For Entrepreneurs, Switching Careers Can Be A Good Thing

As published on Forbes.com on June 4, 2013.

“It is important to understand that innovation happens in many ways. We should not get hung up on thinking an innovation is a massive breakthrough. Innovation often comes in a series of steps,” recommends Kay Koplovitz, Chairman & CEO at Koplovitz & Co LLC and the founder of  USA Network and creator of today’s cable television business model. Those most successful in entrepreneurship understand that regardless of where they were in their career, acquiring new skills was critical to the innovation process. On a day-to-day basis, they followed their passions on undefined paths, not expecting leaping breakthroughs, but understanding that each step would lead to new opportunities.

For an upcoming book, Innovating Women: Past, Present & Future, co-authored by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya, top female entrepreneurs shared their stories on how they reached the top, developing the broad, yet specialized knowledge-base necessary to create innovation within their fields. Their anecdotes provide insight as to how aspiring entrepreneurs can educate and prepare themselves to start their own firms.

For Alison Lewis, named one of the Most Influential Women in Technology in 2010 by Fast Company and founder of Agent of Presence, a fashion technology firm, she wanted to create unique experiences using fashion. Lewis realized her graphic design skills were not enough to support her passion of technology-based design. At the age of 28, she learned electrical engineering from scratch: “To step into electronic engineering, it was scary. I just really wanted to make stuff, jewelry that responded when loved ones were thinking about each other, or I wanted to make garments that when you hugged them, they responded to you. The power and the will to want to make something in a space where you feel free to want to make something, makes it a lot easier to learn.” The label ‘designer’ did not limit her, but instead she created an environment in which she could be whatever she wanted to be, surrounding herself with supportive and innovative creators in Parson’s Design & Technology program. This made her comfortable adding ‘electrical engineer’ to her repertoire.

To read more, click here.

Switching Careers

Networking… Ladies, You’re Doing it All Wrong

As published on Forbes.com on May 28, 2013.

What motivated me to join the editorial team of Innovating Women: Past, Present & Future, co-authored by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya, was the real need for women to hear true stories about how other women strategized in their careers and rose to the top. One of the topics that has particularly hit home is the need to attend conferences and seek out mentors.

In my first job out of college as a branding consultant, to help our clients, we would look for ‘analogs,’ or how companies in different industries had overcome and tackled problems similar to those of our patrons in innovative ways. In my career, I search for ‘personal’ analogs, or people who have achieved goals similar to my own in order to study and understand their strategy and path to reach success. Repeatedly our ambassadors in Innovating Women: Past, Present & Future have spoken about how conferences have helped them find role models and mentors within their fields. Unfortunately, they also spoke of how too few women are taking advantage of these opportunities.

“For the first time in my life I went to the bathroom and noticed a big line outside the men’s room… I got into the lady’s room and found two girls in there, we all had the same reaction,” says Danielle Newman, founder of StartupByte, about her experience at Startup Weekend: “We were laughing hysterically that we were the only girls, a total of 4 girls participating in the event with about 80 men.”

To read more, click here.

Forbes_Networking

What You Can Learn About Debating From Last Night’s Debate

Please note: If you are looking for yet another assessment of the content of last night’s debate, please look elsewhere. This focuses on tactic.

Here are the lessons we can learn from last night’s debate:

  1. Be confident. This carries into many of the points below, but is the most essential trait. It is hard for others to trust in you, if you do not trust in yourself.
  2. Have Passion. This is one of the strongest emotions. As put by Rochefoucauld (English translation) from his experience in the French court: “The simplest man with passion will be more persuasive than the most eloquent without.”
  3. Always smile. You are a winner and should appear as such. Towards the end of the debate, it is very clear who is happy to be on stage and who is miserable. Do not appear defeated or the audience will consider you as such. Watch each candidate’s expressions as they listen to their opponent.
  4. Be concise. Although stories can be very effective in speeches, with their appropriate timing and punctuation, in debates only keep relative details. Any other detail detracts from your point. We do not need to know you grew up with your grandmother or when she died, we need to know how hard she worked, how independent she was, and how Medicare today would impact her. Having one story to continually reference, as Obama later does, can be useful and make an issue relatable, but that story needs to be tailored to its purpose. Mitt Romney effectively uses concise story telling to support his argument on the affordable care act: “It comes from my experience. I was in New Hampshire and a woman came to me and said, ‘Look I can’t afford  insurance for myself or my son. I met a couple in Appleton, Wisconsin and they said, ‘we’re thinking of dropping our insurance, we can’t afford it. And the number of small businesses that I have gone to that are saying they are dropping insurance because they can’t afford it. The cost of healthcare is just prohibitive.” Here he references only the relevant supporting details, showing that individuals and small businesses are impacted by healthcare costs.
  5. Follow the rules. If you do not follow the rules, you are seen as a cheater. Listen to the mediator. If the mediator says you are out of time, you are out of time. If it is not your turn to speak, do not speak. Acting as if you are above the rules shows neither humility nor respect.
  6. Vary eye contact. When you are at the punch line, look the camera right in the eye and say it with chutzpah. This was most effectively used in the closing speeches.
  7. Organize your points. Take a deep breath. Gather your thoughts instead of jumping in unprepared and unorganized. Just because you have talking points does not mean they fit in this moment of the debate or in the context anymore. For instance, Romney states he supports well thought-through regulation and that he wants to repeal Dodd-Frank and replace it. Obama misaddresses this comment and references pre-debate statements about repealing Dodd-Frank as a way to show Romney’s disinterest in any regulation. This talking point needed to be modified in order to become an effective response.
  8. Remain on message. In his discussion seven minutes into the debate, Obama addresses Medicaid, schools, oil, tax breaks, companies going overseas within his allotted two minutes. It is better to focus on one area and explain yourself fully than lose the audience in various topics. This leads to my next point on how to combat this tactic.
  9. Stay Engaged. When Obama spoke of various subjects, Romney was able to address each point because he took notes, which he referenced in his rebuttal. As your opponent runs out of time, jot down a primitive outline of key topics you will discuss so you have some structure before your clock starts ticking.
  10. Remember your audience. If you are going to talk about Bowles-Simpson, make sure you can briefly explain what it is and how it relates to your argument. How many people in the audience know the details of Bowles-Simpson? You want your audience to be able to follow your points. When Mitt Romney discusses his program for Medicare in which seniors can choose between public and private sector programs, he very simply lays out his views. Instead of bogging down the audience in technicalities, he holds their hand in understanding his philosophies. Make sure your audience can follow you.
  11. Make comparisons. Help people relate to facts and statistics. For example, Obama mentions oil companies receive $2.8 billion in tax cuts every year. Romney successfully takes this number and makes it relative. He points out that Obama gave $90 billion to companies in green energy; that is 50 years of oil tax cuts or 2 million new teachers.
  12. Use strong references to support your views. When discussing Medicare, Obama says he does not support Romney’s view, but strengthens his argument by saying AARP also disapproves of Romney’s plan. Furthermore, to show you are not buried in your party’s back pocket, referencing great ideas from the other side can be tactful, such as Ronald Reagan (by Obama) or Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff (by Romney). In addition, Romney also took the Cleveland Clinic, originally mentioned by Obama, to show his own point. If your opponent has already established the legitimacy of something, using it to describe your point is more effective.
  13. Practice and prepare. Go in front of the mirror, no matter how awkward that may seem, you need to feel comfortable working through the twists and turns of your arguments, finding where there might be dead ends or missteps to your point. This will build your confidence and trust in yourself. On healthcare, Romney had a list of points; his presentation is smooth, without linguistic slipups. You can tell he knew this would be a key topic, prepared an outline, and practiced his two-minute presentation on the issue.

If anyone wants to improve their debate tactics, I would recommend reading “Getting to Yes: Negotiation Agreement Without Giving In” by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

Please post any thoughts/comments for discussion below:

How to Address the Public After an Affair: Lessons Learned from Bill Clinton, Edward VIII, John Edwards, and Tiger Woods

In a recent documentary, “Clinton,” the director Barak Goodman revisits the Lewinsky scandal finding that Bill Clinton confided in Dick Morris, asking him for advice. Morris conducted a poll to assess how to best handle the situation. He found that Clinton could be forgiven for the sin, but not for the cover up, and thus should admit to the scandal. Unfortunately, Clinton did not take this advice and attempted to address the issue on his own terms.

Throughout history, time and time again, public figures have allowed their personal lives to impede on their duties as a figurehead and role model. After such digressions, the response is usually an apology speech with the opportunity to command the public’s attention, make a petition, and potentially recover from their mistakes. Unfortunately, the majority of these speeches fall short. To recover from a personal failing, a leader cannot expect immediate forgiveness but promise to show they have learned their lesson through action, accept that their status does not exclude them from the norms and standards of their time, admit that their criticism is warranted, and set a plan of action for their role and behavior going forward. As we can see from prominent examples of such speeches, these things prove remarkably hard to do. Still, no matter how hard one tries to cover the fact, she or he will discover that their unsuccessful attempt to address properly their failings will forever hinder their ability to lead.

A successful apology speech needs to acknowledge that the speech itself is not enough to merit forgiveness. It cannot order the audience to move on, but instead promise that a change has occurred, and that going forward, better behavior will prove the lesson has been learned. During his abdication speech on December 11, 1936, Edward VIII directs Parliament, the royal family, and the British people, to understand his decision: “But I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the empire, which, as Prince of Wales and lately as King, I have for twenty-five years tried to serve.” By starting with but I want you to understand, he is commanding the people to agree that his decision to leave office is the best for the country. The public’s opinion is not something he can control. John Edwards takes a similar approach in his statement regarding his affair with Rielle Hunter: “If you want to beat me up feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself.” He insists the public does not have the right to comment on his decision, since he is addressing it himself.

President Clinton in his  “I Misled People” speech takes a similar approach insisting, “It is time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives and get on with our national life. The country has been distracted by [the Lewinsky affair] for too long.” They argue that the public should move on, and not question their statements of defense. This is not a successful argument. You cannot command the public’s understanding. You have to prove you have learned your lesson. Tiger Woods make a stronger argument after his affairs became public. He acknowledges his apology is not enough, and that only his actions can lead to his forgiveness. This shows a change in character unlike the others. He is not insisting he is entitled to forgiveness, but requesting the opportunity to prove himself as changed.

After a speech admits that it cannot grant forgiveness, it also has to admit that the speaker is not exempt from the standards set by society. In Edward VIII’s statement, he claims he has the right to define the standards to which he is held. He states: “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.” In his opinion, he alone can decide if it is impossible for him to fulfill the burden of being king, therefore putting his interests before those of his entire country. This is the crux of his argument, that he is a victim, being forced to choose between the woman he loves and the throne, and that only he can decide what is necessary for him to be a good king.

Tiger Woods addresses the same issue, but admits he was at fault for not following the norms set by society. Woods promises to solve his problems, staying within society’s standards by admitting he “ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by” and that “these are issues between a husband and a wife,” framing that his resolution should and will be private as set by society’s standards. Furthermore, he comments on his personal thought process saying, “I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in. I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply.  […] It’s up to me to start living a life of integrity. […] Character and decency are what really count.” Unlike Edward VIII, Woods shows that he is subject to the expected norms. He reflects on the teachings of his religion, commenting on Buddhism’s principle that cravings only lead to an “unhappy search for security.” Edward VIII argues the opposite, implying he cannot be happy without Mrs. Simpson, saying how his brother has a “matchless blessing” of a “happy home with his wife and children.” This weakens Edward VIII argument since he is saying the normal rules for the royal family are wrong and that the rules are at fault instead of him being at fault. Through Wood’s admittance that he has broken the rules, and that he must change his views, he strengthens his argument. Edward VIII attempts to frame himself as a victim, neither showing that he has changed nor that he respects the rules of the British system.

It is not a surprise when the press pries into all aspects of public figures’ lives. During an apology speech, a public figure does not have the right to claim to have become prey to the press. After committing an act that hurts those close to them, they cannot turn around and claim to be a victim. John Edwards’s weakens his argument by attempting to frame himself in this way, “I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need help.” He claims he has been stripped bare, indicating he is a victim now that the press has revealed his secrets. This implies he is angry with the press not only for exploiting his secrets, but also for uncovering them in the first place. Indicating he is angry that he was caught does not help his argument that he has learned his lesson. Edwards and Clinton feel the excessive criticism is unwarranted despite their behavior.

At first, in Clinton’s “I Misled People” speech, he uses a similar argument that he can command his treatment from the people, claiming that his affair is private, between him and his family, and that the public does not have the right to know what in the President’s personal life may be affecting his ability as a leader. Clinton mentions the press’s treatment again in his “I Have Sinned” speech, but then spins the argument: “bounds of privacy have been excessively and unwisely invaded. That may be. Nevertheless, in this case, it may be a blessing, because I have sinned.” This strengthens his speech since he admits he has done wrong and that he may deserve his criticism. After having an affair, it is hypocritical to criticize others for causing one’s family pain. In order to show this genuine effort, there needs to be an evident transfer in self-awareness, proving that the public figure no longer puts themselves before all others and their responsibilities as a figurehead.

A good apology speech establishes the public figure’s future role. The goal of Edward VIII’s statement is to provide a defense that will allow him to receive positive treatment as the first ex-king. No one has filled this role before, thus he must define his future role, and hope that the Parliament, royal family, and the British people will accept his decision and treat him with respect in the future. He attempts to receive their graces by complimenting the comfort provided by his family and the kind treatment from the Parliament and the British people. He blesses his brother as new king. However, he neither addresses his future role directly nor explains why he should be treated well.

Clinton gives a list of his actions going forward in “I Have Sinned:” instructing his lawyers to prepare a “vigorous” defense, continuing to change his behavior for the better, and increasing his focus on leading the country and fighting for worldwide peace and freedom. Although the first point is mainly self-driven and hurts his argument, he reasserts his devotion to the people’s goals.

Edward VIII undermines his commitment by saying, “I now quit altogether public affairs and I lay down my burden.” By using the word burden he implies he saw his opportunity to serve the people as an unwanted, negative obligation. A good speech needs to be explicit, providing an action plan of steps going forward that will be taken to make a change. The apology speech is only a promise, but proof comes from action. The speech needs to provide an action plan going forward that the figure must be held accountable to do to prove they are attempting to change their behavior.

The petitioner needs to be self-aware, show genuine understanding and regret from their mistakes to prove that the lesson has been learned, and that their behavior will change in the future. Overall, Tiger Woods had the best speech, addressing elements of an effective apology. He set the stage to continue his career; however, he must hold to his commitment through his actions. The others failed in that they did not prove they were aware of their egocentric nature and take responsibility for their behavior. A good apology speech includes an acknowledgement of past mistakes, ability to genuinely admit fault, and a plan of action going forward to solidify the future role of a political figure.