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Written by Jay Turo on Monday, September 17, 2012
Younger workers, the so-called Millennials or those born after 1982, offer unique challenges and opportunities for 21st Century managers seeking to build well-functioning teams that work and win together.
Here are five best practices:
#5. Revel in the Importance of Company Culture. In a world where everything can and is easily and quickly borrowed, copied, and sometimes just plain old stolen - the only sustainable competitive advantage is how a company organizes and aligns, inspires and challenges its people.
Or, in a word, its company culture.
Taking it further, the modern manager is doubly vexed by the unsettling (yet exciting) reality that the plan today will almost certainly not be the plan tomorrow, and as the plan changes, so must change both individual roles and team dynamics.
And thereby so must the culture change.
Please let’s not jump over this point too quickly. It is all too easy for the ambitious, hard-working, and often older manager to just throw up his or her hands and lament over “these kids” and how “if they only knew how things were like when I was starting out” that they would think and act differently.
And how they should be just happy to have a job and not just be so – well young and self-absorbed.
Well, that is dead-end talk.
Building high-performing 21st century teams requires winning hearts and minds and doing so each day anew. The best managers REVEL in this challenge as opposed to shirking from it or whining about it.
#4. Empowering and Coddling are NOT The Same Thing. Some may read the above and shake their heads and think that this is a “coddling mindset” or entitlement culture and is exactly what has gotten us in America in trouble in the first place and a big part of why China is kicking our you know what every which way.
This is where leadership and administrative creativity are of such importance in building win-win work structures that both inspire and challenge the younger worker to work harder and get better faster.
AND allow for balance and acknowledge those aspects of work that are not so “goal-driven.”
What are these? Well, that sense of community and common cause and healthy friendship and competition that make the best workplaces, for lack of a better word, fun.
And fun, as high-performing cultures like Southwest and Richard Branson’s Virgin have demonstrated so inspirationally is - surprise, surprise - very good for the bottom line.
#3. Understand that Entrepreneurship and Youth Go Hand-in-Hand. Most ambitious young people today don’t grow up dreaming about getting that “good state job” or to work for the same company for 30 years.
Rather, and following up on that overriding sense of “specialness” with which we now raise our children, young people want their star to shine. They want to come up with the new, great ideas, and to be acknowledged and rewarded for it.
They, in essence, want all of the recognition and empowerment and self-definition and financial opportunity that attract people of all ages to become entrepreneurs.
This is a great and good thing, and is at the heart of why we live in golden, global age as young people the world over are being raised with the right kind of high self-esteems to dream and act BIG.
BUT many of even the best of them on balance do not want the headaches and heartaches and vexing, painful choices and compromises that are just as much part and parcel of the real entrepreneurial “lifestyle.”
So how do you work with this? The deep desire and burning ambition that all companies desperately want in their people on the one hand, and a wariness and even a distaste for all of the prosaic, “not fun” stuff on the other?
Well surprise, surprise, this is tough.
A general rule here is as opposed to fighting this energy, go with it and reframe the “tough stuff” as opportunities for personal and professional growth and then profusely recognize and acknowledge these “less fun” challenges are taken on.
Not easy to do for sure, but it is this leadership that both modern organizations and younger workers desperately need and want.
#2. Recognition is Key. Having 2 young sons has helped me immeasurably in understanding the sometimes gentle psyches of younger employees. Long gone are those days of fear and punishment-based parenting and schooling. Rather, understanding that a recognition-based milieu is how most high-performing young people have been raised and schooled is a key to effective organization-building.
Authors Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick in their books and on their great website – Carrots.com - describe recognition done right as being “positive, immediate, close, specific, and shared:”
Positive - managers sometimes use a recognition presentation as a time to talk about how far someone has come, or how they could have done even better. This is not the time or place. Comments must be positive and upbeat.
Immediate - too often by the time an employee is recognized for a job well done, weeks if not months have passed. Obviously the closer the recognition to the actual performance the better.
Close - recognition is best presented in the employee’s work environment among peers. Invite the person’s team members and work friends to attend.
Specific - a great presentation is a time to point out specific behaviors that reinforces key values.
Shared - typically, recognition comes from the top down; however, recognition that means the most often comes from peers who best understand the circumstances surrounding the employee’s performance. Peers, as well as managers and supervisors, should be able to comment during the presentation.
#1. Embrace Fluidity. This is perhaps the hardest reality and where the rubber really hits the road with building 21st century, knowledge-based entrepreneurial organizations dependent on younger people.
They just get up and leave.
On a moment’s notice and often for the simple and defensible reason of valuing experience and variety over the often hum-drum and slow career - building that is part of staying and growing with one organization over time.
Again, as opposed to fighting this energy, go with it. Work to design the organization and refine the business model based on relatively short tenures - say 3 years or less - and with the ability to plug new people in and have them produce quickly.
To accomplish this requires strong and well-defined training styles and processes, clearly defined and “bounded” roles and responsibilities, and a knowledge management system that captures and processes the intelligence of the organization so that it doesn’t walk out the door when that “year overseas” calls.
How About Investors?
As for investors looking for emerging companies to back, my strong suggestion is to evaluate these softer “above the line” qualities in a corporate culture and a leadership team as much as the below line technology and balance sheet factors that are usually at the forefront of an investment evaluation.
For it is the right company culture - one that gets the best out of people of all ages - that both endures and provides for success for the long term.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, September 10, 2012
The old adage that banks are really only in the business of providing capital to those that don't need it has never been more true than it is today.
These days, most commercial and neighborhood banks only lend against quickly “liquidatable” assets or at a small multiple of historical cash flow.
Given that most startups and small businesses have neither of these, for them attaining traditional bank financing has such a low probability of success that it is rarely even worth the time to pursue.
So, where should the creative and committed small business owner go for funding when the banks say no?
Here are three places to look:
1. Crowdfunding. Popularized by donation - based platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Rockethub, crowdfunding allows entrepreneurs to efficiently raise capital in small amounts from one's social and professional networks.
Important timing note here: While equity-based crowdfunding was approved by Congress in the recently passed JOBS Act, it is still working through the process of SEC rule-making.
See crowdfunder.com - a startup that is developing one of the best platforms for equity-based crowdfunding - for the most timely updates in this regard.
2. Family and Friends. Since time immemorial by far the most popular funding source for new and small businesses is to ask those that know you best to stake your entrepreneurial journey.
For sure it is emotionally loaded, as so many of us don't want to mix our personal and professional lives, but it does provide a great “gut check” as to how serious, committed, and “sold” you really are on your business.
Well, it is one thing to lose the money of strangers, quite another to do so of Uncle Jed who you'll be seeing each holiday season.
A way to “reverse the frame” in these family and friends dialogues is to recognize that while yes, a relative or friend is doing you a big favor by investing in your business, you in turn are returning the favor and more by providing an opportunity for an outsized investment return along with the unique excitement of being a stakeholder in a small business.
3. Sell Services. Especially for technology and consumer product companies, the long pathway of research, product development, and establishing distribution mean that often years can go by in the dreaded “pre-revenue” stage.
So as opposed to relying solely on investment capital to “deficit finance” this gestation period, how about generating some cash through selling consulting services in the interim?
As examples, a company building a new and proprietary mobile application could in parallel build apps for others, a new restaurant could do catering, or a consumer product business could sell research services regarding their market niche.
And, if structured right, in addition to paying the bills, consulting projects like these can also be utilized to iterate one’s product development forward.
Use these three strategies - and do so as with all matters related to starting and growing a business with creativity, determination, and persistence - and soon you will be laughing all the way to the bank.
This blog post is a reprint of an article written by Jay Turo in last week’s Vistaprint.com’s Small Business Blog.
Written by Jay Turo on Tuesday, September 4, 2012
The four letter word in all conversations between entrepreneurs and investors is risk.
Investors are always interested in gaining ownership stakes in high potential companies but are also always weary of the considerable risk-taking necessary to actually do so.
The best investors and entrepreneurs I know take a dispassionate and detached approach.
They don’t get caught up in the “drama” that the word risk has unfortunately garnered in our "it bleeds it leads" media and in our litigious culture.
Rather, they view risk for what it actually is - simply a measurement of the likelihood of a set of future outcomes.
In the context of startup investing, it has three main drivers:
1. Technology Risk. Can the entrepreneur actually bring-to-market the product or service and on what timeframe?
2. Market Risk. Once the product is in the market, will anyone care?
3. Execution Risk. Can the entrepreneur lead and manage a growing enterprise?
Critically, investors do their risk calculation not by adding, but rather by multiplying, these factors together.
As such, poor grades on any one factor has an exponential impact on the business' overall risk profile, and thus its investment attractiveness.
And as should be obvious, companies that raise capital simply have better answers when queried regarding the above - their technology plans are better thought out, they understand their market and customers more deeply, and their people have better resumes and track records.
But it goes deeper than that.
Deals judged as higher risk are disproportionately prejudiced against, even when their expected return more than compensates for their higher risk.
As a result, higher risk deals are normally underpriced while the lower risks ones are usually over-priced.
That is good knowledge for investors, but what about the entrepreneur?
Well, it should be to always remember that the real dialogue going through the mind of the investor when considering a deal is not really about technology, or market, or management, even when that is what they want to talk about…
No, it is almost always about risk - both its reality and its perception.
Address this concern above all others, head-on, thoughtfully, confidently, and candidly.
And then risk will be put back where it belongs – as a factor to consider - and not something that just automatically stops a deal.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, August 27, 2012
Debt crises in Europe.
Medicare, education, and deficit crises at home.
Middle East crises for as far as the eye can see...
Things seem pretty bleak out there, don’t they?
And isn’t the tone of our civil discourse so polarized that not only do we have tough problems, but doesn’t it feel as if our ability to proactively address them is less than it has ever been?
But maybe we have met the enemy and it really is us.
Maybe we have let our “it bleeds, it leads” media - the drumbeat of negativity that we are subjected to on a daily basis - play havoc with our psyches.
Maybe we are putting so much emotional weight and heft into the things that are bad, the things that can go wrong, that it is crowding out the things that are positive, the things that can and are going so very right.
Maybe the statistical odds are actually overwhelmingly in favor of everything just getting better.
For all of us, our children, our grandchildren.
As in more prosperity, better education, more safety from premature death and disease, and yes even more happiness.
Maybe when we pull our heads up and look around, what we will see is that what we are really living in is a golden age of technology, of prosperity.
And of possibility.
Maybe optimism - as author Matt Ridley describes it – is really the intelligent, intellectual choice.
Peter Diamandis in his outstanding book “Abundance” talks about the “rising 3 billion” - how between now and 2020 the number of people connected to the global Internet and productivity grid will rise from its current 2 billion to 5 billion.
And that as it does as opposed to this creating crisis, how it will lead to the greatest economic boom in the history of the world.
A boom driven by innovation, by technologies with us now in dynamic new fields like cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing, synthetic biology, digital medicine, nanomaterials, and artificial intelligence.
So now this is exciting stuff, and I feel personally blessed that my professional life revolves around a company like Growthink with its so inspirational mission of helping entrepreneurs succeed.
As, of course, it will be the entrepreneurs – working at companies large and small and ones yet to be even dreamed and conceived - that will drive and create this new boom and these new innovations.
But even more excitingly, is the age that we are moving into is one driven by a power greater than that of technology and entrepreneurship.
And that will be one driven by the power of comparison.
As has been happening for the past 30 years, those individuals and locales and states and countries that “get it” - and let technology in, let entrepreneurship in, let freedom in, well they will continue to be the ones that get ahead and get richer and richer and dare I say happier and happier.
And those that don’t get, well they will fall further behind.
And for the first time in human history, there are now billions of people the world around with this power of comparison - of trial and error, of split testing, of modeling and mimicking best practices.
The power of information and intelligence and an entrepreneurial spirit and an empowerment to do something about it.
And because of this power, yes the statistical odds are overwhelmingly in favor of things just getting far better than any of us even dare to dream.
Written by Jay Turo on Sunday, August 12, 2012
The elephant in the room when it comes to entrepreneurship and small business is FAILURE.
The statistics are only debated to their degree but not their overall thrust - a very small percentage of businesses ever become meaningfully profitable and a smaller percentage still are ever sold for a meaningful price.
In other words, the vast majority of businesses - by objective, financial measures - fail.
Even worse, a lot of them fail badly - never achieving even one dollar in revenue and / or go so deeply in the hole that they have significant and negative financial spillover effects.
Like business and personal bankruptcies and investors losing all of their money.
In a word, business failure is traumatic.
Now it is not the kind of trauma that survivors of war and natural disasters experience, but in the world of work it can be about as bad as it gets.
Yet Americans today are starting businesses at a greater rate than at any time in the last 15 years…3% of the U.S. adult population annually start one, and a multiple of that dream about doing so.
So what gives?
Well, there is the financial view, namely that the rewards of a business sale are so great and life-changing that having any probability of its occurrence make the grave financial risks of business - building more than worth taking.
But this at best only explains half of the story.
No, there is something else going on here, and new research regarding of all things - Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, points to what it is.
Ground-breaking research - done by among others Dr. Richard Tedeschi of the University of North Carolina - shows that strong, negative experiences like war and natural disasters are NOT as scarring as once thought.
In fact, the exact opposite is true.
Statistically, most survivors of traumatic experiences - think prisoners-of-war and tsunami victims - come out of them stronger and on most measures, out-perform those in their peer groups unaffected by the awful events.
All I can say is wow.
Now everyday all of us should count our blessings dozens of times as “there but for fortune go I’ and offer nothing but great compassion and empathy for those suffering trauma, especially when it comes through no fault of their own.
But we also should take significant solace and inspiration from the rest of the story.
Life, as it does, goes on.
And according to the latest research, the old adage is true of that which does not kill you REALLY does make you stronger.
Now it would not be proper to equate a business failure with the physical and emotional traumas experienced by survivors of war and disaster, but entrepreneurs and executives can and should draw important wisdom from them.
Such as if you “fail” at this particular business, you won’t be broken and scarred forever.
And that professional and entrepreneurial growth is a participatory sport – learned only by doing and trying and striving and not by watching and fretting and waiting.
And then there are the related ideas of diversification and iteration.
Such as, in business, it is almost always far better to have four business “failures” and ONE success than it is to go zero for zero.
For the entrepreneur this does not necessarily mean running multiple businesses concurrently, but it does mean that the business strategy should be iterative and testing based.
Successful Internet companies get this intuitively - see Amazon and eBay and thousands of others - and you should too.
As for investors, they should take advantage of the incredible opportunity that the modern financial system offers to back multiple entrepreneurial companies, and not just one or a handful.
With the average return of the private equity investing asset class in some cases being over 27% annually (see research at Right Side Capital), the odds are strongly in your favor if you both invest right and diversify properly.
So entrepreneurs and investors get in the game!
Failure is no way near as bad as advertised and if approached with the right spirit and strategy, it can truly be the ultimate blessing in disguise.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, August 6, 2012
The “Great Recession” has cost America over 8 million jobs.
The entire fabric of the our "way of life" - from tax receipts to pay for government social programs, schools, and national defense - to the sense that the lives of our children will be better than ours is dependent on a society that creates LOTS of good jobs for those that want to work and are willing to work hard.
Let’s be more stark and look at two places in the world that simply don’t create very many jobs of any type - sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.
Even a cursory look at the deep and tragic social problems of these regions lead to two conclusions - 1) the incredibly wasted potential of literally hundreds of millions of people because there is so little to do and 2) the source of the attractiveness of violent ideologies to young people when there is no hope for them to “earn their own bread.”
Now, thank God America’s problems are nowhere even near the magnitude of those in these fortune-starved places, but the connection between how we live and our society’s ability to create jobs is such a fundamental and moral issue that it should never be made into any kind of political football.
And more to the point, as Americans we don't just want “a” job.
We want a GOOD job, or one that:
1. Allows for a reasonably “worry-free” meeting of the base, human needs - food, water, shelter, and clothing.
2. Provides security from threats to health and violence (i.e. making enough money to live in a safe neighborhood).
3. Is part and parcel of one’s overall life mission, whereby the successful performance of it is "self-actualizing," and generates self-respect, a sense of belonging and community, the inherent satisfaction of the work itself, and the satisfaction of contribution to a cause larger than ourselves.
So Where Do These Good Jobs Come From?
Well, they obviously don’t come from government.
Perhaps less obviously, they also don’t come from Fortune 500 America – as big companies on average shed more jobs than they create in time of both prosperity and recession.
No, according to multiple studies of U.S. Economic Census Data and from the Kauffman Foundation nearly all net new job creation in the U.S. economy comes from new (startups) and young (one to five years old) companies.
By way of perspective, in the last “good jobs year” of 2007, the U.S economy created 12 million new jobs.
Of these, startups and young companies created 8 million of them, or almost the exact number of jobs that have been lost in the current recession.
• Since 1977, without startup companies, net job creation for the American economy would be negative (i.e. more job would have been LOST than created) in all but a handful of years.
• Young firms - companies between 1 and 5 years old - over the past 30 years have accounted for the lion's share (more than 2/3) of all net job creation.
This is because while startups create a lot of jobs, the high failure rate of new businesses - less than 50% of them make it to age five - causes them to shed a lot of jobs too.
In fact, companies between one and five years old create on average 4 jobs per year each.
And it goes deeper than that.
My experience of over 20 years in business has taught me that there is far greater likelihood of a good job - as defined above - being at a startup or a dynamic young company versus being at a larger and normally more bureaucratic organization.
And it should be self-evident that companies that are creating jobs are one that are growing.
And yes folks, it is growth companies and growth companies alone that drive equity values and lift stock markets.
So, let's back them governmentally - not with handouts but how about for starters with just simple and predictable tax and regulatory policy.
And let's back them culturally - by holding up the entrepreneur and business owner for what he or she really is - a modern day, real-life action hero.
And from these bases of understanding and agreement, yes we can all build something great together.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, July 30, 2012
What most frustrates angel investors is the “needle in the haystack” nature of picking winners.
The frustration is trebled because the “traditional” investing options these days are so profoundly unattractive.
The U.S. public stock market long-term woes would be comical if they weren’t so tragic.
We are now well-beyond 13 long years of ZERO public market returns, with major indices (Dow, S & P, and NASDAQ) trading, on an inflation adjusted basis, much lower than they were in July 1999.
As for that other traditional pillar for the individual investor – residential real estate – its woes are similarly deep.
While prices have seen a moderate recovery this year, since 2007 residential real estate investments have largely reverted back to being long-term depreciating - and not appreciating - assets.
Most Americans, in fact, have gotten so discouraged by both markets’ performances and the media’s incessant “end is near” blaring that they have simply taken the “un-approach” to investing.
They just leave their money in cash – mostly in zero or close to zero interest checking and savings accounts.
Now, what is most perplexing and intriguing about this investment depression it that it has coincided with what has unquestionably been the greatest period in history for technology innovation and human progress.
So how do we square these – a period of historically unprecedented innovation tied to one of historically abysmal investing return?
And more importantly for the pragmatists, how do we profit from it?
To the first question, I would point to three main factors – continued payback for the 80’s and 90’s, globalization, and governmental intervention.
For the U.S. public markets at least, the last 13 years have represented a “reset” of values that had gotten way ahead of themselves in the 80’s and 90’s.
Remember, from August 1982 to July 1999, the Dow Jones Industrial Average went from 777 to 11,031, and the NASDAQ from 159 to 2,685.
Just too much too fast, and after this 16-year great bull market we have now had a 13 year pause.
As for globalization, in this context it is the idea that wealth growth in this period has not so much been paused as it has simply moved from the U.S. and the “West” to the “BIC” – Brazil, India, and China and their brethren.
To the degree that this is true, my view is that it is a short-term “ripple” that is clouding the longer-term reality that all of this great, new global wealth will soon find its way back to the U.S. in the form of increasing exports of American goods and services (especially services).
Thirdly, and perhaps most distressingly, has been the “double whammy” of U.S. governmental intervention in the markets.
First, by “crowding out” private capital with massive, structural budget deficits.
And more subtly but far more insidiously, by “uncertainty signaling” regarding tax and regulatory policy which has slowed entrepreneurs from taking the kind of assertive, forward action and risks that they could and would if they felt more comfortable regarding the rules of the game.
So what to do?
Well, if history has taught us anything, it has taught us that in the long run innovation always wins.
And, in spite of its challenges, the U.S. economy and society still produce by far the most and the best innovators in the world.
Find and back these innovators and you will be just fine – BIC, government, and the ups and downs of the markets notwithstanding.
As for who these innovators are? Just keep it simple.
As opposed to thinking of them as technologists, just think of them as good business people.
Peter Drucker defined them best many years ago simply as “Effective Executives.”
They are those that:
1. Ask, “What needs to be done?”
2. Ask, “What is right for the enterprise?” (as opposed to an individual or a specific stakeholder)
3. That develop action plans.
4. That take responsibility for decisions.
5. That take responsibility for communication.
6. That focus on opportunities rather than problems.
7. That run productive meetings.
8. And that think and say “we” rather than “I”
Find these effective executives in whatever line of business they may be in and BACK THEM.
Everything else is just noise.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, July 23, 2012
What do the most dynamic 21st Century entrepreneurial companies have in common? Well, for starters they a) pursue global Markets b) place company culture above all else and c) They embrace the Black Swan within and without.
They Pursue Global Markets. Peter Diamandis, in his great book “Abundance, The Future is Better than You Think” talks about the emerging world of “9 billion people with clean water, nutritious food, affordable housing, personalized housing, top-tier medical care, and nonpolluting, ubiquitous energy.”
Drowned out by the doom and gloom talk of Euro-crisis, LIBOR and Mitt Romney’s tax returns, it is THIS story that is and will be the dominant one of our 21st Centrury.
Try these statistics on for size, from 1999 to today Asia’s share of the world’s Initial Public Offerings grew from 12% to 66%. In that same time frame, United States IPO volume declined 75% in real terms and now accounts for less than 11% of the global total.
And with their capital and confidence, China and India are stretching their wings. Since 2005, they have been the two leading investors in Africa, investing $31 billion and $16 billion on the continent, respectively.
Why? Well, McKinsey estimates that consumer spending in Africa will double, to $1.8 trillion, by 2020, equivalent to bringing a whole new market the size of Brazil online.
China. India. Brazil. Africa. This is where the growth action is, and while the first reaction of Americans is to feel as if we’re being left out of the game, the RIGHT reaction should be WOW.
These are fantastic new markets for U.S. goods and services, especially services, and they are expanding in aggregate at a rate that even 10% U.S. domestic GNP growth couldn’t touch.
Action Point: Core to every strategic session for any company of ambition should include these simple questions:
• What is your China strategy? Your India strategy?
• How easy / possible is it for global customers to buy your product – to purchase your service?
• How can they find you? How do you market to them?
• How / must your business model evolve to leverage these new opportunities?
They Place Culture Above All Else. Modern business, shaped by technology, is increasingly diverging to two nodes – on the one hand to great size quickly (see Google, Facebook, eBay, Twitter, et al.) and on the other hand, to corporations of one, the so-called Free Agent Nation.
The tools of collaboration and connectivity - mobile always-on Internet, cloud productivity applications like Google Apps, Basecamp, Salesforce and Skype - are so good that the natural devolution is to a BREAKUP of the corporate form and to everyone working for themselves, by themselves.
Now except for the very fortunate few (see Google et al. above), almost everyone else is left with the challenge of how to get to scale and once there how to maintain it.
This is HARD. In a world where ideas and technologies and business models and even intellectual property (sad but true) can be copied and undercut worldwide at the speed of a mouse click, what can any company really hold onto?
The answer is company culture. There is no one size fits all answer as to what the “right” corporate culture is. Successful cultures are as disparate as General Electric’s famously formulaic one, to Zappos’, Virgin’s, and Mind Valley’s irreverent, almost carefree approaches.
But a few constants remain. A strong results and metrics-focused approach. A vigilant commitment to ethics and integrity. And an environment that encourages and demands learning and constant improvement of people and processes.
The great thing is that via the Internet we CAN copy the principles of the best of them - Zappos’ and Mind Valley’s and scores of others are online for all to see. While the principles of course are NOT the culture itself (wouldn’t it be nice if it was that easy?) they ARE signposts as to what is possible.
They Embrace the Black Swan Both Within and Without. At the core of modern entrepreneurship are the sometimes seemingly mystical precepts of The Black Swan.
The concept of The Black Swan was popularized by the great Lebanese thinker and writer Nicholas Taleb in his bestseller of the same name. He describes it best:
"What we call here a Black Swan is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable."
Taleb continues, "I stop and summarize the triplet: rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability. A small number of Black Swans explain almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives."
So from a business perspective, how can we make the Black Swan work for, and not against, us?
Well, two ideas:
1) Bet on the Unexpected. Check your ego firmly at the door when evaluating business models. Accept that you (and everyone) for that matter KNOWS NOTHING about what the future will hold other than the fact that we don't know what the future will hold.
That is philosophy - here is money-making: The Black Swan teaches us that the big outlier events - the 10 to 1 shots and beyond – will always be UNDER – priced in the marketplace. Bet on them.
2) Allow Serendipity To Do Its Work. Startups intuitively get the idea of creating new business models as part of their mission. But this lightness disappears quickly.
The Black Swan teaches us that what we have done to date, what has worked to date, is probably NOT what we will be doing, what will be working in the future.
And where does The Black Swan point us to find the wisdom as to what to do? Well, as much from outside the formal strategic planning process as from within.
As Taleb says - from conferences, from parties. From chance encounters. From being open to ideas, people and things outside of the normal box.
Incorporate these Black Swan elements into a dynamic corporate culture, cultivate and ACT upon the global view, and let the magic happen.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, July 16, 2012
It is not hyperbole to define a successful organization as one that finds the balance between a) making the right changes at the right time and b) having the discipline to “keep on keeping on” and just doing more of what is working.
Note well that b) is particularly hard to maintain when the tasks and activities that ARE working become repetitive and lack in excitement and drama.
So how does an organization find this balance - between thinking laterally and creatively and just keeping their heads down and plowing forward?
Well, luckily in the past few years a large and impressive business literature has sprung up that codifies best practices of how to balance this need to incorporate change in an organization with that to maintain doing “more of the good same.”
This thinking can best be summarized by the phrase “immersion plus spaced repetition” and goes like this:
1. Everything, of course, begins with ideas, and the best, business ones normally arise from a series of individually and organizationally introspective strategic planning and goal-setting sessions that clarify objectives and the obstacles standing in the way of their accomplishment.
This immersive process - done at least annually but at organizations with ambition quarterly - both defines what needs to be done and inspires all of the participants to take on the hard and often painful work of getting it done.
The latter point here cannot be underestimated – Thomas Edison famously said that “genius was 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” but that 1% “spark” is uber-critical in propelling an organization through the first threshold of change.
2. But, as anyone that attended an exciting or invigorating conference or strategic planning session can attest (and as I am sure Mr. Edison reflected on often during long nights at the lab), inspiration fades over time.
Even worse, when the inspiration is not followed through on, cynicism can set in and actually leave an organization worse off that if the planning sessions were never done in the first place!
So how to avoid this distressing fate?
3. Well, by keeping the ideas, goals, and objectives of the planning session alive through their regular review and adjustment.
Think of it this way - if a well-run strategic planning session is the essence of good leadership, then well-run, spaced and repetitive goals and objectives reviews are the essence of good management.
Great managers check in with their teams as often as daily – if only for 5 or 10 minutes – to review the day’s objectives and to keep the shorter term work flow aligned with the longer term planning and mission objectives.
The old adage that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time is never more true than when is comes to these spaced and repetitive management check-ins. When done right, they measure, acknowledge, and reward incremental progress and prevent the desire for the perfect from getting in the way of the doable and the done.
Now, at least annually and preferably quarterly, the entire organization needs to reconvene to review actual progress versus stated goals, to assess what worked and what got off track, and then to refine and define updated goals and objectives.
And after this next round of strategic planning sessions, what is to be done?
Well, the spaced and repetitive management check-ins begin anew. Wood is chopped, water is carried.
Following this simple but disciplined formula, over time great ideas become great realities, businesses are built, and legacies and fortunes are made.
And for investors, far more than technology these “above the line” leadership and management disciplines that separate the well-run companies to back from the haphazardly ones to avoid.
So what are you waiting for?
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, July 9, 2012
The founders of wildly successful companies - with their world-changing impacts and their awe inspiring wealth creation - receive much well earned praise and financial rewards for turning their great entrepreneurial visions into reality.
But what about those with 1-2 degrees of separation who also benefit immensely?
Folks like Andy Bechtolsheim - who invested $100,000 into Google in September 1998, a position now worth more than $1.7 billion.
Or a Mark Cuban, who rode the Internet wave perfectly, to the tune of selling Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.9 billion in Yahoo stock. Even better, he had the additional good luck to sell nearly all of that stock near the peak of the Internet bubble.
For that matter, how about Mikhail Prokhorov, now with a fortune estimated at over $18 billion, and other rags to riches stories like his driven by having the right friends at the right time?
Prokhorov as a young man had as his sponsor Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Potanin - just as many of Russia’s largest state-owned enterprises were being privatized.
Prokhorov parlayed this relationship into a controlling interest in the huge Russian nickel business before it became a stand-alone publicly traded company.
And he - like Mark Cuban - had the additional boon of turning his equity stake into cash at the absolute right moment (and the circumstances of which are high comedy to say the least).
These stories of great luck and fortune are timelessly inspirational for entrepreneurs, investors, and dreamers everywhere.
At the same time, they are frustratingly vexing and opaque to turn from descriptive narrative into prescriptive guide.
I.E. – if it were only so simple doing “A,” and then having “B” magically appear.
But of course luck and good fortune - as a whole lot of business philosophers from Nassim Taleb to Malcolm Gladwell to Joshua Ramo have opined - just doesn’t work that way.
There is, however, a LOT that we all can and must do to “let luck in.” Author and speaker Stephen Shapiro offers three great ideas to do so:
1. Grasp the Critical Difference Between the Probability of ANY Good Thing, versus a SPECIFIC good thing, Happening. To illustrate, Shapiro puts a twist on the famous birthday example:
“…if you ask the question, “How many people do you need in a room to have a 50 percent chance that two people will have the same birthday?” Some people immediately assume it is half of 367, or roughly 184. While that is a logical guess, it is actually incorrect. In fact, you would only need 23 people. Shocking? Try it some time and see what happens. With just 40 people you will have a nearly 90 percent chance that two individuals will have the same birthday.
Now I’d like you to consider how many people you would need in a room to have a 50 percent chance that two people share a particular birthday? For example, I was born on April 25. How many people would I need to have in a room to have a 50 percent chance that there is another person with my exact birthday? Surprisingly, the number now increases to over 600.”
The business point?
While specific goals and objectives are great, be careful to not limit the various permutations that a business journey might take to arrive at a desirous destination.
2. Understand the Difference between The Value of Planning, and being Wed to “A Plan.” Shapiro quotes General and Future President Dwight Eisenhower’s poignant quote that "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."
3. The Great Ones Above All Else, Act. All of the stories of business success are many things, but above all else they are tales of ACTION.
Of writing the code. Of making the investment. Of going to the conference. Of talking to that beautiful stranger.
Now thinking and being like this does not guarantee that you will become a famous General, or a wildly successful entrepreneur or investor.
But the opposite is assured - that without cultivating the mindsets of boldness, of action, of positive expectation, one runs the serious risk of living - as a man of famous great action once so famously said - “with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”