Subscribe to Making Rain by Email

Archive for May, 2012

Facebook had a disastrous IPO on May 22, 2012, fraught with greed, incompetence, and miscalculation.  But I wonder if what Facebook should really worry about is not its stock valuation, but its long-term efficacy.

In truth I think Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, its cousin Twitter) is mostly a monumental time waster.  To my mind, paraphrasing Gertrude Stein, “there is no there there.”  It would not surprise me to see Facebook do a slow fade over the next decade, despite its over 900 million user base.

That said, Facebook is cool.  Mark Zuckerberg in his hoody is cool.  He is even mentioned in the same breath with Steve Jobs.  For the life of me, I don’t understand why.  Despite last Tuesday’s $17 billion dollar windfall, Facebook seems to have little value in the real world.  Facebook produces no product, beyond its facilitation of sharing the most superficial and trivial aspects of its users lives.  It’s just a social media site.  I can easily see it being supplanted by an even cooler time-wasting social media sharing site, perhaps one less superficial, chimerical, and vaprous.  Unlike LinkedIn, Google, and even YouTube which have monetizable and clear business usages, Facebook seems silly.

That said, I do have a Facebook page.  (The last time I looked I had all of 11 “friends,” one of whom I do not know.  I never use it as an entrepreneur, though this blog does get reposted on it.)

Rich Lowry wrote an amusing piece about Facebook last week entitled The Time Wasting Network.  (National Review Online-5/18/12)  He says, “Facebook is the world’s foremost purveyor of information you shouldn’t care about.  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is to uselessness what Henry Ford was to the automobile.”  Mean, but apt.  Lowry goes on to quote the T.S. Eliot line “distracted from distraction by distraction” as describing the addictive cultural appeal of social media in general and Facebook in particular.

So what does this cogitation on Facebook have to say to the practical entrepreneur?

Well, just this.  The greatest capital asset of the entrepreneur is simply his or her time.  Most of us cannot afford to be distracted by the transient, the onanistic, or the ROI inefficient.  While Facebook can facilitate and help organize social networking and various activities, do you really want to know about my great ham sandwich over lunch, see my cute dog taking a dump, or admire my daughter’s new pink braces?  I guess Facebook’s 900 million subscribers do.  But business decisions must be made by each of us about where to place our own precious human capital (ourselves.)

Time use is becoming a more and more crucial factor as technology expands exponentially and apps proliferate.  There is sometimes a lemming-like hunger to follow the crowd into each new (or old) genius app just so our firms can project a “cutting edge” image.  But what is cool and what is useful are not necessarily the same in my experience.

(If you want to read more on the subject of time management and business try scrolling back in Making Rain to March 20.)

Entrepreneur and inventor Benjamin Franklin said, “If time be of all things most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality.”

Amen, Brother Ben.  Thank you.

Comments 11 Comments »

I think there is a unique strain that goes on in entrepreneurial marriages.  It certainly goes on in mine.  Of course, entrepreneurs aren’t the only people dealing with marital dissonance, but there is a specificity to entrepreneurial marriage issues that is notable.

The risks entrepreneurs take are not just financial but also very personal and particular  Though there are no specific statistics I can find on the subject, I can share anecdotally that achievement in self-generated business can come at the price of marital satisfaction.  And I’m not really sure there is any clear answer to this conundrum for the entrepreneur and his/her family.

Meg Cadoux Hirshberg has written about this as an entrepreneurial spouse in her Inc. Magazine column Balancing Acts.  She says, “Other professions keep people away from home and preoccupy their thoughts, but they don’t produce the toxic cocktail of resentment and anxiety created by putting the family’s security constantly at risk….More fundamentally, people start companies to do their own things while marriage is about doing things together.”  (Inc. Magazine, November, 2010, “Why More Entrepreneurs Are Getting Divorced”)

I experience entrepreneurship as a lonely enterprise.  Entrepreneurs are passionate, focused, independent and courageous people.  But they have to be comfortable perched on the edge of a high-risk cliff of possible business mortality at all times.  Your wife may not be comfortable perched on that abyss with you.  For me, my firm, Corporate Rain International, can be a compulsion at times, a sort of chosen maelstrom of highly wrought fervor, fear, and hope.  I can be almost like an obsessed addict, who sees all things in terms of his fix.  It is not easy to share my inner  entrepreneurial demons with my wife because it would cause her needless anxiety about issues she is helpless to solve for me.

My daughter Truitte frequently notes my emotional absence at home.  She will yell at me, “Daddy, take off your business face!  I’m talking to you.”  Sorry, Sweetie.

Here are just a few entrepreneurial irritants to my wife that can elicit serious anger.

  1. I am reluctant to take vacations.  When I do take vacations it is hard for me to let go of the Blackberry.  (Meg Cadoux Hirschberg calls her husband’s Blackberry his “Bond girl.”  She is not wrong.  There is unquestionably an almost sexual component to my own passion for nurturing my company.  It is parallel to my marriage and an equally powerful and personal relationship.)
  2. I make many decisions instinctively and privately.  My wife, understandably, gets very angry about not being consulted on decisions that potentially affect her and my daughter’s future.
  3. I’m sometimes impatient with the non-rationality that surrounds personal family issues.  It is not like my business and doesn’t lend itself to “logical” solutions of business.  As my daughter frequently reminds me at home, “You’re not the boss.”
  4. I’m not home enough.

The list is legion and can go on and on.  So far my marriage is intact, despite my entrepreneurship and other character flaws.  But balancing my two lovers–my spouse and my company–ain’t always easy or comfortable.

Nevertheless, as Homer says in The Odyssey, “There is nothing nobler or more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.”

Thank you, Homer.

Comments 9 Comments »

Jonah Lehrer’s new book Imagination is so crammed full of useful information and thought for the entrepreneur, I hardly know where to begin.  I can just say read this book.  It is energizing.

Lehrer first posits that creativity is a universal trait.  We are all capable of it.  And there are specific ways it can be summoned.

For Lehrer, the key ingredient is releasing the liberating effect of a child’s mind.  Children are effortlessly creative.  We simply need to remember how to think like a child.  He quotes Picasso on viewing an exhibition of children’s art in 1956.  Picasso says “When I was the age of these children, I could draw like Raphael.  It took me many years to learn how to draw like these children.”  The young know less, which is why they often invent more.  He sets forth several scientific studies that prove the importance of child-like thinking, as well as the very productive practical efforts of Google, 3M, and Pixar to nudge their employees to think like children.

Lehrer points to the scientific validation of Nietsche’s view of thinking as divided into two classes:  the Apollonian, which imposes linear order on chaotic reality, and the Dionysian, which embraces the intoxication of vertical thinking and leaping into the abyss, otherwise known as left and right brain thinking.

My favorite story of creativity in Imagination concerns Bob Dylan.   Dylan came off tour in 1965 exhausted, depleted, out of ideas, and quite weary of writing protest songs.  He withdrew to a cabin in Woodstock, NY with no intention of doing anything but rest.  He didn’t even bring his instruments.  Yet in very short order Dylan produced an amazing amount of poetry that was the essence of his great album “Like a Rolling Stone.”  (Lehrer tells it much more engagingly than I describe it.)  Dylan says of creativity,  “It’s like a ghost writing a song.  It gives you the song and goes away.”

So, how does a practical small businessman or woman use all this rumination on imagination?

Well, here are a few things from Imagination that I intend to think more about and to apply.

  1. Discipline yourself to do nothing but gaze out the window for part of your morning train ride or during your commute in traffic.  Put down the paper, turn off the radio, and shut off the Blackberry and iPad.  Do nothing and be nothing.  (My own commute is 30 minutes on Metro North.)  So many new thoughts and solutions do come tumbling into silence.  So allow yourself attentional freedom and mental chaos.  I often wish I had twice as long a ride.
  2. Do not look to brainstorming to summon creative ideas.  Lehrer notes that brainstorming is good for building morale and collegiality—but not for fostering originality.  He shares studies revealing that brainstorming intimates the original thinker and rewards groupthink.  So brainstorming is not an ideal ideation tool.
  3. Learn to love creative failure.  This is certainly an ongoing trope of mine (see my Making Rain blog posts of 1/19/10, 1/26/10, 10/4/11, etc.)  One secret most effective entrepreneurs know is that failure is the bedrock of success.  I certainly had a lifetime of it before forming my executive sales initiation firm Corporate Rain International 17 years ago.

In a recent interview he gave about Imagination (BlogTalkRadio-March 27, 2012), Lehrer reports an official of 3M coming up to him after a book signing and reporting that several years ago he had a great idea that totally failed and which cost 3M over 30 million dollars.  He grimly wrote out his resignation letter and handed it to his boss.  His boss glanced at it briefly and then ripped it up, saying, “You can’t leave now.  I just invested $30 million in your education.”

As Bob Dylan has said, “There’s no success like failure.”  Thank you, Bob.

Comments 4 Comments »

The Webster Dictionary defines charisma as compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others or a divinely conferred power or talent.  It’s derivation is the Greek word charis, meaning favor, grace, beauty, kindness.

Charisma is a quality that is frequently possessed very publicly by entrepreneurs, but also not.  My feeling is that charisma is innate in every human being and is a quality that can be cultivated.

Historian James MacGregor Burns in his book Leadership (Harper Collins-1978-p. 243-4) talks about the nature of charisma:

“The term [charisma]  has taken on a number of different but overlapping meanings:  leaders’ magical qualities; an emotional bond between leader and led; dependence on a father figure by the masses; popular assumptions that a leader is powerful, omniscient, and virtuous; imputation of enormous supernatural power to leaders (or secular power, or both); and simply popular support for a leader that verges on love.”

A universal energy is evident in what we call charisma.  People who truly know who they are and what they believe release a compelling power that is almost religious in its nature.  We immediately think of many famous people from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton to Barack Obama.  Or actors like Clint Eastwood, Johnny Depp, Clark Gable, etc.  Or tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, Mao.  These, and many other folks in many fields, seem to have a secret, recondite knowledge attached to a public presence.

Certainly qualities like pulchritude, eloquence, and style are a help in enhancing charisma, but not at all its essence.  It’s essence is passion and commitment to a vision.

Ugly people have charisma.  Fat people have charisma.   Handicapped people have charisma.  The best example of unlikely charisma I can think of is Abraham Lincoln, who was possessed of a stoic stone face his enemies called simian, who dressed only in black, dull ill-fitting clothes, had an unkempt beard, and, to judge from his photographs, seemed to never comb his hair.

Entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to grow into charisma because they operate in an vocational milieu of freedom.  They take huge risks and many fail.  (Certainly most of us don’t wake up any day without feeling a whiff of danger and fear in the ether.)  But entrepreneurs also have the opportunity of connecting their unique inner truth and vision to truly new creations. In this sense, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to be closer to the sacred, in this secular age, than many ministers or priests.  Like the religious man or the artist, their path is one of passion and verity.

I see the entrepreneurial salesman’s chief task to be to connect in the sales process to the simple truth of the product or service he sells.  The great entrepreneurial salesman creates an aura of certainty and faith.  When he leaves a room he leaves a sense of inchoate longing behind.  This longing is not for a service or product, but for meaning itself.  That is what an ur-entrepreneurial salesman like Steve Jobs possessed in spades.

Or, as historian Daniel Boorstin says, “I call [charisma] the need to be authentic–or, as our dictionaries tell us, conforming to fact and therefore worthy of trust, reliance, or belief….[A person with charisma] is strong because he is what he seems to be.”

Thank You, Daniel.

Comments 4 Comments »

One of the reasons I write this blog once a week is it simply slows me down.

Blogging changes my rhythm.  It forces me to think new and larger thoughts in the midst of the quotidian.  It removes me from the ceaseless concatenation of crisis management that is the lot of most of us small businessmen.  It allows me to contemplate the forest as well as the trees, the ultimate as well as the penultimate.

Much of my business life consists of making choices about which really important thing is most important to tackle today and which crucial matter can wait for tomorrow’s to-do list.

The danger of all this busyness is that I become a human “doing” instead of a human “being.”

I keep a file of clipped articles which look interesting but I put off for later reading.  One yellowing article from the July 24, 2011 NY Times Business Section (P. 8 ) caught my eye this week.  It’s by Tony Schwartz.  Tony feels we need to learn to manage our energy differently, not just our time.  He reports that the pressure to stay forever connected and on top of things has taken a toll on the time we once instinctively devoted to renewing and recharging.  He states:

“When fatigue sets in over the course of a day, we all increasingly and unconsciously rely on emergency sources of energy:  adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol.  In this aroused fight-or-flight state, our prefrontal cortex, which helps us think reflectively and creatively, begins to shut down.  We become more reactive, reflexive and impulsive.”

(For me, the witching hour is 4:00 PM.  On many days I become useless and even dangerous at that hour—at my worst a snarling, ill-tempered fool.  I’ve learned to avoid making decisions or having important calls any time between 3:30 and 4:30.  I’ve discovered I say lots of stupid things around that time—things that have unnecessarily damaged my business.)

Schwartz points to a recent study of airline pilots.  The study discovered that when pilots get a nap of just 30 minutes in long-haul flights, they experience a 16%  increase in their reaction time, in contrast to a 34% decrease in reaction time among non-napping pilots over the course of a flight.

One reason to be cautionary about our miraculous and explosive internet technology is that it simply leaves us no time to think where it’s ultimately taking us and at what cost.  We may not know where we’re going, but we’re sure getting there faster and faster.  (Lord, please stop me before I devolve into another Luddite screed.)

French philosopher Gaston Bachelard says in the Poetics of Reverie,  “Reverie is not a mind vacuum.  It is rather the gift of an hour which knows the plenitude of the soul.”  Thank you, Gaston.

Comments 10 Comments »

Corporate Rain International on Facebook