How To Accelerate Your Personal Growth

Katlin Smith

with Katlin Smith

CEO and Founder of Simple Mills

How To Accelerate Your Personal Growth

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Katlin Smith and Jenna discuss Simple Mills’ mission to revitalize our food system as well as key lessons she’s learned on developing a growth mindset, diminishing your ego, and consistently elevating your standards.

How To Accelerate Your Personal Growth

One of the things I admire most about Katlin Smith is her foundational decision to never use any gums, additives, or natural flavors in Simple Mills’ baking mixes, cookies, and crackers. While her choice is an important example for our food system, it’s also one of consistently elevating our personal goals and standards.

As Katlin says: “Your outcome is only as high as your standards.” 

Simple Mills continues to be a pioneer in the natural foods space with their products being sold in over 16,000 stores across the country. Unsurprisingly, Katlin’s attitude is just as impressive as her achievements. These are a few of the insights I’ve been reflecting on since our conversation.

— Diminish your ego: Regardless of our perceived awareness of our ego, it influences our decisions more often than we’d hope. One of Katlin’s highest priorities at Simple Mills is instilling a sense of intellectual humility fueled by a growth mindset: An open willingness to admit when you are wrong and learn from your experiences. To maintain it, she asks potential hires: When was the last time you could have handled something better? 

While it’s an effective way to gauge a person’s humility, it’s also a valuable question to ask ourselves to acknowledge areas we need to improve and chart a path towards doing so. Katlin shared that she personally has an answer to the question every day.

I greatly benefited from asking myself her question, especially since my response was directly influenced by my ego (over-scheduling) and eventually undermined by it.

Consider making a habit of asking yourself Katlin’s question regularly with the added intent of understanding what motivated your behavior and how that influenced the outcome. The self assessment is not only a helpful growth exercise but a good reminder that we’re all just a work in progress.

Choose growth over perfection: Katlin’s question is closely aligned with her personal leadership philosophy that: “Your company’s growth is dependent on your growth.” Being a successful leader, whether at your company or in your life, requires constantly looking at yourself in the mirror, recognizing the areas you need to grow, regardless of how uncomfortable it feels, and committing to getting better.

Perfectionism was one of Katlin’s most significant learning curves. As it’s one many struggle with, I’m grateful she revealed that it only holds us back: “When you aspire for everything to be perfect you put unnecessary stress on yourself and others. It’s not only unhealthy but it’s bad for your business. Perfectionism is a misuse of resources; Dedicating more time and money to an outcome than is necessary.”

We cycle through an ongoing process of learning, development, and growth in everything we do, Katlin adds. Once you acknowledge, then, that making mistakes is inevitable you realize that fearing them is only another misuse of time.

Her perspective on life as a recovering perfectionist? “You are less stressed, more apt to forgive yourself for mistakes, and have a higher tolerance that things won’t be perfect. Accepting that enables more creativity, trial and error, and discovery than you’d have otherwise. Perfectionism is risk aversion. You can’t discover exceptional things if you don’t take risks.”

Take Simple Mills’ Almond Flour Crackers. One evening, Katlin brought a box of their vanilla cake mix home, rolled it out into crackers, and baked it. The final product was surprisingly delicious. When she brought them to work the next day, her team completely shifted their product roadmap to bring them to market. The crackers are now one of the company’s most popular products and prove that “things you’d never expect to be successful might turn out to be. Give yourself the freedom to take risks and find out.”

— Prioritize and protect your relationships: I really appreciate Katlin’s honesty about the price our relationships pay when we’re pursuing a big goal that consumes our time and attention.

Acknowledging the way her demanding schedule influenced her time seeing family and friends, she established that time as a set part of her routine. “Quality time with people you care about needs to be built in, recurring, and protected on your calendar,” she says. “It’s not something you can easily move without rescheduling.”

Follow her lead by scheduling a recurring time, such as every week, month, or quarter, to spend uninterrupted time with someone you care about.