All posts by Todd

Todd Rhoad is the managing director of BT Consulting; an Atlanta-based consulting firm focused on helping high achievers create more success in their lives. He’s the creator of MBAWriters, an international writing group, and the Henry series of books for MBAs. Todd has published ten books on career topics and numerous articles in career magazines around the world. Todd also creates college courses at the post graduate level and speaks to colleges on numerous career topics. He holds a MSEE and MBA and is a military veteran.

Why You Should Want to Work With Smart People

I read, post and respond to a lot of questions on Quora.  It’s a great place to interact with others and learn.  And who doesn’t want to learn?  With the idea of learning in mind, I wanted to share one of my answers which addressed working with smart people.   The question asked was “What is the most annoying thing about smart people?”  While I realize smart people may be portrayed as annoying but you really should consider the alternative of being surrounded by, or even worse, working in organizations led by the less intelligent.

One of my all time favorite articles that addresses this question is from 2005 Harvard Business Review, entitled “Competent Jerks, Lovable fools and the formation of social networks.” It basically says that people consistently and overwhelmingly prefer to work with a “lovable fool” than with a competent jerk.  Now, by competent jerk, we are talking about smart people that are socially awkward.  You might even think they are a little arrogant.  Whatever the reason, you’ve found a way to dislike them.  But is this a good approach for you?  Is it best for the company?  Before we dive into the discussion, here’s what I’ve learned from smart people and why I would prefer to work with them as opposed to a “lovable fool.”

My first experience with smart people was in graduate school.  My advisor and I were about the same age.  He did all of his work at Purdue University.  He was one of those “never made a ‘B’ kind of people. He was different but he was smart.  He had ten students that he advised.  Intellectually, I probably ranked number 10 on the list.  I knew it and didn’t have an issue with it.  I knew there are two kinds of people in engineering graduate school: smart people and those who work their butts off. Well, you know where I fit in.  But, I had to graduate and I knew that smart people would help me get through it all.  They did.  I opened my mind to learning.  Sometimes I felt dumb because I just didn’t get it.  There was one engineering technique, called the standstill frequency response, which took me a year to understand.  No matter how hard they described it, I just was picking up what they were putting down.  Then, I’m working the lab and BAM, it just hit me.  I thought, wow, why was that so hard.  They helped me graduate.  I was much better off hanging around them as opposed to people who didn’t understand everything we were doing.  The benefits of being around smart people were real.  But this is college, right?  Try befriending a lot of dumb people and completing your degree successfully.  It just might be a little harder.

Years later, I worked in a company of 700 people, where over 400 of them held PhDs.  It was a Research and Development Consortium.  I jumped into it mostly to see if I could survive.  I knew how to learn and ask for help when I needed it.  The good thing was my coworkers were smart. I mean like “Masters from MIT and PhD from Berkeley” smart.  This type of atmosphere can be a little intimidating.  After all, your own intelligence is vetted very quickly.  But that shouldn’t be a problem.  I wasn’t as smart as they were and that was ok.  It became evident that I had to find the value I had to offer.  For the most part, it was I that benefited the most from what they had to offer.  Here’s what I learned about smart people.

  • They never knew enough.They constantly studied, experimented and learned about their area of expertise.  It turns out that this is the behavior that makes you an expert.
  • They debated when they had an argument.Managers don’t do this because feelings get hurt. But technical people argue around the facts. Ensuring the team is right is far more important than ensuring someone’s ego isn’t bruised. Do you really want to risk failure to save someone’s feelings (who shouldn’t have inserted them to start with)?
  • They didn’t contribute for the sake of it.If they didn’t know anything about the discussion, they stayed out of it. Diversity of thought is nice but it must be helpful to be worth consideration.
  • Unfamiliarity didn’t scare them.If they entered into a situation they had no experience with, they studied and learned what others have done in similar situations to get some idea what any particular action would result in.
  • They are always eager to help.I’ve never worked for so many people who truly saw the value others had to offer and often displayed that understanding by sharing their time to develop others.
  • Team success was more important than personal success.You’ve probably never seen this in business before but these professionals are heavily focused on achieving goals and creating success. They don’t focus on power and money.
  • Success was about effort.They didn’t hesitate to dedicate time and effort, which was usually defined by the difficulty of the task, not by the number of hours in the day.

To get a better perspective on smart people, I thought it necessary to assess working with the intellectually challenged.  This could be your “lovable fool.”  In this discussion, I would like to consider the impact these members could have on your organization, especially if they occupy influential positions.  If you’ve had any experience here, leave a comment and share your story. I’m sure you’ll find many who will appreciate it.

  • They make “gut” decisions. They avoid any objective or analytical approach to decision-making.  This could occur for many reasons, such as don’t know how to do the analysis, don’t understand the value of the analysis or don’t realize that they probably aren’t the first people to ever engage in any specific situation so there should be some learning that could occur from other companies’ experiences.  It’s the exercise of unfounded theory.
  • They have no creativity. They avoid thinking out of the box or engaging in creative methods.  This type of thinking creates risk and reduces their sense of security.  If they do something different and it all goes wrong, then they’ll have to take the blame for it (even though it was their decision).
  • They don’t use metrics. Metrics….smetrics! Who wants to know how well they are doing?  Using metrics is likely to get them called out for poor performance.  If they don’t establish any quantitative measures, no one can know how epic their fail really was.  What a philosophy! I never fail because I don’t measure what I’m doing.
  • They use feelings. Their decisions are driven heavily by the desire to avoid negative feelings. It’s about how they want to feel or what they don’t want to feel. For example, a person who feels anxious about the potential outcome of a risky choice may choose a safer option rather than a potentially more lucrative option.  Now, can anyone tell quantify the correlation between feelings and success?
  • They avoid accountability. They lack the motivation to monitor to their own decision-making.  Even when motivated, obtaining accurate awareness of their decision-making is next to impossible.  We still want to love the fool, and when they are in charge, we want them to love us.
  • They focus on self-preservation. To some extent we all do this.  But few of us have the ability to change the organization to ensure our own job stability.  Sometimes this pressure to self-preserve leads to good decisions for the individual but bad decisions for the organization, such as chasing short term profits to ensure they get their bonus.

Ask me if I miss working with smart people? Damn right I do. I’d much rather work with smart people.   Sure, sometimes you are humbled by how little you really know but I now view that as an opportunity to grow and learn.  If you don’t care to learn anymore, then you should never be offended by smart people.  After all, who doesn’t want to work with people who love to solve the hard problems?  As an entrepreneur running my own company, I want smart people working for me.  Mistakes cost my company money and threaten my future.  The fewer of those I have, they more financially stable the company will be.  In the end, you have to ask yourself this question “will smart people help the company grow?”  In my experience, they do.  If you don’t have a lot of experience working with smart people, you may ask yourself another question “will the intellectually challenged people negatively help the company grow?”  You don’t have to really answer this question from your own experience, as there are many examples of organizational failures to provide the evidence.  Some statistics show that 95 percent of companies fail before 10 years of operation.  These failures happen very often.  They can drive companies into the ground with poor decision-making, which I’ve witnessed way too often. They can also wreck a company by chasing their own financial gain.   All of these turn out to be detrimental to any successful career you try to build because you fall victim to things you can influence, impact or control.

One last thing to consider, if you’re working hard to earn numerous graduate degrees that create the perception that you’re brilliant, you might want to consider in your career planning the idea that the world may not see your brilliance in a flattering light.  As you know, the brilliant people don’t always rise to the top and lead organizations….unless they create their own company (which is a discussion for later).

The MBA: It’s Your Ticket to the Middle

You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your job.  Yet, year after year, your performance reviews provide little insight into what you need to do to gain some upward mobility.  No raises. No promotions.  Eventually, you begin to realize that with little movement after 5 years or more, it’s unlikely that any real movement will be coming in the near future.  You’ve got to change your outlook and the MBA seems like the perfect credential to boost your career.  If you want to get into management, it seems like the ideal tool.  But can it really get you to the top?

When I was working on my MBA, I was just as optimistic as every other student.  I thought the MBA would propel me into management quickly.  I earned my MBA while working full time.  The managers around me didn’t have a lot of credentials themselves, so I felt that my MBA would have a huge impact on my growth in the company.  The only MBA in the company was a Harvard graduate and he was the CFO.  When he came in the company, he came in at the top.  He had considerable management experience at the top level and a MBA from Harvard.  This was my introduction to the two things that get you into top management.

Many believe that the possession of the MBA will push you to the top of any organization.  I wish it were true.  The challenge for MBAs entering the workforce is that there are too many MBAs for too few positions.  According to Statistics Canada data, 10.4 percent of all jobs were management jobs in 1995, but that has reduced to 7.8 percent today.  The recession has brought about change that will greatly impact your ability to climb higher in your career.  About 1 in 10 management jobs that existed in 2008 are gone.  Wal-Mart Canada cut costs by targeting more than 200 head-office jobs. After Tim Hortons merged with Burger King, the coffee chain cut 40 per cent of its middle managers. When Rogers Communications restructured its business under CEO Guy Laurence, it let go of several hundred middle managers and up to 15 per cent of its executives.  While the rate of MBA enrollment has not increased in recent years, it still remains high.  About 52 percent of students around the globe are exclusively interested in the MBA, indicating that the supply of MBAs is unlikely to decrease anytime soon.

If the reduction of management jobs and the large numbers of MBAs doesn’t deter you, then you’ll need to create value for employers to convince them that you’re ready for top management.  There are two things you must have to create that influence: a recognizable value and desired work experience.

The MBA is a faster ride to top management positions if you get it from a top program.  It’s not because they are considerably smarter than everyone else, it’s because they bring a perceived value that the company needs.  For example, if a company is preparing itself to be sold or seeking investment funds, bringing in top program alumni creates the perception that the company is well managed.  This makes investors feel more comfortable about the risk of investing in the company.  It’s little more than managing perception. It’s similar to reasons why professional athletes earn so much money playing a game.  They bring an inherent value to the organization, which for sports athletes lie in their ability to sell apparel with their name on it.  Do you think an MBA from an unknown university would create such perception?  If not, then it’s likely that the MBA won’t carry you to the upper echelons.  Even the ivy leaguers who start out with the Fortune 500 companies don’t start at the top.  Andrew Ainslie, dean of the Rochester University Simon School of Business, said “You’re reporting two to four levels below the CEO. That’s middle management, and that’s where most MBA students go and it doesn’t matter which university they came from.”

Another factor that will slow your rise to the top is work experience.  Companies looking for top level professionals will focus on the experience of the individual in the areas they need support in.  That could be mergers, acquisitions, startup, restructuring or dressing up the company for sale.  Company needs are often very specific and without such experience, you don’t have a chance.  Is experience more valuable than the MBA? I would say it certainly is.  Lynn Lee, managing director at Atlantic Research Technologies, a global executive search firm, says “Corporations typically call us in to help them identify people who are already in the upper management or middle management ranks. When recruiting these candidates, most companies, large and small, Singaporean and international, usually look first and foremost at the candidate’s employment experience, and at his or her achievements and management style. A person with a truly outstanding employment record can get a great senior management job without an MBA or other advanced degrees.”   How do you know what experience they want?  That’s a great topic for another post.  That’s coming soon!

After I earned my MBA and spent many years in middle management, I learned about another extremely important factor that can greatly decrease your chances in reaching the corner office.  It’s self-preservation.  Most managers at the top are focused on growing their own career, not limiting their employment by promoting someone else to take their job.  This mindset creates an environment that I call the “dark side of management” and I have an upcoming ebook that will dive into this topic in detail by providing real examples of situations that often happen that can limit your middle management career because someone at the top was trying to preserve their own career from poor organizational performance or create some organizational change that has great potential for personal financial gain.   I was really unsure about creating this ebook since the world wants to focus on all the happy stuff in life but it’s these unpleasant situations that damage and limit your ability to grow your career.  You will run into them at some point.

No matter where you earn your MBA, it’s all about value (i.e. perceived or real).  If you earned your MBA from a lower tier program, don’t expect it to have high perceived value that executives look for when they want to manage perception.  This will limit your upward mobility.  Therefore, you’ll be forced to develop specific experience that executives and boards are looking for if you want to draw their attention for any opportunities at the top.  Experience has value.  Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in middle management.  While that may sound exciting, especially when you consider where you are now, it comes with a big set of problems (which are covered in my upcoming ebook).  Then, when you consider the sheer quantity of competition for an ever shrinking pool of opportunities, you might just find middle management to be one of the toughest places in business.

The One Question Your Business Must Answer to Survive

….notes from my own entrepreneurial journey.  Walk with me!

It’s been a year in my business thus far.  It’s been a hard year and one that has taught me more than almost any other year in my life.  Some lessons I wish I hadn’t learned but every one of the lessons are valuable in some way.

My initial planning was great. I knew how to build a business plan.  I was an engineer and loved to dig into details.  I took several months to create it.  It had all of the right elements in it.  I had defined what the business was, how it would operate, what services would be offered, how it would be sold and marketed, what the operating costs would be and how much we would make in the first year.  I even included a competitor analysis, growth plan for expansion and customer profile analysis.  I had all the information I needed.

After I put the business plan down, I began to work on the business case.  Why? I knew that selling my service would be difficult.  First, my potential customers didn’t know they had a problem.  So, I needed to define that before I began to sell anything.  My first attempt at this was from the financial perspective.  To define the issue, I identified the amount of money my customer should be getting from their efforts.  I was hoping this would prompt my customer to look at how much they were getting and compare it to what they should be getting (my analysis).  This should have launched salvos in their brains but it only worked for a very few.  Some saw the huge delta and realized there could be something they could be learning.  For most….nothing happened.  I thought it might have been that they didn’t trust my assessment.  This made sense as I realize they didn’t know me.  So I changed the assessment to reference all of the official sources of data that I used.  It identified the authorities in their field.  The data and analysis were solid.  I used the data and mathematical methods from the experts in their field.  Easy sell, right?  Unfortunately, it did very little for the customer but it did solidify the case.

So maybe they needed to see the business case from a cost perspective.  The financial perspective essentially said that their processes were inefficient and that they could make more money if they did things differently or better yet, let me do it for them.  Perhaps they needed to understand what the cost was for their inefficient process.  I prepared a benefit cost analysis that illustrated their cost to perform the same functions that my company does.  Yes, you would expect that we were less expensive.  And, we are.  Our processes are automated, electronic and keep track of everything.  These are the benefits I shared with them, along with the fact that we are a fraction of the cost they are.

I took this new analysis and threw it in front of potential customers.  It was met with disbelief.  I soon realized they had never seen any analysis like this before and weren’t sure what they were looking at, although they realized that it didn’t paint an efficient picture of their process.  Eventually, discussions would go off track.  Once I started to see that customers were getting a little emotional about the topic, I realized that this discussion no longer hinged on the merits of the argument.  We had transitioned from the idea of what’s good for their company to what’s good for them.  It was clear that this was becoming a personal decision.  More importantly, my customer is apparently struggling with the “what’s in it for me” question.

I’ll have to admit that I should’ve seen this coming and that it should have been the first question I should have addressed.  No matter who you talk to, you must be able to convince them that your efforts are worthy of further discussion.  The challenge always comes with figuring out what interests they want to serve first: their own or the company’s.  Never assume any one is looking out for the greater good first.  Also, this is a never ending process.  As you move up the chain from contact to contact, you have to keep asking that same question.

Now, I’m embarking on a journey to figure how to assess what personal needs people are most interested in.  Do they want to look like a hero, avoid embarrassment, etc?  This will probably be the most difficult part of my journey as I’m sure to meet all kinds of people with various interests.  The challenge comes in developing a process to filter contacts into specific categories where I can have a process on how to deal with them.

Stay tuned!  This will be fun.

Entrepreneurs: Optimists or Realists?

There’s no doubt that you’ve heard that most businesses fail.  When you look at the statistics, it’s very easy to believe that entrepreneurs are dreamers that either ignore the statistics or are just plain naïve.  If you knew 96% of companies fail within ten years, would you still do it?  We know entrepreneurs are smart and willing to take calculated risks, despite these overwhelming odds.  Do they even consider the realities of the entrepreneurial journey?

The first thing to realize about the odds of failure is that they are directly related to the amount of cash in the company.  Bill Camody stated in his article “Why 96 Percent of Businesses Fail Within 10 Years” that “cash is a fact.”  Once you don’t have any more cash, you can’t pay your bills.  This is a reality and certainly hits home very hard.  Now consider that the most significant source of funding for all business startups is the founder’s personal savings, which is roughly four times greater than any other source, according to the Kaufman Institute.  Venture capitalists and angel investors don’t engage heavily in startups.  If you’ve seen ABC’s TV show, Shark Tank, you know the sharks don’t like to invest in an unknown.  They want to see a cash flow before risking their money.  So, if you’re going to get money from others, either do it very early in the launch or you’ll have to grow the business before you can get a cash injection.

Most startups fail.  Most founders use their own money.  What can they be thinking? Do entrepreneurs overlook the realities of startups?  In a survey by Kauffman, many founders shared their thoughts on the factors that prevent others from creating their own startup.  These factors just might be the realities that one needs to consider (and constantly measure) when engaging in their own startup.

  • Risk – over 98% of respondents ranked an inability or lack of willingness to take risk as an important barrier to entrepreneurship.
  • Time and effort – 93% feel that entrepreneurs often underestimate the time and effort requirement to get their startup off the ground.
  • Capital – 91% identify the difficulty in obtaining capital as a major inhibitor, which may explain why most use their own money to start their new company.
  • Management skills – 89% cite management skills and the ability to start a company as critical to success.
  • Family pressure – 83% believe that family pressures to get a steady job and paycheck are real and challenging.

Other challenges mentioned in the survey include stress, maintaining a work-life balance, developing products and services for changing markets, government regulations, taxes, and the costs of employee benefits.

While it’s very hard to identify the right combination of the aforementioned factors that will lead to business success, there are some factors that will certainly lead to failure.  In a study by the University College London, it was found that businesses with entrepreneurs who held no real business experience did not increase profits.  The premise here is that nascent entrepreneurs don’t apply the appropriate weight to opportunities and threats.  In other words, their alertness to identifying threats and use of cognitive skills to recognize opportunities are not in balance.

Optimism has been shown to have a positive impact on entrepreneurial success, in terms of both actual firm growth and financial performance.    Realism, which also affects financial performance positively, is defined as the consistency between growth expectations and actual growth.  As with most entrepreneurs, and as verified by this study, optimism dominates over the impact of realism.

With regards to a balance of both optimism and realism, a dose of realism has the effect of modifying the overconfident cognitive bias of optimism.  For example, watching more cash flow out of your company than in for a long period of time has a propensity to dampen high expectations of future success, forcing one to reevaluate the current situation and cognitive strategy.  A lack of business experience can lead to a late recognition of this imbalance, resulting in failure.

In my experience, most entrepreneurs do a fairly good job of identifying threats and opportunities.  The things they incorrectly assess about them are the magnitude and timing, such as running out of money.   An important thing to remember is that most businesses are not creating something that hasn’t been done before.  There is a lot of literature, experience and information in the world.  Entrepreneurs should always seek it out and ensure they are correctly and constantly assessing their expectations, measuring performance factors (for a dose of reality) and maintaining just enough optimism to keep striving for their aspirations.  Additionally, before you begin to establish any expectations for your business, ensure you have fully applied your cognitive abilities to the factors mentioned above; that is, risk taking, funding, time and effort, management skills and family.

Business Startup: What skills do you need?

When you are unemployed and begin searching jobs listed in Job banks, like LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster and so on, you seek out job descriptions that match your skills and experience.  But when you start your own business, the job description might look like a book full of blank pages.  The skills, knowledge and abilities needed will be many.  They will be hard to define in the beginning.  In fact, the requirements will reveal themselves every day.  If you want to get a sense of what you’ll need, take time to talk to entrepreneurs who’ve failed and who have succeeded.  You’ll want to know every lesson you can.  Here are some lessons I’ve picked up along my own journey.

Before we look at skills, you need to understand a few other required characteristics of startup entrepreneurs.

  1. You need to be self-motivated. There’s no one around to push you to do things you need to do or tell you what you need to do.
  2. You need to very passionate about the business. Things will be difficult in the beginning but you need to keep pushing for success.
  3. You’ve got to be able to handle stress (and lots of it). It could take 2 years for your company to get off the ground. I’ve started companies with a family. When times are tough and no money is coming in, everyone will pressure you to fix it. (I’ve got a great post for this coming soon).
  4. You need to have a clear vision of your business, that is, a good business plan. My blog tells you how to do that (The Blitz Blog – The Source of Inspiration for High Achievers ).
  5. You need to know how to take a small success and create more success. This is the process for building your business.
  6. You need to be a quick learner. This includes learning from others because you won’t know everything you need to know.
  7. You must be customer friendly.   People will buy the service or product because of you.  If they like you, they’ll buy.
  8. You need to be the expert.  Whatever you sell, you need to be the expert on it.  You want people to seek you out.
  9. You need to be organized.  Startups need planning and focus.  You should have enough information to operate on autopilot (but drive it yourself).
  10. You need to be decisive.  Startups need money fast.  You can’t afford to overanalyze situations.  Make decisions and move on.

The typical skills needed for the startup entrepreneur are:

  1. Legal sense – you’ll have to create the business and operate within legal guidelines for your location and the industry.
  2. Accounting – how will you track your expenses and revenue? You will need a CPA but it helps to understand what they do because it could be you doing the accounting in the initial phase.
  3. Business development – You’ll have to decide what customers to market to and how they do business.
  4. Finance – How will you fund the initial phase of your business? You’ll have to establish the original budget and put the money in place.
  5. Marketing – You’ll need to create the social media and marketing materials for the business.
  6. Customer Relationship Management – You’ll need to be a salesman. People won’t buy products or services. They buy into YOU.
  7. Conflict resolution – Hopefully, you don’t make too many mistakes in the beginning but you need to fix them quickly.
  8. Collaboration – You might need to partner with other companies to sell your products or services. What kinds of arrangements can you have? You’ll have to figure that out too.
  9. Contracts – You’ll need to develop contracts, statements of work, proposals and other documents to support winning business for your company. Guess who gets to do that?
  10. Hiring – Once you bring people on board, there are a lot of government regulations that are required to hire people. You’ve got to know those too!
  11. Budgeting – You’ve got to be able to assess your costs to ensure you make a profit. Estimating labor and materials can be difficult, especially when your service is long term or customized.
  12. Writing – You’ll need to be able to create processes and policies that your company will use, such as privacy, nondiscrimination, quality, reporting, business plans, and so on. You’ll need documentation for your customer, the government and your company.
  13. Presentation skills – You need to be articulate as you’ll have to hold meetings and provide direction for your people. It must be clear and actionable. Otherwise, you waste time and money.
  14. Innovation – You have to keep your products growing and developing with the needs of your customer. Everyone usually talks about the APPLE model. It’s not a bad one to follow, if you can find out what they did in the beginning.
  15. Willing to learn – I can’t tell you how much I had to learn to get my business off the ground. Opportunities to learn are everywhere you turn.
  16. Adaptability – Very little will work the way you think it will. You’ve got to learn to adapt.
  17. Creativity – There will be many times where you will need something that doesn’t exist.  You’ll have to create it.
  18. Negotiation – Business is all about the deal and you must learn to master it to grow your business.
  19. Emotional Intelligence – You must be emotionally stable and able to handle the emotional swings of success and failure.  They are only bumps in the road to success and you have to hit some to get there.
  20. Focus – Businesses are built by defining a plan and implementing it.  Things change but you can’t let that happen so often that nothing gets done.

These are just a few of pieces to the puzzle of success.  Entrepreneurship is one of the greatest learning experiences you’ll ever have and it will also be one of the most challenging.  It isn’t for everyone.  When you’re in the middle of your startup, you’ll easily identify those who like the idea of entrepreneurship and those that don’t.  It’s a completely different mindset.  So, get out there and fill in the pages of your book with all the things it took for you to build your dream.

Education Overload – Earning Multiple Graduate Degrees

Recently, I’ve received hundreds of emails about earning multiple graduate degrees and the impact it will have on a career.  With such interest in this approach, I felt it was time to share some thoughts on the pros and cons of earning so much formal education.

There is no ladder to climb.  Just a few decades ago when I began my career, there were defined paths for upward mobility.  Companies would outline how one could transition from position to position, eventually gaining responsibility, authority and greater benefits (e.g. pay).  Today, that doesn’t exist.  Many companies don’t even have an organizational chart.  They will tell you that it provides you the benefit that you can go anywhere you want without restriction and that those old predefined paths only restrained you to a certain future.  They will say you have complete control over your career.  I really like this idea but it was really done to reduce top heavy management ranks, which is often slow, inefficient and expensive.  It wasn’t done to move more people upward.  You can make all the lateral movements you want, but moving upward, well, this is where you have to apply your knowledge to navigate an uncharted organization.  If you’re really searching for structure, you’ll need to target big corporations.

Graduate degrees are not required for executives.  While it seems logical that the most brilliant people will rise to the top of organizations, this simply isn’t true.  In fact, many businesses are started by people with little formal education.  I mention this because you might join such an organization.  You’ll take the job and then do research on the executive team, only to find that they are not highly educated like you. I’ve found this many times in tech and high tech companies, where you might expect to find highly educated managers. If you desire to be around the highly educated, you’ll need to seek them out.  Most are in technology and finance.

THE CONS

I know it’s hard to believe that being highly educated could have a down side, but it does. Here are a few things you might encounter when you have a lot of formal education and you’re working in Corporate America.

You’re a threat.  You might not ever actually see this directly but to management teams that don’t have graduate degrees, employees that do can be threatening.  They fear being embarrassed by their lack of understanding of many topics and feel there is some secret competition at play.  A good judge in determining the type of organization you’re in is to assess the leadership.  If they are more interested in growing their career, you’ll be considered a threat.  If they want to grow their organization, then you might have a chance for growth.

Possible solution: If you find yourself here, you have to be humble and give your ideas for growth and improvement away.  Show your management you’re here to help them become a success.

You’re underemployed.  Face it.  There are not that many jobs that require a graduate degree and hardly any that will list two graduate degrees as necessary.  Unless you can afford to search for that perfect job for a long time, you’re likely to accept a job that you can easily do.

Possible solution: Begin your job search when you are in graduate school.  Utilize the university’s resources to place you in a higher position.  Work with professional organizations while you are in your academic program too, as they are more likely to help students than graduates.

You’re Academic.  I always thought this was a good thing but I’ve had a few instances where senior managers have told me I was too academic.  I think they meant it to be derogatory and imply that I didn’t have enough experience.  Well, when you’re a young professional, this will be a problem.  Again, this is a biased view from a less educated management team, where experience is more important because it is what they have most.  What I found is that being labeled academic is good and bad.  It’s bad because it implies you do threaten people around you a little.  It’s good because they realize that you are well educated and have the ability to perform industry recognized analyses.

Possible solution: Don’t waste any time or energy on proving you are smarter.  Let your work show that.  You should focus on results and creating tangible successes that define your value to the company.  It is helpful to show management that you can help them improve their own career.  Once they feel that support, they won’t be as inclined to keep your career suppressed.

You’re Expensive.  High credentials mean high salary.  This is what companies will see and that can scare them.  They’ll overlook the fact that you can bring high productivity, high efficiency and high output.  Most companies don’t try to identify the financial impact of such indirect benefits.  They only focus on the direct costs that are easy to measure, like your salary.  This can make finding a job really difficult.

Possible solution:  High salary is offset by high returns.  You’ve got to be able to show real situations where you have greatly reduced cost, created new earnings, or improved existing earnings.  Companies want to make money and you must be able to provide evidence where you’ve helped do that. 

THE PROS

The majority of the advantages of higher education are personal.  It brings a sense of accomplishment, pride, an understanding of how to learn and confidence.  These emotions are powerful and will help you push through challenges that are ill-defined, untested and unbeaten. The difficulty is keeping this confidence under control and avoiding being overbearing to others, as most people aren’t excited by change and challenge.

You’ve got credentials.  It feels good to help those degrees and more importantly, the knowledge and understanding of how to learn.  Multiple graduate degrees communicate the message that you are smart.  In organizations that like utilizing smart people, you’re an asset.  You have numerous advantages, like being able to work alone without supervision, solve difficult problems, create new ways of doing business, research how the competition does business and so much more.

Career Strategy:  Don’t focus on communicating your brilliance.  The degrees will do that for you.  You should however strive to create tangible accomplishments that clearly articulate your ability to put that brilliance to work and create success.  These tangibles are what others will consider to be work experience.

Changing fields is easier.  Many multiple degree holders have earned these illustrious credentials to afford themselves the power to change occupations much easier.  In my experience with such high achievers, it does help to have a considerable depth of expertise in multiple areas.  Transitioning from one industry to another is possible but not necessarily any easier.  The advantage of your credentials is that you usually don’t have to entertain a lower position at the new company.

Career Strategy:  While you may have knowledge in multiple areas, it’s important to create tangible accomplishments in these areas to communicate that these skills and knowledge are still current and valuable.  If you can’t create accomplishments with the knowledge, create some successes with the skills that can be transferred to other fields.

Instant Recognition.  When you submit a resume that has multiple graduate degrees, companies will recognize they are dealing with someone who is smart and can learn.  They will search for the value you can provide.  This is very important as most first reviews of resume are typically to identify factors that eliminate you from consideration, not inclusion.

Career Strategy:  Ensure your credentials include accomplishments and accolades that are expected for someone with such qualifications.  The value is not just in what you know, it’s in what you can do with what you know…and that you have to prove.

The mind that wants to learn and grow constantly is special.  It seeks to create value wherever it can and as often as it can.  Most of us are not like this, as we seek to settle into life, create stability and entertain ourselves until retirement.  While we appreciate its abilities, it also reminds us of our own abilities and how we may not measure up.  It scares us and, at times, makes us feel as if our stability is being threatened.  Education is very important and we should all seek to constantly improve ourselves.  But we don’t.  So to those who chase many academic credentials, your success will be found with those who appreciate and value such knowledge. Please know that all companies don’t appreciate you.  So you may have to spend some time searching for those who will embrace you, preferably while you’re still in school.  Finally, I leave you with a quote from the British Author and creator of the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who once said “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.”

IAMPRO MBA Award Nomination

Well, it’s not often we are nominated for an award for our support of MBAs.  We’ve been blogging, publishing and working with MBAs on career development for a decade.  Considering I’m the only American among the International pool of nominees, I am truly honored to be representing the USA.

The IAMPRO MBA Awards celebrate MBA’s at the forefront of leadership excellence. To recognise the talents and contributions made by accredited schools and their students to the MBA arena and the wider community, the IAMPRO presents five annual awards to outstanding managers, entrepreneurs, non for profit managers, industry leaders.

The IAMPRO invites you to vote upon MBA students or alumnus/alumna for each category of the MBA awards. The winners will be individuals in each respected category.

Vote for me HERE.

I’m in Category 4. MBA ALUMNI ENGAGEMENT AWARD.

There is some real tough competition among these nominees and I’ll need all of the votes I can get.  Your vote is most appreciated.

A NEW DEFINITION OF TIME

One of the most noticeable differences between working for someone else and starting your own company is the personal definition of time.  As I look back on my many years building someone else’s dream, it’s very clear how much time was wasted during the work day.  In this post, I want to share my revelations from my own experience in the hopes that you will find some appreciation or recognition of this transformation in your own definition of time.

Time for an employee.  Working for someone, it always seemed as if my time was dictated for me.  It was hard to really grasp control of it.  There were two major factors that devoured my time each day.  The first, and the greatest thief of my time, was my leadership.  Meeting after meeting, we spent so much time and energy talking about the work that needed to get done.  My managers mostly held meetings to keep themselves updated, not to provide direction. For example, they would gather everyone in a meeting room every week, providing me the opportunity to listen to a lot of people talk about what they are going to do for the week.  Since our tasks didn’t overlap any, this new information didn’t have any value to me.  It was just for the manager to keep up with what was going on in the company.  You would always hear people mumbling “what a waste of time” as we left the conference room.  But this was part of the ritual time wasting activities that occur daily in established businesses.

The second force that targeted my available time for work was myself.  When I became well entrenched in my roles and responsibilities, I didn’t always feel pressured to get everything done as quickly as possible.  I realize time is money but when I was building someone else’s dream, and they were the biggest user of my time, I couldn’t really understand the value of time (at least not by their definition).  They spend my time like it was unlimited.  I would spend hours and hours every month listening to other managers talk about their projects.  Their projects weren’t my responsibility and the requirement to attend a full day of these updates provided no value to me.  With my leadership so eagerly burning time, I began to wonder if they really understood the impact this has on their employee’s definition of time. You see, with such time wasting activities, real value added activities would take longer than necessary.  The average time to perform services offered by the company kept growing.  The danger with this is that employees begin to accept that things will take longer, so there’s no rush to get things done.  Remember, time is money.  We always wasted both.

Time for a startup entrepreneur.  Starting up my company, time is defined by two factors: me and my customers.  When you’re in startup mode, you have considerably more actions to accomplish than time to complete them. The idea that time is money is what I live by.  It’s not anything like it is when working for someone else.  The longer I take to complete the actions to get my business off the ground, the longer it might take for cash to begin flowing in.  The impact of time has a more immediate and noticeable impact on me.  The faster I contact potential customers, the faster I can sell my service.  When they ask questions, I answer them right away.  All of my actions are now driven by my new definition of time, meaning that I must move as quickly as I can to bring in money.  The other definition of time that an entrepreneur must abide by is the customer, who is always right.  My potential customers don’t feel the same sense of urgency as I do and it drives me crazy.  I’m, at times, driven to push a little harder than I should.  Sometimes, my customers are nice enough to tell me to slow down a bit and yet others feel threatened or bullied by the constant barrage of communications and simply shut down.  To my customers, I’m new to the industry and have to learn their ways.  While I may bring something new that they haven’t seen before, I must be respectful and honor their ways of doing business.  When you’re just starting out, time can be the biggest hang up and a huge source of stress. But if you have a solid product/service and you know your customer likes it, it becomes an opportunity to develop patience.  Yeah, I know, nothing easy about that.

In bigger companies, time isn’t such a priority as actions are completed through the collective actions of many employees.  It’s easy to feel that when you’re working with someone else.  You’re in a meeting and the boss says, “let’s get this done in the next week or two.”  With big companies that’s tolerable, but startup mode seems to apply significant time pressure.  Startup entrepreneurs measure time in dollars.  Once the dollars are gone, so is time.  Actually, you can see this intense pressure in bigger companies when they begin to burn their backlog or fail to meet sales goals for a few quarters.  It often forces irrational behavior, such as signing contracts with financially distressed customers, further plunging the decline of performance due to lack of payment from the customer.

My suggestion in dealing with this time pressure is to understand your customer’s definition of time.  You do this in your planning phase; that is, when you put your business plan together.  Your chart showing cash flow should provide a reasonable timeframe that has been validated through interactions with potential customers.  If it takes them 8 months to approve a contract with you, then you must reflect that in your plans.  To think you can do that any sooner is risky.  You’ll have enough stress starting out so there’s no need to intentionally add more.

These are the ramblings of Todd during his walk into entrepreneurship.  Hopefully, you can relate to this.  If you want to share your experiences with us, contact me at todd.rhoad@blitzteamconsulting.com.

Startup Advice: Who/What/Where/When/How

I take advice from everyone.  It doesn’t mean I’ll use it.  I listen because I’m always interested to hear other people’s perspective on starting and running a business.  You never know what ideas people will give you (for free).  But when it really comes to advice that I plan to use, I’m very critical of the source I use.  And you should be too.

whoWHO DO I LISTEN TO?  It depends on what I want to know.  I always read what many experts have written on the particular subject before I go talk to people.  Being informed on the topic will help me filter out the “BS” people have a tendency to share sometimes.  Plus, it communicates to the expert that I’m serious about the situation and have done my homework, so I won’t be wasting their time.  Most experts want to be consulted, so they are happy to cull out a bushel of advice to help demonstrate their comfort with the subject.

Remember, you need advice you can use. It must be tried and true.  It must be applicable to your situation and spit out in terms that can be easily translated into action.  As for the people I pursue, they must have a few credentials that I can validate before I consider contacting them to ask for advice.  Here are some from my general list of traits.

  • Shares their experience (not too many years in the past).
  • Provides references to resources and people.
  • Offers actionable advice.
  • Respected in their field or industry.
  • Proven successful.
  • Share in a few fundamental beliefs: Faith, Family and Friends.

Don’t be afraid to ask anyone for advice, no matter how successful.  Recently, I had lunch with an alumni from my MBA school, Indiana Wesleyan University.  Evan is a financial advisor who just moved to Georgia and into my neck of the woods.  It never hurts to have such a fine, upstanding advisor in my corner.  Will I use his expertise?  You bet I will.  As you branch out to connect with the rich and powerful, realize it might take time.  The highly successful will just take a lot longer to connect with.  But keep trying.  My record is 18 months of continuous nagging. I think they felt sorry for me and gave me an hour of a billionaire’s time.  Wonder what that was worth?

whatWHAT DO I ASK ABOUT?  For me, this could be anything from the legal obligations of ADA, OSHA and E-verify to building the best marketing strategy.  I seek support as I need it.   Unlike the many executives I’ve served under over the years, I think it is very important to seek advice and get answers on anything that you don’t know about.  I’ve watched executives tank their company because they failed to reach out to experts to understand a part of the business that they didn’t.  Maybe it was pride or ego or just plain laziness, but a company’s existence depends heavily on its leadership’s knowledge base….and you never know enough!

For example, maybe you want to know how to distinguish your business from all of your competition, especially since you all seem to do the same thing.  I would say to you, “read the “Blue Ocean Strategy” by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.”   In fact, I’ll send a copy of this book to the first two people who send me an email showing me that you promoted this post.  Running a great business is about finding the right answers and you must chase them vigorously. Your future depends on it.

whereWHERE DO I GET THE ADVICE I NEED?  I’ve found that the best advice comes from other business owners.  If you’re a startup, you probably don’t have a lot of connections to business owners.  Well, maybe you do.  My kids have been playing sports for years and now that I’m engaging in my own startup, I’ve just finally begun talking shop with the other kids’ parents.  I’m amazed how many are running their own business.  I never asked before because I didn’t have a real interest in their experiences, but I do now.  Business owners are great advisors because they can share real experience, not theoretical notions that you have to figure out how to apply.  Even better, they can connect you with other professionals they have worked with in the past, saving you considerable time in finding the support you need, such as legal, accounting, marketing, branding, strategy and funding.  You’re support is likely all around you and you don’t even know.  Take time to let people know what you are doing and what kind of help you need.  Many will be happy to help you succeed.

whenWHEN SHOULD I ASK FOR ADVICE?  This question is easy.  You ask for advice before you need it.  It takes time to really understand your issue in enough detail to ask a question.  You also want to ensure you do a little research to generate some potential answers to your question before you propose the question to an expert.  Then, you’re not really asking a question, you’re seeking validation of your ideas.  Professionals are more likely to respond positively to this scenario than an “out of nowhere” question from a stranger.  It also takes time for experts to respond to the question.  So you need to give yourself sufficient time for a response.  To improve your success in getting that valuable advice, choose times of the day where professionals are more likely to share information.  This includes early morning, the end of the day or after exercise when we are tired, as these are times when our defenses are down and we’re more likely not to think you might be a risk or threat.  Additionally, shared times of relaxation and enjoyment, such as during a golf game or a networking event, are great times to secretly tap into the minds of the experts.

howHOW DO I ASK FOR ADVICE?  There are several ways to approach this.  First, you can use mutual connections to make the initial pitch for you and setup the question for you.  Start with people you already know to identify potential experts who experienced what you’re preparing for.  Second, you can reach out to experts directly but you may want to hone a simple elevator pitch about your business that ends with the question that you so desperately need an answer. Third, you can invest in the experts you seek guidance from.  Most experts get tons of requests for information from people who want it for free.  We are all in the business to make money.  Show your expert that you have invested in them by purchasing their book, going to their seminar or promoted their work in some way.  Then, they’ll feel somewhat compelled to invest in you.  I would suggest that investing in the experts first is by far the best way to get the answers you seek.  It provokes feelings of reciprocity and will likely build a much stronger relationship that you can tap into for years to come.

SEVEN DEADLY SINS OF STARTUPS

When I was young, I always wondered why there was so much talk about leadership.  I tried to read as much of it as I could and then look for signs of it in organizations.  After many years of working inside other people’s organizations, the light was turned on in my brain as to why Leadership is such a hot topic.  When you look at companies that are in existence today, you don’t really think about how poorly they are run.  Mostly because it isn’t discussed and is hidden from the public to protect stock prices.  But you can see little signs that troubles exist.  For example, big companies play around with benefits all the time.  I once thought this was done to keep the costs low but it turns out that it is usually done to help boost the bottom line.  If you’ve got parents that retired from major corporations, they’ll tell you that their benefits are constantly declining.  Running a big business is difficult but they can adjust things to account for mistakes.  However, these little mistakes can grow and turn into major disasters that destroy the whole economy. When you’re in startup mode, failures come with a much higher cost since you don’t have much cash flow and you can’t afford to delay it any.

Combining all of the things I’ve seen from companies in the past, I’ve tried to outline the seven key failures that leadership engages in that results in either the destruction of the company or a massive decline in their earnings.  Here’s what I’ve seen.

MYOPIA.  This shortsightedness often results from a failure to plan your startup.  The most common example is running out of money because the startup took longer than you had expected.   When you’re engaging in business areas you have no experience with, it’s always best to find someone who can help you identify and plan for common risks.  A good planning template will go a long way to improve your vision.  See Robert Donnelly’s Plan-for-Planning Process.

SLOTH.  Laziness is a common characteristic for those entrepreneurs that try to startup their business while working a regular job.  Well, maybe they aren’t so lazy but they fail to put sufficient energy into the business to drive the startup.  It’s the same thing I hear from MBA graduates who can’t figure out why their career didn’t take off after they earned their MBA.  The MBA degree is a piece of paper (i.e. diploma), just like you’re FEIN is a piece of paper.  It guarantees nothing with regards to your success.

PRIDE.  No matter how smart you are or how great your business idea is, you will always need to be thinking about ways to transform your company to remain competitive and relevant.  I’ve seen way too many companies fail to adapt to changing customer demands. Every generation is different.  Only 71 of the original 1955 Fortune 500 companies are in existence today.  Here are some notable flops:  Blockbuster Video, Kodak, Borders Books, Sears, Pan-Am, US Postal Service, Hummer and Blackberry.  If the big guys can fail from this, so can you.  Jeff Stibel, cognitive scientist and serial entrepreneur, says that once the human mind sets out to do something, it will do it.  If you’ve ever worked for a company on the downslide, you probably noticed that leadership did very little to stop the disaster.  Maybe they thought they had all the answers.

MISANTHROPE.  When I started my first business, I wanted to do everything so I would understand all aspects of the business.  Hey, I went to college for 14 years.  I’m a smart boy.  Well, I learned the hard way that you have to bring people on board to help you achieve great things (which usually takes great effort).  Oh, my first business failed horribly.  What was I missing?  The customer’s perspective.  The customer holds the key to my success but I never took the time to listen deeply to what they needed.  In the book, The Cluetrain Manifesto, the authors share a key piece of wisdom; that is, markets are conversations.  If you want to be successful in your startup, you have to engage in conversation and trust what you hear.

GLUTTONY. This little terror wreaks havoc on you in multiple ways.  First, new entrepreneurs are often chock full of ideas.  All of them are brilliant and destined to be a huge success.  Trying to implement too many of them leads to a quick lesson; that is, they aren’t all brilliant and you’ve just wasted valuable time and resources.  When in startupville, keep your focus on the main idea behind the business.  Get it up and running before diving off into other ideas.  Second, once success begins to roll in, it’s tempting to build your own palace to work in every day.  Early success can lead to lavish spending and the creation of an unsustainable burn rate of income.

OPAGUENESS.  Those ideas that make us gluttons can also cause us to spin our wheels for years without developing our product or service.  My close friend, Mike, has been working on his startup for 7 years and has yet to develop a product for his international market.  While he has managed to capture some investments, he has isolated his own workforce because they can’t seem to understand what the company is trying to accomplish.  Once the money from investors came in, Mike seemed to lose focus of his original dream.  Corporate death is only a short time away, as the confusion is causing his workforce to seek employment elsewhere.  Your workforce needs clarity and focus.

AVARICE.  A new startup surely induces visions of extreme wealth, leisure and control over one’s life.  It’s fun to think about, I’ll admit.  However, allowing the desire for wealth to overcome you and drive you to engage in risk that is unhealthy for the business.  There are way too many examples of these types of failures, where are often brought upon by too much funding.  My favorite picture of this problem is Enron.  There level of greed was unprecedented and led to numerous convictions of fraud and conspiracy.  I know what you’re thinking….too much money is a bad thing?  I don’t think it is but allowing the desire for money to drive your actions in an unethical direction is not healthy.  As a entrepreneur, your business is who you are.  Don’t allow the business to change who you are.

If you’ve seen some other things that we all need to know, please share your story.  Starting a company is hard enough all by itself and we need every lesson we can get.