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Archive for May, 2017

Famed engineer and Episcopalian priest William Pollard once said, “Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.”

Much as I hate it, I am deeply convicted of the entrepreneurial mandate for constant change. That is, change should be a value unto itself, not just a reaction to periodic business challenges.

As I see it, a good corporate culture is erected to ward off and control chaos and the impact of business randomness, while generating a consistent and predictable profit. The dialectic of stability and creativity should ideally result in a vital organization that is both dynamic and steady. But if one is to err, my preference and personal instinct is to err on the side of the dynamic, on the side of change and creativity.

As you may know from my past columns, I was an actor for many years. That has had a seminal, if ineffable, effect on my instincts as a small businessman. One of my favorite acting stories was recounted to me by character actor and teacher Paul Austin. I never tire of sharing it. Paul was doing a Eugene O’Neill play with the actor Rip Torn. Rehearsals were going well, but, with two weeks of rehearsal remaining. Paul felt he had fully realized his character and was ready to open. He was in a quandary about what to do with himself for the last two weeks of rehearsal, so he went to Rip Torn and asked his advice. Paul recounts that Rip Torn thought for a moment, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Fuck it up.”

On the same theme, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, of Claremont Graduate University, recounts a story, in his book Flow, told him by Canadian ethnographer Richard Kool, describing one of the Indian tribes of British Columbia:

The Shuswap region was and is considered by the Indian people to be a rich place: rich in salmon and game, rich in below-ground food resources such as tubers and roots–a plentiful land. In this region, the people would live in permanent village sites and exploit the environs for needed resources. They had elaborate technologies for very effectively using the resources of the environment, and perceived their lives as being good and rich. Yet, the elders said, at times the world became too predictable and the challenge began to go out of life. Without challenge, life had no meaning.

So the elders, in their wisdom, would decide that the entire village should move, those moves occurring every 25 or 30 years. The entire population would move to a different part of the Shushwap land and there, they found challenge. There were new streams to figure out, new game trails to learn, new areas where the balsam root would be plentiful. Now life would regain its meaning and be worth living. Everyone would feel rejuvenated and healthy.

Essentially, the Shuswap Indians elected to “fuck it up” every few decades. It kept their business culture (if you will) healthy, thriving, and imbued with aliveness and meaning. They elected to culturally and institutionally discipline themselves to see existence through perennially fresh eyes.

The reason I embrace business is to be happy and whole. Profitability and personal wealth, if they come, are useful and satisfying in this, but profitability disengaged from meaning and spiritual growth is a dead thing. Change is an essential palliative to summon meaning, aliveness, and salvation into any business culture.

Friedrich Nietzche put it, “The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”

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Johnny Depp once said: “Trips to the dentist; I like to postpone that kind of thing.”

I was stuck in the dentist’s chair for two and a half hours last Tuesday. This was perfect for a rainy spring day in New York. I came in depressed and anxious about business and some personal issues. After hearing the dentist’s usual homily on my dental sins (poor brushing, insufficient flossing, erratic check-ups), I grimly settled in to endure my dental cleaning penance.

I like my dentist Marvin. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of American popular music which he plays while drilling away. I learn a lot from him. Also, I tremendously enjoy his excellent laughing gas. (Last week’s aroma was piƱa colada. Yahoo.)

For my appointment, Dr. Marv’s musical play list was from radio broadcasts of the 1930’s. Enlivening and enjoyable, as always. In my existentially saturnine mood I found myself listening to a song I’d never heard, called, “If You Want To Have The Rainbow, Then You Have To Have The Rain.” It was a lovely, light depression-era ditty about looking on the bright side of life. Nothing especially deep. Yet it got me thinking positively again and jolted me out of my stultifying, self-pitying funk. It restored me to gratitude and clarity.

I treasure those blessed moments of unexpected captive stillness that can sometimes quiet the frenetic, unreasoning pace of daily business life. They can be both a palliative and a meditative grace. Even five minutes stuck waiting on a line or 30 minutes on the train can imbue a renewed centeredness and insight. These moments are a gift and make me a clearer, freer, happier man–and, I am sure, a more sure-handed writer and a more prosperous entrepreneur. I am so grateful when these captive moments find me, pull me up short, and bring respite and perspective to the headlong rush that is the essence of most of my business days.

German poet Gottfried Benn (Statische Gedichte) says,

“To represent some part,
Busy-ness,
Traveling to, and from,
Is the distinguishing stamp of a world
Which does not see well.”

Thank you, Gottfried.

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Geoffrey Chaucer says in “The Merchant’s Tale,” “There n’is no werkman whatever he be/That may beth werken wel and hastily.”

When you are in a rush, slow down. Or, as the Roman Emperor Augustus says in the 1st century A.D., “Festina Lente.” (Make haste slowly).

I’m a fairly hyper guy. That’s not an uncommon state for any entrepreneurial salesman. The day I am not up to my ass in alligators is the exception. However, though it may be counter intuitive to the credo of most entrepreneurs, I’ve personally found a multitasking frenzy ain’t the answer to this conundrum.

Perhaps I’m just slow and a dullard, but what occurs when I rush to get everything done in the seemingly inadequate time frames I’m presented with, is that I pay a price. The personal price I pay for speed is sometimes accuracy, sometimes quality, sometimes verboseness, sometimes oversimplification–but there is always a diminution in quality, exactitude and in depth of communication. That loss of precision is particularly a negative in presenting a compelling sales tonality to a corporate leader. Casual mistakes can sink you with these folks.

Finding time not to speed through things is a question of prioritization and time allocation. Any important project, RFP, or business communication needs to marinate. I personally have to allow the space for this.

One of my concerns about our burgeoning social media is simply the time it sucks up. How many online miracles and digital wonderments can I absorb? I personally find an overabundance of data makes important things fuzzy and harder to find. It actually impedes good decision-making and my business intuition. For me information overload withers efficiency. So personally, if I have to eliminate my attentiveness to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, et. al., that is a prioritization that creates time for me to find empathy, understanding, and subtlety in all my sales outreach. I simply decide not to speed through to cover everything our new media seems to demand I be up on. For me speed is the enemy of doing the core executive sales chores well.

The wisdom of the ages has cautions for the time-pressured entrepreneur. In the sixth century B.C. Confucius said, “Desire to have things done quickly prevents their being done thoroughly.” Or to quote Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet, “Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.”

So thank you Confucius, Chaucer, Augustus and Shakespeare.

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