Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stupid is as stupid does, in business and in life.

Sometimes dreamers try to become entrepreneurs. They fail and they do it again. We call these people "serial entrepreneurs", and hail them as heroes. I believe there is a point where, as Forrest Gump said, "Stupid is as stupid does".

Every day I ask myself two questions:  "how do I make money at that", and "why am I doing this?" Here's why:

1.My life is invested in whatever decisions I make, as are the lives of my family so I need to be profitable and responsible.
2.I need to be able to live with myself and do work that has value and meaning to others.

There is a lot of buzz these days about being an entrepreneur, so much so that it has become part of mainstream / reality media programming. Admittedly, I record Dragon's Den weekly. I watch and wince every time I see someone who has over-invested in a badly formed idea.  I also cheer when a good idea that is well formed, researched and presented gets their support. I study the pitcher's facial reactions and body language and make a mental note to never do that should I find myself in the hot seat and about to be rejected. Yes I am a Dragon junkie.

When we think of entrepreneurs, we think of people who are self-starters, resilient, relentless and fearless. I would add intelligent, objective and informed to the mix.

To be a self starter should be a no-brainer, whether you work for the post office or you are starting a business. Self starting is the act of getting out to bed, getting dressed and facing the world. If you are not able to get out of bed in the morning, get dressed and look presentable, forget about losing your life's savings on starting a business.

Being resilient is another attribute that must be in every living person's toolkit in work and life. Resilience helps us roll with the punches and deal with successes and failures. Resilient people have a high bounce factor.  If you are in business, or worse yet, introducing something that other people may not understand or know they want, the likelihood of rejection is very high. If you are not a get-your-butt-off-the-floor kind of person, hang onto your cushy job in the biggest company possible so it will take some time to find you.

Being relentless with a bad idea is just bad. No amount of relentlessness can save you if your dream is doomed to fail because you have not thought it through, right down to the dollars and sense.

Finally it does take a certain degree of fearlessness and confidence to walk against the traffic. I don't believe well informed people are fearless. I believe they are competent, confident and knowledgeable. They understand the sacrifices of money, security, personal time and the good things in life that money can buy.  They have a parachute or a cushion at the ready.

In my experience, if you haven't proven the idea on paper, and been terrified at the prospect of failure as a result of what you have learned about the market, the competitors, customers and the costs involved, you haven't done your job. It is safe to fail in a business plan, but not so safe in the real world. Finally, separate love from money. Loving an idea or a concept can create blinders. Love is not enough to make money.  The market has to support the idea. So prove it on paper before you give up your day job or sacrifice your life investments.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The new mentors talk about change.

To do good things so that good things happen.  To be a better person.  To have an impact on the world. To leave a friendlier footprint for the future.  To forge a future where there is possibility, inspiration and invention. These are words that song writers sing, that poets dream and make the kind hearted weep. These the are words of a new generation of leaders who are at the gates of their time, ready to forge a path not yet broken. 

This generation of singers, songwriters, students, poets and artists are teaching us a new language of responsibility and expressing it with remarkable fluency.  They are the sons and daughters whose parents coveted the board table and supported creators of profitablity.  Many of them have experienced the benefits of economic freedom and prosperity.  They have the confidence to dream and envision, they are compassionate, and they are not afraid of the edge of the ledge.  

Somewhere along this journey of one-size-fits-all educational philosophies, latchkey kids, corporate efficiency initiatives and working parents, a value shift has occurred in the undercurrent of this generation. But the value shift is rising as they prepare to take their place in the world.  These visionaries are not schooled in board room practice, but they understand the elements of business - strategy, risk management  and communication - at the core. 

 Their connection to the environment allows them to see the impact on the environment when we abuse our resources.  Their compassion allows them to recognize the plight of the forgotten and the un-free if we do not change. They fearlessly act, calling out to the mainstream and challenging us to rethink a better future. 

In our little province under the sun, I recently met the young woman who started Fin Free Regina. She is a wildly creative person who has the depth to care, and the courage to dive in and help the ocean from dry land.

A fashion show - Glide: A runway event four our oceans  - will be held in Regina on February 23. Eco - fashion designers from  Seed Sustainable Style and Regina born, Vancouver based designer, Sara Armstrong will be represented. Proceeds will be put toward Shark Fin, an organization that is speaking out against shark finning, a process whereby the fin is harvested on site and the rest of the fish is thrown back into the sea to die. 

Photo taken from Shark Fin's Website
We are on the ledge of a collective value quake that shakes us to the core of how we define ourselves and the future.This inspires me to think about this ledge of our own making and choices that need to be made with the rest of time. The challenge is how to help make this quest for sustainability sustainable and to determine how to make it mainstream so that it can become the way we will be.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What are you doing 125 years from now?

What are you doing 125 years from now?  Or 20 years from now? 20 minutes? Do you know? Can you hum a few bars?  

On May 8, 1886, Dr. John Pemberton carried a jug of Coca-Cola® syrup to Jacobs’ Pharmacy in downtown Atlanta, where it was mixed with carbonated water and sold for five cents a glass.  According to their website, Coca-Cola has evolved from one product -- Coca-Cola -- to more than 500 brands in 2011. The company has grown from selling a modest 9 drinks a day in 1886 to 1.7 billion a day. 

The company has expanded from one city in one country to availability in more than 200 countries around the world.  

If you wonder about the power of planning, strategy and communications, read on and be inspired to begin. 

Advertising for Coca-Cola, always an important and exciting part of its business, really came into its own in the 1970s, and reflected a brand connected with fun, friends and good times.

 The international appeal of Coca-Cola was embodied by a 1971 commercial, where a group of young people from all over the world gathered on a hilltop in Italy to sing "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke."  

Listen to the song and remember the first time you heard it.  Now read their 2020 plan, and then think about the power of a great plan written to clarify and inspire, and a very successful marketing and branding strategy to teach the world their song.     

2020 Plan:


  • To refresh the world...
  • To inspire moments of optimism and happiness...
  • To create value and make a difference.

  • People: Be a great place to work where people are inspired to be the best they can be.
  • Portfolio: Bring to the world a portfolio of quality beverage brands that anticipate and satisfy people's desires and needs.
  • Partners: Nurture a winning network of customers and suppliers, together we create mutual, enduring value.
  • Planet: Be a responsible citizen that makes a difference by helping build and support sustainable communities.
  • Profit: Maximize long-term return to shareowners while being mindful of our overall responsibilities.
  • Productivity: Be a highly effective, lean and fast-moving organization
  • Leadership: The courage to shape a better future
  • Collaboration: Leverage collective genius
  • Integrity: Be real
  • Accountability: If it is to be, it's up to me
  • Passion: Committed in heart and mind
  • Diversity: As inclusive as our brands
  • Quality: What we do, we do well

Focus on the Market 
  • Focus on needs of our consumers, customers and franchise partners
  • Get out into the market and listen, observe and learn
  • Possess a world view
  • Focus on execution in the marketplace every day
  • Be insatiably curious
Work Smart
  • Act with urgency
  • Remain responsive to change
  • Have the courage to change course when needed
  • Remain constructively discontent
  • Work efficiently
Act Like Owners
  • Be accountable for our actions and inactions
  • Steward system assets and focus on building value
  • Reward our people for taking risks and finding better ways to solve problems
  • Learn from our outcomes -- what worked and what didn’t
Be the Brand
  • Inspire creativity, passion, optimism and fun

Now ask yourself, wouldn't you like to be the CEO of this company with a legacy of success and song?


How to go from geek to rich and cool

The word, entrepreneur is a very sexy word these days. We love the swashbuckling stories of start ups and burnouts. We read about how entrepreneurs and business owners cut the apron strings and took the plunge into the deep to survive by their wits, charm and intellect and how it feels to jump . . . and land. 

We are amazed by those who possess the ability to envision something and make it happen. We love to read about people like the now deceased Steve Jobs who shot the apple out of the sky, or Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who went from geek to rich and cool. 

Whether it's iPhones, social networks or the desire to produce a new widget, it takes 2 things to bring an idea to life: words and money.  Words  and money are the key ingredients in a business plan. 

So, here you are. An entrepreneur with an idea and a desire to  --------- (fill in the blank).  You may be a company of smaller proportions than your idea, doing everything from accounting to communicating and delivering.  You need a plan that can help you attract customers and markets, money, and the support of the community or suppliers.

It`s 3 AM and you are sitting in front of your computer, fingers poised.  Your plan template is at the ready.

It wants to know about your vision. So you might google great visions on the Internet and find examples that promise to take the company to the moon, or to find a cure for cancer. You will find pages and pages about how `craft` a vision.

So now I have to be a wordsmith too, you say to yourself.  You write something to appease the template just like you did when you were in high school hoping to win marks for partially getting the answer right.

Next comes mission. You start to play word games at this point. `Your mission, should you chose to accept it . . .`. Template closes and you vow to come back to it another day.

Part of the problem is language as it comes out of old military strategy philosophy and is heavily coded. The other barrier is that you are in your own way.

Here are some things to help you break the code and hopefully the frustration.

Photo credits: Riley Stewart, Sara Armstrong
1. Get out of your own head and get help: The thing that text books and templates do not tell you is that you have to get out of your own head, and your own way in order to plan the way ahead.  You need  a business planner, someone who can listen to everything that you are thinking and help you distill the key message that describes exactly what you are envisioning so that others will see it too.

2. Describe the big idea:  Instead of `vision`, think of it as a big idea and why this is important. Describe the need in the marketplace, and who specifically will benefit from this and how it will make a difference in their lives. Write down in your own words and forget the template. Some of the best ideas are written on napkins and toilet paper. Speak from the heart and be impassioned about your vision because that's what makes a vision compelling.

3. Describe what you do:  Instead of mission, think of it as the things that you will deliver to your customers.


4. Think about ordering pizza:  Understanding customer expectations leads to product and service design and delivery.  In the pizza business, first customers expected cheese only, and everything else was an add on. Then competitors starting adding more to the pie, raising the bar, and the costs for their competitors. Then someone invented the little table that sits in the centre of the pizza so the box lid does not touch the top of the pizza, and again customer expectations were raised, as were costs. In your business, think about the base expectation of customers, what it will cost you to deliver, and how you can rise above your competitors to attract customers to you.

5. Get real about capacity:  Consider where are you now, and what you have to do in order to be successful. Do you have the skills and talent to make it happen. Do you have the equipment to make it happen. Do you have the resources to get from here to there.

Photo credits: Lynn Armstrong

6. Look ahead with your eyes wide open:  Seeing the opportunity and the downfalls helps you to move ahead with your eyes wide open.  Think about what you need to do to address these possibilities and potential risks.

7.  Map it out:  Determine what you need to do and how much money will that take. I like action plans and supporting budgets.  For example, if you need to invest in a piece of equipment, it needs to be identified as to when and how much. You may want to invest in communications and marketing services to help you establish a brand, or get your message across to your customers, so you will need to know what the cost will be.  You may need supporting technology or equipment, so determine the costs and timing. The action plan allows you to see if you are planning beyond what is reasonable so that you can prioritize.  This includes supporting strategies such as a communications, marketing, and technology etc. Plan and budget for what you can do, and move the rest ahead to the next year.

8.  Sell it: They say that to move ahead quickly, move alone. But to move ahead and make a difference, move with a team. Share it with your banker, investor, your partners and your employees if you have them. Listen to objections - things that you might not have seen and tweak it if it makes sense.

9. Implement it: Do what you say you were going to do.

10.  Review it and share successes.  Plan again.