Friday, May 29, 2020

Two Things Old Entrepreneurs Can Do For New Entrepreneurs in a Pandemic

Crises are all the same because they are all different: Something has happened that has never happened before.  It’s worse than anyone could anticipate. There’s no obvious solution—and some people doubt there is any solution at all.  We are doomed.

So it is with the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are a seasoned entrepreneur, perhaps one who is mentoring students in an incubator or influential in your local ecosystem, here are two simple ideas to make things a little bit better.

Model Perseverance

The defining quality of a successful entrepreneur is supposed to be grit. Perseverance. Tenacity. Determination.  Resolve. The ability to struggle through obstacles and weather hard times.

Nobody wants to be locked down.  Nobody wants to wear masks or miss summer at the beach.  Everyone wants to eat at a restaurant and get their hair cut. But mercy, people: we live in a nation that stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the viscous soup of a swimming pool, spreading SARS to our closest friends.  

We live in a nation where half of us are about to fail the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.  And the price of failure is suffering and death.

If you are an entrepreneur who built your business on perseverance, it’s time now to model that trait--alongside kindness and civility.  What’s good for entrepreneurial success turns out to be good for life success as well.

Be Optimistic

Being optimistic is not about putting on a happy face. 

It's about acknowledging that the crisis is real, that people are hurting, that solutions are elusive—but that we have been in this situation before and we have overcome.  Every single time.  We just tend to forget our own history.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

"Innovation on Tap: The Movie", Podcasts, and Guest Posts

"Innovation on Tap" was awarded the 2020
Silver Medal in the "Entrepreneurship and Small Business"
category by Axiom Business Books

Below is a collection of excerpts, guest posts, reviews, videos, podcasts, interviews, and book talks related to Innovation on Tap, which was published in October 2019 and can be ordered from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Greenleaf Book Group, and Porchlight (for bulk purchases).  The book is available in hardcover, Kindle, and Audible.

Also available, free of charge, is a special set of notes prepared for entrepreneurs, business class instructors, and book groups that explore the leadership and innovation issues presented in the book. See Special Notes for Entrepreneurs here.


The video below is a 30-second summary put together by Booksplainers.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Superman Does Scenario Planning (A Tool for the New Normal?)

In The Art of the Long View, Peter Schwartz describes a powerful business tool called scenario planning, designed to help leaders navigate the future without having to predict it.  

I first wrote this post during the dark days of the 2008 financial meltdown and thought it might be worth reposting in 2020, when the new normal makes the usual tools of strategy seem inadequate.

“In a scenario process," Schwartz writes, "managers invent and then consider, in depth, several varied stories of equally plausible futures. The stories are carefully researched, full of relevant detail, oriented toward real-life decisions, and designed (one hopes) to bring forward surprises and unexpected leaps of understanding.”

Scenario planning was first used by the military in WWII, but the classic case demonstrating its value was undertaken by Pierre Wack, a planner in the London offices of Royal Dutch/Shell.  In the early 1970s, Pierre and his colleagues in the Group Planning department were looking for events that might affect the price of oil—which had long been a steady, dependable commodity. That’s when they proposed a set of scenarios, each one a plausible story of the future, but radically different in their outcomes.

I’ll spare you the details except to say, between OPEC and the Yom Kippur War, the energy crisis that followed caught the oil industry off-guard--with the exception of Shell. From one of the weaker of the “Seven Sisters” oil giants, Shell became one of the two largest and, arguably, most profitable.

Schwartz tells us, “The purpose of scenarios is to help yourself change your view of reality—to match it up more closely with reality as it is, and reality as it is going to be. The end result, however, is not an accurate picture of tomorrow, but better decisions about the future.”

Superman Does Scenario Planning

Here's a quick example of how scenario planning works, designed for a superhero.

Suppose you are Superman.  Your workday is filled with urgent, very urgent, near-death, and mankind-saving activities.  Over coffee one morning you wonder if, maybe five years from now, you will be able to retire. As you ponder, there are two things that seem especially troubling and difficult to predict.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The New Innovation: Move Fast and Heal Stuff

A blur of color and cartoons
We have a box of Kashi cereal in our kitchen pantry.  That may not be a big deal in your house, but before last month, I did not know that there was such a thing as “Kashi cereal.”

Until then, when I walked down the cereal aisle in our local market, I saw just three brands: Raisin Bran, Grape-Nuts, and Life.  That’s all. Everything else was a blur of color and cartoons.

It's what marketers call my “evoked set,” and you’ve got one, too.  In fact, we’ve all got lots of them.  For cereal, beer, toothpaste, and hundreds of other items.

The evoked set, usually two or three (but rarely more than five) brands, is your brain’s way of reducing the clutter of life and staying sane.  Evoked sets tend to be stable—even unshakable.

Until now.

Monday, May 4, 2020

I See Dead Entrepreneurs: Dr. Augustin Thompson and Moxie

WHEN I was about four years old and visiting my grandparents, I spotted a slotted wooden carton in their back hall. It was filled with brown and orange bottles.  “What’s that?” I asked. 

“Moxie,” replied my grandfather. “It’s my favorite drink. Want to try some?” He put an ice cube in a little plastic cup and poured the fizzy brown soda over it.

I took a sip.  For a fraction of a second, the taste was sweet, like the root beer I was expecting.  And then an ungodly medicinal bitterness exploded in my mouth.  I spit everything back in the cup.  My grandfather laughed.

“It’s an acquired taste,” he said.

More than half a century later, I know he was wrong.  Coffee is an acquired taste.  Scotch is an acquired taste.  Steamed clams and raw oysters are “acquired tastes.” Not Moxie. 

Moxie is the durian of carbonated drinks.  It’s an acquired taste like sweetbreads and blood pudding, tripe and haggis.

One day at a restaurant in Iceland, the waiter politely informed our table that the specialty of the house was sour ram’s testicles.  I almost asked, “Is that served with Moxie?”

Nei takk to the house specialty, and no thanks to Moxie.