FLASH: Add EI, Pigs CAN Fly!

Isn’t it the understatement of the year to postulate that entrepreneurs are required to be adaptable and sturdy, possessing both the intellectual and emotional smarts required to weather the inevitable stormy life and times of their small businesses or startups? However, only in the wildest dreams of many startup founders and small biz owners do their enterprises ever take on this identity collectively, operating as efficiently and effectively as they envisioned. I am encouraged that this ideal can and should be sought — and achieved in our businesses. How, you ask? The answer has its roots in our self-awareness and emotional intelligence, the very qualities that may have made many of us effective corporate employees. Let me illustrate.

Back in the early 2000s, I worked for a mid-size telecommunication startup whose BHAG was to beat the Baby Bells at their own game in 20 or so major US markets. During the 9-month dot-bomb chapters of my tenure there (which included Ch. 11 re-organization and a huge asset sell-off), the layoffs decimated our assets by over 80% and our Phoenix office staff numbers plummeted from nearly 100 to…well, 6.

The handful of us handpicked to remain post-re-org by our regional VP (myself included - I worked in technical sales) were not necessarily the most senior, most experienced, the most battle-toughened. Instead we were the teachers, the patient, the more resilient in adversities. We would learn to glean from each other how to be unmoved by bad press and an uncertain future, replacing those fears with flat-out effort. Fit with nothing to lose, we became hell-bent on proving our company’s worth to our consumers, current and future, despite it all. Endeavoring to disprove our critics while impressing our would-be suitors with our collectivism, we made a bold and compelling statement toward promoting our company’s long-term viability as an ongoing entity.

A mere year-and-a-half after my hire date, our leaner version had no gatekeepers, no coffee-making office assistants,no service delivery department, no marketing department, no meddling middle management (sorry Randy G. & Tom K.). However, we had 100% interdependence, having become “get ‘er done” cross-functional superstars; and from November, 2002 through September, 2003, we got the job done.

Through our battle-hardened Fellowship-of-the-Ring cross-functionality, we soon discovered that we were able to get more work done because everyone chose to take on more responsibility, but not solely within the confines of their hired role. Because success mattered in such a strange but refreshingly personal way, our little team excelled in assisting each other and by filling any gaps along the way to a successful customer experience. Resultantly, the six of us, the ragtag remnants of a once burgeoning downtown branch office, widely expected to fail, instead applied a plucky entrepreneurial acumen to a strange “post-corporate” world — and our earlier wins lead in the fight toward keeping our ailing company afloat.

Or so we thought.

Although this story didn’t end quite so happily for my former employer (as our eventual suitor shut our company down and sold the remaining 10% of the assets), the experience itself indelibly left an impression on me about how a business should be run. Learning what I have learned, why would one ever think to do business as usual?

In the earlier days of most companies large and small, founders hire salesperson types, production types, administrative types, and accounting types separately, all with little to no regard to the interplay of their respective roles. As the power struggles ensue, and they do, we quickly intimate with ourselves that each of these spokes o’ the wheel attach to a single hub: YOU. If you’re like me, we signed up to be a world-shakers and a history-makers, not for babysitting, binge meetings, and especially not to be the guy in that iconic music video who jumps into the scrum to separate the warring sides in the nick of time, shouting Beat It.

Serial podcaster John Lee Dumas recently interviewed serial entrepreneur Nichole Kelly on his EOFIRE. Kelly’s latest company’s operating agreement boasts such concepts as “transparency” and “authenticity” as all its foundational members are each given a “share” of the company when they enter it, which is sellable when they leave. This share entitles each member to a single vote for — or against — any major decision affecting the company’s future. As for cross-functionality, Kelly’s solution leaves the best for last: each one teaches the other their respective roles — when each is ready to be mentored accordingly. When I heard, and re-heard, this part, I quickly harkened back to my days at the telecommunications company and the unique times we surmounted.

We all imbued with raw and palpable sense of entrepreneurism: the power of possibility. When egos and job titles are checked at the door, amazing things can happen, and these amazing things are the very blessing of small business to American society. If more and more companies take on this ideal, then pigs indeed will fly.

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