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Archive for April, 2015

awesome-in-purple-hiAwesome.  I would advise any entrepreneur who aspires to be taken more seriously to eliminate this ubiquitous word from her vocabulary.

Urbandictionary.com describes “awesome” as “something Americans use to describe everything.”  When something describes everything, it describes nothing.

I just got back from Inc. Magazine’s GrowCo convention in Nashville.  Lots of useful, enjoyable, wonderful stuff there, as always, but I was stunned at how almost every speech by every presenter and almost every overheard or casual conversation was peppered with this unfortunate word:  Awesome.  It was inescapable, like a blanket of verbal kudzu choking out the variegated richness of the English language—so omnipresent it seemed like an acceptable substitute for just about any word at all.  Awesome.  Awesome.  Awesome.  Yeah, really awesome, man.  It’s like a lingua franca of evanescent mush, a meme of meaninglessness masquerading as communication and cool.

Fact.  People in Shakespeare’s time had working vocabularies of around 54,000 words.  They actually talked like characters in Shakespeare’s plays.  The working vocabulary of the average American is 3,000 words and, I suspect, declining.

So, is “awesomeness” the beginning of the end for nuanced, accurate business communication?  Does it render exact words irrelevant, mute, and dead?  Does the practicing and practical entrepreneur even need words and vocabulary to be awesome?

heidegger426x536_2877455aWell, yes.  For innovation and thinking we absolutely need words.  As German philosopher Martin Heidegger put it, “Language is the house of being.”  There is no being outside of language.  Without words we are grunting our way to Gomorrah.  The more impoverished our language, the less our ability to be innovative, growing, effective human beings.  As Steve Jobs memorably put it about his own entrepreneurial company, “It is 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.”

Perhaps one of the reasons business persons default to the use of “awesome” for their writing and conversations may be that they have not been trained in language as an essential business skill.  Arthur Levitt, former Charman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Bloomberg commentator, has been on a jihad about business language and communication.  He calls much of business speech and business writing “incomprehensible.”  He states,  “[Business communication] lacks color and nuance, and it’s not terribly interesting to read.”

I believe it is utterly tragic that STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) curriculum seems to be routing the liberal arts—English, history, philosophy, psychology, et. al.  I understand that students want to have a good immediate job when they graduate, but that is short term thinking.  Especially for incipient entrepreneurs and business leaders.  Even engineers, coders, and quants need words for genuine thinking.  Without the right word and the right use of words there can be no right thinking; there can be no accurate perception; there can be no exactitude.  Words give a context, a reality, a structure for logic, innovation, and our “eureka” moments.  Language creates a long-term ability to understand and cope with a brave new world moving and changing at the speed of light.  It gives us a context to see the forest, as well as the trees.

678px-Steve_Jobs_Headshot_2010-CROP2So, the use of “awesome” as a default word for just about everything is a killer of business  accuracy and clarity.  It bespeaks imprecision, inaccuracy, comfort with non-communication, and impoverishment of imagination.  “Awesome” is not cool.  It is not outre.  It is not out-of-the-box.  It is mindless, shallow, slothful, ersatz, and, ultimately, disrespectful of anyone you are speaking to.  I would suggest it is a good word for any entrepreneur to shake from her sandals.

Words are not irrelevant in a post-Jetsons world.  They are ever illuminating.  They are necessary.  They are the house of the truth of being.  They are grandiloquent, magnificent, magical, stupendous, fabulous, unbelievable, and extraordinary.  These words have meaning.  Awesome does not.

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Suit1(1)The Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus states, “Know first who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.”

I don’t think entrepreneurs pay enough attention to their attire. Call me shallow.

Potential clients and customers make quick assumptions about you when you enter a room before you say a word.  Your clothes can make an eloquent statement about who you are and what you represent before you open your mouth.

There is a famous German novella I read in college called Kleider Machen Leute by Gottfried Keller.  (It is usually translated as Clothes Make the Man.)  It’s about a poor tailor who takes a coach journey and, through an odd set of circumstances, he’s dressed in a fur trimmed cloak much above his station in life and his real ability to pay for.  He is mistaken for a rich man and the results of this misidentity and various people’s reactions guide the tale.

Most of us spend large amounts on branding, marketing, and advertising to create the apt image for our firms.  Yet it constantly amazes me how little thought owners give to how we present ourselves sartorially.  In fact, it can be an inexpensive way of personal branding.

epictetusConsider Steve Jobs.  He wore black turtlenecks.  This said a great deal about who he was and the user-friendly elegance of his products.  It spoke spartan simplicity.  He was who he was.  He was sincere, direct, essential, serious.

Or take my own company, Corporate Rain International.  Clients use us to initiate discrete, high-end business with c-suite people.  I need to look like I belong.  I want to create the visual assurance of stability and dependability.  I invest in expensive, highly-tailored suits and cultivate the look of a banker or a white shoe lawyer.  (The truth is I’m an old hippie who has lived a quite bohemian, unbusinessmanish life.)

Furthermore, your clothes often affect your own state of mind, your internal identity.  There was an interesting article a couple of years ago in the NY Times  (4/4/12, Sandre Blakeslee) entitled “Mind Games:  Sometimes a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat.”  The article cited a study by Adam D. Galinsky of the Kellogg School at Northwestern concerning enclothed cognition:  the effects of clothing on the cognitive process.  Dr. Galinsky states, “Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state.”

For example, in one of Dr. Galinsky’s experiments, when a subject wears a white coat that he believes belongs to a doctor, his ability to pay attention increases sharply.  But if he wears the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, he will not show improvement.  So our clothes tell ourselves who we are as well as other people.  They define us for other people, but they also define us for ourselves and can effect our inner efficaciousness.

Unknown_Photographer_Gottfried_Keller_1870You don’t need to hire a personal stylist or to be a fashion plate to accomplish inner and outer personal branding.  You just need to think about it a little.  It’s mostly common sense. If you sell beer, you may want to dress like a guy comfortable in a bar.  If it serves your image to wear t-shirts, wear t-shirts.  If it serves you to be elegant, be elegant.  (I’m sure Anna Wintour spends extensive time each morning ensuring her personal clothes visually reinforce her image of fashion leadership as editor of Vogue Magazine.)  If it serves you to dress in drag, by all means, dress in drag.

As Shakespeare says in Hamlet,  “The apparel oft proclaims the man.”

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A 4158 I’m a Christian, but not a very good Christian these days. I did not even make it to church this Easter.  Nevertheless, I found myself meditating on the life of Jesus – his earthly journey, his death and his resurrection.

Bob Dylan once said, “There’s no success like failure.” I cannot think of a better example of this than the historical Jesus.

Good entrepreneurs are radically, rabidly committed to success. We are high-flying risk-takers, adventurers, and dreamers–laser-focused on the Big Chance. Almost absurd in our passion. Yet most of us have had bad failures in our lives and bravely arise each morning to the potential of bigger failures still.

Failure is seminal for the entrepreneur. This has become almost a cliche. It seems to me that Jesus was not unlike the modern entrepreneur. In fact, in one way, it is possible to think of Jesus as a “spiritual entrepreneur.” Yup. I deeply, deeply mean that with no disrespect. In purely historical terms (not theological or eschatological), Jesus was a bloody committed failure.

When Jesus entered into the metropolis of Jerusalem on the palm leaf bestrewn main drag, he was greeted with hosannahs. He was the darling of the populace, the King of the Jews. But things did not end well for Jesus, whose ticker-tape parade quickly turned into a bloody funeral march ending on a hill called Golgotha, where criminals received torturous capital punishment through crucifixion. On top of his executional cross were written the ironical words, “This is the King of the Jews.”–in three different languages!

stephen-p-bauman[1]My friend, Rev. Dr. Stephen Bauman of Christ Church Methodist in NYC, describes the Christian Holy Week as a “failure mash-up.” He says,

“There is no question Jesus was a colossal failure as a king–and as a seeming messiah, for that matter. Well, pretty much a failure in every conceivable way given that at the end there was no one left to defend him, even, and most especially, those who had tramped around the countryside with him hoping they might ride his coattails to glory….And as for his closest friends, they marched right along in the spirit of failure, their loyalty and supposed love for the man melting away in fear and depressed recognition that things were not going to turn out the way they had wanted.”

Wow. Even the worst entrepreneurial failure ain’t that bad. And we, as entrepreneurs, are not crucified for our insufficiencies. But Jesus’ life-failure presaged a huge reward and, ultimately, a spiritual and historical victory.

G. K. Chesterton famously said, “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly.” So are the spiritual rewards of entrepreneurship present in our deepest failures? I say yes. Even when creative small businesses fail, there is still a great gift of dignity and wisdom bestowed. Entrepreneurship is one of the few institutions that still allows for the creation of true meaning. It still allows an individual to create her own peculiar and earned private Idaho, a cultural as well as a business home. A place of truth and reality in miniature. Even in ultimate failure.

Gilbert_ChestertonIf there is a fundamental salient fact about me as an entrepreneur, it is that I am a failure. Many times a failure. Every day a failure.

Years ago, I briefly chanted as a Buddhist every day for some months. (One of many things I’ve tasted.) One of my favorite Buddhist prayers thanks God for challenges and failures, not successes. Success is not half the teacher failure is. Out of the muck is born the beautiful lotus flower.

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