Category Archives: Finances

The Secret Fountainhead of Great Ideas

Ideas can come from any source at any time. The key is to be open to them and to have a system for writing them down so you do not forget them.

The Secret Fountainhead of Great Ideas

Walking down a street in downtown Los Angeles on my way to the gym in 1980, I met a street person who started talking to me. He asked about me and I told him I was studying architecture at USC. Launching into a virtual tirade, he professed vexation that architects did not consider innovative projects. Then he told me about a church on lower Market Street in San Francisco that had burned down and was trying to rebuild by developing a mixed-use project. His description was so detailed I decided to check it out. Two weeks later a fellow student and I had been hired by the church’s pastor to create a preliminary design.

Ben Zoma, a distinguish 2nd century student, said, “Who is a wise man? He who learns from every man.” A powerful business idea, a lead to a new client, or a new approach for improving our relationships are out there if we will restrain our egos, engage in conversations with people, and share a little about ourselves.

  • If your first inclination is to ignore someone, think a second time. Maybe the person has something valuable to say.
  • Just listen. Hear the person out uncritically.
  • Always keep a small notebook or stack of file cards and a pen with you, especially next to your bed.
  • When inspiration strikes, write it down IMMEDIATELY! If an idea escapes, you will probably never catch it again.

Being open to people who do not seem to have any importance or with whom we may disagree can be challenging, but often yields enormous rewards.

Question: What techniques do you use to overcome mental roadblocks?

Want Success? Fail More!

Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the light bulb, though in truth he improved an invention that had been around for 50 years. Perhaps he gets the glory because he failed almost 10,000 times before he found a way that worked. When asked if he felt like a failure, supposedly Edison responded that he had never failed, rather he found 9,000 ways that did not work. True or not, this story has a vital message for anyone striving to succeed.

Want Success? Fail More!

When I started my real estate company in 1986 I thought success would be a breeze. Two years later, I had found lots of ways not to make money. In one case, I negotiated an agreement so poorly that I lost out on over $20,000 of income I badly needed. So I came up with a philosophy for any time I lost a significant deal: I figured I had bought myself a class or semester at the Wharton School of Business. By learning from my failures I never had to spend what a degree from Wharton would have cost.

Fear of failure means we are losing out on:

  • Discovering ways to be more successful in the future
  • Knowing when and how to be flexible
  • More chances to expand our businesses

If someone tells you he never loses a sale he has found the fountain of youth (very unlikely), he makes few or no sales (you cannot lose something you never try to have), or he never takes a chance on a less than perfect, pre-sold prospect. Which would you rather have: 10% of 1000 prospects buying from you or 100% of 50? Is not the first option twice as good?

Here are five steps to turn failure into success:

  1. Find out why the person said no
  2. If the no is valid, move on
  3. If there is a credible response to the objection, give it
  4. Use the information on the lost sale to improve your skills
  5. Ask for referrals from the prospects who turned you down

We do not need to be a genius like Edison to know transforming failure into success is in our hands

How have you used a failure to move you forward?

Please comment below ↓


Five Steps to Discovering Your Potential

Remember when you were a child? Did your parents, a teacher, or someone else in your life tell you about all the great things you could be: an astronaut, doctor, or Olympic athlete? We may not have understood it then, but this person was helping us unlock our potential. For too many of us, the reason we do not fly is that we persist in seeing ourselves as earthworms, not just tied to the ground, but destined to eat dirt for the rest of our lives.


About eighteen months into my chaplain career, I was given the dubious honor of being made supply officer. Soon after I found that no one in the command had any idea of what or how much supplies we had on hand. Ever the practical one, I took an inventory at all the chapels and offices under our control. Among the many things I uncovered were over 40,000 candles. This may not seem so surprising but consider that we used only about 1000 to 1500 per year. We had at least a 26-year supply. Meanwhile, I kept getting requisitions for more candles.

Thinking about it earlier today, I was struck by how much light was lost through having these tens of thousands of candles sit idle. The intensity of light is measured in something called a footcandle, "the illuminance cast on a surface by a one-candela source one foot away." In a way, our ability to shine can be measured in footcandles, or maybe legcandles. How much legwork are we willing to devote to finding the things at which we are brilliant?

Here is a five-step plan for discovering your potential:

  1. Talk to friends and family. Ask them to tell you about the traits and skills they admire about you.
  2. Examine the lives of people you respect. What talents do you share in common? Which ones would you like to develop?
  3. Read several biographies of great people. The Penguin Lives series is a great set of short books. Highlight or list the abilities you share with them. Are there others that you can cultivate in yourself?
  4. Perform a skills assessment or meet with a vocational counselor who can do one. Be honest but not overly critical. List your accomplishments that support your evaluation.
  5. Take the lists and lay them side-by-side or make a spreadsheet with them. Which ones do people agree on? Which ones surprise you? These especially help you unlock latent talent.

Each of us has an internal luminance. Are we going to bury it in some unexamined storeroom? Or are we going to take inventory, uncover out hidden stock, and one by one light these candles until our brilliance shines through for all to see?

What did you uncover when you searched for your potential? How much still lays concealed? What is holding you back from taking stock?

Military Doctrine Guiding Business Planning

One of the many advantages veterans enjoy in entrepreneurship is the doctrine we learned during our years of service. And while part of the vocabulary of warfighting is inappropriate to civilian business, still the concepts can be quickly adapted to give us direction as we start and run our companies.

Rabs in Marine Corps Cammies

For example, Marine Corps doctrine on warfighting recognizes three levels of war

  1. Strategic – the art of winning wars by establishing goals, assigning forces, providing assets, and imposing conditions on the use of force.
  2. Operational – the art and science of winning campaigns, it links the strategic and tactical levels, including deciding when, where, and under what conditions to engage the enemy.
  3. Tactical – the art and science of winning engagements through the concepts and methods used to accomplish a particular mission and achieve the objectives of the campaign.

So how do we translate these ideas to business planning? The same three levels apply:

  1. Strategic – This is our business idea, mission statement, and goals. Also, it is our evaluation of the types of expertise our business requires, especially those we do not have ourselves, and the capital and equipment we need to be successful.
  2. Operational – This is our assessment of the profile of the clients or customer with whom we are most likely to be successful, where we can come in contact with them, the timing of our marketing efforts, and how we can set the stage to be most effective in attracting their patronage.
  3. Tactical – This is our step-by-step plan through which we will act to obtain these clients or customers.

For example, when I decided to go back into business, initially I worked at the strategic level. I assessed my skills, researched business ideas, and gauged the market for them and their chances of success. Having selected the one I wanted to pursue I developed my mission statement and goals and determined funding and other materials I needed to move forward.

Having clarified my strategic thinking, my planning shifted to the operational level. While my main clientele, veterans and service members, was obvious, less so were the individuals through whom I could expand my reach to them. Through networking, I found people who help veterans transition to civilian life, then planned how and where I could contact others in the same positions and stay in touch with them. Next, I set a calendar for my marketing effort. As I formed my plans at the operational level I periodically reviewed my strategic plans to ensure I was heading in the right direction but also to decide if my strategy needed to be revised.

Once my operational plan was fairly well developed I created materials, scripts, and email and telephone lists of the people I needed to contact and started doing so. Did my materials motivate them to act from the get go? Did my scripts immediately convince them of the greatness of my program? No and no. Indeed my early presentations were as much about refining my tactics as they were about persuading people to help me. I revised my tactics, periodically reviewed my operational plan in light of the overall response to my marketing effort, and shifted my strategy as the assets I had available changed.

At each stage of planning, I wrote down the major points and the reasoning supporting these decisions. As I move forward, I use my version of another Marine Corps doctrine, maneuver warfare (which I will talk about in another post) to continually appraise my success and make adjustments at all three levels.

So take the doctrine of your branch of the military and adapt it to your business planning. If you are not a veteran, take a look at the Marine Corps doctrine.

Finding the Next Great Business Idea, or at Least the One for Me

One of the issues I encounter most frequently when speaking with people about entrepreneurship typically goes like this: I know I want to have my own business but I do not know what I want to do. While large companies can devote extensive resources to researching potentially lucrative opportunities, we do not have such a luxury. As well, passion for what we are doing is important for success, so though a particular idea may have the potential for a big payoff, it may not be right for us. We need a simple, straightforward way to come up a viable business.

Here are three tasks to aid in coming up with a concept.

1. Do a Skills Assessment

Obviously we do best those things we are best at. The challenge is to make an objective evaluation of our skills, one that is thorough and legitimate. Here is a simple method: Across the top of a sheet of paper write down your skills. If you are not sure how to describe them go to Linkedin’s Skills & Expertise page. You can find good terms for describing your skills as well as get ideas for others that might not have occurred to you.

Next, under each skill list the schooling, jobs, and other pursuits in which you have been involved that demonstrates your proficiency it. If you want to get a little fancier, list the number of years of each so when you are done you can determine how long you have had the skill. Examine the skills in which you have had the longest and most varied experiences. Do you enjoy doing these things? If so, they will form a strong base for your entrepreneurial endeavors. If not, you may need to get training and experience in other skills before you start you own business. For example, one of my skills is education, teaching & training. I have held nine jobs and volunteer positions in which I used this skill, totaling 33 years of experience. And I enjoy teaching so this skill became one of the backbones of my company.

Once you have a solid skills assessment, use it to conceptualize services or products that might make a successful business. At this point do not be concerned with whether such a business will work. The purpose is to get your mind working on options.

2. Solve What Is not Working in Your Life

Have you ever been doing something and thought there must be a better way? Did you come up with an idea for a new product or service that might make life easier? And then did you discard it as being impractical or something someone else would do? Next time write it down. I always carry a small, bound notebook with me (leather covers, about $6 at WalMart) in which I write down such ideas. If you have a smartphone or tablet, try Evernotes, a nice program for keeping otherwise random notes organized.

Again the idea is to stimulate your thinking. We will deal with feasibility separately.

3. Read a Publication on a Subject that Does Not Interest You

Love motorcycles but have never even seen knitting needles? Pick up a copy of Knit Simple magazine then read it. Make a list of concepts unfamiliar to the things you like to do. But once it not enough. Next month if your only experience with restaurants is eating at them get a copy of Restaurant Business. There is at least one trade publication for every industry. Jot down interesting aspects of how this new business works. Then, sit back and think about how you could apply them to your skills. Connecting skills with new concepts may trigger ideas for businesses.

One of the things I have noticed by acquainting myself with other businesses is there are commonalities that cross industries. For example, the specialized language of real estate and the movie business are similar. When I got involved with the entertainment industry I found my experience in property brokerage and management gave me a boost.

Once you get started with this process you may come up with lots of ideas right away. But do not get discouraged if it takes you some time. Keep notes in an ordered way. You never know when a previous thought will be the seed from which a great business idea germinates.

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