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Archive for September, 2013

Old folks are the future.
Yup.  Consider these facts:
  1. Projected life expectancy will surpass 100 in the next decades in many developed countries.  (This is about three times the average human lifespan in most of human  history.)
  2. 20% of the US population will be over 65 by mid-century in contrast to a roughly 14.5% at present.
  3. Old age is becoming much, much more robust.  Not only are we living longer, but we are living fully healthy, effective lives longer.  Many of us will be able to work effectively and happily into our 80s and 90s.  (Note mushrooming  advances in everything from joint replacement to memory enhancing drugs.)

Furthermore, let us consider entrepreneurs themselves.  The cliche of innovative entrepreneurship is of a t-shirted young dude creating disruptive technology in the garage.  Well, guess what?  That image is not accurate.  The Kauffman Foundation reports the highest rate of entrepreneurship in the US is among geriatrics between 55 and 65, with people over 55 as more likely to form successful companies than those between 20 and 34  (The Daily Beast).  Duke University Professor Vivek Wadhwa says the following:  “The average age of a successful entrepreneur in high-growth industries, such as computers and healthcare, is 40.  The vast majority–75%–have more than six years of industry experience and half have more than ten years when they create their startup.”  (PBS article cited in HBR blog, Whitney Johnson)  Increasingly, as Betty Friedan put it, “Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”

Betty_Friedan_1960There is unquestionably an HR bias against hiring the older worker.  This attitude is nuts.  It’s old-fashioned, antediluvian cant that has not caught up with the times.  Mature workers are more knowledgeable, experienced, disciplined, flexible and reliable than the young employee.
But more than all this they are wise in life.  They have had time to be knocked down hard several times.  This brings a practical humility–the humility of all of us who have failed a time or two.  Humility is a useful entrepreneurial skill that is only learned from living life itself.
In my own virtual executive sales company, Corporate Rain International, I hardly ever hire anyone under 35 years because my firm deals mostly with real decision-makers at corporations.  These C-suite types like dealing with their peers and a richly-lived life and broad executive experience creates an unteachable tonal gravitas that makes for more easeful high-level sales conversations.  There are going to be an increasing number of these highly useful people who still need to work.  And 70 is certainly becoming the new 50.
My father was an indefatigable NY Yankees fan and he loved Joe Dimaggio, who was noted as a great center fielder.  My father related that in Joe’s last year he didn’t have a whole hell of a lot left in his arm, which had always been a great intimidator of base runners.  He figured he had about one good throw in him per game.  So every night his last year, early in the game, after a routine fly out, he would put everything he had into a simple throw back into the infield.  This continued to intimidate runners, even though, for the life of him, he couldn’t repeat the feat again in that game.  Such is the sly wisdom of age.
Joe_DiMaggio_1951_Spring_TrainingThe older worker is simply an unmined vein of pure gold.  You cannot even teach the lifetime of skills and human experience he/she brings to any company.  As employers, we are stupid not to tap into this underestimated resource.  Rather than throw the aging worker on the HR dungheap, let’s use this untapped resource.
On his retirement from Cornell University, Professor Scott Elledge said the following:  “It is time I stepped aside for a less experienced and less able man.”  You go, girl!

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Here is an addendum on last week’s meditation on meditation.

Edward (Ned) Hallowell, M.D. ADD/ADHD specialistDr. Edward Hallowell, a specialist in ADD/ADHD treatment wrote a book in 2006 called Crazy Busy (Ballentine).  In it he identified something called the “attention deficit trait”  (ADT), which he posited was rampant in the business world with the same symptoms as ADD.  He says, “Never in history has the human brain been asked to track so many data points.”  Our busyness has only increased exponentially since Hallowell wrote those words.

I think the entrepreneur has an especial vulnerability to this attention deficit trait.  Unlike most normal jobs, entrepreneurship is never nine to five.  There is literally an infinity of things that we could all usefully do every day.  So it is easy for business owners to embrace an omnipresent multitasking made possible by constantly advancing technology.

The term “multitasking” was originally applied to describe the parallel processing capacities of computers.  The term was transferred to the human attempt to do as many things as possible, as fast as possible, as if the computer model was aptly applicable to human abilities creating new abilities to hustle and bustle.

But the evidence continues to grow that what multitasking really is is a very shallow flitting over the surface of multi-subjects or ideas.  Former Microsoft VP Linda Stone describes  this as “continuous partial attention” and notes this is a common affliction of executives”, constantly scanning for opportunities and staying on top of contacts, events, and activities in the effort to miss nothing.”  (@LindaStone)  And the research of Dr. Russell Poldrack, of the University of Texas frequently has proselytized that multitasking adversely impacts how you learn.  He says, “We have to be aware that there is a cost to the way that our society is changing, that humans are not built to work this way.  We’re really built to focus.  And when we sort of force ourselves to multitask, We’re actually driving ourselves to be less efficient in the long run, even though it sometimes feels like we’re being more efficient.”  (2011, Trends in Cognitive Science, 15, 11-19.)

What multitasking actually does is allow us to engage in very fast but quite shallow thinking.

I think what this flitting from social media flower to flower is really doing is disassembling our ability to think deeply about the meaning of life in general, as well as dampening the deeper creativity needed for an evolving, innovative business.  Our information and knowledge base may be growing but what we add in facts surely weakens us all in integrated wisdom.

william james psychologistHence our need for the restoratives of meditation, quiet, revery, and even idleness, to palliate our ability to deeply focus.  And to regularly escape from the spiritually vitiating gulag of a multitasking ADD Nation.

Seminal American psychologist William James referred to steady attention as the default condition of a mature mind.  He said, “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again, is the root of judgement, character, and will.”  He believed that the mastery of anything was largely the result of learning to deeply focus.  Constant multitasking promotes the opposite—a sort of jejune and unsettled perturbation.  Per last week’s post, deep focus is restored by slowing down, by conscious moments of inaction (meditation).

Well, I have to get back to my plodding monotasking now, but here’s a final bit of advice from Lord Chesterfield, written to his son in the mid-18th century.  “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.”  So true, Lord Chesterfield.

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gandhi1 - meditation and entrepreneurshipI’m not very good at meditating.  But I, nevertheless, believe in it.  And do it, inconsistently.

I tell you frankly that one reason I go to church regularly is that it forces me to to be still for an hour.  Or, when I was younger, I tried keeping up a Buddhist practice of chanting three times a day for over a year, mostly for the same reason.  Perhaps this is unsound theology, but it has a practical usefulness for me.

Mohandas Gandhi is quoted as saying, “I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.”  (My practical version of this is “When you are in a rush, slow down.”)

I believe that meditation is particularly important for us entrepreneurs.  Who among us is not constantly up to our ass in alligators?  I certainly am.  The impulse is to stay in frantic motion.  Even in writing this blog post, I want to move on to a myriad of impinging quotidian actions.  It’s like having a gerbil on a wheel inside me.  In this very moment my urge is to write with a glib celerity, to settle for an unseemly glibness so as to quickly get back to the pinging demands of answering 400 emails.

For this reason entrepreneurs particularly need to stop regularly.  Otherwise they increasingly see only the trees, not the forest itself.

So how in God’s name can I justify doing “nothing” for even a few minutes?

The benefits of meditation are that it keeps us in the now, allows our instinctive wisdom to emerge, and helps us cope with fear and sensory overload.  It calms our lizard brain, fight-or-flight reactiveness, and helps us resist distracting urges.  It buttresses and strengthens our willpower muscles.

I particularly appreciate the latter as a former addict.  While most entrepreneurs are not addicts, as I have been, the act of entrepreneurship itself is an addiction.  Few vocations carry the addictive high, the adventurous frisson, that comes with business risk-taking.

peter_bregman - Harvard Business ReviewOne of my favorite business blogs is written by Peter Bregman in the Harvard Business Review.  Here is how he describes a recent meditation.

“When I sat down to meditate this morning, relaxing a little more with each out-breath, I was successful in letting all my concerns drift away.  My mind was truly empty of everything that had concerned it before I sat.  Everything except the flow of my breath.  My body felt blissful and I was at peace.

For about four seconds.

Within a breath or two of emptying my mind, thoughts came flooding in—nature abhors a vacuum.  I felt an itch on my face and wanted to scratch it.  A great title for my next book popped into my head and wanted to write it  down before I forgot it.  I thought of at least four phone calls I wanted to make and one difficult conversation I was going to have later that day.  I became anxious, knowing I only had a few hours of writing time.  What was I doing just sitting here?  I wanted to open my eyes and l look at how much time was left on my countdown timer.”

The important point for Bregman is that he takes no action on his concatenation of ideas and urges during meditation.  He renews his self-control and self-awareness mechanism.

Thomas_Stearns_Eliot_by_Lady_Ottoline_Morrell_(1934)Here’s a beautiful passage on the meditative experience from T. S. Eliot.

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing: wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing: there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting.  Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:  So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

Thank you, T. S. Eliot.

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manlookoutwindow - EntrepreneurshipI’m a lazy guy.  I like staring at walls.  I like revery.

This may not seem to be a very good modus operandi if one wants to stay in business, particularly to judge from recent advice of business gurus like Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In), John Bernard (Business at the Speed of Now), Michael Port (Book Yourself Solid), Gary Vaynerchuk (Crush It), or Keith Ferrazzi (Never Eat Alone).  The very titles of these books bespeak a push-the-limits, go-go, uber aggression that ain’t me.

I like to think.  I long to do less and less and still be effective.  I hate our plethora of pinging, demanding, interruptive new technologies distracting me, demanding my time and eyeballs, offering more so-called efficiencies, and making me feel stupid and inadequate.

Well, I won’t drift into a Luddite screed today, but there is a wonderful column in The Economist (Schumpeter, August 17, 2013, p. 58) that argues eloquently that our biggest business problem is simply trying to do and absorb too damn much.  It points to an epidemic of overwork, particularly in the US, reporting that Americans now labor over 81/2 hours per week more than in 1979 and the CDC reports a third of waking adults get less than six hours sleep at night.  A survey by Good Technology last year reported 80% of respondents worked after leaving the office, 69% cannot go to bed without checking e-mail, and 38% routinely check their work e-mails at the dinner table.

teresa_amabile

This epidemic of overwork has a clear impact on the creativity of workers.  (And what business work is more dependent than entrepreneurship on creativity and innovative problem solving, the alpha and the omega of disruptive originality.)   Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School, in a study of work and creativity, has reported that workers are more creative on low-pressure days than on high-pressure days when their hair is on fire.

The Economist points to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of Claremont Graduate University, who, in researching a book in the early 1990s, asked 275 creative thinkers if he could interview them.  The Economist relates,

“A third did not bother to reply at all and another third refused to take part.  [Csikszentmihalyi’s own colleague at CGU] Peter Drucker summed up the mood of the refuseniks:  ‘One of the secrets of productivity is to have a very big waste-paper basket to take care of all invitations such as yours.’   Creative people’s most important resource is their time—particularly big chunks of uninterrupted time—and their biggest enemies are those who try to nibble away at it with e-mails or meetings.  Indeed, creative people may be at their most productive when, to the manager’s untutored eye, they appear to be doing nothing.”

reagan43So let us celebrate, just for today, the contrarian strategy of purposeful laziness in business leadership.  Note that when he was head of GE, Jack Welch reported consciously spending an hour a day just “looking out of the window.”  When he was still running Microsoft, Bill Gates used to take two “think weeks” a year when he would lock himself in an isolated cottage.  And Socrates said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

Ronald Reagan certainly believed in not overdoing things.  He said, “It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?”  Thanks, Ronald

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