These are the major things I’ve learned this year, in no particular order…
Five people who buy into your mission are better than a hundred people who don’t. This applies to clients, to personnel you’re hiring, to partners you’re going into business with, to allies you’re bringing in to a project. There is strength in numbers but there is also weakness. It’s not worth our time to get involved with people who don’t get it, and to put ourselves in a position where we must re-convince the same people of the same things over and over again. Work with the people who get it, and more will get done.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Self-explanatory, but I’ll just add that there were things I’ve asked for this year from various people that I didn’t get, but it’s funny…I can’t point to any particular objections that have stung me. The things I did ask for and got were worth it.
It’s easier to ask for things on someone else’s behalf. I find that I’m much more brazen and willing to take a chance when I am fighting for something to give to someone else. Especially if it’s for family or close friends. All hesitancy falls away.
React slowly. I ran into a few situations where I heard something and then caught myself before pulling the trigger on whatever my reaction was going to be. Maybe it’s a misunderstanding, I told myself, or maybe I don’t have the complete story yet. I can’t remember many situations that occurred this year where I’d say to myself now “You should’ve reacted quicker.” I can remember plenty of episodes from this year where I’m saying now “Thank god you took a breath first, that wouldn’t have been good.”
Put a dollar value on your time and say no to most offers, requests and invitations. This is a perennial lesson that I seem to keep forgetting and then relearning. It’s the sort of thing that isn’t relearned until the moment of clarity, when you’re on the way to go do something that you wish you hadn’t said yes to, or when you’re in the midst of a project that makes no sense.
…but say yes when the big picture beckons. There are things you do solely because if you do them, they have the potential to lead to much more. Grab a coffee, attend an event, moderate a panel, give a speech, appear on a podcast, write a guest column, appear on a TV show. They do nothing for you today but you have vision. It’s a judgment call every time. You’ll misjudge occasionally. Not every risk taken looks smart in hindsight, but you can’t know for sure in advance. The best you can do is try to get better at this.
The time is now. My partners and I started the year determined to push the limits. We signed a ten-year office real estate lease on Bryant Park after four years of non-committal subleasing. We opened an office with four people in Chicago. Another in Southern California. Another in New Orleans. We went and visited. We brought on Tadas to be the director of investor education for our clients. We threw a massive investment conference in Orange County and loaded it with amazing speakers. We could have waited, but the time is now. Knowing that the time is now and pushing the limits doesn’t come without a cost. It’s scary. It’s uncertain. It’s time and resource consuming. But the alternative is looking back and saying “We could have, but…”
Never fight when you have everything to lose, little to gain and your antagonist has nothing at stake at all. You’ll encounter this sort of crossroads on social media every day if you’re influential or in the public eye. There will be people who dislike your opinions and people who just dislike you personally. But they don’t know you – the real you – so the truth is that they are either jealous or they’re just mad at themselves. There’s no upside in engaging these people. You can’t win and they can’t lose. But you’re already winning in real life, so who cares?
Never stop experimenting. We added a data analytics manager this year, which is rare for a wealth management firm. It’s paying off in spades. We launched a YouTube channel this year, it’s accumulated a million minutes in watch time since the spring, almost four thousand subscribers and over 189,000 views of our videos. The same videos we’ve posted there have racked up even bigger numbers on Facebook and LinkedIn. We didn’t know there would be an audience for us, now we do. This winter we began our first Alexa skill, a simple flash briefing hosted by myself, Tadas and Blair seven days a week, getting across our message and a market update in under 2 minutes. We didn’t know anything but were willing to try. The number of smart speaker users in America is growing at a compound annual rate of 48%. In 2016, there were 16 million people with an Amazon Echo in their home and by 2020 that number will be more like 76 million. We’ll be there too. Never stop trying new things.
Watch how your heroes conduct themselves and pattern your behavior after them. In my industry – the registered investment advisory world – all of the people I admire abstain from debating their investment process on the Internet. They say what they think, in public, on websites and in the media, and they let their success speak for itself. Ric Edelman, Ken Fisher, Joe Duran and Ron Carson are the four most successful RIA founders in America. You will find zero instances where they’ve carried on a Twitter debate about their portfolios, business models, fee schedules, client service standards or other aspects of their respective businesses. All of them have raised and managed double-digit billions of dollars for tens of thousands of households over decades. None of them give a shit what the peanut gallery thinks because their clients are happy and their employees are successful, their firms are well capitalized and they spend their days executing, with an eye toward the future. That’s who I want to be when I grow up (someday).
What did you learn this year? Tell me here.