Tuesday, July 29, 2014

You Don't Have To Be So Fancy All the Time

If you have never experienced a cultural gap between yourself and a child, I venture to say you have never been a stepmother. Perhaps I am mistaken, but this is what I suspect.

For example, prior to venturing into A World of Children I Met Well After Their Births, I believed that I was casual and easygoing. I have recently learned that I am a crazy person, one who swoops in to pick up every peanut and every pre-chewed corn kernel that has landed on what used to be a kitchen floor but now more closely resembles an oversized Rice Krispies Treat.

I have learned that I am not as friendly as once, in my innocence, I believed myself to be, but instead am a person who strongly prefers that the front door of the house not be left hanging open all night ("Welcome, raccoon and possum!" my better self would have said).

I have discovered that I am a person who makes the mistake of reading the writing on tee-shirts, and that sometimes I do not like what the tee-shirts have to say. Perhaps I do not understand the tee-shirt jokes.

I do not like to find anyone's girlfriend's bra in the couch cushions.

I could go on.

But most of all, I have learned that I am "fancy" and that fancy is kind of weird.

"Fancy" is a person who says "don't bite your dinner plate, please" and "did you use your toothbrush today?" Fancy has never longed for a pickup truck, much less chosen a model and color.

Fancy reads books! And likes it! "Books," as one of the children informed me, "don't do anything. They just sit there."

This is true. They do. And when Fancy gets really, really tired, she just sits there, too.

©2014 Michelle van Schouwen, Longmeadow, MA
All rights reserved. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Entrepreneurship - Learning from start-ups

InnovationEvery few weeks, I have the privilege of hearing early-phase new business plans that entrepreneurs are pitching or submitting to groups for review. Sometimes, I have the honor and the challenge of offering counsel on launching ideas, products and brands. Often, I learn at least as much from the process as I impart.

A few highlights I find fascinating and applicable in business and beyond:

-Focus is important. Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, claims that the ability to focus is the primary predictor of both professional and personal excellence and success. The entrepreneurs who most often succeed demonstrate this ability to both see and remain committed to the overarching goals they set.

-Flexibility is important, too. Focus at the expense of the ability to regroup, redirect and (to use the overused phrase - pivot) can go beyond persistence to become foolish stubbornness. When do you know a plan is not working? Thomas Edison famously said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that don't work." Most often, 10,000 failures indicate that it's time to tweak, pivot or discard.

-The best entrepreneurs combine the ability to focus with the ability to continue generating ideas. This is why we see so many serial entrepreneurs, who develop a company, sell it, then develop another. And if an idea doesn't quite work, they can often refashion it into one that does.

-No entrepreneur should be an island. During business plan reviews, many a seasoned business person will offer advice - on concept, phasing, financials, regulatory and testing matters, competitive scene, and more. Not only does the entrepreneur learn something, the rest of the review participants often do as well. There are a lot of really smart people out there, with a lot to share if you have the willingness to hear it.

-This is still a great world full of wonderful ideas. Many of the business plans I hear are still confidential, so just let me say... world health, the environment, education, communication, and a whole lot more have the opportunity to improve thanks to the efforts of focused, flexible, imaginative, and well-mentored entrepreneurs.