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Three Rs of Enterprise

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

Fewer than 40 percent of graduating high school seniors have mastered reading and math, making the majority of graduating classes poorly equipped for college and real-world life.  This group of students (generally) passes to the next grade—regardless of performance—and is at a serious disadvantage with a higher chance of falling behind and dropping out of college. (National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] 2015)

Programs such as STEM that encourage girls—who usually do better than boys in most subjects—in the study of science, math, and technology helps, but the majority of U.S. graduates are disadvantaged in the workplace in comparison to many other industrialized nations.

The fallout is evident to most business and NFP (Not For Profit) organizations that must routinely choose among candidates that show promise, if not the skills already in place that are necessary to job performance. While poor language skills are among the most obvious deficiencies in job candidates, most lack the discipline of an everyday job, the resourcefulness that fuels growth and opportunity, and the basic nature in risk taking.

Perhaps, as it relates to our educational system, we are asking the wrong questions. A focus on literacy and basic academic skills fails to identify key elements of success in the marketplace, which also encourage the personal growth and development that lead to ultimate fulfillment—the highest level of personal achievement.

  1. Resourcefulness
  2. Respect
  3. Risk

The three Rs of Enterprise may be a reasonable place to start. Simply, Resourcefulness, Respect, and Risk may offer the opportunity to address the educational deficit noted above and present a more achievable goal for lazy students, encouraging academic participation. Clearly, 60 percent of high school graduates may be unable to outline the elements of international balance of power today in light of the Monroe Doctrine that defined an era of isolationism in America for 100 years. They would more easily be able to describe the ways they repaired a separated doorknob for mom while dad was at work, or the discovery of ingredients for a first omelet when the fridge offered limited options, or the mental calculation used to judge a skateboard stunt, or the deference paid to a disabled person in helping them. On these foundations—common to all—most any could find their way to greater understanding through an informed approach to learning. I think we call this education.

What’s taught in school? Coursework is the answer, for its focus on academics. Missing is the method common to all learning that resourcefulness, respect for the subject matter (in practical terms) and the risk that raises hands with questions, subordinating natural fears, engenders.

Also missing are the business calisthenics so vital to self-achievement. R1 is first among skills. In the end, some part of all things must be done alone—critical thinking, ideation, planning, “what if” analyses, funding, market analysis, pricing models, competitive analysis, facilities plan, staffing, training and personnel development (leadership), and growth modeling. All come into play for household management; something we all need to learn so as not to model the error in governments that practice deficit spending. If we are successful in raising a nation of people better able to find self-fulfillment, we do well to teach and practice resourcefulness. There is no substitute for this ability to find solutions when none are seemingly available.

Respect calms the process, answers the “why” in what we do and in choosing our life’s path. Significantly, R2 models the organizational attitude in whatever place we find ourselves. Respect for the work, the staff, the process, the customer, the community, the industry, end goals, and individual choice, put all peoples, created equal under God, on an even plane to compete cooperatively. If we are better able to see another through the eyes of hope in us, we reveal the path to the most spoken urging of politics and people—coming together.

Risk Management must become an internal model, wholly respected and resource specific for the incomplete logic in all initiatives that finds optimal outcomes. It’s everyone’s job.

  1. Assessing coverage risks—cross-functional flow and cross training. What a 3rd baseman does when the shortstop attempts to field a hard grounder; or a friend does in comforting another after tragedy; or a parent does when their fledgling child rents her first apartment with the fear she won’t be able to manage the financial burden of it.
  2. Raising the quality of customers to serve efficiency and best outcomes, driving prices down, and quality product and service up, which delivers greater profits.
  3. Staff attrition risk management—A measure of organizational reward (liking where we work and what we do), and opportunity assessments.
May 25, 2018 |

The #1 Investment

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

In my life I have mulled over the number of calls from those asking me to consider an investment of one kind or another. They were usually imbued of a unique product or service, market space, or potential in the thinking or use of something. Not least, there were always stocks “of extraordinary value” in the offerings, in both rising and falling markets. Admittedly, it took dozens of stock flips, educational and environmental schemes, and new bond initiatives, before my penchant for a quick fix to wealth building rested in wisdom’s tranquility. Despite the variety of investments offered and the creative approaches that attended them, all had one thing in common; they required nothing from me but money.

A quick review of the ways and means of accomplishment, no less self-esteem, revealed the gray around my temples—and frankly, none too soon. The cost of this outside-inside view of opportunity was a false hope in others and other things, and the artifice that steals real opportunity from enterprise and enterprising people. Desire, it seems, has deep roots, a grand view, and few obstacles. Only the doing blocks the way; thus, any opportunity with the promise of great wealth “while we sleep” almost always looks like the missing puzzle piece to a perfect picture. We’ve all heard the sage advice to let our money work for us. Perhaps, the confusion is in thinking it means that we don’t have to.

After giving in to a number of investments, I discovered a few things. I couldn’t shake myself of the motion sickness of a growing belief in impossible dreams and the notion that “nothing comes from nothing,” which is all that I was putting into these ventures. Sure, I studied the markets, made plausible conclusions, and dutifully ignored the nagging question over how much more invested others were in my dreams than the money I gave them to chase the gravity beneath me and cause high fives all around the office—theirs!

I anxiously awaited the news that each investment had delivered on the promise, chalking up to experience those that failed, even those that drifted into space with endless excuses of external imponderables. The brilliance at the end of most every one of them proved to be glitter, not gold. Not coincidentally, they ended as they had begun, with more promise than progeny. Clearly, after the risk is factored in, most such investments usually lose their appeal.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Like Alice, the simple girl in a dream of fancy, I discovered the truth in wealth building—an investment in myself, in my own business, always resulted in an ROI greater than any I had learned of or experienced. Consider the investment we make in education, whether in a trade or so-called higher education. We might spend $50 – $200,000 on it—a healthy investment by any measure. Not even a $500,000 home requires more than 20 percent down, only half of our investment in a top-school education. But the difference in income earned by those with and without that education is as much as $2.7 million over their work life. Should one retire at 65, the average annual return on a $100,000 investment is 8 percent, and that’s in simple interest. Compounded over 44 years on the job, the ROI is staggering.

Why then, don’t we see the opportunity in ourselves and make the obvious investment? Simply, it is FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). Greatness, it is told, is achieved only after one having reached the crest of the wave endures against the sheer force of it, and overcoming, meets up with it.

Statistically, a $1 investment in yourself—your education, a business, new equipment, or a new product—pays between 2 -10 times the ROI. (US Census, DOC, 2005). A quick example illustrates the point. In 1990 I started one of the five companies I founded over the years. My work in Silicon Valley had earned me a reputation for helping build electronics startups into superstars. The news that I had started a new company brought five clients to me on day one. But my new company and I, and its first day, had the same number in common—one. How was I to serve five clients alone, all needing personal attention, and a lot of market work? I could schedule their start dates but risk losing them to the urgency in their need for help. Or, I could stretch myself as though I were Plastic Man. I decided to gather competent others in a team capable of handling the client load. As one, I could have taken a bigger portion of the fees, but limited my revenues in the tradeoff. As seven we were able to multiply revenues by 4x, and that was in the first month of operation. The decision netted our little company near a half million dollars in the first year.

Consistently over time, I have applied this valuable lesson, and with equally consistent results. An investment in oneself, one’s business, is better than 95 percent of the alternatives. There are over 50,000 new businesses started in the U.S. each month. Not surprisingly, small businesses employ 52 percent of the private workforce (more if adding non-profits) and roughly 60 percent of the nation’s sales, including jobs for the young, old, and women; 67 percent of new jobs; and 55 percent of all innovations.

When thinking about where to shop this season, consider where it is going to do the country the most good, and find your local small business. Happy hunting!

 

 

May 18, 2018 |

The Idea

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

Few things inspire us more than ideas. The very thought of an idea changes our facial expression. We grow pensive as we look inward for the elements of its execution and outward for others to join in anticipation of its fruit. “What if” becomes more than the “alternative” thinking in good decision-making; it rises in the air to form the cloud of opportunity that ideas reveal.

Ideas, defined narrowly as “the capacity to create and understand the meaning of creative thought,” are considered to be an essential and defining feature of the human condition. They come to us in a sort of vision or cloud that crystallizes in the mind’s eye and usually in the form of a relative model that is in some way familiar to us, though not completely. Very few would see Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler as having anything in common. The idea is odious and distasteful. But to Harvard psychologist Kurt Gray, the clarity necessary to understand our view of people, conditions and things, revealed a fundamental distinction in the motivation of people — that is, how we form our image of others.

The suggestion that we classify people as either agents or patients — good or evil, saints or sinners — sets morality as the metric for measuring what is common among us. “Moral agents,” he contends, are “those who act, and are deserving of praise or blame.”

“Moral patients” are the objects or receivers of that praise or blame. We see the former as capable of “deliberate moral action, self-control, and planning,” according to Dr. Gray. Both Mother Teresa and Aldolf Hitler share one side of this fulcrum, though each used their agency differently. “Moral patients” are the victims of the world, the objects of “moral agents.” And though less in control, they tend to be more capable of emotions and emotional experience, Gray’s research suggests.

The strength in ideas, however, may come from deep within. Wherever they originate, ideas are either positioned for development or the boneyard. Which it is may depend more on the personal characteristics of the individual and his experience. While it is true that those with authority speak more cogently on all things — no less ideas — and that those in attendance listen better when an idea comes from the boss or a respected other, ideas are naturally occurring in all of us by the creative nature of the human condition.

What happens to an idea before it’s delivered to promise or purgatory, and why? Simply, we do! And the preparation is what determines its destination.

The Preparation

The quickest, most effective way to advocate ideas is to state one’s case cogently, with supporting data, and with the qualitative view that builds excitement. That said, ideas can be presented quickly and objectified as quickly with simple market analogs and presented with a clear goal in mind.

  1. Observe (analog), imagine, and execute. Begin with a relative observation that is familiar to most. Then complete the analogy to it using your idea. Close with a simple plan of action that defines results and is measurable.
  2. Prepare well. Be a step ahead of the alternatives and the questions. Gather your team around the idea and test its appeal on them.
  3. Know your audience. Know who and how to prepare your audience before presenting your idea. Your confidence rises when you can answer expected questions easily.
  4. Be direct and a partner. Make your case quickly and clearly, then wait for others to amplify it. Everyone wants to be a party to fresh, winsome ideas.

 

May 11, 2018 |

Just Two Things

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

Intuition may be more vital to business enterprise than the data that gathers around it. A bold statement, but one supported by both experience and science. Many have found the way through obscure markets by the light of intuition. When the darkness seems most impenetrable, when we can’t seem to form the logic that clears the way, we are forced to rely on it. Lee Iacocca saw a hidden market for a car that carried families and made women feel safer behind the wheel. Only Toyota’s Sienna had the early look of it, but most did not see the minivan coming.

Intuition may be a social chit, but the science in it is called the adaptive unconscious, an innate sense that something different about what everyone sees is there, uniquely viewed by a few. Lee Iacocca had it; Bill Gates too, who dispelled the myth that few would want a computer of their own. Steve Jobs had it when he pronounced the Apple “the computer for the rest of us,” then demonstrated that computer users would go wild over innovative design when other manufacturers were focused on standards and low-price PCs. The “Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffet may be glimpsing the same as he bets heavily on rail transportation when others see little opportunity in it. Clearly, Americans are still attached to their cars, and trucks deliver most products to market.

In fact, we all have it on some level. It’s what makes us creative and quirky individuals, those who put aside the conventional wisdom and the mythmakers in favor of an unusual and often unique view of things. Seeing through things, around corners, under the cover of the obvious — these are the characteristics of the entrepreneur, who relies on intuition and data interpretation to set organizations for the future. As former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall offered, “Intuition in the absence of analysis is another word for stupidity, but good intuition and good data analysis is a recipe for success.” His record of achievement qualifies the view. Crandall is credited with launching the first frequent flyer program, the industry’s first yield-management system, and deep-discount airline tickets, all of which are still with us today.

For those of you who are still with us after a period of economic malaise and have managed to steel yourselves by force of will and intuition for the economic recovery that has formed, take heart. You have done what is required to soar in the bull market by the investment you made in the future when the future was a dim view to most.

The Gut

The feeling that reveals essential elements that most don’t see is often called a “gut feeling.” It is the stuff that legends are made of. Perhaps most notable is Babe Ruth’s reputed pointing to center field in the 3rd game of the 1932 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. After two strikes, Ruth raised the level of banter between him and the taunting Cubs dugout by showing two fingers, then pointed in the direction of center field. He hit the next pitch a towering 440 feet right there. Few would argue that the “Sultan of Swat” was not capable of such planned performance, though an objective view still harbors questions.

Richard Nixon may have seen the commercial giant in China that few before him would allow. Frank Borman saw the earth from a unique perch as an astronaut and later as CEO of Eastern Airlines, which created the business shuttle industry segment between corridor cities. Closer to home, John Chase combined experience in the advertising industry, a Depression stint in the U.S. Post Office, and a gambler’s confidence from his days on the bridge circuit to found the PennySaver, now Chase Media Group. The list of similar accomplishments contains the same unique view of things that others glanced at but only a few saw real opportunity in.

The Brain

When we pause to consider what’s happening to us, to our customers, to people in general, we add data to the analysis of what to do and how to do it. The information, uniquely interpreted, couples well with the gut to further inform the winning combination that is “intuition” and “analysis.” The logic that creates sequential order is an unmistakable jewel in the decision-making process. What we know about the circumstances that form markets and societies, what we see, and how we interpret it, in Crandall’s words, is what turns stupid into smart.

May 4, 2018 |

Watcher or Marcher?

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

Both good and bad. Good is when we look to effective models for inspiration and direction and follow them. Bad is when all we do is look. People are naturally inclined to move, to create, and to accomplish. The process of actualization is endemic to the human spirit; we form goals easily, and they imprint direction to our thoughts and actions. Humans are also least-resistance oriented. When not challenged by structure, design, or peers, we find the easy way in next steps. Often this is the model of disinterest and dispassion. Clearly, for some, nothing ventured is nothing risked and nothing gained. This model of safety cripples more business ventures than any competition they might encounter and robs us of the opportunity in looking beyond ourselves. As Einstein is credited with saying, “Nothing happens if nothing moves.”

Clearly, many don’t venture out because they don’t know how and fear the uncertainty in the unknown. What can we do about it, and how might we turn the watcher into the marcher in us? We are becoming a nation of spectators — perhaps, because the level of excellence in sports, entertainment, and drama is beyond our capability or our physical plant. Weekend warriors give it a try, and so should we … in whatever way we can. At issue is the internal motivation to accomplish something, that critical element of a growing self-esteem and the route to fulfillment in all things. The artist in us may wait on the inspiration to put brush to canvas or pen to paper, but if they don’t develop the mechanisms that lead to action they more often fail to deliver on the promise of their art. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, or so it would seem.

While there is ample evidence to suggest that talking through things with oneself — a model of visualization — leads to productive ends, and that hard goals emerge from soft goals —those resting in the back of the mind — there is good reason to practice a model of “doing” that enables next steps. Consider the following simple model that polls both the left and right brain to balance one’s approach (taken from an article in Born Realist).

  • Find a purpose in the things you do. This single effort will energize even the most sedentary among us.
  • Find your story. Everyone has one; try writing it down. At least discover (or fashion) the tone of it. When positive, you discover the opportunity in everyone and everything.
  • Focus. Block out most distractions and make your doings a decision of now or later. The practice will multiply results.
  • Seek doers. You’ll become one of them or know what you are missing. If the latter, seek mentors. They make a huge difference in the lives of doers.
  • Assess and reassess. This does not mean change your mind. When “how” you are doing it isn’t producing positive growth, abandon it in favor of another approach.
  • Finish. Learning the art of the finish is what makes great athletes, performers, businessmen, and parents. See the ball through the racket and your mind will deliver it right where you want it. Don’t start things you can’t finish in some form.
  • Be a doer. A visualization model; it works magic for those who adopt it.

 

April 27, 2018 |

Serious About Work

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

So many interviewers make this issue the primary goal in determining the suitability of candidates. The post-interview summary often sounds like this: “Likeable, easy going, good skills, but talks in the first person singular too much to be a team player.” Or, “He has a spotty work experience.” Is it because he’s not serious about his work?

When in talks with employees, do you have the view that they are doing all they can do to achieve “agreed upon” goals? If not, what do you conclude? Is he taking responsibility for the “complete task” that’s missing?

Enterprise organizations need the best from stakeholders every day. When disengaged—54 percent of employees—the meaning and the joy in work are hard to find. Uninvested employees are indifferent about the work they do and the value of it to them. It’s a common concern since roughly 85 percent of the workforce dislikes their jobs.

Least-resistance oriented, most people find their lowest level of contribution—just enough to get by. It’s a condition just short of complacency for most, though some move quickly to actively disengage—17 percent of the workforce. Armed with this information, how do we determine whom among candidates is serious about his work? The trick may be in developing a good sense of what it feels and sounds like to be actively engaged in meaningful work; the goal of all serious workers. Consider the answers to the following question:

Describe what it means to be serious about your work.

Candidate A: “I’m very serious about my work. I always studied hard when in college, and arrived at work promptly at my first job. I work hard and do everything that is asked of me. I know that this job, like most others, is not 9-5, and I always give 110 percent. I take my work very seriously.”

Candidate B: “To be serious about work means growing a greater sense of the whole than just an understanding of the task at hand. I think it requires that I take responsibility for the success of the team, the individual team players, and the goals of the organization. I think when people do that, they enjoy their work more and are able to make a more valuable contribution to the organization. Encouraging those around me to do their best makes me better and conditions the work with real purpose. I think that is what it means to be serious about your work.”

Which of these candidates has demonstrated an understanding of the meaning in being serious about one’s work? Candidate A’s answer is more common than B’s answer by 10:1. Surprised? Yet, the only modeling apparent in the answers above is in candidate B’s words. Clearly, the candidate is prepared by the thinking that preceded them.

The opportunity in the work we do is prepared in us. If it truly is not in your organization, if the culture is predatory in nature, then move on. But in most organizations, it is not opportunity that’s missing but the willingness to invest fully in the work we do. To make a difference is easy; just give of yourself by an internal standard, not the one by which others measure themselves. Go beyond the task to complete the job. Few do; a difference maker in successful individual effort. Everyone is gifted, but some don’t open the package.

 

April 20, 2018 |

Lucky or Good

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

                                       

Most of us are familiar with the now famous line from the movie “Dirty Harry” in which Clint Eastwood’s character asks of his nemesis, “Feeling lucky? Go ahead, make my day!” Simple enough — Harry was itching for a fight (as was his wont), ready to do the deed and fully prepared to pull the trigger and fulfill his death wish. But what was Harry really asking as he posited the notion kindling in the mind of his adversary?

The Patriots were an exceptional team for most of the season. Their opponents were unprepared for a team that could execute so well and with the resolve and confidence uncommon to most. Then the tables turned. The Patriots played poorly in the last 5 games of the regular season and playoffs, including the Super Bowl. What happened? Simply, they were unprepared for teams that rose to the level of their play, teams that devised ways to penetrate their system and break it down.

Were the Patriots lucky to have gone 18-0? Were the Giants lucky to have beaten an undefeated (presumably unbeatable) team? How do we know? Let’s examine the tenets of luck to answer the question.

The Model of Luck

Luck is defined as “the arbitrary distribution of events or outcomes, something that seems to happen by chance rather than as a logical consequence.” It is clear by this definition that “luck” is a circumstantial mechanism, and one that owes its magniloquence to a propitious ordering of the stars. We know the feeling. We walk out of a difficult meeting and onto the street and there on the sidewalk is a $50 bill just waiting to brighten our day. We call this “dumb luck.” There’s not much that we had to do with it; we just happened to be where the $50 bill was at that precise moment, and we saw it before another.

Perhaps, in the moments or hours that follow we will hold on to the feeling of euphoria that good fortune improvises. It may even raise our level of contribution to greater heights than we have known before or might have been achieved had not good fortune met with us on the sidewalk.

But there is another kind of luck, the one that so many businesses refer to when they begin an initiative that the market takes to. The iPod may be an example. The response to it was nothing short of spectacular. On the other hand, how did Apple, Inc. arrive at this extraordinary success? Remember the Newton—innovative, but bulky, slow, and with the brain of a mouse (no pun intended)? Then there is its progenitor, Steven Jobs—he, impugned of ignominy despite his founding of this creative and genius computer products company. Next, Inc. was next (no less creative), a failure, then, Pixar, a success. And a return home finally, just for the fun of it at $1 a year.

The iPod is an MP3 player like so many. Was it that good, or was it luck? Was it that different from all the rest? How? Luck, again? The iPhone is the same script. And then, the MacPro Air and the iPad Air. Just another computer, right? Just more luck? Or “not”!

It is said that luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity. The math looks like this:

Preparation + Opportunity = Luck

If luck is where preparation meets opportunity and it is something we can influence, why don’t we work harder at creating it? Perhaps, it’s because we haven’t spent a moment to study it, to learn what it really is.

Being Good

Some say “I’d rather be lucky than good.” It means that if someone wants to toss us the keys to the kingdom, we’ll gladly catch them in the air. But then, why do we go to school, honor the so-called Protestant ethic of hard work, suffer through the failure of 92% of the businesses that start each year? We go to school, work hard, and suffer loss to prepare ourselves for success. We know that we learn from doing, that we can’t know success until we fail, and that giving up sacrifices opportunity. So we persevere, preparing ourselves in excellence, in the hope that we get lucky. Excellence, we have learned from Thomas Edison, is formed of 2% inspiration and 98% perspiration. Excellence, we are told, comes from an average of 10,000 hours of practice before realized. Ask a concert pianist. Being “good,” as it turns out may produce more luck than happenchance.

Inspiration (2%) + Perspiration (98%) = Success

Luck is often made of the following:

  • Limited Crisis—when things could have been worse, but aren’t.
  • Circumstances—good ones that just worked out that way.
  • Unexpected Help—someone says, “Boy, you look like you could use some help. What can I do for you?”

Good is often made of these:

  • Training—skills and knowledge acquired over time and from intensive study.
  • Preparation—a disciplined approach to things.
  • Readiness—the competence that is obtained from the previous two.
  • Willingness—that quality of resourcefulness that won’t quit, even when all around you do.
  • Pride—that sense of the value in oneself that drives excellence.
  • Quality—the notion that doing things well produces better, less costly results.

 

Being good may be the banner ad of the ego, but it contributes one very important thing to an ultimate outcome; it allows us to have influence over it. In doing so, we construct a model of behavior that is more repeatable, more controllable, and more successful than that which relies on chance alone. Being good may require something more of us than a hopeful attitude (a good thing), and it may be just the elixir that separates us from the crowd and raises the odds in our favor. Being “good” may be just the “preparation” that produces “luck.”

 

April 13, 2018 |
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