BY Hannah Adler 3 MINUTE READ

Brant Cooper: Best-selling author, TEDx speaker, major disrupter, and big fan of wearing jeans and a T-shirt to work. This all helps feed his life mission: Helping big companies find value again.

Brant Cooper is the author of best-selling book The Lean Entrepreneur: How Visionaries Create Products. He gives speeches and talks all over the world. Brant is a disrupter. In fact, he’s already admitted – with a big smile – that he purposefully makes his audiences feel uncomfortable so as to promote learning and growth. He’s the messiah for big businesses and the Holy Grail for startups. His insights are well-thought out as he runs through the benefits of mentoring instead of managing, and how to teach those below you to think for themselves. In an exclusive sit-down with Fast Company SA, he reveals the tool-kit for disrupting businesses to-be.

You’re a self-confessed disrupter. What does this mean to you?

Being a disrupter means all sorts of different things. It can mean a new startup disrupting an industry. I don’t think my startup is there yet. But say I’m doing a talk, I want to evoke a feeling where people are a bit uncomfortable. In that way, I feel like I’m disrupting the status quo. I want people to get out of their comfort zone because that is what enables them to take in information in a different way.

And how do you do that?

Well it’s funny. I used to do that by going into very conservative places where everyone would sit in a suit and tie, and I would just wear jeans and a T-shirt. When I did that people looked at me funny, but I didn’t care because I wanted people to feel uncomfortable. Nowadays, there’s a lot of people talking about how our brain operates. There’s ‘system one’, when we’re in our comfort zone, and we’re actually very relaxed and not using very
much energy. It’s possible to get someone into their ‘system two’ where they’re more engaged and more emotionally aware. You want that.

You have a concept called ‘inquire and then promote’ — working out when is best to inquire into an idea and when is best to promote. Tell us about this. 

What I need to do as a leader is empower people to make their own decisions. It’s actually harder than it seems as people will still come to you for permission. I don’t want that — it just eats up all my time. You have to actively empower people and say, “No, I want you to make a decision. You’re the one that has all the information, you’re not going to be punished if you’re wrong so you need to take a chance, do your homework, learn how to be a thinker yourself, make a decision and go for it. You can deal with whatever happens afterwards.” That’s how I tend to operate and that’s what makes a company scaleable: You actually pass that permission down and empower people to make decisions. It can’t just be those higher up in the hierarchy anymore. The hierarchy slows things down and people at the top don’t have the same quality of information as those at the bottom.

How does failure feature in the road to success? I read you don’t believe in the failing fast mentality.

In a lot of cultures, you don’t want to bring up the word “fail” at all. I like to fail small so you don’t fail big. The only failure though, is if you fail and you don’t learn anything. I like to say that human beings are failure machines because we actually fail really well. With almost everything that we try, we fail at a dozen times and then succeed only once. When you first learn to walk, when you first learn to ride a bike, maybe the first time you try to find your life partner – these all take a lot of tries – and we actually fail really well at them. Failure is something that comes naturally to kids too. But by the time you’re an adult it’s like, nope not allowed to fail. You’re not even allowed to admit when you don’t know something. It’s silly. The same way we suck creativity out of kids. What we want is those incremental failures so we don’t fail big. You’re running a bunch of experiments trying to validate and invalidate your assumptions, and hopefully learn along the way.

Read more in the May 2019 issue of Fast Company SA