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Trying to Make Sense of Occupy Wall Street – Part 1/2

My previous post about what I see as broken with the Occupy Wall Street movement was the result of several

College grads fill the ranks of Occupy Wall Street as well

conversations, both on twitter, and in-person.  As a result of that post, I’ve been able to discuss the movement with a diverse group of opinions, not only in the comments , but also on Facebook and Twitter, and including a meeting with a friend who may end a long absence from political movements soon.

The more I talk and write about Occupy Wall Street, the more personal the conversation becomes to me.   I’m going to continue writing about Occupy Wall Street, and this week you can look for a few posts coming from my conversation with Eugene and with my experiences with Occupy Austin’s Capitol Occupation.

Once again, I haven’t begun taking a stance on any of the issues.  I’m going to continue to listen and digest to get a better understanding of what Occupy Wall Street actually is.  The movement continues to intentionally leave itself open to individual interpretation and this is the source of its power  - millions are able identify with it.

 

I’m making sense of Occupy Wall Street as the expected angry response to and product of dual broken narratives in America. How broken both of the narratives are is not trivial.  Both are essential to sustain the fervor of the movement which has already changed the focus of our media to the plight of the working class.  What follows is my impression of what motivates Occupy Wall Street.  Why is this relevant?  It’s the place to begin answering the question, “How will we know when Occupy Wall Street has accomplished its goals.”  

When Occupy Wall Street has realized its potential, we’ll see a new set of cultural narratives defining our nation.

Broken Narrative One:  The American Global Political Decision-Making Process
including….

  • The relationship between politics and corporations – it’s corrupt
  • The way the Fed is structured with regard to leadership and conflicts of interest - it’s corrupt

 

Broken Narrative Two: The Personal Economic Capitalistic Creative and Productive Process
specifically…

  • The formula to make money that middle and lower-class children learn in school – it’s flawed
  • The relationship between a college education, debt, and competitively paying jobs – isn’t linear
I’m going to start with the second narrative, and then work my way backwards to the first.
The Personal Economic Capitalistic Creative and Productive Narrative that influenced how the middle and lower-classes have defined the process of growing the economy and making money.

In 2008 the markets took a nosedive, we suffered a recession, and millions of Americans suddenly found themselves underwater in their mortgages, out of work, and unable to service the debt they had or make ends meet in many cases.  Job opportunities were scarce but foreclosures were common.  Confidence in the economy dropped, and businesses began to implement hiring freezes and lay off wave after wave of American workers.
The result?

No wonder people are angry.

An entire American workforce that had been used to the economy’s promise of stable work, regularly scheduled raises, and an ever-increasing standard of living since the 1950s were suddenly thrown into an economy that could no longer keep many of those promises.  Without work, and with rising inflation, the 99% found it increasingly difficult to pay for simple things like gas and healthcare.

The cultural narrative that defined “work” as a well paying job that would be waiting for you the day after college graduation suddenly wasn’t playing out.  There weren’t enough jobs for all the workers anymore.  The graduating class of 2008 and 2009 (I graduated from college in 2009) found an economy that was in fact not waiting to hire them.

This was when I graduated from college.  Many of my fellow graduates moved home, lots of us took service industry jobs, and all of us wondered why we had taken out all those loans….

We did it because the narrative we heard in high school provided very specific instructions to take on debt that future jobs would be able to service.
The cultural narrative said:  

Go to College (no matter what the cost) + Get 5-6 figure loans for increasing tuition costs + Get Good Grades =  Guaranteed jobs that will easily pay off your debt

In essence, the Personal Economic Capitalistic Creative and Productive Process to make a good living for the middle and lower-class was the result of a high-priced college education.

But when we look around, we don’t see that as true.  We see college graduates sending in resume after resume for jobs with lower salaries than last year, or jobs that don’t require a college degree, and a lot of debt.

Instead of college setting graduates free, it actually enslaved them to decades of debt, and without a good job that will actually pay off the debt.

The psychological hit is as bad as the emotional one: If we were to ask a sample of college graduates if they felt prepared to find a place to contribute to the economy and make a living in 2011, I think that we would find a scary number of them saying, “no.”

What are people supposed to do in the face of the rising cost of living, scarce jobs, low paying jobs, expensive health insurance and on…?  What do people do when the narrative they were using to live their lives turns out to be a myth?

And it leaves me asking two questions.

The first question is if a college education is in fact where jobs come from?  If not from education, then where do they come from?   What’s the real answer to the Personal Economic Capitalistic Creative and Productive Process?  

How will this generation of Americans find meaning and purpose in the Creative process of their work?

A better way to ask this question is to look a few hundred years back and ask, what did people do before big companies could pay their salaries?  They fed themselves.  

Entrepreneurs do this, and they don’t usually need a degree to create a sustainable business that will take care of their needs.  The issue here is that entrepreneurship is hard, and it’s easy to say that it’s not for everyone.  But I truly believe that when the chips are down we are all capable of solving the problem of how to eat and how to feed our families.  My faith in the human spirit to prevail insists upon this.

The second question is what to do about the system of inequality that is baked into our nation.  Our country is in very real danger of going the way of the buffalo, and shaking the foundations of democracy.  We cannot continue to trust the leadership that has gotten us to this point or let anyone enforce the status quo.

But we can’t throw stones either.  1% or 99%, we’re all in this together.

Which brings me back to the economic crisis of 2008, and Broken Process One:  The American Global Political Decision-Making Process.

I’ll post that part tomorrow.  Thanks for reading.

 

Hope this helps.

-Austin W. Gunter

 

What’s Broken at Occupy Wall Street

The Voice of a Generation

I think that Occupy Wall Street has been losing steam over the past few weeks.  I’m starting to see fewer articles and less media attention directed towards the various activist communities who call themselves the 99%, many of whom are part of Generation Y.

While I have very strong reservations about being associated with the movement, I find myself unable to deny that I am part of the same generation, and I can see potential in the movement if it fixes what is broken.

When Occupy Wall Street began, I did not see any real goal of the protests.  As a whole they looked directionless and so I didn’t pay much attention.  I had steady work at the time, but since OWS began, I’ve experienced firsthand the layoffs that are common in the Austin Technology industry.  Since then, I’ve been a bit more willing to actually examine the movement to see what I think about it.

I’m not willing to identify with the movement, and one of the big reasons is I see it missing key elements that previous social movements required for their success.

I’ve spoken with several people about the movement this week and I’ve drawn a few conclusions about what is missing from Occupy Wall Street that would allow it to seize the opportunity to accomplish something with the momentum that is gathered.

Note: I’m not commenting on the spirit of the movement, nor am I denying the clear inequality present, the white-collar crimes that have been committed, or the government action that has permitted those crimes.

That is a different discussion entirely, and I’ll leave that for another blog post.

Understanding what’s working and what’s not is a way to understand what you or I could do in order to make a movement successful, independent of its ideology.

Occupy Wall Street can be broken down into a basic model made up of simple, generalized, elements.  Each element can then be applied elsewhere.  This sort of deconstruction permits a valid comparison to other similar movements, and then we can separate how effective Occupy Wall Street is actually being from the fervor of its rallying cry, enabling stoic discussion of the topic at hand.

Elements of Occupy Wall Street Today:

  • The Circumstances: Widespread unemployment, and perceived absence of opportunity.
  • The Narrative: Small resemblance between real life, and the promise of good jobs awaiting all Americans with college degrees. Instead high unemployment and low wage jobs hardly justify the expense of a college education.
  • The Victims: Middle and Lower Class Americans.
  • The Villain: A group of elites operating criminally, and without consequence, to enrich themselves
  • The Emotions: Deeply felt powerlessness, expressed as anger and fear.
  • What is at Stake: Strongly held belief in the possibility of a brighter future.  Our hope in the future is at stake.
  • The Inspiration: Successful 19th and 20th Century Social Movements (Women’s Suffrage, Mexican and Black American Rights, etc).

Occupy Wall Street is: Masses of individuals following old models of social change with an unfocused desire to make a difference, and a shared belief that powerful forces conspire to prevent the good and the just from prevailing.

Here’s what is Missing:

  • Goals and Objectives - Ask the question, “How will we know when Occupy Wall Street has been successful?”  I don’t think that the movement can actually answer this question.
  • Dialogue - A mob of people shouting does not count as a dialogue.  Previous movements show that protest movements are powerful because they support a dialogue with the establishment. Absent this, the protests are a nuisance at best.
  • Solutions – Previous social movements offered solutions to the social injustice they fought, and then they were willing to negotiate until they achieved them.
  • Leadership - OWS has not found in its ranks a leader to represent the movement.  No Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, or Carrie Chapman Catt has stepped forward.
  • Philosophy - OWS uses the terms Social Change and Consensus of the People.  Those are big concepts that mean a lot of different things depending on who you ask.  What those terms mean is not universal, singular, or intuitive, and Occupy Wall Street has to refine their philosophy before they will be able to employ those concepts effectively.
  • One Voice -  Depending on which site you visit, there are different lists of demands, and no sign of unifying their purpose or direction.  The lack of focus will invite anarchy and chaos into our streets.

Seeing the Occupy Best Buy protest last night demonstrates the absence of those elements.  That was a protest not supported by the rest of Occupy Wall Street, yet it used the Occupy Wall Street name to target middle class consumers, the Americans that it purports to represent.  They didn’t realize who they were protesting.

All this is worth the time and effort to write, because I do believe there are problems, and I do think that something has to change.  All evidence points to a depression if America can’t get its economy straightened out, not to mention the European Union.

Occupy Wall Street has the potential to achieve social change and reform a broken economy.  And while I disagree with many of the core beliefs and the ideology of the movement, I think that it has the potential to evolve into the movement that our country clearly needs, and is obviously crying out for in many ways. What’s more, I think that many of the solutions that we will arrive at are less complicated than we realize.

I believe that an entire generation of young men and women, MY generation, has found itself in a tough situation and that we must be willing to offer solutions.  We didn’t ask for the problem, but we can solve it.

Otherwise, we’re going to be left holding the bag at the end of the day.

The challenges we get to solve are immense, and for the moment I have faith that Occupy Wall Street can be more than just a tantrum thrown by a generation that didn’t realize how much power it could wield.

I believe that while we may not have found a voice to speak with, that we will soon.

Occupy Wall Street will begin to be worthwhile when it:

  1. Offers Real Solutions
  2. Starts a Dialogue with the Establishment
  3. Finds a Leader to Represent a Generation of Americans

I don’t believe that Wall Street is the place to look for answers.  The problem is much bigger than that.  My generation can solve the problems and develop solutions when we look past the obvious villain, and begin the work of creating systemic change and create a country we’re proud to offer to our children someday.

We can hand off a thriving economy and a strong country.  We can be proud of the legacy that we leave.  We can move beyond the nonsense on Wall Street.

We’ve got what it takes to focus our attention.

Hope this helps.

-Austin W. Gunter

Success – It’s All Who You Know

Elizabeth Quintanilla and Me Networking

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before….

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know…”    OR,

“It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you…”  OR, to add a bit of edge,

“It’s not what you know, or who you know, it’s actually what you have on who you know.”

The last one is my favorite.  It’s some of the wisdom my entrepreneurial Granddad shared with me when I was working with him one summer as a teenager.  He was an entrepreneur who built a large commercial beekeeping company in Central Texas, and who showed our entire family what the fruits of hard work and persistence are.  Walker Honey Farm, the business he started during the Great Depression, is growing under the leadership of my Aunt and Uncle (they’re making local honey wine now too!). 

I don’t think Granddad meant that we should keep a ledger of all the favors people owe us so that we can call them in one day.  My Granddad was more salt of the earth than godfather, and he knew the secret of networking.

My Granddad understood that relationships have incredible power to define a person’s success.  If you respect the relationships you have, don’t over tax them, and make sure to maintain a spirit of service to the other person, those relationships will act like an springboard for your life.  

He also taught me to always say thank you. 

Saying, “thanks,” is the simplest place to start. When someone forgets to send a thank you note after they buy you coffee, or they pick your brain without picking up the tab for lunch, or they don’t ask how they can help you in return, they aren’t honoring your investment in their life.

Successful networking is a dialogue of value: the investment must be mutual.

Today, I had coffee with a college student to talk about her career.  She asked me, “what are you getting out of helping me figure out this stuff?”  I told her that I was working with her because so many people have worked with me.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without their help, and so I make time to work with the people who ask for support.

I told her that I believe those relationships are a source of personal growth opportunities, and it’s important that I pay that forward to people like her.

Our relationships shape who we are.

I have relationships with mentors who constantly help me focus my career and my life.  My relationships with friends support me when I need it, and they keep me honest when I’m getting carried away.  My family forms the core of who I am, and I have received more support, encouragement, and yes connections from my family than anywhere else.

Example: each job offer I’ve received since 2009 has come from a connection to a friend who knew that I was looking.  Those relationships were literally springboards for my career, and they have become a part of my story.

If networking is a dialogue of value, then success is a community effort.

Entrepreneurial communities, in particular, seem to understand why it’s important to help one another out. I think entrepreneurs are supportive of one another because they understand that nobody becomes successful overnight, and nobody becomes successful alone.  Every successful entrepreneur knew when to ask for help, and they had someone willing to offer it.

If you look around you, you’ll see a community of people collaborating to your success as well.  What’s more, it’s easier than ever to reach out to potential mentors – there’s no excuse for not meeting the people who inspire you.

In a hyper-connected age, the walls between one person and the next have come down.  Social Media gives us direct access to the people that we want to emulate and learn from.  Turns out they are willing to help if you ask them the right way.  I’m always blown away by the support that entrepreneurs are willing to offer when I ask for it.

Some of them will do it in exchange for lunch, or barter services, or ask that you volunteer for their favorite charity.  Many of them are happy just to help you out.

Many of them of them will say something like, “Just go take this conversation and change the world.  If you want to repay me, go do what you said you wanted to do.”

This afternoon, I didn’t mention the other reason I was willing to have coffee with the college student.  The other reason is that I believe she will do something important with anything that she happens to learn from me, and from everyone else she talks to.  And in the process, she will teach me something about myself.

How do you repay someone for the time that they spend with you?  Take what you learned and put it to good use. 

 

Go Change the World.

 

And once you do, make sure you keep openings in your schedule for coffee with the rest of us who are still working on it.  We need to learn from the stories that you have to tell, and the lessons that you’ve learned along the way.

 

Thanks in advance.

I hope this helps.

-Austin W. Gunter

Trust Your (My) Story

On Saturdays, I’m going to try an experiment and blog about a more personal topic.  The goal of the experiment is to explore the power of being vulnerable in my writing in order to see the relationship between vulnerability and trust.  If the experiment is successful, I’ll incorporate personal topics into more of my posts.

The closest relationships of my life have always had a high element of self-disclosure.

But I didn’t realize until college that in the relationships where I was most forthright about all the important things going on in my life, I always had a deeper rapport and a better relationship with the other person.

In 2007, I had a mentor tell me that he was stunned at how forthright with him about my family, or the girl I was dating at the time, and on.  He said that we had been able to have conversations where he had felt comfortable sharing parts of his life that he rarely shared with anyone.  At the time, I knew we frequently had very meaningful dialogues where it seemed as though we were both being mentored and growing.  But it never dawned on me that I was more willing to share my life and the questions that I was asking than he expected me to be.

I assumed everyone was like me in how they shared their lives.

Nope.

This week I wondered how being open as a writer makes me more powerful?  Would a bit of vulnerability in a newsletter increase opens?  Does that create more trust over the long term?

Recently, I had a project where my willingness to NOT self-disclose readily made a big difference in a bad way.  This is an example of where I failed to be vulnerable enough, and it cost me on a project.

In this story, it wasn’t enough to just be vulnerable, I needed to be vulnerable according to the culture of the company.  I found out the hard way that not understanding the company culture in advance will actually prevent me from self-disclosing in the right way with the people I’m working with.  Had I done a bit more research in advance I would have easily known the exact steps to create trust with people inside the company, thus saving me a ton of time and frustration.  Not to mention saving me money as well.

When I started the project I was working on, from day one, I had a gut feeling that I didn’t understand the culture.  Right then, I should have realized what was going on, gone home that day, and done some research to understand the culture.  To turn the vague feeling that I had into real information.  All I really knew was that the culture didn’t know how to allow my personality to express itself. But instead of doing the work in advance to understand my customers’ needs, I just decided to hold back in order to fit in.

I was willing to do this, but it wasn’t worth it.  Not only did it make me miserable, but everyone knew I was holding back.

I know my personality Type.  My Type is an ENFP.  In a nutshell, that means that I’m an initiator of change, always open to new possibilities, and ready to come up with a new solution.  I tend to be a very expressive personality, and I’m at my best working on fluid projects that allow me to express my creativity.

The thing is, I love figuring out how to fit into new cultures.

You only need to spend a little while asking questions to understand the company culture.

Questions Like:

  1. What is the company mission?
    This will tell you not only what the company’s values are, but it can often give you a hint as to
    how the company goes about achieving the goals it sets for itself.
  2. What is the dominant personality Type of the company leadership?
    At this particular company, I realized after about 2 months that the company leadership was
    comprised of introverted thinking Types.  As an extraverted feeling type, I would need to
    communicate very differently in order to be heard by the men and women in leadership.
  3. What are the top 5 subjects that 75% of the company likes to talk about?
    This organization had a handful of pop-culture and sports topics that everyone generally paid
    close attention to, and could talk about readily.  It was critical for me to know what these
    were in order to build rapport.
  4. What subjects are always taboo for the company?
    This will vary.  Normally politics and religion are off-limits, but that’s not always the case.
    Never assume that you know what those things are because what’s taboo in one organization,
    could be water cooler fodder at another.
  5. How does the culture react to new ideas and concepts?  Do they resist or reject the novel idea? Or do they acknowledge new ideas and find a way to implement the good ones?
    Some places simply don’t want to hear a new idea, and it’s best to keep them to yourself.

Many of these questions would have saved me some trouble and made my life easier while I was completing work for the organization.  By asking these questions in advance, I could have reduced friction in my interactions at the company, and saved myself some headaches.

By not asking those questions, I missed an opportunity with the company.  By not asking those questions, I didn’t allow my story to tell itself.

I learned that when I hold myself back, people can tell.  Even when they don’t know me very well.

The project team could sense that I was still walking on eggshells after a few months.  And I felt like they never quite knew how to talk to me as a result.  Since I could clearly feel their discomfort, I actually held back more.  Compounding the problem.  By holding back, I believe I made it impossible for the culture to fully accept me.  They didn’t trust what I wasn’t showing them.

The crazy thing was that I found myself working much longer hours than I normally do in order to produce my normal quality of work.  I was trying so hard to manage cultural expectations thatI lost sight of who I know I am.

The crucial element of Trust was missing.  So I’m exploring the possibility that self-disclosure may be an essential part of building trust between two parties.

Not only am I exploring trusting my readers, but I’m also exploring trusting myself.  Trusting that the story I tell does touch people, and does make an impact on the world.

What’s your story?  How has it made a difference for the people in your life?

Will you post a comment and tell us part of your story?

 

Hope this helps.

-Austin Gunter

A Different Perspective on Steve Jobs’ Success and his Balance

How will you define "Damn Good" in the dialogue of your life?

When I saw David Walker, Austin Entrepreneur and founder of Conjunctured, and 302 Designs wrote a post titled, “Call Me a Hypocrite, But Steve Jobs was a Jerk,” I wanted to respond with my own perspective on the man whose work has touched all our lives.  If you’re reading this, Steve Jobs has directly influenced your life.  Steve Jobs was maybe the most entrepreneur of his time, but where did he strike the balance between being raw creative force of nature, and the rest of his life, and those he came in contact with?  He negotiated a balance in his life, or an imbalance rather, in order to change the world.

Update 11/23/2011 – I found an excellent discussion about Steve Jobs as a manager on Quora.  It’s worth adding to the conversation.  Read it here.

I’m glad that people are acknowledging the demons inside Steve Jobs.   The stories about Jobs that have grabbed my attention have always been about his over the top and imbalanced attention to the smallest of details in the pursuit of his perfection.  Calling the CEO of Google at his home on Sunday to complain about a single pixel of the Google Logo on the iPhone app, and holding up a release of iTunes because one of the fonts in the menus wasn’t to his satisfaction, and any number of other stories, “demons,” are part of his legacy.  These stories represent attention to detail few entrepreneurs have the discipline to achieve, much less enforce on an entire company.

I don’t think Steve Jobs was a wonderful person to work with, nor do I think he placed great value on the feelings of those around him relative to the work of creating Apple.  I believe that he was so focused on his company that he was willing to sacrifice other things in his life.  And his sacrifice of those areas paid dividends.

And as I write this on a MacBook, and check text messages on my iPhone, I have to acknowledge the pervasive influence that Jobs’ work had on all of our lives.  He was one of the architects of the digital age that we all live in.  Without his work and the companies that he created, we don’t get to take advantage of the technological innovations powering our world.  How much of his relentless focus was necessary to create a list of products that I absolutely adore?  Probably all of it. 

Having worked with about 120 entrepreneurs, innovators, and small business owners since 2009, I know firsthand that there is more than a casual relationship between such extreme behavior on the part of an entrepreneur and the creation of a company as large, successful, and innovative as Apple is.  Large wealth creation is no simple process, and it’s not a “normal” process.  It’s an extreme one.  I think that if we looked closely at other self-made billionaires, we would find a similar focus on perfection at any costs, including incredible sacrifice. That degree of wealth creation or company success is impossible without being that brand of relentless.

Steve Jobs had a vision to put a ding in the universe at all costs.

I’m not making a case to justify callous behavior.  My intent is to illustrate the relationship between balance and imbalance and success.  Have balanced focus in life, and you’ll have the pleasure of creating a sustainable business that makes a difference in your community.  Have an imbalanced focus in life, have the pleasure of creating results so imbalanced that your successes and failures will be just as extreme.  For the entrepreneur and the CEO who hangs a photo of Steve Jobs in the office, or puts the photo up on their Facebook page, in order to truly emulate Steve Jobs is to embrace such extremes as necessary condition.  That is the only way to achieve results that are similarly imbalanced (becoming a billionaire).

Magnitude of Success will have a more or less direct relationship to Magnitude of Imbalanced Focus in your life.

The question that I ask myself is, “what costs are we as entrepreneurs willing to pay?”  What are we creating, and what are we willing to give up in order to create it?

I view life and work as highly intertwined, I don’t want to draw lines between those two parts of myself, and I am inspired by David’s belief that business is all about forming a symbiotic relationship with society.  I’ve always claimed that for a business to be valuable, it has to create a dialogue of value between two or more parties.   What the entrepreneur creates, adds to the whole.  And I suspect that for many, including Steve Jobs, his balance was his success on the terms he defined for himself and then asked everyone around him to live up to.

So what’s the balance for you?  Are you willing to push those inside your business to achieve more?  Are you willing to ask them to sleep less, and work more for you?  Why or why not?  Are you asking the same of yourself?  Are your results demonstrating that you’re moving in the right direction, or do you need to push even harder?  What about everyone else?

I guarantee Jobs was twice as hard on himself as everyone else around him.   So yes, David, I echo your challenge.  How can we be better than Steve Jobs?  How can we be more balanced than him?  How can we negotiate win-wins between our vision and everything else, and be innovative in order to achieve those win-wins?  Social Entrepreneurs are asking this question inside many social ventures today, and the answers they find are tied just as closely to profit as they are to their vision of improving society.

How big do you want to get?  Be as big as you’re willing to be.

For myself, the question really comes back to a personal question that I would offer to you all.  I ask how high of a standard am I placing on myself today, and how does that standard measure up to my dreams?  Am I being hard enough on myself?  Am I accepting mediocre results?

I try to answer those questions honestly, because the world needs more entrepreneurs who refuse to accept “good enough” from themselves.  The world needs our work, and it needs the products we produce.  We don’t have to be Steve Jobs, but we do have to be ourselves.

Go put your own ding in the universe, man.  And then call me so we can celebrate it.

Keep up the hard work.  Let me know if you’ve got a response to this.  I’d love to have a conversation about your life and business.

Hope this helps.

Education and Entrepreneurship in 2011

Thanks for checking in and reading this. I’m grateful that you’re here, especially since I haven’t spent much time producing content for this site in nearly a year.

Part of the reason that I wasn’t writing on my blog was a lack of confidence in my own ability to generate something useful that my readers would come back to and refer their friends to. This lack of confidence in myself meant that I prioritized doing easier things than building my blog.

In the past few months I’ve started to return to the ways that I want to help people around me grow their lives and their careers.  I’ve gotten very clear about the causes that I am passionate about, and I’m excited about being able to share them.

I’ve come back to the following things in the past several months:

  • I am passionate about supporting college students make successful transitions from their undergraduate careers into their professional careers.
  • I am also passionate about supporting entrepreneurs succeed in their ventures.
  • I get the most out of life when I can support a wide variety of people achieve their goals.

In 2011 my blog will be a great place for people to read about what I’m doing along these lines, and I also have a goal of making it easy to interact with me, using the blog as a jumping off place.

What’s Inspired this:
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with several college students and help them get real world experience, coaching them through the same challenges that I faced.  Some of them have recently started internships, and others are negotiating work in fields that they are passionate about.

I’ve been grateful for the process.  Through it, I recognized my own struggles after graduating from college.  I got the right support from people who mentored and coached me through some challenging growth periods.  If I hadn’t had this support, I would not be where I am today.

Based on what I’ve learned since graduating, working at Tech Ranch Austin alongside more than 50 entrepreneurs, I’ve gained insight about what it takes to transition from college into meaningful work, and I’ll be sharing it here.

Next Steps:
To start, I’m going to present at RISE University when it makes its stop at the University of Texas on March 5th on how to transition from college to startup without losing your mind.

I’m also going to expand the circle of college students that I’m working with.  By the end of 2011 I’d like to have a group of college students who are working at exciting internships and startups, preparing themselves to be entrepreneurs.

I’m excited and challenged about what I’m declaring here.  It’s all possible, and it’s all important.

The 87 things you learn after 9 months at your first startup

  1. You have to show up every day.  The endless days where nothing works have their own arithmetic that adds up to breakthroughs of genius.  The sun will come.

    StartUps are learning experiences

    This is what learning looks like

  2. Everybody works for free at first.  Free doesn’t really mean “free” though.  Free means that you’re an investor.  If you’re the entrepreneur, it means you’re an investor in your own company by working there every day.  If you’re an employee, free means you’re proving that you can add value to justify your salary.  Places like IBM or Dell do not demand this level of accountability.
  3. Don’t build it until someone has bought it.  No, for real.  Seriously.  No exceptions.  Get the signature and the check.  Those two things mean your idea doesn’t suck.
  4. Everyone has a skill-set that makes them uncomfortable.  They medicate this with their comfortable skill-set.  That’s why when your startup has a sales problem, you can’t find the engineers: they’re all hiding in the basement coding a new feature.
  5. Stop blaming anyone else for everything else.  It’s your fault.  Until you admit it’s your fault, you can’t be in control of the necessary changes that will fix the problem (leads into #6).
  6. Be ready to change things all the time.  That’s part of why you have to keep showing up.  What you did on Day #1 didn’t work then, and it’s still not working.  You don’t figure out the right model until many days later.
  7. But don’t change things without a hypothesis.  Changing things randomly and without a purpose goes by “schizophrenia” in the DSM.
  8. Your idea is worth absolutely nothing until you’ve executed and sold something.
  9. Entrepreneurship can be a self-cleaning oven.  It gets hot and miserable in there sometimes.  The pain is how you know it’s working.
  10. You always have a choice each day.  You can love it, or you can leave it.  If you don’t love it, but you haven’t left it, ask yourself what you love hiding from more.
  11. Leverage a community of people.  You will not do it alone.  You have to find a group of people that you can help and get help from.  If they’re the right people, this will make more difference than you can see in the windshield.
  12. Take critical feedback in silence.  Once the feedback is done, say thank you and go apply the feedback.  NEVER use this as an opportunity to tell why the feedback isn’t relevant to your situation.  If someone cares about you enough to share criticism with you, don’t tell them that they’re wrong.  That’s an efficient way to lose your connection to reality.
  13. Stay connected to reality by varying your sources of advice.  If your technology is a bleeding edge hyper-green technology, you better go talk to a business development guy who likes capitalism.  That’s the only way you’ll know if your idea is worth a dime.
  14. Read all the business books that challenge you, and do it until you’re overwhelmed.  At that point, switch to fiction and then go to sleep.  CS Lewis should take the edge off.
  15. Tomorrow, start again.  Learn from screw-ups.  Be willing to screw everything you do up.  But always remember that success is 10x more powerful than screw-ups, and way more fun to be excited about.
  16. Minimum Viable Product is enough.  In other words: Less is more.

Left vs. Right Brained-ness

Left vs. Right Brain-ness

We're all emotional wrecks in the end ;)

I started reading The Emotional Brain
by Joseph LeDoux last night in my on-going quest to understand how people think.  I know of a marketing expert in Indianapolis, named Mark Clevenger, who focuses on the unconscious and emotional responses that drive people to make decisions.  He recommended LeDoux’s book.  Clevenger’s marketing is currently in use by Fortune 100 Companies.  My understanding of what he offers these companies is the knowledge that people will often tell you they will buy one thing, then go and do the very opposite.  He has a unique method to ask the right questions and get accurate answers.  People say they want to eat healthy, but McDonald’s still sells billions of their heart-attack machines.  People keep going back to what makes them feel good, not what they say is good for them.  This is in spite of all words and logic to the contrary.

In The Emotional Brain, LeDoux shows how the left brain, responsible for language and conscious processing, is disconnected from the “unconscious” brain that processes emotional responses. LeDoux did research on patients with severed Left / Right hemisphere connections to prevent severe epileptic seizures.  Images presented to a patient’s right brain could not be called by name, but the patient could verbalize the emotion they associated with an object.  For example, the subjects couldn’t tell you that they saw an angel or a devil, but they could tell you what they saw was good or bad.  There is a communication disconnect between the left, logical brain, and the right, emotional brain.  LeDoux draws the conclusion that what motivates people to act may be an unconscious emotional process since people gravitate towards what makes them feel good, and away from what makes them feel bad.  Not only is the decision-making process unconscious and emotional, but it is also something that the left language brain responds to, not the other way around.

Ask yourself what constitutes a healthy diet, for example.  I’d imagine that you get various visuals ranging from the food pyramid to fresh produce and lean meats.  Now ask what you eat for lunch most of the time.  I’ve eaten triple meat hamburgers more than once this week.  Extra cheese.  They were delicious each time.  Crap.  It’s almost lunch time.

Glen Klemann of Redfin wrote on TechCruch in November about the #1 lesson he learned from his recent and successful bout of Venture Funding: your product has to be a seven deadly sin.  “You don’t want to be (what) people should use.  You want to be (what) they can’t stop using.”  I’d interpret this by saying your product has to make people feel good enough that they come back for more of that feeling.  This brings us back to McDonald’s.  People keep coming back for a thousand delicious calories served up for “just a buck.”

McDonald’s knows something the rest of us don’t.  They know how to ask the question, “What do our customers really want to pay us money for?”  Not, what do customers say they’ll pay money for, but what customers will actually pull out their wallet and buy.  These days, I’m wondering how they ask those questions and get valid answers from that mysterious unconscious part of our brains.  What do people want to spend money on?

Hope this helps.

Cigar and Spirit Pairing iPhone App

I had exactly three retail jobs when I was getting my degree at St. Edward’s University.  Because of that I do endorse the common wisdom that everyone should pull a stint in retail or the service industry.  This holds true in my experience because I took exactly two positive things from my time shilling under florescent lights.  The first is knowing that I want to make my money based on what I accomplish and the knowledge that I have; trading hours for dollars isn’t for me.  Learning that I had the power to choose to make money with my identity was a cool thing to learn.  This paid off in the work I oriented myself towards.  See, Changing Minds to Change the World.

I kinda feel like Entrepreneurship is a great big sandbox for grown-ups.

The other thing that I took away from retail was an extensive working knowledge of premium tobacco: that is, I am a walking Cigar Encyclopedia.

Yes, while my friends were waiting tables, I was becoming a college-aged cigar aficionado.

While I love knowing my way around a Cigar humidor, I wasn’t optimistic about turning this experience into cash.  That may start happening soon.  Jei Gaither, one of the Tech Ranchers and founder of App Ranch, pitched his

newest iPhone app ideas: a cigar and spirit pairing app, with user-submitted pairings.  He’s got the development underway and I’m creating the initial pairings.

I’ll let you know when we get a Beta out.  Then you can read my poetic descriptions of my favorite cigars.  Expect

such literary gems as: I was pleased with the cigar’s dynamic nutty brown texture reminiscent of Nicaraguan soil that finishes clean as spring dew.

I hope that helps.

Changing Minds to Change the World

Everyone knows the accomplishments of Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.  Gandhi freed the Indian nation from British imperialism, and Nelson Mandela peaceably brought South Africa out of Apartheid and into a beautiful multi-cultural nation.

Change Minds to Change the World

Change Minds to Change the World

Big Deal.

These stories are known and celebrated throughout the world, and to be honest, they are stories that I have ignored in the past.  When a conversation turned to Gandhi or Mandela in the past, I’ve gotten that glazed look in my eyes that resembles my look after eating a huge plate of turkey and dressing at Thanksgiving; right when the tryptophan is kicking in.

However, (Hooray, a however!) last night I had a breakthrough in how I understand these stories.  Last night was the first time that I could break the stories of Mandela and Gandhi into meaningful chunks.  It was the first time I understood how these men sought to change their communities and ended up changing the world.

I’ve been reading Changing Minds to Change the World
.  The book takes a cognitive (as opposed to behaviorist, I didn’t know that one either…) perspective on the traits shared by world changing leaders like Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

The book analyzes how their actions affect prevailing opinions and worldviews.  Gardner outlines that in order for leaders to change the world they must always change peoples’ minds first.

Sometimes great leaders change a few powerful minds, and sometimes they change the minds of millions.  Gardner shows how this happens.  Mohandas Gandhi peacefully effected the mind change of the British imperialists in India, and the entire world felt the ripples of this change.  Nelson Mandela also used peaceful methods to change minds, and the state of South Africa in the process.

Gardner boils down the changes of Gandhi and Mandela into two basic elements.  The elements are meaningful to me directly at Tech Ranch Austin and with the growing BarnBuildr process.  Gardner illustrates that Gandhi and Mandela had compelling stories revolving around the better world the envisioned, AND each man’s life was congruent with the stories that they told.  Both showed the world that changes on a national level are possible peacefully.  Both sought reconciliation of disparate populations by accepting the past and moving to a new future.

Change Minds to Change the World

Change Minds to Change the World

Gandhi’s insistence on peace nearly cost him everything, yet he pressed on through hunger and the risk of death.  Mandela spent 27 years in prison, but in his belief in reconciliation was so strong he elevated his one-time jailor to a position of prominence.  Both men’s lives resonated with the story they asked their nations to believe and participate in.  Their lives had to resonate with their stories in order to make the difference.  They lived it.  Without hunger strikes, Gandhi is a run-of-the-mill dissident.  Without his jailor sitting on the front row for his presidential inauguration, Mandela has no credibility.

I’m going to be spending my cycles in December establishing the story that BarnBuildr tells.  Part of the story is in place already.  We have established a program that connects entrepreneurs with free help.  This represents an opportunity for Austin-Area entrepreneurs to build their ventures forward, so to speak.  As we move to the next level, we will have to change the general perception about how business is done.  The story of how we do this together is being written.  The title is called BarnBuildr.  The epilogue shall begin: Austin drove the success of entrepreneurs by connecting unique opportunity to the Tech Ranch community of entrepreneurs.

I invite all of you to join the BarnBuildr cast of characters.  I can’t wait to meet you as the plot thickens.

I hope that helps.