Balance Doesn’t Work – You Really Can’t Have it All – At Once

Doing anything remarkable almost always requires that something else gets ignored.

“Having it all” is an Industrial Age charade. Starting a successful business isn’t something you can do while living a “balanced” life. The bucolic suburban life of the 1950s was missing one thing – significance. People who live remarkable lives don’t live balanced ones. They don’t want one, either. Do you want a successful life? Then stop seeking balance.


Teeter-Totters rule.
When a teeter-totter is perfectly balanced, nothing is happening. The family sitcoms of the 50s, like Ozzie and Harriet, taught us to seek “balance” so we could live highly predictable, secure, safe, and unremarkable lives. But think of anyone who has accomplished great things in business, spiritual life, justice, etc – the more remarkable their impact, the less balanced their lives.

Integration, Not Balance
In the Participation Age, we bring our whole self to work, and we dissolve the lines between work and play. We leave at 10 a.m. to see our kids in the only fifth-grade play in which they will ever be the lead raccoon. We take bike rides or go for walks at 3 p.m., and work in the evenings or “weekends”.

Full Engagement, Not Balance
Fifteen years ago I was offered a great salary and significant ownership to run a company in Napa Valley. But we were fully out of balance, focusing on kids at the time. It was an offer of a lifetime, but it was easy to say no. Imbalance required it.

During the first year of building the Crankset Group (and earlier businesses), I worked seven days a week. There was no balance at all. Seven years later, I have every Friday off, every other Monday off, the last week of every month off, and a month a year – 60% of the year. My wife and I get to choose to ride a bike, build businesses in Africa, visit a 3to5 Club in Ireland, or go on a vacation. People on teeter-totters are always intentionally out of balance. It’s how the fun happens.

Get More Done in Less Time
Here’s the rub for startups. Too many business owners go into business looking for an immediate Ozzie and Harriet “lifestyle business”–assuming that they can step right in working four or five days a week. Success almost never comes that way. It was the willingness to go all in and be completely imbalanced on the front end that allows me to be imbalanced now in the direction of free time.

Momentum doesn’t come from balance, but from giving it your all up front. An airplane burns up to 50 percent of its fuel just getting to its cruise altitude. Most businesses do, too.

Shoot for Next Year, Not Tomorrow
Full engagement is tied directly to wanting the best in the long term, not right now, and wanting it badly enough to go all in—abandoning anything that the Balanced Life folks would recommend.

Find something to throw yourself at and do it with everything you have. Then take a break from that and throw yourself at something else just as hard (playing with your kids, another business, writing a book, etc.). I love my teeter-totter life. If you don’t have one, don’t expect to live a remarkable life.

Is Your Job a Balance Trap?
The Industrial Age company you work for might want you to live a balanced life and leave your personal stuff at home. It’s a trap. Find another company to work for—there are plenty of Participation Age companies out there who invite you to live an unbalanced, fully engaged, fully integrated, and remarkable life, and the number is growing fast.

Choose the Unbalanced Life
Live out your highest priorities – everything else should play second fiddle to those. And yes, you’ve got to choose. You can’t have it all – right now. Go all in on the front end and reap the rewards down the road.

As Margaret Thatcher, who lived an imbalanced life, said, “One’s life should matter.” If you live a balanced one, yours won’t.

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Why Did The SBA Just Gift Millions To For-Profit Businesses?

The SBA just gave away millions in corporate welfare with no strings attached, to venture- capitalists accelerators. This is wrong on multiple levels.

The Small Business Administration just announced the award of millions of dollars in grants to “accelerators”, which are designed for venture capitalists to sift through countless startups to find the few they think can make them the most money. But the rationale, efficacy, and fairness of this program needs to be challenged.

The Rationale – Accelerators Produce More Jobs (NOT)
Over the last decade, the SBA has shifted its focus away from the 98% of small businesses with 1-19 employees, to work with larger corporations with up to $36.5 million in revenue and/or 1,500 employees. This accelerator grant program is another example of that shift.

The SBA says accelerators produce more jobs, but the evidence suggests the opposite. Over the last five years, the approximately 200 accelerators in the U.S. have created between “3,300 and 4,800 jobs,” or a measly 700 to 960 jobs a year, at a cost of $130,000 per job created. During that same period, small businesses started around 600,000 businesses every year, creating three million jobs over five years, all without handouts from the government.

The Efficacy – The Product High-Growth Companies (NOT)
The SBA says accelerators produce high-growth companies. The evidence suggests otherwise.

The best data on job creation from the Kauffman Foundation shows 100% of net new jobs are created in the first twelve months of a new business. 98% of those will never have more than 19 employees (and don’t want more), and less than 00.06% have more than 500. And nobody can figure out which freak will actually grow quickly. Not a single graduate of an accelerator program over the last couple decades has become “high-growth” and generated tens of thousands of jobs.

In contrast, McDonalds started as a hot dog stand in 1937, and didn’t start growing until eighteen years later. It was not built to be big, “high-growth”, or even make hamburgers. Accelerator owners would have laughed at it.

Sara Blakely designed and started selling panty hose from her apartment because she didn’t like the way her panty hose fit. In a few years Spanx became a billion dollar company, without any accelerators or even a single penny of outside investment. And no one, including Sara Blakely could have guessed it would become huge.

In 1996, two college kids started a company called Backrub on their college campus server. Three years later they moved out of their garage and renamed it Google, which lived in obscurity in the backwaters of the Internet for another couple years. These kids would have never survived the “pitch deck” process to get into an accelerator.

The venture capitalists never recognized these or any others like them, and the overwhelming evidence is that they never do. The fact is, good ideas don’t need to be coddled. 81% of the fastest growing businesses in America never took a dime of venture capital, and those that achieved the highest financial return also took no VC money. Not one of the thousands of fastest growing businesses in America have come through an accelerator.

Throwing free money at accelerators in not an effective use of SBA funds. They would be better off lending it to small business owners with interest.

The Fairness Issue
The SBA was formed to help small business owners get interest-bearing loans, not to give free money to wealthy VCs. One recipient of the handout, the Arizona Center for Innovation, is owned by Tech Parks Arizona, which owns 5.2 million square feet of office space producing over $100 million a year in revenue. Do they really need a government handout to make more money? Just as questionable, many other grant recipients were just formed in the last few months. Some haven’t even opened yet. With no track record at all, the SBA is throwing money at them, no strings attached. It’s simply mind-boggling.

How does any of this giveaway make sense? This is crony-Industrialism, and an affront to the millions of small businesses slugging it out in the trenches, whom are more deserving, but won’t see a dime of this money. The SBA has a lot of explaining to do.

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Why ’Participation Age’ Leaders Will Beat Old-School Managers, Every Time

Mayer manages to the Lowest Common Denominator. Semler leads to the Highest Common Denominator. The difference is dramatic.

Last year, the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, created shock waves throughout the tech world by dictating that “work from home” was no longer permitted. She summarily herded everyone back into the Office Day Care Center to be closely supervised like seven year olds. A few years earlier, a large multi-national company headquartered in Brazil named Semco, threw a party for their leader, Ricardo Semler, to commemorate his 10th anniversary of not making a decision.


Managing to The Worst vs. Expecting the Best
LCD Management (lowest common denominator) asks, “What’s the most incompetent or laziest thing somebody could do?”, and then creates an environment to make it hard to get away with it. In contrast, HCD Leadership asks, “If given a clear vision, what is the best possible thing people could do without being managed?” HCD leaders then create the kind of environment that will attract self-motivated, self-managed achievers. Both of them are self-fulfilling prophecies.

LCD Managers create an environment where people will live down to our worst expectations of them. HCD leaders understand that the art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader should make.

Ricardo Semler is perhaps the best, low-profile CEO leader in business today. Mayer is a high-profile CEO manager, using personal superpowers to hold everything together – for now. As a result, the futures of Yahoo and Semco are going in dramatically different directions.

Centralized Decision-making vs. Everyone is Capable
LCD managers assume they are the most motivated, qualified, committed, invested, and experienced. With all those superstar qualities, it would be foolish to have others making decisions. That’s why they are paid the big bucks. Mayer is infamous for regularly having a few dozen people waiting outside her office for hours, as she solves problems and makes decisions for them one at a time.

HCD Leadership believes most people are inherently motivated, qualified, committed, and invested, and that they make better decisions than someone in a hierarchy. Semler doesn’t make decisions anymore because decisions are made where they will be lived out. Stakeholders throughout the company are responsible for Semco entering a variety of industries and growing dramatically year after year, from $4 million 29 years ago to $1billion+ today. As an HCD leader, instead of making decisions others can make, Semler is free to ask questions, cast vision, and work with others to build the future of the company.

Superpowers vs. Delegation
Mayer is a supermanager – which allows her to get away with a lot in the short term. But it is not sustainable. When she goes, the energy goes. She has entrenched herself in decision-making, making her nearly indispensable. While at Google, Mayer pulled 250 all-nighters in five years and held up to 70 meetings a week. She sleeps four hours a night. In contrast, Semler trained others to make decisions. There are now six co-CEOs who rotate leadership every six months, allowing Semler to function at the highest levels of leadership and not make decisions. As with any great leader, he has worked hard to get out of the way. He is fully dispensable, while nobody could replace Mayer.

The Results Are In
Semco gets hundreds of unsolicited resumes every month, and no one leaves. In the worst 10-year recession in Brazil’s history, revenues grew 600%, profits were up 500%, and productivity rose 700%. Innovative Stakeholders have taken them into profitable industries they could have never dreamed of entering, and they continue to grow exponentially. And unlike Yahoo, Semco hasn’t told people how or where to work for over three decades.

LCD management may get quick, short-term results, but Yahoo’s future will never look like Semco’s – it’s too reliant on a very high-profile, LCD superhuman manager. Very impressive in the short-term, but very old school.

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Unmotivated Employees Won’t Like Where The Work World Is Headed

The world continues to shift in favor of those who want to do something, contribute, create, innovate, make meaning, and own their lives.

The time is ripe for entrepreneurs, but will employees survive the next evolution? Maybe, but they’re going to have to change, now.

The work world is shifting in favor of those who want to do something, contribute, create, innovate, make meaning, and own their lives. Recent studies show the workplace is headed in a participatory direction that will not accommodate traditional employees stuck in Industrial Age management structures.

The Evolving Workplace: Expert Insights is one such study. They identify seven trends. We’ll look at four of them that do a great job of identifying where “work” and the “workplace” are headed.

Trend #1: Crowdsourcing and Crowdsource services. People will work everywhere and some will never meet. Just-in-time labor will reduce the number of permanent employees. Productivity will become more important than hanging around the boss. Thirty percent of Japan’s workforce is already crowd-sourced.

Participation Age implication: The big elephant in the room is that kissing up to cover up for lousy productivity will be much harder for employees to do remotely. The lazy guy with a great personality might actually have to start working.

Trend #2: Productivity measured in outputs, not hours. This study says the whole world is moving in that direction.

Participation Age implication: This a results-based culture, replacing the traditional time-based culture. In our company, we have no office hours, and no vacation or sick time. We expect people to produce, and then go play with their dog (or vice versa). The Industrial Age taught us to trade time for money, but in the post-modern economy, time is the new money. People want freedom from the 9-5 and will produce more if treated like adults who are in charge of their productivity.

Trend #3: Values vs. rules. Values, which guide and encourage personal initiative, will be more prevalent than rules, which box people in, dull their thinking, and keep them from innovating.

Participation Age implication: This trend highlights the importance of hiring people who reflect your values and who you can trust (since you’re no longer measuring time, but results). Stephen Covey’s research showed that employer/employee trust is one of the most valuable factors in someone being productive. Going forward, hiring for culture, which cannot be taught, will replace hiring for skills, which can be taught. Skilled employees will have to learn to live in business community, not just produce in a vacuum.

Trend #4: Employee-led innovation. The best innovation will come from the “bottom up,” not from management or R&D departments.

Participation Age implication: When we lead with values and not rules, we turn employees (supervised children) into Stakeholders (self-managed adults). Stakeholders take responsibility for their time and produce results without being monitored. More importantly, they will come up with great ideas on how to move the company forward. Management won’t have to tell employees what to do; the Stakeholders will be the innovators that move the company forward.

Most revealing line from the report: “Strong resistance is expected from many parts of the labor force [to measuring output instead of hours]…. The gap will widen between the best workers and the worst in terms of opportunities and earnings, contributing to greater income inequality and therefore potential social unrest.”

In other words, a time-based culture lets people appear productive by simply having a car in the parking lot, and they will protest having been exposed as a drain on the company.

Having a job vs. working; Time-Based vs. Results-Based
 The future doesn’t bode well for Industrial Age employees who don’t mind going to work (time-based job), but don’t want to actually work while they are there (results-based work). But it looks very bright for Stakeholders who want to “make meaning”, not just money, to take ownership, and get a life at the same time.

The work world continues to shift in favor of those who want to do something, contribute, create, innovate, make meaning not money, and own their lives. It should encourage all of us to move from being employees to Stakeholders.

Two Business Lessons From a Guy Who Ate An Airplane

Two great questions – Is it possible? Should I do it?

Thirty five years ago a Frenchman, Michel Lotito became well-known because he ate a Cessna 150. Yep, he ate the whole thing; wings, tires, windows, seats, engine – everything. It took him two years, but he got the whole thing down, and I’m assuming, out.

On a tech forum in 2001, someone recounted the story, and the first response was, “Uh ok… but why an airplane?” Which leads us to two really important business lessons we should learn from eating an airplane.

Business Lesson #1 – Hard stuff is rarely impossible

You can do anything one bite at a time.

Born prematurely at 4.5 lbs, Wilma Rudolph took her first steps at eight years old, after suffering for years from polio. She went on to become the fastest woman alive and the first to win three Olympic gold medals.

At 16, Chris Zane convinced his parents to let him take over a bike shop going out of business, borrowing $23,000 from his grandfather—at 15 percent interest. This year, 30 years later, he expects to bring in $21 million.

Anna Mary Robertson Moses stopped embroidering at age 76 when her hands became too crippled to hold a needle. With no formal training or education, she took up painting and became one of the most famous and acclaimed painters in history, Grandma Moses.

Ray Kroc started franchising McDonalds at the age of 59. Colonel Sanders franchised KFC at 62.

A lot of personal and business accomplishments defy the possible. Stop whining about what you think you can’t do. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” Take one step at a time. Keep going. Don’t give up.

Business Lesson #2 – Pick something worth doing before you start

There’s nothing worse than eating an airplane just to have someone ask, “Uh, ok… but why an airplane?” Business is hard enough. Don’t make it harder by continuing to beat your head against the wall to do things that, in the end, won’t matter. Choose wisely. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Michel Lotito died at the age of 57 of “natural causes”. Uh-huh. Eating an airplane is a bad idea.

When setting out to do something, always make sure you ask BOTH the following questions.
1) Is it possible? (It almost always is) and…
2) Should I do it? (What is the possible reward?)

Lotito only asked the first one. Don’t make that mistake.

Put your hand to what others think is impossible, but make sure it’s worth doing before you start.