Business Lessons Learned From Both Good And Bad Surprises
Published DateAuthorDan Sullivan and Shannon Waller
Every entrepreneur should expect surprises because surprises are a part of reality. How you respond to them is key to whether you’re a happy, successful entrepreneur. In this episode, business coaches Dan Sullivan and Shannon Waller discuss how entrepreneurs can use both good and bad surprises for business success and business growth.
Here's some of what you'll learn in this episode:
Why really successful entrepreneurs don’t care if a surprise is good or bad.
How bad surprises can turn into good surprises.
What happens to people who try to make the future free of surprises.
The best way to respond to good surprises.
The best mindset to have when it comes to bad surprises.
Being taken by surprise means nothing you were preparing for, or nothing you expected to happen, actually happened.
You can do different things with a good surprise than you can with a bad surprise, and vice versa.
More clearly than almost anything else, surprises tell you what kind of person you are.
With bad surprises, you have no choice about how you have to respond because your survival may be at stake.
You can decide that whenever you’re inconvenienced, you’ll get a much bigger result instead of just getting back to where you were.
People who are entrepreneurial take greater advantage of bad surprises than good surprises.
Good surprises can help you up your level of ambition.
You have very, very little control over events outside of yourself.
Shannon Waller: Hi, Shannon Waller here and welcome to Inside Strategic Coach with Dan Sullivan. Dan, as usual, I like to collect interesting things that you say, and you said something in our Free Zone workshop last week that I thought, "Hmm, it'll be perfect for the podcast." You said, "One of the things that's really important in entrepreneurship is being excited about being surprised." And I thought, "That's a fun turn of phrase,” but you riffed for a little bit about there are always surprises and how you respond to those is very much key to whether or not you're a successful, happy entrepreneur or not. So what do you mean by being excited about being surprised?
Dan Sullivan: Well, the definition of surprise is an astonishing event that you weren't expecting.
Shannon Waller: I love that, yes.
Dan Sullivan: That sort of thing. To be taken by surprise means that nothing that you were preparing for or nothing that you thought was going to happen actually happened.
Shannon Waller: So very unexpected.
Dan Sullivan: Very unexpected, yes.
Shannon Waller: Got it.
Dan Sullivan: Totally unexpected.
Shannon Waller: Yes. And people can respond in numerous ways.
Dan Sullivan: Well, the thing you have to understand, there's good surprises and bad surprises, and really successful entrepreneurs don't care which.
Shannon Waller: Oh, that's interesting. They don't care which, how come?
Dan Sullivan: Because you can do different things with a good surprise than you can with a bad surprise.
Shannon Waller: Okay, tell me more. I need to know.
Dan Sullivan: Well, first of all, the one thing that surprises you, they probably, more clearly than almost anything else, tells you what kind of person you are. You and I went firsthand together as team members through the COVID and lockdown surprise, and I was a little bit paralyzed. I was told in Chicago that we were closing down the workshops for a quarter, and I was tired. I'd been coaching all week and I was going home on the plane and I was a little bit paralyzed by it. But by the time we reached Toronto, which all in, it's about hour and a half flight, I said, "Zoom. Zoom, okay. We know how to use Zoom because we're a three country company. So we've been using Zoom backstage. Well, we're going to have to use Zoom totally backstage. Now we're going to have to bring the whole in-person workshop front stage."
And as soon as I got up, I said, "Oh, this is exciting. We get to do all sorts of new things." So that was a bad surprise. But within a matter of a plane trip, my mind had adjusted to an entirely new possibility, but it took us three months to work out and I was on high alert and all my energy was there to do that. Give you another surprise, we've written three bestselling books in the last five years, and when the first one came out, we had 50,000 sales in the first 30 days. And I wasn't expecting that. Our team wasn't expecting that. The publisher wasn't expecting that. The collaborator, writer, Ben Hardy, that I worked with wasn't expecting that. And then we said, "Okay, let's really, really shift our whole marketing to take advantage of this book." And our whole podcast focus went to being invited on people who had large audiences to talk about the book and Who Not How, that was the first book.
So the three books are Who Not How, The Gap and the Gain, and just within the past two months, 10x Is Easier Than 2x. Each of them was more surprising because okay, you hit it lucky one time with the first one, but the second one, the results were twice. And the third one, it looks like the results are twice. So we were probably at a hundred thousand at the end of the first month. And these have been surprises. It's surprising that the second surprise was bigger than the first surprise and the third surprise is the biggest. So you could say, "Well, you were looking forward to it. You were expecting it." I said, "Yeah, but the power that controls how successful you're going to be is not in your hands. Once you release the book, the child has left home."
So that was a good surprise, but that's on a big scale for us. That's on a big scale. But we have things happening all the time on a weekly basis within the workshops, backstage things that are surprises and they're bad surprises. Water main broke in front of our headquarters in Toronto, went underground and just totally destroyed the whole bottom floor, the basement floor, where our tech team was and where our recording studios were, where all of our paper supplies were, all the books, where our gym was, and where our Production department was. And it all got destroyed. It got destroyed. I mean, literally the concrete was disrupted and water was up to three feet. Destroyed everything, destroyed all the drywall. So I heard about it and I was talking to Babs. She got the phone call from Karen Skleryk and said, "Disaster." And I said, "Hmm. We get to design it all over now."
Shannon Waller: That's one of the things I've always appreciated, Dan. It's like if disaster strikes... And one of the first ones was actually the origin of our fabulous tool called the Experience Transformer, which is when your laptop was stolen out of a hotel in England with a book on it.
Dan Sullivan: With a book that hadn't been backed up.
Shannon Waller: No, that was due and that was a good book writing experience for you and me and the team. But it's like, "If I'm going to have to do it again, if we're going to have to go to the effort, it needs to be 10 times better." And I love that-
Dan Sullivan: Well, I've just been inconvenienced and I say, "I can't get just back to where I was before. Now it's got to be 10 times better." Just getting back what we had, nope, I've been inconvenienced. So now the result has to be a much bigger result.
Shannon Waller: And there's something about that that I have very much appreciated in my own life. And it was really fun during the lockdown, when both of our schedules got completely blown up. We were pretty scheduled people and we got to create new stuff, we did Scary Times, we did podcasts, we did videos. You did a record number of new exercises.
Dan Sullivan: By the way, Scary Times is really good. That's a little book of ours. You go to strategiccoach.com and just the title is Scary Times Success Manual, what to do in scary times. Well, scary times is where you've been taken by surprise.
Shannon Waller: So that was super fun. You and I were like, "Oh, we can be more creative." It was perfect. And our Kolbe profiles help with this, 9 Quick Start, and you’re a 10 Quick Start. So we were like, "Oh, we get to play." So we kind of leapt into that with both feet and had a great time despite all the chaos. So there's recouping and creating new things out of hard times. And also the whole 10x better, we're about to do a home renovation, which is incredibly inconvenient. When I come back, because we have to move out, this house needs to be 10x better. Otherwise, it's not worth the pain, the hassle, and the inconvenience, as you said. And then when things are pleasant surprises, one of the things that strikes me is it just helps you up your ambition level in terms of what is possible. Is that one of the positive benefits of good surprises?
Dan Sullivan: It's one of the results of someone who realizes that you have very, very little control over events outside of yourself. That was true when you were a child. That's true when you're in your twenties, when you're in your fifties. And now I'm almost 80. It's just as true today as it was when I was growing up in the 1940s. So my thought is this is reality, that you're always going to be surprised by events in the outside world. I remember I got diagnosed with prostate cancer in June, July of 2016, and my first response to it is, "Okay, I got to handle this, but I can't miss a workshop."
Shannon Waller: You didn't.
Dan Sullivan: And the doctor that we had wasn't going to accommodate us. So we got another doctor and he sat right down and said, "Well, let's get the schedule out." He says, "I have my own operating room, I have my own team, and when would it be convenient for me to do the surgery?" And I said, "Well, what about November 1st because my first workshop is December 1st?" And he said, "Got it. Yeah, good." "Now," he said, "I have to tell you, most people are not really, really energetic for their first six months." And I said, "I realize that. So I'm going to have to be energetic in my first three weeks," and I was. I was in high energy with a whole... I said, "What a neat challenge. What a neat challenge." So what I'm pointing to here, it's not the event, it's not the surprise, it's the mindset.
So anyway, I go to a lot of technology conferences and in one way or another I've heard the phrase, "With advanced technology, we will now be able to anticipate and prevent surprises." And then they get surprised. And I said, "This is fairytale stuff. You think you live in a fairytale world." I said, "The real world, there's always going to be surprises." The number one bank for new start-up technology, the Silicon Valley Bank, went belly up in three days. And everybody was betting on their bet, and the bank was betting up their bank and the whole bank, it went under. It had to be rescued by governments and larger banks and everything like that. And I said, "These are the people who are trying to make the future free from surprises."
Shannon Waller: So this whole mindset, Dan, of being excited by surprises, good or bad, is really kind of a cool twist on things.
Dan Sullivan: You do one thing with one kind of surprise and you do something... And I will tell you this, that people who are entrepreneurial take more advantage of bad surprises than they do of good surprises. And I think that's a weakness in them because there's a temptation when you have a good surprise, "Oh, we don't have to do anything now because the surprise has taken care of things." I said, "No, you got about 24 hours to get your mind straight and you got maybe two or three weeks to get your activity and your focus rearranged or you're going to miss the advantage." With bad surprises, you have no choice about how you have to respond because your survival may be at stake, which ours totally was when we had the COVID lockdown.
Shannon Waller: That's a surprise.
Dan Sullivan: Always big surprises. Shutting down the whole world's big surprise.
Shannon Waller: Yeah. The mindset here to be excited by surprise as just the opportunity to make things better, to respond in new ways, to be more creative in response to a challenge. If you could name it, Dan, what is the main thing, in terms of how people respond to negative surprises versus good surprises, is there a way to contrast or sum those two up?
Dan Sullivan: Well, first of all, they're paralyzed, and then they're angry, and then they blame, but they don't do anything. They don't change. Their mindset doesn't change. They feel victimized and they go into a stupor, and they're useless. So they hate bad surprises because it makes life worse. I said, "Well, why don't you just have a mindset that every bad surprise is going to make life better?" It's just a mindset. You got a button and it's clicked this way and, "It's terrible and I'm a victim," and you click it this way and says, "Oh wow, opportunity." I mean, you can make incredible progress in the short-term period after a bad surprise, boom. First of all, you're focused. I mean, you're totally focused.
Shannon Waller: So true.
Dan Sullivan: It's like people who have near death experience and then they come back and all of a sudden life gets really, really simple and clear and it doesn't last, that clarity and focus. You got a short window where you can really take advantage, and then the window closes.
Shannon Waller: And with good surprises? Short window too, right?
Dan Sullivan: Well, the danger there, it can make you more complacent.
Shannon Waller: Right. Yeah, you can kind of go to sleep.
Dan Sullivan: Well, you go to sleep. "Well, we don't have to do anything, we just go with the tide here," but tides turn.
Shannon Waller: And then you're going to have to surprise that you'll probably interpret as being negative.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah, yeah.
Shannon Waller: Two by four to the head, as I like to say.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. I think if someone was in charge, they said, "Well, he didn't take advantage of the good surprise. Let's see what he does with a bad surprise."
Shannon Waller: Yeah, pay attention, darn it.
Dan Sullivan: If there's a big playwright who's doing this. But it's so funny, the whole notion that we can make the world so safe and secure and predictable that there'd be no surprises. This is fairytale land, these are 40, 50 year old adults who are acting like they're six years old. So my sense, surprises are just reality. So what's your basic approach to reality?
Shannon Waller: What's your basic approach to reality? I love it.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. Are you okay with reality?
Shannon Waller: Apparently quite a few people are not.
Dan Sullivan: No, no.
Shannon Waller: But it's not even just being okay, Dan. You talk about being excited. So this is welcoming them and looking forward to them. I had a negative surprise when my flight to Chicago last week was canceled due to mechanical issues and had to get super creative and resourceful on how to get there in time for my event the next day. And it was definitely a surprise. Fortunately, I had plan A, plan B, I ended up on plan C. I did not have a plan D, so I didn't want to have to go there, but it worked out.
And I wasn't overly fussed. I mean, I had resources, got there on time, delivered a great day, kind of revved up, to be honest. So it was interesting, and I felt proud of how I handled that. I could have lost my mind. I could have been super stressed. I could have been really a jerk on the phone to the people who were trying to help me reschedule the flight. I mean, I did not turn into someone who was unpleasant to deal with. So that for me was a win. I'm not sure if I was, I would say, excited, but it was a challenge, I admit it.
Dan Sullivan: I mean, what do you want to do with the experience? I mean, we have total control over our responses. We have no control over the events, but we have total control of our response. And that's-
Shannon Waller: So don't fight reality.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. It always ends up bad.
Shannon Waller: And to your point, Dan, be very conscious and use it to your advantage. Make it better. Learn from the situation. Make it a 10x return if you're going to be inconvenienced. There's not just settling, but there's a creative, fun, challenge, "Make life even better" mindset that you have towards it, which I have found very useful and very inspiring.
Dan Sullivan: And we had another example, Babs and I especially, and certain team members, but we found out, I think it was probably about four years ago, five years ago, I'm not quite sure, that one of our big star entrepreneurs in the program was stealing and repackaging 80... We had 80 case examples of them stealing our material, even though at the bottom of their annual renewal contract, it says, "I will not use any Strategic Coach materials for my own purpose other than to use what I learned in Strategic Coach to create my own tools." And he didn't do it and we sued him. We sued him because he was going on the internet with it and that's a huge multiplier. So we sued him. And long, very expensive, very grueling two years. And we have a non-disclosure agreement, but I can say that I'm not unhappy with the result from the whole proceeding.
But I came out of it and I said, "We got to go really big now with that experience." And just this year we've now put in... By the end of the year, we will have submitted 50 applications for patents. And we had one or two patents. I said, "Now we're going to patents." And my goal is that within a matter of 10 years or 15 years, that the total value of all of our patents is equal to the total amount of revenues that we have created since we started the company. And I said, "That'll be payback." I'll feel good about it.
And we've created a whole new program out of this. We have 150 or so clients who have billions of dollars’ worth of patents. And it was all because I was put through the inconvenience of a dishonest schmuck in our program. And now our scrutiny, we've hired a company that does 24-hour surveillance on the internet that any mention of our... Now we're moving it into other languages. One of the things, they always steal our diagrams, so it's an easy thing to check. We got trademarks, and if that hadn't happened, we'd still be lulling along the way we were.
Shannon Waller: I think you called it getting a PhD.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. Yeah. I went through an eight-hour disposition where the opposing lawyer just pointed out all sorts of inconsistencies and everything like that. I mean, she couldn't deny the main charges. And I said, "Well, the one value out of this is both she and we are being paid by the same check writer because he's going to lose." "But," I said, "useful experience to go through." Very useful, never to go through the experience again. And all the learning I got from that eight hours and from the two hours, I said, "I got to get a big payday now for this." I was really inconvenienced about it. That was a bad surprise. But look at what's good, it has changed our entire future.
Shannon Waller: That mindset and that determination, I love every second of it. There's something so rich in that, to take every experience of your life, good surprise, bad surprise, and make just incredible use of it to me is exciting. And that's why surprises are exciting. That's how we started off.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. Yeah. In life actually living the Coyote and Roadrunner animated film, beep, beep. So Wile E. Coyote is trying to do something bad to us, "Surprise," and beep, beep. There's just something so totally timelessly human about this activity. Doesn't matter what you get thrown at you, turn it into good.