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The Yoke Principle Part 1: Ignore this Business Principle at Your Own Peril

The Yoke Principle Part 1: Ignore this Business Principle at Your Own Peril

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In business, as well as in life, there are times when you and I are presented with the opportunity to partner or team up with another company or individual.

Generally on the front end of any such opportunity the positives nearly always seem to dominate our interest and they will often drown out any potential negatives or pitfalls. But as is the case in nearly all opportunities, it’s critical to weigh both the pros and cons.

There is an overriding principle that I have generally sought to follow when I find myself in this situation. When I have, it has consistently spared me a lot of heartache as well as significant dollars. The principle I am referring to is one I call the “Yoke” principle and it is cited in Scripture as “Don’t be unequally yoked…” There is another similar passage that states, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” The context of the first passage may deal with a spiritual truth but the general concept of both passages also applies in business as well as in most other areas of life.

As a reminder, a yoke is a device used to team up or connect two animals, often a couple of oxen to pull a plow. The idea is that by binding the two animals together via a yoke, it ensures that their effort is effective, efficient and productive. Without the yoke, it’s likely, if not certain, that the two animals will not walk, work or pull in unison.

In business, the Yoke principle is one of the most important concepts you and I will either validate and enjoy success or violate and reap heartache and financial loss. I know this from personal experience and have realized the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” when I either followed or ignored this truth.

The most obvious instance of my affirming the Yoke principle was when I teamed up in 1990 with my current business partner, Jerry Stout. It’s true that Jerry and I are polar opposites in some areas of our lives, personalities, and skills. But our worldview, core values, and overall goals have been compatible and in sync across these 25 years. This does not mean that there have not been times of great stress and even strong disagreement, but the common values we’ve shared have enabled us to work through the challenging times and enabled us to enjoy many successes together. Perhaps the greatest is the one I recounted in this previous post: The $100 Million Napkin

On the other end of the spectrum, though, I can recall an instance when Jerry and I ignored the Yoke principle when a particular opportunity presented itself back in the late ’90’s. We had been introduced to some businessmen in Las Vegas who presented us with one of those “too good to be true” opportunities. Even though the guys in Vegas did not share our values or business philosophy, we overlooked those facts and partnered up with them to acquire a couple of parcels of land and develop some properties in the Southwest. Sadly, that one relationship ultimately cost us many millions of dollars. And the main reason was because we were unequally yoked with guys we had no business in aligning with.

In my next blog post we’ll talk about some basic requirements to assess when deciding whether to align or partner with someone. We’ll also review some of the repercussion of ignoring the Yoke principle. But as we wrap up today, I encourage you to filter every new opportunity to partner or affiliate with someone through the grid of your own core values and worldview and stay true to those values, no matter what. You won’t be disappointed.

Mark

Eat, Drink and Be Merry? Four Reasons Why Capitalism Is Much More

Eat, Drink and Be Merry? Four Reasons Why Capitalism Is Much More

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Following my post last week, Capitalism, Greed and the American Way: Are they Synonymous?, I concluded that greed and capitalism are obviously not synonymous. A number of readers commented on the post so I wanted to explore this a little further.

Recently I reread an ancient story about a very rich farmer. It seems he was so successful that he ran out of space to store his abundance. So his solution was to tear down his barns, build new ones, and hoard all of his crops and possessions for his own personal benefit. His self-absorbed mindset concluded that the obvious response to his success was to simply “eat, drink and be merry” and waste all he had been blessed with on himself.

Yesterday I read another business story in an article at Bloomberg.com entitled How Two Guys Lost God but Found $40 Million. This rags to riches story relays the experiences of a couple of Jewish guys, Abe Zeines and Meir Hurwitz, who found a way to prey on small businesses via a venture called “merchant cash advance. It’s a legal way to lend money to small businesses at interest rates higher than Mafia loan sharks once charged.

The two partners ultimately sold their business for $100 million in early 2015 and walked away clearing $20 million each. With their new-found wealth, the two men bought a mansion in Puerto Rico, and the following excerpt from the article describes their current life: “golfing, gambling and picking up women…” Interestingly, though, the two acknowledge that “making some money hadn’t made (them) happy; it just made (them) want more.”

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So if the above ventures were capitalistic in nature, why did the owners respond so selfishly? Perhaps these four truths about capitalism will shed some light:

Truth #1: Capitalism acts as a portal into one’s soul

While capitalism enabled Zeines and Hurwitz to achieve millionaire status, it also was the portal that revealed what was already deep within their souls. Capitalism and the success that can come with it will simply reveal the best and the worst of a man. If greed lurks within the recesses of a man, it will be amplified as the man’s business profits. On the flip side, though, if compassion, generosity and concern for one’s fellow man are values of the entrepreneur, those same qualities will flourish and gain significance as that man is blessed with material gain.

Truth #2: Capitalism requires one to focus on the needs of others

We should remember that capitalism is not about me, as in the business owner, but rather it’s about others. In the book, “Business Secrets from the Bible” Rabbi Daniel Lapin reveals a secret that validates this truth: “Focus on other people’s needs and desires and you will never, ever be short of what you yourself desire or need.” Lapin goes on to say that “there is only one way to make money (legally): finding out what other people want or need and then providing those things to as many of our fellow humans as possible.

Capitalism enables us to serve the needs of others in the most effective and efficient manner. And the more people you serve, the more financially successful you will be (assuming the economics of your business are sound). Sadly, though, this truth does not guard against exploiters of capitalism.

Truth #3: Capitalism promotes the golden rule

A central core of Judeo-Christian values is the concept of the golden rule: Do unto other as you would have them do unto you. The clear teaching here is that we must treat others in the same manner we desire to be treated. This truth, while deeply engrained into our traditional Western values, is not universal as socialism and even some religions do not embrace this rule.

But capitalism at its core requires the golden rule for it to flourish and carry on. Consider that if a business owner mistreats his customers in a manner that he would reject if he were the customer, ultimately his customers will not return. While we can find examples of businesses who have obviously mistreated their customers, such as Zeines and Hurwitz did to their clients, in the long run, businesses or an entire industry like theirs will ultimately fail if they reject the golden rule.

Truth #4: Capitalism enables one to help another

If you’ve ever flown on an airline, you’ve no doubt heard the flight crew instruction prior to taking off informing passengers of what to do in the case of a loss of oxygen. Prior to helping others, including their young child, passengers are instructed to put on their own oxygen mask first and then help the child sitting beside them. The clear message is that one cannot help another if they are incapacitated themselves. Likewise, as we look around our community or world, we see many in dire need. However, before we can help those who are less fortunate, we must have the capacity to do so.

As entrepreneurs build and grow their enterprises with the right motives and a sound economic model, success is inevitable. And as that success begins to increase the owner’s resources, he is at an increased level of opportunity to reach out and help those in need beside him, or half way around the world. This is the beauty of capitalism: the entrepreneur meets the needs of his customers which in turn enables the owner to meet the needs of his family, his community, and his world. And this all occurs because of a voluntary economic exchange.

As we wrap up our discussion about capitalism, I trust that we will consider this sobering thought from Luke 12: “To whom much is given, much is required.” As individuals who have been blessed with the gift of capitalism, something that billions of people in our world do not possess, I trust that you and I will find ourselves faithful stewards of this great gift. May we continue to defend and pursue capitalism in a manner that acknowledges these four truths and preserves it for generations to come.

Mark

An Achiever’s Secret Weapon

An Achiever’s Secret Weapon

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No doubt you’re familiar with the old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!” The concept suggests that it’s more important to have the right connections than having the right information or knowledge. Such a statement asserts that when it comes to getting ahead, your own learning and application of that knowledge is of lesser importance than simply knowing and/or befriending certain people.

Personally, I take issue with this connection-oriented approach to life that deemphasizes many other critical qualities. While I won’t deny that having connections and developing friendships can at times open doors, in my view this is a very sketchy and unpredictable way to live one’s life.

Recently I read a story that suggests there is a greater attribute than friendship that will determine whether you will achieve success in life. The story goes like this:

Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. An old friend traveling through just showed up, and I don’t have a thing on hand.”

The friend answers from his bed, “Don’t bother me. The door’s locked; my children are all down for the night; I can’t get up to give you anything.”

But let me tell you, even if he won’t get up because he’s a friend, if you stand your ground, knocking and waking all the neighbors, he’ll finally get up and get you whatever you need.

As you think about this story, what is clear is that the friendship between the two neighbors did not hold that much sway. What ultimately opened the door for the fellow who had no food was his persistence.

According to Webster, persistence is the quality that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people.

There are few qualities more important than persistence for an entrepreneur or for life in general. At times persistence can require that one should continue on the same path since the problem is not the effort, strategy or idea itself but rather timing may be the real issue. However, it could be that the business concept may be valid but the strategy, pricing or message may need to be tweaked or revised.

I can think back to a time in my company when we had a large number of properties that we had recently built and we were in the process of seeking to increase their occupancy. Some of the properties experienced a relatively quick fill-up while others dragged on and on. With an average of a $4 million investment to open each property (and some as high as $12 million), there was no option for simply abandoning our effort when our business plans did not play out according to our projections. Rather, we had to continuously persist in finding solutions for those properties that were struggling.

At times it required a pricing change. Other times it required a new marketing strategy. Still other instances required changes in personnel. And seeking the wisdom and counsel of outsiders or counselors who approached solutions from a completely different vantage point played an important part as well.

At the end of the day though, it was critical to persist in our efforts. Failure was not an option. And with millions of dollars in negative cash flow annually, it was incumbent upon us to persist in finding the answers quickly.

persistanceSo what about you? Are you facing some continuous road blocks as you pursue your dream or tackle an objective you have for your business? If so, I’d encourage you to consider this quote from Matt Biondi, an eleven-time Olympic medalist and world record holder:

“Persistence can change failure into extraordinary success”.

Next time you are tempted to throw in the towel, remember that you may be on the verge of extraordinary success… and persistence can be your secret weapon and make all the difference.

Mark

How Ignoring This Business Principle Will Haunt You

How Ignoring This Business Principle Will Haunt You

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Business ventures have played a prominent role in my life for the last 35 years. In addition to business, though, one of my other passions is following and engaging in politics. While politics can often times be very divisive, one thing that most Americans would agree on is that truth is a rare commodity when it comes to the political arena. It’s been said that there’s only one time when politicians are untruthful: when their lips are moving.

I realize this may be an overstatement, at least for some, but it’s sad when an entire profession, which enjoys referring to themselves as “public servants,” is characterized as dishonest.

But what about you and me? When people think of us, both personally and in our profession or businesses, does the word honesty come to mind? Is truth a word that characterizes your business? Here are a couple of questions you can ask yourself to determine if Truth is not only important but is it a value that others see in you.

Do you fudge on truth?

In business, there are a myriad of relationships in which we are engaged. Whether it’s our employees and partners, lenders and vendors, or customers and prospects, we are regularly confronted with the option to communicate truthfully or “fudge” the truth to fit our agenda or gain an advantage. Whether our motivation is pure financial profit, or perhaps it’s a power or prestige issue, we can often be tempted to exaggerate, confuse or disguise the absolute truth. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to justify communicating in an untruthful manner.

I can recall at one point in our business that my business partner and I had the unpleasant task of meeting with one of our lenders which had financed the construction of four of our projects. We owed the lender over $15 million and several of the properties they had financed were not living up to our projections or their expectations. If you ever figuratively “went to the woodshed” as a child, that’s what this meeting was like. Clearly, the temptation was great to simply tell the lender what they wanted to hear. But it would have been untruthful.

The meeting grew very tense with the executive of the lender hurling a string of obscene expletives at us. In the heat of the moment, I responded that if he wanted the keys to the properties he was welcome to them. We were doing the best we could do and if that wasn’t good enough, then he was welcome to step in and take them over. It’s interesting how simply responding firmly in truth changed the entire demeanor of the conversation. While the facts were still the same, the attitude of the lender changed when he understood that we could not simply promise him what he wanted to hear. As a footnote, several years later when we sold our company, those four properties contributed significantly more in value than their associated debt.

Do you invite truth from others?

In politics, it’s easy to see whether a politician is interested in the truth by observing with whom he surround himself. Are his advisors and team members simply “yes” men who tell him what he wants to hear or does he open himself up to divergent views and opinions? There’s a verse that says, “Iron sharpens iron.” The concept is that as we hear the truth from others we trust, we ourselves are sharpened in the process.

Do you invite input from your team, advisors, and customers that might conflict with your views, even if at times it might be hard to hear? And if you do, are there times when the truth they share with you causes you to change your attitude, behavior or actions? Truth is sometimes hard to receive, but it’s critical that we display an attitude that invites it. Doing so reveals another important quality we all need, humility.

compassAs I think of the importance of truth in my life and business I am reminded of this verse: “Truth has stumbled in the streets.”  (Isaiah 59:14) Sadly we see the reality of this verse being borne out in all areas of our society including politics, business, athletics and even in the church.  Just this last month, corporate giant VW was caught in a scandal that involves millions of their vehicles and will cost the company billions of dollars, but more importantly their reputation will be tarnished for years.  And it all originated from a scheme to cover up the truth.

At the end of the day, truth is one of the most important qualities in both your life and business.  Embrace truth and you can overcome or confront any obstacle in your life.  Compromise truth though, or even worse reject it, and you can be certain that those same obstacles will come back to haunt you.

“At the end of the day, Truth is one of the most important qualities in both your life and business.  Embrace Truth and you can overcome or confront any obstacle in your life.  Compromise Truth though, or even worse reject it, and you can be certain that those same obstacles will come back to haunt you.”

Mark

How You Can Predict the Future

How You Can Predict the Future

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Have you ever wished you could predict the future?

In business, have you wished you could tell in advance how your new hire will perform?  In politics, have you wondered whether the candidate you are voting for will, in fact, deliver on the promises he is making?  In relationships, have you hoped that you could better anticipate what those close to you will do?

Can you really predict on a fairly accurate basis what people will do and the choices they will make?  The simple answer is yes.

The basis for predicting these answers is a principle I have used on a regular basis in business and life for many years.  The principle is found in Matthew 7:16

“By their fruits you will know them.”

If you plant an apple tree you don’t expect to pluck cherries.  Or if you plant corn, you don’t expect tomatoes.  It’s easy to predict what you’ll reap based on what is sown.  I call this the “fruit” principle.

Likewise, when it comes to predicting the behavior of people, whether a new hire, a politician or in a personal relationship, a person’s track record will be the best predictor of future behavior, their “fruit.”  While it’s tempting to take a person’s word as the basis for speculating about their future behavior, we all know that talk is cheap.

I can think back to instances over the years where I’ve strayed from the fruit principle and succumbed to the temptation of relying on a person’s words.  And the result of doing so has in nearly every case been disappointing at best and catastrophic at worst.  In business, ignoring a person’s clear track record and hoping for the best, can seriously impact your financial results or even worse, your reputation.

In politics, voting based on a candidate’s party affiliation, charisma, or campaign promises, and ignoring their past votes and positions on matters of importance to you is another recipe for frustration that will ultimately lead to cynicism.

road01And in a personal relationship, if we allow our emotions to overlook the tendency of a close friend or family member to act according to their past behavior, we will be faced with constant disappointment.

Remember, the seed determines the fruit.  So what a person sows, that’s what he will reap.  Find out what they’ve sown via their track record, and you can accurately predict the behavior they will choose.

Resist the temptation to simply take people at their word.  I’m not saying ignore what they say.  Rather I’m suggesting that we should compare what a person says with what they’ve done.  If we find them to be in sync then you’ve met a person whose word you can rely on.  But if their words conflict with their track record, ignore the words and believe the track record.  You will save yourself a lot of dollars, grief, and/or disappointment.

Make a Mess … and Achieve Success

Make a Mess … and Achieve Success

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When you think of the characteristics required for success, what comes to mind? Discipline? Planning? Goals? Persistence? Positivity? Perhaps all of the above?

All of these characteristics play a part in succeeding in business, life, athletics, relationships and more. But I wonder if you’ve ever been told to “go out and make a mess” as a means to ultimately achieving the success you seek?

Let me rewind my life back to 2001. At the time, the company I co-founded was struggling through the repercussions of growing too big and too fast. Our business, in the assisted living sector, had gone from start-up to nearly 20 properties in just four short years. All but one of the properties had been new construction and our footprint extended across six states. In 1999 alone, we opened ten new properties, and we were confronted with the extreme pressure to rapidly increase our occupancy to cover the major cash flow deficits we were facing. In truth though, our entire industry was dealing with the same set of problems: too many companies expanding simultaneously in the same markets and many of them, including several public companies, being forced into bankruptcy.

Given the quality of our product and services, we were excited about the properties we had developed and the markets they were in. However, as any business owner will acknowledge, the most significant determinant of an organization’s success is the quality of its people. So with the number of properties we opened and the pace they came on board, it was critical that our people, and in particular, our Executive Directors at each property, were highly capable professionals who knew how to succeed.

So with this as a backdrop, I am reminded of one particular property where we were struggling with some serious occupancy challenges. We had seen several Executive Directors come and go and yet we could not seem to find the right person, that is until we hired Anne. Anne was a top quality professional with tremendous leadership qualities combined with a compassionate spirit that she exhibited towards the residents and families she served. However, because of the track records of her predecessors, Anne was reticent to charge forward. She had great ideas but was simply timid to pull the trigger on them.

I recall making a trip to visit Anne and her staff along with our regional director for the property. My goal was to evaluate where they were operationally and what could be done to break through the barriers that were preventing Anne from achieving the success both she and I desired for her property. As I met with Anne, it became clear to me that she was simply gun-shy. Anne was nervous about doing the wrong thing; about making the wrong decision; about making a mistake.

As I detected Anne’s apprehension I encouraged her to deploy a new strategy. I humorously, but honestly told her: “Anne, go out and make a mess and if you need us to, we’ll bring a team in to help you clean it up!

In essence, I gave Anne permission to just go out and start implementing her ideas. Stop allowing the mistakes of past Executive Directors or even the policies and processes of a corporate bureaucracy to keep her from moving the operation forward. Even if her progress resulted in some unintended consequences, or “messes” along the way, I was encouraging Anne to just get started.

That one visit where I challenged Anne to “make a mess” became her rallying cry to finally move forward (as well as several other ED’s at our other properties). And from there we began to see the results that Anne and I had sought for way too long.

But what exactly was I insinuating when I told Anne to “make a mess” at her property? Three particular challenges come to mind that many of us will face on our road to success.

[imageframe lightbox=”yes” lightbox_image=”http://www.awaketofreedom.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/cures-fear.jpg” style_type=”dropshadow” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”#f7f7f7″ bordersize=”15px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”right” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””]Decisive action cures fear - http://bit.ly/1YzJqoS - [/imageframe]Fear

Fear is one of the greatest obstacles to a person’s dreams and ultimate success. Fear robs you and me of the will to start and the strength to launch. When fear is present, you will either succumb to it or draw on the courage to overwhelm the fear. But the truth is, decisive action cures fear. The action I was encouraging Anne to embrace included the potential that she might “make a mess” but that’s the risk one takes when pursuing one’s dreams and achieving ultimate success.

To be clear, success is messy. It’s not a clean little outline with sequential bullet points and sub-points. Rather, success is the culmination of starts, stops, reversals, mistakes and re-starts. And it always involves overcoming fear.

Procrastination

In Anne’s case, her reticence to move forward did not involve the struggle of procrastinating. But for many, it does. Some of us put off the idea of getting started on our quest because we have just gotten into the habit of delaying and procrastinating.

I lived in Spain for over a decade as a child through my teenage years. There I learned that Spaniards have a saying that explains why many in life never achieve the success they dream about. It goes like this: “No hagas hoy lo que puedes hacer mañana.” The phrase simply means, don’t do today what you can do tomorrow. If you suffer from procrastinitus, there is a simple cure for this disease that Nike has presented as its motto for decades: Just Do It!

[imageframe lightbox=”yes” lightbox_image=”http://www.awaketofreedom.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/indecision-600.jpg” style_type=”dropshadow” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”#f7f7f7″ bordersize=”15px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”right” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””]Indecision is the greates thief of opportunity http://bit.ly/1YzJqoS[/imageframe]Uncertainty

Along with fear, I believe Anne’s secondary cause of being unwilling to move forward was her uncertainty over whether the actions she was prepared to take would result in the goals she sought. Her uncertainty and indecision kept her paralyzed. We should all realize that indecision is the greatest thief of opportunity.

As you and I vacillate in our actions, we can easily miss out on that next window of opportunity that we have been seeking. So will you remain frozen in uncertainty, or will you step out and begin the path to success you seek?

A messy desk or a disheveled workshop can be viewed in two ways. A perfectionist may see such a desk or workbench and critique the owner’s organizational skills. And he may be right. But more often than not, the highly focused and driven entrepreneur, who is well on his way to the goal he seeks, understands that success is never neat or organized. Rather he must be willing to make a mess on his way to success.

What about you? Are you making a mess as you pursue your dreams? If so, I encourage you to continue on that path. In fact make a big mess. As you do, success is likely just around the corner.

Mark