My failures are the outcomes of my actions, but they do not define who I am.
Matt Hunt is a professional speaker, blogger, consultant and founder of Stanford and Griggs, LLC. With over 20 years of business and technology experience he has a demonstrated excellence in business strategy, innovation, and leadership development with large companies, small companies and non-profit organizations.
Matt has worked for Morgan Stanley and Best Buy throughout most of his career. During his time in corporate America, he saw that failure has recently become a favorite buzzword in the popular press and business journals. However, it is still a tainted word in most American businesses that are driven by continued career growth, quarterly profitability and shareholder returns. Executives rarely get promoted based on their long list of failures and employees who risk becoming intrapreneurs are often discouraged from telling their stories and frequently end up leaving the organization where that wisdom becomes lost forever. This missed opportunity to learn from our failures became the spark Matt needed to fuel his drive to move innovation forward. Now, Matt Hunt is ready to share this wisdom and innovation strategies with your organization to fuel innovation and catalog failure as a learning tool to drive organizational enhancement.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently focusing on two initiatives. The first is launching a consulting/speaking practice, “Stanford & Griggs,” where I help organizations better understand the role of failure in innovation. I help them examine the processes behind driving innovation and building an appropriate innovation strategy for their organization. My second initiative is continuing my work on a book that specifically focuses on innovation and the role of failure in driving innovation.
Where did the idea for Stanford & Griggs come from?
Stanford Avenue and Griggs Street were actually the names of the streets where I grew up in St. Paul, Minn. It is a little geeky, but the idea for the name has been in my head for the last twenty years or so. A friend of mine told me that she knew what she was going to name her daughter for more than thirty years; it was the name of her first doll. Similarly, I’ve been thinking about this for a while.
A few friends have commented that the name sounds more like it should be a law firm, but most like the story behind it. I’ll admit that I haven’t helped the confusion by not putting out a website. All of my work so far has come from referrals, so I haven’t needed to build a site, but more importantly, I am a really big fan of figuring things out along the way. By defining what kind of work I will do too early would also define what the work that I won’t be asked to do, which can be incredibly limiting.
About a decade ago, I had taken on a project to help educate a group of executives on what was being defined as web 2.0 technologies and methodologies. One of my favorite lessons that would continually blow their minds was the idea of “Wisdom of the Crowds.” I would share the story of the University of California Berkley facilities designers who would construct a new building with only minimal sidewalks. They would then wait for the students to walk on the grass and create their natural paths. The designers would then come back and look for the dead grass paths and then define where they needed to add sidewalks. I am constructing the building and waiting for my clients to tell me where to put the sidewalks.
What does your typical day look like?
Each day is extremely varied, but all of them start with me trying to define the top three priorities for that day. Some days are focused on working with clients and others are spent working on my writing. I’ll be honest, it can be a challenge bouncing between entrepreneur and writer, but it has been incredibly fun and personally rewarding. One thing that has helped with the complexity is the whiteboard I recently added to my office; I can now visually keep track of all of my various priorities.
How do you bring ideas to life?
As I had mentioned earlier, I am a really big fan of figuring things out along the way. As a systems programmer, I would see developers get into the rut of trying to figure out everything first. Instead of falling into that, I would try to deconstruct the assignment into smaller pieces that I could start solving more quickly. If you are familiar with Gallup’s Strengths Finder (kind of like the Myers Briggs test with more traits), my number one attribute is “activator,” which means that I absolutely dread standing still and prefer to finalize the strategy along the way through experimentation.
As I was working to bring my writing to life, one great piece of advice that I was reminded of by Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company, was the idea of working within your own style and preferences. He noted that some writers are better at creating content by just typing their words out and structuring it later, but others prefer to build the framework first and then fill in the content. There isn’t a right or wrong approach, just one that may work more naturally for each writer. After 20-plus years in the business world I think I was conditioned to the later approach. I start most of my writing by first building a framework in Powerpoint and then filling in the content. So far so good.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I am really excited by the recent push into statistics, probability, and data-based decision making. The race for organizations to understand how they can embrace “big data” in their strategic planning and decision-making is a great example. Being a former IT geek and statistics zealot, I feel like this “our” time for nerds to shine. When data geek Nate Silver can get onto “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart twice within a couple of months to explain the powerful prediction model behind analyzing a series of polls, he must be doing something right. I do hope that the pendulum doesn’t swing entirely in the opposite direction, but a stronger understanding of data, statistics, and probabilities would be a good thing. If I had a nickel for every time I witnessed decision making with a sample of one, I’d be a rich man.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I don’t want this to sound like a cop out, but I really don’t think I can identify a worst job. If I grew to not like a job, I would simply leave and find something different. There have been a couple of times where I had a job that I enjoyed, but eventually the “learning” opportunity slowed down and I felt like I had become stagnant. This for me is when a job becomes painful, and I know that it is time to move on. While it is not a perfect calendar, this lull usually happens somewhere in the three to five year range, so I try to be productive and move on before then. Looking back at the many different jobs I have had over the years, I can’t think of one that I regret. Sometimes work was difficult and sometimes the leader I worked for was difficult, but at a minimum I now realize what kind of work I don’t want to do and what kind of leader I don’t want to be.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
One of the things that I had learned early in my career is the value of our personal network. After business school I moved across the country for my new job, however; while I was away I didn’t think about making time to keep up with my former colleagues and classmates. Several years later when my wife and I were looking to move back to Minnesota our networks were critical in discovering job opportunities. Since that time I have made a conscious effort to try and stay connected to the good people that I have crossed paths with throughout my life. These days those connections are the source of ideas and insights that I bring to my writing and consulting work.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
When working in corporate America it is far too easy to become insulated from the great innovations happening outside of your own bubble. One of the great sources of new ideas and innovative thinking that I follow is from Springwise.com. They scour the world for new entrepreneurs and present it back in an easy-to-digest format.
Tell us a secret.
I have seen behind the curtain of several Fortune 500 companies, and they aren’t wizards — they are just people. Some of the people I worked with were smarter than average and many worked harder than others, but they were still just human beings. I see too many people getting wrapped up in what company someone worked for or what school they went to, neither of which determines what one is capable of.
What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?
WordPress – What an incredible tool! It lets anyone create their own platform to share their story. WordPress by itself is a powerful and easy-to-use tool, but the thousands of available plug-ins are the secret sauce. After launching my blog this summer I discovered the Akismet plug-in that keeps blog spammers from overwhelming your posts with bogus comments that link to various scam sites. After I had installed the program, it basically eliminated all of the spam. I think I might have yelled the word “Alleluia!”
Hootsuite – For anyone active in social media, this is a must-have to stay current on what is going on across social media tools, to follow topics or keywords, and to orchestrate your posts across sites. And with the “paid” version, you get some great features that will absolutely save you time.
Evernote – This application has single handedly kept me from going crazy. As a writer, I use the Mozilla Evernote plug-in to collect web pages and posts and organize them by topic or chapters in my book. As an entrepreneur, I use the Evernote app on my phone to capture my notes and follow-ups from each meeting I am at. No more scribbles in a notebook or lost post-its!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
There are far too many great books to narrow them down to just one so here are a few in their order of their influence on me:
The Millionaire Next Door – In the age of consumption, it is really hard for people to live below their means, and instead everyone is trying to keep up with the Jones’. Being a good saver, beyond retirement and the kids’ education, has allowed me to take risks in my career and pursue roles that I wanted to do — not just accept jobs that I felted I needed to do.
The Black Swan – Nassim Taleb does not hold back on his disdain for financial “risk” managers and the financial media pundits. The book is a difficult read, but it is nothing short of revolutionary in the ideas shared. The core of these ideas being that in many disciplines (financial derivatives is one) we try to manage risk by using probabilities, but that method only hides the fact that random acts (a.k.a. Black Swans) don’t follow normal probabilities. When these Black Swans do occur, no risk management tool is sufficient to protect investors. If you want to see how well your financial advisor understands risk, just ask them to explain the concept of a black swan.
The Fifth Discipline – Everything in life is part of a system of action and reaction from personal relationships to multi-national organizations. We find crisis when we ignore these reactions, or feedback loops. A profound quote from the book is: “Today’s problems are from yesterday’s solutions.”
Born to Run – The author does a great job of using logic to probe for an answer as to why so many runners get injured these days. He weaves a wonderful narrative from modern day equipment “innovation” to our ancestors on the African savannah and back to a tribe of modern “running people” in the hills of Mexico.
What’s on your playlist?
This is a tough one. For music around the house I use Sonos and usually have one of three things playing: NPR, MOG Top Tracks Playlist, or one of my favorite artists like Marc Cohn, a singer, songwriter, and philosopher. When I am in the car or running I am usually listening to a new audio book – I’m a big fan of Audible and prefer a unique non-fiction story.
If you weren’t working on educating companies about failure and innovation, what would you be doing?
Honestly, I hope to have several more “career” changes in my lifetime. One that I recently thought about trying next was in the management consulting world. I love trying to solve challenging problems, and I get energy out of working with different organizations, so consulting would be a natural mashup of the two. At some point I’d also like to turn my attention to the non-profit world, but I am not quite certain on how that comes to fruition yet.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
My challenge with Twitter is that the most thoughtful contributors are often drowned out by the most prolific. Three of my favorite thinkers are: @DanielPink for his ability to see trends and clearly articulate them; @SirKenRobinson for his ability to see the forest and the trees, and he is a real systems thinker; and @BFeld, a VC, startup, innovation expert who had the courage to walk away from Silicon Valley and forge his own path.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I usually laugh out loud every day! There are so many pleasures of having kids, but one of my favorites is that it really is a great excuse to be a kid again. It is really wonderful to be able to see the world through their eyes.
Who is your hero?
I would have to say President Obama. You can agree or disagree with his politics, but here is a guy who has spent most of his life focused on improving the lives of others. The courage and emotional fortitude required by every candidate to run for public office is heroic.
Tell me about a time you failed and what did you learn?
My first brush with failure came during my freshman year of college. Like many, I felt that I was able to coast through high school without developing strong study skills. With poor study habits and an overwhelming list of non-school distractions I failed miserably my first quarter. For me this was the kick in the pants that I needed, and it forced me to really focus on what I wanted to do with my education. I eventually decided that I wanted to switch from a pure computer science focus to management information systems which would require getting an “A” in my prerequisite courses. I set that as my goal and managed to get into the business school. It was a lesson that has shaped my life. My failures are the outcomes of my actions, but they do not define who I am.
What would you have done differently in your personal life?
To be honest I don’t think I would change a thing. Not everything has been fun or even pleasant, but every action has been part of making me who I am today. Not perfect, just me.