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Q&A with MDCE keynote speaker Josh Linkner

By Jonathan Sweet

At this year's Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, Josh Linkner of Detroit Venture Partners will be delivering the opening keynote.

His talk, "The Gravity-Defying Leader: Innovative Approaches to Hyper-Growth Leadership," will help dealers understand and manage the disruptive factors influencing growth.

The 2016 Marine Dealer Conference & Expo will be December 5-8 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. MDCE is produced by the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Boating Industry. We talked to Linkner about his plans for this year's keynote.

Boating Industry: What do you hope dealers take away from your talk?

Linkner: What I’m hoping dealers take away from the talk is two things. No. 1: I want them to be inspired. We live in an era in which we’re always being beaten down by something: taxes, regulations, and difficult customers. But I’m going to get people fired up so they’re re-energized and ready to take on the challenges of the day. No. 2: I want to arm people for battle with some practical tools--new frameworks, new techniques, new ideas that they can apply directly to their marine dealerships in order to drive better outcomes. So it’s going to be part inspiring, part practical, a whole lot of fun, and I really can’t wait for the event!

Boating Industry: You talk about creativity and innovation being the most important attribute of a business. Why?

Linkner: So many of the advantages we’ve had in the past have been commoditized. You have things that are difficult to control like geography and global markets. On top of that, the stakes are increasingly more and more difficult with the addition of complexity, competitive threats, etc. So, what can we do to rise above all that? I truly believe that creativity and innovation is the currency of success. If you think about it, it’s the one thing that can’t be outsourced or automated. Ultimately, it’s our one source of sustainable competitive advantage. Now, dealers might say, “Creativity doesn’t apply to me--I’m not the one designing a new marine craft, I’m the one that’s selling it.” But I’d argue that we can apply the same principles of creativity and innovation to the ways we sell, how we lead, and how we serve. It’s not just about product innovation, I’m going to talk about, every-day innovation, ways that we can inject creative thinking to drive our dealerships to the next level. So I believe in these challenging times, creativity and innovation have become the most important attributes to ultimately harness and deploy our dealerships.

Boating Industry: Is this more important today than it was in the past? Why?

Linkner: In the past, things were very different. We lived in local markets instead of global ones and competition was way less fierce. Business cycles elapsed over months or years instead of weeks in some cases. The complexities are higher, the stakes are higher, the difficulty is higher, and the competition is higher. So we need to elevate ourselves to rise above that. Many of the competitive advantages that we’ve had in the past have become antiquated. My argument is that creativity and innovation is more important now than ever in these fist-fighting times. One thing we learned from the economic disaster of 2009 and 2009 is that we can no longer rely on models of the past and still expect to win. We know that today, we need an entirely new approach to drive successful outcomes. Innovation and creativity are untapped, natural resources that, when harnessed and injected into our dealerships, will help facilitate terrific success.

Boating Industry: How can dealers get better at this?

Linkner: There’s a myth that one out of a thousand of us are given creativity at birth and the rest of us have to suffer from lack of creativity. The truth is--and the research is crystal clear--is that all of us as human beings have enormous creative capacity. It’s a skill that can be learned and developed, although most of us are far behind in leveraging it as adults. I’m going to share some specific ideas and approaches that dealers can immediately use to drive momentum and progress in their businesses. In other words, these are skills like learning tennis or learning a new language that can be quickly built, deployed, and turn important competitive advantages. So, the good news is that all of us can build and learn these skills. We just need an approach, we need a trainer, we need a coach. And that’s exactly what I’m going to bring to you in Orlando.

Boating Industry: What are the biggest roadblocks for companies developing creativity and innovation?

Linkner: The biggest roadblock in harnessing creativity and innovation has nothing to do with natural talent. The single biggest inhibitor is fear. Fear is a poisonous force that robs us of our best thing. I’m going to share some specific ideas techniques that helps us rise above that fear. If we can create a safe environment for ourselves and those around us, our creativity will soar. Remove the fear and creativity fills the room.

Boating Industry: Can an established business reinvent itself to become more creative?

Linkner: A lot of times when you think about innovation, you think about start-ups. And, yes, companies like Uber and Groupon are taking over the world and doing incredibly innovative things. But that doesn’t mean established companies can’t do the same. In fact, there are many examples of deeply established businesses that are pushing the boundaries. And the opposite is true as well. Sometimes start-ups are rather bureaucratic and clunky, so it goes both ways. Creative thinking is a mindset; it has nothing to do with the length of our business life, how many employees we have, or our balance sheet. I’m going to share some ideas of how established businesses, like many of the dealers in the room, can take a hard look in the mirror, confront existing traditions, really challenge assumptions, and ultimately rise above those. It’s much better to be the disruptor than the disruptee. It’s funny, because when I was building my own companies, I had a saying, “One day a company will come along and put us out of business--it might as well be us. “ I think that dealers can take that same approach, and reexamine practices that may have been successful in the past that are no longer relevant. But today, with the rate of change being different, technology being different, buyers being different, we need to adapt and optimize for the current situation. Creativity and innovation is our path to get there, and on December 6, I’ll share some specific approaches that do just that.

Boating Industry: What do you think is important for attendees to know about your background?

Linkner: Well, I’m a pretty unusual guy! First of all, I’m a marine fan. I had a pontoon boat for years and my dad had a beautiful sailboat, an Island Packet.  He was just obsessed with being on the water, so being on lakes and water has been in my blood since I was a little kid. But besides that, I’m an entrepreneur. So I’ve started, built and sold four tech companies, each of which were very disruptive in the field. After that, I became a venture capital investor, investing in other start-ups who were trying to take on the established business giants. I’ve had the chance to write two books on creativity and innovation, trying to demystify this rather squishy topic. Like you, I’m a business person by trade. So, I’m not going to show you a bunch of fluff, I’m going to share specific approaches that you can take to drive your business to the next level. Embracing, start-up creativity, embracing innovation, and applying them specifically to your world. It’s not going to be some esoteric college lecture, it’s going to be fun, practical and inspiring, and I hope I’m going to be able to move you into action!

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Copyright 2016 Boating Industry

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