Interesting Links This Week: 20-April-2014

I just completed a workshop for 21 women entrepreneurs. I learned a lot from every one of them. During the interactions we kept coming back to how they can generate word of mouth, connect to more people, and stay on the minds of those who they have met. Since most business professionals / entrepreneurs are on Linkedin, I thought this article was pertinent. Simple, but pertinent tips on how to utilize Linkedin to keep your network growing and hopefully your business too! The big lesson from this reading (for me) is consistent effort of 20 minutes a day, every day is the secret, rather than 140 minutes once a week, which is easy to do.

Read more here – Link: http://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/10-ways-to-generate-more-leads-and-referrals-from-linkedin-tues.html

Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari, founder of non-profit ‘Innovation: Africa’ is a passionate social entrepreneur. This less than 20 minute interview brings to the fore front how she got into this space, how she created her enterprise, how she went to the root cause of opportunities and created solutions with a self-sustaining business model. Every social entrepreneur must listen or read through the transcript. There are number of lessons on how social businesses must be built and also how social entrepreneurs must shape their journeys.

Read more here – Link: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/bringing-israeli-innovation-africa/

With more and more money being spent on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, it is becoming more and more demanding on the managers of this money to show impact and results. But when it comes to seeking results, most of these managers are themselves grappling. Many senior leaders invest in social and environmental initiatives in parts or half-heartedly, both of which leave a lot wanting on the table. It also results in constant change in initiatives, blame games and reputation losses. Here are some interesting thoughts and ideas of how to make your CSR initiatives more productive, while also contributing to the bottom line.

Read more here – Link: http://www.strategy-business.com/blog/For-Companies-Its-Not-Easy-Being-Green

Potential and performance: what lies between?

There lies something between potential and performance that makes all the difference. In fact it is that something that makes people with less potential come out more successful. The magic word of that something that is in-between potential and performance is ‘effort’. Don’t dismiss it as silly! Please understand that ‘effort’ can be positive, negative or neutral. What do I mean by that?

Positive effort is work that is aligned in the direction of the goal. For one to exert positive effort, we need a clear goal, a chosen path, a limited set of activities, and conviction to avoid other interesting activities. Distractions, too many strengths, too many interests are typical distracters that come in the way of positive effort.

Negative effort is work that takes the person / organization in a direction away from the goal. Lack of a clear goal or too many varied goals are typical qualities of one who exerts negative effort. Lack of focus is a natural fall out. A person or company exerting negative effort also feels tired because of the constant movement from one goal to the other. All distractions are seen as potential opportunities and hence no one recognizes that it is not helping them move in any particular direction. Hence after a while everyone simply feels tired. Blame games and excuses are common reasons quoted for not reaching the goal.

Neutral effort is work that is not really moving the person / organization in any direction. Most people who remain busy all the time and don’t see results fall under this category. They put effort, but it is akin to running on a treadmill. Lack of clarity of why they are doing things leads one into putting effort but remaining in the same place. Confusion, tiredness, and chaos are the reflection of people or firms that fall under this category.

Both individuals and organizations fall prey to the above three challenges. If we become aware of what is actually between potential and performance for us, we can change it. Hence if any of us (entrepreneurs, start-ups, and emerging enterprises) feel that we have the potential but are not seeing it blossom or turn into performance, it is important to check what kind of effort is being spent.

Think about it!

Potential and Performance

Last week I heard from one of my clients that a very junior resource of her young enterprise outperformed every other person in the firm. In fact her performance gave the start-up the optimism needed to continue the journey in today’s challenging environment. The email exchanges around her performance taught me this:

  • This junior girl who outperformed everybody else was not the identified as the one with the most potential
  • This junior girl outperformed everybody else because she was focussed on executing what she was taught to do
  • This junior girl outperformed everybody else because she knew only focussed effort / hard work will help her achieve and perform
  • This junior girl outperformed everybody else because she had very limited things to do (role was clear)

Why did everybody else (so called high potential ones) not achieve in the same situation?

The others (especially those who were identified as individuals with a lot of potential) could not perform because:

  • They were told that they had potential
  • They were told that they have to do multiple things
  • They were told that they had to take lot of responsibility in the business
  • They were told that they were good and had to show the way to others

Clearly the lessons are evident. Here are my top take aways:

  1. Potential and Performance have a huge gap between
  2. If you focus on a single (or limited number of) task(s), chances of performance are high
  3. Focused effort (hard work) is an important factor of performance
  4. Potential (especially pointed out by others) is a big enemy to performance

The next time you think lack of great resources is what is stopping you from achieving success as a start-up, think twice! You may actually be able to build a performing workforce with a team with much lesser potential, which means much lesser cost. For entrepreneurs who struggle building teams, this is a very strong lesson. Performance can be got out of people with much less potential than what is seen as required.

Think!

Interesting Links This Week: 13-April-2014

All entrepreneurs strive to understand their potential markets better. Entrepreneurs do this exercise through ad hoc methods for want of better approaches. But who can help entrepreneurs understand markets better than economists? Economists are the people who understand markets best but much of their work remains inaccessible to entrepreneurs. Here is a book that attempts to make this easier. This review shares a peek into the book and its intention. Read more here – Link: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2014/01/06/how-nobel-winning-economic-theories-can-help-your-online-dating/

There is tremendous interest amongst young minds towards working in the developmental sector. But most youngsters are lost in finding their way in this space. What should they do? Where should they search for information? What roles should they try to align towards? What is best suited for them? What’s the scope in each role? Many such questions trouble minds inclined towards this fast growing sector. Here is a chance to gain some clarity. This article speaks about how one can go about knowing and choosing roles in the development sector. Read more here – Link: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/aug/27/global-development-flow-chart

Core Competencies – a concept that was popularized by the professors Prahalad and Hamel, is more misunderstood than understood. Entrepreneurs should not misread the paper written by these professors or get misguided by the wrong interpretations of the concept. Here is short take on what the phrase ‘core competence’ really means. Finding it out for your business can lead to new potential markets! Read more here – Link: http://www.inc.com/erik-sherman/kick-your-idea-of-core-competencies-out-of-your-business.html

Sales and Start-ups: Are you doing enough?

‘Sales’ is one of the functions in business that is closest to the customer. There are two big things that start-ups / entrepreneurs miss while handling this important function in business:

  • Lack of methodological practices
  • Lack of a formal feedback system from sales

If the first one is not done, most of the life of the start-up is lived using investor money. Eventually the start-up ceases to exist when investor money or patience dries up. In fact the second loss is much greater than the first one. This is because the start-up has actually invested effort in the sales function, and probably seen some revenues as well. Having come so far into making the start-up a reality, if we don’t learn from the sales activities, it is a great loss. Why is this so? Because, the sales functions is the place where the start-up and the customers meet, engage, and exchange. This results in both the sales people and the customers getting to know each other better. The level of engagement decides the level of knowledge of each other.

Every start-up needs to know the customer – as much as it can understand this group, the better! The problem is that this activity never finishes, because the start-up is changing, the customers are changing and so is the environment and possible interactions between them too. Gaining feedback from the sales people is the best thing a start-up can do to understand customers better. Consumer behaviour, traits, habits, etc can be easily understood by sales people and brought back to the enterprise. These inputs can help the entrepreneur / start-up team re-look at the product, offerings, business models, etc

If you as a start-up are not doing enough sales efforts – start it now!
If you as a start-up are not learning enough from sales interactions – start it today!

How should you do this? Get everybody into a single room, get the sales people to share their experiences, and let all others only ask questions to know more. No one should be allowed to criticize observations, no one should be allowed to dismiss observations, and also no one should be allowed to share opinions on observations. This is the only way to improve the product, the way it is offered, the business model, the marketing efforts, the operations, the sales efforts and may be even re-look at the customer segments themselves.

Think about it!

Vedantic Wednesday: Your work is what you’re there for

If you are a reader of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) you would have noticed that there is a section beyond ‘Executive Summaries’. The section comes on the very last page of every issue. As though by habit, I now open the HBR issue that I receive from the package, turn it to the back cover and open the last page to see who is covered this time around. The section titled ‘Life’s Work’ has now become one of my favorite reads every month. And this time around (March 2014 issue) I found that it covered an artist. Artists are close to my heart as much as entrepreneurs and so I read the entire interview. She is 73 years, who reached the peaks in the 70’s, almost shut shop in the 90’s and is now making a come-back! Aren’t these people true inspirations? In the interview she offered some advice to entrepreneurs and I found that it was apt to what I wanted to share this week on philosophy.

Vedanta is an Indian school of philosophy. As I have shared numerous times in the past, it urges us to find what we are here for and follow it through till the end. It is said that in doing this every human being can aim and achieve liberation. It makes life peaceful and happy. I find that it is very much useful to entrepreneurs – the group that I tend to spend most of my work life with these days. Entrepreneurs seem to be finding and doing what they love in life and that is so much like an ideal path to also reach liberation (freedom) or whatever that may mean. In line with this thinking I found Zandra Rhodes share a key piece of advice to entrepreneurs. Here is the answer to that specific question from that interview:

“Keep going by whatever means you can. Don’t let people crush you. Have an inner belief in yourself. In the end, what you do will come through. We suffer today from people wanting fame rather than earning fame through their work. Your work is what you’re there for, and you should do it regardless. If it brings you something else, that’s a plus. You can be ambitious, but you have to be content with the fact that it might not make you a millionaire.”

While every question in that interview is amazing I found this response interesting. Even within that I found that her reference to “Your work is what you’re there for, and you should do it regardless” seemed like listening to what Vedanta teaches us. If only we can strive to keep this spirit up and living through life as an entrepreneur – there is no doubt that success will be ours, even if the world does not see it immediately. It will lead to a life lived fully. It will lead to loads of energy. It will keep us in peace and happiness. We will be part of that small group of entrepreneurs who are happy for being entrepreneurial.

In a lot of ways isn’t the spiritual path (if correctly understood) itself an entrepreneurial journey? Who said Spiritual Enlightenment is for the meek and the fearful?

Read the complete interview of Zandra Rhodes! Link: http://hbr.org/2014/04/zandra-rhodes/ar/1

Extract your lessons from it! If you are entrepreneurial think about this specific message!

Creators Vs Curators – who is a better entrepreneur?

What do you think is the answer – Creators or Curators? And more importantly, who are you?

During my research, training and consulting engagements I constantly deal with entrepreneurs. I find that they come in all shapes and sizes. But they essentially belong to two broad categories:

  • Creators: These are typically people with technical backgrounds, training. They normally think product / service design. They are people who love their creations. They enjoy creating. They enjoy it so much that they often forget the commercialization aspect of it. The excuse is – passion. But if passion is for creation, then we should focus on partnering with others for commercialization. Even commercialization requires passion! But the creators are clearly entrepreneurial minds! They are entrepreneurs as well since they took a problem, designed and constructed a solution, and most importantly took it to the customer. This requires courage.
  • Curators: These are typically people who love trading. They are not typical traders (traditional understanding). They are people who are not stuck to their own ideas. They live and thrive on opportunities. They enjoy putting pieces together (created by others) and solve problems that customers face. They are passionate about what creates wealth. They have no attachment to specific products / services. They enjoy the market facing activities so much that many times they become over confident about their supply side – they assume that they can put together any solution. The careful and intelligent curators create innovations by using the fundamental creations of others. If they are for the long term they partner with the creators and formally create businesses. If they are fly-by-night operators, they simply copy and use the inventions, put pieces together and move on. It is difficult to be the former type of curator as it involves being on the field on both the supply and the demand side. It requires understanding not just the requirement of the market, but also digging through the creations to figure out the right pieces for the solution. These curators need smart perseverance.

The world is filled with both the types of entrepreneurs (two types of curators included). My work in entrepreneurship takes me often to engineering campuses across India. I meet number of engineers who have interest in becoming entrepreneurs. But many are stuck to being good creators. On the contrary I find on my visits to business schools that there are number of curators, but not of the first variety. There are occasions both the groups are situated on a common campus – with both floundering with their weaker halves. Why don’t they meet? Is there lack of interest or lack of commitment? Or is our ecosystem not allowing this cross pollination to occur?

While we hope that a lot more of our engineering and business school students interact and form start-up teams, the big question remains?
Who makes a better entrepreneur – Curators or Creators? Or is it as always – the ideal state: a combination of both?

If you have thoughts, ideas or experiences on this please do share so that we can keep this conversation going…