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Internet/ social media – barriers to entry into new markets, or even to create new markets, are dissappearing. All of us are players in vast enmeshed markets and networks, and are now aware or unaware entrepreneurs or affected by entrepreneurs…question for all of us – like Fairfax just discovered – when do we start to pay attention?
Smart TalkPUBLISHED: 20 Jun 2012 21:30:40 | Harold Mitchell


Don’t think that you know everything.

That is a lesson I learned a long time ago.

And it was reinforced in 2000. I had built quite a reputation in the advertising and media business by establishing what was to become the biggest media specialist company in Australia. It was based on a deep understanding of TV, newspapers, radio and magazines, which had been the basis of all media for half century.

It had been an incredible 50 years with the emergence of TV and the expansion of all the other media forms to the point where the average person was spending almost one-third of their life, and certainly half of their waking hours, directly in touch with the media.

I had been lucky to have stumbled into this industry. But I had learned that to make the most of luck I had to trust others. And in order to trust, I had to learn to listen and listen and listen.

This is not a characteristic we readily apply to entrepreneurs, but believe me, it is essential as I was about to learn again on a fateful day in 2000.

I was sitting listening to one of the endless supply of merchant bankers who sat before us with a never ending stream of great ideas. They’re not great of course – they’re just ideas. Greatness comes with real achievement and only one in a thousand ideas might make it but that’s not the way merchant bankers understand the world – they think everyone of them is worth our hard-earned cash.

My 28-year-old son Stuart was sitting with me as we listened to a man telling us about a new thing called the internet. Google was still an unknown company in a garage fast running out of cash and all the big media companies were pretending the internet didn’t exist. For many, the digital age meant transistor radios and electronic games for kids.

But what was being pitched to us was not about kids, it was an idea about advertising on the net. I should divert myself for a moment here to tell you that 12 years later, advertising on the net is about to overtake advertising on television and in newspapers. It is the greatest media change in our lifetime.

However, back to 2000. As the spiel about establishing an advertising internet business drew to a close, I was about to say, “Thank you, we’ll get back to you” when my son said, “Dad, I think we should do this.”

Within a few months we started a company to the public called eMitch and a little over a year ago we sold it in its final form to the great world advertising firm Aegis for $363 million.

My son plainly knew more about the emerging digital world that I did and I am more than happy that I was smart enough to listen to him.

Any entrepreneur has to listen not only to smart people but be prepared to surround themselves with smart people who are not afraid to go out on a limb.

Smart entrepreneurs know that there are many people who have better ideas than them. They develop people by listening to them and allowing them to make mistakes.

This doesn’t mean that anything goes. Far from it. The experienced entrepreneur knows how to invest his or her acquired wisdom in smart young people and knows how to pass on his insights so that everyone can learn from mistakes and seize new opportunities.

You will never be short of good people if you can create this type of environment. Great people want to work with great people. This has been the basis of my business from the beginning.

And history has shown that it works. History also shows that a failure to listen, understand, encourage and trust people leads to disaster.

Look at Napoleon. The reason for his demise is clear. In the end he surrounded himself with sycophants. He didn’t want anyone to disagree with him, so he surrounded himself with people of like mind, or, more likely, no mind. And then he compounded his mistake by wanting to control everything himself, without listening to any advice. With no delegation, all momentum was lost and he was bogged down in his own personal obsessions and more worried by his toothache than his empire.

The great man had stopped leading from the front on the big white horse and relying on the skill and expertise of the thousands of troops behind him.

Don’t be like Napoleon and die alone in exile on an island with a toothache.


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