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“Talk the talk”, With Paige Arnof-Fenn Mavens and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Talk the talk — communication is key to all of our community and employee engagement. To stay connected and keep the team on track I try to set the tone upfront with one rule, when in doubt over-communicate. Especially now that everyone is working remotely it is key to set up regular e-mails, video and conference calls. […]

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Talk the talk — communication is key to all of our community and employee engagement. To stay connected and keep the team on track I try to set the tone upfront with one rule, when in doubt over-communicate. Especially now that everyone is working remotely it is key to set up regular e-mails, video and conference calls. Encourage and reward good habits and if the lines of communication are open and everyone makes an effort to listen and be heard then good behavior will happen naturally and flows as a result.


As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paige Arnof-Fenn.

Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and digital branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I am a child of the 60s and 70s who grew up in the Deep South. All 4 of my grandparents were Southerners too, we all lived within a few hours drive when I was a child. I am the oldest of 3 and was always a good student and athlete growing up, responsible and hard working. I went to a girls sports camp every summer for 2 months from age 9–16. From a young age I loved sports, movies, TV and travel. I was an exchange student in France in high school and Italy in college. My family moved when I was in middle school and I am still friends with most of the people I grew up with from school and camp.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I was raised to be responsible, honest, hard working, and confident all great qualities for an entrepreneur. Both my grandfathers were successful entrepreneurs and only one graduated from high school. My dad took a more traditional corporate path and my mom stayed at home and I had always assumed I would. go into business (vs law or medicine) and follow in my dad’s footsteps. After college I took a series of corporate jobs and got an MBA like my father but by my early 30s I knew I had more of the entrepreneurial gene in me so I took the leap and started my company. My parents always supported me to challenge the status quo and question authority when I had done my homework and could make a strong case which is also great training to becoming an entrepreneur. They were also very proud of me and encouraging when my high school guidance counselor told me I needed more back up schools because I was shooting too high for college and I went ahead and applied to my top choices anyway. My mother reminded that man every time she saw him how much I loved going to college at Stanford and getting my MBA at Harvard Business School so I come by my renegade tendencies naturally I guess. My parents seemed to get me when I tried to bend, break or change the rules if I had a solid argument so I learned early on to not stop just because someone says no. That is such an important part of being an entrepreneur and has served me and. my business very well.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

I have been so fortunate to have great mentors, champions and role models throughout my career including former bosses, my father, senior women in organizations where I worked but the person who has always encouraged and supported me as an entrepreneur and has my back every day is my husband. He started a company too so understands the journey of an entrepreneur and has been my sanity check and thinking partner every step of the way. He is both a cheerleader and butt kicker depending on the situation and I trust his judgment and advice because I know he always has my best interests in mind. I am very fortunate to have him in my corner.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

It can be hard to laugh at mistakes but looking back I remember one week early on when I had 3 or 4 talks lined up over a couple of day period so I went from one evening event to a breakfast the next morning to a lunch and evening talk the following day. I enjoy public speaking and get a lot of referrals and business that way. The morning after my final speech I showed up at a meeting with a prospective client along with a few of my colleagues and I realized I was completely out of business cards. I was so embarrassed and my team laughed at me since I always remind them it is important to be professional and prepared all the time. I ended up sending a hand written thank you note to the prospect with my card enclosed and we won the business so I turned my mistake into a good outcome plus I have never run out of business cards again! It is a great lesson in the power of humility, resilience, persistence, manners and having a sense of humor.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Every generation has challenges so even though it is tough now I would encourage them to stay positive and be grateful they are young & healthy and will learn a lot of valuable lessons in this crisis. I graduated in ’91 which was another recession and live to tell the tale. My advice is:

The traits I rely on most are persistence, determination, focus and resilience. Those are the ones that make the biggest difference between success and failure I think because the road in consulting is always uncertain and you know you will have to overcome challenges along the way. You get knocked around often so you have to be able to keep getting back up and trying again with enthusiasm and energy. You have to be driven, focused, intensely curious and always be looking for the next way to make something better, be a good listener to clients, colleagues, feedback, the market to show respect for great ideas, and be a great communicator. With these traits and a strong work ethic you increase the odds to succeed.

Keep learning — Finishing school is not the end of your education, you will be a student for the rest of your life so never stop learning new things. Your education is just starting to get really interesting and the grades don’t matter anymore. Be a sponge for knowledge & enjoy the learning process.

Success is personal and your definition will change over time. That is normal and shows maturity, find what matters to you and don’t worry about anyone else.

I am a big fan of networking. Networking may sound old fashioned in these high tech days but it still works. Most of my business comes from networking. My rule is that you should network in person during the business day and do it online after hours. People do business with people they know, like and trust so you have to get out there to build your reputation online and off. Prospective customers and jobs can come from anyone anywhere anytime so you should always be on your best behavior & make a great lasting impression. Be nice to everyone & make friends before you need them, you never know who is in or will be in a position to help!

I also recommend finding mentors. I have had great mentors and champions throughout my career. In my corporate life I had bosses, senior women or alums from my alma maters who took me under their wings to help me advance and show me the ropes. Good people tend to travel together personally and professionally so finding smart and generous people who can connect you to other like minded people who give more than take and share their wisdom always leads to great opportunities and adventures in my experience.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I love books by and about strong women. Two of my favorites are:

Notorious RBG — Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a national treasure, every woman in this country owes her a huge thank you

Atlas Shrugged — by Ayn Rand

I could not put it down it inspired me and fueled my interest in business in college

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I saw this quote from Angela Davis, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept” and it inspires me to turn my ideas into action. Another great quote is “For it isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” Eleanor Roosevelt said it and it is still true today.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I think every project is exciting! That is the beauty of running your own business, if you are not genuinely excited by the work then you can pass on it. I only take on work that I find interesting and worthwhile. Finding the right words and pictures to tell great stories that attract more customers to our clients’ products and services is incredibly fulfilling. We recently started working with a new COVID-related product that is awaiting approval for Operation Warped Speed and have another one that is a finalist for the X Prize and a health care real estate business about to get going too which is very exciting to be on the cutting edge of the new economy. We continue to conduct market research for a B2B tech companies, build websites for B2B and B2C companies, and creative development for nonprofits. We do anything a marketing department, ad agency, market research shop or PR agency does on an outsourced basis. We have resources in 14 cities in the US and major metro areas overseas. Everyone in the group comes out of industry so our heads and hearts are much more aligned with our clients than a typical agency or consulting firm. We are not professional PowerPoint makers, we have actually done the job as marketing and communication leaders so our recommendations come from having been in our clients’ seats before. We are an extension of their team and spend their money the way they do, not as a vendor so I think that is a compelling angle when they hire us. We do not see marketing as a necessary evil, we believe in the power of great brands and think all organizations regardless of size or budget deserve great marketing advice. Our passion comes through in our tag line and everything we do.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

As a small business owner you are always on and with social media and technology going 24/7 it can be tough at times to stay productive, energized and focused. For me I know when I feel my creative juices drying up or I am often tired or unmotivated it is time to shake things up and I see it in my team too. The key to productivity is to create habits that help you stay fresh and excited without being able to plan a vacation or break to get away from your job. Like most small business owners and entrepreneurs there are never enough hours in the day to fit everything in so when something has to give it is usually time I have allocated for myself to exercise or just relax. A mentor once told me and I have come to appreciate and realize is that to stay sane and be successful “me time” is not a luxury or pampering, it is maintenance! The mentor shared that respecting my time on the calendar is the least I can do for self care.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

My routine has changed since the lockdown began. I am sleeping more (10+ vs 5 hours per night) so am starting my day much later than before. After a morning workout, showering and eating breakfast I am at my desk non stop most of the day now. I think I am more productive and efficient now than I was before, a silver lining in the crisis! By being organized and setting my schedule in advance I find I am actually sleeping more, eating healthier and getting more done in fewer hours now. I have always been a morning person so once I start my day it flies until lunch. I always eat breakfast and like to work out in the mornings to get my day off to a strong start. I feel I have more energy all day when my heart and brain kick right in! It all starts with a great night’s sleep though! Nothing beats a great night’s sleep to be an effective CEO, it works for me. Even if I do not always have balance I am able to integrate my work and my life in a good way.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

! I recommend allocating time on the calendar and take yourself as seriously as you take your most important clients because if I am not at my peak performance I am not going to be useful to anyone else either. I will set aside regular time to recharge my batteries and take better care of myself so that mentally and physically I will be sharp and in the best health possible to set myself up for success. Even if you do not have time for a big vacation, sometimes a long weekend away, a walk outside in fresh air mid day or a trip to the museum or local gallery can be a nice break to hit the refresh button in pinch. Mini-breaks and short vacations can be effective ways to avoid burnout and stay refreshed.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

As a leader you have to set the example. Walk the walk by taking breaks with exercise — I do something active every day to stay healthy and break up the day.

Talk the talk — communication is key to all of our community and employee engagement. To stay connected and keep the team on track I try to set the tone upfront with one rule, when in doubt over-communicate. Especially now that everyone is working remotely it is key to set up regular e-mails, video and conference calls. Encourage and reward good habits and if the lines of communication are open and everyone makes an effort to listen and be heard then good behavior will happen naturally and flows as a result.

Practicing gratitude — I am so grateful we can work productively in home offices now with no commute. Ask others to keep track of what they are grateful for.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

In my experience here are the top practices of people who feel both happy and successful in their lives and careers:

* Our work and personal lives are in synch sharing common values and gives us meaning and purpose.

* We value our time dearly and spend it wisely with people and activities that bring us joy. We will outsource things and spend money to insure we have more time to do what we love with the people we like to be with. We recognize that money comes and goes but time goes one direction only. For me, respecting my time on the calendar is a great place to start..

* We work hard on things we care about and also plan down time to recharge on a regular basis. When not social distancing we savor vacations, sharing meals with family and friends, hobbies, the simplicity of a walk on a beautiful day, a good book or a great conversation.

* We give back and volunteer to help others. We are grateful and appreciate our lives and want to help others achieve their dreams too by sharing our gifts with them. There are so many ways to give back that enrich your life by helping others. I find the more you give the more you get.

* We find ways to laugh often.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

Minimizing distractions is key. Doing things like disconnecting from technology periodically and focusing on cultivating human, face to face relationships (when not social distancing). Even meeting for virtual coffee or drinks can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. and it is a great way to get to know people better, their interests, hobbies, and dreams. I have found that building relationships is what drives my business and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time.

Like most entrepreneurs I work harder and longer than ever before. I have taken many breaks over the years at spas and retreats, off season getaways at ski resorts and even one in Canada. I have come to appreciate that if I do not feel good I am not going to be at my peak performance level for my team or my clients. With technology and social media we are always on today 24/7. All work and no play is just not a sustainable option. To be more productive I try to find creative ways to multi task that incorporates work and exercise. When I worked at large companies they had gyms at the office or groups who walked at lunch but when you are an entrepreneur you have to get creative to find balance. Instead of meeting up with your local colleagues at a coffee shop, over a meal or chatting with them on the phone, meet them for a walk so you can catch up while you are getting some exercise too. You’ll feel great after, the time will fly & it will be a fun activity to share. It works with customers too, I have clients who play golf so sometimes we meet at a driving range instead of the office to discuss things especially when you are trying to think outside the box. A change in venue is always nice and you feel so much better when you are moving and not trapped behind your desk.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Surround yourself with great people whose habits you admire and they will rub off on you in my experience. Read a lot and learn from the best.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

Giving yourself permission to say no. Whether it means sleeping in (no to an alarm clock), meditating, taking a walk, or just turning off your phone and computer (no I will respond later on my own schedule), simple acts of letting yourself relax and enjoy the moment are the very best gifts you can give yourself. You can fill a calendar to stay busy but what matters most is having impact on people’s lives and that has nothing to do with volume of activity, it is about touching people in meaningful ways which may mean being less busy not more.

I learned to knit 5 years ago when a group of girlfriends went to a spa for a getaway for our 50th birthdays and I took a class. I had so much fun that I took another class when I got home and have joined a regular group that meets every week. I’ve knitted several things now I use regularly like scarves, dish towels, etc. and have met some great people. It has been a fun new hobby and has added a lot to my life, it is also very meditative and it really helps me focus and relax. I never had any interest in knitting before but I guess turning 50 made me curious about picking up a new skill and meeting new people. I highly recommend it.

I also recommend Tai Chi, it is great for balance, focus, coordination, relaxation, circulation, breathing, you name it. It is called a moving meditation so you can both relax your mind and focus your energy which really helps me think clearly as a CEO. Looks can be deceiving though it may appear easy but trust me you will feel it after if you do it right. I used to do lots of sports but as you age it can be harder to find groups to play soccer and golf takes up too much time. I do group classes three times a week and practice alone as well. I have even guest taught when the regular backup is away. I know 2 choreographies now and am a bit addicted at times.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Make it a priority, put it on your calendar, set an alarm if that helps, find a coach or a buddy to keep you accountable. Be creative and set goals, reward yourself when you hit them to make it fun.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

When I started my businessI set a goal of working with people I respect and admire for people I want to help succeed. For me, relationships matter. Quality encounters matter. Honesty, consistency, authenticity and integrity matter. The experience and the journey matter a lot too. Focus on what matters to you and get rid of things that don’t. Taking the clutter out of your mind and your life frees up space for more of what you value. Success is very personal so your definition will be — and should be — different than mine. To me, growth for growth’s sake is meaningless, but profitable growth with interesting clients solving important problems is what keeps me engaged and excited. The ability to spend time with people I love and care about is critical. My reputation really matters, and the positive word-of-mouth means a lot to me since almost all of our business comes by referral. So on my rockstar days I have time to be creative and do work my clients value, spend time with people I care about, take time for myself to exercise or be reflective and make time to give back in my community.

There are a lot of successful businesses out there that stay true to their core values and offer great products and services to their customers that they value. When you can create an environment where your employees and customers feel valued and appreciated you can feel proud and know you have a successful business. Look at Spanx, Virgin, Apple, etc. for examples.

It takes effort and a commitment to excellence to continually create flow and improve especially as an entrepreneur and CEO. I do not think there is one silver bullet, I use a combination of reading and learning online and off, attending conferences and talks, networking, newsletters from influencers, TED talks, podcasts, finding mentors and listening to all feedback good and bad. I have found that I learn more from the bad and tough situations in my career than when things go smoothly. I carve out a few hours each week on my calendar for professional development activities to make it a priority. Living in a state of flow takes time and effort. There is no such thing as an overnight success. You make your luck by being prepared to recognize opportunities that appear.

As an entrepreneur there are many ups and downs but most would agree that the excitement and joy of bringing your idea to life is incredibly fulfilling and dealing with the bumps in the road is just part of the adventure. To stay motivated during the rough times I try to maintain perspective by taking good care of myself, getting exercise, seeing friends and family and reminding myself that I can always go back to work for others but when I open the file with all the notes and kudos I have gotten from customers and colleagues with praise and encouragement along with sincere thanks for helping them or making a difference through my business it is just the kick in the pants I need to keep going. Start a file with cards, notes, e-mails, etc. and dust it off when you are down so that you can be reminded of not just who you are and what you do but why you do it. That always works for me!

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to spark a movement or create change through a new (domestic) Peace Corps (2020 version) and suggest we are all in it no application required. We have millions of people unemployed, the largest number in our history. We need our roads and bridges fixed, clean water in our communities, tutors, day care, senior care, census takers, contact tracers, there is no need to pay people to stay home or send them abroad to build infrastructure overseas we need it here right now across all 50 states! We also need peace to prevail and I think if we work together side by side to fix these problems in our communities we will all be on the same team.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I’d choose Michelle Obama I think her perspective and experience will be critical to our future success and she will be part of the solution to many of our problems now. She is smart, kind, and makes things happen. Michelle can be the catalyst that lights the spark on our new path.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

www.MavensAndMoguls.com and https://www.linkedin.com/in/paigearnoffenn

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

Thanks so much it’s been my pleasure!

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