It takes a Tsunami has one central message: rough moments can bring precious gifts. Life can be hard. We all go through good times as well as difficult ones. But hard times produce lessons like courage, the strength of character, greater understanding and deeper compassion.
Every human has experienced varying grades of trauma. For some, this trauma is relatively minor. But for others, it is far more severe - and often damaging.
None of us gets through life without experiencing pain!
We grow the most during our most challenging times. So why do we define these times as negative - when they reward us valuably? The most painful chapters of our lives are when we feel most alive. These phases give rise to miracles - if we are receptive enough to notice.
It Takes a Tsunami is ultimately a business story. It begins with the securing of my first auction client as a 20-year-old. And it ends with Inospace becoming a well-respected and recognised property brand.
Even though this book’s focus is my entrepreneurial journey, I learned many valuable lessons along the way. So, I decided to create a list of business lessons – for both big and small businesses. These lessons worked for me. Perhaps they’ll be beneficial for others too?
1. When you spot an opportunity, move quickly
William Arthur Ward said, “Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them”.
Regret happens when we don’t seize opportunities.
To be a successful entrepreneur – or a successful anything – you need to recognise an opportunity when you see it. You need to identify a problem or gap and find an innovative solution. Of course, you also need to be able to execute that solution, but without spotting the opportunity in the first place, you aren’t going anywhere.
The first step is always the most difficult. Every step after that is more comfortable. So when you see the right opportunity, move quickly.
2. Trust your gut
Great decision-making is largely grounded in facts, but your gut instinct is just as important.
Instinct is wiser than intellect. Trusting your gut is an act of trusting yourself.
The greatest ideas, disruptive businesses and market-changing strategies are not created through cold, hard logic and data but via intuition. Leadership is about identifying possibilities even when rational judgment tells you it will lead to failure.
Gut intuition doesn’t relate to a mystical sixth sense. It’s more likely unconscious observations that experience gives you. Your “gut” feeling is often your best compass.
3. Find a point of difference
In business, it pays to be different. If you’re selling the same product or service as everyone else in your industry, it can be hard to find a way to differentiate yourself. You could compete on price or copy your competition. This will lead to you being second best.
While it may seem like a good idea to focus on price as a differentiator, you will have to work harder to make a profit. This will leave you vulnerable to competitors who can undercut and attract fickle, price-driven customers who will move on when they find a lower price.
It takes courage to be different. In business, one must be bold to create value for one’s customers that no one else can provide.
4. Green and growing
Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, was known for his motto. He claimed, “When you’re green, you’re growing; when you’re ripe, you rot”. The cure for ageing and decay is lifelong learning. Being “green and growing” is one of my core values.
The best in business have boundless curiosity and open minds. This allows them to work and live with a sense of wonder and curiosity that fuels their success.
Those who are “green” read constantly, go on courses, and listen to podcasts. They understand that everyone they encounter knows one thing they don't. In a world of dizzying change, ideas are the currency of success. And a passion for learning makes you an innovative leader.
5. Business favours the obsessed
Consider the global icons in any endeavour. Whether they're business leaders, athletes or musicians, they became successful because they are obsessive. Irish athlete Conor McGregor claimed: “To do anything to a high level, it has to be total obsession”.
The greatest leaders are obsessed with excellence, progress, and becoming the best version of themselves. And don’t worry; obsession is only unhealthy if it's an unhealthy obsession.
6. Look for the tipping point
A tipping point is when everything changes—a cultural shift, a technology, or an idea moves from a fashion to a market pivot, from an interesting idea to a landscape-altering tsunami.
The tipping point is the moment that completely alters the trajectory of your business. It is something to keep an eye out for.
No one can predict the future or identify every significant movement. But innovative entrepreneurs should look for signs of disruptive cultural and societal change. And when they notice them, they should choose the right moment to catch the wave.
7. Altruism is advantageous
“Doing good is good business,” said retail guru Raymond Ackerman. He’s right! Everyone wants to work for a well-run company that does its part to build a better world.
We all want to feel good about the company that we work for. We want to know that it makes lives better.
As the leader of an organisation, it’s easy to engage in causes that help communities - by giving funds, goods or services and supporting important initiatives. You will retain talented people and attract even more. And your customers will respect you.
Good business is good business. And giving begins the receiving process.
8. No ask, no get
There is huge power in asking for what you want. Often we can have what we want but don't ask for it, so those around us don't know what we require. The best of the best - those who run enormous businesses - ask like crazy.
These people understand that it's a habit that must be honed. And the more they do it, the easier it gets.
And so they ask: for the support and help they need at work, for capital to start a business, for a lucky break, they need for their business, for a better deal from a supplier, for an invitation to a corporate event.
Nothing happens until you ask. People are not mind-readers. They need to know what's meaningful to them. So if you ask nicely, they might say yes.
9. Try new things
The trait at the heart of entrepreneurship is the courage to do things you’ve never done before. Successful entrepreneurs are always enthusiastic about new experiences.
There are always going to be things you’ve never tried before—new ways to market, new ways to engage customers and new ways to sell. Not all new things will work, but you don’t know what will work until you start trying. The entrepreneur’s attitude should always be to try new things whenever possible.
A zealous exploratory attitude is a critical attribute to growing a company. Every possible opportunity should be used for advancement.
10. Develop a clear and well-articulated vision
“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion,” said Jack Welch, the late CEO of General Electric
A clearly articulated vision acts as a unifying force in a business. When your team understands and buys into the company’s vision, it unites them. It focuses and aligns efforts so everyone works towards the same goal. And it acts as a guide for team members’ actions and decision-making.
The most significant benefit of a clear vision is that it can be motivating and inspiring. When an individual understands and aligns with the core values and the vision of the business, they can readily commit to, and engage in, the company’s efforts. Engaged and inspired team members can help you achieve your mission and goals.
11. Imitate, integrate and then innovate
Many shun imitation as a strategy because it’s associated with a lack of originality, but most companies are imitators. In South Africa, it’s easy to imitate international industry leaders by introducing their ideas into the local market.
There is no shame in mimicking or imitating a competitor as long as you don't steal intellectual property. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. In business, it may be the key to survival. Once you've imitated something sufficiently well, you may begin integrating it into your operation.
And once you've integrated imitated systems, ideas or processes into your business, you can begin to innovate. Breakthrough innovation was often attempted by someone else before the time was right. And you may be the innovator that makes the breakthrough.
12. Never fall in love with a business; sell when a buyer comes knocking
South African business titan Mark Lamberti said it best: “Every business decision starts with an entrepreneur’s personal decision.” That doesn’t mean one should make emotional decisions about exiting a business.
Entrepreneurs often end up at a crossroads - trying to decide whether to sell their businesses.
It’s best to separate your financial reasons for selling from your non-financial reasons. And be careful of “optimism bias”. This is when optimism creates false confidence and produces strategic blind spots.
Business owners and entrepreneurs should devise an exit plan early and lay the groundwork for a potential sale to acquirers long before a deal is imminent. Acquisitions can take years to come to fruition. In my own experience as a founder, a lack of advanced exit planning can lead to the demise and fire sale of the greatest businesses.
13. Build a standout brand
The world is drowning in brands. Building a standout brand is vital in the social media era, where everyone is fighting for attention. Success means a brand that will stand up against the competition and stand out from the crowd. You need to be highly visible and leverage every opportunity to get noticed.
Your brand also needs to be original. If you mimic a competitor's brand, people won't have a compelling reason to choose you. So figure out what’s missing in your industry and fill in the gaps. The best and most popular brands are the ones that understand their target audiences. Get creative about what you can offer that your competitors are not providing.
In branding, risk often leads to reward. The boldest brands aren't afraid to experiment with new techniques or to take a stance on controversial issues within their industry. Tell your story if you want your brand to stand out. People are interested in how you got to where you are today, what you went through, and what the core principles of your work are.
14. If you want to change an industry, don’t hire people from that industry
One guaranteed way to change things within your company and your industry are to hire people outside your industry. I’ve always believed in hiring attitudes and training skills. Most companies hire skills over culture. It’s a mistake.
Hiring people from outside your industry comes with risk, as it takes longer for them to get to know your sector. But hiring industry stalwarts from the same, like-minded group of people is a perfect strategy if you want to keep ending up with the same results.
The best people I have ever hired knew very little about our industry, but they became industry leaders. To create a disruptive business, hire fresh people from other sectors who bring new approaches to your industry.
15. Simplify to focus
Henry David Thoreau stated, “Simplify. Simplify. Simplify”. It’s a great message. One of the primary reasons that people and businesses fail to reach greatness is that they try to be too many things to too many people.
Confucius said it best: “Man who chases two rabbits catches neither.”
The most successful human beings are wildly focused. They have a clear picture of what they want to achieve by the time they reach the end of their lives. They refuse anything that isn’t mission-critical and have the discipline and courage to stick to their plans.
16. Practice habits and rituals
Charles Duigg, in his bestselling book “The Power of Habits”, states that the most successful people, companies and societies have a series of habits and rituals that they repeat constantly.
In business, leaders use rituals to highlight important aspects of their companies and encourage their teams to focus on these practices. Regarding corporate culture, patterns are invaluable in helping people remember and prioritise best practices.
Using rituals to teach culture is an ideal method for management to exemplify “the way things are done around here”.
Leaders who incorporate behaviour-driven rituals into their culture can take their companies to the next level.
17. To build a great business, build great systems
To build a business where you don’t have to do everything yourself, you have to be a builder of systems. These systems can be set up through technology, manual processes, or a hybrid of the two.
Many entrepreneurs fail when building systems because they start with a complicated system. The most reliable systems, especially when starting, are the ones that are simple and digestible enough to be understood and accepted by others. If your system is too complex, no one will buy into your vision, nor will they know how to replicate it if you're not there. But invest in systems because, eventually, they will become your most valuable assets.
18. Say sorry
Everyone makes mistakes. Saying, “I’m sorry,” can be humbling. These are the two most powerful words to sort out a problem.
An apology can fix a PR disaster or reverse ill will towards a company. However, apologies can also add to the problem and seem disingenuous and insincere if carried out poorly.
Every situation and every apology is different. An honest and timely response can turn a situation around. So, when apologising, taking ownership and fixing the problem goes a long way.
19. Your business may need enemies. You don’t
“I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt. I’m not so sure about this. The business world is a jungle. Often we’re surrounded by people who are unhappy with us, and we create enemies – overt ones and ones we don’t even know about.
Having a competitor as an “enemy” can help you to create a differentiated brand. Nowadays, this is critical. Many brands have been built almost exclusively by clearly defining an enemy — and messaging around it.
On a personal level, it may be true that a wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends, but why allow yourself to be surrounded by unnecessary danger? Rather, turn an enemy into a friend.
20. Media can destroy your business as quickly as it builds it
Today everyone and every business can build their own media profile. Social media is a far more powerful platform than the world’s greatest newspaper could ever dream of.
Social media allows brands and businesses to reach their customers directly – anytime and anywhere. It has helped small businesses to grow larger and faster than ever before.
But as quickly as it can build your business, the wrong move can destroy your reputation instantly.
The tallest trees indeed catch the most wind. So when you build a media profile, tread with great caution. Today’s newspaper is the wrapping on tomorrow’s fish and chips – but online content can live forever.
21. Set goals
In business, company goals give clear direction to everyone and can also provide motivational accountability to your employees. Setting goals also gives credibility to any established business models as it shows an endeavour to act and reinforces company mission statements and overall business objectives.
To make goals succeed, they should:
- have clear guidelines
- be measurable, achievable and have a clear timeframe
- be regularly reviewed
Company goals aren’t static; you can change them according to changes in the marketplace, the economy and even changes in your aspirations.
Remember, goals don’t need to relate only to financial performance.
22. Get off the dance floor
One of the primary traits of world-class performers in business and life is their ability to “detach from the noise”.
Every day crises, interruptions and distractions demand our attention. To achieve your unique form of personal and professional greatness, it's essential to detach from the noise and to “get off the dance floor”.
Refuelling and resting are never a waste of time. They are part of a winning strategy. Societal norms encourage us to work non-stop - to hustle 24/7/365. But rest isn’t a luxury. To achieve success, rest is a necessity.
So sleep when you’re tired. Travel when you’re uninspired. Pause when you’re depleted. And have fun when your body whispers that you need it.
23. Hang with people who make you aim higher
We become like the people we spend most of our time with. So spend your days with successful people (irrespective of how you define success) and their thinking, feelings and behaviour will influence yours.
When you associate with those thriving, you step into a world of possibilities. So surround yourself with people who are smarter, faster, stronger and better than you so that you can be uplifted by their success and inspired by their example.
24. Build your business one relationship at a time
Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, explained that his international coffee giant was “built one cup at a time”.
They say that if you take care of your relationships, your profits will take care of themselves.
When you strip any business to its core, it’s always about people dealing with people. And if you want to grow a business, you need to build solid relationships.
“People will not lend you a hand until you first touch their hearts”, said motivational speaker Robin Sharma.
25. Being soft is hard
Anyone can act tough. But revealing vulnerability requires far more strength.
Many believe that one needs to be hard to succeed in business. This isn’t true.
The soft stuff is the hard stuff. And the new leadership model is all about mastering the skills people used to judge as soft. The leaders who cling to the old ways of being firm and unyielding are being left behind.
26. Be in a rush
The importance of speed in business cannot be overstated. This century’s industry is dominated by speed. It’s no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity. Having a great product is no longer enough. People expect things to be faster, cheaper and better.
We must be cautious of “the tyranny of the urgent” and choose what needs to be done immediately and what can wait. We often postpone the most important things.
We tell those around us that we’ll “get round to it” when things slow down, or we have more time.
Deep within, we all know there will never be a better time than now.
27. It takes a tsunami to know how tough you are
Fear is scary. When it surfaces, we’re wired to run, to avoid and to view it as negative. This isn’t true. Fear is a beautiful opportunity. It’s a gift. Your greatness and your power lie on the other side of fear.
Doing what you fear promotes self-improvement, growth, and self-respect.
We all face challenges. It's the human condition. But every obstacle encountered is an opportunity in disguise.
28. Failure is a winning strategy
South Africans fear failure because it’s viewed with contempt. But many cultures understand that failing is a long-term winning strategy.
Dreaming big and stretching yourself beyond the norm is considered dangerous - dangerous because you leave the safety of your routine.
If you leave your cocoon of comfort, you’ll certainly fail more than your neighbours. But one must fail to win.
One must be willing to take risks. Successful people would rather reach high and be disappointed than not reach at all. And when they fall, they get back up, dust themselves off - and start again. Wiser. Stronger. And more committed.
29. Focus on your strengths
Many businesses - and people - are so busy that they forget that focus creates mastery. You can only get better – and eventually brilliant - if you pick something (or a few things) to concentrate on and then spend the rest of your days specialising in it.
Why play in a space where you cannot win? Why waste your time? Figure out what your business is best at.
30. Always ask: What’s the lesson here?
It takes a Tsunami to remind us that adversity is the greatest teacher. It allows us to see what we’re made of – our strengths and weaknesses.
Hard times pass, but they serve us well. They deliver wisdom and teach us compassion and understanding.
But when bad things (or good things) happen, we must always ask: "What's the lesson here?"This allows us to use our setbacks to gain knowledge.