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Posts Tagged “Claremont Graduate University”

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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Anyone who follows this blog knows my love for words.  Here’s one:  Eudaimonia.  It roughly means happiness or wellness, but the more accurate meaning is “human flourishing,” according to Wikipedia.  It describes a state of centering and contentment when your life matters because it is lived meaningfully well.

One of the great unacknowledged rewards of establishing your own company is the chance to create a personal eudaimonia.  In other words, a spiritual space that combines the earning of filthy lucre and accumulating worldly goods with the ineffable, elusive coinage of meaning.


I have personally found this is emphatically not an either/or proposition.  In fact the reality is that most of the great small businessmen and women I know intuitively combine the two.  They are not immiscible.  Really selfish entrepreneurs (like me) do not live by Michael Douglas famous mantra in Wall Street, “Greed is good.”  No.  Quite the opposite.  Being good is simply the selfish thing to do.  In fact, “Good is greed.”  By your works ye will be known—and be hired and succeed.  For me, eudaimonia is partly just a matter of overcoming the inner asshole.

The evincement of business goodness is usually made clear in the simplest and smallest interactions with clients.  People like to think they are good and they want vendors that reflect this truth, this decency.  Certainly the best business folk I know see themselves as citizens of the universe and it shows most effectively in their smallest, most subtle and unthinking acts within their own business, not in big, self-aggrandizing shows of public grandiosity.  Whether they formally profess religion or not, good businessmen are people of lived faith in more than the transient and venal.

My belief, that money is as much a bi-product of goodness as it is of technical business prowess, is obviously highly subjective.  But there are many and compelling new scientific studies that increasingly support this practical philosophy.  I will not go all academic and boring by listing and quoting them encyclopedically, but there was an excellent summation of this research by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic posted recently in the Harvard Business Review online (9:50 AM, April 10, 2013) in an article titled, “Does Money Really Affect Motivation?  A Review of Research.”   And I can never not acknowledge the profound and philosophically seminal work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at Claremont Graduate University on flow and happiness.

While we are all imperfect, sinful beings, we are also viscerally creatures of our own social interconnections.  We unspokenly swim in the knowledge that we are not only our brother’s keeper but we are our brother.  (Note July 23rd’s post to the African concept of Ubuntu.)

desmond-tutuLet me close with a study noted in the NY Times on June 19, 2013 (p. C-5).  The Times reports when economists asked the citizens of a Swiss village if they would accept being designated a nuclear waste storage site, 51% said yes.  When the question was posed again, this time with the promise of a cash reward for living with the waste, the Times reports the yea votes plummeted to 25%.  The money they said, made them feel that they were being bribed to perform a civic duty.  Isn’t that encouraging?

Bishop Desmond Tutu says, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”  Amen, Brother Desmond.

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manlookoutwindow - EntrepreneurshipI’m a lazy guy.  I like staring at walls.  I like revery.

This may not seem to be a very good modus operandi if one wants to stay in business, particularly to judge from recent advice of business gurus like Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In), John Bernard (Business at the Speed of Now), Michael Port (Book Yourself Solid), Gary Vaynerchuk (Crush It), or Keith Ferrazzi (Never Eat Alone).  The very titles of these books bespeak a push-the-limits, go-go, uber aggression that ain’t me.

I like to think.  I long to do less and less and still be effective.  I hate our plethora of pinging, demanding, interruptive new technologies distracting me, demanding my time and eyeballs, offering more so-called efficiencies, and making me feel stupid and inadequate.

Well, I won’t drift into a Luddite screed today, but there is a wonderful column in The Economist (Schumpeter, August 17, 2013, p. 58) that argues eloquently that our biggest business problem is simply trying to do and absorb too damn much.  It points to an epidemic of overwork, particularly in the US, reporting that Americans now labor over 81/2 hours per week more than in 1979 and the CDC reports a third of waking adults get less than six hours sleep at night.  A survey by Good Technology last year reported 80% of respondents worked after leaving the office, 69% cannot go to bed without checking e-mail, and 38% routinely check their work e-mails at the dinner table.


This epidemic of overwork has a clear impact on the creativity of workers.  (And what business work is more dependent than entrepreneurship on creativity and innovative problem solving, the alpha and the omega of disruptive originality.)   Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School, in a study of work and creativity, has reported that workers are more creative on low-pressure days than on high-pressure days when their hair is on fire.

The Economist points to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of Claremont Graduate University, who, in researching a book in the early 1990s, asked 275 creative thinkers if he could interview them.  The Economist relates,

“A third did not bother to reply at all and another third refused to take part.  [Csikszentmihalyi’s own colleague at CGU] Peter Drucker summed up the mood of the refuseniks:  ‘One of the secrets of productivity is to have a very big waste-paper basket to take care of all invitations such as yours.’   Creative people’s most important resource is their time—particularly big chunks of uninterrupted time—and their biggest enemies are those who try to nibble away at it with e-mails or meetings.  Indeed, creative people may be at their most productive when, to the manager’s untutored eye, they appear to be doing nothing.”

reagan43So let us celebrate, just for today, the contrarian strategy of purposeful laziness in business leadership.  Note that when he was head of GE, Jack Welch reported consciously spending an hour a day just “looking out of the window.”  When he was still running Microsoft, Bill Gates used to take two “think weeks” a year when he would lock himself in an isolated cottage.  And Socrates said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

Ronald Reagan certainly believed in not overdoing things.  He said, “It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?”  Thanks, Ronald

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672_creativity-in-life-1053044-flash-1053044-flashI love eccentric people.  I must admit I am partial to hiring them.  And it has almost always paid off for me.

When you can harvest the bounty of original personalities you often have something special indeed, particularly in an executive sales company like my own firm, Corporate Rain International.   Yes, original people are often arrogant, blunt, erratic, and moody.  But they are oh so wonderful.  They offer an extraordinary value to the employer who can stomach them.  For myself, I can not only stomach them, I truly swim in the joy of their company.  I am enlivened by their intuition, their humor,  their integrity, and, frequently, by their love.

Harking back to my experience with Tracy Goss’ Executive Reinvention Program last month  (“Overcoming Success and Transformational Entrepreneurship”), I think her seminar was seeking to imbue some of this originality and passion into very accomplished, but safe, corporate executives and managers, thereby creating transformational and impassioned corporate leaders who have the spirited orneriness and originality of the entrepreneur.

The big problem with hiring creative, independent folks is managing them.  I have a whole company of these folks.  People often ask me how I can manage them as a boss.  Well, the short answer is I basically don’t manage them.  I coax them, I spoil them, I admire them, I love them.  I let them fail and grow—and mostly succeed.  My risk is leavened by the fact that I never hire someone unless I think they are better than me.  I want a company of CEOs.  I only ask them to have a moral core, a commitment to my culture and community, and to follow simple administrative process.  I seldom need to fire my associates.

So how do you engage, utilize and retain these creative, questing souls?  Here are six specific suggestions.

  1. Give creatives meaningful work.  Creatives often think about the bigger issues in life, the forest as well as the trees.  Only give them interesting, challenging projects and  clients.  Give them hard stuff.
  2. Trust them.  Assuming they are ethical and diligent, let them fumfer their own their own way to success. Give them the freedom and flexibility to flourish.  Don’t force them into  undue structure or quotas.  It obviates the very reason you hired them.
  3. Be flexible.  If they excel, let them do it their way.  If they create superb results working five hours a week in their underwear at home, when you are paying them for 30 hours  in the office, who cares?
  4. Give them a sense of ownership.  Ask their opinion and take their advice seriously.  Make them feel valued, an essential part of the organism that is your company.
  5. Don’t expect to motivate them through money.  Of course pay them fairly, but research indicates these out-of-the-norm employees may actually be discouraged and perform  poorly when they are rewarded just for completing a task.  (Note the seminal research by Edward Deci, recorded in Psychological Bulletin, vol. 125, November, 1999.)   And note what that irreplaceable wise man of motivation and happiness, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi of Claremont Graduate University, says in his classic book, Flow:  “The  most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake.”  Indeed.jeff-bezos
  6. As a caveat, do not make pure creatives managers.

When Jeff Bezos hired a search firm to staff up his aborning and disruptive company Amazon, he reportedly was asked what he was looking for in an employee.  Supposedly he responded, “Give me you wackos.”  Amen, Brother Jeff.  Me, too.

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I was belatedly thumbing through my Money Magazine (Oct. 2012) last week, vaguely reading a series of not particularly illuminating articles about money, investing, retirement,etc., when I came across a short interview with Clayton Christensen, HBS professor and management guru (pp.97-100), that made me cry hallelujah.

Christensen is most famous for developing the idea of disruptive innovation, delineated in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma.  However, he has just put out a very personal book that applies his business theories to the finding of integrity and happiness in life.  It’s titled How Will You Measure Your Life?in which he specifically addresses what makes a business life worth living.

He says, “You want to be in a job where you’re motivated.  There’s a theory that was articulated by the late psychologist Frederick Herzberg.  He makes a strong point that there’s a big difference between motivation and incentives.  An incentive is, ‘I will pay you to want what I want.’  Motivation means that you’ve got an engine inside of you that drives you to keep working in order to feel successful and to help the organization be successful.”

Christensen speaks to the increasingly important field of “happinomics,” which posits that beyond a certain minimum salary, people don’t work for money.  They work for satisfaction, happiness, a free life, and other non-quantifiables.  Avatars of this new school of business psychology include Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Claremont Graduate University), Edward Deci (University of Rochester), and Andrew Oswald (University of Warwick-UK), as well as populizer Daniel Pink.

For example, Dr. Oswald states:

“The relevance of economic performance is that it may be a means to an end.  That end is not consumption of beef burgers, or the accumulation of of television sets, not the vanquishing of some high level of interest rates, but rather the enrichment of mankind’s feeling of well-being.  Economic things matter only in so far as they make people happier.”  (Happiness and Economic Performance-Economic Journal-1997)

Entrepreneurship is as much an act of vocational faith as it is one of calculation.  Christensen says most entrepreneurs are looking for personal growth and meaning almost as much as they are looking for financial success.  He is very positive about current entrepreneurial opportunities, saying,  “The great thing about society today is that we are awash in money and opportunity.  With good ideas, a lot more people can succeed than historically we might have thought….If you can’t grow [in your present circumstances], there are all kinds of ways to create new companies and new environments where you can….Most of us end up being successful in a career we never imagined.”

Finally, Christensen recounts turning his current life around by applying his business insights about meaning and happiness to his own recent experience, which, for him, has taken the form of service.

“I’ll give you an analogy from my own life.  Four years ago I had a heart attack.  Then I was discovered to have advanced cancer that put me into chemotherapy. About two years ago I had a stroke.  I had to learn how to speak again one word at a time.  The more I focused on the problems in my life, the more miserable I  was.  And then somehow I realized focusing on myself and my problems wasn’t making me happier.  I started to say,  ‘Every day of my life I need to find somebody else who I could help to become a better person and a happier person.’  Once I started to reorient my life, the happiness returned.”

On the other hand, as Ingrid Bergman put it, “Happiness is as simple as good health and a bad memory,”  Thank you, Ingrid.

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