The secrets of business success lie in a deep understanding of humanity, in drawing on available resources to fuel this competitive advantage – including through mentoring, and in personal brand transparency.
This is according to British businessman, entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den star Steven Bartlett who addressed the advertising industry at a PA Business Growth Conference this month.
The session coincides with the launch of a new IPA mentoring program to help retain and develop the careers of advertising agency employees and to help grow their businesses, based uniquely on mentees ‘pitching’ their need.
“Understanding human beings, the ways we behave and how those ways are predictable, is probably the one superpower, if there was to be one, we can all go and attain.”
Understanding Humanity Is a Superpower
In the pre-recorded heart-to-heart interview between Bartlett and adman Marc Nohr, with whom he started a mentoring relationship aged 18, he admits an obsession with psychology and “the riddle of humans.”
Says Bartlett: “They [humans} are the gatekeepers; they are the people you’ve got to persuade to buy your products, to come work for you, to invest in, to come on a journey with you. If you’re a politician, they’re the people you’ve got to persuade with your ideas and your thoughts. If you’re an activist, you’ve got to rally and inspire them. Understanding human beings, the ways we behave and how those ways are predictable, is probably the one superpower, if there was to be one, we can all go and attain.”
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Mitigating Mistakes Through Mentorship
This fascination with human understanding as a career-advancing skill is something, he explains, that can of course be sought through books, podcasts, the internet, and through mentoring. Mentoring is a resource which he says has helped him to mitigate potential mistakes and guide him through his unknowns and blind spots that were likely to cost him on his journey. It has also helped introduce him to ‘people who know people’ and has provided him with someone to question the narrative guiding his strategy.
“In order to do anything great, you need to adopt the resources, the knowledge and the skills of many other people.”
For those seeking a mentor themselves and what to ask for, Bartlett sets out a four-pronged approach:
- Understand the motivations of your potential mentor (some may be financial, philanthropic, personal interest, for example) and the world they live in (how busy they are, how much time they have, where they are)
- Craft a proposal that aligns with these motivations and lifestyle (for example, if they are busy he would pitch a remote-based, quarterly, 10-minute speed conversation)
- Tickle their ego – show appreciation for their expertise and their work
- Make a gesture of reciprocity. An exchange for the value they have given you which doesn’t have to be financial
“The world has moved on over the past decade from companies and individuals being closed-off ‘black boxes’.”
Building Personal Brands Through Transparency
For Bartlett, the final piece for individuals to grow their personal and company brand is through transparency. This is something he believes builds trust and provides ‘the most important self-defense any executive in business can have’. And in seizing the opportunity of social media to build your audience, express your ideas to the world and create a community around your ideas.
Referencing research he’s recently read, he explains that “the world has moved on over the past decade from companies and individuals being closed-off ‘black boxes’.
“You have to let down those walls and become a glass box.”
“Our reputations of ourselves as individuals and those of our companies were once painted on the outside by a PR or marketing person. Now, because the media and your employees can craft a narrative about who you are, you have to let down those walls and become a glass box. This means allowing everyone to see inside, how you make your decisions, understand who you are, and let them build their own reference points.”
This is a move he feels has benefitted the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Joe Rogan and Brewdog’s James Watt in recent years, as well as himself – citing his own podcast in which he opens up about all areas of, and faults within, his own life.