Tag Archives: doug tatum

When CEOs Become Blind and Bored

Psychologists refer to this as the paradox of power. The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power. Instead of being polite, honest and outgoing, they become impulsive, reckless and rude. In some cases, these new habits can help a leader be more decisive and single-minded, or more likely to make choices that will be profitable regardless of their popularity. One recent study found that overconfident CEOs were more likely to pursue innovation and take their companies in new technological directions. Unchecked, however, these instincts can lead to a big fall.

The Power Trip, Wall Street Journal – August 14, 2010

And that’s the problem.  “New technological directions” are often a landmine waiting for the CEO’s foot.  Here’s the crazy part –  CEOs get crazy in No Man’s Land.  It’s a time of confusion and distraction, when the company is too big to be small and too small to be big.  After months, perhaps years of solid growth the company realizes they’re not quite sure why they’re in business.  The value proposition becomes ambiguous at best and the economic model, or lack there-of, does not enable the company to make money at higher volumes.  So what does the CEO do?  He or she gets bored with the details and starts innovating in a different direction.

When you, the CEO, feel like you’re losing control from Brent Sapp on Vimeo.

This is red line danger zone for corporate direction and strategy.  The idea that launched the business, that “thing” that the company did best to this point, starts to lose it’s appeal to the CEO.  In typical ADD (or ADHD) fashion the boss believes the best course of action is to get creative and do something different.  Landmine, three o’clock!  If you don’t believe me, listen to my friend Bill Wydra, CEO of Ash-Tec Technologies.

One of the reasons No Man’s Land claims so many ventures is the loss of the CEO’s tenacious focus.  Instead of a new idea, the leadership team should re-align on the value proposition and then refresh the economic model to scale the value proposition. This “re-focus” increases the probability that the company will survive No Man’s Land and thrive in more profitable revenue zones.

If you are a CEO and you’re becoming bored with your company’s direction, step back and re-focus.  Don’t let the illusion of past or present growth blind you to the reality of No Man’s Land.  Align the team on your value proposition and make the appropriate investments to maintain momentum and survive your growing pains.

Calvin CEO Bored

If you need a hobby, try P90X – you’ll be too tired to be bored.

Economy Heroes 60 Day Strategy Sprint

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The Necessity of Company Nimbleness: Decide • Align • Track

Washington, D.C. (Aug. 30, 2002) -- Admiral Ve...
Image via Wikipedia

Commit to making decisions.  Decide and move forward!  Jason Fried, Founder of 37 Signals, from his book Rework

I had the privilege to hear Admiral Vern Clark, former Chief of Naval Operations, talk to a group of over 100 local business people.  Admiral Clark is a fascinating individual, a humble hero driven by character and vision.  He had me at “a-ten-hut” with his stories such as the night, as captain of a destroyer he led his crew to prevent crashing on a reef in the midst of a Class 5 hurricane.

Admiral Clark also talked of leadership.   His insights flowed like chords from a master violinist; music to the ears of those who crave authenticity, from a warrior who’s felt the hammer of tsunami size swells on his broad side.

He described his passion for ship design, especially when it came to increasing his vessel’s maneuverability.   He groaned as he described the traditional destroyer, a ship with almost 300 crew members and a top speed of 30 knots.

His eyes brightened and his voice elevated, however, when he described a ship partially of his own design called the LCS-2, the first of a new breed of a Cirque de Soleil re-imagined (as one author described)  combat ships.

People make business plans for all sorts of reasons — to attract funding, evaluate future growth, build partnerships, or guide development. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these plans are usually out of date by the time the printer ink dries. Business moves fast: the product’s features morph, new competitors emerge, or the economic climate shifts. When these changes occur, many people just throw their business plans out the window. For a plan to be truly valuable it needs to evolve with your company and stay relevant in the face of uncertainty.    Amy Gallow, Keeping Your Business Plan Flexible, Harvard Business Review

Companies must stay nimble in order to survive and thrive in this economy.  Long term plans are like leprechauns, mythical characters that promise a pot of gold that no one ever finds.  Let’s face it, most CEOs of emerging companies don’t have a plan!  They resemble the guy on stage who spins multiple plates on thin poles – running from pole to pole in a desperate attempt to keep the plates from slowing down and toppling.

As my partner, Doug Tatum, brilliantly states, “Culture, at it’s core, is a trusted decision process.”   CEOs and their teams can make decisions and move forward if they have a simple process to sync on the right priorities in a “circular” pattern:

The difference between this type of decision process and traditional “business plan strategy” is the difference between the traditional destroyer and the LCS-2.  It’s about making decisions quickly using updated information.  It’s about remaining NIMBLE!

If you would like to take a sniff of what it feels like when your company is nimble, check out the complimentary report on this site.  You’ll like what you feel:


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An Entrepreneur Must Protect Her Fastball

Nolan Ryan
Image by cliff1066™ via Flickr

Delegating authority is a notoriously difficult undertaking for many business owners to accept, especially when it comes time to bringing in an outside CEO. In a Q & A in The New York Times, Lisa Price, founder of the beauty products company Carol’s Daughter, explains how she learned to calmly accept that an outside CEO might not be such a bad thing. Price explains that while juggling a lot of issues, it helps to put an actual dollar amount to the value of your time and then determine whether or not it is cost-effective for one person to handle every single task. “I did something as long as it made sense to me to do it,” she said. “And then, once it made sense to turn it over to someone else–either because it could get done better, or because I could spend my time making more money elsewhere–I did it.”

Inc. Magazine, A Model for Smarter Growth, August 23, 2010, Jason Del Ray

We all know that companies under 250 employees depend heavily on the Founder to wear more hats than Lady Gaga and spin more plates than a short order cook.  But as their companies build momentum, Entrepreneurs often find themselves buried in the fray of operational details and strategic delegation becomes a necessity.

Delegation is essential to growth, no question.  But when does an Entrepreneur refrain from delegating?   The founder must not release the company’s most valuable asset in order to maintain momentum and growth – he or she must protect the “Fastball”.

What do I mean by “Fastball”?  Consider my favorite baseball ever – Nolan Ryan.  Ryan is considered by many to be the greatest pitcher of all time.  Batters braced themselves for almost twenty years when Ryan took the mound because they had no question what was coming – a blazing, 100 mph fastball right down the center of the strike zone.  Hall of Famer, Reggie Jackson, said of Ryan’s heater – “It disappeared half way to the plate.”

Nolan Ryan built an incredible career around one thing – something he was passionate about; something he did better than anything else.   All Entrepreneurs have their “fastballs” and although the company at some point must get good at what the founder does best in order to scale, it makes little sense in the first few stages of corporate growth for her to give up trips to the mound to throw her heater.  It’s what she, and the company does best.

I spoke recently with the CEO of one of the fastest growing middle market software companies in the country.  When I asked him to identify his fastball, he pondered then responded, “I raise capital.”  Indeed he does; last week he secured an additional $35 million to fund the warp 10 growth of his baby.  What would happen if he was not free to pound the Private Equity flesh?  His company would exceed their speed limit and grow themselves out of existence.

Bottom line, stay on the mound.  You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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Hail Our Inc. 5000 Economy Heroes

I started twenty-two years ago out of the trunk of my car.   Dave Dreiling, CEO/Founder GTM Sportswear

Last month I attended the Inc. 5000 national event at the Marriott Resort in Phoenix.   For three days I swam in the ocean of adrenalin, creativity and chutzpa created by leaders of the fastest growing companies in America.  I personally interacted with over 100 of these Economy Heroes and marveled at their ability to persevere and succeed in the worst economic downturn of this generation.

I listened to stories from heroes like Dave Dreiling, founder and visionary of a $65 million sporting goods company that he started out of the trunk of his car twenty-two years ago; he now employs over 800 people.  Or Joanne Cobb-Rossi who successfully straddles the fine line of career and family while leading her thriving company, Zooom Printing.

The enthusiasm were palpable; a pleasant contrast to the 2009 conference that fell in the center of the stock crash.   It was like finding an oasis in the endless parched commentary of doom and gloom we’ve trudged through over the past three years.

Dave Dreiling provides an excellent example of the impact entrepreneurs have on our economy and job market.  Although less than 10% of new ventures survive, those that make it generate over 80% of the jobs in this country.

As I mingled amongst these innovative elite, those who love capitalism and embrace the risk  it requires I was reminded that we must do what we must do to clear the regulatory and taxation path so that they, like Dave and the 1200 members of his family, can do what they do best – create jobs!

Bo Burlingham, best selling author and editor at large with Inc. Magazine offers fascinating data as to the essential role that entrepreneurs play in our economy, specifically when it comes to job creation.

“The problem is, this conventional wisdom is wrong. Or rather it’s only half-right: Small businesses may create the majority of jobs, but they also lose most of the jobs. What counts is not job creation, but net job generation.”

Check out the entire article here:

Who Really Creates the Jobs

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Sync’Em: How to Drive Alignment on Critical Priorities, Part I

Team misalignment looks and sounds like chaos.  Before you continue reading, click to start this video.  Let it play while you read:

Is your leadership team on the same page when it comes to critical issues your company will face in the next 90 days? Or do you feel like each member of the inner circle is “clicking” to a different beat?

My firm has worked with over 500 CEOs and their inner circles over the 2 years. We often start our interaction with clients with a short online assessment that allows them to respond to statements regarding

  • Their Market (Value Proposition)
  • Their Management (Are the right people in the right positions?)
  • Their Economic Model (Will the company make money at higher volumes?)
  • Their Money (available capital for future growth)

Without exception the results are similar to this sample summary:

I’ve stated before that over 95% 0f leadership teams are severely misaligned on their company’s value proposition.  Why is alignment so important to an emerging company?  How can misalignment effect growth, strategy, execution and momentum as we finish the tumultuous 2012 and as we enter the potential maelstrom of 2013?

I’ll delve more into the severity of misalignment in the next post; how it can contribute to your business getting “stuck” in No Man’s Land. But in case you’re wondering – here’s the secret sauce to sync your team if you’re in the hunt for the “same page” on critical priorities: create a trusted decision making process.

It takes time and some effort, but once your team gets in sync on the right things you’ll see tangible results on execution and performance.  Now take a look at the video; your chaos can also transition to a concert of cohesive effort – in other words, your team can click to the same beat.   

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A Radical, Tactical Shift in Strategy

Lewis Pugh is an environmental activist of the most creative order; the man knows how to get attention for his cause…

Pugh failed in his first attempt to traverse this recently formed lake near the top of Mount Everest.  The bulldog tenacity Pugh obtained in the military worked well for his swim at the North Pole a few years ago; but it failed him dramatically at an elevation over 15,000 feet.  His Sherpas, nomads who had for years experienced the harsh reality of Everest, encouraged Pugh to abandon his previous strategy of aggression and anger in lieu of a more emotionally controlled approach.  Pugh attempted the swim two days later, this time with a radical shift in his tactical approach. He prevailed.

All Entrepreneurs inevitably face a challenge of similar magnitude in the second stage of company growth, but this time their “lake” has no bottom.  My partner, Doug Tatum, coined the phrase No Man’s Land, to describe an inevitable transition when companies are too big to be small and too small to be big.  Entrepreneurs usually approach No Man’s Land with the same confidence, aggression and attitude that Pugh exhibited in his failed attempt.  Their companies are growing, certainly the preferred status but also a condition that can produce false confidence.  Growth can actually generate the greatest illusion and diversion for CEOs from the hidden danger they will face.

My partners speak to scores of CEOs around the country about the realities of No Man’s Land.  Thirty minutes into our discussion, jaws drop and heads nod.  “That’s my company!” one states, “I’m there!”  They also find it fascinating that No Man’s Land holds no favorites; it’s an industry neutral transition that produces confusion and indecision.

Surviving No Man’s Land requires a radical, tactical shift in company strategy relating to assessment, investment and decisions.  Even if what I’ve just described does not send a quart of adrenalin through your entrepreneurial veins, and even if you’re convinced your company has your market segment by the tail on the downhill grade, let me serve as your pro-bono Sherpa for the perilous swim your company will eventually undertake.  You’ll be glad you brought me along; because unlike Pugh, you can’t decide mid-swim to plant your feet on the bottom of No Man’s Land.

How to Choose a Great P.A.C.E.R.

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Innovation Happens on a Cliff’s Edge – Or the Edge of a Very Deep Hole

Innovation often happens when it must happen.  You’ve got the emotional capacity of a scrub oak if your adrenal gland didn’t reach the red line a few years ago watching the Chilean miners break into daylight one by one riding in Clinton Cragg’s amazing invention, the Pheonix Capsule:

Cragg arrived in Chile in late August, less than a week after the miner entrapment.  In less than two months, assisted by engineers in the Chilean Navy, Cragg’s Star Trek worthy, torpedo shaped vehicle was ready for miner retrieval.

How does this kind of innovation happen in less than two months?!   Ask your friendly neighborhood entrepreneur.  Our Economy Heroes provide almost all innovation in our economy because they have the creativity to invest and the maneuverability to respond to problems that demand attention and solution.

Hail our Economy Heroes who step up and step in with the same fervor and outer envelope “ideation” as Clinton Cragg invested for the Chilean miners.  The big boys can’t respond like this; initiating immediate innovation in a Fortune 500 company is like trying to turn a barge around in a retention pond.  Those behemoths don’t innovate – they BUY innovation – and then invest the millions required to scale the idea.

Thank you, Dr. Cragg for stepping over the cliff’s edge and diving down into the 2400 ft. solid stone rabbit hole with your invention.  Our entrepreneurs are ready to do the same, every day every where.  That’s why they are our Economy Heroes and America’s competitive advantage in the world economy.

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The Occam’s Razor of Corporate Culture

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Confidence is a by-product of predictability – Bob Biehl, author and nationally recognized consultant

What is THE definition of corporate culture?  Well, if you Google “corporate culture definition” you’ll get this version that rambles in vague ambiguous phrases such that by reading it you feel like you’re trying to tattoo a soap bubble:

Corporate Culture definition by BusinessDictionary.com

I’ve got a better definition, in fact it’s a definition so powerful and simple that even Sir William of Occam, creator of Occam’s Razor would be proud.  Occam’s Razor is a principle built on the concept that the simpler the message, the more likely it is to be correct.  The best definition of corporate culture I’ve heard was created by my partner, Doug Tatum, author of the best-selling book No Man’s Land – When Companies are Too Big to be Small and Too Small to be Big.  And here it is:

Corporate culture is a trusted decision making process

Wait, where’s the “atmosphere of…” or “the freedom to…” or “the experience of…”.  Sorry, no blah-blah here.  So many corporate maladies are blamed on culture, including the ability or inability of a new executive to “fit in”.   My favorite consultant and author, Bob Biehl makes this statement: confidence is a by-product of predictability.  A corporate culture is defined by the confidence of  it’s members in the predictability of how decisions are made on a daily basis.  Culture, by any definition crumbles in an environment of distrust.  On the other hand culture galvanizes when a predictable, trusted decision process is in place – from the top down.

This definition doesn’t imply that company decisions are easy or simple – including excruciating decisions like employee layoffs; it means that the process of making those decisions is understood and predictable.  Without a trusted decision process Google’s culture would implode despite it’s sensory-blowing “resort” headquarters that includes 7 gourmet restaurants, a top-tier spa and exercise facility, in house salon services, etc.

A wise man once said, “It doesn’t take much ability to take a complex principle and either keep it as complex or make it more complex; but to take a complex principle and make it simple – that’s genius.”  If you’re a Entrepreneur and/or CEO – be the genius; simplify your definition of culture and create confidence in your organization by your trusted decision process.  Then you can add the spa.

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Economy Heroes – the Freedom Fight for Entrepreneurs

In his fascinating and sobering book, the 4th Turning, William Strauss chronicles patterns in America’s economic history.  He describes these patterns as cyclical “Turnings” that have occurred in our economy since the first ringing of the Liberty Bell:

  1. A High
  2. An Awakening
  3. An Unraveling
  4. A Crisis

Although The 4th Turning was published in the mid 1990’s it received little attention until 9/11, when many took notice of how that disaster fit into the 4 turnings, specifically the 4th.  In the author’s opinion we are currently in the Crisis Turning, and could be for the next decade.  But there is good news.

The good news is that “heroes” have surfaced in every 4th turn to rescue the economy from collapse.  The last 4th turning occurred in the Depression when The Greatest Generation stepped in, not only to emerge victorious in a World War but also to rebuild our economy with initiative, innovation and guts.

Our country needs a “re-tweet” of the Greatest generation; men and women with the tenacity of my favorite uncle, Charles Harbin – known to friends and family as “C.W.”.   He passed last year after a long battle with a debilitating back disease.   But even with pain that would force a rhino to its knees, C.W. was the mentally toughest individual I’ve known by far.   I loved hearing him tell stories over the years of his youth – growing up on a farm in a small Florida community during the Great Depression.   Jobs were scarce and his choices were limited which required intense focus and bull-dog perseverance.

His father handed him $150 on the night of his high school graduation then told his son he wished he could give him more, reminded him that his father he loved him, and wished him luck.   C.W. caught a ride to the University of Florida that night with the professor who gave his graduation address.    The professor dropped him off on the outskirts of town and also wished him luck.   C.W. found cheap lodging and showed up at a local dairy the next morning looking for work.   No jobs were available, but he committed to working at no pay until a job opened.  He worked without compensation for three months.

For the next four years C.W. started work at 5:00 a.m., went to class in the afternoon, and studied at night.   He joined the Marines the day after graduation because the job market was still tight and he wanted to serve his country.   He fought in the Pacific campaign, including Okinawa.  After the war he farmed tobacco and built enough capital to diversify.  In time he became independently wealthy as a commercial developer.  He employed many, help many, and was considered a  pillar of his community.

We need another wave, make that a tsunami, of heroes like my uncle – men and women with the courage and tenacity to step in to our economic war so that we can push through this Crisis and drift (as in racing) into the next “High”.

Here’s more good news. Our heroes have already surfaced:


No, the Man of Steel can’t save the day – as cool as that might sound.  Our heroes are those who are working 24/7 to fuel this economy with jobs and great ideas; those who are taking risk to beat the odds of failure.  These crazy, courageous innovators are our Economy Heroes… our Entrepreneurs.  Entrepreneurs generate jobs, Washington can’t.  Entrepreneurs are our nation’s only hope to survive fiscally in the next decade.

The term “Economy Heroes” is not only a nom de guerre for our entrepreneurs, it is also a movement – a freedom fight for entrepreneurs. Economy Heroes is a “Starfish” organization, as defined in Ori Brafman’s book The Starfish and the Spider.  It’s distinctly decentralized in order to draw on the power of champions and catalysts from coast to coast who will push beyond Washington’s antics; and who will find new solutions that will fuel and motivate the success of those who are part of America’s competitive advantage in the world economy.  Our heroes need ideas, information, events, etc.,  to move the needle on their success.  The Economy Heroes movement was created to funnel those resources to entrepreneurs around the country.

The Economy Heroes Manifesto

In the early 1900’s immigrants flooded into Ellis Island with hopes of grasping the brass ring of freedom. They journeyed from all points to pursue dreams and launch their own business. Our ancestors offered every ounce of their innovation forged with an unyielding work ethic to initiate a movement of what we now recognize as our nation’s competitive advantage – our entrepreneurs. They were then and remain today America’s Economy Heroes.

We’re in the sharpest economic downturn since the Depression. Big business can fail, we know that now. Mega corporatations struggle to remain in business. We depended on them, invested in them and placed our confidence in them even though they (companies over 5,000 employees) generated only 2.2% of the jobs in this country.

Small businesses fail too. In fact over 90% of entrepreneurial companies don’t make it, even though the less than 10% that do survive generate over 80% of employment and almost all innovation. These CEOs take risk to advance their ideas and fuel our unique cultural environment that enables entrepreneurs to march “North” while every else is marching “South”. They are not corporate “rock stars” like Jack Welch. Their stories are not as legendary as SouthWest, FedEx, or Walmart – yet. Economy Heroes are more important now than any other time in our history. They need attention, not bailouts.

What will turn the current economic tide? Our labor cost? Our engineering? Our science? Wall Street and Washington can’t move the needle. The market plummets like a millstone in open water. We watch the 24/7 news stations with sweat streaming from our pores as we internalize the dramatic blow by blow anchor blather. We fantasize the worst, and our political leaders react with one “magic trick” after another; hoping something friendly will appear and be embraced.

We must elevate awareness and provide support to our Economy Heroes. All entrepreneurs eventually face “No Man’s Land” (a term formed by Doug Tatum, author of No Man’s Land: A Survival Guide for Growing Midsize Companies). No Man’s Land is an inevitable “adolescent” stage of corporate growth where most companies fail. Corporate adolescence often produces agonizing battles between the habits of a lonely entrepreneur and the immutable laws of growth. The result is often confusion, frustration, stagnation, and loss of employee morale.

Our heroes face huge obstacles; they require essential information, accountability, capital, and political support to succeed. If they thrive, our economy will survive. Like the courageous immigrants of old, our Economy Heroes provide the fiscal hope for our present and future. They are America’s competitive advantage. It’s that simple.

Even if we are in the 4th Turning Crisis stage of our historical economic cycle, we need not fret; all we need to do is to pave a clear path for our  Economy Heroes and let them do what they do best – CREATE JOBS!

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