In my first blog post on the theme of being entrepreneurial, I listed as many entrepreneurial traits as I could, and then I espoused the notion that being entrepreneurial in whatever you do will improve your chances at being successful. I’m now coming to understand that there is another, more unique trait (psychological phenomenon?) that lives right at the intersection of vision, drive and leadership. It’s hard to describe. But when you see someone exhibiting it, it’s unmistakable, and perhaps the most powerful indicator of success of all. Let’s call it the Reality Distortion Field trait for now.
The term Reality Distortion Field (RDF) was coined by Bud Tribble as he and Andy Hertzfield were describing Steve Jobs’ “charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will, and eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand.” The Wikipedia entry on RDF says ”the psychological phenomenon of RDF is both familiar and well researched. It simply represents the amalgamation of certain qualities in people that are often in leadership positions that are related to their ability to inspire, motivate, influence, manipulate, control or even brainwash others with their personality, charisma, rhetoric, authority or other similar attributes. …In fact, great leadership is impossible without possessing those qualities and some degree of reality distortion in the form of reality misrepresentation is necessary by a leader in order to make a person start acting toward a particular cause that the leader is espousing.”
Pretty interesting. And I’ve seen it in action. Then this week I was reading a blog post on WSJ.com about a new study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology exploring the differences between “low power” and “high power” individuals. Now, while I’m not exactly sure what criteria they used to determine what makes someone a high power vs. low power individual, the findings from this study were fascinating. The “high-power individuals” in the study had more trouble recalling information that would get in the way of a goal. And the post went on to quote Katie Liljenquist, an assistant professor who co-wrote the study as saying, “Constraints simply aren’t on the minds of people in power,” and “People in positions of power have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish. Not only are they not aware of potential constraints, they don’t want to know about them.”
I think these two things are related, if not the exact same thing; that is, RDF and what the WSJ.com post was describing.
I’m aware that the WSJ post was mostly making the point that this type of behavior can be dangerous, and if unchecked and in the wrong hands, can lead to corrupt and reckless behavior. I agree with that point. And also, I’m sure that RDF behavior can at times be frustrating and confusing to deal with if you are on the receiving end of it. But I’m just pointing out a fact: there is tremendous magic around what this trait can do in the right hands, used in the right way, at the right time. It’s what makes the most successful entrepreneurs and world leaders able to bring out the best in their team, their company and even their country. It goes back to the psychological phenomenon of mind over matter, and how important your mental state is to your success. Remember the blog post on “acting as if”?
Last year, during the holidays, I read a story about a woman who walked into City Hall in Iowa and paid $1,600 to pay off the delinquent water bills for 17 families to make sure they had running water for the holidays. This really touched me, and so I called the local water utility in Seattle and asked if I could do the same thing for families in need for the holidays in Seattle. The woman on the other end of the phone said, “sir, we don’t do that, but why don’t you call Seattle City Light and see if you can do the same for families that are about to lose their power due to delinquent power bills and want to stay warm and keep the lights on for the holidays?”
My reaction was “Yes – that’s an even better idea” so I called Seattle City Light and started the conversation over. And the woman on the other end of the phone said, “sir, we don’t do that, but why don’t you call the non-profit organization, Centerstone, in Seattle that provides energy assistance for low income families to see if they can help.”
So I called Centerstone, and I started the conversation over. But this time I had found the right place. On top of being a community food bank and community education center, Centerstone is the main place in Seattle that is focused on providing grants and assistance to help low income and elderly members of the community pay delinquent energy bills before their power gets shut off. Centerstone has direct access to work with Seattle City Light on behalf of their clients, and they make sure that every dollar provided to their energy assistance program on behalf of their clients are absolutely necessary and have immediate impact to keep the power on. Every winter, Centerstone works with nearly 10,000 low income families to help them keep their power and heat on, but still each year there is an unavoidable “gap” of about 300 families that still end up having their power shut off despite the attempted help from Centerstone.
Unavoidable until now.
Last year, after my call to Centerstone, I was able to work with the amazing staff at Centerstone to figure out the dollars and logistics necessary to keep 15 families from having their power shut off during the holidays. It made my holidays to know that I could give back a bit and help out in a direct way those most in need during the cold winter months. But I kept thinking about the other 285 families that I didn’t help out. So this year I asked Andrea (CEO of Centerstone) and her team what it would take to “bridge that gap” and make sure that NO FAMILY GOES WITHOUT POWER THIS HOLIDAY SEASON AND WINTER. The answer they gave me was that $100,000 in donations would likely ensure that no Centerstone client family would have their power shut off this holiday season and winter.
So, I asked them to work with me to set up a campaign to bridge the gap – to make it easy for me, my family, my friends and my social network to chip in and raise the $100K to make sure that we keep the power on this holidays and winter for all 300 families in Seattle that otherwise will have their power shut off at some point due to lack of financial ability to keep their power bill current.
If you feel so inclined, please join me and go to this special landing page that we set up on Centerstone’s website, and click donate now, and then under the “program designation” pull down menu select “bridge the gap”.
Together we can make sure that no one falls through the gap this holiday and winter. Thank you.
With all of the focus on the upcoming presidential election, it got me thinking this morning about the state of the digital union at this same time in 2008, and all that has changed since then. It’s remarkable to reflect on the growth of mobile, social - frankly all digital advancements – since the last presidential election. Four years is truly a lifetime.
At this time in 2008, Twitter had 3 million users, and today it’s approaching 200 million. Facebook had 100 million users in August of 2008, and today it’s about to cross one billion users. Smartphone adoption in the U.S. was at 12% in Q3 2008, and now it’s approaching 60%…on it’s way to 100%. At this time in 2008, Square, Instagram and Pinterest didn’t even exist. This rapid pace of adoption, change and innovation not only continues, but is accelerating.
And the numbers only tell half the story. Frankly, the power of what you can do via laptops, smartphones and tablets today compared to 2008 is just as exponential, and even more astounding. (Actually, now that I think about it, there weren’t any tablets back then – certainly not how we think about tablets today, and none as amazing and powerful as the iPad.) Fundraising for campaigns, nonprofits and start-ups, journalism, credit card processing, retail payments, web surfing, content consumption and creation, communications, photography, video facetime … everything …is now being impacted, disrupted and changed so quickly. Four years ago we couldn’t have imagined the landscape today.
And as fast as it evolved since 2008, it’s moving even faster now. Four years from now will be another lifetime. If you sit down today to plan how to react, innovate and take advantage of today’s landscape, you have to factor in that, by the time you implement anything significant, the world will have changed again by the time you implement your idea or project. Frankly. I think it’s breathtaking, exciting, and unlike anything the world has ever seen before. [By definition, if change is exponential, then at each step along the way, the pace of change is literally unprecedented.] I know I’m stating the obvious with all of this, but I can’t help but step back this morning and just take a pause to observe and reflect. Now…enough reflecting, time to pick my jaw up off the floor, roll up my shirtsleeves, and get back to figuring out how to stay ahead of the power curve on all of this. I need to go figure out what changed while I was writing this post. Couldn’t be more psyched about it all.
One of the guiding principles of being entrepreneurial I’ve been espousing in this blog is to “act as if” you were the CEO and founder, no matter what your position, title or tenure. It’s what entrepreneurs do every day. They act as if they have been there before. Act as if they know what they are doing. Some call it “fake it till you make it” – but it’s about the power of positive thinking and self-fulfilling thoughts. And it can be applied in the everyday work life of all of us. Perhaps you could restate the notion as “think about every situation as if you were the CEO and entrepreneur”. How you would approach a conflict, an opportunity, the way you communicate and lead? You get the point. And I love the phrase “act as if” and all that it entails.
In the movie Boiler Room there are a few amazing scenes featuring Ben Affleck, none better than the scene where Ben’s character, Jim Young, tells a bunch of the young recruits at the brokerage firm, “act as if you are the President of this firm”. [He also says some other things to fire up the guys in the room, and uses enough foul language that I'll leave the link out to the youtube video.] And while it’s not the deepest scene in cinema history, I always think of this scene when I think about the importance of “acting as if”.
Then I saw this post this morning from Fortune/CNN Money, written by Anne Fisher, about the importance of how you should approach a new job, either as a result of a promotion or a change in jobs. And it got me thinking again about the importance of acting as if. Why wait until you get that promotion or change jobs to start doing the kinds of smart things outlined in Anne Fisher’s post? Why not go into work tomorrow and “act as if” it was the first day of your job. Act as if you had just been recruited into your current position, or just promoted into it, and do all of those things you would do if it was a brand new job and you wanted to make a great first impression, hit the ground running and make some serious traction from day one. Even if it’s not day one, you can always act as if it was.
So I googled “act as if” after reading that post on fortune/cnnmoney. First, I found the youtube videos of the two scenes from Boiler Room that I was talking about. Which then lead me to this video. A trailer for the short documentary, “Act as If” by Melissa Johnson about Kathy Delaney-Smith, the coach of the Harvard women’s basketball team. Wow. This is an amazing story of a woman who didn’t have experience coaching basketball, but acted as if she could, and went on to lead her team to one of the biggest upsets in NCAA basketball tournament history. She then went on to harness her own “act as if” philosophy while taking cancer head on. I’ll never think about anything else other than this coach and her amazing story when thinking about the power of acting as if.
In a New York Times article from 2009, Melissa Johnson writes about Delaney-Smith’s philosophy: ”Any decent athlete, salesman or Starbucks barista can put on a good game face. But her philosophy, “act as if,” goes much deeper than mere swagger or theatrics. It’s a method — a learned skill for convincing your mind that you already are what you want to become. The body follows where the mind leads.” Similarly, author Mike Robbins wrote a fantastic post about this topic in the Huffington Post in 2010.
Fires me up, and reminds me of how I want to act myself. I’ll double down on this philosophy myself right now.
Generally when I post something here (which isn’t that often, I know), for some odd reason I write the post like a magazine column or essay, or something of the sort. Not sure why I do that. Probably because I can’t imagine anyone would care much about what I would write if it didn’t at least try to have some point to it. But this time I want to tell more of a story, and how it affected me. So, I apologize in advance if it’s a little longer than my usual post, but it’s more of a day in the life story than a typical post of mine.
I was already planning to be in San Francisco this past Thursday to be a part of Twitter’s new product launch event, where I was lucky enough to be asked to say a few words about the Create Jobs for USA initiative that Starbucks founded in partnership with the CDFI umbrella organization Opportunity Finance Network. Twitter has been a great partner for that project in terms of helping us with our integrated marketing plans for that initiative, as well as actually helping the cause directly as part of their “Twitter for Good” program by making a donation for tons of wristbands, donating pro bono sponsored tweets, and by allowing the @jobsforUSA profile page to be one of the first to enjoy the upgraded enhancements on the new Twitter platform design.
Since I was going to be in San Francisco for the day, I wanted to take advantage of the time by meeting-up with one of the local CDFIs, and by meeting some of the small business entrepreneur clients of this particular community lender. CDFIs, by the way, are community development lending institutions that are generally non-profit, and are almost all certified by the Treasury Department. They loan money to community businesses in underserved neighborhoods or to low-income or minority borrowers that can’t otherwise get funding from traditional financing sources like banks or investors. I had met Emily Gasner, the Executive Director of a San Francisco-based CDFI called Working Solutions, while at the annual OFN CDFI conference in Minneapolis last month. Emily offered to take me on a “tour” in the Mission District of San Francisco to meet some of her clients (borrowers) so I could learn more first hand about CDFIs, community business entrepreneurs, and the impact these small businesses were having on their community. I had done something similar in Harlem in October (courtesy of the amazing Sheena Wright and the Abyssinian Development Corp), and I jumped at the chance to have a west coast version of the same experience.
I met Emily at our first stop of our “tour” at Mission Cheese. Emily introduced me to the entrepreneur, Sarah Dvorak, who told me her story of how she had raised as much capital as she could from family and friends, even crowdsourced some funding from the internet via a campaign on indiegogo (very cool!) and also by working with a CDFI for some funding from Working Solutions. I learned how, besides providing Sarah with much needed capital, Working Solutions had provided help for Sarah with her original business plan, and even continues to work with her every quarter on her financials. Meeting Sarah and hearing how and why she started Mission Cheese (which you can hear for yourself here), standing in her amazing 8-month-old cheese cafe, I was so impressed and inspired.
Sarah’s story is the classic, smart, energetic entrepreneurial story. She was inspired to quit her corporate job, follow her passion about learning about cheese making, created her own point of view about what a great cheese experience for retail would look like in the Mission District of SF, and she just went and did it. And boy did she ever. If you live in SF, or get down there from time to time. Go check it out – amazing, unique cheeses, each with a story behind why it found its way into Mission Cheese (trust me, they were absolutely amazing), bread, biscuits, sandwiches and, yes, ahem, coffee from a local roaster. Her buildout was so cool; she was using an iPad app as her point-of-sale register; she even had a cool chalk art piece hanging on the wall recognizing all of her fans, friends and peers that had helped her out with her start-up capital. I’m convinced that Emily is every bit as capable of building a world class brand on the foundation of what she is doing with Mission Cheese, but my guess is that she would probably shrug if I asked her about that and say that she’s just trying to give her customers and employees a great, unique experience every day and isn’t worried about visions of grandeur. She just had that feeling of the humble, passionate, pay-attention-to-every-last-detail successful entrepreneur, if you know what I mean. She had already created seven jobs (employees) with her new business. And she was a CDFI borrower. How cool.
In the process of walking from Mission Cheese to our next stop I asked Emily about her entrepreneurial venture: the non-profit CDFI, Working Solutions. Her story was just as entrepreneurial and impressive as her clients’. She started out in her endeavor by providing job placement for low-income, recently retrained workers, when she realized that she could and should also help out some of the community businesses with loans and technical training. And so she just did that. Years later she has made nearly100 loans to small businesses in Northern California ($5k to $50k), all of which come with community involvement in the loan selection process, as well as mentorship and technical training as part of her quarterly reviews with her clients. Talk about a hero doing good.
Emily and I next met with Georgia Howard, whose hairstyling-meets-art-gallery (the Pretty Pretty Collective) was as unique and cool as Georgia herself. Besides describing how, like Sarah, she had raised dollars from a variety of sources – including Working Solutions – to get her business launched, Georgia walked me through how she also happened to be in the middle of a totally unique digital media mapping project designed to help her fellow Mission District business owners get more visibility and traffic and engagement. You can imagine I was totally interested to hear more about that one! Her shop had cool art on the walls, and the whole layout and concept was this innovative “Transformers” concept of a retail experience where it was a stylish salon with cool clientele by day, and could turn into an art gallery or fashion runway space by night. Georgia was no less impressive than Sarah and Emily. Georgia had created not just a job for her and an employee or two, but she rents out space to independent contractor stylists, and thus in a sense helps the independent entrepreneurial hairstylists that use her business’ space.
Our last stop was down the street at the Curiosity Shop, where we talked with entrepreneur Lauren Smith. Lauren and her husband Derek had started the business nearly five years ago with some of their start up capital coming from Working Solutions. Lauren’s store (which I’m guessing reflects her and her husband’s personality) was upbeat, smart, positive, optimistic, unique, and totally creative. Lauren explained how she and her husband had a knack for finding crafty, creative, unique things for themselves, and so thought, “why not create a store that carries things like this?” Yeah, why not? Classic entrepreneur. Loved every minute of being there.
The fact that CDFIs are an important part of the story of each of these businesses – where they probably wouldn’t have received the same start-up capital from a traditional bank – made me smile. And it humbled me. Reminded me of why I love being around entrepreneurs. And made me proud of the work we are doing at Starbucks with OFN and CDFIs on the Create Jobs initiative. So much more to do.
Reading the New York Times this morning, I came across an interesting and well put together article by Alex Williams that really grabbed my attention, ”Maybe it’s time for Plan C“. The front page of the article came with photos of entrepreneurs who had quit or been laid off during this Great Recession, and who then decided to open their own business; these photos depict some great shots of the laywer-turned-greek food shop owner, and the one-time textile director putting away items in her antiques shop, and so on.
The thrust of the article was captured in this paragraph: ”The lures [of quitting your job or job search and opening a shop or small business] are obvious: freedom, fulfillment. The highs can be high. But career switchers have found that going solo comes with its own pitfalls: a steep learning curve, no security, physical exhaustion and emotional meltdowns. The dream job is a “job” as much as it is a “dream.”
Both the subject matter of this article – and the attendant photos – immediately and emotionally pulled at me. Not just because I get a rush every time I see a story about the entrepreneurial moves of lawyers, accountants and other every day corporate workers opening up their own shops and businesses (btw, I do get a rush everytime I hear these stories!). But also because this story really hits an additional cord given that unemployment is still such a huge crisis, and so many of the unemployed and underemployed have been out of work for so long.
Unemployment of roughly 9 percent for over 28 months and counting; an even greater percentage (nearly 15%) if you count the underemployed; and nearly half of the unemployed have been looking for over 6 months. It’s a human crisis that I think about every day. I count myself lucky and very humbled and fortunate – and I ask myself what more can I do. My goofy brain always comes back to entrepreneurship and the thought of how opening up a small business can provide at least a job or two, maybe even four or five. I think about how it would be interesting to see if we can crowd-fund some dollars for a new business that could be staffed, owned and operated by some of those looking for work right now. I’m not talking about a high-tech start-up, or pulling in traditional VC dollars, but putting together enough money to rent some space, produce some product, pay a few people and do some good in the community. I’m thinking more like a kickstarter.com-like crowd-funded thing, meets monster.com/linkedin, meets match.com.
But that’s easier said than done, right? It generally takes around $75k-$100k to open up a shop, restaurant, food cart or other small business (sometimes less, usually more). And the wages that a small business can pay to its employees or even its entrepreneur-owner may be less than needed, may not come with health benefits, may not be stable enough for those with families and other responsibilities, and may not even be matched exactly to the “passion” or interest of the people looking for work.
I’m probably being naive, but I feel compelled to try. To just do something. I’ll look into it and post something here on this idea very soon. Stay tuned – and if you think I’m nuts or have any suggestions for the best place and way to do this, let me know. I want to do something to help; and I want to channel it in an entrepreneurial manner – along the lines of those stories I read this morning in the NYT article.
I’ve spent most of my career as a CEO and entrepreneur. I founded, built and ran as CEO a $40M/year venture-backed digital media company for 9 years, from the time I was 27 until I was 36. In the 5 years since, I’ve been an SVP of a $300M/year digital media company, briefly was CEO again of an eCommerce company, and for the last two years have been a VP at a Fortune 250 company. But in my heart, no matter what my title, I’ve never stopped thinking, and trying to act, like a CEO/entrepreneur.
In my current role as VP/GM of a business unit, I work for the CIO. That’s pretty unusual – for a business unit GM to report into the CIO. But this isn’t your ordinary CIO or situation. We worked together previously as colleagues; where I was SVP and he was SVP/CIO. We realized then that we shared the same view towards innovation and strategy, and the same passion and approach towards leadership. We agreed back then that we wanted to work together for quite a while, and either of us would work for the other, it didn’t matter. When he left that company to become the youngest C-level executive of a Fortune 500 company, he was the one that suggested to our current company that we create a digital business unit under his leadership, and then he recruited me in to lead that unit. He would be my boss and partner, not in his role as CIO per se, but as a senior leader of the company.
But his “day job” is still as CIO, and much of the way he approaches his work is shaped by his years of working his way up through the technology ranks at various publicly traded Silicon Valley tech companies. CEOs and CIOs approach their work very differently, and I’ve become a better “CEO” by letting my CIO boss rub off on me.
A CIO runs a function, not a business unit. A CIO must understand the latest in technology trends, be able to build products on time and on budget, scale up economically to support the needs of the business, problem-solve how to build new solutions in a world where he/she has inherited a number of legacy systems, and be able to hire tech talent in labor markets where such talent is almost always in high demand. A good CIO will develop a mental framework around “optimizing” for scale, whether that be through organizational design, where to place talent, and how to best support the business’ needs and priorities. Especially at a multi-billion dollar, multi-national Fortune 250 company, the CIO has to do all of this at a scale and pace, and under a level of scrutiny and pressure, that is nothing short of world class.
By contrast, a CEO builds and runs an entire business. Generally a good CEO is focused on articulating a vision, and inspiring a leadership team (and the entire company) to accomplish that vision. A CEO usually is good at viscerally understanding how their vision should be experienced by the customer and seen by the world, and how it is differentiated from the current landscape and the competition’s offerings. Vision, passion, leadership, and tenacity are the skills and mental framework for the effective CEO.
Rarely does a CEO get the chance to work for a CIO. Something interesting happened to me when I did. I was forced to learn new skill sets; not in lieu of those that I developed or brought to the table as CEO, but in addition to those skills. And I feel that it has made me a much better “CEO”. Now, when thinking of how to build an organization or bring a product to market, there are new “synapses” firing in my brain that never used to be there. I start thinking right from the get-go about the market landscape, speed to market, scale and organizational roles around building and supporting that product in a way that just wouldn’t have entered my mind so early in the visioning process.
And, surprisingly, the initial vision and passion I bring to the table as “CEO” for these initiatives doesn’t get watered down by adding this “CIO-like” framework to the equation. In fact, it’s the opposite. Now, built into my vision for an innovative product, platform or customer experience, I am more apt to layer into that vision a point of view around how to implement, scale and maintain a competitive differentiation. Usually CEOs have to confront these realities around implementation and scale a bit down the road after they have used their sheer passion, vision and leadership to get investors and employees to invest money, time and effort in their initial vision. And many would say that if the CEO wasn’t a little “naïve”, the original idea may never have been presented quite as passionately. Many times that’s true. But after working for a CIO for two years, I’m here to tell you that when you can combine the CEO-like raw vision and passion with CIO-like detailed planning around implementation, scale and design, it’s a much more powerful initial vision and one that’s even more likely to succeed. I know it has forever improved my abilities going forward.
In an earlier post, I talked about how succesful “social” entrepreneurs share many of the same traits as for-profit entrepreneurs. And I also separately posted about a particular social entrepreneur, Geoffrey Canada, who is one the most inspiring examples of being entrepreneurial I have ever come across.
Well, I wanted to write today about another inspiring social entrepreneur, Charles Best, and the organization he started – DonorsChoose.org. I have had the pleasure of meeting Charles. He’s smart, humble, authentic and is every bit the successful entrepreneur.
As Charles tells the story of how and why he started DonorsChoose.org (and you can see this story on their site), it grew out of a Bronx high school where Charles and his fellow teachers experienced first-hand the scarcity of learning materials in our public schools. Charles, then a social studies teacher, sensed that many people would like to help distressed public schools, but were frustrated by a lack of influence over their donations. He created DonorsChoose.org in 2000 so that individuals could connect directly with classrooms in need.
Charles, his team and DonorsChoose.org has been a phenomenal success already. They have raised over $70 million to date, made the list of Oprah’s favorite things this past year and are generally lauded by the media for innovation in education support and micro-philanthropy.
Here’s how it works (right from their site): public school teachers from all over America post classroom project requests on DonorsChoose.org. Requests range from iPads for classrooms, to violins for a school recital, to microscope slides for a biology class. Then, you can browse project requests and give any amount to the one that inspires you. Once a project reaches its funding goal, DonorsChoose.org delivers the materials directly to the school/teacher. As a citizen philanthropist donor on DonorsChoose, you’ll get photos of your project taking place, a thank-you letter from the teacher, and a cost report showing how each dollar was spent. If you give over $100, you’ll also receive hand-written thank-you letters from the students.
In honor of Charles and DonorsChoose, I’ve created my own “giving page” where I selected something that I’m passionate about – iPads for kids – to be the theme of the donation projects that I’ve selected. Now I’ll ask my Twitter followers and Facebook friends to help me support some of the iPad-related classroom projects on my page.
When an entrepreneur gets that “spark” or vision in his/her mind about the company they want to go build, it usually involves a start-up idea. But it seems to me that successful business turnarounds, whether led by the original entrepreneur or someone that is brought in for the task, involve much of the same entrepreneurial traits that are necessary for a start-up to be successful.
Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved learning about great business turnarounds; it’s that same “us against the world” feeling I get when I hear about entrepreneurial start-ups. While turnarounds seem like they typically involve a bit more raw courage and leadership than do start-ups, the courage and leadership in a turnaround still have to be combined with those same traits that drive successful start-ups: passion, vision, drive, etc.
Two turnaround stories are on my mind tonight – both involving very different “businesses”, but both demonstrate how great turnarounds are entrepreneurial too.
The first turnaround story on my mind is the story of The Atlantic magazine. David Bradley bought The Atlantic magazine in 1999 for $10 million, and proceeded to run it for years as a traditional magazine with no new strategy or vision – and he did this despite the internet media revolution happening all around him and his newly purchased media venture. As you would expect, the magazine proceeded to lose tens of millions of dollars over the next several years. But then he hired three key new managers, editor James Bennet from The New York Times in 2006, Justin Smith from The Week in 2007, and Andrew Sullivan from Time.com. Collectively they made the entrepreneurial declaration that the company needed to be run like a digital enterprise, embracing digital distribution, changing the way they organized their staff, and eliminating old-model costs. They “imagined themselves as a venture-capital-backed start-up in Silicon Valley whose mission was to attack and disrupt The Atlantic. ” It worked. Now the magazine is profitable and flourishing in a mixed digital/print model.
It took a culture shift and an entrepreneurial declaration for the leaders of the The Atlantic to turnaround their business. Driving a certain type of company culture is what many entrepreneurs are good at, and so it makes sense that leading a “culture shift” would be an important aspect of being entrepreneurial in a business turnaround. And so this leads me to the second turnaround story that’s on my mind…and it involves Vince Lombardi. Yes, that Vince Lombardi. Did you know that Vince Lombardi coached the Washington Redskins after he coached the Packers? And that when Lombardi arrived in Washington to coach the Skins in 1969, he led them to their first winning season since in over 14 years. All the stories of how Lombardi managed to turnaround his new team so quickly point back to how he instantly shifted the culture of the team, installed in them a vision and a belief of how they could win, and provided leadership, drive and passion. Sound familiar?
Mark Zuckerberg and Julia Child. Two entrepreneurs that couldn’t be more different than one another. But they are both the main characters in two great recent movies (well, Julie and Julia isn’t that recent – but I was watching it on cable recently, anyways); and these two movies have something in common. At least to me they do. Let me explain.
After watching the Social Network movie, everyone I know had the same reaction: ”it fired me up”, all my friends said. I had the exact same reaction. What was it about this movie.? Was it seeing “the spark” of the idea in action, as in this this clip from the Social Network? Perhaps it’s just the notion of seeing something great being built from day one, through sheer smarts, passion and vision.
Then I was watching the movie Julie and Julia. And this movie had some of the same effect on me. Particularly the parts about Julia discovering her abilities and passion for cooking. She was courageous and determined to learn with and from the best at the Cordon Bleu school, breaking rules and blazing her own path, as seen in this clip from the movie.
Mark Z and Julia C couldn’t be more opposite in terms of their personalities and particular subjects of interest. But it struck me how the two separate movies that depict each of them spoke to the entrepreneur in me in the same way.
My point is that when you see others have a passion and a talent for something, and you see them take hold of their passion, never taking “no” for an answer, breaking new ground, taking chances (and building something special in the process) – it is truly inspiring…it “fires me up”. This fire is at the heart of what powers entrepreneurs; it’s what is behind the passion, what fuels the drive.