The Urgently Patient Entrepreneur

We entrepreneurs are a pretty restless bunch. Most of us have an ultra-high sense of urgency. I know that I certainly fall into this category. I plead guilty to always wanting things to happen a lot faster than they do. And I do realize that this creates a level of stress for the people I work with. But I’m also one of the most patient people you’ll ever meet. Huh? Does this seem like a complete contradiction? Let me explain.

My urgency meter moves quickly into the red zone when I encounter bureaucracy or if there are delays in implementation. I guess I feel like we’re all living on borrowed time and there’s a lot I want to accomplish before my time is up. Thus, anything that wastes time or energy causes anguish for me. Recently I worked with a state agency on a particular matter that took two months to finally resolve. I had a pleasant conversation with the government employee and suggested that there must be a faster way to conclude the matter. She explained that two months in government time is “lightning speed.” Unfortunately, she’s probably right. In the private sector the matter would have been handled in a matter of days or perhaps even hours. Fortunately, I have a great relationship with the head of this agency. I went on to work with him and his team to create a more expedited manner in which to deal with issues of the kind I encountered.

Here’s a key point. My sense of urgency is with the process. I want things to be efficient. I want things to be cost-effective. I want the manner in which something is accomplished to happen quickly. In my world there’s no place for analysis-paralysis or indecision. We don’t need a committee to make decisions. It’s important to get input from different members of the team and their buy-in is critical. But someone must then step-up, take charge and lead. Poor communication is a killer of initiative and creates bottlenecks. If communication isn’t clear and concise, time is wasted when clarification is sought. All of this is process related.

I said I’m a patient individual as well as having a high sense of urgency. Here’s another key point. I am patient when it comes to results. I’m in the type of business where results don’t materialize overnight. I have come to realize this after more than 45-years in the trenches. My philosophy is that if we take care of the basics and fundamentals through well-designed systems and processes, the results will take care of themselves. I can wait months or even years for the results because that’s often what it takes.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Suppose you and I are farmers. We must get a crop in the ground by date certain or we’ll have to wait an entire season to plant again. We know the steps that must be taken. The soil must be tilled, the seeds drilled into the furrows and covered, fertilizer must be applied, and the crop must be irrigated. We’re racing the clock to get in and out of the field. There’s no time for a committee to decide what crop we’re going to plant and where, when or how we’re going to plant it. We work our process with precision and complete the planting with days to spare. Now we wait patiently for the crop to grow, nurturing it as required by our process until it’s ready for harvest.

We can have a high sense of urgency and be patient, all at the same time. Our urgency lies with developing and implementing an efficient process, and our patience comes in waiting for the results.

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 Adaptable Entrepreneur

Major league baseball pitchers throw some amazing pitches. Their repertoire includes the breaking ball, changeup, forkball, screwball, slider, curveball, knuckleball, four-seam fastball, split-finger fastball, cutter, sinker, two-seam fastball and probably some other customized versions of all the above. These pitches range in speed from 70+ to over 100 miles-per-hour. How a batter can even see a pitch that is screaming in at speeds above 90 and dancing all over the place is an incredible feat. And the fact that such pitches can be hit for home runs is even more stupefying. How do they do it?

Major league batters expect to adapt. They know that they are going to see a wide array of pitches that are surgically placed in different locations in the general area of home plate. Thus, every at-bat requires them to adapt to a host of variables. Top-flight big leaguers have an uncanny knack for successfully adapting their vision and their swing to hit the ball and get on base. They go to the plate knowing with absolute certainty that they must be able to adapt, or they will strike out, fly out or ground out.

As entrepreneurs we would be well-served to study successful major league baseball players and observe how they adapt. Sometimes they shorten their swing. At other times they become supremely patient. They may try and push the ball to the opposite field; they may bunt, and they might also time their swing in order to pull the ball. All of this happens within a split second.

We entrepreneurs often work hard to create elaborate strategies and back-fill with a host of tactics. We plan and we create extensive systems and processes. All are absolutely necessary to succeed. But sometimes we forget that we must expect to adapt. There is nothing negative about holding this expectation. The game plan provides a road map for us to follow, but it doesn’t account for every possible instance where we may need to be flexible.

With the disruption caused by COVID-19, our ability to adapt will be tested more than ever before. Businesses have been turned upside down along with the rest of our lives. Having a playbook is important but being able to turn on a dime and act entrepreneurially is critical to adapting to what may be the new normal. Over the years I’ve tried to muscle my way through a plan that I was convinced was the only way to go. Most of the time it led to failure or at least results that were less than stellar. I realize that I was being resistant to adaptation.

What I wish I had understood at the time is that the need to adapt can offer some incredible opportunities. And my resistance caused me to miss those opportunities. It’s easy to say, “OK, I have a plan and undoubtedly something will knock me off-course.” What goes unsaid is the thought that, “Then I’ll do whatever it takes to get back on-course.” But what if we had a mindset of expecting the need to adapt and actually turning it into a desire?” Think about all the wonderful inventions that have occurred in the past. If you’ve ever read the story of Steve Jobs, you’ll know that he was a master of adaptation. Through his flexible nature he embraced the chance to make changes to the iPhone and the result was, “WOW!” It’s well-documented that the initial vision for this technology would not have been nearly as phenomenally functional as what was eventually developed.

When we rejoice at the prospects of adapting our ideas, our creativity increases exponentially. Then we are positioned to achieve greatness in whatever we choose to do.

 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 Art of Self-Discipline

I have my parents to thank for my level of discipline. I think perhaps I’m naturally wired for discipline, but there’s no doubt that the conscripted nature of their approach was very influential. As a young boy, every morning for nine years, I would get up and practice the piano at 5:30 AM on weekdays. I practiced the clarinet every weekday as well. I (dutifully) mowed the lawn, shoveled the snow, cleaned up the dog poop in the backyard, did my homework and practiced basketball. There was no choice. It was either get with the program or I’m sure there would have been even more horrific chores for me to do around the house. So I complied – I didn’t want to find out what the consequences would have been otherwise. So, today, whether it’s diet, exercise, investments or daily routines, I’m blessed with more than enough discipline. But I’m well aware that I may not be normal in this respect.

Discipline is a critical ingredient to an entrepreneur’s recipe for success. Without it we lose the “stick-to-itness” that is needed to follow through on a project or focus on a long-term strategy. The beneficial implementation of various systems and processes is dependent upon a level of discipline. It’s obvious to every adult that adopting a disciplined approach to multiple facets of our lives is essential.

So what do we do if we are less inclined in the discipline department? First, we decide where to pick our battles. I’m a neat freak – my wife, not so much. My shoes are organized in cubbies in my closet and every time I take off a pair they go directly into the cubby in which they belong. My wife’s shoes may be on the floor in front of the love seat where she sits in our den. In fact there may be more than one pair there. She has cubbies in her closet too, but they are packed full and she has dozens of pairs strewn about haphazardly on the closet floor. Naturally this used to bug me being the ultra-disciplined obsessive compulsive individual that I am. But I’ve learned that it’s not that big of a deal. And I’ve actually taken a page from her playbook and decided that there are some things on which I can lighten up in my daily routine. The point is that we don’t have to be disciplined about everything. Thus, we give ourselves permission to be less so with the things that don’t really matter.

Next, we identify those areas where we definitely need to be more disciplined. This applies to both our personal and professional lives. This starts with envisioning what it looks like when we get there. In other words, we paint the grand picture of success for whatever endeavor we are pursuing. Let’s take an easy example – weight loss. We see in our mind’s eye what we look like when we are 25 pounds lighter. We visualize a new wardrobe, how much easier it is to climb stairs, how wonderful the compliments are from our friends and overall how much healthier and vibrant we are. This visualization exercise needs to be performed daily until we have the desire to fulfill it. This process is necessary to build commitment. Without commitment discipline may be fleeting – look at gym attendance in February (or even half way through January).

Once we visualize our outcome and become fully committed, we next determine the steps that must be taken to achieve our outcome. Perhaps we want to become more disciplined about being aware of current affairs in our industry. Just jumping in and starting to read more trade publications, doesn’t ensure that we’ll have the discipline to continue this on a long-term basis. Instead we decide which information channels will be most productive. We determine a specific time of day we want to set aside for this initiative, and we also pick the environment most conducive to making this happen. In my case, it would be the easy chair in my den at home between the hours of 7:00 and 8:00 PM. I may read a couple of print and numerous online publications that are proven to have the content I’m seeking. There are some endeavors requiring discipline that need to be broken into bite-sized pieces or require a build-up of some sort. I walk about 10 to 12 miles each day but I didn’t start out that way. My initial Fitbit goal was 10,000 steps. Then it became 20,000 and now it’s 30,000.

Developing self-discipline is a process that starts with identifying what actually requires such discipline, followed by a visualization of the outcome we desire which builds to a commitment to follow-through. Then we map out the steps we’ll be taking – but always, always we keep visualizing our end goal.

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 86 – Alligator Food

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.

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.

Oops . . .

I’ve said many times that mistakes are simply unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life. Too often we beat ourselves up over the mistakes that we make. Innovative forward-thinking entrepreneurs make a lot of mistakes. This is normal and necessary to some extent. It’s when the same mistake is made repeatedly that there’s real cause for concern.

Understanding how mistakes are made can be helpful in eliminating their repetition. Simply shrugging off a mistake as “an unfinished experiment” is a missed opportunity to gain deeper insight into why it happened and what can be learned. This also must be tempered in the other direction. We’ve all seen sports teams that play not to lose. Often this ends badly. We can become tentative and overly-focused on avoiding mistakes. And what happens then? We actually end up making even more mistakes.

I’ve learned quite a bit about mistake-making over the course of my life and career. Many were silly. Some were more significant. Fortunately none were ever life or death. Here’s what I’ve learned.

A number of my mistakes occurred because I failed to Plan. I shot from the hip or simply jumped into the water without any forethought. Plotting a course doesn’t mean having a 40-page business plan. But it’s important to think through the different steps that will be taken to reach the ultimate objective. In the process we also look for possible hiccups that might be encountered and determine what can be done to avoid or mitigate them.

With a plan in hand we make sure we have sufficient resources to effectively implement it. Further, we also determine if we (and/or our team) are adequately Educated on what we will need to do to succeed. A large percentage of mistakes are made because those implementing the plan aren’t fully up-to-speed on how to do so. Failure to be sufficiently educated on the “how” and to understand the context of a particular situation can have deadly consequences. Think about an auto mechanic who isn’t properly trained on how to re-connect a brake line on a particular model of car. Uh oh.

Following a plan and being educated on the “how” doesn’t guarantee a mistake-free execution if Process is ignored. On June 1, 2009, Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing all aboard. The report by the French Aviation agency, BEA, stated, “Temporary inconsistency between the measured airspeeds likely following the obstruction of the pitot probes by ice crystals that led in particular to autopilot disconnection and a reconfiguration to alternate law,” and “inappropriate control inputs that destabilized the flight path.” In other words, the pilots failed to follow the prescribed process for such conditions.

Here’s a cause for mistakes that happens more often to me than I care to admit. It’s called Distraction. I’ll be cranking away on a project and the phone will ring; someone stops by my office, or I need to dash off to an appointment. Unfortunately my project was interrupted and so was my train of thought. When I pick up where I left off I’m in the danger zone. Invariably there’s a gap that I can pinpoint as the root cause of whatever mistake ensues. More recently I’ve been trying to make some notes to myself before tending to the distraction.

Information Failure is usually referenced in the field of economics. But I think it can be broadened in more general terms to include mistakes that are made from bad information, bad facts and/or bad conclusions. There have been times that the data was old and I hadn’t bothered to make sure that it was current. And, there’s no doubt that I’ve drawn the wrong conclusion as a result of incomplete information.

We all want to minimize our mistakes. Understanding what causes them is the first step in this process. For me a failure to plan, be educated, follow process, becoming distracted and using bad or incomplete information are usually the reasons for my mistakes.

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 39 – The Enemy.

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.

thenuttyprofessor

Urgently Patient

We entrepreneurs are a pretty restless bunch. Most of us have an ultra-high sense of urgency. I know that I certainly fall into this category. I plead guilty to always wanting things to happen a lot faster than they do. And I do realize that this creates a level of stress for the people I work with. But I’m also one of the most patient people you’ll ever meet. Huh? Does this seem like a complete contradiction? Let me explain.

My urgency meter moves quickly into the red zone when I encounter bureaucracy or if there are delays in implementation. I guess I feel like we’re all living on borrowed time and there’s a lot I want to accomplish before my time is up. Thus, anything that wastes time or energy causes anguish for me. Recently I worked with a state agency on a particular matter that took two months to finally resolve. I had a pleasant conversation with the government employee and suggested that there must be a faster way to conclude the matter. She explained that two months in government time is “lightning speed.” Unfortunately she’s probably right. In the private sector the matter would have been handled in a matter of days or perhaps even hours. Fortunately I have a great relationship with the head of this agency. At the time of this writing, I’m working with him and his team to create a more expedited manner in which to deal with issues of the kind I encountered.

Here’s a key point. My sense of urgency is with the process. I want things to be efficient. I want things to be cost-effective. I want the manner in which something is accomplished to happen quickly. In my world there’s no place for analysis-paralysis or indecision. We don’t need a committee to make decisions. It’s important to get input from different members of the team and their buy-in is critical. But someone must then step-up, take charge and lead. Poor communications is a killer of initiative and creates bottlenecks. If communication isn’t clear and concise, time is wasted when clarification is sought. All of this is process-related.

I said I’m a patient individual as well as having a high sense of urgency. Here’s another key point. I am patient when it comes to results. I’m in the type of business where results don’t materialize overnight. I have come to realize this after more than 40-years in the trenches. My philosophy is that if we take care of the basics and fundamentals through well-designed systems and processes, the results will take care of themselves. I can wait months or even years for the results because that’s often what it takes.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Suppose you and I are farmers. We must get a crop in the ground by date certain or we’ll have to wait an entire season to plant again. We know the steps that must be taken. The soil must be tilled, the seeds drilled into the furrows and covered, fertilizer must be applied and the crop must be irrigated. We’re racing the clock to get in and out of the field. There’s no time for a committee to decide what crop we’re going to plant and where, when or how we’re going to plant it. We work our process with precision and complete the planting with days to spare. Now we wait patiently for the crop to grow, nurturing it as required by our process until it’s ready for harvest.

We can have a high sense of urgency and be patient, all at the same time. Our urgency lies with developing and implementing an efficient process, and our patience comes in waiting for the results.

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.

stopwatch

Mistake-Prone

I have a philosophy that mistakes are simply unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life. That doesn’t mean we want to leave unfinished the same experiment over and over. But being too tentative and too cautious to avoid making a mistake may itself be a mistake! The obvious conclusion is that we want to learn from our mistakes and turn them into productive experiences.

To turn our mistakes into productive experiences we need to analyze them in a process-oriented manner. Being a go-go entrepreneur, it’s not easy for me to slow down long enough to reflect on what went wrong. Generally I just want to get back in the game and do it right the next time. This worked somewhat well in the past, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that being more intentional about analyzing mistakes increases the odds of not making the same mistake again. It also has caused me to look for the “silver lining” – that nugget of information that might enable me to turn the mistake into something unintentionally positive.

Step One in my mistake analysis process involves the simple act of identifying what went wrong and writing it down. Yes, I know this takes time, but it forces us to take a hard look at what happened. Did I follow an established process or did I deviate from it – maybe even wing it? Did I fail to build-in a sufficient margin of safety at the front end? Did I somehow ignore warning signals that were flashing at me? Was I driven by emotion or was my initiative grounded in facts? I’ve found that most of my mistakes came from deviating from an established process. Because of my go-go nature I want results to happen very quickly. By analyzing my mistakes I’ve recognized a tendency pattern to cut corners.

Step Two requires that we consciously determine what we need to do differently and commit to do it. Knowing that I have the propensity to cut corners, I have become committed to following established processes. Before I move forward with anything I’m doing, I stop myself and ask the simple question, “What is the process that needs to be followed?” I make certain that I know exactly what the process should be and then I affirm, “I know the process and I will follow it.” Sometimes I may even make this pledge to a close colleague for accountability sake.

The final step in mistake analysis is that of looking for the “silver lining.” History is littered with mistakes that resulted in brilliance. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin due to a mistake he made in his lab. Another famous mistake at the 3M laboratories turned into Post-it Notes. Plastic was invented as the result of a mistake – some say that Charles Goodyear left a mixture of rubber and sulfur on the stove too long and found that he had created a new material. Wilson Greatbatch was building a heart rhythm recording device in 1956; used a wrong part, and realized that the device would maintain a heart rhythm – thus the pacemaker was born. If we don’t look for the silver linings in our mistakes we may never find that little (or big) something that manifests into a positive development. Finding the silver lining requires a creative mindset – perhaps this is an exercise that can be done with others. Take the mistake and purposefully look through the “rubble” to see if there’s anything of value that might be useful.

Mistakes don’t have to be the end of the world for us if we take the time to find out what happened; how we’re going to act differently in the future and committing to such different action, and finding the silver linings that may be hiding in plain sight.

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.

mistakes