A Rabbit and a Hat

Have you ever felt like your back was against the wall? And I’m not talking about a looming deadline to renew a driver’s license. No, I’m referring to a true-life Indiana Jones sort of experience. You’ve stepped into a room and activated some sort of an ancient counterweight that causes the floor, ceiling and walls to shift and begin to close in on you. There’s seemingly no way out and you can either await your doom or “MacGyver it” and improvise a solution. I apologize – sometimes my metaphors can really become convoluted. Indiana, meet MacGyver. Perhaps you’re running low on cash – in your business or personal life. Maybe your top three team members have just announced they are setting up shop across the street and will become your competitor. Or your top three customers have determined that they will be purchasing 75% to 90% less of your product.

Human nature might say that a panic attack is in order, followed by a bottle or two of something at least 100-proof. We’re at a loss in terms of how to react. Some might call this a state of shock. While all we may want to do is run and hide, that’s simply not an option. And we really aren’t receptive to the notion espoused by a parent (or a coach) at some point in the past – “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Instead we look at the wall that seemingly has no way over, under or around, and completely shut down. Except there’s one thing . . . we cannot shut down. Period. Ultimately we develop a special kind of spirit. I call it “undaunted spirit.” In our hearts we truly believe that nothing is insurmountable. This isn’t just a conscious state of mind – it’s a knowing at the very core of our being.

So exactly how do we achieve this undaunted spirit? We can’t just snap our fingers and manifest it. It requires daily preparation and practice every chance we get. Undaunted spirit isn’t something that flips on and off like a light switch. Once we have it we always want to maintain it.

Step one is to make a game out of solving problems creatively. Entrepreneurs are pretty quick to solve a problem and move on without giving much thought to all of the different solutions that might be available. We usually go for the most intuitive, expeditious and least costly. But doing this deprives us of the opportunity to look at a whole host of other ideas. The entire point in doing this is to help us realize that there are usually many different options from which we can choose. It may be obvious that if kids are tracking a path through our yard after school, we plant a couple of thorn bushes to dissuade this behavior. If we slow down and think about it, there may be other solutions that are equally workable or even better. Maybe we could have the lawn sprinkler system set to come on as school is dismissing. Using every day issues like this to practice creatively identifying multiple solutions prepares us for the Tuesday when we learn that there’s not enough money to make payroll on Friday.

Step two is to do whatever it takes to stay positive every minute of every day. I’ve said it before – negative thoughts and negative energy never solved anything. Worse, they block the flow of positive energy that delivers creative solutions. Practicing maintaining a positive mindset in our everyday life prepares us for the day when the “you-know-what” hits the fan.

Step three is simple – stay calm. I remember years ago I was flying my airplane and practicing approaches in unstable weather. I was instrument rated and wanted to get some real life experience in more difficult conditions. A storm was moving in and I was near the airport when all of a sudden I was caught in a strong downdraft. I was going straight down and I mean STRAIGHT DOWN. Charts and pencils were flying around the cabin – and just as quickly I was caught in an updraft and going straight up and I mean STRAIGHT UP! I will confess that there was a brief moment of “pucker factor,” but I had practiced staying calm and the practice took over. I knew I just had to fly the airplane and not worry about anything else, and by remaining calm I was able to make it through a scary situation unscathed.

Creatively identifying multiple options; fiercely maintaining a positive frame of mind and keeping calm helps us develop undaunted spirit. Then like a magician, we are able to pull the rabbit out of a hat whenever the need arises because we know that no challenge is insurmountable.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Audio Episode 48 – Pluses and Minuses.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Death, Taxes and . . .

We’ve always been told that there are no guarantees in life except death and taxes. I submit that there is one more guarantee that’s much more pleasant. We can be guaranteed that every day will be a good day . . . if we make it so. How? Read on.

Whether our day is good or bad depends upon our state of mind. By extension, we make the choice as to whether or not we will generally be happy in life. Being an entrepreneur is a tough gig. There are plenty of obstacles – way too many to list here. We can allow these obstacles to eventually overwhelm us, or we can look at them as opportunities for growth and success. But how do we get our mind right to look at our challenges this way? Here are some ideas that work for me in guaranteeing that every day is going to be a good day and that I’m able to be happy about my life overall.

Smile before answering or making a phone call. Smiling helps to release neuropeptides that counteract stress. Also, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin all go to work when we smile. So there is a positive physiological reaction to smiling that can’t be ignored. And no doubt the conversation will be more pleasant and may result in a positive outcome – all because of a smile.

You know all those e-mails we send every day? We probably send too many because it’s such an efficient way to communicate. Yet, I find life can be pretty dull if we just keep to ourselves. I like to convert some of my e-mail conversations into face-to-face meetings or phone calls. I also find it hard to build relationships exclusively via e-mail. Thus, I build stronger relationships with the personal touch and it makes me feel good to have human interaction throughout the day.

Express gratitude every single day. We have so much for which to be thankful. My day is more fulfilling when I tell someone how much I appreciate them and what they are doing. Gratitude helps me to feel more optimistic and contributes to building stronger interpersonal relationships.

Become centered. Life moves at warp speed for most of us. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind and all of a sudden things can spin out of control. Spending a few moments from time-to-time with deep breathing and visualization exercises helps to ground me and restores my calm.

I was a Boy Scout and we committed to doing a good deed every day. I know it’s going to be a good day when I do something for someone else and am rewarded with their smile. This can be as little as holding the door for another person or helping someone put their bag in the overhead compartment on an airplane.

If exercise isn’t part of your daily routine it’s certainly worthy of consideration. A good morning workout and long walk set a pattern for the day. I feel great after sweating and burning calories. I’m able to control my weight as well as ward off stress through physical activity.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. One of the healthiest things we can do – multiple times each day – is to laugh. And if we can laugh at ourselves, that’s even better. As with smiling, laughing offers innumerable health benefits and it’s usually the result of something funny. When we take ourselves too seriously we may become self-conscious and begin to doubt ourselves.

Do at least one creative thing every day. But I’m not a creative person you say. That’s beside the point. We all have the ability to be creative at some level. Find something large or small where we can stretch our minds in a creative fashion. And guess what, you’ll find a nugget of good somewhere in the process.

Finally, be present. This can be very hard for us as entrepreneurs when we’re caught up in the fast-paced life we lead. It’s been my experience that I make fewer mistakes (that can erode the feelings of a good day) when I focus on the moment. Maybe that’s concentrating on a task at hand or something as simple as giving my full attention to someone with whom I’m meeting.

Yes, every day is guaranteed to be a good day if we take the necessary steps to make it happen. I can’t wait for my feet to hit the floor each morning because I’m stacking the deck in favor of this guarantee!

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 41 – To Proposition or Not to Proposition?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Vacuum Cleaners and Movies

“If you think life is magical or life is hard, either way you are right. Your thoughts are the source of reality.” I love this quote by Dr. Debasish Mridha, an American physician and philosopher. And here’s a phrase that is toxic to the entrepreneurial mindset – “It’s too hard.” Why? Because it’s an affirmation – and a powerful one at that. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that the mountain in front of us may be huge. But we can easily tip over into defeatist territory if we say something is “too hard.” Often that’s a signal that it’s time to give up. Au contraire!

Conquering something difficult and maybe even insurmountable is a true entrepreneur’s dream, much in the same vein as climbing Mount Everest or something less daring like public speaking. I want to “run to hard” and embrace it. I do so because I know that many others have run away from it. “Too hard” is an opportunity to blend innovation and creativity into a solution. It’s an opportunity to witness the power of a positive attitude. It’s an opportunity to learn how tough we are and how able we are to persevere.

There are examples all around us of how “too hard” really wasn’t. Think how hard it must have been to put a man on the moon in 1969 before the technological advancements we have today. The first heart transplant must have been amazingly hard – yet someone did it. And how hard was it for swimmer Michael Phelps to win 28 Olympic medals over the course of his career? There’s no doubt that someone uttered the “too hard” phrase with each of these accomplishments. And that someone was obviously dead wrong.

Here’s what I’ve learned. A leader must be the eternal optimist. He or she must absolutely and totally believe in the goal or objective. This belief must be authentic and genuine – not playacting for the team. There’s confidence on steroids at work here. But more than sheer willpower is necessary to generate the desired result. The effort must be strategic and smart.

Hoover, Electrolux and Oreck seemed to have a corner on the vacuum market for years. Then along came James Dyson with a revolutionary idea in the late 1970s.  He created 5,127 prototypes over five years and the G-Force Dual Cyclone was born. Dyson has since become a worldwide market leader with 2015 sales of more than $2 billion. Here’s another example. Blockbuster had 2004 revenue of $6 billion while Netflix brought in $500 million. Today, Netflix has more than 75 million streaming subscribers and Blockbuster is out of business. What happened to “too hard” with Dyson and Netflix?

Dyson revolutionized vacuum cleaner design and eliminated the need for a bag. It was clearly a disruptor in its industry. Its swivel ball technology also made it easier to use a vacuum cleaner in tight spaces – something the incumbent makers had failed to do. Netflix was all about convenience for its customers. I remember having to drive to the Blockbuster store to rent a movie. Meanwhile Netflix was sending them through the mail. Ultimately, the company figured out that streaming was the future and rode the wave in handsome fashion. “Too hard” was transformed into stunning success through innovation, creativity, perseverance, resilience and above all a “can’t lose” mindset.

How do these stories apply to us? If nothing else, it’s imperative that we learn how to convert too hard into let’s do it.” We must first convince ourselves that we can do whatever we set out to do. Then we must persuade our team to believe the same way. I know that this sounds like a lot of rah-rah. But the formula is a pretty simple one. Yes, there will be risks – but we figure out how to manage them. Yes, there will be failure – but we use it to learn what works and what doesn’t. And yes, there will be periods where progress seems painfully slow – but we keep moving forward until we break through.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 22 – Yin and Yang

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur

As entrepreneurs exactly who are we? What makes us tick? Is there some sort of DNA gene that we can point to? I’ve thought a lot about some of the exceptional entrepreneurs I’ve known over the past four decades and have identified some of their traits and tendencies that stand out.

Let’s start with creativity and innovation. Entrepreneurs use their creative powers to innovate and find a better way to do something. Elon Musk has to be one of the most prolific entrepreneurs when it comes to innovation – Tesla Motors, SpaceX, Pay Pal and Solar City come to mind to name a few. Often, creative entrepreneurs are also visionaries. They have an uncanny ability to see into the future and understand what their customers will want and how their company needs to be designed to win. GoPro CEO Nick Woodman, is one of the foremost visionaries in America today. Who could ever have imagined a series of high definition video cameras that are small, durable and light enough to capture our daily adventures – daring and mundane? And successful entrepreneurs understand risk. Rather than taking risk they are adept at managing it.

When they get knocked down, great entrepreneurs get back up – over and over and over. They are amazingly resilient and don’t see failure . . . only opportunity. Walt Disney was fired by his employer, the Kansas City Star, because he supposedly lacked creativity. That didn’t seem to impact his storied career. When things don’t work out as planned they are flexible and know how to adapt and make the best of every situation. Top flight entrepreneurs are persuasive and can convince others to say yes. They do so through the power of their passion. Does Steve Jobs come to mind? Look what he convinced us to buy! Along with their persuasive powers, successful entrepreneurs are strong communicators in both verbal and written formats.

Entrepreneurs are assertive – the great ones are less aggressive than assertive. They have a healthy degree of empathy and are sensitive to the feelings of others. Entrepreneurs at the top of their game have a certain amount of charisma. They can be sociable and gregarious – even if those aren’t their core tendencies. Without charisma an entrepreneur will find it tougher to raise money, develop important relationships and influence others. Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is one of the most charismatic leaders on the planet. And he has woven his charisma into a tapestry of empathy and caring about other people.

Culture King is another descriptor for the cream-of-the-crop entrepreneur. Ben Chestnut is the founder and CEO of MailChimp fits into this category in the ways he has empowered the 500+ members of his team. Hand-in-hand with a strong culture is a smart entrepreneur’s ability to delegate. According to a 2013 Gallup survey of Inc. 500 CEOs, an average three-year growth rate of 1,751% was realized where the CEO had a high Delegator talent. Entrepreneurs typically have a high sense of urgency and tend to be very self-structured – there’s no way anyone is going to tell them what to do! Entrepreneurs simply don’t want to be a cog in someone else’s machine. Most entrepreneurs also have the ability to juggle many things at once and in fact need to feel the rush and excitement of pursuing multiple projects and initiatives simultaneously. Finally, ultra-successful entrepreneurs are generally positive and optimistic people. They don’t dwell on mistakes and never play the victim.

Remember the DNA thing I mentioned at the beginning of this blog? Well, there may be something to it. A February 17, 2016, research paper published in the Austin Journal of Molecular and Cellular Biology reported on the Dopamine Receptor D4 Gene and concluded that entrepreneurs have a higher tolerance for risk-taking in part, due to this gene (Link to research publication.). Apparently genetics govern approximately 30% of what makes one an entrepreneur. But that leaves 70% to a wide range of personality traits and tendencies.

There are many such traits and tendencies that are identified with entrepreneurs. No one person possesses them all, but the more to which we lay claim the closer we come to attaining world class status.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 2 – The When Affliction.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Blah, Blah, Blah, Bzzzzzzzz

“I need to stop and get milk on the way home from the office. I wonder how that new employee we just hired is going to work out. Wow, it’s hot in here! I’m hungry. This paragraph I’m reading makes no sense. Boy it’s sure hard to concentrate right now. The stock market is way down today. Man I’m really hungry. Note to self – pick up wife’s birthday present. Must also remember to follow-up with Smith on the Franklin contract. Blah, blah, blah, buzz, buzz, buzz . . .”

Does this sound like what is going on in an entrepreneur’s mind ALL THE TIME?! Do you recognize the pattern? If you are like me, you have a million thoughts crossing your mind at warp speed and on a continual basis throughout the day. There are all kinds of statistics to be found, but the National Science Foundation provides a range of 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts per day for each of us. Even on the low end, that’s a lot of thoughts. As a result it’s easy to become overwhelmed by our own minds. We are constantly bombarded with massive amounts of stimuli – much more so than ever before. I believe that the Internet and technology in general has enabled us to be connected with a multitude of people and things that contribute to this trend. Think about a farmer in the 1800s. He might read a newspaper every once in a while. Beyond that, he wasn’t really in touch with the world outside his own small community. He worked hard physically. His mental challenges were pretty much limited to providing for and taking care of his family.

How hard would it be to just to sit quietly for 30 minutes and think of absolutely nothing? I don’t know many people who can actually do this. And yet, we need to be able to clear our minds of the clutter that accumulates throughout the day. A friend of mine has some wonderful advice. He says, “Listen deeply into the silence behind the noise.” Yes, much of what we think is just noise. Have you ever tried to talk on the phone with someone while a very loud conversation is occurring within earshot? Have you ever tried to focus and concentrate when there’s a loud television blaring in the background? This is exactly what is happening in our minds with all the thoughts competing for attention. So what to do?

To listen deeply into the silence behind the noise means that we must clear and quiet our minds. There’s probably nothing harder for us entrepreneurs than to slow down and turn off our thoughts. But I think you’ll agree that when this is accomplished the flow of creative energy becomes even greater than before. And of course creativity leads to better products and services; a more acute awareness for solving problems, and stronger interpersonal relationships. Whether you meditate, practice yoga, take long walks, or engage in some other daily mind-clearing activity the important thing to remember is to be present. Most of us are either thinking thoughts about the past or the future. When I take a walk I try and focus on where I am and what I’m experiencing in the moment. I observe the color of the sky, the shape of the clouds, the birds I’m seeing in the trees and the sounds that are cascading around me. Above all, I’m able to push all of the thoughts about past and future out of my head and live for the moment during the time I’m taking my walk.

We must be intentional about clearing our minds of the clutter that accumulates. Only then will our creative energy be heightened in positive and rewarding ways.

 This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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The Enemy?

Evil, dirty, underhanded, devious, conniving, despicable, dishonest, cutthroat, backstabbing, snobbish, arrogant, lying and cheating. These are terms I’ve heard applied to competitors over the last 40 years. Without a doubt I’ve missed some. What emotions are evoked when you think about your competitors? Some entrepreneurs I know have pure hatred for the competition and others display a great deal of fear. Why do we associate such negativity to our competition?

The amateur psychologist in me believes it has something to do with our childhood (don’t all of our issues?). On the playground we engaged in competitive duels involving kickball, dodge ball, four-square and other gladiator-like activities. Losers were vanquished with taunts and teasing. When we were older, competition for relationships with the opposite sex was intense. When a sought-after girl or boy chose someone else, we were crushed and dejected. Fast forward to today and it’s no wonder that we often see our competition as the enemy.

But do we really benefit from viewing our competitors in this manner? Competition is actually a wonderful thing. Let’s look at several of the reasons why.

  • Competition stimulates creativity and innovation. Every day we know that our competitors are working overtime to develop new products or services. To keep from being left behind we do the same. New discoveries are made out of this process that may generate greater profits and capture a larger market share.
  • Best practices emanate from a competitive environment. Let’s face it; we don’t have all the answers. So, observing how others do things and testing our approach accordingly can lead us to implement better systems and processes. Without competition what would be the incentive to improve?
  • An inefficient market is the byproduct of competition. Some competitors are stronger and some are weaker. If every competitor was equally strong how would anyone win? The concept of winners and losers is critical to a healthy yet inefficient market.
  • Hand-in-hand with the inefficient market theory is the opportunity for differentiation. This is good for the consumer and it’s outstanding for the entrepreneur. Why? Because we have the opportunity to create a level of variety that may appeal to more customers. It’s not just about “better;” it’s also about “different.” If every boutique sold the same black dress, doesn’t it stand to reason that a boutique selling a purple skirt might win a few more customers than the black dress sellers?
  • Competition helps to broaden the talent pool. It provides career paths for the workforce into which we as entrepreneurs can tap. We can create cultures where people want to work, giving them the chance to grow and advance their careers. And in the process we get to attract the best and the brightest.

For years we’ve enjoyed good relationships with our competitors. We view them with respect and in some cases, admiration. Other terms come to mind as well; friendship, collaboration, empathy and gratitude. Collaboration you say? Yes, we’ve often referred customers to our competitors when we couldn’t meet their needs and they’ve done the same for us. In 2008 a Maine portable restroom business owned by Jeff Bellino burned to the ground. Who came to the rescue? Bellino’s competitors! They provided portable restrooms, toilet tissue and chemicals so that he could keep going while he rebuilt his operation. Competition is at its healthiest when competitors have each other’s backs in a time of need.

When we embrace the notion of strong and healthy competition we enhance our chances for success. There’s no doubt that competition makes us better entrepreneurs in every respect.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Curious?

How curious are you? This may seem like a curious question (pun intended) for me to be asking. But follow along. Remember when we were in elementary school how the world looked so huge? We were in awe and wonderment of all there was to learn. When my daughters were young the phrase I heard the most was, “Daddy, why ______” – then fill in the blank. Why does the sun come up in the east instead of the west? Why do dogs bark but chickens cluck? And the list goes on forever. The point is, as children we were curious about nearly everything.

As we get older our curiosity changes and our questions are generally more mature. Naturally we’ve learned a lot over the years and sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in a “learning dearth” rut. In other words, we ask fewer questions and seek fewer answers. If we’re not careful we can become very one-dimensional, wrapped in our comfortable cocoon and drifting along on the river of life. I’m not being critical, but as entrepreneurs, we can be more effective and accomplish more if we maintain our curiosity. Asking why often leads to innovation. Why do certain processes exist within our organization? How could a particular product be improved? What could we do to provide better customer service?

There are a number of things that we can do to maintain the curiosity bug. Reading different publications (not just business books) on a regular basis is stimulating. This might include such topics as human interest, hard news, politics, religion, travel, philosophy, humor and sports. The Internet is today’s version of the World Book Encyclopedia – on steroids! Sometimes I’ll simply surf an obscure site just to see what’s there. A walk through Home Depot serves the same purpose. Frequent conversations with friends and colleagues are invaluable in stoking curiosity. Attend sporting events, the theater, concerts, seminars and other live activities. For me, I’m constantly asking the why, what, how, where and when questions in the context of everything I see and do.

We can become more creative and innovative by being intentional about arousing our curiosity. Blend this with some quiet, meditative time, and we find new ideas pouring into our consciousness. This quiet time is critical for it gives us the opportunity to empty our minds of all the clutter that accumulates through the course of the day. And the vacuum that is created opens the way for solutions to problems to emerge and for new opportunities to be born. But curiosity is the beginning of this winning formula.

If you feel like you’ve become a bit stale in the curiosity department, I recommend that you keep a simple journal for a few weeks. Record the things you do each day to stimulate your curiosity. Write down any new ideas that you have. See how many why, what, how, where and when questions you can ask . . . and answer. Don’t forget the quiet time that is needed each day to allow your curious mind to make sense of all of this.

Curiosity, creativity and innovation go hand-in-hand. We’re never too old to recapture that childlike curiosity that we experienced when we were seven.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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