Monday, April 29, 2013

It's magic

A few months back, we wrote about optimism and pessimism and the need for a small business owner to have a pragmatic view of his or her world.

Fixating on the bigger picture -- that is the macro environment -- is often more valuable as personal entertainment than it is productive for your enterprise.

Everyone lives in the same macro environment.  It suits some; doesn't thrill others.  The difficult job you have is to figure out how these big picture issues do, will or won't affect you and organization, without letting your personal preferences and interests color your judgement.

It's a hard task.  There are many cognitive biases that we all succumb to from time to time.  Here's a link to a list of 61 of them

Which gets us back to positive thinking, or rather, rational pragmatic thinking.  How do you check your own work, so to speak?  In a recent article, The Danger of Positive Thinking, Geoffrey James offers some tips for preventing a lapse into magical thinking:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sunrise, sunset

The bookstore in my town has announced that it will be closing at the end of June, after 23 years in business. Given the societal and economic shifts that have occurred since the emergence of internet retailers and e-books/readers, it is not a shock.  If one of the largest booksellers in the country closed its doors, what chance does a mom-and-pop in a small country village have?

My family and I are emblematic of the problem, I suppose. We frequently buy books; in fact, we organize a book club for Capital Region businesspeople.  We have patronized the store, but certainly not as much as we could have and obviously not enough to make a difference.

I don't know the proprietors personally, and the reasons they stated for closing go beyond just business economics.  There are personal and health issues involved.  So they have announced a wind down.  They're shutting down in a planned process, on their terms.

If there's a proper way to go out, this seems to be a good, if not satisfying, conclusion.  It's not always the case.

Ninety percent of the 21 million US businesses are family owned. Yet only 30 percent of family run companies today succeed into the second generation, and only 15 percent survive into the third, according to  According to some studies, fewer than 30% of small business owners have a succession or contingency plan.  That's a lot of assets at risk. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Winners and...

35 years ago (I can't believe I just typed that phrase) I coached little league baseball. My youngest brother was a player and somehow I ended up running the team, and did so for several years, until he stopped playing.

I now find myself coaching (and thankfully not running)  little league baseball for my youngest son.  Talk about a time warp.  Personally, I find that I don't jump to the left like I used to.

While it is still baseball, it is a completely different world, as one would expect three and a half decades later.  There are many reasons, and they seem to me to condense down to two:  expectations and performance.

The players' expectations are high, but that has always been so.  The kids are eager to emulate their favorite pros and do so down to how they set themselves in the batting box or wear their caps in the field.  Many kids are decked out in brand-name gear and while the brands have changed, the debate over which is better and worn endorsed by which major leaguers is timeless.

Parental expectations are high, as well, but a little less innocuous.  They are eager for their kids to do well, of course, but parental pride and support is to be expected, if not always a given.  The difference I've noticed is that their desire to see Johnny/Sally excel comes with an expectation that their progeny will or should not fail.  This belief is manifested in what some call the "everyone gets a trophy" syndrome.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pokes and provocations

I was meeting with a CEO client this week and the conversation turned to productivity and time management.  Well, sort of.

What he said was:  "I'd get a hell of a lot more done if my staff didn't drive me crazy."

Owners and employees.  Managers and staff.  CEOs and mangers. Why can't they just get along?

The CEO's lament reminded me of a phrase I had heard earlier, which also related to managing relationships:  "Don't poke the crazy."  I wasn't familiar with that one, but I was with its ursine iteration: "Don't poke the bear," which is similar to "gets your goat."

Whether you anthropomorphize your anger or not, losing your cool, or vice versa, is counterproductive to effective management.  Just ask Rutgers University basketball coach Mike Rice.  The fallout from both the bad behavior, and the condoning of it, will leave a mark.

What drives you crazy and how do you deal with provocative behavior?   Understanding personalities -- yours as well as others -- is critical to successful leadership and motivation.   

Monday, April 1, 2013

Hop and change

Ah, Spring!

The sun has passed the equator, heading north, and the arrival of robins, crocus, matzoh and Cadbury eggs heralds the season of metaphoric and symbolic renewal.

More tangibly, one of the advantages of the return of light and warmth is getting outside to play.  The benefits of outdoor play are manifest.  It helps develop creativity, problem-solving ability and social skills that carry from childhood into adult work-life interactions in ways that indoor activities do not.

Take the game of hopscotch, for example.  It is an early childhood game of which I'm sure most of you are familiar.  According to research, there's a tremendous connection between this simple game and physical and cognitive development:
" your child refines her physical coordination, she is also building essential neural pathways in the brain. It's those exact same pathways which will one day become the conduits for left/right brain thinking tasks such as creativity, reasoning, and self-regulation."
In other words, it's not play, it's training.  And it carries on to the professional level.

And as Spring represents the return of growth cycle, hopefully your thoughts are turning to your employee playtime training.  Ongoing training is essential to growth, even for the smallest of businesses.  If your organization is going to grow, you have to grow everyone involved with it.  And that takes training.