Working for big business certainly has its perks, there’s no doubt about it. Stability, direction, benefits, work that is defined – you name it. It can be a magical place so long as we do enough to stay off the radar of those watching while mentally checking out for 8 hours a day to do this thing we call ‘work’.
If working for the bigs’ is so great than why are so many people changing their professional course of direction and seeking the world of the start-up?
The start-up world can be an exciting place. I’ve experienced this personally over the last two years while also support many clients who are in the same place. Decisions are often made speedily, there’s typically less bureaucracy, work is more flexible and of course it tends to be much more creative.
Then it’s settled, everyone should work in a start-up! I mean, who wouldn’t want to work in that kind of an environment?
Pump the brakes my impatient chums. Before you diving into the world of a start-up (including small business) take a moment to check in with yourself on how you land with these five characteristics of the start-up world:
1. Working Outside the Box
When we work for big companies often times our job and daily output is focused on a certain set of tasks. It’s the opposite in the start-up world as often times the mentality of those who are successful in this space is that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and company moving forward. This includes taking out your own trash! If you’ve ever said “that’s not part of my job description” in response to work that was requested of you I would recommend taking a hard look at whether a start-up or small company is the right move for your career.
2. Time Requirements
Working 8-5 in a large company can be a very nice perk. If you’ve done that for any length of time you may have forgotten how nice it is to mentally shut off at 5PM. In start-ups working 8-5 is non-existent. It’s common to work long hours and or be tethered to your smart phone around the clock. The statement of ‘work life balance’ is blurred beyond recognition in the start-up world. Those that are successful here know and understand that it takes time and effort to create something. How dedicated are you to making that happen and what are you giving up in the process?
3. Ambiguous Nature
Working in a large company doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is clearly defined and outlined yet it is typical that SOPs (standard operating processes) are at the very least available for workers who choose to use them. In the start-up world you may find yourself creating these on your own. Take a moment to think how you would feel about being confronted with a daily situation where you are supposed to be working hard, hell – harder than ever before, and there isn’t a lot of direction or support to help you in that effort. If the thought of that excites you than the start-up world may be a breath of fresh air, if not then maybe your 3 foot wide cubicle and plush ergonomic chair your large company bought is the safer bet.
This is one of the most overlooked aspects of a start-up in my opinion. Leadership. If you haven’t worked in the start-up world before you may not be aware that people in leadership still do much of the hands on work. In big business this is hardly the case. Neither camp of leaders are necessarily better than one of the other, it’s just a very different environment. In start-ups every person on the team has to give 150% to the cause which means those who don a leadership title still have to get dirty in the day to day work. The reason you want to consider this as a part of your ‘can I make it in the start-up world’ is because leadership ultimately can have a great or very grave impact on the start-up business. Seems a bit obvious but when someone is doing both daily work and in charge of strategic decision making their influence and involvement has a much greater impact. In big business if a company experiences a failure with one of their leaders it typically can be salvaged whereas in the start-up world one or two cost mistakes by leadership will send the company into a grave six feet under.
Start-ups offer an intimate working experience. It’s a necessity. Working in a start-up everyone knows everything about everyone. It’s close quarters with high amounts of communication, partnering and feedback. Collaboration of course exists in big business but not at the intimate level of the start-up. When we work for a big company we are often a part of a team but doing work independently, even times on our own little island. If you’ve come to enjoy your island and aren’t interested in having neighbors up in your grill on the daily than perhaps staying in big business is the right decision for you.
A professional life in a start-up can indeed be a rewarding and exciting adventure. Once we’ve spent some time analyzing what’s most important to us in our career and what we’re willing to do to get it than we’ll have a better idea of how the start-up environment and career fits in with our plans.
The media loves the sensationalism of it. Many love to protest it. Others use it as a platform for reconstruction.
The American Dream - is it dead or alive?
Seems like there’s a lot of talk about the American Dream at present in our country. What is it anyway?
The American Dream is the national tenet of the United States, the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity, and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work..." What stands out to me in this statement are the words ‘opportunity’ and ‘hard work’. What this tells us is the American Dream is an opportunity to prosper yet it only comes through hard work.
Yet this still does not address the question - is the American Dream alive or dead?
I know of a story which may help you with this question. While this may be just one story it’s important to note there are thousands of others like it. You decide.
Our story starts off with a talented young woman who calls Portland, Oregon her home. Carly Sitner is a mother of two, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a vegan and one tough cookie with the courage of a tiger. Needless to say she's incredibly busy. Speaking of cookies, Carly happens to be a chef with a specialty in pastries, desserts and other fancy baked goodies that sooth the soul and make your taste buds run wild.
Carly (pictured here) has been a chef for 13 years in Portland working for a variety of bakeries, including some very large corporate establishments like the grocery store that sells only 'wholesome' things to eat.
At the age of 31 Carly decided that enough was enough and she was going to make her dream a reality. She was going to open the first ever vegan donut shop in Portland. What’s amazing about this story is what Carly is leaving behind in order to follow her dream, the American Dream. She's leaving behind a stable leadership role with the 'wholesome' grocery store, a good paycheck and a job that is rewarding - all for the unknown. Yet she’s doing it anyways. Mind you she has a very full life outside of work yet that doesn't seem to stop her.
Starting a small business is no day at the fair. It’s hard work, long hours, risky and takes determination. If it was truly easy everyone would be in business for themselves. Yet Carly pushes onward. It would also be important to note that neither Carly or her business partner are wealthy, nor have they been given a huge sum of money in which to seed the business. Often times I hear people talk about business owners and just automatically assume they all came from gobs of money. This just isn't the case.
Carly started off the ole fashion way with nothing more than an idea and a will to see it through. First they built interest in their product (craft made vegan donuts) in the local community by doing bake sales and small catering. They then took their idea on Kickstarter where the community responded with praise helping them pass their goal, handsomely. Carly and her partner then took those early wins and proceeds which were acquired with lots of time, patience and hard work and presented it to a couple local banks. With little collateral and just a dream a bank shared their vision and gave them a loan to start the business.
As we fast forward to present day, the donut shop, called Doe Donuts, is scheduled to open early this summer, albeit with a line around the block from patrons feverishly waiting to sink their teeth into the tasty baked goods Carly whips up.
The story of Carly Sitner and Doe Donuts may still be in the early chapters yet as with any good story you know you’ve got a winner even when you’re only a couple pages in. The story of Doe Donuts and the entrepreneurial spirit of Carly and her business partner sheds much needed light on the types of opportunities that exist in this country. Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Apparently Carly enjoys overalls and hard work because this opportunity isn't passing her by.
Is the American Dream alive or dead?
I believe it is indeed ALIVE and well and Doe Donuts is a fresh and tasty example of what can happen when someone puts words to action and follows their dream.
As it turns out Carly Sitner, our pastry chef extraordinaire, also happens to be my younger sister. I’m incredibly proud of her and the decisions she’s made to follow her dream of owning her own business while doing something that she truly loves.
I look forward to being one of her customers waiting patiently in line to savor their tasty donuts while taking a bite of Carly’s version of the American Dream.
I had always wanted to start a business!
For years I tried my hand at inventing stuff, products that I thought would get me rich, if I could only sell a few million of them. First it was a gaming chair, then workout towels and even a handheld flashlight projector. I laugh looking back on those days while in college and the years shortly thereafter at some of the absurd things I did to try and be entrepreneur.
What I would eventually find out are those ideas didn’t work out not because they were bad ideas necessarily but because I was following the wrong dream.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that I would find my way, diving head first into entrepreneurship. Thankfully I had a lot of help from many close people around me (wife, parents, friends) who all were incredibly supportive, as without them I’m not sure I would be here today.
With the first year of entrepreneurship under the belt I’m continually amazed at how much I’ve learned and how much I continue to learn about being an entrepreneur and business in general. These are the eight experiences I’ve had which made the biggest impact being an entrepreneur:
1.Get A Mentor
This is the single second best decision you’ll ever make in business. The first best decision is to become an entrepreneur. Mentors have experience which you can learn from helping you avoid mistakes along the way.
2.Support Gets You Over The Hump
Make sure those close to you understand your vision and support it. They don’t have to buy in 100% but if it’s you against the world there are going to be some very long nights in store. If you are married it’s vital your spouse understands the opportunity and supports it, even in the down times.
3.Some Things CAN Wait
Some people will tell you it’s important to write a business plan, vision, mission, blah blah blah, right away. Unless you’re in a situation where you need to ask for capital to start the business the best thing to do is put those things aside and focus all your efforts on how to make money. Ultimately being an entrepreneur means you’re selling something to someone so the more time you spend on how you’re going to gett paid for the product or service you’re providing the better off you’ll be.
4.You Can’t Be Everything To Everyone
I failed miserably here. When I did start to get customers I tried to offer everything under the sun to get their business. Now, I never over promised and under delivered, however I spent an exorbitant amount of time in areas that weren’t lucrative or didn’t align ultimately with what the companies direction was.
5.Having A Plan-B Is Dangerous
I’ve read countless articles about “the power of having a ‘plan-B’ ” or an alternative course of direction. I hate that advice. As an entrepreneur if you don’t believe in what you’re doing and have a plan-B set up in case you fail you’re almost destined to set yourself up for disappointment. I’m not saying it’s not important plan ahead for bumps in the road but if you’re going to start a business that should be your one and only focus. Anything other than a mentality of success has no place in your new direction. Visualize to materialize.
The first several months I attempted to handle all the accounting and finance portions of the business only to realize two things: 1 – I’m not good at it nor do I like it; 2 – I created more problems than I remedied. Best advice I got was to pay the money to get a good CPA that understood our business and could help us scale it up by making good decisions. Best money I’ve ever spent was on our CPA.
7.The Power Of Saying ‘No’
Crucial to your success as an entrepreneur is the ability to politely and professionally say ‘no’. Similar to ‘you can’t be everything to everyone’ saying ‘no’ is harder than it sounds. Naturally you want to say yes to everyone, making everyone around you happy, especially if it’s a customer. Unfortunately when we do this we get pulled in a hundred directions which causes us to deviate from our destined course. If you are asked to do something and it doesn’t align with your top 2 or 3 priorities politely decline and thank the person for the opportunity to be considered.
8.Breathe, It’ll Be Okay
Very few things in life actually have the ability to stop you from moving forward in your new business. When bumps in the road momentarily derail you (you will experience plenty of bumps along the way) take a deep breath and be thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow as a professional. Stephen Covey put it best when he gave us the 90/10 principle:
“10% of life is made up of what happens to you, 90% of life is decided by how you react.” – Stephen Covey
Assumption is the KILLER of opportunity.
When we assume we make stories up in our heads about what our experience or expectations should be. In business the act of assumption can lead to major loss of opportunity simply because many of us aren’t aware we’re making the mistake in the first place.
Many of us do this, including me!
Last week I had the opportunity to attend an interesting workshop put on by Mark Leblanc, small business guru, author and keynote speaker. Marc’s approach to success in the small business world was straight forward – take things one step at a time and measure your success constantly.
Throughout the morning Mark covered a variety of topics ranging from the 9 best small business practices to high value activities. As the morning came to a close I caught myself laughing as I had recently committed one of the simplest mistakes people can make in business. I didn’t just do one of them, I did both on Mark’s list which he refers to as the ‘Two Deadly Business Sins’.
Are you an assumption sinner?
Business Deadly Sin #1:
If my customer wrote me a check once they’ll call me if they need me again
Business Deadly Sin #2:
If my customer wrote me a check once they automatically know all that we can do for them
(note: the word ‘customer’ is meant to reference an actual external customer however it can also be considered an internal colleague, cross functional team or business unit if you do not interact with external customers)
The first of our two delightful sins points at the assumption that if we’ve done business with a customer once they will “of course call us back the next time they need help”. This couldn’t be farther from the truth yet so many of us in sales, services, entrepreneurship, small business, you name it, fall victim to this fallacy.
Mark further shared with us that it’s not uncommon for our customers to think “Matt hasn’t called me in a couple months, he must not want to do business with us any further.” The assumption on Matt’s end that the customer will just call him when they’re ready furthers the issue as Matt doesn’t follow up leading the customer to believe he’s no longer interested in their business. For Pete’s sake! That couldn’t be farther from the truth it’s just Matt doesn’t know it yet.
The second deadly sin addresses the assumption that if you’ve done business with a client once they should then automatically know every aspect of your business, where you can help them and where you can’t.
If you’ve ever had a customer say “Gosh Jillian, I didn’t even know you offered that type of service. We would have loved to work with you but we just signed up your competitor because we weren’t aware you could help us in that area.” It’s like getting slapped in the face with a wet leather belt which leaves a welt for weeks. Your customer, who self admittedly loves working with you, went to your competitor for help simply because they didn’t know you could help them. Ouch. (and yes, I’ve actually done this more than once)
So how do we remedy this?
Let’s start by focusing on never assuming about the relationships you may or may not have with your customers or what they know about your product or service. It’s always better to pick up the phone and call rather than wait for the phone to ring on your end. Take the initiative!
When speaking with your customer ask questions about how their business is doing and which areas they need help in the most to best determine how your product or service can be a value add to their pain points. Remind them often about what you do and how you do it. Be consistent!
It’s amazing at how many things are sold to professionals which claim to be the next best thing in advancing your career. From books and seminars to workshops and online tutorials, there seems to be an endless supply of crap that many of us buy to help our careers yet few ever see any real return on investment.
There is one thing that doesn’t rely on fancy sales pitches or overdone workbooks and it can truly elevate your professional game. Best part is we all have access to it and most often it is completely free of charge.
Welcome to MENTORSHIP.
No matter where you are in your career having a mentor is highly advisable as it can be the difference between you navigating the waters of a successful career versus drowning in the murky depths of the rat race. Mentors aren’t just strategic career advisors they’re the angel over your shoulder whispering sweet nothings into your ear.
So if having a mentor was so impactful how come more people don’t have them?
Typically it’s because we’re scared to ask for help. It’s possible we don’t think we need the help, though many would object. It could also be because we don’t know where to look to find such a connection.
At the start of this year I decided it was high time to get me a new mentor. I’ve been lucky in my life to have a consistent and very good mentor in my father which I’m incredibly thankful and fortunate to have. I was looking for an additional mentor that had specific experience – growing a business from the ground up and doing so with a technical customer base.
After doing some snooping around I landed on the website of Micro Mentor. It’s like a dating site for professionals looking for a mentor, but no hanky panky is involved. You fill out a profile and then your needs and interests are matched with a possible mentor. Both parties get to review one another’s profiles after which they have an initial conversation to see if the match is a good fit. This is where I met Bonnie.
Fast forward Bonnie and I have now been working together for eight months and I’m continually impressed and appreciative of the guidance and thought provoking perspective she brings to the table. Bonnie started a technology service business in San Francisco a couple decades ago by investing a couple thousand dollars to start the company. From that start she grew the business to over 100 employees and has recently retired, earlier nonetheless, as a result of the success she experience along the way. Needless to say I feel like I can accomplish a lot knowing I have Bonnie in my corner. (let’s also not forget my father)
Why am I sharing this with you? If you don’t have a mentor you need to get one!
The relationship, when done right, will positively change every aspect of your career and outlook on business. I’m so passionate about mentoring that I too am a mentor – it’s worth every minute of my day.
Here’s what mentors, like Bonnie and my father, bring to the table and why they’re so incredibly valuable to you and I:
> Business Savvy – they bring experience and knowledge to the table that just can’t be matched by a text book or online workshop. You can’t replace real experience. Learning from a mentor isn’t just about accomplishing big feats it’s also about learning from their mistakes. Yes they’ve made plenty of them just like you and I.
> External Perspective – often times when we need advice we go to people who are close to us, most commonly that work for the same company. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing what is important to remember is that these people have a certain level of bias in their thoughts and advice. Having a mentor outside your company gives you the chance to get advice which focuses on the situation at hand rather than personal bias or internal company politics. Mentors can also share with you how they have dealt with situations perhaps in other lines of business or industries which could provide you with a fresh approach to handling a situation. When your mentor is outside your company you can also rest easier knowing you can share your true feelings and thoughts and know that information won’t get back to your boss or be passed along at the water cooler.
> Confidant – Mentor are great listeners. Like my mentor Bonnie, she’ll sit on the phone with me and graciously give me ample time to spill my guts at which point she does an excellent job summarizing the situation and delivering exceptional feedback. I trust that I can be open with her which ultimately helps my development process.
> Accountability – Mentors vary greatly in this area and how they approach it. If you are going to ask for a mentor make sure you are willing to actually implement the ideas and suggestions the two of you collectively come up with. There’s no better way to ruin a good mentor relationship than to talk the talk but not walk the walk. If you are one of those people that sometimes needs a swift kick in the ass to get going mentors can also be utilized for that, just be careful how much ass kicking you need. Mentors ultimately aren’t baby sitters and they’re not supposed to run your business or career for you.
> Comfort Zone Executioners – let’s face it, we all love dancing in the comfort zone for longer than we should. Mentors are great at breaking up common thoughts or practices to get you out of your area of complacency. When this happens true growth is right around the corner.
It’s happening all around you and chances are you haven’t even noticed. Don’t feel bad, you’re not the only one that may have missed it. There’s a lot of attention being drawn to a specific area of our domestic workplace which stands to change much of what we know about working for corporate America in the very near term.
Meet the Solopreneur!
A Solopreneur, we’ll call them ‘Bob’ for purposes of this article, is someone who owns a business, yet has no formal employees. (W2 employees)
Bob represents a fast growing portion of the US economy and he’s got a lot of friends interested to learn more about what Bob does, how he did it and how they can get in on a piece of the action. According to the SBA Bob’s makes up an estimated 70% of all small businesses across the country. Furthermore, Intuit released a study that estimates 40% of ALL businesses in the country will be like Bob by 2020.
What does a Bob look like?
As mentioned a moment ago it’s someone who is in business and is the sole employee of that business. They’re owner, operator and doer all in one. They come in all shapes and sizes and their most popular amongst Baby Boomer and Millennial generations. In years past our Solopreneur Bob has had more traditional titles like Consultant, Contractor or even Gig Economy. They all represent the same thing which is someone who does work on behalf of others through their own means – and this type of work is growing quickly.
If we follow the laws of supply & demand we find that when there is demand for something the market typically reacts, responding with a solution. Why is it then there is such a demand for Bob? The uptick in Bob’s is caused by three major factors:
1. Our workforces’ desire for work life balance and flexibility in their jobs.
2. Company’s desires to reduce overhead costs associated with hiring full-time employees, especially as the cost of having employees continues to rise.
3. Company’s desires to continue to find more efficient means of getting work done.
With all these Bob’s running about its only natural to wonder how this might impact the overall workforce as we know it. Here are the top 7 workforce impacts that we could experience as a result of the Bob’s.
1. As more people move towards the Solopreneur career it becomes harder for companies to control their internal culture and keep their employees motivated amongst the constantly changing faces in the office.
2. The old thought process which said “to build a great company we must hire great employees” quickly diminishes as companies are hiring Bob’s who are experts in specialized areas to produce quicker than normal results. Efficiency is the driver of many of our decisions in the business world.
3. Companies become more agile as they use flexible resources allowing to bob and weave with the economic punches. (pun intended)
4. It’s possible our workforce could become fractured as Bob’s risk alienating themselves due to the isolation that comes with being on their own
5. The need for excellent leadership increases dramatically. We’re already at a deficit now with good leaders in our country but with a larger portion of our country working independently it will be crucial for companies to have exceptional leaders which are capable of meeting objectives while successfully motivating both internal and external resources
6. People who choose to go the Bob route and do so successfully may find much more enjoyment in their careers as they are making both a difference in their respective industries as well as an internal drive to truly be independent
7. Being a Bob isn’t always easy. The fact is that in order to be a successful Bob you have to know how to sell and market yourself and your services. If you’ve never done that before allow me to be the first to tell you selling and marketing a service is not easy nor for the faint of heart as rejection is common place in the Bob business. As a result it is likely many would enter into a Bob career to only sputter out in a year or two after they’ve realized it’s more demanding than a normal 8-5.
Whether you’re a fan or not of the Solopreneur, Bob phenomenon, the fact stands that it’s a growing need in our workforce. What does the Bob-life mean for you?
By the by, I happen to be a Bob myself!
It happens to the best of us. Mistakes, errors, mucking it up, screwing the pooch, what have you, are bound to happen to us all. Mistakes are so prevalent in the business world it's probably better to look at it as 'it’s not if it will happen, but when’!
The best of the best out there know and live one thing that many people struggle with…it’s having the ability to admit when you’re wrong or have made a mistake.
People make mistakes. It’s a fact of life. I’ve made plenty of them in my time and gather I’ll make some more before the day is over. It’s what we do when a mistake is made that makes all the difference. I recently learned of a story which had a great impact on me as the person in question was and is undoubtedly a mega-giant to success. Case in point, his children, represent #8, #9, #11 and #12 of the wealthiest people in the world based on the 2015 Billionaires list put out by Forbes. (note - I chose to highlight this individual not because I agree or disagree with his business and their practices but because he overcame a costly mistake and succeeded greatly as a result. This piece is not intended to support or criticize the Walton's or Walmart)
Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, made an error early on that could have cost him his entire career. After being in business for a rough first five years, Sam started to finally see some incredible success for his single location general store located in Newport, Arkansas. His sales quadruped that year. He was a pillar of the community, involved in a variety of social and political groups, giving and putting everything he had into trying to make his business work in the 7,000 person community of Newport. What he didn’t realize initially but knew all too well when the time came was that his store, his only store, was not available for renewal as the lease expired. The owner was handing the store over to his son and Walton was on the short end of the stick.
In this day and age we might not think that’s a big deal as you can always go find another place to set up shop, however back in the late 40’s when Walton came face to face with this mistake he had made, he said it was one of the worst mistakes he’d made in business. Not only could he not renew the lease on the only store he had, but there were no other options in town for him to choose from. His entire business revolved around that town and now he was forced to seek a new birth elsewhere.
What happened from there? Walton took ownership of the situation without allowing his blunder to spoil what would eventually become one of the largest retailer chains, if not the largest, in the world. So Walton drove across Arkansas and found a new store, bought it outright this time and uprooted his entire family for the big move. The rest of the story results in the Walton’s basically turning into a real life Scrooge McDucks basically swimming in wealth; I’m sure as a result of some very hard work along the way.
Remarkable as that story may be given what we all know of Wal-Mart in current day, Walton’s decisions and actions in the moment are what truly separate him and other ‘greats’ from the rest of the pack. He admitted his mistake without placing blame on others, owned it, learned from it and moved on without allowing the mistake to crush his business and dreams.
When we face our mistakes head on we show courage and an ability to be trusted. Since no one is perfect, those who can admit their mistakes openly seem to be trusted more than those that project themselves to be incapable of making errors. When we admit our mistakes we are taking ownership of the situation; once ownership is established the best of the best use those mistakes as an opportunity to learn and improve from moving forward.
Mistakes also have a nasty ability at times to knock us off our pedestal, dampening our confidence. When we admit to our shortcomings what often happens is those around us respond with support which helps level set our mindset back to the passion fueled great people we are.
Next time you find yourself in a situation where a mistake is made and you might be the culprit, take a leap of faith and ‘lean in’ as Sheryl Sandburg says. What happens next may surprise you in a great way.
Millennials have a tendency to get a bad rap as a collective group. There’s a lot of people who write articles on the Millennial generation, often times I find the information within those articles to be a bit brash, at times lacking hands on experience, as the information comes from a survey or a study. It seems as though there are a fair amount of people who came before the Millennial generation who have a hard time understanding and interacting with Millennials in general.
As a result they label an entire generation as ‘difficult to manage’, ‘entitled’, ‘impatient’ and ‘socially incompetent if it wasn’t for their smart phones’. Ouch! Back in the day them be fighting words. I may not be a Millennial but I do believe there’s a lot more to this group of people than meets the eye.
By the by, older generations have been throwing haymakers at younger generations for decades, so perhaps the Millennials getting a bad rap is nothing new. Each time a new generation becomes of adult age and starts entering the workforce, the generations that have to deal with them always have the same song and dance.
Perfect example is what happened with The Beatles. When The Beatles hit the US for the first time in 1964 the Silent Generation (parents at this time) almost keeled over thinking their kids (Baby Boomer generation) were going off the deep end. Why? Because the kids of that day were listening to the musical sounds of long haired, sex-centric, young men who wore weird flashy military clothes and sang of love and peace. Last time I checked The Beatles are about as bad for you as the broccoli I reluctantly ate last night.
I have a different outtake on our Millennial cohorts. After the better part of a decade of leading and working side by side with them, I believe, and have experienced firsthand, that the Millennial generation stands to make one of the biggest positive contributions to society we’ve seen in several generations.
Big words, I know, but allow me to share with you why I believe this.
Millennial are fearless. They grew up in a world where dear ole Mom and Dad told their young techies that they could do and accomplish anything. They were born winners. (regardless if that was true or not) As a result, the Millennial are fearless and act accordingly in the workplace. They would rather up and leave a stale job to start something new, even if that meant completely starting over. They’re built to be entrepreneurs. Perhaps some of that can lead to entitlement, but I believe it gives them an edge that allows them to overcome barriers to entry that would otherwise keep out those of us that are less optimistic or daring.
There are some great case studies out there right now which highlight the fearlessness within the Millennial generation. Learn about anyone of these people and you’ll see what I’m talking about: Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Evan Spiegel/ Bobby Murphy (Snap Chat), Palmer Luckey (VR Oculus), Adam D’Angelo (Quora) and John & Patrick Collison (Stripe).
#2 Expectations of Grandeur
Unlike delusions of grandeur, Millennials are used to things working well and improving consistently. Back in the day people settled for mediocre technology and products, because well that’s all we had. Millennials are quite different. They expect companies to produce great results. When they don’t, the companies hear about it before the products even hit the shelves through a barrage of tech talks, social media outpouring, etc. This cause and effect keeps companies, especially consumer electronics manufacturers on their feet, which is good for everyone.
Millennials are also used to change, even expect it. Unlike The Silent generation who would be with the same company for their entire career, Millennials don’t have a problem switching things up if they don’t like something. Again, this causes employers and managers to have to be on their toes providing quality places to work. If they don’t, Millennials just won’t work there, or for long. Change is part of life, some deal with it well, others not so much. Millennials embrace it and encourage it. There are three things in life that are certain…death, taxes and change. Millennials have at least a leg up on us on the third one.
#3 Technology Whizzes
This number tends to be all over the place, however most signs point to a Millennial being someone who was born between 1983 – 2004. It’s the technology generation. Internet not only changed the world at large but it changed this generation. By the time Millennials where in high school they had internet access to assist with research papers, fact finding, even websites providing information on their teachers sharing who was worthy and who not. (I would have loved information like that when I was in school as I felt like some of my teachers were Mrs. Krabappel from the Simpsons)
Obviously the internet has made a huge impact on society at large. So too has the iPod with music, the personal computer, social media and gaming, to name a few. All of these have revolutionized the way we live and interact with others, yet these things are second nature to those in the Millennial generation. They were born with a joystick in their hand or a TV on in the background and it’s become a central part of their life. As a result their ability to use and create technology often surpasses other generations.
Lastly, they enjoy having technology at the forefront of their daily life, which definitely isn’t the same with other generations. Call it a dependency, call it whatever you want, however the outcome is that Millennials are superior as it relates to their understanding and use of technology which in turn gives them an edge for the future when we’ll all be living like the Jetsons.
#4 Creative Expression
More and more Millennials are venturing outside the norm and creating their own path as it relates to the workplace and social interactions. Why is this? Well, because they have too. In a world where so much has already been done, the Millennial generation has to be creative in order to compete. Millennials also make up for the largest group of people in the world who write blogs, build websites and upload audio & video files for information sharing. They also have a keen eye for design and art as they were born and brought up with products where form & fit was just as important as function. Don’t believe me? The proof is in the pudding with the fact that websites like Deviant Art are in the top 50 most trafficked sites on the net.
By now my hope is that some of you reading this have given some new thought to the Millennial generation. Sure, there may be some bad apples out there that rep the Millennial generation, as there are with all generations, but the larger number of people have a lot to offer.
When you take the attributes of the Millennial generation and place them side by side one another (fearless, high expectations, technology experts, creative) you’ve got a recipe for a group of people who can and WILL do great things in their lifetime. They have all the ingredients necessary to lead us into the next frontier. It just might take some time as they’ve barely been in the workplace a full decade. So let’s be patient and see what happens.
As a token of my appreciation to the Millennials I’ve had the chance to partner with, learn from and lead, I am forever thankful to you for the opportunity to work side-by-side with you all. Your fearlessness has become my driving force in all I do.
Last week I had an opportunity to do lunch with a long term client and friend, a lunch I always look forward too. My lunch comrade, we’ll call him ‘Johnny Appleseed’ for the sake of this article, is an engineer by trade and currently in a management role overseeing a technical design team comprised of a diverse group of folks with a variety of skill levels, career tenures, abilities and attitudes. Let’s put it this way, he’s one smart bloke.
The reason I enjoy our conversations is because we talk as real people. Titles and experiences are set aside. There’s no fluff, no PC, just straight talk, feedback, challenge and of course light hearted banter.
During lunch Johnny Appleseed inquired about how our business has been coming along. As I shared with him the great experience and opportunity I’ve had with the business we found ourselves weaving into a topic that really caught my interest. Mainly, Johnny Appleseed’s response to the topic.
Which are you – the Apple or the Seed?
I shared with good ole Johnny Appleseed that the consulting and coaching business has broadened my horizons on business leadership, strategy, operations and a plethora of other titillating things. Some of which I’d rather not deal with but, hey, that life. 95% of it has been great so I’m happy to deal with the other 5%.
I then brought up a situation to collect my good friend Johnny Appleseed’s thoughts. Have you ever noticed there are people out there that say,
“What I wouldn’t give for an opportunity to do that. I’d jump at it in a moments’ notice. When can we begin?” ‘That’ references a new opportunity, a calculated risk, a chance to step outside the box and do something spectacular. In our conversation ‘that’ referred to the number of conversations I’ve had with people throughout the years, especially recently, where they initially talk a big game, but as time goes on reality sets in and the same person who was so excited at first doesn’t follow through on their word, or even respond at all. Heck – maybe the underlying factor is me? Certainly room for debate there.
Which are you – the Apple or the Seed?
Johnny Appleseed gave me a delightful smirk and laughed as I shared this with him. We both knew what I was sharing with him was nothing new. People all over the world say one thing and do another all the time. I’m certainly not experiencing anything new as I’m sure you all have experienced this for yourselves at one point or another.
Yet – this was and still is different.
As I shared more, I told Johnny Appleseed that these people I’m engaged with come to me first, more times than not. They ask for my advice, suggestions or ideas on how to get to the next level, make a career leap, overcome a challenge, etc. When I share with them my advice they respond with cheers, high fives and knee slides, often times wanting to act immediately with great enthusiasm. Yet as time goes on their inspiration eventually goes by the waste side. Months go by and they’re still in the same rut they were in before. Same rut, same agonizing complaints and issues.
Which brings us back to the original question. Which are you – the Apple or the Seed?
Johnny Appleseed politely stopped me during my rant and said the following:
“Travis, it’s the classic example of the Apple vs. the Seed. People initially look at the apple and think, ‘I know apples, they taste good, make great pies, etc. Sure, I’d like an apple, matter of fact, a whole truck load of apples. Give me whatever you’ve got.’ You could give them a bunch of apples but that will only hold them over for a limited amount of time.”
Here’s where the brilliance of Mr. Johnny Appleseed comes in…
He continues, “what if we gave them a sack of apple seeds instead? They could eat apples the rest of their life, not have to worry about running out and even make their own business out of selling apples and apple related products. Sure, it will take some back breaking work to get the apple seeds planted, the trees fully developed into a thriving orchard, and so on. The end result is you’ve accomplished something great.
By taking an opportunity, you’ve then managed to build an apple empire and it was a direct result of your sweat equity – which is what you asked for originally.”
(By the by, Stemilt Growers, LLC ranked the largest apple produce company in the US and has an estimated $667 million in total revenue annually, predominantly off the sale and distribution of apples. That’s a lot of Pink Lady’s!)
As the conversation continued we both had a good laugh at the absurdity of the analogy, yet we both knew we couldn’t ignore the basic truth that came of it.
If you truly want to be great you can’t be the apple. The apple is already grown and on its decline to death in your belly or back to the ground where it will dissolve and be never more. The apple represents the hard work and determination of another person who patiently nurtured those apples so they could grow up to be great and delicious. That persons’ dedication, love and care is what brought about those apple and they’ve now sold it to you at a minor cost. You bought that apple because you knew what was in store – a tasty little treat.
But that treat only gives you a moment of gratification.
The seed on the other hand represents opportunity. It represents what is possible with some hard work and good ole fashion belief that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it. The seed represents far more opportunity than the fully grown apple ever could amount too.
All too often I see people talk as if they are going to be the next great thing however once they find out how much work and dedication it really takes to get there they have a tendency to relinquish their dreams and settle for their current realities. It’s a damn shame.
The moral of the story, thanks to my good friend Johnny Appleseed, is if you want to be great in your career, you have to take a leap of faith and create your apple farm, orchard, what have you. Simply taking an apple (someone else’s hard work) won’t get you to the promise land.
Dreams can come true. That’s what this country was founded on and I believe that DNA still exists in the very fabric of who we are today. Each of us has that fabric woven deeply within us. Let’s leave behind all the excuses, entitlements and ‘what-ifs’ and go out there and create our own apple farms. It’s perfectly okay to still buy other people’s apples but don’t expect to become great off of someone else’s hard work.
I humbly thank Mr. Johnny Appleseed for the lesson and great reminder on what it takes to be great in this world – you’ve got to be the seed!
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.