Remembering Your #1

Honesty was on my mind a few weeks ago. It stuck with me. Turning it back on myself I realize there's a confession I should make. Now, I'm not Catholic so I've never really done this before. Bear with me.

The thing is...

I'm an idealist. One of the things that drives me the most is impact. Empowering people is a huge part of my life. I'm an idealist that wears a business blanket around her. I love making people and organizations more effective, happier and just better people. Or groups of people. I love taking this mushy stuff like intuition, empowerment, learning and making it tangible and accessible so that things happen.

You know, strong companies, more effective people. All that stuff that lives in the real world. 

My end game? Results. I am driven by tangible things like deadlines, results, impact and anything you can count. I just start with a bit of good old fashioned idealism.

Now the confession starts to get really good
Somewhere between worrying about makin' the donuts and paying those bills there was a time when I lost a little of that part of myself. Not "I'm gonna die in the jungle lost." Just enough to make me a wee bit well, less me. And I believe we're all our most effective when we're truly ourselves. It's actually ironic given one of my favorite quotes:

If you ask me what I came here to do I will tell you. I came to live out loud.

                                                                                                              Emile Zola

The slow leaking away of this part of myself wasn't obvious for a while. Over time I just became a bit stiff. And unlike myself. I started focusing only on results--not the way to get there. Misalignment starting showing up in my life at times. Things got harder and just didn't seem to work as well as they had before.

Why did I lose it? There are the usual suspects but the biggest reason is that I focused on the wrong goal. I had this idea that my main goal in life was to make money and pay my bills. Yes, those are realities. But focusing on them for me were akin to being on a hamster wheel where the object became keeping that cycle going. It was a gradual slipping away and a gradual awakening. Then there was a day when I just decided it was time to change my focus. I chose a deeper, more sustainable goal. That focus? To be myself. Idealist and all.

Allowing my natural preferences and my vision to guide me actually helped me find better opportunities are truly aligned with who I am. It's also given me much more stability in the good old financial department. Huh. Fancy that.

We all lose our way sometimes

There's lots of pressure around results and that sometimes means we drop a little part of ourselves along the results highway. We
forget that it's actually one of the fastest ways to results.

I see startups do this all the time as they grasp for their early clients. Growing companies can fall into this trap as they seek to keep the ground they've gained. As a CEO of a scrappy little startup it can be easy to get caught up in all those darn logistics and lose sight of your vision. For me, finding my way back wasn't like waking up on pile of soft pillows and I had to make some real choices but once I got there it felt amazing. To live any other way is well, just kind of crazy.

So tell me.

What part of yourself or your company have you dropped off on the side of the results highway? 

And how will you pick it back up?

Themes, Not Resolutions

Resolutions became extinct for me a number of years ago. I got tired of laying out sky high goals in a NYE champagne induced fever. That never worked out. Shocked right? Instead I started doing a Theme for the year. This set my intention and focused me without setting unattainable resolutions that only served to make me feel worse about myself when I didn't reach them. Please understand. I'm not criticizing you if you make resolutions. I know they work for some people. It's just that through my work as an Org/Biz Strategist and Executive Coach I've spent a lot of time helping people create intentions and set goals. I've watched lots (I mean crowds) of people fail at this. In order to reach your goals you need to follow the SMART rule: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-boxed. This is when resolutions are most effective. But what if you want to create a more encompassing transformation? This is where setting a Theme (or Word) for the year works far better.

How does setting a Theme work?

I think back about the previous year--what I've transformed and what I'm still longing for. I then come up with a few words that articulate the transformation I'm looking for in the coming year. Usually I start with a couple and then one emerges as the clear winner. Let me give you some examples to illustrate this a bit better. Here are a few of the words I chose for the past year.

2005: Money (self-explanatory)

2oo6: Grown-up (also pretty explanatory)

2007: Love (self and otherwise)

2008: Focus (how I used my energy, thoughts & time)

2009: Freedom

2010: Align

Photo Note: The sign in the photo was made by a dear friend who wanted to give me a reminder of my align theme last year. I highly recommend reminders of the visual and other sort.

Doing a Theme for the year has allowed me to create amazing experiences and growth. When I look back at each year I am amazing and all the transformation. It feels good.

Repeat after me. Themes, not Resolutions. Ready, Set...Transform!

Good Boundary. Good Boundary.

Boundaries are very good things. They delineate what's ok and what isn't. I always like to say that everyone (adults, children, dogs) needs boundaries. It lets them know where the line is for what's acceptable. It makes them feel safe. And in some cases, actually makes them safe. In my work I see many companies with organizational and/or business issues where the lack of strong, articulated boundaries were the culprit. In some cases they didn't have enough business experience to know what kind to set. In other cases, they had boundaries they wanted to set but didn't for fear of losing clients or valued staff. Or worse? They set boundaries but then didn't enforce them. This eroded their credibility and built distrust because others didn't know what to expect of them. This = not good. The founders became frustrated. Left to the whims of others. And? The business was less profitable.

An epic fail.

When Boundaries are Bad I'm having a hard time coming up with a time when at least some basic boundaries aren't good. One of my friends, thinks that not all boundaries are good. Especially in extreme sports.

I think what he's actually talking about are limits. These, I think, are different than boundaries. You set limits for yourself but boundaries for others. When I've been in extreme situations I still have limits. For example, on my first hike up two 14ers in a day my limits were mostly around altitude issues.

If my lungs rattled, down I went.

If I started getting sick to my stomach, it meant stop.

Getting a little frustrated or scared meant I still continued forward. That's how I got to the top of the mountains safely. I saw some people coming down the mountain who were just wrecked. They either didn't have limits or, had pushed way past them. I kept thinking we might see a Medevac on the mountain. Not good. Note: The fabulous jumpers in the photo are my friends Betsy Doughty and Emma Nicoletti participating in the Warrior Dash, an extreme running/obstacle course event. Their limit was sticking together through the entire course. They did and both came through the course with their well-being intact.

Although these examples are from the sporting world, it applies to the professional as well. An example is having a limit around how much money and time you're willing to pump into your business as a new entrepreneur. As I mused on this topic there was a pretty furious volley going on about boundaries on Twitter. Here are some of the juicy tidbits:

@iamkendal: area of life tends to reflect others. Even in the extreme sports context, there's more going on.

@heizusan: I keep my boundaries very broad, but iron-clad steel. You get lots of wiggle room, but 0 tolerance for "leaving the premises".

@campsteve: People who say they don't have boundaries don't know themselves.

I agree with @campsteve's comment. And? It's also true about limits. You have to know yourself. Know what's ok. And...what's not. To know that you actually have needs that need to be respected in your business, your relationships and with yourself.

If you don't have boundaries and limits you'll get hurt in life--metaphorically and literally. The lack of the them can breed frustration and conflict with others if they're not well set AND articulated.  Pretending you don't have boundaries or repeatedly ignoring them will raise your cortisol levels. Otherwise known as the stress hormone, elevated levels of cortisol are associated with a weakened immune system, impaired brain function among other yucky stuff you don't want.

Save yourself from inner and outer conflict and just set some boundaries and limits. Your business will thank you. Your friends, family and colleagues will thank you. Your soul will thank you.

The Equation

Being an engineer, my dad's pretty much a math genius so even though I'm not I like to express things in terms of equations. So for the math nerds out there here it is:

Boundaries = well-articulated external rules for others

Limits = clear internal rules for yourself

Boundaries + Limits = a well-articulated business and life that supports you. And that = happiness in my book. Without boundaries and limits, life is just a roll of the die.

What kind of boundaries do you have?

What limits do you set for yourself?

On My Mind Monday (2nd ed.)

Ok, ok. I know for most of you it's not Monday. Even though it's Tuesday I'm posting this because I was away in Santa Fe this weekend and just got back yesterday so today is my Monday.  On to the stuff I found interesting this week... Chris Brogan: Not Time Management Why: This is actually a vlog post. I included it because he makes a simple but really important point about the biggest key to managing our time.

Reuters: If Women are Good at Running Businesses Why Does it Take Them Longer to Start One? Why: As a female entrepreneur I'm always fascinated with this topic. And? It points out how the "system" can adjust to suit potential entrepreneurs just a tad outside the traditional profile.

New York Times: But Will it Make You Happy? Why: Happiness is always a fun topic. It also talks indirectly about a topic I'm very interested in: simplicity vs. minimalism.

Home Grown: Earthship Biotecture Why: This weekend I had the opportunity to visit the original Earthship community just outside of Taos. When I was going to get my PhD I studied environmental risks and community response to it so sustainability is a topic that's always close to my heart. The photos below are of completed and still in the works Earthships.


Choosing a City for Your Startup

It's investor day today for TechStars companies. The latest crop of companies from this mentorship-driven seed stage investment program was impressive. That's Josh Fraser introducing Adstruc who have a pretty brilliant idea that's sure to have an impact in the outdoor ad industry. Some of the founders for those companies are from Boulder (like Spot Influence) while others came here specifically for the TechStars program (such as Adstruc who are from New York--a billboard & advertising mecca. Which of course, is a natural fit for their company). just came out with the results for their survey on the best cities for young entrepreneurs. The list included the usual suspects that appear on many "best of" lists.  Chicago, Seattle, New York and the like. While some of the choices are dead on I disagree with some of their choices. And, more importantly. Their methodology.  This got me to thinking about how to choose a city for your startup.

Choose Your Criteria Wisely

The criteria they include on this survey include: resources available, schools, social atmosphere, weather and networking opportunities. While these are good things to think about there are some other things they're missing. For example: What is the climate like for entrepreneurial ventures? What is the city known for industry-wise?  They're also missing the boat on what's going to make an new entrepreneur successful.

Let's take my former hometown as an example. Chicago may be a very large city with lots of fun things to do. I know. I lived there for 12 years. Is Michigan Avenue with its expensive stores really going to be a draw for a debt-ladden/low or no income entrepreneur? Are they going to be lounging on the shores of Lake Michigan? Somehow I doubt it. This is probably good information for say an under 30 professional but less so for someone who's running and gunning to get a new business off the ground.

Yes, But What Kind of Startup?

The kind of business you want to start is key in making the "What city should I start my company in?" decision. Let's go back to the previous example. Chicago is well suited for professionals who like large companies--in fact many have their headquarters there including Kraft, Boeing, Sears and the like. The biggies there are financial services, management consulting and pharma. Now if your startup directly serves those industries by all means--go there. Starting a professional services firm? Yes. A technology startup? Not so much. There just isn't a large community there for it.  Deanna and Brett, former Chicagoans moved to Boulder to go through the TechStars program with Rent Monitor. And they're staying.

For the tech startup world I'm gonna go with the Bay area (natch), Austin or my current hometown of Boulder.  Why? They're magnets for some of the best technical minds in the our country.  You're more likely to find people with money to spend on these ventures there.  And? They all have great indicators for quality of life: easy access to the outdoors, good weather and a high concentration of smart, educated folks. From the 2010 TechStar class, Boulder's own RoundPegg is a good example of a company that's a good fit with a city with a high concentration of tech talent AND all the amenities that attracts good talent.


One size really doesn't fit all when it comes to making a huge decision like deciding where to found a startup venture. A big city isn't necessarily better than a small one. Bars, beaches and boutiques probably shouldn't be a big part of the decision making criteria for an entrepreneur. In order to be truly useful you need to identify the right criteria to get the most pertinent information.

Other things entrepreneurs need to consider in selecting a city:

  • Amount of entrepreneurs in the area. (indicates support you may receive from other entrepreneurs and the community)
  • Access to venture capital, angel investors and other funding options.
  • The presence of incubators and mentorship-driven seed programs like TechStars.
  • Where your co-founder is located and wants to be located. (because co-located teams can be difficult in the early stages)

And one that is hard to quantify but incredibly important: Does it feel like a city that I can thrive in?

What do you think makes a city a good choice for an entrepreneur?