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July 2014

Business Fears, The Most Offputting F-Word in Business, Jasmine Bingham, Balcony 7
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Business Fears: The Most Off-Putting F-Word

by Jasmine Bingham

The F-Word that can stop you in your tracks is not literally profane, but it certainly has a way of bringing profanity to mind. Tangible fear justifiably puts our instincts on high alert. Fear, on the other hand, is often comprised of gray matter. Nevertheless, it can be just as dangerous and formidable because it can immobilize business evolution and disrupt progress. Business fears, in short, are obscenely dysfunctional.

There are many companies that have come to embody fearlessness and, in turn, disruptive innovation. But there are many others that have fallen prey to fear-driven complacency, never seeing the cue ball coming, and missing key opportunities as a result.

To be blunt, I believe every industry has its share of complacent companies and executives. I saw it years ago in the brokerage industry and I see it today in the publishing industry. When executives cower to fear, and its sister, complacency, they stifle progress and disrupt the natural evolution of business. The danger here is when arrogance and narcissism takes root in upper management. Their retreat or inaction redefines fear with the vanilla mantra of “let’s not upset the apple cart.” My take is,

if upsetting the apple cart is even an issue in the first place, you may as well be on the offensive now, rather than be on the defensive later.

Here are two examples of business fears, from my own experience. They illustrate how fear of change can whip the smart and the powerful, despite their ability to proactively whip it instead, to their own advantage:

When I was a securities analyst, we placed one of the companies I followed onto the prestigious U.S. Priority List, the top Buy recommendation and an unlikely feat for a small-cap stock in the niche market of manufactured housing. Being the industry’s number four or five, this company’s recent acquisition of number two catapulted it to new heights and expectations.

At an analysts’ breakfast, I asked the CEO a routine question, “Are you on track for first-quarter earnings results?” He replied, “We’re on track to meet consensus estimates for the full year.” That was a signal to me absorption costs were higher than expected; if 1Q earnings came in below my estimate, the stock would tank.

After the company ignored my follow-up phone calls all week, I urged my research directors to allow me to take it off the Priority List with what I thought were valid arguments to back up such a decision and save our investors’ asses. They declined. I begged for two days. They still declined. They were fearful. Of what? Of a young female analyst being wrong and getting egg on their face.

What happened? A day after my bosses turned me down the second time, the company told the whole Street to expect disappointing results. The stock tanked. Guess who had egg on their face? Me. Because I never divulged to angry traders and institutional investors how hard I fought to prevent this, and how the smart men above me were to blame with their resistance to take a bold stance.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon, watching powerful executives make cowardly decisions.

In the world of book publishing, another example of fear looms. One company with swagger from an inflated stock price, and the arrogance that goes along with it, instills fear over the entire industry, bullying distributors, publishers and authors alike, and causing unnecessary disruptions to content flow.

What would happen if the bullied partners in today’s publishing industry stood up to the 800-pound gorilla with a bold, unified stance? There would be a dearth of popular book, ebook, or audiobook content for the gorilla to sell, as well as distributors to fulfill customer orders–a paradigm shift toward the content creators, where it belongs. Why doesn’t the publishing industry stand up to the gorilla? They fear change. That’s unfortunate because they’re large enough themselves, and cash-rich to boot. They can easily transform their business model to go directly to their readers. The gorilla has become a greedy and unnecessary middleman.

But large publishers seem immobilized by their fear of upsetting the apple cart. Perhaps, after seeing one emboldened company finally standing up to the gorilla, others may swallow their fear, put on their capes, and save their industry from chaos.

Fear affects all of us. Executives are only human, after all, and fear affects them too. But when corporate executives allow fear, or its sister, complacency, to steer the company ship, the ripples they float on today may grow into a tidal wave of potential disaster tomorrow, as in the above examples.

Instinctively, we should fear what looks us in the eye because we have no choice but to defeat it. Intellectually, we should never fear the gray stuff because it’s still evolving and we often have time to outsmart it.

When the Entrepreneurial Itch Won't Go Away
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When The Entrepreneurial Itch Won’t Go Away

by Randy Morkved

What do you do when the entrepreneurial itch settles under your skin and refuses to be ignored? My advice is: take it seriously and consider your options. For me, in spite of always having an entrepreneurial style, it took me decades to finally pursue my dream.

I became a shadow entrepreneur instead; the companies I worked for let me do my thing because I did it well. I received my share of the rewards, and plenty of notoriety and financial security. But, to me, the most exciting part of business was growing it and continuously building on momentum.

Not actually being an owner made this a frustrating process because oftentimes ideas moved slowly through layers of bureaucracy, and stifled progress and creativity in the process. Too much resistance certainly led to my itch to finally quit working for others and gave me the impetus to channel my business sense into a more flexible entity: a company of my own making. If great ideas keep popping up in your head but end up going by the wayside in your current situation, you may know the feeling.

Creativity is the root of innovation. If you have enough of it, this may be a clear signal you’re ready to do your own thing.

In my experience, I also sensed limited opportunity in a mature business. I had plenty of steam for a new challenge and sensed it was time to take a leap of faith and finally do what was in my blood all along: let my steam run my own machine. That machine, for me, ended up being a boutique publishing house.

Those of you who’ve been down the road of exiting a comfortable job and starting up your own business have likely heard responses from colleagues similar to mine when I finally announced my resignation. Everyone thought I was crazy. Do these questions sound familiar?

  • “How can you walk away from a steady paycheck?”
  • “Are you sure you’re ready to be on your own?”
  • “What if you fail?”
  • “When you’re done trying, give me a call. There’s always a job here for you.”

Yes, it’s hard to walk away from a steady paycheck. I agonized over my decision to quit for months before actually handing in my resignation letter. When I finally did, there was no turning back. I already had a plan, some projects in the works, key relationships forming, and a partner I could rely on to help build my company and share the risk.

I recommend anyone with the entrepreneurial itch to lay out a timeline and a plan of action while you still have a steady paycheck. It’s wise to implement your plan before you take the leap. This is when initial resistance may happen, signaling you might need to rethink your strategy or business plan.

As far as being ready to be on my own, I felt decades of business experience gave me plenty of ammunition to blaze a trail without burning down the whole forest. Never underestimate the value of your work experience, passion and confidence. For an entrepreneurial venture, this even trumps a college degree, in my opinion.

If you’ve got experience to back up your itch, it may be time to ask yourself: “If I don’t do my own thing now, when the passion is in my gut, will I be passing up the opportunity of a lifetime and always wonder what could have been?” That’s what I did. I realized I couldn’t live with these unknowns.

Going it alone is certainly challenging, and the risk of failure is real and daunting. If I didn’t have the encouragement of a partner in the trenches with me, quitting would have been that much harder.

The itch to make a move should be followed up by reaching out to people you trust, even if they won’t be business partners. The support and encouragement of those who know and understand you will help you weather early storms. Using your inner network as your sounding board will give you peace of mind. Once you make it down the learning curve, you may feel what I did: your company begins to take on a life of its own. That’s when you’ll know you made the right decision.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. —John Quincy Adams

Knowing I could fall back on past relationships was reassuring. I’d give myself a chance to get started and see where it would go, believing I’d know when to say “uncle.”

After two and a half years of owning my own business, though, I can safely tell you it’s extremely difficult to quit on your dream. You give it life and become committed to seeing it grow and blossom. When it does, you may be able to pick lots of fruit, while all the others may be drooling in the sidelines, thinking their own “what-ifs.”

I would urge anyone to resist standing in the sidelines of their own future. If you feel the entrepreneurial itch, don’t ignore it. That nagging feeling in your gut is the first sign you’re ready to make your move. It’ll take plenty of stamina, passion and patience. But, in the end, you’ll learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible. And you can stake your own claim in the business world. That’s priceless.

Joyride, Find Your Inner Overdrive, by Jasmine Bingham, Balcony 7
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JOYRIDE: Find Your Inner Overdrive

by Jasmine Bingham

I’ll never forget the first time I took my dad’s Corvette for a joyride. After many white-knuckled rides as his passenger, watching him shift gears to maximize his love of speed, I finally felt the thrill of overdrive at my own hands, kicking in on a long straight-away, turning the yellow fiberglass car into a blurry bullet.

At only sixteen, this was the most intoxicating feeling I had ever experienced and it propelled my spirits for an entire week. Decades later, I still remember it like it was yesterday–and it always makes me smile. No wonder they call it a joyride!

Just a few years ago, I felt that thrill again. Only, this time, it happened over a rainforest in Kauai as I dove backwards and upside down into a two-hundred foot ravine while attached to a zip-line harness. The overdrive kicked in as gravity pulled me in one direction and the zip line pulled me in another. The empowerment of this overdrive, however, fueled my soul and stayed with me longer, spilling into my professional life. What was the difference? In Kauai, I wasn’t merely shifting gears or flooring a pedal to get guaranteed results. This time, the overdrive was unexpected and was a result of just me against the world. There were no guarantees, but I weighed the odds and took the plunge anyway, bound and determined to make it to the other side.

Overcoming one of my biggest fears, and actually enjoying doing it, was the thrill of a lifetime. I needed to do this. I needed to fuel my spirit. I faced my fear of heights by arming myself with simple but strong tools, and diving in to show my fear who was boss. After leaving a dynamic career fifteen years earlier to place my own success behind that of my daughter’s, I forgot how it felt to reach new heights of personal empowerment. Now, faced with having a choice of entering the workforce again, I decided to go it alone this time, without the safety net of a large corporation. I was ready to face my fear of being an entrepreneur. This time, I would be completely in charge of my future. I knew there would be no guarantees of success but, if I didn’t try it now, I would never know if I could be the boss of my own life.

If you find yourself in a similar situation—stuck in neutral—perhaps in a job that doesn’t offer you the thrill of overdrive and personal empowerment, my advice is:

  • Take the plunge.
  • Arm yourself with whatever you feel you need to land safely.

But understand that if you wait for all the guarantees of success before you do it, it’s not a plunge at all. What is guaranteed in life, however, is mediocrity.

The power of inner overdrive is: not only are you the driver, but you are also the machine.

Tap into your own spiritual fuel and feel your soul become a blurry bullet, leaving your fears in the dust. What a ride.