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Archive for February, 2015

I bloody hate networking.  I really do.  I really hate the whole idea of networking.

Much of networking just seems to smack of manipulation and insincerity.  When I hear people talking about networkingthe verbiage always seems undergirded with an assumption of venality and calculation.  And that includes those whose networking philosophy is “you get by giving.”  Even that philosophy of networking has the root assumption of giving as ultimately a manipulation to get what you want, rather than real generosity of spirit.

1311684I ask myself if my discomfort with networking is because I’m insecure with it.  Kinda like I was when I was lousy at picking up girls in bars in my younger years.  Yet, while I’ll be the first to admit my deep-seated existential uncertainty about myself and just about everything else, my friends and business colleagues consider me an excellent networker.  Hah!  Go figure.

My own general feeling is that most networking is a distracting, energy vitiating waste of time.  There is only one form of networking that makes sense to me and that is networking with peers—networking with fellow CEOs, owners, seekers, and entrepreneurs, hopefully through relaxed, open-ended personal conversations that allow development of relationship in a general atmosphere of collegiality.

Quality, not quantity, is the only comfortable solution to my personal networking conundrum.  If that means I only connect with one person at an event, well great.  As long as something authentic and real happens in the limited moment in time.

I sure feel mightily uncomfortable when I work into a popular networking event where everyone seems “on”—smiles are a little too bright, energy is a little too high, darting glances are a little too hungry.  I find the atmosphere exhausting, much like the heightened tension and perfervid excitement ambient in a Vegas casino.  Not that I don’t want to connect with appropriate people and drum up some business.  I do.  It’s just that I want to find real, appropriate co-laborers in the vineyard of the Lord, so to speak.  I just don’t like being part of a roomful of speed daters.

For example, Inc. Magazine puts on two superb conventions each year for small businesspersons and entrepreneurs.  I try to attend both events, particularly GrowCo,  yet even at these excellent Inc. events, where I have numerous acquaintances, I rally have to steal away every afternoon to recharge and re-center for at least a couple of hours.  To remind myself who I really am and re-inhabit my own life.

For me frenetic, frequent, voluminous communication doesn’t equate to thoughtful and effective communication.  What I am looking for is real connection.  Isn’t everyone?  Quantity of conversation cannot substitute for quality of conversation.

Greg McKeown, the author of NY Times bestseller Essentialism, had an excellent piece in the Harvard Business Review online January, 22, 2015 titled, “99% of Networking Is a Waste of Time.”  It comes out of a series of interviews McKeon did with venture capitalist and entrepreneur Rich Stromback, who he calls “Mr. Davos” and who is widely respected for his international networking skills.  Stromback is  truly a man after my own heart.

160px-RichStrombackBriefly, here are five pieces of advice I like from Mr. Stromback, as reported by McKeon.

1.  Don’t care about your first impression.  Networkers just get this wrong.  Stromback says they “try to look right and sound right and end up being completely forgettable.”
2.  99% of any networking event is a waste of time.  The quality of any event is not it’s content but the wisdom of the gathered attendees themselves.
3.  Sleep from 4-8 PM every day.  It works for me.  It keeps you fresh and centered for real interactions at appropriate venues and gatherings.  You don’t need to meet everyone.
4.  The key to networking is to stop networking.   Go with the flow and spend time with who you enjoy.
5.  You are not required to go to big name parties.  Says Stromback, “…you need to know where appropriate people will be.  For example, one year I told someone ‘Don’t go to the Bill Gates party this year.’  And I told him, ‘Because no one will be there.’  He went and couldn’t believe I knew ahead of time.”  So networking is about knowing where to be and when and under what conducive circumstances.  (For example, I absolutely abhor and avoid very loud party events.  Useless).

For me, real networking is simply a life-long process of staying true to yourself and having the courage to consistently present your authentic self to the world.  If you do that the right people will find you.  That I believe.  Call it Tim’s Karmic Law For Networking.  But there is really no silver bullet for networking efficacy.  It takes patience, effort, sincerity, and time.

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hands-545394_640Here’s a thought for you:  Older folks may well be the future HR solution for small business enterprise.  This is not the paradox it seems.

Last week I wrote about the rise of gerontological entrepreneurship—about the surprising fact that people over 55 have the highest rate of entrepreneurship in the U.S.  [“Second Acts and the Aging Entrepreneurship”]  Not only does this older demographic have the highest rate of entrepreneurship, but The Kaufman Foundation reports they are much more likely to form successful enterprises than entrepreneurs between 20 and 34.  So, contrary to myth and common assumption, the most vital tyro entrepreneurs these days are not the young but the old.  Yup.  Furthermore, this phenomenon is on the upswing.  (How can it not be on the upswing given the fact that 20% of the U.S. 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.  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 year by Nicholas Eberstadt and Michael Hodin titled, “America needs to Rethink Retirement.”  (WSJ, 3/11/14, Op Ed, A-15)  Eberstadt and Hodin 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 their 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 Americans in the workforce.”

Nicholas_EberstadtThere is a new book out titled Unretirement (Bloomsbury Press, 2014), by Bloomberg columnist Chris Farrell, that predicts seismic change in attitudes towards work and retirement.  Among other useful thoughts, Farrell notes that the idea of retirement (presently a word that means withdrawal—meaning a time when folks give up productive work and shrink their activities) is only a relatively recent historical anomaly.  Up until the last seventy years humans have had a much more seamless, organic, and productive work relationship with society, family and business right up to death itself.

So how can this changing reality of longevity in the workplace benefit the entrepreneur?  Well, I would say it is a huge potential opportunity for small business owners.  Workers over 55 are often working happily for less than half their previous wages, particularly within business cultures that enrich their lives with meaning and a sense of  value.  I believe meaning is a particularly important coinage for older workers in encore careers.  They often have fantastic work ethics and invaluable human and technical experience to share.  Yet older workers are shunted aside because they are thought to bring expectations of high salaries  and health frailty.

This is bullshit and a missed opportunity for the small businessman.  There is simply no reason the splendid resource of the newly robust aging worker should not be a useful HR asset.  Baby boomers can and are increasingly eager to work at economically competitive salaries.

Note that 65% of those workers 55-64 were working or seeking a job in 2012, up from 56% in 1992.  (, 1/8/14)  I guarantee you that rate is even higher now.

The ROI opportunity offered by the older worker is tremendous.  I say this as a selfish, greedy businessman who has successfully used this demographic for over 19 years as a cost effective labor source (along with other non-traditional employees) to generate a dependable, happy, and ethical high-level work force at my own executive sales company, Corporate Rain International.

UnretirementThe prejudice against the older worker (ageism) is a foolish and old-fashioned attitude promulgated out of societal prejudice that is utterly wrong-headed and inefficient.  HR departments are ill-considered in their antediluvian smugness about the inadequacy of the older worker.  Hiring this growing cadre is simple capitalist good sense.  It is amazing to me that “experience” has become a point of discrimination, rather than being welcomed as an opportunity to leverage knowledge and increase profit.

Deborah Banda, a senior adviser at AARP recently said, “Older workers are going to change the workforce as profoundly as women did.”  (11/1/13,  I agree.  Smart entrepreneurs will be early adopters of this coming wave of useful working persons.

On his retirement from Cornell University, distinguished academic Dr. Scott Elledge said the following:  “It is time I stepped aside for a less experienced and less able man.”  Uh-huh.  Right on, Dr. Elledge.

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Mick_Jagger_in_redMick Jagger famously said in his younger days that he would rather be dead than sing Satisfaction at 45. Well, now he’s 75 and he is still singing Satisfaction. Publicly.

Contrary to what F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Last Tycoon:

(“There are no second acts in American lives.”), there are turning out to be many second acts for entrepreneurs. And surprisingly, these second acts are increasingly among people over 55. There are actually more companies founded by codgers than by kids these days.

Note this recent quote from The Kiplinger Report: “One growing sector in the U.S. job market: Baby boomer entrepreneurs. By 2020, those at or near retirement will launch 25 percent of businesses.” According to the Kauffman Foundation, people 55-65 started 23.4 percent of companies in 2012 (the latest year it reported.)

For example, Moneynews reports that the average age of 500 recent applicants for a Florida entrepreneurship program funded by the U.S. Labor Department was 51. The article quotes Andrew Duffell, CEO of Research Park at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, who says older entrepreneurs are increasingly moving to Florida, not for retirement, but specifically to form businesses. Duffell says that his park includes a technology business incubator to assist startup companies and over 30 percent are run by people over 50.

2d7ae21Furthermore, unequivocally there is ageism out there that limits traditional employment for many women and men over 50. (In this regard, human resource strategy needs to catch up with new realities in the job market. More on this next week.) Much of this ageism is misbegotten and stupid, but it also may be why older entrepreneurship is growing.

There was a great article in The New York Times in 2013 titled “Why Innovators Get Better With Age.” It notes research by Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University that concludes that “a 55-year-old and even a 65-year-old have significantly more innovation potential than a 25-year-old.” The article goes on to state, “If an organization wants innovation to flourish, the conversation needs to change from severance packages to retention bonuses. Instead of managing the average age downward, companies should be managing it upward.”

There is a great deal going against small business and entrepreneurship these days. Much of what militates against robust business formation in the U.S. is obvious enough, i.e., unnecessary government regulation, onerous taxation, Obamacare, etc. I was alarmed to hear Jim Clifton, CEO of the Gallup Organization, citing figures from the U.S. Census Bureau that there were only 400,000 startups last year and over 470,000 company closures. Ugh! That trend needs to change not only for the health of the institution of entrepreneurship, but for the health of the world economy itself.

dylan-thomasPerhaps 60 really is the new 40. With growing longevity and health consciousness, all of us are going to be productive longer. Perhaps much longer. I cannot imagine myself or most entrepreneurial colleagues embracing a twilight of idleness. More likely, passionate entrepreneurs share the sentiments of Dylan Thomas who said,

Do not go gentle into that good night
Old age should burn and rave at close of day
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Amen, Brother Dylan.

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Shark-Tank-ABC-John-Paul-DeJoria-Steve-TischThere is an increasingly disturbing trend in the media of idealizing entrepreneurship and the entrepreneur.  Everyone seems to want to be an entrepreneur these days.   Entrepreneurs make good media subjects.  There is compelling existential drama in the God-like process of women and men who attempt to create something out of nothing.  It’s sexy.  Look no further than the popularity of Shark Tank.

I think a lot of the popular frisson around the idea of entrepreneurship has to do with how people feel increasingly powerless to affect their world.  Since the traditional institutions of meaning, like family, faith, culture, etc. continue to lose their society-binding authority, people long for a new source of dignity, freedom, and centering.

Morra Aarons-Mele, founder of digital marketer Women Online, calls this popular idealization of entrepreneurship “airbrushed reality.”  (Harvard Business Review Online, January 6, 2014, “The Dangerous Rise of ‘Entrepreneurship Porn.'”)  She notes there is an escapism surrounding the glittering portrayal of entrepreneurs in the media that comes out of societal and vocational unease which she quantifies, stating, “Most Americans don’t like their work.  Data on Americans’ dissatisfaction regarding their work—in corporate environments, in particular— show:

  • 2 million Americans voluntarily leave their jobs every month (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • 2012.02.21_Morra.Aarons.Mele-003074% of people would consider finding a new job (Forbes)
  • 32% of employees are looking for a new job (Ibid)
  • Only 47.3% of currently employed Americans are satisfied with their position (Conference Board)
  • The majority of American employees are disengaged from their work (Gallup)”

But the alternative universe of creative business enterprise (entrepreneurship) is truly and deeply no bed of roses.  It is not suited to everyone.  It is suited to somewhat odd people possessed of a solitary courage to persist through aloneness (and loneliness) and soul suffering.  And, most entrepreneurs will ultimately fail, often multiple times.

Furthermore, contrary to the media’s misunderstanding and glorification of small business, real entrepreneurship is actually in decline and has been for some years.  Carl Schramm, formerly of the Kaufman Foundation, has issued passionate warnings about this trend, noting that 700,000 firms had come into existence at this point in the decade of the 2000s, but only 500,000 so far this decade.  (December 16, 2012, 4 Percent)  There are over 6,000 professors of entrepreneurship today who are putting out putative entrepreneurs while every year new company formation steadily declines.

I place this blame squarely on governmental overreach.  I believe entrepreneurs are increasingly reluctant to start new businesses despite the magical imaging of popular media, which I term wishful escapism—pornography.  The risk of new business formation is increasingly high due to the unpredictability caused by arbitrary, arrogant, and unaccountable regulation imposed by the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, the IRS, and unfriendly governmental rhetoric.  (You didn’t build that!)  All of this also undermines a key pre-condition for healthy entrepreneurship—which is freedom itself.

urlI have cited before the story of the old judge who, when asked to define pornography, says,  “I can’t define it, but I damn well know it when I see it.”  But I like these sentences from French novelist and author of Baise-Moi, Virginie Despentes, who says, “Consuming pornography does not lead to more sex, it leads to more porn.  Much like eating McDonalds everyday will accustom you to food that (although enjoyable) is essentially not food, pornography conditions the consumer to being satisfied with an impression of extreme sex rather than the real.”

So with popular media tropes on entrepreneurship.  Thank you, Virginie Despentes.

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