Tag Archive for 'entrepreneur'

As CEO, you’re the futurist of your business

Every small business owner should display in a prominent place this John F. Kennedy quote: “Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

As the CEO, you’re the futurist of your business, and the product of a futurist’s work is foresight.

Professional futurists are neither inspired by God, clairvoyant, nor have ESP. But they do look at the world differently than the average person. They typically see things before others do, largely because their focus is influenced by the following factors:

Extreme curiosity: This isn’t first by accident. Curiosity is to foresight what oxygen is to life.

Orders of implication: Futurists imagine the impact of multiple possibilities from a single scenario that hasn’t happened yet.

Collaboration: Futurists study the work of other futurists, work together, and welcome peer reviews.

Foresight tools: Some resources are sophisticated, some not so much.

As you can see, there’s nothing supernatural about these. Nothing you don’t already have or can’t acquire, at least at the level of CEO futurist. Let me lower the intimidation factor and make foresight easier with CEO foresight tools. You’ll recognize the first two:

Curiosity: The only person who’s more curious than a futurist is an entrepreneur. Curiosity is your most powerful tool-unleash it.

Watch for implications: When you see something new - a thing, idea or a development - unfocus your eyes and imagine the short and long-term implications. Play the “what if” game with your team.

Read: Professional futurists call it scanning. Read everything you can get your hands on about your universe and your customers’ universes. Start connecting dots.

Pay attention: This is the first cousin of curiosity. You pay attention to your business every day. Now add what’s outside your four walls to your scan.

Experience: Never underestimate the foresight value of past successes and failures, especially to the implications element.

Peer relationships: This includes CEO roundtables, whether formal or informal, but also attending industry events to listen to and compare notes with other CEO futurists.

Intuition: This is the love child of experience and curiosity. You have intuition, plus experts say you can grow it. Intuition is educated by experience and employed by curiosity.

These CEO foresight tools will help you track trends for opportunities and disruptions in areas such as: demographics, customer behavior, society, production/supply, politics, technology, and global events impacting large customers.

With tomorrow, next year and the next decade in mind, use questions like these to include your stakeholders in the foresight process: What will my industry look like? What will my market look like? What will happen to my existing customers? What will my new customer profile look like? What will be their expectations? What kinds of products and services should we sell?  How will we capitalize growth? What kind of technology will I need? What will be the greatest opportunities? What will be the greatest disruptions?

Use the tools, ask the questions, uncover and prepare for the possibilities that will allow you to take advantage of opportunities and minimize disruptions. Leading change as the CEO means applying the foresight tools of a futurist in order to avoid surprises. All surprises.

Even if a surprise turns out okay, you still shouldn’t celebrate. In fact, you should be just as frightened as if it turned out badly. Because it got through your foresight filters unnoticed until it manifested in front of you. That means a bad surprise could do the same thing.

Remember Blasingame’s Law of Surprises: Surprises are for birthdays — this is business.

Write this on a rock … “The future doesn’t fit in the container of the past.” Rishad Tobaccolwala

Identifying the elusive entrepreneur

If you venture into the marketplace jungle, you may be able to observe that rare wild creature, the entrepreneur, in his or her natural environment (darting is not necessary, entrepreneurs are very gentle - just rub their stomachs). As you study them, you will find levels of vision, curiosity, courage, tenacity, and faith. Here’s what to look for in order to identify this elusive critter:

Vision: Entrepreneurs see things and consider the possibilities before they exist, even as the world is telling them, “It won’t work.” When entrepreneurs are deep into their vision they go into what their families call a “zone,” which is when it’s easiest to slip up on them.

Curiosity: Entrepreneurs ask questions other humans don’t. They can’t help it. If someone asks you a question and you have no idea what they are talking about, you are probably having a close encounter with an entrepreneur. Don’t be irreverent; you might be at ground-zero of the 21st century equivalent of Velcro or the microchip.

Courage: Entrepreneurs attempt things that other human species won’t. As you peer through the triple canopy at your subject, look for death-defying acts in the face of conventional wisdom. Entrepreneurs eat conventional wisdom for breakfast.

Tenacity: Entrepreneurs keep trying when other humans give up. They have a high pain threshold, which when combined with a visceral desire that can only be compared to the maternal instinct, delivers a primal display of tenacity which often is frightening to other humans. If the entrepreneur you are observing is crouching, lie down quickly. You probably aren’t in danger, but fainting is a possibility.

Faith: Entrepreneurs believe in themselves and their vision. The great writer and even greater curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken, once said, “Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the illogical.” That’s our entrepreneur! If you see someone demonstrating an inordinate commitment to an “illogical belief,” congratulations. You’ve found your entrepreneur.

Catch and release, please.

Four factors that stopped the American startup

As the financial crisis was being resolved in December 2008 I heard someone say, “Wait ’til the startups get going – they’ll end this recession and crank up the economy again.” Of course, this maxim had caught on previously because when you start a business, you create at least one job.

But as I thought about how that entrepreneurial expectation had been true in past recoveries, I considered the environment we were entering and concluded that this recovery was going to be different. Indeed, in my 2009 predictions I reckoned that there were going to be fewer startups in this recovery cycle than ever before based on two conditions I saw coming. Unfortunately, things got even worse due to two factors I didn’t forecast.

Typically, the founding of most Main Street startups are funded initially with access to the personal credit and home equity of the founders. I saw problems coming for both of these sources because:

1.   One morning in February 2008 – months before the financial crisis but with storm clouds on the horizon – millions of credit card holders woke up to discover their card issuers had withdrawn any available credit they had the day before.

2.   Then, over the next year, the bursting of the real estate/mortgage bubble – the prime cause of the 2008 financial crisis – resulted in wiping out or significantly reducing the home equity of millions of U.S. households.

The two factors I did not forecast are:

3.  The youngest – and largest – of marketplace participant groups, Gen Y and Gen X, age 20-44, apparently are not as entrepreneurial as their Baby Boomer parents were at that age. According to the Kauffman Foundation, since 2009 startup activity for those two demographics has been declining.

4.  In my half-century career, and my study of the history of the American marketplace, prospective founders of new businesses have never been subjected to the level of anti-business rhetoric and policies from the federal government as they have in the past seven years.

One of the seminal findings of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) is a direct connection between a country’s entrepreneurial vitality and its economic growth. The Great Recession ended in June 2009. But the subsequent U.S. recovery, now well into its sixth year of moribund performance (2% annual average GDP growth), has been stuck in a kind of circular reference: expansion-creating startups aren’t happening because of the four entrepreneurship-repressing factors.

Write this on a rock …Real economic expansion – more than 3% growth – will require a return to favorable entrepreneurial conditions lost since 2008.

Next week my column will reveal counter-intuitive ways the lack of startups since 2008 have been positive.

POLL RESULTS:I’ve been in business more than 26 years, but this week we’re celebrating the 18th anniversary of my radio program. How long have you been in business?

The Question:

business_handshake_men.jpgI’ve been in business more than 26 years, but this week we’re celebrating the 18th anniversary of my radio program. How long have you been in business?

0% - We’ve been in business less than two years.
8% - We’ve been in business 2 to 5 years.
5% - We’ve been in business 5 to 10 years.
87% - We’ve been in business more than 10 years.

Jim’s Comments:
Early in 2009, as the 2008 financial crisis was being resolved and the Great Recession was coming to an end, I heard someone say, “Just wait until the startups get going after the recession - they’ll get the economy going again.”
That statement caused me to think about the dynamic they had described and to conclude, which I included in my long-term predictions, that there were going to be fewer startups in this recovery cycle than before. My reason for this prediction was because of the lack of two of the primary sources of startup funds: personal credit and home equity.  Both of these were virtually wiped out for millions of Americans starting in 2008 and did not recover for some time.
So when we asked our online audience how long they had been in business, I wasn’t too surprised to see how the responses rolled in, with so many in business more than 10 years, and none of our respondents as startups. There is good and bad news in this response, which I intend to write about in an upcoming Featured Article. Stay tuned.
Thanks for playing along. Please participate in this week’s poll below.
http://survey.constantcontact.com/poll/a07ebvi462hih83vsto/start.html

Celebrating milestones

If you will permit me, today I would like to talk about a couple of milestones of which we’re kind of proud.
On Monday, November 17, 1997, I began broadcasting The Small Business Advocate Show for two hours Monday through Friday, and ever since that first day the program has been nationally syndicated. This week we’ll celebrate our 18th anniversary and the beginning of our 19th year on the air.
In January 1998, we began simulcasting our show on the Internet, which makes us one of the pioneers of Internet streaming. We’ve been archiving our show since 1999, including multiple on-demand streaming options. In 20o7 we added the ability to podcast all current and archived interviews.
This Monday will be my 4,672nd live broadcast since we began — including all the holidays (next week I’ll broadcast my 19th consecutive live Thanksgiving Day show). Since that first broadcast, I’ve conducted over 18,600 live interviews with small business experts and entrepreneurs. When you hear me talking about making sure that you’re passionate about the business you start, if you didn’t already, now you know I practice what I preach.
From the beginning, my primary programming goal was to focus on the fundamentals that are important to successfully starting, operating and growing a small business, and to make all of the things we do available to you for free. On that last note–the free one–I must say thanks to our outstanding corporate partners, without whose support the free part would not be possible. I especially want to thank our Presenting Sponsor, Insperity, for their abiding support for more than eleven years. When it comes to supporting small businesses, Insperity truly does practices what it preaches.
For my work on behalf of you over the years, I’ve received a number of national awards from organizations such as the U.S. Small Business Administration, FORTUNE Small Business magazine, TALKERS magazine, the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, the Association of Small Business Development Centers, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, and New York Enterprise Report.
Also this week, we’re celebrating the 16th anniversary of this publication, The Small Business Advocate NEWSLETTER. This week’s edition, Volume XVII, Issue 1, represents 832 consecutive weekly issues since 1999. Thanks for being a loyal subscriber.
Finally, thank you for your support, comments, many words of encouragement and especially the honor and privilege of being your Advocate. I’m already looking forward to the rest of our journey together. More than anything else, I want you to know how proud I am of you as a small business owner and what you have accomplished.

Nothing I do as The Small Business Advocate is about me–it’s all about you, my heroes, small business owners, regardless of where you live on planet Earth.

Thanks for being part of my community. I’ll see you on the radio and the Internet.

Beware of the personal red herring

English foxhunters once dragged a red herring in front of their hounds to distract them from the scent of the little furry guy. In time, this practice produced the metaphorical “red herring,” which is an attempt to win an argument by diverting attention from the real issue.

Introducing a red herring in a negotiation can be a handy defensive tactic. But sometimes we use personal red herrings, which is essentially when we lie to ourselves. It’s one thing to use red herrings as a communication tactic, but when we use them on ourselves, it’s unproductive at best and destructive at worst.

Shakespeare addressed this issue in perhaps his most famous play: Act I, Scene III, of Hamlet, Polonius said to his son, Laertes: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

If you can’t be true to yourself, you can’t be true to your dream. And a false dream is an entrepreneurial atomic meltdown waiting to happen.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge is knowing when to continue to keep believing and when to move on. And the dilemma on these horns could range from a small piece of your plan all the way to the actual validity of your vision and viability of your business model.

One of my mentors taught me how to face a “go—no go” decision by asking this question: “Do you have a fighting chance or just a chance to fight?” The key to success in business, and indeed in life, may be as simple as divining the answer to that question.

One way to tell if you’re dragging a stinking fish across the trail of your own dream is by doing something another mentor taught me: checking your position.Here are three examples:

1. Have you conducted enough due diligence to find out if your plan has a chance of success? Just telling yourself things will work out is a red herring.

2. Is your activity resulting in ANY success? If nothing is working, convincing yourself that you just need to work harder may be masking reality.

3. Are your assumptions performing? If you’re only consuming resources without creating opportunity, you must ask yourself: Am I on the wrong trail, or the wrong journey?

When even small successes can be found mixed in with the failures, you may have a vision merely in need of adjustments and worthy of extra effort. But in order to evaluate all of this, small business owners need all the facts they can get their hands on. And they need the truth from all parties — especially from themselves.

Use red herrings for foxhunting and negotiating, not on yourself.

Write this on a rock … This above all: to thine own self be true.




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