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Actor Tom Hiddleston says the following, “Actors in any capacity, artists of any stripe, are inspired by their curiosity, by their desire to explore all quarters of life, in light and in dark, and reflect what they find in their work.”

Both actors and entrepreneurs are huge risk-takers: The actor takes emotional risk. The entrepreneur takes financial risk. Good ones are both fundamentally artists.

I was an actor, among other things, for many years before I ever considered being an entrepreneur. I don’t think I’d have succeeded in business without the gifts I gleaned from that experience.

Acting is not a lucrative proposition for most of its practitioners. A ridiculously small percentage of the members of SAG, AFTRA and Actor’s Equity make an actual living acting. It is a hard life. Not at all the romantic, indulgent, cossetted life portrayed on Entertainment Tonight and Hollywood Extra.

But there are non-financial rewards to acting that apply very directly to business. First, you learn the skills of listening and human observation. Good actors are first and foremost good reactors. Two (and a corollary to one), acting teaches you human empathy and understanding at he deepest psychological levels, not just for yourself, but for a multifaria of people. Three, acting teaches honesty, even when you are playing a dishonest character. (Al Pacino says, “I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”) Acting teaches you to understand motivation on many levels. And, therefore, four, it helps you to read people quickly and accurately in life. Five, without actually living the lives of people very different from yourself, you can come to understand what motivates and moves them in even the most quotidian of actions.

Furthermore, the very fact of needing to survive forces actors to take jobs that broaden human and economic understanding. When not working as an actor (which was most of the time when I was a actor), I have personally worked as a bartender, a tennis pro, a cook, a teacher and an assistant dean of students. I was even employed part-time as a nude model for art classes at the School of Visual Arts and Cooper Union in New York. I have actor friends who survived with jobs as variegated as dog walking, prostitution, and cab driving. (One of the oddest survival jobs I ever heard of was that of “stretcher.” This job consisted of hanging young men up and pulling on their legs to make them temporarily tall enough to qualify as policemen or firefighters. I heard Martin Sheen describe this as one of his survival jobs on Jay Leno one night.)

But I think the greatest gift of my failed acting career, to me as an entrepreneur and salesman, was learning to handle rejection. An actor faces very personal rejection day after day in the auditioning process. Compared to that, the simple vicissitudes of selling for any entrepreneurial company are a piece of cake. The process of business selling, with all its to be expected rejection, is as nothing compared to the much more personal rejection of the actor’s daily process.

Finally, the actor’s life is a training in courage. Entrepreneurship is a very personal act of risk-taking. A good actor’s craft is quite akin to this and an excellent form of emotional weight-lifting in preparation for the everyday unpredictability and Darwinian fearsomeness of business.

As Tallulah Bankhead said, “It’s one of the tragic ironies of the theatre that only one man in it can count on steady work–the night watchman.”

Thank you, Tallulah.

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urlF. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “There are no second acts in American lives.” I hate this quote. Because it is wrong.

I spend as much time as I can mentoring young entrepreneurs. I so admire them. I learn so much from them. They are the quintessential existential heroes of modern business life. And yet…

And yet I find myself often, and increasingly, put off by a growing trope of coldness among many of our newer class of young entrepreneurial strivers. Even in their publicly bruited avowals of pro bono concern for the future of mankind, there seems somehow an unattached sense of being personally outside humanity–above humanity more than part of it. Full of a hipness and knowing intelligence that stands with irony outside the ring of the benighted mass of fellow souls who have fucked up so many things in this world. Souls like me.

Back in February, Rich Karlgaard wrote an interesting column titled “Late Bloomers are in Peril” for Forbes. He noted that American culture is increasingly put off by a new class of academic STEM hero personified by folks like Mark Zuckerberg. Karlgaard feels that Silcon Valley is morphing into Algorithmic Valley, a spiritually barren location that is increasingly hostile to the eccentric inventor and the late blooming oddball who does not necessarily come from the world of perfect SAT scores and an impeccable academic provenance at Stanford, MIT, Cal Tech or Harvard.

Rich_Karlgaard_2Karlgaard states, “…today’s technology business heroes are so freakishly smart and young they don’t inspire the rest of us. It’s worth asking why. My guess: For decades Silicon Valley had among its role models late bloomers and tinkerers. For instance, Bill Hewlett barely got into college; Steve Jobs and Bill Gates dropped out of college; Andy Grove went to City College of New York.” However, our new dominant entrepreneurial elite do not come from the same places as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, or Thomas Alva Edison.

The new entrepreneur Karlgaard is talking about is a prodigy who aces the SATs, graduates from Stanford at 20, starts a company, raises millions and sells out to Apple or Google in two years. That’s who VCs are funding, not the out-of-the-box, scarred by life, autodidactic late bloomers. Karlgaard avers that this late bloomer is getting crowded out. He notes the late bloomer “is vanishing in the American imagination, especially with regards to business, and, in particular, technology. America is in danger of losing a valuable narrative about itself, and the consequences are not trivial.”

In fact, this should be a wonderful age for the ripening insights of the late bloomer. After all, 60 is truly the new 40 health wise, and the slow-growing virtues of empathic leadership are increasingly being recognized as a palliative to the growing unease with traditional command and control corporate leadership. Skills of empathy and elasticity come with age and hard knocks– qualities possessed in spades by late bloomers.

Elkhonon Goldberg, in The Wisdom Paradox (2006), notes that, “While the capability of the brain does indeed diminish with age, this deterioration is more than compensated for by gifts of intuition, empathy, and pattern recognition….What I have lost with age in my capacity for hard mental work, I seem to have gained in my capacity for instantaneous, almost unfairly easy insight.”

In other words, there is often a sly innate wisdom to the late-blooming entrepreneur that can neither be taught nor quantified.

My father was an indefatigable NY Yankees fan and he loved Joe Dimaggio, who was noted as a great center fielder. My father related to me that in Joe’s last year he didn’t have a whole hell of a lot left in his arm, which had always been a great intimidator of base runners. He figured he had about one good throw in him per game. So every night his last year, early in the game, after a routine fly out, he would put everything he had into a simple throw back into the infield. 14294619952_3d9ff00146This continued to intimidate runners, even though, for the life of him, he couldn’t repeat the feat again in that game. That is what I mean by the sly wisdom of age. It is a special gift offered by entrepreneurial late bloomers.

Poet Maya Angelou has these wonderful few words for the late bloomer. She says, “The Fifties are everything you’ve been meaning to be.” Thank you, Maya.

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Stephen_Sondheim_-_smokingIn her book Stephen Sondheim: A Life, Meryle Secrest quotes composer Steven Sondheim on his friend and colleague Leonard Bernstein’s consistent failure to produce any significant music after his great masterpiece “West Side Story.” Sondheim says Bernstein developed “a bad case of importantitis.” That is, anything he touched, by self-definition, had to have the weight and portent of the great.

Like for Leonard Bernstein, importantitis can sure be a killer of creativity and corporate health for the entrepreneur, as well. I was reminded about this a few years ago by the dizzying fall from grace of Mark Hurd at Hewlett Packard–a man of achievement and power brought low by ethics violations and the apparent attitude that he was above the rules. (And who can forget Leona Helmsley’s famous statement that the rules apply only to “the little people.”)

Jonah Lehrer wrote an article on this in The Wall Street Journal  in 2010. Lehrer noted what psychologists call the “paradox of power.” That is, the very traits which help leaders rise to power disappear once they ascend. Instead of being courteous, honest, and outgoing, they often become impulsive, reckless, and rude–subject to hubristic overreach and Icarus-like arrogance. He quotes extensively from University of California, Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner’s scientific findings from studies of power and success. Dr. Keltner states, “When you give people power, they basically start acting like fools. They flirt inappropriately, tease in a hostile fashion, and become totally impulsive.” 1280px-Jonah_Lehrer_-_Pop!Tech_2009_-_Camden,_MEDr. Keltner goes on to compare the feeling of power to brain damage, stating that people with great power tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area essential for empathy and decision-making.

An entrepreneur is usually a boss. He is a person of power, if only in his own very small pond. As such, it is very important for her to be aware of the dangers of importantitis. At my outsourced executive sales firm, Corporate Rain International, I try to guard against this in several ways. One is I never stop some cold-calling. At this point I could have other people take over this task completely for me. But I want to experience what my associates and employees experience for clients each day, which includes a great deal of rejection. (Note the Greek philosopher Diogenes {412-323 B.C.}, who was once noticed begging from a statue. When asked the reason for his pointless action, he replied, “I am exercising the art of being rejected.”)

Yet, another way I keep perspective is that I genuinely try to never employ anyone who isn’t better than myself, and then I listen to their input. And often apply it.

pat-caddellIn a recent article, Patrick Caddell, a Democratic pollster, observes there is an increasing inability of executives to admit mistakes, even including both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and how poor a quality this is in an executive. He says, “As we’ve seen again and again over the past few years, admitting a mistake is almost constitutionally impossible for today’s corporate chiefs and even harder for politicians.”

Thomas Bailey Aldrich states in “Ponkapog Papers” (1903), “The possession of unlimited power will make a despot of almost any man. There is a possible Nero in the gentlest human creature that walks.” Thanks, Brother Thomas.

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Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.”

41RflFJ7QtL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Seminal business writer and Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham, author of Small Giants, has done it again. His new book, Finish Big, just came out and it fills a gaping hole in the literature of the “entrepreneurial exit.” It should be read immediately by anyone who is a successful entrepreneur, but with even more alacrity by the tyro business striver. Much like what Yogi Berra intends to say in the above quote, Burlingham avers that all small businesswomen and men need to begin their businesses with a clear eye to their endgame as an integral part of developing successful capitalist enterprise.

As Burlingham puts it, “Let’s begin with a general rule: The earlier you start preparing for an exit, the more likely it is that you’ll have a happy one.” He notes that many entrepreneurs who’ve been through the whole exit process will tell you it’s much harder to leave a company than to start one. He points to the old saying: “You should build a business today as if you will own it forever but could sell it tomorrow.”

Burlingham bases his book on two fundamental assumptions:

  1. All business owners will eventually have to leave or exit their roles as CEOs and owners.
  2. Every company, large, small, or middling, will inevitably be sold or liquidated.

As entrepreneurs we do not want to think about the end of our company. It’s like people who put off their will because they don”t like to deal with the inevitability of death. (Indeed, Paul Saginaw, Co-founder of of Zingerman’s Delicatessan in Ann Arbor, MI, at one point tells Bo, “Currently our exit strategy is death.”)

Also, planning for an exit is surely the last thing any of us would want to consider when we gaze on that Mt. Everest of urgent tasks each of us has waiting on the desk every day. As Gary Hirshberg, the chairman and co-founder of Stoneyfield Farm, puts it, “Everything you do in business is preparing for the endgame, whether you know it or not. A lot of us don’t know it because we are so focused on survival.”

Furthermore, the odds are bloody well against you in making a successful exit from your firm. Burlingham points out that a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study found that only 20 percent of companies put up for sale ultimately are sold, meaning that four out of five prospective sellers are unsuccessful. He estimates that between 65-75 percent of owners who would like to sell never even make it into the market. 

Bart_Nagel_--_8147_400x400Bo describes eight common qualities and actions of owners who make good exits. They are (to paraphrase):

  1. Having a crystal clear understanding of who you are, what you wanted out of your business and why.
  2. Consciously building a sellable company over the lifespan of your firm.
  3. Allowing plenty of time to prepare.
  4. Preparing a successor and allowing time to be wrong about that choice at least once.
  5. Seeking help from colleagues and advisers who have gone through the process.
  6. Taking care of your employees and investors.
  7. As a seller, being very cautious–and understanding the essence and motivations of buyers.
  8. Being aware of what you want to do next and allowing yourself personal time to “metamorphose” into a new identity. 

Finish Big is a highly readable book, rich in original research. It draws on Burlingham’s lifetime of enduring and intimate relationships. He’s a remarkable storyteller and his book is full of telling personal anecdote. (He conducted more than 75 interviews with current and former business owners about their business exits.)

But, for me, the best thing about Bo’s Finish Big, as with his celebrated previous book Small Giants, is his pure love of entrepreneurship and the entrepreneur. This love is palpable and personal. He writes with a deeply imbued spiritual generosity and sense of service to our entrepreneurial community. Yet he is unsentimental and even can be quite rough on some of his very human subjects, though never without sympathy. Burlingham truly cherishes the questing, courageous, non-venal qualities of great entrepreneurial owners, with a writing style that is not self-aggrandizing, yet is authoritative.

Serious entrepreneurs should read Finish Big. Now, not later.

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unnamedSo what do circadian rhythms have to do with entrepreneurship?  Well, maybe quite a lot if you are striving to live a daily morally-centered business life.

Wikipedia defines circadian rhythm as “any biological process that displays an endogenous, entrainable oscillation of 24 hours.”  That means it is a natural, predictable biological cycle in each day of our lives.

If one tries to be sincerely committed to living a meaningful, moral life through business (and I certainly believe it is simply the selfish, efficacious, practical way to generate long-term business success), are there times of day when one is more inclined to unethical behavior?  This is a question considered in a study done by Maryam Kouchaki of Harvard and Isaac Smith of the University of Utah discussed in this month’s Harvard Business Review (May, 2014, p. 34-5) titled “In the Afternoon, the Moral Slope Gets Slipperier”.  Basically their research indicates that the stresses of each day may turn us into liars after lunch.

mkouchakiAccording to Kouchaki and Smith, people are 20% to 50% more likely to be dishonest in the afternoon because they are depleted of the resources they need for self-control.  Gradually increasing fatigue can eventuate systemic moral failure.  Dr. Kouchaki says, “There are simple ways to limit opportunities for immorality.  For example, tasks with a moral component can be shifted to the morning and after breaks, when managers and employees are less depleted.  At the very least, try to avoid scheduling those activities at the end of the day …. Exhaustion has costs, and one is a loss of control over the ability to make ethical choices. When your psychological resources are depleted, you are less likely to even recognize that an intended action (or inaction) has moral implications.”

Though we in the West often make mock of cultures with long afternoon breaks or siestas, it is perhaps we who are the fools.  This study certainly buttresses my long-held intuition that breaks and periodic stops are a key to consistency of business values.  (Note my post Napping to Greatness – July 16, 2023 and Laziness and Entrepreneurship – September 3, 2013, if interested.)

So can we nap our way to morality?  Can we actually manipulate our inner time clock to making us better entrepreneurs and human beings?  Well, maybe so.  Perhaps managing our circadian rhythms is but another unacknowledged business skill.  Through self-monitoring our inner-biological efficiency for different tasks we can glean intimations on everything from the best time to tweet to when to write inter-office memos to when to check email.

(For example, in an article in Thinking and Reasoning (Dec., 2011), Dr. Mareike Wieth found that when people have to solve problems with a high degree of creativity, they are much more successful when they tackle those problems at the time of day when they are least alert.  So creativity is on a different circadian clock than morality.)

Msc2012_20120204_408_Clinton_Hillary_Frank_PlittInteresting stuff this circadian research.  But most interesting to me, as an aficionado of company culture and corporate meaning, is the fact we can probably buttress our own intent as leaders to ethical action by choosing the time of day we choose to deal with it.

Hillary Clinton once said, “The first lesson I’ve learned is that no matter what your do in your life, you have to figure out your own internal rhythms—I mean, what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for your friend.”  Thanks, Hillary.

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