The SOUL

Skip is busy writing the first draft of The SOUL of the New Venture.

Here is an early draft of the introduction to The SOUL of the New Venture:

For my entire professional life, I longed to find the magic formulas for success – a formula for personal success, how to create a successful product, and how to create a successful business.  The search occurred in large and small corporations, through the absorption of thousands of books and countless academic articles (my invisible university), attending professional development seminars, teaching hundreds of curious graduate students, and the interactions with countless friends, colleagues, and strategic networking relationships.

For the last twenty years, my search for success formulas focused on the world of new ventures as a serial entrepreneur, mentor for other entrepreneurs, and a faculty member at the University of Washington teaching at the intersection of design and business.

As I struggle to understand and share the lessons of these last forty years, I am reminded of an hour long presentation on the culture of Japan.  We tried to absorb these lessons the first morning of our arrival in Japan as part of a Total Quality Control Study Mission with twenty manufacturing managers from Digital Equipment Corporation.  Jean Pearce, a columnist for the English language Japan Times, is a diminutive lady who has been in Japan for several decades.  Her first comments stick with me 25 years later – “when I first arrived in Japan, I was able to write a full book about the Japanese culture.  After a year, I was barely able to write five pages about the culture of Japan.  Today, after thirty years of living in Japan, I can’t even write a single definitive sentence about the culture of Japan.  The more I experience the Japanese culture, the less able I am to generalize.  However, I can share many examples of differences between America and Japan and hopefully that will help you experience your stay in Japan in a different manner.”

Jean started by pointing out the difference between East and West through something as simple as eating utensils. Silverware is noisy, clunky and cutting. The chopsticks are quiet and have not been used by others before. They are natural and have sensitivity.

She showed us an example of origami, the art of paper folding, by folding a dollar bill – the shrinking dollar. Then she pulled out a little cage for keeping bugs in the house so that one can hear the song of summer. The cage is arranged so that you feed the bug cucumbers or watermelon. I asked her later about these cages and she pointed me to the following short story:

Kusa-Hibari

Lofcadio Hearn

“His cage is exactly two Japanese inches high and one inch and a half wide: its tiny wooden door, turning upon a pivot, will scarcely admit the tip of my little finger.  But he has plenty of room in that cage — room to walk, and jump, and fly, for he is so small that you must look very carefully through the brown-gauze sides of it in order to catch a glimpse of him.  I have always to turn the cage round and round, several times, in a good light, before I can discover his whereabouts, and then I usually find him resting in one of the upper corners – clinging, upside down, to his ceiling of gauze.

Imagine a cricket about the size of an ordinary mosquito — with a pair of antennae much longer than his own body, and so fine that you can distinguish them only against the light.  Kusa-Hibari, or “Grass-Lark” is the Japanese name of him; and he is worth in the market exactly twelve cents: that is to say, very much more than his weight in gold.  Twelve cents for such a gnat-like thing! . . . By day he sleeps or meditates, except while occupied with the slice of fresh egg-plant or cucumber which must be poked into his cage every morning . . .to keep him clean and well fed is somewhat troublesome: could you see him, you would think it absurd to take any pains for the sake of a creature so ridiculously small.

But always at sunset the infinitesimal soul of him awakens: then the room begins to fill with a delicate and ghostly music of indescribable sweetness — a thin, silvery rippling and trilling as of tiniest electric bells.  As the darkness deepens, the sound becomes sweeter — sometimes swelling till the whole house seems to vibrate with the elfish resonance — sometimes thinning down into the faintest imaginable thread of a voice.  But loud or low, it keeps a penetrating quality that is weird . . . All night the atomy thus sings: he ceases only when the temple bell proclaims the hour of dawn.

Now this tiny song is a song of love — vague love of the unseen and unknown.  It is quite impossible that he should ever have seen or known, in this present existence of his.  Not even his ancestors, for many generations back, could have known anything of the night-life of the fields, or the amorous value of song.

They were born of eggs hatched in a jar of clay, in the shop of some insect-merchant: and they dwelt thereafter only in cages.  But he sings the song of his race as it was sung a myriad years ago, and as faultlessly as if he understood the exact significance of every note.  Of course he did not learn the song.  It is a song of organic memory — deep, dim memory of other quintillions of lives, when the ghost of him shrilled at night from the dewy grasses of the hills.  Then that song brought him love — and death.  He has forgotten all about death: but he remembers the love.  And therefore he sings now — for the bride that will never come.

So that his longing is unconsciously retrospective: he cries to the dust of the past — he calls to the silence and the gods for the return of time. . .Human lovers do very much the same thing without knowing it.  They call their illusion an Ideal: and their Ideal is, after all, a mere shadowing of race-experience, a phantom of organic memory.  The living present has very little to do with it. . .Perhaps this atom also has an ideal, or at least the rudiment of an ideal; but, in any event, the tiny desire must utter its plaint in vain.

The fault is not altogether mine.  I had been warned that if the creature were mated, he would cease to sing and would speedily die.  But, night after night, the plaintive, sweet, unanswered trilling touched me like a reproach — became at last an obsession, an affliction, a torment of conscience; and I tried to buy a female.  It was too late in the season; there were no more kusa-hibari for sale, — either males or females.  The insect-merchant laughed and said, “He ought to have died about the twentieth day of the ninth month.” (It was already the second day of the tenth month.)  But the insect-merchant did not know that I have a good stove in my study, and keep the temperature at above 75 degrees F.  Wherefore my grass-lark still sings at the close of the eleventh month, and I hope to keep him alive until the Period of the Greatest Cold.  However, the rest of his generation are probably dead: neither for love nor money could I now find him a mate.  And were I to set him free in order that he might make the search for himself, he could not possibly live through a single night, even if fortunate enough to escape by day the multitude of his natural enemies in the garden — ants, centipedes, and ghastly earth-spiders.

Last evening — the twenty-ninth of the eleventh month — an odd feeling came to me as I sat at my desk: a sense of emptiness in the room.  Then I became aware that my grass-lark was silent, contrary to his wont.  I went to the silent cage, and found him lying dead beside a dried-up lump of egg-plant as gray and hard as a stone.  Evidently he had not been fed for three or four days; but only the night before his death he had been singing wonderfully — so that I foolishly imagined him to be more than usually contented.  My student, Aki, who loves insects, used to feed him; but Aki had gone into the country for a week’s holiday, and the duty of caring for the grass-lark had developed upon Hana, the housemaid.  She is not sympathetic, Hana the housemaid.  She says that she did not forget the mite — but there was no more egg-plant.  And she had never thought of substituting a slice of onion or of cucumber!. . .I spoke words of reproof to Hana the housemaid, and she dutifully expressed contrition.  But the fairy-music had stopped: and the stillness reproaches; and the room is cold, in spite of the stove.

Absurd!. . .I have made a good girl unhappy because of an insect half the size of a barley-grain!  The quenching of that infinitesimal life troubled me more than I could have believed possible. . .Of course, the mere habit of thinking about a creature’s wants — even the wants of a cricket — may create, by insensible degrees, an imaginative interest, an attachment of which one becomes conscious only when the relation is broken.  Besides, I had felt so much, in the hush of the night, the charm of the delicate voice — telling of one minute existence dependent upon my will and selfish pleasure, as upon the favor of a god — telling me also that the atom of ghost in the tiny cage, and the atom of ghost within myself, were forever but one and the same in the deeps of the Vast of being. . .And then to think of the little creature hungering and thirsting, night after night and day after day, while the thoughts of his guardian deity were turned to the weaving of dreams!. . .How bravely, nevertheless, he sang on to the very end — an atrocious end, for he had eaten his own legs!. . .May the gods forgive us all — especially Hana the housemaid!

Yet, after all, to devour one’s own legs for hunger is not the worst that can happen to a being cursed with the gift of song.  There are human crickets who must eat their own hearts in order to sing.”

Like Jean, as I try to articulate the “soul of the new venture” I am unable to write even a single definitive statement other than “being an entrepreneur is fighting for the soul of the new venture every single day with employees, investors, customers, suppliers, influencers, consultants and business advisors.”  The more successful the new venture is the harder this fight for the soul becomes.

While there is no formula for new venture success that I’ve found, there is a clear process – discovering, articulating, selling, storytelling, and living the soul of the new venture every single day – being the soul of the new venture.  The best successful ventures are able to create and re-create and defend the soul each and every day.  The soul of the new venture is unique to each venture and in the best ventures evolves over time.

What will we do with our swords?

As part of my search I explored the rich field of accelerated learning described by Colin Rose and Sheila Ostrander.  Buried in these books was an oblique reference to some priests on Majorca that reportedly had discovered some of these same principles and techniques.  Several years later, I lived a Cursillo weekend in New Hampshire.  As one of the priests described the history of the Cursillo Movement and attributed the origins to Majorca I realized I had encountered what Rose and Ostrander were describing.  Through accelerated learning techniques, I experienced and learned more about Christianity, Catholicism, and spirituality in three days than I had in my previous thirty years.

Unlike other “religious” learning processes I’d experienced before, the Cursillo process ended with the guiding light of “we’ve given you several practices this weekend.  Only you will know how to apply them to your life and environment. Take these practices into your world.” I decided I would take these techniques into the world of new venture development.  Nice idea, but I didn’t have all the skills required to translate and adapt these practices to a corporate world.

A few years later I encountered Paulo Coehlo’s Pilgrimage: A Contemporary Quest for Ancient Wisdom. The novel describes a journey on the Camino in Spain.  I inhaled this book as the backstory behind Cursillo is that the Majorcan priests created the Cursillo three day process because they were not able to walk the Camino with the young men from their villages during the war years of World War II

The very start of the book captured me:

“’AND NOW, BEFORE THE SACRED COUNTENANCE OF RAM, you must touch with your hands the Word of Life and acquire such power as you need to become a witness to that Word throughout the world.’

The Master raised high my new sword, still sheathed in its scabbard. The flames of the bonfire crackled—a good omen, indicating that the ritual should continue. I knelt and, with my bare hands, began to dig into the earth.

It was the night of January 2, 1986, and we were in Itatiaia, high on one of the peaks in the Serra do Mar, close to the formation known as the Agulhas Negras (Black Needles) in Brazil. My Master and I were accompanied by my wife, one of my disciples, a local guide, and a representative of the great fraternity that is comprised of esoteric orders from all over the world—the fraternity known as “the Tradition.” The five of us—and the guide, who had been told what was to happen—were participating in my ordination as a Master of the Order of RAM.

I finished digging a smooth, elongated hole in the dirt. With great solemnity, I placed my hands on the earth and spoke the ritual words. My wife drew near and handed me the sword I had used for more than ten years; it had been a great help to me during hundreds of magical operations. I placed it in the hole I had dug, covered it with dirt, and smoothed the surface. As I did so, I thought of the many tests I had endured, of all I had learned, and of the strange phenomena I had been able to invoke simply because I had had that ancient and friendly sword with me. Now it was to be devoured by the earth, the iron of its blade and the wood of its hilt returning to nourish the source from which its power had come.

The Master approached me and placed my new sword on the earth that now covered the grave of my ancient one. All of us spread our arms wide, and the Master, invoking his power, created a strange light that surrounded us; it did not illuminate, but it was clearly visible, and it caused the figures of those who were there to take on a color that was different from the yellowish tinge cast by the fire. Then, drawing his own sword, he touched it to my shoulders and my forehead as he said, “By the power and the love of RAM, I anoint you Master and Knight of the Order, now and for all the days of your life. R for rigor, A for adoration, and M for mercy; R for regnum, A for agnus, and M for mundi. Let not your sword remain for long in its scabbard, lest it rust. And when you draw your sword, it must never be replaced without having performed an act of goodness, opened a new path, or tasted the blood of an enemy.”

With the point of his sword, he lightly cut my forehead. From then on, I was no longer required to remain silent. No longer did I have to hide my capabilities nor maintain secrecy regarding the marvels I had learned to accomplish on the road of the Tradition. From that moment on, I was a Magus.

I reached out to take my new sword of indestructible steel and wood, with its black and red hilt and black scabbard. But as my hands touched the scabbard and as I prepared to pick it up, the Master came forward and stepped on my fingers with all his might. I screamed and let go of the sword.

I looked at him, astonished. The strange light had disappeared, and his face had taken on a phantasmagoric appearance, heightened by the flames of the bonfire.

He returned my gaze coldly, called to my wife, and gave her the sword, speaking a few words that I could not hear. Turning to me, he said, “Take away your hand; it had deceived you. The road of the Tradition is not for the chosen few. It is everyone’s road. And the power that you think you have is worthless, because it is a power that is shared by all. You should have refused the sword. If you had done so, it would have been given to you, because you would have shown that your heart was pure. But just as I feared, at the supreme moment you stumbled and fell. Because of your avidity, you will now have to seek again for your sword. And because of your pride, you will have to seek it among simple people. Because of your fascination with miracles, you will have to struggle to recapture what was about to be given to you so generously.”

The world seemed to fall away from me. I knelt there unable to think about anything. Once I had returned my old sword to the earth, I could not retrieve it. And since the new one had not been given to me, I now had to begin my quest for it all over again, powerless and defenseless. On the day of my Celestial Ordination, my Master’s violence had brought me back to earth.”

The Pilgrimage continues with the author’s search for his sword along the Camino along with Petrus, his new mentor. The author’s journey is one of overcoming obstacle after obstacle set before him by Petrus to provide the transformation so sought after.  Near the end of the book, the story reaches a climax as the protagonist finally transforms his yearning:

“I awoke feeling more optimistic and took to the Road early.  According to my calculations, that afternoon I would reach Galicia, the region where Santiago de Compestela was located.  It was all uphill, and I had to exert myself for almost four hours to keep to the pace I had set for myself.  Every time I reached the crest of a hill I hoped that it would mark the point of descent.  But this never seemed to happen, and I had to give up any hope of moving along more rapidly.  In the distance I could see mountains that were even higher, and I realized that sooner or later I was going to have to cross them.  My physical exertions, meanwhile, had made it impossible to think much, and I began to feel more friendly toward myself.

“Come on now, after all, how can you take seriously anyone who leaves everything behind to look for a sword?” I asked myself.  What would it really mean to my life if I couldn’t find it?  I had learned the RAM practices, I had gotten to know my messenger, fought with the dog, and seen my death, I told myself, trying to convince myself that the Road to Santiago was what was important to me.  The sword was only an outcome.  I would like to find it, but I would like even more to know what to do with it.  Because I would have to use it in some practical way, just as I used the exercises Petrus had taught me.

I stopped short.  The thought that up until then had been only nascent exploded into clarity.  Everything became clear, and a tide of agape washed over me.  I wished with all my heart that Petrus were there so that I could tell him what he had been waiting to hear from me.  It was the only thing that he had really wanted me to understand, the crowning accomplishment of all the hours he had devoted to teaching me as we walked the Strange Road to Santiago: it was the secret of my sword!

And the secret of my sword, like the secret of any conquest we make in our lives, was the simplest thing in the world: it was what I should do with the sword.

I had never thought in these terms.  Throughout our time on the Strange Road to Santiago, the only thing I had wanted to know was where it was hidden.  I had never asked myself why I wanted to find it or what I needed it for.  All of my efforts had been bent on reward;  I had not understood that when we want something, we have to have a clear purpose in mind for the thing that we want.  The only reason for seeking a reward is to know what to do with that reward.  And this was the secret of my sword.”

What was I going to do with my sword?  All the experiences and learning and I didn’t know what I was going to do with my sword.  For the last twenty years, I tried and tried but couldn’t articulate for myself what I really wanted to do with my talent, my sword.

Then in the middle of yet another sleepless night, I sat up with a start and laughed.  No wonder I couldn’t figure out what to do with my sword.  I had no idea what my sword is.  Still chuckling, I got up and went to my PC and sent the following email to my most trusted colleagues:

Dear treasured colleague,

I recently re-read Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage for the third time.  The book is about a journey that Paulo took in Spain to the shrine of San Tiago.

From the first reading, I have endeavored to come to the insights of Coelho that life is not about acquiring a sword, but about figuring out what to do with the sword.  I’ve spent a lot of time trying to answer the same question – what am I going to do with my sword?

Yet on this re-reading I had to laugh at myself as I realized I had not ever asked the question, what is my sword?  No wonder I couldn’t answer the second question.

As someone who I trust and value and who has known me for a long time, I would appreciate some help in your point of view on “what is my metaphorical sword?”  What do you think is my best skill?  What is my special gift in this world?  What is it that I’m really good at?

Thanks ahead of time for your insights.

Peace,

Skip

The responses that came from this email are the most touching gifts I ever received.

From Eric Robinson, Senior Managing Director at FTI Consulting, who I had the pleasure of collaborating with to create the Attenex Corporation business (sold to FTI for $91M) and our key product Attenex Patterns:

Skip,

I appreciate that you trust me with such a serious request. My first reaction was, “Wow. I need to think about this in depth”, but then I thought, “No, I know exactly the things I appreciate in Skip.”

Your greatest strength to me has always been your ability to see and communicate a vision or an opportunity. You make the connections that are staring everyone in the face, but no one else sees. You bring to bear all of your knowledge (business, technical, personal) to analyze a problem or opportunity – applying what you’ve read and what you’ve experienced – where other people seem to forget past experience and can’t reconcile what they read or what they know into a coherent world-view.

Your other great strength, tied to the first, is your ability to educate/communicate. In the past, I have asked what I thought were questions with simple answers and you took the time to lay out the larger picture and expand how I should be thinking about the problem.

Hope this helps.

Eric

With a daughter’s eye, Elizabeth Walter Shelly shared:

Hello,

So, if life is about figuring out what to do with a sword rather than how to acquire one, does that mean that the “attaining” of a sword is unconscious, so you can’t figure out how to do that anyway?  Like, you are naturally good at some things (and naturally gravitate towards some things) and those abilities are your “sword”?  What do you think?  (And why did the book only get 4 stars on Amazon if it is so good?  😉

As someone who I trust and value and who has known me for a long time, I would appreciate some help in your point of view on “what is my metaphorical sword?”  What do you think is my best skill?  What is my special gift in this world?  What is it that I’m really good at?

Ok, so I have been thinking about this for a few days and here is what I have come up with…

(It is quite possible that my perspective has been shaped by your note about how “A vine is a machine for transforming terroir into stories” and by the “Digital wizard” story and I am a shameless copycat.  But perhaps there is something useful in what follows nonetheless.)

You have many talents. From my perspective, the keystone in all of these is that you identify (and create) stories and communicate them to relevant individuals far earlier in the unfolding “tale” than anyone else is able to.  And this lets you shape the story more than most others. I would wager that what allows you to do this is your ability to be open + curious to new people and ideas (ie: true enjoyment of “networking” in the deeper sense), and your tendency to be humble + interested enough with the people who matter that they want to teach you about new fields (ie: you don’t seem to pigeon-hole yourself into one domain).  And you “get” how business works, so you are able to write some of these stories in the marketplace.  You also have passion — you care about the underlying story — which gets you very excited at times, but also very upset when someone else comes in and starts editing with a giant black marker.

To be totally low-brow: What you do best can be likened to reading a Clive Cussler book.  You know how these books start off with 4 seemingly unrelated chapters occurring many years apart?  Some of us need the connections spelled out in the later chapters, while other readers can predict the connections right away.  It seems to me that you are in the latter category, in terms of reading real life events.  You are able to grasp unrelated interactions and see the story weaving through many disparate events about 10 years (+/- 5 years) earlier than anyone else in related fields is able to.  You see the arc of the storyline before most of us have even identified the main players.  And you appear to have a good memory for remembering key players in earlier chapters, to bring them back into the story when the time is right.

You have said yourself a number of times that you have had to figure out how to “lead” people to see the story line in your head by “planting seeds” that will eventually sprout to get them to get themselves to a place that they can’t be dragged to.

So, perhaps you are a farmer of ideas. (And after refraining from using a witty comment about “hammering swords into plowshares” I think my work here is done.  😉

Eliz.

My response back to Elizabeth:

Elizabeth,

I can’t thank you enough for so thoughtfully working on this.  This is one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten from you.

You have such a wonderful way with words that get at the concepts that you are trying to create so nicely.  Examples:

    • So, perhaps you are a farmer of ideas
    • And you “get” how business works, so you are able to write some of these stories in the marketplace.   [I love the phrase “write these stories in the marketplace.”]

Thanks so much, more than you will ever know.

Dad

In this note, Elizabeth refers to a nice “Archiving Fairy Tale” (Digital Wizard) that Greg Buckles wrote to my wife, Jamie, to capture a story he told during a wine tasting with our new venture gang:

For Jamie,

Once upon a time, in the old kingdom of DEC, there lived a wizard named Skip. This wizard belonged to a cabal that was building a special spell, called the All-In-One Spell. The cabal worked long and hard to make the spell that would store whatever you needed. Then the evil Compaq Compact plotted the overthrow of the kingdom of DEC. The wizard Skip escaped the invasion, but many of the cabal were captured and forced to work on the spell, turning it into a spell vault to hold all the whisperings within a kingdom safely locked away.

But the evil Compaq could not control the cabals, wizards and spells that they had taken, so many wizards escaped and took the spells with them. The wizard Nigel escaped with the Vault and ran back to the same castle in Redding where the spell had first been born. He gathered as many of the original cabal as he could find and they cast the spell for many kingdoms.

The Vault spell was so powerful that almost all of the greedy gnomes with banks along the great Street of the Wall used the spell to listen to the whispers of all of their trader gnomes. But the trader gnomes got greedy and began to steal from everyone. So the great sheriff Spitzer declared war upon the merchant gnomes and all the other great houses of trade. He demanded all of their hoarded whispers to find the bad gnomes.

In the far west, the House of El Paso struggled to fend off the attacks of the sheriffs. They hired a young wizard named Greg to find all the whispers and deliver them to the sheriffs, but he needed the Vault spell to do it. He made another spell to work with the Vault. A spell that saved his House and many other Houses under assault.

The time of troubles passed, but Kingdoms, Counties and Houses across the world wanted the Vault and the new Discovery spell to protect themselves. Great bags of gold came to the Knowledge Vault Sorcerers and they grew rich. So rich that great kingdoms vied to buy the secret code of the Vault. The kingdom of Symantec bought the spells and many of the Cabal went forth to start new cabals that created spells to understand all of the whispers captured in all of the Vaults.

Wizard Skip had created many spells since his time with the kingdom of DEC. His reputation had grown and his spell was the strongest spell for understanding the Patterns in the whispers. The House of Ten Times was known far and wide for the power of their spells.

Always seeking to work with the best spells in all the lands, wizard Greg joined the House. He knew that wizard Skip had helped create the great Vault spell, but did not reveal his own spells to Skip. For many moons they worked together, but the House of Ten Times had  become too complacent with the success of the Patterns spell. Each wizard decided that it was time to leave. Only then, did the younger wizard show to his elder how his code had grown and what it had become.

Small spells may become great spells and great spells may give birth to small spells. The wheels turn, but the Patterns remain the same.

Greg Buckles

Then, my friend and colleague through many serial new ventures, marketing maven Mason White provided in his wonderfully articulate and succinct manner:

Your sword?  I have had most of a flight to pare this down to a bumper sticker.

Your sword is sword making.

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How Skip makes swords

Reading, listening, observing and discussing BROADLY and then reflecting to better frame the problems at hand, understand the relevant environment and synthesize a set of plausible potential solutions. Developing a set of definable concepts and vocabulary to improve communication about the problem, environment and solutions.

Wash, rinse, and repeat to sort through the impacts of the candidate solutions. Present the choice space and a recommendation.

###################

How many times do you suppose you have done this as a student, employee, teacher, consultant, executive, mentor and parent?

My sword is sword making. And with that keen insight, which immediately felt right, I not only had my metaphorical sword but I also had the answer to “what am I going to do with my sword?”

These two fundamental questions are at both the heart of developing individual talent within a new venture and also form the “soul of the new venture.”

    • What is my sword?
    • What I should do with my sword?

Or stated another way, what resources (swords) do we have at our disposal to create a product that will be in service to (do with our swords) our audience and customers and stakeholders.

Clayton Christensen’s book How Will You Measure Your Life? came through my email news feeds at the end of teaching an entrepreneurship class at UW Bothell.  This deeply touching book provides another view of getting at the heart of one’s life.

Christensen is the Harvard Business School professor and godfather of the revised theories of innovation which he so articulately captured in The Innovator’s Dilemma.  A couple of years ago Christensen was treated for cancer and during the treatment suffered an ischemic stroke.  During that time he wrote How Will You Measure Your life? based on his end of class lecture he gives to his MBA students:

“When people ask what I think they should do, I rarely answer their question directly. Instead, I run the question aloud through one of my models. I’ll describe how the process in the model worked its way through an industry quite different from their own. And then, more often than not, they’ll say, “OK, I get it.” And they’ll answer their own question more insightfully than I could have.

“My class at HBS is structured to help my students understand what good management theory is and how it is built. To that backbone I attach different models or theories that help students think about the various dimensions of a general manager’s job in stimulating innovation and growth. In each session we look at one company through the lenses of those theories—using them to explain how the company got into its situation and to examine what managerial actions will yield the needed results.

“On the last day of class, I ask my students to turn those theoretical lenses on themselves, to find cogent answers to three questions: First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail? Though the last question sounds lighthearted, it’s not. Two of the 32 people in my Rhodes Scholar class spent time in jail. Jeff Skilling of Enron fame was a classmate of mine at HBS. These were good guys—but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction.”

Christensen’s three questions are another way of getting at Coehlo’s two questions both for the individual and for the soul of the new venture.

One of the most elegant statements of an energizing partial answer to the “soul of the new venture” was facilitated by an incredible mentor, Charley Krone, with the DuPont Executive team:

“Our principles are sacred.  We will respect nature and living things, work safely, be gracious to one another and our partners, and each day we will leave for home with consciences clear and spirits soaring.” 

DuPont Vision Statement

Exercises for What Will We Do with Our Swords?

Answer for yourself the five questions:

    • What is my sword?
    • What I should do with my sword?
    • How can I be sure that I will be happy in my career?
    • How can I be sure that my relationships with spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?
    • How can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

If you struggle like I did to answer these questions, use the gift of your family, friend and colleague networks to help you shine light on these questions.

If you are in a new venture or are thinking about starting a new venture, how would you answer these five questions at your venture level?

 

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