Posts made in April, 2014

Creative Talents, But What Kind?

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in All Things Workplace | 0 comments

 rp_2380543038_953ee03054.jpgInnovation and Creativity permeate the pages of business books and internet storytelling.Unlike Project Management skills or Financial Analysis, Creative Talents aren’t a homogeneous lump of artistic, business-oriented goo. (I haven’t the slightest idea where that line came from. It just flowed at the end of the sentence. Must have something to do with my own hidden, artistic goo).I know from my work with client companies that the cry for “Innovation!” and “Creative Solutions!” is a loud one. I’m not sure that everyone has the same definition or really understands the distinct subsets of Creativity that individuals can offer.

Here are 3 easy ways to spot creative talent:

 Creating. The inclination to form new associations among previously unrelated concepts, objects, or systems. These folks are continually experimenting with new ideas. You can observe this in any endeavor: office work, administration, sports, teaching, management…and, it doesn’t necessarily require much knowledge of previously developed methods.The gift here: creating something new out of what appeared to be unrelated, existing entities.

Imagining. Very different from creating and truly in the realm of the mind. Those of you with this innate talent will form new associations in your mind as a result of theorizing, philosophizing, daydreaming, and hypothesizing. This can extend to the development of story characters  and other entities that do not yet exist. In other words, the generation of something brand new.I believe this is what many organizations claim they are looking for but then stop people from  “doing” it because it doesn’t look like “work.”

Inventing. This is a way to distinguish those whose tend to produce physical creativity from those who live in the world of ideas and concepts. Inventors–for classification purposes– have a natural talent for developing new technical equipment and physical systems. One way to identify this kind of creative talent is to observe people who “act out” there ideas in tactile ways using substances such as wood, concrete, plastic, glass, etc.Real-life story About “Creative” Differences While doing consulting and coaching some years ago with executives at an energy company in Pennsylvania, I received a fascinating request: Would I meet with some of their almost-college-age children and do some “testing” to help the young people better understand their talents?So, I asked: “Why do you really think that’s important?” (Effective consultants, like effective counselors, never roll with the ‘presenting’ issue:-)The real pain was not with the off-to-college crowd; it was with the parents. These adults were all highly educated, highly trained engineers who saw the “real world” as a very physical place. They were unbelievably creative in their problem-solving as well. However, the youngsters involved were making noise about majoring in Theater Arts, Fine Arts, and Music. To the executives involved, even if their kid sculpted the next “David,” it wouldn’t actually do anything.From this brief description you could no doubt sit down with the parents and explain what was going on. However: these were engineer parents. So, I spent time doing talent assessments and interviews with the young people (thoroughly enjoyable) and then sat down with them and their folks. When the data were presented along with a list of actual talents and related careers–life at home became good again.These were terrific parents who cared enough to do something about:a. Changing some of the thinking of their children as a result of good informationb. Changing some of their own thinking as a result of good information

Thought for today: Begin to engineer your thinking about what it means to be creative. Take time to discern your own inclinations and those of your colleagues. When you begin to see that Creativity comes in different, useful forms, you’ll start using more of it.Create, Imagine, Invent. . .Create, Imagine, Invent. . .

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How to Get Your Prospecting Email Deleted in 3 Seconds or Less

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in Fearless Selling | 0 comments

 

Last week I received an email with a very good subject line so I opened it. Then, I groaned as I read the salutation, “Hi Patrick…”

It was obvious the sales rep was cutting and pasting her emails and that she had forgotten to change the salutation. I replied and said, “Addressing a prospect with the wrong name is quick way to get your email deleted. Regards, Kelley”

A few minutes later I received this reply, “Kelly, thanks for pointing out the typo.”

This time she spelled my name wrong!

Imagine making these mistakes with the CEO of a fortune 500 company!

The senior executives I know and work with would delete her email in less than 3 seconds. A simple blunder like this will cause you to lose credibility and respect which means you will have to work much harder to engage that prospect in a sales conversation.

Connecting with hard-to-reach prospects is tough at the best of times which means it is critical to properly execute every single point of contact. This includes fundamentals such as correctly spelling your prospect’s name and addressing them properly in your emails (and phone calls).

BTW: The third strike against this sales person was the length of her email. 826 words! Effective prospecting emails should be 100 words or less.

 

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Add a box to be more creative.

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in Get Fresh Minds | 0 comments

Creativity is typically thought of as breaking free.  It’s about challenging assumptions, throwing the rules out the window and walking away from the “way things are done”.

Many people believe the best way to be creative is to empower thinkers to run with whatever pops into their head.  That’s why so many people insist that creativity is all about “breaking out of the box”.

But what if that’s not the right approach?  What if people come up with creative ideas not by escaping from restrictions… but from adding them?

Consider the art form of poetry. Virtually everyone would argue that poets are creative – yet many forms of poetry are full of rules.

The Japanese haiku is a short poem with three lines containing up to 17 syllables total! Shouldn’t that limitation intimidate poets and destroy their ability/desire to create? How much creativity is possible in only 17 syllables?

Except the haiku is so popular that now people write them in Japanese and English.  There are actually 5 day conferences put on by the Haiku Society of North America where haiku enthusiasts meet haiku celebrities, attend workshops, listen to panels on the haiku form and enter contests.  Pretty amazing how much creative energy is inspired by 17 syllables.

The sonnet, if anything, is even more confining for poets than the haiku.  A sonnet must:

  • contain exactly 14 lines
  • be written in iambic pentameter
  • follow an a-b-a-b/c-d-c-d/e-f-e-f/g-g rhyme scheme
  • present a conflict in the opening stanzas
  • offer a resolution in the closing ones.

That’s quite a box, isn’t it?!!! Yet Shakespeare alone wrote 154 unique sonnects.  Other major poets such as William Wordsworth, Robert Frost, E. E. Cummings and W. B. Yeats (among others) also wrote hundreds of poems using the sonnet form.

Adding parameters to creative thinking is not a death sentence.  In fact, rather than thwarting creativity, the “boxes” of poetic forms challenge poets to push their creativity to its limits.

There’s no reason that that ingenuity can’t transfer over to real life as well.

 

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How I Got the Monkey Off My Back – Today Was a Good Day

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in Both Sides Of The Table | 0 comments

I become a venture capitalist in September 2007 – exactly 6.5 years ago.

I spent my first year developing proprietary deal flow and learning the business and then the Sept 2008 / Lehman Bros collapse / financial meltdown happened.

As a result I didn’t write my first venture capital check until March 2009 – exactly 5 years ago. That company was Invoca, which just announced a $20 million fund raise led by Accel.

Invoca

I remain a huge supporter and am very proud of our accomplishments and hugely optimistic about our future.

5 years ago. It turns out it actually takes time to build a high-growth business with differentiated intellectual property and roll out large, enterprise-class marketing solutions. I remember a few years ago people (LPs mostly) used to ask me why I didn’t have any realized returns to show. At the time I pointed out:

“If I had realized exits almost certainly it would be because I invested in a company that failed. Lemons ripen early, great companies take time.”

Still. It was frustrating having to answer what I considered an obvious question to people who I thought would have known better.

In 2010 somebody posed the question on Quora, “Is Mark Suster a Successful Venture Capitalist?” I thought it was a fair question and I gave an honest answer at the time. I divided success into the phases of venture capital and 18 months into writing my first check here was my view (details on each in the link above).

1. Sourcing high-quality leads: 9/10
2. Working with early-stage teams:  coaching, mentoring, setting strategy, rolling up sleeves: 9/10
3. Helping companies get to next financing round successfully: I was just beginning this phase in Sept 2010 and said so.

Since then?

Not just the $20 million round at Invoca, the $70 million I helped us raise at Maker Studios, but I was intimately involved with the earliest funding round at DataSift and every subsequent round which has recently announced $42 million led by Insight Venture Partners and $70 million in total.

datasiftI’ve now been involved with many other successful foll0w-on financings. So I think it’s now fair to rate me at 9/10 on follow-on fundings.

4. Getting Exits / Driving LP Returns: This was always the knock on me. The monkey on my back. “Ok, so this guy can write a blog and source deals but can he make any money?” Yup. Heard that knock many times. And in an industry measured by a decade rather than a year it’s hard to refute so you mostly just move on in the conversation. This is what I wrote on that Quora answer from Sept 2010

“I think the best VCs help drive exits alongside their entrepreneurs.  I have done 6 VC investments – all within the past 20 months.  None have exited.  That’s normal.  If they did it would be because there wasn’t a huge outcome.  

 

But the truth is only time will tell whether I’m financially a successful VC and I’m comfortable in my skin saying that.  Any VC 3 years in saying otherwise would either be exaggerating, lucky or an extreme outlier.”

So it’s now March 2014 – 5 years since I started investing. How is my scorecard looking? Here is the first 3 months of 2014 …

2014

                                                                                                                                                                      .

1. AOL Acquires Gravity for $90 million

gravity

2. Apple – Burstly / TestFlight

burstly testflight

And now this just in …

3. Disney Acquires Maker Studios f0r $500 million and with earn-out potentially up to $950 million.

disney maker studios

This investment started with Dana Settle (Greycroft) and I each putting in $750,000 into a young company doing less than $1 million in sales and has blossomed into one of the fastest growing companies in Los Angeles if not the entire country. Because it’s video it is understood so poorly by the normal tech elite but the company has an amazing combination of content production, marketing, talent management and technology (tech team of nearly 60) and I can’t think of a better partner and home to develop this great company than Disney. I feel confident in saying that Maker will perform to any even higher level in the years to come as a result of this partnership.

And while of course the founders & management deserve all the credit for Maker’s success and will no doubt get their accolades in the press, from an investor perspective, Dana & I were hugely active in the company for years behind the scenes in recruiting, PR, product strategy, M&A, etc. And while the press always likes to mention the other big media investors who participated  in the investments (Time Warner, Canal+, Astro, Singtel, Elisabeth Murdoch, Robert Downey, Jr. – there were many), the reality is that Upfront & Greycroft were the largest shareholders in the company.

As a result of this activity I have now personally returned significantly more capital in my 5 years than I have invested. I have huge confidence in the companies that I’ve backed that are still active.

I’m already back to work. I am closing 3 new fundings in April (2 new, 1 follow-on).

At a minimum, I’m glad to have the “exit question” off my back in 2014. I helps me be even longer in the positions I am still in.

All I could think about this morning was this …

featured image from 500px

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Asking a More Beautiful Question

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in Leadership Now | 0 comments

If our questions are so unimaginative and predictable that Google can guess what we’re asking before we’re even three words in, says Warren Berger, then we aren’t asking the right questions.

“It’s the questions Google cannot easily anticipate or even answer that we should be asking. Asking the right questions helps us figure out what matters, where opportunity lies, and how to achieve our goals.”

We are drowning in answers. What we need today are good questions. In times of great change, doubt is the norm, so good questions, not answers, have the edge. John Seely Brown says, “If you don’t have a disposition to question, you’re going to fear change. But if you’re comfortable questioning, experimenting, connecting things—then change is something that becomes an adventure. And if you can see it as an adventure, then you’re off and running.”

Beautiful Question

In A More Beautiful Question, Berger shows how the most powerful forces for igniting change is the question. Example after example demonstrate how often off-beat “why” questions were at the foundation of many innovations. But he cautions, “Just asking why without taking any action may be the source of stimulating thought or conversation, but it is not likely to produce change.” He suggests the following sequence: Why? What If? and How? It brings some order to an otherwise chaotic an unpredictable process.

We must even question the questions. Neurologist Robert Burton says we should step back and inquire, “Why did I come up with that question? Every time you come up with a question, you should be wondering, What are the underlying assumptions of that question? Is there a different question I should be asking?

Finding that one big beautiful question for you is not easy. It is a process—a way of looking at life. “You don’t have to be a recognized expert; you just have to be willing to say, I’m going to venture forth in the word with my question and see what I find. As you do this, you’re in a strong position to build ideas and attract support. Because, whereas people are more likely to ignore or challenge you when you come at them with answers, they almost can’t resist advising or helping you to answer a great question.

Live the questions.


* * *
(A More Beautiful Question has more than enough examples of questions that led to great ideas to fire up your brain. Interestingly enough, in place of a standard index, he has an Index of Questions.)

• Why do kids ask so many questions—and more importantly, why do they stop? (p.39-70)

• Considering that today’s schools were built on an industrial model, is it possible they were actually designed to squelch questioning? (p. 4-60)

• Should businesses replace mission statements with “mission questions”? (p. 162-165)

• How do the most innovative companies foster a “culture of inquiry”—and how can any business or organization do likewise? (165-174)

• What has worked for me before—and how can I bring more of that into my life now? (p. 193-194)

• Can I use productive “small failures” as a means of avoiding devastating “big failures”? (p. 199-202)

• Why did George Carlin see things the rest of us missed? (p. 39-40)

Quote
A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change. What is yours?

 

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