Episode 167

podcast photo thumbnail



When you started your agency, it was probably pretty exciting and somehow any worries you had were squelched before they could get in the way. But as our agencies get a little more established and we get a little more comfortable, taking a risk seems scarier, doesn’t it?

My guest thinks that’s a problem and he recommends that we re-acquainted with being uncomfortable.

In some ways, I’d like to think my big risk-taking days are behind me. But when I go to manage my business, and in nearly every conversation I have with my AMI colleagues, I know being risk-averse is not a strategy any of us can afford. Staying relevant and successful—according to my guest—requires a level of comfort with being uncomfortable.

It is a bit of bromide that the rapid pace of change is the one constant we can count on these days. How do we manage that change and thrive in the midst of it? That’s what we’re getting at in this episode.

On episode #167, my guest Scott Amyx proves that he knows this topic. From a childhood of poverty in South Korea to a career at the tip of the spear in terms of understanding and embracing innovation, Scott has lived and thrived in this era of discomfort. The upshot of his research is clear: being prepared for change and meeting disruption with a strategy of embracing it and pivoting as needed is a critical skill to survival as a business owner today.

Scott Amyx is the Chair & Managing Partner at Amyx Ventures and Singularity University/Smart City Accelerator Mentor and Startup Board Member. He is a TEDx speaker on disruption and success. Scott is a thought leader, speaker, author, and winner of the Cloud & DevOps World Award for Most Innovative Vendor.

Scott’s book, Strive, is all about how doing the most uncomfortable things leads to success.



What You Will Learn About in This Episode:

  • How to get comfortable with being uncomfortable
  • What you need to know about decentralized, autonomous organizations
  • The market imperative of lifelong learning
  • Why selling expertise and strategy is where differentiation happens
  • How individual discomfort gets collectivized and creates tipping points for innovation
  • Why as individuals and organizations, we need to be disrupted in order to be our optimal selves
  • How process automation is disrupting the work of agencies as much as any other business sector
  • Why the way we tell stories in our business needs to evolve with the tech and platforms people use to engage with stories
  • Why the move toward a more agile, freelance workforce in your agency is likely not a short-term trend

The Golden Nuggets:

“In order to achieve that lifetime goal, we have to break it down from the decades, to the annual, to the monthly, to the weekly, so that every day we're doing something small and big, getting us closer to that goal.” – @AmyxIoT Share on X “You have to ask yourself, what is our differentiating core competency? What is that one or two things that you and your organization to better than anybody else?” – @AmyxIoT Share on X “Pay attention to what’s next. During the time of the railroad tycoons, they saw the Wright brothers and thought, how can this thing that can barely carry people let alone cargo potentially disrupt the railroad?” – @AmyxIoT Share on X “Agencies cannot just take orders. They have to transform themselves and further accentuate their role as a trusted advisor. This means you have to be several steps ahead of your clients.” – @AmyxIoT Share on X “Just like building muscle, we're not going to grow; we're not going to become our self-actualized, optimized selves if we're not fundamentally disrupting ourselves on a constant basis.” – @AmyxIoT Share on X

Subscribe to Build A Better Agency!

Itunes Logo          Stitcher button

Ways to contact Scott Amyx:

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast. Now in our third year of bringing you insights on how small to mid-sized agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. We’ll show you how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. With 25 plus years of experience, as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey there everyone, this is Drew McLellan with another episode of Build a Better Agency. If I were to quantify the questions that I get asked most often, the first one is always about biz dev so we’ll put that aside for a second, but the next one is almost always what’s new in the business. Where are the trends going? Where are agencies finding new ways to add value? How are they monetizing in new ways? How are they serving clients in new ways? And with everything that’s going on with technology today, how are they navigating all of that and how is that going to change our business? So some subset of questions and conversation around that topic is almost always when I go to a conference or I’m hanging out with an agency owner group and we’re having dinner, that’s always a hot topic of conversation.

And in fact, as you know, I work on and put together a list of trends that I see facing the agency, which were my solo cast for the last couple of months. So I’m also always thinking about trends and the shifts that are happening in our business and in our client’s business, which is going to affect our business. And so I was fascinated when I learned about today’s guest. So Scott Amyx is president of Amyx Ventures, he’s done a Ted Talk, he is a Sloan Woodrow Wilson fellow, he’s an IBM futurist. So he’s got some serious chops. He also just wrote a book, which is fascinating, and the book is called Strive. And the whole premise of the book is that we have been sort of sold a bill of goods around success and that success isn’t about working harder or being smarter.

But success is really about being comfortable, being uncomfortable. That the more we can put ourselves into circumstances or places that create discomfort, the more we innovate our way out of that discomfort and the more we grow ourselves and our business. And it’s a fascinating read, I highly recommend it. But given the fact that we live in a pretty uncomfortable environment, there’s no promise that a client’s going to stick around for more than a day. We’re always chasing after new business in today’s environment, a lot of agencies are struggling with employee retention, turnover, recruitment. So again everything about our world is a little uncomfortable. And in fact, when I think about it, many of us took a huge leap and jumped right into the deep end of the discomfort pool when we started our agency to begin with.

So I’m curious about how Scott is going to chat with me about how, let me pick that up again, [Cap 00:03:41]. So I’m really curious to dig into that with Scott a little bit and acknowledge that many agency owners started out pretty uncomfortable. And I will say this when I look across the table at my AMI agencies, yes, every one of you goes through sort of ebbs and flows of great business years and then challenging business years. But for the most part, most agency owners that have been around for eight, 10 years, they have survived the rocky beginning and you have built a foundation. And without a doubt, your business sort of expands and grows and then sometimes it has to shrink down a little. So I’m not saying it’s without its challenges, but for many of you, you have found some level of stability.

Is it hard work? Absolutely. Is it get harder and harder every day? Honestly, I think the answer to that is yes. But many agency owners have gotten pretty comfortable where their agency is at today. And so what I wonder is when we started our agency, many of us experienced sort of this rapid growth and sort of this really the two or three years of constant change as we were sort of inventing ourselves and we had good success. And we enjoyed sort of the early fruits of all of that labor and, to use Scott’s word, discomfort. And then I think things sort of mellow out a little bit. And so unless something from the outside triggers a disaster, a big client goes away or whatever it may be, many agency owners actually I think are not all that uncomfortable anymore.

And so, one of the questions that I want to dig into is do we need to be more uncomfortable again, if we’re going to keep growing and succeeding. And so if we’ve plateaued, if our agency has been the same size in terms of profitability or number of people, or number of clients for a few years, is it because we’ve let ourselves get too comfortable in that place? So this I suspect is really going to be a fascinating conversation. I cannot wait to dig into this topic and to ask some really hard questions about how we all keep up with the trends and how we actually set some of the trends that face us and our clients by innovating on a more regular and consistent basis. So let’s jump into the conversation and see what Scott has to say. All right. So without further ado, Scott, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Scott Amyx:

Thank you, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

So tell everybody a little bit about how you came to, as I said in the intro, how you came to have this idea that discomfort is where success comes from. Where was that born from and where was the core idea of your book, Strive? Where did all of that bubble up from in terms of your own story and your own experiences?

Scott Amyx:

Yeah, I think it’s not meant to be an autobiography by any means, but it definitely has been a culmination of my life experience. And certainly more recently as pertains to my mission statement of creating sustainable economic development around the globe. I’m seeing firsthand the resistance to change that the governments, the NGOs, the private entities down to smaller communities and even individuals. And that compelled me to write this book, Strive, specifically to challenge people, to look at the world differently and to recognize that the only constant that we have is change.

Drew McLellan:

Right. And it seems to be coming a lot faster than it used to.

Scott Amyx:

Very much so. I think for most of your audience that look up my background you’ll know that I’m very much into deep exponential technologies. And if you look at the history of just general broad innovation, it used to be that the innovation cycles were much longer. So for example, let’s say the PCs, and if you look at the great run that Microsoft has, it’s quite reflective of the decades of PC saturation and the OS. But as we get into newer technologies, we’re starting to see that the slope is getting much higher and steeper.

So just to give you a very concrete example, when I was in Korea, speaking at Samsung, they were under the impression that the smartphone market was going to be very profitable, a profitable cash cow for many years to come. And they were surprised that they have essentially hit the zenith much sooner than they thought. And the last several years they’ve been scrambling to replace that cash cow with something else like the internet of things, like AI, like connected appliances and digital electronics and so forth. So it is happening very rapidly and more importantly, when these things and not just technologies, but the underlying business paradigms converge, it is introducing change at a rapid clip that none us can really truly anticipate.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s interesting. When I’m teaching our AE Bootcamp, so I’m talking to the client facing people inside an agency and normally they’re young. So typically, they’re 35 and younger in some of the classes, or maybe they’re in their forties in the more advanced classes. And what I say to them is I’ve been in the business for 25 years, almost 30 years now, and the pace at which we had to work and the amount of time what we were doing today, I could have some confidence would be the same things we were doing tomorrow or next year. All of that has been so compressed that the demand to keep learning and keep trying new things is so much more exponential at this stage of my career than it was when I was 25.

Scott Amyx:

I think that’s very well articulated Drew, I couldn’t agree with you more. And just as a transition to going back to your first question around kind of my personal story as to why I wrote this book, Strive, is that I come from I would say probably more kind of a non typical background in the sense of having more share of challenges perhaps than maybe kind of the average. I’m originally from South Korea, and I immediately was born into poverty and it was very difficult. And just for backdrop purpose, South Korea is not the kind of country that most people think of when you think about the Samsung, the LG, the Hyundais, right now the world cup is the thing that people are paying attention to. But not that long ago in the ’60s and ’70s, we were climbing out of 40 somewhat years of Japanese colonization.

Then we had World War II and then we went right into a civil war, and that civil war with North Korea has been ongoing. So technically we have not been at peace. It has been an active war for all those years. And of course, North Korea is very much in the mass media. So that’s the backdrop. So in the ’60s and ’70s, when we’re just kind of climbing out of all that destruction and devastation, we were much poorer than many of the sub Saharian African countries. And our GDP was literally in the hundreds relative to other nations. And yet when you look around that devastation and just literally dirt and it’s half of the country, half of the peninsula. We managed in a very short period of time to climb out of that, to become an [inaudible 00:11:45] nation.

And a lot of that is reflective of kind of the DNA, the fabric that I try to infuse into the book, which is that the individual discomfort that we experience collectively at a tribal and a communal and then at organizational, and then at national level is what brings about substantive change. So recently in the last year or so, the Me Too movement is a beautiful example of the cascading effect that has progressively moved the women’s liberation and the women’s rights much further into the limelight, that was very much in the background. And it was something that people knew about, but really then weren’t explicitly addressing it at the forefront. But when the collective individual people took risks and together were starting to make some significant changes. Same with the era, Spring Revolts, a few years back, a lot of the major things really takes somebody to step up and say, I’m willing to make a change.

Drew McLellan:

And so is it your premise that in essence, we only make huge strides and adapt to and accept change and grow when there is a motivation, when there’s enough pain or discomfort, that the fear of change, which I think everyone to a degree has seems like the lesser of evils.

Scott Amyx:

Yeah, I think so. I think the analogy that I like to use is most of my life I’ve been an active fitness fan, I regularly exercise, I lift weights. And one of the things that I’m very much aware especially when it comes to building muscle, is that if you want to grow, if you want to get ripped and defined, if you want to accentuate a particular part of your body. You really need to not just work out hard, but effectively what you’re doing is you’re getting to a point where it’s fatigue and at the microscopic level, it is truly starting to tear the muscle fibers apart. In other words, we’re not going to grow, we’re not going to get better defined, we’re not going to become the self-actualize optimized selves if we are not constantly tearing and fundamentally disrupting ourselves on a constant basis.

Because if you’ve ever been on a fast, or if you’ve taken a break from a particular healthy lifestyle for even a week, you see the immediate results. I love these YouTube videos where people eat ridiculous amount of food, and they themselves admit that immediately the very next day, their weight just jumped up and they feel completely different so then [inaudible 00:14:39]. So unless we’re regularly disrupting ourselves and moving ourselves towards a greater lifetime goal, we’ll find that we’re just kind of circling in the same sphere doing the same things and expecting different results when in fact we’re stuck in our habits.

Drew McLellan:

So I’m sure the listeners right now are going, so what you’re saying is for me… Because in my head where I’m heading to is okay, this translates to me, the business owner in that, what you’re really saying is that the only way I grow my business, the only way my business gets stronger, the only way my business survives in the long run is for me to get comfortable in being in constant discomfort.

Scott Amyx:

That’s exactly right. So prior to this recording I shared some of my thoughts with in advance, which is that when you think about what’s happening just on the technology front alone. So literally just a few weeks ago, Google announced something called the Duplex, which is their application of AI, artificial intelligence, that can actually act as your virtual assistant and even make outbound calls. So on the demo, it actually shows them calling a hair salon to make an appointment and was having a very natural conversation and even inserted, uhum, and some of these fillers as an example. In another demonstration the male voice, it even called a restaurant to make a reservation. And the other side never knew that it was an artificial intelligence being or a system that was actually communicating with them. Same thing with the latest from IBM, IBM just showcased something called a Debater and it’s extending the natural language processing, where the system is actually having a forensics or a speech debate contest with a professional Israeli debater on very difficult topics and is incredibly fluid and powerful.

Now, why is that important? Because when we think about everything from, let’s say social media, when we think about programmatic buying and ads, when we think about even content generation and campaigns, is that it’s no longer humans that is doing the content creation, it is no longer humans that is curating it and it’s no longer humans that’s distributing or even engaging. So if you look at social media, a large percentage of the interactions and engagements are really bots. And more and more we’re going to see more of the interactions happening between bots and bots. And then of course, AI brings it to another higher level. More importantly, the other piece that I mentioned from a process automation is that there’s something called Robotic Process Automation, RPA, which is a step below AI. So anything that you can do in any of the various social media marketing, advertising programs and platforms that you do in front of your computer, these systems can automatically capture that and then repeat that without human intervention.

What does that mean? It means that the accounts that you have, and perhaps these are large accounts, whether it’s the GEs, maybe it’s the IBM’s, I just spoke at a PTC conference as an example, you’ve had these accounts for potentially years, but yet they are actively pursuing these types of technologies. At which point they don’t need to outsource it to agencies or independence or freelancers anymore, because they can fully automate that entire process. And it doesn’t matter what it is. If a human can do it, they can automate it and they can automate it on scale 24/7 error free. And that is significant.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, it’s the whole idea if somebody can order it, there’s a technology that can do it automatically.

Scott Amyx:

That’s right.

Drew McLellan:

It’s really more and I’ve been saying for years to agency owners, you’ve got to stop thinking about and talking about the stuff you make, because even before technology got to be what it is, someone else can make it cheaper. It really has to be what is it that you uniquely bring to the table in terms of your ability to think, and plan and ask good questions and anticipate, and all of that sort of strategic part, that’s the part that is not going to be commoditized. And to your point, isn’t going to be literally turned into an automatic AI process as opposed to a human process.

Scott Amyx:

So right now, as we speak, AI is starting to chip away at occupations, whether it’s radiologists, whether it’s particular healthcare professionals including predictive healthcare to accounting, finance. And what we’re going to find very soon as that PR functions, marketing functions and sales functions. So for example salesforce.com, and a lot of the larger firms have been acquiring companies specifically with AI capability so that they can actually systematically know who to contact that’s going to have the highest conversion and likely to convert over from a customer or an upsell. The point of what I’m saying is that to your point, when we analyze the North American data sets around labor force and labor data over the last century or so, the only sub category where the data is showing a general upward trend versus a downward trend. So in other words, jobs in manufacturing, jobs in construction, blue collar, agriculture, you name it, they kind of spiked around kind of the 1960s, but since then have declined substantively. But the only sector that is growing is personal services.

And to your point, Drew, the key differentiator for agencies is no longer about what they can do. What they can do is starting to become systematically automated and becoming intelligent. So what they can do that cannot be replicated is the strategy and it’s about the relationship. Meaning a lot of the PR functions can be automated, but what cannot be automated are the personal relationships that you have with particular editors at the Wall Street Journal and New York Times and so forth. It’s those relationships, it’s those human connections that cannot be easily replicated. And those are the pieces that the agencies need to really think about because the context is ch