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Archive for November, 2015

Simon_sinekSimon Sinek, author of Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last says the following: “The single best machine to measure trust is a human being. We haven’t figured out a metric that works better than our own sorta, like, ‘There’s something fishy about you.'”

I am personally untrained in traditional techniques of command-and-control management (or any other traditional management techniques for that matter.) But from what I glean of them, I find traditional management techniques to be quite old-fashioned. They are certainly not for me. My bias is for maximum creativity and through-branded freedom in accomplishment of corporate goals. (My firm, Corporate Rain International, is designed as horizontally possible for this reason.)

From what I can see, much of what present day corporate leadership is based on is metrics-driven. As they say, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” I find this adage increasingly wrong-headed. There are a huge number of important things that can’t be measured. 20th century American management guru, statistician, and author, W. Edwards Deming says simply, “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it — A costly myth.”

In an interesting Forbes online column in January, Lisa Earle McLeod, the author of Selling With Noble Purpose, says the following. “When you try to manage by the numbers, be they test scores, sales activity, or productivity measures, you drive towards mediocrity. 3aba5974f98d793f0e8b1b2930b64a37_400x400Quantitative (numerical) measurements alone will never make an organization great, because it is the qualitative (non-numerical) elements of performance that achieve greatness.” She goes on to state, “We default to the easy to understand quantitative elements, while completely ignoring the more nuanced qualitative elements, yet it’s qualitative elements like emotional engagement, passion, and purpose that are critical drivers of success and satisfaction.” I would say this is especially true for the entrepreneur and the small business person.

In a blog titled “The Folly of Stretch Goals” in the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Markovitz, author of Factory of One, quotes famed psychologists Edwin Locke and Gary Latham describing large metric goal setting as “the most effective managerial tool available.” Stretch goals are the tactic of giving your employees metric goals that are just beyond reach, pushing them to greater and greater achievement. Markovitz does not agree with that approach and neither do I. For Markovitz stretch goals are not useful and are even dangerous for three reasons.

  1. Stretch goal metrics can be terribly demotivating. To the extent stretch goals seem overwhelming and unattainable they suck dry intrinsic motivation. They are innately manipulative, cynical, and condescending to the employee/colleague. Money motivators crowd out intrinsic motivators like learning, growth, and service. He cites psychologist Karl Weick, who argues, in an article titled “Small Wins,” that steady, slow, organic progress creates more complete solutions, conditions, and accomplishment.
  2. Stretch goal metrics have a dangerous tendency to foster unethical behavior. For example, Markovitz offers the illustration of Sears in the early 1990s. “Sears gave a sales quota of $147/hour to its auto repair staff. Faced with this target, the staff overcharged for work and performed unnecessary repairs. Sears Chairman at the time, Ed Brennan, acknowledged that the stretch goal gave employees a powerful incentive to deceive customers.”
  3. Stretch goal metrics can lead to excessive risk-taking. A couple of years ago J. P. Morgan took an eight billion dollar loss (and counting) inspired by the stretch profitability goals of their London subsidiary and its leader, “The London Whale.” This echos Enron’s incentivization of its executives to meet specific revenue goals, irrespective of the profitability or the riskiness of the moves. _JrjVr6K_400x400Enron was ultimately and totally destroyed in 2001 by this strategy. Or note the recent ethical breaches utilized by Volkswagen engineers to simulate environmentally acceptable emissions for their cars.

I’m not saying metrics (the numbers) don’t matter. They do. You have to make payroll every week. That’s a cold, hard fact. But things that create long term entrepreneurial greatness, like culture, purpose, values, and corporate vision, are seldom metrically quantifiable.

Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, says the following: “Success is about honour, feeling morally calibrated, absence of shame, not what some newspaper defines from an external metric.” I agree.

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The 19th century humorist Josh Billings once said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

Seth_Godin_in_2009Business guru Seth Godin said no to me last week.

One of my fellow entrepreneurs who follows this column has told me over the years I should meet Seth; that we shared a simpatico trope and were fellow travelers. So I sent Seth Godin an email inviting him for a cup of coffee. Here is his reply.

“Thanks, Tim.

Alas, I hate meetings and have figured out how not to do them. I’m sorry but we’ll have to be fellow travelers from afar.

Good luck with your work and with your new book.


So much for meeting Seth Godin.

Nevertheless, the rejection of my invitation got me thinking about the art of saying no in business and in life.

Like most active entrepreneurs I am always up to my ass in alligators–looking for 48 hours in every day. I really try to live a balanced and mindful life of revery, quality time with my daughter, maintaining an open servant’s heart to my clients, exercising, reading, and deepening my personal relationships. (Not to mention watching the Mets in the World Series.)

I want to be a good and whole and useful person. While I feel I am generally on the right road, I have a tendency to be a people pleaser. I have not yet found a healthy ease with setting boundaries with the result that I am often over-committed.
For example, I’ve recently accepted board seats for a nonprofit theatre and a small public company. I unquestionably have qualities to offer to both and want to be as helpful as I can, yet I find myself quite anxious with over-busyness and full of an unease and dread that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

Warren_Buffett_KU-crop,flipMaster entrepreneur Henry Ford related that when he had a problem in his factories he would find the busiest man around and set him to solving the problem. There is some wisdom to this, in that very busy people are busy because they are good at what they do and are innately competent and efficient. So, as you get more competent in life, you get asked to do more.

I certainly admire my colleagues who have a clear-eyed capacity to say an unhesitant “no.” Note Warren Buffet, who says, “We need to say the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.'”

In his book Good Business, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi recounts being rejected by his academic colleague and good friend Peter Drucker at Claremont Graduate School in California. Csikszentmihalyi sent a note to Drucker requesting an interview, to which Drucker dryly replied, “I keep a large wastebasket in my office just for requests like this.”

Those business folk who have mastered the prompt, salubrious clarity of the definitive no certainly have a step up on me. I long for an adamantine certainty in knowing my limits. A healthy and engaged business life demands a consistent sense of boundaries. For myself, I’m afraid the people pleaser too often wins out. While I want to be everywhere, learn everything, and collaborate with everybody, I cannot. The ability to say an appropriate and graceful (and sometimes blunt) no is a tangible business value.

So I can’t do it all. At least not well. In a large sense, there is a graceful vitality and even love in mastering the appropriate business no. Over commitment can almost be an act of violence against the self. You need to say no to the penultimate in order to do well that which is ultimate.

TMertonStudyCatholic mystic Thomas Merton puts it this way. “The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist destroys his inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

I certainly can’t state the conundrum better that Thomas Merton.

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EL3A2844-bioIf you’re looking for a startlingly honest take on entrepreneurship, look no further than The Poetry of Small Business: An Accidental Entrepreneur’s Search for Meaning by Timothy Askew.

A long-time columnist for, Tim writes from his heart with a passion and personality that are rarely seen in business writing. He takes on topics often ignored in business, such as the upside to eccentricity, the downside to “look at me-ism” and smartphone slavery, and the ultimate entrepreneurial challenge: loneliness. Tim’s inclination to take a stance on subjects and risk rubbing people the wrong way has no doubt earned him a following online.

Full disclosure, I might be a little biased because I helped edit the book. But honestly, Tim is an excellent writer who has a unique voice. He’s insightful, funny, and I enjoyed working with him very much.

You can (and should) buy the book on Amazon.

Here’s what other people are saying about The Poetry of Small Business:

The_Poetry_of_Small__Cover_for_Kindle“I have long been an admirer and reader of Tim Askew’s wonderful weekly blog, Making Rain, and so I am hardly surprised to find that ‘The Poetry of Small Business’ is a beautifully written ode to entrepreneurship, filled with piercing insights into and wise reflections on the entrepreneurial life. But don’t be misled by the title: This book is also an immensely practical guide to getting the most out of your business.”

Bo Burlingham, editor-at-large of Inc. Magazine and best-selling author of Small Giants and Finish Big

“Tim Askew has a gift for identifying and naming topics on the minds of entrepreneurs—and then providing fresh perspectives that make you stop and think differently.”

Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and best-selling author of Setting the Table

Danny_Meyer_FT_Charity_Wine_Dinner_2010“If you want to know what it’s really like to be an entrepreneur, read this. And if you want hints about success, real hints, real success, then really read this book again. Slowly.”

Howard Moskowitz, Chairman, Mind Genomics Associates and best-seller author of Selling Blue Elephants


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