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Archive for November, 2013

“All the days of the afflicted are bad, but one with a grateful heart has a continual feast.”  Proverbs 15:15

background-editedI’ve always believed it is the simple things that make for success in business.  Not the brilliant, not the celebrated, not the strategically complex. One of those simple things is the act of saying “Thank you.”  Thank you.  Thank you. Thank you.  I always take time to say it, to mean it, to write it, to email it, even to twitter it (much as I hate the patent superficiality of that particular social medium.  WTF.)  As Texas journalist and poet William Arthur Ward put it, “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.

For example, as CEO of my executive sales boutique Corporate Rain, I’m constantly talking to other CEOs and their executive assistants.  All day long, in fact.  Certainly, any meetings I set-up begin with emails and conversations, particularly with executive assistants and even receptionists.  I genuinely am grateful, particularly, to these assistants, for their care in making my time efficient and specific.  No matter how busy my day, I take time to express my gratitude for their effort.

Saying thank you is an emotional act.  It doesn’t just acknowledge someone’s effort, kindness, intent, or action.  It recognizes the person himself.  It’s even more important than acknowledging the principal person you are doing business with because it sets a tone for that discussion.  And it is a winning tone.  When you suffuse your preliminary actions with gratitude, it shines out of you as a penumbra of generosity.

00098977.JPGIt just feels great to say “Thank you.” with sincerity and a whole heart—not because an assistant is a person of importance, per se, but because it opens up your essential being to a trope of generosity and service before the “actual” business conversation begins.  Like so many little courtesies, it is the selfish thing to do.  And here I again hark back to my frequently repeated mantra, “Good is greed.”  In fact, research increasingly shows that thanking folks not only results in reciprocal generosity (where the thanked person is more likely to help the thanker), but stimulate eleemosynary behavior in general (Note the work of Adam Grant of Wharton and Francesca Gino at Harvard.).

Theologian and anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer (hung by the Nazis 23 days before the Allied victory in Europe), said this about gratitude:  “Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things.  We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts….We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.  How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?”  (Life Together;  The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community )

Meister-EckhartNovember is the month of Thanksgiving.  I am thankful to all of you who read my personal business essays weekly.  Thanksgiving means gratitude.  And gratitude helps me catalyze the desire to make a positive difference.  Gratitude nurtures generosity.  Gratitude undergirds everything in me that is good and whole.  Gratitude is the vehicle and fertilizer for the flourishing of my future success as an entrepreneur and as a citizen of the world.  As Marcel Proust notes in A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time), “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”  Lovely and true.

Medieval mystic Meister Eckhart put it this way:  “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”  Indeed, Meister.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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America beware.

karte-italien-14192There is a cost to the expanding regulatory burden and governmental micro-management of the small businessman.  And that cost is unequivocally playing out in Europe today. Entrepreneurship is virtually dead in many countries there.  Yet the present US government increasingly seems to be emulating this moribund European model.  It is economic madness.

My eye was caught by a short article on Bloomberg.com of August 23, 2013.  It reported on a small Italian company called Firem.  Firem has sales of $4 million/year and a work force of 40, but hasn’t posted a profit since 2008.  Here’s what happened.

“Early in August, Fabrizio Pedroni wished his employees a happy summer holiday and told them to return to work in three weeks.  That night, he began dismantling his electrical component factory in northern Italy and packing its machinery off to Poland.  ‘Had I told them earlier about any plans to shift the production abroad, they would have occupied my factory and seized all my stuff,’ says Pedroni, owner of his family company Firem.  ‘The plain truth is that I wanted my business to survive, and there weren’t the right conditions for me to operate in Italy any longer.'”  (Bloomberg Businessweek, September 19, 2013)

Leaving Italy was the last thing Pedroni wanted to do.  But he could no longer survive under the rigid government strictures of Italy, particularly it’s stifling labor rules.  He was forced to make a clandestined escape in lieu of the freedom to run a nimble, creative small business in his own country.

Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffe, professor of business strategy at Milan’s Bocconi University says, “[Pedroni], like many entrepreneurs before him,…abandoned the ship called Italy because it was the only way to survive.  In Italy most businesses like Firem have been posting losses for at least five years.”  From 2001 to 2011, about 27,000 Italian companies, each with annual sales more than $3 million moved abroad, with a concomitant accompanying loss of revenue and employment for Italy.  (Much bigger Italian firms, like Fiat, are also abandoning Italy.)

And Italy is not alone with its failing anti-entrepreneurial command economy.  Spain, France, Portugal, and Greece face very similar issues.  In none of these countries can you easily adjust to the rapidly evolving world economy.  You can’t move, you can’t downsize, you cannot fire or reduce workforce—finally resulting in a vertiginous economic descent for these countries of old Europe.  (The US is taking a turn in this same direction.  Note Boeing‘s forced shutdown of it’s partial move to South Carolina last year by the NLRB.)

Furthermore, the countries that have embraced America’s traditional capitalist animal spirits and processes (like Poland, Singapore, Vietnam, and India) are beginning to eat our lunch, as well as old Europe’s, beating us at our own game by nurturing rather than repressing entrepreneurial freedom.  American historian Markham Shaw Pyle says, “If the power to tax is the power to destroy, the power to regulate is no less so.”

lessigItaly may well be the canary in the coalmine for the triumphalist  over-regulated oligarchic state and a plangent death knell for the robust creative destruction of capitalism by way of a well-meaning, but hubristic, governmental overreach.

Lawrence Lessig, in Free Culture:  The Nature and Future of Creativity says, “Free culture depends upon vibrant competition.  Yet the effect of the law today is to stifle just this kind of competition.  The effect is to produce an over-regulated culture, just as the effect of too much control in the market is to produce an over-regulated-regulated market.”  Thanks, Lawrence.

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Anyone who follows this blog knows my love for words.  Here’s one:  Eudaimonia.  It roughly means happiness or wellness, but the more accurate meaning is “human flourishing,” according to Wikipedia.  It describes a state of centering and contentment when your life matters because it is lived meaningfully well.

One of the great unacknowledged rewards of establishing your own company is the chance to create a personal eudaimonia.  In other words, a spiritual space that combines the earning of filthy lucre and accumulating worldly goods with the ineffable, elusive coinage of meaning.

Michael-Douglas_14

I have personally found this is emphatically not an either/or proposition.  In fact the reality is that most of the great small businessmen and women I know intuitively combine the two.  They are not immiscible.  Really selfish entrepreneurs (like me) do not live by Michael Douglas famous mantra in Wall Street, “Greed is good.”  No.  Quite the opposite.  Being good is simply the selfish thing to do.  In fact, “Good is greed.”  By your works ye will be known—and be hired and succeed.  For me, eudaimonia is partly just a matter of overcoming the inner asshole.

The evincement of business goodness is usually made clear in the simplest and smallest interactions with clients.  People like to think they are good and they want vendors that reflect this truth, this decency.  Certainly the best business folk I know see themselves as citizens of the universe and it shows most effectively in their smallest, most subtle and unthinking acts within their own business, not in big, self-aggrandizing shows of public grandiosity.  Whether they formally profess religion or not, good businessmen are people of lived faith in more than the transient and venal.

My belief, that money is as much a bi-product of goodness as it is of technical business prowess, is obviously highly subjective.  But there are many and compelling new scientific studies that increasingly support this practical philosophy.  I will not go all academic and boring by listing and quoting them encyclopedically, but there was an excellent summation of this research by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic posted recently in the Harvard Business Review online (9:50 AM, April 10, 2013) in an article titled, “Does Money Really Affect Motivation?  A Review of Research.”   And I can never not acknowledge the profound and philosophically seminal work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at Claremont Graduate University on flow and happiness.

While we are all imperfect, sinful beings, we are also viscerally creatures of our own social interconnections.  We unspokenly swim in the knowledge that we are not only our brother’s keeper but we are our brother.  (Note July 23rd’s post to the African concept of Ubuntu.)

desmond-tutuLet me close with a study noted in the NY Times on June 19, 2013 (p. C-5).  The Times reports when economists asked the citizens of a Swiss village if they would accept being designated a nuclear waste storage site, 51% said yes.  When the question was posed again, this time with the promise of a cash reward for living with the waste, the Times reports the yea votes plummeted to 25%.  The money they said, made them feel that they were being bribed to perform a civic duty.  Isn’t that encouraging?

Bishop Desmond Tutu says, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”  Amen, Brother Desmond.

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