Practicing What I Preach

This is my 192nd post in this blog and I want to thank those of you who have been reading my thoughts on a regular basis. 

Since I try to practice what I preach, I regularly reevaluate what's working and what's not and where I spend my time, and I've realized I have to put this blog on hold for now. 

This is in part since I'm also writing posts for the Women Career Changers blog and it's hard to do two at the same time, but also because I'm in transition myself and much energy and time need to be devoted to finding the next right opportunity. (I'm looking for a COO or VP Operations role in NY or remotely, in case you know of anything.)

You can still read my thoughts at my other blog, although they're slanted towards transition and not "business common sense" or business books, and you can follow my business book ratings on goodreads.

And you can also reach out via this blog or my website if I can help in any way.

I wish you much success and learning, whether via business books or life.

Bye for now,

Entrepreneurism for the Risk-Averse

Have you been unhappy at your day job and fantasized about starting your own business? Or have you actually tried to start your own business to only miss the stability of the paycheck and benefits the day job provided? 

Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side, but Patrick McGinnis in his book The 10% Entrepreneur: Live Your Startup Dream Without Quitting Your Day Job shows us that there's actually a third alternative.

Patrick was a successful corporate VP on Wall Street who never gave being anything else another thought until he lost his job in the 2008 financial meltdown. He then realized that to be safe, he had to diversify his career—much like his investments—and he became what he calls a 10% Entrepreneur. Basically, he spends 10% of his resources on side ventures that build his equity and cushion towards the future. And not only does this give him a Plan B, but it allows him to work on side projects that he's interested in, meet great people, keep learning, and know that he'll never be caught rudderless again.

And you don't necessarily have to have money to become a 10% Entrepreneur. Patrick explains that there are five types of entrepreneurs: angel, adviser, co-founder, aficionado, and 110%. The angel are for those who do have some money to invest whereas the adviser invests his time and knowledge. Co-founder is someone who actually is willing to devote a lot more time/money to something he or she believes in, while an aficionado is someone who pursues a passion on the side. And the 110% is a full-time entrepreneur who has his own 10% so that even all his eggs aren't in one basket.

Patrick takes us through how to find opportunities, vet them, expand our network and "team," and succeed in the long term. And in addition to just being a great read, it's the answer to what I have been looking for. 

After two attempts at starting my own business and two more attempts at working for early stage startups, I've realized that I need the stability of a steady pay check. I love the culture found at startups and am looking for a senior operations role at a funded and/or proven startup where I can have the best of both worlds, but even if I end up working for a larger company, there's no reason I can't satisfy that yen in my 10%. 

And unlike many of the other books out there about entrepreneurism and following one's passions, Patrick's formula is one that we can adjust to our own particular needs and strengths and above all else, is realistic. It's something each and every one of us could—and should—pursue. 

So are you ready to become a 10% Entrepreneur?

A Business Reflects Its Owner

I just finished reading Derek Sivers' Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur in one day. It's a small and short book but packed with much wisdom.

Derek was a musician who created CD Baby, the largest seller of independent music on the web, when he could not find any store to sell his own CD. Friends then asked him to sell theirs, then their friends asked him...and the rest is a history of phenomenal year-over-year growth.

Throughout this amazing journey, Derek did things in a very nontraditional way. From trying to keep his business small, to doing his own programming until the end, to making sure all were focused on making their musicians and customers happy. He didn't care about the "right" way of doing things or what others thought, only that it kept his musicians, customers, and himself happy.

Two of the points that Derek made really resonated with my own experience.

Derek recommends that if an idea requires effort to gain traction, one should improve on the idea until it sells itself. CD Baby required no effort to grow since it truly served a need and did it well. If your idea does that—and he encourages you test it out first—then keep going; if not, iterate and improve.

He also believes that a business reflects the owner and allows the owner to create his own perfect world. Who but the owner decides what will and will not be tolerated, what should be rewarded, who to hire, etc.? Derek worked really hard to maintain this even as the company grew, and chose to leave once he no longer enjoyed what he was doing. 

The main reason I've tried to start my own startup, and the main reason I'm focusing much of my job search in the startup world, is that I'd love to create something worthwhile from the ground up. As an operations person, I want to create smart, efficient, and scalable systems; but as a people operations person and leader, I want to create a culture where all are respected, empowered, engaged, and set-up for success and further growth.

I want to create a world where everyone is excited to come to work, is at their best at work, and happy to contribute their best. This will allow me to be my best as well. 

What's your vision of a "perfect world" at work? 

The Road Taken

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost is one of my favorite poems and has been for a long time. Reading about how Daniel Lubetzky consciously chose to develop the KIND bar and brands in his book Do the KIND Thing reminded me of this.

If you haven't read the poem, you can find it in its entirety here, but below is the last stanza and the one that speaks to this point:
I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
I have written before how everything we do and do not do is a choice. 

Daniel chose not to make the KIND bar the same as any other bar and chose to ignore all naysayers. As he learned firsthand, when you're trying to teach consumers to think differently or to try a new product that is a first of its kind, it's difficult and requires perseverance and faith. But he had no interest in making a bar like any of the others out there and stuck to his purpose until it got traction.

Once they became popular, this same focus was necessary to determine where to invest their limited resources and where to expand to. It required conscious choice on what their brand was and what was in line with its core. Anything that was not, even if it could be a quick win, was ignored.

And ultimately, these choices and focus helped them succeed.

Have you had to make similar choices? Which road did you take?

Success Requires Grounded Leadership

Jeffrey Hayzlett, in his latest book Think Big, Act Bigger: The Rewards of Being Relentless, teaches us to be ourselves and not to be afraid of pushing ourselves, thinking and choosing differently, focusing on what matters, and much more.

Although all his lessons are valuable, the one that really struck a nerve is what he calls "Clean Your Own Bathroom: Stay Grounded and Connected."

In brief, he reminds leaders that they need to remain connected to the work, have done it at some point themselves, and listen to feedback to remain relevant and successful. The reason this resonates is that I've unfortunately worked at companies where senior leadership has lost all grounding, refused to heed the advise of those who knew better, and bullishly continued on the path to disaster. 

And since this has happened both in large and small companies, it's a result of who's on top rather than the size of the company. As Jeffrey explains in another chapter and principle, the company's cadence (aka their flow) totally stems from the leadership, values, culture, and systems chosen. 

So as a leader, if you want to remain relevant and grounded, make sure you occasionally do the work—or at least observe it being done—and be smart enough to ask for feedback from those who do the work and interact with your customers.

One of my earliest blog posts was on feedback being a gift. Nothing in the many months' since I wrote that has changed my mind or made me think otherwise. But to get honest feedback requires a culture of trust and mutual respect, since otherwise staff will be afraid to speak up.

Is the leadership of your company grounded? Do they encourage honest feedback? And if you are a leader, do you? If not, how do you plan on changing this going forward?

How to Make Your Message Contagious

Whether you're a salesperson, marketer, entrepreneur, or freelancer, you have to compete with all the other messages out there to get yours heard. Jonah Berger, in his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, teaches us the six things we can do to make our message heard.

STEPPS is the clever acronym Jonah uses to help us remember his findings:
  • Social currency—we share things that make us look good;
  • Triggers—we share things that are easily remembered;
  • Emotion—we share things when we care;
  • Public—we share things that we can see;
  • Practical value—we share things others can use;
  • Stories—we share things that are housed in a good story.
Jonah shares many interesting examples for each of these and gives us ways to apply them to our message. Although every principle won't be applicable to every message, chances are you can apply one or two. He even gives us a checklist to help apply them, which I've abbreviated below.
  • Social currency: How can talking about your product make people look good and/or feel like insiders? 
  • Triggers: What cues can remind people of your product/message and how can you make that come to mind more?
  • Emotion: Does talking about your product or idea generate emotion, and especially the type that inspires sharing?
  • Public: Does using your product advertise itself and can people see when it's being used?
  • Practical value: Does your product, idea, or message allow others to disseminate useful information, helping them help others?
  • Stories: Have you included your message in a valuable, broader narrative that people will want to share?
There are too many examples to share, but two that come to mind are how Kit Kat brilliantly increased sales by linking their chocolate to coffee, which is a useful trigger given how often we all drink or think of coffee. The other is how Google made search something more personal and memorable by linking it to the story of student falling in love in Paris. (If you're not familiar with this campaign, you can see the video here.) 

The book also explains various tactics retailers use to make us feel we're getting a better deal (e.g., whether a sale should be indicated as a percentage or dollar amount), which is good to know since we're all consumers.

If you think back at the last video, Facebook post, or article you had to share, which of the STEPPS were in play? Which can you apply to your message?

Little Things Add Up

The entire premise behind Darren Hardy's The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, and Your Success is that the little actions and choices we make today add up to huge differences over time.

Darren reminds us that success is not something bought for $39.99 or via magic pill, but something that we all have access to if we are willing to put in the effort and time and keep at it consistently. If we are willing to make one small change today, and keep making that small change forever, that change can be the difference between us being fit or fat, or wealthy or unemployed over time. He demonstrates this with various examples that are hard to ignore.

And since doing anything forever seems daunting, he suggests you start with 3 weeks, by when you're on the way to making it a habit and it is therefore easier to maintain. Darren gives us many other useful tips and tools to help us achieve these small changes and ultimate success.

It's also never too late to start. Even if you've made poor choices up until now, it's never too late to start making better choices. Anyone can start that right now and with patience and perseverance, reap those rewards. 

I enjoyed reading the book and needed the reminder that everything, regardless of how small, adds up. I also enjoyed reading Darren's productivity tips and morning ritual, which included a half hour of reading and then evaluating his most important priorities for the day.

So if there is no excuse not to start now, what small change for the better can you make this second?