Jul 11

Sane People with Insane Ideas: Creative Thinking I

Humans cannot fly. Its an inarguable fact. In the present, its easy to name a few machines that can get us off the ground though. Can you imagine life in 1900? No Airplanes. No Helicopters. What was going on in the minds of the wives of Wilber and Orville Wright?

My husband is nuts?

We have three screaming babies and my husband is out tinkering in the barn again?

My mother was right, I should have married farmer John because he is practical and knows how to make a living?

I am sure they thought that their husband’s quest to allow a human being to fly was an insane idea. Our world has been shaped by sane people with insane ideas.

Everyone has the ability to be creative. Little children spend all day in fantasy land dreaming of growing up or of hitting home runs in the major league. Dolls are implements that foster creativity of young girls. They dream about being a mom and playing house. Little boys want to be sports heroes or truck drivers. They spend all day driving their trucks around and if they could move some real dirt around it makes their fantasy 1000 times more real.

Have you ever seen a child playing? She doesn’t care who sees her or what they think. Its her fantasy anyway. Somewhere along the line, we start caring what others thing of us. We want acceptance and support. Instead of surrounding ourselves with accepting and supportive people we change our thinking to what we think the people already around us want to hear. We are not true to ourselves and we lose our creativity over time.

It takes courage and conviction to be creative and imagine reality differently. We need to let our minds flow with good ideas and bad ones and have the courage to reveal our ideas to the world. Conviction is needed because you will come across people that are not open to thinking differently and knock your idea because it makes them feel uncomfortable. You cannot be discouraged.

For example, you reveal your desire to start a new business. If you’re lucky you will be met with excitement and support when you reveal your ideas to the people you surround yourself with. What you will probably receive and angry grumblings on how you will fail, lose everything and probably cause the end of the world. These people are so uncomfortable with themselves, their own fears about themselves spew out of their mouths. They are not even listening to you, your qualifications or your idea. They are voicing their thoughts about how they would feel about starting their own business.

In business, you have to think creatively. You must dream. You have to dare to believe in these dreams that you and only you understand and have bought in to. Entrepreneurship is a lonely lonely road. Not because you haven’t assembled a team yet, but because in the beginning, it is you and only that believes in the idea. Most importantly, you have to ignore the boo birds that will attempt to pull your dreams back down to their level so they feel comfortable with themselves. This may be your biggest challenge as you are pulled between letting your creative juices flow and conforming to the expectations of those around you.


Jul 11

Steve Jobs – Evil, Genius or Evil Genius?

Don’t ask me how I wound up delving into the investigation, but if you do some searches on the subject, “Steve Jobs Evil Genius” returns some very interesting results. Apparently I am not the only person in the world resistant to Apple and their easy to use products. Though its been a lonely road up until now, pealing back layer after layer of the Apple enigma through Google and Yahoo searches offers some solice (as you are well aware, everything on the internet is the gospel truth).

Apple photo by enricoagostoni via Diviantart Creative Commons

Rumor has it that Steve Jobs is a control freak. I think it was a recent interview on NPR where I listened to an Apple employee describe how Jobs sent a new Ipod back to engineering the night before a big unveiling event because he found that the headphones didn’t make a “click” when they were plugged in. Jobs said something to the effect of the customer expects to hear a click. And so Jobs said “let there be clicks,” and then there were clicks. Those clicks also came back under budget, well before the deadline and in 15 assorted colors.

A buddy of mine swears by his Mac. “No virus protection” he boasts. “Apple has never had a virus so no need;” he continued. I am predisposed to being risk-averse so these statements are contradictary to my fundamental make-up, but I listened… and I wondered.  How could Jobs pull this off? Is a Mac really better than a PC? Has Apple figured out the secret of life too? These questions will remain unanswered as I am not a techie, but rather a finance guy…  and the spreadsheet I was using to calculate the probabilities to answer said questions has locked up.

I am not in the position to answer these rumors so I will do my part to perpetuate them with this post. I am not ready to label Steve Jobs “Darth Vader” and Apple “The Deathstar,” but it is intriquing how a computer geek could actually be a marketing genius and a operations genius. I am thinking he has help executing his diabolical plans – which contradicts the control freak rumors.

I know a few things about Apple. The company is well run. They always impress Wall Street with great numbers. Their products do seem to be superior than their competitors. I would rather be on the side of Jobs than against him. Remember when they found the Iphone prototype in some seedy silicone valley bar and Apple was accused to planting it there for PR? I heard the guy that developed it disappeared that night. Just another Apple rumor I suppose. Its difficult to sift through the rumors to find facts. If I disappear after publishing this post, you know where to go first!

Could Jobs just be successful by being so in tuned with his customers that he knows what they want before they do? Or could it be his marketing? He locks customers in with the exclusive interconnectivity of the Apple products and only adds products that can also work well with the others. Maybe Jobs offers the forbidden fruit that is Apple to unsuspecting consumers and once they get a bite they are hooked, just like crack. The consumer can’t get enough. They rob from their parents just to get the new Iphone upgrade and new Apple interventions are being conducted by desperate families all over the world.

I heard a rumor that Jobs doesn’t use his own products. It makes sense. Everyone knows if you are going to survive peddling your “goods,” you don’t get high on your own supply.

My conclusion is that Steve Jobs must be a “genius.” I was leaning toward “evil genius,” but dropped the “evil” after reading his inspiring 2005 graduation speech at Stanford. Which, I highly recommend you read if you are confused, frustrtated, scared, lost, had a setback, will have a setback, lost perspective or have a general longing for inspiration in life.  Click below to read now.

He is human after all.


Jun 11

Immersed in the Business Traveler Subculture

As I write this I am somewhere between Austin and Cleveland and yes, I am completely immersed in the Business Traveler Subculture (BTS). Although my travel has ramped up lately, I really don’t have to travel all that often. I think that’s why I am able to recognize the subculture all around me. For the BTSer its just another day at the office. It started back in Cleveland when I was grabbing lunch at my gate.

Business travelers photo by Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr Creative Commons

A guy next to me was banging out some spreadsheets and all of a sudden asked me to watch his stuff because he had been paged. When he came back he just said “free upgrade to first class” and smiled. He went back to his spreadsheet. My coworker then arrived and said “hey, I got a free upgrade to first class so I won’t be sitting near you.” What the hell? I soon learned that he is a lifetime member of some “million mile” club or something to that effect due to years of business travel to Europe. Obviously, I am now experiencing what I always pretty much knew, there is a business traveler subculture and though I can be immersed in it, I am not a part of it.

Every direction I turned, I witnessed another amazing BTSer doing their thing. A guy was pitching rubber gaskets to a client in Chicago while meeting with the ticketing agent (probably for an upgrade) and blasting out an email on his laptop. The pitch was convincing. I almost took 10,000 gaskets from him too.

A woman ran past in a business suit and high heels that didn’t slow her down. She couldn’t have been faster in a pair of Nikes and a jogging suit. Again, she balanced her Blackberry and a large bag that she was going to apparently try and carry-on her plane. I made sure I had only one personal bag and my small suit case that fit inside the little metal cage used to measure carry-ons as you board.

Some guy turns to a stranger and says “we have some storms moving in so the plane will probably be rerouted around Chicago.” He shows his phone to the stranger. The stranger gives one of this half smiles and says “yeah, cloud deck will be pretty high and storms of that size.” BTSers are also meteorologists.

Then there was the steady stream of BTSers that flowed through those private lounges such as “The Admiral’s Club” and other creativly named exclusive clubs. Exclusivity is a good word to describe the Business Traveler Subculture. I am sure that the biggest hollywood movie starts would not be allowed into The Admiral’s Club unless they were a BTSer (or traveling first class – internationally only). The perks seemed to continue forever. Priority boarding. A “special welcome.” I am waiting for the Captain to ask if any of the BTSers would like a chance to sit on his lap and steer the plane for a bit.

The BTSer treats the airport as their own office, only more luxurious. They get all the perks of a fine hotel with the comforts of home and functionality of the office. While I am in the office all day, business is being conducted in all over our ever-connected world.

My experience makes me wonder how much longer companies will be paying for the overhead of a large office. It makes more sense to send all your workers home to work virtually. It will be interesting to see how productivity and standard of living will fluctuate when the rest of us catch up to the Business Traveler Subculture.


Jun 11

Golf and Business

Golf and business go hand in hand. People do business with other people that they like and not just companies. Therefore, it is imperative to let your potential new client get to know you as a person and not just by your rehearsed sales pitch which includes that funny trick can do with your gold-plated pen before you lay it down on the contract and ask for their business. People see through those stunts. You need to offer them something they don’t get elsewhere; you need to offer them substance and character.

Golf Course photo by Cam Switzer via Flickr Creative Commons

Offering substance is easier said than done. You have flaws. We all do. Those flaws may be more evident on the golf course than in the board room. On the course, there are variables which are out of your control. Wind. Rain. That shank into the woods on five. All these variables make a round of golf much like business and much like life – packed full uncontrollable variables that illustrate your reaction to such events.

Throwing your club into the woods following your bad tee shot shows that you are an emotional person who reacts illogically when faced with a challenge. Blaming the wind or other variables shows your lack of accountability and gives your client a glimpse of what lies ahead when they call with a concern or a complaint.

On the positive side, being able to lose well shows that you are a gracious person who knows exactly who you are. You do not need to win a round of golf to prove how great you are – you already know. As a side note, it’s bad form to beat the boss or a client in anything. If you are that good you can make it close and show that you are a good competitor.

Horrible golfer? Skip the course all together. You will most likely not be able to hide your frustration in front of the client. You should choose another low-pressure alternative to the board room meeting. Perhaps you should choose dinner if you know some great place and can order in French although I think dinner is played out. Maybe taking the client sailing will best display your multi-dimensionality. There are many low-pressure alternatives to a round of golf and that can put you and your substance on full display. It’s important to pick the activity that suits you best, offers plenty of opportunity to discuss your product and to ensure the client has a great time.

As a small business owner you need to have a decent golf game (or one of the alternatives above). Networking on the course builds relationships and strong bonds – as long as you don’t make an ass out of yourself. Golfing is a low-pressure way of displaying your substance and throwing in some well-timed banter about your company and or product. Be classy and the client will select you and your company will just be along for the ride. And you thought playing golf with business associates was just a way to get out of the office for an afternoon!


Jun 11

The Godfather MBA

Everything you ever needed to know about business you could learn in one movie (okay 2 movies) The Godfather I and The Godfather II. In fact, the movie(s) can be thought of as a crash MBA program if you pay close enough attention. I am not condoning crime syndicates, money laundering, murder or pretty much any other crime here. What I am condoning is the hard-working grind-it-out attitude from the movie that anyone trying to launch a business absolutely must have to grow their venture.

Chianti photo by Machu via Flickr Creative Commons


You do not need anyone’s permission or any level of formal education to start a business. I say formal education because some knowledge is certainly required. There are many examples of successful entrepreneurs who learn their craft from the streets and apply this education to running the business. Little Vito Andolini arrived from Sicily with only the clothes on his back and spoke no English. Vito was named after the town he came from, Corleone, by the U.S. agents at Ellis Island. He grew up learning the ways of the streets and carried this knowledge with him until he needed to take action. He was fired from Abbandando’s Grocery store because his adopted father was forced to hire a guy by the local Mafioso. Vito was left with no food, a wife and a sick baby. He was forced to take all the knowledge he acquired from the streets and from Abbandando and strike out on his own. He launched Genco Olive Oil and grew it into the most successful olive oil importer in the country. Vito didn’t invent olive oil and there were undoubtedly many other olive oil importers, but he did it better and beat them out (I am ignoring all allegations of prohibition-era rum running here).

Real Estate Investing

Being the landlord is better than being the tenant as long as you plan on owning for the long-term as I wrote in The Death of the Starter Home. If you can stomach living in apartment building that you own as Vito did in the early years, you can bank your own rental payments or better yet put that cash towards your business.


Build a good reputation and business will come to you. Your brand IS your business. Similarly, perception IS reality. Eventually, all Vito had to do was meet with prospective business partners like The Turk which you will read about next and decide if he wanted to do business with him or not.  Spend the time to ensure your brand is of the highest quality around. Then maybe you to will carry all the politicians in your pocket like the Don. Although, I would probably steer clear of politicians in my business to keep things on the up and up!

Finance/Risk and Return

Don’t bet the farm on one high-risk project. Vito heard the proposal from The Turk and decided that getting into the drug business was too high-risk and could topple everything he has built. Always diversify your investments and your income. Starting a high-risk business is not a good idea. A low-risk business you can start part-time from your home is always preferable. It takes a long to get a business of the ground. Ensure you will have the proper cash flow to support your endeavor before you go at it full-time. Also, do your due diligence instead of taking an associate’s word for it.

Contingency Planning

Always have a contingency plan. You never know when your son will speak out of turn during a business meeting and set forth a chain of events that will get the old man shot up at the fruit stand. People fall ill. It’s part of life. Have an emergency management structure set up to avoid in-fighting with the family. Make certain that all business partners have a company life insurance policy that will pay the surviving partners enough money to buy the deceased’s estate out of his ownership interests.


Keep your friends close, but your competition closer. You should ALWAYS be shopping your competition. Your customers aredoing it and you need to view your company through their eyes. Check out their websites, stores or anything else you can. It is acceptable to perform this task under the guise of a potential business arrangement. Who knows, any contact could very well be a new business partner down the road!


Don’t become complacent, clean out the bad blood every few years. Just like the five families have to do, a company needs to be dynamic. Always review your product line, methods, operations and your people to see what/who is and is not working out as planned. Don’t be afraid to make some difficult decisions and trim the fat when the situation calls for it.

Human Resources

Sometimes an associate needs to get whacked I meant let go. This goes hand in hand with not becoming complacent through the years. In the new knowledge-based economy in which the United States is now in, your people are everything. Make sure the good ones are happy and the bad ones are not working for you for very long.

A second very good point under human resources is that you should not promote by seniority, but rather skill. Fredo Corleone was passed over by Vito for Michael – the youngest and most skilled of the brothers. Choosing Michael was a tough choice for Vito, but entrepreneurship is full of tough choices and its all on your shoulders to choose correctly. It is for this reason that you should keep a competent Consigliere by your side at all times.

Accounting and Legal

Have competent support personnel to take care of the specialized tasks. Tom Hagen was Vito’s Consigliere or legal advisor. Tom was German-Irish and not Sicilian as the Consigliere typically is. This fact should let you know just how important having good legal and accounting advisors is. You need to through convention out the window as it is of paramount importance to retain the absolute best lawyers and CPAs available for your business. You are probably not an expert an laws or accounting regulations so having great advisors will free you up to run the operations end.


Don’t become one by keeping your mouth shut when expected to. Operate with honesty and integrity in all your business affairs. See my article on the downfall of Jim Tressel for more on this.

So, now you have the quick rundown of the Godfather MBA. Now go out and get the DVDs and take diligent notes for the next 7 or 8 hours and watch these films again! You can get them here if  you would like.