Entrepreneurs Need Pilgrim Character and Gratitude

Thanksgiving is upon us. As a small business owner, think about the traits that make you successful…can you trace them back to the spirit of the Pilgrims whom we commemorate with gluttony once per year? What was it that set these pioneers apart and made them successful? Alan Hall, a columnist for Forbes, wrote a blog post about 9 behaviors our forefathers embodied that he thinks are significant to remember:

  1. Take Risks: The Pilgrims took a huge risk: they left their homes, got on a ship with few belongings, and set sail for the New World with little idea as to what would happen to them when they got there – if they got there at all.  While we might never take a chance as big as that one, every new business comes with significant risk.  Did you quit a full-time job?Risk. Bootstrap your business with credit cards maxed to the limit? Risk. Hire family members to cut costs? Huge risk. Bet the bank on a previous successful entrepreneur with potential in hopes of leveraging his/her expertise, no matter the costs? More risk. 
  2. Sacrifice: was a key characteristic of the early Pilgrims–homes, relationships with extended family members, money they would have earned in their jobs back home, or in worst cases, their own lives or those of their children. They believed in what they were doing and prayed that they’d be successful. But as William Bradford, the second governor of Plymouth Colony, once said: “All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”
  3. Set Goals: someone had to make plans and set goals for success. Writing down the goals – and referring to them often – is critical to reaching them. 
  4. Be Flexible: As the Pilgrims quickly learned, though, they had to be flexible.  Their intended destination was (the) Hudson River. As we all know, rough seas and storms moved them far off course near the shores of Cape Cod… If you’re steadfast in your goals (yet flexible in how you reach them), you can overcome most any challenge.
  5. Be Persistent: Those that made it through the first winter were diligent..strong..(and) didn’t give up..You might feel like your struggling business can’t survive another day, but unless there’s really no hope, come back tomorrow and try again. 
  6. Work Hard:  Unfortunately, after the leaders organized a collective farm, without free enterprise, many of the men were unmotivated to work. The crops suffered.. (but) the leaders decided that the land could be divided and each family grow its own corn..Within two years they had a surplus and began trading it with Native Americans and other small settlements for furs to export to England in exchange for supplies. Corn became currency as entire families worked on their own patch of soil.. (E)ntrepreneurs!
  7. Form Partnerships: The Pilgrims learned to partner with each other and with the Native Americans to survive.. (P)artner up with an expert.
  8. Be Teachable: If the Pilgrims hadn’t been willing and humble enough to accept help from the natives, they would never have learned to live off the new land.  As entrepreneurs, we need to be willing to ask for help and be teachable enough to learn and apply the new direction. 
  9. Be Thankful:  After arriving at Plymouth Rock, Governor Bradford wrote in his journal, “Being thus arrived at a good harbor, and brought safely to land, they fell on their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof.”

What a great list! Take the time between now and Monday to thank those who have made your choice of entrepreneurship possible. Be reminded of these character traits of the Pilgrims and use them to develop into the entrepreneur you’d like to become.



Innovating Words Make Healthy Corporate Hearts


Cheryl Heller, Board Chair of PopTech, a laboratory for disruptive innovation focused on technology and social change, says that,

The wealth of jargon used to describe intrapreneurship (itself a bit of jargon), innovation and corporate social responsibility is more exhausting than enriching, and as their importance becomes more evident, the labels and complexities grow. What’s the difference between corporate social responsibility, cause branding, cause marketing, and a triple (or sometimes lately double, as if we can just decide to leave the environment out of it) bottom line? Should companies now stop all their work on sustainability in order to focus on resilience? Has all independent thinking, or even perhaps all generative thinking inside big organizations become intrapreneurship?  What’s the difference between social innovation and innovation? What’s the relationship between design thinking and innovation? What’s the difference between disruptive innovation and incremental innovation? Is some innovation more innovative than others and is more innovation always better? And does anybody else see this as a silly and dangerously circuitous trap of our own devising?

The significance of the debate about the proper terminology is to find a means to communicate disruptive breakthrough ideas as a valuable corporate asset–without simultaneously creating anarchy! Words cited in Heller’s comment (above) evoke values and desired activities that can help an organization create–or sustain competitive advantage.  Yet, if innovation is perceived as an altogether separate category than “ordinary business,”  then it can be argued that no one will want to do what is methodical if they can be celebrated and rewarded for dreaming over practical execution of existing initiatives. Most organizations and their leaders would prefer that employees see the process of introducing initiatives as a normal part of their positions, rather than stand alone activities that become the topic du jour and are jettisoned when times get tough in favor of “that’s the way we’ve always done it here. (TTWWADIH)” 

TTWWADIH can be a pervasive attitude that implies that we can add to what exists, but should not be expected to improve what exists. In this scenario, positions and/or departments are launched rather than tackling sticky, often political issues. Star studded teams are put together many times to represent cutting edge thinking, only to exempt the teams from performance, which ultimately leads to demotivated executive management.

Yesterday, we looked at Scott Anthony’s HBR article about Medtronic, a company well known for innovation, and their efforts to become even more adept at broad scale innovation. The Healthy Heart For All product has been launched towards the rural Indian population target market. Medtronic is large, smart, connected, positioned and incentivized enough to out-hustle upstart competitors. Though they brought in a key intrapreneur, the company was effective in changing the corporate cultural stance on what it takes to be competitive.

No one wants an unmotivated workforce. Nor do we want idealists who are not well grounded. The concept to “innovate properly” is a core value of a former employer of mine who understood that creativity and innate personal responsibility for the benefit of others must work in concert. By including this core value in position descriptions, the leadership team recognized the need to challenge employees to see advanced initiatives as the responsibility of every employee–not an isolated activity. Furthermore, when innovation becomes the expectation, we don’t have to “stop the presses” to encourage innovative thinking and actions.

Find a way to articulate your expectations for intrapreneurship (or innovation if you prefer) (or corporate social responsibility if you are a part of a grandiose cause) inside your environment. Ask people to define what they mean when using these terms. Expect all employees to take initiative!




Intrepid Intrapreneurship, 2012 Style

Have you heard about the League of Intrapreneurs competition going on right now? Ashoka and Accenture are serious about helping companies “build better business from the inside out.”  Early applications were due by October 24; final nominations and entries by January 15, 2013. The top 15 entrants from the competition will form the inaugural class of the League of Intrapreneurs, becoming part of an elite global network of changemakers. These entrants will also receive media and press recognition and will be featured in the publication of a globally distributed intrapreneur toolkit. Of this league, the top four winners will be profiled on Fast Company’s blog, Co.EXIST, and will receive consulting support from Accenture Development Partnerships to further their work.

What is Intrapreneurship? The Wikipedia definition that is quoted on the home page of the Intrapreneurship Conference being held in Paris next month says it is “the act of behaving like an entrepreneur in a bigger organization.”  Their promotional pitch continues: 

Intrapreneurship is a rising concept that tries to gather the natural objective of any organisation in the 21st century to be more innovative with the often non-tapped energy dug into any would-be entrepreneurs. Intrapreneurship create(s) a framework where the latter is granted some freedom to try out a project of his/her own, the benefit being shared with the employer in the case of a successful experimentation.

The… conference, on December 13th, aims to cover this growing trend in corporations’ life, which addresses both the need of companies to produce more innovations and the will of talented people to find achievement opportunities. Experts and representatives of some of the most innovatives companies will share their view on why intrapreneurship is positively impacting their organisation and how they implement it. The conference is designed for human resources managers, chief strategy and chief operating officers, as well as everyone who is interested in the new growing management trends for change.

Ernst & Young has noticed the power of the intrapreneurship trend and, based on recent survey results, offers six guidelines for creating a culture ripe for innovation within larger organizations:

  1. Set up a formal structure for intrapreneurship. Give people enough time away from their “day jobs” to work on creative projects, but provide a formal process for new product development.
  2. Ask for ideas from your employees. They have their fingers on the pulse of the marketplace. Encourage them to contribute to the innovation dialogue.
  3. Assemble and unleash a diverse workforce. It’s no secret that diverse groups come up with more innovative ideas. Tap into this multifaceted source of power.
  4. Design a career path for your intrapreneurs. For the most part, intrapreneurs are mavericks who will quit — and take their best ideas with them — if they don’t see prospects for career advancement.
  5. Explore government incentives for innovation. Ask how these can support your intrapreneurial ventures. Governments all over the world are offering new tax breaks and other incentives for research and development (R&D) — and corporations in turn are urging governments to support innovation.
  6. Prepare for the pitfalls of intrapreneurship. Not all ideas will produce successful new products. Failure is an important part of the process.

Scott Anthony, of Innosight, writing for an HBR blog post earlier this Fall, cited a story of how Medtronic fostered intrapreneurship through a culture of innovation in introducing the Healthy Heart to hospitals. He felt Medtronic had a competitive advantage: 

Medtronic had an internal “corporate catalyst” — someone who marshaled resources both inside and outside the company and built organizational support for the disruptive growth strategy. Medtronic mixed the entrepreneurial approach of a VC-backed start-up with the unique capabilities once housed in corporate labs. Its story illustrates how big companies are powerfully and uniquely suited to tackling large-scale social problems such as hunger, health care, sustainability, and education. These aren’t stand-alone corporate social responsibility efforts — they are strategic initiatives to create profitable businesses that improve the world.

In many ways, Medtronic was applying the E&Y recommended best practices without even having read them. What is your company doing to foster a culture of innovation? Tomorrow, we will tackle the language of intrapreneurship!


Traffic Schmaffic – Get Conversions

In the course of advising startups (and some existing clients) on how to gain traction with their business proposition, I ultimately have a conversation about target buyers. Notice the word “buyer” –it is a different word altogether than “shopper” and “viewer.” When we obsess on trying to get web traffic, foot traffic, and the like–but not on conversion–we have lost sight of what is ultimately most important.

If given the choice between 100 website visitors of whom 20 become buyers or 1000 of whom only 15 become buyers, most would actually choose the 1000. Their reasoning would likely be that 1000 impressions is better than 100 and that they hope that the other 985 could be targeted for future conversion or word of mouth marketing. Yet, your business would have 5 fewer sales and a significantly lower conversion rate (1.5% vs 20%). Better, we would argue, to have a high conversion rate, more revenues, enhanced cash flow, and the opportunity to build relationships with five more people.

So much effort is wasted among entrepreneurs to get traffic–and not just in an online sense–that very little is left to think through conversions. Conversions are a better predictor of long term success than impressions. Get this thought into your psyche. It can make the absolute difference between success an failure.

Matthew Toren, founder of Young Entrepreneur, offers the following 5 tips for lead nurturing:

1. Be a problem solver. You have to admit that at least part of business success has to do with the timeliness of your products or services. You must answer people’s needs. The key is settling into a business that has problems you really love to solve, with customers whose pressing needs you are very good at addressing. When you’re able to identify your niche, you don’t only go out there to earn, you have a unique passion and an offering that suits the needs of those people.

2. Get into your customers’ psyche. People buy not only because they need things, they often buy to satisfy something deeper in them. It’s often the feeling they associate with a product that they finally make the decision to buy. Everybody needs a pair of shoes, but not just any shoes can satisfy that need. This is when branding, reputation and customer service come into play. In fact, this is why there is marketing in the first place. Get into what excites and interests your target market. This is the only way you can tailor-fit your campaign to the people who would not think twice of paying for what you have to offer.

3. Where are your customers? In online marketing, determining how your market interacts with the Internet is very important. It gives you leads to “where” they are online. Online behavior can point you to what sites they frequent, the social-media networks they prefer, the news they’re more likely to read and so on. If you know where they are, you can be sure to focus on places you need to have a commanding presence. This assures you of a steady stream of traffic of ready-to-pay customers, and it prevents you from effectively barking up the wrong tree. We all know how costly and time consuming that can be.

4. Do you really know them? To really pinpoint who your target customer is, you’ll want to dig in deep… find out how they tick, if you will. The key is to learn about them, even change with them over time. So basically, this means you can’t just buy one customer list and operate off that in perpetuity. You’ll need to continuously find out about your target audience. Are they reading things you should be reading? Do they shop at stores you’ve never heard of? All of these puzzle pieces could fit together and help you identify the bigger customer picture, if you’re willing to spend time accumulating them.

5. Close in on the deal. Once you know your customers and understanding where they are and how they think, you can specifically design an online marketing campaign that appeals to those people who would love to pay for your products or services. By being a problem solver, you’re forced to know yourself and understand your brand’s strengths and weaknesses. But understanding who you want to engage with online really seals the success of your business.

Why Ignore the Obvious?

Margaret Heffernan wrote a book last year entitled Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, a look at how leaders have intentional blind spots. She queries why many people prefer ignorance over being well informed. In examining the Catholic Church, political despots, unethical corporate leaders, financial mismanagement, and the foibles of top military brass, Heffernan makes the tie between a leader’s choices and the impact on the organizations served. using psychology, researched accounts, and some intuition, she has been compared to Malcolm Gladwell and Nicholas Taleb and has received kudos from Dan Pink.

In an article published in Inc, she analyzes the General Petraeus fiasco and makes comparisons between others she covered for her book and the characters in the saga splashed across many websites, newspapers, and journals presently. Heffernan tries to get inside his head as to what he may be thinking about his new dilemma: soon to be unemployed and suddenly having destroyed a very accomplished career that others coveted until the story broke. 

Yet, was it so sudden? Hasn’t this revelation been building since the point of the first indiscretion? Digging more deeply, what was the thought process that led up to the first bad decision? Heffernan says she heard a CNN interview in which a Petraeus friend said that the general “sees this as a failure, and this is a man who has never failed at anything.” She asks the counterintuitive question–did he go wrong by never going wrong? An excerpt from her article:

If you have never failed at anything, then you haven’t been trying hard enough, aren’t very imaginative, or have had such extraordinarily good luck that you have come to believe you are invincible. And that, of course, is the problem.

“Success confers its own blindness,” Emily Brown told me. She’s a marriage counselor who has worked extensively with couples who have had the experience of infidelity.

“Successful people believe they can get away with it,” she says. “I talked once to a group of men who’d all become millionaires before the age of 40, and they’d had affairs. They don’t even see the danger! It isn’t a love of risk. They think: The wives will never know, so where’s the harm? Everything else in their lives has worked out, so they think they have some kind of magic, that their success has meant that they can have everything they want and they’re invulnerable. And they were completely blind to the harm they had done.”

Most of us make mistakes, and we should take some comfort in the fact that these usually remind us that we are fallible. If we are very lucky, we make mistakes from which we can learn and recover. Most of us have the oddly good luck not to imagine that we are infallible.

I’m a big believer in mistakes. Not just because I make lots of them–like everyone, I try very hard not to–but because every mistake contains learning. The best mistakes are the ones from which you learn the most and that you never forget. I would bet Petraeus thought that never failing was a sign of his genius. The truth is probably that he made mistakes, but he didn’t take time to learn from them. Or, hauntingly, he got away with mistakes by benefiting from everyone else’s care and attention, like a man who drinks too much but drives home safely.

No one is infallible. And those who think they are are probably going to be the most disappointed.

As you read about the former general’s mistakes, hopefully you can look at your own and have some perspective. Have you grown from them? Do others cover over your missteps — or do you have a circle close to you who will level with you at the expense of saying something that you may not want to hear in the short run?