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Archive for February, 2013

Entrepreneurs: Choose Your Type

Thursday, February 28th, 2013


Do you read Agnes? A few days ago she asked her friend if she was superstitious; when her friend said not often Agnes told her she was sortofstitious. Agnes then made an over-the-top superstitious comment and her friend said she was megastitious.

The wordplay got me thinking.

In reality, most entrepreneurs are superpreneurs or they won’t make any headway.

Then there are the megapreneurs who manage to innovate, create successful companies and then do it again (think Tony Hsieh) or stay in the same place and keep innovating (think Steve Jobs, the Google Guys or Intuit’s Scott Cook).

However, there are still plenty of sortofpreneurs, who create me-too businesses (think daily deals), that stand little chance of success (although they often get funding), instead of real innovation.

They have may have the passion of a superpreneur, but in their rush to riches they want to skate—not innovate, i.e.,

  • not solve a problem that needs solving or create something that nobody even knows they want;
  • not provide real value to stakeholders; and
  • not create an entity that provides jobs and futures to its people.

It’s not that sortofpreneurs can’t become superpreneurs, but to do so they need to give up (relatively) instant gratification and be willing to both slog and pivot as necessary.

A tall order for someone who is in it for the money.

Flickr image credit: 401(K) 2013

Are Entrepreneurs and Managers Different?

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013


Not long ago an entrepreneur with whom I work and I disagreed. He said that entrepreneurs and managers were different and that while entrepreneurs should be managers managers couldn’t be entrepreneurs.

A study using brain scans from MIT professor Maurizio Zollo seems to back him up.

…when entrepreneurs performed explorative tasks, they used both the left and right sides of the frontal parts of their brains, the entire so-called pre-frontal cortex. In comparison, managers tended to use primarily the left sides of the frontal part of their brains. This is an important difference, as the right side of the pre-frontal cortex is associated with creative functions involving high-level thinking (like poetry, arts, etc.), whereas the left side is associated with rational decision-making and logical thinking.

But I still don’t agree.

Zollo isn’t sure either, but thinks that it has to do with the willingness to take risks.

People who just reason with the rational and logical part of the brain might be a bit more risk averse.

Or perhaps that’s more Pavlov’s dog and a conditioned response.

I’d like to see the right/left brain activity of managers at companies known for innovation, such as 3M, Google, and Jeff Immelt’s GE, as opposed to Jack Welch’s.

That would be much better comparison of apples with apples instead of with oranges.

Companies that focus on metrics often lose their innovation mojo.

Managers who work for companies that focus on innovation, have done away with fear and celebrate failure think differently.

Flickr image credit: Nathanial Burton-Bradford

Ducks in a Row: Toxic Culture

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevenlaw/2475812639/How would you feel as a member of a highly respected, world-class organization to hear it described as follows, not by a competitor, but based on an internal investigation.

In all, the documents painted a picture of a highly dysfunctional, top-heavy organization divided into discrete, rival factions, and weighed down by mistrust, poor communication, buck-passing and internecine squabbling.

The article refers to the BBC, but could just as well be describing any on of hundreds of companies ranging from Fortune 50 to tiny mom & pop businesses.

In most cases it happens when bosses takes their eyes off the cultural ball and make seriously erroneous assumptions, such as these,

  • Once culture is set it doesn’t change.
  • Culture takes care of itself, i.e., it’s self-sustaining
  • People will follow my lead, so I don’t need to be culturally proactive.
  • What culture?

Toxic culture kills everything in its path, including, eventually, the company itself—IBM nearly died of it.

As Lou Gerstner said, I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game,” and he’s not the only CEO to feel that way.

The BBC is just one of the latest in a long line to be brought low by a bad culture.

Flickr image credit: Keven Law

A Packet Full of Dreams

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Thirty-odd years ago when what most people think of technology were young and the Digital Generation was barely started Bill Gates and other experts raved about how that generation would revolutionize the world because they would all grow up programming.

The assumption was that most anyone with a computer would learn to program, because that was the nature of the beast.

Many others disagreed saying that just because someone drove a car didn’t mean that person wanted to work under the hood.

Turned out the latter group was correct.

Few people, whether their careers or their pleasures, depend on computers and the Internet have a clue as to what is actually going on—nor do they particularly care.

But for those of you who have a bit of curiosity as to what happens when you click ‘send’ I offer the following video; and if you already know watch anyway.

You’ll appreciate the skill it took to make something opaque so transparent.

If the Shoe Fits: Relationships

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read allIf the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe article accompanying this post may surprise you, but it gets my point across with eloquence.

And while it talks about a romantic relationship the lessons in it apply to all human interactions for they are all relationships.

It’s a woman’s story about two very different romantic relationships and a pet tortoise named Minnie that turned out to be male.

Her first lover became her ex lover because he wanted/needed/expected/demanded/ she be something she wasn’t.

I didn’t want to be in a relationship again where someone wanted me to pretzel myself into someone I wasn’t. “You’re odd,” my ex had told me. “All you want to do is watch movies, read books and play with Minnie.” He meant it as a rebuke, but I kept thinking: what was wrong with that kind of nirvana?

Her second lover, who became her husband, had a different attitude towards her oddness and towards Minnie.

Where my old boyfriend told me how obsessive I was about Minnie, Jeff celebrated our connection, making a fake newspaper cover featuring Minnie and me.

When Minnie finally died many of the author’s connections (including her mother) couldn’t understand her grief—after all, it was just a reptile.

People told me about their dogs and cats who had died, and I thought, it’s easy to love the beautiful, the normal. But what about the gifts of loving the strange, the uncommon, the odd?

Bosses tend to hire people they think are like themselves and get upset when they find out they are actually different—strange, uncommon, odd—and when that happens they would do well to remember the lesson of the porcupines.

Better yet, remember the story of Minnie, because your relationships with your people are the secret sauce that will make you and your company a success—or not.

A strange little figure. Uncommon. Odd. And completely and always beloved.  

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Older is Better

Thursday, February 21st, 2013


Yet another study validates what many of us who work around entrepreneurs believe, i.e., startups aren’t just the province of the young.

That’s right; experience matters.

The best entrepreneurs are ones who work in their field first, gaining valuable real-world knowledge and experience for a decade or more. (We heard exactly the same thing from Google’s startup acquisition guy).

Every year of life improves an entrepreneur’s chances up until 40, but they don’t diminish thereafter.

What else is needed?

You need to be open-minded, flexible, able to pivot in a heartbeat. You need to be agreeable… You don’t need IQ as it is traditionally measured; you do need the ability to recognize patterns.

And only enough ego to avoid being trampled.

Older entrepreneurs have an advantage because they’ve

  • know they are entitled to nothing;
  • failed and lived through it;
  • seen a variety of economies up, down and around;
  • recognize that great ideas come from all types and all levels;
  • can recognize and a**hole from a mile away;
  • won’t sacrifice the culture no matter how good s/he is; and, finally,
  • they know that good or bad this, too, will pass.

Hat tip to EMANIO‘s KG Charles-Harris for sending me the link.

Flickr image credit: Selena N. B. H.

Cope or Control (That is the Question)

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013


Stress is bad, right?

Bad for your health, bad for your relationships, bad for your life.

Or is it?

Actually stress can be a positive motivator.

So perhaps it’s not stress, but how we handle it.

The article may be looking at kids, but kids grow up to be adults and genetic traits come along for the ride.

One particular gene, referred to as the COMT gene, could to a large degree explain why one child is more prone to be a worrier, while another may be unflappable, or in the memorable phrasing of David Goldman, a geneticist at the National Institutes of Health, more of a warrior.

Granted, the researchers were looking at short-term, i.e., competitive stress, but the solution was still the same as it is for stress that lasts longer. (The COMT gene also has a major impact on interviewing.)

They found a way to cope.

For many people stress is the result of losing control.

But if there is anything experience should have taught you by a very early age is that you can’t control your world; not even a tiny part of it.

I learned that lesson as a child of five when my father died and nothing ever happened after that to change my mind.

If you put your energy into controlling stuff to avoid stress you are bound to fail.

Energy spent on control is energy wasted.

Energy focused on coping provides exceptional ROI.

Flickr image credit: Eamon Curry

Ducks in a Row: Looking Back on ‘Practice’

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

I came across this post while looking for some information I promised a client. I thought it had enough value that it was worth posting again (with some light editing).

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevenlaw/2727794462/Practice Makes…

Practice makes, not for perfection (I haven’t heard that anyone’s managed perfect outside of their own mind, that is), but certainly for improvement.

Practice has the power to improve athletic performance, singing, playing games/instruments/cards, sex, creativity, management, leadership—the list is never-ending. Any actions/activities large or small will benefit from practice.

Bosses need to practice managing, first for the benefit of their organization, but also the betterment of their reviews.

To that end I’m listing five big basics (they may not sound basic, but they are) for you to practice; you won’t get them perfect, but if you don’t practice them you won’t “get” them at all.

  • Listening and hearing, or hearing and listening, if you prefer.
  • Walking your talk.
  • Communicating—not just saying what you want/think, but saying it in ways that your people can hear and understand.
  • Not killing the messenger.
  • Celebrating failures, as well as breakthroughs.

How long do you need to practice before the value kicks in and you start reaping your rewards? That depends on how you fill in the blank space in this sentence:

I need to practice the big basics diligently for a minimum of ____ months.

Fill in the blank based on your current style, understanding that the further your current style is from the basics the higher the number you must choose.

In other words, the greater the change the longer it will take.

The good news for those with a high number is that you’ll see some of the largest gains once your people start trusting the “new you.”

Flickr image credit: Kevin Law



When in Rome…

Monday, February 18th, 2013


You know that old saying, ‘when in Rome do as the Romans’?

As a boss you need to apply that idea to all your communications.

Good communications start with being sure that you and whoever you are talking to are speaking the same language.

Everybody has a mental model through which they hear, so the meaning of what they hear may have little to nothing to do with what was actually said.

One of the most common errors is the assumption the person to whom you are talking has the same model as you.

An even larger error is the assumption, especially if you’re the boss, it’s your subordinate’s (or kid’s) responsibility to speak your language when, in fact, it is the higher ranking person’s responsibility to speak theirs.

There are things you can do to make sure that you are understood.

They aren’t rocket science, but you need to remember to do it.

  • Start by carefully explaining your model and your assumptions when giving direction;
  • give your people clear, complete information on the subject (what you want done, project outlines, etc.,) at the start, so they don’t to have to keep asking for more; and then
  • check to be sure that they not only heard, but understood what you meant—not what they thought you meant.

Do it today, do it all the time; it may feel a bit awkward at first, but eventually it’ll become second nature.

Your payback will come in rising productivity, more motivated people, and lower turnover—all positively affecting your personal bottom line.

Flickr image credit: Christopher Reilly

If the Shoe Fits: Leadership

Friday, February 15th, 2013

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read allIf the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI rarely mention ‘leadership’, because I believe that given the opportunity to act anyone can and will step up and lead when the time and cause is right.

That’s why I when I coach one of the mantras I offer is “leadership is like manure, it produces the best results when spread around.”

You wouldn’t think founders today would even consider any kind of old world hierarchical management, but they do.

Not overtly, but covertly—and often unconsciously.

It shows in their unwillingness (fear?) to delegate the authority to make decisions along with the responsibility of doing the work.

But there are major advantages to spreading leadership opportunities at every level in your organization.

Foremost is the fact that if you want to hire these days you need to offer your workers meaningful opportunities to grow or they’ll walk.

Growing includes leading and managing—even if it’s only a group of one, themselves.

It means pushing responsibility further and further down in your organization—not just the responsibility—but the authority required to accomplish whatever it is.

And that’s where most founders (and bosses) blow it.

They assign the task, but then require their people to keep running to them for permission to do each step.

I’m not saying to hand over total control, but you need to hand over enough authority to get the job done.

Even when it comes to money, which is often the biggest hang-up, you can still do it.

Create a budget for each task and give the responsibility for spending it to the person responsible for getting it done. Let her decide how to spend it without interference or “help” from you—unless she asks.

If she goes over budget don’t freak out. It’s not that much (or shouldn’t be) in the big picture and if you freak she may never recover.

She already knows that she messed up, so beating on her will accomplish nothing. Sit down calmly and let her walk you through the thinking and decision-making that led to being over budget, discuss it and lead her through a pattern that would have succeeded.

But if it turns out that the error is yours and the estimate was wrong, admit it, don’t try and convince her that someone else could have done it.

People aren’t stupid, she’ll know that the discussion ended as a CYA function for you—as will everyone, since stuff like this never stays secret.

Other great reasons to spread leadership around are increased productivity, more employee satisfaction, fewer logjams when you’re unavailable or traveling, easier staffing and less turnover.

Finally, spread it around because that’s what great founders do—they pay it forward by fostering the growth of more entrepreneurs.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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