So many people dream of riding a cutting edge, startup to success and riches. But do you really have what it takes to trail blaze past the competition and land on top? Whether you are the entrepreneur, member of the management team, or even a supporting member writing code or developing marketing, there are certain ways you must think and do to help the company break through to success.

I was able to tap habitual trailblazer Tom Bollich, co-founder of Zynga and now CEO of the public company Surna, for his insights on how to excel in a trailblazing environment.

Starting with a background in artificial intelligence and robotics, Bollich has the spidey sense for emerging industries. He started with gaming and Zynga and after that pioneering success, is now trailblazing again into the nascent, legal, cannabis world. Identifying newly apparent patterns between the beginnings of online gaming and cannabis, Bollich believes cannabis is the next big American industry and he is one who is leading the way.

Bollich stepped right in to steer the ship of Surna, an engineering and manufacturing company which develops and improves technology specifically for cannabis production. Tom saw that the pot industry, now expanding through legalization, would foster a lot more businesses than just growers and retailers. So now his company, headquartered in Colorado, is pioneering energy efficient technology for large-scale cannabis production. His team of 25 is thinking ahead to when full-scale nationwide pot legalization will require efficient management of resources like water and energy. Surna will be early to the game of supporting that technology with products like climate control systems.

It's not easy to go where no one has gone before, but here are 9 habits that Tom insists on in his partners and employees:

1. Take chances.

Typically, working in an emerging industry feels like being on a freight train that's on fire. It's scary, fast paced, doesn't stop for anyone, and you don't know what's coming next. Bollich wants people who are brave enough to look past the fire and have confidence that the train is going somewhere, hopefully somewhere big. They have to be willing to stretch while thinking on the fly.

2. Learn to thrive in chaos.

If tight, consistent structure is your thing, than an emerging industry is a poor career choice. When trailblazing, every day will be different and new challenges are thrown your way constantly. Since no one has done this before there are no tried and true practices. As new information comes in change must be made. But Bollich says there is one common consistent thread in the process, chaos. If change is fun and exciting for you this may be the right path.

3. Think differently.

Conventional thinking is useful when building a conventional business. Bollich requires his team to think unconventionally so they can create what no one has created before. In an emerging industry, seeing the world differently allows the company to expand, develop, and grow beyond the tried and true and often stale approaches of your competitors.

4. Evolve constantly.

You can often tell the people set up for failure in a fast moving start-up. They're the ones trying to solidify their position through titles and job descriptions. Bollich values versatility in his team. Pigeon-holing yourself can spell doom for the progression of your career--or your company, especially if you're the one running things. In a truly emerging industry, you can't do just one thing. Job titles are meaningless, what matters is what needs to get done and who can get it done fast and well with minimal hassle.

5. Budget your brain carefully.

When you run or work in a fast moving company, decisions will come at you like a Yankees pitcher peppering you all day with curveballs. The pressure to try and hit them all or make the right decision every time can weigh you down, and really, it's just not possible to be right all the time or answer every question in any given day. Bollich believes you can likely make 10 great decisions in a day. Take on 20 and you are bound to make costly mistakes. You must prioritize and know how to cut out or delegate the unimportant items.

6. Work like the building is on fire.

Once you've acclimated to a profession or position, it is easy to become complacent. But, in an emerging industry, there is no time or patience for resting on your laurels. Your competitors will keep moving and the public interest will move on if you are not progressing fast enough. Bollich loves people who work with the proverbial fire under their ass to keep up and keep ahead. He believes people who can't develop a sense of urgency in their work will never lead in a trailblazing environment. Not buckling under the pressure and knowing how to prioritize the urgency is key so people aren't constantly in a state of hyper fear.

7. Walk the talk.

Often in business, people feel the need to promise their boss the world, and soon, they're overcommitted and underperforming, which means their reputation is sinking and the company is falling behind. In a fast moving industry, over commitment can spell disaster. Bollich only wants people who can follow through on every promise they make. If you can't promise something, don't, or commit to finding someone else who can.

8. Don't suck.

There is little room for laziness or stupid mistakes when trying to race to the top. You have to be at the top of your game and being a careless slacker will get you and the team nowhere. Many people exaggerate the quality of their performance but in truth you know when you are contributing your best and when you are just phoning it in. Oh and by the way, most everyone else can tell as well. In a trailblazing environment you'll get called out quickly, if you even get offered the opportunity in the first place.

9. Laugh. Often. 

Life can be cruel. So can business. Obstacles will always come out from nowhere and issues will always arise unexpectedly. You always need to remember to roll with those punches, and just have a good laugh when something really terrible happens. For Bollich humor is the only thing that will ever relieve all the stress of all the day-to-day changes. Without a sense of humor, you're doomed.

Read on for more about Surna's fascinating approach.

Published on: Sep 9, 2014
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