Business

Author-Tips-A Manuscript and a Plan by-Balcony-7
1024 640 theory14

Author Tips: A Manuscript and A Plan

After experiencing several years of working with authors in a variety of genres—those we published and many more we passed on—we recognize a consistent theme borne from an outdated view of the publishing process and, at times, a misconception about what is expected from an author and what is the role of a publisher.

Many authors try their hand at self-publishing—only to realize the shortcomings of limited (or no) distribution, and the need for marketing a title so it stands out from the crowded field. Many then attempt a shift to traditional publishers—for what they believe will be broader access to institutional book buyers and a global platform for potential sales. While the benefits of traditional publishing do indeed exist, what many authors miss is that even the field for published authors is exceedingly crowded, and all those institutional book buyers will still require evangelizing in order to make a commitment to carry your title.

An important aside here is these entities (libraries, book stores, etc.) will not market a title or an author to their base of customers (whether it be through in-store or online awareness campaigns). Through the trade-based efforts of a publisher, they may be enticed to try out a small amount of a work and see if it sells. For bricks and mortar stores, titles have a short shelf life to make their case. For online stores, they merely service demand.

The lesson here is it really doesn’t matter how you’re published, the marketing efforts of an author are crucial for success.

Writing an exceptional, well-edited manuscript is the easy part, believe it or not. (If you’re meant to be a writer, you have a gift that keeps on giving and you’re smart enough to rely on a professional editor to produce quality content. If writing is a chore and each manuscript requires massive editing, or perhaps it’s so perfect you refuse editing advice, maybe the mass market is just not for you.) For the serious, prolific writer:

If you want to be published, you need more than an exceptional manuscript, you also need a plan. What kind of plan?

  • A blueprint for how you will become a “franchise” worthy of investment by both your publisher and the marketplace.
  • A plan that displays not just one title, but numerous titles—each leveraging your brand and your concept with every subsequent work.
  • A plan that shows:
    • a formula for author self-promotion via online social media platforms;
    • a robust and vibrant author website that performs well in search engines;
    • the ability to regularly communicate with fans and readers through prolific, attention-grabbing, well-written blogs;

It also helps to have a likable personality and great, not just good, communications skills (i.e., an ability to engage the public and compel media attention).

If this sounds daunting, that’s because it is. Not every author boasts tens of thousands of Facebook likes and Twitter followers, secures radio interviews, is seen on television, or even commands ticketed author events at major book stores around the country.

But every author who does started somewhere at the bottom, in relative obscurity.

It takes a special drive and an inherently authoritative presence for an author to stand out among peers in any genre or sub-genre. This is where success is borne.

Merely getting published is not enough. Yes, a traditional publisher will (or should) help create the best version of your title and help market the book to the trade via widespread distribution and a finite advertising budget. However, that’s basically where the marketing ends—the cost of getting to this point is already extremely high. If an author can’t keep momentum going (and rising with each new title), the reality will likely be stagnant sales or even a high rate of returns (returns will be addressed in another blog).

It’s not only bookstores and libraries that are chasing demand. So are readers. They’re bombarded with choices every single day, in every single genre. One cannot expect your book to be found or championed simply by its mere existence in the marketplace. Not when that marketplace sees hundreds of thousands of books published each year (almost a thousand new titles a day). The beauty of creativity and art, however, is there’s always an appetite for more.

Serious writers with a gift for communicating a message that resonates should never give up. Gear up instead and

treat yourself like a brand—Author Inc.

—and you’ll have a much better chance at success.

Business-Fiction-by-Ann-Bridges
851 315 theory14

Business Fiction for the 21st Century

By Ann Bridges

 

According to popular community reader site Goodreads, “Business Fiction and Thrillers” is a growing genre, featuring books with plots driven by business issues and characters that are executives, managers, directors, employees, or investors.

And why not?

Eighty percent or more of the population works for private enterprise for most of their careers (as opposed to government-funded or non-profit organizations). Why has it taken so long for this genre to have its own set of characters and plots when there are legal and medical thrillers, crime dramas, science-fiction worlds for the technologists and futurists, historical fiction and mysteries, fantasies and underworlds, plus romance novels galore?

Perhaps it’s because, for so long, reading was seen as a means of escape from our real world. Or perhaps it’s because readers wanted to find out more about other professions they knew nothing about. It could also be that librarians and teachers, agents and editors, mostly came from the academic fields, with little familiarity or understanding of how exciting business can be.

Fast forward to the 21st century, when Silicon Valley executives are the focus of Hollywood movies, and their company’s astronomical valuations reflect the growing strength of our economy. There’s newfound respect for individuals who take risks, create jobs, and make profits. The modern day Gold Rush in northern California has captured the hearts and minds of the awe-inspired world.

Reading novels is a great way to explore any dynamic, new industry; learn what goes on in conference rooms behind closed doors; and benefit from an author’s research and experience, both for your curiosity and enjoyment, but also to enhance your career. All without having to memorize new management techniques and economic theories.

Marrying the reality of my own business background with an active storytelling imagination has resonated with readers of my two Silicon Valley novels, offering Business Fiction and International Intrigue within each title. The validation from industry insiders is gratifying.

For my first novel, Private Offerings (Balcony 7, Sept. 2015), academics, industry executives, tech writers and political figures were happy to add their voice to the importance of what I was attempting to do. Aside from hearing the wonderful words, “intriguing, suspenseful,” I was also thrilled to hear “ring of truth,” “demystifies Silicon Valley,” and “perfectly captured intensity of the Silicon Valley business world.” The icing on my literary cake was learning that Private Offerings was chosen by Wealth Management Magazine to be on their list of 10 Best Business Books of 2015; chosen for “depictions of high finance and corporate boardroom dynamics that ring true.”

My upcoming sequel, Rare Mettle (Balcony 7, May 2016), goes even further into the realm of International Intrigue, with a topic of great importance that I fear will only become popular when it’s too late: rare earths and advanced technology’s reliance on highly refined raw materials, the majority of which are supplied by China. Rare Mettle is my attempt to depict the worse case scenario in a way most people will understand: by bringing the data and facts to life through suspenseful fiction and fascinating characters.

Most recently, Jack Lifton, technology metals expert and senior editor at InvestorIntel.com (who is still reading the book), wrote me a great comment:

“It may well be that you are prescient. I think it’s very plausible that China will consume all of its technology metals production by the end of the new five-year plan. This will effectively cut off the rest of the world. There is no way to bring mines, refining, and fabricating facilities on line rapidly, so that, intended or not, China could literally place the manufacturers and developers of consumer electronics in a position where they essentially give China control of production schedules. At worse, the movement of such manufacturing to China would become mandatory…”

Sounds like real-life implications to me!

So the next time you’re looking for a good book to read, ask your librarian or bookseller about this growing category of Business Fiction. You may find what you’re looking for—both entertainment and education combined.

 


Learn more about Ann Bridges, Private Offerings, and Rare Mettle at www.annbridges.wordpress.com
Both titles are available wherever books are sold. Click these convenient links for purchase: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Books-A-Million
Rare Earths novel Rare Mettle by Ann Bridges
969 596 theory14

Whoever Thought Rare Earths Could Be Sexy and Fun?

by Ann Bridges

 

Whoever thought rare earth could be sexy and fun? I did!

But then I’m a big fan of international suspense novels as a way to learn about complex issues.

Inspired by China’s 2010 embargo of rare earth, I decided to write Rare Mettle to explore the broad set of questions surrounding this usually obscure industry, especially the impact on Silicon Valley’s businesses. For fun, I added a sexy undercover agent and high-tech innovators to the fast-paced thriller, and developed plausible scenarios and provocative outcomes, perfect for the upcoming election year.

My research began after speaking with a journalist who covered the 2010 real-world event, moved into a crash course in geology, and then (groan!) a refresher course in the Periodic Table of Elements (chemistry was NOT my strong suit in school).

Talking to local high-tech investors, I discovered an almost cavalier attitude to the issue, as if pre-negotiated trade agreements would magically protect the world’s supply chain, even in the face of political disputes.

Digging further into Congressional testimony and investor newsletters, I found repeated documentation of China’s stated goal to dominate this commodity, in the same way the Middle Eastern countries dominated last century’s energy industry.

Rattled, then concerned, I asked myself–what’s a high-tech-business-woman-turned-novelist to do?

Answer–depict the worst-case scenario to capture the hearts and minds of the world, much the same way Michael Crichton did with Jurassic Park to highlight the ethics and dangers of careless disregard for genetics research.

Hopefully, I manage to communicate rare earth’s relevance in easy-to-understand language, so that anyone can grasp the implications of today’s geopolitical economics and the supply chain for our next generation of technology, energy, and military weaponry.

As China pursues technology transfers and global leadership unabated, we would be foolish to trust blindly the pat responses from Washington D.C. politicians, military bureaucrats, and established industry channels. After all, they’ve known about this issue for decades and have kept it quiet.

I had to ask–why? Hopefully, you will, too.


RARE METTLE EXCERPT:

The TV was already pre-set to CNN, which kept its relevance by leaking upcoming stories to the right people in D.C., including the exact time they would first air. Apparently, Hank achieved a coveted spot on its distribution list. Hurrah for ass kissing.

“New threats from China put the State Department on high alert this morning,” reported the bland, brunette anchor. “China pledged to block all future shipments of rare earth elements to the United States if we sell our newest military technology to Taiwan.”

Paul jerked forward. His brain raced from the familiar kick of adrenalin.

“These refined metals are used in the manufacture of laser-guided missiles and our newest weapons,” the reporter continued, “among other high-technology products contributing to the booming sales of mobile devices. China’s Northern Province of Inner Mongolia mines and processes over 93% of the earth’s supply of these minerals. We’ll keep you posted as the story develops.”

Hank flicked off the TV. “Our leaders learned about the possible embargo two hours ago, and are discussing an appropriate response,” he stated in official monotone, but the telltale twitch of his nostrils clued Paul into how seriously Hank took this threat. “We need to touch base with all our field personnel for insights into potential solutions or risks.”

That explained Hank’s focus on Kay. Her last email disclosed advanced military technology using those obscure minerals, hiding under a cloak of tiny Chinese game companies. Kay’s cover as an interpreter for an American venture capitalist in Beijing worked wonders getting her behind closed doors.

Her most recent missive was surprisingly cryptic. But in the last two weeks…nothing. Had whatever she stumbled onto provoked this diplomatic muscle-flex from the Chinese Communist Party? And put her in greater danger, too?

 


Read the original article and reader comments by clicking here: investorintel.com
Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers, Business Wisdom
1024 768 theory14

Vince Lombardi Quotes, How He Inspired His Packers

Football season is here and, for me, that means the Green Bay Packers and memories of Vince Lombardi will add a punch of inspiration to my non-stop work week. Many an entrepreneur has been motivated by Vince Lombardi quotes; they’re timeless and inspired his Packers to great feats I’ll never forget. Memories dating back to my childhood in Wisconsin were made stronger by an article I recently read on Fox Business, by Michael Lee Stallard, President of E Pluribus Partners, speaker, and author of Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity.

He made note of Lombardi’s attitude toward winning: put in your best effort, with a strong focus on ethics and excellence. Mr. Stallard points out: achieving excellence in relationships and tasks, together, is the formula for success. This underscores my own philosophy:

how you win is just as important as winning itself.

It took many years for me to appreciate the depth of Lombardi’s values and understand their correlation to success, both on the playing field and in the business world. His legacy first touched me when I was twelve, and a staunch Packers fan. My business success at that young age reflected pride in earning $20 a week delivering newspapers to my community. I was the richest twelve-year old in town.

Decades later, as a businessman, I realized the richest man in town is the one who has an ethical business with loyal employees focused on the company’s success, knowing their individual returns will follow. That team effort to go the extra mile ensures a growing fan base of loyal customers. That was success. That was being rich in all the right ways.

As a young boy in Wisconsin, this winning spirit of Lombardi and his Packers promised an exciting football season every winter. The pride my friends and I had for our home team was also a bit personal. My neighbor was Larry Krause, who was a Packers running back from 1970-1974. After watching him play on TV, my friends and I would replay the game in subzero weather, for two- or three-hour stretches, passing a rock-hard football down our makeshift field, tackling each other and being too caught up in our adolescent fantasy league to notice the ground was as hard as cement and our fingers were numb from the frigid cold that was Wisconsin winter.

Sometime during that season, Lombardi’s focus on relationship and task success was executed by me, although I certainly didn’t recognize it at the time. My newspaper boss held a contest asking all the paper boys to knock on every door we could find to solicit new subscriptions. The top “salesmen” across various territories would accompany him to a Packers’ home game that season. I was one of the winners. Sitting behind the goal posts that bitterly cold day, I even caught a football. It was an exhilarating example of inspiration from a great football team. It also proved how creating new relationships and focusing on the task at hand could lead to wonderful rewards.

Today, I have my own publishing company and the Lombardi ethics are still inspiring me, as well as the value system of my business.

Our team recently sat down to develop a mission statement and lay out our value system. After almost three years of foundation building, content production and organic evolution, we know who we are and where we’re going. We’re now prepared to etch our corporate values in stone (or granite, in honor of Lombardi’s influence on the offensive line at his alma mater, Fordham University, nicknamed the “Seven Blocks of Granite”). The business of publishing, like most businesses, hinges on relationships and tasks. One of the cornerstones will be the respect we have for our affiliates, partners and readers. The value system we came up with reflects our commitment to never forget that as we also strive for top-line growth.

Our resulting six goals form an acronym, CREATE, which also happens to articulate why we love publishing to begin with:

Collaborate through teamwork on all aspects of business and production.
Respect each other, our authors, our readers, our partners.
Ethics and integrity are mandatory, on all levels, for all personnel.
Aim for outstanding quality across the board for titles, products and public relations.
Trust is imperative, earned through consistent practices, production and roll-out.
Endear ourselves to others by curating and nurturing the human legacy, in words.

You might notice there’s no overt emphasis on actual sales in our value system. Rather, it’s the overall goal of CREATE. We believe, as Lombardi did, true winners are those who place ethics and respect firmly at the top of their priority list. Success will come, if these tasks are consistently met. Even the Green Bay Packers saw success as a franchise, following the turnaround led by Lombardi, with consistently sold-out games since 1960.

As the great man himself once said,

“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that, whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”

In business, if we invest in “individual commitment to a group effort,” in Lombardi’s words, we’ll perpetuate eventual returns in the future, in the form of a great reputation and a growing base of customers. But we all need to participate to the best of our abilities to make it happen.

Teamwork doesn’t mean merely showing up to win the prize of a paycheck before the effort has been completed. Everyone needs to be ready to pick up the ball and “run to daylight.” If one partner needs to block, he must do it. If another needs to step in to formulate a new play at goal-and-inches, he must speak out, take the initiative, and make sure we win the game. Just as Lombardi’s Packers won as a team, we’ll win as a company by respecting each other, and recognizing and complementing our individual abilities. We’ll lift each other up to increase our chances of winning through teamwork. It’s a tried and true formula for success. Why change it?

P.S. Go Packers!

 

Three A's Signaling A Mental Checkout-2
1024 687 theory14

Three A’s Signaling A Mental Checkout

by Jasmine Bingham

A strong team has members who do their job well. When someone falls out of sync, it disrupts the entire project. Sometimes it’s unintentional, merely a transition issue. Other times, it’s very intentional, signaling a mental checkout. How would you know the difference?

I’ve been on both sides of this spectrum. I remember mentally checking out almost a year before I announced my resignation from a large brokerage firm. I began to hate my job.

The work I used to love had become a marathon of futility. I was running while being shackled by bureaucracy, propelled by the dangling carrot of achievement which, in reality, turned out to be merely money. I realized my role was that of “paid puppet.” Nevertheless, it was my job. So I still did what I had to do—and more—but now it was without enthusiasm. I felt like a robot, a mouthpiece.

On a positive note, it also made me brazen so I took some risks, made some good calls, and got great recognition from colleagues and clients. But it wasn’t enough to change my mind. My mental check-out was rooted in something much deeper. My frustration wore on my self-esteem and led to an inevitable resignation, with no regrets and no looking back.

On the flip side, I’ve seen others do the mental check-out and actually ruin projects I was deeply involved in.

A web design firm and an app design firm each embarked on two-week Mexican vacations after receiving large installments to finance development projects. This, despite launch dates looming just over the immediate horizon. Another example was sloppy and hasty artistic contributions on a publishing project. The poor quality of the work submitted was a shocking wake-up call to the other team members. In all these cases, a detachment and a lack of pride in their work were strong signals they’d already checked out of the project. As you can imagine, they were all terminated in short order.

When mental checkouts happen, they hurt both sides. No one really benefits from a lingering teammate who no longer wants to play the game. Mental checkouts leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth because of the negativity and disruption to work flow they introduce. There’s nothing wrong with realizing you’re in over your head, or you actually don’t like what you’re doing. But if you stop participating, yet continue to accept a paycheck, you’re playing a dangerous game with your own reputation.

The bottom line is: it’s best to physically check out soon after you’ve mentally checked out. As an employer or team leader, it’s not hard to pinpoint those who mentally leave a project. Strong signals are there, if you watch for them. If you are the one feeling a mental checkout building, there are ways to improve your situation without burning bridges.

The three strongest indicators of eroding morale, for me, all happen to begin with the letter A:

Apathy is the first sign: resigned detachment; lack of enthusiasm; dearth of ideas. The root of apathy may start when someone realizes they’re not qualified. The ethical thing to do is talk to the team and let them know your limitations. There might be another role for you. However, there are too many people, usually subcontractors, who mentally check out yet continue to misrepresent their skills just to nab a quick payday.

Having been on the receiving end of this, I can tell you it’s morally reprehensible and you won’t fool anyone for long. Also, it’s a small world and you can be sure those who are burned by you won’t shy away from revealing your misrepresentation to others. If, on the other hand, you’re quite qualified but no longer care for the work, communication is key. Most companies respect honesty, even if it means losing you or giving you a new position. At least your reputation will remain intact, if not soar, because you’ve shown pride and respect for the project or the company.

Absence comes next: not showing up to meetings, or canceling them outright; scheduling vacations at inopportune times. If it’s a subcontractor, they may jump to other projects and become difficult to contact. If it’s a salaried employee, the best thing to do is have a sit-down meeting. If it’s a sub, the best thing to do is stop payments. As a matter of principle, sub-contractors should only receive a minimum up front, the bulk being the carrot dangling at the end of successful completion. While this isn’t always possible, I’ve found those subs not willing to take delayed gratification probably won’t be giving you any immediate gratification either. They likely aren’t qualified and don’t deserve the job.

When I mentally checked out as a salaried employee in my previous career, I continued to show up every single day. I swallowed my frustration and did my best because I was still getting paid. In hindsight, I should have talked to my bosses and requested a transfer. The problem with my situation was, I was sick of the industry altogether. I showed up in spite of not wanting to because I still respected my company, my bosses and the money they paid me. Only I felt the negative repercussions of my mental check out, not them.

Animosity rears its ugly head; becoming combative or defensive; showing a disrespectful attitude and escalating criticism of the work or the goals. Hiding frustration isn’t easy, but once certain words are spoken they can’t be erased from memory. When you feel yourself wanting to flip people off with words, you may as well keep your mouth shut and resign. Divisiveness erodes progress in any relationship. It’s like a cancer metastasizing right before your very eyes. When I look back on my own experience, I remember many heated arguments with my bosses. They knew I was frustrated, but they also saw me coming up with new ideas and generating lots of work. They thought I got over it.

Fast-forward to the subs we hired, however, and I remember their defensiveness whenever their work was questioned. I remember the blame game; their frustration with their own incompetence became a finger pointing back at us, as if we made the project impossible to complete. Well, that wasn’t the case at all. After their termination, all the projects they were working on were brought in-house and were completed beyond our expectations, by ourselves. All we lost was money and time. However, we made up for it with pride, great outcomes and, of course, a much savvier perspective for the future.

If any of these A-words are popping up in your head, you may want to take a hard look at your situation, whether you’re the salaried employee, the sub-contractor on a project, or the head of a team or company. When I finally announced my resignation, I felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders. When we terminated the subs who mentally checked out on our projects, I felt that same relief. These resolutions were ultimately liberating and unleashed strong upward momentum.

In conclusion, there’s nothing wrong with mentally checking out; it happens. But how you deal with it says a lot about you. Do the right thing and physically check out as soon as you can.

Never burn a bridge when it comes to your employment and your reputation. These days, there aren’t that many new bridges being built.

Business Lessons from the Red Queen, Randy Morkved, Balcony 7
1024 614 theory14

Business Lessons from the Red Queen

by Randy Morkved

Business, like chess, is a game of strategy in which the pieces are alive and in constant motion. To play this game well, we should remember the Red Queen, the chess piece that comes to life in Lewis Carroll’s, Through The Looking-Glass. She reveals to Alice, in the looking glass world, one needs to run with all his might just to maintain his position. It makes for one of the best business lessons of all. Here’s why.

That sure is how it feels “running” a business today. For example, how many countless hours does your team spend just on maintaining a social media presence? All that time is well spent, of course, but it doesn’t always yield immediate results. In fact, just maintaining a stable base of followers or likes means your doing something right. Viral spurts are few and far between in today’s social-media-driven market environment, and some companies rarely see actual sales conversions. But that doesn’t mean you stop trying. On top of the energy spent on crucial day-to-day matters, we hope to muster enough momentum to sprint ahead on occasion.

If an opportunity presents itself, we could make a strategic move to enhance our position on the chess board of our industry. But even if we do, will we ever win the game?

I came across a great take-away of Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen race recently, one that talks about evolutionary theory yet accurately describes the business world. The late evolutionary biologist, Leigh Van Valen, coined the Red Queen Hypothesis. In his abstract, written in 1972 for the University of Chicago, he compared Evolutionary Theory to game theory: “…each species is part of a zero-sum game against other species. Which adversary is most important…may vary from time to time, and…no one adversary may ever be paramount…no species can ever win, and new adversaries grinningly replace the losers.”

In my own industry of publishing, the Red Queen example is appropriate and timely, but I think you can find similarities in any industry. Within publishing exists a tiered structure, heavily weighted toward the top players controlling the bulk of content, in all formats. Prior to the ebook explosion, traditional distribution and brick-and-mortar stores formed an ecosystem in which everyone knew their place and great content was never in short supply. The double whammy of ebook proliferation and e-commerce convenience introduced a massive disruption to this ecosystem.

Enter Amazon, an adversary who evolved faster than the publishers themselves, by wisely embracing the digital, online future of both content creation (self-publishing and print on demand) and distribution (vast, online, direct-to-consumer sales). With a virtual superstore in place, this adversary grew from the sidelines to become a cornerstone in the publishing industry. Now, as we all know, we’re witnessing a power-play to rebalance each player’s role in the industry. One can argue the situation now facing publishers was foreseeable; but you know what they say about hindsight.

The dynamics of today’s business environment make comparisons to even ten years ago seem like apples to oranges.

It seems one important thing to consider is recognizing when the pendulum has swung too far. In this case, perhaps it finally has.

Did traditional publishers stop running and now have to play catch-up just to keep their place on the board? Or did they simply run in the wrong direction? Did they miss telltale signs of eventually being check-mated? Or did they simply mistake their adversary for an ally? How the players move around the chess board now will determine the next phase of dominance. At least, until the next adversary steps in to disrupt the board once again.

The chess game for any industry is rife with non-stop dynamics directly impacting a player’s position on the board. Stop running in place and take your eye off the other chess pieces, and you may find yourself face-to-face with the Red Queen, reminding you to keep running. But by then, it may be too late to keep yourself from getting check-mated. Importantly, in any organization, all weak links need to be identified and nurtured into strengths before a sprint for the lead can even be possible. The check-mate is often played by those companies who are able to offensively study the whole chess board rather than defensively focus on their next move.

The ever-evolving Internet adds yet another layer to today’s game of business, a layer in continuous motion under our running feet. Those who can balance themselves on this undulating board may advance to make their next move. Either way, the Red Queen will always be in our rear view, and always closer than she appears.

  • Do you have a Red Queen Strategy in your organization?
  • Have you identified where all your company’s energies are spent?
  • Are you maintaining your position as a result?
  • Do you know where your company lies on the chess board of your industry?
  • If an opportunity arises, are you ready to make your next move a check-mate?

Isn’t business a zero sum game? We, as leaders, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, etc., do our best to identify organizational strengths that, if maintained, will keep us in the game. At the same time, we keep an eye on adversaries and trends so we can do things better or move ahead of the pack with the next best thing. But no one ever really wins, do they? Don’t we just jostle for the lead and try to keep it as long as we can before an eager adversary disrupts the board and forces us all to reconfigure?

Business Fears, The Most Offputting F-Word in Business, Jasmine Bingham, Balcony 7
1024 705 theory14

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
1004 668 theory14

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
1000 662 theory14

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.

Codependency in the Workplace by Randy Morkved, Balcony 7
1000 800 theory14

Codependency in the Workplace

by Randy Morkved

I was recently discussing with a friend the many articles written of late about corporate culture, employee relations, and micro-management. While talking about some of the habits of workers and leaders, he brought up an interesting concept: Codependency, and how it rears its ugly head too often, both in management and in employees. I agreed and did some research.

The term “codependent” was coined by a self-help author named Melody Beattie, in her run-away bestseller, Codependent No More, first published in 1986 by a division of the Hazeldon Foundation, a non-profit alcohol and drug treatment facility in Minnesota.

Beattie’s subtitle for the book sums up the definition of the term rather well: How To Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring For Yourself. The book and its concept was originally geared toward helping alcoholics and drug addicts get back their identity and recognize the “enablers” around them, who may be a reason why they escape reality with addiction. Codependents, you see, are a big part of the problem.

Codependents thrive amidst needy people; weak people; people who they deem “broken,” and in need of constant supervision and care.

They’re obsessed with controlling others they’ve already categorized as incapable of being independent and strong. I believe a better way to describe codependents is “insecure” and, perhaps, “narcissistic.” In the workplace over the years, I’ve seen my share of insecurity and narcissism; from co-workers, team leaders and bosses who complain a bit too much and micro-manage progress. Being an independent, entrepreneurial worker myself, you can imagine these personality traits rubbed me the wrong way.

Rather than recognizing and appreciating the benefits of dynamic employees, I witnessed many instances of great workers getting sidelined by their bosses, and admonished for their style, even if they did their job well. Why? Often, it boiled down to the employee achieving success without nurturing and guidance from leaders. I also witnessed colleagues who always ran to the boss for help and guidance, even though we were all armed with the same tools for success and many of us achieved it on our own.

Does any item on this list ring true in your organization:

Are there managers or employees who need constant attention?

  • Do you give it to them, or tell them to run with it and do their job? After all, you have better things to do.
  • Or do you coddle these people?
  • Do you entertain pity parties and sob sessions?
  • Do you micro-manage every aspect of projects, or even sales calls?
  • Do you want to know where your people are, at every given time of day?

I’m not saying company rules and codes of ethics should go by the wayside. Not at all. There’s a place for guidelines; a need for employees to check in with regular communication; and the importance of being a team player. But there’s a fine line that, when crossed, indicates a nanny-like approach. This is smothering to a go-getter and could certainly be a turn-off for a star performer.Sometimes, you just have to step back and let these people do their thing. For some, that’s not easy to do; because they don’t see what they’re doing wrong.

Letting go is difficult. This is where codependency comes in. I’ve recently read many articles about codependency, and it seems addicts have an easier time recognizing and overcoming it than the sober people around them. One reason for this stems from the fact that rehab facilities help addicts admit their faults and weaknesses early into treatment. However, many sober people have a much harder time admitting there’s anything wrong with them. This denial is the biggest obstacle in overcoming codependency. Once established, however, many find improved self-worth and a lighter load.

Letting go of others’ issues means focusing on yourself.

It means we are each recognizing and respecting the other’s capabilities and supporting their independence. By constantly stepping in to micro-manage, we stifle progress. We also silently say, “I don’t believe in you. I don’t think you can do this without my help.” In the workplace, however, this isn’t why we hire people. We hire them for their potential; because we believe in their capabilities. If we continue to quash their confidence with our own meddling, we find ourselves running in place. That’s a lot of energy wasted.

In conclusion, I’d like to share a great article I came across in Accenture’s Outlook, an online journal for high-performance businesses. “California Dreaming,” by Jeanne G. Harris and Allan E. Alter, gives a great overview of why Silicon Valley businesses are so dynamic relative to their more traditional counterparts, and how some traditional companies are following their example and reaping the rewards. Silicon Valley culture is the antithesis of codependency. It embraces the entrepreneurial spirit in all its employees.

Employees working at dynamic Silicon Valley companies are brought in for their potential and they’re encouraged to inject their contributions into in-house projects, as well as crowdsource with outsiders on other projects they’re passionate about. Why promote working with the competition? It empowers the team and serves as an incubator for overall progress. Many other great examples are in this article.

While some of SV’s freestyle thinking and codes of conduct may be incorporated into traditional organizations, some may not.

It may not be feasible to knock down all your cubicle walls and do away with layers of corporate bureaucracy. But if you treat each other with respect, in any case, and let everyone shine with a little more individuality, you may realize much more than just a rise in corporate morale. You may also experience significant progress in productivity.

The bottom line in business is this:

We want our ventures to be successful. Toward that end, why not stop to look in the mirror and honestly ask ourselves if there’s something in our own approach that hinders progress? If we all did this honestly, and let go of our inclination for codependent tendencies, we can nurture what’s truly most important: a healthy work environment. That’s the root of a successful venture.