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the week in review

June 15-June 19, 2020 


a look back at this week’s essays… 


If You’re Trying to Impress Me, Don’t Do This 

He had been strongly recommended for the job. And so I was expecting a sharp, take-charge person. Instead, when I took his call, I got this…

Click here to read more.



Tribal Dynamics in Business 

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell looked at several anthropological studies of primitive societies that showed an interesting pattern…. Contemporary research shows that a similar connection exists in the modern workplace.

Click here to read more.



Are You “Privileged”? Yes? No? So What? 

“Privilege” is a hot topic today – around the dining room table as well as in the mainstream media. One thing that I’ve noticed is that the people that have the strongest feelings about it seem to have the most trouble defining it.

Click here to read more.



quick quiz 


  1. How much do you remember about this week’s “Words to the Wise”? Use each of these words in a sentence: 


*  feign (6/15/20)

*  proxemics (6/17/20)

*  deference (6/19/20)


  1. Fill in the blanks in this week’s quotations: 


* “Don’t expect others to listen to _____ unless _____ is interesting to others.” – Michael Masterson (6/15/20)


* “The person who knows HOW will always _____. The person who knows WHY will always _____.” – Alanis Morissette (6/17/20)


* “Tradition has it that whenever a group of people has tasted the lovely fruits of wealth, security, and prestige, it begins to find it more comfortable to believe in the obvious lie and accept that it alone is entitled to _____” – Steven Biko (6/19/20)


  1. Are these statements True or False? 


*  Tug of War was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1920. (6/15/20)


*  A Venn diagram uses arrows to visually represent the relationships between things or concepts. (6/17/20)


*  Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. (6/19/20)



recommended links from this week’s blog 


* Click here to read the June issue of AWAI’s Barefoot Writer.


* “Homeless guy spits some truth”



* Two interesting videos about Venn diagrams – one on how they work … and one on how to use a Venn diagram to choose your career.


* “How Morals Influence If You’re Liberal or Conservative” Here


* BalletX – “100 Days” by Calii Quann Here


* “Words Used by Nabokov Quiz”  Here


* “Befriending Her Shooter” – a moving story. Here





Your Question: 

I have always had an interest in starting my own business and have dabbled here and there, but not with much success. Only thing I seemed to be successful at was spinning my wheels.

Aside from succumbing to the “shinny object/oh that looks cool” syndrome, I have discovered what the true momentum-draining behavior is. I  call it “Control Freak Syndrome.” This is when instead of outsourcing/delegating activities, you waste time trying to learn how to do everything yourself.

However, even if you recognize the problem, there is still a conflict for the bootstrap start-up, and that is money. How do you delegate if you can’t afford to pay someone else to do it?

– A.M.


My Answer: 

 I’ve written about this problem and solutions to it so often that I hesitate to talk about it again. My impulse is to direct you to any one of dozens of essays I’ve written on the subject. Or, better yet, to recommend that you read Ready, Fire, Aim, an entire book that I wrote on the subject.

But here is the short answer to your question…

It’s not about being a control freak. I am sure it feels that way, but the real problem is ignorance. You don’t know how to get the cash flow going. You aren’t really sure how to initiate a marketing program that can start bringing in actual customers that have opened their wallets to you.

You think you should know because you have read volumes about product creation, marketing, and sales. But your subconscious keeps whispering: “You have no idea.”

And that scares you.

Many pundits call this the fear of failure. I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s the fear of going forward blindly. It’s a perfectly rational fear. I have it myself every time I try to start a new business. I know that the most important piece of knowledge I need to be successful in that business is invisible to me. I call that knowledge inside knowledge. The knowledge you’ve been acquiring is outside knowledge – even if you are getting it by reading the recommendations of experts.

The only sure way to acquire inside knowledge is through experience. But since you don’t yet have the specific experience you need, you keep learning new things. And you keep acquiring new skills. Anything but taking the terrifying step of making that first sale.

You could gain the inside knowledge you need by getting a job in the marketing department of a successful business that is already doing what you intend to do and spending a year or two learning exactly how they do it.

If you don’t have the time or patience for that, you can follow these three steps:

  1. The first step in overcoming the syndrome you suffer from is to recognize that you have it. You’ve done that. Congratulations.
  2. The second step is to understand that there is only one priority for the Stage One entrepreneur: making that first sale. You must spend at least 80% of your time working on making this happen. And by 80%, I mean 50 hours a week. (It is nearly impossible to launch a new business unless you are prepared to spend 60 to 80 hours a week on it.) And that means ignoring 80% of the “work” you are doing now.
  3. The third step is making that first sale. If you follow Step 2 for a month or so, you will discover that the fear you now have will be gone, along with the compulsion you have to master and control all the other aspects of business that are currently absorbing your interest.

You will actually be eager to make that sale. And that means you are ready. Ready. Fire. Aim. Make that first sale. Experience the high of making a sale. Become addicted to it. Once you have cash coming in the door, you can figure out all the other things. There will be plenty of time to “aim “your business later.


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Note: The following essay is an excerpt from the upcoming new and revised edition of Ready, Fire, Aim. 


Tribal Dynamics in Business 

 “The person who knows HOW will always have a job. The person who knows WHY will always be his boss.” – Alanis Morissette

When a start-up business grows, problems arise. Many entrepreneurs believe they can solve them by hiring additional people to deal with them. Sometimes that works. Often it doesn’t.

There are invisible challenges that come with a growing employee base – challenges that can hobble communication, reduce cash flow, and threaten profits. But if you understand the natural stages of entrepreneurial growth, you can anticipate and manage such challenges before they damage your business.

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell looked at several anthropological studies of primitive societies that showed an interesting pattern. When tribes grew to more than 30 members, they tended to split into two smaller tribes, each with its own leader that was loyal to the original chieftain. One split into two. Two split into four. The smaller tribes were able to live and work together under the chieftain until the total size of the group exceeded about 150 individuals.

At that point, the unity of leadership broke down.

The researchers explained it this way: With no more than 30 tribe members, the chieftain has direct control over every one of them. When the group grows from 30 to 150, he can still exert significant influence over the entire group by communicating directly with his subordinates – the leaders of each smaller tribe. He maintins conrtol over the 150, but at a single degree of separation.

Once the group exceeds 150 tribe members, there is an additional degree of separation. The tribe leaders (and their followers) that report directly to him are still loyal to him. But the next level of leadership is now separated from him by three degrees. And their followers have little to no allegiance to him.

Contemporary research shows that a similar connection exists in the modern workplace. At three degrees of separation, communication breaks down.

There’s also some related research suggesting that there is an optimal number of employees that any executive can effectively manage: about six to eight.

When I first read about those studies, I was intrigued but doubtful. I was running a business that had about 300 employees. I felt sure that I was effectively managing them all. But when I took a closer look at what was actually going on, I had to admit that I was managing only six or seven people. And that I could identify, by name, fewer than 150 of our employees.

The more I observed, the more obvious it was that I was managing within that same ancient, tribal hierarchy. The success we were having was the result of making the connections between each level of leadership work. The failures we were experiencing were the result of broken links down the line of command, communication, and supervision.


Keeping on Top of the Expanding Hierarchy 

In a typical start-up business, the founder hires a handful of people to help him get it off the ground. There are seldom strict job descriptions or formal titles. Everyone is expected to do whatever needs to be done to move the company forward.

As the business grows, some sort of division of labor takes place. The founder puts one person charge of sales and marketing, another in charge of research and development, another in charge of production, another in charge of customer service, and so on.

At this point, the business may have, say, 50 employees. The founder feels no need to “manage” all 50 of them. He trusts his original team members to do that.

Although most of the employees do not report to him, he knows who these people are because he interacts with them – casually, perhaps – almost every week. These second-tier employees understand what their managers want, but they also understand what he wants. They have a sense of how he wants the business to grow. The smart ones can satisfy their own managers’ goals and also cater, in some way, to his ambitions.

But the business keeps growing. The marketing guy hires an SEO expert and a direct-response whiz. The sales gal hires six hungry salespeople. The guy in charge of customer service hires 12 reps to handle the increased volume of sales. Before long, the business has 100 or 150 employees, and some things are not running as smoothly as they were before.

Communication between the founder and his original team is still as close as it ever was. And the 40 to 50 employees that report to them are still working towards his overall agenda. But the other 50 to 100 employees have no idea what his ideas are. They rarely speak to him. They hardly know him at all.

By the time these third-tier employees move into management positions and start hiring and managing their own next-tier employees, there’s a good chance that they will be passing on their own, not the founder’s, core beliefs.

And if this continues unchecked, by the time the company has several hundred employees the “company culture” that was established by the founder is all but a distant memory.

This is not always a bad thing. If the founder is smart enough to hire superstars – smart, hardworking people that hire more superstars and pass down his ideas clearly and faithfully to them – the business can grow quickly and safely. But that is not the natural pattern of business growth. The natural pattern is entropy: starting with clarity and comprehension and then degrading into confusion and chaos.

There are traditional ways to curtail this sort of degeneration – procedures and protocols that are practiced in most large businesses and no doubt taught in most business schools. I’m referring to meetings and memos, reports and charts, training programs and employee manuals, retreats and seminars, and so on.

If you are a natural-born entrepreneur, you will loathe such solutions, as I did. But if you ignore them completely, I’m sorry to say, you will regret it.

I have spent my entire career rebuffing every effort to corportize every business I owned or ran or consulted with. And though I have had to concede that these remote-control management methods become to some extent necessary as a business grows, none of them can solve the problems caused by growth if the founder is not aware of the damage they do.

Corporate management is inherently anti-growth because it is designed for control. You cannot simply hire corporate managers and let them do what they’ve been trained to do. They will suck the marrow out of your business. They will solve the problems caused by growth by regulating, monitoring, measuring, and systemitizing everything they can get their hands on.

Of course, this is not true for every corporate manager. It is true only for nine out of 10.

So what can you do?

I don’t think you’ll find an answer in the Harvard Business Review. (I’ve been reading it for years and I haven’t seen one there.)

I’ll tell you what I have done.

First and foremost, I stay keenly aware of the primary objective of the business depending on its stage of growth. If it is proliferating products or advertising campaigns, I make sure that everyone that reports to me understands that his job is to support that primary objective, not to build out his domain in some way that suits his particular dreams.

Second, while obeying Pareto’s 80/20 Principle and giving 80% of my time and attention to the business’s primary challenge, I take responsibity for everything else.

If the business is in Stage One or Stage Two, I push hardest on cash flow and sales growth and product development. But I do not ignore or in any way denigrate operations and fulfillment and customer service and accounting. I make it clear to those that are running those departments that I expect excellence from them. I warn them that my lack of attention does not mean I don’t care what they are doing. On the contrary, I tell them, their jobs are vital to the business, and their responsibility to run those departments well is heightened by my lack of attention. I tell them that when we meet (usually once a month), I expect them to show me good numbers and be able to answer, with precision, any questions I have.

Meanwhile, no matter how strong those numbers are, I assume that their operations are falling apart, even when I have no reason to think so. I’ve been fooled before by slick reporting and positive presentations – and paid the price.

This is my personal approach. But it is based on the fact that, as I said, the natural pattern of business growth is entropy. It is nothing more or less than acknowledging that growth will always cause chaos, and that unless you constantly and continuously exert energy against chaos, entropy will out.

In other words, I obey Pareto’s Principle in my dealings with the top one or two priorities of the business at whatever stage it’s in… and I adhere to Murphy’s Law for everything else.



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