Talking business with Mike Ross from Juniper

Updated: Mar 7, 2020


Justin Lam 0:00

Hey everybody, this is Justin Lam from Three Sixty Media and you're watching Episode One of digging deep. And we're here today with a good friend I just met. He's been amazing. I watched him at a conference for Bell Media and he was a speaker. And it was one of those things where I knew that would love to pick his brain, because he was so articulate on the stage. And so without further ado, I'm going to let him introduce himself. So, Mike, please introduce yourself. Tell people who you are what you do. Who do you serve?

Mike Ross 0:39

Yeah, nice. Nice and hopefully that articulate this will hold up on the not so big stage as well. So my name is Mike Ross. I am a consultant, I guess, Speaker trainer. I do a bunch of different stuff, based here in Montreal, Canada, and I primarily help clients create questions around how to change, not change management, that kind of goofy sense but much more around sort of, what does it mean to make a change in an organization, especially change related to innovation. So new ideas and new things like that. So I spent a lot of my time working with small, medium, big, gigantic clients, thinking about how they can apply the toolkits and innovation in their everyday lives, both as individuals, but also in broader sense as organizations.

Justin Lam 1:28

Amazing. So let's back all the way up. So how did you first stumble into your journey towards becoming what you are now?

Mike Ross 1:40

That's a good question. I mean, I think that you know, there's that classic Steve Jobs quote of you connect the dots looking backwards, right? I think, you know, I've been around for a while. I've done a lot of different things. I was a lawyer for a while I was a private equity investor. I ran development project and the Middle East for a bit then ended up at a place called McKinsey, which is a big consulting firm. There, I fell in love with the profession of consultant, which is sort of kind of exactly what I like doing, which is just helping people solve complex problems. I was at McKinsey for about four and a half years based here in Montreal, traveling all over the world. And there, I really spent a lot of my time thinking about questions around innovation and new products and new services, new business models, things like that, how to companies grow. And for many of my clients, it was all well and good to have a new idea. But the challenge that they really, face was more of a cultural challenge, right? How can they actually convince the organization to do that new idea to change in that way? And so I got really excited about this idea of kind of how do you actually transform an organization? How do you make people act and operate and work in different ways, help people to learn new things and help people to grow as individuals but also as organizations and so I left McKinsey almost exactly four years ago. Started Juniper, just to start small boutique consulting firm to try and address that question. So that's kind of like the long story short for background. I'm not the guy from suits. But in case you're wondering, it is based on my life.

Justin Lam 3:12

Yeah, it's actually really funny. My wife looked at the calendar and saw my grace and me, and Kristin she dances are, you know, are you? So, as a kid, were you were you always curious? Like, like, I think one of the things a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with is that translation of I don't want to work for somebody. Yeah. You know, and I want to do it on my own. But, like, there are certain things that I think young people need to realize are some key components. And so did you find that you had like that secret sauce to be an entrepreneur at a young age or, you know, like,

Mike Ross 3:58

that's a good question. It's a good question. You know, I often say that like, I'm an accidental entrepreneur, in the sense that like, I like working for big organizations, right? I have no problem working in the context of a large group of people. And, and I've been very successful doing that, right. My whole life. I've worked for large organizations. And so it wasn't like I was driven into one of these people. Like, I've always been an entrepreneur and follow up. No, not at all. Like it wasn't driven. In that sense. I think what happened to me was that I had an idea of what it is that I wanted to do. Um, the folks at McKinsey weren't interested in that idea at the time. And I was so convinced that it was the right idea that I sort of was forced almost to start my own thing. I had a partner when I first started and he was much more of an entrepreneur and kind of guy and he wanted to do more entrepreneurial stuff. So I said, Sure, let's do it. Right. But it was less about me sort of saying, like, I've always dreamed of running my own business. No, it's ever been. It's been a priority for me. I think, you know, you mentioned at the beginning this notion of curiosity, and, you know, I recently did an exercise was trying to figure out for myself kind of like what am I my key values, what are the things that I think are really important in terms of my own personal success? Not just past looking, but also forward looking right? As I'm making decisions, what are the things I'm going to sort of say, what does this align up against these? Then curiosity comes up almost as, you know, one of the top three of those. It's really, really important. I think that you know, it's interesting, you asked the question, like, did you have curiosity is good. I think all kids do. Right. I don't, you know, I have little kids, and they're immensely curious beings. Right. And I think kids just generally are curious. And I think that, you know, unfortunately, as societies scholastically, academically and professionally, we kind of beat that out of them right then. And I think that, you know, Picasso, I think, once said, we're all born artists. Only a few of us survive, right? And so I think that curiosity is kind of the natural condition of human beings. And then because we have to kind of like fit into boxes, society can run this stuff, you know, it gets kind of squished over time. So I don't know maybe I've managed to keep a little bit of But I think a lot of is just dumb luck, really, you know, I did the right things at the right time, not because I was planning it all and I was super smart about it, but more just because opportunities presented themselves to me. And, and acknowledging, of course that you know, you just need to look at me to know that I come from immense amounts of privilege, right? I'm a middle aged, straight white male from a fairly good country in a fairly like middle class family, right. I mean, there's, you know, you don't get much luckier than me in terms of that kind of human lottery of things. And as a consequence, I've had an opportunity to do all sorts of things that many, many, many the great, great, great majority of people don't have a chance to do. And so, you know, I don't know that so much about some sort of innate characteristics that I have much more I'm just kind of being in the right place at the right time.

Justin Lam 6:47

Okay, so then if you're, and correct me if I'm wrong, you see, the full gamut. So you see, like the small entrepreneurs all the way to the big people are, there's some key traits that you find can be distilled down from Larger corporate corporations, that you see that the SME space really doesn't execute very well. And and what they could learn to maybe enhance or improve their business rather quickly. You know, because I think a lot of them dream about being these million plus dollar businesses. Yeah. But then operate with a very, like short sighted mindset. So are there things that you see from large corporations that can be distilled down quickly for an SME?

Mike Ross 7:32

You know, it's a good question. I mean, I think that generally, it's almost the other way, right, in the sense that a lot of my big clients are trying to learn from smaller companies about how to be more dynamic and agile and how to be more innovative and how to take risks. I think that small companies, not because the people who run small companies particularly risk tolerant although some people are but I think it's more just that they're forced to, right like if you are going to live or die, you better move my gosh, we better move right and so there's a certain amount of Momentum is just created by that, you know, short cycles time that they live in. Um, I'm trying to think of what are the lessons of larger organizations that I would distill the smaller ones, you tend to shoot, there aren't that many, most of the larger organizations? You know, I mean, I work with some organizations that are very well run and work with some organizations that are not particularly well run. I think that, you know, large organizations really suffer from the fact that they have to move a little bit slower, or at least that they're used to moving a little bit slower, maybe not that they have to move a little bit slower. There's probably a positive in that and being able to have that kind of long term perspective and say, like, Where do I want to be in 10 years? Not that that's going to be where you're going to be in 10 years, but at least having a little bit of that perspective. One of my friends likes to say, plans are worthless, but planning is priceless. And I think a lot of smaller organizations, because they believe that plans are worthless and they live in this dynamic time. Don't do any planning. I think that's something that people can Spend more effort and we'll get some real results from just trying to think ahead what's going to happen and what we will do if that happens. But I wouldn't want to suggest to small organizations they spend like half their time planning the way some larger organizations do. I think it's a much more effective thing to be very dynamic, especially in today's world where, you know, things are changing so quickly.

Justin Lam 9:19

That actually, I totally believe in that. I think it's such a dynamic works. But environment nowadays, especially with the way technology impacts, small and large businesses, if they're not really in it, and being nimble. I mean, I think the 10 year business plan is almost irrelevant. Now. I think, yeah, those plans are, you know, maybe two, three years, at best. And at that point, I mean, such bad changes occur in in technology and industry at this point.

Mike Ross 9:51

Yeah. But I would say that there's still a value in saying, Where do we want to be in 10 years? And has we work back from that? What should we be doing today to prepare for that. Now, it's not saying, okay, we're going to make a business plan for the next 10 years. And we're going to do all these little steps. No, but I still think that having a little bit of a vision of kind of like, Where's that I want to take this company? And what is it that I want to be able to do? That's a very useful thing. And again, that just even the action of sitting down with let's say, your executive team or something like that, and thinking that through and saying, Okay, well, let's make sure that we're all aligned on this right? Do we want to become this kind of iPod unicorn? And while billionaires? Do we want this to be a bit more of a lifestyle, business and things like that? And I think that the utility of planning is asking questions, and thinking things through and I think that even if, you know, part of your plan, maybe what we're going to see what happens with this, this and this, but okay, but you're going to pay attention to those things. Right. And so, let's say I don't know we have a business that's going to rely upon the growth of autonomous vehicles and we think well, in 10 years, everybody's going to be driving, you know, riding around in these driverless cars. Okay, well, what are the indicators to tell us that that's going to be right or not? How can we see those What are the kind of the kind of early warning signals that we can see? And what are the decisions that we're going to make based on those early warning signals and just trying to like, scenario plan, think through the different consequences? Again, it's not a question of like, locking it down, chiseling it into stone and saying we must adhere to these. But having a bit more of that long term view of where do we want to go? And then bring it back to the short term and what decisions should we make today? I think that that can be useful. And I think that's probably something that most smaller businesses just don't feel like they have the time to do. But every time I've done that exercise of the smaller business, they've come away from the let's say, I don't know it's an afternoon or a day spent thinking about that refreshed and reinvigorated but also with a lot more alignment and clarity on where it is that they want to go.

Justin Lam 11:45

So that was relates a lot to like business culture than right or internally. So how much of that do you feel is affected when you have a discussion management and how does that operate then at the, at the ground level, so in the larger corporations when you have an executive team who says, We want our, our unique vision here and then try to implement that down the scale of people are down the the front line. And we often see, there's such a disconnect. And there's such disgruntlement. You know, because the executive team says, you know, we value our people, but yet they're not, you know, receiving benefits or they're there. They're treated like a number, like how how does an executive team then execute? and align all the middle management all the way down to front line in an effective manner?

Mike Ross 12:49

Yeah, and I think that I mean, the short answer to that is, stop thinking that people see the world the way you see it. But I think that the big mistake that all of us make, and every individual makes is that we think That the world, the way that I see this the way that everybody else sees it, and what's important to me is important to other people. And so then we communicate a message that would resonate with me, right? People aren't stupid. They're not like, Oh, I'm not gonna, I'm going to tell them what I'm doing. No people communicate, but they communicate in a way that is based upon their own understanding of the world. So I think that this is important, therefore, I'm going to talk about this. Well, the reality is that not everybody thinks the way you think. And so there's a real value in being able to sort of say, Okay, wait a minute, I'm going to take a step back, and I'm going to really think about what it is that these people care about, and why do they care about it? And what sort of lies beneath the waterline right in that kind of iceberg metaphor? What Lies Beneath that waterline for other people? And how can I tell them story that's going to actually motivate and inspire them, not the motivate, inspire me, but them. And I think that's the biggest mistake that people make is that they think that, you know, their way of seeing the world isn't the way of seeing the world. Now from that, of course, follows a lot of other things around. You got to be good at storytelling and Figure out what motivates people and how to influence folks and all that kind of stuff. And you know that the details of how to do each of those things that's easily learned. But the fundamental change that I think most of us have to do to get good at that is to again release ourselves from our own particular agenda and our own particular understanding of like, this is the way it has to work to a much broader understanding of what how can it work? What could it do?

Justin Lam 14:23

So just to recap, are we saying that say, for me, as a leader, I have an idea of where I want to go, but it is then up to me to go behind the lines and ask the people who are, you know, our employees and contractors, you know, how their dreams and and, and their vision of the company aligns with that and then trying to find a happy medium? Or do you still need to be at the top and saying what this is my vision and then asking the collective? How could we as a collective achieve that vision, and then be flexible with the path.

Mike Ross 15:05

I think it's kind of you know, this is a kind of a stock consultant answer, but it depends, right. And I think it's kind of a mix of all those things. I think at a fundamental level, it's less of a necessarily consulting with people, though that's very much a very useful, important thing to do. But it's just to have that kind of basic purposeful understanding of humility, and that kind of basic understanding of like, I do not know necessarily what the answers are. And so to get the answers, I have to somehow engage with larger groups of people. Now, that may be in some sort of consultative process if we have the bandwidth of the time or the structures that are necessary to do that. But it may also be just me really thinking about when I'm crafting a message, who's going to hear this message, and why is it going to resonate with them and really try to put myself in their shoes in a way to do that. Now, as you said, right, the ideal would be That we get everybody around the big table and we all talk about it and we sort of crafted together, then you're going to get really amazing buy in and ownership from everybody. But in larger organizations, that can be quite tricky. There's different structures you can put in place to do it. And we often do that with our clients. But the fundamental idea is you just have to kind of start with the premise that you don't know the answer. And, you know, the kind of counter argument, the Steve Jobs argument of Yeah, but Steve Jobs did blah, blah, blah, well, okay. And he got a lot of things right. And he got a lot of things wrong. Right. And I don't think that we should all wander the earth thinking that we're Steve Jobs. Although some people do that, and some people are very successful, but I think for most of us, the right answer is to do the work and to really work at understanding what other people want to need, and then finding a way to deliver that to them.

Justin Lam 16:50

Okay, and so, how have you seen, like your industry as a consultant in that in a broad sense So the word How have you seen your industry then now change and adapt to the current environment of, you know, big businesses wanting to be nimble? And and, you know, how could consultants learn to adapt and be cognitive cognizant of what is changing in in the environment or in the industry as it is now?

Mike Ross 17:26

Well, I think fundamentally the How is listened to your clients, right? And so we spent a lot of our time with our clients, asking them how they want us to work with them, right? What is it that they want, then the kind of historical model of consulting where it's, you know, you get a couple of very, very bright folks, kids, often very young, you assign them to a project for two months, and they fly in there and they sit in some conference room in the office and they bash up PowerPoint slides. And then at the end of the process, two months later, you have a 200 page PowerPoint deck that's left on a shelf. I mean, that's broken, right. And I don't think clients are smart enough to is to get enough now that they don't want that anymore. And so what that means is, is that they really want you to integrate some of their employees and your teams. And so it's not just like our little protective team of consultants, but it's very much a joint effort between us and our clients. Often our clients want us to work at sort of different speeds, often, they want us to go fast for a couple of weeks, and they say, Okay, now, stop, let us syndicate this, come back in a couple of weeks, you know, and then we'll do it and do another sprint, or maybe they'll say, we want you just to come one day a week for the next four months, because that's all we can handle right now, or whatever it is. And I think, again, for a lot of traditional consulting firms that's very hard to deal with, because they're used to structures where it's, we think about one problem for a time and then we're going to think about another problem and their utilization rates, right the how the how occupied or how busy their consultants are, are often geared towards the structures of kind of two three month long manager plus two projects, which again, in some cases are very useful. But often when I talk to clients, they say, well, we're really frustrated with that model. Because it's sort of the shock and awe approach where the consultants come in, and they're all fancy, and they work really hard. But the client can't keep up. And at the end of the day, the clients got a full time job they've got to do and then they're trying to keep up the consultants who are working 1416 hours and moving stuff very quickly. And oh my gosh, well, this machinery, and the CLI just gets lost in the shuffle. And so I think that the short answer for how to do it is listen to your clients, and really listen to them. Like really ask them like, how can we make this better? Not necessarily, like was everything okay? Uh huh. Uh huh. Cuz then, you know, just like any of us who've ever eaten a restaurant, right, you sort of, you're griping a little bit about the food, but the waiter comes over and says everything all right. Because they of course, you're it's fine. Yeah, great. Thanks. Right. It's only when there's a really big problem that you're going to complain. Where's the reality is I think that if the waiter asked that question, a very different way they could actually make their product and their service much better. And the way to ask that question is What can I improve? Right? And really with the humility and a desire to understand and thinking, what is it that I could be better? At the same time is also asking perhaps that appreciative inquiry version of that, which is what's working really well. Right. So what are you enjoying the most? And what are you enjoying the least? Well, that's a question you're going to get a real answer to, is everything okay? Is not. And so being open to that, but not just open in a sense of I'm open to feedback, but really actively seeking it. That's how you're going to get better. And that's how any organization in any industry is going to survive this kind of crazy disrupted, multi input, all that kind of crazy stuff times that we're living in.

Justin Lam 20:41

And so for me, like, as we approach clients, and we operate in a similar sense, where we kind of bring them along and what I want to understand or maybe have it so that you could really help frame it for people who are going to watch this If they feel overwhelmed, I think a lot of people have that pride. And they don't want to tell the consultant that they're overwhelmed or in over their heads or that they need space. How is it that that both sides are able to manage that so from from us, like, we're able to ask those questions. And and we expect or hope that, you know, they're going to be honest and not, you know, try to hide the fear from under the covers, but how can be other sides? How can the client then tell us as as consultants on like, I need a little bit more helping you a little bit. We're handholds or this is a little bit too much. I'm I'm over in over my head for a little bit and he digested by not letting them sit and be away from you too long.

Mike Ross 21:50

Well, I think first of all, it's a consultant responsibility to figure out that thing, right. I don't think it's the clients requirement to kind of interrupt the consultants process and if you find that that necessary to do you should get a new consultant. Right? I think that if the consultant is not really asking you and giving you the space to express yourself, but you sort of feel like you have to kind of force the conversation and they're not paying attention. And the reality is, I think that that's really the requirement is a question of paying attention. You'll know if your clients are being left behind, because in the meetings, they're just going to sit there and not ask any questions, right? They're just gonna say, I guess. Sure. Okay. As you flip through your 50, page, PowerPoint deck, the things that you suggested they change aren't going to get changed. Right? One of the easiest ways is either paying attention is to say, Okay, and let's try this and let's see what happens. And if they do try it, that means that they're on board and if they don't, wait a minute, take a step back and say, Well, why didn't we try this and what happened and what's getting in the way? If your clients are not participating in the project? Now, there's some cases of course where, you know, you're given a very discrete research task, they want you to go off and do it, you do your research, you come back, of course, that's why you're not looking for participation that but anything that involves changing Anything that involves strategy, anything that involves real big decisions, your client should be participating in every step in the process. If they're not, something's wrong, right? You're moving too fast on the right track. Whatever it is, right. And again, if you're leaving this to your client, by the time your client actually mustered up the courage to tell you, hey, this isn't working, they're pretty unhappy by that point. And you've already failed. Because you fail to meet that and you fail to understand that and you fail to see the world from their eyes. As I was saying earlier, that's the crucial ingredients to really step to step back and say, I wonder what my clients are thinking right now. Are they happy with this process? Are they just kind of tolerating it? And at the end of this again, that was Okay, thanks. And then that report that I made gets put on a shelf, which is tremendously unsatisfying as a consultant. Right? what you really want is you want to see real impact and you want to see what happens and if the clients not doing the thing, then you really need to ask yourself question it's very easy for us to set up clients internal processes, soccer, You know, there's too much infighting. There's too much politics there, blah, blah, it's too late on the client. The reality is it's our fault. Right? If that thing's not being implemented, we've done something wrong. And we should think about that, understand what we did wrong and fix it the next time.

Justin Lam 24:14

Amazing. And so where do you see industry or trends going in, in business now? Like, where do you feel like everything is sort of headed?

Mike Ross 24:31

Well, I mean, there's all sorts of crazy stuff happening in the world right now. Right? And I won't get into kind of like big, you know, ai or coronavirus, or blockchain or stuff like that, because I probably don't know enough about any of those things to make any sense of them. What I would say is, at least for me, going back to what we were just talking about, I think a lot of is going to be around personalization in a way, right? It's being going to be around people wanting to be served or products to be created or whatever it is, in a way that reflects what they actually purchased. Want to need? And so some of that will be informed by artificial intelligence. You think about your shopping on Amazon or whatever it is, right? They're going to suggest products, you'd be like, Oh, that's actually quite helpful. Rather than, you know, five years ago, we like why is it suggesting this crap to me, right. But I think also in terms of how all of us interact, that notion of kind of not making it about some sort of generic Oh, everybody looks and things like this, but much more thinking about that individual diversity of thought and opinion, and how do we meet those? And how do we get the benefit of it? Right? There's a lot of really interesting work going on about how do you create highly functioning teams. And a lot of the answers to that is around kind of creating environments in which people can express themselves psychological safety and all this stuff, where more diverse teams actually the utility or the value that diversity can be realized. Because you're giving people a chance to express themselves and to say stuff that perhaps challenges the norm or challenges that kind of understanding that again, you know, middle aged, straight village straight white males like me kind of own the paradigm. Um, I'm not sure that we have all the answers. I'm not sure that we ever did. But I'm certainly certain that we don't have them now.

Justin Lam 26:09

Hmm. So, as technology is evolving and helping us propel business, where do you see content? You know, something that we deal with here is the production of content and the proliferation of that, like, how do you see that playing into businesses trying to reach and consumers because, you know, we know TV is slowly dropping off, or massively dropping off in some cases. And so, you know, this, this is where everybody's attention is. How do you how do you feel, you know, the state of marketing and content is going to be able to get to that consumer. Do you have any thoughts about that?

Mike Ross 26:59

Yeah, I'd be. I think the content is always going to be king, right? I think we've gone through this valley of kind of like, whatever, you can sell any crap to anybody. And I think that what's coming up now is people are realizing that actually content is where the answers lie, right? And, but not just like fluff content, real value content, like content where people say, Hey, I actually learned something from that. And I think that that's also tied into personalization, right? If you want to do that, effectively, you've got to deliver the content that people need, at the time that they need it and for the people that need it. Right. And so it's not just the internet. The problem with the internet and technology is that there's so much content available, that curation becomes the real work, right? And that's not necessarily curation by an individual but curation or automatic curation, whatever it is, but algorithmic suggestion of Oh, you should look at this. When it works. Oh, my God, it's amazing. When it doesn't, it's like frustrating, right? And so I think that content will always be the king. But now what we're doing is that content actually overlaid with personalization with means that I'm seeing the content that really matters to me. And that's where I think the real answers are going to lie. In terms of I mean, I'm not a marketing expert. But I think that in terms of marketing, the long term, there's so much cynicism around everything these days, that it's really like driven, personalized content is going to be the only thing that people pay attention to.

Justin Lam 28:18

Yeah, I think this is the reason why I struggled with trying to start this podcast is because I didn't want it to be super curated. I didn't want it to be like highly refined and processed, because I think people then view it in a different light and in the struggle with it, and it wasn't until I heard you talk that I said, You know what, I think I'm just going to execute it. No, we're going to evolve it as it goes along. I wanted to be the pilot forum. Right?

Mike Ross 28:42

Yeah. And then let it go. And I think being able to pull in people who have such a breadth of knowledge is really important for people and obviously what smart people in the room and not just people you and you'll get those guys in the future episodes. So that's definitely started off. Good. I'm so glad. Thank you so much for having me today.

Justin Lam 29:08

I usually would like to to give you an opportunity to put some information about how people can reach you or if you have a special project or book or anything coming up. Do you want to do anything to plug?

Mike Ross 29:21

No, I mean, I think like if people are interested, I'm on LinkedIn. I don't have any other social media. I know that that's stupid. But But yeah, LinkedIn is probably the best place to find me. I post some stuff here and there. I'm not trying to sell anything, you know, like if, if you're interested find me there and let's connect. Otherwise, hey, I wish everybody all the best and and I hope that they'll will find the content that they need out there in this crazy world.

Justin Lam 29:46

Absolutely. Well, I hope somebody sees this and see how articulate you are. And then you know, again, invite you to do other keynotes and other speeches. So Okay, thanks so much for Have a great day, and I Hopefully we'll have you on the show again soon. You can see how I improved. I'm gonna ask you kindly for some feedback.

Mike Ross 30:07

I love it. Thanks, Justin. Bye. Thank you.

Justin Lam 30:13

Awesome. Thanks, man.

Mike Ross 30:15

Thank you

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