Ryan Smith co-founded Qualtrics in 2002 with the goal of making sophisticated research simple. He was named to Fortune’s 2016 40 Under 40. The list features the most powerful, influential, and successful young people in business. He was also listed as one of Forbes’ “America’s Most Promising CEOs Under 35” in 2013.
Smith says Qualtrics is an “experience management” company. He explains there’s a large gap separating the customer’s real experience with the ownership’s understanding of that experience. Qualtrics closes that gap of understanding with actionable data and strategies.
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Isn’t Qualtrics just a survey tool?
Smith explains survey tech has been around since the caveman era. Today, companies are data-rich but experientially poor. It’s a big problem, and a problem they have solved. Qualtrics goes beyond collecting data. Their technology and process uses data in a meaningful way, ensuring customers can help their clients communicate with their audience effectively via multiple touchpoints. They also assist customers on crafting a better experience.
Ryan Smith on Culture and Original Thought
Smith has 5 kids and doesn’t believe in work-life balance. He views culture and family as an important aspect of his life and the lives of his employees. Yes, they have a basketball court in the middle of their corporate offices, but creativity goes beyond the fun stuff.
“We back ideas,” he explained. You never know where an idea will come from, and where it will end up. “Most of the time, everything we do is wrong when we start—almost every bet we’ve ever made has been wrong,” Smith explained. “You’ve gotta back people and ideas, and you’ve gotta create an environment where it’s ok to dream a little.” That’s not easy though.
Under Smith’s leadership, Qualtrics makes sure the best ideas rise to the top by communicating clearly to employees. Qualtrics leadership spends a considerable amount of time visualizing their future, simultaneously keeping the lines of communication open. He explains leaders need to create a safe space for original thoughts and experimentation, but also have to make it very clear what the overall goals are. Past guest Matthew May says creativity thrives under intelligent constrain. That’s exactly what Smith seeks to do.
Ryan Smith’s Creative Tip
In a long 12-hour workday, a developer might get a solid 4 hours of coding into their day if they’re lucky. Understanding that you don’t have 100% of your day to produce your best work is the first part of Smith’s creative edge. For himself, he knows early in the morning he is most energized and at the end of the day, his brain is Jello. Sometimes this is inverted for others—know thyself.
The second part of his creative methodology is task management. Creativity and tasks that require original thought require lots of energy, so these tasks should be scheduled during your peak energy moments. The more routine tasks, like checking email, should be done in low energy, not creative times. Smith credits Dr. David Rock for helping him enhance his own creativity with this method.
Balancing Humility and Confidence
One final thought from Smith was on the delicate balance of humility and confidence. How do you stay humble, but exude confidence? Smith explains it’s helpful to drill into your head the following: you can learn from everyone. “I learn from everyone, and I want to learn from everyone. I learn from every single one of our employees.” Smith said. “Just being present a little bit, and understanding that, and being approachable, can help on the humility side.”
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