Entrepreneurship: Building the Amazon of Africa

PR people often send me review copies of new books. In this case, I received an invitation from the author. I just finished Chasing Black Unicorns: How building the Amazon of Africa put me on Interpol’s Most Wanted List by Marek Zmyslowski

As in many good stories, this one is true on many levels. You can read it as the adventures of a young man maturing into wisdom, experience, and perspective.

It’s also a story of entrepreneurship. How there does exist a “glamorous” side, but also extremely hard work, long hours, strenuous travel. And also attracting liars. cheats, backstabbers, crooks, huge egos. Then again beautiful women, much liquor, parties. It’s all here.

Zmyslowski includes not only his successes, but also his failures. His decisions both right and wrong.

Along the way, we learn as much about ourselves as about him.

As an American born and raised in the Midwest, I was also fascinated by his descriptions of life in Poland, Nigeria, South Africa, and more. It is also instructive to hear what someone outside of the country thinks about the US.

We have grown accustomed to media alternately glamorizing the crop of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and billionaires only to jump on any who are down. Very much like the PR machine developed in the 1920s to glamorize movie actors and actresses who in all previous history were considered outside of respectability. This story provides a raw look inside the sausage factory to show how the sausage is made.

These stories also caused me to pause and reflect on my own experiences with small startups. None ever grew, which is why I am where I am today. But I also met my share of liars, cheats, backstabbers. On the other hand, I’ve met many great people and learned much about success and failure.

It’s a good read.

Practice the Art of Possibility

The elderly Mr. Withers leaned over me and whispered, “What? You’ve been practicing it for three minutes, and you still can’t play it?” (Ben Zander’s early cello teacher to the young Benjamin.)

I just finished a couple of good books last week. This quote was from Benjamin Zander in the book he wrote with his wife Rosamund Stone Zander, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. This is not a new book, but it was recently recommended to me. She is a family therapist and coach. He is conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and an amazing teacher. (Search YouTube for Ben Zander and you see examples of marvelous teaching of young musicians.) He also speaks to company executives about leadership.

People, that would be all of us, often try something for a short time, a few minutes, find it difficult, and quit. Meditation, study, eating well, exercising, calming a temper…

The Zanders’ book offers 12 practices for transforming your professional and personal life. “Our practices will take a good deal more than three minutes to master. Additionally, everything you think and feel and see around you will argue against them. So it takes dedication, a leap of faith, and, yes, practicing to get them into your repertoire.

It’s like the old joke about the young man carrying a violin case stopping someone on the street in New York City and asking, “How can I get to Carnegie Hall?” The quick reply, “Practice, my boy, practice.”

This book offers practices that are transformational. Digital transformation spews forth from the lips and computers of many of my colleagues and marketers. However, without personal and professional transformation, we may not be able to take advantage of this digital “revolution.”

These practices are geared toward causing a total shift of posture, perceptions, beliefs, and thought processes. They are about transforming your entire world.

I will not discuss all 12 practices. Rather I’ll pull out a few that I found especially impactful.

Possibility. We can look at obstacles, or we can see possibilities. The action in a universe of possibility may be characterized as generative, or giving, in all senses of that word—producing new life, creating new ideas, consciously endowing with meaning, contributing, yielding to the power of contexts. The relationship between people and environments is highlighted, not the people and things themselves. Emotions that are often relegated to the special category of spirituality are abundant here: joy, grace, awe, wholeness, passion, and compassion.

Contribution. Instead, life is revealed as a place to contribute and we as contributors. Not because we have done a measurable amount of good, but because that is the story we tell.

When I began playing the game of contribution, on the other hand, I found there was no better orchestra than the one I was conducting, no better person to be with than the one I was with; in fact, there was no “better.” In the game of contribution you wake up each day and bask in the notion that you are a gift to others.

The practice of this chapter is inventing oneself as a contribution, and others as well. The steps to the practice are these: 1.  Declare yourself to be a contribution. 2.  Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why. The contribution game appears to have remarkable powers for transforming conflicts into rewarding experiences.

I leave you with this little story about creating a certain culture of humility.

Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws. The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again twenty minutes later by an hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology.

When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?”

“Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so g—damn seriously.’” “Ah,” says his visitor, “that is a fine rule.” After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?” “There aren’t any.”

Pick up a copy and read it a couple of times. Then practice.

Restarting Manufacturing After The Covid-19 Shutdown

Someday soon we’ll be going back to work. Some, of course, are already working in manufacturing under the new regime. Many questions lurk for those planning to get moving again.

To find out more, I spoke with Kim Wallace, executive vice president of Hire Dynamics a staffing consulting company focused on the Southeastern US.

She told me that after the first shock of cutting back or closing, companies began reevaluating their workforce and job descriptions. The first order of business was what jobs needed to be maintained and which employees could work from home. Then came the difficult decisions of furloughs and lay offs. Managers would evaluate balancing personnel needs per department. What is driving the frenetic activity? Cash flow. All of who have been in business know that cash is king. Many companies needed to stop the bleeding.

Hire Dynamics provides strategic consulting on workforce issues and was quickly called in to help management develop strategies for a situation no one knew how long would last.

When it’s time to start up, employees have many considerations, all of which have ramifications for the company. In some cases, going back to work could actually mean a pay cut for the employee who is better off financially to stay home. Some have childcare or elder care situations where there is no alternative to their being home to provide that care. Many will be nervous and concerned about returning to work only to become infected by the coronavirus—despite efforts to reduce the risk.

Many people do want to work, though. And companies need to get production going or die.

So, what does it take to start up again? The threat of virus spreading is still real. No one wants to have most of its workforce and its management team home sick with the possibility of several dying.

This takes a strategy. Companies such as Hire Dynamics are there to help companies plan and start up.

Wallace pointed out that most companies are worried about three things: cash flow, culture, and image. Managing cash flow is crucial for all businesses, and especially for small to mid-sized enterprises (SMEs). This calls for phased start up balancing workers with sales. As companies bring back employees and face necessity of bringing in new hires, they need to be mindful both of maintaining their culture and also developing a culture of health practices. Aware of how decisions impact their image in their communities and their industries, companies need to manage the startup well.

Strategies

Companies cannot afford for the virus to spread throughout the entire management team. They, therefore, stagger management team days at work so that if someone spreads the infection it will not spread to the entire team. Considering production people the first strategy is to adjust shifts so that they do not congregate exiting and entering. If at all possible, have different doors for entering and exiting to keep some separation.

Companies may need help with signage to direct people where and how to enter and leave. They need procedures for temperature screening employees entering for their shifts. Do managers do the screening leaving them at higher risk of infection? Or hire medical technicians?

Another consideration is sanitizing. Perhaps the best strategy is for each shift to sanitize when they arrive at their workstations and then again just before they leave. They will need procedures and training on sanitizing. Note that all this needs to be part of the clock in/clock out procedure. Speaking of company image, management must be cognizant of the impact of decisions unlike a very large company who earned a lot of bad press and congressional scrutiny by doing much of that work off the clock on employee time.

Here are some of the policy and procedure and practical help that Hire Dynamics can provide:

  • Signage
  • Sanitizing
  • Procedures
  • Break rooms (close? Eat at stations? Other things.)
  • Restrooms (block every other sink and toilet stall, etc.)

Burke Named Global Strategic Advisor to CLPA

CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA, Nagoya, Japan) has named Thomas Burke to the new position of Global Strategic Advisor position. Burke founded and led the OPC Foundation to successful industry adoption until late last year. He concurrently holds the roles of Global Director of Industry Standards for Mitsubishi and Director of Strategic Marketing for Iconics.

CLPA promotes the widespread usage of the CC-Link open industrial network family.

Burke’s role is to accelerate the construction of Smart Factories by increasing the reach of CC-Link IE TSN.

CC-Link IE TSN combines the gigabit bandwidth of CC-Link IE with Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) to meet future automation market demands, such as Industry 4.0. This provides flexible integration of Operational Technology (OT) and IT while further strengthening performance and functionality. A comprehensive portfolio of device development options is also ensuring that any vendor can easily add this technology to their product line-up.

The aim is to improve efficiency and reduce time to market for Smart Factories utilizing the IIoT and the products they manufacture. As of April 2020, a year and a half after the announcement of the CC-Link IE TSN specifications, more than 100 partner products have been released or are under development.

Burke’s primary responsibilities include:

  1. Increasing awareness and adoption of CC-Link IE TSN in the global marketplace;
  2. Advising CLPA leadership on industry trends, standards, and market strategy;
  3. Sustaining and increasing the number of CLPA partners from North America;
  4. Facilitating collaboration with suppliers and end-users to maintain CLPA’s industry leading position;
  5. Collaboration with other industry standards organizations, focusing on harmonization across industry-standard organizations.

CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) is an international organization founded in 2000 dedicated to the technical development and promotion of the CC-Link open industrial network family. The CLPA’s key technology is CC-Link IE TSN, the world’s first open industrial Ethernet to combine gigabit bandwidth with Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN).

Where Is Shift to Digital Transformation Lagging?

My new office is getting organized. Better than my outside life. Remind me why we moved 200 miles north when I went outside for some exercise in 0.5-in. of snow with some icy patches on the trail. Didn’t do my Fartlek run this morning. But, I am relishing one of my new favorite news sites–Morning Brew. Check it out.

I might have a new office with the getting into a new routine with a new house and neighborhood plus the revised routine due to shelter-in-place. Some things remain the same. Half of my emails deal with “Digital Transformation.”

Sometimes I think we’ve been going down this road for such a long time that no one except the worst of the laggards is not already reaping dividends from digital projects.

Speaking of laggards, let me drift a moment into what must be a gross lack of leadership and management. No, I’m talking about government.

Virginia-based Smithfield Foods announced Sunday that it is closing its pork processing plant in Sioux Falls until further notice after hundreds of employees tested positive for the coronavirus — a step the head of the company warned could hurt the nation’s meat supply.

Here is a statistic—Health officials said Sunday that 293 of the 730 people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in South Dakota work at the plant.

So what does our genius leader say? Is he concerned about the health and safety of his workers for whom he has responsibility? Well, “The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,“ Smithfield president and CEO Kenneth Sullivan said in a statement. “It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers.”

Sounds more like he’s whining than stepping up to the plate taking responsibility and changing the culture and workplace.

Back to the regularly scheduled program—lack of digital transformation.

I read every blog post of Seth Godin and listen to his awesome podcast. Marketing and management along with thinking is his schtick not so much tech. But yesterday, he reached out and touched a sour note for our manufacturing and production leaders.

Try this on:

Some of the shift to digital is unwanted, fraught with risk and lonely.

But in some areas, organizations and leaders are realizing that it’s actually more powerful and efficient.

So why didn’t you do it before?

Because it’s easier to follow.

Because it’s more comfortable to stay where we are.

Waiting to do something because you’re forced to is rarely a positive approach to growth or leadership. Abrupt shifts against our will may cause change, but they’re inefficient and destabilizing.

Next time, take the lead. Not because you have to, but because you can.

Be like Seth. Take the lead—because you can.

Things Will Never Be The Same

There is no escaping discussing the effects of the Coronavirus / covid-19 / SARS-CoV-2 infection and disease. Almost everyone in the world is affected in one way or another.

The meme of the week seems to be working from home advice. The Rework podcast lately is a two-part Q&A with Basecamp leaders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Basecamp has always had a remote work culture and this podcast captures the excitement. I’ve been working at home for more than 25 years. Almost all of the advice I’ve heard will get you on the right track. If you have questions, you can comment or send me a note. I’ve convinced a few companies of the benefits of remote workers.

So, whenever anything happens, pundits crawl out of their burrows and speculate about what all this means for the future. “Everything has changed. Nothing will ever be the same,” constitutes their collective mantra.

The truth is that every day something happens that changes the way we live, work, or think. Sometimes just a little thing; sometimes a bigger thing. Will this crisis change the way we work and live? Probably a little. But I bet we return to handshakes and hugs when things pass over. It’s a natural urge for most cultures. Probably the same for our supply chains. And our health care systems. In other words, we seldom learn and apply from a previous situation in order to prepare for the next one.

It’s like travel. “We’ll never fly again. Either it will be a virtual meeting or we’ll drive.” I’ve heard that one. But as soon as the crisis passes, we’ll rediscover the value of the face-to-face meeting.

I’m seeing one conference after another announce moving to a virtual meeting format. There have been many technologies used for virtual conferences over the past 20 years. I’ve even participated in one or two. Tried to listen to a few. These are tough. It’s hard to set aside 2-3 days while you’re still in the office to devote the time to a computer screen whether listening to a keynote or to a panel. I can last through a half-hour presentation. More time than that is difficult for me.

It has gotten to the point for me that when I go to a conference most of the value comes from 1-to-1 discussions and casual conversations in the hallways, coffee shops, and bars. Perhaps there is a speaker at a session I’d like to hear. Sometimes a keynote is excellent. I mostly do not like the panel format, but there are times when it is a worthwhile discussion rather than four 5-minute presentations (that run over time) followed by routine questions. The virtual conference is a poor substitute.

Culture, fashion, experiences seem to be described over time more like sine waves than straight lines up and to the right. Or, I prefer the model that French Jesuit paleontologist, philosopher, and priest Pierre Teilhard devised-a spiral looping upward each trip around similar to the last stage yet building on it to a new reality. Things are the same, yet different.

In a few weeks, we will all be back at work—but with cleaner hands. And perhaps a better appreciation for how we spread germs and viruses.

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