Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Antifragility – Make it the Goal

 

Lately, I’ve been enjoying a book that was recommended to me called Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Although it’s a pretty intense read (heavy and academic) the ideas are fascinating! Here is a summary of the idea:

We all know what fragile means, right?  Easy to break, etc.    What’s the opposite of fragile?   The most common thought is that “robust” is the easy of fragile. Hard to break. Tough.   But no. The author proposes that the opposite of fragile isn’t just being robust. Robust is half way. Robust means that you are able to withstand being any worse off by being broken.

Antifragile is benefiting from stress. Antifragile means that you improve when dropped.

There are lots of metaphors in the book, but here’s one that stands out to me the most. A candle is fragile. One puff of wind and it’s blows out. A forest fire is antifragile. Wind makes it stronger. More wind, more fire. More stress makes it more successful.

Once you start thinking about the concept, it will creep its way into your mind several times in a day.

For me, the most common application of the idea comes in thinking about my schedule and workload balance. I finally have a way to describe the trend I first noticed in school at Georgia Tech:   the more classes I took, the more I overwhelmed my schedule, the better my grades that semester. The easier my course load and less to do, the worse the grades became. My worst grades usually came in summer semesters when I took just one or two classes.    The more pressure that I apply to myself, the better I am able to perform. That is antifragile.

The same goes for entrepreneurship and just life functioning in general. I’ve never had a more full plate than I have now. Between 30-40 meetings every week, getting home after 9pm several nights per week, 3 kids that are each in at least 2 activities, a hefty commute most days, and hundreds of inbound e-mails requests for time… oddly enough, it’s the most chaos I’ve seen in my whole life, yet I feel that for some reason I’m functioning more effectively than I ever have before. The chaos forces me to intensely delegate. It forces more intentional family time. More intentional long weekends and vacations.  It forces me to be efficient. It forces trust on my team and those around me.  It forces me to prioritize and say “no thanks” or “I have to pass” to many things.   It’s awesome.  It feels like I found another 5 gears on the bicycle!

If you’re worried about your time when considering taking on a new project, volunteering to something important, or offering selfish generosity, then I challenge you to take the opposite view.

Consider that if you build yourself to be antifragile, the more quantity of  important things you take on, the more you will be able to handle.

 

 

Lisa Calhoun, CEO of Write2Market

 

Lisa_Calhoun1Continuing my series of successful entrepreneurs sharing their thoughts on personal questions about how they build the person that builds their business.    Today, my good friend and past president of EO Atlanta Lisa Calhoun provides her thoughts.  Lisa Calhoun, recognized as 2012 “Female Entrepreneur of the Year” by the Stevies, builds industry leadership agency Write2Market around the core values of listen, learn and lead. Catch up with her on a personal level at HowYouRuleTheWorld.com.

What gives you the most personal energy?

Yesterday I was absolutely buzzing after meeting with three entrepreneurs and advising them on their industry leadership campaigns. One flew in from Denver, and is CEO of an energy tech company that operates in 70 countries. Next, the CEO I had lunch with runs a pre-revenue health-tech start-up. And the afternoon was spent with a leading inventor from Chattanooga closing out his series A around.

All three are facing substantial challenges being recognized for what they are: the absolute industry leaders in their field. And hiking through the landscape of how to make that happen, and seeing it happen, always brings me “power joy.”

When I want to center myself, I write or I take just pictures. Creating things calms me. That’s been my habit since I was six years old. Most of what I write or shoot gets tossed, but I got to experience the act of creation first, which was the important factor.

You can get a sense of what I mean by looking at the pictures or reading my journal at my personal blog, howyouruletheworld.com.

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

I never avoid things because they drain my personal energy.    My energy comes back; I can burn it as long as I make time to recharge.  Use it or lose it, I say.

Networking and running, for example, are seriously taxing for me different reasons. But rather than “avoid” them I try to “schedule” a regime that makes sense for me. I absolutely love some of the things that I find draining.

If I want to completely recharge, I put on a back pack and disappear into a forest. But sometimes the draining things are so much fun, my backpack stays on the hook for long periods of time.

Do you have a personal mastermind group? Can you describe how they give you energy?

I am devoted to my EO Forum. EO stands for Entrepreneur’s Organization, and it’s a global group of 8,000 company founders. The way the organization works itself, you belong to chapter (I belong to Atlanta with 130 members) and then you belong to small group called a Forum. In the forum, you meet monthly and air issues confidentially and collaboratively. I’ve been with my current forum for a couple of years, and the inspiration I get from close, reality-based, confidential connections with their world-class entrepreneurship is invigorating, enlightening, and simply beautiful on an aesthetic level. If you’re an entrepreneur, consider joining this association—you can find out more about it at eonetwork.org.

What competitive advantages do you have as an individual that has made / will make you more successful than the person you are competing against in business?

I don’t care about being MORE successful THAN the organization I’m coming against. The killer competitive advantage I have as a leader is that I’m competing with myself and I’m looking for absolute scale. I drive that message home at my business Write2Market, too. It’s why we created our own software to track our ROI for clients, for example.  Our core values at the company are LISTEN, LEARN and LEAD, but we measure that in how much industry leading media exposure, conference speaking engagements, and critical industry awards our clients win.

I believe the relevant information is to know your OWN scale and scope, whether you found companies or are leading teams or functions. I think a lot about this (more at www.howyouruletheworld.com).

Given where and who I am, my competition is with me every day in my last best work as a leader at Write2Market and as an industrial teller of true tales. That’s the bar.  I don’t call on the “competition” alone—I call on my best vision, I call on legends like Merlin, I call on archetypes. And since I work on a national level in two terrific fields—technology and energy—I have plenty of data points on how I did in real time, and constant inspiration on doing better. I guess it’s how “we did” versus what we “dreamed to do.”

 

Giddy about Right Now

 

“Everything that can be invented has already been invented.”
-Charles Duell, US Patent Office Commissioner, 1899

I love our time. Such an awesome time to be alive.  Such an awesome time to be creating companies! There is so much cool stuff happening right now, that often I just get giddy with excitement.     This post has no point other than to say how excited I am that we are so lucky to be in a period and in  a place where smart people are coming up with smarter tools and toys every day. To make it even better, the resources available to people who want to start companies and invent things have rarely been so plentiful.

Just think about it…

  • My car can drive itself. Seriously, with radar cruise control – it’s safer to leave it on cruise control all the way through downtown every day than for me to drive it– it always slows and stops when traffic is stopped and accelerates as traffic does.  It is virtually impossible to rear-end another car.   It even has lane departure prevention (yep, it turns me back into the lane if a drift) and backup collision prevention (it hard stops if anything moves in the rear camera view while reversing).  Imagine if every car had this technology.
  • The internet always knows our location.   Like it or not, there will only be more tracking of our travel patterns around our cities. How much useful stuff can come from geographic applications.
  • Facial recognition is getting easier. Minority Report style advertisements are beyond true. It’s all possible now!
  • The new Samsung Galaxy has eye tracking software to scroll when your eyes get to the bottom of the screen.
  • Google Glass!
  • Everything about this

Right now is fun.  I can’t wait for tomorrow!

 

Happiness isn’t a Four-Letter Word. Engagement is.

 

The word “engagement” annoys me.

Employee engagement. Member engagement. Community engagement.

The word engagement is just a cop out in place of the word: happiness.

We use it because it makes it acceptable to report: “My employees aren’t engaged.”   If you say that, it’s just an annoying cost of doing business and a little issue you have to deal with.  But what if you said this instead:

My employees aren’t happy.

Whoa! If your team isn’t happy – it’s a much bigger problem than if they aren’t engaged. Isn’t it?

But doesn’t it really mean the same thing?

If you are an association – you are certainly talking about and measuring member engagement and maybe even member satisfaction – but how much different would your sense of urgency be if you simply asked “Are our members happy?”

Using the word happy makes it real. Happiness is somehow tangible. It’s pretty much black and white. You are either happy or you are not.   I think happiness is the goal that we all should seek for our organizations and let’s stop kidding ourselves using the e-word.

It’s no coincidence the top thought leader of the last few years on great cultures, Tony Hsieh titled his book and his movement Delivering Happiness.

 

Tribes

 

In relation to the last post about connecting your separate networks, the next axiom reminds us that it’s normal to have closed, separate networks where you live.

Rainforest Axiom 6: High social barriers outside of close circles of family and friends are the norm in the world.

Consider the origins of human society. We’ve always lived in tribes. It’s the safest way to function in the wild. Because of this, there is automatic trust in dealing with someone from your tribe, while at the same time, anyone from outside the tribe could be a threat. Outsiders are unknown. It is our biological nature to distrust them, for our own protection.

This is why we are having such fun with the Atlanta Tech Village. We have a brand, spankin, shiny new tribe!  In less than 90-days, we’ve brought together over 100 individuals, now identifying themselves as “Villagers,” who are getting to know each other better every day.

From our Community Lunches on Fridays to serendipitous elevator rides to afternoon roof relaxation sessions and Piedmont Road crossing expeditions to the Company Cafeteria Chipotle: bonding of former strangers and disconnected networks is happening… fast.

My personal hope is that Villagers in ATV will soon be connecting their other networks to those networks of other Villagers, and the growth of connections in the Atlanta startup community will begin growing at exponential rates.

 

Baby Gates and Craig Heiser

 

Continuing the series of successful entrepreneurs sharing their thoughts on personal questions about how they build the person that builds their business.    Next up is an investment banker turned entrepreneur.

craig-heiserCraig Heiser is the CEO of Cardinal Gates. When I first visited Craig’s facility, I was so amazed. I’ve never seen so many baby gates in one place! Awesome products, beautiful facility and a great team. I consider Craig a brilliant and inspirational entrepreneur and as with all others in the series, I enjoy learning how he operates at a personal level.

 What do you do as an entrepreneur to balance your most important personal relationships (spouse, kids, family)?

I don’t look at email on my iPhone after 6:00 and on weekends. If anything is that urgent I can be called.

 What is your exercise routine?

As little as possible. I thank my parents for a high metabolism.

 What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

Getting dragged down in the minutia of legal documents. Gossip.

Are you involved in a church or other religious organization? How do you think spirituality is important to your entrepreneurial success?

Yes, active in church. It’s a great reminder to be humble and understand that you aren’t ultimately in charge. Things happen for a reason.

How do you find ways to help others and give back?

Mission work through church and community organizations that focus on construction. I enjoy building and working on houses and it where my talents can be best used.

What hobbies are important to you and why do they give you energy?

Woodworking – It’s quiet, methodical, and creative. Nothing better than seeing a project through from start to finish, great sense of satisfaction and completion.

 Do you have a personal mastermind group? Can you describe how they give you energy?

EO Atlanta. Being in a room and sharing experiences with six other business owners gives me a kick start after our meetings every month.

 

 

Introductions in the Atlanta Startup Rainforest

The old saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know…” is becoming more true as we become a more interdependent community.

This is especially true in an innovation ecosystem like Atlanta startup rainforest, the number of connections you have directly correlates to your probability of success. When we view the startup community as an ecosystem with the intention of accelerate it, the metrics we need to focus on are the total number of connections people have and the speed at which they can find new connections.

From the book:

Rainforest Axiom 5: The vibrancy of a Rainforest correlates to the number of people in a network and their ability to connect with one another.

It’s no coincidence that we focus a lot of energy on creating serendipity. The primary output of a serendipitous interaction is a new connection. Or stated differently– serendipitous interactions are the primary vehicle for creating new connections.  We need to accelerate connections.

Most of us operate in multiple networks. Whether separated by industry, social groups, geography, or even family.   When you see potential connections that exist between your networks, the best thing you can do for yourself and your community is to make the connection. Provide the introduction. Take both to lunch. Host a party and invite both networks. Networks that are closed do not feed the number of people in the larger network.

I love connecting people between networks. It’s fun and easy to do. You just have to have your eyes open and the goal of providing value to everyone you meet.  The easiest way to provide value is to make an introduction that is meaningful.

Give it a try, prove me wrong.

 

Look Forward to the Immense Satisfaction

 

Have you ever had that feeling after a long day of hard work (especially hard physical labor) that you completely maximized the day, made the most of every minute, have a lot to show for it, and more than likely enjoyed every second of it?

I believe that’s what we should shoot for in everything we do. Think about a spring Saturday filled with yard work — you don’t have any part of the day that you don’t connect to progress. Even if you take some time to plan your project, that planning time doesn’t feel like wasted time.  Your breaks are good solid breaks– because your body needs the rest.

There aren’t any meetings where you don’t understand the point of the meeting. There aren’t any routines that you don’t understand and do out of habit. You are just working. Sleeves rolled up, gloves on working… and every minute spent is connected to the larger goal.

This is good old fashioned gumption. This is how great companies are built. This is how people accomplish big tasks. Focused action with visible results.

The moral of the story is to look towards that late afternoon beer gazing with pride upon your completed work. Be excited about what you will see when you look back on what you are building now. Focusing on the results will help give you energy. Hopefully it will be an inspired energy… the best kind.

 

Brad Feld, The Gandhi of Venture Capital

 

Brad-FeldBrad Feld needs no introduction.   I love this guy. Intense, open, and definitely thinking about the right things.   If you want to learn more about Brad, check out www.feld.com/. He’s also written a bunch of great books that I strongly recommend.   I am truly humbled and honored that Brad took some time to share some of his thoughts on the questions other entrepreneurs have been answering on this site.   Here we go….

What do you do as an entrepreneur to balance your most important personal relationships?

I have a series of daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly rhythms that I use with my wife Amy. We start each morning with “four minutes in the morning”, where no matter were we are in the world – together or apart – we spend four minutes together. We finish the day with a few minutes together before going to bed. Whenever Amy calls during the day, I answer no matter what I’m doing (her ringtone, which she chose a while ago, is the Imperial March). We try to spend as much of each weekend together as things are very intense during the weekday. Once a month we go out for “life dinner” on the first day of each month. This isn’t “date night” but rather a chance for us to reflect on the previous month and look forward to the next month. As part of the life dinner ritual, we exchange a gift. Once a quarter, we go on a “Qx vacation off the grid” where I give Amy my iPhone on Saturday and she gives it back to me the following Saturday. We go somewhere and have a disconnected vacation – where we are just together, the two of us.

What is your exercise routine? 

I’m a marathon runner so I’m always training for a marathon (I’ve done 24 of them). I generally try to run five days a week with long runs on the weekend. I like to swim, but don’t do it as often as I’d like to. I’ve never figured out how to do a consistent weight training routine – maybe v47 of me will figure it out.

What gives you the most personal energy?

I’m an introvert who functions extremely well in public settings. But to build up my personal energy, I need to sit quietly, either alone or with Amy. I like dinners with one other couple, long runs, and lots of time on the couch reading next to my awesome wife and dog Brooks.

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

I don’t really avoid anything, but my normal routine, which includes a large amount of public activity, group meetings, and endless real time interactions, really drains me. 

What are your most proud moments regarding your own legacy?

I don’t think of myself in the context of having a legacy. I live in the moment, and try to do my best all the time with what I’ve got in front of me.

How do you find ways to help others and give back?

Amy and I have been very public and visible about giving to a wide variety of causes. Our goal is to give away all of our money while we are alive – we view the money as a tool to help us contribute what we want to the world. We also love to do things randomly – we call them random acts of kindness. They range for paying for dinner anonymously for the young couple on a date in a restaurant we are in to funding undergraduate education for amazing people we know who can’t afford the school they want to go to.

Do you have written personal core values, what are they?

I have a deeply held belief in “giving before you get.” I am willing to put energy into any relationship without any specific expectation of what I’m going to get in return. This isn’t altruism – I expect that the return I get across the sum of all the energy I put into things will dwarf what I put in – and it has over the 30 years of my adult life. However, I don’t need to define the transaction dynamics up front – I think this limits what you get out.

 

Entrepreneur – Scott Weiss, CEO of Speakeasy

 

ScottWeiss_HeadshotContinuing the series of successful entrepreneurs sharing their thoughts on personal questions about how they build the person that builds their business.   Scott Weiss is the CEO of Speakeasy, an amazing organization that helps executives and entrepreneurs communicate better in every setting. I’ve written about Speakeasy before here. Now some personal energy questions for Scott….

How do you find ways to help others and give back?

Mentoring. Given my 30 years in business, I’m privileged to know many leaders as young as college students and as old as retired executives. I am referred to often for a variety of mentoring opportunities from “how to interview for my first job” to how to become a more authentic and transparent communicator. I enjoy sharing past experiences, stories, and observations that help individuals at all ages move forward in various stages of their career and personal lives. I am committed to being accessible in this regard and generous with my time, as I am well aware of those that have helped me in the same way throughout my life and continue to do so.

What do you do as an entrepreneur to balance your most important personal relationships (spouse, kids, family)?

I was very fortunate early in my career before it was too late to have a mentor teach me about the value of “family time.” As a young executive at Turner Broadcasting, I was traveling every week while two of my three kids were very young…I missed a lot. Then came an epiphany delivered by my most trusted mentor, Terry McGuirk, current Chairman of the Atlanta Braves and former CEO of Turner Broadcasting. I had my missed my oldest child’s first day of Kindergarten due to a business meeting. I had consulted with Terry on if I had made mistake.   Terry asked me how much I would be willing to pay to get that day back. We conversed about various prices before he finally said; “you know that regardless of how successful you become or how much money you make, you will never actually be able to buy that day back…ever. It’s just not for sale.” I will never forget that moment. From that day on I made significantly better choices to be with my family, and the business lived without me. I realized a very valuable lesson. No one is that important.

What gives you the most personal energy?

I recharge with self contemplation outdoors. I’m a bit of an introvert in that regard. I get recharged by quiet. I enjoy hiking, climbing, finding a desolate spot on the lake where I have a boat, anywhere that allows me to think, in quiet space, where the oxygen is pure, and I can fully immerse myself in everything that nature has to offer. I take this to a fairly extreme level once a year by participating in expedition with three of my best friends. We’ve been doing this for 12 years now. We’ve been to some amazing places including summits in British Columbia, the Grand Teton, Navaho Basin, and a 37 mile trek to Machu Pichu. It without question renews my personal energy.

What are your most proud moments regarding your own legacy?

I have many personal moments with my wife of 27 years, Marci, in which our proudest and greatest hoped for legacy lies with our three kids. However, with respect to my entrepreneurism, I have two.

First, I was responsible in founding Turner Private Networks during my tenure at Turner Broadcasting. This operating division oversees a number of “placed based media networks” for Turner, including the CNN Airport Channel which I created and launched and is now in 40 airports worldwide. Creating new media properties under the leadership of Ted Turner was extremely demanding, and I was successful at a very young age. But more importantly, I was making a real difference in furthering the mission of CNN in bringing news and information to the world.

Secondly, also while at Turner I became increasingly aware of how challenging it was for minority students to get jobs out of college in the television industry. As a result I founded a non-profit Foundation in 1994 in Washington D.C. that I named after another mentor of mine, Taylor Howard, a Stamford University scientist and inventor. I served as Chairman for the Foundation for its first ten years, and now the Foundation has grown to one of the most successful media Foundations in the industry supported by every major media organization from Viacom to Time Warner. The Foundation places 100 interns every year in media companies in which dozens of them become permanent positions, making a real impact in the industry.

How are you involved in the community?

My youngest child is passionate about baseball. I served as a community Coach for his teams from the age of 5 to 14. I met hundreds of great kids and families and helped teach the game and life lessons at the same time. It was extremely rewarding and I absolutely cherished the relationships I had with those little boys who became young men in the blink of an eye. As part of that journey I began volunteering for Cobb County in managing and taking care of one of the County baseball fields, which I still do to this day even though my son has moved on to high school and very serious travel ball.

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

I’ve learned over the years that the one thing I find myself running away from because it drains my personal energy is arrogant and pompous people. I have major difficulty connecting with them and my desire to be authentic leaves very little room for common ground, so I avoid getting into those situations.

 

 

Entrepreneur Profile: Jason Swenk, CIO Payscape Advisors

 

jasonswenkContinuing the series of successful entrepreneurs sharing their thoughts on personal questions about how they build the person that builds their business.   I met Jason Swenk when he was CEO of Solar Velocity – we were office neighbors and had a good time swapping nerd gun fights and the occasional car prank between my company, Impact Media Solutions, and his company.  We  originally met when we both were in the Cobb County Top 25 Small Business awards many moons ago. Jason is now Chief Innovation Officer at Payscape Advisors (awesome title!).

What do you do as an entrepreneur to balance your most important personal relationships (spouse, kids, family)?

It is all about giving both 100% and making sure that family comes first. The old phrase pretty much runs my household…If momma ain’t happy, no one is happy.” I try to keep momma happy and everything else is gravy.

What is your exercise routine? 

I try to workout everyday of which I think about what I am grateful for and focus on that. This exercise gets me in the right state to tackle anything that the day throws at me.

What gives you the most personal energy? 

Loving what I do and creating stuff keeps me energetic throughout the week.

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy? 

Certain processed foods are the biggest drainer. Ever since I developed my app, Goalvator, it allowed me to track which food made me feel drained.

How are you involved in the community? 

I always try to offer my time in helping young professionals hit their goals from personal coaching to just simple advice.

What are your most proud moments regarding your own legacy? 

My two boys.

What hobbies are important to you and why do they give you energy? Racing cars & trail riding in my jeeps. The energy created from these are their because of the excitement of not knowing what is going to happen and how dangerous they are.

Do you have written personal core values, what are they? 

To be the best I can be and give it 100% on no matter what I am doing.  Never give up and learn from everything.

What competitive advantages do you have as an individual that has made / will make you more successful than the guy you are competing against in business?

The biggest thing is my drive to be the best and knowing that everything that has been created, has been created by people no more special than myself. Knowing that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.

 

 

Relationship Transaction Costs

 

Did you realize that for each relationship you have, there were transaction costs? Sure, you received something of value, and as with everything- there was a cost. Transaction costs are a big topic when discussing a Startup Rainforest because these are what keep the flow of ideas, talent, and of course, capital from accelerating.

Think about the barriers that you must overcome to form a new relationship:

  • Geography – of course, it is much easier to build a foundation of a relationship when there is less physical space between you and the other person.  For those who live in the far north suburbs of Atlanta- being my golf buddy down in Peachtree City carries some pretty direct transaction costs (aka gas money!).
  • Networks – sometimes we exist so heavily in our own network that meeting someone out of the network is challenging. There are fewer common connections meaning it will take a bit more to trust and understand the other person.
  • Culture – we certainly have more than our share of cultural divides in Atlanta. Although we are friendly and trusting to those with the same heritage as us, you can’t argue that Atlantans are slower than much of the rest of the country to accept, engage, and embrace people of a different background than our own.
  • Language – Let’s face it. This one is a huge barrier for Atlanta. Not so much within our community, but I believe the southern drawl can be a reason Atlanta doesn’t have more global connections.  Everybody thinks they sound like Dan Rather, but be honest: if you call up an NYC or West Coast VC and start dropping yalls and aints — the barrier to that relationship is heightened because of language.
  • Trust – Ah, the biggest of them all.  Trusting that you can be open and genuine with a stranger is not natural. We have biological reasons why we don’t trust other people, but in order to form a relationship that will turn into any sort of innovation, we must pay the price of trust.

From the Book… Rainforest Axiom 4: Social barriers – caused by geography, networks, culture, language, and distrust- create transaction costs that stifle valuable relationships before they can be born.