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Posts Tagged “NY Times”

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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Suit1(1)The Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus states, “Know first who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.”

I don’t think entrepreneurs pay enough attention to their attire. Call me shallow.

Potential clients and customers make quick assumptions about you when you enter a room before you say a word.  Your clothes can make an eloquent statement about who you are and what you represent before you open your mouth.

There is a famous German novella I read in college called Kleider Machen Leute by Gottfried Keller.  (It is usually translated as Clothes Make the Man.)  It’s about a poor tailor who takes a coach journey and, through an odd set of circumstances, he’s dressed in a fur trimmed cloak much above his station in life and his real ability to pay for.  He is mistaken for a rich man and the results of this misidentity and various people’s reactions guide the tale.

Most of us spend large amounts on branding, marketing, and advertising to create the apt image for our firms.  Yet it constantly amazes me how little thought owners give to how we present ourselves sartorially.  In fact, it can be an inexpensive way of personal branding.

epictetusConsider Steve Jobs.  He wore black turtlenecks.  This said a great deal about who he was and the user-friendly elegance of his products.  It spoke spartan simplicity.  He was who he was.  He was sincere, direct, essential, serious.

Or take my own company, Corporate Rain International.  Clients use us to initiate discrete, high-end business with c-suite people.  I need to look like I belong.  I want to create the visual assurance of stability and dependability.  I invest in expensive, highly-tailored suits and cultivate the look of a banker or a white shoe lawyer.  (The truth is I’m an old hippie who has lived a quite bohemian, unbusinessmanish life.)

Furthermore, your clothes often affect your own state of mind, your internal identity.  There was an interesting article a couple of years ago in the NY Times  (4/4/12, Sandre Blakeslee) entitled “Mind Games:  Sometimes a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat.”  The article cited a study by Adam D. Galinsky of the Kellogg School at Northwestern concerning enclothed cognition:  the effects of clothing on the cognitive process.  Dr. Galinsky states, “Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state.”

For example, in one of Dr. Galinsky’s experiments, when a subject wears a white coat that he believes belongs to a doctor, his ability to pay attention increases sharply.  But if he wears the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, he will not show improvement.  So our clothes tell ourselves who we are as well as other people.  They define us for other people, but they also define us for ourselves and can effect our inner efficaciousness.

Unknown_Photographer_Gottfried_Keller_1870You don’t need to hire a personal stylist or to be a fashion plate to accomplish inner and outer personal branding.  You just need to think about it a little.  It’s mostly common sense. If you sell beer, you may want to dress like a guy comfortable in a bar.  If it serves your image to wear t-shirts, wear t-shirts.  If it serves you to be elegant, be elegant.  (I’m sure Anna Wintour spends extensive time each morning ensuring her personal clothes visually reinforce her image of fashion leadership as editor of Vogue Magazine.)  If it serves you to dress in drag, by all means, dress in drag.

As Shakespeare says in Hamlet,  “The apparel oft proclaims the man.”

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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.

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I bloody hate networking.  I really do.  I really hate the whole idea of networking.

Much of networking just seems to smack of manipulation and insincerity.  When I hear people talking about networkingthe verbiage always seems undergirded with an assumption of venality and calculation.  And that includes those whose networking philosophy is “you get by giving.”  Even that philosophy of networking has the root assumption of giving as ultimately a manipulation to get what you want, rather than real generosity of spirit.

1311684I ask myself if my discomfort with networking is because I’m insecure with it.  Kinda like I was when I was lousy at picking up girls in bars in my younger years.  Yet, while I’ll be the first to admit my deep-seated existential uncertainty about myself and just about everything else, my friends and business colleagues consider me an excellent networker.  Hah!  Go figure.

My own general feeling is that most networking is a distracting, energy vitiating waste of time.  There is only one form of networking that makes sense to me and that is networking with peers—networking with fellow CEOs, owners, seekers, and entrepreneurs, hopefully through relaxed, open-ended personal conversations that allow development of relationship in a general atmosphere of collegiality.

Quality, not quantity, is the only comfortable solution to my personal networking conundrum.  If that means I only connect with one person at an event, well great.  As long as something authentic and real happens in the limited moment in time.

I sure feel mightily uncomfortable when I work into a popular networking event where everyone seems “on”—smiles are a little too bright, energy is a little too high, darting glances are a little too hungry.  I find the atmosphere exhausting, much like the heightened tension and perfervid excitement ambient in a Vegas casino.  Not that I don’t want to connect with appropriate people and drum up some business.  I do.  It’s just that I want to find real, appropriate co-laborers in the vineyard of the Lord, so to speak.  I just don’t like being part of a roomful of speed daters.

For example, Inc. Magazine puts on two superb conventions each year for small businesspersons and entrepreneurs.  I try to attend both events, particularly GrowCo,  yet even at these excellent Inc. events, where I have numerous acquaintances, I rally have to steal away every afternoon to recharge and re-center for at least a couple of hours.  To remind myself who I really am and re-inhabit my own life.

For me frenetic, frequent, voluminous communication doesn’t equate to thoughtful and effective communication.  What I am looking for is real connection.  Isn’t everyone?  Quantity of conversation cannot substitute for quality of conversation.

Greg McKeown, the author of NY Times bestseller Essentialism, had an excellent piece in the Harvard Business Review online January, 22, 2015 titled, “99% of Networking Is a Waste of Time.”  It comes out of a series of interviews McKeon did with venture capitalist and entrepreneur Rich Stromback, who he calls “Mr. Davos” and who is widely respected for his international networking skills.  Stromback is  truly a man after my own heart.

160px-RichStrombackBriefly, here are five pieces of advice I like from Mr. Stromback, as reported by McKeon.

1.  Don’t care about your first impression.  Networkers just get this wrong.  Stromback says they “try to look right and sound right and end up being completely forgettable.”
2.  99% of any networking event is a waste of time.  The quality of any event is not it’s content but the wisdom of the gathered attendees themselves.
3.  Sleep from 4-8 PM every day.  It works for me.  It keeps you fresh and centered for real interactions at appropriate venues and gatherings.  You don’t need to meet everyone.
4.  The key to networking is to stop networking.   Go with the flow and spend time with who you enjoy.
5.  You are not required to go to big name parties.  Says Stromback, “…you need to know where appropriate people will be.  For example, one year I told someone ‘Don’t go to the Bill Gates party this year.’  And I told him, ‘Because no one will be there.’  He went and couldn’t believe I knew ahead of time.”  So networking is about knowing where to be and when and under what conducive circumstances.  (For example, I absolutely abhor and avoid very loud party events.  Useless).

For me, real networking is simply a life-long process of staying true to yourself and having the courage to consistently present your authentic self to the world.  If you do that the right people will find you.  That I believe.  Call it Tim’s Karmic Law For Networking.  But there is really no silver bullet for networking efficacy.  It takes patience, effort, sincerity, and time.

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Donna-colfer-cycle-of-sufferingFriedrich Nietsche famously said that to live was to suffer.  As  small businessmen and women, most of us have had to learn to work through personal business suffering and I believe it is a specific and important resource that can be and needs to be absorbed and creatively integrated into every entrepreneur’s psyche for success.

We entrepreneurs and small business folk have increasingly come to understand the role of failure, even multiple failure, in our success.  Entrepreneurial failure has even become a “back-door” brag for some.  (Note FailCon, a series of conferences where successful tech movers and shakers now share stories of their defeats.)

But the real value of failure is not that it may lead to entrepreneurial success, happiness, and freedom, though it can and does.  No.  The real gift of failure is learning the creativity, freedom, and centering that is released by any act of authentic suffering which underlies the many failures of most of us—of business, of strategy, of leadership, of faith, etc.  It is a lonely and autodidactic process.

British-born cross-cultural expert and essayist Pico Iyer wrote a lovely piece in the NY Times Review last year (September 7, 2013) titled The Value of Suffering.  He says the following:

“Wise men in every tradition tell us that suffering brings clarity, illumination; for the Buddha, suffering is the first rule of life, and insofar as some of it arises from our own wrongheadedness—our cherishing of self—we have the cure for it within….I once met a Zen-trained painter in Japan, in his 90s, who told me that suffering is a privilege, it moves us toward thinking about essential things and shakes us out of shortsighted complacency: when he was a boy, he said it was believed you should pay for suffering, it proves such a hidden blessing.”

logo(Jess Bruder of Inc. Magazine also wrote an excellent article (September, Inc. Magazine, 2013) about this subject called The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship.  Here’s a link, if interested.)

I am not a masochist.  (Well, maybe I am…but that’s between me and my therapist.)  There is nothing fundamentally ennobling about failure.  Sometimes it’s just a bummer we need to quickly shake from our sandals.  But what suffering does is deepen our beings to levels transcending failure.  Levels that open us to the New—to soulfulness, to creativity, to richer human and scientific truth and, dare I say it, to God.  Indeed, suffering shakes our, perhaps necessary yet limiting, hubris, and, more, rearranges the very molecules of our personal capitalist process.  One might say all of human progress is in man’s cumulative ability to somehow keep failing “up.”

We entrepreneurs are not in charge of our suffering.  It may tip-toe in on the little cat’s feet of loneliness and inner-emptiness.  Or with all the bombast and humiliation of a public bankruptcy.  But our specific experiences of suffering (and failure is the most prominent form of it for the entrepreneur) also release true primordial passions that are the essence of business creativity.

The_Wizard_of_Oz_Bert_Lahr_1939The hardest thing for most of us is to find the courage to muddle through our morasses of suffering, to a quiet sea of new beginnings.  I’ve always thought simple courage, the courage to persist, was the key quality for most of us who attempt to create a business.

We live in a balkanized world, increasingly without intrinsic societal institutions for creating value.  One of the great gifts open to the entrepreneur in such an anomic society is to create her/his own center of of cultural meaning and personal value in a business entity.  But it takes willingness to suffer.  It takes soul courage.

As The Cowardly Lion sings in the movie of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, “What makes a king out of a slave?  Courage!”  Indeed.  Thank you, L. Frank Baum.

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