Smart People Might Be Killing Your Strategy

This is a Guest blog post from Mark Haas, CEO of the Association for Enterprise Growth. He helps boards and executives create powerful strategies to help them make decisions with greater confidence, impact and pride.

 

Fotolia_60434083_SCorporate restructuring, M&A, competitive intelligence, strategy, new product development, and process reengineering.   One thing required for success that they all share is the need for the best and brightest. The smartest person in the room. World class minds to solve world class problems. Top grads from the best schools.

I disagree. While intellect has its place in business, being smart is no replacement for creativity, agility, innovation or insight. Yes, sometimes these capabilities are rolled into one person, but rarely.  Several decades helping clients create strategy has led to some insight into where smart is a help and where it can be deadly.

You wouldn’t want only the “smartest” surgeons, engineers, artists or teachers wholly responsible for your welfare. You’d want the right team of individuals, each bringing appropriate skills for the task. Creativity is about being able to see alternatives. Agility requires anticipation. Innovation is more about flawless execution than the up-front ideas. Insight needs, well, a lot more than intellectual horsepower.

The Risks From Being Smart

Being smart has a huge downside for humans. It derives from how we were raised, trained, rewarded and placed in corporations. As children, most of us were rewarded for being on time, orderly and respectful of adult norms. In school, being smart was equated with getting the “right” answer, quickly. Most professions promote a body of knowledge that implies adherence to widely accepted professional standards. Our advancement in most business settings is a result of knowing the right people, performing well on tasks and knowing the rules of promotion. All this seems appropriate because it is so familiar.

In strategy formation, high intellect can be a hindrance; in a team of only “the smartest of the smart,” it can be a disaster. Especially in an increasingly VUCA world, there is no single answer and the first answer is often not the best answer. For the highly intelligent person, the learned (both personally and socially) rigidity and linearity of problem solving to reach an elegant, perfect solution gets in the way of seeing the possibilities of which powerful strategies are made.

Use Smart, But Leverage It

The solution is not to ban smart people from the strategy team. Rather, recognize that the skills you need for a powerful strategy team go far beyond intellect. A high-horsepower car engine is great in theory but is useless without fuel injectors, cooling system and brakes. Fill your team with staff (this also applies to external advisors) who can turn off their brains for a bit and participate more fully in the other essential parts of the strategy process.

 

Mark Haas is CEO of the Association for Enterprise Growth. He helps boards and executives create powerful strategies to help them make decisions with greater confidence, impact and pride. He works with companies and nonprofits to develop strategies, create and validate business models, and execute with discipline. Mark is also an international trainer, facilitator and speaker in ethics, strategy and performance management. He can be reached at  mhaas@enterprisegrowth.org and (301) 442-5889.

Musings about Work, Equality, Social Justice and Capitalism: Human Capitalism

This is a Guest blog post from Jeff Cherry, Founder and Managing Partner of The Conscious Venture Fund and Founding Partner of The Laudato Si Startup Challenge. He is a tech CEO and mentor, investor, philanthropist, and community builder.

 

What comes next?

I recently listened to a thought-provoking episode of the TED Radio Hour on NPR entitled What We Value. Its premise was that this economic and societal crisis in which we find ourselves is accelerating the move towards a new set of values when it comes to the practice of capitalism. Those of us in the social impact and Conscious Capitalism space are heartened to see this discussion gaining momentum, but the question remains: How will capitalism change now that the unhealthy state of business and our major societal institutions have been laid bare?

There are many indications that this shift was in the offing far before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Although late to the game, the statement released by the Business Roundtable in August 2019 signaled a transformative move away from the outdated notion of shareholder primacy and towards a more human and effective form of business. It certainly garnered the attention of the press. And others in the business mainstream who had been either unaware or hostile to the market forces driving this change, are now finding it hard to ignore discussions of stakeholder management and whether business should have a broader role in society.

These ever-expanding discussions about the purpose of business in society are now taking place in the context of what does a return to “normal” look like in the economy. And a growing sentiment that the normal we were experiencing — where greed, inequity, declining living standards, crony capitalism, rent-seeking, regulatory capture, share buy-backs, corporate welfare and environmental depletion were the norm — isn’t in fact normal. Nor a state of being for which we should collectively yearn. As you might imagine, I agree.

The challenge we face now then, is how do we actually execute on this new idea? Many people talk about business for good and changing the purpose of the firm. But in the real world of competitive advantage, pricing models, customer needs, shareholder demands, supplier, employee and community relationships, knowing what to do is hard. We speak to entrepreneurs all the time who are philosophically aligned with a new narrative about business. They can cite anecdotes about others who have been successful, and they lack a cognitive frame that they can use to build an organization that embodies this day-in and day-out.

I’ve written at length about why I believe a focus on stakeholders in business and capitalism needs to replace the old story. In this article, the first of a two-part series, I’ll describe a framework to begin the journey to business as an institute of societal well-being: Or Human Capitalism.

Photo by Koushik Chowdavarapu on Unsplash

The New Narrative of Business in Society: Human Capitalism
What does a new story about the practice of business and capitalism look like in practical terms?

In order to fully bring this new narrative to life, I believe we need to re-define the purpose of business as a societal institution. Then, we need to translate that definition into tools that real entrepreneurs and executives can use every day to guide how they formulate strategy, individual decision making and implementation.

When a new cohort of the Conscious Venture Lab convenes, I ask a question to frame the work we’ll be doing over the ensuing 16-weeks: “What kind of world could we create if investors, executives and entrepreneurs cared as much about people as they care about profit?” It isn’t a question I expect any of the teams to answer outright. It’s a rhetorical challenge to think about how these ideas impact their businesses and the broader society.

Over the last few months, I’ve reframed that question: What kind of world could we create if we decided our first duty in business was to simply care for each other? This is the essence of Human Capitalism.

This version of the question doesn’t pit people against profit, which I believe is a false construct. Instead, it captures the meaning we’re all experiencing in this moment: can we be a complete society if the overarching purpose of business is only to increase profits and not primarily to improve the human condition? Both of these questions are variations of the age-old investigation of “What is a business for?” Academics, economists, politicians, social scientists and businesspeople have been asking this question for decades, if not longer.

Liesel Pritzker Simmons, co-founder of the impact investing firm Bluehaven Initiative, has said, “A crisis gives us an excuse to have conviction earlier.” What we are experiencing in this moment has emphasized how interconnected we are as a society and as a world. It has emphasized the importance of health as a public imperative. The importance of economic, community and personal resiliency as interdependent societal imperatives to which individuals and all societal institutions, even businesses, need to contribute. This crisis is bringing along those who may not have reached a level of conviction to move to a more human form of capitalism had things stayed … normal.

In this new reality it’s clear that the question about what type of world we want to create can no longer remain abstract or rhetorical. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the truth, that a focus on our interdependent well-being is necessary for society’s survival. Succeed together or fail together the choice is ours, but we can no longer hide behind a narrative that separates individual financial self-interest from our mutual survival.

In the post-COVID world, the new narrative of business in society is a narrative about authentic caring, societal resilience and collective well-being.

Practical Ways to Integrate Human Capitalism
Herb Kelleher, the legendary founder of Southwest Airlines, once said, “The business of business is people — yesterday, today and forever….” But what does it actually mean to structure your business around people? What can you do tomorrow to transform the structure of your business, respond to this new reality and become the type of leader that society needs?


Caring is Job 1:
Above all there is one thing leaders must do first in order to be successful in this new world: They must actually care! To be clear, leaders who embrace the idea of caring for stakeholders as a core value and primary motivation for running a business will be well-positioned to succeed in this new world. They’ll be more able to execute on the ideas described later in this article and more likely to attract talent, customers and investors in a post-COVID world of business as a vital instrument of society.

At first this seems obvious and perhaps, some would say, no different than the status quo. But the nuance of authentically treating employees, suppliers, customers and communities as individuals deserving of your care for their own sake, as opposed to primarily as fodder for creating returns is critically important. Not only to how your company will be perceived, but authentic caring — or the lack thereof — will have a tremendous impact on your competitive performance. People understand instinctively if you are treating them fairly simply as a form of manipulation for other ends. And, unless you’ve created a true culture of caring in your organization, you’ll be tempted to abandon that care when it comes into conflict with your “real goals.” The best leaders however will understand this simple truth: how we think about creating financial value is now, more than ever, clearly tied to the way we create societal value. Authentically caring is a key component of this new narrative.

What wins in the marketplace is that you are responsible for taking care of everyone who encounters your organization” Tom Gardner: CEO and Co-Founder, The Motley Fool

With that as our foundation, there are two things that every leader can do to build caring into the operational DNA of their business:

First, adopt a specific set of guiding principals about what it means to care for each other in service of societal well-being. And second,

Institute a practical business operating system that provides a framework for living into those guiding principals.

Here in Part-1, I’ll discuss a set of guiding principles we’ve created at the Conscious Venture Lab to help entrepreneurs execute upon these cultures of caring.


Guiding Principles: The Five Promises of Collective Well-Being
In order to seed this new culture of caring into the DNA of your operations, it is crucially important that you articulate and codify a set of guiding principles that the entire company can use to organize your thought processes and create operating norms, policies, procedures and metrics that will keep your culture on track in good times and in challenging times…like during a pandemic.

Companies that will lead us into a more effective model of capitalism and a future of broadly-shared prosperity have structured their business to deliver on what I call The Five Promises of Collective Well-Being, through which we vow to use business to make the world:

  • More just,
  • More joyous,
  • More equitable,
  • More sustainable and
  • More prosperous for all.

Let’s examine each principle:

Business as a path to a More Just society:
Leaders who are best at this will work to create social justice by structuring their organizations to level the playing field and authentically create access to opportunity for all those in their ecosystem who want to contribute.

Conscious Venture Lab and SHIFT Ventures portfolio companies Hungry Harvest and R3 Score have built this promise into their business models, which drives impact and returns.

Hungry Harvest creates a more just world by providing fresh food to communities that wouldn’t otherwise have access to it and dignified work opportunities to people in need. As a result, they create scores of “Harvest Heroes” who loyally buy wholesome food from the company that otherwise would have gone to waste. In the process they have increase sales by more than 34,000% over the last 4 years.

R3Score creates a more just world by providing a dignified return to civil society for millions of formerly incarcerated Americans and allowing banks a way to engage with people they would otherwise ignore. Thereby expanding the banks’ customer base, putting financial assets to work that would otherwise lay fallow and giving the 1-in-3 Americans with a criminal record the opportunity to build a new life.

Business as a path to a More Joyous life:
Leaders who bring more joy into the world will do so by focusing on a combination of the quality of the human interactions in their operations, eliminating misery as a core aspect of their business and/or creating products that bring authentic joy to more lives.

One of my personal favorite companies, Union Square Hospitality Group, uses a culture of caring and enlightened hospitality to bring joy to employees, customers and suppliers alike.

Startup Aqus Water, that was a part of the Vatican Laudato Si Challenge in 2017, has created a product that puts “three years of clean water in the palm of (the) hand(s)” of people in places where lack of clean water has been causing extreme hardship for centuries. With more than 780 MM people in the world lacking access to clean water, bringing joy will undoubtedly bring prosperity to many.

Business as a path to More Equitable communities:
When leaders focus on creating a mutual exchange of value between all stakeholders, they move their organizations away from the negative consequences of shareholder primacy and create more equitable communities for everyone. Paradoxically, an equitable approach to business, or removing the shareholder blinders, often creates new paths to greater value for shareholders.

Greyston Bakery in Yonkers New York is a pioneer of open hiring. They create a more equitable world by focusing not on the tyranny of weeding people out in the hiring process but by providing the dignity of work to anyone who wants it.

Here in Baltimore, Jacob Hsu and his company Catalyte have created an entirely new way of identifying undervalued individuals who have the aptitude to become exceptional engineers. Creating new paths to equity and unleashing massive financial potential for communities, his clients and the company.

Business as a path to a More Sustainable world:
The winning leaders of the new narrative think and plan for the long-term. They understand that sustainability in every sense is the key to enduring organizational health. They establish a circle of growth for the planet, the people who serve or are served by the organization and the organization itself.

Billion-dollar clothing company Patagonia has rejected the world of “fast fashion” by creating high quality, long-lasting products and offering a repair and reuse program to discourage customers from buying things they don’t need.

Orsted, a $9BB energy company based in Denmark was named the Most Sustainable Company in the World by Corporate Knights in 2020. The company has transformed itself from a fossil fuel company to a total green energy juggernaut, significantly outperforming its peers, the European stock indices and returning over 42% ROI over the last 12 months.

Business as a path to a More Prosperous existence for us all:
The best leaders view value creation with a polarity, or both/and mindset. They actively look to create real wealth for employees, customers, communities, suppliers and shareholders. They work to manage the polarity of creating value for all stakeholders by asking themselves questions like: “How do we simultaneously achieve the upside of paying our employees as much as possible, and, the upside of creating great returns for shareholders?” This is in contrast to shareholder value leaders who see all stakeholder relationships as tradeoffs that need to be solved for the benefit of shareholders.

Starbucks has fed more than 10 million people through its FoodShare program, redoubled its commitment to eliminate gender pay equity gaps, and committed to becoming “… resource positive — storing more carbon than we emit, eliminating waste and providing more clean fresh water than we use …” — all while rewarding shareholders handsomely — even during the coronavirus pandemic.


Why Human CAPITALISM?
In Part-2 of this series I will discuss how the tenets of Conscious Capitalism and stakeholder management will allow organizations to clear the clutter and build these principles into everyday operations.

For now, a note before we end to my main audience: The Skeptics:

I spend the majority of every waking hour thinking about how to support entrepreneurs who have previously been neglected and who are creating world changing companies despite the immense hurdles they face. I also spend a majority of that time thinking about how to invest on behalf of my limited partners in a way that will create exceptional returns. I am a capitalist who believes capitalism can and should be practiced in a way that unleashes its power to elevate all humanity. That we can create a more humane form of commerce and human cooperation. What I am suggesting is that capitalism, like any man-made system, must evolve as society evolves. To paraphrase my friend and mentor Ed Freeman, professor at the Darden School at The University of Virginia, the alternative to capitalism as we know it today is not socialism, but a better, more human form of capitalism.

For those who would push back on these ideas as leaving shareholders behind and giving away profits I would simply ask you to suspend disbelief for a bit. Take a few minutes to think not about what you might lose, but about what you might gain. What kind of world could we create if we decided our first duty in business was to care for each other? Look around…I think that time has come.

 

Jeff Cherry, is CEO and Managing Partner of SHIFT Ventures, and Founder & Executive Director of Conscious Venture Lab, an award-winning and internationally recognized early stage accelerator. He is also Founder and Managing Partner of The Conscious Venture Fund and Founding Partner of The Laudato Si Startup Challenge. Jeff is a pioneer in conscious capitalism and double bottom-line investing. He can be reached at jcherry@consciousventurelab.com.

Four Challenges of Hypergrowth

This is the unedited version of my December 5, 2012 Blog Post which was published in the Washington Business Journal.

I’m really thrilled to start writing a weekly Blog post for the Washington Business Journal as of today.  Thank you Roger Hughlett and Alex Orfinger, Publisher, for the opportunity to express my opinions and thoughts about a wide range of business ideas and topics.

As a novice and inconsistent blogger, I now have a “boss” and weekly deadline, so there are no more excuses NOT to post consistently.  And to have the WBJ platform distribute my content?! What more could I ask for?

I’ll be blogging on leadership, entrepreneurship, technology (all kinds), strategy, private equity, venture capital, international business (particularly in China and Brazil), and probably a bunch of other random stuff.

Last week I had the pleasure, along with Devin Schain of CampusEd and Mark Richardson of CASE Building and Design, of speaking to Professor Andrew J. Sherman, Esq.’s University of Maryland class on Entrepreneurship.  The topic: Challenges to Growing Your Business.

I co-founded and ran CyberRep, Inc., a call center/customer relationship management business which, over a 12 year period,  grew from 0 – 2200 employees and $0 – $80 million in revenues.  So I broke down the types of challenges we faced into 4 categories:  1. Keeping Clients Happy, 2. Keeping the Culture Pure, 3. People Issues, and 4. Personal Growth Challenges.  These 4 types of challenges are all integrated and interdependent with each other.

Keeping Clients Happy – When you are small, it’s relatively easy to focus on thrilling your clients.  As you hypergrow, you start working on lots of other very important things in addition to client matters.  Things like capital raising, shareholder matters, hiring and staffing, technology issues, etc. start to command your attention.  It’s natural.  As a hypergrowth company, we had our share of growing pains and glitches especially with people, processes, and even technology.  What was key for us was that “Client goals are our goals” was our #2 corporate core value and “Client satisfaction” was one of our “4 Pillars of Success” so we were able to ingrain this client-first thinking into our culture.  When hypergrowing, it’s critical to never forget who signs your paycheck – your clients!

Keeping the Culture Pure – As CEO, my job was to establish, evangelize, and enforce the Company culture.  As we  grew, and acquired 3 companies, and hired people from competitors and companies which didn’t have our company’s value set, we risked diluting our culture.  When a company loses its culture, it will eventually die.  We kept the culture pure by repeatedly dispatching our senior leadership team into all of our offices (we had 10 in 6 states) to evangelize like crazy.  We lived by our “Top 10” core values and developed our own lingo and reward systems to train all associates on what was important to the Company.  Very tedious, grinding work – very challenging, but it did pay off.  Our leadership team studied Jack Welch and the GE way, and what GE was doing at Crotonville, and we were inspired by their commitment to nonstop repetition in inculcating culture into the organization.

People – Dealing with people issues is one of the toughest parts of running a business.  As you grow, your people necessarily must grow…or they will be left behind or worse.  I would say that less than 1/3 of our first tier of management were able to “keep up” with company growth and client demands as we grew from $5 million – $20 million in revenue.  We saw the Peter Principle at work for dozens of our managers.  It pained me to have to let some of them go, especially the ones who had been with us from early on.  Others just stayed in their jobs or grew a little more slowly than the Company.  The bottom line here was not sacrificing quality or settling for less than excellent performance.  So that meant lots of training, reorganizing the org chart appropriately and often, and being able to recruit new talent for the right positions.  The main challenge was maintaining focus on what was best for the Company, and putting those needs first and ahead of any one team member.

Personal Growth Challenges – This set of challenges may have been the most trying of all for me.  At each stage of our growth, our executive team and I were all in uncharted territory.  We’d never grown a company this fast or this way.  As startups hypergrow, the Alpha Male or Female startup entrepreneur has to develop into a professional executive.  I have seen many fail at this.  So, I had to make the transition from manager to leader, and I had to develop soft skills and become more diplomatic.  The realization that my decisions could affect 2200 families was another eye opener, and I was forced to deal with the psychology around that fact.  Also, as our company progressed, we had to all become more thoughtful, analytical, and process-oriented.  Company and CEO must both face this reality of “growing up.”  The challenges are too many to enumerate here but these were just some highlights.

So that ends my inaugural WBJ blog post.  Please comment or email me your thoughts and experience.  I’d love to hear of your personal experiences and challenges in hypergrowing your company.  Thanks for reading!

Tien Wong is a serial entrepreneur and private investor.  He is CEO of Lore Systems, Inc. an enterprise network engineering firm specializing in cloud computing and network infrastructure for commercial, nonprofit, and government clients.  He also heads Opus8, an investment and strategic advisory firm.  His Twitter handle is @tienwong and the web address for his blog “Winning Ideas – On Leadership and Hypergrowth in the Entrepreneurial Economy” is tienwong.wordpress.com.

Persistence and Commitment at HONEST TEA, a guest post by Marissa Levin

Guest Blog Post from Marissa Levin, CEO of Information Experts and Founder of Successful Culture, a new business dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and business leaders build successful cultures within their organizations.

Marissa was a guest at Lore Systems’ Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Spring Forum on March 7, 2012 and Seth Goldman, Co-Founder and TeaEO of Honest Tea, was one of our featured speakers on the “Entrepreneurship with a Higher Purpose” panel.

This post was written on March 13, 2012 and can be found on Marissa’s awesome new Blog, Successful Culture.

Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman Takes Persistence & A Commitment to Mission to New Heights

Imagine pitching your idea to 1,000 investors. Over and over and over again. A little insane, right? Not if you’re Seth Goldman, TeaEO of Honest Tea. When we think of Honest Tea, we think of a delicious beverage, and a wildly successful business.

Dig a little deeper into the roots of Honest Tea, and you’ll discover an entrepreneur who is forever committed to the mission of “changing the way people eat, drink, think and live.”

Seth shared the struggles of his early days with 300 business leaders at the sold-out ConnectPreneur Event in the DC region, architected by global serial entrepreneur and angel investor Tien Wong, CEO of Lore Systems (www.lore.net).

Building an Empire One Brick at a Time

As a bootstrapped entrepreneur who has never sought outside funding, I was amazed at Seth’s relentless quest for angel investments when he launched Honest Tea. “I did over 1,000 pitches and landed 120 angel investors. I took $25,000 at a time,” Goldman said. “There were plenty of times when I was financially out of business. But you need just enough fumes to keep things going.”

The question on everyone’s mind – which was asked – was, “How did you keep going?” All entrepreneurs seek the answer to this question from others that travel the path of business ownership. What is the magic bullet -the secret sauce – that gives us the strength to keep pushing when we are seemingly out of options?

Always Return to the Mission

“What kept me going is I always believed and still believe in my mission. I believe we have to change the way we eat, drink, think, and live. Quitting was never an option.”

In addition to the initial 1,000+ calls, Goldman had to ruthlessly follow up with potential investors. Follow-up apparently is just as important as the initial contact.

“You need to be ruthless with your follow-up. You can’t ever quit. Your follow-up is a good indication of your commitment to what you are trying to build, and to your work ethic. Some we talked to for years before they came on,” he said.

Seth’s tenacity is an inspiration to anyone trying to make their entrepreneurial mark. Equally inspiring is his commitment to his core values, and his refusal to relinquish what matters most to him – providing healthy products that consumers feel good about drinking.

Coca-Cola now owns 40% of Honest Tea. The mammoth company’s management is like a bull in a china shop. This, however, doesn’t sway Goldman from his values. “Coca-Cola wanted me to remove “No High Fructose Corn Syrup!” from our labels. I asked if this was a legal or regulatory requirement, and it wasn’t,” he explained.

Goldman continued, “Because their products contain this ingredient, our label wasn’t a positive reflection of their brand. I refused to remove it it. The discussion made its way to the very top of the executive ladder, and I refused.”

Finally, Coca-Cola relented, and conceded that as a minority owner, they couldn’t force Honest Tea to remove the labeling.

All Natural Ingredients for Successful Entrepreneurship

Goldman boiled successful entrepreneurship down to the two basic tenets that we all inherently know: 1: A steadfast, laser-focused, driven commitment to what we are building, in which we will do whatever we need to succeed, and 2: A passionate belief in the change we are trying to make.

Thanks to Tien Wong (follow him on Twitter: @tienwong, and subscribe to his blog – Winning Ideas at (https://tienwong.wordpress.com/) for helping to quench the entrepreneurial thirst for learning with a great event!

And thanks to Seth Goldman (@HonestTea) for showing us what happens when you never ever ever ever ever give up.

Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.” ~Napoleon Hill

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”  That’s one of my favorite sayings, and a true maxim in life and in business.  Having a “know it all” mentality can lead to disastrous decision making.  I’ve learned this the hard way, and if I had a dime for every time I have said “you don’t know what you don’t know” to one of my teammates or colleagues, I’d be very rich!

The beautiful hand painted wooden Russian Nesting Dolls from the city of Penza (above and below) illustrate this point very well.  The dolls descend in size and fit inside one another.  You open the largest one and keep going until you finally come to the impossibly tiny little doll at the end.

Ever had a problem you think you solved until another related issue popped up? Something completely unexpected.  Then you thought you solved it again but then another surprise came up?  And so on and so on until you finally got the correct answer?  Finding the right solution is just like opening up a set of these nesting dolls one by one.

Problems can be solved faster by knowing the simple fact that “you don’t know what you don’t know.”  So here are some simple ideas to keep in mind.

1.  Don’t Assume Anything – You’ve heard bosses and mentors say, “If you A-S-S-U-M-E, you make an A-S-S out of U and ME,” right?  I have to agree that, while extremely difficult NOT to do, assuming things can be very costly, especially when communicating with others.  Of course, you have to assume or guess at some things, but try and get as many facts, background info, etc. ahead of time.

2.  Be Prepared – For anything.  Expect surprises, and just take the issue as it comes and think things through carefully.

3.  Have a “Beginner’s Mind,” or “Shosin” as the Zen Buddhists like to call it.  By being open and devoid of preconceptions, you bring a level of humility and desire for learning to the challenge at hand.

4.  Get Help – Ask experts or experienced people and advisers who can help you.  And do your homework independently, as well.

5.  Test and Iterate – If you have the luxury of time, take baby steps and test your ideas. Whether it’s a new product or a new target audience, or whatever, put it out there on a test basis first, then evaluate feedback and results….and then adjust accordingly.

We at Lore Systems have put in place these practices and have benefitted immeasurably in making better decisions in everything we do.

Good luck, and thank you very much for reading.  Please feel free to comment and sign up for my Blog!

Yanik Silver’s 34 WINNING Rules for Maverick Entrepreneurs

My friend Yanik Silver is a successful, young, internet marketing expert.  A self-made millionaire by the age of 30, Yanik exudes creativity, energy, and passion.  He’s a veritable idea factory, and I am impressed by his knowledge and wisdom at such a relatively young age.  His Twitter handle is @yaniksilver and his main Blog site is InternetLifestyle.com.

Yanik has, through reflection and analysis of his business experience and interactions with dozens of the world’s top entrepreneurs and business leaders, developed what he calls his “34 Rules “  They can also be found on one of his Blogs:  maverickbusinessinsider.com.

So here are YANIK SILVER’S 34 RULES FOR MAVERICK ENTREPRENEURS  (I added some commentary of my own in BOLD text below.)

  1. It’s got to be a BIG idea that you, your team and your customers can “get” in seconds.  Agree 100% that THINKING BIG is one of the most important things you can do in business.  See my Blog Post on “5 KEY LEARNINGS.”
  2. Strive to create 10x — 100x in value for any price you charge. Your rewards are always proportionate to the value you provide.
  3. You must charge a premium price so you have a large margin to provide an extraordinary value & experience.  This is right out of the Steve Jobs Playbook!
  4. Provide a ‘Reason Why’ customers should do business with you and pay you a premium.
  5. Get paid before you deliver your product or service. And when possible figure out how to create recurring revenue from transactions.  Collecting cash early allows you to finance your business, and ecurring revenue creates maximum shareholder value.
  6. You get to make the rules for your business. Don’t let industry norms dictate how you’ll work or who you’ll work with.  Another Steve Jobsism.
  7. Create your business around your life instead of settling for your life around your business.
  8. Consistently and constantly force yourself to focus on the ‘critically few’ proactive activities that produce exponential results. Don’t get caught up in minutia & bullshit.  Focus!
  9. Seek to minimize start-up risk but have maximum upside potential.
  10. Get your idea out there as fast as possible even if it’s not quite ready by setting must-hit deadlines. Let the market tell you if you have a winner or not. If not — move on and fail forward fast! If it’s got potential — then you can make it better.  The one great characteristic of internet-based businesses is that the feedback loop is shortened and rapid iteration can be done to perfect the model.
  11. Find partners and team members who are strong where you are weak and appreciate being paid on results.
  12. Your reputation always counts. Honor your obligations and agreements.  There’s nothing more important than INTEGRITY.
  13. Never, ever get paid based on hours worked.
  14. Leverage your marketing activities exponentially by using direct response methods and testing.
  15. Measure and track your marketing so you know what’s working and what’s not.
  16. Bootstrap. Having too much capital leads to incredible waste and doing things using conventional means.  I love this concept.  Bootstrapping builds a culture of resourceful and a “lean and mean” operating philosophy.
  17. Your partners and employees actions are their true core — not what they tell you.
  18. Keep asking the right questions to come up with innovative solutions. “How?”, “What?”, “Where?”, “Who Else?” & “Why?” open up possibilities.
  19. You’ll never have a perfect business and you’ll never be totally “done”. Deal with it.  Warren Buffett has said that it’s not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.  See my related Blog Post on Buffett.
  20. Focus most of your time on your core strengths and less time working in areas you suck at.
  21. Make it easier for customers to buy by taking away the risk of the transaction by guaranteeing what you do in a meaningful way.  If you are supremely confident in your product or service, you should have no problem guaranteeing it, and every customer loves a guarantee.
  22. Always have something else to sell (via upsell, cross-sell, follow-up offer, etc) whenever a transaction takes place. The hottest buyer in the world is one who just gave you money.
  23. Always go back to your existing customers with exceptional offers and reasons they should give you more money. It’s 5x less expensive to sell to happy customers than go find new ones.
  24. However the flip side is – fire your most annoying customers. They’ll be replaced with the right ones.  I have done this and it has worked miracles in getting my Team focused on the higher-value customers.  Figure out how to “score” or rank your customers and rationalize the lowest value ones.  You can then apply the scoring system to new business opportunities you evaluate, so that you accept the customers you want.
  25. The marketplace and competitors are always trying to beat you down to a commodity. Don’t let that happen.  I agree that getting into a commodity position is a losing proposition because someone will ALWAYS be lower in price.
  26. Develop and build your business’s personality that stands out. People want to buy from people.
  27. Create your own category so you can be first in the consumer’s mind.
  28. Go the opposite direction competitors are headed — you’ll stand out.  It’s amazing how so many of successful business leaders and investors are CONTRAIAN in their thinking.
  29. Mastermind and collaborate with other smart entrepreneurs if they have futures that are even bigger than their present.  You can’t win by yourself.  You need peers, advisors, mentors, and others who can help you.  Create a group, join a YPO or EO Forum, or a Vistage Group.  I am in a YPO Forum and the learnings and experience have been priceless.
  30. Celebrate your victories. It’s too easy to simply move on to your next goal without acknowledging and appreciating the ‘win’.  This is a good one.  Oftentimes, you see Founders relentlessly clamoring for “more, more, more!” without stopping to celebrate success.  This is super important for morale.
  31. Make your business AND doing business with you FUN!
  32. Do the unexpected before and after anything goes wrong so customers are compelled to ‘share your story’.
  33. Get a life! Business and making money are important but your life is the sum total of your experiences. Go out and create experiences & adventures so you can come back renewed and inspired for your next big thing.  Life is very short, so enjoy your moments at every opportunity.
  34. Give back! Commit to taking a % of your company’s sales and make a difference. If this becomes a habit like brushing your teeth pretty soon the big checks with lots of zeros won’t be scary to write. If you think you can’t donate a percentage of your sales simply raise your price.  The more you give, the more things come back to you. Giving is great for the community, for your company, and your teammates.  
This is a big list and, for me, I like #1, #6, and #8.  I believe in “Thinking Big.”  You’re going to be thinking anyway, so why not Think Big?  As for #6,  your business will definitely differentiate better if you follow your voice and make your own rules, as opposed to following someone else.  The great companies create their own products and solutions.  They set the trends.  Finally, I can’t say enough about FOCUS (#8), because that’s one of the TOP 5 necessities for success.  I blogged about this in my very first Blog Post, SUCCESS FORMULA.
Which one of these 34 RULES do you like best or find most relevant to your business?  
Please Comment below and Subscribe to my Blog.  Thanks!       
Featured image courtesy of Ralph Zuranski, licensed via creative commons.

Winning with Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek

When Tim Ferriss‘ book The 4-Four Hour Workweek originally hit the airport bookstores in 2007, I must admit I scoffed at the ridiculous title and thought the author and content would also be ridiculous. I was not alone in my opinion, as his methods and advice have been controversial.

After hearing so much about the book, I did finally buy and read it, and I was pleasantly surprised!  I just read it again on a recent trip to Rio (they do practice the 4 hour workweek in Brazil!) and thought I’d write a couple of Blog posts on the subject.  While there are a lot of contrarian and unusual ideas in the book, Ferriss DOES render some excellent advice on a variety of matters including how to create or design a lifestyle.  He does it in a very motivating “I did it so you can do it too” manner.

His basic themes are:

1.  You CAN enjoy the lifestyle you want, and you can do it now

2.  Simpify to create space and create attention (attention is more important than time because time without attention is useless) to apply to other things

3.  Focus on what’s important in your life and that which makes you happy and fulfilled.

4.  His 4-step “DEAL” formula: Defininition, Eliminate, Automate, and Liberate

Tim Ferris’ DEAL:

Definition – Define the life you want and how much it will cost for you to achieve it (in short, define your Goals)

Elimination – Eliminate stuff that’s not critical to your achieving your goals.  Practice the 80/20 rule and focus on what will get you closer to your ideal lifestyle.

Automation – Outsource noncritical and basic functions.  Find and build a business which generates maximum revenue with minimal time/attention.  The key is to minimize your own personal involvement to free yourself up to do the things YOU WANT.

Liberation – Free yourself from a particular geographic location.  The idea is to be able to travel, or work from anywhere.  Mobility is a hallmark of what Ferris refers to as the “NR,” or “New Rich.”

Tim’s “Muse,” an income machine:  Ferriss urges the reader to find his or her “muse” (a calling or business), and then go for it. Ferriss lays out a blueprint for starting your own business which can essentially run on autopilot.  Apparently, he had done this himself and built a business that generated cash flow to pay the living expenses, while requiring a fraction of the time and effort.  While I believe him, he makes it all sound too easy.

The Top 13 New Rich Mistakes

1.  Losing sight of dreams and falling into work for work’s sake (W4W)

2.  Micromanaging and e-mailing to fill time

3.  Handling problems your outsourcers or-co-workers can handle

4.  Helping outsourcers or co-workers with the same problem more than once, or with noncrisis problems

5.  Chasing customers, particularly unqualified or international prospects, when you have sufficient cash flow to finance your nonfinancial pursuits

6.  Answering e-mail that will not result in a sale or that can be answered by a FAQ or auto-responder

7.  Working where you live, sleep, or should relax

8.  Not performing a thorough 80/20 analysis every two to four weeks for your business and personal life

9.  Striving for endless perfection rather than great or simply good enough, whether in your personal or professional life

10.  Blowing minutiae and small problems out of proportion as an excuse to work

11.  Making non-time-sensitive issues urgent in order to justify work

12.  Viewing one product, job, or prospect as the end-all and be-all of your existence

13.  Ignoring the social rewards of life

In summary, I believe this is a book worth reading, as it contains a lot of useful and highly applicable tips and advice, while proffering some proven scenarios whereby you can unchain yourself from a job or mundane lifestyle, in order to design and pursue immediately a life of your dreams.

Featured image courtesy of benjyfeen licensed via creative commons.