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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 http://www.papernapkinwisdom.com 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 11, 2016

Now that football season is back in full swing in the U.S., there’s no better time to discuss scrimmaging. However, we’re not talking about the traditional sports term in today’s podcast. Author and Motivational Speaker, Nathan Jamail recently released “The Leadership Playbook”, a guide which discusses the importance of coaching employees versus managing them.

A common theme in the book is the importance of scrimmaging. “Scrimmaging is getting into character to prepare for an upcoming event, while roleplaying is an exercise to see what you learn and/or know. Teams scrimmage to prepare for games. If you don’t learn how to scrimmage, you’re not getting the full effect of practice,” he says.

The idea of role playing can be intimidating for many members in Corporate America. However, Nathan believes this is due to the intent. He suggests swapping out roleplaying with scrimmaging. In sports, teams use scrimmage to not only practice, but to try out new techniques prior to Game Day. “It’s the time where you get to do what you think is right and test things out. When you create a culture of scrimmage, you’ll realize that your team will actually begin to have fun doing it,” he says.

Nathan first stumbled across this philosophy as a sales rep for a pager company in the 90s. He and his co-worker would have role-playing exercises to prepare for a long day of cold calling. A few years later, his friend (now boss) began to mandate role-playing. Many employees voiced fear due to the inherent judgmental nature of role-playing. However, in a scrimmage environment, the results shift. “I noticed that in a scrimmage culture, people are truly getting better, as opposed to role-play culture,” Nathan remarks, “The biggest difference that, when sustained, it becomes a way to communicate, as opposed to an activity.”

Nathan’s first philosophy of leadership (and most recent book) asserts that managers need to approach management like coaching. “In management, we spend time with people who need the attention. In coaching, we spend time with people who deserve the attention. In sports, players thrive for the coach’s attention. If we only spend times with people who need the attention, our attention turns into a consequence of failure.

You can’t coach someone who views your involvement as a negative,” he says. His second philosophy stems from the understanding that everyone needs training more so than practice. “Practice is getting better at something you already know. Training is learning something new,” he remarks. Coaching your employees to become better rather than just gaining more experience is crucial. “I have 20 years of experience golfing and I’m just as horrible as I was 20 years ago,” he jokes.

Nathan also believes that management should embrace conflict. “In coaching, we embrace conflict because we know that’s the only way to make people better,” he says. “In management, if someone isn’t able to embrace coaching and a scrimmage mindset, they should be cut from the team.”

He concludes his case for scrimmaging by asserting that making it into a practice only helps teams grow and learn. “If you and I scrimmaged before a client meeting, there is a 100% chance we would do better at that meeting. If we didn’t scrimmage, nothing would happen. There would be no consequence. Scrimmaging only helps.”

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 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!

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