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Q&A with Guy Raz of NPR's, "How I Built This"

Posted by Trey Smith on May 31, 2018 9:06:35 AM
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What lessons can we learn from the world’s greatest entrepreneurs? CLO Symposium Fall 2018 Keynote Guy Raz is uniquely qualified to answer this question. As host, co-creator and editorial director of three NPR podcasts, including two of its most popular, “TED Radio Hour” and “How I Built This,” Raz is heard by more than 14 million people around the world each month. 

He joined NPR in 1997 as an intern and has worked virtually every job in the newsroom from temporary production assistant to foreign correspondent to breaking news anchor. In that time, through interviews with more than 6,000 personalities, Raz has met some of the most successful storytellers, politicians and innovators of our time.

ARE THERE CERTAIN QUALITIES THAT SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEURS SHARE?

There is a lot of mythology about the entrepreneur as superhero. What I try to do on my program is to demystify that narrative. Every single person has the capacity to take risks, to believe in an idea deeply, to maintain optimism, to pivot when necessary and to fail fast. The only difference between a successful entrepreneur and anyone else is making the attempt. Successful entrepreneurs say “I will” rather than “I wish.”

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST OBSTACLES PEOPLE FACE WHEN IT COMES TO BEING INNOVATIVE AND TAKING RISKS?

The single biggest obstacle is psychological. Yes, there are practical obstacles (children, savings, finances) and these are very real. But being innovative and taking risks doesn’t mean throwing everything you have on the line. Risk mitigation means starting small and having a back-up plan. Innovation is the product of experimentation and failure. Failure and innovation are two sides of the same coin. And in order to innovate, you have to be willing to make mistakes and fail.

IN YOUR INTERVIEWS AND PROFILES, YOU’VE NO DOUBT HEARD MANY SUCCESS STORIES. HAVE YOU HEARD ANY INSPIRING “FAILURE STORIES”?

Almost every episode contains examples of failure. Joe Gebbia from AirBnb thought his business was a major failure in 2009 when only one person signed up to stay at an AirBnb in Austin at South by Southwest. He went back to San Francisco feeling pretty miserable until he received feedback from that one customer. The user complained that he had to pay the apartment owner directly and it felt awkward. But from that one complaint, Gebbia and his team pivoted and decided to make AirBnb transactions frictionless.

WHAT IS YOUR NO. 1 PIECE OF CAREER ADVICE?

Find mentors, learn from them and then pay it forward. My No.1 criteria for who I work with is this: are you kind? That matters more than any other attribute.

HOW CAN AN ORGANIZATION AND ITS LEADERS ENCOURAGE “ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT” IN THE WORKPLACE?

By giving up on wanting to control everything. Big companies (and even small ones) are afraid to give their employees the kind of freedom that breeds creativity and innovation. And once leaders take the decision to let go, innovation almost always follows. And employees who are trusted to make decisions without asking for permission are more motivated, loyal and creative.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE ANECDOTE OR LESSON SHARED WITH YOU BY AN INTERVIEWEE?

I have so many but I’ll leave you with this one: Lara Merriken was 32, unemployed and broke. She loved hiking but hated the sugary “trail snacks.” So one day, she had an epiphany — take as few ingredients as possible and experiment with a new energy bar. She went home, took out her food processor and processed cashews and dates in that Cuisinart. She shaped that gooey mess into a bar. For two years, she quietly worked to perfect her recipe. In order to learn the natural foods biz, she got a job as a checkout clerk at Whole Foods. Eventually, she convinced the store manager to let her demo her “Larabars” and the rest is, well, it’s the story of Lara Merriken and Larabar.


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Attend Guy Raz's keynote address to hear:

  • What he learned from hosting 2 successful NPR podcasts and speaking to successful entrepreneurs.
  • How to create a culture of innovation in your workplace.

Guy will be speaking on Tuesday, October 2 at 1:30 p.m. during the CLO Symposium. Join us this September 30-October 2 at the Marriott Marquis Houston, Texas. For more information and to register, please visit: closymposium.com

Topics: Event Updates, Keynote Preview

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