The Currency of Toil

Thursday 13 November 2008 @ 2:11 pm
Ed Viesturs

In preparation for submitting the book (Bootstrapped: A No Bull Solution For Business Success) to our publisher, I have been calling all of the individuals I have quoted or told stories about. Today I was able to have a great discussion with Ed Viesturs. One of the chapters in the book is titled Climb High Sleep Low. In this chapter I contrast parallels between mountain climbing and what it takes to succeed in starting a business. (See excerpt from the actual chapter of what I said about Ed in this chapter.)

As we were comparing notes, Ed made a statement relating to mountain climbing that I had to write down and share. He used the term The Currency of Toil. If that does not describe the GRIT or tenacity to succeed in a start up business I do not know what does. I love that phrase Currency of Toil.

….

Ed Viesturs, one of my personal heroes, was the first American to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter summits. He accomplished this remarkable success without the use of supplemental oxygen. Only those who have confronted high altitudes understand the super-human ability required to accomplish this task.

I identify with Ed for two primary reasons:

1) His work ethic and attitude on the mountain.

Countless times he sacrificed his own summit bid in order to rescue others. How Ed climbs the mountain is as important to him as climbing it. Ed was a member of the IMAX team and one of the major heroes in the rescue attempt that occurred in the infamous 1996 Everest disaster.

2) His climbing philosophy.

When Ed is acclimatized and the conditions are right, he goes for it. When the conditions are not right or he considers the venture an unacceptable risk, he has the courage to back off and go back to the tent. Sometimes this frustrates others around him, but he does not let peer pressure push him to climb a mountain when it does not feel right.

In an article about his third attempt to summit Annapurna, Veisters said:

Veikka and I will approach this attempt the same way we have all our other climbs. I’m quite prepared to just turn around and come home if conditions are as dicey as they were on previous attempts. I admit to being pretty motivated to reach my goal of climbing all 14 peaks, but I’m not going to take unreasonable risks to do so. No mountain, no summit, is worth dying for. I do this for fun, not because I have to. I do this for me, and I do it my way.

Now, you have to keep in mind that Ed had already attempted this climb twice, and backed off both times. This was the last 8,000-meter peak he had left to conquer before attaining his goal of summiting all 14 peaks. Annapurna is arguably the most dangerous and most difficult of all of the 8,000 meter peaks, with the possible exception of K2. He had already tried and backed off twice. Ed’s team chose a route that required them to be above 26,000 feet, the death zone, for an extended period of time. However, taking this route allowed them to avoid the huge avalanche-prone faces of the foreboding mountain. Well into their summit bid they came to a corniced face that “just did not feel right.” Ed and Veikka chose to go back down the mountain, but two other climbing partners decided to press forward. In an amazing climb these two reached the summit successfully. Some people watching called Ed and Veikka weak-kneed, and they received an enormous amount of criticism. However, they did not waver and offered no regrets. They had the courage and fortitude to “go to the tent” despite peer pressure, despite it being the final summit, and despite the world watching.

Ed said: “For me and the people I care about, my style of climbing is the right style. Getting to the top is optional, but getting back down is mandatory.” In mountain climbing, it is not enough just to get to the top of the mountain. The goal must be to get to the top and return home safely. In business you must plan for the difficult times. As you reap the rewards of your hard work, build a financial buffer for your future.

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11 Year Old Managing Engineers In India

Saturday 17 November 2007 @ 10:15 am
2TieaTie.com

The beginning of this past summer I committed to myself to begin teaching my three oldest sons fundamental business principles. I decided the best way to do this would to actually build a businesses together. Each Saturday and Sunday afternoon my three sons and I would go down in my office and have a “board meeting”.

The first few meetings began as a brainstorm where we would discuss potential businesses. Nothing was off the table. We had some real interesting ideas pop up (particularly from my 11 year old Nathan). After several weeks we narrowed down the business options and informally discussed the pro’s and con’s using the Porter Model. What did we settle on? A website focusing on How To Tie a Tie. Why you ask? Well in our research we discovered that the 4th most searched “How To” phrase on the internet is How to tie a tie. There are over 2,000 searched a day on this term. Once decided we were off and running to the races. It has been a rather slow moving project, but one that has simply been life changing for my boys.

How To Tie A Tie Diagram

I am thrilled today to announce that last week we formally launched our website www.2tieatie.com. So why was this so important to me? The primary reason I wanted to do this with my sons was to give them a feel early in their life of what it took to create a business. I also wanted them to live the process not just talk about it. I also wanted them to take some ownership in saving and preparing for college in a manner different than just getting a job. Not that I don’t want them to also have a job and work hard, I do. But I want them in the mindset of creating assets rather than working a job. There has been one huge side benefit from this project that I had not pre-mediated. It has been the process of exposing my sons to the global economy. As we were discussing the project last night it was pointed out that:

    The project plan and specification had been put together by us in Utah.

    The initial site design was done in Ahmedabad India. With over 10 back and forth iterations of the design.

    The witting of the step by step instructions done initially by a writer in Eastern Europe (and failed).

    We then engaged a professional witter in the USA that I had previously worked with

    The picture diagrams were done by a talented diagrammer in in Pakistan

    The Assembly of the Pictures and Steps were then returned to India for build out and engineering

    The Quality assurance and debug of the site done by my sons back in Utah

    The online store is being done using Amazon.com which is located in New York

    The Video diagrams is being outsourced to my oldest sons 17 year old friends Scott and Wyatt

    The ties that we will eventually sell on the website will come from Thailand and Korea

    We engaged several link building efforts with two different firms, one in Southern India and the other in Romania

    We also did a press announcement which was distributed out of Washington State

Wow, that is quite the world tour for a eleven year old. The reality is, we live in a global economy and the only way our children will thrive is to learn to dance in this world. I am so proud of how my sons have interacted and embraced this experience. All said, I think the experience interacting and coordinating the efforts all around the world proved to be of more value than the business experience.

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Entrepreneurial Patience and Fishing for Brook Trout

Tuesday 3 July 2007 @ 4:46 pm

This past weekend I took my family down to our condo at Elk Meadows in the Tusher mountains. This was a much needed break for our family after experiencing 2 broken arms, removed tonsils, minor skin surgery, new puppies, dad being gone for the entire month of June, and mom ready to trade all of the kids in for life size pictures of the kids, dad, and puppies.

Brook Trout

One of my favorite things to do is to take the kids fishing in a little stream that is chuck full of North Eastern Brook Trout. If you know what you are doing you can limit out in about 20 minutes. This is my kind of fishing being as I openly declare myself a “catcherman” not a “fisherman”. I simply don’t have the patience to sit in a boat all day long waiting for a bite. I like to catch, not fish.

These little fish only get about 10 inches long, but they fight like little tigers and are very aggressive. They will almost bite a bare hook. I will frequently use the same night crawler 3 or 4 fish consecutively. When running out of worms, I have used eye balls of other fish and the innards of their buddy fish that I just extracted from the stream above them five minutes ago. The point being is these little critters are not picky eaters. However, what they lack in taste sensitivity they make up for in smarts.

When I first started fishing for these Brooks, I simply could not catch them. I would get tons of nibbles, but simply could not set the hook. In total frustration one day I sat down and analyzed what must be going on. I realized that these fish were not behaving as other fish where you must set the hook as soon as you feel tension on the line. They were putting the worm and hook in the very front of their mouth and as I attempted to set the hook the worm would slip off into their mouth and I would yank the hook right out of their lips.

Through much practice I discovered that in order to catch these fish when I felt a nibble I had to put slight tension on the string, then quickly give it slack, count to 10, and repeat this process three times. With each bit of tension and release the little trout would take more and more of the hook in their mouth until the hook was in their throat not in their lips. At this point I had them and I could simply tug them out of the stream.

As I watched my sons struggle with these little fish I just chuckled. I had told them the process, I had explained what the fish were doing, but they were so eager get the little buggers and the excitement was so high, they just could not bring themselves to set the pole down and count to 10. The result: Dad= 8 kids=0

Needless to say we sat down and had a great teaching moment. Not only in life, but also in business often times we get so eager to jerk that contract out of the water or win the big deal that we lack the patience and forget to let the hook set for the count of 10. Early in my career I can count more than one time a seasoned businessman has given me a tip while I cognitively listened, but fail to internalize. I would then later wake up to find the score: Seasoned Businessman $1MM Rich=$0MM

In business and in entrepreneurship there are times exercise patience, learn to count to 10 and become “Fishermen” not “Catchermen”.

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Les Miserable – Give It Up Already

Saturday 9 June 2007 @ 7:14 pm

This past week as a family reward I was able to take 3 of my sons and my daughter to see Les Miserable’ for the first time in their life. This is my favorite Broadway play and inevitably moves me to tear up. This showing was no exception.

I was intrigued with the perceptions that my children had of the play. I also took great joy in watching their reaction. The life long balance of mercy vs. justice, and having rules vs. total chaos really struck my children. They were particularly moved in the senseless death of Gavroche the young boy killed at the barricade.

My 14 year old son really made the summary statement as we were driving home that night. In relationship to Javert and his clench on hunting down Jean Valjean, he stated. “Man, I felt like going down on the stage and shaking the guy, he just needed to learn to let it go already.

So it is. We all have things in our lives that we have to “just let it go already”. Whether a bad relationship, someone who has done us wrong, or just a bad experience. Those that end up most miserable and dismal in life are those who simply don’t let it go.

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Ropes Course – Walking the Vine

Thursday 7 June 2007 @ 9:31 pm
Ropes Course - Walking A Thin Line

Today I was able to spend the day with a group of teenagers doing service projects and also participating in what are called Rope Courses. Ropes Courses are designed to test your mental focus and personal fortitude as well as generate team building experiences. One of the obstacles in particularly got both my nerves and brain going. This was called the Vine Walk.

The course involved a thin metal cable stretched between two poles about 20 years apart. The cable was bout 30 feet about the ground and placed up above the cable about 6 feet were several dangling ropes separated along the cable about 10 feet apart. These ropes could be held on to as you walked the quivering metal cable. Now these dangling ropes did not provide much stability, but just enough when pulled taunt that you would not spiral off of the cable.

Of course as you climb up the poles and attempt the traverse, you are on belay and fully harnessed for safety, but it really does cause your nerves to jitter as you attempt to carefully step across this “vine”.

What I discovered as I was doing this, was if I focused on the far end point of the cable, looking across, but not directly down, and deliberately blocking out the height factor, I was able to slither across that cable. When I would turn sideways with my feet and attempt to monitor the cable and its flex directly beneath me the cable would shake almost as vigorously as my nerves were.

As on this rope, so is it when creating a business. You can’ think much about how high you are, you have to trust the harnesses and belay, and focus on the end point placing foot over foot as you go. If you look down and spend too much energy on your exact position on the “cable” you tend to get wobbly and are more likely to fail.

Being an entrepreneur, my nerves were conditioned to the adrenaline rush of the vine walk on the ropes course and it did not paralyze me, as a matter of fact I found it invigorating.

I noted that a few of the young women that were gymnasts crossed the vine with grace. I didn’t! My crossing was plain ugly, but end of the day it does not matter, we both crossed it just the same. Both count and so it is in entrepreneurship. Most do not have the courage to even try. Getting across is the key, not how graceful the walk is.

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The Thick Grey Line

Thursday 17 May 2007 @ 9:46 pm

I remember as I was younger in my career, everything was black and white. My opinions were strong and quickly formed. My views sharp and my perspective decisive. As I have grown older and been exposed to more cultures and experienced the dilemmas and challenges of the world, the once thin line separating black and white has expanded to a much larger thick grey line.

Yesterday I spent some time with a young man for whom I have tremendous respect. This is a young man who is in the early stages of his career, has been bitten really hard by the entrepreneurial bug, and is creating a successful web design company. In so many ways he reminds be of myself 20 years ago. He is intensely passionate, has very strong opinion, and is insanely talented. I have every confidence he will succeed.

The lengthy discussion that I had with him yesterday, related to a moral stand that he was taking relating to what type of web sites he was comfortable designing and his willingness to decline business that did not meet his moral standards. I can not help but respect anyone who is willing to take a stand and draw personal boundaries. In this apathetic world many people have become desensitized and are not willing to step forward and stand up for what they believe to be right.

As we discussed, it became very evident that we have many of the same long term goals and value systems, however on a few points we have dramatically different views.

It caused me to reflect on those simple days and in some ways longingly wish for the ON or OFF perspective that I did when I was just out of college. That being said, I have found that much of the richness of life comes from understanding and learning the perspectives in the thicker grey line. It may be messier, but it is also more rewarding to take the effort to look at the “beast” from a different angle.

We all have different upbringings, perspectives and value systems. In life, there is no simple black and white with a thin line. It is by making the attempt to understand each others perspectives, what motivates each other, and why we view things differently that unlocks the power of great advances. The lamest and most ineffective teams I have managed have been those that were homogeneous where everyone saw things the exact same way and everyone got along. The most powerful teams I have been involved with were compiled of members with extremely diverse backgrounds and differing perspectives YET all focusing on a common goal.

Looking for solutions in The Thick Grey Line requires more focus and effort, but when you find the solutions they not only last longer, but also mean more.

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Going To The Mount

Friday 11 May 2007 @ 4:45 am

This past week I had the opportunity to spend a night with my wife at a condo. This condo is high in the Tusher mountains well over 10,000 ft and there is no television, no internet access, and most notable no cell phone coverage.

I must admit, upon arriving, I felt a bit lost! Without any of these “life necessities” there was no way to manufacture a crisis’s or stir up a distraction. I felt totally disconnected and out of touch.

As the night settled, I found myself talking with my wife, really talking. I found my nerves settling, and my spirit calmed. The following morning as I woke, several key issues that I had been wrestling with had a new and sharp level of clarity. It was not until the next day that I actually realized how tense and tight I had been and what it felt like to be calm and relaxed. As I descended the mountain, I dreaded hitting the on button on the cell phone and “returning to reality”.

We live in such a fast paced interrupt driven world that often times we assume that the never ending cell phone calls and text messages are reality. The truth is, they are not. Although these are nice conveniences, they are often distractions and cripple us from focusing on the really important things in our lives.

After this experience, I realized how important it is that we take time away and consciously shut off the cell phones, turn off the TV, and deliberately communicate with our loved ones. I contend that doing this will not only make us happier, but also more effective and efficient.

Where did Christ go just before he began his ministry? (Matthew 4:2 JST) Where did he go with Peter, James and John upon transfiguration? (Mark 9:2) Where did he go to gain strength just before the Garden of Gethsemane and eventually his crucifixion? (Luke 22:39)

Isn’t it interesting that before each major event in Christ’s life he gained strength by retreating to the wilderness or to a mountain?

I challenge each of us (particularly myself), to daily find time to “Go To The Mount” where we can break through all of the noise and clutter that we seem to engulf ourselves in. Let us each find our own wilderness, in times of trial where we can gather strength. As we do so, we will be calmer, and find more purpose in our lives.

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A Contribution That Mattered

Saturday 14 October 2006 @ 4:38 pm

All humans are born with an innate drive to fulfill four basic needs. These needs are:

1. To Live
2. To Love
3. To Learn
4. To Matter

Once you reach a certain level of stability and maturation, the fourth item listed … To Matter, can become a primary source of focus and pre-occupation in your life. In my life as I now have exited the 30’s and have moved into the 40’s, I find myself asking the questions, “what am I doing that matters?” “What legacy will I leave?” and “what difference will I make in this crazy world?” The great men that I have respected have turned much of their energy to doing something of consequence or to mattering.

This past week I had the opportunity to attend the funeral of one of my hero’s and mentors in life, Ray Noorda. Ray was the man who turned Novell from a failing startup company with 17 employees to a computer giant which employed more than 12,000 people and made Utah Valley a hub of technology. Most of the technology companies in Utah Valley today still have someone or something that was in some way touched by Ray Noorda. I had the opportunity to work for a small startup company that Ray founded while I was in college and then spent 8 years working in many places at Novell during it’s “Glory Days” while Ray was driving the ship. I derive much of my leadership style and philosophy from simply watching Ray.

There is not a month that goes by that I don’t use Ray’s quote:

“Resist change and die!
Adapt to change and survive.
Create change and thrive!”

There is not a week that goes by that I don’t use Ray’s philosophy of considering the actions I take as a leader and how they will generate stories and drive the culture of the organization that I am involved in.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t require the very best from myself and from my team

Ray Noorda was at the very heart of these basic life fundamentals that I now try to live by.

Ray was not only a visionary, but a life philosopher, a mentor, a leader, and an individual who had a life purpose …. that of making a real contribution that mattered. He simply had the best strategic mind of any man I have had the opportunity to associate with. Ray subscribed to the philosophy of “Teach a man to fish and he will eat a life time,” rather than, “give him a fish and let him eat for a day”

Ray is known in the technology industry as the “father of network computing”. This is a fair and accurate assessment, but he was much more than this. He enabled the economy of Utah Valley, generated countless high paying technology jobs, spawned thousands of small businesses, and of most consequence to me, Ray set a leadership template that many men have tried to follow. I count myself as one who has benefited greatly from this template.

The entire week after learning of Ray’s passing, I found myself a bit melancholy. In some way I felt I needed to express gratitude to Ray. I could not really think of any appropriate action to take other than simply go to Ray’s funeral and silently let Ray know how much impact he had in my life and say thank you.

Ray probably did not even know that I considered him to be one of my greatest mentors and heroes. I was never on the inside circle of his sr. management team, nor was I closely associated with him in intimate social settings. (unless you consider my 3 year old son spilling his entire cup of punch on his shoes at the company picnic.) But I watched … I learned … I analyzed …, then I watched some more …. analyzed some more and you know what, his simple non assuming, conservative, lead by example, don’t tolerate mediocrity, and expect the best, and work hard philosophy rang true to me. As a young hungry MBA graduate eager to make my mark on life, I self assumed Ray as my mentor without him know of it.

I realized that Ray established the culture not by lecturing, not by mandating, but by creating stories. He made a point to come by our offices on Saturdays and after hours and sit on our desks. We all knew how to behave, what we stood for, and what was expected of us, not by him telling us what to do, but by the stories. There were many powerful, wonderful stories that circulated like wild fire through the companies that Ray was involved in.

I will never forget one particular meeting that I was involved in between Ray and one of my other major life mentors. Dr. Peter Horne. (Dr. Horne is another amazing man who I have undying respect and gratitude for and which no doubt will be the focus of many of my future Management Metaphor blogs.) Dr. Horne was in Provo from England to meet with Ray. True to form, Ray began acting kind of like a bumbling old farmer talking about how he loved to ski. Dr. Horne in his proper British accent said “so Ray… you are a skier are you”. Ray said, “oh yes, I love to ski, just love to ski, but only on Tuesdays.” Long awkward pause Dr. Horne looking puzzled took the bait and asked “Now why do you ski on Tuesdays Ray?’ A simple yet deliberate impactful response “It is Sr. Citizen day and I ski for 1/2 price”

Needless to say, the tone of the meeting was set, the fiscal conservative nature of Novell was established, and Ray (Novell) and Dr. Horne (Mitsubishi/Apricot) went on to have a strong productive relationship for years to come.

This is a fun story to tell because Ray and Dr. Horne both had tremendous impact on my approach to business and life philosophy.

At Ray’s funeral yesterday, several outstanding eulogies were given (one by Drew Major, and the other by Terry Peterson) that summed up the key things that Ray stood for. With out being laborious, I would like to regurgitate these points:

1. Believe and Trust In People
2. We all have a stewardship in life. Be faithful in your stewardship.
3. Customers 1st – Employees 2nd – Share holders 3rd (I can’t count the number of times I heard that)
4. Un Assuming (we all know that Ray lived in a home like ours and drove a car like we did)
5. Listen – Ray was a great listener and used words very deliberately and carefully
6. Integrity – Loyal
7 Be true to your own core beliefs. You can be successful with out compromise

    Terry Peterson

1. Respect the individual – Titles did not matter to him
2. Marriage – He and Tye were always supportive and building even in hard times
3. Financial Responsibility
4. Listen – especially with your heart
5. Word of Wisdom – focus on your health
6. Forgiveness
7. Dignity – always hung in there even with physical problems
8. Give back

I thought that these were a really good summary of what he stood for.

Ray, thank you for your contribution and making this world a much better place. I will forever be grateful for your example and in a small way will attempt to carry the torch forward.

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The Tempo Of Life

Sunday 10 September 2006 @ 3:20 pm

My 15 year old son has developed a wonderful taste for modern new age music. Last night at his strong encouragement and persistent ankle biting, our family went to see Jon Schmidt perform. I was very familiar with Jon’s music in that my son is attempting to learn a number of his selections on the piano, but the environment (Thanksgiving Point Amphitheater) coupled with Jon’s sincere energy and love for what he was doing deeply moved me.

What most struck me about this concert was the use of tempo to control the flow and emotion of the music. I spent much of the evening reflecting on the similarities in life. The concert in many ways was condensed realization of life. Each song representing a different phase, emotion, and learning experience in life.

– The Dumb Song – the joy that happens some times as you just allow life to happen in a random and non-sequential way.

– Waterfall – the flurry of joy and overwhelming responsibilities of being a parent of a family. Brief respite of relief followed by intense flurries of rewarding but tiring activity.

– Tribute – a beautiful song he wrote for his sister Rose-Anne

– I Do – the deep inner expressions of love to a faithful devoted spouse

His music spoke to my soul and awakened my desire to matter on a level much deeper than that of being a successful businessman or a just a good man. My soul was stirred to reach deeper and strive for a greater purpose.

The past several months have been a period of deep reflection and inner searching. I guess the conclusion I reached last night after this concert was, you don’t get anywhere by talking or thinking about something, only by getting to it. To that end, I am getting to it.

The past seven years I have been composing a list of short little stories with applicable life lessons. I have felt very compelled that one of my life missions was to use my talent for drawing life lessons into short fun little stories. I have long planned to write a book titled “Management metaphors”. This blog is my seeding ground for this book

Why do this? …… I do not claim to be brilliant, I do not claim to be the most handsome, nor the fastest. My successes in life have come from two sources.

1. I build others and stand for the underdog.
2. I simply do not give up.

I guess my deep desire is in some way is to make a mark in life by helping lift up, build, and teach a few of the key lessons of success that I have learned to others who are also not the “golden children”.

One of my strongest desires in life is to use my entrepreneurial talents and leadership abilities to help enable the development of 3rd world countries. Although I do not see a direct path to this goal, I feel strongly completed that by beginning this process, some door will open that will all the provisions of my thoughts to be used as blueprints for aiding others to find success in some small measure.

I have associates that blog for fame, glory, or to be considered a thought leader. This is not my motivation nor is it my desire. I am very hopeful that my thoughts and postings will be consumed only by a intimate group of close individuals who are of like mind in relationship to life philosophy.

I am looking forward to attempting to express the joys and sorrows and learning of the Tempo of Life in the form of a series of short life experiences.

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Rich Christiansen