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Why success in business favors the neurotic

Among the people I admire are those who have the courage to make bold statements based on their beliefs and experiences. Early in his book, The Road Less Traveled, the late M. Scott Peck endeared himself to me when he declared that the people he saw in his counseling practice essentially fell into two categories: neurotics and those with character disorders.

Peck wrote, “Neurotics are easy to work with in psychotherapy, because they assume responsibility.” He went on to say, “Those with character disorders are difficult, if not impossible, to work with, because they never see themselves as any part of the problem.” Thus missing the invaluable opportunity for self-examination.

Contemplating Dr. Peck’s declaration was a true watershed moment, helping me better understand why people-including me-behave as we do. Both types of Peck’s patients sought his help because they were experiencing difficulties in life. But if we’re honest, we don’t have to be dysfunctional to realize that each of us falls on one side or the other of this behavior coin. It’s an either/or default circumstance, where we’re either more likely to take responsibility for what happens in our life, or we aren’t.

How you would respond to these business scenarios.

Challenge: Amazon and Google are becoming more aggressive on Main Street; meanwhile, a new Big Box company just opened.

Character Disorder reaction: “I hate those companies. How can I compete with their prices and free delivery? Why does the city allow them to come in here and destroy my business?”

Neurotic reaction: “Well, it’s on me to survive or not. No one made me open this business, and those Big Boxes and Amazon can’t take my business from me unless I roll over and give it to them.”

Challenge: Sales are off, profits are down, and cash is tight.

Character Disorder reaction: “How can I be expected to succeed in this economy? My expenses are going through the roof. The bank won’t give me a working capital loan. Why is everything against me?”

Neurotic reaction: “Being a business owner is harder than I thought it was going to be. Obviously, there’s something I’m not doing right. I have to find what that is and fix it myself, because no one else will.”

If you’re on the neurotic side of the coin, the challenge is to focus on taking responsibility in a constructive, solutions-oriented way. Take responsibility without beating yourself up. If you’re on the character disorder side, resist spending precious time and resources focusing on how the world has let you down. Instead, reverse your outward focus - no one else is going to solve your problems. And the world isn’t even listening.

Personal self-analysis may be the most valuable skill we can employ to become a better person and CEO. In a small business, organizational self-analysis - and acceptance of what we find - is essential to sustained success in the marketplace. To demonstrate that I practice what I preach, here’s my bold statement that recommend you claim for yourself - especially any time you find yourself planning a pity party.

Blasingame’s Small Business Success Attitude
I accept that my small business will face challenges every day. As I begin my day, I will assume the attitude that, regardless of the number of challenges, the degree of difficulty, or who caused them, if my business is to survive, I must face each one. Therefore, I know that the only thing in question today is how well I will respond to challenges, and the future of my business may well depend on the answer to that question.

Remember these three important keys to success in business and in life: Take responsibility, practice self-analysis, and seek excellence, not perfection.

Write this on a rock … Remember what Scott Peck said: Neurotics can be fixed, but those with character disorders, not so much.

Finding success in the Tour de France and small business

If it’s July, one of the most amazing athletic competitions in the world is being staged. Since 1903, the Tour de France has been the pinnacle of professional bicycle races, and arguably the most grueling of all sporting competitions.

Contested over 23 days, with the 21 stages averaging more than 110 miles each, there are only two days rest in the middle. These super-athletes from all over the world navigate diverse road conditions, rain, wind, heat and legendary mountain ranges - no less than the Alps and Pyrenees - that God surely made for us to ski down, not pedal up.

If the sun’s coming up on Main Street, millions of small business owners also mount one of the most grueling competitions in the business world merely by opening up. Against all odds, they start, run and grow their operations in conditions few corporate America CEOs would be willing to face. But unlike the Tour de France, small business owners run their race every day of the year.

Combining my admiration for both of these types of super-humans, I’ve identified four required elements to be successful competing in the Tour de France or in the marketplace.

1. Teamwork
Tour participants are part of a couple dozen sponsored teams of about 25 members, each have individual roles to play. Some members are supportive non-riders and some are riders whose primary role is to protect and push their leader. But all work together to meet team performance goals, including getting their leader on the podium at the end of the day or the end of the race. Sounds a lot like a small business, doesn’t it?

Since every day in a small business can be like a mountain stage on the Tour-grueling assaults on impossible peaks and dangerous descents into the valleys-success requires the ability to motivate your team to work together effectively. And a smart leader knows that sustaining successful teamwork requires sharing the recognition, so the team doesn’t mind if you’re the one on the podium.

2. Communication
Competing in the Tour is like running 21 marathons in 23 days while simultaneously playing a 3D chess match. Effective communication between team members is critical so each can deliver their unique contribution to the overall strategy at the appropriate time.

Even the best small business strategy in the world must be communicated to the team in ways that inform, coordinate, motivate, foster engagement and result in success. And the customers and competition combine to create the 3D degree of difficulty.

3. Preparation
All you have to do is watch a Tour de France cyclist in an “above category” mountain stage to see successful preparation. These guys have turned their bodies into human spring steel as they become one with their bikes.

The small business equivalent is to operate your business at the highest professional level possible, at all times. One major differentiator of professional organizations is their commitment to investing time and resources - this means budgeting both - for education, training and practice for all team members.

4. Technology
Tour de France teams leverage technology at every point of the competition, including high-tech bikes, customized chase vehicles, on-course communication tools, etc.

In the 21st century, every small business has to apply technology at essentially every level of its operation. The good news is the barrier to entry has never been lower to extremely powerful technology in the incremental portions small businesses can use, and affordable prices they can afford. Small business Luddites become Troglodytes.

Out here on Main Street, if you don’t develop a high-functioning team, communicate well, achieve a high level of preparation and maximize technology, you will be irrelevant.

Or, as they say on the Tour, you’ll be “off the back.”

Write this on a rock … Customers will tell you about their changing expectations - let them.

The velocity of change and new customer expectations

And when I die, and when I’m gone, there’ll be one child born in this world to carry on, to carry on.
– “And When I Die,” by Laura Nyro, performed by Blood, Sweat & Tears.

As we know, change has been the one constant of existence on planet Earth. Each generation gives way to the next, so that over time fire became electricity and the wheel morphed into a computer.

For most of the history of the marketplace, change progressed at a pace slow enough to allow the creator of a model - a product, strategy, skill, etc. — to make a living with it for a lifetime, possibly even passing that model on to his children. But within the past century this paradigm began to shift.

During the second half of the 20th century, the life expectancy of a typical model generation was compressed into a calendar year. So while you were delivering the current year’s model to customers, you had to simultaneously create and prepare next year’s model to be ready to launch January 1.

That was a nice trip down memory lane, wasn’t it? Buckle up.

Since 1993 (the year the Internet became available to the public), an unprecedented confluence of innovations has further compressed the time between model generations. This compression produced high anxiety and frustration for any business that was in love with its model. Indeed, the life expectancy of a model that not so long ago would have been a calendar year was now measured in terms of an Internet year, which is 90 days — or less.

The headwaters of this increased velocity of marketplace change is innovations that are driving new customer expectations. And these innovations have become so seductively elegant and seamless in our lives that customers often don’t even realize their expectations are changing at all, let alone how fast.

But what about your business’s anxiety and frustration? Well, even if customers know, they don’t care. Because they worship at the throne of WIIFM. What’s In It For Me?

I have good news! You can avoid anxiety, frustration — and failure — if you know what your customers’ evolving expectations are, which you can determine by asking them these five questions - every day:

1. What do you want?
2. How do you want me to tell you about it?
3. When do you want it?
4. How will you use it?
5. How do you want it delivered?

Comparing the answer to these questions with what customers told you yesterday will provide all the information you need about current and future products, service and technology, including — especially — your social media and mobile strategy.

Let me put all of this in one sentence: If you want to know what your business should be doing tomorrow, next month and next year, ask your customers. They already know. And if you do what they tell you, you’ll be able to sing these new lyrics without any blood, sweat or tears:

“And when our model dies, and when it’s gone, we’ll produce a new model in this world to carry on, to carry on.”

Write this on a rock … Customers will tell you about their changing expectations - let them.

We began with freedom and the world is better for it

The first Plantagenet king of England, Henry II, is important to contemporary small business owners because he’s considered the founder of a legal system to which entrepreneurs owe their freedom to be.

His intelligence only exceeded by his ambition, Henry’s attempts to consolidate all of the 12th century British Isles under his rule created the need for order. And while the subsequent reforms were intended more for his own political expediency than to empower the people, they actually gave birth to a body of law, now known as English Common Law, which replaced elements of the feudal system that included such enlightened practices as trial by ordeal.

Six centuries after Henry’s death, the legal and cultural tide of personal freedoms and property rights that evolved from his reforms, and their enhancement with the Magna Carta in 1215, were being established across the Atlantic. In the colonies, a group of malcontents, now called America’s Founders, envisioned, created and fought for a new interpretation of Henry’s legacy. Their plan was different because it was sans kings.

In The Fortune of the Republic, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “We began with freedom. America was opened after the feudal mischief was spent. No inquisitions here, no kings, no dominant church.”

In Origins of the Bill of Rights, Leonard W. Levy noted that, “Freedom was mainly a product of New World conditions.” Those conditions, as Thomas Jefferson so artfully wrote in the Declaration of Independence, were, “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These were 18th century words for freedom and embryonic conditions for which the 56 signers of Jefferson’s document put their lives and liberties at risk on July 4, 1776.

But America’s founding documents weren’t perfected until they perpetuated rights that were, as John Dickinson declared a decade earlier in 1766, “…born with us, exists with us and cannot be taken from us by any human power without taking our lives.”

By definition, entrepreneurs take risks. But only when freedom is converted into the liberty to pursue and accrue success are those risks acceptable. Thank you, Henry II.

Research shows there is a direct connection between the rate of new business start-ups and economic growth. And the American experiment has demonstrated that a healthy entrepreneurial environment fosters national economic well-being. Thank you, Founders.

Without their vision, courage, passion, and sacrifice, it’s doubtful that entrepreneurship as we know it would exist today. And if capitalism is the economic lever of democracy, entrepreneurship is the force that renews the strength and reliability of that lever for each new generation.

We began with freedom. Freedom to dream and to try; to succeed and to fail; to own and to enjoy; to accumulate and to pass on to the next generation.

We began with freedom and liberty was made manifest. We began with freedom and entrepreneurship was born. We began with freedom and capitalism flourished.

Write this on a rock … America began with freedom and the world is the better for it. Happy Independence Day.

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times

Contemplating the current economic and entrepreneurial conditions out here in Main Street America, I keep thinking about this perfectly paradoxical passage from one of the great literary masterpieces:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Perhaps you recognize the opening paragraph from A Tale of Two Cities by the immortal Charles Dickens. He was providing analysis of the disruptive state of affairs in 18th century England, as well as across the Channel, in France. If you know about the disruptive state of affairs in the 21st-century marketplace, perhaps you’ll appreciate the allegorical reference of these phrases for small businesses almost two and a half centuries later.

It was the best of times: “The more high tech we have, the more high touch we will want.” The reason John Naisbitt’s 1982 words will always be prophesy is because humans will always be analog beings. There’s never been a time when the high touch leverage of a small business has been more powerful against the high tech of big competitors.

It was the worst of times: Tech behemoths like Amazon, Google and Facebook are increasing digital leverage to create new customer experiences and expectations. This trend is deadly for those hidebound small businesses that won’t infuse their sublime high touch with incremental high-tech to produce irresistible, Main Street special sauce.

It was the age of wisdom: Unlike the 20th century, today there are few hidden rules or proprietary tools employed by big businesses that aren’t available in some form to small firms. Digital leverage and data are increasingly available in incremental and affordable forms, but you’ll have to risk what you know for what you might learn.

It was the age of foolishness: In the most transparent era of management fundamentals, the keys to sustained success are lower than low-hanging fruit – they’re on the ground. And yet, innumerable small businesses are following Sears and Macy’s into the realm of irrelevance rather than adapting to new customer expectations with high-touch intangibles, relevant 21st-century practices, and affordable – many free – new tools.

It was the epoch of belief:  In many ways, the path to entrepreneurship has never been easier. A sweet byproduct of democratized digital leverage is a lower capital barrier to entry. Plus, the expansion of the universe of niches (read: niches of niches) is creating unprecedented small business opportunities.

It was the epoch of incredulity:  It’s still easy to start a new business, but it’s never been more challenging to sustain one. New and evolving customer expectations must be served with fresh data and effort – every day. And competitive disruptions are emanating from improbable market sectors.

It was the season of light:  The illumination and availability of customer data for small firms is unprecedented. Extensive information about business prospects is opening doors to the now-illusive, face-to-face appointment. And response behavior of retail prospects is available to help design and deliver a high tech/high touch marketing strategy.

It was the season of darkness:  At the same time, qualifying a suspect into a prospect into a customer has been disrupted by a more informed prospect base. As the selling cycle lengthens for those who fail to recognize this shift, diminishing gross profit erodes equity, burns available credit, and then – well, you know.

It was the spring of hope: One of the most amazing forces in the marketplace is the pathological optimism of American entrepreneurs. Against all odds, they navigate their dreams around the wreckage of peers that were sunk by the reef of disruption.

It was the winter of despair: I never thought I’d see conditions that would so restrict the entrepreneurial energy of America. The past decade saw anti-business political policies, unprecedented demographic shifts and behaviors, distressed economic conditions, and restricted capital and disruptive pressures combine to set back entrepreneurship in America for the first time in generations (Kauffman Index Startup Activity).

The human experience is pregnant with paradoxes, and no sector more so than the marketplace. Digital leverage is at once creating the paradox of exciting opportunities and unprecedented disruptions.

You would be correct to point out that humans have lamented change for millennia, but this really is different. Not change itself, but the velocity – the compression of time between changes.

Past changes have occurred at the velocity of analog – the speed of sound (761 miles per hour). Today’s change is powered by digital – at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second).

Are you adapting to new expectations with your high touch/high tech special sauce? Or are you being disrupted on the way to – well, you know?

Write this on a rock … The best of times or the worst of times? The choice is yours.

A father’s tough love is the harder job

This is Jim’s traditional Father’s Day column.

As the father of an adult daughter and son, plus the grandfather of four knucklehead boys (Hurricane, Tornado, Crash and Train Wreck), I’ve learned some things about love.

All the hours logged as Dad and Poppy have often caused me to contemplate how different are the roles of mother and father, especially in the overt demonstration of parental love. It’s fascinating how the manifestation of this love differs between mother and father - biologically, emotionally and experientially.

A mother’s love, at once sweet and fierce, is observed in almost all animals, not just humans. No doubt you’ve heard this metaphor: “… as sweet as a mother’s love,” and this warning: “Don’t get between a momma bear and her cub.” I have been the recipient of this kind of love and have witnessed it, and there truly is no other force in nature like it.

A human father’s love, on the other hand, is more often associated with words that are unfortunate, like “tough” and “discipline.” Here’s a warning no one has ever heard: “Just wait ’till your mother gets home!” As a teenager, my dad once apologized to me when he thought his demonstration of tough love might seem “hard-boiled.” It did.

Consequently, it has troubled me that there are no corresponding sweet references to a father’s love. Could this be why Father’s Day is not quite as big a deal as Mother’s Day? Just saying …
Mothers occupy the pinnacle of parental love - with justification. And not to take anything away from them, but let’s be honest: Since a mother’s sweet love is as primal as the miracle of birth, they don’t have to work too hard to deliver it. But there is a uniqueness about a father’s love that deserves a better rap. Here are two reasons:

  • Unlike a mother’s sweet love, a father’s tough love does not exist outside of homo sapiens.
  • When a father’s parental toughness is required, especially when applied to an indignant recipient (read: teenager), it requires a love that has found the courage to endure a negative response and a willingness to defer gratification - sometimes for years.

No one is more keenly aware of the distinction between the application of these two demonstrations of love than a single parent (especially a single mom), where both kinds are required of the same person, perhaps within minutes.

Mothers, please forgive any paternal bias you may detect, but here is my conclusion about parental love: The only force in the universe that comes close to a mother’s sweet love is a father’s tough love. But the latter is the harder job, and the return on investment almost always takes longer.

Write this on a rock … Happy Father’s Day, Dads. You’ve earned it.




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