Adapt and Learn: 3 Entrepreneurial Lessons from Sports

Adapt and Learn: 3 Entrepreneurial Lessons from Sports

Adapt skills

The ability to learn and adapt is key for young entrepreneurs.  Most entrepreneurs I know don’t have the knowledge and skill they have because of their love and aspiration for a broad liberal arts education.  Their desire for knowledge and skills development is typically driven by their desire to build a product or create a new process.  Much of their learning is DIY and OJT and most of their skills development was NECESSARY for them to build and create and driven by a passion for what they were doing.

For our entrepreneurial son, Joshua, we first saw his ability to learn and adapt through team sports.  I believe sports, and other team activities, can be a great teacher of many attributes and skills needed by young entrepreneurs.  Here are a few examples that observed with Joshua:

  1. Post to guard – Because he was tall for his age, Joshua played post positions in basketball.  This meant he stood around near the basket and waited for someone to throw him the ball so he could take a shot from no more than six feet away.  When he was around 8 years old he was redrafted onto a new team that had few players with any experience.  While Joshua usually played close to the basket due to his size, he was the only one on the team that could dribble the ball from one end to the other without drop kicking it into the cheap seats.  He was pressed into service as a guard which forced him to get much better at his outside shooting and ball handling skills. His desire to win and passion for the game meant he had to put in quite a bit of practice to learn the skills necessary to play his new position.  While developing these skills met an immediate need, it also became the foundation for his athletic ability up through high school.
  2. Learning from losing – Not surprisingly, the team was not very good and Joshua got his first taste of his team losing more that they won.  While it was challenging at times for him to keep a positive attitude, he learned a great deal about fighting through challenges with a team.  While this experience pushed him to improve his basketball skills, it also taught him valuable lessons about teamwork, leadership, and dealing with failure.  All lessons that would later serve him well on his entrepreneurial journey.
  3. Broken finger – In the 5th grade Joshua broke his finger in while playing with a friend and team mate on a trampoline.  It was the middle of basketball season and the finger he broke was on his shooting hand.  He had to quickly improve shooting and dribbling with his opposite hand.  His desire to play and support his team made learning those skills quickly a necessity for him.  Again, he adapted.  Those skills served him well in sports far beyond that season.  The lessons he learned about figuring out how to adapt, and putting team over self, will guide him for the rest of his life.

This ability to adapt and learn out of necessity is the basis for our young entrepreneur’s  general  knowledge of business and technology, and his ability to build products.  His knowledge base and skill set today has been driven by his desire to build and create specific products.  His understanding of coding, electronics, microprocessors, product development and business has built up over the years out of his desire to jail break an iPhone, build a phone charging station, create a wireless audio system for his grandfather, develop his own websites, build a voice activated controller, and design a waterproof, underwater speaker to use at his friend’s pool.  Today, the smartphone app and hardware that are the main products of his companies were all conceived and built as a result of the knowledge and skill he developed out of necessity.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Most entrepreneurs do not grasp the breadth of skill and knowledge required to be successful. For many young entrepreneurs, most knowledge and skill develops from the necessity to create and build.  This organic, “as needed” skill development is a great start but does not account for the soft skills, business knowledge and experience required to build successful products and companies.  The proactive, purposeful development of skills and knowledge over years is required to build out the vast entrepreneurial skill set.  Start now and have a plan.

3 Ways a Gap Year Can Pay Off

3 Ways a Gap Year Can Pay Off

Education Preparation skills

There is much discussion these days about the value of a gap year.  A gap year is a term used to describe a year, granted by the university that has accepted a student, between leaving high school and entering college that students can use to work, do projects and generally experience the world before officially entering college. Many institutions of higher education offer a gap year and some, like Harvard, even encourage it.

For me, GAP is an acronym that stands for Get A Perspective.  Left up to me, a GAP year or two would be mandatory and here is why:

  1.  Helps pinpoint gifts and passions – Those who read this blog frequently (thank you so much to all three of you) know that I place a high priority on starting the discovery process early in life to identify your gifts and talents. Unfortunately, a purposeful path of discovery is not the norm and most teens find themselves unaware of their gifts and talents at a time when the education system requires them to choose a college major and a career that will put them on a particular track for the next 50 years.  It is not surprising that most of us spend 4-6 years, and leave college with a sizeable debt, pursuing a major that is mostly unrelated to our eventual career.  A 2013 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York pegs that mismatch at 73%.
  2. Provides opportunities to serve – My observation is that most teenagers are pretty selfish and serve as the center of their own universe.  There are a number of scientific studies that attempt to explain this phenomenon in terms of neurons, receptors and hormones but basically it comes down to “everything ain’t connected yet”.  Natural maturing processes will eventually change this situation but I believe a good dose of refocusing priorities and real world decision-making could jump-start the maturation process.  I’m not talking about backpacking across Europe to “find yourself”.  I’m talking about taking a year or two to serve others, solve real world problems, and figure out your gifts and talents.  A few examples include waiting tables and saving money to go on several mission trips, working in a startup, pursuing multiple paid internships, volunteering at non-profits, programs like City Year, or even military service.  This period should not be a random event but a purposeful pursuit of discovering passions and gifts, and developing skills while serving others.
  3. Figure out what you don’t like – This may be as important as figuring out what you do like.  It is important to sort out what you seem to have a passion for but aren’t that skilled at, what you are naturally skilled at but don’t care about, and what you absolutely never want to do again.  There were not great choices for summer jobs in my small town growing up but I learned some very valuable lessons working as a laborer during the construction of coal-fired power plant.  These kinds of experiences motivated me to go to college because I did not want to be doing this to support a wife and kids when I was 40 years old. Spending time with a relative who was a lawyer and internships in college working in local government helped me to hone in on what I thought I wanted to do.

Unfortunately, the idea of a Get A Perspective(GAP) year or two before we make big decisions about college and career will likely not catch on any time soon.  Most education institutions are still on an agrarian calendar, higher education has become a big business that doesn’t like disruption, and we have become accustomed to the SYSTEM pushing us along.  As parents, most of us are going a hundred miles an hour with our hair on fire and it’s simply more convenient to follow the formula than to engage and manage our children’s education and discovery process ourselves.  I’m not sure whether Joshua, our young entrepreneurial son, will have a few GAP years spent trying to build a startup before eventually pursuing college, or whether his GAP years will evolve into an entrepreneurial life.  I do know this, it will be on his terms and he now has an understanding of what it will take to achieve his goals.  He’s learned a great deal about himself, business and life since leaving high school a few years ago.  The decisions he makes going forward will certainly be more informed, goal oriented and long-term.

THE TAKEAWAY – A purposeful GAP year or two can make a big difference in college success.  Why do you think Harvard encourages it?  Some parents fear that if their kids don’t go to college right out of high school, they may not go at all.  I believe this period, if it is done in a purposeful way that helps define strengths, weaknesses, and interests, can result in an optimized college experience, a more meaningful career and a more fulfilling life. Get in the GAP and discovery yourself. 

 

6 Signs You May Be Afflicted With Entrepreneur’s Syndrome

6 Signs You May Be Afflicted With Entrepreneur’s Syndrome

Education Entrepreneurship skills

Entrepreneur’s Syndrome can strike at any age but symptoms may be detected early in the young. While this condition can be cured by stifling creativity, the best treatment is to deal with the symptoms.  While I am not a doctor, I have done extensive research on this subject and feel qualified to comment on this syndrome which has reached epidemic proportions in some parts of the world.  Plus, I played a nurse once in a skit at a school fund raiser.

Our son, Joshua, has always been curious about how things worked and, as he’s grown older, had his own ideas about how things could be improved. It was obvious that he saw the world around him differently than most people. While many of us fly through our day taking many of the products and services we use for granted, Joshua always seemed to have an idea for a better design or a new product. Young entrepreneurs are like that.

When he was very young, he would take apart the toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals to see how they worked. When he drew pictures for school projects, he portrayed unusual angles and multiple dimensions. Once, when we returned from a vacation, he asked if he could have the disposable Kodak camera. After downloading the pictures, it didn’t take him long to discover the power supply by completing an electric circuit with his finger. That got his attention!

He spent much of his free time, from about age eleven, researching electronics, learning how to code, building printed circuit boards, and watching YouTube and Instructibles to learn how to do things. In his early teens he taught himself how to “jail break” iPhones (a hack that overrides the built-in limitations of the phone and allows for greater customization) and sold his services to his classmates. When we discovered he was doing this, which was followed by a discussion of why it was a bad idea, I asked him how much he charged and how he knew how to price it. He replied that his pricing varied a little bit because he charged an amount that made it worth it for him, but one his classmates could afford without having to ask their parents for the money.  “Asking parents for money is usually a deal killer” he said . I knew then that we had an entrepreneur on our hands. Either an entrepreneur or a con man.

The signs that you or your loved one may be afflicted with Entrepreneur’s Syndrome:

1. Curiosity about how things work – Taking apart everything from toys to VCRs is normal.  THE TREATMENT: Get inexpensive electronics, mechanized, digital equipment, toys and appliances from garage sales and Goodwill so they don’t take apart the good stuff.

2. Seeing the world differently – Notices things others don’t.  Sees problems and solutions.  Caution: This can also lead to strong opinions, fierce independence and significant confidence. This all sounds good until, as a parent, you have to manage and direct it. I have always told my wife that our kids being skilled in communication when they were young was cute until they became teenagers and used it as a weapon. There are days when I think we should have never encouraged them to speak.  THE TREATMENT: Encourage and talk to them about their observations and thought processes.  While, as parents, we can’t allow these young, potential entrepreneurs to be disrespectful, they likely feel a bit ackward that they think differently than others and they need an outlet to help them figure things out.

3. Problem solving – There a pattern of problem solving that evolves into dealing with more and more complex projects that accompanies maturity.  THE TREATMENT: Help them think through the problem but do not take the lead or help them avoid failure.  Be patient.  If they fail, they may get frustrated, disappointed, and appear to lose confidence. Be supportive.  They will figure out what to do next.  Failure is part of the learning process.

4. Free time spent researching and learning – Those afflicted will spend some of their free time exploring the world around them to understand new technologies, and to teach themselves how to do things. THE TREATMENT: Be guarded about where, and from who, they get their information.  Some great sources are not necessarily age appropriate.  We allowed Joshua to use the internet extensively but he couldn’t have a laptop in his room until he was an older teen and he was required to be in open areas of our house where we could observe what he was doing any time we wanted.

5. A sense of economics, the value of things, and product development – In my experience, those afflicted with Entrepreneur’s Syndrome have an innate sense of value. While they may not have the in-depth knowledge of how to price a product or service, they generally have a sense of what a good idea looks like as well as profit and loss.  THE TREATMENT:  Whether it’s a lemonade stand, hacking iPhones, building websites, or building an early version of a hardware product, the afflicted must have opportunities to put their sense of economics into practice.  Insure that what they want to do is not illegal or immoral and turn them lose.

6. Communicating their ideas – Those affliced with Entrepreneur’s Syndrome generally have a personality that allows them to pitch their ideas and to get others interested in buying their product or service, or helping with developing the solution. Great ideas aren’t worth much if you can’t communicate their value.  THE TREATMENT: While our personality is a gift, good communication is a skill.  The afflicted need guidance and practice in order to properly tell their story, communicate their ideas, and get people to care.

THE TAKE AWAY:

Parents – As challenging as this affliction may appear to be, the one thing we don’t want to do as parents is to stifle the creativity and innovative thinking of our kids. The SYSTEM will do enough of that.  Our job is to provide opportunities for them to discover and explore their gifts and passion, to build knowledge and skill, and let them fail along the path to discovery.  This is the only TREATMENT that works.

Young Entrepreneurs – If you have some of these symptoms, you may be feeling different than many of your peers.  Never stop exploring and creating.  Seek out groups of like-minded people. The IDEA group – Innovators, Developers, Entrepreneurs and Artists.  TREATMENT – Solve a problem and build something.  It’s the only treatment that works.  Start today and you can lead a long and happy life doing what you love.

4 Things We Don’t See Prior to Success

4 Things We Don’t See Prior to Success

Preparation skills Startup Grind

When I see successful athletes, entertainers, artists or entrepreneurs I often think how easy they make it look to be successful.  They are so good at what they do that it can make the rest of us think that with just a little effort we too can make a one handed catch in the end zone, hit a 400-foot homerun or a three point shot to win the game, or achieve fame and wealth as an entrepreneur.  However, what we don’t see that led up to this level of achievement is important to understanding how they can do what they do.

  1. It starts with natural gifts – Early in their lives most of these high achievers figured out special gifts and talents they were born with. While it was not always obvious what those gifts were, they somehow figured out that they were faster or stronger than most of the other kids in the neighborhood, they could pick out tunes on a piano by ear, or that engineering projects or seeing things through an entrepreneurial lens came easy for them.
  1. Passion – Being naturally good at something is great, but if you don’t have the passion to make it “the thing you must do”, you aren’t likely to become world class at it. Are you willing to use almost all your free time to pursue it?  Would you do it all day if someone didn’t stop you?  Can you do it over and over and never tire of it?  Do you feel incomplete if you don’t do it?  That is exactly how many successful people feel about what they do.
  1. Perseverance – I’ve written about Gladwell’s 10,000 Hours Rule several times in this blog and I believe it is a key element in great success. The concept states that it takes a person 10,000 hours to master a set of skills.  That’s approximately 20 hours per week, 52 weeks per year for 10 years.  There are plenty of examples of how this played out with folks like Bill Gates, a host of professional athletes and others.  The point is that natural gifts and passion are great, but the perseverance required to push yourself to get better, to work on a project, finish a painting, or expose your body to intense physical training even when you don’t really want to or don’t think you can, is absolutely necessary to success.  Our entrepreneurial son Joshua (Battle Map) likes this quote from Lionel Messi, a world class soccer player, “I start early, and I stay late, day after day, year after year, it took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success”.  Natural gifts and passion are inherent, but perseverance can be taught and is driven by heart.
  1. Support – I don’t know of any truly successful athlete, artist or entrepreneur who didn’t have great support from some source. Parents, coaches, teachers, and mentors all play a role in the lives of successful people.  Sometimes it’s a network of support and sometimes it’s just one person who has a profound influence.  This support must be there because there will be many obstacles along the path to success.  Without strong support, any of these obstacles, including injury, death of a loved one or friend, poverty, self-doubt, drugs or alcohol, can stop all progress toward the ultimate goal.

Young entrepreneurs, if you can combine these elements, people may one day say about you, “she’s an overnight success”, “man, he’s got it easy”, and “I wish I had her life”.  What most people will never understand, because you make it look so easy, is what it takes to get there.

THE TAKEAWAY – Finding your gifts and passion is a bit of a scavenger hunt.  You have to try many things and be open to the clues that indicate your gifts and passion. Once discovered, we must identify those who can support us and then do whatever it takes to get to better each day, each year until we achieve success.

4 Advantages Young Entrepreneurs Have

4 Advantages Young Entrepreneurs Have

Signs of Entrepreneurship skills

I was inspired this week by an article that identified “5 Advantages Young Entrepreneurs Have Over Older Counterparts”.  Here is my take on the subject.

  1. Less Responsibility – The article points out that a young entrepreneur is less likely to have the family, children, and bills that may cause their older counterparts to think twice about starting a business. I call this “golden handcuffs”.  A marriage, kids, nice home and newer cars are all great but those things, especially the material benefits of success, can make cowards of us all.  That’s a lot to lose if things go south.  While those responsibilities are manageable when launching a startup, family and friends certainly need to be on-board, supportive and aware of the challenges ahead.  It’s one thing for me to have to eat beans and ramen noodles for weeks on end to keep expenses down, but it’s quite another to ask your family to do that.  Also, as we learned with Joshua, our entrepreneurial son, starting a company while still in high school is a bit like having two full-time jobs.  Some tough decisions have to be made about the priorities of school, business, extracurricular activities and relationships.
  1. Naivety & Risk Taking – The author states that not knowing best practices, conventional boundaries, and industry standards is freeing for young entrepreneurs. Not knowing what you don’t know can cause one to be a more creative problem solver and not be bound by conventional thinking.  However, acknowledging what you don’t know is important in decision-making and problem solving.  Naivety needs to be accompanied by an appropriate amount of risk management.  This sounds counter intuitive but failing big early in the development process may keep some young entrepreneurs from continuing to try.  Test – Learn – Repeat.
  1. More Time – The premise here is that young entrepreneurs have more time to learn and get better. I couldn’t agree more with this and I’ve written about this previously in other posts.  While starting to learn early is an advantage, being purposeful about what you are learning is critical.  Trying a bunch of things at random can be interesting, fun and educational but learning with a purpose is far more efficient.  First you have to identify the knowledge, skills and experience you need and then set out to achieve those objectives in a somewhat intentional manner.  Like most things, it takes years of constant effort to master a skill set.
  1. Willingness – I certainly agree with the author’s idea that a willingness to learn and try new things is necessary to become a successful entrepreneur. He provides an example of working for startups for little or no pay just to learn how it all worked.  Building an entrepreneurial skill set requires a combination of knowledge, applied learning and experience.  A successful entrepreneur must have an insatiable thirst for learning.  It takes hundreds of hours of research, countless meetings and interviews with advisers, temporary jobs (some of them not fun), and the drive to push through failure and learn from it.

THE TAKEAWAY –  Youthful exuberance, unconstrained creativity, boundless energy and a naive few of risk are all advantages of young entrepreneurs over their older counterparts.  However, these qualities must be coupled with just the right amount of purposefulness, thirst for knowledge, strength to fail and learn from it, and the willingness to do the hard things in order to become a successful entrepreneur.

3 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Need Both Events and On-Going Training

3 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Need Both Events and On-Going Training

Accelerators skills

Entrepreneurial events like Startup Weekends, multi-week programs and fourteen week accelerators are exciting events that can give startup companies a boost toward success and the startup community a reason to engage with one another and celebrate our progress.  In my opinion, these events alone are not enough to build a sustainable entrepreneurial community.  We must also have long term skills development and knowledge acquisition.

I use many sports analogies because playing sports was a big part of my life growing up and many of the things I learned playing sports I use every day in business.  In sports, you practice far more than you play games.  Practice is where you develop your skills, knowledge and work ethic to be able to compete and win in a game.  The game is a test of our skills, knowledge and effort in a competitive environment.  The games are fun, especially if you win, for the competitors and coaches and entertaining for the fans and supporters.  Although games do teach us how to compete with an opponent, games don’t develop our basic skills, knowledge and work ethic.  That is the purpose of practice.  It works that same way for learning to play an instrument – lots and lots of practice before you’re ready for a recital or a gig.

Identifying Talent is Not Development – Startup weekends, pitch contests, and business plan competitions are like sports games.  These are all great activities for getting people into the entrepreneurial community, making connections, building confidence in the participants, and they can certainly be entertaining.  Many of us refer to these as “big end of the funnel” activities.  The concept of the funnel describes a process whereby many ideas and teams enter the big end of the funnel, but only a few companies will have all the right attributes to pass through the narrow end of the funnel and become successful.  These “big end of the funnel” activities serve to identify, but not develop, potential talent.

Short Term Programs Are Focused More on Testing Than Training – Multi-week and multi-month programs like accelerators can be very valuable activities.  In sports terms, these longer events are much like a tournament where contestants compete in a series of preliminary contests leading to a final, with little time in between to actually improve their skills.  Most sports teams don’t get better during a tournament.  Most accelerators, for instance, provide a combination of a little bit of skill and knowledge acquisition in a competitive environment, a series of small competitions, and a final contest at the end where the winners receive investment of some sort.   These type of events also provide an opportunity for advisers and mentors (we use this term too loosely – see my previous post) to engage with the teams more frequently and for an extended period.  That type of engagement is important for both the advisers and the participants.  The shortcoming is that most teams don’t come into these accelerators prepared to take advantage of the boost that the accelerator, and programs of this type, can give them.  In addition, the advisers and mentors aren’t there to train them or develop their skills.  Simply put, most teams aren’t ready to play at a level where an accelerator will give them a major boost toward success.  Reason – not enough practice.

Practice, Practice, Practice – Sports teams and athletes who compete in individual sports typically don’t practice on their own.  I know few athletes who love practicing more than playing.  Competing with an opponent was the reward we received from working so hard to develop our skills and knowledge in practice.  If we thought we could compete and win without practicing, we would.  However, we all knew that we couldn’t compete and win without structured practice, good coaching, focus on specific skills development, team building, game strategy, and physical and mental conditioning.  This is what practice is for.

THE TAKEAWAY:  I refer often to Malcomb Gladwell’s book “Outliers” , especially the 10,000 Hours Rule.  The 10,000 Hours Rule states that it takes approximately 10,000 (20 hours per week for 10 years) hours to master a skill set.  90% of this time is spent in practice developing skills and knowledge, and only 10% in games or competitive events.  Startup Dad is dedicated to coaching and advising parents, young entrepreneurs, and their supporters, in an effort to build entrepreneurial skills and knowledge every week, for years in preparation for success.

Are Natural Gifts Enough For Success?

Are Natural Gifts Enough For Success?

skills

I believe we are all born with gifts.  Sometimes our gifts are obvious like running faster than all the other kids, picking out tunes on a piano, or solving math problems easily.  Sometimes our gifts are not so obvious like being a good listener, understanding electronics or the logic of coding.  It is to our great advantage if we can identify our gifts when we are young.  It may take extra effort and trying a many things before we figure it out.  However, having and identifying gifts are not enough to insure that we will take full advantage of those gifts and have a full and happy life using them.  Our gifts are raw.  They must be practiced, directed, honed and coached to reach their potential.

When I was eight years old, my parents bought an inexpensive guitar and a set of bongo drums for Christmas.  I had shown signs of an interest in music.  I quickly realized that playing the guitar would require hours and hours of practice.  Not interested.  However, I could easily play the drums along with portions of songs from the radio or my favorite TV shows.  I didn’t have much to do with the guitar, although it did have a cool sound if you turned it over and tapped on the back of it like bongo drums.  The drums were another story.  I willingly spent my free time trying to perfect my ability to play.  The more I practiced, the better I became.  Funny how that happens. When I turned twelve, my parents bought a small drum kit.  I continued my DIY journey, continued to get better and played with a few local garage bands in my small town.  I’m certain that I contributed to my parent’s hearing loss as they endured hours of loud drum practice in our very small home.  My mother took me to a local music store for a few lessons with a drum teacher, but practicing the different beats and reading music were of no interest to me.  I just wanted to play!!  Bottom line – I had some natural ability to play the drums and enough passion to try to learn more on my own time.  Not enough passion, however, to be devoted to more structured, disciplined practice that might have made me much better.  Good skill, not enough passion.

Sports were another story.  I was a big, strong kid with some level of coordination.  There were three big differences between learning to play sports and learning to play the drums.  First, while I practiced certain skills in my yard, most of my practice was structured, routine and directed by coaches trained in teaching the sports of football, baseball, basketball and track.  Also, these were team sports.  The pressure to perform and loyalty to team mates also pushed me to get better.  Finally, I had enough passion for sports that I did extra things outside of our scheduled practices to get better including running and lifting weights in the heat of the summer, shooting basketball outside in the winter, not to mention enduring aches, pains, and injuries.  Ultimately, my passion for sports began to fade as it became apparent that my skills were good, but limited, and that college scholarships and a career in sports were not likely.  Strong passion, not enough skill.

Mastering entrepreneurial skills, or any other skill for that matter, has these same elements.  Discovering our natural gifts is step one.  It is what we do about making those skills better and whether we have the passion to do what it takes, that makes the difference.  Gifts and passion, coupled with good coaching, opportunity to practice consistently and frequently, and some peer pressure and expectations that are bigger than us, give us the best chance of being successful at making a career out of our gifts and passion.

THE TAKEAWAY:  We all have gifts and we will all have passion for certain things.  The question is whether our passion and gifts will align and whether we have enough of both to go pro in something we love.  We can’t leave these opportunities to chance.  We must spend hours each day and each week in structured skill development with people and resources that will help us get better.   Otherwise, our greatest skill and our greatest passion will be a hobby.

Necessity is The Mother of Skill Building

Necessity is The Mother of Skill Building

skills

Most entrepreneurs I know don’t have the knowledge and skill they have because of their love and aspiration for a broad liberal arts education.  Their desire for knowledge and skills development is typically driven by their desire to build something or create a new method.  Much of their learning is DIY and OJT and most of their skills development was NECESSARY for them to build and create.

With Joshua, our young entrepreneur, we saw this desire to learn and adapt very early.  It started with athletics.  Because he was tall for his age, he played post positions in basketball.  This meant he stood around near the basket and waited for someone to throw him the ball so he could take a shot from no more than six feet away.  When he was around 8 years old he was redrafted onto a new team that had few players with any experience.  While Joshua usually played close to the basket due to his size, he was the only one on the team that could dribble the ball from one end to the other without drop kicking it into the cheap seats.  He was pressed into service as a guard which forced him to get much better at his outside shooting and ball handling skills. His desire to win and play well meant he had to put in quite a bit of practice to learn the skills necessary to play his new position.

Some other great lessons came out of this early sports experience.  Not surprisingly, the team was not very good and Joshua got his first taste of his team losing more that they won.  While it was challenging at times for him to keep a positive attitude, he learned a great deal about fighting through challenges with a team.  While this experience pushed him to improve his basketball skills, it also taught him valuable lessons about teamwork, leadership, and dealing with failure.  All lessons that have served him well on his entrepreneurial journey.

Another example of this drive to learn and adapt was on his 5th grade basketball team.  He broke a finger on his shooting hand and had to quickly learn how to shoot and dribble with his opposite hand.  His desire to play and support his team made learning those skills quickly a necessity for him.  Again, those skills served him well in sports far beyond that season.  The lessons he learned about figuring out how to adapt, and putting team over self, will guide him for the rest of his life.

This ability to adapt and learn out of necessity is the basis for our young entrepreneur’s  general  knowledge of business and technology, and his ability to build products.  His knowledge base and skill set today has been driven by his desire to build and create specific products.  His understanding of coding, electronics, microprocessors, product development and business has built up over the years out of his desire to jail break an iPhone, build a phone charging station, create a wireless audio system for his grandfather, develop his own websites, build a voice activated controller, and design a waterproof, underwater speaker to use at his friend’s pool.  Today, the smartphone app and hardware that are the main products of his companies were all conceived and built as a result of the knowledge and skill he developed out of necessity.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Most entrepreneurs do not grasp the breadth of skill and knowledge required to be successful. For many young entrepreneurs, most knowledge and skill develops from the necessity to create and build.  This organic, “as needed” skill development is a great start but does not account for the soft skills, business knowledge and experience required to build successful products and companies.  The proactive, purposeful development of skills and knowledge over years is required to build out the vast entrepreneurial skill set.  Start now and have a plan.

STEM and Entrepreneurship

STEM and Entrepreneurship

skills

There was such interest in my previous post on programs that can help parents and students pursue STEM and entrepreneurial endeavors,  that I decided to add some information to the partial list of programs mentioned in my previous post.  Find one near you and engage in the programs or volunteer to help.

Y.E.S (https://arcapital.com/aeaf/yes/) – The Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation, an affiliate of Arkansas Capital, created the Youth Entrepreneur Showcase (Y.E.S.) for Arkansas business plan competition in 2005 to introduce young Arkansans in grades 5-8 to the potential and opportunities of entrepreneurship.

EAST (http://www.eastinitiative.org/) – The EAST program, a project based learning program that teaches kids coding, video production, how to use design and GPS mapping software, and develop websites, is already in 200+ schools around the state

Arkansas Innovation Hub (http://www.arhub.org/) – Nonprofit organization with a maker space (lots of cool 3D printers, microprocessors, etc . . .) dedicated to talent and enterprise development in an environment  where Arkansas entrepreneurs and innovators find support for success.

Art Connection (http://www.arhub.org/art-connection) – A student art program located inside the Arkansas Innovation Hub

Noble Impact (http://www.nobleimpact.org/) – An education initiative that exposes students to relevant experiences and tools that enable them to navigate a world defined by uncertainty with an entrepreneurial skill set and a public service mindset.

STEM Coalition (http://arkansasstemcoalition.com/) – A statewide partnership of leaders from the corporate, education, government and community sectors which plans, encourages, coordinates and advocates policies, strategies, and programs supportive of excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teaching and learning in order to expand the economy of Arkansas and produce higher paying jobs. STEM Centers around the state may be found at http://arkansasstemcoalition.com/arkansas-stem-centers/

100 Girls of Code (http://www.arhub.org/100-girls-of-code) – The mission of 100 Girls of Code is to achieve gender parity in STEM fields by introducing more young women to code and computer engineering at a young age. We seek to inspire more girls to pursue a future in STEM.  NWA Chapter http://www.100girlsofcode.com/nw-arkansas.html

First Robotics (http://arfirst.org/index.html) – The mission of FIRST is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting Mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.

Best Robotics (http://www.bestinc.org/b_best_regions.php) – In these project-based STEM program students learn to analyze and solve problems utilizing the Engineering Design Process, which helps them develop technological literacy skills.  Programs in Jonesboro, Harrison, Little Rock and Ft. Smith.

Arts and Science and Kids Museums – Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas – Pine Bluff – (http://www.cityofpinebluff.com/pbar/arts-science-center-for-southeast-arkansas/), Museum of Discovery – Little Rock-(www.museumofdiscovery.org), Mid-America Science Museum – Hot Springs -(http://www.midamericamuseum.org/), Amazeum – Bentonville – (http://www.amazeum.org/)

Arkansas Out-of-School Network (http://www.aosn.org/) – A network of after school programs around the state.  A few notables include:

4-H State Robotics team (http://www.4-h.org/youth-development-programs/4-h-science-programs/engineering-technology/4-h-robotics-program/)

Adventure Clubs of Bentonville, AR (http://www.edline.net/pages/Bentonville_School_District/Departments/Childcare_Enrichment/Adventure_Club)

Bella Vista Boys and Girls Club – strong STEM focus with NASA curriculum (http://www.bgcbentoncounty.org/programs/education/)

J.O Kelly Middle School  (21st CCLC after school program) – robotics focus

The Camp Pfiefer program – environmental STEM related projects

The Saline County Boys and Girls Club – Benton – entrepreneurship focus, partners with 4-H

Horatio Elementary School – 21st CCLC – focus on Coding

The Audubon Center, Little Rock – focus on environmental stewardship

UALR Children International – Summer ‘Mind Your Business” Camp – Youth Entrepreneurship Program

What do a COO, Offensive Lineman, and Jazz Bassist have in common?

What do a COO, Offensive Lineman, and Jazz Bassist have in common?

skills

Almost every company, even early stage startups, has someone with the designation of Chief Operating Officer (COO).  While everyone assumes that the CEO is the articulate visionary and the CTO is the technical guru, the position of COO is less clear.   So the COO, like the offensive lineman in football and the jazz bassist, is the person who is not suited for one of the so called “skill” positions, the glamour jobs, like running back, wide receiver, lead guitarist or vocalist.  Let’s take a few paragraphs to explore the actual skills to fill these positions in their respective industries and why these positions, despite their relative anonymity, matter to the success of the group.

First, how may I speak with any degree of authority on these positions?  Well, I’ve been in a COO role many times in my so called career.  I played the offensive lineman position in high school for about 15 minutes in college before I realized I was out of my league and a walk-on scholarship was not in my future.  I’m also a drummer, which means I’m in the back with bass player while the spotlight shines on everyone else.

What do these positions have in common?  The the primary similarities are that:

  1. When performed well, they establish the foundation for team success
  2. Few people understand what it takes to do these jobs
  3. When performed to perfection, few people notice.

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN –  Relative to the “skills players” on the team, they typically aren’t the best passers, they are slower, less agile, not as quick, and don’t catch the ball as well.  However, they usually are the biggest, have the greatest overall body and hand strength, operate as a unit, are intensely loyal to each other and the team, and are the best communicators.   If they do their job to perfection on every play, the skills players get an opportunity to advance the ball down the field, everything works, and no one notices them.  If they don’t do their job on any one play, the play usually falls apart, players on their team are at greater risk of injury and everyone knows they failed.  They are the silent partner you can’t do without.

JAZZ BASSIST –  While the piano player is running up and down the keyboard, lead guitarist is jammin’, and the lead singer is belting out the vocals, the bass player is in the background laying down the bass line.  Most bass players usually aren’t flashy, stand virtually motionless in the back of the stage, and make what they do look easy.  The truth is, despite all the impressive instrumental and vocal runs, and solos, it all comes back to the bass line.  If it isn’t steady and consistent throughout the song, everyone else in the band is off and the song just doesn’t reach its potential.

COO – COOs must have a broad set of skills.  While they may not be the visionary, the most charismatic, or have deep technical knowledge, they must have a working knowledge of functional areas like finance, marketing, HR, legal, and external relations, to name just a few.   Essentially, all the not so sexy stuff required to operate the business day-to-day.  In addition, COOs must have viable skills in strategy and pro forma development, communication, process development and assessment, and motivating and leading people.  It takes years of training and real world experience to acquire this vast set of skills and knowledge.  Despite the relative anonymity of the COO, the company will never reach its full potential if the functions of this position are not performed well.

For the odd man out in an early stage company who may have found himself or herself with the title of Chief Operating Officer, it is critical to be brutally honest in assessing what it takes to fill this position.  For the new COO with the right aptitude and attitude, it is important to be very intentional regarding knowledge and skills acquisition.  Initially, you must identify the things you can do, the things you can’t, and the resources to help you get things done in terms of advisors, mentors and vendors.  In addition, and this should be no surprise, YOU NEED A STRATEGY for acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge.  The most pressing needs get the most immediate attention.   Lay out a strategy and schedule for when and how you will you will get the education you need.  It may be in a formal classroom, an online course, attending regular sessions with a mentor or advisor, or self-directed research couples with practical application.  The success of the company depends on it.

THE TAKEAWAY:  In a team, especially a small one, every positions counts and lofty titles are irrelevant if you can’t fulfill the requirements of your position.  COOs, like offensive linesmen in football and jazz bassists, are typically in the background doing the hard work that facilitates success in other, more noticeable areas.  Leading and being good at your craft in these positions means that when you do your job well, few people will notice you.  A vast skill set, strength of character and humility rule the day.