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 Exhilarated Entrepreneur

Here’s a simple test. Do you wake up in the morning and can’t wait to tackle the day ahead? Does your brain function in overdrive with an idea a minute? Are you ever bored? Are you able to stay in “the zone” from a productivity standpoint for long periods of time? Do you experience endorphin rushes at times other than when you are exercising? Are you almost always in an upbeat mood no matter what? If you answered “yes” to all these questions except for being bored (and answered it “no”) then you are experiencing the “E” Factor.

The E Factor is a major ingredient in the recipe for the success of an entrepreneur (and everyone else for that matter). The E Factor is . . . Exhilaration! Exhilaration is the energizing excitement that puts an exclamation point on our lives. There’s no drudgery in Exhilaration. There’s no exhaustion in Exhilaration. There’s no negativity in Exhilaration. There’s nothing boring about Exhilaration. Exhilaration is all about positivity, optimism, the glass is overflowing (as opposed to half full), fireworks-on-the-4th-of-July, the sun is always shining and everything WOW!

From personal experience I can tell you that my life is so much richer and fuller as a result of reaching and staying in a state of Exhilaration. The little setbacks along the way that might throw others for a loop are mere speed bumps for me. My existence goes far beyond my vocation and has become totally holistic in nature. I know this may sound corny, but I truly am in love with life and life is in love with me.

How do we reach and stay in a state of Exhilaration? There are three steps that have worked for me. First, we must make serious choices about how we think. If you read my blogs regularly, you know that I constantly talk about how much of a difference our mindset can make. We all know this for the most part, but it’s not always easy to remember. Maintaining a positive state of mind is absolutely and totally critical to the E Factor. We must recognize when we are starting to veer into negative thinking; stop and release the negative thought and replace it with a positive thought. I have found that a positive affirmation said over and over is a perfect replacement for a negative thought.

Second, we deserve to live our passion. I realize that sometimes there needs to be a ramp-up process to reach this passion. My passion isn’t just what I do for a living. My passion is the way I live. It’s filled with many things for which I have a passion including my relationships, my philanthropy, my health, my creativity, my faith and many more elements. I’ve said numerous times that passion is what allows us to see in color. Just because we may not be totally passionate about our careers at the moment doesn’t mean that there aren’t many other aspects to our lives for which we can have passion. And with respect to our careers – we should have a step-by-step plan that provides the light at the end of the tunnel for when our career does become our passion.

Finally, we must practice intense gratitude. Being grateful for what we have and what we receive keeps the energy channel open for us to receive greater good in our lives. When I think back over the years about all the wonderful people who have done wonderful things for me, my gratitude needle explodes off the meter. Saying thank you isn’t enough. Doing good things for other people is an expression of our gratitude that recognizes what others have done for us. It’s a bit of a pay-it-forward mentality.

We can live in a state of Exhilaration if we choose to do so. It’s as simple as that. And to achieve the E Factor we must be positive, passionate and grateful. Enjoy the fireworks show!

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.

An Entrepreneur’s SuperPower: Looking Past Negative Appearances

There is a trap that is well known to most human beings. This trap ensnares the young and the old; the rich and the poor; the healthy and the sick – it does not discriminate. The trap is that of seeing something negative and believing that it is so. You may think that this is black and white. Either something is negative or it’s not. Ah, but that’s the epitome of the trap. In fact, it’s not black or white.

For entrepreneurs this trap is especially dangerous. As we toil to grow our enterprise, we constantly encounter situations that could easily be perceived as negative. Let’s look at a hypothetical example. Eddie the Entrepreneur has watched his team work tirelessly to grow revenue. But the process has been slow, and Eddie is struggling to juggle his bills and keep vendors at bay. Scaling his company is happening but he’s quickly running out of cash. Eddie exhorts his team to pick up the pace and generate more revenue more quickly. Secretly, he thinks that his days are numbered and he’s going to have to face the inevitable and close the doors. Eddie sees what appears to be a negative situation and believes it. What do you suppose happens next? Yes, Eddie’s belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy and his company goes out of business.

Then there’s the story of Ingrid the Impresario. Her situation is similar to that of Eddie. Her company is making headway, but revenue isn’t keeping pace with expenses. She hates the calls she receives daily from bill collectors. But Ingrid is not going to be beaten. Rather than see a negative appearance and believe it, she is resolved to look beyond it. She realizes that she needs to take action immediately before it’s too late. Ingrid asks her vice-presidents of sales, operations and manufacturing to spend a day with her off-site. During that day, they identify a small pivot that will drastically cut costs, pump sales and give them a much longer runway to reach consistent profitability. Rather than continue to try and “muscle through” they deftly make this tweak and quickly see the results they were seeking.

The difference in these examples is profound. In Eddie’s case he saw his business failing and became resigned to that negative appearance – he believed it. Conversely, Ingrid realized that adjustments were needed in her business – and she believed it. What Ingrid saw was not what others might have seen – a negative situation. Instead, she saw an opportunity to make changes that put her company on the path to success and looked beyond the negative appearance.

The ability to look beyond negative appearances is a superpower for entrepreneurs. Doing so takes discipline and a generally positive outlook on everything. I’ve often wondered why human nature seems to default to fear and negativity. I’ve concluded that while we  tend to be afraid of the unknown, it’s relatively easy to believe that we will fail. We hear the statistics about how many companies die an early death. We read story after story detailing the failure of retailers, restaurants, start-ups of all types . . . and the list goes on. It takes a supreme effort not to succumb to the constant drumbeat of negativity.

I learned long ago to ignore the admonitions and warnings of others who lacked a clear understanding of that with which I was involved. Instead, I choose to view every situation and circumstance as an opportunity to inject a healthy dose of creativity. Of course, I’m not naïve enough to ignore reality. But I look for ways to push the boundaries of reality to my advantage. We’ve abandoned business ideas (and businesses!) that did not work. But that was done in clinical fashion after first exploring all our options and determining that we could better spend our time and capital in a more productive and profitable manner. We weren’t resigned to the “inevitable” failure. Instead, we were coldly calculating in our assessments and made choices that were in our best interests. After more than 44 years in business, I’ve never yet seen the sky fall. We’ve had setbacks and hit speed bumps. But by steadfastly looking for opportunity in every situation, we always find a way.

Seeing beyond negative appearances is an entrepreneur’s superpower. Following this approach opens infinite possibilities to prosper and succeed in ways we may not even imagine.

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.

Chronic Uh-Ohs

Have you ever had a chronic issue that simply couldn’t be resolved in a cost effective manner? In fact, maybe there isn’t any sort of solution at all. What do you do – especially if the situation has a negative impact on customer satisfaction? Here’s an example of what we encountered on one of our apartment communities. In this particular case, there is an issue with our water supply lines. Very simply – they break a lot. When this happens, apartments flood; sheetrock is damaged; carpet is destroyed, and residents are inconvenienced. We’ve spent huge sums of money to clean up the aftermath and have looked for every way possible to prevent the problem in the first place. Unfortunately, the piping material is flawed and short of re-piping the property, there isn’t another solution. And re-piping could run into the millions of dollars, so it’s just not an option.

The impact that this issue has had on our team and our residents has been profound. We’ve lost staff over this problem. A number of residents have moved out. Our team is weary of dealing with a challenge they cannot solve. Unfortunately there’s a lot of negativity on display among our team members. This negative energy feeds on itself and everyone holds their breath each day hoping that the phone doesn’t ring with more bad news.

But all is not lost because there is something we can do. We can (and must) take a chronic situation like our pipe-break dilemma and turn it into a positive. We accept the fact that we are going to have pipes break from time-to-time. Acceptance is the first step in this process. For far too long we’ve operated in a state of denial. But this doesn’t have to be. Knowing that this problem will persist, we next amass as much data as we can generate and continually pore over it, looking for patterns or any other key elements that might help us identify where the next break might happen. Is there a particular location in the piping runs where most breaks occur? Does temperature or water pressure play a role?  We obviously focus on higher level units first since breaks on those floors can wreak more havoc than a first floor apartment. Ultimately we take whatever proactive steps we can to prevent the breaks – even to the extent of making some repairs before a break occurs.

The next part of this turn-the-negative-into-a-positive process can actually be fun. We develop a comprehensive plan for how we are going to create a wonderful experience for our residents when a pipe breaks and their apartment floods. Sounds crazy – right? How could anyone think wet carpet and water coming through the ceiling is a “wonderful experience?” But here’s how we make it happen. We mobilize our clean-up and repair team that is highly trained to deal with issues like this. We communicate clearly and often. We do everything in our power to minimize the inconvenience to the resident. Knowing that we are going to have a certain vacancy factor built into our financial model, we take a few vacant apartments and fully furnish and equip them with all of the comforts of home. When a flood occurs, our team quickly moves clothing and other necessary items for the resident(s) affected, into one of the furnished units. We treat them to a nice dinner out and provide them with gift baskets. Perhaps we’ll even offer them movie tickets or send them to an amusement park. In other words, we try to create a positive experience for them that they might not otherwise enjoy. Meanwhile, our team is working fast and furiously to repair the leak, clean and sanitize the carpet, repair the sheetrock and put the apartment back the way it was before the flood. Then, as quickly as possible, we move the resident back into their original apartment. And I can’t emphasize enough the need for clear and constant communications.

Probably the most critical aspect of dealing with chronic problems like I’ve described is the mindset of the team. If the attitude is negative – we’re doomed from the start. When we look for creative ways to “wow” the customer, we can create goodwill AND it can be exciting and stimulating for our team. No, the problem doesn’t go away and coping with it may still be costly. But when our team finds a way to turn a negative into a positive for the customer – we will experience even greater levels of success than we might have otherwise.

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 123 – Who Is This Murphy Guy?

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.

Flooded vintage interior. 3d concept

Existential Threats to the Entrepreneur

That’s an ominous sounding title for this blog – right? But not necessarily for reasons you might be thinking. When most entrepreneurs think about what can “kill them” – in a metaphorical sense – they might list undercapitalization, the inability to hire a qualified and competent workforce, or chronic issues with their product. While these can be serious problems, they are much less severe than the existential threats I’m going to discuss.

I believe that the most menacing threat to an entrepreneur’s existence is his or her own mindset. Do we truly believe we can succeed, or do we feel victimized and constantly under siege? Great entrepreneurs are eternal optimists. We know we can win – there’s no doubt about it. We will pivot when we have to, but we are absolutely convinced that we will reach the Promised Land – whatever that might represent for our endeavor. Entrepreneurs who are too skeptical or pessimistic are destined to fail. They become tentative and can be paralyzed when making important decisions. Negative Nellies will usually crash and burn. They live in a world of lack and limitation. They can’t escape the negative energy that always surrounds them and eventually impacts their team.

Hand-in-hand with the negative mindset is another existential threat – that of low resilience. Look, we entrepreneurs get beaten up a lot. We make a ton of mistakes. We hear from plenty of people who don’t like us or what we are doing. If we can’t get up off the ground when we’re knocked down, then we’ll die lying there – again, metaphorically speaking. And it’s not just the ability to bounce back that’s critical. We do so with a smile on our face and new resolve that we have actually taken a step toward success with our setback. Does that sound contradictory? It’s this kind of thinking – that we’re actually moving forward when it seems that we’re failing – that is the real definition of resilience. The existential threat melts away when we are always tougher than the problems we encounter.

The next existential threat is that of a lack of vision. Entrepreneurs absolutely must be able to see into the future. The ability to be a visionary also leads us to think more strategically and work on our business more than in our business. An entrepreneur who is a good operator but lacks vision will eventually “die.” It may be a slow death, but death nonetheless. Why? Because without a vision – especially one that inspires our team – we are simply stirring the pot. Over time, things begin to unravel. Key people leave because the future is unclear. Important customers leave because a competitor (with vision) has offered a more innovative product or service. Rather than create a clear vision, the operator-entrepreneur takes tactical actions to try and solve the problem. This may include belt-tightening measures or price increases, neither of which addresses the underlying issue. R.I.P.

Poor communications skills are another existential threat to entrepreneurs. This encompasses many elements. The entrepreneur who can’t persuade through artful communications won’t be able to sell his or her ideas to customers, team members or anyone else. The entrepreneur who is unable to communicate effectively will have difficulty building important relationships. When communications are non-existent or garbled at best, misunderstandings will occur and feelings are hurt. I have found that a very large percentage of challenges that we encounter are the result of inadequate communications. Entrepreneurial leaders must communicate clearly, concisely and constantly to eliminate this existential threat.

There’s one more existential threat that’s a biggie. Entrepreneurs who operate without integrity will eventually die. Our stock in trade is our integrity. It matters not how positive and optimistic we are, how strong our ability to bounce back, how grand our vision might be, and how well we communicate, if we lack integrity we’re dead as a doornail. Customers want to do business with entrepreneurs who are honest and forthright. Team members want to work for entrepreneurs who always do the right thing. Of course there are examples abound of CEOs and companies that seem to have “gotten away” with underhanded behavior. It may take a month, a year or even longer, but eventually the jig is up. Maybe it’s karma or there’s some other explanation, but the entrepreneurs who don’t play it straight will lose in the end.

There are many existential threats to entrepreneurship. A negative mindset, low resilience, a lack of vision, poor communications skills and a deficiency in the integrity department, top the list.

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 112 – Asshole Self-Test.

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.

An Entrepreneur’s Philosophy

Jordan Peterson is a renowned Canadian clinical psychologist and psychology professor who wrote the bestselling book, 12 Rules for Life. I listened to an interview with him on one of my favorite podcasts, Econtalk with Russ Roberts. During the conversation, Peterson makes the following statement. “Life is fundamentally tragic, and ridden with suffering, and touched with malevolence and evil; and that goes for you and everyone around you.” And while Dr. Peterson may be highly respected and says much with which I agree, I must respectfully disagree with the preceding statement. Vehemently.

If we entrepreneurs bought into the premise that Life is Terrible, we’d never get out of bed in the morning. In fact, I believe just the opposite. Life is full of wonder and excitement. Life is full of joy and happiness. Life has far more upside than downside. And life offers unlimited opportunities for great and amazing things. This is not to ignore the fact that there are terrible things that do happen in life. But is life fundamentally tragic as Peterson posits? I think not.

I think it all boils down to perspective. If we choose to believe that Life is Terrible, it will be. Similarly, if we choose to believe that Life is Great, it will be. I’m not naïve enough to suggest that subscribing to the latter means that there will never be mountains to climb and challenges to overcome. But think about this. If we believe that Life is Terrible, those mountains are much harder to climb and the challenges much more difficult to overcome. It’s like adding a 75 pound weight to our back. What’s the point?

By now you know that I am the poster boy for optimism and positive thought. I attribute this mindset to the success I’ve realized over the course of my career. One of my mantras has always been, “What I think in my mind will become reality.” Because I only want Good in my life, I’m going to do my darndest to only think in positive terms.

We entrepreneurs have a lot to worry about . . . if we choose to worry. We could obsess over market share, customer reviews, rising labor costs, cash flow (or lack thereof), sales increasing too slowly, sales decreasing too quickly, government regulation, competition, legal issues, succession planning, production issues and whether we remembered to close the garage door when we left home this morning. Whew! Just thinking about all of this wears me out. But with all of this worry, concern and obsession, what exactly has been accomplished?

Being a Type A personality and maintaining a “chill pill” attitude isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Over the years I’ve discovered that concentrating my energies – mental and otherwise – on taking positive and productive steps leads to positive and productive results. There’s a surefire method that I use to measure my stress factor in this regard. I use a wrist cuff and take my blood pressure and pulse every day. I record it on a log including the time of day as well as notations as to what might have been occurring just prior to the reading. This single act is enough to serve as a reminder to remain calm. I’ve found that each year, my average systolic and diastolic readings have gradually decreased.

I’ve also trained myself to live in gratitude as much of the day as possible. When I am outwardly grateful to others for all of the good they do for me, a form of armor is created that protects me from the Life is Terrible syndrome. I’ve also found that there’s always a solution for just about every difficulty we may encounter. Somehow things just seem to always work out. I don’t think this is by accident. By maintaining focus on positive outcomes and really believing that we are entitled to them, they ultimately manifest. No longer do I blow a gasket when something doesn’t happen as planned. No longer do I wake up in the middle-of-the-night with cold sweats and a feeling of impending doom. No longer do I experience free-floating anxiety.

Jordan Peterson’s “Life is Terrible” philosophy is dangerous for entrepreneurs to adopt. A “Life is Great” mindset opens the way for a rich and full experience every single day.

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 103 – Goody Two-Shoes.

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.

Chips and Shoulders

I listened to a fascinating business podcast the other day. The host was interviewing an entrepreneur who apparently has faced a number of challenges throughout her career. What struck me the most was her statement that she has a “chip on her shoulder.” We’ve all heard this phrase before, and often it’s portrayed in a positive light. The thesis is that a person has faced adversity and come away from the experience stronger and tougher. I actually downloaded the transcript of this interview (which lasted for nearly an hour) and read it carefully. What I pieced together led me to question how positive a “chip on the shoulder” notion actually is.

For starters, let’s look at some phrases that I excerpted from the transcript. “Not everybody had a fair shake.” “In another way the industry is biased and the numbers are terrible and bleak.” “I will say that it took an embarrassingly long time to get anyone to take me seriously, so that’s where the insult is.” “Some of these barriers are just insulting.” “One person has to climb the mountain and another’s gotta climb a fence.” “The person across the table has to get a fighting chance.” “I don’t play well with others.” “I’ll tell you this honestly, our goal post has moved – it’s also there is a microscope on what I’m doing and what my company is doing, that is not on other companies.” And how about this gem? “Back to the theme that it’s a meritocracy except you have to work five or ten times harder than everybody else which is the opposite of a meritocracy.” Other words were used like “dignity,” “gut punch,” “injustice” and “really screwed me over.”

This entrepreneur shared her journey of the past two or three years, and while she’s clearly made some progress with her business, a case could be made that she ought to be farther along. She obviously believes that the reason that she’s not is due to external forces that have conspired against her. I don’t think I’ve listened to someone sound more like a victim in a long time. Unfortunately, the podcast host played the part of enabler and sympathizer. He egged her on and attempted to validate her claims. Yet, she presented very little concrete evidence to support her mindset.

I can’t begin to know all of the experiences encountered by this entrepreneur. Undoubtedly there have been some trials and tribulations along the way – however, the world is not selective about this! The entrepreneur from the podcast has chosen to develop a “chip on her shoulder,” advocating that the deck has been stacked against her and others have stood in the way of her success. The result appears to be a bitter self-fulfilling prophesy.

What if this entrepreneur took a different path? What if this entrepreneur looked at the obstacles as opportunities rather than conspiracies? What if she believed in her heart that every failure meant that something even bigger and better was in store? What if she could visualize abundance and possibility instead of lack and limitation? Over the course of my career, I’ve always found that embracing optimism and positivity begat the desired results far more often than wallowing in pessimism and negativity.

For me, a “chip on the shoulder” is a cynical mindset. It is typified by wariness, suspicion, skepticism and distrust. Entrepreneurs that wrap themselves in a “chip on the shoulder” cocoon will have a much tougher time receiving the good which they are pursuing. Here’s an indisputable fact. The adversity we experience directly shapes our mindset. But we make a choice as to what shape it takes. When we dwell on “being screwed over,” “gut punches” and “not playing well with others,” we are setting that shape as a giant chip that rests on our shoulder. And what a weight that chip can become!

We can avoid a “chip on the shoulder” mentality by following the positive path to our success. This enables us to work through, around, over and under the obstacles that we face and see them as opportunities to grow.

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 83 – Hall of Famer.

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.