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Lessons learned – in life and business – from Guy Kawasaki
The Agents of Change

Lessons learned – in life and business – from Guy Kawasaki

Have you ever sat down and thought about all of the life lessons you know now, but wish you knew when you were just starting out? Do you have some sage advice you’d like to pass on to a budding entrepreneur or upcoming college graduate? Business renaissance man, Guy Kawasaki, is here today dishing out advice, reflections, and truth bombs, and explaining that you’re not going to find your dream job right out of college, nor is the path to success and happiness linear. And that’s absolutely fine.

Rich: My guest today is the chief evangelist of Canva. He’s a brand ambassador for Mercedes Benz and an executive fellow of the Haas School of Business (UC Berkeley), and an adjunct professor at the University of New South Wales. He was the chief evangelist of Apple and a trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation. He is also the author of Wise Guy, The Art of the Start 2.0, The Art of Social Media, Enchantment, and 11 other books.

He has a BA from Stanford University, an MBA from UCLA, and an honorary doctorate from Babson College. He’s also the creator of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People Podcast. It’s Guy Kawasaki. Guy, thanks for being on the podcast.

Guy: Thank you. Thank you. I like that introduction.

Rich: You know, I like to tweak it a little bit. All right, well I’ve got it on recording so I’ll just send it over for you. Yeah, all good, no worries.

Guy: Okay.

Rich: So we talked about you’ve published quite a few books, and most recently you published Wise Guy, and a lot of people are referring to this as your most personal book to date, even though it’s not a traditional biography. What was the impetus behind writing Wise Guy?

Guy: A big advance.

Rich: That always will get you started. Yeah.

Guy: I was just going to see your reaction. So I decided that I have quite a few lessons to communicate to people. And you know, you have to sort of thread the needle here because, have you ever seen people who are like 30 years old and they’re writing their autobiography and memoir and you say to yourself, “What the hell do you know at 30?” So you have to wait till you’re after that. But then if you wait too long and then you forget their lessons. So there’s this sweet spot where you got the lesson and it’s substantial, but you haven’t forgotten it yet. And so I figured now’s the time if there’s ever a time. So I wrote Wise Guy.

Rich: All right, sounds good. Now on this podcast, we often talk about ways to optimize your site for the search engines or tweak your Facebook ads for a larger reach. But sometimes, at least to me, those feel like table stakes and the only way to truly stand out online or off is to be remarkable. Would you agree or disagree with that idea?

Guy: Hard to disagree with that idea. I don’t think it’s rocket science to want to be remarkable. The hard part is actually how do you be remarkable, and that is a big, big test.

I think that a very good model for people is this 2×2 matrix. Consider a graph with the vertical axis and a horizontal axis. On the vertical axis you measure your degree of differentiation, how unusual you are, how unique you are or your product or your service, a person, a product or service.

The horizontal axis is how valuable you are as a person, product or service. And so the mental model here is all of life boils down to being in the upper right hand corner where you are unique and valuable. So when the iPod first came out, it was the only way to get a broad selection of music on a device that a mere human could operate legally and inexpensively. That made it unique and valuable. And if you’re an employee with a unique and valuable skill, you’ll be well compensated. If you’re a spouse who is unique and valuable, you will never be left behind.

So I think that explains it all right there. We could just drop the mic and end this podcast.

Rich: But then the sponsors wouldn’t be getting their money’s worth, if we had any sponsors.

Guy: There’s that. Yes. Yes.

Rich: So you mentioned, I was going to ask you, in your book you talk about getting high into the right, meaning being both unique and valuable. And like you said, it’s easy to say that it’s easy to say go out and be remarkable. But how does a person or a company start that journey to say, how do I become remarkable in the eyes of my audience or community?

Guy: Believe it or not, I have the usual answer to a question like this. It’s, well you know, you talk to your customers and you ask them what they need and you go back and you build it. Uh, I don’t think that works, at least based on my experience with Apple.

My experience at Apple will tell you that you build the product or service that you want to use. Think of Steve Wozniak building an Apple I and then you just hope to hell that you’re not the only nutcase in the world that wants to use it.

The concept of doing market research and talking to your customers and all that, I don’t think works for building something remarkable. Because if you ask your existing customers, they’re going to tell you various permutations of what you already do. So if you were selling Apple II’s and you said to your customers, what would you like us to do next? They would say bigger, faster, cheaper, Apple II. No one would say build a Macintosh.

And I would also make the case, if you are building a Macintosh and you asked people what you want the company to do, they would say bigger, faster, cheaper, Macintosh, not an iPhone, iPod, iPad. So therein lies the difficulty of truly doing something unique and valuable.

Rich: Right. So if you want to make an iteration, an iterative change in what you’re already doing, then go ahead and do your surveys and your group discussions with your current client base. But if you want to do something that is remarkable, nobody in that room is going to be able to tell you what it is. That’s got to come internally, is what I’m hearing.

Guy: I don’t know about nobody, but it’s unlikely. Because how would someone who has been using an Apple II describe a Macintosh, right? So you’re using an Apple II, it’s 24 x 80. Maybe it’s color, it doesn’t have a mouse, It’s not wizzy wig, and you’re going to describe a Macintosh? Well maybe if you work in Xerox Park you could, but yeah, that’s a few hundred people in the world back then. So who else could have described that? And therein lies the challenge.

If you were a car manufacturer and you said to your existing customers, what would you like? They would say, “Oh, more power, lower 0 to 60”, maybe some would say greater mileage, maybe some would say, you know, four doors with three rows holding eight people.

If you were a GM, Ford, Chrysler, any of the above owner, and Elon Musk asks you, “What would you like in a car?” Who would have said, “Oh, give me a car that is all electric”. Hard to imagine that happening, right?

Rich: Right. Another aspect I think of your career has been that you have been involved with a lot of companies that put an emphasis on design. You’re working for Canva now, you’ve done a couple of tours with Apple. Why do you feel that design is so critical in the marketplace?

Guy: Well, I don’t think it’s sufficient. It also may not be necessary, as proven by Windows. So it is not necessary or sufficient, but I think there’s enough people who really appreciate design. And Macintosh market share, you know, 5 ,6, 7, 8%, well that means 95, 94, 93, 92% don’t care. So it’s not that everybody cares and it’s not that this is a panacea and you have beautiful design and you get 90% market share. But I think there are enough people who care, and some people care enough to build beautiful design and some people care enough to buy beautiful design, and that’s enough.

Rich: Well it seems like Apple goes after a smaller segment of people who really do care about design and maybe have the budget to care enough about design, and then they go off and hopefully create beautiful things.

Canva seems to be a product that’s so many more people can use. Do you feel that it’s kind of made it easier for people to be creative out there in the marketplace?

Guy: Absolutely. So I began my career with Macintosh, and that made people more creative and productive by providing a computer interface that a mere mortal could operate. Now at the end of my career, I’m chief evangelist for Canva, and Canva has made it so that you don’t need to be a Photoshop expert to create beautiful graphic design.

So Macintosh democratized computing and Canva is democratizing design. And between those two things, which is a good 30 years, I kind of thrashed. But an opportunity like Macintosh or Canva, if you’re lucky, comes along in your career once. So I’m twice as lucky. I got it twice.

Rich: it feels right now like there’s a lot of sameness in design these days. You know, you see one type of website becomes popular and then everybody seems to be copying it. And I wonder if maybe some of this is social media platforms only give us a small box to show off our personality in a post or something like that. Obviously Canva is trying to create something that is a little bit more dynamic for people. Do you think that there is, or what are some of the ways that we can stand out online, especially if we are using some of these social media platforms? What makes something remarkable on a social media platform?

Guy: Well within a social media platform, you don’t have much choice with the design. You’re not going to redesign the Facebook, Twitter, Tik Tok, et cetera page. So you have some parameters there. So that’s good or bad. I mean, good means, well that’s one less thing you can worry about. Bad means that’s one less thing that you can change.

But having said that, let’s take a case of Twitter. So with Twitter, you know, how good is your avatar? Is your avatar cropped out of a wedding photo with the light behind your head? How good is your cover photo? Does that cover photo of communicate a story, does it explain who you are? Have you even changed off of the default blank avatar? You know, so right there there’s some elements of design.

And then as far as content, I think that the major social media lesson that people have to learn is you should post things that add value to people’s lives. This can be information, it could be analysis, it could be entertainment, but it’s not necessarily what you want to post as much as what people want to see. And so that is not the same thing. You may want to be pimping your product all day long on Twitter, but that’s not what your followers want. They want information, analysis or entertainment.

Rich: And where do you find that you’re able to most express yourself on social channels? Do you have a “go to”, is it Twitter still?

Guy: No, my go to channel is LinkedIn because I believe that a person is much more likely to be who he or she says he or she is on LinkedIn than any other platform. Now, it gets complicated. So I’m 65 years old, I’m chief evangelist of Canva. That’s going to be my last job. I’m doing a lot of podcasting now and I do a lot of speaking. So I am at the end of my career. I’m not worried about someone finding me on LinkedIn and approaching me and offering me a job. I’m not marketing myself anymore. I’m in that part of my career where frankly, I just don’t give a shit. If you don’t like what I do, it’s not my problem anymore.

So with that caveat, I will tell you that my social media is not something that most people should copy. In particular right now I feel very strongly about what’s going on in the political world in the United States and so my feed is extremely political. Far more political than I would recommend to most people. But as I said, I’m at the end of my career and I don’t care anymore what people think.

Guy: Well, I’m not sure I agree with you that you’re at the end of your career, but we can put that aside for right now. I do think that you’ve established yourself that you don’t need to care as much as maybe somebody who’s just starting out. And it can be a murky place if you start putting out your political beliefs online when you’re trying to get business say from everyone.

But you’re right, that can absolutely be a challenge.

You talk about the fact that people should default to say ‘yes’, to only say ‘no’ after contemplating information. Can you give examples of when that’s happened to you and maybe a way of kind of anchoring it for our audience?

Guy: Generally I default to saying ‘yes’.  Now that doesn’t mean that, you know, your 5,000 listeners should all send me an email asking me to do something for them. Just to set the record straight. But generally speaking, I default to ‘yes’. And me being on your podcast is kind of like evidence of that, right?

So until we were almost about to record, did I ask you how many downloads you had? Did I pre-qualify you? Did my personal assistants make sure that it was worth going on your podcast because of the number of downloads, because of the exposure, because of who you are or who your prior guests were, and what’s you’re standing on the Apple podcasts, where are you in Chartable? Did I give a shit about all that? No. I just said, okay, let’s do it.

Guy: Thankfully, no.

Rich: No, but you know, to be honest, we did have a contact and she actually said, you should come on Rich’s show, he does a good job. And I appreciate Peg saying that on my behalf. She actually reached out to me and said, you know, I’d love to get Guy on your show, which I really appreciate it.

Guy: And well, so there’s two lessons there, right? So one is when you have someone like Peg Fitzpatrick, who you inherently trust, her word is good enough. If she says, go on your podcast, I go. Now that’s lesson number one is that, you know, find the handful of people you can trust. But even then, you still have to default to ‘yes’. It took no more than that. And someday you’ll be bigger than Joe Rogan and you’ll say, “Oh, Guy was on my podcast when I was only getting a few thousand downloads”. So, you know, I don’t know. You’re going to help me out somehow. I don’t know. Whatever.

Rich: Yeah, I can help you out. Yeah. It could be the lion and the mouse or I could be paying it forward. But yeah, no, I hear what you’re saying for sure.

So the flip side of that, so I agree with you, it is better to default to ‘yes’, even though so many people are focused on saying ‘no’, so that they can free up time to do other things. But I do like your approach to that. And yet at the same time, you often tell people to examine everything and that a healthy skepticism is not the same thing as negativity. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Guy: Can you say that again?

Rich: You say that you should examine things and healthy skepticism is not necessarily the same thing as negativity.

Guy: Yes, yes, yes. Well, this is slightly different, right? So healthy skepticism is not about, I should be skeptical about a podcast or who invites me on his show. Healthy skepticism is about what you read online and what people tell you.

And you know, right now, this moment, there’s all these rumors about the degree of lockdown that people are having to go through because the coronavirus. And you know no matter what your leanings are, you need to develop some media that you trust. So let’s talk about something medical but not political at all. So I would say that when I have some symptoms – and of course when you get any kind of symptoms, you go to Google – and you type in whatever, and then you find out that you have cancer and you have one week to live according to mycancer.com. And the recommendation is you buy this solution with silver in it and you take St John’s Wort and you drink pills of niacin and you practice yoga and you know, whatever. Right?

So when you read something like that from mycancer.com – I’m using that fictitiously I hope there isn’t really a website like that who gets offended – that’s a hypothetical, you know. You know, you need some skepticism. So for me, whenever it’s a medical issue, I go to the Mayo Clinic. So I go to the Mayo Clinic website and, and that’s what I believe.

I have something called ‘Meniere’s disease’, which involves vertical tinnitus and hearing loss. And if you were to type Meniere’s disease into Google, you literally will get advice to get acupuncture, start yoga, drink niacin, eat the testicles of tarantulas. I mean, you name it, you’re going to read it. But I would suggest that you know, you are very skeptical and at some point you say, huh, I think I’ll just trust the Mayo Clinic.

Rich: So it sounds like you trust experts more than what you read online, and that the tarantulas who live near you are all safe.

Guy: At least the male ones, I don’t even know if tarantulas have gender. Nobody ever told me to eat the ovaries of tarantulas.

Rich: You have had a very interesting career and one that a lot of people look towards as something to emulate. It’s the end of the college year or coming up, maybe ending earlier than people had planned. There were a lot of students out there who are entrepreneurial in their mindset. What advice do you give college students? Like if this was your time to speak at a college commencement, what advice are you giving college students graduating today?

Guy: How long we got? So I think the first piece of advice to college students is the path to success and happiness, however you define that, is not linear. It is not. Although they’re pretty far along in this process of the concept of a linear path, it is not getting to the right kindergarten, which gets you into the right elementary which gets you to the right intermediate which gets you to the right high school, it gets you into Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, or Stanford. And then your life is set. You know that back when you took violin lessons at the age two and you took calculus at age three, you went on this straight path to success. That is a myth. So get off that. That’s number one.

Number two is, I would say that over the course of your life you’re probably going to have 5 or 10 jobs and it will be difficult for you to maybe even remember the first, second, third job. And so I think many college students believe that they have to find the perfect job out of college. And to me there is no perfect job out of college.

So you know, let’s take some hypothetical. So you get the perfect job out of college, you get an internship at Goldman Sachs. So now you’re working in New York, you’re working in Goldman Sachs. You are the cat’s meow, right? You got your skinny jeans, your Herschel backpack, you got your facial hair, your Warby Parker glasses. Life is good. You are eating avocado toast. Life is good and perfect. Except you’ll be kind of a jerk investment banker.

On the other hand, you may not be able to get any kind of job like that and you may have to pursue things that it never occurred to. You majored in Oriental art history and now you’re working at Starbucks. I mean, who knows?

But when you look back, you may say, “Wow, I really learned about empathy at Starbucks”. And then one of the other baristas was going to school part time in computer science, and one day he decided to start a company. And so the two of us started, baristas.com and next thing you know, we’re bigger than Amazon. I mean, you just never know. So don’t make yourself crazy about your first few jobs. The most important thing, other than providing you a way of living, is that you learn something. And you can learn something working at Starbucks.

Rich: I was going to say my first job out of college was working in a 50’s-style diner where I had to dance on tables every single time the song Charlie Brown came on. And here I am today with my own podcast interviewing Guy Kawasaki. So if I can do it, so can you, listener. That’s a true story, sadly enough.  What was your first job out of college, out of curiosity?

Guy: Well, every summer while in college I worked for a construction firm in Hawaii as a truck driver’s assistant. So we would drive to the job sites and drop off the lumber and tile and nails and you know, windows and all that kind of stuff. So I was a truck driver’s assistant.

While I was in college I worked in the music library, filing manuscripts. And then after college I went and got… this is another great story. So you know that theory of the straight path to success? So after I graduated from college, I went to law school the following academic year for two weeks and I just hated it. So I quit law school. So you know, so much for the theory of go to the right schools, get a law degree and you know, bada bing bada bang, the rest is history.

I quit law school. So then I went to work, believe it or not, for the Lieutenant Governor’s office in Hawaii, because my father was a very powerful man in Hawaii, so he got me that job. which is another lesson I’d like to communicate. So I think a lot of college, they have this belief that I have to do this on my own. I have to find the job, I can’t use friends and connections and parents and all that. And I’ll tell you something, pal, wake up and smell the roses, man.

So the way it works in life is that it doesn’t matter how you get the job, it matters what you do once you have the job. So you could be Donald Trump, Jr, and if you go to work for a company that’s not a Trump company and not a political action thing or something like that, nobody cares who you are the next day. You either deliver or not. And if Donald Trump Jr. goes to Apple. If you’re a bozo, you’re a bozo.

And so it also doesn’t matter if you are not Donald Trump Jr. and you don’t have the perfect background, and you don’t have the perfect education, and you get in because of nepotism. I’m now describing myself. So I got a job at Apple because my Stanford classmate hired me. I had a degree in Psychology. I went and dropped out of law school. Then I went and got a degree in marketing from UCLA. And on paper you’d say, “So who should we bet the Macintosh third party software platform on? Why don’t we get someone who has a Psych degree, dropped out of college, went to work for the Lieutenant Governor’s office in Hawaii, got an MBA in Marketing, and then went into the jewelry business for four years. That sounds like the perfect education and work experience for the technical position of evangelizing companies on creating Macintosh software.” It makes perfect optimal sense. Oh my God.

Rich: Guy, this has been great and I definitely appreciate you sharing your expertise. And I’m glad I got you right in your sweet spot while you had a bunch of stories to share that you hadn’t forgotten any of them.

If people want to send anybody online to check you out, where should we send them.

Guy: I have guykawasaki.com. But what I really want your listeners to do is, if your listeners are small business and entrepreneurs and they want to learn how to dent the universe and how to get into that upper right hand corner of unique and valuable, then without a doubt they should listen to my podcast. My podcast is called Remarkable People, it is 95% the person talking, 5% me talking. And it’s people like Steve Wozniak and Steve Wolfram, the creator of Mathematica, and Sir Ken Robinson, the education evangelists and Jane Goodall and Margaret Atwood. So these are remarkable people that you can learn lessons from about how to be a great leader.

Rich: Awesome. That has been a great advice. I will have links in the show notes for anybody who missed that. Guy, thank you so much.

Guy: Don’t hang up yet, I have an idea for you.

Rich: All right. Uh, should I stop the call or should we record this part, too?

Guy: I mean, you can if you want. I don’t care.

Rich: All right. Listeners, I’m sorry, but you can’t hear this part.

Show Notes:

From Macintosh computers to Canva – and so much in between – Guy Kawasaki is eager to share what he’s learned from working multiple dream jobs in one lifetime. Surely one of his 15 books can help get your creative juices flowing, or just tune into his podcast!

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing