Bring on the Entrepreneurs!

I just saw this article and it did not surprise me:

Boomers Driving New Entrepreneurship Boom

Everyone from Wall Street to the White House has been crying for the entrepreneurs to come forth – to revive the economy, create new jobs and bring America back to the forefront of ideas and progress again. Many of us remember  Reagan and the 1980’s. That was a golden age of entrepreneur-ism and the revival of cottage industry – hundreds of thousands of people getting creative and figuring out how to do create new small businesses at home.  Who were some of those people? A Michael Dell making computer boxes in his dorm room; other guys creating small “personal” computers in their garages (IBM did not feel a threat); coffee roasters in rented warehouses who seemed to pose no threat to Maxwell House, part-time insurance salesmen working a second job under Art Williams’ tutelage – on and on it went. That generation created revolution after revolution. Many – perhaps most – of the real lights in those years were Baby Boomers unleashing their unfettered ideas about business and work itself.

Is it a surprising thing that many of that generation are still at it? It IS time, of course, to take succeeding generations under the wing and teach them how to do it.  But the best way to teach in this arena is to DO.

Godspeed! – jobs will follow, just like the 80’s and 90’s followed what happened in that previous revolution.

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Talkers and Doers – an exposé on “The Washington Disease”

We will get out of these hard times – and, once out, we will recognize it was the Doers that made it happen.  The longer I live, work and travel in and around Washington DC the more I am convinced that it is a city of Talkers. Yes, there are hard-working, sturdy doers here by the thousands, and our republic depends on them. God bless ‘em! But it is the talkers in DC who have the limelight. Blinded by their own brilliance, they rumble about the town like tumbleweed. I bump into them often – thus my rant.

I remember, as a much younger man, spending some time with an elder in our church who was a farmer. He didn’t say much. But I have seldom been so impressed at how much one person could get done in life. And it was solid. I would float my lofty ideas by him, and his wise words were often: “We’ll see.” We did.

Here in DC it is not just The Administration, Congress and the Media that clobber us with lofty talkers. They are everywhere, at all levels and in most organizations. Oratory is in vogue.  It is so pervasive that I have named it The Washington Disease. You see it in business, with gusts of “my-idea-is-the-most-significant-idea”  blowing down corridors and swirling around meetings. You see it in schools with the teacher asking the class for their feedback and then cutting off the discussion because the teacher thought of something more important to say.  You see it in the frenetic pace from the beltway to the National Mall to the suburbs – as a friend of mine puts it:  “Everyone’s in a hurry even if they don’t know where they are going.”

Where does it come from? People feel the need to get something DONE – but they are trained here to TALK. It is easy to talk. Talk is cheap. Meetings are easy to schedule in Outlook. We get to talk a lot in meetings. Makes us feel better. Gets us through the day. Makes us look even better if we rush. It is easy to rush – hey, I am an adrenaline junkie too – it feels good.

How about really getting things done?  That costs us more. As my dad, who grew up on a farm,  would say: “Time to put your money where your mouth is.” (Note to Congress and the Administration – the proverb cites YOUR money – not someone else’s).  It boils own to DOING something. That usually involves more work than talking. A great deal more. Doing things makes you miss meetings.

A big part of the problem here in the DC area is that people are too tired out from the talking and the rushing to move down from the 10,000 foot level and get their hands in the dirt like a farmer and make something grow. Besides, there is not much social value here in being a farmer. Doers don’t get much credit. My theory – it is too provincial.  Seems too much like it comes from the heartland or a red state. I digress.

Now THAT gets me back to some of my recurring themes: Politics – Business – Spirituality – Life – What’s good for America – and stuff like that.

Here is the summary:

  • Politics: I think America is really tiring of DC talkers. Recent elections seem to bear that out.
  • Business: It is still about the small-businessperson, the small business family, and the American worker who likes the feeling of being captain of his or her own ship.
  • Spirituality: The Bible says it is not the hearer of the Word but the Doer of the Word that is blessed…  (I think that also goes for the talker-about-the-Word)
  • Life and What’s good for America: It finally boils down to the regular American people who go about doing and helping their neighbors and making their small communities work. It is about volunteers and parents and kids and teachers and preachers and singers and diggers. It is about farmers with hands in the dirt. I would MUCH rather listen to the few words they have time to say than the over-caffeinated cacophony I hear in and around our nation’s capital.

I am about over that.

American Express did us a big favor

As I was browsing around looking for more information to pull together all the web2.0 stuff as well as integrate social media and entrepreneurship, I stumbled across this site – a group of videos showing conversations with the founders of Facebook and Wikipedia during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Look at these titles and descriptions of some of the video shorts:

Web 2.0 explained: radical transparency.

Web 2.0 explained: crowdsourcing.

Protecting your brand online (Interview with Jim Wales).

The secret of Facebook’s success (Interview with co-founder Sean Parker).

Living your business out loud (Seth Godin and Jimmy Wales).

The do’s and don’ts of online communities (Sean Parker).

Bloggers, direct marketing, and social networking (Seth Godin, Sean Parker and Jimmy Wales).

What is crowdsourcing really about? (Jimmy Wales).

Negative press as a way of the online world. Seth Godin says: “embrace it.”

The common sense of Google’s AdSense (mostly Jimmy Wales).

This is less than half of the videos. They are short and good.

For today’s entrepreneur these are excellent intros to the power of the tools we have with Web 2.0 and social networking.

Again the link to the index page for the videos.

Kudos to Amex.

It’s not who you know…

It is great to see old sayings turned on their heads.

 Remember the one – “It’s not what you  know, but who you …”

That one always grated on me. Not so much that networking is not important – it is. Life is still about people. Always will be.

But the implicit idea that, no matter how good you are, or how talented, some less talented hack will pass you up because of schmoozing.  And beyond that , the ‘assumption’ that if you are not aware of that ‘fact’ you are… well… stupid.

Sorry, I disagree.

It is what you know. Plus one vital element – courage.

Today it is easier than ever to bypass the gatekeepers, the elitists, the political controllers, and the king-makers. You can wade through the whole culture of control and come out on the other side. Thanks to the new power in our society to be found based upon what you know and publish what you say, you do not have to look for someone to give you a stage pass any more.

But it still takes courage.

Whether in business, politics, communications, or life, that will always be the case.

And that is a good thing.

Elitism – in business – in life

If you have been reading these posts so far, you probably have figured out that I am anti-elitist. That does not mean I don’t believe in leadership – to the contrary – I do.

That is what entrepreneurship is all about. The real leaders rise to the top. In business, in politics, and in life. What I am ‘anti-‘ is the idea of presuming that a certain class – or a certain ‘club’ – has a lock on leadership because it is privileged.

In politics, I am actually a federalist. That is because, while I do agree with the premise of James Surowieci’s The Wisdom of Crowds – the idea that the mass of society, taken as a whole and on a level playing field, is smarter than the experts (or the elites) – I do believe that those who arise to actually do the work of leading are a smaller group – hence federalism. However, I believe that those leaders should come out ‘wherever’ – not out of the pre-established circles that tradition has vetted.

More about politics in another post.

Let’s talk about business. Let’s also talk about the media (of which I am one). Let’s talk about life in general.

There is a curious crowd dynamic in societies which viewed from a distance looks hilarious. I think it is a dynamic best observed in an American High School. I call it the “Reindeer Games.” Remember poor Rudolf? They used to laugh and call him names. They wouldn’t let him join in their ‘reindeer games.’ It didn’t matter that they would someday desperately need him to guide the sleigh. It didn’t matter that he was more open than they, more receptive to new ideas, and more innovative. What mattered was that he was not like them.

That is the dynamic. There is a huge tendency in groups towards conformity and towards the development of an establishment ‘elite’ which protects that conformity. What is worse is that this attitude is not openly discussed much – it is assumed. If you do not join with the group in the (group) assumptions, well, you were either not cool, stupid, a throw-back, or something else unwanted by the group.

Come on – you remember high school?

What then develops is a certain power in the hands of the elites – who work with the group and convince the group of two things: 1) That the group really needs them (the elites) – and “…if you play it right, someday you too may be cool!” 2) That the elite really deserve to be the elite.

Let’s apply this to business. Have you run into any conformist clubs in the business world? Do you have any problems bringing your ideas to market sitting around a table of the super-cool ‘elite?’

Let’s apply it to media. Have any in the media gotten the idea that by some curious twist of fate, they can interpret better, understand better, explain better or frame an issue better than someone not in the media? Even more – do you ever have the feeling that the media tries to preserve a certain may of looking at things and a conformity to a worldview that may not be the worldview of many of the people they are speaking with?

Let’s talk about life. Do you have the urge to be a leader yourself? Do you feel you have things to say but are afraid to say them, thinking they either will not be heard or will be ridiculed? Do you feel trapped in a way of life that you would really rather change, but feel the tide is against you?

That is what I am talking about. I do not blame it on any group – elitism happens naturally – it is a tenant of human nature. But true leaders always have to strive against it, and seek out true and the real values in life in an environment of rabid conformity.

Surowieci begins his book with the story of the British scientist Francis Galton. Galton was an elitist. He believed “…that only a very few people had the characteristics necessary to keep societies healthy” (from the book’s introduction). He was also a famous geneticist. He believed these vital leadership traits were genetically coded and passed down through generations. Hence – he supported the British aristocracy – an ‘elite’ if there ever was one. He set about to prove his assumptions – with statistics – and measuring the inaccuracies in the knowledge set of a crowd of people.

He found out something, statistically.

He was dead wrong.

I’ll post a lot more on this book in the next post – semi-daily now :-)

Conversational marketplaces

“Markets are conversations” is one of the rallying cries of the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto.  I posted a bit on that here.  I have been thinking more about that – especially as a number of readers have commented about privacy issues, getting more transparent, open, public in our lives (online) and so on.

It seems that what is happening is that the extended, revealing and potentially powerful ‘conversations’ the Internet has allowed people to have are becoming less ‘virtual’ and more real.  If that is true, it impacts the marketplace from all sides. Not only do businesses have the responsibility (and opportunity) to be more transparent, but we regular people have the same. A true marketplace is much more than a sterile environment where information, money and goods change hands. It is a place where people meet to be people.

I remember once I was in the crowded open-air market in Zagreb in Croatia. I really did not want to buy any souvenirs or carved plates (beautiful as they are there) that morning. But a very persistent woman kept putting them in my hands, lowering the price, adding more value – by putting more there – and still lowering the prices. I was not haggling, I just had not planned to buy. But she wanted to sell them to me – actually – at the price she got down to – she was practically giving them to me.

I ended up buying – it was a whale of a deal and she wanted to deal so badly. I tried to pay her more than the final price and she would not accept it. I said to her “you cannot have made any profit at that price.”  She answered that it was not profit she was after. She wanted to make business – and I helped her do that. She was happy. I was ecstatic – had all my holiday shopping done in one armload. I walked away feeling good, lucky, and very warmly human. The marketplace in Zagreb taught me that.

I have often thought of that when shopping in the US. I often feel our marketplaces  lack the humanity of that one in Croatia that cool morning.

I welcome the marketplace filled with conversations. I am glad the Internet, or whatever, has brought back all the talk that many cultures never lost.

It may be between amateurs. Good.

It may be ‘virtual’ or real, or a strange mixture of both.  It may be scary because we have to reveal more of our own humanity than we often do in our semi-autonomous-shopping-cattle-chutes here.

But it is good.

Moving up to daily blogging – more on crowdsourcing

Now that the heavy reading schedule has slowed down a bit I plan to blog more – goal is daily. All the ideas swirling around are starting to crystallize more and I believe it will take a daily dose of writing to get them put into place. Maybe this will help you make more sense of these ideas as well. Shorter posts – a little more stream-of-consciousness.

First thoughts today on crowd-sourcing. We are acting like crowd-sourcing is something new. I was caught up in that too.

Wait a minute!

Isn’t the idea of democracy itself one of crowd-sourcing? All the arguments made against crowd-sourcing – giving voice to ‘the idiots’ – the mass hysteria effect – ‘amateurism’ in politics – have been made for a long time.

Read a lot of the British writing scoffing at the newly-formed American state after the American revolution. They are full of revulsion at the idea that plain, ordinary people can govern themselves. they are totally convinced that, without an elite, educated aristocracy (such as Britain had at the time) no nation could be civilized for long.

Just a thought.

Another morsel for the thinking palate. Is not the idea of a public corporation one of crowd-sourcing? The concept that hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people could own a business together and share in the ideas and the profits? That is nothing new.

Yet public companies have become some of the most un-transparent (even to stockholders) and un-collaborative of all organizations. When is the last time you felt that you had any say at all in the direction of a company you held stock in?

Interesting. Turn these things over in your mind. We’ll post more. (Comments are very welcome). Is this all a new phenomenon, or is it a re-visitation of an old one?