More deep learning can fuel your entrepreneurial aspirations

Every month we ask random high school parents of kids 15-18 if they want those kids in college, and the answer is universally yes. Why? Our world is getting more complicated and the earnings gap between the earnings of educated people compared to non-educated kids continues to grow. Not everyone should invest in a bachelors’ degree, but depending on what your career goals are or your lifestyle aspirations you are likely to need an advanced degree, certification, apprenticeship or career training in the future. Another factor fueling higher education is that fact people are working well beyond the retirement age of 55 and engaging in 2nd careers. What could make higher education meaningful and worthwhile to you? Would it be worth it if you could qualify for a better job or get that promotion? Two main reasons why non-traditional learners struggle in a classroom environment is the time needed to accumulate problem solving skills and the resilience to failure without making too big or costly mistakes. The answer why kids do not want to go to college is they lose hope in a better future. Or the student suffers from a lack of desire to better themselves and poor self-esteem. Deep learning is not as easy as it sounds.

Aspirations are powerful. Remember the story of young man who wanted the wisdom and knowledge of Socrates? Without a thirst for knowledge, the greatest technology cannot make up for a student or instructors’ sloppiness or laziness. As a teacher, I talk about not cutting corners, and being a life-time learner.

The problem is no matter our age or life challenge, students become easily discouraged. It is not unusual for my students to be discouraged and want to quit when they fail their first exam or do poorly on an assignment. They rationalize the value of higher education by saying “How do we know we are really learning something of value? Will this course of study help me get ahead or make money?”

Instructors like me have a difficult time creating assignments and exams that truly sift the wheat (quality learning) from the chaff (route memorization) in a college classroom. Quality teaching adapts to the specific needs of each learner and each student learns in different ways. Creating quality online material that can be reviewed at the pace of the learner is best complemented with in class and team based learning. I give open ended/essay oriented tests and grade presentations or essays with a lot of feedback. But that method of coursework is time-intensive and not scalable. There is no easy way to quality and truly transformative education. It is why higher education continues to be a great investment at any stage in your development.

Keeping Fit

Through my own doing and adoptions, I have eight kids. My wife is not ready to live with a senior, so I try not to be too clueless about technology either (more on that in another column). I don’t have a dog, but I like them a lot.
Every day except Sunday, I wake up guilty if I don’t do a little weight training, running, or whatever gets my heart rate up for 30 minutes.
Today I will discuss how I stay physically healthy and out of the doctor’s office. The short answer is I’m consistent about working out daily, even if it is only for 30 minutes. My philosophy is that if you’re not physically fit, you won’t be able to do all the things you want to do for the people you love. I make it a priority to be consistent about working out.

For as long as I can remember, the holiday season has ushered in excessive eating and drinking opportunities, late night celebrations, airline travel, the release of a blockbuster movie, and traffic jams around the shopping center and the grocery checkout counter. It’s not exactly the best time to start or maintain your exercise routine right? Well, I force myself to work out in December and I keep myself in good shape despite working 60+ hours weekly. Here is the Don Capener daily regime:
1. Wake-up 5:30am
2. Say a prayer and give thanks. Read the scriptures or something inspirational before you check email
3. Run 2 miles in 20 minutes. Do 100 sit-ups for your back health. Then, use free weights to build strength, including bench press, lats, and various pulley-system exercises to increase flexibility. Do 10-15 minutes on the elliptical machine if possible
4. Go on an evening walk whenever possible following dinner and try and extend it for 30 minutes
5. Have one major physical activity like a bike ride, hike, or swimming for 60-120 minutes once a week
If you do even three out of five of these things, I can guarantee your health will improve and you will spend less time in the doctor’s office. When I make all five of priority, I feel like I’m back in my 30s again in all areas of my life. If you’re like me, a guy in his mid-50s, it’s likely you have a lot of people depending on you. Don’t let them down. Make it a priority to become more physically fit into 2015.

A Day in the Life of the new guy to JAX

A day in the JAX life

I like the weather in Jacksonville. The beaches are nice, and the traffic is not so bad either. There are a lot of very nice people in JAX who are very warm and welcoming. But there is another side I thought I could share. If you always have lived here, you might want to stop reading this column. Most of you will remember what it was like when you first moved to JAX from up north. Below are some of my initial JAX observations:

Morning observations: It is not easy to find a good breakfast place in JAX where people socialize, but the food is worth traveling for. Don’t go to breakfast alone in JAX and don’t expect people to engage you in idle conversation. Recommendations: The Market Café in Springfield.; Order french toast at Mimi’s in Town Center; Metro Diner in JAX Beach makes very good omelets. My kids prefer Waffle House because they can see the pancakes being made.

Speaking of kids, the bus driver stops in the middle of our Southeast JAX neighborhood at exactly 7:55 AM every weekday. He always frowns at me as if he dislikes his job and deserves the opposite treatment. Seven elementary aged schoolgirls and one young boy board a Duval City School Bus wearing shorts and t-shirts in December. They get buckled up. When did they require seat belts on school buses? I must be getting old. With my two girls safely aboard in route to Waterleaf Elementary, I depart our “cookie-cutter” sub-division made up of newly constructed two story homes with light stucco exteriors. I am on my morning commute–which takes me 20 minutes from Kernan and Atlantic to JU via Merrill Road. Watch the southbound traffic on I-295 after the Dames Point Bridge since every other day I witness a rear-end collusion.

Afternoon: I have fewer observations in the afternoon because I spend 50+ hours a week at JU working away from home. But I wonder if my neighbors actually spend time outside? Doesn’t anyone take a weekday off periodically? I wonder what percentage of my JAX neighbors rent? It seems like a lot of them are paying $1,500-$2,000 a month for a place they only sleep in. Advantage to our neighborhood– you can keep your dog in most rental houses vs. apartments. Dog owners are the exception to the “keep-to-yourself rule”; they will say hi to each other and start conversations with the other dog owners. We all demonstrate empathy for having to take your dog out at all hours of the day to do their business and collect the remains in those bright little plastic bags.

I examine the faces of those walking on the sidewalk. They don’t bother to look up whenever I drive by. Now that I think of it, I have those tinted windows too. I imagine they must be thinking, “why bother to look or acknowledge my neighbors when I can’t see them? They are just happy I don’t start a rock band and practice in my garage or stop making my mortgage payment and cutting my lawn.

Evening observations: There are a lot of nice cars in JAX. Where do all these people amass the resources to buy or lease $60,000 cars? Nice cars are parked on our narrow streets every night, forcing us to “play chicken” with each other as to which BMW, Lexus, or Audi will stand down and let the Toyota Highlander pass. We rarely see the faces of our neighbors because every car is darkly tinted in JAX. Admittedly, I come home after the sun has set, so I’m as anonymous as my neighbors.

Everyone in JAX seems to wear sunglasses, visors and hats. Are they worried about skin cancer or actually seeking anonymity. Once in a while we will bump into a neighbor at BJ’s or on the way to our standard issued black mailboxes to retrieve the newest edition of Money Pages. It is often awkward. Most JAX natives smile at me and say, “well, bless your heart” when I know they really don’t approve of me or like the fact my family and I crowding up their restaurants, neighborhoods, and freeways? Despite all that you read above #ILoveJAX

The biggest problem in higher education isn’t funding or student loans-It’s Misalignment

The biggest problem in higher education isn’t funding or student loans-It’s Misalignment

There is plenty to discuss when it comes to higher education—is there a student loan bubble? What about where the funding will come from for President Obama’s proposal for free tuition in community college? My argument is those two issues are systemic to the real issue plaguing higher education—misalignment. Misalignment occurs when your organization cannot open itself to change and adapt to disruptive markets.

Peter Senge wrote a classic management book called The Fifth Discipline. In the Fifth Discipline, Senge explains silos as fiefdom built around successful managers, entrepreneurs, or revenue streams.  When you believe your success made you smarter and less susceptible to competition, your silo walls get taller and more impenetrable.  The higher the silo walls, the less adaptable your organization becomes. These silos resist change. The successful firms without direct competition are the most likely to create silos

The more success you experienced in the past, the more likely you will believe your success will continue. Innovation and experimentation with other areas of the company cease. You protect the cash cows and reduce experimentation. Learning is considered “proprietary” by each division. These divisions won’t share or openly discuss their “research” with colleagues in other areas for fear it will be used by others without lending credit to the originators.

Senge’s research proved the silo mentality can kill a company, its learning culture, and the revenue streams it was created to protect.  Silos lead to misalignment for educational institutions.  Misalignment leads to more college dropouts; less effective preparation for graduates joining the workforce, and disenfranchised faculty.

Academia is the classic test case for what a learning organization is and what it isn’t.   I falsely assumed higher education was the ideal model for innovation and knowledge dissemination when I started working full-time in academia in 2001. Ironically for me, Senge, and most recently, Clayton Christensen argued that educators and most institutions of higher learning are the least innovative organizations because of  strong silos and what Christensen calls the “Harvardization Factor”. (Note to myself: be careful what you wish for)

The Harvardization Factor is the attempt by every institution of higher learning to model their strategy and program after Harvard University.  Despite Harvard’s preeminence, Christensen argues that a distinctive university strategy for each institution makes more sense and lead to more innovation, learning, adaptability and marketplace success.

Learning organizations pride themselves on sharing their learning freely. They effectively manage the process by which their people are trained and nutured. Openness to learning new methods, and being adaptable  to external constraints is taught to all employees, and shared with, vendors, customers and other stakeholders. Senge  stressed the importance of cross department communication and alignment of organizational goals as a way to engender collaboration and innovate (Senge, 1990).

Faculty in large institutions tend to function as a disparate group of independent departments and individual contractors. Senge worries that chemists won’t share or work with social scientists, business faculty, or philosophers and artists because of the silo mentality and the value they place in being understood and emulated.

Change becomes a particularly difficult process in institutions without a “culture” of trust or the willingness to be curious and learn about things you know little about. Faculty are usually the smartest women (or men) in the room from a IQ standpoint, so admitting you know nothing about how learning organizations thrive or the management of students who do not want to go to graduate school is humbling for the best of us. In academia, increased expectations from students and parents in the area of services (make me great food, put me in a hotel-like dorm, provide me with weekly physiological counseling, find me a job) puts incredible pressure on universities to hire more staff to deliver of these expectations versus investments in more qualified faculty and their research.

Faculty point out that more staff and fancy facilities are problematic because it drives up the tuition cost and expectations for institutions of higher learning. Can we “push the reset button” in terms of how the public evaluates colleges and universities?  Student success is the ultimate measure of a higher educational institution’s effectiveness, right?   I believe when faculty and administrator’s goals are aligned towards student success, higher education can change people’s lives and improve their local communities. Cumulatively, student success improves the competitiveness of US corporations and workers in the international marketplace.

As opposed the idea from the book Academically Adrift, where the study concludes that the US 4-year college experience does little to enable those ill-prepared in high school for the challenges of a tech firm or corporations, my experience at both Monmouth College and Jacksonville University over 15 years taught me differently. Even average students I taught changed their aptitude and propensity to succeed in today’s corporation and became successful in international cities such as Chicago, New York, or even Tokyo. Those who came from rural high schools with little academic opportunity (or were B- students from suburban high schools) flourished when motivated by better-prepared co-eds and engaged faculty.  In other words, these students, who were willing to pay or borrow $30,000-$100,000 in tuition (after a 40%+ discount) over 4 years to earn their degree were successful. The math is simple. Over the 10 years post-graduation these workers earned two to three times the annual income of their peers from their same high school who went straight to work at 18 years-old.

Many grads did much better than three times and now make over $150,000 annually. In other the words, the delta or change for making the decision to go to college and major in business or accounting created a return on investment 10-20 times more than their original investment in tuition.

If the ultimate measure of the efficacy and societal benefit of higher education is student success, success must be defined better and explained by all of us in higher education.  Is success really just the graduate rate or persistence? Certainly we all want to reduce the indebtedness, but quality and competency matters too.

Alternatively, Is competency in certain basic or technical skills worth granting credit or even a degree? Imagining the possibility for more enlightened higher education, I propose that return on investment be one key performance indicator (KPI) we compare when determining the value of investing in higher education. Another KPI should be evaluating the intellectual curiosity factor and task orientation of each student. Can they perform and be willing to accept criticism for less than satisfactory work? Do these same students show improvement based on the feedback they received? If these students can also meet the minimum requirements, they should be conferred degrees by institutions of higher learning. It is not the end of their education, but the foundation for more disciplined inquiry in the future.

When the objectives and culture of university leaders are out of alignment with the goals and norms of senior members of the faculty, problems arise.  The dysfunctional behavior of faculty leaders in many institutions rule the day because the process for change is often tied to shared governance. Faculty and administrators who came up through the academy created the shared governance model. Faculty created the shared governance system to protect the status quo and manage the pace of change.

I believe  a shared governance system works when there are common goals and objectives. Shared governance is not just faculty control , but a  spirit of sharing, collaboration, and teamwork with staff and administration. In other words, it works when the silos come down and the institution becomes a learning community. Many senior faculty won’t understand or agree with the need for change because they are heavily invested in their own silo. These investments create “lines in the sand” which can become cultural fights for the “soul” of an institution. Any change in this situation taxes the university’s resources and time. Initiatives such as changing the general education requirements or the criteria and limits for  tenure form the battle line against greater inter-disciplinary integration and the learning enterprise. Misalignment ultimately hurts student learning and their employment preparation which impacts ROI and graduation rates. That is why I believe this misalignment is the real problem.

Why does misalignment happen?

Answer: The institution’s goal for student success, through quality teaching and improved student scholarship, runs out of alignment with how faculty are rewarded, promoted and recognized by their peers. In most cases of misalignment,  the university fails to provide the faculty incentives and the vision for why the student success goals benefit everyone. This misalignment in higher education can be fixed. But it will take committed faculty and administrative leaders who can call the right signals, provide evidence for their recommendations, and rally faculty department’s heads into line with the overall good of the university.


Clayton Christensen’s contribution to strategic thinking

Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School has made many significant contributions to strategic thinking and management education in the last 25 years. The two most often quoted  are the principal of destructive innovation and the dilemma managers have in driving incremental productivity while maintaining an environment of innovation.  Why should you care?

1. Your market is changing rapidly-when new products are the lifeblood of your business, you need to maintain an environment friendly to a lot of risk-taking without “starving your cash cow” on the next product introduction. The dilemma Christensen demonstrates in his writing is that incremental productivity gains and increasing short term profitability is inversely related to creating this low-risk, highly innovative business capable of churning out great new products or even creating new markets. Therefore, he recommends you not try to combine both strengths into one entity-separate them or the productivity “anti-bodies” will kill off any meaningful innovation.

2. Great innovation often starts out as small, unprofitable substitutes for an established solution or product. Christensen believes that most successful businesses “turn their nose” up to these upstart ventures that start out simple and unrefined. A recent example Christensen points to is the relevancy and importance of community colleges in providing economic value and relevancy to work-readiness in an era of academic snobbery. Highly ranked universities dismiss the threat of community colleges because classes are taught by less qualified instructors and in large class sizes or even online. The escalation in the cost of education at most universities and improvements in how information is disseminated online has made universities and private colleges susceptible to disruption

3. Destructive innovation is happening all around us-but can you identify why and what markets are the most susceptible? Reading Christensen will help you see why disk storage, PC’s, higher education, or even console gaming is undergoing creative destruction.   The impact of these disruptive markets and companies performance will drive the stock price down and create more instability.


Strategy for career success in 2015

Below are a few pointers as you start in your current job or better yet, if you are starting a new one like my brother-in-law:
1. Be patient-opportunities to be promoted don’t come up every day. Your supervisor will see your enthusiasm and patience as virtues, so when the new challenge comes into focus you will be “top of mind”
2. Go to their office rather than text whenever possible. When you take the time to see people in person you can build a stronger relationship for the times you are away and need help. Whenever possible, schedule “face” time  after you begin a business relationship. Face to face contact is more important than ever. When big misunderstandings surface, get over to that person’s space or office. Try to work things out in a live face-to-face conversation or worse case video conference. Don’t rely on email or text messages to communicate when you need to persuade your team.
3. Volunteer for something difficult this year. Try to immediately take responsibility for the tougher projects. Take calculated risks in how you tackle issues-resist the temptation to ask for every last detail of instruction (dictated by your boss via text or voice) just because you can or they like you. The initiative you show in how you can “handle things yourself” will set you apart from other younger, more entitled millennials. You will be ready for leadership opportunities and everyone will know it.
4. Join your local trade association and network with your alumni sisters or brothers in your same industry. Many companies eliminated their middle managers during the economic downturn. Without internal mentors you will need to rely on relationships and experiences from those in your same industry often working at competitive firms.
5. Use your advantage of your knowledge of social media and younger connections to create or find insights or information on current trends, customer’s tastes, and hot product categories your company might not be aware of because they are supervised by “older” managers.
6. Tell the truth when good and bad things happen. Take responsibility and you will earn a reputation for trustworthiness.

Have a great 2015 and Happy New Year!

Launch, Pivot & Learn

After three start-ups and 10 years teaching strategic management, I shared the merits of a carefully-crafted business plan to my partners, investors, and students with faith and passion I was doing the right thing. But, I messed up.

I invested in one venture based solely on its stellar business plan. No one was more vested than I in the merits of a quality business plan. Over the last 20 years, I reviewed hundreds of plans, lauded some, and rejected most as too idealistic or unrealistic for my recommendation.  My pronouncement today– that the era of the business plan is over–is hard for me to verbalize. But let me say it again–I don’t recommend you spend months and thousands of dollars on crafting the perfect business plan.What do I recommend instead?

Launch, Pivot & Learn
Launch, Pivot & Learn is my new mantra for innovators, problem solvers, and serial entrepreneurs.
Why Launch?
If you remember the movie “Failure to Launch” , it was about being so comfortable in your current state, that you won’t make the sacrifices necessary to change, mature, and evolve as a person. The same is true for would be entrepreneurs trying to get everything perfectly set-up before they make the necessary commitments and sacrifices necessary to test the business model. “Launch” is about taking that leap to go to customers, suppliers, even would-be competitors with your product in-hand to learn whatever you need to do to make it viable. If you don’t launch, you won’t be in the position to learn quickly and be in the position to pivot.

Why Pivot?
No business gets it completely right the first outing. What you are able to sell is not usually what the buyer really needs. You have to ask them that question and adapt your product to their needs. No one executes their business plan perfectly. Everyone who is successful makes adjustments to their plans and pivots to where the demand is. Did you get everyone you needed to sign a NDA and provide you with a frank assessment of your product’s viability? So, being willing and able to pivot away from the original business plan is a critical success factor for start-ups.

Learn As entrepreneurs , our ability to learn from our miscalculations and track what is truly meaningful (key performance indicators) will determine the success or failure. How will we know what new products to launch? We must start the Launch, Pivot & Learn cycle all over again.


Out of work? Here is some advice how to land and stick in your next job

Are you a millennial starting work full-time for the first time? Or…did you lose your job and you’re looking for something new? Below are a few pointers as you start your search or your new job:
1. Be patient-opportunities to be promoted or make more $$ don’t come every day. Your supervisor will see your diligence and patience  as virtues.
2. Make the extra effort to go and see people in person whenever possible. Particularly when it is the first time you begin a business relationship with someone. Even with the ubiquity of smart phones and digital communication, face to face contact is more important than ever. A “connection” in person and some common ground will start things off on the right foot. Later in the relationship, when you have big misunderstandings, you should get back to them face to face. Get over to their office and work things out in person rather than text bad news. When you have really good news, have patience to wait and share it in person. The effort will pay off and your enthusiasm will shine brighter compared to your peers.
3. Try and take responsibility and calculated risks everyday-resist the temptation to wait for every last detail/instruction dictated by your boss. Don’t be needy via text or voice mail just because you can “ping” someone. You spend relationship capital each time it isn’t their priority. The initiative you show your superior you can “handle things yourself” will set you apart from competitors.
4. Join your trade association and network with alumni in your same industry or region. Many companies eliminated their middle managers during the downturn. Without internal mentors you will need to rely on relationships and experiences from those in your same industry often working at competitive firms.
5. Use your advantage in your familiarity with technology. Use your social media connections to create or find insights or information on trends, customer’s tastes, and hot product categories your company might explore as new products.
6. Tell “all” the truth when good or bad things happen. Take responsibility and you will earn a reputation for trustworthiness.

If you do all six you will be the last person let go all other things being equal.

Five principles every leader should learn from legendary UCLA coach John Wooden

Entrepreneurs like myself have learned a lot from John Wooden, the best basketball coach of all-time who lead UCLA to 10 NCAA championships. Here are a few of the gems from his book “Wooden on Leadership-2005:
1.Wooden said “Don’t get comfortable in your position of leadership (or power). Your players (or employees) and staff make you believe you have all of the answers because you enjoyed past success. People start telling you are the smartest one around. But if you begin to believe them, you become the idiot. You stop learning from your competitors because you beat them in the past. When you ignore those teams around you who are creating innovative new strategies and techniques, you are ripe for major defeat or setback. Don’t believe your own press”.
2.One of the main reasons it is so hard to stay on top is maintaining a competitive “edge”. If there is one key to gaining that edge or success, it is experience. Most entrepreneurs do not possess much experience unless they already paid their dues working for someone else. Some entrepreneurs failed or succeeded as the #2 in a similar business previously. Watch out for those guys and connect with someone with a lot of experience in your industry.
3.Once you’re #1 for a sustained period of time, it is easy to believe your on top. Look at Tiger Woods. He was on top of the world until he lost his edge. Every music artist or performer realizes how hard it is to repeat the #1 song or CD. It is hard to repeat as NCAA champions. The odds are like 1 in a 1000. At UCLA we realized we had to work even harder the second time to the point where we could achieve similar results. Why? Each subsequent success takes an even greater effort than the first because you lose the element of surprise. Your competitors have you in their sights. Avoid the temptation of believing your past entrepreneurial achievements signal future success.
4. Do your homework. As a leader you must never be satisfied or content that you know everything about your business, customers or employees. No two customers or employees are the same. Each individual under your management is unique and requires empathy, and understanding. This is particularly true about customers. No success with one large customer makes up for lack of empathy or understanding in other segments critical to your venture’s success. But be careful to not let one large customer guide how you will serve all others. Assume everyone wants to be treated as unique and valuable.
5.Wooden said “There is no one formula for getting your company/team to play well together”. It is science and art at the same time—and art is difficult to pull off, let alone be great at the science. It is so rare to be perennially successful because it takes sacrifice and dedication. Knowing Wooden won 10 NCAA championships and 88 straight games as UCLA’s head coach, he might know something about keeping a competitive edge and managing for success.

Common Denominator for Great CEO’s

What is the common denominator for great CEOs? At today’s Jacksonville business Journal ultimate CEO awards luncheon we heard from 12 CEOs. Although all of their remarks were brief, it was surprising to hear how similar they attributed the origin of their success– believing in and mentoring their people. Many of them discussed how they look for a combination of intellectual curiosity, smarts, and the ability to communicate effectively when recruiting teammates. The difference between a good CEO and a great CEO seems to be their ability to celebrate the successes of their team, while privately working on development areas with individuals, believing all the while that greatness will emerge.
Since the CEOs that spoke demonstrated humility, they did not discuss the sacrifices, hard work, and luck it takes to get ahead. Each of them commented on how a solid foundation at home was the basis for much of their success. Although we celebrate individual success, it’s often partnerships and husband-and-wife teams in small companies and in the background that create a foundation for success at the CEO level.
Kudos to all of the CEOs who were recognized today.