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The faith of the bird…

“The faith of the bird is not in the branch; but in its wings” Author Unknown

Imagine a bird on a branch; clearly the concern is not in the branch and what might happen to it. It seems obvious that the faith of the bird is not in how strong the branch might be but rather in its ability to react even if something happened to the branch.

Strangely enough for us human beings, we want to put our faith in the branch or external circumstances. There are so many things that we cannot control such as the economy, what happens in our job, people who decide to depart our life. However, we can control how we flap our “wing”; that is how we respond to these circumstances.

I’ve often been accused of being overly optimistic even in the face of adversity. To the point that I think, some close to me – family, friends and business associates – may have questioned if I am genuine or in touch with reality. What is my reality? It is that I have faith that whatever the problem or circumstances, we control the outcome by having the right plan and executing on that plan. It is not what has happened to us but what we do in response to what has happened that matters.

Talking about reality, one of the problems that we have as humans is that when we are faced with problems, we lack perspective. So many individuals are driven to despair when in fact their problems would seem trivial compared to those faced by others. Some of the questions that I often ask myself when facing adversity in business and in personal life are:

•Have others faced similar problems in the past?
•What did they do to resolve that problem or issue?
•What can Iearn from their success or failure?
•Can I pattern my response after their approach?

What I have come to realize is that in most cases, it is not the sickness that kills the patient but the lack of medicine. What leads to the fall of individuals and companies are not the external problems they face but the lack of medicine or bad medicine (lack of solutions or the wrong solutions).

My approach to life is to:

a)Confront whatever problem as it is without any sugar coating,
b)Understand the brutal facts of the situation,
c)Make sure that there is a plan A, B and even C to resolve it.

This approach is why the following quote is one of my favorites:

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end –which you can never afford to lose –with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”
-Admiral Jim Stockdale

July 1, 2013 at 10:13 am 1 comment

Inequality can spur progress

I went to a conference a few weeks ago where I had the pleasure of listening to Sir Richard Branson speak. One of the points made (actually raised by a member of the audience) was that economic inequality can fuel innovation. In other words, it may be a necessary evil that most innovations first benefit those who are better off economically.

One of the first innovations that came to mind is the widespread use of cell phones. When cell phone technology was invented, it was as bulky as a suitcase and so pricey that it only made sense for the busy businessperson who needed to be in touch with important clients. Right now, a cell phone is such a commodity that even in a country as poor as Haiti, just about everyone has one or sometimes more. More importantly, this technology that started out being affordable to only the wealthiest in the western world is now helping countries like Haiti skip the need for a dinosaur technology called landlines as well as the costly infrastructure associated with it.

As I am writing this post, I’ve been scratching my head to think of a technology that started out among those at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale and then went on to be adopted by the masses. I can think of none. Technology and innovation seem to always emerge for the privileged. Then, with competition prices come down or cheaper versions of the product are made available to others.

Conversely, I think the failure to recognize that the poorest will not be the early adopters of a new product or technology can stifle progress. This is a problem in developing countries such as Haiti where NGOs and institutions encourage services to be developed for those who are less able to pay. These NGOs and institutions mean well, but in their idealism I’m afraid they often do not realize that their model may not be sustainable.

Take, for example, a clinic offering free services. Along with the services of that clinic being free come long lines, shorter time per patient, and lower overall quality of service. Alternatively, imagine that there is another clinic in which patients have to pay for service. In the paid clinic, there is better décor, shorter wait times, and working air conditioning. What is bound to happen is a) there are people who can pay for the service and will make the economic decision that the added value of the paid clinic is worth the price; and b) there are people who can barely pay for the services and will make sacrifices in other areas to go to that paid clinic.

In the US, we recognize that although everyone needs access to certain services such as education or healthcare, society does not have a moral obligation to ensure that everyone is receiving the same level of service. Do we expect public schools to offer the same level of education as a private school with tuition of $50,000 per year? That kind of tuition likely translates in student teacher ratio of 10 to 1 and class offerings in Latin or Greek. Similarly, you are likely to see a huge difference between a visit to a community clinic in a rural area and a private doctor’s office in the suburbs.

Is it fair that the clinic offering concierge medicine to an upper class clientele is different than the community clinic offering indigent care? I think in the US we have come to accept that fairness does not necessarily mean necessarily equality and instead a minimum level of access or standard. We should not seek to push a utopian model, where fairness means everyone has access to the same level of service, on developing countries.

May 24, 2013 at 9:43 am Leave a comment

Bottleneck happens at the top! (Part 1)

Few companies survive the start-up stage. Of the companies that survive the startup stage, many of them struggle in the adolescence phase of the organization. One of the reasons-and I would venture to say the main reason- that small and mid-size companies struggle is their leaders. More specifically, the party responsible for failure is the founder or CEO (often the same person).

In other words, the bottleneck is at the top. One might say that bottleneck is always at the top no matter the size of the company. However, for small to mid-sized companies, I believe the organization tends to suffer more because of the lack of growth of the leader and conversely is more likely to gain from the growth of the leader. To quote Michael Lazerow, “CEOs/Founders are their own worst enemy.”

One of the reasons that the bottleneck happens with CEOs/founders or leaders of growing organizations, particularly startups, is that they need to bring and utilize efficiently other talents beyond those of the founder. At some point, a leader of a growing organization cannot rely on his/her skills alone. To get an organization started, there is great deal of burden on the founder/leader. Success is directly connected to the leader’s efforts including 12 to 16 hour days and sometimes sleepless nights. As the organization grows, it will become crippled it if continues to rely so heavily on the efforts of the founder. Others need to step to the plate.  Problems happen with recruiting the right talent, keeping them on board and managing them.

1)      Recruiting the right talent

When it comes time to get others to replicate the effort of the founder, the first hurdle is recruiting right. It can be a chicken and egg problem to hire the right talent (that is someone with the skills to do the job). Having people with the right skills is only part of the problem.  The main issue is that entrepreneurs don’t pay attention in the early stage of their company to cultural fit. Having a brilliant jerk in a small organization can quickly lead to its destruction. 

2)      Being willing to let go

The second hurdle is for the entrepreneur to be able to make enough space for the new talent to operate. An entrepreneur typically has a lot riding on the success of their organization. In most cases, they’ve bet the farm. Their attachment to the organization goes beyond fear of failure. This is their baby and their idea. They can do most tasks better than anyone if they could clone themselves. Many entrepreneurs cannot deal with the fact that giving control away means that they will not agree, and don’t have to agree, with every decision made by the hires to which they are ceding control. This means allowing these new hires to make mistakes.

3)      Hiring complementary talent

Entrepreneurs may be talented but they have their weaknesses. They need to hire talents to overcome their weakness; that is people who are better than them in some areas. Complimentary doesn’t only apply to skills but also to certain attributes that may relate to character traits, such as someone who is introverted making sure they have an extrovert on their team to communicate with internal and external stakeholders; someone who is great in big picture thinking (visionary) may need to partner with someone who is good with the details. Hiring complementary skills requires the leader to be aware of weakness and to be accepting of the new talent.

 4)      Become skilled at human relations

As an organization grows, it is less dependent on the skills of the entrepreneur and more on the ability of the entrepreneur to manage the talents of the firm. That is the entrepreneur becomes more of a conductor of the orchestra as opposed to the first violinist. Working with people and getting the most from their talents is an art and an area of expertise by itself. Few entrepreneurs make the transition. 

When I started SciMetrika, a colleague told me that I would make a couple of bad hires that could potentially put me out of business.  I wish I had listened more carefully and been more prepared. The inability of the entrepreneur to deal with people issues can lead to atrophy and even the death of the organization.  Equally important is that the entrepreneur needs to deal with himself or herself.

April 4, 2013 at 11:46 am Leave a comment

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