I heard the term “free agent nation” recently that I hadn’t heard before. The speaker described free agent nation as the population of folks who detached themselves from large corporations and more or less worked for themselves. Years ago, “lifers” were common place. Then, employees felt their security in corporations dwindle. Companies saw employees as expendable resources. Employees reacted by regarding companies as expendable as well – loyalty was rare for either side.
Googling “free agent nation”, I found an article published on December 31, 1997 titled “Free Agent Nation” by Daniel Pink, author of Drive and To Sell Is Human. Daniel interviewed a number of folks who left the corporate world to be independents/ contractors. This was all fascinating given my foray into independent consulting and entrepreneurship coupled with known colleagues striking out on their own.
Daniel pointed out driving free agents were ideals in value alignment and flexibility. For many independents Daniel interviewed, they cited not feeling tied to the company. Work was satisfactory, but values in personal and professional lives were not aligned. They didn’t feel tied to the purpose of companies. By going independent, professionals selected projects and clients that fit into what their own beliefs.
Many free agents cited, too, they found greater security being an independent vs. being employed at a large corporation. In one particular story, a woman explained how her bank viewed her as risky without a steady W2. She rebuked that she was far more secure in her role as an independent working with six companies. If one company was to discontinue working with her, she still had five clients paying her. Thus, she could still make loan payments.
Values and flexibility are resonating strong as they did 20 years ago and is the whole of free agent nation.
Want vs. choose. Sounds simple, right? Take a second, though, and think about what you want. What about what you choose. How different are they? Why?
This question came about after hearing this concept from the book I am currently reading.
  • I wanted a Tesla earlier this year. Instead, I chose a Toyota 4Runner. Of course, I also wanted a 4Runner, but due to the Tesla X’s $100+K price tag, I chose the vehicle that was a fraction of the cost.
  • I could have also chosen a very simple 4Runner let alone a little Toyota Corolla. Instead, I chose the Limited set-up with 4×4. I wanted this more than the base SR5 package.
  • If I was to step back further, my previous vehicle (2007 Toyota 4Runner Limited 4×4 with 115K miles) was still working great. It was all paid off. Yet, I chose to increase my personal burn rate by several hundreds of dollars because of want.  This, despite wanting to return to startup and entrepreneurship after my time at SalesWise– a life change which would likely provide meager financial security for a while.

Every day, we make decisions based on want. It’s not what we need. It’s what we want. We want what makes us happy. Arguably, we do not need to be happy. Instead, we choose to be. (… or maybe we wake up choosing not to be.)

Think about it. What do you want? What do you choose? Why?
Sharing a new to-do list and task strategy I learned the other day – Could Do, Should Do, and Must Do. It’s a very simple framework to help folks stack prioritization and think about timing. Really, each description (i.e. “could do”, “should do”, and “must do”) is a list of tasks where moving from left to right represents the need.
Some things to consider when prioritizing tasks:
  • Time it takes to complete.
  • Explicit benefits upon completion.
  • Implicit benefits upon completion.
  • Cost to complete. (Weigh this against both explicit and implicit benefits for value.)
  • Blockers that prevent completion.

I’ve seen a lot of folks recently build task lists. Indeed, I have one (many) including my task list in Salesforce. However, not all should be weighted the same. The Could-Should-Must framework categorizes tasks into three simple buckets. Simplicity is key.

Any to-do list or task completion methods you recommend? Do you use one?
I listened to the “How I Built This” podcast with Guy Raz interviewing Starbucks two-time (and now former) CEO Howard Schultz (from September 28).

They discussed how Schultz really took the brand which was a local coffee bean shop into a massive, global brand that we all now know. Then, he talked about his return to Starbucks as CEO when the company started heading into its lowest point – in 2008. This part of the podcast really intrigued me.
Below are some notes I took from his interview starting at 37:40.

  • Schultz refers to Starbucks difficult years (2008, mainly, like most other companies during that time) as the “years of hubris”. He mentioned how “growth and success began to cover up a lot of mistakes.”
  • Two chief mistakes Schultz realizes that contributed to Starbucks nadir: 1) “too many stores cannibalizing other stores”; and 2) “financial controls and discipline that were in place were not being leveraged – Wall Street and the stock price became an albatross on the company’s neck.”
  • “Growth became the strategy of the company… growth is not a strategy.”
  • In regards to growth, “too many stores too fast in areas that should not have had a Starbucks […] the experience which had defined the essence of the company was being compromised by efficiency.”
  • “The management team at the time started measuring yield, sales per hour, and doing things that were so dilutive to the essence of the foundation of the company. It really started upsetting me. I began to go into stores and not recognize what we had built.”
  • “Company needed to go through a major transformation in 2008 […] What it means to love something and the responsibility that goes with it.”
  • Schultz returned as CEO. One of his first moves was to shutter 900 stores and refocus on the brand and experience that brought the company to prominence. 90% of them had been open less than a year.
  • Schultz referred to training as essential for transformation. The “most telling” move he made was closing all stores at 12PM at a loss estimated at $24M in lost sales and labor. This move was to perform training at all stores.
  • “Training was so vitally important because Starbucks Coffee Company forgot how to make quality coffee. We had everyone in the company re-trained.”
  • Schultz recalled how during a time when budgets were tightening everywhere and travel was heavily scrutinized in 2008, he realized the importance to “communicate with every single store manager in-person.” This would bring together 10,000 people and cost the company $30M. This was known as the $30M speech.
  • For the speech, Schultz wanted to “tell them the truth – the real truth. If I was going to ask them to do the things we had to do – take every customer interaction so personally…”
  • As the company recovered, the “real question was – ‘what did we learn?’ We were so hungry and so driven when we started the company. When we were that successful, people got sloppy. They got lazy. This is so vitally important – success in any business, no matter what it is, is not an entitlement. It has to be earned. We stopped earning it. That’s why we got in trouble.”
  • “Building a company is a lonely place sometimes. You’re imprinted, especially as a man, of not demonstrating vulnerability. I think one of the – perhaps most undervalued characteristics of leadership – is vulnerability and asking for help. I’ve done that a number of times. I think it’s important. When you’re vulnerable and you ask for help, people come towards you. I’ve tried to do that every step of the way and be honest and truthful what I know, what I don’t. And most importantly, what I believe.”

Great vulnerability and story shared by Howard Schultz in setting aside hubris for the greater good.

Source: http://www.gretchenrubin.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/GR-FourTendencies-Upholder2.pdf
As I mentioned in my post last weekin asking the question, “who do you envy?”, I was listening to a Rich Roll podcast with Gretchen Ruben, author of The Happiness Project (podcast link here). She spoke with Rich about her latest project and book regarding the “Four Tendencies”.
The Four Tendencies help identify how people respond to expectations – both outer and inner (extrinsic vs. intrinsic). She wanted to understand why people were able to sustain motivation or stick to goals. In effect, she created another personality test to help people connect and navigate relationships.
The Four Tendencies:
  • Upholder:“I do what others expect of me—and what I expect from myself.”
  • Questioner:“I do what I think is best, according to my judgment. If it doesn’t make sense, I won’t do it.”
  • Obliger:“I do what I have to do. I don’t want to let others down, but I may let myself down.”
  • Rebel:“I do what I want, in my own way. If you try to make me do something—even if I try to make myself do something—I’m less likely to do it.”

I took the test – I’m an Upholder. This makes a lot of sense as I have a strong ability to not only make self-commitments, but I carry them out. This applies to external (outer) expectations as well (e.g. family, boss, customers).

You can take the test here. What’s your tendency? Agree or disagree?
There’s a story that goes –

A group of scientists placed five monkeys in a cage, and in the middle, a ladder with bananas on top.  

Every time a monkey went up the ladder, the scientists soaked the rest of the monkeys with cold water. 

After a while, every time a monkey would start up the ladder, the others would pull it down and beat it up. 

After a time, no monkey would dare try climbing the ladder, no matter how great the temptation. 

The scientists then decided to replace one of the monkeys. The first thing this new monkey did was start to climb the ladder. Immediately, the others pulled him down and beat him up. 

After several beatings, the new monkey learned never to go up the ladder, even though there was no evident reason not to, aside from the beatings. 

The second monkey was substituted and the same occurred. The first monkey participated in the beating of the second monkey. A third monkey was changed and the same was repeated. The fourth monkey was changed, resulting in the same, before the fifth was finally replaced as well. 

What was left was a group of five monkeys that – without ever having received a cold shower – continued to beat up any monkey who attempted to climb the ladder. 

If it was possible to ask the monkeys why they beat up on all those who attempted to climb the ladder, their most likely answer would be “I don’t know. It’s just how things are done around here.”

(originally published on Wisdom Pills)

Culture and set behaviors are incredibly powerful. They affect every new employee, so that they, too, become engrained in the cultural norm. Oftentimes, we are not aware of them just because “that’s how it’s always been”, and we assume we asked the right, challenging questions before. However, it’s not the case. Sprinkle in hubris, and you have a never-ending cycle.
Of course, these establishments also promote loads of opportunities for entrepreneurs and challengers to come in with a fresh take. Once value is realized amongst a few, change can happen. Then, perhaps it’s just a matter of time.
Start with the challenger.
I recently listened to the Rich Roll podcast featuring Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project (link to podcast).
Early in the interview she posed a question that really piqued my interest – “Who do you envy?”
The question proposed by Gretchen points to what the person who is envied is, does, or has over the person envying. Oftentimes, we ask questions about regrets or what we want only for folks (myself included) to say we have no regrets or we don’t really want anything more than what we have (beyond the usual dreams). Personally, I can say there are a fair number of things I want. However, the thought of who I envy really draws out a deeper perspective. I ask why.
Thinking about this, I envy:
  • Elon Musk, James Dyson, JK Rowling, David Beckham, Jack Ma. I envy them for their remarkable success. Success that was achieved by overcoming incredible failures and adversity. They stayed true to their beliefs and emerged victorious.
  • My older brother and my best bud for raising beautiful families with their equally amazing spouses.

This is the immediate list that comes to mind. However, I’m sure there are many more.

Who do you envy? Why?
I’ve been thinking of how powerful money can be, and how businesses capture consumer surplus.
According to Investopedia:

Consumer surplus is an economic measure of consumer benefit, which is calculated by analyzing the difference between what consumers are willing and able to pay for a good or service relative to its market price, or what they actually do spend on the good or service. A consumer surplus occurs when the consumer is willing to pay more for a given product than the current market price.

However, maybe it’s also this notion of consumer surplus that drives how businesses, government, etc. enable those who “have” versus those who “have not”. Consider for a moment how advantageous technologies and tools can be for startups, for example. Some tools enable these companies to flat out survive and build something meaningful. However, due to lack of resources (normally cash), startups are unable to leverage them (think legal, marketing automation, etc.).
Or, think how fliers today can pay more to sit in first class versus upgrades to an airline’s most loyal, frequent travelers.
Or, think of how money can elevate patients higher on the waiting list for state-of-the-art medical procedures versus individuals who have waited months or years.
Or, when mortgage companies lower interest rates or provide premium cost savings opportunities to those who are financially secure when those who are still consistent in payments but have lower income do not qualify.
This is a free market where competition reigns supreme. However, it comes at a cost to those who could potentially reap the greatest benefits – sometimes at a price of survival. Should money buy anything?
Check it out – I’ve started a new site called Mmm Donut (www.mmmdonut.com). With my interest in donuts, I’ve decided to start Mmm Donut to write donut reviews.
Unlike my previous blogs and sites such as 100 Strangers, 100 Days or even this Entrepreneurial Ninjablog, I will not have a set rhythm and cadence for Mmm Donut. Instead, I will try out different donuts and simply write about them – grading each on 7 Donutal Dimensions.
  • SDQ – sprinkle density quotient
  • D2 – dough density
  • Fro – frosting factor
  • Fru – fruitiness
  • Cho – chocoholicism
  • Uni – uniqueness

In addition, I’ll have special tags for donuts including:

  • Gluten-free
  • Vegan
  • Filling

I hope to maintain this site for fun without too much burden with regular cadences of posting. Check it out. It’s just for fun. www.mmmdonut.com