Breaking down innovation! We hope you enjoy this…
Key developments in my life lately have given me pause to explore some important lessons I have picked up along the way and to reflect on my ability to learn! I ask myself often how come I keep repeating the same mistakes! I am not unique in this deficiency though I find. I look into the decisions of those I frequently consult with, who themselves might be giving me all the good advise and alas, they are continuously falling into the trap as well! I’d say these are pretty straightforward and some might say intuitive lessons. So why is it such a trap? Do share your own experience with me as you read along and perhaps how you have handled your own situation, and do point out if they are even lessons worth noting.
My journey into entrepreneurship was never a teetering one. I am one of those people who just knew what I wanted to do and did it. What teetered though, was the journey itself, wroth with the surprisingly huge bumps, mountains, valleys and traps. I hold fast to Winston Churchill’s assertion that “success is walking from failure to failure without loosing enthusiasm”. I have done many things right. ‘Good to great’ gave me some good principles to stand by. By nature, I am an interesting mixture of fox and hedgehog and oh, did I mention that I spend a surprising amount of time buried in the hole I myself dug?
First lesson! Whether you just started your business or you have been going at it for some time, IT IS NOT THE TERRAIN FOR YOUR BFF’S OF FF’S, my favorite term for friends and family. I often wish someone had pointed this out to me at the very beginning, perhaps, I would have speared myself tons of distress. The saying that ‘people do business with people they know,’ I guess takes its roots from here! Most people start their business with limited resources; therefore, falling on this group of your base comes naturally; but this very group that might seem readily available, might prove to be the death of your effort if one doesn’t take the time to think through the structure of the involvement and set a time to fade it out when it has served its purpose. The pros and cons of this point has been debated countless times, and it seems to lose water, especially when you are looking to pass on your efforts to the next generation. How then do you navigate the thin line between picking that person you can possible trust and pass on your efforts to and making a mistake which could possibly cost you everything you worked for. Too many times, I have seen entrepreneurs — me included — get wrapped up and possibly destroyed, because they made a wrong decision to involve their friends and or family in their work. The very atmosphere needed for work to progress — order, structure, attention to details, high productivity, accountability etc. — these are the things that may be counter to the relationship with your friends and family.
YOU ARE THE BOSS: never break that barrier! The terrain of entrepreneurship can be a hard and very lonely one. Soon, you run out of friends who really appreciate your peculiar challenges. You bore people, because all you can seem to talk about is your business. You may find one or two people at the workplace who are switched on and who seem to be quite loyal to you. You begin to laugh at the same things, finishing each other sentences, sharing a few personal details, and perhaps a friendship is formed. I struggle quite a bit with this important opportunity that can happen in the work place. The reasons to form friendships in the office far outweigh the disadvantages. Alas, as the boss, there are lines you do not cross. This line might be set individually, but the principle holds. Not surprisingly, I have made this mistake many, many times… and this is the one mistake I am almost certain I will repeat!
LEARN TO GIVE THE SACK! This is the most difficult, especially if you haven’t adhered to the previous two points. As a very personal point, there are times in my business when I have had my mother or another such close family go. I shouldn’t have had them there in the first place! Without prejudice, women tend to fall into this trap more often. Just the other day, one of my closest friend who runs a business said to me, “I need to sack two guys, but I can’t. I just can’t. I feel like I am betraying them!” This particular condition is like a sore. And it does all of that mess too! It poisons the area in over a mile radius, and then, it leaves a mark! There are a few famous sayings, ‘If someone shows you who they are, believe them!’ and ‘You can’t teach an old dog, new tricks’. Don’t kid yourself! Especially low performers, will very rarely over-perform, though the opposite seems to be driven by nature itself! If your gut or judgment, whichever you listen to, tells you it is time for this one to go, it is time for them to go!
I stand by this one; FIND SOMETHING THAT MAKES YOU STUPID, SILLY, IDIOTIC, SWEATY, AND BEST OF ALL, SCREAM!
To be continued…
Follow Juliet Asante on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Juliet Asante
Stepping out gracefully, without stepping in was one of the themes at the Aspen gathering this year. I remember sitting in the room and taking it all in. I was transported to my own life and struggles. Personally, I worry about the things I have managed to start and how they will go on, when I am no longer useful. Will my children be interested? Do I have the right to expect them to continue my life? At work, how do I find and train the right people to see and buy into the vision well enough to run with it? At what point do I delegate enough to make this step effective? And most importantly, at what point do I just straight step out, especially when I become my own draw back maybe…
Mentorship is something I really believe in, and in a recent interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyV6MnCslmw&feature=c4-overview&list=UUCjt_uUWDJiByaIXt-Cgd5w I talked about the needed space where the older entrepreneur begins to mentor the younger and eventually steps aside. It was therefore an important development for me when I was recently appointed an MIT, Legatum Catalyst fellow and given the opportunity to share my experience with the amazing group of hopeful entrepreneurs at the center.
Fareed Zakaria made an interesting point about Mandela this week; ‘ MANDELA’S FINAL ACT OF GREATNESS WAS LEAVING OFFICE.’ – he calls him the George Washington of South Africa and talks about the importance of not turning his time at the helm into a personality cult or dynasty. This especially takes a new meaning when you relate it to our inability as Africans to find leadership that espouses this principle!
Let me share with you some of the principles that came out of our sharing at Aspen…
It is important to “LEAVE WHILE THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS ARE IN BLOOM”. This principle underscores the importance of leaving when you are still on top. Alex Ferguson, leaving Manchester United when he had just won English premiere league, underscores this principle. Another sports personality who brought this out recently was Sachin Tendulkar of Cricket fame. This principle is easier said than done off course, and seems to contradict itself almost. How do you leave at the head of your success or whiles you are still on top? But thinking about the alternative might be helpful. Leaving when you are seemingly down is a copout and usually doesn’t go down well. How can you tell your story or get anyone to want to maintain or follow up on what you are leaving behind? It works bad for your own self-confidence and legacy; if you actually leave behind any. If you ask me therefore, the worst time to step down is when things are going bad! Off course, I am leaving out the times when it is the only thing to do… maybe stepping back to re-strategize is worth considering at those times, but I am a fighter, not a quitter; but at the same time, it is key to know when to quit. I also find that at the times that I leave when I am at the top is the time that other doors open up more easily.
‘SHOWING UP!’ it is important to be PRESENT when you LEAVE! Leave properly and tie the ends together. Do not run away in the dark and leave others holding up your mess. Stay and do the work. The work needed to allow things to go on when you are gone. Do not wish for things to go south when you leave to prove how vital you were, as that proves just the opposite! It is sometimes the most difficult thing to do, especially if the environment is antagonistic or unhealthy to your wellbeing. Plan properly for when you step out and begin to work towards it, giving yourself enough time to clean up. Some of the most difficult times I have had in my business is when people very insensitively leave because they are so focused on the future maybe, or just not motivated enough to show up at the end. Whether in your personal or professional life, it is always unfortunate, and comes back always to haunt you, in my experience!
But most importantly, appreciating the “trough,” is key. In the ‘Trough’, by Judy Brown, she talks about the ‘LOW SPOT, WHERE HORIZON DISAPPEARS AND ONLY SKY AND WATER ARE OUR COMPANY.’ ‘ There we lose our way unless we rest, knowing the wave will bring us to its crest again’. Let’s notice the shape of things, until we regain our senses of where we need to swim. I have been here so many times; I lost count. I imagine in prison, Mandela must have felt that he was in the trough. Martin Luther king in prison; even Jesus maybe? when he went up the mountain? It is important to recognize that our most important self, value and work, usually comes out when we are at that place where perhaps, we do not see the way forward clearly. Have faith in you and sit; without rushing to find land maybe… it is my believe that not enough people spend time in this place…
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In a recent feature on BBC radio, opinions were sought on Natalie Portman’s recent comments in a magazine feature, in which she challenges the image of the MACHO FEMINIST and makes a differentiation between being macho and being a feminist. This immediately captured my attention as she is young and has a contemporary experience and worldview.
I have also personally contemplated this association many times over, and continue to do so. Natalie focuses on the portrayal of feminism in the movies. Although very critical to impacting social behavior, I’d like to bring in some realities on the ground. A major part of my work and passion is centered on the empowerment of women economically and through education; I therefore grapple with this imagery and expectation continually. What does it mean to be a strong, independent, smart, goal-oriented woman, who is responsible for her own choices? This may mean different things to different people.
As an African woman, this conversation is even more eminent and sensitive to my daily life. A number of years ago, I had a radio interview in Ghana and one of the first comments from the male interviewer accused me of ‘being too ambitious, and treading into areas reserved for men.’ This comment surprised me a bit, as I was on a relatively youthful show and the interviewer was a young, and I would say, modern man. Nevertheless, he represented the voice of a culture. A culture that is grappling with the empowered woman who perchance is also still seeking to find her place in the community.
I love to cook and keep house. My culture tells me that I must give all respect to my husband or partner, and that he should take care of me financially and in other ways. The days when the financial care held true, have obviously sailed far into the sea! I therefore find that we are living in a paradoxical era. But, it is equally interesting how deep rooted the culture of male superiority is still embedded in the psyche of many more people than we may realize.
I am a relatively highly educated and independent woman, by all standards. Yet, at school in the United States, I was always shocked when it was expected that I pay for my own meal on a date with a gentleman. It took time getting used to. I do truly respect that as an independent woman with equal rights, I should pay for my meal (after all, I probably did earn more money really, than a number of my dates!), but it just is not part of my culture, and a gentleman’s chance of getting another date with me, drops a notch after I take out my card! Many of my girl friends think cooking is not the job of a woman, and yet, I do love to cook and do want to cook for my man and family; but I will bulk at the idea of a man who ‘expects’ me to cook!
I do imagine that this must be confusing for many people as well. Are the ideas mutually exclusive? Do they threaten each other? Therein lies the confusion. I have this conversation with my girlfriends pretty frequently, as we all struggle with it in many different ways. I don’t have an answer. It is unacceptable to be in a relationship that makes you feel inferior and denies you the right of an independent adult who has rights. At the same time, does it mean that a woman should be ‘macho?’ The word does connote a few things, including ‘brave, bold, fearless and courageous,’ that I am happy to associate with; but how about ‘ manly, chauvinist etc?’
To be feminine, may include the right to want to be ‘girly,’ to behave, feel and look beautiful. Does our modern rhetoric make room for this? Or are we steadily progressing to the point of scorning women who want to, and do behave and look ‘girly?’ can I teach my daughter how to cook and keep the home; as I was taught by my parents to do, without undermining her future as an independent, strong, smart woman? As woman, how do we continue to raise our hands at the table and be represented, without compromising our ‘femininity’? Do we have to look and behave like men to have our place at the table? Is this the best strategy in our effort to gain the ‘equal’ statues? I find it unfair, that we even have to have this conversation. Certainly, men don’t! .
There are many things that are unique to women and remain the core of our strength. The female instinct can be very spot-on; the female way of doing business might bring more humanity and motivation into the work place. Research shows that women CEOs show relatively more emotional intelligence, which can be a critical advantage in the work place. Individuals, who pay more attention to the way they look, generally fare better in social environments. Off course, being overt may not be very tasteful; however the question is, should you not explore your looks and strengths as a woman? And why should you be made to feel guilty when you do? Men do explore their strengths, so why not women? For instance, men may be judged to have more physical strength and sharp focus, with an ability to zoom in on a problem. This is very helpful in the work place. Women though, have been noted to have better endurance and may be more loyal. As an employer or friend, these are key values that are invaluable assets in the work place.
There is strength in my femininity. I would never wish to be a man! I am smart, I am independent, I am empowered, but I love to cook, to listen, to have a family and be a mother, whiles remaining a CEO and entrepreneur. I discuss my difficulties with my partner and expect that he understands my need for support, but at the same time, he must appreciate my ability and capacity to handle it. Showing vulnerability should not be considered a weakness. I have earned my way legitimately and I don’t have to continuously have to prove it, just because i am a woman, nor should I be made to feel that I have to be manly to earn the right of respect in my abilities. When I am sure of it, I do and will raise my hand at the table and will not allow anyone else to take the credit for my work, unless off course, it doesn’t matter to me anyhow. I do like a man to walk with me in the dark, for perchance, I can sense the danger, but he has the physical strength to fight it… I am a woman, no question! Or is there…
Follow Juliet Asante on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Juliet Asante
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I spent my week with ‘How children succeed,’ by Paul Tough. I do think every parent should read this book. It was recommended to me by the principal of my daughter’s school. I am definitely glad HE read it.
A concept in the book sticks with me. In identifying and isolating the important character elements needed to succeed, researchers and psychologist pick seven values – GRIT, SELF-CONTROL, ZEST, SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE, GRATITUDE, OPTIMISM AND CURIOSITY.
It delve into why it is important to find a way to encourage children to develop a number of core values and the critical difference it makes. I have been an entrepreneur my entire working life. I have experienced some pretty difficult situations both as a child and adult. Paul manages to articulate very clearly my experience. Values I nurture in myself and seek in colleagues. The ‘acute four.’
GRIT IS DEFINED AS STRENGTH OF MIND AND SPIRIT. What is it that makes an individual stay firm and focused on a goal despite obstacles? Maintain integrity under very challenging circumstances? The book explores the hypothesis that, ‘IT IS IN THE EXPERIENCE OF SOME LEVEL OF HARDSHIP, THAT LEARNING OCCURS, AND GRIT NURTURED.’ I relate to this very much…
Not that I am a glutton for pain, but I AM THANKFUL, IN A WEIRD WAY; TO THE MANY CHALLENGES I FACED AS A CHILD AND YOUNG ADULT. IT CRYSTALLIZED MY DREAMS OF SUCCESS AND MY DETERMINATION TO ACHIEVE IT IN SOME FORM!
In his poem ‘THE WAY IT IS,’ William Stafford talks about ‘THE THREAD THAT YOU FOLLOW… PEOPLE WONDER ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE PURSUING.’
I have often wondered what it is, that helps one person identify the thread and cling onto it and the other, not. Somehow, the big question teeters on the paradox of giving your child the best you can afford to, whiles simultaneously helping them acquire the grit that only challenges may help them develop. A dear friend swears that luck is the predominant factor that determines success as a parent. I don’t deny that good fortune is a grace that plays a huge role in success in almost anything. It is important however, to take a step and look at the statistics that point to higher substance abuse, depression, isolation and other issues in children from higher income homes.
As an employer, I am often struck by the display of a very low threshold for challenging environments by many of my colleagues and employees. THE PREOCCUPATION IS ON MAKING ‘FAST MONEY’ so to speak. Employees, who are unwilling to put in any more than the required hours of work; my observation is that there is an acute shortage of passion and perseverance. There just doesn’t seem to be enough to go around!
SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE is not a subject taught at school, and yet, it is one of the most important determinant of progress. I find it a mishap that curricular hasn’t caught up to it. It is invaluable to understand the best practices in human relations and self-comportment. People do judge a book by its cover after all. For some, being socially aware and considerate is selectively applied to people they think ‘important’. I am often in meetings where individuals choose to interact with their phones rather than pay attention to the conversation at the table. Just the other day, I was on the sub-way in New York, a group of students enter the car and proceeded to practically scream swearing words, tinged with loud laughter at each other for the entire ride. They were inconsiderate of everyone else in the space. I found myself picturing them, perhaps unfairly, in their work environments.
Some call it SELF-CONTROL. I prefer SELF-MONITORING. I consider this the base value, as it helps to maintain other core values. The ability to delay or resist gratification may help preserve integrity. To Live and work with integrity, dignity, avoid crowd thinking, etc. one needs a healthy dose of self control and monitoring. Everyone wants to succeed at some level, but pitifully few are willing to put in the time, or make the sacrifices necessary to achieve their goals; they fail to fully appreciate that we are in environments of limitations and tradeoffs and it often becomes necessary to delay gratification.
Not least important, is GRATITUDE. an important condition to appreciating progress, achievements, and helpful people. AN INDIVIDUAL WITHOUT GRATITUDE IS NOT A PLEASANT EXPERIENCE. It is staggering how lacking this particular trait is! GRATITUDE HOLDS THE KEY TO A SATISFYING, FULFILLING LIFE. How may you enjoy your present good fortune, if you fail to recognize and appreciate its value and most importantly, the valuable people in your life?
A look at the prosperity index may reveal that the most successful people or nations are not necessarily the happiest. They many times, actually seem inversely related. How is it for instance, that the poor African child next door to me who barely has two meals a day is happily running around the neighborhood, and the rich kid in my daughter’s school perpetually seems to have a petulant pout and is disrespectful to the parents that work very hard to keep her at school?
It is important to explore ways to encourage kids to appreciate what generations have sacrificed to ensure them a better life and to help develop in them the values they need to create their own achievements and live more satisfied lives…