The “Disneyland” Entrepreneur

We’ve explored the concept of Vision in this blog before. But I’d like to share a technique that has worked for me – perhaps you’ll find it valuable too. Simply put, vision is “what it looks like when we get there.” Remember when we were young and a family vacation to Disneyland was being planned? What was the focus? It wasn’t so much on the long journey to get there. Instead, we could see ourselves riding in the Tomorrowland Jets (long gone now) or in a Matterhorn Bobsled. We could taste the cotton candy and hear the whistle on the Mark Twain Riverboat. In other words, we had a vision in our minds-eye of what we were going to experience.

As entrepreneurs we have that same vision. The problem for most of us is that it remains trapped inside our heads. We struggle to articulate it to others. And so, our team members punch the clock every day with no clear idea of “what it looks like when we get there.” It seems clear to us, but they don’t have a clue.

I struggled to communicate my vision for many years. I often launched initiatives and undertook projects that all made sense within the framework of my vision – but to others it seemed like a helter-skelter approach to something that was undefined. At times, members of our team expressed frustration with the process and begged for a clearer picture. I had tried reducing my vision to writing, but a few bullet points later even I was uninspired.

At the urging of a friend and former colleague I took another stab at it a few years ago. But instead of trying to put it on paper in a concise one or two paragraph manner I went a different direction. I decided to tell a story. I mocked up a Wall Street Journal masthead and put myself in the shoes of a WSJ reporter writing a profile of my company – ten years in the future. I picked the name of a real reporter and the date on the masthead was really ten years out. And then I told the story in considerable detail. What unfolded were several aspirations; explanations of how the aspirations were to be achieved and ensuing measures of success. I quoted real people. I talked about how our customers were going to feel. Our culture was highlighted, and several strategies were outlined. One thousand seven hundred and seventy words later a clear picture emerged representing “what it looks like when we get there.”

For the past two years I’ve been explaining the vision story to everyone in the company. My vision needs to become a shared vision and I’m eager and willing to tweak it so that it is inspiring to as many members of the team as possible. We’re beginning to work backwards from what it looks like ten years in the future, to identify the various strategies that will be needed to reach the vision. Clearly there’s a lot of work to be done – but finally; for the first time in 50 years, everyone has a clear picture of where we’re going.

If you’ve been having a tough time articulating your vision, I encourage you to write your own story. And if writing isn’t really your thing, sit down with someone who has the gift of prose and tell him or her the story from your heart. This person can serve as your translator and put on paper the story that you will share with your team. You’ll have several re-writes. You’ll add, delete, clarify, expand, and fine tune. Just remember that the final product should be inspirational. It should be as big and bold as you desire. And anyone reading it should come away without any doubt about “what it looks like when we get there.”

We all have a Disneyland image of some sort for the organization to which we have committed so much of our lives. We can share it with others through a storytelling process that creates clarity and a call to action.

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.

The Never Accept “NO” Entrepreneur

Here is a fascinating subject for all entrepreneurs (and everyone else for that matter). It is the world of auto-antonyms with a focus on one particular word in the English language. What is an auto-antonym you ask? Don’t worry; you didn’t miss anything in school. Until I looked it up, I had no idea about auto-antonyms, sometimes called a contranym. Simple answer – it is a word that can mean the opposite of what it appears to mean. Now that the picture is completely confused, let’s focus on the word . . . NO.

“No” seems like a simple word to understand – right? Not so fast. In my world “No” can actually mean “Yes.” Let me explain. Remember when we were kids and we bugged our parents for something? Often the default answer was “No.” But we became conditioned to realize that “No” could be changed to “Yes.” I remember a trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, California when I was five years old. There was one particular ride that I wanted to try as soon as I hit the park. My parents – in unison – said, “No” (emphasis not added). They reasoned that I was too young. But I continued to harangue them throughout the day and wore them down to the point that before we left the park that afternoon, they finally said, “Yes.” In fact I was too young for the ride and had no clue what to do – one of the attendants had to come and rescue me – but I was victorious in my quest to flip “No” to “Yes.” I guess that was the launch of my persuasive powers on the road to becoming an entrepreneur.

Too often, we hear “No” and accept it as gospel. We interpret the word as a form of rejection; feelings may be hurt, and we may become dejected and deflated. This next statement is very, very important. NO. DOES. NOT. ALWAYS. MEAN. NO. If we simply accept the word for what we think it means then it is Strike Three and game over. But if we see “No” as the starting point for getting to “Yes,” there is still a chance for extra innings. And who knows – we might win the game in the bottom of the 12th!

Entrepreneurs who hear “Yes” when they are told “No” are “No Flippers.” They understand that being told “No” just means that they need to become more persuasive and work harder to build their relationships. By doing so, they increase the odds of flipping the “No” answer to a “Yes” answer. When we are told “No,” we have a chance to zero-in and learn something. If we are helping someone buy our product or service, it is imperative that we find out why the other party has declined. By politely asking for feedback we might discover that a minor change in the product or service could result in a totally different outcome. Had we simply accepted the “No” answer, we might not have had the chance to make the tweak that led to a sale. Sometimes we are told “No” not because the other party does not like us or what we are offering, but the timing is not right for them. This is where relationship-building is critical. We remain in touch and work to serve the relationship in whatever ways possible while staying in front of the customer in a positive manner. But remember – there is a fine line between the obnoxious childish whining we did as kids to get our way and doing what it takes to be in the right place at the right time to serve our customers.

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been told “No” whether it was in raising equity from investors to acquire properties; securing a loan for an acquisition; negotiating the purchase or sale of a property, or trying to hire a particular individual to join our team. Maybe I am just thickheaded, but when I hear “No,” it is just a signal to step-up my game.

As entrepreneurs we need to become accomplished “No Flippers.” It may take a while and we will need to be creative, but eventually we will get someone to say “Yes.” Maybe it is the person we have been trying to convince all along, or perhaps it’s someone else. We use the knowledge we gain from hearing “No” to make the changes necessary to get to “Yes” and achieve success.

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.