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Archive for August, 2011

Well, it’s the end of the summer and I’m taking a vacation.  I’m off to Cape May, New Jersey next week. I’ll be back restored for September with more idle thoughts about entrepreneurship and sales.

But for this week I just wanted to share this revised take on the fable of “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” sent to me by my friend and fellow business owner Terri Guarnieri last week.  It’s provenance is a gentleman named Howard Davidow.

The Ant and the Grasshopper

This one is a little different….
Two Different Versions….

Old Version

The ant works hard
in the withering heat all summer long,
building his house and laying supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper
thinks the ant is a fool and laughs
and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the ant is warm
and well fed.

The grasshopper has
no food or shelter, so he
dies out in the cold.

Modern Version

The ant works hard
in the withering heat and the rain all summer long,
building his house and laying up supplies for the winter

The grasshopper thinks the ant
is a fool and laughs and dances
and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering grasshopper
calls a press conference and demands to
know why the ant should be
allowed to be warm and well fed while he
is cold and starving.

CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, and ABC show up to
provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper
next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home
with a table filled with food.
America is stunned by the sharp contrast.

How can this can be, that in a country of
such wealth, this poor grasshopper
is allowed to suffer so?

Kermit the Frog appears
on Oprah with the grasshopper
and everybody cries when they sing,
‘Its’s Not Easy Being Green…’

ACORN stages
a demonstration in front of the ant’s
house where the news station film the
SEIU group singing, ‘We Shall Overcome’

Then Rev. Jeremiah Wright
has the group kneel down to pray for the
grasshopper’s sake,
while he damns the ants.

President Obama condemns the ant
and blames President Bush 43, President Bush 41,
President Reagan, Christopher Columbus, and the
Pope for the grasshopper’s plight.

Nancy Pelosi & Harry Reid
exclaim in an interview with Larry King
that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the
grasshopper, and both call for an immediate tax hike
on the ant to make him pay his fair share.

Finally, the EEOC drafts
the Economic Equity &
Anti-Grasshopper Act retroactive
to the beginning of the summer.

The ant is fined for failing to hire a
proportionate number of green bugs and,
having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes,
his home is confiscated by the Government Green Czar
and given to the grasshopper.

The story ends as we see the grasshopper
and his free-loading friends finishing up the
last bits of the ant’s food while the government house he is in,
which, as you recall, just happens to be the ant’s old house,
crumbles around them because the grasshopper
doesn’t maintain it.

The ant has disappeared in the snow, never to be seen again.

The grasshopper is found dead in a drug
related incident, and the house, now abandoned, is taken
over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the ramshackle,
once prosperous and peaceful, neighborhood.

The entire Nation collapses
bringing the rest
of the free world with it.

Thank you Howard Davidow.

(Tim’s next blog will appear September 6th 2011, when he returns from vacation.)

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Who is John Galt?  Well, he’s pretty much the bloody patron saint of entrepreneurship and capitalism. Saint John Galt.  Of course, his provenance is as the cryptic, chimerical entrepreneurial hero of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.  But his essence is becoming spookily real again as personified by a spirited, unspoken, unorganized strike that may be taking hold in the entrepreneurial community.  This is not a good or healthy thing for the economy.

The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows the sum of new business “births” was lower than any other year since it’s research began in 1994.  Robert Litan of the Kauffman Foundation states, “If this persists–the sputtering engine of entrepreneurship–it will discourage future generations of entrepreneurs.”

Mr. Litan is right. The economy simply cannot afford the continuing degradation of the private sector, particularly juxtaposed to the expansion of the public sector.  Entrepreneurship is the goose that will increasingly not be able to generate the golden eggs of national prosperity.

For example, on Saturday I was idly watching CNN and an economist cited this statistic:   In 2008 the Department of Transportation had one employee making over $170,000.  Today it has 1,090 such employees.  Wow.  This while businesses continue to tighten and lay off.

John Bussey states in an article in The Wall St. Journal of August 12 (Section B, page 1):

“Imagine a small airstrip where single-seat planes head down the runway, get 100 feet into the air and crash back to Earth, joining a heap of wreckage that grows by the day. You’d think this might discourage people deciding to become a pilot.

That’s a snapshot of what the recent recession did to many small businesses in America, where beneath the wreckage of failed companies lies a collection of would-be entrepreneurs.”

Entrepreneurship cannot thrive in a cautious, timid, uncertain culture and in the face of hostile governmental rhetoric and bureaucratic overreach.  Certainly, with the advent of Obamacare,  business will increasingly be forced into a position of being the administrator and flow-through mechanism for the money of the nanny state–a cash cow for a statist dirigisme.  This is a nuisance, an annoyance, a distraction and an inhibitor of efficient enterprise.

A prime personal reason I became an entrepreneur was simply for personal freedom.  It is my prime non-monetary motivation to create and lead my firm Corporate Rain International.  Dignity and autonomy are the rewards for the personal act of courage that is entrepreneurship.  Growing governmental control diminishes this incentive.

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Several of my friends are taking golf holidays this summer.  They can’t get enough of the sport.  When they ask me to play with them, I tell them I’ve never learned how to play.  Their reaction is usually somewhere between pity and wonderment.

As long as I can remember, golf has been one of the quintessential guy things to do.  And, more than that, golf seems to be viewed as a key skill by executive salesmen–and that is one of my primary jobs as CEO of my company, Corporate Rain International.  In fact, I have heard sales folk speak of the golf course in almost reverential tones, as the ideal networking format.  I hope this doesn’t make me a partial sales cripple.

Certainly golf seems to be great fun.  There is at least a hint of a fanatical, addictive gleam in the eye of golfers I meet.  Also, to judge from the number of fund-raising invitations I get involving golf, it seems to be a mainstay of the eleemosynary.

As an outsider looking in on this business sport of golf I have one primary observation:  It takes a long time to play.  I’m told that the average golf outing is three hours.  For me, my time is my most cherished resource as a salesman, as an entrepreneur, and as a human being.  Do I spend it teaching my daughter tennis?  Do I spend it with my wife?  Do I spend it on the endless myriad of tasks I should be doing as head of my company and often don’t get to?  Should I spend the time just thinking or winnowing down that Mt. Everest of books that sits by my bed?

I don’t think I’m alone in this calculation.  I can see that golf is a wonderful esthetically pleasing sport.  I could see myself enjoying it one of these days.  But, in terms of a business tool, it doesn’t seem a particularly efficient way of initiating new business.

We’re in an increasingly fast-moving business world.  Efficiency in business presentation and connection is paramount.  As an observing outsider with his nose pressed to the glass,  I find golf quaintly inefficient as a rainmaking tool.

Mark Twain called golf “a good walk spoiled.”  Golf, if nothing else, seems to breed wonderful, witty comments.  Here are a couple.  “Golf is a game where white men can dress up as black pimps and get away with it.” (Robin Williams)  Or how ’bout this.  “If every golfer in the world, male and female, were laid end to end, I, for one would leave them there.” (Mark Parkinson).

Thanks Mark, Robin, and Mark, et. al.

Comments 8 Comments »

I was struck by a David Brooks op-ed in the New York Times this spring (3/10/11).  Brooks starts his column with this statement, “We’re an overconfident species.  94% of college professors believe they have above average teaching skills.  A survey of high school students found that 70% of them have above average leadership skills and only 2% are below average…[Recently] 80% of high school seniors said they were “a very important person.”

I went back to Mr. Brooks article as I watched dumbfounded the debt debacle debated last week in Washington.  The fear was palpable among politicians of both parties that if they don’t let Americans continue to have their cake and eat it to, they will be voted out out of office.  The assumption being that we have become a nation of spineless, self-seeking individuals incapable of responding to larger issues of communal sacrifice and the greater good.

This spiritual arrogance has been written about extensively by Dr. Jean Twenge and Dr. W. Keith Campbell.  They say, in their introduction to The Narcissism Epidemic (April, 2009, Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster),

“On a reality TV show, a girl planning her Sweet Sixteen wants a major road blocked off so a marching band can precede her grand entrance on a red carpet.  Five times as many Americans undergo plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures a ten years ago, and ordinary people hire fake paparazzi to follow them around to make them look famous.  High school students physically attack classmates and post YouTube videos of the beatings to get attention.  And for the past several years,  Americans have been buying McMansions and expensive cars on credit they can’t afford.”

David Brooks wonders if the rise of consumption and debt is influenced by an increasingly grandiose citizenry who desire to adorn their lives with the things they feel befit their station.  Brooks says, “I wonder if the rise in partisanship is influenced by a narcissistic sense that, ‘I know how the country should be run and anybody who disagrees with me is just in the way.'”  Brooks conjectures a link between a generational “magnification of the self and a declining saliency of virtues associated with citizenship.”

(For example, I have always felt that a practical humility is my best friend in objectively dealing with the daily challenges of entrepreneurship.  Last year one of my clients sent me a book called “Crush It” by Gary Vaynerchuck.  While Mr. Vaynerchuck is clearly a smart cookie in terms of internet technology and the wine business, the hegemonic arrogance of the title (and frequently in the body of the book itself), struck me as unusefully self-aggrandizing and self-serving in an entrepreneur, not to mention in terms of being a salutary corporate citizen and resident of the larger body of humanity.)

Mr. Brooks concludes his column with the following:

“Perhaps the enlargement of the self has also attenuated the links between the generations.  Every generation has an incentive to push costs of current spending into future generations.  But no generation has done it as freely as this one.  Maybe people in the past had a visceral sense of themselves as a small piece of a larger chain across the centuries.  As a result, it felt viscerally wrong to privilege the current generation over the future ones, in a way it no longer does.”

Thank you, David Brooks.

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