Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sviokla & Cohen, The Self-Made Billionaire Effect

Becoming a millionaire, even a multimillionaire is not all that extraordinary, becoming a billionaire is. What do self-made billionaires (and there are about 800 of them in the world) have that the rest of us don't? John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen tackle this question in The Self-Made Billionaire Effect: How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value (Portfolio / Penguin, 2014).

These billionaires (or Producers, as the authors call them) may be wired differently. They certainly think differently. They balance judgment and imaginative vision, a daunting mental task since “for most people, judgment and imagination sit on opposite ends of a mental spectrum. The more skilled one is at seeing things as they are (judgment) the harder it is to see things as they might be (imagination).“ (p. 4) Not only do they “revel in bringing clashing elements together,” “they seamlessly hold on to multiple ideas, multiple perspectives, and multiple scales.” (pp. 16, 15)

Since they “cannot predict the exact time to make an investment, … they are willing to operate simultaneously at multiple speeds and time frames. They accept that timing is not under their control, and so they work fast, slow, super slow, or in all these modes at the same time. They urgently prepare to seize an opportunity but patiently wait for that opportunity to fully emerge.” (p. 19)

Self-made billionaires are strict managers of their own time. “They appear far less busy than most executives… They intentionally guard their time, doing away with extras, distractions, and nonessential activities…. By guarding their time preciously billionaires are able to constantly cultivate and grow their innate curiosity. It gives them the time to read or converse widely on the subjects that let them make remote connections.” (p. 76)

They also have a different attitude to risk from most people, who “overestimate the risk of failure and underestimate the risk of missing out on a gain.” (p. 115) Self-made billionaires are willing to risk failure but not the chance to capture an opportunity. Contrary to myth, they don’t take irrational risks. They always want to be able to make the next investment if the first one doesn’t pan out. And, unlike most people, they have the emotional resilience to do just that.

The Self-Made Billionaire Effect is not intended to be a how-to manual for the budding billionaire. It’s written for corporate executives who have done a poor job of recognizing Producer behavior, knowing what to do with it when they find it, and figuring out how to grow the number of Producers in their firm. Even so, it provides individual entrepreneurs with a useful catalogue of attributes, habits of mind and action, they should cultivate. With a new year right around the corner, see what you can add to your list of resolutions that, this time, you’re definitely going to keep.

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