Value Creation: The M.I.N.D. System To Success With Lee Benson
How much value do you have for yourself? In this episode, Lee Benson, the author of the Your Most Important Number, dives into the M.I.N.D. System and how to utilize it for success. The most important drive becomes a north star that will empower everyone in your team and improves your number. The MIND methodology takes the lens of improvement in every decision and action. Learn to leverage value creation and be thoughtful of your team members to create their goals.
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Value Creation: The M.I.N.D. System To Success With Lee Benson
Welcome to this moment in time when you get to chill out, tune in, and extract wisdom you could use to grow your business with your first thousand clients. If you’re a coach and you’re reading this show right now, you are going to love what I’m about to tell you. I am a coach just like you and I built my own software platform for coaches. Why?
It’s because nobody had what I needed to effectively coach my clients, raise my authority, increase my fees, and give my clients the best experience possible. I’d like you to have that same platform to use your business and you can get it for a dollar trial. It’s called ClientFol.io. You can go to ClientFol.io and you could get started in about five minutes. I highly recommend you check it out and see if it works for you. Now, onto my amazing guest and his incredible story.
I have to admit, it’s not often that you meet someone who just like us, started with nothing and achieved so much with so little time. My guest built an aerospace company and sold it for nine figures, but that’s not the most interesting thing you’re going to learn about. He is an incredible guitar player, which simply demonstrates his dedication to mastery. What is mastery? That is a life value, but life itself is all about values.
Readers, I’m going to ask you a question. What do you value? Whatever that is, you teach your children your values and that becomes the foundation of their values. My guest discovered his own values the hard way. The one that is critical for any company to make massive progress with his process is the MIND Methodology that he invented. It can be integrated into any organization of any type and size. Also, his book is called Your Most Important Number. This book has dominated Amazon with all five-star reviews, and he has a new announcement of a new book that deals entirely with values, which we’re going to get to later. Welcome, Lee Benson, to the show.
Thank you for having me, Mitch. I’m looking forward to this conversation.
Me, too. I hope we don’t end up talking about guitars the entire time, but since both of us are guitar players, you know I’d love to do that. However, before we go deeper into all the fun stuff I have planned to get into with you, tell us how all this started for you.
Mitch, a little bit of my background. I’ve started seven businesses. I’ve had exits from a few million to well into nine figures. I never took a dime of outside investment money for any of those. I didn’t come from money. I was the kid that got kicked out of high school at the beginning of my senior year. I came from a low-income family. I slept one night in my truck. The next night, I had an apartment.
It was a non-event for me because I was working full-time as a cook, and my rock and roll band was already earning some money from gigs that we were playing. There’s this thing I call the value creation struggle cycle where I started pretty early, 6 or 7 years old pulling weeds for $0.25 an hour, and then that turned into shoveling snow. I grew up in Spokane, Washington and I’d get $0.50 for that, I could do two an hour. I just four-folded my money and then a paper out and then four paper outs and a dishwasher, busboy, and cook.
By the time I was kicked out of the house, I learned to trust that I could go out in the world, trade my best efforts for the best efforts of others and build more value each time I did it. That was an amazing world that I loved and that I could trust. It was totally different from where I grew up, which was a toxic and somewhat dangerous environment but all those struggles, the healthy ones, the unhealthy ones, I’ve leveraged into creating a ton of value. That’s where it started and at some point, I can tell you about the conditions that allowed me to get my first business, which was a pretty interesting experience in itself.
I want to share some data points with you because while you were shoveling snow for $0.50, I was charging $5 to shovel snow. Clearly, you did not have a pricing model at the time that was effective because I went through the neighborhood. I pick on the older residents in my community. I knew in Brooklyn, we had a lot of snow back then so we charged $4, $5, or $6.
My allowance also was about $0.25. There were days when my high school partner and I, shoveling snow, would come home with $50. That was insane money back then and we spent it in all of the inappropriate ways possible, but we enjoyed ourselves. That was the most important thing, as I’m sure you did too. I would love to hear more about those beginnings.
Throughout the 1980s and a lot of the ’90s, I played music in rock and roll bands. A couple of years in the ’80s, we played over 300 nights a year. It’s how I made most of my money back then, but during the day, I was working as a plating operator in a business that I was part of starting with a high school friend. His parents started the business, and then in ’93, the company had already been sold once. I’m the supervisor. I have 25 employees and our only customer cut us off overnight.
AlliedSignal back in the day was basically 90% of our business. We went down to three employees and the way that happened is a purchasing agent approached us and said, “I would like an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas whenever I want it. If you don’t give it to me, I’m going to take all the work out and move it over to another supplier. Of course, we said no. What a horribly slippery slope to go down.
Six months later, they figured out how to do the work, and all the work went away. I ran it up the flagpole. It seemed like at that time, unfortunately, there was a culture of corruption there. Mostly, the employees were amazing. This was only an unfortunate position, but fortunate for me. My boss said, “Closer to sell it. You’ve got 30 days.”
I couldn’t find anybody to buy it. Lots of people loved working with us and were interested in what we were doing. I went back and I said, “Let me assume the creditor debt, $200,000. I put my house up as collateral and if I turn it around, I’ll pay you an additional $400,000 in paper debt we haven’t been able to pay.” It was accumulating his management fee and he went for it.
I went in a direction that he said would never work, “You’ve never done that before. I don’t believe it.” I said, “I believe it will work.” We took our electroplating process. It wasn’t decorative like gold plating or silver. It was engineering. We would build up worn-out shafts and save these very expensive aerospace components. That’s where we started.
In our first full year, we almost went out of business probably fifteen times. I’m sure lots of your readers have close stories too. I couldn’t pay the two guys left standing with me the first year and I said when I started this, “I’ve got this great idea. I can’t pay you, but I’d love to have you stay and I’ll give you some provisional equity.” I gave both of them a small amount of equity. One said, “This is fantastic. I know it’ll work.” The other one said, “It’ll never work. We don’t have money. We don’t have customers. We don’t have the equipment, but sign me up anyway. I want to see what’s going to happen.”
One of them got a check for around $30 million. The other one is around $20 million for the small equity they got in the early days. We did so well the second year that I paid them back for all the salary they didn’t get in the first year. I didn’t have to, but it felt like the right thing to do since we performed so well. That’s how it got launched. We had seven repairs on our brochure. It said, “Call Rick, Lee, or John if you have questions,” and we all hit the road selling and we made it work.
That’s interesting, again, because when I was selling semiconductors to large corporations throughout the 128 Belt in Massachusetts, I had a purchasing agent at a large company who around Christmastime would distribute keys to the trunk of his car. I don’t need to explain to you why he was distributing keys to the trunk of his car. What you placed in that trunk for his Christmas present would determine what your orders were the following year.
In a similar way to you, I said, “I don’t play this game.” The reason I don’t play this game is I had one up on them, and here’s why. I was already an engineer. Everyone else was salespeople. They went to the purchasing agent’s office. Where did I go? I went back to the back offices where the engineers were and I designed custom circuits.
There was no second source for the products that I sold. Eighteen months or sometimes later, a component would come around. It would be put into production. I’d walk into the purchasing agent and say, “You guys need $1.8 million of these things over the course of the next year. How do you want to get started on this?” He goes, “We’ll have to find a second source.” I said, “Sorry. It is not going to happen.”
My approach was different than yours only because I couldn’t have competed with the other salesman anyway, so I had to go a different route entirely but I’m so glad those days are over. I hated working. As you said, it was one individual and a great team of people at a great company. Those things happen. What most interested me about the story is the faith.
A lot of us have faith and we start out practically with nothing else but faith. The part that you didn’t talk much about that I’d like to hear more about was the pivot. There were probably many times throughout this process when you tried something with a lot of hope and a lot of faith. It didn’t work, but you didn’t quit. You pivoted. Tell us a little bit about some of those times.
First, faith came from trusting that struggle. As I kept struggling to get the capability to build confidence and use that to create value and I grew that over time. Whenever something got hard, because I trusted that process so much, I came out of high school believing I could do anything I wanted to do. If I want to do it, I can go figure out how to do it.
We had this job shop. We’re doing electroplating and our best year ever was $1 million before all the work went away. I’m looking around the country at other job shops and we were the biggest one. There wasn’t a market for it for this specialized electroplating that we were doing, not in a big way, but I could see taking this one process and applying it to repairing aircraft parts because AlliedSignal, which was purchased by Honeywell makes turbine engines and a whole lot of things.
We would repair something for them and charge them $300. They would inspect it, grind it, do some other work, and sell it to their airline customer for $10,000 or more. I got those crazy ideas and unbelievably obvious, but how about we do the same thing and we only charge $5,000? We subcontract everything we don’t have the internal capability to do now. That was challenging because everything is special handling. This isn’t production. This is repair and overhaul. Let’s go do that.
I thought at the time, probably the airlines wouldn’t care about saving $1,000 or $5,000, but I bet a helicopter operator would. Some of these operators are smaller and saving $1,000 is a big deal. For the first seven repairs that we developed, we went out to helicopter operators and talk about having to prove product-market fit immediately based on them actually paying for it. That’s what we did.
We had these 7 repairs and then we grew that to 20 to 25. We started bringing in some equipment to do machining and some more inspecting. That’s how we built the business. I never needed to take any outside investment because we were super disciplined to keep the majority of the money in the business to add equipment and build capability. We grew that all the way to 10,000-plus repairs and thousands of parts that we manufactured.
We did well over 95% of everything in-house. You could send us a data plate with a serial number off of a helicopter and we could build the entire helicopter on it. It was an incredibly tough business. It’s very complicated and I love it because I believe the harder it is, the bigger the opportunities for profit margins and huge opportunities to create a lot of value for your customers. It’s all got to be a win-win back and forth.
When, throughout this process, did you create the MIND Methodology? Could you tell us a little bit about that?
When I was running my aerospace company, something interesting happened. I met Jack Welch. I went to a two and a half day-course that he was facilitating from before breakfast to well after dinner. This guy had so much energy, and this was around 2008. When I started talking in this room, they limited the course to 100 people. He gravitated toward me, and it was pretty interesting.
I remember the first exercise on day one, I’m sitting at a table right in front, and he points to us and said, “Somebody, state your mission and supporting values.” Nobody at my table knew their stuff. Almost everybody else besides me is running a $1 billion or larger business. I went, and there was a long uncomfortable silence. I was like, “Maybe I should leave now,” I’m thinking in my head. He said, “That’s perfect. I wouldn’t change anything.”
As he started going around the room, I realized why he hesitated because everybody else’s mission and supporting values sounded like a marketing slogan. Nothing you could sink your teeth into. At lunch that first day, he blew off his table and everybody drew a ticket to set with him. He sat right next to me and said, “I’ve done this thousands of times. How have you done it?”
I said, “If we’re trying to solve the same problem, applying math, common sense, logic, and facts, and not having any political BS get in the way, we’re going to go down the same road whether you have 400,000 employees,” which he had in the heyday or at the time. Maybe I had roughly 180 employees and came off at $10 million a year.
We developed a friendship. A couple of years later, he saw my operating methodology, and he said, “This is the best business management system I’ve ever seen.” He invited me to Florida. We spent nine and a half hours one day going through it. Shortly after that, he became a 10% owner partner in ETW with me, my business.
What I realized is what I was able to do with over 500 employees by the time I sold it. Most leaders aren’t disciplined or have enough drive to do it. I set it on this mission, “What worked for me,” and got amazing results. I’ve watched a lot of others try to do it. Dozens of CEOs were in the different CEO groups that I was part of. After a few years, maybe two were left standing. None of them said it didn’t work. What they said was, “We’re embarrassed that we didn’t have the drive to keep it going.”
That’s probably interesting. What do we need to do here? I wanted to develop an operating methodology, an intentional way, a company, and every team within a company or any organization creates value. I want it to be something that will work for 80% of all teams everywhere. You don’t have to have a superstar leader in the room to make it work, which a lot of people depend on that, hire great leaders, and magic happens.
I want to do it more intentionally and systemically than that. After working with hundreds of companies, and thousands of leaders on this particular problem, I developed something called the MIND Methodology. It stands for Most Important Number and Drivers. It’s working for virtually 100% of the teams where we install. It’s fantastic. The challenge with most operating systems is they make the process more important than what is most important. In our process, operating methodology to MIND Methodology, every decision and action is through the lens of “Will this improve? What’s most important?”The challenge with most operating systems is they make the process more important than what is most important. Click To Tweet
What is the most important number?
When people say what do you do? I help organizations improve their most important number and it starts an incredible conversation. At the top of an organization, the most important number in the for-profit world will typically be some version of profit or cashflow. It’s capital intensive. In a nonprofit, it’s going to be impacted. Why is the world better? It’s because they’re here, but a close second’s going to be revenue to be able to pay for the impact.
Now, the most important number for the organization and every single team within the organization has to do two things. 1) It has to, above all others say, you’re winning or losing the game, and 2) It has to drive the majority of the right behaviors. At the top, you could pick cashflow or profit, but as you start to go out as companies get larger, one of the best examples of how to think about this is an HR department.
When we start working with companies large enough to have an HR department, it could be 100 employees. It could be 40,000 employees. Every team has to be involved in coming up with their most important number. Senior team for the top of the organization. In this case, the HR team for that HRs most important number. Virtually every time they say, “Our most important number needs to be engagement or retention.” I said, “Okay, but remember, it’s got to do two things. Above all others, you’re winning or losing and drive the majority of the right behaviors. Let’s run a scenario. You hire me to be the head of HR and we’ve decided that retention is my most important number. Above all else, I want to keep as many people as I can.
Three years later, I’m 98% retention, world-class benchmarking. Nobody touches me. Forget the fact that 70% of our team members can’t deliver on the outcome-based responsibilities in their role but I won on retention, so it didn’t drive the majority of the right behaviors. In this example, if we made the most important number for HR, the percentage of seats filled with capable people as defined by, for every role we fill, there are 2 to maybe 4 outcome-based responsibilities they need to deliver on.” That might be 30 or 40 capabilities. They need a job description list, but they only need those to achieve those outcome-based responsibilities.
Now, what percentage of all team members are delivering or overdelivering on the outcome-based responsibilities? If you had a hundred employees and 80 years delivering or overdelivering in twenty or under, you’re at 80%. It’s driving all the right behaviors. We’re recruiting better. We’re training better. We’re giving leaders better tools to develop people more effectively and all of that.With the MIND System, we're recruiting better, training better, and giving leaders better tools to develop people more effectively. Click To Tweet
As you go through, it could be sales and marketing, supply chain, customer service, production, admin, or whatever those things are, I love thinking about finance in their most important number because they typically completely miss it. They’re doing a great job. They’re producing reports, but they’re missing huge opportunities to create value because they’re not selecting the right most important number and the best work to improve it. That’s an example. Does that make sense, Mitch? It was a long answer.
It was perfect. First of all, here’s what I got from what you said. You’ve figured out a way to determine the key metrics for any division inside of a corporation. Those key metrics must move the needle across the board inside that organization to deliver the highest value. Is that a summary of what I heard, or did I get that right or close to?
That’s right, and they all fit together. If at the top you’ve got the most important number, the next level has the most important numbers. When they improve, it always has to improve the next one. You can cascade that out to hundreds and hundreds of teams all the way to the front line.
I get it. Let’s say at the top of the pyramid, profit is the most important number. We go one step below the pyramid, and we have the C-Suite or the executive suite, and their most important number can be something different but still must support the profit number. Now, we go deeper still, and we go to the director of HR or the director of engineering. They have different numbers as well. It might test lines of codes for the engineering team, but once again, how does that relate to the top most important number, which is profit? Does that seem correct?
That’s correct. Every most important number needs to be a measure of the value that team was designed to create. It should not measure an activity. Some people will say, “We can’t measure the value, so let’s just measure an activity.” You’ve just wasted all your time if you do that.
It’s funny because when I build certification programs, one of the key elements of what I do is creating culture inside of an organization. The culture program that I invented over 25 years ago and instilled to this day roll out. Every time I do it, I learn a new way or a new methodology of getting to the best elements of a person’s values. I never took the financial or numerical element of it into play.
I am going to read your book and incorporate that into my own culture-building program because if I could see it through a little bit different lens, what you’re describing is the creation of culture. The reason I say it that way is because if the CEO is a sales-oriented guy, then he’s going to be a sales-driven organization.
If the CEO is an engineer, it’s going to be an engineering-driven operation. If instead we were to take the values of the CEO or whatever that might be, and find the most important number for the organization, now we added a brand new valuable dimension to culture. I believe that is amazing. I learned something very valuable now.
It’s important to be able to connect culture to financial results. Financial results improve when customer experience is great for the employees, for the customers, and for all of that. The nice thing about the MIND Methodology is you step back and say, “How was this organization designed to create value? How would we know that it’s creating more value over time?”
I believe philosophically that the job of the top leader in an organization is to continually increase the value of that organization and time accelerate it. When you look at it that way, I could be an engineering CEO. I could be a sales CEO. It doesn’t matter what it is. Once we think about it that way, now we need the ideal structure to create value and look at the allocation of resources, and for each one of the functions that bolt together, we need different capabilities.
We think about it that way. The nice thing about the most important number for every team is that it simplifies all of it. When you’re looking at a map of the top profit in our example, and you go down to the next level and you keep going, it’s easy to see whether they’re on track at risk or behind for all the numbers. One of the things that I discovered the hard way running at one wall after another is that traditional goal setting doesn’t stand the test of time.
Most organizations will have 30, 40, 50, or 80 measures for every single team these KPIs are keeping track of and most of them are just going through the process of tracking them because when I ask, “How are you using these KPIs to make better decisions to create more value?” they don’t have very good answers to it. This simplifies it. This whole traditional goal-setting process is where, “Everybody comes up with 2 or 3 goals every quarter. Get it approved by your manager,” and rinse and repeat.
One, it feels terrible for the employees and because we haven’t been clear about how their team was designed to create value, they’re not very thoughtful about how they create the goals. They’re creating them to check a box and keep going forward. Now, with the most important number of drivers, “I’m on a team. Here’s my most important number. Here’s where I’m at. Here’s where I’m going.”
At any point in time, I can see if I’m on track above or below. Now, in the drivers, these drivers are categories of work. A team should be good at leveraging to improve their most important number. This is where I capture the best work we’re doing as a team to improve that. It simplifies it. We do a lot of work implementing this in companies of all sizes out there for-profit and nonprofit, but I get regular stories that come in from folks that have read the book. The last chapter in my book, Your Most Important Number, is a DIY chapter.
They say after a couple of months things like, “I know you don’t need another success testimonial, but all I did was change the language. We used to have all these KPIs for every team member. By function, every month I’m running around scrambling, trying to get that extra 2% or 3% to hit the budget. Once I change to this and it’s one number, now they’re 2% or 3% ahead of budget, and they’re looking for more.” It’s like, “It’s miraculous,” because we simplified it. Does that make sense?
It makes perfect sense. Lee, one of the things that I love about the term culture, and the reason I keep bringing that up is because these are such parallel concepts. Culture can be self-correcting. The right culture doesn’t require a lot of people trying to get everyone else in line. The culture self-corrects. Why? It’s because the foundation is built in advance, which everybody has agreed to. It might be a foundation of how we treat each other, how we treat customers, or how we show up. This is an element of culture.
Again, I’m bending your process a bit to fit my model, which I love because now I have a numerical way of measuring how well we are doing inside the cultural paradigm. Readers, I hope for you this has been as educational as it has been for me. Lee, I have enjoyed the segment of the show. What I want to ask about now is this concept of values. You seem to get deep into everything that we’ve shared together. You have just released a book for children. Tell us a little bit about that book.
The book is titled Value Creation Kid and the subtitle is The Healthy Struggles Your Children Need to Succeed. This talks about value in a couple of ways in terms of creating it. There are three macro buckets we describe in the book, and my co-author is Scott Donnell. He was amazing to work with on this project. The first value creation bucket is material. It’s money. It’s things. It’s all of that.
The second value creation bucket is emotional energy. In my view, that’s the scarcest commodity on the planet because when that’s running on ten, it supercharges everything else. The third bucket is spiritual, which means something different to everyone. Greater connectedness, religion, or whatever is all on you, but I believe the purpose of education is to create value in the world, not get a good grade, a diploma degree, or a job.
I want to thread all the way through the K-12 experience for our kids that the purpose of education is to create value in the world. Everything you learn is going to be about connecting those dots and helping them discover their value-creation superpower. Now, the challenge is there are just way too many motivational nudges out there. Read this book and watch this video. It’s always interesting for me to listen to an adult that took 40 or 50 years to understand a concept, explain it to a kid, and they don’t get it right away, or they think because they explained it, they’re going to explain in that character, wisdom, and everything else. It’s impossible. They have to discover it.
In a nutshell, what I want to do with this book is operationalize value creation in millions of households across the country, and let’s take it to the world. Imagine if a kid’s primary drive, motivation, and even identity in a lot of ways is the value they create in the world. They’re going to be intrinsically motivated, have high self-esteem, lots of confidence, and they’re not going to be subject to special groups liking them or not liking them, or TikTok likes and all that stuff that isn’t that healthy. They’re focused on creating value in the world.
That’s what my new book Value Creation Kid is all about. We just launched and the sales have been incredible. We already have the number one bestseller in Wall Street Journal and many categories on Amazon. It’s come in and it seems to be very quickly going viral because this is so needed now with the best of intentions. We seem to, a lot of the parents, majority of parents, take all the struggle away from kids.
By the time they become an adult, they’re not ready to be a self-reliant, productive adult that does things to create better conditions to work, live, learn, and play. They need another 4 to maybe 16 years to become an adult. Mitch, in a lot of ways, we’re doing it to adults in the workforce. We’re making it easier and easier. How are they going to learn to create value and feel amazing about themselves?
The book is not for children. It’s a parent’s book. The parents are going to read this. When I read your intro, I was being very intentional about what I said in your introduction. I said, “What you teach your children becomes the foundation of their values.” If a child grows up in a home with great values, and if a parent were to read the Value Creation Kid and start acting out those values in their own world, in their own life, in their own home, that is going to be the best teacher of all in my experience for children.What you teach your children becomes the foundation of their values. The best teacher for children is if they grow up in a home with great values, and parents act on those values in their world, life, and home. Click To Tweet
In my world, I raised my daughter. My daughter was eleven years old when I started teaching her how to trade options. The reason I did was I said to her, “If you learn these simple things I’m about to teach you, you will never worry about money for the rest of your life.” It doesn’t mean that what I do is right or wrong, but my value as I communicated it to a little girl was it’s important for you to be self-reliant.
You have to find the way that makes you self-reliant in the way that lights you up at the highest level, the thing that you love the most. It may not be options trading for you, sweetie girl. It might be something completely different but my value was self-reliance. That’s what I wanted her to become. For the reasons that my parents made me self-reliant, I have a feeling that’s a lot about what your book talks about. Is that right?
Being a self-reliant adult that thinks in terms of win-win value creation. Win for themselves, their families, and their customers someday. I’m interested in the low-income and middle-income families. That’s where I want to operationalize this. We’ve come up with something we call the GravyStack Method that we outline in the book. There are four components to it. First, it’s value creation. How you talk about it.
Again, the material, spiritual, and emotional value and some kids’ superpower from a value creation standpoint will be emotional energy. They write music and they uplift people and all of that, which is fantastic. The second component is house rules. What’s your job for the family? What are the expectations and all of that stuff? Did we see how all the jobs for the family fit together so we create the most value as a family?
Third is financial competency. It’s literacy. “I understand a few terms.” In this GravyStack method, it’s about earning money, understanding how to manage it, spend it, save it, share it, and all that stuff that goes with it. The last part, the fourth part is a healthy struggle. It’s about designing healthy struggles for our children so they can struggle to gain a competency or a capability essentially and that builds their confidence.
Also, they don’t stop there. They create value with it and they keep going and taking bigger steps each time if they choose to. They could be small big steps. They could be giant steps. It’s up to the kid but like the journey that I went on with no mentors. I started trusting it early. There’s no end to where you can go. I’ve had great financial exits. I don’t think I’m even close to the biggest one I’m going to have so far going forward because of this process.
We’ve been working with a few low-income families and it’s wild to me. The mothers seem to be the biggest consumers of this so I’ll ask for feedback, “How’s it going?” They’ll text me back a picture of a stack of books they bought to send to all of their friends. I’m like, “That’s incredible,” and how they’re already incorporating the language.
We were just starting this, but I can only imagine 5 to 10 years down the road, we have these Value Creation Kid parenting groups all over the country and they’re sharing best practices and where it goes. I’m so excited about the pent-up value creation that hasn’t been discovered by these kids and what’s possible because, in this country, we’re not even realizing, in my opinion, 10% to 15% of the value that we could create.
Anyone who is learning about Lee talk about this incredible book, the Value Creation Kid, and is excited to get involved or would like to distribute this book or share it with your organization that you may be affiliated with, whether it’s a church, a synagogue, or a mosque. Whatever you feel is appropriate, I would go over and grab a copy and see if it’s a fit for you. See if it resonates and Lee, if you don’t mind, maybe people could let you know exactly how they’re implementing this because this potentially has the ability to change the world.
It does. The book will point you to GravyStack.com, which is this methodology where we want to operationalize value creation. In there, we have parenting groups. There are all kinds of things that we’re starting to build and there’s a whole ecosystem from Apex, the largest kids fundraising organization in the country that my co-author founded. It helped millions of kids raise money for school programs the children’s business fared when they learn about how to sell stuff at the age of thirteen.
Now, we’re coming up with a junior CEO mastermind group for these kids coming out of high school with an attraction that eventually can get into my CEO mastermind groups that I run myself with my colleagues, and other certified folks to do it. We’re building this whole ecosystem of value creators on the business side as well as emotional energy and we’ll support them on the spiritual side too.
Again, it’s a great mission. Please take a look at GravyStack.com. When I clicked on that, I got a Wefunder page where they get started. Take a look at this. There’s some incredible information here and I believe that this is something that a lot of people are going to resonate with. Lee, let’s switch gears. I want to talk about your software.
When I first interviewed Lee, we first got to start chatting about life and stuff. I told him about my tiny little software company and what I’m doing. He goes, “I poured $20 million of my own money into our software platform.” I said, “I’m about $19.9 million behind you.” Tell us about this incredible piece of software, what it does, how it’s used, and who could use it.
Backing up a little bit, I started my first software company in 1999 to build the ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning System from an aerospace business. I couldn’t find anything robust enough out there or flexible enough or could change at the speed we needed it to so I just hired the team and we built it against the advice of every single business person I knew and it worked out unbelievably well.
We had companies like Airbus, Bell Helicopter, and others saying, “How can we get access to this? It was fantastic.” We knew what we were doing getting into it and when Jack Welch told me, “If I was still running GE, I would put all 400,000 of our team members in here,” I started building something that would work for that. What would work for that?
That was a mistake on my part because I poured a ton into it. I listened to lots of people, get wildly excited about it, but at the end of the day, getting a larger organization to change the way they operate is a little bit like asking you, Mitch, would you like a heart transplant? You’ll operate 20% better. Could I get you signed up for that?” That didn’t go, but what it’s turned into is it’s such an easy way to sustain and scale the MIND Methodology.
All the elements are in one place and most operating methodologies, there are popular ones. They’re scaling up like 4DX, OKRs, and EOS. There’s a whole bunch of them out there. “Show me the tools you’re using to hold it together.” They are super clunky and mostly terrible software to try to do it, but it doesn’t incorporate everything. They have Google Docs and Word docs, and Excel spreadsheets. It’s all over the place and it’s hard for most people to have the discipline to keep checking and updating everything.
All we said is, “The MIND Methodology is what’s by far the most important. Make it real. It’s your intentional way of creating value in the organization. Once you get that, then the tools matter. Here’s one place that houses everything in a simple, elegant way.” Even to the point that if you complete a meeting and it automatically creates the next one, it takes as much work away from you as possible and at a high level. Whether you’re 4 employees or 440,000 employees, it doesn’t matter. It holds together alignment on all the things that every team can do to improve what’s most important.
It looks at the decisions. Are they doing the right work at the right time in the right order? It shows you the culture of accountability. Are they doing what they said they would the highest possible percentage of the time? When you talk about culture, in my mind, the simplest way I think about it is what we agreed to do and how things get done.
What we agreed to do is create value this way and here’s how we interact with each other to do it. I go foundational to all of that. I’m thinking, “Culture is the decisions, the beliefs, the practices, and the accountability from which an organization creates value.” I love doing culture audits in different organizations. If you look at beliefs, what beliefs are helping us, and which beliefs are hurting us?
What’s our culture of accountability? What percentage of the time does everybody do what they said they would? That’s a big part of organizational trust. People gravitate to those that will do what they said they would the majority of the time. What’s our culture of decision-making? What’s a critical decision and how do we think about that? It’s a way to capture all of it in this software in such a simple, elegant, easy way, which I believe must be what you’ve done with the coaching software to make it easy to do that work and whatever a coach’s methodology is. Is that correct, Mitch?
I was sitting in the same exact spot you were at a much smaller scale because as a coach like you were describing, I had all these screens open, spreadsheets, databases, Zoom screens, and all of these notepads keeping track and then having to convert all of this into a single message to a client. Like you, I couldn’t find anything at all that would fit those needs.
My decision was instead of just building this for the individual coach, my belief was that you start by understanding the needs of a larger coaching organization and you created from that perspective first. Why? It’s because small coaches become large coaches. Individual coaches become coaching companies. We had the same philosophy but the difference is the market. Yours is mostly focused on ERP or is it a generalized system for anyone who wants to implement the MIND Methodology?
It’s a way of running an organization of any size or type. It’s a way of holding all of that together. Every team with its most important number, the best work they’re doing to improve it, the structure of the organization, and all the roles and responsibilities. Everything goes into this like meetings in a simple elegant way. For every company as an example, you can see what winning looks like aspirationally over the next twelve months or the following twelve months will win now, win later.
You can see what has to get done in the next two quarters to set us up to win in both of those ways. You can see the best work that the teams are doing to improve their most important numbers. You’ve got all of this. That’s at a company level, whether it’s for-profit or nonprofit. So far, we’ve chosen to stay out of government, although I think it would be fantastic there.
I have my own groups and my colleagues have groups, but we call it the EXECUTE CEO MasterMIND. I used to be a member of Vistage and a number of other CEO groups collectively for probably over 30 years. Some of them overlap and they suffer from two challenges in my view. One is a superficial challenge. You can’t see deeply enough in everybody’s business to help them. They get a very small percentage of your brain power and they suffer from a process problem.
It’s like every time you go in, these are usually a one-day meeting a month. You spend so many minutes on this, an hour on this, an hour on this and it’s like, “I’m not getting value out of it.” Most will say, “That’s the biggest challenge.” What they love about it most of the time is the community. What we’re doing in this group is we limit it to eight and every single CEO in the room has a plan to grow fast.
We can see what winning now looks like later. What is every CEO’s most important number is all the drivers that they can influence to move the organization. We can see their structure, and their plans, and every two months we get a deep dive into everybody’s business. Now, you’re getting 80% of the brain power in the room instead of 10% in this real superficial fly-by. The results have been just fantastic, but we’re using the software for that too and it tracks all of it.
Watching previous chairs and groups I’ve been part of, they’ve got docs all over the computer. They’ve got notebooks. They’re flying. It’s crazy. Whereas in this, everybody’s putting in check-ins in the meetings before the meeting. It saves folks like you and me so much time so we can spend more time focusing on creating more value for the client rather than administrative tasks around it. The software’s pretty versatile. We’re using it for organizations as well as groups of CEOs meeting in these EXECUTE MasterMIND groups.
What’s the name of the product?
We call it Align by ETW, but it’s essentially a tool to hold the MIND Methodology together.
Is there a URL where people could go take a look?
If you go to TheMINDMethodology.com, you can find out about it there for sure. You can also go to ETW.com, but TheMINDMethodology.com is the best place to go and generally, we don’t just sell the software. You have to be intentionally deploying the MIND Methodology. Our goal when we work with clients is for them to be able to self-serve at some point and embrace this. Those that are DIY-ing IT and not even using software, they’re getting great results we can quickly start folks where they can get the software and we give them some help configuring and getting it all set up.
We could also work with them for 1 year or 2 depending on what they want in the engagement. Ultimately, we want them working on their own and then it’s a software engagement facet. We have a ton of those engagements out there where they’ve graduated and it’s fantastic having those people meet on a regular basis to share best practices around the MIND Methodology.
I’m asking for two reasons. One is because I have my own groups that I run. That sounds like it would be incredible for that and for my groups. Also, I am part of several masterminds as well. I can imagine how this would be incredibly valuable to help facilitate a 200-person mastermind where we get together quarterly and there’s a limited number of “hot seats.” We have a portal where you could read somebody’s profile, but none of the information that you’ve talked about is in that portal.
I would love to go deeper on that at some point and maybe, I could make some introductions to you as well. Maybe I will have you come in and do a session for one of my groups and with the mastermind. From there, even if it’s a Zoom session for there, it jumpstarts everybody into the process because I’m very excited about what you’ve built and I’m very interested in utilizing your tools to improve the groups that I’m part of as well.
Let’s talk about that offline. I am happy to help.
We’re going to make one more transition before we get to the end part of our interview and that’s about music. Music has been a part of my life, all of my life. I’m going to guess that at some level, music has been a part of everyone’s life. Music, in some ways, it’s the theme of our lives. It’s where our memories are created. You’ve been immersed in music sounds like all of your life. Tell us a little bit about how you got that going and what you’re doing now in the music world.
At five years old, my grandmother wanted me to learn an instrument. She picked the piano for me. I took six months of lessons. I didn’t like it very much, and I wanted to quit. She said, “That’s fine, but you have to pick another instrument.” I picked guitar and I took six months of lessons I got to learn Jingle Bells, A-Tisket, A-Tasket, and some not-so-great songs from my view. That is why I stopped the lessons, but I kept playing.
I taught myself and started learning rock songs. I was in bands from junior high school through high school and well beyond. I still play every week with at least one band that comes to my music studio. I started so young. I don’t remember not knowing how to play guitar. You’re right. Almost everything is better with music. I’m one of those guys that love to participate in something more than watch it.Almost everything is better with music. Click To Tweet
Throughout my career, I like playing music a whole lot more than listening to it but when I do take the time to listen to it, it’s like, “They’re so good.” I’ll watch bands and concert films now where they didn’t hit me back when I was a kid, but right now, they are like, “This was genius what they’re doing.” I like to take the time to go back and do that, but for the most part, I like writing my own music. I like the emotion we create on stage.
One of the things that I’ve realized here and a gentleman by the name of Steve Vai helped me understand this. He’s probably my favorite instrumental rock and roll guitar player of all time. There’s an infinite number of ways to play one note. When a guitar player says, “I could play that,” you can’t because the only person that can create the emotion from whatever that passage was on the guitar is the person that played it.
It goes back to when you hear 100 singers sing the same song, the pitch is great, but one of them makes you cry. What’s the difference? That’s the same thing with guitar players. You hear them play the same thing, but one of them, you feel it inside. I went to a short story, an event where Tommy Emmanuel was playing. It was very intimate. There are a bunch of guitar players.
Nuno Bettencourt is there. Steve Vai is there, Tommy Emmanuel, and a whole bunch of others. Tommy comes out and he does a rendition of a Beatles song on his acoustic guitar. I’m looking around and virtually, everybody’s crying. All he talked about was how he keeps wanting to push the leading edge of getting more emotion out of the guitar and that’s what it is.
Even when I played live, I got to a point where it was cool when the crowds got bigger and bigger and you’re 5,000 and you start growing from there but then it didn’t matter if I played a club where the cook and the bartender were the only people that showed up. I was more into the emotion that we created on stage. That’s how I think about it now. When I play, I’m playing what I’m feeling in my head, not thinking about a note. Does this make sense? How does this resonate with you, Mitch? I’m curious.
First of all, you know it resonates with me because I come from the same place. Anyone reading this can relate as well. I saw Steve Vai here in Pompano Beach. For me, guitar players and music have been a part of my life since I’m a little boy. We participated in battles of the bands in high school. I don’t know if you remember those. We had them in Brooklyn anyway.
We had them too.
Frankly, it was my social life. I was too shy to approach a girl, but I could stand up on stage and I could play and then talk to girls after. A social breakthrough for me was becoming a musician and performing but more importantly, you mentioned discovering things that were out there or have been out there for a long time.
Me, I discovered Porcupine Tree. I don’t know if you know who they are. I’m sure you do. Porcupine Tree has been out for 30 years. I “heard” them. As you described, “I got them,” about a year ago. Now, I’m completely immersed in Porcupine Tree and Steve Wilson, who’s the band leader, who’s one of the primary authors of their music.
I love discovering music that has a vast library for me to dive into and where these people have been around for many years. Here in Florida, when I moved here, I discovered Latin music for the first time. I discovered Tito Puente. I discovered all of the Latin superstars that have been out there. This is why I say this. It is such an important part of my life.
I don’t play on stage anymore. I haven’t in a long time, but I have my guitars. It was not quite as many as you, but I have a few and I enjoy playing them too. The most important thing is the expression of emotion, which you talked about. If you don’t have a vehicle to express your emotion in a creative way, you’re missing out.
I’m speaking now to everybody who might be reading. What is your vehicle? I’m also a writer. I’ve written three books. I’m 100,000 words into a science fiction trilogy because it’s a way of expression for me. I need to do that. It’s not something like I said, I woke up one morning and I said, “Maybe if I write a science fiction trilogy, I’ll make some money.”
We know that is not going to happen but the most important thing is it gives me a place to open up creatively and writing is one of them. Also, my photography. I’ve been photographing since I’m a little boy. I’ve photographed all over the world. My readers have probably heard me rant about this before but to me, when I think about what photography is, it’s not just an expression. It’s a way to master something.
Anything you get involved in and seek to become better at is the pursuit of mastery. If you are a person who loves to pursue mastery, then this is in some ways the key to life. I believe the key to accomplishing everything is simply to get a little bit better at it every day if you can. That’s the end of my rant. I resonate with what you said and I love the fact that you’re still out there and playing.
The theme here is creating value in the world. I keep going back to it should be a win-win. When I spoke at the Phoenix Startup Week Conference, most of the questions were what do you need to see to invest in me? I said, “You need to prove that you have product market fit and you’re intensely passionate about creating value in that area.”
Most of them didn’t get it at all. A lot of founders, unfortunately, are caught up in playing startup founder and going through the process, checking all the boxes, and not solving a real problem out there. I would love it if everybody would shift to, “How do I create value in the world and how do I make sure that it’s a win-win so we can expand that infinitely?”
I speak to a lot of startup CEOs and it’s very rare that I invest in one because of the fact that I don’t see that. In fact, in many cases when I speak to startup CEOs, it seems like they’re more focused on themselves and what they can get out of it. In that regard, they have it all backwards and they probably never would succeed anyway so why would I bother investing in them?
I agree with you. It’s value creation, not just being able to create value, but being able to prove that you have created value and that only results in others acknowledging that and adopting what it is that you’ve created or invented. That to me is a true game changer and that brings us to the next segment of our show.
I apologize to the readers for this being a little longer than normal, but I have been enjoying our conversation so much. I’m going to move on now to the next section of the show and it’s two questions. It’s funny because I usually distribute the questions in advance, and Lee did not see these questions, readers. You’re about to hear a completely off-the-cuff answer, which is even better. Lee, who in all of space and time, living or dead, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch, or an intense conversation with, and why?
I would love to have my friend back for an hour, Jack Welch.
Wouldn’t he be proud of what you’ve done?
He was so supportive. He was amazing and brilliant. Again, we’re fully aligned on trying to solve the same challenges out there.
What would you ask him now that you didn’t get a chance to ask him when you knew him?
When I went to that first conference that I described earlier, I went to three more. I remember him asking me after the third one, “Why do you keep coming back?” I said, “The more I apply this stuff, the better my questions get.” It would be doing a deep dive into what I’ve discovered here with the MIND Methodology.
Think of all the layers that you could then add to what you already know. I followed Tom Peters around. Many people are too young to know who Tom Peters is. I heard him speak for the first time in Boston, and I was so riveted by what he was saying and how he was delivering what he said. I then followed him to New York and then to Philadelphia and then to San Francisco.
I sat there every single time. I paid to be in that room every single time because it was so important for me to absorb what he was saying. For me, one of the experiences of my lifetime that I relish was 30 years later being able to interview him for this very show. Readers, if you’d like to hear Tom Peters, maybe you don’t even know who he is. If you’ve heard of the book In Search of Excellence, he was the co-author of that book and many others.
He has been a thought leader for many years in the industry and specifically, in the culture of industries and the creation of quality as a value. I highly recommend that you look up Tom Peter’s work if you don’t know it but thank you for that answer, Lee. I’m going to ask you the second question, but I already know the answer to this question. It’s almost a moot point. I’m going to ask it anyway. It’s the grand finale and it’s the change the world question. As I said, what is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
I’m leaning in hard on that whole K-12 education space. I want to work backwards from graduating high school seniors into wildly self-reliant, productive, critical thinking, and value-creating adults. Everything I’m doing is starting at the beginning and it’s a long game. I want to operationalize value creation in families. As soon as kids are one year old, I want them to listen and absorb value creation when they get into school.
The purpose of education is to create value because, at some point, I’ll slow down a little bit. I don’t believe in the concept of retiring because we need to keep our brains in the gym every day but when I do slow down or age out in this world, I want those years to be amazing. Even though I do love dystopian science fiction movies about the future type of things, I don’t want to live in it. Our kids are going to be running the world that we age out in, and it could be ten times better than it is now if we get this value creation part right. That’s probably the biggest purpose of my life. For the last two-thirds of my life, I’m going to work on this problem.
It’s a great problem to work on. If I could help in any way, I want to do so too. Readers, if you want to help in any way, I highly recommend that you go grab a copy of the Value Creation Kid and see if it resonates with you. If it does, my suggestion is to go get a bunch of copies. Start handing it out to parents. You want to change your neighborhood and your community, change the values that the kids in that community are being taught, and watch what happens.
Lee, again, I want to thank you, but before I let you go, I know you got a couple of free gifts for folks who are reading. I’ve been to your site. It’s hard to isolate one of them, but what I loved was the accountability assessment and the MIND Methodology Playbook. Can you talk a little bit about those or maybe a suggestion for a different one? Lee, what do you recommend people go take a look at?
One thing I want to touch on, if you want to know more about the Value Creation Kid book, go to GravyStack.com/igniter, and then you’ll see everything around the book, the authors, and the folks that are promoting it. All of it’s in there. I would love to get your feedback on that but when it comes to your most important number in the MIND Methodology, if you go to TheMINDMethodology.com, you can download a free playbook of the MIND Methodology. It gives you a high-level overview.
The best way though to get a feel for this and what it’s all about is to read the book. An even better way would be to listen to the audiobook. I record 25-minute interviews after every chapter for even more insights and background. Not to give it away, but at the very end of the recording, I grabbed a guitar and did about a three-and-a-half minute impromptu total improv one-take guitar solos. I bolted that right at the end of the book.
It’s interesting when I ask people if you read the book. “Yeah. All the way through it,” and they don’t bring up the guitar solo. I know they didn’t quite go all the way to the end, but you’ve got that surprise in there as well. On the website, there are lots of leadership content videos that are completely free so you can peruse them. There are options for how we can work with you if you’re interested in having our team work with you. There’s a leadership library you can sign up for.
The other thing I liked about your website, besides the fact that it’s simple, is that you have the option to become a facilitator. A lot of folks should not start there. They’re going to start with the book and then they’re going to start with implementation. If you’re a coach like me, I would suggest that you start thinking about how you might modify what you do with clients to implement this process. It will make you more valuable. It will probably allow you to get better testimonials and therefore, attract a higher-end client as well. That step has now become, at this point, a facilitator of that. I love the idea of that as well. That’s all right there on the website called TheMINDMethodology.com.
Every couple of months, we’re certifying another batch of certified facilitators to implement this into their consulting practices. The feedback we get is that it allows them to create even more value, be stickier, go deeper, and have a bigger impact on their clients. What we all should be striving for is creating value.
Our mission at ETW is improving our client’s most important number. Everything we do is about that. If we’re helping them install the MIND Methodology, we’re wearing a leadership performance coach cap and we’re installing it, but we’re also wearing a cap as an equal brain in the room with ideas to accelerate the value they create. We play both roles when we’re doing these engagements.
Readers, if you’ve enjoyed this conversation, I would highly recommend you go to Apple Podcasts and rate us five stars and subscribe to Your First Thousand Clients, but more importantly, let me know. Did you like this type of conversation? Is there someone you think that we should have on this show at this level that you have not heard from yet? Please let me know and let’s see what we can do together. Lee, thank you so much for your time. I can’t imagine what your time would be worth to buy an hour and a half of your time, but here you are spending it with us so generously. Thank you so much. I appreciate you.
Thank you, Mitch. I enjoyed the conversation. I hope we have many more.
- MIND Methodology
- Your Most Important Number
- Value Creation Kid
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- In Search of Excellence
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