I’ve known Kevin Kruse for many years. He and I met at a meeting of the Society for Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Trainers (now L-TEN) over a decade ago. Since that first meeting, we’ve co-presented on the topic of evidence-based training, worked together when he was a CEO of one of his many companies, collaborated on parts of his ground-breaking website/blog eLearning Guru and frequently meet up at speaking engagements.
Kevin is great, always friendly, focused and willing to share his knowledge and ideas. Since that time, Kevin was instrumental in the name change from SPBT to L-TEN (an organization which he headed for a number of years), he has become a New York Times Best Selling Author of the book We: How to Increase Performance and Profits through Full Engagement and has been speaking around the world on management topics to packed houses. He has recently authored a new book and has even started an interesting concept called LEADx. Kevin flipped my usual questions around and start with answering the question about giving advice to graduates going into the workforce.
1) Any advice for graduates going into the workforce?
Realize that when you arrive at work, everyone will hate you. Not you personally. Your entire generation. The hottest topic in the business press and conference circuit is how to manage millennials. And the stereotype, the prejudice, is that you are all lazy, entitled, disloyal, and can’t communicate. Oh, and your Mommy will call the HR department to complain when your boss is mean to you.
Like any prejudice, what’s really going on is fear and ignorance. They fear that you are going to make them look stupid when it comes to technology, they fear that you’re going to be a pain in the ass in their already busy day, they fear that you will show them up when you have the gumption to take your new idea to the CEO, they fear that they are 50 years old and the company will see that you can actually do their job for a third of the salary.
The bad rap on Millennials is of course all bullshit. The data is clear that generationally, you want what everyone else wanted in their 20’s and early 30’s. Unfortunately, nobody cares about the data but they love it when a New York City hipster—who has neither been a parent nor a big company CEO by the way—parrots the old “everybody got a participation trophy” crap.
The truth is that your generation will go down as the greatest generation ever. You will be the first truly post-nationalistic group because you literally have friends all over the world—thanks Snapchat! You are the first generation who legitimately doesn’t give a f*** about race, gender or sexuality because all your high school friends were a total blend of all that. You will be the generation that makes the human race an interplanetary species (“Hello Mars!”).
So, what do you do when you first enter the workforce and everyone hates you? For the first 90 days be an extreme learner. Soak everything up. Listen with the goal to understand, not to respond. Ask a lot of questions. Use the phrase, “can you tell me more?” Ask as many people as possible, “So, how’d you get started in _____.” And after learning about the company, learning about the people around you, then you wholeheartedly offer to teach. Think of it as informal reverse mentorship. You can learn a lot about leadership from the CEO, but she can learn a lot about Snapchat, Venmo and digital trends from you.
2) You’ve written a new book titled “Text Me! Snap Me! Ask Me Anything!” What is that book about?
It’s about how to change the world and build your brand, by just being helpful to one person at a time. It’s written for consultants, authors and entrepreneurs who are trying to grow their tribe, but it really applies to anyone who wants more success in life.
3) I saw in a Forbes article you wrote called, 12 Unusual Things Thought Leaders Do To Build Their Brand. One of the 12 pieces of advice was to position yourself as the “Only Choice” but how does one do that when it’s a crowed field? For example, there are a lot of “Gamification Gurus” out there. What steps would a person take to stand out?
There are a lot of Gamification Gurus? Imagine trying to stand out as an accountant! [Laughs] The key to becoming the “only” one who does what you do is to highlight your special ingredient, and to pick a niche target audience. For your special ingredient maybe you’re a Gamification Guru that has both academic research, and real-world experience as an entrepreneur. Or the only one who conducted gamification research among veterans with PTSD, or maybe you have a unique process, or the only one who guarantees 80% knowledge retention after 90 days or your money back. And then your target market could be a focus on the life science industry, or 5th grade science, or military.
So you combine several of the factors and you’d have something like, “…is the only Gamification Guru, who follows the G2F5 process and offers a 90-day retention guarantee, for sales trainers in the medical device industry.”
The power here is that you can still reactively accept other work from other clients, but you proactively position and market yourself in this unique way.
4) You also talk in your book about building a brand one person at a time. How does one do that and doesn’t it take a long time to achieve a brand with that strategy?
It comes down to engagement of your tribe. 100 followers who love you are far more valuable than 1,000 who just liked your page one day. I spend an hour a day just trying to answer people’s questions, via email and in online groups. And I’ve done this for about three years now. I have over 50,000 email subscribes, another 50,000 LinkedIn connections, but what is most valuable are the thousand or so SuperFans. And in the digital world where social triggers are so important, your handful of SuperFans are the ones who will like and share your posts right away, and those immediate triggers tell the social platforms, “Whoa, this must be good look at all the activity!” And the platform then shares it to everybody else’s newsfeed or lists it as a viral article or whatever. So be engaging the few, you engage the many.
5) You talk a lot in your books and speeches about success. To you what is success?
I think that’s the right way to phrase the question, because I think we all have to come up with our own definition of success. For me, it’s to be able to spend my time as I like, and hopefully achieve a balance of happiness and significance.