James Caan says, ‘Motivate yourself as well as your people’.

At Kent’s 2020 Conference and Exhibition yesterday, James Caan, of Dragon’s Den fame took the speaker’s stand at 9.15am. This is what he said:

Attitude not Aptitude determines Altitude

We Inspirationists love to be inspired and motivated by others. And this week, I visited the 2020 Exhibition at the Kent Country Show for just that reason. As the largestB2B exhibition in the south east (and one of the largest in the UK), it’s a vibrant, dynamic and bustling arena – with as much business going on between visitors as between exhibitors. 2020 attracts good speakers and I have just experienced James Caan one of the “dragons” on the hit BBC TV Show “Dragons Den”. He’s the quietest dragon, yet in controlling 42 different businesses, he is passionate about people, about creating profit and about making a difference. So here’s just a flavour of his inspirationist talk:

Recession means opportunity. We have had many years of glut, greed and good-times. In the more difficult and challenging economy, we are forced to be more creative and more flexible, in order to survive. Being ready to change means being ready to ride the storm – and therefore being ready for the good times when they return – as sure as the sunshine follows rain – eventually…

Value your people or lose them: In tough times, be open and honest with your staff – and let them know the truth. As JC put it – “Tell them if you’ve having a shit period”. Plan for the future, and make sure you have a vision about what you and your business stand for. Communicate this vision and be prepared to review and change things if your current strategy isn’t working. And as you change your strategy, let your staff in on the changes. It’s ok; they can take it – and knowing the whole story makes people feel valued. What they can’t take is bullshit or silence. They see through one and are terrified by the other.

Find your “separator”: To JC, every successful business has a differentiator – something that separates it from the pack. Big or small, this will provide the niche or the unique selling proposition that allows your customers to find and come back to you, rather than your competitors. One simple separator is to visit your customers in person. In our on-line world, many business people are even forgetting how to make telephone calls, let alone how to build face-to-face relationships. Think about it; if you are not visiting your clients, someone else is, and probably schmoozing them too. So seller beware; make regular contact or lose the relationship.

Watch the markets: According to JC, the stock market works around 6 months ahead of the economy. This tells him that the recovery – though slight – is underway; stocks and shares are showing gentle increases as the markets start to recognise recovery. Thus, you can be optimistic and think about re-investing. This could be in head-count, equipment or marketing. Or it could be in capital or other expensive projects. But remember; if the markets show a down-turn, watch for the economy to follow suit within half a year. It works both ways.

Exploit technology: Yes, of course you already do use it. And now think about how much more good technology could do for you. JC wants us all to be more creative with technology. It can be used for accounting and CRM of course. But it can also be used to provide more tracking and more metrics on how well your business is doing. Good information provides good choices; and good choices provide good decisions. Again, if you are thinking of investing, even if your business or department has only a small budget, you could still improve your software with a very small investment – and that too will have an impact on your business processes and systems.

Review your current business: During the recession, JC has encouraged his businesses to review all their systems and processes – from HR to sales – and from operations to marketing. He was surprised to find that improvements could be made in many areas – and some of these were really basic. In one of his businesses, he realised that appraisals were only being regularly done for 15% of the workforce. He has now increased that to 85% – and counting. Which bits of your organisation could you be improving?

Motivate yourself as well as your people: JC pointed out that – very often – we spend more time sorting out our people rather than looking at what might be good for us. We motivate others before motivating ourselves. That is a good thing; every successful business needs motivated staff to perform well and to be productive. However, what about you? JC is only human and he too, at times, has needed to re-motivate himself. When he sold his successful recruitment business – Alexander Mann – back in 2002, he started looking hard for a new challenge. Having left school at 16, he went back, this time to Harvard Business School, and he completed his business degree. In true student fashion, he then took a Gap Year, and visited his birthplace, Pakistan. Having personally financed the creation and building of a school for 486 pupils in a small Pakistani village – complete with IT lab, library and bussed-in teachers, he needed another projects. Dragons Den has provided further projects and yet the one now closest to his heart is brand new. He has just take over as Chairman of the Big Issue magazine, with a view to producing an on-line version, and creating an international brand, so that even more money can be made for the homeless magazine sellers.

JC believes that you don’t need to be the best to succeed. You don’t need to be the expert, with all the answers. You don’t need to have the biggest organisation or the brightest staff – or even the most unusual product. You DO need to be passionate, positive, persistent, productive, and entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurs can really make a difference; they really affect peoples’ lives.

As JC puts it “It’s your attitude and not your aptitude that determines your altitude”.

Article written by Henry Lee, The Inspirationist Coach @ TheInspirationist.com


Posted on April 23, 2010, in Be Inspired, Get The Results You Want, Have Fun with Your Business. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Loved it and so true about attitude being the deciding factor in who you work with.
    Great work!

  2. John Harrington - " helping businesses to survive through to the good times"

    Agree in priciple in what he has said. However, a large number of SMEs are faced with demands from HMRC for Corporation Tax earned when businesses were in profit, banks that have moved funding approval up a level with it potential delays and the reserves normally built in cash or assets by SMEs seen reducing over the past 18 months. One of the biggest assets in these or any times are the staff that make the business what it is and are normally one of the highest costs in the P&L. The balance between good communication and motivation can be a difficult one. Too much bad but realistic information and the talented people move on and the business is left with the average or below-par performers. A number of challenges are still to be faced and the timescale between an improving stock market and when it hits your particular market can feel like a lifetime. During this time it can be difficult to motivate yourself and your staff.

  3. Very good, love it.
    Thanks for putting it up.

  4. ecommerceinkent

    Thanks for this excellent summary – have tweeted it for you! I feel that James Caan was sincere in what he had to say and very inspirational.

    Best Regards,

    Alan Noake
    “Ecommerce In Kent”

  5. You have captured the content rather well. I’m adding your blog to my page on the 2020 event.



  6. QJ

    Great Blog.

    Met James a couple of years ago at the IOD annual convention breakfast networking and he was outstanding. A true motivator and genuine entrepreneur who believes people are centric to business success.

    Glad to see yesterday that he has not lost his charm and appeal.

    Bruce Bell

  7. QJ

    Great blog.

    I worked within the same company for nearly twenty years and left six months ago. Many of the things JC mentioned were contributing factors as to why I left.

    Its made a huge change to my life but more importantly it’s been a breath of fresh air with the freedom it’s allowed me and my new staff.



    • Mark. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Your story is inspiring and shows that when we finally make a REAL DECISION – as you say – it can make a huge change, be a breath of fresh air, and give you the freedom to EXPLORE YOUR TRUE POTENTIAL.
      If you want, you can subscribe to this Blog. I promise not to write something everyday, or even every week just for the sake of it. I will write when I feel I have something important to say that will really affect those interested positively and in meaningful ways.
      Thanks again. Be Special! Best. QJ

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