Why entrepreneurs’ stories are important
Posted on Thursday May 18, 2017
Aspiring entrepreneurs could gain as much from listening to other entrepreneurs’ stories as from sitting through lectures, according to one business professor.
Bill Gartner, professor of entrepreneurship and the art of innovation at the Copenhagen Business School, is looking into entrepreneurial behaviour and the rhetoric of entrepreneurial practice. He says that he has identified a paradox of entrepreneurial storytelling.
“If I would ask any of my students about what they learn the most from in the classes I teach, they would say: ‘Entrepreneurs talking in class about what they do.’” He says. “I wondered what it was about entrepreneurs telling the story about their start-up, compared to me as a professor providing a framework, offering lectures, books, articles etc – why are stories more powerful?”
The realisation he reached was that stories are generally important for human beings when learning something new. “It’s one thing for me to talk to students about how a person can become successful, but it’s much more valuable to see the person who actually started a business. The personal stories show that entrepreneurship is possible. When an entrepreneur shares a story, a student is more likely to say, ‘if she or he can do it, so can I,’” Professor Gartner says.
However, what is it that makes these stories so powerful? Gartner admits that it’s hard to analyse what entrepreneurs have to say about what they do. “It’s hard to pay attention to pick up knowledge of what behaviours are undertaken, how entrepreneurs make decisions, and how they deal with problems. So, getting students to have better ‘tools and skills’ at analysing stories is really important,” he explains.
For this reason, Professor Gartner is currently analysing videos of 300 entrepreneurs’ stories from Stanford University and is working to establish a theoretical core based on the entrepreneurs’ real-life experiences.
And while Gartner is only looking at storytelling for academic purposes, entrepreneurs – and small businesses in particular – have found that storytelling is also a key tool for marketing.
Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of Time etc., says: “The most successful brands have a knockout story. Some, like Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano, or Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, have been fictionalised for the silver screen. What both these examples have in common is the founders are likeable yet fallible and colossal mistakes are made. Interestingly, it’s the failures that resonate with the audience, as much as the happy endings.
“This is why I decided to tell a room full of people, and the internet, all about how I descended from a rule-breaking 17-year-old who sold a successful business for millions of pounds to a ‘do it by the book’ manager who couldn’t even get his second business off the ground.
“My business exploits over the past 17 years framed a TEDx talk on why everyone should tear up the rulebook and do things their own way. I could have simply told people they must break the rules and suggest how, but no one wants to be preached to, especially not by a person they’ve never heard of before. They want to be entertained, and to learn – and storytelling delivers both.”
And he’s not the only one using his story to boost his business – Richard Branson has been doing it for decades. “It’s easier to be a storytelling entrepreneur now than at any other time in history,” the Virgin Group founder says. “Thanks to technology platforms and social media, there are so many more ways to connect to people. I used to rely on creating a splash and making the front pages to launch our companies and promotions. Now, while they the written press is still important, there are a multitude of other methods for reaching potential customers.
“Storytelling is a great way to get your views across, highlight how you and your company are different to your competitors, and also to work out new ideas. I often find a subject I’m pondering becomes a lot clearer once it is down on paper.”
For more on all things storytelling, check out our in focus theme for inspiration and advice from some of the world’s best storytellers.
See the full article on virgin.com here
The Apprentice Is An Embarrassment To Business
Posted on Wednesday December 21, 2016
This is the Hunger Games for adults, albeit without the bloodshed. It feeds into the notion that people who score highly on The Dark Triad Personality Test for narcissism, Machiavellian traits and psychopathy tend to make the best businesspeople.
Although promoting personality disorders might secure high viewer ratings and make for amusing television, it is unfortunately highly damaging for business landscape, that supports the whole spectrum of personality types, and is all the better for the diversity.
The producers of The Apprentice are unwittingly misleading the public into believing that good business isn’t about doing the right thing, having ethics and being humble enough to continuously self-learn and improve yourself, but instead that success is about getting one over on people, ‘winning the game’ and selling at all costs. This is a worrying narrative for any prime time TV show to promote, but given the BBC’s aim to “inform, educate and entertain”, it begs the question: at what cost?
Of course, anyone with any meaningful insight into the business world will know that the occasionally cruel and always unsupportive contestants we meet series after series stand in stark contrast to the reality of business. In my experience, most people will trip over themselves to support you in your work if they can. I couldn’t have got where I am today if it weren’t for this kind of support and encouragement from my peers - something which I’ve happily and willingly reciprocated.
Further problems stem from the fact the show polarises success and failure as black and white, when it’s always grey. Failure is an experience to learn, develop and grow from. While it’s widely understood that setting up a successful business is a risk, and a complex process with challenges that are not always easy to anticipate, The Apprentice over-simplifies this, reducing a complicated series of events to a bad idea, a bad decision or a bad project leader. Portraying business success as a game dismisses the countless different routes people take to achieve their dreams in the real world.
While many of us can approach the programme with a critical eye, for many younger viewers The Apprentice will play an important role in understanding what the working world might look it, and I dread to think how they must feel as they watch self-serving acts of one-upmanship unfold on screen.
The knock-on effects of this so-called entertainment pose a real threat to the UK’s entrepreneurial future, as we’re bound to see fewer passionate, creative people pursuing their dreams if we continue to promote such unhealthy and loathsome personality types. Diversity in the workforce is crucial, and we must work hard to ensure businesses remain inclusive and the leaders of tomorrow are not disillusioned by such narrow representations of what it means to be a good businessperson.
See the full article on the Huffington post here
Prepare Now so Your Team Can Enjoy the Holidays and Still Be Productive
Posted on Monday October 10, 2016
‘Tis the season of gift-giving, extra family time, sweet treats and a joyous feeling floating through the air. All good things, except when those holiday staples result in increased time-off requests, less focused employees and Cyber Monday internet browsing not related to work. It’s possible to keep the holiday spirit alive while also ensuring that business runs without a hitch through the fall and winter months. Business owners and managers – consider implementing these four best practices in order to negate the annual holiday holdup.
Increasing the level of responsibility an employee has provides a greater sense of ownership. The more accountability one has, the more motivated they are to produce their best work. Promoting this concept is especially important during the holiday season in order to ensure that work doesn’t fall off the grid as people itch to leave the office early or get distracted by those online holiday sales. Particularly for millennial workers, showing them that “help is not coming” is a surefire way for them to take full responsibility of designated projects, therefore preventing them from succumbing to cold-induced laziness. Knowing that staff members feel accountable for their work also allows for greater peace of mind when business owners travel to see family and friends during the holidays.
On the flip side, for some entrepreneurs, letting go of control can be intimidating – a blow to the ego. According to Aaron Skonnard, president and CEO of Pluralsight, the best leaders are those who provide experienced and reliable employees with full autonomy, which also allows for greater growth potential. The key here is to “abandon the one-man band syndrome” and to work with people who are actually more skilled than the founder in certain areas. Even the smartest entrepreneurs have their shortcomings, so trust in employees is paramount.
Modern office environments are also moving towards the trend of hiring virtual assistants in order to optimize operations and maintain a competitive advantage. There’s a misconception that virtual assistants are brought in to replace staff, but that’s not the case. As the workplace evolves, there should still be a central team of key people, with virtual assistants augmenting the team. Some entrepreneurs are finding that it makes less sense to employ a ton of people who are not individually efficient, and more sense to have a core team and then entrust the rest to on-demand skilled workers in the areas where help is required.
Delegating to trusted employees and/or virtual assistants also gives business owners the gift of time back. Whether it’s having the bandwidth to work on a creative idea they’ve been playing with, taking an overdue vacation or just being able to disconnect for a weekend to enjoy their family’s company, passing the torch is a vital step in keeping the momentum going. In a business owner’s absence, they must set clear goals for their employees to meet, provide them with the necessary tools to work independently, equally and fairly delegate and plan check-ins upon their return.
Indulge employee distractions and foster fun.
As online holiday shopping sales become unavoidable – as well as the looming task of buying gifts for everyone on your list – employees will inevitably be distracted from work. In fact, 44 percent of employers say that the internet is the biggest distraction for their employees. In the same vein as “if you can’t beat them join them,” consider providing staff with an unexpected reward like indulging them with an hour of uninterrupted online shopping time during their lunch break on Cyber Monday. The idea behind providing employees with this free time is that inevitable online shopping distraction will ideally be contained to only this designated period during the work day, with potential consequences if not abided by. Another option on a simpler level is to hold a contest where the winner receives a gift card that they can use for their holiday purchases.
In order to combat the stuck-inside winter blues, infuse some fun into the workplace environment. Offer periodic office lunches, host a holiday party or organize a gift exchange so that employees can get to know each other on a personal level, in turn promoting a stronger team. A 2012 Gallup study found that work friendships can boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent, and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work. That’s argument enough to not just plan an office holiday party, but get excited about it!
At the end of the day, nothing can fully combat Monday to Friday daydreaming of holiday parties and Christmas morning with the family. However, it’s important that business owners consider these tactics in order to ensure that business runs at peak efficiency all 12 months of the year. By assigning accountability, conveying a trusting relationship and embracing the lighthearted spirit of the season, staff will be more inclined to put their best work and best selves forward, in turn keeping business momentum moving and giving entrepreneurs the ability to step away, reboot and have a happy holiday themselves.
Don’t let the dog days of summer zap your office productivity
Posted on Friday August 26, 2016
While the office air-conditioner is probably keeping everything a crisp 65 degrees, you can’t ignore the sun streaming through the windows making you long for days spent by the beach or the pool rather than your desktop. Add coworker vacation time, clients being out of town, summer Fridays and frequent “unplanned” absences, and productivity inevitably takes a major hit.
This annual “summer slump” also takes a toll on earnings. Nearly three-quarters of employers reported higher rates of unplanned absences on Mondays, Fridays, before public holidays, or before sporting or national events during the summer, according to a survey in the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). The average productivity loss for such unplanned absences was nearly 37 percent. The average cost of all employee paid time off (that’s vacation and sick days) was more than 20 percent of total payroll for the year!
Considering these statistics, the onus is on the management team to ensure that their staff remains focused and spends their time efficiently. Here are four tips that can help set the team on the right track:
1) Encourage employees to learn a new skill. It’s easy for employees, from entry level to senior managers, to watch the clock during quieter summer days as they yearn to be outside. Rather than wasting this downtime, encourage employees to seize the day and learn a new skill or enhance performance in areas that may need improvement.
However, leading by example is key, so managers should consider establishing an official companywide training initiative (i.e. a “master class” in Excel or a “Delegating 101”) so that employees can collaborate with one another.
2) Schedule a brainstorming session. As many as 93 percent of American workers spend 25 percent or less of their work day brainstorming creative ideas or working on new business leads, according to a recent survey we did in conjunction with research firm YouGov.
Without creativity, a company could find itself stuck in a rut, so make the most of these slow summer days while clients and customers are also on vacation and set up a brainstorming session.
3) Give employees more responsibility. Summer downtime is also an excellent opportunity to boost employees’ confidence by entrusting them with more responsibility. Increasing employee accountability is a surefire way to motivate employees to produce their best work.
4) Do an inventory of your staffing situation. If a business is losing profit as a result of the summer slowdown, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at the funds reserved for hiring full-time employees.
Modern office environments are starting to employ more freelancers or virtual assistants (a self-employed person who provides administrative assistance while working remotely or from a home office) without expending an enormous amount of resources. Some entrepreneurs are finding that it makes more sense to have a core team and then entrust the rest to on-demand skilled workers in the areas where help is required, versus employing multiple people who are not individually efficient. However, virtual assistants should be considered a supplement to the central team, not a substitute.
At the end of the summer, people will return from vacation, Friday hours will revert back to 9-5 and productivity should return to a steadier rate. But hopefully, if you play your cards right in the last week of summer, productivity won’t take too big of a hit.