Just Like Jazz

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I was driving in my car the other day and listening to some jazz on the radio. As I was appreciating the exquisite craftsmanship and unique blend of notes, melodies, and riffs of a particular song, an interesting thought came to my mind. In many ways, jazz is very similar to business and jazz artists are very similar to entrepreneurs.

I love music and one of my favorite genres is jazz. What I enjoy the most is the talent of the artists expressed through their musical creativity and innovation. To the casual listener, it is extremely difficult to distinguish when a jazz musician is "playing it straight" or improvising by adding their own flare to a song. Although they play within the structure of the song, i.e. tone, harmony, tempo, melody, they are still able to innovate within that structure to create an experience that is unique, inspiring, bold, and beautiful.

Entrepreneurs are very similar to jazz musicians. Just like with a musical composition, structure is also very important in business. In business there are some key fundamentals and guidelines to operating one successfully. Those guidelines include things such as leadership, vision, strategic planning, cash flow, marketing, customer service, competitive pricing, etc. Nevertheless, true business impresarios improvise and innovate within these guidelines to create products and services that wow their customers. Their flare and creativity are the result of knowing how to make effective business decisions, anticipating the dynamic ebb and flow of the marketplace.

Although they may be known for their cutting edge products and services, the most innovative companies still understand and operate by basic business fundamentals. They recognize that discipline is the foundation for creativity and innovation, meaning that they must execute well in the basics before they can step outside of the box. Likewise, when someone first sits down to learn how to play an instrument, they don't start with the most difficult songs. They start with the easy ones and build from there. If you are early on in your business, don't try to go so far out of the box that you don't have a business model that can make money. Excel in the basics first, and then expand your operations and activities.

It's interesting that when you listen to jazz, sometimes a chord here or there may sound out of place. Often in business, you have to go outside of the norm and change the definition of what others may consider normal. What's off key for somebody else may be just right for you. Companies that are successful are able to expand outside the box by differentiating themselves from their competition through price, quality, uniqueness, service, or some other distinguishing factor.

Just like there are different types of jazz, there are different types of management and operational styles. If you have very conservative customers, your approach may need to be a little more conservative. However, if you are targeting more fast-paced, risk-taking customers, you better align your products and services with their preferences. If you have a mixture of customers, then you really have to be able to "flow" both ways.

You are a business maestro. Be disciplined, but also flexible. Find what's right for you and then be the best at executing it. Don't be afraid to stretch yourself and try something new or different. Create "wow" experiences for your customers. That might be just what you need to bring your business into harmony with your target market.

I look forward to hearing the sweet sounds - cha-ching! - of your entrepreneurial endeavors.

Empowering You for Success,
Paul Wilson

Tags: business, entrepreneur, leadership, jazz, innovation, music, innovative business ideas

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Do No Harm

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Although the phrase "do no harm" is most often associated with the medical profession, it is a very wise admonition for entrepreneurs to follow also. In my most recent posting, like many other people, I was praising the winner of the 2006 Tour de France, Floyd Landis. Unfortunately, since that time he has failed two doping tests for higher than allowable levels of testosterone. He was fired by his team and the Tour de France no longer considers him their champion.

I wrote in my posting, Ingredients for Winning, that some of the key things that he learned from his mentor, seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, were "forget pain, overcome mishap, crush self doubt, and focus only on your victory.” While each of these things is critical to winning grueling bike races, one of the key instructions that seemed to be left out was "don't cheat."

Performance enhancing drugs seem to be commonplace everywhere in the sports world today. From baseball and football players to track stars, there seems to be no end to the stories of athletes getting busted for using illegal drugs. Sporting events, which used to be an enjoyable escape for fans, now are somewhat tainted, because nobody knows who's using and who's not.

How does all of this relate to business? Let me ask you when was the last time you cheated one of your customers? When was the last time that you deducted something on your taxes that was questionable? When was the last time you lied to one of your suppliers to get a better deal? You see, sports isn't the only area that illegal or unethical performance enhancing practices are used to gain a little bit more of a competitive advantage.

Of course it takes financial capital to run a successful business. I liken integrity to another type of capital - relationship or social capital. Social capital, i.e. credibility, is often more crucial than financial capital for many business owners. If entrepreneurs won't operate with integrity in their business dealings, there is nothing left for them to stand on. Losing credibility not only hurts the individual, it also hurts customers, suppliers, employees, and their families. What took a long time to build can come crashing down in an instant.

Entrepreneurs have to make many sink or swim choices everyday to maintain and grow their businesses. However, it is NEVER the right decision to do something that you wouldn't want to be published on the front page of a newspaper or a blog. No matter how small it might seem, what you do in secret should always align with how you operate in public. That's called integrity. And it's sad to say that many businesspeople are bankrupt in this area.

No matter what pressures you face on a daily basis, it is never worth it to cheat, steal, lie, or do anything else that is illegal or unethical. Remember, you will reap what you sow. If you sow positive seeds in your business and other people's lives, you will reap positive results. Likewise, if you sow negative seeds, you will reap negative results, which might not only cause you to lose a few dollars or a few customers, it might also cost you your business. Don't just think about yourself; think of the lives that will be negatively impacted by your negative decisions.

Do the right thing and do no harm.

Empowering You for Success,
Paul Wilson

Tags: business, entrepreneur, leadership, ethics,
Tour de France, discipline, Floyd Landis, sports, Lance Armstrong

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