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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Wobbly Keys and Breaking Your Business

Sunday 16 September 2007 @ 9:30 pm

This past week I have been helping my daughter prepare for a trip back to her home in Nepal. As part of this trip we plan on sending back a laptop to her younger brothers for use in their school.

I love a deal and could not resist the 1/2 price special on a HP laptop I found in a store near my office. The only problem is the laptop had one missing key. The ; key.

No problem, being a “perfectly good engineer that went bad” I figure I can fix that key and score a new laptop at cut rate prices. I called HP and found the part number and prepared to order the key. Luck would have it that I happen to own a brand new very similar HP laptop that I purchased for myself. My great engineering mind at work determined that if I popped the key off on my laptop I would then be able to place my key on the new laptop in time to send it with my daughter. Plop…. off went the key. I carefully examined it and placed it back on. It went on OK, but it had a horrific side to side wobble and was not firm and taunt like the other keys. I decided to try again. I watched closely and I said to myself as I put my nose right down to the keys and plop off went the 2nd key. Regretfully despite two hours of painstaking reassembly effort I now had two wobbly keys. My logic kicked in and I thought, “well it is under warranty and I will call and confess to HP the evils of engineering and they will send me a RA tag for my new laptop”. I then had one last brilliant idea. “Hey the wobble is just not that bad and the ; key is just not used that much. I will buy that cut rate laptop and send it around the world.” Pop off went the key and I raced to the store to purchase my new gift for my Nepalese friends. When I arrived at the store there was no laptop with a missing key. As I inquired about the laptop, the sales clerk stated “the strangest thing, it sat here for two months, and this morning a guy walked in and purchased it. ……..

Lesson learned, when it is fully functioning and you are guessing at what you are doing, don’t pop new parts off your laptop or your business. Both have a tendency to be very temperamental.

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Parable of The Peach Tree

Sunday 2 September 2007 @ 6:45 pm
Parable of The Peach

This weekend my wife and I had to make a quick day trip to a meeting which was several hours away. Before leaving I gathered my sons and gave them a series of chores to complete for the day. These included mowing and trimming the lawn, weeding part of the garden, hauling off some branches and most importantly picking the ripe peaches from our overflowing peach tree. I gave the kids very specific instructions to throw away all bad peaches that had fallen on the grounds as a first step. The second step was to then gather all the peaches from the ground that had fallen but still had good flesh. Then the final step was to pick the lush ripe remaining peaches placing them carefully in a cooler I had prepared. With these instructions given, off we raced to our meeting.

In my mind there is nothing better for breakfast than a fresh peach hand picked and drowned in milk and sugar. I salivated on this image the entire trip down and back.

Upon returning the first thing I did was go and inspect the peach picking job. I was delighted to see neat well organized boxes and coolers and a tree well picked. I congratulated my sons and went to pick a few of the nice ripe grade A picked peaches. I was shocked that they all were smashed on one side or another. Every one of them was bruised. Confused, I thought I had the wrong box but upon inspection discovered that all the peaches were less than desirable.

A bit chagrin I went to my oldest son John and asked what had happened. He then explained to me that they had indeed thrown the bad peaches away, gathered the usable peaches, and began to pick the tree. They realized how time consuming this picking project was going to be and were eager to get back to their friends, so he came up with the brilliant idea to shake the tree really hard, then simply go gather up the newly fallen fruit.

My first reaction was horror, but I could not help but laugh as I thought about it.

So it is in our businesses efforts. There has been more than one time that I have outlined a plan to my team but failed to communicate the desired end result and the necessity for thinking regarding the business processes outlined. It is easy enough to outline the tasks at hand for our teams, it is quite enough to get them bought into that end vision or desired result.

Upon reflection, maybe I should have prepared a fresh bowl of nice peaches for each of my sons and discussed the project over breakfast as they experience in a very personal manner what we were striving for.

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Scout Camp

Tuesday 26 June 2007 @ 12:21 pm

Last week I spent the entire week with a rag tag group of 12 and 13 year old boy scouts. Just as we were preparing to depart for camp on Monday morning a story broke about a 11 year old boy who had been drug out of his tent in the middle of the night by a bear and mauled to death. Needless to say, we had some very nervous mothers, not to mention boys.

It was interesting to watch the confidence of the boys increase as the week progressed. One of the merit badges they were working on was Wilderness Survival. When we got to the bear section the boys were all ears. That night as they built their outdoor shelter, it was evident that this was a major stretch for them. We left them in their shelter that night tightly huddled together underneath the stars with the local raccoons keeping watch. The next morning the boys were no longer timid 12 and 13 year old boys, but instead confident young men.

As I reflected on this experience I realize that just like boys and bears, we as business owners must not let our fears and brains get in the way of our success. It can be a stretch for us to “sleep under the stars” but the wins are worth it and the confidence gained can not occur in any other manner.

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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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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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He Who Refuses to Die

Saturday 7 October 2006 @ 8:12 pm

This past Friday I had the opportunity to have a discussion with one of our new team members. This young man has a tremendous amount of zeal and reminds me of myself in the early years of my career. He has an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit, and with out doubt will have great successes in his life as he becomes more seasoned. Friday my partner and I sat down and had a discussion with him regarding the week and the amazing efforts of the other members of the team. As we concluded I made a statement to him that is appropriate to share in this management metaphor context. The comment was:

The race very seldom goes to the fastest
The prize to the smartest
The award to the most beautiful
Or the brass ring to the most clever
Most often, the individual who simply refuses to die and is willing to keep going, keep pressing, and keep trying when everyone else stops is the one who eventually will get the win.

Determination, persistence, and an unconquerable soul in my opinion are the most important elements of establishing a successful new business.

I would much rather have B talent and A effort on my teams than A talent and B effort.

I do not recall a week in the past 10 years where I have seen a team work so hard, so committed, so focused, and so intensely driven to accomplish a series of goals. Much of the team has been working through the night this week to complete a successful product launch.

I take great pride and joy in associating with individuals who are striving to do something of significance against all odds.

One of my favorite quotes is:

Do it
Do it now
Do it with a purpose
and make no small plans
for they have not the magic to stir the soul of man

President Spencer W. Kimball

The win or loss is not as important to me as how the battle is fought, however, I find myself craving this win as much as I recall craving anything in a long time. Due primarily because of the tenacity and spirit of this rag tag little team of warriors who refuse to die despite all odds.

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Rich Christiansen