Ken Goldstein has a remarkable background and experiences, and he shares his perspective through stories. Stories bring more than just context; they bring us in to the experience and enable us to participate in the story itself.
Ken has done this again through his book, Endless Encores: Repeating Success Through People, Products, and Profits. I read Endless Encores and thought his ideas and principles are essential for today’s leaders, no matter if we are 20-something or 50-something. I am glad to have caught up with Ken and ask a few questions to dig into his book and story a little more.
Storytelling and the Pursuit of Innovation
Jon: For any brand, the importance of story is often discussed. Your business book embraces story. What value do you intend by writing this way?
Ken: One of the key rallying cries in Endless Encores is to pursue creativity and innovation with ideas that haven’t been tried before, even at the risk of failure. When I thought about writing a business book on leadership, I found myself without a choice but to take the same risk. There are so many management books on the shelf from distinguished and successful people, I felt that just to put “another one” out there was the antithesis of Steve Jobs’s mandate to Think Different.
As I played with form, content, and context, it became clear that my approach of bringing story and character front and center would be a differentiating factor. I set out to capture you with a parable, a seemingly simple and deceptively streamlined tale, with characters I believed readers would embrace. From there I would let the characters do the heavy lifting of sharing wisdom and experience, while I led with their story arcs.
I think that’s what makes my work a little different, I try to be a storyteller first, which is precious to me. Then I turn story on its head and offer it as a Socratic dialogue. It really is different from other books you’ll read on the topic of repeating success, so hopefully people will see that the author is walking the walk.
Jon: In the Endless Encores, Paul and Daphne meet during a flight delay. Both seem to be from different generations. How important are these cross-generational conversations in business?
Ken: Cross-generational conversations in business are essential. If you engage in them with authenticity and conviction, the sky is the limit in terms of learning. We can learn from each other and we have to learn from each other.
When I was at Broderbund years ago, we used to beg our employees not to send their kids to afterschool childcare, just drop them off at the office and let them spend the afternoon in our quality assurance lab. We were creating games for kids, so we learned to listen to kids. Now those kids are grownups in our workplace, and they grew up with computers, handsets, and the internet, so they think about the world quite differently from those of us who grew up analog. At the same time, they are hungry to learn how we organize and motivate people over decades, so we teach each other and we learn from each other.
When I was CEO of SHOP.COM, I couldn’t get my head around Twitter, so I bought lunch one day each week for anyone half my age who would sit there with me and show me all the ways a tweet could resonate. Of course while we sat there, they would ask me questions like what matters in developing customer relationships and what happens at a board meeting. We have so much to learn from each other, and learning every day is what makes our lives interesting and meaningful.
Millennials and Think Different
Jon: For Millennials, some have hit their first win already. Others are waiting for their first opportunity. How does your people, products, and profits concept fit into getting your first wins?
Ken: I speak at a lot of entrepreneur forums and incubators, and when I hear people obsessed with the wealth they are going to create, I have to stop them in their tracks. They are talking that way because their investors are talking that way, but wealth is not a product, it’s an outcome, more elusive than customer satisfaction. I emphasize over and over that the products that can create wealth don’t create themselves. Products start with people, and very few of us can build an enterprise on our own, which means products start with collaboration.
Then comes the acceptance of risk in designing a product or service, the acceptance that failure is more likely than success, but the knowledge that failure is a path to learning, and learning is a path to success. When all that is done in sequence and a robust business model can be applied, then in serving our customers, wealth creation may occur. If you just want to put wealth creation in first position, buy a lottery ticket or go to Vegas, your odds of winning are about the same.
Jon: How can individuals really embrace “think different” as more than a copycat slogan and more as an innovation philosophy?
Ken: The easiest way to keep yourself honest about product development is to always think like a customer. Whatever you are designing, whatever you are building, whatever you are creating, ask yourself simply, “Would I buy this at the suggested price?” If you are already a customer for a similar product or service, ask yourself, “Would I switch from my existing brand to the new brand, would I be excited to make the change, and would I be delighted once I did?” If the answer to any of these questions is “probably not,” then why would you assume someone else would?
You have way more skin in the game, and if your eyes aren’t lighting up, why should someone else’s? Think like a customer — your customer — make your choice a proxy for their choice. Then if you truly are pioneering new ground, ask yourself and those around you, “Will our customer see this as leapfrogging over the competition, or just a cynical competitive entry supported by glitzy marketing copy?”
As hard as it is to believe, conventional wisdom is almost always wrong. Think Different as an innovation philosophy advises you to leave conventional wisdom to the lazy entrenched market leader, and take them out with the less than obvious choice they were too scared to try.
If you Think Different every single day, then over the course of a career you may break through to customer adoption a few times, and those few times are a few times more than most people will, so you win.
Jon: Thank you, Ken! Grateful for your time and perspective. I enjoyed the story and essential leadership points in Endless Encores. Thank you.
Jon: Wake-up moments are those times when we realize we are on the wrong track, and we need to change. Or, other times we realize a big idea, and it takes our goals to a new level. In your career, when did you have a “wake-up” moment, and what was it?
Ken: I’ve had so many wake-up moments I only worry about how many I missed. My first came when I was a screenwriter in the 1980s and I went to a conference called The Future of Television. No one had yet uttered the word “convergence” and there was no commercial internet (rich people had cell phones).
There was going to be a keynote panel with Steven Bochco, who was on top of the network TV world at that moment, and every writer wanted to pitch to him. The preliminary panel was about something called Interactive Movies, which I soon learned didn’t really exist. What that panel was talking about was adding stories to videogames, which was a stretch at the time given no one was quite sure how you added a story to Pong.
I talked with some of the guys on that panel afterward and joined up with them at one of the first companies that did integrate epic storytelling into games. The company was called Cinemaware and the game was called Wings, about pilots in World War I, their daily experiences, anecdotes, and emotions. I wrote over a hundred pages of researched screen text in the form of a “pilot’s diary” for a flight simulator published on two floppy disks, while the programmers taught me about software architecture.
My entire life changed because I heard an idea that sounded really interesting, only no one had actually done it, no one knew how to do it, and there were no rules around it. I took a massive risk, and the entire course of my life changed, convincing me that things that hadn’t been done could be done if you had the right team and the right vision. I never did get to pitch to Bochco, but somehow I’ve been okay with that.
Jon: I enjoyed reading Endless Encores. The story illustrates the challenges we encounter and brings home essential leadership points we need to engage. Thank you!
Background and Contact Information for Ken
Ken Goldstein has served as Chairman & CEO of SHOP.COM, Executive Vice President & Managing Director of Disney Online, and VP / Executive Publisher of Entertainment & Education for Broderbund Software. He currently advises start-ups and established companies on brands, creative talent, e-commerce, and digital media strategy. Ken is on the boards of Thrift Books LLC and Good Men Media, Inc. He publishes the business blog CorporateIntel.us and his first book, This Is Rage: A Novel of Silicon Valley and Other Madness, was published in 2013 by The Story Plant. His second book, Endless Encores, will be published by The Story Plant in 2015.
© 2015 Ken Goldstein, author of Endless Encores: Repeating Success Through People, Products, and Profits