Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Friendships and Business Partnerships: Making it Work

It seems like an ideal situation: Your friend of many years - the one who's always been there for you in important moments, the one with whom you have the most fun with or with whom you'd had so many memorable times - it seems almost a perfect idea to choose to have that friend for a business partner. Indeed - why look elsewhere for a business partner when your buddy/chum/gal-friend is right there? Now, if you are actually contemplating of doing a business with your friend, wait a moment and read this one first.
Let it be said outright: No, it's NOT entirely a bad idea to do business with your friend/s. That is NOT to say that it is necessarily easy or not fraught with risks.
The reason most would warn against doing business with friends, esp. those who've had a bad experience with such a set-up, is not that businesses with friends have a greater chance of failure. (Regardless of who you do business with, the odds of a business failing is 9 in 10.) The reason, perhaps, is that when a business with a friend fails, there is a risk that you lose more than just the business.

A business with a friend entails greater risk because apart from the money you invest in the business, you also actually invest your relationship in the business. More than risking the money, you also risk the friendship. And while money can be recouped - well, friendship, when lost, can be harder to get back. Think Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin - best buddies in Harvard - who lost their friendship over Facebook.

And so here is the advice:
If you'd like to do business with your friends, take stock of your biggest asset together (your friendship), and take steps to ensure it does not get lost in the highs and lows (or busts!) of business. Here are some tips to making it work:

1. Communication
At the heart of all the next tips is Communication. Be prepared to be always in communication with your business partner-slash-friend. Everything - from expectations, roles and responsibilities, profit sharing arrangements - should be discussed from the very beginning; and whatever else that is yet undiscussed must be brought out in the open and settled. Communication is key to ensuring potential problems are addressed before they even happen. A good and effective communication will only be possible if the element of trust is present. In the book Five Dysfunctions of a Team, the 'Absence of Trust' is listed as the foremost reason for failures in teams and businesses as it stifles communication crucial to achieving the goals of the business.

2. Agreement
Set up your rules. Agree to them, and then they become your agreements. These become the parameters of your business relationship. When misunderstandings come up, always look to your agreements to resolve it. As much as possible, agreements should be designed so that every manner or possible scenarios/problems/misunderstandings are covered. These agreements are the mechanisms that will take effect once conflicts/misunderstandings on your business arise. This way, the resolutions do not become arbitrary, and there is an "impartial" agreement that will tell you how to go about it.

3. Commitment
The 'Lack of Commitment' is identified as one among the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Your business goals will not happen unless you treat your endeavor as a real commitment. What is a commitment? Here is how Abraham Lincoln defined it:
"Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism."
What you invest in your business in money and time and effort is a sign of commitment. You have to honor your commitment. If you can't honor your commitment with your business partners, what hope is there that you will honor your commitment of delivering on your promises (in your product or services) to your customers?

4. Priorities
Part and parcel of honoring commitments is giving your business priority. You could have many priorities, but even if there are greater priorities, it should not sacrifice the commitments you have made. If you have partnered with anyone, esp. with a friend, giving your business priority is not just about the business; it is about keeping your word, honoring your commitments, and giving your partners and friends a fair amount of respect. Before your customers can give you priority as a preferred supplier or service provider, they'll first have to see through your results that you do in fact give your business the priority it deserves.

5. Exit Strategy
Things will not always work; and even as your enthusiasm in the beginning were off the charts, sometimes that could wane. Some better opportunity might come along; situations at work or in your personal life may change that will necessitate you to want to opt out of the business. Or maybe you're just not into it anymore.

THAT is okay.

Just make sure you do not become vague about your disinterest, or you just disappear. You still have business partners/friends counting on you. Inform your partners of your change of plans. Be unequivocal about it. And then let your exit strategy mechanisms come into play. Your exit strategy should be something that you have already spelled out and agreed upon in the beginning. The exit strategy must indicate the procedures for getting out of the business or dissolving the business entirely.

The same due diligence you exert in evaluating your business should be the same (if not greater) amount of due diligence that you apply into ensuring that getting into business with your friend will not result to a loss of the friendship.

In the end, a friendship that flourishes with a business and a friendship that stands the demise of businesses is the better return on investment.

See you at the top!

"A friendship founded on business is a good deal 
better than a business founded on friendship.” 
(John D. Rockefeller)

Book Recommendations:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Your Job Description is not your Life Prescription

Among the staple questions we tend to ask when wanting to know more about someone we are meeting for the first time is (after getting their name, of course): 'What do you do?' or, a variation, 'Where do you work (and by implication: what do you do there)?'

It's a fair question, and innocuous enough. You might be surprised though that, in certain cultures, being asked that question is frowned upon, thought weird, and a tad bit invasive.

Anyway, in the Philippines, that is rarely a problem. Except perhaps if you are asked that question and you have nothing to answer for it. Why would that be? Here are 7 reasons why one would find oneself grasping for answers to that simple question:

(1) You are unemployed.
Basically, you are a bum. You may just have come off from school and still looking for employment (which you discover is hard to find). Or you just got fired (the company was downsizing; or is outsourcing your job to a third world country) or you had just resigned (the boss was a $@#%; or office politics just ain't your thang; or the free iced tea was making you gain weight). Or you simply can't find a job that you feel you can connect to on a very deep level, you know? :)

(2) You are a stay-at-home mom/dad
You're married (or whatever) and you think that the best use of your time is to be right there with your kids to watch them grow and see to their needs. Of course, this is not a 'job' (you are happy to do it, right?), but as you would say though, It IS a full-time job! But it does seem a little weird to make this your answer when asked what you do because, obviously, the question seems to expect some sort of an employment as a reply. Nevertheless, those who have mustered courage and find no shame in their chosen role, are able to express it with no issue. And that's a good thing! We have come a quarter of a way from 'Oh, I'm just a plain housewife/houseband!' Still many others find themselves queasy saying that.

(3) Your job is confidential/secret.
You don't want the person making small-talk with you suddenly scampering away if you were honest enough to say that you are a gun-for-hire, right? Other than that, your job might just happen to be the classified variety, like a secret agent or a private investigator, or a James Bond-type. So then, what do you say? You'll probably change the topic, make something up, or at least give the other person a warning: "If I tell you, I'm gonna have to kill you."

So go make something up instead!

(4) It's complicated.
That is, your job title does not belong among these professions that need little-to-no elaboration: teacher, salesman, lawyer, doctor, etc. So you're a 'Senior Software Engineer' and, while that easily makes sense to you, apparently it begs a little more expounding, so to avoid that laborious process, just say, "It's kinda like a programmer." And then the question marks in the person's face disappear. (Or so you think.) This is different from having a really simple job whose title is merely embellished, like 'Chief Landscape Engineer' - a fancy name for 'gardener'. Although, yeah, it does complicate it still.

The late Randy Pausch - the Carnegie Mellon professor who before succumbing to pancreatic cancer a few years ago, got famous through his 'The Last Lecture' video which went viral on Youtube - shared in his book 'The Last Lecture' (an offshoot of the viral video) that while he is addressed professionally as Doctor (owing to his Ph.D., not an M.D.), when his mom introduces him to people, she says: "He's a doctor, but NOT the kind that helps people."

That's what happens when job titles are not self-explanatory!

(5) You're a C.O.O.
You know, Child Of Owner; as in, heir to your parent's vast business holdings. All you need to do is turn 21, or wait for them to hand the reins on to you once they think you're ready. If they die, it's still falling on your lap. So, in the meantime, you're sitting on your bum, and... whistling a happy tune.

(6) You're living off of your parent's trust fund.
And therefore, why bother working? Still, when asked what you do, you're at a loss for words. You don't actually want to reveal how wealthy you are; or just how idle (read: lazy) you've become just because your infinite well of riches (a.k.a. your trust fund) is financing all that you'd ever aspire to do or buy.

So in this instance, what do you say? Ah yes, that business you've been thinking about for a long time now.

But of course!

(7) You're into a LOT of things.
You could simply introduce yourself a serial entrepreneur, but you think it's limiting, because your interests are really vast and your endeavors are many. You want to be able to share them all, but the curt question 'What do you do?' does not seem to invite a kilometric and animated monologue. And because they're just so numerous, you don't know where to begin - like all your interests are racing to be uttered first! At the same time, to say that you are doing countless things might invite judgement: Ah, she's a spaghetti-brain! He does not know what he wants! She has ADD!

BUT...Why this shouldn't bother you:
Whatever it is, whatever the reasons may be, for your inability to come up with a respectable response to the plain question of 'What do you do?', it's alright. As they say: No biggie. Answer it anyway, either in the most honest way you can, or in the most creative way you can devise. Leave people to their judgements, and just be who you are.

The truth is, and you'll notice this, the answers to the question evolves as time goes by.
As you move from one job/profession/project to another, from nothing (unemployed/COO) to something (a real job maybe), from something (a stressful, unfulfilling 9-to-5, 6-day-a-week job) to nothing (a life, FINALLY!); as you strive to make something else of your life - maybe something more meaningful to you (a vocation, like priesthood, or NGO work), something legal (gun-for-hire doesn't pay, you'll find out), something healthier (that allows you to get some sleep for a change!), something you actually like (not what your parents like for you - sorry parents!); as you make conscious choices to get your life under control, living life on your own terms and living life to the FULLEST -- you.. will realize that the answer to 'What do you do?' should not be something you allow yourself to define who you are (like a job description) or be restricted by (like a four-cornered cubicle).
After all, what you do, is just one of the innumerable other things that comprise your identity. You don't have to be just one or the other. You can be ALL of it. You can be anything you want to be - now, or later, or all at the same time. No matter, it's all up to you. The moment you begin to believe that is the moment you begin to discover all your possibilities.

See you at the top!

"The simplest questions are the most profound:
Where were you born?
Where is your home?
Where are you going?
What are you doing?
Think about these once in awhile, and watch your answers change."

Book Recommendations:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Journey to the top, with Ten Minutes Tops!

This "Ten Minutes, Tops!" (TMT) blog didn't start out with lofty ambitions.

It was merely an exercise in self-expression. But now that half a year has passed and I look back at what I have been able to learn and accomplish through the blog, I am inclined to think about what is next for this blog.

In trying to figure that out, I came to asking 2 questions:
1.Why should anyone continue reading this blog?
2. Why should I continue blogging on this?

In attempting to answer those questions, and in trying to give my blog posts some coherence, I came to a decision: To re-brand the blog that will both answer and satisfy those blog-existentialist questions. (Why, Blog, Why?)

The initial branding I made for this blog had focus on the amount of time that I either churned out the blog post (I didn't want to overcommit, hehe), or how long you had to read it (I know you're busy too). Both should be just for "Ten Minutes, Tops!" It doesn't matter what the topic was. As long as it's under ten minutes, it will get written and will (hopefully) find a reader.

Now, I'd like to take that a step further.
Actually, I want to kick it up a notch.

There will still be that time element, but more than that, I'd like this blog to be a place where you find something that you can take away, maybe something that will be useful to your life, something that adds value to you. It's being conscious about truly making it worth your while to read, subscribe to or share the blog.

I want this blog to be a source of information, ideas, thoughts, wisdom, ramblings and musings that ultimately will result in your being a better person.
I want to join you (we're in this together) and support you (you can do it!) in your journey to success - to the top! Thus the new TMT slogan: "Ten-minute thoughts that take you to the top."
Notice that in the blog's updated banner, the word 'thoughts' was actually superscripted on the crossed-out word 'wisdom'. My words may not always be wise, even as I hope they are, and even as I only have the best intentions. Still, I am self-aware enough to acknowledge that what I may think as precious wisdom culled from experience or from distillations of my interactions with others or from my readings - may just be one of many thoughts on the same subject. Still it is hoped that they are worth pondering upon, and may yet help you - all of us - reach the heights of success we desire.
And as in any matter of theory, philosophy, "truths", facts, principle or piece of advice, the same adage applies: "Prove it right; prove it wrong." That is, if it works for you, well and good. If not, then on to the next, until you find what works. As Richard Bach would say, "Nothing has meaning until it changes what you think and who you are." 
These 'nuggets' of, at the very least, kind well-meaning advice, will still touch upon most of the subject matters I use to present my ideas: life, business, technology, history, travel and, if it can be forced, food. :)

I hope you'll like this new approach I am trying to do. I've been very preachy anyway in many of my posts (can't help it!). Just making it official. :)

See you at the top!

Book Recommendations:
The Success Journey: The Process of Living Your Dreams
Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential
A Pace of Grace: The Virtues of a Sustainable Life
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Vintage)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pilipinas Muna: Putting the Philippines and the Filipinos First

As a people, we are known for such things as the proverbial 'Bahala na' attitude and the procrastinator's malaise called the 'Mamaya na', also known as the 'Mañana Habit', as in putting something off for later what can be done now. The 'Bahala na' attitude derives from the term 'Bathala' - the Filipino word for god or deity. It refers to our fatalistic attitude, leaving our fate to the whims of the Fates, the Bathala or the gods. In the 'Mañana habit', we leave our fate for later, hoping later will take care of itself.

Maybe there is value in leaving some things up to the gods and, apparently, there is some value too to procrastination; but more often than not, these beliefs/habits work to our disadvantage. We end up not facing up to what we need to confront, not getting done what we need accomplished. And in those, we do ourselves and our country a great disservice.

My friends, it's time for a Filipino reinvention.

Instead of the 'Bahala na' and 'Mañana Habit' the kind of attitudes that define us, let us be known instead for something else, something that serves us, that works for us, and more importantly, something that works for our country.

Let us be known for 'Pilipinas Muna'. (Philippines First.)

One of our greatest tragedies as a nation is that we are first to put our country and our people down. We are first to doubt our fellowmen, quick to judge and condemn, and vigorous in claiming negative traits as unique to our country.

Like we are the worst.
Like we are one-of-a-kind.
Like we are beyond help.

The truth is that those negative beliefs we have of ourselves, our fellowmen and our country are false. The truth is we do not know other nations well enough to even be qualified to say what is or isn't unique about us, or what is worse about us compared to others. The truth is when we condemn our country and put down our fellowmen, we only curse ourselves. You don't deserve that! We don't deserve that!

There is one thing we can do for ourselves that only we can do for ourselves. We cannot expect to hear it from others first; we cannot expect others to do it for us first. It must come from among us.

We are a country, a proud nation that puts its country, its fellowmen first.
Pilipinas Muna: Philippines First.

In all we do/say/think/act, let us consider:
  • Does this bring honor to my country?
  • Does it serve the good of my fellowmen?
  • Does this put the Philippines first?
  • Does it reflect my pride for my country and my countrymen?
  • Does it honor my country not for what it is now but for the greatness it aspires to be?

Pilipinas Muna. Because no one else can do it for us but us.
Pilipinas Muna. Because other nations will treat us first-rate 
when we consider ourselves first-rate, 
when we ourselves act first-rate, 
and esp. when we ourselves speak first-rate of our country.
Pilipinas Muna. Because a nation that aspires to be number 1 
must first be number 1 among its own citizens.

Book Recommendations:
History of the Filipino people
The First Filipino, a Biography of José Rizal
History and Culture, Language and Literature (Selected Essays of Teodoro A. Agoncillo)
In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What makes a Dagupeño/ Dagupeña?

If you remember, in a previous post, I wrote about Leonor Rivera and Jose Rizal in the piece 'Rizal and the City of Leonor Rivera'. There, I romanticized the fact that in Dagupan City, Rivera St. intersects with that of Rizal St., reminding us of the time in history when Jose and Leonor's lives crossed paths in our very city.

While Leonor Rivera was known to have been born and died in Tarlac, we know also that between that time, she had lived in Dagupan City for about 2 years. From the title of the feature, one can surmise that I was claiming Leonor Rivera to be a Dagupeña. Was she really? Some would argue that she is not and, in my blog where the feature first appeared, I had taken pains to say otherwise. Some of the thoughts that follow had appeared in the comments of that post.

Some recognizable images: Article title image adapted from Dagupeña restaurant logo; 'Have fun in Dagupan' image from Dagupan City Tourism website; statue is of the MacArthur shrine in Bonuan Blue Beach; white building is the Dagupan City Museum; delicious shrimps from Matutina's restaurant in Bonuan Tondaligan

In my opinion, Leonor Rivera could be as much a Dagupeña (where she lived for a while) as she is a Tarlaceña (where she was born). While we're at it, she could also even be a Manileña (where she studied). They are not mutually exclusive - although it is possible one may be more Dagupeña than say, a Manileña, depending on where one associates oneself most. To me, Leonor is a Dagupeña precisely because it is in Dagupan where she lived for 2 years, it is where her parents did business, it is where she had many friends, and it is also where she met and married her British husband (They were married in the old church behind St. John's Cathedral).

But, having Dagupeño relatives does not necessarily make one a Dagupeño ~ like Jose Rizal who is said to have had an uncle in the city. At present day, there is a legal definition of residency: 6 months is enough and you can call yourself a local, you can vote, and you can run for public office.
There, too, is association by affection: If I say I am a Dagupeño because I love Dagupan/Dagupeños/Bonuan Bangus/Pigar-pigar/Tondaligan beach/Matutina's, etc. -- then I must be; who can dare contradict?
I think it would not be much a stretch of the imagination to say that perhaps Leonor Rivera had grown to love Dagupan so much during her stay in the city that she would be happy to call herself, or would not mind being called, a Dagupeña.

The city after all does not confer such titles. It is something that one appropriates for oneself. And the city would not dare dissuade anyone who proudly wears Dagupan in his/her heart. (Except, perhaps, if that person is running for public office without the necessary residency requirement; in which case, his/her opponents will raise hell.)

One cannot satisfactorily answer what makes a Dagupeño/Dagupeña without also asking the other bigger question: What makes a Filipino? (OK, let's throw 'What makes a Pangasinense?' in the lot, too!) While the matter of being Filipino has legal (naturalized) and familial (natural-born) aspects, there is also, like being a Dagupeño/Dagupeña that matter of affection - in which case, the Filipino name is either (a) earned from other Filipinos who think you have proven yourself worthy of being called one (because you had the nerve to eat balut), or (b) claimed it for oneself (because you actually loved the balut!).
To embrace a nation's food is one thing (and a big thing, make no mistake), but to also embrace a people and its causes, its aspirations, its struggles and its triumphs is another (and of much bigger merit, I must say.) 
I have met Filipinos who in every circumstance of their birth, nature and nurture are Filipino yet act and speak like they come from some other high-minded nation (or planet!). Also, I have met non-Filipinos who in their race, language or tastes are so far from being mistaken Filipino and yet they in every other respect ~ in their manners, thoughts, sensitivity, and social concern ~ are very much Filipino.

In the case of citizenship, that is inherited or earned.
In the case of affinity, all that matters is what is in the heart.

So if your heart beats for Dagupan, you are every bit a Dagupeño/Dagupeña; and if your heart beats for the Philippines, you, my friend, are as Filipino as the next Juan/Maria.

Book Recommendations:
The First Filipino, a Biography of José Rizal
Rizal Without The Overcoat