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American Dream

I love this speech by David Abney about the American Dream. David began his career as a part-time package loader and rose to be the CEO of UPS. Read it here:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-we-can-all-turn-promise-equal-opportunity-reality-david-abney?trk=hp-feed-article-title-share

Reflective Listening

I've never been great at communication. From a young age I found it really difficult to grasp that If I understood something in a certain way, it did not mean that everyone automatically understood it in the same way. Starting with the assumption that everyone was on the same page with me meant my speech and writing were often very terse, ineffective and I was responsible for many miscommunications. Improving my communication skills have been something I've been working on ever since.

Last year, David Cohen introduced me to the concept of Reflective Listening. It has changed the way I think about communication. Basically, Reflective Listening is a framework for thinking about the successful transfer of thoughts and ensures that everyone is really on the same page. It's really simple.

  1. Listen to what the other person is saying.
  2. Repeat back, in your own words what you think they said. Be detailed. And ask "Is that right?"
  3. Then ask "Is there anything else?" Repeat the whole process until they say "No, there is nothing else."

Reflective Listening, as implied by the name, first requires listening. Which, while thinking about what my response will be, I sometimes forget to actually do. Then report back what was heard. Asking the question "Is that right?" brings out what wasn't communicated correctly. Finally, asking if there is anything else confirms the complete picture is understood by both parties. Information transfer complete. I love this, it has been really helpful. Thanks for sharing David!

Expand or Cut the Cake (Creating Value)

I've been trying to write a post on value creation and rent capture for a couple weeks now. My words weren't coming together the way I wanted and while researching I stumbled upon Yishan Wong's Quora answer to the question "What does it mean to create value?" He captures exactly the point I wanted to make, so I scrapped my writing and here is Yishan's full response:

What does it mean to create value?

It means making something out of nothing using human effort and ingenuity.

"Creating value" is a very important concept that for years I thought was just a business buzzword, but it captures a very important distinction from doing other things that make money, as making money is a big thing in our world, and for better or worse it's often the source of a lot of grief, joy, and politics. 

Creating value is something that people inherently understand from a young age, but then later forget.  For instance, a five-year-old will make a birthday card for you out of construction paper.  This is creation of value.  When we get older, many people forget this and start to think that such shoddy handmade things are worthless, that the only value is in things we pay money for, e.g. a store-bought card or gift.  But the five-year-old has no money, and no choice but to create something of value out of nothing but the application of her effort and ingenuity upon raw materials.  Money simply represents this value creation - the five-year-old could sell the card for money.  Likewise, money you use to buy a store-bought card came from real value you created by doing your job, which likely required your own effort and/or ingenuity.

There's another way to generate money, which is rent capture (see:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren...).  This is a money-making method that does not create new value, but rather exploits a property of the environment (physical, social, or economic) in order to incur favorable transactions.  The easiest example of this is forcibly taking over a piece of unowned land or open road and charging others a toll to use it.  No new value is created, but the ability to charge "rent" is captured.  Keep in mind thatcharging rent is not necessarily rent capture - if you build an apartment complex and rent out its units, you have created an item of value and are merely charging for it, i.e. making money exchanging something of value you created.  Rent capture refers to charging money for usage (or relief from) a facet of the pre-existing environment you have exploited.  There are complicated philosophical issues around whether the unilateral acquisition of unowned-but-finite environmental resources and their place in value-creation, but I still skip those.

Either way, the phrase "creating value" is typically used to designate activities which make money but which are not rent-capturing, i.e. new value is created through either mutually beneficial exchange transactions or producing something valuable out of raw materials through human effort and/or ingenuity.  "Enlightened" capitalists or businessmen often use this term to designate "positive" business activities that make money because they apply the effort of human beings towards creating new value, versus other activities that generate money but not value.  This distinction is significant because many metrics of business success are measured by numbers on financial statements, which are nominally blind as to whether increases in money flow are value-creating or not.

Basically, there are two ways to make money:

1) Create new value and capture x percent of the new value created. (creating value)
2) Capture rent on an already existing asset. (rent capture)

The first form is the one that moves everybody forward. I think it is altogether too easy to forget that new value can be created. While accumulating wealth, you are not necessarily taking money from others. If you create new value for society that did not exist before, you have created new wealth and are entitled to capture a sustainable portion of that newly created value.

Source: 

https://www.quora.com/What-does-it-mean-to-create-value

I Spill Stuff and You Should Too

The other night I was talking with a friend about what I'm working on at Techstars and why I'm excited about it. I was so focused on what I was saying I spilled beer all over myself. Later the same evening I was talking about how exciting it was to live in the rapidly changing Midtown Detroit neighborhood and once again spilled a cup of water on the floor.

Reflecting on this, my passion for what I'm working on that lead me to not pay attention to anything else, and spill shit. Spill shit passion is awesome to see in anyone when talking about what they are working on. My friend of 3 years Hunter Rosenblume (founder of Lunar) is spill shit passionate about his company. I can't count on my hands how many times he has knocked something over while feverishly talking about anything related to Lunar. Dedication and laser focus only come with strong passion, and it is essential for succeeding at anything really hard (like starting a cell phone carrier).

If you are not spill shit passionate about what you are doing, do something else.

Square One, Again

I just ran into a founder of a company whom I've known for about a year.

When I first met her, she was already 1 year into building her business. At the time we met, the company was a 4 person team containing both an excellent designer a developer. They were heading into the Techstars program full of promise. Having already built a basic version of their product, ready to grow customers and make partnerships.

When talking today she said that within the last two weeks, the remaining two employees left the company and she was back to being the sole employee. It was obvious she was worried. But she was also hopeful.

In a position where she has a product to sell, it is now time to grind. Hustle. Make some sales and build the team up again from scratch.

What is really exciting is that her face still lit up when talking about the companies product. The passion is still there. The next half year will be pivotal. If she can keep making incremental progress, solid ground isn't too far from reach.

This illustration that John shared shows that success isn't a constant upward trajectory, rather a complicated path with many ups and downs.

Best of luck my friend! Now back to work...