Subscribe to Making Rain by Email

Archive for the “Success” Category

Confucius said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

Last week a kick-ass young entrepreneur of my acquaintance called me to ask my advice about his integrated AI platform to improve corporate sales and marketing. He had just won a major entrepreneurial contest, had serious investment interest and had a beta-tested technology product. He had an ivy-league degree, was good-looking, full of brio, and genuinely expert about his field. Yet he was having trouble making his sales case.

After making his pitch to me, however, I quickly understood his problem: He didn’t understand simplicity. He was so in love with his product (appropriately so) that he could not keep himself from waxing prolix about it. He was a veritable firehose of knowledge, enthusiasm, and rococo detail. He threw in everything but the kitchen sink. It was overwhelming and hard to practically focus on.

In my friend’s case less would certainly have been more.

Buyers want simplicity. They want direct talk about what they can apply to improve ROI. They are like Jack Webb, who played Sgt. Joe Friday on the old TV show Dragnet. He repeatedly said “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

Yup. That is what most buyers want. More than half of any initial sales job is articulating a result–not the process, not the whole detailed magilla, and not your complex brilliance. Winnowing down a simple core value can often seem a process of almost insulting oversimplification to someone who has pored their heart and soul and essence into a new product or service. Yet it is only the final result that is the compelling factor in initiating a dialogue leading to a sale.

A buyer is interested in an outcome. (“All we want are the facts, ma’am.”) If the result of a service or product is clear and compelling, the buyer will then be enthused to explore the details about how the sausage is made. Otherwise–not.

(This is one thing President-elect Donald Trump well understood in the recent election. He made simple–perhaps overly simple–claims about results. It worked.)

The minister of my church recently told the following story in his sermon to illustrate a biblical point, the story works fine as a lesson about sales simplicity.

Two ranchers from Texas are bragging to each other about the size of their respective cattle-raising operations. One of them says, “Well, I’ve got 15,000 head of cattle out there on the range, all wearing my ‘Flying A’ brand.”

“Flying A!” the other sniffs. “My brand is the Bar T, Circle L, Cross Creek, Flying Z, Bent Fork, Double Back, North Canyon brand.”

“Wow!” says the first rancher. “How many cattle are you running?

“Well.” the second rancher confesses grudgingly, “Not as many as you have. Most of mine don’t survive the branding.”

Beat novelist Jack Keruoac says in his novel The Dharma Burns, “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” So with the compelling entrepreneur. Thanks, Jack Keruoac.

Comments No Comments »

8551937456_9f2c1544d3Elizabethan poet and playwright Francis Bacon once said, “Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not, a sense of humor for what he is.”

Recently I was at a meeting of fellow Inc. 5000 company owners who periodically meet to share, dialogue, and solve business conundrums together. I found myself laughing uproariously there. It got me thinking about humor and business ownership.

I harked back to a column I read last year by Jacquelyn Smith of Forbes. Smith pointed to a survey done by Robert Half International which showed 91% of executives found humor imperative for career advancement and 84% found people with a sense of humor do better work.

There are several reasons humor can be a powerful business tool. Here are some I especially esteem.

  1. Humor creates mindfulness, perspective, and balance. If laughter is a part of you and your company’s life, it reduces anus clinching anxiety and fear. It relaxes you. For example, Dr. Julia Wilkins cites an experiment using episodes of Seinfeld to measure tolerance to pain thresholds. After viewing a Seinfeld video, results showed pain tolerance to be much higher. The process of laughter caused a serotonin release similar to aerobic exercise. Laughter causes you to breather deeper. You feel better.
  2. Humor builds culture. Laughter promotes a sense of unity and shared culture. It boosts comraderie. It builds corporate empathy.
  3. Humor facilitates creativity. Laughter opens you to the absurd and the impossible. It encourages playing with concepts, taking risks, and considering the outrageous.
  4. Humor humanizes leaders. It nurtures a sense of “we are all in this together.” It can be a key component of empathetic leadership.

seinfeld_on_stage1-667x368Humor is great within your own firm, but I find healthy leadership needs a home for humor outside the confined community of my own company. Certainly joining a convivial, discreet organization of your peers gives an outlet for letting your hair down and being yourself in all your profound non-rationality.

Free flowing silliness and laughter is not the easiest thing to come by for a business owner. It is not necessarily prudent to share all your uncensored business mind with your employees or your clients or the world at large. Yet the successful entrepreneurs I know are remarkably funny people. Often wickedly funny. (You can find it at places like the upcoming Inc. GrowCo, as well as places like Vistage, EO, Conscious Capitalism, Small Giants, among others.)

The role of leading a small business can be a lonely enterprise. (I wrote about this last year in this column.) ( “The Peculiar Loneliness of Entrepreneurship”.) No one but another entrepreneur can fully understand the special frisson of fear and excitement each day holds for the high-risk small business striver. It is an infinitely not boring experience. Yet it is not something that you can truly share in its unfettered joy and horror even with your wife. To try to talk about your daily trials and tribulations would load an unnecessary burden on your intimates and, really, to what point? It’s cryptic to anyone who is not living in it. Each of our businesses is unique and peculiar, but the business ocean we swim in is common to all of us.

A place of real safety to talk openly with very smart colleagues is great. I find myself relaxing with an almost palpable emotional sigh when I enter a meeting of my peers. And humor is frequently a predominant mode of sharing in peer business communities. A lot of the humor is mordant and dark, but it comes from an ambient sense of relief at being in a safe harbor, a non-darwinian grotto of relief from the sturris of a darwinian world. William_James_b1842bThere is a glow of irenic happiness in being with one’s own kind–one’s own little supportive ghetto.

This may not be a particularly profound thought, but participation in a safe, outside personal business community of peers is surely healthful for the mindful business psyche. And the release of business anxiety and uncertainty through humor often frees up the animal spirits and the playfulness from whence cometh innovation and ideas.

Psychologist and philosopher William James said, “Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is common sense, dancing.” Thank you, William.

Comments 6 Comments »

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.

Comments 6 Comments »

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.

Comments 4 Comments »

Alfred-Armand-Louis-Marie_VelpeauAlfred Montapert, in his book The Supreme Philosophy of Man, states, “Do not confuse motion and progress.  A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make progress.”

I am a huge believer in stillness and it’s close cousin solitude, both as a writer and as an entrepreneur.  It is a huge danger for the creative entrepreneur to short herself on this resource.  After all, the very word “business” incorporates the word “busy.”  Hardly the soul of simplicity and solitude.

Writing in the NY Times January 15, 2012, Susan Cain, author of the best-seller Quiet, wrote the following:

“Solitude is out of fashion.  Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place.  Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all….Collaboration is in.  But there’s a problem with this view.  Research strangely suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.”

So how does the conscious entrepreneur create this space?  The first thing that comes to mind for me is a disciplined daily course of meditation and prayer.  I certainly try to do both when I awake each morning.  But I find it is not enough amidst the frenetic and overwhelming celerity of my business and personal life.

Mohandas Ghandi is quoted as saying, “I have so much to do today that I must meditate two hours instead of one.”  Well, bully for  Mohandas.  That may be possible for a secular saint like Gandhi.  Not so much for an ordinary businessman like me.  It’s really hard just to stop and be still when your hair is on fire and you’re up to your ass in alligators like most of us are most of our days.  Where is the time for esoterics and spirituality when you have to meet payroll, huh?  (Not to mention dealing with children and ex-wives.)

RilkeThe impulse is to stay in frantic motion, to rapidly respond to a myriad of crises, not to mention the demands of simple, quotidian entrepreneurial process.  (Even in writing this column for Making Rain, I want to speed it up.  It’s like there is a gerbil on a wheel inside me.  My impulse, even as I write this is to cut things short with unseemly glibness, so as to get back to the feverish pinging demands of my 400 emails.)

Yet, my most seminal personal well of meaning, ideation, and renewal comes out of aloneness and quietude.  (German poet Rainer Maria Rilke said simply, “The only journey is the one within.”)  Furthermore, without frequent stops to renew our personal centers, it is so very easy to accede, lemming-like, to popular tropes and fads—to vitiate our own originality.

For example, Susan Cain rails against what she calls “the collaborative tyranny of the New Groupthink.”  She notes the work of Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns, who recently has found that when we take an original stance or a position different from the group’s, we activate something called the amygdala, which is a tiny organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection.  Dr. Berns calls this “the pain of independence.”  In other words, business creativity and original thinking also necessitates a frequent and disciplined being with ourselves.

So, what to do with this conundrum?  Well, there are often opportunities for palliative and meditative grace in our daily lives.   I try to see and grab them.  For example, I was stuck in my dentist’s chair for two hours last Tuesday.  After hearing Dr. Marv’s usual homily on my dental sins (poor brushing, insufficient flossing, erratic checkups, etc.), I was able to accept my captive stillness as a blessing of solitude and personal revery.  Likewise, a train ride to work can be an invaluable opportunity for meditation, particularly when there is an unexpected problem or stoppage.  Lots better than teeth-grinding, silent cussing.  Or, for more serious opportunity with stillness, look no further than the dreaded two weeks of jury duty.  (“No cellphones allowed here, Sir!”)  Though I only had to serve two days recently, I made it a refreshing respite of quietude and reflection.

picasso7Such moments, and many more like them, are gifts, if properly embraced by the “hair on fire” entrepreneur.  (Or anyone else for that matter.)  By looking for these obvious moments we can create extra time for self-centering and restorative personal grace.

Indeed, Pablo Picasso said, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”  Or, to quote Rilke again, “Love your solitude and bear with sweet lamentation the suffering it causes you….Rejoice in your growth, in which you naturally can take no one with you, and be kind to those who remain behind.”  (Letters to a Young Poet, 1908)

Thank you Pablo and Rainer Maria.

Comments 10 Comments »

Corporate Rain International on Facebook