Chicago’s Rollout–The Pros and Cons of Small Businesses


In the last segment of Chicago’s Rollout radio program on Friday, March 6th, Bert Howard and I were talking about small businesses.    He and I are in the process of setting up a small business, and we wanted to encourage those out there who might be thinking of creating a small business of your own.

Let’s talk about the pros and cons of creating a small business.   First, let’s deal with the advantages:

  1. Community involvement–small business owners often become involved in the life of the community by getting to know customers who live there
  2. Ability to adapt to change–through the personal relationships with customers, owners of small businesses become aware of changes in people’s needs and can adapt quickly to those changes
  3. Simplified record keeping–record keeping doesn’t need to be complicated; all you need are a checkbook, and two journals, a cash-receipts journal to record all sales, and a cash-disbursements journal to record all amounts paid out.
  4. Independence–small-business owners are the masters of their own destinies, which for some is the prime advantage of owning a small business.

Of course, to give a balanced picture you need to know the disadvantages of having a small business.

  1. Risk of failure–a business recession can hit hard if you do not the financial resources to weather an extended difficult period.
  2. Limited potential–a small business is unlikely to grow into a big business, and the potential for advancement for employees is limited.
  3. Limited ability to raise capital–most small-business financing comes out of the owner’s pocket.   36% of new firms begin with less than $20,000, usually provided by the owner or family members and friends.

(Pride, Hughes, Kapoor, Foundations for Business 6th Edition, pp. 141-142)

But besides the possibility of starting a small business, each of us needs to think of ourselves as the CEO of our own business, and the book The Financial Diet shows how to manage your personal finances.   I will discuss this book in the next few posts.

Chicago’s Rollout–A Change of Habit (10)


This is the final post on the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.   It contains an important topic, namely, the importance of willpower.

Willpower is the ability to:

  • avoid giving into temptations for instant gratification to achieve a larger reward down the line
  • face a difficult or time-consuming task and get it done rather than putting it off (procrastinating)
  • finish a project once you’ve started

In what are called longitudinal studies on children, that is, studies that are done on a group of children and then followed up on years down the line, it has been shown that willpower, rather than intelligence, is a greater predictor of success.

If you take a group of children that have roughly the same intelligence level, and see how they do compared to children that have lower or higher levels of intelligence, it is not how smart they are that determined their success at school.   It is the amount of willpower they show in relation to their studies which is a greater predictor to how well they do in school.

I can tell you this from personal experience.   In grade school, tests showed that I was very intelligent, but frankly I was lazy.   I did the minimum amount of work to get by.  Now that was okay when I was going to elementary school and even junior high.   But starting in high school and then going on to college, I was not performing at the level I was capable of.

At the end of my freshman year in college, my parents exhibited what would be called “tough love” and said that if I didn’t get mostly A’s in my sophomore year, they would no longer be paying my tuition for school.    I continued my habits, more interested in partying than pursuing academics, and needless to say, I didn’t get mostly A’s.   My dad said, “if you continue on like this, you’re going to graduate Magna Cum Lousy!”   They turned off the money spigot, and I was forced to leave school and find work to earn my own money to go back.

I got help from grandmother in terms of finding work in the city of Chicago and a place to live.   I lived in the Prairie Shores apartment near Mercy Hospital on King Drive and took the bus to work, at an AT&T Office (it was called Ma Bell at the time before the breakup in 1984) doing data entry.   I earned money for two years and then went back to school and finished my degree.   After having to pay my own way, you can be sure that I got good grades, and continued on to get my Master’s Degree (and getting all A’s while doing it).

It was a painful lesson, and I often wonder how much more and how much faster I would have advanced if I had learned the techniques of willpower while I was in grade school.

The interesting finding in the book Power of Habit is that willpower is like a muscle.  If you are helping a friend move furniture on the weekend, you probably won’t go and work out that morning because you don’t want your muscles to tire out too quickly.  In a similar way, if you have something important that you want to do (such a starting a new habit) you should probably do it towards the beginning of the day, because your willpower is kind of like a mental muscle and will also be stronger at the beginning of the day.

That is why Brian Tracy wrote his book Eat that Frog, one of my favorite books of his.  Eat that Frog refers to a quote from Mark Twain:  Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day!   In the book, Brian Tracy takes this important observation about willpower and applies it to how you should organize your day.    Take the hardest, more unpleasant task you’ve got and make it the FIRST thing you do every day.    You’ll have more willpower at the beginning of the day to tackle the project.   If you wait until the end of the day, you won’t have the energy, mentally or otherwise, to tackle such a big project, and worse, you’ll get into the bad habit of procrastination.

So try to build a habit by doing it at the beginning of your day rather than at the end.  For example, I practice foreign languages with the Duolingo app every morning before I get out of bed.   I used to try to do it at the END of the day, after I got everything done at work and I came home and ate dinner.    However, sometimes I was so exhausted that I forgot to do my language practice and it was hard for me to work up a streak of more than a 100 or so days doing the app.   Right now, I have a streak that is 1297 days along (quickly approaching the 1300 mark), which is over three and a half years of doing language practice every morning.   I can attribute that success to the fact that I do not get out of bed until I finish that day’s language practice!

So learn from The Power of Habit (and incidentally, Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!) and build your willpower up just like you would your muscles at the gym.   Train a little bit at a time, and do your “exercise” towards the beginning of the day when you have the most energy!    If you keep it up, you will build not just muscle, but stamina, and be able to tackle great projects with your well-developed willpower!

Chicago’s Rollout–Change a Habit (9)


For the past two weeks, I’ve discussed the project of changing a habit, based on the ideas presented by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit.

In this final post on the project, I want to discuss the two aspects of project management that can help you improve the chances of success of your project.   The first one is one I already discussed in the last post, namely, the concept of stakeholders.   Stakeholders are people who can influence a project positively or negatively.   You want to get your family and friends to support you and encourage you in your project; in other words, you want them to become stakeholders.    In a company, if what you do in your project will impact a certain department, they will be a stakeholder in your project.   If they have any objections that your project will negatively impact their department, it will be important for you to listen.   If you don’t, they will resist implementing your project in your department.

Another way to improve the chances of success on your project is to pay attention to risks.   In the language of the Project Management Institute (PMI), a risk is a factor which may influence a project either positively or negatively.    The word “risks” therefore covers both negative influences (what we normally call risks) and positive ones (what we normally call “opportunities”).  You notice the similarity to the concept of stakeholders?    Like stakeholders, risks can influence a project positively or negatively.   However, unlike people whom you can reason with (at least MOST of the time), risks can only be managed.   For example, if you have a project of starting a habit of jogging outside and there is a possibility of rain, there’s really nothing you can do to reduce that possibility.   However, you can reduce the impact of the rain on your jogging by simply taking a windbreaker or rain poncho.

A good project management will try to gain stakeholders that support the project, and prepare ahead of time for risks that may effect the project.    The concepts of risk management and stakeholder management are important ones in project management, and they each have a chapter all to themselves in the Project Management Body of Knowledge.

Tomorrow will start a new chapter in the Chicago’s Rollout broadcast.   We will be starting the cycle of four programs for the month of March, starting with the first topic of business.   We will discuss how to view yourself in a new way:   by considering yourself as if you were a business.   We will also be starting a call-in segment for our show.

I will have one more post on the book The Power of Habit, and then starting on Saturday, I will have posts on a new book, The Financial Diet by Chelsea Fagan.   It is a book I discovered, along with The Power of Habit, on the Mentor Box site of which I am a member.   It taks about personal finance, and is a great book to follow The Power of Habit, because it deals with getting rid of bad financial habits and starting some good new ones.   I look forward to tomorrow’s program!

Chicago’s Rollout–Change a Habit (8)


In the last post, I mentioned that there was a way to increase the chances of success in your project of changing a habit.    In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg discusses the importance of belief.

This is not talking about the importance of belief in God, but of the belief in yourself, that you CAN succeed.    One of the ways of doing this is to join a group of others who are also trying to change the same habit.

This is one of the secrets of success at Alcoholics Anonymous.   At a typical meeting, someone will get up and talk about how they were able to control their craving for drinking, one day at a time.   After hearing several of those stories, you might start to think “well if they can do it, I can do it!”

I remember a similar process going on with the meetings I went to at Toastmasters International.    The organization is devoted to learning public speaking and leadership skills through regular meetings at a local club.   Like most other people, I was scared of speaking in public, especially so since I am introverted and it takes a tremendous amount of energy for me to talk to one other person, let alone a whole roomful of them.  But time after time I would go, and listen to others overcome their fear of public speaking, and I told myself that I too could get up in front of others and speak.

Through regular meetings, I started to rack up the “small wins” I described in a separate post and became better at public speaking and learned leadership skills as well.

In terms of the project that you are working on of changing a habit, you should let people know that you are working on the project.    These people can be your family or your circle of friends, or both.    They become the stakeholders in your project.   A stakeholder is a person who is impacted by the results of your project.   If you are a smoker, then cutting down on smoking will have positive benefits for those around you.    If you starting the habit of exercise, this will give you more energy which will also be a good thing for those around you.    By telling them about your project, you can enlist their help in encouraging you to keep on going, or having you continue again if you stumble and fall.

All of these concepts, those of small wins and enlisting the help of stakeholders in your project, are examples of things that help increase the probability of success in what you are doing.    They are thus examples of what are called positive risk factors, that is, factors which increase the likelihood of your project succeeding.   This concept of risk analysis on a project is the subject of the next post.

Chicago’s Rollout–Change a Habit (7)


In this post, I want to discuss how different habits may effect each other.    There are some habits which influence other habits–for the better or for the worse.   They are called keystone habits.

A keystone is a term from architecture.  It is a wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place.   In a similar way, a keystone habit locks other habits in place.    So if you want to change a lot of habits, you need to start with the keystone.

An example of a bad keystone habit is if you don’t have a budget.   If you just spend money when you have it, then this may encourage other habits such as

  • taking out payday loans to have enough money to cover expenses when you run out
  • not having a savings account to be used in the case of emergencies
  • impulse buying of things you don’t really need online

Once you create a budget, then some of these other bad habits will be easier to control.

On the positive side, doing exercise is a positive keystone habit.    Let me take the example of yoga, which I’m trying to do at least 5 days a week right after I come home from work.   I’ve established the habit for the most post–I’m averaging four days a week and working towards five.    But doing this on a regular basis has anchored it to my schedule and has helped me create these other positive habits:

  • meditating for 15 minutes after I’m done with my yoga session (because I’m in a relaxed state, the meditation is especially effective at this time)
  • remembering to take my evening medicines
  • doing an intermittent fast by just skipping dinner afterwards (maybe having some juice or a piece of fruit) and not eating until I get up the next morning

Having the yoga habit has helped me by being the anchor to which I am developing the three practices listed above.   There may be other keystone habits that you can develop that can work for you, but exercise is probably one that will work for you, because researchers say it can work for anybody.

One factor which can increase the likelihood of success of your habit changing project is to enlist the help of others to help you believe in your success.    This concept related to projects is called that of your project stakeholders, and it is this concept I will address in the next post.

 

Chicago’s Rollout–Change a Habit (6)


In the previous posts on changing a habit, based in part on the subject matter of the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, I laid out how to set your own project up to change a habit that you would like to change.

Just to repeat those project steps, let me list them here.

1.  Choose a habit you want to change

2.  Choose a timeframe for the project

3.  Become aware of the CUE for the habit.

4.  Figure out what the REWARD is.

5.  Figure out what the replacement ROUTINE will be.

6.  Start the project:  use CUE awareness to become more aware of the CUE, and when it occurs, use the replacement ROUTINE.

7.  Mark on an index card a check mark every time you catch yourself experiencing the CUE for the ROUTINE.

8.  Mark on an index card a hash mark (#) every time you successfully carry out the replacement ROUTINE.

9.  Review your progress after one week.

10.  Review your progress at the end of the second week when your project stops.

SMALL WINS

In choosing your habit that you want to change, there are some ideas that can help you increase the chance of success.    One is the concept of small wins, which means when you set up the goal of the project, you should do so in small steps rather than trying to make a giant leap.

For example, let’s say you want to set up an exercise habit.   If you haven’t exercised before, then saying “I want to run a 5K marathon” is not realistic, especially in the suggested timeframe of two weeks.   What COULD you do realistically in two weeks?  Researchers have shown that those people who got dressed up in exercise clothes were more likely to keep up the exercise habit than those who didn’t.   Why is this?

This is something that happened to me.   I was trying to set up a habit of doing yoga for half an hour after work.   When I came home, I would change into my yoga outfit (workout shorts, a t-shirt, and white athletic socks) and do my half hour of yoga.   There were some days when I didn’t feel like doing yoga because I was tired, but I thought to myself “well, I’m already dressed for it so I might as well do SOMETHING.   I’ll just start the yoga video and do fifteen minutes of it”   Then I would, more often than not, start doing exercise with my yoga video, but once the momentum started, I would finish the video.

This topic reminds me of a conversation with my mother when we were washing dishes in the kitchen together.   “I don’t want to do the dishes,” I said.   She shared with me that sometimes she didn’t feel like doing them either.   But she had a mental trick that she played that usually worked.   She said, “I’ll play a game with myself and promise that after I do the dishes for 15 minutes, I’ll stop and take a break.”    Once she starts, which she said was the hardest part, after 15 minutes she would look at all she had accomplished in that short while, and then she would say, “well, maybe I’ll just go ahead and finish the job.”   And that’s what she would do.   I realized that with the yoga, I was doing something similar in promising to do only 15 minutes of exercise.   It’s often starting to do the job which is the hardest part mentally, but once you get into doing whatever it is you have set out to do, the momentum will carry you forward, and the next thing you know, you’ve got the day’s finish line in sight!

Small wins are an especially good way to tackle what are called keystone habits.  This will be the topic of the next post.

 

Chicago’s Rollout–Interview With Mark Reed


On the program for Chicago’s Rollout on Friday night, February 28th, Bert Howard interviewed Mark Reed, the artist who currently lives in the “Chinese House” in Park Forest, IL.   For pictures of his house and of his Bonsai art creations, see the website https://www.incredibleart.org/links/reed/reed.html.

Bonsai is a form of miniature tree that blurs the line between nature and art.   It is normally an actual tree, a product of nature, which is shaped by the artist.   It is common to the cultures of Japan and China, but the form that Mark Reed came to appreciate was the Chinese form.   The Japanese form is the one I am familiar with from the time I lived in Japan, but the Chinese form is the one that Mark Reed preferred, and it is the one that focuses on the trunk itself.   The trunk is forced by the artist to take on a shape which often takes strange twists and turns, but thrives nonetheless.   Mark Reed took that form to be a metaphor of the consciousness of someone who is black in the United States, because that person also has to thrive under adversity, but learns to do so with an elegance that contributes to the larger American experience.   We this most often in forms of music such as the blues, or jazz, but also with the spoken word in terms of poetry (Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou) or plays (Lorraine Hansberry).

But the form that Mark Reed created was Silent Bonsai as he calls it, silent because he is working with artificial pine needles applied to a trunk with a glue gun rather than the traditional living tree.   The results, however, are lifelike and stunning, as you can by the photos of his Silent Bonsai exhibits.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the interview came when Bert Howard talked to Mark Reed about the importance of young people being able to look to members of the community as mentors in whatever endeavor they find themselves interested in.   But to Mark Reed what is more important is that people in the older generation look to BE mentors to the young people in the community.   It is important to create a legacy, not just like Mark Reed does for his nine children, but to the community at large.   There may be a budding artist out there who one day sees the “China House” and wonders why it stands out as different from the neighborhood, and yet somehow manages to blend into the nature landscape it is a part of.    And in seeing the Silent Bonsai trees, a young person may wish to give voice to that inner artist who says, “wow, I’d like to do something like that!”

This is why I appreciate Bert Howard’s segment on art and architecture.   The other segments are about the world of business, logistics, and project management and speak to the practical aspects of life.    The ancients divided the world of the mind into the search for the true, the beautiful, and the good.   We are focused on the other segments on the search for the truth, but in this one segment, we take a break and focus on the search for the beautiful, because rather than focusing on making a living, it focuses on what makes life worth living.