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    The In and On of Success

     image: graynaturalhair - flickr

    As I’ve made my way through the twists and turns of entrepreneurship and the attendant processes involved with striving for success over the past couple years, I’ve noticed a subtle, but important, quirk in the journey. I would be willing to bet that everyone reading this has noticed it too. It is the difference between two very similar little words that work very well together – “in” and “on.” Everyone has heard of being “on the path to success.”  Less often heard, however, is being “in the path of success.”  The concept certainly isn’t new and, in fact, much of the self-improvement literature that sits in my library is organized around it.  But I wanted to address the in along with its more famous partner in the context of my own observations of the beautiful success combination they create – the perfect one-two punch, so to speak. 

    The on is the bedrock upon which the success infrastructure of all future actions, reactions, pivots, divots and homeruns will be built.

    When we begin to consciously shape our own destinies, we are certainly treading on the path to success, and this is exactly where all of us hope to remain, or at least get back to as quickly as possible when we veer off course.  The on is the bedrock upon which the success infrastructure of all future actions, reactions, pivots, divots and homeruns will be built. It is the steady-as-she-goes marathon nature of the entrepreneurial race we’ve all heard about.  The on is the late-night, too much Red Bull, nose-to-the-grindstone, thousandth iteration, take it from the top, blood, sweat, and tears of bootstrapping.  It is the meat of the journey. And it certainly is not the sexy cocktail party catalyst, shot from the blue, overwhelmingly awesome big break, we seek.  But the beautiful part about the on is that it always comes with the in in tow, serving as just that kind of delightful and unexpected serendipity.

    Through continued effort and practice we will all find ourselves visiting the wonderful intersection of in and on quite regularly.

    If the on is the slow rowing journey, then the in is the blast of adventure filling your sails, pushing you further and faster down your path.  If you persevere and stay true to the on, you can be sure that the in will wind up on your front porch with a camera crew and an oversized check someday.  You can’t see the in coming, but you’ll notice that it visits more frequently as you march with passionate focus toward your future.  Through continued effort and practice we will all find ourselves visiting the wonderful intersection of in and on quite regularly.

    If you haven’t yet witnessed or recognized this magical duo in your life, you soon will. And once you do, you’ll want to help others to recognize it as well.  Another favorite expression of mine sums up this concept nicely…you make your own luck.

    Is it magic? Maybe.

    Give it a try and let me know how it turns out for you.

    See you further on down the path.



    Esotericism vs. Innovation?

    image: Ryan Holst - flickr 

    I was part of a discussion of innovation strategies recently.  Aside from the usual buzz worthy placations that sound totally reasonable and make managers everywhere nod their heads in self-congratulatory approval, the conversation touched on a number of very interesting areas that get at the heart of true innovation.  Among those many exchanges that would be fun to dissect here, one of them was just screaming for further examination.

     ...having to be “broadly applicable” and “not so esoteric.”

    I’d like to focus on the point when the discussion turned to describing the general purpose of research and development initiatives (R&D).  In answer to a question I had, a certain care was taken to describe R&D as having to be “broadly applicable” and “not so esoteric.”  This interested me specifically because of the different viewpoints one could take on the comment itself.  To set the stage, those who know me and follow some of my material know that I believe we are living through a very significant period in human history.  My view on this follows the logic presented in many others’ offerings on the topic from the online archives of Fast Company and TED to luminaries in the design community (like Ian Mirlin at Zero Gravity Thinking) to the other far flung corners of the blogosphere (shout out to my new friend, Chris Jones at The Cambrian Cloud).  Actually you could spend days combing through the excellent literature on the subject via the internet, newsletters, and books. (I know because I have). So, needless to say, there is a growing legion of believers in the extremely transitory nature of our time in history.  This means that those who thrive off change will succeed, and those who don’t, simply won’t.  This is applicable from individuals all the way up to global corporations. 

    Just for fun, I thought I would look up the formal definition of the word “esoteric.”

    Here is what I found:


    adj \ˌe-sə-ˈter-ik, -ˈte-rik\

    Definition of ESOTERIC

    1. a : designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone <a body of esoteric legal doctrine — B. N. Cardozo> b : requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group <esoteric terminology>; broadly : difficult to understand <esoteric subjects>
    2. a : limited to a small circle <engaging in esoteric pursuits> b : private, confidential <an esoteric purpose>
    3. of special, rare, or unusual interest <esoteric building materials>

    In my view, the majority of that definition could easily apply to the current paradigm (or paradigm shift).  Not because what we’re talking about is some sort of secret knowledge or something beyond the comprehension of mere mortals, but because it defines the common starting point for all efforts at innovation.  Therefore, I believe it should be imperative to not only refrain from describing the esotericism of R&D efforts as a fallibility, but readily engage in activities that might well be considered such.  These are precisely the areas that will produce the “next big thing.”  Certainly, combining existing widespread technologies and processes is innovative and can deliver something similar, but increasingly that lofty goal will require a long, esoteric reach to keep up with the curve. 

    True innovation is esoteric by nature.

    Entrepreneurs and organizations must be prepared to bet big and educate themselves at the frontier of all things in the knowledge economy.  I don’t mean bet big in the sense of money spent, I mean bet big in terms of your boundary of possibilities.  Entertain those thoughts that might, at first blush, seem too esoteric to waste your time with.  True innovation is esoteric by nature.  The time we are living in is serving as something of a great equalizer when it comes to this.  The sheer number of people who finally have access to transformative knowledge, when leveraged with the rapid onset of new technologies, will bring about equally rapid and amazing changes.  This extreme unpredictability will require those who would like to participate to become fringe learners; to live the esoteric life as they seek to make their dent in the universe.

    So live change, love change, and keep up. Don’t be a pioneer on paper, be a fringe learner.  If it’s uncomfortable and a little intimidating and people are calling it “too esoteric”…that’s a sign you’re on the right track. 

    The world is poised to reward that kind of initiative like never before in history.




    Agility – It’s not just for cats and coders anymore!

    Image: rkramer62 - Flickr

    Lately I’ve been trying really hard to implement a certain set of principles into every facet of my life.  I first found them as I was combing through key concepts behind the best teams of software developers in the world.  Based on a number of previous “lightweight” approaches to software development, a new system of development or workflow was codified at a meeting in Snowbird, Utah in 2001.  You can find more information here (or ask your favorite dev guru), but in particular, my thoughts were captured by the opening points of their Agile Manifesto:

    The Agile Manifesto

    We are uncovering better ways of developing software anything by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

    Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

    Working software anything over comprehensive documentation

    Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

    Responding to change over following a plan

    That is, while there is value in the items on the right…we value the items on the left more.

    You’ll notice that I made a couple small changes. This is because after examining their reasoning, I firmly believe that those values are applicable to all aspects of following your dreams and creating a business too. I have seen too many critical business decisions rely entirely on the right side of those rules. As pointed out above, you should certainly value plans, negotiations, documentation, and finding the tools/processes to get you where you want to go, but you should be very careful when doing so. If I had to pick out a theme to define each side, I might say that it comes down to fluidity vs. rigidity.

    Bruce Lee captured this beautifully in the following philosophy:

    Flow in the living moment. — We are always in a process of becoming and NOTHING is fixed. Have no rigid system in you, and you'll be flexible to change with the ever changing. OPEN yourself and flow, my friend. Flow in the TOTAL OPENNESS OF THE LIVING MOMENT. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.”

    If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. 

    Do this, and not only will you be able to impress all the guys and gals at your next party pulling off incredible feats with your new found wisdom, but you’ll also allow yourself a much better chance of succeeding in reaching any of the goals you’ve set.

    I think if I had to pick a favorite from the manifesto's principles, it would be valuing response to change over following a plan. You might also call it knowing/learning/loving adaptability. I can’t tell you how many times the rigid adherence to a predefined plan of action, without regard to how the situation is playing out in context, has led folks I know into business trouble. You, your partners, coworkers, or managers might have the greatest business plan in the history of the world…on paper.

    But if you don’t allow yourself to lift your head above the water every now and then to survey the surroundings, then you just might find yourself adrift.

    I’m not advocating throwing the plan out the window here by any means.  You need your plan to set specific and measureable goals for you and your team - to give everyone a clear idea about where you’re going and how you’ll get there.  I only take issue when people let their business plan blind them to the many ways they might better pursue these goals.

    Now I know I already claimed a favorite, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also give a nod to valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools as an extremely close second.  This one hit very near to home for me. Not so much on the client side (though that's extremely important), but moreso as far as the internal team dynamic goes. Please, please, please...keep in mind that those many ways toward your goal will multiply rapidly as you allow your people to stretch their wings and contribute as much as possible. Keep everything transparent, accept all input, and keep the conversation going. The buck will stop somewhere (you) eventually, of course, and the call will be made about what is going to work best. But if you can empower all of your people to experiment and fail forward, then your plan, your product, your people, and your business…will be absolutely killer.

    Allow yourself to experiment with all the paths toward your ultimate goal – be flexible and reap the rewards.




    Do the Hustle.

    Image: Kodomut - Flickr

    So I just heard another story on the radio regarding some more, less than ideal, economic indicators. I have to say, I’m a little over the whole whodunit mentality with this type of thing. Americans are staring down the barrel of yet another year of “painfully slow” growth, after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression…and people still seem to need someone to tell them why that’s the case. The problem is that all the people who are supposed to have the answers, simply don’t.  I’m talking about your state politician up for reelection or whoever is going to be sitting in the White House next year. I’m talking about the expert economist or think tank representative that is giving the interview I just heard or her counterpart penning a guest editorial for Slate or HuffPo as I write this. I absolutely agree these people should have the answers. That’s what we count on them for. That’s what we pay them for. That’s why I take time to watch their talking heads. But what do we do when their answers no longer suffice?

    When all they have to offer in explanation is blame?

    Blame the Republicans. Blame the Democrats. Blame the President. Blame the Opposition. Blame Europe. Blame globalization. Blame the taxes. Blame the welfare state. Blame the 1%. Blame the 99.

    What if the problem isn’t that we can’t find where to place blame? What if we can’t find the culprits…because that is entirely the wrong mindset to have?  I believe the reason for the continued economic stagnation goes deeper than blame.  If you’re still here, I’m assuming you’ll indulge me, so here goes:

    Similar to familiar arguments about “uncertainty” keeping people and businesses on the sidelines, I would take it a step further and apply that to the entire world. We all are living through an unprecedented time in human history.  Not only are old walls and business models being shattered on a daily basis, but those in relative infancy, built to replace them, are finding themselves like so much roadside detritus in the same ditch.  The problem, the reason, why people and companies are uncertain right now is… (wait for it)…because that’s exactly how everyone else feels…everywhere. And that is completely and understandably normal.

    We shouldn’t expect to be able to keep up with the continued technological, environmental, and sociological change around us anymore than I should expect to catch every last raindrop when I’m gazing skyward in my yard with my mouth open.

    But I do know how hard it’s raining. And that’s something.

    What I’m trying to do is demonstrate the validity of this natural waiting period after the world-wide economic shocks in recent years.  When you take the long-view of where we are and where we go from here, you soon realize that you can’t see very far around the next corner, and that’s okay. But that shouldn't keep you from taking a calculated risk. Really the only deficit that matters right now is that of will and the time spent waiting for new minds to come online - the minds that are agile and adept enough to traverse this new future. This is my Reveille to the youthful minds and the “been there, done that’s”.  It’s called hustling. If you aren’t doing it, you should be. If you used to, but feel like you don’t have to anymore, think again. If you just can’t, find someone who can. Task them with finding more like themselves.

    In a world of ever increasing dynamism, you need the dreamers, the darers, the doers who can navigate the current.

    We have a slow recovery because there is a “new normal” setting in and, like everything else these days, it’s unprecedented.  Unfortunately, it’s not going to be the static status quo that we are all used to, and it’s certainly not for the faint of heart.  Manufacturing, healthcare, education, communication, and innovation itself are all in the process of being disrupted, and that isn't going to change.

    When the only thing certain is uncertainty, you can choose to hide from it or you can embrace it.  Opportunities abound…if you have your eyes open.

    Do the hustle.

    "In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists." - Eric Hoffer



    A Big Sky Gets Bigger - MTIE Day 2012 Recap


    Rob Irizarry already did a wonderful job of summing up the day’s events (and had a better seat for pictures), so I will just touch on some things that stuck out in my mind from the all-star lineup.

    The day kicked off with a video address from RightNow’s Greg Gianforte. Bottom line - it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds when you’re starting out and/or running an existing business. We will all likely find ourselves focusing, at one point or another, on some absolutely important, but non-critical, aspects of running our business.  This type of misdirection can be extremely draining on your energy as a founder – especially in our new digital age. The “always on” mentality coupled with a thousand different distractions from social media channels, your next ad campaign, your next hire, that open intern position,  etc. can, at a minimum, dilute your service/product focus, and in the worst case paralyze you. Be aware of this, because at the end of the day, as Greg noted,

    “You’re either making bullets, or selling them.”

    Period. You won’t even get a chance to make any of those other calls unless you’re developing the best damn product you can, shipping it, or lining up clients who want it. If you’ve got a great team (which everyone reading this should view as critical), DELEGATE. That’s why you surrounded yourself with them in the first place, right? If you’re flying solo for the time being, don’t get caught in the weeds. (And you better be recruiting your team)!

    Lisa Stone? Not much to add…total rockstar, explained at length in Rob’s post and the Missoulian interview. What I will say, is that she took pains to illustrate the importance of the “active social media female consumer” in virtually any business you’re planning today.  Granted, you and your product niche might not be geared at this specific market segment, but you better keep them in mind when you’re developing the business plan. Stats being kicked around would indicate that the data absolutely point to this demographic controlling the purse strings and time spent online in most households, most places…all over the world.

    The morning breakout conversation on digital influence focused heavily on the importance of “getting found on the web.” Use all the free media avenues at your disposal, along with the free analytical tools for your website and social channels to help get you there.  Because personal discovery is always more fun (and I don’t have time to delve into each service thrown out there), here are a few tools, SEO and otherwise, that the panel and audience referenced:

    Dr. Cameron Lawrence’s talk during the lunch session was absolutely invigorating.  Sure, there are a lot of people talking about the various ways we might engage the youth of today and more efficiently develop tomorrow’s global citizens, innovators, instigators, and thought leaders, but it sure is a pleasure seeing someone doing it right in your backyard. The pilot program he is forming at the University of Montana School of Business specializes in the cross-pollination of bizdev and CS disciplines, as well as others. This is fantastic – and sorely needed. I’m a UM alumnus, myself, so Cameron’s talk really resonated with me.  I can speak from my own experience as an undergrad on campus that, had a prof like Cameron come into my world during my first few semesters, it would have lit the proverbial fire under me to think even more outside the box than I like to give myself credit for.

    Keep an eye out for Dr. Lawrence's acolytes running amok, changing the world in the next few years.

    I would encourage UM administration and faculty to collaborate and give his program room to run.  The ROI on what he’s doing is unfathomable.  Get on board.

    The post-lunch session was a treat. What started out as a stellar Elke Govertsen speech on overcoming obstacles, morphed into a real-world demonstration of the points she would have covered.  Anyone who has seen the modern day ninjas of the parkour movement in action, online or otherwise, can attest to the agility, balance, and improvisation needed to navigate their environment.  As it happened, we had the crew from Unparalleled Movement on hand to give us a taste of turning obstacles into opportunities. (I actually had a pretty good seat for this demo).


    During our afternoon breakout session, there was one question from the audience for the combined digital influence/innovation panel that stuck out in my mind.  The question:  “Do you ever unplug?”

    Super cool to hear the answers from all 11 panel members  – I had my informal count break down as follows:

    “Yes. I hate it.” – 1 person

    “Yes. I plan it.” – 5 people

    “No. I’d like to, but no. I never turn off, if I don’t have to.” – 5 people

    The capper on the afternoon was delivered by Dr. Alex Philp in the closing keynote…this guy is a force of nature.  He began by refusing the mic, and finished by showing us all why he didn’t need it in the first place.  Alex’s key points on entrepreneurship and innovation are laid out in the following quotes:

    • “It’s about not knowing when to quit.”
    • “It’s about partnerships.”
    • “It’s about hope.”
    • “The smartest thing you can do as an entrepreneur is reach out, get help, network.”
    • “The single greatest tragedy in the history of Montana, is the loss of its people out of state.”
    • “I detest mediocrity.”

    Amen, brotha’. Couldn’t have said it better myself.