Staring Deep into the Eyes of the Dragon

August 8th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is, “How do you ensure that you’ll be a successful entrepreneur?” Many people think that it requires a high degree of intelligence or some great insight or an extensive network. I continually tell people the number one factor in business, and I think in life in general, is unalterable determination—or in other words, looking your dragons in the eye and spitting on them, despite the fact that they are trying to eat you up.

I love the movie Cinderella Man. The story is of a man who is a professional fighter. He’d previously given up fighting, but because his family is starving, he goes back and faces a Goliath in his life.

There comes a point in the movie where he’s facing the most formidable opposition. This particular opponent is actually known for killing people in the ring. The protagonist takes several hard body blows…and then there comes a point during the fight where he turns and shouts “Hit me! Hit me! Is that all you have?”

He takes blow after blow until he ends up winning the fight despite the brutal beating. Sometimes we have to face such dragons.

Last week I found myself in a tough situation as I was preparing myself for a little respite I’m going to be taking with my wife. I really found myself in an impossible situation, with some factors in my life attempting to dish out every body blow that I could possibly take.

Then I experienced an interesting change that came over me halfway through the week. This change was similar to the change in Cinderella Man.

My approach and my attitude toward my conflicts became. “Is that all you have? Bring it, bring it!” Then I had to proceed to face those dragons and stare them in the eye.

Indeed we will all have intense challenges in our life, but particularly as you face entrepreneurship. The biggest challenge I leave to you is this: As crazy as it sounds, embrace those body blows! Look them in the eye. Fight the dragons. You will reach a level of exhilaration when you get through the challenge. Then go forward, prosper, and enjoy the wonderful ride and life of becoming a small business owner.

Making Our Values Clear – Zig Zag Principle #29

August 5th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

When our children were young, we made a family mission statement.  Mission statements are a little antiquated now, but my wife and I wanted to define the values that we wanted to live by in our family.  Some of the values we listed were:

  • Our family will support each other in our goals and ambitions.  
  • Our home will be an environment of safety, love, and respect. 
  • We will provide unconditional love for each other. 
  • We will teach respect for people, places, and things. 
  • We will embrace the value of hard work and leadership. 
  • We will allow each other to make mistakes and grow from these mistakes,
  •  but we will encourage each other to reach for higher levels. 
  • We will have positive friendships. 
  • Our family will work together, play together, and stay together. 
  • We will laugh often and savor the good, while fearlessly fighting the bad. 
  • We will act on life and turn negative situations into positives. 
  • We will value learning and education. 
  • Each family member will strive to make a meaningful contribution to humanity.


Our family is far from perfect, but these are some of the values we set out to teach our children. We have the list posted in our entryway, and each member of our family knows what is expected of them.  And I’m always amused at the stories our children tell each other and their friend of the funny things that happen in our family as we reinforce these values

Rick Sapio talks about what he calls “value-based decision making.”  He also refers to “The Doorman Prinicple,” which is defined as “the deliberate practice of defining a set of values and/or rules to dictate who, or what, is allowed to enter into your life or business.”  In our lives and in our businesses, we must have a “value gatekeeper.”  In our home, my wife is the value gatekeeper.  When she sees one of my sons being rude to his friends, she will call him on it because “We teach respect for people, places, and things.”  She insists that our kids do their homework because “We value education.”  She does not let riffraff into our home and encourages our children to have positive friendships.

Koral, my executive admin, is the “value gatekeeper” at my office.  She keeps the distractions and business snakes out of my life.  Koral is responsible for the final interview of every potential hire.  She deliberately does an exhaustive interview to ensure the person is in alignment with the twelve values of our organization. If the candidate does not pass this check, they do not get hired no matter how talented they are.

Flip Flopping Politicians Are Simply Zig Zagging

August 5th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Dave McInnis (successful entrepreneur, business man, and friend of mine) and I were just having a conversation about how in politics we’re all so critical of politicians who flip flop on their decisions, opinions and strategies.

Dave just made the comment that this disdain for flip floppers drives him crazy, because exactly what we need in the political process is to flip flop back and forth.

“We hire people to govern and not to dictate; so governance means that you have to change your position to match the will of the people who elected you.” Said Dave.

I concur and I want to follow that statement with this example. Picture the healthcare bill. Is there a solution that we can immediately charge directly toward? Is there one straightforward, immediate solution for solving our healthcare problem? We all know that our problem is crazy, intense and involved. People would die. The country would go bankrupt if we quickly and absent-mindedly charged toward something.

The solution is going to require Democrats and Republicans; and a lot of flip flopping, zig zagging, and compromising along the way, in order to resolve the problem.

Flip flopping or zig zagging is the only way we are going to solve our problem. It’s the only way we are going to solve most problems. Dave is right, “We need governance, not dictatorship.”

Values Are Not Always Convenient – Zig Zag Principle #28

August 3rd, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

During the 2010-2011 basketball season, a basketball team that had fielded a lot of good teams over the years had a great team!  Led by a young man who was the nation’s leading scorer and who smashed school records that had stood for thirty years, this team moved into the top 5 in national rankings.  As the NCAA tournament approached, fans and pundits alike saw the team as a strong contender for making it to the Elite Eight, the Final Four, and maybe even beyond.  Then, not even two weeks before the NCAA tournament was set to begin, perhaps the second-best player on the team was suddenly suspended.  Why?  Well, the details are his business, but it was clear he had violated his school’s honor code—a set of values every student had agreed to live by, athlete or not.  The violation was such that he was allowed to remain in school, but he was not allowed to play. 

Not surprisingly, the team lost its next game.  It regrouped and won the final game of the season, and then lost the final game of the conference tournament.  Where it had only lost two games all season, in a week’s time it had lost four!  And when the NCAA invites came out, this team slipped from a lock on a number-one seed to a number-three seed.

Of course, there was a lot of talk about this young man’s suspension.  Some wondered why the school felt a need to stick to its values when so much was on the line.  Each time the team played without this young man, it was evident that, while it was still good, the team had lost its chance at greatness.  And, indeed, it lost in the Sweet Sixteen.

What it didn’t lose was its commitment to its values.  The school had a clearly stated policy on which behaviors were acceptable and which ones weren’t, and it stuck by them in an age when expediency often takes the place of integrity.  Some people felt the school had made a tough call.  And while it likely was a painful decision for administrators to make, it really wasn’t a tough call—it was an outgrowth of values that, for years, had been clearly delineated and adhered to.

As a footnote, this young man held his head high, he didn’t complain, he even continued to sit with his team in shirt and tie and cheer them on. And when he climbed up the ladder to help cut down the net after the final home game (just four days after his suspension), he was greeted with a standing ovation from a crowd of 21,000 fans.  And while I can’t predict the future, most feel he will serve out his suspension and return to the team for the 2011-2012 season.

Taste Testing Dark Chocolate

August 2nd, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Last weekend was my wife’s birthday. As part of her birthday present I wanted to get her a special treat that she would really enjoy. Several nights before her birthday we went to a friend’s home. This individual is quite a charismatic connoisseur of chocolate, and as part of the dessert he had us sample some very high-end, dark chocolate, one of which was laced with bacon, of all things. Another was flavored with a certain type of mushroom.

My wife really enjoyed the chocolate and the entire experience. So as a good husband, I decided to get her some really high-end, fancy dark chocolate. Indeed, my wife loves dark chocolate. So on her birthday, I presented her with several bars of Amano Artisan Chocolate. The intriguing thing is that the only difference between each of these designer chocolate bars is where the cocoa bean is grown, yet there is a remarkably different flavor that stands out with each bar. Then to make it a little more fun, I got her some other types of chocolate. I got her a Lindt Swiss Chocolate bar. I even got her, from all places, some chocolate from Ikea. Of course, I also added in some famous Ghirardelli.

I have to admit I was pretty excited to present these elegant chocolate bars to my beautiful, chocolate-loving wife. When she started eating a little bit of the chocolate gift, much to my dismay she wasn’t salivating or even getting super excited about the expensive artisan chocolate. I was of course a little bit put out…indignant that I spent $7.00 for each small designer bar that she was glossing over. (Yes $21.00 for just little bit of chocolate.)

So I decided, okay, we are going to sample these seriously. We are going to test the artisan chocolate against the grocery store brands. We gathered my family and my brother’s family for the taste test. I cut the samples into little pieces, covered it with a cloth, had everyone blindly taste the samples one by one, and then rate the chocolates.

Indeed there was a dramatic difference between each chocolate. And everyone could pinpoint dramatically different flavors that came out of each of these chocolates.

Instantly Nathan, my 15-year-old son identified the gourmet chocolate and zeroed right in on it. He loved it. However, everyone else, for the most part, actually enjoyed the regular, non-designer chocolate better than the fancy stuff.

It was really a fun experience to go through and sample each chocolate. As I thought about this I saw the analogy. I realized that in business we often go through a very similar concept. We think that everyone is going to prefer the exotic, the way-out-there taste, or the highest priced option. However, sometimes the pallets of our target are not necessarily over-the-top extravagant, bacon-laced, dark chocolate experiences.

Now none of these chocolates were low quality. None of these chocolates were just the cheap stuff from the check out aisle. Nonetheless, they were dramatically different in price. So as you present product offers to your customers, make sure that you actually understand the taste of the consumer that you are subscribing to.

Additionally, when you are the consumer, consider this chocolate analogy. I never encourage anyone to go with cheap stuff that falls apart, but sometimes people just like the simple dark chocolate that isn’t the handmade designer style. You don’t have to spend extravagantly in your business when your flavor isn’t suited to that either. You can get decent office chairs and decent office equipment that isn’t necessarily over-the-top, high-priced stuff.

The interesting thing about this taste test is that the winner was the second lowest priced bar. Most everyone voted that the Lindt chocolate bar was the favorite. Whether you’re tasting chocolate or whether you’re buying or selling services, you don’t always have to be extreme.


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