Making the most of any situation

I did a workshop this week in Palermo, Italy for a group of MBA students and startup companies at the ARCA Technology Incubator. Palermo is a fantastic place of chaos, crowds, energy and even innovation.

I once heard a story about an American law professor who was in Italy holding lectures about the American law system. After one of his speeches there were 2 Italian students who approached him and said “Professor – is it true that in America if someone falls down and injures themselves on the sidewalk in front of a building, that the building’s owner is liable and can be sued?”  The Professor answered, “Well, yes, this is true if the owner can be proven to be negligent.” The two men started discussing this fervently amongst themselves in Italian with much waving of the hands and loud voices of enthusiasm. Finally the professor said, “So, would you fellows like to go to America to study Law?”   The Italians answered. “Oh no, no, no. We want to go to America and fall down on sidewalks!”

The Sicilians are champions at adapting and making the most of any situation. Sicily has been invaded and conquered by the Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Muslims, Normans, Catalan, Spanish and perhaps 10 other different empires throughout history. Governments come and go here, but the Sicilians remain. Somehow they make the best of the situation.  The architecture the conquerors left behind is an amazing mix of Gothic, Roman, Greek, Classic, Neo-classic and Tasteless. Most buildings are either in an advanced state of decay or under unorganized reconstruction. The sidewalks are narrow and impassible because there are armadas of small Fiats parked on every available square meter of sidewalk space. If no Fiats, then there are 22 motorbikes piled into a single parking space. The roads are disorganized, chaotic and without any easily visible signs or indications of direction or place. Billboards and garbage everywhere add an ambience that completes the picture. Palermo is hectic and yet somehow still lovely. It has a strange charm that takes some time to sink in. I don’t think that Palermo is really part of the western world. It is more like a third-world country that is disguised as a province of Italy. Silvio Berlusconi and his unique style of leadership was so popular here in the last election that he won 63 of 63 seats in congress. OK, personally owning most of the national media can be a bit helpful.

Amidst all the chaos and the mess, you will find the lovely and friendly people of Sicily.  Few speak English. I just went into the information center at the central train station and the two ancient, gray-haired men working there did not speak a word of English and were mildly irritated with me for wasting their time. Amazing, but if you are polite and try to use some travel-guide Italian phrases you will find that most people are patient, helpful and delighted to be of assistance. You will also find many smart researchers, scientists and professors in the technology centers.

Making the best of any situation is a useful skill, both for Sicilians and for entrepreneurs.

More Serial Entrepreneurs?

Yesterday I led a workshop for 20 young entrepreneurs in Dusseldorf, Germany. I asked them if they knew the expression “serial entrepreneurs”. Few did.  I asked if they knew the term “serial killers”. Yes. They all had watched enough TV crime shows to understand that term.

OK, so I challenged them to learn to become “serial entrepreneurs”. A serial killer commits one murder after another. A serial entrepreneur completes one startup and then immediately starts to dream about the next. Call this an illness or call it a calling in life. Some people just get it. Some people just don’t. Some people love the ability to convert an idea into a plan, a plan into a team, a team into a business, and a business into something of immense value and social change. Others just don’t understand the motivation that is needed to do this.

The workshop was the start of an 8-month program where 15 selected technology companies from the North Rhine Westphalia region will get special help, assistance, coaching and individual follow-up from experienced entrepreneurs and investors. In one way, this is a grand experiment. Just like young plants need special care and nutrients in order to grow quickly, this program seeks to nurture and to fertilize the environment where these 15 young companies will grow. The Dusseldorf region is a fertile growing ground. We are trying to make it even more so.

We need more serial entrepreneurs. We need more people who have learned how to start and build small businesses. We need more people that know how to write business plans and then how to raise capital to realize their dreams. We need more people who are willing to take risks and we need political systems that reward people who take initiative and create value.  The most important and vibrant part of any growing economy is the grassroots of startup companies that spring forth on their own.  Nurture them.

Want to turn-around your business and achieve results in record time? Contact me to discuss Executive Coaching, Group Facilitation and Management for Hire services for technology companies. You can learn more at www.ricksalmon.comwww.xelerator.com and at www.e-unlimited.com.

Rick Salmon is an energetic entrepreneur who lives in Norway and believes that European startup companies can succeed and grow quickly if only they get the proper help and assistance. Subscribe to this newsletter/blog to receive frequent updates and tips.

Fake It or Be Yourself?

Years ago I heard a great story about networking. It came from an investor who had a different strategy than most. He was part of a delegation of US businessmen who were going to travel to Japan to setup new business relationships. Most of them attended a class where they learned about Japanese customs, etiquette and manners. They learned how to bow, how to present their business cards with two hands and a shallow nod, how to toast sake wine, etc.  The investor ignored these classes. He went out and purchased a giant box of big cowboy hats and took it with him to Japan. While all the others were busy trying to act like good Japanese, he would reach into his box, grab a cowboy hat, stuff it over the ears of the little Japanese businessman, grab his hand and shake him like a tree branch while exclaiming loudly “Howdy there Pardner! Niiice to meet ya’ll!”.  Guess who came home from the trip with the most business?  Guess whom the Japanese businessmen probably still remember?

Dare to be yourself. Sometimes we are so intent on pleasing the people we meet that we forget to be who we are. Good networking skills involve being very specific, clear and intentional in how you present yourself or your business, but mostly it involves being yourself.

I do a lot of work with entrepreneurs where we seek to clarify their message. We work in order to develop a brief Elevator Pitch message that is easy to remember yet addresses the specific wants of the investors or business partners they seek. Note that I say “want”, and not “need”. We buy our wants, not always our needs. For example, I need basic car transportation, but I really want a shiny little sports car. Communicating who you are in a manner that touches on the wants of your audience will help you improve your networking tremendously.

I met another person who introduced himself as a detective. Since he did not say anything more, I was puzzled. I asked what kind of detective. He answered “an existential detective”. I was even more puzzled. I asked how that could be. OK, he smiled and told me he was a priest and that his job was to help people find answers to life’s big existential questions. To this day I have forgotten the names of many other priests yet I still remember this one. Find a way to present yourself that helps others to remember you and to easily understand what you do, who you are and what you are looking for.

And have some fun too!

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.  ~Judy Garland

Want to turn-around your business and achieve results in record time? Contact me to discuss Executive Coaching, Group Facilitation and Management for Hire services for technology companies. You can learn more at www.ricksalmon.comwww.xelerator.com and at www.e-unlimited.com.

Rick Salmon is an energetic entrepreneur who lives in Norway and believes that European startup companies can succeed and grow quickly if only they get the proper help and assistance. Subscribe to this newsletter/blog to receive frequent updates and tips.