"Who are you? Why are you here? How are you unique?" Tom Peters
Acumen Fund founder Jacqueline Novogratz is on the 19 December Forbes cover. The lead article, which I highly recommend, is titled "Innovation Saves the World: The Social Entrepreneurs Making an Impact."
As usual, the magazine offers as its last page a collection of "Thoughts," in this instance "Thoughts on Philanthropy."
I was utterly taken by the pair below:
"Too few millionaires who aspire to win fame as philanthropists begin at home, among their own workers. To grind employees and then donate a million dollars to perpetuate his name is not a particularly laudable record for any man to live or to leave behind him."—B.C. Forbes/1917
"Many people ... give extensively of their time and talents to help others. Gifts of this kind often prove to be far more valuable than money. A struggling child, befriended and nurtured by a caring mentor, receives a gift whose value far exceeds what can be bestowed by a check."—Warren Buffett
[Our guest blogger is Ian Sanders. He runs an ideas consultancy where he creates and delivers ideas to solve challenges, facilitate growth, and help businesses stand out from the crowd. His new book Zoom! The Faster Way To Make Your Business Idea Happen is due out in November 2011.]
It's the holy grail for every business, whether you're a freelancer, a start-up, or an established brand. How the heck do you stand out in a crowded market? Awesome product functionality or a niche specialty may only get you so far as a differentiator. So instead of marketing your product benefits, try communicating what you're thinking: your personality, your ideas, your attitude. Communicating your thinking—thought leadership marketing—can be really effective in resonating and engaging with your target audience.
Of course this is nothing new. We've always made brand choices based on what businesses think. That's why we fly Virgin, drink Starbucks, ride a Harley. We get what a brand stands for and we either line up behind it, or we run a mile.
Here's the opportunity. There's a long tail of small businesses right down to the one-person work-at-home enterprises that spring up by the hundreds every waking hour. This is where the marketplace is at its most abundant: similarly qualified, similarly positioned, similarly priced, smart boutique businesses. Creative agencies, digital companies, copywriters, web developers. Who do you pick if there's only a cigarette paper between their offerings? You pick the woman who demonstrates her expertise via her weekly blog; the business that provides a monthly video update of industry news; even the business owner who posts a daily picture of her products on Instagram. In sharing their expertise they're also giving an insight into their personality. So let's redefine the genre here: "thought leadership marketing" doesn't just have to be about publishing academic papers or writing posts for the Harvard Business Review. It's whatever content works for you, your business, and your audience. A blog post, a tweet, a newsletter, a video sharing your business tips, even a blackboard out on the street communicating your "Thought For The Day."
Back in 2008, Tom told the audience at the Inc. 5000 conference "If you're not blogging, you're an idiot". He was right. And he'd probably say the same today about Twitter. Because together with LinkedIn, Google+, (and whatever next month's hot new platform is) we have a bunch of tools available that provide a free platform for thought leadership.
The good news is that communicating your thinking does not discriminate on size: instead of s/he with the biggest budget wins, it's who can demonstrate the original ideas or the fresh thinking. So if you're a freelancer or small business, why aren't you blogging? Why don't you put your thoughts out there, why aren't you shining a spotlight on your DNA? Don't assume it doesn't matter—customers want to deal with experts and they need to see evidence of that. There's no point making claims about how innovative your business is if you can't back it up, if you can't prove you're living and breathing it.
King Of Shaves is a shaving brand that's become a success in the UK and is now entering the US market. Founder Will King may not have Gillette's ad spend but he plays out a David vs Goliath tale, competing with the big guys via Twitter and social media. Will is doing more than selling razors and shaving foam; he's engaging with his audience 1-to-1 through storytelling and giving advice to the entrepreneurial community. That's how he—and his business—stand out.
Don't miss out on the thought leadership marketing opportunity. Remember, you don't have to be the biggest or the best to stand out; you just need to have something interesting to say.
Tom's tweets were recommended by OpenForum as one of the Top 5 Twitter feeds on Entrepreneurship. He joined Chris Brogan, Pam Slim, Becky McRay's SB Survival, and Anita Campbell's Small Biz Trends. We all know that using social media can be a powerful tool, no matter your industry, yet it's challenging to do it well on a consistent basis. Tom's been working hard to not only find the right balance of conversation and offering bits of wisdom at Twitter, but also tweet on a daily basis, so this was welcome praise.
Tom's good friend Alan Webber has a new ebook out called The Global Detective: My search for clues, cues, and views in the lands of tall blonde people. Alan went on quite a journey to discover what's happening with entrepreneurs the world over, and this is the first in a series. As the cofounder of Fast Company, he has a particularly unique perspective. (And we believe he wore a fedora.)
In a blog post titled "Business Book(s) of the Year," Tom named George Whalin's Retail Superstars as his #1 for 2009. Why? Tom says, "I think Whalin's message is perfect for 2009. We will, over the long haul, rebound from our colossal economic and unemployment mess on the backs of our entrepreneurs. The big guys may re-stock their payrolls a bit, but the generals, GE and GM, ain't the answer. And among the entrepreneurs, only a few, statistically, will be from Silicon Valley. To be sure, the best of the sexy entrepreneurs spawn whole new industries, but the blocking and tackling when it comes to jobs and productivity will come from Sevierville TN and Fairfield and Hartville OH and Frankenmuth MI and a hundred hundred other towns and small cities whose names, mostly, you haven't heard of."
Tom goes on to mention that a great companion book to Whalin's is Small Giants: Companies that Choose to be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham.
In response, one of our frequent commenters, who goes by the name of Zorro, posted:
Tom seems determined to have the US become a second rate power. The companies covered in Small Giants include a deli, a record company, a beer company, and a company that makes those things that go "beep-beep" when a truck backs up. The Retail Superstars covers nothing but retail stores. Somehow this is going to transform our economy—if it does, it will make it look exactly like it did from 2001–2008. Meanwhile, China has just turned on the world's fastest train route. We make great sandwiches, beer, and back up alarms—the Chinese put in place the world's fastest commuter train.
Bo Burlingham then weighed in:
Well, Zorro, I have to wonder if you actually read Retail Superstars, or Small Giants, for that matter. George Whalin made absolutely no claim that the companies he was writing about were going to "transform the economy," nor did I make any such claim about the Small Giants. That wasn't the point of either book, and that mentality has nothing to do with why Tom liked them. My point was that bigness and greatness have nothing to do with one another. George's point was that the greatest retailers (judged by the standards of their industry, which are the only ones that matter) are actually the independents. You may think that such companies are unimportant, but the U.S. economy would collapse without them. Are you aware, for example, that 50% of the US workforce works in companies with 20 to 500 employees? That's where all the innovation is coming from as well. Why? Because big companies are bad at it. That's why they buy small innovative businesses. That segment of the economy is essentially America's R&D lab. Among other things, they are coming up with the innovations that are going to utterly transform the world of manufacturing in the next 10 years and deprive China of its cheap labor advantage—because the labor component will become far less important than the ability to develop effective business systems and management, which is an area in which the Chinese stink. And where do you think the major manufacturing industries of today—the innovations that have created our world—have come from? Did you miss the 1980s and 1990s? I do worry about the future of that kind of entrepreneurship in this country, but the big threat comes not from China and India, but from our own protectionists, big unions, and government over-regulation. (See Sarbanes-Oxley, and then ask yourself why there were no IPOs in 2008, and how that stymied the development of the manufacturing powerhouses you apparently believe are important to our future.) As for the Retail Superstars and the Small Giants, they have a different role to play that is every bit as important as "making things." (And BTW, the back-up alarm/emergency light company you deride makes a lot of things, and it's the world leader in what it makes.) Those companies are the heart and soul, not just of our economy, but of our society. They are community leaders in thousands of cities and towns around the United States. Their practices shape the communities we live in, the values we live by, and the quality of the lives we lead. Yes, they are anathema to big labor, because they aren't unionized. That's why big labor is pushing card checks. Then again, their working standards and efficiency far exceed that of the unionized giants, whose lunches they regularly eat.
We tend to think of the jobs economy in terms of jobs lost at the likes of GM and jobs added at the likes of Google. And thinking in such a manner is misleading, and downright dangerous.
The fact is that the American economy in particular is an economy of churn—always adding and subtracting jobs at an incredible rate. Forbes (16 November) presents some stunning statistics:
Between September 2008 and September 2009 we lost about 6 million jobs. That's a crushing blow no matter how you look at it. But if you think that the likes of propping up staggering giants such as GM is the answer, think again.
Question: How do you (we!) arrive at a loss of 6 million jobs?
We added—yes, I said ADDED—51 million jobs.
And we lost 57 million jobs.
That is, bizarre as it may seem, in the space of a year there was a churn of over ONE HUNDRED MILLION jobs. (Micro-tizing the math, we didn't "lose a job"—on average, we created 8 jobs and lost 9 jobs for a net of minus 1—and repeated that musical chairs drill enough times to end up 6 million in the hole.)
And this is how it always goes, though typically, thank God, the pluses exceed the minuses.
While the above offers not a smidgeon of relief to jobless Jane or Joe next door, there is long-term good news imbedded in these stats. We are not in fact dependent on a jobs recovery at GM or Chrysler to get us back on our feet. We are dependent, over the long haul, on an out-of-work employee starting a Web-based business and through valiant effort creating three new jobs in the next 18 months. We are dependent on a nervy local electronics dealer stealing a page from Best Buy, and adding his own 3-person "Geek Squad." Etc. Etc.
The message of long-term relative American economic effectiveness is churn, or the "gales of creative destruction" as the economist Joseph Schumpeter put it. Put simply, we "do" churn, painful though the constant dislocations may be, better than anybody else—i.e., our labor markets are the least sticky outside the likes of India or China. I lived with astoundingly productive mega-churn for over three decades in Silicon Valley. It isn't pretty—but over the long haul it works, and works a helluva lot better than government-based bets on particular big companies.
There is a four-letter word for depending on big companies and incentives aimed at big companies to pull our irons out of the fire. Namely ... dumb.
(NB: I apparently coined the term "Brand You." And my pal and our Cool Friend Dan Pink gave us "Free Agent Nation." Never have these ideas been of such profound importance. The issue of Forbes cited above refers to a 2006 Government Accountability Office study that estimates that, hold onto your hat, 30 percent of all U.S. workers are free-lancers or part-timers who are not pocketed into any of the Bureau of Labor Statistics worker stats categories. Unreported annual income from the "informal" economy may be as high as $2.3 TRILLION.)
I spoke at an Inc. magazine event last night in San Francisco, commemorating the winner of an entrepreneur-to-be contest with a hearty financial prize. Incidentally, in the name of Chinese ubiquity, much on our minds these days, the event is sponsored by the powerhouse Chinese B2B outfit—Alibaba.
In preparing, I put together a list of ten key factors that I believe characterize entrepreneurial excellence ...
Entrepreneurial Excellence TEN
[For the PPT slides, you can use this link.]
That's what Adrian Wooldridge and the Economist call our emergent global economy, current madness notwithstanding. The Americans are still the undisputed leaders, and they're likely to hold the top slot for quite a while, but both the Chinese and the Indians understand the game almost as well as we do. And the Europeans and Japanese border on hopeless.
I heartily commend to your attention "Global Heroes: A Special Report on Entrepreneurship"—in the 14 March Economist.
I was asked by a magazine to come up with a list of the five entrepreneurs I most admired. Consistent with my whatever, I offered a list of 41, though I did single out my top 13 (**) and my Top 1 (*****). You'll find the list below. (And a PDF version as well.) I was determined to steer away from the obvious with a couple of exceptions—and also emphasized social entrepreneurs and a couple of entrepreneurs (classification justified, I believe) within firms. All yours ...
Susan Frampton, President, Planetree Alliance, Derby CT, top "patient-centric" hospital care model, broadly diffused
Jim Penman, Jim's Group, with HQ in Australia, nearly 3,000 franchisees doing "routine" stuff that busy clients don't get around to doing, like dog-walking and driveway paving; also author of What Will They Franchise Next?
Dennis Littky, founder Big Picture, project-based learning model for secondary schools, widespread diffusion courtesy Gates foundation
*****Wendy Kopp, founder, Teach For America, potent beyond measure in insanely tough environment (My #1)
**Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank, Nobel Peace Prize winner, father of micro-lending, started in Bangladesh
**Women recipients (94%) of Grameen micro-loans, incredible payback record
John Bogle, sane & successful funds manager, founder Vanguard Funds, author of Enough
**Steve Jobs, himself, no ID needed!
**Lorenzo Zambrano, CEMEX, Mexico, world's #3 cement maker, low-price, high volume housing developer for the poor
Don Berwick, creator of campaign-organization to save hundreds of thousands of lives by focus on patient safety in hospitals
Bob Stone, reinventing government (Bob called "Mr. Rego") for VP Al Gore, big-scale under-the-radar change in resistant environment
Robin Chase and Antje Danielson, founded Zipcar
**Horst Brandstatter, Brandstatter Enterprises (including Playmobil); exemplar of Germany's Mittelstand (Germany #1 world exporter, driven almost entirely by Mittelstand companies)
Oprah, entrepreneur, billionaire, social change agent
**Carly Fiorina, dramatically changed/wrestled to ground a very strong culture at HP; Welch (GE) and Gerstner (IBM) did good work, but did not do culture change, resurrected old cultures that had frayed
John Doerr, VC extraordinaire; no $$$, no high-growth start-ups
**Taddy Blecher, CIDA, university, founder, South Africa, services tens of thousands of kids from the townships
Almost all of Bo Burlingham's Small Giants (e.g., New Hope Contracting, Righteous Babe Records, and LFS Touring)
Billy Ford, serious about green for years and years at Ford, internal entrepreneur, lonely voice
**Michelle Rhee, superintendent, D.C. schools, young, taking on powerful teacher's union, succeeding
Rick Warren, love him or hate him, Saddleback monster church, bestselling book ever
Bono, putting aid to Africa on the map
**Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler & visionary, Dubai; amazing act of human imagination
Narayana Murthy, founder, Infosys, #1 exemplar of Indian IS prowess
**David Petraeus, changed U.S. Army doctrine, internal entrepreneur
Lee Kuan Yew, senior minister and former prime minister, Singapore, created little giant of a Sovereign State
Ronald Reagan, champion-enabler of the entrepreneurs in a "big company" environment
Bill Drayton, Ashoka, supports the development (selection, training) of entrepreneurs worldwide
Sultan Bahabri, HITS telecom plus, Kuwait, ignites widespread efforts to support the less well off
Zhang Xin, SOHO China, unusual large-scale property developer, very design driven, female with hyper-humble roots in a male's game
Arianna Huffington, Web social change agent
Helen Greiner, iRobot, MIT grad created powerful-imaginative techy firm amidst "all boys" industry
Ted Turner, ridiculed for imagining CNN; potent social entrepreneur
**John Coleman, Weather Channel, thought a joke at the start, valued in the billions of $$$$
Dame Anita Roddick ("the late," alas), mother of large-scale corporate social responsibility (wish she'd been running a big bank)
Vernon Hill, made Commerce Bank the poster child for consumer-friendly banking before troublesome departure
**Howard Dean, de facto creator of "high end" Web-based politics
Who is the Number One exporter in the world?
Who has (probably) the highest wages in the world (not CEO "wages"!)?
If you answered that it was a nation of 83 million folks in Western Europe—namely Germany—you'd be correct.
If you answered Siemens you'd be wrong.
So, too, BASF—wrong.
Or Commerzbank—wrong again.
If you answered "Mittelstand firms" you would be spot on!
But I'm getting ahead of myself ...
Last week's BusinessWeek featured the best companies to go to work for as a fresh-caught college grad. Deloitte was #1 (I'm a Deloitte fan, especially their program for retaining women and getting them into senior leadership roles, but best in the U.S.?). The likes of Google was on the list, too. But, to me, personally, not a damn company on the list ought to be on the list—that's a little heavy-handed, but not by much.
Why, oh frigging why, is it always the Gargantuan Companies (because they are the magazines' advertisers??) on such lists (repeat, this week's Fortune has a biggie on the best leader development programs—100% monster institutions again) and not any of America's wonderful middle-sized companies?
About a year after In Search of Excellence appeared (October 15, 1982), my partners, Bob LeDuc and Nancy Austin (my coauthor on A Passion for Excellence) and I decided to launch a series of 4-day intensive workshops on implementing the main ideas in Search. We called them "Skunks Camps" (after Lockheed's renegade "Skunkworks"—look it up in Passion, or on the Web), and held them 100 miles south of home (Palo Alto), at a lovely spot on the Pacific called Pajaro Dunes.
Considering the firms in Search, 100% Big Dudes (who else would McKinsey guys feature?), it was obvious to us that our participants would be, say, VPs or EVPs of Fortune 500 companies.
We had a few F500 denizens—mostly from Search companies such as 3M and J&J. The rest? American "Mittlestand":
Frank Perdue, and son Jimmy, of Perdue Farms. ("It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.")
Tom Malone, president of the stellar textile firm (and, arguably, inarguably to me, America's quality leader) Milliken & Company.
Don Burr, founder of People Express.
Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza.
Stew Leonard, and son Stew Jr, of Stew Leonard's.
Hal Rosenbluth of Rosenbluth International, the pathbreaking travel services firm.
John Fisher, the acclaimed IT guru from a much smaller Bank One of Columbus.
John McConnell of the steel's Mittelstand star, Worthington Industries.
Bob Buckman of the Memphis specialty chemical firm, Buckman Labs—Bob almost single-handedly invented what we now call (and genuflect to) "knowledge management."
And so on.* (*Some "troubles," for sure, at Stew Leonard's and People Express—but absolute pathbreakers at the time, 1984.)
I fell in love with these guys!!
Talk about a tough audience! No bullshit tolerated—and if they heard something good, it was launched 3,000 miles away in the likes of Salisbury, MD (home of Perdue), the day after it was discussed at Pajaro Dunes. E.g., Frank P liked Tom Malone's description of Milliken University, about the first of the corporate "universities," and got up the next day at 4 a.m. PST, called Salisbury, and launched Perdue University.
Hence, I've had a soft spot for the likes of these folks since 1984—and as time has passed I have come to appreciate the likes of them, and the likes of the techie start-ups from "the Valley," too, as the true engines of our economy.
And, to this day they are unsung!
I was so taken, that on the advice of the fellow who headed our European operations, Lennart Arvedson, I decided to explore this odd German phenomenon, called the Mittelstand. To make a long story as painless as possible, a year or so later I could be found in Germany on a three week TV shoot—for a program on this "Mittelstand phenomenon." It was by far the best show I've ever done, among a dozen or so, though the "obscure" topic meant less attention than for most of the others.* (*You'll find the stories in print in my Liberation Management.)
These Mittelstand firms tend to ... DOMINATE (exactly the right word) ... high-end niche markets. The three we featured in our show "The Mighty Mittelstand: The 'Secret' to Germany's Leadership of the World in Exports" (yes, they led then, too—including, amazingly, textile exports!) were:
Playmobil (part of Brandstatter Enterprises), the peerless toy makers; Trumpf, the high-end machine tool superstar; and Rationale, supplier of tippy-top high-end cooking equipment (the "combi-cooker") to most of the high-end restaurants in the U.S. and Europe.
Each tallied a few hundred million dollars in revenue, and all three were growing nicely. Oddly enough, to this day I think I'm the only American "management guru," prominent or otherwise, who has studied these firms—I guess when people see the astounding German export figures, they assume it was Siemens or BMW or the tooth fairy, and leave it at that.
The point of all this is to insist that there are thousands of Fab Firms out there that are really worth working for when one exits university—focused on product, surviving only by continuous innovation, manageable in size, meritocratic to a fault (they can't afford not to be), and providing incredible opportunities to get ahead quickly. The chief problem is, the youngster has to find 'em; they aren't among the Gargantuans who make it easy by showing up with donuts at the college employment center.
Oh dear, I do love, love, love Canada's London Drugs (beating the hell out of their new opponent, Wal*Mart, with 4X Wal*Mart's sales per square foot) and Canada's Cirque du Soleil; Connecticut's $50 million+ Basement Systems (the basement mold and dampness removal superstar; founder Larry Janesky's book, Dry Basement Science, is edging up to 150,000 copies sold—no kidding, I carry it around with me as an icon to what's possible, anywhere and everywhere); Ralph Stayer's Johnsonville Foods; David Kelley's IDEO, the premier product design and innovation consulting firm; the late Harry Quadracci's Quad/Graphics; Dennis Littky's exciting The Met/Big Picture schools; Maxine Clark's supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Build-A-Bear; Rick Semler's seriously cool Brazilian powerhouse, Semco; Derby CT's Griffin Hospital (home of the fantastic, patient-centric Planetree Alliance); and every damn one of the firms featured in Bo Burlingham's Small Giants: Companies That Choose To Be Great Instead of Big.
Yup, these are my stars, home to many of the best leaders I've met in business, unsung engines of German and American economic prowess—and noticeably, to me, AWOL from the likes of the BizWeek and Fortune "bests" lists.
Publisher Rich Karlgaard took me over the top on this in his "Digital Rules" commentary in the current issue of Forbes (October 1). He beats up Michigan ("Tackling the Michigan Problem" is his title) and praises to the sky the likes of Minnesota and Washington. Consider Spokane:
"Spokane, like Minneapolis-St Paul, refuses to bet the economy on one or two industries. Rather, it practices what one city booster calls 'Ichironomics.' Like the Seattle Mariners' center fielder, Ichiro Suzuki, we try to hit singles and doubles. We want to improve the overall conditions for small businesses, not chase the large employer."
"Ichironomics"—love it. Wonder how you translate that into German?
(NB: Mr Suzuki has 227 base hits, and he's batting a stratospheric .351, going into the last week of MLB's regular season—in 2004 he broke the all-time record for hits in a single season, with a staggering 262.)
(Above: bougainvillea, blooming right outside my hotel—what's not to love about my spiritual home, California?)
I like, no, love, businesses that surprise with imaginative services—such as the Home Depot case above. It perhaps gets better. Consider Jim, my favorite Australian these days.
Jim (Jim Penman) sports a Ph.D. in cross-cultural anthropology. While working toward the degree in 1984, he did some odd jobs mowing lawns. Found he had a knack for it—and started Jim's Mowing.
To make a long and glorious story short, "Jim's Mowing" morphed into Jim's Group. It now provides an array of home services for busy families—including mowing, cleaning, handyman jobs, fencing, paving, pool care, and even dog walking. It also "morphed" from Jim to 2,600 franchisees in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
In an "industry" not exactly marked by standout people practices, Jim has shined as much with management skills as with his overall business concept. For instance, in a huge departure from standard practice, a franchisee can leave the fold and start a competing business—at will with no restrictions attached. Penman's contrarian reasoning is that he can't imagine having unhappy franchisees in the fold. But there's also a tough side, and it involves client service. His franchisees typically have zero or one customer complaint per year. (Ye gads.) Every complaint is investigated, and franchisees who don't get with the program get the boot.
Though I lifted this story from Australia's Management Today (Jan-Feb 2006), I confirmed it with Aussie execs at a recent seminar in Adelaide.
"Wallop Wal*Mart" is one of my persistent themes. I'm a great fan of Wal*Mart, but the point is that there is, in any arena, invariably room for someone who does it differently. ("Dramatic Difference," swiped from our pal, Doug Hall, is the term I prefer.) Superb, focused Community Banks can "compete effectively against" (beat the crap out of) BankAmerica. Inspired retailers can "own" a community—even with a Wal*Mart right down the road. And Jim Penman can cobble together a 2,600 unit franchise operation, almost flawlessly performing mundane tasks that others ignore.
Good on you, Mate.
(Attached you'll find a brief Special Presentation, "Jim's Plus," that includes the PPT slides associated with this Post.)
Fred Karl, designer of the Viking range and owner of that company said, "I was a weird kid—I began designing towns when I was 12." We all know that "weird" can be good, if we don't judge others through our lens ... Being weird increases creativity if we allow it to flourish. Fred Karl, founder of Viking Range, let his weirdness flourish abundantly.
Karl's headquarters for Viking is located in his home town of Greenwood, Mississippi. Karl has restored old buildings to house his operations, so not only does his product, the Viking range, generate income for the small Mississippi town, Karl is revitalizing the town through his restoration work. He remembered a bustling place in the '60s that had "gone way downhill" by the time he returned there after a tour of duty in Vietnam. The little town of Greenwood, previously sustained by the cotton industry, wasn't ever going to be the same. But Fred Karl saw the possibilities and brought all his talents to bear to create a new Greenwood.
Fred Karl designed the first Viking range for his wife and hoped that he would sell 1,000 a year; now he sells that many in a week. Just like most startups today, he had little money. Fred Karl bartered his building design skills to obtain office space to work in. The local people called the new range Fred was designing his "Stove Project." What kept his spirit going was the encouragement from the town—support he knew he wouldn't get if he moved to a big city. That little "Stove Project" eventually became the big business of Viking Range.
Feeling a little weird lately? Take time to see where your passion and entrepreneurial spirit is calling you. Even in corporate America, the entrepreneurial spirit must remain alive. That spirit can solve the toughest of corporate problems, if only we let it.
See the article in INC about the entrepreneurial spirit of Fred Karl.
The front page of the June 1 Boston Globe had this headline: "Hundreds Gather to Memorialize Galbraith." (That's the late Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith.) The accompanying photo prominently features arch conservative William F. Buckley Jr. I must admit that I wondered whether Mr Buckley was there to "memorialize" Galbraith ... or to make sure he was dead.
How horrid of me. But you know the zeal of us "born agains." I was a staunch Galbraith fan in the sixties—I reluctantly admit that JKG's New Industrial State was to me what Ayn Rand's Fountainhead apparently was to Alan Greenspan. I now think that Galbraith got absolutely everything dead wrong—and was even a dangerous man, especially because he wrote so well. To this point the historian Robert Conquest, called "the greatest living historian" by one of his prominent peers, muses about how one might respond to a Galbraithian tome: "'This is a beautifully printed and finely bound railway timetable'—but, unfortunately, its train times are wrong." (Robert Conquest, The Dragons of Expectation: Reality and Delusion in the Course of History.)
In summary: Galbraith thought entrepreneurship was passé-DOA. (Ironic that on the occasion of his memorial service the combined net worth of Google's two young founders more or less exceeded the value of the Harvard endowment, 370 years in the making.) Galbraith insisted that the U.S. and Soviet industrial systems were rapidly converging; according to him, we had both perfected (more or less his word) "technocratic management," and the elitist technocrat class would noiselessly run giant, built-to-last-forever enterprises ... enabling the common citizenry to invest in and spend enormous sums on "social goods."
What a fool. (And what a fool I was to be fooled—prior to my arrival in young Silicon Valley in 1970. To be perfectly honest, it took me until about '80 to get the entrepreneurial religion—after all, for most of that time I was at McKinsey, home to worshipers of huge enterprise, who believed in the perfectibility of such enterprises.)
Last night I watched a new reality TV series, American Inventor, mostly because our Cool Friend Doug Hall is one of the judges. Remember he's the one who originated the idea of Dramatic Difference, which Tom has been quoting since he read Doug's Jump Start Your Business Brain. Doug knows a great deal about innovation and the viability of new ideas from his years running Eureka Ranch and at P&G.
Also, I was very curious as to what people thought would be innovative. It came as no surprise that innovation ran the gamut from very cool to seriously strange. Ideas ranged from a new way to create sandbags (thumbs up), portable gyms (thumbs up), to a "Beddie Pouch" (thumbs down), and a "tizzy tube" (thumbs down). People of all ages came up with ideas.
As I watched the show, it reminded me of business—we all have ideas that we think are right on the mark, but sometimes we haven't thought them through. These people on the show last night invested thousands of dollars, and some risked their homes to showcase their ideas. Many organizations have trouble getting people to share their ideas, and that is an opportunity for leaders. We have to expect that people will bring to the table some crazy ideas and some great ideas, but we must allow for all ideas to at least be presented.
Lessons from American Inventor:
1. Have passion!
2. Hone that sales pitch.
3. Do your research.
5. Get some sponsors/supporters whether you win or lose.
Our Cool Friend Jason Fried and our old friend Jim Coudal gave the opening remarks at the South by Southwest conference in Austin (10-19 March). Here's the link to the podcast. Jim talks about creativity and design entrepreneurship, and he says, "The curious shall inherit the Earth." Jason talks about "less," and he says, "Don't quit your day job." It's stuff I think our readers would love to hear. It takes a while, but it's worth it. It's all very Tomesque.
Did a few interviews with the Wisconsin press this morning, in preparation for a speech at the end of the month to the Wisconsin Innovation Network. We immediately fell into conversation about Madison's new biotech stars, Harley-Davidson, Johnson Controls, and the like. It was easy conversation—conversation that I can conduct while typing this Blogpost. Then I caught myself, and said, "But let's not forget the 'other 85 percent,' the largely ignored and under-reported ones working at body shops, spas, independent insurance agencies, 5-person accountancies, real estate brokerages, and the like. The productivity and excellence of these thousands of unsung players and their small passels of employees have more to do with the health and wealth of America and Wisconsin than, with all due respect, Harley."
It's a fact.
I had several press interviews yesterday for a forthcoming event in South Africa. The conversation invariably turned to entrepreneurship. I was repeatedly asked what the "secrets" were to starting a successful business—any business, not some Silicon Valley or Cambridge software or biotech hottie.
I'm sure I'd been asked the same thing before, but the repetitiveness of the question got me searching for a repeatable answer. And I homed in on "D-squared MP."
D-squared, or Dramatic Difference: Too many people risk their life savings on a not very original idea. No, I don't mean that you have to start a Google, but I do mean that you must be clear, very very clear, about how your new Italian restaurant or real estate agency will be "dramatically different" from the current offerings in your locale-market. Far too many folks "bet the farm" on, in effect, a "me too" proposition—too sad.
M, or Money: And far too many people with a genuinely rippin' idea forget to get the "money guy," the "businessperson," on board from, more or less, day one. I'm less talking about the funds raiser here (for the moment, I assume you'll use your carefully squirreled away war chest of $175,000, and another $50,000 borrowed from Aunt Matilda), and more focused on the person who "gets off on business" as much as you get off on your genuinely better-startling idea for a financial-planning boutique in Upper Podunk. Decent, if simple, systems for doing business, for instance, must be in place pretty much from the start. Bottom line: "Business sense" is as "cool" as "it" (the prime idea).
P, or People: Obvious? Of course! Not so fast! That inspired dreamer, that finance aficionado ... are often wretches when it comes to hiring and inspiring, day in and day out, the waiters and waitresses or receptionists who will "Wow" the clientele—or not.
I contend, or at least I contended to the folks I talked to yesterday, that all three pieces are imperative to solving the entrepreneurial puzzle—and that almost no one combines them in one head. In fact, the three disciplines are so intellectually and emotionally different that they can't spring from the same soul.
So that's my nickel, the product of years of observation, as well as too much time and money spent as an inattentive student at the University of Hard Knocks.
The precarious state of America's economic future, courtesy China, seems to rank only behind, and perhaps not behind, terrorism on people's frights list. China is a clear economic "game-changer," no doubt about it. And God knows, I've beaten on American schools and corporations alike for their sluggish response to the need for revolutionary change.
But I did spend 30 years in Silicon Valley, home to the IS/IT mega-revolution. And I now have a home in Boston, home to (along with California et al.) the life sciences revolution. Announcement: We're doing pretty damned okay, and losing scant ground on the truly new, game-changer industries. For example, the Boston Globe on November 28 had an Op-ed piece on nanotechnology. It's already a multi-billion industry, and the quoted projection for 2014 is the emergence of a $2,600,000,000,000 ($2.6 TRILLION) industry. And the leader, by a country mile: the U.S.A.
Will China, Korea and others challenge us here? Of course! We'll doubtless give ground (hey, we're virtually it right now), but (1) the total pie will keep growing and (2) by 2014 there will doubtless (sure as shit) be new nanotech-like mega-industries on the drawing boards, and I'd not bet a farthing against the U.S. as lead pony.
Many lament (correctly, in the main) our declining share of engineering graduates and science majors. True enough, but I contend there is (still, for the foreseeable future) a Magic American Potion of: Lotsa smart, motivated people + New immigrant blood (never discount this) + Incredible research universities (and Gov't R&D infrastructure) + A generic/genetic entrepreneurial "instinct" to die for (including an almost unique American desire to make-a-ton before 40) + Wide and deep financial entrepreneurship (VCs, Angels, etc, etc) to die for + A deep-seated competitive (genetic again) urge to be/stay #1 + A generic capitalist "spirit" 300 years in the making and nurturing + Genetic openness (called "freedom" and "democracy" in the U.S.A. and the West in general) + Etc. (Or some such.)
Do I think China can be "stopped"? Of course not, save for the "democracy-openness problem" (major). Do I think Kmart and GM can be resurrected? Never. Do I expect as many Googles-Amgens in the future as in the past? Much as I'm fearful of going way out on a limb, I will anyway: Count on it!
(The argument above is a good accompaniment to the KURZWEIL Cool Friend interview. While Mr K may be wrong in the particulars, there's little doubt that a parade of Extreme Makeovers is our lot. Those ready to lead/pounce upon such Makeovers will stay atop the heap. An open, entrepreneurial society with a propensity for risktaking, and an infrastructure to support it, are as well positioned as possible. Frankly, I think the raw quantity of engineering degrees produced is pretty close to irrelevant.)
Taking part in Leaders in Sydney tomorrow. Another participant is Anita Roddick. Quite simply, I think she is one of the most remarkable human beings, women, entrepreneurs in the world. Among other things, who else has offered such a dramatic and sustaining example of the possibility of business as a force for goodness & virtue? I had the chance to chat with her last night—and it stripped away, in seconds, my accumulated exhaustion. (Lucky me.)
Spoke last Friday to a couple of thousand tanning salon owners. Ninety percent "Mom & Pops." I love such groups! (KFC and Hilton property owners recently. Community bankers coming soon.) That is, "my" salon owners' futures are ... entirely in their own hands! "Dramatic Difference" is theirs for the taking! (That was the title of my talk.) "Experiences" that invariably "Wow!" "Excellence" as a daily Aspiration & Practice! Staff that are Nurtured & Challenged and who thus aim to Grow & Flourish ... and serve the customer about 1,000 miles past "exceeds expectations."
Hard work? No! Insanely hard work! And Energy! And Passion! And Daring! And Will! And Imagination! (And a little bit of luck doesn't hurt.) A lack of money is rarely the issue. Sure you'd like a premier address or an uncle who owns a bank (or at least robbed one); but the dough is probably yours if you first create a gem-of-local-renown in your current "B" space.
Middle managers from "prestigious companies"? [Motto: "Nice ideas, Tom, but here are the 17 immutable reasons why we can't do any of 'em!"] Or 1,000 owner-entrepreneurs? [Motto: "I gotta start on some of this stuff today! Right now! You damn well better be right!"] Give me the self-directed "owners" ... it ain't a close race!
In May, I posted an entry about Springboard Venture Capital Forum for women entrepreneurs in Chicago. Now, it's happening in Boston, too.
From their publicity:
On November 18th, 20-25 women entrepreneurs will take the stage at the Harvard Business School to present their businesses to over 200 of the most influential venture capital and private investors in the New England and New York areas. The Springboard Venture Capital Forum is a national program designed to increase investments in women-led firms and facilitate new deal flow to investors. ...
CWE-Springboard targets high-growth businesses in the technology and life sciences industries that seek seed, first, or later stage funding. Women entrepreneurs who apply must have a senior leadership position in the company (e.g. CEO, President, Founder, CFO, COO, VP, etc.) and hold a parity equity stake in their company relative to other members of senior management. To apply, please submit an online application at www.springboardenterprises.org. There is a $50 application fee. The application deadline is September 7, 2005.
So, if there are any women entrepreneurs reading this who fit those criteria, here's an opportunity for you. Nationwide, the participants have raised over $2B!
It was a very hot day here. And as for hot, if you had to name two very hot things in business these days, surely "search" and "China" would come to mind.
So when Baidu (pronounced "by-doo")—China's leading internet search engine—quadrupled in price today, as their ADSs (American Depositary Shares) were offered on the Nasdaq, I guess no one should have been surprised.
Still, is it one more bullish indicator that we're starting a new dotcom-like cycle? I keep hearing it's happening, but I'm very skeptical. I heard it from a venture capitalist two weeks ago over lunch near Harvard Square in Cambridge. I heard it last week in San Francisco. Most of us who lived through the dotcom boom and bust are rather prudent about calling it anything yet, but today had to make you wonder.
This amazing conference had 100% women speakers and 80% women attendees, all focusing on Women and Blogging. Check out these pictures.
There were so many good break-out sessions, but I wanted to mention the feeling in the room when Mary Hodder, Denise Howells, and Patricia Nakache led a session on women starting businesses and getting funding. The feeling was like one of those noisy starting gates where thoroughbreds are waiting in their slots to run the Kentucky Derby, ready to kick up their heels. Believe me, we were all chomping at the bit.
[Darci Riesenhuber gives us the entry below. She was excited to meet this person, and she wants us all to know her story and perhaps provide some feedback.—CM]
Sara Blakely, a local Atlantan, started the company Spanx out of her apartment. After several failed attempts to find the right undergarment to hide imperfections and panty lines when wearing white pants with open-toed shoes, she decided to cut the feet off her pantyhose. This worked beautifully! So, she wondered, why doesn't this already exist? Rather than wait for someone else to get the credit, she decided to research it, patent it, manufacture it, and distribute it, all on her own, since everyone she pitched the idea to thought it was laughable. (Not surprising ... can you imagine ... she was pitching the idea to men.) After 2 years of effort, including research, cold calls, door to door sales, and a prototype, she got her first distribution contract with Neiman Marcus and a spotlight on the Oprah Winfrey Show. (You might even have seen her on The Rebel Billionaire, the reality TV show with Richard Branson.)
Currently, with over 40 different products, Sarah is well on her way to a $30M (solely owned) company. Her biggest challenge right now is how to stay innovative and ahead of her competition as her company continues to grow. So, my question to readers is this: How do you keep the entrepreneurial, innovative, risk-taking spirit alive as you expand from a small to a large company?
We got word of an extremely WOW! opportunity: Springboard Enterprises Venture Forum. Women entrepreneurs have until June 24th to apply for a chance to join a six-month program aimed at getting them ready to apply for venture funding. The culmination of the experience is a Venture Forum on September 28th, where the participants will present their business plans to a panel of influential venture, angel, private, and corporate investors in the Midwest. Co-sponsored by Northwestern University's Center for Women Entrepreneurs in Technology, the program will be held on the Northwestern campus and targets mid-western women-led businesses, though it is not restricted to them. Read more about it at Inc. magazine online, apply online at springboardenterprises.org, or contact Kirsten Osolind at re:invention.
re:invention, inc., is a marketing company for women-led businesses. We're on a mission to build more women-led million-dollar businesses—with marketing strategy, promotions, and national public relations programs that deliver measurable results. We've worked with some of the nation's premiere women entrepreneurs and their companies to help them achieve their goals and grow.
Our blog is a toolbox for women entrepreneurs. From our smart women quotes of the week and webpolls, to re:invention's Shoe of the Week Feature, re:invention's blog inspires, amuses, and above all, educates. The blog contains an exhaustive list of partner and business resources, valuable partner discounts, women's quotes, polls, marketing tips, and breaking news.
Each Saturday, re:invention presents 10 Tips for 10 Million Women
TM, featuring a woman entrepreneur and her personal 10 tips for success. It's a powerful example of "women helping women win."
Our goal: a smartly-stocked toolbox for women entrepreneurs with practical business and marketing ideas you can use today to turn your million-dollar dream into profitable reality. Wise women entrepreneurs can submit a request to have their company featured along with their personal 10 Tips for 10 Million Women.
I go to re:invention to see the shoes (I don't wear heels, so it's strictly a window-shopping exercise for me, but fun!), then I invariably stay to read Kirsten's commentary. So, women readers, take a look, see what you think.
Live Meeting Online Seminar
Tuesday, November 23, Ron Crossland, vice chairman of Tom Peters Company and coauthor of The Leader's Voice, will identify what leaders should know in order to be successful in a rapidly changing global marketplace. He will discuss the characteristics of an admired leader that stand the test of time and show what organizations can do to improve leadership on an individual and system-wide level. The seminar will take place from noon-1pm EST/9-10am PST. Get more information and register at Microsoft Office Live Meeting.
Occasionally I like to post a few websites that have come to our attention through the emails addressed to tom at tompeters.com. Here are the recent notables:
Gary Zamchick has innovation galore to offer. And diversity (tho' not in the traditional sense): He's a cartoonist!
OnePageBusinessPlan.com. Tom loved the book by Jim Horan; now it's a system.
Vermillion.com.au in Australia. They only want to work with people who give a damn. With a motto like that ...
Finally, constructiondurable.com. In French, but beautiful to look at no matter what language you speak.
This article in the St. Louis Business Journal attributes the growth in women-owned businesses to the continued wage gap between men and women. According to Brett Miller of The Entrepreneur's Source, women are starting their own businesses at up to twice the rate of men: "It's not surprising that women are turning away from the corporate world, where inequality persists, instead of opting for a bright future of an entrepreneur."
Doni Tamblyn is one funny lady. Her basic formula is simple: "Make your people part of the show."
What we're talking about on the front page.
Before blogging became all the rage, Tom was posting book reviews and Observations (essentially early blog posts) to this site. You can find the archives below.
What we're talking about
on the front page.