Octane Blog – The official blog of the Entrepreneurs' Organization
The Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) is a global, peer-to-peer network of more than 12,000 influential business owners with 160 chapters in 50 countries. Founded in 1987, EO is the catalyst that enables leading entrepreneurs to learn and grow, leading to greater success in business and beyond.
It’s graduation season for many, which makes this a perfect time to experience-share with the next generation of adults entering the workforce and maybe joining your company. Have you ever written a graduation address in your head—perhaps even delivered part of it to your own kids or employees?
We asked EO members what lessons they wished they had known when they graduated and joined the working world. Here’s what they shared. What would you add?
“Unless you have the next greatest billion-dollar idea, plan your career out for four or five years. Aim to spend a minimum of two years at a small business and also at a Fortune 500 company. You’ll learn what is great and what is the worst about being in a company of that size, whether it’s the flexibility to make immediate changes and see impact or learn operational skills and project management. These two experiences will illuminate the type of work environment and opportunities best suited for your desired life and lifestyle.”
― Adam Levy, EO New York, founder and CEO, Alcohol Professor
“You don’t need to know what you want to be the minute you graduate. There’s so much pressure to know what we want to be when we ‘grow up,’ but we are constantly growing up and becoming better versions of ourselves. I didn’t find myself in my career until my 30s, but every step of my journey led to what I am today. Don’t be afraid to fail. Each mistake is a life lesson and will make you better and stronger.”
― Stacy Goldberg, EO Detroit, founder and CEO, Savorfull
“Here’s what I share with my children, prospective employees and graduates:
• Experience is becoming more valuable than education, because education has become fluid and on-demand. So get moving and start experiencing as soon as possible.
• The quickest way to get on your feet is to get off the couch.
• Get to know yourself and your personality traits so that you can be strategic about the types of work environments and careers to pursue and select the most suitable opportunity.
• Speaking from experience, it is more important to feel like a million bucks than to have it.
• Spend summers doing internships—as many as possible—to experience different environments until you find what feels right for you.
• Pay it forward: Encourage those who are younger to start thinking about the future long before their graduation date.”
― Vlad Molchadski, EO Dallas, founder and CEO, BizTraffic.com
“Let people underestimate you. Why? Because it provides the opportunity to prove them wrong. In my first US job, I made minimum wage, didn’t speak English very well and my manager severely underestimated me. She once asked if I knew how to use a calculator. It was insulting, and I could have reacted negatively. Instead, I proceeded to go above and beyond to prove my value as an employee. To this day, people still underestimate me, especially as a woman and a minority. But I work that to my advantage by surprising and impressing people with what I’m capable of.”
― Kate Hancock, EO Los Angeles, founder and CEO, OC Facial Center
“I wish I had known that actions and initiatives that would catapult me to a more senior role or raise weren’t always the best contribution I could give or the best choice for the client. You have to learn to listen to your gut: Am I doing this to get a promotion or because it’s best for the team and client? Creating real value and making an impact is what will realize your career potential.”
― Christina Bellman, EO Colorado, founder and CEO, LEVO
“Networking is a cornerstone of building a business or advancing your career. But as an investor and recruiter, nothing scares me off more than the words ‘networking opportunity.’ I picture a feeding frenzy of people hiding their real motives under all that small talk. So, how do you build a network? Here are a few principles I’ve learned—through trial and lots of error—along the way:
1. Grow your circle from the inside out: Leveraging your existing network to get an intro shows you’ve already got common ground, and makes for a much better first impression than showing up out of the blue.
2. When it comes to business, don’t talk about business: There’s a fundamental misconception that business is about metrics—market size, sales, etc. Before any of that, it’s about trust.
3. Give, give and give some more: The cornerstone of any real relationship is generosity—giving without the expectation of return. The best business networks are no different in that regard.
4. It takes a lifetime: Above all, building a real network isn’t like collecting followers on social media. Networks are built on shared interests and values, and it often takes time to tease these out.”
― Manny Padda, president of EO Vancouver, founder and CEO, New Avenue Capital
“Find a job or intern for a company that you are passionate about and would love to be a part of. Work as hard as you can and meet as many people as you can. Work overtime, wow them and be memorable!”
― Jody Steinhauer, EO Toronto, founder of Engage and Change and president and chief bargain officer of Bargains Group and Kits for a Cause
“Winter is coming.”
— Jean-Michel Lebeau, EO Quebec, founder and CEO of Cortex
In 2011, I heard a speech by Mark Zandi [chief economist of Moody’s Analytics] revealing that entrepreneurship in the U.S. was in trouble. I couldn’t believe it at first, but after beginning my own research, I became very concerned. We start half as many new businesses in this country today as we did 30 years ago. I began comparing my personal experience as an entrepreneur starting my business 50 years ago to the entrepreneurial ecosystem today.
Unfortunately, we have created a widening opportunity gap for most Americans to become entrepreneurs. I hope that Boom can shed light on this problem and a direction for possible solutions.
Who is the audience for this book?
My hope is that this book will appeal to a broad audience that includes entrepreneurs, policymakers, the business community and all citizens who are passionate about preserving the American dream of starting your own business for future generations.
How has the American dream changed over time?
When I started my business in the late 1960s, there was a fairly anti-capitalist and anti-business attitude throughout the U.S. My generation was protesting the war in Vietnam and criticizing mismanaged government programs and institutions, yet at the same it never occurred to me that, at 18, I couldn’t start a business of my own. That was one of my rights as an American citizen. Indeed, when I started, I had few regulatory and other external obstacles to overcome.
Today’s entrepreneurial climate is just the opposite. Despite the fact that entrepreneurship is more popular and praised than ever, entrepreneurs pursuing their version of the American Dream are burdened with overbearing regulations, lack of access to capital, burdensome student loans, and public policies that favor big businesses over new startups. We can and should address these obstacles to resurrect the American dream for all citizens.
What are the new trends we are seeing in entrepreneurship today that didn’t happen 10 years ago?
Today, there are more nonprofits and incubator programs supporting potential entrepreneurs than ever before. These business and mentorship networks have made great strides helping entrepreneurs in local communities across the U.S.
A number of local governments have also implemented programs to help startups. Despite all of these positive efforts and the economic recovery following the Great Recession, entrepreneurship is still stagnant.
What is undermining entrepreneurship, and why has there been a decline in the last three decades?
The factors affecting entrepreneurship today are complex.
The consolidation of big banks and decline of community banks has made it much more difficult for entrepreneurs to receive financing (less than 1 percent receive venture capital and only 16 percent receive bank loans or other private loans).
Additionally, the consolidation of big businesses in many industries has left little room for competition, as these companies largely influence public policy and are able to out-spend and out-last any startups that threaten their market share. Because of the influence these large corporations have in Washington, public policy has largely benefited big business versus smaller, emerging startups.
To make matters worse, the current regulatory climate in the U.S. is extremely difficult to navigate, leading the U.S. to be ranked 53rd in ease of starting a new business, according to the World Bank. Many startups can’t afford the legal fees alone to get through these regulations.
Add to this that the number of people under 30 who are starting a business has fallen 65 percent since the 1980s, largely due to unprecedented student debt, lack of equity and risk aversion from the Great Recession. We have consolidated entrepreneurial ecosystems (and capital) to just a few cities and we have made it increasingly difficult for women and minorities to start businesses.
All of these factors combined and more have contributed to our current entrepreneurial decline.
What does it mean for the future of work and our economy, and how can we solve this crisis?
Since new businesses account for the majority of net new jobs in our economy, this is a critical issue in terms of job growth and potential unemployment in our country if not addressed quickly.
Combine the issues facing entrepreneurs with new technologies coming to market and eliminating many of the skilled workers currently in the workforce, and you have a big problem if we don’t have an economy that is poised for and open to new business formation.
We need to encourage competition in our economy instead of catering to the mega-corporations that are taking shape. The most impactful solution, among many, will be enacting public policies at the federal level that encourage diversity in the startup landscape and minimize regulations while incentivizing investment in startups.
What happens when the entrepreneurial spirit and sense of innovation diminish?
Perhaps I am an optimist, but I do not see the entrepreneurial spirit or sense of innovation dying out in our country.
Even in our challenging ecosystem, a 2014 study from Babson College found that optimism about becoming an entrepreneur in America had reached its highest level in 15 years, with more than 50 percent of the adult population believing that good opportunities exist for starting a business.
If we could turn this into a reality, the number of new entrepreneurs in America could skyrocket (or should I say, boom), along with the economy overall and especially the middle class.
Craig Hall is an entrepreneur, civic leader, New York Times bestselling author and philanthropist. He formed HALL Group in 1968 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and today the company controls billions of dollars in assets and is made up of several subsidiary brands, with interests ranging from real estate development, ownership and management to financial lending and HALL Wines and other winery operations. Hall actively supports entrepreneurs and start-ups. Together with his wife Ambassador Kathryn Hall, he funded the Fulbright Kathryn and Craig Hall Distinguished Chair for Entrepreneurship in Eastern Europe.
Written for EO by Danielle Canstello, a member of the content marketing team at Pyramid Analytics.
Social media is an ideal way to engage with customers and potential customers, and drive people to your business site.
But that doesn’t make it simple. There are plenty of potential potholes in social media marketing. Maybe your Facebook page is popular, but your Instagram account isn’t. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your competitors have been amassing followers at a higher rate than you.
Don’t despair! Follow these guidelines to improve your social media marketing efforts.
DO Set a Strategy
Just as in every other aspect of your business, you should begin by developing a strategy.
With social media, a sample strategy would include your goals, your target audience, your key messages and the amount of time and budget you or your team will spend on social media. It can even get right down to creating a schedule of posts, including the best time of day to post.
DON’T Spread Yourself Thin
With a strategy in place, you should be able to determine the best social media platforms for your business. It’s OK to start small. It’s not OK to set up a profile on every available social media platform, and then fail to post to those platforms consistently.
For instance, let’s say you sell cupcakes. This means your business marketing will be heavy with photographs and images of your beautiful, tasty cupcakes. In that case, it’s best to choose a media platform that showcases imagery—for example, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.
DON’T Forget About Follower Numbers
Part of your strategy must be boosting your follower base. That means actively working to increase the number of followers by promoting your social media presence and interesting content.
Also, ask customers to follow you on social and encourage your current followers to share or like your posts.
DON’T Focus Solely on Promotion
Obviously, part of the reason for being on social media is to advertise your products or services. But promotion should be only a small part of your content strategy.
It’s called social media for a reason. People don’t go to their chosen platform to look at advertising. Therefore, you need to be communicating with customers and potential customers. Engage with them. Post content that addresses their interests and needs, and doesn’t just shamelessly promote your business.
For example, thank a customer who posts on your page, post articles or infographics that interest your audience, or share humorous quotes that relate to your industry.
DO Post Regularly
How often you post can be a double-edged sword. Post too little and your followers will give up on you. Post too often and content becomes repetitive or low-value. Followers will become tired of hearing from you.
Instead, post high-value content consistently and regularly—and at the times that are best for engaging your audience.
DO Measure Results
Like any business strategy, you need to measure success toward your goals.
There are a variety of ways to do this with social media, including analyzing posts to see which ones led to engagement. Most importantly, use a systematic tracking system that provides hard numbers on your performance. You can then make adjustments and improvements to what isn’t working, and replicate what is working.
Google Analytics, for instance, can tell you which social media site drove what traffic to your site. It can tell you whether that traffic converted to goal completion—a sale, for instance.
Define KPIs and examine the demographics of your audience.
Define and Refine
Social media can be an important component of the marketing efforts of your business, but it has to be done well to be effective. Start by avoiding common social media mistakes, and then follow up with assessing and improving upon your efforts.
Danielle Canstello is a member of the content marketing team at Pyramid Analytics, which provides analytics and business intelligence software.
The concept of “practicing mindfulness” has grown in popularity in the last decade. Mindfulness for kids, mindfulness to quit smoking, mindful eating, mindfulness at the office—it’s become a catch-all buzzword.
With claims that mindfulness can cure everything from addiction to anxiety, it’s no surprise that people from all walks of life are becoming students of mindfulness.
To unpack the truth about mindfulness, Octane revisited a conversation with Dandani (pictured below), a former monk, a Hindu priest, an entrepreneur and one of EO’s top-rated speakers.
Mindfulness is a state of being.
“We should start by defining the word ‘mindfulness,’” says Dandani. “I define it as a state of being fully aware of what one is engaged in at any particular moment. The biggest misconception is that you can practice mindfulness. It is not something you practice, but rather something you are as a result of practicing concentration.”
But first, concentration.
And while many of us have been told by parents, teachers and even partners to “concentrate!” Dandapani observes that few of us have been taught how to concentrate.
“To be good at concentration we must first learn it and then practice it. One simple way to integrate the practice of concentration into your daily life is to practice doing one thing at a time.” Simply put, “Give what and with whom you are engaged your undivided attention.”
How to treat a wandering mind
If you’re like many business owners and entrepreneurs, you’re likely wondering how you could possibly give your undivided attention to anything or anyone. You’re incredibly busy; your mind is always multi-tasking. You regularly find yourself replying to an email on your phone as you sit in a staff meeting while your mind wanders to a conversation you had with your spouse about vacation plans.
Dandapani recognizes this tendency, observing, “If you are a person whose awareness races through the mind all day, then your energy is also flowing all over the place. Most entrepreneurs allow this to happen and perpetuate this habit by practicing it all day.”
To remedy the constant distractions, he shares a story from his days as a monk. “When I lived as a monk, my guru taught me a phrase he coined: ‘Where awareness goes, energy flows.’ It’s probably one of the most important things I’ve learned. First, we have to learn that awareness and the mind are two separate things. Second, our mind does not wander; our awareness moves within the mind.”
If you realize that life is a manifestation of where you direct your energy—your awareness, your concentration—then that one thing starts to manifest in your life.
“Life is a manifestation of where you direct your energy. When you can concentrate your awareness toward one thing, you begin to direct your energy toward it, and that one thing starts to manifest in your life.”
When you accept that your valuable energy flows to where you concentrate, you’re empowered to enhance all aspects of your life—whether it’s your personal relationships or your leadership skills.
Dandapani explains, “When I speak to people, I ask them to look at their mind and personal life as a piece of software; the better you understand it, the more you can do with it. However, it is staggering how people hardly invest time into understanding and developing this. You are at the center of everything you do in life. So, if you worked on being a better version of you, everything you are involved in will naturally be uplifted.”
Monks have understood this for a long time. “They’ve realized that the greatest way to have an impact in the world is to start by working on yourself. That’s an important step toward mindfulness, both in business and life.”
After taking part in a Dandapani event sponsored by her EO chapter, Lallenia Birge says her top takeaway “was that our awareness is different than our brain or mind. We are in control of our energy and who or what we give that energy to.”
EO member Stephen Lichter learned a similar lesson from the talk. “Whatever we practice is what we become experts at. By learning to bring our awareness back to those things which are most important in our life, we will be more productive and we will be giving our energy to those things that matter the most.”
Dandapani’s talk also taught Birge a valuable parenting lesson. “He taught me how to share the gift of awareness and the gift of learning to my children. It’s amazing how we are told to concentrate and to learn but no one ever teaches us how to. How do we expect our children to learn and concentrate if they don’t know how the brain works?”
She goes on to say, “Dandapani had a way of engaging us that really made me personally reevaluate my goals and my purpose in life in a way I’ve never done or learned before from anywhere else.”
From mindful to mastering
Dandapani firmly believes you can attain the life you desire, using a free and readily available tool: your mind. Understanding how your mind works and guiding it to focus on what matters most can lead you to make sustainable changes in your life.
If you have hourly employees, you know how important it is to keep an accurate and compliant record of employee hours. On paper, this is challenging, and it has traditionally created a significant administrative burden for the human resources (HR), payroll, or project management departments.
As a result, more and more employers are taking their HR administration online, including time and attendance tracking. But how do you know if you have the right solution for your organization and whether your time-tracking processes are optimized for compliance and efficiency?
In general, there are five criteria that will help the HR department evaluate the best time and attendance system for their needs.
1. Ability to clock in and out
If you aren’t familiar with time and attendance systems, it may surprise you that many of them do not actually allow the employee to clock in and out within the system. Some are manual entry systems, which require employees to keep their own record of how many hours they worked.
This raises some compliance concerns. Some organizations with this type of system find it incentivizes a culture of rounding up or “just clocking eight hours,” regardless of how long employees actually work. If there is ever a compliance audit, this puts the employer in a disadvantaged position. If your organization intends to invest time and money in a system to track time compliantly, it’s worth asking if this is the best type of platform to accomplish that goal.
Alternatively, a system that tracks the precise minute employees clock in and clock out keeps a better and more accurate record of hours, giving employers more compliance confidence.
2. Editing functionality
Anyone who has worked in HR knows that tracking employee hours usually results in a lot of edits. Employees may forget to clock in, forget to clock out or forget to take a lunch break, requiring an edit to their timesheet.
A nice feature to have in a time and attendance system is a prompt asking employees if they need to request an edit at the moment they clock in or out.
Many time and attendance systems don’t have this ability, and employees have to send an email to their manager—or even leave a note on his or her desk—to request an edit. The result is an electronic system that requires managers to make lots of manual edits, which isn’t the most optimized solution.
An additional benefit of a system that manages edits natively is that the HR department can track edit patterns. In the event that there are consistent issues regarding an employee’s time tracking, management can address them.
3. Location-based clock-in / clock-out
Another beneficial feature is a platform that restricts the ability to clock-in exclusively to devices getting WiFi from a certain IP address. In other words, employees can only clock in or out on their device while present at the office. This prevents the potential issue of early clock-in, also improving compliance.
4. At-a-glance in-and-out time board
A visual representation of who is clocked in at any moment is important for managers, especially for larger organizations. This makes it easy to see who is present at a glance.
5. Payroll reporting
Reporting time tracking to payroll is a process with a lot of complexity. The easier it is to get hours worked out of the time and attendance system and into payroll, the better. One area of complexity is differentiating the types of hours worked. The time and attendance system need to be able to communicate how many total hours were worked, how many of those hours were overtime, how many were at a normal pay rate, and how many were paid time off hours, if any. This can be tricky to understand. To explain, let’s look at an example.
Let’s say over a two-week pay period, Jane worked 78 hours at Acme Company. Overtime hours are any hours worked over 40 hours per week, per federal regulations. Is Jane eligible for overtime pay? Some might say no—she was under 80 hours worked for the two-week period. But this thinking isn’t accurate.
You can’t tell if Jane is eligible for overtime without a breakdown of the total hours worked. If Jane worked 45 hours during week one, and then 33 hours during week two, she would need to be compensated for five overtime hours. This is why you want a system that can differentiate between the total 78 hours worked, the 73 normal pay hours, and the five overtime hours.
Traditionally, figuring all of this out is a huge burden on the HR department. Without a robust time and attendance system, tracking this requires calculating all of these hours across multiple reports and platforms that don’t talk to one another.
This complexity is a big part of the reason many small and medium-sized employers choose to have only salaried employees, even in circumstances where that approach isn’t the right fit for the organization—or even compliant with federal labor laws.
By contrast, using a robust time and attendance system streamlines this process and allows employers to better optimize the structure of their workforce. Especially for organizations that are in growth mode, there is a tipping point where tracking hours becomes necessary and painful.
Using the above criteria to evaluate systems can ensure your organization finds a system that best meets your needs.
Alex Tolbert is a member of EO Nashville, one of EO’s largest US chapters. A recognized expert in technology, HR and benefits, Alex is the founder of Bernard Health.
Startups often focus most of their attention on securing funding from potential investors. That’s not a bad strategy—particularly considering how much money it takes to get a business off the ground. However, there might be another strategic partnership that can benefit small businesses seeking exposure: partnering with bigger brands.
Yes, bigger brands might be your competition. They could even target the same customers as your company, but they can still be potential allies. In fact, bigger brands may need your company as much as you need theirs. Smaller businesses are often more nimble than the giants of the business world, for instance, which allows them to react quickly to changes in market trends. They also tend to have a pulse on the needs of their customers—especially in more niche markets.
When HubSpot first launched its partner program, I was intrigued. It felt like a risky move, but my previous company decided to pursue a partnership with the marketing powerhouse. Considering we were also a marketing agency, the risk involved our choice to pivot our services to complement HubSpot’s platform. Combined with our pivot, this partnership increased our inbound leads and helped our revenue jump by more than 100% in a year. We were also able to generate predictable recurring revenue by referring current and prospective clients to HubSpot’s platform.
In other words, partnering with a big brand can help your startup grow in ways that aren’t possible on your own. This doesn’t mean you should enter into any partnership lightly, though. Partnerships must make sense for both organizations involved, and there are several ways to evaluate these potential relationships:
Conduct a values appraisal.
Entering into a partnership can appear to be an endorsement of the other party’s values. Ensure you and any potential partners align in this regard before you make anything final. Your venture will forever be associated with your partner, and it will affect business going forward—either positively or negatively.
The female social network findSisterhood understood this when partnering with Reebok. Within weeks of Reebok’s #BeMoreHuman campaign, findSisterhood launched its new app. Because both brands are passionate about empowering women and showcasing female strengths, the partnership worked out well for both parties.
Weigh risk versus the reward.
Most partnerships involve significant time or monetary commitments. For example, you may need to develop new products or services that complement your partner’s offerings. View this aspect of your partnership as an opportunity to create new revenue streams for your business.
Ayesha Curry, an actress-turned-celebrity cook, in 2017 started developing meal kits by partnering with Blue Apron. Curry may have tapped into the meal-kit provider’s existing delivery service, but the partnership required her to commit a significant amount of time. That investment is significant, but both parties are likely to expand their reach and potentially increase revenue with time—which is a win-win.
Consider development opportunities.
Startups have limited time and resources to properly train employees. Some partnerships have the added bonus of professional development, which can be beneficial during times of growth. Every aspect of your operation needs to scale in tandem with your business—otherwise, you may fail to meet demand.
As with any business strategy, building a relationship with a big brand shouldn’t leave customers confused. The partnership must work on a number of levels: from values and goals to messaging and target audience. Anything else will just dilute your startup brand.
Michael Kiel is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for boating and online marketing. He is the founder of the startup Boat Planet, an online marketplace for connecting boat owners with trusted marine professionals.
Sleepless nights, assessing (and reassessing), pivoting, negotiating, anticipating, spending … Are these keywords describing entrepreneurship or parenting? For all the parents who are entrepreneurs out there, you probably know these endeavors run in parallel.
If parenting is akin to entrepreneurship, what entrepreneurial lessons have you learned from your kids? Here’s what a few EO members shared with Octane.
1. Consider the value in alternative approaches
“I’ve learned to ask my 13-year-old son why he wants to do something a certain way, especially when it’s different from my approach. After all, just because someone has less experience doesn’t mean they don’t have a better approach.
“For example, for a friend’s birthday recently, my son wanted to give cash instead of our usual gift-card approach. My immediate thought was, ‘No, that’s not classy.’ But instead, I asked why–and his answer was insightful. He explained that a gift card to a specific store meant his friend could only use it there, but if he doesn’t want anything from that store, our gift would be inconsiderate. And as for a credit card-backed gift card, we’d have to pay a fee to purchase, which is a waste of money. His ‘why’ made sense, so his friend got cash.
“Having a child in the house is a constant reminder that great ideas come from all around, and it helps keep me extra aware to ask ‘why’ into the office—where great minds also surround me!”
“My oldest son, who was very resourceful at an early age, taught us multiple lessons. One question we heard him ask often was, ‘Can you do this for me?’ He learned to ask others for help, and they actually did help much of the time. Some parents might discourage that, but we saw it as a valuable skill he could develop—as long as it didn’t hurt his relationships and he was kind and thoughtful.
“He’s grown into a strong collaborator who’s been orchestrating the efforts of others since childhood. We all have this instinct, but entrepreneurs have to learn to lead and harness the efforts of a team and outside vendors. You can’t do everything yourself. I’ve learned from my son to look for talented people who can do things that free me up to do other things.”
What differentiates EO from other groups for entrepreneurs is that it believes in empowering and growing the whole entrepreneur in all aspects of life—as a leader, a partner, a manager and a parent. With countless programs available for spouses, life partners and children, EO offers entrepreneurs a 360-degree approach to life learning.
3. Don’t limit yourself through self-talk
“There is a certain age where kids develop self-awareness and become self-conscious of their actions and presence. I felt sad watching my oldest child become self-conscious and create self-limitations. Helping her regain her confidence has been a journey from a natural self-freedom to society-induced limitations, all self-created by life experiences.
“As her mom and biggest cheerleader, I’ve noticed that I, too, allow my self-talk to limit my dreams and business ambitions. I talk with my daughter about the struggles I face being a female entrepreneur, which can be daunting. I tell her how I overcome the instinct that I am not worthy. We all need to believe that we can do it–and then anything is possible.”
“I am a mom to two charming girls, and I run a content strategy firm. Child development training helped me learn to manage employee emotions. A therapist once told me, ‘Your children don’t need a solution. Even when they act out, they want to feel that their emotions are heard and acknowledged.’ When I saw what a dramatic difference this made with kids, I was eager to try it on adults.
“Whether talking to employees or clients, I ‘mirror’ or reflect back to the speaker that I hear what they are saying: ‘Bob, I understand you feel frustrated when Janine doesn’t get the reports finished on time,’ or ‘Jessica, I hear you felt unappreciated when Jackie didn’t acknowledge how much work you did on that account.’
“Once the person feels heard, you can move into problem-solving territory. But if you start with problem-solving, you’re missing an opportunity to forge a connection—not to mention the emotional baggage still on the table can create all sorts of tripwires.”
― Anna Redmond, EO Los Angeles, Co-founder and CEO, Hippo Thinks
5. Stay curious, ask questions and be persistent
“My children remind me of the importance of curiosity and asking questions. They inspire me to ask more questions before offering solutions and asking more follow-up questions in every type of conversation or interview.
“My kids’ behavior reminds me of the importance of persistence, and as annoyed as I get at times when they ask me again for something I just said ‘no’ to earlier, I have to appreciate their persistence. At times they catch me in a different frame of mind or give me better reasons, and I say ‘yes.’ This translates into the sales realm, and the importance of strong follow-up. Clients aren’t won with the first outreach or meet-and-greet, but with the follow-up.”
Written for EO by Russell Benaroya, a member of EO Seattle and currently the owner of Stride, a fully managed back office accounting and HR services company helping high growth organizations move forward faster.
My wife is a parenting coach and educator, a licensed therapist and a social worker. And I’m an entrepreneur. I see the world through a lens of abundance and possibility. You would think that we had this kid thing all under control. No issues, right? I ooze solving problems and I encourage my kids to think in a similar way. We got this. If all goes according to plan, we will have architected the most well-adjusted, abundance-seeking, emotionally intelligent kids around.
And that is when I wake up from my dream, in a cold sweat and realize that whatever fantasy I concocted going into this got thrown out the door quickly. And only then can I see that the road is about thousands of micro learning moments, not just for the kids, but for all of us. And those learning moments will not come without struggle and self-reflection joy and anger, but it is there, within those moments, that we find ourselves. Today, with a 14-year old daughter (Maya) and a 12-year old son (Shane), the journey for all of us continues.
This year and this part of the journey, we moved from Seattle to Costa Rica, the pursuit of a long-held ambition that my wife and I had to create a one-year abroad experience for our children. We wanted to teach them lessons about independence, breaking out of your comfort zone, seeing other cultures. We have done that but not without struggle as a family. We have all learned a tremendous amount about ourselves and our family unit.
Of course, you can’t get the entrepreneur out of me and I tend to think about the parallels with business and team building. Here is what comes to mind for me during this year of transition and change:
Choices Create Control.
The power of giving choices cannot be underestimated. When we feel told what to do it takes away our power. When we are given choices, we can decide (within a set of constraints). “Would you rather make your lunch today or clean up after dinner tonight? Would you rather do your math work right now or write that English paper?” Giving our kids control of decisions has reduced conflict as they feel that we aren’t stripping them away of their ability to have choice.
Growth Mindset is the #1 Attribute to Foster.
Carol Dweck has famously published research around a Growth Mindset vs. a Fixed Mindset which challenges us to embrace challenges and the unknown for learning rather than feeling that our talents and capabilities are static. This is not just for children. We are growing and learning as well, and we must be able to share our fears and goals and desires with our children to model what it means to be out of our comfort zones and wanting to improve. Just ask my wife how her tennis is coming along.
Courage is Speaking Your Truth.
Kids have this incredible advantage in that they aren’t political yet and truly speak from a place of feelings. As adults, we tend to worry a lot about how we are perceived, what people will think, how we stay in control. My daughter came out to us as gay over a year ago. She was 12. I was scared. She was courageous. She spoke her truth and moved on. I have had a lot of introspective work to do. She is liberated.
Embrace Wisdom of the Group.
There is a theory that says a better decision will be made with the input of a group rather than any individual acting alone. Two weeks ago, we all sat around the dining room table and spoke about how we were feeling living in Costa Rica. It was emotional with many tears (side note: There is something magical that happens when I show vulnerability and my kids comfort me) and a few laughs. We let each person speak for 5 minutes, uninterrupted. We put all the feelings on the table and we are using that as the basis for making our next decision. Nothing was left unsaid and from there, we can be better informed in how we proceed to the next chapter.
Every Sunday evening, we go around the dinner table and each person shares an acknowledgement of gratitude to each person in the family. It is sometime a bit of a struggle, but we have trained this muscle and it is so powerful. Gratitude is one of our most effective family foundations and even though we might be in a period with a bit of struggle, we can always find a reason to acknowledge each other.
Just Having a Plan is Not Sufficient.
Every year we go someplace away from our home and spend 3-4 hours building our annual goals as individual and as a family. My kids hate it. I love it. I know the power of planning. Some years, however, these great plans get filed away because life gets “too busy. But this year, we have monthly check-ins for accountability. We post the current month intentions in a visible place. It allows us to better celebrate accomplishment and reinforcement that we are keeping our agreements.
What I have realized is that as parents (and as business owners), there will be thousands of moments when we are faced with having to react. Some moments will be celebratory. Some may feel existential. Others might feel downright depressing. But I have realized that this is exactly what the journey is about. There is no defined outcome of success. The only thing I can control is whether I continue to learn and live in accordance with the standards that we set as a family. The outcome will take care of itself and it will be perfect (whatever that may mean).
Russell Benaroya joined EO in 2007. To learn what it’s like to be a member like Russell, visit the EO Network.
In their book Cracking Complexity, David Komlos and David Benjamin share the steps to working through any complex business problem—both quickly and using existing talent, not consultants.
When asked how they developed this groundbreaking formula, they say, “We didn’t create the formula out of whole cloth; we stood on the shoulders of both obscure and mainstream luminaries like Warren McCulloch, W. Ross Ashby, Norbert Weiner, Buckminster Fuller, Russell Ackoff, Heinz von Foerster and Stafford Beer, spanning brain research, psychology, complexity science, systems thinking and cybernetics. It took centuries of their and others’ genius thought, wisdom accrued over lifetimes and much trial and error to get to the point and the time where we were ready to pull it across the finish line.”
Once they identified the steps, they started using the formula with senior leaders from across the Fortune 500, governments, and not-for-profit organizations in 2002.
David Komlos and David Benjamin answer more questions about their new book and what makes their formula uniquely applicable in today’s business world.
Why did you write this book?
We wrote the book to spread the word to organizational leaders that there is a ‘better mousetrap’ for solving big problems—they don’t have to spend millions of dollars and months or years to get to solutions that aren’t executed. Instead, with the formula we describe in the book, they can spend an order of magnitude less over the course of a few days to get to solutions that their people believe in and are mobilized to implement. The book is designed to equip businesses and social enterprises to do far better and go much faster at resolving their weighty challenges (whether that means better consumer products, better bottom-line financial results, or better therapies for oncology patients, for example).
What defines a complex problem?
Complex problems—like doubling growth, taking out cost, merging, leading in customer experience, etc.—are dynamic, unpredictable, untidy, perplexing and don’t come with right answers, only best attempts. They require new solutions each time, created specifically for the circumstances, and you can only know that you’ve addressed them successfully in retrospect. And, they require stakeholder buy-in for sustained execution. Contrast that with a complicated challenge, where someone with expertise (you or someone you hire) can reliably and repeatedly solve it no matter the situation. Fixing a car is complicated; fixing a city’s transportation infrastructure is complex. Implementing an accounting package is complicated; figuring out what needs to change in a low-growth accounting firm is complex.
You have a formula for solving complex problems. What is it?
The complexity formula includes ten steps that leaders can apply to quickly and effectively get traction in the face of complexity. At a very high-level, after having articulated the complexity in the form of a really, really good question, a leader is guided through how to:
Identify and convene all the right people from inside and around their organization—the people who are necessary to answer the question and whose buy-in is essential;
Equip them to collectively decide what they need to discuss to get to answers, and then explore those topics effectively, efficiently and repeatedly;
Have them first reach a shared understanding of the challenge, before trying to find solutions; and
Capture the emergent insights, answers, and solutions that are resonating and reverberating across the group.
How is this different from the way leaders usually approach complex problems? What do they usually get wrong?
Leaders often approach complex problems using experts and interview-based, analytical techniques that have been honed for complicated challenges. This is what they know, and it’s worked in the past. But today, as the pace, scope and impact of challenges accelerate, organizations cannot afford to spend months and years applying costly and time-consuming approaches that don’t actually work. They’ve noticed this and are looking for something better.
Can you share an example of how the formula works in practice?
The owners of a private equity (PE) firm convene a high-variety group of people (40+) from their organization and a few acquired/integrated businesses. They ask the group the following, painstakingly detailed question: “What must we do now and over the next 12 to 18 months to grow earnings by 300 percent over the next four years while maintaining acceptable margins (20 percent or better) and continuing to be a great company to work with and for?”
The group deconstructs the question into their own agenda of topics, covering considerations like: “What are the infrastructure and technology changes we have to adopt now to achieve that kind of growth?,” “What adjacencies should we enter?,” “How can we improve employee engagement?,” “How can we grow margin?,” and so on. They then spend three distinct iterations digging into those (and other) topics, each individual playing specific speaking roles (designed to break the usual behavioral patterns) while moving from topic to topic and interacting directly with every other participant. In this way, they collectively progress from debate and story-telling around issues and opportunities, to ideas and finally to answers. All of this happens within a network that forces high-quality, high-volume interactions (what we call “collisions”) amongst all the individuals and tight connectivity amongst all the topics
And this all takes place over the course of a few days.
In this case, two years after applying the formula, they had doubled earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) and continued to not miss a beat. They’d won a few industry awards. The PE firm owners and leadership team used the strategic action plan that emerged from the formula to monitor and evaluate progress in quarterly meetings. They refer to the experience as “an inflection point.”
One of the most interesting things about your approach is that it doesn’t outsource the thinking work to external consultants or experts. But rather, drawing on the talent you already have in and around your organization. Why do you suggest leaders go about it this way?
When it comes to any complex challenge, with its many moving parts, your own ecosystem collectively sees everything that’s going on with more clarity than any outside individuals or firm can on their own. More importantly, when you enlist people in and around your organization to co-create the way forward, you realize some critical benefits as byproducts: you get people working across silos, instead of having someone else act as the envoy; you give people ownership of the problem and the solution, instead of disempowering them by giving it to someone else; and you begin the process of change management and mobilization, instead of treating those objectives as phase-two initiatives.
You write that the new currency of solving complex challenges is collisions, as opposed to brainpower. What do you mean by this?
Things change. The currency of solving big problems has changed. We know now that companies can’t successfully resolve their biggest challenges anymore by handing them over to the biggest brains—the challenges are too big and too complex; they also move too fast. The writing is on the wall for what worked in earlier times. You can no longer rely on a small number of smart people to figure things out and single-handedly guide everyone else to victory.
We know a lot more today than we did in the past about the importance of networks. Strong networks yield robustness, efficiency and reliability. We believe a lot more strongly today than we did in the past that there is strength in diversity. We know that agility, flexibility, adaptability and speed are survival “must-haves.” We understand that without innovation, nobody keeps up or stays ahead. What many people don’t explicitly understand yet is the vital importance of interactions. Chemical reactions happen when substances mix. Recipes work because ingredients are blended. Insights and advancements happen when previously separate thoughts are put together.
When networks connect diverse groups and rapidly, dynamically, and systematically drive high-quality interactions (or, as we like to say, collisions), “serendipitous” invention happens. The currency of solving big challenges is collisions; many, many collisions amongst the right variety of people in a connected, comprehensive, robust and exponentially-paced way.
What are the different types of problems that leaders could apply this to?
In the book, we devote an appendix to “Where Else?” and list a sample of situations that have greatly benefited from the formula. These include growing in a developing market, growing in a zero-growth industry, disrupting ourselves, creating new digital businesses, bringing a new class of medicines to market, bringing a state up the ladder of health indices and outcomes, creating the innovation agenda, developing a talent strategy, institutionalizing enterprise key account management or enterprise risk management, designing and launching a joint venture, determining and aligning the organization around its big data strategy, complying with new legislation and taking out cost. The only common thread is complexity.
Many a great strategy has died on the shelf. How can leaders make sure these plans actually get put into action?
Now, how do leaders ensure the plans developed via the formula get put into action? There are eight key success factors for execution in the complex domain:
Sharp focus and commitment to a few clearly identified goals
Shared understanding amongst “distributed leaders”, cascading effectively to everyone else
Leadership behavior that exemplifies, recognizes and rewards the right behaviors
Involvement of people with the right capabilities from in and around the organization
Keeping score of performance against the right lead measures
Coordination and optimization across silos
Experimentation, adaptation of plan and redeployment of resources as you learn.
When you’ve approached the creation of solutions to your complex challenge the right way, the process by which you’ve done so is also a down payment on these execution essentials.
What is the single most important thing you hope readers will take away from your book?
That’s easy. If nothing else, we hope readers will take away a belief that there is a better way to solve the defining challenges they face. The formula exists. It’s proven. It works. You can boil the ocean. There is a silver bullet. Getting good at this will make you a better leader and will make your organization far more resilient and competitive. Period.
David Komlos, CEO of Syntegrity, is an entrepreneur, early-stage investor and speaker who has helped change the way many global leaders approach their top challenges. David Benjamin is the co-founder of Syntegrity and the chief architect behind its implementation of the Complexity Formula as laid out in his book, Cracking Complexity. David regularly guides leaders and their teams through their application of the formula, helping them get to decisions and action in days, no matter the industry, type of challenge, or nature of the organization.
As director and part-owner of the recruiting agency Sharp & Carter, Anthony Holdstock understands the value of building and maintaining a strong team. “Businesses that are driven by people and legacy, as opposed to profit and growth, tend to keep people for longer,” he explains. His approach to hiring has helped grow his business significantly. He bought into Sharp & Carter in 2013, and the firm has grown from seven people in Melbourne to 120 people across Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, Australia.
Anthony recently shared his top tips for employee retention and growth in an EO Melbourne blog post, which has been adapted for this article.
1. Focus on relationships
Building a strong work environment is largely about creating relationships with employees. Understand their needs, consider what drives them, and treat them right. “The chance of a business being successful are going to be a lot higher if you can keep good people for longer,” says Anthony.
One thing that his firm did early on is invest in an organizational development team. Doing so illustrates a commitment to developing people within the organization and continuously improving. This sends a powerful message to new hires, existing staff, and even clients: When you join the company, the company invests in you to help you become better at what you’re doing—both in and outside of work.
2. Conduct a character scan
Many organizations hire people based on skillset and experience. For Anthony, this component should comprise only 25 percent of the selection criteria for a job. Another 25 percent should consider how the person fits into the organization. The biggest bulk, 50 percent, must focus on character and culture fit.
Typically, job descriptions and hiring processes are tailored to the requirements and needs of the company. Citing Sharp & Carter as an example, Anthony recommends an emotional intelligence test as part of the hiring process. Among the factors the agency considers during assessing potential hires are optimism, empathy and resilience. They also do DiSC profiling to understand the core needs of the person they’re hiring.
3. Recruit for now
A common mistake that managers and founders make is hiring a person based on where they believe the organization is going to be in a few years. “I think most people want to hire for the future, but we don’t know what’s happening in the future,” explains Anthony. “So, hire for now and rehire down the track.”
4. Get the right mix of people
“When it comes to recruiting professionals to organizations, assess your team now. You need to have people who want to be stable and who are happy to do a great job from 9 to 5. They do an awesome job, but their number-one priority is family. You also need people who want to take your job and progress through your organization, if possible. Getting that mix is important,” Anthony shares.
5. Partner with organizations that can bring you value
Recruiting agencies that can focus on finding and assessing the right person for your position will save you time. They can often find talent outside your typical network. Anthony says that if you choose to work with a third-party partner for hiring, it’s important to give the agency an opportunity to understand your culture, what you stand for and the position you’re hiring for.
6. Aim for good leadership and continuous improvement
Leading a company means seeking continuous improvement to become better—better in your business, better as a teacher, better as a guide to your people. To continually get better and stay ahead of the curve, Anthony says business leaders must keep innovating and looking for ways to become better. For him, leadership comes down to shaping the culture of the business and providing employees with the development they yearn, which then contributes to the overall growth of the venture.
EO has been part of that commitment to improvement for Anthony. “For me, EO has been all about growth and continuous improvement. It is learning from people who are great and being able to implement what they do great,” says Anthony.
Anthony has been a member of EO Melbourne since early 2019. To learn more about the value of EO membership and how to apply, check out the EO Network.