Archive for September, 2015
Posted by Tim Askew in Baseball, Blog, Corporate Rain, Donald Trump, Entrepreneurship, Hunger for Authenticity, tags: A League of Their Own, Amazon, Brene Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Donald Trump, Georg Vilmetter, Harvard Business Review, Jeff Bezos, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets, New York Times, Steiner Sports, Tom Hanks, Wilmer Flores, Yvonne Sell
In the 1992 movie A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks, playing Jimmy Dugan, the crusty, alcoholic manager of a professional women’s baseball team, delivered the now famous cinematic pep talk that concludes with the statement, “There’s no crying in baseball!!”
Well, my fellow entrepreneurs, there was crying in baseball on July 29, 2015, by 23-year-old New York Mets infielder Wilmer Flores. When Flores took the field for the top of the eighth inning he was crying because he had just heard the (false) report that he had been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. He sobbed, very publicly, his way through the inning. It was a level of naked vulnerability I have seldom seen in professional sports. He took his position with red eyes and tear-lined cheeks and throughout the inning was seen wiping his nose and upper lip on his glove. At one point he wiped both his eyes on his sleeves. It was a truly touching and guileless evincement of human vulnerability.
But what is really interesting and surprising about this incident is that it has turned this middling, quiet, unheralded baseball player into a cult hero for the nonce. The Flores incident has tapped into a cultural longing for the real, for the authentic. During August, Steiner Sports, a sports memorabilia company, started offering signed pictures of Flores at $80 a pop ($215 with frame!) and can’t keep them in stock.
Likewise, let us consider the phenomenon of Donald Trump. In addition to making the race for U.S. president enormously entertaining, Trump has tapped into a zeitgeist that longs for the real. Maybe vulnerability is not the first word that comes to mind when thinking of him, but Trump is also speaking into this longing with his startlingly un-PC spontaneity. He is frankly telling the truth–his truth–uncensored by societal cliches of what is deemed acceptable among traditional elites.
The Flores and Trump phenomenons point to a new and universal yearning for simple unalloyed candor.
There is a lesson and a learning here for those of us trying to lead our small companies successfully. And that is that the command-and-control trope, long so dominant in corporate leadership thinking, is less and less efficacious. (Note the negative repercussions for Jeff Bezos of last week’s New York Times article documenting managerial bullying at Amazon.) There is a growing cultural uneasiness with executives who govern from fear and the heavy hand, and who swing their big corporate leadership dicks with statements like “lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Leaders so enamored of their own top-down power are old-fashioned in a world where effective organizational hierarchies are increasingly horizontal.
Georg Vilmetter and Yvonne Sell wrote an interesting essay for the Harvard Business Review website last July in which they divided executive leaders by the type of power driving them. They define these two types as the egocentric and the altrocentic. Vilmetter and Sell say the following:
“Egocentric leaders tend to be concerned only with personalized power–power that gets them ahead. Altrocentric leaders, on the other hand, derive power from motivating, not controlling others. The altrocentric leader who is intrinsically motivated by socialized power, and who draws strength and satisfaction from teaching, team building, and empowering others, will be able to handle the increased pressure of tomorrow’s business environment. They understand that they need not ‘have all the answers’ themselves, and this mindset and willingness to turn to others for help better equips them to handle the stress of the uneasy chair.”
Which brings me back to Mr. Trump and Mr. Flores and the public’s hunger for the no-bullshit Real. We respond to these two very different men because we viscerally long to find simple, direct truths for ourselves and in our confusing, complicated world.
Brene Brown, in her recent book Daring Greatly: How the Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, says this. “There is no triumph without vulnerability.” Thank you Sister Brown.
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Given we’re entering the early stages of a prolonged political season and we have already been treated to two scintillating debates, this seems an opportune moment to refresh an old Zen parable I first heard from storied pastoral theologian, Henri Nouwen, one of my mentors at divinity school back in the day. (Isn’t that a great moniker—divinity school?) He first heard this parable from Thich Nhat Hanh, a highly regarded Buddhist monk, teacher and author of over 100 books.
The short vignette tells the story of a politician, who, in a moment of rare self-awareness, decided to visit a Zen master to ask for wisdom in how he might govern. Nan-in, the Zen master, served him tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full and then just kept on pouring. The politician watched the cup overflow until he could no longer restrain himself.
“It’s overflowing, Nan-in! The cup cannot hold any more.”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “You are full of your own opinions and attitudes.
How can I teach you anything unless you first empty your cup?”
At the time I was a cocky young stand-in for the politician. For that matter, I suppose I might as well admit that I’ve matured into a cocky middle-aged stand-in. The only difference between then and now is that experience has confirmed this basic law of personal physics, which predicts you can’t take in something new if you’re already full of yourself.
I’ll leave it to you to determine how this might apply to high profile politicians. But that’s only a distraction from the important discovery that the work leading to spiritual maturity involves a relentless pursuit of emptiness a la Nan-in’s tea cup. It’s the emptiness created by humble acceptance that we know less than we think we do and that God is surely larger than our last opinion. This is the emptiness that allows us to listen deeply and ripen values like respect, compassion and personal integrity. Find this in another, and you’ve likely found a friend. But to find it in oneself, well, that would require some emptying for certain.
-Rev. Dr. Stephen Bauman
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“O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!”–Sir Walter Scott
The problem with lying is not that it is immoral so much as that it is not efficacious in business or in life. Research increasingly shows that lying can impact your health just as surely as not eating your veggies, not exercising, eating too much butter, or smoking.
Yup. For example, Dr. Anita Kelly of Notre Dame has done an interesting “science of honesty” study recently. She tested 110 subjects, half of whom were told to stop telling lies for ten weeks and half of whom were given no special advisement about lying. When those in the no-lie group told three fewer lies than in other weeks, they complained less of headaches, tension, sore throats, anxiety and other maladies than those in the control group. The non-lying participants also reported that their close personal relationships had improved and their social interactions were more easeful.
Dr. Kelley’s study is confirmed by the work of Dr. Deirdre Fitzgerald of Eastern Connecticut State University. Fitzgerald reports that lying is taxing for both your physical and emotional health. Unless you are a sociopath, long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems and can decrease longevity, increase depression and anxiety, damage your relationships, and shatter your self-esteem.
So what’s the take-away here for us entrepreneurs?
Well, I guess for me telling the truth and selling the truth is the very best palliative for my stressful entrepreneurial life. (That, with exercise and yoga, anyway.)
I recently found this quote from Ken Makovsky about lies. Ken, who writes on communications issues in Forbes, says the following: “I love the truth. It can be harsh or resolute but it stands as a barricade against the goblins that dance with lies in your head. If you tell the truth you have clarity. You stand proud. You are stress-free. You never have to remember what you said because the truth is easy to recall…” Ken notes that the greatest business value in truth for the businessman is simply that it leads to trust in an increasingly fast-paced and elusive business environment.
I’m sure you have seen that delightful commercial for GEICO which shows Abraham Lincoln being asked by his wife if her dress makes her look fat. He squirms frantically as he tries to find something true to say that won’t damage his marriage.
I don’t think we need to be as scrupulous as “Honest Abe.” There is always a need for kindness, tact, and illustrative metaphor and drama, which may not always be literally true. But not lying should help ease the daily stress of our crisis-prone entrepreneurial vocation.
One great wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous is that you begin the recovery process by telling the truth to yourself and to others in all your affairs and interactions. That proven way leads to health, healing, strength, and clarity. As Jesus says in John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Of course, telling the truth is often not perfectly simple. As Benjamin Disraeli famously said, “There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics.” Thank you, Benjamin.
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Posted by Tim Askew in Blog, Corporate Rain, Donald Trump, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, tags: Bill Zanker, CBS News, Donald Trump, Good Morning America, PBS, Rich Dad Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki, The Art of the Deal, The Learning Annex, Think Big: Make It Happen in Business and Life, White House
For more than two months, I’ve immersed myself in news coverage of the presidential primary races, especially the meteoric (and surprising) rise of billionaire Donald Trump. As a longtime “political junkie” – having begun my news career in the CBS News Washington bureau, I frequently visited the White House press room and had a chance to interview numerous senators and representatives – I find this process fascinating, and I’ve never previously seen a primary race quite like this one. (I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing!) If you’ve been watching the recent political coverage – although 14 months still remain prior to Election Day 2016 – what are your thoughts about all the news from the campaign trail?
A number of years ago, long before he ever declared his candidacy, I had the pleasure of talking with Donald Trump during the taping of a one-hour PBS special titled “How to Get Very, Very Rich” or something like that. I’ve been reflecting on that conversation and I think it offers a few useful insights into the way we connect with others and the way we each communicate our own unique message. (I’m not announcing that I intend to vote for Mr. Trump, by the way. I want to be very clear about that!)
In this newsletter, I’ll share those observations with you. (And I’ll do my best to do it concisely – as a number of people have let me know that my previous newsletters have been way too long!) As always, I also have a few recommendations for you. I’ll also tell you about an interview that I’ll be doing on Wednesday, which will also be available for listening on demand.
My Conversation with Donald Trump
As I mentioned, my conversation with the candidate who is currently the Republican front runner dates back a few years. During the time I spent working as a producer for “Good Morning America,” I had become friends with Robert Kiyosaki (author of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”) and his wife Kim. In turn, they introduced me to their friend Bill Zanker, founder of The Learning Annex and co-author along with Donald Trump of a the 2008 book, “Think Big: Make It Happen in Business and Life.”
When Bill Zanker was organizing the production of a one-hour PBS special featuring his friend Donald Trump, I was fortunate enough to be among the 100-person audience and even had the chance to ask the billionaire real estate developer a question.
As millions of people who have read “The Art of the Deal” — or heard his recent ideas from the campaign trail — know quite well, Mr. Trump said that he certainly understands the value of “thinking big.” He also said that in building his billion-dollar business empire he frequently does one thing that many other business people don’t do. He engages in “negative thinking,” which he said should not be confused with “defeatist thinking.” I asked Mr. Trump about this, and here’s what he told me.
Donald Trump said that despite the impression that many people have of him, he is actually very conservative in his approach to business. He said that he clearly visualizes “the worst that can happen” before he heads into any deal, and he makes sure that he can withstand that outcome if it comes to pass. “If you plan for the worst,” he said, “the good will always take care of itself.”
What We Can Learn From Donald Trump
Reflecting on that brief conversation, and having had a chance to see this controversial yet magnetic leader in action, here are a few of my observations. (And again, I’m not necessarily casting my vote for this provocative candidate!) Hopefully, you’ll find these ideas useful in the way that you connect with an audience and/or the news media.
Come in with a Game Plan. Donald Trump didn’t just show up at the television studio for that PBS special prepared to “wing it.” He had an objective in mind – providing useful information and a “pep talk,” as well as steering viewers to his online “Donald Trump University.”
Demonstrate a Genuine Desire to Connect with Others. Although some of the people who have met or heard Donald Trump on the campaign trail over the past couple of months (especially those who have been on the receiving end of some of his more “inflammatory” comments) may disagree with me, I got the impression that this is a man who – despite his wealth and the number of “yes-men” he surrounds himself with – genuinely wants to be liked by others, and shows an authentic interest in listening to their concerns — and he’s not doing it in typical “campaign-speak.”
Passion Is Powerful. In almost every one of the hundreds of television interviews I’ve produced over the years, I’ve made it a point to seek out the passion that my interview subject has for the book they’ve written, the business they’ve created, or the way they serve others. This quality of passion is what engages an audience, and inspires them to follow up on that relationship.
Assess Your Strengths, and Describe How You Can Serve Others. Although, in a number of interviews and press conferences, Donald Trump is beginning to reveal his weaknesses, he’s also not bashful (!) about touting his ability as a “deal-maker” and job-creator. Like Mr. Trump, in media interviews or speaking opportunities, you may need to bring up your “strong points” on your own, rather than in response to a question.
In my work with clients at Tom Martin Media, I enjoy coming up with strategies that maximize each of these areas, and lead to media coverage and new conversations with potential clients and customers.
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Posted by Tim Askew in Blog, Corporate Rain, Entrepreneurship, The Gig Economy, The Luddite Status Quo, Uber, tags: Airbnb, Apple, Boris Johnson, Google, Harvard Business Review, Homejoy, Instacart, Joseph Schumpeter, Leigh Buchanan, Lyft, McKinsey & Company, Microsoft, Ned Ludd, Neo-Luddism, Postmates, Robin Chase, Snapgoods, TaskRabbit, Uber, Zipcar
I don’t think there is a more important issue for the innovator and small businessman these days than that dramatized by the fierce fight for survival of the Uber mobile app, which allows consumers who want rides to connect with drivers who want fares. We need to pay attention.
The Uber fight has huge implications for what Leigh Buchanan, in her May article in Inc., describes as “the slow death of entrepreneurship.” Uber is fighting the Neo-Luddism of the establishment–the establishment being the forces of the inefficient elites in labor, government, and the crony capitalists of big business.
The term “Luddism” comes from Ned Ludd, who created a broad and violent rebellion of weavers against the use of mechanical looms that were replacing the efficacy of traditional mill workers in early 19th century England. In 1811, Ludd’s followers rampaged through the countryside destroying these looms whereever they could find them. They sought a return to the safe-seeming, inviolability of the status quo ante.
What the current uproar of opposition to Uber (and other disruptive technologies like TaskRabbit, Instacart, Postmates, Homejoy, Lyft, Airbnb, Snapgoods, and many others) boils down to is nothing more than the recrudescence of Luddism. It is Neo-Luddism.
Change is hard. It is distressing to those who prefer the comfort of the go-along, get-along present to the terror of the future. Joseph Schumpeter, the classic capitalist apologist, called this “creative destruction.” Constant creative destruction is the price we pay for a healthy, robust, efficient capitalist process. It is the essence of the why and wherefore of entrepreneurship.
The current controversy swirling around Uber is centered in what is often described as the “gig” economy. (The term “gig” comes out of American jazz to describe the occasional and freelance employment of the musician.) In a June,2015 report, McKinsey & Company describes gig work as “contingent work that is transacted on a digital marketplace.” Uber had over 160,000 of these gig workers under contract at the end of 2014.
Much of the so-called “sharing economy” is based on gig work. Under this model people work for whom they want, when they want, doing what they want. This is very threatening to old line labor unions, government monopolies, and entrenched big business interests. It threatens their control. It challenges the hegemony of the tightly managed, but creatively barren, business normal.
I note with approbation Uber’s victory over the forces of municipal bureaucracy and corruption in New York. The Uber app solves the long-term inefficiency promulgated by the incumbent urban taxi cartel. This inefficiency had taken the forms of driver rudeness, dirty taxis, scarce taxis, and cabbie reluctance to transport riders to NYC’s outer boroughs. It also solves problems of getting a taxi at peak hours. Furthermore, Uber and its entrepreneurial cousins have created well-paying job opportunities among a new breed of independent worker that values vocational self-direction. It is HR for people who prize flexibility and freedom. Over 2,000,000 New Yorkers have now downloaded this magical app, which has conquered classic restraint of trade, governmental red tape, bureaucratic lethargy, institutional corruption, and fear of the New.
Robin Chase, Co-founder of Zipcar, in an article in Harvard Business Review states, “This new way of working [which she calls the ‘collaborative economy’ rather than the ‘sharing economy] rewards the ambitious, the hardworking, and the entrepreneurial, and it moves us closer to a real meritocracy. Our resumes become irrelevant, and we can try our hands at many things and more quickly figure out what we want to do more of.”
Uber has been described as “unfair competition” by taxi owners and drivers simply because it is cheaper, more efficient, and more profitable for drivers, and more user-friendly for riders. Yes, Uber is unquestionably trying to disrupt the for-hire vehicle industry. That’s what entrepreneurs do.
In Paris, the unionized Luddites have slashed the tires and smashed the windshields of Uber drivers. In California, the Labor Commissioner’s Office, a wholely-owned subsidiary of organized labor unions, wants all Uber freelance drivers classified as employees, severely diminishing Uber’s monetary raison d’etre and brand control. These are not good omens for disruptive entrepreneurship based in the gig economy.
However, there is also international recognition of both the consumer popularity and efficiency of Uber. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, recently told a group of taxi drivers the following: “You are dealing with a huge economic force which is consumer choice, and the taxi trade needs to understand that. I’m afraid it is a tragic fact that there are now more than a million people in this city that use the Uber app.” When cabbies protested that their prices were being undercut, Johnson replied: “Yes. They are. It’s called the free market.”
Uber’s struggle with government and the powers that be is popular with consumers, but its fight is also a stand-in for the defense of free business itself. And it has important implications for whether the cosseted sinecures of the outmoded Old can tampen the creative fires of the entrepreneurial New.
Joseph Schumpeter said this about the creative destruction of new railroads, but it could just as well be said of all disruptive technologies from Microsoft to Apple to Google to Uber. He said, “A railroad through new country, i.e., country not yet served by railroads, as soon as it gets into working order, upsets all conditions of locations, all cost calculations, all production functions within its radius of influence; and hardly any ‘ways of doing things’ which have been optimal remain so afterward.” Thank you, Joseph Schumpeter.
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