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Archive for November, 2014

“Alhand-226358_640l the days of the afflicted are bad, but one with a grateful heart has a continual feast.” Proverbs 15:15

I’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 tweet 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.

sze839Saying 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.

It 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 )

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????November is the month of Thanksgiving in the U.S. 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.

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home-slide-1I smiled when I received the Twitter link How technology is increasingly isolating us from each other and stifling creativity to @TimothyAskew’s article on tech zombification because it brought a number of people together who subsequently sparked off his idea, in part contradicting it.

Let me explain.

A week after this Twitter exchange I furthered the conversation with one of the Twitter participants futurist Chris Riddell over coffee. How did I know Chris?

Well, many moons ago when I was speaking at CeBIT I tweeted for an iPhone charger and a guy called Justin reached out.

MC for the event that year Justin Davies is also CEO of start up company @Prezentt and the next time I was in Perth (on the other side of Australia from where I live) we had lunch. I sent people his way and vice versa and we continued the digital discussion over many years.

Earlier this year when Justin was in Melbourne to collect an award for that same start up we had a red wine over all things digital when he said Chris was a guy I should meet – in a click, we were connected. With a strong, shared interest in the impact of digital on future trends and social innovation, we have since started collaborating.

Why the detail?

Because it reinforces how virtual and real existence converge. How social media networks generate mutually beneficial relationships that operate off and online. That’s how things work now.

This is not to suggest that technology is a panacea or that the value of face-to-face connection has diminished.

There’s dark and light to any technology (fire, hammers), but notwithstanding this, the capacity to encourage innovation and collaboration is huge. One world is an extension of the other rather than a separate realm.

Like Tim I am fascinated by the impact of technology on human behavior and believe we have yet to fully understand its impact.

And I confess too that I have seen and been one of those buried knee deep in smartphone and stumbling from place to place, staccato style, because biologically my brain can’t handle the whole shebang in real time.

Yes, I confess, I am distracted.

That aside I believe online is potentially one of the most powerfully connecting, creative experiences that challenges notions of where that self begins and ends.

Here are some of my experiences.

  1. Being online makes me think.

When I am online, I start to think.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think offline or appreciate the value of reflection.

I also know when I need to hunker down to read research and pull together a thoughtful piece of writing I’ve got to concentrate, question myself, think hard. It takes energy.

But when I discover something on the web I react instantly – look it up, consider its opposite, click on some or other hyperlink that provides more insight and information or even a new direction and of course, share it. And there are always plenty of people who hop in and influence my views.

Online I learn as I search. I learn as I engage. People teach me.

I may be deep down some rabbit hole when a stranger I’ve never heard of or met suggests something I’ve never thought about and bang, I’m off exploring a new path.

I may know them for that minute or find myself on the tube line to meet them in London a year down the track. It doesn’t matter. Even if the interaction doesn’t change my view, it makes me reconsider what I think more consciously.

Connection. Creation.

It’s not without costs. It is possible that I am outsourcing my short-term memory to Google, but given the limited capacity of my brain I wonder if it frees up space to think better? I don’t know.

It is possible that my attention span is diminishing. It is. As to how this impacts the quality of my thinking, how do I work that out?

  1. Being online connects me offline & online.

Online facilitates connection online but leads to deeper and richer offline connection.

I recently spent time in San Francisco and London to promote my book The Social Executive – how to master social media and why it’s good for business and caught up with people I had formed virtual relationships with over the past few years as well as newer ones.

This history meant that when we met for the first time in the flesh, we were not at zero. The pre-established sense of mutuality made face-to-face contact more meaningful.

Although virtual and real life connection are equally important in their own way and on a continuum they are not the same.

Eating a Gorgonzola burger with A World Gone Social authors Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt and Social Business Manager for IBM Jim Clausen or catching the ferry to Tiburon to hang out with author Kare Anderson and mental toughness coach LaRae Quy gave incredible dimension – but Twitter facilitated that opportunity in the first place.

  1. Being online makes me part of a global brain

I often say that no matter how smart any one of us is we are never as smart as the lot of us. While that goes for behaving stupidly too, the information available to us at a click is astounding.

Right now I can go online and learn Greek, Math, how to program a computer from prestigious universities anywhere in the world and for free. When in history have we been able to do this?

I think of Twitter, for example, as a global brain because it’s a vast network of links and people that take you form A to Z in an instant.

Such global connectivity is a form of abundance.

Tim’s generous invitation to respond to his article falls into this space. It’s less about what’s ‘right’ than inviting views that contribute to our collective knowledge on how we handle what’s coming up.

I believe Tim highlights important issues around distraction, which is necessary but can also be counterproductive to human life. Some distraction can elevate mood and counter-intuitively, assist decision-making.

But issues of distraction and addiction aren’t new.

“The world is too much with us late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our hours, little we see in nature that is ours,” Wordsworth wrote in the 18th Century.

It does not make our current predicament less important but we need to remember that before there was a web to surf people killed time in other ways. Gossip, for example, has been with us from the start.

There are significant emerging issues resulting from technology –

  • Sometimes we assume if we can’t find information online it doesn’t exist. Unless we’re dedicated scholars, the hunt stops here.
  • Search is not yet sophisticated enough to discern quality from poor information and algorithms can be gamed. Sites like Google Scholar and Scopus can help and for those with an academic bent try these suggestions on Quora.
  • Screens command attention in ways earlier addictions appeared not to do. Whether or not this turns out to be true, we shall see. Will it be good, bad or indifferent? Who knows?
  • Are our brains being rewired Carr asked? Is this bad or just adaptive?

We simply don’t have the answers. We probably don’t even have the right questions.

There’s a wonderful collection of essays on Is the Internet changing the way you think on that is well worth a read for anyone who is interesting in this issue.

The influence of technology, good and bad, is part of who we are right now. The self isn’t fixed, it’s constantly made and remade. Information we can’t access influences our behavior and technology is a big part of that.

Even when I’m walking with my smartphone off or taking offline downtime, which I regularly factor into my life, I am still connecting with people I’ve met through and outside of social networks, discussing ideas I’ve encountered online and thinking about the sorts of issues that Tim raises and we are discussing here.  Or sometimes, I’m just distracted.

Dionne Kasian-Lew is CEO of Social Executive®, professional speaker and author of The Social Executive – how to master social media and why it’s good for business. Dionne contributes to Forbes, Smart Company, Salesforce, Firebrand and Uncluttered White Spaces. Kred rates her top 1% for global community influence. Connect with her @dionnelew. Connect with her at The Social Executive or BeYourWholeSelf or on Twitter @dionnelew.

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The Governors Inaugural CeremonyHave you all heard about President Obama’s new strategy for destroying ISIS?  His plan is simply to declare ISIS a small business and enroll them in Obamacare.

Just kidding.  (Kinda.)  Nevertheless, it is to be noted that the rate of new business creation in America is falling steadily.  A recent study by Nobel Laureate Edward Prescott of Arizona State University and his colleague Lee Ohanian of UCLA puts the blame for this trend squarely on overregulation.  (WSJ, Feb. 3, 2014)

Prescott and Ohanian report the creation rate of new businesses was down 28% in the most recent year of data (2011), but annecdotal evidence is that the decline continues apace.  And this is not just in the heavily unionized, overtaxed states like California, New York, and Illinois.  It is occurring even in Texas.  Even in North Dakota. Even in Florida.  In all U.S. states entrepreneurs say economic policy is the causitive problem.  To quote Prescott and Ohanian, “Surveys show that entrepreneurs report being hamstrung by difficulties in finding skilled workers, by a complex tax code that penalizes small business, by regulations that raise the costs of doing business and by difficulties in obtaining financing.”

Consider the fact that creative small enterprises are being forced to shed employees and larger ones will increasingly move heaven and earth to mechanize and replace lower-paid workers—or, more likely, to leave the U.S. altogether through inversions or simply outsourcing even their core functions.  This is not good for employees.  This is not good for GDP. This is not good for the innate optimism so crucial to the small business psyche.  And it is a looming Gotterdamerung for entrepreneurship.

Regulatory hubris has become endemic and de rigueur across our governmental bureaucracies—from the IRS, to the Energy Department, to the VA.  Take Obamacare, the most egregious force of overreach in the tsunami of regulation presently sweeping all of us before it.

daily-news-tycoon-mort-zuckerman-mulls-a-run-for-new-york-senateA new report from think tank American Action Forum reports that the Affordable Care Act has already eliminated 350,000 jobs in small business (defined as an enterprise that employs 20-99 people) removing at least $27 billion a year in wages and compliance cost from the economy.  (The Hill, Sam Baker, 10/10/12)  This is vastly unfair to our employees, as well as to entrepreneurs.  Mort Zuckerman recently commented in a WSJ op-ed (July 13, 2014) on the damage Obamacare already has wrought to our employees.  He says, “Many employers cut workers’ hours to avoid the ACA’s mandate to provide health insurance to anyone working 30 hours or more per week….The unintended consequence of President Obama’s signature legislation?  Fewer full-time workers.  In many cases two people are working the same number of hours that one had previously worked.”  These were the very people Obamacare was supposed to help.

The disincentives to take the risk to grow an entrepreneurial company past its inception are obvious.  Regulatory demands have become boulders in the path of entrepreneurial growth.  Sure, you might eventually become Microsoft or Apple, but, oh, the risks of getting past first base are becoming fearsome indeed.

To cite just one entrepreneurial vertical that has already been overtly damaged by regulatory overreach, particularly Obamacare, look no further than the medical device industry.  The U.S. is still rated the number one country for medical device innovation, but that may change radically and very soon.  Note the article in the WSJ on Thursday, October 2, 2014 by Dr. Scott Atlas of Stanford’s Hoover Institution titled, “Obamacare’s Anti-Innovation Effect.”  Atlas notes that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates new Obamacare regulations and taxes alone will cost the medical device industry $500 billion in the next ten years to pay for Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies, resulting in a mass exodus of R & D centers and jobs overseas.  Furthermore, because of layers of regulation, it now takes over 31 months for even low to moderate risk devices to be approved (as opposed to seven months in Europe.)

107642Well, enough of this dire jeremiad.  I must get back to solving my own profit and payroll conundrums.  However, note what investment banker Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot, recently stated on CNBC about government going way overboard on regulation, creating a hostile environment (“You didn’t build that!”) for business in general.  He says,  “We are in a period of intense and unreasonable regulation, and we are seeing the fruits of that environment.  We have to accept the fact that what’s going on today doesn’t come without cost, and the cost is economic growth.”   Thanks, Ken

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Donna-colfer-cycle-of-sufferingFriedrich Nietsche famously said that to live was to suffer.  As  small businessmen and women, most of us have had to learn to work through personal business suffering and I believe it is a specific and important resource that can be and needs to be absorbed and creatively integrated into every entrepreneur’s psyche for success.

We entrepreneurs and small business folk have increasingly come to understand the role of failure, even multiple failure, in our success.  Entrepreneurial failure has even become a “back-door” brag for some.  (Note FailCon, a series of conferences where successful tech movers and shakers now share stories of their defeats.)

But the real value of failure is not that it may lead to entrepreneurial success, happiness, and freedom, though it can and does.  No.  The real gift of failure is learning the creativity, freedom, and centering that is released by any act of authentic suffering which underlies the many failures of most of us—of business, of strategy, of leadership, of faith, etc.  It is a lonely and autodidactic process.

British-born cross-cultural expert and essayist Pico Iyer wrote a lovely piece in the NY Times Review last year (September 7, 2013) titled The Value of Suffering.  He says the following:

“Wise men in every tradition tell us that suffering brings clarity, illumination; for the Buddha, suffering is the first rule of life, and insofar as some of it arises from our own wrongheadedness—our cherishing of self—we have the cure for it within….I once met a Zen-trained painter in Japan, in his 90s, who told me that suffering is a privilege, it moves us toward thinking about essential things and shakes us out of shortsighted complacency: when he was a boy, he said it was believed you should pay for suffering, it proves such a hidden blessing.”

logo(Jess Bruder of Inc. Magazine also wrote an excellent article (September, Inc. Magazine, 2013) about this subject called The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship.  Here’s a link, if interested.)

I am not a masochist.  (Well, maybe I am…but that’s between me and my therapist.)  There is nothing fundamentally ennobling about failure.  Sometimes it’s just a bummer we need to quickly shake from our sandals.  But what suffering does is deepen our beings to levels transcending failure.  Levels that open us to the New—to soulfulness, to creativity, to richer human and scientific truth and, dare I say it, to God.  Indeed, suffering shakes our, perhaps necessary yet limiting, hubris, and, more, rearranges the very molecules of our personal capitalist process.  One might say all of human progress is in man’s cumulative ability to somehow keep failing “up.”

We entrepreneurs are not in charge of our suffering.  It may tip-toe in on the little cat’s feet of loneliness and inner-emptiness.  Or with all the bombast and humiliation of a public bankruptcy.  But our specific experiences of suffering (and failure is the most prominent form of it for the entrepreneur) also release true primordial passions that are the essence of business creativity.

The_Wizard_of_Oz_Bert_Lahr_1939The hardest thing for most of us is to find the courage to muddle through our morasses of suffering, to a quiet sea of new beginnings.  I’ve always thought simple courage, the courage to persist, was the key quality for most of us who attempt to create a business.

We live in a balkanized world, increasingly without intrinsic societal institutions for creating value.  One of the great gifts open to the entrepreneur in such an anomic society is to create her/his own center of of cultural meaning and personal value in a business entity.  But it takes willingness to suffer.  It takes soul courage.

As The Cowardly Lion sings in the movie of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, “What makes a king out of a slave?  Courage!”  Indeed.  Thank you, L. Frank Baum.

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