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Archive for the “Successful Entrepreneurs” Category

og-mandino-books-and-stories-and-written-works-u3Sales writer and business aphorist Og Mandino once said, “It is those who concentrate on but one small thing at a time who advance in this life.”

I have always believed in the business efficacy of teeny, tiny things. While I have my five and ten year plans, I find little details and small daily accomplishments create dependable, steady growth in my business. These smallest of things are also where I create the trope of meaning for my everyday life. I find that both meaning and true success come out of the daily march of quotidian choices and actions, not from ecstatic moments, grandiose strategy, or epic deeds.

I am a great lover of Tolstoy. (Incidentally, in this vacation beach book season, may I recommend War and Peace. Except for a lot of unpronounceable Russian names, it is a page-burning, bodice-ripping, military melodrama of a narrative novel, not the intimidating tome it is often made out to be.) At the end of War and Peace, Tolstoy’s hero, Pierre, discards what he calls his “mental telescope” through which he has been seeing his world, to rather embrace “the ever-changing, eternally great, unfathomable, and infinite life of everyday existence”–a sort of one-day-at-a-time mantra.

In one of his later essays, Tolstoy tells the tale of Russian painter Karl Bryullov correcting one of his students’ sketches. The student exclaims, “Why, you only changed it a tiny bit!” Leo_Tolstoy,_portraitBryullov responds, “Art begins where that ‘tiny bit’ begins.” Tolstoy states: “That saying is strikingly true not only of art but of all life. One may say that true life begins where the ‘tiny bit’ begins, where the infinitesimally small alterations of consciousness happen.”

So with business.

I remember attending a seminar at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. several years ago called “Get Motivated!” My general feeling about these sorts of massive, feel-good, inspirational gatherings is that they are a bunch of hooey. Not wrong in the stated insights, but just shallow and quite temporary in their efficacy. Kinda like a business pep rally. Talks by folks like Terry Bradshaw, Dan Rather, Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani, etc. Not my cup of tea.

However, 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. He also avers the value of small details. For instance, Powell reports writing thank you notes on personalized 4-by-6 inch card. “I write with a fountain pen. Never a Sharpie. Never a ball point pen. A fountain pen.”

It seems to me that Colin Powell is quite on to a real truth here. It’s the little things that set the tone for 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. It creates culture.

3840f08To expand on General Powell’s concern for the small things, I always recommend to my clients at Corporate Rain International that any missive or serious communication they send 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 of my cutting-edge clients enamored of the wonders of tweeting, friending, and linking-in. 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. Without words it says exactly the manner you would represent a client and effectively serve.

Educator and author Lauren Roedy Vaughn writes the following: “Little things, little things, are much more, more important than big things. Big things hit you in the face with their bigness and obscure the little, more important things that really define a life…” Thank you, Lauren.

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dont_call_me_a_sexpert-293x307Sex writer and satirist Cynthia Heimel once said,  “When in doubt, make a fool of yourself.  There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth.”  (When the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’ll Be Me!, Grove/Atlantic Inc., 1996)

I think it helps to be a bit of an idiot if you want to be a successful entrepreneur.  Idiocy is certainly not a skill they generally teach in business school, but given the huge rate of small business failure perhaps they should.

We all naturally gravitate towards playing it safe.  Current business structures are still variations on command-and-control.  I guess they have to be somewhat defensive constructs, built to fend off anarchy and existential business randomness, while creating dependable profit.  Nevertheless, I believe in salubrious chaos and risk.  And a healthy dose of seeming idiocy in the business process helps keep one weighted toward the seminal and the cutting-edge.

Perhaps my view on this is formed in part by the fact that I was an actor for many years before becoming a businessman.  The acting profession tends to lend itself to many good stories.  Here’s one.

ASNN0112M-280_977614a friend of mine, Paul, was playing the role of “Jamie Tyrone,” the older son in Eugene O’Neill‘s Long Day’s Journey Into Nightstarring Rip Torn.  Rehearsals had gone very well for my friend, but, with two weeks left in the rehearsal process, Paul felt he had fully realized his character and was ready to open.  His quandary was what to do with himself for the last two weeks of rehearsal, so he went to Rip Torn and asked him what he would do with this actor’s conundrum.  Paul recounts that Rip Torn thought it over for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Fuck it up.”

Exactly.  He was saying let go of the safe, even perfect, to grasp for more.  Idiotic, but wise.

Best selling author Paul B. Brown wrote an article in Forbes last year titled “Want To Build A Successful Company?  Give Up Control.”  (Forbes Online, 9/8/13, 7:00 AM) Accepting that I am a fool helps me appropriately give up control every day.  Brown offers four simple but compelling reasons to not overly control your company.  To paraphrase Brown,

  1. Your business won’t grow bigger than you (the owner/CEO) can handle.
  2. With control you lose corporate flexibility.  Nothing moves fast when everything must be green-lighted by you.
  3. You don’t encourage the maximization of your employee’s gifts and passion when tightly riding herd on them.
  4. It is exhausting.

samuel_goldwynA cultivated idiocy is helpful in keeping down the inner Attila the Hun.  For me, awareness of my inner idiot keeps me free and loose and mindful.  It reminds me to always be open to the new and respect the non-rational.  It encourages a useful, practical business humility that is still serious, but doesn’t take itself seriously.  It allows one to be a fool and encourages others to be fools with you.  Indeed, to “Fuck it up,” as Rip Torn so eloquently suggests.  It’s a reminder that we are ultimately not in charge of life, but rather merely surfers and dust motes riding a cosmic maelstrom ultimately beyond our ken.  It makes business fun and silly and a thing of joy, not just a grim automaton for creating lucre and power and control.

As producer Samuel Goldwyn put it, “Give me a smart idiot over a stupid genius any day.”  Thanks, Sam.

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