How to Crush 2020: Become a Stronger Thinker
Today is part three of our 5-part series, How to Crush 2020.
Did you get the results you wanted in 2019? If you did, how do you get more? If you didn’t, what happened? How do you make it better?
On this series, we’re sharing things that have worked in amazing way and things that have been fantastic failures.
Part three, How to Become a Stronger Thinker.
Hustle Unlimited features Walk West CEO, mentor, investor, and hustler himself, Donald Thompson.
Music for this episode provided by Jensen Reed from his song, “You Can’t Stop Me”.
Donald Thompson: So the backdrop for today is we’re going into a new year and after Christmas, there’s actually a lot of down time, and it’s a time for reflection.
It’s a time where people are thinking about the new year. They’re thinking about what happened this past year. Did they get the results that they wanted? And if they did, how did they get more? And if they didn’t like, well, what happened. How can I make it better? And what we want to do is share some of the things I’ve seen over now 25 plus years in business, working with hundreds, if not thousands of different companies and people, things that have worked in amazing way and things that have been fantastic failures.
I mean, total fucking train wrecks, right? And how to keep people out of the train wrecks and a little bit closer to their own personal success.
We also do need to make a disclaimer like everything that I say are the thoughts of Donald A. Thompson Jr. They are not the thoughts of Walk West.
They’re not the thoughts of any of the other companies I’m affiliated with. These are exclusively my thoughts. Occasionally I may drop a few words that we’ll decide to bleep out or not, but I won’t do it cause I like to cuss but sometimes for emphasis, right.
With that , I think we can just jump in and get started.
Meghan Hockaday: Hi everyone, and welcome to the Hustle Unlimited Podcast. I’m Meghan Hockaday, content strategist at Walk West, and I’ll be your host today. My guest is your usual host, CEO of Walk West Donald Thompson. Today’s episode is part of our series on how to crush 2020. The topic today is how to become a stronger thinker and I’m really excited to talk about this topic cause Don, you’re someone who has to go throughout your whole day thinking really proactively. You’re in and out of a lot of meetings.
How do you maintain the stamina and mental acuity to keep going throughout your work day and work week?
Donald Thompson: So it’s a, it’s a really good question. So being sharp, staying sharp, is a skill and a strength just like anything else. And context switching, puts a lot of demand on you mentally, and as a leader, nobody really cares that you’re having a bad day.
And that’s not bad. I’m not looking for like a sob story, but when people come to my office, they’re looking for help, support, guidance to get their work done, so that they can continue to improve and grow. And it’s a responsibility, number one, that I stay sharp independent on what’s going on personally, professionally that day and stay focused in the moment.
The second thing in terms of how do you stay sharp and in the moment is I read a lot. I prepare for my day at home so that at work it’s game time and I’m in the zone. So if Meghan sends me a brief the night before we meet, which she does pretty regularly and at least a couple of hours before.
Even if it’s not the day before, Meghan is really good about sending a document that overviews kind of what she wants to talk about, the different things that she’s challenged with or the opportunities that she may have. And so I do a lot of preparation. In previous companies, I’ve been in IT engineering space, the development space, very high technical, of which I’m not.
I used to have to prepare sometimes two to three hours for a 30 minute phone call or 30 minute meeting. It’s one of the reasons I’m not involved in highly technical things right now because it took a lot of energy to lead when you were absolutely the dumbest person in the room every meeting for fucking 10 years.
You can’t imagine how difficult that is. And then have to keep these very bright, talented, hardworking, smart people, not in line, but on line with the goals and objectives of our client and our customers. And so, I pivoted to marketing. I was like, I mean, I may not know anything, but at least I can like make some of this up.
You can’t make up engineering constructs, or development programming tasks. You can’t make up a developer trying to go well and, and big word X big word Y. You are dummy, therefore I can like confuse you. Right? Like one of the times, this is just a funny thing, I had to tell one of our developers, like if you confuse me and I say the wrong thing with the customer, you still have to do the work right.
So you might want to just educate me. There’s was like, Oh yeah, that makes sense. Cause like sometimes it’s fun, right, to just confuse the business guy in the meeting. But I had to explain to them like, we’re going to be stupid together. I’m going to repeat what you’re telling me someone else. So this goes squirrely like we’re all gonna look like not amazing. And so then I got some of our teams were like, yeah, we need to make sure you look smart on our behalf. I was like, yeah, we’re like a team. But for like five to 10 years, when I was in the IT tech space, man, I had like a group of developers that by sport, they just wanted to confuse me just by sport.
Just because I was a business guy, sales guy. There were developers and just for sport, and over time they figured out that I could be a protector for them. I could get them more time from the client. I get more money for the project that would fight on their behalf. So they had the freedom to do amazing creative work.
And once we created that teamship, that partnership, things became a pretty powerful. But anyway, back to your question. I prepare a lot. I read a lot. So it may look like in a meeting that I’m winging it, but I’ve been reading on our topic for hours before our meeting. And so it takes a lot of homework to look smart in the moment.
And that’s something that a lot of times people take for granted. The other thing in terms of the context switching across different meetings and different projects, some of the things you’ve observed, which I appreciate most people don’t even acknowledge that that is a skill or the complexity with that, so I appreciate that in a sincere way.
Ask a lot of questions. One of the reasons to strengthen your thinking, in all candor is that most people make more definitive statements than I do much earlier in conversations, and they’re trying to sell their idea or their vision too early before they know the landscape of the conversation, the risks, the opportunities, what information are we lacking that we need to get? As a discipline, I ask a lot of questions about smart people in a particular genre before I make a decision. And that allows me to, it seems like I’m right a lot. And that may be true, but it’s not because I’m the smartest person in the room. It’s because if we’re talking about a technical application and how it should be built and how long it should take to build.
I had a developer this maybe six months ago, it’s pretty funny. And we were going to rearchitect the front end and he was talking to me about the time it would take to redo the UI and its impact on development. And he gave me this crazy long estimate that was basically so much time that he would not have to stress and he just couldn’t be wrong.
He was sandbagging, so to speak. But I already talked to several of my friends that are in the design space about the project in particular, about the different frameworks we were using and I already knew within a reasonable realm what this should cost. So this developer saw the “Don is not a developer. He’s probably an idiot” thing on my forehead, but it didn’t know I had already talked to five other people that are smarter than him. And so I was able to call bullshit on what he was saying in a room of 15 people and he was like flabbergasted. He was so flabbergasted. I couldn’t even hold it in. I started laughing.
Meghan Hockaday: Oh my Gosh.
Donald Thompson: Then he got mad. He’s like, this isn’t funny. And I was like, yeah, it’s hilarious. I said, you gave me a ridiculous estimate because I’m the business guy and you wanted as much time as possible. And I talked to five people just as smart as you before this meeting.
And then he was like. Huh? Then he was impressed. Does that make sense? He was like, got it. I said, so I’m not the guy to bullshit. So in terms of strongest thinking, I ask people what they think that are smarter than me before I make definitive statements on what I think on a particular topic. Most people don’t have the humility to do that.
That takes humility to say, Hey, listen, I’m going into a meeting tomorrow on this marketing concept. What have you seen in this genre before? Hey, listen, I’m writing this white paper. I’ll talk to a technical writer, XYZ. If somebody is coming to pitch me about a company in the beverage space, I don’t know anything about the beverage space, but I do know a couple of people that are in that space so I pick up the phone and I call and talk to them. Five minutes, 10 minutes. What should I ask? What should I think about? What should I read before I go into this meeting? And then I do my homework. So being the strongest thinker is about not leveraging just your own thinking, but how do you create an environment to where you become the sum total of all the smart people you know, in a particular space? Number one.
Then number two, I ask questions of people in the room before I make any definitive stance. And then I hear the different feedback and I hear the different debate. And then I question. And then I never really make any definitive statements until three fourths or close to the end of any meeting that I’m in.
And so to me, strengthening your thinking is to the degree that you’re willing to get outside help and support to grow your thinking. And then over time you start to see that most business questions, whether they be technical marketing, starting, getting VC, are similar.
They’re not radically different. So then you grow in experience and wisdom and then you’re able to institute the right answer that you’ve seen before, the right question or the right person for that person to talk to. The other thing is, I don’t answer questions I’m not qualified to. I had a candidate come in the other day and they asked about upward mobility in our company, and I said I have no idea how to answer that question.
My answer is, everybody lies on interviews. What if you’re 50% of what you said you are, then there’s no upward mobility. You need to figure out if you’re going to keep your job We’re changing every six months as a company. Four years ago we had two people at Walk West. Now we have 40 people. We were $300,000 in revenue.
Now we’re a multi, multimillion dollar company on the grow. We’re going to double that again in a couple of years. I don’t know what your career path is. Get a chair on this rocketship and hang on. That’s what, that’s what you can get. The guy was like, That’s exactly what I want.
Meghan Hockaday: Sounds like my interview.
Donald Thompson: Exactly right. Yeah. You know what’s my career path? I have no idea. Get a chair on this rocketship and when we double the job you want. How about that? When we have the open new jobs, I would like that one, and you’re going to be here and you see it first. Sometimes people ask slow growth questions, not fast growth questions.
Anyway, strengthening your thinking is about homework. It’s about the humility to ask smart people. It’s about preparation. And it’s about, this is really important – knowing that most times there’s not a right answer. There’s only scenarios that need to be tested. This is the important thing. I know that there’s typically not a right answer. There’s just scenarios to be tested so that clients can give us feedback on the idea, and then we’ll know. There’s scenarios to be tested so potential investors can give us feedback on the idea, and then we’ll know. And because I know that, and I’m not tied to being right, I’ve created power. When you’re tying yourself to being right, you create pressure. You’re not trying to create pressure, you’re trying to create power. I have power because I know what I need to be right, which is certain amount of money in the bank on the 15th and the 30th. You have to be right. So that means as an entrepreneur, multiple companies, never missed a payment.
You have to be right on that. But you don’t have to be right on every question on everything in your business, and knowing that difference is really important. Another critical difference is knowing when you are not the right person to answer the question anyway and expanding the group in the conversation.
A lot of times I’ll listen to the questions people ask me like, Oh, that’s amazing. We probably should have Kurt in this meeting. Oh man, that’s amazing. Thanks for that question. It’s really smart question. You mind if we grab Lizzie? Oh man, that’s a super great question. Super technical. Oh man. Probably should have Brian in this meeting.
Now all of a sudden I’m in the meeting. I’ve brought the right subject matter expert. The person with a question gets the right question and I get full credit for answering their question. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t do anything. Except know when I’m not the right person to answer the question. That’s really, really important.
Meghan Hockaday: Yeah. A lot of what you’re speaking to is collaboration, which is the core values of Walk West. Why do you think people are so afraid of collaboration?
Donald Thompson: A lot of people are afraid of collaboration because we gear our school system, our education system, our sports system with individual rewards and accolades.
And most people, if you’re fortunate, if you’ve come from military backgrounds, sports background, different things, teamwork is ingrained in you. If you go through a school in more of a traditional way and you don’t have those outside experiences, you think about your educational career and you get a grade.
Elementary, all, it’s not literally till college that you take any kind of courses where there’s a team construct and a team grade. It’s all individual accolades, right? You get a ribbon, you get a trophy, it’s individual. You won a dance competition, you won a music competition. You got the part in the play.
And so because of that Me Me mentality – Think about our social media. Who has a squad that goes on social media? It’s an Instagram model, singular.It’sa Instagram, singer, singular. It’s all singular. It’s all about me. How many followers do I have. So it’s creating a society of individual accolades, not team win, team growth.
And therefore when you bring that into a team environment, a company environment, where we all have to rely on each other to win, people are in search of recognition and credit, more so than they’re in search of being a part of a winning team. Cause they don’t know what that joy feels like. Like there is a certain power, if you’ve been a part of a school play and you got a standing ovation and people asked you to come do an encore and people are super fired up, you are on a high school football team, high school baseball team. You are in the military, you are a part of a team where you cannot do your job unless other people do theirs.
And because we don’t really teach that within our youth as much as we should it’s a challenge in the working environment to really foster collaboration. Once people feel it, once we amplify it, people want that same willing feeling like they do when they get the individual accolades.
So one of the things in our company at Walk West that I’m proud of is we encourage people to brag on their teammates. Like we encourage it. We have Slack channels, giving shout outs, to your teammates and what they’ve done good. And that is a powerful thing that we’re trying to push against, kind of that natural inclination. And that’s just one of the things from a collaboration standpoint. The other thing that’s important in terms of collaboration is that people’s dreams are too small. If you’ve got a dream that’s big, goals that are big, goals that we have for Walk West. The goals that we have for Creative Allies, another company that I’m working with, the goals that we have for Proposa are so big that there’s no way that a small group of people can achieve them standalone.
And so another challenge with collaboration is when you have small goals, there’s only a certain amount of recognition that can only go to one or two people. When the goals are big and aggressive and game changing, then a lot of people can get involved and a lot of people can get credit and a lot of people can grow their careers and a lot of people can be super excited to participate.
Meghan Hockaday: What encouragement do you have for someone who isn’t a part of maybe a company like Walk West, a company that’s more siloed?
Donald Thompson: We’re hiring. Oh, go ahead. I’m sorry.
Leave them! They ain’t treating you right? Leave them. Don’t let him fool you a lot to you, man. Leave them. You’re the singer, not me. Leave them. Like if you’re not in an environment where you’re collaborating and you don’t feel like you’re meeting your full potential, like there’s plenty of jobs. Unemployment’s like at an all time low.
Don’t stay in a situation that you think sucks, move. The thing that irritates me is people complain more than they fix what their situation. They feel stuck for no reason. Now. Here’s the critical component. If you’re average, you should stay where you’re at. Cause there’s a lot of companies that are big enough where you can hide.
You really got to do an evaluation for who you are and what you want to put into a job or a company standpoint. If you want to coast and you’re in a situation that may or may not be most comfortable, but like they’re not putting super amount of pressure on you to change, getting the paycheck working 38.5 hours a week, you might not want to rock the boat.
A lot of times people are jawing about their situation, but they don’t really want the exposure that comes with more money, more responsibility, more decision rights. A lot of people on interview day talk about autonomy and really what people want is to be told what to do and lots and lots of recognition.
And again, that’s okay. People just have to know what they really, really want. So if you’re a part of an arena or a job that you don’t feel like it’s taken you for granted, do a great job where you are. I’m a firm believer, that pay you do a great job, but certainly build your personal brand, build your resume, do your network, keep your eyes open.
If somebody is not happy with Walk West, they should leave. You shouldn’t stay anywhere, that you’re not loving what you’re doing and enjoying who you’re working with and that are treating you right, bounce. Like it’s not a big deal. Jobs are different than the days where you would work somewhere for 40 years, get a pension, different things like that.
You should be in a place that is providing you skill building, that’s providing you challenges, that’s pushing your thinking, If you’re a total winner, The worst thing is for somebody to tell you you’re doing great every day. You want somebody that’s pushing you, that’s stretching you, that’s giving you what the next level is, because that education, that environment is helping you be better for the next thing you do at that company, the company that you’re going to start on your own.
It gives you options and all you really want in your career is choices, So that you can create choices. So you can be in situations by your choosing. And that’s a really powerful thing. The other thing in terms of how do you make it work where you’re at, sometimes managers don’t know what they don’t know, so maybe they’re tired of bad meetings too that lack collaboration. Ask around. Sometimes if you don’t ever push the issue of what change can happen in your company and just leave, you don’t know what could have been. You could have been the catalyst to some major change and grow right where you’re planted. Sometimes the challenge in your current situation is you. Sometimes it’s not the boss or the management of the companies aren’t treating you right.
Sometimes you’re not acting like a total winner, and the total winner will go to their manager and say, Hey, listen, one, how are you feeling about my work product? That’s a great question to ask before you like giving up a lot of critique and the way that people should change. And the manager says, no, I’m super happy, I’m excited. We’re glad to have you on the team and Hey, if I had a couple of ideas on how we could improve, like our meeting structure so we could get more collaboration from the team, what would be the best way for me to share that with you? Would you like me to put that in a deck or in a PowerPoint?
A cup of coffee? Like what’d be the best way to share that with you? You know, to where you’d be open to hearing some ideas. Oh my gosh, thank you so much. Like I’ve been feeling the same way and I didn’t really know how to deal with it. Well, I mean, maybe just have a cup of coffee. Just jot down a few ideas and let’s talk about it.
I’m super open. How do you know what the feedback would be to your new ideas for change in your current situation unless you try to push the envelope? If you seek advocates within the organization to where changes could be possible. So yeah, leaving is one answer, but sometimes the problem is, is right where you’re sitting.
Most of the time in organizations, I’m working with any challenges are me as the leader. I’m not giving people the right space. I’m not giving the right focus or alignment on what they’re doing most of the time. Most of the time it’s, it’s me. It’s fixable. The only time things aren’t fixable with folks is if somebody turns the corner and they’re out the door, and then you can’t really achieve common ground if both people aren’t trying to move forward in a direction together, but most times things are fixable if people want to fix it.
Meghan Hockaday: Is there anything you think people do that prevents them from becoming a stronger thinker?
Donald Thompson: So there’s a lot of things people do that keep them from being stronger thinking. Number one is pessimism does not give you big ideas.
So being the naysayer in every meeting on why things won’t work, doesn’t strengthen your creative muscle. So if you think that’s your job to pick apart every idea other people have, it’s a prescription for not being promoted because companies are looking for stretch thinkers. You hear that term all the time, how to do more with less. So if you’re like, well, there’s never give us enough resource, they never give us this, and they don’t do this, they’ve always taken this away, take, take, take, take, take. If you’re always the negative vibe in the room, that’s a problem for strong thinking. Now there’s an appropriate time and place for the risk to a project, the real roadblocks and all of those things, but you’ve got to blend that with, how do we take this hill? How do we overcome and do this? How do we double our revenue even though they cut our marketing budget in half? How do we do it different? How do we do it faster? How do we do more with less? You become an idea generator, Instead of an idea kind of naysayer, right?
It’s number one is just your, your attitude, individually. The second thing that keeps people from being strong thinkers is just fear. The fear that you have to be right. And it’s just not true. And so therefore you keep ideas that you have hidden. Think about meetings that you’re in and everybody take a mental walk with me.
And then the water cooler talk you have of, yeah. You know what? I should have really said this, I should have really said. And all the conversations people have outside the meeting, thoughts that should have been shared inside the meeting. So some of that is the leadership, making sure that you pull the best ideas from people.
And that’s very true. But the other piece of it is people that want to become leaders and make a mark in their company, their organization speaking up. And you don’t get good at sharing your ideas and collaborating unless you try to push your ideas forward. And then you get good at selling your ideas.
You get good at communicating. And even if your ideas aren’t accepted, you have a platform to become a better communicator, why would you let that opportunity go? You’re in front of seven to eight different people, different departments, and you sit in an entire meeting and don’t say anything. Yes, it is incumbent on the leaders, the managers, to make sure that we look at the diverse people in the meeting and we pull the best ideas out of everybody in the room.
Absolutely. But it is also incumbent – if you take up a chair, did you bring your best ideas and share? And I rhymed that, we should put music to that. That’d be, that’d be, that’d be hot right now. That’d be like the business rap. And if you take up a chair, bring your best ideas and share.
So bananas, but it is true. I would have people in meetings and they sit there long enough, don’t share us. Like, do you have something to share? Or you should go do something else. Go do something else productive. And so those are a couple of the roadblocks. And the other thing that I would say that’s a big deal, and this isn’t anybody’s fault.
This is what leaders have to do better. One of the things that we’re learning about, and then I am, is, and this was really kind of eyeopening. When you think about diversity, think about skin color, gender, sexual orientation are kind of the big three of diversity, right? And so I’m learning more about folks that are differently abled, people that have vision impairments or other physical impairments, different things.
And I have good friends that are helping educate me there and that are thoughtful with what I don’t know because of my humility to really want to know, And so that’s really helping me. And I’m also learning about neuro diversity. And so think about somebody that has ADD or dyslexia. For example, let’s use dyslexia. If you have a meeting and there’s six, seven people in the meeting, and four or five of the people in the meeting are really quick. And off the cuff. So they can read documents in the meeting, kind of riff back and forth and just be smart in the moment. But then you have people in the meeting that are just as smart, just as talented, but how much more engaged would they be if they had the briefing material on time and the day before, so that they could read through the deck, they could read through the material.
If there’s something that they didn’t fully understand, they can read it twice or a third time. Then when they get in the meeting, they’re fully present, fully engaged, fully prepared. So we think about sending out an agenda last minute. We think about sending out the briefing docs last minute is no big deal.
But for somebody that’s dealing with some neurodiversity issues, that’s probably a huge deal. And as we’re leaning into some of these topics as the organization, me as an individual, it’s forcing me to think about those things more and the impact they have on others. It doesn’t mean I’m perfect, doesn’t mean I have it all together.
It means I’m trying and I’m chasing progress. But that’s just one example in terms of blocks to collaboration that are unintended but highly impactful.
Thanks so much for your time, Don. That was Donald Thompson, CEO of Walk West and the host of the Hustle Unlimited Podcast.
Thank you everyone for listening and we hope this helps you reach for the dreams that you’ve had and crushed 2020. If you like this show, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Leave us a rating and a review as well and connect with Don on LinkedIn or any social media platform.
This episode of Hustle Unlimited was edited and produced by Earfluence. For more podcasts that they’re producing, head over to Earfluence.com. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time on Hustle Unlimited.