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Archive for June, 2011

I’ll be short this week. Last week I posted my latest caveats about unanticipated conundrums surrounding social media. I’ve written several times about this already.

One of the reasons I’ve found myself dubious and cautious about social media is the perfervid evangelical zeal of its proponents, which I frequently find blinker-visioned, jaundiced and of limited practicality for busy, non-genius entrepreneurs like myself.

Drew Neisser, CEO of Renegade Marketing, partially addressed this issue in his blog, The Renegade Cut, last week. Drew is a successful entrepreneur and frequent speaker and thought leader on social media. He writes well and simply. He offers several helpful practical suggestions for “social media fatigue.”

1.  He suggests keeping Twitter lists under 200 and perhaps keeping a much smaller list you really care about.
2.  If you have more than 100 friends on Facebook, hide the dull ones.
3.  Look for trusted curators in your area of interest. Don’t follow everything. Drew recommends PSFK to discover the best of the best.
4.  Don’t feel you can’t go silent for a while.

As I hunker down in my Luddite cave cowering away before the onslaught of social media, I’d like to have more of this kind of practical advice. Every day seems to offer an avalanche of cool new technological must-haves. I need advice that helps me manage, sort, and prioritize a multifaria of social media. I could use a lot more common sense techie thinking. I don’t need to be “cool” and I don’t need every cutting-edge app. I don’t need technological Nirvana. I do need what I can use simply, quickly and efficiently.

Avinash Kaushik of Analytic Evangelist says, “Social Media is like teen sex. Everybody wants to do it. Nobody knows how. When it’s finally done there is surprise it’s not better.”

Sounds right to me. Thank you, Avinish.

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Anthony Weiner is interesting. And not just because of his jejune technological hijinks. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Heck, I personally come from a background of addiction and extended immaturity, and have done many more egregious and embarrassing things than Mr. Weiner. Many. Though I don’t particularly like Anthony Weiner, I do think there is a deal too much schadenfreude and gleeful piling on per his recent salacious tweeting.

However, Weiner’s case got me thinking again about technology. Weiner’s puerile acting out over the Internet could not have happened even four years ago. I think it is especially important for us entrepreneurs to be aware of the possibility of unintended consequences inherent in the marvelous efficiencies of technology and social media. My own virtual company, Corporate Rain International, could not exist without this multifaria of technological magics, and yet…

Technology has created a multitasking enablement that is almost God-like in its efficacy. But could these God-like powers be breeding an ethically unmoored, shallow thinking, morally unclear, hubristic new species of politician or business leader?

Linda Stone writes about this in the Harvard Business Review. (2007, February) She describes what she calls “continuous partial attention,” which she defines as a constant state of “scanning for opportunities and staying on top of contacts, events and activities in an effort to miss nothing.” Both William Powers in Hamlet’s Blackberry and Nicholas Carr in The Shallows have written thoughtfully on this phenomenon. (See blogs of 7/20/10 and 7/27/10.)

It’s hard to pay deep attention while tiptoeing through the tulips of constant emailing, blogging, friending, tweeting and linking in. As the leader of my small firm, I have to concentrate to maintain meaning and tonality for my company culture, not to mention for my own life. I need non-efficient, non-multitasking space to reflect, maunder and dream. Otherwise my life becomes a roundelay of shallow skimming; a heedless, uncentered, probably narcissistic, self-referential solipsism. Perhaps this is what happened to Anthony Weiner. Maybe technology can affect character.

Christine Rosen comments compellingly about a U.S. culture increasingly defined by a social media that presents a constant demand to collect fans and adoration. (The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society, Number 20, Spring 2008) She quotes Lord Chesterfield, who wrote to his son in the 1740s: “There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year if you will do two things at a time.” For Lord Chesterfield such steady focus was a sign of intelligence and moral rectitude. “This steady and undissipated attention to one object, is a sure mark of a superior genius; as hurry, bustle, and agitation are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind.”

Or, as William James said, “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will.”

Thank you, William.

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Here I go again. Foaming at the mouth about government hostility to small business. I’m sorry. I can’t help it.

The present occasion for my bile comes out of a Charles Gasparino column in the NY Post (p. 21) of June 3, 2011. Mr. Gasparino speaks about how much small businessmen want to employ Americans in their firms, as well as to keep their companies firmly rooted in the US, but are being forced away from this strategy. He states, “Businesses have learned to make money by cutting costs (i.e., jobs) or relocating to China or India.  And it’s not merely that it’s cheaper to operate overseas; a huge part of the problem is the fear that it’s going to keep getting more expensive to hire here.

I know lots of small business owners and to a man they are lovers of America and are committed to their local communities. But why should any of us hire in an increasingly hostile anti-business environment that limits entrepreneurial creativity and flexibility, and lards on ever-increasing bureaucracy and taxes? I personally know owners of small firms who manufacture things like gloves, eye glass frames, automobile filters, electronics, etc., who are wracking their brains to figure out how to profitably stay in the US.

Or, to look at a large business, Boeing, out-of-the-blue, is being prevented from opening a new plant with thousands of new jobs in right-to-work state South Carolina by an obscure bureaucratic agency packed with unelected labor union activists. If the ruling holds, Boeing will not open a non-competitive union plant. It will simply move the plant overseas. Bye, bye American jobs. John Galt, where art thou?

Peter Sidoti of Sidoti & Company and a specialist in analyzing small corporations, points to the disturbing example of A.T. Cross Co., which makes Cross pens. Cross couldn’t imagine taking on the expense of relocating out of Rhode Island–until it started adding up costs of federal, state, and local taxes and bureaucracy. You guessed it. Another plant goes to China. (And now their stock is booming.)

Sidoti goes on to talk about his own Wall Street firm which pays a 75% tax rate in New York. Says Sidoti, “Washington has to decide what they want the country’s future to be. Is it going to be Detroit, which did nothing to help business so people and capital have fled. Or will it be Texas, which is attracting people and capital?” Mr. Sidoti is himself looking into relocating his office to Austin, Texas.

It’s becoming increasingly easy for small business, as well as large, to relocate internationally and to a few business-friendly states. Like China and India. Like Texas. Note the Wall Street Journal’s lead editorial on Friday (page A-14, June 10, 2011) which lists Texas as generating fully 45% of non-farm new jobs in America since the recovery began. Says the WSJ, “The Texas economy has grown on average by 3.3% a year over the last two decades, compared with 2.6% for the US overall. Yet the core impulse of [the current national government] is to make America less like Texas and more like California, with more government, more unions, more central planning, higher taxes.

To quote Charlie Gasparino again, “The bad news is that not everyone in this country is wealthy enough to own [foreign] stocks or can afford to move to China for a factory job.

Thank you, Charlie Gasparino. I guess.

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To continue from last week–My philosophy about sales employees is this: I don’t want employees at all. What I want is peers with a congruent value system to share a personal and business journey.

For me that journey must begin with common values. I seek out executive sales associates who want their work to give back to the world through service and truth telling to customers and potential customers. Under that rubric of shared values, I try to only hire executive sales colleagues who are better than me at both genuine caring for the client and creating efficacious results, in that order. However, the truth is we are all better and worse than each other in our variegated ways.

So I organize my firm, Corporate Rain International, as a lifestyle firm; as a virtual company that affords all associates the freedom to maximize their own sales instincts and acumen with minimal interference from the big, bad boss (me). Over 17 years I’ve found this philosophy makes for an enlivened company and a happy community. It incentivizes and vivifies autonomy as a core value.

Etymologically, the term autonomy derives from the Greek word meaning self-governing. To be autonomous means to act in accord with oneself. When we are autonomous we all emanate a salesmanship infused with energy, integrity and a personal authenticity that sells.

Authenticity is compelling. Like the judge who, when asked to define pornography, said, “I can’t define it, but I know it when i see it.” Buyers feel much the same way. They know authenticity when they see it. Stephen Colbert famously calls this quality “truthiness,” I see incentivizing “truthiness” in every sales associate of my firm as a primary leadership imperative. You want to activate “truthiness,” not just because it is moral, but because it is effective.

Therefore, part of incentivization is hiring people who share corporate values so they are always, without thinking, succeeding by propelling a truth inside themselves. In my case I hire educated, value-oriented, experienced salespeople who are adults and self-starters and I turn ’em loose within a controlled system. And then I trust in the Lord. The results have generally rewarded my faith.

Of course, everyone works for money. That has to be fair and appropriate. But I firmly believe that passion and commitment are not fundamentally incentivized by money. They are better motivated by a will to happiness and autonomy.

Or, as Albert Schweitzer said, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.

Thank you, Albert.

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