Still Room at the Top

I have been watching the TV series Mad Men on my iPad while working out at the gym.  Aside from distracting me from the scream for oxygen I am feeling in my legs, the show gets me really worked up about the way women are treated by the smarmy executives and how they themselves see their options as so constrained.  Having grown up in the era portrayed, I can vouch for the fact that things have changed.

image40But.  After reading Catalyst’s new report “Pipeline’s Broken Promise,” I feel downright discouraged.  They report that even though women make up 40 percent of the global workforce, they hold just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, 15 percent of board directors at those companies, and less than 14 percent of corporate executives at top publicly-traded companies around the world.   Women are not participating in entrepreneurial wealth either.  I just got a peek at a recent study of entrepreneurial “dealmakers” in the NY city area and saw less than a handful of female names.

Guess there is still room for improvement.

Over the years I have taught my course, there are some common themes that arise in my conversations with the (mostly female)students in my course “Women, Leadership and Entrepreneurship.”   To respond, the eClips team has created podcasts from the relevant material.  Take a listen.

Theme 1:  “I don’t like to brag.  How do I promote and be assertive without coming across as bossy and abrasive?”

Podcast: [mp3j track=”″ title=”Finding Your Own Voice”]


Theme 2: “I don’t want to act like a guy.  How can I be powerful AND nice?”

Podcast: [mp3j track=”″ title=”Do Women Have To Act Like A Man?”]


Theme 3: “I do want a family, but I just don’t see how to work that out with an aggressive career path.”

Podcast: [mp3j track=”″ title=”Working Moms – Juggling Career And Family”]

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The Answer… NOT in the Back of the Book

10GM_banner-shortHere’s the thing about teaching business planning:  there are no answers in the back of the book.  Students come up with interesting ideas, do research and then turn to you for help figuring out their business models.  There is no cookie-cutter answer!  As the teacher, you are never sure that you are “right” in the advice that you give.  Compare that to statistics, math or other fields where most problem sets do have an answer key!   So, teaching entrepreneurship involves being in charge but without a specific answer.  Frustrating!

That said,  it is also what makes teaching entrepreneurship a blast.  I love the challenge of new ideas, of puzzling out the potential answers to the difficult question about how to make money with a product or service idea.  How to launch, how to stage things, how to articulate the value proposition, how to create a sustainable competitive advantage – these are very unstructured questions.  The concepts are deceptively easy, but the discipline and application are incredibly difficult.

Studying entrepreneurship is great preparation for life in business, where, in fact, there really are no answer keys.  To understand that point even better, check out our new podcast series, “Not in the Back of the Book.”  Recently, I asked accomplished entrepreneur and commercial real estate expert Jacie Stivers, to open up her rolodex and talk with people about situations in which they had to do create problem-solving in business.  The result is a terrific podcast series that is now an official part of

Check it out!

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Accidental Entrepreneurs

For those who argue entrepreneurs have to be born, they haven’t met Christina Marchuska, a Cornell grad recently featured on  Christina was pushed out of Wall Street by hard economic times, and found her “inner entrepreneur” when she started designing  and producing her own fashion line, c. marchuska.

We captured Christina on eClips when she was a panelist talking about sustainable design at the 2010 [email protected] annual Celebration.

What I find fascinating about Christina’s pathway is that she did not set out to be an entrepreneur, in fact she travelled in the opposite direction.  To top it off, she also did not have any background in design.   That didn’t stop her.   Instead, she focused on making the business side of things work, combining two interests of hers:  fashion and the environment.

Maybe starting with the business first instead of the creative process makes the real difference?

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Pizza + Twins: Getting Noticed

blog37-1I loved the latest press coverage of Miki and Radha Agrawal.  Be sure to watch the video but don’t do it if you are hungry! I think the two of them have a terrific storyling to get media attention.  Every business should think:  How do I get noticed and remembered?   For them, it is the organic Pizza (who can forget pizza??) and the fact that they are twins, both pursuing entrepreneurial ventures.  Package that up with their energy and creativity and it is irresistible.

blog37-2We have great clips of them talking about creative marketing strategies as well:

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Appreciate This!

I’ve done hundreds of eClips interviews, but last week I had an experience unlike any other. I was talking with Chester Elton, appreciation expert and author of the book Orange Revolution. I asked one question and the guy talked for 38 minutes! The good thing was, I didn’t dare interrupt because the story was so interesting. Although I am a big fan of short, pithy video clips, I am posting the full, long-form here for your listening pleasure because I think you will enjoy it too. Highlights from his clip:

  • Narrates the evolution of strategy of his products/brand in a personal and compelling manner.
  • Offers tips on what his group has learned about the power of appreciation.
  • Shares humorous parts of his journey.


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Crowd Interference

blog33Like many educators, I am constantly pondering the distracted demeanor of my students.  It’s not just the ones texting under their desks (yes, I can see what you are doing from the front of the room), it is the preoccupied look in their eyes and the difficulty one has fully capturing their attention.  I’ve had trouble putting this phenomenon into words, until I stumbled across a book called Hamlet’s Blackberry.

Author William Powers talks about how the “call of the crowd” is, in fact, crowding out our need for time and space to think and reflect.  With no room between the many messages streamed at us from all our “screens” we just cannot have depth of thought.   He put his finger on it—when I am in front of a class, I feel the competition from the “crowd” outside my classroom—all the digital sources tapping the shoulders (or minds) of my students.  Perhaps they are thinking about or anticipating for a text message from a friend, a call from their mother, an email message from a team member, a stream of information from the BlackBoard site or the latest Facebook updates.

To be truthful, as I enter my class, I am subject to the same phenomenon.  Because I often feel very distracted ahead of class I started a practice of putting a sign on my door and meditating for about 10 minutes before class.  Obviously, that’s not an option for my students, so when we are together they are still suffering from the hangover effect of being over-connected.

The cost of these constant interruptions is staggering.  Powers says “recovering focus can take ten to twenty times the length of the interruption. So a one-minute interruption could require fifteen minutes of recovery time.” *  Consider what this means in class.  If a student’s attention is distracted for a minute while texting or checking email, it will take half the class period to recapture attention.

Our job as educators is to take our students into the depths of thought and discovery.  To do that, we have to find ways counteract their constant division of attention and the tug of the crowd.  I’m hoping that Powers will have a good answer.  But I’m only on page 67, so I’ll get back to you on that.

*Ironically, I experienced constant interruption while writing this blog.  I received a text from my daughter, who is travelling cross country, sending me a wonderful picture of her campsite in Colorado.  A few seconds later, the car dealership called to let me know about the new Priuses that are in stock in case I wanted to consider a lease or purchase.  Because I left Skype open by mistake, I got an instant message from a co-worker asking me an urgent question.  Then a Twitter message came flying in (nothing urgent).   Coming back to a blank page I had completely lost my train of thought!

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Hollywood was right – We DO like happy endings

[vimeo 14126162]

Compared to the videos and pictures you typically see about Africa, I found this simply uplifting and inspiring.  Made me want to go make a donation and be part of the force for positive change!*

So I was not surprised to find out that, neurologically speaking, if you want to get a person to make a change or take action, a story with a POSITIVE message is better than a NEGATIVE one.

According to Stephen Denning, one of the authors of Storytelling in Organizations, research shows that a story with an unhappy ending kicks in one of the more ancient systems in the brain (the limbic system) and tells us to fight or flight.  Thus, we are not in a thoughtful, accepting mind frame.  By the time our cortex (more recent system in the brain) overrides this reaction and calms us down, there is no “springboard effect.”  “Learning may take place, but no rapid action ensues. “

Alternatively, a story with a positive tone evokes a different effect in our limbic brain, actually causing an “endogenous opiate reward” for the cortex.  Dopamine is pumped into the cortex, creating a euphoric feeling that is a better mind frame for taking action and making a change.

All this makes me wonder.  So many stories we use to reach entrepreneurs have a negative message, such as “Warning! If you don’t manage cash flow you’ll end up like these guys, losing your business.”  I’m going to make an effort in eClips interviews to ask for stories that are more like:  “Hey – if you manage cash flow right, look what you’ll be able to do!”  Either story, if told in a compelling manner, can stick with the listener.  But the positive ending may just inspire a change in behavior.

*(Full disclosure:  Good Eye Video is my son’s company.)


Brown, John Seeley, Stephen Denning, Katalina Groh, and Laurence Prusak. 2004. Storytelling in Organizations: Why Storytelling Is Transforming 21St Century Organizations and Management. Elsevier.

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Guest Speakers a Hassle? Go Virtual.

There is really no substitute for an outstanding guest speaker.  You know – the one that really understands and responds to what you need, is entertaining, arrives regardless of weather and will pay for his/her own travel expenses.

The truth is that the guest speaker business is full of ups and downs.  When someone is terrific, you can’t beat it.  But it can be expensive, both in terms of time and money.

If you want to cut down on expenses, inviting ONLY the guest that you know you can count on, there is still a great way to bring the real world into your classroom.

I’ve been promoting eClips for years as an alternative – a sort of “virtual guest speaker” approach if you will.  And I had so many people asking me to “just pick the best clip on [whatever topic] for me!!” that I have done just that.  For anyone teaching business planning, we have a new DVD.  That makes using eClips a bit easier.

Note:  I do not think video content can replace an in-person presentation, but it can be even better in certain ways:  video clips are short and focused, placed where you want it, provides different faces to mirror the mosaic of students in your classroom,  allows you to play and replay if you want a certain emphasis and finally, you can have students enjoy listening outside of class.


Business Planning DVD from eClips on Vimeo.

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Technology and Equal Access

blog30Today I received the following email from the administrators at my university with a letter from the Department of Justice attached.  An excerpt:

“We write to express concern on the part of the Department of Justice and the Department of Education that colleges and universities are using electronic book readers that are not accessible to students who are blind or have low vision and to seek your help in ensuring that this emerging technology is used in classroom settings in a manner that is permissible under federal law. A serious problem with some of these devices is that they lack an accessible text-to-speech function. Requiring use of an emerging technology in a classroom environment when the technology is inaccessible to an entire population of individuals with disabilities-individuals with visual disabilities -is discrimination prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) unless those individuals are provided accommodations or modifications that permit them to receive all the educational benefits provided by the technology in an equally effective and equally integrated manner.”

It made me think.

I’ve been using video and audio in my classroom for more than a dozen years.  And we do have transcripts for all of Cornell’s eClips videos.  Hearing-impaired students can read our content and sight-impaired students can hear our content.   Still, does the technology we use in classrooms keep things out of reach for some students?

Whenever we choose to do something in our courses, it is so important to think about the access issue.

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New eClips DVD! “Spotlight On Business Planning”

spotlightYou asked for it!   Our new eClips DVD – Spotlight on Business Planning.

Last year, we did a focus group with high school business educators to introduce them to the Cornell eClips Collection.  They loved it!  That was no surprise, since they are constantly trying new active learning strategies with a population of learners that is increasingly oriented towards digital media.

What did take me by surprise was when they asked us to produce a DVD with the clips on it.  “But isn’t that moving backwards in terms of technology?” I countered.  “We have 14,000 clips already all up online and downloadable.”  But they insisted that it would really have value if I would go through the collection on a specific topic, choose ONE clip per topic and provide it on a DVD they could just pop into their smartboards or DVD players and select the appropriate clip.

We took their advice and have started a DVD series called “Spotlight” where we plan to create a hand-selected collection of clips on a variety of subject matter. Our first one is focused on Business Planning.

An interesting point is that the educators said it would be fine to pay for this, even though viewing the clips in the collection online is free.  It reminded me of a great comment made by Jon Klein, founder and CEO of Topline Strategy Group.   He told me, “Look, if you are offering something for free and it is not getting adopted, then users are not perceiving it as free.”  Simple but profound point.   Our focus group said that the minimal free value of download was swamped by the cost (in time) of finding the right clips.

Here’s Jon’s more extended comment.  I also highly recommend learning more about his The Technology Adoption ContinuumTM .

Order your DVD today!

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