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In this episode of the Zinnov Podcast – Business Resilience series, Rick Crandall, a technology stalwart and author of the book, ‘The Dog Who Took Me Up A Mountain,’ talks about why the leadership model of passion with purpose is key for effective leadership. Rick, after a stellar career in technology, found an unlikely partner in a dog who made him discover a new passion for mountaineering and gave him a renewed sense of purpose. At the age of 64, he started pursuing something that most thought was impossible – he scaled all 58 of 14,000 ft mountains in the Rockies. Rick shares with us his experiences – both business and mountaineering – and explores how ‘WILL’ trumps ‘SKILL,’ how partnerships are important, and how any problem, however complex, is not insurmountable if one has passion and purpose. This is especially relevant in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous business environment, where organizations and leaders are striving to stay ahead and keep their eye on the metaphorical summit.
Nitika: Hi everyone, welcome to another episode of the Zinnov podcast. This is our business resilience series, and I am Nitika Goel, CMO of Zinnov, and your host for today. I have with me Rick Crandall, a highly distinguished individual who dons many hats – Chairman of Donnelly Financial; Executive Chairman Pelstar; Chairman – Cyber Committee of the National Cybersecurity Center; and Author of the book ‘The Dog Who Took Me Up A Mountain.’ Rick was named one of the five leading pioneers of the computer industry and has received the Outstanding Entrepreneur Award from the University of Michigan Business School, and the Harvard Business School alumni groups. After achieving so much in a stellar career, he found himself again in his 60s when he was close to retirement. Rick took up mountaineering and has received awards for climbing, all 58 of over 14,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, which he started in his mid-60s. He’s here with us today to talk about what it takes to find passion with a purpose for people like you and me. Welcome Rick, it’s great to have you here today.
Rick: Well, it’s a pleasure being with you and with everyone listening.
Nitika: Great, thank you. Rick so just diving right in. How important is it for leaders to find passion in the work that they do? And how do they enkindle this passion, especially within themselves?
Rick: Leadership, the way I define it, it’s very critical to have a passion for your vision and the mission. Because passion is infectious. And what I mean by that is, it brings other people along and as you form a team, they want to know that they’re part of something that deserves the passion of their leader. There are other styles of management, for example, leading by fear, leading with money, sort of appealing to greed. But you get different kinds of behaviors. When you lead with a vision that inspires and a vision that the leader himself/herself has a passion for, that is how you get the best creativity, the best energy from the team, and the employees working with you and for you. It gives them a sense of accomplishment as some of that vision starts to become a reality.
Nitika: That’s a very interesting point. So one of the biggest things, when you talk about vision and reality, is the challenges that you have in breaking it down into smaller pieces. So I think from what I’ve heard, and what we’ve experienced as we consult with different organizations, is how do leaders even begin to prioritize these different pieces?
Rick: Well, that question is, I think, at the core of problem-solving. Often a problem looks too big to accomplish. In the mountain climbing metaphor, if you’re standing at the base of a mountain, and you’re looking up to the summit, you feel like I can’t possibly get up there, it’s just way too far up and way too difficult. But what mountaineers do and what I do is, in that case, is break it down into segments. In technical terms, that might be called pitches, that is to say, each pitch might be 100 feet or a couple of hundred feet, and each one has its challenges, and you solve for each one of those pieces. Each one of which looks more approachable, than getting from the bottom, all the way up to the summit. In a business sense, this is an approach to problem-solving, almost all the time. You may have a new product introduction for example, and it looks like if you’re starting from scratch and you haven’t even done all the development yet. And then there’s a marketing issue, there’s, how do you get the first customer, how do you get the product introduced to the market – this looks like a very big challenge if you look at it all in one piece. But if you break it down into the components, like I’ve got to develop enough product, so that I can then find my first customer. Usually in a new product introduction finding a first customer is one of the toughest things to do. Because if it’s a brand new product then it’s a game-changing kind of product. You’ve got to find an early adopter type customer who’s willing to take the risk, but the reward for them is that they’ve done something before others have done it. And you know beyond that you’re developing a marketing plan there are all kinds of pieces. When you go after each piece, there’s a couple of benefits to that – first, as I mentioned, each piece feels more approachable and more accomplishable than the whole. The other is though if you’ve got a team, you can take pieces and delegate to different members of the team, and thereby use the full power of the team. So you don’t have to do everything yourself. In mountain climbing, you kind of do have to do everything yourself, but in a business sort of a challenge, you have a team and you can exercise delegation.
Nitika: I think that’s a great point and I love the analogy, but Rick, how do you prioritize what to delegate? And how do you ensure the little pitches that you’re taking, you still don’t lose focus on the price which is the summit?
Rick: Prioritizing is partly individual how people go about their challenges. In my case, I usually pick the toughest thing first. So for example, and what I was using a new product introduction, in my view, the toughest thing to accomplish is getting that first customer. And so, how do you prioritize when you go back into the development phase you determine what are the least number of features that you need to develop first so that you now have something that you can go and at least have a bit of deliverable to this first client that you’re trying to get. There’s a lot more to develop there’s a lot more to do in the future, but you’re going for that core. You know, we have a phrase, the dogs have to eat the dog food. If you can’t get a customer to take your product, even in a most basic phase, that’s got at least one deliverable, then you’re going to lose focus on where you’re going to go you’re going to wind up developing a product that goes in a direction that the marketplace is not going to accept. So the real issue is you got to identify what’s the critical success factor in a project. And how do I get to validating that critical success factor first and do the minimum amount of other stuff, so that you get, that’s where your focus is and that’s how you pick your priority. And that’s how you don’t lose focus because you know if I’m not doing something that’s going to get that first customer, as in this example, then I’ve lost focus, and I’ve got to refocus.
Nitika: And I love the dog analogy and keeping that in mind I also had the opportunity to read your book, and in your book, you talk about Emme who’s your partner in your mountain climbing adventures. So in the face of new challenges, how important is it to find the right partners and if I have to bring this into a business context, how do you fortify your business by forming meaningful collaborations?
Rick: I am a strong believer in team. In any endeavor, whether you’re in an adventure doing something brand new, or whether you’ve been dropped into a turnaround situation where a business is in deep trouble. And it could be a personal situation as well. A team is the most important thing to pay first attention to. I am a firm believer that the best team will take a mess, and make it a success, and a bad team will take a success and make a mess of it. So, team is the first thing that needs to be built. And you’ve got to go after the best team members for it. You know, if I translate over to mountain climbing. You mentioned that I started climbing these very high mountains in my mid-60s. That’s not exactly the best age to start something that’s not only that adventurous but that physical. In my case, I needed to find partners who were willing to go at my slower speed, enjoy the experience, and help me with some of the skills that I needed. The humorous thing about the book that you mentioned and it’s well described in there, is that my first team member was a 20-pound dog with short legs an Australian terrier. But this dog had a will that was so strong that she wanted to go up and up and up at all times that she brought me along. In a sense, initially, I was her team member. But then I turned it around because I needed some humans to go along with me, and they became my team and the priorities that I set was that they had the skills, but they had the desire to help this older guy up the highest mountains, and they got infected with that passion.
Nitika: Wow. That is a fantastic story. So how do people figure out how to find their Emmes, or how do they find the right partner?
Rick: Well, I’ll give you an example there is a company that was spun out of another company that needed a board of directors because it was going to be public on the New York Stock Exchange. And so I had one of the most fun business experiences. By thinking through what should the board look like, because I wasn’t given any, and I decided there were several dimensions to take a look at. One is the skills dimension. This was a company that was transforming from being a printing company into a digital company, a software company. So I knew I needed skills in the technology world, in addition to my own. There was going to be marketing needs so that I needed someone with marketing skill. This is in the area of serving companies responding to government regulations, so someone with government regulation experience. In other words, a skill set of dimensions to look at what ought to be on this board of directors. But then I went beyond that because there was a diversity dimension. There was a dimension having to do with having been through, or understanding how to go through a transformation to digital because that’s a relatively newer thing that most companies are now needing to face. So, if you look at the different dimensions of what is needed, you develop a profile for what your team needs to be. And once you have that profile, you then take each piece that would apply to a type of individual, and you go for it. In the case of a board of directors, usually, you get the help of a director recruiting firm. In the case of individual pursuit, you’re reaching out through a friend network to see who are the ones that meet the skills and the desire, and the ability to accomplish what it is you’re trying to do.
Nitika:I think that’s really interesting perspectives and I think you talked about a very interesting angle here which is skills. Now, if you think about the mountain climbing analogy, getting to the summit, especially when you’re in your mid-60s, it’s a question of will. So when you’re looking at, passion, and obviously a passion with a purpose, how do you really look at the balance between will and skill? And for our listeners, in today’s current scenario where there are so many unknowns, pretty much like a mountain, how do you wind up balancing these two components out?
Rick: Well, obviously any challenge needs both the will and the skill. But in my view, the will is even more important than the skill. In the mountain climbing metaphor, if you speak with any mountaineer, they will tell you that on a tough mountain, there are several times on the climb, their mind starts questioning themselves – “Can I really do this?” “Am I out of energy?” “Do I know how to get from this point to the next point?” And if you can’t get your mind trained to assume that you can get there and what it takes is a complete commitment to do it, then you’re going to wind up turning around. The same thing is true in a business setting. And this is another element of leadership, which is a leader needs to inspire confidence in the team, that he or she knows how to get to the endpoint. Even if he or she really doesn’t know. It still needs to be communicated that there is total confidence. I do know how to get there the strategic plan is going to work. If there are a few places it needs to be tweaked, we’ll tweak it, but we are going forward. And that commitment to the end goal is critical, and it’s more important than any set of skills that are put together because otherwise there are challenges that get thrown at any significant project. And people will turn around without that total commitment to the future and that’s what the word will really means.
Nitika: I think you’ve left us with a great amount of information, Rick, I think, a few things that I personally learned and I’m sure that our listeners will also understand from this is Will always trump’s skill. There needs to be consistency there needs to be a commitment, and you need to keep your eye on the prize but to make sure that you get to the endpoint, you need to be able to break down the problems into smaller portions, each of them having their own set of challenges to get to the next goal, and at the same time find committed and complementary partners who will help you get to the point that you need. So with that, thank you so much for your time Rick, and I would recommend that all of you grab a copy of his book, The dog took me up a mountain. Thank you so much again for your time. It was very valuable.
Rick: Right. You did a wonderful job of summarizing. The book is on Amazon. I hope you enjoy it, and thanks so much for our discussion today.
Nitika: Thank you so much.
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