Love is the Killer App, Blogs are the Killer Platform

Tim Sanders, author of the book Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends, has a new blog, Sanders Says.  I was reminded of Tim's lovecat way (or what I call bizlove) several times while reading the book I just finished (and blogged about), Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.  Tim's lovecat way espouses sharing your knowledge, your network and your compassion freely with all of your bizpartners.  The priming effects of Naked Conversations together with the announcement of Tim's blog got me to thinking (and now blogging) about the prospect of blogs being the ideal platform for sharing the love, whether for business or non-business purposes ... what I might call BlogLove.

The passages that really jumped out at me were during the chapter on Survival of the Publicists, in which Robert and Shel are are talking about Steve Rubel, who champions blogs as [authentic] public relations tools.  They report on how Steve helps his PR clients adopt a listen and participate (vs. command and control) model of public relations -- and, I would argue, demonstrates the lovecat way:

Instead of positioning himself as a gatekeeper in the middle of the conversation, Rubel connected the parties directly to each other [through the client''s blog] and then stepped back to let them talk on their own.

This beautifully illustrates the approach to networking that Tim espouses in his book: collecting [contacts], connecting and disappearing. 

A little later, Steve provides one of the most inspiring quotes in the book:

Blogging is the best connection tool ever invented.

Indeed, blogs provide fabulous features to enhance connections ... and share love. 

For example, blog authors can create links to people, places and things they reference in their posts (Robert and Shel's Tip #9 in the section on "Doing it Right" is "Be Linky").  Referencing someone is a form of showing appreciation or love ... perhaps tough love in the case of a post that is critical of the referee -- reference need not imply reverence.  At the very least, taking the time to create a link demonstrates that the author cares about the object being referenced.

Blogrolls represent more enduring links to other people, places and things, both in their technical implementation -- they typically exist in a sidebar, and so are visible outside of any specfic blog post -- and their social interpretation -- they typically imply that the blog author(s) derives inspiration, or at least information, from the referees.  Thus, blogrolls bestow an enhanced level of appreciation and love beyond links in individual posts.

Comments are another common connection feature in blogs (Tip #6: "Add Comments"), which enables the audience to participate in a conversation with the author(s) -- I was going to say they enable "readers" to participate in conversation with the "writers", but in a blog that enables comments, anyone can be a reader or a writer (or both).  By enabling comments, bloggers are showing openness and vulnerability, and by writing comments, the audience is offered an opportunity to demonstrate their appreciation and love (though again, it may be "tough love").  And when a blog author adds a comment, he or she is demonstrating an additional level of appreciation and love by engaging in conversation with the audience.

Unfortunately, some blogs exhibit vestiges of a command-and-control mindset, by disabling HTML in comments, constraining the voices of the audience, who are not able to embellish their comments with italics or bold, or [gracefully] refer to other people, places and things (via HREF links) -- or by moderating comments -- requiring every comment to be manually approved by the author(s), which can delay the appearance of comments, thus diminishing the conversational aspect (to me, comment moderation says: "I'll get around to you when I damn well please").  Some blogs only moderate comments that have HTML.  In any case, whenever I see these kinds of limitations imposed, I have to ask "Where is the love?".

I recognize that some blog tools include these "protections" as default settings, but as Robert and Shel point out in several places in their book, blogging is all about taking risks, playing the edge, and overcoming fear, uncertainty and doubts.  For what it's worth, whenever I've taken the time to post a comment, and the blog strips out my HTML and/or tells me "your comment is awaiting approval", I rarely post another comment on that blog ... and [thus] am much less likely to return to read the blog.

So, why am I ranting about these protections?  Because while Tim Sanders writes about the lovecat way -- and I believe he believes in the lovecat way -- he is not demonstrating the lovecat way through his blog.  As in his book, which is a one-way communication medium, he is writing about his knowledge, network and compassion through his blog posts.  However, by disabling HTML in his comments, and [see below] not taking the time to respond to any comments posted by his audience, I don't believe he is walking the talk as effectively as he might.  This could simply be due to his unfamiliarity with this new medium, or it could be due to his history as an author and a speaker (primarily one-way media).  However, Kathy Sierra's Creating Passionate Users blog provides a bright shining example of someone who is an author and a speaker and a fully engaged conversant on an inspiring blog.  I feel a sense of love in all of Kathy's posts and comments ... and want to feel -- not just read about -- more of that love through Tim's blog.

I wrote a comment on Tim's first blog post, entreating him to more fully engage the blogosphere in demonstrating the lovecat way through his blog.  However, I don't know if he is even reading his comments (since he has not replied to any on his blog).  Emboldened by the examples of "open letters" in blogs shared by Robert and Shel in their book, I decided to emulate that in my own blog.  Even if Tim never reads (or responds to) this posrt, perhaps it will encourage other bloggers to think about how much they are opening up to the love and appreciation available through the blogoshere.

[Update: Oops!  I just noticed that a more recent comment on Tim's first post does have embedded HTML, and verified through a new comment on a more recent post that HREF links work.  So, perhaps Tim is reading his comments ... but I see that Gene Becker has still not approved a comment I attempted to make on one of his blog posts over a week ago ... ironically, my comment included a reference to the David Crosby song "Music is Love".]

Revolution: the Business and Brand of Sustainability?

The Seattle Times recently ran a Washington Post article on how Steve Case pushes symbiotic relationship of business principles, green ideas.  This was particularly interersting to me, given that a few days earlier, Case's new company, Revolution, LLC, had flexed its muscles to grow Flexcar, whose [now] former CEO, Lance Ayrault, had shared some of his insights into and experiences with social entrepreneurship at a Northwest Entrepreneur Network breakfast a few days before that.  During the Q&A session at the NWEN breakfast, Lance had noted the delicate balance of being a small (and growing) business with a majority stakeholder (Case / Revolution) with an entirely different sense of scale ... and, from the announcement, it looks like that balance may be shifting.

According to the Post article, Case, and his CEO, Michael Crooke, want to position Revolution as a meta-brand of environmentally friendly but mainstream products and services, targeting consumers who value "lifestyles of health and sustainability."  However, the company web site describing what Revolution is about focuses on control and convenience, with no mention of the environment or [planetary] sustainability.  While the article quotes Case as saying that he wants to avoid any product or service that is "too fringy", the web page states "We don't play it safe - we play to win".  One of the investments that Revolution has made is in Gaiam, "a provider of information, goods and services to customers who value the environment, a sustainable economy, healthy lifestyles, alternative healthcare and personal development" whose founder reportedly lives in a shack without running water; another is Miraval Resort, an exclusive "destination for body, mind and spirit", which appears to be at the opposite end of the housing spectrum from a shack ... and very distant from the dramatic stories of social entrepreneurship highlighted in the PBS series The New Heroes.

It will be interesting to see whether and how Case, Crooke, et al., can bridge the gaps between the ecology and the economy, and between alternative lifestyles and mainstream business.  I'm reminded of "The Tough Choice", a great essay by David Batsone in the March 2005 issue of Worthwhile Magazine, in which he reviews the tradeoffs between profitability and conscience faced by a number of founders of socially responsible businesses, with segments on each of the following:

In each case where an [initially] socially responsible company chose a path of "growth" -- several of which are also covered (and available online) in an article on "To Drink or Not to Drink?" by Brooking Gatewood in The Dartmouth Green Magazine -- the price paid for growth was a diminishment of the commitment to social responsibility that motivated the founders.  It will be interesting to see what happens in this Case ... and whether the eco-friendly brand sought by Revolution is achievable ... and sustainable.

Chaordic Leadership Principles

In anticipation of the possibility that week's Seattle Times article about Interrelativity might generate increased interest in the company, I updated our web site ... including my curriculum vitae (CV, aka resumé), both the short and long versions.  I decided to include a section in the latter document about my approach to leadership, which I have assembled by consciously and unconsciously adopting the best practices, and avoiding the worst practices, of the leadership I have subjected myself to over the years ... much as I believe my approach to parenting and teaching have evolved (which, I suppose, are simply instances of leadership).

My approach to team building is to bring together people with complementary skills, experiences and perspectives, who share a strong passion and aspiration toward a common goal, provide them with as many resources and as few constraints as possible, and essentially stay out of their way as they engage their creative energies in innovative ways that maximize the positive impact of the entire team.

As I mentioned in my recent post on Intelligence, Advice, Investment and Politics, I remember being inspired by a quote from Dee Hock, the founder of Visa International and co-founder of the Interra Project, that I read about in Guy Kawasaki's 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.

Googling around for the context of this quote led me to an article on The Art of Chaordic Leadership written by Dee in Leader to Leader, 15 (Winter 2000): 20-26.  This is one of the most powerful, succinct and sensible descriptions of how to lead I've ever seen ... and I was happy to see that the approach that I thought I've been making up as I go along had some firmer ground on which to stand.  As with my recent post on entrepreneurial proverbs, I won't go into a more full analysis here, but simply note the bullet points in the summary from the original article:

On Chaordic Leadership

Many convictions about leadership have served me well over the years. Although each of these few examples could benefit from pages of explication, a few words may provide insight to chaordic leadership.

  • Power: True power is never used. If you use power, you never really had it.
  • Human Relations: First, last, and only principle -- when dealing with subordinates, repeat silently to yourself, "You are as great to you as I am to me, therefore, we are equal." When dealing with superiors, repeat silently to yourself, "I am as great to me as you are to you, therefore we are equal."
  • Criticism: Active critics are a great asset. Without the slightest expenditure of time or effort, we have our weakness and error made apparent and alternatives proposed. We need only listen carefully, dismiss that which arises from ignorance, ignore that which arises from envy or malice, and embrace that which has merit.
  • Compensation: Money motivates neither the best people, nor the best in people. It can rent the body and influence the mind but it cannot touch the heart or move the spirit; that is reserved for belief, principle, and ethics.
  • Ego, Envy, Avarice, and Ambition: Four beasts that inevitably devour their keeper. Harbor them at your peril, for although you expect to ride on their back, you will end up in their belly.
  • Position: Subordinates may owe a measure of obedience by virtue of your position, but they owe no respect save that which you earn by your daily conduct. Without their respect, your authority is destructive.
  • Mistakes: Toothless little things, providing you can recognize them, admit them, correct them, learn from them, and rise above them. If not, they grow fangs and strike.
  • Accomplishment: Never confuse activity with productivity. It is not what goes in your end of the pipe that matters, but what comes out the other end. Everything but intense thought, judgment, and action is infected to some degree with meaningless activity. Think! Judge! Act! Free others to do the same!
  • Hiring: Never hire or promote in your own image. It is foolish to replicate your strength. It is stupid to replicate your weakness. Employ, trust, and reward those whose perspective, ability and judgment are radically different from your own and recognize that it requires uncommon humility, tolerance, and wisdom.
  • Creativity: The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.
  • Listening: While you can learn much by listening carefully to what people say, a great deal more is revealed by what they do not say. Listen as carefully to silence as to sound.
  • Judgment: Judgment is a muscle of the mind developed by use. You lose nothing by trusting it. If you trust it and it is bad, you will know quickly and can improve it. If you trust it and it is consistently good, you will succeed, and the sooner the better. If it is consistently good and you don't trust it, you will become the saddest of all creatures; one who could have succeeded but followed the poor judgment of others to failure.
  • Leadership: Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia.

Virtues, Goals, Plans and Aspirations

I recently wrote about goal-free living,  and the value of non-attachment to outcomes ... and in a subsequent comment, how this might apply to plans.  Shortly after making the original post, I read about Benjamin Franklin's 13-point "plan" (via BoingBoing), through which he achieved great happiness throughout his 79-year life. He maintained a weekly chart for how well he adhered to the 13 virtues ... which suggests [to me] a certain amount of attachment.  This reminds me that I only read halfway through Walter Isaakson's book, Benjamin Franklin: Am American Life, before it got submerged under other books ... including Stephen Shapiro's book, Goal-Free Living.  I suspect these two books may offer very different perspectives on the topics of setting and achieving goals.

In any event, here is his plan ... or goals ... or aspirations:

1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.

2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.

3. Order: Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.

4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.

5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.

6. Industry: Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.

7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8. Justice: Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

9. Moderation: Avoid extremes. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.

11. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring; Never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

12. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

[The title of this post is intended as a riff on Schank and Abelson's book, Scripts, Goals, Plans and Understanding ... which was one of the first books I read about artificial intelligence ... Franklin's plan might be a regarded as a recipe for emotional intelligence ... which may be something noted in Daniel Goleman's book on Emotional Intelligence ... which is even further down in my book stack.]

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.

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>

Honor and Consciousness on MLK Day

Yesterday, I was struck by the multiple interpretations of a poster I saw at the King County Library announcing their closure in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday:

[the sign reads: Honor Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday]

One interpretation is that the library is closing in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.  Another interpretation is that the sign is inviting its readers to honor Dr. King.  Yet another interpretation is that the sign is suggesting that honor is what Dr. King was about.

I like this last interpretation best, both because I see Martin Luther King as an honorable man and I see his mission as striving to help us see that we all are brothers and sisters, each equally deserving of honor.

Today I had the honor of enjoying lunch with Dan Oestreich, who I first "met" in the blogosphere exactly a year ago, when I was searching to augment a post I was writing on boxing, belly dancing, boldness and dreams with an inspiring and relevant reference to Martin Luther King.  Dan's insights on Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, posted on the last MLK Day, fit the bill perfectly.  I have since become a regular reader of Dan's blog, and his post today, once again, contains some keen insights into this great leader.  Clare, the 17 year-old daughter of one of Dan's friends, gave a speech at her school about how the racism that Dr. King was fighting against was a result of unconsciousness, and so the best way to elininate racism (and other forms of hatred and fear) is to become more conscious:

To understand racism today, we need to look underneath the surface because no matter who we are, we all feel feelings about people who are different than us. The problem is not that we feel differently about others but that we are afraid to admit to ourselves that we feel differently.

This lack of insight leads to unconscious behavior. Often, I, as well as others, do not take the time to think back to the roots of where our feelings come from. It is so important to know what our feelings are and where they come from because that is how we can learn to change. If you do not know what you feel, you are likely to act unconsciously. Unconsciousness breeds fear and fear breeds hate.


I would like to end with a quote from Martin Luther King,

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

[The entire speech can be found here.]

So, on this day honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., I spend a moment of silence, visualizing a world filled with consciousness, unarmed truth and unconditional love.

A Few Notes on Work, Play and Suffering

I've encountered a number of interesting and inspiring thoughts about work and play and suffering in the past 24 hours.  As much as I am tempted to explore some of these further, I want even more to get to work [on other things] right now.  I'm simply going to post the links here, with a few notes, so that I (or perhaps others) can come back to these at some future time.

BoingBoing posted a link to "Thought Virus #4: Follow the Fun", an excerpt from Douglas Rushkoff's forthcoming book, "Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out":

In a renaissance society driven by the need to forge connections, play is the ultimate system for social currency. It's a way to try on new roles without committing to them for life. It's a way to test strategies of engagement without being defined by them forever. It’s a way to rise above the seemingly high stakes of almost any situation and see it as the game it probably is. It’s a way to make one’s enterprise a form of social currency from the beginning, and to guarantee a collaborative, playful, and altogether more productive path toward continual innovation.

And this play begins at work.

... producers in a renaissance era must come to think of their companies as collaborative minisocieties, whose underlying work ethic will ultimately be expressed in the culture they create for the world at large.

Many have argued that it’s immature and idealistic to believe that everyone,or even a majority of people,should be allowed to enjoy their jobs. In the words of one dark New York TimesOpEd piece, "We're still just means of production....Work is often more bearable when we don’t, in addition to money, expect it always to deliver happiness." The same might be said for life itself, particularly when our duty to perform an economic function extends from what we can produce to what we can consume. Both work and life should be much more than "bearable."

Luckily, renaissances celebrate immaturity and idealism.

This inspiring notion of playful work contrasts with a provocative segment I recently listened to from an audiobook version of Viktor Frankl's classic "Man's Search for Meaning":

An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art, or nature.  But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces.  A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to him.  But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful.  If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.  Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death … Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.

Kathy Sierra, as usual, has many gems in her recent post about "When bosses (or clients) go bad"; I'll include just one excerpt below, that focuses on work, play and suffering:

... the difference between being expected to put in the long hours and being worshipped for doing it cannot be overstated. If we want to make happy users, we have to be happy. Our employers/managers/clients need to accept that, and act accordingly. If you're making us work late all the time because of lousy management, that's inexcusable. If you're making us work late because you're greedy and just want as much business as you can (im)possibly handle, that's inexcusable. But if you need us to work late because things happened that nobody predicted, or because this demo means something drastically important to the company, for which we will also be rewarded... then sure, we'll be willing to pitch in. But spend the extra few bucks to treat us as well as your clients. You should be wining and dining us, not them, when you're asking so much from us.

Finally (for now), I followed Stowe Boyd's link to Evan Williams' Ten Rules for Web Startups (highly recommended in its own right, including some variations on the ten steps that Glenn Kelman recently shared at EU 2005 ... but I digress ...), which included a link to Merlin Mann's summary of David Allen's book "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" in his 43folders blog.  The part about honoring one's time and energy strikes a deep chord within me:

This is a really summarized version, but here it is, PowerPoint-style:

  1. identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops)
  2. get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now
  3. create a right place that you trust and that supports your working style and values
  4. put your stuff in the right place, consistently
  5. do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, and the context of any given moment
  6. iterate and refactor mercilessly

[BoingBoing just posted a link to a recent study on the value of selectivity.]

OK, enough blogging for now; time to devote some energy to getting [other] things done...

Howard Schultz on Human Needs: Community and Health Care

I keep coming across inspiring references to Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks.  Last week, I discovered a recent interview in KNOW Magazine entitled The Art of Creating Passionate Consumers, which included the following quotes:

  • ... consumers are demanding more. They want products or services that create a powerful and enduring emotional connection.
  • The fracturing of our humanity, fracturing of trust in public institutions and corporations has created significant cynicism. However, people want to be a part of something that they can believe in. They want to be associated with a product or service that they can rely on. Companies that are serving these emotional and human needs of the customers will really stand out amidst this cynical backdrop.
  • ... we are not in the coffee business serving people, but in the people business serving coffee. The equity of the Starbucks brand is the humanity and intimacy of what goes on in the communities that exist in each and every location. We continually are reminded of the powerful need and desire for human contact and for community, which is a new, powerful force in determining consumer choices.

And today, I saw a reference in the Worthwhile Magazine blog to a Business week article about Schultz' recent testimony before the U.S. Senate on health care costs:

Starbucks Corp. will spend more on health insurance for its employees this year than on raw materials needed to brew its coffee, the company's chairman said Wednesday.

Howard Schultz, whose Seattle-based company provides health care coverage to employees who work at least 20 hours a week, said Starbucks has faced double-digit increases in insurance costs each of the last four years.

"It's completely non-sustainable," he said.


Schultz said Starbucks' benefits policy is a key reason it has low employee turnover and high productivity.

He declined to endorse any specific legislation, saying his goal was to raise awareness of the problem. But whatever solution is adopted, he said, "Every single American needs to have access to health insurance -- full-stop."

I like the reference to comprehensiveness, but what I think we really need is universally guaranteed access to a basic level of health care, not simply access to [private] health insurance, which can be declined or withdrawn based on business policies rather than the commonwealth -- or, perhaps, commonhealth -- of our citizens.  Riffing off one of his quotes in the KNOW Magazine interview:  Governments that are serving these emotional and human needs of the citizens will really stand out amidst this cynical backdrop.