Blog

Uncommon Solutions

Two powerful words voiced by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and heard most mornings on NPR segments they support. Living in Central PA as an entrepreneur, but working outside those boundaries, I feel the powerful tug of war between common and uncommon.

The Kauffman Foundation: Uncommon
https://www.kauffman.org/rethink/uncommon

Products & Services: Being an entrepreneur in small town USA can mean hanging a shingle promoting your efforts to bring the common to the community. We all know the common things. They are the services and products that a large population of humans seek or need frequently. The uncommon can feel risky, NEW and strange. Should I open that Art & Team Bar in a culture of drive-through coffee drinkers? Be too uncommon and the entrepreneur can feel the sting of common mindsets. See, that’s the point about being uncommon. It makes us, the consumers, reevaluate our needs and think deeper about what can benefit us. Is the same old, same old good? Bad? Just meh? When entrepreneurs kick us out of our comfort zones and into a new mindset….we all win. The uncommon wins!

Approaches & Tactics: Common extends into organizational structures and cultures as well. That old, dusty Vision Statement hanging on the wall is common. It’s ignored, but common. Having our Monday morning meetings, common. Ineffective, but common. Teams of people attempting to work together with little to no effort put into understanding ourselves, each other or how our unique blend of attitudes and behaviors impact organizational performance. That’s common. Not great, common. Bad actually. But common. Just like the convenience and comfort of hitting that drive through for a cup-o-joe, we get caught in a drive through mindset of work culture. “It’s not healthy, but it’s quick and we KNOW how to do it.” Pretty soon, we’re ordering an extra this or that in cultural terms. One day, we add a side of team in-fighting, or how about a crushed spirit or two? No harm no fowl. We were in line and while we’re here, why not. The common. We all know what the common drive through routine results in. Unhealthiness. So yes, the common Approaches & Tactics for organizations result in the same.

Developing an organizational mindset equipped for our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world can become common, but for now, it is uncommon…and lovely…….and needed.

If you didn’t click through to the article on the Kauffman website listed above, here is a powerful quote:

“You should not choose to be a common company. It’s your right to be uncommon if you can. You seek opportunity to compete. You desire to take the calculated risk, to dream, to build, yes, even to fail, and to succeed.”

β€” Ewing Marion Kauffman

This is my challenge to every organization, be uncommon. Craft a Vision that is INSPIRING. Build a Mission that is worth doing repeatedly by the HUMANS who have joined you. Get to know your fellow teammates beyond ritualistic hellos and goodbyes and thank yous and awkward high fives. Be committed to being uncommon for those you serve because they NEED you to be uncommon, but may have no idea what that looks like. That’s your job. That’s OUR job.

Want to be uncommon, and awesome. Connect with me to bring MYNDDSET services to your organization. Together, we’ll MAP, ADVANCE and TRANSFORM your culture. We’ll be UNCOMMON together.

Entrepreneurs: Build Something, to Do Something, that Leads to Something

Todd Henry, an incredibly inspiring author, shares a simple model for “Creatives”, those who’s work demands they be creative. He presents a model that includes being Prolific, Healthy and Brilliant. Shift, remove, or lessen just one part of that model and the expected outcome (being a Creative) shifts to another outcome (being tired and not healthy for example). Here’s a link to the Accidental Creative podcast covering this topic to learn more.

What I love about this simple, three-part model is that it provides the opportunity to look at the inter-dependency of the parts and how they lead to an emergent “thing.” In the entrepreneurial world, a similar model can help us understand how to “be entrepreneurial.”

As entrepreneurs, we often get so into the weeds we’ve grown, we get distracted from our purpose. If we’re building a widget, we get blinded by the shiny parts and if left unchecked, we can start to think what the widget does is what we ultimately seek. For example, if we build a new high performance electric car, the performance of the car can easily become sweat nectar and lure us into a sense of significant accomplishment. However, have we forgot the real reason we’re building the car? What about our vision to end the world dependency on oil? Oh yeah. So, now, our high performance, $100,000 car seems not so capable of reaching the masses and that means achieving our initial vision is at risk. We just went 0-60 in 2 seconds but got nowhere. (But it was fun πŸ™‚

Following a model of entrepreneurism can help us focus on key aspects of being entrepreneurial. Whether your an entrepreneur by title (i.e., you launched your own business) or you’re an employee with an entrepreneurial spirit, how can a simple model such as this one keep you on track?

Following Todd’s lead, what if you just Build Something that doesn’t do anything predictable? What are you then? And, what are you if you build something that does something awesome but doesn’t result in anything specific? Flip it. What if you spend all your time mapping the results you want, but don’t build something to get you there?

At the far right, let’s change that box to Vision (our future state, our dream). The middle box, make that Mission (what we do every day). The left box, that will be our Capacity (the systems we build to do our work). I made a decision years ago to pursue my entrepreneurial visions and that includes surrounding myself with entrepreneurs in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Every day, I get to unite with entrepreneurial minds in my community. Amazing, local rock stars doing amazing things. Yet, one thing we all often struggle with is the model above. Sometimes we loose sight of the far right as we keep our heads down building the something. When we get that something up and running, and it’s cranking out something, we feel a sense of “doneness.” We can get comfortable. Our vision (far right) can get fuzzy. By using the model as a whole we build a mindset (a perspective) on entrepreneurism that is simple and powerful.

How can this help you in your entrepreneurial efforts?

Man Looking in Mirror

Knowing Yourself, Knowing Others…Pre-Req to Organizational Vision Work

What drives you? How do you describe your attitudes and prominent behaviors? Are you capable of understanding others, working with those with drivers different from yours? Are you a learner? Can you describe how you think, build ideas and solve problems?

How well do you know yourself?

If your response to any of these questions is, “Uhhmmmm…..”, then I have some advice. Invest time in discovering those answers BEFORE joining your organizational visioning work. Harsh? Not at all. Kind. I’m hitting to your backhand here. I learned this by being a tennis player. My friend and doubles partner wasn’t helping me by constantly hitting to my strong forehand. They helped me grow by hitting to my backhand. That’s what friends are for.

Vision work within an organization presents an incredible opportunity to strengthen and grow. This translates into professional and personal benefits for staff and stakeholders as well. New lines of business may be part of the visioning and those bring new customers, new LIFE to an organization.

On the flip side, re-visioning an organization can feel threatening to some. Depending on organizational structure, concern around change and negative impact can be detrimental to the effort. That push-back however is a choice, one driven by ego and a lack of understanding of oneself and others. To the extreme, some can view organizational vision work as a life-and-death struggle. They will do everything they can to keep their position of influence, their jobs and their security.


β€œIt’s difficult to have fun or to achieve concentration when your ego is engaged in what it thinks is a life-and-death struggle.”


― W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance

These ego-driven struggles are the result of not knowing yourself to the degree needed to take part in organizational development AT THIS TIME. I would NEVER suggest someone could NEVER take part in this work. But, there are those who are not ready at given times. How do you figure out where you stand?

#1 Get help! For years, I’ve helped organizations and teams build vision and conduct mission-driven work. I’ve learned that the struggles they experienced were almost 100% related to team members not knowing themselves and others. That’s why I launched my new line of assessments to help organizations provide a resource for staff. If you or your organization needs help, let me know. Spending just a few minutes to complete an assessment is an incredible professional development opportunity.

#2 Separate Personal from Organization Granted, attaining an “Organization Over Self” mindset can be life-changing and hard. But, it will allow your energies to become part of something larger than what you can accomplish on your own. Being part of an organization is not about getting YOUR way and forcing others to follow. It’s about joining forces with others to do something BIG, something BOLD, something meaningful beyond you.

#3 Trust the System Organizational vision work that is based on Systems Thinking is critical to building a meaningful vision. Systems Thinking is PERSPECTIVAL which means it is inclusive of taking many points of view and seeing things through different lenses. But, it is not about compromises. Compromising a vision means the vision is the result of everyone losing something and giving in to individual needs. To trust the system of building a new vision, check your ego at the door and become part of the process. Learn, be open and participate.

All three of these points are based on knowing yourself and others. Of course, admitting you don’t know yourself requires a certain amount of knowing yourself. So to start, just ask yourself the questions in the opening paragraph and plot a course of action. Begin with #1 above. When you do, you’ll become part of an amazing vision experience for your organization that will change your work and life.

{SIX SPARKS} Vision …

Today I start a new series of short posts called {SIX SPARKS}. The format is simple. I’ll share six statements about a specific idea to SPARK larger flames. I won’t fan the flames too much. Our collective job is to get the fire roaring through interaction, sharing ideas with colleagues or writing your own post based off one of the SPARKS. If you do that, be sure to give this post a shout out and share your link. So here we go.

Vision…What can an incredible Vision do for an organization?

Vision …

  1. Rights an organization that’s gone off course.
  2. Creates organizational purpose.
  3. Empowers everyone within the organization.
  4. Sets the highest level of organizational measurement of success.
  5. Decreases emotional instabilities within the organization.
  6. Fuels relationship management for an organization internally and externally.

Have a question about Vision…let me know. Now, it’s time to share your thoughts. Comment, share and connect.

Crowd Developed Entrepreneurial Mindset

These two simple formulas changed how I approach presentations, workshops, training events, teaching, life…pretty much everything I do.

K = I x T
L = β–²K

Knowledge = Information (times) Thinking
Learning = a change in Knowledge
Cabrera Research Lab, Drs. Derek and Laura Cabrera

Any time I have the opportunity to lead a crowd on an educational journey, I remind myself….If I DON’T get them THINKING about the information we explore, they won’t build new knowledge. And, if they aren’t building new knowledge, they aren’t learning. And, my job is to help people learn.

Crowd-based learning is INCREDIBLY powerful. Why? Because it harness these two formulas. So, that was my approach this week when I lead a session titled “Entrepreneurism is a WORKFORCE Issue.” My goal was to have the crowd build a model of an Entrepreneurial Mindset and then align that model with current needs of employers (to build a strong workforce). With over 50 people in a small room, they went about building a model. Yesterday, I roughly pulled together their thoughts.

It isn’t pretty, but it is powerful. Yesterday, I wrote this article on RISK. The group felt rather strongly that embracing, taking, accepting RISK was an attitude entrepreneurs exhibited. That was just one of the attitudes that bubbled to the top of their work. Others include:

  • Visionary Thinking
  • Leader Mentality
  • Energetic, Driven Approach
  • Creative and Innovative Thinking
  • Confident

These attitudes and ways of thinking lead to the behaviors that wrap up into what this group thought of as describing an Entrepreneur. And, I agree. This collection of attitudes, this MINDSET, exhibits what an entrepreneur is (much better than any definition of an entrepreneur). And, the important take-a-way is the one hour journey we took together to build this mindset model.

My last request of the group was “Now, look at wall and remove any item you don’t believe employers want in employees today.” No one moved. There was a rather audible “ah ha” moment. Our effort to build and understand the entrepreneurial mindset with the crowd lead to a level of learning and understanding much deeper than the attendees thought was going to take place in that one hour session. And, they have themselves to congratulate for it.

Risk or Risky: An Entrepreneurial Mindset for our Organizations

Yesterday, I had the privilege of presenting a workshop on “Entrepreneurism is a WORKFORCE Issue” for the 35th Pennsylvania Workforce Development Association Annual Conference in Hershey PA. With 55 attendees, the energy in the room was high and ideas flowed freely. Thanks to everyone who attended for your contribution.

“I want my staff to have entrepreneurial spirit, but I don’t want them taking RISKS.”
How can we feel safe as we adopt an entrepreneurial mindset within our staff?

While there were many powerful conversational moments – those Ah Ha! moments, one of the most compelling was on RISK. The workshop centered around how an entrepreneurial mindset IS what today’s employers are seeking and desire of their employees. I broke the audience into team as we journeyed toward this way of thinking and explored attitudes and behaviors of entrepreneurially minded people. Part of the exercise to build this mindset with the attendees was to make distinctions between someone labeled an “Entrepreneur” vs someone described as having “Entrepreneurial Spirit.” Most of the teams included RISK to describe an “Entrepreneur.”

“I want my staff to have entrepreneurial spirit, but I don’t want them taking RISKS.”

“I want my staff to have entrepreneurial spirit, but I don’t want them taking RISKS” one attendee shared. I’m so glad this conversation took place. I knew a positive workshop atmosphere is in place when another attendee added, “But what about calculated risk?” So we dove deeper. What does “calculated risk” mean? We discussed viability with consideration to available resources and proper use of those resources, risk compared to change (or sameness), innovation and creativity. When the question of RISK first came up, some groups removed their RISK sticky note from their list of characteristics of those with entrepreneurial spirit. After we deconstructed the idea of risk, teams proudly put that RISK sticky back on the wall.

Our mental models of what entrepreneurial spirit is are everything regarding how we value those traits as ways to grow organizations and improve workforce development. The conversation moved into framing clarity around RISK. I asked the attendees if they’ve used a simple question in interviews. “Are you a risk taker?” Head nods confirmed. Having spent time in discussion, the group was primed to understand why that question wasn’t aligned with an organizational entrepreneurial spirit mindset. The question leads candidates down a rabbit hole. “Do they want me to be a risk taker? Maybe they DON’T want risk takers on their team?” Risk taking is an organizational decision. Interviews need to set clear expectations on how the organization views RISK and what they are looking for. I shared a simple shift in questioning technique. If an organization desires risk takers, how could we shift the question? For example, “When presented with an action you consider a risk, how would you evaluate the level of risk and communicate your ideas to your team or supervisor?” This question clearly lays out the expectation that an organization is seeking someone who approached risk as a valuable skill.

As the workshop continued, the attendees responded positively to the Model of an Entrepreneur which demonstrates Entrepreneurs assess viability (consider risks and risk mediation). There are many references in literature to entrepreneurs assuming the RISK of their ideas. Generally, references center around how an entrepreneur makes decisions that many consider high risk in order to pursue their ideas. For example, an entrepreneur may leave the security of their full-time job to start their business, or they may empty their life’s savings with no guarantee of return on their investment. That is what most of us think about when we think of RISK in regards to entrepreneurism.

On our employee teams however, we generally don’t want staff taking RISKY actions, actions that would put people or our organization at risk (reputation, regulation, safety, etc.). But, we do need staff that look at RISK through an entrepreneurial lens. Organizational change, shifts in markets, new design directions, customer-base departures, and others. These activities bring about RISK that when assessed can have considerable value when weighed against not taking them on. We need employee based teams capable and willing to take on risks so that we avoid RISKY actions.

The entrepreneurial mindset is a powerful tool for existing organizations. Entrepreneurism is a workforce issue. The skillset and mindset of those with an entrepreneurial spirit is needed and must be fostered within K-12 education through professional development programs within organizations. Is that a RISK? Yes. It means we have to shift our thinking that entrepreneurial spirit is only for those wiling to be an entrepreneur and take on their dreams alone. These mindsets are complex and simple definitions leave us down. Its time to interrogate our own biases and build our entrepreneurial workforce within our organizations.

Is HOPE Killing Organizational Thinking?

There was a rather awful experiment in the 1950’s performed by Curt Richter using domesticated rats. The rats were placed in a container of water. They began swimming. The time it took them to drown was recorded. The experiment was repeated but the rats were removed from the water just before they went under. They were dried off and allowed to rest. Then, they were returned to the water. This group swam for hours and hours. Much longer than the group that drowned. The difference? Hope.

Recognize the signs of HOPE that kill your organizational thinking.

Most of us would agree, the power of HOPE is an incredible force. It keeps us alive when many things fail. Hope can be a beacon of light, a source of strength. For the rats in the second group, it provided survival. Survival, by most definitions is a great thing. But, it can also derail organizational thinking, kill vision-mission work and devalue strategy.

Organizations with a legacy are particularly susceptible to counting on hope to survive and lead them into the next fiscal year. Over time, they build a list of strong “hopeful happenings” they begin to look forward to. For example, a non-profit that ends its year with a few thousand dollars in its account feels hope. That happening, ending with a little bit of cash, is like being taken out of the water for a rest. The organization gets removed from the struggles of swimming in their work. That swimming becomes drowning over time. But, just before they go under, they get removed, dried off to rest. The horrible feeling of ALMOST drowning fades a bit as they rest. The struggles seem distant now and start to feel oddly comfortable. A mindset of “well, at least we know what to expect” creeps into the team. To compound that, other “hopeful happenings” pile on. A congratulatory handshake from a board member on staying afloat, a business cycle shift and relaxed pace, a repeat donor donation. Hope builds, but sameness, survival occurs. But, remember, that sameness means at a point in the near future, everyone will return to the water, start swimming and start to drown again.

Hope is so powerful, it can blind an organization to the power of thinking. An organization that commits to thinking can craft an incredible Vision-Mission and build the systems and capacities to support that Vision-Mission. As part of that work, they can also build strategic thinking skills among stakeholders. That work however can get sidestepped for the work to remain afloat, to depend on Hope, to survive. Hope is comfortable. Scary, but comfortable. Thinking differently, change, is scary, unknown, not comfortable for many.

What can we do?

  1. Know your organizational “hopeful happenings”, expose them for what they are and ensure everyone understands they are a drug with side effects.
  2. Stay close to those who show a strong connection to those “hopeful happenings” and are willing to recruit others to follow them. Work with them. If they can’t join, figure out an exit plan for them.
  3. Keep reminding everyone that hope will return you to a state of “almost drowning” and that will be, as expected, incredibly difficult, stressful, and detrimental to everyone.
  4. Make a distinction between a state of hope and your Vision-Mission, a future state that is special, meaningful, fulfilling and powerful.
  5. Celebrate moments when “hopeful happenings” have been eradicated. When you end the fiscal year with more than just a bit of cash, when your business cycles don’t negatively change as they once did, when you don’t have high staff turn over year over year. Don’t let those changes go unnoticed. Those changes didn’t come about from hope, they were possible because of THINKING.
  6. Don’t build new “hopeful happenings.” Be diligent and continually aware of how hope can creep back into your organization. Create events to spend time measuring how well you’re doing and assign roles to purposely be on the lookout.

This is a big moment. If you’ve been swimming for survival in your organization, you’re out of the water for a bit drying off and resting. You have a choice. Hope will throw you back in, or you can commit to THINKING and changing.

Storytelling is Biz Planning

One framework…two perspectives. Learn how to tell a great story and you’ll learn how to build a strong business plan framework. If you’re on a journey to build an Entrepreneurial mynddset, you’ll appreciate having a tool for your tool belt, especially one that does double duty. There is an art to storytelling. And, there’s a technique. Today, let’s consider the technique (the framework).

Drum roll……Think 5Ps.

P(1) = Problem
P(2) = Promise
P(3) = Picture
P(4) = Proof
P(5) = Pitch

Jack and Jill went up the hill (nursery rhyme)
Great stories tell us what problem is being solved.

Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of water. So…what was the problem? What were they trying to solve?

Problem = They had no water.

The simplest of stories follow the 5P framework. They lay out what someone or some group’s Problem is or was. They describe the Promise in the”how this will be resolved” part of the story. At some point, the details, the HOW, or Picture of the solution is laid out clearly. How do we know the solution will work? Some evidence is provided, even in times of doubt or if a new solution is being attempted, some level of Proof it will work is presented. Finally, the process for how others can join in on the action is shared during via the Pitch.

Now, let’s look at what a good business plan needs. Hummm…..let me think. Give me a minute. So…, we need…wait! A great business plan needs those some structural components. Interesting. A good story framework is a good business framework.

It’s a myth to think businesses need a super complicated framework to be great businesses. If you’re struggling to define your business plan, think about the 5Ps. While you build the business framework, you also craft the business story.


Leadership vs Skill

In 1987, the year I graduated from high school, I remember hearing a coach at an awards banquet speak of how many leaders there were on the team. The coach boasted about their high level of skills and how they set an example for others. They were role models as evidenced by their dedication to on and off the field preparation according to the coach. At that time, I remember feeling confused. Was the coach saying that by being really good at what we do, we are leaders? I wrestled with how simple this sounded. Be good at something, be a leader. But was that true then? And, now after reaching the 50 year old milestone in my life, is it true now?

Young American football team on field.
Leaders focus on the performance of others.

Simply…NO! I’m frankly amazed at how easily we confuse leadership and skill. We can be skilled leaders. But, just because we have a skill, are we leaders? Or, are we as the coach added, capable of being great role models? And, is skill acquisition an automatic pass to being a role model. Certainly not. So, likewise, skill level is not the same as leadership.

Why do we confuse leadership and skill?

  • Because our Mentors Did/Do the Same. Too many coaches, teachers and mentors create confusion for young minds. When a student excels at a sport, artistic or academic pursuit, too often, they are given the title of “leader.” While they may “lead” (as in outperform) others in their skill, their leadership abilities should be assessed uniquely. That mindset (mynddset for me) carries through into adulthood. In fact, we start to feel that if we aren’t given leadership roles when we excel at what we do, we must be doing something wrong. Worse, we suffer when over-promoted at work. In this case, we excel at what we do skill-wise and are promoted to a leadership role. Without leadership capabilities, we struggle. We often fall back on what we know and “do the work” for the team. That’s an entire post on its own. Without intervention, we either learn our mynddset was wrong, or we failed and aren’t a leader. We were duped actually.
  • Because Leadership Needs Defined. I love this definition by Kevin Kruse (Author and recognized Leadership Authority).

DEFINITION: Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.

  • Because We Forget Leadership isn’t about US! When someone is really, really good at something, and they do that something in a way that inspires others, that is AWESOME. But, it takes more than that to be a leader. Leadership requires influencing others in a purposeful, MINDFUL way for the intent of maximizing their efforts to achieve a collective goal. For example, is the star quarterback a leader just because he hits the gym every day after school or is the water boy a leader because he gathers a group of younger friends with a goal of playing varsity at the field after school and teaches them the drills he knows they will perform when they get older?

If you’re not sure if you are a leader, which are you, the quarterback or the water boy from the above example? Are you attempting to lead based on your skill or are you practicing the act of leadership? Have you recently labeled someone a leader who you now see falls short of the definition?

This shift is a mindset (I call it a mynddset) shift. Within your organization, be sure you’re crediting those with high skills for their achievements while also reserving the label of leader for those with the right mynddset.