Monday, November 18, 2019

5 Ways To Increase Your Agility In The Face Of Change

As a business and entrepreneur advisor, I have no trouble getting owners and managers to agree that change is happening faster and faster in the consumer and technology world, requiring them to keep their business more agile, just to keep up. The challenge is that too many are confused on what that means for them, and what it takes to make their business competitively agile.

I just finished a new book, Agility: How to Navigate the Unknown and Seize Opportunity in a World of Disruption, by Leo Tilman and Charles Jacoby, which has helped me net out the key principles for businesses to become more agile. These authors, and I agree, define agility in business as the ability to detect and assess changes in the competitive world in real time, and then take decisive and effective action.

We also agree that agility enables a business to stay healthy and outmaneuver competitors by seizing new opportunities earlier, better defending against threats, and acting as a well-orchestrated and empowered whole on innovative initiatives.

The book brings a wealth of examples to the picture, based on author strategy consulting with major companies, governments, and the military. In their experience and mine, the essence of business agility is embodied in the following five principles:

  1. Early detection of change and the need for change. This may seem obvious, but most small business leaders are so busy with current issues, and running the business today, that they spend very little time or resources looking for customer culture changes, analyzing new technologies, or political and economic realities that will impact them.

    Crisis-driven agility is not enough today. You need time and resources looking ahead for change. Perhaps failure to look ahead was not the primary reason for the demise of Blockbuster and Kodak, but I see it happening to smaller businesses every day.

  2. Effective assessment of change drivers and alternatives. It starts with everyone being encouraged to look for the surprising or unexpected, and not being penalized for bringing bad news. Sometimes you need to use outside consultants and listen to your advisors, before the crisis, to overcome cognitive biases and evaluate response options.

    Often the answer may be a quiet change in marketing strategy, or adding a new demographic, but real change may require a bigger response. Apple, as an example, has made agility and new markets their brand image, as well as their source of growth.

  3. Timely response with smart risk-taking and innovation. Cohesion and team unity are integral to timely agility, expedited by a willingness to take and share risks. These imply a special brand of people leadership and a culture of trust throughout the business. Often I find that small businesses slow down as they grow, and become more risk-averse.

    Jeff Bezos and Amazon are an example of continuous growth, where you can see how far and fast constant change, innovation, and risk taking can take your business. They started with a focus on books, but expanded online access to cover almost everything.

  4. Culture of purposefulness and decisiveness. Every business needs a strategic purpose, vision, and values that are regularly updated, visualized, and clearly communicated by senior leaders to everyone in the organization. True agility also requires a willingness and ability to make decisions and execute in stride, at all levels.

    Examples of business today who have focused on a higher purpose and values includes Whole Foods and Patagonia, where evidence indicates that their average return, brand image, and growth are much greater than other companies in their space.

  5. Sustaining a will to win, with a bias toward the offense. Agility requires a mindset and culture grounded in the competitive will to win that encompasses what is called a bias toward offense rather than defense. It’s the only way to avoid losing. Team members look up and down the command chain for role models and positive direction in this regard.

    If you think of successful entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk and Richard Branson, you will find them primarily in offense mode. Both are capable defenders, but spend most of their efforts pushing new limits in aerospace, advanced technologies, and new markets.

In summary, both the authors and I see agility as the overarching quality which encompasses many important other more specialized business traits, including adaptability, resilience, flexibility, and dynamism. If you intend for your business to survive and thrive in today’s world of rapid change and global competition, it’s time to start now making agility your leadership strength.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/04/2019 ***

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Sunday, November 17, 2019

8 Tips For Right-Brain Entrepreneurs To Build Balance

Right-brain-entrepreneurTraditionally, the majority of entrepreneurs have been logical thinkers, problem solvers, with full attention to details. These are the stereotypical left-brain engineers. Yet I see a big shift from the knowledge age, with its left-brain foundation, to a critical focus today on visualization, creativity, relationships, and collaboration, which are more in the domain of right-brainers.

Of course, the best solution would be a new wave of so-called whole-brain thinkers, but this term is usually reserved for Einstein and Picasso, and no entrepreneurs that I can name. Even right- brain dominant adults are hard to find, according to many expert views. They say most children start out this way, but after their years in school, less than ten percent retain their high creativity.

That means we need all the help we can get to bring out the right-brain attributes we need to be the best entrepreneurs in this challenging new age. Fortunately, there are resources available to help, like the classic book by right-brain entrepreneur Jennifer Lee, “Building Your Business The Right-Brain Way,” which teaches you to capitalize on these strengths, and still build a business.

Obviously, there are places for right-brain thinking as well as left-brain thinking, as it relates to starting and building a business. Lee offers the following guiding principles to right-brain thinkers who need to balance their focus, but I’m convinced that the same principles apply to every entrepreneur-minded person:

  1. Be uniquely you and embrace your creativity. Creativity is the key word here. Engineering creativity, like innovate low-cost solutions, needs to be combined with marketing creativity, like viral social media campaigns, to build a sustainable competitive advantage today. Be visual and imaginative, but don’t forget the business details.
  1. Dream big but start small. Don’t be seduced by the bigness of your right-brain vision and expect everyone to follow, based on the strength of your passion alone. Challenge your left-brain side to break things down into manageable pieces and structure a practical plan to unfold things over time. It doesn’t all have to happen at the same time.
  1. Keep it simple and focused. Opt for easy, broad strokes instead of detailed, complicated solutions. The advantage goes to right-brain thinking on this one. Too many entrepreneurs (engineers) I know define the ultimate system and processes that even a large company can’t afford, and no startup has the money or time to execute.
  1. Take action, make it real, and tweak as you go. Be willing to take action and put yourself out there, even when you don’t feel ready and even if your idea is not yet perfect. You’ll actually learn more and gain more clarity the more you interact with your idea and get feedback. Neither right-brain nor left-brain entrepreneurs will success without action.

  1. Look for the learning and repeat what works. Always have your eyes peeled for valuable new insights to help you continuously improve. Then, when you find something that works, keep doing it until it doesn’t work anymore. Don’t be afraid of using your intuition and feelings to guide you with customers, but don’t ignore real data.

  1. Consider where you are headed and don’t get ahead of yourself. Stay ahead of the curve but don’t advance so fast that you overwhelm yourself. Make sure you have a solid foundation first to support your future vision. Left-brain logical and sequential thinking usually has the edge on this one. Some creative people are always working in the future.

  1. Recognize where you’ve come from. Even as you move forward, also acknowledge how far you’ve come, and celebrate each step of the way. Recognizing past achievements and reflecting on your success helps keep your circuitous progress in perspective. Thomas Edison found his best learning was from his failures.

  1. Know thyself. Building a business is a journey accompanied by personal growth. Understand what makes you tick, and be willing to courageously move past your comfort zone. When you transform yourself, you transform your business. Success in business is often about knowing when and who to ask for help.

As you can see, it’s hard for most of us to be adequately right-brained and left-brained at the same time. Thus I always recommend that two heads are better than one, meaning seek a co-founder who supplements your natural skills and tendencies. It’s hard to beat entrepreneur teams like Bill Gates (engineer) and Steve Ballmer (marketing) in the early days at Microsoft.

So my conclusion is that while the opportunities are growing for right-brain thinkers, the ideal entrepreneur is still a team that can work together to accomplish whole-brain thinking, and whole-team execution. Have you assessed the thinking-balance and the effectiveness of your team and yourself in your own business lately?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, November 16, 2019

10 Traits of Leaders Who Can Hold People Accountable

businessmen-accountableGetting things done effectively in a startup requires total individual and team accountability. You can’t afford excuses and multiple people doing the same job. In my view, “taking responsibility” is the core element behind accountability. Many people hear responsibility as an obligation, but I hear it as “the ability to respond.”

Unfortunately many people don’t have the ability to respond, because they lack confidence in themselves, or simply don’t have the skills required. Therefore an entrepreneur’s first requirement is to hire or team only with people who are accountable (already have the confidence and skills you need) – training them on the job is prohibitively expensive when you have minimal income.

Even with the best people, accountability must be nurtured, since it can be killed more quickly than it can be grown. Here are some characteristics of current business leaders, including Richard Branson, who foster responsibility and accountability, and keep it growing:

  1. You need to walk the talk. Above all else, you as the founder or executive have to be a role model of accountability. You need to exemplify the “buck stops here,” and never play the blame game. Reward accountability consistently and often.
  1. Communicate continuously. You need to make sure that your team members understand your expectations, and you need to proactively listen and understand the expectations of all stakeholders. Frequent and consistent communications, both verbal and in written processes, are required. Take away the “I didn’t understand” excuse.
  1. Measure objectively. Goals and objectives must be unchanging and measurable, based on results, with benchmarks for comparisons. Accountability assessments must be based on facts, not distorted by opinions, politics, and desire for power. Frequently changing expectations does not lead to accountability.
  1. Give control before expecting accountability. A sense of responsibility and accountability requires a sense of control. If several levels of approvals are needed for a specific decision, no one will feel accountable, and no one can be held accountable. Real delegation is required.
  1. Align functional groups with business goals. If key inputs are not under the control of the proper group, then they will cede accountability as well. If your sales group is measured on profitability, but is required to process leads from outside sources paid by volume, you have a conflict where everyone loses.
  1. Manage up the line and support your team. You need to be the sponsor and the advocate for every member of your team. Team members who take risks through accountability need to see your overt support up the line, with no blame and no scapegoats.
  1. Provide timely feedback on performance. High performance teams need immediate and useful information on how to improve, as well as regular full performance reviews, individually and as a group. Help people, including yourself, look in the mirror and see reality.
  1. Conduct humiliation-free problem analyses. Getting to the source and fixing problems should never be a “name and shame” game. Leaders need to provide safe havens where difficult issues can be discussed without assigning blame. The goal should always be to solve problems, not hurl accusations.
  1. Provide tools to support accountability. No tools and no data lead to total subjectivity and biased interpretations. Absolute dependence on tools leads to abdication of personal responsibility. Provide adequate tools, but trust the people.
  1. Differentiate accountability from entitlement. Accountability is hard, so no one is entitled to be right every time. Don’t punish people for making a mistake, but make it clear the mistakes have consequences, sometimes painful ones, that we all have to live with. Higher responsibility means more work and more skills needed.

Many executives subscribe to the misguided notion that you can hold people accountable. This is usually a ploy to control others and hand off responsibility, without being accountable yourself. People need to make themselves accountable, and accept the consequences of their actions. Remember that you are the model, and what goes around, comes around.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 15, 2019

Why You Need Tools And Analytics For Employee Metrics

Employee-performanceEven after many years mentoring entrepreneurs and advising businesses, I continue to be surprised by the primary focus on products and processes, and the often incidental attention to hiring and nurturing the right people. Employees are still too often thought of as a commodity, to be acquired “just in time” for the lowest cost, and managed as a disposable asset.

All this despite continuing evidence that the right people make a business succeed, rather than the other way around. Further, based on results from the annual Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey, businesses that use data and tools in their people management, rather than traditional manual processes, see a 79% higher return than other organizations, suggesting the time is ripe for relying on data and analytics.

With the latest advances in software technology, it’s no longer cost-prohibitive for business entrepreneurs, who can’t yet afford a human resources department, to take advantage of analytics tools. Almost any startup can start with Excel, and move to open-source data analysis tools, including Python or RStudio. Bigger organizations should invest in the new “big data” tools.

For a hands-on guide in developing data-driven people strategies, I found some practical techniques in the classic book, “The Data Driven Leader,” by Jenny Dearborn and David Swanson. Based on many years of HR leadership at SAP and elsewhere, these authors start by highlighting the risks of not leveraging data analytics. I have added my own observations to theirs as follows:

  1. People decision making by gut, more than data. Common sense and emotionally driven decisions are sub- optimal in assessing team members. Data, however, removes guesswork, biases, and anecdotal reasoning that can throw decision efforts off course. It’s the same for customers and products, where analytics have long proven their value.
  1. Working on the wrong problem or assumption. Data helps avoid predetermined (and often erroneous) approaches to solving your people problems. Don’t let one incident, observation, rumor, or misunderstanding cause a rush to judgement, or hiring mistake. Make sure subjective feedback is buttressed by objective data before making decisions.
  1. Measuring efficiency rather than effectiveness. Efficiency in the workplace is the time it takes to do something, but it can ignore work quality and customer impact. Employees are often ineffective because they don’t care about their work or because they don’t possess the skills to contribute. Use data analysis and metrics to measure for results.
  1. Subjectively measuring employee engagement. Manually assessing engagement clearly isn’t working. According to Gallup’s often quoted global engagement survey, only 13 percent of workers are now fully engaged in their job, which is hugely expensive in productivity. With data and analytics, you can gauge employee engagement accurately.
  1. Underestimating absenteeism and accident costs. Many businesses still ignore the magnitude of the problem of employee absenteeism and accidents. They look only at historical data, and lump it all under "the cost of doing business." The best leaders use data and analytics to identify key offenders to continually reduce these problems.
  1. Failure to factor in new employee ‘time-to-performance’. Based on statistical data, it typically takes eight months for a newly hired employee to reach full productivity, and that doesn’t include hiring. Through analytics on current employees, you will be able to predict re-training requirements and minimize employee turnover.
  1. Waiting to hire until the business is in crisis mode. It’s easy for entrepreneurs to fall into the trap of focusing only on what’s urgent and leaving aside what seems merely important. The solution is to plan ahead by using data analysis tools with predictive indicators. Trying to hurry the hiring process is a key reason for bad hires in business.

Most companies I know will claim to be busy collecting and analyzing data, but very few actually use it to drive people management. Integrating the analytics of people management with business results is key to driving a winning strategy and long-term sustainability in today’s competitive and rapidly changing environment. These should not be seen as two separate efforts.

I often have to remind entrepreneurs that good products are built with the best technology, but good businesses are built with the best people. Great business leaders have figured out how to apply the right attention, time, and tools to both. Where are you along this spectrum?

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

10 Key Strategies For Innovation Leadership By Design

Design-thinking-textAs a business advisor, I strongly believe that continuous innovation and design thinking are the keys to long-term viability and success. A recent survey of design professionals shows strong agreement, but 92 percent expressed some lack of confidence in their organization’s design vision. They are always on the lookout for ways to prepare current and future design leaders.

“Design thinking” is a methodology used to solve complex challenges, such as the ones faced by every business in today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive environment. A design mindset is not product-focused - it’s solution focused and action oriented towards creating better customer experiences and value. In businesses, this requires a new internal culture and leadership.

Probably the most recognized design thinking business leader was Steve Jobs at Apple, as he drove the company from personal computers to new markets, including the iPhone and iPad. Yet I believe the role and requirements continue to evolve, as detailed in the classic book, “Innovation by Design,” by Thomas Lockwood and Edgar Papke, based on their studies.

I support their list of key requirements for you as an aspiring design thinking leader or entrepreneur. I’ll paraphrase and outline the top ten from my perspective:

  1. Use empathy to understand the experiences of others. By understanding experiences, you will better understand the needs of people around you, including your customers and partners. That leads to trust, motivation, and a greater ability to convince them of your point of view, and follow you despite the pain of change and innovation.
  1. Focus on creating a benefit for the customer. Keeping the focus on the customer creates a shared understanding and alignment for all to the intended outcome, and a move toward greater levels of innovation. This focus also allows your team to better manage disagreement and conflict by reminding everyone of the shared intent.
  1. Listen with mutual respect and fearless exploration. Using design thinking as a framework not only increases your ability to listen, but also develops your inquiry and conflict resolution skills. You are able to reframe difficult questions in a way that allows your team to identify root cause challenges and execute more powerful solutions.
  1. Openly express ideas and what you think, see, and feel. Giving and receiving feedback isn’t easy, especially considering that people can quickly fall into defensive modes of behavior and feel ill at ease. Design thinking leaders make it safe to critique ideas, but keep the focus on the process and work, rather than personal views.
  1. Pursue knowledge by being curious and asking questions. Rather than being authoritarian, design thinkers are explorers. You learn by asking hard questions and listening fearlessly to the answers you receive. This facilitates the dialogue and the mindset in all participants to find the right solution, without undue emotion and conflict.
  1. Demonstrate the ability to be vulnerable. Everyone recognizes that vulnerability requires a higher level of strength and courage, including an ability to accept your own mistakes and weaknesses. Leaders demonstrating this ability are more trusted and convincing in their roles as design thinkers. They become the model for their followers.
  1. Coach others, rather than competing with others. Coaching is helping a person increase self-awareness and adjust their role to take better advantage of their greatest strengths, rather than highlighting and critiquing their weaknesses. As a leader, this fosters constructive contribution of design ideas, rather than protective debate.
  1. Rely on the knowledge and insight of others. Leaders who are fostering innovation as a culture in their organization cannot afford to act as the lone genius. Other members of the team have unique customer access and insights, as well as their own perspectives. Only through collaboration can a leader achieve the force multipliers to compete.
  1. Use curious confrontation to manage disagreement and conflict. Curious confrontation is simply facing differing ideas with the desire to investigate and learn. This is a key precept of design thinking, and leaders in this arena must be the models for the rest of their team. They keep business conflict constructive and embrace it in steering through the innovation and change that must be part of every successful business
  1. Align personal purpose with the organization’s mission. Purpose-driven design is more than branding – it is the catalyst that aligns an organization's actions, character and culture with its purpose. The best leaders are able to align their own vision and power of choice with the organization mission for maximum credibility and impact.

Whether you are looking to further your career as a business professional, or plan to take a leadership position in your own business, developing these key attributes will pay big dividends. None of these are a birthright or require advanced degrees – they can be learned by anyone.

They all play directly into another megatrend I see in business – moving from a single bottom line of economic value, to the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental value. Be there with innovation and design thinking, or plan to get pushed aside soon.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, November 11, 2019

6 Technology Trends Will Spawn Countless New Ventures

Internet-of-thingsA tidal wave of valuable data is surging from the Internet and connected devices today, and the volume is growing exponentially each year. It’s enough to drown any business which tries to fight it or ignore it, and it’s an opportunity to ride higher and faster than even the successes of Google and Facebook, for those startups that use it as their driving force.

Per the latest study by networking giant Cisco, the world’s yearly mobile data traffic has grown 17-fold over the past 5 years, reaching 11.5 exabytes per month at the end of 2017, of which more than half was video. According to the classic book “Data Crush,” by Christopher Surdak, data in all formats will soon be the largest source of new opportunities for startups, or death.

According to what I see, as outlined by Surdak, this data surge is being driven by the following six technological and social trends:

  1. Mobility: smartphones, tablets, and the “Internet of things.” Smartphone penetration in the U.S. exceeds 80 percent of all mobile phone owners, and these generate more data from their non-phone functions than voice. In addition, more people now own cell phones than toothbrushes. All devices are becoming self-aware and Internet connected.
  1. Virtual living: the rise and growing dominance of social media. Facebook has created an environment where millions of people can hold billions of conversations with people and companies, transforming how people expect to interact with each other and the world. For startups, this is an engagement opportunity worth billions of dollars.
  1. Digital commerce: infinite options for buying goods and services online. Data-enabled shopping has completely changed our purchasing experience, has undermined some of the greatest brand names, and has created some new brands, like Amazon, that now dominate. There is still infinite room for new startup sales modes and models.
  1. Online entertainment: millions of channels, billions of actors. With the adoption of the Internet, digital entertainment has rocketed across the world, changing how people entertain themselves. YouTube is now the 800-pound gorilla of entertainment. Online gaming has moved from the geeks to the mainstream. The audience is now the actors.

  1. Cloud computing: the death of dedicated infrastructure. More and more company and personal services are being virtualized to the Cloud. Many companies are already seeing their computing costs drop by thirty percent as they move in this direction, providing new startup opportunities with the Everything as a Service (EaaS) trend.

  1. “Big data:” learning from the flood. Big data is mining the storage for knowledge. This gives rise to the personalization and customization that we all want. Analytics will soon drive nearly all business decisions for any company that wants to remain relevant to its customers. Startups are in the best position to provide the analytics, and use them first.

As an entrepreneur, what steps can you take to help your business not only survive the data hurricane, but to thrive under these new and challenging conditions? Surdak emphasizes that the goal is to either mitigate some of the pressure caused by data growth or to put that pressure to work for you in growing your startup and remaining competitive:

  • Focus: play to your strengths. Determine your core business strategy and resolve to remain true to it. Make strategic versus opportunistic decisions.
  • Accelerate: speed is life in this new world. Look for and reward quantum changes, like cutting cycle time in half, in your processes, products, and services.
  • Data enable: use metrics and measurements. Extend data metrics into non-traditional channels, such as email, internal social media, and customer collaboration platforms.
  • Quantification: big data, bigger results, and controls. Startups should seek to continually improve performance through statistical analysis and predictive monitoring.
  • Gamify: engagement to get what you pay for. Use internal collaboration platforms, then extend to online customers through your website, blogs, and social media.
  • Crowdsource: putting your audience to work beyond customers. Look beyond today’s requirements for entire new market opportunities.

You need to start now to understand the trends and specifics of the information tidal wave that is building up in front of us. Use the steps outlined here to stay ahead of it, and use its power to propel your startup into the future, ahead of your competition. The possibilities are endless, but the downside will be painful.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

10 Ways To Be More Adept At Seeing Around The Corner

Steve-Jobs-quoteHow is it that only a few business leaders and entrepreneurs seem to drive exceptional results and disruptive innovation in this rapidly changing market economy (marketquake)? These few seem more adept at executing market and technology turns, not just incremental evolution. They consistently take bold steps to stay ahead of the curve, often contrary to conventional wisdom.

Steve Jobs at Apple may have been the most visible example of this ability to “see around the corner,” but others often mentioned include Richard Branson (Virgin Group), and Elon Musk (SpaceX). Most of you could suggest one more, but not many.

While searching for some structure that could facilitate learning the process, I came across a classic book by G. Shawn Hunter, “Out Think,” which offers a step-by-step outline for executives to achieve this stage of creativity. It suggests that they need to shed outmoded management and organizational biases, to foster an atmosphere where disruptive innovation becomes the norm.

Here is my summary and interpretation of the ten strategies that he outlines for driving the disruptive innovations that entrepreneurs and startups all dream about:

  1. Establish the engine of leadership. People Development Magazine recently listed inspirational leadership (trust) as one of the top three characteristics business leaders must have today. These are about being true, honest, and teaming with others, inside and outside the company. Without trust, no one will ever follow even the best innovators.

  1. Provoke with questions, not answers (inquiry). Peter Drucker once said “The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.” Exceptional outcomes don’t come from standard answers to pre-defined questions by conventional leaders.

  1. Mine the organization for expertise (exploration). Identify individuals within the organization who have led innovation over many years, as well as newer employees that share the same vision. Just as importantly, you have to deal quickly with innovation blockers, including bureaucrats, power mongers, and skeptics.

  1. Dream well – you may find yourself there (aspiration). Aspiring to greatness requires uncovering and exploring truths – including hidden truths – and sharing them with others. The most innovative leaders expect the best of everyone, and develop the guru in others. Emulating perceived heroes and role models can lead to realizing your own aspirations.

  1. Embrace new kinds of risk (edge). Finding the “edge” is similar to “finding flow,” being “in the zone,” or being “in the groove.” These are states conducive to heightened engagement, accelerated learning, and creativity. These states allow deep curiosity, exploration, and highly focused activity to occur, leading to disruptive innovation.
  1. Collaborate to innovate (connection). To create a culture of innovation, leaders must first create a culture of collaboration. That means engaging and inspiring the creative talents of others, respecting employees’ ideas, and bringing new insights into group decisions. With collaboration, differences add up to more than the sum of the parts.
  1. Borrow prior and current brilliance (mash-up). By constantly mashing up prior ideas, applications, and outcomes, powerful new combinations emerge that have value to customers. Find people who deviate positively from the norm, intentionally destabilizing the work environment, and foster moderate creative tension that can spark innovation.
  1. Get moving or accept the consequences (action). Action counts – not words – especially when that action is novel and unique. Once you are in motion, actually producing something, people will respond, contribute, collaborate, and spread the word, driving energy and awareness your way. Innovation does not come without action.
  1. Make it your own (signature). A signature innovative solution is born of the core identity of those who have joined in the innovation journey, executed with the unique personalities of participants. Signature innovation is not easily copied or pirated, because it comes out of a truly unique cultural identity within a team.
  1. Connect with “why” (purpose). In any endeavor, there must be a purpose behind it if we are to receive maximum enjoyment, fulfillment, and a deeper sense of our own role in its achievement. Many companies and leaders now reinforce and demonstrate a commitment to responsible behavior that goes way beyond profit and individual gain.

Exceptional innovation or “seeing around the corner” does not come from closing your eyes and jumping into the unknown. It comes from a focus on learning and following the processes proven by other great entrepreneurs and leaders.

Even creativity alone is not enough to deliver real innovation, unless it is teamed with the tendency and tenacity to execute. How well are you executing on the drive to exceptional outcomes in your business?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, November 9, 2019

When Planning A Startup, A Top Priority Is Location

Prime_Real_Estate_LogoEven in this age of globalization and virtualization, the geographic area where you choose to live and work can still make or break your startup business. I still have to tell some entrepreneurs that even with the best idea, they have to move to Silicon Valley to find the investors they need, or they need to move to the U.S. get the attention of the market they choose.

For example, if you are working on a great social networking idea to replace Facebook, and need funding, you probably won’t find any interested and focused VCs or Angel investors in Arizona, where I live. Also, investors from the super-hubs (Silicon Valley, New York, or Boston), probably won’t assume anyone outside their domain has the savvy and resources to make it happen.

On the other hand, if you are into solar technologies, there is probably an advantage to being in Arizona or a similar location. Having a great idea in the wrong place won’t get you the funding you need, the experienced domain experts you want, or the pilot market results you need for survival. You need to move to right location and get connected before you ask for help.

Of course, there are always exceptions, but how much added risk do you need for your startup? Maxwell Wessel, in a classic article in the Harvard Business Review on this subject, points out the exception successes of Zappos in Las Vegas, Sendgrid’s massive growth in Colorado, and RightNow’s $1.5 billion dollar sale to Oracle from Bozeman, Montana.

For your own startup location positioning, I recommend his four key questions that every entrepreneur should contemplate before resigning themselves to failure, or deciding where to move to improve their odds of success:

  1. What’s your city’s advantage? Today, Silicon Valley is the consumer and enterprise software capital of the world. Finance has homes in New York, Hong Kong, and London. Energy is still the domain of Houston and Dubai. The list goes on and on. Most cities have something that they are particularly good at. Find yours if you want to stay home.
  1. How can you get exposure? Finding talent and financing isn’t the only hurdle to overcome on the road to startup success. It’s just the first of many. Exposure is another key ingredient. Exposure to customers, incumbents, and competitors all drive success. Exposure instills the fear and urgency you need to deliver the right competitive solution.
  1. What will set your business apart? No one can tell you what to do to create your edge, but it is important that you figure out how you can. Being in the right location helps you to maintain pace because of access to skilled and experienced people. Being close to your customers, your vendors, or even your competitors can make all the difference.
  1. Are you sure you can’t move? Moving might not be easy. But it is one of the simplest things you can do to improve the odds that your business takes off. If you’re about to devote your professional life to building a business, and ready to sacrifice the blood, sweat, and tears it requires, seriously consider this question. It’s very important.

Wessel also summarizes the costs and potential impacts of creating and building your startup in secondary markets, usually meaning not in Silicon Valley or one of the other super-hubs:

  • It takes longer to raise money. Raising capital isn’t the be-all and end-all of startup success. But it is an important metric for firms in pursuit of explosive growth. Raising capital is a necessary step, and survival time without it grows short, or interminably long. That extra two months spent traveling to fundraise is two months falling behind.
  • It decreases your odds of being bought. When it comes to the technology ecosystem, clusters are vital. Wessel measures a 39% acquisition advantage to being in-state. Tech companies see engineers move frequently, integrate their products tightly, and often find themselves acquiring or merging with counterparts. Personal relationships do count.
  • It decreases your odds of success. If you judge entrepreneurial success as surviving or selling (including raising follow-on funding, being bought, or successfully IPO’ing) as no doubt your investors do, then your odds of success are 10-15% higher inside the realm of the super-hubs. That’s not a big margin, but every little bit counts in this space.

But this measurable difference in outcomes, however significant, is not stopping aspiring entrepreneurs from building businesses where they live today. There are many good reasons to do so. Entrepreneurs cite family roots, a sense of neighborhood responsibility, existing professional networks, and more.

In fact, according to Wessel, following the last recession, startups have mushroomed everywhere. Since 2006, the number of startups founded and funded outside of California, Massachusetts, and New York, has grown by more than 65 percent. So don’t let location hold you back, but you need to go in with your eyes open. It takes more than a dream and passion to build a business.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 8, 2019

6 Ways Of Telling Your Story That Draws People To You

Share-your-storyIn my role as a mentor to entrepreneurs and an angel investor, I find that too many are stuck in this myth that a good pitch, and good marketing content, should consist of more product features, and more hype on customer benefits. Naturally, these are important, but real winning content has to start with a story that excites people’s imagination, and pulls them in emotionally.

Whether you are addressing potential investors, your company’s board, business partners, or your customers, if you plan on becoming a person of influence, you need a collection of stories to weave into your message. In fact, the same is true in your private live, or as you move up in your professional business career, or even if you are interviewing for your first job.

I found some excellent specifics on the magic of storytelling in a classic book, “The Compass Solution: A Guide to Winning Your Career,” by Tim Cole. He shares his insights from three decades in business, growing billion-dollar portfolios, and managing thousands of people. I will paraphrase his key tenets here, based on my focus on entrepreneurs and new businesses:

  1. People want you to excite their passions. You grab any audience, even logical left-brain executives, in the first 60 seconds, or you lose them forever. The hook is everything, and a story fragment to clutch their hearts is the key to holding their minds. Exciting their passion to better the world or themselves is far better than saving a dollar.
  1. We all want to be entertained. With the current data overload, we remember someone who does more than inform us. We yearn for things that engage our senses, and give us hope. That’s why gamification is so effective, why celebrities are effective marketers, and why you need that amazing story that goes viral. We need more than facts to convince.
  1. No story resonates without a struggle. Struggle engages us – it compels us to want to listen and participate. That’s why I recommend every solution pitch must start with a painful problem, not just “nice-to-have.” That’s why most successful new businesses highlight a higher cause, i.e., world hunger, environmental sustainability, or equality.
  1. Avoid the use of wordy visuals in telling your story. Today is the age of images to make a point, including videos and sound. These engage your senses and cross all cultures and languages. PowerPoint pitches crammed with words will bury your message and yourself. Make sure the words you do use convey feelings, as well as facts.
  1. Every story needs a hero who comes to the rescue. That hero may be an idea, it may be an individual, it may be an initiative, but without the struggle and the knight on the white horse that comes to the rescue, there is no story, and the audience will not listen. In business, the “bad guy” can easily be an existing painful problem, or a key competitor.
  1. Logic may set the stage but it is emotion that wins the day. Even the most analytical of us responds to a story that engages the senses and appeals to our souls and sense of well-being. Think of the popularity and power of social media – the average daily usage worldwide is now up to 136 minutes per day. People don’t spend that much time on facts.

Your ability to weave stories and your heart into how you communicate with others in business, as well as your personal life, is far more important than most people realize. Examples of business leaders who are great storytellers include Richard Branson of Virgin Group, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. Emulate them rather than envy them.

These leaders always make extensive use of metaphors and similes, as well as their collection of human experiences, to more vividly communicate important messages. They engage the often misunderstood creative right brain of their audience to amplify the point and make it stick. Their ability is not a birthright – it can be learned through practice and attention to your own emotions.

Just remember that business is about people, more than products and solutions. Investors invest in the jockey, more than the horse. Customers buy from people they trust, respect, and admire. Don’t forget to make people part of your business story.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

10 Ways To Trample And Smother Business Innovation

trample-on-innovationSuccess 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 the 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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

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Monday, November 4, 2019

6 Steps To Move From Inspiration To Business Reality

new-business-ideasAs a new business advisor and occasional investor, I get approached regularly by people who have a dream or a new business idea, and are looking for support and money to make it a reality. They are usually short on specifics required for execution, so I have to tell them that the idea is the easy part – and the real challenge is execution, even if someone gives you the money.

Based on my experience and data from the field, over seventy-five percent of new startups fail, even with venture backing. The number is much higher for those who choose to go it alone, without help. I say this not to discourage you from acting on your idea, but to encourage you to anticipate the work required to get you from inspiration to a sustainable and satisfying business.

Thus, I’m more impressed with entrepreneurs who ask me to review their implementation plan, rather than listen again to their idea. There are lots of resources available for the challenge of that activity, including the Internet and mentors like me. In my experience, the key steps I look for always include the following:

  1. Testing the idea against customers who have money to spend. Just because you think it’s a great idea doesn’t mean there is a business opportunity. I suggest you use social media, blogging, crowdfunding, or documented research to quantify a real demand from people who can afford it, and don’t have a better alternative already out there.

    I love good causes and social entrepreneurs, but a recent pitch to me about eliminating world hunger with a new product (harvesting algae at low cost) seemed to forget that really hungry people don’t have any money. Even a non-profit needs income to operate.

  2. Build a credible business implementation plan to quantify costs. Some dreams sound great, but may not yet be viable or proven with today’s technology. Others may be so exciting that you will find multiple competitors fighting for the same space. Writing down key parameters will force you solidify the specifics, and mentally commit to them.

    I recommend a ten-slide pitch to start, reviewed by friends and advisors, to be expanded to a ten-to-twenty-page business plan with opportunity sizing, cost and price details, competitors, marketing and sales strategy, financial projections, and resources required.

  3. Make sure your solution is defensible and unique. Unfortunately, I see good startups fail simply because they don’t have the resources or intellectual property to stay ahead of copycats or big players who see the potential as soon as you step into the marketplace. Any startup with no patents, trade secrets, or other secret sauce is very high risk today.

    Even a provisional patent will hold your position for a year, can be done by your team at low cost, and will at least incent big competitors to buy your idea rather than just steal it. Most investors will not even look at you until you have a defensible solution to offer.

  4. Prepare your marketing story for customers and investors. I haven’t seen a new idea yet that was so intuitively obvious that it would sell itself. Start by developing an “elevator pitch,” that you can deliver in thirty seconds to hook a potential customer or investor. Present at trade shows and network with your ten-slide pitch to build your following.

    For inspiration, I recommend you watch a few episodes of the Shark Tank TV series, where entrepreneurs pitch their wares, looking for an investment and national visibility for their product or service. Reach out with creative videos to influencers in your domain.

  5. Make the product or service come alive. Well before launch, as well as after, all the preparations have to be in place to deliver and support your solution. This means staffing and delivering the business legally as an LLC or corporation, completing a website and business licensing, and arranging for manufacturing, distribution, and support.

  6. Implement a strategy for growth and improvement. For a business to be sustainable in this era of rapid change, you need a strategy and plan for continuous innovation, new products, and expanding your customer base. This is the point where you must manage to metrics, work on the culture of the organization, and look for partner-based growth.

Now you can see why you, as well as advisors and investors, should never judge business potential by the idea alone. In fact, the common element in all these steps is “you.” As a result, smart investors will tell you they invest in the jockey, not the horse (people, not ideas). A great vision and dreaming about a great idea, without implementation, won’t make a business.

I believe totally in the old adage that a successful business is really one percent inspiration, followed by ninety-nine percent perspiration. How much execution perspiration are you prepared to expend along the steps outlined above to make your dream come true?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/21/2019 ***

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Sunday, November 3, 2019

How To Change The Course Of Your Business Gracefully

pivot-your-businessYou will be pivoting your business in your lifetime, whether you are a new startup, or a mature company like Motorola or IBM. You can count on it and plan for it, or you wait for the next survival crisis brought your way by this rapidly changing world. You can even give it a more elegant name, like “market-focused reinvention,” but it won’t be graceful if you don’t take the lead.

“Pivoting” is changing a fundamental part of your business model. It happens on the front end for startups to get traction, and then again later for every company as the economy, competition, and culture changes around them. The pivot can be as simple as changing the pricing model, or as complex as moving from a product business to a services business.

In all cases, it’s more effective and less painful to do it as a planned process, rather than a crash course in survival. The classic book “Resurgence: The Four Stages of Market-Focused Reinvention,” by top Kellogg School of Management faculty members Gregory S. Carpenter, Gary F. Gebhardt, and John F. Sherry, Jr., outlines the required steps I see as follows:

  1. Recognize the need for change. This is often the most difficult step, either due to startup passion, or due to past success and the instilled cultural norms of established companies. Resurgence begins when entrepreneurs and top executives stop trusting only themselves, and build a coalition with customers to see what is and isn’t working.

  1. Reinvent the vision for change. Doing more of the same to stop the bleeding doesn’t work. Real change demands new goals based on new market realities. That means market-focused, rather than marketing-focused. For startups, it means adjusting your new dream to reality; for mature companies it means walking the talk of new realities.

  1. Formalize change through structure and rewards. Symbols of the new market coalition have to permeate every communication, formal process documentation, and the reward system for everyone. Formalizing change involves distributing authority to make important decisions to the team members most able to add direct customer value.

  1. Team, market, and cultural maintenance. Entrepreneurs and team members are quick to forget why change was needed in the first place. The antidote is to establish ongoing processes for staying connected with the market, like social media, customer visits, and focus groups. Only then can successful startups and resurgent firms avoid the next crisis.

There are no shortcuts to becoming market-focused, and for staying there to avoid crisis pivots in the future. The change takes time, effort, and commitment. But the benefits are worth it. The gains are personal as well as financial. They can make your startup an inspiring place to work, and help your team see their role in achieving something substantial and good, as well as fun.

Even if you are certain that your startup or enterprise is already market-focused, what are the warning signs to watch for that signal a need for change? Here are a few of the key ones:

  • Financial results plateau or show a growth slowdown.
  • Struggling to meet industry growth projections.
  • Competitors are surpassing your own results.
  • Your market segment has lost its luster.
  • The excitement of leading is gone.

When Eric Ries first made the term “pivot” a part of the business vernacular in his best-seller for entrepreneurs, “The Lean Startup,” many years ago, he wasn’t focused on the challenges of larger companies to re-invent themselves on a regular basis to maintain their synchronization with the market. But in my view, pivot is a more natural and less intimidating term than business re-invention.

For all businesses, the art of the pivot is all about changing course as required in pursuit of the original business goal. If you weave this capability into your business processes from the very beginning, the change can indeed be a graceful and fulfilling part of the business journey, rather than a near-death experience. Don’t wait for the descending darkness before you start.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, November 2, 2019

10 Ways To Enhance The Legacy You Leave From Business

starman-on-the-way-to-mars1Every entrepreneur and business leader waits too long before really working on the legacy that he wants to leave to society and his family. They realize too late that they don’t really want to be remembered for how many hours they spent on airplanes, how many emails they produced, or even how much money they made for the business.

If you disappeared today, what would your legacy show? What have you done for others? If you are not thinking in these terms, you may be making a mistake as a leader. Bill Gates will probably be more remembered in fifty years for his Foundation to save lives in developing countries, than Steve Jobs for his “insanely great” consumer technology advances.

In a classic book on this subject “Leading with Your Legacy In Mind,” Andrew Thorn, PhD, business coach, and psychologist, talks about his work on leadership strategies with business leaders at all levels. I espouse the “legacy continuum” that he outlines for every leader to reframe over time how their efforts should be spent, for purposes of kicking their legacy up a notch or two:

  1. From passion to purpose. “Just follow your passion” only takes us so far. Passion can ultimately blind us, while purpose reminds us of how we can connect our strengths with the people and environments that will most appreciate and benefit from our skills and abilities. It focuses us on what we can give instead of what we can get.
  1. From change to growth. Leaders often forget that change is hard for anyone. The only time we really like change if when we are acting as the change agents and inviting others to change. Growth, on the other hand, is most simply defined as change by natural development. Growth is natural for everyone, as a symbol of individual maturity.
  1. From goals to aspirations. Goals are generally connected to the near-term boundaries or limits that we wish to overcome and the actions that we must take to overcome them. Aspirations are more intensely connected to our deeper yearnings. When we factor in our aspirations to guide us, we begin to connect to what really gives us value in life.

  1. From balance to focus. Work/life balance is not a natural business goal. In fact, finding more balance may be impossible, due to the many daily emergencies and problems, but we can all find the time to fine-tune our focus. Focus gives us a sharpness of vision, and improves our understanding, to create a legacy that will endure the chaos of our busy life.
  1. From accepting to understanding. Acceptance embodies the idea that we must get to a place where we approve of something that we disagree with. Understanding is a higher attribute, because it allows us to hold on to what we value most, while at the same time showing a sympathetic and even an positive attitude toward another point of view.
  1. From discussion to dialogue. A discussion is a conversation that involves holding onto and defending our differences, seeking a winner. A dialogue provides an opportunity to explore the uncertainties that exist and the questions that are yet to be answered, with the potential of improving our relationships and benefiting from the collective wisdom.
  1. From listening to hearing. Listening skills are important, to focus first on noticing what is being said and what is not being said. To hear, we must actively and anxiously be willing to take action on what is being requested of us. Our legacy is strengthened when we demonstrate an ability to take action to make things better for all parties.
  1. From success to significance. Success is a count of favorable outcomes, which may or may not be significant. Significance will always be around longer than you will be around. It has a life of its own, inspiring someone else to make an impact, and nothing can stop it once it starts rolling. Finally, significance satisfies our deepest aspirations.
  1. From ambition to meaning. Ambition is our early career drive to prove our worth to others, to achieve recognition, often without regard for the sacrifices we are making. When we make the shift from ambition to meaning, we let our authentic self be our guide. Meaning is the personal fulfillment we enjoy as we grow through our own experiences.
  1. From growing older to growing whole. Growing older concerns most of us because it fills our mind with visions of what we are going to lose. Growing whole, on the other hand, is working aligned with purpose, less stress and anguish, and more time living than working. Growing whole involves celebrating by giving back and enjoying a real legacy.

It’s never too early to start working on the image you want to be remembered by, rather than the opportunistic default driven by short-term objectives and challenges. Legacy planning is nothing more than an exercise in using your time wisely. The average career is 117,000 hours of work. How many have you spent so far moving your own legacy up a few notches?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 1, 2019

6 Keys To Maximizing Your Own Leadership Performance

Business Leadership in the Fourth Industrial RevolutionIn 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 classic 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

7 Secrets to Leading Others and Enjoying Your Legacy

Steve_Jobs_leader1By default, every one of you who owns a business or manages a team has the title of leader, but in my consulting experience, I find that just having the title doesn’t make most of us a leader. I also find that leaders are made, not born, meaning that we all can grow into leadership, if we learn from experience. I find also that if you fail as a leader, your team will likely fail with you.

Of course, everyone thinks they know what it takes to make a great leader, and many books have been written about the subject. Yet I haven’t found many that offer practical recommendations and examples. In this context, I was impressed with the new book, “The Intelligent Leader,” by John Mattone, widely regarded as the world’s number one executive coach and authority.

John distills the work he’s done with thousands of clients over the years into what it takes to lead, empower, and inspire others. I like his seven actionable principles of leadership for the rest of us, that we can use to evolve ourselves as business leaders as well as owners, including the following:

  1. Consistently strive to think different and think big. Most of the people on your team have to worry about the current crisis, and getting their job done today. A leader has to keep the big picture in mind, and keep people focused on the long-term vision and mission. Hone in on alternative ideas that are actionable, no matter how revolutionary.

    Steve Jobs had many faults, but he was perhaps best known for his marketing slogan “Think Different” and his commitment to a vision of new and better products, inspiring consumers to demand products and services they never even knew they needed.

  2. Create a culture of vulnerability, and be the role model. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and transparent to others makes it possible for them to trust you. Without vulnerability and humility, real change and growth isn’t possible. You need to be willing to open yourself up to others’ feedback, and acknowledge flaws in order to correct them.

    Jack Welch, one of the most successful executives in American history, set up a “reverse mentoring” process by pairing younger, more internet-adept employees with he and older members of senior management so that the former could teach the latter about new technology. This made his leadership team stronger, and built huge bonds with his team.

  3. Replace a mindset of entitlement with a mindset of duty. The duty mindset is a perspective in which you see yourself as a key cog in a much larger wheel. Having this bigger picture empowers you to better identify the areas where you need improvement, and set yourself on the right course to positively impact those around you.

  4. Prioritize leveraging your gifts over closing your gaps. First, don’t hesitate to solicit input to get the most accurate possible picture of yourself. Then don’t take your strengths for granted, or overreact to gaps. Develop an action plan to lead from your strengths, and seek outside support or complementary partners to shore up leadership weaknesses.

    In the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates recognized his technical leadership skills, but relied on partner Steve Ballmer, trained at Procter & Gamble, to lead the marketing and business development efforts. Both learned from the other, and became even stronger.

  5. Cultivate the courage to execute with passion and precision. Some never make the shift from perspective to action, even if it takes you outside your comfort zone. Only then can you identify the opportunities for change, and make the mistakes leading to growth and learning. Fearlessly executing with pride and passion inspires others to follow you.

  6. Take the time to stay present, listen, and be vigilant. Leaders often make the mistake of thinking that their time is more valuable than anyone else’s, but this breeds resentment and takes you out of touch with reality. In this age of distraction, you need to slow down and absorb each situation, decision, or moment, to provide the most effective leadership.

  7. Make course correction both a mindset and an action. As an action, course change leadership is what you do in the moment, when you need to pivot. As a mindset, it’s a way of life. You need to be aware that the world around you is in a state of constant evolution, and your leadership must stay balanced in the face of inevitable change.

Ironically, despite all these positive action items, intelligent leadership in business isn’t really even about you – it’s about the culture and the teams that you create, who really are the leadership interface that your customers see and depend on. Your challenge is to be the steward and model for the leadership that inspires the success and legacy that we all want for our business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/16/2019 ***

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Monday, October 28, 2019

How Starting A Business Fits Into Every Career Today

start-business-career1With the cost of starting an online business today at an all-time low, I can’t imagine why everyone doesn’t have a web site and an LLC to mitigate liability and minimize taxes. You need to have these as backup, in case the gig economy catches up to you, or you need a side hustle for extra income, or being in control of your dream role as an entrepreneur finally becomes a passion.

I also suggested this a while back to my neighbor who was between jobs, through no fault of his own, and frustrated by the slow pace of the job search, and wondering what else he could do to improve his position. First of all, you should never wait for a crisis to prepare for the future, but even initiating a startup for consulting in your favorite role is good for the following reasons:

  1. Companies prefer candidates with no gaps in their resume. Having your own online business going eliminates that embarrassing period where it appears you have been idle and desperately seeking work. Instead, having your own business going shows initiative, leadership, wider experience, and makes you more competitive for any role available.

  2. A single job is not adequate for today’s lifestyle. To keep ahead of the game, the smartest people I know always have several things going concurrently – and more in the queue. With the rapid pace of change in the world, everyone should be working on multiple projects, including a conventional paying job as well as an entrepreneurial one.

  3. Learn more about business by doing versus studying. Of course, you can always take more business classes at school, or on the side, but that’s not as cost and time effective these days as doing it, with a little help from the internet and a friendly advisor like me. Make it a fun experience by making something you love be more than a hobby.

  4. Give yourself a lifestyle choice – employee or owner. Too many people I know would love to change careers over time, but don’t really have any experience or confidence with alternatives. Now is the time, with minimal risk and cost, to give yourself some insights on what you like, what you know best, and how to leave a legacy you can be proud of.

  5. Keep up with modern business tools and online processes. You will be a better employee, or a better owner, if you know how to use social media tools for business, how to go online for web hosting, a domain name, a company name, and incorporating a business. New tools make it easy create your own web site, and manage accounting.

  6. Start networking for potential partners or people who can help. Whether your future is a career or a startup, you need business relationships. Smart people find that business is no place for a loner, and we all need someone to test our ideas, hone business skills, and focus on complementary activities. Seek out relevant business groups and events.

  7. Find maximum meaning and purpose, as well as money. Every study shows that happiness does not scale up with income. Doubling your income in a job might increase happiness by ten percent. Doing good, like helping society and planet sustainability, is a key to maximizing satisfaction, as well as profit. Start a business while you still can.

  8. Challenge yourself to find out what you are capable of. Don’t let me mislead you. Starting a business is still hard, even though the cost of entry is low. The challenge will make you grow as a person, and can give you the confidence to succeed in whatever you decide to do. You will find that startup efforts help you in every future role you tackle.

In these days of the gig economy, world-wide outsourcing, and working remotely, you need to think of yourself as a business, even if you haven’t created one formally. The days of long-term employment and employer loyalty are gone, so quantifying your value, and marketing yourself are key skills in any environment.

Take advantage of internet, free tools, and peers out there today to get ahead of the curve. You won’t regret it when seeking future career opportunities.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/14/2019 ***

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Sunday, October 27, 2019

5 Steps To Successful Problem Solving For A Business

businessman-problem-solving1Perhaps sparked by the now forgotten recession, I’m seeing a new era of the entrepreneur, with startups springing up all around. Based on my own mentoring and investing experience, the best entrepreneurs are pragmatic problem solvers. They have an uncanny ability to find elegant, easy, and fast solutions to pain points in the marketplace, as well as their own challenges.

The real question is whether problem solving is a skill you have to be born with, or is there any hope for the rest of us to become successful entrepreneurs. After some review of available resources, I’m convinced that problem solving is a learnable trait, rather than just a birthright.

For example, I remember a classic book by Penina Rybak, “The NICE Reboot,” that does a great job of outlining problem solving steps, honed from working with special needs youngsters. While her book is aimed primarily at aspiring female entrepreneurs, my adaptation of the five steps of her problem-solving hierarchy should work equally well for entrepreneurs of any gender:

  1. Acknowledge that a problem exists, and react appropriately. Problems will occur in every startup, simply because you are stepping into uncharted territory. Good entrepreneurs anticipate these, and celebrate each resolution as a positive step toward success, rather than responding with anger and frustration and counting failures.
  1. Verbalize the problem to fully understand it and why it’s occurring. Every business problem has a context that is critical, and it’s easy to be too close to see the forest for the trees. If you can explain the problem to a mentor, or even write it down, you will more likely get to the root cause quickly, and avoid emotional and blame-infused responses.
  1. Explore solutions, outcomes, and options calmly. You can’t think clearly while riding high on emotions, so calm down first. Then outline the possible outcomes and alternatives. Good problem solving requires making informed decisions, relying on logic. This is where I say “two heads are better than one.” Work with a partner you can trust.
  1. Use negotiation to come to an agreement or compromise. Whether you are charting new territory for pricing models or technology, there is rarely a perfect solution. Every approach is a compromise between cost, time, and return, so forget your perfectionist tendencies. Listen to your customers to arrive at acceptable and marketable solutions.
  1. Resolve conflict, accept outcomes, and rebuild communications. In startups, conflict is constructive in steering through the maze of innovation that is part of every successful business. Don’t let it make your startup dysfunctional in resolving future challenges. Real entrepreneurs always look ahead and learn from problems resolved.

The best way for a first time entrepreneur to learn problem solving is to find a partner who has “been there and done that.” A good alternative is to enlist the help of a business mentor you can trust. The best mentor is sensitive, knowledgeable across a broad spectrum, but is probably not your best friend. A mentor has to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. When the message is the same from both, you don’t need the mentor anymore.

As mentioned earlier, one of the most difficult traits to overcome for effective problem solving is perfectionism. A few years ago, Amanda Neville wrote an incisive article for Forbes online entitled “Perfectionism is the Enemy of Everything.” In it, she lists three types of perfectionism that are equally toxic to entrepreneurs and mentors:

  • Self-oriented perfectionism, in which individuals impose high standards on themselves.
  • Socially prescribed perfectionism, where individuals feel that others expect them to be perfect.
  • Other-oriented perfectionism, in which individuals place high standards on others.

Perfectionism quashes the desire to ask for help, see others’ viewpoints and empathize, and promote teamwork. For more help on this one, I recommend Esther Crain’s old article “Five Ways to Blast Perfectionism and Get Your Work Done.”

With all these incentives, maybe it’s time for you to reboot your career and join the new era of the entrepreneur. Problem solving may be a required skill, but it’s definitely one that can be learned, and perfectionism can be un-learned, independent of your IQ or book smarts (there may even be an inverse relationship here).

The best part of the entrepreneur problem-solving lifestyle is that it can bring satisfaction and happiness to your work. According to a summary of recent research, those running their own businesses are happier and healthier than employees, regardless of how much money they make. As I have said many times, life is too short to go to work unhappy every day.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, October 26, 2019

10 Insights For Locating The Perfect Business Mentor

mentor-business1Every entrepreneur can learn from a mentor, no matter how confident or successful they have been to date. Most people don’t know that billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, for example, gives real credit to the inspiring mentorship of Steve Jobs for Mark’s Facebook success. Yet most entrepreneurs simply don’t know how to work with a mentor. It is not as simple as one person giving the other all the right answers.

Some of the best mentoring relationships don’t involve monetary compensation, but none are free. The first cost is networking to find a mentor who is willing and able to give adequate focus to the relationship. In any case, it is good form to offer compensation, such as a small monthly stipend, plus expenses, and perhaps a 1% ownership in your startup, to show your commitment.

From my experience, here are ten basic principles and actions for both the mentor and mentee to remember in getting the most out of any mentoring relationship:

  1. Good mentoring requires building a relationship first. A positive business or personal relationship between two people normally requires a high degree of shared values, common interests, and mutual respect. Remember that good relationships take some time to develop, so don’t assume that your first discussion will seal the deal.
  1. Agree on specific objectives and time frames. Mentoring that consists of random discussions is not very satisfying for either side. I recommend one or more early discussions of mutual objectives, with a written summary of goals and expectations from the mentee to the mentor, with timeframes and milestones.
  1. Make efficient use of time for both parties. This means being respectful and diligent about scheduling and keeping appointments, and returning emails and phone calls. Don’t attempt to multitask, or allow constant interruptions, during meetings. Book follow-up sessions, with an agenda, rather than fill time with random discussions.
  1. Identify strengths and weaknesses early. Both the mentor and mentee should put their cards on the table, to avoid surprises later. Then both should look for opportunities to leverage strengths, and shore up weaknesses. This avoids wasted time and speculation, and provides the motivation to bring in other experts or mentors as required.
  1. Mentor feedback must be thoughtful, specific, timely, and constructive. An important aspect of a mentoring relationship is how the mentor provides feedback to the mentee. Formulate negative feedback in a constructive fashion. Using open-ended questions that start with “how” or “what” help the mentee to arrive at their own solution.
  1. Mentees should avoid any defensive reaction to feedback. The right response to most mentor feedback is a thoughtful question for clarification. Immediately responding with “reasons and rationale” to every feedback will be read as insincerity, and will likely end the mentoring relationship quickly.
  1. Practice two-way communication and candid feedback. Mentoring is not a series of monologues and lectures, from either side. But candid feedback means not pulling punches when they are deserved. Both sides need to practice active listening and thoughtful questions. Constructive conflict is good.
  1. Agree to deal with unforeseen challenges openly. The most common challenges involve time and accessibility demands on either side, or the level of help expected. Both sides need to honor business boundaries, and not stray into personal relationship issues. Agree up front on how to end the relationship if other unforeseen circumstances arise.
  1. Celebrate successes, and deal openly with failures. This will help the learning process and build the mentee’s confidence. With patience and time, the partners should develop a good rapport and become more comfortable with openly and freely conversing with each other.
  1. Evaluate mentoring requirements on a regular basis. The mentee, as primary beneficiary, should be proactive in making sure the review process occurs on a regular basis, perhaps quarterly. This allows for frank discussion of unanticipated changes, and the potential for discontinuing the process and declaring success.

The end of a mentoring relationship should be seen as an opportunity to review what did and didn’t work, and more importantly, to reflect on the results, so that every lesson that can be learned from the relationship is recognized.

Both the mentor and mentee should celebrate the successes, review the learning from failures, and conclude the relationship with positive feelings. To bring it full circle, mentees should now consider passing on their new knowledge and skills by entering a new mentoring relationship – as a mentor. That’s the ultimate satisfaction.

Marty Zwilling

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