Why do you need permission?

1 03 2013

A former boss, whom I greatly admired (and still do), introduced me to the saying “better to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission”.

I am not sure if it a generation thing, or just me, but when I was growing up, and starting my career, whenever I wanted to do something the answer was always – go and do some study, get a degree, get a job in the industry, get some experience, work your way up the ladder. All very safe and sound advice….but fundamentally stopped me from actually doing what I wanted to do. More fool me.

Gen Y doesn’t seem to have this problem, nor the Millenials, and whatever nickname has been allocated to more recent generations.

Case study number one – my friend’s son, who at age 18 with a friend wrote, cast and filmed a movie (The Powder Clock, below). Sounds like an amateurish exercise? It really isn’t, the production values are very good. As I said to his mother, she had clearly forgotten to tell him that 18 year olds can’t make movies.

Many years ago, I did a course called Money and You, which at that stage was associated with Robert Kiyosaki. One of the things that I distinctly remember him saying was that if you see a job that needs doing, it’s yours. What he meant was – this was your opportunity, and opportunities aren’t thrown your way for you to get someone else to do them, they are thrown your way for you to do them. If you can see it, then you have identified your niche.

Case study number two – When twelve year old Craig Kielburger heard about a Pakistani boy his own age who was murdered for speaking about about child labour, he started a charity called Free the Children with some classmates. It now works with the United Nations and has been a recipient on Oprah’s Angel Network. (For more examples of children who have started charities, try this website.)

So what if your passion is to start your own business? Think you need to get a business degree or an MBA? Attract seed capital? Again – if you don’t think you need permission, there’s nothing stopping you.

Case study number three – Its actually quite difficult to choose, there are so many child entrepreneurs. Some are marketing to kids, others (such as Archer from Leanna’s Hair Leanna ) market to adults and have international delivery options. Google child entrepreneur and prepare to be confronted with why you haven’t got your act together yet! (Of course it has to be recognised that these kids have very supportive parents who have facilitated their businesses happening, since they are underage and therefore unable to sign a contract….but still.)

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Doing the impossible

9 06 2012


Richard Branson arrives at the British Grand Prix
photo credit: Richard Smith, licensed under Creative Commons.

“Life is a helluva lot more fun if you say yes rather than no”

My step-son and his friend have produced a musical. They wrote it, set it to music, choreographed it, sold tickets and put it on for a season in a theatre. They are 22 years old. The son of a friend of mine made a movie – full length. He is 18. Clearly no-one told these boys that this was impossible.

You might say this is the up-side of Gen Y. They see the world as full of possibilities, they understand technology and how it can be used to overcome the barriers that stop others. And luckily, they haven’t been taught what is not possible and told not to strive for the impossible.

But there have always been people who saw the opportunity instead of the barriers, took the risks, aimed for the giant goals instead of the small ones, did things that seem to be impossible, but somehow achieved them anyway.

Which brings me to Richard Branson.

Now admittedly, it was the swinging sixties in England, when youth culture suddenly took off and opportunities that didn’t really exist in the staid, respectable and conservative 1950s suddenly opened up. Youth became a market – a very lucrative market, and a market that wasn’t already dominated by established labels.

But still… what made a dyslexic student with poor grades think he could start a magazine at age 16? Or a mail-order record company at 20? Or a record company at 22?

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

“Although my spelling is still sometimes poor, I have managed to overcome the worst of my difficulties through training myself to concentrate.”

“My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long university education that I never had – every day I’m learning something new.”

And who in their right minds thinks they’ll start an international airline to compete with the likes of British Airways and Qantas?

picture credit Richard Humphrey, licensed under Creative Commons

“What does the name Virgin mean? We are a company that likes to take on the giants. In too many businesses, these giants have had things their own way. We are going to have fun competing with them.”

“I’ve had great fun turning quite a lot of different industries on their head and making sure those industries will never be the same again, because Virgin went in and took them on.”

Yes, the answer is Richard Branson, now the 4th richest man in the UK and worth an estimated $4.2billion US. The man who brought us The Sex Pistols (arguably better known for their on-stage antics and off-stage murders than their music, although God Save the Queen has had a bit of a revival in this Jubilee year by those who want to be seen as alternative and retro at the same time) and Culture Club with the androgynous Boy George.

And along the way he has attempted world-record balloon flights around the world, bought an island, socialised with Princess Di, worked with nelson Mandela on peace projects, and been photographed in all sorts of PR stunts.

And generally, it would seem, had a lot of fun.

“Above all, you want to create something you are proud of. That’s always been my philosophy of business. I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off doing nothing.”

Have all his ventures been successes? Probably not, although if you believe the hype, you wouldn’t know it.

“I am prepared to try anything once.”

“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.”

“You never know with these things when you’re trying something new what can happen. This is all experimental.”

“We’d love to be involved with the creation of something very special, something quite large and something quite exciting.”

Reading Branson’s autobiography, various quotes and articles that have been written about him, there are a couple of strong themes that come through.

1. fun – he does all this because he enjoys it
2. risk-taking, almost fearlessness in the business sense
3. barriers, challenges and competitors are seen as exciting, not intimidating

“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them…from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it.”

Your life is the result of the decisions you make. If you aren’t happy with the life you have, then make some other decisions. You are limited only by yourself.

That’s what Gen Y knows.

Interested in more business tales?





In praise of the Gen Y employee

30 07 2011

I should start by declaring that I am not a Gen Y. I am Gen X. So no conflict of interest to declare here!

Recently there has been a lot of traffic regarding the Gen Y employee. They move around a lot, they don’t have the same loyalty that Gen X and particularly Baby Boomers have. How do you motivate them? How do you keep them? How do you manage them? How do you deal with their concept of work-life balance?

In every challenge, there is opportunity. This posting is in praise of the Gen Y employee. Providing you get the right one. (See Harvard Business Review Blog: 3 tips For Hiring New Graduates for hints in this area.)

1. They are IT literate. Not only can they ALL type, they are also a generation brought up understanding the logic behind software programs. Hence they are not only familiar with the range of Microsoft programs, they also pick up other IT programs quickly.

2. They can be outspoken if something is wrong. Unlike those of us who have been in the office for a long time, Gen Y-ers are often not acculturated to the office, and they are confident that their opinions are of value. So if you have a process that makes no sense to them, you will hear about it. And maybe you needed to hear it.

3. Their work-life balance can mean a positive and happy person in the workplace. Which is great for team morale, providing they are also doing their work.

4. They have a low boredom threshold. Must be growing up in the technological age with computer games providing constant stimulation. The low boredom threshold can work in you favour providing it is channelled correctly. This requires both the right attitude from the Gen Y-er, and from the supervisor. If they are coming to you telling you they have finished their work and they are bored – find something new for them to do that will stretch them – a developmental or quality improvement program that no-one else has time to do. They are often keen to try something new, and this may be a great way to keep them interested, encourage them to stay and see what ascertain their potential.

5. They move around a lot. While some see this as a negative, it can also be a positive, providing they are not moving every couple of months. Picking up ideas and processes from other workplaces and other industries is a great way of gaining different perspectives which can be applied to your workplace.

6. They are often less interested in financial compensation compared to other forms of reward which facilitate their lifestyle. Which is possibly a lesson that we should all learn. And in these days of tightening budgets, learning about other ways to reward employees may be of benefit to the organisation at large.

Gen Y is a label for a stereotype and therefore does not apply to every Gen Y-er – any more than the terms Gen X and Baby Boomer apply to every Gen X and Baby Boomer. However Gen Y is the future so we, the other generations, need to know how to work with them for the betterment of us all.





Stalker-net

18 07 2011

When I started on Social Media, I was very careful about personal information. I didn’t add my hometown to my Facebook page or to TripAdvisor. I carefully avoided anything geographically identifying, or particularly, identifying of my children. When I left the house or went on holidays I carefully refrained from posting comments or photos until I returned home – in case I was advertising that my house was empty.

I worried about identity theft and carefully googled myself to see what information was out there. (Sidebar – I was somewhat alarmed to find an obituary for myself – then realised it was an 82 year old woman in the US with the same triple barrelled name.)

I marvelled at the difference between my Gen X friends – all as paranoid as me – and my Gen Y friends who put it all out there. My Gen X friends, like me, know everyone on their Facebook Friends list, even if some of them were school friends from 25 years ago. Some of my Gen Y friends have over 2000 friends. How is that even possible?

And then came the “check-in” app. Or as I like to call it, Stalker-App. In case I ever need to know where someone is – they check in. They check in when they are in bed (and then their address is clearly visible on the map, helpfully GPS positioned by Facebook). They check in when they are out – and where. Sometimes they also check in their friends. And yes, it has become a competition to see who can check in from the most exotic places and who has the best social life.

Where privacy is concerned, this seems to have become the great leveller. And the thin edge of the wedge. Suddenly everyone is checking in somewhere. (Perhaps we should be enjoying ourselves wherever we are instead of busily tapping it into our iphone or ipad.) And once you’ve started posting personal information and the world doesn’t end (or at least no-one has stolen your identity or targeted you in some other way), why stop? You get so much more feedback.

Suddenly, my entire career path is up on LinkedIn. Is this a good idea? Who knows?! I was told the other day at a social media conference that people get jobs through LinkedIn. No-one I know, I have to say. I know many people who were checked out by recruiters, looking up information on LinkedIn and Facebook. But I don’t know anyone who actually got head-hunted as a result of their LinkedIn profile. I wonder if this is an across-the-board trend, or is it just for people working in social media?

If I google myself now I can find all sorts of personal information about myself, most of it posted by me. Much of it is from chatting to people I feel like I know. But it is all out there forever.

In an age where we mistrust others, lock ourselves away behind bolted doors and gates, lecture our children on stranger danger – is social media the reaction to the isolation we feel?

How do you feel about the amount of personal information about yourself available on the net? Have you had a job offer from LinkedIn? Tell me about it!