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Archive for March, 2016

Nat_King_Cole_1958Nat King Cole had a hit song in 1954 called “Smile.”  The first verse goes like this:

“Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though its breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”

Sentimental perhaps, but the Harvard Business Review has noted some substantive research that may validate the feeling of the song.  HBR recently printed an interesting small item summing up an article by Tara Kraft Feil and Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas titled, “Grin and Bear It:  The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expressions on the Stress Response.”

Feil states, “Age old adages, such as ‘grin and bear it,’ have suggested smiling to be not only an important non-verbal indicator of happiness, but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life’s stressful events.”

That may be overstating it a bit.  However, without going into the technical details of their study, Feil and Pressman show that smiling during periods of tension and fear actually reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy.  Says Pressman, “The next time you are stuck in traffic or experiencing some other type of stress,  you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment.  Not only will it help you ‘grin and bear it’ but it might actually help your heart health as well.”

6eb886a190509381d237a228ec1fc5a6Also, note the insights of Dr Amy Cuddy of Harvard.  Cuddy posits that tiny tweaks to our physicality can lead to mighty changes in our life and leadership. She believes that non-verbals govern the way we think about ourselves and the larger world.  For example, you can hold a pencil in your mouth in a way that artificially recreates a genuine smile. Odd as it my seem, forcing your face into a gesture of happiness actually makes you feel happy.

Of course, this does not mean we should all be walking around staring at each other with death’s head rictus of smiling inanity.  But growing scientific evidence suggests we can control and manipulate our feeling and mood—that we are not simply at the mercy of our circumstances or genetic inclinations.  (Other people respond to smiles, too.  My friend Carol Kinsey Goman, a leading body language expert,  tells me that, if you ever go to court, it has been observed that  judges tend to give smilers lighter penalties, a phenomenon called the “smile-leniency effect.”)

So how does this data speak to the entrepreneurial salesman?

Well, for me, just this.  I can report that, as the chief rainmaker for my firm Corporate Rain International, I face lots of rejection on many days.  That’s stressful.  However, even though most of my initial conversations with potential clients are by phone, I often find that smiling and other affects of happiness and prosperity actually do keep my attitude and mien happy.  For example, if I’m having a less than salutary week, I will sometimes break my morose feelings by dressing in my best suit and brightest tie for a day, even if my day is only conference calls and desk work where no one can see me.  I’ve found such seemingly superficial changes can make for a better day.  The wise people of Alchoholics Annonymous have had this  piece of intuitive knowledge for many years. They call it “acting as if.”

hero-02b86cf363f4136ec8a326d4cd903abc-mediumSelling is innately stressful because it is full of rejection.  And any business owner is constantly selling where her activity involves the formal act of selling or not.  She embodies the trope of her company.  I personally look for little tricks to keep my personal projection prosperous and robust.  “Smiling though my heart is breaking” is a useful one.

American patriot, philosopher, and political pamphleteer Thomas Paine said, “I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.  ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles to the death.”  Thanks, Thomas.

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Daniel Pink, in his book To Sell Is Human says, “Affirmation feels good, but it doesn’t prompt you to summon the resources and strategies to actually accomplish the task.”

HalffullorhalfemptyI’ve always been a kinda “glass half empty guy” by nature, while at the same time possessing the necessary optimism of the dreamer.  For me, my caution and negativity have always been a salubrious balancing mechanism to the ridiculous faith necessary to create the impossible—i.e. a new entrepreneurial company.  (Note my New Year’s column from this year.  [‘The Upside of Negativity for Entrepreneurs‘]

We American entrepreneurs (and Americans in general) are historically an optimistic lot.  We have what neuroscientist Professor Tali Sharot calls “optimism bias.”  This is a process by which we tend to look at the upside of just about everything.

For example, in her 2012 TED Talk Sharot points to a poll she did which indicated that most optimists thought their chance of developing cancer was about 10%.  The actual chance is 30%.  However, even after being told the actual figure, optimists still only rated their personal chances of getting cancer at 11%.  Not realistic.

Note the recent book by Adam Grant, Originals:  How Non-Conformists Move the World, which I discussed in my column last week.  Grant makes a compelling case that successful entrepreneurs are much more cautious than is commonly assumed.  They intuitively protect themselves from their own optimism bias.  They anticipate the worst.  Grant notes in point of fact that studies reveal that new companies bring in less revenue when they are highly optimistic. They take on more risky debt and can recklessly “swing for the fences.”  [‘What It Takes to Be a True Original in Business‘]

09_ray_dalioIn addition to Adam Grant’s new book, there is a growing corporate movement that is seeking to harness the positivity of negativity for the sake of work process efficiency.  Some companies are pushing workers to drop superficial positivity and niceness in favor of “radical candor.”  Indeed, The Wall Street Journal did an article at the end of last year titled “‘Nice’ is a Four-Letter Word at Companies Practicing Radical Candor.”

For example, Ray Dalio, founder of hedge-fund Bridgewater, feels conflict is good for corporate health.  He wants all his employees to “elevate people accurately, not kindly,” according to his website.  He demands that personnel at Bridgewater not “depersonalize mistakes,”  according to the WSJ .  He states, “A common error is to say, ‘We didn’t handle this well’ rather than ‘Harry’ didn’t handle this well.'”

Gulp.  I sure would not want to be Harry.

The Wall Street Journal also notes Randstad, a holding company in Canada, encourages “mokitas,” or the truths that workers are afraid to say aloud.  (The word mokita” actually comes from a native expression of Papua New Guinea used to describe “that which everyone knows and no one speaks of.”)  Susan Scott, of training company Fierce Inc. in Seattle, a consultant for Randstad, encourages companies to hold “mokita amnesty days,” where every corporate associate can share fears, worries, and complaints without retribution.

I must say this radical approach to unbalanced positivity seems harsh and somewhat risky for corporate culture.  It appears to me there is a danger of individuals just getting their rocks off by venting and bullying, rather than by rendering helpful, practical, collegial truth-telling and illumination.

Nevertheless, though positivity clearly fosters energy, creativity and a sense of well-being, it is dangerous without the leavening ballast of strategic pessimism.  While we don’t necessarily need a war on “nice” and on optimism, an occasional deep gaze into the business abyss may be germane to business soundness, whether it be by way of radical candor, mokitas, or simply conjecturing what can possibly go wrong in this best of all possible worlds.

maxresdefaultOr perhaps we’re just arguing here about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

George Carlin says simply:  “Some people see the glass half full.  Others see it half empty.  I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.”  Thanks, George.

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Wallace_StevensAmerican poet Wallace Stevens said “It is necessary to any originality to have the courage to be an amateur.”

Some might say that Stevens himself stayed an amateur till the day he died, as he spent his whole life as a full-time insurance executive in Hartford, Connecticut.

Adam Grant of Wharton Business School would have approved. Grant celebrates inspired amateurs among other counterintuitive insights in his captivating new book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.  His book is huge, wonderful fun.  I found myself laughing aloud several times reading it.  (The book has a spiritual kinship to Outliers and other Malcolm Gladwell books.)

Grant defines originality simply as “introducing and advancing an idea that’s relatively unusual within a particular domain.” Though he never cites Wallace Stevens in Originals, he conveys that the great truths often come out of the work of impassioned amateurs and generalists.  For example, he cites Galileo. One of Galileo’s discoveries was the mountains on the moon. Though many of Galileo’s contemporaries could see the same images he did, Galileo was able to recognize the images as mountains because of his practiced training and expertise in drawing. Grant points out that one thing that differentiates Nobel Prize-winning scientists form others is that they are very often committed to artistic hobbies. Originalists tend not to be blinkered-vision nerds, contrary to the popular cliche.

Another shibboleth that Grant challenges is the idea that successful entrepreneurs are enthusiastic risk-takers. Grant points to research that indicates original entrepreneurs are much more cautious than is commonly assumed. Successful entrepreneurs are more like investment managers. They don’t put all their bets on red.  Indeed, he cites a study that shows originalist entrepreneurs are actually more risk averse than the average person. He tells compelling true-life tales about Steve Wozniak and Phil Knight, founders of Apple and Nike respectively, who cautiously kept their full-time jobs while developing their disruptive firms.

maxresdefaultSpeaking on NPR about his book, Grant tells Rachel Martin: “…successful entrepreneurs are much more likely to play it safe and have backup plans than failed entrepreneurs; and secondly, all of the time they spent working on other things was giving them the freedom to do something really original.”

Grant also has a lot to say about the pluses of negativity. Yes, negativity. This may seem counterintuitive to the popular trope of entrepreneurs as the most optimistic of business creatures, but Grant’s cited research indicates entrepreneurial dubiosity actually aids entrepreneurial success.

For example, Grant has studied Ray Dalio and his very successful hedge fund Bridgewater. Grant admires Dalio’s process of encouraging all employees to aggressively challenge his managers about what could go wrong with their investment decisions. In other words, he encourages his associates to think negatively. Or, from the sports world, Grant points to endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh, who claims to have helped himself break many records by rigorously visualizing failure–by constantly visualizing what can go wrong. (I especially liked Grant’s valuation of pessimism and wrote about it myself last year in “The Upside of Negativity for Entrepreneurs.”)

But my favorite chapter in Grant’s book is a discussion of procrastination. I’m a procrastinator. Mea culpa. In fact, I have put off today’s column till the last minute and am at this moment hurrying to get it out. But Grant claims procrastination is often a font of original ideas. He validates his intuition by adducing research stating that projects that begin early and finish efficiently and on time end up with conventional and constrained results. When you take longer, he found, you allow for more original thinking, and more synthesis from seemingly contradictory sources.

urlGrant notes Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I have a dream” speech, which, despite King’s working on it in bits and snippets for weeks, was not finished till moments before King spoke on the Washington Mall.

So try Adam Grant’s Originals.  It’s accessible, cogent, counterintuitive, yet science-based.  And good fun to read.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger once said, “The great thinker is one who can hear what is greatest in the work of other ‘greats’ and who can transform it in an original manner.” I don’t think Adam Grant would disagree with that.

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maxresdefaultZig Ziglar says the following:  “You cannot climb the ladder of success in the costume of failure.”   I would say this applies both to the inner man and the outer man.

One of the tricks I’ve used over the years to manage my internal leadership self-image and my depressive bad moods, is simply to go into my office on bad days in my best finery.  Yup.  Think about maybe one step down from my opera duds.  It bloody well changes my mood as well as my appearance.

Well, lo and behold, my personal self-manipulation actually may have some scientific credence.

The Wall Street Journal had an article last week entitled “Why Dressing For Success Leads to Success.”  It posits that when we wear nicer clothes we actually achieve more, based on a number of recent academic studies.

The WSJ  reports that in 2014 Dr. Michael Kraus showed that clothes with high social status increased your personal efficacy.  It seems that “wearing nicer clothes may raise one’s confidence level, affect how others perceive the wearer, and, in some cases, even boost the level of one’s abstract thinking, the type in which leaders and executives engage.”  krausProfessor Kraus says his research shows that, particularly in competitive, winner-take-all situations, wearing more formal clothing signals others “about your being successful and real confident in whatever you’re doing.”

But the WSJ evidence is not just about the external effect of your sartorial splendor but also the internal.  Results from a case study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science titled “The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing,”  published last year, suggested that people use higher levels of thinking when they dress up.  “When some 361 participants were asked to complete tasks, the ones dressed more formally engaged in the kinds of abstract thinking that someone in a position of power, like a senior executive, would deploy.”  Subjects were quicker to see the big picture when dressed formally.  They seemed to see better the forest as well as the trees.

Michael Slepian of Columbia University (and co-author of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science article) says, “People who wear that kind of clothing feel more powerful.  When you feel more powerful, you don’t have to focus on the details.”

Also, note the work of Dr. Adam Galinsky, who says in a New York Times piece entitled ‘Mind Games: Sometimes a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat,’ “Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state.”  D511-_William_Shakespeare_-_liv3-ch14Galinsky calls this “enclothed cognition.”

Hmm.  Maybe that’s why Donald Trump is doing so well in the presidential primaries.  He’s always wearing elegant suits and power ties.  Perhaps that’s part of his secret to “winning.”

Well, pardon me while I go and throw on my new frock.  I have a meeting coming up and, as William Shakespeare says in Hamlet:  “The apparel oft proclaims the man.”  Thank you, William Shakespeare.

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411bLjUOvdL._UX250_I found this line in a recent John Grisham best seller.  “Prisons are fascinating places, especially when the inmates are educated white-collar types.”

The distance between the criminal and the successful entrepreneur is not so very far.  We both intuitively operate out-of-the-box with an instinct for not accepting the status quo.  We both are not inclined to accept the tyranny of the given.  We both intuitively color outside the lines.

Note the work of Bill McCarthy (UC Davis) and John Hagan (Northwestern) who report that people who are the most successful at crime have a strong desire to succeed, to take risk and to live by their own rules.  Hmm.  Sounds very much like most driven entrepreneurs.

I recently met a wonderful man named Jeff Grant who heads up an organization in Connecticut called the Progressive Prison Project, a non-profit dedicated to guiding and supporting business owners and white-collar executives. who have been accused of, convicted of, or been incarcerated for crimes ranging from DUI to financially motivated felonies.

Jeff Grant feels entrepreneurs, single-practitioners, DBAs, and small businessmen increasingly face exceptional dangers of drifting into damaging legal problems and even incarceration for a variety of reasons.

  1. Entrepreneurs lack the infrastructure resources to keep abreast with the increasingly complicated and onerous regulatory load emanating from all levels of government.  They are  overwhelmed with putting out constant fires in their real business. They have neither time or nor the inclination to spend days boning up on staying exactly on the right side ofevolving law.
  2. Furthermore, entrepreneurs frequently don’t even have a peer-level partner to challenge them on their interpretation and/or ignorance of compliance issues.  It becomes all too easy to carelessly cut corners.
  3. The combination of daily pressure and aloneness may make it tempting to make a deal with the devil—a deal often abetted by drugs or alcohol or sex, which fuzz over and break down a  man or woman’s moral center.  More than in most professions, entrepreneurs may be tempted to take ethical risks when bills threaten to overwhelm.
  4. Entrepreneurs often have big egos and suffer from hubris.  When they do not have the tools or knowledge for compliance, it is hard for them to admit it.  They (we) can suffer from  grandiosity.  We may begin to exaggerate, to lie, to puff ourselves up.  We sometimes don’t want to admit a core fear that we may not be the master of the universe, that we are not Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, or Mark Cuban.  Not even remotely.  We may begin to exaggerate, to lie, to puff ourselves up.
  5. Entrepreneurs are dreamers who can drift into not living in the rigorous reality of what their life actually is.

JeffGrantNewHeadShotJeff Grant can speak with authority on this subject.   He spent 14 months in a federal prison for a financially motivated crime stemming from bad decisions made under the dual influence of prescription drugs and financial pressure.

Grant headed a highly successful legal practice in Westchester County, New York.  The Greenwich Sentinel reports Grant as saying, “In the course of rehabilitating an [achilles heel] injury, I got hooked on prescription narcotics.  Doctors were more than happy to continue to prescribe them to me, and I took them for about ten years.”

Grant gradually lost control of his firm and eventually couldn’t meet payroll—at which point he made up the shortfall by dipping into client escrow funds.  He lost his company, his marriage, his money, his respected position in the community, his freedom.

What he found in prison was that there was little or no support for small businessmen like himself.  His present wife and Co-Founder of the Progressive Prison Project, Lynn Springer, puts it this way:

“Typically in the upper-middle class, where white collar criminals tend to come from, the husband has been the bread winner.  Generally, these are people who are considered to be very well off.  All of a sudden, all of their assets may have been seized by the SEC.  They don’t know how they are going to buy food, how they are going to heat their home, how they are going to put gas in their car.”  (The Greenwich Sentinel)

Furthermore, when Grant came out of prison he had to deal with what he calls the “schadenfreude” of many folks who took a closet joy in seeing the mighty fall.  Grant thinks there is an ecosystem problem in our society in which the rich person and the celebrity are both adored and virulently hated, and there is little sympathy, governmental or societal, for the fallen entrepreneur, who many see as a stand-in for the greedy 1%.

Grant speaks with power out of his own humiliation and suffering.  He has the well-earned authority of a deeply humbled man.  After his release from prison he got an M. Div. degree from Union Theological Seminary and founded the Progressive Prison Project, which is the first ministry in the U.S. created to provide support and counseling to individuals and families with white-collar and other non-violent incarceration issues. Der Amerikanische Priester haelt Vortraege und Seminarien in der Elisabethenkirche ab. Photo Stephanie Grell(For further information on Jeff Grant try  Also related to this issue check out my Inc. column of last year titled Criminals and Entrepreneurs.)

Robert Rohr, in his excellent book on addiction, Breathing Under Water, says, “People who fail to do it right, by even their own definition right, are those who often break through to enlightenment and compassion.”  Like Jeff Grant.  Thank you, Robert Rohr.

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