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Posts Tagged “Flow”

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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Of late I have become increasingly convinced that most of the business schools in America should be burned to the ground and the Plains of Carthage should be planted with salt where once they stood, especially those institutions (most) which claim to teach entrepreneurship.

019bbdd9-bfc5-4eb3-b94e-010b7e036d37That said, admittedly, it is easier to cast a caterwauling calumny on our current business pedagogy than to come up with a positive replacement. Mea culpa, to be sure.

So how do you truly teach leadership and visionary process in a world of business change moving at the speed of light-a business world unmoored to any real communal and universal verities? How do you teach originality and personal vision? How do you teach passion for freedom? How do you teach the personal courage to fiercely fail (and even fail multiple times?) How do you learn to slay the dragon of self-doubt each day and maintain faith that you can create something out of nothing? How do you teach all that and the many other non-quantitative intuitions that constitute the foundation of creative business? How does one learn how to bring love and meaning, as well as profit to entrepreneurship?

Well, I was in Austin, Texas last week and came across a remarkable new school of entrepreneurship called the Khabele + Strong Incubator, founded by Michael Strong and Khotso Khabele, both men well-known, passionate educators out of Harvard. (Strong-Philosophy, Khabele-MBA) The school is bankrolled by John Mackey (Whole Foods), Douglas Drane (HPT Development), and other prominent businessmen with the intent to create a new kind of prep school devoted to creating conscious business leaders. The school incorporates a Socratic liberal arts educational program with a daily opportunity to work directly with the most cutting-edge entrepreneurs, business leaders, design firms, and technologists in Austin. And when ready, with angel investors. Just starting its second year, the school has more than doubled its enrollees, who come from all over the world. It covers grades 6 through 12.

Michael-StrongMichael Strong is a warm acquaintance of mine and a longtime fellow-traveler concerning the current non-efficacy of business education for entrepreneurship. His Socratic Practice work has been endorsed by a former National Teacher of the Year (Elaine Griffins) and by a recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Award Grant (Deborah Meier). He is the author of The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice, which has been widely praised by the leading experts in brain-based learning and learnable intelligence. Strong also co-founded FLOW (with John Mackey) out of which several important nonprofits were generated. To wit, Conscious Capitalism, Peace Through Commerce, and Radical Social Entrepreneurs.

Michael’s mission is to unleash waves of conscious entrepreneurs through creating a unique environment of love, inspiration, and reverence for the world. The goal is to create human beings who are lifelong learners eager to understand all aspects of the world-students quick to identify business opportunity in a world of coruscating disruption.

Lest you think Strong is merely an impractical, hippy-dippy granola-eating dreamer, it is to be noted that, already in their first year, Khabele Strong students’ SAT scores have increased to more than three times the prep course average. Their incubator ensures that young people are well positioned for college admissions and academia with a potent orientation toward autodidactism. Furthermore, they expressly are seeking to train up men and women with inner integrity and optimal self-knowledge, as well as scholars with the academic tools of the liberal arts. They expressly seek to mold entrepreneurs who can remain spiritually and physically healthy and confident as they navigate uncertain times, creating imaginative human beings who can transcend the fear-based reactivity that often leads to unconscious, damaging decisions.

The Khabele + Strong Incubator School intends to build thinkers and doers who are individual bastions of imagination and the new. Their teaching emphasizes three strands of personal growth for their students: Authentic Leadership, Personal Development, and Autodidacticism. (I personally find disciplined skills in the latter particularly crucial to business health.)

Jim-rohn-PASSES-AWAYI agree with the school’s ideals and it gives me some hope for a truly new template in teaching entrepreneurship. Michael Strong and Khotso Khabele are embarked on a noble educational experiment that is producing some interesting early results. They clearly posit a promising approach to both education and business development. Like all starting ventures it seems an impossible dream initially-almost an act of madness. Much like an entrepreneurial company, it can only achieve a miracle one day at a time- like those of us who try to create a creative business where nothing existed before.

Jim Rohn, famed entrepreneur and author of 7 Strategies for Wealth & Happiness, once said, “Formal education will make you a living: Self education will make you a fortune.” I think Strong and Khabele would agree.

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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, et.al. 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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