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February 2006

Living Without Attachments

Stephen Shapiro gave an energetic presentation last night at Bellevue Community College on Success 101: The Goal-Free Approach, in which he highlighted some pitfalls of being too attached to the achievement of goals, and instead emphasized the importance of enjoying the moment(s) ... essentially: don't focus so intensely on the destination that you don't enjoy the ride.

In promoting the themes from his book, Goal-Free Living: How to Have the Life You Want NOW!, Steve made a strong case against goal-full living, given the extrinsic origins of many of our goals (pleasing our parents, teachers, society ... the mitote described by Don Miguel Ruiz), the sacrifices that are often made to achieve goals, and the fleeting joy -- if any -- experienced when they are achieved.  And, of course, once one goal is achieved, it's time to set another one ... reminding me of lyrics from Breathe, on Pink Floyd's album (er, CD) Dark Side of the Moon:

Run, rabbit, run
Dig that hole, forget the sun,
And when at last the work is done
Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one

In fact, I suspect Breathe would be an excellent theme song for Steve's book, as I often found myself drawing parallels between mindfulness practices (such as following one's breath) and the goal-free perspectives that Steve was advocating.  In the book I consider the "bible" of everyday mindfulness, Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn emphasizes the importance of letting go of any goal in meditation, and simply paying attention to what is, one breath at a time.

Steve shared eight "secrets" to goal-free living:

  • Use a compass, not a map: have a sense of direction, and then let yourself wander and try new things on the way to fulfilling your aspirations
  • Trust that you are never lost: every seemingly wrong turn is an opportunity to learn and experience new things
  • Remember that opportunity knocks often, but sometimes softly: while blindly pursuing our goals, we often miss unexpected and wonderful possibilities
  • Want what you have: measure your life by your own yardstick and appreciate who you are, what you do, and what you have ... now
  • Seek out adventure: treat your life like the one-time-only journey it is, and revel in new and different experiences
  • Become a people magnet: constantly seek, build and nurture relationships with new people so that you always have the support and camaraderie of others
  • Embrace your limits: transform your inadequacies and boundaries into unique qualities you can use to your advantage
  • Remain detached: focus on the present, act with a commitment to the future, and avoid worrying about how things will turn out

During the Q&A period, Steve acknowledged that setting and achieving goals may work for some people (someone asked about Olympic athletes setting goals); alluding to the Myers-Briggs personality typology, Steve noted that judges tend to be goal-oriented, and perceivers tend to be what he called "river people" who go with the flow ... and ideally, become the flow (FWIW, I'm an ENFP).  It's the attachment to the outcome of goals that he warns against, and I suspect a more accurate and evocative -- but perhaps less provocative -- title for his book would be "Attachment-Free Living".  He also distinguished between a goal, which derives from the Old English word for "obstacle, boundary or hindrance", and an aspiration, which derives from the Latin word for "to breathe upon" ... and to which he infers the connotation "panting with desire" (and, not surprisingly, he recommends the latter orientation over the former).  [This connotation fits in very nicely with the subtext for my blog -- Ruminations on inspiration, aspiration and perspiration.]

Another question had to do with the applicability of Steve's approach to business, where setting goals and measuring results against those goals is the norm.  Steve shared some stories about negative consequences arising from excessive goal-orientation, as well as stories about positive consequences arising in an atmosphere where explicit goals (e.g., sales quotas) were either not set by an employer or not followed by an employee (some of these stories can be found on Steve's article about Goal-Free Businesses).  This theme corresponds to some of the causes of employee disengagement that were raised in the book How Full Is Your Bucket that I blogged about recently. However, I'm still not sure how a company, especially a large organization, can provide a fair and motivational compensation policy in a goal-free way.

Interestingly, Steve and I share a common business heritage: we both worked at Accenture, during roughly the same time period, although he advanced much faster and frther in the hierarchy than I did ... and his regrets about his strong goal-orientation during that period formed part of the motivation for writing this book.  He also shared the story of how his friend Doug Busch, vice president and chief technology officer of Intel Corporation's Digital Health Group, has pursued a goal-free approach throughout his career ... which I found particularly interesting, given my own experience of the extremely strong goal-oriented culture that pervades Intel (another former employer).

Other highlights of Steve's talk included his encouragement to establish a one-word New Year's theme rather than more elaborate resolutions (e.g., his last three themes, in chronological order, have been "flexibility", "platform" and "impact"), his definition of decidiphobia ("fear of making decisions") and the antidote of just make a decision and learn from the consequences (reminiscent of the Love and Logic approach to [self?]parenting), and his suggested exercise to wake up tomorrow and pretend you are someone else (ideally, some personal hero, a person who exemplifies the kinds of qualities you want to manifest in your own life). 

On this latter point, a member in the audience shared a story about how she had regularly failed English tests, and one day, acknowledging that she had nothing to lose, decided to pretend she was Condoleeza Rice when she went to take a test.  Much to her surprise (and delight), she scored 90% on that test, placing her in the highest achievement category.  This provided an inspiring, positive and conscious example of the flip side of the kind of negative, unconscious self-programming described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink, wherein he reports on a study that showed that simply being asked to identify their race on a standardized test resulted in a 50% decrease in test scores for blacks.  In fact, it was so perfect an illustration of this notion of "fake it 'til you make it", I wondered whether the telling of this story was pre-arranged (not that it matters all that much -- it was powerful and very relevant).

I almost didn't go to this talk, since I expected there would be a fair amount of overlap between Steve's book and a book I read 10 years ago, Living without a Goal: Finding the Freedom to Live a Creative and Innovative Life, by James Ogilvy (co-founder of the Global Business Network).  Synchronistically, when I revisited the original posting for the event, in an email from the distribution list for the local chapter of Fast Company's Company of Friends network, I discovered that Steve has a blog (where he has, among other things, some interesting things to say about goal-free blogging).  I discovered a blog entry about someone who found new meanings and applications in re-reading his book, even though she'd read it many times before (she was a reviewer for the book); I posted a comment on the blog, noting "when the reader is ready, the author [re]appears" ... and, in yet another instance of preaching what I want to practice, I found that by posting the comment, I realized that it would be good for me to hear what Steve had to say, even if it included some review of themes I've encountered elsewhere ... and I was not disappointed.

[And in yet another instance of synchronicity, Steve Pavlina, whose blog I only discovered yesterday, via a provocative post on "Comments make me orgasm" on Noah Kagan's blog (to which I couldn't resist posting a comment), has some interesting things to say about goal-free living ... and, in fact, Steve Pavlina's post is the first thing that pops up in googling goal free living after the Amazon entry for the Steve Shapiro's book.]

Locks and Keys to Object-centered Sociality in the Physical World

After packing up our proactive display equipment from the Zino Society event, we headed over to BalMar Lounge to observe another kind of technology used to enhance interactions among people attending an event: a Lock and Key Party organized by Space City Mixer.


Here are the rules:

  • The Lock and Key Encounter is a very interactive social mixing game where each person tries to find their matching hardware amongst the group of participants. It works like this . . . Every female attendee receives a lock. Every male attendee receives a key. The object is to find the Lock that fits the Key and the Key that fits the Lock!
  • For two hours, you try and meet each person at the event, getting to know them and of course, trying to match the lock and key. The object is to find as many -Matches- as possible. When you find a Match, you'll visit the Lock and Key Station, there you'll both enter your names into the Prize Drawing! Then you'll receive new Locks and Keys, and you'll go out again to try your new Hardware and find additional Matches. The more Matches that you find, the more times your name is entered into the Prize Drawing.
  • You will not go away from this event only meeting a few, you will have the opportunity to meet them all! Come out and try a Lock and Key Encounter - you'll end the night with scores of new friends and possibly more. Come with friends or alone as soon as it starts, you will quickly be meeting people as the participants approach you. See for yourself what the excitement is all about!

We arrived late in the game, but Andrea convinced me to try a key on for size, and experience the magic for myself.  And what an experience!  I could see the genius in this "speed-dating on steroids" arrangement: every woman I approached held up her lock, regardless of whether she was unengaged, engaged in a conversation, or engaged in an exchange that might well have been leading to more than conversation. This "easy in / easy out" approach, where each participant can make momentary eye contact, say hello (we were wearing name tags) and exchange a few words -- if only about how many matches each has found -- provides a perfect example of the thin slicing that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book, Blink.  Any woman who wanted an excuse to disengage from a current conversation partner could do so the next time a new key came around, and any man who wanted to disengage from a partner could do so on the pretext of wanting to find more matches (and claim prizes), reducing the risk that anyone will take anything personally. 

Scott observed from the sidelines that there appeared to be three types of participants: those who were relatively passive (responding only to others' advances), those who appeared to be selectively active (taking some time with each of several prospective matches) and those who appeared to be almost hyperactive (trying as many matches in as little time as possible).  Obviously, there are different types of "prizes" one might take away from such an event, and so I imagine the strategies reflect different prize-orientations.  Although I was only looking for the in-game experience (my wife has been encouraging me to investigate the singles scene as a target market for Interrelativity), I could see how this activity would provide huge opportunities for making different types of connections to a broad range of personality types.

This experience also helped me appreciate the potential value of a slightly higher-technology approach to the same goal that I read about recently: the MatchlinC device used at OneKeyAway events.

Matchlinc_white   Matchlincpairing

OneKeyAway events offer two extensions from the lower tech lock and key party described above.  One is the substitution of the MatchLinC device, which is billed as a personal electronic relationship advisor, for the lower-tech locks and keys.  Each MatchLinC device is programmable, and so can  actually be personalized in some way for each participant; short-range infrared signals are used to check for matches, so no physical contact is required (though, after having participated in an "old-fashioned" lock and key event, I'm not sure whether this lack of any physical contact is a bug or a feature).  An algorithm is used to compare personal profiles stored on each of the paired devices, and a set of LEDs is used to indicate level of compatibility. I'd first read that MatchLinC uses a traffic light metaphor: green for compatibility, red for incompatibility, yellow for something in between (reminiscent of the Lovegety devices and other [fabled] derivatives), but the web site reports that 11 distinct levels of compatibility can be indicated on the device.

Onekeyaway4 Onekeyaway1

The other difference is the use of a 64-item questionnaire that participants fill out before an event, whose results are used to program each person's MatchLinC device.  This approach sounds very similar to the Meme Tags that Rick Borovoy and his colleagues developed at MIT Media Lab almost a decade ago, and which formed the basis for nTag, Rick's venture to commercialize this social technology, athough I think the original Meme Tag questionnaire included only seven questions and the newer nTag devices enable questionnaires to be filled out on the device itself.

Memetag  Ntagptcuser2004

The OneKeyAway questionnaire has 64 items, including the following topics:

  • Relationship expectations
  • Emotional responsiveness
  • Personal behaviors & habits
  • What you do in your spare time
  • Sexual orientation and preferences
  • Topics on religion, substance usage and more

This seems like quite an extensive profiling mechanism, and while the MatchLinC devices purportedly encode the individual profile responses to prevent hacking into another device to learn specific responses (vs. an overall compatibility indication), there have been reported instances of nTag device hacks, and so I wonder how secure these devices are.  I also find it astonishing that people would be willing to fill out such an elaborate profile, but perhaps that is not such a stretch for people in the singles market, give some of profiling required for online dating services.

All of these approaches represent new dimensions of the object-centered sociality that Jyri Engestrom wrote about with respect to the socializing that takes place in purely online social networks.  It's not sufficient simply to put people together in the same space -- online or offline -- and expect them to connect with one another; proximity is important, but just as important is giving people something to talk about.  Indeed, providing such "tickets to talk" was one of the goals behind our original Ticket2Talk proactive display application, but perhaps the ambience and subtlety we were designing for in the context of an academic conference isn't as important in a context where the number one goal of people is to make connections. 


In the context of a singles bar, and especially during a singles event, I'm sure that lighting up one or more LEDs on a device can get some interesting conversations going about the devices themselves (I imagine there is a significant novelty effect), and perhaps even some of the deeper questions -- about relationships, sexuality and religion -- that were used to program the devices.

When I first read about OneKeyAway, I was very skeptical about this technology and its impact, largely due to my own bias toward designing technology that fits as closely as possible into the existing practices of people in places of use.  The interactions at events depicted in photos seemed so, well, contrived. However, having participated in a "traditional" lock and key party, I can see how inserting technology -- whether physical locks and keys or higher tech devices that provide expanded functionality -- that creates or facilitates new practices can be very effective at helping people connect.

Wine and Wisdom ... and Interrelativity

There were lots of insights and experiences involving entrepreneurship, investing and wine flowing at The Rainier Club during last night's Zino Society Roundtable meeting.  As with the last Roundtable meeting, the event offered a unique combination of business and pleasure, with a short keynote address and four investment pitches by entrepreneurs, followed by a wine tasting.  Unlike last month's meeting, Interrelativity deployed a proactive display to help people connect before the meeting started and during the latter portion of the event.  [And due to my focus on this aspect of the event, my notes from other aspects are not as thorough as last time.]

Cathi Hatch, CEO of the Zino Society, led things off with some introductory remarks about the presenters at the Roundtable, as well as highlights from other events organized by the Zino Society, whose mantra is "Connecting investors, wine professionals and enthusiasts—from A to ZINO".  Cathi noted that many of the entrepreneurs who have presented thus far at Roundtable meetings have commented on the "intensive coaching" they received as part of the screening and preparation.  I have been increasingly attentive to various kinds of advisors and advice, and can see the positive outcome of the efforts of the volunteer coaches on the quality of presentations I've seen thus far.

Tom Hedges, co-proprietor of Hedges Family Estate, shared an "Insider's Scoop" about some differences between "old" and "new" styles of winemaking, which I would characterize in terms of elegance and refinement vs. exuberance and [fruit-]forwardness.  Among the trends that are shifting the marketplace toward the new style are the drop in wine consumption in Europe (where the "old" style is dominant) and the rising influence of Robert Parker: Tom suggested that a single 100-point rating from the editor of the bi-monthly Wine Advocate would enable a winemaker to retire. Winemakers often face a choice between producing for profit and producing for love ... a perspective that contrasts with the notion of "do what you love, the money will follow" that I've blogged about recently ... although I can't say that I have been able to demonstrate a linkage between passion and profit in my own venture.

I imagine that the four entrepreneurs who gave their pitches are hoping to establish a linkage between their passions and future profits.  Judy Johnston, CEO of Blue Lake Children's Publishing, shared the story behind the Tessy and Tab Reading Club, a children's magazine offering a fresh approach -- with respect to content ("genuine preschool life experiences") and presentation (lots of images) -- that contrasts with older approaches represented by Highlights for Children, for the 2 to 5-year-old market.  They have already achieved a renewal rate that is twice the industry average, and have a number of other publications in planning of production for older children.

Doug Perednia, M.D., founder and CEO of Kietra Corporation, talked about the pros and cons of paper vs. digital medical records, and showed how Kietra's eXtensible Practice Record (XPR) seeks to take advantage of the best of both worlds, enabling doctors to use paper forms during their interactions with patients, and then applying scanning technology to digitize some of that information (e.g., the diagnostic codes) for later processing, storage and retrieval.  Doug noted that they do not market directly to doctors, who are feeling increasingly pinched, but instead market to medical billing companies, and to medical billing software vendors (whose customers are medical billing companies), who in turn encourage their customers (ultimately, doctors and their staffs) to use the specialized forms by passing on some of the cost savings.

Chad Stevens, president and CEO of Signature Destinations, talked about the motivations behind this regionally-oriented resort club: offering greater availability than most time-share programs (a 6:1 member to property ratio), and fewer hassles and restrictions than owning multiple homes.  Another distinguishing characteristic is their focus on regional "hubs" -- destinations from which a number of short excursions are possible.

Fred Ledbetter, CEO of CourtTrax Corporation, presented their vertical content search solution for a horizontal market, offering a single user interface to a variety of professionals seeking information from the 4500 database systems that underly the 80 court systems across the United States.  Given the range -- and age -- of these systems, individually querying them can be extremely time-consuming.

After the presentations were over, Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges poured samples of all of the Hedges Family Estate current releases, and Ron Yabut of Austin Robaire Vintners was pouring his 2002 Ryson Reserve Cabernet and "4th Street" Syrah.  I wasn't able to sample as much as I would have liked to, given my focus on and near the proactive display -- which, unfortunately, was on the opposite end of the room from the wine tasting stations -- but my two favorites were the Austin Robaire Ryson Reserve and the Hedges' Two Vineyard Reserve.

And last, but certainly not least: the proactive display triggered a number of conversations that I was able to observe (and in some cases, participate in, so this is hardly an unbiased account).  As has been the case with every deployment, the technology itself -- especially our radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, reader and antennas -- is the topic of some conversations, and I overheard other conversations that were clearly triggered by images that people had provided in their online profiles (given that I could see the images that were on the display while the conversations were underway).  I hope that we can do a full survey to learn more about what kind of impact we had on Zino Society members' experiences at the event.


Scott Axworthy was once again willing to help out in this deployment.  One of the things we learned from our recent deployment at the Seattle Games Conference was that a power imbalance may diminish the inclination of people to seek connections with those around them, e.g., many of the students at the earlier event were primarily interested in connecting with the sponsors (who were potential employers), and not so interested in networking with each other.  At the Zino Society event, there was a similar sort of dynamic (entrepreneurs seeking investment, and investors), but I think that the fact that the two groups last night represented different demographics, who may have better recognized the value of networking (and for whom, in fact, networking may be more valuable), may have led to a stronger inclination on the part of the participants at last night's event to create profiles (though there were definitely some attendees who had no interest in creating a profile).  Also, the fact that there was a time slot explicitly reserved for wine and conversation may have helped provide more impetus for some people to create profiles.  And, of course, the influence of the fine wine itself cannot be understimated.

Entrepreneurship and Religion: Moses' Startup Experience

I attended an inspiring church service at the Northgate Church recently.  The primary motivation for my attendance was to explore the possibilities of church groups as a target market for Interrelativity, but I got far more out of the service than market research results.

Larry LaMotte, a friend from NWEN and a member of the church, had suggested churches in general -- and his church in particular -- as a potential venue for our proactive displays, given that one of the missions of most churches is in perfect alignment with Interrelativity's mantra: to help people relate.  I have not attended any church regularly for decades, and so this prospect had never occured to me, but after a 3-hour lunch meeting earlier that week with Larry and church pastors Don Ross and Dan Metteer, I could see the light.

That Sunday, I attended the church -- whose mantra is "discover, trust, love" -- to observe the setting and common practices, and get a sense for whether and how a proactive display might fit into and enhance attendees' experience of the church -- and each other.  I won't detail all the results here, except to note that the church employs multimedia far beyond anything I experienced in the Catholic church I attended growing up, and so bringing some of that online content onto a display in response to whoever is in attendance seems like a reasonable stretch ... and I believe it would help the church and its members share their stories more effectively, thereby helping to attract and retain new members.

The unexpected bonus of my visit was Don's teaching during the service, which was based on Exodus 18, in which Moses was feeling overwhelmed by his responsibilities and is advised by his father-in-law, Jethro, on how to better distribute the load.  Don's Sunday presentation, combined with our earlier meeting, wherein he noted that his unofficial title might be pastorpreneur, helped me understand the entrepreneurial nature of Moses' experience, leading a startup of some 3 million people.

I certainly wouldn't want to draw too much of an analogy between Moses' experience and my own (leading a startup of one), but I can relate to the frustration of feeling that I have to do it all myself, as well as the sense of impending burnout.  Given the differences in our respective organizations, I don't see how I can directly apply Jethro's prescription of designating rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds and rulers of tens, but I certainly see the wisdom of Jethro's advice in being able (and willing) to delegate different responsibilities to different people.

And this brings me to another observation made by Don during the service: people generally aren't really good at a lot of things -- in fact, typically only one or two -- so it's important to figure out what it is you do well, and determine how to use those gifts to make significant contributions.  This notion reminds me of the slogan "If it's not your genius, it's not your job" that a friend told me is a key component of IBI Global's approach to building a successful business.  It also brings to mind a pearl of the wisdom expressed in a book I blogged about recently, "How Full is Your Bucket?", but which I omitted from my earlier post, where co-author Tom Rath is relating experiences from his childhood:

A popular saying in my home was this age-old maxim: "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig." As a young student, I found this quite liberating. I didn't have to try to be good at everything. Instead, I was able to strive for greatness in my areas of natural talent.

Perhaps this collection of wisdom from various sources offers a key to help resolve my ongoing dilemma about accepting myself as I am and yet wanting to be the best I can be, and my strong resistance to accepting Don Miguel Ruiz' fourth agreement to "Always do your best" (I can always see how I could have done better).

Returning to Don's teaching, he offered a four step "frustration antidote", inviting us to focus on our true skill sets, get clear on priorities, stop worrying about impressing people, and develop a short-term plan for determining how we can best contribute to organization(s) in which we participate -- wisdom I will seek to apply to my own venture ... and life.

[Although I can't find Don's teaching from February 12 on the Northgate Church web site any more, there are some related insights shared on another web site associated with Exodus 18, "The Tyranny of the Urgent".]

Hope is Not a Strategy, One is Not a Team, Ideas are Cheap

I've been meeting with lots of people lately -- prospective partners, investors, advisors and customers (in a way, they are all prospective customers) -- exploring different avenues for how best to move the Interrelativity venture forward. In the process, I'm gaining lots of valuable feedback on a variety of dimensions of this endeavor. Three recent meetings, in particular, stand out: Kimberley suggested that I would gain a great deal of insight by reading the book "Hope Is Not a Strategy"; Mike pointed out that even if I did have a crisp, clear and compelling business plan, no angel would invest money in a venture with a team of one; Dan observed that ideas are cheap, what really matters is execution.

At first, I thought Kimberley's book recommendation represented a gentle encouragement to help ground me in reality (a task that often falls to my wife), in response to my unbridled optimism and idealism about Interrelativity.  This may well be the case, but I also see that "Hope is Not a Strategy" has the subtitle "The 6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale". Interrelativity faces a sales situation that seems complicated to me, given that the primary intended beneficiaries of our proactive display applications are not likely to be the people who directly pay for our services (just as in the days before cable and satellite television, viewers did not pay directly to view programs on TV).

Mike's observation about a team of one is also well taken. I increasingly recognize that one person cannot do it all (or, at least, not this person). [The Grammy award-winning U2 song, "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" has been resonating ever more deeply with me lately.]  I have been blessed by many wonderful advisors who have provided lots of valuable advice, and a few who have taken a more active role, and I would like to have more people more engaged in helping this venture succeed. I'm reminded of Glenn Kelman's talk at Entrepreneur University 2005 in which he had a slide on assembling in team that included "Find the maniacs and give 'em a reason to believe". I definitely want to find more maniacs ... and I want to give more people more of a reason to believe.

Dan provided some of the most sobering feedback about the viability of Interrelativity, with respect to how much customers would have to pay for our technology to enable this venture to sustain itself ... and grow. He sketched out some numbers and made some concrete suggestions for how to collect more evidence about whether they would really add up to a profitable investment -- for me, or anyone else who might be interested in this venture.

Dan's emphasis on the importance of execution over ideas brought to mind the focus on execution intelligence in "A Good Hard Kick in the Ass: Basic Training for Entrepreneurs", a book by Rob Adams that was recommended a while back by Doug (who has also provided valuable and often sobering advice, on numerous occasions), but that I only just started reading recently.  When the advisee is ready, the advisor / advice [re]appears ... I just hope it's not too late to execute.

Intelligence, Advice, Investment and Politics

Yesterday I read a Seattle Times article about Paul Pillar, a former high-ranking CIA official who has raised important questions about the intelligence that was collected before and during the Iraq war, the advice that was given about this to the Bush administration, and the extent to which the intelligence advice was acted upon.  This fits in with the theme of advice and advisors I've been reading, thinking and writing a lot about lately (most recently tying that in with the intangible investments in an angel / entrepreneur relationship), and I want to extend this, and the notion of investment in general, to politics. 

The article I read was based on an essay that Pillar had written for the most recent issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, which starts off with the following summary:

During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, writes the intelligence community's former senior analyst for the Middle East, the Bush administration disregarded the community's expertise, politicized the intelligence process, and selected unrepresentative raw intelligence to make its public case.

I don't want to delve into the details of the article in detail here (though I highly recommend it), in part because I feel so angry about the Iraq war and other policies the Bush administration has implemented, and in part because I think the larger issues of seeking, considering and acting on advice [another instance of the input-processing-output paradigm] that are brought out in Pillar's article can be instructive ... so I'm going to focus on filling buckets rather than dipping here.

Near the very end of my last post, I referenced Kathy Sierra's post about "It's the [?], Stupid", which was, in turn, inspired (in part) by the "It's the economy, stupid!" slogan used to great effect by one of Bill Clinton's advisors, James Carville, in the 1992 U.S. presidential election campaign.  This got me thinking about how voting is a type of investment (there are many other types of investments and investors in the political process, but I don't want to go there ... now).  Electing a new president might be seen as an initial public offering -- a much later (and rarer) round of investment than the angel investment I wrote about yesterday -- where a management team has already been assembled, there is a defined market with existing products, services and customers, and the candidate is looking to expand into a new nationwide market.

After votes are cast -- and the increasingly low voter turnouts suggest that most candidates are not creating a lot of passionate voters -- very few constituents offer subsequent advice to their elected officials.  In fact, our system of representative democracy, was designed so that such advice is not required to run the government.  Instead, we trust that our elected officials will use their best judgment -- and avail themselves of advice offered by professionals who are experts in areas of importance to our country -- and do the right things, in the right ways.

The article by Pillar suggests that the administration was not taking advantage of some of the advice it was given.  I will admit that I, too, do not always take advantage of the excellent advice that some of my personal and professional advisors have offered me.  However, so far, I think that the consequences of my failures to act on good advice are not nearly as devastating as the missed opportunities detailed in the Foreign Affairs article.

I'm reminded of a quote by Dee Hock, founder of Visa International and champion of chaordic leadership principles, that Guy Kawasaki uses to introduce the chapter on Recruiting in his book, The Art of the Start:

It is essential to employ, trust, and reward those whose perspective, ability, and judgment are radically different from yours. It is also rare, for it requires uncommon humility, tolerance, and wisdom.

I hope we will benefit in future elections from a government that embraces and expresses greater diversity, humility, tolerance and wisdom.

Working with Angel Investors: It's the Relationship, Stupid!

Susan Preston, Of Counsel at Davis, Wright, Tremaine, LLP, and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, shared her insights and experiences on how entrepreneurs can build and maintain successful relationships with angel investors at yesterday's Northwest Entrepreneur Network Venture Breakfast.

Sue started out by presenting a number of statistics on angel and venture capital investments over the past few years.  In 2004, venture capital groups made 2,800 investments totalling approximately $21B; the trend for VC investments appears to be fewer, larger, later (= safer?).  In contrast, there were a total of 48,000 angel deals for a total of $22.5B in 2004.  She estimates that there are 225,000 active angel investors right now, which represents a tiny fraction (perhaps 1 / 7) of the total number of accredited individuals (with financial means and sophistication as well as risk tolerance) who are potential angel investors.  Angels tend to invest between $25K - 500K, with an expectation of return on investment on the order of 5 - 7 years.  A typical angel investment round for a company may bring in somewhere on the average of $1M - 3M ... although angel investment is not typical -- only 1% of companies obtain angel investment (compared with 0.1% of companies that receive venture capital investment, and 0.01% that go public -- Sue led us in an exercise "Altogether now, nod your head: IPO is not an exit strategy").

Sue provided a list of criteria that most angel investors [should] apply when considering investment opportunities, which might be summarized as "keep it simple, be open, and be real".  Specific factors include the business (scalability, novelty or disruptiveness of the concept and/or technology), the people (passion, skills and experience of the core team and their advisors), the plan and the opportunity for financial return.

The statistics were fascinating, and the criteria are very helpful, but I was most inspired by the similarities between entrepreneur / investor relationships and [other kinds of] personal relationships, e.g., between spouses, parents and children, and teachers and students.  While Sue emphasized that an angel investment is a business relationship, with an expectation of financial reward, it involves a number of other factors that transcend business (although I increasingly see fewer distinctions between business and other aspects of life), such as social responsibility and a number of factors that I would characterize as karma: a desire to give back to the community and pass on what they have learned to the next generation of entrepreneurs (Sue characterized many angel investors as "recovering entrepreneurs" ... and I would not be surprised if she counted herself in that category).

Sue spoke of the courtship process (3-6 months) between an entrepreneur and prospective angel investor, where open, honest and relatively frequent communication is critical (as in dating, or a marriage). Her emphasis on the mentoring and advising, and even nurturing (which was not a term she used, or perhaps even intended, but it seems very apt to me) role that angel investors often want to play in a company, parallels my conception of what an ideal parent/child or teacher/student relationship should be.  She also noted that the "coachability" of an entrepreneur -- his or her willingness to ask for and receive advice ... and act on it -- is a key factor in her assessment of an investment opportunity ("when the entrepreneur is ready, the investor appears").  I see this as yet another manifestation of one's willingness to open up to the abundance of the universe, and see even more clearly why these types of investors are called "angels".

One final note: the subtitle for this post, "It's the Relationship, Stupid!", was chosen specifically to channel the wisdom of Kathy Sierra's recent post on "It's the [?], Stupid!", where she emphasizes the importance of focusing on the meaningful benefits that a product or service really offers, which are often overlooked by those who are providing them -- shining a laser beam on what really matters to one's customers (or voters) ... or, in Kathy's rather irreverent and pithy way of expressing this, how to help your users kick *ss!  My intention in invoking this terminology is to reflect the idea that many aspects of the relationships between angel investors and entrepreneurs -- above and beyond the financial aspects that often constitute the primary (or sole) focus, at least on the part of some entrepreurs -- are often overlooked, but these less tangible dimensions of angel investments may, in fact, be the most valuable to the ultimate success of a venture.

Filling Buckets, Online and Offline

Howfullisyourbucket How Full is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life, a book by Tom Rath and the late Donald O. Clifton, provides a simple metaphor of buckets and dippers to represent the way we store and forward positive and negative emotions, and highlights the tremendous cumulative impact of all our individual choices to fill or dip from others' buckets in our families, workplaces and society. The book has an online companion site with a number of tools to test factors and apply strategies they propose in the book, but I see a number of other online mechanisms that can be seen as filling or dipping into buckets. And, as is so often the case, I see a number of connections to other things I've read (and written about), including books by Guy Kawasaki, Don Miguel Ruiz and Howard Schultz, a number of blog posts by Kathy Sierra, and my own evolving notion of a personal attention economy.

The book starts off with The Theory of the Dipper and the Bucket:

Each of us has an invisible bucket. It is constantly emptied or filled, depending on what others say or do to us. When our bucket is full, we feel great. When it's empty, we feel awful.

Each of us also has an invisible dipper. When we use that dipper to fill other people's buckets -- by saying or doing things to increase their positive emotions -- we also fill our own bucket. But when we use that dipper to dip from others' buckets -- by saying or doing things that decrease their positive emotions -- we diminish ourselves.

Like the cup that runneth over, a full bucket gives us a positive outlook and renewed energy. Every drop in that bucket makes us stronger and more optimistic.

But an empty bucket poisons our outlook, saps our energy, and undermines our will. That's why every time someone dips from our bucket, it hurts us.

So we face a choice every moment of the day: We can fill one another's buckets, or we can dip from them. It's an important choice -- one that profoundly influences our relationships, productivity, health and happiness.

Instances of bucket filling or dipping not only have an important influence on the emotions of the individuals directly involved, but also tend have a network effect in creating "chains of interpersonal events" that have far-reaching impact beyond that single interaction. The book talks about the propagation of positive emotions, but I think all emotions, especially strong ones, have a tendency to propagate. As an example, I notice that in my driving experience, when another driver opens up a space for me to merge into traffic, I am much more likely to open up a space for other drivers ... and while I hate to admit it, when another driver cuts me off I feel a strong urge to return that "favor" -- and to pass it on to others -- as well.

There are high costs associated with insufficient bucket filling and/or inordinately high levels of bucket dipping. Lack of recognition and appreciation is the number one reason people leave their jobs (and I imagine it takes a toll in marriages and other personal relationships as well). Rath and Clifton estimate that the annual cost of the 22 million "extremely negative or actively disengaged employees" -- many of whom presumably lack recognition and appreciation but do not leave their jobs -- may be $1 trillion (10% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product), when factors such as lost productivity, workplace injury, illness, turnover, absences and fraud are taken into account ... and these don't consider the full network effect of actively disengaged bucket dipping throughout an organization. They do not provide estimates of the costs of actively disengaged spouses or parents ... I suspect that while these may be more pervasive, they would be more difficult to measure.

The authors suggest five strategies to help people develop a habit of creating and spreading positive emotions (i.e., filling buckets):

  1. Prevent Bucket Dipping
    Pay attention in all your interactions to whether you are filling or dipping ... and consciously choose which you want to do.  Help others do the same, especially when people gang up on someone in a group dipping attack.  An interaction scorecard is provided on the book's website.
  2. Shine a Light on What is Right
    Focus on -- and explicitly recognize -- the positive rather than the negative in your interactions others.  A Positive Impact Test for measuring how well you do this is also provided on the book's website.
  3. Make Best Friends
    People with best friends at work tend to work better ... and people with best friends in life tend to live better (and longer).  Make best friends -- and be a potential best friend -- by regularly filling people's buckets, starting with your very first interaction with each person.  [A variation on the theme of everyone's a customer.]  I know that my best friends are irrepressible bucket-fillers, and I try my best to reciprocate (and propagate).
  4. Give Unexpectedly
    "Look for opportunities to give small gifts to others out of the blue".  One type of gift is simply "sharing something personal or entrusting a friend with a secret".  I see a strong corrollary here to the concept of a mensch articulated by Guy Kawasaki: help lots of people, especially those who cannot help you.
  5. Reverse the Golden Rule
    This is powerful: "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them." The golden rule applies insofar that we all want to have our buckets filled, but how to effectively fill someone else's bucket must be individualized. I remember growing up, often being given gifts that other people wanted me to have, and one of the many new perspectives my wife has helped me understand is the importance of focusing on what others want in my gift-giving.

The book's web site provides an online tool for sending electronic drops to fill others' buckets. I like the idea, even though it reminds of an electronic "kudos" program that was used in a former place of employment that was not very effective; I suspect this failure was due in large part to more systemic problems in the way the company manages its human relationships ... I don't know anyone who has ever worked there who would accuse the company of overfilling their buckets.

There are many other ways that people can fill or dip electronically, e.g., Amazon reviews, eBay ratings and LinkedIn testimonials. I have been feeling ambivalent about this last category -- for some LinkedIn members, it sometimes appears like part of a game (in which people try to collect as many links and testimonials as possible), but I'm going to think more -- and possibly act -- on this, based on some new insights from this book. Another category that I consider more promising is blog comments and trackbacks, and although I know some people are rather cynical about interactions in the blogosphere, I have found this to be a more natural mechanism for filling buckets, and as with driving, the more I feel the positive emotions that come when others take the time to comment on my blog posts, the more willing I am to take the time to post comments on others' blogs. I know that some blog comments can represent bucket dipping, but I am fortunate in rarely having experienced this (as dipper or dippee).

The main resistance I have to fully embracing the concepts in this book was immediately obvious to my 10-year-old son when I read him the theory of bucket filling and dipping: "I thought you said it shouldn't matter what other people say about you?" As I've noted earlier, I have an ongoing ambivalence over independence vs. interdependence, or how much I choose to be affected by others' actions (or inaction) -- or, indeed, as a social animal, how much power I even have to choose. The second agreement in Don Miguel Ruiz' book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom states Don't take anything personally, i.e., anything anyone else says to or about me is really more -- or perhaps entirely (?) -- about them rather than me ... and, conversely, anything I say to or about another person is really about (and often for) me. I think Don Miguel himself has some ambivalence about this, since one of his arguments for the first agreement, Be impeccable with your word, is that our words can have significant positive or negative impact on others ... and, thus, one might reason, others' words can impact us ... um, even if we don't take anything personally (?).

There are a number of touchpoints between the Rath and Clifton book and themes I read (and wrote about) in Howard Schultz' book "Pour Your Heart Into It", given Howard's emphasis on perseverance -- which might be framed as maintaining a full bucket despite repeated bucket dipping -- partnership -- partnering with potential best friends and regularly filling their buckets ... and having his bucket(s) filled by them -- and everything matters -- the Rath and Clifton book has a chapter on "Every Moment Matters" highlighting the larger effects of what may seem like insignificant interactions.

Yesterday, in addition to posting my summary of Howard's book, I also posted a comment on yet another inspiring blog post by Kathy Sierra on Mediocrity by "areas of improvement", in which she shares her insights and experiences with performance reviews, and the detrimental impact these can have through focusing on "areas of improvement" rather than celebrating and encouraging employees to develop their areas of strength. I recommended the Rath and Clifton book, even though I hadn't read it, simply on the basis of its title. This morning, I woke up around 3:30, and felt a strong urge to get up and actually read the book, and it turned out to be far more relevant to her post than I had imagined. I've already touched on some of these areas of relevance, but I'll mention another dimension here: the applicability and impact of bucket filling and dipping within one's family:

Instead of celebrating what makes each child unique, most parents push their children to "fit in" so that they don't "stick out". This unwittingly stops out individuality and encourages conformity.

This conformity (which reflects the mitote that Don Miguel Ruiz writes about) then extends into the workplace:

Essentially, you were hired for a job, then you were expected to change who you were to fit the role. If you struggled, then you may have to endure a "competency" program designed to "fix the problem". The weakness-based approach follows us throughout our lives from school to the workplace.

This reminds me of the well-documented problems that occur when one enters a long-term personal relationship, such as marriage, with the expectation that one can change one's partner. I now see how that this weakness-based approach can be just as damaging in a parent-child relationship, or a teacher-student relationship. Rath and Clifton report on a study done in 1925 that showed how students whose work in a math class over a 5-day period was consistently [and deservedly] praised by a teacher showed far greater improvement (71%) than those whose work was [deservedly] criticized (19%) or ignored (5%).

I recently wrote about how I am becoming increasingly -- and painfully -- aware that I have not been paying much attention to my family (especially my children). I now recognize that, despite my best intentions, I have been dipping more often -- and filling less often -- than I want to. I also recognize that attention itself is a currency that can be used as a bucket-filler, and that I run the risk of passing on the attention deficit I inherited to my children, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. The simple terminology and concepts introduced by How Full is Your Bucket will help me be more conscious of how I choose to focus my attention -- and other actions -- in the future.

[Update: I took the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment -- one of the online tools mentioned above -- and discovered my top five strengths (among a set of 34 themes) are:

  • Woo (Win Others Over)
    People strong in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person.
  • Connectedness
    People strong in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.
  • Relator
    People strong in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
  • Ideation
    People strong in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between disparate phenomena.
  • Adaptability
    People strong in the Adaptability theme prefer to "go with the flow". They tend to be "now" people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.

I can't say there are any surprises here, so maybe I should say this was more of a confirmation than a discovery ... though I'll also note that I'm not the only one who has noticed a potential analogy to astrology.]

Advisors: Personal and Professional, Imaginary and Real

Last week, my friend, Mary, sent me a fabulous article on how to assemble and use a personal board of advisors entitled "Looking Out for Number One", by Jim Collins, author of "Good to Great". The article tied in with a number of related themes from pieces I've been reading -- and hearing -- about advisors (including some gems in Howard Schultz's book "Pour Your Heart Into It" that I blogged about yesterday), and some broader discussions I've been having with a number of folks about the blogosphere facilitating connections with "famous" people.  It also brought up a strong emotional reaction that helped me better understand how my professional work can be seen as simply another manifestation of my personal work.

In the article, published nearly 10 years ago, Jim proposes that businesspeople, especially those actively engaged in starting or running a business, achieve greater self-knowledge and self-actualization by assembling a personal board of directors:

... composed of seven people you deeply respect and would not want to let down. A group like a set of tribal elders that you turn to for guidance at times of ethical dilemmas, life transitions, and difficult choices, people who embody the core values and standards you aspire to live up to.

As with a corporate board of directors, diversity of representation -- different personal and business backgrounds and perspectives -- is an important feature of one's personal board, and the ideal members will be candid but also compassionate and nonjudgmental (i.e., exemplars of bizlove).  The board meetings can be imaginary, simply "envisioning what each board member might say about a given situation", but Jim also encourages people to reach out and really connect with deeply respected people in the real world, noting that "remarkable people -- those worthy of being personal-board members -- tend to be unusually generous with their time" and that "the best payment is simply to emulate them by giving time and guidance to others, especially younger people who need mentors" (i.e., they tend to be mensches and use the currency of karma).

While I was reading Jim's article, I felt tears welling up when I got to the part about really asking remarkable people to be on one's personal board of advisors.  I increasingly pay attention to my emotions, and so I followed this trail of tears down to its source, and revisited the issue of my own personal attention economy, which tends to operate more on a basis of scarcity than abundance.  My father, who was a good man and always did his best, was also an alcoholic, and as I grew older he grew more remote; as a child, I took this personally, and made the inference that if my father wasn't willing to spend time with me, it must be because I'm not worth spending time with.  I have spent the rest of my life working through this internalized conviction, and while I now consciously recognize that my father's behavior was about him (and his disease) and not about me, my subconscious tapes saying "you are not important" still get air time.

One of my entrepreneurial challenges has been to muster the gumption to ask for people's time -- whether it be prospective partners or associates, advisors, or prospective customers and clients.  Since my professional and personal missions are closely intertwined, there is more at stake than simply my self-esteem ... if/when I am unable (or unwilling) to ask for attention, my business suffers as well ... and so working through my professional challenges is helping me work through my personal challenges. 

And those stakes are truly intertwined, where the professional affects the personal as well. Jim shares a story about an entrepreneur who confides in him that "It's easy to get so wrapped up in building the company that you lose sight of what's really important in your life and why you have your company in the first place." This helped me recognize that I am focusing so much time and energy on my business, Interrelativity -- whose mission is helping people relate -- that I have precious little time left to relate to my own family, and thus risk perpetuating the cycle of inattentiveness that was so devastating to me ... opening up yet another channel for realization -- and tears -- to flow ... but I want to let this pot simmer a bit longer before saying more (on this blog).

As I have alluded to before, I feel very fortunate to have received some outstanding advice from some remarkable people in the local entrepreneurial community (and, very recently, a few from "outside").  For reasons I often still don't understand, but am increasingly willing to simply accept, people have been very generous in sharing their insights and experiences with me, and helping me in a variety of ways.  Jim's article prompted me to think more globally, and be more willing to consider people outside my local community that I might invite to join my personal board of directors.  With seven slots, if I could ask anyone, who would they be?  Heady -- and hearty -- stuff!

Two remarkable people I first met through the blogosphere, Dan Oestreich and Paul Williams, and with whom I've recently expanded our relationships through local face-to-face meetings, have both, independently, recently established connections to Guy Kawasaki, author of "The Art of the Start", which all three of us consider the "bible" of entrepreneurship.  Given my own personal history, inviting a luminary like Guy Kawasaki to be on my personal board of advisors would have been unthinkable in the not-too-distant past, but it is something I can envision as actionable now ... and I can also envision contacting Howard Schultz (who I also greatly admire and respect) about joining my personal board of advisors ... and even if my overtures are rejected, I can add Guy and Howard to my imaginary board of advisors.

This, in turn, reminds me of some wisdom I recently encountered in a post by Paul Williams' on an imaginary board of directors.  As I noted in a comment (on yet another related post by Paul, on writing like Leonardo), I really like the idea -- and practice -- of having an imaginary board of advisors. The earliest example I heard of this was in Rick Jarow's Ultimate Anti-Career Guide, wherein he reports that Thomas Edison had an imaginary advisory board that included Galileo and Copernicus (don't know about Leonardo). Jarow offers his own suggestions for how to most effectively use such a board:

The sincerity of the inquiry is of great importance, as is the willingness to trust, ask, listen and live, and then to put what you receive into practice. As you begin to live from your intuitive faculty instead of simply theorizing or wondering about it, you develop a working relationship with your source of guidance and begin to evolve your own way of receiving and responding.

And so, my work -- personal and professional -- is to be willing to trust, ask, listen and live ... to evolve new ways of receiving and responding ... and to open up to the abundance of the universe.

Howard Schultz on Passion, Perseverance and Partnership



I had a remarkable Starbucks Experience yesterday, which prompted me to go back and review my notes from Howard Schultz’s inspiring book “Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time” (co-authored with Dori Jones Yang).  It reminded me of my intention to start posting more summaries of the books I enjoy ... an intention I mentioned in posting a summary of Tim Sanders' book, “Love is the Killer App”, last month.

I picked up Howard's book shortly after blogging about some statements he made to Congress and Know Magazine about human needs, community and health care last fall.  Of the many aspects of the book that resonate with me, three that percolate to the top are passion, perseverance and partnership.  Howard emphasized the importance of being passionate about what you are doing, and hiring other people who share your passion (and commitment and goals), so that this passion can be effectively communicated to your customers, many of whom are looking to fill voids – of passion, romance, community, and other soulful fillers – in their lives.

Perseverance is another recurring theme throughout the book. One of my favorite quotations in the book highlights the value of this quality or attitude:

Again and again, I've had to use every ounce of perseverance and persuasion I can summon to make things happen.  Life is a series of near misses. But a lot of what we subscribe to is not luck at all.  It's seizing the day and accepting responsibility for your future.  It's seeing what other people don't see and pursuing that vision no matter who tells you not to. ... when you really believe -- in yourself, in your dream -- you just have to do everything you possibly can to take control and make your vision a reality.

Partnership is a theme that I’ve been thinking about – and acting on – a lot lately. I recently wrote about “Everyone’s a Customer” … and a variation on this might be “Everyone’s a [Prospective] Partner”.  Howard’s experience illustrates many different aspects of partnership, the sum total of which makes up a significant part of the Starbucks history and culture.  According to the book, all of the people who might be called “employees” in other corporations are called “partners” at Starbucks, and it doesn’t appear to be simply a label – through the company’s BeanStock program, many of the partners are able to become shareholders as well.

Recognizing both his strengths and his areas for development, Howard was able to recruit some outstanding partners for senior executive positions.  One of the first was Dave Olsen, the “ideal person [who] came to me, just when I needed him most” (when the employer is ready, the employee appears?), who ran Café Allegro in the University District of Seattle, and had an incredible knowledge of coffee.  Dave could have been a competitor when they met, as Howard was planning to open another café in Seattle, Il Giornale, but chose to work with Howard for “a paltry salary of $12,000 a year” to help get the business started.

Dave wasn’t in it for the money. He joined our team because he believed.

Howard goes on to elaborate on the more general principle this illustrates:

If you're building an organization, you quickly realize that you can't do it alone.  You'll build a much stronger company if you can find a colleague you trust absolutely, someone who brings different strengths to the mix but who still shares your values.

Another key partner was Howard Behar, who helped Howard [Schultz] better recognize that it was the people of Starbucks that mattered more than anything else (including the great coffee about which they were all so passionate), and proposed a number of programs to help celebrate, recognize and reward the Starbucks partners, e.g., hand-signed birthday cards and starting-date anniversary cards, and recognition programs encouraging partners to nominate their colleagues as trendsetters or store managers of the quarter.

Orrin Smith was also an important partner in the ranks of the senior executives:

"It's hard to execute entrepreneurially." Orrin Smith has to keep reminding me of that. ...
Many business visionaries have failed as leaders because they could not execute. Processes and systems, discipline and efficiency are needed to create a foundation before creative ideas can be implemented and entrepreneurial vision can be realized.
Building processes is not a skill I have.  It's beyond my interests and abilities.  What I did to compensate, what every visionary entrepreneur needs to do, is find an executive who can build the infrastructure the company needs without sacrificing the need for innovation.  But it has to be someone who understands the value of unconventional wisdom.  At Starbucks, that executive is Orrin Smith.

Howard also talks about his relationships with other kinds of partners, including his investors, board of directors and mentors:

My initial fears about venture capitalists proved unfounded; what I found, in fact, was the opposite.  Instead of interference, I gained another set of trusted advisers with long-term horizons. ...

My relationship with the board took an unusual turn when I came to view them more as trusted advisers than as supervisors.  Unlike many CEOs, I was direct with them, confiding in them my problems in running the business.  They always challenged me to defend my ideas, and we had open and frank discussions at board meetings. They continually pushed me to sharpen my focus and set clear priorities, fearing that my entrepreneurial zeal would send the company in too many directions. ...

Once you've figured out what you want to do, find someone who has done it before ... with the right mentor, don't be afraid to expose your vulnerabilities. Admit you don't know what you don't know. When you acknowledge your weaknesses and ask for advice, you'll be surprised at how much others will help

There are several other dimensions of partnership that Starbucks has embraced, including relationships with Pepsi-Cola (Frappucino), Redhook Brewery (Double Black Stout), Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream and United Airlines.  Hardly surprisingly, given the strength of its brand, Starbucks rejects far more partnership overtures than it accepts.

There are many, many other aspects of the book that I find personally inspiring, from Howard’s emphatic embrace of integrity, openness and vulnerability, to Starbucks’ willingness to experiment (e.g., their foray into the music business), to their dedication to building Great Good Places offering “an inviting, stimulating, sometimes even soulful respite from the pressures of work and home”. 


I know that Starbucks has its detractors, and I won't deny that some of the detractions may have some merit, but as Kathy Sierra expressed so compellingly in her post "Be Brave or Go Home":

... the worst thing is being in the Zone of Mediocrity. That's what we should all be afraid of.

Creating passionate users is NOT about finding ways to make everyone like you. It's about finding ways to use your own passion to inspire passion in others, and anything with that much power is bound to piss off plenty of status-quo/who-moved-my-cheese people. Bring it on.

The last thing I’ll mention about the book is Howard’s invocation of a theme that recurs repeatedly in this blog: the idea of a mensch.  This emerges in Howard’s recounting of Starbucks’ experience in preparing for their initial public offering:

"Do you know what the problem with your business [investment banking] is?" I asked.  Dan [Levitan] braced himself for a major indictment of the investment banking industry.  "No, what?" he said warily.
"There are not enough mensches."
I assumed Dan would know what the word mensch, a Yiddish way of describing someone who is basically decent, honest, and full of integrity.
Dan jerked his head up and looked me directly in the eye.  I could see that he took my point, instantly.  My guess had been right: Dan was a mensch.

He [Dan Levitan] found it hard be a hard sell ... coffee didn't strike Dan's colleagues as an obvious moneymaker ... Ironically, Dan got to experience first-hand what I had been going through in Seattle, learning how tough it was to communicate intangibles like passion and values to hard-bitten skeptics.

I can relate to the difficulty of communicating intangibles, and the challenges of trying to articulate a value proposition that is imbued with passion, integrity and community … something that makes meaning without an immediately obvious path to making money. <sigh>