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Posts Tagged “Steve Jobs”

Quartz, the cutting-edge NY digital news outlet, caught my eye last week (March 21, 2017) with this headline: “IBM, Remote Work Pioneer, Is Calling Thousands of Employees back to the office.”

This is a big change in direction for Big Blue. As recently as 2009, IBM had 40% of its hirelings working from home.

In fact, a number of companies have quietly begun shifting their home-based associates back to their corporate offices. This trend began to emerge publicly with Marissa Mayer’s startling decision to end Yahoo’s remote work policy back in 2013. Facebook now offers a $10,000 bonus to employees who live close to their office, and many other companies, like Best Buy and Reddit, no longer allow work from home. By September of this year IBM’s over 5,500 marketing people will have to work from physical offices in one of seven central locations: San Francisco, New York, Austin, Armonk, Boston, Atlanta, or Raleigh. Remote work will no longer be an option. (IBM already applies this policy to departments like security, procurement, most of IT, Watson, Watson Health, cloud development, and artificial intelligence.) Companies increasingly feel collaboration, creativity, and community are better fostered in a central office.

As an early successful adopter of the virtual office model with my first entrepreneurial firm, Corporate Rain, in the 1990s, I have always thought “What’s not to like?” After all, you save on office rent, office expenses, and commuting. And research indicates that remote workers are more productive and put in more hours than their office-based kindred. Also, for many people, it has been a partial solution to the work-life balance problem. According to the Gallop Poll, 25% of all American workers are presently laboring remotely.

That said, however, I am increasingly coming to a sense that for many companies, particularly large ones but also some of the small ones, there is a compelling rationale to centrally co-locate their office communities again.

For example, Best Buy reported that productivity had an average increase of 35% in departments that shifted to employees working whenever and wherever they wanted. However, there is a different set of benefits that ensue from central offices–and most of these benefits center around creativity and innovation.

Note John Sullivan, professor of management at San Francisco State University, a specialist in HR strategy–again quoting from Quartz. Sullivan says, “It turns out the value of innovation is so strong it trumps any productivity gain….[Remote work] was a great strategy for the 90s but not for 2015.”

Certainly established companies are searching for how to solve the conundrum of creativity and how to come up with the next transformational eureka out of their behemothic institutions.

They long to infuse entrepreneurial passion and disruptive imagination into their titanic old-line firms. Their hidebound strategies aren’t working, therefore renewed office centralization is increasingly favored as a tool to help create a more generative, communal, cohesive business ambience–hopefully one more like the entrepreneurial laboratory.

Jeff Smith, IBM’s CIO, advocates agile management based around “squads”. He says “…leaders have to be with the squads and the squads have to be in a location.”

There increasingly is a valuation of what many call “the watercooler effect.” (Steve Jobs certainly appreciated the value of how chance meetings and accidental conversations can lead to disruptive ideas.) Note a recent study by Kevin Rickman of George Mason University and Michael Pratt of Boston College, who found that increased offsite work can have very negative effects on the office environment. Mason and Pratt state: “If the office is going to become a collection of employees not working together, it essentially becomes no different than a coffee shop (though perhaps with better internet and worse coffee.).” That may be a bit overstated, but perhaps reflective of the most au courant new HR thinking.

When asked what percentage of Google’s workers telecommute, Patric Pichette, then CFO said, “Our answer is: As few as possible.”

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Sales guru Zig Ziegler said the following: “You cannot climb the ladder of success in the costume of failure.”

In this most miserable of all U.S. political seasons, I have been pleasantly surprised by only one thing: Hillary Clinton’s sartorial remake. Have you noticed?

screen-shot-2011-10-25-at-12-52-07-pmTo my mind Clinton has always seemed to me the very personification of un-style, the person for whom the word “frump” was surely invented. But, lo and behold, I must report that, of late, I am actually enjoying her look. Her outfits sharpen my focus on hearing what she says. They make her seem a bit less old-fashioned, a bit more au courant and sharp.

Clinton’s long-time political supporter Anna Wintour of Vogue Magazine apparently took Hillary in hand earlier this year and it bloody well shows. New York Magazine reports, “On certain occasions, Wintour has approached designers to procure outfits for Clinton.” And Washington D.C.-based political style blogger Christina Logothetis says, “She is looking much more pulled together. It was a necessary refresh.”

I don’t know a damn thing about fashion, but I don’t think clothes get their due–either from politicians or business people. Actually, I think both Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Clinton are doing a pretty good job defining themselves stylistically. The Boston Globe notes that Trump wears $7,000 Brioni suits and power ties which help him visually define himself as strong and stable. And it is not now uncommon to see Clinton wearing suits costing between $10,000 and $15,000. Clinton walks a fine line between her new cutting-edge fashion look and a need to project a common touch and she does it well, with a little help from Wintour.

Hillary’s fashion rebranding reminds me of the importance of what we wear as businesspeople. I just don’t think entrepreneurs pay enough attention to attire. Call me shallow.

1020We spend large sums on pr, marketing, logos, web design, and advertising to create the apt image for our firms, to define our companies with clarity and eye-catching accuracy, but we often ignore the opportunities for self-definition offered by our attire.

Research has proved many times over that most of us are judged and summed-up by those we meet well before we utter a single word–from the way we stand to the way we shake hands. (Note the recent writing of Carol Goman and Amy Cuddy.) Our clothes also send unspoken messages, intended or not, so why not consistently control the message sent? And we don’t need Anna Wintour styling us to accomplish this.

One simple example of this is Steve Jobs, who wore only black turtlenecks. It was the perfect way for Jobs to say a great deal about who he was and the simple, intuitive, user-friendly nature of Apple. New York designer Rachel Zoe notes that “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.

It doesn’t necessarily cost a lot of money to project excellence or a specific image, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump aside. It just requires some quiet introspection as to who you are and what you want to be seen as.

205471f3140d4e95737d447503a36a35ad2919edDefining yourself sartorially has the added benefit of knowing you are connecting your insides with your outside. You feel more authentic. In an article in Harvard Business Review, Dr. Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg Business School at Northwestern points out that “Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state”–a state Galinsky calls “enclothed cognition.” (If you want to read more on this subject try my Inc. Magazine column of 4/6/15 entitled “What You Wear: It’s Kind Of Who You Are.”)

As Ralph Lauren puts it, “Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It’s about something else that comes from within you.” Thank you, Ralph Lauren.

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411bLjUOvdL._UX250_I found this line in a recent John Grisham best seller.  “Prisons are fascinating places, especially when the inmates are educated white-collar types.”

The distance between the criminal and the successful entrepreneur is not so very far.  We both intuitively operate out-of-the-box with an instinct for not accepting the status quo.  We both are not inclined to accept the tyranny of the given.  We both intuitively color outside the lines.

Note the work of Bill McCarthy (UC Davis) and John Hagan (Northwestern) who report that people who are the most successful at crime have a strong desire to succeed, to take risk and to live by their own rules.  Hmm.  Sounds very much like most driven entrepreneurs.

I recently met a wonderful man named Jeff Grant who heads up an organization in Connecticut called the Progressive Prison Project, a non-profit dedicated to guiding and supporting business owners and white-collar executives. who have been accused of, convicted of, or been incarcerated for crimes ranging from DUI to financially motivated felonies.

Jeff Grant feels entrepreneurs, single-practitioners, DBAs, and small businessmen increasingly face exceptional dangers of drifting into damaging legal problems and even incarceration for a variety of reasons.

  1. Entrepreneurs lack the infrastructure resources to keep abreast with the increasingly complicated and onerous regulatory load emanating from all levels of government.  They are  overwhelmed with putting out constant fires in their real business. They have neither time or nor the inclination to spend days boning up on staying exactly on the right side ofevolving law.
  2. Furthermore, entrepreneurs frequently don’t even have a peer-level partner to challenge them on their interpretation and/or ignorance of compliance issues.  It becomes all too easy to carelessly cut corners.
  3. The combination of daily pressure and aloneness may make it tempting to make a deal with the devil—a deal often abetted by drugs or alcohol or sex, which fuzz over and break down a  man or woman’s moral center.  More than in most professions, entrepreneurs may be tempted to take ethical risks when bills threaten to overwhelm.
  4. Entrepreneurs often have big egos and suffer from hubris.  When they do not have the tools or knowledge for compliance, it is hard for them to admit it.  They (we) can suffer from  grandiosity.  We may begin to exaggerate, to lie, to puff ourselves up.  We sometimes don’t want to admit a core fear that we may not be the master of the universe, that we are not Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, or Mark Cuban.  Not even remotely.  We may begin to exaggerate, to lie, to puff ourselves up.
  5. Entrepreneurs are dreamers who can drift into not living in the rigorous reality of what their life actually is.

JeffGrantNewHeadShotJeff Grant can speak with authority on this subject.   He spent 14 months in a federal prison for a financially motivated crime stemming from bad decisions made under the dual influence of prescription drugs and financial pressure.

Grant headed a highly successful legal practice in Westchester County, New York.  The Greenwich Sentinel reports Grant as saying, “In the course of rehabilitating an [achilles heel] injury, I got hooked on prescription narcotics.  Doctors were more than happy to continue to prescribe them to me, and I took them for about ten years.”

Grant gradually lost control of his firm and eventually couldn’t meet payroll—at which point he made up the shortfall by dipping into client escrow funds.  He lost his company, his marriage, his money, his respected position in the community, his freedom.

What he found in prison was that there was little or no support for small businessmen like himself.  His present wife and Co-Founder of the Progressive Prison Project, Lynn Springer, puts it this way:

“Typically in the upper-middle class, where white collar criminals tend to come from, the husband has been the bread winner.  Generally, these are people who are considered to be very well off.  All of a sudden, all of their assets may have been seized by the SEC.  They don’t know how they are going to buy food, how they are going to heat their home, how they are going to put gas in their car.”  (The Greenwich Sentinel)

Furthermore, when Grant came out of prison he had to deal with what he calls the “schadenfreude” of many folks who took a closet joy in seeing the mighty fall.  Grant thinks there is an ecosystem problem in our society in which the rich person and the celebrity are both adored and virulently hated, and there is little sympathy, governmental or societal, for the fallen entrepreneur, who many see as a stand-in for the greedy 1%.

Grant speaks with power out of his own humiliation and suffering.  He has the well-earned authority of a deeply humbled man.  After his release from prison he got an M. Div. degree from Union Theological Seminary and founded the Progressive Prison Project, which is the first ministry in the U.S. created to provide support and counseling to individuals and families with white-collar and other non-violent incarceration issues. Der Amerikanische Priester haelt Vortraege und Seminarien in der Elisabethenkirche ab. Photo Stephanie Grell(For further information on Jeff Grant try  Also related to this issue check out my Inc. column of last year titled Criminals and Entrepreneurs.)

Robert Rohr, in his excellent book on addiction, Breathing Under Water, says, “People who fail to do it right, by even their own definition right, are those who often break through to enlightenment and compassion.”  Like Jeff Grant.  Thank you, Robert Rohr.

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urlF. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “There are no second acts in American lives.” I hate this quote. Because it is wrong.

I spend as much time as I can mentoring young entrepreneurs. I so admire them. I learn so much from them. They are the quintessential existential heroes of modern business life. And yet…

And yet I find myself often, and increasingly, put off by a growing trope of coldness among many of our newer class of young entrepreneurial strivers. Even in their publicly bruited avowals of pro bono concern for the future of mankind, there seems somehow an unattached sense of being personally outside humanity–above humanity more than part of it. Full of a hipness and knowing intelligence that stands with irony outside the ring of the benighted mass of fellow souls who have fucked up so many things in this world. Souls like me.

Back in February, Rich Karlgaard wrote an interesting column titled “Late Bloomers are in Peril” for Forbes. He noted that American culture is increasingly put off by a new class of academic STEM hero personified by folks like Mark Zuckerberg. Karlgaard feels that Silcon Valley is morphing into Algorithmic Valley, a spiritually barren location that is increasingly hostile to the eccentric inventor and the late blooming oddball who does not necessarily come from the world of perfect SAT scores and an impeccable academic provenance at Stanford, MIT, Cal Tech or Harvard.

Rich_Karlgaard_2Karlgaard states, “…today’s technology business heroes are so freakishly smart and young they don’t inspire the rest of us. It’s worth asking why. My guess: For decades Silicon Valley had among its role models late bloomers and tinkerers. For instance, Bill Hewlett barely got into college; Steve Jobs and Bill Gates dropped out of college; Andy Grove went to City College of New York.” However, our new dominant entrepreneurial elite do not come from the same places as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, or Thomas Alva Edison.

The new entrepreneur Karlgaard is talking about is a prodigy who aces the SATs, graduates from Stanford at 20, starts a company, raises millions and sells out to Apple or Google in two years. That’s who VCs are funding, not the out-of-the-box, scarred by life, autodidactic late bloomers. Karlgaard avers that this late bloomer is getting crowded out. He notes the late bloomer “is vanishing in the American imagination, especially with regards to business, and, in particular, technology. America is in danger of losing a valuable narrative about itself, and the consequences are not trivial.”

In fact, this should be a wonderful age for the ripening insights of the late bloomer. After all, 60 is truly the new 40 health wise, and the slow-growing virtues of empathic leadership are increasingly being recognized as a palliative to the growing unease with traditional command and control corporate leadership. Skills of empathy and elasticity come with age and hard knocks– qualities possessed in spades by late bloomers.

Elkhonon Goldberg, in The Wisdom Paradox (2006), notes that, “While the capability of the brain does indeed diminish with age, this deterioration is more than compensated for by gifts of intuition, empathy, and pattern recognition….What I have lost with age in my capacity for hard mental work, I seem to have gained in my capacity for instantaneous, almost unfairly easy insight.”

In other words, there is often a sly innate wisdom to the late-blooming entrepreneur that can neither be taught nor quantified.

My father was an indefatigable NY Yankees fan and he loved Joe Dimaggio, who was noted as a great center fielder. My father related to me that in Joe’s last year he didn’t have a whole hell of a lot left in his arm, which had always been a great intimidator of base runners. He figured he had about one good throw in him per game. So every night his last year, early in the game, after a routine fly out, he would put everything he had into a simple throw back into the infield. 14294619952_3d9ff00146This continued to intimidate runners, even though, for the life of him, he couldn’t repeat the feat again in that game. That is what I mean by the sly wisdom of age. It is a special gift offered by entrepreneurial late bloomers.

Poet Maya Angelou has these wonderful few words for the late bloomer. She says, “The Fifties are everything you’ve been meaning to be.” Thank you, Maya.

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awesome-in-purple-hiAwesome.  I would advise any entrepreneur who aspires to be taken more seriously to eliminate this ubiquitous word from her vocabulary. describes “awesome” as “something Americans use to describe everything.”  When something describes everything, it describes nothing.

I just got back from Inc. Magazine’s GrowCo convention in Nashville.  Lots of useful, enjoyable, wonderful stuff there, as always, but I was stunned at how almost every speech by every presenter and almost every overheard or casual conversation was peppered with this unfortunate word:  Awesome.  It was inescapable, like a blanket of verbal kudzu choking out the variegated richness of the English language—so omnipresent it seemed like an acceptable substitute for just about any word at all.  Awesome.  Awesome.  Awesome.  Yeah, really awesome, man.  It’s like a lingua franca of evanescent mush, a meme of meaninglessness masquerading as communication and cool.

Fact.  People in Shakespeare’s time had working vocabularies of around 54,000 words.  They actually talked like characters in Shakespeare’s plays.  The working vocabulary of the average American is 3,000 words and, I suspect, declining.

So, is “awesomeness” the beginning of the end for nuanced, accurate business communication?  Does it render exact words irrelevant, mute, and dead?  Does the practicing and practical entrepreneur even need words and vocabulary to be awesome?

heidegger426x536_2877455aWell, yes.  For innovation and thinking we absolutely need words.  As German philosopher Martin Heidegger put it, “Language is the house of being.”  There is no being outside of language.  Without words we are grunting our way to Gomorrah.  The more impoverished our language, the less our ability to be innovative, growing, effective human beings.  As Steve Jobs memorably put it about his own entrepreneurial company, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough.  It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”

Perhaps one of the reasons business persons default to the use of “awesome” for their writing and conversations may be that they have not been trained in language as an essential business skill.  Arthur Levitt, former Charman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Bloomberg commentator, has been on a jihad about business language and communication.  He calls much of business speech and business writing “incomprehensible.”  He states,  “[Business communication] lacks color and nuance, and it’s not terribly interesting to read.”

I believe it is utterly tragic that STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) curriculum seems to be routing the liberal arts—English, history, philosophy, psychology, et. al.  I understand that students want to have a good immediate job when they graduate, but that is short term thinking.  Especially for incipient entrepreneurs and business leaders.  Even engineers, coders, and quants need words for genuine thinking.  Without the right word and the right use of words there can be no right thinking; there can be no accurate perception; there can be no exactitude.  Words give a context, a reality, a structure for logic, innovation, and our “eureka” moments.  Language creates a long-term ability to understand and cope with a brave new world moving and changing at the speed of light.  It gives us a context to see the forest, as well as the trees.

678px-Steve_Jobs_Headshot_2010-CROP2So, the use of “awesome” as a default word for just about everything is a killer of business  accuracy and clarity.  It bespeaks imprecision, inaccuracy, comfort with non-communication, and impoverishment of imagination.  “Awesome” is not cool.  It is not outre.  It is not out-of-the-box.  It is mindless, shallow, slothful, ersatz, and, ultimately, disrespectful of anyone you are speaking to.  I would suggest it is a good word for any entrepreneur to shake from her sandals.

Words are not irrelevant in a post-Jetsons world.  They are ever illuminating.  They are necessary.  They are the house of the truth of being.  They are grandiloquent, magnificent, magical, stupendous, fabulous, unbelievable, and extraordinary.  These words have meaning.  Awesome does not.

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