So I'm in the park with my just-turned-three-year-old daughter when she asks:
Monday, February 3, 2014
Accepted wisdom holds that the less competition a business faces, the more it thrives. This concept is at the core of Blue Ocean Strategy, the 2005 best seller by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, which advocates launching in uncontested markets in order to avoid the pain of going head-to-head with rivals in the “red ocean.”
But new research shows that exposure to competition in the early stages of a firm’s life increases its long-term survival prospects.
We studied British tax data covering nearly 2 million companies launched in the UK from 1995 to 2005, looking at the competitive environment the companies faced in their first few years and at how long they remained in business. We found that companies launched in crowded markets had higher odds than others of failing in the first year—but if a company survived during this early period, it had a much greater chance of making it to the three-year mark. A firm’s early exposure to competition appears to have an immunizing effect, in much the same way that a person’s exposure to illness can create antibodies that provide long-term protection.
What Doesn’t Kill You...
How does competition help young firms thrive? A challenging environment causes start-ups to be tightly focused on satisfying customer needs along with lowering and containing costs. Consider Southwest Airlines, which launched in the crowded airline industry in 1967. Early competition forced it to create an efficiency-based, low-cost culture, one that prioritized quick turnarounds at the gate (to maximize the use of each plane) and turned its no-frills approach (such as the lack of assigned seats) into a marketing strategy.
Managers who understand the benefits of early competition can work to create conditions that will heighten its effect. Some of the 400 companies in the Virgin Group, the travel and entertainment conglomerate owned by Richard Branson, face limited direct competition. So Virgin’s managers create internal competition by measuring teams within a company against one another and by measuring each company’s performance against that of others. Venture capitalists can foster a similar dynamic by taking care not to overfund a new business, since having too much cash on hand can make it difficult to build a low-cost culture. This is one reason why Sequoia Capital, the Silicon Valley fund, has a policy against funding companies started by children of superrich families, whose deep pockets may make it hard to develop frugal managerial instincts.
Of course, early competition has a downside: Some new businesses fail before they have time to build up the immunity we describe. Still, smart managers of young businesses will bear in mind the advantages of exposure to safe levels of external competition or to a competitive environment that’s been generated inside the organization. Such exposure can have long-lasting positive effects on efficiency and survival.
at 1:19 PM
Monday, January 27, 2014
Excuses About Time
1. I’m too busy to do what I love.
2. I don’t have time to discover what I’m passionate about.
3. I’ve already put a lot of time into a different path.
4. I’ll do it—someday.
5. It’s too late for me now.
Excuses About Money
6. I don’t have the money to get started.
7. I need to continue earning exactly what I earn now.
8. I can’t make any changes until I pay off my debt.
9. I need a bigger safety net before I take a risk.
10. What if I can’t make any money at it?
Excuses About Knowledge
11. I don’t know where to start.
12. I don’t know enough to start.
13. I’m not smart enough to succeed.
14. I don’t know if I can make it.
15. I’m not an expert.
Excuses About Other People
16. My friends and family don’t think I can do this.
17. My friends and family don’t think I should do this.
18. I need to focus on the people who need me.
19. I don’t have anyone to do this with.
20. It’s all about who you know—and I don’t know the right people.
Excuses About Probability
21. Things likely wouldn’t pan out.
22. Many people have tried to do this and failed.
23. I’ll probably be scared and uncomfortable if I try.
24. I’m not sure if this is the “right” decision.
25. There aren’t any guarantees.
at 11:44 AM
Friday, January 24, 2014
Cooperation is a tough dynamic to foster. You must pay careful attention to all the elements of effective teamwork, adjusting your approach as necessary to accommodate the personalities of the team members. But with thoughtful planning and organization, as well as the right kinds of motivation, you can make any team more effective.
Each team member must know what her teammates are doing, especially if the project is complex. Open lines of communication -- among peers and also with the supervisor -- allows the entire team to respond quickly to unforeseen events. For example, suppose a personal emergency causes one team member to miss an upcoming deadline. Rapid communication among the other members allows them to quickly pick up the slack.
Effective Interpersonal Relations
Even simple projects require effective interpersonal relations. For example, a team leader must be an effective manager, offering guidance and encouragement to under-performing team members and keeping tabs on everyone’s progress. The team members also must work together well, not competing for credit, but rather focusing on how to help, or at least not impede, their teammates. Also, team members must maintain functional relationships with the team leader, for example, by being open to criticism and following directions well.
If a team leader doesn't delegate tasks well, the team can't capitalize on the primary advantage of teamwork: differentiated skills. Abilities and experience vary among team members, so the project’s assignments should be based on who can best perform each task. The overall effect of smart task delegation is efficiency. If everyone does what he is best at, the team functions at its highest possible level.
Another key element of effective team management is setting clear and reasonable short- and long-term goals. For example, a team leader might break the main goal of a project into a chronological series of steps. Then she might group the steps into various stages, assigning a deadline for the end of each stage. The team then can be confident that steady progress toward its short-term goal means the long-term goal is closer, as well.
Motivation comes in many varieties. Not getting yelled at by your boss, for example, is a form of motivation -- but not a very effective one. The best kinds of motivation enhance job satisfaction and a sense of personal accomplishment. For example, motivating a team might involve offering individual team members rewards for work well done, as well as offering group awards for beating deadlines. The individual rewards motivate by ensuring hard-working team members get due credit, and group awards motivate by ensuring no one feels left out.
at 5:31 AM
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Most of the time, creativity is a hard fire to get started. Then there are the times when it’s like trying to light a wet match; when getting started or getting unstuck on a project is just next to impossible. You’ve sat down, you know what needs to get done, but your mind is just blank or filled with useless ideas. We’ve all been there.Struggling to be inspired or having good ideas is just part of the creative professional’s job. In fact, one might argue that our greatest ideas come from moments when we’ve had to fight for them the hardest. After all, being a creative means that you’re committed to coming up with great, purposeful ideas whether you deal with graphics, illustrations, or photography, or art direction, or any creative field. That’s just part of the job of any self-respecting creative.
That’s why it’s doubly frustrating when we’re creatively blocked or when we get stuck on a project and we have no solutions that we’re happy with. Ironically, that’s when most of us need great ideas the most.
The following is just a collection of thoughts and suggestions that I’ve come up with in my own struggles with lighting my creative spark.
Start With ‘You’What I realized as I struggled with my creative blocks is that they are usually caused by a lack of focus. Sometimes, I’ll get pulled in so many directions (professionally, socially, personally, etc.) and I’ll lose focus on every single aspect of my life. And I don’t think I have to tell anyone that when you spread yourself too thin, when forget to take care of yourself, everything else around you suffers.
Therefore, whenever I get stuck, I always start with me. What do I like? What makes me happy?
I allow myself to revisit the things that I like, personally. I shut out everything else even for just a few minutes.
For instance, I love movies. There’s something about movies that I just love as a creative. Movies have photography, narrative, and music, all rolled up in 90-120 minute visual odysseys of human expression. What more, can one ask for? Watching movies, or at the very least reading about movies, gets my imagination started.
The key is to find something you love enough that you start thinking about possibilities instead of impossibilities. With movies, I always think about telling my own stories or writing my own movie or shooting photos in the same style. It gets me thinking about possibilities about the stuff I like. Even if it’s unrelated to the project I’m working on, I have at least gotten myself out of a pattern of thinking about what I can’t do and instead it has gotten me thinking of the stuff I can do.
Now, I’m not going to write a movie in or shoot my own film in between my projects but just allowing myself to think about the possibilities of something else reminds me that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
When Things Get Tough, The Creative Gets Even More CreativeSometimes, the best place to look for inspiration is a place you’d never think to look. Actually, sometimes it could be the place you’ve always avoided. It might be because you always thought it was too hard or that you might not succeed when you try it. However, now that you’re already at a creative low isn’t that the best time to try it? What have you got to lose?
For instance, I was always a little curious about screen printing graphic t-shirts but thought it was something that I couldn’t possibly do properly since I’ve never thought of myself as particularly “crafty.” That’s why I avoided it. Then one day, during a particularly stagnant point in my life, I decided to do some research on how to do it. I watched videos, read all the information I could find on screen printing, talked to some people with experience, researched local supply merchants and costs, and I just decided to start. At the very least, I’d end up with a working knowledge of how to screen-print and at the very most, I’d end up with my own t-shirt company.
Obviously, my first t-shirt wasn’t the greatest thing on earth. In fact, it was a disaster. However, doing all that research on a new medium, designing the graphic, and exerting myself in a creative manner did lead me to the conclusion that designing was something I wanted to do and something that I should appreciate. The fact that I get to do something creative at all was enough to get me inspired.
Don’t PushI don’t know about you, but just like a mule, the more I push and pull on the reigns of my creativity, the more frustrating it becomes to get it going. You can’t trick yourself into getting motivated or inspired; it just happens. However, you can refocus your efforts on something else until you remember what it feels like to have new ideas again.
The more you push your creativity in a direction it doesn’t want to go the more failures you’ll face. It’s because creating something takes a little faith. You have to believe in what you’re working on in order for it be worthy of existing. If you don’t believe in your work, your clients or your audience won’t believe in it either. You can’t beat your work into submission. It is either good or it is bad. You’ll know either way.
LaughMake something funny. Read something funny. Do something silly. Just make an effort to stop taking things so seriously.
I won’t say anything about laughter and it’s relation to medicine because that’ just unoriginal. I will, however, say that being silly often helps me detach from all other distractions and it relieves me of the pressure I feel when I stare at a blank page or a blank canvas.
I’ve always thought that creative work was supposed to be fun or at least free from all the seriousness and direness often associated with other jobs like being a neurosurgeon or a professional arm wrestler. However, sometimes, with deadlines looming and pressure building, it’s easy for me to forget the fact that creative work is first and foremost about creativity. It’s about taking your ideas and daring to make something out of them and achieving results. If you take yourself too seriously, you’ll always second-guess yourself and that’s never good for getting things done. Besides, if you’re seriously creative, other people will take your work seriously and that’s what matters.
If All Else Fails…Walk away. Just get up even for just a little bit and just forget about it. Do something completely unrelated. Gain a new perspective. The key is to experience something else besides creative frustration.
Personally, I try to go for a workout or a jog. Anything where I can exert myself in other ways that is not mental in nature is always a good choice. I don’t read, I don’t watch TV, I don’t doodle, or write. The thinking is, if I have a fight with my body, my mind doesn’t have to work so hard on my creative block. Usually, when I get back to the drawing board, I’m at least refreshed enough to give my projects another try even if I’m not necessarily “inspired.” At least I haven’t given up and I live to try another day.
What are some of the ways you get inspired?
at 5:26 AM
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Competition by its very nature is barbaric. You survive and advance by beating others.
As an ex-Wall Streeter, a passionate endurance racer -- running 300 consecutive miles as one painful example -- and a kid from Queens, I know firsthand the pain and glory of winning and losing. Competition is cruel and America needs a whole lot more of it.
Today, everyone gets a trophy. Wristbands have replaced stopwatches as the new performance measure. Everyone wins. The self esteem before score mantra has built a handholding fantasy culture that is leaving our children woefully unprepared for the ups and downs of life. As Bill Gates so poignantly has said: "Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not."
Competition matters profoundly. Why? Life is a competition at every turn and many times the rules of engagement are not fair. Measuring performance matters. Without it we are a nation of underachievers. It is time our country and our kids to get back to winning and losing on the playing fields and failing and honor-rolling in the classroom. Our fun run approach to life is weaning future generations off of guts, fortitude, discipline, risk taking, confidence and other critically important ingredients for achievement. No wonder the United States ranks 25th and 17th out of 34 countries in math and science.
In 2004 I co-founded the Death Race. It's just what you would expect. Participants sign a three-word waiver: I may die. While this race is not for everyone, there is something about the Death Race that has mass appeal -- our primal desire to win, however you define that. This, too, is a founding principle of the Reebok Spartan Race. In just three years Spartan Race has grown 1500 to 650,000 participants in more than 60 races around the world. Like it or not, we are hard-wired for competition and all its toughness.
Spartan Race tracks winners, times and placements not only as a way for people to measure themselves against others, but ultimately to determine their personal best. A Spartan wants to know how they stack up against previous attempts so they can improve. Spartans crave something more and are taking the steps to find it. It is our duty to provide Spartans with clear measurements of personal success, or failure, to illustrate for them what they have accomplished.
Some say competition is toxic. They are not wrong. Life is toxic. Others will say it is lame to time race participants and track who wins and loses. They are definitely wrong. If you're content with just showing up, then be prepared to have a long line in front of you in almost every aspect of your life.
What many people fail to realize is that like Spartans, like all of us, children instinctively want to win. Competition is ingrained in the human mind and spirit as part of natural selection. We crave it. The balance is how to take that instinctive desire to compete and fuel it while also teaching how to recover from failure. It's impossible to do that when everyone gets a medal. Pushing the limits and testing yourself make that very possible. The sooner kids know that winning matters, the better. The winner gets into school. The winner gets the corner office. The winner gets the mate and that house on the water.
We need to teach that too. We need to let our kids fail more. Life is not a sporting event with perfect rules and regulations and without losers. The best and smartest don't always win. Sometimes breaking the rules and not playing fairly are rewarded with victory. Will your kids be ready for that? Mine will.
at 5:43 AM
Thursday, January 9, 2014
Your Personal Vision Statement.
In business, good leadership means good vision: a successful business must have a clear vision of its aims and purpose. And, like a business, we, too, should have a “vision statement” in order to lead and manage our lives effectively.
Your Personal Vision Statement is a concise expression of your philosophy, beliefs, and vision of what you want your life to be about. A clear vision statement says directly – and helps you focus on – what you want to be and do.
In this exercise, you’ll take the first steps toward writing your personal mission statement. You won’t have to write a finished essay; all you need to do for now is jot down some ideas, and make a list of what you’d like to do and who you’d like to be.
Before you begin writing, take some time just to think about it. Ask yourself: What contributions would I like to make? How would I like to be remembered? What effect would I like to have on people? What do I want my life to “add up to?” Go slowly; these questions are important to you.
There are no “wrong” statements, so don’t get hung up or too self-critical here; let this just be your own personal vision of how you’d like your world to look. You’ll get a chance to refine your vision statement after you’ve done all the other exercises. In fact, this step is really a preparation for creating your vision statement later.
To help you get started, I have provided a few examples. After reading them, let your imagination run free and think about what your fondest desires and deepest hopes would look like if they became real in your life.
What would you like to be? : Examples- Gourmet chef; Civic leader; Loving father/mother; Musician; Computer wizard; Someone others rely on; A person of my word; Well-liked; Someone who organizes volunteering events; Trustworthy
What would you like to do?- Examples- Climb mountains; Run a marathon; Write a best-selling book; Retire by age 50; See my grandchildren graduate college; Become a minister; Serve the poor; Learn topaint; Learn a foreign language; Live in a foreign country; Pay off my mortgage; Run for public office; Own my own company.
After you’ve made some notes, look over the lists you’ve compiled. These are the things that are important to you now.
Take your notes and start shaping your vision statement.
at 5:28 AM