Summer Cadence and Meritocracies

Summer StartupThe summer.  That magical time when you get to lay back, sip a mojito, maybe lazily take in the beach air and reflect on all the great work you’ve done to get you to June.   Summer in business has become analogous with that mid-marathon point where you slow your pace to a slightly lumbering 9:30 mile or apply a little brake and down-shift into that particularly technical track corner before really opening it up on the straight away.

Summer for some of us is all about a mid-point of reflection and taking a breather.  Sound like your summer laid out?  If yes, congrats and please thank the 50,000 other people at your company who are helping to allow you to idle your engines for a brief sojourn.  If no, bravo sir or madame, I salute you!

Don’t get me wrong, breaks, summers, sojourns and reflection are awesome but often times these come at a price.  The price is a relative equation that has an exponential variable involved if you are a  rapidly growing company in a particularly competitive market.   For many large Fortune 100 companies the pace of business is fairly static and the cadre of personnel employed allows a brief mid-point reflection in the US to create hardly a blip across the multi-national spectrum in which these entities operate.

For companies that are smaller than these 100 giants (hint: there are a lot of them) – the summer can be a chance to refine your strategy, accelerate your execution, or get closer to prospects and customers.  I’ve enjoyed the summer immensely but have also been busy at work trying to advance our company’s (Edelberg & Associates) mission.  The summer has also reminded me of the importance of my bond with my other friends and colleagues in this business.  This bond is based on a joint expectation that no matter what we are doing or where we are at we all know that at the end of the day our place in the business is decided by our contributions, in effect a true “meritocracy“.

 

 

The Power of Presentation

The Christmas tree was gone, the wreaths were put away, and the assorted knick-knacks that make their yearly pilgrimage to my living room were back gathering dust in the attic. What to do now?

Well of course I had to set up my Christmas gift, the Apple TV. As I began opening the box I was amazed at the quality of packaging and presentation that occurs with every Apple product I purchase. Each product has a symmetry and precision to it that is both remarkable and exciting.

As I was opening and taking apart power cords and reading through instructions it made me think of how nice it is to receive a high performing product and to also receive it in a well thought out presentation. I know many times in my business activities, (I’ve been guilty as well), there is a great deal of time spent on the quality of the output but little effort spent on the packaging or overall presentation. It’s analogous to shelling out $10,000 for a beautiful, precise time instrument (i.e. Rolex) for your best friend and then putting it in a brown-paper bag with a bow on top. How many times, particularly, in the professional services industry do we work day and night on a white-paper, strategic assessment, or new version of software and then the big-day, the day of presentation arrives, and the “wrapper” for that product / service is an after thought?

With Apple, do to the quality of their presentation plus the product itself I’ve developed a dual affinity. This dual affinity is centered in confidence that the product will work as specified but also in the excitement of how I will receive and “discover” that product. This discovery process is putting your best foot forward and is the opportunity to WOW them.

In business, most any company or individual service provider could take notes from Apple regarding how to expertly present a product. What are your thoughts? Do you have experience with good and or bad packaging and the impact on your overall experience?

Lessons in Entrepreneurship via the Lemonade Stand

This past weekend I got the awesome pleasure of working for less than minimum wage in the hot Georgia sun!  What you say?  I got to be a  barista of a different order, instead of being a fine purveyor of wonderfully roasted coffee beans and scrumptious delights, I was pushing a fine yellow powder kissed with just the right amount of water and with a tinge of sweetness.  Really confused? I hope not. Simply put, I had the awesome pleasure to help my daughter in her very own lemonade stand.

The “big event” had been some weeks in the making and finally our big break occurred.  The neighborhood was hosting a garage sale.  What goes better with other people’s dusty junk and the Georgia heat and humidity?  If you answered Ice Cold Lemonade from a pretty, blond-headed five year old you would be right on the money.  Although my daughter probably was more focused on drinking some of the fruits of her entrepreneurial efforts I had a slightly more educational approach in mind.  I had the pleasure of reading a post some months ago on Sebastian Marshall’s blog regarding entrepreneurship and what it really means to be an entrepreneur.  Its a great article linked here:  “What Skills Do You Need to be an Entrepreneur, Only Two”.   In the article Sebastian mentioned showing his future kids the path of an entrepreneur at an early age, showing them specifically how to (1) add value to the things they touch & (2) get some share of the value they create.  This is a wonderfully simple idea and kudos to Sebastian for boiling down an idea that graduate business school professors (no offense to my special professor buddy at a great school) spend months trying to teach.

My goal in this endeavour was simple, help Mackenzie understand the concept of entrepreneurship and particularly the concept of investing and most importantly “PROFIT”.   All in all it was a tremendous success and something that I will continue to repeat in different forms and fashions with both Mackenzie and my other daughter Carrigan.  The formula for us that worked so well was pretty simple:

  1. I let Mackenzie use her “investment” envelope to buy the supplies.  She counted out the money, she knew how much she was investing & I let her decide what she wanted to purchase (with a bit of guidance).  Her total investment was $6.50 – including bottled water, ice, lemonade mix, fresh lemons, etc. (NOTE: We use the Dave Ramsey school of thought with our daughter.  Each week she gets a small allowance that she allocates (her choice) to four different envelopes (a) spend (b) save (c) invest (d) donate.)
  2. I let her carry her money, pay the cashier, etc.  (seems small but the concept of money, profit, revenue, etc. is an elusive one when your 5)
  3. We discussed our marketing, how would we get people to purchase her lemonade.  The concept of competition, marketing, sales tactics … you get the idea – some great concepts here.   This was particularly funny part of our endeavour in that Mackenzie decided one of the best tactics for drawing in customers was dancing around, smiling big and waving while shouting “Ice Cold Lemonade”.
  4. During our selling I encouraged her with some ways she could interact with her customers (selling) and attracting the crowds (marketing). This also resulted in a funny outcome.  One particular patron who was perusing earlier said “dusty junk” was not in the mood for lemonade.  However, after four very convincing sales pitches from the 5 year old she folded like proverbial cheap suit.
  5. I encouraged her to manage her money and the transactions. Giving people change, managing the supplies, making more product… it was her business and I helped her keep track of the moving pieces.
  6. As we wrapped up the day’s activities we had a lengthy sit-down where she counted her sales for that day.  We talked a bit about the concept of sales, etc and what that means.
  7. We then payed her investment envelope back (the whopping $6.50) and were left with her profit.   We talked a bit about profit and the idea that in those 4 hours she made $15 in profit.  Normally her allowance is $5 per week.  The point she got very quickly was in a few hours of work she made “ALOT” (her words) more than what she normally does.  …This was the best realization – she labored, she applied her ingenuity and her talents (ADDED VALUE) and then got to pocket the profit (GETTING A SHARE OF THE VALUE SHE CREATED).
All in all – the lemonade stand was a total success and a really exciting time for me too.  To see entrepreneurship and these sometimes difficult concepts come into clarity for my five year old daughter was truly awesome!  For me to get back to my love of entrepreneurship and see it through the early lens of my daughter was equally awesome!

Posted via email from douglasingram’s posterous

Feel Good Movie…for you

Happy New Year everyone! So one of my new year’s resolutions was pretty simple – live life superbly. In 2009 and 2010 we have seen some pretty gruesome times. Lost jobs, lost riches, lost homes…and on and on. Pretty bleak… or maybe not. I had many of these issues affect me personally from a business standpoint in 2009 and 2010 and as best as I can figure I’m still here and fighting the good fight. When you sum it all up, I think we are pretty fortunate no matter how down the cards may be. Pretty fortunate because we live in an awesome country where we can get up each day and change whatever reality may have affected us from the last. No country rewards persistence, vision and stick-to-it-ness like the US. So in keeping with one of my resolutions I thought I might share a clip of many hundreds of people living life superbly. Caveat is this is filmed in Heathrow .. but our UK friends need love to.

So enjoy and I hope in 2011 you can live life superbly and always find time to be in the moment.

Leadership Lessons from Dancing?

I came across this video while perusing another friend’s site and had to post this. Watch the whole thing, is really fantastic and has a great message. I suspect we have all played both roles in our lives – the lone crazy guy dancing around and the suspect crowd.

Great stuff. Hope you enjoy this and the message.   A key lesson I learned out of high school and during my “Plebe” year of hell at the US Merchant Marine Academy was you first have to learn how to be a great follower and team member before you can ever attempt to be a great and inspirational leader.

The Parallels of Adventure Racing & Business

C4 Adventure Race Pic
C4 Adventure Race Pic

A few weeks ago, I participated in a small adventure race in Woodstock, Georgia (Northeast of Atlanta). It was put on by the YMCA of Cherokee County and was a bunch of fun (many thanks to YMCA and Toby Bramblett for their efforts in pulling the race together).  The format included trail running, mountain biking and kayaking with land navigation and various challenge obstacles mixed in.  The team structure included three person, two person and solo teams.  I participated as a single team (solo) and raced under the banner “Kenzie-Carr”… in tribute to my two little girls! 🙂

Leading up to the race, and especially during the race, I had much opportunity to reflect and be a bit introspective.  In fact, I had a bit too much time to reflect because the race was 18 miles and 4 hours of cold river and lake crossings coupled with copious amounts of mud, sweat and salt.

This reflection lead me to start drawing the parallels between adventure racing and life.  Attached are a listing of just a few of those parallels.  I guess it is these parallels and the mental challenge of laboring through pain, nausea, fatigue, etc. that really draws me to the support of adventure racing.

Parallels of Adventure Racing & Life:
  1. “Competition is always more intense than you believe” > No matter the race, I always have a false notion that somehow the competition is going to be lacking, non-existent, or unprepared.  However, with each race I complete, I am ever more mindful that there is always a tier of well-prepared, intense and driven competition that will not simply roll-over.   Business is very similar to this adventure race parallel.  No matter the business, or challenge, there is always a group, no matter how small, that will pose significant competition to you and is prepared to sweat, sacrifice and bleed on equal levels to your own. Believing that there is no competition or the competition is going to roll-over is a fallacy.
  2. “Don’t always follow the crowd…or at least be conscious that you’re doing it” > During the race I got into a segment of the course where the terrain was unfamiliar and my land navigation became quite lacking.  It was at this time that I started checking for another competitor that was making better progress than I.  I found an experienced team that clearly had a great level of background in this tedious portion of the course.   In effect, I began following the crowd.  In business, we often follow the crowd.  Call it “group think” or a similar derivative but the end-effect is the same, your in the shadow of some one else.  More importantly, when your following some one else, you are intrinsically linked to their fate.  In my case, the group I followed helped me find a key checkpoint that might have otherwise been elusive.  In business & life, we follow the crowd at times.  The key is to be conscious when you are doing it and recognize that eventually you have to step out of the collective shadow and into your own light.
  3. “Stuff happens..deal with it and frame it correctly” > We all know it happens, the real question is how will you deal with it.  In my adventure race all was going wonderfully until the final stage, kayaking.  The day had been filled with some very fast trail running and equally fast mountain biking.  Each of these stages included lots of river passes and mud bogs which resulted in some very frozen feet.  When I reached the transition area for the final leg I looked forward to a change of shoes and a nice dry pair of socks.  Being fully outfitted with dry wear, I grabbed my kayak and headed for the lake and my miles of paddling.  At the lake’s edge I was confronted with the scenario to walk in the lake and get my newly acquired dry feet apparel wet again, or try to do an awkward beach “push-off”.  The allure of dry feet was too much.  I decided the awkward, and in retrospect risky, beach “push-off” was the best bet for me.  With the grace of a sea lion,  I “pushed-off” from the beach and for a good few 3 seconds my feet were dry as the Sahara.  ….BUT… suddenly, unexpectedly, the kayak began to shake and wobble with the vigor of a stuck Sea Lion.  Suddenly, the kayak rolled & SPLASH.  In short, “stuff” had just happened to me.  I had 3 choices, (1) quit; (2) trade in my completely drenched clothes for semi-dry clothes at the transition station and burn 15 minutes; or (3) take a breath and jump in the kayak and paddle on.  I chose option #3.  Let’s face it, I was cold but had already been cold.  I chose to frame the optimistic view point which was I was nearly 70% done with the race and feeling great.  I excitedly pushed on and dried out pretty quickly.  In our daily business interactions we all know “stuff” happens.  I would argue that one of the things that separates an enduring enterprise from a short-lived one is how they view unexpected challenges and overcome them.
  4. “Try new approaches” > It’s easy to get bogged down in the application of the same methodology, or tools, that you have grown accustomed to and comfortable with.  Being able to recognize and appreciate that the “traditional” way may not be the best way is a critical aspect of success in any discipline.  For me, during the mountain biking portion I realized I had a mechanical. In essence, my bike wasn’t shifting right in the lowest of gearings.  I was forced to try a new approach.  Sometimes life and business force you to try a new approach.
  5. “Persevere – its easy to throw in the towel, but much more difficult to finish” > In life and in business, I have seen it all too often that a person or organization’s default response is to run for cover, throw in the towel or generally accept defeat.  Some people, more than others, have this as part of their standard “toolkit’ of life.  Too difficult = I’m going to do something else.  Probably one of the characteristics I like best about the adventure races I have been in is that they challenge you to dedicate, focus and persevere in order to finish.  My moment of this race was when I took an unplanned swim in Lake Allatoona on a very cold day in February (see item #3).
  6. “Challenge yourself” > Once in the race, I had the choice to just be a participant or to really try to push myself to my limits.  I think in business it is easy for organizations, teams and individuals to just participate.   They show up at the office, check some email, cup of coffee and on, and on, and on….  Businesses and team members should challenge themselves.  What is a new innovation that could springboard the company? Is there a new lead, new market opportunity or product enhancement that could be fast tracked?  Challenging yourself (or the business) is key to separating yourself from the pack and leading the charge instead of being just another passenger that is along for the ride.
  7. “Train & prepare for success” > I think the parallels here are pretty obvious.  Whatever the challenge, business or physical, you have to prepare for success through proper training and preparation. Too many times in business we enter into a competitive scenario without fully preparing ourselves or our organizations.  Members of a business organization have a propensity to believe that their competitors and their own organizations are static.  Worse yet, sometimes large organizations rely on their own perceived brand without realizing they need to always be “in training”.
  8. “Got to be in it to win it” > The last one is not only a cliche but also obvious.  However, this may be one of the most important parallels of all.  Too many times in business, as in life, we choose not to participate because the challenge is perceived as too taxing.  There are a thousand other cliche phrases I could use here.  Simply put, in life and business, a large part of your success is deciding to show up.
C4AR kayaking
C4AR kayaking

As for me, I was glad I showed up, challenged myself and got to go through the many emotions and physical challenges that make adventure racing such an awesome high!  I have several others races on the calendar in 2010 and look forward to continuing to get to know myself, my limits and having the opportunity to frame life differently and be truly appreciative for all that I have.