5 Years on... and still marching
Ian Dyason . 27 February 2021
Two days ago, we celebrated our fifth anniversary. It had to be done on Zoom because the team was spread across different geographies. We had people calling in from Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and I am in Qatar. It was a fun, happy virtual party with colleagues, partners, family and friends coming together to celebrate GCA's milestone 5th birthday! Some experts say that of the companies that start up today, only 20% will make it to 5 years. And of these 5-year celebrants, only 20% will make it to 10 years. I am honoured to have been able to make it to the first milestone of five years, and I am hopeful that we can make it to 10 years. I do not consider ourselves to be a success now, but having successfully navigated 5 years, I would like to reflect in the next three posts on what we did well, and what we didn't do so well, and then map out what we need to do for the next 5 years so that we can safely cross the 10th Anniversary with even more happy colleagues, partners and friends!
So in this first installment, let's talk about...
What went well
1. An idea that grew into a product
Growth Consulting Asia (GCA), as the name implies, focuses on the growth mindset to help individuals and organisations, well..., grow. It started out as a side project for one of our programmes, Organic Growth. The growth mindset was just one component of that programme and in order to discuss behaviours for growth, we discussed the adoption of the growth mindset. However, there was no way we could adequately assess a person for that mindset, and that got me diving deep into the subject, collaborating with a PhD researcher who had his own behavioural assessment platform, uncovering the 5Dimensions from there and how we can measure them. This then grew unto itself, ending up with the product that we have now. If you asked me 5 years ago whether this is what I had envisioned for GCA, I must be honest it was not. I was really interested in running B2B training and consulting (and I still am!), with the growth mindset as a means to an end, but not the end in itself. But things will take a life of its own sometimes, as did the 5Dimensions of the Growth Mindset (5DGM), the main product for GCA at this moment. Today it is a product by itself, with its own supporting cast of services!
2. Constantly thinking about it even when no one else was
We are still not at a level where I can finally sit back and let the whole system run by itself. We are far from it. But we are still at it because we did not give up on it.
In the beginning, the 5DGM did not catch on. While as a concept it sounded fine, no one could see how this would impact an individual or an organisation. It became a "So What?" product. It went through many rounds of refinement, many rounds of research; each time looking at the data, looking at the output and looking at how to apply it. The thing is, sometimes, as developers, we can see what the data tells us and we can see how to apply it, but we are unable to articulate that well enough for others to see! And if no one else sees it, it is as good as useless. And that was basically what was happening in the beginning. It did not help that I could not control the inputs, the algorithm and the output, because if I did, I would have changed things, and perhaps clients could see what I did. But since I did not have my own platform, I had to work around it, trying to change the external perception of the results. While it took a long time until we finally got it to work for organisations, it came on the back of constantly thinking about it, constantly revisiting the programme, constantly creating something new. We are still not at a level where I can finally sit back and let the whole system run by itself. We are far from it. But we are still at it because we did not give up on it.
Which brings me to the next point we did well...
3. Never giving up
we continued to plug along, never giving up on the notion that we may one day be able to help individuals and organisations adopt the expansive mindset to grow!
When we first introduced the 5DGM to organisations, I must admit, it was a far cry from what we have now. We gave presentations to many organisations, and while some of them took it on as part of a larger programme, many did not, especially if it was THE focus of the programme. And when the 5DGM was embedded into a programme, its effects were masked by the larger programme outcomes. Hence, we did not really get a good foothold in the market with the 5DGM. However, I refused to give up on it. I knew we were on to something, since we had discovered things that were hitherto unknown; i.e. that the fixed and growth mindsets is not a binary concept, but one that is on a continuum where in the middle, the Transitional Mindset, is one where a person could exhibit both fixed and growth tendencies. We also discovered the 5Dimensions, which together form the larger growth picture for a person. These concepts were new, and will be able to help us measure the growth mindset; we just need to make the use case more clear. So, we continued to plug along, never giving up on the notion that we may one day be able to help individuals and organisations adopt the expansive mindset to grow! And we are still plugging along....
4. Embrace change
Change will happen and change can be both a threat and an opportunity; it all depends on how you react to it. Embrace change!
One very important incident that I must admit had a huge impact on our growth trajectory is the partnership with the PhD researcher and the use of his assessment platform to generate the 5DGM report. Obviously, this is a very important component of our service, without which I would not be able to run any 5DGM workshops. By 2019, we had finally created traction in the market with a few organisations rolling it out as a corporate initiative. One of the major clients we had is the market leader for fast food. And the 5DGM became a cornerstone for their corporate leadership development programme. One of the concerns that they voiced to me when we signed the deal was that they needed a sustainable assessment system. They don't like to use proprietary assessments because of the risk that they would be held to ransom either on price increases or on withholdment of service. I assured them that I have a solid agreement with the platform owner, and these fears are unfounded. But, as they say, "Be careful what you ask for, it might just come true." When we were on the way to roll out the programme with our client, our partner asked for more money; 4 times more, in fact! I was actually amenable to paying that amount, but I wanted them to increase their service quality level to us. They refused. So, I told them it was not reasonable for them to charge more just because they could. Since we could not come to an agreement, we agreed that they will finish out our current agreement, and part ways. This prompted me to look for an alternative solution. We spoke to a few more platform players, but ultimately, could not come to any agreement. I needed a solution to continue supporting our client and with no other alternative, I decided to build our own platform! Since I held all the intellectual property of the 5DGM, it would not be difficult to create my own platform, and so in early 2020, we did just that, and was finally free to make all the front and backend changes that I had initially wanted from our partner. To date, this happens to be one of the best decisions I had taken for GCA, and I wondered why I had not done so earlier! Change will happen and change can be both a threat and an opportunity; it all depends on how you react to it. Embrace change!
5. Opportunities that came our way
Through all my experience, and in my previous businesses, I did not advertise. I utilised the word of mouth, and created positive impressions such that when people need our expertise in content development and delivery, they will come to us. That major fast food client was one of them. According to the Training Manager, she said that we were Singapore's best kept secret! Not only were we able to create the content solely for them, for 3 levels of leadership, and with 8 modules per level, all within budget, on time and on quality, she was amazed that she could not find us on Google. I told her that was because I did not advertise. I have good friends and a good network (we shall speak about that shortly). Landing this contract was big because it allowed us to roll out the 5DGM on a corporate level, getting the employees to embrace the learning mindset as they adopted the coaching model throughout. But there were other opportunities that came our way too. One was from SCALA. SCALA was looking for their first CEO, and my name came up in their search. They contacted me and they interviewed me for the role. After talking to several other candidates, they decided that I was the best fit for the role even though I did not have logistics experience at that time. But when they offered me the role, which was full-time, I told them that I would accept it on condition that I continued to run GCA since there was no conflict of interest. The Chairman agreed, and I was installed at the CEO of SCALA in 2017. While this had the effect of slowing down the growth rate for GCA, it was also a good thing because it allowed GCA to consolidate its activities, and allowed me to conserve capital, and overall, allow us to position ourselves better. Going to SCALA also provided me with a greater opportunity to be better known, something that I was not good at doing by myself. By the time I had completed about 3 years at SCALA, a government entity from Qatar came knocking, and this has allowed me to spread my consulting wings to the Middle East, the first time I am moving beyond Asia. Even if these opportunities did not directly result in value for GCA, the indirect contribution had allowed GCA to grow with more resources and greater capabilities. Being in Qatar has forced me to expand the company, an opportunity that allows us to grow even more!
6. Good network
what is crucial about being at SCALA was the network that we built, and with that network comes more opportunities.
I spoke about having a good network earlier, but I want to speak more about this now. It is absolutely true that small business owners cannot be afraid to collaborate and partner with people. We are only strong when we come together. Everyone has strengths, and when we put these strengths together, we become a formidable force. While I had good contacts prior to SCALA, my time at SCALA had sky-rocketed my connections. Being a government funded entity, SCALA had to be a good partner with them. We had to advance the government's agenda with respect to jobs and reskilling; and that was what we did! Not only did we do it, we did it so well, that the Minister for Manpower came to our graduation ceremony on 2019 all in praise of what SCALA had achieved! I must admit, it felt weird hearing all the nice words while on the back of it, I was in discussions with Qatar coming here to work!
But what is crucial about being at SCALA was the network that we built, and with that network comes more opportunities. It was through a fact-finding mission to Vietnam for SCALA that I met Mr. Jeffrey Lee, Hon-Sec of the Singapore Business Group in HCM. While that mission concluded without much opportunity for SCALA, it had opened up a relationship between Jeffrey and me, and now we can build the 5DGM in Vietnam together! And it is through my work in SCALA that I have met many industry leaders, and this is spawning new business opportunities for GCA. I do believe it is this network that will help GCA grow and it is one of the many keys to seeing us cross the tape on our 10th year!
Yes, it is without doubt luck; but I do believe luck pays off only to those who can see the opportunity that luck brings and seize on them.
I suppose when reading all this, one may think that we were lucky to be where we are now. I don't dispute that at all. I admit that being successful in business is a bit of expertise, a bit of connection and a whole lot of luck! Many things have happened to us in GCA that may be a result of luck. For example, if I had not met with Prof Jeanne Liedtka who introduced me to the growth mindset, I would not have developed the 5DGM. If I had not met the PhD researcher who had his own assessment platform to use, we would not have done any research on it. If we had not had a falling out in terms of service agreements, we would not have built our own assessment platform and brought the 5DGM to a much more sophisticated level. If my friend had not shared my CV with the Chairman of SCALA, I would not have become CEO SCALA. And if I had not gone to SCALA, I would not have built all the valuable connections with the government. So is that just luck or is it something else? Yes, it is without doubt luck; but I do believe luck pays off only to those who can see the opportunity that luck brings and seize on them. I am sure every successful entrepreneur will tell you their brush with luck; but look beyond the serendipitous nature, and you will see that they had the wherewithal to pounce on that luck, and made the best and most out of them. And that is beyond luck! That is the natural propensity to adopt to growth mindset, and to go where others fear to tread.
The best is yet to be
It has only been five years. The next five are crucial. If we succeed or if we fail depends on the decisions we make as a company going forward. Fortunately, the team is growing, and they are taking on the responsibilities of moving GCA to the next level. I have started it up, it is time for them to bring it to greater heights! I have full confidence in them!
Happy 5th Anniversary, Team! You are the best!
Next week, we will discuss the things we could have done better, and hopefully learn from them and springboard off them towards 10 years!