When you’re working on a startup, the drive you feel is so very intense you want everything done yesterday. Being able to articulate the vision, prioritize the steps within its implementation, seek out the right resources (people, technical, financial) requires a daily supplement of patience. Patience. and more patience. While you’re going 3000 mph of course.
Last year I spoke with three of my entrepreneurship mentors: one who has known me since I was 20, another since I was 27 and another who has known me the last 4 years. In three separate conversations, unbeknownst to them, all three said the same thing to me when talking about my core strengths: thinking deeply, developing a vision, and building longterm relationships. Just tonight I was thinking about those conversations and came across this passage on Lean Thinkers:
“Just as a carpenter needs a vision of what to build in order to get the full benefit of a hammer, Lean Thinkers need a vision before picking up our lean tools,” said Womack. “Thinking deeply about purpose, process, people is the key to doing this.”
I’m exploring more of the Lean Enterprise Institute materials.
It may come as a surprise to many who know me as heavily involved in the arts to learn that I have also been heavily involved in technology most of my life. In fact, I paid for my degree in Arts Administration at Columbia by working full-time as a Technology Consultant in AT&T Global Business while in grad school full-time. People in the arts like purity of form, so I don’t usually go around talking about the other half of me. However I’ve decided it’s time to bring some of those skills to the forefront in support of our work with local artists.
This past week I heard Lucy Sanders from the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) speak at the Silicon Flatirons event at CU Boulder. I was inspired by the global trends she mentioned, and think it’s important for women to be cognizant of the tidal waves of which we are a part.
I can’t possibly know the challenges other women face; I will however attempt to share mine in the hopes that (a) they might be helpful to someone else and (b) maybe in time we can all share, aggregate and form meaningful changes.
(1) Taking space to innovate and create something new is not only risky it is very expensive. The expense comes in the form of your earnings at this critical time. To clear your mind means you have to stop doing other things that were paying you well and devote lots of time to unpaid conceptual thinking that no one will pay you for. When you are 42, like I am, in your prime earning years and with kids you help support, this is a very stressful and risky endeavor. I won’t even call it an opportunity cost; it is an earnings cost. This is true for women and men, but as women have a statistically much more difficult time with re-entry to a comparable job after exiting a strong job, the danger is more acute.
(2) Keeping your skills of-the-moment is also expensive in terms of TIME. It is really tempting to just want to keep learning on your own, through the web, through reading, through doing, through some professional development. However, I think it’s imperative to go through more rigorous learning constantly, things like the 8 Weeks of Awesome at Techstars, and conferences at the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship, #TwitterDrive, courses with colleagues like the Data Mining course at CU Boulder, and online courses with entities like lynda.com. You have to be a Learning Machine as Brad Feld calls it. Each of these is time consuming in terms of driving to them, showing up, fitting it into your already busy life, making time to focus and create. My partner and husband, Kurt, is extremely supportive. I can’t even imagine what it would be like without having someone there to back you up. Time is precious and scarce for each of us. Again this is true for men. I don’t know why I perceive this to be more difficult for women, but I do. I will search for some data on that topic.
(3) Letting go of perfectionism
I’m not talking about doing things well or doing things accurately. I am talking about needing to do everything to the Nth degree. At the NCWIT lecture Lucy Sanders mentioned the data that show women will apply to a job when they have 50 of the 50 required skills while men will apply when they have 20. At my son’s school, the gifted curriculum tries to help kids overcome that perfectionism. It’s a quality of many highly gifted & talented individuals, not just women. I think it’s linked to intelligence. You can see how things could be done and so you set out to do it. You just can’t spread that level of detail out to all aspects of your life. Not enough hours in the day.
(4) Embracing your ability to generate/create
When I was 18, I bought a book called Help for Women Who Do Too Much. Kurt hilariously pointed out that there are likely no books entitled “Help for Men Who Do Too Much.” I realize now that this was me trying to “fix it” instead of understanding my ability to generate ideas and get lots of shit done. I have been a prolific doer since I was a child. It resonated with me when Lucy Sanders said, “We are not broken!” referring to women in technology being told in the media they need to change how they interact. Quite the opposite; the world needs more of the very different viewpoint we bring to the table.
It’s difficult to imagine New York without Central Park, the lungs of the city and the space you can retreat to in the urban jungle. Yet that took vision and foresight in a time when urban planning and public spaces weren’t as valued as they are today.
The Denver architect David Tryba recommended the biography of Frederick Law Olmsted by Rybczynski , “A Clearing in the Distance”, to me. It’s a good read to think about urban spaces, public spaces, framing the community dialogue and the importance of innovating.
The most interesting passage to me was that in which Rybczynski describes the difficulty of being yourself, of innovating before something is widely understood in society:
“Olmsted was an organizer when organization was considered a symptom of “monomania,” and a long-range planner in a period that thought of planning as “mysterious.” He was a landscape architect before that profession was founded, designed the first large suburban community in the United States, foresaw the need for national parks, and devised one of the country’s first regional plans. Above all, he was an artist who chose to work in a medium that then– even more than now– lacked public recognition. He was an innovator and pioneer largely by chance. But, as Louis Pasteur, an exact contemporary of Olmsted, once observed, ‘Chance favors only the mind that is prepared.’ Olmsted’s preparation was not based on formal training or education. What laid the groundwork for his later achievements was an amalgam of sensibility and temperament, coupled with an unusual set of formative experiences.”
(page 23, Chapter Two)
A colleague in my past work used to call me a “big game hunter”.
I can see that. It’s true: I set my sight on a big target and start methodically preparing. When my son, Sebastian, was born I didn’t want to leave him behind while I traveled around the country visiting clients. Kurt has always been supportive of my ideas, improving upon them. We bought an RV and I drove for ten weeks at a time over the course of three years going to meet clients in-person. I took 10-month-old Sebastian, Kurt, a babysitter, a cousin, my parents, whoever was up for the adventure. Those were our most lucrative years, hands down, in our business. You have to go TO the client.
Below you see Sebastian in 2006 (age 2) “dealing” Uno cards with his toes on one of our many road trips!
It’s probably pretty safe to say many entrepreneurs have what Johnson O’Connor calls “Ideaphoria.” Ideaphoria demands modifying your behavior to feel joy. Here are some things I learned the hard way.
Flesh Out the Ideas
O’Connor wrote: “Although ideaphoria is the top trait of teachers, when too high and combined with extreme subjectivity it leads to a feeling of frustration which not only stops actual progress but may lead to a nervous breakdown.” (p. 84) He recommends: “The only enduring solution hopeful of lasting satisfaction is actual creative work. She should force herself to write a regular two hours each day, devoting ten minutes of this period to scribbling at top speed exactly as in the creative-imagination test. Instead of throwing away these crude outpourings, like most high creative people, with nothing to show for her efforts, she should bind them carefully in some sort of loose-leaf book, where they will not be lost, and then each day spend the balance of her writing time amending them phrase by phrase, word by word.” (p. 85)
Stay away from people who don’t get it
This is easier said than done because most people don’t get it. However, you can calibrate how you internalize what others say. It starts when you are a child and you hear this:
“stop asking so many questions”
“you think too much”
“you’re too deep”
As you get older you start to recognize the response and it takes this form:
“wow, you really have a lot of different interests”
“did you invent a new business today?”
“that’s too ambitious”
The gifted education curriculum takes this into account. Many kids who have a strong ability in one area (a “giftedness”) are often teased in public schools, bullied into “toning it down.” Whereas in a curriculum that understands and supports these strong aptitudes, kids are encouraged to run with it. My son, for example, is doing algebraic expressions in 5th grade that I didn’t encounter until 9th grade. That is because he is in “pull out math” and allowed to progress at his own pace at his school.
Don’t Chastise Yourself or Try to “Fix” It
When I was 18, I bought this book called “Help for Women Who Do Too Much.” Kurt hilariously pointed out that there are likely no books entitled “Help for Men Who Do Too Much.” I realize now that this was me trying to “fix it” instead of understanding my ability to generate ideas.
When your thoughts are too scattered
Do something manual. For me it is cleaning or playing tennis first thing in the morning. Rollerblading in Central Park also had that mind calming effect on me. Cleaning is something I’ve done as a coping mechanism since I was a child. It gives me immediate control over a messy situation and I have instant gratification in seeing it resolved. It’s like the more complex the problem, the more my mind is working on it, and can’t reach a conclusion. So instead I try to clean up my environment. I find the process of doing that helps organize my thoughts too.
Don’t Let Others Question Your Work Methods
When I was under lots of stress and would start cleaning, Kurt would say, “What are you doing?! Why are you spending time on that? Get to work; you have so much to do!” I know he meant well, and in his more aware-of-the-clock biology, it makes sense. However, for me, the cleaning wasn’t a distraction, it was in fact a fundamental part of my work process.
We all throw around the word “risk” as if we held a venomous snake nonchalantly, but sometimes it bites. I’ve certainly taken many, too many to recount, risks in my life. Many have been very successful, and some, not so much. I will try to pass on some coping mechanisms for when things get rough…
PATIENCE – Some Risks Take a Long Time to Pan Out
Very few people have the patience to wait a few years for something really good to work out. You find out early-on who is in it for the long haul.
Some Things Are Just Not Worth Your Time
You will find out as you try different things, that some of them are just not worth your time. They seemed like a good strategy at the start, but they are more complicated than you hoped, or generate more conflict or ambiguity than you hoped. Get rid of those things immediately.
Accept That Taking Risks is UGLY
People get upset when things don’t work out. You can lose money. You can work very hard and still have what you’re trying to accomplish not work out.
Know Your Conflict Management Style
When things don’t work out, you need to employ conflict resolution strategies. Most of us don’t think about the fact that there are many different ones. If your style is “conflict avoidance,” for example, you might delay responding. Consciously analyzing how you are coping with difficult situations is fundamental to being successful in them.