ABOUT TODAY’S GUEST | ANDREW SMALLWOOD
Andrew Smallwood is the Director of Sales for Second Nature, a young company that is already at the top of its industry. Over recent years, Andrew has been able to develop a reputation as a tremendous role model for effective communication in a variety of important ways. He possesses a remarkable combination of intelligence, humility, curiosity, open-mindedness, empathy, and respect for others. In a world of cancel culture and divisive communication, Andrew is a shining example of civil discourse. With a polarizing election coming up, this is a concept that is of the utmost importance right now. After discussing Andrew’s time with Cutco and his career path, this conversation dives deep into what it takes to become someone who can develop a more well-rounded understanding of other perspectives and can communicate with care and candor at the same time. This is a truly thought-provoking episode that can help you gain the mindset and skills to bring more people together in your circles of influence.
Q&A WITH ANDREW SMALLWOOD
Q: It’s been such a crazy year. Amidst this challenging year, what do you feel has been the biggest gift that has emerged for you?
- I think of a quote: “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
- This quote came from Eric Hoffer who was about 20 years old in the pandemic of 1918. This makes it more meaningful for me to hear that quote now.
- In times of rapid change, it’s the learners who thrive.
- That’s a real gift in my opinion. In all these changes, there’s a lot of opportunity, to help accelerate the change, navigate the change, adapt to the change, and help others do that as well. There are amazing stories in the past few months amidst all the challenges of people doing amazing things, companies doing amazing things!
Q: Tell us a little a bit of how you got started with Cutco
- In 2007. I had 2 other jobs lined up for the summer. I was a golf camp counselor. I was also doing some part-time work doing some sound editing for church services.
- My friend recommended me for the position. That’s how I went in for my interview and pretty soon 3 jobs became 1 job and I fully invested in Cutco.
- I kept observing the learning environment I was in. I could tell I wanted to do more with this and I got on the path of advancement in the company
Q: You had a great run particularly those early years. You became pretty well known across the company before you were even a district manager. Tell us about some of the earliest experiences you had.
- I remember my assistant manager summer, coming out of that and wanting to become a branch manager so badly.
- I committed myself to I think what’s called The Leadership Academy (TLA). I just committed myself to being wholly invested in that and getting everything out of that.
- I trained so hard and I rose up the ranks of candidates, and Dave Powders selected me to be the pilot sales manager at the time.
- That commitment to learning, growth and excelling, that really started this set of several years of exciting achievements and a lot of real cool people that we met.
Q: What were some of the experiences you feel like really transformed you, your career or life?
- When I think of transformational experiences, one is the summer of 2010 (my 2nd summer as pilot manager). Early in May, there was a massive flood. Billions of dollars of damage.
- We’d put so much effort in planning a 47-page business plan we’d put together. We had a 10-person assistant manager staff and a dozen reps coming back for the summer to sell with us.
- We had all these exciting goals and suddenly we couldn’t get into the office. It was flooded for days, all the highways were broken down. There were all the challenges of customers, economic hardships people were facing.
- But there was this kind of defining moment where we just said our goals were too important to let this stop us. We chose to be unstoppable in the face of whatever was going on.
- As soon as that commitment was made, all the creative answers started coming. That’s one experience I look back to as a real defining moment. It’s not always what you achieve, it’s what you overcome that really defines people’s potential.
Q: What other valuable lessons and concepts do you feel stand out from your time with Vector?
- I think of a mantra. “Every time you’re going to see me, you’re going to see a better version of me.” This is something I remember repeating to myself over and over.
- I think it was part of my reputation in Cutco and is still so today. Going to that leadership academy management training, I always wanted to show up the next month and say to Dave, look at how my startup and savings account has grown since the last time I’ve seen you. Look at how my ability to speak in public and present has developed over time. Look at how my closing ratio, my average order have changed since this time last year.
- Tons of examples of meaningful ways in which growth was happening. To me, its one of the reasons why I’m appreciative of how special the Cutco organization is. There’s a tremendous work environment and culture with an emphasis on personal growth and development that came alive in me. It never had existed until I started working with Cutco.
Q: So, tell us how did the path to what you’re doing now develop?
- Something I remember bothering me as a manager, I never wanted to be somebody who quit. I had trouble with seeing people quit. I emotionally struggled with why that might be happening.
- Often times, you hear those things with people quitting, a company quitting. As a manager, I wanted to ask, is there feedback in this for me and things I can do better to create that environment where people are inspired and bring their best?
- Ultimately, Cutco was such a special place that I was there for a relatively long time. 9 years in a variety of roles and enjoying every single one of them, each of them meaningful and fulfilling.
- What ultimately took me out of the company was this path of growth I’m on. I wanted to apply my skills and confidence towards that different end-point you talked about.
- My aspirations took me out of the business. It was nothing about the manager or people. That’s what took me to where I am today.
- I got really passionate about business to business sales. Also, leading a team and being a part of a startup growth-stage kind of company. It was something that I was interested in.
- The founder of the company was a branch manager for Larry Manley (North Carolina Division Manager). He’s one of many people that are having their entrepreneurial start, making an impact in the world, who sold Cutco. It was cool to have that shared history as we were getting things started.
Q: Tell us about your experiences with Second Nature.
- It’s unbelievable!
- I think I was employee #27, and now we’re coming up to a couple of hundred employees. It reminded me of the rapid team building in Vector.
- It’s a group of people who don’t ask what’s the least I could do? But what’s the most I could do? It’s really exciting!
- The reputation we’re building in our industry is a credit to the whole team. We’re back-to-back winners of the Vendor Industry Affiliate of the Year Award.
- There’s over 200 companies that could be selected for this including billion dollar software companies, people who’ve being there for decades vs. this upstart filter company.
- Learning that lesson from Cutco that our work can be much more than the product or service you offer. It’s this group of people who ultimately bring an impact in the world.
Q: What do you feel you’ve brought to advance so quickly in your company to land a prominent role?
- It’s really the same things, skills and confidence developed during my time with Vector.
- I’m applying this again and again, more and more deeply. When I think of advancing where I’m, I think of every time you see me, you see a better version of me.
- Continuing to be on that path, taking personal initiative to grow, to learn. The work ethic that was developed can help you to stand out until you develop your skills to the point where it makes you stand out.
Q: You mentioned something earlier which was in your experience when reps quit or left the team, you looked at it and thought … is there any feedback in this for me? That’s such a constructive way of thinking. It shows so much of your ability and desire to understand other people’s perspective. A sense of empathy. I would like to unpack that a little bit. How do you feel this combination of qualities evolved in you?
- I think an important part of it was the desire to grow and the desire to learn. To be a “learn it all” as opposed to be a “know it all.”
- An important lesson for me is something I struggled with, especially as a younger person … caring about what others think. I hear people talk about you don’t care about what others think. Its kind of this license to be brash, to be frankly a jerk.
- I kind of struggled with that and thought caring too little about what other people think, can make us look thoughtless. Caring too much appears inauthentic. But people can come across as both self-aware and sincere, if they treat their reputation like a mirror.
- They are checking on it, but not staring obsessively at it. That kind of self-awareness and sincerity, holding both together, gave me the kind of clarity to say, I want to use whatever feedback as a mirror and see if there’s anything there for me.
Q: The idea we should care less of what people think is bad advice. There’s a shred of truth to that, but it’s taken to an extreme. What I feel happens when you don’t care of what anyone is thinking is it develops a selfish kind of me-first way of thinking and acting, which also promotes uncomfortable interactions that increase conflict. Does any of that make sense?
- It does. I think of the book the 4 Agreements, and don’t take anything too personally. That’s one sage advice. It’s self-awareness, it’s sincerity, it’s genuinely caring about other people.
- There’s a part of that, that links back to the desire to learn and curiosity. Are you genuinely curious, seeking first to understand and having the humility to step back and say, I don’t know everything about this person I’m standing in front of. What can I learn from this person, their perspective about the topic of conversation we’re engaging in?
- If I’m only expressing my opinion in this argument or debate dynamics, that feels I’m going to throw the best I have, and try to tear down whatever they have, there’s nothing constructive or generative about that kind of process.
- It’s a lot less interesting to me because I’m not going to learn or gain much from that.
Q: I just think this mentality and the skillset you bring into communication is so important and particularly more important right now. We are recording this episode within 2 months of the presidential elections here in US. My belief is the next 6,7 weeks both sides are going to make all efforts to tear everybody apart. We’re going to be encouraged to hate other people, it’s going to be a divisive period. We need people to adopt more of the mentality of curiosity, interest, humility. Could you speak to what you feel is the importance of civil discourse?
- What we’ve recognized — and everyone listening will connect with — is that having these conversations online does something to us.
- I have seen people who I respect, the kindest people I know, behave in very curious ways when they get into a conversation online. Things I never would have imagined them saying when standing in front of the person they are talking to.
- They have lost value on the relationship and increase the value of communicating what they want to communicate, making the point. I think it’s a false choice to do that.
- I think we can be totally candid with each other and demonstrate radical care for one another, whether it’s online or in-person. You can communicate with care and candor. You don’t have to make this false choice between the two.
- I would love to see that coming to our dialogues. To have that kind of productive and constructive dialogue.
Q: Most of us have beliefs that are different than they were 10 years ago. There is an evolution that happens when ideas are presented in a constructive way. How do you tackle it when somebody expresses an opinion about something opposing you?
- A couple of things come up to me. One is the analogy of a beach ball. If I’m holding it in front of my face, I can see the blue part of the ball. On the other side of the beach ball might be a red color, but I might not see it while I’m looking at the blue aspect.
- For difficult topics, I try to hold that analogy close because when somebody says something that surprises me or bothers me. I try to think how can I be curious before critical.
- Meaning is this a beach ball that if I spun it around, I’ll actually see things from their point of view? Can I try that first before moving to why they are not looking at this correctly?
- I’ve been guilty of this. I didn’t have all the facts, I was making assumptions that weren’t really there. Those experiences inspired humility when you can say there’s more I can learn about this and I don’t have to change this person’s mind. I can better understand their perspective, how they got into that perspective and what is in it for me in their point of view.
- They might teach me something about engaging other people in this topic in the future.
Q: Tell us about your involvement in the Front Row Foundation
- I donate to a variety of charities. Over time, I’ve donated some time to a smaller select group of charities. But Front Row is really my charity, it’s my cause I’m most passionate about.
- I think about the end of our lives, looking back, I think we’ll measure our lives primarily through the moments that are meaningful and memorable.
- Front Row is the only charity that changed my perspective of life and helped me learn to treat each day as a series of moments. Within each moment, there’s an opportunity to create a front row experience for myself and others.
Q: As you look ahead into the future, how do you aspire to change people’s lives through what you do?
- When I think about the message of my life, at the end of the day, what I’d love it to be is radical generosity.
- There’s a time in my life when I measured how I was doing by the things I had.
- Over time, that kind of generous spirit that was there from day 1, was nurtured with the great leaders in Cutco. Being around those people nurtures a generous spirit of leadership and influence in the world.
- I would like at the end of my life, people to say that was a life of radical generosity!
- The time we’re in in the world is calling for a greater level of empathy and a higher level of communication skills.
- The idea of seeking first to understand, asking ourselves which is the most charitable assumptions I could make about this person, and what are they thinking? How are they feeling?
- Being curious before being critical is an important effort to make so you can communicate with care and candor, at the same time.
- I liked the idea of being a learn-it-all vs. being a know-it-all.
- Also, like Andrew said, every time you see me, you see a better version of me. Are you studying? Are you learning? Are you practicing your skills? Are you catching yourself in those moments where you’re not displaying empathy, patience or curiosity?
- Lastly, measure how you’re doing by what you give to the world.
Show Notes for this episode provided by Brian Njenga.
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