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The Zen of My Company

Free your mind and your venture will follow

Close to a year ago I started a company called Next For Me. We publish newsletters and resources for my 50+ generation. We also host public and private events across the country to discuss work, financial health, our communities, and what’s next.

I’ve been chronicling the creation and roadmap from the first year. It’s been such a useful exercise to write very regularly about what I’m doing. The discipline of articulating what you’re doing as precisely as you can elevates the day to day work. Put another way, it’s something you’ve already visited by writing, picturing it and seeing what it feels like.

There I go.

For me, at least, the process of throwing something new into the world is a gesture that has your reputation, ethics and core beliefs attached.

As I’ve written these stories I’ve found some recurring themes that were not so tactical, but were more philosophical, such as open-mindedness, intuition, transformation, etc. It’s not all as ‘head in the clouds’ as it may sound. At the other end of this philosophy lives common sense, but common sense that is guided by a stated standard of responsibility.

It has helped to have some guiding principles in place as a measure and test for our work. Does it meet the test? If not, goodbye, and we haven’t wasted our time.

If you’ve taken the plunge to do something you’ve never done before, here are some simple approaches to make you think as big as you like.

As You Begin Open Your Mind

Open mindedness suggests that you can zoom in and out of focus or clear the noggin out entirely. Just as in meditation, where you only acknowledge thoughts but don’t hang onto them. The result is your mind opens to what is here, now. Or as Suzuki called it “Beginner’s Mind” Where everything is possible.

Try this. Visualize and articulate what you’re doing and imagine how it turns out in the future. What does it feel like and look like if you successfully execute it? When an opportunity shows up at your door will you recognize it? If you’ve seen the ‘beyond-your-wildest-dreams’ end result Ms. Opportunity might already have a seat at the table. You were just waiting for her.

You can also fool the mind to think in a way you wouldn’t have otherwise. Use tricks of perception and exercises to put constraints or new parameters around your work. One of the most accessible tools for this was developed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt: Oblique Strategies. It’s a series of cards made to shift the approach to a creative endeavor. For example, “Use an old idea.”, or “work at a different speed”, etc.

With practice you can zoom in and out of with these exercises, leaving some nuggets of value and then apply them to your thinking and strategy.

Knowing What You Stand For

Here’s how this all stacks up. Imagine the top of a pyramid where your vision lives. Here’s ours:

“Next For Me is a Catalyst for People in Transition.”

That’s pretty aspirational.

The guiding principles are next, and are a guide to how you behave and the intent of what you will build to get there. Think statements such as: We are transparent; We choose to work with environmentally friendly organizations; We are open to other points of view; and the infamous from Google “Do No Evil.”

The agility to be this open requires some comfort with change and the unknown. When I interviewed David Allen last year we spoke about continuous transformation. This is one of the hardest ideas for our western minds to accept. We’ve been programmed to go through well-defined transitions in life, college, career, family, and retirement, but there are no rituals or training about how to transform into something that isn’t fully defined yet. David said:

When you’re in a transition mode, especially when faced with unexpected change, you can rethink “What is it I’m doing?” It’s a good time to write it down or draw it. Doing that shakes people up.

Who You Play With

And now for people. Only associate yourself with those who share your values. The relationships and partnerships that you forge have just got to align with your principles. Otherwise, as the saying goes, “when you play in doo doo you get it on you.” Bad relationship choices tend to linger and will become part of who you are.

While You’re Doing It

You’ll get so busy so quickly that you’ll be in the act of doing all the time. Schedule reminders to revisit how and why you’re doing what you’re doing. This is a good time to incorporate writing and connecting with people who have disparate points of view.

Write about what you’re doing.

I’ll admit having a deadline combined with the nerve-wracking thrill of putting myself out in the world has nudged me to take the time to write.

To get clear after a day or two of info-rich meetings and activity, I’ll just write it out, give it structure, make it actionable, and select a picture to bring the story to life. Then I clean it up enough to publish and BOOM! I got inside of those projects in a way I wouldn’t have if I was just in doing mode.

Writing is good. Communicating with humans is better.

Part of the work of building something new happens alone. Some days it’s just me, a keyboard and a phone. You can get a pretty narrow view operating like that.

I use every conversation I’m having as a test run for our story. Because we are keeping an open mind, remember, that story can evolve all the time. Testing the responses, adjusting and telling it again.

We also speak with our audiences continuously. We find ways to get them together and then we listen and participate in a dialog with them. In fact, that has become part of what we do. It’s not just a good research tool. A welcoming, safe community is what we kept hearing was at the heart of the needs for our audience. So, we are making that possible and learning so much about them in the process.

You may not need to form a vast community of your customers, but if you’re making something or selling something to them, you absolutely must talk to them regularly.

Endurance

Now that you know where you stand in the world and have a few tricks to creatively think more broadly, it’s time to get to work. Here are some tips to stay standing long enough to see if you can get any traction without selling out your core beliefs.

If you do as much as you can without spending somebody else’s money your decisions will be more carefully considered. Frugality also releases creative constraints and workarounds that expose new opportunities that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

A good question to ask yourself when you are thinking about bringing financial partners into your venture is:

Who do I want to be beholden to?

Often, if you go beyond your network of friends and family, the agenda of the investor can be very different from yours. It can be the most strategic decision you’ll make. The dynamic will change as the ink is drying on the contract.

Partnerships are a great way to maximize and multiply your efforts. A like-minded partner can share their resources and network, as will you. You can make and publicize things together. The media is multiplied and it delivers an exponentially greater return than if you were operating separately. Again, be sure they are aligned with your vision and principles.

While you are talking to everybody and their brother about what you’re doing, the networking should be in hyperdrive. Expand your world with everybody working in your area of focus.

People are amazing and want to help.

If you are open to possibilities and run a gut-check, consider working with a growing list of partners. Be in a giving mood too.

We have the benefit of being a publisher, so we are more than happy to write about what our new friends are doing. They are aligned after-all. The truth is, today everybody is a publisher or should be. Choose your flavor(s) but having a presence on the internet is a requirement for most businesses. Get to writing and podcasting in a magnificent sharing tornado.

Just Do It Yourself

Continuous learning is part of the mix too. Roll up your sleeves. There will be many times when there is nobody around to crop that image in Photoshop, or budget the dwindling money, or talk to the internet service provider.

I have had hilarious conversations with myself about how I couldn’t move this or that forward because I didn’t know how to do one piece of it. Get over that. Figure it out or call a friend, or there you shall hang awaiting a nonexistent resource.

Easy On The Dependencies

Just like other people’s money, you should take a careful look at the dependencies you have or plan to enter into. For example, we have an evolving belief that depending on Facebook as a publishing partner is not a good idea. They change their terms with publishers regularly and entire enterprises have tumbled when Facebook did whatever they wanted. Do you want to be dependent on that moving target?

Here’s a test: State the following: I’m am dependent on x. What risks do I have if things change? How much power does that dependency have in our success? You don’t want to be dependent on the wrong money, wrong partner or resource. You want to be as independent as you can be.

Sell It

Finally, to endure, and this sounds so obvious, you need to be out there selling your product. Do you know what it even is? Can you speak about it as freely as you do your high-minded ideals? It’s the most important thing you can do to support your vision, principles, independence and ultimate outcomes.

Take a deep breath

You don’t have to rethink the way you do things all at once (or listen to my advice at all for that matter). Throw one or more of these techniques into your mix. They can be a lot of fun. And, if you use the benchmark of some guiding principles, you’ll know what you are doing aligns with your vision.

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- MARCUS AURELIUS

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