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Archive for June, 2014

410zZ2xTNALI went to a cocktail party and book signing a couple of weeks ago for Arianna Huffinton.  She is a charming woman in person and has a new bestseller out called Thrive:  The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.  Several friends told me her book was right up my alley, per my long-term interest in meaning and entrepreneurship.  So I’ve now read my signed copy.  Here’s what I think.

Thrive is a very well-intentioned but obvious book.  (This is not to say we don’t all need to be reminded of the obvious, of course.)  Huffington’s central tenet is that there is more to life than money and success, that we must create a “Third Metric” of well-being, wisdom, and wonder.  Well, OK.  Who would disagree?  And Huffington does cite some useful research that was new to me like Dr. Leslie Perlow’s concept of “time famine” and James Gleick’s “hurry sickness,”  as well as many lovely quotations from poetry and literature.

I’m glad I read the book.  And I would even recommend you, dear readers, read it.  But caveat emptor—the book is annoying.  It is bloody patronizing, sentimental, and quite overly self-promotional.  It is not unlike Gwyneth (“Water has feelings.”) Paltrow’s self-congratulatory condescension on her GOOP blog or Leona Helmsy famously referring to the “little people,”  meaning you and me, Brothers and Sisters.

If I were mean, I would say her book is suffused with the trope of a rich girl dropping some crumbs to the commoners.  There is a self-congratulatory pseudo-profundity to Thrive.  We should all meditate, volunteer, and own a dog.  Through her cogitations she concludes she must get more sleep.  It helps her a lot and her readers should get more sleep, too.

Alright.  I admit it.  I am mean.  But if you think I am mean, read this parody of Arianna from June’s Vanity Fair below.  It’s fall on the floor funny.

 

1. LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF

Yes, it’s been a tough journey, with so much heartbreak along the way. But at last I have learned to love myself. My method is simple. Every morning, I look in the mirror.

And, looking back at me, it’s me that I see.

You know, a mirror is a two-way thing. You only get out of a mirror what you put in. So every morning when I look in the mirror I say, “I love you.” And every morning the answer comes back: “I love you.”

It’s not the same for everyone, of course. When you look in your mirror, you will not see me.

You will see yourself.

That is your tragedy.

Learn to live with it.

2. HARKEN TO THE WISDOM OF THE WISE

 Fact: President John F. Kennedy, the famous American president, was just saying, “Don’t ask what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you,” when he was famously shot down by an assassin’s bullet.

Fact: Minutes later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was standing on the balcony of his five-star luxury executive hotel suite saying, “I’ve just had this incredible dream,” when he, too, was famously shot down, leaving that dream in tatters.

Two tragic tragedies. But their wise words live on—wise words of wisdom from two men who knew deep in their hearts that, by redefining our definition of how to define our redefinition of success, we as human beings could create a stress-free world.

A world in which one single-minded woman could build a hugely successful 24/7 online media empire with her own bare hands and at the same time bring up two wonderful daughters to live happy and successful lives and continue to adore their hardworking mother, who recently topped the list of the 100 Most Influential Women in the World but who still can find the downtime to access all the very loving, very appreciative daily text messages they send to her.

And—yes—that’s a message that fills me with hope and positivity for the future.

So, thank you, John. Thank you, Martin.

Your legacy lives on in me.

3. NEVER BUY WISDOM WITHOUT ASKING FOR A RECEIPT

 As a peasant child in Greece, I knew how it was to be poor.

To eat in the cheaper restaurants. To walk to school in clothes from last season.

But, yes, I was always wealthy in love.

My mother worried 24/7 how she would be able to scrape together enough money to pay for the heating for our swimming pools.

And, yes, she made so many sacrifices.

“I am going to have to sacrifice you,” she would tell our lady’s maids when she found them dawdling.

But throughout the long, arduous journey of her life, my mother remained so very proud.

My beloved sisters, Agapi and Akimbo, recall how she gave us all the gift of compassion. She was always feeding the little birds that played in our garden, throwing them bread, cheese, and other tasty tidbits. “They taste better that way,” she would say.

Mother always mixed inner wisdom with practicality. “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you,” she told us, “but never let them get away without paying for it.”

4. TIME NEVER STOPS

Every time we look at our watches, it seems later than we think.

That is why, for spiritual reasons, I prefer to wear a Rolex.

5. THE FIFTH STEP FOLLOWS THE FOURTH

“Pick your pillow wisely,” writes mindfulness teacher Paulo Coelho, “for the pillow that is filled with sticks and stones is not as soft as the pillow filled with feathers.”

“Before you cross a busy street, look right and left and right again,” observes spiritual adviser and inner-welfare consultant Gumi.

Wise words.

Today, it has never been harder to tap into our inner wisdom. According to top-level researchers, stress levels have reached so high that, all around the world, we have been driven to employ researchers to measure our levels of stress.

One minute, we are rushing from our high-powered meeting with top-ranking executives from the Forbes 400 anxious to hear of our plans for another business-expansion program.

The next minute, we are being driven to the White House in a top-of-the-range limousine for a meeting with the president, who is, as is well testified, a close personal friend.

And before the day is done, we are being interviewed by veteran news anchor Charlie Rose for his top-rated TV current-affairs program—and thus inspiring a flood of millions of appreciative text messages from lifelong admirers all over the world.

But as legendary Cherokee sage and visionary chief Sitting Bore once tweeted, “Um, engagement diary may be full, but what if, um, life is empty?”

6. THE FISH WHO CANNOT SWIM ON DRY LAND MUST FIRST LEARN TO WALK

Sometimes, you must step back from the never-ending cycle of success-acclaim-achievement-award-success-acclaim-achievement-award.

And pause awhile.

Take a deep breath, then ask yourself this important question: “Yes, I may be much more intelligent and attractive and have many more Facebook friends than anyone else I know—but am I really happier than all my closest rivals?”

If the answer is “OMG, maybe not!” then you are a fish who must learn to walk.

Scientists define a fish as a member of a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic craniate animals that lack limbs with digits.

And, yes, it is only by defining a fish that we can fill up the page and move on.

 

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pascalBlaise Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher, said:  “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Sitting quietly in a room alone is not what entrepreneurs do.  I wonder if we entrepreneurs are not becoming poster children for a speed addled society.  It’s like entrepreneurs are adopting an increasing societal go-go-go, move-move-move trope and taking it to the tenth power.  Like we are on a wildly careening roller coaster chasing the killer app and the great disruption, yet never contemplating the why of our activity.

I particularly feel this when I am in a massed group of entrepreneurs.  Take for instance Inc. Magazine’s GrowCo convention, which I attended last month in Nashville.  It was full of an exhausting array of brilliant, passionate entrepreneurs, chief of whom was Mark Cuban, who gave the keynote address in which he mentioned that he never read a single book not specifically related to his business in his first eight years of enterprise.  Surely that must be a loss and a sadness to Mr. Cuban’s soul.  (Am I the last businessman extant who still talks about “souls”?)  Such passion and focus may be necessary for success, but it’s not a price that is spiritually healthy to pay.

marc-cubanThere is an addictive frenzy to our technology enhanced, evolving business process that is leaving little room for context, personal centering, or contemplation of the meaning of our activity.  (I am particularly sensitive to addictive process since I am a former addict myself.)  As entrepreneurs we can easily succumb to the escapist frisson and excitement of our high-risk balancing act and the adrenaline rush of our often fearsome process, that is not much different than the sex addict reveling in the euphoric chemicals of his/her own body.

James Gleick put out a book last year called Faster:  The Acceleration of Just About Everything.  (Random House, 2013)  He states, “Our computers, our movies, our sex lives, our prayers—they all run faster now than ever before.  And the more we fill our lives with time-saving devices and time-saving strategies, the more rushed we feel.”  Gleick calls this “hurry sickness.”  I prefer “hurry addiction.”

T.S. Elliot presciently nails our current conundrum in his poem “The Endless Cycle.”

“The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness,
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence,
Knowledge of word, and ignorance of the Word…
Where is the life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

785_james1_1Dr. Edward Hallowell refers to our current parlous societal speed madness, in his book Crazybusy (Ballantyne Books, 2007), as “culturally induced ADHD.”  He says,  “When you’re ‘crazybusy’ your life is out of balance and you enter what I call the “F-State”—frenzied, fearful, forgetful and frantic.”  It is almost like this induced ADHD state is a point of pride to  many entrepreneurs.  (Note my post of April 29, “The Brag of Busyness and the Entrepreneur”).

All this is easier said than solved for the speeding entrepreneur.  Yet, as Mohandas Ghandi said,  “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”  Thanks, Mohandas.

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Entrepreneurship can be better than therapy.  At least for me.  (I’ve certainly done a lot of the latter.)

TiG_2_Joseph_SchumpeterI’ve read endless articles on work/life balance and I’ve written some about it, too.  But the more I think about this seemingly fiercesome conundrum, the more I think the cure is in the illness itself:  That is, becoming whole in an entrepreneurial work life can come as much through the work of business itself as through carefully ratiocinating what is work and what is personal/family/home.  I experience my own emotional business health as not at all a 50/50 proposition.   Pity our wives, husbands, and children.

John Mackey’s Conscious Capitalism movement attempts to do on a macro basis a healing of the Earth itself—that is, using efficacious capitalism not only to create money and jobs for millions but also as a more efficient way to solve the larger ills of society through the innovation of creative and competitive business process.  Creative destruction, if you will.  (Thank you Joseph Schumpeter.)  This in contrast to various top-down statist derigismes (Naziism, Communism, monarchy, bureaucratic oligarchy, dictatorship) that, whether well-intended or not, have been proven inefficient when not absolutely diabolic.

But a healthy capitalist process can also heal the individual business striver.  The dialogue I hear on work/life issues often seems to define work as what really keeps you from living.  I think that’s bullshit.  And I say that from the perspective of someone who has found personal salvation conceiving my own private Idaho through a business formulation that creates meaning parallel to money.  (Addiction and Entrepreneurship—February 27, 2013)

I want my company, Corporate Rain International, to make me and everyone it touches a better, more honest, more whole person.  That is our corporate mission, as much as generating lucre (filthy or otherwise.)  I see each of my employees personal development, as well as my own, as integral to the success of my company.  A community of personal growth, if you will.  A community of meaning.  A community of mini-CEOs operating in the fecund emotional soil of service and generosity to each other and to clients.

stones-43163_640If a prime imperative is for each fellow-traveler in your entrepreneurial company to be constantly and honestly and fiercely growing together, efficiency and internal innovation naturally follow.  I expect it of my employee colleagues.  I want every one of my associates to be better than me.  Even when I lose a useful associate, who outgrows my firm to a better opportunity, I celebrate a success.  Though it may create inconvenience for me as a boss, it is a milepost of cultural success that reeks of value and the best interests of every client and every colleague of and in my firm.

In such an ambience, failure can be corporately embraced, and fearful, inefficient self-censoring can be vastly reduced.  Inadequacies and mistakes can become, not objects of condemnation, but opportunities for personal growth in a communal becoming, a collective work of self-improvement.

I think real entrepreneurs are often a little bit crazy.  They are possessed of a divine madness, much like artists.  They don’t operate by the linear logic of the rest of the world.  They are optimistic madmen who can embrace the piquant danger of living each day on the cusp of risk and even potential disaster.  They are about the impossible.  As that great business philosopher Mick Jagger says, “The only performance that makes it all the way is one that achieves madness.”  It’s why real entrepreneurship can’t ultimately be taught in business schools.  How can you institutionalize divine madness?

216_2310-Fernando-PessoaTherefore, the work/life balance for the entrepreneur may well have to weigh in more on the side of her business.  For the true entrepreneur to be whole, life balance may be a 70% commitment to business. Again, pity the poor entrepreneur’s wife (or husband.)

So balance for the entrepreneur may be imbalance in the eyes of they world.  Poet Fernando Pessoa says this about that:

“Without madness what is man
 But a wholesome beast
Postponed corpse that begets?”

Thanks, Fernando.

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This is a trick title.  I loathe titles like this.  I am utterly sick to my soul of titles like this.  Not least because I am frequently sucked into them.  Mea culpa, mes amis.

Cosmopolitan-April-2011-olivia-wilde-19604816-1859-2560It is increasingly alarming to me how rampant this titular numeric bullet pointing has become.  There is an innate superficiality and cynicism that undergirds what increasingly looks like settled strategy in the “serious” business press, particularly online.  These numerated titles are kind of like the business form of Cosmopolitan Magazine‘s versions on “21 Ways to Please Your Man in Bed.”   (I swear Cosmopolitan, and its sister publications, print the same article every month with a new title.)

These are difficult times for the media and publications.  They are in business to make money, just like you and me.  The more eyeballs they draw, the more money they make.  I understand that.  Publishers and editors feel simplification creates more traffic, more clicks, more revenue.  And they, like entrepreneurs, are capitalists.  Yet does this mean that there must be a lemming-like stampede into a condescending oversimplification and a lowest common denominator of ersatz business insight?  Obviously, I would hope not, but one result of this increasingly omnipresent bulletting format is precisely this. I see it ubiquitously online in Forbes, in Inc. Magazine, and even in Harvard Business Review.

(Ironically, I am tempted to take this column right into that bullet point format at this very moment to keep this essay short and pithy.  As I said above, mea culpa!)

Mcdonalds-90s-logo.svgOne of the problems for publishers and readers is that we are all just so damn busy.  Like Sergeant Joe Friday in the old TV series Dragnet, we want “Just the facts, Ma’am.”  We have no time any more to seek out nuance, subtlety, and spiritual synchronicity.  We live in a confusingly fast world and a world that is getting faster.  Hell, many entrepreneurs have companies that create ways to cope with this onslaught and help our clients manage and keep up with the phenomenon.

The pull of bullet point oversimplification is that we think we can get knowledge and wisdom quickly with minimal effort.  This is magical thinking.  It is ultimately delusive.  It is spiritual and intellectual laziness.  It is a quick-fix idol and a chimerical substitute for truth.  It is a business form of seeking a cheap grace.  It’s like going to McDonald’s for nutrition.  Bullet formatting is becoming the fast food of online business writing.  Surely we must make room to include a little kale with our fries.

A lot of the problem is our devotion to speed.  We want the perfect answer now, wrapped up in a light blue Tiffany box and a red ribbon.  We want to have insta-presto answers rather than to think.

Olivier-as-Hamlet-laurence-olivier-5110416-600-450When I was in high school my English class was assigned to read Hamlet.  I was lazy and I cheated.  I read the Cliffs Notes of Hamlet.  Same thing, right?  But did I know Hamlet?  Not at all.

So the next time you see some variation on “10 Ways to Become Steve Jobs,” just skip it.  It won’t stick to your ribs.  Real learning and truth is more elusive, more complex: part fact, part poetry, part passion.
 
After all, Jobs himself said, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough.  Its technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” 
 
There is no silver bullet for wisdom—nor silver bullets, as it were.  There are no perfect solutions that can be summed up in 10 fast, easy steps.  There is only our longing that it be so.  Such promise of magic is seductive.  Like all people we want things quick, simple, and easy.  Bullet point oversimplification may be fast, but it is not profound.

Edward Fisher said, “If something is exceptionally well done it has embedded in its very existence the aim of lifting the common denominator rather than catering to it.”  Thanks, Edward.

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