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  Entrepreneurship Insights

July 2015

Welcome to the latest bulletin offering entrepreneurial insights from the Startup Owl. Enjoy and learn. This issue is mostly about mindfulness at work.
The Mindful Entrepreneur

Ask the question, "Are you mindful?" You'll probably get the answer, "Of course!" Just like asking someone if they are kind to animals. Who would answer no? However, mindfulness is a state where you are intensely in the present, aware of feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, without being hooked by any of them. 


I don't think many entrepreneurs identify themselves as being mindful. I don't know any startup 'experts' who encourage mindfulness, much less meditation as an ingredient of success. Don't believe me? Check out Bringing Mindfulness to the Workplace.


What Makes a Successful Entrepreneur?

 Entrepreneurs are characterized by being passionate about their enterprise and motivated by achievement, able to tolerate ambiguity while relentlessly exploring possibilities, and able to use both intuition and analysis as they create their venture, learning as a way of life. They have to assess risk, while maintaining focus on the upside. But mindful?


While entrepreneurs are predisposed to action and getting the job done, no matter what the obstacles, but they must also be able to remain awake to the present. If not, they will allow themselves to get tipped off balance by feelings, thoughts or bodily sensations-their own, or those of others. The unmindful entrepreneur will be oblivious to many critical factors, whether emotional, conceptual or physical-to the detriment of the venture's progress.


Entrepreneurs as First-class 'Noticers'

The trouble is that it is very easy to be caught up in the job at hand and override the clues of the moment. Having the ability to be a first-class noticer needs practice.


A first-class noticer is someone who notices even the un-obvious. That is a skill that is both essential for founders, and can be learned and developed. Mindfulness practice, especially through meditation is a very effective way to develop noticing skills.


Mindfulness is seldom an entrepreneurial characteristic that gets attention. This issue of Entrepreneurial Insights aims to shine a light on this covert ingredient of success.


Mindful Work

A growing number of leading businesspeople are openly meditators. They may have been meditators for a long time, but now they are not shy about saying that they are. The late Steve Jobs of Apple is one of the best known, but Yves Chouinard of Patagonia, and Eileen Fisher of the eponymous fashion brand, led startups that grew into successful large businesses. They and and countless others have 'come off the cushion' and been open about their mindfulness practices.


Positive Consequences

Why would they do that? Not just because they achieve personal awareness, but also because they have witnessed the positive consequences in others at work. Managers in general and entrepreneurs, in particular, confront hardship and stress.


There are multiple reasons for startup failure and I suggest, that hardship and stress is a significant reason why half of all startups fail in the first five years. Perhaps successful startups, on the other hand, have founders who are more resilient and better able to 'be in the moment' as meditators say.


A Full Contact Sport

Being awake to small things and coping with failure enable all those things that entrepreneurs are supposed to be good at, not only being resilient, but also being ready and able to deal with contradictions, pivot and start over, dealing with risk as well as opportunity. My mentor, Jeffry Timmons, called entrepreneurship a 'full contact sport', where value is created by the collision of spontaneity & opportunism, with discipline & process.


How do you achieve that full contact if you are not fully awake and living (and working) in the present moment? Fear of failure will probably keep you from ever starting a venture. But you cannot simply decide to overcome a fear of failure, it's necessary to develop skills and a state of mind that allows confronting the fears, calculating the risks, and then deciding. The driver is probably a great need for achievement and self-mastery, even as you quake in your boots. That does not being foolhardy, since uncertainty will remain, but it is likely that the successful entrepreneur is a consummate learner, who is predisposed to action on the basis of lessons learned.


Not So Strange Anymore


Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out, a new book by David Gelles, a New York Times business reporter, describes how big companies like Aetna, General Mills, Google, Ford, and Target have fostered mindfulness practice at all levels of the business. Himself a meditator for many years, the author demonstrates how mindfulness both lowers stress and increases focus. He does not come at it from a spiritual perspective, notwithstanding the spirituality of many practitioners. Rather, he shows the practical ways in which both individuals and companies have benefited fro mindfulness, as well as documenting the conclusive research of people like Richard Davidson at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds in Wisconsin.


A brilliantly well-written book, Mindful Work, should be on the reading list of any serious manager, but even more so on the list for every entrepreneur, given the horrendous pace at which most of them work. Most entrepreneurs I know, myself included, tend to rush headlong to fulfill their dreams, which is strange given how hard it is to turn passion into reality. One of the problems we face as entrepreneurs, is that we are never still and that restlessness can itself be what trips us up, mindlessly. Until I started (Insight) Meditation, I had never stopped to reflect upon the fact that the only thing relentless in my life is breathing. In one sense, nothing but breathing matters.


Notice Your Breath!

Noticing the breath takes stillness and practice. It's a matter of focusing on the present, rather than the way our monkey-minds drive us to be thinking about the past or the future. When we are on the cushion we do not consider our past breaths, or the ones we are about to take. We notice each individual breath, as we take it: the in-breath, the slight pause, and then the out-breath. Of course, our thoughts continue to bombard us, but it takes repetitious concentration to let them arise and fall away without paying them attention and get distracted from the present.


When I started, I wondered why our teachers so often had us do what are called 'body scans'. Noticing each part of our bodies one after the other helps us to be aware of each part that we normally never perceive. How often do we ever pay attention to each hand separately, no less each of our ten fingers and thumbs. With practice, we get (very slowly) better at it. So what's the connection between that body scan and resilience for the entrepreneur? Staying in the moment helps us get out of the brain's amygdala (flight or fight mechanism) into the pre-frontal cortex where decision making and social behavior take place.


Thanks for reading this issue of Entrepreneurship Insights. If you have any comments or would like help with your startup, do write to me:

Will Keyser
a.k.a. The Startup Owl

In This Issue
Mindfulness: Guides

Mindfulness has us avoiding judging our distractions as 'bad' or 'wrong', and over time and with practice, we can train it to focus more quickly and effectively on the present. 


Awake at Work

A friend of mine is Michael Carroll, whose book, Awake at Work: 35 Practical Buddhist Principles for Discovering Clarity and Balance in the Midst of Work's Chaos, is a deceptively simple and short book that is useful, even to those who have no desire to follow the Buddhist path. 


Michael had a long HR career in major financial and media corporations, as well as being a almost lifelong Buddhist student. He has run mindfulness workshops in many business settings. He suggests that, "Sitting meditation is a friendly gesture toward ourselves in which we take time to simply be." As entrepreneurs, we seldom make friendly gestures towards ourselves. Michael tells you how.


Here's a well known practitioner giving both advice and practical help: Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace, by Sharon Salzburg. You can get it on your Kindle.


Improve Profits!

Another handy approach to learning how to practice mindfulness is in a little book called Buddha: 9 to 5: The Eightfold Path to Enlightening Your Workplace and Improving Your Bottom Line. Don't be put off by the title. 


Chapter titles will give you a clue about what's between the covers. The 8 chapters are-Right View: Vision; Right Intention: Mission; Right Speech; Right Action: Accountability; Right Livelihood; Right Effort; Right Mindfulness; Right Concentration. An extra chapter is called Right Corporation. 


If you think about these chapter titles, you might almost think it was a book about entrepreneurship! Get it for a penny.


Try an App

Here's a free app and meditation timer; check it out.


Make Your People Meditate?
No, no, no. 

Unlike on the job training, instruction on meditation must not be mandatory. Don't even think about it.

But, offering guided meditation practice to colleagues will yield huge benefit, if they take it up... not least to founders.
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