Suggested Song: Ave Maria, Franz Schubert
Suggested Drink: Marillenschnaps shot (a powerful Austrian apricot brandy)

If your primary ambition is a life defined by comfort, security and the relief from uncertainty then read no further.

For those continuing, please start the audio to my Suggested Song above, then read on.

Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria is one of the most recognized songs of the classics period, adapted for films like Disney’s Fantasia and recorded by most every major opera singer through the years. It has become the signature piece for the great Andrea Bocelli, performed with his contemporaries and grand orchestras around the globe. I prefer this simple, haunting version sung by Maria Callas.

schubertDuring his life Schubert was dismissed as a minor league composer, second-tier to the true giants: Bach and Beethoven. His bid to join the Vienna Society of Music was rejected and all of his 20 stage pieces were failures. Most of his career was spent as a nomadic bohemian, supported and lodged by a small circle of friends and fans. Yet in his short 31 years he produced over 1,500 works including 7 symphonies, 600 vocal pieces, and many sonatas and operas.

Schubert could have enjoyed a secure, comfortable life giving piano lessons at his father’s music school. He tried this for one year, at his father’s request, but was too bored and uninspired to continue. Thank god. Beethoven, on his deathbed, was said to have praised Schubert’s music as inspired by divine genius. Brahms, Mendelsohn, Litz, Schumman, Dvorik, and other greats to follow pointed to his work as principal inspiration, and they in turn inspired the next generation of romantics.

Are we thankful for Schubert’s sacrifice, the selfless and selfish dedication to his gift despite the poverty, disrespect, and disappointment to his family? Is our world a richer place with Ave Maria in it (not to mention his other works and those of his disciples)?

I’ve written before about singular promise, most directly in my essay Y U r U (click here to read). We each have a unique gift, at least one thing that we can do better than anyone else on this planet. This one thing is defined by the natural strengths and personality styles gifted from our DNA, plus the unique sets of education, training and life experiences we’ve enjoyed, plus the one-of-its-kind rolodex of friends and contacts we’ve made through the years. If this one thing aligns tightly with our passions then the Schubert inside finds its release and all the world gets a lift, more color, deeper experience.

invest-in-youIs it an option or an obligation to share our gifts, to commit to them? Should Schubert have been permitted to take the predictable path and relax in the stupor of his father’s piano school, his promise evaporated into the ether of countless other “what could have been” possibilities?

In a powerful scene in the film Birdman, Riggan Thomson’s daughter Sam talks about the human life span and our very short and insignificant moment on this planet (83 years on average, perhaps 100 if we are lucky) in the much longer 6 million years that humans have walked the earth. Her takeaway is the futility of ego, of the effort to divine a purpose and attempt to do something impactful. What’s the point Dad, just get over yourself (paraphrasing).

My take on her poignant dialog is the opposite. Yes, we are here for a very short time, a blink of the eye, so forget about failure or making fools of ourselves. If we fail at our grand ambitions, and the chances are in that favor, we’ll be forgotten in a generation (same as if we attempt nothing extraordinary), but if we succeed we may leave our marks on history like Schubert. Do you want to be an ant in an ant farm, undistinguished from the colony, doing your dutiful job, living in relative security and anonymity until that fateful squash under the foot of life? Or do you want to strike out, defy convention, let your flag fly and make a difference? Comments please.

Bill Magill

Suggested Song: Sweet Emotion, Aerosmith
Suggested Drink: Passion Punch; light rum, dark rum, passion fruit, orange juice, sugar syrup

 On Entrepreneurship

BootsTen inventors and 40 students passed through another long and exhausting Sci-Tech Entrepreneurship Bootcamp at INSEAD last weekend. We start with a speed dating session on Friday afternoon between the student teams and external innovation projects and once paired up – typically 3-4 MBAs and 1 mad scientist per love-match – the newly formed teams start pounding out the core elements of workable business models.

Friday and Saturday evenings run to midnight or later, as each of the mock startups work through an endless series of assignments around value proposition, product design and evolution, IP and patent considerations, and customer discovery and market strategy, … and realizing that in this iterative process each business model decision impacts earlier assumptions, they return to the white board to reassess and redesign where necessary. Sunday is reserved for estimating cash needs to get their dreams across the finish line and how these will be funded, then on to presentations to investor judges. We finish by early evening, awards announced, photos taken, a big group hug, and everyone leaves exhilarated, tired, and ready for a serious cocktail.

The innovations under development through the weekend camp varied widely, from programmable antibiotics to hybrid tractors, autonomous robots to fiber composite wheels for aircraft. Through the course of a weekend my students – who lead the charge on the business model creation – tend to pass through Magill’s 5 stages of bootcamp emotion:

  1. Absorption, of what is often a complex and confusing underlying science.
  2. Exasperation, at first attempts at developing a sound and workable business model around it.
  3. Traction, when their growing understanding of the innovation’s capabilities and limitations coalesces with their knowledge of basic business planning.
  4. Exhilaration (or deflation), when the true market potential of their project starts to emerge.
  5. Realization, that the real work of validating all of the weekend assumptions and correcting course is just beginning.

I’m never disappointed by the flexibility, efficiency, and level of accomplishment on display by the business students and visiting scientists during these entrepreneurship bootcamps. Their ability to work together through the science, the business, and deciding what’s next, and often in some unpredictable mix of primary languages, is incredibly impressive and inspiring.

On Intérpreneurship

In early December I’ll give another 3 day workshop, what I call the Intérprize Accelerator, at the University of Aix-Marseille. While the entrepreneurship weekends center on the creation of compelling businesses that flourish and sustain, with an outward focus on external markets, my intérpreneurship sessions emphasize exciting life ambitions that inspire and endure, with an inward focus on personal achievement and self-realization.

The fundamental principals of both camps are largely similar: what is your project’s true value, what assets do you bring to its realization and where are the holes to be filled, who are your customers and in what format do they consume your project (some participants may want to become best-selling authors or artistic performers, others may want to start cafes or operate wineries, so the variance is as wide as in the recent entrepreneurship camp), is extra financing needed and where do you find it?

What is vastly different, however, is the added emphasis on wellness and balance. Without these things we quickly lose our bearings and the ability to execute effectively. The Intérprize Accelerator involves daily happy hours around concepts of positive psychology, and participants also get a 2-hour experiential session on the merits of meditation and yoga (or whatever your favorite physical outlet tends to be).

Mark Stock, Ponder
Mark Stock, Ponder

Like entrepreneurs, intérpreneurs most often start out passionate about their projects (more passionate possibly, given the deeply personal meaning of these aspirations), which yields to a more enlightened acceptance of the sober challenges involved. They pass through the same 5 stages highlighted above, then launch and optimize their models, or in some cases realize that not all dreams are attainable, at least in the form envisioned. This can be a painful discovery but one better arrived at early than late, after precious time and resources have been committed.

… a note on passion

We tumble hard sometimes, foolishly and obsessively. You meet someone and the world is suddenly brighter and more animated, colors are richer and more expressive, your heart beats faster. Irrational exuberance takes root and you know it, you feel it, but you can’t resist it, talking about her or him, repeating yourself, thinking of them, aching to see them again soon.

When you feel this way about your intérprize project something powerful is happening and you have tapped into something deeply meaningful that demands to be explored and exhausted. There is no option. As with our love lives, it all may come to nothing, but oh what sweet emotion while it lasts, while we still believe.

Bill Magill

Song Suggestion: Sweet Dreams (are Made of This), Eurythmics
Drink Suggestion: Cognac spritzer (cognac, crème de raspberry, sparkling grape juice)

I am back from a 1 hour siesta and ready to finish my last blog entry for 2012. A thirty minute refresher usually does the trick, but a bit of extra time on the pillow was helpful after today’s lunch, a 4 hour affair at Restaurant La Grange aux Oies near my brother’s home in the Charente region of central France. I’ll spare you the full inventory of our fixed menu, but after kicking things of with cognac cocktails (this being the heart of Cognac country), we nibbled our ways through mousses of this and purees of that, poached eggs balanced on crab meat, escargots and chanterelles, calf’s head with vegetables in a delicious ravigote sauce, beautifully presented variations on rabbit and pig, a wonderfully odorous tray of varied cow, goat, and sheep cheeses, rich desserts of chocolate this and ice cream bowls of that, and a closing round of rich espressos. Our plates were paired with selections of local white wine and a red from the Rhone valley. A long stroll around the beautiful Chateau de Nieul grounds afterward on this unseasonably warm and sunny December day was much needed, … and then of course the pillow.

I’ve been developing a workshop around intérpreneurship this year and beta version 0.1 was offered earlier this month at a university in Aix-en-Provence. I first wrote about the concept of intérpreneurship here, in a 2011 postcard titled Start You Up, and the seminar presented a great opportunity to test drive the model. Entrepreneurship is the art of building compelling businesses that flourish and sustain, with an outward focus on external markets. The enterprise is your business. Intérpreneurship, conversely, is the art of creating exciting life ambitions that inspire and endure, with an inward focus on personal achievement and self-realization. The intérprize is your life’s Grand Vision.

For 2 ½ days we explored the students’ natural strengths and acquired talents (their intérlectual property); talked about passion plans and additional skills for development; shared the what, where and with whom of an engaged and “perfect” life; and laid out vision maps and key milestones for execution on their plans.

Life/work/health balance was also a key element of the workshop, with various sessions on developing manna for the soul and body. The importance of optimism was key, and I held twice daily Happy Hours to introduce techniques for instilling more happiness and contentment, including the power of rituals, gratitude, flow and mindfulness, and taking longcuts in our daily routines.

My friend Jaci Girardin gives a lively class at the Aix Yoga Centre and directs retreats on meditation in the local area. I invited her to lead a workshop session on sustainability and she quickly had us in warrior poses and deep lunges, then meditation with breathing exercises over lit candles (I was waiting for fire alarms to blow). The students kept an open mind, even if some questioned the value of these activities in the greater goal of pursuing one’s grand ambition.

The fact is, these activities are critically important when investing our all in a project. The pursuit of our passion plans – our intérprize – demands most of our time and all of our energy. Without respect for the complete trinity of mind, body, and soul, we quickly lose our balance and bearings. Imagine that your intérprize is a grand sailing journey. The ship is your body, the map is your mind, and the wind is your soul (or spirit if you prefer). If any of these are missing, the journey will fail. Consider that:

  • You have a sturdy ship and good map, but no wind: you’re pointed in the right direction and fit for travel, but with little enthusiasm.
  • You have a good map and strong wind, but leaky ship: you’re going someplace fast, but not for long before breakdown.
  • You have a strong wind and sturdy ship, but no map: you’re full of zeal and fit for the voyage, but to where?

The Intérprize(TM) Workshop weaves all 3 elements into a balanced model for a sustainable adventure, that pursuit of your life vision.

We launched 28 remarkable life visions at the workshop this month and I am excited for all of the students and their grand ambitions. Next year I’ll be offering more Intérprize Workshops as well as a week-long retreat in Italy with colleagues in June. Don’t hesitate to contact me if curious to know more.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday break and the best of luck with your plans for 2013 and beyond.

Bill Magill

Music Suggestion: Start Me Up, Rolling Stones
Drink Suggestion: Van Gogh Dutch Caramel Vodka

INSEAD is a fun, rewarding place to work. After many exhilarating years hustling alongside hard-charging super achievers in venture capital and investment banking, it is a joy to again work with incredibly smart, accomplished and driven people, minus the god complex (sorry, that is harsh). At the Maag Centre for Entrepreneurship we give courses and workshops, guide and mentor, make introductions and advise on careers; in essence do everything possible to instill the fundamentals of entrepreneurship in our gifted students, then unleash them onto the world.

I have been teaching an 8-week workshop on technology commercialization this Fall, and in the course of developing its modules I had a pair of realizations (considered truly staggering insights in my former professional personas). One, I myself am a startup. As I pass through this mid-life phase of re-invention I weigh certain considerations that any emerging company must resolve: defining purpose and worth and how to make it happen. Two, outlining my personal plan through the lens of a business plan – the likes of which my students are expected to create – is incredibly beneficial. There is a process to developing great ideas that matter, then making the leap from concept to market. Working through that process and setting the emergent strategy is equally beneficial for applied personal development, or what I labeled Spiritual Entrepreneurship in a previous blog (Of Anchovies and Olives and Spiritual Entrepreneurship).

I also realize that the word “entrepreneurship” in the context of Spiritual Entrepreneurship is improper.  Despite our former US president’s jab that the French have no word for entrepreneurship, it is of course a French word, the first syllable “entre” meaning “between,” as in the development of value between a creator and her market. In the realm of applied personal development, conversely, value creation is firstly internal; hence, a more appropriate French syllable would be “intér”. Personally, I like sticking with French syllables because they involve accents, which look so sexy and urbane (and I am so not a sexy urbanite). So henceforth we go with Spiritual Intérpreneurship.

If you also feel the start-up within, or in your author’s case the restart within, then a framework is needed for constructing your applied personal plan. A tour of the self-help aisle at your local bookstore will reveal dozens of options. But, why not exploit a system that is logical, proven, and applied daily by aspiring entrepreneurs in the course of building the next Google or Apple? A robust intérpreneurial effort needs answers to these fundamental entrepreneurial start-up questions:

  • What is my intellectual property (IP)? Start-ups are built on invention and imagination, on a base of core intelligence that defines their promise and bounds the possibilities until additional intelligence is developed or acquired. What is your personal IP? It is your base of core strengths and assimilated talents and knowledge.  On this foundation you imagine what is possible. And, just as shrewd start-ups continue to build on their IP to sustain competitive position, you too should build on your base of intellect and skills to expand the possibilities. What are you good at; what do you want to be good at?
  • What is my product definition? A start-up’s IP foundation enables many possible directions in product form and features, but the finished offering must align tightly with unmet market needs to be successful. Not so for you. Your personal product, that life passion you are committed to realizing, need only satisfy your unmet needs for the principal litmus test of suitability. And this realization is liberating. Write a book on multi-generational farm families of central Pennsylvania; renovate and run a historic B&B in Savannah; study the art of luthierie and open a guitar design and repair shop? What if the market is small? Who cares? When explaining your mission to a friend do you feel an electric surge of purpose? Okay, now you know you’re on to something. The success of intérpreneurial endeavors is measured firstly by the satisfaction they induce inside. How will you define success: personal gratification and respect, absolutely; profit and fame, maybe. The collage of success is unique to each of us. The time to question and explore your personal passions, ambitions, and objectives is now, during this product definition stage. These taken together will help define your mission and formulate an execution plan. Onward.
  • What is my go-to-market strategy? A start-up is wind-down quickly if its product cannot be realized and grab the customer’s attention. The most exciting idea in the world has zero value when it is just that, an idea. How do you become relevant? The same way a start-up becomes relevant; by executing effectively on the dream and exploiting its greatest value for the customer. In the case of intérpreneurship, the passion product may target many, may target a few, or may target one. Regardless, an execution plan is essential. I like the Murphy process, taught by Joe Murphy of San Francisco State University’s Core Strengths Coaching program.  Sketch an arc starting at time zero (today) and ending with your achievement point; 2, 5, perhaps 10 years out. Break the arc into key milestones and those milestones into smaller markers of progress. Getting the arc right takes time, but provides an excellent system for thinking through and setting structure to your strategy. You know your IP and product at this point, the arc will provide the passion plan; your go-to-market strategy.
  • How do I last? Macy’s has been operating for over 150 years and Faber-Castell (which makes exquisite pens, see Back to the Plume) was a start-up 250 years ago.  How do they remain so relevant for so long? Corporate longevity is not by accident, but accomplished through a deliberate sustainability strategy. Intérpreneurship is not about dabbling with hobbies through a tranquil retirement. Intérpreneurs want to achieve something of real passion. This takes real time and real energy. We’re not as robust post-50 as we were pre-30 and attention to diet and fitness is critical. I am neither a dietician nor fitness coach, but can make this testimonial: since crossing the 50 barrier I have pursued the holy health trinity of mind, body, and soul and it helps considerably. Meditation (see Nap King v Meditation Master) and a work-out emphasizing balance and flexibility through yoga (I remain an awkward novice at both) work for me in the mind and body department, and the simple avoidance of processed foods and indulgence in home cheffing is doing wonders for my soul. Flow-inducing rituals (see The Value of our Rituals for a few examples) also help with my mental balance and positive attitude. You can find many YouTube videos and on-line blogs about fitness routines. I cherry pick amongst them to find the optimal regime for my interests and schedule. When one isn’t working, swapping for another has zero marginal cost. The beauty of the internet.
  • How do I give back? Corporate philanthropy / community involvement is not universal and clearly not a requisite for a company’s success and long-term prosperity. Still, the most admired companies develop programs around corporate responsibility, and most of us want to be admired for being a net positive force on the world around us. Whether you choose to include this type of activity in your mission is solely a personal decision, but one worth considering as you piece together the passion plan discussed above.

If you apply the start-up system to your own personal ambitions please let me know. All comments and suggestion are appreciated, as always with my Postcards.

Tip for the day: If called late by good friend seeking bar buddy and enticed to join (let’s imagine that you’re just getting back to Aix from Paris, it’s been a long week, and a couple of drinks sound awfully inviting, …all hypothetical of course), and after bouncing around a couple of pubs find a comfortable spot with good music and great Guinness (still with me?), and the annoying drunk guys next to you who look like frat house rejects (which is unlikely, because France doesn’t do frats) turn out to be newly minted nuclear physicists telling fascinating tales of work and dreams of entrepreneurship, and your remarkable new friends are sharing generous shots of caramel vodka, (now here’s the tip part) channel your inner adult, should it be possible to unearth at this point, and refrain.

Bill Magill