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16 января, 12:59

The four elements of entrepreneurship

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Are successful entrepreneurs made or born? We’d need to start with an understanding of what an entrepreneur is. They’re all over the map, which makes the question particularly difficult to navigate. There’s the 14-year-old girl who hitches a ride to Costco, buys 100 bottles of water for thirty cents each, then sells them at the beach for a dollar a pop. Scale that that every day for a summer and you can pay for college. Or the 7-time venture-backed software geek who finds a niche, gets some funding, builds it out with a trusted team, sells it for $100 million in stock and then starts again. Perhaps we’re talking about a non-profit entrepreneur, a woman who builds a useful asset, finds a scalable source of funding and changes the world as she does. The mistake that’s easy to make is based in language. We say, “she’s an entrepreneur,” when we should be saying, “she’s acting like an entrepreneur.” Since entrepreneurship is a verb, an action, a posture… then of course, it’s a choice. You might not want to act like one, but if you can model behavior, you can act like one. And what do people do when they’re acting like entrepreneurs? 1. They make decisions. 2. They invest in activities and assets that aren’t a sure thing. 3. They persuade others to support a mission with a non-guaranteed outcome. 4. This one is the most amorphous, the most difficult to pin down and thus the juiciest: They embrace (instead of run from) the work of doing things that might not work. As far as I can tell, that’s it. Everything else you can hire. Buying into an existing business by buying a franchise, to pick one example--there’s very little of any of the four elements of entrepreneurial behavior. Yes, you’re swinging for a bigger win, you’re investing risk capital, you’re going outside the traditional mainstream. But what you’re doing is buying a proven business, not acting like an entrepreneur. The four elements aren't really there. It's a process instead. Nothing wrong with that. All four of these elements are unnatural to most folks. Particularly if you were good at school, you're not good at this. No right answers, no multiple choice, no findable bounds. It's easy to get hung up on the "risk taking" part of it, but if you’re acting like an entrepreneur, you don’t feel like you’re taking a huge risk. Risks are what happens at a casino, where you have little control over the outcome. People acting like entrepreneurs, however, feel as though the four most important elements of their work (see above) are well within their control. If you’re hoping someone can hand you a Dummies guide, giving you the quick steps, the guaranteed method, the way to turn this process into a job--well, you’ve just announced that you don’t feel like acting like an entrepreneur. But before you walk away from it, give it a try. Entrepreneurial behavior isn't about scale, it's about a desire for a certain kind of journey.        

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15 января, 12:52

Justice and dignity, the endless shortage

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You will never regret offering dignity to others. We rarely get into trouble because we overdo our sense of justice and fairness. Not just us, but where we work, the others we influence. Organizations and governments are nothing but people, and every day we get a chance to become better versions of ourselves. And yet... in the moments when we think no one is looking, when the stakes are high, we often forget. It's worth remembering that justice and dignity aren't only offered on behalf of others. Offering people the chance to be treated the way we'd like to be treated benefits us too. It goes around. The false scarcity is this: we believe that shutting out others, keeping them out of our orbit, our country, our competitive space—that this somehow makes things more easier for us. And this used to be true. When there are 10 jobs for dockworkers, having 30 dockworkers in the hall doesn't make it better for anyone but the bosses. But today, value isn't created by filling a slot, it's created by connection. By the combinations created by people. By the magic that comes from diversity of opinion, background and motivation. Connection leads to ideas, to solutions, to breakthroughs. The false scarcity stated as, "I don't have enough, you can't have any," is more truthfully, "together, we can create something better." We know it's the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing.        

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14 января, 11:37

Fake wasabi

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Most sushi restaurants serve a green substance with every roll. But it's not wasabi, it's a mix of horseradish and some other flavorings. Real wasabi costs too much. The thing is, if you grew up with this, you're used to it. It's the regular kind. And that makes it real. Real to us, anyway. Creatures don't like change, up or down. We like what we like. The regular kind.        

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13 января, 12:53

Before you design a chart or infographic

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What's it for? A graph only exists to make a point. Its purpose is not to present all the information. Its purpose is not to be pretty. Most of all, its purpose is not, "well, they told me I needed to put a graph here." The purpose of a graph is to get someone to say "a-ha" and to see something the way you do. Begin there and work backwards. [Only slightly related: I'll be in Orange County for an evening event on February 15. Details are here. Hope to see you there.]        

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12 января, 12:24

The witnesses and the participants

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Every history student knows about the tragedy of the commons. When farmers shared grazing land, no one had an incentive to avoid overgrazing, and without individual incentives, the commons degraded until it was useless. We talk about this as if it's an inevitable law, a glitch in the system that prevents communities from gaining the benefits of shared resources. Of course, that's not true. Culture permits us to share all sorts of things without having them turn into tragedies. People are capable of standing up to the short-term profit motive, we're not powerless. We can organize and codify and protect. It requires us to say, "please don't," even more than, "not me." Culture can be the antidote to selfishness. In fact, it's the only thing that is.        

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11 января, 12:38

First, de-escalate

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It's very difficult to reason with someone if their hair is on fire. Customer service (whether you're a school principal, a call center or a consultant) can't begin until the person you're working with believes that you're going to help them put out the fire on their head. Basic principles worth considering (are you listening, Verizon?) The first promises kept are hints that you will keep future promises. Putting people on endless hold, bad voice trees, live chat that isn't actually live, an uncomfortable chair in the waiting room, a nasty receptionist, unclear directions to your office, bad line management... all of these things escalate stress and decrease trust. Don't underestimate the power of a good sign, a take-a-number deli machine and a thoughtful welcome. Don't deny that the customer/patient/student has a problem. If they think they have a problem, they have a problem. It might be that your job is to help them see (over time) that the thing that's bothering them isn't actually a problem, but denying the problem doesn't de-escalate it. Leave the legal arguments at home. It's entirely possible that your terms of service or fine print or HIPA or lawyers have come up with some sort of clause that prevents you from solving the problem the way the customer wants it solved. You can't do anything about that. But bringing it up now, in this moment of escalation, merely makes the problem worse.  The goal is to open doors, not close them. To gain engagement and productive interaction, not to have the customer become enraged and walk away. Empathize with their frustration. It's entirely possible that you think the patient's problem is ridiculous. That the customer is asking for too much. That you're going to be unable to solve the problem. Understood. But right now, the objective is de-escalation. That's the problem that needs to be solved before the presented problem can be solved. Acknowledging that the person is disappointed, angry or frustrated, and confirming that your goal is to help with that feeling means that you've seen the person in front of you. "Ouch," and "Oh no," are two useful ways to respond to someone sharing their feelings. One minute later, then, here's what's happened: You were welcoming and open. You didn't pick a fight. You saw and heard the problem. Wow. That's a lot to accomplish in sixty seconds. Do you think the rest of the interaction will go better? Do you think it's likely that the person at the airplane counter, the examining table or on the phone with you is more likely to work with you to a useful conclusion?        

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10 января, 12:32

Charisma, cause and effect

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Charisma doesn't permit us to lead. Leading gives us charisma.        

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09 января, 12:13

Getting paid what you deserve

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You never do. Instead, you get paid what other people think you're worth.  That's an empathic flip that makes it all make sense. Instead of feeling undervalued or disrespected, you can focus on creating a reputation and a work product that others believe is worth more. Because people don't make buying decisions based on what's good for you--they act based on what they see, need and believe. Yes, we frequently sell ourselves too short. We don't ask for compensation commensurate with the value we create. It's a form of hiding. But the most common form of this hiding is not merely lowering the price. No, the mistake we make is in not telling stories that create more value, in not doing the hard work of building something unique and worth seeking out. This is another way to talk about marketing. And modern marketing is done with the people we seek to serve, not at them. It's based on the idea that if the customer knew what you know, and believed what you believe, they'd want to work with you. On the principle that long-term trust is worth far more than any single transaction every could be. [Today's the last best day to sign up for the current session of The Marketing Seminar. It started yesterday. I hope you'll check it out.]        

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08 января, 12:13

Stuck on what's next

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When confronted with too many good options, it's easy to get paralyzed. The complaint is that we don't know what to do next, because we're pulled in many good directions--and doing one thing with focus means not doing something else. This is a common way to get stuck. After all, if you're at this crossroads, where more consideration means more possibility, while more action merely means walking away from a potentially better choice, it's easy to settle for the apparently safe path, which is more study. No one can blame you for careful consideration. More careful consideration seems to insulate you from the criticism that follows taking action. But getting stuck helps no one. Here's an alternative: Write up a one-pager on each of the five best alternatives you are considering. Use the document to sell each idea as hard as you can, highlighting the benefits for you and those you seek to serve. Then, hand the proposals to your trusted advisors. They vote (without you in the room) and you commit to doing whatever it is they choose. Not thinking about it, but doing it. Merely agreeing to this scenario is usually enough incentive to pick on your own and get to work.        

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07 января, 12:36

Hiding from the mission

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We do this in two ways: The first is refusing to be clear and precise about what the mission is. Avoiding specifics about what we hope to accomplish and for whom. Being vague about success and (thus about failure). After all, if no one knows exactly what the mission is, it's hard feel like a failure if it doesn't succeed. The second is even more insidious. We degrade the urgency of the mission. We become diffuse. We get distracted. Anything to avoid planting a stake and saying, "I made this." It's possible to spend 7 hours and 52 minutes out of an eight-hour day in doing nothing but hiding from the mission. And it's exhausting.        

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06 января, 12:35

What sort of performance?

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It's not unusual for something to be positioned as the high performance alternative. The car that can go 0 to 60 in three seconds, the corkscrew that's five times faster, the punch press that's incredibly efficient... The thing is, though, that the high performance vs. low performance debate misses something. High at what? That corkscrew that's optimized for speed is more expensive, more difficult to operate and requires more maintenance. That car that goes so fast is also more difficult to drive, harder to park and generally a pain in the neck to live with. You may find that a low-performance alternative is exactly what you need to actually get your work done. Which is the highest performance you can hope for.        

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05 января, 11:12

Your theory

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Of course, you have one. We all do. A theory about everything. You're waiting for 7:20 train into the city. Your theory is that every day, the train comes and brings you to work. Today, the train doesn't come. That's because it's Sunday, and the train doesn't run on the same schedule. Oh. So you've learned something, and now you have a new theory, which is that the train comes at 7:20 on weekdays only. And you'll keep working with that theory, and most of the time, it'll help you get what you want. And you have a theory that putting a card into the ATM delivers money. And you have a theory that smiling at a stranger increases the chances that you'll have a good interaction. And on and on. Many theories, proposals about what might work in the future. We can fall into a few traps with our theories about humans: We can come to believe that they are ironclad guarantees, not merely our best guess about the future.  We can refuse to understand the mechanics behind a theory and instead accept the word of an authority figure. If we fail to do the math on our own, we lose agency and the ability to develop an even more nuanced understanding of how the world works. We can become superstitious, ignoring evidence that runs counter to our theory and instead doubling down on random causes and their unrelated effects. We can hesitate to verbalize our theories, afraid to share them with others, particularly those we deem as higher in authority or status. We can go to our jobs and do all four of these things at once.  [PS The Marketing Seminar is accepting new signups right now.]