Sunday, November 19, 2017

10 Great Ways To Crush Creativity In Your Business

Danger!_Crush_PointsSuccess in any business these days requires a constant flow of new and innovative solutions, to keep up with changes in the market, competition, and to attract new customers. Yet in my role as a small business advisor, I still see a singular focus on achieving repeatable processes and “cookie-cutter” manufacturing. I don’t believe these two objectives have to be mutually exclusive.

The best entrepreneurs, and the best executives in mature businesses, have learned how to foster both high efficiency and high creativity, in a balance that keeps their business ahead of the pack on both sides of the equation. These business leaders are constantly are on the prowl for mistakes to avoid and opportunities to improve their impact.

I saw some good insights on the most common mistakes that crush creativity, in a new edition of a classic book, “Lateral Thinking Skills,” by Paul Sloane. Sloane is well recognized for his work on innovation and lateral thinking (new ways of looking at a problem rather than proceeding by logical steps). Here is my summary of the ten top creativity mistakes we both still see too often:

  1. Criticize any new idea or employee suggestion. A natural human reaction to any new idea is to point out potential weaknesses. New ideas tend to not be fully thought through, so it is easy to reject them as ‘bad.’ This only discourages the person from making any future suggestions. You must praise creative thinking, and evaluate results later.

  2. Avoid brainstorming sessions to find solutions. Brainstorming is still seen by many as old-fashioned and passé. Recent evidence is that brainstorming, done right, is still one of the best ways of generating fresh ideas from people at all levels. Keep brainstorming sessions short, non-judgmental, high energy, and chaired by an enthusiastic facilitator.

  3. Escalate all problems upward to senior management. In fact, people lower in the organization are often closer to the customer, and have more insight into what works and what doesn’t. Avoid the macho concept that only top management can solve problems, or address strategic challenges. Decisions made lower down always get more buy-in.

  4. Pervasive focus on efficiency rather than innovation. There is nothing wrong with a focus on making the current business model work better. Yet ‘better’ sometimes requires ‘different’ (innovation), rather than just more efficient (faster or cheaper). An exclusive focus on efficiency is a dangerous and limiting to long-term growth.

  5. Promote the belief that hard work will solve all problems. Often we need to find a different way of solving a problem than just to work harder at the old way of doing things. Every working day needs time for some fun, some lateral thinking, some wild ideas, and some testing of new initiatives. Make sure people take time to look for new opportunities.

  6. Plan in great detail and avoid things not in the budget. Markets and needs change so quickly these days that the view we had last week can be out of date today. Business plans should be loose frameworks to be used as guidelines rather than detailed route maps. Budgets must be reviewed monthly for adjustments to accommodate innovations.

  7. Create a culture of finding blame for every failure. Many innovation projects will fail, but are still worthwhile, because only by trying them can you determine whether a promising idea is a dud or a winner. If people fear they will be blamed for failures, they will quickly avoid attempting something new. Encourage an entrepreneurial culture.

  8. Provide bonuses for volumes, not milestones. Typical incentives give percentages of quarterly revenues and contribution as rewards for success. You need different rewards for a team running an innovation project, such as reaching agreed milestones. An even better alternative could be stock options, linked to the long-term success of the company.

  9. Always promote from within rather than seek fresh blood. Promoting from within is generally a good thing, but should not be used exclusively. For real creativity and innovation, an outsider not bound by your company cultural assumptions and beliefs, and bringing a new set of experiences to the table, will see and fight for new opportunities.

  10. Assign innovation projects to production organizations. Existing production teams are generally too busy meeting monthly deadlines and targets to give new innovations the attention they need. It is better to put new products or services into a new or special department, sometimes known as an innovation incubator, to get the focus they require.

Creativity and innovation are fragile business elements, and they can be easily starved, smothered, and trampled by the larger daily operational demands and old ways of doing things. Business leaders, and every member of their team, need to proactively use lateral thinking skills to develop and nurture creativity and innovation. Your long-term business survival depends on it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 11/18/2017 ***

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

10 Principles For New Ventures To Weather The Storm

weather-the-stormA perfect storm is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances aggravates an environment drastically. In the entrepreneur world, I feel we are in such a situation now for new startups, with the confluence of business transformations, the explosion of new digital technologies, and the political turmoil around the world.

It’s easier and cheaper to start a company than ever before, yet it’s tougher than ever to survive. It takes a “well-oiled” multi-disciplined and motivated team to win, and yet I see and hear all too often about teams that are well-funded and smart, but don’t work well together, or are downright dysfunctional.

The challenge they face is not unlike that described in the classic sailing book “Into the Storm,” by Dennis N. T. Perkins, where a team of amateurs applied some key lessons in teamwork while surviving and winning a treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race. Here are ten principles from the book that I’ve easily extrapolated to the business startup environment:

  1. Team unity: Make the team, not an individual, the rock star. Flat management is the business term to describe an environment where all members of the team feel they are part of the whole, that each has a key role to play, and each can express their views without jeopardy. There are no individual superstars or bosses with special perks.

  2. Prepare, prepare, prepare: Remove all excuses for failure. Winning teams set out to ensure that every element of the system is known to all and is functioning to the best of their combined ability. Make sure no one has an excuse for failure. That means preparing for things that could go wrong, as well as driving things efficiently that go right.

  3. Balanced optimism: Find and focus on the winning scenario. In business, startups will inevitably encounter setbacks, and need to pivot. The first step is to define “winning.” Is it more customers, more revenue, more profit, or killing competitors? Of course, all of these are important, but everyone needs to prioritize the same way during a crisis.

  4. Relentless learning: Build a gung-ho culture of learning and innovation. The very best teams learn the most quickly from experience. That means they take action, reflect on outcomes, and gain insights that help them continuously improve. Innovation and new ideas are the norm, rather than maintain status quo, or charge straight ahead.

  5. Calculated risk: Be willing to sail into the storm. Great business teams accept that every startup is “a big risk,” and there is no quick path to safety. Winning requires situational awareness, which means always understanding the critical success factors, and working to stay aware of current business realities around you.

  6. Stay connected: Cut through the noise of the wind and the waves. The information blizzard in business is just as noisy as on the stormy ocean. Don’t let it be further clouded by political concerns and turf battles. Everyone needs to personalize communication, warn others of big waves, and even break protocol to help others when required.

  7. Step into the breach: Find ways to share the helm. In adversity, any given team member can be faced with a burden too heavy for one person to carry. A good team draws on each other’s strengths, and shares the load. At the top, this is called distributive leadership, which lessens the burden on the formal leader.

  8. Eliminate friction: Step up to the conflict, and deal with the things that slow you down. Fix the problem, not the blame. Confront differences in ability without blame, and add training, coaching, or education, and eliminate excess weight, before the storm. Humor can help alleviate anxiety and mitigate conflict, providing time to solve the crisis.

  9. Practiced resilience: Master the art of rapid recovery. Startups need people who thrive under pressure, meaning they are resilient and have a high stress hardiness. They enjoy change and look at problems as a challenge, rather than a burden. They measure success in terms of recovery time, and strive to make it shorter.

  10. Tenacious creativity: Never give up – there is always another move. Determination and creativity under pressure make a team unstoppable – on the ocean or in business. The “proud moments” of successful teams are the times when they come together in the face of adversity and win.

Some startup founders try to dodge the team-building challenge by single-handedly doing all the work, or establishing a monarchy where only one voice counts. Neither of these strategies can succeed, since even a small business will soon scale too big for one person to manage everything.

If you are a new entrepreneur, you need to realize that you can’t win by sailing around the edges of the perfect storm ahead. You have to hit it with an innovative plan, and you need a confident and disciplined team to get you through it. Are you ready to rock and roll?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 17, 2017

6 Steps Required From A New Venture Dream To Reality

new-venture-dream-to-realityIt seems like everyone wants to be an entrepreneur and get rich these days. As a business mentor, I sometimes feel besieged by people begging for my view and support of their latest idea. In reality, I like most ideas, but I have to tell them that the real challenge is taking the inspiration from a dream to a business reality. All the evidence says that over 99% fail to make that leap.

So a better question than asking about the quality of an idea, is asking about the quality of your plan to implement the idea. There are lots of resources available for that question, including the Internet and mentors like me. It’s really a multi-step process, with the first step getting you from an idea to a viable product, and the remaining steps creating a sustainable business.

As an example of a good resource, I enjoyed a classic book, “Idea To Invention,” by Patricia Nolan-Brown, that does a great job on the key steps. Here is my interpretation of her realistic process for deciding and then actually taking your inspiration from an invention idea to a sustainable business:

  1. It all starts in your head (think it). Start with what you know, but think outside the box. As you think and explore and imagine the possibilities for new products, remember that it should have a broad opportunity, appeal to people who have money to buy, and needs to have pizzazz to get people’s attention in this age of information overload.

  2. Now get real (cook it). Before you get too excited, it’s time to do some homework. Find out if something very similar is already selling, and who your competition would be if you proceed. Ask some potential customers to see if there is real interest, and start thinking about price versus cost. Look hard at the technology for feasibility and risk.

  3. Keep thieves away (protect it). Limit your disclosures to people you trust, and learn the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDA). File at least a provisional patent and one or more trademarks. Be wary of crafty shysters who will flood your mailbox with official-looking mail offering to help for a fee, or demanding fees you forgot to pay.

  4. Make ‘em want it bad (pitch it). “Pitching” is the insider term for presenting your product idea to people who could conceivably buy it or fund your efforts. Start by developing an “elevator pitch” that you can deliver in 30 seconds to hook a potential investor. Attend trade shows and network to find the right players and pitch your product.

  5. Factory in the garage (make it). This is the point where you work on the specifics of being able to deliver your product or service. Relevant questions include the type of business entity (LLC or C-Corp), licensing or manufacturing, sales and marketing, and staffing. It’s also time to build prototypes to make the product come alive.

  6. Continuous improvement (replace it). Once you have a real product, and it’s actually selling itself online, or on store shelves, you may think you can just sit back, relax, and collect your riches. But remember that complacency kills, and you always need to be thinking of the next product iteration, new territories, and new competitors.

Thus you see that framing your idea is the first of at least six steps in making it a business, and probably less than one percent of the entire effort required. Now you see why no one should judge business success potential by the idea alone. I’ve heard the pitch for many million-dollar ideas, but I haven’t seen anyone pay that for one yet.

In fact, the common element in all these steps is “you.” Investors learned this a long time ago, so most will tell you that they invest in people, not ideas. They safely assume that an entrepreneur with the right attributes will start with a great idea, and spend their time honing and presenting a great plan to deliver, leading to a successful business.

You don’t need the intelligence of a genius to cash in on your dream, and you don’t have to be born with special genes to be an entrepreneur. But you do have to be passionate, positive, determined, and a problem solver to get it done. Talkers and dreaming without follow-through will fail. Are you ready to cash in on your inspiration, or are you comfortable in the other 99 percent?

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

8 Ways That Creating A New Business Helps Your Career

career-road-signIf you are one of the many professionals still trapped between jobs by circumstances outside your control, or are about to dump the loser job you have now, you should be actively defining and starting your own business, in parallel with looking for that ideal job. Let me explain why this is a win-win deal, no matter what the outcome.

You have probably secretly always wanted to run your own show, but with an existing job, never took the time to consider a startup. Then there was always the risk of failure, which of course doesn’t apply once your real job is gone. Also, for most of us, not having done it before, we have no idea where or how to start.

Here are my top recommendations on how and why initiating a startup while looking, or about to be looking for a job, is the right thing to do:

  1. No gap in your resume. Instead of an embarrassing gap in your resume for your period out of work, you have an entry for your startup business, showing initiative, leadership, and breadth of experience.

  2. Fun learning experience. It’s more fun tackling the challenges of a startup in between job search activities, than sitting around feeling sorry for yourself and waiting for status callbacks on interviews (which seem to have gone out of style).

  3. Explore finding a business partner. Unless you are a true loner, you need someone like-minded but complementary in skills to help you with the startup plans. It’s always good to have someone to test your ideas, keep your spirits up, and hone your business skills. Now you have a reason for talking to people who may become lifelong friends.

  4. Learn how to incorporate a business. First, pick a name for your company and do the paperwork on starting a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). Almost anyone can handle this without professional help, and the cost is less than $100 in many states. It shows everyone you are serious, and limits your liability on any mistakes.

  5. Practice developing a business plan. Pick a startup business that you can do for minimal cost, like a services business with the skills you have. With simple software available today, find a domain name and implement your own website. Use social networking and blogging to get your message out. You don’t even need an investor.

  6. Get business cards made. Nothing says you are serious about a business like handing out professional business cards at local events and Chamber of Commerce meetings. Do them on your home computer for a few dollars. Offer to help a couple of customers free, just to get your act together and your presence known.

  7. Have startup efforts to highlight in job interviews. Work your startup efforts into every job interview and application. It will definitely show off your energy and vision, and will make you a more competitive candidate for any role.

  8. Give yourself a choice – job or your own business. Obviously, at some point you will need to decide whether your startup business is better than the job opportunities. That’s good because it’s always nice to have an alternative, rather than feeling that you just have to take the first dead-end job offered.

There are other startup related points I could make here, like joining an existing startup as a “volunteer” for a time, just to learn more about what is required. Also, in most geographies, there are organizations springing up, and university workshops, to mentor people out of work and contemplating a startup. Get some help from them if you need it.

Just remember that problems are really often opportunities in disguise. Don’t miss out on what may be the best opportunity you will have in your lifetime for a new career. Start up now.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, November 13, 2017

What Great Bosses And Great Employees Have In Common

happy-bosses-dayEveryone in business loves to complain about their boss, and a classic Gallup study found that 50 percent of current employees have left at least one job in their career to get away from a bad manager. When asked for clarification, the most common reason seems to be a managers lack of clarity in setting expectations, which is obviously one of the most basic of employee needs.

On the other hand, almost every one of us in business can remember that one special manager in their career who exemplifies the norm, who commanded our trust, and treated us with respect, even in the toughest of business crises. In commemoration of U.S. National Boss’s Day every October, let’s all tip our hat to that unique and rare business person we wish all would emulate.

In an effort to be a better business advisor, and recognizing that the answer is not usually as simple as a single dimension, I have asked my own sample of employees at all levels for a list of key traits or attributes they see in great managers, resulting in the following list of ten top positive traits of a good boss:

  1. Clearly communicates performance expectations. Even your best performers don’t like to be surprised after the fact by unknown expectations. One of the easiest ways to avoid surprises is to set deliverable milestone targets for each employee for every period. Then review the performance versus the roadmap and deliverables on a weekly basis.

  2. Shows leadership as well as management skills. As Drucker said, "management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." Every employee appreciates guidance on both – to do the right thing at the right point in time, towards attainment of the organization’s goals, as well as employee satisfaction and perceived productivity.

  3. Demonstrates extensive and current domain knowledge. Good bosses demonstrate relevant expertise and confidence about that knowledge, as well as the common sense to make quick productive decisions. This requires continuous learning, an ability to think outside the box, and the flexibility to change as the market and technology changes.

  4. Possesses foresight and skills to plan and delegate. Great managers make it a point to understand the specific strengths of team members, and then scheduling tasks and delegating to the right people to get tasks done within deadlines. The best managers are guides and coaches, with a concrete plan based on goals, not just crisis commanders.

  5. Provides positive and timely employee recognition. Most employees are more motivated by recognition than by money. You must immediately recognize team members, formally and informally, when they complete something successfully or show initiative. Over the long-term, make sure they get more positive than negative recognition.

  6. Is an active listener, and provides immediate feedback. Listening to what is said, as well as what is not said, is of the utmost importance. It is demoralizing to an employee to be speaking to a supervisor who is interrupted for a phone call. Good managers plan for feedback sessions, and pick a venue that is conducive to discussion and adequate time.

  7. Stays cool and calm in tough business situations. A great manager is an effective communicator and a composed individual, with a proven tolerance for ambiguity. He or she never loses their cool, keeps their ego in check, and is able to correct team members without emotional body language or statements. They don’t always have to be right.

  8. Shows empathy for individual problems and challenges. This refers to the ability to "walk in another person's shoes", and to have insight into the thoughts, and the emotional reactions of individuals faced with change or the need to change. Empathy is suspending judgment of another's actions or reactions, while treating them with sensitivity.

  9. Provides a role model for honesty, integrity, and humility. Simply put, today’s managers live in glass houses. Everything that a manager does is seen by employees. If a manager says one thing and does another, employees broadcast it. Managers must be straightforward in all words and actions, including admitting weaknesses and mistakes.

  10. Always displays a positive sense of humor. People of all demographics respond to humor, and respect managers who can find humor even in tough business and personal situations. The majority of people are able to be amused at something funny, and see an irony. One of the most frequently cited attractions to a manager is their sense of humor.

Since most of these traits must seem intuitively obvious, it’s hard for me to understand why so many managers and employees miss on expectations. Perhaps it’s time for employees and team members to adopt and display these traits as well, especially the one about empathy for the challenges that your manager is facing. Only then can it be a win-win relationship for both parties.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/01/2017 ***

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

10 Sharing Principles To Improve Your Business Image

Whole_Foods_Market_logoToo many customers have long felt distanced from many successful brands, seeing them as closed and mysterious environments, focused only on profits and killing competitors. They may not have noticed the wave of “open businesses,” spawned by the Internet and social media. These are responding to the demands of this new world for collaboration, trust, and transparency.

In a thought-provoking book by David Cushman with Jamie Burke, “The 10 Principles of Open Business,” the authors contend that many recent success stories in business, including Apple and Whole Foods, were built on at least one open business principle. In fact, according to McKinsey, open businesses are 50 percent more likely to outperform their rivals today and grow sustainable profits.

I especially like Cushman’s outline of the ten principles which distinguish the organization and operation of an open business from the more traditional closed model. Here is my interpretation of the key focus points and requirements to be categorized as open:

  1. Shared beliefs (purpose). Your stakeholders all need to understand and agree to the “why” of your organization. As the business owner, you need to have a higher level purpose (beyond making money), and be willing and able to continually clarify and communicate this to your team and your customers.

  2. Shared risks (open capital). Share the costs and risks, and therefore the ownership and the passion with your constituents. In the idea stage, get customers involved with an engaging contest. If you are at the funding stage, try the new crowd-funding platforms or micro-capital investments. Offer equity in future projects to people outside your business.

  3. Shared clients and objectives (networked organization). Support and enable mutually beneficial activities inside and outside the organization. Bring focus on your core competencies and expertise by educating and helping others, who can then return the favor by helping you or buying from you.

  4. Shared knowledge packaging (shareability). Establish vehicles, like a formal customer satisfaction program, to recognize and reward staff and customers for sharing what they can do to help you. Use and contribute to shared resources, like Wikipedia and Creative Commons, rather than relying totally on proprietary and internal tools.

  5. Shared and collaborative activity (connectedness). Enable people within the organization to find what (or who) they need when they need it. Set an example by being visibly connected to the people and information you need through social media. Encourage collaboration by providing the platform, and setting best practices.

  6. Shared ideas and rewards (open innovation). Bring customers and stakeholders into the innovation process to share the risk and reward of development. Consider setting up a new idea forum on your website, with rewards and motivational offers, to facilitate involvement from customers and business partners.

  7. Shared intelligence and opportunities (open data). Make data available to those inside or outside of your organization who can make best use of it. Contribute and give talks to local business organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce, to establish your expertise, and contribute information as well as gather it.

  8. Shared decision process (transparency). Make decisions openly and be honest about the criteria on which they are based. Ramp up transparency by making people the boss of what they do. Respond openly and in a timely fashion to requests for information about the business.

  9. Shared leadership (member and customer led). Make sure your organization is structured around the formal co-operation of employees, customers, and partners, for their mutual social, economic, and cultural benefit. Do things with your customers and staff, rather than to them. Strive to treat them as genuine partners.

  10. Shared goodwill (trust). Foster a mutually assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of the partnership between your company and customers. Earn trust through your consistent actions over time. Review your current investment in “creating goodwill.” Compare this to how highly you value trust. Adjust accordingly.

In the last few years, I have seen a tremendous upswing in “open business” movements, especially by entrepreneurs and startups. Examples include Conscious Capitalism®, made popular by John Mackey of Whole Foods, The B Team, with serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, and the Benefit Corporation (B Corp) form of business now available in 33 states.

We seem to have a rare convergence between demands from the marketplace, driven by the real-time collaborative Internet culture, and a desire by entrepreneurs to define success as something more than making money. I think it’s really happening, and it’s time to take a reality check on your own business, and your own shopping habits, to capitalize on this trend.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

6 Strategies To Optimize Self-Leadership For Business

Employees-Leadership-MentorIn my experience as an advisor and mentor to entrepreneurs in business, one of the biggest failures I see is a lack of self-leadership. You can’t lead a business to success, if you can’t lead yourself. I define self-leadership as the capacity to set direction and make decisions, to positively drive your own performance. Leadership in business starts with making good personal choices.

Think about the questions that you are asking your advisors. I expect questions about how a business works, or what are best practices, but I really can’t help you with removing doubts on your abilities, or providing a sure-fire idea and formula for success in business. In my view, business leaders are not “idea people,” but people who drive a given idea to business results.

For example, I often hear from aspiring entrepreneurs that “I had that idea first, and he stole it, and is now making money on my idea.” I’m not an expert on leadership, so I am always on the lookout for specific development guidance, such as the new book, “Leadership Results,” by the well-known leadership coach and business psychologist, Sebastian Salicru.

Salicru details several self-leadership development strategies, which I will summarize here, that I recommend for practice by every aspiring entrepreneur. These strategies provide more valuable initial advice towards business success than I can offer as a technical business advisor:

  1. Build and maintain high self-worth and self-confidence. A healthy and high self-esteem is an essential prerequisite to leading yourself to success, as well as your business. Low self-worth, on the other hand, leads to continual doubts and questions, inability to make commitments or deliver results. Focus on you before your business.

  2. Recognize your weaknesses, but lead with your strengths. The first challenge is to find your strengths. Everyone has some degree of strengths blindness, and will likely benefit from one of many tools, such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder. If necessary, use a strengths coach, and always start a business which highlights your signature strengths.

  3. Practice your strengths often for inspiration and confidence. Using your signature strengths early in your business will cause a flow of inspiration, energy, and creativity, building momentum in your confidence and leadership. This momentum is what you need for enjoyment and satisfaction, as well as for others to see you as a business leader.

  4. Build your character and reputation with personal values. Both self-leadership and business leadership require a solid platform for decisions, based on moral and personal values. Your character, as a business leader, will determine your perceived reputation by peers in business, team members, and customers. Values are your most valuable assets.

  5. Demonstrate leadership by acting ethically and with integrity. People judge you by what you do in your business, more than by what you say. Ethical behavior refers to actions consistent with personal principles and commonly held values in your business community. These will define your right and wrong in business leadership and success.

  6. Build positive psychological capital to sustain your business. In any business, you need hope, confidence, resilience, and optimism to weather the daily challenges of customers, market changes, and competitors. Without a store of this psychological capital, your performance and leadership will wane, and your satisfaction will dwindle.

I have found that no amount of personal or investor money will create or substitute for self-leadership and business leadership. We have all seen examples of new ventures that fail, despite large infusions of venture capital, and high-potential new technologies. Good entrepreneurs can make a success from almost any business idea, through a following of partners and customers.

Today is the age of the entrepreneur, with the cost of entry at an all-time low, and the global market at an all-time high. Yet every business still requires leadership, since competition and the pace of change dictate innovative actions on a regular basis to get results. Now is the time to capitalize on your strengths and maximize your leadership abilities.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 11/10/2017 ***

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Friday, November 10, 2017

6 Ways Of Thinking To Put Your Innovation Into Orbit

Columbia.sts-1.01Real innovation in the business world is still rare. As I’ve said before, everyone talks about innovation, but the majority of new business plans I see still reflect linear thinking – one more social network with more features, another smartphone app for marketing, or one more platform for faster e-commerce. Historic changes and great successes don’t come from linear thinking.

What does it take for more dynamic transformations? I like the recommendations in the classic book “Orbit Shifting Innovation,” by Rajiv Narang and Devika Devaiah. They summarize twenty years of breakthrough research initiatives and innovation strategy they have led with many of the most dynamic global organizations large and small, including Unilever, Walt Disney, and Intel.

They define ‘orbit-shifting’ innovation as something that happens when an area that is ripe for transformation meets an innovator with the will and the desire to create history, not follow it. The breakthrough innovation creates a new orbit. Beginning with the Macintosh, Apple succeeded in doing this time and time again, transforming the lives of millions, with Steve Jobs at the helm.

Every entrepreneur and every company I know has orbit-shifting intentions. But there is a big difference between orbit-shifting intentions and orbit shifting results. According to Narang and Devaiah, the people who accomplish real innovation results seem to exhibit a higher set of attitudes and motivation:

  1. Personal growth relates to the size of the challenge, not the size of the kingdom. What motivates real innovators is the more exciting challenge, not the number of people reporting to them. The ‘size of the difference’ they will make is more inspiring than the ‘size of the business.’ They relish getting out of their comfort zone, and into the unknown.

  2. The new direction is the challenge, not the destination. The challenge is the transformation vehicle for true innovators, and not a performance goal. They focus on legacy creation, not legacy protection. They ignore failures and are constantly looking at the progress made. They treat innovations reviews like performance reviews.

  3. Be an attacker of forces holding people back, not a defender. Real innovators start by questioning the world order rather than conforming to it. They begin by confronting the forces holding everyone back, rather than living with it. The forces include mindset gravity, organization gravity, industry gravity, country gravity, and cultural gravity.

  4. New insights come from a quest for questions, not a quest for answers. This discovery mindset searching for new questions drives real innovators away from more of the same. They fundamentally become value seekers; they look for value in every experience, in every conversation. They don’t seek prescriptions, they seek possibilities.

  5. Stakeholders must be connected into the new reality, not convinced. True innovators tip stakeholders into adopting and even co-owning the orbit-shifting idea. They go about tipping the heart first, assuming the mind will follow. They seek smart people, who openly express their doubts, and then collaborate to overcome them.

  6. Work from the challenge backward, rather than capability forward. Overcoming execution obstacles is combating dilution, not compromising, for these innovators. Their mindset is not ‘if-then’ but ‘how and how else?’ They convert problems to opportunities, and often the original idea grows far bigger than the starting promise.

Overall, what is different about these innovators is their mental model of romanticism in vision and realism in execution. They expect challenges, and when problems do arise, they are not surprised or let down or disappointed. They face them head on, handle them and move on. Most of the rest of us are the reverse; realistic about the vision and romantic about execution.

Entrepreneurs and startups are in the best position to find and run with orbit-shifting rather than linear innovations. They don’t have to start by overcoming the choking gravities of an existing organization and product set. That’s why most large business and government entities are resigned to buying innovation, rather than birthing it. Is your best startup idea and mindset really orbit-shifting, or just linear thinking that stakeholders won’t buy?

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

7 Keys To Market Growth - Think Global, But Act Local

world-opportunity-growthNew entrepreneurs who want to survive, and optimize the growth of their startups, need to think globally, and act locally, from day one. This approach, popularly known as “glocalization,” means you have to design and deliver global solutions that have total relevance to every local market in which you operate.

Recognizing this is as much about culture as about language, ensures an understanding of regional motivators, cultural taboos and local customs – so that your solutions are ideally designed and marketed to deliver value that has genuine local relevance.

What all this doesn’t mean is that you should roll out your product in every country at the same time. But it does mean that you think about the global implications at every step of the process:

  1. Pick your company and product names carefully. Don’t pick a name for your company or product that has a negative or totally different meaning in another language. Remember when the Chevy Nova required a rename, once Chevrolet realized that Nova meant "no go" in the Spanish market (not a great name for a car).

  2. Anticipate greater growth outside of North America. Not every international market matters, but some are larger than life. McKinsey estimates, for example, that the upper middle class in China will grow from 14 percent now to 56 percent by 2022. Just the middle class in India is equal in size to the entire population of the United States. And aging populations in Europe and Japan will join the retiring baby boomers in the U.S. with demands for new products and services. Be ready.

  3. Reinforce your brand in international markets. An international brand will command higher prices and additional customer demand. This is called brand goodwill, a hard-won value resulting from the trust that a strong name engenders among buyers and partners. As you begin to saturate the demand in domestic markets, let your brand take you international at low cost.

  4. Balance your business between geographies. When buyers in one region start to slow down, look for buyers in other geographies to take up the slack. Companies with diversified portfolios can focus their energy on other global markets that are doing well.

  5. Speak the customer’s language. People tell me that a multi-lingual website can double your local online business in many parts of the U.S. These days, customers begin their buying cycle online, where they can get answers to their frequently asked questions, product information, and transactions — all in a language they really understand.

  6. Find global sources now. This may not be politically correct these days, but smart startups are looking globally to source their products from the very beginning. Software can be developed “offshore” for a low cost, manufacturing volumes are quickly available from China, and European designs have increased opportunities in every country.

  7. Selectively protect your intellectual property worldwide. At present, no world patents or international patent process really exists, so you need to apply in every relevant country. Trying to get patent protection worldwide at the beginning is prohibitively expensive, so pick your geographies and timing carefully and strategically.

These days the world is a single market. It is both homogeneous and heterogeneous. The communication revolution and the advent of the Internet has brought about a new age of globalization. Easier access to international markets is creating limitless sales opportunities on a worldwide basis.

The result is that every startup company now needs to consider every aspect of management, sales and service on a global basis. However, to gain a true competitive edge, you still need to implement effective solutions first at the local level. Don’t try to do it all at once.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, November 6, 2017

8 Creativity Traits That Will Improve Your Leadership

Creativity-Drawing-Creative-Be-CreativeStarting a new venture is all about being creative, not just in the initial solution, but in tackling the daily challenges of every new and innovative business. In my role as business advisor, I find too many people still looking for the right answers in the back of the book. Most of what you learned in school is already obsolete. The winning answers and strategy has to come from your creativity.

In this new world of constant cultural and technological change, the only source you can trust is your own ability to learn faster and be more creative than your competition. In that context, we all have to deal with a huge information overload, which can stifle creativity, just by the sheer weight of trying to consume all the data bombarding us daily from the Internet, social media, and press.

In fact, according to a recent book, “Too Fast to Think: How to Reclaim Your Creativity in a Hyper-connected Work Culture,” by Chris Lewis, the pressure of this information overload is changing human behavior, and not always in good ways. He should know, based on his years of experience as a media trainer for senior politicians, business people and celebrities.

He sees the information overload as a major source of stress, a feeling of being constantly interrupted and out of control, and reduced focus on creativity. Lewis offers eight steps to reclaiming your creativity that I believe every entrepreneur should adopt:

  1. Quiet – creativity speaks quietly and needs concentration. It’s important to schedule some time for thinking each day, away from the noise and clutter, so we can refreshingly experience sounds, smells, touch, and the full senses. The enemies of this are multi-tasking and juggling. If you are concentrating on too many things, creativity will not come.

  2. Engage – creativity needs focus and commitment. Take the time to listen fully to the voices that really count, including your team leaders and customers. Also take the time to listen and believe in yourself. Take on and conquer your own fears and challenges, before you face the business challenges which require extra creativity.

  3. Dream – creativity needs imagination and free thinking. Research has long suggested links between dreams and creativity. It suggests that the dreams themselves--with their idiosyncratic imagery, colorful extrapolations on the same theme and nonjudgmental stance--model the free thinking that precedes actual creation.

  4. Relax – creativity requires patience and will not be forced. Sometimes your “Type A” personality works against you. You may never learn to love the queue or the line, but you can be calm in doing so. Ideas do not arrive by timetable. If you live by the clock, you may not allow creativity to intervene. Practice slowing down your pace once in a while.

  5. Release – let go and accept that you can’t do everything. Don’t push off the basics of life in favor of work – schedule and maintain time for sleep, exercise, and healthy eating. Find time for some any of the creative arts to jump-start your creativity – dance, art, non-work relationships, or other hobbies. This new-found creativity will spill over to your work.

  6. Repeat – experiments and repetition are the key. Scientists have long known that the best results come from controlled experiments, meaning that just one (or a few) factors are changed at a time, with repetition, while all others are kept constant. With information overload, too much input can lead to random tests with no creativity or analysis.

  7. Play – creativity comes from what you enjoy and love. You can’t play or enjoy things when you are constantly rushing. Take the time to explore new ideas and have deep conversations with creative people about things you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy the financial side of your business, find a partner to be creative there, so you can be creative in yours.

  8. Teach – people learn more about creativity helping others. The best mentors in business often find themselves learning as much as their mentees. You will find yourself creatively inspired by someone else’s style and ideas, and you can make them your own by improving them, changing them, or personalizing them in some way, and sharing.

Above all, remember that creativity in business is not a solo act. Good leadership is bringing out the best in creativity from all members of the team, through collaboration, customer engagement, incenting change, and publicly recognizing every contribution. To fight the negative impacts of the current information overload, what have you done today to foster your own creativity?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/23/2017 ***

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Sunday, November 5, 2017

3 Key Success Factors Drive Business Strategies Today

Business_Strategy_Cover (1)Your business can’t be all things to all people, and excel at anything. Every entrepreneur and every business needs a strategy to keep them focused. In fact, in this new world of pervasive interactivity, it’s time to rethink even how to develop a strategy. Strategy used to come from the inside looking out, but now it must come from a dialogue and engagement with constituents.

These challenges and the processes for a modern strategic approach are highlighted in the classic book by Gerben Van Den Berg and Paul Pietersma, “The 8 Steps To Strategic Success,” which focuses on unleashing the power of engagement with customers, suppliers, employees, partners, shareholders, competitors and government institutions, to set your strategic direction.

Van Den Berg and Pietersma point out that strategic planning no longer works as a static event that occurs once a year. Market change happens too frequently these days, and organizations need to quickly change course just to survive. The real challenge is to recognize when and why a new strategy is needed, and optimize the process against three critical success factors:

  1. A good understanding of the context of strategy definition. Without shared understanding of cause, necessity and ambition, a business trying to formulate its strategy will drift. And without knowing where you stand, there is no way to set a course.

  2. An adequate use of content in terms of quality, completeness, and depth. Thorough analysis with appropriate models and instruments is needed to really understand what is not possible for the organization and the environment in which it is active. Thorough analysis is the basis for finding the right strategy options.

  3. An effective and inspiring process. Who are involved at what time, what are the roles, how is participation organized? In other words: applying the correct methods of engagement. These help to increase the intrinsic level of understanding, stimulate creativity, and develop ideas. Three things are essential in engagement:

    • High quality level of participants’ contribution.
    • Willingness in analysis, vision, and numbers to think about the future.
    • Initiating and pacing the implementation process.

Every business strategy should still be based first on a long-term business vision and goal – referred to by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their textbook “Built to Last” as the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). The BHAG always poses three questions in parallel:

  • What are you deeply passionate about? According to Collins and Porras, companies can only be really outstanding in areas where they are fully committed. The answer to this question should be formulated as ‘a customer’s problem the company is going to resolve like no other.’
  • What can you be the best in the world at? This questions going beyond one or two features or best-selling products. It is about identifying a core competence which others cannot match. It might be a patented technology, but it could also be the creativity of employees or logistic competencies of the company.
  • What drives the economic engine? This could be the utilization rate of a plant, the price premium of the brand, or the service offered or products sold. It is essential to keep this financial pillar in view.

From the answers to these questions, the strategic process needs to work its way through the futures you need to anticipate, business capabilities, and strategic options. From there, it’s time to make a decision, execute on the new strategy, and measure results. Based on results, it’s usually time for another iteration, and successful startups and enterprises never stop.

These days, you won’t last long as an entrepreneur with one “next big thing.” Success is more about your ability to “see around the corner” and sense the potential for market changes before they happen, and change your company rapidly to make them happen. How engaged is your strategic process with your constituents, and how fast can you adapt to their changes?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

6 Lessons From Navy SEALs For New Venture Founders

You have to be extra tough mentally to start a new business venture. While thinking about it, I realized that it’s really not that different from the toughness required and trained into America’s elite military force of Navy SEALs, who are known to be cool under fire, able to sense danger before it’s too late, and never give up on achieving their objective.

I learned some good lessons along these lines from the classic book “The Way of the SEAL,” by Mark Divine. He spent many years with the SEALs, but has since started and built six multimillion-dollar business ventures. He now teaches these key principles to business leaders, focusing on the following lessons and strategies, which I recommend for every entrepreneur:

  1. Lead from the front, so that others will want to work for you. To be an entrepreneur or a Navy SEAL, you must first have vision, focus, and the courage to step up to lead. That means visibly walking the talk and willing to clear a path for others. People want to follow leaders they can learn from, who demonstrate excellence and commitment in all they do.

  2. Focus on one thing until victory is achieved. SEALs call this front-sight focus, or the ability to envision your goal to the point that you see it, believe it, and make it happen. Every entrepreneur needs this kind of focus to build a minimum viable product, target the right customer segment, differentiate from competitors, and drive business growth.

  3. Think offense, all the time, to eradicate fear and indecisiveness. Indecision leads to doubt, then the two blend and become fear, which signals defense, resulting in being overrun in the business world, as well as the military world. Offense, for entrepreneurs, means leading with a new business model, new marketing, and new technology.

  4. Never be thrown off-guard by chaotic conditions. Smash the box and think outside the box. In the world of the entrepreneur and the SEAL, chaos is the norm, not the exception. Plan for it mentally and physically, and you will see opportunities rather than problems in the chaos. Winning is finding opportunities, rather than fighting problems.

  5. Access your intuition so you can make “hard right” decisions. Your intuition is really your knowledge and awareness of your business environment, which must be honed with practice and focus. This knowledge is required for you to turn quickly or pivot based on new input from the market, without loss of competitive position.

  6. Achieve twenty times more than you think you can. Set your targets high. Nobody knows what they are truly capable of, with the right discipline, drive, and determination (three Ds). SEALs challenge themselves to find their 20x factor, and entrepreneurs should accept no less of a challenge. Leverage the resources of mentors, investors, and peers.

By teaching and practicing the principles behind these six lessons, Mark Divine was able to improve the pass rate of Navy SEAL candidates from less than 30% to over 80%. I see the same potential for improving the success rate of new entrepreneurs from the current 10-year survival rate below 30%, to a new high target of 80% in this new era.

He suggests that you start with a self-assessment against the “five mountains” to be climbed on the path to self-mastery and success, with my adaptation for entrepreneurs:

  • Physical: business as well as technical skills required for the domain you want to enter.
  • Mental: ability to persevere, make decisions, focus, and visualize success.
  • Emotional: resilience, open to relationships, keep negative emotions under control.
  • Intuitional: level of awareness, listen more than speak, strong self-esteem, insightful.
  • Spiritual: strong values, at peace, willing to make sacrifices, see the big picture.

I agree with Divine that if you desire serious change in your life, you can’t get there by focusing on what you don’t want. Becoming an entrepreneur is a great lifestyle, but it is a serious change from other career alternatives. If you decide to be an entrepreneur because you don’t want a boss, on don’t like regular business hours, you may be setting yourself up for failure.

Apply the lessons from the Navy SEALs and you too can be an elite warrior who leads and succeeds in the new global business paradigm. Are you up to the challenge?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 3, 2017

9 Sources Of Inspiration To Make Your Idea A Winner

businesswoman-inspirationIdeas are a dime a dozen, but the inspiration to drive a great business is a lot harder to find. As a mentor to many aspiring entrepreneurs, I often get asked for next sure-fire idea. I have to tell them that anyone can find ideas, but only you as a person can find the passion to transform one into a successful business. That’s why investors talk about investing in the jockey, not the horse.

Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and other famous entrepreneurs are examples of dedicated people who looked for inspiration, rather than ideas for their next business. From my experience and their feedback, I can summarize the top principles which provide sound inspiration for entrepreneurs, who are then often able to convert even a mundane idea into a satisfying and long-term business:

  1. Choose an idea from your heart, rather than someone’s head. Look inside yourself for inspiration and ideas, rather than asking me or anyone else. Only then will you find the passion to persevere through the challenges of a new venture, and actually enjoy the journey, as well as the destination. Do what you love, and it won’t even feel like work.

  2. Focus first on changing the world, rather than making money. Great entrepreneurs identify something larger than money to provide purpose and meaning. Happiness does not scale up with income. Studies show that doubling your income increases happiness by less than 10%. The more you focus your efforts on others, the easier it is to do great work.

  3. Work to anticipate a future market change and get there first. When attacking a currently known problem, chances are that dozens of others are already working on it. If you can look ahead successfully, you will have more time and fewer competitors to kill your inspiration. In addition, you will be seen and appreciated as a leader with a legacy.

  4. Surround yourself with inspired people, and absorb their energy. Find people you respect and admire, who are inspired, and you will find their energies contagious. They will also amplify your inspiration to your customers, and keep it growing in your own mind. These people need to cover the gamut from partners, marketers, suppliers, to customers.

  5. Solve a problem based on your own personal knowledge. Stick to domains within your experience, and your business inspiration will be more real and long-lived. Avoid the tendency to see the grass looking greener on the other side of the fence. It’s the things you think you know about a problem that will kill you, as well as what you don’t know.

  6. Be inspired by customer value rather than solution features. Customers don't care about your product or service's features. Instead, they want to know how your solution will benefit them, in lower costs, dreams, hopes, and ambitions met. In other words, seek inspiration from your customer’s perception of value, rather than solution features.

  7. Create a great customer experience, not just a product. I find that entrepreneur inspiration fades quickly, if not complemented by inspiring customer experiences. These days, customers are inspired by solutions that are easy and fun to find, have satisfying buying experiences, and great support. These get recommended many times to others.

  8. Keep it simple by removing features, rather than adding more. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication of design, according to many studies. Steve Jobs was a master of inspiration from sophisticated designs, from the iPod to iPhone and packaging. Beware of false inspiration from early adopters, who typically ask for more features and options.

  9. Practice telling your story to get and keep customers inspired. You can have the most innovative idea in the world, but if you cannot get people excited, it doesn’t matter. The key to storytelling is adapting your message and presentation to match the audience, rather than trying to find one size that fits all. Their inspiration then becomes yours.

Inspiration is what keeps your mind open to new possibilities, and that is certainly critical to business success in this age of rapid change. An idea can be innovative one day, and old news the next. Will your current inspiration and passion carry you to success through the challenges and changes that are normal for a new venture today?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/20/2017 ***

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

10 Quotes That You Won’t Hear From An Entrepreneur

adult_burnout_frustrated_girlSome people are not cut out to be entrepreneurs. This is a good thing, or the business world would be chaos, with everyone trying to do their own thing. So what about you? How do you know if you should be running your own company, or concentrating on that queue of work that someone else has built for you?

I’ve hit this before, but I still hear from too many unhappy entrepreneurs. Now is the time to put aside your fantasies, and take a hard look at who you really are, before you commit to the entrepreneurial lifestyle. If you recognize yourself in many of these quotes, you WILL NOT be happy in that lifestyle:

  1. “I like my life structured with clear decisions.” Entrepreneurs do not function well in traditional organizations and do not like being in the conventional management hierarchy. Most believe they can do the job better than anyone else and will strive for maximum responsibility and accountability.

  2. “Handling problems causes me stress and pressure.” To an entrepreneur, stress is part of the job, and they are re-invigorated rather than discouraged by setbacks. They may actually be less comfortable when things are going well, and are not troubled by ambiguity and uncertainty because they are used to solving problems.

  3. “My job is fun when everyone knows and does their job.” The best entrepreneurs relish the challenge of an undefined role, and enjoy the learning process as much as success. It’s even better when they can inspire and energize others to do things that have never been done before.

  4. “I like to put my mistakes behind me and never think about them again.” Entrepreneurs accept things as they are and deal with them accordingly. They are quick to learn from their failures. They may or may not be idealistic, but they are seldom unrealistic. They want to know the status of a given situation at all times.

  5. “Balance and family are everything in my life.” Entrepreneurs devote the largest share of their time to the business. During tough business periods, they will give their entire focus to business operations, and may essentially stay on the job for days. Even at home or at social events, the business is always top of mind.

  6. “It didn’t get done today, but there’s always tomorrow.” Entrepreneurs have a great sense of urgency to develop their ideas now. Inactivity makes them impatient, tense, and uneasy. They have drive and high energy levels, they are achievement-oriented, and they are tireless in the pursuit of their goals.

  7. “That’s not my job.” Successful entrepreneurs love to tackle complex situations that span the spectrum from planning, making strategic decisions, and working on multiple operational crises simultaneously. They are futuristic and aware of important implications, and they will continuously review alternatives to achieve their business objectives.

  8. “I love to get awards for my efforts.” Entrepreneurs find satisfaction in the trappings of success from external sources, like the media and peer organizations. They like the business they have built to be praised, but they are often embarrassed by praise directed at them personally.

  9. “I get frustrated when things don’t work.” Entrepreneurs have a "never, never, never quit" attitude. They are self-confident when they know what they're doing and in control. Most are at their best in the face of adversity, since they thrive on their own self-confidence.

  10. “Risk and uncertainty cause me to lose too much sleep.” Some of the best entrepreneurs talk about the highs they get from taking a big risk, and the euphoria they feel when they beat the odds. They live for these feelings.

If you are an employee, and you recognize your boss in the quotes, you probably are not a happy employee. If you recognize your CEO or business founder in the quotes, then your business is probably failing. That’s how important it is for the right people to be in the right category.

In my experience, the most unhappy people are the ones who clearly fit in one category, but for various reasons believe they need to be in the other one (entitlement, more money, more prestige, family pressures). My message is do what you enjoy. Life is too short for the alternative.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, October 30, 2017

7 Steps To Finding Investors Aligned With Your Values

investors-aligned-with-valuesOne of the most common complaints I hear from new business owners and startups is about the pain and difficulty raising capital. The “venture capital” model is the only option they know, where they feel they get no mercy, giving up equity and control. Based on my experience with startups, I’m a strong believer that there are far better alternatives available, if you think outside the box.

The key is to look hard outside the world of “professional investors,” to regular people who share your vision and dreams, friends and family who believe in you, and crowd funding your ideas that have a popular appeal. Of course, none of these sources should be approached casually, and none will give you the relationship and terms you are looking for without proper win-win planning.

I just finished a new book, “Raise Capital on Your Own Terms: How to Fund Your Business Without Selling Your Soul,” by Jenny Kassan, who has been in the business for over 20 years as an attorney and fund raiser. I agree with her recommended steps for every new venture, to find the alternatives that match your requirements, prepare for the process, and close on your terms:

  1. Define your personal goals and values for investor alignment. Finding the right investor is like finding the right spouse – it likely won’t work unless you share the same goals and values. In your business, how much control are you willing to give up, how fast and far are you determined to grow, and are you willing to sell or stay for the long term?

  2. Create the ideal investor profile for your unique business. Some investors are all about making money, while others care more about changing the world, advancing technology, or curing a disease that has ravaged their family. Your ideal investor is someone who will really value the benefits that come from advancing your business.

  3. Document the investment types you are willing to consider. The basic categories include equity, straight debt, convertible debt, services, and agreements for future equity. If you project a sense of desperation, or ignorance of the options and implications, no potential investor will give you the credibility to be your partner in a business.

  4. Complete and heed fund-raising legal compliance requirements. Many aspiring entrepreneurs try to raise capital, without first understanding and complying with government and state rules for disclosure, securities registration, private offerings, and accredited investors. The rules for crowdfunding and non-profits are even more specific.

  5. Prepare properly for meeting and closing with investors. This includes investor pitching preparation, how to ask for investor meetings, what to say in the meetings, and follow-up. Generally, as a new business advisor, I recommend advance preparation of an executive summary, a pitch deck, short business plan, and lots of practice and passion.

  6. Methodically address every obstacle head on. Fund raising is hard, and it always seems to take longer than anticipated. Obstacles are abundant, including the scarcity of warm introductions, enough traction to satisfy investors, and unending due diligence requirements. Maintain a positive mindset, and don’t get discouraged by every “no.”

  7. Block out sufficient time on your calendar for raising capital. Many entrepreneurs see fund raising as a part-time task, behind high-priority solution development efforts. Prepare to spend as much as 80 percent of your time for a couple of months looking for and following up with investors. Building and maintaining momentum is key to success.

Unless you are happy with bootstrapping your new business, I recommend that you ignore conventional funding myths, and first seek investors who share your goals and values. You can find these in your professional circle and your sphere of influence, rather than angel groups and venture capitalists. For example, if you are a doctor, look for funding from the medical world.

Also, it pays to be more creative with your investment offer. Rather than simply exchanging equity for cash, explore partnership arrangements where qualified partners contribute services for equity. For example, rather than getting cash from professional investors and hiring programmers, find qualified developers who are willing to work for equity or deferred payments.

In my experience, smart and determined entrepreneurs are usually able to avoid the whole capital raising nightmare, and associated cash-flow and control risks, by simply broadening their definition of investors to include regular people who are willing to share the risk to accomplish common objectives and impacts. Make your business a shared labor of love, rather than a battle.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/18/2017 ***

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

5 Strategies For Making Winning Business Connections

winning-business-connectionsI often hear the popular notion that successful entrepreneurs are built from a single heroic insight or a single innovation. This is just plain wrong. The business world is a symphony of players and elements that only works when everything interconnects harmoniously. Continuous innovation and continuous learning are required for any sustained connection and success.

I’ve long believed these principles, but I’ve never been able to explain them as well as my friend Faisal Hoque, with Drake Baer, in their classic book “Everything Connects.” Hoque’s great insights on how to transform businesses in this age of creativity, innovation, and sustainability are based on his serial entrepreneur experiences, as well as his study of Eastern philosophies.

Here is my extrapolation of his many lessons and messages into five essential strategies for making the connections in business that can lead to success as a business executive or an entrepreneur:

  1. Learn to work with people and build strong relationships. Nobody succeeds as a “Lone Ranger” in business. Finding people and building the relationships you need requires effort, and is a key component in moving every business forward. Equally important is avoiding people who bring you down, waste your time, or have no interest.

  2. Root out ideas by cultivating curiosity. Curiosity is the best catalyst for business creativity, learning, problem solving, and ideas. Ideas are the beginning of a strategy. The continuous discovering, planning, and implementing of ideas is the only path to sustainable innovation. Nurture the people in your relationships who have curiosity.

  3. Connect with your target audience. Today’s innovative “social economy” requires emotional attachment that links customers to your products, as opposed to competitors, and translates into sustainable growth. A simple, inspirational product and brand message is far more influential than one which highlights product features and functions.

  4. Accelerate sustainable growth. Creating a unique product and a unique brand isn’t enough. It takes repeatable sales processes to create a scalable business. Accelerating this growth requires continuous innovation, improved collaboration, visionary leadership, and an inspired and positive relationships with all your constituents.

  5. Create tangible long-term value. Every business transaction has consequences. The positive ones are called value. Short-term consequences are usually quantitative, and long-term ones are more qualitative. The most sustainable way to create long-term value is to continually invest in your capabilities both as individuals and as an organization.

In business, as in life, success won’t happen without good people relationships. To better build and nurture your people connections, here are some top line principles from the book which I espouse:

  • Be honest. It’s the only way to create and maintain trust and respect.
  • Be direct. Direct communication leads to direction, the path you set as a leader.
  • Think ahead. You need to surround yourself with forward thinkers, and listen.
  • Inspire and influence. The best and brightest will be toppled if they can’t inspire others.
  • Create a community. You need cross-pollination and collaboration from the ecosystem.
  • Think long term. Leaders must be aware of the present moment while setting their sights on long-term goals. Purpose must be a part of the present and the future.

For entrepreneurs, the road to success is always a longer one than you anticipate. An old Chinese saying comes to mind that when you’ve made it 90 percent down the path, you’re halfway to your destination. That last 10 percent of making the right connections is the other half of your journey. Are you thoroughly prepared to facilitate your own success, and the success of your company?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

5 Keys To Keeping Your Office Positive And Productive

productive-positive-teamThroughout my career in small companies and large, I’ve always been appalled by the number of people who have a negative attitude or complain all of the time. These people don’t seem to realize that they are hurting themselves, as well as other people’s productivity, and jeopardize the future of the company they are working for.

I’ve always thought that I might be overly sensitive, until I saw an article about a leadership survey done a few years ago by badbossoloy.com, which claims that many employees spend 10 hours a month complaining or listening to others complain, and nearly one third spend 20 or more hours. No business can afford that huge cost in emotional capital, as well as the productivity loss!

In the survey, negativity is seen as an indictment of bad managers, but I believe it is also an indictment of employee whiners as well. Ten to twenty hours a month is a lot of time to waste, not to mention the indirect time lost of the listeners, and the morale impact.

What does all this mean, and how do you correct it, or prevent it in your business? First, you have to identify quickly and fix problems that are outside the scope of control of individual team members. In addition, you can follow these key recommendations from experts for proactive and recovery actions by all parties to minimize the problem in both employee and management ranks:

  1. Executives have to be the role model. If you as the founder, or other members your executive team are chronic complainers, the disease will spread rapidly through the rest of the organization. Don’t play the blame game, give negatively charged emotional speeches, berate employees in public, or wear an angry face at the office.

  2. Use the hiring process effectively. Too many startups give short shrift to the hiring process, because they are too busy, don’t want to pay market prices, or have no experience. It’s actually easy to spot whiners during the interview process, by listening to them run down previous employers and not accepting accountability. Don’t hire them.

  3. Encourage regular self-assessment. Encourage your management team and employees to always check themselves before making unsolicited comments against the following criteria: “Will this comment add value to our company, our customers, the person I am talking to, or the one I am talking about? If not, don’t say it.”

  4. Openly reward positive suggestions. Maybe it’s time to establish or re-activate the old-fashioned “suggestion box.” Make it work by regularly handing out real accolades, as well as real money, to people who add value or reduce costs in your business. A positive can-do attitude should also be recognized in job performance feedback.

  5. Quietly deal with people who won’t change. Some whiners have been that way all their life, and don’t know how to change their stripes. With proper counseling, they need to be moved out of your business before they do more damage. How quickly and quietly you deal with these problems will be the loudest message you can send to others.

Some people will use “honesty” as the excuse for negative and insensitive comments. In fact, the most honest and productive comments are always positive recommendations on how to fix a problem, rather than the complaint that someone or something is a problem. Even if some of your co-workers are jerks, you have no moral, ethical or legal obligation to broadcast this view.

Everyone needs to understand that complaining about salary or pay, criticizing colleagues and bosses, or vendors and customers, will generally just reflect negatively on the whiner, rather than accomplish any positive results.

The truth is that optimists lead better lives, and startups with positive teams are more successful, simply because they believe that what they are doing is going to work. Negativity also is a self-fulfilling prophecy, with an outcome that can be the demise of your business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 10/26/2017 ***

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Friday, October 27, 2017

How To Reduce Workplace Drama And Improve Results

workplace-dramaIs it just me in my role as business advisor, or is emotional drama in the workplace increasing? Team members seem to be spending more and more time venting to anyone who will listen about the motives and actions of others, and less time introspectively focused on their own productivity and accountability. The result is less real engagement and more negativity for all to endure.

According to a new book, “No Ego,” by international keynote speaker and business consultant Cy Wakeman, the average worker spends 2.5 hours per day distracted by drama. She presents a convincing array of real examples that we have all seen, and offers the following reality principles for business leaders and professionals who want to turn this trend around in their environment:

  1. Always give others the benefit of the doubt – assume noble intent. Drama is all about assuming the worst intent in team members and leaders, and wasting time venting wasteful thought processes and unproductive behaviors. The best leaders are highly focused on hiring only the right people, and modelling a high level of trust and respect.

  2. Remind people that venting doesn’t resolve anything. It only ramps up negativity, and is ego’s way to avoid self-reflection. Smart co-workers and managers refuse to listen to venting, and are quick to turn the discussion to reality, by bringing the relevant parties together for resolution of suspected or real differences. Actions speak louder than words.

  3. Diffuse suffering from imagined stories rather than reality. We all have a human tendency, developed in our childhood, to make up stories which paint us as a victim rather than the problem. In business, the best leaders diffuse this tendency by asking good questions, insisting on decisions based on real data, and not edicting results.

  4. Use empathy when employee ego is creating doubts and chaos. Self-reflection, accountability, and reality are an affront to egos. Avoid ego’s trap by avoiding sympathy and using empathy instead. Sympathy exacerbates the pain rather than healing it. Empathy bypasses ego, shares an observed reality, and makes a call to greatness.

  5. Confirm that challenges are the only reality for success. As long as people believe that business realities are hurting them, they will remain victims. Real leaders improve the readiness, training, and preparation for these events, so that circumstances are not a source of pain, but are expected and can be accomplished with personal satisfaction.

  6. Remember that engagement requires accountability for results. Engagement without accountability leads to entitlement. Low-accountable people may appear to work hard, yet find complaints about everything. They come to believe that making them happy is someone else’s job. Hire, incent, and reward people that accept personal accountability.

  7. Remove resistance to change as a source of drama. Traditional change management techniques need to be replaced by business readiness training and focus. When people are fluent in the now, and ready for what’s next, they won’t feel the pain, and will feel a sense of excitement and eagerness to capitalize on the possibilities change can bring.

  8. Communicate that personal preferences don’t drive the business. Business leaders must convince the team that the decision makers today are customers, the marketplace, competition, feedback, innovation, and breakthroughs. The personal preferences and ego of anyone in the company has little to do long-term business success and satisfaction.

  9. Check your own ego before you attempt to engage another. People who are prone to emotional drama are also super-sensitive to ego and emotions in their leaders and peers. Countering drama with more emotion or violently shaking them up is not productive. Humbly make the call to greatness as you gently spur self-reflection and confidence.

  10. Develop accountability through coaching and mentoring. Building a culture of accountability with minimal emotional drama is a key element to organizational success today. High-performing companies formalize these coaching and mentoring programs, and apply them universally, rather than activate them only to solve specific problems.

I’m convinced that every entrepreneur, team member, and business leader needs to practice these principles to eliminate workplace drama, end entitlement, and drive more satisfying results. None of these deny the fact that business today is hard, and requires rapid adaptability to change and opportunities. Yet smart people make it a source of satisfaction, rather than continual pain.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/13/2017 ***

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

7 Attributes Of Entrepreneurs Who Change The World

steve-jobsBy most definitions of the term, an entrepreneur is someone who starts a new business, incorporating innovative changes to existing products, services, business models, and creating new markets. Yet very few achieve that great aspiration of really driving economic, social, and environmental changes on a global scale.

What does it take to get to that level? One way of identifying the right characteristics and approaches is to take a hard look at entrepreneurs who have done it. Peter Andrews and Fiona Wood, in their classic book “Überpreneurs” have profiled 36 leading candidates for this category, to extract a set of common characteristics. Here are some recognizable entrepreneurial examples I like, just from the technology space:

  1. Driven by an epic ambition. Each of them has seen and seized opportunities for change, sensed the way forward, garnered the necessary resources, and pursued their dreams, regardless of the odds. All of them, in the late Steve Jobs’ words, “push the human race forward.” He agreed with Mark Twain on keeping away from people who like to belittle your ambitions.

  2. Opportunistic and visionary. They must be constantly on the lookout for new ideas and intuitively grasping their potential implications, seeing and seizing opportunities for change. Bill Gates telephoned Ed Roberts, the man behind the first microprocessor, to offer a BASIC software package that he and Paul Allen had not yet written because he knew that one day there would be “a computer on every desk and in every home.”

  3. Innovative yet pragmatic. Überpreneurs are willing and able to jump organizational, cultural, and geographic boundaries as they sense their way toward novel but practical solutions. Mark Zuckerberg envisioned Facebook as a virtual social network built on a lifetime of friendships, while offering advertisers a powerful and targeted marketing tool.

  4. Persuasive and empowering. Offering irresistible investment propositions and attracting talented and loyal followers is key, as they garner the resources to pursue their goals. Larry Page of Google piqued the interest of venture capitalist John Doerr with an outrageous revenue estimate of “$10 billion,” a target that was met in less than ten years.

  5. Focused and confident. All are indomitable spirits who assume total control and drive full steam ahead toward the realization of their dreams. Richard Branson once said “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.” “I have always lived my life by making lists … Each day I work through these lists, and that sequence of calls propels me forward.”

  6. Resilient and courageous. Taking bold but calculated risks is the norm, learning from their mistakes, and thriving on change and uncertainty as they upend your world, regardless of the odds. Jeff Bezos of Amazon once said that if you are going to do large-scale invention, you have to be willing to fail, think long-term, and be misunderstood for long periods of time.

  7. Consistently produce results. All of them have created massive new capital, be it financial or technological, social or spiritual. All of them have transformed the condition of mankind – for the better. Elon Musk is a South African born Canadian-American engineer, business magnate, investor, and inventor who founded and built PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, and is still going strong.

The real question is how do we produce more of these? I don’t see anything genetic here, as these have come from some very diverse backgrounds, with the normal mix of middle-class, upper, and lower economic environments.

My best suggestion, like the authors of Überpreneurs, is that we just teach aspiring entrepreneurs the facts, help them build their networks, supply them with some resources, and simply get out of their way. If you have a better suggestion, I’ll be happy to learn from it.

Marty Zwilling

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