy weight most of his life – who’d often been told by doctors that if he didn’t lose weight he’d live a much shorter than average life – started to lose weight.

To some people who knew him, even close family, the first 20 pounds were no different from dozens of other attempted weight losses.

But the weight kept coming off. 40 pounds. 60, 80 pounds. Within a few years, through diet and exercise, he’d lost over 100 pounds and was at a weight that felt healthy for him. It’s been years now, and he’s stayed at a healthy weight.

The strange thing about his weight loss was how sudden it seemed. He’d talked with me and other friends for years about wanting to live a long life at a healthy weight. And I could always see the sparkle in his eyes – I knew he’d do it someday.

Yet despite fairly frequent yo-yo diets, nothing ever took. And then one day…

So I asked him, “What finally made the difference?”

“One day I was ready,” he said, “I don’t know why it was that day. But I know what helped me get there: I had a few friends who believed me. For years and years, my friends believed me. Even though you had no reason to believe…”

*******

We are taught in business and in life that past performance is somehow indicative of future results. So we often learn, as leaders, to look for the high performers, to hang our hats on them, because they will show us to the future we desire.

But Toys-R-Us, K-Mart, Sears, Kodak, Blockbuster – high performers of my childhood – are all bankruptcy stories. And Microsoft, whose stock price stayed stagnant for 10 years, has seen its stock price improve 600% in the last 6 years.

At Avanoo, some of our highest performers weren’t high performers in their last jobs. Some of us weren’t even always high performers in our current jobs. Then one day, perhaps a day that looked like any other day, everything changed.

In my own experience, past performance has never been a strong predictor of future results. Past performance is simply a datapoint. It might be worth something. It might not.

In my own experience, the best predictors of future results are: who we are, what we believe in, how we hold ourselves and each other, how we learn and grow, and how willing we are to disrupt the status quo to create the future we believe in.

Daniel Jacobs

CEO, Avanoo

Daniel Jacobs is the CEO and cofounder of Avanoo. Daniel’s work has been featured on Fortune, Inc. BusinessInsider, Apple News, HuffPo, and most major United States news publications. The Avanoo platform uses data-driven technology and evocative storytelling to help leaders sustain, scale, and drive ROI with positive culture changes in their enterprises.



The Clay Buddha Who Revealed a Simple Truth about People & (Workplace) Culture

 

The Clay Buddha Who Revealed a Simple Truth about People & (Workplace) Culture

23

July, 2019

In 1955, the government of Thailand decided to build a highway in Bangkok through a location where an old temple stood. They purchased the rights to the temple, and agreed to let the local monks move a centuries-old clay Buddha to another location.

The clay Buddha was massive. It stood more than ten feet tall, and its belly was more than six feet in circumference. So the monks arranged for a crane to safely move the Buddha from the old temple to a new home.

But when the crane began to pick up and move the Buddha, it was clear they’d miscalculated its fragility. The idol was cracking. Immediately, the temple’s abbot screamed for it to be lowered to the ground and covered with tarps to protect it from incessant rains.

Later that night, the abbot couldn’t sleep. So he returned to the Buddha with a flashlight to inspect the damage to the sacred idol. As he peered at one of the cracks, he noticed something strange deep beneath the surface.

He returned to his monastery, found a hammer and chisel, and chipped away a small section around the crack. He was puzzled by what he saw. So he returned to the monastery, awoke the other monks, and asked for their help.

He told them each to bring a flashlight, hammer, and chisel. Together, they returned to the clay Buddha and, synchronously, they began to chip away at the enormous idol they’d been protecting for so many years.

When they finished their work the next morning, they stood back and gazed at what, together, they’d uncovered: their clay buddha wasn’t clay at all. Instead, it was a solid gold Buddha — the largest known solid gold statue in the history of the world

*********** 

The golden Buddha in this story is a metaphor for the potential that’s hidden inside each of us, and inside each of our cultures. Each of us is gold on the inside, as are our work cultures. Often, we just have to chip away at an outer layer of clay to get to the gold! 

Here’s the exciting news: it doesn’t matter how much clay stands in the way of our individual potential and the potential of our cultures: A few simple tools are all that’s required to chip away and reveal the golden potential inside. 

1. We need a flashlight (vision). The abbot and other monks used their flashlights to see through darkness and locate the gold through a crack in the clay. The flashlight represents the vision required to ignore our memory and conditioning, and instead see gold in our cultures. 

2. We need a chisel (precision). The abbot and other monks used their chisels to precisely remove the clay surrounding the golden Buddha without injuring it. The chisel represents the precision we need to improve our culture in ways that are aligned with the unique needs of our people and organization. 

3. We need a hammer (determination). The abbot and other monks used their hammers to create the force necessary to break apart the clay and reveal the gold. The hammer represents the determination required to see our culture efforts through to completion. 

When we have a flashlight, a hammer, a chisel — used by an inspired team of people excited to work with vision, precision, and determination to uncover gold, great cultures – and the great lives that accompany then – are much more likely to emerge.

Daniel Jacobs

CEO, Avanoo

Daniel Jacobs is the CEO and cofounder of Avanoo. Daniel’s work has been featured on Fortune, Inc. BusinessInsider, Apple News, HuffPo, and most major United States news publications. The Avanoo platform uses data-driven technology and evocative storytelling to help leaders sustain, scale, and drive ROI with positive culture changes in their enterprises.



An Unremarkable Private Company

 

An Unremarkable Private Company

16

July, 2019

In April of this year, MeiMei Fox wrote a beautiful article in Forbes about the company I co-founded, Avanoo. As I read it, I felt strangely exposed and out of place. It was the first time since I co-founded Avanoo in 2013 that any journalist had shared our story. 

During those years, we’ve built a thriving social enterprise that has positively impacted hundreds of thousands of people. We’ve helped tell the stories and improve the cultures of many of the world’s most notable brands. And we’ve done it all while inventing a new business category.

Yet still, few people know who we are.

In fact, recently, we were so humdrum in the eyes of one Wikipedia editor that he deleted Wikipedia’s page about Avanoo because, in his judgment, Avanoo was “an unremarkable private company.”

An unremarkable private company. 

An unremarkable private company.

An unremarkable private company. 

Ouch. 

While Wikipedia editor Sandstein got it wrong, I get it. 

To be remarkable in the eyes of Wikipedia editors, journalists, or many executives, we must be willing to share our story. And led by me as CEO, Avanoo has done an extraordinary – perhaps remarkable – job of hiding ourselves from the world. 

I’d love to tell you there’s a strategic reason we’ve kept so quiet. Some organizations stay in “stealth mode” because they are afraid of competition. Others are back-office solutions that don’t need to be seen. Neither of these reasons fits. 

Instead, the reason we’ve stayed so quiet is personal. 

I’ve been afraid to speak up. 

I’ve been afraid to share with you, others, the world… why Avanoo is so special, why our voice must be heard.

Anyone who knows me knows how counterintuitive this seems: 

I was the five-year-old who jumped onto a stage in front of 800 people during someone else’s performance and did a spontaneous breakdancing routine. I was the 21-year-old who was one of People Magazine’s Hottest Bachelors because I was unafraid of cameras.

But beneath the absurd moments of overzealous confidence has lurked a dreaded existential fear that the work I care most about in the world – work I get to lead with Avanoo – needs to be so perfect, so well developed, before we’ll ever be “ready”. 

Nothing our clients share with me about our readiness has changed that view. And our clients have been telling us we’ve been ready for years: 

“Avanoo provides powerful insights into the orientation, desires, and motivations of people that you can’t find elsewhere.” – Renee Erridge, Head of Leadership, eBay

“Miraculously, Avanoo has given a voice to the vision we’ve always had. Avanoo has been the piece of the puzzle we were missing, and a major success for our company.” – Lindsey Flores, Carlton Senior Living

“Results of Avanoo’s work with us include many millions of dollars in savings and millions of dollars more in new product and process innovations.”, Dianne Riboul, Director of HR, Amsted Rail

Avanoo helps KPMG bridge gaps and share our firm’s message with our diverse workforce, making it easy for us to connect our culture with purpose. – Melinda Xanthos, Partner, KPMG

Afraid to speak up, I’ve instead worked with our team to build Avanoo brick by brick, referral by referral, under the cover of darkness. And while we’ve grown fast enough to justify increasing venture investment, our vision is about more than growth; it’s about how we show up in the world. 

Yesterday morning, as I considered the magnitude of what it would mean to be unafraid and have Avanoo’s voice heard in the world, my 22-month-old daughter, Luna, approached me with her shoes in hand. She motioned for me to help put the shoes on her. 

I smiled and leaned down to help.

Once velcroed in, Luna grabbed my hand and walked me over to her child-sized playhouse. She then released my hand, and entered the playhouse. She stomped, howled in laughter, spun in circles, and often paused just long enough to check that I was watching.

 

I felt grateful for our little moment; but I also felt strangely sad. For I realized that if life goes according to plan, she’ll grow up, I’ll grow old, and eventually I’ll be gone. What will be left in my place for Luna will be the values I shared and the example I showed. 

I realized, as I watched Luna continue to play, that the values I hope to share are simple: I want Luna to value unconditional love, inner peace, and deep fulfillment… and to amplify those values in her life and our world however she chooses. 

The example I hope to show is equally simple: I want Luna to know that I lived a life aligned with the values I hold most dear, and in doing so I opened to my own greatest potential and helped many others do the same. 

So, Wikipedia Editor Sandstein, I’m excited to let you know:  

Today I am ready. 

Ready to stop questioning whether Avanoo is remarkable enough… ready to step out of the shadow… ready to stop wondering whether now is the right time… whether I am the right person… and whether I, or we, deserve to make the impact we are making.

I don’t know what will happen when I fully show up and allow myself and Avanoo to be fully seen. But I am ready to find out. It is the example I am committed to show for my daughter; it is the impact I am determined to make in my life.

Daniel Jacobs

CEO, Avanoo

Daniel Jacobs is the CEO and cofounder of Avanoo. Daniel’s work has been featured on Fortune, Inc. BusinessInsider, Apple News, HuffPo, and most major United States news publications. The Avanoo platform uses data-driven technology and evocative storytelling to help leaders sustain, scale, and drive ROI with positive culture changes in their enterprises.

What Leaders Say. What Employees Hear. How to Bridge That Gap.

What Leaders Say. What Employees Hear. How to Bridge That Gap.

What Leaders Say. What Employees Hear. How to Bridge That Gap.
5
MAY, 2018
Avanoo

Culture

Storytelling

When I was 12 years old, I had the opportunity to watch someone I idolized speak to a large, standing-only crowd of people. His words were mesmerizing. Everything he said felt masterful; poetry about how to create a life well-lived. 
Afterward, I was given the chance to meet that man backstage. When his eyes locked with mine, I used that opportunity to say, “That was amazing!”. He looked at me, paused, and leaned close to my ear.

“Here’s a secret, kid. I don’t believe any of what I just said,” he whispered. “But that’s not important. What’s important is that they believe. Remember that. You’ll go places.”

I remember feeling heartbroken; like everything I’d thought was real and meaningful came tumbling down. I couldn’t understand, as a 12 year old kid, how words could sound so authentic…. even though they weren’t.

I realized, in that moment, that I did not want to be like that man.

Instead, I wanted to figure out how to align my life with my values. I wanted to figure out how to be and speak and build from an authentic place that reflected what I authentically believe. I wanted to live a life of purpose and meaning.

************

I’ve often shared this story with leaders who must communicate their vision, passion, and values to hundreds or even hundreds of thousands of people… and who want those people to adopt the same vision, passion, and values as their own.

My moral when I share this story is simple: if you really want to connect with employees in an authentic and powerful way, make sure you don’t lose what you believe… when trying to find the most effective way to ensure they believe.

 

…make sure you don’t lose what you believe… when trying to find the most effective way to ensure they believe.

… because employees are smart. They know the difference between authentic and inauthentic. They know the difference between caring and pretending to care. They are starving for the former. They will leave you if you try to fool them with latter.

So the next time you are communicating to hundreds of thousands of people, to a standing room only crowd, or maybe just to a twelve year old kid who idolizes you:

Share what you believe. Open yourself to what they believe. And build a bridge of communication that deepens the connection between those beliefs. This is authenticity. This is caring. This makes great businesses!

Daniel Jacobs

Co-Founder, CEO Avanoo

Daniel Jacobs is the CEO and cofounder of Avanoo. Daniel’s work has been featured on Fortune, Inc. BusinessInsider, Apple News, HuffPo, and most major United States news publications. The Avanoo platform uses data-driven technology and evocative storytelling to help leaders sustain, scale, and drive ROI with positive culture changes in their enterprises.

When to Break the Rules

When to Break the Rules

10

May, 2019

An older hispanic woman was sobbing, and had bags strewn about at an airline ticket counter in Nevada. Worried, I approached the counter. The older woman was speaking Spanish, and the airline ticket counter attendant wasn’t understanding.
I let both know I could translate. They appeared relieved.

First, the airline employee explained that the older woman had five bags, and could not check all of those bags without paying hundreds of dollars in fees. I shared the information with the older woman, Ruth.

Ruth explained, through tears, that she’d come to the United States to bury her son, and she was returning to El Salvador. The bags contained all she had left of her child. She couldn’t pay the fees, and didn’t want to leave her dead child’s belongings behind.

My heart tugged. But I too am a passenger in an increasingly disconnected world. So I cautioned myself. Was this woman’s story real? Or was it a well honed plea for unneeded charity that had, perhaps, worked for many years and many flights?

One of Ruth’s bags was open. I peered at the items inside.

Beat up books in English – a language she didn’t speak. Crumpled, dirty, t-shirts and other clothing a young man might wear. An old blender. An old cell phone with a cracked screen. Scratched, unkempt pots. A bible…

I looked back at Ruth. “This is all I have of him,” she whispered, in Spanish. “He’s gone.”

Why are so many of our best decisions the ones few others understand at first?

My heart broke for Ruth.

I looked into her bloodshot, exhausted eyes. I saw a mother who had just buried a son; a broken, lost and bewildered mother; a mother who needed to return home with dignity and humanity; a mother who needed help.

I explained to the airline attendant that this was an important moment for her; a moment she could make a difference in someone’s life. I looked at the attendant’s permed, blank stare as I spoke. I knew the answer before her lips moved.

“I’m sorry, sir. It’s a sad story. It really is. But there’s nothing I can do. If she wants more bags, she’ll have to pay for them.”

“I’ve taken countless flights on this airline,” I responded. “I am one of your most frequent fliers. When given the chance to bend rules to help me, your colleagues have usually bent rules and helped. Please… help her.”

“That’s different,” she responded. “We can sometimes bend rules for people like…”

“No,” I replied. “You can bend rules when decency calls. You can bend rules when there is no choice but to bend rules. Now is one of those moments. Call whoever you need to call… and find a way to help.”

A blank stare. A shrug. “It’s not that simple, sir. There’s nothing we can do.”

I was angry. But I also knew my anger wasn’t as important as Ruth, who needed help. 

My wife, Nathalie, and our months old daughter, Luna, were traveling with me. For 45 minutes or so, Nathalie and I helped Ruth repack her bags. We reduced five bags to three, and reorganized a few times when we were over the weight limit by a few pounds.

I gave the attendant my credit card to pay for the additional bags. Ruth insisted on reimbursing me what she could of that amount. Then Ruth walked together with me, Nathalie, and Luna, through security and toward our gates.

On the other side of security, we talked a little longer. Ruth’s story was hard, sad. She had experienced horrific tragedy; she had buried both of her sons. We talked about how to use tragedy to grow… and to help others grow.

We hugged a few times. Then Nathalie, Luna, and I boarded our plane, and Ruth boarded hers.

*****

I’ve thought a lot about this experience. What bothers me most is that in the name of rules (however well intentioned they may be), this attendant felt emboldened to not care about another person; she felt emboldened to forget her own humanity.

I am the CEO of an organization. I think often about what it means to do the right thing. I seek, always, to hire employees who are willing to do the right thing – even if it means breaking rules or standards I’ve put in place. Here’s why:

We live in a big world. We are billions of people. But we also live in a small world. We are family. Together, we must realize that our first obligation is to each other, as family. If we don’t heed that obligation, nothing else matters…

… for we will have abandoned the one asset that makes us unique in the world: our humanity. Without it, we are, in the truest sense, nobody. Without it, we are just attendants who follow rules, even when the consequence is losing ourselves.

We are so much better than that.

We are so much more.

Let’s do better. And let’s do more.

Daniel Jacobs

Co-Founder & CEO, Avanoo

Daniel Jacobs is the CEO and cofounder of Avanoo. Daniel’s work has been featured on Fortune, Inc. BusinessInsider, Apple News, HuffPo, and most major news publications in the United States. His company, Avanoo, uses storytelling, micro-learning, and cutting-edge technology to help many of the world’s most prominent brands drive desired change, performance, and engagement at scale and in just three minutes a day.

Why Our Best Decisions Often Look Bad

Why Our Best Decisions Often Appear Bad 

26

JUNE, 2018

Avanoo

Newsletter

A few days ago, I was sitting with the CEO of a medium-sized manufacturing company talking through our 2018 strategic roadmap, when he asked an interesting question, “Why have so many of my best decisions been the ones few others understand at first?” 

I smiled, and reflected on his question for myself. Memories flooded in:

As a child, I was prohibited from playing organized sports. My father believed any distraction from academics would harm my college chances. I started living on my own at 14, and decided I wanted to wrestle. Three years later, I skipped my senior year of high school to attend the #1-ranked academic college in the U.S… because I was good at wrestling. 

When I was 28 years old, I turned down a million-dollar-a-year consulting offer to do writing and volunteer work in South and Central America. Friends and family believed I’d lost my mind. Four people even referred me to their therapists. Three years later, from Peru, I co-founded Avanoo. Today, those people tell me they never had a doubt.

Last year, my wife and I sat in a doctor’s office, and were told – after too many losses – that we shouldn’t try to get pregnant anymore. Due to a one-in-millions chromosomal abnormality I’d inherited, the odds were near-impossible. My wife didn’t agree. On September 2, 2017 our daughter Luna Bela Jacobs was born.

Why are so many of our best decisions  the ones few others understand at first?

I thought about the person in front of me – a genuinely good man. I’ve worked with him for years, and I know his spirit. He wants to make a difference in his employees’ lives. But sometimes it’s difficult for him… because making a difference often means taking risks.

“Would you mind if I share with you as a person rather than as an expert?” I asked.

“That’s what I want,” he said. “I want to know what you think.”

“When we believe so much in something that we’re willing to live with a father’s disappointment, or a friend group disappearing, or an expert smirking at our naivete… then we are willing to do what it takes to beat the odds. And I’d take will over odds any day!”

The CEO smiled and nodded. “I agree,” he said. Then we continued our planning.

 

Daniel Jacobs

Co-Founder, CEO Avanoo

He has devoted his adult life to social and philanthropic endeavors that have large-scale impact. Before Avanoo, he built philanthropic technologies that have served millions of people, and built successful entertainment and financial organizations. Additionally, he has received a number of accolades that make for endless nights of interesting stories. For instance, he’s a 3x US wrestling national champion, and he was once called one of People Magazine’s 50 Hottest Bachelors.

The Gift of Difficult People

The Gift of Difficult People

The Gift of Difficult People
5

MAY, 2018

Avanoo

Culture

Storytelling

Three years ago, my company, Avanoo, was still in its infancy. We were four people and not much more than a vision and a team crazy enough to believe we could achieve it. Somehow, we’d just closed a deal with a large, well-known consumer brand.
Making that deal was an amazing moment in Avanoo’s history, and also in my own life. At the time, my new wife and I were AirBnBing our place on the weekends while sleeping in a friend’s attic just to pay rent. This would be our second paying client!

We were excited to show our value, and we went straight to work. On the day we deployed our product to the company’s employees, we celebrated what we believed was a flawless launch. But a few hours later, I received a phone call from the CEO:

“What the f*** is your problem!” he screamed.

I was floored. No one had ever spoken to me like that in a business context. But he was just getting started. More expletives flew from the man’s mouth. He berated me, my company, my family, and more.

I was shaken, and wanted to fight back. Instead, I closed my eyes, took deep breaths, and reminded myself that the man was in pain, and that I could be a support.  Finally, he calmed enough for me to ask a few questions and learn about the problem:

He hadn’t received the welcome email giving him access to our product, and the rest of the executive team was already enthusiastically talking about it. He felt that he looked like an idiot in front of his team, and he blamed us for failing him.

As he spoke, I quickly identified how the error occurred: one of his employees had misspelled his email address in a form entry. Avanoo hadn’t done anything wrong! But I bit my tongue – fearing for that employee’s job… or maybe her life.

Instead, I profusely apologized to the CEO and helped him fix the problem. Before we got off the phone, he reminded me that I’d “really f***ed up” and that I didn’t know how to run a business.

I wiped sweat from my forehead, and called my business partner and cofounder, Prosper. I shared with him the call I’d had, and let him know that I didn’t want to keep the client. “We have standards,” I said. “Nobody should be allowed to treat us this way.”

He laughed. “When we have two thousand clients you can believe that, Daniel. Right now we have two. So shut up and make the guy happy.”

I closed my eyes, took deep breaths, and reminded myself that the man was in pain, and that I could be a support.
I took a breath… and took his advice. In my mother’s words, “beggars can’t be choosers.” We had a vision; we wanted to make the world a better place. So I needed to value and even look forward to working with difficult people; that would be a part of our path.

That day, I pledged to become an expert in working with difficult people – which has really meant becoming a better person myself. I’ve learned to listen deeper, understand it’s never personal,  apologize when needed, and love finding resolutions to hard situations.

As I’ve learned, Avanoo has grown to support many of the world’s top brands – some have amazing cultures and some are ready to create them. While nobody called me a four letter word since that blustery day three years ago, people have been difficult for many reasons.

And my first instinct, today, is never to run or think I’m too good for anyone.  Instead, it’s to figure out what I can learn… how I can be better.. and how I can serve. For me, that’s made all the difference.

-Daniel

Daniel Jacobs

Co-Founder, CEO Avanoo

He has devoted his adult life to social and philanthropic endeavors that have large-scale impact. Before Avanoo, he built philanthropic technologies that have served millions of people, and built successful entertainment and financial organizations. Additionally, he has received a number of accolades that make for endless nights of interesting stories. For instance, he’s a 3x US wrestling national champion, and he was once called one of People Magazine’s 50 Hottest Bachelors.

The Answer to Evil Preschoolers and Business People

The Answer to Evil Preschoolers and Business People

The Answer to Evil Preschoolers and Business People

22

APRIL, 2018

Avanoo

Culture

Storytelling

A few days ago, I spoke with the CEO of a medium-sized company who shared with me a [confidential] story about a group of unethical people who he felt were trying to ruin him and his company. He was distraught, and he asked for my advice.

The first thought that came to mind was a story from my childhood. It felt awkward sharing it with a person dealing with very adult matters. But afterward he let me know it was exactly the story he needed to hear, and he suggested I share it with others. So…

 

When I was thirteen years old, I often picked up my younger sister, Becky, from preschool. One day, I arrived to see her eyes full of tears. I asked what was wrong. She was so emotional that all she could do was puff out her lips. 

I found a teacher, and asked what happened. The teacher explained that a boy had been picking on Becky. The teachers separated the boy, but instead of harassing my sister directly, he spread a false rumor that she’d pooped in her pants.

I felt my own heart race, as the teacher continued explaining that Becky’s friends then refused to touch and play with her because they said she was “dirty”. I tightened my fist and asked if the boy was still around. Fortunately, he wasn’t.

I took my sister’s hand and invited her to ice cream. As we walked to the ice cream parlour, I fumed inside… but chose to share funny knock-knock jokes so Becky’s tears could dry. I wanted her to know her brother would always be there for her.

When we got to the ice cream shop, I told Becky to order whatever she wanted. She asked for a banana split. As she sat and began to eat, I relaxed…. because I saw my sister feeling better; I saw her smile even.

Eventually, I asked what had bothered her most. Even though she was just four years old, I knew my sister to be stronger than most adults. She didn’t often cry, and she usually wasn’t so concerned about what others thought.

“I didn’t poop in my pants,” she explained. “But one stupid boy lied… and everyone believed him. Or if they didn’t believe him, they also didn’t believe me. Now I have no friends.”

Again, tears formed in her eyes. It was heartbreaking. I could feel Becky’s pain. I felt I knew that pain in my life too. So I decided it was time to teach one preschool boy a lesson he’d never forget. “Here’s what I say we should do to him…” I began.

 

“If you instead feel good and help others feel good, you win. It’s always a choice.”

But in that moment, an old woman interrupted me, pulling up a chair next to us. She had brown eyes and many wrinkles. She looked at my sister and spoke:

“I couldn’t help but overhear your story,” she said, with sympathy in her voice. “Do you mind if I share some advice?”

My sister looked up at the woman and nodded. The woman brushed a piece of hair out of Becky’s eyes, and said:

“That boy wants to make you feel bad. If you feel bad, he wins. If you instead feel good and help others feel good, you win. It’s always a choice. And there’s always a winner.”

The old woman smiled, gave my sister a hug, stood slowly, and then left. Becky looked at me. Her face opened up with a huge smile. She said, “Thank you for the ice cream. I feel good now. And I win.”

Or do we choose to win by transforming that pain into learning, growth, and strength?

That old woman’s wisdom has stayed with me a long time: Regardless of where we are in our lives, there are people who want to take us down. Sometimes they are competitors, sometimes current or former colleagues, sometimes that kid in preschool… 

But just as “evil” business people and “evil” preschoolers will always exist… so will we always get to choose how we react to them. Do we let them win by making their pain our own? Or do we choose to win by transforming that pain into learning, growth, and strength?

It’s never easy to make wise choices. But when we choose to win and transform pain into learning, growth, and strength… we aren’t just improving our lives, we’re improving the lives of people we care about, and people we wish to teach.

 

-Daniel

Daniel Jacobs

Co-Founder, CEO Avanoo

He has devoted his adult life to social and philanthropic endeavors that have large-scale impact. Before Avanoo, he built philanthropic technologies that have served millions of people, and built successful entertainment and financial organizations. Additionally, he has received a number of accolades that make for endless nights of interesting stories. For instance, he’s a 3x US wrestling national champion, and he was once called one of People Magazine’s 50 Hottest Bachelors.

Are Your Employees Engaged?

Are Your Employees Engaged?

Are Your Employees Engaged?

21

MARCH, 2018

Avanoo

Culture

Storytelling

Earlier this year, polling company Gallup released their State of the American Workplace Report for 2017. They begin with a bombshell:

The American workforce has more than 100 million full-time employees. One-third of those employees are what Gallup calls engaged at work. They love their jobs and make their organization and America better every day. At the other end, 16% of employees are actively disengaged — they are miserable in the workplace and destroy what the most engaged employees build. The remaining 51% of employees are not engaged — they’re just there.

 

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Let’s pause and look at those numbers:

One-third of American employees, or 33 percent, are engaged at work: These are your star performers, people who are excited to come to work, and who fully embody the spirit of your organization. They’re the ones who have your organization’s values in their heart.  These employees are a great investment for your company, because they’ll take all the training, coaching and personal development you give them and pour it back into achieving.

16% of American employees are actively disengaged at work: Chances are you already know who these people are on your team. They’re the negativity in the office, people who seek to bring down those around them and who complain without offering solutions. Disengaged employees can often be extremely talented but they’re not being used in a way that activates their excitement for their job, or their organization.

But even worse than the 16% of employees who are disengaged are the more than half of employees who really don’t care one way or another. 51% of people who are just showing up and going through the motions. They’re not destructive forces but neither are they positive ones. In fact, what they are is untapped potential.

“These are your star performers, people who are excited to come to work, and who fully embody the spirit of your organization.”
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Photograph by Andrew Sharples via Unsplash

Activate Potential

The good news is that people WANT to be engaged. People want to love their jobs. They want to be happy and fulfilled. They want the deep connection that makes coming to work a joy.

Take a look around today at your team and remember those numbers. Who are your engaged employees that make coming to work a joy? Who are your disengaged employees that need encouragement or a shift in mindset?  And who are those untapped resources, just waiting for you to give them the lift they need?

Make Business Problems Your Secret Weapon for Growth

Make Business Problems Your Secret Weapon for Growth

Make Business Problems Your Secret Weapon for Growth

21

JANUARY, 2017

Avanoo

Culture

Storytelling

By mid-2014, Avanoo had been around for a year. We had a product people loved, but we barely had enough money to pay for rent and ramen, and our highest paying client allocated more of their budget to Kleenex than they did to Avanoo.

Cofounder Prosper Nwankpa and I expected more from ourselves. We had huge plans for making a difference. But after a year of hard work, all we saw for sure was more 100-hour work weeks and pain.

After much analysis, Prosper and I concluded that our lack of growth was clearly the other person’s fault. While we shared the same vision of wanting to help others grow, we had different ideas about how to get there.

I believed the path was continuing to support world-renowned business and behavior experts in selling Avanoo. We’d made over 200 such partnerships, they loved Avanoo, they brought in 95% of our revenue, and there was so much more we could do.

Prosper believed the path was to stop asking experts to sell Avanoo, and to instead create an inside sales team. He figured it would help us better understand our sales process, predict our revenue, and grow more efficiently.

We were at an impasse. Although our expertise centered around helping others get through moments like this one, we couldn’t apply it to ourselves. Instead, we sought to convince each other with logic, hand gestures, increased volume levels…

Still, neither of us were willing to budge.

Holy Elephant

Photograph by Hidde Rensink via Unsplash

We were so entrenched in our beliefs about what was best, that we couldn’t hear each other. As a result, our business and vision was in danger, as was our sixteen-year friendship.

Finally, a long-time friend and mentor (now board member), Brooks Fisher, invited Prosper and me to his house for the weekend. Brooks was Chief Learning Officer at Intuit, a multi-billion dollar software company.

Prosper and I believed the invitation was to clear up who was right. But after we settled in, Brooks communicated a different plan: “Let’s imagine we solve your big problem this weekend. What do you think will happen?”

I knew the answer. So I blurted it out: “Life will be peaceful again, better, easier. We’ll be able to support and honor each other again!”

He laughed. “Sounds nice,” he said, “but not even close.”

Prosper and I looked at each other, then leaned toward Brooks.

“When you resolve this problem,” Brooks continued. “You will find a bigger business problem. Growth always invites bigger problems.”

“So what’s your point?” Prosper asked.

“The point is, you two get to choose how to use this moment. Either you can use it to strengthen your relationship to help you grow and solve bigger problems, or you can use it to tear each other down and make solving bigger problems impossible.”

“Let’s imagine we solve your big problem this weekend. What do you think will happen?”
Years later, Prosper still calls this “our holy elephant moment”.

For months, I had believed I was arguing with Prosper to protect our organization and make the best decision. In that moment, I realized that instead of protecting Avanoo, I’d been hurting us by destroying our ability to make future big decisions with my insistence on being heard and being right.

The rest of that weekend, I worked from a new perspective: I imagined that this hairy business problem was really our secret weapon for growth!  – all we had to do was use it to strengthen our relationship and decision-making capacity to solve even bigger problems in the future!

So instead of arguing, I listened a lot to Prosper and Brooks. Eventually, I agreed to put my heart into building an inside sales force for Avanoo. It wasn’t my idea, but it was the best idea for helping grow our vision and organization.

Photo by Geetanjal Khanna on Unsplash
A few years later, we’ve doubled numerous times, and we work with top organizations all over the world. I believe it’s because we learned to get excited about using even the hardest business problems to grow as people and as a business. We love this stuff: we love to practice it, we love to teach it, and it pumps me up just to share this story with you!