Whale Sharks

Solving problems is a hallmark of entrepreneurship. Challenges are presented every single day of our existence – some small, some large and some that are the size of a 41,000 pound Whale Shark. Regardless of their size, we know that we must persevere and work through the many issues we face. Let’s stop for a moment and think about our problem-solving encounters. Are they particularly stressful or do we handle them on a pretty even-keeled basis?

There have been periods in my career where problem-solving was extremely hard. Why? Because I made it so. There were times when nothing seemed to go right. It was like putting together a jig-saw puzzle and there was a piece that I absolutely, positively knew belonged in a specific location, but it wouldn’t quite fit. It was a maddening experience until I eventually figured out that I had jammed the correct piece in another spot – and that was also wrong. How did I feel? Frustrated is an understatement. At other times I’d be cruising along fixing little nits and nats along the way, only to find that other minor issues would keep cropping up. I remember putting together model airplanes as a kid. I might get a little too much glue on one part that would leak out through the seam. Or my hand wasn’t as steady as necessary and I’d get some paint in the wrong place. How did I feel? Irritated is the proper term.

Frustration, irritation, anger and anxiety are all emotions that we can feel when we are dealing with our challenges du jour. Then when a Whale Shark-sized problem swims by, it can push us over the edge into a full-blown meltdown. I’ve been there with all of this and I’m betting that you’ve been there too. Eliminating the drama in my life has been a priority in recent years. I decided to try and become more like a robot in this regard  . . . a robot named Zen! As time has passed, I’ve become much friendlier with Zen. I’m much less inclined to major in drama where problem-solving is concerned.

Here’s how I’m succeeding at experiencing less in the way of negative emotions when dealing with business and personal obstacles alike. I’m not a poker player but have watched enough poker to understand what a “poker face” is all about. So I try and emulate a poker player when I’m working a problem. It’s become a game for me to see if I can reach a solution without anyone (including myself) detecting frustration, irritation or any other unfavorable emotion. This works most of the time for small issues.

For larger problems I take a deep breath, smile and gulp in a healthy dose of positivity and optimism. Starting from a positive place is critical. Recently I heard someone reject optimism in favor of hope. To me, optimism is more of an action-oriented belief system. Hope is like keeping my fingers crossed. I’d rather place my trust in visualizing a positive outcome than keeping a rabbit’s foot in my pocket. Each step of the way I remind myself to stay positive and avoid the negative emotions. I look for the small victories along the way. And guess what – there are small victories in the midst of solving large challenges if we look for them. They are like stepping stones that take us from one side of the stream to the other without getting our feet wet.

Finally, here’s my approach to the Whale Shark problems. I get into a clinical state of mind. I map out a process from A to Z. My business colleagues know that I work a lot with spreadsheets and diagrams. I use these tools quite often to figure out the really big, hairy, tough stuff. This is where my robot, Zen, enters the picture. I love the story about Captain Sully Sullenberger who landed his US Airways aircraft on the Hudson River when both engines flamed out after ingesting a flock of geese. This man became a robot. In his mind he mapped out a solution to the problem. He remained calm and didn’t panic. Sully didn’t agonize over the decisions he made because there wasn’t time to do so. Embracing a process-driven approach and maintaining focus is the best way to avoid destructive negative emotions when solving the Whale Shark-sized problems.

We will succeed to a much greater degree when we learn how to control or eliminate negative emotions when solving problems. Then it doesn’t matter if the issue is small, large or of a Whale Shark scale – we’re well prepared.

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 69 – Old Fashioned or New-Fangled?

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.

Narrow Guardrails

Consider the following conversation that an entrepreneur named George is having with himself. “I really would like to accept the invitation to speak to the Downtown Civic Club. But I’m afraid I’ll be too nervous.” Here’s a similar conversation being held in the head of Megan, another budding entrepreneur. “I just don’t know. Maybe I should apply for that fellowship – but the odds aren’t in my favor to win.” And finally, Entrepreneur Don is thinking, “I’m reluctant to invest in a new product line because I’m not convinced it can succeed.”

But there’s more of a story behind each of these “conversations.” For George, he remembers the time several years ago when he made a presentation at a conference and was unprepared – he bombed. Megan recalls once applying for a highly coveted membership in a leadership organization. The process was very competitive and Megan’s application was rejected. Finally, Don previously invested in a product line that failed and he lost a chunk of change on the idea. I’m going to use a descriptive phrase for what is happening that will probably demonstrate a generation gap. What George, Megan and Don are doing is “playing old tapes.” Some younger members of the audience who may not know what “tapes” are. In the old days, some of us “old people” listened to music and dialogue on a thin magnetized strip of plastic film. There were reel-to-reel tapes, eight track tapes and cassette tapes to name a few “tape” formats.

To “play old tapes” is to recall negative experiences from the past and make decisions today based upon those experiences. Playing old tapes generally embraces the notion of lack and limitation. It’s based in fear – often an irrational fear – that shakes our confidence. Over time, these old tapes can have a paralyzing effect for an entrepreneur. Eventually we can fall into a rut with narrow guardrails that are reflective of our past failures. What we really want to do is to venture off this rutted road to nowhere and get back on the freeway that will take us to our dreams.

Getting rid of old tapes is harder than it sounds, but it can (and must) be done. First, we embrace who we are right now. We cannot change the past. There’s not a single person alive today who hasn’t made mistakes. And I think it’s safe to say that all of us have made many. We should use the past for its instructive elements while discarding the emotional aspects of how it felt to be embarrassed, hurt or even shamed. The instructive element for George is to always be sufficiently prepared for future presentations. It’s in his best interest to release the humiliation that he carries for it serves no purpose. In a sense, it’s time to get rid of the rearview mirror.

Once we have determined the instructive elements from our past mistakes and thrown out the emotional rearview mirror, we move on to the next step. What exactly does our success look like? For Megan, she holds an image in her mind’s eye. She sees herself attending a luncheon with hundreds of other people. And at the appointed time, she hears her name being called and watches as she walks to the stage to receive congratulations for winning the fellowship. This visualization is powerful and is a “tape” worth playing over and over. In so doing, we pattern our brain to be receptive to the success that awaits us.

Finally, we celebrate by making new “tapes.” This is accomplished by rejoicing in the small victories that we constantly encounter. We entrepreneurs think big. We set lofty goals and we are always pushing for the big wins. But we tend to overlook the small wins we experience every single day. Entrepreneur Don realizes that his sales are growing at a respectable pace. His team has been 100% intact for four years. His defective product returns are zero. All of these factors are wins and Don should take pride in their achievement. He now sees that he’s on the right track and is perfectly capable of making the right decisions.

We stop the process of playing old tapes by discerning the instructive elements from our past mistakes and eliminating the negative emotions that we remember. Then we repeatedly visualize our success and celebrate the wins we are experiencing on a daily basis. The end result is a completely new set of positive tapes that are free of lack and limitation.

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 52 – Ice and Eskimos.

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.

Danger Will Robinson; Danger!

Lost in Space was a classic television show broadcast on CBS between 1965 and 1968. A young Billy Mumy played the part of Will Robinson who regularly interacted with the Robot. For those of you too young to remember, the plot centered on a modern day Swiss Family Robinson, marooned in space where the goal was to somehow figure out how to return to Earth. I enjoyed watching this show in black and white, and later in color, while Will and his family would constantly encounter misadventures. One of the most epic lines was spoken in a raised voice by the Robot – “Danger Will Robinson; Danger!” whenever Will was about to be eaten by some exotic space creature, or step into an abyss that lay below some cosmic quicksand.

We entrepreneurs need our own version of the Robot to help us avoid many of the missteps that we encounter in our daily lives. One such opportunity for disaster comes when we are in the middle of negotiating. In my world, we’re always buying and selling apartment properties. Let’s use the acquisition of one such property as the example for this blog. The property in question seems to perfectly fit our acquisition strategy. The location is right, the property age falls within the target time frame, the unit mix is perfect and historical data shows a very strong operation for the past several years. But . . . the price is significantly higher than we can pay to generate the return on investment we are seeking.

We negotiate back and forth. Offers and counteroffers ensue, but we just aren’t quite at the price we’re looking for. Here’s where we need the Robot to save us from ourselves. There’s a psychological threshold at which point we are committed to getting the deal done. We’re vulnerable at that point to being taken advantage of. Maybe we start looking at our projections again and tinker with the annual rent increase percentage we initially underwrote. When we do this, the numbers work and we’re able to close the deal. Yet, are the new rent increase projections realistic? Or are we simply looking for a way to rationalize the adjustment? I’ve certainly done it before. My reasoning went like this, “The standard 3% increase on this property is approximately $25 per month. Another .5% pushes the rent up by $29 per month. A renter isn’t going to balk at $29 any more than at $25, so I’m comfortable using an annual rent increase factor of 3.5%.” Now, it’s very possible that this line of reasoning is sound. But it’s important to understand the motivation behind it. Are we modifying our projections just to get the deal done, or are we really being ultra-conservative and there really isn’t going to be a problem with the rent increase tweak?

There’s a fine line to walk between being creative to successfully complete a negotiation, and allowing our emotions to drive the terms and conditions that we are willing to accept. By establishing strategic parameters in advance, we can avoid becoming vulnerable to doing a bad deal. For example, we will only acquire an apartment property that’s of sufficient size that we aren’t compelled to purchase a second or third property in the same market just to gain management efficiencies and economies of scale. It’s also important to remember to separate business negotiations from personal ones. Buying a piece of artwork for a personal residence is an emotional decisions and it is acceptable to allow emotions to enter into the negotiations. Making a business acquisition of some sort should be completely divorced of emotion in all but the rarest instances.

In a business negotiations, understanding where the line is between sound decision making and being vulnerable to manipulation, is critical. Establishing strategic parameters before the negotiations commence and then sticking to them during the negotiating process, will help us avoid crossing this line.

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 18 – Grrr!

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.

robot

Vreugde (and More Gioia!)

Yeah, I had to look them up too. The first word is Dutch and the second word is Italian. But they mean the same thing. In Spanish the word is alegría and in Swedish it’s glädje. So enough with the mystery. The word is JOY. Unfortunately this is a word that is foreign to many entrepreneurs.

You see, we entrepreneurs are a pretty serious and driven bunch. We have important stuff to do and companies to build. We’re always moving at the speed of light and struggle to find enough hours in the day. Joy? Let’s see, maybe we can squeeze it on the calendar three weeks from Thursday at 2:00 PM . . . for 20 minutes. Is the picture coming into focus yet? The point is that many of us don’t allow joy to get within two miles, much less become an integral part of our lives. After all, feeling and celebrating joy isn’t very macho and we don’t want someone to get the wrong idea.

Why do we persist in having such an allergic reaction to joy? Can we become one of the next captains of industry and still allow for a modicum of joy? Of course we can answer in the affirmative and actually we must. Joy and success are tied inextricably by definition. If you don’t believe me – look it up! Merriam-Webster clearly states that “joy is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” But here’s something else that I’ve learned. We can feel great joy when we celebrate the success and good fortune of others.

I believe that joy should become a part of our daily lives. It’s one of the healthiest emotions we can have. And here’s something I’ve learned that can become your secret weapon. Do you know what it feels like to get stuck in the downward spiral of negative thinking? We lost a deal to a competitor that we were sure we had in the bag. Or one of our key team members just quit. And maybe the bank wouldn’t make the loan we needed. When faced with these kinds of issues our thoughts can turn dark very quickly. But we can just as quickly turn the tables by “jumping into joy” and with both feet. I started practicing this concept a number of years ago. Every time I’d start to feel down, I would intentionally find someone who was in a good place – a friend, family or team member. Then I would applaud their success or good fortune. It’s amazing what a lift this provided for me, not to mention how it made the other person feel.

Joy is uplifting. It’s shout-it-from-the-rooftops passion. It’s at least one level above happiness if not more. Joy kicks the endorphin rush into high gear and does all sorts of positive things to our bodies. We can experience joy through all five of our senses – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. If we don’t practice it or if we wait for it to come to us, then in effect we’re suppressing it. But if we go looking for joy it’s incredibly easy to find. And don’t we like to be around people who are joyful? They are easy to spot. Their facial features are etched with a permanent smile and a twinkle in their eye. They radiate warmth and bubble with personality.

We can continue to be Mr. or Ms. Seriously No Nonsense, or we can lighten up and have some fun at work. For a number of summers, we had an Ice Cream Day. I dressed up in a ridiculous looking ice cream cone suit and pushed an ice cream cart around the office passing out Nestlé drumsticks, fudgesicles and other delectable delights. I had a blast and everyone had a good chuckle. This truly was a joyful moment for all.

Life is pretty boring without joy – and so are we. Joy tramples negativity and helps balance our emotions. There’s no downside whatsoever to reveling in joy.

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 15 – The Royal Treatment.

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.

ice-cream-suit

Defaulting

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see these statements?

  • The dog ran away.
  • We didn’t get the Smith contract.
  • Our star salesperson just gave notice.
  • It may rain and keep us from teeing off at 4:00.
  • Your daughter just wrecked the car.

Your initial reaction to each of this less-than-stellar-pieces-of-news is your default thoughts. As humans, it’s natural for us to have an emotional response to many of the things we hear throughout the day. There may be moments of displeasure, irritation, dread, fear and even panic. We also have emotional responses to the positive things we are told or read. Many people experience highs and lows each day in this regard. And yet, it takes considerable energy to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could re-pattern our default thinking on the downside? Well, we can but there are a couple of requisites. First, we must truly desire to change our default thinking, for without a compelling reason we’ll fall back into the default mode in short order. Second, we must be willing to take the steps necessary to make this change.

For me, the desire to change my default thinking centered on my understanding of positive and negative energy flows. I’ve written many times about the fact that negative energy creates a blockage for creativity and our ability to solve problems. Also, negative energy just plain doesn’t feel good. It’s kind of like burning the roof of my mouth on a piece of hot food – the sensation isn’t very pleasant. I realized that metaphorically burning the roof of my mouth several times each day just didn’t make any sense.

This led me to accept that I needed to take actionable steps to effect change. What worked for me was to intentionally spend a day taking inventory of the various negative reactions that I held. I wrote them down for further analysis at the end of the day. I didn’t try to change any of my thoughts during that day – I simply tried to be as normal with my thought process as possible. Upon review, I was able to see thought patterns emerging and could then identify alternative reactions for the future when faced with similar challenges.

I’m at the point now where I may still have a fleeting burst of negativity when I encounter a situation that’s not favorable. But I quickly recognize it and replace it with a much more positive reaction. For example, suppose I learned that a particular investor I was counting on had decided not to invest in one of our deals. The initial quick reaction might be, “Well, I certainly didn’t see that coming. We’re now under the gun to find the money.” This might be accompanied by a surge of adrenaline. But literally within seconds, I’m able to shift my thinking to, “But it’s OK because I have three other investors who have said they want to be in our deals. I know I’ll get one of them to sign on.” And a feeling of calm occurs at that point.

Quickly shifting out of default thinking in negative situations puts us on the road to solving problems and avoiding the emotional lows that we may experience. There is no question that our lives are richer and fuller when we maintain positive thoughts.

 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.

positive-thinking

Zorro

Once upon a time there was a man who rode a horse, wore a mask and brandished a rapier. He was dedicated to helping the downtrodden and fiercely protected those upon whom bad men preyed. His name was Zorro! The legend of Zorro dates back to 1919 and was a movie and television show. I have fond childhood memories of this dashing figure – he was a fictional hero to many in my generation. Why? Because he stood up for his beliefs. What do you believe in more strongly than anything else? Have you discovered how you want to express this belief? Everyone should be Zorro at least once in their life and stand up for something in which they believe.

We don’t have to be radicals to stand up for that which we believe. It’s not necessary to march in a picket line or participate in a demonstration to accomplish this. The key is finding a productive and positive way to be a modern day Zorro. We start with truly understanding ourselves and our core values. What do we really care about? Why is this important?

I submit that there are three parts to discovering and acting upon that for which we want to take a stand. The first part is fact-based. Perhaps we have strong beliefs about the U.S. Constitution. Or maybe it’s the environment, the sick or the poor. It might involve entrepreneurship, politics, animals – the list goes on. Whatever it is, we need to do extensive research to develop our position. This fact-gathering process will help shape our beliefs in an intelligent manner. And we’re more likely to persuade others to understand and respect our beliefs if we can present a thoughtful fact pattern in support.

The second part in becoming Zorro involves emotional intelligence. It’s the fire and the passion that we have when we are in the belief-zone. But it goes a step beyond and allows us to manage our passion and emotions in a constructive manner. We use our emotional intelligence to maintain quiet strength and conviction, and thus we have “emotion for” our beliefs without becoming “emotional.” When we become emotional, we risk our credibility if others perceive that we are excessive in this regard. To persuade others to support our position, we must find just the right balance between facts and emotions. If there is too much emphasis on facts, others may not see our passion and are unconvinced. If there is too much emphasis on emotion, others may discount our position in similar fashion.

The third and final part in becoming Zorro focuses on how we take action. This requires planning and starts with determining what form of action will have the greatest positive impact on the largest number of people. Obviously we must scale our action plan to fit the resources we have available – time, treasure and talent. My wife and I are passionate about educating young people to become teachers. In 1999 we created a scholarship program for high school students that want to attend our alma mater and enter the education field. Not only have we made a serious financial commitment, but we also make it a point to get to know each one of our scholarship awardees and his or her parents. We also maintain contact during their college years and even beyond.

One of the factors in determining our action plan was the fact that a teacher touches and shapes the lives of many young people. When we did the math, we realized that over a period of many years we could make a difference in the lives of thousands of young people by helping educate teachers. One hundred teachers in the classroom for 20-years with a class size of 20 will educate approximately 40,000 children. After understanding the exponential nature of the numbers, it was a no-brainer to fund our scholarship program.

We should all take the opportunity to be Zorro at least once in our lives. By crystallizing our beliefs through facts, emotion and action, we can make the world a better place.

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.

zorro-image

Bridges

Question: Sometimes I get so angry with people that I want to tell them exactly how I feel about them. Don’t you think that such honesty is always the best policy?

Answer: Well, yes and no. We have to evaluate how the other person will react to our “honesty” and we also need to understand whether we are really being constructive with our comments or simply seeking the satisfaction of telling someone off.

There have been many times over my career that I’ve felt wronged by someone and wanted to lambaste them for what they did. I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve written to such people; put them in the drawer; “slept on it,” and then never mailed the letters (or hit the Send button for an e-mail). I guess writing the letters and e-mails was therapeutic but a little voice kept telling me not to follow-through and send them.

Recently a former investor of ours was in my office visiting from another city. Toward the end of our relationship with his firm things became a bit strained. We had gone above and beyond our contractual obligations with his company and yet there was no “give” on his part. However, we went out of our way to keep things businesslike and cordial. He commented during his recent meeting with me that he respected the way we handled the situation. He pointed out that he was in our office talking to us about doing another deal with his firm because we did not burn bridges with him.

Reacting emotionally and burning bridges may feel good at the time. But in the long run it costs us relationships, friendships and money. I still get irritated with people that don’t adhere to my business principles and values. However, I’ve come to realize that making the choice to protect the relationship is much more important and I quickly moderate my emotions. Sure it’s hard to smile and keep an even tone – but we never know when that person who has caused the irritation may become our best client or even our best friend.

I’ve said for years that one of my objectives as an entrepreneur is to collect and serve as many relationships as I possibly can over the course of my career. A lot of time and effort is invested in doing this – so why would I want to throw this all away by burning a bridge with one of these relationships? Perhaps when a bridge becomes shaky or weak, the best course of action is to work to strengthen it rather than burning it.

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.

burning-bridge