Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The World is an Incredible Place

I recently had the good fortune to visit parts of the world with my wife and her family that were truly spectacular. Where and why do not matter, but what I saw and experienced as it relates to the world of work and entrepreneurism does matter and it concerns you.

During the trip, we were lucky enough to drop anchor in a totally remote area of the Aegean Sea. As this was occurring, a man in a small skiff headed towards our charter. The crew sprung to attention fearing the worst, but upon closer observation, we realized he was an ice cream salesman with Ben and Jerry's products. We had to rub our eyes, but there he was along side the boat pitching ice cream in broken English - complete with marketing tools - a large picture board of products.

We had just finished lunch and dessert, but this guy needed to be rewarded for both his entrepreneurial gusto and salesmanship. So, we bought a large quantity of Ben and Jerry’s and once again we pushed back our diet plans. We enjoyed the banter back and forth with this true salesman learning about his motivation and his business.  He told us that if anyone asks about him, we refer to him as being " chubby but good looking.” What a perfect description!

Adversity is the mother of creativity and invention. This gentleman came from a small fishing village that offered a limited amount of ways to earn a living. He had a wife and children to clothe and feed. For him to seek out and capitalize on this ice cream venture was truly remarkable. I am sure someone said to him “are you kidding, selling ice cream to all those boats as they pass by?" But undeterred, there he was making the sale.  Somehow, I doubt it was his first rodeo.

Steve Jobs was once quoted asking the question whether Alexander Graham Bell ever had a focus group. It appears to me that the world is truly short of risk takers, I know in the Financial Services industry there are a few brave ones left, but the increased regulation and the more conservative board governance have tied everyone’s hands (for the good or the bad). But, what about the rest of humanity? Is the World Wide Web the only frontier of creativity and opportunity?

I would argue that all great inventions are the convergence of these concepts. It all starts with two musings, "There must be a better way to do.... " or  "I wish I could…..” How many times have you seen a new product and thought, “Now, that makes sense?”  Not every solution is an earth shattering invention (but some definitely are), most of the time it is just a better mousetrap.

Steve Jobs and his friends at Apple probably said I know we can improve on the original Sony MP3 players to revolutionize the world digital music in an iPod.But I digress, you see most established organizations want to study, poke and prod and find every reason to not change the original blueprint. I am not talking about the gazillion dollar purchases - those decisions seem to be made easier than the day-to-day tactical decisions of who to hire and what business to build opportunistically (cheaply) and quickly.

Today’s businesses need a good healthy dose of the old-fashioned entrepreneurial spirit – just like the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream salesman in the Aegean Sea. Forget the full-blown studies and foot dragging, a little plain hustle and some get up and go, just might make you some money.

So the questions I ask each of you is  “Are you or is your firm in the practice of encouraging the creative entrepreneurs?” I don't mean market risk taking, I am talking about encouraging people to come forth with new ideas and new business prospects to improve the bottom line either through better efficiency or brighter ideas. Remember creativity and opportunity are the mother of all profitability!   

Or are you and your firm destined to clip the same old coupons, to stick to the mundane assembly line way of producing and to maintain the same mediocre pace in place because it's just a heck of lot easier than swimming up stream? If that’s the case, you are destined for a boring life of mediocrity. Bring some passion and some new ideas to your work place, they may not all be iPods but remember the silver lining “chubby but good looking”!

As some of you know, I am the first generation from my family to have been born in North America, immigrants have distinct characteristics by their very circumstances. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and boat rockers, it is in my genes, I have never seen a boat that I didn't want to rock. My wife says that I cannot even walk into a restaurant without telling them how to improve the place (so much for a relaxing date night). This “personality trait” has cost me tens of millions of dollars having been fired twice by two Canadian banks’.  You see for me it's never been a conscious decision because I am always thirsty for change.  It drives my wife and kids crazy (as well as a few others), but I could not run my business today without my rocking skills! In fact, it drives my business.

So, who are the shakers at your workplace? Do you, yourself have it in you to step up and offer the new ideas and take ownership? Surely, when you look around and ask “Is there a better way to do this?”  The answer should more often than not be a resounding YES!

So I ask, "What’s in your GENES????"

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