It is important to find inspiration and information from others on a regular basis. This was mine for today from Jason Nazar, founder of Docstoc.
At this year’s South by Southwest Conference, I had the opportunity to spend time with Scott Cook, founder of Intuit. It was the first time we had the chance to connect since my company, Docstoc, was acquired by them.
Scott is a staple on the Forbes Billionaire List. A self-made man, he built his fortune as a new founder in 1983, trying to help his wife more easily pay her bills; he’s now the executive chairman of a $22 billion-plus market cap company that has revolutionized personal/professional finance and tax preparation.
The most striking aspect about Scott is how humble, considerate, curious and thoughtful he is, while having achieved so much success. He’s the antithesis of every horrible stereotype of the rich. Quite simply, he’s the product of his success, not the victim of it.
Here were six specific things he did that stood out:
Attend to Your Attendees – After giving an hour presentation on leadership and innovation, Scott spent another hour talking to every attendee that had a question, comment or unsolicited pitch. He didn’t leave that room until every person had the opportunity to get his undivided attention. Many people talk about needing to love your customers, but few actually practice it.
Curiosity Kills Condescension – I found myself in an uncomfortable position at lunch… I was doing most of the talking. I’m typically the interviewer, but Scott’s natural curiosity kept him picking my brain about markets, products and leadership. How many of us—who’ve achieved much less—already assume we have the answers? Curiosity is quite the antidote for condescension.
Ask the Impossible – After Scott asked me “What are your goals for the next five to10 years?” we talked about big opportunities we saw in the market. Instead of naysaying or telling me how he thought it could be done better, Scott asked (another) simple question: “How do we make that happen?” With that simple phrase he simultaneously a) validated the worthiness of my thinking, b) held me accountable for its outcome and c) offered his support in the process.
Doers Do – In the span of an hour, Scott pulled out his phone six times. But instead of checking email/text/social media (as my generation loves to do), he was taking copious notes. He made introductions to key partners, recorded thoughts I shared on interviewing and leadership, and gave us both a handful of follow-up action items. The conversation had no wasted airspace or false promises, and was more productive than the vast majority of meetings I’ve ever attended.
Beware of Your Blind Spots – At one point I shared “the most fatal flaw of leaders is their inability to acknowledge their own blind spots,” meaning we all have flaws, but our inability to recognize them is the most harmful weakness of all. In that same conversation, Scott asked me to share my ideas on how Intuit could improve as an organization. I was so taken aback at his openness to the feedback. Instead of getting defensive or bringing up his points of view, he actively listened to each of my comments and reiterated their value. It’s a very rare individual who seeks out critical feedback on the product of their life’s work; someone like that inevitably has flaws, but no blind spots.
Care About How and Who – My cofounder is fond of saying “your employees won’t care about the job, until you care about them.” Scott took a lot of time to find out about my background, interests and family, but more interesting was the order in which he got to know me. Instead of simply asking about me, we talked about ideas and opportunities for a good while. It was after we connected intellectually that he sought to get to know me personally. I thought that was important for one big reason: people are much more than the product of their experiences, they’re also the potential of their aspirations. You’ll truly know a person when you know both these sides of them.
It was an inspiring afternoon. Scott’s personal attributes and values have clearly permeated the company and are carried on by the current CEO, Brad Smith, as demonstrated by the fact that Intuit is consistently rated one of the best places to work. I found myself inspired to create more, achieve more, but also to be more. Be more attentive, be more curious, be more supportive, be more proactive, be more thoughtful and be more caring. Those are the tactics I learned from an unassuming billionaire that afternoon.
Thanks Jason for that share. Great information and inspiration.