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Archive for April, 2014

ONJ_busywork_orig20120816-17262-ixeh8sI’ve become very annoyed of late with some business colleagues.  A simple “Hello.  How’re things?” often will elicit one of the following responses:

“My hair’s on fire.”
“I’m up to my ass in alligators.”
“I’m barely treading water.”
“I’m slammed, man.”
“Buried.”
“I’m crashing on a deadline.”
“Beyond busy.”

Such responses make me feel uneasy. Like I should say, defensively, “Well, gosh, I’m really busy, too.” It sometimes feels like a roundelay of one-upmanship. I hate it. Particularly since I’m a businessman and writer who often needs to be systematically still to function effectively. (Laziness and Entrepreneurship—September 3, 2013)

3184677824Essayist Tim Kreider wrote a wonderful OpEd for the NYTimes a couple of years ago titled “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” Here’s some of what he said.

“If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing….Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work….Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if your are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” (NY Times, 6/30/12)

It’s like being busy these days is cool. It gives us business status. Note the word “busy” is inculcated in the word “business.”

Well, I don’t think being busy is cool. I think expressed busyness is frequently more an evincement of fear—the fear that we may be frenetic failures, that we may not really matter that much. It’s like a dramatization of our self-importance more than of our reality. It is a form of entrepreneurial “Big Dickism.” (That is, mine is bigger than yours.) A sort of macho entrepreneurial badge of honor. Tim Kreider argues that this braggadocio of the busy can in fact lead us toward a sort of “histrionic exhaustion” of anxious defensiveness.

Rollo-MayMaybe we should actually be bragging about our conscious idleness, our regularized moments of revery, our disciplined pausing to refresh.

Psychiatrist Rollo May puts it this way:

“The pause is especially important for the freedom of being. What I have called essential freedom. For it is in the pause we experience the context out of which freedom comes…. When we don’t pause, when we are perpetually hurrying from one appointment to another, from one ‘planned activity’ to another, we sacrifice the richness of wonder.  And we lose communication with our destiny.”

Thanks, Rollo

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unnamedSo what do circadian rhythms have to do with entrepreneurship?  Well, maybe quite a lot if you are striving to live a daily morally-centered business life.

Wikipedia defines circadian rhythm as “any biological process that displays an endogenous, entrainable oscillation of 24 hours.”  That means it is a natural, predictable biological cycle in each day of our lives.

If one tries to be sincerely committed to living a meaningful, moral life through business (and I certainly believe it is simply the selfish, efficacious, practical way to generate long-term business success), are there times of day when one is more inclined to unethical behavior?  This is a question considered in a study done by Maryam Kouchaki of Harvard and Isaac Smith of the University of Utah discussed in this month’s Harvard Business Review (May, 2014, p. 34-5) titled “In the Afternoon, the Moral Slope Gets Slipperier”.  Basically their research indicates that the stresses of each day may turn us into liars after lunch.

mkouchakiAccording to Kouchaki and Smith, people are 20% to 50% more likely to be dishonest in the afternoon because they are depleted of the resources they need for self-control.  Gradually increasing fatigue can eventuate systemic moral failure.  Dr. Kouchaki says, “There are simple ways to limit opportunities for immorality.  For example, tasks with a moral component can be shifted to the morning and after breaks, when managers and employees are less depleted.  At the very least, try to avoid scheduling those activities at the end of the day …. Exhaustion has costs, and one is a loss of control over the ability to make ethical choices. When your psychological resources are depleted, you are less likely to even recognize that an intended action (or inaction) has moral implications.”

Though we in the West often make mock of cultures with long afternoon breaks or siestas, it is perhaps we who are the fools.  This study certainly buttresses my long-held intuition that breaks and periodic stops are a key to consistency of business values.  (Note my post Napping to Greatness – July 16, 2023 and Laziness and Entrepreneurship – September 3, 2013, if interested.)

So can we nap our way to morality?  Can we actually manipulate our inner time clock to making us better entrepreneurs and human beings?  Well, maybe so.  Perhaps managing our circadian rhythms is but another unacknowledged business skill.  Through self-monitoring our inner-biological efficiency for different tasks we can glean intimations on everything from the best time to tweet to when to write inter-office memos to when to check email.

(For example, in an article in Thinking and Reasoning (Dec., 2011), Dr. Mareike Wieth found that when people have to solve problems with a high degree of creativity, they are much more successful when they tackle those problems at the time of day when they are least alert.  So creativity is on a different circadian clock than morality.)

Msc2012_20120204_408_Clinton_Hillary_Frank_PlittInteresting stuff this circadian research.  But most interesting to me, as an aficionado of company culture and corporate meaning, is the fact we can probably buttress our own intent as leaders to ethical action by choosing the time of day we choose to deal with it.

Hillary Clinton once said, “The first lesson I’ve learned is that no matter what your do in your life, you have to figure out your own internal rhythms—I mean, what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for your friend.”  Thanks, Hillary.

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Faith.  I sure wish I had more of it.

Psychologist Carl G. JungOne of the reasons I value entrepreneurship so much has nothing to do with business, money, or profit, per se.  For me, entrepreneurship is an alternate structure to reimpose meaning and value on a anomic world where faith increasingly seems structurally absent from everyday life.

Psychiatrist Carl Jung saw the human psyche as innately religious and made man’s intuitive connection to religion, in its various forms, the focus of his thought.  Jung became increasingly alarmed before his death in 1961 with the disconnection of vital, everyday living religion in human life, whether it be the spirituality of primitive tribes or sophisticated Christian theology.  Jung noted that faith “has lost its grip to an appalling extent. People are no more rooted in their world and lose their orientation.  They just drift.  That is very much our condition….Life loses its meaning.”

Stephen_BaumanThat quote is from the blog of  my friend Rev. Stephen Bauman of Christ Church Methodist in NYC.  Stephen points to the substitution of popular culture slogans and glib bromides, or hours surfing endlessly on the I-phone, as quick, ersatz and empty attempts to address questions of meaning.  He says,  “Where can people go to find something more lasting, something far more substantive than the thin gruel served in popular culture?  How can people find their true orientation?”

I am a man of longing for faith.  In my actual faith I find myself quite weak (and sometimes without any.)  I deeply wish that were not so for a plethora of reasons.  One of the selfish reasons is that it would likely make me a better businessman and entrepreneur, as well as a better man.

The Harvard Business Review (Oct. 13, 2013, pp. 32-3) did an interview with Dr. Mitchell Neubert of Baylor University, who has investigated the connection between faith and the propensity to start a business.  He and his colleagues discovered that entrepreneurs were more actively religious than the general population.  Entrepreneurs prayed more frequently and were more likely to believe that God was personally responsive.  In addition to his own research, Neubert points to a 2004 study that positively correlates faith with personal ambition and innovation.

mitchHBR asks Dr. Neubert if perhaps people with greater faith are more willing to take risks.  He answers,  “Yes, I think there’s a confidence that can come from your religious beliefs.  And maybe the individualism and autonomy associated with entrepreneurship are reflected in the idea of a more personal, direct relationship with God.”

I don’t pretend to be a vicar of theological entrepreneurship.  As I said, I am a person of weak and erratic faith.  And that’s a part of why I have an entrepreneurial company:  It can be at least be a penultimate earthly vessel for creating value, culture, community, and personal truth in a world that has lost effective daily structure for holiness.  I hypothesize one of the reasons entrepreneurship has so taken the popular business imagination is an unspoken yen for meaning, as well a money.  Part of the reason people adore Steve Jobs is because he was an artist in reaching to create meaning through his company.

Creating a company is an act of faith.  A successful innovative business always seems like a bloody miracle to me.  Here’s what Matthew 17:20 reports Jesus saying about faith.  “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say into the mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.”  Yikes.

That’s certainly faith well beyond my ken, but not faith beyond my desire.

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war_between_the_old_and_the_young_4233_75941407_0Guess what?  People 55 and over have the highest rate of entrepreneurship in the US.  Take that Mark Zuckerberg.  Not only does this older demographic have the highest rate of entrepreneurship, but The Kauffman Foundation reports they are much more likely to form successful enterprises than entrepreneurs between 20 and 34. So, contrary to urban myth, the most vital tyro entrepreneurs these days are not the young, but the old.  Furthermore, this phenomenon is on the upswing. (How can it not be on the upswing given the fact that 20% of the US population will be over 65 by 2050, in contrast to 14.5% at present, and projected life expectancy will surpass 100 in the near future for developed countries like ours.  And we’re not talking here about dottering, demented, diminished individuals, but, rather, increasingly vibrant, functional worker bees, with vast life experience.) In fact, the future will increasingly depend on the efficacy of the aged.  Note an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal last Tuesday by Nicholas Eberstadt and Michael Hodin titiled, “America Needs To Rethink Retirement.”  (WSJ, 3/11/14, OpEd, p. A-15)  They state,

“With declining birthrates throughout much of the world, humanity is getting older.  In Europe, the median age has climbed to 43 over the past 30 years, from 34, while in Japan—with the oldest population on the planet—the average age is 46, up from 39 in 1994…. One vital question in particular goes largely unaddressed:  How [does the western world] build an economic model for an aging society?  As the over-60 population grows much faster than the younger working-age cohorts, while life expectancy increases, the 20th-century model of work and retirement becomes increasingly unsuitable for economic growth.  The key will be finding new solutions to engage older American in the workforce.”

edward_glaeser1The rejuvenated “elderly” may offer a partial answer to Eberstadt and Hodin’s conundrum.  They may have to, not only for the country’s economic health, but also for their own sakes.  In a NY Times piece on March 13, 2014 titled The Gray Jobs Enigma, Helen Dennis, a professor at USC and an expert on retirement, says it is not surprising that an increasingly large percentage of Americans are planning on working into their late 70’s.  She posits the main reason for this is simply increasing societal uncertainty and loss of faith in traditional political and cultural verities. (Given these facts, it is quite beyond my ken why we don’t immediately raise the retirement age to 70.  When Social Security was implemented in 1935 average life expectancy was 61.  Now it is 79!  60 really is the new 50, or even 40, for a plethora of reasons.  Acknowledging these facts and legislating a later legal retirement would solve half our unfunded entitlement and deficit problems in one fell swoop.) In a NY Times article in 2011, Dr. Edward Glaeser of Harvard, a specialist in the graying workforce, notes that the elderly are often the most entrepreneurial of Americans.  He points out, for example, that West Palm Beach, a retiree haven, has the highest self-employment rate of any metropolitan area in the country.  (NY Times, 11/19/11) ????????????????????????Our aging population is a huge and still largely untapped resource.  Aging entrepreneurs have an increasingly healthy robustness and concomitant energy.  They are not a phalanx of drooling, curmudgeonly old coots, but rather a potential font of rich and leavened innovative dynamism. The entrepreneur of a certain age is a resource.  As the late Peter Allen put it in his 1979 song, “Everything old is new again.”  Thank you, Peter.

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