Amir Orad could just rest on his laurels. He’s had an amazing run of success in his career. For instance, he’s taken one company from $30 to $200 million in revenues within a few years and steered another to a $145 million exit. And now, as CEO of Sisense for the past 18 months, Orad has presided over annual growth rates of 100% in both revenues and customers. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the company, they describe themselves as offering “the simplest way to analyze and visualize complex data.”)
But in talking to Amir, it becomes clear he’s on a roll, and he’s not letting up anytime soon. In our conversation a few weeks ago, Amir was sparking with energy and focused enthusiasm — both about the company and about his team. And when I asked him for the key to his and his company’s success, his answer was immediate. “I require everybody to make mistakes on a daily basis. We make lots and lots of mistakes. And I encourage people to step back in their careers to step forward.”
Intrigued, I asked first why he thinks making mistakes is so important. He responded that he believes people are capable of much more than they think they are, and that they hold themselves back from achieving their full potential by being too careful; by focusing too much on not making any mistakes. So, instead, he’s creating a culture where people get supported and rewarded to run fast, make decisions based on the available information, and if they make a mistake, to acknowledge it, get feedback, and move on to do better.
Given our focus at Proteus on helping people become better, faster, braver learners — I loved the sound of this. And yet my more skeptical side could see see how this could really run off the rails: everyone regularly making mistakes? Making key decisions quickly, rather than after a lot of research and study? Yet it certainly seems to be working for the company and for him as a leader. Not only is the company getting great results, but if you look at Sisense’s reviews on Glassdoor, you’ll see that Amir has a 100% approval rating as the CEO (that’s very rare), and that 93% of his employees recommend the company. So I asked him how he makes this approach to mistakes work on a daily basis, and he told me six great things they do to assure that their mistakes support growth and success rather than getting in the way of it:
• Get alignment on “a common view of the universe”: Amir noted that they make sure that everyone has a very clear, shared understanding of where they’re trying to go with the company, and how they intend to get there. As a result, the mistakes people make are — as he puts it — directionally correct. They don’t make the unnecessary mistakes, for instance, that might arise from not focusing on increasing the visual appeal and simplicity of their outputs, because that’s in the opposite direction from where they’re all trying to take their product.
• As managers, allow and encourage “reversible mistakes”: Before heading down a new path to try something that might not work, Amir and his team always ask, “What’s the worst that could happen if this turns out wrong?” And if they’re OK with that worst possible outcome, and also willing to do what will be required to recover from that outcome if it happens – that’s a reversible mistake, and they move forward.
• Make sure it’s a conscious decision: As Amir said to me, “It’s definitely OK when a mistake happens because someone said, ‘We thought about it, we decided to do it — and it was wrong.’ It’s not OK when mistakes come from someone saying, ‘We didn’t think or decide – it just happened.’” Good mistakes are those that arise from a conscious decision to go in a particular direction, based on an intention to fulfill their vision.
• Be accountable: According to Amir, this is key. As I understand it, every project gets a quarterly review that’s public within the company: what’s good, what’s bad, what must be improved — and the owners of the project then share three things they’ll change going forward to correct what’s bad and to improve future outcomes. In fact, he says that everyone gets this kind of feedback on everything they do — and that being able to admit your mistakes and take in balanced feedback about how to improve is key to success in the company.
• Focus on the future: Because we try to create the same kind of feedback-rich environment at Proteus, I know how difficult it can be. So I asked Amir how he helps people be OK with getting so much feedback. I loved his answer: “We make it clear that the only value from the past is to learn from it. We focus on what to do differently going forward.” In other words, feedback at Sisense is a tool used for professional and personal growth, with the expectation that you’ll learn from what’s happened and improve going forward — rather than holding onto past mistakes and making negative assumptions about people based on them.
• Model it: The final thing Amir said about how he’s created this culture of willingness to “be bad first” as a springboard to innovation and growth was perhaps my favorite. “I model it,” he said, “I make mistakes daily. And I get feedback and move on.” I suspect that has a lot to do with his 100% approval rating on Glassdoor: Employees, I find, pay a lot more attention to what you actually do as a leader than to what you say. And when a leader’s words and actions line up, that’s the jackpot: Then everyone knows it is truly OK to behave in the ways that leader espouses.
But what about the weird career moves? Before we ended our conversation, I asked Amir to go back to his statement about “stepping back to step forward.” He noted that, just as we often fail to achieve our daily potential because we focus too much on not making day-to-day errors, we can also fail to achieve our career potential by focusing too much on making the “right” career moves: looking for the next job to provide more money, influence, prestige, advancement, etc. He encourages people to think instead about what’s most important to them personally in their work, and be willing to make career moves that will provide more of those personally important elements — even if it means sacrificing some of the more obvious perks – in the belief that making those choices will ultimately result in a career that’s more satisfying to them. In fact, he added, he’s hired some of his very best people into jobs at Sisense that might not have been “better” in traditional ways than the job they came from — but that offered more intellectual challenge, or a chance to be a part of a fast-growing company, or the opportunity to work on something about which they felt passionate.
As the rate of change in business and in life continues to accelerate, I can’t help but think that Amir Orad’s practical approach to fearlessness in the pursuit of growth makes tremendous sense. Life in the 21st century isn’t for the faint of heart, and he and his folks seem to be having a great time surfing the waves of change by being willing to wipe out regularly – and then pulling each other back up to do it all again.
This article was written by Erika Andersen from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.