Subscribe to Making Rain by Email

Archive for November, 2012

There was an interesting article by Sue Shellenberger in the Wall Street Journal on November 13 about the increasing amount of work being performed in bed.  (Section D-1)  It’s titled More Work Goes Undercover.  It has a lot to say about several things, including the increasingly international nature of even small business, as well as physical health and  implications of omnipresent technology for personal relationships.

Ms. Shellenberger reports, “Researchers who study work habits say a new generation reared on mobile devices is increasingly accustomed to using them while propped against pillows, lying down, or in a fetal curl.”  For example, 500 workers out of a 1000 polled by Good Technology, a mobile-security software company, say they read and respond to business email from bed.  Another study of British workers discovered one in five employees spends between two and ten hours per week working from bed.  Or, annecdotally, take Laura Stack, a Denver productivity expert, who has seen a doubling of clients who work from the sleep space.

There are a number of reasons for this.  One prime reason is simply that we live in an increasingly “flat earth” world where business is a 24 hour a day proposition.  In such a world it is sometimes de rigueur to communicate at odd hours by conference call or email.  To fully service an international clientele with sensitivity and courtesy, it may mean conveniencing your client’s business hours, not your own.

Another reason is simply device addiction, an increasing phenomenon.  Dan Sieberg, a technology reporter and ABC News contributer, wrote a book last year called The Digital Diet (Crown Publishing Group, 2011) in which he discussed his compulsive use of email, handhelds, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, iPhones, BlackBerries, etc.  He wrote his book after finding himself taken over by technology in every aspect of his life.  He states, “My wife had a nickname for me, ‘Glowworm,’ because my face was constantly illuminated by some sort of screen in bed.”

The implication for relationships of this phenomenon is pretty obvious.  It’s not too sexy or conducive to any sort of intimate personal communication with whoever shares your bed.

But perhaps the most deleterious effect of pillow technology on the bedtime entrepreneur is its simple physical implications.  It’s damn uncomfortable and leads to all sorts of aches and pains.  Ergonomics experts particularly warn about the lumbar implications of multitasking for long periods of time in bed.

Finally, technology enabled bedtime work encourages insomnia.  Sue Shellenberger cites Russell Rosenberg of the National Sleep Foundation who says light from our screens suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin.

Yet, if you feel you still just have to bring your technology to bed with you, Ms. Shellenberger does offer some succor for bed workers by noting an increasing number of specialty products from customized beds to laptop lifters to detachable keyboards.  (See WSJ article cited above.)

My advice?  Work where you work and sleep where you sleep and n’er let the twain interface.  For, as William Shakespeare puts it in Macbeth:

“Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”

Thanks, Will.

Comments 8 Comments »

R. A. Dickey won baseball’s Cy Young Award last Thursday.  I’m so delighted. R. A. is a great existential hero of mine.  I relate to him, I admire him, he inspires me.  So much so that this week I simply want to reprint an encomium I wrote about him last month.

Suffice it to say that R. A. Dickey is an inspiration for persistence, passion, and an indefatigable will to learn from failure.  He has so much to say to the creative business striver.  The following is a reprint of my post of October 2nd.

R. A. DICKEY, FAILURE, AND ENTREPRENEURIAL KNUCKLEBALL

Alas, alack.  I am a long-term fan of the consistently lowly New York Mets.  It’s been another lackluster season for my beloved team.  Except for one thing.  That one thing is a 37-year-old failure called R.A. Dickey.

I love R.A. Dickey.  He reminds me of me-the best me-old and deeply formed by multiple failures, sadness and hard knocks.  A man who has had an unexpected and accidental life.  He is an inspiration and is a shining beacon to me for what is achievable, even out of the embers of a fallen, inadequate, and heavily scarred life experience.

R.A. has recently written a book called Wherever I Wind Up.  I think all company creators and entrepreneurs should read it.  It’s an autobiography.  It’s well-written and not at all your usual self-congratulatory jock tome. (In that, it reminds me of Andre Agassi’s compelling book Open in 2009.)

To briefly sum up Dickey’s riveting story, he describes his life as one long recovery from depression, childhood sexual abuse, brokenness and frequent thoughts of suicide.  He describes himself as a “picture of mediocrity” until he discovered the vehicle of his salvation, the knuckleball.  But even more important is his courage and humility in describing the very personal process of becoming a fully realized and whole man.

After being a high draft choice out of Tennessee, it was discovered that Dickey was missing a key elbow ligament needed to stabilize his pitching arm.   He bounced around several major and minor league teams for many years, till, out of desperation, he took up the knuckleball, a pitch that only a handful of men have ever learned to handle effectively.

In a lovely essay in the NY Times (7/13/12),  his old teammate and friend, Doug Glanville, describes the knuckleball as  “a joystick-controlled UFO” of a pitch, totally unpredictable in its trajectory to the batter, but also unpredictable to the pitcher himself.  It is a joyous goofball accident of a pitch.

“A good knuckleball has no spin, at least not the one that acts like the butterfly that just drank enough cocktails to be over  the legal drinking limit. And it’s slow enough, and frozen enough, so you can see the letters on the ball. But it’s no comfort  reading those letters, since you have absolutely no idea where they’re going, and truth be told, neither does the pitcher. He only has a general sense of the ball’s direction, and one of the only reasons success within this type of guesswork ever comes is because “general” is an adjective that also applies to the strike zone.”

So, what does Dickey have to say to the entrepreneur?

Dickey is a triumph of autodidactic bootstrapping, as well as practical humility.  Like most of us entrepreneurs, he was bad before he became good.   Jason Gay, the sports columnist of the WSJ (Friday, September, 28, p. A 27) quotes him, after winning his 20th game last week as saying, “I am by no stretch of the imagination, a self-made man.”

But that is not completely true, as endearingly unpretentious as R.A. may be.  He has made a journey into freedom, wholeness and authenticity that is also the pursuit of most of the effective entrepreneurs I know.  Entrepreneurship can be a vehicle for personal salvation, much as R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball has saved his life and career.  I personally think of the entrepreneurial company as, much like the knuckleball, an unpredictable butterfly of unexpected twists and turns-but a still infinitely rewarding vehicle of meaning and happiness for those with the courage to ride it.

I believe R.A. is a Christian, but to me he is a true Zen Buddhist master of living in the present.  He is a very specific inspiration and existential hero to me, as an entrepreneur.

So my inner entrepreneur will be holding R.A. Dickey close to my bosom when he goes for his 21st victory in Miami tonight.  It’s a game I will watch.  I hope he does well, but, no matter what, he is my favorite failure.  We should all be willing to fail so well.

Bob Dylan once said, “There’s no success like failure.”  As R.A. Dickey goes for his 21st win tonight I think he well understands Dylan’s statement. Samuel Beckett states poetically “Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No matter.  Try again. Fail again.  Fail better.”

Thanks Bob.  Thanks Samuel.    Thanks R.A. Dickey.

Comments 10 Comments »

Woe is us, brothers and sisters.  I’m afraid small business is about to be afflicted by the boils of Job.  Please God let me be wrong.

I believe this election is an ill wind for the future health of small business enterprise.  I fervently pray I am wrong and, while I am existentially sunny about the ongoing entrepreneurial process, I have a jaundiced, glass half-empty fear that the next few years will offer new dystopian challenges and a possible vertiginous descent into an entrepreneurial Slough of Despond.  The following are a farrago of what, I believe, awaits all entrepreneurs, to one extent or another, with the advent of a newly buttressed Obama administration.

Here’s where I’m coming from.  I didn’t vote for Obama, but, that said, I’m an old hippie who cleaves to much of the socially liberal lineage of my youth.  I’m a libertarian who is OK with everything from legalized marijuana to gay marriage to reasonable gun control to the rich paying more income tax.  (I didn’t say I was a consistent libertarian!)  However,  my alarm over out-of-control debt, regulation, and multiplying bureaucracies, around Obamacare and Dodd-Frank particularly, knows no bounds.  There is nothing more threatening to our enterprise community than the loss of freedom to create and the harnessing of business as a controlled arm of a well-intended, but hegemonic, triumphalist welfare state.
So here are some very specific predictions.  Behold, Cassandra speaks.

  1.  There will be a capital strike from entrepreneurs, VC’s, PE, and banks.  Why invest, why risk, why lend when animal spirits are polemically dampened, creative enterprise publicly denigrated, and profitability truncated?  Last Sunday the NY Post quoted Anand Sawal of CB Insights reporting a capital flow fall of fully one half in Q3.  Why would that trend reverse?  John Galt will continue to leave the party.
  2. Employment growth will become moribund as small businesses strive to stay under 30 full-time employees and avoid the bureaucratic nightmares of Obamacare.
  3. Small companies will purposely limit their growth, except where they can add part-timers and free lancers around the edges.  (See 2.)
  4. There will be a very serious recession within four years.  (And it will be George Bush’s fault—still.)
  5. The National Labor Relations Board will take even more radical labor measures against all businesses and force even more bureaucracy and outside control on us, assuring time-wasting inefficiencies directly affecting ROI. (See Boeing, circa 2010.)
  6. After an initial few months of good feeling, as we all try to “just get along,” small business will bear the brunt of “revenue enhancement.”
  7. Inflation will begin a long-term rise, which will serve as a hidden tax on all of us and, ultimately, risking, at worst, hyper-inflation levels.  (Note the one hundred trillion dollar note that is required to buy a loaf of bread in Zimbabwe.)  Weimar Republic, here we come.  Thanks, Ben Bernancke.
  8. The bureaucratic regulations burden will grow steadily, distracting time and energy from productive enterprise.
  9. Small businesses who do business with the government will do better.  All others will face a serious headwind.  Real estate in Washington D.C. will continue to rise.
  10. The national debt  will increase from 16 to 20 trillion dollars.

So those are my cautionary expectations one week after the reelection of President Obama.  One of my most successful entrepreneurial friends calls the next four years “the beginning of America II,” a European-style, bureaucracy top-heavy nanny state aborning.

Predictions are dicey, presumptuous things.  I would be ever so pleased to be proved a Chicken Little hysteric over the next four years.

As Casey Stengel said, “Never make predictions, especially about the future.”  Good point, Casey.

Comments 18 Comments »

A couple of months ago I was one of several company founders asked to write an article on whether entrepreneurship can be taught.  Here’s a sliver of what I said.

“Entrepreneurship emphatically cannot be taught.  In fact, I believe it is somewhat of a racket that so many business schools now claim to teach entrepreneurship.  They can’t.  Entrepreneurship can’t be taught because it is simply messy.  It is unpredictable.  It requires a lived life and a broad personal experience to deal with the wide-ranging unexpected, unprecedented, and unquantifiable problems that crop up each day.  It requires courage, intuition, and integrity.  It demands an understanding of people that can only come from real-world lived wisdom.  It demands you know who you are.”  (The NY Enterprise Report, Sept. 5, 2012, p. 16)

In other words, entrepreneurship is at heart an intuitive and instinctive event.

Now comes a useful book called Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck by Tony Tjan, Dick Harrington, and Tsun-yan Hseih that buttresses quantifiably my highly unscientific and intuitive instincts.  This book has a lot to say about what really makes for successful entrepreneurs.

To oversimplify, Tjan, Harrington and Hseih find that self-awareness is the key to successful entrepreneurship—and that book learning and business education is its least salient quality.

Over three years, 500 successful entrepreneurs and global business leaders were interviewed.  The authors break down the human attributes of successful entrepreneurs into four categories.  They are the following and are the source of the author’s book title.

  1. Heart.  This is a person of passion and faith.  He or she comes up with a great idea and simply believes that right things will happen if they follow that vision.  Think Howard  Schultz, John Mackey.
  2. Smarts.  This is a person who recognizes patterns faster than anyone else.  Think Warren Buffet, Meg Whitman, Jeff Bezos.
  3. Guts.  This is a person of dominance, who has the simple guts to persevere and endure no matter what.  Think Richard Branson or Nelson Mandela.
  4. Luck.  While most entrepreneurs benefit from luck at one time or another, lucky people particularly possess optimism, intellectual curiosity, and humility.  Think Laurel Touby.

The authors have developed a methodology, not dissimilar to the Myers-Briggs test, that allows you to analyze and increase your entrepreneurial self-awareness.  It’s called E.A.T., which stands for Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test.  (My own test showed my qualities to be strong in Heart with a touch of Luck.)

The authors further identify three fundamental business archetypes based around these aptitudes:  The Founder, the Scaler, and the Extender.  Most of us have to be a combination of these over time.  Founders are Heart dominant with a little Guts or Luck.  They are critical to initiating a company where vision, team building, and cultural definition matter most.  Scalers mostly embody the Smarts-Guts profile and are focused on growth.  He or she has to preserve the founding culture, while adjusting for purposes of scale.  Extenders have strong Heart with Smart ability to recognize patterns.  They explore and expand into new areas and markets.

The over-all conclusions of these authors are that intense self-awareness is probably the key quality of the successful entrepreneur.  She knows who she is.

By analyzing your key qualities through self-reflection and a tool like E.A.T., you can more easily grow into areas you are lacking or hire someone to compensate for your insufficiencies.  You can develop many of these qualities over time, but these qualities are certainly not conducive to academic pedagogy, according to Tjan, Harrington, and Hsieh.  Tony Tjan’s research finds that over 70% of successful entrepreneurs do not start with a formal business plan.  Tjan says, “Having … self-awareness may be the best marker of a successful entrepreneur—even more critical than having a high I.Q.”

As Dolly Parton sagely advises,  “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”  Thanks, Dolly.

Comments 12 Comments »

Corporate Rain International on Facebook