This week on Praxis Mondays, we were joined by the legend himself, Christopher Lochhead, for a conversation on success, career growth, and the traits of the people in the world who are most successful.
Who is Christopher Lochhead?
- Dyslexic student who was expelled from high school
- Co-founder of a failed business directly out of high school
- 3-time Silicon Valley CMO
- CMO of a company that sold for $4.5bn to Hewlett-Packard
- 2-time Amazon bestselling author (who wrote two phenomenal business books, Play Bigger and Niche Down)
- Top 3 Business podcaster (and host of two podcasts: Lochhead on Marketing and Follow Your Different)
- Former business consultant
- A surfer and a big fan of The Ramones
- Chicken dad (really)
In this week’s workshop, he talked about how to design a career and life you really want to be living, and how to figure out how to be successful.
He also distilled some of the top things he’s learned from the guests he’s brought onto his podcast (everything from professional athletes, authors, generals, business owners, and venture capitalists) — and shared what we can learn from them about the pursuit of success.
What makes someone legendary?
“The reason we admire the work of heroic people is that they do things no one has done before.” — Christopher Lochhead
The above quote is the cornerstone of Lochhead’s philosophy on niching down — the art of finding the thing that makes you unique and different from everyone else, and using that as your north star as you pursue success.
If you do the same things other people have done, you’ll never make it past being ordinary. It’s only when you follow your own path (or as Lochhead calls it, “your different”),that you have a chance of creating something new — and something legendary.
We hear about legendary people once they’ve already won, but a lot of success stories were on the verge of failure the entire time. That’s part of the game. It takes a lot of courage to follow your different.
People laughed at ideas like Netflix. If Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings had played it safe, and done things they knew would be successful, Netflix wouldn’t exist. Instead it’s a wildly successful company, currently worth over $120 billion.
There were a lot of keys to their success — but the pivotal catalyst was their willingness to take a chance in the first place, try something new, chase an idea no one else had tried, and take a risk even though no one had proven yet that the idea would work.
How to niche down and level up in your career
“Join a company that’s worthy of your talent. A lot of people undershoot their talent.” — Christopher Lochhead
Step 1: The first step in leveling up is finding a place to start. There are two factors that are important in this: finding a good company to work for, and finding a good boss. Choosing a boss is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your career. If your boss is legendary, they’ll teach you to be legendary. If they’re average, they’ll teach you to be average — or at best, what not to do.
Step 2: Once you’ve found a place to start, you need to go all in — crush the things you’re responsible for, and find ways to make everything around you better.
Step 3: Adopt a mindset of success: “I’m going to be legendary. I’m going to blow their minds. I’m going to be an avalanche of results.” At 18, Lochhead didn’t have many skills, but he embraced the mindset. At 28 he was running marketing at a publicly-traded company.
So how do you become legendary?
Over the course of your career, you’re going to try things, and you’re going to figure out what you’re good at and what you’re not, and what you like and what you don’t. Do the things you like, and they’ll lead you to your own unique confluence of skills and ideas — the things you’re able to do that no one else can. That’s how you start to find the things that make you different — and in turn, the road to becoming legendary.
Don’t stress too much about figuring it all out. It will become clear with time. As Lochhead says — “go play.”
Step 4: Take problem (which is an opportunity), and apply your set of skills to it. Niche down as an expert on that problem and its solution. Focus on doing as much as you can to create value. Focus on creating a great reputation for creating things of value, which is one of the most important things in business. The best way to build a reputation is by being unique — something memorable and worth mentioning and different from everyone else.
Step 5: Be relentless and persistent. Most people overestimate how far they can get in the short term and underestimate how far they can get in the long term. You’re going to hit a lot of rough spots, but keep going.
Step 6: Tell the world how to see you.
“Proactively tell the world how to think about you. When asked who the greatest boxer of all time is, most people say Muhammad Ali. Why? Because he told us all the time. A lot of experts would say he wasn’t actually the greatest, but he positioned himself as the best. Position yourself or you’ll be positioned.” — Christopher Lochhead
How to think like a legendary professional
“A lot of people in business and in life don’t know what a result looks like. Get clear on what the result is.” — Christopher Lochhead
Find the place you can create the biggest, most lasting value, and use that as the problem you’re trying to solve. Then clearly identify the result you intend to create.
This doesn’t just apply to business. It applies to life too. As an example, for a lot of people, it’s a goal to make money. The formula for that is simple: when your income after taxes is greater than your expenses, you’re making money. That’s the result you’re looking for.
Ask “what’s the result?” and then “what are the things I need to know or learn along the way to deliver that result?” These things become more intuitive the deeper into your career you get, but early on in your career you need to break it down, know the answers, and use them as your roadmap.
If you’re hungry to grow, it’s also important to understand: a business leader creates value. The role of the executive is to create enduring value and growth over time. If you want to growth within the company, you have to embody that habit too.
At any company, there are a handful of leaders that make the difference in creating long-term value and growth. Ultimately, you want to be one of those leaders.
Here’s how you start (even if you’re at the bottom of the org chart): ask yourself, “what are the results that will have the biggest income in my department?” Start with those. Ultimately, you want to be one of the people that’s materially and critically important to the company’s success.
Christopher Lochhead’s top pieces of advice:
“I would urge you, I would beg you, to not focus on your incremental better, and do focus on your exponential different. The people who matter the most make an exponential difference. People who are entrepreneurial, people who are creative ….. the exceptional people, the people we admire, make an exponential difference. I would be asking myself the question, what’s the difference I want to make. What’s an exponential jump. First understand that today’s solutions are tomorrow’s problems, and ask yourself “what are the problems today’s solutions might create?” When the cloud was created, we needed software. There are things you can intuit about the future. The legendary tech investor Mike Maples says “live in the future.” If we wanted to have a conversation about what the future is likely to be, we’d talk about tech and science and software and make assumptions. Do something exponential.” — Christopher Lochhead
“Innovative and creative and fun doesn’t have to mean saving the world. The big-scale different tends to get all the press, but there are lots of different companies that are different and awesome”. — Christopher Lochhead
“You want to be a person who wakes up in the morning in exactly the place you want to wake up, with exactly the people they want in the house, that does exactly what they want to do and that they eat dinner with the people they love and want to spend time with. Category design, career design, and life design. Who says you can’t have it all? Does NOT mean working yourself to the bone. You can procatively design your relationships with people. Life is not what happens to us. We can design and generate our own life, and we can have whatever we want in life.” — Christopher Lochhead
And to that last point — Lochhead knows what he’s talking about, because he did it. He’s had his fair share of adversity, but he didn’t let it stop him. He’s built the exact life he wants to be living — married and living in Santa Cruz, CA, writing business books and interviewing interesting people from all walks of life who are, as he puts it, following their different.
As he says, focus on: relationships, experiences, and difference. What are the relationships you want to have in life, what are the experiences you want to have, and what are the differences you want to make?
Work hard, have fun, and be legendary.