The Power of a New Generation

IMG_2011I wear two hats. The one is business and increasing my shareholder’s value; the other is social responsibility.” –Guler Sabanci

As a budding entrepreneur, I have the opportunity to build social responsibility into my business during the planning stages. Having the ethical standards to attract socially conscious consumers is beginning to be an imperative for business as usual. The largest generation of consumers since the baby boom are coming of age, getting jobs, and spending their money on the products and services that support things they care about. And despite the word on the street, Millennials actually do care about a lot of things. They are the largest generation of college educated consumers, and therefore, their purchases are colored through the lens of liberal education, which among other concepts, promotes social conscience and environmental stewardship.

In Steven Schussler’s book, It’s a Jungle in There, he presents several examples of giving back through his businesses. Schussler is firmly in the baby boomer generation, and would have been instituting socially responsible practices in business during the turmoil of the sixties and seventies. It was during this time frame that corporate social responsibility as a policy was being identified and created. Since then, the younger generations have witnessed oil spills, foreign labor misconduct, and other atrocities at the hands of corporations who claim to be socially responsible. Therefore, the Millennials, educated and infused with strong principles of stewardship, are now demanding accountability and transparency in their products. Corporations are only just beginning to understand this new kind of consumer.

“Corporate social responsibility can build brand loyalty, raise awareness, and strengthen reputations, or it can have the opposite effect. Honesty is key. Inherently skeptical, Millennials will punish companies on social media not deemed to be fully transparent as well as those that pay lip service to CSR and causes important to them.The bottom line is that the corporate world cannot ignore the demands and expectations of Millennials, who are devout in their desire to associate with companies aligned with their values”

-Ryan Rudominer, Corporate Social responsibility: Ignore Millenials at Your Peril

It is important to note that Millennials are not quite at their peak buying power. This gives corporations, small businesses, and new entrepreneurs a brief window to bring their company social responsibilities up to speed. Companies already in business have a huge hurdle in accessing these new and powerful consumers, and will need to spend considerable resources to change their company dynamics. Entrepreneurs, in contrast, are at a great advantage because we have the foresight to build these policies into our business plans. We can also research and reflect on the impact this generation will have on our future business success. To ignore corporate social responsibility is to alienate the demands of largest upcoming consumer in history.

Special Skills: Active Listening


For the last nine years, it has been my job to make people feel special. I have other job descriptions, but making people feel special is one of the most important aspects of providing a service like massage therapy. In Steven Schussler’s book It’s a Jungle in There, he offers a variety of ways to make both clients and employees feel special. One thing he forgets to mention is being a good listener. When a client comes to me for a massage, they want to tell me the who, what, when, where, and why of their body’s aches and pains, and I honestly want to know the answers to these questions because they inform me about their needs on my table. However, listening by itself is not enough to make them feel special. I have to integrate what they have told me and use the information to address the specific areas that need massaging. In other words, listening is a two part process.

From here, I can begin using some of Schussler’s recommendations. A client may mention an upcoming birthday, so I mark it on my calendar and send them a birthday wish. Perhaps they went on a European tour since the last time I saw them. A simple “how was your European adventure?” is enough to make someone light up. They don’t expect me to remember, much less ask to hear about it. Noticing the little things makes people feel special. A compliment on a new pair of glasses or the color they are wearing can brighten their day. And without turning the table, I have successfully sold myself, too. When my clients feel heard and valued, they want to come back to see me, and not just because I give a great massage!

My clients have told me one of the reasons they like coming to me for massage is because I listen to them. I owe my listening skills to being a volunteer for a suicide hotline when I was a freshman in college. I was thinking about majoring in psychology, so I thought the hotline would be a good test of whether I would enjoy that kind of work. I went through a rigorous training program that focused on active listening. Active listening skills are useful in so many experiences. I highly recommend learning these valuable skills.

In brief, active listening begins with paying attention, offering signals to the other person that you are listening, and waiting until they are finished before responding with a summary of what they said. Sounds like an ordinary conversation, right? Well, yes and no. Active listening is focused, undistracted, and intent on making the other person feel heard, understood, and important. If active listening is utilized on suicide hotlines, you can imagine how powerful these skill are for business interactions.

If you would like to learn more about active listening as it pertains to business, visit this site on Active Listening through the webpage MindTools: Essential Skills for an Excellent Career.

Sparks and Failures


“The first thing the entrepreneur must learn from failure is that it need not be permanent.”

                    -Steven Schussler, It’s a Jungle in There

Recently I interviewed a friend who I consider to be a true entrepreneur. He has successfully launched four small businesses and watched each one burn bright, then fade.

His first endeavor was an outdoor clothing store in a small town nestled right next to a national forest. Word of mouth, this man’s kind and genuine nature, and his wife’s creative wit all helped his store become a small town staple. This was in 2008. As you can imagine, with the coming of the financial crisis, this entrepreneur’s clothing store suffered at the mercy of the economy. He closed his doors in 2010. His presence on Main Street is still sorely missed by many.

This entrepreneur was the bar tender at the restaurant I worked at in college. On slow evenings, after the demise of his clothing store, he and I would talk about his next business idea. He wanted to create children’s furniture. Every week he would come in with a new design and we would talk about its attributes, pros and cons, age range, how easy the design would be to manufacture. Slowly, but surely, his new business took shape. He rented a warehouse, his creative and witty wife took photos of their children interacting with his furniture, and he opened a website. After less than a year, his children’s furniture company was being featured in magazines, and sought after by moms with large disposable incomes. The one thing he could not have predicted, however, was that these moms all lived in California and other locations where he was required to ship the furniture to his customers. This dilemma became the downfall of his second entrepreneurial endeavor.

His third attempt at entrepreneurship utilized his skills at the camera. He started taking photographs around town, and began a low-overhead freelance photography business. Again, he launched a website, and found quick success because he took great photographs, and his kind and genuine nature had earned him many friends in our town. This business did not fade quickly. It just became a job he was less interested in doing as time went on. His still takes photographs, but his days as a freelancer have been laid to rest.

This entrepreneur’s fourth business was built on some of the aspects he enjoyed in his other businesses. He now had the skills to build websites, take beautiful photographs, and actively engage the community on social media platforms. So, he began a media based business, helping other businesses build websites, take photographs, and engage in social media. Where his skills fell short, he hired other freelance techs to help, and called his business a collective. Very quickly his was a name that was mentioned when someone asked about building a website or working with social media. However, these kinds of services are expensive, and he often felt less interested in taking smaller, lower paying clients for fear of not having time for a higher paying client. There were, let’s say, some conflicts about money. In fact, when we spoke, he told me the reason he was a bad business person was because he hates money. His media collective has been set aside for the time being, and he has joined the ranks of being an employee in order to get a reprieve from the issue of money in entrepreneurship.

One thing I really enjoyed about his story was the way he summed up the transitions between his businesses. In other words, the way he views his business “failures.”

He states matter of factly, that his first business, the outdoor clothing store, was truly at the mercy of the economy and that his children’s furniture business was a “rebound.” His heart was broken by the failure of his first business, and he felt he had to pick himself up and try something new. But the production of his furniture became burdensome, and the shipping became a hurdle he could not jump. He knew his next business had to have lower overhead. Certainly, freelance photography requires very little startup. Here is where I find his story resonates with me. He believes the reason the freelancing didn’t work out was because it felt boring to him. There was very little to challenge him in his day to day work. And who likes to do something boring? So, when he moved away to his final business, he did some soul-searching from his past endeavors and founded his media collective. This business allowed him to combine many aspects of his previous businesses that he found both challenging and rewarding. And perhaps, what he discovered at the end of this endeavor is that billing is a chore he should hand over to a professional in his next startup.

Another interesting tidbit he revealed was that he felt his very first business was “The One.” And it still is the one that feels most aligned with what he wants to do as an entrepreneur. At the end of the interview, he says that even though he’s working for the man, he has ideas for a new company. I believe it won’t be long before he is back in the business of entrepreneurship.

The Womanly Art of the Handshake


There is no doubt that Steven Schussler is correct when he states, “It’s essential to always remember that the critical first impression can often be what seals the deal” (117). In his book, It’s a Jungle in There, he describes three critical pieces of the first impression, the entrepreneur’s physical appearance, the handshake, and body language. Given that we are all unique individuals, being on our best behavior looks different on everyone. Most of what Schussler recommends to impress, while certainly good advice,  is subjective at best. These three factors will likely change with the times, depend on the age and sex of the entrepreneur, and the situation that conspires to bring the two parties together.

In particular, I am curious to know how important “the handshake” is with a female entrepreneur? 

In Todd Smith’s article, Handshakes Really Do Matter, he covers a few things about the handshake that Schussler neglects. Primarily, how does the dynamic of the handshake change with a combination of sexes? In essence, he covers modern day handshake etiquette.

Here are a few interesting tidbits of Handshake Q & A:

Q:If you are male and you meet a female, who should extend their hand first?

A: If you are male and you are meeting a female, you should wait for her to extend her hand first.

That means, ladies, if you are meeting a male, you should extend your hand first. Smith believes, “Even though women are a significant part of the business world, men are still confused about proper behavior.” By extending your hand first you will put the man at ease and use your handshake extension as a sign of confidence in business.

Q: If you are male and meeting another male, who should extend his hand first?

A: Guys, when meeting another male, you should always extend your hand first as a sign of confidence. If you are lucky, you will meet the other guy’s handshake in mid-extension and there will be no competition for the handshake initiation rights.

Q: If you are a female and you are meeting anther female, who should extend her hand first?

A: This answer is not much different than a male meeting a male. Extend your hand first as a sign of confidence.

And finally, there is the ever awkward feeling of being left hanging. If, by chance, you have extended your hand for a shake and the other party has left your hand waiting in the ether, what do you do?

Q: Should you retract your hand or hold your hand there until they accept it?

A: The terribly uncomforatable answer is to hold it there until they grasp it. Smith states that “Removing your hand conveys a lack of confidence.”

If you are curious to witness some other discomforting handshake situations watch the video below.

And, if you need a good refresher on what makes a good handshake, watch Robert Phipps handshake video. Phipps is the author of Body Language: What You Don’t Say That Matters.

Sweatin’ the Small Stuff


FullSizeRender 11There are some personality types who fully embrace the adage “dont sweat the small stuff.” I had a roommate in college who claimed she didn’t even see dirt. Our apartment was proof. While this laidback way of life may be acceptable (for the most part) in college roommates, it is not as easy to overlook in business.

Just the same, not everyone loves wallowing in details. The limits in searching for details is infinite and exhaustive. However, excellence, the kind that sets your business apart from your competition, resides in the infinite minutia of details. In Steven Schussler’s book, It’s a Jungle in There, he recalls several times where his attention to detail made a difference in the quality of his product. Something as simple as real smoke coming from the smokestack of a toy train can draw the line between ordinary and extraordinary (Schussler, 60). In Schussler’s opinion, it is imperative for an entrepreneur to sweat the small stuff.

Not suprisingly, many other business professionals agree with him. In her Forbes article, Bad Career Advice: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Chrissy Scivicque states, that “in practice, the concept proved to be a surefire path to mediocrity.” She goes on to compare the concept to Sam Parker and Mac Anderson’s book 212 The Extra Degree: Extraordinary Results begin with One Small Change. She sums up the book by stating:

“All it takes is one tiny degree to transform water into something completely different and infinitely more powerful.”  

In other words, addressing the tiniest detail can be a catalyst for a more successful product or service. The premise is almost the antithesis of don’t sweat the small stuff.

In the words of Aristotle, “excellence is not an act, but a habit.” Schussler retells how his client was impressed that he stopped to remove a cigarette butt from his business premesis (61). His attention to detail was a call to act on his part. Throughout his life, Schussler cultivated a habit of discerning the details, and after years of practice, he feels compelled to act in order to acheive excellence in his business.

In summary, the adage don’t sweat the small stuff works well when you are hoping to comfort  a new mom swimming in a sea of laundry and dirty dishes. But, when you apply it to the world of business, the small stuff is just as important as the grand vision. And, if you are like my dirt-blind roommate from college, you may consider looking for a detail oriented business partner!

In Pursuit of Excellence



Excellence is not a synonym for perfection. Standing in awe of a masterpiece can make an  artist feel like perfection is the goal, when in reality the best we will ever do is excellence. I think the same can be said for building a business from the ground up. It is the aspiration for perfection that drives excellence.

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

-Vince Lombardi

While learning to draw, I studied with several modern day masters, including Jim Ostlund and Michelle Mitchell Ostlund at the Art Atelier and Ben Long at the Fine Arts League. Studying with the masters is an age old path to understanding and excellence. These teachers would not allow mediocrity in their students. They required excellence even in the details, because realism, when first learning to draw, is the ultimate goal. What I learned was that for every detail I adjusted, the drawing became stronger, and all of the details I noted while searching for a perfect drawing improved my knowledge of the work I was doing.

In Steven Schussler’s book Its a Jungle In There, he alludes to entrepreneurship as an art form. As an entrepreneur, he ponders that maybe the term starving artist is about “‘being willing to forego normal creature comforts in search of perfection in one’s work (30).” As an artist and an entrepreneur, one must never be satisfied to rest on prior accomplishments. A look back at older work will quickly show you your shortcomings in excellence. This is not because you previously failed, but because you grew more adept at seeing excellence.

“Today’s excellence, tomorrow’s mediocrity.” 


Schussler talks about missing the whisp of smoke from a model train in his Winter Wonderland restaurant concept. This detail, while ephemeral at most, was exceedingly important to executing his concept, and a hallmark of his attention to detail in pursuit of excellence. He felt this oversight on his part, was “a step backward from excellence; it compromised the quality of what we were trying to create (61).”

“Excellence is the unlimited ability to improve the quality of what you have to offer.”

-Rick Pitino

When endeavoring to create a product, an entrepreneur can look at the masters of entrepreneurship as role models for quality. Steve Jobs, so often considered a master in business, says, “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” Just like drawing, attention to detail is a learned habit. The more you look, the more you see. In drawing, learning to see is of the utmost importance beacuse you cannot draw what you don’t see. In entrepreneurship, one must learn to see the whole picture, the dream of the business, and then work back from there searching for the details that will make your vision successful.

“Excellence is a better teacher than mediocrity. The lessons of the ordinary are everywhere.Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying the exemplary.”

Warren Bennis

Risk and the PB&J

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I am not a risk-taker. I never climb on anything taller than myself. I would NEVER jump out of an airplane. I don’t even like to walk barefoot over gravel. Beyond physical risk, I am also not, in most repects, keen on taking emotional risks either. I recently polled my friends and family, asking if they perceive me as a risk-taker. Most of them laughed and I conclude that I am indeed, not a risk-taker.

But, I did just sign up to learn how to be an entrepreneur. I began reading Steven Schusser’s best selling book, It’s a Jungle in There: Inspiring Lessons, Hard-Won Insights, and Other Acts of Entrepreneurial Daring. I felt a little worried in Chapter One when I realized my risk-taking skills were lacking. When Chapter Two moved on to passion, I felt a little more comfortable, secure in my ability to feel passionate about many things, specifically art making and creativity. I could talk about and explore these topics until most people’s eyes glaze over.

When Shcusser proceeded to ambition in Chapter Three, my eyebrows knitted and I began to worry that perhaps I needed to reconsider my endeavors in entrepreneurship. But then, Schusser wrote this:

“Think of passion and ambition as the peanut butter and jelly of entrepreneurial success: They work together to create a better outcome. Passion provides the fuel that drives a person to create a service or product and ambition supplies the desire to get that service or product out to the public (30).”

Ambition can be perceived as greedy, egotistical, or insincere. For me, art and the creative process strive for authenticity. It took a little PB&J visual to help me accept that ambition is not contrary to passion, and in fact, the two are catalysts for one another. If you have a passion for something, you want to see it brought into the world. You want to see it thrive, and that entails being profitable, being proud of the product or service created, and being bold in your support of your passion. As Schusser says both passion and ambition “must be present in people who want to reach their full potential as entrepreneurs (31).”

Entrepreneurship is an act of creativity, a process the entrepreneur must go through to bring a product or service to fruition. Returning to the concept of being a poor risk-taker, I have to admit, my passion for art and the creative process exceeds my fear of taking the leap into the entrepreneurial unknown. I am willing to risk something in order to appease my ambiton to share with the world the joy of the creative process.

Passion without ambition is just a sticky peanut butter sandwich.