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Jay Clouse

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Life isn’t fair. It’s one of those clichés you hear over and over again, and a tenet that you’ve probably experienced firsthand.

But the unfairness of life is precisely what can lead to success and growth. When the unfairness of life plays to your advantage, you’re suddenly faced with opportunity you may not have noticed before and that may not be available to others.

Take Apple for example. Apple is one of the most successful and ubiquitous hardware companies in history, built on unfair advantages including design expertise, brand equity, extreme cost/volume savings, and bargaining power.

Starting in April 1976, Apple spent decades building its hardware empire – its biggest resource. On July 10, 2008, the company further capitalized on that hardware footprint by opening up a Services line: the iOS app store.

Since 2008, the app store and Apple’s Services revenue has become the fastest growing aspect of their business as they’ve saturated their own market and hardware growth declines. Apple recognized that by creating a network of hardware devices, they also had created a second resource: a distribution network for other software companies and independent developers to leverage.

And they’re leveraging that distribution network, Apple charges a 30% service fee to any software developer who makes a sale using the iOS app store, including in-app purchases.

That’s the thing about unfair advantages: they can compound and build exponentially.

Without an unfair advantage, a business can be copied and replaced very quickly. Unfair advantages are a barrier to entry, and barriers to entry are the key to unique value propositions and sustained success.

Now let’s get away from business.

There are 7.4 billion people on this planet. All of them need to cover their basic needs, and that means resources to afford those needs. Resources are acquired by providing value to someone who can trade their resources for yours.

Once basic needs are covered, we move on to quality of life. Quality of life is improved by more resources.

This is all an abstract way of saying that you need currency (money or service bartering). Currency helps to afford your needs and a better life. In the modern world, we receive currency by mining out our most precious resource: our time.

We all have time. We don’t know how much time we have, but we all have it.

We all value our time. We value our time by what we choose to do with it…how much of it we sell and who we choose to sell it to. By taking on work or a job.

You come to an agreement for the value of your time when you accept a salary or a wage. This value is based on supply and demand for your time in the market.

This is where your own personal unfair advantage comes in. What is your time worth?

Our time is worth more to us than to anyone else. Therefore, it stands to reason that we should do everything we can to keep as much time to ourselves as possible. The more time we keep for ourselves, the less time we have available to sell to someone else. The less time we have available to sell to someone else, the more currency we need to be receiving for that allotment of time to maintain the quality of life that we want.

The only way to retain more of your time is to build an unfair advantage that cannot be replicated. Your own barrier to entry.

Maybe your unfair advantage is the culinary ability you’ve been honing for 20 years. Maybe it’s your guitar skills you’ve polished since you picked it up at age 5. Maybe it’s the tribe of people who follow you and consume whatever you create. Whatever it is, it needs to be unique to you and something you can continue to build on and outpace the competition.

We all have weaknesses. Weaknesses can be alleviated, but almost impossible to turn into unfair advantages. Think of it this way: is it more valuable to go from -2 to 0, or 0 to 2? To the world, a “2” is much more rare and valuable than a “0.”

Find and build on your strengths. The world needs your personal unfair advantage.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Over the last year, I’ve had more opportunity to lead people than ever before. Tixers was an extremely small company, and all of my leadership prior to that was volunteer groups. Leading full time employees, whom I did not hire and often had been at the company much longer than I had, was a different animal entirely.

I’ve learned a lot about leadership. And I’ve also learned that I wasn’t as good at leadership as I had thought.

One lesson I learned early on was the net value of requesting changes to the work of the people I lead.

In a leadership role, it’s common to see a deliverable once it’s completed, or very near completion. It was likely created with direction or feedback you had given initially, but will have surprises or unique characteristics you didn’t expect.

For a while, it seemed clear to me that I should weigh in on all of these surprises and give feedback of what I thought would add to the work. Two minds are better than one – and adding your input on top of your team’s work should enhance that work, right?

What I found is that for a team to work at a high level, members (all members) need to have a sense of ownership. Some how, some way, your team needs to see a reflection of themselves in the work to take pride in creating it.

When I gave my feedback on the surprises or unique characteristics, my team would often hear, “this isn’t good enough” or “your idea is bad.” I didn’t say those things, but by critiquing their work, that was how it could be internalized.

What’s more, I realized that I often lacked some context. There are often constraints (like time or resources) that lead to certain decisions, despite another desired direction.

There is certainly an important place for feedback, frequent need for changes to deliverables, and leveraging the minds of multiple people is a powerful tool.

But, when giving feedback or suggesting changes, remember that you are changing someone’s baby (at least you want them to think of it as their baby). Implicitly, they may feel less ownership, less pride, and less enthusiasm for the work. Of course, this can be alleviated (or made worse) by how you structure your feedback and message.

When requesting changes, remember that there is a strong risk of lack of ownership in the new work. It’s worth considering: is the edit worth it?

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

After moving into the Short North area of Columbus about a year ago, my buddy Zach started pitching me on the bike share program, CoGo.

Zach had been biking (either his own or a bike share) around Columbus for years and insisted it was one of the best ways to travel around the city.

When I was starting high school, I suffered a bad bicycle accident and wasn’t a big fan of bikes after that. But after a few pitches, I decided to give CoGo a shot.

I had an absolute blast, and soon purchased an annual membership to grab a bike whenever I wanted. (Seriously, for $75/year, it’s phenomenal).

Now, for many trips that I would’ve walked, driven, or taken the bus, I CoGo.

I’ve noticed an interesting mental phenomenon with these trips: riding the bike doesn’t feel like a logistical task going from Point A to Point B. I enjoy the ride, and most of the time I forget it’s actually work and exercise. It’s only when I get off the bike, that I sometimes feel gassed and realize that I was really pushing myself.

But it’s so easy to put in that work when I’m having fun. The ride itself is part of the enjoyment, not just an ellipsis between two other points of focus.

We experience the same feeling when we find enjoyment in our work. When you enjoy the journey, you don’t notice the time or work you’re putting in. You may reflect back and realize the work that went into it, but you don’t think about it in the moment.

We should pursue this state of flow all the time. Finding the type of work that makes you experience the bicycle effect is paramount to creating something powerful and unique.

It’s difficult to find success in anything, and if you don’t enjoy the journey, you will never make it.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

A few months ago, I went to a local bar to watch my friends’ band, Hello Emerson, play a show. I’ve been digging their sound for a couple of years now, and I was pumped to see them play for the first time in several months.
Having seen many shows at bars before, there are a couple of realities you begin to understand and accept. Almost certainly, there will be a lot of crowd noise, the vocals will take a back seat to the instruments, and addressing the crowd between songs will be a challenge.

As I watched Sam (the lead of Hello Emerson) battle these realities, I had so much respect for the undertaking. It was a busy and noisy Saturday night, but Sam was able to frequently hush the crowd with his brilliant lyrics and authentic between-songs monologue.

The show was a literal example of a metaphor that Conan O’Brien has said several times before:

“What I realized is, I’m still doing ‘The Tonight Show.’ That was my dream. When I can’t sleep and it’s 3 in the morning, I’m not thinking about Jay. I’m thinking about all the things I want to do on the show. And I’m not thinking about how I’m going to change myself to fit a certain demographic. I just have to block that nonsense out. In entertainment, you have to stake out what you think is right, you have to put out that signal, make sure it’s pure and then do it and do it and do it and know that they will come. And if they don’t, you have to pack up your bags and say: ‘I enjoyed my time here. Sorry it didn’t work out.’ But the biggest mistake would be to alter my signal to make sure that I reach all these different people. Because then you’re lost.”

In other interviews, he’s reiterated this viewpoint saying basically that there is a lot of noise in the world – a lot of people putting out their own ‘signals.’ For a long time, we put out our signal and hope people hear it and pay attention.

But it often takes a long time of consistent signaling to get anyone to notice. Only by being consistent and sending the same signal (the unique voice and style of your work) will you break through the noise.

“What’s that I keep hearing over there?”

Derek Thompson, the author of Hit Makers (one of the best books I’ve read recently) also argues that any “overnight” success is the product of a long, consistent effort that finally took hold.

It takes a long time and a lot of work for your signal to break through the noise. All along the way, there will be those who pick up on your signal (like I did with Hello Emerson) and connect with it. Over time, those connections will build and build.

But it won’t happen overnight. Stake out your signal and do it and do it and do it.

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

There is a lot happening at the national and international stage right now. Overarching political and economic environments seem overwhelming and beg the question, “What can I possibly do as an individual?”

Impact and change happens at the city level. Strong cities create a ripple effect that empowers change at a higher level. And the city level, your local community, is the most accessible place for you to make impact as an individual.

I love community building. It’s driven the creation of Unreal Collective, as well as my involvement with Startup Weekend and the Create Columbus Commission. These groups and countless others drive change and growth in Columbus via incredibly talented, driven individuals. And you can get be a part of that!

There is a palpable energy in Columbus these days. Whether you’re having a conversation at Mission Coffee or just notice the perpetual apartment construction, it’s clear that Columbus is growing. In fact, Columbus crossed the 2 million mark for population in the metro area in 2016.

The Ohio State University, already one of the largest universities on the planet, is growing with its largest applicant class and a record setting year of fundraising in 2016.

The city is home to five Fortune 500 companies and the largest makerspace on the planet. We are growing in the healthcare industry with major players like Cardinal Health, Pelotonia, CrossChx, PriorAuthNow, and CoverMyMeds which sold for $1.1 billion this year.

And according to VentureOhio, Columbus office space is 40% less expensive than Chicago and 60% less expensive than New York City.

Columbus ranks Number 1 in scaling startups, as well as as Number 4 for entrepreneurial growth according to the Kauffman foundation. Behind OTAF (the largest angel investing group in the Unites States), Rev1 Ventures, NCT Ventures, Drive Capital, LOUD Capital, LUMOS, Fintech71, and the Singularity University Smart City Accelerator, we are attracting more startup companies and entrepreneurial talent.

The best basketball player on the planet celebrates winning a championship by wearing an HOMAGE shirt. The Columbus Crew played for the MLS title in 2015 and our Governor mounted a Presidential bid.

Even the New York Times and National Geographic are loving on Columbus lately.

But the true reason I love being in Columbus isn’t because of these fun stats. I love Columbus because anyone can be a part of this growth and expansion. If you can muster the courage to send an email, make a phone call, or show up to an event, you can get involved and contribute.

One would be hard pressed to find any major city the size of Columbus or larger that offers the same access to change makers. The folks driving change on any front are openminded, collaborative individuals working to push this city forward. You can work shoulder to shoulder with these individuals and become one yourself.

Those individuals committed over $90M in private sector funding if Columbus won the first ever Smart City Challenge with $50M at stake from the USDOT and Vulcan Inc. (which we then did win over 77 other US cities). That’s $140M to develop Columbus, Ohio, to be the benchmark for smart city and innovation in the United States. We’re talking autonomous vehicles, public Wifi, a consolidated transit pass, and more.

It’s time to stop the rhetoric of, “Columbus can be the next…” and embrace being who we are: a badass, smart, and open city for business and the arts. We are the first and the best Columbus, Ohio. Through community collaboration, we will accomplish things no other city has.