Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons from the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons

Image of Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons from the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons
Release Date: 
March 15, 2013
Harper Business
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“When you can laugh at ‘no’ and look at each setback as a source of instruction, then you’ll know you’ve become one of the lucky people destined to become Business Brilliant.”

Is it true that being brilliant at business has little to do with IQ or education? Does that explain why Richard Branson became a billionaire even though he is dyslexic and can’t read a financial spreadsheet? And why a high-school educated circus clown crafted the most impressive show of our time—Cirque du Soleil?

In his book Business Brilliant Lewis Schiff busts the commonly held myths around achieving success in business.

Mr. Schiff offers an interesting look at some of the most notable cases of successes and failures in the business world and backs it up with the extensive research he calls the Business Brilliant survey that was conducted among self-made millionaires.

He then compares the answers to those of the middle-class respondents and draws amazing comparisons between the beliefs of the two groups. Below are some of the tips Mr. Schiff offers us.

Secure ownership stake in your work. Most of us want to do what we love, and we want to be autonomous in executing on our visions, creativity, and goals. But Business Brilliant people do that and they make the money in the process. To do that, you have to make choices most people are too afraid to make and ask for things most people are afraid to ask for (such as asking for the salary you deserve, securing a controlling stake in your venture, signing the partnership contracts that secure your position of leverage, etc.)

What’s preventing us from making more money is fear, most of the time fear to ask. As a matter of fact, the author notes that of all the strategies you’ll find in the book, asking is the most powerful.

Imitate, don’t innovate. The author argues that the vast majority of startups are not innovative in the least. Instead, he says, the most successful companies provide the exceptional execution of an ordinary idea vs. having an original big idea to build their business upon.

Lots of self-made millionaires cite the importance of doing something well over doing something new. “You are more likely to make headlines with a big new idea, but you’re more likely to succeed without one,” says Mr. Schiff.

As a matter of fact, successful startup entrepreneurs are imitators working from their areas of expertise, borrowing what they learned from their former employers and perfecting on that knowledge.

Bill Gates, for example, is known for going out and methodically searching for good ideas to steal and execute with more perfection and that made him very successful.

Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, does a lot of “field work” himself. He once persuaded the local owner of McDonald’s to give him a tour behind the counter so he might pick up tips about efficient workspace design. “In retail there are few secrets,” he says. “Ninety percent of what we do . . . is obvious.”

Know-how is good, know-who is better. Smart entrepreneurs know how to partner smartly. Mr. Schiff says that Gates, for example, “sowed the seeds of his tremendous success by always seeking partnerships with the strongest computer industry players that would partner with him.”

Success is contagious. Build relationships with connectors, because “there is a measurable tendency of people with many connections to be connected to others with many connections.” Your network and your partners will help you find opportunities and amplify them.

Know your goals. Knowing what you want is critical to success. But writing down your goals is even more important. Whether you are shaping up your business plan or negotiating a contract, you need to know (and write down!) how low (or far) you are willing to go and how high you want to be.

Bill Gates says: “You don’t get what you deserve in business. You get what you negotiate.” In everything you do the author suggests to follow fundamental principles: “stick to high goals, understand the opposing party’s perspective, and set a point at which to walk away.”

Know yourself. Why is it that the companies headed by dyslexic owners tend to grow twice as fast as other companies? According to Mr. Schiff, it is because “in order to overcome their learning deficits, successful dyslexics become proficient at getting help, which happens to be an absolutely crucial skill for anyone building a business.”

Self-made millionaires state that when it comes to tasks they are not exceptionally good at, they are very likely to delegate those to people who do them better. Accept your limitations and build the team around them. Delegate the tasks to others more often than feels comfortable so that you could focus on doing what motivates you and have time to build vision and strategies for your business and career.

But accept the fact that others will make mistakes, so trust others to do the work, but keep all the blame and responsibility for yourself.

Welcome failure. Most people don’t persevere until they succeed because the experience of failure threatens feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem in most people. But if you don’t try again after failing, you won’t get any of the benefits of learning from your mistake.

Mr. Schiff says: “To most self-made millionaires, failure is a wellspring of opportunity because every failure produces such a wide variety of unexpected results – lessons, experience, relationships—that it can be an appealing challenge to sift the ashes and see what can be made of them.”

This short summary doesn’t do justice to the full spectrum of the arguments and data that the author presents in the book. I highly recommend picking it up and experiencing it for yourself.

Luck favors the prepared mind. This book provides a great foundation for learning if you want to amplify your success.

Mr. Schiff closes the book with this inspiring call to action:

“Double down on what you do best. Press your advantage whenever and wherever you have the advantage. Work your network. Try and try again.

Above all: Ask. Ask for what you want. Ask even when it feels uncomfortable. Ask for more than what you need. Ask for what you’re afraid to ask for, and ask for it more than once. Ask until the word “no” loses its sting.

When you can laugh at “no” and look at each setback as a source of instruction, then you’ll know you’ve become one of the lucky people destined to become Business Brilliant.