The Unlimited Entrepreneur

Let us count brick walls. They are everywhere. We encounter them at work and at home. We find them in our personal and business relationships. Brick walls seem to be a part of our lives. But do they need to be?

We tend to be great masons and build some very elaborate and impregnable brick walls. The brick walls to which I refer are the limitations that we impose upon ourselves. Sometimes we believe that these limitations are imposed by others but if we really examine them closely, they are more often than not, self-imposed. It is critical for us as entrepreneurs to avoid allowing thoughts of lack or limitation to creep into our psyches.

Let us look at some of the things we speak to ourselves and say to others. Anytime a sentence contains the words “I can’t,” “I don’t” or “I won’t” there is a strong possibility that limitations are in play. Certainly, there are some limitations that are rational and necessary – I am not talking about those. Thoughts of lack and limitation that prevent us from achieving our greatest potential and success are what we need to train ourselves to eliminate.

I can recall several times over the course of my career where a rookie entered the commercial real estate business and completed a series of amazing transactions. Everyone looked at each other and said, “How did he do it?” Well, I know how. This rookie did not know what he did not know. Make sense? In other words, he did not know to place limitations on himself that many veterans of the industry had imposed upon themselves. As a result, he made cold calls on clients that others thought to be untouchable or intractable. And guess what? He got deals done.

Why do we limit ourselves in the first place? Often it is the result of fear or a lack of knowledge. Analyze the following statement. “I can’t pursue that business opportunity because I don’t have the money to do so.” This statement contains both the “I can’t” and “I don’t” negative affirmations which will probably result in this person not pursuing the business opportunity. Most likely the underlying reason for the statement is that this person either has a fear about the business opportunity – perhaps it’s a fear of failure – or he/she simply doesn’t know how to find the money needed. Regardless, the opportunity will not be pursued because this person has built a brick wall around it.

So, what is the truth? We have a choice to either create reality or face reality. If we choose to create our reality, we can do so by removing all thoughts of lack and limitation. We tap into our creative energy and identify the resources that we need to succeed. We pursue that business opportunity because we find a way to raise the money that is needed. In several of the companies with which I am involved, we regularly complete apartment developments and acquisitions utilizing very complex financial structures. We have rescued many a deal from the scrap heap because we not only have the knowledge to figure out how to make them work, but we also have no fear of failure. Do we fail? Sure, we do. But our failures are simply steps toward our ultimate end goal. And we manage our risk so that none of our failures are fatal.

We can go through a life full of brick walls that are of our own making, or we can create our own reality by taking the simple yet powerful step of eliminating thoughts of lack and limitation. Whenever these thoughts start to become a part of our mindset, we recognize them; we release them, and we replace them with the truth of unlimited possibilities.

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.

COVID-19 and the Entrepreneur

We live in very strange times. The public reaction to the COVID-19 virus has been truly astounding. People have altered their behavior – sometimes common sense prevails and other times it is like observing a bizarre alternative universe. Through it all, businesses large and small have been ravaged and some are gone forever. As entrepreneurs, most of us have never experienced anything like this in our lifetimes. We are attempting to plot a course that not only leads to survival but also offers an opportunity to thrive. So, how should the entrepreneur view and react to COVID-19?

What is the worst thing we can do right now with respect to this virus? It’s not going to be what you might think. First and foremost – we must stop watching and listening to the media. Why? Because there is a tremendous amount of misinformation being conveyed – sometimes intentionally. By consuming a daily dose of COVID-19 from our newspapers, televisions, and social media, one could easily conclude that every new case reported is going to end with someone’s death. And where does this lead . . . FEAR!

Fear can be a terribly destructive force. In short bursts, it is potentially protective in nature for it may be enough to cause us to pause and course correct in such a way to avoid serious harm – physical, emotional, financial, etc. The kind of fear being caused by COVID-19 appears to be a constant fear. Fear – especially constant fear – results in stress, triggering a hormone called cortisol. An elevated level of cortisol over an extended period is a bad thing in many ways. It can negatively impact the immune system and cause an increase in cholesterol, blood pressure and heart disease. A healthy immune system is exactly what we need to ward off this virus. Elevated cortisol and its underlying stress can also lead to serious mental illness issues and depression.

Think about how we react to fear in our daily lives. Are we able to make clear and rational decisions when we are afraid? Do we experience positive energy that opens us up to being more creative? Are we strategic when we are in the “fight or flight mode?” The answer to these questions is obvious. And yet, I know many entrepreneurs who are living in a chronically fearful and stressful state as they try to deal with COVID-19 and its impact on their businesses. There is no joy in Mudville right now (for those of you too young to remember this reference, Google the classic poem, Casey at the Bat).

There is a solution to the fear. Get. The. Facts. I said earlier that we should stop paying attention to the media. Instead, go to sources for the actual data. Dig into the CDC website – it is a treasure trove of information. Interview medical professionals who have real insight into the virus and avoid anecdotal accounts that you might hear second or third hand. Stitch together the facts from as many different sources as you can. The data is not perfect and there will be some contradictory results at times. But for the most part, we can synthesize what we discover in ways that makes sense. Then, armed with the facts, we can reach logical conclusions that will lead to strategies we can deploy.

We make sure we maintain good daily physical activity which is a great stressbuster. Besides staying physically fit we practice good eating and sleeping habits. We regularly connect with our friends, family, and colleagues. We strive to do what we can to help and support other people. Above all, we remain positive and know that this moment in history will pass just like all the others have for time immemorial. Guess what? These are all things we should be doing regardless of COVID-19!

COVID-19 should not rule our lives. We must ignore the politics, the politicians, and the media for they are likely agenda-driven in some way. Instead we take charge of what we believe and drive away the fear that we may be feeling.

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 Unafraid Entrepreneur

I’ve heard it said that fear is a major motivation for entrepreneurs. This may be true but it’s not a healthy or effective motivator in my book. Think about what happens when we are afraid. Do we think with a high degree of clarity or are we focused on some form of self-preservation? Is our creativity in full bloom or do we just want to escape that which is making us fearful? Do we really want to be motivated by something so negative as is fear?

There’s no question that we entrepreneurs have moments when we are afraid. Perhaps we just learned that a major customer is going to stop giving us his business. What’s our immediate reaction? “Oh no! That customer represents 20% of our revenues and we’re going to have to lay people off!” We conjure up all sorts of horrible outcomes when we hear this news. And then it gets worse. Our negative thoughts multiply. “If that customer is unhappy enough to leave, I wonder how many other customers feel the same way. This could be a disaster! Our company could enter a death spiral and we’ll have to close the doors. What will I do next? Would someone even hire me after this debacle?”

It’s been my experience that rarely are things ever as bad as they might seem in the heat of the moment. What’s needed is an automatic diversion of some sort when thoughts of fear start to creep into our minds. And I have the perfect alternative for the ravages of dread and despair. Here’s the antidote . . . What could go right?

Here’s how it works. When something occurs that could have negative connotations – perhaps an event that stirs up severe anxiety – we stop and say, “what could go right?”  It’s like a train that is barreling down the tracks and it comes to a switch. If the switch is turned one way, the train goes to the left. If the switch is turned the other way, the train goes to the right. The mantra, “what could go right?” acts as that switch. If we go to the left, we are on the path to being afraid with a cascade of undesirable results. If we go to the right, we are on the path to calm and a highly desirable conclusion.

The notion of “what could go right?” is not just a blind state of Pollyanna. Instead, it’s a powerful frame of mind. In the example previously cited, let’s see how it might work. When the customer declares his intention to stop doing business with us, we immediately ask the question, “what could go right?” Rather than dwell on the loss of business, we drill down further and explore the cause for the customer’s departure. Let’s say that this individual was simply retiring and shutting down his operations – his decision had nothing to do with the product we’ve been providing. That doesn’t necessarily make the loss of revenues any easier, but at least we didn’t drive him away. We now have more capacity in our organization. In our newly found state of tranquility we remember hearing about a prospective customer that we have not pursued because we did not have the production capacity to meet her needs. But now . . . ! Without missing a beat, we set up a meeting with the prospective customer and guess what? She wants our product and her order will push our revenues beyond where they were with the departing customer.

Had we wallowed in fear, there is no way we would have looked for this new opportunity. We would have been “licking our wounds,” “regrouping,” and “hanging on for dear life.” Instead, we conquered fear before it ever took hold by asking ourselves the simple question, “What could go right?” We took the positive energy from that question and used it to kick our creativity into overdrive. And rather than seeing the situation as a problem to be solved, we viewed it as a steppingstone to even great good.

As entrepreneurs we’re in a much better position to enjoy positive outcomes when we look at everything with the question, “What could go right?”

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 Opportunity-Seeking Entrepreneur

Knock-knock. Who’s there? Problem. Problem who? This childhood riddle is emblematic of a common perspective that many of our daily encounters present problems for us. But are they really problems? I’m sure that an argument can be made that anything a bit perplexing or where a less-than-favorable outcome is realized, could be considered a problem. But why do we choose to believe this so often? Some of us by nature are problem-solvers (I’ve been known to fall in this category) and so we may see situations as problems to be solved. But I submit that there is a different way to look at this.

For the last many years, I’ve become more and more inclined to be an “opportunity-seeker.” And what a difference it makes to see things as less problematic and more opportunistic. Obviously, this is a subtle shift in mindset – does it really matter what we call it? I believe that it does because of how we tend to react internally to problems versus opportunities. Some of our natural feelings when facing a problem may be dread, fear, surprise, fatigue, victimization, overload, resignation, procrastination and apathy. All of these feelings are cloaked in negativity. Of course, there are positive ways to view problems and many of us may do so; but I’ll bet that the natural tendency is to focus more on the negative perspective.

On the other hand, becoming an “opportunity-seeker” is a proactive and positive manner in which to move through challenging situations. Notice my language here. I didn’t talk about “facing” a problem. I didn’t talk about a “resolution.” Instead I used the words “move through challenging situations.” This sounds effortless but it’s not. However, the process of “moving through challenging situations” does not have to be filled with our own emotional downside drama. And there’s one component to be an “opportunity-seeker” that makes it all worthwhile in my view. We get to unleash our creativity.

Creativity is one of the most positive energies that we can experience. It’s much more expansive than just figuring out how to fix something. Metaphorically speaking, creativity enables us to make things bigger and better. I’m sure you’ve felt the frustration of trying to put together a puzzle where you simply can’t find the right piece. We just want to “fix” the situation by finding the missing piece and moving on – right? Contrast this with taking a pile of Lego® pieces and building an object right out of our minds-eye. That’s the difference between being a problem-solver and an opportunity seeker. Some situations will always require finding the right piece to the puzzle no matter how creative we want to be. But we can find a way to harness our creativity in every situation. In the literal case of the puzzle, perhaps we can become more imaginative in the way we sift through the pieces to find the right one. Or maybe we make a game out of it.

The office lease for our company’s space recently expired. Even though we’re a commercial real estate company we always leased space rather than owned it. In the past we were able to secure the leasing and management of an office building by offering to be a tenant and pay a market rent. After we sold the commercial side of our business to focus on apartments, we no longer needed to rent our corporate office space. We began the search for new office space nearly a year ahead of our lease expiration. Several buildings were possibilities and we got serious enough about one such building to make an offer to purchase it. In retrospect, it was a blessing that the seller was unwilling to come anywhere close to the price we wanted to pay, and the deal stalled. This building would have quickly been too small, and we would have been spread across three floors.

Then, I woke up in the middle of the night and the image of another building popped into my head. It wasn’t on the market and I had had a long relationship with the building owner. We reached out and lo and behold – the owner was willing to sell. We completed a private transaction several months thereafter and now occupy beautiful space in a much larger (and more attractive) building, with plenty of room to grow, and in a much better location. I am so glad that we didn’t try to “force” the opportunity we were seeking with the other building. The problem we faced on where to re-locate was solved with relative ease and grace.

When we choose to stop seeing challenging situations as problems, we cease limited ourselves to being only problem-solvers. Moving through challenging situations by looking for opportunities to be creative opens the way for feelings of joy, accomplishment, euphoria, happiness and satisfaction. Knock-knock. Who’s there? Opportunity!

Is It Really a Struggle?

How many times have you heard that entrepreneurship is a struggle? Heck, we’ve all heard how life in general can be a struggle. But is it really? I think it’s worth exploring the notion of “struggling.” Various definitions of the word “struggle” reference adversaries, opposing forces, bodily effort, fight, conflict or contest. I’m just not feeling it.

Let’s paint a picture. Three years ago, Entrepreneur Ed launched his new enterprise. He has encountered many interesting issues along the way. There have been untimely resignations of key team members; nail-biting moments when it was questionable whether he would make payroll; a patent infringement lawsuit; shortages of raw materials that were critical in producing Ed’s product; brutal competition resulting in a price war; cancellation of a liability insurance policy, and the loss of a key customer. Many might say that the last three years have been a “struggle” for Entrepreneur Ed, after all, it appears that he has faced a great deal of adversity. But Ed doesn’t see it that way.

Here is Ed’s perspective. What others see as negative experiences Ed sees as puzzles to solve. Challenging – sure! But Ed believes that what doesn’t kill him will make him stronger and smarter. The utopian view would have us sail along on calm seas growing our businesses from 8 to 5, then going home to play with the kids and spend weekends at the beach. Uh, sorry, it doesn’t work that way. What matters most is the mindset we have as we move through the course of each day. Do we feel like we’re on a perpetual treadmill, grinding away and being attacked from all sides? Do we wonder when the proverbial “other shoe” is going to drop? Perhaps we have become totally overwhelmed to the point of depression. It doesn’t have to be.

Here’s the antidote to the “struggle.” We know we’ve signed on for an adventure – both in the entrepreneurial world and for life in general. That adventure is going to be whatever we make it. If we are fearful and expect disaster . . . we’re likely to find ourselves with a front row seat on the deck of the Titanic as it slowly sinks into the North Atlantic. However, every challenge does not need to end in catastrophe.

We have been rapidly scaling our companies for the past few years. There have been many moments when someone looking in from the outside might believe we were seconds from colliding with a massive iceberg (sorry, I can’t seem to shake out of the Titanic metaphor). I have never believed for a moment that we were on the wrong course. I’ve seen each challenge as a positive opportunity for creativity and growth. And guess what? It’s working! Every time we think we’re flirting with disaster we seem to pull a rabbit out of a hat – except there’s really nothing magical about it at all. Instead, we have a well-thought plan and we have an extremely positive mindset. We know there will be detours along the way. Sometimes we’ll have to backtrack to find the trail, but we are never lost, and we are always focused on our vision.

As I write this, it’s worth noting that I’ve been with the same company and on the same quest for 44 years. I can now look back and realize how incredible the ride has been. Did it ever seem like a struggle? There definitely were times early in my career where I wondered if we were going to survive. But the older (and maybe wiser) I’ve become, the more I’ve come to understand that success comes from within us. While there may be some external influences, it’s really all about how we see the world when we get up in the morning; how we choose to look at each experience throughout the day, and the impression with which we are left when our head hits the pillow at night. In other words, we’ll struggle if we believe we are struggling. Or, we’ll see the incredibly short time we are riding this planet as a golden opportunity for experimentation, innovation, mastery and joy.

We throw off the chains of “struggle” when we embrace a life filled with positive energy and gratitude. And then we can pursue our purposeful vision with confidence.

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 No-Fault Entrepreneur

There’s a game we learned how to play as children. Remember this? Parent – “Who tracked this mud into the house?” Children (pointing fingers) – “Freddy did it!” Then there was always that one kid who did this. Tattle-Tale Kid – “Miss Flanders, Jimmy knocked over the globe in the back of the room after recess and broke it.” As we got older and started our careers, how many times did we hear conversations like this? “We lost the Smith account. It was because John Doe didn’t pull his weight and let us down.” Ah yes, we all know about the “blame game.”

Why is it that human nature drives us to deflect blame and make sure everyone knows “I didn’t do it?” Is this a self-confidence thing? Maybe it’s reflective of the fact that none of us want to disappoint others. Whatever the case, the blame game is unproductive in any entrepreneurial environment. And it signals a flaw in an organization’s culture when the game is played regularly. Perhaps those who make mistakes are so severely held accountable that everyone is afraid to be tagged with a flub.

Entrepreneurial leaders should shun the blame game and adopt a different mindset. It’s a mindset that goes like this – “It may not be my fault, but it is my problem.” And here’s where the real leadership begins. Rather than reacting with a “whose fault is this,” the enlightened leader says instead, “Houston, we have a problem. Let’s talk about how we’re going to fix it.” Thus, the first step is identifying the problem and working with the team to find a solution. When we make this the go-to response every single time, the fear of blame among our teammates is dissipated. But solving the problem doesn’t mean that we’re finished with the issue.

Once the smoke clears and the problem has been fixed, it’s critical that we move to the second step. This is where we look at the various facets of the problem and figure out how it can be prevented in the future. It might be that we need to re-design a system or process. Maybe more training would be helpful. It’s also possible that roles and accountabilities for the team members involved weren’t as clear and precise as necessary. All of this can be accomplished without playing the blame game.

Let’s apply these principles to a real-life scenario.

Old Way – Boss says to his employees, “We were just fired by a customer because the product he ordered wasn’t delivered on time. I want to know who is at fault here, and that person needs to be standing in my office before 4:30 this afternoon.” What happens next? The blame game starts, and someone invariably is singled out to be the sacrificial lamb. They know that there are going to be harsh repercussions, and no one wants to be anywhere close to the boss’s office at 4:30.

Better Way – Entrepreneur says to the team, “We were just fired by a customer because the product he ordered wasn’t delivered on time. I have apologized to him on behalf of our organization and told him that not only is there no charge for his product, but to convince him to give us another chance, we’ll give him a 50% discount on his next order.”

Later in the day the customer agrees to give the company another chance at which point the entrepreneurial leader says to the team, “Congratulations! Our customer has agreed to give us another chance. Let’s meet at 4:30 to talk about how we can make sure that our systems and processes are modified to ensure that our products are always delivered on time.”

The team members at the first company are fearful and aren’t the least bit interested in dealing with the problem. The just want to avoid the wrath of the boss. The team members at the second company are focused on fixing the problem and then figuring out how to keep it from happening again. There is no fear because their leader subscribes to a no-fault, work-the-problem philosophy.

Our entrepreneurial endeavors are much more likely to flourish when our team members can focus on fixing problems that arise as opposed to being on the defensive and looking over their shoulders in fear. The premise is a simple yet powerful one.

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 Fearful Entrepreneur

What are you afraid of? I don’t mind confessing that I have issues with claustrophobia. This manifests when I get inside an MRI machine. Even an open CT scanner gives me the heebie jeebies. My heart pounds in my chest and my blood pressure goes through the roof. I don’t know what happened in the past for me to develop this fear, but it’s a cross I bear. I’ll never forget the time I heard about a poor soul who was exploring a cave and got stuck deep inside – upside down – and no matter how hard they tried, rescuers could not get him out. Within days of that story, I found myself in an MRI machine for 45 minutes. It took every ounce of my fortitude not to completely freak out.

I don’t know of a single entrepreneur who doesn’t experience a fear of something. There is the fear of public speaking, fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of being in social settings, fear of spiders (and snakes), fear of death and a wide assortment of other phobias that we may experience at a personal level. And then there’s what I consider to be “entrepreneurial fears.” Let’s examine a few of them and their antidotes.

  1. Competition“I’m afraid that the competition will overtake my company. I’m also fearful that someone is going to steal my business concept and crush us.” There’s a lot to unpack here. The forward-thinking entrepreneur will see competition as a healthy factor in his or her business life. If we have the right mindset, we can use competition to make us better. How? We do this by understanding exactly what our customers need and want and tool our product or service accordingly. We know that the competition is probably studying the customer in similar fashion – we just have to do it better!
  2. Ideas “My ideas are no good. I’m afraid that I’m just not creative enough to win in this business.” No one knows our ideas better that do we. And it’s not so much about having fresh new ideas as it is our ability to iterate on those we already have – or that someone else has. Look at Facebook for example. Many students of the Facebook phenomenon point out that the company has rarely had a new idea. They simply steal ideas from other developers or companies and execute them better.
  3. Failure “I’m afraid to fail and I’m afraid of what others will think of me if I fail.” This is one of the most common entrepreneurial fears that I’ve heard during my career. Unfortunately, this fear reflects a misunderstanding about what failure is. Too many entrepreneurs confuse “failure” with “defeat.” Failure is simply an unfinished experiment in the laboratory of life. It’s part of a process that we undertake to achieve success. Success is built on failure. Without some failure along the way, how do we really know that we have succeeded in optimal fashion?
  4. Money “I’m afraid that my money is going to run out before I succeed.” There are entrepreneurial stories abound where the founder was down to a triple digit bank balance and somehow pulled a rabbit out of a hat and turned things around. I also know that there are many more stories of businesses that folded when the cash spigot turned off. In the entrepreneurial world we learn how to improvise. We learn how to stretch a buck. We barter and trade. Better yet, we always have a Plan B in our hip pocket . . . just in case. Having a little bit of the “cash-strapped” fear is actually a healthy thing as long as we use it in a positive way to maintain focus on scaling our enterprise.
  5. Talent “I’m afraid a competitor is going to steal my best people; or my best people are going to walk across the street and start their own company.” Here’s the thing. If we provide the best value for our team, they’ll stick around which is the same philosophy we adopt with our customers. Sure, employees want to be fairly compensated, but loyalty goes beyond pay and benefits. Developing a dynamic culture goes a long way toward talent retention. So does making people feel that they and the contribution they make are genuinely valued. In the companies with which I’m involved, we don’t lock up our team members with long-term contracts or non-compete agreements. Instead, it’s incumbent upon us as leaders to show our team every single day how they are in the right place with our firm.

Being afraid can either be paralyzing or motivating. Smart entrepreneurs overcome fear to propel themselves to great success.

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 129 – The NPS and You.

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.

Opportunities to Fail

Some years back we developed an exercise that can be beneficial for every entrepreneur. We all want to manage risk – not take risk. I’ve said it before that taking risk is akin to rolling the dice. Managing risk is an intentional process to minimize or eliminate risk to the greatest extent possible. To this end we created a process called Opportunities to Fail.

Some might say that “Opportunities to Fail” sounds negative and ought to be called something else. But, it is named this way on purpose. Why? Because we believe that whether we succeed or fail is almost totally within our control. Thus, we have the opportunity to succeed or to fail – it’s up to us as entrepreneurs which we choose.

Let’s say that we are considering launching a new division, a new product or service, or embarking upon some other endeavor for which there are numerous risks. The Opportunities to Fail exercise begins with assembling all of the stakeholders from the team and beginning a series of brainstorming sessions. The first such session is that of identifying all of the different risks that are inherent surrounding whatever we are preparing to do. For this purpose we developed a simple Excel spreadsheet on which we log the risks. To each, we assign a numerical value on a scale of one to 10 – both in terms of Probability and Impact. We arbitrarily determined that we would weight Impact 25% higher. So, if a particular risk is assigned a 10 for Probability it means that there’s a high likelihood of this risk being realized. And if that same risk is also a 10 for Impact, it means that if the risk is realized, it could have a very detrimental effect. Thus, the Probability score is 10 and the Impact score is 12.5 (due to the 25% extra weighting) for a total score of 22.5.

Remember that during the first exercise we are only identifying the various risks and assigning Probability and Impact scores – we’re not solving anything yet. Usually this inventory process takes a couple of hours and there may be as many as 25, 30 or even more risks. When someone says, “An asteroid could drop out of the sky and destroy us,” it’s probably time to wrap it up. We then re-order the risks in the spreadsheet from the highest numerical value to the lowest, and circulate it to the stakeholders for a few days of contemplation. Everyone is empowered to offer additional risks during this time frame with their thoughts on scoring.

The second meeting of the group will take place within three or four days of the first, and is devoted to risk mitigation. We look at the highest scoring risks and discuss ways that we will prevent the risk from coming to fruition. In addition, wherever possible we also add a contingency plan in the event that somehow the risk “leaks through” our mitigation program. This way if a high-risk item bites us, it doesn’t kill us. We have found that there’s a natural breakpoint in the list. Perhaps there are 17 risks that rank at 14 or higher, and then there’s a gap with the next grouping of risks starting at a score of eight. We generally don’t worry too much about low-scoring risks as their Probability is usually low, and even if they happen, the Impact is minimal. Instead we spend our time ensuring that we have robust mitigation and contingency plans for the most dangerous risks.

At the end of the second meeting we ask this simple question – “Are we totally comfortable moving ahead with this endeavor?” If there is still fear and trepidation, then it means that we haven’t sufficiently mitigated one or more of the risks. Or it could mean that there is something nagging in the back of the minds of our team that still need to be put on the table. It’s at this point that we engage in additional discussion and mitigate further until we have total buy-in; we modify our endeavor to the point that everyone is comfortable, or we determine that should not move forward at all. The ultimate objective is to either move ahead knowing that we aren’t going to fail, or not to move forward at all.

A few days later a third meeting of stakeholders occurs. Each member of the group reaffirms his or her belief that we have adequately mitigated the risks and should proceed. Then we brainstorm for ways to Exploit the Opportunity. This is a lot of fun. We spend our time looking for ways that we can enhance the opportunity and make it even bigger and better than we initially envisioned – without adding new risks.

Utilizing the Opportunities to Fail exercise is a liberating experience. It puts us in a position to manage risk rather than take risk, and allows us to choose success.

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 124 – Do the Hustle.

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.

This picture taken on October 18, 2015 shows a participant jumping off a platform for a wingsuit flight from Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie, central China’s Hunan province. Some 16 participants from 12 countries are taking part in the extreme sport event. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Entrepreneurial Insecurities

Let’s go exploring. Let’s explore the mind of an entrepreneur. What types of thoughts are entrepreneurs thinking? The answer may surprise you. Many people see entrepreneurs as self-confident, assertive individuals who always have it “all together.” Look at the roster of famous entrepreneurs – Sir Richard Branson, Mark Cuban, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. Certainly no shrinking violets in this bunch!

So, we’re all like this star-studded list of entrepreneurs – right? Well . . . maybe not so much. All that moxie and nerves of steel gives way to self-doubts and uncertainty. Am I a fake? Am I not good enough? What if I fail and lose all my money? No one likes me or my idea. These thoughts are insidious and destructive. And yet we think them anyway.

We’ve all heard the “fake it till you make it” mantra. This implies that an entrepreneur is continuing to perfect his or her product/service while still pulling out the stops to sell it. Products and services are iterative and there will always be newer and better models. Our entrepreneurial insecurities emerge when we worry that there may be flaws in the current version that cause such a strong level of customer dissatisfaction that our whole enterprise bombs. This is where the “fake it” part of the equation can spill over into our psyche and cause us to question whether or not we really know what we’re doing.

“What if I’m not good enough?” Often we’ll see other entrepreneurs who seem to be riding the wave. Everything is going right for them and we surmise that they are on top of the world. Perhaps we’ve just suffered a setback of some sort. We look at the competitive landscape and begin to wonder if we’re losing the race. This feeling intensifies as this cycle persists – others seem to be winning and we aren’t.

It’s 3:00 AM and we wake up in a cold sweat. Our hearts are pounding and we’re a bit disoriented. We’ve just launched a major project that by our assessment, involves more risk than we’re used to taking. Then the mind games begin. We see the endeavor cratering which will cost us a lot of money . . . not to mention reputation. This is followed by the thought that we’re losing our mojo and our business will eventually fail. Ultimately we declare bankruptcy, lose our house, are divorced by our spouse and end up living under a bridge!

Finally, some of us may be feeling rejected. Again, we may have been told “no” so many times that we begin to wonder what is wrong with us. Is there something about our personality, the way we look, the things we say or the way we act? Maybe it has something to do with where we live, the car we drive, the people who are our friends or even where we went to school. Our natural reaction is to feel hurt and maybe even victimized.

Entrepreneurial insecurities are understandable but unproductive. It’s important that we recognize them; resolve them as quickly as possible, and move on. Allowing them to fester can be a slippery slope to some serious career or life-threatening behaviors. Drug and alcohol abuse, deteriorating health, extramarital affairs, gambling, physical and psychological abuse of loved ones and even suicidal tendencies are some of the more prevalent examples.

We entrepreneurs thrive when we have a healthy self-image. Developing great resilience is critical to our success in this arena. Smoothing out the ups and downs of our fast-paced lives is also a step in the right direction. Earlier in my career I would experience the euphoria of winning to the fullest. But similarly, I would experience the depression of losing to the fullest as well. These wild emotional swings would result in my feeling on “edge” much of the time. The feeling of victory was fantastic, but I always wondered when the other shoe was going to drop.

I’ve learned to moderate my emotions. When I am part of a winning experience, I know I’ve been there before. And it’s the same with the losses. I know what it takes to achieve victory and I know what to do to avoid defeat. Some of this is simply age and experience. But I believe most of it is the mindset I have chosen for myself. The key word in the previous sentence is “choice.”

We can avoid the pitfalls and traps that are set when we have entrepreneurial insecurities. This is accomplished by celebrating our success not by spiking the ball in the end zone, but through understanding exactly how we won and replicating it over and over. Steadfastly focusing on our vision for the future is paramount to warding off negativity and self-doubt. Above all, we build our resilience by maintaining our optimism and positive attitude, no matter what.

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 71 – Civil War.

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.

Alarm clock on night table showing 3 a.m.

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.