6 things I learned from Troy McClain

Yesterday I attended a conference held by the Minnesota/St. Paul chapter of the IIBA – a top notch event stacked with world class speakers.

But if you ask me, the highlight was actually after the event.

I had the opportunity to sit and chat with keynote speaker Troy McClain, CEO of The McClain Companies. You may recognize him from season 1 of The Apprentice, or any of his numerous TV appearances (The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Larry King Live, Dateline…the list goes on!)

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 He’s been featured on KTVB, so you definitely know him if you’re from his hometown of Boise, Idaho (#thisisboise).


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Let me tell you…

Troy is a treasure trove of knowledge and business acumen. It would be selfish of me not to share, so here are some of the most valuable lessons that I learned from spending time with him:

1. Take notes voraciously.

Each speaker was given an IIBA notebook and folder– Troy’s was exploding with notes. When people speak, he listens actively.

I’m not sure if he noticed, but I was actually taking notes on my phone (didn’t have pen and paper) under the table while we were all sitting there.

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Herein lies the difference between consuming information and absorbing it.

When you consume, it comes in and goes out. To absorb is to store and be able to apply.

Now most people know that writing increases retention of information, yet it’s amazing how many refuse to do it. I know, I know….

“But I don’t need notes, because I have a photographic memory and I’m an aural learner.”

That’s great and all, but the reality is that MOST people who SHOULD be taking notes DON’T.

We could all take a page out of Troy’s book, but certainly not his notes. You’ll have to take your own.

(I know that was a terrible joke. If you think you can do better, post it in the comments).

2. Never say “wait”.

We all drove to the airport together. Dennis and I walked with Troy to the light rail that took him to his terminal. During our conversation (moments before he left), Troy told me this:

“I never say wait.”

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t do this. One is that most people agree with Paula Cole

They don’t want to wait.

The other is that it’s a lazy thing to do, and if you’ve done this, you know it’s true. When you ask someone to “wait”, you’re assuming they need to slow down to accommodate you.


The weight is on you to accelerate– take responsibility and apply yourself first. It’s like doing your math homework. If you don’t know how to do something, there are thousands of videos that explain the concepts on YouTube.

Asking someone to wait and explain is like going straight to the back of the textbook for the answer– you haven’t really put in the effort to understand, so you haven’t learned anything. 

Guilty as charged? Don’t worry, because we don’t live in the dark ages. Google exists and it’s glorious.

We have so much information readily available at our fingertips and it’s amazing that, usually, your answer is right there on the first page.

Think about it. In the same amount of time it takes for you to say “wait”, ask for clarification, and have someone explain to you, you can do research yourself and take notes as necessary– much more valuable.


There’s a site called lmgtfy.com that’s a bit passive aggressive, but very funny. It stands for “let me google that for you”.

Curious about how long it takes to google something? lmgtfy.

Don’t wait! Accelerate and learn.

3. Learn to Earn

Something that I admire about Troy is his expansive knowledge of names, stories and events. Within an evening, he must have referenced 20-30 entrepreneurs, philosophers, military men, etc. 

It’s really quite impressive  - a sign of a well read person. Contrary to what you may think, this doesn’t mean you need to start reading a ton of books (although that’s not a bad idea).

There are countless mediums to learn on, video being Troy’s favorite.

Just remember…whether you’re reading, watching, or listening, absorb don’t consume. 

The  more knowledge you have, the more powerful you become. It’s something that nobody can take from you. An asset that can’t be liquidated, because it’s priceless.

When you educate yourself, you round out your understanding of different subject matters. This makes you better at communicating and seeing the big picture, which is a trademark of many successful entrepreneurs.

4. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain.

I’m 20 years old, which doesn’t hold weight in the world of business. Tell me I’m wrong…you can’t. 

So imagine the surprise on my face when, at a table of high tier Business Analysts (who I’m sure were questioning my status), Troy walks up and bridges the gap by drawing me into the conversation. He asked me where I was from and I told him.

“I was born in Tehran, Iran.”

Within minutes we went on about Persian culture and his experience with it. Later we talked about the cultural pressures exerted on young adults like me to be a doctor or engineer (this is prevalent among Iranian families).

His advice to me, a budding entrepreneur and digital marketer, was that it’s ok to do what you want to do and concluded his point by saying this:

“Entrepreneurs are the only ones who trade a 40 hour work week for an 80 hour work week, just so they don’t have to work for someone else.”

Awesome right?

5. Don’t be an “expert”.

We’ve all seen the Facebook ads and spam on these experts who claim to have all the answers about all things X and if you buy their course, you can have it too!

You know exactly who I’m talking about (*cough* Brendon Burchard *cough*).

It really boils down to this.What’s the most important trait you can have as an entrepreneur? Ok. How about as a person in general?

The ability to learn and grow continuously. Was that your answer?

It should be.

Now how is that a problem for experts?

Well, if you’re a self-proclaimed expert, you’ve closed the doors. Your way is suddenly all there is and your strategy is the “best”, but the issue is that you’ve now closed your mind and stopped learning.

Troy made a point that he surrounds himself with intelligent people and that instead of becoming insecure and closed around intellectual peers, he opens up and asks questions.

To accept that we don’t know everything is to cope with reality. Once you do this, you open up a world of possibility.

Ask and ye shall receive. This is how mentorship works.

6. Love the hustle.

Being a millennial, I get automatically categorized into several buckets by those senior to me: hipster, entitled, and lazy. It’s unfortunately backed by obvious reasoning that many others my age can’t seem to see.

Troy, a true expert at relating, explained to me that he had a humble beginning and unlike other professionals at his caliber, he wasn’t handed any of what he has.It was earned – the fruit of his efforts.

You always hear about these stories, but man…when you sit at a table with Troy McClain and hear it straight from the source, it’s an entirely different experience.

I was inspired and motivated by the words of someone who doesn’t wax poetic about these lofty ideas. Troy gave me value from real stories and business experience.

He’s no phony. All you need is to watch him speak to see that.

The greatest lesson that I picked up from Troy was to appreciate and work with what you have, because it’s all you’ve got. If you sit around expecting success to happen, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

The truth is, I am a millennial, yes. Do I think I know everything? No…I promise.

When you meet someone as genuine as Troy, you see that hustle isn’t watching Gary Vaynerchuck yell at you via YouTube videos until you feel inspired and then cracking open a beer and calling it a day. Hustle is building. It’s working that extra 2 hours when everyone else leaves the office, sacrificing weekends, and simply put…doing the work and not complaining.

As a college student, you don’t get prepared for the intricacies of the business world. There’s much more to becoming an entrepreneur than knowing finance or excelling in any one specialization.

The clear pattern with those that I see who have achieved success is a keen ability to adapt, which stems from a hunger to learn.

That being said, my top nugget to share is this…

Always be learning and never ask for people to wait. 

It’ll take you far.

A big thanks to Troy for sharing a snapshot of his extensive list of stories with me. I’ve already started using these tips and suggest you do too.

Which one of these spoke to you the most? Are you already doing any of these? Let me know in the comments below!

Key to success: shoot first, apologize later

There are infinite analogies to describe work habits, but one resonates with me most: shoot first, apologize later.

The easiest thing to do with the task at hand is nothing. Sometimes, I’ll have a completed draft ready to turn in on any of our articles, guides, or pieces of content, but simply fail to submit. What’s the remedy? Just turn it in. Shoot first, apologize later.

You may feel overwhelmed. It may seem like there are so many hurdles to jump to get to the end goal, but alas…

The only hurdle is fear– fear of messing up in one of many ways. This mentality is rooted in “perfectionism”. While seemingly noble, it’s actually an inhibitor of learning and progress.

Don’t let the root word “perfect” in that ambiguous excuse deter you from understanding what it really is – fear of failure (often times of the most insignificant nature).

You’ll never learn if you never try. The more important theme is an opportunity lost is always a failure.

I’ve recognized this in my own work as an irrational fear of not getting something splendidly correct on the first pass through.

It’s so bad that I’ve come close to completely dropping the ball on an article here, an interview there. These things add up and the price to pay only increases with added responsibility.

Embedded in the seemingly harmless goal of wanting to do a project justice the first time around is a frame of mind capable of depleting your efficiency and impeding progress.

Lesson of the day: perfectionism is neither sustainable, nor a valid excuse.

Work and responsibility piles on itself and the only thing that can lessen the load is increased efficiency. Without efficiency, the stack of reports, list of emails, or daily “grind”, if you will, is insurmountable.

It’s simple – the more you can do in less time, the more you can fit into a day. I’ve heard legend of people having upwards 300 emails per day and each one a task to be done or followed up on. That’s right, not just the cold call emails that we’re all so *cough* fond of.

Do I know how this is done? Yes. Can I do it myself? Not yet…but here’s why I’m en route.

My biggest hang-up in work is, self-admittedly, taking action without oversight. When producing content, hardly does one generate a piece of gold from the first 20 minutes of writing.

The key to scalable success is iteration – many shots on goal and understanding the purpose of doing this. If you’re iterating, you’re learning and growing based off of the feedback of your more senior co-workers and mentors.

Remember, they want your success too, since that’s a win for them as well. You’re all playing for the same team.

I’ve rid myself of the “hero” mentality of getting a massive project done on the first try after a caffeine-fueled all-nighter.

This won’t work as you level up in your career. You may suddenly realize there have been weeks or even months to complete a task, but you’ve been so afraid of getting it wrong, that it’s no longer timely…your window has closed.

This is why you must shoot first and apologize later. Give it a go, and fix it if it’s wrong. You’ve got chance after chance to work on something until the due date rolls around.

The truth is: many micro-failures > dropped ball irrevocable fail.

Are you a “perfectionist”? How has that affected your work? Does it still work for you at scale? Let me know in the comment section below!