• Senior Entrepreneurs: Innovative, Foolhardy or Desperate?

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    As more and more research details that older Americans are starting businesses at a higher-than-average rate, it’s important to study the why and how of this phenomena.

    Anita Campbell, Editor and Founder of Small Business Trends, LLC, posits the question, StartUps Are Graying, But Is It a Good Financial Move?

    Campbell writes, “The face of the typical startup entrepreneur these days is a bit wrinkly, sporting some gray hair, and having the wisdom that comes with age.”

    She refers to a Business Week article by Scott Shane where he says, “according to recent research, these days those 55 and over are more likely than young people to be starting businesses.” And Shane, in turn, cites research by Dane Stangler of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation that showed in every year from 1996 to 2007, Americans aged 55 to 64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those aged 20 to 34.

    In the name of realistic scrutiny, I just Tweeted an Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times, Entrepreneur or Unemployed?, by Robert B. Reich, former secretary of labor, now professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley,

    Reich captures the under-reported truth behind this entrepreneurial joy, saying, too often the catalyst for this entrepreneurial surge is, “In a word, unemployment. Booted off company payrolls, millions of Americans had no choice but to try selling themselves. Another term for ‘entrepreneur’ is ‘self-employed.’”

    Reich continues:

    “According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics by an outplacement firm, Challenger Gray & Christmas, the number of self-employed Americans rose to 8.9 million last December, up from 8.7 million a year earlier. Self-employment among those 55 to 64 rose to nearly two million, 5 percent higher than in 2008. Among people over 65, the ranks of the self-employed swelled 29 percent. Many older people who had expected to retire discovered their 401(k)’s had shrunk and their homes were worthless. So they became ‘entrepreneurs,’ too.

    Maybe this is a good thing. A deep recession can be the mother of invention. These Americans are now liberated from the bureaucratic straitjackets they thought they had to wear. They can now fulfill their creative dreams and find their inner entrepreneurs. All they needed was a good kick in the pants.

    But this upbeat interpretation doesn’t include lots of people who don’t particularly relish becoming their own employers, like an acquaintance whom I’ll call George. George was an associate partner at one of the world’s largest technology and consulting firms until he lost his job last year in a wave of layoffs. For months, George knocked on doors but got nowhere because of the deep recession.

    But this upbeat interpretation doesn’t include lots of people who don’t particularly relish becoming their own employers, like an acquaintance whom I’ll call George. George was an associate partner at one of the world’s largest technology and consulting firms until he lost his job last year in a wave of layoffs. For months, George knocked on doors but got nowhere because of the deep recession.

    Finally, his old firm got some new projects that required George’s skills. But it didn’t hire George back. Instead, it brought him back through a “contingent workforce company,” essentially a temp agency, that’s now contracting with George to do the work. In return, the agency is taking a chunk of George’s hourly rate.

    Technically, George is his own boss. But he’s doing exactly what he did before for less money, and he gets no benefits — no health care, no 401(k) match, no sick leave, no paid vacation. Worse still, his income and hours are unpredictable even though his monthly bills still arrive with frightening regularity.

    The nation’s official rate of unemployment does not include George, nor anyone in this new wave of involuntary entrepreneurship. Yet to think of them as the innovative owners of startup businesses misses one of the most significant changes to have occurred in the American work force in many decades.”

    In addition to more realistic depictions of this frequently “involuntary entrepreneurship,” I’d like to see more research on how seniors’ are underwriting their start-ups. Are they, for example,  throwing all their savings and what crumbs might remain in their 401-K retirement accounts into these ventures? Is this, as Anita Campbell pointed out, a wise move? Young entrepreneurs have many more years to recoup those funds should the new enterprise fail.

    In that regard, it would also be valuable to see some data on Senior “Entrepreneurs” success rates. How do Seniors compete with the more tech savvy, viral-marketing-driven young entrepreneurs? Robert Jones, asks in his SmartBrief on Entrepreneurs nugget, “Are older entrepreneurs at a competitive disadvantage in a world of social media and digital communication?”

    Jeff Wuorio, makes a start at answering some of these questions with his four tips in The Older Entrepreneur’s Guide to Success, but clearly – there are a lot more questions to be answered before we revel in the “Senior Entrepreneur” phenomena.

  • “Bold But Not Brash:” Still Working and Blogging Full Time At Seventy

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    This morning I found “The 70-Something Blog” by June Kugel – thanks to Paula Span’s post in the the New York Times, The New Old Age: “A Blog About the Road Ahead.”

    Span writes, “Ms. Kugel believes in recording and reflecting on big transitions. In her 59th year, she had kept a journal in a loose-leaf binder, which she still rereads on occasion. On her next milestone birthday, updating her technology, she launched “The 70-Something Blog” and committed to posting twice a week. ‘I’ll let you know my triumphs and my low points,’ she promised her readers.”

    “I don’t write the blog for a million people to read,” she told Span. “I write it for me, to document this particular decade.”

    June Kugel is associate dean of students at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and she still bikes the two miles to and from her office everyday.

    Two of my favorite excerpts from her blog posts provide a flavor of her writing and her zest for her work and her life.

    This first is related to a bathroom refurbishing project she and her husband undertook:

    “We were efficient about choosing and ordering everything, and had the contractor all set. True, our project started four weeks later than scheduled, but that’s to be expected. Once the work started, it was just five days of disruption until the bathroom looked beautiful. A new shower curtain would be the final touch. That was a bit complicated, however, involving six visits to the Marimekko store. But on Thursday night we hung it and everything came together.

    When we went on our usual Saturday walk, Peter [her husband] and I commented on what a difference the shower curtain made, how it was worth all the trouble to get it. Peter called the shower curtain “bold (fearless and daring), but not brash (impudent or saucy).” I walked a few steps thinking about how he characterized the shower curtain and how I wished I could be described that way…. Maybe it’s not too late.”

    My second favorite is about her work at Harvard:

    “My new boss has been on board for eight weeks. I had mixed emotions about giving up ‘his’ position after being the interim boss even though, as I have written before, I did not want the job. I knew I could be helpful to him since I know the ropes, and I wanted him to succeed because I care deeply about the mission of our organization. But I could not predict how it would feel to have a boss who is the age of my children.

    “We’ve spent a lot of time together since he arrived. He’s smart. He gets it. He has a lot of good ideas. He is moving in measured steps, and he is very consultative with me (and others). He considers me a partner. We are developing trust for one another. All that is good.

    “But what is even better is that I feel like I have renewed energy, that it’s a whole new job, a whole new challenge. I’m seeing things through his eyes at the same time that I am giving him a lot of context and experience. I’m working as hard or harder than ever before, but I feel like I have a new purpose and a new challenge, even while staying at a place I’ve loved working at for almost thirty years.  Am I lucky or what?

    Yes she is lucky and so are we – her readers!

  • Your Originality: How to Capture and Market It

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    We are – each and everyone of us – original. No two people are exactly alike. That originality is our brand and our selling point. The author, CS Lewis, once said,  “No man [or woman] who bothers about originality will be original: simply tell the truth and you’ll become original without noticing it.”

    Ahhh, but the challenge for many is how to capture and communicate what makes us unique and then how to position that as value to the person with whom we would like to work.

    I found two blog posts this week to help overcome the challenges of defining and marketing originality.

    Joanna Maxwell’s workincolour.com blog  post, What Are Your Talents? is a gem of a working tool. Maxwell says, “It’s not currently fashionable to talk about talents: we focus on skills and experience, or describe someone as ‘gifted’ without getting too specific. But talents are part of our essential make-up – the gifts, passions, interests and natural aptitudes we are born with.”

    These talents are an inherent part of our original make-up, and Maxwell takes readers through an exercise, based on Howard Gardner’s “Eight Core Intelligences” to help us identify those talents we have and those we do not. She then goes on to suggest we investigate our other non-Gardner talents and work the whole batch up into a profile (sample provided) that we and others can understand.

    Now for an original way to market your originality, read Take the Employer’s-Eye View by Liz Ryan on the Glassdoor.com Blog.

    Ryan says, “We are trained (badly!) to talk about ourselves in our job search overtures to employers. We are taught to say that we’ve done this and that and worked in X, Y and Z industries. We are schooled in telling employers what we think of our own skills: ‘I’m strategic and savvy and a good communicator.’ This old-school job search approach is dangerous garbage, because it keeps us from focusing on the one thing an employer cares about: namely, him- or herself, and his or her own problems.”

    Lots of information in each of these blogs to help make you clear, relevant and valuable.

    And speaking of relevant, this weekend we should try to remember the real meaning of Memorial Day and that it is not – as most holidays have become – a car, mattress, coat or cashmere mega sale day.

    Happy Holiday and thank you to all of those who gave their lives so that we might enjoy it!

  • The Joys of “Jumpology” and the Art of Letting Go

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    I love Roberta Smith’s New York Times‘ article, “The Joys of Jumpology.”

    She writes, “When the photographer Philippe Halsman said, ‘Jump,’ no one asked how high. People simply pushed off or leapt up to the extent that physical ability and personal decorum allowed. In that airborne instant Mr. Halsman clicked the shutter. He called his method jumpology.”

    “Halsman, who died in 1979, said, ‘When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping, and the mask falls, so that the real person appears.’”

    “A wonderful exhibition of nearly 50 jumps that Halsman captured on film from the late 1940s through the ’50s – sometimes on commission for Life magazine – can be seen in New York City at the Laurence Miller Gallery at 20 West 57th Street, through Friday. The photographs feature stars of stage, screen and television; national leaders; a prima ballerina; writers; and other creative types. Except for a few earthbound choreographers, nearly everyone cooperates.”

    The exhibition includes this 1954 photo of the photographer Philippe Halsman with Marilyn Monroe.

    The Estate of Philippe Halsman/Laurence Miller Gallery

    I think “Jumpology,” especially as depicted in Halsman’s  photographs, is a brilliant example of the art of letting go. Once job seekers have documented their remarkably qualified persona to apply for a job, it is absolutely critical for them to let go. If you have presented yourself – not just your qualifications and your CV – but your real self and communicated the value you will bring to the job, you cannot whine or wallow in self pity because the people to whom you have applied don’t see it or take such a long time to get back to you.

    This is an extraordinarily competitive job market. A colleague recently told me that two years ago he would have never had the caliber of candidates that have applied for his job today. And, just as he is overwhelmed with the quality of candidates, he feels inundated by the sheer number of applicants.

    Soooo, once you have put your best foot forward and jumped through all the job application loops, pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and let go. Maybe even allow yourself a wee jump for joy!

  • Creativity and the Power of Imagination – for CEOs as Well as Wizards!

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    I was delighted to see Frank Kern’s article, “What Chief Executive Officers Really Want,” in the May 19th issue of Business Week. He discusses the radical ramifications of a new survey of 1,500 chief executives, conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value. The survey results demonstrate unequivocally that CEOs value one leadership competency – creativity – above all others.

    Kern notes that when, “CEOs identify ‘creativity’ as the most important leadership competency for the successful enterprise of the future, …creativity – not operational effectiveness, influence, or even dedication – something significant is afoot in the corporate world. In response to powerful external pressures and the opportunities that accompany them, CEOs are signaling a new direction. They are telling us that a world of increasing complexity will give rise to a new generation of leaders that make creativity the path forward for successful enterprises.”

    I was struck by the ways in which the survey results manifest the ideas set forth by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, in her brilliant 2008 Harvard Commencement Address in which she focused on the power of imagination.

    Speaking before that bastion of education, nurturer of past, present and future world leaders, Rowling extolled imagination not just for storytelling as one might expect from such a successful author but rather as a tool for transformative social change. She said, “Though I personally will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation.”

    Quoting the ancient Greek historian, biographer, essayist, Plutarch, Rowling notes, “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.” She says, “We do not need magic to transform the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: the power to imagine better.”

    Invention and innovation from Hogwarts to the CEO’s boardroom and beyond. Dare we imagine transformative social change is possible???

  • “Brandraising!” How to Cultivate and Communicate Your Logo

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    Elizabeth's Garden Tulip

    To paraphrase William Blake who saw “the world in a grain of sand,” let’s examine your world as a single flower. The flower or logo representation is organic. It is the who, what, where, when and how of you.

    I love the term “Brandraising,” which I first encountered in Sarah Durham’s book “Brandraising: How to Raise Money and Increase Visibility through Smart Communications.”

    The book, while directed at organizations, is also an excellent tool for defining, developing, cultivating and communicating your own personal flower or brand.

    "Brandraising: One Organization, Many Channels," by Sarah Durham

    Think of the top, “Organizational Level,” of the triangle as your personal core components: your vision, mission, values, objectives, positioning and personality, which make you who you are. List each of your unique attributes, including your strengths and qualifications.

    Then, for the middle, “Identity Level,” be creative. What does your “visual identity” look like.  Are you a flower or a thorn? Are you people focused or technology focused? Do you see yourself in a global arena or in a local niche? Be sure the visual identity or logo you create best conveys the message of who you are. You would not, for example select a field of wildflowers for your logo if you wanted to develop weed killers or even sell weed wackers. If you want to convey high energy and cutting-edge think tank skills, a sand chair and beach umbrella would not do the trick.

    Last, but far from least, for the “Experiential Level,” you should maximize all the channels and tools available to connect with your audience and to let your audience connect with you. Communication is a two-way street. You sell yourself and your brand not just by broadcast advertising but more effectively by listening to your audience. Listen and take time to analyze their challenges so you can contribute realistic solutions designed to best meet their needs. Seize the opportunity to present yourself as the individual most qualified to resolve their problems.

    “Brandraising” takes time and nurturing, and it must be authentic. It is not easy but the long-term benefits are enormous. You will be able to do what you like to do and work with those who understand and share your vision and values. The flower that is your world will become a garden – ideally a community garden.

  • Online Privacy an Oxymoron: “The Fix” and A Fix

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    Today, when every single detail of our lives is more visible than any time in the history of humankind, why in the world would Connecticut’s Attorney General, Dick Blumenthal, lie about his military service? Clearly he’s not stupid; he graduated from Harvard and received his law degree at Yale… Yet one has to wonder when he holds a press conference in which he categorizes the lie as “a few misplaced words.” Could it be that he assumes his constituents are less intelligent or less connected? Surely, it’s not just because a former president may have gotten away with it…

    Ethics and moral issues aside, we all know that privacy – even for mere mortals who have no intention of ever running for anything except perhaps a mini mini mini marathon – is fragile at best. Privacy for public figures, attempting a political run in what is admittedly the most toxic political environment in memory, is virtually non-existent. Our personal brands and our reputations are everywhere and open to scrutiny.

    In “The Fix,” the Washington Post’s political news and analysis column, Chris Cillizza details the self-imposed threat to Blumenthal’s Senate campaign. The tragedy is that this serious character flaw may obliterate all the good work Blumenthal has accomplished over the course of many years for veterans. At the very least, it will invoke inquiry into Blumenthal’s motives for his veterans’ advocacy work: was it sincere or just political expediency?

    For all who remain online privacy innocents, we recommend you give this “Fix” from reclaimprivacy.org a test drive. The website provides an independent and open tool for scanning your Facebook privacy settings. The results are revealing and allow you to fix the settings to secure a smidgeon of privacy – Maybe!

    Telling the truth, of course is the best “Fix.” As the author, Rita Mae Brown, once said, “the best thing about telling the truth is that you never have to remember what you said!”

  • 10 Trends in Longevity: the Good, the Bad and the Cost of Staying Alive

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    “A new twist on recycling!” comes to mind as a great subtitle for this bright but cautionary tale by Philip Moeller about the US government’s “Health, 2009″ report in US News and World Report’sBest of Life Series.”

    “The goals of improved health and financial security are to live longer and, presumably, more fulfilling lives. Increases in longevity have certainly been impressive. Not only has 60 become the new 40, but we’re well on our way to the day when 80 becomes the new 60. While the victors in the longevity race have many spoils to enjoy, they also have many aches, pains, and other unpleasant reminders of their continued existence. The government pulls together an impressive array of statistical snapshots in its current compendium, “Health, 2009,” a 550-page record of the state of the nation’s well-being. Here are some of its most compelling findings about the health of an aging America.”

    Moeller captures some of the very best nuggets from this report, including the “Power” of seniors as related to the vast and growing number of us, but he also flags some of the – too often unanticipated or blatantly ignored – problems related to living longer.

    A wake-up call! Read the nitty gritty details here

  • Resumé Dates or No Dates? and Are There REALLY Jobs for Seniors on the Horizon or Is That Just a Mirage??

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    Today, a trusted friend and HR Guru, sat me down, drilled into my brain via my eyeballs and said: “Take those dates off your resumé!”

    I immediately started stuttering, “But, but isn’t that deceitful? Or, at the very least dissembling? And won’t that be a shock when I waltz my 60+ year-old self into the interview?”

    The Guru answered, “You know we HR folk are not as dumb as some people like to think we are. We can tell how long you’ve been working by simply reading your work history, experience and accomplishments. Clearly, you’re not just fresh out of college.”

    “That being said,” she continued, “in today’s job market we are inundated with resumés for each job we post. Hence, we are desperately seeking ways to winnow them down to a reasonable number. Sadly, your dates might prove an easy fix. Not that any self-respecting hiring manager would ever admit age bias but…”

    “On the other hand, if you have a brilliant, innovative working resumé – with no dates to shut us off at the first pass – by the time we finish reading and realize you are most probably a bit long in the tooth we really don’t see it as a barrier.”

    *************

    Now to those jobs on the horizon… US News and World Report actually published an article this week, titled Retired Workers Will Be Wooed to Return [to Work] by Philip Moeller.

    Wooed to Return??? Perhaps, it’s been so long since I’ve been wooed that I no longer grasp the meaning of the word, but I do question the veracity of this prediction. Then, too, I do not like to think myself a skeptic, so please read this bit of sunshine and let us know what you think.

  • Singing Your Heart Out at 80 and Kicking Your Heels Up at 106!

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    Janey Cutler is living proof that you’re never too old to dream a dream!

    “Britain’s Got Talent” had a rare treat this past Saturday night when 80 year-old Janey Cutler sang Edith Piaf’s ‘No Regrets’ (‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien‘) from La Vie en Rose. She, like last year’s unexpected BGT star Susan Boyle, hails from Glasgow, Scotland – something in the water perhaps?

    YouTube Preview Image

    Although the 80 year-old was physically tremulous and had to be helped onto the BGT stage, there was nothing shaky about this chantreuse’s voice. Her deep, mezzo-soprano was powerful and passionate, and the audience rose en masse to give her a standing ovation almost as soon as Janey Cutler began to sing.

    When asked where she’d been all these years, she replied, ‘oh you know, me wee pubs and clubs’. The judges including Simon gave Janey Cutler ’3000 and three yeses’ so she’s on to the next round. No doubt she will be singing before the Queen, who is, of course, also an octogenarian!

    Janey and Queen Elizabeth, however, are wee whippersnappers compared to Doris Eaton Travis, the last surviving Ziegfeld Girl, who died this Tuesday.

    Archival Photo: Doris Eaton Travis as a Ziegfeld Girl.

    In her NY Times obituary, Douglas Martin writes, “From 1907 to 1931, beneath towering, glittering, feathered headdresses, the Ziegfeld Girls floated across grand Broadway stages in lavish pageants known as the Ziegfeld Follies, often to the wistful tune that Irving Berlin wrote just for them: ‘A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody.‘ They were former waitresses, farmers’ daughters and office workers who had dreampt of becoming part of Florenz Ziegfeld’s own grand dream of ‘glorifying the American girl.’”

    Just a few weeks ago, she was back on 42nd Street kicking up her 106 year-old heels for her annual appearance at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS annual benefit.

    Doris Eaton Travis never stopped dancing; indeed, she had No Regrets!

    Mrs. Travis in 2009. Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times

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