Disruption and Growth: My Conversation with Jeff Burningham About His Race for Governor

part 2 jeff burningham

The Power of Disruption

Jeff talked about the importance of disruption in life. He said, “I needed to disrupt myself a little bit too. I believe in this. We need to disrupt ourselves from time to time when we get too comfortable.”

The experience with disruption also had an impact on his kids. Jeff said, “One of the things that I told my wife a year ago was “It will be really good for my kids to see me lose because we’ve been on this winning streak in business and I really needed to disrupt myself to give myself some discomfort.’”

“I’ll be honest. The night of the convention, my fifteen-year-old son Sherman was in shock. My thirteen-year-old daughter Claire was upset. They have never really seen me lose. This was a great thing for them to see and now they can see how I respond.”

Growth Mindset

The need for disruption plays into the growth mindset which is based on the work of Carol Dweck. 

Jeff said, “The fixed mindset is a performance mindset where you’re performing and having to be perfect vs growth mindset where you know you’re not perfect but you’re there to learn. I’m here to grow. I’m here to learn and improve. How do I do that as I fail? I’m not performing on a stage for everyone to applaud me. I’m failing but learning and growing and slingshotting myself forward.”

We all learn and grow as we experience difficulty and struggle. We need to take our failures as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Jeff said, “This world belongs to those that are willing to adapt, change, and learn quickly. I subscribe to the growth mindset. And I think that we need to change the idea of failure being the end.”

Jeff pointed out the impact that the COVID19 is having on everyone: “The Coronavirus is moving things along. Those that will win: states, government, businesses, individuals, are those that can quickly adapt. We need to adapt quickly and learn on our feet. “

Getting Involved in Politics:

Jeff wasn’t heavily involved in politics before he joined the gubernatorial race:

“I wasn’t really intimately involved in politics until I decided to run for governor a year or so ago. I was active in our caucus convention system. I was a precinct chair, a state and county delegate but beside that I had never run for office until I ran for governor here in 2020.”

As far as running for office, I had talked about politics before but Jeff had said that he creates jobs and that I did politics. I wanted to know what changed. I asked Jeff, “What got you to that point? What got you from ‘I’m really good at creating jobs’ to ‘I’m going to run for governor’?”

Jeff explained, “You were pushing me to get more involved and I wasn’t ready yet. You kept encouraging me. I didn’t feel ready at that time. I did feel like my mission so to speak, my calling was to help build the economy here in Utah. I’ve been proud of the work we’ve done here.”

The Choice To Run:

When Jeff started thinking about the need for change in the state, he talked to his friends trying to convince them to run for governor. None of his friends were interested; they said politics were so ugly or that they didn’t have time. 

Jeff said, “When I realized that there was not going to be any outside voice in the race. I felt compelled. I felt like I had to get in the race. We’ve had the same group of people passing the baton back and forth and back and forth. It looks like that’s going to happen. That’s what I thought should change and why I ran.”

“I’m out of the race, which like I’ve said has been heartbreaking. I’m embracing the pain, trying to learn from it. Trying to become a better person.”

The Past Decade in Utah: A State in Autopilot

Jeff made the point that prior to COVID19, the state was thriving and pretty much running in autopilot:

“It would have been really hard to mess up Utah in the last decade. You would have had to try to mess up anything or most things in our state the last decade. We’ve been on a bull run. All the tail winds have been on our side. I’ve said that a couple times and politicians have got upset with me. But it’s not just politically. I’m also talking about economically and in every way. I believe that’s changing and the coronavirus is a rude awakening into that in my opinion.”

Changing Times and the Need for a New Type of Leader

With all these changes, Jeff made the point that we need a new type of leader:

“Things are changing and the type of leader you needed the last decade is very different than the type of leader we would need in the next decade. So I think that it’s time to disrupt ourselves a little bit in Utah.”

Things have been working the past few years but Jeff pointed out the need for disruption for the future of Utah:

“In order for Utah to stay on top, we need to disrupt ourselves a little bit. I do not believe with our current crop of gubernatorial candidates, all of which are from the establishment and all of which are from politics essentially, I don’t think that they will disrupt Utah or change Utah in the right ways to keep us on top. That’s my fervent belief and that’s why I ran. I thought we needed a fresh perspective from the outside.”

“When you are successful for a decade or two, you get lazy. You don’t change. You think that the same playbook will keep you on top and it just won’t. The playbook that our politicians have been using for the last decade is not the playbook that will keep Utah on top any longer. “

People are the Secret Sauce that Makes Utah Successful

“The secret sauce in the recipe of Utah’s success is the people. It is not the politicians.”

As a successful entrepreneur, Jeff knows the impact that Utah business owners have on Utah’s economy. Jeff expressed his frustration with the government always taking credit for the healthy economy:

“It is frustrating because the government would come around and take credit. It is about the entrepreneurs in the state. They have created the most robust and diverse economy in the country.”

“It is about the people. The secret sauce is the people and the entrepreneurs. I wanted to push credit to the real people in the state making things work. Obviously the politicians are a part of that. They have a role to play. The lesser role a politician plays the better. The less government intrusion the better.”

The most memorable part of Jeff’s campaign was all the incredible people he met:

“When I think of my campaign, I think of the people. There are hundreds of people. I just think of them. I’m so impressed with the people. It is these everyday people doing the work in their homes and going out into the state and trying to make a difference in whatever sphere they are in. They are the secret sauce.”

Giving Credit to Utah’s Amazing Entrepreneurial Spirit and the Impact on Economy

Utah’s entrepreneurial spirit is a huge part of our economic success. The funny thing is that in politics our elected officials tend to take credit for what happens in the average person’s home on a day by day basis:

  •  The guy that comes up with the idea and is willing to sacrifice some immediate income to go develop it.
  • Someone who comes up with an idea or something that isn’t available in the market. 
  • Somebody who is willing to hire people with great risk because they aren’t making much money at the time.

 It is thousands if not tens of thousands and hundred of thousands of decisions of people in Utah that builds this economic powerhouse, not so much the government policies that regulate it. The policies that are put in place help support businesses but it is the people who are working that create the economy.

Jeff’s Reflections on the Campaign Trail:

Jeff described the surreal experience of participating in the gubernatorial debate with other candidates: “In January, I was on the stage. I’ve never been in a political debate in my life. I was a student body president of my high school. That’s it. I was undefeated. Now I’m one and one.”

Looking back, he feels proud of his performance in the debate: “I held my own. I had fun. I saw a little bit of video. I was smiling. I was having a good time. I knew that I had an outside voice that the state needed to hear. I believed wholeheartedly in my message. I didn’t feel the pressure.”

Jeff’s campaign was short-lived due to COVID and his last forum was at UCare at the beginning of March about air quality: “Who knew it would be the last one. I had a great time talking about creative, fresh ideas about how to improve air quality. Who knew that would be the last time we were together as a group of candidates.”

Grieving Through COVID19:

When COVID19 hit Utah, Jeff immediately had his volunteers stop collecting signatures. He did not want to risk the health of his volunteers or the citizens of Utah. However, when he stopped collecting signatures he lost the ability to enter the race. It was a difficult loss for Jeff:

“When COVID 19 hit, I went through a grieving period. I think of seniors missing prom and graduation. What my family lost was this race. The fun of this race.”

“The two things I loved about this race was being with people. That was obliterated the last two months. I was doing this to serve the people of Utah. I literally felt like I was grieving. I love competing with a group of candidates on the stage. I believe that I had a fresh voice. “

“But that voice during COVID 19 wasn’t able to be heard. I wasn’t able to cut through the coronavirus; without these events I couldn’t showcase that. I feel like the race was taken from me in March. That was heartbreaking. I went through a grief process. I’m feeling better. I’m getting better.”

Lessons Learned from Stan:

I appreciate how Jeff was able to view his difficulties as an opportunity for growth. I know that COVID19 had a significant impact on his run for governor. I appreciate his honesty and candor about the struggle. My favorite part of our discussion was when he mentioned how it was good for his kids to see him fail. I think that everyone can benefit from adopting the growth mindset that Jeff talked about. It is ok to struggle and even to fail because it helps us grow.

About Jeff Burningham:

Jeff Burningham has always been an entrepreneur. When he was 13 years old, he started a carpet cleaning business. As a 25 year old, he sold his technology business to a publicly traded company.
 He started the highly successful Peak Capital Partners & Peak Ventures during the great recession. They set up Utah County’s first institutional Venture Fund to support Utah entrepreneurs by investing. Jeff planned to run in the 2020 race for governor; however, due to COVID19 he stopped collecting signatures for the safety of his team and citizens.

You can listen to the podcast here:

The Lockhart Group · Podcast 2: Growing Through Struggle with Jeff Burningham