Posts in Leadership

10 Ways to Create Disengaged Employees

March 14th, 2018 Posted by Behavior, Blog Post, Engagement, Leadership 0 thoughts on “10 Ways to Create Disengaged Employees”

It’s easy to find advice on how to improve employee engagement, some good, some useless. Here are some ways to create DISENGAGED employees. Our advice? Don’t do the things listed here.

Read This Before Joining a Mastermind Group

February 16th, 2018 Posted by Blog Post, Entrepreneur, Leadership, Mastermind Group, Owner, Peer Group 0 thoughts on “Read This Before Joining a Mastermind Group”

If you’ve ever thought of joining a mastermind group, please read this.

I’m Jon Umstead, author of Business is ART and founder of Plan Canvas. In this week’s post, I’d like to speak with you directly from my heart – then invite you to join me.

Several years ago, I became a believer in the power of mastermind groups. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a mastermind is effectively peer-to-peer mentoring in a facilitated group setting. Everyone comes together to help one another solve their problems.

The concept itself was coined nearly 100 years ago by author Napoleon Hill (The Law of Success and Think and Grow Rich).

There are all kinds of mastermind group options, methodologies, and platforms. I was trained in mastermind group facilitation by one of the most prestigious CEO coaching companies around. But while I became a fast and firm believer in the concept, some of the core practices promoted by this particular company were not in harmony with my own beliefs.

How can it be done differently?

So I sat things out for a year, thinking about. If I were to create and run my own version of a mastermind group, what would it look like, how would it function, and what would be some of the core characteristics of candidates to join the group?

I then began the task of recruiting candidates – something I will admit is not fun to me. It can be a hard sell. How do you show someone that it is worth their money and time away from work to sit in a room with a bunch of people from other industries, helping them solve their problems, when you’ve got enough of your own?

“My business is unique. I don’t need to talk to people from other industries. I need to talk to people with businesses just like mine.”

Heard that all the time as well.

But ultimately we assembled a group that ran for 2 years. It represented some of the greatest professional experiences I have ever had.

We met monthly at alternating locations and as I’d pack up food, beverages, laptop, projector, tripod and flip charts, and drive off to our meeting, I’d think to myself, “Is this going to be worth it today? What if no one gets any value out of it?”

After the meeting would adjourn, I’d pack up and start driving home, feeling completely good about the day.

There is no more rewarding professional feeling than knowing you were part of helping someone else get through a really tough issue. Occasionally, it would literally bring a tear to the eye.

The group had a lot of successes – here are a few

One of our group members had to figure out how to make massive personal life changes due to the failing health of a loved one. One wrestled with a decision to run for public office – something she had wanted to do for a long time – but how could she juggle the responsibilities of owning and operating a small business with several employees and clients to consider AND be a public servant?

In both cases, the group was challenged with helping these members determine solutions and a plan forward. In both cases, things worked out.

The following is a direct quote from another one of the former mastermind group members, who has given me permission to share it:

“Since joining Jon’s mastermind group, my revenue has increased 31.25% in 10 months. Employee morale and productivity has increased 50% by implementing new processes and incentive programs recommended through the group. As a direct result, our competitors do not even compare to the service we provide.”

Christina Walters, Founder/Owner Night Dispatch

If I could guarantee results like that for everyone, I’d be an occasional guest Shark on Shark Tank and have a private island next to Tony Robbins’

But I can guarantee this.

If you join a well-run mastermind group and show up – I mean REALLY show up – you will find it well worth your time and money. Most members find they actually save time by investing in a mastermind.

For the last 14 months, I’ve missed our group. We shut it down due to the retirement of members – one member actually ran for and won the election to the office she had considered. It was also time for me to focus on the development of Plan Canvas. In short, it had run its course.

And now, I am very pleased to say, it is time to start a new group

This time, I will be leading one electronically. We will meet online, monthly, in the evenings, beginning this month.

This revised format will make it possible to expand the group well beyond geographical boundaries, in multiple time zones, and at a time that does not encroach on normal business hours.

Start for free and let the experience speak for itself

The best way to experience it and start gaining benefit from it is to just jump in.

And I get it. You’re skeptical. You have enough demands on your hard earned cash. But if you have ever considered joining a mastermind group, give this one a shot.

I am offering a free introduction to it, so there is nothing to lose and so much to gain.

Contact me directly at to discuss it and get you started. There can only be 10 members to a group and some seats are already taken, so, there is no guarantee to fit you in.

This genuinely could be one of the best decisions you have ever made. I am THAT confident in it.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Are Mastermind / Peer Groups Worth It?

November 28th, 2017 Posted by Blog Post, Leadership, Mastermind Group, Peer Group, Relationships 0 thoughts on “Are Mastermind / Peer Groups Worth It?”

Are mastermind or peer groups worth it? The short answer is “Abso-friggin-lootely!” But there is a longer answer to consider.

On a recent episode of the Business is ART podcast on the TrueChat Network, podcast host and Plan Canvas founder Jon Umstead spoke with business coach Steve White and Entrepreneur Christina Walters about the value of a mastermind, and we wanted to summarize a few of their points here.

Steve discussed from the point of view of someone who has led a mastermind group. Christina discussed from the point of view of someone who has been a member of a mastermind group.

Need a more flexible, budget friendly mastermind/peer group option?

We have an online option that follows a proven process.

In-person mastermind groups are great. But they do require a significant investment of time and, often, money. That isn’t always possible for everyone. We have a lower priced option that with more flexibility because we do it online.

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What is a mastermind group?

Mastermind groups consist of peers who come together to receive help and help others with their issues and challenges – be they personal or business related. They are typically facilitated and can be industry/topic specific or they can be open to any type of business or organization – profit or non-profit.

Masterminds are built on two premises:

  1. It’s lonely at the top.
  2. None of us is as smart as all of us.

It’s lonely at the top

When you lead your business or organization, from an organization structure point of view, you sit at the top. As they say, it is lonely at the top. What is meant by that is more often than not, it is difficult to find people to talk to about your challenges because most people cannot relate to them.

There are some challenges about which you cannot speak to your employees, family, loved ones, friends, etc. Not because they don’t care or don’t mean well, but because they aren’t in your shoes, they don’t have that experience, and they can’t empathize. Their feedback can often, unintentionally, be based in their own emotions and what’s in it for them.

A mastermind group is made up of individuals who have or are walking in your shoes. They can directly relate because they have been there or know they very well could be. They can offer feedback in an unemotional manner because they have no emotional skin in your game (other than they just want to see you do well).

What makes for the most effective mastermind group?

In order to maximize effectiveness, a mastermind group has to be facilitated by someone. Here are a few more things to look for:

  1. Be sure that the group is about the members and NOT the facilitator.
  2. Be sure that the mastermind group follows a defined process so that it is not the equivalent of a coffee clutch.
  3. Be sure that the group is about resolving issues/challenges as opposed to selling and marketing to each other.
  4. Be sure that you and all other members make the group a priority – don’t find reasons to miss meetings, be present in the meetings, actively participate in the meetings.
  5. Be accountable – follow-up on any assigned action items from the group and expect that others will do the same.

See the Benefits of a Mastermind Group Yourself!

None of us is as smart as all of us.

Join a group of peers for monthly, facilitated, on-line meetings where you can help others and be helped by others. Join now…

None of us is as smart as all of us

This is an old Japanese proverb – sort of the old adage “two heads are better than one” except in this case, you are bringing several heads together.

The major challenge in any group setting is to ensure that group-think does not enter into the equation. That is when the strongest personality in the group begins to take over and suddenly, everyone winds up agreeing with everything that individual has to say, with no real exploration of alternatives.

Avoiding group-think is a major reason that for a mastermind group to be successful, it has to be facilitated, preferably by a professional facilitator.

So are they worth it?

If you find the right mastermind group for you that minimally has the characteristics described in this post, mastermind groups are definitely worth it. There are numerous studies that show how effective they can be depending on what success, in terms of a mastermind group, means for you.

Christina is clearly biased when it comes to the value of a mastermind group. While participating in one, her business grew by over 30% in just a few months.

On the podcast when asked who should join a mastermind group, her response was, “Everyone.”

We agree.

My Team Sucks!

November 7th, 2017 Posted by Blog Post, Leadership 0 thoughts on “My Team Sucks!”

My team sucks! I’m sure we’ve all felt that way at times. We’ve probably all been on teams in which either we are the ones carrying the load, or there is that one person that never pulls his/her weight, or, for some reason, no one can get along.

No matter what the situation, there are some things you may consider that will help your team to be more successful, and it starts with how you speak about other members of the team.


Join the Plan Canvas Online Mastermind / Peer Group

None of us is as smart as all of us. Join a group of peers for monthly, facilitated, on-line meetings where you can help others and be helped by others. We follow a proven process to help group members identify issues, work through solutions, identify action items and hold each other accountable. Includes access to the Plan Canvas Community.
Learn more…

Don’t trash talk your teammates

An article at Inc. entitled Harvard Research Shows Talking About Your Co-Workers in This Way Is Extremely Important to Teamwork references research from Harvard University indicating talking favorably about co-workers (team members) “increases general feelings of being socially valued by others, leading to better information exchange and creative performance.”

The article goes on to suggest a few things you and your fellow team members should practice, including:

  1. Back ’em up when they’re knocked down.
  2. Spread positive gossip.
  3. Mold impressions at moments of entry and exit.
  4. Help forge their unique team role.
  5. Find out what they’re evaluated on and help it along.

Number 2 and 3 sound a little less than authentic, but numbers 1, 4, and 5 are good solid, bits of advice. But at the core, look for positive things to say. If you can’t talk favorably about your teammates, just don’t talk poorly about them.


Take a look in the mirror

Is it possible you are contributing to the degradation of team performance? You may need to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask some tough questions of yourself.

Another article at Inc., this one entitled, 3 Personality Traits With the Biggest Impact on Teamwork, suggests you do the following:

  1. Be vulnerable. Ask stupid questions.
  2. Be comfortable challenging the others.
  3. Be confident enough to accept feedback.

Know the collective goal

It’s all too tempting to immediately jump in to problem solving when faced with challenges, but it is far more effective to analyze the challenge first, determine what the collective goal is, and then work toward a solution.

As an example, perhaps you’ve been on a team in a classroom or educational environment. Your team is given an assignment to write a paper, solve a problem, or analyze a case assignment. Your team meets to immediately begin brainstorming solutions and handing out assignments.

You come back together to consolidate the work only to find it is a colossal mess.

Chances are high that you did not collectively come to an agreement on what the true challenge is. Sometimes that lies below the surface of whatever the challenge statement is. Sometimes it requires more discussion to understand the true nature of the challenge. Sometimes we just individually hear the words differently when a challenge statement is presented to us. Whatever the case, it is worth the time to do a little analysis before working on the solution.

Chances are also high that expectations were not set and agreed upon. As a very simple example, one team member’s goal may be simply to get the work done – check the box. Another member’s goal may be to develop the most brilliant, arguably the best team project work in the class or at the company.

Clearly, these two goals will be in conflict. Eliminate that potential ahead of time by formally agreeing to the team goals, despite individual desires.

Play nice

Most importantly, play nice. As Grandma used to say, you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.

To be a More Effective Leader Stop Leading in Isolation

November 1st, 2017 Posted by Blog Post, Leadership 0 thoughts on “To be a More Effective Leader Stop Leading in Isolation”

If you want to be a more effective leader, stop leading in isolation. You may think that because you walk the floors of your business, get down in the trenches with your employees, and surround yourself with a great team whose input you appreciate, you are not leading in isolation.

But unless you are working with and listening to leaders who are not part of your organization, you are in fact leading in isolation. When you think about it, it is really a conceited way to lead.

I don’t need the input of others

All of the excuses that keep you from working with or listening to others, like, “They don’t know my business,” and “I don’t have time for that” are saying the same thing – others have nothing to offer me that is worth my time (or money).

We should all be so wonderful

Here are a few reasons why working with or listening to others outside of your own organization can indeed be worth your time (and money).

  1. You need to be a jack-of-all-trades. As the article at Inc. entitled Why Your New Primary Concern is to Become a Jack-of-all-Trades points out, you need to master something, but being a jack-of-all-trades is crucial. The problem is, finding time to learn a little about a lot can be challenging. When you work with or listen to others outside of your organization, you can pick up a lot of knowledge from their experience without having to go through it yourself.
  2. You need to rid yourself of toxic energy. An article entitled How to Free Yourself From Toxic Situations That Are Bringing You Down lists some of the typical stuff you’d expect to find like “practice yoga”, but it also includes 3 items that smack of working with or listening to others outside of your organization, including 1) Make fewer decisions, 2) Write down the specifics of productive habits. And 3) Seek out for challenging environments you have no experience with. All three of these things are made possible through working with others.
  3. You need both discipline and motivation. In Which is Better: Discipline or Motivation, the author writes that on an on-going basis, “motivation is what’s needed to get up-and-running. But, discipline is needed to stay on the right course.” Working with others outside of your organization can provide both.

6 options for working with others

If you are a leader, here are 6 options or working with other leaders outside of your organization and to stop leading in isolation.

  1. Join and actively participate in a business networking organization, even if you don’t anticipate gaining sales referrals from it, which is the main point of these groups. Regardless, you can learn a great deal from the way others lead, particularly if you form smaller power groups with other members of the larger networking group.
  2. Take occasional classes, courses, or training with other leaders outside of your organization. Plan Canvas founder Jon Umstead ascertains that one of the most valuable things about his Executive MBA experience was listening to all of the other leaders in the room discussing the same topic but from different points of view and industries.
  3. Join a local entrepreneurs’ group or club, even if your business is beyond startup mode. Free groups like the Dayton Tech Guide offer multiple learning, networking, and panel discussion opportunities regardless of the life-cycle stage of your business.
  4. Join a mastermind / peer group. These groups are a great way to help others as well as get help with your own challenges. They are built on two premises: 1) It’s lonely at the top and 2) None of us is as smart as all of us.
  5. Assemble an advisory board. It doesn’t have to be made up of superstars and name-brand leaders. If you aren’t sure who should be on your advisory board, interview/ask several people for their thoughts. Create a laundry list of potential candidates. Don’t load it up with like-minded people who are just going to glad-hand your every idea.
  6. Join the board of a non-profit or someone else’s advisory board. The purpose should be genuine – you want to help, and you want to learn from others. It is painfully obvious when someone joins out of ego, to build a resume, or to get sales referrals.

Something to consider

Jon is building an online version of a mastermind group that plans to meet monthly, in the evenings, utilizing his experience running an in-person group. The online option creates opportunity for a more geographically diverse team, without requiring any travel time for members. It includes a subscription to the Plan Canvas software.

Click here to learn more and sign up or contact us for more information.

Is Being a Leader Really all THAT Hard?

October 17th, 2017 Posted by Behavior, Blog Post, Leadership 0 thoughts on “Is Being a Leader Really all THAT Hard?”

We largely agree with an article at Inc. entitled “The Brutal Truth About Why Being a Leader is So Hard” except for 2 things. First is the title itself. The truth about leadership being hard isn’t all that brutal. Difficult at times? Yes. Brutal? No.

Additionally, being a leader isn’t hard. Being an effective leader can be – although we needlessly make it harder than it has to be (more about this later).

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Let’s get real

Second, one bold header paragraph reads as follows:

“True leadership is the ability to communicate with and effectively reach each and every person you work with, in the way that works best for each of them.”

If you have a very small organization or business, you can accomplish this. But we, as human beings, are extremely diverse. Even though we often try to categorize or stereotype individuals into labeled groups, the individuals in a common group are still very unique individuals.

That diversity is not just a good thing. It’s a GREAT thing – for business and society. When respected and nurtured, it results in an environment or culture that is far more creative and apt to foresee and avoid problems before they arise, or solve them quickly when they do. It brings about peace and opportunity.

But as an organization grows in size, that very diversity makes it impossible to “reach every person you work with in the way that works best for each of them.” There has never been a leader in the history of leaders that has been able to do that – and there have been a lot of great leaders in the history of leaders.

The key is to lead in a way that stays true to the leader you want to be, while being the most effective kind of leader that the organization/team needs and that best reaches the majority of the individuals.

(See related “What is Your Leadership Style?”)

The real brutal truth about being a leader

Some will fall out. The rest will fall in. The brutal truth is really just that – you cannot reach each and every person you work with, in the way that works best for each of them. Not in a large organization you can’t. You will feel bad about those who fall out. It might feel brutal. But you’ll feel worse about letting down a majority because you tried to be everything to everyone.

That said, again, we do largely agree with the points made in the article, including that the following is a good list of what great leadership entails:

  • It’s the ability to be flexible.
  • When everyone else is stressed, you’re calm.
  • When everyone else is out of gas, you inject more fuel.
  • When everyone else doesn’t know what to do next, you lead by example.
  • When someone has an issue, you work with and listen to the person on a personal level.

Natural versus practiced art

The items on that list can be hard if behaving that way does not come natural to you.

Some people have a natural calm about them. Case in point, the “man in the red hat”, recognized for his heroic leadership during the tragic and senseless massacre in Las Vegas. Listen to the story, hear his response to it, and you will see he just has that natural instinct to remain calm and lead while others understandably panic.

For others, it is a practiced art. Another case in point from that same tragedy is the military veteran who “stole” a truck to transport as many injured victims as he could to the hospital and out of harm’s way. His military training to remain calm under fire kicked in and allowed him to do something brilliant and life saving that most of us would have never considered.

If remaining calm under pressure does not come naturally, it has to be practiced until it becomes a habit. Until then, it is a conscious behavioral response.

We make it harder than we have to

And to that point, we needlessly make it harder than we have to. Here is list of a few simple things you can employ that will make it less difficult.

  • Define goals and measurable objectives that help keep you focused on the big picture and sweat less about the little things
  • Have a plan (strategic and tactical) for accomplishing those goals and objectives
  • Conduct a risk assessment and devise a risk mitigation plan to avoid problems or minimize their impact when they occur
  • When reporting results, challenges, status, etc. insist on everyone presenting 3 good things and 3 not-so-good things, creating a culture where no one is allowed to only complain, and no one is allowed to only paint the rosey picture – this is where practicing calmness really pays off.

What is Your Leadership Style?

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Blog Post, Leadership 1 thought on “What is Your Leadership Style?”

According to the author of an article at SmallBizClub, entitled “Which Leadership Styles are Most Effective?”, there are 5 types of leadership styles, including:

  • Transactional Leadership
  • Charismatic Leadership
  • Democratic/Participative Leadership
  • Laissez-Faire Leadership
  • People-Oriented/Relations-Oriented Leadership

What is your leadership style?

This list (and accompanying descriptions) is as good as any. The question is, “What type of leader are you?”

Perhaps the greater questions are, “What type of leader do you want to be?” and “What type of leader does your team need?”

When people think of you, they will think of your having a particular leadership style, even though very effective leaders maneuver between these styles depending on the situation.

Become the team

In a recent Business is ART podcast on the subject of ghostwriting, the guest, Joshua Lisec, discussed how he needs to really become his client when ghostwriting on their behalf, much like an actor has to become the character in order to convincingly portray him or her.

The same is true of effective leadership. The empathetic leader puts him or her self in the shoes of the followers. What do they want? What do they need? What motivates them? Why do they do what they do?

The bigger the team, the tougher this can become because what works for one person may not work for the next. Everyone is motivated differently. This makes it nearly impossible to be the ideal leader for every single person on the team.

So don’t try to be.

You can’t be everyone’s favorite

Instead, think of what kind of leader the collective whole needs in general to accomplish whatever the mission may be. Depending on what that is and what you adopt as your style, some people will fall out, while the rest will fall in. Your job then becomes leading those who fall in.

Here are some suggestions for becoming both the leader you want to be and the leader your organization needs.

  1. Make sure you understand each leadership style. As you familiarize yourself with each, think of well-known leaders that generally fit each category, as well as the situations they have handled and for which they are best known.
  2. Think about what styles have best motivated you personally over the years.
  3. Solicit feedback from others – their perception of your leadership style may not be consistent with what you believe it to be.
  4. Ensure your team or organization has well defined goals and objectives – this will help identify the general style of leadership that is needed.
  5. Develop a risk mitigation strategy – this will help identify the style of leadership that is needed in special circumstances.
  6. Determine what type of leader you want to be – identify any gaps in your perceived style and that by which you want others to perceive you.
  7. Work to close those gaps – that may mean coaching, practice, training/education, and forming new habits.
  8. Be flexible enough to adapt to any style for any given situation, but be true enough that whatever style is generally needed and desired is the one on display the majority of the time – otherwise you will be perceived as a phony.

Develop a personal plan

You may need to have an individual plan that focuses on developing and nurturing your leadership style. The Plan Canvas software includes a personal plan that advises you to focus on foundational information about you, the individual, such as your personal definition of success, your blind spots, and your strengths.

It then encourages you to identify things you want to accomplish in the long, mid, and short-terms. Finally, it encourages you to identify the action steps you will take to achieve your goals and objectives.

Whether using Plan Canvas or something else, review your personal development plan with someone you consider a “coach” on a regular basis. Before long, people will start including your name in their list of the top leaders they have ever had the pleasure of serving with.

Did the Plan Fail, or Did You Fail Your People?

June 29th, 2017 Posted by Blog Post, Business Plan, Leadership 0 thoughts on “Did the Plan Fail, or Did You Fail Your People?”

Photo courtesy

You have great people. You have a great product and service. You have a plan, and, man, is it a good one.

And then…crickets! Nothing. Nada. Zilch. What happened? It could be any number of things.

One of them could be you, or more specifically, your leadership. Did you fail your people?

An unscientific experiment

I once conducted an unscientific experiment in a LinkedIn group for leaders. I made it clear, up-front, that in a hypothetical situation, assume that the hypothetical plan was brilliant, but the results were below expectations. I then asked how to influence and improve the team’s behavior in order to get the desired results.

Most of the respondents started with something like, “Obviously the plan was not brilliant…” then went on to talk about how to develop a brilliant plan. Some kindly offered their services to help me get my plan in order – for a fee.

Only one respondent, who identified himself as a retired military general, understood the true question and answered accordingly.

Again, there are many variables, but, often, what it comes down to is leadership.

It’s still a good read

A few years ago I read a book entitled Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud. The very first chapter is called “The People are the Plan.” It’s a simple concept. A lot of leaders say it (or something like it). A lot of them don’t mean it (or know what it means).

As Dr. Cloud states, there is rarely, if ever, one “right” way to do something. There are usually several “right” ways to do something. Several ways that will/can work, and as the leader, the job is to own the vision, set the path, and get the job done “through people doing what it takes to make it happen.” Whichever “right” way you have selected.

3 pillars of behavior management

We  often talk about how the consumers of today don’t just want a great product or service, they want a great experience. The same is true of employees. If they have a great employment experience, the plan is much more likely to succeed.

In my book, Business is ART, I define 3 areas a leader should focus on in order to drive the kind of team behaviors necessary for accomplishing the goals and objectives set out in the plan. I call these the 3 pillars of behavior management and they are as follows:

  1. Desire – What does the employee or team member desire?
  2. Emotion – What gets the employee or team member to feel a positive emotion about whatever it is you hope to accomplish?
  3. Knowledge – What does the employee or team member know (about the goals, objectives, themselves, other team members…and the leader)

Focus on these 3 pillars ==> Create a great experience ==> Improve the odds of success

Fail Forward – Lessons Learned from Experienced Entrepreneurs

June 21st, 2017 Posted by Blog Post, Entrepreneur, Leadership 0 thoughts on “Fail Forward – Lessons Learned from Experienced Entrepreneurs”

learningIf you’re going to fail, fail forward.

Last week I attended various sessions at Dayton Startup Week, a weeklong event put on by the Dayton Tech Guide.

One of the sessions that caught my eye was entitled “Tales from the Crypt: lessons learned from a failed startup” with presenters Andy Cothrel, Founder/President of Blue Marble Medical and Russ Gottesman, Founder/CEO of CommuterAds.

Russ and Andy have both experienced startup success and failure. It’s important to learn from mistakes, apply that knowledge, and, as Russ said at the beginning of the session, fail forward.

Each of these gentlemen have been in very different industries from one another, but the lessons they learned were similar. In this post, we summarize a few of them.

Follow a checklist of things to avoid

The key here is “follow”. If you do a little research and listen to people like Russ and Andy who have been there and likely done that, putting together a checklist of things to avoid isn’t all that difficult.

Following it is another story. Many times, your own worst enemy is you. You KNOW you shouldn’t do it, but you get excited, get caught up in the moment and do it anyway.

A way to ensure you FOLLOW a checklist of things to avoid is to…

Establish an advisory board early on

An advisory board will help you hold yourself accountable. Preferably, the members have also been there and done that and know a thing or two about your industry. They are motivated by seeing you succeed. They are going to remind you…DON’T DO THAT.

But as importantly, they are a sounding board to just let you try out your ideas verbally before committing them to reality. And they are there to make suggestions for what to do instead of the thing you need to avoid doing. You know. Those things on your “things to avoid” checklist.

But keep in mind that an advisory board has a shelf life. If it is a startup advisory board, that shelf life should be about 18 months.

Act ethically and with ethical people

You should always act ethically and when someone has provided you with funding for your startup, there is an even greater need to act ethically – because there can be very real legal and financial consequences to being an unethical steward of other peoples’ money.

Likewise, know who you are getting in to business with if you are taking on partners or investors. “I know a guy that knows a guy” does not a referral make.

Take the time to get to know “the guy.” Spend the money to run a background check. Seek out professional and trade references. The effort and expense will be well worth it in the end.

It probably wasn’t a bad idea

Russ and Andy concluded by saying, in their experience, a startup doesn’t generally fail because it’s a bad idea. More often, it’s the people, the process, the governance and the ethics that bring a startup down.

So do your homework. And then go get it!

Modern Business Failures Part 3 – Polaroid

May 31st, 2017 Posted by Blog Post, Leadership 0 thoughts on “Modern Business Failures Part 3 – Polaroid”

polaroidEvery consumer industry has a few huge brand names that are synonymous with it. For fast food burgers, there’s McDonald’s and Burger King. For discount stores, there’s Wal-Mart and Target. The list goes on.

These companies are massive, and they’ve been around so long, it seems like they’ll be around forever. But there are no guarantees in the world of business.

For most of the 1900’s, there were two brand names that dominated consumer photography (and the film market, as well):

Kodak and Polaroid.

These giants created their industry, and yet, at the turn of the millennium, both hit hard times. Polaroid filed for bankruptcy in 2001. Kodak in 2012. While Kodak eventually recovered, Polaroid never did.

At it’s peak, Polaroid employed around 21,000 people and had a annual revenue of over $3 billion. So what exactly happened?

The Company (and the Founder) that Steve Jobs Idolized

Polaroid was the “Apple” of its industry four decades before Apple even existed. It brought cutting edge technology that disrupted the current market and packaged it with a marketing vision that had personality its competitors lacked.

Much like Apple had Steve Jobs, Polaroid had its own larger-than-life mastermind: Edwin Land.

There was one key difference; unlike Jobs, Land actually was an inventor and engineer, developing the technology that brought his company early success in the late 30’s and early 40’s.

According to Steve Jobs himself, Land “saw the intersection of art and science and business and built an organization to reflect that”.

Today, he’s considered the father of instant photography. Land would lead his company for 43 years as CEO, creating attractive and useful products while filing numerous patents that they fiercely defended. Some would say Apple took inspiration from this as well.

A Failed Product and a Lost Founder

In 1977, Polaroid attempted to repeat its success with instant photography in the video camera market. They launched the Polavision, an instant movie camera system. Unlike its previous cameras, however, the Polavision was lacking in both convenience and quality.

Polavision could only be played back on special Polavision viewers. To create a copy, you had to actually break the cartridge that held the film and then run it through an 8mm system.

This might have been worth it if the Polavision produced a quality picture, but recordings were described as flat and murky.

It also couldn’t record sound.

Meanwhile, VHS and Betamax cassettes were on the rise, providing easy storage and playback on modern TVs. Polavision was dead in the water, resulting in an $81 million loss for Polaroid and the resignation of Edwin Land.

The Beginning of the End

In the years following, Polaroid would attempt to reinvent itself and even had a few minor successes such as disposable cameras, not to mention bringing one of the first mainstream digital cameras to market.

But they hit another snag along the way. In an attempt to fight off a hostile takeover in 1988, Polaroid bought back a significant amount of shares, creating an employee stock ownership plan.

This resulted in significant amounts of debt from which it never managed to escape.

Staff grew bloated as well. According to a report by the New York Times, sales tripled between 1972 and 1998 while staff increased five-fold. For every sales representative, there were two back-office workers.

In 1991, it won $925m in a lawsuit against Kodak, but that wasn’t enough. As the market moved away from film, sales took a serious hit and Polaroid’s patents began to either expire or just stopped mattering.

Today, Polaroid exists as a brand name only.

Basic Business Principles We Can Learn from Polaroid

There are a number of smaller lessons that can be learned from Polaroid. Even in a very successful company, one poorly executed idea can set off a devastating chain reaction.

When a market begins shifting quickly, you have to be ready to move even faster, knowing that the main revenue streams you have today might not always be there to bring in money.

And lastly, a company reaches a point it needs to be bigger than its founder. Polaroid never truly recovered after the exit of Land. Even today, with Apple Computers, many would say that it hasn’t shown any true innovation since the passing of Steve Jobs. Yes, they’re still a very successful and healthy company, but the gears have been slowing.

Though Polaroid is gone, it left behind a legacy of innovation. Recently, Polaroid-style instant cameras have made a resurgence, particularly among younger consumers, for their novelty factor and ability to create immediate memories.

When the app Instagram launched, many of its photo filters carried borders and effects that paid homage to classic Polaroid cameras.

And for entrepreneurs, Edwin Land left behind some great quotes. For example:

“If you are able to state a problem…then the problem can be solved.”

“Optimism is a moral duty.”

“If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing to excess.”

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