Your Business Magic 8 Ball

Are you certain?

A good friend is in the throes of making expansion decisions about his business.  Everything is looking good for him.  His market is expanding, his positioning is good, the hard work of building relationships is paying off.  Time to pull the trigger.  He’s worried though.  It’s worrisome isn’t it?

As an entrepreneur, you have a Magic 8 Ball.  Some people’s 8 Ball always tells them YES.  From Wikipedia, here’s what’s inside a Magic 8 Ball:

The 20 answers inside a Magic 8-Ball are

● It is certain

● It is decidedly so

● Without a doubt

● Yes – definitely

● You may rely on it

● As I see it, yes

● Most likely

● Outlook good

● Signs point to yes

● Yes

● Reply hazy, try again

● Ask again later

● Better not tell you now

● Cannot predict now

● Concentrate and ask again

● Don’t count on it

● My reply is no

● My sources say no

● Outlook not so good

● Very doubtful


My personal experience tells me that rarely do I leave the noncommittal zone of the Magic 8 Ball.  Ask it all you want, you never get a 100% positive or negative answer.  The point here is that being an entrepreneur demands that you become comfortable with ambiguity.  It is the sea that we swim in.  If you can’t get there, you’ll probably be very miserable trying to run an entrepreneurial organization.

You can (and should do) everything you can to reduce uncertainty, but at some point, you decide.  That’s why you’re the leader.  Why you get paid the big bucks.  As Seth Godin says you’ve got to “Ship”.  If you need certainty, you’re in the wrong job.  Here’s secret though.  Nothing is certain.  I’m not even sure death and taxes(this link is about GE’s taxes and don’t go looking for any certainty here either!) are anymore.



Onboarding Mateys!

Onboarding New Staff

No it’s not a pirate training thing.  It’s how you welcome new people into your organization.  There’s tons written about this that addresses the details, Inc. magazine has several including this one.  The best way to understand why onboarding is important is to put yourself in the shoes of the new employee.  I don’t care who you are, starting work at a new place is stressful and anxiety producing along with (hopefully) being exciting and offering the promise of a bright future.

So, if it is your first day, which scenario would you care for:

Scenario A – You are show up on the first day, but your direct supervisor is in meetings off-site until nearly the end of the day.  He does give you a call and directs you to HR which has expected you, but doesn’t really have a lot time for you.  You’re directed to your desk, which is a bit dusty and has a broken monitor on it along with your new computer!

Which is still in the box.

You are given a raft of forms to fill out and a pen with the company logo.  Various other staff say hello, but aren’t exactly sure who you are.  You diligently fill out all the forms, return them to HR and ask what’s next.  They tell you to go ahead and contact IT and get them to help you set up your computer.   You do that and after waiting for an hour for them to help you, you are guided through a tedious and frustrating computer setup.  Near the end of the day, your supervisor shows up and asks how you’re doing.  You tell him, but while you’re doing so, he checks his Blackberry for the first (but not the last) time.

IT says they’ll have your email address up sometime tomorrow and will work on getting you access to the sections of the server that you’ll need over the course of the week, but hey, you know how things go!

You trudge out to your car and notice that you have a parking ticket.  You thought you were in a good spot, but as you stand there in a bit of a daze, one of your new officemates walks by and says, “Oh.  Yeah, that’s a tricky spot, it looks good, but this half of the block is a sure place to  get a ticket! Bummer.  See you tomorrow”.


Scenario B – You show up for the first day having already filled out most of your paperwork electronically and via the company’s Learning Management System.  You’ve already watched a number of orientation clips and have a pretty good feel for things at the company.  Your supervisor asked that you call him when you hit the parking lot and had sent you a map of where to park and where not to park.  He meets you at the entrance and introduces you to folks on the way to your desk.  Your desk is totally outfitted; business cards, cell phone, and computer, a welcome message in your email inbox from management and from IT and HR, each letting you know how welcome you are to contact them for help and how pleased they are that you’ve joined the team.  There’s a small welcome basket of snacks (no peanuts because they already know that you have an allergy).  You set down your bag and your boss takes you around to the rest of the team.  You meet your “buddy”, a team member specifically assigned to be your Go To for any question, especially the “stupid” ones.  Then you visit with HR to take care of a few outstanding items.

There is a welcome on the company intranet website which means that everyone in the company knows you’ve started and who you are.  Several staff have added comments welcoming you to the company.

You end the day with a small welcome gathering at the pub around the corner that your immediate team members put together to end the day.  You head home feeling a sense of inclusion and welcome.  The future looks bright.

Now, how much effort would it really take to turn Scenario A into Scenario B?  You probably put Scenario B levels of effort into the impression you work to make on clients.   Isn’t a new staff member in many ways going to be as important to your organization as a new client?  Can’t they have a huge positive or negative impact on your business?

Onboarding.  It’s not just for pirates anymore.


Putting the U in Entrepreneur

I just tweeted an interesting piece from Forbes titled,  Why Traditional Employment Is Better Than Entrepreneurship By Caroline Ceniza-Levine

My first reaction was “No Way! Like for real!” (snort, snort, etc.)  But after that reaction, I did step back and ponder the article a bit more.  I love entrepreneurship and think that it should be nurtured whenever possible.  My youngest daughter is a great example.  She has about ten “great ideas” a day.  Watch out world!  However, I do think that everyone going into business for themselves needs an Eyes Wide Open dose of reality.

The article paints a skewed picture of the entrepreneurial world, especially as it’s depicted in contrast to working at JP Morgan Chase.  Not only is that line of work available only to the few, but it’s decidedly not for many of us regardless of the pay.  Many in the entrepreneurial world enter it not as a means to work but as a means to fulfill a passion, to solve a problem, to craft a lifestyle that is different from that of the employment path.  The world is shifting in ways that make it easier than ever to be your own boss, start your own business, march to your own drummer.

Like the author, I agree, each path has its merits, each its rewards.  I admit, I fall firmly on the side of entrepreneurism, but I’ve grown wise enough now to know that it really isn’t for everyone.   In fact, it appears to me that it’s for a fairly narrow band at the end of the day.  You have to like or at least appreciate the tasks that Ceniza-Levine enumerates.  And yes, even now, I empty the dishwasher, move furniture around and what not when it’s needed.

For every reward of running  your own show, there is another side.  It’s not a down side, it’s not a dark side, it’s just a different side.  With success will come stress.  Without it, stress.  With growth; highs and lows as well.  For me it’s so much about the creation of something from nothing. To hopefully make it good and right and enduring and worthwhile.  To make this a place that people want to be and stay and share the dream and the mission.  But for all that, you still have to get the business side right.  It isn’t easy.  It can be frightfully hard.  Perhaps my biggest piece of advice is that if you aren’t mightily comfortable with ambiguity, entrepreneurism probably isn’t for you.  I like to joke that we practice “rigid flexibility”.  It’s a funny term, but it pretty much sums up what it takes for me to not lose my mind in the day to day tumult that is EnergyLogic.


Why business is like compost

I have a confession to make.  I’m addicted to monitoring the temperature of my compost pile.  I know, I know, get a life Steve.  But as I pondered my sad fate, I began to reflect on how the maintenance of my really fine compost heap is similar to the work I do as the CEO of EnergyLogic.  Here’s why…

One critical aspect of compost is knowing what’s going on inside the pile.  Is it getting hotter or cooling off?  I use a cheap wireless thermometer from Taylor to monitor my pile from the comfort of my kitchen.  One of the first things I check in the morning is how hot the pile is.  I need to know when it needs my attention.  Too much attention can be too much of a good thing for a pile, the mycelium need time to do their thing undisturbed.  Think of this as not micro-managing your staff.  However, if you don’t know when to act, the pile goes cold.

Another big thing is getting the mix right.  Proper amounts of green material and brown material are needed to make things cook.  Too much of one or the other and it will probably still move along, but slower.  If things get really out of whack it won’t cook and then drastic measures have to be taken.  I don’t like compost starter and additives, I haven’t had good success with them.  I think it really just takes the steady input of effort and attention to get the results you want.  Sound familiar at all?  You have to apply resources, know when to push, know when to rest and know when to stir the pot.  Silver bullets in business are pretty rare in my opinion.

Finally, you have to know when it’s done.  You can keep adding forever and you’ll keep composting, but part of the point of the exercise is to produce a finished product that you’ll use to help you grow better crops.  Yep, you’ve eventually got to “ship”  in the words of Seth Godin.  You’ve got to use that finished product and apply it to the garden.  Some folks like their compost really fine, they might sift it and keep going until it looks like the stuff you buy in bags at the store.  Mine is quite a bit rougher.  Bits of eggshell, lots of twigs and some rinds and what not, but it works great and it does the job.  I know full well that the compost process will keep on going in the garden after we lay it down.  That’s okay, we’re getting the product to market, twigs and all.

So, how’s your pile doing?  Smokin’ I hope.  Mine go over 158 degrees every time these days (max on the thermometer).  And things at EnergyLogic are roughly the same…

Happy composting!

Is Somethin’ Burnin’ a Hole in Your Pocket?

You’ve probably heard or thought the phrase, “I’ve got (fill in the blank depending on your means) dollars burnin’ a hole in my pocket!”

Well, you probably didn’t wait long to spend that money once you had that thought.  Maybe you should have saved the money, maybe the right thing to do was to spend it.  It’s money, only you know what was best for you.

Now, what if I said, “I’ve got a fabulous damn idea burnin’ a hole in my pocket!”  What would you advise me to do?  Save it?  Put it away for a rainy day?  Hmmmm.   I don’t think so.  If you’ve got a hot idea burnin’ in your pocket, get on it!  Spend that idea!

Work it, what’s stopping you?  Let’s put it another way.  Almost everyone I know, including yours truly, has uttered this phrase at some point:

“I had this great idea, but someone beat me to it.”  Maybe they did, but how long was that idea burnin’ a hole in your pocket?

Don’t SAVE your ideas.  Spend them.  Unlike money, the more you spend your ideas, the more you’ll have.  If you’ve got one in your pocket, what are you waiting for?