Posted by Tim Askew in Blog, Corporate Rain, Dinosaurs, Entrepreneurial Sales, Entrepreneurship, Little Things, tags: "Get Motivated", Dan Rather, General Colin Powell, John Donne, Joshua Dysart, Maureen Dowd, NY Times, Rick Belluzo, Rudy Giuliani, Sir Henry, Steve Forbes, Terry Bradshaw, Verizon Center
Contemporary comic book writer and graphic novelist Joshua Dysart writes: “People, we’re always reaching for these big things…you know? Big ideas…big moments…big lives. And all the while the little things we’re ignoring are undoing us.”
I was reading a Maureen Dowd op-ed a couple of years ago in the NY Times. It was enjoyably full of her scathing, caustic observations, on this occasion commenting on a recent “Get Motivated!” seminar at the Verizon Center in Washington. As usual, Dowd was funny and more than a little mean. And right on.
My general feeling about these massive feel-good inspirational gatherings is that they’re a bunch of hooey. Not wrong in their stated insights, just shallow and quite temporary in their efficacy. Kind of like a business pep rally. Certainly not my cup of tea.
However, amidst Ms. Dowd’s cynical reportage on talks by the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Forbes, Dan Rather and Rick Belluzo, I was caught by some business advice shared by General Colin Powell. His advice? Simply to be nice and particularly to be nice to the little people like the folks who clean your office and park your car (or simply other people on your elevator who sometimes turn out to be the CEO). He also avers the value of small details. For instance, Powell reports writing thank you notes on personalized 4-by-6 inch cards. “I write with a fountain pen. Never a Sharpie. Never a ball point pen. A fountain pen.” Dowd reports.
It seems to me Colin Powell is quite on to a real truth here. It’s little things that set the tone for successful entrepreneurship–little considerations, little details. Focusing on the small decencies creates an ambiance of service and real carefulness in business dealings. It becomes reflected in the larger actions of a company.
To expand on General Powell’s concern for the small things, I always recommend that any missive or serious communication one sends out go on high-quality stationary and be sent by snail mail, ideally with a commemorative stamp. This is sometimes cause for eye-rolling impatience by some cutting-edge entrepreneurs enamored of the wonders of Tweeting, Friending, Linking-in, etc. But there is a method to my antediluvian madness. Yes, it takes extra time and money to communicate in such qualitative ways, but the very effort communicates care and valuation on a subconscious level. There is a sensual subconscious statement that is communicated by the very feel of high-quality stationary. It creates an aura of seriousness, reflecting both respect for your client and the general business process. It unspokenly says exactly the manner you would represent a client and effectively serve her.
Additionally, the very fact that the personal letter is increasingly rare gives special notice to those who use it. It is not a dinosaur inefficiency. It is a notable differentiator that, in the long-term, makes a branding statement, as well as creating a subrosa gravitas and a sense of business seriousness.
Or, as John Donne says in his poem To Sir Henry(1663) “Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls.” Thank you, John Donne.
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The English philosopher Bertrand Russell, in The Impact of Science on Society, states simply, “If you feel love, you have a motive for existence, a reason for action.”
People want to fall in love. A good salesman should let them.
To explain what I mean by this, let me step backwards for a moment. The root of quality selling must always be in having something valid, something true, something genuinely helpful to sell. If you don’t have this, don’t even begin to try to sell. If you try to sell that in which you have no passionate belief or something that is false you are dead. You are a servant of the devil. You are an apostle of the unsavory. You are Bernie Madoff. You are a fraud and incipient thief, as well as a killer of your own soul.
Perhaps this is obvious, but, in truth, good selling begins with a moral choice to purvey a real value and it is essential to know this in advance.
But assuming the real value of your selling proposition, salesmanship is really nothing more than helping people be selfish, helping people do the right thing for themselves. Some of this is listening truly and intently, some of this is sincerely caring about who you are conversing with.
The salesman’s job is to guide people to “fall in love” with that which can raise them up. The salesman’s job is to help a business client succumb to that which, in varying degrees, offers ROI salvation for himself and his firm.
It cannot be denied that most of us associate falling in love with erotic desire. Indeed, like a new lover, a salesman’s job is to make the truth sexy. A passionately told truth is and should be a heart-fluttering aphrodisiac.
Dr. M. Scott Peck, in his profoundly insightful book The Road Less Traveled talks extensively about the nature of love. He states, “…falling in love is a trick that our genes pull on our otherwise perceptive mind to hoodwink or trap us into marriage.” But, for Peck, falling in love is also a tool for initially breaking down barriers separating us all from a deeper love, a deeper truth and an agapic potentiality. Theologian Paul Tillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”
A good salesman, like a good lover, combines a conscious employment of qualities like looks, charm, wardrobe, and, most importantly, a well-honed charisma of expressed faith in a product. Charisma emanates from a fervid inner truth and an embedded belief. A focused salesman leaves a palpable frisson in his wake and should awake an ardent longing in a potential client to do what is in the client’s best interest anyway. Effective salesmen are evangelists of “the good.
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American business journalist and thinker Henry Hazlitt once wrote:
“A man with a scant vocabulary will most certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.”
Words are wonderful.
They are much more useful in business than they get credit for — particularly in executive sales. But words are not much emphasized or particularly valued in our technology hegemonous world. Sales articles are crammed full of an overwhelming amount of information about psychology, motivation, technology, social media, ROI, SEO, etc., yet seemingly never mention that simple cornerstone of human communication-words. Vocabulary. It’s as if words are unimportant or irrelevant to a modern woman or man. Words are for poets and philosophers, academics and lawyers, journalists and judges. Words are old-fashioned. Words are of the past, supplanted by a world of Twitter abbreviation (OMG, NRN, LOL, TMI, L8R, WTF, etc).
This is utterly wrong. And it is particularly not true about high-end, entrepreneurial business development, which was the specialty of my former executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International. Word usage and proficiency is important in branding a tonality of equal business stature when selling to real strategic corporate decision makers. CEO’s are more well-educated, thoughtful people, trained in the best schools in the world. Or, if they don’t have that specific educational pedigree, are fierce autodidacts. Either way, they are usually people of probing intellect and subtle ability to express and communicate nuance.
Corporate decision makers like to do business with their peers. They want to deal with people of equal business stature. A comfort level with precise and sophisticated word usage is one way of immediately establishing that tonality.
This does not mean to pepper your business conversations with artificially grandiose phrases, fustian excess or arbitrary verbal whimsy. Precise vocabulary can be used simply. But words bring shadings of specificity and descriptive depth, even a sensual enlivening, to the most prosaic of entrepreneurial conversations. (Also, by using new words, I actually learn them).
Last week one of my friends asked me to please write a posting not requiring use of a dictionary. Nah. It would remove too much color and delight. As Woody Allen puts it, “I call him a sadistic, hippophilic, necrophile, but that would be beating a dead horse.”
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Spanish cellist and conductor Pablo Casals once said, “To retire is to die.”
It is with discomfort and considerable squirming that I report I am no longer an active entrepreneur. I am a retired entrepreneur. In effect, I have been retired since I quietly passed on my company to my employees at the end of 2015. Yes, I still write this as the Founder of a corporation, but the truth is I am no longer an active practitioner of our noble vocation.
The transition to being a non-owner has been such a difficult and uneasy process for me. I utterly haven’t wanted to let people know I’d decided to hang up my entrepreneurial spurs. I have been unwilling and unable to publicly and proactively declare my change in life direction–or to declare I am letting go an old life. (As Neil Sedaka puts it, “Breaking up is hard to do.”) For example, when an interviewer recently introduced me as CEO of my former firm on a podcast, I simply didn’t bother to correct the impression. I was a closeted retiree. Perhaps this column is my coming out, as it were.
As I look inside myself, I find I am reluctant to give up my professional identity publicly. I haven’t redefined myself yet in terms of the next phase of my life. I sit in the limbo of a vocational vacuum. Though I have told some friends, I have an interior dread that my acquaintances and long-time small business colleagues will not longer respect me or want to know me or to read my column.
I am suffering from a soul fear. My fear is of being seen as an an irrelevancy, an entrepreneur without portfolio, of becoming a crotchety retired guy fading into a curmudgeonly irrelevance.
In fact, I am still an impassioned student and acolyte of entrepreneurship. My belief in entrepreneurship has never been so strong and certain. I have just chosen to not practice it actively any more since last year for a variety of personal and financial reasons.
While my company grew healthily for a number of years–it was part of the Inc. 5000–and enjoyed substantial respect and reputation, the daily process of the entrepreneurial slog began to feel rote. I had accomplished what I personally wanted–to create a through-branded company based in truth, discreet efficacy, service, and profitability. A company based in practical love. A company I could live in. A company that made me and the people it touched better.
However, the truth I is my business attention was waning. And this waning began to show in the bottom line. Profitability was more than lagging. I wanted to do something else, even though I did not know what it was.
So I stopped.
My old company gave me the emeritus title of Chief Culture Officer and kept my phone extension in their system till this year, but in truth I had almost no contact and no duties or power with my former company.
I think the process of withdrawing from your own company is very similar to mourning a death. Note Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief in her seminal book Death and Dying:
Additionally, there are moments when I feel an ego deflation. It’s a change to not be the big fish in my own small pond, to not be king of my own private Idaho. As Mel Brooks puts it, “It’s good to be king.”
My former company was my primary personal community and home to my spirit and lived beliefs. So for me and, I believe, most entrepreneurs, a business leave-taking is so much more than departing a job.
I think most folks believe the purpose of business is to make money, to amass wealth. But that has not been so for me. I believe and have found that business is a vehicle for meaning. Even without the financial rewards, the business journey is a reward in itself. It is a unique vehicle of calling, centering, and service, of finding integrity, freedom, personal dignity, and spiritual reality through an activity most would identify as quotidian and earthbound.
I intend to stay active in the local and national business community, still write this column, and perhaps start another venture eventually. I do want to continue to write and think about how business can be a conduit for meaning. Nevertheless, perhaps one truly needs to let go the known old to open up to the unknown new.
On his retirement from Cornell, Professor Scott Elledge said the following: “It is time I stepped aside for a less experienced, and less able man.” Thank you very much, Dr. Elledge.
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Posted by Tim Askew in Blog, Corporate Rain, Entrepreneurship, Polarization, Politics, tags: Amazon, Carl Jung, Inclusion, James Carville, Jennifer Brown, Mary Matalin, NPR, Peggy Noonan, Starbucks, The Second Coming, W.B. Yeats, Wall Street Journal
In his prophetic post World War I poem The Second Coming, W. B. Yeats writes:
“The blood dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned,
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
There is a Chinese curse that goes something like, “May you live in interesting times.” We certainly seem to be living in one of those times. Peggy Noonan called it “big history” in her Saturday Wall Street Journal column.
My friend Jennifer Brown, author of the recent Amazon business best-seller Inclusion, relates a conversation she overheard last week that got me thinking about the special challenges to entrepreneurial health in a time of severe societal polarization and instability.
Jennifer reports hearing a Starbucks barista sharing about how thoroughly sick she was of the incivility of current political discourse and that she had come to a conscious decision: The minute she logged onto Facebook and saw a single political post, she would immediately log off.
I know how she feels. The political trope of our time has never been so fraught nor the urge to disengage more alluring. Everything is overly charged. It seems folks are bloody exhausted, yet endlessly drawn back into the emotional vortex of the pure drama of a seeming manichaean struggle. (Manichaeism, if unknown to you, is an early Christian heresy that divided the world into absolutes–pure back and white, pure right or wrong–a dualism with little middle way.)
This dominant current meme is reinforced by a report I heard mentioned on NPR recently, which cited a poll from somewhere that over 40% of couples who supported different candidates in the US presidential election ended up breaking up over their differences. Wow! So much for the golden example of James Carville and Mary Matalin, Democratic and Republican strategists respectively, who seem to live a very happy domestic existence despite their political disparity.
There is an almost addictive quality to the dramatic distortion so apparent in our present political moment. It can be all-consuming to the detriment of the focused passion essential to entrepreneurial success. Much like any addiction, our exciting and disturbing political moment allows us to avoid and skirt the very real challenges posed by our essential businesses and personal lives. It is just so much easier to fling ourselves into the exciting societal/political drama than to face the quotidian challenges of everyday life and business. It’s like embracing an escapist sugar high.
This is not to say that political passion and idealism of any stripe are not necessary and wonderful. I respect idealism, of course. Most successful entrepreneurs are idealists. How else do they summon the indispensable courage to attempt to create something out of nothing each day? It is an act of artistic faith, as well as of personal will.
There is an intuitive wisdom in the decision of the young barista mentioned above who chooses to cut off any further political discourse rather than get caught up in ad hominem manichaean disputation. It is sometimes necessary to disengage temporarily. It may well be a healthful disengagement from present polarities to maintain a practical and mindful center. There is no shame in keeping your attention on the main business chance.
Successful entrepreneurs are nothing if not practical people. They are risk-takers but not reckless adventurers. They may live on the cutting edge, but not without shrewd calculation. To maintain that focus this may be a time for the withdrawal from the tropes of the popular meme. It may be a time of making choices as to where to place limited personal energy. Just as it is good to stay clear of individuals who are energy sucks, so is it also sometimes necessary to resist the lemming-like madness of societal drama.
Entrepreneurial practicality militates a functional utile, a nuanced understanding that truth exists in the gray non-absolutes, not in the blacks and whites of political purity. It is important to recognize a bone-deep weariness that can sap creative and functional business energy.
So, this is not a time of tolerance and the truth of “the gray.” But we do not need to surrender to distracting, uncentering angry absolutes.
As Carl Jung warns us, “We all feel the opposite of our own highest principle must be purely destructive, deadly, and evil. We refuse to endow it with any positive life force; hence we avoid and fear it.” Thanks, Carl.
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