“You’ve got to accentuate the positive,” the song goes. But serial entrepreneur David Corbin has a surprise ending to the familiar refrain: “Illuminate the negative.” Illuminate? Yes, illuminate, he maintains. Illuminating the negative is the theme of Corbin’s book, Illuminate: Harnessing the Power of Negative Thinking, and the principle he’s used to help a number of entrepreneurial companies to find their way out of the dark.
Based in San Diego, Corbin is an inventor and mentor who’s headed multiple companies. He’s also a frequent flyer, logging massive travel miles to speak to entrepreneurs through the world at a time of life when most successful entrepreneurs have slowed down. At 62, he’s discovered a devout interest in health and fitness in recent, well, in the last two years—realizing the toll his entrepreneurial lifestyle had taken he dropped 40 pounds and spends his weekends in BootCamp challenges and running 5ks.
And he’s funny. “Robin Williams with an MBA” is a description Corbin frequently hears. I can verify his humor personally. Corbin and I are co-faculty of the CEO Space business accelerator events, although we have no business relationship. This week I spoke with Corbin about his unusual philosophy, which seems to contradict the traditional entrepreneurial emphasis on positive attitude and undying faith against odds. Furthermore, the typical approach of those in business is “Why go looking for problems on purpose, particularly when business is fine?”
After owning multiple companies and advising thousands of others—including a mortgage company, a printer and an interior design company, among others–the power to harness negative thinking, to think critically and analytically about the business’s barriers, has been the secret to his strongest successes. (And the failure to master these traits has caused countless others to fail.)
To a fault, Corbin maintains, entrepreneurs who are caught up in Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) become blind to the looming negatives that if illuminated and respected could turn their experiments to the good . And he’s no stranger to the PMA world as he’s featured in the Think and Grow Rich book series. In his own book, Corbin takes readers through the personalized and semi-fictional story of a hospital executive who led a seemingly successful program of improved accuracy and quality of care. His “On a Mission” program had been lauded by every department. It improved the hospital on seemingly every metric, and improved revenue resulted in career advancement and even an acknowledgement by a national magazine.
Then, suddenly the program developed invisible cracks. Morale was suddenly low among the nurses. Revenue dipped. Turnover mounted, for reasons none of the departing team could describe. Not coincidentally, the executive’s marriage began to falter as his time and attention had been far away. The executive is sent to a leadership retreat with a warning from his superior that if the situation isn’t rectified soon, it could mean the end of the program and potentially the end of his job.
In the course of the retreat a wise mentor emerges who teaches the protagonist to look at his situation through a different set of analytical eyes. Why are the nurses leaving? What are the unintended negatives of the program? The executive is reluctant, but returns and puts his newly-found analytical thinking to work. It turns out that while the nurses are positive on the new program, the rigors of putting it into action is progressively burning them out. By illuminating this fact instead of glossing it over, the executive is able to work with his team to find solutions—a new rest and restoration facility designed by the nurses themselves, coupled with an investment by the hospital and sponsors in advanced career education to reward and acknowledge the nurses who stayed. The program regained its vigor.
Likewise, by looking honestly at the cracks in his marriage relationship, the executive was able to put his focus on the areas that required mending, instead of glossing the situation over as “just a temporarily heavy season of work.” Drawing from many years as an entrepreneur and business advisor, Corbin points to several additional real life examples.
Pizza Profits Dwindling
An international pizza company experienced slim profits. As Corbin illuminated the problem, the company discovered it had little to no connection with customers. They dug deeper. It turns out people made the decision to buy based on the last insert in the pennysaver envelope. With no brand connection, they were making their buying decision entirely on price.
Corbin “illuminated” the thread still further. Research showed the majority of people don’t know what they’re having for dinner by 4:30 p.m. Here was the biggest a-ha: this billion-dollar pizza company was not in the fast food industry, as they had thought. They were in the “crisis intervention” business. People needed to solve their dinner dilemma fast.
“We Can Solve Your Problem”
So the company changed its mentality, its processes and its selling scripts. “Nothing for dinner? No problem. This is what we do. For your situation, you will want our Package B…” Sales soared.
Optometrists Lack Fashion Vision
In the case of an established, multi-million dollar optometry chain that Corbin counseled, the company realized it couldn’t continue to grow on eye examinations alone. The business would need to become a provider of eyewear. They’d need to become a trusted provider of fashion-forward frames, enhanced lenses, etc. And the optometrists realized they were out of their league. They didn’t want to sell fashion, or anything at all for that matter. Furthermore, their patients didn’t want to be sold eyewear in a clinical environment.
The Far-Sighted Fix
With Corbin’s help, this company created a touch-screen lifestyle survey to evolve the eyewear experience from “selling” to “solving.” In this case, the software solved the problem and actually received an innovation award.
What Could Illuminating the Negative Uncover for You?
How can illuminating and harnessing negative thinking improve your own company? I can think of several examples. In my own company, a PR agency, the age-old challenge of sustaining growth with the help of hired consultants who may or may not fully represent the company’s brand created ongoing issues. After growing to a certain level, we were stuck.
In our case, we illuminated and evolved our offerings to emphasize learning experiences and collaborative outcomes for clients based on their specific strengthsandby helping them to find their unique expertise. We focused on helping them to simply and effectively communicate their stories in more effective and interesting ways.
We are now teaching clients to attain a higher level of communication skills on their own. In these cases, we now serve as an educational resource and a conduit to stronger engagement and outcomes for our clients that they are able to sustain as opposed to serving merely as a traditional outsourced producer of PR results. So far, the difference has resulted in happier clients, greater partnerships, a more consistent delivery from our members, and for this year and last, accelerated growth beyond the level at which we were formerly capped.
Perhaps there’s something to this illuminating the negative point of view. In any case, anyone listening to a David Corbin keynote will be struck by the opportunity to laugh while they learn. He is a “get real” entrepreneur who relishes the opportunity to work hard, learn hard, live with gusto, and never loses sight of a chance to play the game of life and to serve and mentor clients in the game of business all out.
Information about Cheryl Snapp Conner’s Content University program to help businesses and executives tell their stories better is available here.
Additional editing for this article was provided by William C. Snapp. Cheryl Snapp Conner is author of the Forbes eBook Beyond PR: Communicate Like a Champ In The Digital World.
Link to the original article: here.