What kind of entrepreneur are you?

Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur? It’s a question I struggled with for years before I found the courage to start my own business. Seven years on, I realised I had been asking myself the wrong question completely. There was a far better one around – “What kind of entrepreneur are you?”

The latter question was put to me by Joseph Pistrui, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at IE Business School in Madrid. In a workshop at the Merit Summit in Lisbon earlier this year, he showed me that asking myself whether I have “what it takes” to be an entrepreneur simply reinforced my bias at that time – that an entrepreneur needed to be some sort of swashbuckling, risk loving maverick. That bias no longer represents the truth – entrepreneurs today come in many forms.

In truth, Pistrui noted, two of the common entrepreneurial challenges are a high level of uncertainty around outcomes and there are many possibilities for action in order to achieve an outcome. On uncertainty, entrepreneurs can be anywhere along the spectrum from a highly reasoned/research mentality around exploring uncertainty to a far more carefree just “play around” with it and see what happens. Around possibilities, entrepreneurs can be highly structured around which possibilities they consider or completely open to all possible courses of action.

In addition, entrepreneurship should not today be associated simply with setting up a business. There are entrepreneurs within divisions of established companies, within intra-disciplinary teams and collaborative international teams. It doesn’t matter where they find themselves – what matters more is that they are using imagination, creativity and innovation to drive themselves forward.

So don’t ask yourself whether you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Ask yourself instead what kind of entrepreneur you are ….

Winning workplace collaborations: start with the end in mind

There’s an excellent report just out – “Guidance for Collaborative Working” just out from the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution. – that provides great advice on how best to make workplace collaborations more effective.

The report makes the important point that the word “collaboration” is very much over-used or misapplied. For example, technology solutions are often referred to of themselves as being ‘collaborative’ yet technology, on its own, can’t bring success to collaboration, even if it can make it easier to achieve. This in turn makes it harder to understand when collaboration can – and cannot – work.

Everyone instinctively “gets” collaboration – but many don’t really know how to talk about it with real business value in a workplace context. This is why we worked recently with 10Eighty to engage 100 leading HR and L&D practitioners to understand how businesses can harness collaborative working.

It quickly became clear there two camps of understanding- those who thought about collaborative working either in terms of the business benefits it could bring; or simply as a process through which work was organised.

Among those thinking mainly of the business benefits we found:

a) Over 7/10 (72%) said they thought of collaborative working as a way to bring together a broad range of talents to a project or task;

b) More than 6/10 (62%) said they considered it as a means to break down silos in an organisation;

c) A third of those who replied (37%) saw it as working in ways that “unleash energy” in an organisation;

Among those thinking mostly about collaborative working more as a process:

  1. Over half (55%) believed the collaborative working simply meant working on projects or tasks in close physical proximity to one another;
  2. A significant minority of over 4/10 (43%) believed that collaborative working effectively meant “making decisions by consensus”.

It’s heartening to see that both CEDR and we both believe that collaboration, when explained simply as a process with no clear line of sight to the business benefits, leads to confusion rather than clarity. One leading blue-chip HR director put it superbly well in our recent report: “When creating a debate around collaboration in your organisation, start with the end in mind. Those who successfully introduce more collaborative forms of working into their organisation do so by first understanding and then explaining its benefits to other stakeholders, rather than attempting to “sell” the detail of the process too soon to their colleagues.”

Merriborn Media is a business dedicated to developing clever content, engaged online communities and effective collaborative working and learning for clients. Both Merriborn Media and its founder Trevor Merriden were ranked in the Top 3 of social learning evangelists for 2016 in a recent major study.

3 Rules to Encourage Participation

How many online communities are you “part of” but rarely frequent? Or have you started an online group only to let your efforts wither? We start with the best of intentions but without active reminders to participate or create content, we simply won’t.

Usually the simplest answer is best. When working with clients, we have found that a concise but regular notification via good old fashioned email to community members is a necessary short-term evil for getting momentum. How do you do this without causing aggravation among those you are trying to reach?

Set yourself 3 rules.

  1. Recipients will be low on time and tolerance, so make your message clear and brief. You have to get your message across quickly – and the more targeted you can make it the better.
  2. Encourage a specific action as a result of reading the email, rather than just imparting general information.
  3. Once 1) and 2) start to deliver increased traffic and participation, reduce the frequency of email – if new habits are becoming truly ingrained the community will start to become self-sustaining over time.

Blogs: Think you can’t write? Speak instead …

If you think you can’t write, why not speak instead? For those who struggle with writing – and every day I hear from people who tell me they do – I recommend that you rediscover the lost art of dictation.

Employers used to employ teams of typists. Whether working in a FTSE business or as a soletrader or SME, you probably can’t afford to do this. If you are the boss, you are unlikely to have a PA taking notes as you speak. Or indeed, you may be the PA. It doesn’t matter who you are– we all have something to say. And we are blessed today with affordable voice recognition software.

I tell clients who tell me they can’t write to speak instead. It takes a supreme mental effort to assemble the right words in your head in the right order, so don’t. Just talk as you would normally. If your words come out in a jumble, so be it.

It’s time to rediscover dictation. Like everything else, writing is a habit. Whatever is in your head, just get it out. The wonders of technology allow you to see on screen or paper what you have been saying and you will find it easier to edit quickly. Soon you will be creating something you didn’t know you had in you.

Why short words work best

There is no doubt. Short words have a power that long words do not. Phrases with short words stick in our heads. We repeat them back – they touch us because we know what they mean. It’s not just the stuff of the big speech – always best spoken simply: “New Deal”; “Peace in our Time”; “Don’t ask, Don’t tell”; and “Yes, we can” – but of the best ads too: – “Just do it”; “The King of Beers”; and “It’s the Real Thing.”

Too many of us hide behind long words. It gives us short-term power over others – and we assume that others admire us for “knowing” more than they do. They don’t. How can they if they don’t know what we’re trying to say?

My plea to you, when you write, blog, or speak today is to drop all long words for short ones, the sort used by most people. See if you can get through the day doing this. You won’t be able to, but you will learn a lot if you try. Look into the eyes of those you try to reach and you will know straight away that you need never use a long word again when a short one will do.

(PS Every word in this article has only 1 or 2 syllables. Except that last one…)

At The CIPD Learning & Development Show

I am heading off today to the CIPD Learning & Development Show at Olympia today. It reminded me of an excellent presentation recently from the CIPD’s Andy Lancaster for their Leaders in Learning network. Performance, he told us, is now the primary driver of Learning and Development. The challenge is how to move L&D from focus on learning to a focus on performance. The CIPD noted that there are now FIVE performance based roles in L&D. Three are with us already, while two are emerging.

Already here

1. Performance Detective – orange segment below – ascertains the performance challenge to be tackled

2. Performance Architect – designs a solution (and not necessarily a learning solution, if not relevant to the performance challenge)

3. Performance Master Builder – builds the solution to maximize performance and within resources and time constraints

Emerging roles

4. Performance Game Changer – makes sure that any solutions become embedded – there are two main sub roles here a. Project Manager and b. Communications – often these are not done by L&D in traditional organisations but need to be to embed success.

5. Performance Tracker – Effective measurement of performance – also not an easy role to fulfil.  The focus is solely on improving performance metrics.

Reminder: GDPR is a good thing

I want this blog to remind everyone of something important – GDPR is actually a “good thing”. There has been much moaning at the extra workload that the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has created. This is understandable, but misguided.

Look instead to the bigger picture. According to one Microsoft security report, more than 97% of emails sent online are unwanted. Spam has become commonplace – I doubt you know anyone who doesn’t get any. Thanks to GDPR, consent now has to “freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous.” Goodbye, confusing terms and conditions, unsolicited emails and pre-clicked check boxes. Hello, less time spent deleting and unsubscribing from emails you don’t want. The high tide of email misery is set to recede.

For those of you caught flaunting the law beyond May 25th, when the regulations take effect, you can expect fines of up to €20 Million or 4% of a brand’s total global annual turnover – whichever is the greater. Justice! Maybe though you do trust companies with your data. Maybe you shouldn’t. LinkedIn, Adobe, Dropbox, Myspace, Last.fm, Tumblr – all these companies either lost personal data or allowed email passwords to fall into the hands of online criminals. And in one recent case, Uber hid the fact that they had suffered a data breach of 57 Million users for over a year (under GDPR they would have had to disclose any breach within 72 hours). GDPR will allow you to access, object to, rectify and erase data companies hold on you.

While it might be today’s headache, GDPR comes from a good place. And soon, you will wonder why we didn’t have it sooner.

Clear messages and great stories shine through

Clear messages and great stories always shine through

There’s no world shortage of content – and yet quality content has never been scarcer. I have been, am and will always be unashamedly passionate about the value of great content for business. But you can – and must – pay lots of time and attention to it.

Why? It’s important because it sets the tone for everything that happens afterwards. The services that you sell are central to any successful business and the simple, clear and direct messages you send out about them is the way in which you let the world know.

Notice I wrote “messages” in that last sentence – not the “media” you use. The media we use to convey messages have changed greatly in recent years. They will change some more – media will come and media will go – but clear messages and great stories will outlast them all.

Do you know how to “stop” time?

Have you read “The Art of Stopping Time” by Pedram Shojai? I would encourage you to do so – I got it at Christmas and it’s been a revelation to me.

As we hurtle towards another weekend, thinking about the things we have or haven’t done, it’s easy to be too tired to think, too stressed to focus and less effective than we want to be. And if our work then encroaches into the weekend, we start to feel guilty about the time not spent with loved ones.

The book has a compelling premise – the need for a more positive perspective on the unforgiving flow of time. Without it we lack a real sense of enjoyable purpose, rather than a fear of deadlines and failure.”

Shojai’s goal, therefore, is to nudge us towards “time prosperity” – having the time to accomplish what you want without feeling compressed, stressed or hurried. If it sounds like mindfulness, then it is, except at the extreme practical end of that particular spectrum.

The book has 100 short essays which contain habits in which you literally learn to “stop” time. Some habits will stick, some won’t – and that’s OK. Just take the ones that mean something to you. I did and I feel it’s working well for me already. Have you read it – or do you have another book you swear by?