[Note: This is a post that was written two years ago and was updated following the news announced yesterday about Jewel’s new coupon app.] “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” ― Mary Oliver I have always noticed … Continue reading
James Janega of ChicagoBlueSky, part of the Chicago Tribune, posed this question with a subsequent article, “What predicts success at a startup?” Education? An MBA?
Not really. Or so he determined through various interviews of founders. Even better, he coined a great term: “humble agility.” In my opinion, Janega nailed it. What exactly IS the value of an MBA? More importantly, though, what does it take in this day and age to have success at a startup – or better yet – be a successful worker? I just turned 50 – so I am gearing this post to my age group.
For what it’s worth, I have segued in and out of the workplace as my husband and I raise our kids. I have had many roles over the years from co-founding a start-up to working in traditional, Fortune 1000-type to venture-backed fast-paced startups. I also have always worn a business development and sales hat in each role I have undertaken. I prosper in growth mode.
Today there is a new world order. In my experience, these are the rules:
- Be Humble. No one really cares whether you have fancy credentials (e.g. an MBA or Ivy League diploma). What employers really care about is your willingness to roll up your sleeves and do whatever it takes to get the job done. The days of having a secretary or analyst or even office space seem to be gone; as in not returning. For the startup world, anyways.
- My experience: I have a Kellogg MBA for which I am forever grateful. That being said, the best preparation one can get for the ability to roll up one’s sleeves is good, old-fashioned sales experience. If you’ve ever had to sell/work on commission in order to pay your rent, then you will understand. Why? It’s humbling. As for rolling up your sleeves? If you are a parent you might have an advantage. Why? It, too, is humbling. I’ve spent years rolling up my sleeves. That’s what moms do. As for the MBA? It does come in handy for a mom who segues in and out of the workforce as I have over the last 25 years. I view it as my insurance policy or certificate of authenticity. My conclusion: sales experience + parent (+MBA as a bonus)= good combo for long-term employability.
- Be Agile. Be willing to roll with the punches – (and they’re moving really fast.) Stretch yourself.
- My experience: The world is moving fast. You have a choice to either watch it speed by or try to hop on board and learn along the way. Read. Practice. Our children will have +/- 13 careers in their lifetime. We cannot sit around with an old-fashioned mindset.
- Continuously learn.
- As Michael Moe often cites in his GSVCapital reports, “people need to continuously hone their skills to evolve with market demand. We describe this trend as ‘KaizenEDU’, drawing on the Japanese term for ‘continuous improvement’.” Try new tools. If I hear one more person tell me that they “don’t do social media”?! Really? How will you ever know the right questions to ask if you don’t have any first-hand experience??
- Embrace youth. Be willing to work with employees much younger than you are, whetherGenx’ers,Millennials, or even teens – embrace it!
- My experience: whether helping my college-grad daughter’s friends secure employment or working for a boss 15 years my junior – forget about the ‘experience-is-better’ adage. Sure, in life I have plenty of experience. In work I have plenty of experience. I also had assistants and analysts complete tasks for me in my “old life”; today, the younger kids are digital natives. They have good ideas, great technical skills and quite often – very disruptive and new ways of looking at old problems. Do not begrudge them; rather celebrate their youth!
In summary – and this is tough to swallow:
Get over yourself.
Go to school on me: once you do, it’s an awful lot of fun..PLUS You’ll be able to keep up with the Joneses in a whole new way!
I tried the ‘digital diet’ thing. Sadly, I flunked.
I really enjoy learning and being online. Moreover, managing a house of 7 requires that I be online; from my experience there’s simply no way around it.
I recently decided to try a ‘print diet’: no Chicago Tribune, no Wall Street Journal, no New York Times, no Crain’s Chicago Business. I suspended all print delivery for 30 days in August.
I’ll try to go entirely digital and mobile in my news reading. Also, I’ll supplement my digital subscriptions by adding in more “religious” reading of my favorite digital sources via either subscription or Twitter feed:
Why? Print is getting too costly, and I am becoming more aware of the environmental impact of print media. Further, I should be able to digest all of my news via mobile phone.
Before the commencement of my “print diet,” I must confess that I have several concerns:
1) Will my children be bothered that my nose is buried more often in my phone? YES. I’ll need to be super disciplined and awake early as if I was reading the newspapers. Nothing else.
2) Will I miss the “little things” from the Chicago Tribune that I love so much…Mary Schmich? John Kass? Blue Sky Innovation? The obituaries? My daily horoscope? Sudoku? In the NYT, Thomas Friedman? In the WSJ, OP-Ed page and the weekend WSJ?
3) Will I be able to really dive deep into a subject? Will I resort to sound bites and headlines?
4) Will The Skimm, Twitter, etc. be enough to fill in the gaps?
I LOVE and APPRECIATE the “little things”. For example, I want to be able to hug an acquaintance after a loved one passes away; I want to commend a neighbor who is working hard on a start-up; I want celebrate the local kid who advances in his sport. Most importantly: if I miss my kids‘ little things, then I’ll miss everything. If I sense that it is happening, I’ll go back to print.
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Robert Brault
My son was thrilled when I told him his early birthday present will be a ticket to hear Mark Cuban speak in Chicago at 1871, Chicago’s tech innovation hub. NOT the usual birthday present. Why Mark Cuban? Because we love to watch Shark Tank. [To those of you who were unable to obtain a ticket for the sold out event I am sorry to have this one seat taken by my son. I hope you’ll understand why.]
What are the “teachable moments” from Shark Tank and Cuban? Observing the importance of:
- Telling your story (What makes it good? What makes the founder and his or her company investable?)
- Math: (Quick: what is the company being valued at if the entrepreneur is offering a 10% stake for $250,000?!)
- Tenacity (Often times a founder ‘sticks with it’ in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.)
- The importance of listening (It is shocking to see how frequently entrepreneurs ignore the advice of the 5 experts sitting in front of them!)
- Good old fashioned hard work pays off.
My son is “hungry”. Maybe not the I’m-going-to-change-the-world-with-my-disruptive-idea hungry. But hungry to work. He sets his goals and works to accomplish those goals. He currently has his eyes set on buying a certain type of fishing rod (he loves to fish.) He picks up any job he can to earn money – nothing fancy: snow blowing, mail collection for people on vacation, babysitting, lawn mowing, etc. He runs all of his correspondence from his iPhone – I have nothing to do with it. He has learned the importance of customer service both from providing a job well done…and an occasional job not well done. I have been awakened at night when he realized he had forgotten to bring in the neighbor’s mail and to let me know that he planned on walking to get it..in the dark…in his pajamas. Nothing glamorous about forgetting; just another lesson learned.
I’d like to think that Shark Tank, Mark Cuban and the other sharks had something to do with my son’s will to take ownership of work. It is my hope that we will get a chance to say thanks to Cuban for being part of a movement to make hard work and corresponding results “cool.”
Hard work is cool. Especially cool for kids. They are the future of our country.
Lessons learned in 2013:
1) Following/learning from/watching Gary Vaynerchuk (aka @GaryVee) is worth every moment. And it’s free. I think he is a marketing genius and is one of the few people who seems to “get” it.
2) Learning to code is important. Duh. It’s where the jobs will be. It’s what our kids need to understand. If there is one thing to teach your children – start talking about computer code. Learn about toys like Goldieblox, or apps like Tynker, Scratch, Hopscotch, Daisy the Dinosaur, etc. Don’t believe me? Have a daughter? Check out Girls Who Code.
3) Taking the time to learn to improve your digital literacy (and even code yourself) is worth it. OK – maybe not learn to code – but learn the language! In my quest – or even mandate – to “innovate myself” I just “finished” taking Skillcrush 101 How to Get Started in Tech. For what equated to about $6/day I enrolled. [In retrospect, my move was not perfectly timed as far as the calendar goes: Oct 21-December 6th…when running a household of 7, hosting 16 for Thanksgiving and prepping for Christmas – a different month might have been better..but I really did not want to wait!] Several online places offer some free coding or courses for a fee: codecademy and general assemb.ly, coursera, and, of course, Skillcrush. In my opinion, the founder of Skillcrush, Adda Birnir, is someone to watch! BTW, Skillcrush uses Mightybell as its community platform (similar to Chicago-based Big Marker) – working in a community platform is a learning experience in and of itself~
4) TRYING is still the best way to see whether a new technology makes sense. Don’t just read about something new: try it. When peers in my Up n Running group suggested I try several time-saving apps I did just that. As it turned out, Mosaic is now one of my “go-to” apps to create photo books from the camera roll on my iPhone. Even my kids have started using it and creating gifts for their friends. Cost per book: $25.
5) USE Twitter lists – it saves time. I think the lists are the absolute best feature of Twitter. I have spent some time creating several lists and my personal “required reading” every morning comes not only from my go-to news sources but also my Twitter lists.
6) Try something new..and be willing to pay for it. I bought a one month subscription to TheInformation. Why? I want to “try before I buy.” The world is noisy. I read a lot; the firehose of information is coming at me – I am trying to simplify by going digital..but I still like print, too. When I received my Chicago Tribune renewal notice and saw the price increase – I immediately was willing to try spending $ on The Information. Why? Because I hope to “swap out” some expenses (maybe I’ll unsubscribe from the Trib and be willing to pay for a different form – or even type – of news.)
7) Unless I make change a habit it will not happen. When my sister turned 50 last year and we went on a yoga weekend (I had never even done yoga OR meditation) I returned refreshed and willing to change my patterns to include meditation. That lasted only a few months. I tried meditating each morning before the kids awoke. No luck – I found myself praying. And thinking. In my most recent email from Lift I was reminded that 1) I need Goals Beyond Habits and 2) Finish Lines – I guess if I want to impact a certain change and make it a habit, I really need to “own it”!
In conclusion, to me, it is all about leveraging myself to save time. We all know time is our most valuable resource.
Goals for 2014:
1) Continue to follow/learn from/watch @GaryVee and I will read his latest book (Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook)
2) I will re-take/review my Skillcrush material, which is still available to me from prior enrollment – this time, I will sit with a friend and learn together. While I am not committing to building a site per se, I did learn through my Skillcrush class that I am not good at learning technical material sitting alone at my computer. Thankfully, I ran into a friend who took the same course: this time we will sit together to review the material!
3) Install 1Password on my computer. Our Up n Running group reviewed the various options for secure passwords and concluded that 1Password is worth the $.
4) Increase my security/identity theft coverage – especially after the Target breach. Whether through Identity Guard or others, I will make it a priority.
5) Get on Snapchat (reluctantly) It’s where kids are spending their time…which means it is where brands will start to be. I need to understand firsthand how brands are using social.
6) Improve my Hootsuite use to save time.
7) Last and most importantly: continue to stay smart; (stay Up n Running) by reading about/curating and trying new technologies, apps, platforms. Reading includes but is not limited to private equity/venture capital reports, blogs, print and online news sources, local magazines, etc. If I do not “own” my skill set no on else will!
Total cost: 21 years of love + $18.99 for the box and file folders.
For 21 years I have been diligent about keeping file folders with notes, photos, mementos, etc. One file each year for each child. If it sounds fancy or complicated, it is not. Basically, I keep a folder under my bed into which I place “memories”: perhaps a concert program, a block party invite, a golf scorecard of a child’s best round, a cute letter received from a teacher, a class photo, etc. I’ll also jot down funny stories as they occur – the kind that you say to yourself as a parent: “oh my gosh – I must remember how hilarious this is so that some day I can use it in a wedding toast!” [Like the time my then 4-year-old saw a tour group from India in the airport and without missing a beat opened his backpack and took out a red circle-shaped file folder sticker and stuck it on his forehead so he could be like the Indians and use a bindi!]
Every few months I take a few hours and sit near my banker boxes and sort out the memories and photos per child and place them into manila folders. After reviewing all of the little tidbits in the manila envelope, I’ll jot down a list of other day-to-day details in that child’s life (e.g.who his friends are, favorite foods, basketball teammates, sibling rivalries, family vacations, etc.) as well as activities the child has done or passions he may have (e.g.choir, drawing, sports teams). For the child(ren) who has most recently had a birthday I write a “birthday letter” incorporating details from the year.
Here’s an idea of an item I might save (that would be a note from my 21-year-old when she was 7 stating in her beautiful cursive, “Mom, I wanted to tell you I think I’m not being paid enough attention right now. So maybe we could work that out”!! )
WHY I decided to write a letter to my daughter 21 years ago I’ll never know. HOW I decided to keep files on each child every year and write a heartfelt letter incorporating funny, sad, truthful parts of his or her life I’ll never know. But I do know one thing: my 21-year-old LOVED her gift. I loved giving it. I had dreamed about giving the gift when my child turned 21 and the hours we spent going through the various folders was priceless. We laughed. We cried. We were amazed at how some of her traits from youth developed and really formed who she is now as a 21-year-old [read above – what child asks her mom with such respect?! She still is that way!] It was a joy to share a review of the past 21 years with her. My banker boxes and birthday letter files are the ONE thing as a parent about which I can honestly say I am proud.
If imitation is the highest form of flattery: copy this and give the gift of a banker box birthday!!
Dear Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, Anne-Marie Slaughter and even Susan Patton:
Each of you is “right.” Whether it’s: “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” (Slaughter, who returned to a manageable professor life at Princeton after a stint in foreign policy at the State Department); the importance of “leaning in” to your career and taking a seat at the table (Sandberg, COO of Facebook on the importance of speaking up); eliminating tele-commuters (Mayer, CEO of Yahoo and new mother, who recognized that innovation occurs at a central location; productivity works for telecommuting, but less so for innovation); or encouraging Princeton women students to find a husband while in college (Patton, professional, mother and Princeton grad). Perhaps each of you is trying to say something similar? Let me sum it up the way my mom does: YOU DO WHAT YOU DO. Yes. Just like that. YOU DO WHAT YOU DO. In other words, we all make choices.
Over the last few years I have really tried to grasp the whole working mom thing. Every mother – parent for that matter – is trying his or her best. Make your decisions and make them with confidence! Perhaps I am an anomaly? I have played sports my entire life. I competed with boys and men at a time when many girls and women weren’t into sports..so perhaps I had a confidence that most women didn’t have? I have never felt slighted by men. I’ve always chosen to speak up when I thought it necessary, lean in at the table when I wanted to lean in, and request a promotion/raise when I deemed it earned. I’ve never had a problem rolling up my sleeves to make cold calls, knock on doors to sell, or simply “put myself out there”..because I believe in myself. Moreover, I’ll do whatever it takes to go the extra mile.
I struggle with the same balance that every mother struggles with: what is the right blend of work and family? I’ve worked full-time, part-time, corporate HQ, telecommute, Fortune 1000, ecommerce Kleiner-Perkins funded digital-startup, WAHM, etc. I had my first child ten days after being graduated from business school, worked full-time until my fourth, left for a while and had a fifth. I returned a few years ago to a job that on paper was “below” my qualifications. Why? Because it was a fast growing company in ecommerce and the potential for personal and professional growth in a rapidly scaling industry and the company was amazing (my employer was competing against Groupon.) I chose not to worry about career level but rather focus on potential experience to be gained and value to be added. As Eric Schmidt had told Sheryl before she took the Google job,”When companies grow quickly there are more things to do than there are people to do them.” Very true. And today? I’ve shifted, and have founded my own small start-up which I’ll manage on my own schedule. I am on the “career jungle gym”, not the linear corporate ladder (a reference to Fortune’s Patricia Sellers who said, “Think of your career as a jungle gym, sharpen your peripheral vision, and look for opportunities all around.”); With five kids (all athletes) in four schools – I am just like any other mom in the world: trying to figure it out.
Let’s take it one step further: How about we women DO WHAT WE DO and then take a line from most men’s playbook: DO NOT ASK FOR PERMISSION rather ASK FOR FORGIVENESS. Perhaps that’s what each of the aforementioned formidable women is trying to say? DO WHAT YOU DO..WITH CONFIDENCE! It’s what Marissa Mayer did when she changed the option of a remote workforce for Yahoo: she’s doing what she’s doing with confidence. She thinks it’s the right thing for Yahoo. (For what it’s worth, I must agree with her: she is trying to turn around a sinking ship and needs innovation.) It’s what Sheryl Sandberg is doing by speaking up and encouraging women to “lean in” to career advancement and not “leave before you leave.” She’s doing what she thinks is the right thing and using her power with confidence to remind women to speak up and lean into their careers. (For what it’s worth, I think it is brave of Sheryl to speak up; I reluctantly read her book and was pleasantly surprised by the nuggets of raw truths she was willing to share with the reader.) It’s what Anne-Marie Slaughter did by going back to Princeton as a professor of politics and international affairs: she’s doing what she’s doing with confidence – doing it HER way. (For what it’s worth, I have two daughters, one of whom happens to be at Princeton; I found Anne-Marie’s article to be brave and spot-on: we make choices in life.) And lastly, Susan Patton is doing what she’s doing: speaking up to the young women at Princeton. Maybe I do not agree with her but I commend her for DOING WHAT SHE’S DOING and NOT ASKING FOR PERMISSION..but forgiveness. (For the record, I do not agree at all with Patton but commend her for speaking up. With CONFIDENCE!)
We are heading out of town for a few days. I cannot wait to get my airplane goggles on to observe “opening games”! I am absolutely in AWE of the airplane seating game of “checkers” that is now one of the most intriguing sports to watch!
The last flight I took happened to be international. My husband had spent months trying to make the flight comfortable – he knows the ins and outs of travel and knows how the seating arrangements work, where the most legroom is, how to navigate exit rows, etc. Needless to say, he spent time (and I think even used miles) to arrange for “good seats”..whatever that is. The funny thing? Once we boarded the plane it was as if an “invisible” announcement went out to all on board: LET THE GAMES BEGIN! Before my very eyes people started trying to swap seats! Mothers with crying babies, teenagers who wanted to sit next to headphone-wearing siblings, anxiety-ridden females fearful of traveling and desirous of sitting near the front…the anxiety was palpable. The flight attendant chose not to control the situation, rather she aided and abetted! I watched as families were split apart because the “pressure” of saying “no thanks, I will not swap seats with you” was simply too powerful. Who wants to be put on the spot when a crying baby in a mother’s arms escorted by the flight attendant supports the request of “would you mind terribly switching seats?” Does it matter that it is the middle seat to which you will be “switched” in the last row of the plane right near the lavatory?
What ever happened to the old: you-take-what-you-get mentality? I can remember vividly traveling solo with sometimes 5 children and oftentimes we would be separated. Oh well. If the airline is that dumb to separate me from my children such that complete strangers are saddled with a toddler? Oh well. (Okay, I’ll call it my mini-vacation!) But really. I just sucked it up and dealt with it. To be honest, I noticed that my kids usually rose to the occasion and engaged in lively discussion with their new airplane neighbors.
So for now, I’ll help if needed. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll wear dark sunglasses, pretend I’m asleep and PRAY that no one wants to play the airplane seating shuffle with ME!
“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
― Mary Oliver
I have always noticed the small things in life. Ok – at least I would like to think so. Like poet Mary Oliver, I love nature. I notice the small things. I notice the red-breasted grosbeak in the Springtime if lucky enough to spot one. Further, I notice a child who seems sad and needs prodding to find out what unfortunate episode occurred in 5th grade that day; I notice the funereal beauty of a life well-lived; I notice the internal but silent satisfaction a child feels after a job well done on or off the field.
I also notice the ability to make someone smile at the checkout line at Jewel Food stores when buying groceries. Last Thursday Jewel-Osco parent company Supervalu announced it will sell the grocery store chain in a $3.3 billion deal to a consortium of investors led by Cerberus Capital Management, according to the Minnesota-based Supervalu. How sad. I am a loyal Jewel shopper because the Jewel store is in my “traffic pattern” of life. It’s easy. I know where everything is. That being said, I paid attention to Jewel these last few years and sadly watched the decline in their ability to pay attention. I could have told Jewel to pay attention. Mere location, location, location is no longer enough. As a mom of five, I could have told Jewel to watch out: moms can shop at Target; moms can grab high-quality prepared foods; moms like Whole Foods; moms want organic choices for their kids and will pay for it. More choices? How about Amazon, Peapod or Soap.com
Which brings me to the importance of paying attention in this crazy 24/7 attention-seeking and attention-getting world. Attention. It seems everyone is fighting for my attention: my family, my friends, brands, services, businesses, teachers, and so many more! There is SO MUCH NOISE!
So just how do we pay attention to the small things so that we can continue to enjoy that beautiful sense of wonder? How do we notice the glistening ice that clings to the dark tree branches the morning after an ice storm? How do we pay attention to our existing customers? How do we anticipate the sea change that is occurring before our very eyes? If you have ever heard Gary Vaynerchuk (author of The Thank You Economy) speak, he brings up a wonderful analogy: consumers today could learn a lesson from Grandma. She used to walk into the butcher shop and the butcher would say, “Hello Mrs X, how are you? Ready for your 1 lb of thinly sliced roast beef?” So there we are. Notice the small things. If only Jewel had trained their employees to try to ask and remember their customers’ names while Jewel tried to revamp their business model – maybe it would’ve helped them bide time while they figured out a new business model that works in this noisy world we not live in? Pay attention.
Oh. And don’t forget to say, “thank you.”
I am SO sad about Newtown. The lives lost, innocence stolen… these kids. These parents.