Growthink Blog

Positive Change – One Business at a Time


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Holding constant for socioeconomic factors, the typical entrepreneur makes less money, works more hours and suffers more work-related stress than their employed counterparts.

And when we combine these statistics with those that show a very low percentage of businesses ever attaining meaningful profitability, it is remarkable that people ever even dream to be entrepreneurs and start businesses at all.

But start them they do!

Quite possibly the most amazing and inspiring number in all of American business is 550,000.

That is the approximate number of new businesses that are started in American each and every year.

Now these opposing statistics beg the question, “Why?

Why would 550,000 people - who statistically are far better educated and wealthier than the population as a whole - engage in behavior that on the surface clearly seems contrary to their self-interest and dare I say, delusional?

Well, on the cynical side, many of these brave folks probably think the odds of economic success are greater than they really are.

And even if they know the odds, they think that they don’t apply to them. 

On the slightly less cynical but still not totally inspiring side, one could argue that businesses are started out of boredom - out of the need for that “action rush” that in the realm of business often only an entrepreneurial endeavor can truly provide.

Inspirationally, many believe like I do that entrepreneurship is the greatest force for positive change in the world today, and they start and grow businesses to be positive change agents, on levels big and small.

They start restaurants to create and share beautiful food, service, and atmosphere.

They open day care facilities to provide quality, spirited child care for working families.

They start creative agencies - graphic design, publish relation, web development firms, and the like to leverage their business and creative talent to its most effective end.

And they start drug development and medical device companies to help people live longer, healthier lives.

And thousands of types and forms and sizes of business in between, led by entrepreneurs with aspirations big and small, driven by motivations both pedestrian and soaring.

But at the heart of all of their reasons for starting businesses, at least of the ones that survive, is that often begrudged but really most inspiring motivation of them all.

They start businesses to make a lot of money.

Now the key word in that sentence is make - as in bringing into existence through creativity, effort, and as often as not more than a little serendipity and luck, something that did not exist beforehand.

Now often, for the entrepreneur and those that back them, the touching of this money often takes many years, even decades, of under-paid, hard, and often thankless work, before a cash windfall in the form of a business sale or a public offering.

But that is a story for another day. 

For now, find those entrepreneurs and businesses that can truly make money, encourage and back them, and you and the world will get to a better place.


Chop Wood, Carry Water, Make Money


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GREAT businesses find 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 do executives find this balance - between being creative 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 find this all-important balance.

It can best be summarized by the phrase “immersion plus spaced repetition” and goes like this:

1. Everything, of course, begins with ideas, with the best ones arising from a series of 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 the best companies quarterly - both defines what needs to be done and inspires all to take on the hard work of getting it done.

The value of inspiration 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 than 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 repetitive goal 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.

Then, the organization reconvenes and reviews progress against stated goals, assesses what worked and what didn’t, and then refines and updates the key goals and objectives.

And after this next round of strategic planning, what is 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, management, and company culture disciplines separate the well-run companies to back from the disorganized ones to avoid.

So what are you waiting for?


The Unreflecting Organization – Not Worth Having


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Every time I moderate a strategic planning retreat, I learn something.

About myself.

About the investment of life force necessary to build and sustain a successful organization in the modern business day.

About the importance of heartfelt and mutually supportive communication among and between an effective executive team.

About how there is no more efficient use of business time than to step away from the day-to-day, to reset, and to talk about the big “whys “of an enterprise.

And from this talk, to refresh, refine and define the best, most strategic, and highest ROI use of executives’ time and of an organization’s capital.

I have the great, good fortune to moderate 1 - 2 of these “big” strategic planning retreats each month. 

This past week, the group was the eight person executive leadership team of one of the larger and more prestigious hospitals here in Los Angeles.

A dynamic and highly experienced group, these eight executives have management and leadership responsibilities for over 1,500 hospital employees - providing care to over 17,000 patients, including 4,000 deliveries and 8,000 surgeries annually. 

Yes, these executives have their strategic and tactical hands full to the highest degree.

In addition to the sheer scale and breadth of their organization and of the truly life and death impacts of their decisions, they also must grapple with and adapt to the sea changes beyond their control in our brave, new healthcare world.

The Affordable Care Act.

Payor consolidation, driving down reimbursements.

An increasingly Byzantine thicket of regulatory, liability, and organizational complexity that can easily make a hospital executive feel that even their best work will and cannot “tilt the windmill” toward high quality and cost effective care.

But here’s the inspirational rub of it all…

The bigger the challenge, the more engaged does become the effective executive.

And in this hospital executive team that I had the privilege of working with this past week, well they were engaged and committed at the highest level.

How so?

Well, how about this - in spite of having a more than a century of collective experience, and having to travel from their homes an average of more than 50 miles through Los Angeles rush hour traffic, all eight members of the team arrived at the retreat 30 minutes before its scheduled 9:00 am start!

Or, how about the fact that the organization’s CEO, in spite of being on the job for 17 years and being honored as one of the nation's top hospital CEOs, seeking critical feedback from a staff member on the job less than 90 days?

How about a willingness to, in spite of leading a wildly successful and highly respected 100 year old+ organization, to in an afternoon agree to scrap the team's existing meeting structure and try something completely new?

And my favorite, how about a willingness to take on the challenge of fundamentally rethinking the performance review structures of their vast and complex organization, knowing that yes, doing so will result in far more work on their already stretched plates, but committing to it as it is in the profound interest of the organization's mission and reflective of its values to do so?

And that is all that matters.

These kinds of discussions, and of course many more of the highly confidential, and often heated and pointed type, resulted in a high emotion and results-packed retreat day.

Undertake this work like our fair and fine hospital executives did this past week and watch the magic happen.

And, of course, ignore it at your peril.

Because, as Thoreau once famously said an unexamined life is not worth living.

And an unreflecting organization will, in the end, almost always turn into one not worth having.


Freedom is Just Another Word…


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Compared to its original intent, Memorial Day has become an overly “leisure” - focused day.

Rather, it is a day where we can and should take pause and remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we may enjoy our blessed, modern lives.

Along with President's Day, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving, Memorial Day is one of the Big Four quintessentially “American” holidays.

Yes, days to step aside from our normal work routines and responsibilities, to relax, to have fun, to spend time with friends and family.

But also days to "pay forward" the sacrifices of those that gave their lives, in the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln, “so that that nation might live.”
 
And a great way to pay it forward is to stand strong for freedom.

Freedom is a word that too often has become stripped of much of its inherently spiritual meaning by politicians and others seeking to further narrow agendas.

And, also too often, a distracted (and distraction-seeking) populace has let them get away with just that.

But freedom stands alone as the highest of all of the great “American” virtues - this country’s revolutionary gift to the cultures and economies of the world.

Now, to the degree that the success of the American experience has inspired freedom worldwide - such that economies and cultures and lives of people in places like China, India, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, parts of Africa - that until recently have been clothed in medieval darkness, poverty, and rigidity...

... well then if freedom perishes here in the years to come, it will go on living elsewhere to a degree and on a scale many, many multiples greater than on these shores.

And yes, that is inspirational in its own right.

BUT it would not make it any less discouraging and dare I say sinful for those us blessed to be born and living in the cradle of freedom to let it perish here.

Or, as badly, to not take full advantage of the opportunities for self-expression, self-actualization, contribution, and prosperity this freedom affords.

And, of course, on this Memorial Day it would also be highly dishonorable to those who gave the ultimate sacrifices to preserve and protect it.

So how can one rightfully honor this gift of freedom?

Well first from that simple, profound place of gratitude and thanks.

But build on that.

Stand up for justice.

For good, limited, effective and neighborly government.

But stridently and ever vigilantly against corrupted, self-serving, expanding, "celebrity" and far away government.

And when it comes to work, knowing that freedom’s truest modern, civic expression is in the realm of private enterprise.

The realm of business.

Of entrepreneurship.

So go for it.

Think. Plan. Act. Do. 

To the fullest of our ability and with all of our effort.

In the service of noble missions and visions that call to us.

And when done to the fullest of our ability and with all of our effort…

…well on this Memorial Day then, we are honoring the sacrifices of those so they truly did not die in vain.


Lesson I Learned this Weekend


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I had the great good fortune this past weekend to co-host Growthink's Business Blueprint Live event at the LAX Sheraton Hotel, next door to our Company’s Los Angeles offices.

At it, 53 entrepreneurs and business owners gathered for two days and nights with the Growthink team to dream, plan, and network as to how to best grow the revenues, increase the profits and better fulfill the missions of their businesses.

What is really neat is that because of its longer group and in-person format, there is time and space to really listen and, correspondingly, to share best business practices, ideas, and inspirations.

Golly - what a weekend!

The attendees that ventured from near and far and from the comforts of their homes and regular routines took a chance.

The chance that by "mixing it up a bit," that breakthroughs would follow.

And they did.

From the aerospace engineer developing new quality assurance processes that make the engines that fly our planes safer and more efficient, to the software entrepreneur helping community banks better manage their loan portfolios (and by so doing freeing up more capital to lend to entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow their companies and create jobs), to the doctor re-designing the nature of care to focus more on prevention than cure, new and powerful business ideas and tactics were hatched and committed to.

And I was reminded of an old wisdom that I forget way too often.

It goes like this: when there is something “nutritious” in my life and business that I am resisting, it is that thing that above all else I need and should be doing.

It could be getting up early and doing that workout.

Or not having that second glass of wine. 

Or taking that vacation.

Or, in business, making that call, writing that plan.

Going to that meeting, that conference.

And when you do, hold nothing back.

Don’t let any nagging doubts about whether this strategy, this decision, this job is the right one.

Just dive in.

What is brought to mind is Joseph Campbell, author of a “Hero of a Thousand Faces,” and the world’s great scholar on mythology and the foundational stories of humanity.

He famously said that what we all seek is not “so much meaning in life, as we do the experience of being alive.”

Well, this weekend what I and very many of the attendees that participated and shared with that full-on entrepreneurial commitment experienced this weekend was very much that of being fully “business alive.”

And from it and because of it, new business and conceptual breakthroughs and lovely relationships naturally flowed.

And when I reflect on these amazing outcomes, and then when I think back to the resistance I felt of not wanting to organize, not wanting to go to the event…

Well, it hits home that so important wisdom that when I really don't want to do something that I know in my heart that I should…

…well that is the exact thing that I must do. 

And then let the magic happen.


Are you a Contender or a Pretender?


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One of the great joys of my work is the unique opportunity it affords to meet and to learn from talented, committed, and effective executives - working hard and long on their entrepreneurial journeys

Men and women like Mike Kovaleski and Carrie Kessel of Mahar Tool Supply, a Michigan-based, mid-sized automotive technology distributor that is reinventing how vendor partnerships are structured and maintained in the global, high-tech, and oh-so competitive modern car business.

And as they do, they are creating both good jobs and an inspiring culture that's reflected in both the great longevity of their company (66 years young and counting!) and in the average tenure of their executive team (10+ years and increasing daily!).

Leaders like Dr. Ezat Parnia - President of Pacific Oaks - a small and fast growing Pasadena-based college that under his leadership is merging traditional offline educational values with the promise and power of online learning.

And as he does so, everyday demonstrating his fierce commitment to his students, mostly adults going back to school mid-life to earn training and degrees in early childhood education…

…who armed with their Pacific Oaks’ educations go out into the world and effect the school’s mission of seeing every child - no matter race, gender, or economic circumstance - be treated as a unique, special, and able learner.

And men like Good Samaritan Hospital’s CEO Andy Leeka, with his so articulate commitment to seeing his 1,400 employee strong, inner city Los Angeles Hospital become both a leader in care giving and…

…be a beacon of hope that says YES even budget and regulatory-strained hospitals can be places of high staff camaraderie, great patient care, and dare we say, even a little fun, too.

What do these brave and inspiring executives all have in common?

Well, first of all, in spite of them all leading very different organizations, with different reasons for being, competing in very different marketplaces, with very different sets of challenges and opportunities, they all think and act fundamentally the same.

Entrepreneurially.

Recognizing that even though they lead organizations that are on average more than 80 years old on average…

…that their fundamental business reality today is constant, unrelenting, everlasting, and fundamental change.

And that their job as leaders is to respond, pivot, profit, and win in the midst of all of it.

Second, they all "get" strategy.

Not as some academic or consultant’s exercise, but strategy as at the core of why they're organizations exist and what their mandates are to lead them.

Strategies that are big, as in where do they want their organizations to be 5, 10, 20 years hence?

And strategies that are “small,” as in what CRM, what eCommerce platform, what project management software to use?

And yes, they are all definitely contenders.

They just don't talk about reaching for the brass ring, they sacrifice every day to actually do so.

They plan their work.

And then they work their plans.

They (and everyone around them) know that it is not about them. Their glory, their rewards.

They’re in it for the mission. 

Because they are blessed to be given the opportunity, and now by golly they are going to strive and strain with every fiber of their being to make the most of it.

For contenders like them, I have only one thing to say.

Thank You.

For making all of our lives healthier, smarter, richer, and all in all just better.

Oh, and maybe a quick word of advice.

Every now and again do come up for air and give yourself a pat on the back. 

Because you've earned it and more.

P.S. Think you’re a contender?  That you have the right stuff?

Are you committed to taking your career and business to the next level?

Then join Growthink President Dave Lavinsky and me in-person next weekend at our Business Blueprint Live event.

Click here to learn more and to apply to attend.


[Webinar] Opportunities in Healthcare IT


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You’re invited to attend a webinar on Tuesday, April 16th at 1pm Eastern / 10am Pacific about opportunities in the Healthcare Information Technology sector.

To register, click here.

Why Attend?

Over $200 billion MORE was spent on healthcare in 2012 than in 2011.

Let's put that number in perspective - the increase in healthcare spending last year was greater than the revenues of Microsoft, Cisco, Google, and Apple.

Combined.

And with the Affordable Care Act slowly but surely becoming the law of the land and the Baby Boomer generation retiring and hitting their “peak” healthcare spending years, there is no end in sight to the growth.

You Can Cry About It or You Can Seek Opportunities In It

While out-of-control healthcare costs and bureaucratic systems remain one of our most vexing societal challenges, private sector entrepreneurs are moving fast and smart to address various aspects of the problem.

And are building dynamic growth companies while so doing.

Healthcare Information Technology – A $30 Billion Business

Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) is one of the great and growing bright spots in the U.S. economy – it’s a $30 billion+ a year industry growing at over 14%/year.

It is comprised of big sectors:

• Practice Management Systems (PMS) - a $4 billion/year business growing at 11%/year
• Electronic Health Records (EHR) - a $1.5 billion/year business growing at 22%/year
• Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) - a $1 billion /year business growing at 15%/year
• And last but certainly not least - Transcription, Billing, and IT services, clocking in at $24 billion/year and growing at 12%/year

Within each of these sectors are dozens of under-the-radar companies experiencing strong revenue and profitability growth, developing dynamic and cost-saving technological innovations, and are being courted by financial and strategic acquirers. 

Companies like Castlight Health, Practice Fusion, Kissner Software, and Strategic Solutions Management.  

Meet An Industry Leader

I would like to invite you to an exclusive opportunity to meet, via web conference, the principals of one of the most innovative medical billing companies in the country. 

Combined, they have over 40 years of experience in successfully overcoming and profiting from some of the most vexing challenges in medical billing and information technology, and are well-versed on the regulatory and technological changes sweeping the industry.

On the web conference, they will share:

• Who the winners and losers will be when the brave new world of the Affordable Care Act meets the cloud computing and Big Data revolutions

• Why practice areas like obstetrics, surgery, and podiatry are in a unique period of change and consolidation

• How the “dream” of combining billing, practice management, and electronic health records systems into turnkey platform is in fact becoming a reality

• How the emerging world of mHealth – the use of iPads and tablets and mobile devices to deliver care - is and is not transforming modern medicine

• And much, much more

Limited Attendance

To preserve the intimacy of the presentation, we are limiting the web conference to the first 35 registrants.

So sign up right away to attend via the link below:  

https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/834181266

Best regards, and look forward to connecting. 


Holding out for a Hero


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Why - once we have met our basic needs for food, warmth, and safety - do we work?

And work hard.

There are the usual, default answers.

For Status. Power.

In response to a "fight or flight" instinct, hardwired deep in us.

Because when we were young, we saw our parents do it and when we grew up, we wanted to be like them.

Phew.

What a bunch of hamster on a wheel mumbo-jumbo that makes folks at the end of their life look back and say why did I waste so much of my precious life on that?

Instead, how about this?

Let’s be heroes.

Wikipedia defines a hero as one “who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, displays courage and the will for self-sacrifice…for some greater good of all humanity.”

Now, that’s good.

It touches the various dimensions of our being.

Heroism in action is a strong, hard effort - a pushing to the limits of one’s physical endurance.

Heroes are intellectually wise. They are fair, sober, and big, and rarely let anger and fear get the best of them.

And when we are in the presence of a hero, we are spiritually risen up, are we not?

And you know what goes hand-in-hand with heroism?

Work.

Hard, honest work - taking great, exquisite care to do things right – is what heroism is all about.

As is teamwork.

And creative work, toward an idealistic end.

Work on the behalf of the powerless, for and with the young and the old, heroic.

Winning the right way - with grace and authentically recognizing those that aided in your journey - so very heroic.

And trying your absolute hardest and most honest best, and coming up just a bit short, even more so.

Heroic work, in all its forms, is work worth doing.

You know it when you see it.  And unfortunately, also when you don’t.

Let’s look for the heroes in our lives - those right around us and those in their so blessed multitude in this wide, wide, and inter-connected world of ours.

Let’s celebrate and strive to be like them.

Everything else is just noise.


Big Media, Big Government, Big Business, Big Problems


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Depending on how you slice it, this is either a golden or a leaden business age.

It is a golden age, as never before in human history has there been so much access to great opportunities as there are right now.

Crowdfunding, private equity and debt secondary markets like Second Market and SharesPost, peer-to-peer lending sites like Prosper.com and Lending Club, and the Big Three social networking giants - Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter - have made information and intelligence on, and access to opportunities better and greater than ever before.

Yet, the overall spirit and mindset of business is anything but golden.

Huge and historically unprecedented public sector debt and social safety net obligations in the United States and Europe - layered on an overlapping and inter-connected global banking system cast a pale “macro” of systemic risk over the markets.

Compounding matters, never before has the drumbeat of news and information been louder, mostly shrilling that the financial sky could fall at a moment’s notice.

The overall effect of this both real and perceived angst is a “crowding out” of all of the good stuff that is happening out there.  

So what should the growth-seeking, yet sober executive and / or investor do?

Well, first and foremost, get one’s mind and spirit right

And the best way to accomplish that is to focus on what author Matt Ridley so eloquently describes as what has been since the dawn of Man the guidepost to our better future.

Entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship lives and grows in the “micro” - in sectors and niches within the overall economy either protected from or aided by the larger current.

And entrepreneurship is the antithesis of sclerotic, bureaucratic, and beyond human scale organizations (see Big Media, Big Government, Big Business) of such complexity and inertia that the application of individual motive force them to far more often than not is ineffective, no matter how good the intention.

Rather, entrepreneurship is undertaken via that finest form of collaboration known to history - small, impassioned teams driving toward an idealistic vision and mission.

To sell some thing or some service of a type, or in a way, or at a price that has never been done before.

And to make money doing it.

And the really good news is that there are more entrepreneurs - far, far more - hundreds of millions worldwide striving to have their brilliance and creations expressed and realized, and to make their futures their own.

And in their multitude, in their collective uniqueness, they are the hope and the light of the world.

Back them.

Even better, be one of them.

In mindset, in spirit, and in appetite for change and risk and daring.

You’ll feel a lot better. 


Getting the Important Work Done Well


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Every business needs a vision - a clear definition of what its leadership seeks the business to become.

And every business needs a strategy - a roadmap of how the business will reach its vision.

Once the vision and the strategy are clear, the next step is action planning – the day-by-day mapping of how all of this good but sometimes theoretical “stuff” will actually get done.

This involves determining which projects will be completed (and as importantly, which ones will NOT), by whom and when, and how many resources - work hours, money, and assets - will be required.

Now, this is lovely for the whiteboard but what business more often than not looks like is…

Unclear, Unshared Vision. With all the time most management teams spend talking to each other, it's surprising how often they have different pictures of what everyone is supposed to be doing and in what direction they are supposed to be heading.

It's the hard and repetitive job of leadership to repeatedly communicate the plan (i.e. the vision, the strategy, and the day-to-day roadmap) until all are on the same page.

And then rinse and repeat.

Planning Once Per Year, Out Of Routine
. So many of us, in January, think about our personal goals for the year ahead.

Similarly, many businesses work on their yearly plan during the same month of every year.

And then they forget about it.

The best businesses, in contrast, create, refine, and live their business plans in real time, every day.
Yes, this is far, far easier said than done, now more than ever because of…

The Tyranny of the Urgent. In my humble view, the greatest challenge to businesses attaining greatness is how difficult it is, because of technology, to not let those “urgent, but NOT important" activities dominate our days.

More than ever, we must fight for the time and attention to do the important work, and block out those insidious distractions everywhere and always around us.

No Process or Methodology For Strategic Planning
. A best practice is to focus on vision and strategy in one set of sessions, and then on the day-to-day action planning in another.

In discussing vision and strategy, we are in creative mode, exploring any and all options and ideas.

In contrast, figuring out the best day-to-day action plans is best suited for separate, more analytical-type meetings.

With appropriate time set aside for vision, for strategy, and for action planning, a business can experience the collective joy that comes from knowing exactly what it is striving toward and how it will get there.

Everyone at the business will feel more grounded, balanced, and centered.

Being so, all will come to work with greater purpose and passion.

And, at the end of the year, will have far more to show for their efforts.


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