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Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.” So with social media.

I’ll be short this week. I seem never to tire of listing caveats about unanticipated conundrums surrounding social media and technology. It frequently creeps into my essays.

One of the reasons I find myself dubious and cautious about social media is the perfervid evangelical zeal of its proponents, which I frequently find blinker-visioned, jaundiced and of limited practicality for busy, non-genius entrepreneurs like myself.

Drew Neisser, CEO of Renegade, partially addressed this issue in his blog, The Cut, last year. Drew is a successful entrepreneur and frequent speaker and thought leader on social media. He writes well and simply. He offers several helpful practical suggestions for “social media fatigue.”

  1. He suggests keeping Twitter lists under 200 and perhaps keeping a much smaller list you really care about.
  2. If you have more than 100 friends on Facebook, hide the dull ones.
  3. Look for trusted curators in your area of interest. Don’t follow everything. Drew recommends PSFK to discover the best of the best.
  4. Don’t feel you can’t go silent for a while.

As I hunker down in my luddite cave, cowering away before the onslaught of social media, I’d like to have more of this kind of practical advice. Every day seems to offer an avalanche of cool new technological must-haves. I need advice that helps me manage, sort, and prioritize a multifaria of social media. I could use a lot more common sense techie thinking. I don’t need to be “cool” and I don’t need every cutting-edge app. I don’t need technological Nirvana. I do need what I can use simply, quickly and efficiently.

Avinash Kaushik of Analytic Evangelist says, “Social Media is like teen sex. Everybody wants to do it. Nobody knows how. When it’s finally done there is surprise it’s not better.”

Sounds right to me. Thank you, Avinish.

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Simon Sinek says the following: “Offer someone the opportunity to rebuild a company or reinvent an industry as the primary incentive, and it will attract those drawn to the challenge first and the money second.”

I believe much of what is expressed about incentivizing the salesman emanates from underestimation, condescension, and even contempt for that person and her profession.

I don’t read sales books. They make me mad. From my own experience as an executive salesman, I believe most sales managers approach the whole subject of sales incentivization ass-backwards.

In my case, this judgment comes from being an unexpected, untrained, and accidental success as an entrepreneur in elite sales outsourcing. My intent as a company founder was to build a happy life and create a community of peers who shared my values. While I wanted to make a comfortable living, money was not my business raison d’etre. And over the years I have managed to assemble a coterie of sales executives who, to one extent or another and in their variegated ways, were compadres in the realm of service, morals, humor, and fierce independence.

After 20 years of sales success emanating from my personal sales intuition and longing to be part of an ethical sales and service community, I began to discover I was not as odd or alone in my approach as I had always assumed. And even more, there is an increasing body of scholarly research that supports the instincts of my life experience.

This is particularly true in the realm of sales incentivization. My core assumption has always been that good salespersons don’t fundamentally work just for money. Rather, they work for satisfaction, service, happiness, a free life and other non-quantifiables as much as for money. Research has shown that, after reaching a threshold of $75,000 or so, money has limited ability to incentivize. (Note, Conscious Capitalism and the Small Giants community).

Dr. Edward Deci, Director of the University of Rochester’s Human Motivation Program says:

“When people say that money motivates, what they really mean is that money controls. And when It does, people become alienated–they give up some of their authenticity–and they push themselves to do what they think they must do.” (Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation).

I have always felt that salesmen are particularly misunderstood. I’m told that sales hires fail 75 percentĀ of the time within the first year. That is a phenomenal statistic. While the reasons for this are complex, I believe the overemphasis on monetary reward is a large part of it.

People want to be part of an organization that imbues quality and meaning to their lives. Yes, they need to make money, but I don’t believe it ever activates their ardor and deep commitment. It does not inspire full use of their internal resources, their full being, their passion.

When I ran my executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International, I genuinely tried to start with the assumption that every person I hired should be better than me, that every person I hired could teach me something, that each person I hired could comfortably grow the extant values of my company as a corporate companion.

To quote Edward Deci again, “[In speaking about motivation] the proper question is not, ‘How can people motivate others?’ but rather, ‘How can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves.'”

I agree. Thank you, Edward Deci.

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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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Quartz, the cutting-edge NY digital news outlet, caught my eye last week (March 21, 2017) with this headline: “IBM, Remote Work Pioneer, Is Calling Thousands of Employees back to the office.”

This is a big change in direction for Big Blue. As recently as 2009, IBM had 40% of its hirelings working from home.

In fact, a number of companies have quietly begun shifting their home-based associates back to their corporate offices. This trend began to emerge publicly with Marissa Mayer’s startling decision to end Yahoo’s remote work policy back in 2013. Facebook now offers a $10,000 bonus to employees who live close to their office, and many other companies, like Best Buy and Reddit, no longer allow work from home. By September of this year IBM’s over 5,500 marketing people will have to work from physical offices in one of seven central locations: San Francisco, New York, Austin, Armonk, Boston, Atlanta, or Raleigh. Remote work will no longer be an option. (IBM already applies this policy to departments like security, procurement, most of IT, Watson, Watson Health, cloud development, and artificial intelligence.) Companies increasingly feel collaboration, creativity, and community are better fostered in a central office.

As an early successful adopter of the virtual office model with my first entrepreneurial firm, Corporate Rain, in the 1990s, I have always thought “What’s not to like?” After all, you save on office rent, office expenses, and commuting. And research indicates that remote workers are more productive and put in more hours than their office-based kindred. Also, for many people, it has been a partial solution to the work-life balance problem. According to the Gallop Poll, 25% of all American workers are presently laboring remotely.

That said, however, I am increasingly coming to a sense that for many companies, particularly large ones but also some of the small ones, there is a compelling rationale to centrally co-locate their office communities again.

For example, Best Buy reported that productivity had an average increase of 35% in departments that shifted to employees working whenever and wherever they wanted. However, there is a different set of benefits that ensue from central offices–and most of these benefits center around creativity and innovation.

Note John Sullivan, professor of management at San Francisco State University, a specialist in HR strategy–again quoting from Quartz. Sullivan says, “It turns out the value of innovation is so strong it trumps any productivity gain….[Remote work] was a great strategy for the 90s but not for 2015.”

Certainly established companies are searching for how to solve the conundrum of creativity and how to come up with the next transformational eureka out of their behemothic institutions.

They long to infuse entrepreneurial passion and disruptive imagination into their titanic old-line firms. Their hidebound strategies aren’t working, therefore renewed office centralization is increasingly favored as a tool to help create a more generative, communal, cohesive business ambience–hopefully one more like the entrepreneurial laboratory.

Jeff Smith, IBM’s CIO, advocates agile management based around “squads”. He says “…leaders have to be with the squads and the squads have to be in a location.”

There increasingly is a valuation of what many call “the watercooler effect.” (Steve Jobs certainly appreciated the value of how chance meetings and accidental conversations can lead to disruptive ideas.) Note a recent study by Kevin Rickman of George Mason University and Michael Pratt of Boston College, who found that increased offsite work can have very negative effects on the office environment. Mason and Pratt state: “If the office is going to become a collection of employees not working together, it essentially becomes no different than a coffee shop (though perhaps with better internet and worse coffee.).” That may be a bit overstated, but perhaps reflective of the most au courant new HR thinking.

When asked what percentage of Google’s workers telecommute, Patric Pichette, then CFO said, “Our answer is: As few as possible.”

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Contemporary comic book writer and graphic novelist Joshua Dysart writes: “People, we’re always reaching for these big things…you know? Big ideas…big moments…big lives. And all the while the little things we’re ignoring are undoing us.”

I was reading a Maureen Dowd op-ed a couple of years ago in the NY Times. It was enjoyably full of her scathing, caustic observations, on this occasion commenting on a recent “Get Motivated!” seminar at the Verizon Center in Washington. As usual, Dowd was funny and more than a little mean. And right on.

My general feeling about these massive feel-good inspirational gatherings is that they’re a bunch of hooey. Not wrong in their stated insights, just shallow and quite temporary in their efficacy. Kind of like a business pep rally. Certainly not my cup of tea.

However, amidst Ms. Dowd’s cynical reportage on talks by the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Forbes, Dan Rather and Rick Belluzo, I was caught by some business advice shared by General Colin Powell. His advice? Simply to be nice and particularly to be nice to the little people like the folks who clean your office and park your car (or simply other people on your elevator who sometimes turn out to be the CEO). He also avers the value of small details. For instance, Powell reports writing thank you notes on personalized 4-by-6 inch cards. “I write with a fountain pen. Never a Sharpie. Never a ball point pen. A fountain pen.” Dowd reports.

It seems to me Colin Powell is quite on to a real truth here. It’s little things that set the tone for successful entrepreneurship–little considerations, little details. Focusing on the small decencies creates an ambiance of service and real carefulness in business dealings. It becomes reflected in the larger actions of a company.

To expand on General Powell’s concern for the small things, I always recommend that any missive or serious communication one sends out go on high-quality stationary and be sent by snail mail, ideally with a commemorative stamp. This is sometimes cause for eye-rolling impatience by some cutting-edge entrepreneurs enamored of the wonders of Tweeting, Friending, Linking-in, etc. But there is a method to my antediluvian madness. Yes, it takes extra time and money to communicate in such qualitative ways, but the very effort communicates care and valuation on a subconscious level. There is a sensual subconscious statement that is communicated by the very feel of high-quality stationary. It creates an aura of seriousness, reflecting both respect for your client and the general business process. It unspokenly says exactly the manner you would represent a client and effectively serve her.

Additionally, the very fact that the personal letter is increasingly rare gives special notice to those who use it. It is not a dinosaur inefficiency. It is a notable differentiator that, in the long-term, makes a branding statement, as well as creating a subrosa gravitas and a sense of business seriousness.

Or, as John Donne says in his poem To Sir Henry(1663) “Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls.” Thank you, John Donne.

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