Building Cumulative Advantage

Exclusive Mark Schaefer Interview Excerpt from CustomerThink.com

Mark W SchaeferCumulative Advantage as a concept builds unstoppable momentum for your ideas and your business — even when the odds seem stacked against you. The book shows how initial advantages, seams of opportunity, sonic booms, and the lift from mentors can impact your world in powerful and permanent ways. It’s designed to be a practical source of inspiration for the entrepreneur, business leader, and every person with a dream that’s ready to take flight. The Cumulative Advantage concept focuses on:

  • How the initial advantage that drives momentum comes from everyday ideas.
  • The inside secrets of creating vast awareness for your projects.
  • How to nurture powerful connections that lead to break-through opportunities.
  • Why momentum is driven by the speed, time, and space of a “seam.”
  • How the “certainty of business uncertainty” can be used to your advantage.

I had the opportunity recently to interview Mark Schaefer, a globally-acclaimed author, keynote speaker, and marketing consultant. He is a faculty member of Rutgers University and one of the top business bloggers and podcasters in the world. Mark is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, Chief Executive Officer of B Squared Media and on the advisory board of several startups. He has been a contributor to Harvard Business Review and Entrepreneur magazine.

His latest book is Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business and Life Against All Odds.

Below is the text of the interview:

1. Is success random?

Yes and no.

Momentum in life begins with some initial advantage. That is almost always random and unearned. It could be inherited wealth, a special, early educational opportunity, or being in the right place at the right time. Even being born into a free country and living in a stable household with two parents can be an advantage.

Frans Johansson wrote an entire book about this phenomenon called “The Click Moment.” I can point to a random conversation with my boss in 1992 that led to this book!

However, just having an idea or an advantage is not enough. You must pursue the idea and apply it to something changing in the world to create an opportunity. Randomness is likely to get the ball rolling, but hard work and smarts still make a difference when it comes to success.

2. Why is creating a cumulative advantage important?

There are many reasons to understand the patterns of momentum but for me, it’s the fact that it’s just so hard to stand out today. Even if you’re doing your best work, you can be buried because the level of competition and content out there is so great. How can a person or a business be heard? How can they be found?

For the past 10 years, most of my career has been devoted to this idea of becoming the signal instead of the noise. It’s never been harder for a business to be seen and heard and I think understanding how we can apply momentum to our lives is a big idea to help solve this problem.

3. Can anyone create cumulative advantage for their business or ideas?

This is going to sound weird, but honestly, no. This haunted me as I wrote the book. I realized that every business book and every self-help book is inherently elitist. The author assumes a person has the money to buy the book, the time to read it, and the resources to act on it.

But there is a big part of society that is being pulled under by Cumulative Disadvantage. It’s a cosmically complex topic that I address, in part, at the end of the book. I wanted to write a book that could help everyone, I don’t think anybody can, really.

But let’s put it this way — if you have the resources to buy the book and read it, then yes, you can probably build momentum!

4. What kinds of initial advantages might the average person have?

It can be anything really that leads to some momentum in later life. I already mentioned this idea about just living in a safe home as an advantage. Children adopted out of poverty had a substantial gain in IQ just from being in a safe environment.

Research has shown that early reading skills can lead to an advantage in education. Early athletic coaching can lead to longer and more profitable professional careers (just ask Tiger Woods or Serena Williams!). It can be a special ability, a personality trait, or even a stroke of luck along the way.

5. We are all surfing the crest of a wave that started long ago. Advantage builds on advantage. Why is curiosity so important?

I once had the opportunity to meet Walter Isaacson, the biographer of Steve Jobs, Leonardo DeVinci and Benjamin Franklin. I asked him what made a genius. He said endless curiosity and an ability to see patterns.

The world is filled with millions of ideas. An idea is worth nothing without the pursuit of curiosity, That is the beginning of momentum.

Click to read the rest of the interview on CustomerThink.com

About Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a Human-Centered Design, Innovation and Transformation consultant at HCL Technologies, a popular innovation speaker, workshop leader, and creator of the Human-Centered Change™ methodology. He is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons and Charting Change from Palgrave Macmillan. Braden has been advising companies since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden is a US Navy veteran and earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. Follow him on Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
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