CURIOSITY DID NOT KILL THE CAT; Entrepreneurs need curiosity for business success

Most of us will agree that creativity is a key element in a company’s growth and sustainability. This applies to small and large companies, start-ups, and service or product companies. Without creativity, you are susceptible to becoming a me-too company, which will lead to lower profit margins, loss of market share, and eventual demise in today’s fast moving entrepreneurial world.

So, the big trick is, knowing how to foster the maximum creativity in everyone in the company. One of the most important ways is to have curious people in the firm. You want people who ask a lot of questions-not gossip questions.

They should ask “how” questions.

  • How do we know if our ads work?
  • Who buys our products?
  • How do we stack up against our competition?
  • How can we improve, etc.

You want a diversity of curious people, who may disagree with each other but always in a civil tone without politics in play.

This curiosity element should begin in the hiring process. Look for curious people and think of questions to ask them. Do they know what is going on in the world? What do they read? How much do they know about your company or industry? Etc.

You, as the Small Business owner, need to have a high patience level to listen to all these questions. Many will seem silly or a waste of time to you. You can’t say that is a stupid question because that will halt the flow of questions, and there goes your creative environment. This could be difficult for you as many action-oriented entrepreneurs are short of patience.

Curious people are also much more apt to always be learning. They are not complacent with their current knowledge level. Continuous learning is a lifelong process and should be encouraged. It will pay off in your business and employee retention.

This patience with questions carries over to your home life, particularly with kids. Their barrage of questions can be annoying at times. However, that is how they learn. Your patience will help the process.

A MAN LIVED BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD AND SOLD HOT DOGS.

My blog mission statement: “Offer Practical Tips to Small Business Entrepreneurs to Grow their Business Profitably and Fun Thought Provoking Anecdotes.”

Here is one of the anecdotes. I have collected these stories over the years, and I have no idea who created or sent it. If I did, I would surely attribute them to the author.

A Man Lived by the Side of the Road and Sold Hot Dogs.

He was hard of hearing, so he had no radio.

He had trouble with his eyes, so he read no newspapers.

But he sold good hot dogs.

He put up a sign on the highway, telling how good they were.

He stood by the side of the road and cried: “Buy a hot dog, Mister.’

And people bought.

He increased his meat and roll orders.

He bought a bigger stove to take care of his trade.

He got his son home from college to help him.

But then something happened. . .

His son said, ‘Father, haven’t you been listening to the radio? If money stays ‘tight,’ we are bound to have bad business. There may be a big depression coming on. You had better prepare for poor trade.”

Whereupon the father thought, “Well, my son has gone to college. He reads the papers, and he listens to the radio, and he ought to know.”

So the father cut down on his meat and roll orders.

Took down his advertising signs.

And no longer bothered to stand on the highway to sell hot dogs.

And his hot dog sales fell almost overnight.

“You’re right, son,” the father said to the boy.

“We are certainly headed for a depression.”

This story is very applicable in today’s retail economy. Most retailers of all sizes, fearing weak sales in this recession, plan for reduced sales and therefore buy less, particularly in the short holiday season. Therefore, like the hot dog man, their sales will decrease. . .a self fulfilling prophecy. The suppliers know this and most of them keep their inventories on hand low, fearing they will get stuck with them. The opportunity for smart suppliers is to reduce the manufacturing time dramatically so they can quickly supply the retailers with reorders while minimizing the risk.

MYTH – ENTREPRENEURS LOVE RISK

This myth seems to emanate from the media portrayals of entrepreneurs, likening them to old gun slinging, sneering, arrogant cowboys just looking to find and attack risk. My experiences and those of most successful entrepreneurs I’ve met indicate the exact opposite: small business owners with their own money on the line look to minimize, avoid, share, or make risk disappear.

Every time I think of this topic, I’m reminded of Professor Howard Stevenson’s remarks on the subject, essentially saying, “have you ever met an Entrepreneur who wakes up in the morning, bounces out of bed, and says, ‘What a great day! Where can I find risk?’”

I think risk, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. By that I mean that risk looks and is different when viewed by an outsider and an insider. An insider is one with good general business experience, and specific industry expertise. This person does not perceive certain risks because he/she knows their way around the risk minefields that the outsider cannot see. Successful business people do their homework to understand given situations. The more knowledge they bring to bear on a situation, the less risky it is. It’s a little bit like throwing more wood on the camp fire: more and more space around the periphery gets illuminated, and it becomes clear that –at least as far as you can see—there really aren’t any wild animals out there. I like Gourmet Coffee marketer Dennis Boyer’s take on this subject. He says, “I think entrepreneurs have a talent for capitalizing on opportunities that have a lot of perceived risk, but because his math is a little more insightful, those risks aren’t quite the same as those for those who see the situation from the outside.”

That is not to say that there are no business risks out there. Of course there are, but the smart businessperson seeks to identify and understand the risks inherent in a given situation. If the risks are too big and can’t be managed, and the risk/reward ratio is out of line, the good entrepreneur will most often walk away.

I also think many business owners do not delineate between Risk to the Business and Risk to One’s Ego. Risks to the business and the assets behind it are real and should be scrutinized with concern. By Risks to your Ego, I mean fear of being rejected by a potential buyer, loan officer, licensor, or whatever. Those should not be confused with Risk to the Business.

A rejection is not a failure. It should be viewed as an opportunity to learn. Successful entrepreneurs have the self-confidence to face all these ego risks and to put their energies into reducing or avoiding risks to the business.

Answer to Challenge #6:  GEORGE BUSH—He bugs Gore.

FREE SMALL BUSINESSS HELP AT UNIVERSITIES

Following my own advice in my book, Bootstrapping 101, I contacted Len Green, the entrepreneur and professor at Babson College in Boston to see if one of his student teams would be interested in advising me on how to market my book.  

In my book I have a chapter on Universities, explaining how professors in many disciplines prefer to give their students real life assignments. So, I decided to follow my own advice and take a bootstrapping step to bootstrap my own book and ask for University help. As I am self-publishing my own book and have no real Internet experience despite being involved in 16 start-ups, I knew that I could use all the help I could get.  

Len liked the idea so much that he assigned the task to all the students in his two entrepreneurial classes. The end result was that 22 teams of 4 students each aggressively embraced the assignment and wrote up their conclusions.  

Last week I went to Babson and visited the two three-hour classes to hear their pearls of wisdom. It was a very fulfilling, learning, and invigorating experience for me. I was overwhelmed with ideas, most of them Internet related. My Internet knowledge base is now greatly enhanced, but the flip side is that I now know how much I don’t know. . .a lot.   These entrepreneurial students were very smart and enthusiastic. All want to some day start their own businesses, and I was surprised to hear that 7 of them already have.

I was very happy to give back and talk to them about my own experiences on how to start-up and grow a business. Hopefully their knowledge base was also enhanced.    

The answer to Challenge #5 is: PRESBYTERIAN = BEST IN PRAYER  

Challenge #6: Rearrange ALL the letters and use each one only once in the words: GEORGE BUSH to form a new word or phrase that has a bearing on George Bush.

A TWITTER CZAR IS NEEDED. . .to force all members of CONGRESS TO LEARN HOW TO IMPROVE THEIR LISTENING SKILLS which currently are abysmal. This applies to members of both parties.

In a recent post on the importance of good listening, I received a comment from Jeff Hahn, who agrees with my premise on how listening can improve your business success and your personal relationships, Jeff wanted to extend the premise to our elected officials operating out of Washington, DC. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how right Jeff is.

One of my pet peeves is to listen to a Congressional inquiry where the chairman will welcome the invited or subpoenaed guests and say how much they are looking forward to hearing their testimony. Then she/he will talk for 20 minutes with no question offered. Then the baton is passed to a committee member who will talk on for 10 minutes before a question pops up. This goes on and on with all the committee members.

It appears that they think the length of question is equated with wisdom. Maybe that emanates from an early school where many teachers grade higher for the quantity of words offered in a paper. I’m from the school that shorter is better, although harder. A majority of our politicians seem to exemplify the common error in good listening (postulated in our earlier post): their listening capital is expended on thinking of what they are going to say next (talking points) when someone is talking to them. How many times have you heard a politician answer a question, sometimes eloquently, that has no bearing on the question put forth?

So, to help resolve this issue for these important people in our country, I propose a Twitter Czar should be appointed to enforce a 140 word limit on all congressional questions. Their credibility will be enhanced while we citizens’ patience will not be so taxed.

The answer to Challenge #4: A decimal point = I’m a dot in place

Challenge #5: Rearrange all the letters and using each one only once in the word PRESBYTERIAN to form a new word or phrase that has a bearing on Presbyterian.

Leave your thoughts as a comment for the challenge and the answer will be revealed in our next blog.

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