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Archive for April, 2013

My old friend Fred Klein, founder of one of the older business networking organizations in the US, Gotham City Networking, taught me many years ago about business Karma.   That is, it’s better to give than receive and what goes around comes around.   I was only briefly a member of his organization, but his simple philosophy dovetailed nicely with my instinct about sales.  Which is to always be giving, educating, informing, and serving without worrying the end goal—In other words, be giving away everything you are and know at all times.

20130412_inq_sales12-aWhat this does is create an unthinking penumbra around you of practiced habitual generosity.  People like goodness.  They see it.  And they buy it.

Hence my own frequently voiced mantra “Good Is Greed.”  Being genuinely open and unselfish from the depth of your being is ultimately the selfish way to be.  Such is the wisdom of  many historical religious figures.  This is not altruistic.  Nor is it naive.  It is practical.

Now comes some serious hard science support for this proposition.  Note an interesting article in the NY Times Magazine by Susan Dominus last month (March 27, 2013) titled “Is Giving the Secret of Getting Ahead?“.  It’s about the work of Dr. Adam Grant of Wharton.  Grant’s research is soon to be published  in an new book called Give and Take.

Dominus neatly sums up Grant’s work as, “Nice guys finish first!   Now there’s research to prove it.”

Grant argues that our greatest untapped source of motivation is a sense of service to others.  Grant has done a number of experiments on this over the years.  For example, one of his many experiments focuses on motivating simple hospital hygiene.  As recounted by Dominus, Grant simply put up two different signs at hand washing stations in a hospital.  “One sign reminded doctors and nurses, ‘Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases’; another read, ‘Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.’  Grant measured the amount of soap used at each station.  Doctors and nurses at the station where the sign referred to their patients used 45 percent more soap or hand sanitizer.”

Grant’s work divides the world into three types of people.

  1. Givers – Give without expectation of immediate gain.  They are never too busy to help.
  2. Matchers – Give when they see themselves getting something back of equal worth.  (Most people are Matchers, according to Grant.)
  3. Takers – Seek to come out ahead in every exchange.

In his research, Grant notes that the givers are over represented on both ends of the spectrum of success.  The failures in the giver category are those who equate giving with being a doormat.  The successful givers combine their concern for others with self-interest and discipline.  Grant terms this “efficient giving.”

annefrankGrant’s efficient giving does mean managing and planning your time.  (He apparently applies his theories to his own life.  In addition to being a nonpareil scholar he is the highest rated professor by students at Wharton and is known for always saying “yes” to all requests.  In other words, he personally walks his talk.  Successfully.)  Dominus describes Grant’s “bright-line rule”:  Unless the person on the other end is a proven taker, just do it—collaborate, offer up, grant the favor.

I recently read The Diary of Anne Frank with my daughter.  This sentence leapt out at me.  “No one has ever become poor by giving.”   Thanks, Anne.

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Carol_Goman_The longer I find myself in harness as an entrepreneur (18 years), the more I think all answers are found in simplicity and common sense.

One of the simple things that has grabbed me of late is how impactful body language and positioning can be for a business leader.

For example Carol Kinsy Goman, author of The Silent Language of Leaders, recently wrote a useful blog on just this subject in Forbes Online (March 15, 2013) titled 5 Body Language Tips To Increase Your Curb Appeal.  Worth a read.  Here they are in oversimplified form.

  1. To show authority, stand.  Status and authority are communicated through height and  taking up space.
  2. To set a collaborative tone, take off your jacket and take a seat at the middle of the table.  Lean in when your colleagues speak.
  3. To build rapport, “do lunch.”  When you share a meal with someone, your glucose level rises enhancing complex brain activity.
  4. To look approachable uncross your arms.
  5. To signal you are trustworthy, flash a genuine smile.  People intuitively recognize a real, face-lighting smile.

cuddy_poptech.jpgIn the same vein, I am presently doing a two week intensive seminar in NY of Tracy Goss marvelous Executive Reinvention Program.  (More on this in a later post.)  Each day begins with a series of empowerment exercises, some of which are taken from the work and insights of Dr. Amy Cuddy of Harvard.  Cuddy believes tiny tweeks to our physicality can lead to mighty changes in our life and leadership.  They can actually reconfigure our brains in ways that make us more assertive, confident, relaxed, and fearless.  Cuddy recommends several “power poses” which raise your testosterone, the harmone linked to power and self-confidence in both men and women, and lower the levels of the stress harmone, cortisol.  Just two minutes of these poses can increase your testosterone by 20% and lower your cortisol by 25%.  (HBR, 3/20/13)  My favorite pose Cuddy terms “Wonder Woman,” which is simply standing—hands on hips, legs spread wide—for two minutes.  Like Linda Carter at the open of the Wonder Woman TV series, bold and brazen in her super hero underwear.

Cuddy and her colleagues at Harvard have proven that their power poses increase people’s tolerance for risk and pain, and their ability to think abstractly.  For Cuddy, your body language is not so much about what you’re communicating to others, as about changing your own mind, your own behavior and your own outcomes.  So to a large extent, your leadership and self-efficacy can be improved with relatively painless physical adjustments.

Deborah-Bull_largeIf you want to know more about Cuddy’s thinking and work below is a link to her TED speech October 1, 2012.

Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are

British ballerina Deborah Bull says, “Body language is a very powerful tool.  We had body language before we had speech, and apparently 80% of what you understand is read through the body, not the words.”   Thank you, Deborah.

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Style: "Mad Men"I wrote last week about how we may well be becoming less creative and less able to connect due to the stealth addictiveness of our social media technology.  Creativity, particularly, is a non-rational process we don’t fully understand.  From anecdotal sources as well as an increasing body of scientific evidence, the growing stress most of us experience staying current with social media results in a drop off of focus and revelation.

Don Draper of Mad Men describes how he summons the creative process.  He says, “Think about something deeply, then forget it…then an idea will jump up in your face.”  That sounds about right to me.  (In the past I have shared that when I feel overwhelmed with business conundrums, I turn off my phone and go to the movies—preferably an undemanding one.  Think American Pie, Dumb and Dumber, etc.  Sometimes I just go to sleep, but almost always new ideas will encroach unexpectedly.  Not very spiritual, but it works for me.)

Technology is robbing us of our moments of respite.

Here is an eloquent response to last week’s discussion by serial entrepreneur Tom Cox. I found it extraordinary.  Here’s Tom’s comment.

“I see the zombies everywhere—at dinner gatherings and Starbucks and behind the wheel–all staring at their ‘device.’  When I see them now I will always think of your phrase ‘private technology Idahos.’

Technology has been a great fuel for the culture we have become:  scatter-brained, childishly impatient, bloodless, shallow and myopic.  You, along with Lanier and Carr, highlighted the worst impact of the hyper-addiction to the meaningless use of technology (‘twits twittering!’ and, Facebook—‘the narcissism training center!’):  It is the lost value of actual experience.  Not the virtual, simulated, condensed and artificial kind, of course, but the real stuff.

staff_coxWithout experience we lose the ability to distinguish between what is important and what is not.  And, given our myopic obsession with technology trivia (second only to celebrity gossip) diverting us from reality, we don’t even care.  And with that, the natural ‘recency bias’ that compels humans to over-estimate the importance of NOW and to ignore the consequences of LATER (even if later is tomorrow), becomes a suicidal obsession.  Like Americans today, saucer-eyed zombies worshiping Ben Bernanke, the Electronic Debt Creation God, just as house-flippers did in 2007.

Meanwhile, entertainment technology novocaine helps us ignore all but the unimportant (until it doesn’t) and the ‘now’ (until tomorrow).

It makes me proud to be a Luddite, too.

Sometimes the small things make us realize the larger point.  When I took my son to his first day on campus at college we went to the ‘library’ to get a course catalogue.  Literally none existed.  Not even a copy at the ‘librarians’ desk for reference.  Computer file only.  I could not thumb through the pages to get a bird’s eye view of the majors, or take the book to the beach.  Something was lost, even in a mere compilation of data, much less a work of literary art.  Is there no difference between a study filled with a lifetime of reading experiences and an empty room with an iPad?

Worshipers of the Technology God who think they are not missing something are like those who have never ridden a horse but who “know” what it is like because they saw a re-run of ‘Bonanza’ on TV.

End of rant!”

Not a rant, Tom.  Eloquence.  Thank you.

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foresters_tech_timeoutI’m afraid my career as an indefatigable Luddite continues apace.

A couple of years ago I wrote about Nicholas Carr‘s book The Shallows (Entrepreneurship: To Tweet or not to Tweet), which posits the rewiring of our brains by way of technology and social media.  (Carr first became alarmed when he found himself increasingly unable to concentrate when he sat down to read a book, because of his longing for and growing addiction to the peripatetic excitement of his pinging computer.)

Now comes Douglas Rushkoff’s book Present Shock:  When Everything Happens Now (Hardcover Press, 2013) (The title is a riff on Alvin Toffler‘s Future Shock from the ’70s.)  We’re becoming addicted to what Rushkoff calls a “dopamine squirt,” the ego boost we get from our Twitters, Facebooks, emails and texts.  This leads to a compulsive immersion in the scittering superficiality of keeping current and cool on social media.  According to Rushkoff this is stress inducing and, more importantly, creativity killing.  I certainly agree that we are becoming committed to a sort of always-on, live-streamed reality show which is taking us into creatively shallow, spiritually thin cultural waters.

In other words, technology is turning us into dull-eyed, unpresent I-Zombies.  Rushkoff feels we are losing the gift of revery and connection to our fellow human beings, as well as to brain processes that summon non-rational revelations and “aha”s.

douglasrushkoffThis was brought home to me when I was in Dallas on business last week and found myself a bit lost and late to my next appointment.  I looked for some friendly, authoritative face to approach for aid.  But as I looked around I found every person I saw, shuffling vaguely along fully immersed in their personal private technology Idahos, inured to any person or thing around them.  I didn’t want to rudely interrupt, but I was annoyed because I needed some directions, dammit!  This made me think about how much present richness and human feeling we sacrifice for an ersatch virtual reality.  (I increasingly feel the same way walking down Broadway in New York when half the folks bump into you while texting, rather than taking in the infinitely unique international culture and urban magnificence constantly on display in my never boring city.)

We are often simply losing our real-life experience, our existential present, in order to miss nothing our machines bring us.  Jaron Lanier, who popularized the term “virtual reality,” writing in his book You Are Not A Gadget (Vintage Press, 2010), says this:

“Information is alienated experience.  Stored information might cause experience to be revealed if it is prodded in the right way.  A file on a hard disk does indeed contain information of the kind that objectively exists….But if the bits can potentially mean something to someone, they can only do so if they are experienced.  When that happens a commonality of culture is enacted between the storer and the retriever of the bits.  Experience is the only process that can de-alienate information.”

NicholasOur “eureka” moments may be being sacrificed for a mess of pottage—that mess of pottage being our present experience of superficial sledding on an omnipresent sea of technological connectedness.

So please don’t ping me with a cute picture of your Labradoodle.  I may be busy thinking.  To quote Nicholas Carr again, “Any kind of thought process that requires focus on one thing is what is being disrupted, and, unfortunately, another thing brain science tells us is that the process of paying attention, paying deep attention, activates a lot of our deepest thought processes.  Our long-term memory, the building of conceptual knowledge, critical thinking, all of those things hinge on our ability to pay attention”   Thank you, Nicholas.

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SimplicitySimplicity is one of the greatest and most elusive virtues I am constantly seeking as an entrepreneur, salesman and human being.  It is a skill I constantly look to improve on.

How do you speak and write with greater and greater succinctness and clarity, while making a precise, eloquent expression of your value and your brand?

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love words.  It is almost a sensual pleasure for me to reach for evocative and elegant words each week to get closer to any reality I want to explicate.  I’ve never thought that business writing needs to be colorless, dull, or undemanding—yet it should be simple and to the point.  So, how to solve this conundrum?

I think one way we do it is by eliminating the cliched and obvious.  Authentic, interesting writing is personal.  It doesn’t overly rely on what I call “herd” words, that is words and phrases that are overused.  New words and concepts crop up all the time and before you know it everybody and their granny are using them to the point of eye-rolling  nausea.

Bryan A. Garner, Distinguished Research Professor of Law at SMU, has been doing a wonderful series of short, useful essays on business writing for the Harvard Business Review.  He recently wrote a lovely piece titled, “A Bizspeak Blacklist.”  (HBR, 3/21/13)  It’s about the exact problem I’m talking about.  He begins with a very funny first paragraph made up of nothing but the types of words and overused phrases he mocks.  Here it is.

“It’s mission-critical to be plain-spoken, whether you’re trying to be best-of-breed at outside-the-box thinking or simply incentivizing colleagues to achieve a paradigm shift in core-performance value-adds.  Leading-edge leveraging of your plain-English skill set will ensure that your actionable items synergize  your global-knowledge repository.”

Garner has reached out to his twitter followers to concoct a concatenation of these words.  He calls it his “index expurgatorius.”  Here it is.  (Do you recognize yourself in any of these?  I sure do.)

bryan-garnerBizspeak Blacklist

actionable ~ CYA ~ incent ~ monetize ~ pursuant to ~ strategic dynamism ~ agreeance ~ drill down ~ incentivize ~ net-net ~ recontextualize ~ synergize ~ as per ~ ducks in a row ~ impactful ~ on the same page ~ repurpose ~ think outside the box ~ at the end of the day ~ forward initiative ~ kick the can down the road ~ operationalize ~ rightsized ~ throw it against the wall and see if it sticks ~ back of the envelope ~ going forward~ let’s do lunch ~ optimize ~ sacred cow ~ throw under the bus ~ bandwidth ~ go rogue ~ let’s take this offline ~ out of pocket ~ scalable turnkey ~ bring our A game ~ guesstimate ~ level the playing field ~ paradigm shift ~ seamless integration ~ under the radar ~ client-centered ~ harvesting efficiencies ~ leverage ~ parameters ~ seismic shift ~ value-added ~ come-to-Jesus ~ hit the ground running ~ liaise ~ per ~ smartsized ~ where the rubber meets the road ~ core competency ~ impact ~ mission-critical ~ push the envelope ~ strategic alliance ~ win-win

While I may not agree with all Professor Bryan’s blacklist, he surely has a point.

Bryan concludes his essay with this:  “Bizspeak may seem like a convenient shorthand, but it suggests to readers that you’re on autopilot, thoughtlessly using boilerplate phrases that they’ve heard over and over.  Brief, readable documents, by contrast, show care and thought—and earn people’s attention.”

I think that sums the case up nicely.  Thanks, Bryan.

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