Published in UT San Diego, December 1, 2014
No, I am not advocating for marijuana. I am simply going to share some random thoughts — like a mixture of herbs, flowers and spices — and hope it smells good.
First up — off-site meetings. Recently, I have seen the results of a couple, and I can tell you that done right, they are powerful and work. Setting aside time, out of the office, is critical to building consensus, rapport and overcoming company roadblocks. Get a facilitator; you cannot do it yourself. You need to create an impartial and safe environment to allow for constructive dissent. The facilitator has to be as bright or brighter than the attendees. That is the only way to win the trust of the group. The facilitator needs to have wide business experience as well as be able to understand your business in the specific. So pick carefully and wisely, and be willing to pay for the best.
In addition, you have to spend the night away from the office. Patience is a skill set that I have worked hard to develop. At the moment, I am not an abject failure, but my score (if it were equivalent to a FICO) would barely be enough to borrow a cup of milk. Still, you must do the time. When I was younger, I had a mentor who told me, “There is no substitute for doing roadwork,” which meant you had to get on an airplane and press the flesh.
That may not be the case today, but still you need to do the time. The experience cannot be compressed. The good stuff comes when you are not looking for it, and if you are watching the clock, you will never see it.
Lastly, be sure to allow for a social aspect. Not just a dinner, but maybe a game or a puzzle or, dare I say, a skit. I know it sounds goofy, but it works. Remember you are trying to engage your whole team, not just its most adept and facile members.
I recently had a successful and experienced entrepreneur ask to meet with me. I took him for a walk on the beach to ask how I could help him. He spent the 45 minutes telling me how smart he was and also how rich he was. He never asked me for any assistance. He simply wanted to tell me about himself. (Neil’s note: Do not waste people’s time.)
Finally, are entrepreneurs different than the rest of us? Conventional wisdom says yes, they have guts, courage, vision and insight. But unfortunately, conventional wisdom is dead wrong.
Studies by Andrew Oswald (of the University of Warwick in England) and David Blanchflower (Dartmouth in New Hampshire) show that psychological makeup plays little or no role in who becomes an entrepreneur. Other data show that entrepreneurship is actually a group activity and only 16 percent of entrepreneurs reported that they started their business without a team.
Let’s be brutally honest. The study also finds that money matters. People who inherit money are more likely to work for themselves. And network matters. Who you know is critical. The entrepreneur’s psyche is not that much different, but his circumstances most likely are. And to his credit, he knows it and capitalizes on it.
Life is not fair, and I believe anyone can triumph, but it would be naïve to not acknowledge that some ladders have more rungs than others. Still, the fact that entrepreneurship has more to do with circumstances than behavioral disposition is a good thing, because that means it can be nurtured and developed. It is not only an accident of birth. Getting an education, getting concrete skills and finally getting access to capital are the critical factors in creating the entrepreneur. It is not just charisma and parentage.