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Archive for December, 2013

It’s Christmas and here’s my Christmas card to all.  It’s a video.  I almost fell on the floor when I first saw it.  You will too.  It’s an absolute hoot.  For friends I’ve already shared it with, see it again.  It’s worth the rerun.  It’s utterly delicious.  I pray that we may all become half the salesman this guy is in 2014.

Merry Christmas!

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sheedy2

Just a simple thought this week.  A friend sent me a useful article last week about the increasingly important benefits of blinking as we spend more and more time with our computers and gadgets.  (Thanks, Dr. Peter Roggemann.)

A study at Ohio State University warns about “dry eye”, which happens when we squint at the computer screen.  Dr. James Sheedy, the study’s lead author states, “People tend to squint when they read a book or a computer display and that squinting makes the blink rate go way down….Blinking rewets the eyes.  So if your job requires a lot of reading or other visually intense work, you may be blinking far less than normal, which [causes] eye strain, tension, and dry eye.”   A minor amount of squinting reduces blink rates from 15 blinks/minute to 7.5 blinks/minute.

We squint because it improves eyesight by helping more clearly define out of focus objects and because it cuts down on glare.  This is mostly an automated process, so we don’t realize it is happening.

4_2_2_head_kimDr. Ben Kim suggests we all develop the habit of blinking as often as possible.  (March 20, 2012, Daily Herald)  Kim notes that one of the reasons we don’t blink as often as we should is that the actors and media people we see are trained to blink as infrequently as possible.  Our subconscious mind absorbs this and we learn it isn’t cool to blink frequently.

It’s best to blink every two to four seconds (or 15 to 30 blinks per minute).  You can train yourself to do this automatically.  A good practical prescription for keeping your eyes well-lubricated is just to consciously close your eyes whenever possible, like when you’re just thinking or when you don’t need your vision.

blink182So what does this have to do with business?  Well, nothing, per se.  However, I believe in the power of little things.  I believe that a whole bunch of miniscule adjustments and changes for the better ultimately result in major increases of efficaciousness in all our business and personal lives.  You pick up so many things by constantly reading as broadly as time allows and there are so many helpful insights in all the nooks and odd crannies where you least expect illumination to come from.

So here’s to more blinking.  It’s one more minor arrow in our quiver of business improvement tools.  As punk band Blink-182 puts it,  “Remember to eat, sleep, and blink.”  Thanks Blink-182.

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imagesUr-entrepreneur Steve Jobs, in his speech introducing the iPad in 2010 said the following:   “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough.  It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”

If you want to be an entrepreneur steer away from specialization.  It is the enemy of the new and disruptive and the true.  This has never been more so than now.  All aspects of enterprise are changing like lightning.  And this will do nothing but speed up.

In a like vein, The Wall Street Journal recently had an article on the increasing dangers of  specialization in higher education.  (Peter Cappelli, WSJ, pp. R1-2, Nov. 11, 2013)  The current common wisdom is that general education (the liberal arts) is quaintly old fashioned and impractical.  This is resulting in the trendy turn to courses that promise to train specific vocational skill sets and niches.  College is increasingly defined narrowly as job preparation, not as something designed to educate the whole person.  The WSJ limns the counterintuitive argument that this is exactly the wrong approach for long-term vocational hireability.  And that, I think, applies in spades to prepping an incipient entrepreneur.

Today’s jobs, problems, and needs are almost certain to change radically and rapidly.  A hot job in today’s marketplace, say in mobile marketing or hospital finance or pharma management, may, and probably will, become dead meat with the next technological permutations, regulatory changes, or innovative disruption.  The best training for all of us is in how to think globally and objectively about the future, about what’s around the bend.  And that means being a broadly trained thinker and citizen of the world, as well as a specialist in our specific vertical of product or service.

A generalist sees the forest as well as the trees and knows how to adapt nimbly and flexibly with a view to the big picture and main chance.  That’s pretty crucial for an entrepreneur.

Harking back to the previously cited WSJ article, Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce calculates that the current unemployment rate among recent IT graduates at the moment is actually twice as high as that of theater majors.  Not what you expect, huh?

david_foster_wallace_rectSince my own background is in the arts and I never trained for business, I am perhaps prejudiced toward what I see as resourcefulness and resiliency imbued by a broad generalist experience and education.  But I do believe that successful business innovation is much more aligned with creative calling than any specific skill set.  (This is why you ultimately cannot teach entrepreneurship in business school.)

Recently deceased writer David Foster Wallace told the following story at speech he gave to the Kenyon College graduating class in 2005.

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’  The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’…This story is about the real value of real education, which has nothing to do with grades or degrees and everything to do with simple awareness—awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over.

‘This is water.’ ‘This is water.'”

Thanks, David

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friedrich-nietzscheFriedrich Nietzsche once said, “When virtue has slept, it will arise again all the fresher.”  (Human, All Too Human -1879)

Last month I was drawn up short by a headline to a one paragraph story in the Harvard Business Review on-line.  The headline read, “Do Depraved Thoughts Make You More Creative?”  (8:30 AM, 10/1/13)  The answer, at least for Protestants like me, seems to be absolutely yes.  Depraved creature that I am, the headline certainly got my attention.

The headline refers to a study conducted by Emily Kim and her team at the University of Illinois.  Ms. Kim, et.al., discovered that subjects, particularly Protestants, produced more creative work when they were (a) induced to feel unacceptable desires and primed with words evoking so-called depravity, and (b) induced to feel out of the norm sexual desires.  It was the forbidden or suppressed nature of the emotion that gave the emotion its creative power.  (Sublimation, Culture, and CreativityJournal of Personality and Social Psychology.  Oct 2013)

This blog is putatively focused on what creates meaning, ethics, happiness, and practical business efficacy for entrepreneurs.  So where does depravity fit into this?

rip-tornWell, just this.  If you seek to become a creative business innovator it’s good to shake things up periodically.  Just for the hell of it.  A jolt of the counterintuitive (perhaps another word for depravity), can summon the innovative, the fresh, the disruptive, the freeing, the new.

We all naturally gravitate towards playing it safe.  The real danger of playing it safe is subtle.  This danger doesn’t make headlines.  Yet excessive business caution is like a slow leak in a tire.  You become aware of it only when you realize that you’re stuck and wondering how the hell did it happen.

I’ve shared a story about this in the past, but it bears repeating here.  I was an actor for many years, a profession I ultimately failed at.  But it is a profession that lends itself to many good stories.   Here’s one.

A friend of mine, Paul, was playing the role of “Jamie Tyrone,” the older son in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night starring Rip Torn.  Rehearsals had gone very well for my friend, but, with two weeks left in the rehearsal process, Paul felt he had fully realized his character and was ready to open.  His quandary was what to do with himself for the last two weeks of rehearsal, so he went to Rip Torn and asked him what he would do with this actor’s conundrum.  Paul recounts that Rip Torn thought it over for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and said “Fuck it up.”

jungExactly.  If it ain’t broke, break it.  That may sound depraved indeed, if not mentally unbalanced, but there is a sound business reason for disciplined and constant strategic change in any healthy enterprise.  Even to the point of seeming arbitrariness.  Sometimes a dollop of depravity may be just what the doctor ordered.  Great creative entrepreneurs may often need to walk gingerly on the border of what their colleagues, wives, and friends may consider the insane.

On the other hand, Carl Jung said, “Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.”

Thanks, Carl.

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