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“Success Will Be Your Greatest Obstacle”: The Best Sound Bites From Inc. 500/5000

With all due respect to Barbara Walters, the next time she’s putting together her ‘Most Fascinating People’ list, she might want to consult the list of keynote speakers for the most recent Inc. 500/5000 Conference.

The annual event, which honors the fastest-growing businesses in America, also features some of today’s most intelligent, interesting and charismatic thought leaders.

(Not that the Kardashian family isn’t fascinating…I’m just saying it’s possible what these speakers are doing right now is slightly more interesting than, say, creating a new line of leopard-print thongs for their DASH clothing boutique. Maybe.)

Because CareerBuilder is a proud sponsor of the event (slash big supporter of small businesses in general), I had the pleasure of attending the event myself, and I wanted to share some of the best lines from these keynotes – and the lessons they hold for all of us…

From Simon Sinek (author of ‘Start With Why’ and frequent TED presenter):

  • “When there’s an outside threat, the stronger, more confident one is more likely to stand up to the threat…but they’re also more likely to die first. That’s the cost of leadership: the willingness to put yourself out there so that others may survive.”
  • “Your people don’t care about your product – they care about you. And they want to know that you care about them.”
  • “Success will become the greatest obstacle, because as you become more successful, you forget what it was that originally made you successful.”
  • “Your company exists not to make money; it exists to advance something. Money is simply a metric that you’re making progress.”

From Captain Mark Kelly (retired U.S. astronaut – no big deal, right? – and co-author of Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope):

  • “There’s never any excuse for not effectively communicating with the people you work with.”
  • “We have a saying at NASA: ‘None of us is as dumb as all of us.’ Meaning that, sometimes a group of people could be tasked to make a decision as a team, and you end up making a decision that no one on that team would have made on their own.”
  • “I don’t like yes-men or yes-women. I tell my team members, ‘You are required to question my decisions. If you think I should do something differently, you are required to speak up.’”
  • “I like people who can anticipate well. Someone who can look ahead and see, ‘What’s the next worse thing that can happen? What’s going to affect our safety?’ There’s a certain type of person who can do that. Those are great skills to have in your people.”

From Chip and Dan Heath (authors of ‘Switch’ and ‘Made to Stick’; not to be confused with Chip and Dale, the Rescue Rangers):

  • “Decisions in life are a lot like driving. It’s the turns that determine where you end up.”
  •  “We tend to unduly narrow the way we think about our problems. We need to widen our options when it comes to decision making.”
  • “We gravitate toward information that supports our beliefs; we must develop a discipline to ‘reality-test’ our assumptions.”
  • “We’re often distracted by the ‘now’ and don’t think about the long term [effects of our decisions]. We need to add some distance to our decision-making – both intellectual and emotional.”
  • “After we make a decision, we make our best guess as to how the future will unfold. We need to prepare ourselves for what could go wrong; we need the humility to prepare to be wrong.”

From Guy Kawasaki (author of ‘Enchantment’, Twitter superstar and my bestie):

  • “The core of enchantment should be likeability, trustworthiness and quality. Invoke reciprocation. Enable them to pay you back. Customize the introduction.
  •  “When you meet people, think, ‘How can I help this person?’ not ‘How can this person help me?’ if you’re worried that people will take advantage of you, that actually happens very seldom. The upside of this far outweighs the downside.”
  • “Perfect your product or service. It’s a lot easier to enchant people with great stuff than with crap.”
  • “Be trustworthy. Just because you’re likeable doesn’t mean you’re trustworthy. People can like Charlie Sheen, but they shouldn’t necessarily trust him.”
  • “The world is made up of two types of people: Bakers and eaters. Eaters see world as a zero-sum being. They feel the need to eat as much and as often as they can. Bakers see that there’s always an opportunity to bake more. Bake; don’t eat.”
  • “Deliver bad news early. The faster you deliver bad news, the better. That way, you’ll have more chance to fix it.”

From Bert Jacobs (co-founder of Life is good Company/eternal optimist):

  • “We should think and act like kids more. As a kid, you see nothing but opportunity. As we get older, we start focusing on obstacles instead of opportunities.”
  • “Optimism is the most powerful thing you have to grow your business and have a happy, healthy life.”
  • “Authenticity is so important. If customers see authentic behavior, they will build your business for you.”
  • “You can’t figure everything out with data, and you can’t figure out everything with your heads. With our businesses and our lives, we have to operate sometimes based on our heart.”

I know there’s a lot I’m probably leaving out here, so please help me fill in the blanks and submit your own favorite moments from the 2012 Inc. 500/5000 Conference below.

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.


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