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This article was published on November 6, 2015

5 business secrets you’ve probably never thought about

5 business secrets you’ve probably never thought about
Mackensie Graham

Forget the Fountain of Youth. In the competitive global business market, “secrets for success” are much more valuable. Everyone from Fortune 500 CEOs to startup founders wants to succeed in both profit and performance. Great ideas for transforming and increasing the viability of a business, along with its products, services and longevity, are not hard to find. The “what worked for me will work for you” business tips are everywhere — quoted in industry magazines, spoken at conferences and heard in podcasts. They’re passed around by board members and touted by consultants.

But when you’re in the thick of day-to-day business operations, it’s often too difficult to stop and consider these points – you’re efficient, we get it! So we’ve assembled our 5 favorite business secrets to save you some time and help you meditate on how to use them for business success.

1. Evolve into an expert generalist

The rules of business are constantly shifting. Having a unique background in various topics (outside of your specialty) will equip you to adapt with the various changes. Better yet, it will allow you to take control of them.

Orit Gadiesh, chairman of Bain & Co, coined the term “expert generalist” to describe a professional as:

“Someone who has the ability and curiosity to master and collect expertise in many different disciplines, industries, skills, capabilities, countries and topics., etc.” As such, professionals can draw on their palettes of diverse knowledge to recognize patterns across multiple areas and focus deeper in order to perfect their knowledge.

Beyond Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule (Outliers), being an expert generalist is finding the sweet spot between expertise in a singular industry and general knowledge across many. It’s easy to listen to your subconscious when it says you don’t have the time to take a creative writing class, read that book on environmental protection, or subscribe to the web class on home brewing. Next time that little voice questions your focus, remind yourself that having a wide breadth of knowledge and experience will allow you to approach your business with fresh perspective. Struggling with something new mirrors the way businesses struggle with challenge resolve. Get curious, get outside your comfort zone and grow your business as a byproduct of this continuous quest for knowledge.


2. Integrate volunteering into your personal and professional creed

Surprisingly, day-to-day business practices are not a key factor for success. It’s about the value of giving back, investing time and talent in the community and the character of your employees. Encourage employees to dedicate time and effort towards at least one cause that is aligned with your company’s mission.

Follow the unspoken rule of some of the most successful global companies leading by example. Consider Microsoft’s program where employees can request a donation grant of $25 per every hour volunteered (minimum for four hours annually). Set up a donation-matching program or enact a small-scale version of PepsiCorp’s, which places Pepsi employees as volunteers in areas around the globe to assist with projects related to the corporation’s giving initiative.

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group and big believer in philanthropy, proves you don’t build a $5 billion fortune based on greed.

“Philanthropic work undertaken not just by the CEO, but by any employee, is an asset to the group as a whole, bringing in new perspectives and relationships that the group wouldn’t otherwise have. So encourage your employees to contribute, off the job and on and in time people in your community will learn that business can bring positive change.”

3. Invite Diversity

Take the concept of diversity beyond the mandatory (and important) HR training and fully embrace the cultures and qualities that makes coworkers different. Consider the theory of diversity among socially distinct newcomers.

Katherine Phillips, Senior Vice Dean of Columbia Business School, researched the impact of newcomers on quality, finding that discomfort can be debilitating to quality decision-making. A benefit of bringing social diversity to the boardroom is that employees in the social majority are more likely to express perspectives and offer critical reviews than when there is not a social diversity present.

“Oftentimes when people think of the effects of diversity, they focus on the one or two people in the minority, instead of thinking about how the diversity impacts the majority of the group,” Phillips was quoted during her time as Kellogg School of Management Associate Professor. “In diverse groups, everyone is more likely to focus on the available information and to bring in new ideas, not just the people who are ‘different’.”

Ask interviewees and employees what makes them socially distinct from the company’s current majority. Ask about hobbies, where their viewpoints differ from those of their past employers and what inspires them. Break free of the paradigm that people who look “different” also think “different”. That is certainly not always true.

4. Rise to a Routine

Did your mom ever tell you that breakfast was the most important meal of the day? Nutrition aside, she had a point. Some of the most successful business leaders adhere to a morning routine. Having a regular wake-up time and engaging in consistent, calm habits – an energizing yoga session, jog around the neighborhood, reading the news, meditating for 10 minutes – can give you the mindset to tackle the stress, issues and challenges that will come at you throughout the day.

Knowing in advance what your morning will look like allows you to feel proactive, effective and in control. Carry this same sort of competence to all aspects of your business; think holistically about yourself and your business… it all intertwines.


5. Treat Yourself by Treating Others

Toss out the age old Golden Rule. Don’t treat others how you want to be treated, but rather, as they want to be treated.

This mantra (which you should immediately tape to your computer) requires deep knowledge of who your current and potential customers are. It drives you to go above and beyond; to really listen to what others have to say. You cannot anticipate everything your customers will want, which means you need to talk with them constantly – in face-to-face meetings with a wide open door for feedback – and genuinely listen.

Institute this perspective with everyone: employees, vendors, customers, strangers… You’ll develop a habit of being nice, respectful, courteous, positive, goal-oriented and customer service focused. Respect is subjective, but imagine the personal relationships and professional respect your demeanor will attract.

Read next: 9 SEO secrets every business should know

Image credit: Shutterstock

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