The Slovenia Times

The Mad Genius on the Future of Work, Education, and Critical Thinking...


Randy Gage is an American thought leader with a unique vision of how to succeed in the new economy. He is the author of 13 books that have been translated into 25 languages, including the New York Times bestsellers Risky Is the New Safe and Mad Genius. Randy has worked as a marketing strategist by private and public companies in Slovenia, Croatia, and other countries in the region. He will be giving a live streaming presentation The Future of Leadership at the upcoming Workplace Design Conference 2020. "

You are an American but Slovenia and Central European markets are not unknown to you. How is doing business here different than in the United States and what changes and opportunities could be most profitable?

People in Central Europe are more formal and prize education and degrees more. There seems to be more desire for corporate security and less demand for entrepreneurial startups. But that leaves open a large market for the entrepreneurs. There is less competition in the startup arena and huge opportunities to stand out and capture market share.

Entrepreneurs can always react quicker to market conditions than larger corporations, so I expect to see at least a few of the next global breakout companies to originate from the area.

You have quality of life, relative political stability, and one of the most beautiful regions of the world.

The main message of your book, Risky Is the New Safe, is that playing it safe in this turbulent world is the riskiest thing to do, not just for businesses and entrepreneurs but also for employees and professionals. Please explain why?

The people who create prosperity in the new economy will be in front of the trends, anticipating them instead of naively reacting to what happened yesterday. It doesn't matter whether you're an individual or a company. To create wealth or success today, you have to become a critical thinker and blow up conventional wisdom.

Disruptive technology, accelerating speed of change and economic upheaval are changing the game. The same tired, old conventional thinking won't get you to success today. One viral video can put you on the map overnight - or create a scandal that could drive you out of business.

The marketplace-and the rules that govern it-are changing too rapidly to attempt a "safe" approach today. The old economic model is broken and playing safe will make you broke. Huge, household name companies that play safe will vanish (many already have), and upstart emerging companies willing to take risks will prevail.

Work environments, physical and virtual, are a major factor in business success, especially for bigger organizations. Which work environments best support employee innovation and creativity in your view?

The environments that foster creativity and innovation are the ones that allow people to make mistakes. And I don't mean small, inconsequential mistakes. I mean something so bold, daring, and imaginative - that if you fail at it you will face a potentially strong degree of risk. We live in a society that attempts to inoculate us [immunize, protect -- Ed.) against fear and indoctrinate us into fitting in with the herd. Which is another way to say mediocre. And mediocre companies never make it big.

The difference between mediocrity and greatness is your willingness to attempt, and be willing to fail at, bold accomplishments. For it is in striving and sometimes failing at greatness, that great character and ultimate victory are won.

An employee who knows that when she makes a mistake her boss won't hold it against her will be the one willing to try bold, innovative approaches. That doesn't mean you accept someone who is constantly making mistakes. But you recognize that no one ever wins every time, unless what they're attempting isn't meaningful. If you encourage your team to be courageous and reward them for that, you'll have a strong, powerful team.

What is the workplace of the future in your view? How will the corporate landscape evolve in ten years time?

I believe the "report to the office from 9 to 5" thinking has to die. Certainly, as the pandemic has already proven, remote work is becoming more and more prevalent. There's also a movement more towards better maternity (or paternity) leaves, flex schedules, rotating schedules at the office, and the like. Company headquarters will always have a place, but it will be reduced and transformed.

One note: some trendy ideas like open workspaces will need to adapt to the new realities of coronavirus. If I was considering working in a big office right now, my biggest concerns would be light and ventilation. Natural sunlight, because it's healthy and energizing. And ventilation to protect against airborne viruses. A huge amount of the coronavirus cases can be traced to poor ventilation like nursing homes, meat packing plants, dormitory conditions, etc. I believe a new standard will develop for work areas, requiring heating and AC units to have hepa filters that recycle the air completely at least six times an hour.

It seems that Gen Z and Alpha generations will not accept the traditional 9 to 5 routine in the office. How should organizations transform themselves to be able to attract and keep the best and brightest of these new generations?

Private companies need to catch up with the level of thinking in the entrepreneurial world. They will need to stay abreast of the level of thinking the entrepreneurial world will need to jump to in the next decade. This will require an exponential leap, and a greatly expanded perspective in the type of thinking needed.

If I were running Google, Apple, or Stripe right now, the first thing I would do is set aside $50 million to start our own high school and university, and start offering housing, internships and scholarships to the most talented and promising teens in the world. I wouldn't wait for the education system to catch up with the programs needed to prepare our workforce for success. I would have them created. By coming at the situation absent the pre-conceived memes of the current education model, you could truly create the ideal one. If someone goes through my education system and decides to work for another company, that's on me. But I believe you could create real value and develop relationships that would supply a steady stream of brilliant, ambitious people who will want to change the world with you.

We were educated and trained to succeed in a world that no longer exists and it's even worse for the new generations. How can organizations re-think and re-invent how they do their business in the new economy?

Every generation has felt this way, but this particular one, probably more than ever. Things have changed and they're never going back. The pandemic and it's resulting crisis have accelerated the changes that were already happening from disruptive technology like the Internet, social media and e-commerce. Now the rate of transformation is breathtaking. This calamitous transformation is creating new and more daunting challenges. But in those challenges lie the greatest opportunities...

Ask yourself the following questions: How does our business work on a smartphone? How will cloning impact our business? Is my business pandemic proof? How will virtual and augmented reality impact our business? If I wanted to disrupt my business model, how would I do it?

The school system is evidently broken as even progressive schools can no longer keep up with the rate of change. Where and how should young people acquire "real-life" skills and knowledge to excel as professionals or entrepreneurs?

You've got to blow up the human tendency towards entrenchment and regain your neuroplasticity. That means developing learning curriculums that challenge you. As they pursue success, most people seek remedial fixes to fill gaps in their skills. I understand this process, as there are some good reasons for doing that. The problem comes when you believe you've effectively dealt with the issue by reaching a certain goal or performance result. A superior approach is creating a learning curriculum. Now you're shifting the focus from accomplishing a specific task to working on who you become. You develop into the person who indeed does achieve the performance goals or accomplishments, but the accomplishment is not a "one of" thing, but a transformational development of you.

In your book Mad Genius, you say that failure is not the opposite of success. What is then the opposite of success?

Ask any hundred people what the opposite of success is, and 99 will probably answer, "Failure." But that's the big lie. The real opposite of success is mediocrity.

Are you saying that failure is actually necessary for success?

Not only is failure not the opposite of success, it is actually an integral and necessary element of success. There has never been a goal worthy of achieving that didn't warrant some failures along the way. In fact, the more likely that failure is a possibility - and how great that possible failure would be - determines how astonishing any potential achievement can ultimately be.

Failures are not dead-end outcomes. (Unless you quit, and then you've failed.) The entrepreneur who doesn't make mistakes doesn't make anything.

Failures are simply momentary challenges. When you persevere through them, these challenges become the stepping stones to your success. They allow you to learn lessons, modify strategies, and develop the necessary character to become a successful entrepreneur.

You write that "Mad Genius" is about big ideas and about the ability for critical thinking when it comes to business strategy and marketing. Please elaborate on this.

I wrote Mad Genius, because I was fascinated by the transformational alchemy process that occurs when people transcend the ordinary and even the extraordinary and enter the realm of their distinctive genius. This gift is unique for each of us and displays in many different ways.

Oprah has it, as does Richard Branson. Choreographers Tabitha & Napoleon have it as does Spielberg. Mother Teresa demonstrated her genius very differently than Freddie Mercury did his, but they both had it in their own way.

It's the same genius you see when you put 80,000 people in a stadium and hand a microphone to Adam Lambert [American singer, songwriter and actor -- Ed.]. Or when Elon Musk gazes up at the stars and thinks we must become a multiplanetary species. Tapping into your genius is what breathes passion, possibilities, and potential into your life.

It is the universe knocking on the door, asking you to step into your greatness.In the business context, this means creating work that is meaningful for both you and the market you serve. Finding a job that allows you to unleash your genius upon the world.

Far too many people spend the bulk of their lives trying not to die. But you're supposed to live, really live your life. I believe you truly start living your life when you discover what your particular genius is, and act upon it. That's your assignment. Sometimes you discover it. Other times, your assignment discovers you. But either way, that is the path you must follow.

You say that if you want to be a thought leader, a market leader, or change the world you have to give up the need to be liked. Why is herd mentality one of the biggest problems in the business world and society today?

Legendary writer Henry Miller had some fascinating thoughts about what it takes to become an artist. He famously said, "First you have to be crushed, to have your conflicting points of view annihilated. You have to be wiped out as a human being, in order to be born again as an individual."Tough words. But I think it applies in a similar way to what it takes to be successful and prosperous in the world today. The millions of mind viruses sweeping the world, and the new technology which allows them to spread faster - have caused humanity to evolve much deeper into the herd mentality.

The result is you have literally billions of people who have been programed to think money is evil, rich people are bad, and it's somehow spiritual to be poor. They believe work is something to be endured. And they think a good life is one in which you keep your head below the cubicle and reward yourself with Netflix on the evenings and weekends. And sadly, many need to be wiped out, with a wake-up call of divorce, disease, poverty, or other symptoms of a life of quiet desperation - until they're woke enough to leave the herd and take the risk of living a prosperous life.

If someone doesn't unfriend me on Facebook or un-follow me on Twitter every day - then I'm not really doing my job. If you want to be a thought leader, market leader, or change the world - you have to give up the need to be liked. Telling people what they want to hear makes you popular. Telling people what they need to hear makes you relevant, empowering, and significant.

Don't pander to the masses. Speak to the people you really want to reach and be honest. Challenge them to do more and become better. And know that if you're not attracting some haters - you're probably not doing something significant.

Why is following the majority, even following the industry leaders, a recipe for disaster?

What is it about genius that tortures the bearer so? And who but a genius would be so arrogant to ask such a question? That was how I opened Mad Genius and I believe it's appropriate for this interview.

If you follow the life trajectory of pioneers, thought leaders, and other visionaries, you find that they were almost always considered crazy. But since victors always get to write history, we end up seeing them as the "good kind of crazy." I mentioned in my book that there is a razor thin line between genius and insanity. And sometimes you have to dance back and forth over the line a few times.

Thinking like a genius may start with the label or category how you think of yourself. But that's only the beginning. You have to change the way you actually do things. And the only way to change the way you do things is to change the way you think about them.

Instead of following accepted premises, you've got to question them. When you do this, it expands the bandwidth in your brain to be open to think in new and different directions. There are millions of people who can tell you why something won't work. You have to discover how it can.

What is killing our creativity and why do we need to question our thoughts and beliefs to get rid of "lack programming"?

The greatest killer of creativity and innovation is our predisposition to want to keep things the way they are. We like things known to us and comfortable. Old memes like, "That's the way it's always been done."

The average age of companies on the original Fortune 500 list in 1955 was 75 years. Today, the average age is 10. Even the most brilliant idea becomes obsolete if left static long enough. By the next decade, I predict the average age will be 5.

As an entrepreneur, you have to change the default setting you've probably been programed with ("No, that's not how things are done around here") and reset it to a new mindset of possibilities. The amount of deprograming that requires cannot be underestimated.

Can you lay out a blueprint, actionable steps of things to do and tools to use to prosper in the world that is changing before our eyes?

This is all about changing your thought patterns. The average person repeats thousands of the same thoughts, day after day. Research has shown that these actually follow the same pattern and create ruts in the neural pathways of your brain. The more you disrupt these patterns and jump out from these ruts, the better chance you have to tap into your innate genius.

Switch the wrist you wear your watch on, try texting with your non-dominant hand, or drive a different way home from work. You'll create new neural patterns in your brain.

Creative geniuses are self-motivated, independent, delighted by novelty, risk takers, tolerant of ambiguity, deeply involved in their work, avid readers, and world travelers.

These characteristics provide creative people with a very rich diet of stimulation, variety, and diverse situations. They are exposed to a steady stream of new opinions, languages, cultures, and attitudes. They see a much broader spectrum of society, people in general, and the world. They see the same challenge handled in many different ways, which opens up the mind to problem solving, lateral thinking, and innovation.

To stay on the path, I have two resources I'd recommend to you. One is my Success and Prosperity Blog on my website, and the other is my Power Prosperity Podcast. Both of these will help you stay ahead of the changing realities of our world.

There are many beliefs and opinions which we accept as truths and facts but which turn out to be false. How to clear our minds of this clutter and achieve that needed clarity of purpose and focus?

Stop applying labels to yourself. Every time you apply a label to yourself, you incrementally lower your IQ. Because once you brand yourself with a label you have created an identity for yourself. Once you create an identity for yourself - it's human nature that you will instinctively, impulsively, and unconsciously defend that identity.
And any time you are acting instinctively, impulsively and unconsciously, you have reduced your ability for rational and critical thought.
So technically you haven't actually lowered your IQ. But you have locked a portion of it into a vault you are unable to access. And if you can't access that intelligence, it's no better than not having it to begin with. Essentially, every time you decide to add another label to yourself, it's a voluntary lobotomy.

It seems we did full circle and came back to questioning everything...

Leave off the labels and allow your critical thinking ability to evolve. Be willing to question the premise of everything. Including everything I say. Because nothing I say today is presented as fact or Truth with a capital 'T.' It's me sharing my own beliefs, based on the experiences I've gone through, and what I've been able to accomplish with the lessons learned from that experience. Whether it's this interview, my books, seminars or podcast, my objective is to share what's working, and not working in my own life, in order to provide insights for you.

Then the job is yours. You need to question the premise, process the information, and use critical thinking on how it applies or doesn't apply, to your own life. If you want to become prosperous, the best process isn't being born into a wealthy family, winning the lottery, cracking the stock market, finding investors, or even building a better mousetrap. The best process for manifesting prosperity for yourself and your company is using your abilities for critical thinking and discernment.


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