Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Top 12 Lessons from 2012


2012 was a great year for me, how about you?    To close out the year, I made a list of my top lessons learned.  I can’t say that I mastered any of the items below in 2012. Instead, I discovered that they are important principles we all need to constantly focus on developing.   I hope you share my sense of urgency to focus on these in 2013!

JC’s 12 from 12

1.  People are the most important factor in every life decision.

2.  Everybody has the same basic needs, successful or not.

3.  Intentional and TOTAL prioritization is powerful.

4.  Perpetual inspiration comes from inspiring others to help people.

5.  Alignment is having everything in your life moving in the same direction.

6.  Ideas are worthless.

7.  Jobs are easy to find. Alignment is key.

8.  It’s easy to start things that shouldn’t be started.

9.  Forward is the only productive place to look.

10. Slowing down makes me more effective than I ever dreamed.

11. I didn’t actually know how to be quiet and sit still until I was 32.

12. Gumption is a secret life skill and unavailable to most people.


I hope to expand on each of these in 2013. Happy New Year!




Yes, Even YOUR Idea is Worthless!


I can’t believe how there are still wannapreneurs (and even some entrepreneurs) out there who believe their good idea is going to be the secret to their success and they don’t want anybody to hear about it.  Great books and brilliant entrepreneurs have been saying over and over that ideas stink and success only comes from relentless execution, period.  People still think that keeping their idea secret is going to give them an advantage.

Just to prove my belief in sharing your ideas early and often, here are some of my very own top secret brilliant business ideas. Right now, these are lying in a notebook waiting for someone (you!?) to tackle the intense execution and focus that will be needed to turn any one of them into a business.

Ready, set, go…

  1. Better mobile app for locating and paying for parking
  2. Mobile app for church tithing from your phone
  3. Tools to help ADHD kids focus on small tasks (like getting dressed)
  4. Finishing school for young employees
  5. Google Adwords style bidding for digital signage
  6. Employee happiness and web app for best places to work
  7. Easy to setup video analytics security systems
  8. Speakers bureau for entrepreneurs and other free speakers
  9. Technology, Media, A/V consulting for traditional worship churches
  10. Industry Association sponsored Venture Capital funds
  11. Industry Association sponsored Accelerator programs
  12. Mobile App & Kiosk for retailers to let customers recognize awesome employee service
  13. Mastermind Forum meeting management mobile app and agenda builder
  14. Smart Home integrated web site and mobile app integrated with energy mgmt
  15. Location based mobile app to build groups from a bunch of people in the same room
  16. Private label Groupon for a industry association or non-profit
  17. Smart / data-targeted digital signage advertising platform
  18. Emergency golf cart recovery in Peachtree City (from my friend ZB)
  19. Uncle Maddio’s Franchise in Peachtree City (c’mon, please somebody!)
  20. A Kid-Run service for $10/mo that takes your neighbor’s trashcan to the curb on the correct day (and brings it back the next day)
  21. Any SaaS business that can use college interns working as the sales force from their mobile phone in their dorm room
  22. Facebook

Well, this is getting tiring. I could go all day. That’s the top 22.   Have at ‘em. Brilliant ideas for free… exactly what they’re worth!





Something to Stand For


When you don’t know what you stand for… what if you decide to stand for the person beside you?

I am continually inspired by the military training for soldiers on supporting, protecting, and lifting up each other in combat.

They will never leave a man behind. Never.  They will fall on the grenade to save the team.  They will take the bullet their mate doesn’t see coming.  This is what elite military forces use as their ultimate strength and advantage in battle.

Their strength is their willingness to die for the man or woman next to them.

In my research on employee happiness, I’ve found that a major theme is that the happiest people give a lot of praise to their peers.   Where there is praise, there is also support on every level… physical, emotional, mental, political… total support.  The employees giving praise, giving support, giving to their team mates are the happiest ones out there.

As we talk about a society full of folks that struggle to find what they stand for, something to consider:

If you aren’t sure what you stand for, consider how meaningful your life could become if you decide that you stand for the people around you. What if you decide that your ultimate mission in life is to support and lift up your own family, or your friends, or your coworkers, or total strangers?   What if that could be your focus, your calling, your mission?

What if your strength and ultimate advantage is that you become willing to die for the guy next to you?

Now we’re talking.


Alignment for All


Being at Work vs. Being YouI was e-mailing recently with a young baby boomer who is considering a career change. He has always been in big corporate America, and knowing that I work with a lot of startups he was asking about the idea of getting scrappier and working with a smaller company than he is used to.  Then this comment came out and I was blown away:

I need to get my mind to a place where work isn’t “get-up-go-someplace-hang-for-8-hours-go-home” … like it’s been for the past, oh, few years….  Once I can do that, then all kinds of options pop up.

Yes, yes, yes!  (He had to know I was going to write about that.)    That’s what I call alignment, baby!

Alignment is when you can’t separate who you are from what you do to earn money.

Alignment is when you understand that to reach self-actualization, to become truly effective, to leave a big legacy, to find really-big-major-happiness, alignment must be realized.

When pursuing alignment, what my friend mentioned above is actually a step that comes late in the game.

Before you can identify how to align your work with your self, you must first be truly aware of who you want to be. This is why I love to talk about Core Values, Personal Creed, and just plain ol sitting still and quiet more often. You have to really have all this stuff in control before you can put it to work. Once you know who you are, where you are going, and what you’re all about… then you decide that you want your work to be in synch with this framework… then you will see that all kinds of options open up, and life gets interesting!



Evaluating by Doing


Roll up Your Sleeves and Do SomethingMaybe I’m not like many folks, but I like to explore things by doing them.

I’m a very visual person, so when I’m considering going down a path in life, I have found no better way to figure out whether I should go down the path, than by actually going down the path.

I think if you are questioning whether you should do something, you can find the answer by actually doing it.  There are likely many creative options that you haven’t considered for exploring new opportunities. In entrepreneurship, this follows the advice of Guy Kawasaki in the Art of the Start, and is especially enabled by the Lean Startup Movement.   I also love that people are finally realizing Business Plans are a Historical Artifact (quoting Brad Feld).  The best way to explore is to do.


  • Thinking of taking a new job? Do some consulting with the organization first, while you still have your job.
  • Are you a wannapreneur?  Figure out some side projects to actually DO your plan before you go all in. See how it fits, how it feels, how it gets going.
  • Want to launch a new product or service?  Figure out a minimum viable product (MVP) before you build the whole thing, and see if you can get somebody to pay you money for it.

For me, when it comes to launching, creating, building, buying a new business– I have discovered that about 2-4 week period where I think, talk and act as if I am already in that business is the best way to explore and evaluate it. The downsides are minimal and the upside of being educated, aware, and prepared when you decide to dedicate 110% to an opportunity are tremendous.


Outlets that Are Missing


I’ve learned a little about myself in dealing with the Newtown event and in speaking with some of my closest friends, I don’t think I’m the only one.   We’ve learned that we have several coping mechanisms that are our go to… and the way we have discovered them is that they aren’t there for this one.

  • Anger… in this case, we can’t identify anyone that we personally want to be angry with. We don’t have anywhere to direct that one.
  • Fix it… in stressful times, we want to find a way to fix the stress. Nothing doing.
  • Acceptance… in many losses, just accepting that it happened and finding peace that it was meant to be is a good way to move on. At this point, doesn’t seem appropriate.
  • Talk more… in the last few days, I haven’t found that talking about this one has helped much.
  • Passion… sometimes I just need to do more than talk it out, but talk it out with vigor… make a big deal, apply some of my infamous “energy” to the issue and make a splash about it. Again, I have no desire to talk big, think big, or do anything big about this numbness.

For me personally, I am left with only one outlet: time and quiet prayer.





Angry Running


Angry Running for Entrepreneurs- Doesn't Work for MeI was talking to an entrepreneur recently and he was telling me about something in his company that was really upsetting him.  It was making him truly angry and he couldn’t shake it.   I asked him how he planned to deal with the anger and he said something I’ve heard others say: “I need to get out and run. I need to pound it out on the pavement. That always helps me feel better.”

Obviously he knows what works for him, but for me, angry running doesn’t work.

Running is my good, happy, thinking sanctuary where my mind can relax and I can do my best creative work.   The few times I’ve tried the “pound it out on the pavement” technique, I’ve found myself even more miserable.  I think the negative energy just makes the body feel bad, and trying to use the negative feelings to get back to a good side of the emotional cycle, just doesn’t work for me.  My best runs, my best work, my best thinking comes from when I am happy. I bet you are the same way.

For me, when I’m angry, the best thing to do is things I don’t like doing already. Go ahead and do some miserable paperwork, reconciling bank statements, doing expense reports, or do a manual chore around the house that I don’t enjoy doing. I wouldn’t say it feeds the negativity, but it just keeps me in alignment and helps me get through the cycle faster and on the other side.

So think about how you let go of negativity and try to protect the places and activities that give you truly positive energy from the things that disrupt your goodness.



Processing Time


Dr. Steve Dodson said it best yesterday (paraphrasing):    On some levels we know the right thing to do is to keep ordinary life moving, keep our heads up and remind ourselves that the sun will continue to come up… but at the same time, we know that some things are so horrific that none of our plans to move forward seem appropriate.

As for the Cook family, having a house full of kids, the oldest being the exact same age as many of last week’s victims — this has been a tough one for us. I was only 22 on 9/11, and definitely felt some emotional tie to the tragedy, but I have to admit it doesn’t compare to this punch in the gut.

I had a few posts lined up to push out this week, but they don’t feel quite right now.  I also don’t know what to publish, but I feel it is important to acknowledge the tragedy and welcome anyone who wants to speak with me to drop me a note.   JohnsonCook at gmail.  I plan to do as the good minister suggested and find the middle ground between moving on and taking time to pause.

Otherwise, let’s acknowledge that in the coming weeks, we all need processing time. Let’s not force the process and let’s not drag it out. Just letting it happen is what I plan to do.



Thoughts on Following Passion


Following Passion... Bad Advice for Entrepreneurs...?I’ve been enjoying the articles from Cal Newport ever since I saw his article about “Why Following Your Passion is Bad Advice.”   In short, Newport says we shouldn’t be so illogical to think we can just call what we love to do a career and be successful.

I couldn’t agree more, and occasionally struggle with this myself. When opportunities come up that are exactly in line with my stated passions, I get really excited. However, I’ve learned that it is often wise to dig a few layers deep and do some exploration about the idea, opportunity, job, project, client, partner to find out if the logic supports the energy.

Tony Hseih talks about entrepreneurs and playing at the right table.  He loves poker and so his analogies make sense: if you want to win big in Vegas, you have to be sitting at the table where winning big happens.  

As I meet more successful entrepreneurs, I’ve found that they’ve all discovered their own passion and they have usually found a way to unleash that passion at the right table.


Opportunity Rises from Chaos


Opportunity for Entrepreneurs Rises from ChaosIf you have everything planned out, how do new opportunities find you?

I believe we can apply this question to our personal life, to our business, to our association, and even to our family.

I love a good plan, don’t get me wrong. I thrive on spreadsheets, bulleted lists, and yes, we even have a few clipboards lying around the house.  But many times, the most exciting opportunities, the most rewarding experiences, the most valuable entrepreneurial moves have come from a period of time that was exactly unplanned and completely chaotic.

It makes sense if you think about it. If you plan out your entire next month: who you will meet, who you will talk to, what you will do, where you will be, how you will spend your free time, what you will read, what you will explore and discover… then you probably won’t discover anything or anybody new.

Chaos creates good things. Chaos creates surprises. You can’t plan a surprise.

Many of us get stressed out when we are in a period that isn’t planned. We lose focus, we forget how to prioritize, we think that we are losing our grip. But I’m sure if you look back on your life at the best things that have happened to you, I suspect you will find that the vast majority were unplanned.

It also helps if you understand and embrace your own Peace in the Chaos.


Why are so many People Googling Personal Creed?


Top Keywords on Johnson Cook BlogI noticed in the analytics that the post titled “Personal Creed” is the top keyword driving traffic from search engines to this blog. And no, I’m not posting this one just as an SEO trick… I’m genuinely curious why so many people are searching the term “personal creed”…?  (Notice the graphic at both #2 and #5.)

I suppose you need to go back to the hypothesis I put out in the post where I shared the lyrics to Some Nights by Fun that stated millenials (especially) don’t have a clearly defined mission for life. They have a ton of energy, they are brilliant, they have more tools than any other generation has ever had, but in general, they don’t have written personal core values, a generational creed, or a personal mission statement.

This should embolden you if you are in the business of helping others find meaning, purpose, and clarity about their lives. Companies who are working to help their employee and customer cultures be centered around happiness should keep up the good work.

Keep trying to reach the individuals.  Keep working to help people find happiness. They are literally and actively looking for it!


Passing up Great


Passing up Great for ExcellentRecently I had to do something that is very difficult… And something I don’t normally have the courage to do.   I passed up a great opportunity.

Have you ever done this?

It’s an odd feeling.

Something in my gut told me that taking this great opportunity would close the door to some amazing opportunities that wouldn’t be available to me if I accepted great.

It’s an empowering, exciting, and happy feeling to know that you took the path that you felt deep down was the true path instead of the comfortable path.    The next time you have a great opportunity in front of you, consider that whatever is behind it could be amazing… and don’t be afraid to go bigger.