Paper Napkin Wisdom - Podcast and Blog for Entrepreneurs, Leaders and Difference-Makers

I've asked 1000s of the worlds top Entrepreneurs, Leaders, and Difference-Makers to share with me their most important pearl of wisdom on a simple paper napkin. Then I ask them to have a conversation about why they shared that Paper Napkin Wisdom with me and what it meant to them and for them in their life. Visit for full show notes and archives. Learn their exceptional Stories of Drive, Impact, Balance and Leadership shared by CEOs, founders, authors, speakers, mentors, and teachers. They share successes and failures alike, paying forward their learning experiences to all of us.
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Oct 24, 2015

Shep Hyken is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author, a grass roots entrepreneur, and a speaker. He’s a busy guy but he’s focused in a way that makes him effective and efficient.

He’s already been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Speakers Association, an incredible feat considering he’s still amazing crowds around the world on the subject of consistently delivering Amazing Customer Service.

In his Paper Napkin Wisdom, Shep shares with us a simple yet profound message. He says: “On successful people (and those that aren’t). Those that do, do. Those that don’t won’t!”

Don’t Hold Back

The first time Shep heard the above phrase, the last word was “don’t” rather than “won’t” but there’s a big difference between the two words and Shep believes his spin on it to be more accurate. “Won’t” conveys that we’re stopping ourselves, which is precisely what Shep thinks happens. He believes that some people hold back because they don’t see the bigger picture or don’t look for the positive strategic byproducts that happen as a result of doing new, different things and trying all kinds of different angels. In some cases, he says, there’s something subconscious that keeps people from doing things or it’s simply that they don’t like to try a little bit harder or work a little bit harder. It’s unfortunate, because a little bit of extra effort can make all the difference.

“Someone once told me it doesn’t take much more to go first class,” says Shep. Putting in that little bit of extra effort or that little bit of extra work can make all the difference in an experience and he says it’s what makes an experience memorable. It’s an element that Shep applies to every business relationship he has, but he’s careful not to over commit. He’s learned that in order to be successful and grow you have to say ‘no’ and delegate tasks. Delegating tasks allows Shep to do what he calls staying in his lane: he knows what he’s really good at and he stays focused on doing that. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t expand his efforts or that he doesn’t keep an eye out for new opportunities, but it does means that he evaluates potential ventures in terms of how congruent they are with what he does in addition to assessing how much time and money it will cost him.

Identify What Works

Shep says that part of success is identifying the things that you’ve done in the past that worked for you and trying to repeat them. He advises taking a look at what you’ve done from the beginning of your business to what you’ve done now and find the milestone moments, the moments that really made a positive impact in your business. Are there things that have worked for you in the past that you don’t do anymore? Shep says that our attention too often gets siphoned off into the some activity that gets in the way of us doing what’s always worked best. If we take the time to repeat things that have worked for us in the past instead of constantly innovating, we not only save ourselves time, we give ourselves the opportunity to see what strategic byproducts might be right in front of us.

“Things are going to happen that you’re going go ‘ooh, that’s a great idea.”

A strategic byproduct is an opportunity that arises as a result of some sort of current situation.”Along the way things are going to happen that you’re going to go ‘ooh, that’s a great idea.'” says Shep. He shares the example of how, when his speaking business was lagging due to the fear surrounding air travel in the wake of 9/11, a client mentioned how he wished Shep had content he could bring to the company. Considering what his client had said, Shep reworked his content into a training format and did just that. Recently, he’s even noticed that his income from training has begun to surpass that of his speaking engagements.

Shep has a really simple approach to getting stuff done, he just does it. By delegating the things that would otherwise distract him from staying in his lane, and putting in that little bit of extra effort, Shep is able to keep a sharp eye out for opportunity and move his business in the right direction. It’s a method that’s lead him to great success, where might it lead you?


Aug 17, 2015

Sean Costello is an entrepreneurial leader who values the right balance of culture and execution. He has founded multiple companies on the principles of patience and curiosity, and works hard to maintain a supportive atmosphere for his clines and employees. This has lead Sean to his contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom: People all around you want to help, they just don’t yet know how.

In Sean’s experience, real connections become possible when you share with people how they can help you. We are all here to help unlock each other’s people and help each other succeed. In so doing, we ourselves will succeed by realizing our strength. Thinking of this another way, how effective would a sports team be if each player was wearing blinders and was unable to locate their teammates? The metaphor of the team can thus relate to family, an organization, a corporation, or any community of people that is reliant on one another.

The requirement or exercise within this philosophy, as Sean explains, is quite simple. It is about actively asking for feedback while simultaneously making it safe for sharing. Sharing, in this case, can mean everything from concerns to feedback to dreams. This creates an environment of possibilities.

Sean exploration as a microcosm for business - it cannot succeed without the appropriate amount of process, planning, preparation, and simulation. This has driven his fascination with the space program, while also helping him meet and develop a co-mentorship with someone he calls “Young Astronaut Abby”. Abby shared with him, in their first meeting, her dream of being the first astronaut to Mars. Sean challenged Abby to continue with and develop that dream, rather than dismissing it as childish whimsy. She has since spoken on a Ted X stage about acting and dreaming big, and leveraged her dream into other examples of success. This was able to occur because she shared her dream with Sean and gave him the awareness on how she could be helped.

Another example is quite personal for Sean. When his grandfather was about to turn 100, his family was flying into a remote town to celebrate. Sean wanted to offer him something unique to help him with that celebration, so on the flight there, he shared with the pilot the location of his grandfather’s farm. The farm happened to be near the airport, so Sean simply asked for a fly by. The pilot, of course, was more than happy to oblige and Sean was able to take photos of the farmhouse as they flew over to share with his grandfather and elevate his birthday celebration.

This is all to say that Sean enters every transaction, regardless of the situation, by sharing how he defines success with the other participants. For example, he was able to convince a customer to pay up front for a full year by offering a reduced price, all the while that up front cash was also helping Sean to succeed by providing him with financing.


In Sean’s experience, the best approach to relationships is to start by thinking “what do I need to do for them” rather than thinking “what do I need to demand”. The result will be more fulfilling for both parties.

Aug 12, 2015

For more than two decades, Alex Charfen has been creating and testing business philosophies specifically geared towards entrepreneurs. Alex has been an entrepreneur himself during this period, and has developed the Entrepreneurial Personality Type to help business owners grow their business and themselves. He has contributed to numerous major media outlets and brings his core philosophy to Paper Napkin Wisdom: “There is nothing wrong with you.”

Alex’s contribution stems from an observation that whoever has stood out in history has always had a restlessness - something that people constantly told them was a weakness. Ranging from the original great thinkers of Athens to Einstein to Buffett, opposition to this type of innovative thinking has always originated from a resistance to change. In the business world, entrepreneurs represent this archetype because we are highly susceptible to negative criticism.

At every level of business - and especially when starting out - the message is “fix yourself.” In Alex’s experience, however, entrepreneurs must discover how to identify strengths and abilities, develop protection and support, and lower pressure and noise. You may be surprised at how rapidly these efforts help in accomplishing your goals. Alex even goes so far as to recommend leaning into your personality (as opposed to tempering it) and make it a more prominent part of your business.

From the work Alex has done with entrepreneurs, he has identified three awakenings that each of us experiences: 1) a realization that we are fundamentally different, 2) an innate motivation to keep going, 3) the call of contribution. The first stage begins at an early age by learning “what is wrong with me” through systemic suppression and fear. This eventually grows, however, into learning how to get ahead, and learning that self improvement often requires breaking systemic rules. The next evolution becomes “how to get my partners and team ahead”, which finally results in “how to contribute and help everyone.” Think of Bill Gates as the perfect example: someone who began is career as selfish, driven, and cutthroat, but developed a philanthropic, generous spirit of contribution.

Entrepreneurial personalities tend to prefer momentum to feeling - forward vs backwards as opposed to happy vs sad. As such, chasing momentum is more rewarding than chasing happiness. Entrepreneurs tend to be momentum-based or highly attuned to whether they’re moving forward. As Alex describes it, pressure and noise = stress, frustration, obstacles, regardless of size. Protection and support comes from surrounding yourself with people who help you move forward.


Complete the following exercise: think of a time when you experienced a high level of momentum. What were you chasing and how are you tracking your momentum? Who contributed to you and who have you contributed to? A perfect example of this formula is Rick Hoyt: a person who, with the help of his father, family, neighbors and friends, overcame a physical disability to develop strengths and abilities, and eventually make a contribution through inspiration.

Aug 5, 2015

John Spence went from being kicked out of college with a D average to becoming CEO of an international Rockefeller foundation and reporting directly to Winthrop P. Rockefeller III just a few years later. This turn around wasn’t an accident, it was something John did by maintaining a focus on innovation, personal growth, and a thirst for learning. As an entrepreneur, he has worn many hats, but has always maintained that focus on innovation. This is the inspiration for his contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom: “II > EI”. Simply put, the equation means that to be successful in the future, the rate of internal innovation must exceed the rate of external innovation.

In the entrepreneurial world, when everything around you becomes unstable, internal innovation is required in order to maintain (or grow), especially considering the speed of change around us. Entrepreneurs know in their core that in order to be successful, we must out-innovate, out-create, out-experiment, and out-deliver our competitors.

The pace of innovation is faster and the scope is broader (global) in every industry, sector, and marketplace. Consider the modern smart phone: in 1982, to purchase something that had every capability that a smart phone currently has would’ve cost $3.2 billion dollars (with a B!) and been the size of two tractor-trailers. An iPhone now retails for $700 and fits in your pocket. In 10 years, you may be able to purchase the same capabilities for $5 at the size of a human blood cell.

The next question that most entrepreneurs will ask, according to John, is regarding intellectual property and the protection of ideas. While the open source economy is rapidly developing, the protection of intellectual property will require a heightened attention on process. This means a powerful commitment to continuous, daily, incremental improvement. In John’s experience, this also requires convening with like-minded individuals to bring new ideas and provide support (the oxymoron of personal connection in the face of technological disconnect).

In that vein, John’s work has provided him with relevant analysis on the younger generation of today’s workforce and produced surprising results. The so-called millennial generation values the opportunity to do important work, work with cool people, and make a difference. This comes from the realization that you can Google an answer, but not a question - it cannot ask you a question and cause you to think critically. The correlation for entrepreneurs is that the success of your business, regardless of size, is directly determined by the quality of the people that you can get, grow, and and retain. Even for “solo-preneurs”, this means your personal network - people who can challenge you and help generate ideas (the process is likely to be 90% give, 10% take).


From similar analytical findings, John’s research shows that the qualities people value most in leadership are asking great questions and the ability to listen. When listening to your key players, ask yourself the following: What does that mean to me? How can I use that? What can I do right away? Similarly, according to John, you must be bold enough and curious enough to explore different industries as a new source of learning and growth.


When thinking of this kind of exponential growth, consider this analogy: which choice you would make if someone offered you either $1 million immediately, or 1 cent that doubles every day for 30 days? The long-term satisfaction of the latter is a perfect microcosm for John’s philosophy on internal innovation.

Aug 3, 2015

Jason Womack is an educator, author, entrepreneur, and CEO, among other things. He is an avid practitioner of his own philosophies on work/life balance, productivity, and forward progress, and with Master’s degrees in Education and Psychology, is well-educated in the way we think. These facets of Jason’s life and work have inspired his contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom, which is a simple straight line from point A to point B. The philosophy behind Jason’s napkin focuses on how to get to point B without getting knocked off course, how to persevere when the path gets rough, and how to focus when it gets easy.

As Jason explains, from a certain age, we are programmed to look towards “what is next” (e.g. in high school, we look towards college as the next step). This is the difference between destination-based goals and direction-based goals. “Getting through the day”, for example, is a destination-based goal - it is not necessarily a bad thing, but it may be limiting your perspective. After a few instances of concentrating on destination, however, you begin to understand your direction - the experience(s) you want to have, both in your work and your life.

Direction, according to Jason, is all about momentum. It allows you to experience - and learn from - everything along the path to point B. An exercise that Jason employs is to consistently acknowledge when something is complete, rather than rerunning it internally to find mistakes or weaknesses. This exercise not only helps to push forward, but also helps to commit to systems and processes. This creates a flow of psychology, sociology, and technology, which Jason says will help clarify your direction-based goals.

In terms of psychology (the thinking side), create an “at my best” list - an explicit inventory of conditions when you are most successful (e.g. eating a full breakfast, meeting first-thing with key players, etc). Think of this list as another version of strength-finder, where you create an opportunity to move forward. Another way to think of this is resilience. Most would consider resilience when faced with major, life-changing, negative events, but Jason encourages us to also consider everyday stressors and obstacles that you get past, which indicate that you’re making progress.

The second phase - sociology - is all about support. Ask yourself who are you going to hang out with next, and decide whether that person is someone who will help you get to the next level. You will eventually find yourself in an atmosphere of mentorship, friendship, family, and support. The “who” in this instance will always have a profound impact on the “why” the “how” and the “why”, and will further influence your movement, momentum, and destination.

Finally, Jason talks about technology. Rather than just the screen size, battery life, and cord length, Jason refers to any tool that will help with tracking and accountability. In other words, how do you utilize the tools - high- and low-tech - available to you in order to keep moving forward? How do you track yourself and what systems do you employ?

From these three areas, Jason has developed three questions to ask yourself on a daily basis to help focus your direction: 1) what did I complete today? 2) who can I acknowledge today? 3) what am I grateful for today? This exercise will help show that everything is relative - both the successes and the failures (e.g. the guy without shoes complains until he sees the guy without feet). It also creates a powerful historical record to show that something that seems significant now might not seem that way a few months or years later.

As entrepreneurs, we are experts in cognitive dissonance, according to Jason - the ability to notice a gap or when something is off. We must challenge ourselves also to notice what is there and what is “on”.

Jul 29, 2015

Jeff Hoffman’s career has provided him with many hats to wear: successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, worldwide motivational speaker, Hollywood film producer, and a producer of a Grammy winning jazz album. Jeff has had various roles in companies large and small, along with being the founder of multiple startups. Along the path of this career, Jeff one day noticed a sign that said “You may be successful, but will you matter?” Along with the concept of using your career to make a difference, that is the essence of Jeff’s contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom.

Conventional wisdom in the entrepreneur world states that you can either be someone who cares about doing good - i.e. a social entrepreneur - or you can concentrate on making money. In Jeff’s experience, however, this is not a binary decision - the two elements are not mutually exclusive. Your product may not change the world, but your life should: the results of your effort - what you do with your success, your life, your time - can make the world better around you. In Jeff’s mind, the definition of “mattering”: how many other people’s lives have you made better?

To think of this concept another way, money is often required to make a difference, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about being successful, as long as your success leads to positive change around you. The benefit you find from using your time to help someone else cannot truly be quantified. The story Jeff shares is of spending time with the elderly who did not seem to have anyone else to keep them company. More specifically, he regularly took one woman to a local diner because all she wanted was a piece of pie. It became such a joy for her that her caretakers at the nursing home described her as “counting the days until pie day.”

Jeff’s experience sharing his time with the elderly clarified something for him: entrepreneurs who are only chasing money are usually the ones who quit first. People that are driven by purpose, however, far outperform those who are driven by paycheck. When you know that your efforts and your work matter, it becomes a driver for your success. This kind of confidence also becomes contagious - for potential investors, customers, and employees.

Another vivid example from Jeff centers around the successful sale of his first startup to a Fortune 500 company. He began to notice that friends and peers were treating him differently - almost negatively. Instead of celebrating the success of the sale of his first startup, Jeff became depressed and somewhat resentful of his own achievements. Almost simultaneously with that feeling came a news story about a local shelter for battered women being closed due to lack of funding, so Jeff put two and two together and was able to assist the shelter financially. The logical lesson learned is the direct correlation between how hard he worked and his ability to make other people’s lives better, so he never felt guilty about making money again.

This accidental discovery became a financial and career philosophy, and also began to permeate his own company culture. They developed a system to take a percentage of their sales and put it into a pool, then allow the employees to decide as a team where to direct those funds (or the time that they can support). They call it the community project account. The philosophy Jeff created for himself became contagious for his team - a bonding exercise that a standard work environment could never provide.

Culturally, the end result was a stronger team of respectful, collaborative individuals. Jeff’s experience is the ultimate instance of leading by example - creating a personal philosophy powerful enough that it became influential for his team and helped strengthen/grow his business.

Jul 13, 2015

Kris Kaplan is a firm believer that if you’re not having fun at what you do, you shouldn’t be doing it. After a long career on the road as a rep, Kris decided it was time to create an organization of people who shared the same values as him and were wholly focused on a singular vision. He is now a coach to entrepreneurs, business leaders, and other high-performing individuals, providing them with tools needed to simply execute. It is that focus on execution that inspired his contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom: “Giddy Up and Make It Happen.”


Kris’ personal mantra of making it happen originated from taking his own thirst for learning and turning it into action - step on the gas and go for it. Within his own business, he found himself in a learning mode, protecting what was his during the post-recession free fall. Dealing with that kind of negativity in his business - a focus on saving what was left - made the business gun-shy about being as forward/active as possible. It also drove Kris toward developing a philosophy of less learning; more doing.


Personally, this mantra inspired Kris to become more active and lose weight, mostly to keep up with his young children. Professionally, however, it helps to maintain a “north star” when traveling along your path, or what Cameron Herold would describe as a vivid vision. Kris’ experience has taught him to take the strategy that he crafted and make the decision to accomplish it. Entrepreneurs can become enthralled with strategy as a sexy topic, but tactics are going to move you forward. Focusing on execution will also help simplify your strategy and create/maintain alignment among the team. In other words, a return to a singular goal.


The motivation for this focus on tactics derives from Kris’ observation of the current state of success: we now accept the “stumbling forward” way of business can be acceptable, rather than striving for true greatness. Companies are merely surviving rather than growing - 10% growth is stratospheric rather than the norm. Ask yourself this: what if you do a little less business, but become true experts at what you do? Wouldn’t that ultimately push your business towards a more rapid period of growth? Especially considering that revenue is not necessarily the only way to measure growth and success.


The foundation on which Kris has built this philosophy is one of empowered entrepreneurialism, passion for the products he represents, and simple solutions. Simplify your vision - be the #1 provider of X - and that vision will eventually filter down to tactics and execution (e.g. achieving that goal means I need to make 3 phone calls instead of 2).



It is certainly a more difficult proposition for an established company to rethink their perspective, as opposed to a new company that is just starting out, but the reward is that much more valuable when it happens. The time might never be right, but the result will always make it worthwhile. As Kris says, think about “when is now a good time”. 

Jul 11, 2015

Dave Rendall is an entrepreneur who has worn many hats during his professional career, which started when he was very young. All told, he has delivered newspapers, been a stock boy, lawn boy, caddie, painter, janitor, tutor, resident assistant, job coach, supervisor, nonprofit manager, and senior executive. Just to spice things up, he also has experience as a leadership professor, stand-up comedian, and endurance athlete. Drawing from this vast array of experience, Dave’s contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom is rooted in reality: “What makes us weird, makes us wonderful. What makes us weak, also makes us strong.”


The common social reaction to uniqueness is one that nearly every teenage kid experiences at least once: rejection. Weirdness has a negative connotation; the word “unusual” is usually meant as a criticism. The resistance once receives for being weird is a push to be more conventional; to fit in. Robert Quinn once observed: “Deviants will always generate external pressures to conform when you perform beyond the norms, the systems will adjust and try to make you normal.”


It has been Dave’s experience, however, that the things that make you weird will also make you successful and remarkable. Those who are perceived to be weak may actually be quite strong. This perspective comes from Dave’s time working with people with disabilities (and specifically, helping them find employment). While it was common for others to focus on someone’s perceived disability, Dave explains that it takes a true genius to identify what’s working and what’s effective.


Dyslexia is a condition that provides a perfect example in the world of entrepreneurship. One study revealed that more than 50% of British millionaires were dyslexic, while another showed that at least 33% of entrepreneurs in the U.S. also have the condition. One person who fits into both categories is Richard Branson, who claims that his dyslexia has helped him to succeed. The logical conclusion: people with the condition don’t have weak or broken brains, they just have different brains. Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinkos, would likely agree; his dyslexia drove him to stay out of the office, improve his management style, and grow his business. Upon selling to FedEx for $2.4B, he claimed that not only would he not want to remove his condition, he wishes everyone could have it.


As with most entrepreneurial endeavors, there is a powerful analogy that comes from the sports world. Matt Stutzman is a competitive archer who won the silver medal at the Paralympic Games, all without arms. Matt says that he developed this incredible skill as a result of his disability by fine-tuning his core muscles and legs to the point of athletic superiority. He is even now facing legal action from those who claim that his condition gives him an “unfair advantage.” So perhaps the question you can ask yourself is: if someone without arms can be seen as having an “unfair advantage”, then is the weakness you face as an entrepreneur or as a leader really as strong as you think?


In Dave’s experience, there is always someone that is “weird” the same way you are, who would not see you as weird, but as wonderful. It’s about finding the right fit and the best situations where your perceived weirdness works for you. Dave is a 6’6” man, so he already stands out - yet he regularly wears pink shoes and pink pants as an homage to his three daughters. A side effect to this is that it helps him stand out even more (i.e. be more memorable) - for a professional speaker in a crowded marketplace, this becomes a clear advantage.



In a business sense, to be different requires doing things that are weird and unusual, but most businesses measure themselves against competition standards or parameters. Everyone measures success in the same way. True success, however, lives in having the courage to be weird and think differently in order to separate yourself and define success in a unique way. If you’re able to differentiate yourself into true uniqueness, then there is no competition.

Jul 3, 2015

 Hybrid thinking has defined Matt Curry's career as an entrepreneur. His professional career started out changing tires and eventually working his way into a management role, but his entrepreneurial career flourished after he launched his first auto shop in 1997 and ultimately grew it into one of the largest auto repair chains in the Washington, DC metro area.

Having embraced the evolution of the auto industry by educating his line of business in the art of hybrid and electric car repair, Matt has also embraced the evolution of employee engagement through his contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom: "You can't rule your world by email."

Whether your business is a brick and mortar operation or entirely virtual, Matt's experience has taught him that you still need boots on the ground and, as a leader, you still need to be involved in all aspects of your operation. This is a lesson learned from observing his four original locations, meeting with his key people, and maintaining a “two-minute meeting” strategy for alignment. It is a lesson that has allowed Matt to ensure that everyone shares the same vision for the organization.

Matt explains that once his business grew to ten locations, he noticed that his key people were over-relying on email to communicate, especially when issues arose that needed to be fixed. He quickly learned that, as the organizational leader, if you are present and keep your team on the same page, you’re able to create processes and procedures (and better guarantee team commitment).

A motto of “enforced reinforce” developed, which means threading the vision of the business throughout the entire organization, including every individual employee. As a tactical example, if policies and procedures aren’t followed, keys could get lost, business would be damaged, sales would suffer, employee morale suffers, and everything devolves into a downward spiral. The "enforced reinforce" mantra helped create a structure where Matt was able to identify gaps or errors early on, address them in those two-minute meetings, and quickly find a resolution.

It may seem counterintuitive, as Matt indicates, but you can embrace creativity while simultaneously adhering to a solid operational structure. The practical tool for achieving this is Matt's "two-minute meeting." While the name can be deceiving (it can sometimes last 30 seconds or 10 minutes), the point is to communicate with key managers, ensure P&P adherence, and guarantee quality service delivery. Emails can become an easy crutch for fast results, but if you focus your regular meetings on a single subject and relevant metrics, you can accomplish quality and quantity in lieu of electronic communication.

The direct result of implementing the “boots on the ground” philosophy for Matt: increase in sales, improved manager performance, higher employee morale (one location went from $30k at acquisition to more than $300k in a short time). In his experience, it is the difference between staying in business and going out of business: structure provides for a more efficient business, which helps employees create a better work-life balance. Ultimately, the vision becomes ubiquitous, as does person and professional success.



Jul 1, 2015

Michael Walsh has built his company, Kaizen Consulting, into something that allows him to explore his own personal freedom. By embracing the methods that he uses when working with other entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses, he has surpassed his own expectations for what the entrepreneurial life can bring. His Paper Napkin Wisdom was inspired from his work with a particular client who experience a five-fold increase in sales: "Thinking big is not enough."

This concept arose when Michael asked himself the following two questions: "What stops businesses from growing?" and "What moves businesses past those things that have stopped them?" The conclusion at which he arrived was simple: vision is exciting and aspirational, in the way that limbic energy is contagious. Vision without structure, however, either creates chaos or will fall flat. Vision is fast and compelling, while structure is slow and stable. (Conversely, structure without vision is like slogging through the mud). 

Michael observed that while entrepreneurial businesses are on the rise - 45% last more than five years today, versus 15% two decades ago - the growth of these businesses is missing. Of those businesses that succeed, 85% fail to reach $1 million in revenue; of those that reach $1 million, 95% fail to reach $5 million; of those that reach $5 million, 98% fail to reach $10 million.

In Michael's experience, the difference between being an expert and being an entrepreneur running an expert business is three factors. Along with excelling at what you do, you must hone your skills in sales/marketing, finance, and people management (picture trying to balance four spinning plates instead of just one). Now consider that you’re also balancing these four spinning plates while balancing yourself on a ball, otherwise known as a constantly changing marketplace. When you attempt to grow from this point, your balance point ultimately falters.

The one single thing driving most entrepreneurs is freedom, and, as Michael puts it,  growth equates to access to freedom. This level of satisfaction, however, doesn’t come from reducing the risk - satisfaction comes from winning in the face of the risk. In response to the businesses that approach him with questions on how to grow, Michael proposes three simple rules:

  • 1.       Treat yourself as your company's most valuable asset
  • 2.       Free yourself up to do what you do best (i.e. trust others to execute tasks that are essential, but not your area of expertise, such as bookkeeping)
  • 3.       Focus on your own strengths and then concentrate your attempts to grow on those areas. 


Following this process will start to fuse all of those different spinning plates into one, cohesive organization. Eventually, you will find yourself experiencing better balance and the increased level of freedom that inspired your drive toward growth in the first place.

Jun 19, 2015

Fran Biderman-Gross calls herself the “Strategista” of Advantages, a New York City-based company that helps companies to get noticed through branding, marketing, and print production management. Her professional background includes more than twenty years’ professional experience in the niche print industry, but when it comes to her Paper Napkin Wisdom, she's all about turning things upside down (or in this case, on their side).

If you envision the traditional sales funnel, you see a Y-shaped graphic with all the effort of your business focused on eventually converting hundreds (if not thousands) of leads from the top to one or a handful of customers at the bottom. Tradition says that this is a numbers game - increase the number of leads, you increase the number of prospects, and eventually, you increase your number of customers.

Fran's take: tip the funnel on its side (so it looks like a megaphone) and concentrate on what you're projecting out into the world. What you project should be singular and simple; focus on this “one thing” that you put into the megaphone because it has the ability to spread - and what you wait to hear is the echo. The echo means articulating the purpose of your company so well that only like-minded people respond.

There certainly may be difficulty in accepting the idea that you should stop selling to people (and accepting customers) who don’t echo your message. By focusing on those that echo your message, however, you create ambassadors of your brand. You create an indirect sales force that gives you the flexibility to abandon those middling clients that you accepted just to help keep the lights on.

Think about Apple. If Apple communicated in a "traditional" way, they would talk about what they do and why they’re different. “We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed and simple to use. Want to buy one?” Instead, they draw from the inside out - why they exist - through inspiration. “We challenge the status quo by thinking differently. We just happen to make computers.” Which one of those two messages resonates better with their customers?


As a result of this commitment to the projection of purpose, Fran’s business has grown in the neighborhood of 700% since she discovered this philosophy. In her experience, if you shrink what you do, you actually grow. Focusing on the “one thing” you’re really good at allows you to become the master of your field. The process to find the “one thing” was painful for Fran and her business - a trial by fire - until they started focusing on the client and service what they need (as opposed to trying to shoehorn their services in). Eventually, the trust that is developed creates a relationship where clients are describing a problem that requires a solution, rather than asking for a specific product or service.

Tip your own sales funnel on its side and project your true purpose to the world. Begin the journey by discovering what is important to you (and why). Then answer those questions for your business. The process is trial and error, but will eventually yield the ability to build the necessary trust with your customers.

Jun 17, 2015

Rich Mulholland has had one of the more an entrepreneurial careers of all the Paper Napkin Wisdom contributors. He started out as a roadie for bands like Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, and Bon Jovi and eventually realized that there was a lack of energy in the industry during the winter months in South Africa.

Driven by his entrepreneurial spirit, he took the initiative to adapt the “rock show” model to corporate clients. He started out by dressing up corporate speeches and presentations with pyrotechnics and grand theatrics, but quickly realized that he was solving the wrong problem: he needed to work on the presentations themselves, rather than the theatrics surrounding them. This was a result of the intense hatred that Rich (and really, all of us) had for boring presentations - it is also the motivation for his contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom: "“We all need to fall in hate with something.”

An oft-cited quote from Ghandi says that if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. According to Rich, however, this is antithetical to the entrepreneurial motivation: entrepreneurs tend to look at things we hate in the world and say “we can fix it." The entrepreneurial spirit, in Rich's mind, arises from a passion about something so frustrating that the desire to change it becomes overwhelming. This desire ultimately spawns two ways to approach a solution as an entrepreneur: fix a problem or fill a gap.

Contrary to Ghandi's perspective, if you end up doing what you love, your passion will become your job, and cease to be something you love. Rich's approach, on the other hand, has allowed him to separate life effectively - hobbies, loves, passions don’t get in the way of work and vice versa. He has become empowered to explore both avenues of himself - work and life - independently and learn dual channels of lessons. The resulting philosophy:  “love how you do what you do." It is much easier to be passionate about something that frustrates you; call it an itch to be scratched.

Looking back to Rich's origins in the music industry, we see the true motivations for an entrepreneur: for any market that lacks an expert, whomever puts their hand up first and says “pick me” is the expert by default. Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs are so busy running their businesses that they aren't open to spotting a problem when it arises. "Being busy" has become a status symbol; a hallmark for success.


Having the capacity to solve the dilemmas of entrepreneurial businesses requires a freedom from "being busy"; a commitment to balance. If we think of our business as a support structure for our personal lives - having a better life means taking the time to do the things you enjoy and spend time with people you love. Once you reframe what success means, it is much easier - and you are more empowered - to prioritize.

Jun 11, 2015

Alan Miltz - Paper Napkin Wisdom

Alan Miltz’s 20+ years of executive background ranges from founding director of Inmatrix Pty Ltd through to most recently, director of Pearl Finance Australia. Alan has extensive experience across all major finance fields, including financial analysis and debt finance boosting, and spends a large amount of time helping entrepreneurs handle their banking relationships, cash flow analysis, and other financial matters. His Paper Napkin Wisdom reflects this level of expertise: “Revenue is vanity. Profit is sanity. Cash is king.”

In Alan's experience, most entrepreneurs and CEOs only want to talk about revenue, margins, profit, etc. Profit, as Alan puts it, is an opinion - you can manipulate it to any degree necessary to fit your message. Here's another way of thinking about the relationship between profitability and cash flow: businesses speak Spanish, but banks speak Portuguese. A competent business owner must be fluent in both because banks talk about cash flow as an ability to service your debt. 

There are four facets or chapters of almost every business, especially those of an entrepreneurial nature. The first chapter is that which every entrepreneur is already well-versed: profitability. Business owners understand chapter one well because it is reflected in revenue growth, margins, EBIT, and other familiar metrics. Chapter two - your working capital cycle - is also reasonably well understood by most entrepreneurs. This includes receivables and debtors, collections, inventory management, speed of bill for services, supplier payment.

Chapter three is defined by what you do with your business after the considerations of chapters one and two: infrastructure or other capital investments. How are you handling your cash flow and what are you doing with it? This, in combination with the first two chapters, is also how chapter four is defined: your cash flow. In Alan's experience, about 60% of companies are profitable but have very tight cash flow - this ultimately harms growth. After considering these four facets or chapters of your business, you must ask yourself: "do I have enough cash flow to finance my growth?"

Regardless of the answer to that question, you can rest assured that your cash flow will be defined by what Alan calls "the power of one", or a 1% positive change in one of seven levers that any CEO can pull at any time. Price, volume, cost of goods, overhead, payables, receivables, and inventory are your seven levers; the most successful entrepreneurs understand these seven levers - and when to pull them - in order to drive growth.

Alan's background means that business owners come to him when they have trouble working with their bank(s). His expertise tells him that when a bank puts pressure on you, it doesn’t mean they don’t understand your business. It means you have a cash flow problem that must be fixed through the power of one. Put another way, the power of one is a summary of strategic plan - price/volume = marketing, cost of goods = operations, overhead = everyone, collections = finance/sales, inventory = operations. Everyone in your business must understand how they impact cash and ultimately, behavior will change in a positive way when company culture embraces this philosophy.

Jun 8, 2015

Dr. Heidi Hanna is CEO and founder of SYNERGY, an integrative neuroscience partnership that provides brain-based training for individuals and organizations. Heidi’s publications include the NY Times best seller The SHARP Solution: A Brain-Based Approach for Optimal Performance (Wiley, Feb 2013), and the follow-up release Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship With Stress (Wiley, Jan 2014).

In addition to those accomplishments, Heidi also attended college on a full scholarship to play softball. As a pitcher, she quickly realized that athletes share a common awareness of the window they possess to perform an optimal level. She also discovered that most high-performing athletics perfected ways to recharge their energy in order to continue performing that those levels. Finally, as with any pitcher, she become intimately familiar with the pitch counts imposed upon her.

Throughout these experiences, it became clear that energy is our most important resource. In softball (and baseball), a pitch count is a regimented tool design to allow pitchers to recharge their energy appropriately. Similarly, in tennis, players only spend an average of 35% actually playing the game; the remainder is spent restoring their energy levels. As you can imagine, this tactic translates seamlessly into the non-sports world and especially to entrepreneurs.

Stress can initially provide stimulation for achievement, but prolonged periods or intense levels of stress will ultimately diminish our ability to be resilient. For entrepreneurs, installing a schedule that allows for energy restoration can be difficult and feel uncomfortable.

Physiologically, however, we are designed for it. Before the technological advance of the previous century, most humans scheduled themselves around natural daylight. With the advent of artificial light, it became easier to work beyond the limitations of nature. The advances of the last decade have exacerbated those habits further, as it is now possible to be constantly connected and consistently running at full capacity.

This eventually leads to "tolerating" life, as opposed to finding a true rhythm. As such, we must determine our own pitch count in order to recognize when we need time to recharge. Think of the process as coupling periods of strategic engagement with periods of strategic disengagement. Down time doesn't mean surfing the web, watching TV, or checking email; rather, it means allowing your mind to fully recharge. A simple start is to schedule time blocks for 50 minutes instead of one hour to automatically build in a 10-minute window for energy restoration.

Make a proactive effort to be at your peak when it matters most, rather than trying to maintain that peak at all times. Identify what's most important in order to capitalize on those moments. This can be accomplished through an "energy audit". Monitor your sleep habits (amount of time, sleep preparation and technology cut-off, positive morning rituals). Embrace nutrition - your body's fuel. Maintain a balance of movement and rest to keep from overcommitting to one or the other.

Entrepreneurs can easily fall into the trap of thinking "it's all about how much I can get done, and how quickly". The more intense the situation you prepare for, however, the more recovery time that will be required. If you enter each day with intention and remind yourself that in order to speed up, you must slow down, you will avoid that dreaded entrepreneurial pitfall: burn out.

Long-term commitment to recharging energy creates the longevity necessary to leave a legacy. Perfecting this process will even allow you to then coach your team in managing their own pitch count. Health, happiness, relationships, business all will improve.


Create a recharge revolution!

May 24, 2015

Warren Rustand - Paper Napkin WisdomWarren Rustand has created, led and grown many successful private, public and not-for-profit entities. He is currently the CEO of Providence Service Corp and has a long and distinguished career serving a Chief Executive or in senior-level leadership positions with numerous other organizations. Warren is a frequent speaker on leadership, business, families, and personal development, and contributes to Paper Napkin Wisdom with the following: "One's success in life is relevant only to one's own capacity."

In Warren's experience, it is human nature - and certainly the nature of the entrepreneur - to measure one's self against others. On the contrary, true success can only really be defined through our own capability, potential, and skills (those that have been given to us and those we have developed over time). The only success that is relevant, therefore, is that which can be measured against this personal capacity or potential.

Supplemental to this idea of personal capacity is the notion that rather than comparing ourselves to others who might have more of something or be better at something, we should look to those who may be less fortunate. Not only does this allow us to recognize how fortunate we actually are, but it also enables us to mentor, support, and assist others on their own path of personal development.

Warren's experience has taught him that the greatest journey in life is self-mastery: the idea that we can control our appetites, passions, desires, and abilities and channel them in constructive ways. Rather than getting caught up in ancillary activities, we can concentrate on true progress through the following five steps:

·         1. Commit to a higher level of personal discipline

·         2. Have a purpose every day

·         3. Make intentional decisions

·         4. Make conscious choices

·         5. Answer the call to serve

Warren teaches that if we make progress with these steps each day, we become closer and closer to self mastery, which can ultimately lead to greater individual freedom. These steps are integrated and should be worked on together (rather than one at a time); they also require a significant level of proactivity, rather than simply reacting to everything around us. 

This means recognizing the three areas in which we have control every single day: our mind, our energy, and our time. By Warren's estimation, if we can manage those three consistently well, we will come close to finding success measured against our personal capacity. Warren's own personal habit is to ask himself "Why am I alive today?" Such a simple question allows him not only to discover his purpose(s) for the day, but also to schedule around that purpose in a proactive, highly defined way.

Another exercise that Warren employs is a daily, 30-minute reflection to focus the mind, split into three ten minute segments: 1) think great, positive thoughts, 2) read great, positive thoughts (i.e. not the newspaper!), and 3) write in a personal journal about the positive aspects of your life. As with great athletes and other competitors, never allow a negative thought to enter your mind as you prepare to master your personal energy. This will ultimately allow you to be the best entrepreneur, parent, sibling, etc, you can be, measured against your own personal capacity. 

May 22, 2015

Mark Moses is one of the world's foremost coaches of entrepreneurs. After starting his first business at age 19, he went on to build and sell two firms during his entrepreneurial career and now focuses on helping entrepreneurs increase profitability and accelerate growth. In his Paper Napkin, Mark shares: "If you can't define it, you can't measure it. If you can't measure it, you can't manage it."

Whether your goal is business, personal, or other, it must be explicitly defined before you're able to truly achieve it. Ask yourself the following questions: Where do you want to be three years from now? What will it take to guarantee that happens (and how will you measure it)? What stands in the way of making that happen?

Now ask those same questions for the next year; for the next quarter. Are the goals related and are they equally measureable? This state of constant definition and perpetual measuring is the most concrete method to managing your objectives. Leave the mentality of "concept" behind and instead embrace detailed, specific objectives.

Most entrepreneurs understand where they want to be, but struggle to identify the processes, tactics, and activities that will guarantee the end goal. Common examples of concepts without specifics are: hire better sales people, improve culture, improve efficiency, deliver better service. How can you focus on something important if it is not specific enough to create tasks?

Conversely, if the goal is to grow revenue, define that growth: "from X to Y in Z timeframe". Define the initial steps it will require to achieve that goal: hire X amount of salespeople". Clearly outline the measurements along the way: X number of calls/visits per salesperson, etc". Creating such a specific and measureable plan will bring your daily, weekly, and quarterly activities into sharper relief.

A common overlooked factor of this process is that the measurements must be leading, rather than lagging. Because entrepreneurs tend to focus wholly on the "what" and frequently ignore the "how", it is more important than ever to have a system of leading indicators to hold your team - and yourself - accountable. Businesses that have embraced this philosophy average a CAGR of 50% growth in revenue per year. At the very least, you will be empowered to dramatically enhance your ability to achieve much higher or more meaningful growth rates.

Accountability is another critical element of this process. Your ability to install these improvements in process, systems, management and leadership increases, as does the engagement of your key players. Hold an annual planning session and obtain that consensus/buy-in from your team on not only your objectives, but the measurements you will use to track progress. Follow through with accountability assignments and continue with quarterly planning and weekly check-ins, thus removing the possibility of becoming distracted by micro-level issues or "emergencies".


Weekly progress reports are also important to allow for mid-course corrections. The corrections are "bite-size" when identified weekly, as opposed to massive when delayed until a quarterly or annual session. You have thus empowered your key players (and the organization) to truly focus on achieving long-term goals. 

Mar 6, 2015

Patrick Gentempo is a name familiar to those who regularly check out the blog and podcast.  I recently spoke with Patrick and he shared the Paper Napkin Wisdom, “Philosophy is the most practical tool for achievement!”  Afterwards, Patrick told me … Continue reading

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Jan 29, 2015

This was way more impactful than I ever expected! Along the way in the Paper Napkin Wisdom journey I have met 100s of highly successful entrepreneurs, leaders, and difference makers. They have taught me so much … Adding to that … Continue reading

The post Sneak Peek into the Model the Masters: Take Action Workshop (with Jack Daly) appeared first on Paper Napkin Wisdom - Blog and Podcast For Entrepreneurs, Leaders, and Difference-Makers.