Founded by Thomas Edison, General Electric is a company that was built on innovation. The company currently works in hundreds of countries around the work with some 300,000 employees involved in everything from train car development, to jet engines.

Jack Welch became the CEO of GE in 1981, and made it his goal to make GE the most competitive corporation in the world. To date he has written several books, including Jack Welch: Straight From The Gut, discussing his leadership style and approach towards management. In 1981, Welch became GE's youngest chairman and CEO. Under Welch's leadership, GE increased market value from $12 billion in 1981 to $280 billion. His reputation largely comes from his focus on reducing inefficiency, focusing on being #1 or #2 in a given product category or getting completely out of it.

Though driving change at a corporation is a much different experience than driving change at a startup, there are lessons he discusses that any founder could take note of. It could be starting a new concept, getting buy-off from investors, or trying to drive a certain attitude across your company.

1. "You own the business. You are renting the people. Share your best people across the company."

If you're keeping your top performers in a box, they won't be able to gain the expertise they need to move up in the company. Consider a rotation program for high performers, with occasional "sync ups" to help foster best practices throughout the company. This is far better than isolating your top talent in a group all on their own. Imagine what it'd be like if your sales guys knew a bit about development, and your developers better understood your customers.

2. "Control your own destiny, or somebody else will"

It's up to you to drive innovation in your company, especially as a founder, and build a track record of success, which builds trust and in turn drives greater change in your company. Too many people call themselves "thought leaders" or "innovators" vs. letting others bestow the title on them (part of the reason why the word is so overused) but to drive real change takes hard work, some of it going unnoticed for a long time, and it's up to you to decide to drive that change and make an impact in your company. If you don't, some other company will.

3. "There is no straight line to anyone's vision or dream."

It's not easy thinking about what it takes to be innovative, and there won't be a clear plan in front of you. Too many people talk about being innovative, without doing innovative work. The real work is after the workshop and the brainstorming. Pushing change outside of a single group, and causing it to scale across a company, and then making disruptive business practices a best practice. This isn't easy work, but it's meaningful work, and it's the only thing that helps shape the competitive landscape for years to come. If you have a passion to invent, innovate, and drive meaningful change, then don't expect it to come easy but you can make progress towards that vision, whether it's working at a start-up or starting up your own company - it just takes time and effort to get there.

There's a good deal more one can gain from Jack Welch, even though he spoke from a corporate context. If this was helpful, consider diving into his books further and see how you can apply his teachings to your own professional journey.

Published on: Sep 29, 2016
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