Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Beware the Negative Ninny

 

Negative Ninnies are Disguised

Negative Ninnies are Disguised

I had to google “What is a Ninny” to be sure the title was ok. It is. Urban dictionary says a ninny is short for a nincompoop, so yeah that works. You can pretty much define that how it sounds like it should be defined.

You may have noticed that there are people in the world who are quite negative but they don’t realize it. In fact, they often believe they are fun, positive, happy people. They may even fool you into thinking they are laid back, jovial, and a positive influence on you and others around them.  But be careful.

One way you may detect a negative ninny when after you leave their company is that you can’t recall anything positive or meaningful that you talked about together. You didn’t have any good conversation about people around you, about optimistic futures of yourselves, organizations around you, or society in general.   You may have laughed the whole time, you may have been all smiles in your time together, but in the end of the time together, not much good, productive, healthy time can be accounted for.

Your time together is usually good fun… actually, it’s a ton of fun, but it’s probably not sustainable. What is it really accomplishing?  Often, this fun natured humor is at the expense of talking about things that really matter. Sometimes it is even used to cover up something deep down that is really bothering the person. It can be a coping mechanism.  If it’s someone you care about, perhaps you want to try and dig a little deeper to see if you can get beyond the class clown act. But many times, that won’t get you very far with a thick and established Neg Ninny.

The mentors, advisors, and authors that I admire most all say the same thing about negative people. Avoid them.  Don’t try to change them, don’t argue, don’t be sucked into the complaints about the world (even if they are masked with laughter)– go do your own thing. Make the world a better place. Make your world a better place.

 

Slow Music, Slow Mind, Fast Feet

 

Peachtree City Running - Golf Cart Trails

PTC Running Trails (at Battery Park by Lake Peachtree)

Sunday morning runs are my favorite. I go as early as I can stand, usually before daylight. I usually schedule these to be my long and fast runs. They are good hard workouts.   I love sitting in church later in the morning with legs aching. I feel like I give my whole body a workout on Sunday mornings– all the important stuff gets pushed.

I may have mentioned in past posts that I’m a music runner. I need music when I’m running. Occasionally I can do a book from Audible.com, but only if it’s a subject that excites me. No business books.  95% of the time though, it’s music for me.

I can’t do the hard/loud/fast music for very long. My feet try to keep up and I end up exhausting myself too early and have a miserable workout. For these long Sunday morning runs though, I’ve found that the slower, more mellow, more relaxed my soundtrack, the harder, faster, and more energy my legs have. It’s an awesome feeling. Laid back acoustic guitars while my feet are cruising through the trails in Peachtree City is an awesome juxtaposition of mental states.  My mind is quiet. My legs hurt and its great. Thoughts are clear. Long-term focus, big-picture perspective becomes available to me, and it gives me the mental capacity to push the body to levels that I can’t otherwise achieve.

When the music gets slow and mellow, the body starts happening in synch. There is rhythm, and it is good.

And I am happy.

 

 

When Taking Advice I Skip the Surface Layer

Entrepreneurs- Advice on Taking Advice

 

I was talking to a very successful young entrepreneur recently and he made a comment that was interesting. He said:

Early in my career, if someone gave me advice to do something differently, I would almost always take it and do exactly as they proposed. But as I matured, I realize I have my own style, and when I embrace it I am much more effective.

This is a good point. All of us, but entrepreneurs especially surround themselves with people who will give advice. This is a good practice. We need input from the outside.  Coaches, mentors, advisors, investors, family, board members, parents, friends, competitors, customers, employees, managers, and especially friends… they are all sources of plentiful advice for most entrepreneurs.

BUT…

The magic in leveraging advice is to couple it with your own self-awareness, strengths, and confidence in yourself. 

For me, advice is most valuable when I peel back several layers and find the valuable point, principle, or concept that was behind the surface.  A few layers of “why” and you will probably get to a point that you can use and apply to your own style and strengths rather than taking the surface layer as literal advice.

 

Before Effectiveness comes Happiness

 

Seven Habits for EntrepreneursI am re-reading Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and wow, what a difference in reading it at the age of 33 vs the age of 18!    I received it from my Uncle as a graduation gift from high school. I remember reading it “sort of” but it didn’t have much of an impact on me at the time. I took a few good ideas that have stuck with me (like Sharpen the Saw), but the true depth of the book was hidden from me at that age.  And now, wow, I think it’s one of the most important books I’ve read in a while.  I’m only half way through my re-read, but I just couldn’t wait to post this thought.

What strikes me the most is that book is framed as a tool to become effective, but I propose that you could unilaterally change the word “effective” to “happy” and the book would have the same powerful meaning and value.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how organizations can help their constituents be happier. I see that companies are doing a lot to find their WHY, to build their organizational core values, to build a great company culture; but I’m not sure it’s all working to achieve happiness for the individuals in the organization.   Isn’t happiness the true goal in all of that? Isn’t an individual who is truly happy going to be a better employee, a more satisfied customer, a stronger leader, a more productive anything?

It seems that true individual happiness is the holy grail of organizational culture.  With it, everything else will hum along.

I think the Seven Habits book has a lot to say about happiness. The principles that are at the center of your own individual life– your Personal Creed, your personal core values, your priorities, being intentional — these are things that determine whether you will be happy in life, which ultimately lead to your effectiveness as a human being.

Happy people are effective people.  

And, by the way, I don’t think anyone could argue against the statement: Unhappy people are ineffective people. 

 

 

Easy Swing, Baby. Easy Swing.

 

Bubba Golf

Bubba Golf

During this holiday week I have been hitting a lot of golf balls. So yes, it’s a blessing and a wonderful week to be playing that stupid, frustrating, terrible, humbling, demeaning, crazy, moronic game.

The more I work on my swing, the more a I tweak, the more frustrated I get trying to fix problems… the more I forget the fundamentals.   For me the fundamentals in my head that help me get it back together are

“Head down. Easy swing.”

The head down part is easy to fix but you golfers know that when you are frustrated, it can be really, really hard to swing easy. Mind overcoming body is so hard when mind is so tightly wound up!

Unfortunately, I (and many others) have the same challenges in entrepreneurship. When I get frustrated that things aren’t moving as fast, or the sales calls keep slicing into the woods, my tendency is to swing harder and keep tweaking.   When in reality, we can fix the issue with our head down and an easy swing. Relax. Slow down.

Easy swing, baby. Easy swing.

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PS. The same lesson applies to my relationship with this blog. You may notice my frequency of posts varies lately. Some weeks I’ve posted 4, and some 1. I’ve decided that I will absolutely not force a post. I will only post when I have goodies to share.  No goodies, no post. Lots of goodies, lots of posts. So forgive the unpredictability, but I hope it will pay off in quality.    Easy swing baby.

 

Advice from Arthur Blank

 

Arthur Blank, Entrepreneur, Falcons Owner

Arthur Blank, Entrepreneur, Falcons Owner

This past Sunday, I attended an Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) Atlanta gathering at the Georgia Dome.   EO hired a couple of NFL teams to play a little game for us, and invited 71,228 of our closest friends to come too. It was a good time.   The best part of the day was spending time with Arthur Blank in an intimate Q&A tailgate session before the game. The questions were good and Mr. Blank’s answers were great.

My favorite question was about preparation, measuring success and his role as the owner. He said that his goal is that in the summer prediction season he wants the Falcons to be consistently considered the Top 5 powerhouses in the league.

This struck me. I thought that the last thing he would care about is preseason predictions. But as Mr. Blank puts it: the owner’s job is to be sure he has the right people doing the right jobs.  If you let people do their jobs and have trust and respect for them, the rest will take care of itself. If you have done that and you have shown that these people can deliver, the world will know you are for real. Then it’s up to the team to deliver.

Such a huge entrepreneurial lesson here for all leaders — getting the right people in the right jobs is hands down the most important thing you will do.

 

Double Meaning.

 

Hammock between palm trees on tropical beach

Time is Money. Slow down.

Time is Money.

We most commonly use this phrase to remind ourselves not to waste time. To be productive. To remember that you can use time to make money.

But the other side is this: to make bigger money it takes more time. Every B2B sales guy knows that bigger deals are slower. The bigger an investment deal, the longer it takes. The bigger the salary, the longer it takes to fill the position.  To seek out big money, requires investing big time.

But how do we balance the two meanings?  How do we go slower, searching for the big money without feeling like we are wasting time.  I think the answer lies in prioritization and awareness. Prioritization is easy. Be sure you are first taking care of the most important things, then the less important tasks.   Awareness (or orientation) means understanding where you are in the process or pursuit of bigger things.  If you are growing a company, keep in mind that winning or losing one big deal this week/month/year is big, but it’s just part of a larger picture. If you are making investments and building big things, the process is usually focused on building relationships first and deals second. If you are looking for the right person to fill a big spot, realize that finding big success takes feeding relationships over a long period of time.

For me personally, here’s the new version of the saying that I am now adopting for myself:

Time is money. Slow down.

 

Some Nights by Fun – Powerful Messaging about Today’s Young People

 

This song and this video. Wow. I’ve been hearing the song on the radio for a while, but had not paid attention to the words until recently. I knew I loved the music and the feeling, but until I found this video, I had no idea the true power of this song. Take a watch (and turn it up!!):

I’m also pasting some of the lyrics below in this post, but here is what I take from this song: I believe this is reiterating what a lot of people out here are saying.

The generation this song is written for doesn’t know what they are fighting for.

They know they are fired up, they know that their time is here to make an impact on the world. They have more tools than any generation has ever had to communicate, to persuade  to succeed, to make good changes, to help society, and to help individuals.

But they don’t have a WHY.

It is powerful imagery to see these young men fighting each other in the Civil War, killing fellow Americans, and then questioning Why the hell they are doing it. What a heavy burden they had to live with. To compare that to the struggles we are faced with today is both inspiring and troubling. I suppose for me personally, it just speaks to the work of Simon Sinek, Tommy Newberry, Stephen Covey, and so many others that are out there helping people discover their WHY. We have the tools to do our best work, but we need the quiet time to know what our best work should really be all about. That’s what I call gumption, by the way.

If you think about this song too much, you may find it depressing, as I did at first. But I encourage you to take it as a challenge to find someone you can help figure out what they stand for.

And start by figuring out what you stand for.

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LYRICS to Some Nights by Fun.

Some nights, I stay up cashing in my bad luck
Some nights, I call it a draw
Some nights, I wish that my lips could build a castle
Some nights, I wish they’d just fall off


Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for oh
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?

Most nights, I don’t know anymore…


This is it, boys, this is war – what are we waiting for?Why don’t we break the rules already?
I was never one to believe the hype – save that for the black and white
I try twice as hard and I’m half as liked, but here they come again to jack my style

Well, some nights, I wish that this all would end
Cause I could use some friends for a change

And some nights, I’m scared you’ll forget me again
Some nights, I always win, I always win…

So this is it? I sold my soul for this?
Washed my hands of God for this?

I miss my mom and dad for this?
(Come on)

No. When I see stars, when I see, when I see stars, that’s all they are
When I hear songs, they sound like this one, so come on
Oh, come on. Oh, come on, OH COME ON!
Well, that is it guys, that is all – five minutes in and I’m bored again
Ten years of this, I’m not sure if anybody understands
This one is not for the folks at home; Sorry to leave, mom, I had to go
Who the fuck wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?

The other night, you wouldn’t believe the dream I just had about you and me
I called you up, but we’d both agree
It’s for the best you didn’t listen
It’s for the best we get our distance… oh…
It’s for the best you didn’t listen
It’s for the best we get our distance… oh…

 

 

My Response to Knuckleheads on the Topic of Networking

Meeting New People

For the past 6-months I’ve been averaging 3 to 4 new relationships in the Atlanta business community each week.

Four has become my minimum goal.  It’s an easy one. I attend regular events like Chamber events, EO events, Local Conferences, Church eventsVenture Atlanta, Startup Lounge, ATDC, TAG, GA Tech events, Football games, even Cub Scout events with other moms and dads, Fundraisers are good too.       That’s where the Top of the Funnel happens.

At these events, the “meeting four people” goal can usually be knocked out in a single night. However, I don’t stop at just meeting people, I want to get to know them. I count any extended conversation (20 minutes or more) as getting to know someone.  Often I meet them over lunch, or coffee or a beer-thirty get together, but many times I also spend quality time on the phone with new people (so long as we’ve both blocked out at least 60 minutes to chat, I consider this a quality interaction).

In response to my post called How to Get Lucky, several friends told me “JC, you are just good at networking, but many people just aren’t that good or they simply don’t like doing it.

I understand this totally.

Yep. Because I used to say the same thing about running. About swimming. About working out in general.  I’m just not that good at it. I’m not athletic. I don’t really need to lose weight. It’s not enjoyable. It’s not my thing.

But I’m telling you, dude: meeting new people isn’t just a crazy extrovert thing to do, but it is a principle that helps us become better as human beings just as much as exercise does. We are now moving from the Industrial Age where putting your head down and working harder and longer paid off … to the Connected Age where your relationships define you now even more than they have in the past. Our society is maturing beyond Independence as the quality that helps us succeed to Interdependence, where we realize how much we can help or hurt each other because what we do really does affect other people.

So if you are one of those knuckleheads (you know who you are, K!) that say “I hate networking.” Then just think about One Foot in Front of the Other, and find an easy way to just sit down with one new person. Just one a week. Or one a month!    I promise you it’s not as bad in real life as it is in your head, and I promise you that nothing but good will come from you knowing more people. Relax. People are people. You didn’t die when you ran that half marathon that you swore wasn’t possible. (Although, you did come pretty close from the video I saw. hehe.)     You won’t die when you start working on a habit that will build a better network for your future either.

Yes, I’m going to remain stubborn on this point!

 

When You Don’t Know the Story – Amazing Video Post – More Aviation Excitement

 

“So there we were…!”     I love starting stories like this.

So there we were. Margaret and I were driving back from our quiet weekend getaway to the North Georgia mountains and enjoying the quiet ride with no kids.  On Saturday we had an amazing 14 mile hike up beyond Amicola falls and all the way to the Len Foote Hike Inn. If you haven’t done the trip, it’s awesome! I highly recommend it.   More on that later.

As we drove south towards home, cruising down I-575, about 1:00pm we noticed a fleet of police cars zooming north with sirens blaring.  Then we hit the traffic. We just stopped. On a Sunday afternoon! Some goober had probably decided to crash his car and inconvenience our quiet trip home. So we sat stopped for a few minutes. Then  we noticed the police cars zooming up the shoulder beside us… then they stopped right in front of us. Then the fire truck came and stopped right in front of us. Then the other fire truck! What in the world?! Whatever had happened was right in front of us! So we grabbed the iPhone camera and videoed what we saw next as we weaved through the growing scene.

Check this out:

Now as a pilot, my first reaction is probably different than non-pilots… my FIRST reaction was “AWESOME! AWESOME! AWESOME! HE MADE IT!!!!” (In fact you can hear me say this on the video and Margaret cheered for them.) I mean, the plane was perfectly in tact and he had obviously executed a perfect landing on an interstate without hurting anybody at all. No people on the ground, no people in the plane.

Pilots have a saying that:

A good landing is one you can walk away from. A great landing is one you can re-use the airplane.

Obviously he executed a great landing.   Now the problem here begins when we start speculating about what happened.  It didn’t look like anything was on fire, so probably not a fire. No structural problems that we could see, so the airframe was fine.   Weather was a little cloudy with some light showers in the area, but visibility was fine and unlikely there was any windshear or other severe turbulence issues.

Then that leaves one of the most common issues: fuel.    I’m just saying… as we pulled up the N-number on FlightAware, tracked where we went the day before and where he was today.. then consider the fuel capacity and burn of his Beechcraft Bonanza 33, it would make sense to draw the conclusion that his reported “Loss of Power” was related to his “Loss of Power Making Juice.”  I REALLY hope that’s not the case. I’m just saying it’s possible.

Again,  it’s not my place to speculate about the complex chain of events that led to whatever happened, but I just wanted to share the story because it leaves you with a bag of mixed emotions.  YES, we are ecstatic that he made an amazing successful emergency landing without hurting anyone or any property.  But if it turns out it was poor planning or bad decision making that led him to the situation in the first place, it takes some of the edge of the excitement for his Sully-like heroics.  Then there is the fact that they had to close the highway for several hours after the incident causing thousands of people to have their schedules messed up.  So the happiness for the good piloting and good fortune is potentially muted by a number of related factors.     I guess it’s just life. Sometimes things don’t yield a single simple emotion, and especially without knowing the full story (yet), it’s hard to know how to react.

Still, when driving around Kennessaw, GA you may want to keep your eyes UP!

 

 

Top of the Funnel

 

Top of the FunnelFor any growth to happen, the best place to focus your energy is the top of the funnel.

If you are looking for a new job, the best way to find the best one is look at as many opportunities if you can. Go to as many interviews as you can.  Talk to as many people as you can.

If you are an investor, you need to be seeing as many deals as you can see.    See more deals! See more deals! If you aren’t finding success, you need to see more deals.

If you’re growing a company, focus on the top of the lead funnel. Get your sales people more leads to close. Don’t push them harder and harder to just focus on closing what’s in the pipeline. Growth happens by focusing on the top of the funnel.

If you want to grow personally through personal and professional contacts, you need to focus on seeing more people, meeting more people… Not all will become friends and helpful professional contacts, but some will, and the only way to improve your chances of success are to focus on the top of the funnel. See more people, more deals, more meetings, more events.

The value in focus on the top of the funnel applies across all of life where growth is the desired direction.

 

Another Flying Lesson for Business – Spatial Disorientation

 

G1000 by Garmin

G1000 by Garmin

When you learn to fly airplanes, you learn about a dangerous condition called “spatial disorientation.”   Spatial disorientation happens most often when a pilot is flying in the clouds or at night and the visual references outside the airplane that tell him which way is up are nonexistent.  If you haven’t experienced it before, you would be amazed to learn how many tricks your own body and mind can play on you.   Pilots can be in a slow descending turn and think that they are flying straight and level. Or even worse is when pilots are in a steep turn or pitch and perhaps think they are correcting the situation, but in reality they are making it worse or steeper or more dangerous.   I like the way Wikipedia puts it:  “…is when a pilot’s perception of direction does not agree with reality.”      Many have lost their lives due to spatial disorientation.

Recently I’ve encountered a few spatially disoriented sales people and entrepreneurs and it has me thinking that this condition can be just as fatal in business as in flying.

Sexy G1000 Panel

Sexy G1000 Panel

In sales, it is the sales person who really doesn’t understand how the customer organization operates. My recent example is anyone selling into associations, non-profits, or even churches. Anyone selling a B2B product or service into these organizations that thinks this buyer operate the same as the rest of the business world is disoriented!  Without having true understanding of the buyer’s decision process, way of thinking, and ultimate organizational goals (that, by the way are not the same as most businesses) you can’t hardly avoid getting yourself into trouble. You may be in a spiraling dive to the ground with your deal, but you may continue to plow resources and energy into it… which in many times may even be making your situation worse.

The other encounter I had recently is the entrepreneur who isn’t aware of the financials, the true culture of the team when he isn’t around, or even the actual satisfaction of the customers.  Just like the pilot in the clouds, he has no clue whether things are actually healthy or about to implode. Which way is up! Reality doesn’t match perception.   Or, they may in fact be just fine in some cases, he just doesn’t know it: which means that when things start to slide, he will be unaware that something is wrong until it is too late.

Trust Your Instruments

The good news is that you can learn how to avoid spatial disorientation the same way pilots do. The common quote is “Trust Your Instruments.

When learning to fly at night or in the clouds, before you can trust them, you must first learn how to read the instruments in the airplane. While today’s avionics are getting easier and easier to read and interpret, they still require training. You still have to know how to scan a bunch of dials and screens and translate that data to a picture in your mind of the current state of the ship. You have to be taught how to do this.  You have to learn how to do this. It is not automatically known by human beings from watching Top Gun.      If you are selling into something you don’t understand, you have to learn how those businesses operate. In the association example, go volunteer to be on the Board of an association. This is just what you need to learn how things happen on the other end of the phone.    In the business example, join an organization like EO, read books constantly, attend conferences, learn from peers.    One of my favorite books for helping you learn how to “read the instruments” is Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish.

Six Pack

Six Pack

Side lesson: in “old school” panels (analog gauges instead of digital screens;  shown to the right), pilots are taught that most of your attention must go to the “six pack” of primary instruments: airspeed, vertical speed, attitude indicator, heading, altitude, and turn coordinator.  These are the basics; the fundamentals; the most important instruments. In business, I’d propose that we have the same type of fundamentals: cash flow, A/R, sales pipeline, “top of the funnel” metrics, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction are just a few of the most critical instruments.

The second part to surviving, after you’ve learned to read your instruments is learning to trust your instruments. This is the hard part in both flying and business. Your instruments rarely will lie to you. (Yes, avionics can fail, but part of learning how to read them is learning how to recognize a failure.)   So if you are in a turn, but you feel like you are straight and level, trust the turn indicator!   In business, when your cash forecast is telling you things are getting tight it is important to act on this information, not just ignore it. If your debt to income ratios are getting out of whack, then it’s time to do something. If your  DSO or time it takes to collect your money from customers is creeping up, you need to pay attention to this and act before it starts to affect other areas of the business.

Short version: be situationally aware at all times and you will be better prepared when problems arise.

Happy Flying!