Surfing and Business!

By mike | December 15, 2013 | Improve business

This article recently appreared in the SMH – Now I don’t surf, but I do ride off road motorcycles…. and I can relate to this!!

I am a mad keen surfer. I surf every day, summer and winter. It has to be so big as to be unsurfable, or so tiny as to be a lake, for me not to get in the water each morning.

One of the best things about surfing is what it can teach you about life. So this week, I’ve compiled a list of my top six lessons from surfing for business.

1.      You don’t have to ride every wave

It’s easy when you’re in the water to think you need to go for every wave. But the secret to a really great surf is to be judicious about the waves you choose. Pick the ones you know will be a smooth, long ride.

It’s the same in business. You don’t have to take every opportunity that presents itself. If you choose your ‘waves’ carefully – rather than take everything that comes your way – you’ll have a better chance of developing a specialisation in your field, for which you can charge a premium.

2.      There will always be another swell

Winter’s usually a great time for waves, but this winter on the east coast we had a flat spell of about six weeks. My mental health suffered because I couldn’t surf and you start to think you’ll never have another good surf. Wrong. There will always be another swell.

When you run a business you often go through periods when nothing much happens. You haven’t won a big contract for a while. Things are ticking along, but nothing amazing has happened. You become despondent. But chances are, when conditions improve, you will get another great opportunity. It could be just over the horizon.

3.      Whoop in the water

It’s the best feeling if you’re on a good wave and another surfer whoops you. When you paddle back out after the wave it gives you a chance to have a little chat with them, even make a new friend. And if I catch a great wave and no-one whoops me, hell, I’m not too proud to whoop at myself.

The way I apply this to my business life is to try and acknowledge other people when they’ve done a great job. For instance, I might see an article written by a colleague I think is fantastic, so I’ll send them an email to tell them. It’s all about letting people know you admire them. And just maybe they’ll reciprocate.
4.      Learn to share

So often, I’ll see super-aggressive surfers in the water, gunning to get every possible wave they can, practically running over people – sometimes actually running over people. It creates a negative atmosphere. Much better to give a few away – that’s the way to create good vibes in the water.

You can take the same approach in business. Give a bit away. For instance, send work to your competitors occasionally. Building good relationships with your competitors is a good idea because you never know when you might need them to take up some work you can’t handle, or to help you out in a crisis. Or save you from a shark.

5.      Don’t go out in dangerous conditions

I’ve been dumped more times than I can remember, have almost drowned on a number of occasions, had stitches in my skull, chipped bones and generally been battered and bruised from surfing. So finally I learnt that it’s a good idea to know your limits.

If you don’t have the right expertise for a job, don’t do it. Taking on work you don’t have the experience for can do your business more harm than good. It can also wreck your reputation and potentially send you out of business.

6.      But at the same time…take a few risks

I’d still be sitting on the shoreline building sandcastles if I hadn’t picked up a board. Boring. I’d much rather be mixing it up with the other surfers. Plus I would never have advanced if I hadn’t eaten it on a few (actually, plenty of) waves.

You also need to take calculated risks in business. Go for that contract you think you have only a slim chance of winning. Develop that new product. Hire an extra staff member to help the business grow. Not every risk you take is going to work – and don’t expect it to. When you find something isn’t working, change your approach.

There are also other lessons I’ve learnt from surfing. For instance, they say a good carpenter never blames his tools, but I’ve found surfing on a great board does wonders for your ability. And it’s the same in business – buy the best tools you can afford and your work will be of a higher quality.

The other one is that you have to be rubbish at the start – for years, sometimes. But if you practise every day you’ll consistently improve. And it’s the same with your work. Keep at it and the quality of what you do will always improve.

I’m very grateful for the lessons surfing has taught me and I hope you find these useful too.

Do sporty women make better entrepreneurs?

By mike | December 8, 2013 | Improve business

Whoops and cheers greet Shavannia Williams, who steps onto the conference floor with an agility unfettered by her 6in (15cm) stilettos.

This is Heels and Helmets, a training camp for women in Washington DC that uses sport to help them elevate their business game.

“Sport teaches us that you cannot allow your accomplishments to make you complacent, and you can’t allow your fears to stop you from soaring,” says Ms Williams, president of Heels and Helmets, and editor of an online magazine of the same name.

“It’s about understanding the culture behind sports as well as the vernacular. I relate it to working and studying in another country.”

With a background in sports marketing, Ms Williams is well placed to help other women understand the lingo.

But while using sporting analogies in business isn’t new, an increasing number of organisations are now looking at whether playing sport can make women better entrepreneurs.

Consulting company Ernst and Young surveyed 821 senior managers and found the vast majority of top women executives had played sport at school or university.

The company says its research validates and underscores the fundamental role that participation in sport plays in developing women leaders. As a result, it has launched its own Women Athletes Global Leadership Network.

Ms Williams also highlights the networking benefit that businesswomen can gain from playing sport – access to the locker room, that exclusive male space, real or metaphorical, where men are said to seal deals, and make the business decisions that matter most.

Research, by Catalyst, a non-profit organisation aiming to advance women in business also stresses the networking boost that sport can offer females, both playing and watching it.

‘Stronger resilience’

Ernst and Young’s findings do not surprise Karlyn Lothery, a Washington-based communications consultant who works extensively with athletes, and uses the psychological power of sport to help her less active clients too.

Women with a sports background usually show more confidence, she says. That can range from having a firm handshake to speaking authoritatively without a rising inflection at the end of a sentence which some women adopt to avoid appearing confrontational or too assertive.

“When the athlete-turned-executive has a point, they make it,” says Ms Lothery. “You can’t have that softer, questionable, doubtful sound in your voice. [Athletes] have this confidence of, ‘We are going to do this, we will do this, we can do this, and we will win.’ There’s greater strength there.

“They usually have stronger resilience too, because in sport you have to learn to lose but then pick yourself up and get back in.”

Ms Lothery has played a number of team sports including softball, football and basketball. She left her job in television news to work for the US Tennis Association before starting her own business in 2008 – just as the economy collapsed.

She says her sports background gave her the skills to transform her $30,000 (£19,000) a year start-up into a company with an annual turnover of about $1m.

“In sport you look at what the successful teams are doing, what training you need to do better. I’m a great communication consultant, but what I learned at that moment was I wasn’t great at running my business.

“So I did the practice necessary for any team to regroup and rebuild – they’ve got to make time for practice and do the drills and work longer hours. Adopting that philosophy, I think, was it.”

Sheila Wellington, a professor of management at the New York University Stern School of Business agrees, saying that “having athletic experience gives women a kind of experience and edge that is undoubtedly helpful in the business world”.

She adds: “Women who are eager to win are sometimes characterised as being bitches. A guy who’s eager to win is called a winner.

“A woman who competes is considered not to be feminine. A guy who competes is a go-getter. Sport teaches women that it’s all right to want to win and it’s all right to be on top, that there’s nothing wrong with caring about being part of a winning team.

“These are important life lessons, and the earlier girls learn them the better off they’ll be.”

Negative side

But simply playing sport isn’t enough, says Maureen Weiss, professor of kinesiology at the University of Minnesota.

“I strongly feel that competitive sport and other physical activity can provide the skills needed in the business world, but one key thing – this is not an automatic consequence of participation,” she says.

“When individuals have a negative experience of sport, it can really have a very negative effect on self-esteem and motivation.”

Ms Weiss is starting a longitudinal study in the autumn that will assess how structured physical activity can teach girls social and psychological skills.

She’ll be tracking the development of girls who take part in programmes offered by Girls on the Run, a nationwide non-profit organisation that seeks to improve physical and mental health through activities culminating in a 5km (three-mile) run.

Achieving a goal that many thought was unobtainable instils confidence and teaches the value of focus, effort and determination, says Girls on the Run president, Elizabeth Kunz.

Many girls drop out of sport when they reach puberty, the same age at which they often start to lose confidence and self-esteem, she says.

“It’s like a rite of passage. We’re really trying to give them the tools they need so that when this time comes they can remember what they learned at Girls on the Run.”

Other experts say sport in general teaches the value of teamwork, discipline and willpower – as well as creating the physical stamina necessary for long hours and a gruelling workload.

The message seems clear – business is a tough game so employ the same tactics you would in competitive sport and you stand a better chance of winning. And by the way girls, it’s OK to want to win.

Courtesy BBC

So you want to be an entrepreneur!

By mike | December 3, 2013 | Improve business

There are many people who describe themselves as entrepreneurs in the world today, but are they successful enterpreneur’s? What do you need to do to be a success?

Here are 10 things you absolutely need to quit doing right now if you want to make it as an entrepreneur:

1. You live online

Wasting time on Facebook. Playing with apps. Emailing and texting. Buying every stupid little gadget ever imagined. You quit doing all that, you’ll have more time to actually get things done than you know what to do with.

2. You look for a lottery ticket

If you’re after an easy way out, a quick fix, a silver bullet, an overnight viral success, I can tell you one thing for sure. You won’t find it. Ever. That’s just not how this sort of thing works.

3. You’re building your “personal brand”

If you’re in the self-help genre and you want to be the next Tony Robbins or Tim Ferris, then promote yourself. Be my guest. Unless you are the product, focus on the product and its customers, not you.

4. You play small ball

Successful entrepreneurs don’t do things by halves. Focus on one thing, go all in, get it done, and do it right. What about serial entrepreneurs? Most people who call themselves that aren’t. Also, the key word is serial, not parallel.

5. You network randomly

Relationships are critical to business success. Networking and schmoozing are key to forming relationships. But randomly connecting with thousands of strangers online won’t help one bit. Be focused about it. And remember: one real, reliable relationship in the real world is worth a thousand online connections.

6. You troll for Twitter followers

If you’re Ashton Kutcher or Kim Kardashian, that’s great. Otherwise, it’s nothing but a distraction – a complete and total waste of time.

7. You want stuff

Hopes and dreams are great, but one thing that successful entrepreneurs have in common is that they’re lean and mean. They’re willing to sacrifice. That’s what helps to keep them focused. Necessity is the mother of invention. Wanting and owning lots of stuff is not.

8. You ask people how they can help you

Instead, ask them how you can help them. Believe it or not, that’s the door opener for opportunity. WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) isn’t really about you, it’s about understanding the motivation of the other person.

9. You have useless ideas

Yes, I know the story of 3M’s Post-It Notes. It was an accident. If you’re paid to do pure research, that’s great. Otherwise, start with a problem or a need, not a solution or an invention. Mark Zuckerberg wanted to rate the looks of female classmates. Shallow as that may be, it had a purpose.

10. You search for inspiration and positive reinforcement

If you’re lost, that’s fine. That’s a very good way to find something. When you do, just make sure you’re passionate about it. If not, keep looking. But if you have a low tolerance for obstacles and challenges, that’s not a good sign. It helps if you’re a self-driven problem solver, as opposed to a whiner who needs a lot of handholding.

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