Subscribe to Making Rain by Email

Archive for the “Change” Category

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 corporate culture is a defensive construct erected to ward off and control chaos and the impact of existential 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 stable. 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 past blogs, 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 told him by Canadian ethnographer Richard Kool, describing one of the Indian tribes of British Columbia.

(Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, p. 80, Harper & Row, 1990)

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 am in 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.

Thank you, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi.

Comments 2 Comments »

I ended my last post saying how uncomfortable change was for me.  For that very reason, I discipline myself to incorporate change on a regular basis.  I experiment with suggestions offered by my associates.  It keeps my 16 year old firm fresh and alive.  For that reason Corporate Rain International changes substantially every year.

I try to keep nothing sacrosanct.  Though it gives me a daily frisson of fear, it also keeps me fiercely alive.  Clients feel that intensity and it helps me as a salesman for my company.

My favorite example of creative change is The Beatles.  The Beatles essentially became a radically different band every year of their existence.  Every year, they abandoned sure repeatable success to push into a high-risk musical unknown.  Their work had integrity.  It was alive.

There is a paradigm for business in the example of The Beatles.  Things constantly change; never more so than now.  Flexibility and an active imagination are particularly useful to a sales entrepreneur in a constantly evolving marketplace. Even arbitrary creative destruction can have its place.  One of my favorite bits of aphoristic wisdom (which I associate with AA and 12-step programs) is “Insanity is defined as continually performing the same action and expecting different results”.  Obviously and utterly true.

Earlier in my life, I spent about 10 years as an actor.  One of my teachers was a man named Paul Austen.  One day in class he recounted a story about 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”.

So, even if it ain’t broke, it’s sometimes healthy to “fuck it up”.

Comments 2 Comments »

These are surprising times.  Certainly more so than my company Corporate Rain or I have experienced in 16 years.  The business atmosphere is confused and inchoate, ungrounded in the old verities and unmoored to any universal consensus.  It’s bloody scary, but also enlivening.

More than ever change is the one thing you can count on in this veil of tears.  As a salesman I have never felt more the urgency of being alert to both daily and systemic change.  Variations on “Black Swan” events are startling me daily.

For example, I read in The New York Times on October 26 that McDonald’s opened a restaurant in The Louvre. The Louvre!  The great center of French culture and art welcomes this icon of mass produced American gastronomic mundanity.   France, the last bastion of epicurean snobbery welcomes McDonald’s, the ultimate common denominator for fast food, into its iconic institution of French exceptionalism.  It is startling, and from my assumptions, impossible.

Or take, for example, a recent experience of my friend Ken Makovsky, CEO of Makovsky and Company PR located in New York.  Ken is an exceptionally savvy PR thought leader (check out his excellent blog at blog.makovsky.com).  Yet he was blind-sided recently when he told me of taking his son to see the revival of Hair on Broadway.  For Ken, Hair was a beloved iconic demarcation; a heuristic road sign that fundamentally changed his life perspective.  He loved the music.  He loved the time.  He excitedly anticipated sharing Hair with his son.  Imagine his stunned disappointment when his son was indifferent and bored by the show saying, “It has a couple of good songs, but how can you be so interested in such a group of dirty, lazy people?”

Life surprises.  Never have we been in such a fast-moving world.  Radical change occurs suddenly.  Assumptions can become invalid at the speed of light.  G.M. is bankrupt. Who’d have thunk it?  Hair becomes a dated period piece about dirty, lazy hippies.

As an entrepreneur (and particularly as a salesman), I find it is a constant struggle not to become too wedded to my assumptions, to stay open to the wonder of the anti-predictive.  An ambiance of constant and rapid change is so uncomfortable.  Yet shifting sands are the existential ground on which we operate.

God, I hate change.  Yet my personal and corporate business survival increasingly depends on quick adaptability and nimbleness.

Comments 2 Comments »

Corporate Rain International on Facebook