Author Archives: Robert Jordan

Margaret Wheatley on Self-Organizing Systems

One of the most inspiring people I have ever heard present at a conference is Dr. Margaret Wheatley.

16 years ago or so, I saw Dr. Wheatley, who at the time was a theorist on chaos, speak at a conference on creativity. She said things that still resonate, about self-organizing systems.  She showed a picture of a mound in Africa, about 25 feet high, built by termites. Despite extensive study, researchers could not find a termite leader. Teams of termites built what, relative to their size, is a structure far larger than humans have built, sky scrapers included.  The only thing researchers could determine was that a termite’s function was determined by their place and the task at hand – where they were and what needed to be done determined who was in charge and how the work got done.

She showed a picture of a grove of Aspen trees.  Aspens are the largest biological organism on earth – I didn’t know they grow from a common root system, and that the largest Aspen, in Michigan, covers over 2,000 square miles.

It seems like chaos, but chaos leads to order. I am a big believer in self-organizing teams and we now see this more and more within companies. Look at how many corporations now routinely and permanently distribute teams across the globe.  My friend Tom Underwood, Head of Process Improvement, Global Operations and Product Leadership at Neilsen, runs quality for their consumer products unit and manages people in Kuala Lumpar, Chennai, Oxford, Brussels, Mexico City, NYC, Chicago, Shaumburg, Boston, Hong Kong, Moscow, Warsaw, and Singapore. Tom is just one of thousands of cases of individuals effectively managing people across the globe because they are mostly self-directed.

I stumbled across The Dr. Pat Show featuring Dr. Margaret Wheatley as a guest. My impression from Dr. Pat’s interview with Dr. Wheatley is that she has become more wholistic and global in her research or outlook, and while I’m not yet up to speed on her recent writings – her ideas on self-organizing systems and the source of inspiration are brilliant. Take a look at

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TechExpo on October 6

The second annual Chicago TechExpo is coming up this Wednesday, October 6 at UIC Forum. The Chicago TechExpo was created in Chicago with the sole purpose of introducing and connecting small business owners to technology solutions to help grow their business. This is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to meet one-on-one with experts from leading technology companies and attend workshops that will help them leverage digital opportunities to operate smarter businesses.

Howard Tullman, President and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Academy, and one of the 45 featured founders in How They Did It will be presenting a workshop on the importance of building social networks.

This is a great event for entrepreneurs that I highly recommend checking out if you’re in the Chicago area. Reserve your spot today.

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Cleversafe’s Chris Gladwin on How to Redefine Your Industry: Podcast

I am really pleased that Chris Gladwin, CEO and founder of Cleversafe, spent some time talking about his experience starting, growing and selling companies.

Chris is the consummate entrepreneur, from Cruise Technologies to MusicNow to Cleversafe – successfully creating, financing and growing technology companies, and not in easy circumstances. Chris tells how the music space became hypercompetitive, with 226 VC-backed companies and only 4 with successful exits (he sold MusicNow to Circuit City and then to AOL).

Cleversafe is now redefining the whole notion of how data storage occurs, and it’s taken six years to both engineer the team’s vision and to see the world come around to cloud computing.

And it turns out Cleversafe is taking in additional capital. Listen in to hear some straight talk from a champion company founder.

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Steve Blank on Why Accountants Don’t Run Startups

Thanks to my friend Philippe Lavie, President of KeyRoad Enterprises, who forwarded a great presentation by Stanford professor and 8-time entrepreneur Steve Blank, describing the techtonic shifts in entrepreneurship over the past decade:.

Here are some highlights, though his whole talk is worth listening to:

  • In fundraising, “$500K is the new $5 million.” Blank cites lots of reasons for this including the presence of angels as a much more powerful group for funding early stage and the shift in major VC funds to becoming much more like hedge funds and not so much early stage.
  • There is a difference between startup and small business. If it’s VC-oriented it has to be scalable to $100 million or more. Most startups are small businesses – and there’s nothing wrong with that!
  • Very few founders survive the transition in fast growth startups, from search for a business model to process and growth-orientation
  • The new “Lean Startup” is an ongoing effort at better customer and agile development
  • Agile Development is critical and means:

o   Continuous deployment
o   Continuous learning
o   Self organizing teams
o   Minimum feature set
o   Pivots

  • William Durant versus Alfred Sloan as founder vs accountant (CEO) respectively of GM. I won’t give you the gloomy take on entrepreneur vs accountant…listen for yourself but entrepreneur skills do not equate to later stage growth skills.
  • Entrepreneurial education will change radically, because “E-School” is not like B-school

And check out Steve’s blog at

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How Entrepreneurs Use Coaching to Score (A Podcast with Three Master Coaches): Podcast

I have had the privilege of getting to know three outstanding executive coaches over the years, and it got me thinking about when and how entrepreneurs could make use of a good coach. Having a sounding board, especially at the early stages of a company pre-board of directors, is a good thing. So we interviewed Jim Rohrbach, Sheryl Dvorin and Jack Chapman, who, while each being a great coach, have very different practices and styles and areas of interest.  You can listen right now here.

Jim Rohrbach – Success Skills Coach

Success Skills Coach Jim Rohrbach is “The Personal Fitness Trainer for Your Business.”  He coaches business owners, entrepreneurs, sales professionals and corporate executives on building their clientele. Author of the books Business Success Skills and The Social Skills Playbook, he has helped hundreds of individuals to achieve their goals since he developed his first coaching program in 1982. What sets Jim apart from other business coaches is his ability to improve his clients’ “inner game of success” via specific techniques not unlike great athletes use to get to the top of their game. Jim holds a BA in Psychology, a Master’s Degree in Education and has completed Ph.D. course work in counseling.

Jack Chapman – Salary Negotiations

Since How to Make $1000 a Minute was first published in 1986, Jack Chapman has become a specialist in all aspects of salary and raise negotiations–from high-profile executive negotiations worth an additional $300,000, to strategies an hourly-wage worker can use to bargain for extra benefits or perks. He has personally assisted over 2,000 individuals, one-on-one, in improving their careers through the challenges of job changes, career planning, and entrepreneurship, and has influenced countless others through his many seminars, courses, lectures, TV and radio appearances, and newspaper columns. Jack’s background includes seven years of study in the Jesuit order, where he earned a B.A. The holder of a master’s degree in Vocational Guidance, he has had a wide variety of careers himself–teaching at the high school and college level, real estate management, corporate training and development, and career management consulting.

Sheryl Dvorin – Beyond Limitations Coaching

Sheryl Dvorin has been a consultant and coach for individuals and corporations for 10 years. She continues on-going training and development through seminars and her spiritual practice. She has dedicated her life to supporting people with their growth and development as well as achieving their personal & professional goals. She received her B.A. in communications from the University of South Florida.


UPS Gets It Right with “That’s Logistics”

A great new TV spot from UPS and the only negative comment I see from viewers is that they can’t get the tune out of their heads. Really well done.

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Nice Little Slam on Blogging?

Kudos to the New Yorker for this cartoon:

Copyright C New Yorker 2010.

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Advanced Diamond Technologies Named One of the “Best Startups” in America

Congratulations to my friend Neil Kane of Advanced Diamond Technologies (ADT) for recently being named one of the best startups in America by Robert X. Cringely! ADT, the world leader in the development of diamond for industrial, electronics, energy and medical applications was chosen as one of 24 entrepreneurial companies out of over 400 to be showcased on Cringley’s Startup Tour – a 13-part cable television series celebrating entrepreneurship.

Cringely is currently touring the country documenting the state of tech innovation and entrepreneurship in the United States to prove that it doesn’t just happen in Silicon Valley! Catch Kane and the rest of the nominated companies when Startup Tour airs in early 2011.

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Now This is The Way to do a Book Tour

This past Friday, September 3rd, I had the opportunity to hear Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappo’s, speak at EO Chicago’s Learning Event. Tony has been traveling the country on a tour bus with a dozen Zappo’s acolytes in support of his first book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.

This is one smart dude. What most impressed me is that he appears to walk the talk. Zappo’s recruits employees not only for competence and skills but equally for fit with culture and personality. He said that either upfront or after a person’s on board, if their skills were superior but personality was difficult, they’d be given the boot. And this is the same company that has famously had a $2,000 cash offer for trainees to leave following their training.

Now if they would just add a tour of the bus, that would’ve been even better.

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Michael Polsky Scores Big

Congratulations to Michael Polsky, founder of Invenergy Wind and featured company champion in How They Did It.

The news just came out: Detroit Energy, the utility subsidiary of DTE Energy Company (DTE) got regulatory approval for a 20-year renewable energy purchase contract. The Michigan Public Service Commission (“MPSC”) gave approval for the company to purchase 200 megawatts (MW) of wind energy from Invenergy Wind.

The project plans to use 125 wind turbines, installed across 30,000 acres, generating enough power to supply nearly 54,000 homes with renewable electricity. Using 1.6MW turbines supplied by GE, the facility is expected to begin operations in late 2011.

When we interviewed Michael for the book, he told me that “if you want to grow, you always stay ahead of your means.” With his level of drive, I surmise that this news is both a conclusion from a big bet and a new chapter for the company. He’s a rare individual in a utility-oriented industry who still owns most of the company and can finance and land a $1.1 billion deal.

Well done Michael.

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