The Agony Of Defeat – Running A Small Business

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This story is a difficult one to share.  It begins at a time when we lived in the small town where my husband was born and raised. We had purchased our first home and had settled into a happy domestic life. My husband was between teaching positions when the local hardware store came up for sale. The owner who was the father of my husband’s childhood friends was going to retire. Neither of his sons wanted to take over ownership, so it seemed natural for my husband and I to look at taking the leap to run our own business. What better way to support the small community that he loved and knew so well? So it was with the enthusiasm and naiveté of youth that we went to the bank to see what financing was available to us.  As you might expect, we had few assets and very little savings. What we found was that we needed to enlist the support of family to raise the required funding to use as a down payment. Knowing what hard workers we were, family quickly rallied armed with their checkbooks to support our first business. With this borrowed down payment in hand, we worked with the owner to establish what we deemed a fair market price for the business and the inventory and forged ahead.

I’ll not drag you through all of the details of setting up the business, but will just say that both of us had a bit of a “knowing doing” gap. At least we were smart enough to enlist the help of a local accountant to do the payroll and keep the books. We also enlisted the help  of one of my husband’s sisters to set up a unique  section of the store to sell specialty furniture and crafts. This last helped us differentiate ourselves and fill in the gaps between appliance sales and service.  The first year in business was not easy.  We discovered we had over valued the inventory and now needed to sell a lot of obsolete items at a very steep discount. This did not set us up for success. It was also around this same time that stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot were starting to make an appearance in the larger adjacent towns. Loyalty to the small town businesses was being severely tested. Why would you shop for your large appliances at a small hardware store when you could just drive 30 miles and have a larger variety to choose from often at a lower price? We had the best service and friendliest staff, but at this time in the economy the price was winning over the service.

Looking back, it is much easier to see with clarity that getting out from under the obsolete inventory was a difficult challenge but the changing times and buying patterns was our real undoing.   We made a valiant effort, but in the end had to close the store. After a “fire” sale, we were barely able to pay back the bank. It was our supportive family that we were not able to reimburse. After a few years of financial struggle we were eventually able to return their investment to them.

This was a hard learned lesson for us both. We came out of it having an even greater respect for the small business owner who must make tough decisions each and every day. We learned that you need to keep your business hat on even when dealing with long time family friends. It also reinforced for us that having a loving and supportive family makes going through tough times easier. In the end, I believe that everything happens for a reason. During the time that we owned the store, I was working and going to school.  While running the business, my husband was able to keep a closer eye on our three teen-aged girls.  So while having to close the store was an agonizing defeat, during the time we had it there were many happy times and benefits as well.  I don’t look back with regret, but with a lot of pride in what we were able to accomplish during this time and how much we learned about running a business.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

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“I think everyone should experience defeat at least once during their career. You learn a lot from it.” -Lou Holtz

This week has been a trip down memory lane. Let me just say that it is a very long lane and went all the way back to when I got my first job as a waitress. The pay was awesome, a whole 75 cents an hour. That was a super raise from the 50 cents per hour I had been earning from babysitting.  My days as a waitress at the local diner were not long-lived, they were cut short by my behavior. Well, no one had bothered to tell me that I couldn’t clock out for my lunch break at noon to sit and eat with my mother. Humph guess they thought I would just have enough sense to know not to take a break at the busiest time of the day. Who knew that they would fire me for such an innocent offense? Oh well, my second job was way better – frying chicken at the Hardin County Fair where they loved me and I made a whopping $1.25 per hour.

Let me put this trip down memory lane in context. I am hosting a Junior Achievement (JA) Job Shadow Day here at our offices next week. As a part of that, we held a “lunch and learn” session for the staff who volunteered to be the JA job shadow hosts so that they could understand the agenda for the day and learn what was expected of them as a host. During that meeting the JA Program Manager showed a few great video’s. One of them was, “Make a Difference in the Life of a Child” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZLeBFNIUVo ( to learn more about Junior Achievement in Orange County visit http://jaoc.org/) .

While we were having our lunch, we started discussing our first job experiences and how much we did not know about the work world.  For some of the hosts, their trips down memory lane was much shorter than mine, but in every case we remembered how much we didn’t know then compared to where we are at today. This helped us put in context what we could do as hosts for the students. Modeling professional behavior, showing enthusiasm for our work and for the company, and answering the students questions will all be a part of the day. Especially explaining to the students how we got to where we are today. Some of us have taken a very circuitous route to get to the positions we currently hold. This brought me to the memories of a few of my first jobs. I can say that I have learned a bit since then.  One, it is important to understand what is expected of you on the job, two, it is important to show up for work on time and ready to work, and three, repeat one and two each and every day.  The rest is just good manners, be kind, be trustworthy, be respectful, and be a team player.

So it is with excitement that I am looking forward to our Junior Achievement Job Shadow Day.  We will have over fifty students visiting from two different local high schools along with a few teachers. What a great opportunity this is for our staff and the students.  However, I don’t think I will share with the students my first job experience or maybe on the other hand I should. What do you think?

Business anytime anywhere made possible by Sage!

Business anytime anywhere made possible by Sage.

Many of my friends know that I work for Sage but you may not know exactly what we do. This video
does a great job of explaining our vision and what we do as a software solutions company!

Be sure to “like” it and put your comments on the Facebook page in the video.

Fostering Creativity

Albert Einstein once said: “If I had an hour to save the world I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions” And I find in most organizations people are running around spending sixty minutes finding solutions to problems that don’t matter.”

~ Stephen Shapiro

What do scotch tape, sand paper, golf clubs, and smart phones have in common? That is the challenge I presented to you in the last post. Did you figure it out? No? Okay, if you really are keen to know, then you must read the book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer. Oh, not up for more reading? Then follow along with me and I will explain a bit about how creativity works according to Mr. Lehrer.  While doing this I will also give you the answer to why these seemingly disconnected items are really connected and a bit about where the very ideas for them came from.

Last week I spoke about the need to stay focused, but this week I’m going to talk about why it might be good at times to be more “defocused.”  In the book Lehrer cites many studies done by psychologists at leading universities into the way the brain works. What was found is that those sparks of creativity happen most often after periods of intense focus and then when frustration ensues this is the moment when the left brain gets tired and the right brain takes over. He explains that this mental shift often works because the struggle forces us to try something new. “Because we feel frustrated, we start to look at problems from a new perspective. You’ll see people bolt up in their chair and their eyes go all wide….Sometimes, they even say “Aha!”  before they blurt out the answer.”  This is the time when our brain gets a bit “defocused” and shifts the activity to the other side, to explore a more unexpected set of associations.

In the book, Lehrer talks about the ability to make separate ideas coexist in the mind and that this is a crucial creative tool. It is termed “conceptual blending.” This act of recombination was a key to Gutenberg transforming his knowledge of the winepress into an idea for a printing machine, the Wright brothers’ knowledge of bicycles into inventing the airplane, and Dick Drew’s invention of masking tape from his knowledge of sand paper and low sticking factor glue.  Drew was not just a “one hit wonder” he went from being a sandpaper salesman to being a full-time researcher. From his interaction with a colleague who told him about a new packing material called cellophane he connected his knowledge of glue to create what we know today as Scotch tape.

This brings me to my challenge from last week, this process of conceptual blending has been repeated again and again at 3M (yes, Dee you were correct in part with your comment last week). The adhesive used in industrial-strength masking tape gave rise to sound-dampening panels used in Boeing aircraft. Those panels in turn gave rise to the adhesive foam used in golf clubs, and the concept of Scotch tape inspired another 3M engineer to invent the touch-screen technology used in smartphones. There are many more examples in the book, but this should give you enough to understand the importance of conceptual blending.

At 3M, this is taken so seriously that they regularly rotate engineers from division to division to keep the good ideas circulating. In the software development camp, the new “open cubicle” concept and SCRUM teams help foster interaction across disciplines. This is part of building an environment that encourages creativity and should also make conceptual blending possible. There are other interesting approaches that they take at 3M to foster creativity and I am thinking hard about how we might apply some of them in our Software Engineering organizations. These alone have made this book interesting reading. I just need to get past all of the drug induced inspiration of poets and the alcoholic haze of musical lyrics to pull out the creative environmental opportunities that might apply to our work environment.

As for setting up conditions to support creativity, research has shown that the color blue automatically triggers associations with the sky and the ocean bringing with it a mental relaxation that makes it easier to daydream and pay attention to insights where we are less focused on what is in front of us and more aware of the possibilities in our imaginations. Other research has shown that creativity at times is inspired by other people or in other words a collaborative process. I call this “getting together to paint the restrooms blue.” How many of us have had ideas spawned by casual interactions with others as we head to the restroom at work? Well I would suggest that if we had only one central bathroom location in the building that this would force these interactions and if we could paint all of our bathrooms blue, well that would be creative nirvana.

Please excuse the brevity of this post. I need to send an email to our facilities management to request closure of the upstairs restrooms and volunteer to paint the downstairs restroom blue. Do you think they will approve my request?

To read more from the author of Imagine, below is a link to Jonah Lehrer’s blog. http://bigthink.com/humanizing-technology/undisciplined-the-creative-insight-of-the-outsider?utm_source=Big+Think+Weekly+Newsletter+Subscribers&utm_campaign=695f3944b5-The_Creative_Insight_of_the_Outsider5_4_2012&utm_medium=email

Here is link to an interesting post on problem solving with a reference to the Einstein quote. http://litemind.com/problem-definition/

Being A Doer

 Last week I said I should title this “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” but decided that this would not do justice to the strengths of the Doer.   I did, however, want to pay homage to the nick name (Taz) that my daughter gave me many years ago.  After yet another stress filled morning getting three teenagers off to school, did I say they were all girls? My daughter started calling me Taz. This was probably due to my frenzied flinging of school books, lunch bags, cans of hair spray, and various articles of unmentionable clothing that were strewn about the house. All of this as I had to fight for the bathroom to get ready for work and eat my breakfast on the run. You can easily see how I earned my name and of course why my pants were often on backwards.

 I would like to say that I am different in my work life than I am at home, but when the pressure of work projects looms out comes the Taz in me.   As you know from my earlier blog, we Doer’s get a lot done, but sometimes at the expense of dead bodies left in our wake. 

When brought to our attention that we may have caused a bit of an issue as we voraciously chewed through a problem, we Doer’s are usually confused as to why anyone is upset because after all we did get the job done. And very quickly at that! So all Doer’s be forewarned while you may accomplish a lot you need to keep the battlefield clear of bodies.

ImageNow in case you think that I am a real “piece of work,” please remember that I am not a Doer all of the time just when I am under pressure. When I am working along as I am today just getting things done at a normal pace, I am really a thinker. I had plenty of time to get ready for work this morning (the girls are all grown and gone) and my pants have that knife-edge crease in them. I am operating in my best thinker mode pondering all the different detailed ways to write this blog and get my points across. As you can tell, I do love pictures and still identify with the Taz.

ImageI’d like to also add that when the conditions are very favorable I can switch into my Feeler mode.  This is when I walk around the office and chat with folks and find out how they are doing, what their children are up to, and maybe even invite someone to walk across the street for a Starbuck’s. More on this next week as I share a bit about the Feelers among us. Perhaps I should dub them more politically correctly and call them the “Connectors.”