Not really knowing what to expect, I recently picked up John Sviokla’s book; The Self-Made Billionaire Effect, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I read. Full of great insight into what made a self-made billionaire successful, I learned a few points that I am keeping in mind and incorporating into my own way of doing business.

Now one thing that I did not like so much about the book was the premise that he approached the subject. He approached it from the standpoint of trying to find the high producers in your own firm, how to identify them, nurture them and getting the most out of them. Although that perspective was interesting, I gained the most value from the book when I looked at my own character traits as compared to the self-made billionaires he profiled in the book.

In the end, there were seven key takeaways that I learned.

1. Empathetic Imagination. One of the key traits of successful people is that they have that empathetic imagination – the creativity to look through their current (or potential) customers eyes and see the world through their lens. Only this way can you truly see problems that need solutions, or billion dollar opportunities.
Example: Harley-Davidson and Toyota both require their employees to buy their products through the same dealer network their customers use. This way they can experience what their customer experiences when they interact and purchase products from their company.
My Takeaway: Create a process that ensures that I (as well as my team) hears from our Client-Partners directly on a regular basis; learning both what they like about our service, but also what they may dislike about interacting with our company. This way, we will cultivate our empathy for our Client-Partners, and stimulate creativity on better ways we can serve them.

2. Traditional Industries. I found it interesting how 82% of the self-made billionaires made their fortunes in highly competitive and traditional industries. For the most part, they did not make their money using breakthrough ideas that stormed the marketplace.
Example: Ikea, Dyson, Red Bull, Walmart, and many others made their fortune in traditional industries (furniture, vacuums, beverages and retail), but they all approached their market much different than the competition.
My Takeaway: It really reinforced our business model, of being in the (very traditional) publishing industry. Like others highlighted in the book, Carle Publishing entered into a very traditional industry, however with a very different strategy and business model, resulting in our explosive growth.

3. Two Billionaire Characteristics. Most self-made billionaires had two key characteristics that helped them succeed; they include both Empathetic Imagination and Inventive Execution. We covered Empathetic Imagination above. However it is only through Inventive Execution that truly successful results can be achieved. An idea only works if you can sell it successfully!
Example: James Dyson, inventor of the Dyson vacuum not only is accredited for inventing the product that redefined the home vacuum industry, but he did so successfully because he was also on the front line selling his products. This allowed him to continuously learn, making changes to the product and the go to market strategy along the way.
My Takeaway: As a company, we want to make sure that we are not only improving our product, but continuously improving our processes as well. And using what we learn in the field to influence the product itself. I really need to make sure we never lose sight of that as the company grows.

4. Resilience. Most self-made billionaires made it big after their 2nd or 3rd or even 4th business, leaving behind many small successes and failures. That very few made it big on their first attempt. And also that most self-made billionaires made it big (74%) later in life, dispelling the myth that you have to have the blockbuster idea in your 20’s.
Example: James Dyson, Sam Walton and others, both made it big after various jobs and attempts at business, and both made it big later in life.
My Takeaway: It have to admit that it did give me reassurance, seeing as how Carle Publishing is my third business, and is following a massive bankruptcy of my second business (which many of my readers may or may not know).

5. Four Recruiting Traits. When recruiting your high performing team, make sure you are hiring and promoting people who possess; 1) Empathetic Imagination, 2) Patient Urgency, 3) Inventive Execution, and 4) a Relative View of Risk. They need to be able to see the world through your customers eyes, have the right urgency that when an opportunity presents itself, they jump on it quickly, they can execute effectively and the assess risk for what it is, and are not afraid to jump on opportunities when it makes sense.
Example: Look at any successful team and you will find these traits.
My Takeaway: These are four traits that I will be consciously looking for as I build a leadership team for our company, and you should too.

6. Breakthrough Ideas = Friction. Ideas that are breakthrough ideas will come with resistance. If you’re discussing major strategy with your team and there is consensus among everyone, it is a clear indication that you don’t have enough people pushing the boundaries of what could be. The sheer nature of a breakthrough idea means that it will ruffle some feathers, and often hard.
Example: If you have a producer who is looking for the next thing, give them some latitude to work on pet projects that push the boundaries. Make sure that everyone adopts a learning mentality toward failure.
My Takeaway: I’m going to look for and keep pushing teams until some people become agitated with the discussion. If everyone is in agreement, it’s a sign that we’re not pushing hard enough. Keep digging to find that truly breakthrough idea.

7. Producers vs Performers. 60% of self-made billionaires were part of a “dynamic duo”. Two people, one producer (visionary) and one performer (operations/executioner) work in tandem to achieve success. Most people are not skilled at both. So know your strength and your weakness, so that you can balance out the two.
Examples: Think Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs / Bill Gates and Bill Allen.
My Takeaway: Realizing that I’m not the strongest operations guy, as we grow, I’ll be on the lookout for a COO to balance out my strengths. You also need to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Where are you strong, and where do you need help?

 Overall rating: 8/10. Definitely worth the read.

Go out, have fun and prosper!