Archive for September, 2014
Lord, I have a problem.”
“What is it, Eve?”
“I know that you created me and provided this beautiful garden and all of these wonderful animals, especially that hilarious snake, but I’m just not happy.”
“And why is that Eve?”
“Lord, I’m lonely, and I’m sick to death of apples.”
“Well, Eve, in that case I have a solution. I shall create a man for you.”
“Man? What is that Lord?”
“A flawed creature with many bad traits. He’ll lie, cheat and be vain. All in all he’ll give you a hard time, but he’ll be bigger and faster and will love to hunt, fish and bring you good things to eat. I’ll create him in such a way that he will satisfy your physical needs. He will be witless and will revel in childish things like playing cards and knocking a ball around. He won’t be as smart as you, so he will also need your advice to think properly”.
“Sounds great”, says Eve, with ironically raised eyebrows, “but what’s the catch? ”
“Well, you can have him on one condition.”
“And what’s that Lord?”
“Since he’ll be proud, arrogant and self-admiring, you will have to let him believe that I made him first. And it will have to be our little secret, you know, woman to woman.”
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Posted by Tim Askew in Blog, Corporate Rain, Entrepreneurship, tags: Albert Einstein, Container Store, Danny Meyer, David Neeleman, Groucho Marx, Howard Schultz, John Mackey, Kip Tindell, Pablo Picasso, Peter Drucker, Rabindranth Tagore, Steve Jobs, Tony Hsieh
Some of the reasons I love entrepreneurship so passionately have nothing to do with business, money, or profit, per se. For me, entrepreneurship is an alternate structure to reimpose meaning and value on an anomic world, where it increasingly seems structurally absent.
For me, entrepreneurship’s great gift is not to create success or wealth, but to create an essential ambience conducive to becoming whole. Here are four enabling entrepreneurial frameworks for creating a truly engaged and fulfilling life.
Albert Einstein said, “Everything that is great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.” While entrepreneurship is being eroded by overweening governmentalism, the entrepreneur still can create a unique and vital personal fulcrum that defies the quotidian. Entrepreneurship is a structure that can sidestep the tyranny of the majority. Entrepreneurship belies lemming-like conformity and can offer a centered existence apart from the demands and pressures of the madding crowd. It can become a transport for originality, personal dignity, and a lived private Idaho.
Which brings me to the second great non-monetary gift of a creative small business…
Groucho Marx said, “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.” Entrepreneurship is a way of creating our own club customized to our own membership. It gives an institutional context for those who prefer to walk their own walk.
This is a world where traditional community has been withering. We can no longer count on omnipresent verities of place, tradition, society, church, or culture. It’s become an anomic, often inchoate world full of separation, balkanization, relativism, and an unmoored zeitgeist. There is a need for clear mission-based, culturally cohesive, independent communities–like the best of entrepreneurial entities are.
A creative small business can offer an island of identity and existential value, as well as an anchorage when the traditional verities of society no longer cement universal beliefs and mores. Thus, the increasing recognition of the importance of unique corporate culture from entrepreneurial leaders like John Mackey, Howard Schultz, Tony Hsieh, Danny Meyer, Kip Tindell, David Neeleman, and others.
Rabindranth Tagore says,
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.”
Another word for service is vocation–that sense that we are doing the work of a generative higher power and contributing to the greater good of the existence we are part of. (Kip Tindell of The Container Store calls this “the wake we leave in life.”) A small business offers the opportunity to give back to the world each day. And not just in big showy ways like public contributions and grand gestures, but also in the little noticed ways that probably mean more–how we generously serve our clients every day. Pablo Picasso said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
4. A structure for faith
Faith is increasingly and institutionally absent from our everyday life. Psychiatrist Carl Jung saw the human psyche as innately religious and noted, with some alarm, “…faith has lost its grip to an appalling extent. People are no more rooted in their world and lose their orientation. They just drift….Life loses its meaning.”
The entrepreneurial quest is as much religious and artistic as it is pecuniary. It is an attempt to create a structure of meaning, to create something out of nothing. It is an attempt to at least grab for a penultimate verity where God often feels absent. Steve Jobs certainly viewed his lifelong entrepreneurial journey in this light. His last words were “Oh, wow.” I like to believe Jobs’s words speak as a final mystical comment on the unknowable essence of what many call God.
So I believe my own capitalist journey gives me tools to make me a wholer and truer human being through entrepreneurship. As Peter Drucker puts it, “Let your life be your endgame.”
Thank you, Peter.
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Posted by Tim Askew in Blog, Corporate Rain, Entrepreneurial Artistry, Entrepreneurship, tags: Amazon, Apple, Duke Today, Duke University, Jane Hawkins, Jeff Bezos, Josef Pieper
I have long believed that business and management training is very broken in the U.S. and the claim of business schools to create entrepreneurs is a specious absurdity.
The reason for this is that good entrepreneurs are basically courageous, slightly mad weirdos. And in their absurd passion they are much more like artists than businessmen. So how do you teach this divine madness, which I consider the touchstone of entrepreneurship?
Well, I’m not sure you can, but there is an interesting experiment going on at Duke University. The Duke initiative encourages students to marry the arts to business innovation and entrepreneurship by offering a new certificate program in innovation and entrepreneurship. It hopes to provide a formal path of study for students whose artistic passions may lead them to parallel entrepreneurial pursuits.
Perhaps this program harks directly to Steve Jobs cultural statement about his own company: “It’s in Apple‘s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”
I certainly feel Duke’s new course that seeks to “marry” liberal arts and entrepreneurship is on the conceptually right track. It seeks to create a better imaginative and cultural alternate path for business education in a radically evolving international enterprise climate. Duke’s course and other new college experiments may provide a formal structure of study for students whose artistic and practical interests might lead them to entrepreneurial pursuits.
Jane Hawkins, who is chairwoman of Duke’s music department, wants students to understand that their artistic talents can turn them in a myriad of creative career directions. She says, “They don’t have to feel that their only option to continue a career in the arts is to become a famous pianist or photographer.” (Duke Today, March 13, 2014)
Colleges and business schools have become wildly expensive. Worried parents are increasingly pushing their progeny to be “practical,” to take mostly STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects. That practicality is increasingly militating against preparation in English, philosophy, history, music, or any of the performing arts for parents worried about getting their educational money’s worth.
It is short-sighted for students in our advanced academic institutions to be stampeded into what amounts to high-level technical and vocational training. Training for what is today’s hot trade will probably be quaintly old-fashioned within five years, if not sooner. And this is especially true in business training.
This lemming-like flight from a liberal arts education is utterly wrong-headed. The broadly educated man and woman will be much better equipped than his/her specialist colleague for the executive skills of operating profitably in a multi-fractal, rapidly changing, multi-cultural world. With wisdom and imaginative verve.
Business schools’ claims to teach entrepreneurship are a sham. Business schools want to be relevant and cool. Like entrepreneurs. They are not. They also want to tap the extra income created by the popular image of entrepreneurs in the eyes of starry-eyed business ingenues, drawn to the neo-glamour of the heroic creative business individualist. It is a cynical pecuniary concern that motivates the explosion of business school “entrepreneurial offerings,” when all they really are doing is repackaging command and control skills not really apt to a changing economy and evolving workforce. Business schools are behind the times, limited by a conservative arrogance, both hidebound and hegemonous. They remain mostly about creating corporate technicians, not innovative businesspersons, not creative thinkers, not better communicators, not paradigm disruptors.
When asked by his HR consultant what sort of employees he was looking for at Amazon, Jeff Bezos reportedly said, “Send me your wackos.” Creating wackos ain’t what business departments and schools are about. But the liberal arts may mold the foundation for real out-of-the-box entrepreneurial thinking and it is where a true entrepreneurial preparation should begin.
The reason for being in business for the best entrepreneurs is to create something good, happy, useful, true—and therefore profitable. That is the very essence of an efficacious and moral capitalism.
German philosopher Josef Pieper says, “Only those are called liberal or free which are concerned with knowledge; those which are concerned with utilitarian ends…are called servile.”
Yeah, Josef. Thanks.
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Posted by Tim Askew in Blog, Corporate Rain, Entrepreneurship, Vacations, tags: Align4Profit, Ann Patchett, Bart Lorang, Bel Canto, Clayton Christensen, Elon Musk, Facebook, Fox News, FullContact, HarperCollins, Harvard Business School, Helanie Scott, How Will You Measure Your Life?, James Allworth, Karen Dillon, LinkedIn, Perrenial Publishing, Stuart Varney, Tesla, Twitter
There is a reason to take vacations. That reason is to simply stop.
This summer I took my first vacation in over two years. It was not easy. Taking a vacation is a very specific conundrum for the impassioned small businessman. There is no good time to do it. There is no time when it seems there is not a Sword of Damocles looming over our high-risk, very personal business creations. There is no time when we do not need four times as many hours as there are in the work week. It seems unimaginable to take a prolonged work intermission. A true existential furlough from our labor.
Workaholism is a habit. It is an addiction. It needs to be fought each day with tools like meditation, prayer, yoga, and exercise. But it also needs the occasional Big Break.
My friend Helanie Scott, CEO of Align4Profit in Dallas, writes an excellent newsletter on business leadership each week. She points out that brain researchers have proven that habits create neural pathways in our brain and these paths are like ruts in the road that send you in a predetermined direction before you even have time to consider where you are going. We need to break up these preordained ruts periodically. She says, “That’s scary enough but it gets worse. The longer you indulge in a bad habit, the stronger grows the pull of your neural pathways.”
Not taking a vacation is a bad habit. It’s easy to get off—to get high—on the everyday frisson of business drama. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Cristensen, in his bestseller How Will You Measure Your Life (Harper Collins, 5/15/12, with co-authors Karen Dillon and James Allworth), points out that the ROI of work is immediately apparent. It offers instant gratification and feedback in the form of general approbation, ego inflation, contracts, and money. Entrepreneurship can be a habit not too different from the high of cocaine, heroin, or sex.
Bart Lorang, CEO of FullContact, a contact management firm in Denver, warns of what he calls “misguided hero syndrome.” (Stuart Varney, Fox News, 8/14/14) Misguided hero syndrome is the belief that the world might stop spinning without our wonderful selves. He actually pays his associates $7500 to take their vacations. He only asks three simple things of them in exchange.:
1. They actually go on vacation.
2. They must disconnect from all technology.
3. They can’t do any work on the vacation.
Personally, I was stopped in my tracks this year when I realized my recent divorce was partially caused by my bad work addiction. I think I actually never wanted a real vacation, though I denied that to my wife. My relationship with my daughter was also in danger. She incessantly asked me to “take off my business face” and be with her. (I noted that uber-entrepreneur Tesla’s Elon Musk is a twice divorced father of five, who has acknowledged taking only one vacation in four years. Hmm.)
Well, I took eight days out west with my daughter this summer. I committed to only checking my email every other day during that time. And no Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, et. al. That’s as close to going “cold turkey” as I can for now. All was fine when I got home.
It’s ego-gratifying to believe our companies would collapse without us. L’etat c’st moi! The fear of vacation is partly that we might discover we are less important than we thought. A vacation allows one to self-humblify.
In her novel Bel Canto (Perrenial Publishing, 2002), Ann Patchett intones through one of her characters. “I don’t have any talent for vacations.” Me either, Ann. But I intend to practice more.
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Posted by Tim Askew in Abuse of the Ingenue Entrepreneur, Blog, Business Schools, Corporate Rain, Entrepreneurship, tags: Carl Schramm, Danny Meyer, David Neelman, David Smith, Elon Musk, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Harvard Business School, Herman Melville, Inc. 500, John Mackey, Kip Tendell, Moby Dick, OPM, Steve Jobs, TekScape, The Economist, Tony Hsieh, Yale College, YouTube
It costs a lot of money to go to business school. I think its bloody not worth it for most true entrepreneurs. To put it bluntly, business schools are old fashioned, out of touch, arrogant, and greedy. And their cost continues to grow in juxtaposition to their increasing irrelevancy to fast-moving business reality.
Note Carl Schramm, former Executive Director of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, has been railing for ten years that “Business schools are failing. They are still basing their curriculum on the old economy…..You can go to business school and work hard, but be in no way ready to start your own business.” (You Tube, 10/31/06 to present) He’s right. Yet business schools compete with each other with vociferous claims to teach entrepreneurship.
It is not that what business schools purport to do is not needed. Quite the opposite. There is constantly increasing international demand for corporate leadership and good management. Indeed, over 12,000 institutions worldwide now deliver some form of higher business education (in contrast to just a handful 100 years ago), according to The Economist. (2/18/14, p. 68) But for the aborning independent innovative business practitioner (specifically the incipient entrepreneur), a tutelage in the current business academy may even be counter-productive in a world where the only constant is constant change.
So, by what right do I as a small businessman who never went to business school say this? I say it because I care about the viability of the entrepreneurship as an ongoing and healthy institution. And note that even among corporate managers the salient business leadership skills are changing.
Because of falling applications, business schools have tried to present a more piquant and cutting-age face of relevancy. So they claim to teach the culturally cool subject of entrepreneurship. But the tenured professoriate of the business academy is no longer intuitively in touch with our brave new emerging business world, despite their claims to relevancy.
I have written often about entrepreneurship as artistry. To put artistry back into business teaching, business schools first and foremost must put philosophy, psychology, religion, ethics, and the humanities back on the front burner. They have to train businessmen in meaning before teaching the proper management of the P & L. The millennial workforce looks for leaders of vision and authenticity, undogmatic managers that are attuned to the “we” of business leadership and not just the bottom line.
Business schools need to train their students more like social workers and poets. Perhaps a serious new business curriculum should start with a full year of nothing but the “why” of business. A new generation of workers seem to want a clearly delineated purpose from any business entity they work in. They want their work to be a function of love, as well as lucre. This can only come from business leaders who have deeply pondered what they believe and who they are and what is their place in the world.
The world’s bullshit meter is more finely-tuned than in the past. Successful business leaders must become known for their authenticity, global perspective, creativity, and comfort with chaos. They must be trained as sensitive, but grounded, embracers of the bright startles of life.
This is not just granola hippy impracticality and madness. It is business selfishness. The very practical success of cutting-edge autodidactic business leaders like John Mackey, David Neeleman, Elon Musk, Danny Meyer, Tony Hsieh, Kip Tendell, Steve Jobs, et. al., in their variegated ways, are the future. What academic institutions need to do is find an institutional way to bottle the elixirs of insight coming increasingly from the ranks of entrepreneurship itself, not the sylvan groves of the traditional business academy.
All this said, I do feel there is a place for business school training for the entrepreneur. Note David Smith, CEO of four time Inc. 500 honoree TekScape and fellow member of the Inc. Business Owners Council in NYC. He recently completed the first leg of a three year program at Harvard Business School called OPM (Owner President Manager). Dave has been pretty much an autodidact till now. He never even went to college. But he has found reentering this educational program with his peers (fellow owners grossing ten million to 2 billion) enormously enriching. (Also exhausting. They go from 7:30-10:00 six days/week. David describes it as “living like a monk for a month per year.”) This group of business Alphas does the traditional HBS case study method (three per day) for a full month.
This sort of training makes sense for an extant entrepreneur who knows where she is going. But to say a two year MBA can turn a student into an entrepreneur is fulsome nonsense.
As Herman Melville put it in Moby Dick, “A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.” Whale ships, not MBAs, make entrepreneurs. Thank you, Herman
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