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Archive for October, 2015

Susan_SontagThe American critic and essayist Susan Sontag once wrote, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”

I dislike traveling on business. Increasingly so since I reached the antediluvian age of 60. (Can I really be that old? Why do I still relate to myself as a teenager?)

Nevertheless, there are some wonderful rewards to travel that don’t come immediately to mind when thinking of the normative business day on the road. One of these is the opportunity to meet new and startling people who can broaden your outlook on life and educate you in unexpected ways. I have actually found this joy to be diminishing as people increasingly bury their heads in the virtual world of their omnipresent contraptions. (Note my Inc. column of last year, “The Zombiefication of Business Travelers”)

But I was reminded of the sweet illumination that is available to the quotidian, workaday business traveler (with just a little planning) when I was in Houston, Texas a couple of weeks ago. I had two hours between appointments and my last meeting was right off the campus of the University of St. Thomas in downtown Houston, where the Rothko Chapel is located. So I grabbed the opportunity to spend over an hour in this remarkable place–a unique artistic and religious haven I had long wanted to see.

For those who have never heard of the Rothko Chapel, it is the final major work of expressionist painter Mark Rothko (before his suicide in 1970) and consists of 14 huge black (with subtle color hues) paintings. These works are displayed in an octagon shaped brick building, also designed by Rothko, in collaboration with Phillip Johnson, Howard Barnstone, and Eugene Aubry, to create a cohesive artistic and spiritual experience.

ottavoIt just knocked me out with its affect. It was enormously energizing and thought-provoking. Yet I probably would not have gone to the Rothko Chapel, despite my interest, save for the circumstance of a convenient client meeting nearby.

Folksinger Harry Chapin recorded a lovely song in 1972 titled “Greyhound.” It’s about a man ruminating on his life and on traveling and it concludes with this line: “It’s got to be the going, not the getting there, that’s good.” So even with business travel.

I don’t know about you, but traveling sometimes can bring out an almost overpowering neediness in me. If you are like me on the road, you are often hungry, lonely, and tired. It’s so easy to want to fill an aching void with escapisms like excessive eating, alcohol, or thoughts of meaningless sex. At the end of a brutal, emotionally and physically draining day, a merciful oblivion may seem compelling. Yet such things also empty one of meaning and focus by proffering an ersatz grace, which in reality offers a vitiation of your true and soulful center. It’s just easy to say fuck it and fall into the arms of a seemingly blissful respite, which is in reality an existential dulling.

It can seem like just another chore to prioritize a renewing mindfulness into our travel day. But experiencing the multifaria of art, nature, music, theater, etc. in their many regional incarnations (like the Rothko Chapel) is a true grace that that can be a special gift to the traveling entrepreneur, at least with a little preliminary planning and a good GPS.

Healthy entrepreneurship is a vocation. At its best it is a pathway to a good and meaningful life in equal proportion to its ability to, hopefully, create a living in the world. It should be no less a noble spiritual vocation than the calling of a priest or social worker.

Henry_Miller_1940The geographical accidents and cultural opportunities of our sometimes peripatetic business process can facilitate growth and new thinking, if it is baked into our travel planning. Mindful travel locations are infinite, be they art museums, symphonies, historical battlefields, theaters, or even baseball parks. (I’ve always wanted to see Camden Yards in Baltimore and Wrigley Field in Chicago.) They can be the Grand Ole Opry or the St. Louis Zoo or the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Each new landing-place has the possibility to be an oasis of growth, insight, knowledge, and new thinking.

Novelist Henry Miller once wrote, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Thank you, Henry.

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I have written before about R.A. Dickey, the knuckleballing right-hander of the Toronto Blue Jays, but I rise today to do it again.

8673286311_724461eaa5_bAlas, alack. I am a longtime fan of the consistently lowly New York Mets. The Mets certainly turned it around this year with a whole stable of kick-ass young arms, like Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey. But up to this year, and for the last decade the only thing I’ve had to cheer for was an oddball, old failure named R.A. Dickey.

Dickey was traded by the Mets to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012 after winning the Cy Young Award, baseball’s highest pitching honor. Tonight he starts Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. (By the time most people read this blog he will have won or lost against the Kansas City Royals.)

I love R.A. Dickey. He is now 40 years old. He reminds me of me–the best me–old and deeply formed by multiple failures, sadness, and hard knocks. A man who has had an unexpected and accidental life. He is an inspiration and is a shining beacon to me for what is achievable, even out of the embers of a fallen, inadequate, and heavily scarred life experience.

Back in 2012, R.A. wrote a book called Wherever I Wind Up. I think all company creators and entrepreneurs should read it. It’s an autobiography. It’s well-written and not at all your usual self-congratulatory jock tome. (In that, it reminds me of Andre Agassi’s compelling book Open in 2009.)

To briefly sum up Dickey’s riveting story, he describes his life as one long recovery from depression, childhood sexual abuse, brokenness and frequent thoughts of suicide. He describes himself as a “picture of mediocrity” until he discovered the vehicle of his salvation, the knuckleball. But even more important is his courage and humility in describing the very personal process of becoming a fully realized and whole man.

After being a high draft choice out of Tennessee, it was discovered that Dickey was missing a key elbow ligament needed to stabilize his pitching arm. He bounced around several major and minor league teams for many years, till, out of desperation, he took up the knuckleball, a pitch that only a handful of men have ever learned to handle effectively.

Bristol, CT - May 23, 2013 - Studio A: Doug Glanville on the Baseball Tonight set.(Photo by Joe Faraoni/ ESPN Images)

In a lovely essay in the The New York Times a couple of years ago, his old teammate and friend, TV commentator Doug Glanville, describes the knuckleball as “a joystick-controlled UFO” of a pitch, totally unpredictable in its trajectory to the batter, but also unpredictable to the pitcher himself. It is a joyous goofball accident of a pitch.

“A good knuckleball has no spin, at least not the one that acts like the butterfly that just drank enough cocktails to be over the legal drinking limit. And it’s slow enough, and frozen enough, so you can see the letters on the ball. But it’s no comfort reading those letters, since you have absolutely no idea where they’re going, and truth be told, neither does the pitcher. He only has a general sense of the ball’s direction, and one of the only reasons success within this type of guesswork ever comes is because “general” is an adjective that also applies to the strike zone.”

So, what does Dickey have to say to the entrepreneur?

Dickey is a triumph of autodidactic bootstrapping, as well as of practical humility. Like most of us entrepreneurs, he was bad before he became good. Jason Gay, the sports columnist of the WSJ quotes him after winning his 20th game in 2012 as saying, “I am by no stretch of the imagination, a self-made man.”

But that is not completely ingenuous, as endearingly unpretentious as R.A. may be. He has made a journey into freedom, wholeness and authenticity that is also the pursuit of most of the effective entrepreneurs I know. Entrepreneurship can be a vehicle for personal salvation, much as R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball has saved his life and career. I personally think of the entrepreneurial company as, much like the knuckleball, an unpredictable butterfly of unexpected twists and turns–but a still infinitely rewarding vehicle of meaning and happiness for those with the courage to ride it.

I believe R.A. is a Christian, but to me he is a true Zen Buddhist master of living in the present. He is a very specific inspiration and existential hero to me, as an entrepreneur.

Samuel_Beckett,_Pic,_1So my inner entrepreneur will be holding R.A. Dickey close to my bosom as he pitches in Toronto tonight. It’s a game I will watch. I hope he does well, but, no matter what, he is my favorite failure. We should all be willing to fail so well.

Bob Dylan once said, “There’s no success like failure.” As R.A. Dickey goes for the win tonight, I think he will well understand Dylan’s statement. Samuel Beckett states poetically, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Thanks Bob. Thanks Samuel. Thanks R.A. Dickey.

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This column is usually devoted to issues of meaning and creative business. Almost never does it cast its gimlet eye on the inner-workings of cutting-edge technology–the reason being this writer’s ignorance on all aspects of the subject. (Even for one of the baby boomer generation, my knowledge on the subject is exceptionally primitive, if not troglodytic.)

Nielsen_logo.svgNevertheless, I have become increasingly fascinated by what may well be a rapidly approaching disruption in the consumer research niche of the analytics industry focused on the evolving viewership patterns of hundreds of millions of entertainment consumers. This disruption may well threaten the long-time ascendancy of Nielsen, the highly profitable gold standard dreadnought of entertainment research.

Note an article from the October 2, 2015 Wall Street Journal titled “Media Industry Welcomes comScore-Rentrack Deal.” The piece states that the media and advertising industry are eagerly anticipating and hoping that the union of entrepreneurial public companies comScore (SCOR) and Rentrack (RENT) augers serious competition to Neilsen as “their industry grapples with fast-changing viewership habits.” The WSJ quotes Brian Hughes, Sr. VP of audience analysis at Magna Global (a division of Interpublic) as saying, “We are happy to have at least two major players trying to build a better mousetrap given the hurdles we face with measurement.”

Nielson’s throne indeed may be shaky. The analytics industry has long complained of the insufficiency of current methods in tracking the efficacy of ads and content on linear TV and digital devices.

ComScore is the premier provider of audience measurement of web content and digital. Its new junior partner, Rentrack, is primarily known for its measurement partnerships with Hollywood studios, theater chains, and Dish. For the first time Nielsen may have some real competition for billions in advertising research dollars.

The WSJ quotes CBS Chief Research officer David Poltrack, who notes, “Five years ago it looked unlikely that any of these challengers [to Nielsen] were going to be able to pull all the assets necessary to create a total solution approach, and now we’ve got two major initiatives to provide that. Consolidation, in this case, is positive.”

AAEAAQAAAAAAAASKAAAAJDM5YTBjZTJlLWEzNDgtNGQ2Ni05MTk5LWM2MDI4NGJmOWE2YwSo watch your ass, Nielsen. These two aggressive and newly conjoined entrepreneurial companies may soon be gaining on you.

Even more interesting is an audacious pipsqueak upstart, just entering the commercial markets, called PeerLogix (LOGX). As near as I can figure, PeerLogix seems to have found a way to harness and monetize consumer criminality. This parvenu company apparently accomplishes this by tracking “torrent” files. Essentially their technology is based on measuring “torrent piracy” by any number of apps and websites, most notably Bit-Torrent and Popcorn Time.

PeerLogix seems to be the other side of the coin from Nielsen and comScore/Rentrack, both of whom operate by mining data of consumers using accepted and legitimate media outlets. PeerLogix mines the legally murky underside of the internet and opens up new arenas to research analysts via a software which engages consumers of the content-sharing economy. PeerLogix claims to be able to mine the 145 million (and rapidly growing) worldwide users of torrent files, who leverage the ability of people to network peer-to-peer. CEO of PeerLogix, William Gorfein, states on MoneyTV, “PeerLogix is a company whose software platform can uniquely track and catalog torrent files and their users.”

photoWell, who knows? Its well beyond my ken, but, as Bob Dylan famously said, “The times they are a changin’.” It’s just that, these days, the times are a changin’ much, much faster. Everywhere and in every industry. Media analytics may well be the next domino to fall prey to disruption.

Peter Diamandis, author of best seller Abundance (with Stephen Kotler), puts it this way. “Everywhere the rate of change is so fast that large U.S. companies are in constant danger of disruption. Not from competition in China or India, no. They’re in danger of being made obsolete from two guys/gals in a garage in Silicon Valley, or anyone, anywhere, empowered by exponential technology, willing to risk it all, driven by their passion.” Well noted, Peter.

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Of late I have become increasingly convinced that most of the business schools in America should be burned to the ground and the Plains of Carthage should be planted with salt where once they stood, especially those institutions (most) which claim to teach entrepreneurship.

019bbdd9-bfc5-4eb3-b94e-010b7e036d37That said, admittedly, it is easier to cast a caterwauling calumny on our current business pedagogy than to come up with a positive replacement. Mea culpa, to be sure.

So how do you truly teach leadership and visionary process in a world of business change moving at the speed of light-a business world unmoored to any real communal and universal verities? How do you teach originality and personal vision? How do you teach passion for freedom? How do you teach the personal courage to fiercely fail (and even fail multiple times?) How do you learn to slay the dragon of self-doubt each day and maintain faith that you can create something out of nothing? How do you teach all that and the many other non-quantitative intuitions that constitute the foundation of creative business? How does one learn how to bring love and meaning, as well as profit to entrepreneurship?

Well, I was in Austin, Texas last week and came across a remarkable new school of entrepreneurship called the Khabele + Strong Incubator, founded by Michael Strong and Khotso Khabele, both men well-known, passionate educators out of Harvard. (Strong-Philosophy, Khabele-MBA) The school is bankrolled by John Mackey (Whole Foods), Douglas Drane (HPT Development), and other prominent businessmen with the intent to create a new kind of prep school devoted to creating conscious business leaders. The school incorporates a Socratic liberal arts educational program with a daily opportunity to work directly with the most cutting-edge entrepreneurs, business leaders, design firms, and technologists in Austin. And when ready, with angel investors. Just starting its second year, the school has more than doubled its enrollees, who come from all over the world. It covers grades 6 through 12.

Michael-StrongMichael Strong is a warm acquaintance of mine and a longtime fellow-traveler concerning the current non-efficacy of business education for entrepreneurship. His Socratic Practice work has been endorsed by a former National Teacher of the Year (Elaine Griffins) and by a recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Award Grant (Deborah Meier). He is the author of The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice, which has been widely praised by the leading experts in brain-based learning and learnable intelligence. Strong also co-founded FLOW (with John Mackey) out of which several important nonprofits were generated. To wit, Conscious Capitalism, Peace Through Commerce, and Radical Social Entrepreneurs.

Michael’s mission is to unleash waves of conscious entrepreneurs through creating a unique environment of love, inspiration, and reverence for the world. The goal is to create human beings who are lifelong learners eager to understand all aspects of the world-students quick to identify business opportunity in a world of coruscating disruption.

Lest you think Strong is merely an impractical, hippy-dippy granola-eating dreamer, it is to be noted that, already in their first year, Khabele Strong students’ SAT scores have increased to more than three times the prep course average. Their incubator ensures that young people are well positioned for college admissions and academia with a potent orientation toward autodidactism. Furthermore, they expressly are seeking to train up men and women with inner integrity and optimal self-knowledge, as well as scholars with the academic tools of the liberal arts. They expressly seek to mold entrepreneurs who can remain spiritually and physically healthy and confident as they navigate uncertain times, creating imaginative human beings who can transcend the fear-based reactivity that often leads to unconscious, damaging decisions.

The Khabele + Strong Incubator School intends to build thinkers and doers who are individual bastions of imagination and the new. Their teaching emphasizes three strands of personal growth for their students: Authentic Leadership, Personal Development, and Autodidacticism. (I personally find disciplined skills in the latter particularly crucial to business health.)

Jim-rohn-PASSES-AWAYI agree with the school’s ideals and it gives me some hope for a truly new template in teaching entrepreneurship. Michael Strong and Khotso Khabele are embarked on a noble educational experiment that is producing some interesting early results. They clearly posit a promising approach to both education and business development. Like all starting ventures it seems an impossible dream initially-almost an act of madness. Much like an entrepreneurial company, it can only achieve a miracle one day at a time- like those of us who try to create a creative business where nothing existed before.

Jim Rohn, famed entrepreneur and author of 7 Strategies for Wealth & Happiness, once said, “Formal education will make you a living: Self education will make you a fortune.” I think Strong and Khabele would agree.

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