Since founding Morningstar Communications on October 1, 1997, I have learned a lot. Usually the hard way.
People often say, “If I only knew then what I know now…” In the spirit of giving back to so many who have helped me along the way, I now return the favor by sharing 18 lessons I have learned in our first 18 years.
1. Learn something new. Every. Single. Day. — Learn from someone else’s mistakes, or smart thinking. Consume news from various media and sources. Read business books (Dan Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, and Thomas Friedman are three of my favorites).
2. Know what never changes, what must change and evolve, and have the wisdom to know the difference. — Values don’t change; products and services evolve. Experiment regularly on the fringes of your core competencies, and never compromise your integrity.
3. When there’s a knock on the door, is it an interruption or an opportunity? — This is often the hardest question to answer. Upon reflection, it's usually easy to see what was the right choice, but all of us must make decisions in real time. Hone your triage skills, and pursue opportunities with passion and purpose.
4. Hire excellent people. Empower them. Be there when they need help. Otherwise, stay out of their way and sing their praises. — This five-part philosophy is the most sustainable framework for talent retention and attraction. We have tremendous pride and support for alums of Morningstar Communications, and they continue to serve as great brand ambassadors for us.
5. Surround yourself with people smarter than you. — I've been extremely fortunate to have so many rock stars around me. Back in 2000, we formed the Morningstar Communications Advisory Board. These five extremely smart people (who don’t have a vested interest) provide perspective, clarity, and strategic and objective counsel on our biggest issues. We’re so much smarter with Roger Henry, Steve Liggett, David Morgenstern, Alana Muller and Scott Slabotsky sharing their wisdom.
6. None of us is smarter than all of us. — No matter how smart anyone is, all of us are smarter (and often synergistic) together. Our best value is when we serve as an extension of our client teams.
7. When walking on the edge of the ethical ocean, don’t let your knees get wet. — The line between right and wrong resembles a shoreline, rather than a straight line. Was Darth Vader a good guy or a bad guy? Is that a freedom fighter or a terrorist? Very few business decisions are simply black or white. Each situation must be viewed from the recipient’s point of view. If you’re in water up to your neck, you’re in too deep.
8. Go through life with bifocal vision: Keep your eye on the horizon, but watch each step. — Almost everything you do should roll up to achieve your overarching goals. But, pay attention to every step along the way.
9. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine. — Most people resist change, even if it’s for the better. Embrace change as time marches forward, but never force change for change’s sake.
10. Write short. Every time. — Don’t get me started on how incredibly lazy people are today, particularly when it comes to reading. Research finds people scan and skim, and barely ever dive deep into content. Even Mark Twain said, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.” Less is more. Keep it brief. Then edit some more.
11. Reward long-term excellence; promote from within. — I have always believed that people essentially promote themselves and then the recognition follows. Importantly, this tells everyone on the team that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence, and you don’t have to job-hop to grow.
12. Know when to lead; know when to listen. — Be an advisor, and a team player. Have confidence and conviction of your opinion, but at some point, all must agree on a single course of action. And when the doors open, everyone must be walking out together.
13. This too shall pass. — When things are going great, don’t get cocky; bad news is often just around the bend. And when things are going poorly, don’t despair; good news is often just around the bend as well. There tends to be a yin yang in the business universe that keeps things balanced.
14. Take your work seriously, not yourself. — “We crack ourselves up” is one of our favorite work mantras. Work is a four-letter word, but you darn well ought to be having fun. We have a “work hard / play hard” approach, and never hesitate to make fun of ourselves. Or just have a good time!
15. Give people the benefit of the doubt, even if you DON’T think they deserve it. — This approach has saved my relationships numerous times. Say, “Help me understand why ...?” Learn, and then make deposits to the relationship equity well every time you can.
16. Identify your “To-stop-doing” list regularly. — We all do many things we simply don’t need to do anymore. Duties evolve. Stop doing the things that are no longer effective or important.
17. "The only thing you ever truly own is your reputation and your relationships." — This is actually my quote, and helps me shape everyday behaviors with integrity and enthusiasm.
18. Celebrate success and learn from failure. — Take a break to enjoy the good times. And when the bad times inevitably come, if it doesn’t kill you, it really does make you stronger. Failure is often our best teacher. If you learn and change your behavior, then it’s usually worth the cost.
May some of these 18 “lessons learned” help you grow personally, professionally and financially!
*Bonus lesson: Having a dog in our office adds a lot. Raia, our "chief stress-relieving officer," works closely with us daily.