Why Your Business Needs Design Thinking.

First things first: Design thinking isn’t the same thing as design.  Rather, design thinking is “both an effective problem-solving approach and a mindset,” explains Sebastian Fixson, Babson College associate professor and design thinking researcher.  And, for companies using design thinking, it’s much more than a buzzword—it’s an effective path to innovation.

Design Thinking as a Problem-Solving Approach

To illustrate the need for design thinking, Fixson gives this example: in the U.S. today, there are thousands of cereals available. Says Fixson, “Making a cereal a bit crunchier is probably not going to do anything.”

That’s where design thinking comes in: to help companies innovate and develop a strategic advantage within their industry.

Expert Tim Brown’s design thinking model has three steps: inspiration (finding the problem or opportunity), ideation (developing possible solutions), and implementation (testing solutions). Other models have four or five steps but all involve applying user-focused, or human-centered, design to find, identify, and understand the problem and opportunity. “We need to understand what users really need,” says Fixson. “As a famous anthropologist once said, what people say and do, and what people say they do, are entirely different things.”

Here’s an example of design thinking in action: Pepsi hoped a smaller, pink package would help them sell chips to women in Japan. But that hypothesis was incorrect. “When someone took the time to understand how things are consumed,” Fixson reveals, “they found that women like to snack, but the cultural context makes it inappropriate. It’s noisy in an office environment.”

That single insight led to a redesign of the chip to make it smaller and less noisy when crunched. “A deep understanding of user context was the relevant piece—not trivial, surface-level gender associations.”

The implementation stage varies greatly from traditional problem-solving, too. Instead of a full-scale implementation, design thinking is about performing quick tests to see how people respond to the solution. “Let users tell you what’s right and what’s wrong,” says Fixson.

At Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Molly Mazzaferro, Director of Innovation, is using this approach to get customer feedback as early as possible. “[We could] spend months, years building something only to find you’re solving the wrong problem,” she explains.

“That’s where the power of design thinking lies: the time and attention to understand users in a deeper way,” Fixson said. “Having a better idea of the problem allows you to develop a better solution.” And, implementing small tests lets you fail fast and iterate quickly.

Design Thinking as a Mindset

Another important note: design thinking is a mindset that requires patience.  “We all tend to want to develop solutions quickly,” empathizes Fixson. But for design thinking to work, you’ve got to focus on finding the problem. “It takes patience and a willingness to suspend solution generation for a while and focus on identifying the problem first. Accept not having the question yet. That’s a mental problem for many of us.”  The mindset also requires a shift in the perception of failure; taking the time to observe, learn, and understand the actual problem.

Instead, companies need to strike a balance between the two mindsets. “There are three characteristics a product needs to be successful: it needs to be desirable, technically feasible, and economically viable,” Fixson explains. While most companies are good at assessing technical and economic viability, they’ve lost touch with the details and emotions of customers. And, that emotional element may lead to a completely different—more effective—solution.

Mazzaferro believes the mindset is equally (if not more) important than the process. “For us, it’s about being human-centered and bringing the customer into the conversation,” she explains. “That’s not traditionally how we’ve approached problem solving.”

Her team also utilizes “radical collaboration”—bringing in provider partners, government agencies, students in the Boston area, and doctors. “We want to bring all these voices to the table for everything from problem identification through solution development.”

Developing a New Mindset

Understanding design thinking is just the beginning. For design thinking to work, a company’s culture must support experimentation. “In many companies, traditional evaluation methods would quickly suggest some of it is wasteful,” points out Fixson. “Most budgeting methods are good at measuring costs, but poor at measuring missed opportunities. There’s no way of putting a dollar sign on an opportunity you didn’t find a solution for.”

There’s also the issue of time. “You’ve spend X hours and haven’t produced something yet,” Fixson says. “Using design thinking on every project may be wasteful. But, on the other hand, if your goal is to think about a new or better solution, then the question becomes can your organization find a way to spend time and attention to rethink the problem?”

For Mazzaferro, it’s getting people to “fall in love with the problem. It’s human nature to fall in love with the solution before you know it’s the right thing,” she explains.

Taking the First Step

“Every company has a different approach, and it depends on how deeply they want to embed design thinking into their way of working,” says Fixson. Some organizations are hiring designers in leadership roles. Others are training large swaths of employees in design thinking, while still others are hiring design consultancies on a project basis.

At Blue Cross Blue Shield, Mazzaferro’s team was born out of a project that recommended what innovation could and should look like at the company. Dedicated to innovation, the team is charged with two things: increasing incremental innovation and pursuing more disruptive ideas.

“Part of it is arming employees with the tools and mindset to work differently on a day-to-day basis,” explains Mazzaferro. This cultural change piece is slow, steady work for a company filled with employees that have been there for many years. “Change is harder the longer you are someplace doing things the same way.”

“The other side of our work is thinking about health insurance and the rapid changes happening in the industry,” Mazzaferro continues, citing provider consolidation, startup activity, and possible changes due to the current political administration. “Health insurance won’t look the same in five years, and definitely not in 10 years, how can we think about healthcare more broadly than insurance?”

Now a five-person team, Mazzaferro is sharing the design thinking methodology across her organization with 90-minute crash courses. Teams experience every step of the process, trying on different behaviors and mindsets. They’re also conducting boot camps, programs developed with the help of Fixson.

They’ve touched one-third of the organization with the design thinking process, always bringing in individuals from outside the organization to demonstrate the radical collaboration idea. The team also helps anyone in the business set up user testing parties to test ideas with actual customers.

Associates, after attending boot camp, receive a black bracelet that says “catalyst.” “It’s a small symbol to show they’re empowered to start using the design thinking mindset,” explains Mazzaferro. Some boot camps have rolled into sprints for deeper exploration of a business problem. The team’s goal is to ultimately develop an incubator program as well as an innovation center—a physical space designed for collaboration.

So far, Mazzaferro has seen Post-it notes up on walls of the insurance provider’s offices, something she hadn’t seen before. “The buzz is growing. It’s felt like we’ve been doing it forever, but it’s only been a year and a half. We have to be patient,” she says. “Some people are never going to be comfortable with it. But we keep marching on.”

Posted in Preparing Entrepreneurial Leaders  by | June 28, 2017

 

 

Tori Burch Commencement Speech, Babson College.

“Remember: if the most unique ideas were obvious to everyone, there wouldn’t be entrepreneurs. The one thing that every entrepreneurial journey has in common is that there are many, many steps on the road to success.”  – Tory Burch, Babson College  – [Click Here or below to play video]   Tory Burch, Babson College, 2014

Tory Burch (born June 17, 1966; Robinson) is an American fashion designer, businesswoman, and philanthropist, who has won several fashion awards for her designs.  She is the Chairman, CEO, and Designer of Tory Burch LLC. In 2015, she was listed as the 73rd most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.

Burch began her fashion label – “TRB by Tory Burch”, later known as Tory Burch – in February 2004, launching it with a retail store in Manhattan’s Nolita district.[5][13][14] Most of the inventory sold out on the first day.  When Oprah Winfrey endorsed her line on The Oprah Winfrey Show in April 2005, calling Burch “the next big thing in fashion”, Burch’s website received eight million hits the following day.

Since launch, the company has grown to include more than 200 Tory Burch stores worldwide. The fashion line, which encompasses ready-to-wear, shoes, handbags, accessories, watches, home decor, and a fragrance and beauty collection, is also carried at over 3,000 department and specialty stores worldwide.

Babson College is a private business school in Wellesley, Massachusetts, established in 1919. Babson’s central focus on entrepreneurship education has made it the most prestigious entrepreneurship college in the United States.

 

What Will the ‘Gig Economy’ Mean for Work?

Not so long ago, the only people who looked for “gigs” were musicians. For the rest of us, once we outgrew our school dreams of rock stardom, we found “real” jobs that paid us a fixed salary every month, allowed us to take paid holidays and formed the basis for planning a stable future.

Today, more and more of us choose, instead, to make our living working gigs rather than full time. To the optimists, it promises a future of empowered entrepreneurs and boundless innovation. To the naysayers, it portends a dystopian future of disenfranchised workers hunting for their next wedge of piecework.

In the US, the “gig economy” is now so salient that the phrase and issues have entered the early exchanges of the presidential race. Earlier this month, as one frontrunner, Jeb Bush, took a well-publicised Uber ride to signal solidarity with the company, another, Hillary Clinton, was more cautious in her support. In a speech laying out her economic plan, she said: “This on-demand, or so-called gig, economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But it is also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.”

Today’s digitally enabled gig economy was preceded by marketplaces such as ELance and oDesk, through which computer programmers and designers could make a living competing for short-term work assignments. But the gig economy isn’t just creating a new digital channel for freelance work. It is spawning a host of new economic activity. More than a million “makers” sell jewellery, clothing and accessories through the online marketplace Etsy. The short-term accommodation platforms Airbnb, Love Home Swap and onefinestay collectively have close to a million “hosts”.

This explosion of small-scale entrepreneurship might make one wonder whether we are returning to the economy of the 18th century, described by the economist Adam Smith in his book An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. The economy Smith described was a genuine market economy of individuals engaging in commerce with one another.

Over the following two centuries, however, the emergence of mass production and distribution yielded modern corporations. The entrepreneurs of Smith’s time gave way to the salaried employees of the 20th century.

A different technological revolution – the digital revolution – is partially responsible for the recent return to peer-to-peer exchange. Most of the new on-demand services rely on a population equipped with computers or GPS-enabled smartphones. Furthermore, the social capital we’ve digitised on Facebook and LinkedIn makes it easier to trust that semi-anonymous peer.

Does this suggest a shift towards a textbook market economy? Granted, Uber, Airbnb, Etsy and TaskRabbit are quite different from organisations such as Apple, BP or Sainsbury’s. Because you aren’t actually renting a space from Airbnb, taking a ride in a car owned by Uber or buying a product made by Etsy. The platform simply connects you with a provider of space, a driver of a vehicle or a seller who runs a virtual shop.

But these platforms are by no means merely the purveyors of Smith’s invisible hand. Rather, the hand they play in facilitating exchange is decidedly visible. Uber, not individual drivers, sets prices. Airbnb trains its hosts to be better providers of hospitality. Etsy facilitates seller community building. All of them provide user-generated feedback systems, creating a high-quality consumer experience. Much like an organisation building a brand might.

From The Guardian by Arun Sundararajan, professor at New York University’s School of Business.

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AI, The New Electricity

Artificial intelligence is coming soon to reshape your business and the world.

It’s 1890, you own a small insurance company that sells accident protection and marine policies.  Your business is growing quickly but faces one key challenge: There’s no electric light.  Your productivity rises and sets with the sun.  (Gas lamps are available, but they’re dangerous, messy, and not that bright.)  Then you get word of a new set of interlocking technologies that promise to transform daily life.  It all begins with Thomas Edison’s light bulb and the electric current that turns it on, courtesy of a powerpoint utility’s centrally located generator in New York City.  Electricity quickly changes everything.  You can work longer hours and process more policies, which allows you to hire more people.

It also follows into factories, soon powering machinery along vast assembly lines and allowing for the mass production of cars (which opens up a whole new insurance market for you).  It changes things at home, too:  Electricity empowers women, who, before long, come to rely on electric clothes washers and coffee percolators.  In time, electricity will underpin countless once-unthinkable inventions: radio, refrigeration, television, computers.

It’s 2017.  You own a small insurance company, your business is growing quickly, and you have a chance to take advantage of the biggest transformative technology since electricity:  artificial intelligence.  You’ve experienced narrow forms of A. I.: anti-lock barking systems, email spam filters, weather apps.  All only hint at the coming age of human-machine interaction, in which A. I. will perform any intellectual task just as a human would.

Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, and Baidu are all building the foundations of A. I., but hundreds of startups are focused on ancillary tools (just as, 125 years ago, many companies made wooden poles, copper wire, and lamp fixtures).  Nvidia is building computer chips that allow machines to react to their surroundings in real time.  Fanuc is working on an unsupervised learning system, so A. I.-powered robots can learn skills on their own.  Tesla is developing A. I. infrastructure for autonomous vehicles, which includes new kinds of maps and decision-making software.  And Clarifai is building software that will automatically tag, organize, and search content.

If you’re an insurer today, you’ll need to plan for self-driving cars that don’t get into accidents.  And you’ll need to create policies for companies that want protection against algorithms that run amok.  Like electricity, A. I. will usher in huge changes for every single industry.  Over the next two decades, you’ll encounter key bosses who aren’t human.  And changing industries will require new skills: –Smart farming.  A. I. will enable the production of significantly more food in much small space. Medical robotics.  The medical center of the future will be remote.  There -assisted by A. I., nanobots, and health data- doctors will monitor and treat us. –Human-Machine resources.  Businesses will eventually outsource key decisions and organizational management to algorithms.

Someday, you’ll look back and realize the A. I. is our generation’s electricity.  And that you are there, at the start, witnessing A. I.’s illumination of the future of your business and our world.

By Amy Webb, author & founder of the Future Today Institute from Inc. July/August 2017 Magazine.

 

How ‘Little Ideas’ Can Lead to Powerful Innovations.

“My previous book was about Lego, and that was a story about a company that figured out that you didn’t want to innovate inside the box — that wasn’t going to get them anywhere — and you didn’t want to innovate outside the box because that almost put them out of business, but rather, around the box. Complementary innovations around a core product — the brick for Lego — was what really led them to their recent success.

I got my house painted a couple of summers ago, and the contractor I hired put together a proposal. He helped me choose colors and helped me decide what kind of paint, what things needed painting the most, and how I’d manage on a limited budget. He put together a proposal, and he picked Sherwin Williams paint.

I looked at my favorite consumer ratings magazine, and Sherwin-Williams paint is good, but it’s twice as expensive as another paint that’s equally good. So I talked to him, and I said, “Can’t we use this other paint?” And he said, “Well, yes, we could, but it’s going to raise your price.” I said, “I don’t understand, the other paint is half the price.” And he said, “Yeah, but paint is only about 15% of the total cost of your project. I have to think about all the supplies; I’ve got to line up the labor; there’s the overhead of running a company, etc..”

He said, “What Sherwin-Williams does is help me though the entire process of working with you, from helping you choose your colors — there’s a Sherwin-Williams color consultant — to figuring out how much paint is needed for the primer, and for the paint itself, brushes, tarps, all the other supplies. Then, during the project, it is keeping me supplied — I can return extra primer if I don’t need it. If I run out of something, that Sherwin-Williams rep will be over at the site, delivering what I need. Then, at the end, he helps me put together that next proposal. Because there’s always a next proposal, as any homeowner knows.

I looked, and it turns out within a five or 10-minute drive of my house, there are more Sherwin-Williams stores than there are Starbucks, and that’s because they realized who their customer is. It’s not me. I’m the end consumer, of course, and I’m the one that has Sherwin-Williams paint on the house. But it’s that small business, the painting contractor, [that they focus on]. Sherwin-Williams, like Lego, realized it’s not so much about the product — their product is a can of paint — it’s about their innovations around the product that make that product more valuable.

I wanted to write a book for companies that wanted to try this approach to innovation. I don’t argue that there’s one best way to innovate, but it seems like it’s a tool that every innovation leader should have in their tool belt.”

When most people hear the word innovation, they think about Uber, Airbnb and Amazon — disruptive companies that upended entire industries with a radical new way to do business. But Wharton operations, information and decisions practice professor David Robertson argues that this view is too narrow a definition of innovation, and one that is not useful to most companies.  In his book, The Power of Little Ideas: A Low-Risk, High-Reward Approach to Innovation, Robertson talks about a more practical way companies can innovate: by focusing on complementary actions around a key product. He teaches innovation and product development at Wharton and is the host of Innovation Navigation, a Wharton Business Radio program. Robertson recently spoke to Knowledge@Wharton about his book.

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8 Easy businesses to Start.

Sam Walton was an ex-retail employee who got the idea to buy a little five and dime store in a small town in Arkansas. That small beginning eventually became Walmart, a global giant that today has over 11,000 stores. Sometimes entrepreneurs dream about an aha, world-changing tech business. They struggle to come up with a unique idea. But the most enduring businesses often begin as simple ideas.

8 Easy Businesses to Start Today  As the Sam Walton example shows, even a simple retail store can hold huge promise if you work hard. Here are eight examples of businesses that are easy to start.

Logo Designer  If you have some basic design skills and access to a computer and graphic design software, one option is to start your own graphic design business. Focus on something simple like logo design.

Set up a website using a low cost platform like Wix, Weebly or GoDaddy to showcase samples of your work. You may also want to offer your services on freelance marketplace sites.

But you’re not limited to the online world. Target businesses in your local area through your local chamber of commerce and local listings. Then build repeat business through word of mouth.

House and Pet Sitter  If you’re seeking a business with virtually no upfront cost, then house sitting and pet sitting services are one option. You don’t need any training or equipment — just be responsible.

Offer your services through online classifieds or marketplaces like Care.com and Rover. Put out flyers and touch base with potential referral sources such as veterinarians and realtors.

Virtual Assistant  Virtual assistants help businesses and individuals with online administrative work. Tasks include helping clients manage email correspondence, schedule calendar appointments and update  social media accounts. For tools you need an internet connection and a computer.  Freelance platforms like Upwork and Freelancer can be a source of new clients. Create your own website and use social media for marketing, too.

Errand Service  Offer services ranging from grocery shopping to picking up dry cleaning. You don’t need any training or capital to get started. But unless you live in an area with reliable public transportation, you’ll probably need a vehicle.

You’ll also need a way to market your services. One option is to offer your services on errand marketplaces like TaskRabbit, Cheaver or ErrandTribe, or in local classifieds.

E-commerce Seller  Anyone can open a shop on e-commerce marketplaces like eBay, Meylah or Amazon. If you find a good wholesaler or other source for quality products, create your own niche business with an online store.

The cost can be under $50 a month for the selling platform, plus transaction fees. Then purchase the goods you plan on selling and some shipping materials. Since it’s online commerce, you don’t need to start with a lot of inventory, either.

Photographer  Have an artistic eye and like to take pictures? Consider starting a photography business.  There are several different niches including baby, wedding or event photographer. You can even take photos and sell them online as stock images.  A camera, a computer, good lighting and some editing software are the primary tools.

Tutor  If you have any expertise in an academic subject area, you could offer tutoring services.  As a tutor, you work one-on-one with clients to help them understand specific subject matter. You can even focus on things like SAT prep.  If you don’t have enough of a potential client base in your immediate area, offer your service to online clients. Use a free video platform such as Skype or Hangouts to hold tutoring sessions.

Video Creator   If you like to shoot video, YouTube and basic Vimeo accounts are free and easy to set up. And if you get enough regular viewers, you can build an entire business around the platform, earning advertising revenues.  There’s no shortage of video subject matter. Businesses have been built on everything from funny cat videos to DIY home improvement tutorials.  Once you start your channel and post content regularly, focus on building your network online.

Final Pointers   Finally, as with starting any new business, don’t forget to check your state and local authorities to see if your chosen business requires any special licenses.  Be sure to also check regarding any sales tax implications. If you’re adopting a name for your business make sure it is legally available. After you do your legal homework, get started.

By SmallBizTrends Guest Blogger, Anita Campbell

Hacking for Violence.

 

Atlanta’s Goodie Nation, a social impact accelerator, held an innovation lab #HackThe Violence on Saturday, June 17th at the Atlanta Tech Village.  It was described as a program designed to turn college students into social impact tech startup founders.  Their objective was to reduce violence 40% by the year 2020 using innovation.

This entrepreneurship instructor was blown away by the manner in which the students assimilated the process and moved through the workshop.  The cohort of twenty eight top Atlanta college students (Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Morehouse, Kennesaw State) is passionate about social change.  They were paired with mentors (coordinated by Mario Suffren) and selected violence subject-matter areas to combat identifying users, diagnosing problems, brainstorming product features, and story-boarding what the product looks like in a design thinking Product-Market Fit workshop.

Goodie Nation is a social impact pre-accelerator that provides a role for all people to play in an innovative process solving some of the world’s toughest problems. Their programming develops innovators through training and support as well as social enterprises via a 6-month process. They aim to become a world leader at empowering individuals to solve problems for their own communities.  Co-founded by Joey Womack and Justin Dawkins, Goodie Nation is based on the Hive Global Leaders Program, a community of 1,500 purpose-driven leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators from 115 countries around the world.

Womack is a graduate of the Hive’s three-day leadership training program for mission-driven innovators held annually in San Francisco, the Harvard Medical School Boston, and Los Angeles.  Everyone at Goodie Nation is to be commended for using such a powerful process to help make the world a better place and specifically help under-served communities.  Their focus is on four sectors -economic development, education, health and wellness, and public safety.  Here is a link to their fact sheet:    https://docs.google.com/document/d/13ax1f29Bx9ZH1omHo_oWTYQb3OJtIJFQo5Wye5j98Y/edit

We’ve never seen the Lean Startup evidenced-based entrepreneurship process applied to social change and a major problem so directly.  Kudos to Goodie Nation and the Atlanta Tech Village for creating such a powerful challenge.  It was organized with the help of Microsoft and Pivotal Labs (Atlanta office of San Francisco-based accelerator which helps transform Fortune 500 cos. to digital and software applications).  Students get a taste of startup life in a fast-paced program and will walk away with permanent mentors and a clickable prototype after four weeks.

Cohorts are now working with their mentors via email, conference calls, and live based on needs.  Over the weekend of July 8th and 9th at the Pivotal Labs in Ponce City Market student they’ll  participate in a Hackathon, a design sprint-like event to collaborate on solutions.  Before then,  participants need to interview 30 real-life user personas who fit their general profile and search similar company propositions to identify key points of difference.  The product should be valuable!

 

To Go Boldly Where No One Has Gone Before.

 

Ok, you have for some time been sick and tired of working for other people and you have decided to start up your own business. You have mustered the necessary courage and have finally made the decision that it’s time to work for yourself, doing what you like, when you like it. Great! You start to feel the excitement and a sense of expectation filling your heart as you boldly face what the future is going to bring you. After all many other corporate people have taken that step and you are just following their lead. All this sounds so fantastic, doesn’t it?

In many ways it should and it certainly could be so. The reality however tells a different story. It should not surprise us then that one out five new businesses fail in the first year of trading and one in three fail within the first three years (DTI figures). I wonder why? What is causing such failures? What is the problem?

The fact is that anyone can start a business but not everyone has the ability to maintain and develop it successfully. The hard reality is that your previous corporate experience is not what will make you an entrepreneur. At best it would make you a good start up business but it takes much more to make you an entrepreneur. Anyone can start their own business if they have the guts to do so; but not many are going to be entrepreneurs.

The fact is that there is a paradox contained in being an entrepreneur. On one hand you need to run a successful and growing business that will produce enough income and revenue. What all this means is that you need to focus very clearly on what might be successful and well accepted in the market place. On the other hand, if you really want to be an entrepreneur, you need to be able to be a pioneer; take risks, going against the flow and somehow have the long sight of things to come. All this may take some time to develop.

Let me put it in another way. On the one hand you are pursuing the safety that comes from doing what you know best, possibly your experience from the corporate world. Your desire is simply to replace the income received from the corporation you used to be part of with an income that comes from your own direct efforts. And however noble that might be that is not what will make you an entrepreneur.

As opposed to that some of us have decided to go down the creative route. We have considered the risks but have brushed them aside because of our compelling vision to create something new, whether a different product, a new service or a new approach to something already existing. In all accounts your new business venture starts with a high dose of risk. Thomas Power (Chairman of Ecademy) recently said quite clearly that it is only the person who is prepared to run risks that can claim the name of “entrepreneur”. Sadly, many people starting businesses are not and in so doing they miss the opportunity of entrepreneurship.

One of the problems facing “business creation” these days is that we live in a society where we have grown increasingly afraid of stepping out of our comfort zone or stepping forward whatever the risks involved. We have left the security of our corporate positions with our guaranteed salaries and stepped out expecting to have the same income and the same benefits. As soon as we discovered that this is not happening frustration, loss of confidence, disappointment and failure follow rapidly thereafter.

The tragedy is that whilst before we most probably had a long term vision for the company we were part of we are now bound by short term objectives and goals. Which in many ways condemn our new business to a meagre and short life. Often we lay our dreams and visions aside to simply bring the bacon home. And as a result we find that the passion for our job, our expertise and knowledge quickly dwindles away and is replaced by harsh reality of marketing plans, sales strategies, finding new clients and the administrative burden that comes from being on your own.

Is there a way out of this paradox? I believe there is and it focuses on re-discovering the true spirit of entrepreneurship. That is what I teach in my courses and I speak about at every opportunity. We need to rediscover entrepreneurship and make sure that this spirit inspires and guides every thought and action that we take. The choice before us is simple: we can carry on being a simple, ordinary, often boring start up business or we can be an exciting, extraordinary enterprise. There is only a positive way to solve the paradox of entrepreneurship and that starts with clearly understanding what entrepreneurship is all about. What are the characteristics, both personal and professional, needed to be a successful entrepreneur. Being a successful entrepreneur has little to do with cash flow and business plans; every business needs them. Rather, being an entrepreneur has much to do with vision and passion. Entrepreneurship has little to do with marketing plans and sales strategies that every business needs; it has much to do with setting clear goals and strategic thinking. Succeeding as an entrepreneur has little to do with systems and policies but it has a tremendous amount to do with creativity, innovation and USPs. Being a great entrepreneur has little to do with management but much to do with good leadership of the right team to work with you.

As corporations worldwide change and breakdown we are more and more living in the time of entrepreneurship.  We have a number of very successful entrepreneurs who have started their businesses with a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve and have been willing and ready to face the risks that come from stepping forward, often in unknown territories. I am thinking of people such as Richard Branson or Anita Roddick who let’s face it have had their share of mistakes but who have persisted to build successful organisations and they are just two of the many that could be mentioned. So let me challenge you, do you want to just start a business or do you want to be an entrepreneur? Do you want to simply use your knowledge and experience trying to make an independent living out of it? Or do you want to “boldly go where no-one has gone before”? The choice is yours.

Launch Tennessee 36/86 Conference 2017 Grand Slam

Launch Tennessee hit a Grand Slam with their fifth annual 36/86 entrepreneurship conference June 5th through 8th in Nashville.  It is the Southeast’s premier technology event for entrepreneurs and investors, named for the longitudinal coordinates of Nashville.

This year was star-spangled featuring Fred Smith, founder, and CEO of Fed-Ex, Governor Bill Haslam, former Senator Dr. Bill Frist, and AOL founder and entrepreneurship maven Steve Case.  Each offered keen insights into innovative change, better education, job creation, geography as an asset, scaling tech to customers, imaginative healthcare, investing in women and diversity, and manufacturing with 3D printing.  Launch Tennessee CEO Charlie Brock and his team put together the best entrepreneurship event of the year combining quality startup pitches with carefully selected topics of current interest.

Notable interviews included Case along with Jay Rogers of Local Motors and Jon Schieber of Tech Crunch discussing Steve’s new book The Third Wave of the Internet.  This new paradigm in which entrepreneurs transform energy and food will change the way we live our lives.  Tech companies must re-think their relationship with customers, competitors, and governments. One example is Rogers’ Local Motors micro-factories which use digital manufacturing to drive production.

Contemporary topics like trends in sports tech, using geography as a favored position, and raising money locally kept the audience sharply engaged.  The story of combining Wal-Mart’s e-commerce with traditional retail was especially interesting.  Jeremy King, Wal-Mart Chief Tech Officer, described their acquisition of fifteen internet companies (jet.com, shoes.com), some for products and others tech skills.  The focus now is on customer experience, and zeal-Mart is experimenting with employee/associate deliveries en route home after work.  Ninety percent of all Americans live within five miles of a Wal-Mart.  They’ve also added a speed shopping method for Sam’s Club.  Using an app, three items can be checked out in five minutes.

A great feature of 36/86 is its pitches.  They are interspersed throughout the conference and act aas breaksbetween presentations.  Lasting only two minutes, the audience voted for each company’s sales pitch on a conference app.  Ten finalists from each segment then had four minutes to pitch on the last day to a panel of nine experienced judges.  They, in turn, selected the winner of a Fed-Ex $50,000 grand prize.  This year’s winner was Wzyerr, Inc., a Covington, KY-based company using artificial intelligence to provide enterprise-level market search.

Two other components of this exceptional entrepreneurship conference are the ambiance and networking.  Set in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center centrally located next to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Bridgestone Arena, the venue is a grand palace with an outdoor patio used at the end of each first day for a street fair.  This open-air block party features local food, live music, Tennessee craft cocktails, and, this year, a playoff Predators hockey game on a big screen.

One theme touched on often was the coming “Internet of Things” (IoT).  It will someday enable every item we use to become a computer -kitchen appliances, automobiles, lighting, plumbing, and tasks of every kind.  IoT connects devices and sensors to allow remote monitoring, manipulation, and evaluation.  It will be used to improve decision-making, provide better customer understanding, and improve operations through cost reductions.

Optional workshops the last day allowed attendees to choose between “How to CEO”, “Win Your Clients Inbox”, “No-Cost Marketing”, and a “formula for finding after product-market fit.  The latter, so critical to lean startup success, was presented by Sean Sheppard of San Francisco’s GrowthX Academy.  Their market accelerator program can help grow a company through predictable and profitable revenue using UX Design, which enhances user satisfaction.  Using their “SPIN” Cycle (situation, problem, implication, and needed pay-off).  GrowthX crafts a unique value position validated by an end user.

All left the 2017 version of 36/86 better informed and connected.  Speaker caliber, pitch selection, and cutting-edge topics made this conference special.  Kudos to Fred Smith to personally support his generous Fed-Ex gift to the conference and entrepreneurship. He remains a shining example of American startup success.

 

 

Want a Mentor? Here are Five Keys.

You’ve heard plenty about the power of mentors, but lasering in on and landing the right one can be tricky.  Here Are 5 Keys to Choosing and Approaching the Right One:  Bill Gates has his Warren Buffett. Luke Skywalker has his Yoda. Kanye West has his, uh, Kanye West.

You’ve read or heard much on the power and importance of mentors. But how do you find the right one for you? And how do you get past that intimidating, even scary step of approaching someone to be your mentor?

Wonder no more my dear readers. I shall mentor you on these very questions.  First, just how do you choose the right one? And no, there’s no such thing as Mentor Tinder, so you’re going to have to do your homework. Here are five things to look for in your ideal mentor–and then five ways to reel them in:

What to look for in a potential mentor

1. They have a propensity for willingness.

You shouldn’t be timid in asking for a mentor, and you certainly want to increase your chances of getting a “yes”. So it’s important to look for leading indicators as to whether or not someone is likely to say yes to a mentor request.

Are they involved in the community? Do they have a track record of mentoring? Are they known for being an “others-oriented leader“? Good signs all.

2. They ask more than they answer.

While you want advice from your mentor, you want the right advice that’s tailored to your unique situation, skills, and development opportunities. Mentors that ask a lot of good questions are putting effort into efficiently helping you, and helping you help yourself.

How do you find out if they have this skill set? Ask around if they’re known for asking a round (or two) of questions, versus just dictating answers.

3. They embody characteristics you want to emulate.

Every minute spent with a mentor is precious, so you may as well be a) looking forward to being around them, and b) looking to absorb, reinforce, and replicate shared values.

4. They’re not too much like you.

You want core values and beliefs in common, but you don’t want your mentor to be a replica of you. Are you extroverted? Consider an introvert mentor (or vice versa). Not the best communicator? Look for a public speaking stud. You get the idea.

5. They’ve succeeded in your field.

Not everyone will agree with this, citing the need for diversity of wisdom. Thanks, but I’d rather take somebody who has “been there, done that” and can help me be there and do that, too. Someone that will hold me accountable on my own path to success.

How to reel them in

Now that you’re circling around a targeted mentor, it’s time to land the plane. Here’s the approach:

1. Be prepared, but not presumptuous. While you want to assume success in your ask and show up prepared, understand that you may get a “no.” Show emotional intelligence, indicating that you know you’re asking for a commitment–and that it’s a privilege to get a “yes”.

2. Share why you’re asking them in particular. Be sincere and specific without being butt-kissy.

3. Share why you’re a good fit for them. Again, be sincere and specific. Include how you might be a potential value-add to them.

4. Be clear on what you want from the relationship and why. If you don’t know what you want, they won’t know how to help–and they’ll surely gracefully withdraw from the relationship. Be willing to negotiate and be flexible on how, when, and where the mentor sessions take place.

5. Share why you’d be a great mentee. As Sheryl Sandberg indicated in Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, mentors want to know that you can be successful, that you have potential, and that you’re not just some random lost soul who’s throwing darts. They want to know their investment will pay dividends. So choose wisely, stick the landing, and make the most out of the force that is mentorship.

By Scott Mautz, Author, ‘Find The Fire: Ignite Your Inspiration and Make Work Exciting Again, Inc. Magazine, 5/16/2017.

Copyright, 2016. Clinton E. Day. All Rights Reserved.