Posts tagged: starting a business

You’re A Rookie, Good!

Are you trying something new? How does it feel? Exciting? Scary? Confusing?

Are you feeling like you want to try something new but you’re afraid? (Seems reasonable!)

Have you stopped considering trying new things because you are:

  • too old, too tired, too cranky, too dull, too young, too blah, blah, blah

In this inspirational talk, the founder of ModCloth (which she started at 17), talks about why it’s good and even powerful to be a ‘rookie.’ When we are rookies, we have no preconceived ideas about how it’s ‘supposed’ to work. That makes it easier (and even necessary) to innovate. We ask rookie questions, we make rookie decisions and we hopefully have rookie energy. Learning is energizing.

There is power in rookiedom. I’m not suggesting that you don’t ask for help or get advice from trusted advisers. Of course, that makes sense. But it’s also important to trust your rookie ‘gut’.

If you are accomplished at something but still want to get better or if you want to expand your capabilities, consider talking to a rookie. Someone who knows very little about the topic. They may have insights that all the experts in the world never would have had.

I was a rookie teacher… I cringe when I think of how naive I was. In many ways, I see how those early lessons shaped the teacher I am today. I’m excited to be a rookie again. I’ll keep you up to date on my, ahem, progress.

Photo credit: School Friends  Woodley Wonderworks

Wanna Be A Teacher? Be a Student.

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I have the privilege of being a teacher. I am grateful for the opportunity and in general, I work to learn as much as I teach. Every environment (classroom, one on one, online) provides me a chance to learn because of the students. Each one teaches me something interesting and often, important.

Life is a series of learning opportunities. How we approach learning is as important as our character.

When someone is a ‘student’ – they get space to fail/make mistakes/goof up. In fact, we expect it. But somehow, when we “grow up” – that changes. We aren’t students anymore; we’re expected to be confident, aware, ‘on top of things.’

Ugh. This drives me crazy. If we view everyone as a full time student of life… who happens to be employed as a (fill in the blank), imagine how much easier it would be to try new things and learn. Failure, mistakes and goof ups would be normal, good, desirable.

Good teachers are everywhere, but good students are hard to find. Look to teach others (it makes us feel smart and important) but WORK to learn (it makes us feel stupid and weak). Hang around other students (entrepreneurs, kids, artists)… they’re full of mistakes and joy.

Starting a Business… Founders Reflect

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As some of you know I am expanding the focus of this blog to include the start up experience.

According to this article in Fortune, the #1 reason founders think their company failed (by a big margin) is that there was no market need.

I am 30+ years in business, many of them working with start ups  and this problem is widespread in start ups. The good news is that the people who tried, learned. The bad news is that a lot of effort goes in to creating a company or a product. With some discipline, this problem can be eliminated.

I have seen so many “technology-push” solutions… i.e. “oh we’ve got this great widget, it’s so cool. Everyone will want one.” But then (shock), everyone doesn’t want one.

I have spent years sizing markets (especially for new categories/products), understanding customer needs and developing “go-to market strategies.” There are experienced people to help you determine the size of and how to approach the market. Please ask. Here’s a local resource and a national one.

Image credit: Fortune

Are You Learning as Fast as the World is Changing?

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Do you think the world is changing too fast?

Yeah, so do a lot of people. But the question is, are you learning as fast at the world is changing? In order to cope with the world, we need to figure out how to keep up.

There are a lot of interpretations of ‘how to keep up’. I don’t have a prescription. I only know my own way.

In an article titled, “The Best Leaders are Insatiable Learners,” the Harvard Business Review author points out that according to John Gardner most of us are simply bored silly.

Can you relate? When I worked at my ‘corporate’ jobs, I have to admit, I was; at least part of the time, bored. For me, working with start ups, having my own company and being a freelancer has set me free.  If I am bored, it’s my own doing; not because of my work.

Some of the jobs where I made the most money, I’ve also been so bored I could scream like the boy in the picture.

The antidote to ‘boredom’ is learning. An insatiable desire and earnest effort to be exposed to the unfamiliar. Whether it be thoughts, ideas, foods, people, places, notions, experiences, etc.. The goal is to figure out a way to get that ‘exposure’ in a way that fits with our stage in life. If I’m young, this might be easy. If I’m 80, this might be more difficult. But the goal is the same.

My way is to: read, read, read; hang around people who are excited by their work and life; LISTEN to those people; try to do things I don’t know how to do – just for practice. A conscious effort to learn new things is, I think, keeping me young.

Find your way and instead of complaining about how fast the world is changing, you can enjoy, adapt and contribute to the change.

Photo credit: Scream and shout   madanys

No Boss, No Office and My Peers Decide My Pay… What?

“Imagine a company where everyone is equal and managers don’t exist. A place where employees sit where they want, choose what to work on and decide each other’s pay. Then, once a year, everyone goes on holiday together.”

There is such a company, it’s called Valve.

For those of you who think this is: stupid, could never work, is just an experiment and could only work in a handful of cases, perhaps you are correct. I’m not here to argue with you. The point of this post is to challenge our ideas of what is ‘necessary’ in the work environment.

You can read the Valve Employee Handbook here. It is titled: “A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when there’s no one telling you what to do.”

If you are in any kind of leadership role in ANY organization… I encourage you to browse their handbook.

… if you are a 10 year old company that has worked hard “to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling, them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99 percent of their value.”

The handbook goes on to outline what to expect and how a new employee can find their way through this new way of working.

Check this out: “While people occasionally choose to push themselves to work some extra hours, at times when something big is going out the door, for the most part working overtime for extended periods indicates a fundamental failure in planning or communication. If this happens at Valve, it’s a sign that something needs to be reevaluated and corrected.” And then they give you guidance as to how to get help to resolve the problem.

Would you like to work here? If not, why not? If yes, why?
Most importantly, what about the Valve culture can you adopt at your organization to make it more effective?

Image Credit: Banksy

Ditch Your Dress Code and Other Interesting Advice

I am a child of the 60’s;  a hippie and a non-conformist. I worked in Corporate America for over 2 decades. I enjoyed it and I learned so much. What I didn’t love was figuring out what to wear.

First… there’s no such thing as business casual for women. As much as I’d like to show up in a pair of Dockers and a sport shirt (NOT) … or it’s equivalent… I’d be glad to.. but there is no equivalent.

Second … The idea that “clothes make the man” is passe and needs to be rethought.

Third… Check out this article titled,” 5 Reasons to Ditch Your Dress Code”  You may get more out of having a culture of flexibility in employee dress than maintaining strict standards.

Fourth… Diversity of  people can lead to creativity in thought and action.

This doesn’t mean having no standards in dress. Clearly there are certain clothes that are inappropriate in a business environment. Also, a culture that allows casual dress but tolerates disrespect isn’t doing itself or it’s employee any favors. Hard work, communication, listening and customer focus are more important than whether someone wears jeans. Build trust with your employees and peers and we’ll all benefit.

Photo credit: Photographer Irum sneaker

Are You a Risk-Taking, Risk-Tolerant or Risk-Averse Person?

Most of us would agree that surfing can be a dangerous sport, yet lots of people — all over the world– surf. Why? The reasons are complex but the psychology boils down to — how much risk are we willing to take in our daily life? Some of it is related to our personality and upbringing, some of it is our drive and competitive spirit.  To learn more about our own risk acceptance or aversion —  answer the following question:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how willing are you to take risks?

— If your first thought is to ask questions like.. under what circumstances… then count yourself in the 1-5 bracket.

— If you immediately thought… yeah, I’m willing to take a risk… but not a stupid one; then count yourself in the 6-8 bracket.

— If you helicopter ski or big wave surf… then count yourself in the 9-10’s.

Understanding your risk profile is important because as you go through life’s up and downs, you may need to either increase or decrease the level of risk you’re taking depending on the situation.

In a difficult economy, more risk is required. We see more women and 20 something’s starting businesses than ever before. Is this because women today are better risk takers than previous generations? I don’t think so. I think it’s because the times require us to be inventive.

Many people are doom and gloom about the economy and I will grant you, there are many issues to be concerned about. I would also suggest that, as Americans, we rise to the challenges in surprising and wonderful ways.

Are you taking appropriate risks for the circumstances of your life? If not, check out, “It’s Takes Guts to Start A Company,” from Fast Company magazine.  I particularly like these 2 quotes,

  • “Guts-driven entrepreneurs aren’t fearless; they just know how to cope with, and maybe even thrive in, uncomfortable environments”
  • “The guts to endure lets us recognize that failure is not an option but rather a reality”

Look deep into your risk portfolio. Are you taking the right risks? If not, what are you going to do about it?

Photo credit: mikebaird Father and son surf lesson

The “Skate to Where the Puck’s Going To Be” Career Management Philosophy

Recently I came across an article titled, “7 Jobs You Never Heard of and Why They’re Awesome,” e.g. futurist, greensman (not keeping the putting green nice..) and parabolic expert. Do you think these sounds silly? Think again.

It might seem odd to remember elevator or telephone operators, but what about travel agents, department store clerks (try to find one these days) or assembly line workers. Ten years ago a fair number of people held these jobs.

Today a lot of people have titles that didn’t exist 10 years ago, e.g. Director of Inbound Marketing, Content Marketer, Java Developer, .net Developer or Internet Security expert, etc.. If you believe what Wayne Gretsky (aka the great one… hockey player) said, “Skate to where the puck’s going to be, not to where it has been…” and apply that to your career,  it’s possible that your next job could be something you’ve never even heard of.

If you were born after 1980… it’s very likely you will have a job that hasn’t even been invented yet (not to mention being actively engaged in creating new companies.)

When I speak to educators I remind them that it is their responsibility… along with business leaders… to find out what skills will be needed and to start today to create programs to prepare our future employees. And this is not just for young people! Boomers and Gen Xer’s need to change too.

Because if we, as Americans, don’t figure this out…someone else in the world will and if we think the economy is ugly now…

This is not the ‘responsibility’ of politicians and/or ‘someone else’. Each of us must be prepared. Consider the shark or crocodile– they’ve been around a long time while many other creatures have become extinct. Adapt or die.

Image credit:  Oldster’s view

Look, I Fell Down!

I’m fortunate to have 3 grandchildren under the age of 4 and yes, it’s as fun as everyone says.

There’s joy in watching them grow but there’s also a BIG LESSON. Here it is…

They fail… a lot. And they do it with a big smile. They fall down, the say words wrong, they make ridiculous observations about us…

How about us? When did learning become something SO serious. We get older and suddenly we have to be good at everything? If we have to learn something new we get impatient, even angry at ourselves for not:

learning fast enough/being smart enough/knowing how to do it and on and on.

If you aren’t “falling down” regularly, you are probably not learning very much. That’s why being a parent is an interesting journey. You are guaranteed to fail regularly (whether you realize it or not!)

Today, you have a choice. Learn something new, take a chance. I’m getting ready to learn a new kind of art. I’m a little freaked out. What if people tell me they don’t like it. What if the stuff looks ugly? This is what risk takers face everyday.

Write down the top 3 risks you are taking this week/month/year. You can tell if it’s a real risk if you feel like talking yourself out of doing it and you have all the reasons why you shouldn’t do it worked out in your head. So please, fall down, take that risk. Tell me about the risks you’re taking and I’ll keep you up to date about my art experiment. Everyday I’m talking myself out it so I know it’ll be worthwhile.

Photo credit: Zazzle.com

 

True Grit and the Marshmallow Test

When my daughter was in college, her softball team’s t-shirts had this saying on the back…

“Hard work beats talent when talent refuses to work hard.”

So while this title’s post may sound like 70’s rock band, it is, in fact, the core of some research on the future of work. In “The Future of Self-Improvement:  Grit is More Important Than Talent” the notion that as work continues to  dramatically change over the next 5 years; self control will become more important than ‘talent.’

This excerpt clarifies the concept:

“More and more, we set our own long-term goals, determine our own work schedules, work at an office or at a coffee shop, decide about what we focus on today, and tomorrow. But this freedom also brings a responsibility that demands a vastly increased capacity for self-control.”

The link between grit (hard work in the face of obstacles) and self control (the test of children who successfully delay eating a marshmallow) is central to the new way we accomplish work. Hierarchical work structures, standard job descriptions  and “siloed” work areas are already becoming ineffective work practices.

So how will you as a manager adjust to this new reality? How will you as an employee adjust? Will you lead the way with your own actions?  Will you educate and train yourself and your employees in grit and self-control? Will you make sure that your hiring practices are shifted to include these qualities?

We have a choice… we can determine those skills that will allow us to compete effectively like flexibility and focus or the rest of the world will get there before us. Take Duckworth’s Grit Scale Test here.

Image Credit: Inner Light News