Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

10 Books that Will Improve Your Life

Every year I read at least 50 books. With so many goods ones even at one per week it seem to make hardly a dent. My reading focuses on personal development, history & biography, business, and literature (my guilty pleasures are detective and historical fiction).

10 Books that Will Improve Your Life

While I generally keep abreast of current works, I also look back to see what older books and classics I have missed. Here are the best:

Personal Development:

The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

While I do not agree with their separation of the mental and emotional spheres, Loehr and Schwartz’s case studies of how they guide people to live more in concert with their values and aspirations is full of ideas for helping you do the same. About a month ago I began following their diet plan to increase energy and it works.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

Not just for runners, it is an inspiring story of human potential, how to get physically fit, and why conventional wisdom sometimes is wrong. Were it not for Melanie’s concern about family time, it might have motivated me to become an ultra-marathoner.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

THE CLASSIC BOOK ON FINDING MEANING IN YOUR LIFE. Holocaust survivor Frankl examines the internal struggle that led some people to not only endure the concentration camps but find significance to life beyond physical survival. (For a vividly shocking portrayal of what American and British soldiers found when they liberated the camps read Rick Atkinson’s The Guns at Last Light.)

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

I wrote an entire blog post about this remarkable book. Suffice it to say if you want to be an Intentionalist it is required reading.

Against Fairness by Stephen Asma

Asma’s insightful investigation into the ethic and impact of fairness will cause you to think a second time. If you believe fairness should be a societal principle, you have no better opportunity to exercise and strengthen your values than by trying to refute his argument.

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History and Biography:

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

This Don Quixote-like story of the American ambassador to Nazi Germany belies many of the beliefs about the lead up to World War II and societal mores in the pre-war world. It will help you better distinguish between myth and fact throughout your life.

Dreadnought by Robert K. Massie

Ostensibly about the naval arms race in the decades prior to World War I, in reality it is a study in diplomacy. A fascinating illustration of how the good and bad inclinations of individuals can be governed or given free reign so as to mobilize nations and their people to peace or war.

Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics by Jeremy Schaap

Too often knowing the details of a legendary person’s life diminishes his greatness. Jesse Owens’s humanness and authenticity secure his rightfully mythic stature.

Joseph Haydn: His Life and Works by Jeremy Siepmann

Books about composers and musicians are incomplete without illustrative musical accompaniment. This audio books brings to life the splendor of Haydn’s music and his human decency.

 

Business and Entrepreneurship:

The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts

You cannot understand business without knowing Ford’s impact. He made all the classic entrepreneurial mistakes yet became fabulously wealthy. Neither fawning nor condemnatory, Watts deftly shows genius is no guarantor of success or virtue and populism no assurance of justice.

What books did you read this year that you recommend

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How a Collision Boosted My Dad’s Navy Career

In honor of the 4th yartzheit of my father, Gerald Bemel, may he be remembered for blessing, I am sharing a story from his navy days.

Vivid stories of my father’s navy service help me keep his memory alive. One of my favorites is particularly appropriate to the topics of personal development and entrepreneurship.

How a Collision Boosted My Dad’s Navy Career

Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps afforded my father the opportunity to go to college. So in 1954, his degree complete and newly married, off my dad went to his first ship ported in Charleston, South Carolina. Soon thereafter he headed to the Mediterranean Sea on his first cruise.

Growing up in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, my father swam, sailed, and lifeguarded his summers away. Comfortable in and on the water, he was at home on the ocean. One day, while off duty, he was lounging on deck when he noticed the ship in imminent danger of running down a buoy.

In those days, France was particular about her buoys (not to mention her gulls, wouldn’t you be?) and knowing this my father sprang into action. Grabbing a couple of sailors they launched one of the ship’s boats intending to remedy the crisis. Motor churning the sea at top speed, boat hook at the ready to move the buoy out of the ship’s course, Ensign Bemel had the situation well in hand.

And then it happened.

Misjudging the distance, dad slammed into the buoy before the boat slowed sufficiently. But the French had little about which to complain. The buoy was undamaged. The boat was not so fortunate. The term my father used was stove in, meaning a gaping hole in its side.

Ignominiously, dad, crew, and disabled boat were rescued. Word was passed. The captain wanted to see Ensign Bemel.

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Standing at attention in the passageway outside the captain’s cabin, me father contemplated his fate. His commanding officer was a mustang, an enlisted sailor who became an officer, in this case for meritorious action during combat operations of World War II. Old salt did not begin to describe his captain. He was harder than 19th century ship’s biscuit, the kind that broke teeth.

The door opened. The Executive Officer ordered my father in, then left, closing the door behind him.

Standing at rigid attention in front of his CO’s deck, my dad presented himself: “Ensign Bemel reporting as ordered, SIR!”

Captain: “Very good Mr. Bemel, have a seat.”

Dad, flummoxed: “Have a seat sir??”

Captain: “Yes Mr. Bemel, there in that chair.”

Tentatively, my father sat down.

Captain: “Now Mr. Bemel, tell me what happened.”

My father recounted the incident. Then he and the Captain discussed how he might handle a similar situation in the future.

About 30 minutes later the Captain told my father he thought that about covered it and to carry on with his duties.

Flabbergasted, my dad could not refrain from asking: “That’s all Captain??”

Captain: “Yes Mr. Bemel, carry on.”

Dad: “But Captain, I stove in a boat, damaged navy property, embarrassed the ship. What is my punishment?”

Captain: “Mr. Bemel, I’ve just spent a considerable sum training you. I need you to put that training to work right away. Besides, you have demonstrated the one thing I cannot teach. Initiative. You saw a problem and you acted. You could have done so more effectively, but you acted. I need that quality in my officers.”

Only You Can Take Action that Will Change Your Life

No one breaks a habit through inaction. No business ever started spontaneously. You might stave in your boat, but you will learn valuable lessons. As important, you will show yourself and others, you have what it takes to succeed.

What keeps you from taking the first step

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Why You Need Momentum to Live

Being an entrepreneur requires you to take that first step out of your comfort zone, even if you start part time and keep you “day job.” The entrepreneurship press abounds in exhortations to take action. Rightly so, since to paraphrase Newton’s First Law of Motion:

Your Life Tends to Remain on Its Course Unless You Force a Change

Changing your business or professional life requires your initiating a new direction. Perhaps the only thing more difficult than beginning a new venture is starting it up again if it founders. Better to maintain momentum.

Mometum is Key in Buinsess & LIfe

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About four years after starting my real estate company the market collapsed. Leading into the recession of the early 1990s, my business stagnated. Shortly before I had borrowed a lot of money to finance expansion. Faced with a load of debt and shrinking client prospects, I teetered on the verge of bankruptcy. Regrettably, while I had been preaching the folly of believing real estate prices would endlessly rise, I did not take the steps necessary to keep my company moving forward. I had to start up again. The second time was arduous compared to the first.

There is no magic formula to maintain momentum. It requires tenacity and planning. And,

The Critical Step to Sustaining Entrepreneurial Momentum-Avoid Complacency

Here are actions you can take to keep your momentum going:

  1. Think counter to the crowd. If most of your competitors think the market or your industry is going in a particular direction, find the source of this collective wisdom. You may be surprised how often it is baseless. The economy is not a plutocracy. If everyone thinks prices have to go up, they are probably headed down.
  2. Think counter-cyclically. While you want to exploit an improving market, this is also the time to be planning for the inevitable downturn. In the previous 160 years, there have been 32 cycles of expansion and contraction, on average one every five years. Just about when you realize the good times are here the bad times are about 18 to 24 months away.
  3. Business development above all else. Whether you are new to your business or a veteran who relies solely on referrals, and no matter what your product or service, you exist to serve people. Your primary task is finding the next person whose life will be improved by your entrepreneurial endeavor.
  4. Never grow up. As your business matures, you will be tempted to routinize processes. While this is important for accounting, inventory, and other similar functions, the roots of your company must remain adolescents. Remember that time when you were not sure about pretty much anything so you tried just about everything? Such is the essence of entrepreneurship.
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Each of these four will compel you to constantly re-examine your products, services, market position, and customer base. By doing so you maximize the chances that if one or more of them changes you will be at the forefront rather than being caught flat-footed.

What do you do to maintain momentum in your life

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One Night Stands Don’t Work for Business Either

Prospecting.  New business development.  Finding more customers.  Whatever you call the process, an organization must expand its client base to survive and grow.  Despite having years of practice in the necessary skills, most people are oblivious as to how to go about it.

One Night Stands Don’t Work for Business Either

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This was highlighted to me when a friend brought to my attention the large number of people who show up only once at the meetings of an organization to which we belong.  My response to him became the headline for this post.

Throughout my real estate career, I realized that the cost to acquire and maintain a new client was high. Because of the low margins in the property management and appraisal businesses, generally, it took six months to a year before a relationship became profitable.  As such, I quickly learned:

It is Pointless to Pursue One Off Clients Who Negotiate Hard on Price. 

Aside from their insistence that they squeeze ever last penny out of a situation, repeat business from them was rare. My having learned all of their negotiating tricks the first time we did business meant they had to find someone new to squeeze.  Rarely did I get referrals from them since by the time the matter was completed they had already moved on to someone new.

Most of us carefully choose the people and organizations with whom we do business, especially in the areas of professional services.  Think about how you chose your doctor, lawyer, real estate broker, or pastor.  You probably knew the person well or were referred by someone who previously used his services.

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Why as someone with something to sell would you expect people to suddenly decide the first time they meet you to give you their business?  This is why networking seems so fruitless.  Most people have the unrealistic expectation that one meeting is sufficient to establish them in people’s minds as legitimate for giving referrals.

Finding New Customers is Like Making New Friends.

The difference is that often friendships develop organically as you go through day-to-day life.  But if you examine your friends undoubtedly you note commonalities on which your relationships are built.  Finding new clients is a more intentional process but the end result is the same:  Enough interaction has taken place for prospects to be comfortable with your handling their business.

With respect to networking, you should have two goals:

  1. Establish rapport with a prospect.  Be interested in the person.  The more talking he does the better off you are.  There will be plenty of time later for you to make a presentation, if necessary.  At this stage there is only one question to answer – is this person a viable prospect?
  2. Get contact information.  The point of networking is to get people’s cards, not give yours out.  How will you follow up without a name, email address, and telephone number?

The process is no different being involved in a networking group or professional organization.  Your task is to identify the people who will be the best referral sources rather than clients.

Once you have chosen your prospects, continue the process of getting to know them and their situations while they get to know you.  It is probably not going to happen as quickly as you think.  But the business you do build will be more enduring.

When did restraint improve a situation?  When did it worsen one? 

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Pursue Entrepreneurship Like a Marine – II

A few weeks ago I examined how maneuver warfare applies to entrepreneurship. Hopefully, you see it as a key aspect of your plan to more quickly defeat the negative attitudes and uncertainty holding you back.  An essential aspect of employing this concept is determining where and how to focus your effort.  The Marine Corps calls the practice of concentrating combat power the Main Effort.  Let’s translate this idea to entrepreneurship.

Pursue Entrepreneurship Like a Marine – II

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While I advocate living a balanced, purposeful life based on the Three Pillars of Fitness – Physical | Mental | Spiritual, attempting to focus on all three simultaneously will dilute your ability to reach your goals. On a daily basis, concentrate on a single outcome.

The key points of the Main Effort in Marine Corps doctrine are:

  1. Of all the actions going on within your business, recognize one as the most critical to success at that moment. As you work on your business, each day should focus on the activity crucial to moving it forward, be it marketing, sales, product development, or something else.
  2. The Main Effort involves a physical and moral commitment, although not an irretrievable one. While the Main Effort embodies the action you will take, your commitment must be deeper than task completion.  Dedication at the highest level is required to propel you through the inevitable vicissitudes.
  3. Faced with a decision, ask yourself: How can I best support the Main Effort?  Having made such a profound commitment, reinforce it by making all future choices through its lens.
  4. The practice of concentrating all your power toward the Main Effort necessitates the willingness to accept prudent risk elsewhere.  When focusing on a singular direction by definition you are excluding everything else.  This entails some risk.  Occasionally, your family may feel neglected or your fitness may decline.  End each day by assessing your physical, mental, and spiritual resilience so you will know when the risk is no longer prudent and requires a shift in your Main Effort.
  5. As the situation changes, you may shift the Main Effort. Seek to exploit success rather than reinforce failure.  As demonstrated by maneuver warfare, your ability to identify and quickly exploit opportunity increases your likelihood of success.  When you make the inevitable shifts in Main Effort, do not wait for a crisis, rather look for situations in which you can address the issue requiring the change without weakening your overall thrust toward your goal.  Add an extra day or two onto your business trip dedicated solely to time with your spouse and family.  Change a sit-down meeting to a walking meeting.

Essential to unity of effort by your team, as the leader, strive for a clear expression of the intent and expectations supporting your Main Effort.  Then ensure that everyone involved realizes the burden of understanding it falls on all team members.  You must make your purpose perfectly clear but in a way that does not inhibit initiative.

Applying the short-term focus of your Main Effort will dramatically increase your ability to achieve your goals.

What is the Main Effort in your life right now?

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