Learning from the High Flyers, Part Two


 

Last week, I wrote about how any business - no matter how "Old School" - can benefit via emulating the strategies of "High Flying" companies in industries like virtual reality, wearables, 3D printing, autonomous driving, and more.

One reader whose opinion I respect wrote back..."Jay, loved the post and agree with the sentiment, but can you make it a bit more actionable? Perhaps offer some specific “high flying” ideas and examples applicable right away to companies in slower growth industries and markets?"

Of course!

Here are four critical business domains - financing, sales, organization design and goal setting where the high-flyers get it right:

Financing. Most companies in high flying industries raise money (and a lot of it!) on an ongoing basis.

Like Uber raising $8.7 billion over 7 years.

Or Airbnb raising $2.3 billion over 8.

Or Dropbox raising $607 million over 9.

They keep raising money because money buys speed. Speed of product development, of brand-building, of customer acquisition, of team-building and talent aggregation.

Now, for how long will they continue to do it?

For as long as they are in business.

Quite simply, investor promotion is a mission-critical process that should be undertaken by every company of ambition on an ongoing and continuous basis.

For smaller, less "glamorous" companies, look at it this way - if you go out and ask for money, you might surprise yourself and raise it. And if you can't, it's a canary in the coal mine - flagging needing to be fixed problems with your strategic model, your management execution, or both.

Sales.  Over the past 15+ years, advising hundreds of companies across diverse industries, I have seen a consistent, disturbing trend: The older, more "established" a business is, the less enthusiastic, inspirational, and “Big Deal Effective” is its sales approach and execution.

Yes, any sales team for any business, no matter the industry, would instantly perform a LOT better by just emulating the "Messianic Enthusiasm" of the high flyers.

Well, you may say, if my business, my industry, my product was as exciting as theirs, then I would be more enthusiastic too!

Hogwash!

Enthusiasm, at its heart, is
a choice. Let's have our salespeople be as enthusiastic as those at the High Flyers and watch results improve right away.

Organization Design. When it comes to how that "Collection of Humans" that make up how a modern business is organized, long gone and never to return are the days of all a companies' people being W-2 employees working under a common roof.

Beyond a “virtual” workforce, beyond utilizing overseas development partners, best practices around modern organization design include "Scrum-like" reporting structures, all calls being done as video calls, always on chat, in-person meetings conducted standing up, no landline phones, "e-mail free" days of the week, and the complete elimination of office environments altogether.

Of course, not all of these approaches are appropriate for every business, but if your company is not growing then why not try everything and anything so that it does?

This is the high-flying mindset - to never be complacent or "me too," but instead to strive for efficiency and creativity in all aspects of how a company is led and managed.  

Goal Setting: High flying companies set big and exciting goals, design bold plans to reach them, and then organizationally work, work, work to make them so.

Compare this with the approach at too many older line businesses. They set goals like “growing 5% next year” or “hiring a new salesperson” or “redesigning the email newsletter.”

Please.
In the famous words of Daniel Burnham - “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood.

Dream a little. Push the growth plan right to that edge of “Hot Air.”

My experience is that we are usually pleasantly surprised both by how close we come to reaching those “stretch” goals, and as importantly how much just going out on a limb a bit builds “elan” and confidence in the entrepreneur and the organization.

Financing, Sales, Organization Design, Planning.

Do like the high flyers in these business domains and soon enough your company will be one of them, too.

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Learning from the Business High-Flyers


 

Earlier this month, I moderated a webinar panel focused on technology and entrepreneurial opportunities in Virtual Reality, a market sector growing at over 100% per year, and transforming industries as diverse as medicine, real estate, entertainment, gaming, and more.

Driven by five amazing panelists from the worlds of entertainment, software, healthcare, and venture capital, it was an inspirational and thought-provoking look at a market space brimming with opportunity, possibility, and bullishness.

It was also the first in a series that over the next few months I will be hosting featuring entrepreneurs and investors from some of the world’s hottest market and technology sectors, including 3D printing, drones, artificial intelligence, technology wearables, autonomous driving, and more.

I am doing this because first, it is simply exciting and inspiring to visit with innovators - folks who "connect the dots" between technological change and business opportunity.

And as an investor, I know that the only way to earn outsized profits is to identify businesses early, before they go through their "Hockey Stick" growth phase, and most of these kinds of companies are to be found in fast growth industries like those listed above.

But as importantly, I am hosting these webinars for those of us who do NOT work in high-flying sectors, but who can benefit tremendously from the type and quality of innovation thinking and strategic planning as done in them.

Thinking, planning, and doing that is fresher. More opportunities-filled and possibilities rich.

More easily embracing of new technologies, not just for their core customer value propositions, but also for internal business processes, team building, communication, collaboration, and more.

As I wrote in my Olympics Post last week, we must always be vigilant to maintain this "always innovating" mindset, especially as we and our businesses age and mature.

Unfortunately, too often the media and the world wants us to believe that breakout business success is only for the chosen few - for the young technologists, for the geographically advantaged. For startups.

But this just isn't true.

Breakout success is available to any business, no matter how young or old, no matter its industry or market, so long as its leaders have the guts and the competitive spirit to do whatever it takes to grow their companies.

And a huge part of doing whatever it takes is letting go of the conventional wisdom that so suffocates too many older businesses...

...and instead learning from and emulating innovators who are dreaming and doing big, breakout business things.

The best entrepreneurs and executives in high-flying sectors are exposed daily to the best and latest technologies, to the most creative business thinking and planning, and are infused with the most unlimited sense of business possibility and opportunity.

Let’s learn from and be inspired by them.

And let’s think, do, and dream big things in our businesses like them.

So in the months ahead keep a look out for your invitation to meet these awesome innovators.

And maybe, just maybe, a little of their growth magic will rub off on your business too.

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Business Lessons from Bolt, Phelps, et al.


 

An amazing 3.5 billion people - half the globe - are watching some or part of the Rio Olympics.  

Because it is great entertainment.

And because, perhaps more than at any other event, nowhere is on greater display the full range of human emotion, achievement, failure, joy, and heartbreak.

And from it all come awesome wisdoms - on life, relationships, culture, country - and if you look not even all that closely, on entrepreneurship, business and success. Here are six:  

6. The World is One. With over 10,000 athletes from 200(!) countries participating, and with fans from all of those countries watching, the Olympics are an overwhelming reminder that global business planning and acting is both a blessed opportunity and a competitive necessity.

This is an especially important wisdom for smaller U.S. businesses, spoiled by easy access to their huge domestic market far too often are, let me say it, just too lazy to explore and pursue international opportunities.

5.The Power of Competition. On my wall as a kid was legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden's "Pyramid of Success," with at its top the ultimate goal of “Competitive Greatness.”

And on each rung of the pyramid are its building blocks, the necessary conditions for that Competitive Greatness like:

Industriousness: “Success travels in the company of very hard work. There is no trick, no easy way.”

Team Spirit: “The star of the team is the team. We supercedes ‘me’.”

Confidence: “The strongest steel is well-founded self belief. It is earned, not given.”

Poise: “Be yourself, don't be thrown off by events, whether good or bad.”

The point, made especially from the back stories of the athletes and their journeys to the Games, is that the high goal of competitive greatness - of Olympic Gold - then drives the years and years of dedicated, intense practice and training.

And just like in business, this pursuit of Competitive Greatness - of “Performing at your best when your best is required" - in turn forges powerful and life and community changing qualities of character, leadership, and self-belief.

4. Winning May Not be Everything, but it is Extremely Important. The difference between Olympics winning and losing is often measured in mere thousandths of a second.

But the differences in consequences, especially for athletes from poorer countries, is often that between abject poverty and extreme wealth.

The great sprinter Usain Bolt personifies this, sharing the story of how as a teenager in Jamaica he competed barefoot because he could not afford shoes to now where he has parlayed his Olympic success into a net worth of over $60 million.

Similarly, in business, only a very few companies become Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, et al., but it remains critically important to recognize the massive economic importance of winning BIG...

...and thus of baking elements and possibilities of big breakout success into one's business model 
no matter how low the probability of their actually coming to pass might be.

3. Find the Fun. As an interlude between the Olympic viewing in our home we recently re-watched Mary Poppins, with its so lovely "Spoonful Of Sugar" opening song and its totally great opening lines of...

In every job that must be done
There is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap!
The job's a game

And wow, does this generation of athletes have their fun?

I am not talking about the famed revelry in the Olympic Village, but more as to the athletes’ laughs, smiles and overall “lightness of being” before, during, and after their competitions.

And perhaps more powerfully, the heartfelt congratulations and condolences shared by and between them throughout.

Much more so than previous generations, these athletes show that we can work and compete extremely hard, and enjoy it with our teammates and competitors as we go.

2. The Power of Team. Every winning Olympic athlete has around them an awesome, specialized team.

All aspects contributing to their peak performance - strength, speed, technique, nutrition, psychology, equipment - is assembled for them by trained, dedicated, and paid experts in that particular domain.

Similarly, any business benefits enormously through engaging specialists to improve key work processes - strategy, sales, marketing, technology, operations, finance, legal, etc.

Now can you stay in business without this kind of expert help?

Well, just like the Olympic athletes without expert teams around them, you can participate in the great game of business.

But you sure as heck aren’t bringing home a medal!

1. The Power of Measurement. The best athletes and their teams measure everything, and then meticulously adjust training regimens, tactics, and strategies as competitive results dictate.

For runners, if they sleep an hour more per night, how much do their times improve? If they forsake alcohol, processed foods, what happens?

If they train at altitudes, or in water, or different types of exercises and duration, how much faster, stronger do they become?

Similarly (and especially now), in business the Big Data and SaaS revolutions allow us to effortlessly and preciously measure every business process - sales, marketing, operations, finance - and the effects of changes to key inputs on results.

We just have to engage the data and commit to adjusting constantly to incrementally improve results.

And as we do, and especially with a great team around us, we too can win that so precious, and so profitable Business Gold.

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Why Do We Work?


 

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

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 at heroism’s heart.

As is teamwork. And creative work, toward an idealistic end.

As is work on the behalf of the powerless, for and with the young and the old.

As is winning the right way - with grace and with recognition of those that aided in your journey.

And as is trying your absolute hardest and most honest best, and sometimes coming up just a bit short.

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 blessed multitude in this wide and inter-connected world of ours.

Let’s celebrate them and let’s strive to be like them.

 

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Opportunities in Virtual Reality [Webinar Invitation]


 

Virtual Reality (VR) is one of the hottest market sectors in the world today, growing from a $90 million business in 2014, to $4.1 billion this year, and then more than doubling to $8.5 billion by 2018 (Goldman Sachs).  

Well beyond its “science fiction” roots, virtual reality hardware, software, and applications technologies are transforming industries as diverse as medicine, real estate, entertainment, gaming, and more.   And many predict these new technologies will have as profound an impact on personal and business communications and productivity as email, text messaging, and social media.

Combined. 

Webinar Invitation: Entrepreneurial and Investment Opportunities in Virtual Reality (To register, click here).

I am extremely excited to be hosting a webinar this Thursday, August 11th at Noon ET / 9 am PT where I will be joined by a select and amazing group of virtual reality entrepreneurs and investors who will share how they and their companies are winning in this incredibly dynamic space. My panelists include:

  • Mr. Leon Ng, President of LNG Studios, an award winning architectural and real estate 3D visualization studio and founder of North America’s largest Real Estate Television Network.  
  • Mr. Jared Sandrew, President of Go Ghost LLC and VFX, VR, Stereoscopic Supervisor, including work for Bento Box Entertainment on the “Bob’s Burger Virtual Reality Experience.”  
  • Mr. Tyson Woeste, Founder, Transported VR, a platform for real estate brokers to create and distribute Virtual Reality home walk-throughs to buyers. In Tyson’s words, “Real estate will be VR's first killer app...”
  • Ms. Julie Young, Producer at Emblematic Group, and Co-Founder of SH//FT. Produced several room-scale VR experiences including Kiya (Sundance 2016), Across the Line (Sundance 2016), and VREmpathy (White House Youth Homelessness Policy Session 2016).

On the webinar, they will share:

  • Why virtual reality is growing so rapidly right now and what this means for businesses of all types
  • What is most important for a successful VR customer experience - great hardware, software, the application itself, something else?
  • What businesses are the early VR adopters and how is this giving them competitive advantage
  • What countries are ahead in VR now and who is catching up?
  • Which specific companies / entrepreneurs are out there that smart investors should be watching?

Who Should Attend

This webinar is designed for two distinct attendee groups:

1) Those connected to the virtual reality industry as entrepreneurs, investors, and technologists.

2) Entrepreneurs and executives intent on learning why and how what is arguably the most important technology revolution happening in the world today will impact and change their businesses.

Limited Attendance

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

So register right away via the link below:  

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2584555288835916289 

I look forward to your attendance and feedback.

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The Young or Old Michael Jordan, Which is Your Business?


 

For so many very important reasons - pursuing capital to grow, positioning a business for a sale, recruiting new executive talent - the vast majority of business owners seek to have their companies judged and valued on its future prospects, and not its past results.

The truism of this for any business, and the executives that lead them, should be obvious and freeing.  

Obvious in that, of course the past is past, and that concepts of business value are inherently future-focused and determined.

The easiest analogy here is from the world of sports.

Who would be more valuable to a team seeking to win a championship? The 21 year old Chicago Bull rookie Michael Jordan, starting his career with no professional resume or accomplishments, or his 40 year Washington Wizards version, possessive of 6 NBA Finals MVPs, over 30,000 points scored, and universally regarded as the greatest player in basketball history?

Because sports is so visceral, so visual, it is far more obvious than in business to separate and properly rate past performance, and its predictive value for future results.

And this “past is past” motif is freeing, especially as we are confronted with the competitive and technological challenges of our modern, global business marketplace.

Yes, when we are feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, “past is past” can be a mantra, convincing ourselves that we can manage and lead our businesses to new and better forms and brand positionings, and not just be defined and “boxed’ by what we have done and been before.

And isn’t this, beyond making money (which is so awesome in its own right!), what draws so many of us to the world of business?

To be masters of our own fate, to have and exercise control, to fight through and against, and to win.

But realistically, the past will always be with us, and it especially will rear its confining head when we seek help to grow and change our business in a big way.

It goes like this: A business plan is prepared, outlining the very bright future for our company that we seek to bring to life.

That plan, along with our company’s past financial statements, are reviewed by a prospective investor / partner and the feedback comes back as:

“I love your big vision and ambitious financial goals, and I want to be involved.  But, last year your revenues only grew 10% and your net margins were very thin. So yes, your growth and business plans are awesome, but because of your results-to-date I value your business today as being worth....ZERO.

Now let me be crystal clear. The proof, of course, is in the pudding, the overriding purpose of a business always is to make money, and executives either lead their companies to do so or they do not.

The problem is when we hear, in the said and the unsaid, too much of “stop us in our tracks” feedback like the above, and it gets internalized

And we pull in our sails, if even ever so slightly.

And we lose just a little of our virtue, and start concerning ourselves with what’s in it for ME and not the organization as a whole?

And we start defining, and not informing, ourselves by our past, and get into that rabbit hole dialogue genre of “it hasn't worked before, so it won't work now."

And too many dialogues, internal and external amongst a company's management team, and slowly but surely that company devolves from being one of promise and potential, to one stumbling along in that dreaded land of the walking business dead.

The way to keep this from happening (or if it is happening to your business, to reverse it!), is to come back to our obvious and so freeing first principles.

That the past is past.

That the most important day of our business life is this one, and then the next one, and the next one, and so on and so forth.

And if we feel ourselves being pulled back to the past and slowed and distracted from our future-focused visions and financial goals...

...let’s refocus ourselves on what got us excited to work in business in the first place.

To look forward. To build. To contribute. To fight the good fight every day in every way.

And yes, to break free of the shackles of the past and into that bright future that is our right and destiny as entrepreneurs and executives of ambition.

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Why Climb Our Business Everests?


 

“Because it’s there. Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and no man has reached its summit. Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part, I suppose, of man’s desire to conquer the universe.”

- George Mallory, English Mountaineer

This past week, I traveled to the island country of St. Kitts and Nevis to visit three amazing executives and entrepreneurs - Messrs. Scott Caines, Errol Douglas, and Denzel Crooke.

These fine gentlemen are spearheading Golden Rock - a real estate development project that will fundamentally transform for the better the lives of the island’s 50,000+ residents, along with those of neighboring islands, including Antigua, Dominica, and Barbados.

The development will be a model of mixed use, combining elements of residential apartments, commercial office space, retail, entertainment, educational, and health. It will be unlike anything ever developed in the Caribbean, and as its vision is brought to full fruition, unlike anything anywhere in the world.

The obstacles to launch and complete a project of this ambition are significant anywhere, but obviously more so in a smaller, tourism-based locale like St. Kitts.

Actually getting it done requires the principals involved to be the polar opposites of dilettantes, possessing of deep, significant financial and technical expertise, underpinned by an inspirational business vision, awesome teamwork and relentless will to win.

Scott Caines, Errol Douglas, and Denzel Crooke are all this and more.

My time with them on their beautiful island was a reset for me, re-grounding me in the truism that of all of the things that serious, talented, decent, and dedicated among us can involve themselves, entrepreneurial, private sector projects are so often the most valuable.

The very smallness of St. Kitts paints this in particularly sharp relief.

Our Golden Rockers, with their remarkable personal and professional biographies, could take on leadership roles at the highest levels of their Island’s government.

Or they could focus full-time on their numerous philanthropic and charitable pursuits.

Or, better yet, they just don’t have to work as hard as they do, and no one on their breathtakingly beautiful Caribbean Island would fault them for it!

But business-building, on this project and others, is where their comparative advantage is greatest and where their impact can be the most profound.

But it goes deeper, more metaphysical than that.

For sure, St. Kitts needs the 1,000 new, private sector jobs the development will create.

And it needs the educational and healthcare and other awesome facilities envisioned as part of its larger development.

And nearby Caribbean islands need the competitive pressure of projects like it to challenge them to “up their game” and not rely on a "beach" and "cruise stop" tourism - based economic model.

But also and oh so importantly our fine friends Messrs. Caines, Douglas, and Crooke need this project because they are cast of the same stuff as George Mallory.

They build, so to say, to put a there there.

Because they can.

And because doing so is the highest expression of their professional muse and entrepreneurial spirit.

And thus, something new, beautiful, and wonderful is brought into the world.

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Breaking Through Data Overwhelm (3 Easy Steps)


 

Over the past few weeks, I have had the good fortune to speak to many executives and entrepreneurs about how the “Humans” in their companies grapple with data and information technology to improve critical work processes and business results.

These processes include “New School” ones like formulating, launching, and managing multi-channel digital marketing campaigns - i.e. simultaneously advertising on Google AdWords, Bing, Facebook, and LinkedIn - and then utilizing various forms of re-targeting to ensure the right prospects see the right message at the right time.

And “Old School” ones like tracking and evaluating sales activities and results, how many calls are being made daily, weekly, monthly, and what the results of those calls are – leads, proposals, wins.

And as customers are secured, the operational processes and their related data points – cost and time of delivery, customer satisfaction as measured by retention, upsell, survey, etc., and how employee performance and engagement drives / detracts from these outcomes.

All this “Nitty-Gritty” can and does make the difference between profit and loss, between winning and losing.

The problem is that there is so much of it.

So much data. So many processes. So many new technologies.

And yes, so many opportunities to explore and to pursue.

All of these “so muches” and what do you have?

Overwhelm.

To which an all too natural response is to comfort ourselves by “staying busy, - with minutiae, with confusing activity and frenzy and response with accomplishment and forward progress.

It goes without saying that in this oh-so-competitive world of ours this is not going to cut it.

So how can we leverage all of the amazing and abundant data surrounding our businesses to empower and improve our workflows and results instead of overwhelming them?

Here are three quick ideas:

First of all, don’t let the Desire for the Perfect get in the way of the Possible. Accept that it is simply not realistic to tackle and leverage data like an Amazon or a Google does (i.e. world class analytics companies).

Businesses like these have large teams of high IQ analysts to parse and interpret their data sets to a degree and depth unavailable to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).

But just because we can’t do “Industrial Analytics” doesn’t mean there isn’t big value to be had from a more “entrepreneurial approach”.

In fact, given the sometimes shockingly low level of analytics and data management at most SMEs, even small steps toward making business decisions with a more quantitative basis can yield quick and high ROI.

Secondly, look for and find the Low Hanging Fruit. My experience is that every business has one area, one dimension -- whether it be email marketing, PPC, sales team performance, delivery costs, etc. - that a focused look at its analytics can lead to easy action plans to attain quick wins.

And if you’re not confident / comfortable to make these quick inductive “jumps” yourself, then hire a consultant to do it for you.

Finally, leverage Technology. In the end, the ultimate solution to overcoming data overwhelm is to be found in what causes it in the first place.

Yes, the same technology that on the bad side inundates us with so many pings from everywhere at all times, and on the oh-so-good side opens amazing possibilities for us to sell, market and deliver to customers anywhere in the world…

…that technology in turn, can automate our work processes, data flows, and decision making to free us do those things to which as humans and business executives we are attracted to and designed to do.

Collaborate. Connect. Create. Innovate. Inspire. Like. Love.

All only truly possible from the top and in control of our data mountain.

Yes, we have to do the climbing to get there, but when we do, what is won is the ability to focus on and improve the processes and connect with the people that really matter.

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Breaking Through The Business Malarkey


 

An ongoing entrepreneurial and executive challenge is blocking out all distractions and focusing and executing upon what is important above all else - pursuing opportunities of high value and potential for our companies.

These distractions are of various and nefarious types:

  • Media Distractions, of the nonsensical and unimportant variety, and more discouragingly of the “hopeless tone” type and reporting on distressing political and social events (especially violent ones).
  • Naysayer Distractions, those who tell us (these days because of political correctness, mostly in the unsaid), that we cannot/will not succeed, that our talent level is not high enough, our competition too good, the financial resources at our disposal too meager for us to have a chance at big success.
  • Distractions of Self-Belief, of stamina, of maintaining the courage of our convictions, and our burning bright focus in the face of business adversity and of delays on our success journey.

The most successful businesspeople I know fight through these distractions and instead everyday do and focus on that most important thing - winning at business everything else be darned.

For Media Distractions, they insulate themselves as much as possible from the "anxiety-driven" news as is presented on the news networks (Fox, CNN, MSNBC, et al.), and instead nourish their minds and spirits with "business success" - based media like CNBC and Fortune, Entrepreneur, and Inc. Magazines.

Media that focuses on those that are winning at business, how they are doing it, and how they are overcoming strategic and tactical challenges in pursuit of those victories.

For Naysayers Distractions, for that lovely group of “friends” and family who drain our motive force and positive momentum through their negative thoughts and lack of encouragement, well the best businesspeople are just too busy with constructive action, with working on their businesses and themselves to have any time for the sideway glances and half - hearted words and efforts of the “Eyeores” chirping at their heels.

Yes, this may sound harsh, but it is a harshness in service of a greater good:building profitable, high cash flow private sector businesses.

Both because this is what we as businesspeople are uniquely trained, empowered, and positioned to do and because it is what this world of ours (and our Eyeorian friends too!) need so much more of.

For the Distractions of Self-Doubt, of maintaining the enthusiasm, stamina and willingness to make the sacrifices of time, energy, of life force to achieve big business success.

To this I say malarkey!

Pursuing business success is not a burden, but a blessing, one of the miraculous opportunities modern life has to offer, and one that only a very small percentage of humans that have walked the earth have had the privilege to do.

Embrace it, enjoy it. Let’s be happy warriors - businessmen and women that find and relish the fun and excitement that is the game of business.

And as we do, the news of the day magically starts sounding a bit less distressing, the naysayers among us a bit less discouraging, our self-talk more opportunity-focused and yes the hard work we do in and on our businesses starts yielding more and faster results.

Everything else really is malarkey!

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The Power of Advisors


 

A great best practice for all companies of ambition is to establish and hold regular meetings of a well-qualified and experienced Board of Strategic Advisors.

Let’s set aside for now some of the mechanisms of setting up a quality board (of which more can be read about here) and instead focus on some of the “Tough Love” feedback a board can offer executives on what they are doing right…

…and far more importantly what they are doing wrong and how to fix it.

1. That Often It is Better to Receive than to Give:  While advisory board members, unlike a formal board, do not have liability nor fiduciary responsibility, their time and energy requirements to participate are significant.

And for most smaller companies, the financial incentives it can offer advisory board members are relatively little compared to the value of a board members’ time.  

A good if imperfect analogy is that for many senior executives their involvement with a smaller company advisory board is almost a philanthropic endeavor - where they give of themselves without expectation of direct reward - financial or otherwise.  

Correspondingly, the owners and managers of the small company must approach the sage advice and good energy offered by their advisory board fully in “receiving” mode.

For businesspeople of the mindset of always trading value for value and reciprocal obligation, this is hard. But only by clearing this space can the board’s counsel be best received.

And somewhat counter-intuitively, often only by management fully accepting the “gifts” of its advisors will the board member’s experience be richest.

2. Begin with the End in Mind: For companies beyond the startup phase, its operating executives are naturally pulled to the shorter-term challenges and realities - this quarter’s revenue and profits, this month’s sales, the challenges and angst of a difficult employee decision, etc.

In contrast, an advisory board discussion, by both its nature and by the kinds of folks attracted to serve on it, naturally pulls to the long view, to the big questions that all businesses should be regularly asking themselves but rarely do.

Or, as they say, the “Why” and the “Which.”  

The Why questions are hopefully embodied in the Company’s mission and its values, and need the regular attention of strategic planning sessions like advisory board meetings to keep them from just existing in “hot air.”

The “Which” questions are in many ways the harder ones that an advisory board dynamic can help address.  

You see, ambitious entrepreneurs and executives are naturally drawn to expanding their sense of their market opportunity, and correspondingly their list of product and service offerings.

This can lead to a diffusion of focus, of trying to be all things to all people.  

A thoughtful advisory board will challenge management to more clearly define where they are aiming to be 1 year, 3 years hence and beyond, and from this vision where resources and attention should be focused today.

3. Speak Little, Listen Much: Managers and owners of emerging companies are often also the lead salespeople, the lead “evangelists” for their companies.

As a result, their default mode is to always be selling, always be pied-pipering their incredibly bright futures.  

But there is often more insight to be gained from Negative Thinking, from grappling with all the things that can go wrong and are difficult / well-nigh impossible to overcome.

Even if, especially if, so doing is buzz-killing and / or depressing.

Why?  Because it is often only in this low energy state that a certain kind of reflective creativity can flourish and completely new approaches to solving vexing problems can be discovered.

4. Brevity is Next to Godliness: Strategic planning sessions in a modern business context should be tightly scheduled to last not more than 2 hours.  After this length of time, diminishing returns starts setting in fast.  

A tight frame also requires all participants to come to the meeting prepared.  And, in turn, that the meeting organizers select the right meeting homework and then plan and moderate the agenda with the proper balance of structure and free-flowing dialogue.

Doing all of the above requires work – a good guide is that for every hour of strategic meeting time there should be 5 hours of planning time by the meeting organizer and at least 2 hours of preparation time by each participant.

Conclusion: Given that the only way to increase the value of a business is to either a) increase its bottom line financials and/or b) to improve its strategic positioning and growth probability, creative planning sessions like advisory board meetings should be a FIRST priority of any responsible manager.

They are classic Eisenhowerian, “Non-Urgent and Extremely Important” activities.  

Ignore them at your peril, and benefit from them in ways well beyond predictable expectation.

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